RI President Michel Gabaudan discussed the situation in Aleppo, Syria on BBC World News America. View the interview below.
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By Lillian Kalish | Thursday, 08 December 2016
The coupling of increased environmental disasters with internal conflict has created unique and threatening realities for internally displaced persons in Myanmar, according to a recent Refugees International report.
In interviews conducted one year after the 2015 floods, which temporarily displaced close to 1.7 million people in Rakhine, Chin, Magwe, and Sagaing, the report found that the government has yet to elaborate long term solutionsfor relocated communities doubly affected by dangerous weather and an unpredictable political climate.
The report, “Accelerating Threats from Climate Change: Disasters and Displacements in Myanmar,” noted that last year’s hastily relocated communities continue to face vulnerabilities including limited financial and technical support for rebuilding durable housing, limited access to education, clean water and bathrooms, as well as diminished job opportunities.
Though communities in the Ayeyarwady Region were relocated with relative swiftness in 2015, proper evacuation procedures as well as relocation guidelines should take precedent in areas that are constantly at risk of floods, cyclones, droughts, and more, the report says. Refugees International cautioned against quicksteps and advised the government “to ensure that safeguards [are] in place for those targeted for relocation.”
After Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Ayeyarwady Region in 2008, Myanmar has worked to initiate preparedness measures, one of which was the adoption of the Myanmar Action Plan on Disaster Rick Reduction in 2011 under U Thein Sein’s governance.
Yet five years after its implementation, Refugees International’s climate displacement program manager, Alice Thomas, said that Myanmar is still lags behind in targeting the complicated overlap of factors affecting internally displaced communities.
“In decades to come … increasing numbers of impoverished communities will be displaced or migrate as more extreme weather and other climate change effects undermine their safety and security,” said Ms Thomas, who spearheaded the fieldwork mission.
For one of the country’s most at risk communities – Rohingya and Rakhine communities living in IDP camps – the report observed an apparent lack of evacuation plans or disaster preparedness. Restrictions to the Rohingya’s mobility in the Rakhine State also pose a serious challenge in the face of an emergency situation.
The report suggests the government work alongside disaster relief organisations to “prioritise investments in recovery and livelihood restoration” to those affected in 2015 and beyond through the implementation of a “comprehensive” and “long term” plans.
“Failure to take these steps will only continue to undermine development and exacerbate Myanmar’s other challenges,” said Thomas.
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By Matthew Pennington | AP December 3
WASHINGTON — It’s a scene straight out of Myanmar’s dark past: a military offensive waged beyond world view that forces ethnic minority villagers from the smoldering ruins of their homes.
The U.S. government, a key sponsor of Myanmar’s democratic transition, says a security crackdown that has displaced tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims and left an unknown number dead risks radicalizing a downtrodden people and stoking religious tensions in Southeast Asia.
The military moved in after armed attacks by unknown assailants on police posts along the border with Bangladesh in October. The attacks in Rakhine State were a possible sign that a small number of Rohingya were starting to fight back against persecution by majority Buddhists who view them as illegal immigrants although many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, is critical of the military’s heavy-handed approach and says the escalation of violence risks inciting jihadist extremism in the country also known as Burma. He is also calling on neighboring countries, such as Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, to resist the urge to stage protests that could further stir religious passions.
Assistant Secretary of State Russel told The Associated Press that, “if mishandled, Rakhine State could be infected and infested by jihadism which already plagues neighboring Bangladesh and other countries.”
The plight of the Rohingya, once characterized by the U.N. as the world’s most friendless people, has attracted the attention of Muslim extremists since a spike in intercommunal violence in Rakhine in 2012 that left hundreds dead and forced more than 100,000 into squalid camps.
The Somali-born student who launched a car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University this week reportedly protested on his Facebook page about the killing of minority Muslims in Myanmar. And last weekend, Indonesian authorities arrested two militants who were allegedly planning to attack the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta.
It has also raised hackles in the political mainstream. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, facing domestic pressure over an investment fund scandal, is reportedly planning to attend a protest in his religiously moderate country this weekend condemning the military operation in Myanmar.
Daniel Sullivan at the advocacy group Refugees International said increasing numbers of Rohingya are fleeing across the land border to Bangladesh, and the spike in violence could set off another exodus by sea.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled by rickety boats in recent years to countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, but those routes have been blocked since a crisis in 2015 when thousands were stranded at sea.
The U.S. and other nations have called for an independent investigation into the latest violence in Rakhine. Estimates of the death toll range between dozens and several hundred. Human Rights Watch said Nov. 21 that satellite imagery showed at least 1,250 buildings have been destroyed.
With journalists barred from the affected area, it’s been near-impossible to substantiate reports of rapes and killings by Myanmar soldiers — the kind of conduct that has long blighted the military’s reputation in ethnic conflicts.
Adama Dieng, U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said this week that if reports of excessive use of force in Rakhine were true, “the lives of thousands of people are at risk.”
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was appointed by Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in August to find ways to help resolve the communal tensions. On a fact-finding visit Friday, he said that security operations must not impede humanitarian access.
That’s been a repeated demand from the international community, including the United States, but it’s made little impact.
The U.N. World Food Program said Friday that since Oct. 9 it has been able to deliver food or cash to only 20,000 of the 152,000 people who usually receive assistance, and to about 7,000 newly-displaced people.
The Obama administration has diminished leverage. It was instrumental in ending the former pariah state’s diplomatic isolation as it shifted from five decades of military rule but the last U.S. sanctions were lifted in October.
The military’s crackdown in Rakhine has also exposed the limits of Suu Kyi’s power. The Nobel laureate’s party won elections a year ago, but the military still controls key levers of government power, including access to sensitive border regions.
Human rights activists who once lionized Suu Kyi now criticize her for failing to defend the stateless Rohingya, but Russel defended her.
“We all should have confidence in her judgment and not fall prey to the idea that she does not get it and she does not care. She does get it, and she does care,” he said.
Associated Press writer Michael Astor at the United Nations contributed to this report.
RI Senior Advocate Mark Yarnell discussed the closure of Dadaab refugee camp with CCTV America. Watch the video below.
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By Mohammed Tawfeeq and Ingrid Formanek, CNN
Updated 6:34 AM ET, Thu November 17, 2016
(CNN)Iraqi paramilitary forces have recaptured a strategic airbase outside the northern city of Tal Afar, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Forces said.
Ahmed al Assadi acknowledged that militia forces have yet to extinguish some pockets of ISIS resistance inside the airbase, however, saying late Wednesday that mopping-up operations will continue for the next few hours.
Iraq's Joint Operations Command put out a similar statement.
The base will serve as a staging area for Iraqi Security Forces in their battle with ISIS west of Mosul, authorities said. Tal Afar is a predominantly Sunni city that used to be divided between Sunni and Shia Turkmens before ISIS captured it in 2014. It is about 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of Mosul.
Mosul, Iraq's second-most populous city, is ISIS' last major stronghold in Iraq and the terror group is well entrenched there. The campaign to retake the city has raged on for a month, forcing nearly 59,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
An ISIS attack on a Mosul neighborhood previously declared "liberated" from the militants killed at least two civilians and wounded at least seven more people, including children, Iraqi army officials told CNN on Wednesday.
The officials said at least four mortars landed in the eastern Mosul neighborhood of al Zahraa, which was declared under the full control of Iraqi security forces nearly a week ago.
Witnesses also told CNN there had been civilian deaths and injuries from the attacks.
Video of the aftermath broadcast by local Kurdish TV station Rudaw showed several of the injured, including children with bloody wounds. Up to a dozen children are being maimed every day as fighting pushes into the city, according to Save the Children.
"Many children have been through two years of ISIS and were then forced to flee through a war zone, and some told us they have seen people shot and hanged," said Aram Shakaram, deputy country director for Save the Children in Iraq. "Imagine what effect that would have on a child."
The Iraq Joint Military Operations Command declared six days ago that its security forces had taken full control of al Zahraa as well as two other eastern neighborhoods -- al Samah and al Malayeen.
Attacks by ISIS in areas previously cleared by Iraqi forces are frequent. These areas often lack water, power and medical services, according to the UN.
Iraqi forces have encountered fierce resistance as they battle their way into Mosul.
While the ISIS presence has started to wane in parts of the northern city, a number of residents told CNN they are disappointed with the pace of Mosul's liberation.
They said people are increasingly fearful because of what they see as slow advances by Iraqi forces.
ISIS has fortified its positions and regrouped after the Iraqi forces' initial push on Mosul, which was faster than current progress, residents said.
The Mosul offensive began almost one month ago.
ISIS emboldened by leader's message?
Brig. Gen. Halgurd Hikmet, a spokesman for the Peshmerga, or Kurdish forces, told CNN on Wednesday that "for ISIS, Mosul is survival."
Hikmet said he believes ISIS militants won't leave Mosul but will continue to put up a fight that will only grow fiercer as the battle moves to the city's west.
He pointed to the audio message purportedly from ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released just weeks ago, which seems to have emboldened and inspired ISIS fighters.
Hikmet also reiterated the difficulty posed for Iraqi-led forces by the potential for civilian casualties among the dense urban population, saying the utmost care was being taken not to bomb civilians.
The terror group's use of civilians as "human shields" is also a challenge because it's often hard to differentiate between them and ISIS members, Hikmet said.
The paramilitary force said Tuesday it has intelligence that al-Baghdadi is somewhere between al Baaj and Tal Afar. The two cities are about 50 miles (80 kilometers) apart and close to the border with Syria.
Iraqi Ministry of Defense spokesman Brig. Gen. Tahsin Ibrahim would not confirm nor deny that al-Baghdadi is in the area.
Meanwhile, a military official said Tuesday that the US-led coalition against ISIS has pounded targets linked to the extremist group relentlessly since the Iraqi-led offensive began on October 17.
In four weeks, coalition forces have hammered ISIS targets with 4,000 bombs, artillery strikes and missiles, coalition spokesman Col. John C. Dorian said. They also have killed hundreds of fighters in the battle to retake Mosul, he said.
Nearly 60 vehicles equipped with bombs and more than 80 tunnels have been destroyed, Dorian said at a news conference in Qayyara.
Aid groups stretched thin
The Mosul offensive has exacerbated widespread displacement of residents in northern Iraq and placed heavy demands on humanitarian groups working to provide aid for civilians fleeing the war, Refugees International said in a report Tuesday.
Since ISIS began seizing territory across Iraq in 2014, 3.3 million civilians have been displaced. The Mosul battle is spurring more civilian flight, the group says. The International Organization for Migration says more than 56,000 people have been displaced since the start of the offensive.
More resources are needed as tens of thousands of families have no place to stay, the leaders of NGOs and UN agencies said a joint statement.
"With winter approaching, and temperatures dramatically dropping at night, families, many who fled their homes with virtually nothing, need heaters, blankets and other winter items."
Save the Children reported that children who've been able to flee Mosul are showing signs of distress. The organization has set up tents to care for nearly 2,000 children with classes.
CNN's Jennifer Hauser and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.
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Europe's governments have a responsibility to solve the refugees and migrant crisis in line with their international obligations.
At the Leader’s Summit on Refugees in September, President Obama urgedgovernments to do more to help the 65 million refugees and displaced people around the world today—the largest number of people driven from their homes by war and conflict since World War II. “History will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment,” Obama said at the September summit.
Two months later, as President Obama prepares to visit Greece and Germany, it is clear that countries of the European Union, the world’s richest economic bloc, have not risen to meet this critical challenge. Thousands of asylum-seekers are still stranded in shocking conditions in Greece and a record 4,233 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year. The plight of these refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants should be high on the agenda when Obama meets with the German and Greek leaders.
It has been more than seven months since the EU and Turkey agreement entered into force, a controversial agreement established to stem the flow of asylum-seekers and migrants into Europe via Greece. EU leaders have celebrated the agreement as a success, pointing to the significant fall in the number of arrivals: 211,663 people arrived by sea to Greece in October 2015; in October 2016, the numbers dropped to 2,970. But for the men, women and children stranded in cold, unsafe, and unsanitary camps around Greece, Europe has failed spectacularly in dealing with this situation in a humane way.
In April, the European Union provided international organizations working in Greece—including UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the International Federation of the Red Cross—with 83 million euros to improve the living conditions of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants. The EU announced a further EUR 115 million disbursement in September. The contrast between these amounts and the reality on the ground is alarming.
During a recent mission to Europe, I visited some of the camps on Greece’s mainland and on the islands of Lesvos and Chios. I saw first-hand the appalling conditions in which thousands of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers are living. In many camps, people sleep in tents, exposed to the cold, rain, and the humidity. In the Petra camp near Mount Olympus, where more than 1 thousand Yazidis have been living for months—people who fled the horrors and trauma of ISIS in Iraq—I spoke with a young woman who told me she is traumatized in new ways by the poor conditions in the camp, where the cold is already biting. The young mother added that she is scared that her three-month-old daughter will choke on smoke in their tent or be attacked by insects.
In a camp on the island of Chios, two Syrian mothers, who are caring alone for three children each, told me they live in constant fear. Potential violence, alcoholism, thefts, and the fear of fires, like the one that recently broke out in the camp, are their daily reality. They said that at night, they put diapers on all their children—ages one-and-a-half through six—because it is too dangerous to leave their rooms to take them to the bathroom.
The insecurity and conditions of the camps in Greece beg the question: where is all the EU money being spent and what is the EU doing to ensure its funding translates into real refuge and protection?
What’s more, far from putting the human smugglers out of business—the stated goal of the EU-Turkey agreement—the current situation has forced asylum-seekers and migrants to seek new options since borders remain closed and safe and legal pathways toward refuge and protection are blocked for many. Outside the Moria camp in Lesvos, a young man from Iraq said to me, “Our only hope is money.” With money, he said, a smuggler can provide a number of possible pathways to move across Europe.
In 2015, EU countries committed to take in and process 160 thousand asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy by September of 2017. Some countries such as Hungary have refused, and the United Kingdom has opted out. As of November 4, only 5,343 asylum-seekers had been relocated from Greece to other countries under this scheme. EU countries should urgently step up their pledges and provide other options for people who are not eligible, such as Afghans and Iraqis. Another option is family reunification: many of the people currently in Greece have family members in other EU countries. Processing their claims promptly and enabling them to join their loved ones is an obvious solution for many of these people.
From Brexit to the rise of far right parties and the divisions within the EU itself, the European Union faces significant challenges on multiple fronts. However, Europe’s governments have a responsibility to solve the refugees and migrant crisis in line with their international obligations. And they have the moral responsibility to treat refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants with dignity and humanity. People who have fled for their lives from war, violence, or persecution should not be paying the price for Europe’s failures.
Izza Leghtas is the Senior Advocate for Europe at Refugees International. She traveled to refugee camps in Greece in October. Her Twitter handle is@IzzaLeghtas.
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By Mohammed Tawfeeq, Jennifer Hauser, Joe Sterling and Ingrid Formanek, CNN
Updated 5:45 PM ET, Tue November 15, 2016
Irbil, Iraq (CNN)The US-led coalition has pounded ISIS targets relentlessly since the offensive to recapture Mosul began last month, a military official told reporters on Tuesday.
The heavy fighting has been evident on the ground.
Witnesses said Iraqi Security Forces and ISIS clashed for several hours as they fight for control over neighborhoods east of the city.
Each side used mortars and RPGs and engaged in close-quarter fighting in some areas, residents said.
As the Iraqi Security Forces have mobilized into Mosul, ISIS has clogged potential access routes using blast walls, buttressing its last standing stronghold and moving farther into parts of the city.
In the eastern Salam neighborhood, residents reported five civilians killed by ISIS mortars as militants fought Iraqi forces in the area. Iraqi security officials said there was progress in the fight in Salam.
The presence of ISIS in certain parts of the city has started to wane.
In some areas, residents said, some ISIS members and sympathizers have started selling their houses, cars and other property to finance escapes.
The sympathizers have met opposition from residents who are discouraging people from buying the cheap property in retaliation for what the ISIS members or supporters did to the citizens of Mosul.
But a number of residents told CNN they are disappointed with the speed of Mosul's liberation.
They said fear across the city among residents has increased because of what they see as slow advances by the Iraqi forces.
ISIS has fortified its positions and regrouped after the Iraqi forces' initial push on Mosul, which was faster than current progress, residents said.
In the last four weeks, coalition forces have hammered ISIS targets with 4,000 bombs, artillery strikes and missiles, coalition spokesman Col. John C. Dorian said. They also have killed hundreds of fighters in the battle to retake Mosul, ISIS' last remaining stronghold, he said.
Nearly 60 vehicles equipped with bombs and more than 80 tunnels have been destroyed, Dorian said at news conference in Qayyara.
"We will continue to strike the enemy for as long as it takes for the Iraqi flag to be raised over Mosul and every other corner of this country," Dorian said.
Coalition forces have been helping Iraqi soldiers wrest Mosul from ISIS since the offensive started on October 17. Mosul is the second-largest city in Iraq and is located in the country's north.
Iraqi forces have been slowly battling their way into Mosul and have encountered fierce resistance. But they have made strides.
On Sunday, the forces liberated the village of Nimrud, an achievement that drew praise from Dorian. He lauded security forces "for the manner in which they've conducted themselves as they've undertaken a very tough fight in Mosul."
Nimrud is the site of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, founded during the 13th century B.C. Archeologists first began excavating Nimrud in the 19th century.
"The Iraqi security forces have been very deliberate and very careful in order to protect civilian life," Dorian said. "As a member of the coalition I find that level of effort inspiring and I hope that all Iraqis are proud of this level of effort."
Where is al-Baghdadi?
A group of militias who have been fighting and coordinating with the Iraqi military said they have intelligence information that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is somewhere between al Baaj and Tal Afar in northern Iraq. The two cities are about 50 miles apart and close to the border with Syria.
The Popular Mobilization Units made the remark as they announced the third phase of their military operations to liberate areas west of Mosul.
The PMU groups are made up of mostly Shiites but also Sunnis, Christians and other ethnic and religious groups.
The goal of the third phase is to liberate the remaining villages towards Tal Afar airbase in west of Mosul.
The airbase will be used as a launching point toward the city center of Tal Afar.
Al-Baghdadi first came into the public eye with a sermon delivered at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul in July 2014.
US officials have suggested he may be moving from one place to another within ISIS' shrinking so-called caliphate to avoid detection -- and that they would attack his location if they knew where he was.
Iraqi Ministry of Defense spokesman Brig. Gen. Tahsin Ibrahim would not confirm or deny that al-Baghdadi is in the area.
Iraqi intelligence agencies have solid information that al-Baghdadi fled Mosul along with senior ISIS leaders during the first week of the operation, Ibrahim said.
"We know that al Baghdadi fled Mosul and headed out of the city in a western direction," Ibrahim said. " We also have confirmed intelligence information that al-Baghdadi is not in Tal Afar."
Aid groups stretched thin
The battle has exacerbated widespread displacement of residents in northern Iraq and placed demands on humanitarian groups working to provide aid for civilians making a getaway from war, Refugees International said in a report Tuesday.
In the two years since ISIS began seizing territory across Iraq, 3.3 million civilians have been displaced. The Mosul battle is spurring more civilian flight, the group says. The International Organization for Migration says more than 56,000 people have been displaced since the start of the offensive.
"As the government of Iraq moves to reclaim Mosul from ISIS, civilians from the areas around Mosul -- known as the Mosul corridor -- have already been on the move," Refugees International Senior Advocate Daryl Grisgraber said. About 100,000 have left the region since fighting started.
The group said the UN's Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 is "barely half-funded, as is the emergency appeal to address needs related to Mosul."
"Humanitarian aid groups in Iraq are already struggling to meet the needs of some 10 million people who rely on humanitarian assistance in some form. The humanitarian needs created by Mosul are simply adding to a humanitarian disaster that was already not adequately addressed. Recent events in Iraq will only aggravate that situation," Grisgraber said.
CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq reported from Irbil. CNN's Jennifer Hauser reported from Atlanta. CNN's Joe Sterling reported and wrote from Atlanta.
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Donald Trump’s election is one more reason for Obama’s team to firm up global refugee plans before leaving the White House
Monday 14 November 2016 21:48 UTC
Last update: Tuesday 15 November 2016 3:52 UTC
UNITED NATIONS – Members of US President Barack Obama’s administration are scrambling to cement gains they made in tackling the global refugee crisis at a summit earlier this year before the team vacates the Oval Office in January.
Catherine Wiesner, the US Department of State’s deputy assistant secretary on refugees, told Middle East Eye that colleagues were working to ensure that donor countries come good on their pledges to resettle refugees and boost aid for those displaced by war and disasters.
They seek to confirm exactly what the 52 countries and world organisations that attended Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September offered. They also aim to publish a list of international pledges in the coming weeks to answer criticisms of opaqueness.
The US is seeking another country to “take over responsibility” on refugees by hosting a follow-up meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2017 to keep track of the “progress and the commitments” made in September, Wiesner told MEE.
“We’ll also be looking with whoever steps forward to be the co-host and … planning with them some regional or thematic meetings over the course of the year to keep the momentum going,” she added.
Global refugee crisis
Obama hosted the refugee summit on the sidelines of UNGA as an ad hoc response to a global refugee crisis of some 65.3 million displaced people after UN members rejected a global plan to commit to resettle 10 percent of refugees each year.
The largest mass displacement crisis since the Second World War has seen refugees pour into Europe from parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, giving succour to populist, anti-immigrant politicians in the West, including US President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric suggests he will be unwilling to accommodate refugees from Islamist countries in the US after he takes office in January – and less likely than Obama to push other countries to share the burden.
At Obama’s UN summit, countries agreed to boost spending on refugees by $4.5bn from the 2015 levels, to eventually double the number of resettlement slots to about 360,000 and to make it easier for refugees to work and study in host countries.
After pledging conferences, organisers typically publish lists of donors and their commitments in the media. Since the September summit, however, US officials have kept tight-lipped about the pledges made behind closed doors.
Mark Yarnell, an advocate at Refugees International, a pressure group, urged the US State Department to release details speedily to help activists and aid workers in donor countries keep tabs on their governments.
“First you need that basic information of the full commitments and then you need to dig into what each country pledged exactly. Is it actually a new commitment? Is it money that was previously committed and then re-purposed?” Yarnell told MEE.
According to Wiesner, the “list will be published”. She put delays down to “sensitivity” among donors over absorbing refugees and opening up job and schooling opportunities that could be perceived as detrimental to native populations.
The list is expected to reveal sharp increases in resettlement slots in some middle-income countries, as well as new visa opportunities for workers and their families from war-torn Arab countries to live in the oil-rich Gulf, Wiesner said.
“In the Gulf, a lot of these countries have Syrians and other nationalities that have come to their country to work … so a lot of the dialogue there is about alternative pathways,” Wiesner said. “Whether people are already working in Gulf countries and have their status regularised, or are able to bring their families in safe ways to join them.”
A co-host from the September meeting is expected to take responsibility for a follow-up meeting during the UNGA in 2017 to track pledges, but, so far, neither Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico nor Sweden has stepped up to the plate.
Praise for refugee donor countries
Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, praised countries for making “significant and tangible commitments to support refugees” via aid, new admissions, strengthening asylum systems and offering other legal protections.
“We understand that the specifics of a review process and follow-up to the summit are being discussed among the co-hosts and other participating states. UNHCR looks forward to supporting states as they begin the important work of implementation,” Saltmarsh told MEE.
According to Saltmarsh, UN members are also working towards a global deal to “address refugee situations more comprehensively, predictably and equitably” at some point in 2018.
Karen Abuzayd, who led UN efforts on refugees during the meetings in September, said the UNHCR aimed to significantly increase the number of safe havens for displaced people worldwide by resettling five percent of global refugees each year.
That would amount to 1.1 million resettlements in 2017, compared to 100,000 in 2015.
“I think UNHCR’s going to push it, so, and the governments have agreed to it, so they’ll have to step up,” Abuzayd told MEE. “And if they do 5 percent, I’ll be really pleased next year.”
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Alice Thomas, Refugees International
While there are many reasons to be deeply unhappy about this year’s election, one issue in particular fails to get much-needed attention from the candidates and the media: global climate change. During the three presidential debates, neither candidate was asked a single question about climate change. Worse yet, the candidates’ plans for addressing this looming crisis hardly factor into their campaign platforms. What the candidates, the media, and many voters fail to recognize or take seriously is the significant and growing threat that climate change poses to global stability and U.S. national security.
More than 65 million refugees and displaced people struggle across the globe today, the most since World War II. If the crisis in the Mediterranean is any indication, the international community is totally unprepared to address the additional population flows that climate change is anticipated to unleash. Yet during the debates, the only discussion of refugees centered around the (baseless) accusation that refugees — who are themselves the victims of persecution and terrorism — present a security threat. Unaddressed were far more important questions such as how we can better protect and assist not only the millions of innocent civilians fleeing conflict but also the millions more who have been driven from their homes by climate-related disasters each year (who are not protected by the 1951 Refugees Convention). Also unaddressed are questions about how to best support and promote the resilience of those most vulnerable to climate variability so that they’re not forced to resort to migration as their only available survival strategy. And despite all the bluster and hard talk, neither candidate has acknowledged the role that climate change will play in fomenting social unrest and even armed conflict in the future.
On November 9, the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman will explore the link between climate change and conflict in “Out of Africa,” a segment from The Years of Living Dangerously series. If you’re someone whose vote today is based in whole or in part on concerns over national security, I highly recommend that you watch this program.
In 2010, Refugees International, deeply concerned about the role that prolonged drought and dwindling natural resources played in unleashing the violent conflict in Darfur, launched the Climate Displacement Program. Informed by field missions to climate-vulnerable countries, the program advocates to governments, the UN, and the public to act urgently to put in place laws, policies, and strategies to prevent and minimize climate-related displacement and protect the human rights of affected populations. Over the past six years I’ve met with countless individuals from around the globe facing displacement from changes in their environment linked to climate change. From impoverished, drought-stricken farmers in West Africa who had never even heard of human-induced climate change, to fishing communities in the Philippines who remain displaced three years after super-Typhoon Haiyan annihilated their villages leaving them homeless and jobless, what stands out most is that those most affected bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis.
As the U.S. National Intelligence Council recently warned, both at home and abroad, climate change presents one of the biggest security challenges of our time. Addressing it will require employing our ability to think strategically, to innovate, and to work collaboratively toward collective goals, as well as our sense of fairness and desire to help one another — things that truly make us “great.” Let’s hope the next president of the United States has what it takes to confront this critical issue and defend global security and threatened communities great and small.
Alice Thomas manages the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International in Washington, DC.
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By CARA ANNA, ASSOCIATED PRESS
JOHANNESBURG — Nov 4, 2016, 9:17 AM ET
Another major aid group is warning Kenya not to close the world's largest refugee camp, saying the move is pressuring tens of thousands of Somali refugees to return to their deeply unstable country.
A new Refugees International report says Somali refugees in the Dadaab camp in Kenya say they feel under pressure to leave for Somalia, where attacks by Islamic extremist group al-Shabab continue and hunger is widespread.
The U.N. refugee agency "claims that it only supports voluntary returns, but none of the refugees whom we spoke with in Dadaab said they felt like they have much choice," said Mark Yarnell, who wrote the report after visiting Dadaab and Somalia. "It is a failure of the international refugee response system that other options are not available."
The report says Kenya should lift its Nov. 30 deadline to close the camp, which has existed for a quarter-century and holds more than 250,000 people. It sprawls in a dry, thorny region near the border with Somalia, where many born in the camp have never been.
On Monday, Kenya's High Court will hear a petition filed by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights to challenge the government's plan to close the camp, Amnesty International said Friday.
Groups including Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Refugee Council also have expressed alarm in recent weeks over Kenya's reported pressure on Somali refugees to leave. They say large parts of Somalia remain insecure and aid for returnees is limited.
Kenya has expressed concern that some Dadaab residents are used by the Somalia-based al-Shabab to launch attacks inside Kenya. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has said repatriations will be voluntary and humane.
The Refugees International report urges the U.N. refugee agency to give Dadaab residents "reliable information" about security conditions in Somalia.
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By Laura Rozen
WASHINGTON — As the long-anticipated Iraqi military campaign to take Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) got underway this week, humanitarian aid groups warned of the plight of up to 1.5 million civilian inhabitants of the city, hundreds of thousands of whom may be displaced by fighting in the coming weeks. The United Nations said the scale of displacement that could be triggered by Mosul military operations, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 1 million people, may pose one of the single biggest and most complex humanitarian challenges it has ever faced.
“Depending on the intensity and scope of the fighting, as many as 1 million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario,” Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, said Oct. 16.
Preparations have been underway since February for the Mosul campaign, and the United Nations said it had shelters prepared to house 60,000 people, while construction of additional sites to accommodate up to 250,000 people is taking place.
But with Iraq already housing 3.3 million internally displaced people before the Mosul operation began, the UN had received only approximately 58% of its 2016 Iraq funding request of $861 million. “Despite generous new funding pledges, the US $284 million Mosul flash appeal … is only just over half funded,” the UN’s Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. “As a result, key components of the response, including emergency camps, are critically underfunded.”
The daunting humanitarian burden anticipated for Mosul has further stressed already overwhelmed and insufficient resources to care for the over 3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq — most of them who fled IS or earlier battles by the Iraqi government to retake towns from IS since 2014, said Daryl Grisgraber, a senior advocate for the Middle East and North Africa at Refugees International.
“This justified need to prepare and plan for Mosul is really taking some attention and resources away from the 3.3 million IPDs in the rest of the country,” Grisgraber told Al-Monitor in an interview Oct. 19.
Grisgraber, who traveled in Iraq between Sept. 15 and October 4 to investigate conditions for Iraq’s displaced, said she was struck by how little conditions had improved for them since a previous fact-finding trip a year before.
“Things are still very bad for IDPs countrywide, particularly in Iraq’s central provinces,” such as Baghdad, and Anbar province, she said.
“Even as [IS] is pushed out of these areas, they remain in certain pockets, … so [displaced people] can’t go back [to their homes] and it’s very insecure,” Grisgraber said. Meanwhile, the UN and foreign nongovernmental organizations largely can’t work where the IDPs are because security conditions are too risky and it’s too dangerous for staff, she said. “There is a real lack of humanitarian presence where the most vulnerable people are.”
Syria: the largest source of refugees in the world
Even as the situation for Iraq’s displaced remains bleak, the refugee crisis fueled by neighboring Syria’s more than 5-year-old civil war is truly overwhelming, almost apocalyptic in scale. With 4.9 million Syrian refugees and 6.6 million internally displaced since the conflict began in 2011, Syria has produced the largest number of refugees currently in the world — at 65 million refugees and displaced.
“We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record,” the UN refugee agency writes. “An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.”
A UNHCR report, Global Trends, released in June, found a total of 65.3 million people were refugees or displaced at the end of 2015. “It is the first time in the organization’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.”
“Since 2011, when UNHCR announced a new record of 42.5 million forcibly displaced people globally, these numbers have risen sharply each year, … to 59.5 million in 2014,” the UNHCR Global Trends study reported in June. “This is an increase of more than 50% in five years.”
“The study found that three countries produce half the world’s refugees. Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million and Somalia at 1.1 million,” UNHCR wrote. In addition, it said, Colombia, Syria and Iraq had the largest numbers of internally displaced people.
A "broken" system running "from crisis to crisis"
Bill O’Keefe, the vice president of government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), said the refugee problem is overwhelming and the system to deal with it is broken, treating refugees like a short-term problem rather than a protracted condition under which most refugees will be so for almost 20 years.
“The problems are overwhelming, and the system is broken to the extent that all anyone can do is run from crisis to crisis and respond,” O’Keefe told Al-Monitor in an interview. “We are clearly at an inflection point at refugee and displaced people, and the need for system reform is critical and the political will to drive that system of reform is not there.”
The world is experiencing the largest refugee flows in history due to the failure to prevent the wars that are driving people from their homes.
“All the failure to invest in social cohesion, community peace building, governance, all those preventative measures,” O’Keefe said. “And in the analogy of a patient, the world is a patient that has had no preventive care. We have cancer. There are no political solutions, no investment in prevention.”
Most critically, O’Keefe said, governments and UN agencies have not adapted to the reality that the conflicts driving out most of the world’s refugees last for decades.
“The system has not recognized or adapted to the reality that your average refugee is a refugee for 19 years,” O’Keefe said. “It is a long-term problem. But we still have a short-term response.”
“It’s so long because the conflicts that have driven most refugees to flee last for 20-25 years,” he said. “If you look at the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, they are feeling conflicts that have been ongoing for decades. Iraqis have had low-level conflicts since 2003.”
“So people flee, and can’t go back, [because the] conflict is still there, and they can’t, and there are not enough resettlement opportunities in third countries. So they are stuck,” he said. “But the programming that governments provide still treat it like it is a year-by-year problem. We need to help, own up to that families are going to be there for 20 years. Help them live a normal life where they are. They need education.”
Helping refugees lead a normal life where they are
O’Keefe praised US President Barack Obama’s hosting of the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the United Nations on Sept. 20 that aimed to get pledges to support getting an additional 1 million refugee children in school.
“We don’t want a lost generation of Syrians and Iraqis where you have children without education and skills to rebuild their country,” O’Keefe said. “It’s a critical, critical, critical topic.”
CRS is providing schooling and psychosocial support for 65,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugee children in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt, he said.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF says there are more than 2.5 million Syrian children now registered as refugees outside of Syria, primarily in the neighboring host countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt — 600,000 of whom are not in school. In addition, Syria is home to 2.1 million school-age children (ages 5-17) who are not in school.
In 2016, UNICEF requested $847 million in funds to support programs to get Syrian refugee children access to education and psychosocial support in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. In Turkey, UNICEF aimed to get 400,000 children access to formal education through direct support and systems strengthening, as well as 80,000 children provided with child protection or psychosocial support services.
In Lebanon, where Syrian refugee children account for 40% of the entire school population, UNICEF aimed to support 233,000 Syrian children enrolled in school, and psychosocial support to 185,000 children in 2016.
In Jordan, UNICEF aimed to support 156,000 Syrian refugee children enrolled in school in 2016, as well as 50,000 in Iraq and 15,000 in Egypt.
In May, UNICEF and other UN agencies launched the “Education Cannot Wait” initiative, to try to bridge the gap between humanitarian interventions during crises and long-term development afterward, through predictable funding. The aim is to raise nearly $4 billion to reach 13.6 million children in need of education in emergencies within 5 years, UNICEF said.
“We know education can quite literally be life-saving in crises — keeping children safe from abuses like trafficking and recruitment into armed groups — as well as providing children the opportunity to shape their futures,” UNICEF spokeswoman Aimee Gonzales told Al-Monitor by email. “Multiple surveys have shown that children and youth living in emergencies say that going to school is one of their most important priorities.”
Obama, while addressing the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, lamented the largest refugee crisis in the world since World War II. And he acknowledged a collective international failure to end conflicts such as Syria’s that are driving such epic displacement, even as his own decision not to intervene to halt the violence there remains perhaps his most-debated foreign policy decision as his presidency nears its end.
“We are facing a crisis of epic proportions,” Obama told the leaders. “I called this summit because this crisis is one of the most urgent tests of our time — our capacity for collective action. To test, first and foremost, our ability to end conflicts, because so many of the world’s refugees come from just three countries ravaged by war — Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.”
Obama continued, “The mentality that allows for violence with impunity is something we cannot excuse. And collectively, we continue to make excuses. … We all know that what is happening in Syria … is unacceptable. And we are not as unified as we should be in pushing to make it stop.”
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Dominique Bonessi, Special for USA TODAY7:04 a.m. EDT October 15, 2016
ISTANBUL — On a sunny Saturday afternoon in September, a group of Syrian children gathered with their mothers in a neighborhood park for a free program of games, songs and drawing.
For parents who fled Syria's civil war to give their youngsters a better education here, the sessions led by Syrian music teacher Maisa Alhafez are welcome because Turkey has been unable to provide enough spaces for all the school-age children.
That creates a tough dilemma for the refugee parents: enroll their children in a school they can’t afford or send them out to work to help support the family.
More than a half-million Syrian children in Turkey aren't enrolled in school, while many of the 330,000 who attend classes can barely afford the fees, according toUNICEF. Other children must work to help support their families, often in textile factories where girls are vulnerable to exploitation.
One mother in the park, Fatima El-Helu, said it took three attempts to find a school that was convenient and affordable. When the family arrived in Istanbul a year ago, El-Helu’s two children were placed in a Syrian school out of their area.
“The kids left the house before sunrise to go to a school that is very far away,” El-Helu said in Arabic.
After a teacher slapped her son, who has a speech impediment, she moved her children to a Syrian school closer to home. But the hours — 4 to 10 p.m. — and the fees of $110 per year plus $32 per week for transportation proved too much.
Now her children are in a Turkish school and seem to have settled in. Her daughter has made friends with a Palestinian girl, so she has someone to speak Arabic with at school. But money is still an issue. According to El-Helu, Turkish children get $10 a year for books and other supplies, while refugee students from neighboring Syria are told to share supplies or go without.
Turkey’s Ministry of Education, with funding from UNICEF and other aid groups, has set up more than 350 temporary Syrian schools in urban areas of the country, offering courses taught by Syrian instructors in Arabic. The government waived tuition fees for several schools, but parents still must pay a $30 registration fee and transportation costs.
Turkish law prohibits employing children under age 15, and those younger than 18 can work only under special circumstances, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their schooling, according to the Fair Wear Foundation in Turkey.
There are no solid numbers on how many children are actually in the workforce in violation of the law, but Human Rights Watch says child labor is “rampant.”
“Many children are working the informal sectors — washing dishes, carrying tea trays and selling tissues on the street,” said Daryl Grisgraber, a senior advocate atRefugees International. “Children work behind the scenes in the service industry. We also heard a lot about children working in the textile industry.”
Zainab Al-isa, 14, and Alia Ibrahim, 15, are friends from Aleppo, Syria, and both work here in Syrian-run textile factories. They said Syrian girls are especially vulnerable to working long hours and are paid $270 a month, while the boys they work with make double that.
Al-isa said she was attending a Turkish school but had trouble understanding her classes. When it came time to take midyear exams, her parents pulled her out of school to start working. Asked if she wants to go back to her studies, she said, “No, I won’t go back to school because I like working.”
UNICEF strongly urges the Turkish government to develop programs to protect Syrian children and ensure their right to go to school. The Turkish Ministry of Education declined to comment on the issue.
With the new school year just beginning, El-Helu said she is not sure what she will do if she cannot afford the transportation cost. “I just hope we can return to Syria soon,” she said.
Contributing: Muhammad Abunnassr
Bonessi is a fellow with the International Center for Journalists, currently based in Istanbul.
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By Roseanne Gerin
The United Nations’ newest effort to address large-scale refugee flows and migration, adopted last month in New York, has left out at least one highly vulnerable group—internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Southeast Asia, say disappointed human rights experts and activists.
The adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants on Sept. 19, in which U.N. member states agreed to protect the rights of refugees and migrants and share responsibility for large movements on a global scale, will have little or no effect on IDPs in Southeast Asia, especially Muslim Rohingyas forced into camps in their native Myanmar and scattered across the region.
The stateless Rohingya have been called the most persecuted minority in the world, and some rights groups contend they are the victims of state-sponsored genocide because of the intense persecution by majority Buddhists and officials of a military government long known for brutality that was replaced by a civilian administration only six months ago.
Rights groups point out that while the declaration is intended to address the millions fleeing recent wars, especially the raging conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, it has failed to grasp an opportunity to include concrete measures to help IDPs such as the 1.1 million Rohingya who mostly live in the Southeast Asian country’s coastal Rakhine state, also known as Arakan state.
“The declaration was, frankly speaking, a response to political pressure emanating from the ongoing/proxy war in Syria rather than the long-running problems in Myanmar, which since the start of the Syrian civil war, have failed to make headlines in the West,” wrote said Steven Kiersons, team lead for Myanmar at The Sentinel Project, in an email.
“If it has any effect on the situation in Myanmar and Southeast Asia in general, it is at the very least an acknowledgement that the current system for handling migrants and refugees is systematically dysfunctional and relies more on stemming the flow of people than addressing the root causes of migrations,” said Kiersons, whose Canada-based nonprofit organization focuses on the prevention of genocide.
The Rohingya, victims of an obscure conflict in a country that had largely shut itself off from the world for decades, briefly grabbed world news headlines in 2012, after an outbreak of communal violence killed hundreds and led many thousands to become refugees within Myanmar or take dangerous boat trips to other Southeast Asian countries.
Four years on, their fate remains precarious, amid renewed tensions in the wake of an armed attack on Oct. 9 on Myanmar guards on the country’s border with Bangladesh that has sparked retaliatory violence, leaving more than 40 people dead and sending thousands of frightened villagers fleeing their homes for cities.
Rafendi Djamin, director of Amnesty International’s South East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office based in Bangkok, calls the New York Declaration a “token gesture” that will have little impact on the lives of refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Southeast Asia or elsewhere.
“Instead of announcing clear and concrete steps towards ending the refugee crisis, world leaders chose to abscond any real responsibility towards reaching a solution,” he told RFA.
Djamin noted that U.N. members states had discussed including internally displaced communities in the declaration, but in the end decided not to because they thought that it would make the document’s scope too broad.
While the main responsibility for protecting IDPs lies with national authorities, U.N. member states must push the Myanmar government to ensure that the Rohingya and other displaced people have full and unrestricted access to humanitarian assistance and that efforts to resettle them are conducted voluntarily, safely and with dignity, he said.
“It is also important for the international community to address the root causes—which include discrimination and violence—that have forced both Rohingya refugees and IDPs to flee their homes,” he said.
Tangible programs necessary
The declaration, which was adopted during the U.N.’s first-ever high-level summit on the issue of migrants and refugees by heads of state and government, U.N. leaders, and representatives from civil society, the private sector, international organizations, and academia, mentions IDPs three times in general terms. But they are not addressed in the section on commitments, human rights advocates pointed out.
Myra Dahgaypaw, acting executive director of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma, said she sees no positive impact from the declaration as written on paper and notes that not only the Rohingya, but other people in Myanmar are routinely displaced and become refugees due to fighting or the confiscation of their land by the national army and conflicts with the country’s numerous armed ethnic groups.
“[Unless] the U.N. and the stakeholders are willing to implement some tangible programs specifically for the affected communities, the declaration will only be a gesture,” she wrote in an email.
“If the U.N. would like to see tangible results, the U.N. and its stakeholders must create specific programs that are measurable, work with local community leaders by going on the ground, speaking with the affected community, collecting information and conducting need assessments directly,” she said.
Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate at Washington-based Refugees International who focuses on Myanmar, agrees that the New York Declaration will have little immediate impact on migrants and refugees in Southeast Asia because of its lack of accountability.
“If there is one major disappointment with the New York Declaration, it is that it does not provide for accountability for states that do not live up to their commitments.”
“It is good that IDPs are mentioned in the declaration, even if not being addressed in the commitments, but if it does not lead to future efforts to explicitly address the challenges of IDPs, then it will be a massive shortcoming that will undermine not only the security of IDPs, but the commitments to addressing refugees as well,” Sullivan told RFA from Bangkok where he is completing a research mission on Rohingya in Malaysia and Thailand.
It’s necessary for actual reform to be implemented to have an impact on IDPs like the Rohingya as the Malaysian government and UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, have done to tackle complex migration and refugee resettlement issues, he said.
“If put into effect, it could lead to implementation of ideas like granting work permits to refugees, providing education, and better access to health care,” Sullivan said.
“These would lead to substantive improvement for refugees in Malaysia, including at least 50,000 Rohingya now living there” he said. “Ideally, the commitments in the New York Declaration will help add pressure for such ideas to move forward.”
‘Blatant restrictions on human rights’
Most of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority considers the Rohingya to be illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though many have lived in the country for generations.
The country’s 1982 Citizenship Law effectively renders the Rohingya stateless by prohibiting them from holding Myanmar citizenship. This policy denies them basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.
“In the case of the Rohingya in Myanmar, we are talking about blatant restrictions on human rights,” Sullivan said. “There is a need for freedom of movement, unrestricted humanitarian access, and, in the longer term, addressing the status of Rohingya as stateless due to Myanmar’s citizenship laws.”
“Addressing statelessness is included among the New York Declaration’s commitments, so, in theory, should cover the Rohingya.”
Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, also cast doubt on the impact of the New York Declaration.
“The declaration has welcome aspirations but no mechanisms for monitoring and implementation,” he told RFA.
“There should be a binding convention on the rights and treatment of IDPs, with monitoring and public annual reports naming and shaming countries which don’t comply, including those who haven’t signed the convention,” Farmaner said.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya were displaced following communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead. Afterwards, about 140,000 Rohingya were forced into dozens of IDP camps, where about 120,000 remain today in a state of limbo.
Since 2012, more than 170,000 mostly Rohingya have fled Myanmar and the border areas of Bangladesh by sea to escape ongoing abuses. But many have fallen into the hands of human traffickers in other Asian countries, according to Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-based group that seeks to prevent and remedy human rights violations.
The declaration also alludes to obligations under international law when it comes to IDPs, said Djamin. It says: "While some commitments are mainly applicable to one group, they must also be applicable to the other.”
Farmaner noted that Myanmar’s new civilian-led government has retained restrictions on humanitarian aid to Rohingya IDPs that were put in place by the military junta that ruled the country for 50 years until 2011.
“People are dying as a result,” he said. “Rohingya IDPs need international protection in their own country just as much as refugees who flee abroad.”
Slow-moving and stagnant
Likewise, Wakar Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union, believes that the New York Declaration will have little or no impact on refugees and migrants in and from Myanmar, saying that such efforts are slow-moving at best.
The nonprofit umbrella organization represents various Rohingya groups worldwide and seeks to find a political solution to the issues they face, including human rights violations and the denial of citizenship.
He calls the Rohingya issue a “truly humanitarian disaster” and laments that it was not included in the New York Declaration.
“Absolutely, it should have been included,” he wrote via email. “Most countries in this declaration are preoccupied with the issues in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, which involve several millions refugees and IDPs. “These have apparently overshadowed the smaller groups elsewhere in the world, but it shouldn’t have happened that way.”
Uddin also believes the Rohingya issue was left out of the declaration for political reasons, because many of the countries that have spoken out against their treatment in the past have now stopped because they trust the new civilian government, led by state counselor and de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to address the matter.
The UNHCR has maintained limited operations with small units in the northern part of Rakhine state but cannot deliver necessary assistance to the people because of its limited presence and restrictions that were first put in place by the junta-led government.
The UNHCR’s handing of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh has been much better than its dealings with IDPs in Rakhine, said Uddin.
“Nonetheless, there may be some improvement of these issues in Myanmar not because of the New York Declaration, but due to the emerging unilateral efforts by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD-led government to address the root causes of the migrants, refugees, and IDP issues in and from Myanmar,” Uddin said.
Firm and full engagement
In late August, Aung San Suu Kyi formed a nine-member Rakhine Advisory Commission tasked with examining humanitarian and development issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of all who live in Rakhine.
However, her appointment of former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan and two other foreign dignitaries to the panel triggered opposition from Rakhine Buddhists and the state’s Arakan National Party, which has called for the commission’s disbandment. These groups, which have led the hostility against the Muslim Rohingya, say they believe the foreign members will automatically side with the Rohingya and turn a domestic issue into an international one.
“Regardless of the Rohingya citizenship argument from either side, the Rohingya victims in the IDP camps must be returned to their original homes in their respective townships,” Uddin wrote.
“The United Nations must engage fully and firmly with the government of Myanmar for the immediate repatriation of the Rohingya IDPs,” he said.
U.N. officials said more must be done collectively by the organization’s member states to deal with the forced displacement of people.
“The New York Declaration represents a global recognition that no one state can address this issue on its own. We must share responsibilities,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters on the sidelines of the summit for refugees and migrants.
“Migration must be a choice, not a necessity,” he said. “We must address the root causes of forced displacement.”
Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme, which seeks to wipe out poverty in the world, told journalists on the sidelines of the annual Social Good Summit in New York on Sept. 18, the day before the New York Declaration was adopted, that the international community needs to give more voice to IDPs.
Global leaders and grassroots activists discussed the impact of technology and new media on social initiatives worldwide at the two-day conference held annually during U.N. General Assembly week.
Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, noted that the summit’s outcomes would not “go anywhere near” a rewriting of the U.N. Refugee Convention of 1951 or address the issue of IDPs, but she hoped that it would raise awareness among leaders and ideally lead to more practical support for refugees in terms of funding.
“This summit isn’t dealing with the internally displaced, but they are a significant proportion of those who are forcibly displaced, so that tells us that there’s work to expand this conversation to deal with that specific group of people,” she said.
Most Southeast Asian nations, including Myanmar, are not signatories to the U.N. Refugee Convention of 1951, which defines the term “refugee,” outlines the rights of the displaced, and sets out the legal obligations of U.N. member states to protect them.
“It’s great that there’s the convention on refugees…but the internally displaced—they need voices, they need attention as well, so that’s a conversation that must happen,” said Clark.
Three days later, Clark and others issued an open letter to U.N. member states, calling on governments and world leaders to do more to support IDPs alongside refugees and migrants.
Research for this story was supported by a fellowship from the International Center for Journalists and the United Nations Foundation.
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By Howard LaFranchi, Staff writer OCTOBER 13, 2016
It makes a certain amount of sense that the person selected to lead the United Nations has almost always been a diplomat. They don’t call the UN secretary-general, who sits atop a global institution of 193 nations, “the world’s top diplomat” for nothing.
But when António Guterres takes the helm in January as the UN's ninth secretary-general, the former head of the UN’s refugee agency will stand apart from all the other diplomats who have occupied the post.
That’s because the appointment of Mr. Guterres – a former prime minister of Portugal – will mark the first time a diplomat with national political experience has led the UN.
Advocates of the world body, and even some critics, are finding hope in Guterres’s executive experience. Tapping a politician might help make the sprawling and often remote institution more effective – and, they say, more responsive to major development and security challenges and the millions of lives affected by them.
“The ideal CV for a secretary-general would include two things: extensive experience at the multilateral level and evidence of strong political talents, because the ability to persuade is really the essence of this job,” says Michael Doyle, an international relations expert at Columbia University in New York who was also a senior adviser to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
“If we look at Guterres, we see he has them both: He was a head of government, and he has the leadership at UNHCR [the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees] for 10 years,” Dr. Doyle says. “It’s really a combination we haven’t seen before, and I think it augurs well for the UN and the job he’ll do leading it.”
A COURAGEOUS CHOICE?
On Thursday, the UN General Assembly voted by acclamation to approve Guterres to replace outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean diplomat whose second five-year term ends Dec. 31. The vote confirms the UN Security Council’s surprise selection of Guterres last week from a field of 13 candidates.
This was supposed to be the year that a woman was named as secretary-general after seven decades of male UN leaders. Seven of the candidates were women, with several considered highly qualified. Given a tradition of geographical rotation in the secretary-general’s chair, some countries – including veto-wielding Russia – also thought it was high time to choose someone from Eastern Europe.
But in the end the Security Council went unanimously for a Western European man whose proven managerial and political skills may be something the UN needs in an era of rising public skepticism toward distant transnational governance.
Many women in particular were disappointed that a man was chosen yet again to lead an institution that serves a world where women and girls are half the population – and the key to addressing many critical development challenges, according to many development experts.
But others say they are encouraged the Security Council resisted pressures to make their selection based on gender or geography and instead focused on the skills the UN needs today.
“I think [choosing Guterres] was actually quite courageous,” says Michel Gabaudan, president of the advocacy organization Refugees International and a former UNHCR regional representative who worked several years under Guterres.
“Instead of it being the result of the kind of backroom deal-making the Security Council is accused of, I think he got the job because he made by far the best case for why he should be selected,” Mr. Gabaudan says. “And I think that is a promising sign for the UN.”
Some longtime critics of the UN also found reason to cheer in Guterres’s appointment. John Bolton, who was US ambassador to the UN under President George W. Bush, says the outcome was a “surprise” in part because the Security Council did not bow to the proponents of “gender-identity politics” who had lobbied hard to appoint a woman.
Mr. Bolton points out that the UN charter states only that the secretary-general is the body’s “chief administrative officer,” and from there he advises Guterres to stick to managing the organization’s hulking bureaucracy and to leave policy to his bosses on the Security Council.
The secretary-general is charged with managing the UN’s 40,000-strong bureaucracy and its 100,000 peacekeepers. Guterres will take the helm with the image of UN peacekeepers tarnished by cases of sexual assault on missions in Africa and another mission’s introduction of cholera to post-earthquake Haiti.
But others see the secretary-general much more as a global persuader and advocate for the peace and advancement of all mankind the UN was meant to foster.
Gabaudan says Guterres impressed him at UNHCR as a “forward thinker” who is able to discern the implications of global challenges. He notes, for example, that Guterres was the first UNHCR chief to underscore the impact that climate change would have on global human migration.
“He looks at how the world is changing and tries to look ahead to the impact of those changes and what might be the solutions to that impact,” Gabaudan says. “His approach [at UNHCR] was to try to address these challenges – like the impact of climate change on human mobility – before they became intolerable.”
Indeed, earlier this month when Guterres learned the Security Council had selected him, he told reporters his focus would be on “prevention, prevention, prevention.” Guterres said he would encourage the world to nip problems in the bud – whether it’s a nascent civil conflict or a looming global challenge like climate change – before they grow to threaten global progress.
That may sound overly lofty to some, but for others, the emphasis on prevention underscored the incoming UN chief’s pragmatism.
“It tells me he’s shrewd and has very good judgment,” says Columbia’s Doyle, noting that growing divides on the Security Council – particularly between veto-wielding powers Russia and the United States – will make tackling “hot” conflicts like Syria challenging.
“We’re entering a difficult time for the UN,” Doyle says, “but where Guterres might be able to find some common ground is on prevention, and his words suggest he understands that.” Implementation of the Paris climate accord or steps to quell a regional conflict before it balloons to implicate big-power interests are examples of the kind of results-oriented “preventive” work Guterres is talking about, Doyle adds.
Here too, the political experience of a former prime minister should come in handy, Gabaudan says.
“A big part of his job will be to mobilize member states to take action in ways that prevent the worst of growing challenges,” he says. “His combination of a political person with strong principles, but one with an ability to understand the history that shapes where people are coming from, will serve him well in his efforts to do that.”
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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 2016 (IPS) - The 15 members of the UN Security Council jointly announced Wednesday their decision to select Antonio Guterres of Portugal as the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations.
“We have a clear favourite and his name is Antonio Guterres,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Security Council President for the month of October told media, flanked on either side by his 14 counterparts on the council.
Per UN tradition, the UN Security Council’s decision, to be formalised on Thursday, is expected to be endorsed by the full 193 members of the UN General Assembly.
However this show of unity from Security Council members comes at a time when diplomacy over Syria is at a new low with US Secretary of State John Kerry announcing earlier this week that Russia and the United States were suspending talks on Syria.
The ongoing conflict in Syria is just one of the many challenges that Guterres will face as the world’s top diplomat.
Fortunately many believe that Guterres is among those best prepared for the task, as shown through his performance in what has been the most open and transparent selection process of a UN Secretary-General to date.
Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 Guterres was later UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015, during a time when the number of displaced people worldwide grew to its highest level since the end of the Second World War.
However Guterres’ selection has ultimately disappointed those who believed that the next Secretary-General should be the first woman to lead the international organisation or the first Eastern European to hold the job.
While skipping the Eastern European rotation is a break with tradition, the inability to select a female candidate from seven highly qualified female contenders seems like an even deeper blow for an organisation which has long claimed to see gender equality as one of its central goals. However the gender break down of the Security Council itself, 14 men and one women, shows that for many UN member states gender equality is still a long way off. Guterres will also be the fourth European man to hold the position – although the first since 1981 – showing that Europe with just over 10 percent of the world’s population still has a firm grasp on global affairs.
Michel Gabaudan President of Refugees International who worked under Guterres at UNHCR told IPS that he was delighted that this year’s open selection process ultimately resulted in the selection of Guterres.
“I think we need a strong leader, we need a visionary leader and we need a diplomatic leader and I think Mr Guterres definitely has shown to have all of these qualities,” said Gabaudan.
“He brings countries together which is basically the job of the Secretary General so tremendous challenge ahead for Mr Guterres but I think the UN has selected the right person for that difficult job.”
Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association, UK and co-founder of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign told IPS that she believes that Guterres selection also reflects the success of this year’s improved selection process.
“The announcement today is testament to the impact of the more open and inclusive process for which 1 for 7 Billion campaigned,” Samarasinghe told IPS.
“Guterres was not seen as a frontrunner at the beginning of the race – “wrong” gender and region for starters – but was widely considered to have done well in his General Assembly dialogue and in other events, with many commenting on his experience and ability to inspire.”
The 1 for 7 Billion campaign has called for improvements in the appointment of the Secretary-General, including calling for a single, longer term of office to remove the perceived pressures of pleasing the veto-wielding five permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia the United States and the United Kingdom.
These perceived pressures were also noted by Louis Charbonneau, UN Director at Human Rights Watch.
“Ultimately, the next UN secretary-general will be judged on his ability to stand up to the very powers that just selected him, whether on Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, the refugee crisis, climate change or any other problem that comes his way,” noted Charbonneau.
However, like many others, Charbonneau also welcomed Guterres appointment:
“With Antonio Guterres, the Security Council has chosen an outspoken and effective advocate for refugees with the potential to strike a radically new tone on human rights at a time of great challenges.”
Guterres is considered likely to be a candidate willing and able to stand up for the voiceless at the UN. In April, he told journalists of how his experience volunteering with the homeless had inspired his career in politics.
The news of Guterres’ selection also coincided with the confirmation that the Paris Climate Change agreement has enough signatories to enter into force within 30 days. The important next stage of implementing the non-binding agreement will now fall to Guterres’ purview.
Guterres will replace outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.
Read the original article here.
By Erika Piñeros
Days after Colombia voted ‘no’ to the terms of a peace deal between the government and the FARC rebel group, the country is still struggling to come to terms with the unexpected result and what it means for the nation’s long and elusive search for peace.
A ‘yes’ vote would have paved the way for an end to more than half a century of fighting between the government and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The conflict with the FARC and other armed groups has claimed more than 260,000 lives, the majority of them civilians, and displaced nearly seven million people.
But just over half (50.21 percent) of those who cast their ballots on Sunday voted ‘no’ to the question: “Do you support the final accord to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace?”
In the hours following the announcement of the result, both the government and the FARC issued statements calling for calm and emphasising that a June ceasefire would remain in place.
But on Monday, FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, aka Timoleon or "Timochenko", insisted that the peace agreement signed on 26 September was legally binding, irrespective of the referendum result.
Then, on Tuesday night, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the ceasefire would end on 31 October.
Londoño responded on Twitter: "And after that, the war continues?”
That indeed is the question that now hangs over a country that had become increasingly polarised in the run-up to the plebiscite.
The sense of division was not helped by conflicting messages around what Colombians were being asked to vote on. While President Santos campaigned for “Yes to peace”, the opposition’s slogan was “No to the accord”.
Legally, the government was responsible for educating the public about the contents of the 297-page peace accord. And yet, Santos’s government was also behind the ‘yes’ campaign.
“It wasn’t clear to voters what was instructive and what was the ‘yes’ campaign,” said Pedro Vaca, director for the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP).
“It was very dirty. What we had was a political campaign, not an information campaign,” commented Rafael Batista, a local journalist.
And yet, the government’s attempts both to educate the public and promote the ‘yes’ campaign, failed to reach the entire country.
Refugees International conducted a fact-finding mission among people displaced by the civil war and found “large numbers of displaced people who at best were uninformed or, at worst, had fundamental misgivings on the accord’s provisions,” said Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, a senior advocate with the organisation.
In Norte de Santander – a province that saw an overwhelming vote against the accord – Vigaud-Walsh noted that, “Nearly all Colombians we interviewed said that the peace deal would not improve their lives.
“Peace agreement or not, they are currently experiencing increased threats from the ELN guerrilla group.”
The National Liberation Party (ELN) was not a party to the peace deal.
Enthusiasm to get out and vote was low too. Historically, Colombia has a low voter turnout rate, but only 38 percent of registered voters participated in Sunday’s referendum. That’s the lowest turnout rate since 1994.
In addition, despite the simple Yes/No option on the ballot, more than 250,000 votes were left blank or found to be invalid, the highest rate in over half a century.
Part of the problem may have been the short timeframe that was allowed for new voters to register – just five weeks between the announcement of the plebiscite and voting day.
In a country with one of the world’s highest displacement rates, an unknown number of those most affected by the conflict were left unable to cast their votes.
Vigaud-Walsh of Refugees International said that many displaced people would have had to return to their places of origin in order to vote.
“[That’s] a costly option for the vast majority, both in financial and security terms,” she told IRIN. “Their inability to vote may have been a factor in the outcome of the plebiscite.”
The devil was in the detail
‘No’ voters have been keen to make clear that they did not reject peace, but the terms of the accord which many felt gave too much away to the FARC in terms of amnesty for confessed war crimes and political power, among other issues.
“I voted ‘no’,” said Ana, a 42-year-old nurse from Colombia’s northwestern Uraba region. “We all want peace, but not like this. Those accords were not transparent or fair,” she added, referring to the secretive nature of the initial peace talks between the government and the FARC, and the fact that the deal does not extend to all armed groups.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in June, President Santos warned that, should Colombians reject the peace deal, “we have ample information that the FARC are ready to go back to war, an urban war which would be even more destructive than the rural war.”
Whether Santos was using scare tactics or genuinely feared a return to war is unclear.
The leader of the opposition and the ‘no’ campaign, former president Alvaro Uribe, was due to meet with Santos on Wednesday to present his party’s demands for a renegotiated peace deal.
“Our standards of justice, reparation, attention to victims and truth have to be higher,” said opposition spokesman and former vice-president Francisco Santos. “We will work with the government to be able to redirect this accord.”
But the FARC may be unwilling to compromise on major sticking points for the Uribe camp, such as prison time for its leaders, payment of compensation to victims and those found guilty of crimes being barred from public office.
An anonymous source, who is in regular contact with the FARC high command, told IRIN, “It’s clear [the FARC] are looking for other things. There’s a lot of economic interest there.
“Colombians are too divided now, and the ones who will decide everything are the ones at the top, as always.”
RI Senior Advocate for Europe Izza Leghtas discussed the refugee crisis in Hungary and the EU's ongoing resettlement plans with CCTV America. View the video below.
Read the original article here.
By Ishaan Tharoor September 30
A provocative stunt by a far-right Danish political party this week has stirred a growing international backlash.
Members of the Party of the Danes in the port town of Haderslev distributed dozens of aerosol spray cans to passersby. They were labeled “anti-migrant spray,” aimed at equipping local Danes against the threat of assault from immigrants and asylum seekers.
The purse-size can came with a label that translates as “Refugee Spray,” both “legal” and “effective.” The move immediately drew critics.
Izza Leghtas, a senior advocate for Europe at Refugees International, described the gag to CNNas “an appalling act of hostility and xenophobia towards asylum-seekers and refugees.” She went on: “People who have fled to Europe to escape from war and violence should find the protection they need, and be treated with respect like any other human being. Yet too often, they find closed doors and prejudice. This is the latest, extreme example of that.”
The Party of the Danes defended its stunt in Haderslev. “I cannot see how it is racist,” party leader Daniel Carlsen told CNN. “Pepper spray is illegal here so we wanted to figure out a way for Danish people, in particular women, to protect themselves. It’s obviously not the ideal situation.”
While the party is relatively fringe and linked with neo-Nazism, its fellow travelers include more prominent, legitimate organizations, such as the Danish People’s Party. From obscurity in the 1990s, the xenophobic DPP has risen to command a significant chunk of seats in Denmark’s Parliament, winning some 21 percent of the vote in elections last year. Denmark’s coalition government has been accused of taking a hard line on migrants, and was widely criticized for a plan to seize the assets and valuables of incoming refugees.
Like the attitudes of far-right populists elsewhere, security fears in Denmark about an influx of migrants are often built on a more abhorrent reservoir of racial hostility. This summer members of the Party of the Danes circulated a meme online ahead of the European soccer semifinal between France and Iceland. The image showed France’s many non-white players juxtaposed against the Icelanders, hailing a clash between Africa and Europe.
The solidarity, as you can see in the tweet above, did not impress Icelanders.
This is not the first time xenophobic groups have distributed sprays to combat immigrants. In January, Geert Wilders, the Dutch far-right leader, walked around a fish market in Rotterdam,handing women spray cans that promised to be “Islamic testosterone bombs.” The stunt followed right-wing furor in parts of Europe after migrants and asylum seekers were implicated in a series of sexual assaults in major cities.
Charlotte Bech, a resident of Haderslev, wrote a blog for the Agence France-Presse websitedecrying the divisive politics that have overtaken her town and describing her own experience when handed one of these anti-migrant sprays.
“I asked him what it was and he responded, very seriously, that it was an anti-migrant spray,” she wrote. “I was shocked. I felt a deep sense of injustice. I have gotten to know several refugees who are living in my town and some of them have become friends. I can’t stand people judging them in that way.”
She added a note of optimism: “But it is important to point out that a lot of Danes have taken to social media to denounce these sprays. Two people even filmed themselves handing out aerosol sprays meant to promote compassion towards migrants.”
Read the original article here.
By Hilary McGann, CNN
Updated 3:35 PM ET, Tue September 27, 2016
(CNN)A Danish anti-immigration party faces an international backlash after handing out "Asyl-spray" with an aim of protecting citizens against migrant attacks.
The right-wing Danskernes Parti, who consider themselves "National Democrats," handed out almost 150 of the spray cans on the streets of Haderslev, a port town in the southeast of Denmark on Saturday.
As the use of pepper spray is illegal in Denmark, the party used hair spray instead for their campaign.
Izza Leghtas, a Senior Advocate for Europe at Refugees International, condemned the move as "an appalling act of hostility and xenophobia towards asylum-seekers and refugees."
"People who have fled to Europe to escape from war and violence should find the protection they need, and be treated with respect like any other human being. Yet too often, they find closed doors and prejudice. This is the latest, extreme example of that," she said in a statement to CNN.
Danskernes Parti leader Daniel Carlsen defended the controversial move.
"I cannot see how it is racist. Pepper spray is illegal here so we wanted to figure out a way for Danish people, in particular women, to protect themselves. It's obviously not the ideal situation. In the long run we want to repatriate the migrants, we want to repatriate non-Westerners in general, that is in the long run. In the short run we want to provide solutions to make life better and safer for the Danish people."
In recent months immigrants have been blamed for several deadly attacks across Europe, including a Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, that killed 84 people and a suicide bombing in Ansbach, Germany that injured 15.
In a statement about the spray cans, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it "strongly regrets that this kind of incident is taking place in Denmark against asylum seekers and refugees, people who have already suffered so much."
The statement went on to say that the UNHCR does not believe that the Danskernes Parti is representative of the Danish people.
"It is a small group that is involved in this incident and only represents a very small fraction of the Danish people and UNHCR is confident that most Danes also strongly condemn this incident."
But Carlsen said, "It is a disgrace to Denmark and Europe as a whole that an organisation like this is promoting mass immigration to Europe, and it will destroy Europe. We are not saying that migrants are all rapists, but the problem with mass migration is the mass, and because of the mass it will in time replace the indigenous people of Europe."
According to their official website, the Danskernes Parti needs some 20,103 signatures to get on the ballot in the next general election.
"We are pretty sure that we will stand in the next election," said Carlsen, adding that the party has gained 700 signatures in the last two days.
Read the original article here.
Kenya’s plan to close the world’s largest refugee camp involves illegal forced repatriations of Somalis. Why is the U.N. helping to carry it out?
By Ty McCormick
KISMAYO, Somalia — For years, Katra Abii dreamed of moving her family back to Somalia. All eight of her children were born in neighboring Kenya, in the world’s largest refugee camp, but she hoped one day they would be able to marry and start families of their own in their home country.
As long as al-Shabab insurgents continued to maim and kill in their quest to topple the weak Somali government, however, she and her children planned to stay put.
Then, in May, Kenya announced its intention to shutter Dadaab, a desolate swath of desert that was home to more than 300,000 refugees, Abii and her children among them, because it claimed al-Shabab had made inroads there. Under pressure from the Kenyan government, which reluctantly hosts the seventh-largest refugee population in the world, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) agreed to accelerate the repatriation of those Somalis who were willing to return home.
Soon, it was sending as many as 1,000 people back to Somalia every day.
But Abii says there is nothing voluntary about UNHCR’s “voluntary” repatriation program, which is partially funded by U.S. government. She agreed to relocate to Somalia in August only because she had been led to believe that the Kenyan government would eventually evict everyone by force. She knew if the army began rounding up refugees and sending them back to Somalia, as it did after a string of terrorist attacks in 2014, there would be no time to take advantage of the limited financial assistance UNHCR was offering to returnees.
So Abii decided to take her children back to Kismayo, even though she knew it wouldn’t be a happy homecoming. Once there, she found that even the bare-bones support they had been promised — schools, health care, a meager cash allowance for food — was insufficient or didn’t exist at all. She and her children ended up in a camp with internally displaced Somalis — people uprooted by the war who hadn’t made it across the border into Kenya. Their new home, one of hundreds of flimsy huts huddled together on a trash-strewn beach, was similar to the one they had left behind in Dadaab. Except it was less secure and there were fewer aid agencies working to keep them alive.
“I was poor in Dadaab, but I am destitute here,” said Abii, whose angular features were framed by a flowing blue headscarf tucked tightly beneath her chin. “The Kenyans told us it’s time to return to your home country. They told us we don’t have a choice.”
Since December 2014, UNHCR has facilitated the return of more than 24,000 refugees to Somalia, all of whom it says went willingly. But as the agency has accelerated the repatriation process to keep pace with Kenyan efforts to close Dadaab, the line between voluntary and involuntary seems to have collapsed. UNHCR now appears to be managing a process that violates the cardinal rule of refugee protection: that refugees and asylum-seekers shall not be returned against their will to any country where they face a threat of persecution.
The principle of non-refoulement, as it is known, is enshrined within the 2013 “tripartite” agreement between UNHCR and the Kenyan and Somali governments that governs the current repatriation process, as well as the 1969 African refugee convention, to which Kenya is a signatory. Evidence that Kenya is subverting these agreements — and that UNHCR is enabling it to do so — has mounted in recent months as rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have documented incidents of intimidation in Dadaab. But interviews conducted by Foreign Policy in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo offer the first concrete evidence that refugees have been sent back against their will, confirming that a campaign of forced repatriation is underway.
This month, more than a dozen returnees from Dadaab told FP in separate interviews that they were intimidated by Kenyan authorities and ultimately felt forced to leave Kenya. The returnees, as well as multiple aid workers and Somali government officials, described a UNHCR-facilitated repatriation process that is not only coercive but haphazardly executed and unsupported by any long-term plan to prevent returnees from becoming de facto refugees in their own country.
“These people are being dumped here with no international support and no plan for how they will be cared for. They have no shelter, no food, no health, and no schools,” said Ibrahim Mohamed Yusuf, the mayor of Kismayo. “We are a small nation reeling from civil war. People are already dying because of a lack of health care. How can we be expected to care for more people?”
Somalia is still at war. A 22,000-strong African Union force has expelled al-Shabab from most urban areas, but the al Qaeda-linked group continues to strike at will virtually anywhere in the southern and central portions of the country. It has attacked a landmark hotel less than a block from the presidential palace in Mogadishu three times in the last two years, most recently killing 22 people with a truck bomb on Aug. 30. FP previously documented how this violence has affected returnees from Dadaab, some of whom have already fled back to Kenya a second time.
Even before it began accepting returnees from Kenyan refugee camps, the country housed more than a million displaced Somalis within its borders because of conflict and drought. Most live in crowded camps at the margins of cities, paying so-called “gatekeepers” to avoid being targeted by bandits and militiamen. The few hospitals and schools that are still standing after a quarter century of civil war are mostly private — and prohibitively expensive for all but the richest Somalis. Nationwide, four in 10 people don’t have enough to eat, according to the United Nations.
UNHCR has nonetheless certified certain parts of the country as safe for return, including Kismayo. But even its own analysts acknowledge that this is mostly wishful thinking. “Civilians continue to be severely affected by the conflict, with reports of civilians being killed and injured in conflict-related violence, widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, forced recruitment of children, and large-scale displacement,” UNHCR noted in a May security assessment for southern and central Somalia.
Without adequate job prospects or social services, Somali officials say male returnees are at risk for recruitment by al-Shabab. “I wouldn’t rule out that some would join the extremists,” said Ahmed Nur, the head of Somalia’s national commission for refugees and internally displaced people, who estimates that around 10 percent of returnees to the Mogadishu area are already living in displacement camps.
In Kismayo, U.N. and other aid workers estimate that the figure for people who end up homeless is closer to 15 percent. Hundreds of returnees from Dadaab have streamed into displacement camps, 86 of which are scattered around the city, according to the regional government. At one called Tawfiq, or “Unity,” dozens of makeshift dwellings, rigged up with empty grain sacks and whatever else residents could get their hands on, are arrayed across yellow sand dunes that descend into the ocean. Of the 200 families who eke out a living here, 60 are returnees from Dadaab.
“It is worse than Dadaab. There is no water, no sanitation,” said Ahmed Mohamed Abubakar, who fled fighting in Kismayo with his family in 2009 but returned this year with the assistance of UNHCR. “This is my country, but there is nothing for me here. I am homeless, wandering.”
eturnees described multiple pressures that forced them to leave Dadaab. Intimidation by Kenyan security forces, whom returnees blame for whipping up rumors of forced evictions, left many convinced they could face physical violence if they remained. Many said their community leaders in the camp had told them unambiguously that Kenyan authorities were saying it was time to leave. The appointment of army generals to the government committee tasked with closing Dadaab registered as a clear warning: Stay after Nov. 30, the government’s deadline for closure, and risk being caught up in a military operation to clear the camp.
“We were afraid they would come with trucks, with soldiers,” said Abii, who spoke quickly and animatedly, orange nail polish glinting in the sun.
Unable to answer the question of what would happen after the government’s deadline, aid agencies did little to assuage people’s fears. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme’s 2015 decision to cut food rations by 30 percent began to look in retrospect to some residents like a covert plan to starve them out.
“The only option was to take the little money UNHCR was giving if you left,” Abubakar said. “People were going hungry in Dadaab.”
Mark Yarnell, whose work at the advocacy group Refugees International focuses on Somalia, said the repatriation process amounted to a clear violation of international humanitarian law. “It’s a sham to call it voluntary return when you have the Kenyans waging an effective information campaign to instill fear, and then you have UNHCR providing inducements for people to return to a place that’s unstable and unsafe,” he said.
The Kenyan Interior Ministry did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in the past it has denied that the repatriations are anything but voluntary and humane. However, officials have repeatedly skirted the issue of what will happen to those refugees who wish to remain. In July, Haro Kamau, the deputy commissioner of Garissa County who oversees Dadaab,told FP that it “would be very unkind for any refugee to refuse to go home.”
The U.S. government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support refugees in Dadaab over the years. It has also called on the Kenyan government to back off its plan to close the camp by Nov. 30. At the same time, however, it supports UNHCR’s repatriation efforts. On a visit to Nairobi last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged an additional $29 million specifically to help facilitate the return of refugees to Somalia.
“We are very concerned by reports that refugee returns from the Dadaab camps in Kenya to Somalia are not truly voluntary,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told FP in a written statement. “In consultations with both UNHCR and the Government of Kenya, we have stressed the imperative that those individuals enlisting in the voluntary return program are doing so with full knowledge of what they can likely expect in Somalia.”
UNHCR continues to defend the repatriation process as consistent with its mandate to ensure that all returns are voluntary, safe, and dignified. It has acknowledged unspecified “concerns” raised by human rights advocates but says it is working closely with the Kenyan government to guarantee that refugees’ rights are respected.
“UNHCR is not promoting returns to Somalia but facilitating the movements of those who make an informed and therefore voluntary decision to return, by providing travel assistance, cash grants and an in-kind assistance package,” Catherine Hamon Sharpe, UNHCR’s assistant representative in Kenya, said in a written statement to FP. “The fact that the Government of Kenya has set 30 November as a deadline for the closure of the camp and that no alternative has been provided, obviously creates anxiety among refugees, as a voluntary process cannot be time-bound. It is noted however, that the Government has repeatedly stated that there will be no forced returns.”
UNHCR’s insistence that a voluntary process cannot be time-bound but that this particular time-bound process is entirely voluntary succinctly demonstrates the corner the agency has backed itself into. In private, current and former UNHCR officials say they were faced with an impossible choice when the Kenyan government made clear that it was serious about closing the camp: If they recused themselves from the process, the Kenyan government might have started its own mass deportations that could have precipitated a humanitarian disaster. But a “humanitarian disaster” is precisely what the regional government in Kismayo — the Jubaland administration — has called the U.N.’s existing repatriation program.
“There was this sense that we were preventing the worst-case scenario, which maybe we are,” said a UNHCR official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But you could also argue that we are approaching a worst-case scenario anyway.”
Whether or not it’s making the best of a bad situation, UNHCR’s actions provide political cover to a Kenyan government that has long viewed this refugee population as a nuisance. And as the campaign of intimidation has intensified, the agency has found itself on the wrong side of international agreements and norms that it’s duty-bound to uphold.
“The approach that’s been taken up until now has been characterized by a lack of honesty,” said Jeff Crisp, a former head of policy development and evaluation at UNHCR who is now affiliated with the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University. “If UNHCR feels obliged, for one reason or another, good or bad, to get involved in an operation that doesn’t meet its own standards, which it’s put up in public, then it’s got to explain what it’s doing and why it’s doing it. But my sense over the last few weeks is that they’re trying to fudge this.”
But it’s not just that UNHCR has obscured the apparently involuntary nature of the repatriations; it has downplayed the abysmal and often unsafe conditions that await returnees, as well as its extremely limited ability to support them. Abubakar and other former residents of Dadaab complained bitterly that they had been abandoned by the aid agencies, which they believed would do much more to ease the transition to their shattered home country.
“UNHCR promised they would give us shelter and schools for our children,” said Abubakar, who once manned a small shop in town but is now unable to find work. “But we came here and got nothing. The promises, they were false.”
Some returnees said they had been given false information about the safety of their home regions, arriving in Kismayo only to discover that their ancestral villages were still controlled by al-Shabab. Virtually everyone said they were going hungry and that the financial support they received from international organizations — an initial lump sum from UNHCR of a few hundred dollars per household, plus a $200 monthly lifeline for the first six months, redeemable with a World Food Programme (WFP) ration card — wasn’t nearly enough. Local vendors are said to regularly hike prices for anyone who tries to pay using the ration cards.
Challiss McDonough, a spokeswoman for WFP, said the organization is currently investigating reports of price fixing in Kismayo and that retailers have been warned against this behavior. “Anywhere we do cash-based transfers, we have robust monitoring of the retailers to avoid price gouging, for example including spot checks,” she said in a statement to FP.
Yet returnees say they continue to go hungry as unscrupulous vendors cash in on the aid that was supposed to sustain them. “They know we are vulnerable,” Abii said. “They see the WFP card, and the price is suddenly double.”
Conditions have gotten so bad for returnees that the Jubaland administration suspended all return convoys from Dadaab last month. It says it won’t accept any more until UNHCR and other aid agencies can ensure a minimum level of support.
“Jubaland has requested a halt of returns until we get solutions. Before they start again, we need basic services in place: water, sanitation, housing,” said Yusuf, the mayor of Kismayo, who joked that he didn’t want the U.S. taxpayers funding the UNHCR-led repatriation process to “feel let down.”
Yusuf says his administration has set aside land for the returnees but that aid agencies have not made good on their promises to build housing and sanitation. Negotiations are ongoing among the Jubaland administration, the Kenyan government, and UNHCR to resume repatriations to Kismayo.
In the meantime, flights from Dadaab to Mogadishu continue to land several times per week. Passengers leave behind a hard life in the camp, but one with a semblance of a safety net provided by aid agencies. They begin a new one with fewer lifelines, in a place that is less forgiving. Often, it appears, they do so against their will and in violation of international humanitarian law.
Top Image: TOBIN JONES/AFP/Getty Images
Ty McCormick is Africa Editor at Foreign Policy (@TyMcCormick)