From the Middle East to Latin America, World Humanitarian Day puts the spotlight on crises at the root of displacement

Special From the Middle East to Latin America, World Humanitarian Day puts the spotlight on crises at the root of displacement
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Above, the bodies of some of at the 73 ‘missing and presumed dead’ from a shipwreck on Feb. 14, 2023 are retrieved off the coast of Libya. (Red Crescent/AFP)
Special From the Middle East to Latin America, World Humanitarian Day puts the spotlight on crises at the root of displacement
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A rescue worker of the Maltese NGO Moas carries a baby during a rescue operation of 146 migrants and refugees by the Topaz Responder ship off the coast of Libya on Nov. 5, 2016. (AFP file photo)
Special From the Middle East to Latin America, World Humanitarian Day puts the spotlight on crises at the root of displacement
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Ukrainian evacuees queue at the Medyka border crossing after they crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border, southeastern Poland, on March 29, 2022. (AFP file photo)
Special From the Middle East to Latin America, World Humanitarian Day puts the spotlight on crises at the root of displacement
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A Spanish patrol boat rescues migrants who threw themselves into the water on Aug. 20, 2019, to try and swim to the nearby Italian island of Lampedusa. (AFP)
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Updated 19 August 2023
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From the Middle East to Latin America, World Humanitarian Day puts the spotlight on crises at the root of displacement

From the Middle East to Latin America, World Humanitarian Day puts the spotlight on crises at the root of displacement
  • Although Syria remains the biggest source of displaced people, it is closely followed by Ukraine and Afghanistan
  • Multiple ongoing conflicts, coupled with climate-driven upheaval, mean more people than ever are on the move

DUBAI: Youssef Bayrakdar was 19 when he and his family were forced to leave their home in Homs in March 2012, just a year after the conflict in Syria began. His sister, along with her husband, their children and every resident of their building, had been killed by militiamen.

After five days, grieving families were finally permitted to bring out their dead for burial. “The militias continued killing and totally eliminated nearly 25 neighborhoods and massacred 100 families,” Bayrakdar told Arab News.

He and his surviving family fled to the countryside, where they remained until 2015. However, the war followed them, with rockets landing near their home. While his parents chose to return to the city, Bayrakdar and his two siblings became politically active.




Migrants from Africa, stranded on the seashore at the Libyan-Tunisian border in Ras Jedir, plead to be saved from a desert zone between Libya and Tunisia on July 26, 2023. (AFP)

“Today, the three of us are living in the northern part of Aleppo (which is not under government control) and we can’t visit our parents,” he said. “I strongly believe that we will never ever see them again.”

Bayrakdar is just one among millions of people around the globe who have been displaced by conflict, persecution, natural disaster or a lack of economic opportunity. 

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 13 million people from Syria have fled their areas of origin or habitual residence to seek refuge in other parts of the country or in neighboring or other nations since the start of the crisis there in 2011.

Some 5.6 million Syrians have sought refuge overseas, while 6.9 million people remain internally displaced. Although some Syrian refugees have since returned home, the exact numbers have been difficult for aid agencies to quantify.

Although Syria remains the biggest source of displaced people, it is closely followed by Ukraine, Afghanistan, Venezuela, South Sudan, and Myanmar.

“Some 52 percent of all refugees and others in need of international protection came from just three countries: Syria (6.5 million), Ukraine (5.7 million) and Afghanistan (5.7 million),” Matthew Saltmarsh, head of news and media at UNHCR, told Arab News. 

“But of course, there are many other countries producing large numbers of refugees: Sudan, South Sudan, Venezuela and Myanmar to name a few.”

Indeed, the ongoing violence in Sudan, which began on April 15, has forced about 4.3 million people to flee their homes. More than 3.2 million are internally displaced, 900,000 have fled to neighboring countries, and 195,000 South Sudanese citizens have been forced to return home, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The resulting humanitarian crisis risks destabilizing the wider region, as many of the countries bordering Sudan have themselves endured decades of conflict, political and economic instability, hunger and drought, and are in need of international support.

“It is important to flag that Sudan was already experiencing a heavy internal displacement and refugee crisis even before the start of the current conflict, as it was already hosting more than 1 million refugees displaced because of conflicts in neighboring countries,” Imene Trabelsi, the ICRC’s regional spokesperson, told Arab News.

According to UN figures, almost 110 million people worldwide are currently classified as displaced — double the number just a decade ago.

Multiple ongoing conflicts, including the war in Ukraine, coupled with climate-driven upheaval, mean more people than ever have been uprooted from their homes, and often forced to brave dangerous routes to find relative safety, said Saltmarsh.

“Sometimes it seems that humans have become better at fighting than making peace,” he added. “Either the international community comes together to act to address this human tragedy, resolve conflicts and find lasting solutions, or this terrible trend will continue.

“We need urgent, immediate, collective action to address the root causes and impact of displacement.”

IN NUMBERS

108.4 million People worldwide who have been forcibly displaced.

76% Refugees hosted by low- and middle-income countries.

40% Proportion of all forcibly displaced people that are children.

(Source: UNHCR)

There are some notable exceptions to this gloomy picture, of countries and communities that are working together to find solutions so that refugees can be resettled and provided with opportunities for them to build sustainable livelihoods, or helped to voluntarily return to their places of origin.

However, humanitarian aid agencies believe governments are simply not doing enough to promote peace through diplomacy, allowing conflicts and mass displacements to grind on unabated.

“The international community can do a lot to prevent wars and to stop them,” Karl Schembri, a media advisor for East Africa and Yemen at the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Arab News.

“There are many tools in the diplomats’ toolbox that can be used, in different contexts, to put pressure on warring parties and hold them to account. The fact that there are so many wars going on is less of an indication of what can be done, and more about the levels of political willingness to engage.

“Especially the wealthier countries, which are themselves engaged in wars, can provide all the funding necessary to assist the displaced and victims of these man-made disasters.”




South Asian migrants rescued by Tunisia’s national guard during an attempted crossing of the Mediterranean rest at the port of El-Ketef in Ben Guerdane in southern Tunisia on June 24, 2021. (AFP file photo)

Schembri said his organization, the NRC, and other humanitarian agencies work wherever the security situation allows them to operate to provide a range of assistance, from financial and legal aid to shelter, food, water and education.

Other humanitarian agencies help displaced people reconnect with their families after becoming separated. Since July, for example, the ICRC has reunited 558 Sudanese refugees, who fled to Chad, with their relatives back home.

However, with donors being asked to respond to so many simultaneous crises around the globe, dwindling funding is increasingly a challenge to humanitarian efforts. Until solutions can be found, aid agency officials said governments must provide refugees with safe and legal passage.

“Wealthier countries can put safety and solidarity at the heart of their policies,” said Saltmarsh. “If you look at the Mediterranean — which is in the news right now — collective efforts, including greater coordination between all Mediterranean states, solidarity and responsibility-sharing are essential to save lives.




A rescuer of the German NGO Sea-Watch helps a migrant to board a boat during an operation to rescue victims of a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov., 2017. (AFP file photo)

“This includes the establishment of an agreed regional disembarkation and redistribution mechanism for people who arrive by sea, which we continue to advocate for. The duty to rescue people in distress at sea without delay is a fundamental rule of international maritime law.

“It is also important to create more safe pathways for people forced to flee conflict and persecution, while cracking down on smugglers and those who take advantage of the chaos of the human movements. The final part is creating conditions in home countries that dissuade people from resorting to perilous journeys to seek safety.”

According to the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project, 1,166 people died or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe between the start of this year and June 9.




Infographic courtesy of [email protected]

“Policies have failed to treat the root causes of migration, like poverty and lack of jobs,” Ahmed Bayram, regional media and communication adviser for the NRC in Amman, told Arab News.

“No one wants to leave their home, and the international community needs to think seriously about what is forcing people to take such decisions.

“I would say the international community has not done all it can to stop wars from taking years to end. The political dynamics have played out across conflict zones in a way that further fueled the wars.




Youssef Bayrakdar. (Supplied)

“As a humanitarian aid agency, we look at what has been done to help those affected. The number of refugees is the highest it has been. The ripple effect of war and climate change is sweeping across affected communities — disasters, drought conditions, poverty and lack of jobs and education opportunities. The impact will be felt for generations to come.”

For Bayrakdar, who has spent his entire adult life as a displaced person, only concerted action by the international community to resolve the 12-year civil war in Syria will allow families to reunite and communities to heal.

“We always think of assisting the displaced, and not talking about stopping the displacement, or looking into the reasons why it happened,” he told Arab News.

“Stopping the displacement can be through eliminating its reasons. (However), politicians (among the international community) don’t feel the pain we are feeling. They haven’t lost their loved ones like we did.”




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Biden is cutting short a beach weekend to meet with his national security team amid Mideast tensions

Biden is cutting short a beach weekend to meet with his national security team amid Mideast tensions
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Biden is cutting short a beach weekend to meet with his national security team amid Mideast tensions

Biden is cutting short a beach weekend to meet with his national security team amid Mideast tensions
Soon after the White House announced the change of plans, the Pentagon reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken with his Israeli counterpart
Amid the Israel-Hamas war, tensions have escalated since a suspected Israeli strike this month on an Iranian consular building in Syria

DELAWARE, USA: President Joe Biden is cutting short a weekend stay at his Delaware beach house and returning to the White House on Saturday to meet with his national security team and monitor the situation in the Middle East.
Soon after the White House announced the change of plans, the Pentagon reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken with his Israeli counterpart “to discuss urgent regional threats ... and made clear that Israel could count on full US support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies.
Amid the Israel-Hamas war, tensions have escalated since a suspected Israeli strike this month on an Iranian consular building in Syria killed 12 people, including senior Iranian generals. Israel is bracing for a possible Iranian attack, raising concerns about the United States being pulled into deeper regional conflict.
Biden on Friday said the United States was “devoted” to defending Israel and that “Iran will not succeed.”
Asked by reporters what his message was for Iran, the president’s only reply was: “Don’t.”
He ignored a question about what would trigger a direct US military response, and when asked how imminent an Iranian attack on Israel was, Biden said he did not want to get into secure information, “but my expectation is sooner than later.”
During the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, there have been near-daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group along the Israel-Lebanon border. US officials have recorded more than 150 attacks by Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria on US forces at bases in those countries since war started on Oct. 7.
One attack in late January killed three US service members in Jordan. In retaliation, the US launched a massive air assault, hitting more than 85 targets at seven locations in Iraq and Syria.
Meantime, on Saturday, commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel.
National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the US strongly condemned the seizure and urged Iran to release the ship and crew immediately.
“We will work with our partners to hold Iran to account for its actions,” she said.
Also Saturday, the Israeli-occupied West Bank also saw some of the worst violence since Hamas’ attack on Israel.

Germany to send new Patriot air defense system to Kyiv at ‘critical time’, Zelensky says

Germany to send new Patriot air defense system to Kyiv at ‘critical time’, Zelensky says
Updated 13 April 2024
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Germany to send new Patriot air defense system to Kyiv at ‘critical time’, Zelensky says

Germany to send new Patriot air defense system to Kyiv at ‘critical time’, Zelensky says
  • “I am grateful to the chancellor for the decision to supply another, additional Patriot system to Ukraine,” Zelensky said
  • He described their conversation as “important, productive” and said: “I call on all other leaders of partner states to follow this example“

KYIV: Germany will supply a US-made Patriot air defense system and air defense missiles to Ukraine at a “critical time” as Kyiv struggles to defend its energy system from Russian bombardment, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday.
More than two years into its full-scale invasion, Russia has staged three massive airstrikes on power stations and substations in recent weeks, prompting Kyiv to issue desperate appeals for supplies of high-end air defenses.
“I am grateful to the chancellor for the decision to supply another, additional Patriot system to Ukraine, as well as missiles for the existing air defense systems,” Zelensky said after speaking by telephone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
He described their conversation as “important, productive” and said: “I call on all other leaders of partner states to follow this example.”
Germany will hand over the Patriot system immediately and it will be in addition to air defense systems that were already delivered and planned, the defense ministry said in a post on X.
An April 10 German government summary of arms and military equipment transfers to Ukraine included two Patriot systems on a list of air defense supplies already delivered, making this the third from Germany.
Zelensky said last week that Ukraine needed 25 US-made Patriot air defense systems to cover the country from Russian attacks.
In his statement on the Telegram app on Saturday, the Ukrainian leader said he and Scholz also discussed preparations for a reconstruction conference in Berlin and a peace summit in Switzerland in June.


Sydney knife attacker shot dead after killing 6 in Bondi mall

Sydney knife attacker shot dead after killing 6 in Bondi mall
Updated 13 April 2024
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Sydney knife attacker shot dead after killing 6 in Bondi mall

Sydney knife attacker shot dead after killing 6 in Bondi mall
  • Five of the six victims killed were women, while eight people were taken to hospital with stab wounds
  • Australia has some of world’s toughest gun and knife laws, attacks such as the one on Saturday are rare

SYDNEY: An attacker who fatally knifed six people in a Sydney mall was shot dead by police in the beachside suburb of Bondi on Saturday, police said, as hundreds fled the scene.
The assailant was shot by a police officer after he attacked shoppers in the busy Westfield Bondi Junction shopping center, police said in a statement.
Five of the six victims killed were women, while eight people, including a nine-month-old baby, were taken to hospital with stab wounds, New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb told a press conference.
Police at this stage do not believe the attack was terrorism-related, Webb said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said there was no indication yet of the man’s motive.
“This was a horrific act of violence, indiscriminately targeting innocent people going about an ordinary Saturday doing their shopping,” he told a press conference.
“Tonight the first thoughts of all Australians are with the victims of these terrible acts.”
Australia has some of the world’s toughest gun and knife laws, and attacks such as the one on Saturday are rare.
’ON THE RAMPAGE’
Emergency services were called to the mall, about three kilometers (1.9 miles) from Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach and popular with children and families, just before 4 p.m. (0600 GMT) after the stabbing reports, police said.
Ayush Singh, 25, was working in a cafe in the mall when he saw the attack and then heard gunshots as police responded.
“I saw the guy with the knife running and chasing people. As he walked just past beside me I heard two or three gunshots and the guy was neutralized,” he told Reuters.
“People around me were terrified. There were some old ladies I helped to get them inside a safe place inside the cafe.”
Two other witnesses told Reuters they heard shots.
“Even 20 minutes after people were rushed out of the mall, I saw SWAT teams of people sweeping the surrounding streets,” one witness said.
The other witness said they saw a woman lying on the ground and took shelter in a jewelry store.
An eyewitness described the police officer shooting the attacker to state broadcaster ABC.
“If she did not shoot him, he would have kept going, he was on the rampage,” said the man, who did not give his name. “She went over and was giving him CPR. He had a nice big blade on him. He looked like he was on a killing spree.”
Several posts on social media showed crowds fleeing the mall and police cars and emergency services rushing to the area.
The mall will remain closed on Sunday while an investigation continues, police said.


Ukraine’s army chief says eastern front under intense Russian assault

Ukraine’s army chief says eastern front under intense Russian assault
Updated 13 April 2024
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Ukraine’s army chief says eastern front under intense Russian assault

Ukraine’s army chief says eastern front under intense Russian assault
  • Syrskyi said he traveled to the area to stabilize the front as Russian assault groups using tanks and armored personnel carriers took advantage of dry, warm weather
  • “This is linked primarily to the significant activization of offensive action by the enemy after the presidential elections in Russia,” he wrote on the Telegram app

KYIV: Ukraine’s army chief said on Saturday the situation on the eastern front had worsened in recent days as Russia has intensified its armored assaults and battles rage for control of a village west of the devastated city of Bakhmut.
The statement by Col. General Oleksandr Syrskyi more than two years since Russia’s invasion reflected the grim mood in Kyiv as vital US military aid that Kyiv expected to receive months ago remains stuck in Congress.
Syrskyi said he traveled to the area to stabilize the front as Russian assault groups using tanks and armored personnel carriers took advantage of dry, warm weather that has made it easier to maneuver.
“The situation on the eastern front in recent days has grown considerably more tense. This is linked primarily to the significant activization of offensive action by the enemy after the presidential elections in Russia,” he wrote on the Telegram app.
Since President Vladimir Putin won a new term in a stage-managed mid-March election, Russia has stepped up its attacks on Ukraine and unleashed three massive aerial strikes on its energy system, pounding power plants and substations.
The slowdown in military assistance from the West has left Ukraine more exposed to aerial attacks and heavily outgunned on the battlefield. Kyiv has made increasingly desperate appeals for supplies of air defense missiles in recent weeks.
Moscow’s forces, Syrskyi said, were taking significant losses during their attacks in the east, but were also making tactical gains.
Social media channels reported the fall of Ukraine’s eastern village of Bohdanivka to the west of the occupied city of Bakhmut, prompting Kyiv’s defense ministry to deny them.
But it acknowledged fierce fighting in the area and said Russian assault groups had reached the village’s northern outskirts overnight. “Bohdanivka is now under the control of the defense forces,” it said.
The settlement lies a few kilometers northeast of the town of Chasiv Yar, a Kyiv-controlled stronghold that Russia has been trying to reach after seizing the town of Avdiivka in February to the south.

SEIZE THE STRATEGIC INITIATIVE
Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday its forces had captured Pervomaiske, a village to the south also located in Ukraine’s Donetsk region where Moscow has focused its offensive operations for months.
Moscow said its troops had improved their tactical position on the front line there after capturing the village 8 kilometers (4.97 miles) southwest of occupied Avdiivka. Kyiv did not immediately comment on the status of Pervomaiske.
Syrskyi said Russian armored assault groups were attacking on the fronts of Lyman as well as Bakhmut and using dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers to try to break through lines on the Pokrovsk front.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has warned Russia may be preparing a big offensive push in late May or in June, inspected domestically-produced weapons at an event outside Kyiv where he presented state awards to Ukrainian arms producers.
At the event, Ukraine’s military drone forces chief said supplies of drones to the front lines this year were already three times higher than the volume supplied over the course of the whole of last year, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.
He also said Ukraine had strike drones capable of flying 1,200 km.
In his statement, Syrskyi said only a technological edge over Russia in sophisticated weapons would allow Kyiv “to seize the strategic initiative” from a better equipped and larger foe.
He called for better training for soldiers and in particular infantry, a clear reference to Ukraine’s manpower challenges.
Ukraine’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday to overhaul how the armed forces draft civilians into the ranks. Zelensky also signed legislation last week lowering the draft age from 27 to 25.


UK’s Prince William, wife Kate, ‘saddened’ by Sydney stabbing

UK’s Prince William, wife Kate, ‘saddened’ by Sydney stabbing
Updated 13 April 2024
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UK’s Prince William, wife Kate, ‘saddened’ by Sydney stabbing

UK’s Prince William, wife Kate, ‘saddened’ by Sydney stabbing
  • “We are shocked and saddened by the terrible events in Sydney earlier today,” the Prince and Princess of Wales said
  • The 41-year-old William’s father King Charles III is the monarch of Australia

LONDON: Britain’s Prince William and his wife Catherine said Saturday they were “shocked and saddened” by a stabbing at a shopping center in Sydney that left six people dead and several others wounded.
The incident occurred at the sprawling Westfield Bondi Junction mall complex, which was packed with thousands of Saturday afternoon shoppers.
Australian police said multiple people were stabbed by the unidentified assailant, who was tracked down and shot dead by a policewoman.
“We are shocked and saddened by the terrible events in Sydney earlier today,” the Prince and Princess of Wales said in a post on the social media site X.


“Our thoughts are with all those affected, including the loved ones of those lost and the heroic emergency responders who risked their own lives to save others. W & C,” they added.
The 41-year-old William’s father King Charles III is the monarch of Australia.
Catherine announced last month that she was undergoing treatment for a cancer discovered following abdominal surgery.
Her shock disclosure came after Charles revealed that he was receiving treatment for an unspecified cancer.
Both have taken a back seat from frontline royal duties as they recuperate.