As President Obama welcomes Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to the United States this week and celebrates her country’s democratic reforms, Refugees International will be traveling to Southeast Asia to meet with a population that is not welcome in her country: the Rohingya.
In recent weeks, the crisis facing the people of South Sudan has only worsened. Throughout the county, 1.61 million people are internally displaced, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and another 751,000 people have escaped into neighboring countries, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, since conflict broke out in 2013.
Many are heralding this as an historic moment for the South American nation, host to more than seven million of its own displaced citizens, making it the second-largest internal displacement crisis in the world after Syria. If and when the Colombian people vote “yes” on peace, Colombia’s humanitarian stakeholders should not let their enthusiasm obscure the continued challenges the country will face – challenges that could imperil the peace agreement’s viability at any time.
The tragedy at the Terrain compound in Juba, as recently reported by the Associated Press, has shocked the humanitarian community and all those who care for the people of South Sudan. Over the course of more than four hours, armed men broke into the residential complex, killed a South Sudanese journalist employed by an aid organization, and beat and gang raped multiple foreign aid workers. Victims reportedly made multiple appeals for protection to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the US Embassy, but the peacekeepers failed to respond.
Driving across the parched landscape of Matabeleland North in western Zimbabwe, it’s hard to imagine that this country was once the breadbasket of Southern Africa. The annual rainy season ended in March, and this is supposed to be the most food secure time of the year, when granaries and stomachs are full. But Zimbabwe is in the grips of a second year of drought, exacerbated by El Niño, which has left an estimated 4.5 million people – nearly half of the rural population – without sufficient food.
Ongoing emergency evacuations of foreign citizens from South Sudan and President Obama’s decision to deploy 47 U.S. troops to protect the U.S. Embassy and staff are stark reminders of the potential for further escalation of violence in this conflict-ridden country. A fragile ceasefire has opened a window that the UN and other international actors must utilize to address the immediate fallout, act to protect civilians, and deliver much needed humanitarian aid.
World Refugee Day 2016 must be an occasion for the global community to recommit itself to the foundational principles enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as in the Geneva Conventions: to uphold and defend the humanity and internationally guaranteed rights of the most vulnerable.
The UN Security Council increasingly recognizes Protection of Civilians as a critical task of UN peacekeepers. And in a growing number of peacekeeping mandates, the Council has proclaimed that PoC is the most important task. More than that, roughly 98% of UN peacekeepers now serve in missions with PoC mandates. As the Uruguayan Undersecretary for External Relations, Amb. Jose Luis Cancela, said at the Security Council this year, “No one is questioning whether the protection of civilians should be a component of peacekeeping organizations; what is basically at issue here is ‘the how’.” It’s this “how” that I’d like to discuss today. When a threat to civilians arises, how can peacekeepers respond? What is the lawful, moral, and effective way to use force?
Earlier this week, some 9,000 participants from around the world gathered in Istanbul for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS). The Summit was the brainchild of outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who, during his tenure, has witnessed a humanitarian system strained to the point of breaking.
The huge number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq – and the possibility that by the end of the year there could be two million more – has recently recaptured some attention in the news. In early May, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, declared the humanitarian crisis in Iraq to be “one of the world’s worst”, and the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016 from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre included the fact that over half of the global total of IDPs reside in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq alone.
Earlier today, the Kenyan government issued a deeply troubling statement on the closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Citing national security concerns, Ministry of Interior Principal Secretary Dr. Eng Karanja Kibicho announced that “hosting of refugees has come to an end.” The statement is a major blow to the most basic fundamentals of refugee rights.
There are close to 60 million people currently displaced by war and persecution, the most since World War II. You have undoubtedly seen the media coverage of the crisis in the Mediterranean that illustrates the enormous challenges refugees face in trying to access protection and assistance. Advocating for life-saving protection for refugees and displaced people has been Refugee International’s mission for more than 35 years. However, at a time when the humanitarian system is near breaking and countries are struggling to meet the protection and assistance needs of millions of people fleeing war and persecution, I am deeply concerned that the U.S. and world leaders are not fully confronting the potential impact of climate change on displacement and migration, and the threat it presents to human security.
Refugees International's 37th Anniversary Dinner took place at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on April 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. Sir Richard Branson was awarded RI's highest humanitarian award, the McCall-Pierpaoli Award. The Congressional Leadership Award was presented to Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and the Richard C. Holbrooke Award was presented to Ukrainian humanitarian Olena Honcharova.
This Friday, President Obama and other world leaders will be meeting in New York to sign the historic UN climate change accord reached in Paris last November. With 130 countries standing ready with pens poised – including the world’s two largest emitters, the U.S. and China – there is much cause for celebration. But with numerous scientific studies showing that climate change is happening faster than anticipated, and more still questioning whether the commitments under the Paris agreement will get us where we need to be in order to avoid “dangerous interference with the climate system,” it’s time to get real about whether we’re doing enough to prepare and adapt our communities, sources of income, and ways of life to a warmer, more disaster-prone, and insecure world.