1.2 million Iraqis could be uprooted in Mosul battle, UN says

The New York Times reports: The United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday that it was bracing to accommodate as many as 1.2 million displaced Iraqis when the battle begins to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants, who overran the northern city more than two years ago.

A spokesman for the agency, Adrian Edwards, said it was scrambling to build encampments in six locations in northern Iraq to handle such an influx, which could inflate the country’s displaced-person population by more than a third. Mr. Edwards also said that “other shelter options are being prepared.”

His announcement, at a regular news briefing in Geneva, the refugee agency’s headquarters, did not necessarily signify an imminent military operation to seize Mosul, about 250 miles north of Baghdad.

But the announcement provided detail on the efforts to prepare for enormous new pressure on the Iraqi government to house and feed hundreds of thousands of Mosul residents when the fighting starts.

“The humanitarian impact of a military offensive there is expected to be enormous,” Mr. Edwards said in remarks posted on the refugee agency’s website.

The Iraqi government has been warning for months that the battle to retake Mosul is coming. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq said at a news conference in Baghdad that “Mosul will be liberated in 2016.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The Mideast conflict Obama still could solve

Politico reports: Just days ago, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations famed for her searing work on genocide, tweeted an image of a bridge in Yemen that had been destroyed, likely in a Saudi airstrike.

“Strikes on hospital/school/infrastructure in #Yemen devastating for ppl already facing unbearable suffering&must end,” Power wrote. The bridge was a crucial piece of infrastructure for Yemenis desperate for humanitarian aid amid a war that has killed more than 6,600 people and uprooted millions.

But Power’s tweet was awkward, given that the United States has backed Saudi Arabia’s military offensive in Yemen for nearly 18 months, supplying Riyadh with intelligence and logistical support to fight Houthi rebels linked to Iran.

The backlash was swift. “Thank you. Now how about cutting off US military aid to the Saudi campaign?” replied one activist focused on refugee issues. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

UN relief official calls crisis in Aleppo the ‘apex of horror’

The New York Times reports: The top aid official at the United Nations gave a gloomy assessment of the Syria relief effort on Monday, saying no convoy deliveries had been made to besieged areas this month and that the suffering in Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial epicenter, was the “apex of horror.”

In a briefing to the Security Council, the official, Stephen O’Brien, the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said that while he welcomed Russia’s support last week for a 48-hour cease-fire in Aleppo — as he had proposed earlier in the month — there had been no assurances from other combatants.

“This cannot be a one-sided offer,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Plans are in place, but we need the agreement of all parties to let us do our job.”

United Nations officials have said that the fighting in Aleppo — pitting Syrian government forces and their Russian backers against an array of insurgents, including Islamist militants — has left 275,000 people in rebel-held eastern Aleppo completely cut off from food, water and medicine, and has severely limited aid deliveries to 1.5 million people in government-held western Aleppo. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

An epic Middle East heat wave could be global warming’s hellish curtain-raiser

shadow14

The Washington Post reports: Record-shattering temperatures this summer have scorched countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia and beyond, as climate experts warn that the severe weather could be a harbinger of worse to come.

In coming decades, U.N. officials and climate scientists predict that the region’s mushrooming populations will face extreme water scarcity, temperatures almost too hot for human survival and other consequences of global warming.

If that happens, conflicts and refugee crises far greater than those now underway are probable, said Adel Abdellatif, a senior adviser at the U.N. Development Program’s Regional Bureau for Arab States who has worked on studies about the effect of climate change on the region.

“This incredible weather shows that climate change is already taking a toll now and that it is — by far — one of the biggest challenges ever faced by this region,” he said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Against all odds: #TeamRefugees at Rio

The Guardian reports: For the first time in Olympic history, 10 athletes will compete at Rio 2016 for the Refugee Olympic Team in a move designed to bring global attention to the magnitude of the worldwide refugee crisis.

After the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, announced in March that a team would be selected, 43 were identified as candidates and 10, displaced from South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have since been picked in three sports – athletics, swimming and judo. The athletes will march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at Friday’s opening ceremony.

Bach said: “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honour and the Olympic flag will lead them into the Olympic Stadium.

“This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that, despite the unimaginable tragedies they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.” [Continue reading…]

UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency: Each day war forces thousands of families to flee their homes. People like you, people like me.

To escape the violence, they leave everything behind – everything except their hopes and dreams for a safer future. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency believes that all refugees deserve to live in safety.

Add your name to the #WithRefugees petition to send a clear message to governments that they must act with solidarity and shared responsibility.

 

 

 

Facebooktwittermail

In Aleppo, the West has once again failed to prevent what it vowed to stop

Julian Reichelt writes: Over the past four years, the Aleppo I fell in love with has ceased to exist, its slow and painful four-year-long death now dramatically accelerated by Russian‎ smart bombs and Syrian regime dumb bombs.

If Aleppo were a person, this would be the point where we would pray for a swift end to their suffering. But Aleppo isn’t only one person, it’s a besieged town of 300,000, a disgrace to the conscience of the civilized world. Doctors are working in conditions resembling a slaughterhouse more than a hospital, but still saving lives. Children are burning tires to cloud the skies with smoke and obstruct the vision of Putin’s relentless jets and their soulless pilots. While they — eight-year-old kids — stand up to Putin’s air force and their crimes against humanity, the Western world — once again — has done nothing.

“We had gotten used to hell on earth,” one friend inside the city texted me two days ago. “Now they’re even bombing our hell to pieces.”

In the past days, while bombs were raining on the ruins of Aleppo, I have called, emailed or otherwise contacted every person in politics I know to voice not my concern, as our diplomats would say, but my outrage over what is happening — or, more accurately, what is not happening. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Syria: UN considers role in Russia’s ‘deeply flawed’ humanitarian corridors plan

The Guardian reports: The United Nations is considering overseeing a Russian proposal to create humanitarian corridors for civilians who wish to leave besieged Aleppo, despite strong opposition from aid organisations.

Confidential documents seen by the Guardian detailing internal UN deliberations on the Kremlin’s proposal, described as “deeply flawed” by humanitarian agencies, reveal the contours of a debate inside an organisation that wants to provide assistance to suffering civilians in Aleppo but fears being seen as an accomplice in an onslaught that has left a quarter of a million civilians under siege.

A UN document outlining its position on the humanitarian corridors proposal says it will only implement the overseeing initiative if the warring sides agree to a ceasefire or pause in fighting. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The climate crisis is already here — but no one’s telling us

George Monbiot writes: What is salient is not important. What is important is not salient. The media turns us away from the issues that will determine the course of our lives, and towards topics of brain-melting irrelevance.

This, on current trends, will be the hottest year ever measured. The previous record was set in 2015; the one before in 2014. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century. Each of the past 14 months has beaten the global monthly temperature record. But you can still hear people repeating the old claim, first proposed by fossil fuel lobbyists, that global warming stopped in 1998.

Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area last winter than in any winter since records began. In Siberia, an anthrax outbreak is raging through the human and reindeer populations because infected corpses locked in permafrost since the last epidemic in 1941 have thawed. India has been hammered by cycles of drought and flood, as withering heat parches the soil and torches glaciers in the Himalayas. Southern and eastern Africa have been pitched into humanitarian emergencies by drought. Wildfires storm across America; coral reefs around the world are bleaching and dying.

Throughout the media, these tragedies are reported as impacts of El Niño: a natural weather oscillation caused by blocks of warm water forming in the Pacific. But the figures show that it accounts for only one-fifth of the global temperature rise. The El Niño phase has now passed, but still the records fall.

Eight months ago in Paris, 177 nations promised to try to ensure the world’s average temperature did not rise by more than 1.5C above the pre-industrial level. Already it has climbed by 1.3C – faster and further than almost anyone predicted. In one respect, the scientists were wrong. They told us to expect a climate crisis in the second half of this century. But it’s already here. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The Saudi bombardment of Yemen — worse than Russia’s assault on Syria — has been lucrative for the West

The Economist: Ninety years ago Britain’s planes bombed unruly tribes in the Arabian peninsula to firm up the rule of Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state. Times have changed but little since then. Together with America and France, Britain is now supplying, arming and servicing hundreds of Saudi planes engaged in the aerial bombardment of Yemen.

Though it has attracted little public attention or parliamentary oversight, the scale of the campaign currently surpasses Russia’s in Syria, analysts monitoring both conflicts note. With their governments’ approval, Western arms companies provide the intelligence, logistical support and air-to-air refuelling to fly far more daily sorties than Russia can muster.

There are differences. Russian pilots fly combat missions in Syria; Western pilots do not fly combat missions on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Nor are their governments formal members of the battling coalition. Their presence, including in Riyadh’s operations room, and their precision-guided weaponry, should ensure that the rules of war that protect civilians are upheld, insist Western officials. But several field studies question this. Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used. Together with other watchdogs, including the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, it has documented the use of Western weaponry to hit scores of Yemeni markets, medical centres, warehouses, factories and mosques. One analyst alleges that the use of its weapons amounts to Western complicity in war crimes.

The war in Yemen has certainly been lucrative. Since the bombardment began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has spent £2.8 billion ($3.8 billion) on British arms, making it Britain’s largest arms market, according to government figures analysed by Campaign Against Arms Trade, a watchdog. America supplies even more. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

As the Saudis covered up abuses in Yemen, America stood by

Samuel Oakford writes: The United Nations has long been bullied by its most powerful members, and U.N. secretaries-general have usually been forced to grit their teeth and take it quietly. But few nations have been more publicly brazen in this practice than Saudi Arabia, and earlier this summer, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon managed to get in a dig at the Kingdom over its blackmail-style tactics. Ban openly admitted that it was only after Riyadh threatened to cut off funding to the U.N. that he bowed to its demand to remove the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, where it has launched a harsh military intervention, from a list of violators of children’s rights contained in the annex of his annual Children and Armed Conflict report. “The report describes horrors no child should have to face,” Ban told reporters. “At the same time, I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many U.N. programs.”

But the secretary-general wasn’t done. “It is unacceptable for U.N. member states to exert undue pressure,” Ban added. The removal of the Saudis from the list was also, he claimed, “pending review.”

For the United States, it was another reminder of what an uncomfortable ally the Saudi kingdom can be (as was the July release of a hitherto classified section of a 2002 report into the 9/11 attacks that suggested, among other things, that the wife of then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan gave money to the wife of a suspected 9/11 co-conspirator). No one has become more familiar with this awkwardness than the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, the erstwhile human-rights icon (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell) who has been forced to look the other way as a powerful U.S. ally does as it pleases in Yemen with political, logistical and military cover from Washington. Since news broke of Ban’s decision, I have asked Power’s office for a direct response to Saudi funding threats. Neither she nor her staff has ever replied. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

South China Sea ruling was aimed at easing tension – but may just stoke conflict

Simon Tisdall writes: By taking its case to the UN’s arbitration court in The Hague, the Philippines government hoped to find a peaceful, internationally acceptable solution to its long-running maritime dispute with China, its vastly more powerful neighbour. But Tuesday’s ruling, largely backing Manila and rejecting Beijing’s claims to exclusive control of large parts of the South China Sea, may do the exact opposite, stoking regional tensions, drawing in the US and Japan, and increasing the risk of armed confrontation.

The possible trigger for such an escalation is China’s refusal to accept the authority and jurisdiction of the UN court, and its instant rejection of its findings, despite the fact Beijing is a signatory of the UN’s convention on the law of the sea, which the court oversees, and is a permanent member of the UN security council. This attempt by Beijing to cherry-pick which treaties and rules it follows poses a significant challenge to the supremacy of international law and the UN system, of which it, in theory, is a key guardian. Its supporters will argue it is only following the US example.

That Chinese officials and state media pre-empted the court ruling over a period of months before the verdict, disparaging the court and proclaiming its proceedings null and void, suggests a disturbing new doctrine of Chinese exceptionalism may be emerging under the muscular tutelage of Xi Jinping, China’s authoritarian president. The irony should not be lost on the US, which justified its 20th-century global expansion in terms of exceptionalism and now finds itself on the receiving end. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Millions of Iraqi children repeatedly and relentlessly targeted, says UN

The Guardian reports: One in every five children in Iraq is at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence and recruitment into armed groups, while nearly 1,500 have been snatched from the streets or their homes since 2014, says a new report (pdf).

The UN children’s agency, Unicef, says 3.6 million children face this litany of risks – an increase of 1.3 million in 18 months. A third of all Iraqi children – 4.7 million – need humanitarian aid, with conditions only getting worse following fierce battles around the city of Falluja.

“Children in Iraq are in the firing line and are being repeatedly and relentlessly targeted,” says Peter Hawkins, the agency’s representative in Iraq.

“We appeal to all parties for restraint and to respect and protect children. We must help give children the support they need to recover from the horrors of war and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq.”

The report says almost 10% of Iraq’s children – more than 1.5 million – have been forced to flee their homes since the intensification of fighting in 2014. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail