Pope Francis’ visit to Morocco to focus on migrants

Pope Francis is seen during the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square, at the Vatican February 27, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 06 March 2019
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Pope Francis’ visit to Morocco to focus on migrants

  • “Pope Francis loves to go to frontiers, to places of transit,” said Cristobal Lopez Romero, archbishop of Rabat

CASABLANCA: Morocco’s bishops said Tuesday they hope Pope Francis’ visit to their country will help shed light on the situation of migrants in the country that is a key transit point for those trying to reach Europe.
The Catholic church in Morocco mainly works with people from Sub-Saharan Africa, who make up 50 to 70 percent of churchgoers. Many are migrants illegally staying in the majority Muslim country living in poor conditions.
“We have had to prioritize to whom the aid goes first. Our church suffers from lack of funds. We can give some migrants food, plastic, covers, yet we can’t give them the respect they deserve. They are people not animals.” said Santiago Agrelo Martinez, Archbishop of Tangier.
He said he hopes that the pope’s visit on March 30-31 will help improve the situation.
The city he oversees is particularly known for being a focal point for departure into the Mediterranean Sea. A large crackdown on migrants was led by Moroccan authorities there last summer to limit numbers of crossings.
“Pope Francis loves to go to frontiers, to places of transit,” said Cristobal Lopez Romero, archbishop of Rabat, at a news conference in Casablanca Tuesday.
Morocco’s officials have repeatedly said the country cannot be the region’s immigration police, putting pressure on Europe to provide funds to manage the crisis.
Yet crackdowns on migrants and deportations are rampant, pushing international rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to denounce Morocco’s security measures.
Nearly 47,500 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea since the start of the year, while 564 have died or gone missing while trying to reach Europe, according to the International Organization of Migration.


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”