Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 18 Feb 2017 11:06:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Still in Limbo, Somaliland Banking on Berberahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/still-in-limbo-somaliland-banking-on-berbera/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=still-in-limbo-somaliland-banking-on-berbera http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/still-in-limbo-somaliland-banking-on-berbera/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:10:31 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148992 In the capital people encounter a mishmash of chaotic local market commerce existing alongside diaspora-funded construction including glass-fronted office buildings, Wi-Fi enabled cafes and air-conditioned gyms, all suffused with characteristic Somali energy and dynamism. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

In the capital people encounter a mishmash of chaotic local market commerce existing alongside diaspora-funded construction including glass-fronted office buildings, Wi-Fi enabled cafes and air-conditioned gyms, all suffused with characteristic Somali energy and dynamism. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
HARGEISA, Somaliland, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

Crossing African borders by land can be an intimidating process (it’s proving an increasingly intimidating process nowadays in Europe and the US also, even in airports). But crossing from Ethiopia to Somaliland at the ramshackle border town of Togo-Wuchale is a surreally pleasant experience.

Immigration officials on the Somaliland side leave aside the tough cross-examination routine, greeting you with big smiles and friendly chit chat as they whack an entry stamp on the Somaliland visa in your passport.“If you look at the happiness of Somalilanders and the challenges they are facing, it does not match.” --Khadar Husein, Operational director of the Hargeisa office of Transparency Solutions.

They’re always happy to see a foreigner’s visit providing recognition of their country that technically still doesn’t exist in the eyes of the rest of the political world, despite having proclaimed its independence from Somalia in 1991, following a civil war that killed about 50,000 in the region.

A British protectorate from 1886 until 1960 and unifying with what was then Italian Somaliland to create modern Somalia, Somaliland had got used to going on its own since that 1991 declaration, and today exhibits many of the trappings of a functioning state: its own currency, a functioning bureaucracy, trained police and military, law and order on the streets. Furthermore, since 2003 Somaliland has held a series of democratic elections resulting in orderly transfers of power.

Somaliland’s resolve is most clearly demonstrated in the capital, Hargeisa, formerly war-torn rubble in 1991 at the end of the civil war, its population living in refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia. An event that lives on in infamy saw the jets of military dictator Mohammed Siad Barre’s regime take off from the airport and circle back to bomb the city.

But visitors to today’s sun-blasted city of 800,000 people encounter a mishmash of impassioned traditional local markets cheek by jowl with diaspora-funded modern glass-fronted office blocks and malls, Wi-Fi enabled cafes and air-conditioned gyms, all suffused with typical Somali energy and dynamism.

“We are doing all the right things that the West preaches about but we continue to get nothing for it,” says Osman Abdillahi Sahardeed, minister for the Ministry of Information, Culture and National Guidance. “This is a resilient country that depends on each other—we’re not after a hand out but a hand up.”

Non-statehood deprives Somaliland of direct large-scale international support from the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For these members of the Somaliland Seaman’s Union at Berbera Port’s docks, it means they are not paid the same wages—they earn about $220 a month—as paid to foreign workers due to not belonging to an internationally recognised organisation. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Non-statehood deprives Somaliland of direct large-scale international support from the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For these members of the Somaliland Seaman’s Union at Berbera Port’s docks, it means they are not paid the same wages—they earn about $220 a month—as paid to foreign workers due to not belonging to an internationally recognised organisation. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Increasing levels of exasperation within Somaliland’s government and among the populace are hardly surprising. Somaliland’s apparent success story against the odds remains highly vulnerable. Its economy is perilously fragile. Non-statehood deprives it of direct large-scale international support and access to the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.).

As a result, the government has a tiny budget of about 250 million dollars, with about 60 percent spent on police and security forces to maintain what the country views as one of its greatest assets and reasons for recognition: continuing peace and stability. Also, it relies heavily on the support of local clan elders—it is hard for any government to prove its legitimacy when essential services need the help of international humanitarian organizations, local NGOs and the private sector.

Indeed, Somaliland survives to a large extent on money sent by its diaspora—estimated to range from $400 million to at least double that annually—and by selling prodigious quantities of livestock to Arab countries.

All the while, poverty remains widespread and swathes of men on streets sipping sweet Somali tea and chewing the stimulating plant khat throughout the day testify to chronic unemployment rates.

“About 70 percent of the population are younger than 30, and they have no future without recognition,” says Jama Musse, a former mathematics professor who left Italy to return to Somaliland to run the Red Sea Cultural Foundation center, which offers cultural and artistic opportunities for Hargeisa’s youth. “The world can’t close its eyes—it should deal with Somaliland.”

Peace and security hold in Somaliland, so effectively that moneychangers can safely stash bundles of cash on the street. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Peace and security hold in Somaliland, so effectively that moneychangers can safely stash bundles of cash on the street. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

For now, Somaliland’s peace holds admirably well.

“If you look at the happiness of Somalilanders and the challenges they are facing it does not match,” says Khadar Husein, operational director of the Hargeisa office of Transparency Solutions, a UK-based consultancy focused on civil society capacity building in Somaliland and Somalia. “They are happy because of their values and religion.”

But others speak of the risks of encroaching Wahhabism, a far more fundamental version of Islam compared to Somaliland’s conservative though relatively moderate religiousness, and a particular concern in a volatile part of the world.

“Young men are a ready-made pool of rudderless youth from which militant extremists with an agenda can recruit,” says Rakiya Omaar, a lawyer and Chair of Horizon Institute, a Somaliland consultancy firm helping communities transition from underdevelopment to stability.

Almost everyone acknowledges the country’s present means of sustainment—heavily reliant on the private sector and diaspora—must diversity. Somaliland needs greater income to develop and survive.

Abdi Muhammad, a veteran of the Somali civil war, makes his feelings clear. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Abdi Muhammad, a veteran of the Somali civil war, makes his feelings clear. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

For many, the key to Somaliland’s much needed economic renaissance lies in tapping into the far stronger economy next door: Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and its fastest growing economy, according to the I.M.F.

Crucial to achieving this is Berbera, a name conjuring images of tropical quays and fiery sunsets. Once an ancient nexus of maritime trade, Berbera has long been eclipsed by Djibouti’s ports to the north. But Berbera Port is now on the brink of a major expansion that could transform and return it to a regional transportation hub, and also help fund Somaliland’s nation-building dreams.

In May 2016, Dubai-based DP World was awarded the concession to manage and expand Berbera for 30 years, a project valued at about 442 million dollars, including expanding the port and refurbishing the 268-kilometer route from the port to the border with Ethiopia.

Landlocked Ethiopia has long been looking to diversify its access to the sea, an issue of immense strategic anxiety. Currently 90 percent of its trade goes through Djibouti, a tiny country with an expanding network of ports that scoops at least 1 billion dollars in port fees from Ethiopia every year.

Somaliland would like about 30 percent of that trade through Berbera, and Ethiopia is more than happy with that, allocating such a proportion in its latest Growth and Transformation Plan that sets economic policy until 2020.

Ethiopia and Somaliland had already signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) covering trade, security, health and education in 2014, before in March 2016 signing a trade agreement on using Berbera Port. And Ethiopia could just be the start.

“It would be a gateway to Africa, not just Ethiopia,” says Sharmarke Jama, a trade and economic adviser for the Somaliland government during negotiations on the port concession. “The multiplying benefits for Somaliland’s economy could be endless.”

Somaliland officials hope increased trade at the port will enable greater self-sufficiency to develop the country, while also chipping away at the international community’s resistance over recognition.

“As our economic interests align with the region and we become more economically integrated, that can only help with recognition,” Sharmarke says.

Perhaps. The political odds are stacked against Somaliland due to concerns that recognizing Somaliland would undermine decades of international efforts to patch up Somalia, and open a Pandora ’s Box of separatist claims in the region and further afield around Africa.

But greater self-sufficiency would undoubtedly result from a resurgent Berbera, and without this crucial infrastructure revival Somaliland’s economic potential will remain untapped, trapping its people in endless cycles of dependence, leaving those idle youth on street corners.

On April 13, 2016, up to 500 migrants died after a boat capsized crossing the Mediterranean. Most media reported that a large portion of those who died were from Somalia. But in Hargeisa following the tragedy, locals noted how many of those who died were more specifically Somalilanders.

“Why are they leaving? Unemployment,” says Abdillahi Duhe, former Foreign Minister of Somaliland and now a consultant in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. “Now is a very important time: we’ve passed the stage of recovery, we have peace—but many hindrances remain.”

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Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:55:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148935 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

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Human Rights For Rohingya Worsening, Warns Special Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:59:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148862 Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have since enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

Approximately 90,000 people fled the area since the attacks with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

OHCHR found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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Europe Urged to Address ‘Tragic’ Loss of Lives in Mediterraneanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/europe-urged-to-address-tragic-loss-of-lives-in-mediterranean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-urged-to-address-tragic-loss-of-lives-in-mediterranean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/europe-urged-to-address-tragic-loss-of-lives-in-mediterranean/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 14:53:48 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148802 A youngster walks onto the beach during outing from a reception centre that doubles as a lodging station for unaccompanied minors in Pozzallo, Sicily. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

A youngster walks onto the beach during outing from a reception centre that doubles as a lodging station for unaccompanied minors in Pozzallo, Sicily. Photo: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)

European leaders should take decisive action to address the tragic loss of life on the Central Mediterranean route and the deplorable conditions for migrants and refugees in Libya, urged two major United Nations agencies dealing with migrants and refugees.

“To better protect refugees and migrants, we need a strong European Union that is engaged beyond its borders to protect, assist and help find solutions for people in need,” said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a joint statement.

“This includes building capacity to save lives at sea or on land, strengthening the rule of law and fighting against criminal networks.”

IOM and UNHCR launched their appeal on the eve of the informal meeting of the European Council on Feb. 3 in Valletta, Malta, calling for “concerted efforts” to ensure that sustainable migration and asylum systems are put in place in Libya, when the security and political situation permits, and in neighbouring countries.

They also urged a move away from migration management based on the automatic detention of refugees and migrants in “inhumane” conditions in Libya towards the creation of proper reception services.

“Open reception centres should offer safe and dignified conditions, including for children and victims of trafficking, and respect key protection safeguards.”

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Photo: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Photo: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

The two UN bodies expressed hope that Valetta’s informal summit would also help move towards the adoption of a common approach to migration by the European Union.

“Concrete measures in support of the Government of Libya are needed to build capacity to register new arrivals, support the voluntary return of migrants, process asylum claims and offer solutions to refugees. This should include a significant expansion of opportunities for safe pathways such as resettlement and humanitarian admission, among others, to avoid dangerous journeys.”

IOM and UNHCR reminded that in Libya, together with partners, they have made “tremendous efforts to deliver basic protection to refugees, migrants and affected local populations,” who in some places are also in dire need of assistance.

Migrants arrive in Europe after surviving a harrowing sea journey. File photo: IOM

Migrants arrive in Europe after surviving a harrowing sea journey. File photo: IOM


“Security constraints continue to hinder our ability to deliver life-saving assistance, provide basic services to the most vulnerable and find solutions through resettlement, assisted voluntary return or self-reliance. Unhindered humanitarian access remains a priority.”

“We believe that, given the current context, it is not appropriate to consider Libya a safe third country, nor to establish extra-territorial processing of asylum seekers in North Africa,“ IOM and UNHCR stated, adding that hey hope that “humane” solutions can be found to end the suffering of thousands of migrants and refugees in Libya and across the region.

2016 was the worst year in terms of people perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. According to preliminary figures from UNHCR, of the 363,348 people who crossed the sea, 5,079 people –almost 1 in 72 – were lost (died or missing).

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Trump’s Muslim Ban a Test for Unity and Solidarityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 16:14:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148766 Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK / UNITED NATIONS, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Outgoing African Union Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has described the United States ban on refugees and immigrants from seven countries as “one of the greatest challenges and tests to our unity and solidarity.”

Speaking to African leaders on Monday Zuma asked why “the very country to whom our people were taken as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, have now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.”

On Friday 27 January United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily ceasing entry to the United States for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also suspended the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and indefinitely blocked all refugees from Syria from entering the United States.

African leaders are not the only ones who see the ban as a test of unity and solidarity.

Others see growing anti-Muslim sentiment as a rallying point for solidarity between different religious groups, with American Jews questioning the “terrible irony” of the bill being signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

IPS spoke with Fadi Hallisso, a former Jesuit from Syria and Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and is involved in interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” -- Fadi Hallisso

Hallisso, is the co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh a Syrian NGO, whose five founders include three Christians.

“Our work in Turkey and Lebanon is almost 100 percent with Muslim Syrians,” Hallisso told IPS. “I think working hand-in-hand with different people from different religious backgrounds is what we need right now.”

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” he said.

Trump’s order also states that once the U.S. refugee program resumes it will prioritise claims from religious minorities – prompting some to believe that Christian refugees from these Muslim majority countries will be prioritised.

However Hallisso, himself a Syrian Christian, disagreed that in the case of Syria Christians are more persecuted than Muslims.

“We are all human beings suffering from an impossible situation that we wish to have an end to soon,” he said.

Hallisso described the women’s marches that occurred the day after Trump’s inauguration as an important act of solidarity.

“I wish we can in the coming few months and years to expand this solidarity to become global solidarity movement,” he said. “If the people of goodwill do not work together and the bad guys would have the last say.”

Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in New York told IPS that he has seen a growing movement of people of different background in the United States bridging divides.

Ibrahimi is part of a group which organises interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“We sense open Islamaphobia and subtle anti-semitism – not to mention the anti-women rhetoric and more,” Ibrahimi told IPS.

“The good news is that some Muslim-Jewish and other faith or non-faith groups have come together to voice their concerns about this whole chaotic policy shift and we have witnessed these groups showing up in protests in large crowds, across the country, in unprecedented ways probably since the 1960s during the Vietnam war.”

Meanwhile, the White House has also been criticised for failing to mention Jewish people in its statement issued on Holocaust Memorial Day.

“I think it’s so bizarre to talk about the Holocaust and not mention Jewish people,” said Ibrahimi. “It was the Jewish people who had suffered the most during those horrific times of World War Two.”

He said that people are drawing connections and associating significance with the marginalisation of minorities in Nazi Germany and the events unfolding in the United States.

For some American Jews, it was no coincidence that the dramatic change in US immigration policy was announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of Liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street said that it was a “terrible irony” that Trump signed the order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The fact that President Trump’s order appears designed to specifically limit the entry of Muslims evokes horrible memories among American Jews of the shameful period leading up to World War Two, when the United States failed to provide a safe haven for the vast majority of Jews in Europe trying to escape Nazi persecution,” said Ben-Ami.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that she was ready to register as a Muslim in response to Trump’s proposed Muslim Registry – which as yet has not been enacted:

“I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity,” said Albright who came to the United States from Czechoslovakia as a refugee.

Hallisso expressed dismay that the United States a country “built on immigration,” and “built by immigrants escaping religious persecution in Europe” has begun “portraying all immigrants and refugees as potential terrorists.”

“To see this coming from Americans now, some American leaders, is for me devastating because it is like someone ignoring all of the history of his own country,” he said.

“But also it is problematic for us in the Middle East for a number of reasons, because for God’s sake, how do you expect countries like Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey to continue to receive more than a million refugees if 10,000 Syrian refugees coming to the United States are a problem?”

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The Trump Presidency: The First Weekhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-trump-presidency-the-first-week/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-trump-presidency-the-first-week http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-trump-presidency-the-first-week/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 10:58:34 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148757 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Attacking the Affordable Care Act; the “global gag rule” against abortion; the federal regulation and hiring freeze; canceling the TPP; restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline; limiting entry with the Mexican Wall; the 90-day travel ban on seven countries; more undocumented people prioritized for deportation; no federal funding for cities refusing to cooperate; communications blackout from federal agencies; Guantánamo torture continued–What does it add up to?

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

A very strong white state centered on a president with absolute power and control over life (birth) and death (care) of the citizens. Not regulating police racism. So far, no order on the military.

Fascism? Too early to say; but in that direction. It opens for questions about the inner workings of Donald J. Trump. Who is he?

A Johns Hopkins psychologist sees Trump suffering from “malignant narcissism“. A Norwegian historian, Öystein Morten, in a detailed analysis of Norwegian king crusader Sigurd Jorsalafare (1103-1130)–clearly crazy–has a Norwegian psychiatrist diagnose him as suffering from “bipolar depression”, manic-depressive. Is Trump only manic?

This column early on saw Trump as suffering from “autism”, living in his own bubble, speaking his babble with no sense of reciprocity, the reaction of the other side. The column stands by that.

However, this column drew a line between his words and deeds; denouncing his rhetoric as grossly insulting and prejudicial, but pinning some hope on his deeds. Wrong, and sorry about that. After one week, Trump clearly means every word he says, and enacts them from Day 1; even what he once retracted in a New York Times interview.

Combine the two points just made: autism and immediate enactment. He acts, and from his bubble does not sense how others will react, and increasingly proact. He assumes that others will accept his orders, obey, and that is it. It is not. His orders my even backfire.

As many point out, terrorism in the USA after 9/11 is almost nil. But his actions may change that. Some Mexicans may hit back, not only against the wall but the border itself, drawn by USA grabbing 53% of Mexican territory in 1846-48, then soaking Mexico in debt and violence importing drugs and exporting arms, even unaware of the harm they do.

Take the seven countries targeted by Trump for collective punishment: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen; the old seven with state central banks targeted by Bush, with Yemen substituted for Lebanon. All mainly Muslim.

Imagine them reacting by cooperating, learning from China to raise the bottom up, starting building a West Asian community with links across the Red Sea, and “Saudi” Arabia soon joining?

If their governments do not do that, imagine the Islamic State doing exactly that? What a gift to the Islamic State/Caliphate!

As a minimum, the 7 might reciprocate and block US citizens’ entry for the same period. How would that affect US military operations? Would it force Trump to use force? In fact, are his demands on other countries so extreme, not only in words but in deeds, that there are no more words and deeds left short of force? Does his extremism limit his range of options, making war as probable as under Hillary Clinton?

And yet what he has done so far, firing and backfiring, is little relative to what other US presidents have done of harm.

Take FDR spending much of his presidencies on beating Japan, scheming to provoke Japan into war, defeat and permanent occupation to eliminate Japan as a threat to US economy and polity. That policy is still being enacted, now as “collective self-defense.”

Take JFK getting USA into the Vietnam War in 1961.

Take Eisenhower eliminating Lumumba, maybe Hammarskjöld.

They caused devastation of Japan, of Vietnam and set back Africa on its way to freedom, autonomy, independence. Trump is retracting, contracting, away from others, but not expanding into them. So far.

The reaction inside the USA has been from judges challenging the legality of the orders and launching court suits. The market has been ambiguous but generally down with heavy protests from Silicon Valley. Trump claims the orders are working. What else will happen?

It is difficult to imagine that there will not be a CIA response, being challenged and provoked by Trump, not only for accusing Russia of intervening to his advantage.

There are probably at this moment countless meetings in Washington on how to get rid of Trump. Yet, he has command over not only his Executive, Congress and the Supreme Court, but also over the overwhelming number of states in the union.

US presidents have been assassinated before Trump when the forces against are sufficiently strong. Could somebody from the Travel ban 7 be hired to do the job, making it look as a foreign conspiracy?

Another and more hopeful scenario would be nonviolent resistance. Difficult for border officials. But inside the USA people to be deported may be hidden, protected by their own kind and by others–with care though, Trump also has some good points.

More constructive would be alternative foreign policies by cities, at present not by the federation, nor by most of the states. Reaching out to the seven and above all to Mexico for dialogue; searching for better relations than at present and under Trump.

Preparing the ground for something new, under the Democratic Party or not. Not a third party, impossible in the USA it seems, but as general approach. The relation between New York and Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Tripoli, Khartoum, Mogadisciu and Sana’a as an example. Still some space!

There is no greatness in what Trump does, he makes USA smaller. Trying rebirth instead of rust, canceling stupid deals like TPP: OK. But retracting into a self-glorifying strong state is not greatness, it is isolation. Greatness is not in what you are but in how you relate. And Trump relates very badly.

Johan Galtung’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS): TMS: The Trump Presidency: The First Week

The statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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The US War on Muslim Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 16:23:00 +0000 Salil Shetty http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148723 Salil Shetty is Secretary General of Amnesty International]]> People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

By Salil Shetty
LONDON, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The gloves are off. With today’s Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” President Donald J. Trump has declared war on Muslim refugees around the world.

With the stroke of a pen, the President has – among other actions – banned Syrian refugees from the USA and has also effectively prevented anyone (including refugees) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the USA. These seven countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and they are the countries from where the majority of people seeking asylum from serious human rights violations like persecution or torture are trying to escape.

Were it not so disturbing and dangerous, this Executive Order would be pathetic in its absurdity.

It is ludicrous because there is no data to support the view that refugees – Muslim or otherwise – pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. A refugee is not a person who commits acts of terrorism. It is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism. Under international law, perpetrators of these crimes are automatically disqualified from refugee status. Additionally, the US Refugee Admissions Program puts refugees through the most rigorous and detailed security screenings of any category of persons – immigrant or visitor – to enter the USA.

The Executive Order is preposterous in its irrationality. But no one should be laughing about it.

This is a deeply frightening document. Faced with a global emergency in which 21 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth responds by obliterating one of their only avenues for hope: “resettlement.” This is a process whereby vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, or women and girls at risk) trapped in dire circumstances in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan, are allowed to move to a country such as the USA. In sum, this Executive Order abandons host countries and punishes the most vulnerable among an already vulnerable group.

Does the Executive Order explicitly ban Muslim refugees? No. But the anti-Muslim rationale is brazen. All the countries subject to these severe restrictions are predominantly Muslim. With this action, President Trump has sent a clear message that the USA needs to be protected from Muslim people, and that they are inherently dangerous.

Also, the text identifies one of the exceptions to the new restrictions as people with religious persecution claims, but only if they are part of a religious minority. A plain reading of this provision is that the Trump administration will resettle Christians fleeing predominantly Muslim countries. This provision cloaks religious discrimination in the language of religious persecution. It is even conceivable that this favoured treatment could accentuate a risk to Christian minorities in some countries where they face discrimination and violence on grounds of allegedly belonging to a foreign or American religion.

All in all, this Executive Order would function admirably as a recruitment tool for armed groups such as the Islamic State – groups keen to show that countries like the USA are inherently hostile to Muslim people.

Make no mistake: people will lose their lives because of this Executive Order. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, feeling aggrieved and abandoned by the international community, will begin or increase their forcible expulsions of refugees. Vulnerable women, men and children who would otherwise be able to move to the USA, and who are trapped in unbearable situations, will “choose” to return home to a risk of torture or death.

It is important to remind ourselves who these people are. In 2016, 72% of the refugees resettled to the US were women and children. In my view, the term “refugee” doesn’t do justice to the people who have braved deadly seas, deserts, and human-caused dangers, in the hopes of restarting their lives in peace. I have had the privilege of meeting some of these people, and have always been humbled by their resilience in the face of almost unimaginable adversity. Any country, including the US, would benefit from welcoming them.

Your gloves may be off, Mr. President. But – in solidarity with the 21 million refugees in the world today, and the countless people and organizations who work alongside and for people seeking protection – so are ours.

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Protecting the Rights of Women Migrant Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/protecting-the-rights-of-women-migrant-workers/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 20:33:45 +0000 Prasad Kariyawasam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148689 Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam is a member of the UN Committee on Migrant Workers]]> Women migrant workers. - UN photo

Women migrant workers. - UN photo

By Prasad Kariyawasam
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

International migration is a complex phenomenon dealing with overlapping issues relating to the human rights of migrants, mixed migration flows, international protection, smuggling and trafficking, as well as other push and pull factors affecting migration.

But, the need of the hour is a rights-based comprehensive approach placing the human rights of migrants at the center of the discussion to halt and roll back overall deterioration of treatment of migrant workers, worldwide, in particular, women migrant workers and children.

Evidence suggests that the world is on the eve of far greater international mobility largely due to work force decline and population ageing, coupled with low birth rates in many industrialized countries. Migrants will be even more essential to address labour market needs and the sustainability of economic development in many countries.

But as we all know, migrants move due to a number of reasons. Migration is not only due to economic factors, but man-made disasters and conflicts can drive them in large number as we observe now.

And migration can be engendered due to poverty and lack of human development; gender inequalities; discrimination; abuse and neglect; gang violence; political instability; socio-ethnic tensions; bad governance; food insecurity; environmental degradation and climate change.

As underscored by many Human Rights defenders, human rights abuses play a crucial role in decisions to migrate, in particular by women.

Out of more than 244 million migrants throughout the world, half are women, and an estimated 20 percent are in an irregular situation. In some countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines, female migrant workers leaving for work abroad are much more than half of those leaving.

And in overall, international migration is becoming increasingly feminized as more women are migrating on their own volition, seeking economic and social opportunities and empowerment through migration.

Most women contribute more than men in destination countries in professions, such as care-givers while contributing even more to the well-being of their families in their countries of origin. But, women migrant workers are particularly at risk of discrimination, abuse and exploitations.

They receive wages that are under the minimum baseline, and are victims of fraudulent practices, excessive working hours and even illegal confinement by their employers. Sexual harassment, threats and intimidation against them are rampant.

Meanwhile, number of women migrant workers committing suicide is on the increase. Abuses of women migrant workers are more intensified when their immigration status is irregular. They are often denied the most basic labour protections, personal security, due process guarantees, health care and, education for their children. They often face abuse and harassment at international borders based on race, identity and age. And often they risk being trafficked, enslaved or sexually assaulted.

Domestic female migrant workers are a most vulnerable group. According to the ILO, 53 million women and girls around the world are employed as domestic workers in private households. They clean, cook, care for children, look after elderly family members, and perform other care giving essential tasks for their employers.

Despite their important role, they are among the most exploited and abused workers in the world. They often work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages far below the minimum wage. And their work is often not recognized as work under national labour codes.

Their work is not quantified in financial terms and therefore not adequately compensated. They may be locked within their workplace and subject to physical and sexual violence for lack of means for seeking formal protection normally available for other women in formal sectors of employment.

Therefore, policymakers and other stakeholders in every country must adopt a gender-sensitive and rights based approach in developing labour migration laws and policies in line with the core human rights treaties, and in particular CEDAW and CMW, as well as relevant ILO labour standards.

These human rights instruments relevant to migrants seek to achieve gender equality and protection for women and girls irrespective of age, sexuality, race, disability, migration status and other identity markers.

National and local laws and policies should be evolved to guarantee that human rights, including labour rights, are enjoyed equally by men and women migrant workers and that migration legislation, policies and programmes must promote equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupations with a view to eliminating any discrimination based on sex.

In this regard, female domestic workers must receive special attention, as they are most vulnerable group. The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is a robust and agreed legal framework for the rights of all migrant workers and their families in countries of origin, transit and destination.

The Convention sets out the best strategy to prevent abuses and address challenges faced by female migrant workers. It provides guidance for elaborating of national migration policies for international co-operation based on respect for human rights and the rule of law.

In addition to setting minimum obligations for the protection of migrant workers and members of their families, the Convention is a helpful tool for governance of migration. The Convention explicitly provides a framework for human-rights based policy-making on migration, including irregular migration and female migrant workers.

The treaty body of the convention, the “Committee on Migrant Workers” (CMW) seeks to encourage its State parties and all stakeholders to work towards reaching standard enunciated in this convention and other relevant international instruments. And CMW in its general comments have elaborated guidance as to how States can implement their obligation with respect to migrant domestic workers, in particular, females.

CMW regularly advises States to ensure that they develop effective pre-departure and awareness-raising programmes for female workers who have made the decision to migrate, with briefings on their rights under the relevant human rights treaties in force, including CMW, as well as the conditions of their admission and employment and their rights and obligations under the law and practice of the receiving States.

Among other measures, CMW encourage countries of origin to enter into agreements with States of destination for the establishment of standard, unified and binding employment contracts with fair, full and clear conditions and labour standards that are enforceable by systems of law in countries of origin and employment; and to ensure that consular offices are trained to assist female migrant workers, and to provide counselling and guidance for submitting complaints; and encourage States to regulate and monitor recruitment agencies to ensure that they respect the human and labour rights of women migrant workers.

CMW also advises States to repeal sex-specific bans and discriminatory restrictions on women’s migration on the basis of age, marital status, pregnancy or maternity status, including restrictions that require women to get permission from their spouse or male guardian to obtain a passport or to travel or bans on women migrant workers.

The issue of detention of female migrant workers is yet another punitive measure that is often abused by authorities in many countries. The convention attempts to make migration for work as a positive and empowering experience for individuals and their societies, contributing to economic progress and human development both at home and in destination countries.

Today’s dramatic migration crisis underscores the urgent need to begin a more honest discussion about the obstacles to ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention. The Convention at present has only 50 State parties, and most are States of origin of migrant workers, and destination countries by not ratifying the Convention are conspicuously avoiding the human rights standards of the Convention.

A clear vision of the need for migrant labour in destination countries, with more channels for regular migration, as well as for family reunification, would assist greatly in preventing the exploitation and other dangers faced by female migrant workers and to enable them to live a life in dignity.

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Harvesting Peace: How Rural Development Works for Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:18:59 +0000 Josefina Stubbs http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148622 Josefina Stubbs is candidate for President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She has served in IFAD as Associate Vice-President of Strategy and Knowledge from 2014 to 2016 and as Director of Latin America and the Caribbean from 2008 and 2014.]]> Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

By Josefina Stubbs
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic and ROME, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

The year 2016 has seen a massive population flow, unprecedented in its range and reach. Millions of people have fled war-torn communities, natural disasters and violence, some overflowing neighboring countries’ refugee camps, some crossing perilous seas and walking hundreds of miles to reach safer grounds, others seeking refuge in countries half a world away. Thousands have died on their way to safety, countless more were victims of violence and abuse, among them many women and children.

Conflict and violence force people out of their communities, leaving them without resources or means to start afresh. They stall the lives of millions of people, depriving adults of their dignity and children of their childhood. According to the most recent UNHCR data available, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in 2015 and that figure has been growing at a rate of 34,000 people per day. Of these, 21.3 million are refugees and half of them under the age of 18. Refugees put enormous pressure on receiving countries, where this sudden population increases puts their host countries at risk of food shortages and competition for limited employment opportunities.

In rural areas, conflict has devastating consequences. Being more sparsely populated and more difficult to police, rural spaces offer relatively safe havens for violent groups to gain ground and base their operations, terrorizing rural communities in the process.

This is one way that conflict and rural development are related. In fact, the relationship between the two is complex and tightly intertwined. In addition to brutally affecting rural communities, conflict often stems from competition for land and natural resources, such as water. Poverty, lack of employment and opportunities of a better future fuels resentment and offers extremists fertile recruiting grounds. When conflict erupts, rural development becomes difficult, if not impossible. Conversely, prosperous rural areas are more resilient to conflict. Investing in rural areas with the aim to strengthen rural communities in food production, business creation, productive as well as basic infrastructure and conflict mitigation helps prevent conflict escalation, promotes stability and reduces food insecurity that results from massive displacement of famers.

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has considerable experience in preventing conflict and buffering its impact through investments in inclusive, sustainable rural transformation in Africa, the Middle East and in Latin America. By investing in rural development, we can provide rural people the option to stay and the strength to resist the onset of violence. By focusing on agriculture production and rural business development, countries become more resilient to food shortages and natural resource degradation. This is particularly important in countries that heavily depend on food imports and who have little or no autonomy in food production. On the other hand, rural business development offers alternatives to farmers and producers to diversify their activities and income sources, and invest in their territories, making them more likely to survive bad harvest as well as natural or man-made disasters. Building rural centers of diverse economic activities is key to reducing the pressure from highly populated urban areas and to creating opportunities for youth to plan their future in the countryside.

Development is a complex process – a social, cultural, religious, political, economic and technological puzzle in which the pieces constantly change shapes. Investment in inclusive rural transformation strengthens the fabric of the society that will build the puzzle and hold the pieces together for years to come. In conflict zones, the coordinated work and investment of the international community is crucial and should be geared toward providing the tools and knowledge to rural organizations and local institutions to take ownership of their communities’ development. It should support local and national authorities how represent the people to create policies that favor sustainable and peaceful growth, and to gain the skills and tools to negotiate, enforce and maintain peace and security. While contributing to achieving Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, it is also a moral obligation.

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A Women’s March on the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-womens-march-on-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/a-womens-march-on-the-world/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148588 Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality.

Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing a range of issues including affordable and accessible healthcare, gender-based violence, and racial equality.

“It’s a great show of strength and solidarity about how much women’s rights matter—and women’s rights don’t always take the front page headlines,” Nisha Varia, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division told IPS.

Despite the variety of agendas being put forth for the march, the underlying message is that women’s rights are human rights, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang told IPS.

“All people must be treated equally and with respect to their rights, no matter who is in positions of authority and who has been elected,” she said.

Organisers and partners have stressed that the march is not anti-Trump, but rather is one that is concerned about the current and future state of women’s rights.

“It’s not just about one President or one candidate, there’s a much bigger banner that we are marching for…our rights should not be subject to the whims of an election,” Kelly Baden, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy told IPS.

The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“It’s about women, not Trump,” she continued.

The rhetoric used during the election is among the concerns for marchers as it reflects a troubling future for women’s rights.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump made a series of sexist remarks from calling Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” to footage showing him boasting of sexual assault. Though Trump downplayed his remarks as “locker room talk,” his rhetoric is now being reflected in more practical terms through cabinet nominations.

Huang pointed to nominee for Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has a long and problematic record on women’s rights including voting against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which addresses pay discrimination.

During her confirmation hearing, Nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t say if she would uphold title IX which requires universities to act on sexual assault on campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

The new administration has also recently announced cuts to the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Grants, which distribute funds to organisations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There is no question that we’re going to have some challenges in terms of increasing protections for women’s rights over the next few years,” said Huang to IPS.

Meanwhile, Varia pointed to other hard fought gains that risk being overturned including the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, which U.S. Congress is currently working to repeal, provides health coverage to almost 20 million Americans by prohibiting insurers from denying insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions and by providing subsidies to low-income families to purchase coverage.

If repealed, access to reproductive services such as contraception and even information will become limited. The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“Denying women access to the types of insurers or availability of clinics that can help them get pre-natal checks and can help them control their fertility by having access to contraception—these are all the type of holistic care that needs to be made available,” Varia said.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where the number of women dying as a result of child birth is increasing, Varia noted.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American women. This constitutes the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, closer in numbers to Mexico and Egypt than Italy and Japan, according to World Bank statistics.

A UN Working Group also expressed their dismay over restrictive health legislation, adding that the U.S. is falling behind international standards.

Though the ACA repeal and potential defunding of Planned Parenthood, another key reproductive services provider, threatens all women, some communities are especially in danger.

Francis Madi, a marcher and Long Island Regional Outreach Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition, told IPS that immigrant and undocumented immigrant women face additional barriers in accessing health care.

Most state and federal forms of coverage such as the ACA prohibits providing government-subsidised insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Even for those who can, insurance is still hard or too expensive to acquire, making programs like Planned Parenthood essential.

“I can’t even do my job as an organiser asking for immigrant rights if I’m not able to access the services I need to live here,” Madi told IPS.

Madi highlighted the opportunity the march brings in working together through a range of issues and identities.

“I’m going because as a woman and an immigrant and an undocumented immigrant as well…it’s very important to attend this march to show we can work together on our issues,” she told IPS.

“If we don’t organize with each other, we can’t really achieve true change,” she continued.

In its policy platform, organisers of the Women’s March on Washington also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in women’s rights.

“Our liberation is bound in each other’s,” they said.

This includes not only women in the U.S., but across the world.

“There’s definitely going to be an international voice in this, not just U.S. activists,” Huang told IPS.

Marching alongside women in Washington D.C. on January 21st will be women in nearly 60 other countries participating in sister marches from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to Australia.

“Women are concerned that a loss of a champion in the U.S. government will have significant impacts in other countries,” Huang said. Of particular concern is the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” which stipulates that foreign organisations receiving any U.S. family planning funding cannot provide information or perform abortions, even with funding from other sources. The U.S. does not fund these services itself.

The policy not only restricts basic right to speech, but analysis shows that it has harmed the health of low-income women by limiting access to family planning services.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest family planning bilateral donor.

Though the march is important symbolic act of solidarity, it is just the first step.

“We are also part of a bigger movement—we need to come together and be in solidarity on Saturday and then we need to keep doing the hard work [during[ the long days and months and years of organising that we have ahead of us,” Baden said.

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Pacific Islanders Call for U.S. Solidarity on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:24:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148561 Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The new political power of business magnate Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 as the 45th President of the United States, will have ramifications for every global region, including the Pacific Islands.

Pacific leaders who are witnessing rising seas, coastal erosion and severe natural disasters in the region are alert to the new president’s declared scepticism about climate change and the contributing factor of human activities. His proposed policy changes include cutting international climate funding and pushing ahead fossil fuel projects.“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the president embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction.” -- Reverend Tafue Lusama

They say the United States’ solidarity on climate change action is vital to protecting people in developing and industrialised nations from climate-driven disasters, environmental degradation and poverty.

There are 22 Pacific Island states and territories and 35 percent of the region’s population of about 10 million people lives below the poverty line. One of the most vulnerable to climate change is the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, home to about 10,000 people spread over nine low lying coral islands.

“Tuvalu is among the poorest in the world, it is isolated, small and low in elevation. All aspects of life, from protecting our small land to food security, from our marine resources to our traditional gardens are being impacted by climate change. All the adaptation measures that need to be put in place need international climate funding. With Trump’s intended withdrawal pathway, our survival is denied and justice is ignored,” Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Tuvalu Christian Church and global advocate for climate action, told IPS.

Trump’s 100-day action plan, issued during last year’s presidential campaign, claims it will tackle government corruption, accountability and waste and improve the lives of U.S. citizens who have been marginalised by globalisation and ‘special interests’ of the political elite.

But his intended actions include cancelling billions in payments to United Nations climate change programmes, aimed at assisting the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and approving energy projects, worth trillions of dollars, involving shale, oil, natural gas and coal in the United States in a bid to boost domestic jobs.

Last December, 800 scientists and energy experts worldwide wrote an open letter to the then president-elect encouraging him to remain steadfast to policies put forward during the Barack Obama administration such as reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which in association with industrial processes accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting renewable energy development.

“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the President embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction,” Reverend Lusama added.

London-based Chatham House claims that a key success of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015 was the supportive ‘alignment’ of the United States, the second largest emitter accounting for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a grouping of countries committed to rigorous climate targets, which was instrumental in driving consensus that global warming should be kept lower than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Increased global warming could be disastrous for Pacific Island states with many already facing a further rise in sea levels, extremely high daily temperatures and ocean acidification this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

In 2015 the region was hit by a severe El Nino climate cycle which ‘forced people to walk for days seeking sustenance…and, in some cases, to become severely weakened or die from malnutrition,’ Caritas reports. In Papua New Guinea, 2.7 million people, or 36 percent of the population, struggled with lack of food and water as prolonged drought conditions caused water sources to dry up and food crops to fail.

And a consequence of more severe natural disasters in the region is that their arc of impact can be greater.

“Kiribati is one country in the world that is very safe from any disaster….[but] during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu [in 2015] and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji [in 2016], the effects also reached Kiribati, which has never happened in the past,” Pelenise Alofa, National Co-ordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, told IPS.

The economic toll of natural disasters is well beyond the capacity of Kiribati, a Least Developed Country with the third lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world in a ranking of 195 countries by the World Bank.

“It is not in a position to meet its own adaptation needs because the climate change problems are too enormous for a small country like Kiribati to have enough resources to meet the problem head on,” Alofa said.

The economic burden extends to replacing coastal buildings at risk of climate change and extreme weather, which would cost an estimated total of 22 billion dollars for 12 Pacific Island nations, claims the University of New England in Australia. The risk is very high in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, where more than 95 percent of built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of a coastline.

Recently several Pacific Island countries benefitted from the United Nations-administered Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest multilateral climate fund dedicated to assisting developing countries cope with climate change. Three grants, ranging from 22 million to 57 million dollars, were awarded for a multiple Pacific nation renewable energy programme, to enable Vanuatu to develop climate information services and Samoa to pursue integrated flood management.

But the GCF, to which the United States, its largest benefactor, has committed 3.5 billion dollars, could suffer if Trump follows through on his promise, given that international pledges currently total 10.3 billion.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference, to be chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany, in November, Pacific Island leaders are keen that President Trump visits the region. President Bainimarama has already invited him to Fiji and the Reverend Lusama would like him to also “visit Tuvalu to witness firsthand the proof which is so obvious to the naked eye of climate change impacts.”

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UN Meeting Says No to Anti-Muslim Hatredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:49:48 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148538 Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit:  UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

The rise in anti-muslim attitudes around the world prompted a special UN meeting Tuesday, just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump whose controversial policies have drawn on anti-Muslim sentiments.

As if to illustrate just how easily noble intentions are misinterpreted, co-opted and misused, the event’s hashtag #No2Hatred was quickly taken over by nefarious social media actors and became an outlet for angry political diatribe.

“Anti-muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum,” said David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom at the event. “The rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

Saperstein quoted studies showing a massive rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, France has seen a 223 percent increase in attacks on Muslims between 2014 and 2015, the British investigative group TELL MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in abuse and public attacks on Muslims in the UK over the same period. A 2016 study found 72 percent of  Hungarians admit to a negative view of Muslims.
"Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence," -- Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada.

“Underreporting is a very serious structural problem that obscures these numbers. The silencing effect is enormous and we must resolve to confront this,” Saperstein said.

“I sincerely regret just how necessary these deliberations have become,” said Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada. “Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence.”

Panels looked at civil society building how governments could best combat anti-Muslim discrimination, and positive narratives to promote inclusion. Several topics recurred for discussion; how best to engage with political actors and organisations of different beliefs, and how to counter misinformation online.

The American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish relations director, Mr Robert Silverman reinforced the idea of creating powerful messages by finding alliances and shared priorities with unlikely groups.

“Too often initiatives result in people speaking within bubbles to each other. In a country like the United States or in a place like Europe, we need to get out of our bubbles and reach out to the unlikely and unorthodox partners.”

“You should focus on the common ground,” he continued. “Don’t try to bring in an issue like climate change. Just focus narrowly on the common grounds.”

European Commission Coordinator on Combating anti-Muslim hatred David Friggieri outlined his meeting with the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google where “open and frank discussion” lead to the enforcement of the European Union’s free speech laws in an effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment. The ‘red line’ agreed to by the companies and the European law, he told IPS, was one of incitement.

“We have a law prohibiting incitement to violence or hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality,” said Friggieri. “We are monitoring the situation with them every few months. We have had our first monitoring and there are some improvements but we look forward to seeing more.”

“In terms of the really bad type of hate speech such as incitement to violence, we look at: how are they taking it down? How long before they take it down? What responses does the company give to individuals who notify and to trusted flaggers? Ultimately the aim is to take down (from the internet) the worst type of incitement to violence.”

In a similar effort to address the recent increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Moiz Bokhari, advisor to the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation spoke of the Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding a newly established website that provides foundations to deconstruct dangerous narratives. The site is aimed at addressing the potential for crimes, radicalisation and to “counter all types of radical extremist discourse in order to delegitimise the violent and manipulative acts committed in the name of religion, ideology or claims of cultural superiority.”

 The High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred was dominated by discussion of how to address anti-Muslim sentiment and increase the  message of tolerance and inclusion. The forum was convened by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the Permanent Missions of the United States and Canada.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres used his introductory address to reaffirm the recently-launched initiative Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An outcome from the Summit for Refugees, the strategy is designed to strengthen the bonds between refugees migrants and host countries and communities.

Speakers throughout the day highlighted bipartisan interfaith success stories: the Canadian town that raised money to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down following the Paris terror attacks, the Norwegian mosque that was protected from attack by Oslo’s Jewish community, the power of positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture, and the success of Sadiq Khan who overcame a campaign rife with xenophobic rhetoric to become the first Muslim Mayor of London.

“Politics is moving against us, but local politics not so much,” said Catherine Orsborn, director of interfaith anti-Islamophobia campaign group Shoulder to Shoulder.

Several panellists highlighted the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies so that any future instances Islamophobia could be dealt with more effectively.

Friends of Europe’s Director Europe and Geopolitics Alfiaz Vaiya ended the discussion on civil society and coalition building with an optimistic note: “The political climate is very toxic, but it’s about politicians being able to sell and be confident in selling a strong narrative on inclusion and diversity. I think youth are the way forward, we see how they vote we see how they follow progressive trends and we should encourage more youth to get involved in conversations like this.”

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Migrants Seeking Europe Catch Their Breath in Moroccohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/migrants-seeking-europe-catch-their-breath-in-morocco/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:35:58 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148422 City of Rabat, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

City of Rabat, Morocco. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
NADOR, RABAT and CASABLANCA, Morocco, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

With a stable economy and a peaceful political climate, Morocco – which has always been a transit country for migrants — is becoming a potential new destination for settlement. The elusive dream for most of those who cross the Sahara, though, is still Europe.

No more than 15 kilometers separate the Spanish enclave Melilla and the Moroccan coastal city of Nador, in the northeastern Rif region. This tiny Spanish town of 70,000 people became a major crossing point for those seeking to reach asylum in Europe."The image of living in Europe is changing and some of them prefer to stay in Morocco as long as they can access rights. It’s not a super-developed country, but neither is it a super-poor country." --Miguel Hernandez Garcia

Melilla, together with Ceuta, are the remaining Spanish territories on the African continent and the European Union’s only land border. Precisely for that reason, many Sub-Saharan Africans and increasing number of Syrians dream of reaching the other side as a promised land and better life.

Both cities erected fortified borders as the pressure from migrants increased. Every year, hundreds of Sub-Saharans (many of those undocumented in Morocco) endeavor to cross the fences or embark on the perilous journey by boat across the Mediterranean.

Last month, rescue ships saved around 60 migrants who were adrift not far from Melilla. In early December 2016, at least 400 people broke through the border fence of Ceuta. On Jan. 1, another wave of 1,100 African migrants attempted to storm the same fence.

Mohamed Diaradsouba, 24, risked his life after he decided to depart Ivory Coast. He traveled almost 5,000 kms from Abidjan to Nador, passing through Mali and Algeria. He left his wife and one-year-old son with the hope of one day coming back.

“Where I lived there was no employment, I couldn’t get money to survive. I came to Morocco because I want to cross to Spain. But here there is no job either. I’m sure I’ll find a job in Spain, France, Belgium or Germany and make my living,” he told IPS.

He and a group of four companions rely on small donations provided by activists and the Catholic Church in Nador. Undocumented migrants are not tolerated by local police, who frequently conduct street sweeps and arrest those without legal papers.

When IPS talked to Diaradsouba on a cold November night, he was living in a rural community called Khamis-akdim, a 15-minute drive from Nador. It had been three months since he and some 300 other people Sub-Saharans Africa had set up a makeshift camp in the surrounding forest due to fear of entering the city.

Campsite where Sub-Saharan migrants live near Nador, Morocco. Credit: Mohamed Diaradsouba

Campsite where Sub-Saharan migrants live near Nador, Morocco. Credit: Mohamed Diaradsouba

“We’re camping in the bushes up on a hill. Life here is not easy. We have to walk every day to fetch water and food. We sleep in plastic tents, so when it rains everything gets wet. I didn’t bring any suitcase with me, I’m only wearing my clothes. We’re afraid of the police, they don’t know what human rights are, I’d better stay in the forest,” he said, noting that other nationalities like Cameroonians, Guineans and Malians share the same campsite.

The Ivorian migrant did not have any legal papers, refugee card or asylum seeker certificate of any kind. He is among the thousands of invisible undocumented foreigners in Morocco who are not recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or the Moroccan government.

“It’s difficult to get a paper or a residency permit. I’d have to travel to the capital Rabat (10 hours by train) to make a request. I’m waiting for my luck, one day it will come,” he said.

Diaradsouba had no idea how long he would have to wait to attempt his crossing to Europe. He was still unsure whether he would risk getting through the fences to Melilla, hide himself in the backseat of a car or go by boat. “There’s no fixed price to pay for a boat. We try to gather [funds] among 30 or 40 people. Everything will depend on how much money we’ll have to pay.”

Aziz Kattouf, an activist with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), confirms that those people camping on the forest live in terrible conditions, but he says at least they are in a “safer place” than Nador.

“They’re far from the police’s eyes. They don’t want to stay, their only hope is to cross,” he told IPS, adding that there are other four large camps in the forest where undocumented people have erected tents.

Every two or three weeks, the police raid the camps. “They apprehend men and sometimes children, destroy their tents and take their phones. Many are sent by buses to further areas in the south of Morocco. But they always come back to the camps,” said the activist.

Living alongside the foreigners altered the daily life of residents of Khamis-akdim, but there has not been a case of mistreatment or racism against them. In fact, the local Berber farmers have shown solidarity, said Alwali Abdilhate, a Tamazight speaker.

“We have good relations with the people who are camping. Early in the morning, they go to the streams or waterholes to wash their clothes and buy food in our local market. There’s a bar that allows them to recharge their cell phones,” said Abdilhate, whose family home is located right by the path migrants take to reach the camping area.

A few weeks after the initial interview, Diaradsouba contacted IPS to say he had managed to reach Spain by boat entering through Almeria. He had to pay 2,500 euros to embark on the 12-hour sea journey.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), between January and December 2016, 8,162 migrants arrived by sea in Spain, while 69 people died attempting the crossing.

The majority of migrants in Morocco are Sub-Saharan male adults between 18 and 59 years old, says Miguel Hernandez Garcia, coordinator of a program run by the Association Droit et Justice that provides legal assistance for refugees and asylum seekers.

“There are different reasons for leaving their countries, threats of physical violence or political reasons. Some are in touch with members of their communities who have reached Europe and say living conditions aren’t what they used to be in the past. The image of living in Europe is changing and some of them prefer to stay in Morocco as long as they can access rights. It’s not a super-developed country, but neither is it a super poor country,” Garcia told IPS.

Morocco became the first Arab country to develop a policy that offers undocumented migrants the chance to gain permanent residency. In 2013, the King of Morocco Mohammed VI gave momentum to a new policy on migration after receiving recommendations from the National Council for Human Rights.

“Morocco ratified international conventions and needed to implement policies. It wanted to show a good image to the world as a welcoming country. It was a clever idea to put out this strategy to the international community as an open mind State with humanitarian will. Besides, it’s also a good thing for the economy,” said Garcia.

During a full one-year campaign for regularization, more than 90 percent of the 27,000 migrants who applied were documented. The government is now discussing in Parliament a raft of related legislation – the first law approved on the scope of the new policy was against human trafficking. A second law that still pending is about asylum.

“It’s basically to guarantee the access to rights for migrants. It’s only three years now that this policy is running and still no official body is in charge of it,” Garcia added.

Jean-Paul Cavalieri, the UNHCR representative in Morocco, said the first challenge is to finalise the law on asylum and extend medical benefits to refugees and regular migrants.

“Another challenge has to do with the territorialization of the policy, how you implement the policy on the ground in remote areas. The migrants are spread out across the country. That could be a model for [other] countries in the region. What we want is that refugees are able to find asylum and a protected space. It’s just the beginning, the policies are being developed, but it has to expand and be implemented.”

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Reporting from Inside a Refugee Detention Centrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 23:01:17 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148350 Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

Despite being locked up in an Australian detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani has continued reporting – gaining bylines and media attention around the world.

Journalism is the reason Boochani was forced to flee his home country of Iran, and – like the other 900 men detained indefinitely on Manus Island – seek refuge in Australia.

“When the Australian government exiled me to Manus Island I found out that they are basing their policy on secrecy and dishonesty,” Boochani told IPS.

“In my first days here I started to work to send out the voice of people in Manus. Why did I start? Because the Australian government’s policy of indefinite detention is against my principles and values, and against global human values.”

“I know that I am a refugee but I'm a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don't care about that." -- Behrouz Boochani

Boochani worked as a freelance writer in Iran and founded the magazine Werya, devoted to exploring Kurdish politics, culture and history. In February 2013 the offices of Werya were raided by the paramilitary agency the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also known as Sepah, classified by the US government as a terrorist organisation.

Boochani was in a different city when 11 of his colleagues were arrested. The story he wrote about the raid on the website Iranian Reporters quickly went global and put him in the government’s sights and he fled.

Boochani spent his first two years in detention writing and publishing articles under a fake name, for fear of losing the mobile phone that has been his lifeline since arriving on Manus Island.

“We were not allowed to have phones until April this year,” he explains. “The guards twice searched my room looking for my phone. After two years of sending out my work in this way I felt that I had become part of Australian society and with the support of (international organisations) PEN International and Reporters Without Borders, I started to use my real name. I would never say that I’m not scared, but I say that fear is not powerful enough to stop me or prevent me from working on my mission. It’s my duty to document all of what happens here.”

What has been happening on Manus Island has attracted global condemnation. In May the UN Human Rights Council condemned the detention centre and Papua New Guinea affirmed that it would be shut down. Since then, the Australian government have declared the centre ‘open’, meaning that inmates can come and go freely though they cannot leave the island. Boochani and other detainees have spoken of being encouraged to accept residency in Papua New Guinea, despite attacks on detainees from both local residents and police forces. Returning to Iran, Boochani says, is not an option.

“PEN International and a coalition of human rights groups launched an international campaign on behalf of Mr Boochani in September 2015. The campaign called for Mr Boochani’s request for asylum to be processed by Australian immigration officials as soon as possible and urged the Australian government to abide by their obligations to the principle of non-refoulement—as defined by Article 33 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Despite numerous approaches to the Australian government and relevant ministers and departments, by the campaign coalition and its supporters, there has been no response from senior government officials.”
– PEN International letter to Australian Minister of Immigration Hon. Peter Dutton MP, November 3, 2016

“The political situation in Iran does not change especially for Kurdish people. There are about 20 journalists still in prison there. In November, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution against the Iranian regime for violating human rights. Last year they hanged more than 1,000 people. How can I go back?”

Since arriving in Manus Island, Boochani has written for Australian and international newspapers and radio programs and co-directed the feature length documentary about life on Manus Island Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time. He has continued to write articles about Kurdish culture and politics for Kurdish media, published poetry and essays, contributed to two forthcoming books and completed his first novel, due in mid-2017.

One of the greatest challenges facing Boochani is what he calls “the refugee concept”, the willingness of Australian and international media to use his insight and words but to cast him as a “broken man” or a refugee.

“This is a big form of censorship,” he says. “I know that I am a refugee but I’m a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don’t care about that. When I have found a subject for a story and provided information and documents to other journalists sometimes they have ignored me, or other times they published a story on the basis of my information but denied my identity by referring to me only as a refugee. I’m doing the same job as other journalists in Australia or anywhere else, but I am always called a refugee.”

Overcoming the international concept of Australia as a peaceful, law-abiding nation with a relaxed attitude to life also presents a difficulty to Boochani as a journalist. “We are being tortured by a western country and the media and human rights organisations find it hard to believe that a country like Australia is implementing policies that are the same in many ways as Iran or Saudi Arabia,” he says. “I am a prisoner like the others here. It’s hard to work in this situation. I have to endure prison and torture and at the same time work as a journalist or human rights defender.”

The Manus Island detention centre holds around 900 men, most of whom are refugees intercepted en route to Australia having fled conflicts in countries such as Sudan or Syria, or persecution as is the case with Rohingyas from Myanmar.

The detention centre is a key part of a multi-billion-dollar bilateral agreement between the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments. Condemnation of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers has come from several branches of the United Nations including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee Against Torture, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

While identifying as a journalist and writer, Boochani is not motivated by profit.

“If I do work for money, I will lose my way. The important thing is to send out a voice from Manus and let people know the reality.”

“I am a journalist, I am a writer, I am a prisoner. The history of this prison is written in my hand … I am here with only a phone and my tongue and say:  I am more than you know. The Australian government made a mistake exiling a journalist to this prison and keeping him as hostage.  Writing is my mission, my work, it is me.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the UN Human Rights Council had declared Manus Island Detention Centre illegal. The council condemned the centre, and in response the PNG government declared it illegal.

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Refugees from Boko Haram Languish in Cameroonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon/#comments Fri, 16 Dec 2016 15:17:54 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148227 UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi is received at the Minawao Camp in Cameroon’s Far North region on Dec. 15, 2016, where some 60,000 refugees have fled attacks by Boko Haram. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi is received at the Minawao Camp in Cameroon’s Far North region on Dec. 15, 2016, where some 60,000 refugees have fled attacks by Boko Haram. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
MINAWAO CAMP, Cameroon, Dec 16 2016 (IPS)

Tears spring to Aichatou Njoya’s eyes as she recalls the day Islamic militants from Boko Haram arrived on her doorstep in Nigeria.

“It was on May 24, 2013. My husband was sleeping in his room while I was on the other side of the house with our six children. The youngest was only one month old,” she mutters, pausing to collect herself.The funding gap for refugees and IDPs in Cameroon now stands at 62.4 million dollars.

Njoya told IPS when the armed insurgents broke into the house, they grabbed her husband and dragged him into her room. “They brought him in front of us and put a machete to his neck and asked him if he was going to convert from Christianity to Islam. They asked thrice, and thrice he refused. Then they slew him right in front of me and our children,” she said, still holding back tears.

The widowed refugee said an argument ensued among the assailants as to whether to spare her life or not. They finally agreed to let her live. The next day she escaped with her children to the hills and trekked for several days until they reached the border with Cameroon, where the UNHCR had vehicles to transport refugees to the camp. The camp had just been set up, she says.

Njoya, now 36, has been living in the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon’s Far North region for more than three and a half years now, with scant hope of returning anytime soon.

IPS spoke with Njoya and others during the Dec. 15 visit of Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for the United Nations Refugee agency UNHCR, to the camp. Grandi called for the financial empowerment of Nigerian refugees to help them cope with insufficient humanitarian aid.

The camp hosts about 60,000 Nigerians who have fled their homes since 2011 because of attacks carried out by the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram.

Grandi spoke with refugees, representatives of national and international NGOs, and officials of the Cameroonian government who gathered to welcome him. Cameroon is the third country he is visiting as part of his tour of countries of the Lake Chad Basin affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Grandi said his visit was intended to encourage donors to provide more aid to affected countries and governments to work together to reinstate peace in the region and facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) their homes.

“We have made efforts to improve aid, but aid is still insufficient. I have listened to complaints of these refugee women who say they do not have any income generation activities and I think the UNHCR and its partners should begin working in that direction. Help them help themselves,” he said.

He had just listened to representatives of the refugees and refugee women discussing the difficulties they face on a daily basis, including food and water shortages, scarcity of wood, insufficient medicines, and insufficient classroom and medical staff in health units in the camp.

Growing population, funding gap aggravate living conditions

According to Njoya, and every other refugee who talked to IPS, including Jallo Mohamed, Bulama Adam and Ayuba Fudama, living conditions are growing worse by the day. They all complain of joblessness. Njoya says even when they leave the camp with refugee certificates as IDs, Cameroonian security officers still stop them from going out.

“This hinders the success of the income generation activities we are yearning for,” she said.

“When we just got here, they gave each refugee 13 kg of rice monthly. It was later reduced to 10 and last month (November 2016) it dropped further. The rationing for wood has also declined.  Nowadays when you go to the health unit for headache, they give you paracetamol. If you have a fever, they give you paracetamol. If you have stomach ache or anything else, they give you the same tablets. And when you go there at night, there is no one on duty,” says Jallo Mohamed.

Reports say there are periods when as many as 50 births are recorded per week in the Minawao camp.

“You can’t blame them. They sleep early every night because they do not have TV sets or other forms of entertainment. That is why the birth rate is as it is,” said a medic at the camp who asked not to be named.

Cameroon currently hosts more than 259,000 refugees from the Central African Republic and 73,747 Nigerians. Funders led by the U.S., Japan, EU, Spain, Italy, France and Korea were able to raise only 37 per cent of a total of 98.6million dollars required in assistance for refugees and IDPs in Cameroon this year – a funding gap of 62.4 million dollars, according to the UNHCR factsheet.

The funding gap for requirements of Nigerian refugees, according to the UNHCR, stands at 29.7 million dollars. Nevertheless, High Commissioner Grandi remains positive that empowering refugees to earn incomes will improve living standards at the Minawao Camp.

Regarding the wood shortage, he said he saw fuel-efficient cooking stoves in Niger and Chad and will encourage stakeholders in Cameroon to introduce the models in the camp. He also reassured refugees that an ongoing water project will provide the camp and host communities with clean pipe-borne water.

The High Commissioner’s mission to Cameroon also includes the launching of 2017 Regional Refugee Response Plan for the Nigeria Refugee Situation.

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For South Asian Policy-Makers, Climate Migrants Still Invisiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:49:42 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148197 Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Dec 13 2016 (IPS)

Tasura Begum straightens up from picking a bushel of green chilis and looks at the mighty Padma River flowing by, wondering whose life it ruined today.

She remembers how she and her husband fretted about the river getting closer and closer to their thatched hut and tiny farm in Bangladesh’s Beparikandi village until, on that fateful day, they watched it engulf all their hopes and dreams.“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse.” --Harjeet Singh of ActionAid

Soon her husband had to take a job as an unskilled construction worker in Saudi Arabia to repay the loan they had meanwhile taken to buy food and rebuild another hut further back from the river. Her teenage son left for the capital Dhaka, leaving Tasura Begum with her youngest 4-year-old boy and an adolescent daughter who dreamt of becoming a doctor so she could cure her mother’s painful kidney ailment.

Crop failure, rising sea levels and flooding all caused by climate change is pushing migration like never before in South Asia, says a joint study released Dec. 8 Climate Change Knows No Borders  by ActionAid, Climate Action Network-South Asia and Bread for the World (Brot Fuer Die Welt).

Address policy gaps before climate forces mass migration, xenophobia, conflict

The three international organisations warn of the devastating and escalating strain climate change places on migration, particularly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and call for governments to recognise and fill the policy gap before it blows up into mass migration, unrest and large-scale conflict over resources.

Sudden events such as cyclones and flooding can lead to temporary displacement. However, if these events happen repeatedly, people lose their savings and assets, and may eventually be forced to move to cities or cross borders, even illegally, to find work, several studies have shown.

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Slow onset events such as salinization from rising sea levels and loss of land to erosion also push people out of their homes in South Asia, where livelihood dependence on natural resources – as well as poverty – is high.

In May 2016, Cyclone Roanu ripped through Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, causing widespread damage with reconstruction costs estimated at 1.7 billion dollars.

The impact of drought and crop failure this year was spread across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, affecting 330 million people in India alone.

In 2015, South Asia – recording 52 disasters and 14,650 deaths, a staggering 64 percent of the global fatalities – was the most disaster-prone sub-region within Asia-Pacific, which itself is the world’s most disaster-prone region, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Between 2008 and 2013, over 46 million people were displaced by sudden-onset disasters in South Asia. India ranked the highest with some 26 million people displaced, estimates Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) a leading data-source on internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The UN Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) 2016 warns 40 million Indians and 25 million in Bangladesh (approximately 3 percent and 16 percent of respective populations) will be at risk from rising sea levels by 2050.

“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse,” Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Global Lead on Climate Change, told IPS.

“The invisibility of those forced away from their homes as a result of climate change means that they are falling through gaps in policy, and they may not be granted the same protections and rights granted to internally displaced persons or refugees,” Singh added.

“Populations forced to migrate, driven by desperation and lack of options, are least secure when they leave home for unknown lands. They have to opt for lower jobs, are often exploited and face harassment from enforcement agencies,” Sanjay Vashist, Climate Action Network – South Asia’s Director, told IPS.

Trafficked and exploited women face brunt of climate migration, lack social safety net

The report also flags the growing and alarming trend of women and girls trafficked into sexual exploitation as a result of migration, as well as the disproportionate burden placed upon women left behind at home like Tasura Begum, whose husbands are forced to migrate.

Women migrating alone across borders are most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Young Nepali and Bangladeshi females, migrating alone to seek work in India, have no other contact except those of local ‘agents’ who promise to arrange employment, mostly as housemaids. But in many cases, these agents are in fact traffickers. Once the migrating girls arrive in cities they may be forced to work in brothels against their will.

While this phenomenon has been taking place for years and is widely recognized, the extent to which climate change is contributing to this and further threatening girls’ safety is not yet fully understood, the report points out.

According to the World Bank 12.5 percent of households in Bangladesh, 14 percent in India and as much as 28 percent in Nepal have a female head and many of these are as a result of male migration.

Farm or other work-related stress, increased childcare and household burdens, high occurrence of poor health and threat of physical and sexual violence are faced by women left behind, according to a 2015 UN Women documentation of the experiences of Tasura Begum and others.

“Clearer definitions are needed for climate migration and displacement, and these need to provide the basis for data gathering, analysis and clear right-based policies,” Singh told IPS from the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Bangladesh where civil society organizations, policy makers, UN bodies and migration experts met over Dec. 8-12 to find solutions to migration issues.

“The UN’s Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage must work to ensure legal protection for people forced to migrate or displaced by climate change,” Singh said.

Politics over trans-boundary water issues increasing climate vulnerability of poorest 

Trans-boundary water issues, which are largely political processes and highly complex, are also exacerbating communities’ vulnerability to climate change, the report highlights.

The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers originate in the Himalayas region and pass through two or more countries. These rivers provide critical water, ir­rigation, livelihood, food security and culture to hundreds of millions of people in river basins.

India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China have tried to navigate these trans-boundary water flows through a series of treaties and ongoing negotiations. However, amid geopolitical power tussles, the implementation of these legally binding bilateral agreements is often being contested. New dam or hydropower developments constantly bring newer dimensions to the debate.

“The governments of South Asia must recognize that climate change knows no borders,” Vashist said, adding, “governments have a responsibility to use our shared common ecosystems, rivers, mountains, history and cultures to seek common solutions to the droughts, sea-level rise and water shortages being experienced.”

“Shared initiatives such as regional early warning systems, food banks, and equitable approaches to trans-boundary water governance can enhance cooperation and learning and strengthen resilience,” Singh said.

“South Asian solidarity will also put the lid on regional xenophobia before it can rear its ugly head,” he added.

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Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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Looking into the Eyes of Central American Refugees in a Time of Hate and Fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 04:00:35 +0000 Madeleine Penman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148007 The Suchuiate River crossing between Mexico and Guatemala. Those with visas cross the bridge, and those without visas – including people fleeing violence from Central America – have to take a makeshift tyre raft. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

The Suchuiate River crossing between Mexico and Guatemala. Those with visas cross the bridge, and those without visas – including people fleeing violence from Central America – have to take a makeshift tyre raft. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

By Madeleine Penman
MEXICO CITY, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Ten years ago I arrived in Mexico for the first time. A heavy backpack strapped around my waist, I toddled over a large, concrete bridge that divides Mexico and Guatemala.

When I crossed the border, a man with his shirt unbuttoned down to his belly and sweat pouring down his chest took my passport, glanced at it for no more than two seconds, then stamped it with a smile and cheerily barked to me “welcome to Mexico.”

My entry into Mexico couldn’t have been easier, because I’m from Australia and don’t need a visa. But for hundreds of thousands of men, women, children and entire families fleeing violence and crossing Mexico’s southern border from some of the most dangerous corners of the world, it is a very different story.

Instead of a smile, they will face unfounded suspicion, fear, prejudice and even hate.

Knowing full well of the likelihood of being denied entrance and, instead, facing possible deportation to the war-like horrors and violence in Honduras and El Salvador, many are effectively forced to enter clandestinely.

One of the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are forced to take through Mexico includes travelling atop these freight trains and risking their lives. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

One of the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are forced to take through Mexico includes travelling atop these freight trains and risking their lives. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

Ten years after I used this border crossing for the first time, I came back as part of an international observation mission and have spoken to dozens of people whose lives have been turned upside down. We spoke to a man in a wheelchair who had lost both of his legs when he fell off the freight train dubbed “The Beast” that migrants and asylum-seekers travel on top of to get through Mexico. He was taken to a hospital in Mexico, who then referred him to Mexican migration authorities. He told us that migration authorities ignored his request to lodge an asylum claim and deported him back to Honduras straight away. He said he spent just four days there, fearing for his life, and then came back to Mexico immediately. He had still been unable to lodge an asylum claim given his fear of being detained.

Some 400,000 people are estimated to be crossing Mexico’s southern border every year. Many of these are in need of international protection, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on governments in the region to recognise the humanitarian crisis affecting the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Amnesty’s own research has shown how the generalised violence in El Salvador and Honduras makes them some of the deadliest places on the planet. A few days ago, I spoke to a young fisherman from El Salvador who had fled his country with more than 30 members of his family because the extortions and war taxes that criminal gangs imposed on them at home, and impose on entire industries in El Salvador in order to let them operate, made living there impossible. Saying no to gangs (“maras”) often means a death sentence.

Mexico has a history of receiving people fleeing violence and showing solidarity and hospitality to those in need of protection.

In the 1980s, tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled civil war and came as refugees to Mexico. Thirty years later, Mexico seems to be forgetting this welcoming face. On mission, well after we crossed the border and were inside Mexican territory, in a stretch of just two hundred kilometres along the coast of the southern state of Chiapas, we went through seven migratory control checkpoints that at times includes military personnel, federal police and many migration agents ready to detain anyone without papers.

Mexico has invested significant resources in enforcement and security along its southern border in recent years. Some of this money comes from US government funding from the Merida Initiative, an extensive security assistance package.

A prison or a migratory checkpoint? Difficult to tell. The “CAITF” border control checkpoint in Huixtla, Chiapas. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

A prison or a migratory checkpoint? Difficult to tell. The “CAITF” border control checkpoint in Huixtla, Chiapas. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

The increase in checkpoints and security has resulted in a spike in detentions and deportations of Central American people from Mexico, in many cases returning people to threats, attacks and even killings. Of all the checkpoints I passed through, one of them stood out in particular.

It was a special customs control centre that stood out on the highway like an enormous spaceship, airport, or prison. It had Federal Police officers, an army barracks, customs, bright lights, watch towers, and an incredible amount of infrastructure.

The problem with this focus on detentions, enforcement, security and deportations is that many people who are in danger and should be recognised as refugees are not being identified by Mexican migration agents.

Under international and domestic law, migration agents are obliged to refer anyone who expresses a fear of returning to their countries to Mexico´s refugee agency, COMAR – Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados.

However, the vast majority of people are detained and returned to their countries with their fears being overlooked. Why is this so? Do authorities really think that traumatised people fleeing their countries are such a threat? Are they hearing their stories?

I met a woman who told me that in Honduras, as a woman, she couldn’t wear skirts, tights, she couldn’t dye her hair, she could barely do anything without gangs threatening her. She spoke to me on the side of the road, with no money, waiting to move to find transport that could take her to a safer place. Others from El Salvador told me that just transiting between one neighbourhood and another put you at risk, as gangs would suspect you as a possible rival for being an outsider.

We are living in a time of extreme hate and fear. Unless we listen to people´s stories and act, our societies and policies will continue to create walls of prejudice rather than bridges of protection and justice. After this trip along Mexico’s southern border, more than ever I pledge to welcome refugees, in my heart and in my society. I hope you can look into their eyes and welcome them too.

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“Bonn Has Become an Insider Tip on the International Stage”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 07:00:04 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147958 VN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

UN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

By Baher Kamal
ROME/BONN, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

With around 320,000 inhabitants on 141 square kilometres, no other relatively small city has played such a historically critical role like the City of Bonn.

Founded 2,100 years ago by the Romans, from being the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven to being the capital of Germany for over 50 years (1949-1990; seat of the Federal Government and Parliament until 1999), Bonn is also one of the best-guarded safe-deposit boxes of European and recent world history.

IPS interviews the City of Bonn’s Mayor Ashok-Alexander Sridharan.

IPS: For over half a century Bonn was the centre for top world leaders deciding on the future of Germany and Europe. What in your opinion is the City of Bonn’s best-kept political secret from that period?

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Sridharan: The fact that Bonn today has become an insider tip on the international stage – especially in the area of sustainability – certainly originates from those roughly five decades when Bonn acted as capital city for the most successful democracy on German ground. It was this valuable heritage that Bonn could draw back on when the decision was taken in the Federal Republic of Germany to make Bonn Germany’s United Nations City.

IPS: After New York and Geneva, Bonn has become one of the world’s biggest venues for United Nations organisations, with the presence of a total of 19 agencies. And your City is strongly involved in international development cooperation at the municipal level, on international youth projects and on the international dialogue of cultures. What are your current and future plans for the City?

Sridharan: At international level, Bonn is successfully establishing itself as Germany’s United Nations City with a strong focus on sustainability-related issues. ‘UN Bonn – Shaping a Sustainable Future’ is the joint slogan of our Bonn-based UN agencies. With the UNSSC Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development, we have been able to welcome another important UN agency on board this year. And in December, the UN SDG Action Campaign will open its central campaign office in our city.

Bonn has increasingly developed into a sustainability hub. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) play a central role in this context.

Naturally, our city is also called upon to take up this issue in its own affairs. It is for a number of years now that we have successfully engaged in municipal development cooperation. We maintain partnerships with Bukhara (Uzbekistan), Cape Coast (Ghana), Chengdu (P.R. China), La Paz (Bolivia), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Minsk (Belarus), for instance.

Moreover, we are integrating the sustainable approach locally in our own day-to-day affairs. We promote fair trade and sustainable procurement, as well as eco-friendly mobility. Also, we are stepping up the use of renewable energies and advocate social interaction and a sense of togetherness in our local community.

IPS: The City of Bonn is also one of the largest international media hubs. Deutsche Welle, based here, organizes an annual Global Media Forum bringing over 2,000 professionals from all continents. Are there any new initiatives by your City in the field of international information and communication?

Sridharan: We use every opportunity to raise awareness for the special capabilities in our city among journalists from all over the globe coming to Bonn for whatever reason. We do so as Germany’s United Nations City with a focus on sustainability, but also as birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, as important IT centre in Germany, and much more.

Bonn is home to tens of thousands of migrants, representing nearly one third of its total population. ​​While migration and refugees have occupied the front pages of newspapers in Europe for long now, London has overwhelmingly welcomed their Mayor, Sadiq Khan, whose Pakistani father drove buses to send his children to school.

The City of Bonn has an elected Mayor in Sridharan, born of Indian and German parents. It’s a win-win for all parties no doubt and yet so little is highlighted in the North of the value migrants bring to European economies; and even less is known to the potential migrants themselves in the South what lay ahead for them in Europe, a shock that they can hardly visualise from their positions of hardship and the manipulation of human traffickers.
Our communication is internationally oriented and we release quite a lot in English, such as on our special service website www.bonn-international.org or in our Bonn International Newsletter.

IPS: How are you managing your City’s share of migrants and what measures have you initiated on integration? How many are there now waiting for formal migrant status and have the number of migrants gone up this year? Are there any climate migrants? How do you strike a balance between what is considered humane and the need to adhere to and execute policies?

Sridharan: Between September 2015 and February 2016 the number of refugees reached a peak with roughly 150 people arriving here every single week, persons who were seeking shelter in Germany.

This was a big challenge for all: for the refugees with an unclear future in their new surroundings, for our administration that was faced with the tremendous task of providing temporary accommodation for a great number of people, including very traumatized refugees.

Last, not least, for our local citizens, now encountering many different new neighbors with a foreign language and culture! These were difficult months, especially since we had to accommodate several hundred refugees in our gymnasiums. At the same time, innumerable volunteers saw to it that Bonn was able to truly welcome these refugees and to take good care of them.

It is with relief that I can say that today’s situation is a little more relaxed. At this time, we are accommodating 3,000 refugees in municipal housing, an increasing number of them with permanent resident status.

Another 3,000 people in Bonn have received residence permits after their application for asylum had been granted. The number of people applying for asylum has decreased, as no more refugees are being sent to the City of Bonn by our authorities at this time. People coming from what is considered a safe country must go back home, which they often do voluntarily.

At the same time, we have been able to improve the type of accommodation we offer. Nobody must sleep in gymnasiums without any private space. The temporary housing we are able to offer now still has provisional character, but with some private space and independence. Also, we are managing to build more reasonably priced apartments, which we were already lacking before the refugees arrived in Bonn.

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

We do our best to integrate the refugees here: They can visit language classes. International classes preparing for the German schools have been established. Our Job Center runs a special Integration Point offering services for the people seeking work in Germany and wanting to stay.

Refugees come from many countries. People from Syria make up the largest group, comprising roughly 1,100 persons at this time. Whether or not the small number of other refugees from Africa includes so-called climate migrants, we do not know.

Finally: We have many migrants in Bonn. However, refugees who need special support for their integration in our city and community only make up a small share. It helps that the structures that have been established for our growing international community in Bonn are already there – for people who come to work or to study in Bonn or even to move here with their entire family.

The thought behind Agenda 2030 ‘Leaving no one behind’ is something we are living here in Bonn – just like elsewhere in cities in Germany, Europe and all over the world.

In December, the Pope has invited to a European meeting of mayors at the Vatican for an exchange of experience among city representatives on the ways refugees are being welcomed here. I will be delighted to share our experiences on that occasion.

IPS: The City of Bonn has always worked on sustainable project partnerships and contributed to international cooperation. What are your new initiatives on international cooperation?

Sridharan: In a globalized world with tight networks and strong dependencies cities must cooperate at international level. This holds true especially for cities like Bonn – a city that has always maintained close contacts around the globe, as United Nations City, business location and science hub.

We have joined a number of different international city networks. In October, I was elected Vice President of ICLEI. ICLEI is a city network for sustainability with over 1,500 members worldwide.

Every year, several hundred city representatives meet here in Bonn to discuss topical issues on climate adaptation and urban resilience during our annual ICLEI Resilient Cities Conference. We will seek to intensify this type of cooperation in the future.

Cooperating with our partner cities from Africa, South America and Central Asia plays an important part in this context as well. In recent years we have run a project with our partner city of Cape Coast in Ghana for the restoration of a fresh-water lagoon. With La Paz we have just initiated a joint project tackling waste separation and disposal. I am convinced that municipal cooperation will become ever more important still.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.
Functioning cities and municipalities are of utmost importance when it comes to keeping up state order and structures. This holds true especially if we take a look at the crisis regions in North Africa, the Middle East and South-Western Asia.

I have every confidence that municipalities can render highly important contribution, even when it is small,  towards consolidating administrative structures in these countries.

IPS:  Your City hosts key conferences; the City is pro-active on climate change. Although Mayors deal on a daily basis with the most pressing development issues, very little global development funding, reported to be 1%, is channelled through local governments. Are you working with other Mayors globally to correct or revise the allocation of resources?

Sridharan: Municipal development cooperation, the cooperation of cities and municipalities worldwide, is an area of politics which is increasingly gaining importance. The Federal Government has recognized this and has considerably stepped up funding for municipal cooperation with emerging and developing countries. It is a matter of fact that cities and municipalities can only render their small proportion towards global cooperation.

However, practical experience, face-to-face contact with local citizens and an exchange at eye level make municipal cooperation an indispensable element of international development cooperation.

Laying down a separate goal for cities under Agenda 2030 and adopting a New Urban Agenda during the Habitat III conference in Quito at the beginning of October are encouraging signals.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.

Together with my fellow mayors from other cities, I will continue to advocate for more support of the local level.

IPS: Where do you want to see your City? What is your dream, vision for the City of Bonn? How do you want to see Bonn further evolving?

Sridharan: I think Bonn is on a good way: as second political center in the Federal Republic and Germany’s United Nations City, we fulfill a number of national tasks for our country. We have gained a sound reputation as IT center and rank fourth Germany-wide as far as the number of employees in this field is concerned.

We are home to some global players like Deutsche Post DHL Group and Telekom and to some extraordinary scientific institutions doing top-flight research. Being birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, we are looking forward to celebrating the 250th birthday of our most famous son in 2020.

I am aware that this is a lot that needs to be maintained and consolidated. We will continue to develop Bonn into a location for dialogue and exchange on global issues concerning the future of mankind.

This is my declared goal. But most importantly and our biggest asset: that is Bonn’s citizens – well educated, willing to excel, open-minded and with a Rhenish cheerful nature.

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For Women and Girls Who Flee Conflict: Protection & Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 14:34:11 +0000 Regional Directors http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147939 A displaced woman waiting in a transit camp in Gevgelja, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: Dejan Dokuzovski/UNDP

A displaced woman waiting in a transit camp in Gevgelja, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: Dejan Dokuzovski/UNDP

By the Regional Directors of the United Nations for Europe and Central Asia: Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir (UN Women), Cihan Sultanoğlu (UNDP), Alanna Armitage (UNFPA), and Marie-Pierre Poirier (UNICEF)
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

Over the past 18 months, 1.3 million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe. For women and girls particularly, that journey is one of violence and trauma.

Worldwide, one in five women displaced by humanitarian crises have experienced sexual violence. But their voices remain largely unheard.

When women and girls flee their homes in search of safety and opportunity, they often find they are merely trading one nightmare for another. Large numbers of them tell disturbing, and often recurring, accounts of robbery, and physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hand of criminal gangs, smugglers, traffickers, border guards, police and fellow refugees.

Moreover, many girls end up forced into early marriages as their parents desperately seek to protect them, instead exposing them to another form of violence.

Along the route from the Western Balkans to northern Europe, few safe, secure, and clean spaces exist for women to find protection against violence and regain a sense of safety. While national authorities and civil society, often with UN support, extend legal, health and psychosocial services to them, these efforts need to be scaled up.

With the closure of borders in 2016, many women and their children are now stranded in overcrowded reception or transit centers, lacking privacy and often even access to basic services. Many were separated from their partners and children in the process. This puts them into vulnerable positions and exposes them to abuse and exploitation.

In the course of their journeys, women are dependent on legal systems, police forces, languages and cultural norms they are not familiar with.

But they also often believe that reporting incidents of violence will trigger reprisals or even damage their prospects of obtaining asylum in the EU. For these reasons, it is highly unlikely they will report these crimes.

Governments need to guarantee the safety and rights of women and girls fleeing wars, all along their journeys and in destination countries.

First, there should be measures to prevent sexual and gender-based violence along the route. Police, border guards and other service providers must be trained to detect cases of violence and assist victims so they can get the help they need.

Psychosocial and legal support, trauma counseling, provision of basic hygiene and reproductive health products and women-safe spaces are essential parts of the package. For unaccompanied and separated girls, the immediate appointment of a guardian is a must.

Second, we call for women who experienced gender-based violence to be granted international protection as per international law. Women fleeing sexual violence, early or forced marriage, and so-called ‘honour’ killings must go to great lengths to demonstrate that these types of attacks are reasons for obtaining asylum.

Third, with no end in sight for humanitarian crises, it is critical to adequately finance programmes that uphold international humanitarian norms and standards support refugees and migrants and contribute to their social inclusion.

At a historic meeting on large movements of refugees and migrants held at the United Nations in September, governments endorsed a landmark global agenda to boost support for refugee and migrant women and girls.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, let us remember that women and girls have the right to live a life of dignity, free of violence whether at home or at work, at school or in public spaces, in times of peace or war, and as equal citizens.

Let’s work together to make sure women and girls don’t leave their homes only to face more tragedy as they are trying to get to safety.

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