Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 U.N. Panel Spotlights Plight of Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:03:15 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141826 Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

“Let us remember that behind every story, every figure, every number, there is a person – a girl, a boy, a parent, a family,” Anne Christine Eriksson, Acting Director of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said at a panel discussion at the U.N. on Thursday.

Amidst the rising numbers of people forced to flee their homes, the event, titled on “The Plight of Refugees and Migrants: Assessing Global Trends and Humanitarian Responses,” aimed at raising awareness of the current global refugee crisis and discussing the most important challenges linked to it as well as ideas on how to tackle it.

As emphasised throughout the discussion, worldwide displacement is at the highest level ever recorded due to new and ongoing conflicts, persecution and poverty. According to UNHCR’s recently released annual “Global Trends Report: World at War”, the number of people forcibly displaced reached a record high of 59.5 million by the end of 2014. This number was 51.2 million one year earlier and only 37.5 million a decade ago.

Apart from that, 2015 has also proven to be the deadliest year for migrants and asylum seekers. Over 900 migrants died in just a single incident in April 2015. One month later, thousands of fleeing Rohingya muslims were facing death from starvation in East Asia.

The international response to such crises has been inadequate, Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan, said in her opening remarks.

“The international community to its shame has ignored massive human suffering in the past and the U.N. is not without blame in this regard. We are reminded of Rwanda and Srebrenica among other crises. And the current crisis of refugees could mark a new flag of shame.”

Speaking about challenges in addressing the global refugee crisis, participants and panelists highlighted in particular the strains on refugee-hosting countries in terms of infrastructure and education. Fears were also expressed that the mass movements would lead to spill-over effects and threaten the security of the whole region.

In this respect, lacking international solidarity in terms of burden-sharing was declared a major concern. Further problems expressed were donor fatigue and rising hostilities towards migrants on top of their human suffering.

Peter Wilson, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the U.N., named three examples that might represent upcoming opportunities to resolve the crisis. First, Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), building peaceful and inclusive societies, which can be used “to tackle the causes of these problems and not just the symptoms”, second, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul which brings together both the humanitarian and the development community and third, new innovative concepts such as providing migrants with direct cash.

Other ideas expressed during the discussion involve cooperating with all stakeholders concerned, including host governments, authorities on regional, local and national levels, the U.N. system as well as development organisations and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the donor community.

Moreover, reframing the refugee crisis as security issue might help to convince voters and parliamentarians to spend more money on solving the crisis as an investment in security and thus allow for additional funding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceilinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:31:24 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141798 Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it." -- Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: European Federalism and Missed Opportunitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:32:41 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141694

In this column Emma Bonino, a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian foreign minister, argues that serious problems affecting Europe, like the Greek crisis and waves of migration, could have been addressed more quickly and efficiently if the European Union had embraced federalism.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“A serious political and social crisis will sweep through the euro countries if they do not decide to strengthen the integration of their economies. The euro zone crisis did not begin with the Greek crisis, but was manifested much earlier, when a monetary union was created without economic and fiscal union in the context of a financial sector drugged on debt and speculation.”

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

These words, which are completely relevant today, were written by a group of federalists, including Romano Prodi, Giuliano Amato, Jacques Attali, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and this author, in May 2012.

Those with a federalist vision are not surprised that the crisis in Greece has dragged on for so many years, because they know that a really integrated Europe with a truly central bank would have been able to solve it in a relatively short time and at much lower cost.

In this region of 500 million people, another example of the inability to solve European problems was the recent great challenge of distributing 60,000 refugees among the 28 member countries of the European Union. Leaders spent all night exchanging insults without reaching a solution.

Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration.

It can be stated that European federalism – which would complete Europe’s unity and integration – is now more necessary than ever because it is the appropriate vehicle for overcoming regional crises and starting a new phase of growth, without which Europe will be left behind and subordinated not only to the United States but also to the major emerging powers.“Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration”

Furthermore, its serious and growing social problems – such as poverty, inequality and high unemployment especially among young people – will not be solved.

Within the federalist framework there is, at present, only the euro, while all the other institutions or sectoral policies (like defence, foreign policy, and so on) are lacking.

Excluding such large items of public spending as health care and social security, there are however other government functions which, according to the theory of fiscal federalism (the principle of subsidiarity and common sense), should be allocated to a higher level, that of the European central government.

Among them are, in particular: defence and security, diplomacy and foreign policy (including development and humanitarian aid), border control, large research and development projects, and social and regional redistribution.

Defence and foreign policy are perhaps considered the ultimate bastions of state sovereignty and so are still taboo. However, the progressive loss of influence in international affairs among even the most important European countries is increasingly evident.

To take, for instance, the defence sector: as Nick Witney, former chief executive of the European Defence Agency, has noted: “most European armies are still geared towards all-out warfare on the inner-German border rather than keeping the peace in Chad or supporting security and development in Afghanistan.

“This failure to modernise means that much of the 200 billion euros that Europe spends on defence each year is simply wasted,” and “the EU’s individual Member States, even France and Britain, have lost and will never regain the ability to finance all the necessary new capabilities by themselves.”

It should be noted that precisely because the mission of European military forces has changed so radically, it is nowadays much easier, in principle, to create new armed forces from scratch (personnel, armaments, doctrines and all) instead of persisting in the futile attempt to reconvert existing forces to new missions, while at the same time seeking to improve cooperation between them.

Why should it be possible to create a new currency and a new central bank from scratch, and not a new army?

Common defence spending by the 28 European Union countries amounts to 1.55 percent of European GDP. Hence, a hypothetical E.U. defence budget of one percent of GDP appears relatively modest.

However, it translates into nearly 130 billion euros, which would automatically make the E.U. armed forces an effective military organisation, surpassed only by that of the United States, and with resources three to five times greater than those available to powers like Russia, China or Japan.

It would also mean saving an estimated 60 to 70 billion euros, or more than half a percentage point of European GDP, compared with the present situation.

Transferring certain government functions from national to European level should not give rise to a net increase in public spending in the whole of the European Union, and could well lead to a net decrease because of economies of scale.

Taking the example of defence, for the same outlay a single organisation is certainly more efficient than 28 separate ones. Moreover, as demonstrated by experiences with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the Cold War, efforts to coordinate independent military forces always produced disappointing results and parasitic reliance on the wealthier providers of this common good. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Clean Water Another Victim of Syria’s Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 02:07:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141737 The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Governments Playing Political Ping-Pong with China’s Uyghurshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:07:00 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141726 Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

Two reports released in quick succession by the international rights group Human Rights Watch have highlighted the plight of China’s minority Uyghur population and shed light on their continuing struggle to find a safe haven elsewhere in the region.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees." -- Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association
The international watchdog released a statement on Jul. 10 condemning the Thai government for returning 100 Uyghur immigrants to China, claiming that they will face persecution in country.

The Uyghurs have struggled against the control of the Chinese central government for decades, with many of its activists exiled or imprisoned.

Another HRW report released on Jul. 13 revealed the Chinese government’s restrictions on international travel for religious minorities, including the Uyghurs, for “religious study and pilgrimage.”

A fast-track passport application system made available 12 years ago excluded the Uyghurs and other minorities, the report said.

“Chinese authorities should move swiftly to dismantle this blatantly discriminatory passport system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW in the Jul. 10 statement.

“The restrictions also violate freedom of belief by denying or limiting religious minorities’ ability to participate in pilgrimages outside China,” she added.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement on Jul. 9 that condemned Thailand for returning the Uyghurs to China. The deportations have sparked protests in front of the Chinese embassy and Thailand’s honorary consulate in Turkey.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from the capital Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups that have Turkish descent and speak Turkic languages.

According to the Uyghur American Association, there are over 15 million Uyghurs in the region. Uyghurs are traditionally Muslims.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit: futureatlas.com/CC-BY-2.0

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit: futureatlas.com/CC-BY-2.0

Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the forcible return of Uyghur refugees was a violation of their safety.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees,” he said. “As more Uyghurs flee China’s heavy-handed repression in East Turkestan, and Beijing continues to pressure for their return, concerned governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

In addition to the restrictions imposed on travel for pilgrimage activities, Uyghurs in China are also reported to face various restrictions that prohibit them from observing the religious fast during the holy month of Ramadan, one of the important months for Islamic countries and communities around the world.

According to the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress and several news sites, local Chinese governmental departments published statements on the websites warning students, state employees and party members from fasting, attending religious activities or entering mosques.

The Xinjiang legislature passed a regulation in January that banned the wearing of the burqa, a headscarf donned by Muslim women.

“This is not a new restriction,” Greg Fay, project manager at the Washington, D.C. based Uyghur Human Rights Association, told IPS. “The restrictions have been getting stricter in the past two years.”

Uyghurs have had an uneasy relationship with Beijing ever since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

A spate of violent attacks in the past year resulted in the government’s vow to “fight against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism” during a yearlong, anti-terror crackdown. Arrests doubled in 2014 since the government announced the crackdown, amounting to 27,164 cases.

In March 2014, a knife attack in Kunming, 2,677 km from Beijing, left 30 people dead. Two months later, a bomb was set off in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which killed 31 people. In July, an attack on police stations, government offices and vehicles in Xinjiang left at least 50 people dead.

Officials blamed Xinjiang separatists for the attacks. Earlier in 2009, a riot in Urumqi killed nearly 140 people and the government shut off Internet access in the province for months.

“My interpretation of what is happening now is the government has put out a policy of opposing extremism,” Sean Roberts, associate professor at George Washington University, told IPS in an interview. “I think for a lot of local level officials they are just identifying Islam as extremism.”

Seytoff said in an opinion piece in Al Jazeera published in June 2014 that even though the Uyghurs occupy an autonomous region, most Han officials, the majority ethnic group in China, still hold political and economic power in the region.

“China ruthlessly suppressed any sign of Uyghur unrest and transferred millions of loyal Chinese settlers into East Turkestan, providing them with jobs, housing, bank loans and economic opportunities denied to Uyghurs,” he said.

“The Uyghur population in East Turkestan, which was nearly 90 percent [of the area’s total population] in 1949, is now only 45 percent, while the Chinese population grew disproportionately due to state-sponsored mass settlement from around six percent in 1953 to the current 40 percent.”

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many Uyghurs attempt to flee persecution to Turkey and neighboring Asian countries. Turkey has hosted over 1,000 Uyghur refugees since 1949, but neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have returned a number of Uyghurs to China.

A New York Times article in Dec. 2009 revealed that Cambodia returned 20 Uyghurs who applied for asylum in 2009—and signed an economic cooperation deal with China two days later.

The Chinese deny any form of oppression of the Uyghurs and insist that Cambodia’s act of repatriation was legal.

Other Chinese state news agencies have claimed that, far from prohibiting the celebration of Ramadan, the government has supported locals in their worship by proving food and ensuring peace.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Children Increasingly Becoming the Spoils of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:23:11 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141575 Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Whether in Palestine, Ukraine or Somalia, wars result in millions of children threatened by the brutality of armed conflict.

The numbers speak for themselves: more than 300,000 child soldiers are currently exploited in situations of armed conflict and six million children have been severely injured or permanently disabled, according to UNICEF.The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

Likewise, an estimated 20 million children are living as refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced within their own national borders as a result of conflict and human rights violations.

And the U.N. Secretary General’s most recent report, published on June 5, shows that in too many countries, the situation for children is getting worse, not better.

“There is still room at the individual agency level to strengthen safeguards towards prevention of child rights violations,” Dragica Mikavica, advocacy officer of Watchlist, a network of international non-governmental organisations, told IPS.

“For instance, more recently, Watchlist has been lobbying for the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to develop a policy that would ban states placed on the Secretary-General’s ‘list of shame’ from contributing troops to peacekeeping forces in other countries,” she added.

Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, agrees that the U.N. could better protect children from armed conflict in several ways.

“When governments or armed groups refuse to agree to such steps and continue abuses, the Security Council could be much more aggressive in imposing targeted sanctions, such as arms embargoes, or travel bans and asset freezes on the leaders of such groups,” she told IPS.

“The SC should also refer such cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution,” she added.

The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

In addition to kidnappings, thousands of children were killed last year in different parts of the world.

In Iraq, for example, 2014 was the deadliest year for children since the U.N. first started systematically documenting violations against children in 2008, with nearly 700 children killed and almost 1,300 abducted – and these are only the recorded cases.

Likewise, in Palestine, the number of children killed by Israeli forces jumped to 557, more than the number killed in the last two military operations there combined.

In order to step up the fight against this violence, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted on June 18 Resolution 2225, which strengthens the international community’s mobilisation in support of children in armed conflict and condemns their abduction.

The resolution, tabled by Malaysia and sponsored by 56 member states, added abductions as the fifth violation that can trigger a listing of a party to the conflict to the Secretary-General’s “list of shame”.

This list facilitates greater monitoring of abductions and ensures that parties which engage in this particular crime are included on it. Once listed, the U.N. is able to engage the listed parties in negotiating action plans to stop this and other violations from occurring.

The vast majority of these abductions are carried out by non-state groups, including terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and ISIS, which see mass kidnapping as a shining symbol of success.

Raising the profile of the abduction of children at the highest level – such as in form of a Security Council resolution – also endows child protection actors with greater capacity to advocate for response surrounding this egregious violation.

However, as UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt argues, abduction is often only the first in a series of grave violations, followed by sexual assault and rape, indoctrination, recruitment as child soldiers and murder.

“Each offence blights that child. It robs her of her childhood and threatens her ability to live a full and productive life,” she said in an open debate on Children and Armed Conflict at the Security Council on June 18.

Brandt also stressed the importance of providing critical support to children after their release so they can resume “normal life”.

“These children are victims and must be treated as such. They’re inevitably burdened by physical wounds and psychological scars,” she said.

Raising awareness remains a critical point in the battle against the brutality suffered by children in situations of armed conflict.

Social media has proven a valuable tool for raising the public profile of the atrocities committed against children, especially mass abductions in contexts like Nigeria, Syria and Iraq.

“Social media contributed to internal U.N. debates around abductions of children, as the world could not turn a blind eye on what was happening to children last year,” Mikavica told IPS.

“All of this resulted in concrete actions by the Council at the last Open Debate as seen through trigger expansion,” she added.

However, as Becker told IPS, it’s important to keep in mind that although social media has been exceptionally effective in raising awareness of mass abductions of children by Boko Haram and other armed groups, it’s just a tool, not a substitute for action, which remains the real challenge for the U.N. and other international organisations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid Fall Far Short of Deliverieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:01:04 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141566 This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

When international donors pledge millions of dollars either for post-conflict reconstruction or for humanitarian aid, deliveries are rarely on schedule: they are either late, fall far below expectations or not delivered at all.

The under-payment or non-payment of promised aid has affected mostly civilian victims, including war-ravaged women and children in military hotspots such as Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and most recently Yemen.“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries." -- Gregory Adams of Oxfam

But it also extends to earthquake-struck countries such as Haiti and Nepal, and at least three African countries devastated by the Ebola virus.

At an international Ebola recovery conference at the United Nations last week, the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea requested more than 3.2 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to meet their recovery plan budgets. And donors readily pledged to meet the request.

But how much of this will be delivered and when?

At a question and answer press stakeout, Matthew Russell Lee, the hard-driving investigative reporter for Inner City Press (ICP), asked Helen Clark, the Administrator of U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), what steps are being taken to ensure that the announced pledges are in fact paid.

According to Lee, she said UNDP will be contacting the pledgers.

“But will they go public with the non-payers?” he asked, in his blog posting.

Lee told IPS that even amid the troubling lack of follow-through on previous pledges in Haiti, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, “it does not seem the UNDP has in place any mechanism for reporting on compliance with the Ebola pledges” announced last week.

“If the U.N. system is going to announce such pledges, they should follow up on them,” he said.

On Yemen, he pointed out, while the Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the country, it seems strange to so profusely praise them for a (conditional) aid pledge, especially but not only one that has yet to be paid.

Gregory Adams, Director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam International, which has been closely monitoring aid pledges, told IPS that in advance of the Ebola Recovery Conference held last week, Oxfam looked at three past crises to see how well donors followed through on recovery pledges.

“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries,” he said.

For example, in Busan, South Korea in 2011, donors pledged they would be publishing timely, accessible and detailed data on where their aid is going by the end of 2015.

But many donors still don’t publish complete information; information is only available for slightly more than half of overall ODA (Official Development Assistance).

As a consequence, said Adams, once aid reaches a recovery country, it is difficult to know exactly how much actually gets where it is most needed.

This lack of transparency makes it hard for communities to participate in planning and recovery efforts, and to hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results, he noted.

One of the most important lessons of Ebola was that response and recovery efforts must be centered on community needs and incorporate their feedback, Adams said.

“If people do not know where aid is going, they can’t plan, they can’t provide feedback, and they can’t make sure that aid is working,” he declared.

Even Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a special appeal to donors last December when he announced 10 billion dollars in pledges as initial capitalisation for the hefty 100 billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Announcing the pledges, he called on “all countries to deliver on their pledges as soon as possible and for more governments to contribute to climate finance.”

Last April, Saudi Arabia announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen” – despite widespread accusations of civilian bombings and violations of international humanitarian law in the ongoing conflict there.

Responding to repeated questions at U.N. press briefings, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “I think it’s right now in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) phase between the Saudis and the various U.N. agencies to which the money will be allocated.  That process is ongoing.  We hope it concludes soon.  But those discussions are ongoing.”

He said a lot of the larger donors have standing MOUs with the U.N.

“Obviously, this is… I think my recollection this is probably the first time we’re doing it with Saudi Arabia, but I think it takes a little bit more time, but it makes things a lot clearer in the end.”

Asked if there was a conflict of interest given Saudi Arabia is one of the main belligerents in this conflict, Dujarric said: “I wouldn’t say conflict of interest.  We welcome the generous contributions from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that… we welcome the fact that these contributions will be helped… used by U.N. humanitarian agencies, which are then the… but it… the agencies themselves are then free to use those resources in the way they best see fit to help the Yemeni people.”

Last March, at the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, which was hosted by Kuwait, donors pledged 3.8 billion dollars in humanitarian aid. The three major donors were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

But, so far, there has been no full accounting of the deliveries.

Oxfam’s Adams told IPS in order to make sure that the three countries affected by Ebola can help their people and communities recover, donors need to:

  • publish timely, detailed, and comprehensive information on their aid, consistent with the priorities outlined in the recovery plans of the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone;
  • seek to direct aid through local entities wherever possible, including national and local governments and civil society organisations;
  • support strong community engagement and the independent role of civil society in Ebola recovery, so that they can hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Syrians: ‘Biggest Refugee Population From a Single Conflict in a Generation’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/beleaguered-syrians-comprise-worlds-biggest-refugee-population-from-a-single-conflict-in-a-generation/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 20:51:00 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141510 A child stands amid the rubble of what was once his home, after an aerial bombardment on the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

A child stands amid the rubble of what was once his home, after an aerial bombardment on the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

Barely 10 months ago, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the refugee population from Syria had reached the three million mark. Today, the latest data from the field show that the number has passed four million.

“This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement on Jul. 9.

"I took [my son] to the field hospital in Tafas. They tried to help him but couldn't, since the appropriate equipment is not available in Syria. He needed to go to Jordan for treatment." -- Murad, the father of a 27-day-old baby injured in a barrel bomb attack in Syria
“It is a population that deserves the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into abject poverty.”

Midway through its fifth year, the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011 has reached catastrophic heights, and yet shows no sign of abating.

What started out as mass demonstrations against long-time ruler Bashar al-Assad now involves multiple armed groups including fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

A quarter of a million people are dead, according to estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A further 840,000 are injured, with many thousands maimed for life.

And as U.N. agencies struggle to cobble together the funds needed to heal, house and feed millions who have fled bullet-ridden towns and demolished cities, the exodus just keeps growing.

A UNHCR press release issued Thursday said Turkey is hosting 1.8 million Syrians, more than any other nation in the region. Over 250,000 of these refugees are living in 23 camps established and maintained by the Turkish government.

Other countries in the region that have opened their doors to scores of families fleeing the fighting include Lebanon (currently home to over 1.7 million Syrians), Jordan (hosting 629,000 refugees), Iraq (249,000) and Egypt (132,000).

In every single one of these countries, health and infrastructure facilities are quickly nearing breaking point as the hungry, sick and wounded arrive in droves.

On Jul. 9 Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that Jordanian hospitals are groaning under a huge patient burden, including numerous Syrians injured by barrel bombs.

In the last two weeks alone more than 65 war-wounded patients turned up at the emergency room of Al-Ramtha hospital in northern Jordan – less than three miles from the Syrian border – where MSF teams have been working with the Jordanian Ministry of Health to provide emergency care to refugees.

The medical humanitarian organisation has called repeatedly for an end to the use of these deadly, improvised weapons, which are typically constructed from oil drums, gas cylinders or water tanks filled with explosives and locally-sourced scrap metals dropped from high-altitude helicopters.

Due to the wide impact radius of barrel bomb attacks, victim often suffer wounds that are impossible to treat within Syria’s borders, where many health facilities have been reduced to rubble in the past five years.

“More than 70 percent of the wounded we receive suffer from blast injuries, and their multiple wounds tell their stories,” Renate Sinke, project coordinator of MSF’s emergency surgical programme in Ramtha, said in the statement released Thursday.

Dr. Muhammad Shoaib, MSF’s medical coordinator in Jordan, added, “A significant proportion of the patients we receive have suffered head injuries and other multiple injuries that cannot be treated inside southern Syria, as CT-scans and other treatment options are limited.”

One of the patients at Al-Ramtha Hospital, the father of a 27-day-old child who suffered head injuries as a result of shrapnel from a barrel bomb, recounted his family’s plight, which mirrors the experience of millions of civilians caught in the crossfire of the deadly conflict.

“At 9:00 a.m., a barrel bomb hit our house in Tafas […]. When I heard the news, I dropped what I was doing and I ran to the house as fast as I could […]. I saw my little boy. He was quiet and his head seemed to be injured. I took him to the field hospital in Tafas. They tried to help him but couldn’t, since the appropriate equipment is not available in Syria. He needed to go to Jordan for treatment,” Murad, the boy’s father, told MSF staff.

“It took us one-and-a-half hours from the time of injury until we arrived at the border, and some more before arriving in Ramtha. Now, all I want is for my baby to be better and go back to Syria.”

It is families like these that comprise the bulk of Syrian refugees, the highest recorded since 1992 when Afghan refugees reached an estimated 4.6 million, says the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Indeed, the figure from Syria could well be even higher than field reports suggest, and does not include the roughly 270,000 asylum applications by Syrians in Europe. A further 7.2 million people are displaced inside Syria itself, in remote or heavily embattled regions.

Worse, officials say, is the apparently inverse relationship between emergency needs and humanitarian funding: with the former constantly rising, while the latter shrinks.

UNHCR and its partners had requested 5.5 billion dollars for relief operations in 2015, but so far only a quarter of those funds have been received.

The World Food Programme (WFP), tasked with feeding about six million Syrians inside the country and in the surrounding region, is facing a massive shortfall, and warned last week that unless immediate funding became available, half a million people could starve.

There is also the very real possibility that over 1.7 million people will have to face the coming winter months without fuel or shelter.

As aid supplies dwindle, desperate and impoverished families are sending their children out to earn a living – according to a joint report released this week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children, three quarters of all refugee households surveyed reported that children have become breadwinners.

Against the backdrop of soaring poverty rates, these findings are perhaps not unexpected. An estimated 86 percent of refugees outside of camps in Jordan, for instance, live below the poverty line, while a further 55 percent of refugees in Lebanon are living in “sub-standard” shelters, according to the refugee agency.

While world leaders oscillate between political and military solutions to the crisis, Syrians are faced with a choice: death by shrapnel at home or death by starvation abroad?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Warns of Real Risk Nepal Will Not “Build Back Better”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-warns-of-real-risk-nepal-will-not-build-back-better/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-warns-of-real-risk-nepal-will-not-build-back-better http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-warns-of-real-risk-nepal-will-not-build-back-better/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 10:45:07 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141496 The district of Kavre in Nepal was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asian nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The district of Kavre in Nepal was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asian nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

As Nepal’s monsoon rains approach, some humanitarian aid remains tied up in the capital Kathmandu and there are concerns that a rush to build shelters could lead to the same shoddy construction that collapsed during the Apr. 25 earthquake, a U.N. official said Wednesday.

John Ging, Operations Director of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefed the press about his three days spent in Nepal reviewing the state of the humanitarian situation, response and reconstruction two months after the 7.3 magnitude earthquake."From the outset of the disaster response, Nepalese people, as first responders, were helping each other regardless of gender or other considerations." -- Jamie McGoldrick

“In the urgency to rebuild, and in the impoverishment that is there, we have to be alert to the real danger of there being a ‘build back worse’ rather than a ‘build back better’,” Ging insisted.

So far, an appeal for 422 million dollars has only been 46 percent funded, he said. “We hope to see that mobilised very quickly because people cannot stand in the rain.”

The disaster affected around eight million people – almost one-third of the population of the country – resulting in extreme devastation, with 2.2 million people losing their homes.

Moreover, an estimated 1.5 million children have been directly affected by the impact of the earthquake on Nepal’s education system, with one million children now without a permanent classroom, Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Nepal, told IPS.

Tej Thapa, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told IPS they have been hearing stories of minority communities having greater trouble accessing aid and have received some anecdotal evidence of problems of LGBTI communities accessing aid.

“Humanitarian and other groups have adopted a ‘do no harm’ principle, where aid is distributed evenly to all communities but separately – physically separately,” added Thapa. “The Dalits queue up in a different line from the high castes.”

This separation confirms the deeply rooted caste system in Nepal which results in human rights abuses towards lower castes, and if not addressed in the Constitution it may prevent the goal of “building back better”, which Ging stated is strongly encouraged in humanitarian efforts.

The hurried drafting Nepal’s Constitution could also be an impeding factor to this goal, as it has been predicted to result in further human rights issues. The Preliminary Draft of the Constitution was approved by Nepal’s Constituent Assembly Jul. 7 although it was due to be completed in 2012.

“The draft as it stands is regressive, particularly on women’s rights, minority rights, identity rights, and press freedoms,” Thapa told IPS. “The current political position seems to be to move ahead with this constitution regardless, and hope that laws and practice will sort out the problems over the years, which is deeply worrying.”

“The constitution is the supreme law of the land and if rights are not protected through that document then there is little reason to believe there will be any further political will to amend the problems,” says Thapa.

“The U.N. stands ready to provide any technical assistance required to ensure compliance of the constitution with the international human rights instruments to which Nepal is a party,” says McGoldrick.

Despite these legal factors, U.N. officials assert that Nepalese communities are working together to assure the people in most need are prioritised and nobody is left behind.

“I commend local authorities and local organisations for their show of true humanity in the face of devastation, that made no distinction between any people,” Ging said.

“From the outset of the disaster response, Nepalese people, as first responders, were helping each other regardless of gender or other considerations,” McGoldrick affirmed, “Most notably, youth took a lead role in coordinating and delivering aid. Also, family members, friends, neighbours, business owners etc., all recognised their role to play in helping their fellow citizens.”

U.N. officials also insist that international humanitarian aid is being distributed evenly among communities.

“The U.N., through the UNDAF, has conducted a thorough analysis of the most vulnerable groups in Nepal and addressed inclusion as a main tenet of its programming. This approach is continuing with the relief and recovery work,” McGoldrick explained.

“Aid is delivered based solely on need and in an equitable and principled manner. Moreover, all humanitarian programming was designed keeping in mind specific needs of vulnerable groups such as women, children, elderly and/or minorities; so as to ensure the aid is provided to them in an equitable and apolitical manner.”

Another preventative factor to ‘building back better’ could be Nepal’s massive debt to foreign lenders of about 3.8 billion dollars, according to the most recent World Bank numbers.

While the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damage amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country’s total economy, the country’s creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

Nepal will not receive debt relief from the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust as it does not “fulfill the criteria of the fund”, says McGoldrick.

Nepal, one of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), had a projected goal of 6.7 billion dollars for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and services, and received 4.4 billion dollars in pledges at an international donor conference in Kathmandu two weeks ago, although that remains to be delivered.

“We still have a significant shortfall in our humanitarian appeal and we are asking member-states to redouble their effort,” Ging said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Emergencies Lend Urgency to World Population Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/humanitarian-emergencies-lend-urgency-to-world-population-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-emergencies-lend-urgency-to-world-population-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/humanitarian-emergencies-lend-urgency-to-world-population-day/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 16:47:17 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141483 A group of young Somali girls at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A group of young Somali girls at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2015 (IPS)

On the eve of World Population Day, the United Nations is fighting a virtually losing battle against growing humanitarian emergencies triggered mostly by military conflicts that are displacing people by the millions – and rendering them either homeless or reducing them to the status of refugees.

The number of forcibly displaced people has risen to a record number – almost 60 million at the end of 2014, according to the latest U.N. figures.“Governments and electorates are increasingly loath to accept large numbers of people who are in great need, ethnically different and may pose threats to social stability.” -- Joseph Chamie

But that number will continue to rise through 2015 – judging by the unprecedented number of refugees fleeing their home countries, and mostly crossing the Mediterranean Sea, seeking safe havens in European countries.

“Among these, most women and adolescent girls face particular threats as a result of the absence of health and other essential services that they need,” says U.N. Under-Secretary-General Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

“The complex emergencies we are responding to include protracted conflicts, made worse by poor or failed governance, the consequences of climate change, and the engagement of extremist groups claiming territory, resources and power,” he points out.

The theme of this year’s World Population Day – “Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies” – is aimed at highlighting the special needs of women and adolescent girls during conflicts and humanitarian disasters.

According to the United Nations, the number of people requiring critical relief has more than doubled since 2004, to over 100 million today, over and above the 60 million displaced people.

Current funding requirements for 2015 stand at a staggering 19.1 billion dollars compared with 3.4 billion dollars in 2004.

Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, told IPS the focus of the 2015 World Population Day, which will be commemorated on July 11, is both timely and appropriate given that a record number of more than 60 million men, women and children have been displaced from their homes.

Although the current number of people displaced is at a record high, it will likely increase to substantially higher levels in the coming years as the political unrest and civil conflicts remain unresolved and become more widespread, he noted.

“The forced displacement of millions of men, women and children has created a humanitarian crisis that is challenging countries in every region of the world.”

Chamie said the many services needed by the vulnerable people, including food, shelter, clothing, health care, schooling and safety, are overwhelming the capacities of governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Unfortunately, the international community has not been able to agree on a comprehensive solution to the crisis, he pointed out.

“Governments and electorates are increasingly loath to accept large numbers of people who are in great need, ethnically different and may pose threats to social stability.”

Chamie said economic uncertainties, record government deficits, high unemployment and concerns about national and cultural identity are contributing to growing anti-immigrant sentiment.

According to a report by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released last week, the large majority of the 137,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe during the first half of this year were fleeing from war, conflict or persecution, making the Mediterranean crisis primarily a refugee one.

The report said one third of people arriving in Italy or Greece were from Syria, whose nationals are almost universally deemed to qualify for refugee status or other forms of protection.

The second and third most common countries of origin are Afghanistan and Eritrea, whose nationals are also mostly considered to qualify for refugee status.

There was an 83 per cent increase in refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from January to June — 137,000 compared to 75,000 in the same period last year, according to UNHCR.

The number of deaths at sea rose to record levels in April of this year, when more than 1,300 people drowned or went missing in a single month, compared to 42 last April.

In a statement released here, UNFPA said women and adolescent girls who are caught up in humanitarian emergencies also face much greater risk of abuse, sexual exploitation, violence and forced marriage during conflicts and natural disasters.

In addition, many women who survive a crisis become heads of household, with the sole responsibility of caring for their children.

They often have to overcome immense obstacles to provide health and care for children, the sick, the injured and the elderly, and bear the heaviest burden of relief and reconstruction. As a result, they may neglect their own needs as they care for others, UNFPA said.

One of the priorities of UNFPA is to empower and safeguard the well-being of women, adolescent girls, and young people and address their specific needs and concerns.

“We work closely with governments, the United Nations system, local partners and others on disaster preparedness to ensure that reproductive health is integrated into emergency responses.”

“On this World Population Day, we call on the international community to redouble efforts to protect the health and rights of women and girls”, the agency said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Child Labour: A Hidden Atrocity of the Syrian Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/child-labour-a-hidden-atrocity-of-the-syrian-crisis/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141417 Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

In a conflict that has claimed over 220,000 lives and injured a further 840,000 people as of January 2015, it is sometimes hard to see beyond the death toll.

What started as a confrontation between pro-democracy activists and the entrenched dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Syria’s civil war is today one of the world’s most bitter conflicts, involving over four separate armed groups and touching numerous other countries in the region.

“I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family." -- Ahmed, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan
With millions on the brink of starvation and displaced Syrians now representing the largest refugee population in the world, after Palestinians, scores of lesser-known war-related atrocities are jostling for space in the headlines.

On Jul. 2, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children released a joint report highlighting one of the hidden impacts of the Syrian crisis – a rise in child labour throughout the region.

In a press release issued in Jordan’s capital, Amman, Thursday, the agencies warned, “Syria’s children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to put an end to the conflict.

“The report shows that inside Syria, children are now contributing to the family income in more than three quarters of surveyed households, In Jordan, close to half of all Syrian refugee children are now the joint or sole family breadwinners in surveyed households, while in some parts of Lebanon, children as young as six years old are reportedly working.”

“The most vulnerable of all working children are those involved in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and illicit activities including organised begging and child trafficking,” the release stated.

Before the outbreak of war four years ago, Syria was considered a middle-income country, providing its people a decent standard of living and boasting a literacy rate of 90 percent, according to UNICEF data.

By the middle of 2015, however, four in five Syrians were living below the poverty line and 7.6 million were classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

With whole cities and towns emptied of residents, businesses and industries have collapsed, sending unemployment rates soaring from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent today.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that about 3.3 million people have fled the country altogether and now live in camps or makeshift shelters in neighbouring states. Women and children comprise over half the refugee population.

The vast majority of those who remain inside Syria – over 64.7 percent – are classified as living in “extreme poverty”, unable to meet the most basic food or sanitary needs.

Thus, experts say, it comes as no surprise that children are becoming breadwinners, taking to the streets and selling their labour in a range of industries to help keep their families alive.

As 12-year-old Ahmed, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, pointed out in interviews with UNICEF, “I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family.”

Entitled ‘Small Hands, Heavy Burden: How the Syrian Conflict is Driving More Children into the Workforce’, the report notes that an estimated 2.7 million Syrian children are currently out of school.

With few education opportunities and dwindling humanitarian rations, these children now either comprise, or are at risk of joining the ranks of, a veritable army of child workers.

“In Jordan, for example a majority of working children in host communities work six or seven days a week; one-third work more than eight hours a day,” the report noted. “Their daily income is between four and seven dollars.”

Quite aside from representing an irreversible interruption to their education, cognitive development, and – almost certainly – limiting their chances of securing better jobs later in life – the child labour epidemic is harming young people’s bodies.

Save the Children estimates that “Around 75 percent of working children in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan reported health problems; almost 40 percent reported an injury, illness or poor health; and 35.8 percent of children working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are unable to read or write.”

In this climate of conflict, with the specter of hunger haunting countless families, every industry is considered fair game.

In the Bekaa Valley, for instance, landowners who used to pay a daily wage of 10 dollars to migrant agricultural workers now pay kids four dollars a day, often for performing the same tasks alongside their adult counterparts.

In urban centers, garages, workshops and construction sites are “popular” employers, with 10-year-old Syrian boys hired on a full-time basis to do carpentry, metal work or motor repairs in cities across Lebanon.

Street work represents one of the most dangerous occupations for children, with a recent survey of two major Lebanese cities identifying over 1,500 child street-workers, of whom 73 percent were Syrian refugees.

These kids earn an average of 11 dollars a day, either begging or hawking, while illicit activities like prostitution could earn a small child up to 36 dollars in a single working day.

UNICEF says child labour “represents one of the key challenges to the fulfillment of the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative”, launched in 2013 with the aim of putting child rights and children’s education at the centre of the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Funding For Desperate Palestinian Refugees Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/funding-for-desperate-palestinian-refugees-under-threat/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:05:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141397 UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”.  Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
JERUSALEM, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces a severe financial crisis which could see core services to desperate Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank halted unless donors step in before the end of September.

“Currently we have a deficit of 101 million dollars and, as things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IPS in an exclusive interview.

“However, following a number of stringent austerity measures already in place, we should be able to continue with life-saving, emergency services to the end of the year,” he added.“As things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year” – UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness

Due to the financial crisis, the contracts for 35 percent of the 137 internationals employed by UNRWA will end by Sep. 30 without further extension or renewal. The U.N. organisation has taken these steps to reduce costs while trying not to reduce basic services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

“UNRWA is facing financial crises on all fronts. Broadly speaking we have two sources of funding,” Gunness told IPS. “We have our general fund which funds our core services such as education, health relief and social services. Then we have our emergency funds which are for Gaza and the West Bank because there is a blockade and an occupation respectively.

“We’re also dealing with more than 400,000 displaced people in Syria, the 45,000 refugees who’ve fled to Lebanon and the 15,000 who’ve escaped over the border into Jordan.”

Following Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza in July and August last year, UNRWA launched a reconstruction initiative, worth 720 million dollars, at the international reconstruction conference in Cairo in October last year.

Part of the money was for rental subsidies for those Gazans whose homes were so damaged that they were uninhabitable and needed a roof over their heads, and part of it was for reconstruction.

“In February this year, we had to suspend that programme because there was a 585 million dollar shortfall. Due to the deficit not one single home in Gaza has been rebuilt, so there is a real crisis in regard to reconstruction,” said Gunness.

Last year in Syria, UNRWA launched an appeal for 417 million dollars but only 52 percent of this money was received. The shortfall forced the organisation to reduce its six cash distribution programmes from six to three.

Cash distributions have become one of UNRWA’s major emergency response programmes in Syria due to so many U.N. installations being bombed and destroyed as a result of the civil war raging there, thereby crippling its normal means of helping refugees.

With the money received for Syria, UNRWA was only able to distribute an average of 50 cents per refugee per day.

“Imagine trying to survive on 50 cents daily. It is almost impossible and although our donors have been very generous, they have not been generous enough,” said Gunness.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees from Syria rely on UNRWA for various things, including rental subsidies so that they can have a roof over their heads.

“We had been giving out a 100 dollar monthly rental allowance. This gets you very little in Lebanon, which is an expensive country,” Gunness told IPS.

“When I was last in Lebanon I visited a Palestinian refugee family in the poverty-stricken Shatila camp in Beirut. They were paying 200 dollars a month to live in a room 20 feet by 20 feet [6 metres by 6 metres] with a tiny bathroom and kitchen.

“Their rental subsidy was cut at the end of June and I suspect that family is now living on the street. This is the reality of the crash crisis for just one family of refugees from Syria who have been made homeless.

“And this is only one story that relates to the emergency funding UNRWA receives,” Gunness added.

“In relation to the general side of our funding, what we’ve seen over the years is a gradual increase in the structural deficit of our general fund which has led to the current deficit of 101 million dollars.”

UNRWA’s monthly running costs are 35 million dollars. This includes the salaries of 30, 000 staff members, 22,000 of whom are teachers, as well as the distribution of basic necessities for refugees such as food.

“So, unless someone steps in to alleviate the crisis, even tougher decisions may need to be made in the next few weeks and it is innocent refugees who will again suffer,” said Gunness.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Syrian Refugees Face Hunger Amidst Humanitarian Funding Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/syrian-refugees-face-hunger-amidst-humanitarian-funding-crisis/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:33:21 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141398 Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations’ food aid organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), said on Jul. 1 that up to 440,000 refugees from war-torn Syria might have to go hungry if no additional funds are received by August.

WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger, provides food every month to nearly six million people in need in Syria and the surrounding region.

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again. I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden." -- Fatmeh, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago
Though the agency received 5.38 billion dollars in 2014, the continuing emergencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere mean that needs now far outpace available funding.

From assisting an estimated 2.5 million refugees last year, limited funding has forced the organisation to scale back its operations, with the result that just 1.6 million refugees are currently receiving rations.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published in March 2015 revealed that an estimated 3.33 million refugees have fled Syria since 2014, making Syrians the second largest refugee population in the world, after the Palestinians.

The cuts come at a time when Syrian refugees are spending their fourth year away from home, unable to celebrate the annual Ramadan festival, one of the most important religious occasions celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

The upcoming winter may leave up to 1.7 million people without fuel, shelter, insulation and blankets.

WFP is fully funded by voluntary contributions from governments, companies and private individuals. The organisation reports that its regional programme in the Middle East is currently 81 percent underfunded and requires 139 million dollars to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through September 2015.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts,” WFP Regional Director for the Middle East Muhannad Hadi said in a press release Wednesday. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.”

The humanitarian funding crisis began in 2013, when the number of Syrian refugees receiving food assistance from WFP dropped by 30 percent.

Food parcels were downsized in October 2014, following a WFP announcement in September that they have no funding available in December 2014 for programmes in Syria.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, appealed to the United Nations Security Council and member nations in April 2015 for more funding.

“When we announced the reductions in Jordan our hotlines were overwhelmed. Thousands of appeal calls come in each day. Calls from families that have exhausted their resources and feel abandoned […] by us all,” she said. “One woman told us, ‘I cannot stay […] if I cannot feed my children.'”

A fundraising campaign in December 2014 raised enough funds for WFP to carry on its programmes through December, but in January 2015, WFP cut the amount of money in electronic food cards provided to refugees from 27 dollars to 19 dollars.

Starting this month, the value fell to just 13.5 dollars.

This is not the first time WFP has faced a funding crisis. In 2009, aid operations in Guatemala, Bangladesh and Kenya faced reductions in supply of food rations due to a lack of funding. In 2011, a similar situation occurred in Zimbabwe.

When faced with funding shortfalls, WFP suspends programmes and only provides aid to the most vulnerable groups – pregnant women, children and the elderly.

International efforts to relieve suffering caused by the Syrian crisis culminated in the Jun. 25 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) that called for 5.5 billion dollars to fund the needs of host governments, United Nations agencies and NGO aid operations in the area.

According to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only 25 percent of the appeal has been met.

“This massive crisis requires far more solidarity and responsibility-sharing from the international community than what we have seen so far,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a Jun. 25 WFP press release.

“But instead, we are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months.”

The United States has contributed over 609 million dollars to the effort, representing 26.4 percent of the total pledged. The United Kingdom follows behind with a contribution of over 344 million dollars.

A WFP interview with Syrian refugees in Lebanon captures the refugees’ desperation:

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again,” said Fatmeh, a refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago, in the WFP interview.

“I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden. They’ve given up on us too.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011 after security forces killed several pro-democracy protestors. Unrest followed with demands for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, to which he responded with violence.

The situation worsened with the rise of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northern and eastern Syria. The country became a battleground between four forces – Assad’s pro-governmental forces, Kurdish fighters, ISIS, and rebel fighters eager to overturn Assad’s regime.

In the midst of the violence, Syrians are faced with a crumbling economy. The UNDP report revealed that four out of every five Syrians lived in poverty in 2014, and almost two-thirds of the population was unable to secure basic food and non-food items necessary for survival.

The death toll in Syria reached 210,000 by the end of 2014, with 840,000 people wounded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Bangladeshi Migrants Risk High Seas and Smugglers to Escape Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 06:21:55 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141360 These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh  (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

By Naimul Haq
TEKNAF, Bangladesh, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

Though he is only 16 years old, Mohammad Yasin has been through hell and back. He recently survived a hazardous journey by sea, crammed into the cargo-hold of a rudimentary boat along with 115 others.

For 45 days they bobbed about on the Indian Ocean somewhere between their native Bangladesh and their destination, Malaysia, with scarcely any food, no water and little hope of making it to shore alive.

Midway through the ordeal, Yasin watched one of his fellow travelers die of starvation, a fate that very nearly claimed him as well.

The young man, who hails from a poor cobbler’s family in Teknaf, located on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh’s coastal district of Cox’s Bazaar, broke down in tears as he narrated the tale, putting a human face to the story of a major exodus of migrants and political refugees in Southeast Asia that has rights groups as well as the United Nations up in arms.

45 days of torture

“Horror unfolded as we sailed. Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves." -- ” Mohammad Ripon, a Bangladeshi migrant who survived a torturous maritime journey
Yasin tells IPS it all began when a group of men from the neighbouring Bandarban district promised to take him, and five others from Teknaf village, to Malaysia in search of work.

With an 80-dollar monthly salary and a family of four to look after, including a sick father, Yasin believed Malaysia to be a ‘dream destination’ where he would earn enough to provide for his loved ones.

“The men told us we would not have to pay anything now, but that they would later ‘deduct’ 2,600 dollars from each of us once we got jobs in Malaysia,” recounted the frail youth.

“On a sunny morning around the last week of April we were taken along with a larger group of men and women to the deserted island of Shah Porir Dwip, where we boarded a large wooden boat later that same evening.”

A little while into the journey on the Bay of Bengal, at the Chaungthar port located in the city of Pathein in southern Myanmar, a group of Rohingya Muslims joined the party.

This ethnic minority has long faced religious persecution in Myanmar and now contributes hugely to the movement of human beings around this region.

Together with the 10 organisers of the voyage, who turned out to be traffickers, the group numbered close to 130 people. Just how they would reach their destination, or when, none of the passengers knew. Their lives were entirely in the hands of the boat’s crew.

“Horror unfolded as we sailed,” recalled Mohammad Ripon, who also joined the journey at the behest of traffickers from the central Bangladeshi district of Narayanganj.

“Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves,” he told IPS.

During the day the crew opened the hatch of the cargo vessel to let in the blistering sun. At night it was kept shut, leaving the passengers to freeze. No one could sleep; the shrieks and cries of sick and frightened passengers kept the entire company awake all night long.

From time to time, the boat stalled on the choppy waters, “probably to change crews”, the passengers told IPS.

But no one knew for sure, and none dared ask for risk of being physically abused or thrown overboard. By this time, their captors had already beaten a number of the passengers for asking too many questions.

After nearly a month and a half of this torture, the Bangladesh Coast Guard steered the boat in to Saint Martin’s island, off the coast of Cox’s Bazar – very close to where the hopeful immigrants had begun their journey.

It was not until the malnourished passengers emerged, with sunken eyes and protruding ribs, that they realised the crew had long since abandoned the ship.

Traffickers exploiting poverty

Though their dreams were dashed, this group is one of the lucky ones; they escaped with their lives, their possessions and their money.

For too many others, these illicit journeys result in being robbed, pitched overboard or even buried in mass graves by networks of smugglers and traffickers who are making a killing by exploiting economically desperate and politically marginalised communities in Southeast Asia.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, an estimated 88,000 people –mostly poor Bangladeshis and internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar – attempted to cross the borders into Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia in a 15-month period.

This includes 63,000 people between January and December of 2014 and an additional 25,000 in the first quarter of this year.

Of these, an estimated 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of 2015. Since October 2014, 620 people have lost their lives during hazardous, unplanned maritime journeys on the Bay of Bengal.

To make matters worse, the discovery of trafficking rings has prompted governments in the region – particularly Thai and Malaysian authorities – to crack down on irregular arrivals, refusing to allow ships to dock and sometimes going so far as to tow boatloads of people back out to sea despite the presence of desperate and starving people on-board.

From humble aspirations to hazardous journeys

Aspiring migrants from Bangladesh are fleeing poverty and unemployment in this country of close to 157 million people, 31 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) suggests that the unemployment rate is 4.53 percent, putting the number of out-of-work people here at close to 6.7 million.

Mohammad Hasan, 34, is one of many who dreamed of a more prosperous life in a different country.

A tall, dark welder from Boliadangi, a village in the northwestern Thakurgaon district, he told IPS, “I sold my ancestral land to travel to Malaysia where I hoped to get a welding job in a construction company, because my earnings were not enough to support my six-member family.”

At the time, he was earning less than 100 dollars a month. Feeding seven people on 1,200 Bangladeshi taka (about 15 dollars) a day is no easy task. Desperate, he put his life in the hands of traffickers and set out for the Malaysian coast.

Earlier this year, abandoned by those who had promised them safe passage, he and close to 100 other men were discovered drifting off the coast of Thailand. Fortunately, all of them survived, but the money they paid for the journey was lost.

Forty-one-year-old Kawser Ali from Gangachara, a village in the northern Rangpur District, had a similar tale. He says he made a break for foreign shores because his earnings as a farmer simply weren’t enough to put enough food on the table to keep his eight-member family, including his in-laws, alive.

Millions of people here share his woes: between 60 and 70 percent of Bangladesh’s population relies on agriculture for a livelihood, and the vast majority of them struggle to make ends meet.

Thus it should come as no surprise that Kawser was recently found deep within a forest in Thailand where he and some 50 others had been led by traffickers and abandoned to their own fate.

He told IPS that most of his companions along the journey were marginal farmers, like himself. “We have no fixed income, and can never earn enough to improve our economic condition. I would like to see my son go to a better school, or take my wife to market on a motorbike.”

It is these humble aspirations – together with tales from friends and neighbours who have made the transition successfully – that have led scores of people Kawser to the coast, to board unsafe vessels and put themselves at the mercy of the sea and smugglers in exchange for a chance to make a better life.

Aninda Dutta, a programme associate for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Bangladesh, told IPS, “In Bangladesh, there is a strong link between migration and smuggling, in which a journey that starts through economic motivations may end up as a trafficking case because of the circumstances.”

These ‘circumstances’ include extortionate fees paid to so-called agents, essentially rings of smugglers and human traffickers; beatings and other forms of intimidation and abuse – including sexual abuse – during the journey; theft of all their possessions while at sea; or abandonment, penniless, in various locations – primarily Thailand or Malaysia – where they are subject to the ire of immigration authorities.

In a bid to nip the epidemic in the bud, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) recently set up more checkpoints to increase vigilance, and proposed that the government tighten regulations regarding the registering of boats.

But until the government tackles the underlying problem of abject poverty, it is unlikely that they will see an end to the exodus any time soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Chief Seeks Equity in Paris Climate Change Pacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141357 The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

When the 193-member General Assembly hosted a high level meeting on climate change Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any proposed agreement at an upcoming international conference in Paris in December must uphold the principle of equity.

The meeting, officially known as the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21), should approve a universally-binding agreement that will support the adaptation needs of developing nations and, more importantly, “demonstrate solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable countries through a focused package of assistance,” Ban told delegates.“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results." -- Roger-Mark De Souza

The secretary-general is seeking a staggering 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing nations and in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening their resilience.

Some of the most threatened are low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific that are in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth due to rising sea-levels caused by climate change.

“Climate change impacts are accelerating,” Ban told a Global Forum last week.

“Weather-related disasters are more frequent and more intense. Everyone is affected – but not all equally,” he said, emphasising the inequities of the impact of climate change.

Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly, who convened the high-level meeting, said recurring disasters are affecting different regions as a result of changing climate patterns, such as the recent cyclone that devastated Vanuatu, that “are a matter of deep concern for us all”.

He said many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, are facing an existential threat due to rising sea levels, while other countries are grappling with devastating droughts that have left precious lands uninhabitable and unproductive.

“We are also increasingly witnessing other severe weather patterns as a result of climate change, including droughts, floods and landslides.

“In my own country Uganda,” he pointed out, “the impact of climate change is affecting the livelihoods of the rural population who are dependent on agriculture.”

Striking a positive note, Ban said since 2009, the number of national climate laws and policies has nearly doubled, with three quarters of the world’s annual emissions now covered by national targets.

“The world’s three biggest economies – China, the European Union (EU) and the United States – have placed their bets on low-carbon, climate-resilient growth,” he added.

Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told IPS: “I am pleased to see the discussion of resilience at the high level discussion on climate change at the U.N. today.”

Resilience has the potential to be a transformative strategy to address climate fragility risks by allowing vulnerable countries and societies to anticipate, adapt to and emerge strong from climate shocks and stresses.

Three key interventions at the international level, and in the context of the climate change discussions leading up to Paris and afterwards, will unlock this transformative potential, he said.

First, predictive analytics that provide a unified, shared and accessible risk assessment methodology and rigorous resilience measurement indicators that inform practical actions and operational effectiveness at the regional, national and local levels.

Second, risk reduction, early recovery approaches and long-term adaptive planning must be integrated across climate change, development and humanitarian dashboards, response mechanisms and strategies.

Third, strengthening partnerships across these levels is vital – across key sectors including new technologies and innovative financing such as sovereign risk pools and weather based index insurance, and focusing on best practices and opportunities to take innovations to scale.

“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results, and this must be deliberately fostered and supported through foresight analysis, by engaging across the private sector, and through linking mitigation and adaptation policies and programmes,” De Souza told IPS.

Asked about the serious environmental consequences of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Ban told reporters Monday political instability is caused by the lack of good governance and social injustice.

But if you look at the other aspects, he argued, abject poverty and also environmental degradation really affect political and social instability because they affect job opportunities and the economic situation.

Therefore, “it is important that the benefits of what we will achieve through a climate change agreement will have to help mostly the 48 Least Developed Countries (described as “the poorest of the world’s poor”) – and countries in conflict,” he added.

Robert Redford, a Hollywood icon and a relentless environmental advocate, made an emotional plea before delegates, speaking as “a father, grandfather, and also a concerned citizen – one of billions around the world who are urging you to take action now on climate change.”

He said: “I am an actor by trade, but an activist by nature, someone who has always believed that we must find the balance between what we develop for our survival, and what we preserve for our survival.”

“Your mission is as simple as it is daunting,” he told the General Assembly: “Save the world before it’s too late.”

Arguing that climate change is real – and the result of human activity – Redford said: “We see the effects all around us–from drought and famine in Africa, and heat waves in South Asia, to wildfires across North America, devastating hurricanes and crippling floods here in New York.”

A heat wave in India and Pakistan has already claimed more than 2,300 lives, making it one of the deadliest in history.

“So, everywhere we look, moderate weather is going extinct,” Redford said.

All the years of the 21st century so far have ranked among the warmest on record. And as temperatures rise, so do global instability, poverty, and conflict, he warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Ghosts Of War Give Way to Development in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:13:18 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/feed/ 38 Security Council Action on Gaza War Crimes a Non-Starterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:23:38 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141293 Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

When a U.N. panel released a 217-page report accusing both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes committed during the 50-day conflict in Gaza last July, the chances of Security Council action were remote because of the traditional U.S. commitment to stand by Israel – right or wrong, mostly wrong.

Israel carried out over 6,000 air strikes killing 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, while the more than 6,600 rockets and mortars fired by Hamas killed six civilians and injured 1,600, according to the report.“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable." -- Michael Ratner

“The death toll alone speaks volumes,” said the report by a two-member panel chaired by U.S. jurist Mary McGowan Davis and which included Doudou Dienne, a lawyer and former senior U.N. official from Senegal. “And the scale of the devastation was unprecedented.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the report as “flawed and biased”.

But at a briefing Tuesday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby refused to comment on whether the Security Council or the International Criminal Court (ICC) would act on the U.N. report.

Kirby told reporters the United States challenges “the very mechanism which created” the panel, which was appointed by the Human Rights Council, of which Washington is a member.

“We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this,” Kirby said.

Asked about a possible referral to the ICC, he said: “We do not support any further U.N. work on this report.”

Told about the United States welcoming a similar human rights inquiry on North Korea while rejecting an inquiry for Gaza, he said: “Because we’ve long said – and you know that we reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.”

The question that also remained unanswered was: if the United States thinks the report is biased against Israel, does it also mean it is biased against Hamas?

“I’m saying that we object to the report,” Kirby reiterated.

Asked if the United States objects to the entire report, he said “to the foundation upon which the commission was established, and therefore the product that resulted from that work.”

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told IPS that once again, as it was true in the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on last year’ s Gaza war was devastating regarding Israel’s commission of war crimes.

He said 65 percent of the 2,251 Palestinians killed were civilians and international legal requirements of distinction and proportionality were ignored.

“Yes, the report also condemned Palestinian armed groups but the overwhelming majority of the crimes were laid at the feet of the Israelis. And now what?” Ratner asked.

“Once again the U.S., Israel’s primary war-crime enabler, ostrich-like, ignores the evidence of Israeli crimes and continues to give it billions so that more crimes can be committed,” Ratner said.

“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable,” he declared.

Balkees Jarrah, Counsel, International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the ICC now has a mandate over serious crimes dating back to June 13, 2014, committed on or from Palestinian territory.

Such crimes, he said, include indiscriminate attacks on civilians, whether committed by Israelis or Palestinians – including abuses during the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is currently conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether to pursue a formal investigation.

With an ICC probe now possible, Israel and Hamas must show that they are willing and able to credibly investigate serious allegations, and hold accountable those who violated the laws of war, he said.

“The U.N. Gaza report makes clear that neither side is currently doing that,” said Jarrah.

Ratner told IPS: “Again, we will see the Security Council not take any action as U.S. vetoes are always a looming threat. But the crimes of Israel and reporting on them remain.”

The next stop, he pointed out, will surely be the ICC and this week, if all goes as planned, Palestine will submit its documentation of three sets of crimes: settlements, war crimes and treatment of prisoners.

“Israel of course will do nothing except scream that Palestine is not a state—an argument already lost,” he added.

The prosecutor can of course look into the rockets coming from Gaza into Israel as well, and it is likely that if she opens a preliminary investigation into Israel’s conduct, she will also look at the Palestinians .

While there is no real doubt regarding violations of the laws of war by Israel, and how the Gaza assaults were carried out, there will be counter arguments by it about proportionality and the like, he noted.

However, when it comes to settlement activity there is no counter-argument Israel can make. It’s an absolute war crime for which there is no defence. Ultimately, the ICC to have any legitimacy will need to take on the issue, he added.

“Let’s hope for the people of Palestine the court does it sooner than later,” declared Ratner.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: The Oceans Need the Spotlight Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:10:30 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141237

Dr. Palitha Kohona was co-chair of the U.N. Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The international community must focus its energies immediately on addressing the grave challenges confronting the oceans. With implications for global order and peace, the oceans are also becoming another arena for national rivalry.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The clouds of potential conflict gather on the horizon. The U.N. resolution adopted on June 19 confirms the urgency felt by the international community to take action.

His Holiness the Pope observed last week, “Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species… It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans.”

The oceans demand our attention for many reasons. In a world constantly hungering for ever more raw material and food, the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the globe, are estimated to contain approximately 24 trillion dollars of exploitable assets. Eighty-six million tonnes of fish were harvested from the oceans in 2013, providing 16 percent of humanity’s protein requirement. Fisheries generated over 200 million jobs.

However, unsustainable practices have decimated many fish species, increasing competition for the rest. The once prolific North Atlantic cod, the Pacific tuna and the South American anchovy fisheries have all but collapsed with disastrous socio-economic consequences.Increasingly the world's energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources.

Highly capitalised and subsidised distant water fleets engage in predatory fishing in foreign waters causing tensions which could escalate. In a striking development, the West African Sub Regional Fisheries Commission recently successfully asserted, before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the responsibility of flag States to take necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Increasingly the world’s energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources. The sea bed could also provide many of the minerals required by strategic industries.

As these assets come within humanity’s technological reach, inadequately managed exploitation will cause damage to the ocean ecology and coastal areas, demonstrated dramatically by the BP Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. (Costing the company over 42.2 billion dollars).

Cross-border environmental damage could give rise to international conflicts. A proposal to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ on responsibility for global warming and sea level rise was floated at the U.N. by Palau in 2013.

The oceans will also be at the centre of our efforts to address the looming threat of climate change. With ocean warming, fish species critically important to poor communities in the tropics are likely to migrate to more agreeable climes, aggravating poverty levels.

Coastal areas could be flooded and fresh water resources contaminated by tidal surges. Increasing ocean acidification and coral bleach could cause other devastating consequences, including to fragile coasts and fish breeding grounds.

The ocean is the biggest sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the rapid increases in anthropogenic GHGs will aggravate ocean warming and the melting of the ice caps. Some small island groups might even disappear beneath the waves.

Scientists now believe that over 70 percent of anthropogenic GHGs generated since the turn of the 20th century were absorbed by the Indian Ocean which is likely to result in unpredictable consequences for the littoral states of the region, already struggling to emerge from poverty.

The increasing ferocity of natural phenomena, such as hurricanes and typhoons, will cause greater devastation as we witnessed in the cases of Katrina in the U.S. and the brutal Haiyan in the Philippines.

The socio-economic impacts of global warming and sea level rise on the multi-billion-dollar tourism industry (476 billion dollars in the U.S. alone) would be far reaching. All this could result in unmanageable environmental refugee flows. The enormous challenge of ocean warming and sea level rise alone would require nations to become more proactive on ocean affairs now.

The international community has, over the years, agreed on various mechanisms to address ocean-related issues. But these efforts remain largely uncoordinated and with the developments in science, lacunae are being identified progressively.

The most comprehensive of these endeavours is the laboriously negotiated Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) of 1982. The LOSC, described as the constitution of the oceans by Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, who presided over the final stages of the negotiations, details rules for the interactions of states with the oceans and with each other with regard to the oceans.

Although some important states such as the U.S., Israel, Venezuela and Turkey are not parties to the LOSC (it has 167 parties), much of its content is accepted as part of customary international law. It also provides a most comprehensive set of options for settling inter-state disputes relating to the seas and oceans, including the ITLOS, headquartered in Hamburg.

The LOSC established the Sea Bed Authority based in Kingston, Jamaica which now manages exploration and mining applications relating to the Area, the sea bed beyond national jurisdiction, and the U.N. Commission on the Continental Shelf before which many state parties have already successfully asserted claims to vast areas of their continental shelves.

With humanity’s knowledge of the oceans and seas expanding rapidly and the gaps in the LOSC becoming apparent, the international community in 1994 concluded the Implementing Agreement Relating to Part XI of the LOSC and in 1995, the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.

Additionally, the United Nations Environment Programme has put in place a number of regional arrangements, some in collaboration with other U.N. agencies such as the FAO and the IMO, for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, including fisheries.

The IMO itself has put in place detailed agreements and arrangements affecting the oceans and the seas in relation to shipping. The FAO has been instrumental in promoting regional mechanisms for the sustainable use of marine and coastal fisheries resources.

In 2012, the U.N. Secretary-General launched the Oceans Compact. States negotiating the Post-2015 Development Goals at the U.N. have acknowledged the vast and complex challenges confronting the oceans and have proceeded to highlight them in the context of a Sustainable Development Goal.

The majority of the international community now feel that the global arrangements for the sustainable use, conservation and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction need further strengthening. The negotiators of the LOSC were not fully conscious of the extent of the genetic resources of the deep. Ninety percent of the world’s living biomass is to be found in the oceans.

Today the genetic material, bio prospected, harvested or mined from the oceans is providing the basis for profound new discoveries pertaining to pharmaceuticals. Only a few countries possess the technical capability to conduct the relevant research, and even fewer the ability to convert the research into financially beneficial products. The international community’s concerns are reflected in the U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted on June 19.

Many developing countries are concerned that unless appropriate regulatory mechanisms are put in place now by the international community, the poor will be be shut out from the vast wealth, estimated at three billion dollars per year, expected to be generated from this new frontier. Over 4,000 new patents, the number growing at 12 percent a year based on such genetic material, were registered in 2013.

A U.N. working group, initially established back in 2006 to study the question of concluding a legally binding instrument on the conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond the national jurisdiction of states, and co-chaired by Sri Lanka and The Netherlands from 2009, submitted its report in January 2015, after years of difficult negotiations.

For nine years, consensus remained elusive. Certain major powers, including the U.S., Russia, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea held out, contending that the existing arrangements were sufficient. These are among the few which possess the technological capability to exploit the genetic resources of the deep and convert the research in to useful products.

The U.N. General Assembly is now expected to establish a preparatory committee in 2016 to make recommendations on an implementing instrument under UNCLOS. An intergovernmental conference is likely to be convened by the GA at its 72nd Session for this purpose.

The resulting mechanism is expected to complement the existing arrangements on biological genetic material under the FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Nagoya Protocol) applicable to areas under national jurisdiction.

This ambitious U.N. process is likely to create a transparent regulatory mechanism facilitating technological and economic progress while ensuring equity.

A development with long term impact, especially since Rio+20, was the community of interests identified and strengthened between the G 77 and China and the EU with regard to the oceans.

Life originated in the primeval ocean. Humanity’s future may very well depend on how we care for it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Worldwide Displacement at the Highest Level Ever Recordedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:38:26 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141210 A new mother watches over her child at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp Hospital in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A new mother watches over her child at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp Hospital in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

A horrific year of war, humanitarian crises, human rights violations and persecution has caused a sharp rise in global forced displacement.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR) released Thursday its annual report of global trends on refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and the internally displaced. The report makes for sober reading two days before World Refugee Day on June 20.

The report states that global forced displacement reached unprecedented levels in 2014, with 59.5 million people fleeing their homes worldwide. An estimated 13.9 million individuals were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution.

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres noted in a statement accompanying the report, “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Syria became the leading country of origin of refugees in 2014, with 95 per cent of those fleeing the country for surrounding nations. Turkey, for the first time, became the largest hosting country worldwide, with 1.59 million refugees. One million Syrians registered there in 2014.

Many Syrian refugees fled to Lebanon in 2014, where at the end of the year almost one in four inhabitants was a refugee. In April, Guterres noted that the numbers of refugees Lebanon has absorbed would be unthinkable in most Western countries.

“The equivalent of what we have in Lebanon in the United States would be more than 80 million refugees coming into the U.S.,” he said.

If the United Kingdom received the equivalent influx, it would have to accommodate more than 15 million refugees.

The report highlighted the heavy burden being shouldered by developing regions. Two decades ago, they were hosting about 70 per cent of the world’s refugees. By the end of 2014, this proportion had risen to 86 per cent – at 12.4 million persons, the highest figure in more than two decades.

The 30 countries with the largest number of refugees per one dollar GDP per capita were all members of developing regions. More than 5.9 million people, representing 42 per cent of the world’s refugees, resided in countries whose GDP per capita was below 5,000 dollars.

Rising numbers have stretched resources to the limit, with the World Food Programme suffering acute shortfalls in funding, leaving it unable to feed refugees in desperate need of support.

Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin released a statement Thursday saying, “South Sudan is on the verge of a hunger catastrophe, violence is worsening in Iraq and Syria, and there are new trouble-spots in Yemen and Nigeria. Needs increasingly outpace resources and this poses a moral and financial challenge to the international community.”

Data indicate that the number of unaccompanied or separated children seeking asylum has reached levels unprecedented since at least 2006, when UNHCR started systematically collecting data of that kind.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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New Approaches to Managing Disaster Focus on Resiliencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 17:29:18 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141202 Heavy flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Bigstock

Heavy flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Bigstock

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

Natural disasters have become a fact of life for millions around the world, and the future forecast is only getting worse.

From super typhoons to floods, droughts and landslides, these events tend to widen existing inequalities between and within nations, often leaving the poorest with quite literally nothing."The biggest mistake is that we wait for something to happen before responding to it." -- Chloe Demrovsky

In 2013 alone, three times as many people lost their homes to natural disasters than to war, according to a new policy brief by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

The brief, which recommends incorporating accessible risk insurance into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), frames all this as a human rights issue.

“States and other actors have a duty to protect the human rights of life, livelihood and shelter of their citizens, which can be threatened by natural hazards if exposure is high and resilience low or inadequate,” the brief’s author,  Dr. Ana Gonzalez Pelaez, a fellow at the institute, told IPS.

“Insurance is an essential element in building resilience, and for insurance to operate appropriate supportive regulation needs to be in place.”

She said that at least some of these resources could be allocated as part of the adaptation measures countries will negotiate at the climate talks in Paris in December.

Earlier this month, the G7 promised to insure up to 400 million vulnerable people against risks from climate change. This could be accomplished through a combination of public, private, mutual or cooperative insurance systems.

Tom Herbstein is the programme manager of ClimateWise, whose membership includes 32 leading insurance companies. He says many are actively exploring ways to extend coverage to emerging markets and vulnerable communities.

This includes using long-term weather forecasting to support small-scale agricultural coverage, to the African Risk Capacity, established to help African Union members respond to natural disasters.

“Yet entering such markets poses many challenges,” Herbstein told IPS. “These include distribution models unsuited to high-volume, low premium insurance products; a lack of historical actuarial data; populations struggling to comprehend a financial product one might never derive benefit from; and widespread political and regulatory uncertainties.”

Ultimately, he said, if coverage of poor communities is to be mainstreamed, “an alignment between insurers, political leaders, regulators and other stakeholders will be necessary to help lessen the risks – i.e. costs – associated with entering such new and challenging markets.”

Palaez says that microinsurance is also moving further into the mainstream strategy of major commercial insurers like Alliance and Swiss Re. In January 2015, a consortium of eight global insurance institutions announced the creation of Blue Marble Microinsurance, an entity formed to open markets and deliver risk protection in underserved developing countries.

There have already been success stories. In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in October 2013, CARD MBA of the Philippines paid claims to almost 300,000 customers affected by the catastrophe within five days of the event.

But some disaster experts also emphasise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And even the best intentions can have lacklustre results.

Haiti is a prime example. More than five years ago, a massive earthquake struck the Caribbean nation, already the poorest in the region, killing more than 230,000 people.

A year later, the Red Cross initiated a multimillion-dollar project called LAMIKA to rebuild damaged or destroyed homes, and amassed nearly half a billion dollars in donations. But according to a recent investigation by ProPublica, only six homes were actually built.

Chloe Demrovsky, executive director of the non-profit Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI), says aiding local communities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster will never be a simple task.

“The biggest mistake is that we wait for something to happen before responding to it,” she told IPS. “Many disasters could be prevented by focusing on preparing our communities in advance. Each disaster event presents unique challenges, so there is no option to apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

“For this reason, the idea of promoting resilience is gaining ground over the traditional approach of disaster risk reduction. Resilience means the ability to bounce back from a shock. The resilience of a community in terms of disaster recovery is dependent on the resources, level of preparedness, and organizational capacity of that community.  Strong communities recover faster.”

She said that the concept of “business continuity” is a key component of building resilient systems.

“Vulnerable communities are always the hardest hit during a large-scale disaster and it is important that the government deploys enough resources quickly enough to help them recover. If the private sector is adequately prepared, that will reduce the government burden and allow them to focus resources on the most adversely affected communities.

“The private sector needs to be included in every stage of the process in order for it to be an asset rather than a potential detractor from the major goals of improving our approach to disaster aid.”

She added that it’s most useful to give cash donations rather than sending material goods, and it is preferable to give to a local organisation rather than a large international organisation with name recognition.

“The local NGO is used to working in that community, understands its unique system, and will be able to more rapidly identify its needs.  Because they are local, they will also remain in the area for the long-term even after the original outpouring of aid begins to dry up,” she pointed out.

“Finally, we need to learn from past experiences and start to prepare for the next disaster before it happens. Many tragedies can be prevented by having a good plan in place. Events happen, but disasters are man-made.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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