Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:39:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Ending Modern Slavery Starts in the Boardroom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 23:11:07 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133731 Modern-day slavery can be eradicated from multinational supply chains, but only if global businesses contribute to greater transparency and collaboration, according to new recommendations by Sedex Global and Verite. “Human trafficking and slavery in the supply chain are global issues,” Mark Robertson, head of marketing and communications at Sedex Global, which provides a collaborative platform for responsible […]

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Child labourers rescued in Delhi waiting to be sent back to their villages. Credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan/IPS

Child labourers rescued in Delhi waiting to be sent back to their villages. Credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan/IPS

By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Modern-day slavery can be eradicated from multinational supply chains, but only if global businesses contribute to greater transparency and collaboration, according to new recommendations by Sedex Global and Verite.

“Human trafficking and slavery in the supply chain are global issues,” Mark Robertson, head of marketing and communications at Sedex Global, which provides a collaborative platform for responsible supply-chain data, told IPS.“Modern day slavery carries risks for companies. It can seriously affect a brand’s reputation.” -- Mark Robertson

“But these issue are not unsolvable and there are good examples of companies – and initiatives – tackling the issue.”

There are thought to be some 11.7 million victims of forced labour in Asia, followed by 3.7 million in Africa and 1.8 million in Latin America. Slave labour is part of the production of at least 122 consumer goods from 58 countries, according to the 2012 International Labour Organisation statistics listed in the briefing.

The U.S. federal government compiles its own such list of products produced by slave or child labour. According to the latest update, last year, some 134 goods from 73 countries use child or forced labour in the production processes.

Certain sectors are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labour. According to the new briefing and backed up by these other lists, particularly problematic sectors include agriculture, mining and forestry, as well as manufacturers of apparel, footwear and electronics.

“Asia is the source of many of the world’s manufactured goods, and also home to half the world’s human trafficking – the majority of which is forced labour,” Anti-Slavery International’s Lisa Rende Taylor notes in the report.

Almost 21 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide, according to the briefing, 55 percent of whom are women and girls.

Migrant workers and indigenous populations are considered particularly vulnerable to forced labour. The briefing highlights issues that analysts say have not yet been sufficiently addressed, such as “broker-induced hiring traps”, exacerbated by steadily increasing volumes of migrant workers all around the world.

“For workers, labour brokerage increases migration and job acquisition costs and the risk of serious exploitation, including slavery,” the report states. Further, the presence of both well-organised and informal brokerage companies “in all cases” increases migrant vulnerability.

“The debt that is often necessary for migrant workers to undertake in order to pay recruitment fees, when combined with the deception that is visited upon them by some brokers about job types and salaries, can lead to a situation of debt-bondage,” the report states.

Globalised supply chains

Sedex and Verite highlight the importance of sourcing from responsible businesses and offer recommendations for both brands and suppliers on how to engage in ethical practices in supply chains.

“We are hoping to help companies understand the risks that they and their partners face with regard to the modern slavery,” Dan Viederman, the CEO of Verite, a watchdog group, told IPS. “It takes more commitment from companies to really understand what is happening amongst the hidden process among their business partners.”

Viederman says the new campaign by Verite and Sedex Global will work to motivate companies and their suppliers.

Globalisation and “complex and multi-tiered” supply chains have made it massively more difficult to detect forced labour and human trafficking, the new report states. Thus, “companies need tools, protocols and policies to effectively audit trafficking and to establish mechanisms to protect workers.”

The briefing recommends companies step up actions to “raise awareness internationally and externally of the risks of human trafficking” and to establish corporate policies to address related issues. Particularly important is to “map supply chains, which would help identify vulnerable workers and places of greatest risk.”

Sedex Global, with over 36,000 partners, allows member companies to upload all social audit types, which are primary tools for brands to assess their own facilities and those of their suppliers to detect workers abuse.

The Sedex platform highlights social audits, conducted between 2011 and 2013, that show that a “lack of adequate policies, management and reporting on forced labour” as well as a “lack of legally recognised employment agreements, wages and benefits” can indicate a risk of forced labour being present.

“Modern day slavery carries risks for companies,” Robertson says. “It can seriously affect a brand’s reputation.”

Nor is slavery an issue that affects only developing countries.

“Since 2007, more than 3,000 cases of labour trafficking inside the United States have been reported – nearly a third from 2013 alone,” Bradley Myles, the CEO of the Polaris Project, a U.S. anti-trafficking group, says in the new report.

“And there are so many more people who are trapped that we haven’t heard from yet. Business can and should take steps to eradicate this form of modern slavery from their operations and supply chains.”

California model

Consumers also have enormous power – if they use it. But “the issue has not pervaded the conscience of society quite yet,” Karen Stauss, director of programmes for Free the Slaves, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“The word hasn’t gotten out. Consumer power, the company’s buying as well legislative powers, should all be part of the resolution.”

Stauss says a good model comes from a state law here in the United States, called the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act, or SB-657. This would require publicly traded companies to disclose what efforts they are making to eradicate human trafficking and slavery from their supply chains.

Many companies, however, do not yet appear to have formal anti-slavery policies. According to the Corporate and Social Responsibility press release, out of 129 companies urged to conform with the California law by Know the Chain, an anti-slavery group, only 11 have done so.

The director of communications of Humanity United, Tim Isgitt said, “After months of outreach to these corporations, approximately 21 percent on the list are still not in compliance with the law.”

“It is necessary to push all businesses, not only progressive ones, to be more transparent to their customers and their investors in their supply chains,” Free the Slaves’ Stauss says.

“Although multinationals might not be directly involved in the exploitation of forced labour, they can help confront it by using their buying power to influence their direct and marginal partners who are involved in the production of the raw materials, where human trafficking and forced slavery are most prevalent.”

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Tajikistan’s Government Distances Itself from Labour Migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tajikistans-government-distances-labour-migrants/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 13:13:58 +0000 an EurasiaNet correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133608 Labour migrants make up Tajikistan’s economic lifeline, but that’s a fact the Central Asian country’s leadership doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge. Migrants contribute the equivalent of 48 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP, according to the World Bank, making the impoverished country the most remittance-dependent in the world. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce […]

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Central Asian migrants, including many from Tajikistan, gather in Moscow to pray during the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Fitr, in early August 2013. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Central Asian migrants, including many from Tajikistan, gather in Moscow to pray during the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Fitr, in early August 2013. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By an EurasiaNet correspondent
DUSHANBE, Apr 11 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Labour migrants make up Tajikistan’s economic lifeline, but that’s a fact the Central Asian country’s leadership doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge.

Migrants contribute the equivalent of 48 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP, according to the World Bank, making the impoverished country the most remittance-dependent in the world. Estimates vary, but almost half of Tajikistan’s male workforce is thought to be working abroad, mostly in Russia.“Why don’t we replace the billboards featuring photos of the president with pictures of the people who feed us every day?” -- Olga Tutubalina

The migrant-labour role in the economy is having trouble fitting in with the image of Tajikistan that President Imomali Rakhmon’s administration wants to project to the outside world. Rakhmon has spent huge sums on mega-projects in the capital Dushanbe partly in an effort to distance the country from its reputation as Central Asia’s poorest state.

The government also doesn’t look kindly upon those who would like to honor labour migrants. The most recent such initiative began in February, when Tajik blogger and journalist Isfandiyor Zarafshoni started a petition calling for the construction of a monument to migrant workers.

“Every city in Tajikistan has a monument to Ismoil Somoni, founder of the Tajik state. Many cities and regional centers still have monuments of Vladimir Lenin. Some cities and regions have monuments of [medieval poets] Rudaki and Ferdowsi. But why don’t we have the most necessary and most important monument, to the Labour Migrant?” Zarafshoni told EurasiaNet.org.

“They leave behind their families and children, parents and dreams. With their hard work, they build the Tajikistan in which we live today. They are often treated badly, insulted and humiliated, go unpaid, are beaten and even killed,” Zarafshoni continued.

In 2013, 942 Tajik guest workers returned to Tajikistan from Russia in coffins.

The government has not formally commented on the latest initiative, but officials tell EurasiaNet.org the idea is a non-starter. “I don’t see a need for a monument,” said Suhrob Sharipov, an MP for Rakhmon’s People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan.

This isn’t the first time recently that the Tajik government has appeared uneasy acknowledging the country’s economic reliance on migrants. Last July, the National Bank stopped publishing remittance data, arguing it could be “politicized.” The change has done little to hide the information, as data is still available from transfer points in Russia.

Critics say the government is trying to bury its head in the sand. On April 1, the Asian Development Bank said Tajikistan’s robust 7.4 percent growth in 2013 was “supported mainly by remittances,” and warned the economy is slowing as the government does too little to attract private investment.

The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly said Tajikistan’s dependence on migrant transfers leaves it vulnerable to external shocks and has encouraged the government to focus on local job creation.

In 2011, Olga Tutubalina, editor of Dushanbe’s Asia Plus newspaper, also proposed a monument to migrants. Back then she wrote an open letter to the government, noting that Tajikistan’s population survives because of the labour migrants working in Russia and Kazakhstan.

“Why don’t we replace the billboards featuring photos of the president with pictures of the people who feed us every day?” Tutubalina told EurasiaNet.org.

A spokesman for Rakhmon’s party says monuments are installed for heroes. Migrants, he argues, go abroad to enhance their personal lives. Therefore, they’re not heroes.

“There are 200 million migrants worldwide, but none of their countries have installed a monument to them,” People’s Democratic Party spokesman Usmon Solih told EurasiaNet.org.

His claim is not exactly accurate: Mexico, for example, boasts monuments to its citizens who have gone to the United States to better their lives and the lives of their families back home. Meanwhile, Istanbul has a monument to the unnamed and overlooked porter, outside the famous Grand Bazaar.

Building a monument would “acknowledge that labour migrants play an important role in the internal politics of Tajikistan,” said Shokirdjon Hakimov, deputy chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

Authorities will not permit a monument because their own “ineffective economic policy” has forced migrants to leave the country, which is embarrassing. The National Bank’s decision to stop publishing remittance data was “a political decision,” added Hakimov.

Sharipov, the MP close to Rakhmon, insists the government is not embarrassed. He dismissed the idea the country is financially dependent on migrants and rejected accusations the National Bank’s decision to withhold data was political.

But outside of those in government, few in Dushanbe’s chattering classes seem to buy official explanations. Any acknowledgement of labour migrants’ significance, said political scientist Saimiddin Dustov, “would mean admitting the impotence and the irrelevance of the government’s economic programmes.”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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Peacekeepers Greenlighted for CAR, but Mission Will Take Months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:56:17 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133585 Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half. The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and […]

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Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half.

The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and 2,000 police to restore order and prevent further sectarian violence that has left thousands dead and displaced roughly a quarter of the population.“The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure. In Bangui there are only two hotels." -- spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping

The Council in December mandated a joint AU-French force that thus far has proven unable to clamp down on violence against the Muslim communities, particularly outside of the capital Bangui, where peacekeepers have been light on the ground.

The Council’s morning session was preceded by reports of anti-balaka attacks in the central town of Dekoa, 300 kms north of Bangui, that left some 13 dead.

Despite Thursday’s vote, rights groups point out it will be a full six months before the mission, known as MINUSCA, is operational.

“There are tens of thousands of vulnerable Central Africans who need protection and assistance right now,” said Mark Yarnell, senior advocate at Refugees International.

“Clearly, a U.N. peacekeeping operation, once fully deployed, can contribute to peace and stability over the long term. But this mission will not address the atrocities, displacement, and dire humanitarian needs on the ground today.”

A “re-hatting” of many of the 5,000 AU troops would take place on Sep. 15, the official start date of MINUSCA’s peacekeeping operations. It is unclear, given a paucity of peacekeepers in several other countries, how long it will take the mission to reach full capacity.

“You will not even be getting to 10,000 troops by September given the global shortage,” Yarnell told IPS. “There is no guarantee they will arrive by that date.”

A spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping told IPS the landlocked country is a particularly difficult location to build the infrastructure for a mission from scratch.

“We can send engineers to assist and we’ll ship some equipment and cargo to Cameroon, the nearest port,” he said. “The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure.  In Bangui there are only two hotels – we will need to construct our bases, starting with sanitary facilities and offices.”

The transition will come nearly two years after the Séléka, a loose coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels from CAR’s neglected northwest and Chad, announced their alliance and took up arms against the government of former president François Bozizé.

In March of 2013, the rebels captured Bangui and for nearly a year presided over a state of anarchy, pilfering what was left of the state infrastructure and targeting Christians with impunity.

Christian anti-balaka self-defence militias with unclear ties to the former regime formed to combat the rebels. Following the arrival of French and African Union troops in December, the militias began gaining the upper hand.

In January, under international pressure, former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigned the presidency and ex-Seleka forces began pulling back from the capital, creating a power vacuum and leaving Muslim communities under threat from the vengeful Christian majority.

Peacekeepers were slow to recognise the anti-balaka as a new and larger threat, even as militias repeatedly carried out massacres in Muslim enclaves. The result, according to the U.N., has been the “ethnic-religious cleansing” of the West of CAR.

In a report, Amnesty International called the exodus of Muslims from CAR “a tragedy of historic proportions.”

“Not only does the current pattern of ethnic cleansing do tremendous damage to the Central African Republic itself, it sets a terrible precedent for other countries in the region, many of which are already struggling with their own sectarian and inter-ethnic conflicts,” the report said.

In response to a Central African government request, the resolution gives MINUSCA the emergency capacity to supplement the state’s meagre police force by authorising peacekeepers to make arrests and carry out basic law and order functions.

The first of an expected 1,000 EU peacekeepers arrived this week and are expected to spell French troops that have guarded a makeshift camp for displaced persons at Bangui’s aiport. Until MINUSCA is fully functional, EU advisors are meant to assist local authorities in rebuilding the criminal justice system. Several recent arrests of anti-balaka leaders have seen them flee or be released only hours later.

The Security Council had an opportunity to mandate a peacekeeping mission as far back as November, but due to logistical and financial concerns gave the AU time to demonstrate its capacity at peacekeeping on the continent.

Though observers have highlighted the efforts of troops from Rwanda and Burundi, Chadian peacekeepers were implicated in atrocities of their own, including the deaths of over 30 civilians in a market on Mar. 29. The Chadians were allegedly attempting to evacuate residents from one of Bangui’s few remaining Muslim enclaves when they opened fire.

Chad has since withdrawn its battalion from the AU mission, forcing African leaders to search for a further 850 troops.

The CAR vote comes as Rwanda commemorates its own 100 days genocide that began 20 years ago this week.

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Criminal Court a U.S.-Israeli “Red Line” for Palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:52:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133495 When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war. But he held back one of […]

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Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war.

But he held back one of his key bargaining chips that Israel and the United States fear most: becoming a party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) to punish war crimes and genocide – and where Israelis could be docked.

Asked whether it was a wise move, Darryl Li, a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University, told IPS, “I would call it a clever move, not necessarily a wise one.”

There’s no question avoidance of ICC was deliberate, that’s clearly a U.S.-Israeli “red line,” he said. So it makes sense as a way to prolong negotiations.

A Flurry of Treaty Signing by Abbas

The United Nations said last week it had received 13 of the 15 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties deposited with the world body.

They include: the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Also included were the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; United Nations Convention against Corruption; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Meanwhile, accession letters for the following two conventions were submitted respectively to the Swiss and Dutch representatives respectively: the Four Geneva Conventions of Aug. 12, 1949 and the First Additional Protocol, for the Swiss; and the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, for the Dutch.

“But since the current framework for negotiations won’t yield just outcomes due to the Palestinians’ lack of leverage, I wouldn’t call it ‘wise’,” he declared.

And in a blog post for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) last week, Li underlined the political double standards: “Israel demands that Washington release the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard while the Palestinians are blamed for voluntarily shouldering obligations to respect human rights and the laws of war.”

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights.”

He said the U.S. administration should press both the Palestinians and the Israelis to better abide by international human rights standards.

In a statement released Monday, HRW said Palestine’s adoption of human rights and laws-of-war treaties would not cause any change in Israel’s international legal obligations.

The U.S. government should support rather than oppose Palestinian actions to join international treaties that promote respect for human rights.

HRW also said that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power last week testified before Congress that in response to the new Palestinian actions, the solemn commitment by the U.S. to stand with Israel “extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena.”

She said Washington is absolutely adamant that Palestine should not join the ICC because it poses a profound threat to Israel and would be devastating to the peace process.

The rights group pointed out the ratification of The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions would strengthen the obligations of Palestinian forces to abide by international rules on armed conflict.

Armed groups in Gaza, which operate outside the authority or effective control of the Palestinian leadership that signed the treaties, have committed war crimes by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centres, HRW said.

HRW also said Washington appears to oppose Palestine joining human rights treaties in part because it is afraid they will gain greater support for Palestinian statehood outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

Li said the choice of agreements signed indicated a desire to ruffle feathers but go no further.

Notably, Abbas did not sign the Rome Convention of the ICC, which would have exposed Israeli officials to the possibility, however remote, of prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, Abbas also declined to set into motion membership applications to any of the U.N.’s various specialised agencies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Such a move would have triggered provisions under U.S. law that automatically cut U.S. funding to those bodies, as occurred when Palestine joined the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2011, Li wrote in his blog post.

Meanwhile, the group known as The Elders, which include former world political leaders, said in a statement Monday that the Palestinian move is consistent with the U.N. non-member observer state status obtained by Palestine in November 2012.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and deputy chair of The Elders, said, “As a U.N. non-member observer state, Palestine is entitled to join international bodies. We welcome President Abbas’ decision to sign the Geneva Conventions and other important international human rights treaties.”

This move opens the way to more inclusive and accountable government in the West Bank and Gaza, she added.

It has the potential to strengthen respect for human rights and provide ordinary Palestinians with essential legal protections against discrimination or abuses by their own government, Brundtland noted.

“In global terms, it will also increase their ability to enjoy, in practice, the protection of their basic rights granted to them by international law,” she said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, also a member of The Elders, said the decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organisations should not be seen as a blow to peace talks.

“I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians, as we approach the 29 April deadline set by [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry.”

More than ever, he said, both parties urgently need to make the necessary compromises to reach a lasting peace with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

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Getting into CAR, When so Many Want to Get Out http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-many-want-get http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:05:02 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133429 In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers. “For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been […]

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Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers.

“For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been very volatile and violent…Last year there were nine humanitarian workers who lost their lives,” Judith Léveillée, deputy representative for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in the CAR, told IPS from Bangui.“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts.” -- Benoit Matsha-Carpentier of IFRC

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and this is my seventh mission,” she said.

The conflict in the CAR began in 2012 when Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks against the government. During the following two years, the conflict has grown along sectarian lines, with Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias taking up arms against Séléka groups. While Muslim civilians represent a majority of the targeted population, Christians have also been threatened.

“There are situations where we physically cannot access the people we need to reach because the forces that are fighting are making it hard for us to get to them,” Steve Taravella, spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), told IPS.

“Roads are blocked, convoys are redirected, food supplies are looted and people are being otherwise attacked,” he said.

In recent months, due to both the increase of international forces and the mass flight of the Muslim population, the U.N. has reported a calming of hostilities in the capital.

Nevertheless, the extreme and often random violence in the CAR poses a complex network of security challenges for aid workers trying to reach the approximately 2.2 million people in need to humanitarian assistance.

“At one point, the only road that goes from Cameroon to Bangui, the one we use as a corridor for food, was completely closed because the drivers from Cameroon, who were mainly Muslim, didn’t want to cross the border. [For weeks] they were too scared,” Fabienne Pompey, the regional communications officer for the WFP based in the CAR, told IPS.

“Now the road is open to transport the food from the border, but we use a military escort from [the African Union peacekeeping mission] MISCA.”

“Insecurity and banditry is on the rise, and this is of course a very big problem for humanitarian organisations…Its difficult to drive on the roads, and its complicated to have vehicles in your own compound because there is a risk that they will be stolen,” Marie-Servane Desjonqueres, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in central and south Africa, told IPS.

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

International presence

The creation of a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid in the CAR and an increase of international troops were both key elements of U.N. Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon’s six-point recommendation of Feb. 20.

Nevertheless, security remains an issue and aid workers continue to be targeted and attacked by armed groups, the U.N. reported Thursday.

Currently, the only international military forces in the CAR are roughly 2,000 French troops, under the Sangaris mission, and approximately 6,000 African Union peacekeepers, under the MISCA mission.

Following the UNSG’s request, the European Union pledged nearly 1,000 to lend further support, but this force has yet to materialise.

For UNICEF and the WFP, the use of armed escorts allows for access into areas of the country with serious security concerns.

“We do regularly act with [escorts from] the Sangaris or MISCA operations…but that is in the case of a last resort,” explained Léveillée. “It’s very important that we keep our neutrality. We don’t necessarily want to be associated with armed escorts.”

On Mar. 3, the UNSG proposed a 12,000-person U.N. peacekeeping mission in the CAR. The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), which must approve all peacekeeping missions before their implementation, is expected to vote on the resolution during the second week of April, with a perspective implementation in September, current UNSC president and Nigerian ambassador, Joy Ogwu, told reporters Wednesday.

Negotiating access

While some organisations, like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) do not use armed escorts, negotiating with the parties to the conflict is a universally used tactic to gain access to people who would be otherwise inaccessible.

“We do not have armed personnel for security, we rely on the respect of the parties to the conflict,” Sylvain Groulx, head of the MSF mission based in Bangui, told IPS. “A lot of our operation includes outreach and dialogue.”

“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts,” Benoit Matsha-Carpentier, spokesperson for the IFRC, told IPS. “This is actually one of our principles.”

“There are ongoing discussions, whether at high level with the government or at the volunteer level…with whoever is in front of them, to make sure [aid workers] have safe access to those who are in need.”

Beyond the larger international organisation, the IFRC has a network of national, country-specific societies, which help facilitate support on a more local level. This IFRC national society in the CAR has had a major impact in helping both the IFRC and other humanitarian organisations that may be experiencing restrictions get aid to the Central African population.

“If it’s too dangerous to have us on the ground, then we [distribute] using a local partner,” Desjonqueres explained. “Our main partner in CAR is the Central African Republic Red Cross. They have a very strong network all over the country, a lot of volunteers all over the place.”

Changing the perspective

Broadening respect for humanitarian access is an important factor in the ability for aid workers to support the suffering population in the CAR.

“One of our mandates is to disseminate the respect for international humanitarian law,” Desjonqueres continued. “For many years, we have been conducting sessions…to talk about those basic rules of humanity that need to be respected during times of war, and that includes safe passage for humanitarian workers.

“We are distributing food to the people in need, our criteria is people in need,” stressed Pompey. “It is very important to repeat this every time so that the parties involved in the conflict let us go.”

For the crisis in the CAR, which has killed thousands and displaced more than 600,000 people, getting aid to those in need is an immediate objective, but it is not a long-term solution.

“The best option would be a political settlement [to the conflict],” Pompey told IPS, “something inside the country to help make peace.”

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IPCC Climate Report Warns of “Growing Adaptation Deficit” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 22:53:56 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133328 The latest update of the world’s scientific consensus on climate change finds not only that impacts are already being felt on every continent, but also that adaptation investments are dangerously lagging. These investments constitute both a key demand by developing countries and a key pledge by the West. Nonetheless, the latest report by the Intergovernmental […]

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Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

The latest update of the world’s scientific consensus on climate change finds not only that impacts are already being felt on every continent, but also that adaptation investments are dangerously lagging.

These investments constitute both a key demand by developing countries and a key pledge by the West. Nonetheless, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on Monday in Japan, warns that these shortfalls are growing.

“Global adaptation cost estimates are substantially greater than current adaptation funding and investment, particularly in developing countries, suggesting a funding gap and a growing adaptation deficit,” the report states."We’re taking far too long to discuss these issues, and meanwhile a lot of poor people are becoming more and more vulnerable.” -- Pramod Aggarwal

“Comparison of the global cost estimates with the current level of adaptation funding shows the projected global needs to be orders of magnitude greater than current investment levels particularly in developing countries.”

Further, the report underscores that adaptation shortfalls, as with the broader impacts of climate change, would most significantly affect communities that are discriminated against, particularly in developing economies.

“The report makes very clear what a large adaptation deficit there is while also recognising that, though there’s been a lot of progress on vulnerability, people who are marginalised tend to be the most vulnerable,” Heather McGray, director of vulnerability and adaptation at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS.

“This plays out in the debate between developing and developed countries, covering the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and fisherfolk, small farmers dependent on climate-sensitive environments, as well as children and the elderly, those with constrained mobility or higher health risks. More thorough and nuanced treatment of these issues is certainly a step forward.”

Medium agreement

The IPCC, which is overseen by the United Nations, has been publishing climate-related assessments since the early 1990s. The new report is the work of nearly 2,500 authors and reviewers, and constitutes part of the IPCC’s fifth such assessment.

The report is actually made of three sections, with the one released Monday, the second, focusing on impacts and adaptation. It differs from previous iterations in its far robust understanding of the current state of climate change, describing its ramifications as widespread and consequential.

Yet it also warns the world is “ill-prepared” for these changes, and places far more focus than in the past on adaptation. In part, this is because global mitigation efforts have thus far been relatively ineffectual, thus requiring planning for significant impact at least in the near term.

Risk evaluation is a first step towards a climate change adaptation plan. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Risk evaluation is a first step towards a climate change adaptation plan. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“The global community seems to be spending a lot of time on issues around mitigation issues, whereas many developing countries need significant investment in adaptation. We’re taking far too long to discuss these issues, and meanwhile a lot of poor people are becoming more and more vulnerable,” Pramod Aggarwal, an IPCC author and reviewer, told IPS.

“Governments [in developing countries] have been sensitised on this for some time, and where possible most are already taking action. But it’s been clear for some time that significant international support is also needed.”

For the moment, however, the IPCC report suggests little agreement on that assistance.

IPCC reports are consensus documents, and hence require meticulousness over both scientific evidence and concurrence around that evidence. For this reason, important points in the report include reference to a corresponding strength of agreement.

Yet such concord appears to have broken down over the amount of funding required for comprehensive global adaptation initiatives. The quoted material at the beginning of this story, on the adaptation-related “funding gap”, comes with the onerous warnings “limited evidence” and “medium agreement”.

Putting actual dollar figures on the issue of adaptation appears to have been particularly contentious. “The most recent global adaptation cost estimates suggest a range from $70 billion to $100 billion per year globally by 2050,” the report notes, “but there is little confidence in these numbers.”

Source: CCFAS

Source: CCFAS

Further, even these estimates and their caveats were removed completely from the widely read summary for global policymakers. This is almost certain to strengthen a fight at the next global climate summit, in September.

In 2009, leaders of developed countries pledged to make available 100 billion dollars a year for adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries by 2020. The United Nations flagship programme to facilitate this pledge, the Green Climate Fund, recently opened its new headquarters in South Korea.

Yet by all accounts, the initiative remains painfully slow in getting off the ground, and some analysts worry that momentum could soon wane. A series of procedural hurdles remains in coming months, including agreement on the particularly contentious role of private versus public funding.

Early warning

The new report suggests that agriculture and food security-related issues will likely see some of the most immediate and monumental impacts of a changing climate. Technical interventions thus hold out the opportunity to help the farmers that constitute the backbone of rural societies across the globe, as well as the societies that depend on them for food production.

“We really need to speed up our adaptation at the local scale, particularly with increased investments in climate monitoring,” Aggarwal, the agriculture expert who reviewed the IPCC report’s chapter on food security, told IPS.

“The IPCC emphasises that climate extremes will be the order of the day, so early-warning systems are critical so that entire farming communities can know what to expect and take action. That, however, requires a lot of infrastructure and capital investment.”

Aggarwal says that while certain governments have begun to start taking significant action on issues of adaptation, poorer countries have not been able to do so. (He contributed to a related analysis that will be released on Thursday by CGIAR, a global agriculture consortium.)

Yet echoing the debate over the type of funding that will fuel the Green Climate Fund, some groups are increasingly worried about the approach that will be adopted in reacting to the needs of agriculture in a changing climate.

The IPCC report “is a wake up call for governments to invest in agricultural systems that are effective and sustainable far into the future,” Emilie Johann, a policy officer with CIDSE, a global Catholic anti-poverty network, said Monday.

“So far, solutions pushed at the international level … will do more to increase company profits than provide lasting and achievable solutions for the small-scale farmers and their communities who produce the vast majority of the world’s food.”

The third part of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report is to be released next month, focusing on pollution. A final synthesis of each of these three sections will be released in October.

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Somali Diaspora Not Ready to Buy One-Way Tickets Home Yet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/somali-diaspora-ready-buy-one-way-tickets-home-yet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=somali-diaspora-ready-buy-one-way-tickets-home-yet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/somali-diaspora-ready-buy-one-way-tickets-home-yet/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 21:53:21 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133323 On a Friday afternoon men wearing kamis — long white traditional robes — climb the steps to Somcity Travel, a small family business and travel agency in Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The agency boasts that they “fly all over the world” but to one destination in particular — Somalia. “In a day we may […]

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Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala is believed to be home to a large portion of the country’s almost 12,000 Somali immigrants. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala is believed to be home to a large portion of the country’s almost 12,000 Somali immigrants. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

On a Friday afternoon men wearing kamis — long white traditional robes — climb the steps to Somcity Travel, a small family business and travel agency in Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The agency boasts that they “fly all over the world” but to one destination in particular — Somalia.

“In a day we may have up to five customers – four of them will usually be Somali,” says Mohamed Abdullahi, 25, the manager of Somcity Travel. The travel agency is situated opposite the the Al-Baraka cosmetic store and the Cadaysay shop, which provides mobile money transfer services and sells mobile phones and phone accessories.

“Some of them go [back] for holidays to Somalia. But they always come back. The business is kind of booming. We are booking a lot of tickets,” he tells IPS.

Kisenyi, informally known as Little Mogadishu, has been the heartbeat of the Somalia community in this East African country since the 1990s, according to Abdullahi.

But it was only in 2002 that businesses here started to take off. Today, Kisenyi’s streets are dotted with travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, petrol stations, supermarkets and other businesses — all of which are Somali-owned. And there is also a mosque.

“We are very tough when it comes to business, sometimes we can even challenge Indians,” Abdul Kadir Farah Guled, Charge De Affairs at the Somali embassy in Kampala, who came to Uganda around 1974, tells IPS.

“But our problem is our hot tempers. Sometimes we don’t like each other because of tribal conflicts. But at the end of the day, we support each other.”

Official statistics are hard to come by, but he estimates there could be up to 12,000 Somalis scattered throughout Uganda and that about 85 percent of Kisenyi’s population is Somali, with a large number of them being refugees and Ugandans of Somali-origin. It is believed that the slum could be home to over 4,000 Somali refugees.

The area is a place of transition for many — a stepping stone to a better life for many residents and workers.

“Somalis get respect from Ugandans and the government also supports Somalis,” says Abdullahi. Above his desk, a framed portrait of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni stares down at him. On the wall alongside it is a Brussels Airlines poster declaring “Africa, all wrapped up for you.”

Abdullahi used to live in Towfiq in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. In 2007, he left the Horn of Africa nation, along with relatives and friends, aged just 17.

“I came here to get an education and live a life [that is] different from [the one I lived] in that place where there is civil war,” he says.

Militants belonging to terrorist network Al-Shabaab were flushed out of Mogadishu in 2011 but still control many rural areas of the country today.

When Abdullahi came to Uganda, where his uncle, Ahmed, had resettled in 2003, he couldn’t speak English. In Somalia the official tongue is Arabic. But today Abdullahi converses impeccably in English and has completed both his O and A levels. Now he works six days a week at Somcity Travel, earning about 200 dollars a month.

“It’s getting better in Somalia but there are still some problems, like homes are bombed. There’s a problem walking at night.”

For most Somali’s coming to Uganda for the first time, the language barrier is a big problem says Shukri Islow, 28, the founder of NGO Somali Youth Action For Change. She founded the organisation to help empower Somalis here and bridge the gap between the two communities.

“When you know the language you feel a sense of belonging,” says Islow, who was born in Somalia and left the country when she was eight. She has lived in Sweden, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, before settling in Uganda in 2009.

“We give them that inspiration, motivation and empower them that they can do it it’s never too late, even if you’re 20.”

Today Islow, who graduated in November from Uganda’s Cavendish University with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and diplomacy, is the face of the Somali youth community in Uganda.

She also counsels  Ugandan African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) soldiers who are deployed to her homeland on how different Somalia is and what to expect when they get there.

Uganda was the first country to deploy troops under AMISOM to Somalia in 2007. A 22,000-strong AU force operates there under a United Nations mandate. Uganda leads the force, with 6,223 troops, but in early March said they would send up to 410 extra to guard U.N. facilities.

The last time Islow was in Somalia was in 2002 when the situation was “much, much better”.

“Right now you don’t know who’s going to kill you tomorrow, and you don’t know the reason. You’re being attacked for your lifestyle or ideology,” she tells IPS.

She’s aware that even if she returns home for a holiday she will be a target.

“I’m more at risk [from Al-Shabaab] if I go there because I’m all over social media and my pictures with Ugandan soldiers are [online],” says Islow.

She has relatives still living in Somalia and, eventually, she would like to return home permanently.

“Of course I’d like to go back because you go east and west, home is the best,” she says.

For the time being she will continue to live elsewhere and hopes to further her studies in Melbourne, Australia.

Abdullahi also hopes to do the same. He has an uncle in Australia and has enrolled in a management course that starts in July at a Sydney college.

“I want to continue with my education and at the same time work and have a new life, a better life, get married and have kids,” he says.

In January, the Somali Embassy in Uganda held its first-ever engagement with the Somali diaspora here to discuss the ongoing stabilisation and peace process in the Horn of Africa nation. Officials hope that educated youth, like Abdullahi and Islow, will return to help rebuild the country.

Already the diaspora has contributed much to Somalia. A 2011 report by the U.N. Development Programme estimates that the Somali diaspora is between one to 1.5 million people. The report stated that Somalis abroad provided much-needed humanitarian assistance back home through remittances – estimated between 1.3 to two billion dollars a year.

Last July, Air Uganda started direct flights from the country’s Entebbe International Airport to Mogadishu.

Abdullahi hasn’t returned to Somalia since he left. And if he does, like many of his clients, it may not be on a one-way ticket.

“Now I’ve adapted to this life of living abroad and some things are not favourable in Somalia so I can’t live there for good,” says Abdullahi.

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Sahel Food Crisis Overshadowed by Regional Conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 21:55:38 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133290 Still not enough is being done to improve the food emergency in Africa’s Sahel Region as conflict and instability continue to exacerbate any response towards aiding a region where one in eight people suffer from food insecurity. “The main problem we have is that food is not reaching conflict areas such as Central African Republic […]

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In 2012 recurring droughts destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. This year feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created almost one million refugees. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

In 2012 recurring droughts destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. This year feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created almost one million refugees. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Matthew Newsome
TUNIS, Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

Still not enough is being done to improve the food emergency in Africa’s Sahel Region as conflict and instability continue to exacerbate any response towards aiding a region where one in eight people suffer from food insecurity.

“The main problem we have is that food is not reaching conflict areas such as Central African Republic (CAR) because of insecurity. Until now, there has not been enough of a response from the international community, especially given the proportion of the disaster foreseen,” Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), told IPS at the organisation’s regional conference being held in Tunisa from Mar. 24 to 28.

Last month, the U.N. appealed for more than two billion dollars to address the needs of 20 million “food insecure” people across Africa’s Sahel, a semi-arid area beset by persistent drought and chronic food insecurity stretching from the Sahara desert in North Africa and Sudan’s Savannas in the south. It is described by the U.N. as “one of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable regions.”

Countries in the Sahel currently facing food shortages are Mali, Mauritania, the Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic (CAR), Niger, Chad and Nigeria.

New research by international NGO Action Aid highlights how Nigeria and Senegal are alarmingly unprepared to cope with a worsening food crisis.

John Abuya, head of Action Aid’s international humanitarian action and resilience team, told IPS: “Disaster preparedness structures at regional and community levels are still weak and need to be strengthened so as to provide the necessary response and resilience in case of an emergency.”

“Based on early warning signs, it is likely that the Nigerian and Senegalese governments will be overwhelmed if their food crisis escalates. Although Nigeria has a National Emergency Management Authority, its response at state level has been weak and resources have been allocated inadequately by the central government,” Abuya said.

Food insecurity in the Sahel is set to increase in 2014 by 40 percent compared to 2013 when 11.3 million people had inadequate food and required around 1.7 billion dollars in donor assistance.

Feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created approximately 724,000 refugees and 495,000 internally displaced persons.

According to the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Chad’s open-door policy has resulted in it receiving 419, 000 refugees (86,000 from CAR, and 333,000 from Darfur, Sudan).

Out of the 103,000 refugees residing in Mauritania, a majority are from Mali and Western Sahara, while Burkina Faso has received 43,000 refugees from Mali since the crisis there began in 2012.

Following Mali’s military coup in March 2012, terrorists and criminal organisations exploited the country’s power vacuum and occupied the northern territory creating a huge displacement of the population. It resulted in a refugee outflow into Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and, to a lesser degree, Algeria and other countries.

Mali maintains it has the capacity to feed its people but is restricted by poor infrastructure and instability in the north.

Last year, it produced two million tonnes of cereal in addition to one million tonnes of rice.

“Mali’s problem is not agricultural, it is a logistical problem about transporting the food to people. The crisis and the instability in the north is not permitting us to use the roads safely. Therefore the food that farmers produce is restricted in its movement because of insecurity,” Issa Konda, head of Mali’s agricultural delegation attending the FAO conference, told IPS.

Despite efforts to stabilise Mali, including the deployment of a peacekeeping force and presidential elections in mid-2013, very few Malian refugees want to return due to the fragile humanitarian and security situation.

Niger’s severe food shortages due to recurrent drought have also been compounded by conflict in neighbouring countries. Half of the country’s 17 million people are without adequate food all year round, while one in 10 is unable to feed themselves for three months of the year.

Conflict in northern Mali, southern Libya, northern Nigeria and CAR has put pressure on Niger’s resources to deal with its food crisis as thousands of displaced civilians take refuge in the country due to its porous borders.

Since 2012, Malian refugees have regarded neighbouring Niger as a safe haven. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, over 51,000 refugees (47,000 from Mali and 4,000 from Nigeria) have entered the country as a result of regional conflict.

Last year’s rainy season in Niger, which lasted from July to October, was disappointing says the country’s Minister in the President’s office for the national strategy for food security and agriculture development, Amadou Diallo.

“The situation is dire and has not been improving for several years. We are unable to meet the food demand. The problem is that demand is growing from rising population numbers and incoming refugees, in addition to terrible drought our food supply is being compromised,” he told IPS.

Niger’s refugee crisis escalated last year after neighbouring Nigeria launched a military offensive against Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, causing 10,000 people to flee northern Nigeria into south-eastern Niger and Cameroon.

Of the 25 countries listed by the U.N. as being vulnerable to becoming failed states, 13 are in the Sahel. Breaking the cycle of recurrent food crises in the region is next to impossible while there is limited security says Gerda Verburg, chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security.

“In the Sahel we have the solutions. We have the capacity. We have the willingness.  However, as long there is insecurity then food production and access to food is at risk.  There is not enough reliability and stability for us to adequately address food insecurity in the Sahel,” she told IPS.

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West Africa’s Refugee and Security Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/west-africas-refugee-security-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=west-africas-refugee-security-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/west-africas-refugee-security-crisis/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 10:18:02 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133076 In West Africa, the Malian and Ivorian political crises have resulted in the biggest number of refugees in the region. But brewing insecurity could mean that they will be unable to return home any time soon as armed groups remain a threat to West Africa. In Nigeria, Islamist groups have targeted civilians, and are now […]

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A girl playing in a United Nations Refugee Agency camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in February 2013. Refugees here fled their native Mali in March 2012 when Islamist groups took control of the north of the country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

A girl playing in a United Nations Refugee Agency camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in February 2013. Refugees here fled their native Mali in March 2012 when Islamist groups took control of the north of the country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABIDJAN, Mar 19 2014 (IPS)

In West Africa, the Malian and Ivorian political crises have resulted in the biggest number of refugees in the region. But brewing insecurity could mean that they will be unable to return home any time soon as armed groups remain a threat to West Africa.

In Nigeria, Islamist groups have targeted civilians, and are now hiding in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon. In Mali, even though the United Nations mission is providing military support, the Movement for Unity Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) Islamists remain a threat and there have been a number of bomb explosions.“We have to have military escorts in this region to protect the mission from possible kidnappings.” -- Mohamed Bah, UNHCR

Côte d’Ivoire too has faced insecurity. While the country recovers from its post-electoral crisis that resulted in over 3,000 deaths between 2010 to 2011, refugees are slow to return from Ghana, Togo and Liberia.

There are now 93,738 refugees, mostly in Liberia, Togo and Ghana, and 24,000 Ivorian internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

But the situation in the west of the country, in Bas-Sassandra, where most of the killings were perpetrated during the post-election crisis, remains fragile with the resumption of attacks during the last few weeks.

Ilmari Käihkö is a PhD student at the department for Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, who has conducted extensive field studies in eastern Liberia and investigated the Ivorian refugee areas there.

He said that Ivorian refugees were waiting for the results of the 2015 presidential elections before deciding whether to return home.

“Refugees believe that [current President Allassane ] Ouattara will lose. There might be a negative reaction if he wins,” he told IPS.

Côte d’Ivoire’s government has made a special effort to encourage the return of its refugees. It has sent several envoys to refugee communities to share the word that they will be welcomed when they return home.

This policy is working in part as several notorious supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo have come back to Côte d’Ivoire, including former Abidjan Port Authority director Marcel Gossio and over 1,300 ex-combatants.

Gbagbo, who is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court, is accused of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 2010 to 2011 post-electoral crisis.

For Käihkö, the situation remains tense and the potential for more violence remains high as there are also land ownership issues in western Côte d’Ivoire that need to be addressed to ensure the safe return of the refugees.

The Ivorian refugees in Liberia are mostly from western Côte d’Ivoire, where some of the world’s biggest cacao producers originate. However, many have lived on the land without title deeds, adhering to the policy of “the land belongs to who takes care of it”. This has resulted in a conflict of ownership of land between the native Guérés and settlers to western Côte d’Ivoire.

According to Käihkö, the issues concerning land ownership are a key reason why many Ivorian refugees choose to remain in Liberia — many feel they don’t have anything to return to.

Nigeria too faces ongoing insecurity.

Already, violent attacks perpetrated by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria have forced 1,500 persons to flee in southern Niger’s Diffa Region and more than 4,000 to Cameroon over the last few months.

Boko Haram has targeted schools, hospitals and other institutions perceived as being from the West. And, as the number of refugees and IDPs increases, operations to provide aid for these people have been restricted because of security fears.

And it’s not just in Nigeria that the security situation has complicated humanitarian operations.

Across the region, aid workers have been abducted and attacked, and expat workers are becoming targets. On Feb. 8, an International Red Cross Committee convoy was attacked and five Malian employees were kidnapped by MUJWA.

As humanitarian agencies become targets they are increasingly forced to spend money on security for their staff that ideally should go to those in need.

“We have to have military escorts in this region to protect the mission from possible kidnappings,” Mohamed Bah, information officer at the Burkina Faso’s UNHCR office, told IPS.

Burkina Faso shares a border with Mali and although the security situation remains relatively stable, UNHCR says “strict security measures are in place in rural areas, particularly in Dori and Djibo, limiting the office’s access to its people of concern.”

This complicates both aid operations and repatriation.

“This insecurity limits access to repatriate in Mali. We need MINUSMA [U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali] support to go meet the repatriates. Several NGOs have limited their presence in return areas,” Olivier Beer, from the UNHCR’s Mali office, told IPS.

Young girls near a United Nations Refugee Agency camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in February 2013. Refugees here fled their native Mali in March 2012 when Islamist groups took control of the north of the country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Young girls near a United Nations Refugee Agency camp in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in February 2013. Refugees here fled their native Mali in March 2012 when Islamist groups took control of the north of the country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

In December 2012, few weeks before French forces started to bomb Islamist targets, there were as many as 500,000 Malian refugees and IDPs.

Now, as the stabilisation effort continues with MINUSMA slowly taking over military operations, numbers have reduced to 167,000 refugees in isolated camps in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Niger, Algeria and Mauritania. Within the country there are about 200,000 IDPs.

The UNHCR does not recommend a homecoming yet.

“For an organised UNHCR-backed return, there are some protection criterions that need to be met to ensure safety and dignity,” Beer said. A lack of housing and schooling, insecurity and no access to justice have all contributed to the delay in repatriating refugees.

However, it may take longer for the refugees to return home, even if the security issues are resolved. Several U.N. agencies and NGOs have warned that West Africa faces a grave food crisis.

More than 800,000 Malians, according to British NGO Oxfam International, currently need food assistance, and numbers are likely to reach even more critical proportions when food reserves will be empty when the lean season will start in mid-May.

Côte d’Ivoire refugees will also face a challenge. UNHCR Liberia bureau chief Khassim Diagne stated that if their food supply was not increased within two months more than 52,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia would starve.

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Italy Closes Its Eyes to Sealed Mouths http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/italy-closes-eyes-sealed-mouths/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=italy-closes-eyes-sealed-mouths http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/italy-closes-eyes-sealed-mouths/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 09:23:47 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132598 “We walk inside an area that is 128 steps long and seven-and-a-half steps wide. This is the path they made for us: two metres of bars over our heads, and upon the bars, two metres of plexiglas. We are like canaries in a cage, like birds of different races all in one cage.” Ahmed (name […]

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Migrants being transferred from the Lampedusa centre. Credit: Caritas Italiana.

Migrants being transferred from the Lampedusa centre. Credit: Caritas Italiana.

By Silvia Giannelli
ROME, Mar 11 2014 (IPS)

“We walk inside an area that is 128 steps long and seven-and-a-half steps wide. This is the path they made for us: two metres of bars over our heads, and upon the bars, two metres of plexiglas. We are like canaries in a cage, like birds of different races all in one cage.”

Ahmed (name changed) is from Africa but he has been living in Italy for 22 years now. On Dec. 20 the police stopped him and asked for his documents. Ahmed does not have them, and so has been kept in the Ponte Galeria Centre for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) of Rome since then. “It’s been two months now, but it feels like two centuries,” he told IPS on phone from the centre."You are lucky if you get out of here with 100 grams of your brain left.” -- Ahmed, a migrant from Africa

Last month, the Caritas Italiana and Migrantes Foundation published their annual dossier on migration, which states that “the true reform of the repatriation system would be the closure of the centres.” Oliviero Forti, director of immigration issues at Caritas explained to IPS the reasons behind such a strong recommendation.

“Helped by Prof. Roberto Cherchi, constitutional lawyer, we came to the conclusion that there is a problem of constitutional legitimacy connected to those places. Precisely for the way they are conceived, built and managed, it is easy to slip into gross violation of human rights.”

The CIE is a part of the Italian system of reception and identification for migrants. Besides, there are the centres of reception (CDA is the Italian acronym), the centres of reception for asylum seekers and refugees (CARA) and the centres of first aid and reception (CSPA). The CSPA in Lampedusa, Sicily, caused outrage when a national newscast circulated a video of naked migrants sprayed for scabies in the December cold.

The CIE are centres for migrants who have no resident permits or identity documents, and for those who have received a deportation order. Yet, as the Caritas and Migrantes dossier reports, the available places are far fewer than the number of migrants in such a state.

As a consequence, placement is decided on a case-by-case basis, following such informal criteria as whether the person is considered a danger to society and whether the chances of identifying and deporting the person are high. This brings disparity in treatment often based on nationality.

Khalid Chaouki, Italian MP from the Democratic Party, visited the Ponte Galeria CIE following a protest by some inmates who literally sewed their mouths shut in January to draw attention to the conditions at the Rome centre. “The situation there was even worse than in Lampedusa, because it is in fact a prison outside the law, where people who often haven’t committed any crime are detained for months,” he told IPS.

Migrants who should be in other centres are often kept in the CIE. “Unfortunately we often found women victims of trafficking, minors, stateless people and also EU citizens, Romanians for instance,” Gabriella Guido, spokesperson for LasciateCIEntrare (Let Us In) told IPS. LasciateCIEntrare is a campaign that began in 2011 after then Italian minister of the interior banned media access to the centres.

That was the year that the maximum holding period was extended from six to 18 months. “Often the problem with the identification is that the foreign consulates are not very cooperative, but if a migrant is not recognised in the first 30 to 60 days, it is not going to happen in 18 months either. The extension of the permanence only increased the stress, the riots and the episodes of self-harm inside the CIE.”

“Nobody sleeps here,” Ahmed said, “apart from the ones who take sleeping pills. Many withdraw into themselves. There is a guy who doesn’t speak any more, and one who talks to himself. You are lucky if you get out of here with 100 grams of your brain left.”

Media access to the CIE now depends on permission from the prefect. Forti says the reception system needs deeper reform. “Regularisation of migrants, fair salaries, legal protection of foreign citizens, all of this means granting a correct culture of work in Italy, both for migrants and for Italian citizens.”

But there is political opposition to this idea. Nicola Molteni, Italian MP for the Northern League told IPS that Italy has been a victim of the “indulgent political behaviour of the last two governments” and that it has been abandoned by the European Union.

“We have 3.2 million unemployed, one million of unemployed youth, and we must give a job to our people first. With these numbers we don’t even need regular migration, not to mention the illegal one, which often leads migrants into the hands of organised crime.”

Molteni and his party defend the CIE. “They have a functionality and necessity which is fundamental,” he said. He says the problem is “the complete lack of a push-back policy, of a control of the borders and of international cooperation with the North African countries to prevent migration.”

At the other end of the political spectrum, Chaouki says the CIE centres are an ideological flag of the Northern League, that have solved no problems. “We need to develop alternatives to those centres, we need to open new regular channels of access to Italy, new procedures of reception and also of deportation that are not harmful to people,” he told IPS.

According to the Caritas dossier, of the 35,872 expulsion proceedings in 2012, 18,592 resulted in actual expulsions. In all 7,944 foreign citizens passed through the CIE, of which only half were eventually deported.

“Despite the huge amount of money spent to maintain these places, they don’t even serve the purpose they were created for. Our conclusion is that their function is rather to placate the anxiety of those who perceive migrants as a threat to security,” said Forti.

Ahmed’s voice becomes harsh over the phone: “We are losing our minds here. If an average Italian could see us now, he would think that is better to keep us locked inside. But they do nothing, because they see nothing.”

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Sea Swallows the Stories of Africans Drowned at Ceuta http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sea-swallows-stories-africans-drowned-ceuta/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sea-swallows-stories-africans-drowned-ceuta http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sea-swallows-stories-africans-drowned-ceuta/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 19:20:38 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132629 “Who will speak for them now? Who will tell their stories to their families in Cameroon or Ivory Coast?” asked Edmund Okeke, a Nigerian, about the 15 migrants who died while trying to swim to the shore of the Spanish city of Ceuta from Morocco. The victims were driven back with rubber bullets fired by […]

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Demonstrators with torches and placards reading “No more deaths on the borders” in Malaga on Feb. 12, to call for an investigation into the deaths of 15 immigrants six days earlier in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Africa. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Demonstrators with torches and placards reading “No more deaths on the borders” in Malaga on Feb. 12, to call for an investigation into the deaths of 15 immigrants six days earlier in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Africa. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Mar 10 2014 (IPS)

“Who will speak for them now? Who will tell their stories to their families in Cameroon or Ivory Coast?” asked Edmund Okeke, a Nigerian, about the 15 migrants who died while trying to swim to the shore of the Spanish city of Ceuta from Morocco.

The victims were driven back with rubber bullets fired by the Spanish Guardia Civil (militarised police) from the beach of this Spanish enclave in north Africa, on Feb. 6.“The nights were terrible. The waves were like mountains." -- Gora Ndiaye

“These are people living in unbearable conditions of poverty and who are seeking a better life. Why else would they want to leave their country and embark on such a long and dangerous journey?” said Okeke, the president of the Palma-Palmilla Immigrants Association in the southern Spanish city of Malaga.

Okeke has lived here for 14 years and he believes that the actions of the Spanish border authorities “cannot be justified.”

That is why, he told IPS, he is calling on the government of rightwing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for a “proper” investigation and the prosecution and trial of “those responsible for giving the order to fire” on people “who were neither aggressive, nor represented a danger to anyone.”

The 15 migrants drowned when dozens jumped into the sea to try to reach Ceuta by swimming around the breakwater separating Moroccan and Spanish waters.

The Interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, admitted on Feb. 13 when he appeared before parliament that the authorities had fired rubber bullets and tear gas from the land to the water.

“But not at the people,” he emphasised in his description of the facts being investigated by the attorney general’s office, following a complaint lodged by a score of non-governmental organisations.

Fernández Díaz visited Ceuta and Melilla, the other autonomous Spanish city in northern Africa, on Mar. 5 and 6. There he announced that the fences separating the enclaves from Morocco would be reinforced with special wire mesh to make them even harder for immigrants to scale.

Every year thousands of Africans, mostly from the sub-Saharan region, try to get into the European Union by climbing the three rows of fences lined with razor wire that separate Moroccan territory from Ceuta and Melilla, or by crossing the border in small boats from Morocco or their home countries.

But swimming across was an even more desperate option.

Tina Adrasubi, a 34-year-old Nigerian, left her home in Benin 13 years ago to come to Spain in order to help her family.

“I went to Mali by car with a friend, and then on foot to Morocco to cross to Ceuta,” she told IPS, rocking her two-month-old daughter, Gloria. Many sub-Saharan Africans take years to reach Morocco.

Each of the young men who drowned has his own story, and perhaps a mother who is waiting for a phone call that never comes, but “it seems that does not matter at all when you are poor,” complained Okeke to IPS.

The five bodies recovered on the Spanish side of the border fence lie in anonymous graves in a Ceutan graveyard. The others were taken to Moroccan morgues.

The governing People’s Party rejected a move in Congress to open a commission of enquiry into the tragedy.

Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, suggested in a letter to minister Fernández Díaz that “the rubber bullets could have provoked panic among the group of immigrants” attempting to swim ashore, contributing to the deaths.

Some 80,000 immigrants, 40,000 in Morocco and another 40,000 in Mauritania, are waiting their chance to enter the EU through Ceuta and Melilla, the minister said on Mar. 4, according to figures provided by Morocco and corroborated by his office.

Union leader Gerardo Cova, who between 2001 and 2007 was head of the Information Centre for Foreign Workers in the resort of Marbella, told IPS: “the government wants to create social alarm and is criminalising immigrants in order to justify its actions and make cutbacks on foreigners’ rights.”

In 2013, a total of about 100,000 immigrants were intercepted trying to cross maritime and land borders into the 28 member countries of the EU.

Spain is the fourth most frequent route of irregular entry, according to the December 2013 figures from the European Agency for the Management of External Borders (Frontex), quoted by its assistant director, Gil Arias.

“Instead of rescuing them, they were treated like animals,” Christiana Nwokeji, the president of the Malaga Union of Nigerian Women, complained to IPS in her home.

While she was talking, a video on the television showed several survivors who managed to swim to shore in Ceuta, only to be immediately sent back to Morocco.

Nwokeji remarked that Spaniards, too, are emigrating because of the extremely high unemployment rate, due to the economic crisis and the new regulations that make it easier to fire workers. “Everyone in the world emigrates when they face a lack of opportunities,” she said.

“I was born in a crisis. We have always lived in crises,” Gora Ndiaye, a 28-year-old Senegalese man, told IPS. He said he felt “very afraid and very cold” in the small boat in which he and 45 of his fellow countrymen spent a week, travelling from Dakar to the Spanish municipality of Hoya Fría on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands.

Ndiaye, who has a wife and a six-month-old son in Senegal, said “people here have to help Africa,” and he justified migration “because we have no food, we must send money to our families. We cannot live on nothing.”

“The nights were terrible. The waves were like mountains. I felt stabbing pains in my arms and legs,” said Ndiaye, who cannot swim, and who paid about 500 euros (693 dollars) for the crossing in a flimsy boat. “I am lucky to have lived to tell the tale,” he said.

According to Balance Migratorio en la Frontera Sur de 2013” (Migration Balance on the Southern Border 2013), a report presented in February by the Andalusian Human Rights Association (APDHA), 7,550 immigrants were intercepted reaching Spain by boat or through Ceuta and Melilla.

The number of people who died or disappeared in the attempt were 130 in 2013.

The study reported that 45.25 percent of African immigrants, over half of them from sub-Saharan Africa, arrived in boats and 27.4 percent on inflatable rafts. Some 15.75 percent scaled the fences at Ceuta and Melilla.

On Feb. 28, 200 immigrants climbed the fences at Melilla and their celebration of their arrival with hugs and laughter was shown on television.

Yvette Edere, from Ivory Coast, told IPS she felt “very sad” about what happened in Ceuta, and said she “had to struggle very hard” to get legal residence in Spain, where she arrived with a visa 20 years ago.

“Many white people from Europe and the United States come to Africa,” said Okeke. He is presently helping some Spaniards who want to go to work in Nigeria.

“They exploit its gold and its oil, and no one fires on them. There are no barriers or documents required. They are treated like kings,” he concluded.

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Stateless in Nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/stateless-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stateless-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/stateless-nepal/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 09:16:51 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132590 Around 4.3 million of Nepal’s 27 million population lack citizenship documents, rendering them stateless, says a report by the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), which works to promote and protect the interests of Nepali women. Today in Nepal one cannot register birth, file for a change of address, buy or sell land, acquire […]

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Arjun Kumar Sah is engaged in a long struggle for citizenship. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

Arjun Kumar Sah is engaged in a long struggle for citizenship. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

By Mallika Aryal
KATHMANDU, Mar 10 2014 (IPS)

Around 4.3 million of Nepal’s 27 million population lack citizenship documents, rendering them stateless, says a report by the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), which works to promote and protect the interests of Nepali women.

Today in Nepal one cannot register birth, file for a change of address, buy or sell land, acquire a passport, open bank accounts, sit for higher-level examination, register to vote or even get a mobile phone card without citizenship documents."Our constitution and law are essentially saying a Nepali man can marry anyone and his child will be Nepali but if a woman marries a foreigner, her child will have problems getting citizenship."

“Citizenship identification is the fundamental piece of document which connects an individual to the state. Without it a person has no proof of existence,” says lawyer Sabin Shrestha of FWLD.

In 2006, Nepal had passed the Citizenship Act, which guaranteed Nepali citizenship to children born to a Nepali mother or a Nepali father. Nepal’s 2007 interim Constitution and a 2011 Supreme Court directive backed the Act.

But in 2012, things became tougher. The Constituent Assembly members drafted a new provision, which stated that Nepali citizenship would be granted only to those who could prove that their mother and father both were Nepali citizens.

Getting citizenship through the mother, however, is particularly difficult.

“Difficulty in getting citizenship through the mother is not the only reason why millions of Nepalis are stateless. But acquiring citizenship through the mother is still extremely difficult,” Shrestha told IPS.

Nepal went from requiring citizenship of just the father before the 2006 citizenship law was passed, to that of either mother or father, and to meeting widely enforced requirements now for both mother and father. However, this requirement has not been fully written or passed.

Besides, the, 2006 citizenship law provisions often get lost when they reach the Chief District Officer (CDO) level. The CDO can in effect grant citizenship to whoever he pleases.

Arjun Kumar Sah, 24, was born in Nepal to a Nepali mother and Indian father and has lived in the country all his life. When Sah turned 16, he applied for citizenship but was told that he couldn’t because his father is not Nepali. After the Citizenship Act was passed in 2006, Sah went back to apply through his mother’s name but was denied again.

Early last year Sah filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the Home Ministry, the District Administration Office and the Office of the Prime Minister demanding citizenship through his mother. “The Supreme Court sent a letter asking the three why I have not been granted citizenship even though my mother is Nepali, but it has been nine months and I am yet to receive a reply,” Sah tells IPS.

If a Nepali man marries a foreign woman, their children get citizenship based on descent. However, when a Nepali woman marries a foreigner, their children can only get naturalised citizenship. That is, when a Nepali woman marries a foreign man, their child is not given citizenship by descent. The same rules don’t apply when a Nepali man marries a foreign woman – so getting Nepali citizenship still depends very much on what nationality the father is.

“Nepal’s Constitution and law have made getting citizenship through the mother a conditional right, attaching citizenship to a Nepali father and making the role of women useless,” lawyer Sushama Gautam tells IPS.

Advocate Dipendra Jha, who is fighting Sah’s case, says the new provision is regressive, and against the spirit of democracy and the idea that all citizens are equal.

“If we look at it from the gender angle, you see a huge disparity – our constitution and law are essentially saying a Nepali man can marry anyone and his child will be Nepali but if a woman marries a foreigner, her child will have problems getting citizenship. What kind of equality is that?”

Deepti Gurung has two daughters. She wants to register their birth so they can become citizens, but every time she is at the local ward office or at the CDO office, they ask her to identify the father.

“I raised my daughters by myself, I cared for their needs, I worry about their future, and the father abandoned them when they were young. So why is the government trying to bring him back in the picture?” Gurung asks. She says that not providing citizenship through mother is the biggest form of violence against women.

Gurung argues that a lot is left to the discretion of the CDO. When a Nepali citizen comes of age, the village committee recommends him or her to the district administration office, and the CDO eventually authorises and grants citizenship. “A lot depends on how sensitive the CDO is to that particular case,” says Gurung.

Activists say there may be more people being denied citizenship in little pockets, especially in southern Nepal because of the open border and cross marriages between India and Nepal, but citizenship is a national problem.

“It is especially prevalent among economically disenfranchised families,” says Jha. “Sah’s father never applied for citizenship because he ran a small business and didn’t really need government services but his children are living in a different world where citizenship documents are needed to access all kinds of services.”

Sah is studying for a Masters in Business Administration in Kathmandu. “I am graduating soon, how will I find a job without citizenship papers?” Sah asks.

The number of stateless people is growing every year. “This problem is multiplying because stateless people are giving birth to children who simply cannot apply for citizenship,” says FWLD’s Shrestha.

Discussions in Nepal around citizenship often get linked to issues of sovereignty and national security, especially in relation to Nepal’s open border with India.

But, asks Jha, “Should we be worrying about another country taking over Nepal when we have 4.3 million stateless people inside our own country that we don’t know what to do with?”

Srijana Chettri of the Asia Foundation, Nepal, argues, “You have to think about the risks and vulnerabilities that a stateless person faces – whether it is trafficking, exploitation, abuse or fraudulent migration.”

After months of political uncertainty, Nepal elected a new Constituent Assembly in November 2013 to write the Constitution. Activists say this is the right time to lobby for change in the rigid regulations regarding citizenship.

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If a Two-State Solution Fails, What Next? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/two-state-solution-fails-next/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-state-solution-fails-next http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/two-state-solution-fails-next/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 00:38:02 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132405 The failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to a significant shift in public opinion in the United States regarding Israel’s future, according to a new poll released Monday. When asked about two options in the event the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was no longer on the table, 65 […]

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Gaza women demonstrate to demand release of their loved ones in prison in Israel. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

Gaza women demonstrate to demand release of their loved ones in prison in Israel. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

The failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to a significant shift in public opinion in the United States regarding Israel’s future, according to a new poll released Monday.

When asked about two options in the event the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was no longer on the table, 65 percent of U.S. citizens said they preferred a democratic state where Jews and Arabs are equal, against only 24 percent who supported “the continuation of Israel’s Jewish majority even if it means that Palestinians will not have citizenship and full rights.”"We always assume that pro-Israel means people will accept immoral situations if they have to and that’s not true.” -- Shibley Telhami

The Barack Obama administration has repeatedly warned both parties that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution to their conflict is closing.

This is widely understood to be driving the frenetic efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to cobble together a framework for further talks which he hopes would culminate in a permanent status agreement by the end of 2014. But should these efforts fail, the United States has no alternative to the current two-state formula.

The poll, commissioned by pollster Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, indicates that, as Telhami said, “if the two-state solution fails, the conversation among the American public might shift to that of a one-state solution as the next-best thing.”

In that context, United States citizens hold the value of one person, one vote very strongly. Telhami told IPS that this value was held even among those polled who felt the United States should be favouring Israel over the Palestinians in negotiations.

“We asked if you want the U.S. to lean toward Israel, towards the Palestinians or to stay neutral. As usual, two-thirds want the United States to be neutral and among the rest, most want it to lean toward Israel. So we asked that segment what they would do if the two-state solution was no longer an option. And we still got 52 percent of that segment who would support one state with equal citizenship.

“We always assume that pro-Israel means people will accept immoral situations if they have to and that’s not true,” Telhami continued. “A lot of people try to reconcile their support for the cause with their moral view of the world and that view is antithetical with occupation or inequality for many of these people.

“So for them, two states is a way out, where they can say ‘I’m not paying too much attention to occupation now because it will be going away.’ But if the two-state solution goes away then the status quo looks permanent and I think people, even the segment that primarily cares about Israel, will have an issue with that.”

The possibility of the two-state solution finally collapsing seems stronger with each passing day. Despite some positive statements from Kerry and Obama, the sentiments that have been expressed by both Israeli and Palestinian leadership have, almost from the beginning, been pessimistic and accusatory, with each side seeming to jockey for position to avoid blame for what they have portrayed as the inevitable failure of the U.S.-brokered efforts.

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the leader of the left-wing Israeli Meretz party that there is strong opposition within the Palestinian Authority to continuing talks beyond the agreed upon deadline of Apr. 29.

Abbas has repeatedly stated that ongoing Israeli settlement construction makes negotiations very difficult for Palestinians and sends the message that while the Palestinian leadership talks with Israel, the Israelis are simply taking the West Bank through settlement expansion.

Bolstering Abbas’ case, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics released a report on Monday which stated that starts on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank increased by 123.7 percent in 2013.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Monday for a meeting with President Obama and the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), accused the Palestinians of not doing enough to advance peace talks and called on them to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu vowed to stand firm against pressures on him to make compromises on what he referred to as “our crucial interests. “

Given these stances, it seems there is little hope for Kerry’s dogged efforts. Obama warned of the consequences of failure in an interview published Sunday with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg when he said “if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction…If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Indeed, this poll shows that even within the United States, fallout will be a factor.

“Americans still have a generally favourable view of Israel and think it ought to live in peace and security,” Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, told IPS.

“But much of that support is fairly soft, and most Americans do not support backing Israel no matter what it does. This latest poll confirms that basic view, and suggests that Israel cannot count on deep U.S. support if peace talks fail and its control over the West Bank and/or Gaza becomes permanent.”

But Leon Hadar, lecturer in Israel Studies at the University of Maryland and senior analyst with Wikistrat, disagrees and believes this poll does little but satisfy the “wishful thinking of some.”

“My guess is that most Americans would support the establishment of a democratic and liberal system here, there and everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia, Congo, and certainly China,” Hadar told IPS.

“But the main problem is that there is no constituency in the U.S. or for that matter among the Israelis and the Palestinians advancing such a formula. That’s very different from the South Africa story when you had powerful constituencies in this country, including Congress, pushing for that.”

Telhami disagrees. “It may not have a direct impact on foreign policy. I don’t expect even 80 percent support for a single, democratic state will mean the White House and State Department will suddenly support it. But it results in a lot of civil society pressure.

“U.S. foreign policy is based on a lot of considerations, and domestically it is more responsive to groups that are better organised and today that means groups that are supportive of Israeli government positions. But I think the discourse itself will alter the priorities and put a lot of strain on the relationship.

“This will mean pushing the government to act on this issue. We see it now, with academic boycotts and boycotting of settlement products. Those things can happen at a level that changes the dynamic of policymaking.”

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Political Wrangling Stymies CAR Peacekeeping Force http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/political-wrangling-stymies-car-peacekeeping-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=political-wrangling-stymies-car-peacekeeping-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/political-wrangling-stymies-car-peacekeeping-force/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:21:48 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132355 Budget constraints in Washington and obstinacy at the highest levels of the African Union (AU) have combined to dangerously delay a possible U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to sources close to negotiations currently underway in New York. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was set to deliver his report on CAR […]

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Flee or die: refugees from CAR in Cameroon. Credit: European Commission/cc by 2.0

Flee or die: refugees from CAR in Cameroon. Credit: European Commission/cc by 2.0

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2014 (IPS)

Budget constraints in Washington and obstinacy at the highest levels of the African Union (AU) have combined to dangerously delay a possible U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to sources close to negotiations currently underway in New York.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was set to deliver his report on CAR to the Security Council this past Friday.“We agree with the principle of African solutions to African problems, but it should not come at the expense of African lives.” -- Philippe Bolopion

But the document, believed to contain a damning portrayal of ethnic cleansing and atrocities as well as a recommendation for an official mission, was held up at the last moment and delayed to this week, raising fears that its language could be toned down to accommodate the reservations of the U.S., AU and others.

Whatever the immediate outcome, the struggle illustrates an evolving and at times tense relationship between the Security Council, a more assertive AU and the U.N. over interventions on the continent.

“The reality is that a U.N. mission is absolutely essential to stabilising CAR, and the secretary-general’s reporting is spot-on as to the desperate situation on the ground,” said a high-ranking human rights officer in Bangui who spoke with IPS on the condition of anonymity.

But there is hope that this time Ban will not wilt in the face of pressure.

In December, with violence ratcheting up, the Security Council, after initially considering a French proposal for a full mission, chose instead to mandate and enlarge the existing AU mission in the country – thereafter called MISCA – and authorise the deployment of French “Sangari” troops, currently numbering 2,000.

The move saved hundreds of millions of dollars in the short term, but has proved a stop-gap measure.

Underpinning the tension between the AU and the U.N. is a push by the Africans and international partners to encouraged “African solutions to African Problems,” in this case, letting MISCA handle its mandate without calling in the U.N.

“We agree with the principle of African solutions to African problems, but it should not come at the expense of African lives,” said Philippe Bolopion, U.N. director of Human Rights Watch.

CAR “is not the time or the place for the AU to make a point,” Bolopion told IPS. “It’s pretty clear that the AU-French combination on the ground is not enough to protect civilians. A huge chunk of the Muslim population has had to flee under their watch.”

Smail Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, speaks to journalists following a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic on Feb. 20, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Smail Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, speaks to journalists following a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic on Feb. 20, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

In April, 700 EU troops are set to spell French troops stationed the Bangui airport, allowing the Sangaris to travel out into more rural areas where the peacekeeping presence is thin and small bands of lightly armed Christian anti-balaka militias can wipe out entire villages.

In an interview with African Arguments, Amnesty International’s senior investigator Donatella Rovera said neither the French nor AU forces, by now numbering 6,000, have been effective.

“The military efforts belonged to the AU and French and they have had huge coordination problems,” said Rovera. “They weren’t present where things were happening, when they could have made a difference, when they could have stopped some of the massacres. They did not seem to be very willing to confront the new actor.”

The small U.N. political mission already in place, BINUCA, is grossly underfunded and ineffective at fulfilling its basic mandate. At the time of the December vote, observers expressed concern to IPS that without a bona fide, well-funded intervention, though violence might be temporarily snuffed out, the inequities and development shortfalls that led to the crisis would kicked down the road.

At the time, logistical concerns were also raised: where would an already overextended Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) raise troops?

Money was an issue as well: in the U.S., which funds over one-quarter of peacekeeping operations, Congress would soon set a 2014 budget that left a 12-percent funding gap in their dues and allocates exactly zero to a recently announced mission in Mali. How could they afford another venture in CAR?

Yet later that month, the Security Council saw fit to increase the number of peacekeepers in an already in-place mission in South Sudan. Many wondered if CAR was being shortchanged.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who has publicly pleaded the case of CAR before the Council, was put in an awkward position by budget considerations. In a workaround, the U.S. provided 100 million dollars of direct assistance to a trust fund set up for MISCA, thereby making themselves investors in their success alone.

But MISCA is in many ways a poster child for AU stubbornness.

“It is important to remember that the MISCA mission has been around in various forms since 1996, so this is a country where many of the officers have been posted often. Many even learned [the local language] Sango,” said the human rights official in Bangui.

“The AU itself is very much opposed to a U.N. mission because they want to claim success in CAR and want to keep the MISCA mission, which suits the U.S. as well,” said the official. “The AU has long misrepresented the reality on the ground.”

In December, the AU’s envoy to the U.N., Smaïl Chergui, brushed aside accusations that Chadian MISCA troops had repeatedly attacked civilians in CAR. But last week, Chadian troops were again charged by locals with killing three civilians in a Christian neighborhood of Bangui.

At a Jan. 14 meeting of the AU’s Defence Committee, Chergui told gathered ministers in Addis Ababa “we are hopeful that we will soon significantly improve the security situation and prove the prophets of doom wrong.”

Yet in February, the U.N.’s refugee agency and the human rights group Amnesty International identified rampant ethnic cleansing against the country’s Muslim minority.

After an initial bout of violence committed by predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels left a thousand dead in December, the French Sangaris set about disarming and arrested the group, who had held power in Bangui since taking the city in March.

At the time, observers, including U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay, expressed concern over the potential for revenge killings against Muslims in areas vacated by the Seleka. Those fears proved disastrously correct and peacekeepers proved no match for containing disparate but potent attacks by Christian anti-balaka militias.

In Bangui, where upwards of 150,000 Muslims lived prior to the conflict, by some accounts fewer than 10,000 remain.  Palm fronds hanging outside houses in formerly diverse neighbourhoods indicate where Christian families have seized a home deserted by their former neighbours, either murdered or attempted to flee, likely to Cameroon or Chad.

At least 100,000 Muslims have left the country entirely and countless displaced persons have fled to the bush.

In December, members of the Security Council explained their piecemeal solution to the violence in CAR by pointing to the six-month time frame for implementing a full U.N. mission. But three months later the same reasons are given for dampening hopes of a mission now.

Though the French have publicly spoken in favour of an official mission, they remain in delicate negotiations with regional power-broker Chad over existing missions in Mali and their basing rights in the country.

And they, like the AU, have reason to want the current mission to be seen as a success. President Francois Hollande, who visited Bangui Friday, wants to impress a sceptical populace after he made interventions in former colonies a cornerstone of his foreign policy.

Earlier this month, out of sight of peacekeepers, 70 Muslims were killed over the course of two days in the southwest town of Guen, made to lie down on the ground then shot one by one.

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North Korea Doing Fine Without the South http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/north-korea-fine-without-south/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=north-korea-fine-without-south http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/north-korea-fine-without-south/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 09:15:43 +0000 Ahn Mi Young http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132158 If the North Korea of the 1990s was seen as a starving nation that produced an exodus of hungry people, then the picture should be even gloomier now – six years after it stopped receiving South Korea’s generous aid. But it’s not. The nation of 24 million people, widely said to be the most secretive […]

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A new ski resort opened in North Korea last year is drawing many tourists. Credit: Koryo Tours, Beijing.

A new ski resort opened in North Korea last year is drawing many tourists. Credit: Koryo Tours, Beijing.

By Ahn Mi Young
SEOUL, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

If the North Korea of the 1990s was seen as a starving nation that produced an exodus of hungry people, then the picture should be even gloomier now – six years after it stopped receiving South Korea’s generous aid. But it’s not. The nation of 24 million people, widely said to be the most secretive in the world and a nuclear threat, appears to have weathered the years well.

Today, more people are reported to be better off. Many are engaged in trade. Its communist regime, inherited by the 30-something supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong-Un after his father’s death in 2011, is actively wooing foreign investors and tourists, and introducing reforms. Pyongyang has even softened its attitude towards Seoul to resume talks.

North Korea has been gradually weaned off South Korean food and goods.Ordinary North Koreans no longer depend on rations from Pyongyang as these have more than halved in the past years.

From 1998 to 2007, the liberal government in Seoul used to supply some 400,000 tonnes of rice, large quantities of milk powder and medicines for infants, cement and construction equipment and fertilisers to North Korea each year. Truckloads of cargo used to cross the heavily-fortified border that has separated the two Koreas since the 1950 to 1953 Korean war.

Each month, thousands of South Korean tourists used to visit the North’s scenic Mount Kumgang, yielding millions of dollars for Pyongyang.

But ties between the two Koreas almost froze after a conservative government took office in Seoul in 2008. South Korea halted all trade with North Korea, and most investment, in May 2010 after the sinking of one of its warships, which Seoul attributed to Pyongyang.

The loss of Seoul as its largest donor resulted in Pyongyang becoming more dependent on China, its largest benefactor and only ally. According to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), from 2012 to 2013, bilateral trade between China and North Korea increased 10 percent to 6.54 billion dollars.

North Korea has also been forced to become more self-reliant.

There are more now of the so-called “middle class” businessmen, including about 240,000 North Koreans who own 50,000-100,000 dollars worth of assets like apartments, according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper published from Seoul.

“These new middle classes indicate that Pyongyang allows farmers or ordinary people to do business in the market. Earlier, doing business was unthinkable unless they proved their loyalty to the communist party,” an unnamed Seoul official was quoted as saying in the newspaper.

North Korean defectors in South Korea explain that these well off people are usually former farmers, traders or diplomats. A recent Media Research survey of 200 North Korean defectors indicates that at least 80 percent of ordinary North Koreans are engaged in local trade.

Ordinary North Koreans no longer depend on rations from Pyongyang as these have more than halved in the past years. The so-called “super-class apartments” in the North Korean capital are sold at rates of 100,000 dollars each.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), fewer North Koreans now say they need more food. Its 2013 survey says 46 percent of respondents have “adequate” food compared to 26 percent in the 2012 survey.

If all this is any indication, then the suspension of aid from Seoul created only short-term difficulties for the North, but in the long run it helped reform the economy.

With no food or aid from the South, workers who used to handle these supplies lost their jobs and had to find something else to do. “Many of them became sellers who are hawking in one market after another,” said Joo Sung-Ha, a Seoul-based North Korea expert.

Also, as the U.S. mounts pressure on China to make North Korea denounce nuclear weapons, Pyongyang will have to continue looking for other sources of funds, say analysts.

Already, North Korea has launched a series of reforms. In June 2012, it introduced a “family farm” system, wherein each farm family gives 30 percent of its harvest to the government and keeps the rest as its private wealth.

North Korea also announced the construction of 14 economic zones, where foreign investors can do business.

This January, a new ski resort was opened in the western city of Wonsan where foreign tourists can mingle with locals and drink European beers and even Coca-Cola.

Pyongyang has also proposed resumption of talks with Seoul. This month, for the first time after 2007, high-level officials from the two Koreas sat down to discuss the reunion of families separated during the 1950 to 1953 war.

Kim Jong-Un has reason to reform. He leads a nation that is perceived as a nuclear threat to the world. To reinforce his legitimacy, he must reduce the country’s heavy dependence on China and try to open up the economy.

But can such reforms bring about real change?

Kim Jong-Un, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-Il and grandfather Kim Il-Sung, is being accused of encouraging cult loyalty to keep his family in power. Last year, he purged the country’s number two leader, his uncle Jang Seong-Thack, executing him on treason charges.

“Kim is now terrifying the nation by sending hundreds of Mr. Jang’s men to concentration camps,” according to Cho Myong-Chull, a lawmaker in South Korea who used to be a professor at North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung University in Pyongyang.

Many North Koreans say their government cares more about itself than feeding its people. Around 90 percent of those surveyed by Media Research feel there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor today due to the emergence of the new rich. Industries have been hit by lack of electricity.

But at the same time, more North Koreans are getting to know about the outside world. The Media Research survey of North Korean defectors finds that 70 percent of them had already seen South Korean TV dramas and heard K-pop songs while living in North Korea.

More than three million North Koreans are believed to own cell phones. Most defectors settled in South Korea speak to their family members back home through mobile phones.

There are more than 26,100 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. They say that in the 1990s they left home to escape hunger. But since 2007, more left in search of a better life and better education for their children.

In recent years, North Korea has tried to woo back defectors instead of persecuting them. In fact, fewer people have left for South Korea since Kim Jong-Un took power, according to the South Korean Ministry of Unification.

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Swiss Vote for New Squeeze on Migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/swiss-vote-work-without-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swiss-vote-work-without-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/swiss-vote-work-without-workers/#comments Sun, 23 Feb 2014 09:37:19 +0000 Ray Smith http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131851 Swiss voters have approved an initiative by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) aimed at limiting immigration. The result not only threatens the free movement of people, but all agreements between Switzerland and the European Union. The voting results have been a shock for open-minded Swiss citizens, foreigners living in the country and the whole […]

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By Ray Smith
ZURICH, Switzerland, Feb 23 2014 (IPS)

Swiss voters have approved an initiative by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) aimed at limiting immigration. The result not only threatens the free movement of people, but all agreements between Switzerland and the European Union.

The voting results have been a shock for open-minded Swiss citizens, foreigners living in the country and the whole European audience.“Those who have voted for the SVP initiative regard migrants not as human beings, but as pure workforce."

In all 50.3 percent of the Swiss voted in favour of the SVP’s “initiative against mass immigration”, which demanded the introduction of quantitative limits and quotas for foreigners and a renegotiation of the “Agreement on the free movement of people” with the EU. The Swiss government now faces the difficult task of introducing the new constitutional measures at the legislative level.

Several foreign ministers of EU member states, and the European Commission (EC), the executive arm of the EU, have regretted the Swiss decision. In its initial statement, the EC wrote that the introduction of quantitative limits to immigration “goes against the principle of free movement of persons” and that the EC intends to “examine the implications on this initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole.”

Martin Schultz, president of the European Parliament, said that as long as the Swiss government didn’t suspend its bilateral agreements with the EU, they would remain valid, signalling that the EU for now will not terminate either the agreement on the free movement of people or any of the other accords.

However, Schultz stated that it would be “difficult to limit the free movement of citizens and not limit the free movement of services, for example.” He made it clear that if Switzerland is no longer able to fulfil the conditions of the agreement, all other bilateral agreements were at risk.

Currently, about 430,000 Swiss citizens live in the EU, while more than a million EU citizens call Switzerland their home, and another 230,000 commute to their Swiss workplaces daily. Major sectors of the Swiss economy such as construction, the hotel and restaurant industry, and health services depend on foreign workers.

There’s been strong resistance in Switzerland to joining the EU. However, the two entities are bound by at least a hundred bilateral agreements. As regards trade in goods and services, Switzerland is the EU’s third-largest economic partner, while 57 percent of Swiss exports in goods go to EU member states and 78 percent of its imports come from there.

For Andreas Kellerhals, Director of the Europe Institute at the University of Zurich (EIZ), the EU’s reaction to the Swiss vote isn’t just a strategic threat.

“In the eyes of the EU, the Agreement on the free movement of people isn’t negotiable, as freedom of movement is one of its four basic pillars,” Kellerhals told IPS. He points out that in 1999, the EU only agreed to the bilateral path because the Swiss gave in to an accord on the free movement of people.

The Federal Council is now exploring ways to put its relationship with the EU on a new footing, as it hardly sees how immigration quotas could be compatible with the principle of free movement of people.

“Legally, that isn’t possible,” Kellerhals agrees. “Technically, Switzerland could set the quotas high enough so they couldn’t be exceeded; however I don’t think the EU will accept that.”

Further, that strategy would jar with the SVP initiative and allow the right-wing party to further criticise and pressure the Swiss government. No matter how the Federal Council negotiates with the EU, it can only lose.

For foreigners living and working in Switzerland, the vote was a disaster. Or, as Rita Schiavi, member of the executive board of the largest Swiss trade union Unia puts it: “A slap in the face of nearly two million migrants, who have a huge hand in making Switzerland as prosperous at it is.” Schiavi told IPS that migrants are frustrated and alienated.

In concrete, the SVP demands a return to the so-called Saisonnierstatut, a regulation for seasonal workers that had been in place for seven decades. It means that migrant workers wouldn’t be allowed to bring with them their families, that they would depend on their employers, and would risk losing their stay permits in case of unemployment.

“Those who have voted for the SVP initiative regard migrants not as human beings, but as pure workforce,” said Schiavi.

Returning to some kind of Saisonnierstatut wouldn’t just harm affected migrants, but the Swiss economy as a whole. Swiss companies have a strong desire for skilled foreign personnel, who in the future may find Switzerland less attractive than before, despite higher wages.

Switzerland’s economic lobby has long fought the initiative against immigration, as a return to quotas and contingents would complicate their business and reduce planning reliability. “Multinational companies may relocate or strengthen their branches abroad which could threaten the jobs of Swiss employees, too,” said Schiavi.

In Schiavi’s opinion, urgent political action is now required to deal with those worries and fears that had motivated voters to approve the SVP initiative. It’s measures that trade unions have demanded for many years: “We need to reduce wage dumping, improve job protection, introduce measures in the housing sector and set a national minimum wage,” said Schiavi.

For the moment, half of the Swiss population is licking their wounds, while the other half led by the SVP triumphs. Nevertheless, the right-wing effort to regain control over immigration and the Swiss-EU relations may lead to the opposite: to a massive loss in sovereignty. Soon the Swiss delegation travelling to Brussels may have no option but to hope for the EU’s goodwill.

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Students Take On the Army http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/students-take-army/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=students-take-army http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/students-take-army/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 08:17:12 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131693 Disturbed by civilian casualties and moved by the plight of people living like refugees in their own country, students from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are demanding an end to army operations against militants on their native soil. “We are sick of military action in FATA as it has not eliminated the Taliban but […]

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Ayesha Gullalai (left) from the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf is campaigning for an end to military operations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Ayesha Gullalai (left) from the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf is campaigning for an end to military operations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 17 2014 (IPS)

Disturbed by civilian casualties and moved by the plight of people living like refugees in their own country, students from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are demanding an end to army operations against militants on their native soil.

“We are sick of military action in FATA as it has not eliminated the Taliban but killed, injured and displaced innocent people,” Khan Bahadar, president of the FATA Students Federation (FSF), tells IPS.

“The tribal population has been facing a hard time since the Pakistan army took control of FATA in 2004. The army, primarily sent to fight Taliban militants, has caused a mass exodus from the conflict area. The insurgents stay unharmed.”"Of late, the youth have become a voice for FATA people.” -- Ayesha Gullalai, a member of the National Assembly

The Taliban took refuge in FATA near the 2,400-km porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan after their government in Kabul was toppled by U.S.-led forces in 2001. As a frontline state in the U.S.-led war on terror, Pakistan began military action against the Taliban in FATA in 2004, triggering mass displacement.

“About 2.1 million people from FATA are now living in the nearby Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They are in deep distress as they have had to give up their jobs, businesses and farming activity,” says Bahadar, 19, a student at the University of Peshawar.

Many students from FATA were studying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

FSF was formed last year to build pressure on the government to end military operations in all seven agencies of FATA and facilitate an early return of displaced people to their homes.

Bahadar says the campaign by students from FATA is gathering momentum.

FSF vice-president Burhanuddin Chamkani says, “We have been holding demonstrations in Peshawar and Islamabad to spotlight the problems of our people. Military operations are no solution to prolonged terrorism.”

Chamkani is from the North Waziristan Agency in FATA. He too says civilians have been killed or maimed in military action but the militants remain unscathed.

“At least five people, including women and children, were killed in an army air strike in North Waziristan Jan. 21 in retaliation for a suicide attack on an army convoy that had killed 22 soldiers a day before,” he says.

Another organisation, the Waziristan Students Federation (WSF), is planning to step up its campaign.

Muhammad Irfan Wazir, an office-bearer of the WSF, says around 20,000 youths from FATA are studying in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Most have not been able to visit their families due to terrorism, he says.

“One has to pass through several army checkpoints before reaching their homes in FATA. They are homesick.”

WSF has planned protests, walks and seminars to sensitise the public, army and government.

“We are demonstrating at the University of Peshawar on weekends,” Wazir says. “We are also holding charity events and musical shows to raise money for displaced people living in camps in Peshawar and other areas.”

The responsibility to stop military operations lies with the federal government which directly controls FATA, he says.

“We have staged at least one dozen demonstrations near the Governor’s House to halt military action, but to no avail.”

Muhammad Javid, a teacher at Gomal University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa says the continuing military offensive has angered students, who are actively campaigning against it.

“Students are justified in demanding an end to army action as it has not brought peace to these areas,” he tells IPS.

They are campaigning to ask the government to start talks with the Taliban.

The Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) party, which is in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also believes that dialogue with militants can end the suffering of people in FATA.

“We have been a staunch supporter of peace talks with militants,” PTI’s Ayesha Gullalai, a member of the National Assembly, tells IPS.

She says the federal government is oblivious to the woes of people in her native Waziristan.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to evacuate the civilian population before any action. It is in contravention of the United Nations charter of human rights to kill and injure non-combatants,” she tells IPS. The military doesn’t target civilians deliberately but there are incidents of civilian casualties, she says.

“The campaign by tribal students is welcome. Of late, the youth have become a voice for FATA people.”

Sagheerullah Khan, 20, who lives in a local hostel in Peshawar, is a native of Waziristan. “Unnecessary military operations in FATA coupled with U.S. drone attacks in which mostly innocent people are killed have caused the local population to turn against the government,” he says. This only produces more militants, he says.

“The indiscriminate army shelling poses a constant threat to people.”

Youths from FATA who are studying in Peshawar say they have been raising the issue of civilian deaths with their representatives in the National Assembly and Senate.

The fight to end army operations on their native soil, they say, will go on.

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Refugees Ski Too, in Iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/refugees-ski-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-ski-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/refugees-ski-iraq/#comments Sun, 16 Feb 2014 10:19:11 +0000 Jewan Abdi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131687 No one here has heard of the Sochi Winter Olympics. But the snow conditions are perfect in these Kurdish mountains of Iraq and 11-year-old Syrian refugee Hassan Khishman is thrilled to glide on skis for the first time. “It’s brought back the good times with friends in Syria,” the Syrian Kurd boy tells IPS after […]

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Igor Urizar teaches Syrian refugees to ski on the slopes of Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Nuzha Ezzat/IPS.

Igor Urizar teaches Syrian refugees to ski on the slopes of Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Nuzha Ezzat/IPS.

By Jewan Abdi
PENJWIN, Iraqi Kurdistan, Feb 16 2014 (IPS)

No one here has heard of the Sochi Winter Olympics. But the snow conditions are perfect in these Kurdish mountains of Iraq and 11-year-old Syrian refugee Hassan Khishman is thrilled to glide on skis for the first time.

“It’s brought back the good times with friends in Syria,” the Syrian Kurd boy tells IPS after sliding down a tiny slope.

Located on the Iranian border around 300 km northeast of Baghdad, the mountain village Penjwin was known as a major hub of refugees fleeing Saddam Hussein’s campaigns. Smugglers’ caravans still cross these rugged border valleys with all sorts of goods packed on mule backs. Mines continue to pose a major concern."I only hope that they will be able to do this again, or any other activity that helps bring back their childhood - even if it is just for a few hours.”

But the area where locals have been skiing has been carefully chosen to avoid cruel surprises. War is becoming a distant memory for these highlanders. For some children like Hassan, the slopes have thrown up a happy surprise.

The youngsters have been brought here from refugee camps at the initiative of ski instructor Igor Urizar – a Spaniard who set up Iraq’s first ski school here – to help them escape the bitter memory of war.

“We fled Syria because of the war. There were many among us who died, and the food became very expensive,” says Hassan who left his native town Hasakah and crossed the border almost a year ago.

He now lives in the Arbad refugee camp in Suleymania province, 260 km northeast of Baghdad. It is one of six refugee settlements in the Kurdish autonomous region.

According to the UN, over 200,000 Syrian refugees have taken shelter in Iraq’s stable northern region. Huddled in tents, they’re all facing one of the coldest winters ever recorded in the region.

Helin Kaseer is three years older than Hassan and could identify those who forced her family to flee Girke Lege, a Kurdish village.

“We left Syria eight months ago because of the growing presence of Islamists in our area. There was a lot of fighting and several of my friends were kidnapped, so we couldn’t go to school,” explains the girl.

For her, too, the chance to ski has come as a “huge surprise”. She wishes there were more opportunities because “many more children from the camp wanted to come, but did not get the chance.”

Urizar, the man who initiated the skiing opportunity for the children, explains why the other children had to be left out.

“We have just enough equipment for a few dozen. Besides, getting the necessary permission for them to leave the camp for just one day has been a real nightmare,” says 38-year-old Uzirar, who planted the seeds of skiing in a place as improbable as Iraq.

Before his first visit to Penjwin in 2010, Urizar was a ski instructor in the northern Spanish region Navarra where every year about 5,000 schoolchildren enjoy a week of skiing in the Pyrenees.

With the support of the Tigris Association, a Basque-Kurdish NGO, his dream to export this project to the Kurdish mountains seems to be on the right track.

Local villagers as well as government officials are thrilled with Iraq’s first ski school here, and the second set up in Ranya, 430 km northeast of Baghdad.

Falah Salah, the Tigris local coordinator, ensures that the skiing project continues with the personal backing of Hero Khan, the wife of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, for the second consecutive year.

Salah is planning to run for the Iraqi parliament in elections in April, so he’s passing on the baton to Khalid Mohamad Qadir, head of Penwjin’s Youth Centre.

“Three years ago, Tigris invited us to the Pyrenees to check the possibilities of cross-country skiing as part of sustainable development,” explains Qadir, as he tries to manage a bunch of anxious children waiting for their turn.

“Over the past two years, the Roncal Valley Ski School has trained young Kurds who are now teaching a growing number of visitors in our area. Most of them are Kurdish but we have recently had people from France and Holland too,” he says.

After putting on his boots over three pairs of socks, Mohamed Ibrahim is ready. The 13-year-old native of Tirbespiye, 600 km northeast of Damascus, smiles but says that nothing can help him forget what he witnessed in Syria.

“The jihadists began to harass and kill us in our area. There was no food, no oil. So we left just at the first opportunity to escape. I’ve never been so scared in my life,” he tells IPS.

As the children jump on a bus back to the camp, just before the sun sets behind the snow-capped peaks, Urizar seems relaxed. It has been a hectic and stressful week due to bureaucratic hurdles and rain forecast which, thankfully, proved wrong.

“I cannot help thinking that these kids will have to sleep in those tents again,” says Urizar, drying the skis before putting them away.

“I only hope that they will be able to do this again, or any other activity that helps bring back their childhood – even if it is just for a few hours.”

 

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Advocacy Groups Split on Republican Immigration Guidelines http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/advocacy-groups-split-republican-immigration-guidelines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=advocacy-groups-split-republican-immigration-guidelines http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/advocacy-groups-split-republican-immigration-guidelines/#comments Tue, 04 Feb 2014 00:36:54 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131146 Pro-immigration reform advocates here are seeking to capitalise on new federal momentum on the issue after conservative lawmakers ended months of dithering late last week and released an initial set of principles that they would be interested in pursuing in broader negotiations. FWD.us, an immigration reform advocacy group funded by the technology industry, declared Monday a “day […]

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A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Feb 4 2014 (IPS)

Pro-immigration reform advocates here are seeking to capitalise on new federal momentum on the issue after conservative lawmakers ended months of dithering late last week and released an initial set of principles that they would be interested in pursuing in broader negotiations.

FWD.us, an immigration reform advocacy group funded by the technology industry, declared Monday a “day of action”, in which it encouraged the U.S. public to contact key Republican representatives and ask them to support immigration reform proposals. “Until we create a functioning immigration system with a pathway to citizenship, ruthless employers will continue to exploit low wage workers, pulling down wages for all." -- Richard Trumka

With 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., exploitation of undocumented workers runs rampant, and families have been torn apart with two million deportations by the Barack Obama administration within the past five years.

Faith-based advocacy groups, one of the conservative cornerstones pushing for immigration reform, have likewise stepped up their efforts. Evangelical Christians emphasise the damaging effect that current immigration laws have on undocumented families.

“More than security and economic reasons, I think [reform] needed for the health of families,” Alex Cosio, a pastor from North Carolina, said during a press call Monday. “Families suffer a lot when they fear someone from their family being caught and deported. [Deportation] tears families apart.”

Cosio also points to the adverse effects that the current immigration system has on undocumented youths who were brought to the United States at a very young age.

“It’s very hard for a parent to tell a kid that they can’t have a driver’s license because they’re not here legally,” he said.

The new Republican guidelines call for increased border security and a “zero tolerance” policy for migrants who have illegally crossed into the United States.

While the guidelines rule out a path to citizenship, a means by which undocumented workers could become fully naturalised U.S. citizens, they permit legalisation for law-abiding undocumented workers provided that they “pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).”

Cautious optimism

Last year, the U.S. Senate passed a massive bill to overhaul all aspects of the country’s immigration system. That proposal would have provided a path to citizenship for many of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, yet House Republicans oppose it on the grounds that a path to citizenship amounted to “amnesty” for wrongdoing – an option they have long opposed.

This proposal has since languished as conservatives in the House of Representatives have been unable to decide how – or whether – they wanted to progress on the issue.

Unlike their counterparts in the Senate, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have now indicated that they do not wish to address the issue of immigration in a single, comprehensive bill. Instead they prefer to address various issues related to the broad topic through piecemeal legislation, potentially setting up conflict later on.

Still, the fact that House Republicans are now actively discussing the issue has given many proponents of immigration reform a renewed sense of optimism. Indeed, on some issues, the new Republican principles offer clear-cut ideological about-faces.

The new principles support, for instance, a path to legal residence and citizenship for undocumented youth who receive a college degree or serve in the military. This would closely align with provisions laid out in the earlier Democratic-proposed legislation – known as the DREAM Act – that some Republican legislators opposed.

Congress’s failed attempts to pass the DREAM Act multiple times since 2001 prompted President Obama to issue an executive order that halted the deportation of undocumented youths who met certain requirements.

“I do think that for those who qualify under laws and rules laid out for DREAM students, we can be assured that they’ll become a great asset to our nation,” Noel Castellanos, the head of the Christian Community Development Association, a faith-based community development group, told IPS. “Not every one of these young people will end up going to school, but some will serve in our military and contribute great works to serve our country.”

In addition to the Christian right, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business lobby group, welcomed the Republican reform principles.

“Immigration reform is an essential element of economic growth and it will create American jobs,” Thomas J. Donahue, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “The time is now, and the Chamber is determined to make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted.”

Liberal ambivalence

While conservative advocacy groups warmly embraced the Republican guidelines, some liberal advocates have been less thrilled.

America’s Voice, a Washington-based immigrant advocacy group, is pointing out that Republicans are insisting on strengthening security along the U.S.-Mexico border before allowing any legalisation for undocumented migrants to go forward.

Such a stance, the group warns, obscures the fact that spending on border security is already incredibly high.

“The U.S. government spends 18 billion dollars a year on immigration enforcement, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined,” the group states in analysis sent to IPS. “The Border Patrol has doubled in recent years to a record high of 21,000 agents, and net unauthorised immigration into the U.S. is zero.”

“Nevertheless, Republicans are dusting off the old ‘enforcement-first’ talking points, pretending that immigration enforcement is currently lacking,” the groups says.

Labour rights advocates have also condemned House Republicans’ refusal to create a valid path to citizenship on the grounds that it will depress wages for everyone residing in the United States.

“Until we create a functioning immigration system with a pathway to citizenship, ruthless employers will continue to exploit low wage workers, pulling down wages for all,” Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, a lobbying group representing multiple labour unions, noted Monday.

“All workers, immigrant or not, will see workplaces become safer and wages grow higher when we create a real roadmap to citizenship. And yet Republicans not only reject citizenship but embrace a broken guest worker model that will bring down wages and increase income inequality.”

It is unclear exactly how, or even if, the congressional discussion will now progress, with Republicans still unsure as to whether they will unite behind the new principles.

On Sunday, Representative Paul Ryan, a leading intellectual in the Republican party, told the media it was “clearly in doubt” whether Congress would pass any immigration reform legislation this year. National elections, after all, are scheduled for late this year, and immigration remains a hot-button issue for many in the Republican base.

Still, others see a possible window for action after Republican candidates have been chosen for the election in primary campaigns.

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Poll Shows Diminishing Support for Two-State Solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution/#comments Sat, 01 Feb 2014 12:46:52 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131080 Twenty years of the Oslo peace process between Israelis and Palestinians have made a solution more difficult to attain, rather than easier. That was the conclusion of a poll of Israelis and Palestinians released on Friday. The poll, conducted by Zogby Research Services, showed that barely one-third of Israelis (34 percent) and Palestinians (36 percent) […]

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Um Abed plants an olive tree in support of Palestinian farmers. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Um Abed plants an olive tree in support of Palestinian farmers. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Feb 1 2014 (IPS)

Twenty years of the Oslo peace process between Israelis and Palestinians have made a solution more difficult to attain, rather than easier. That was the conclusion of a poll of Israelis and Palestinians released on Friday.

The poll, conducted by Zogby Research Services, showed that barely one-third of Israelis (34 percent) and Palestinians (36 percent) still believe that a two-state solution is feasible. And, while the two-state solution remains the most popular option among both peoples, that support is much stronger among Israelis (74 percent) than among Palestinians (47 percent)."With all the cynicism and scepticism that has built up on both sides, we are seeing this wave of opposition to anything that is seen as ‘normalisation'." -- Lara Friedman

Lead pollster and President of both Zogby Research Services and the Arab American Institute, Jim Zogby, sees these results as very troubling and as boding ill for the potential for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to salvage the two-state solution. For Zogby, it comes back to the basic inequality between Israelis and Palestinians and that the process is not framed to accommodate this reality.

“The way the two-state solution has been framed in the dominant narrative, it is defined by Israeli needs, not Palestinian needs,” Zogby told IPS. “If I had added details to the question of a two-state solution such as the 1967 borders [as the basis for territorial negotiations] and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, Israelis would have been less supportive.

“Israelis always poll in favour of negotiations, but are less favourable regarding specific outcomes,” Zogby continued. “Palestinians support outcomes more but support negotiations less because they don’t trust the process. But when you’re in the dominant position, as Israel is, your attitudes are framed by the fact that you’re in control.”

The poll was released just as rumours swirled around Kerry’s efforts, which are expected to produce a framework proposal that Kerry will present to the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in the next few weeks. While few observers have expressed much hope about the potential for success, Kerry has pressed both sides to work to agree to use his plan as a framework for ongoing talks, despite the reservations they are sure to have.

Whether either or both sides will agree to that remains unclear, however.

Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, believes the Zogby poll supports Kerry’s view, widely shared, that if current efforts fail, the two-state solution is in serious jeopardy.

“The poll is consistent with my sense that a Palestinian consensus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip around a two-state solution is beginning to collapse,” Elgindy said in Washington, at the presentation of the poll. “On the Israeli side, [this is reflected by] the views of young Israelis being much more antipathetic to a negotiated settlement. Both of those trends do not bode well for a negotiated TS agreement.

“The framework agreement that is being discussed is so vague as not be an agreement. If we are this far into the process and the two-state solution really hangs in the balance, it’s not a time to be vague. I think it’s clear that if we cannot say [there will be] a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, if we cannot draw a map instead of talking about percentages of land, if we cannot define these issues, then it’s more of the same because these issues don’t get easier, they get harder.”

The poll showed that, in contrast to Palestinians whose views are generally similar across the generations, younger Israelis have harder line positions than older ones. This is one reason why so many like Elgindy believe that the opportunity for a two-state solution is almost at an end. Zogby believes there are several reasons for this split between younger and older Israelis.

“The disproportionately large number of children born to Orthodox and settler families in part accounts for the shift,” Zogby told IPS. “Israel is the only country where we poll that younger people’s attitudes are less progressive than older. The birth rate among the different groupings in part accounts for that.

“The other thing is that the dominant narrative in Israel is that they might reflect back and say I was hopeful, that’s not the way the press and dominant media tells the story so it may not be the way that it is viewed. Palestinians may look back and see it in a more positive light. Even though events may not have moved in a more positive direction, the narrative may have been that it was more hopeful. Neither side sees it positively, but there is a difference in how they reflect on it. The youth gap in Israel reflects this because they pick up on how the story is told because they haven’t experienced it directly.”

Lara Friedman, the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, agrees. “It isn’t surprising that you have on the Israeli side a growing demographic bump in folks who are ideologically opposed to this,” Friedman said in response to the poll.

“The generation of Israelis who came to the Palestinians in the era of the peace process were much better equipped. We’ve lost those connections in the generation since Oslo. The generation that came to Oslo knew Palestinians. Israelis shopped in Ramallah, there was no separation barrier, and people knew each other. It’s very different today. With all the cynicism and scepticism that has built up on both sides, we are seeing this wave of opposition to anything that is seen as ‘normalisation.’”

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have stated that they would put any agreement to a referendum among their respective peoples. When asked if they held out hope, only 11 percent of Palestinians and 39 percent of Israelis said they did.

But, when asked if they would support an agreement if their respective leaders endorsed it, 55 percent of Israelis and 49 percent of Palestinians said they would do so, while only 19 percent of Israelis and 28 percent of Palestinians said they would not.

Those results seem to imply that Friedman was correct when she said, “I believe that when there is a deal and people are presented with the possibility of ending this…I think opinions shift very quickly.”

But Kerry’s proposed framework would only map out future discussions. Palestinians have been insistent that they have had enough of endless discussions with no change on the ground aside from the ever-expanding Israeli settlements.

That is why Friedman, an ardent supporter of the two-state solution, also says that “…many of us believe that we need to get to a deal and do it. Leaving more time, constructive ambiguity and ‘confidence-building’ was the death of confidence [between the two sides]. Confidence can be built after the divorce — that is the lesson of the last 20 years.”

But it doesn’t seem that getting to a deal quickly is Kerry’s intent in the short term. And it certainly seems like time has just about run out.

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