From Syria to Ukraine, children bear the brunt of forced displacement crisis

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Updated 22 September 2022

From Syria to Ukraine, children bear the brunt of forced displacement crisis

From Syria to Ukraine, children bear the brunt of forced displacement crisis
  • Raouf Mazou, assistant high commissioner for operations at UNHCR, calls for more contributions
  • Situation of forcibly displaced is “very, very worrying,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of UNGA

NEW YORK CITY: Nearly half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are still children under 18-years-old, according to data published by the UN refugee agency — that is 1.5 million more people than the entire population of Saudi Arabia.

It is an old problem, but it is not going away.

By the end of 2021 the UNHCR data put the number of forcibly displaced people of all ages as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human-rights violation or events seriously disturbing public order, globally at 89.3 million. This has risen to 100 million since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March.

“The situation with the forcibly displaced is very, very worrying,” Raouf Mazou, assistant high commissioner for operations at UNHCR, told Arab News on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“To this year we came to a total number of about 100 million people forcibly displaced. These include refugees and internally displaced people.”

But even with the figures released in June, the 42 percent of children forced out of their homes stands at approximately 37,506,000.

To give this some perspective, that is 15,756,000 more than the entire population of Cairo, nearly five times the number of people in Riyadh, and nearly 28 million more people than London.

Moreover, the problem is growing. While many children and adults — usually women — were forced from their homes by drought, food insecurity and armed conflict, there are also 1.5 million children who were born as refugees.

Annually, between 2018 and 2021, this equated to an average of between 350,000 and 400,000 children born into a refugee life each year. Whether on their own or with family, all face food insecurity, poverty and threats to their safety.

“If one looks at the past 10 years, we’ve seen every year an increase in these numbers,” Mazou said.

In turn, this exposed them to increased vulnerability and attacks, often violent sexual assaults. The victims range from children to adults, the attackers operate alone and in groups.

Gang rapes have become worryingly common in South Sudan as the flimsy truce moves closer to complete failure.




Conflicts around the world have led to a surge in child malnutrition. (AFP)

“That is as a result of conflict, as a result of climate, as a result of a number of reasons. It’s a very (concerning) situation,” Mazou told Arab News.

On Monday Martin Griffiths, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told the Security Council that hunger is being used as a “tactic of war,” something humanitarian organizations are trying to combat through lifelines, by working with local groups who are the first, sometimes only, “responders on the ground.”

He warned that the presence of humanitarian aid workers does not spell the end of suffering for those displaced.

South Sudan is “one of the most dangerous places to be an aid worker last year, with 319 violent incidents targeting humanitarian personnel and assets.”

Griffiths said five aid workers were killed in 2021 — five more have died since the beginning of this year.

Up until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a big majority of refugees — 69 percent of the global number, to be precise — originated from just five countries, notably Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

In Syria more than 6.9 million people have fled their homes internally, and more than 6.5 million remain outside Syria, of whom 5.7 million are refugees in the region, still being hosted by neighbours. Up until Ukraine happened, Syria accounted for the highest number of displaced people.

Currently 14.6 million people in Syria rely on aid — 1.2 million more than a year before. More than 90 percent of Syrians live in poverty.

After 11 years of conflict, those displaced by the Syrian war are beginning to become a forgotten cause.

“There’s always an element of asylum fatigue,” Mazou said. “Because after some time, people expect that the solution would be resolved and therefore, there is less attention. And then you see a reduction in the funding.”

According to him, the events of 2021, such as the war in Ukraine and the violent regime change in Afghanistan, have pushed Syria even further out of the limelight.

“Each of these new situations require additional funding and reduce the availability of funds for other locations,” Mazou said.

He said the ripple effect has been an increase in the amount of need.

“The resources that are being mobilized are not increasing as fast as the number of refugees and the amount of need that we have,” he said.




UN refugee agency official Raouf Mazou appeals for generous contributions to meet urgent humanitarian needs. (Screenshot)

Among the issues faced by refugees is gender-based violence and risks to children, which are on the rise.

Then there is the food-security crisis, which has set new records with 13.9 million people going hungry every day, and is being aggravated by the conflict in Ukraine.

“We have about 11 million refugees in 42 countries, which are dependent on food assistance,” Mazou said.

“And what we are seeing now is that in a number of countries, we do not have enough resources.”

He said the cost-of-living crisis had exacerbated the problem, meaning the amount of food being made available was decreasing as costs soared.

The situation is so bad, according to Mazou, there are refugees who are receiving little or no food assistance.

The problem is not just food scarcity, though. One of the first things child refugees lose is access to education.

Nearly one-in-two Syrian children are out of school and vulnerable to child labour, early and forced marriages, trafficking, and recruitment by armed actors, according to UNHCR data.

Mazou said just 37 percent of all refugee children have access to secondary education, while those in tertiary education amount to just 6 percent of those who need it.




An internally displaced child stands next to tire in a school in the village of Afdera, 225km of Semera, Ethiopia. (AFP)

“The problem is that less access to education means that they are less prepared and ready to be part of the country when they are able to go back. So, definitely one can speak of a lost generation,” he said.

Mazou said the UNHCR is in ongoing discussions with governments to ensure that refugee children are included in existing education systems.

According to the UNHCR Data Finder report, a vast majority of those people forcibly displaced from their homes and countries are hosted by low- and middle-income countries — not richer Western ones.

“Low- and middle-income countries host 83 percent of the world’s refugees and Venezuelans displaced abroad,” the report said, adding: “The least developed countries provide asylum to 27 percent of the total.”

Many Syrian refugees who left the country during the war now find themselves in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

It is well documented that Lebanon, a country the size of the British county of Cornwall and with a population of four million, hosts somewhere in the region of 2 million known refugees.

Lebanon is in a financial crisis of its own where banks are denying citizens access to their own savings.




A rescuer carries a migrant child as they disembark from the Abeille Languedoc after being rescued by its crew following a failed crossing attempt in French waters. (AFP)

It is clear that the cost-of-living crisis has hit funding for refugees significantly in the past three years, with the pandemic and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan forcing millions to flee.

In its 2021 donor impact report, the UNHCR said: “2021 was another difficult year.”

It went on to add: “Economic crisis, conflict, climate change, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have demanded that we adapt to new challenges every day.”

“But the trials and tribulations of 2021 especially impacted some of the world’s most vulnerable people: the over 84 million forced to flee their homes to escape war, persecution, and other life-threatening situations.”

In January, 2022, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced it was seeking from the international community $ 1.6 billion this year.

UNRWA was established by the General Assembly in 1949, mandated to provide assistance and protection to 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with the agency across its five fields of operation.

UNRWA’s mission is to “help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.”




The number of refugees from Ukraine following Russia's invasion of the country on February 24, 2022 has reached 4.2 million, the United Nations says. (AFP)

In January Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general, said the international community recognized the “lifesaving role of UNRWA” and its role in contributing toward stability in the Middle East.

“In 2022, that recognition must be supported by the adequate level of funding to meet this critical moment for Palestine refugees,” he said.

“Chronic agency budget shortfalls threaten the livelihoods and well-being of the Palestine refugees that UNRWA serves and pose a serious threat to the Agency’s ability to maintain services.”

Earlier in September Lazzarini concluded an official visit to Cairo during which he met with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League, and Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister.

Commending Egypt and the Arab League for their political support, he called for continued Arab solidarity with Palestine refugees, not least in their financial support of the UNRWA.

"But it requires adequate resources to implement the mandate that this region, and most of the world, gives it,” Lazzarini said. “Political support — without matching financial resources — will not cover the cost of 700 schools, 140 health centres, and food and cash assistance for over two million poor and conflict-affected Palestine refugees.”

It is no different for the UNHCR, said Mazou, who explained that while the pandemic has seen an increase in donations both from the private sector and individuals – likely driven by their own newly found hardship — the needs continue to grow.




Hunger has become a 'weapon of war' in countries such as Ethiopia and Afghanistan, and the scale of needs globally has vastly outpaced resoures, according to Martin Griffiths, UN relief chief. (AFP)

“There are a number of situations — in Yemen for instance, where you have 5 million internally displaced people, plus about 100,000 refugees in a situation where there’s been conflict for quite some time,” Mazou told Arab News.

“It’s clear that financial support is required and also support to deal with the root cause of the conflict, which have, as an impact and as a consequence, displacement. So more financial resources are needed for sure.”

Mazou praised GCC member states for their contributions to the refugee cause, but added: “You can never be satisfied with the level of contributions we are receiving right now.”

Pointing out that the UNHCR’s global budget is around $10 billion, he said: “We normally get half of it as contribution, so we already have a gap globally.”

Addressing GCC countries, he said “Whether it is UAE, whether it is Saudi Arabia, whether it is Qatar, they have been contributing. But of course they need to contribute more.”

It is not a question of being ungrateful, Mazou explained. “This is what we ask all our donors, we appreciate what they do, but we ask for more.”

 


Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center
Updated 22 sec ago

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center
  • Major fire at JIC in late October destroyed dome of grand mosque
  • Islamic centers with ‘significant role’ in promoting tolerant Islam

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials have thanked Saudi Arabia after its pledge to finance the restoration of the Jakarta Islamic Center.

The announcement, which was made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month, has reaffirmed the close and important relations between the two countries.

A major fire broke out at JIC in late October, destroying the iconic dome of a grand mosque located at the complex.

The crown prince announced the Kingdom’s financing of the center’s restoration earlier this month, and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the planned restoration “confirms his keenness and interest in Islamic centers in all brotherly and friendly countries.” 

Saudi’s financial help is expected to help speed up the restoration process which, according to the center’s management, could have taken as long as five years without assistance.

Paimun Abdul Karim, spokesman of JIC’s management, told Arab News: “We are very grateful for such help from the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We are filled with thanks because it means the restoration will be faster.

“His action shows the solidarity between Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia’s plan to help us shows the good relations between the Saudi and Indonesian governments, and it will bring great benefits for us.

“This is another way to open up JIC’s diplomacy and connection to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

JIC’s work has centered on the promotion of tolerant and moderate Islam, with the complex housing not only a grand mosque, but also a research studies center and a conference hall which hosts various programs and gatherings.

Eko Hartono, Indonesia’s consul general in Jeddah, told Arab News that the support offered by Saudi Arabia “reaffirmed the closeness of friendly relations” between Jakarta and Riyadh.

He added: “Saudi’s assistance also reaffirms the country’s commitment to help the Muslim world and glory of Islam in every part of the world, including Indonesia.”

Marzuki Abubakar, researcher and lecturer at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, said Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has always had a very close relationship with the Kingdom.

He told Arab News: “Islam in Indonesia certainly has its own unique characteristics that have captured the world’s attention, and this has led to campaigns for religious tolerance and moderation, which are also important for Saudi Arabia.

“This is why Saudi Arabia’s participation in supporting programs related to tolerance and moderation, including at the Jakarta Islamic Center, has become very important.”


Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians
Updated 28 November 2022

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians
  • Group of 50 Conservatives demands prime minister removes ‘loopholes’ in asylum law
  • Organization says returning trafficked people is likely to ‘deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again’

LONDON: A row is brewing in the UK after Amnesty International condemned a group of Conservative MPs who called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to return Albanian asylum-seekers to their home country — including those claiming to be victims of human trafficking.

The UK has witnessed a marked increase in the number of Albanians coming to the country in the past 12 months, with many who cross the English Channel in small boats claiming they have been trafficked, and are victims of modern slavery.

The group of more than 50 politicians said moves to expedite the process of deporting Albanians was necessary to dissuade migrants from making the journey from what, they said, was a safe country, and reduce significant backlogs in the UK’s asylum process.

In a letter to Sunak, the MPs said: “If they (asylum-seekers) have really been taken (to the UK) against their will, then they could not reasonably object to being returned to their own homes.

“The quirks in our modern slavery laws that prevent this are clearly in defiance of the aims of that law and should be removed.”

David Davis MP, one of the signatories, told Sky News: “The Home Office itself has not been interpreting the asylum laws correctly. The point is to turn the turnaround time for an Albanian landing on our shores from years to days or weeks.

“That’s the aim and we think it’s possible. If we don’t do it, the Home Office is never going to be able to cope with the number of applications. It’s already 420 days to get a decision. It’d be longer and longer.”

He added that fear of persecution by smugglers and criminal gangs should not enable people to claim asylum.

“I’m not scapegoating the individual Albanians. What I want to do is to close those loopholes,” he said.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International’s UK refugee and migrant rights program director, criticized Davis, telling The Guardian: “There does seem to be quite a lot of nonsense here.

“The starting point is whether your government is unwilling or unable to provide protection from persecution. It doesn’t set out who your persecutors have to be.

“It could be organized crime, or a blood feud. It can also be women who are persecuted by their own families. The question is whether the state is both able and willing to provide the protections that it is expected under international law to provide.”

He added: “Not every survivor of human trafficking is necessarily unsafe to be returned, but returning someone to where they were trafficked from is likely to deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again, unless there is some significant improvement to their circumstances in that place.”


WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox
Updated 28 November 2022

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox
  • Bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name
  • Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year

GENEVA: Monkeypox is to be renamed mpox in English, the World Health Organization announced Monday, in a bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow these recommendations, to minimize any ongoing negative impact of the current name and from adoption of the new name.”
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year, from 110 countries.


Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities
Updated 28 November 2022

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities
  • Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex
  • UN nuclear watchdog wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station

KYIV: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine remains under Russian control, authorities installed by Moscow in the nearby city of Enerhodar said on Monday, after a Ukrainian official suggested Russian forces were preparing to leave.
“The media are actively spreading fake news that Russia is allegedly planning to withdraw from Enerhodar and leave the (plant). This information is not true,” the Russia-installed administration wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy company said on Sunday there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to vacate the vast Zaporizhzhia plant which they seized in March, soon after invading Ukraine.
Ukraine, which suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chornobyl in 1986, and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex.
Both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency), wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station, which is Europe’s largest.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said late on Sunday that he had no doubt that Russian forces would leave the plant, where Ukrainian staff are still operating. Many of these workers live in Enerhodar.
“The defense line is starting to retreat to the borders of the Russian Federation,” Podolyak told Ukrainian television, adding that Ukraine would “take it (the plant) back.”
Ukraine’s military said on Monday its forces late last week destroyed six units of Russian military equipment and that about 30 Russian servicemen were wounded in fighting near Enerhodar.
Reuters was not able to immediately verify the reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin moved in September to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine where his forces say they have partial control. Kyiv and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal.


US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
Updated 28 November 2022

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
  • Russia and the US have been discussing a deal that could see the basketball star in exchange for convicted weapons trafficker Viktor Bout

MOSCOW: The United States and Russia are discussing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan through special channels, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing a top US diplomat.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Russia, was quoted as saying that the United States had submitted a serious proposal for consideration but it had not received a “serious response” back from Russia.
Russia and the United States have been discussing a deal that could see Griner, who is facing nine years in jail in Russia on drug charges, return to the United States in exchange for convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.
No deal has materialized amid heightened tensions between the two countries.