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.”

 


Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction
Updated 06 October 2022

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction
  • Mohityanche Vadgaon in Maharashtra introduced daily breaks from electronic devices in August
  • Digital addiction has come to attention of Indian authorities, parents following 2 years of online classes

NEW DELHI: When a siren goes off at 7 p.m., residents of one Indian village turn off their TV sets and mobile devices to observe a self-imposed blackout, a measure they hope will help protect their children from digital addiction.

The daily routine started in Mohityanche Vadgaon on Aug. 15 when India celebrated 75 years of independence. Since then, the village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra has been trying to observe its own liberation — 90 minutes of freedom from digital clutter.

“Everyone observes self-discipline,” village head Vijay Mohite told Arab News. “It’s digital cleansing for the whole village.”

Digital addiction has come to the attention of Indian authorities and parents following long coronavirus pandemic restrictions which kept children away from school and group activities for nearly two years.

Soon after online classes started in 2020, a study by a city hospital in the northern Indian city of Jaipur warned that 65 percent of the minors surveyed had shown symptoms of addiction to mobile phones, making them unable to leave their devices for more than 30 minutes.

In March, Electronics and IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar told the parliament that more than one-third of Indian children were experiencing reduced concentration due to mobile phone use.

In Mohityanche Vadgaon, the fallout from virtual online learning was observed as well.

“COVID-19 lockdowns and the online classes for school kids made the majority of school-going boys and girls addicted to mobile phones and that was affecting the academic and emotional behavior of youngsters,” Mohite said.

“We know that it’s like going against the tide, but digital detox is important if the parents in the village want their kids to have a bright future.”

The agrarian village, which survives mainly on growing sugarcane, has two government schools. Jayvant Vitthal Mohite, who teaches history at one of them, said he had noticed that after two years of online learning there was a significant drop in his students’ academic performance, and they would remain connected to their phones even during classes.

“The initiative that the village head has taken, and the parents’ awareness have made a difference in the behavior and attitude of the kids in school.”

He noted that daily digital detox, even for as short a period of 90 minutes, helped improve the well-being of kids, and even after one month his students demonstrated more creativity and focus.

“They look more relaxed and at ease than before,” he added.

Fifteen-year-old Gayatri Nikam now turns off her phone when loudspeakers at a village temple sound the digital break time in the evening.

She told Arab News: “My academic performance has improved over one month, and I have not played any mobile games for some time now.”

Parents in Mohityanche Vadgaon follow the discipline of detox too to support their children.

“We don’t switch on the TV, we don’t use mobile phones, and take only calls which are necessary,” Nikam’s father, Anil, said. “I have two daughters and I want them to do well in life.”

For her mother, Anuradha, the regular 90-minute digital-free sessions come with a sense of relief.

She said: “You hear stories of how children get spoiled by mobile addiction. The initiative in the village has really made me happy and I feel the kids are becoming more creative by being away from mobile phones.”


Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief
Updated 06 October 2022

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief
  • The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security
  • The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion

MALANG, Indonesia: Indonesia’s police chief on Thursday said six people were facing criminal charges over a football stadium disaster that killed 131 people at the weekend.
“Based on the investigation and sufficient evidence, we have determined six suspects,” national police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo told a press conference.
The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security, including the head of Arema FC’s organizing committee and one of the club’s security officers, he said.
The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion.
Officers reacted by firing tear gas into packed stands as fans of Arema FC tried to approach players following their defeat to fierce rivals Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday evening.
Hundreds of people fled for small exits, resulting in a crush that left many trampled or suffocating to death.
Police described the pitch invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused them of overreacting.
Officers responded with force, kicking and hitting fans with batons, according to witnesses and footage, pushing the spectators back into the stands where many would die after tear gas was fired.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced an investigation after the tragedy and called for a safety review of all stadiums.


UK government talks tough on immigration — again

UK government talks tough on immigration — again
Updated 06 October 2022

UK government talks tough on immigration — again

UK government talks tough on immigration — again
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman x
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not "meet the needs of the country"

LONDON: Accusing asylum seekers of “abusing the system” and urging the need to “take back control,” the UK government is once again talking tough on immigration.
But its latest pledge to reduce crossings from northern France in small boats comes with a blatant promise to defy international conventions.
“It’s not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders, it’s not bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers who are abusing the system,” said Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
The stance earned Braverman, whose parents emigrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s, a standing ovation at this week’s Conservative party’s annual conference.
The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger, who has been in the job for the past month, pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not “meet the needs of the country.”
“If you deliberately enter the United Kingdom illegally from a safe country, you should be swiftly returned to your home country or relocated to Rwanda. That is where your asylum claim will be considered,” she said.
Successive Conservative governments since 2010 have been promising to drastically reduce the number of migrants but to no avail.
Since the beginning of the year, a record 33,500 people have crossed the Channel in small boats.
More than half of them came from Afghanistan (18 percent), Albania (18 percent) or Iran (15 percent), according to the Home Office.
Since 2018, Iranians and Iraqis have accounted for almost half of all migrants intercepted on the route.
Zoe Gardner, an expert on British migration and asylum systems, said while the pro-Brexit Tories have never managed to reduce immigration, they have made a tougher for asylum seekers to settle.
“For a long time, it (immigration policy) has been a way to gain support, when every other area of policy seems to be a failure for them,” she told AFP.
“Every time the government of Boris Johnson had a bad week in the newspapers, you can be sure they would announce another plan to target immigrants just to distract people.”
The strategy, though, is in danger of running out of steam, she added.
Britons are overwhelmingly in favor of taking in refugees, according to polls, but are now more concerned about a cost-of-living crisis.
Proposing to ban access to asylum would be a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to which Britain is a signatory.
It states that a migrant can travel in any way he or she wishes — or can — to a country to seek refuge, without being harmed by the mode of arrival.
For some experts, such a ban would result in court action, just as it did when the government attempted to deport the first batch of failed asylum seekers to Rwanda.
In June, a plane bound for Kigali was grounded after last-minute legal challenges in the English courts, and a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights.
Braverman, a former attorney general and successor to another hard-liner Priti Patel, blasted the ruling of the “foreign court,” which Britain helped set up after World War II.
She told conference delegates with a smile that her “dream” for Christmas would be to see “a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda.”
According to Braverman’s own department, 94 percent of the 50,000 or so migrants who arrived in the UK across the Channel between January 2018 and June 2022 applied for asylum.
Some 82 percent of those applicants were still waiting for a decision, but the majority who have received a response were successful.
“We are talking about people with good reason to seek asylum in UK, with no other way of doing so because the government has closed the majority of other options,” said Daniel Sohege, a refugee law specialist who heads the association Stand For All.
As the law currently stands, a migrant must be physically in the UK to start the asylum process.
But there is “no way” that London would allow them to arrive in the country and seek refuge, Zoe Gardner said.
The UK also relies on its island status and believes that it does not have to take in migrants who have traveled through other so-called safe countries.
With this impossible equation for refugees, “the UK receives fewer asylum applications than France, Germany or Italy,” said Gardner.


North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired
Updated 06 October 2022

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired
  • The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region

SEOUL/TOKYO: South Korea scrambled fighter jets after North Korean warplanes staged an apparent bombing drill on Thursday, Seoul’s defense ministry said, as allied warships held missile defense drills and Pyongyang fired off the latest in a series of ballistic missiles.

The rare bombing drill by at least eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers prompted the South to deploy 30 fighters. The warplanes swarmed each side of the heavily fortified border amid rising tensions over a string of missile tests by Pyongyang.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday in the direction of Japan, just an hour after condemning the repositioning of a US aircraft carrier to the region, and a UN Security Council meeting held in New York.

North Korea has launched about 40 missiles this year, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and appears ready to hold its first nuclear test since 2017, officials in Seoul and Washington have said.

Thursday’s launches followed the return of the carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, to waters off the Korean peninsula, and a UN Security Council meeting held in response to the North’s recent tests.

The missile launch was the sixth in 12 days and the first since North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, which prompted joint South Korean and US missile drills in which one weapon crashed and burned.

The launch was reported by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese government.

“This is the sixth time in the short period, just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”

The launch came after North Korea condemned the United States for talking to the United Nations Security Council about Pyongyang’s “just counteraction measures” on joint South Korea-US drills, suggesting its missile tests are a reaction to the allied military moves.

In a statement, the reclusive nation’s foreign ministry also condemned Washington for repositioning the US aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula, saying it posed a serious threat to the stability of the situation.

The carrier and its strike group of accompanying warships were abruptly redeployed in response to North Korea’s IRBM launch over Japan.

The carrier strike group joined destroyers from South Korea and Japan in maritime missile defense training, the South Korean military said on Thursday.

“This training focuses on mastering detection, tracking and interception procedures through shared target information under a scenario of (North Korea) conducting ballistic missile provocations,” it said in a statement.

A State Department spokesperson said the United States condemned Thursday’s launch as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional neighbors and the international community.

The spokesperson, however, added that Washington was committed to a diplomatic approach and called on the North to engage in dialogue.

Thursday’s first missile probably flew to an altitude of about 100km and a range of 350km, while the second had an estimated altitude of 50km and covered 800km, probably taking an irregular trajectory, he said.

South Korea’s JCS said the missiles were launched from near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The United States and its allies have stepped up displays of military force in the region, but there appears little prospect of further international sanctions by the UN Security Council, which has already passed resolutions banning the North’s missile and nuclear development.


Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery
Updated 06 October 2022

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery
  • Attacker Panya Kamrab also kills wife, son before turning gun on himself
  • He had been sacked from the police in January on charges of drug possession

BANGKOK: At least 36 people, most of them children, were killed by an ex-policeman at a preschool daycare center in Thailand’s northeast on Thursday, police and hospital officials said.

The attack took place in the Na Klang area of Nong Bua Lamphu province in the early afternoon.

Authorities at Nong Bua Lamphu Hospital said 24 of those killed were children. A further 12 people were injured in the attack.

Police identified the killer as 34-year-old Panya Kamrab, a former police sergeant who was dismissed from service in January. According to a police report seen by Arab News, he was sacked after being found in possession of narcotics.

Panya is thought to have gone to the daycare center to find his son but when he failed to find the boy he began shooting. He then returned home, where he killed his wife and child.

“He (Panya) was already stressed after going to court to hear the case against him for narcotics possession. When he didn’t see his child, he carried out the attack with a gun and a knife,” local police spokesperson Paisan Luesomboon said.

“He left the children’s development center for his home, which is around 2 kilometers away. He collided with people on the road and also fired at them. He returned home and saw his wife and kid. He then shot them before killing himself.”

Video footage and images shared on social media showed the distraught relatives of the victims standing beside ambulances outside the daycare facility as police and rescuers dealt with the aftermath of the attack.

Another image showed the body of a woman lying beside a motorcycle on a roadside.

It was not immediately clear if the death toll included the killer and his family or the people attacked on the road.

Nong Bua Lamphu is a province in northeastern Thailand, about 500 km from Bangkok.