Washington Post: Former Diplomats Urge State Department to Keep Refugees Office

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By Carol Morello July 17 

A group of prominent foreign policy experts on Monday called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the office responsible for managing refu­gee inflows a part of the State Department instead of moving it to the Department of Homeland Security.

Last month, a leaked memo showed the administration contemplating a relocation of the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration. Such a change, says a letter signed by 58 former diplomats and national security advisers, would adversely shift the bureau’s focus from humanitarian and policy concerns to solely security issues.

“We are convinced that the elimination of PRM’s assistance functions would have profound and negative implications for the Secretary of State’s capacity to influence policy issues of key concern to the United States,” the letter states. “It would also be ironic, as this is one of the bureaus at State that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support over many years.”

[Read the letter to Tillerson from 58 foreign policy experts]

The signatories include former officials who served in Republican and Democratic administrations, as well executives from numerous religious and humanitarian organizations that work with newly arrived refugees.

Among them are William J. Burns, a former ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration; Dennis Ross, a former director of policy planning for the State Department under President George H.W. Bush; and Daniel Kurtzer, the former ambassador to Egypt under President Bill Clinton and to Israel under President George W. Bush.

Currently, refu­gee admissions span multiple agencies, but the State Department takes the lead.

The leaked memo said moving management responsibilities for refugees to DHS would “enable processing efficiencies” and is consistent with President Trump’s emphasis on border security and adequate vetting of people who enter the country.

[Read the memo suggesting the move of PRM from State to DHS]

It is not clear if the proposal is under serious consideration, or whether Congress would go along with it.

Trump dropped the number of refugees permitted into the United States this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000, a cap that was reached last week. Potential refugees are vetted by DHS, a process that can take a year and a half or more.

After a Supreme Court ruling last month on the president’s travel ban, the State Department established new rules for visa applicants and refugees from six predominantly Muslim countries, including a requirement that all refugees have a “close” family relationship in the United States. Trump has not yet set a new cap on refugees for next year.

Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International who helped organize the letter sent to Tillerson, said DHS plays an important role in security screening. But he said it does not focus on foreign policy considerations, such as support for host countries where refugees are awaiting admissions and encouraging other nations to take in more displaced people.

“You could transfer folks from the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Defense to DHS for the requisite expertise,” Schwartz said. “But the problem is the mandates of those departments are very different.”

NBC News: Who Will Be Affected by the Supreme Court’s Travel Ban Ruling?

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate much of the Trump administration’s travel ban while it considers the merits of the case is potentially good news for many who want entry into the United States, but may be a bad blow for refugees, experts said.

However, uncertainty surrounded the impact of the high court's action. Several federal agencies must now decide how they will implement it, and advocates warned the confusion itself is harmful, given the delicacy of the refugee process.

“We know that people are going to be hurt by this, and there will be a lot of disruption and dislocation,” said Lavinia Limón, president and chief executive of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, one of nine nonprofits that helps resettle refugees.

“There are people told they were going to fly next week after waiting two years, who maybe sold their possessions and are all packed,” Limón added. “It’s just cruel to imagine that after fleeing war and waiting years finally you’re ready to go next week and guess what? This is what happens.”

The Supreme Court justices overturned a series of lower court rulings to green-light enforcement of much of Trump’s executive order. The court's action temporarily imposes tough restrictions on travel from six Muslim countries — Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — and the entry of all refugees until the court hears the case this fall.

On Tuesday, former acting attorney general Sally Yates said at the Aspen Ideas Forum that the Department of Justice first found out about Trump's travel ban by reading about it in The New York Times. She described how her deputy called her and said he had just been on the Times website and “it looks like the president has instituted some sort of travel ban."

President Donald Trump hailed the court decision Monday as a “clear victory for our national security” that “allows me to use an important tool for protecting our nation's homeland.”

Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS, a longtime immigrant aid organization, called the court's action "mixed news for human rights, for refugees, and for those non-citizens whom President Trump is trying to ban from the United States based solely on their place of birth.

"HIAS welcomes the ruling as an affirmation that the president does not have unfettered, unchecked authority to bar refugees from the U.S. without evidence to justify such action, and that people with ties to the U.S. can continue to enter," he added. "We are very disappointed, however, that others will continue to be arbitrarily excluded and that the executive order has been resurrected to once again cause irreparable damage to refugees, immigrants, and America’s reputation as a welcoming country.”

Who will be affected?

While the court ruled the ban could partly take effect while it makes a final decision later this year, it said the ban could not apply at this time to anyone with “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” That includes anyone with a family member, an employer, or a school they’re attending in the U.S., the court said in its unsigned ruling, which did not draw dissents from its centrist and liberal justices.

Even before Trump’s executive order, however, few people without some kind of relationship in the U.S. were able to get visas from the six affected countries.

“Our impression is the vast majority of people would still be able to travel because they have a pre-existing relationship, either through family or work,” said Betsy Fisher, the policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “That is the nature of visa requirements.”

For instance, of the 12,998 immigrants who entered the U.S. from Yemen last year, nearly all — 12,563 — had family in the country, according to State Department data.

The ruling envisions a process where migrants with a link to the U.S. may present their “credible claim” and be exempted from the travel ban. Immigration experts note, however, that may be more complex than it sounds.

First, some migrants in the current process tend to minimize links to the U.S. when applying for temporary visitation because those links can be held against them as evidence they would have reason to overstay a temporary visa (in order to be with their family, for example).

Second, some experts warn a new, court-mandated test will lead to more discretion for border officials — and potentially more confusion.

“It is hard to know numerically how many” people will be impacted, said immigration attorney Greg Chen, depending on how the court’s "bona fide" relationship test is interpreted and applied.

David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said a rough estimate would be that about half of people lawfully admitted from the six countries would be exempt under the new ruling, citing U.S. “connections, permanent residents and people with visas who went home.”

He noted the court’s test leaves open questions that federal agencies in the Trump administration will have to answer.

“If an American company is hiring someone — researchers or doctors from Iran — are they going to say no ‘bona fide relationship’ at the time order went down?” Leopold asked.

Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney and blogger, noted that the court said student and work visas are by definition exempt, since they require a relationship in the U.S.

That leaves people traveling on tourist visas who could be banned.

“There’s never been a large number of tourists that come from those countries,” Siskind noted, since travelers have to prove somehow they plan to return to their countries and not stay in the U.S.

What about refugees?

The picture is potentially very different for refugees, though it’s unclear at the moment.

Resettlement agencies and advocates are waiting anxiously to see how the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security will interpret the high court’s decision.

The State Department said Monday it would implement the ruling in an "orderly manner" and have more to say on the matter after consultation with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

Specifically, the big question for the agencies is whether a refugee's relationship with a U.S.-based refugee organization satisfies the standard set by the Supreme Court, experts said.

“Does having 'a bona fide relationship' mean a resettlement agency you’ve already been working with? You could legally argue that,” said Hans Hogrefe, director of policy and advocacy for Refugees International. “The examples given [in the court's decision] do not cite that.”

“The court standard has a lot of discretion built into it,” said Leah Litman, a professor at the University of California at Irvine Law School and a contributor to the Take Care law blog. “So there’s just little indication on the numbers of the people who are going to be subject to this.”

Alex Seitz-Wald reported from Washington, and Daniella Silva from New York.

CORRECTION (June 27, 2017: 10:18 a.m.): An earlier version of this story included a quotation from Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney, saying that green-card holders could potentially be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. In fact, as Siskind noted after publication of the story, the ruling will not affect green-card holders. Siskind's quotation has been removed. 

USA Today: Trump: Supreme Court's travel ban decision 'clear victory for our national security'

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David Jackson , USA TODAY Published 12:49 p.m. ET June 26, 2017 | Updated 2:47 p.m. ET June 26, 2017

WASHINGTON – President Trump took a victory lap Monday after the Supreme Court allowed most of his proposed travel ban from Muslim countries to take effect as it considers whether the policy overall is constitutional.

Calling it "a clear victory for our national security," Trump said the court's action "allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective."

As the court waits to hear arguments in the high-profile case – one of Trump's major policy priorities – the justices lifted injunctions that had been in place on travelers from six countries where the majority of the population is Muslim.

Trump may bar people from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen if they have no "bona fide" relationship to people, families, or entities in the U.S. Visitors who do have such a relationship are to be let into the United States, the court said.

Groups that had sued over the order called the proposed ban an unconstitutional attack on religion.

While the Trump administration said initially that the measure would only temporary, Trump did not address that in his victory statement.

"As President, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm," Trump said. "I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive."

The travel ban, revised by the Trump administration in March after a flurry of lawsuits and protests, was supposed to apply to apply to the six Muslim countries for 90 days and to all refugees for 120 days. It is not known how the new Supreme Court order will affect those time limits, which would likely expire before the justices render a final decision on the policy.

In his statement, Trump said he was "particularly gratified" the court's decision was 9-0. However, there is no way to tell if the decision is truly unanimous, as the court issued a "per curiam" opinion that no one signed. In fact, three justices did register dissents on the grounds that the entire travel ban should have gone into effect.

The original ban, announced a week after Trump took office, led to protests nationwide and chaos at the nation's airports, including detentions of at least 746 people because of confusion over how to enforce the policy. Overseas, an unknowable number of people were not allowed to board flights en route to the United States. The initial ban also applied to seven countries, including Iraq; it was removed when the Trump team revised the ban in March. 

The revised ban now in effect allows travelers with green cards and visas to continue entering the United States, but not refugees.

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, said the impact of the court's decision will fall on "the most vulnerable of the world’s populations, including refugee women and girls, survivors of violence and torture, and refugee children." Schwartz said, "there is no reasonable national security justification for these measures."

Like the president, Trump administration officials declared victory.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said "the threat to our national security is real...  It is crucial that we properly vet those seeking to come to America from these locations, and failing to do so put is all in danger."

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the administration is assessing exactly how to put the ban in place. "The government is reviewing the decision and determining how to proceed," Spicer said.

Contributing: Richard Wolf, Alan Gomez

U.S. News and World Report: A Brighter Future for Refugees

By Eric Schwartz and Daniel Sullivan

June 20, 2017, at 8:00 a.m.

On Dec. 4, 2000, the United Nations General Assembly declared that June 20 would be "celebrated" annually as World Refugee Day. For millions of people displaced by conflict and persecution globally, there is little to celebrate, but World Refugee Day does present an opportunity to bring attention to their plight, and to the possibility of solutions.

Indeed, if political leaders are responsible for stoking the communal anger and intolerance that cause such suffering, they also have the power to chart a different course. While we focus appropriately today on cases of stubborn resistance to respect for human rights, we should not ignore signs of positive action.

It is not hard to find examples of resistance to improving the plight of the displaced. The situation of the Muslim minority Rohingya population in Myanmar provides one of the most compelling cases. The Burmese authorities have denied citizenship to one million Rohingya and have turned a blind eye to security force abuses that may constitute crimes against humanity. Decades of persecution have caused another million Rohingya to flee the country.

Read the full article here.

Washington Post DemocracyPost: Why is Uganda more welcoming to refugees than the United States?

Eric Schwartz is president of Refugees International.

In recent years, the West has become obsessed with the problem of refugees — and generally not in a good way. The United States and other wealthy countries have been unkind at best, and hostile at worst, to refugees. Politicians and voters fixate on security threats, economic costs, the challenges of integration — even though studies show that these risks are invariably overblown.

Read the full article here.

Refugees Deeply: E.U. Must Not Fuel ‘Hellish’ Experience for Libya’s Migrants

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As more refugees reach Italy, describing Libya as “hell,” Europe must ensure its actions and funds are not contributing to these abuses, urges Izza Leghtas from Refugees International. Fresh from research on Lampedusa, she outlines urgent steps for E.U. policy in Libya.

WRITTEN BY Izza Leghtas   PUBLISHED ON Jun. 16, 2017

ON A SUNNY March day on the island of Lampedusa, a group of young men from the West African nation of Guinea sat on a bench overlooking the peaceful port.

Just three days earlier, they had survived the dangerous journey from Libya and were brought by rescuers to the small Mediterranean island. I asked them what Libya had been like. “Libya is hell on earth,” came the answer. “That is the only word to describe it.”

Interviewing refugees and migrants who had recently arrived from Libya, there seemed to be no end to the cruelty they had endured at the hands of ruthless smugglers, detention center staff, members of the Libyan coast guard and criminal gangs.

Many said they had been held for weeks or months in warehouses by smugglers who beat and tortured them and fed them only an occasional piece of bread or a small handful of pasta. Others said they had been detained in appalling conditions in detention centers where food was similarly scarce and beatings were common.

Women and girls are subjected to sexual abuse at all stages of the journey to Europe: in official detention centers, traveling through the Sahara desert and at the hands of people smugglers.

Libya has been in turmoil since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and currently has three competing governments, militias operating across the country and a blossoming people-smuggling trade. Sub-Saharan refugees and migrants face staggering levels of racism and are often called “animals” by locals. Men and women told me how even walking in the street was too dangerous, as they could be kidnapped and sold like commodities.

European leaders, desperate to stem the flow of people arriving on their shores via Libya, have made a priority of preventing departures from the Middle Eastern country. They are working with the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and providing training and equipment to the Libyan coast guard as well as funding to international organizations working on the ground.

When the Libyan coast guard encounters a boat carrying refugees and migrants, these individuals are taken back to Libyan territory, where they are detained in migrant detention centers under appalling conditions and severe human rights abuses.

When it comes to finding and implementing solutions for the human rights crisis that refugees and migrants face in Libya, the list of obstacles and challenges is endless. But there are a number of urgently needed measures that European leaders can and should undertake immediately. They are essential if the E.U. and its member states are to ensure that their actions and funding do not result in, or even contribute to, the abuses that lead refugees and migrants to refer to Libya as “hell.”

To be clear, the E.U. is empowering the Libyan coast guard to do something none of its member states could do without violating international law – returning people to Libyan territory and thereby exposing them to horrific abuse.

For this reason, the E.U. must urgently take steps to prevent such abuses from occurring. A first step would be to work with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for the deployment of human rights monitors in places where refugees and migrants are forced to disembark on Libyan soil, and in the detention facilities they are taken to. In their talks with the Libyan authorities, the E.U. should also urge them to grant nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the U.N. refugee agency free access to refugees and migrants in the centers where they are held.

One stated reason for the actions of E.U. leaders in the Central Mediterranean is the intention to prevent further loss of life at sea. But is saving a man, a woman or a child from drowning, only for them to be taken hours later to a detention center where they may face malnutrition, sexual abuse and deadly beatings, really saving them?

The E.U. is spending more than $146 million on migration-related projects in Libya, part of which has been earmarked to improve conditions in detention centers. Last week, the German foreign minister announcedthat Germany would provide the Libyan authorities with $3.9 million to improve conditions in centers where refugees and migrants are held.

But detention centers where people are deprived of their liberty with no judicial process and no end in sight, albeit with improved ventilation and more toilets, would still violate international law. The E.U. and its member states should insist that the Libyan authorities stop detaining migrants and refugees in closed facilities, or they risk legitimizing this abusive system.

It is no secret that for E.U. leaders, preventing refugees and migrants from reaching Italy via Libya is a priority. But actions that are taken in the name of European citizens and funded with their taxes should not lead to men, women and children becoming trapped in a place where they may face torture, slavery and rape. It is the duty of European leaders to uphold the values of human dignity and fundamental rights on which the E.U. was founded, whether it is north or south of the Mediterranean.

PBS NewsHour: Will one company’s mixed mission in Yemen sow suspicion of aid groups?

For aid organizations, especially those in conflict zones, remaining politically neutral is crucial for trust. A New York Times investigation found that the conduct of a logistics company could drive suspicion that aid groups in Yemen were somehow acting as agents of the U.S. government. William Brangham speaks with The New York Times' Eric Schmitt and Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International.

View the video here.

Independent: EU helping force refugees back to ‘hell on Earth’ in push to stop boat crossings from Libya, report finds

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Researchers say EU is disregarding international law and human rights
Lizzie Dearden 6 days ago 253 comments

A new report has accused the EU of disregarding human rights and international law in its desperation to slow refugee boat crossings across the Mediterranean Sea.

The bloc has pledged tens of millions of euros in funding for authorities in Libya, despite the country’s ongoing civil war and allegations of torture, rape and killings earning it the moniker “hell on Earth” among migrants.

Research by the US-based Refugees International (RI) group warned that the EU’s push to prevent boats leaving the Libyan coast – now the main departure point towards Europe – could fuel horrific abuses.

“The fate of people who are seeking international protection is effectively absent from the plans outlined by EU leaders to tackle the Central Mediterranean route,” its report concluded.

“With the ongoing violence and chaos in Libya, a country that lacks an asylum system and where the rule of law is absent, EU countries must accept people on their territory through orderly, legal processes that are viable alternatives to ruthless criminal networks. 

“The EU and its member states should also ensure that their funding and actions in Libya do not result in or contribute to human rights abuses against refugees and migrants.”

Researchers gathered harrowing testimonies from asylum seekers who had managed to survive the crossing to Europe, which has claimed a record of more than 1,700 lives so far this year.

Among them was Ali, a 17-year-old boy from Gambia who was detained in what he believed was an official detention centre in Zawaiya.

He said UN workers brought food, clothes shoes and other supplies, which were then sold for profit by guards who gave detainees only one portion of bread and a handful of pasta each day.

“The Arab people working in the prison, if someone is sick, they finish them off,” Ali told Refugees International.

“They beat a boy, he vomited blood. I saw it in front of my eyes.”

When another man died after a severe beating, the teenager and other migrants were ordered to bury his body themselves in a shallow grave outside.

During his detention the “boss” of the prison also forced people into to build a house, which Ali and four others did – unpaid – until they were allowed to leave detention and attempt the journey to Europe.

It is one of numerous accounts of forced labour in Libya, where the International Organisation of Migration warned people were being openly traded in “slave markets”.

Smugglers and armed gangs have exploited lawlessness, since the UK and France led a military campaign to oust Muammar Gaddafi, to expand their ruthless trade, and it is frequently unclear whether squalid detention centres are run by officials, militias or both.

Ali had already been forced back to Libya once after his boat was intercepted by the Libyan coastguard, which has recently been filmed firing into the air during “rescues” and cutting across humanitarian ships, after allegedly causing drownings and opening fire on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) vessel.

Ali said the armed guards who boarded a dinghy he was travelling on in November 2016 demanded money before “they started to beat people with the guns. They hit me on my head with their guns.”

Humanitarian groups say forcing people back to Libya from international waters is a violation of international law, particularly “non-refoulement” principles that prohibit people being returned to a country where they face torture or other ill-treatment.

But despite training and equipping the Libyan coastguard, the EU appears to have made no move to censure it for venturing outside territorial waters and has not publicly condemned numerous clashes with international ships deployed by commanders in Rome.

As well as torture and killings in detention centres, RI said women and girls in Libya are at particular risk of widespread sexual abuse. 

Rape is so prevalent among migrants in Libya and on journeys to it that some women passing through Ethiopia or Sudan are given a contraceptive injection, but many of those arriving on boats to Italy are pregnant.

Juliette, a 25-year-old woman from Cameroon who spent four months in Libya, told RI that “when someone kidnaps you, he can call his brothers” to tell them he has women and girls. 

“In front of me, men came to take girls away to rape them,” she added. “Especially Nigerian girls.” 

A teenage boy from Ghana said Libyan guards at his detention centre took women away one by one to rape, passing some on to be taken away overnight by unidentified men.

An Eritrean man who had been held by smugglers near Tripoli, said Libyan men abducted a 21-year-old-woman, who later died days after finding out she was pregnant.

In some cases, sexual abuse is used as an alternative to large bribes for release, while other migrants are extorted and forced to call family members abroad for payment.

Izza Leghtas, RI’s senior advocate for Europe and the author of the report, said EU countries know “full well” the dire conditions faced by migrants.

“EU countries can’t send refugees and migrants back to Libya without violating international law, so they’re empowering the Libyan authorities to do so instead,” she added.

Ms Leghtas said abuses by smugglers were well-known but the report’s findings on official detention centres were “particularly worrying” given rising international support.

“The Europeans are so focused on closing down this route that they’re not being responsible,” she told The Independent.

“You can’t tackle one piece the crisis [by stopping sea crossings] and then not follow through.

“The EU should be doing everything it can to help people who are escaping this nightmare.”

RI’s report called on the EU to urge Libya to end the criminalisation of migration, open detention centres and ensure returned refugees are registered and treated in accordance with international law, while calling for a UN investigation into alleged sexual abuse at detention centres.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said it was unable to comment on the findings before formally receiving the report.

Brussels is supporting initiatives led by Italy to strengthen cooperation with Libya’s fragile UN-backed Government of National Accord – one of two governments still vying for power in the country.

Following a show of commitment at a summit attended by EU leaders in Malta in February, a €90m (£80m) programme to “reinforce protection and resilience of migrants, refugees and host communities in Libya” was adopted last month.

More than half of the funds are allocated to disembarkation points for migrants forced back by the Libyan coastguard, detention centres, healthcare, protection for vulnerable groups and 15,000 “voluntary humanitarian returns” to countries of origin.

The plan envisions the creation of unspecified “safe spaces” as an alternative to detention – although it was unclear how they would be created – assistance and information at transit points and increased monitoring of migration flows.

Another €42m (£37m) is going to “socio-economic development” for Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), which is itself accused of working with smugglers and militias, as well as perpetrating abuse in detention centres including torture and murder.

The plan – to be implemented by UN agencies – proposes “quality services” for Libyans and migrants, including health centres, education and jobs, although deep-seated prejudice against sub-Saharan Africans sees them regularly denied access to current facilities.

Ms Leghtas said the plans were “disconnected from the reality on the ground”, pointing out that many of the UN’s own workers are stationed in neighbouring Tunisia because Libya is considered so dangerous.

“A lot more needs to be done to address this emergency,” she added. “For refugees, Libya is death and torture – that is what they are fleeing.”

A spokesperson for the Libyan interior ministry did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment but Jalal Othman, director of communications for the GNA, previously said authorities are “facing immense challenges” and lack funding, equipment and training.

He added: “We completely deplore any violence against migrants."


Huffington Post: A Retreat from U.S. Global Leadership Will Cause Millions to Suffer

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Eric Schwartz
Incoming President, Refugees International
05/23/2017 09:45 am ET

The Trump Administration is releasing its 2018 budget today, and it is proposing cuts in international humanitarian aid of breathtaking magnitude that will cause additional suffering to millions experiencing famine or fleeing persecution and violence.

Many around the world will die as a result.

These cuts will also dramatically compromise the capacity of the United States to support friends and allies addressing humanitarian challenges. Finally, they will send a powerful signal – to the Middle East, to Africa, to Asia and to other parts of the world – of a retreat from U.S. leadership.

It is ironic that this retreat comes at a moment in which the President and his team have emphasized the importance of U.S. leadership and partnership on humanitarian issues. In his remarks this past weekend in Saudi Arabia, President Trump applauded “Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for their role in hosting refugees,” and repeatedly spoke of the importance of the United States partnering with governments in the region. Prior to her departure for the region, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley emphasized U.S. humanitarian aid, writing that “no country has invested more in protecting, housing, feeding and caring for Syrian refugees than the U.S.” And in connection with the nomination of Mark Green as USAID Administrator, Secretary Tillerson said that USAID has a “vital role in protecting U.S. national security by fostering stability, resolving conflict and responding to humanitarian crises.”

The formal budget release, scheduled for Tuesday morning, will reveal cuts of up to about one-third of U.S. humanitarian aid, with proposals to –

Eliminate the U.S. emergency food aid program at a time of impending famine in Africa: this program, known as Title II of PL 480 and funded at over $1.5 billion in recent years, has played a key role in averting widespread loss of life around the world, and while the Administration may seek to fund food aid through other USAID disaster accounts, the Administration’s proposal is not providing adequate monies for that purpose.

Provide no funding for a highly regarded special emergency humanitarian fund that has been an important source of flexible support for unanticipated emergencies: It’s hard to fathom why the Administration would be proposing to “zero out” the State Department’s “Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance” Fund. This modest fund, which received a $50 million appropriation in 2017, is one of the few State Department sources of genuinely flexible humanitarian resources and provides the Secretary and the President with tools necessary to ensure rapid response and U.S. leadership on key humanitarian issues.

Eliminate an “International Organizations and Programs” account that has been employed to fund critical humanitarian and development programs like UNICEF: The Administration is proposing that this account, known as International Organizations and Programs, be “zeroed out.”

Dramatically reduce U.S. contributions to international peacekeeping: At a tiny fraction of the cost of deploying national militaries, UN peacekeepers play a crucial role in promoting stability in countries threatened by conflict. In recent years, U.S. contributions have been around $2 billion, and these large cuts may also put the United States in violation of treaty commitments.

Reduce contributions to the State Department’s Migration and Refugee Assistance Account: This is the principal account through which the State Department provides assistance overseas to those fleeing persecution and violence. The Administration plans to cut the total 2017 appropriation of nearly $3.4 billion by nearly 20%.

Eliminate the U.S. development assistance accounts: U.S. development assistance has played a key role over many decades in promoting the kind of economic, social and political progress that has helped to avoid the kinds of humanitarian crises that create enormous suffering and require much greater expenditure of resources. It has been funded at nearly $3 billion in recent years, and the elimination of these programs would prove devastating. Here again the Administration may be proposing to fund some of these activities through other accounts, but reports indicate that the monies being proposed are wholly insufficient.

Taken together, these and other cuts would dramatically impact the capacity of the United States not only to lead in addressing the world’s most dire humanitarian challenges, but also simply to partner with friends and allies as they bear the primary burden of providing safe haven for refugees and displaced persons.

At far less than 1% of the total federal budget, funding for humanitarian response, broadly defined, is an exceptionally modest investment.

Thus, it will be up to the U.S. Congress to play its historical role in ensuring that these terrible cuts are reversed, and that the United States continues to pay its historical role as a leader in the effort to prevent and alleviate humanitarian suffering around the world.

Note: Much of this piece is drawn directly from a letter on the 2018 budget to President Trump, co-authored by Eric Schwartz and Refugees International President Michel Gabaudan and dated May 22.

Newsweek: 'It is better to die than stay in Libya:' Libya's slave markets remind us of flaws in EU migration plans

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BY IZZA LEGHTAS ON 4/19/17 AT 10:12 AM

I was horrified when I read the International Organization for Migration (IOM) report last week on sub-Saharan Africans being sold and bought in open markets in Libya—but I was not surprised.

During a recent visit to Italy, I spoke with dozens of men and women from East and West Africa who recently arrived in Sicily from Libya. They recounted extreme acts of cruelty at the hands of human smugglers, members of the Libyan coastguard, state-run detention center workers and locals.

“I was sold twice,” a young man from Guinea told me on the tiny island of Lampedusa, just days after he arrived by boat from Libya. “I was sold to an Arab man who forced me to work and told me to call my family so they would send money. He sold me to another Arab man who forced me to work for him, too.” The young man was only able to leave once his family sent enough money to free him.

The slave trade affects women, too. A young woman from Nigeria told me: “As a female, you can’t walk alone in the street. Even if they don’t shoot you, [if] you’re black, they’ll just take you and sell you.” One man, also from Guinea, said that women are more expensive to buy than men.

Women also face shocking levels of sexual abuse. A United Nations official told me that of the migrants and asylum seekers in Libya, “almost every woman” has been sexually abused.

In this context, it is astounding that the European Union is working hard to keep people off its shores, even if it means leaving them in Libya. As outlined in a declaration in Malta in February, EU heads of state have promised to train and equip the Libyan coastguard and are hoping to “ensure [there are] adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants.”

With summer weather approaching—bringing better conditions for crossing the Mediterranean—the EU and its member states are working with a sense of urgency that is palpable.

Training the Libyan coastguard is a welcome move if it contributes to saving lives and treating those rescued with humanity and respect. But the question of what happens after they are rescued is key: People are currently taken to detention centers where they are held in inhuman conditions.

Describing such centers, asylum seekers and migrants told me they had been beaten and forced to ask their relatives for money, that sometimes those who could not pay were shot, and that they were hardly fed at all.  In addition, the collusion between smugglers and people running some detention centres is no secret.

Absent from the EU plan is what happens to people who fled their homes because of violence or persecution. Many of those arriving in Italy via Libya are in this category, among them Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese, and people fleeing other countries because it is unsafe for them, often because of their political activities or sexual orientation.

The EU is focused on increasing the number of people returning from Libya to their country of origin, but there does not seem to be any consideration for those who cannot do so safely.

Despite the ongoing chaos and violence in Libya there is an absence—with very few exceptions—of international staff, including those from the EU, the U.N., and humanitarian organizations on the ground. As such, the idea that the situation for migrants and asylum seekers will dramatically improve in the coming months is utterly unrealistic.

One Eritrean man told me that “it’s better to die in the sea than to stay in Libya.” Smugglers had chained him to the ground by the ankles for three days when he was unable to pay the money they demanded. It is little surprise that for people like him, risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean seems like the only option.

Izza Leghtas is Senior Advocate for Europe at Refugees International. Leghtas is the author of an upcoming report on the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants in Libya due out this May. Follow her on Twitter @IzzaLeghtas

Fair Observer: Suu Kyi Continues Denial of Rohingya Abuses

Read the original article here.


Aung San Suu Kyi continued a pattern of denial and unwillingness to criticize the Myanmar military over crimes against the Rohingya. 

In a rare interview with an international news network, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi downplayed atrocities committed against the Rohingya people in the country’s Rakhine State and dismissed growing international criticisms of her response to the abuses.

In the interview given to the BBC, Suu Kyi ardently denies charges that Myanmar’s military is engaged in ethnic cleansing. Suu Kyi preferred instead to frame the situation as a matter between “people on different sides of a divide” and insisted that those who have been displaced by violence are welcome to return.

Lost between this denial of atrocities and dubious invitation to return to safe conditions are serious human rights abuses by military and security forces, which prompted the United Nations Human Rights Council last month to establish an independent, international fact-finding mission—a mission with which Suu Kyi refuses to cooperate.

More than 100,000 Rohingya have been displaced and hundreds killed amid rampant severe human rights abuses since a military crackdown started in October 2016. The crackdown was prompted by an attack on border security posts by a group of Rohingya militants that resulted in the deaths of nine officers, but quickly escalated to a disproportionate blanket response affecting the broader Rohingya population in northern Rakhine State.

A February 2017 UN report, based on interviews with some of the more than 70,000 Rohingya who fled the violence to Bangladesh, documented a series of horrific abuses by the Myanmar army—or Tatmadaw—that it concluded may amount to crimes against humanity.

When asked about the Tatmadaw’s apparent freedom to rape, pillage and torture without consequence, Suu Kyi denied this was the case but also failed to acknowledge or call for accountability for the well-documented abuses that have taken place.

Suu Kyi’s answers continued a pattern of denial and unwillingness to criticize the Tatmadaw. Ostensibly, this is a political calculation. Suu Kyi continues to be clear that she considers herself a politician, not the human rights icon that many held her up to be during her years of struggle under house arrest against the previous military junta.

It is true that her influence with the Tatmadaw, particularly on security matters, is limited both by the constitution and the entrenched power of the Tatmadaw in Myanmar’s economy and society following decades of military rule.

But Suu Kyi has gone beyond basic acquiescence to actively support the military’s denials. In her statements since the current crisis began, she has defended the Tatmadaw and, rather than speak out about the increasingly horrific reports, highlighted accusations of “fake rape” on her official Facebook page.

She has further studiously ignored the humanitarian consequences of months of blocking aid to northern Rakhine State. Even as the UN was warning about spiking malnutrition rates in January 2017, a government commission was reporting positively on the food security situation in northern Rakhine State, citing “no cases of malnutrition.” The latest UN humanitarian updates confirm that humanitarian aid continues to be “severely restricted,” calling further into question her claim that those who return will be safe.

But beyond the defensiveness and denials, the BBC interview also provides a glimpse of hope that Suu Kyi is not immune to international pressure. If body language is any indication, she is bothered by the criticisms of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners, even if she discounts these criticisms as just their opinion. With the UN report, appeals by the Dalai Lama and the pope as well as the latest UN Human Rights Council resolution, it is quite clear it is an opinion shared by an increasing number of people around the world.

If Suu Kyi is to stem this rising tide of criticism, she will have to provide much more than her own increasingly questionable word, which brings us back to that most pertinent of questions: Why not allow an international fact-finding mission?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

CNN: Tragedy of a village built on ice

Read the original story here.

By John D. Sutter, CNN
Video by Bryce Urbany and John D. Sutter, CNN

Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT) March 29, 2017

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion who focuses on climate change and social justice. Follow him on SnapchatTwitter and Facebook.

Shishmaref, Alaska (CNN)There's a cemetery in the heart of this Arctic village, its white crosses blending into a backdrop of snow. In the cemetery are two men I've come to Alaska to write about. Their names: Esau and Norman.

Their bodies are buried in the cemetery, I'm sure of it. I've seen the obituaries.

But neither man is dead.

No one in Shishmaref dies, I'm told -- not really.

It's about 9 a.m. as I trudge through the snow, past the cemetery and to a neighboring house. The sky is frozen in pre-dawn twilight. The sun won't rise for hours.

An elder answers the door and welcomes me into a living room that smells of sourdough and coffee. On the shelves, above a big-screen TV: dozens of figurines carved from walrus ivory, a tradition in this 560-person Inupiat village. How meta, I think. Walrus ivory carved back into the shape of a walrus, as if the animal were reincarnated from its own tusks.

Even walruses have a second life here, apparently.

The man offers me a seat and a coffee mug.

I'm here to ask him about Esau.

Yes, one of the men in the cemetery.

But also the 19-year-old born with the same name -- the hoodie-wearing kid with the faint mustache. The one, among many, who's trying to imagine another future for this village.

A future away from this island.

The blue house

Everyone knows Shishmaref isn't expected to last long.

Residents of this barrier island, located just south of the Arctic Circle, some 600 miles from Anchorage and only 100 miles from Russia, have been saying so for years.

To understand it, visit the tiny blue house at the edge of the land.

It's the edge of the Earth, really. And it's also the house where Norman grew up.

Norman, the second man in the cemetery.

Inside, an old woman sits in a wheelchair and an old man peers through the kitchen window at the Chukchi Sea. A cassette-radio buzzes with headlines from God-knows-where, but the man, Norman's father, isn't listening. Shelton Kokeok, a 72-year-old with palm-sized ears and a face that tragedy has worn into a grouper's frown, is focused on the ocean. He scans it in a state of unease; creases etch his forehead. Shelton, who once was a light-hearted man, and whose kind eyes and infectious smile still hint at happier times, will be nervous until the water is frozen cement-hard. Today, in mid-December, it is the texture of a snow cone.

"It's not really solid yet," he tells me, forlorn. "Young ice, fresh ice, you know?"

These aren't bored-old-man concerns.

The ice is disappearing.

And then there's what happened to his son, Norman.

First, the ice.

Here, and across the Arctic, sea ice is forming later and thawing earlier.

That ice protects Shishmaref's coast from erosion. Without it, punishing storms grab hunks of the land and pull it out to sea, shrinking and destabilizing the island.

Look at where the coast was in 2004 -- and where it's expected to be in 2053.

Shelton's blue house is right on the edge of the receding coastline.

He worries it could fall in.

    That happened to one of his neighbors.

    As the world warms -- thanks largely to the 1,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide we humans are pumping into the atmosphere each second -- the ice is disappearing. The planet has warmed about 1 degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution, when people started burning fossil fuels for heat and electricity, creating a blanket of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. But scientists say the Arctic, the far-north, is warming twice as fast as the rest of Earth.

    "I miss that cold, cold weather," says Hazel Fernandez. I meet her in a community hall; she'd rather be fishing on the ice but says it's still too thin. "It's too weird. It's too warm."

    Outside, thermometers show temperatures in the mid-20s Fahrenheit, or about minus 4 Celsius. That's freakishly warm for December, everyone tells me. I'm wearing two coats and ski pants, and residents of Shishmaref seem to find that hilarious. This isn't cold, they say. Their sealskin hats and mittens, the fur-lined hooded parkas -- those mostly stay at home.

    Fernandez, in her early 60s, fondly remembers temperatures of 30- and 40-below Fahrenheit.

    But mean air surface temperatures increased more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Arctic region between 1960 and 2011, according to the US National Snow & Ice Data Center. Arctic sea ice, measured since 1979, was at a monthly record low in January. And the September sea ice minimum is decreasing at a rate of 13.3% per decade.

    The scientific consensus is that human pollution is driving these changes.

    But it's not the science or the charts that matter most to Shelton.

    It's not his blue house, either, perched precariously on the edge.

    It's his son, Norman.

    It's that day: June 2, 2007.

    The day Norman fell through the ice and died.


    The stories about Esau are easy to unearth.

    Like people here, they never truly die.

    "What was Esau like?" I ask the elder whose home is next to the white crosses and the cemetery, in the heart of this village of wooden homes and metal-sided buildings, a place where the winter landscape is an infinity of white, where there's no running water or sewage service, where a shower costs $3.50 at the holiday rate, a 12-pack of Sprite $12.75. Most people prefer to live off the land, hunting seal, walrus and ptarmigan and fishing tomcod as their ancestors did.

    The elder replies in a tone that is airy and patient, a voice measured through time.

    Esau Weyiouanna was something of a renegade in Shishmaref, he tells me. He was an individual in a place that prides itself on community -- an opinionated, outspoken man in a village where many would prefer to blend with the environment. In a photo that hangs on a friend's wall today, Esau wears purple-and-green plaid and Napoleon-Dynamite bifocals, a knowing, understanding smile on his lips. His eyebrows are angled and inquisitive, like an owl's.

    Allow the elder to share one story.

      Decades ago, the Christian church decided to ban some of the village's Inupiat traditions, which had been passed from one generation to the next for centuries, if not longer. The church believed some of these traditions defied the will of God and were incompatible with its teachings. Dancing, in particular, was banned. Children of Shishmaref no longer could gather with drums made of stretched walrus stomach to move their bodies in the same artful patterns their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents always had, the elder tells me.

      Esau was the rare man who could see both sides of this dispute, the kind of man who straddled worlds both modern and ancient. He served on the church board, the elder says. But he also loved the Inupiat cultural traditions -- particularly the dance. So he took a stand. Esau danced boldly and in public, the elder tells me, to remind the community of the value of culture.

      Today, the elder says, children are taught this dance in the local school.

      This portal to the past remains open because of Esau.

      Renegade, reborn

      Decades later, and nearing death, Esau tried to ensure his story would continue.

      He walked up to a pregnant woman and touched her stomach.

      How am I doing in there? he asked.

      It was a startling question, but up here in a world of ice, where no one really dies, or not for long, the meaning was clear to the mother. She knew Esau's body soon would be laid to rest in the cemetery, and that he would be reincarnated as the child still growing inside her.

      Esau Weyiouanna was declared dead on October 29, 1997.

      On November 16, the woman's child was born.

      The family, following tradition, named him Esau.

      Esau Sinnok.

      A village renegade, reborn.


      Elders say the ice should have been safe that day in 2007.

      Norman had been on a hunting trip and was heading back into town in the early morning of late spring, when lower latitudes would still be shrouded in darkness but when this village sees nearly eternal sunshine, the tilt of the Earth making it possible to hunt through the night.

      Village elders and family members tell me he was crossing a narrow part of the lagoon that separates Shishmaref and its barrier island from mainland Alaska. It may sound strange to drive a snowmobile across ice-covered water in June. But elders tell me the ice should have been frozen solid that time of year -- that there was no indication Norman would be in danger.

      Now, everyone is less trusting.

      Some haven't gone hunting on the ice since.

      Norman's death was particularly hard on his father, Shelton, who keeps a photo of the young man, wearing a buzz cut and Reno-911 mustache, on his coffee table, facing the door for all to see. Norman was a second-chance child, one he taught to hunt seal and follow traditions Inupiat people had followed here for at least four centuries, if not many more. Yet, from birth, the boy had an air of tragedy about him, even if no one in the family dared say so aloud.

      It was in the name: Norman.

      Norman was named after Shelton's brother, who died in a plane crash.

      The tragedy brought Shelton together with Clara, who was married to his brother.

      In the wake of the accident, the two mourners decided to marry. Love was at the heart of it, to be sure, but Shelton also felt a sense of duty -- duty to occupy the loving, supportive station his brother had left vacant in Clara's life.

      When one man leaves, another stands in his place.

      'Like an old soul'

        The boy always seemed to possess knowledge from another life.

        As a toddler, Esau Sinnok spouted off phrases in Inupiaq, the local language, even though no one had taught him to do so. Then, as a young boy, Esau was traveling with his birth mother across the empty landscape that surrounds Shishmaref. "That's where I used to camp," he told her. It was the very spot where his namesake, Esau Weyiouanna, used to stay.

        It was as if the renegade elder were speaking through the boy.

        A voice carried on the wind from one generation to the next.

        People in the village treat it this way.

        For many, it's not just that young Esau reminds them of his namesake. It's that Esau is the namesake elder, returned from the grave and walking among them. They sometimes call him "father" or "brother" or "cousin," referencing their relationships with the elder who passed away.

        Esau inherited the elder's respected status, too. "He's like an old soul," says his adoptive mother, Bessi Sinnok. "He's very outspoken, like his namesake. His namesake was very respected by lots of people and because of that he had already earned respect as he was growing up."

        Teenage Esau never knew this when he was young. Bessi Sinnok told me the village hid the history from him. She wanted her son to form his own identity.

        Yet she watched as the elder's personality seemed to emerge from the boy. Esau, who was nearly mute as a child, they say, bookish and reserved, grew to be an outspoken and free-thinking young man, much like the elder Esau -- and much to the surprise of his family.

        Two events helped encourage the shift.

        One was a storm in 2006.

        Esau remembers the waves crashing over his grandparent's roof.

        The small blue house at the edge of the land once seemed like it might stand forever.

        After the storm, he tells me, "We thought the house would collapse."

        The other was the death of his uncle, Norman, the man who feel through the ice.

        Esau was only 9.

        "It really hurts," Esau tells me. He's now a 19-year-old college student with heavy eyes and mussy hair. "It really made me cry and wonder why he left so early. And there's not a day that goes by that I do not think of him. He's always on my mind. He's always in my heart."

        'Climate change is happening real fast'

        A few years after Norman's death, Esau moved into Shelton and Clara Kokeok's blue house at the edge of the Earth. Esau tells me he wanted to help his grandparents with chores his uncle might have performed, which would have included things like getting ice for drinking water from the lake, washing clothes in the local "Washateria" and emptying the "honey bucket" toilet.

        Shelton remembers telling his grandson how much the village had changed over the years, how the weather wasn't cold like it used to be, how these storms seemed bigger now, how much of the land, including the neighbor's house, had already disappeared -- and how he might be next.

        "When I built this house, there was still more ground out there," Shelton says. "We're right on the edge of the beach now ... Climate change is happening real fast."

        But none of this made sense to Esau -- not really -- until his senior year of high school.

          That's when he took Ken Stenek's science class.

          Stenek, an affable, big-smiling guy with a wiry beard and a kettlebell figure, told the students about the greenhouse effect -- how pollution, mostly from fossil fuels, hangs around in the atmosphere and acts like a blanket, heating the planet. They watched "An Inconvenient Truth," the high-profile documentary featuring former Vice President Al Gore and a graph often called the "hockey stick." That now-famous chart shows that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere haven't been this high in hundreds of thousands of years.

          Esau learned that a consensus of climate scientists -- at least 97% -- agree humans are causing rapid warming, and that continuing to pollute at current rates would be catastrophic, contributing to mass extinction, searing droughts, deadlier heat waves and more.

          They also talked about the consequences for Shishmaref.

          The "erosion" everyone in town was discussing?

          That was related to the melting sea ice, the thawing of permafrost, the frequency of damaging storms. In short: By burning fossil fuels, people were helping destroy this village.

          If you'd asked him the year before what he wanted to do with his professional life, Esau would have told you he wanted to be a petroleum engineer, like his brother. Good money, he'd say, unaware that extracting and burning fossil fuels like oil is contributing to the problem.

          Now, however, Esau was learning the science.

          He thought about his grandfather's house.

          His uncle's death.

          He believes that climate change had a hand in both.

          'Imminent' threats

          This education took him all the way to Paris.

          Through Ken Stenek's science class, Esau met researchers who were studying climate change and its consequences. And through those connections he became an Arctic Youth Ambassador, which is a program of two federal agencies and Alaska Geographic, a nonprofit. He learned that Shishmaref is not alone -- that 31 villages in Alaska face "imminent" threats from erosion and other issues related to climate change, according to a Government Accountability Office report; and that 12 of them were exploring relocation options because of warming.

          Esau started to wonder: Could Shishmaref actually survive the melting of the Arctic?

          Was his village's life nearing its end?

          Or the start of a new beginning?

          Those questions never occurred to Esau before, although they had been on the lips of older people in Shishmaref for years. They're questions kept from young people, hoping to protect them, wanting them to grow up with a sense that the world is more certain than it is.

          The Obama White House named Esau a Champion of Change for Climate Equity. He got to go to Washington. Then, he said, with help from the Sierra Club, an environmental group, he got to attend international climate change negotiations in Paris in December 2015. It was that meeting -- which is often called "COP21," since that's simpler than "the 21st meeting of the conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change" -- where world leaders agreed, after decades of failure, to work together to end the fossil fuel era.

          The target: Limit global temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.

          Basically, that means eliminating fossil fuels this century.

          In Paris, hope filled the air -- hope for a cleaner, safer future.

          Esau, meanwhile, arrived in the French capital terrified.

          It was just so different from Shishmaref.

          "It felt a little claustrophobic to me, being in a big city for the first time," he says. "It felt like I just can't take a walk or go outside and walk without thinking of being threatened or beat up. When you walk around here, you don't feel that. Everyone here is family. You get a sense of trust." He was so afraid of Paris -- its clustered buildings, sidewalks thick with people, streets clogged with smoking cars -- that he did not dare leave the hotel without an escort.

          The scale of the place got to him in other ways, too.

          How much pollution are all these people creating?

          How do you get all of them to change?

          In a word: overwhelming.

          Yet amid this chaos, Esau made another leap of understanding.

          'Before it completely erodes away'

          Rae Bainteiti comes from Kiribati, a tropical island nation that could not be more geographically dissimilar from Shishmaref. Sun and sand vs. ice and snow. The two places are thousands of miles apart, separated by the vast Pacific Ocean and a half-world of latitude, with Shishmaref near the Arctic Circle and Kiribati near the equator. Yet when an interviewer sat Rae down with Esau in Paris, the two young men discussed the perils of a common threat.

          Both may have to relocate because of climate change.

          "My future generation of kids will be the last ones that will actually be on the island of Shishmaref before it completely erodes away," Esau tells Rae in the Paris interview, which is posted on YouTube.

          He looks directly at the other young man.

          "It's just really sad knowing that you probably have to relocate and migrate, too," Esau says.

          "Your country has to be stopped from melting so we don't see water rising," Rae replies.

          The two share a laugh at the irony of the situation: As Arctic ice melts and oceans warm, sea levels around the world are rising. A host of locations, from Pacific islands like Kiribati to low-lying countries like Bangladesh and cities from New York to Shanghai will be threatened with coastal flooding -- and possibly relocation, too -- as people continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Already, Miami Beach, Florida, is installing pumps and raising street levels to try to hold the water back. That work is only the beginning of a $400-million-plus project. In 2016, the community of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, got a $48 million federal grant to relocate, in part because of rising seas. But this is the exception rather than the rule. Most local governments don't have the money for infrastructure to hold rising tides back.

          Experts say there are no programs -- in the United States or internationally -- designed specifically to plan and fund climate-driven relocations. Only a few moves have been funded with money designated for climate adaptation projects, said Elizabeth Ferris, research professor at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration.

          "Governments are reluctant to think about planned relocations because everyone wants to stay where they are," she told me. But "if it isn't planned well, it just doesn't work. It leaves people much worse off."

          "There's no federal or state law -- no institution in the United States -- with a mandate for how are we going to manage relocation internally," said Alice Thomas, the climate displacement program manager at Refugees International, a non-profit group. "It's going to be enormously expensive. It's going to be very vulnerable people ... people who aren't going to be able to cut their losses on their home when they can't get flood insurance. Where will they go?"

          In Shishmaref, the answer remains unclear.


          August 2016.

          Globally, it tied for the hottest month of the hottest year on record. In Shishmaref, residents went to the polls to decide whether they would relocate because of warming.

          The answer: Yes, by a margin of 89 to 78, according to local officials.

          But the August 16 vote did not solve Shishmaref's trouble. Far from it.

          Annie Weyiouanna, local coordinator for the Native Village of Shishmaref, tells me the tribe has no money to fund the move. And this isn't the first time the village has held a relocation vote. They did so in 2002, as well. Nothing changed. No one in the village today is packing. And Weyiouanna has tried to stop using the word "relocation" -- or uses it minimally, sometimes correcting herself -- because she worries it will signal to funding agencies in the state and federal governments that the village will be gone soon and doesn't need help with grants or infrastructure. The reality is that no one knows how long the village will be stuck.

          Perhaps forever, some worry, or until the island is gone.

          "They are not safe right now, and their lives are in danger because of the storms that are coming in," said Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice and a senior research scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She was referring to Shishmaref as well as Newtok and Kivalina, Alaska, which face similar circumstances. "(T)hey just need a large sum of money to get them to the places that they've chosen so they can be safe."

          Shishmaref has identified two potential sites for a new version of the community. Both are inland, meaning hunters and fishers would not be able to access the sea as easily. Some people in the community -- particularly elders -- believe the move threatens the tribe's Inupiat identity.

          Away from the coast, are they still the same people?

          Why should they move when others are driving climate change?

          Esau has wrestled with these questions, too. His grandparents, Shelton and Clara, the couple in the blue house at the edge of the Earth, who lost their son to the ice, do not want to leave. They want to stay in their home -- in the community they know so well -- no matter the risks.

          Esau worries about them.

          "If you ask the older generations like my grandfather, their views are totally different," he tells me. "They want to stay on this island forever and ever. And I respect that decision. They're my elders.

          "But, to me, I think we have to relocate so that our future generations can still be alive."

          Norman, age 7

          On my last day in Shishmaref, Esau and I paid his old science teacher a visit.

          We found Ken Stenek in a cream-colored house with Christmas lights on the roofline. He lives on a part of the island where houses are newer. Some were moved from the side where Esau's grandparents live, and where coastal erosion is more threatening.

          Standing in his home, I couldn't help but think about the cemetery.

          About the two men -- Esau and Norman -- who are buried there.

          Two young people, bearing those names, were standing in the room with me.

          There was Esau Sinnok, standing in the entryway, of course.

          But also Norman, sitting on the sofa in the living room.

          Norman Stenek, age 7.

          The boy was named after Esau's uncle, the one who fell through the ice.

          When I visited, young Norman seemed more interested in a tablet computer than a conversation with a random reporter, and I can't blame him for that. Still, the encounter sticks with me.

          It made me wonder: What will his life be like?

          His name -- Norman -- carries a tragic legacy. The death in the plane crash. The fall through the ice. Will this 7-year-old live to see the rest of the village drown beneath the waves, too?

          Will the same happen to millions of coastal residents during his lifetime?

          And what about Esau?

          Sometimes I think the weight of this tragedy falls on his young shoulders. His namesake was a local agitator and his uncle's death drove him into activism. The strength of his voice -- his power to command attention -- has surprised a village where few care to stand out from the crowd. He speaks out against fossil fuels, saying that the world must rush to a future with 100% renewable, clean energy. It may be too late for Shishmaref, he says, but what about other communities in similar straits? How many people will pollution force from their homes?

          "I don't blame it on one person, or a group of people. It's all our fault," Esau tells me. "It's not the 1940s anymore. We can't use fossil fuels anymore to heat our homes and use for our energy.

          "We can transition from dirty fossil fuels to renewable energies."

          But how much weight can a 19-year-old bear?

          The rest of us must realize our role in this tragedy.

          Responsibility for Shishmaref's plight falls on those in the industrialized world who continue to pollute the atmosphere with carbon, knowing it will warm the climate, melt the ice and make it less likely Shishmaref will survive. It falls on the Trump administration, which has moved to defund and upend climate change initiatives instead of planning for a transition to cleaner power sources, like wind and solar. It falls on politicians who know the scope of the impending climate relocation crisis but have done little to make adequate plans or secure appropriate funding.

          Shishmaref is part of America, even if it's rarely treated that way.

          It is a place where people never really die, where the cemetery on that hilltop in the center of the island is full of people like Norman and Esau who are kept alive by names and stories. The question now is whether villages, like people, can be reincarnated.

          Can Shishmaref be reborn?

          Sadly, it's a question the village cannot answer on its own.

          VOA: Humanitarian Crisis in Africa - Encounter

          J. Peter Pham, Vice President for Research and Regional Initiatives and Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, and Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International, discuss with host Carol Castiel what is being dubbed the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945, as conflict exacerbates famine in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Northern Nigeria.

          View the original video here.

          InterPress Service: UN Facing Famines, Conflicts and Now U.S. Funding Cuts

          Read the original article here.

          By Lyndal Rowlands

          UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2017 (IPS) - In the midst of responding to the worst humanitarian crisis since records began, the UN is now faced with potential funding cuts from its biggest donor, the United States.


          On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump released “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” the first such budget proposal of his presidency. The blueprint’s biggest proposed cuts target the Department of State, which would lose 29 percent of its budget, and the Environment Protection Agency, which would lose 31 percent.

          Although details of exactly how the proposed cuts – which still require approval of U.S. Congress – would be made, are yet to emerge, funding for the UN and the USAID which both fall under the State Department is at risk.

          “If approved – and that’s a big “if” – the Whitehouse’s plans could slash several billions in UN funding,” Natalie Samarasinghe Executive Director of the United Nations Association of the UK, told IPS.

          These billions of dollars of potential cuts come at a time when the United Nations is occupied responding to both acute and chronic crises around the world.

          “Some 20 million people are facing famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen,” said Samarasinghe.

          “The number of people forced to flee their homes is now the biggest since records began,” she said. “These are people for whom the UN is literally the difference between life and death,” she said.

          “The total foreign aid of the U.S. is about one percent of the budget - not 10 or 15 percent as some people seem to think - it’s one percent.” -- Michel Gabaudan

          Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International, told IPS that it is important to keep the United States contribution in perspective when assessing the potential cuts.

          “The U.S. contribution is critical, it is generous, it is vital, but it is not unduly high compared to other countries of the western bloc – who are the main funders of humanitarian aid – and we must keep this contribution in perspective.”

          “The total foreign aid of the U.S. is about one percent of the budget – not 10 or 15 percent as some people seem to think – it’s one percent.”

          “The magnitude of the U.S. economy means that that one percent of money is critical to humanitarian relief and to development programs but if you compare this with what some European countries are doing, like Switzerland, like the Nordics, like the Dutch … they are certainly giving more in terms of dollar per capita of their citizens,” he said.

          Samarasinghe also noted that the proposed cuts are “still a relatively small amount compared to, say, fossil fuel subsidies.”

          She said that it would be “politically challenging for European countries to pick up the slack, especially with elections looming in a number of countries.”

          As an example, said Samarasinghe, a recent appeal from the Netherlands to fund reproductive health and safe abortions has not yet reached its $600 million target. That appeal was set up after Trump re-instated the Global Gag Rule, which removes U.S. funding from non-governmental organisations that carry out any activities related to safe abortion, regardless of the funding source.

          Meanwhile, Deborah Brautigam an expert on China in Africa told IPS that it is unlikely that China will increase its funding to the United Nations as the United States steps back, because China already feels “very comfortable” in its current position at the UN. This position includes a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and UN development policies, which align with China’s priorities, such as industrialisation, said Brautigam who is Professor of International Political Economy and Director of the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.

          Two UN agencies that receive the most funding from the United States are the World Food Program, which provides emergency food assistance, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

          However Gabaudan said that both the more immediate humanitarian aid as well as long-term development assistance are needed to address the world’s crises:

          “The state department funds UNHCR and USAID funds development programs which tie the humanitarian aid with longer term issues,” said Gabaudan.

          “Most displacement crises are protracted, people don’t leave and get back home after a year or two,” he said, as is the case with the Syrian conflict, which just surpassed six year on March 15th.

          The budget proposal also reinforces other aspects of the emerging Trump Republican administration policies, including sweeping cuts to environment programs and cuts to programs, which assist the poor in the United States.

          Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations said in a statement that the cuts reflected a desire to make the United Nations more effective and efficient.

          “I look forward to working with Members of Congress to craft a budget that advances U.S. interests at the UN, and I look forward to working with my UN colleagues to make the organisation more effective and efficient.”

          “In many areas, the UN spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the United States than on other countries.”

          However that financial relationship between the UN and the host of UN Headquarters is not unidirectional. According to the latest New York City UN Impact Report, the UN community contributed 3.69 billion dollars to the New York City economy in 2014.

          In response to the budget blueprint Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that “the Secretary-General is grateful for the support the United States has given to the United Nations over the years as the organisation’s largest financial contributor.”

          “The Secretary-General is totally committed to reforming the United Nations and ensuring that it is fit for purpose and delivers results in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.”

          “However, abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts,” said Dujarric.

          Dujarric’s statement also addressed aspects of the proposed budget, which claim to address terrorism. The proposal, which significantly increases spending on the U.S. military appears to favour a “hard power” militaristic approach over a “soft power” diplomatic and humanitarian approach.

          “The Secretary-General fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism but believes that it requires more than military spending,” said Dujarric. “There is also a need to address the underlying drivers of terrorism through continuing investments in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, sustainable and inclusive development, the enhancement and respect of human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises.”

          NPR: 14-Year-Old Who Fled South Sudan: 'They're Killing Women, Children'

          Read the original article and listen to the story here.

          The buses line up at the Invepi refugee camp in northern Uganda.

          One after the other they drop off dozens of South Sudanese seeking refuge on this side of the border.

          They come off carrying whatever possessions they still have: sometimes that means empty plastic jugs, sometimes it means chickens that provide food along the way. Many of the refugees are barefoot. When they've finished with their registration and vaccinations, some just sit there, staring into space.

          As the fighting in South Sudan has intensified, so has the flow of refugees to Uganda. Just over the past week, Invepi went from receiving about 1,000 refugees a day to about 3,000.

          Many of these women are fleeing from "war, hunger and appalling acts of gender-based violence," said Refugees International, a humanitarian organization that advocates for displaced people, in a statement on Friday. "We are yet again seeing the use of rape and other forms of violence against women fleeing South Sudan."

          Angurese, 14, lives about at the Bidibidi refugee camp in Uganda, about two hours away from the nearest paved road. NPR is only using first names of refugees to protect their security.

          She sits inside a mud hut holding her baby son. She says that over the past few months, fighting between the Dinkas and Nuers, the two biggest ethnic groups in South Sudan, had gotten really bad around her home right outside of Lainya, a village southwest of Juba. At one point, she says, the fighters even started attacking civilians.

          "When the Dinkas come, they either slaughter you with the knife or they cut you with a machete, so we're now running away because we could not wait," she says.

          The only midwife in town took off. And Angurese's mother told her she had no choice but to follow the midwife because at that time, she was pregnant.

          Fatuma, the midwife, says their group walked four days through the bush. South Sudan has been an ethnic battleground on and off for decades, but Fatuma says this conflict is different. She says she saw young pregnant women raped  and the road in front of her house had become a killing field.

          "They used not to kill women but these days now they're killing women, children, elderly even the pastors, the bishops, they don't spare us," she says.

          It wasn't long ago that the world had high hopes for South Sudan.

          In 2011, amid massive celebrations, it became the world's newest independent nation. But just a few years later, South Sudan's president Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused his vice president Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of planning a coup. As Kiir's Dinka troops disarmed and attacked Machar's Nuer fighters, the country quickly descended into a civil war.

          This week, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report that found the country was on the brink of genocide. And last month, the U.N. declared a famine in some of parts of country.

          The situation for women and children is bleak: Human rights groups have documented fighters raping girls and sexually mutilating boys by castrating them. Both sides have abducted over 3,000 children for use as soldiers since 2013, according to the U.N.

          Jerry Farrell, South Sudan country director for the aid group Catholic Relief Services, says in most conflicts, it is women and children who suffer most. But the number of them being displaced in this conflict is "extremely high."

          He says that in a lot of ways the civilians in South Sudan have been caught in a perfect storm: Conflict has combined with an economic collapse and a bad drought.

          The number of women and children affected, he says, is also testing the aid response. For example, it's become clear that his group's efforts to help that population would have to be scaled up many times over to meet the needs of the displaced.

          He says that many children, for example, are not being educated, because much of the aid simply goes toward keeping people alive by feeding them.

          "So the long term prospects of the country are grim," he says.

          Cecilia Tabu is a case worker for the aid group Save the Children. She works with South Sudanese children at Camp Rhino in Uganda. A big part of her job is to find foster families for children who flee South Sudan on their own.

          She moves through the vast camp talking to families and checking up on those who have been placed in foster homes.

          On a recent day, she stops to visit Kani Jane. Kani Jane came with two children of her own — then began accepting foster kids. Now, she lives with 13 children in a small mud hut that the older kids built.

          Tabu points to one of the little ones — 6-year-old Santo, whose parents took whatever money they had saved and sent him off to search for a refugee camp. It might seem unfathomable that young children can find the camps on their own, but they usually find an older kid or an adult to tag along with.

          "The father just sent him to come, so sometimes he doesn't talk," she says.

          She calls Ludiya, one of the young people in her care. She gives her a smile and asks how she's doing. When Ludiya was 17 last year, her mother did not have enough money for the whole family to flee. So she sent Ludiya off with four younger kids.

          Now, she has peace, but she doesn't have her mother, she says. And while she is in school, she sits in a classroom with dozens of other students. Some classes have more than 100 kids.

          Tabu, the case worker, says that many of the children are traumatized and have yet to come to terms with what they've witnessed. She says some of the kids still don't have shoes and at school they don't have educational materials.

          But here in Uganda, she says, they have a chance. She knows that from personal experience. Back in the '90s, when Tabu was 13 and war was raging between north Sudan and south Sudan, her parents sent her off to Uganda on her own. She landed in Camp Rhino.

          It was hard, she says, but she was safe and eventually managed to reunite with her parents and go to college.

          Tabu walks from the family's house in the camp to a big playground built by Save the Children.

          When the playground first opened, Tabu says, the kids would fight along ethnic lines. But slowly, Tabu and other case workers helped them understand how to solve problems without violence.

          It's simple things, she says, pointing at the swing set, where there's a long line of kids waiting their turn. Each one counts to ten swings, they jumps off and give the other one a turn.

          Tabu smiles as she watches the kids play tag through a cloud of dust. They slide and they swing and they chase a football.

          For that moment at least, the world here feels normal.

          Huffington Post: Executive Order Targets Victims Of Extremism, Not The Extremists

          Read the original here.


          Executive Order Targets Victims Of Extremism, Not The Extremists

           02/08/2017 01:23 pm ET
          Michel Gabaudan
          President, Refugees International

          President Donald Trump’s recent Executive Order halting thousands from entering the United States in particular placed a temporary but devastating ban on the resettlement of refugees - ALL refugees, no matter their country of origin or the circumstances which drove them to flee their homelands. At its core, the president’s Executive Order was hastily undertaken and ill-conceived, targeting the very men, women, and children who are so often on the frontlines of the extremist violence and atrocities that President Trump says he wants to confront. By targeting refugees under his so-called travel ban, President Trump is conflating the victims of extremism with the perpetrators of extremist crimes.

          While the Executive Order is now on hold, thanks to a district court ruling in Washington state, the Order may still stand as it works its way through the U.S. legal system, ultimately ending up in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. Once the case goes before the Supreme Court, the justices will have to weigh the president’s national security powers against other legal protections under the U.S. Constitution. More specifically, the Supreme Court justices will have to decide whether it is constitutional for a president to assert his broad national security authorities and significantly disrupt the U.S. refugee resettlement program, an action that will cause irreparable harm to individuals in the total absence of evidence that they or the program poses a clear and present danger to the security of the United States.

          Respected organizations such as the Rand Corporation and the Cato Institute have debunked arguments that would justify the identification of refugees, including Syrian refugees, as potential terrorists. President Trump often points to Europe, which has been afflicted by terrible terrorist attacks over the past two years. But these examples are not applicable to the United States, and the repetition of these arguments is misleading. European countries, which are facing an acute humanitarian crisis of historic proportions, were not in a position to utilize anything even remotely approaching the extensive U.S. vetting process. The United States, however, already has an effective vetting system in place - not a single resettled refugee has been convicted of domestic terrorism.

          Regardless of this evidence or how the current legal battle over the Executive Order is resolved, the Trump administration has made clear its intention to reduce the resettlement quota by more than half in 2017, from a planned 110,000 refugees to about 50,000. This move will dash the hopes of some 60,000 refugees who are currently in the midst of extensive vetting process. In 2015 and 2016, Europe faced a historic flood of refugees which was created by an utterly unique set of circumstances. The United States does not face similar uncontrolled influx of refugees, both because of our geography and because the United States already employs an effective and stringent immigration system. What’s more, the extensive and in-depth vetting process used by the United States can take anywhere between two years and in some cases up to ten years to complete, further limiting and controlling the flow of refugees entering the United States.

          It is important to note that, if imposed, the president’s travel ban would mean that refugee women and girls living in dangerous places will remain at risk of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violent acts, that ill refugees would not get access to life-saving medical treatment, that unaccompanied children would remain at risk of exploitation and trafficking, and that refugee families would endure separation from family members already in the United States. Further, refugees who were already poised to travel to the U.S. on approved documents are now particularly vulnerable, having resigned jobs, sold all their belongings, and severed ties with their communities, only to see long-held promises of resettlement vanish overnight.

          Beyond the devastating impacts on individual refugees, the president’s plan to turn his back on a successful and long-standing U.S. bi-partisan policy will affect the decision making of governments worldwide. The United States has been the lead architect of the collective humanitarian, human rights, and security architecture of the post-World War II era. There are more refugees today than at any time since the Second World War, and most of these refugees - more than 85 percent - reside in countries neighboring those from which they fled. In many instances, refugees flee to countries that are facing their own economic hardships and political and social instabilities.

          In eschewing its long-held leadership, reneging on the principle of joint action and responsibility sharing, the United States will in all likelihood engender the progressive erosion of the international refugee protection system with dramatic human consequences. Why shouldn’t Kenya, Germany, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Pakistan - among many other refugee-hosting nations - make similar claims and immediately suspend their refugee protection programs? If nations take these actions, the Middle East, Africa and other regions would likely be thrown into even greater turmoil which could then be exploited by extremist groups and further endanger our common strategic interests.

          When the world came together last year for the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants and the U.S. Leaders Summit on Refugees, countries around the world made specific commitments and today are developing compacts to enshrine the best solutions to the current displacement crisis. Just when the need for U.S. leadership is the greatest, the Trump administration has taken action that will weaken international resolve and endanger the lives of tens of thousands of refugees.

          The Trump administration has made crystal clear that the Washington state court decision and other pending legal rulings will not end their pursuit of further anti-refugee policies. But by continuing down this path, the Trump administration is turning its back on decades of humanitarian doctrine and on the moral standing and leadership the United States once demonstrated to the rest of the world.