Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:32:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 As the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis Endures, International Morality Ebbs Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:02:35 +0000 Arlene Chang Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

By Arlene Chang
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

As the world suffers its biggest upheaval of human mobility, with 60 million people forced to desert their homes or countries due to persecution, armed conflicts, starvation and hunger that are a veritable danger to their lives, the response from the international community has been rather laggard.

Rolling disasters like in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya and Yemen, the Boko Haram in Nigeria, the 40-year old war in Somalia and the ethno-religious infighting in the Central African Republic, have all added push to the global migration crisis. These huge transient flows of humanity have been a challenge some politicians have met and others have disregarded, aggravating the crisis.

Some central and Eastern Europe countries have even gone ahead to say, “They will take everybody ‘as long as they are Christians’”.

Earlier this week, Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Development said, “Refugees under the 1951 Convention have particular rights… (However) ‘economic migrants’ is now a description that’s being commonly used.”

He pointed out that many migrants could be escaping for reasons of starvation, economic catastrophe or the collapse of a feeding system. “Are we not going to have a more nuanced expression of where we stand morally in terms of our values than saying, we’re going to send them home?” he asked.

Director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), William L. Swing, agreed. “There is greater anti-migrant sentiment than at any time in memory and it’s very widespread and increasing. We’re also in a period in which there is a vacuum of leadership, political courage. There is a serious erosion of international moral authority.”

Sutherland reminded hostile countries to bear in mind that the Mediterranean migration crisis is an international responsibility. “We’ve had it before…Ironically…we’ve had it in regard to 1956 in Hungary – and 200,000 people being accommodated within jig time,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland and Swing were addressing an audience attending ‘A Global Response to the Mediterranean Migration Crisis’, an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Under the latest plan, only 120,000 migrants will be resettled, much less than the total number of people seeking asylum. Member states like Hungary and Croatia are building fences to stop travelers, demonstrating division within the EU on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The divide threatens to “undermine Europe’s tradition of open borders and free movement of people,” Edward Alden, CFR’s Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, said.

Hungary, a gateway to many prosperous European countries, sealed its border with Serbia on Sep. 15, in a bid to keep refugees out, prompting even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over its handling of the refugee influx in a meeting with Hungarian President Janos Ader on Sep. 26.

“Why should Greece and Italy carry the enormous burden because they happen to be the place where the migrants and refugees land? Is there some sort of new world of international morality, which defines proximity as creating responsibility? Why should Turkey have 1.7 million? Or why should Lebanon have one quarter of its entire population? Or Jordan? Why should they carry it all?” Sutherland asked.

Even as the world today has 60 million migrants in flux, the United Nations is not witnessing a loosening of purse strings. This prompted Secretary General Ban to comment on the poor state of empathy in the world.

Speaking at the opening session of the high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday, Ban Ki-moon told delegates that a 100 million people require immediate humanitarian assistance, pointing out that at least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries. But, the U.N.’s need for 20 billion dollars this year dwarfs funding received. The 20 billion dollars requirement is six times the level of funding needed a decade ago.

“We are not receiving enough money to save enough lives. We have about half of what we need to help the people of Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen – and just a third for Syria,” he said Monday.

In Yemen, 21 million people – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian assistance and the U.N.’s response plan for Ukraine is just 39 per cent funded. The appeal for Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, has been met with silence.

With the migration crisis and continuing global strife, it is likely that humankind will sustain its oldest poverty reduction strategy, making it unlikely that the situation will abate any time soon.

Swing and Sutherland said that only a reform in international migration policies would help.

“Europe should immediately define new policies. Those new policies should allow for example, humanitarian visas – so should the United States. Humanitarian visas, family reunion visas, short term visas. There are whole other ways that you can facilitate terrible events,” Sutherland said, even as he talked about the handicap of governments to be self-motivated in changing policy.

“The dreadful photograph of the body on the beach brings within days an increase in the number of people that some countries have agreed to take as refugees. A photograph did it. Are they idiots? Do they not know that 3,000 are dying every year, as they have been for years – with may of them children and women. That should have elicited the policy response, not the photograph of a terrible dead body on the beach.”

Swing advocated for migration policies that were more desirable and a change in the “toxic, poisonous” public narrative on migration.

“Most of our Nobel prize winners weren’t born in the U.S. Forty per cent of all patent applications come from people who were not born in the U.S., and many other countries have the same spirit – a tone that is historically, overwhelmingly positive. We’ve got to get back to a historically correct narrative,” he said, adding, “A ‘high road policy’ – multiple entry visas, dual nationalities, portable social security benefits…all kinds of things if we can be little smarter in how we deal with it.”

“The problem in my mind is the fundamental value system we believe in,” Sutherland said. “We have to create countries that value lives equally.” (END)

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Human Rights Activists Condemn Houthi Militia’s Atrocities Against Women in Yemen Wed, 30 Sep 2015 15:04:16 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
Geneva, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) — Arab and Yemeni human rights activist monitoring the civil war in Yemen say that women have been subjected to grave human right violations at the hands of the rebel Houthi militia and an allied insurgent group under the command of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The human rights defenders were speaking at a landmark event organised by the Arab Federation for Human Rights (AFHR) on the sidelines of the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Dr. Mona Hejres, a member of the AFHR and head of “Together for Human Rights,” noted in her presentation at the event that that women were active participants in the revolution that drove Saleh out of power and that many had faced human rights crimes including killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and use of excessive force during that struggle. She said that today, in rebel-held areas, women suffer greatly at the hands of the Houthi militia and Saleh group, with widespread murders, forced disappearances, kidnappings, deprivation of basic educational and health services, bombardment of residential districts, and other atrocities targeting them in the capital Sana’a, Aden and other cities.

She called upon the international community to live up to its responsibilities in protecting the Yemeni people, especially women, and to back the Arab Coalition’s operations seeking to protect the Yemeni people. She also appealed to the UN Security Council to enforce its resolutions on Yemen and ensure protection, safety and security for its people, and particularly women.

During the event, a number of heads of Yemeni human rights associations and organisations pointed to a recent report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV) as further evidence of the suffering caused by the Houthi militia and Saleh group in Yemen, particularly with regard to women.

Representatives of the AFHR and the YCMHRV also reiterated their rejection of the western countries’ request to establish a fact finding committee, which they said would dilute and ignore what they termed a human tragedy fomented by the rebel militias. Instead, they said, the international community should focus on prosecuting war criminals in the conflict, and to uphold its responsibilities to protect women during armed and military conflicts and disputes.

Maryam bin Tawq, Coordinator at the AFHR, spoke about the importance of establishing the international coalition “Operation Restoring Hope” aimed at protecting the Yemeni people from violations and crimes against humanity being carried out by al-Houthi group and the Saleh Militia. She said that the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Human Rights had found that the rebel militias had committed more than 4,500 human rights violations within the course of just one month of their control of Sana’a. (END)

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Report Condemns Atrocities of Houthi Rebels in Yemen Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:49:06 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Sep 28 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – A new report from a human rights group operating in Yemen says that human rights violations have reached unprecedented levels, with more than 3,000 people murdered by the insurgent Houthi militia and its allies in Yemen.

The report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV), prepared from
reports by the organisation’s field monitors in Yemen, outlines a series of atrocities committed over the
past year in Sana’a, the capital, Aden, Taiz, Lahej, Hodiedah, Addali’e, Abyan, Dhamar and Shabwa,
governorates (see full report in report.

The report tied the Houthi militia and an allied group operating under the command of former Yemeni
president Ali Abdullah Saleh with unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government that has
resulted in human rights violations that have afflicted men, women, children, property and the

The findings show that between September 2014 and August 2015, 3,074 people were murdered, about
20 percent of whom were women and children, and 7,347 civilians were wounded due to random
shelling, at least 25 percent of whom were women and children. A total of 5,894 people were arbitrarily
detained during the monitoring period – 4,640 of them were released and 1,254 people remain in

The report also focuses on arbitrary detention, forcible disappearances and hostage taking violations,
which the monitors said have been carried out regularly by the rebel militia against politicians,
journalists, and human rights and political activists. It said detainees are frequently mistreated and
deprived of basic needs such as food, water and proper hygiene and sanitation. Monitors also reported
that some detainees are used as human shields at military sites that have been targeted by the Coalition

“This is a clear violation of both national and international legislation,” said the report. “The de facto
forces, the Houthis, failed to observe their commitment towards human rights and humanitarian law,
being the power in control that practices the state’s functions. Rather, the Houthis-Saleh showed total
recklessness towards human rights and human suffering.”

The report concludes with recommendations, calling on the Houthi-Saleh militia, Yemeni government
and the international community to implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It also calls on
the international community to support the newly established National Commission to investigate
alleged human rights Violations with all needed technical assistance. (END)

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UAE Government Stresses its Abiding Support for Syrian Refugees Thu, 17 Sep 2015 13:31:22 +0000 Omar Salim By Omar Salim
ABU DHABI, Sep 17 2015 (IPS)

In response to suggestions that the Gulf states are doing littleor nothing to help Syrians fleeing their civil war, the Government of the United Arab Emirates has announced that it has take a broad range of supportive actions to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian population and to care for Syrian refugees in Syria and abroad, reports WAM.

Calling the Syrian refugee crisis a political and security crisis, a tragedy of enormous proportions and a key priority for his government, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, noted that the UAE Government has welcomed and extended residency permits to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, from all segments of society and various religious sects, since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

This has brought the number of Syrian residents in the UAE to almost a quarter million, he said.

In addition, the minister noted, the UAE Government has during this time allowed thousands more Syrian nationals with expired visas or travel documents to adjust their status, enabling them to remain in the UAE.

Government figures show that the number of new and registered Syrian students enrolled in UAE schools since the beginning of the crisis has surpassed 17,000, while more than 6,000 Syrian nationals have established businesses in the country, indications that, according to the minister, “Syrian families are living a natural and normal life in the UAE’s secure and welcoming environment.”

The UAE government has also pointed out that it is among the leading financial contributors to efforts to help the Syrian people during the civil war. Thus far, the UAE has provided about 1.1 billion dollars, about half of that in humanitarian aid that has directly benefited Syrian refugees and another 420 million dollars to combat Daesh terrorism in Syria and Iraq and to provide humanitarian support and relief to displaced people.

These efforts include the UAE-funded Mrajib Al Fhood camp in Jordan, which provides high-quality care, shelter and education for 6,437 Syrian refugees and has been expanded to accommodate up to 10,000. Additionally, the UAE-Jordanian field hospital in Al Mafraq offers a wide range of professional medical services to Syrian refugees and has provided nearly a half-million treatments.

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U.N. to Host Meeting of World Leaders on Refugee Crisis Tue, 15 Sep 2015 20:41:19 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The 28-member European Union (EU), which was sharply divided over the Greek bailout financial crisis last year, is facing its biggest test of unity over the growing refugee crisis unfolding in European borders.

At an emergency meeting in Brussels Monday, the EU hesitantly agreed to share some 40,000 refugees – mostly fleeing from war zones in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – but only on a voluntary basis, even as Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands imposed new border control measures to ward off the tidal wave of hundreds and thousands of displaced people flowing into Europe.

The restrictive measures include razor wire fences across land borders and pronouncements by some Eastern and Central European countries that only Christians will be welcomed, triggering strong condemnations by the United Nations.

Conscious of the spreading crisis, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be hosting a meeting of world leaders on the margins of the General Assembly session – to specifically discuss international migration.

The meeting is scheduled to take place Sep. 30 immediately following a meeting to approve the U.N’s new socio economic agenda for the next 15 years: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targeted to be achieved by 2030.

And of the 17 SDGs, Goal 16 is on international migration.

Ben Phillips, Campaigns and Policy Director at ActionAid told IPS that governments need to remember that what they have called the migrant crisis is first and foremost a crisis suffered by vulnerable people who flee their homes as a last resort.

“The response of too many governments has been to protect borders and neglect people. But it cannot be solved with higher walls. Most governments’ responses to date have tended to be brutal, panicked, and ineffective even in their own terms. They need urgently to shift to a smarter, kinder, approach.”

The Secretary-General has already appealed to European leaders “to be the voice of those in need of protection” and to quickly find a joint approach to the refugee and migration crisis that shares responsibilities equitably, as Germany and Austria continue to welcome thousands of people fleeing their war-torn homelands.

He has also spoken by telephone with several European leaders to discuss the migration crisis.

Recognizing the challenges that large-scale refugee and migration flows pose to Member States, the U.N. chief appealed to the leaders to be the voice of those in need of protection and to quickly find a joint approach to share responsibilities equitably.‎”

The Secretary-General also commended the leaders for having voiced concern about increasing xenophobia, discrimination, and violence against migrants and refugees in Europe.
“He hoped that any manifestation of these phenomena would be addressed firmly and without delay,” he said.

Ban is expected to meet with EU leaders when they arrive in New York to address the General Assembly beginning Sep. 28.

Phillips told IPS that ActionAid has called upon governments to address three key challenges: “Governments need, firstly, to respond in the spirit of the solidarity and welcome that has shown by ordinary people; secondly, to tackle the specific vulnerabilities faced by women and girls travelling across borders; and, thirdly, to address the root causes driving the mass movement of people, through sustainable solutions to conflict, inequality and climate change.”

“The spontaneous acts of kindness shown by human beings helping human beings offer a ray of hope, and show that once again the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”

He also said ActionAid, which is working on the ground across the world to support people who have fled, has seen first hand the damaging consequences of governments’ dehumanising response and failure to address the root causes driving the mass movement of people.

Asked whether the new law in Hungary that would allow the government to arrest migrants and imprison them is a violation of international humanitarian law, U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters “I think one of the points that’s clearly needed — and that’s exactly what the High Commissioner for Refugees said — is that we need to have comprehensive measures that apply throughout Europe.”

“A situation where different countries at different borders have different procedures creates chaos, both physical, as well as legal chaos.”

He said it is clear that those who are on the move, whether they be refugees or migrants, have rights. Countries also have responsibilities towards their own citizens in order to ensure national security.

“But, it is clear that international law, especially as it relates to refugees, needs to be respected. And more importantly, people, migrants, refugees, need to be treated with human dignity and I think that has been lacking in some places,” he added.

Dujarric also said migration with a “small m” has existed ever since we as humans were able to walk.”

“I mean, populations move, have always been on the move. The issue is that Member States need to deal with the migration flows in a way where we avoid forcing, whether it’s refugees or economic migrants, into the hands of criminal gangs, which is what we’re seeing across the Mediterranean and in Asia in the Andaman Sea, where there are no proper… enough proper avenues to deal with the migration issue — even with economic migration issue”.

And that’s one of the reasons, he said, the Secretary General will be bringing Member States together as part of goal 16 which talks about international migration, “but for that, we need a dialogue between the countries of origin, the transit countries and the destination countries.”

“And sometimes they’re the same. You know, different people migrate to different countries,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Tunisia Digs a 100-Mile Moat to Keep Refugees at Bay Tue, 15 Sep 2015 11:25:16 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent Credit: UNHCR

Credit: UNHCR

By a Global Information Network correspondent
TUNIS, Sep 15 2015 (IPS)

Once surrounding castles of old, a moat stretching 100 miles is being dug by Tunisia against alleged terror threats from nearby Libya. Reporters are kept at bay from the digging in what officials have dubbed “a closed military area.”

Saltwater will fill the massive trench to be topped with sand dunes. Alligators are not mentioned in the moat’s prospectus.

“Why erect this wall when one was brought down between the two Germanies?” asked Salim Grira Mzioui, a local council representative of Wazen, a Libyan village along the border in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde. “This will pose insurmountable problems. There are farmers cultivating land on both sides. There are also camel herds coming and going.”

The wall will put an end to ancestral traditions of border communities that have long ignored the state line artificially dividing entire tribes, he said. “We’re going to divide a people,” Adel Arjoun, a Tunisian hotel owner from Medenine, told Le Monde.

According to Tunisian officials, incursions by terrorists who target tourists prompted the decision to dig the barrier. Last June, for example, 38 foreign tourists were killed by a Tunisian said to be trained at a Libyan camp. Earlier, two attackers killed 21 foreign visitors at the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

But the small number of attacks suggests that Tunisia may be joining the anti-immigrant fever that has gripped some northern European countries.

And as the walls go up, the number of lives lost among desperate refugees is growing. Last month over 500 people leaving Libya were tossed into the seas when their vessels capsized.

Tunisia’s moat is only one of several misguided solutions to the swelling number of refugees fleeing war and extreme poverty. Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece are building walls. Ukraine plans to seal its 1200 mile border with Russia, and Estonia has a 70 mile wall in the works against the former Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Tunisians turned out last weekend to march against a draft bill for amnesty to those accused of corruption.

The draft bill is the centerpiece of the new government, which seeks to boost the economy by clearing away cases against businessmen and civil servants charged with corruption crimes.

Opponents of the law, however, call it as an attempt to whitewash the misdeeds of the old regime and ignore an ongoing process of transitional justice through the Truth and Dignity committee.

“We’re against the draft law because it is unfair and unconstitutional,” Sami Tahri, an official with the Union for Tunisian Workers, said at the protest. “It doesn’t fight corruption, it encourages it.”

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UAE Continues Relief to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Sat, 12 Sep 2015 21:19:21 +0000 Emirates News Agency

Att.Editors: The following item is from the Emirates News Agency (WAM)

By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Sep 12 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – Under the directives of the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), efforts are underway to provide relief to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. A strategic humanitarian plan has been put in place by the country which includes shelter to refugees closer to Lebanon in order to facilitate their return home when the crisis is over.

According to reports issued by the UAE news agency WAM, since the crisis began in 2011, the Gulf countries received more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. Earlier 140,000 refugees were accomodated in the region.

The UAE was one of the first countries to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis, providing more than USD530 million in direct aid, mainly through the Syria Recovery Trust Fund.

Since January 2015, the UAE provided an additional USD44 million as part of a new aid commitment of USD100 million, reported WAM.

The UAE is also working towards peace and stability in Syria, by supporting the Global Coalition Against Daesh and as a co-leader for the Coalition Working Groups on Stabilisation and Strategic Communications in the region.

Commenting on the UAE humanitarian assistance to the Syrian refugees, Hamad Saeed Sultan Al Shamsi, Ambassador of UAE to Lebanon, said “The UAE government, its humanitarian institutions and organisations through direct initiatives and its offices have continued their support for the displaced Syrians in Lebanon.”

Ambassador Al Shamsi added that the UAE Embassy in Lebanon, in cooperation with the UN and other international organisations including Dar Al Fatwa, Orphanage House and municipalities, have provided humanitarian and relief assistance to the Syrian refugees with included medical treatment, date food packages, drinking water and food supplements for children, blankets and mattresses, and, during Iftar and Eid ul Fitr, distributed clothes, gifts and sacrificial meat. He also pointed out that the UAE Embassy in Beirut purchases goods from the local markets to support the Lebanese economy.

Millions of Syrians fled their homes as the conflict in their country escalated. By the summer of 2014, more than 11 million people — nearly half the population of Syria — had either been internally displaced or fled the country altogether. More than four million sought refuge in neighbouring countries, where they were sheltered in refugee camps, such as the UAE-funded Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan, that is home now to more than 4,000 Syrian refugees, and other refugee camps in Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. (WAM) (END/2015)

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Strong Climate Deal Needed to Combat Future Refugee Crises Thu, 10 Sep 2015 15:32:35 +0000 Andreas Sieber

Andreas Sieber, who has worked for several NGOs and the Saxon State Chancellery in Germany, is part of the #Climatetracker project.

By Andreas Sieber
STRASBOURG, Sep 10 2015 (IPS)

Climate change has been held responsible many of the social and economic woes affecting mainly the poorest in the global South and now many are seeing it as one of the root causes of refugee crises.

In his State of the Union speech here Sep. 9 to the European Parliament, even European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said that an “ambitious, robust and binding“ climate treaty is needed to prevent another refugee crisis.Climate change has been held responsible many of the social and economic woes affecting mainly the poorest in the global South and now many are seeing it as one of the root causes of refugee crises

Climate change is one the root causes of a new migration phenomenon,” said Juncker. “Climate refugees will become a new challenge – if we do not act swiftly.”

Calling on the European Union and its international partners to be more ambitious about climate protection, Juncker warned that “the EU will not sign just any deal” at the United Nations climate change conference (COP21), scheduled to be held in Paris in December.

The COP21 meeting is expected to come up with a climate treaty with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

Climate change marked by longer-lasting droughts, more violent storms and rising sea levels is worsening the living conditions of hundreds of millions. Particularly in the poorest countries, climate change has the effect of forcing people who are unable to adapt to leave their homes.

In the Sahelian countries, Bangladesh and in the South Pacific people have already had to flee because of climate impacts.

According to Jan Kowalzig from Oxfam, “climate change is already causing a lot of damage in the global South. It could ruin all progress which has been made in the fight against global poverty over the last decades.”

However, it is the relationship between climate change and the refugee phenomenon that is attracting the attention of many experts.

Earlier this year, a study by a research team from Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) held global warming partly responsible for the civil war in Syria.

The study noted that between 2006 and 2010, Syria faced the “worst drought in the instrumental record”, leading to crop failures and mass migration within the country. According to climate models, this drought would have been highly improbable without climate change.

“For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest,” the study concluded.

The number of refugees entering Europe this year is the highest on record and Syrians are by far the largest group – an estimated nine million Syrians have left their homes so far.

Besides the Syrian crisis, the United Nations warns that, worldwide, climate change could increase the number of refugees dramatically.

Srgjan Kerim, president of the United Nations General Assembly, has estimated that global warming could cause up to 200 million refugees until 2050. “Tomorrow we will have climate refugees and we have to know that,” Juncker told the European Parliament.

Oxfam’s Kowalzig explains what needs to be included in a climate treaty to mitigate a potential refugee crisis: “Climate change expels people from their homes and this is where a potential climate treaty in Paris comes in: first, we need to cut emissions and keep global warming below two degrees; secondly, people in poor countries need support to adapt to climate change; and thirdly, a climate treaty in Paris has to lay down rules for damages and losses caused by global warming where adaption is not possible.”

In his speech in Strasbourg, Juncker also admitted that the European Union “is probably not doing enough” to tackle climate change. The EU has announced greenhouse gas emission cuts of 40 percent by 2030 as part of its ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ (INDC).

INDCs are the commitments every country is supposed to announce before the climate conference in Paris.

However, because a treaty in Paris based on the INDCs will not be enough to keep global warming below 2oC, many organisations and countries from the global South are demanding a five-yearly “review and improve” process to make climate commitments more ambitious over time.

Any agreement reached in Paris should at least offer a perspective for effective climate protection and this depends heavily on the process of creating a regular built-in review that would enable countries to improve that agreement.

Last week, formal negotiations ahead of COP21 in Paris were held, but while there was support for long-term goals, short-term commitments seemed to be far less popular.

An agreement in Paris with short-term commitments and five-year cycles without a concrete long-term goal might not be perfect. It would lack a perspective beyond 2030, but it would enhance climate protection and greenhouse gas reduction in the next 15 years.

On the other hand, an agreement with an ambitious long-term goal but no effective short-term measures would allow countries to fall far behind with their greenhouse gas reductions and many would just not be able to catch up after 2030.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Mental Health Another Casualty of Changing Climate Tue, 08 Sep 2015 20:10:20 +0000 Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe
MANILA, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Jun* is in chains, tied to a post in the small house that resembles a fragile nipa hut. His brother did this to prevent him from hurting their neighbours or other strangers he meets when he’s in a ballistic mood. Jun has been like this for three years now, but since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines two years ago, his symptoms have worsened.

After the disaster, Jun lost his own house, his wife and his children. This psychological distress he went through triggered a relapse of his psychiatric illness. With no one else able to take care of him, Jun was taken by his brother to their family’s house.Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

But since his brother is working and the other people in the house are their old, sickly and frail parents, no one can control Jun during his manic episodes. He has not been able to maintain his medications because his family can’t afford them and the free supply at the local health center doesn’t come consistently. For these reasons, the best option left for Jun’s brother is to put him in chains.

Impacts on mental health

A few more cases like Jun exist in Tacloban City and most likely, in other areas of the Philippines as well – both urban and rural. Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) struck the country on Nov. 8, 2013. It was a Category 5 super-typhoon with wind speeds ranging from 250 to 315 kph, killing at least 6,300 people and costing PhP 89 billion in damages.

Due to extreme loss and survivor guilt, at least one in 10 people here suffers from depression. But two years after the disaster, some survivors remain unaware of available mental health services. Others complain of the poor quality of services and scant supply of medications. Many survivors who are more affluent choose to consult psychiatrists in other cities to avoid the stigma.

As with most disasters, physical rehabilitation is prioritised. This is understandable and perfectly rational, but the mental health of the victims should not be forgotten.

According to the World Health Organization’s report on the Global Burden of Disease, mental disorders follow cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of morbidity and mortality in terms of disability-adjusted life years or the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

Yet despite the staggering number of people affected, only an estimated 25 percent of them worldwide have access to mental health services. More than 40 percent of countries have no mental health policy and mental health comprises less than 1 percent of most countries’ total health expenditures.

Nowadays, climate change brings us more frequent and devastating natural disasters. In emergencies such as natural disasters, rates of mental disorders often double. Hence, attention to mental health should be doubled as well, especially in countries highly vulnerable to disasters such as the Philippines.

Being an archipelago and still a developing country, this is not surprising. According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security’s World Risk Index Report 2014, out of the 15 countries with the highest disaster risk worldwide, eight are island states, including the Philippines.

Ensuring health impacts in the negotiation text

Health advocates are quick to respond to this alarming issue. Groups led by the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMS) are ensuring that the issue of health and its impacts to climate change are included in the climate negotiating text.

Beginning from the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru last year which continued in Geneva last February, the group has been advocating for health to be back at the center of negotiations and in effect ensuring that parties will forge a strong climate agreement in Paris on December.

Last week’s Bonn climate negotiations – one of the few remaining negotiation days before the actual COP in December – proved to be an exercise in futility as negotiators keep dodging on the issue of a loss and damage mechanism, which, according to health advocates, is crucial for helping people affected by the health-related impacts of climate change.

According to IFMS, “there is a growing involvement of member states to include health in the negotiating text. As a group, we want to ensure that health is included in all parts of the negotiating document – preamble, research, capacity building, adaptation and finance.”

Indeed, the impacts of climate change go beyond environment, food security, land rights and even indigenous peoples’ rights. More importantly, climate change has both direct and indirect effects on health. Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

Parties to the UNFCCC must see this alarming issue towards forging a fair and binding climate deal in December which will limit keep global warming below 2 degrees C and ensure adaptation mechanisms to the most vulnerable nations.

In the future, it is foreseen that wars will be fought over water not oil. Disasters nowadays may give us a glimpse of the worst to come when the staggering impacts climate change worsen and affect us in ways beyond what we can handle.

Yet, with the rapid turn of extreme weather events, what we are doing is not just for future generations. It is for us, who are living now on this planet. We are going to be the victims if we do not take responsibility as much as we can, as soon as we can.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Migrants Waiting Their Moment in the Moroccan Mountains Fri, 04 Sep 2015 16:22:35 +0000 Andrea Pettrachin Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

By Andrea Pettrachin
CEUTA, Sep 4 2015 (IPS)

In the middle of the mountains behind the border fence of Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, and eight kilometres from the nearest Moroccan village of Fnideq, an uncertain number of migrants live in the woods. No one knows exactly how many they are but charity workers in Melilla, Spain’s other enclave in Morocco, say they could be in their thousands.

Ceuta is one of the main (and few) ‘doors’ leading from northern Africa to the territory of the European Union, and is a ’door’ that has been closed since the end of the 1990s, when the Spanish authorities started to build a tripe six-metre fence topped with barbed wire that surrounds the whole enclave, as in Melilla.

In the past, those waiting in the mountains for their turn to try to reach Spain had been able to build something resembling a normal life. They put up tents and at least were able to sleep relatively peacefully at night.Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities

That all ended after 2012, when the Moroccan police started to burn down the camps and periodically sweep the mountainside, arresting any migrants they found, charged with having illegally entered the country.

These actions were the result of agreements between the Moroccan and Spanish governments, after Spain had asked Morocco to control migration flows.

The most tragic raid so far by the Moroccan police took place last year on Gurugu Mountain which looks down on Melilla. Five migrants were killed, 40 wounded and 400 removed to a desert area on the border with Algeria. According to the migrants, the wounded were not cured and were left to their own destiny.

Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities.

They live, in their words, “like animals” and when speaking with outsiders are clearly ashamed by their condition, apologising for being dirty and badly-dressed.

The first thing many of them tell you in French is that they are students and that before having to leave their countries they were studying mathematics, economics or engineering at university.

Many of them are from Guinea, one of the countries most seriously affected by the Ebola epidemic, others come from Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, all countries characterised by political turmoil of various types.

All of them have been forced to live in these woods for months or even years, waiting for their chance to pass the border fence.

The statistics show that some of them will certainly die in their attempts to reach Spain – either on the heavily fortified fences which encircle the enclaves or out at sea in a small boat or trying to swim to a Spanish beach.

Some of them will finally make it to Spain, perhaps after five or six failed attempts. In that case they will have overcome the first hurdle, escaping the “push-back operations” by the Spanish Guardia Civil, but they will still face the possibility of forced repatriation, particularly if they come from countries with which Spain has a repatriation agreement.

Many of them, however, will finally give up and decide to remain somewhere in Morocco, destined to a life of continuous uncertainty due to their irregular position in the country. You can meet them and listen to their stories in the main Moroccan cities, especially in the north. In most cases, they had escaped death in their attempts to reach Spain and do not want to risk their lives any longer.

Meanwhile a report on ‘Refugee Persons in Spain and Europe” published at the end of May by the non-governmental Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR), denounces how sub-Saharan migrants are dissuaded from seeking asylum in Spain, even if coming from countries in conflict such as Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia, once they realise that they are likely to be forced to remain for months in a Centre for Temporary Residence of Immigrants (CETI) in Ceuta or Melilla.

In Melilla, for example, those who apply for asylum cannot leave the enclave until a decision has been taken on their application. Unlike Syrian refugees whose application takes no more than two months, CEAR said the average time to reach a decision for sub-Saharan Africans is one and a half years.

The CEAR report is only one of a long list of recent criticisms of the Spanish government’s migration policies from numerous NGOs and international organisations.

The main target of these criticisms has been the Security Law (Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana) passed this year by the Spanish Parliament with only the votes of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The aim was to give legal cover to the so called devoluciones en caliente, the “push-back operations” against migrants carried out by the Spanish frontier authorities in Ceuta and Melilla in violation of international and European law.

On the Spanish mainland, said the CEAR report, migrant’s right of asylum is seriously undermined by the bureaucratic lengths of application procedures and the political choices of the Spanish authorities.

Calls from CEAR and other NGOs to end “push-back operations” seem very unlikely to be taken into consideration soon by the Spanish government and Parliament, in view of the general elections later this year.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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European Residents Offer Support, Homes to Refugees Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As the migration crisis in Europe continues to grow and government response remains slow, European citizens have taken it upon themselves to act by opening up their homes to those in need.

In a Facebook group entitled ‘Dear Eygló Harðar – Syria is Calling’, over 15,000 Icelanders have signed an open letter calling on their government to “open the gates” for more Syrian refugees.

The open letter, initiated by author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir on Aug. 30, addresses Iceland’s Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðar and calls on the government to reconsider capping the number of refugees at a mere 50.

The week-long campaign, which ends on Sep. 4, aims to gather information about available assistance and to create pressure on the government to increase its quota.

“Refugees are our […] best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine’,” the open letter states.

Many have posted their own open letters, offering their homes, food, and general support to refugees, to enable them to integrate into Icelandic society.

One Icelander posted on the group: “I’m a single mother with a six-year-old son […] we can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys, and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

The open letter has sparked more people around the world to express words of support and to offer their homes to those in need.

One mother of a 19-month-old baby from Argentina wrote in the group: “I want you to know that I would like to help in any way I can, even if it is looking at the possibility of hosting some boy or girl in my house […]. I don’t have a comfortable financial position, but I can provide what is necessary and a lot of love.”

Similar efforts to house refugees have begun in other parts of Europe.

Refugees Welcome, a German initiative, matches refugees from around the world with host citizens offering private accommodation.

Once hosts sign up to offer their homes, Refugees Welcome works with local refugee organizations to reach out to find a “suitable” match.

Though only Germany and Austrian residents can currently be hosts, over 780 people have already signed up to help and more than 134 refugees from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria have been matched with families in the two countries.

Refugees Welcome also stated that the initiative has been picked up and may be expanded to the United States and Australia.

“We are convinced that refugees should not be stigmatized and excluded by being housed in mass accommodations. Instead, we should offer them a warm welcome,” says Refugees Welcome on its website.

European Union’s border agency Frontex revealed that in July 2015 alone, over 100,000 people migrated into Europe. Germany has stated that it expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Invaded Mostly by “Regime Change” Refugees Thu, 03 Sep 2015 20:23:40 +0000 Thalif Deen The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The military conflicts and political instability driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe were triggered largely by U.S. and Western military interventions for regime change – specifically in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (a regime change in-the-making).

The United States was provided with strong military support by countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, while the no-fly zone to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was led by France and the UK in 2011 and aided by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Canada, among others.

“[European leaders] stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.” -- James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum
Last week, an unnamed official of a former Eastern European country, now an integral part of the 28-nation European Union (EU), was constrained to ask: “Why should we provide homes for these refugees when we didn’t invade their countries?”

This reaction could have come from any of the former Soviet bloc countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Latvia – all of them now members of the EU, which has an open-door policy for transiting migrants and refugees.

The United States was directly involved in regime change in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) – and has been providing support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battling a civil war now in its fifth year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, points out that a large majority of people “undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the term “regime change refugees” is an excellent way to change the empty conversation about the refugee crisis.

Obviously, there are many causes, but “regime change” helps focus on a crucial part of the picture, he added.

Official discourse in Europe frames the civil wars and economic turmoil in terms of fanaticism, corruption, dictatorship, economic failures and other causes for which they have no responsibility, Paul said.

“They stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.”

The origins of the refugees make the case clearly: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are major sources, he pointed out.

Also many refugees come from the Balkans where the wars of the 1990s, again involving European complicity, shredded those societies and led to the present economic and social collapse, he noted.

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, and the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History, told IPS the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention was dated.

He said the Covenant “was written up for the time of the Cold War – when those who were fleeing the so-called Unfree World were to be welcomed to the Free World”.

He said many Third World states refused this covenant because of the horrid ideology behind it.

“We need a new Covenant,” he said, one that specifically takes into consideration economic refugees (driven by the International Monetary Fund) and political (war) refugees.

At the same time, he said, the international community should also recognize “climate change refugees, regime change refugees and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] refugees.”

The 1951 Convention guarantees refugee status if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asked about the Eastern European reaction, Prashad said: “I agree entirely. But of course one didn’t hear such a sentiment from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and others – who also welcomed refugees in large numbers. Why say, ‘Why should we take [them]?’ Why not say, ‘Why are they [Western Europe and the U.S.] not doing more?’” he asked.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – none of which invaded any of the countries from where most of the refugees are originating.

Paul told IPS the huge flow of refugees into Europe has created a political crisis in many recipient countries, especially Germany, where neo-Nazi thugs battle police almost daily, while fire-bombings of refugee housing have alarmed the political establishment.

The public have been horrified by refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deaths in trucks and railway tunnels, thousands of children and families caught on the open seas, facing border fences and mobilized security forces.

Religious leaders call for tolerance, while EU politicians wring their hands and wonder how they can solve the issue with new rules and more money, Paul said.

“But the refugee flow is increasing rapidly, with no end in sight.  Fences cannot contain the desperate multitudes.”

He said a few billion euros in economic assistance to the countries of origin, recently proposed by the Germans, are unlikely to buy away the problem.

“Only a clear understanding of the origins of the crisis can lead to an answer, but European leaders do not want to touch this hot wire and expose their own culpability.”

Paul said some European leaders, the French in particular, are arguing in favour of military intervention in these troubled lands on their periphery as a way of doing something.

Overthrowing Assad appears to be popular among the policy classes in Paris, who choose to ignore how counter-productive their overthrow of Libyan leader Gaddafi was a short time ago, or how counter-productive has been their clandestine support in Syria for the Islamist rebels, he declared.

Paul also said “the aggressive nationalist beast in the rich country establishments is not ready to learn the lesson, or to beware the “blowback” from future interventions.”

“This is why we need to look closely at the ‘regime change’ angle and to mobilize the public understanding that this was a crisis that was largely ‘Made in Europe’ – with the active connivance of Washington, of course,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Officials Warn of Dengue Outbreak in War-Torn Yemen Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:53:23 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

An outbreak of dengue fever in Yemen’s most populated governorate has prompted urgent calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the flow of medicines to over three million civilians trapped in the war-torn area.

Taiz, located on the country’s southern tip, has been on the frontline of fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-backed coalition of Arab states supporting fighters loyal to deposed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi since March 2015.

Three of Taiz’s major hospitals have either been destroyed or are inaccessible, leaving 3.2 million people – many of them sick or injured – without access to basic healthcare.

An estimated 832 people in the governorate have died and 6,135 have been wounded since the war broke out.

To make matters worse, in the past two weeks alone the number of suspected dengue cases has nearly tripled from 145 cases in early August to nearly 421 by the month’s end.

As the conflict escalates with both sides showing little regard for civilian safety, the WHO fears that the health situation will deteriorate in the coming months, worsening the misery of people caught between Houthi gunfire and Coalition airstrikes.

In a statement released on Aug. 27, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ala Alwan said: “All parties to the conflict must observe a ceasefire and demilitarize all hospitals and health facilities in Taiz, allow for the safe delivery of the supplies, implement measures to control the dengue outbreak, provide treatment and enable access to injured people and other patients.”

A mosquito-borne disease caused by the dengue virus, this tropical fever causes flu-like symptoms including high temperatures and muscle pains.

If symptoms are not quickly identified and managed, the patient may experience dangerously low platelet counts, internal bleeding or low blood pressure. Undetected, the disease can be fatal.

Mosquitoes carrying the virus thrive in stagnant water, and dengue epidemics often spread quickly in densely populated areas where open sewer systems or uncollected garbage provide convenient homes for the larvae.

With huge numbers of displaced Yemenis living in cramped and unsanitary makeshift settlements, it is small wonder that the disease is moving so rapidly.

The WHO’s most recent situation report for Yemen reveals that the country has logged over 5,600 suspected cases of dengue fever since March, including 3,000 cases in the coastal city of Aden alone.

Incomplete levels of medical reporting as a result of heavy fighting suggest that the real number of cases could be much higher.

Children are more likely than adults to develop the severe form of the disease, known as the Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever. With children accounting for over 600,000 of the nearly 1.5 million displaced in Yemen, health officials are on red alert.

Since there is no vaccine against the diseases, and no specific antiviral drug with which to treat the symptoms, prevention is the only long-term solution.

The WHO is partnering with other organisations and local health authorities to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets, educate families on the causes of the diseases, conduct indoor spraying to disrupt breeding grounds and secure necessary laboratory supplies for medical facilities.

These tasks are not easily accomplished in the midst of relentless air strikes and heavy fighting.

“We need protection and safety for all people working to control the worrying outbreak of dengue fever in Taiz,” the WHO said today, adding that parties to the conflict must stay mindful of their obligations under international law to protect medical facilities and health personnel during war-time.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Will New Sri Lankan Government Prioritize Resettlement of War-Displaced? Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:43:03 +0000 Amantha Perera Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka's war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka's war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

The new Sri Lankan government that was voted in on Aug. 17 certainly didn’t inherit as much baggage as its predecessors did during the nearly 30 years of conflict that gripped this South Asian island nation.

"Do you know how it feels to live in other people's houses for so long? You are always an outsider. I am getting old [...]. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else." -- Siva Ariyarathnam, an IDP in northern Sri Lanka
But six years into ‘peacetime’, the second parliament of President Maithripala Sirisena will need to prioritize some of the most painful, unhealed wounds of war – among them, the fate of over 50,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), some of whom have not been home in over two decades.

Though the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in 2009, closing a 28-year-long chapter of violence, Siva Ariyarathnam is still waiting for a government official to tell him when he can go home.

Like tens of thousands of others, Ariyarathnam fled with his family when the military took over his land in the country’s Northern Province in the 1990s as part of a strategy to defeat the LTTE, who launched an armed campaign for an independent homeland for the country’s minority Tamil population in 1983.

The outgoing government says it plans to give the land back to 50,000 people, but has not indicated when that will happen, and Ariyarathnam says he is running out of time.

“Do you know how it feels to live in other people’s houses for so long? You are always an outsider,” Ariyarathnam told IPS. “I am getting old and I want to live under my own roof with my family. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else.”

A decades-old problem

Ariyarathnam’s tale is heard too frequently in the former war-zone, a large swath of land in the country’s north comprising the Vanni region, the Jaffna Peninsula and parts of the Eastern Province, which the LTTE ran as a de facto state after riots in 1983 drove thousands of Tamils out of the Sinhala-majority south.

During the war years, displacement was the order of the day, with both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government forcing massive population shifts that would shape ethnic- and communal-based electoral politics.

For ordinary people it meant that the notion of ‘home’ was a luxury that few could maintain.

The cost of the conflict that finally ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tigers by government armed forces was enormous.

By conservative accounts over 100,000 perished in the fighting, while a report by the United Nations estimates that as many as 40,000 civilians died during the last bouts of fighting between 2008 and 2009.

According to the Ministry of Resettlement, Sri Lanka’s post-war IDP returnees stood at an impressive 796,081 by the end of June.

But the same data also reveal that an additional 50,000 were still living with host families and in the Thellippali IDP Centre, unable to return to villages still under military occupation.

These militarized zones date back to the 1990s, when the army began appropriating civilian land as a means of thwarting the steadily advancing LTTE.

By 2009, the military had confiscated 11,629 acres of land in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna – located on the northern tip of the island, over 300 km from the capital, Colombo – in order to create the Palaly High Security Zone (HSZ).

This was the area Ariyarathnam and his family, like thousands of others, had once called home.

New government, new policies?

Many hoped that the war’s end would see a return to their ancestral lands, but the war-victorious government, helmed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was slow to release civilian areas, prioritizing national security and continued deployment of troops in the North over resettlement of the displaced.

A new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former health minister who took power in a surprise January election, promised to accelerate land release, and turned over a 1,000-acre area from the Palaly HSZ in April.

But top officials tell IPS that genuine government efforts are stymied by the lack of public land onto which to move military camps in order to make way for returning civilians.

“The return of the IDPs is our number one priority,” Ranjini Nadarajapillai, the outgoing secretary to the Ministry of Resettlement, explained to IPS. “There is no timetable right now, everything depends on how the remaining high security zones are removed.”

The slow pace of land reform has kept IDPs mired in poverty, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), an arm of the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council.

“The main reasons why there are higher poverty levels among IDPs include the lack of access to land during displacement to carry out livelihood activities, [and] the lack of compensation for lost or destroyed land and property during the war, which was acquired by the military or government as security or economic zones,” Marita Swain, an analyst with IDMC, told IPS.

An IDMC report released in July put the number of IDPs at 73,700, far higher than the government statistic. Most of them are living with host families, while 4,700 are housed in a long-term welfare center in Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

The lingering effects of the policies of the previous administration led by Rajapaksa, which prioritized infrastructure development over genuine economic growth for the war-weary population, has compounded the IDPs’ plight, according to the IDMC.

Despite the Sirisena government taking office in January, it has been hamstrung over issues like resettlement for the past eight months as it prepared to face parliamentary elections that pitted Rajapaksa-era policies against those of the new president.

Nadarajapillai of the Ministry of Resettlement said the new government is taking a different approach and reaching out to international agencies and donors to resolve the issue.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping the government devise a plan to resolve the IDP crisis, added Dushanthi Fernando, a UNHCR official in Colombo.

Still, these promises mean little to people like Ariyarathnam, whose displacement is now entering its third decade with no firm signs of ending anytime soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Squabbles While Refugees Die Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:06:20 +0000 Thalif Deen North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen

As tens of thousands of refugees continue to flee conflict-ridden countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, Western European governments and international humanitarian organisations are struggling to cope with a snowballing humanitarian crisis threatening to explode.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees.  Slovakia says it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a condemnation by the United Nations.

“We have to remember [refugees] are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care." -- Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross
The crisis was further dramatized last week when the Austrians discovered an abandoned delivery truck containing the decomposing bodies of some 71 refugees, including eight women and three children, off a highway outside of Vienna.

Sweden and Germany, which have been the most receptive, have absorbed about 43 percent of all asylum seekers.

But in Germany, despite its liberal open door policy with over 44,000 Syrian refugees registered this year, there have been attacks on migrants, mostly by neo-Nazi groups.

The crisis is likely to get worse, with the United Nations predicting over 3,000 migrants streaming into Western Europe every day – some of them dying on the high seas.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 2,500 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for dehumanizing migrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”.

Harriet Harman, a British lawyer and a Labour Party leader of the opposition, shot back when she said Cameron “should remember he is talking about people and not insects” and called the use of “divisive” language a “worrying turn”.

The three countries with the largest external borders – Italy, Greece and Hungary – are facing the heaviest inflow of refugees.

The 28-member European Union (EU) remains sharply divided as to how best it should share the burden.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds and thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon

The New York Times Saturday quoted Alexander Betts, a professor and director of the Refugees Studies Centre at Oxford University, as saying: “While Europe is squabbling, people are dying.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the EU is facing one of its worst crises ever, outpacing the Greek financial meltdown, which threatened to break up the Union.

In a hard-hitting statement released Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe.

He pointed out that a large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refugees to protection and asylum.”

When considering asylum requests, he said, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack.

“This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings,” the U.N. chief declared.

Meanwhile, international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for “humanitarian corridors” in war zones – primarily to provide food, shelter and medicine unhindered by conflicts.

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, told IPS: “On our side, we ask for humanitarian corridors, respect for human dignity and respect for Geneva Conventions [governing the treatment of civilians in war zones] for reaching everyone suffering.”

Regarding people on the move – and people fleeing from these conflicts – “we have to remember they are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care,” he said.

Rocca said these people don’t want to escape; they love their homes, their teachers, their schools and their friends.

“But these are terrible stories of people who have been driven from their homes by violence in Syria, Sudan and other conflicts. For almost three years we have asked for humanitarian corridors,” but to no avail, he said.

“I strongly support the Red Cross EU Office position on migration and asylum in the EU, which clearly recommends respecting and protecting the rights of migrants whatever their legal status, respecting the dignity and rights of all migrants in border management policies, sharing responsibility in applying a Common European asylum system.”

As far as the Italian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) are concerned, he said: “We urge for a humanitarian approach to tackling the vulnerabilities of migrants, rather than focusing on their legal status.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


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Poverty and Slavery Often Go Hand-in-Hand for Africa’s Children Wed, 26 Aug 2015 08:50:16 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

“Poverty has become part of me,” says 13-year-old Aminata Kabangele from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me.”

Aminata, who fled her war-torn country after the rest of her family was killed by armed rebels and now lives as a as a refugee in Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp in Chipinge on the country’s eastern border, told IPS that she has had no option but to resign her fate to poverty.

Despite the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, African children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent.“Poverty has become part of me. I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me” – Aminata Kabangele, a 13-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“In every country you may turn to here in Africa, children are at the receiving end of poverty, with high numbers of them becoming orphans,” Melody Nhemachena, an independent social worker in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Based on a 2013 UNICEF report, the World Bank has estimated that up to 400 million children under the age of 17 worldwide live in extreme poverty, the majority of them in Africa and Asia.

According to human rights activists, the growing poverty facing many African families is also directly responsible for the fate of 200,000 African children that the United Nations estimates are sold into slavery every year.

“Many families in Africa are living in abject poverty, forcing them to trade their children for a meal to persons purporting to employ or take care of them (the children), but it is often not the case as the children end up in forced labour, earning almost nothing at the end of the day,” Amukusana Kalenga, a child rights activist based in Zambia, told IPS.

West Africa is one of the continent’s regions where modern-day slavery has not spared children.

According to Mike Sheil, who was sent by British charity and lobby group Anti-Slavery International to West Africa to photograph the lives of children trafficked as slaves and forced into marriage, for many families in Benin – one of the world’s poorest countries – “if someone offers to take their child away … it is almost a relief.”

Global March Against Child Labour, a worldwide network of trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations working to eliminate and prevent all forms of child labour, has reported that a 2010 study showed that “a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years worked in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well-being.”

“Trafficking in children is real. Gabon, for example, is considered an Eldorado and draws a lot of West African immigrants who traffic children,” Gabon’s Social Affairs Director-General Mélanie Mbadinga Matsanga told a conference on preventing child trafficking held in Congo’s southern city of Pointe Noire in 2012.

Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children and women who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 human trafficking report.

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, a study of child poverty showed that over 70 percent of children are not registered at birth while more than 30 percent experience severe educational deprivation. According to UNICEF Nigeria, about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.

“These boys and girls, some as young as 13-years-old, serve in the ranks of terror groups like Boko Haram, often participating  in suicide operations, and act as spies,” Hillary Akingbade, a Nigerian independent conflict management expert, told IPS.

“Girls here are often forced into sexual slavery while many other African children are abducted or recruited by force, with others joining out of desperation, believing that armed groups offer their best chance for survival,” she added.

Akingbade’s remarks echo the reality of poverty which also faces children in the Central African Republic, where an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls became members of armed groups following an outbreak of a bloody civil war in the central African nation in December 2012, according to Save the Children.

Violence plagued the Central African Republic when the country’s Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the country’s capital Bangui in March 2013, prompting a backlash by the largely Christian militia.

A 2013 report by Save the Children stated that in the Central African Republic, children as young as eight were being recruited by the country’s warring parties, with some of the children forcibly conscripted while others were impelled by poverty.

Last year, the United Nations reported that the recruitment of children in South Sudan’s on-going civil war was “rampant”, estimating that there were 11,000 children serving in both rebel and government armies, some of who had volunteered but others forced by their parents to join armed groups with the hopes of changing their economic fortunes for the better.

Meanwhile, back in the Tongogara refugee camp, Aminata has resigned herself. “I have descended into worse poverty since I came here in the company of other fleeing Congolese and, for many children like me here at the camp, poverty remains the order of the day.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikes Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Military Sanctions on Syria May Face Veto by Arms Supplier Tue, 25 Aug 2015 20:24:06 +0000 Thalif Deen A man stands amid the rubble of a house following an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Apr. 15, 2013. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

A man stands amid the rubble of a house following an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Apr. 15, 2013. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen

The staggering statistics emerging from the ongoing five-year-old military conflict in Syria – including over 220,000 killed, more than one million injured and about 7.6 million displaced – are prompting calls for a United Nations arms embargo on the beleaguered regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Providing weapons to Syria while its forces are committing crimes against humanity may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes, raising the possibility of potential criminal liability for arms suppliers." -- Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch
But any proposed military sanctions will continue to hit a major roadblock because of opposition by Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), and the largest single arms supplier dating back to a 25-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Syria with the then Soviet Union in October 1970.

Syria’s military arsenal includes over 200 Russian-made MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighter planes, dozens of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters and SA-14 surface-to-air missiles, and scores of T-72 battle tanks, along with a wide range of rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and howitzers.

But most of these are ageing weapons systems, purchased largely in the 1970s and 1980s costing billions of dollars, badly in need of refurbishing or replacements.

As in all military agreements, the contracts with Russia include maintenance, servicing, repairs and training.

According to the latest report by Forecast International, a defence market research firm in the United States, Syria once hosted about 3,000 to 4,000 military advisers, mostly stationed in Damascus.

The Russians also forgave about 9.8 billion dollars in military debts (incurred during the Soviet era) paving the way for new arms agreements back in January 2005 – and ensuring Syria’s military survival against a rash of anti-Assad militant groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS Russia’s resistance to an arms embargo is a given, but Syria’s flaunting of the laws-of-war and of Security Council resolutions require a real response, not just more rhetoric.

“Providing weapons to Syria while its forces are committing crimes against humanity may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes, raising the possibility of potential criminal liability for arms suppliers,” she said, adding: “Would such a step make a difference?”

Hicks pointed out that arms embargoes are not a perfect solution, but are a simple measure that doesn’t cost much to implement, and it would make it harder for the government to acquire new arms it could use to attack civilians.

“Action by the Security Council to impose an arms embargo would also send a strong message to Syria that its indiscriminate attacks on civilians must end. So why not impose one?” she asked.

Addressing the Security Council last November, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman pointed out the effectiveness of U.N.-imposed sanctions – from Afghanistan and Angola to Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

“We know it is not perfect, but there is also no doubt that it works,” he said.

Since the first U.N. sanctions were imposed on Southern Rhodesia in 1966, there have been 25 sanctions regimes – either in support of conflict resolution, countering terrorism or to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Currently, there are 15 sanctions regime in place – the highest number in the history of the United Nations.

Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, both Russia and China have jointly vetoed four resolutions aimed at penalizing the Assad regime, the last one being in May 2014.

China, which supports the Assad regime, is not an arms supplier to Syria.

In a statement released last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an arms embargo on Syria following repeated air attacks on market places and residential neighbourhoods, which killed at least 112 civilians.

“Bombing a market full of shoppers and vendors in broad daylight shows the Syrian government’s appalling disregard for civilians,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“This latest carnage is another reminder – if any was still needed – of the urgent need for the Security Council to act on its previous resolutions and take steps to stop indiscriminate attacks.”

On Feb. 22, 2014, the Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment.”

In August, following attacks on civilians, the Security Council issued a presidential statement reiterating its demands that all parties cease attacks against civilians as well as any indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas.

HRW said Security Council members, including Russia, which has shielded the Syrian government from sanctions and accountability, should take immediate steps to enforce that demand.

In addition to an arms embargo, the Security Council should apply the same level of scrutiny it has put in place for chemical attacks to all indiscriminate attacks by monitoring these attacks, attributing responsibility for them, and sanctioning those responsible.

The Security Council should also refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, HRW said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqis Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Provides Cover for Use of Banned Weapons in Yemen Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:20:48 +0000 Thalif Deen Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimising the use of cluster bombs – banned by an international convention – by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war, “if used appropriately”, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible.”“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.” -- Ole Solvang of HRW

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told IPS the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of U.S. cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement.  State and Defence Department officials are looking into that,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing rebel-controlled Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The United States, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis,” he added.

Goose said a U.S. Defence Department official has already said the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been used in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor,

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), among others.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the Convention, with 93 States parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released next week.

On Sep. 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen “need to recognise that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the United States to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in Houthi-controlled territory that had been attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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