Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 28 Jul 2016 10:49:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Climate Victims – Every Second, One Person Is Displaced by Disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/climate-victims-every-second-one-person-is-displaced-by-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-victims-every-second-one-person-is-displaced-by-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/climate-victims-every-second-one-person-is-displaced-by-disaster/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 06:15:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146253 Land degradation - Sustainable land management: do nothing and you will be poorer. Credit: UNEP

Land degradation - Sustainable land management: do nothing and you will be poorer. Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 27 2016 (IPS)

Climate change and related extreme weather events have devastated the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of most vulnerable people worldwide– by far exceeding the total of all the unfortunate and unjustifiable victims of all terrorist attacks combined. However, the unstoppable climate crisis receives just a tiny fraction of mainstream media attention. See these dramatic facts.

“Every second, one person is displaced by disaster,” the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reports. “In 2015 only, more than 19.2 million people fled disasters in 113 countries. “Disasters displace three to ten times more people than conflict and war worldwide.”

As climate change continues, it will likely lead to more frequent and severe natural hazards; the impact will be heavy, warns this independent humanitarian organisation providing aid and assistance to people forced to flee.

“On average, 26 million people are displaced by disasters such as floods and storms every year. That’s one person forced to flee every second.”

“Climate change is our generation’s greatest challenge,” says Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which counts with over 5,000 humanitarian workers across more than 25 countries.

The climate refugees and migrants add to the on-going humanitarian emergency. “Not since World War II have more people needed our help,” warned the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland, who held the post of UN undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief (2003-2006).

Egeland –who was one of the most active, outspoken participants in the World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul May 23-24)– also stressed that the humanitarian sector is failing to protect civilians.

“I hope that world leaders can ask themselves if they can at least stop giving arms, giving money to those armed groups that are systematically violating the humanitarian law, and bombing hospitals and schools, abusing women and children,” he said to IPS during the World Humanitarian Summit.

For its part, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) forecasts 200 million environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. Many of them would be coastal population.

On this, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that coastal populations are at particular risk as a global rise in temperature of between 1.1 and 3.1 degrees C would increase the mean sea level by 0.36 to 0.73 meters by 2100, adversely impacting low-lying areas with submergence, flooding, erosion, and saltwater intrusion.

An estimated 83,100 people remain displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance in Wau, South Sudan. Credit: OIM

An estimated 83,100 people remain displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance in Wau, South Sudan. Credit: OIM


In a recent interview with IPS Nairobi correspondent Manipadma Jena, the director general of the International Organisation for Migration, William Lacy Swing, said that coastal migration is starting already but it is very hard to be exact as there is no good data to be able to forecast accurately.

“We do not know. But it is clearly going to figure heavily in the future. And it’s going to happen both in the low-lying islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean, and in those countries where people build houses very close to the shore and have floods every year as in Bangladesh.”

“It is quite clear that we will have more and more conflicts over shortages of food and water that are going to be exacerbated by climate change,” Lacy Swing warned.

Political crises and natural disasters are the other major drivers of migration today, he said to IPS in the interview.

Lacy Swing confirmed the fact that climate victims now add to record 60 million people who are fleeing war and persecution.

“We have never had so many complex and protracted humanitarian emergencies now happening simultaneously from West Africa all the way to Asia, with very few spots in between which do not have some issue. We have today 40 million forcibly displaced people and 20 million refugees, the greatest number of uprooted people since the Second World War.”

On 25 July, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution approving an agreement to make the International Organisation for Migration part of the UN system.

Founded in the wake of the World War II to resettle refugees from Europe, OIM celebrates its 65th anniversary in December of this year.

AFAO and UNHCR prepared a handbook that will help mitigate the impact of displaced people on forest resources. The handbook aims to help displaced people access fuel for cooking food while reducing environmental damage and conflicts with local communities. Credit: FAO/UNHCR

FAO and UNHCR prepared a handbook that will help mitigate the impact of displaced people on forest resources. The handbook aims to help displaced people access fuel for cooking food while reducing environmental damage and conflicts with local communities. Credit: FAO/UNHCR


“Migration is at the heart of the new global political landscape and its social and economic dynamics. At a time of growing levels of migration within and across borders, a closer legal and working relationship between the United Nations and IOM is needed more than ever,” said the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement welcoming the Assembly’s decision.

IOM, which assisted an estimated 20 million migrants in 2015, is an intergovernmental organisation with more than 9,500 staff and 450 offices worldwide

“We are living in a time of much tragedy and uncertainty. This agreement shows Member States’ commitment to more humane and orderly migration that benefits all, where we celebrate the human beings behind the numbers,” IOM Director General William Lacy said.

Through the agreement, the UN recognises IOM as an “indispensable actor in the field of human mobility.” IOM added that this includes protection of migrants and displaced people in migration-affected communities, as well as in areas of refugee resettlement and voluntary returns, and incorporates migration in country development plans.

The agreement paves the way for the agreement to be signed by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon and Swing at the UN Summit for refugees and migrants on 19 September, which will bring together UN member states to address large movements of refugees and migrants for more humane and coordinated approach.

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400 Million People Live with Hepatitis But They Do Not Knowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/400-million-people-live-with-hepatitis-but-they-do-not-know/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=400-million-people-live-with-hepatitis-but-they-do-not-know http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/400-million-people-live-with-hepatitis-but-they-do-not-know/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2016 11:15:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146231 Peru is carrying out a strategy to eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of hepatitis B. The most important preventative intervention is the universal vaccination, which can prevent infection in 95 per cent of cases. Photo credit: PAHO

Peru is carrying out a strategy to eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of hepatitis B. The most important preventative intervention is the universal vaccination, which can prevent infection in 95 per cent of cases. Photo credit: PAHO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

With some 400 million people around the world infected with hepatitis B or C, mostly without being aware, the United Nations top health agency encourages countries to boost testing and access to services and medicines for people in need to combat the ‘ignored perils’ of this disease.

A staggering 95 per cent of people infected with hepatitis B or C do not know they are infected, often living without symptoms for many years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns. And over 90% of people with hepatitis C can be completely cured within 3–6 months.

“The world has ignored hepatitis at its peril,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director general, ahead of the World Hepatitis Day, which is observed annually on 28 July.

“It is time to mobilise a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generated to fight other communicable diseases like HIV AIDS and tuberculosis,” she said.

The number grows by 6 to 10 millions a year, WHO reported, while announcing plans to release new testing guidelines for both hepatitis B and C.

With this, among other actions, the Geneva-based World Health Organisation attempts “to encourage testing and reach the 95 per cent of people who are not aware they are infected with the disease.”

The theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day is Know Hepatitis; Act Now.

What is Hepatitis? Credit: WHO

What is Hepatitis? Credit: WHO

Together with its partner, Social Entrepreneurship for Sexual Health, WHO on July 25 said it recently launched #HepTestContest, a global contest to show how the testing guidelines could translate into real action on the ground.

“We needed examples of innovations and best practices to help guide and inspire others,” said Philippa Easterbrook from the WHO Global Hepatitis Programme, who co-led the project.

The contest received 64 contributions from 27 countries, WHO said.

Five finalists were selected by a panel of experts including representatives from WHO, the World Hepatitis Alliance and Médecins sans Frontières, who reviewed the testing models for innovation, effectiveness, and plans for sustainability.

In addition to national testing campaigns, approaches included testing in prisons, testing in the workplace and hospital emergency rooms, integrated HIV-hepatitis testing, as well as the use of internet, social media, and electronic medical records to flag higher-risk patients for testing in primary care.

Are you at risk? Credit: WHO

Are you at risk? Credit: WHO

“From prisons in Australia, use of an internet-based risk self-assessment tool in the Netherlands, community testing camps for drug users in India, to testing in primary care in Mongolia we learned some great lessons about how to build awareness of this hidden disease, improve testing rates and link those infected to treatment and care,” Philippa Easterbrook added.

An important feature of the approach was the strong community involvement and support as well as strategic partnerships to leverage reductions in the price of treatments, WHO said.

“Bringing together pharmaceutical companies, government, research organisations and communities to help negotiate price reductions make hepatitis treatments more affordable,” said Easterbrook.

“The contest demonstrated a range of possibilities. It showed that if we can develop acceptable testing approaches to suit different contexts and cultures, then we can increase effective hepatitis testing in more countries and communities,” she added.

In May of this year, the World Health Assembly – WHO’s decision-making body – called for treating eight million people for hepatitis B or C by 2020, to reduce new viral hepatitis infections by 90 per cent, and to decrease the number of deaths by 65 per cent in 2030, as compared with 2016. These targets are part of the first ever Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis.

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Rights of Indigenous Peoples ‘Critical’ to Combat Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 11:50:23 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146196 Maasai pastoralists, who participate in a farmer field school, are selling animals at a local market in Narok, Kenya. Indigenous peoples have a key role to play in addressing climate change. Credit: FAO

Maasai pastoralists, who participate in a farmer field school, are selling animals at a local market in Narok, Kenya. Indigenous peoples have a key role to play in addressing climate change. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 25 2016 (IPS)

No longer it is about restoring the legitimate rights of over 370 indigenous peoples spread across 70 countries worldwide, many of them living in dire situation, but now about their central, critical role in combating climate change.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has relentlessly emphasized this new reality.

“Very few countries have so far made a clear commitment to a requirement in the Paris Climate Change Agreement that countries undertaking climate change activities should ensure the rights of indigenous peoples,” she says, while reminding of “the large number of violent deaths of people protecting their forests and rights to land in 2015 – the deadliest year for environmental defenders on record.”

“It’s a dire situation in terms of respect for the rights of indigenous peoples,” she told the participants in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Committee on Forestry (COFO) which met in the Italian capital on July 18-22.

“Indigenous peoples across the world experience the consequences of historical colonisation and invasion of their territories, and face discrimination because of their distinct cultures, identities and ways of life,” according to UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On this, FAO stated that “Governments must do much more to provide the enabling conditions required for indigenous peoples, local communities, smallholders and their organisations to restore degraded landscapes and achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation in practice.”

Specifically, René Castro Salazar, FAO’s Assistant-Director General warned that the issue of indigenous rights to land and territories was ‘critical’ for the success of climate change initiatives.

“Unless we help indigenous peoples achieve secure land tenure and better governance, it will be very hard to achieve long-term solutions,” Castro Salazar said. “We are lagging behind, and we need to do more.”

Vast Carbon Stocks

A third of global forests are under some form of management by families, smallholders, local communities and indigenous peoples, and represent some of the most important carbon stocks in the world, FAO reported during the meeting. Government-recognised community forests alone hold an estimated 37.7 billion tonnes of carbon stock.

Agro-forestry farmers are tending to the crops in Kigoma, Tanzania. Forests are an integral part of the national agriculture policy with the aim of protecting arable land from erosion and increasing agricultural production. Credit: FAO

Agro-forestry farmers are tending to the crops in Kigoma, Tanzania. Forests are an integral part of the national agriculture policy with the aim of protecting arable land from erosion and increasing agricultural production. Credit: FAO

“Family smallholders, local communities and indigenous peoples have a key role to play in preserving these carbon stocks by reducing deforestation, managing forests sustainably and restoring tree cover as part of productive rural economies, particularly when they belong to strong producer organisations,” according to the UN agency.

In addition, an estimated 1.5 billion hectares of land hold potential for smallholder farmers to combine agriculture with trees.

“But failure to find the best way to engage with local stakeholders and align their interests with forest conservation can significantly compromise the chances of achieving carbon sequestration and mitigation targets.”

Greater Ownership

In an outcome statement issued at the close of the Rome meeting, participants urged governments to provide the enabling conditions required for local communities, indigenous peoples and local producers, “to manage larger territories, from securing and enforcing tenure rights to creating favourable business incentives and offering technical, financial and business extension services.”

They also called on global financing mechanisms, government programmes and private investors to direct investment and support towards local communities, indigenous peoples, smallholders and producer organisations.

Finally, they called for climate change initiatives “to shift towards giving greater ownership to local communities, indigenous peoples, smallholders and producer organisations and engaging them in participatory and qualitative assessment of the forest cover and trees on farms they manage.”

Livelihoods of Millions of People, Precarious

On the occasion of the Rome meeting, FAO issued a new study that helps to fill a significant knowledge gap on the presence and extent of forests and trees in the world’s drylands, where the food security and livelihoods of millions of people, already precarious, are increasingly being threatened by climate change.

The study’s preliminary findings show that trees are present with hugely varying densities on almost one-third of the world’s 6.1 billion hectares of drylands, which cover an area more than twice the size of Africa. Almost 18 per cent of this area contains forests.

An estimated 2 billion people, 90 per cent of whom are in developing countries, live in drylands. Recent studies have indicated the need to restore these areas to cope with the effects of drought, desertification and land degradation.

In particular, water availability in drylands is expected to decline further due to changes in climate and land use, the new study warns.

“Poor people living in remote rural areas will be most vulnerable to food shortages, which combined with violence and social upheaval, are already leading to forced migration in dryland regions in Africa and western Asia.”

Until now, there has been little statistically based knowledge on dryland trees –particularly those growing outside forests– despite their vital importance to humans and the environment, according to the study.

The leaves and fruit of trees are sources of food for people and fodder for animals; their wood provides fuel for cooking and heating and can be a source of income for poor households; trees protect soils, crops and animals from the sun and winds, while forests are often rich in biodiversity.

Drylands are divided into four aridity zones (see map): the dry sub-humid zone, is the least arid of the four zones and consists mostly of the Sudanian savanna, forests and grasslands in South America, the steppes of eastern Europe and southern Siberia, and the Canadian prairie.

Most dryland forests occur in this zone, as do some large irrigated, intensively farmed areas along perennial rivers; at the other extreme, the hyper-arid zone is the driest zone and it is dominated by desert – the Sahara alone accounting for 45 per cent, and the Arabian desert forming another large component.

Factbox

At a glance: some preliminary findings of the FAO Global Drylands Assessment:
• The global drylands contain 1.11 billion hectares of forest land, which is 27 per cent of the global forest area, estimated at approximately 4 billion hectares.

• Two-thirds of the drylands forest area can be defined as being dense, meaning it has closed canopies (i.e. a canopy cover greater than 40 per cent).

• The second most common land use in drylands is grassland (31 per cent), followed by forest (18 per cent) and cropland (14 per cent). The category other lands constitutes 34 per cent of the global drylands area.

• The least-arid zones have the most forest. The proportion of forest land is 51 per cent in the dry subhumid zone, 41 per cent in the semiarid zone, 7 per cent in the arid zone and 0.5 per cent in the hyperarid zone. The average crown cover density is ten times higher in the dry subhumid zone than in the hyperarid zone.

• Trees outside forests are present on 1.9 billion hectares of drylands (31 per cent of the global drylands area), if all land with more than 0 per cent crown cover is included. Thirty per cent of croplands and grasslands have at least some crown cover, as do 60 per cent of lands classified as settlements.

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Forests: To Farm or Not to Farm? This Is the Question!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 14:31:09 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146138 Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 19 2016 (IPS)

The dilemma is critical: on the one hand, there is an absolute need to produce more food for the world’s steadily growing population; on the other, there is pressing urgency to halt -and further revert- the increasing trend to deplete the forests, which are as necessary for human survival as it is for ensuring their dietary needs.

So what is at stake ? Forests play a major role in sustainable agricultural development through a host of channels, including: water cycle, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, natural pest control, influencing local climates and providing habitat protection for pollinators and other species.

But agriculture accounts for the lion’s share of the conversion of forests. In the tropics and subtropics large-scale commercial agriculture and local subsistence agriculture are responsible for about 40 per cent and 33 per cent of forest conversion, respectively, and the remaining 27 per cent of deforestation happens due to urban growth, infrastructure expansion and mining.

How to achieve the two vital objectives? The top United Nations organisation dealing with food and agriculture speaks loud and clear while providing specific data.

“While agriculture remains the most significant driver of global deforestation, there is an urgent need to promote more positive interactions between agriculture and forestry to build sustainable agricultural systems and improve food security, says UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

This has been the key message of the FAO flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests, presented on July 18 at the opening of the one-week Session (Rome, 18-22 July) of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO).

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, recognises that we can no longer look at food security and the management of natural resources separately,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“Both agreements call for a coherent and integrated approach to sustainability across all agricultural sectors and food systems. Forests and forestry have key roles to play in this regard. The key message from SOFO is clear: it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food,” Graziano da Silva added.

But while agriculture plays a major role in the on-going conversion of forests, FAO’s report stresses that forests serve many vital ecological functions that benefit agriculture and boost food production.

“Food security can be achieved through agricultural intensification and other measures such as social protection, rather than through expansion of agricultural areas at the expense of forests,” says Eva Müller, Director of FAO’s Forestry Policy and Resources Division.

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

“What we need is better cross-sectoral coordination of policies on agriculture, forestry, food and land use, better land use planning, effective legal frameworks, and stronger involvement of local communities and smallholders.”

According to Müller “Governments should provide local communities not only with secure land tenure but also with secure forest tenure rights. A farmer knows best how to manage his or her own resources but often lacks legal instruments to do so.”

How to Improve Food Security While Halting Deforestation

The fact is that well-managed forests have tremendous potential to promote food security. Besides their vital ecological contributions, FAO reports, forests contribute to rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation through income generated by engaging in the production of forest goods and environmental services.

Not only – approximately 2.4 billion people rely on wood-fuel for cooking and water sterilisation. And forest foods provide protein, minerals and vitamins to rural diets and can also serve as safety nets in periods of food scarcity.

According to The State of the World’s Forests report, since 1990, over 20 countries succeeded in improving national levels of food security while at the same time maintaining or increasing forest cover – demonstrating that it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food.

Twelve of these countries increased forest cover by over 10 per cent: Algeria, Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Viet Nam.

“Their successes all relied on a similar set of tools: effective legal frameworks, secure land tenure, measures to regulate land-use change, policy incentives for sustainable agriculture and forestry, adequate funding, and clear definition of roles and responsibilities of governments and local communities.”

Successful Case Studies

The report cites case studies from seven countries –Chile, Costa Rica, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Tunisia and Viet Nam– that illustrate the opportunities for improving food security while increasing or maintaining forest cover.

Six of these countries achieved positive change in the period 1990-2015 in two food-security indicators – the prevalence of undernourishment and the number of undernourished people – as well as increases in forest area.

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

The report explains as follows the case of some of these countries:

The Gambia, the only low-income country among the seven, succeeded in achieving the first goal of halving the proportion of hungry people within the same period.

Viet Nam, for example, has implemented a successful land reform to provide secure land tenure as a way of encouraging long-term investment.

This process was accompanied by a shift from state forestry to multi-stakeholder forestry with the active participation of local communities including a forest land allocation programme and forest protection contracts with local households.

The land reform was also coupled with policy instruments to increase agricultural productivity, including land tax exemptions, soft loans, export promotion, price guarantees, support for mechanisation and reductions in post-harvest losses.

In Costa Rica, deforestation reached its peak in the 1980s, mainly due to the conversion of forest cover to pastures.

The country has since reversed this trend largely due to the forest law, which now prohibits changes in land use from natural forest, and its system of Payments for Environmental Services, which provides farmers with incentives to plant trees, and supports forest conservation.

As a result, forest cover has increased to nearly 54 per cent of the country’s land area in 2015.

In Tunisia national development plans recognise the beneficial role of forests in protecting land against erosion and desertification.

There, agricultural production has increased through intensification that makes better use of existing agricultural land through irrigation, fertilisers, mechanisation, improved seeds and better farming practice. Incentives for establishing forest plantations in the country include free seedlings and compensation for the loss of agricultural income.

The key themes of the FAO Committee on Forestry session seek to respond directly to the milestone agreements of 2015 and investigate how forests and sustainable forest management can contribute to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals.

Together with the World Forest Week, the committee considers how the full potential of forests, including forests’ contributions to livelihoods, food security, jobs, gender equality and many other global development goals including the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreements, can best be unlocked.

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‘Monster’ El Niño Subsides, La Niña Hitting Soonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/monster-el-nino-subsides-la-nina-hitting-soon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=monster-el-nino-subsides-la-nina-hitting-soon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/monster-el-nino-subsides-la-nina-hitting-soon/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 07:25:54 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146095 West Hararghe region, Ethiopia, December 2015. Some 10.2 million people are food insecure amidst one of the worst droughts to hit Ethiopia in decades. Photo credit: WFP/Stephanie Savariaud

West Hararghe region, Ethiopia, December 2015. Some 10.2 million people are food insecure amidst one of the worst droughts to hit Ethiopia in decades. Photo credit: WFP/Stephanie Savariaud

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 18 2016 (IPS)

As if human-made armed conflicts, wickedness, rights abuse, gender violence, cruel inequality and climate catastrophes were not enough, now the saying “God Always Forgives, Men Sometimes, Nature Never” appear to be more true than ever. See what happens.

Now that the 2015-2016 El Niño –one of the strongest on record– has subsided, La Niña – El Niño’s ‘counterpart’– could strike soon, further exacerbating a severe humanitarian crisis that is affecting millions of people in the most vulnerable communities in tens of countries worldwide, especially in Africa and Asia Pacific.

El Niño is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years. It raises sea surface temperatures and impacts weather systems around the globe so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.

La Niña is the opposite weather phenomena—it lowers sea surface temperature producing a counter impact and anyway bringing more catastrophes with heavy rains in areas affected by El Niño draughts and more of these in flooded regions.

Devastation

While El Niño has devastated harvests, livestock and thus livelihoods, its huge impact on children is worsening, “as hunger, malnutrition and disease continue to increase following the severe droughts and floods spawned by the event,” a new report from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has just revealed.

Making matters worse, there is a strong chance La Niña could strike at some stage this year, UNICEF’s report “It’s not over – El Niño’s impact on children” alerts.

Drought associated with the El Niño phenomenon has severely affected Arsi, Ethiopia. Photo credit: OCHA/Charlotte Cans

Drought associated with the El Niño phenomenon has severely affected Arsi, Ethiopia. Photo credit: OCHA/Charlotte Cans

El Niño, and its counterpart La Niña, occur cyclically, in recent years, mainly due to the effects of global climate change, extreme weather events associated with these phenomena –such as droughts and floods– have increased in frequency and severity.

“Millions of children and their communities need support in order to survive. They need help to prepare for the eventuality La Niña will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And they need help to step up disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, which is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Afshan Khan.

Millions of Children in Dire Need

Indeed, the UN Children Fund reports that children in the worst affected areas are going hungry. In Eastern and Southern Africa –the worst hit regions– some 26.5 million children need support, including more than one million who need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. “

The same children who are affected by El Niño and threatened by La Niña, find themselves on the front-lines of climate change,” added Khan.

Children in the worst affected areas are going hungry now, UNICEF report says, and warns that their futures are at risk, as extreme weather has disrupted schooling, increased disease and malnutrition, and robbed families of their livelihoods. In drought-affected areas, some children are staying away from class to fetch water over long distances, or have moved away with their families following loss of crops or livestock.

Moreover, being out of school often increases a child’s risk of abuse, exploitation and, in some areas, child marriage, UNICEF adds, while warning that malnutrition among children under five has increased alarmingly in many of the affected areas, as families who were already living hand-to-mouth.

In many countries, El Niño affects access to safe water, and has been linked to increases in diseases such as dengue fever, diarrhoea and cholera, which are “major killers of children.” Drought can also force adolescent girls and women to engage in transactional sex to survive. And mortality for children living with HIV is two to six times higher for those who are severely malnourished than for those who are not, UNICEF reports.

Global Development at Risk

UNICEF is not the sole UN agency to warn against the devastating effects of El Niño and the huge threats from La Niña.

Farmers in Ethiopia. The Horn of Africa is one of the areas hardest hit by El Niño. Photo credit: FAO/Tamiru Legesse

Farmers in Ethiopia. The Horn of Africa is one of the areas hardest hit by El Niño. Photo credit: FAO/Tamiru Legesse

In fact, failure to prepare for and adapt to the ‘new normal’ of increasing climate-linked emergencies such as El Niño could put global development targets at risk and deepen widespread human suffering in areas already hard hit by floods and droughts, top United Nations officials alerted.

The heads of the three Rome-based UN agencies, FAO, IFAD and WFP, along with the UN Special Envoy on El Niño & Climate, warned in a recent meeting that more than 60 million people worldwide, about 40 million in East and Southern Africa alone, are projected to be food insecure due to the impact of the El Niño climate event.

To coordinate responses to these challenges UN agencies and partners on July 6 met at the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The joint meeting included the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva warned that the impact of El Niño on agricultural livelihoods has been enormous and with La Niña on the doorsteps the situation could worsen.

“El Niño has caused primarily a food and agricultural crisis,” he said, announcing that FAO will therefore mobilise additional new funding to “enable it to focus on anticipatory early action in particular, for agriculture, food and nutrition, to mitigate the impacts of anticipated events and to strengthen emergency response capabilities through targeted preparedness investments.”

Meanwhile, OXFAM international–a confederation of non-governmental organisations, reported that about 60 million people across Southern Africa and the Horn of Africa, Central America, and the Pacific now face worsening hunger and poverty due to droughts and crop failures in 2014/5 that have been exacerbated by the El Niño weather system in 2015/6.

“This number is likely to rise,” warns this international confederation of NGOs working together for “a just world without poverty, where people are valued and treated equally, enjoy their rights as full citizens, and can influence decisions affecting their lives.”

OXFAM has recently issued a short report giving a voice to some of the people that it is working with in Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, El Salvador and Papua New Guinea. “They’ve told us that they have lived through bad times before, but that this drought is much worse than previous ones,” says the report, which is authored Debbie Hillier.

These are some of the most impacting excerpts of OXFAM’s report, titled ”What Will Become of Us:Voices from around the world on drought and El Nino.”

“… People go to bed with empty stomachs; toil in their fields or go to school with the gnawing pain of hunger; they walk or cycle for miles to try to find food. Many people have reduced the number of meals they eat per day to two or even one.

… Hunger hurts. For parents, the struggle to put food on the table has been acutely painful; children cry for food, babies nurse on empty breasts.

… Many people have nothing left. Farmers and herders have worked hard, but now they watch their crops fail and their animals die.

… Despite their best efforts, many communities and governments are being overwhelmed.

People cope by draining their savings and stocks, selling assets, borrowing money, and migrating to find work.

… When these are exhausted, coping strategies become more damaging and women and girls often bear the brunt: dropping out of school, entering early and forced marriages, facing an increased risk of violence during longer trips to collect wood, food or water, and transactional sex.”

In its GROW blog channel, OXFAM has also published a short report on El Niño and Climate Change:All You Need to Know, showing the relation between the two weather events.

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Clueless in Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/clueless-in-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clueless-in-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/clueless-in-iraq/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 14:31:40 +0000 Owen Bennet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146058 By Owen Bennett-Jones
Jul 14 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

For many Americans and Brits the 2003 Iraq war is seen as not only a disaster for Iraq and its neighbours but also as a defeat of the US and UK forces. The recently published Chilcot inquiry lends its considerable weight to this view. It went so far as to describe the circumstances in which the British pulled out of Basra, after negotiating a deal with a local militia there, as “humiliating”.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

But there is another way of looking at what happened in Iraq. The war not only exposed Western weakness but also led to sectarian violence in the Middle East which, despite all the loss of Shia life, has empowered the Shias in the region. Iran is in a much stronger position in 2016 than it was at the start of 2003.

Top Secret Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) documents declassified by Chilcot show just how little idea the British had that this would be the outcome. As is now well established, the British intelligence community’s first and most important error was to state that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In September 2002, Britain’s intelligence agencies were telling Tony Blair: “Iraq has a chemical and biological capability”, before going on to predict: “Saddam would seek to use chemical and biological munitions against any internal uprising; intelligence indicates that he is prepared to deliberately target the Shia population.”

But that was just one mistake. There were others. In February 2003, just weeks before the invasion, the JIC stated that Iran was not likely to project its power into Iraq. “Iranian-inspired terrorist attacks on coalition forces are unlikely, unless the Iranians thought the US had decided to attack them after an Iraq campaign.” The JIC seemed so sure of Western military superiority that it believed Iran’s main concern would be to avoid anything that could be seen as provoking Washington.

Documents show how UK remained unprepared for Shia resistance.

A month after the invasion UK intelligence officers had had the chance to obtain better information from Iraqi Shias about Iran’s plans to protect itself by drawing the US into a prolonged conflict. “Of greatest concern are state-backed and terrorist groups. […] Iran […] would prefer that the coalition got bogged down inside Iraq….” Nevertheless, in the same document the JIC doggedly stuck by its pre-war view: “However, as we judged in [JIC assessment of Sept 17, 2002], Iran has limited leverage or influence in Iraq, even among the Shia.”

Six months later, the JIC was reporting that far from remaining quiescent “some elements” of the Iranian regime were supporting some Sunni groups including Al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq as well as Shia militia. “Iran and Lebanese [Hezbollah] are probably inciting violent anti-coalition protests and other disruptive activity. Any coalition attempt to disarm Shia militia groups, such as the Badr Corps (SCIRI’s armed wing) and militant cleric Muqtadah al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, could be a significant additional cause of friction,” the JIC said.

By the end of the same month it acknowledged that: “Any coalition attempt to disarm the Shia militia groups could be a flashpoint for trouble.”

Given these sobering assessments it is somewhat baffling to find that when, in April 2004, concerted Shia resistance did eventually come, the British were not ready for it: “The scale and extent of attacks mounted by the Mahdi Army and associated Shia militants have come as a surprise,” the JIC said.

The JIC assessments over the following years recorded the UK intelligence community’s increasing realisation that Iran, having seen off the threat of a US attack by drawing them into prolonged conflict in Iraq, was now training and arming Shia militias to attack coalition forces with a view to forcing the foreign forces out.

In November 2006, the JIC said: “We judge that Iran wants to speed MNF [multinational forces] withdrawal from the South and to make life as difficult for Coalition forces as long as they remain.”

In one of the last JIC assessments published by Chilcot from October 2007 came the view: “We judge that the Iranians want an Iraq led by a Shia-dominated government, susceptible to their influence which will never again pose a threat to them.” In other words, having seen off the US threat, Iran has shifted focus to shoring up its regional position as well.

The declassified top secret intelligence assessments released by the Chilcot inquiry are a great illustration of the law of unintended consequences. And while hindsight gives today’s observers an unfair advantage — and even though Iranian intentions developed over the course of the war — Tehran’s behaviour was consistently rational and designed to further its national interest.

The assessments made by British intelligence before the war— and even after it started — failed to predict that Iranian conduct. Britain may once have had an extraordinary knowledge of how the world works. It seems to have lost the knack.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Saudi Scapegoatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/saudi-scapegoats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudi-scapegoats http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/saudi-scapegoats/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 16:07:16 +0000 Rafia Zakaria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146034 By Rafia Zakaria
Jul 13 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The eleventh day of September 2001 seems a distant memory now. On that day, 19 hijackers unleashed mayhem in the skies over the United States of America. Fifteen of these 19 hijackers, it would later be discovered, were Saudi citizens. Yet the war that ensued, that cast its bloody fingers deep into the Middle East and South Asia, would not be a war against Saudis. It was instead against Afghans, Iraqis and, at least via remote control, Pakistanis.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Much of the world, at least those portions of the world that matter, that are listened to, that construct the narratives of conflict, did not seem to balk at this fact or its incongruity to the politics of blame and expiation that have dominated the world since the 9/11 attacks. Saudi Arabia remained best friends with the US, its oil industry lubricating the latter’s economy.

Last week, the scourge of terror that has seeped into every pore of the rest of the Muslim world made Saudi Arabia its target. Near the end of Ramazan, three bombings occurred in the Saudi cities of Jeddah, Qatif and Madina. Four security guards were killed and four others wounded in the Madina attack, which took place ominously close to the mosque of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), one of Islam’s most sacred sites. The bombing in Qatif targeted a Shia mosque and the one in Jeddah took place near the US consulate.

In both the Qatif and Jeddah attack, the bombers were not able to execute the attack and succeeded in killing only themselves. The three bombings in three different parts of Saudi Arabia all took place within 24 hours. While there were no immediate claims of responsibility (as with attacks in Dhaka and Istanbul) the modus operandi of the attack aligned with the usual tactics of the militant Islamic State group.

Pakistanis are weak, their lives are cheap and they can provide at best a feeble response to the aspersions Saudi Arabia casts on them.

In the days since the attack Saudi authorities have been busy rounding up suspects. According to a report published by Al Jazeera, 19 people had been arrested by July 9. Of these 19, 12 are Pakistani and the remainder are Saudi citizens. In addition, Saudi authorities claim that the Jeddah bomber was also a Pakistani named Abdullah Gulzar Khan, who had been working in the kingdom for the past 12 years. The suspect was reported to have worn a suicide belt before he blew himself up.

The inordinate scrutiny placed on Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia is likely to become an even larger problem. Even when criminal charges are not terrorism-based, the Saudi legal system is opaque, providing few explanations of charges or records of proceedings. Owing in part to their inferior status in the kingdom and the intractability of its legal system in general, over 2,000 Pakistanis already languish in Saudi jails with 10 or more executed every year. The 12 arrested last week will simply join their ranks, the truth of the allegations against them never properly explained, the details of trials and prosecutions never communicated to the consulates of a poor country like Pakistan.

There are good reasons for the Saudi effort to pin the blame on Pakistanis. For instance, it permits Saudi Arabia to deflect the truth that in past years its propagation of an orthodox version of Islam via countless religious schools around the world has contributed to the creation of the jihadi mindset, whose pupils increasingly if not always provide cannon fodder for suicide bombers who have struck targets across the world.

According to an article published last year in World Affairs Journal, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, (either officially or via private donors) has funded madressahs and religious centres that have then been used for recruitment by extremist groups. The article quotes US Vice President Joe Biden as estimating the Saudi contribution to jihadi groups as being at “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons”. Increasingly defensive about its own contribution to the very threat that is now at its doorstep, Saudi royals like King Salman have tried to deflect blame by saying that they cannot be held responsible if the money they gave for good causes is appropriated into the cause of extremism and ‘jihad’.

Blaming Pakistanis is probably another portion of this strategy of deflecting blame; of responding to the premise that the seeds they planted have grown into an invasive species that wants to throttle the gardener itself. Pakistanis are weak, their lives are cheap and they can provide at best a feeble response to the aspersions Saudi Arabia casts on them.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is investing in national unity, painting the foreign worker as a potential terrorist serves to justify the already despicable treatment allotted to them. Predictably, all other Muslim countries and even Pakistanis themselves quietly and submissively accept this role; those who speak out loud and clear about European and American excesses heaped on immigrant Muslims maintain pin-drop silence when it comes to Saudi mistreatment. The self-appointed guardians of Islam’s holy sites, it is assumed, must be holy and beyond reproach.

For Pakistanis, it is ironic that Saudi Arabia leads the ‘Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism’. Unlike even Western countries, whose excesses against alleged terror suspects, whose unauthorised bombings of this or that country have received attention and criticism in the global public sphere, Saudi Arabia retains its air of sanctity.

Given this, whether it is air strikes that kill civilians in Yemen, or the easy implication of Pakistani foreign workers as terrorists, there appears to be no one who can chide the kingdom or check its power. Pakistanis, reviled yesterday as foreign and poor or deficiently Muslim, can now be made scapegoats in the Saudi war on terror, accused and indicted, not necessarily for their guilt but simply because it is so very easy to blame them, punish them, persecute them.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy. rafia.zakaria@gmail.com
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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The Delusion ‘I Am Not Responsible’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-delusion-i-am-not-responsible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-delusion-i-am-not-responsible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-delusion-i-am-not-responsible/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 11:48:32 +0000 Robert Burrowes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146028 The author has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘]]> A scared child shows fear in an uncertain environment. Credit: D Sharon Pruitt. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons

A scared child shows fear in an uncertain environment. Credit: D Sharon Pruitt. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons

By Robert J. Burrowes
DAYLESFORD, Australia, Jul 13 2016 (IPS)

- One of the many interesting details to be learned by understanding human psychology is how a person’s unconscious fear works in a myriad of ways to make them believe that they bear no responsibility for a particular problem.

This psychological dysfunctionality cripples a substantial portion of the human population in ways that work against the possibility of achieving worthwhile outcomes for themselves, other individuals, communities and the world as a whole.

In an era when human extinction is now a likely near-term outcome of this dysfunctionality, it is obviously particularly problematic. So why does this happen and how does it manifest?

In essence, if a person is frightened by the circumstances of others or a particular set of events, their fear will often unconsciously delude them into believing and behaving as if they bear no responsibility for playing a part in addressing the problem.

Robert J. Burrowes

Robert J. Burrowes

This fear works particularly easily when the person or people concerned live at considerable social and/or geographic distance or when the events occur in another place.

But it can also work with someone who is socially or geographically close, or with an event that occurs nearby. Let me illustrate this common behaviour with several examples which might stimulate your awareness of having witnessed it too.

I first became seriously interested in this phenomenon after hearing someone, who had just returned from India, describe the many street beggars in India as ‘living a subsistence lifestyle’.

As I listened to this individual, I could immediately perceive that they were very frightened by their experience but in a way that made them not want to help.

Given that this individual has considerable wealth, it was immediately apparent to me that the individual was attempting to conceal from themselves their unconscious guilt (about their own wealth and how this was acquired) but I could perceive an element of anger in their response as well.

This anger was obviously shaping the way in which street beggars were perceived so that there was no apparent need to do anything. So what was the unconscious anger about? Most probably about not getting help themselves when they needed it as a child.

A widespread version of this particular fear and the delusion that arises from it, is the belief that it is the direct outcome of the decisions of others that make them responsible for the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Obviously, this belief is widespread among those who refuse to take structural violence, such as the exploitative way in which the global economy functions, into account. If the victim can be blamed for their circumstances then ‘I am not responsible’ in any way.

Men who like to blame women who have been sexually assaulted for their ‘provocative dress’ are also exhibiting this fear and its attendant delusional behaviour.

But perhaps the most obvious manifestation of evading responsibility occurs when instead of doing what they can to assist someone in need, a person laments ‘not being able’ to do something more significant.

And by doing this, their fear enables them to conceal that they might, in fact, have done something that would have helped.

This often happens, for example, when someone is too scared to offer help because it might require the agreement of someone else (such as a spouse) who (unconsciously) frightens them. But there are other reasons why their fear might generate this behaviour as well.

Another common way of evading taking responsibility (while, in this case, deluding yourself that you are not) is to offer someone who needs help something that they do not need and then, when they refuse it, to interpret this as ‘confirmation’ that they do not need your help.

A variation of this behaviour is to dispose of something that you do not want and to delude yourself that you are, in fact, ‘helping’.

I first became fully aware of this version of evading responsibility (and assuaging guilt) when I was working in a refugee camp in the Sudan at the height of the Ethiopian war and famine in 1985.

Companies all over the world were ‘giving’ away unwanted stock of unsaleable goods (presumably for a tax benefit) to aid agencies who were then trying to find ways to use it.

And not always successfully. I will never forget seeing the Wad Kowli Refugee Camp for the first time with its wonderfully useless lightweight and colourful overnight bushwalking tents instead of the large, heavy duty canvas tents normally used in such difficult circumstances. Better than nothing you might say. For a week, perhaps, but only barely in 55 degrees Celsius.

Another popular way of evading responsibility is to delude yourself about the precise circumstances in which someone finds themselves.

For example, if your fear makes you focus your attention on an irrelevant detail, such as the pleasantness of your memory of a town as a tourist destination, rather than the fact that someone who lives there is homeless, then it is easy to delude yourself that their life must be okay and to behave in accordance with your delusion rather than the reality of the other person’s life.

One way that some people evade responsibility is to delude themselves that a person who needs help is ‘not contributing’ while also deluding themselves about the importance of their own efforts.

This is just one of many delusions that wealthy people often have to self-justify their wealth while many people who work extremely hard are paid a pittance (or nothing) for their time, expertise and labour.

Variations of another delusion include ‘I can only give what I have got’ and ‘I can’t afford it’ (but you might know of others), which exposes the fear that makes a person believe that they have very little irrespective of their (sometimes considerable) material wealth.

This fear/delusion combination arises because, in the emotional sense, the person probably does have ‘very little’.

If a person is denied their emotional needs as a child, they will often learn to regard material possessions as the only measure of value in the quality of their life.

And because material possessions can never replace an emotional need, no amount of material wealth can ever feel as if it is ‘enough’. For a fuller explanation of this point, see ‘Love Denied: The Psychology of Materialism, Violence and War‘.

If someone is too scared to accept any responsibility for helping despite the sometimes obvious distress of a person in need, they might even ask for reassurance, for example by asking ‘Are you okay?’

But the question is meaningless and asked in such a way that the person in need might even know that no help will be forthcoming. They might even offer the reassurance sought despite having to lie to do so.

A common way in which some people, particularly academics, evade responsibility is to offer an explanation and/or theory about a social problem but then take no action to change things themselves.

Another widespread way of evading responsibility, especially among what I call ‘the love and light brigade’, is to focus attention on ‘positives’ (the ‘good’ news) rather than truthfully presenting information about the state of our world and then inviting powerful responses to that truth.

Deluding ourselves that we can avoid dealing with reality, much of which happens to be extremely unpleasant and ugly, is a frightened and powerless way of approaching the world. But it is very common.

Many people evade responsibility, of course, simply by believing and acting as if someone else, perhaps even ‘the government’, is ‘properly’ responsible.

Undoubtedly, however, the most widespread ways of evading responsibility are to deny any responsibility for military violence while paying the taxes to finance it, denying any responsibility for adverse environmental and climate impacts while making no effort to reduce consumption, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of other people while buying the cheap products produced by their exploited (and sometimes slave) labour, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of animals despite eating and/or otherwise consuming a range of animal products, and denying any part in inflicting violence, especially on children, without understanding the many forms this violence can take.

See ‘Why Violence?‘ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.

Ultimately, of course, we evade responsibility by ignoring the existence of a problem.

Despite everything presented above, it should not be interpreted to mean that we should all take responsibility for everything that is wrong with the world. There is, obviously, a great deal wrong and the most committed person cannot do something about all of it.

However, we can make powerful choices, based on an assessment of the range of problems that interest us, to intervene in ways large or small to make a difference. This is vastly better than fearfully deluding ourselves and/or making token gestures.

Moreover, powerful choices are vital in this world. We face a vast array of violent challenges, some of which threaten near-term human extinction.

In this context, it is unwise to leave responsibility for getting us out of this mess to others, and particularly those insane elites whose political agents (who many still naively believe that we ‘elect’) so demonstrably fail to meaningfully address any of our major social, political, economic and environmental problems.

If you are interested in gaining greater insight into violent and dysfunctional human behaviour, and what you can do about it, you might like to read ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’ mentioned above.

And if you are inclined to declare your own willingness to accept some responsibility for addressing these violent and dysfunctional behaviours, you might like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ and to join those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘.

You might have had a good laugh at some of the examples above. The real challenge is to ask yourself this question: where do I evade responsibility? And to then ponder how you will take responsibility in future.

Roberto J. Burrowes website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com and his email address is flametree@riseup.net

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

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The Chilcot Inquiry must tell the truthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-chilcot-inquiry-must-tell-the-truth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-chilcot-inquiry-must-tell-the-truth http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-chilcot-inquiry-must-tell-the-truth/#comments Mon, 04 Jul 2016 14:18:38 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145918 By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Jul 4 2016 (IPS)

The long awaited Chilcot Report (5 years) on the Invasion of Iraq will finally be released on 6th July, 2016.

The Report is to be welcomed and the hope has been expressed that this inquiry will tell the truth of what happened to the Iraqi people and clarify the UKs involvement, through an official Government recognition of facts of the wars, sanctions and invasion of Iraq and for transparency, accountability and reparation to be paid to the Iraqi people by the UK Government who participated in these illegal and immoral genocidal wars.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

The story of what was done to the Iraqi people by UK and Western allies is shocking and deeply disturbing.

The two wars against Iraq, the imposition of economic sanctions, causing the slow deaths of thousands of people, were indeed crimes against humanity, war crimes, breaking all international obligations and conducted with no respect for human life or the Iraqi people’s rights.

The UK/US acted unilaterally ignoring the principal of multilateralism and irrespective of the enormous opposition to war against Iraq, articulated by millions of people around the world.

The invasion was carried out by US/UK NATO forces on the basis of a ‘lie’ that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to the US.

The US/UK governments were for regime change and about Iraqi oil; the methods used were genocidal sanctions, wars and invasion/occupation of Iraq. The ‘shock and awe’ bombings of unarmed civilians by US/UK/Allied forces was not about bringing democracy and human rights to Iraq, it was about regime change, oil, imperial power, arms sales and total destruction of the infrastructure. It was to force the country into total submission by starving Iraq’s women and children.

And it was about arrogance and superiority of the UK, US and allies as they set aside international law and institutions of world order by their hegemony in a new era of dedication to the ‘war on terror’.

Anti-war,peace campaigners, and people marched in their millions around the world to say ‘No to war’.

Today, millions of world citizens whose pleas for peace and dialogue were totally swept aside by governments continue to say that US/UK Governments and allies were wrong, and on their behalf also say ‘We are sorry’ and ‘Please forgive us’ for the war crimes committed against the Iraqi people.

The truth of the injustice perpetrated by the UK invasion of Iraq, about the mass murder of innocent Iraqi children through sanctions, their families, homes, food chain destroyed, bombs dropped with depleted uranium, white phosphorus dropped on civilians and land, destruction of infrastructure, torture, invasion, occupations, renditions, extra judicial murders, theft of oil and resources, needs to be told in the hope that justice will be done and reparation for such injustice be forthcoming.

I personally witnessed the horrors of war and sanctions when I visited Iraq in 1999 after the first Gulf War and during the period of economic sanctions imposed by the West. Our peace delegation visited hospitals where children lay slowly dying in agony with no pain medication, and from malnutrition and preventable diseases.

Doctors pleaded with us to help lift the sanctions to save their people. Over one million Iraqi children under the age of five died as a result of economic sanctions.

During meetings with Iraqi government officials we were repeatedly told that they wanted to enter into dialogue with the governments of UK/US and their diplomats to save Iraq from invasion but instead of dialogue only a Western imperial war agenda was being pursued for power and control.

UN officials told us that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and Iraq was not a military threat to anyone outside of Iraq.

The tragedy of Iraq is that if there was political will, the UK/USA governments could have solved the problem through dialogue and diplomacy and so many millions of Iraqi lives as well as the lives of UK and US soldiers could have been saved. There was (as there always is) an alternative to violence and war and Iraq was yet another war that did not have been fought).

I personally would like to see the report contain an admission of war crimes and an apology to the people of Iraq so that the grounds can be set for healing, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation in a country that is now being tragically torn apart by violence, sectarianism and war.

Iraq can be assisted on the long road to peace by the UK Government if it decides to come up with the truth and apologize by saying ‘We are sorry’, ‘Please forgive us’. The UK should contribute wherever possible to the building of peace and reconciliation in Iraq.

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
20th June, 2016 www.peacepeople.com

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

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Suspend Saudi Arabia from Human Rights Council, Human Rights Groups Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/suspend-saudi-arabia-from-human-rights-council-human-rights-groups-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=suspend-saudi-arabia-from-human-rights-council-human-rights-groups-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/suspend-saudi-arabia-from-human-rights-council-human-rights-groups-say/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 21:56:17 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145882 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch brief the press. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch brief the press. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2016 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia’s membership in the Human Rights Council (HRC) should be suspended by members of the UN General Assembly, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) said on Wednesday.

The two human rights groups have joined forces to make the exceptional call for action, noting that it is based on Saudi Arabia’s “gross and systematic violations of human rights” in Yemen and domestically.

“We believe that…Saudi Arabia does not deserve to sit anymore on the Human Rights Council,” HRW’s Deputy Director for Global Advocacy Philippe Bolopion said to press here Wednesday.

HRW and AI allege that they have documented 69 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which have killed at least 913 civilians including 200 children.

In total, the UN Human Rights Office estimates that there are more than 9,000 causalities since military operations began in Yemen in March 2015. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian causalities as all other forces put together.

In a recent report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of recorded child deaths and injuries, and nearly half of the 101 attacks on schools and hospitals.

However, the Secretary-General removed Saudi Arabia from a list of countries that have committed violations against children in that same report earlier this month, after the Gulf state reportedly threatened to withdraw funding from critical UN programs. HRW and AI called the list of countries the “list of shame.”

“I had to make a decision just to have all UN operations, particularly humanitarian operations, continue,” the Secretary-General said upon receiving criticism of the move.

“I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many UN programs,” he continued.

In response, the Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi denied the use of threats and intimidation to remove the country from the list.

“It’s important to defend this very important mandate to protect children affected by armed conflict. Member states of the General Assembly ought to stand up and defend this mandate,” Bennett told the press.

In addition to the UN’s reporting, HRW and AI have also documented 19 attacks by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen involving internationally banned cluster munitions, many of which were in civilian areas such as Sana’a University.

Alongside the nine nation-strong coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Executive Director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division Sarah Leah Whitson also noted that the United States and the United Kingdom have “crossed the threshold to become a part of this war” by being principle suppliers of weapons including cluster munitions. In 2015, Saudi Arabia purchased $20 billion of weapons from the U.S. and $4 billion from the UK.

The two Western nations have also provided intelligence support and targeting assistance during the conflict.

This makes them legally responsible for crimes being committed on the ground, Whitson stated.

Meanwhile, the coalition’s naval blockade of Yemen’s ports have drastically limited the supply of food and medicine, leaving over 80 percent of the population in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. This barrier and starvation of civilians is “a method of warfare and a war crime,” Whitson said.

“Failure to act on Saudi Arabia’s gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Yemen and its use of its membership to obstruct independent scrutiny and accountability threatens the credibility of both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly,” -- Richard Bennett

Saudi and U.S. officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but members of the coalition have repeatedly denied any violations of human rights.

Domestically, Saudi Arabia’s country’s crackdown on dissent has also persisted. In 2015, at least six people, including prominent writers and activists, were punished for the expression of their opinions. One was sentenced to death.

Even speaking to human rights groups such as HRW and AI is an offense, said Director of AI’s Asia-Pacific Program Richard Bennett.

Executions have also surged, Bennett noted.

Just in 2016, at least 95 people have been executed, higher than at the same point last year. Approximately 47 of them were killed in a mass execution in January. Many of these executions are for offenses which, under international law, must not be punishable by death.

Despite the well-documented violations in international humanitarian and human rights law, Saudi Arabia has used its membership in the HRC to shield itself from scrutiny and accountability, the two groups said.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia thwarted a resolution in the HRC that requested an investigation on alleged war crimes and other violations by all sides to the Yemeni conflict. Instead, the country drafted its own resolution that did not include a reference to an independent UN inquiry.

HRW and AI have also called on member states of the General Assembly (UNGA) to act in accordance to Resolution 60/251. The resolution states that the UNGA, with two-thirds of the vote, can suspend the rights of membership in the Council if a member commits human rights violations.

The rule has previously been invoked in 2011 when Libya’s membership was suspended due to human rights violations.

“We realize that the odds are against us,” Bolopion stated when asked about the likelihood of Saudi Arabia being suspended.

But Bolopion hopes the campaign will be a “wake-up call” for other countries to see that they cannot get away with conducting human rights abuses and to clean up their act.

HRW and AI also stressed that action is essential in order to maintain the UN’s integrity.

“Failure to act on Saudi Arabia’s gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Yemen and its use of its membership to obstruct independent scrutiny and accountability threatens the credibility of both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly,” Bennett concluded.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia, along with nine Arab states including Egypt and Kuwait, intervened in the Yemeni conflict and has since clashed with Houthi forces.

Despite UN-mediated peace talks which produced a ceasefire, there have been “serious violations” by both parties, the Secretary General said to Yemeni negotiators.

The negotiations are set to resume in mid-July following the Muslim Eid holiday.

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Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Sweden Among New Members of UN Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/ethiopia-kazakhstan-sweden-among-new-members-of-un-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-kazakhstan-sweden-among-new-members-of-un-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/ethiopia-kazakhstan-sweden-among-new-members-of-un-security-council/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 01:27:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145864 Italy and the Netherlands have taken the unusual step of splitting the term of a UN Security Council seat. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine.

Italy and the Netherlands have taken the unusual step of splitting the term of a UN Security Council seat. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2016 (IPS)

Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Sweden were elected on Tuesday to serve on the UN Security Council (UNSC) as non-permanent members, while Italy and Netherlands have split the remaining contested seat.

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) met to choose five new non-permanent members who will serve a two-year term starting January 2017 alongside the 15-member council.

As the UN’s most powerful body, the UNSC is responsible for international peace and security matters from imposing sanctions to brokering peace deals to overseeing the world’s 16 peacekeeping missions.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom expressed how “happy” and “proud” Sweden is to be joining the UN’s top decision-making body.

“We will do now what we promised to do,” she told press. Among its priorities, Sweden has pledged to focus on conflict prevention and resolution.

“With 40 conflict and 11 full-blown wars, it is a very very worrisome world that we have to take into account,” Wallstrom stated.

Despite its location in Northern Europe,  Sweden has not been untouched by recent conflicts, including the ongoing civil war in Syria. With a population of 9.5 million, the Scandinavian country took in over 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015. The government has since imposed tougher restrictions on asylum seekers including a decrease in permanent residence permits and limited family reunification authorisations.

Ethiopia has also highlighted its position in promoting regional and continental peace and security. The country is the largest contributor of UN peacekeepers and is actively involved in mediating conflicts in Africa, most recently in South Sudan. It has also long struggled with its own clashes, including a crackdown on political dissent.

The Sub-Saharan African country has also promised to work towards UNSC reforms.

During the 70th Session of the UNGA in September 2015, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn remarked that he was “proud” that Ethiopia is one of the UN’s founding members, but stressed the need to reform and establish a permanent seat for Africa in the council.

“Comprehensive reform of the United Nations system, particularly that of the Security Council, is indeed imperative to reflect current geo-political realities and to make the UN more broadly representative, legitimate and effective,” he told delegates.

“We seize this occasion to, once again, echo Africa’s call to be fully represented in all the decision-making organs of the UN, particularly in the Security Council,” Dessalegn continued.

Ethiopia has been a non-permanent member of the UNSC on two previous occasions, in 1967/1968 and 1989/1990.

It will also be the third time that Bolivia will have a non-permanent SC seat. Bolivia campaigned unopposed with the backing of Latin American and Caribbean countries.

“Bolivia is a country that has basic principles…one of those principles is, without a doubt, anti-imperialism,” the Bolivian delegation said following their election, adding that they will continue implementing these principles as a member of the UNSC.

Since the election of Evo Morales, its first indigenous leader, the South American country has largely focused on social reforms and indigenous rights. Most recently, Morales has been reportedly implicated in a political scandal that is threatening journalists and press freedom.

Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian country to be a member of the UNSC after beating Thailand for the seat.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov said that he was “very happy” and their selection was a “privilege.” He also reiterated the country’s priority focus on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan relinquished its nuclear weapons and has been actively advocating for non-proliferation around the world.

“We have a lot to offer to the world and we believe that it is time to attract attention to the need of development in our part of the world,” Idrissov stated.

However, Human Rights Watch has scrutinized the Central Asian nation’s human rights record, including restrictions on freedom of expression.

Netherlands and Italy were up for the last Western European seat on the UNSC, but after four rounds of voting, they were deadlocked with each country receiving 95 votes while needing 127 to win.

Following deliberations, Italian and Dutch foreign ministers announced that they would split the seat, with Italy in the UNSC in 2017 and the Netherlands in 2018.

Since May, the six countries have been campaigning for council seats by participating in the first-ever election debates in the UN’s 70-year history.

The debates were a part of a new effort to increase transparency in the institution.

The new non-permanent members will work alongside the five veto-wielding permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Following their controversial exit from the European Union, known as “Brexit”, the UK may face an uncertain future in the UNSC as the prospects of Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the UK loom.

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Making Sustainability Part of the Corporate DNAhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/making-sustainability-part-of-the-corporate-dna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-sustainability-part-of-the-corporate-dna http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/making-sustainability-part-of-the-corporate-dna/#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2016 17:26:44 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145814 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/making-sustainability-part-of-the-corporate-dna/feed/ 0 Worldwide Displacement At Levels Never Seen Beforehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/worldwide-displacement-at-levels-never-seen-before/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worldwide-displacement-at-levels-never-seen-before http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/worldwide-displacement-at-levels-never-seen-before/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 14:35:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145762 A family living in a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

A family living in a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2016 (IPS)

Displacement has increased to unprecedented levels due to war and persecution, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has found.

In a new report, entitled Global Trends which tracks forced displacement globally, UNHCR found that 65.3 million were displaced at the end of 2015, compared to 59 million just 12 months earlier. This is the first time in the organisation’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.

Globally, 1 in every 113 people is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. This represents a population greater than the United Kingdom and would be the 21st largest country in the world.

“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi during the launch of the report.

Though the Syrian conflict continues to generate a large proportion of refugees in the world and garners significant international attention, other reignited conflicts have been contributing to the unprecedented rise in displacement including Iraq.

Iraq currently has the third-largest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and alongside Yemen and Syria, the Middle Eastern nation accounts for more than half of all new internal displacements.

“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too.” -- Filippo Grandi.

By the end of 2015, there were 4.4 million Iraqi IDPs, compared to 3.6 million at the end of 2014. At least one million of these IDPs have been displaced since conflicts in the mid-2000s.

Displacement has increased even further following a government military offensive against the Islamic State in May with more than 85,000 Iraqis fleeing from the Iraqi city of Falluja and its surrounding areas. Approximately 60,000 of these fled over a period of just three days between 15 to 18 June.

Despite the figures, UNHCR continues to struggle to secure funding to meet the needs of Iraqis.

Halfway through the year, the agency has so far only received 21 percent of funds needed for Iraq and the surrounding region.

“Funds are desperately needed to expand the number of camps and to provide urgently needed relief supplies for displaced people who have already endured months of deprivation and hardship without enough food or medicine,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery.

Though six camps have already been built and the construction of three more are underway, UNHCR estimates that 20 additional camps will be needed in the coming weeks.

In the Debaga camp in northern Iraq, newly displaced civilians are staying in a severely overcrowded reception centre which is currently seven times above its capacity.

Along with the lack of shelter, insufficient hygiene facilities and clean drinking water is creating a “desperate situation,” Rummery said.

And displacement may only get worse, she added.

“It is estimated that more than a million people still live in Mosul and any large offensive against the city could result in the displacement of up to 600,000 more people,” Rummery stated.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Iraq is classified as a level-three emergency, which signifies the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crisis.

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Xenophobic Rhetoric, Now Socially and Politically ‘Acceptable’ ?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/xenophobic-rhetoric-now-socially-and-politically-acceptable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=xenophobic-rhetoric-now-socially-and-politically-acceptable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/xenophobic-rhetoric-now-socially-and-politically-acceptable/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 14:09:16 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145759 Families from Falluja, Iraq, continue to flee from the city as fighting continues. Credit: ©UNHCR/Anmar Qusay

Families from Falluja, Iraq, continue to flee from the city as fighting continues. Credit: ©UNHCR/Anmar Qusay

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 23 2016 (IPS)

“Xenophobic and racist rhetoric seems not only to be on the rise, but also to be becoming more socially and politically acceptable.”

The warning has been heralded by the authoritative voice of Mogens Lykketoft, current president of the United Nations General Assembly, who on World Refugee Day on June 20, reacted to the just announced new record number of people displaced from their homes due to conflict and persecution.

In fact, while last year their number exceeded 60 million for the first time in United Nations history, a tally greater than the population of the United Kingdom, or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined, the Global Trends 2015 report now notes that 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from 59.5 million a year earlier.

The tally comprises 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries, says the new report, which has been compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, 1 in every 113 people globally is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker or internally displaced, putting them at a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent, the report adds.

On average, 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier, when six people fled every 60 seconds. Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia produce half the world’s refugees, at 4.9 million, 2.7 million and 1.1 million, respectively.

And Colombia had the largest numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), at 6.9 million, followed by Syria’s 6.6 million and Iraq’s 4.4 million, according to the new Global Trends report.

UNHCR distribution of emergency relief items for displaced families from Fallujah who’ve arrived in camps from Ameriyat al-Falluja. Photo credit: UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

UNHCR distribution of emergency relief items for displaced families from Fallujah who’ve arrived in camps from Ameriyat al-Falluja. Photo credit: UNHCR/Caroline Gluck


Distressingly, children made up an astonishing 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015, with many separated from their parents or travelling alone, the UN reported.

Anti-Refugee Rhetoric Is So Loud…

On this, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon stressed that meanwhile, “divisive political rhetoric on asylum and migration issues, rising xenophobia, and restrictions on access to asylum have become increasingly visible in certain regions, and the spirit of shared responsibility has been replaced by a hate-filled narrative of intolerance.”

With anti-refugee rhetoric so loud, he said, it is sometimes difficult to hear the voices of welcome.

For his part, Mogens Lykketoft, UN General Assembly President, alerted that “violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are of grave concern… Xenophobic and racist rhetoric seems not only to be on the rise, but also to becoming more socially and politically acceptable…”

The UN General Assembly’s president warning against the rising wave of extremism and hatred, came just a week after a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’ strong statement before the 32 session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (13 June to 1 July 2016).

“Hate is becoming mainstreamed. Walls – which tormented previous generations, and have never yielded any sustainable solution to any problem – are returning. Barriers of suspicion are rising, snaking through and between our societies – and they are killers,” the High Commissioner on June 13 warned.

De-Radicalisation

Against this backdrop and the need to find ways how to halt and even prevent the growing waves of extremism of all kinds, the Geneva Centre on Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue on June 23 organised a panel themed Deradicalisation or the Roll-Back of Extremism.

IPS asked Algerian diplomat Idriss Jazairy, Board Member of the Geneva Centre, about the concept of this panel he moderated.

“Violent extremism, which sprang up in what might be perceived here as remoter parts of the world during the last part of the XXth century, has spread its dark shadow worldwide and is henceforth sparing no region… And with it, wanton deaths and desolation.”

He then explained that unregulated access to lethal weapons in some countries make matters worse. Violent extremism fuels indiscriminate xenophobic responses. “These in turn feed the recruitment propaganda of terrorist groups competing for world attention.”

According to the panel moderator, it seems at first sight that conflict is intensifying. “In fact what is happening is that it has changed its nature from more or less predictable classical inter-State or civil conflict to a generalisation of unpredictable ad hoc violence by terrorist groups randomising victims and outbidding one another in criminal horror.”

Thus casualties are not more numerous than was the case in the past, with some important exceptions such as Algeria during the Dark Decade of the ‘nineties, said Jazairy.

In Yemen, internally displaced children stand outside their family tent after the family fled their home in Saada province and found refuge in Darwin camp, in the northern province of Amran. Photo credit: UNHCR/Yahya Arhab

In Yemen, internally displaced children stand outside their family tent after the family fled their home in Saada province and found refuge in Darwin camp, in the northern province of Amran. Photo credit: UNHCR/Yahya Arhab


“Yet their impact is greater because attacks spread more fear among ordinary people and reporting on these crimes is echoed instantly across the world. The danger of polarisation of societies is thereby enhanced and peace is jeopardised.”

This meets the ultimate goal of terrorist violence, he added, while stressing that such violence has ceased to be simply a national or regional challenge. “It is now of worldwide concern. A concern that calls for immediate security responses with due respect for human rights of course.”

Jazairy explained that the panel has been intended to contribute to the maturing of such strategies and to rolling back violent extremism, xenophobic populism fuelled by it and that the latter in turn further exacerbates.

Understanding the Genesis of Violent Extremism

According to the panel moderator, understanding the genesis of violent extremism is not tantamount to excusing it despite what some politicians claim. It is a precondition to providing a smart and durable policy response, rather than a dumb crowd-pleasing short-term knee-jerk reaction, he added.

“True there is no single explanation to the emergence of violent extremism… Street crime in overpopulated cities may be its incubator.”

On this, Jazairy explained that in the South, high rates of youth unemployment and shortfalls in the respect of basic freedoms together with inadequate governance may be relevant considerations. In the North, he added, glass ceilings and marginalisation of minority groups and the desire of youths feeling powerless to develop an alternative identity and to become all-powerful, may also be at issue.

The former head of a UN agency then warned that understanding the genesis of violent extremism is not a philosophical debate as it ties in with the issue of how to “de-radicalise”.

In Belgium, he said, it has been claimed that condemnations in absentia of home grown terrorists that have joined Daesh (Islamic State) has pushed some to not return home with a group of others for fear of the penalty, thus radicalising them further.

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Fearing Violence, LGBT Refugees Rarely Seek Helphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 04:28:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145751 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/feed/ 0 Xenophobia: ‘Hate Is Mainstreamed, Walls Are Back, Suspicion Kills’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/xenophobia-hate-is-mainstreamed-walls-are-back-suspicion-kills/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=xenophobia-hate-is-mainstreamed-walls-are-back-suspicion-kills http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/xenophobia-hate-is-mainstreamed-walls-are-back-suspicion-kills/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 13:43:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145697 With fear etched on their faces, clearly still suffering from the trauma of a rough by boat across the Aegean, an Afghan family arrives in Lesvos, Greece (2015). Photo credit: UNHCR/Giles Duley

With fear etched on their faces, clearly still suffering from the trauma of a rough by boat across the Aegean, an Afghan family arrives in Lesvos, Greece (2015). Photo credit: UNHCR/Giles Duley

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

“Hate is becoming mainstreamed. Walls – which tormented previous generations, and have never yielded any sustainable solution to any problem – are returning. Barriers of suspicion are rising, snaking through and between our societies – and they are killers…”

Hardly a statement could have portrayed more accurately the current wave of hatred invading humankind, like the one made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“… Clampdowns on public freedoms, and crackdowns on civil society activists and human rights defenders, are hacking away at the forces, which uphold the healthy functioning of societies. Judicial institutions, which act as checks on executive power, are being dismantled. Towering inequalities are hollowing out the sense that there are common goods.” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned.

In his address to the 32 session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (13 June to 1 July 2016), the Human Rights Commissioner warned, “As the international community’s familiar customs and procedures are much in evidence… And yet the workable space in which we function as one community – resolving disputes, coming to consensus – is under attack.”

Zeid explained, “The common sets of laws, the institutions – and deeper still, the values“ which bind us together are buckling. And suffering most from this onslaught are our fellow human beings – your people – who bear the brunt of the resulting deprivation, misery, injustice, and bloodshed.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Pierre Albouy

He the recalled, “We are 7.4 billion human beings clinging to a small and fragile planet. And there is really only one way to ensure a good and sustainable future: ensure respect, resolve disputes, construct institutions that are sound and fair and share resources and opportunities equitably.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner referred to the millions of stranded refuges and migrants, saying that globally, many countries have distinguished themselves by their principled welcome to large numbers of desperate, often terrified and poverty-stricken migrants and refugees.

“But many other countries have not done so. And their failure to take in a fair share of the world’s most vulnerable is undermining the efforts of more responsible States. Across the board, we are seeing a strong trend that overturns international commitments, refuses basic humanity, and slams doors in the face of human beings in need.”

‘Europe Must Remove Hysteria and Panic’

The only sustainable way to resolve today’s movements of people will be to improve human rights in countries of origin, “ he said, while stressing that “Europe must find a way to address the current migration crisis consistently and in a manner that respects the rights of the people concerned – including in the context of the EU-Turkey agreement,” which was sealed on March 22, 2016.

“It is entirely possible to create well-functioning migration governance systems, even for large numbers of people, with fair and effective determination of individual protection needs. If European governments can remove hysteria and panic from the equation – and if all contribute to a solution…”

According to Zeid, in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, the life-forces of society – which are the freedom and hopes of the people – are crushed by repression, conflict or violent anarchy. “Torture, summary execution and arbitrary arrests are assaults on the people’s security, not measures to protect security. It is a mistake to imagine that attacking the people’s rights makes them any safer or more content.”

There are roughly as many people seeking protection outside their countries as live in all of France. © UNHCR/Younghee Lee

There are roughly as many people seeking protection outside their countries as live in all of France. © UNHCR/Younghee Lee

“The antidote to the savagery of violent extremism is greater rule of law,” he said and added that “the best way to fight terrorism, and to stabilize the region, is to push back against discrimination; corruption; poor governance; failures of policing and justice; inequality; the denial of public freedoms, and other drivers of radicalization.”

De-Radicalisation

Radicalisation, or rather de-radicalisation, is precisely the focus of one of the panels organised within the current session of the Human Rights Council.

 Idriss Jazairy

Idriss Jazairy

In fact, on June 23, 2016, the Geneva Centre on Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue has organized the event under the auspices of the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the UN Office in Geneva. The panel will be moderated by highly respected Algerian diplomat and former head of a UN agency Idriss Jazairy, Resident Board Member of the Geneva Centre.

The panel organisers recall that “violent extremism had been until 2001 mainly in the lot of developing countries such as Uganda where a Christian mandate was usurped by the Lord’s Resistance Army to attack civilians and force children to participate in armed conflict, Sri Lanka, where the first suicide attacks originated, and Algeria where more Muslims were killed during a decade than Europeans worldwide ever since, through an evil manipulation of the precepts of Islam.”

Outside observers, they add, tended to belittle the impact of such violence considered as local incidents, at times preferring to ascribe it to “militants” responding to deficits of democracy and governance in the targeted countries.

During the last phases of the Cold War, violent extremism was condoned in some quarters as a weapon against communism, the panel concept note recalls, and adds that the recruitment of new cohorts of violent extremists was given added impetus by the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, the collapse of Iraq and Libya and the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.

“These developments, or lack thereof, occurred mainly in Muslim countries thus exacerbating violent extremism associated with this region and leading to an intensification of Islamophobia elsewhere, especially in Europe and North America.”

It remains, as underlined by the joint co-chairs conclusions of the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism (7-8 April 2016), that “violent extremism or terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.”

 A woman prepares a meal at a makeshift outdoor cooking area, atop the muddy grounds of the Bab Al Salame camp for IDPs, near the border with Turkey in Aleppo Governorate, Syria (January 2014). Photo credit: UNOCHA

A woman prepares a meal at a makeshift outdoor cooking area, atop the muddy grounds of the Bab Al Salame camp for IDPs, near the border with Turkey in Aleppo Governorate, Syria (January 2014). Photo credit: UNOCHA

The reaction of the international community was slow in taking shape in the UN if only because of political differences in terms of acceptance of a common definition of terrorism, says the panel’s concept note.

In a key remark, the organisers warn, “The very lexicon of international affairs is being manipulated to provide knee-jerk reactions that nurture ideologies of racist and xenophobic parties in the advanced world. It also provides a propitious climate for explosion of violent extremism around the world.”

In Europe, over 20 million Muslims have lived for decades as citizens in harmony with followers of other religions as well as with non-believers and have been contributing to the wealth of their countries of residence, the panel organisers recall.

“They are now being targeted by virtue of their identity, not their deeds. They are alone to suffer from fear-mongering and the rise of xenophobia for diverse minority groups in different parts of the world. One needs in this context to understand better the causes and means by which violent extremism is perpetrated and spread.”

The focus has been so far on how to roll back radicalism and on fighting violent extremism by all possible means without a full understanding of the root causes of such violence, says the panel’s concept note.

“The roll-back of violent extremism calls for an in-depth approach informed by the genesis and evolution of radicalisation, its link with citizenship and possible tipping point into violence… There also needs to be a better understanding of short-cuts to violent extremism that do not transit through radicalisation.”

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What If Turkey Drops Its “Human Bomb” on Europe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/what-if-turkey-drops-its-human-bomb-on-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-if-turkey-drops-its-human-bomb-on-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/what-if-turkey-drops-its-human-bomb-on-europe/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 22:26:05 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145685 Hundreds of refugees and migrants aboard a fishing boat moments before being rescued by the Italian Navy as part of their Mare Nostrum operation in June 2014. Photo: The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini | Source: UN News Centre

Hundreds of refugees and migrants aboard a fishing boat moments before being rescued by the Italian Navy as part of their Mare Nostrum operation in June 2014. Photo: The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini | Source: UN News Centre

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 19 2016 (IPS)

Will the rapid–though silent escalation of political tensions between the European Union and Turkey, which has been taking a dangerous turn over the last few weeks, push Ankara to drop a “human bomb” on Europe by opening its borders for refugees to enter Greece and other EU countries?

The question is anything but trivial—it is rather a source of deep concern among the many non-governmental humanitarian organisations and the United Nations, who are making relentless efforts to fill the huge relief gaps caused by the apparent indifference of those powers who greatly contributed to creating this unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

These powers are mainly the United States, the United Kingdom and France who, supported by other Western countries and rich Arab nations, led military coalitions that invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and who, along with Russia, have been providing weapons to most of the fighting parties in Syria.

Ironically, these four powers are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Neither the above posed question is about a mere, alarming speculation. In fact, Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan has recently made veiled, though specific threats to the EU, by warning against the consequences of Europe continuing to fail the two key commitments it made in exchange of the EU-Turkey refugee agreement —also known as “the shame deal”–, which the two parties sealed on March 22 this year.

People across Syria continue to face horrific deprivation and violence, says UN Humanitarian Chief. Photo: Al-Riad shelter, Aleppo. Credit: OCHA/Josephine Guerrero

People across Syria continue to face horrific deprivation and violence, says UN Humanitarian Chief. Photo: Al-Riad shelter, Aleppo. Credit: OCHA/Josephine Guerrero

The deal is about Turkey taking back the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who fled to its territories mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and crossed from there to EU bordering countries like Greece. Once “re-taken”, the EU said it would “select” an undetermined number of asylum seekers, mainly Syrians.

In exchange, the European Union promised to pay to Ankara three billion euro a year, starting in November 2015, to share only a relatively small part of the big financial burden that Turkey has to face by providing basically shelter, food and health care to the repatriated asylum seekers. Turkey currently hosts three million refugees.

The EU also promised to allow Turkish citizens to access its member countries without entry visa, also as part of the “shame deal.”

The tensions between the EU and Turkey were made clearly visible on the occasion of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which Turkey hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24, 2016, covering a big portion of its cost.

The WHS was meant to highlight the fact that human suffering has now reached unprecedented, staggering levels as stated to IPS by Stephen O’ Brien, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA), as well as to call on world leaders to mobilise the much needed resources to alleviate this human drama.

For this, the UN submitted to the WHS a set of shocking facts: the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War II, and experiencing a human catastrophe “on a titanic scale” as stated on IPS by the WHS spokesperson Herve Verhoosel: 125 million humans in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

The UN also quantified the urgently needed resources: more than 20 billion dollars needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts.

Refugee children at a reception centre in Rome, Italy. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Refugee children at a reception centre in Rome, Italy. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

And stressed that unless immediate action is taken, 62 per cent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all human beings could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030.

In spite of these staggering facts, none of the leaders of the most industrialised countries–the so-called Group of the 7 richest nations (G7), nor of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, attended the World Humanitarian Summit.

The sole exception of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who had reportedly gone to Istanbul to meet Erdogan over the growing political tensions rather to participate in the Summit.

This absence of the top decision-makers of the richest countries has been widely criticised, starting with the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon who on May 24 publicly decried it. Also Turkish president Erdogan expressed deep disappointment at such political boycott by world leaders.

Moreover, in a press conference at the closure of the WHS on May 24, Erdogan revealed that Europe had not met its promises as it had not provided the committed financial resources, nor kept its compromise to let Turkish citizens enter the EU without visa as from June this year.

He then expressed strong indignation, rather fury, over the set of 72 new conditions the EU has suddenly imposed on Ankara in exchange of suppressing the entry visa requisite for Turkish citizens. These conditions imply, among others, that Ankara changes its current anti-terrorist laws.

An Afghan child showing all his family’s belongings in front of their tent near Röszke. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

An Afghan child showing all his family’s belongings in front of their tent near Röszke. © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla

All this moved Erdogan to warn that of Europe does not honour its part of the refugee deal, the Turkish Parliament will not ratify it.

This simply means that Turley would not only stop allowing refugees to be forcibly returned to its territories, but that it would also permit more and more of them to cross its borders to the EU countries.

In the mean time, more and more organisations have been accusing Europe of sealing an immoral, unethical and, above all, illegal refugee deal with Turkey. But meanwhile Europe has been turning rapidly, dangerously towards far right parties and movements that are feeding hate, xenophobia and islamophobia.

Also meanwhile, tens of thousands of refugees and migrants are arriving to Europe, many of them drowning at sea, prey to inhumane practices and manipulation by smugglers.

Humanitarian assistance organisations such as Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, the UN Children Fund, UN Refugee agency, among many others, have been warning that a growing number of unaccompanied children—estimated in 1 in 3 refugees and migrants, are crossing Mediterranean waters and European frontiers.

Only two days ahead of the World Refugee Day, marked on June 20, the UN secretary general visited the Greek island of Lesbos, which has become migrants’ entry point to Europe. There he called on “the countries in the region” to respond with “a humane and human rights-based approach, instead of border closures, barriers and bigotry.”

“Today, I met refugees from some of the world’s most troubled places. They have lived through a nightmare. And that nightmare is not over,” Ban told non-governmental organisations, volunteers and media.

The “human bomb” is ticking at Europe’s doors amidst an inexplicable passivity of its leaders.

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Majority of Vulnerable Refugees Will Not Be Resettled in 2017http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:18:22 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145669 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/majority-of-vulnerable-refugees-will-not-be-resettled-in-2017/feed/ 0 Leaving Saudi Arabiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/leaving-saudi-arabia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leaving-saudi-arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/leaving-saudi-arabia/#comments Wed, 15 Jun 2016 15:53:22 +0000 Rafia Zakaria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145634 By Rafia Zakaria
Jun 15 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is not one pilgrims or foreign tourists normally visit. Set against the Persian Gulf, it is the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry. Unsurprisingly, it is also home to most of its migrant workers whose labour populates this sector.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Other than migrant workers, mostly Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan or from one or another poor labour-exporting nation, the Eastern Province is also home to the majority of Saudi Arabia’s Shia population. Perhaps because of this diverse mix, the province has also been the place where the government has chosen to launch a programme called ‘Ehna al-Ahl’ or ‘We are one family’. According to an article in the Saudi Gazette, this programme, which organises performances in the region’s malls and arranges for the distribution of brochures, is meant to enhance national cohesion and denounce extremism and divisions. The programme is supposed to last throughout the month of Ramazan.

It can be safely assumed, however, that the Pakistanis labouring in the Eastern Province are not part of the ‘one family’ whose cohesion and lack of division is a priority for the kingdom. Among them is Mohammad Ilyas who works as the head of budgeting and finance at a multinational steel company. For several months now, Mr Ilyas has been trying to obtain an exit permit that would enable him to visit Pakistan. As some may remember, a confusing directive by the Saudi government several months ago stated that Pakistani workers living in Saudi Arabia would only be permitted to visit Pakistan once every year. A few weeks later, however, the Saudi government said that the directive had been withdrawn and that Pakistani workers could go back home for visits multiple times as they did in previous years.

The issue of Pakistani workers trapped in Saudi Arabia’s eastern region deserves the urgent attention of both Islamabad and Riyadh.

The renewed permission to leave more than once seems only to apply to Pakistanis in certain parts of the kingdom. In the Eastern Province, which includes the areas of Jubail and Dammam, however, things are far more complicated. As per the kingdom’s latest requirements, workers must apply for the entry/exit permit through the computerised system known as muqeem. However, when Mohammad Ilyas and others in the Eastern Province use it to apply for the permit, the system gives them an error message and asks them to visit the passport office in Jubail in person.

Both Mr Ilyas and his company representative have visited the passport office numerous times. When Mr Ilyas did so, the people at the passport office told him that he was only permitted to visit Pakistan once a year and that if he could not obtain a permit online, he simply could not go home. To add to the humiliation of denied workers like Mr Ilyas, colleagues of different nationalities, including Indians, have no problem obtaining the multiple exit/re-entry permit via the system and can visit home as many times as they wish.

Nor is Mohammad Ilyas alone in this predicament. According to the online forum Life in Saudi Arabia, where numerous overseas Pakistani workers share their issues, many other Pakistanis in the Eastern Province are similarly being denied exit permits to go home. Saudi officials at the passport office either tell them that they must try again online or simply state that no permit will be issued at the office itself. In other cases they are told that they have already visited Pakistan more than once this year and are hence not eligible for an exit permit.

On May 5, the embassy of Pakistan in Riyadh took note of the problem. The press release posted on the embassy’s website says: “The embassy of Pakistan, Riyadh is aware of the fact that some of our nationals face difficulty in obtaining multiple exit/re-entry visa from the passport offices of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The embassy is in constant contact with the concerned authorities to resolve the matter.” In a previous communication issued on April 16, the embassy has stated that it had brought up the issue in writing and in person with the Saudi authorities concerned and was trying its level best to handle the situation.

It is now June 15 and Mohammad Ilyas (who has lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for the past 10 years) and many other Pakistani workers in the Eastern Province continue to be without exit/re-entry permits and are hence unable to leave the kingdom. It is true that the embassy of Pakistan has many issues on its hands. Some weeks ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that over 2,000 Pakistanis are languishing in Saudi jails on various charges. The Pakistani embassy is the only recourse for all of these accused. Add to this the demands of the upcoming Haj season and the ever larger number of pilgrims that wish to travel to Makkah, and you have a small consular staff beset with large problems.

Even so, the issue of Pakistani workers trapped in Saudi Arabia’s eastern region is one deserving the urgent attention of both governments. At the Saudi end, the kingdom’s commitment to the principles of justice and fair treatment, particularly in this, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, means that they should not entrap Pakistani workers in a situation that is akin to enslavement.

At the Pakistani end, some honest answers must be demanded on the discrepancy between the ‘official’ statements given by the Saudi government’s representatives (ones that state that no restriction exists on the multiple exit/re-entry of Pakistani workers) and the reality via which Pakistani workers are being denied exit.

It is Ramazan now and soon it will be Eid. Pakistan’s workers — forced abroad because of the scant sources of employment at home — should not be permitted to become pawns of a Saudi government that seems to care little about whether or not they can be with their families for the holiday. Workers, it must be remembered, are not slaves chained to their place of employment and must be accorded the very basic right to leave and return.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy. rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Thousands of Minor Refugees Stranded Alone in Greecehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/thousands-of-child-refugees-stranded-alone-in-greece/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-of-child-refugees-stranded-alone-in-greece http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/thousands-of-child-refugees-stranded-alone-in-greece/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 13:15:08 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145520 Refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border where a makeshift camp had sprung up near the town of Idomeni. The sudden closure of the Balkan route left thousands stranded. Credit: Nikos Pilos/IPS

Refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border where a makeshift camp had sprung up near the town of Idomeni. The sudden closure of the Balkan route left thousands stranded. Credit: Nikos Pilos/IPS

By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Jun 9 2016 (IPS)

Closure of the Western Balkans route has trapped tens of thousands of refugees heading to Central and Northern Europe in Greece, including many unaccompanied minors who either escaped from war zones after having lost their relatives, or were sent ahead in hopes of helping their families follow afterwards.

While the Western Balkans corridor remained open, many minors opted to declare they were adults or register as relatives of other refugees transiting the country to avoid being put in protective custody and reception facilities.

According to a May 31 report by Save the Children, more than 1.2 million refugees have headed to Europe since 2015 – the continent’s “biggest wave of mass migration since the aftermath of the second world war.” They come mainly from conflict-torn countries like Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea.

The problem has worsened since the beginning of February, when European countries limited the number and profile of those let through. The formal closure of the route a month afterwards boosted the number of refugees stranded in Greece to 57,000, according to UNHCR. The U.N. refugee agency estimates more than 30 percent of them are minors.

Kiki Petrakou, a social worker with the National Center for Social Solidarity, a state agency involved with the system of transferring minors to specialized accommodation centers around the country, says the number of requests for hosting unaccompanied children rose sharply in the first three months of this year.

“The numbers we are called to manage have multiplied. From January to March 2016, we have had 1,210 requests while during the same period last year they were only 328,” Petrakou told IPS.

Up to the end of May, there have been 1,875 cases, 1,768 boys and 107 girls. “It is likely the numbers will keep increasing while authorities and organisations identify more of these kids throughout the reception camps,” said Petrakou.

So far 1,269 children have been sent to reception centers and another 629 requests are pending. But with inadequate facilities, some children must be placed temporarily in protective custody in police stations or reside in reception facilities for refugees in the Greek islands where conditions are tough and sometimes even hazardous.

Kostantinos Kolovos, a social worker involved with the management of a hosting facility operated by the NGO Praksis in the middle of Athens, says there have been a few isolated cases of children mistreated by authorities.

The center he works at currently hosts 28 minors of various ages and ethnic backgrounds. According to Kolovos, a crucial factor in whether a child receives adequate protection or falls through the cracks of the existing system is access to accurate information.

“Children are misinformed by smugglers who have their own interest in perpetuating the vicious circle of exploitation or ignore basic information regarding protection and rights available to them,” he says.

Consequently, many times they attempt to avoid being sent to official facilities or run away after a few weeks and try to survive on the streets."We pass information to kids about where to seek basic services and food so they don't resort to doing something bad for just 10 euros." -- Kostantinos Kolovos of the NGO Praksis

“We also do street work programmes so we can pass information to kids about where to seek basic services and food so they don’t resort to doing something bad for just 10 euros,” Kolovos says.

Abuse and harassment is not uncommon for minors who have completely fallen out of the protection network and are on the streets. Even those hosted in various emergency reception camps set up by the government around the country are not entirely safe.

Katerina Kitidi, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Athens, told IPS, “UNHCR is deeply concerned by media reports about survival sex, including sexual exploitation of minors, in sites accommodating refugee populations. The authorities should proceed to an immediate and thorough investigation whenever such reports occur.”

According to UNHCR, safeguarding the security of the sites and their inhabitants should be a key priority in all areas, both in the mainland and the islands.

“The danger of survival sex and other types of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is closely linked to the living conditions in areas accommodating refugees. Many sites were not set up to prevent or respond to such risks. For this to be achieved, one clearly needs well-lit and gender segregated WASH (water-sanitation-health) facilities and sleeping areas, as well as private facilities for women and children. In addition, one needs skilled personnel in SGBV monitoring and response, more female translators and investment in the provision of psychosocial aid” Kitidi told IPS.

But so far most of this kind of support to vulnerable populations and unaccompanied minors remains scarce or simply entirely unavailable throughout the reception camps.

A report published last week by the German organisation Pro Asyl regarding detection and protection of vulnerable populations in refugee camps around the Attica region includes interviews with many unaccompanied minors.

The majority of them, the report ‘Vulnerable Lives on Hold’ found, were not followed up with by authorities after being sent to the camps, had no accurate information regarding their own case, and had limited or nonexistent access to protection or asylum services.

“A very high percentage of them is estimated to be admissible for family reunification or relocation,” Pro Asyl noted.

But many, especially those in the islands, might have to wait a long time before having their cases processed while the asylum system struggles to cope with priorities set by the EU-Turkey statement. Under this agreement and according to the EU Asylum Directive, Syrian and other nationals who crossed the Aegean after Mar. 20 could be returned to Turkey on the basis that Turkey is considered a safe third country for them.

Petrakou says the acute need to increase the capacity of the unaccompanied minors’ reception system is not being met. Some new locations  have been created in various Greek cities over the last few months and have been immediately integrated into the reception system. But the 584 referral positions available are too few in light of the rapidly growing size of the problem, and meanwhile the threat of exploitation and abuse for unaccompanied minors is as big as ever.

Child trafficking trends in the context of migration and asylum analysed in a European Commission progress report last month show strong evidence that the ongoing refugee crisis “has been exploited by criminal networks involved in trafficking in human beings to target the most vulnerable, in particular women and children”.

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