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NGO Bill threatens to hinder civil society’s work in South Sudan, UN rights experts warn

Posted by African Press International on December 19, 2013

GENEVA, Switzerland, December 17, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/– Three United Nations Special Rapporteurs today warned that the NGO Bill currently discussed by Parliament in South Sudan threatens the work and independence of civil society organizations in the country.

“The Government oversight proposed in the draft law goes beyond simple notification requirements and veers into the territory of excessive control,” they stressed.

 

“We urge the Government of South Sudan to reject legislation that would unduly restrict the sectors in which associations can work and narrowly defines permissible objectives for these associations, severely limiting the independence of such groups,” they said.

 

The human rights experts reiterated their serious concern about the growing trend in Africa and elsewhere to wield more governmental control over independent groups using so-called ‘NGO laws’. “South Sudan’s NGO Bill is yet further evidence of a worrying tendency worldwide,” they noted.

 

The NGO Bill also includes burdensome registration and re-registration requirements and criminal penalties for non-compliance with the proposed law.

 

“The ability of civil society organizations to engage in activities of their own choosing is fundamental to the right to freedom of association,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said. “And this right is critical in ensuring that newly formed (or constituted) countries such as South Sudan develop in a way that strengthens democracy and development.”

 

The NGO Bill also subjects civil society organizations to a regulatory body mainly composed of Government representatives and members appointed by the Government. This body has broad authority ‘to facilitate and coordinate the work of all national and foreign’ NGOs and ‘to provide policy guidelines for harmonizing their activities with the National Development Plan for South Sudan,’ and the power ‘to receive and consider application for work permits in respect of prospective employees of a registered NGO.’

“The vague provisions and administrative discretion provided in the NGO Bill could be wielded as tools to suppress dissenting views and opinions,” the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, cautioned. “NGOs working in governance, anti-corruption and human rights would be particularly at risk.”

Other vague provisions allow for the revocation of the registration status to organizations that contravene the principles of ‘Participation of local communities’ and require that civil society organizations not interfere with ‘national policies, which are too broad grounds for revoking registration

“These provisions clearly undermine the independence of civil society and place undue restrictions on the right to freely associate which limits the ability of human rights defenders to claim rights for all,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, underscored.

 

SOURCE

United Nations – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

 

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Humanitarian access in Blue Nile State has long been difficult

Posted by African Press International on October 29, 2013

Humanitarian access in Blue Nile State has long been difficult

LONDON, – Gaining humanitarian access to places like South Kordofan and Blue Nile states or Darfur in Sudan has long been a tricky business, but things may well be getting even tougher for many of today’s larger and more risk-averse international NGOs, say aid experts.

As the UN issues urgent appeals for access to mount a large-scale polio immunization campaign in southern parts of Sudan, two new publications from the UK’s Overseas Development Institute set out the story of how people in parts of Sudan have ended up cut off from virtually all humanitarian help.

It has not always been like that. During Darfur’s long-running conflict, there have been times when it was possible to work on both sides of the lines. The paper on Darfur describes what author Jonathan Loeb calls “a golden age”, between 2004 and 2006, when the government of Sudan was for a time prepared to allow access, and when there were channels to negotiate safe passage with Darfuri rebel groups.

Loeb sets out in detail how this was done. Peace talks outside the country allowed donors and UN agencies to meet the rebel leadership, which then appointed a humanitarian coordinator to act as a contact point with international agencies. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) took the lead in negotiating access, working closely with the UN’s own security department, whose officers built up a strong network of contacts among rebel commanders.

The paper details the way agencies picked their way through a minefield of moral dilemmas. Should a UN agency like OCHA sign an access agreement with armed non-state actors? (They did.) Should they allow those groups to issue access permits – effectively visas – for their territory? (This was a step too far, and the rebels backed down.) And, trickiest of all, should the rebels, fearing some staff were spying for the government, be allowed to pick and choose, on an individual or tribal basis, which staff worked in their areas.

This is a vexed question in Sudan to the present day, and although it might be against normal humanitarian practice, NGOs were not totally unsympathetic. “This sympathy and understanding,” says Loeb in his paper, “largely stemmed from international NGOs’ observation of the HAC (Sudan’s official Humanitarian Aid Commission) and its attempts to control which Sudanese nationals were hired by UN agencies and NGOs; many aid agency staff had been personally pressured by HAC officials to hire particular staff who had close ties to the government.” Agencies negotiated their way round the demands as best they could.

But all these careful arrangements deteriorated after 2006 as the rebel groups fragmented, and collapsed altogether after 2009, when President Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court, and retaliated by expelling NGOs, targeting those organizations which had worked across the lines in rebel areas. Those which remained became unwilling to risk their work with the much larger populations in government zones. The UN retreated. By the end of last year only two NGOs, the Danish Refugee Council and Médecins Sans Frontières Spain were even trying to provide help in the rebel stronghold of the Jebel Marra (Darfur) – and that only on a very limited scale.

Too risk-averse?

The problems further south in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan provinces spring from more recent conflicts, which flared after the Southern vote for independence. By then, agencies had already become what Irina Mosel and Ashley Jackson in their paper on these areas call “very risk averse and anxious about their relationship with the government”. In addition, opposition movements are now suspicious and hostile towards the UN because of the failure of their peacekeeping forces to prioritize the protection of civilians. In these conflicts there has never been a “golden age” for access.

Nicola Bennett, OCHA’s humanitarian policy adviser in South Sudan, says she is hearing calls for a stronger push to get OCHA and other UN actors involved. “In part”, she says, “it’s perhaps to pave the way, or shield NGOs from some of these difficult positions they feel they are in, if they are sticking out their neck above the rest. It does mean working more closely with the security part of the UN… whether that’s through having humanitarian actors as part of risk assessments [and even that’s a challenge] or having, where possible, security officers who are dedicated to this, and really have a focus on supporting humanitarian actors. The majority tend to work for the peacekeeping mission and so their view of what security management looks like and who their major client is, is going to be completely different.”

“Swashbuckling” aid workers

Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan could be reached across the border from South Sudan or – in the case of Blue Nile – from Ethiopia, with or without Sudanese government consent. Twenty years ago, during the Sudanese civil war, a small number of aid agencies and churches were able to reach these states. Peter Moszynski, a journalist and activist who was there during that period, says attitudes have since changed.

“It got a lot worse,” he told IRIN, “in the context of Darfur, because of the expulsions. Some organizations used to do things which they might not admit to and certainly wouldn’t do now. It was quite a swashbuckling generation of aid workers. Now they have the mindset, ‘We won’t do anything to compromise our other operations.’ You have now got this whole `professionalism’ thing; people are doing it as a career path. The aid agency world has changed.”

Such help as these areas do get is from tiny, more or less freelance operations, and is certainly not enough to mount a full vaccination campaign. But, says Moszynski, “You really have to argue the merits of getting small amounts of aid in, versus getting things sorted out properly.”

Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are also victims of the geographical position and their relatively small populations. For aid agencies they are a lower priority than Darfur; for diplomats a lower priority than ensuring war does not break out along the Sudan/South Sudan border.

Irina Mosel says this cannot go on for ever. “We have to continue engaging, but one of the key issues is, until when? Many actors felt that there has to be some timeline set, and if we continue to say there’s an agreement and then it isn’t implemented, when do we have to look at other alternatives? And that of course is very much determined by the level of need… There is more and more information that the humanitarian situation is severe, and that should be an indication to us that there has to be a certain end to this timeline.”

eb/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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“Swashbuckling” aid workers

Posted by African Press International on October 21, 2013

Humanitarian access in Blue Nile State has long been difficult

LONDON,  – Gaining humanitarian access to places like South Kordofan and Blue Nile states or Darfur in Sudan has long been a tricky business, but things may well be getting even tougher for many of today’s larger and more risk-averse international NGOs, say aid experts.

As the UN issues urgent appeals for access to mount a large-scale polio immunization campaign in southern parts of Sudan, two new publications from the UK’s Overseas Development Institute set out the story of how people in parts of Sudan have ended up cut off from virtually all humanitarian help.

It has not always been like that. During Darfur’s long-running conflict, there have been times when it was possible to work on both sides of the lines. The paper on Darfur describes what author Jonathan Loeb calls “a golden age”, between 2004 and 2006, when the government of Sudan was for a time prepared to allow access, and when there were channels to negotiate safe passage with Darfuri rebel groups.

Loeb sets out in detail how this was done. Peace talks outside the country allowed donors and UN agencies to meet the rebel leadership, which then appointed a humanitarian coordinator to act as a contact point with international agencies. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) took the lead in negotiating access, working closely with the UN’s own security department, whose officers built up a strong network of contacts among rebel commanders.

The paper details the way agencies picked their way through a minefield of moral dilemmas. Should a UN agency like OCHA sign an access agreement with armed non-state actors? (They did.) Should they allow those groups to issue access permits – effectively visas – for their territory? (This was a step too far, and the rebels backed down.) And, trickiest of all, should the rebels, fearing some staff were spying for the government, be allowed to pick and choose, on an individual or tribal basis, which staff worked in their areas.

This is a vexed question in Sudan to the present day, and although it might be against normal humanitarian practice, NGOs were not totally unsympathetic. “This sympathy and understanding,” says Loeb in his paper, “largely stemmed from international NGOs’ observation of the HAC (Sudan’s official Humanitarian Aid Commission) and its attempts to control which Sudanese nationals were hired by UN agencies and NGOs; many aid agency staff had been personally pressured by HAC officials to hire particular staff who had close ties to the government.” Agencies negotiated their way round the demands as best they could.

But all these careful arrangements deteriorated after 2006 as the rebel groups fragmented, and collapsed altogether after 2009, when President Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court, and retaliated by expelling NGOs, targeting those organizations which had worked across the lines in rebel areas. Those which remained became unwilling to risk their work with the much larger populations in government zones. The UN retreated. By the end of last year only two NGOs, the Danish Refugee Council and Médecins Sans Frontières Spain were even trying to provide help in the rebel stronghold of the Jebel Marra (Darfur) – and that only on a very limited scale.

Too risk-averse?

The problems further south in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan provinces spring from more recent conflicts, which flared after the Southern vote for independence. By then, agencies had already become what Irina Mosel and Ashley Jackson in their paper on these areas call “very risk averse and anxious about their relationship with the government”. In addition, opposition movements are now suspicious and hostile towards the UN because of the failure of their peacekeeping forces to prioritize the protection of civilians. In these conflicts there has never been a “golden age” for access.

Nicola Bennett, OCHA’s humanitarian policy adviser in South Sudan, says she is hearing calls for a stronger push to get OCHA and other UN actors involved. “In part”, she says, “it’s perhaps to pave the way, or shield NGOs from some of these difficult positions they feel they are in, if they are sticking out their neck above the rest. It does mean working more closely with the security part of the UN… whether that’s through having humanitarian actors as part of risk assessments [and even that’s a challenge] or having, where possible, security officers who are dedicated to this, and really have a focus on supporting humanitarian actors. The majority tend to work for the peacekeeping mission and so their view of what security management looks like and who their major client is, is going to be completely different.”

“Swashbuckling” aid workers

Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan could be reached across the border from South Sudan or – in the case of Blue Nile – from Ethiopia, with or without Sudanese government consent. Twenty years ago, during the Sudanese civil war, a small number of aid agencies and churches were able to reach these states. Peter Moszynski, a journalist and activist who was there during that period, says attitudes have since changed.

“It got a lot worse,” he told IRIN, “in the context of Darfur, because of the expulsions. Some organizations used to do things which they might not admit to and certainly wouldn’t do now. It was quite a swashbuckling generation of aid workers. Now they have the mindset, ‘We won’t do anything to compromise our other operations.’ You have now got this whole `professionalism’ thing; people are doing it as a career path. The aid agency world has changed.”

Such help as these areas do get is from tiny, more or less freelance operations, and is certainly not enough to mount a full vaccination campaign. But, says Moszynski, “You really have to argue the merits of getting small amounts of aid in, versus getting things sorted out properly.”

Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile are also victims of the geographical position and their relatively small populations. For aid agencies they are a lower priority than Darfur; for diplomats a lower priority than ensuring war does not break out along the Sudan/South Sudan border.

Irina Mosel says this cannot go on for ever. “We have to continue engaging, but one of the key issues is, until when? Many actors felt that there has to be some timeline set, and if we continue to say there’s an agreement and then it isn’t implemented, when do we have to look at other alternatives? And that of course is very much determined by the level of need… There is more and more information that the humanitarian situation is severe, and that should be an indication to us that there has to be a certain end to this timeline.”

eb/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Better projects needed – Despite the odds, most youth are optimistic.

Posted by African Press International on September 16, 2013

Selling second-hand clothes. Guinea’s youth say they have been side-lined

CONAKRY,  – As Guinea has moved from crisis to crisis, with development perpetually stalled, its youth have been side-lined, lacking the means to make a decent living or to take the mineral-rich country forward.

This is the view of many young Guineans and aid experts, who say the country lacks a comprehensive strategy for its youth, who make up more than half the population.

“Efforts by the government are one-off, usually projects supported by NGOs,” said Mamadou Dian Baldé, head of protection at the international NGO Terre des Hommes (TdH) in Guinea. “Programmes are fragmented. There is no dynamic, global policy coordinated by the state.”

Guinean sociologist Alpha Amadou Bano Barry says the “multiplicity” of projects for the youth has young people chasing initiatives and trying to adapt to them. It should be the other way around, say young Guineans; programmes should begin with the youths’ reality, needs and ideas.

“Those who want to help the youth need to come hear us,” said Tambaké Tounkara, coordinator of Guinea’s chapter of the regional group Association of Child and Youth Workers (AEJT). He said projects for youth are often conceived by outsiders without youths’ participation.

Better projects needed 

The UN has just completed a study of government, NGO and UN projects targeting the country’s youth, to catalogue what is underway and better coordinate efforts, according to Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator Anthony Ohemeng-Boamah.

“In Guinea as in other countries you have a ministry for youth, you have a ministry that deals with vocational training, a ministry that deals with education, another for social affairs – and all these ministries tend to deal with aspects of the youth problem,” he told IRIN. He said the government needs to fuse these different strategies to begin responding effectively to youth challenges like unemployment, high dropout rates and violence.

He said some UN projects have been fragmented and short-term. “In many UN-targeted interventions, we have provided jobs or training at critical moments in order to prevent youth being used for demonstrations and, potentially, violence. They are all pilot schemes, and the question becomes how you scale them up – hence this study.”

The youth unemployment rate in Guinea is estimated at 60 percent, according to government statistics. Guinea’s Peacebuilding Commission, created in 2011, listed youth and women’s employment as one of three top priorities, along with national reconciliation and security sector reform.

Hopes dashed 

When Guinea held its first legitimate presidential election, in 2010, youths had high hopes. But the transition has yet to be completed – the country still has no elected parliament – and, as the European Union says in a recent paper, this institutional gap, poor governance and general insecurity have severely hampered Guinea’s development.

“Today the refrain is ‘wait – after the legislative elections, things will improve for the youth’,” said AEJT member Charles Keïta. “But the youths want to know: wait until when?”

“This country’s greatest wealth is its youth – not gold or diamonds.”

Amara Camara, 19, quit his studies and left N’zérékoré for the capital, Conakry, to find work to help his aging parents. He sells clothing in a market known as “Bordeaux”, where vendors, most of them university graduates, sell used clothes and shoes.

The government says that after the legislative elections, corporations will come and there will be mechanisms to help us apply and get jobs,” he said. “People are preparing their CVs and hoping, but many are sceptical because, for as long as we can recall in Guinea, people get jobs through connections, not competence. We’ll see.”

Government spokesperson Albert Damantang Camara says the government’s principal enemy is time. “To say to youths – who for years lack[ed] training and jobs – that they must wait some more, that’s difficult. To tell them that the most important deadline right now is the legislative elections and that after that we’ll see the prospects, this adds to their scepticism and their thinking that they are being manipulated. Unfortunately, these are necessary steps.”

He acknowledges that efforts for the youth have been disjointed.

“To a certain extent, the young people are right. Many African countries have been in crisis, and for a long time the only sector that generated employment was the humanitarian or social affairs sector, led by NGOs that come with targeted and limited programmes with jobs that are not sustainable,” he said.

“Today, despite that we’re seeing growth, this has not yet translated into employment opportunity and creation of wealth. In Guinea, we’ve got many long-term programmes underway that will create jobs once the political and institutional environment lends itself to that,” he said. He referred to the amended 2013 mining code, which pushes companies to prioritize the hiring and training of local Guineans, as well as ongoing work with other businesses to train Guinean youths.

Ill-equipped 

But another question is whether Guinea’s young people will be equipped for those jobs.

The International Monetary Fund said in a recent paper that Guinea must make reforms to ensure people have the right skills for the job market in emerging sectors such as agriculture, tourism and mining.

“The lack of vocational training programs in secondary and tertiary education leads to an excessive orientation towards general education with a focus on humanities,” the IMF says. “This is a serious problem for a country that requires manpower with technical and scientific knowledge and competencies…for its economic and social development.”

Government spokesperson Camara, who is also the minister of technical education and professional training, told IRIN the government is working to link training and education with the requirements of the job market. “We are all working toward that goal. It’s a long-term undertaking.”

AEJT’s Tounkara pointed out that the government and civil society must also have a plan for those who have not received formal educations.

Daily fight 

Despite the odds, most youth are optimistic.

“Here’s a positive thing we’ve got going for us,” said Fatoumata Binta Sow, 17, a member of AEJT. “We are here, and we continue the fight every day.”

Still, there are youths who turn to violence, abetted by Guinea’s socio-political instability and culture of impunity.

“Indeed there is a strong link between idleness and violence,” said Mohamed Sylla, who works at the mayor’s office in Conakry and runs a youth-led NGO. “A young man with an empty stomach is a rebel. His parents or other authorities just can’t reach him. He is idle, prone to drug use, and ready to lash out at the slightest trigger.”

AEJT coordinator Tounkara said that whenever there are political demonstrations, many youths join out of pure exasperation. “Many have no interest whatsoever in or even knowledge of the candidate or the cause of the day – they simply take advantage of the demonstration to vent their frustration.”

“We can deal with poverty, but not extreme poverty,” Tounkara said. “We can accept lacking some things, but not lacking everything.”

By neglecting the youth, authorities are undermining the country’s long-term prospects, he pointed out. “People mustn’t kid themselves. This country’s greatest wealth is its youth – not gold or diamonds.”

TdH’s Baldé said an important first step in reassuring the country’s youth is simply to reach out to them. “Civil society and the authorities must acknowledge that they have failed the youth. That’s the first step in gaining their trust.”

np/aj/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Many Pakistani girls are out of school – Housework not homework

Posted by African Press International on August 3, 2013

Many Pakistani girls are out of school

LAHORE,  – Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the UN in New York calling for “free, compulsory education all over the world for every child” is a reminder that back in her home country several million children are out of school, exploited for their labour, and/or abused.

The most recent annual State of Pakistan’s Children report, published in May by the Islamabad-based NGO Society for the Protection and Rights of the Child (SPARC), found that out of 120 countries in the world, Pakistan has the second largest number of children out of school (after Nigeria), with 5.1 million children aged 5-9 not attending an educational institution.

“Education is vital for our future. Only when they read can they research, think and do something for the nation. Without education in its true sense there is no hope for this,” said Basarat Kazim, president of the Lahore-based NGO Alif Laila Book Bus Society which campaigns for education, literacy and modernization in the education sector.

A significant number of these children end up in the workplace.

“Child labour is a highly accepted social norm from a very young age for both girls and boys,” said Smaranda Popa, the chief of child protection at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Pakistan. “These children are not only denied access to their rights to education, protection, health and development but are also highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”

Figures on the precise number of child workers are somewhat uncertain, with estimates ranging from 3.3 million, according to a 1996 figure from the Federal Bureau of Statistics, to 12 million, according to more recent estimates by media reports and NGOs. The International Labour Organization estimates one quarter of these children are involved in the worst forms of child labour, including slavery, commercial sexual exploitation of children, using children to commit a crime, and work that is harmful to the “health, safety or morals” of children.

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics in its 2010-11 Labour Force Survey puts the number of child workers at just 4.29 percent of the country’s children aged 10-14, in other words 855,426 of the 19.94 million children in that age range, according to 2011 figures from the government’s Economic Survey.

Brooms not books

According to SahibaIrfan Khan, programme officer child labour at SPARC’s Lahore office, the only major law on child labour is the Employment of Children Act 1991, “which just regulates child labour for those less than 14 years of age and prohibits it in specific occupations and processes.”

These laws are frequently weakly enforced, particularly in the area of domestic labour.

Earlier this month, an incident in which an influential employer had beaten her 13-year-old domestic servant, Jamil, to death after he dropped a jug was widely reported in the media and confirmed by police in the southern Punjab city of Multan. “Investigations in this case are continuing,” city police officer Ghulam Muhammad Dogarm told IRIN.

Another local administration official, who asked not to be named, said child labour was high in the area due to poverty, and “complaints of physical or sexual abuse are made but not often acted on because the families of the victims do not have much power.” He believed the incident involving the murder of Jamil was taken up only because “the news reached the media.”

Other cases of abuse go unreported. “My 11-year-old daughter, Habiba, worked as a maid in a big house, helping to look after three young children, and doing all kinds of other tasks such as washing dishes,” mother Shahida Bibi, of Lahore, told IRIN.

“I took her home after I visited one day and found her covered in bruises as a result of the beating she had received from her employers, who said she did not work hard enough. She also told me she was made to labour for up to 14 or 15 hours a day.”

Such stories are not unusual, according to SPARC. “Thousands of children working as domestic servants are deprived of their basic right to education and are often subjected to abuse and violence,” said Khan.

Data compiled by the organization shows that between January 2010 and December 2011, 18 cases of “severe” torture and abuse of child domestic labourers were reported. Of these 18 children, 13 died as a direct result of the violence inflicted upon them at the hands of their employers.

“In the first six months of 2013, 14 cases of violence against child domestic workers were reported in media, out of which nine resulted in the death of the child,” Khan said.

Poverty, inadequate educational facilities and a lack of awareness of the negative impacts of such work are a key cause of the high prevalence of child domestic labour, with families sending children into domestic service.

“Extreme educational poverty”

The poor condition of state-run schools, and the lack of access to them, notably in rural areas, also makes it more likely children will be sent to work.

According to the government’s Economic Survey for 2012-13, the literacy rate in rural areas, at 49 percent, is significantly lower than the 75 percent in urban areas.

Yusuf, 12, has worked as a labourer in Lahore, Pakistan since dropping out of school last year

Facilities at public-sector schools are often dismal, with many lacking furniture, fans, drinking water, toilets, or teachers. According to the 2012 report by the Pakistan Education Task Force, set up by the government in 2009, seven million children are currently out of school and 30 percent of citizens “live in extreme educational poverty”, with 15-20 percent of teachers absent from the classroom on an average day.

“My son, aged 10 years, simply kept running away from school, because he was shouted at by his teachers, sometimes beaten and taught very little since his teacher rarely came,” said Muhammad Hanif, who lives in the settlement of Shahdra on the outskirts of Lahore.

Hanif says he was unable to pay for private schooling, and rather than have his son “roam around on the streets”, he arranged for him to be employed as a house-help. “He is at least given his meals, even if it is just a few leftovers or lentils, and he brings home Rs 2,500 [US$25] each month,” Hanif said.

The wage is less than half of what would, in most cases, be paid to an adult. SPARC says children are preferred for domestic labour because they are considered more obedient, and can be hired for less pay.

Acts of charity?

There is, however, a twist to the tale. For generations, employing child domestic workers has been considered an act of charity.

“Employers believe that since employing poor and unfortunate children is in itself a great favour to the child, they have the liberty to treat them as they wish,” Khan said. This attitude is also tied in to traditional culture in a society highly stratified on the basis of class and wealth.

“Feudal lords are not just large landowners or big farmers. Land is the sole economic resource in a good part of this country and whatever little opportunities, other than land, have arisen lately have also been monopolized by the same class,” said Tahir Mehdi, executive coordinator of the NGO LokSujag, which campaigns for democratic rights and social equity.

Speaking of employment by the wealthy, he said: “They treat their subjects as pairs of hands that should work for them like robots that need to be oiled but don’t have any rights and can’t make any demands.”

Of course, not every child domestic worker suffers. Some, like Pervez Zaman, 13, are more fortunate. Zaman, from the north of the country, says his employer in Lahore pays him well, has given him an additional food allowance and is now planning to arrange for private lessons so he can catch up on the studies he missed out on when he was younger.

However, such cases are rare. The incidence of abuse among young domestic workers is high, as SPARC has recorded, while simply being at work also means they are missing out on schooling.

To address child labour, UNICEF says, Pakistan must harmonize its legislation with international standards, implement those laws, provide functional child and social protection systems including for family poverty, improve access to and use of social services, and increase the amount of “decent” work available to adults.

“Any state invests in its sustainable development by investing in education,” Popa said. “No child should be forced to substitute school with the worst forms of labour.”

kh/jj/ha/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

end

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United Nations 2013

Posted by African Press International on August 2, 2013

Less bureaucracy, more innovation

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Calls for UN to be more anticipatory, strategic, innovative
  • Test public-private partnerships
  • Less bureaucracy, more leadership
  • Risk-taking should extend to UN security policies

DAKAR, 31 July 2013 (IRIN) – The UN and other aid agencies face ever-increasing levels of humanitarian need: the number of recorded disasters has doubled in the past two decades, according to the UN, while the needs-response gap remains stubbornly steady in the context of a shifting humanitarian landscape – with the dominance of UN agencies and the largest 10 international NGOs gradually being eroded as power shifts to the east and south.

Against this backdrop loom a number of risks that could drive the disasters of the future and for which many humanitarians are unprepared: new disease outbreaks, growing water scarcity, crises hitting mega-cities, cyber-crime, biological and chemical weapons. IRIN asked analysts and UN staff what broad changes in approach, structure and attitude UN agencies need to make to become fit to better tackle our humanitarian future.

Over the past decade the UN has made significant reforms to improve its humanitarian response, many of them positive: protection of civilians is now more central to UN operations; internally displaced people are no longer overlooked; several agencies, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), are reaching out to a more diverse set of humanitarian partners; and accountability to beneficiaries is increasingly a focus (linked to the real-time scrutiny made possible by social media.)

Norms and guidelines have been strengthened. UN agencies and NGOs have improved their work in every phase of the programme cycle, says Paul Knox-Clarke, head of research and communications at learning network ALNAP, from early warning to needs assessment, from programme implementation to evaluations.

“Many of the traditional challenges – that assessments are not coordinated, that methodologies don’t match up – are being addressed,” he told IRIN.

Humanitarian response is increasingly driven by evidence rather than anecdote, which marks a “profound shift”, says Peter Walker, head of Tufts University’s International Feinstein Center, “akin to the change in how health care was delivered in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Emergency Relief coordinators and humanitarian coordinators now garner more respect (or at least agency heads turn up to their meetings); there is more transparency across the funding spectrum – 160 agencies and donors have signed up to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), and clusters and pooled funds have improved how the UN organizes itself and coordinates in some response settings.

But change in the UN’s humanitarian sector has too often been incremental, amounting to add-on individual initiatives, rather than involving major structural change and an overhaul of approach, processes and attitudes, say critics. A number of evaluations have pushed for the UN to be more anticipatory, more strategic, more innovative, and to harness the power of the UN’s many branches to anticipate and prepare for future crises.

Individual initiatives are tackling aspects of this – for instance OCHA’s “transformative agenda” draws on learning from the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods to try to improve accountability, strategic planning, coordination and leadership. But the revolutionary changes that are needed, are not happening, say analysts.

As Randolph Kent, long-term humanitarian leader with the UN and now head of King’s College Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP), put it: “What company in the world, that is surviving, has not had a fundamental change in its business model or operating procedure for 60 years?”

Analysts and staff made the following recommendations:

Open up club membership

The most powerful actors in the humanitarian sector are still Western in orientation and assumption, say critics, which has created a “two-tier system” of those who are in and out of the club. The UN risks forgetting about the contributions of the informal humanitarian community – grassroots groups, civil society groups, the Diaspora, host communities, said Ed Schenkenberg van Meirop, head of humanitarian think-tank DARA. “Many still think everything happens in the humanitarian country team,” he said.

Some agencies are making valiant attempts to reach out to other actors without realizing that the rules of the club may need to change. “The traditional humanitarian community tries to turn itself into an exclusive club and now it is reaching out to “non”-traditional members to ask if they want to join. We shouldn’t be surprised when countries turn around and say No,” said van Meirop, referring to Turkey which decided to act outside the cluster system, in Somalia. New actors, like China and Qatar, may not agree on the club rules, stressed Antonio Donini, a senior researcher at the Feinstein Center, who worked with the UN for 26 years.

“There’s a need to open up these rules or re-discuss them… [using] an openness that so far we have not seen,” said Walker. It requires traditional actors: UN agencies and the nine or so largest international NGOs – to “let go”, he said. “The recent trajectory has been to concentrate, not disperse, power. This will challenge the way business has been done for the past 30 years.”

Likewise on humanitarian principles – do not water them down, says Cyprien Fabre, head of European Union aid body ECHO in West Africa, (they already have been), but try to understand different perspectives – some NGOs prioritize justice over impartiality – and come to a mutual understanding.

What can you do for me?

Re-jigging the power imbalances that are so integral to the humanitarian system must also feature in a transformed relationship between humanitarian “givers” and “takers”, says Kent. “We’ve moved away from the sense of the hapless victim, but we are still a system that inherently promotes a sense of inequality… We need something more interactive… something more along the lines of: I can offer you this, and you can offer me that.” For instance, in Ghana excellent work is under way about climate change adaptation – someone should be questioning how to apply that expertise in the UK, or India. “That is a more interesting perspective,” he said.

Humanitarians of the future need to test public-private partnerships and business models, and give the space for innovation and embrace the risk that this entails. “A government may not want another international NGO in its country, but it might like having a private sector company that may have an enduring interest in the country. Might Johnson & Johnson, for example, be as or even more effective in promoting health than an NGO,” queried Kent. “Do we understand how business can promote sustainability and resilience? Can OCHA set up a platform in collaboration with the World Economic Forum to demonstrate how innovations and innovative practices coming from the private sector and other non-traditional actors can strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness, response and post-crisis recovery?”

UN agencies need to “support people to take risks and put money behind good ideas,” said OCHA humanitarian affairs officer Andy Thow. “Most good ideas come from national or regional staff, not from headquarters,” he said.

Some agencies, such as the World Food Programme, are engaging in these debates; systematically addressing how markets can deliver food, and how they can help them to, through cash or other approaches. “This challenges the notion of humanitarians as food or health deliverers. It’s very interesting and we’re just at the beginning of this debate,” said Walker.

Advocate, anticipate and lead

Over recent years, many analysts have stressed the need for the UN to concentrate on improving leadership, advocacy and strategy in humanitarian crises. “UN agencies must tackle these issues over the next 10 years if they are to improve the quality of responses globally”, said Sara Pantuliano, head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

If UN agencies come together to collectively set standards, monitor the quality of response, disseminate lessons learned, and improve and monitor progress on disaster risk reduction, early warning and preparedness, “now that would be remarkable,” said one interviewee. This would involve visionary thinking but also lightening up daily administrative processes (tasks like hiring staff or procuring equipment require endless steps and form-filling) and opening space for longer-term planning. A 2011 HFP study of six UN country teams, judged the majority of agency leader’s staff time was spent on short-term planning tasks.

Opinions differ on whether implementing operations weakens UN agencies’ capacity to advocate on complex issues of humanitarian principle – like access in Syria. It depends on the context, says von Meirop: in a Syria-type context where the government is a party to conflict, strong, punchy advocacy might have more ultimate impact if not trying also to implement. “Let’s not be naive, the political agenda dominates everything… In a context like this, accountability goes way beyond communicating with disaster affected populations. It is about involvement and participation and choice. Take those Syrian refugees who are forced – by host governments – to live in camps, which are often criminalized and dangerous – rather than settling with families.

“Accountability is working out the best way to protect them and help them to retain their dignity.”

Better leadership on all of these fronts might involve a move towards genuine coherence. “We’ve broken up the needs of human beings into different agencies, many of which have different accountability frameworks – it doesn’t make sense,” said a UN staff member. Bringing agencies together under fewer roofs would solve a lot of problems around institutional turf and mandates. However, such an ambitious project would have to be Member State driven, and “Member States don’t want this – they like having a say over their individual UN agency.”

Pitching for multi-sectoral funding ought to be more manageable, though cluster-led coordination has pushed for more demarcation. Funding reform is way overdue, said the staff member. “We haven’t adapted the CAP [Consolidated Appeals Process] in 10 years… People should have figured it out by now.”

Security crossroads?

Innovation and risk-taking should extend to UN security protocols and policies, said several interviewees, arguing that in complex emergencies such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, the UN’s role has shrunk because of risk averse policies that severely limit the UN’s access to communities in need. If the UN does not figure out more flexible ways to work and stay in complex emergencies, “it could become irrelevant in politicized crises,” warned Pantuliano. Another critic summed it up: “It’s just MSF and the ICRC who are out there.”

Focus more on anticipating future disasters, say analysts

Allegra Baiocchi, head of OCHA in West Africa, told IRIN: “We need to be able to be nimble, flexible, rapid,” when it comes to security decisions… “We need better intelligence of risks that are connected to operations rather than siloed in separate departments. Security incidents set back operations by months, even years. I think we are at a security crossroads – we need to work on our acceptance but also improve our security management systems.”

Syria is a “watershed moment” said von Meirop. “It should be the catalyst for finding the way to be more effective in situations of armed conflict. And that includes the coordination role of the UN.”

Catch up on accountability

In line with inhabiting its leadership role, the UN should find ways to navigate, verify and authenticate the mass of information that emerges from crowd-sourcing and social media, so that communities, authorities and aid agencies, can use it better. In 10 years’ time agencies will have to have realized that information is a right in crises – something as important as food or shelter, says Walker. And “this speaks to OCHA’s very mandate and mission,” he said.

What won’t we do?

Over the next decade UN and other humanitarian agencies need to more clearly define what they will and will not do. “That conversation about what we are here to do, about what the system is, who is in it and what their roles are, needs to be had,” he said. “If you see it as a universal fire service that will respond to each disaster and save all lives possible, and then add to that prevention, early recovery, and resilience, then that is very ambitious and a lot more capacity is needed.” But if the role is just stepping in when the state cannot or will not respond, it may be more manageable.

The current mismatch between what defines humanitarian aid and how it is used must be cleared up, agrees Walker. “The nub of humanitarian aid is providing a light in the darkness – and accepting that we can only really deal with symptoms,” said Walker. This includes protecting people from fear and violence – including sexual violence – which while improved in some areas (child protection, say), still lacks the leadership and coherence of one agency to drive it forward. “But that is very different from where the money goes.” As Development Initiatives’ funding specialist Oliver Buston put it: “You would come up with a very different programme if you were funding a decade-long $500 million project in Sudan versus 10 one-year $50 million projects.”

The top 10 recipients of humanitarian aid have changed little year on year over the past decade – Sudan, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, Afghanistan among them.  He went on to say that that is where resilience comes in: an activity that must be politically-driven, and involves long-term flexible funding. As Kent said, “The UN has a profoundly important role to play, but not the one it is doing.”

Let governments lead on resilience

UN humanitarian agencies cannot drive the resilience debate, says Baiocchi. They must involve the entire UN Development Group, including the UN Development Programme, UN Division for Sustainable Development, and the monetary institutions, regional organizations and national stakeholders. “Take the Hyogo Framework for Action”, said Mihir Bhatt head of the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), “This must contribute to each of the post-2015 development goals, or resilience will go nowhere.”

And in many cases this will involve supporting national capacity to respond. “We say we want to work with governments, build a real partnership, but do we really?” asked Biaocchi. “With actively engaged governments, we say they’re interfering – we’re quite schizophrenic about this.” Some need less help – Mozambique, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, have significantly improved their ability to respond to large-scale disasters and in these instances UN agencies will need to step back and play a service role.

“The traditional view of many northern aid agencies is to build capacity through a workshop,” said Jemilah Mahmood, ex-president of NGO Mercy Malaysia. “That’s not what’s needed: it means money, people to be seconded into local authorities to strengthen them internally.”

Ultimately, building this capacity and focusing on resilience “is not up to ECHO or the UN or the World Bank, but it’s up to governments,” said Fabre. “Unless there is political will to push this, you can put in as much money as you want, but it won’t make a difference. That change has to come from within.”

aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Bridging the gap between relief and development

Posted by African Press International on June 29, 2013


Sustainable interventions

GOMA,  – Every year, for nearly two decades, the humanitarian community has responded to large-scale and complex crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This year, on the assumption that the crises are likely to continue, donors have agreed to fund longer-term and more flexible humanitarian projects in DRC.

For the first time, a common humanitarian fund (CHF) administered by the UN in Kinshasa will be financing projects of up to 24 months’ duration, instead of the current 12-month limit.

A review of the project proposals should be finalized in July; this year, the CHF hopes to receive US$70 million for multi-year funding (out of an $893 million humanitarian appeal for the country).

Multi-year funding is an innovation for the humanitarian system, said Gemma Cortes, interim head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) financing unit in Kinshasa.

“We’re initiating this in the Congo,” she told IRIN. “There’s been a big discussion about this for years here. Now, the great challenge will be to link all the projects to development projects.”

Advantages 

OCHA says these “transitional” projects “will address recurrent humanitarian needs that require sustainable interventions of a kind that help[s] build community resilience” and will “reduce the number of short-term emergency actions that respond more to symptoms than to causes”.

Other projects funded with the $70 million “will reinforce emergency response capability” and “help build national NGOs’ capacity”. OCHA also foresees better data collection and monitoring, and well as costs savings.

“It should help to save costs on, for example, transport, recruitment, training and assimilation [of knowledge],” Cortes says.

The CHF is also considering streamlining programmes. For example, it could fund two organizations to do the kind of work done previously by eight separate, shorter projects.

Cortes sees a trend in project proposals towards greater promotion of agriculture and livelihoods, as well more durable solutions to water and hygiene needs.

“Agriculture is one of the sectors where the envelope has increased the most. Agencies and NGOs can now go beyond emergency activities to reinforcing capacities, introducing different agricultural and food-processing techniques, doing market studies and training cooperatives. We have also received a lot of proposals for buying and distributing goats, sheep and rabbits.”

She estimates that around 15 percent of the multi-year funding might go to agricultural projects and 30 percent to livelihoods projects, although the final allocation has yet to be decided.

“It’s been very well received by aid workers, NGOs and by local communities. It was something lacking before. Each time we came and did the same thing, and they wanted something more lasting.”

Olivia Kalis, protection and advocacy manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Goma, eastern DRC, agrees but suggests there is still debate over what is “more lasting”.

“If we have short-term cycles only, people end up doing the same things, so it’s very good that the CHF is now offering 24-month cycles. But a lot more work needs to be done to understand what resilience means in this context,” Kalis said

Resilience

As the concept of resilience has been mainstreamed in aid agency circles, its definition has broadened.

Christophe Béné, a research fellow at the UK Institute of Development Studies (IDS), spoke at a recent IDS seminar about how the term has evolved. “Initially,” he said, “resilience was simply about the capacity for recovery and bouncing back. And now, with time passing, we have got more and more people saying resilience is about learning and adapting. Recently, now, we have got anticipating and preventing [crises].”

Incorporating all of these meanings, a recent definition from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said resilience is “the ability to avoid disasters and crises or to anticipate, absorb, adapt to and recover from risks… in a timely and efficient manner”.

The UN World Food Programme’s coordinator in eastern DRC, Wolfram Herfurth, says resilience basically means self-reliance, and he suggests a practical way to ensure vulnerable communities are self-reliant.

“Let’s not make this a rocket science. We have to provide simple, palatable livelihood options for people in camps. Since we know that about 85 percent of these displaced people are farmers, it’s logical – we’re looking at the closest solution – to provide farmers with tools and seeds so they can produce their own food and no longer need free handouts,” he said.

“That is the fundamental approach. But the biggest obstacle is that, where the displaced people are now, there’s mostly no free land available.”

To this end, Herfurth proposes that agreements be struck with landowners to allocate land, either long-term or temporarily, to the displaced, who would then be assisted with seeds, tools and food aid until their first harvest.

Several initiatives in North Kivu are aiming to help the displaced gain access to land, either their own (many displaced people return home to find their land occupied) or land where they have found refuge. The CHF has a brief to support these initiatives.

Still, land is a delicate issue; NRC and UN Habitat have the biggest land dispute mediation programmes in DRC, but there are strict limits to what they can achieve, says NRC’s Kalis.

“The scale [of mediation] is very small in comparison with the problem. A lot of these disputes are over just a few metres of land. Once the military are involved, our commissions [local committees set up by NRC] can’t deal with that – it’s too dangerous,” he said.

Large tracts of land in the Kivus are owned by senior army officers.

“We need to talk about political solutions [to the land problem],” says Kalis. “Donors need to push for these things.”

Settling 

Helping displaced people farm is not the only resilience-building activity aid workers are proposing.

IRIN also interviewed the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Oxfam, NRC and Catholic Relief Services and found a wide range of resilience activities proposed, notably information campaigns to help the displaced secure their rights and access aid, and the construction of more durable facilities to help them integrate with host communities.

UNICEF emphasized project proposals to build more durable classrooms and sanitation systems. NRC spoke of its work helping displaced children enrol in schools. Oxfam said it was planning to extend water systems and sanitation in host community areas.

Improving living conditions for IDPs

The emphasis on host communities is essential, aid workers say, because most aid has been focused on camps even though most displaced people live with host families and will often settle in those communities.

“Many of the displaced are highly unlikely to go home,” said Tariq Riebl, Oxfam’s coordinator in North Kivu. “If you look at the history of Goma, many camps have been transformed into neighbourhoods – we find it quite negative that the state is still bulldozing camps.”

“If we see a willingness by the state to give the displaced residency rights, we could start to provide schooling, health centres, etc. But the government is resisting this,” he said.

There is also a trend towards focusing on more urban areas. In peri-urban areas where the state does not own land, it may need to deal with landowners to ensure displaced people can find homes, Riebl said.

Focusing aid on more easily accessible areas rather than trying to reach remote villages is also pragmatic, he points out.

“The support costs of trying to run projects in an area like Walikale [one of North Kivu’s more remote territories] are enormous. No one is going to pay for all the land cruisers. Donors are looking for value for money.”

Security is also a serious concern for projects in rural areas. A worker with FAO told a recent journalists’ seminar in Goma that agricultural project workers could not do anything if there was not security.

More business surveys will be needed to help guide the displaced towards viable livelihoods, in either urban or rural areas, Herfurth told IRIN.

“We need more development experts,” he said. “Maybe the number of relief workers here should shrink and the number of economists and agricultural engineers should increase,” he said.

“But we also need to change the chemistry between the humanitarians and the DRC government to agree that – given there’s more stability and peace – we focus on more durable interventions.

“Certainly the humanitarians themselves cannot easily do this alone. They need decisions by the government and coordination at village and provincial level. Different political levels need to play together.”

nl/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Overnight in Za’atari camp in Jordan

Posted by African Press International on June 24, 2013

ZA’ATARI CAMP,  – It is 9pm. The front entrance to Za’atari is lit mostly by the red and blue lights of the Jordanian gendarmerie vehicles parked at the entrance – little assurance of security to the 120,000 residents here, who say police rarely enter the camp. 

The place has the feel of a lively city – music plays from personal speakers; children scream giddily as they play football; friends and relatives gather in each other’s tents, chit-chatting into the night.

I stand on the other side of a fence that separates the sprawling city from what aid workers call “base camp”, home to the offices of UN agencies and NGOs, watching the camp like a screenplay.

A few young refugees call out to me, interrupting my daze. We speak through the barbed wire until they insist emphatically that I join them in their tent for a proper chat.

The tent is sparse, but clean and spacious; lit – with fluctuating power – by a network of crisscrossing wires, illegally hooked up to the electricity grid.

As we sit cross-legged on the floor – they have already offered me `labneh’ (yoghurt cheese) and olives, which they brought with them from Syria – they complain about inequitable shelter in the camp. Refugees use different and sometime fake IDs to get more aid, the father tells me; and those with money buy caravans while those who come empty-handed are left in tents, exposed to heat, dust, respiratory illnesses, fires and thefts.

“I heard a whole family died of a fire in the camp,” the mother says. Her neighbour, a widow, stops by to borrow a broom. Hers was stolen during a recent robbery in her tent, along with 5,000 Syrian pounds (US$50), four blankets and the few supplies she owned. Fellow refugees then stoned her tent while she was sleeping.

Desperation

“The dealings between us Syrians are dire,” the mother says, blaming it on desperation. “It’s every man for himself here,” her husband adds. “I feel I have no value any more, as if I’m not a human being.”

At 10pm, night staff of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) arrive from Amman in a minivan, joining another 45 staff from the International Organization for Migration, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children, who have, by now, a well-tuned system for welcoming new arrivals to the camp.

Tonight, there are 244 of them.

Many have spent days en route, trying to escape Syria. They include pregnant women and sick children. At the border, they are met by Jordanian soldiers, who board them onto buses to the camp. I watch as they unload their suitcases, some of them clearly exhausted.

One mother of five carries her crying toddler in one hand and a suitcase in the other as she tries to cajole her sleepy children to follow her towards the registration desk. She appears to be barely keeping herself together, but seeks assistance from no one.

Though I cannot quite put my finger on them, there are other emotions at play.

There is relief, almost elation.

“We’ve spent two years amid the fighting and the fear,” says one refugee. “This is the first day we can breathe easy.”

But there is also sorrow. Or rather, a sense of guilt.

One 19-year-old cradles her newborn, wrapped in a blanket. She travelled with her baby, literally just days old, from Aleppo, 500km north of Jordan, sleeping in a different village every night. Her husband, who fled to Jordan before her, has not yet seen his daughter.

The young woman is quiet and unexpressive while we speak. When I ask how she is feeling after her long journey, she smiles and says she is relieved to be in Jordan. But just as quickly, the smile falls from her face, as she remembers those still back in Syria.

Others appear nonchalant about their journey, which for some, involves dodging shelling and crossing a river-bed on foot. Desensitized, I wonder? In denial? In shock?

I sit outside the UNHCR registration office, speaking to each of the refugees as they wait their turn to enter. One old man warns me not to open the Pandora’s Box and walks away, but many others are keen to share their experiences. One after the other, they tell harrowing stories as I take notes. 

“Among us, there are stories to fill many more notebooks,” one man says.

What I saw… I’ll never forget

But the old man’s warning soon proves true.

One man in a white traditional gown breaks down in tears as he remembers the charred bodies of two of his cousins. The corpses lay in a pool of water on a street in rural Aleppo for seven days until relatives risked death crossing a checkpoint to retrieve them.

He dug their graves himself.

“What I saw, what I experienced, I’ll never forget,” he says, his sun-bleached face twisted in emotion. “There is a limit to what a person can take.”

Around 1.30am, the last cases are registered, and I head back outside, where four large “pre-fabs” have been set up to accommodate those who need a place to sleep until they receive a personal tent in the morning. They lie like lost souls on the cold, grey, concrete, the brisk air streaming through the windows – a rude, but accurate, awakening to life in refuge.

One man mistakes me for an aid worker and asks for more blankets for his grandchildren. They are a family of five and only have three blankets, he says. I have no blankets, but offer him my jacket. Ashamed, he politely refuses, and promises they will make do just fine.

By the end of the night, I feel lost in the refugees’ stories, emotionally confused and overcome.

I cannot imagine how they withstand the pressures of the long, tiring journey and the overwhelming procedures upon arrival: government registration, pink slip, vaccinations for your children, welcome package, food ration card, voucher for tent, blanket, sleeping map, questions, so many questions.

A rowdy crowd is gathered around the thin opening in the barbed wire fence separating the registration area from the camp. The new arrivals push their way through the mass of people, lugging their possessions and entering a new phase of difficulty, another unknown world.

“It hurts to think: How did this happen to us?” one elderly woman tells me. When I comment on the strength I have witnessed among the refugees, she responds:

“It’s eat or be eaten. You’re the wolf or the sheep.”

 

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Survival sex: Weekly meetings for sex workers in Mopti and Sévaré

Posted by African Press International on June 9, 2013

A sex worker, displaced from the north, in Mopti

SÉVARÉ/BAMAKO,  – More displaced women and girls – some as young as 13 – are turning to sex work to get by in Mali where 14 months of occupation and conflict have forced 475,000 people from their homes in the north, according to NGOs.

NGO Danaya So (House of Trust in the local language Bambara), has registered 3,800 sex workers in central Mali’s towns of Mopti and Sévaré, as well as in Bamako, but the real number is much higher, says its director, Kadidjatou Coulibaly.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has registered 41 girls in Mopti aged 15-18 who have turned to survival sex. “Of the 41 we registered, almost all were without their parents or without their husbands who they said had disappeared or been killed during the fighting,” said Aminata Dicko Sangaré, UNICEF’s protection project administrator in Mali.

Coulibaly visits the brothels and houses where young women work, three times a week, trying to raise awareness of the health risks associated with sex work and to find women and girls alternative incomes. Most of them are single young women living away from their families.

She said her workload soared following the Islamist occupation in April 2012, and has remained high.

“I first heard about the rebels raping women in May, a couple of weeks after they occupied Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. Almost immediately after we received the first group of young women.”

Over the past year the number of women living in `maisons closes’ or brothels in Sévaré and Mopti has doubled, while in the street, in bars and some hotels, more sex workers are visible, said Coulibaly.

At the end of 2012, staff at the local health clinic in Sévaré said HIV/AIDS was on the increase among blood donors, according to Sylvia Mollet, who works with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Bamako.

Maimouna’s experience

In April 2012, Maimouna*, 17, fled 570km south to Sévaré in central Mali, a week after Tuareg rebels – the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) – and then Islamists, occupied her home town of Gao.

“I came here and there were so many men, mainly Malian soldiers who had fled when the rebels attacked the towns in the north,” Maimouna said. Soon they became her clients, she said.

She now takes 3-5 clients a night to pay for her food, clothing and rent; on average she earns US$2 a night. “I do not want to do this, but I have no choice. It is really bad but this is the only way for me to get money at the moment,” she told IRIN.

NGO Danaya So organizes weekly meetings for sex workers in Mopti and Sévaré

Single females without their parents and who have nowhere to stay are the most vulnerable, according to Danaya So. The conflict has separated many families, said the NGO’s project coordinator Marie Denou in Bamako, with husbands working in one town and wives and children in another, leaving them vulnerable.

Many unaccompanied minors may not have told their parents how they will support themselves, and cannot expect any support from their family, said Coulibaly. “They say they work in the market or clean in peoples’ homes. If their families found out how they were making a living they would not be able to return home.”

“The pressure on the young women to help support their family is high and it is not unusual for a mother or other female relative to push them into going onto the street,” said the Global Fund’s Mollet.

Risks

Many women do not identify themselves as sex workers and call the men they sleep with boyfriends, which can enable HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to spread, said Mollet. “The man will argue he is a boyfriend and refuse to wear a condom,” she told IRIN.

Danaya So convenes weekly meetings in the homes of sex workers to discuss the dangers of sexually transmitted diseasesand how to protect themselves. Waiting for the meeting to start, the young women, all in their teens and early twenties, keep busy gossiping, braiding each other’s hair and playing with their Chinese counterfeit smartphones. “My boyfriend bought me this,” said Fatima*, aged 20. “We sleep together and he gives me money to buy food and other things I need. Because he is a soldier he is at least paid, even if it is not enough.”

UNICEF and NGO Catholic Relief Services will soon give cash transfers to displaced northern who have become sex workers, to try to cover their basic needs.

Though no one can say for sure, many believe the number of sex workers is expected to increase with the arrival of the international peacekeeping troops. There are already 6,000 foreign soldiers in Mali, and in the coming weeks some 5,000 more will arrive to support MINUSMA, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission there.

Many Malians are also growing increasingly vulnerable. People who were already struggling before the crisis began, are certainly worse off 14 months later,” said Mollet. “They have lost it all, maybe even their parents.”

*not her real name

kh/aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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WFP needs money to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau

Posted by African Press International on May 14, 2013

Farmers in Bafata preparing the land to plant rice seedlings (file photo)

BISSAU/DAKAR,  – The World Food Programme (WFP) has not received the money it needs to run basic nutrition and food security schemes in Guinea-Bissau, leaving projects in jeopardy or at a standstill.

The organization needs US$7 million immediately to cover its food security and nutrition programme targeting 278,000 people for 2013; and a further $8 million to extend the project through 2014. The project involves school-feeding, preventing moderate and acute malnutrition, and boosting rice production, and was supposed to start in February this year.

WFP head of programmes Fatimata Sow-Sidibé told IRIN the money is lacking because traditional donors suspended all development cooperation following the April 2012 coup.

“We have some promises [from donors],” said Sow-Sidibé, “but the programme was supposed to start in February and we have no resources to buy the food we need.”

Traditional donors more or less stopped all development funding in Guinea-Bissau following the 12 April 2012 coup d’état, leaving infrastructure projects and basic services at a standstill across the country, but humanitarian funding was supposedly untouched. LINK The problem for WFP is that their project spans development and emergency activities and thus is not just eligible for humanitarian funding.

The African Development Bank also suspended its funding for rural agricultural development projects, following the coup. The cuts “are having a direct impact on food security in Guinea-Bissau, where we already have severe cereal deficits due to inadequate local production,” said a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture who preferred anonymity.

Food insecurity in Guinea-Bissau is driven mainly by an inability of people to access food because prices are beyond their reach. Most Bissau Guineans rely on imported rice as they grow mainly cash crops (cashews) and not grains.

Food prices have risen year on year since 2008 (imported rice is currently U$1.20 per kg), and the most recent countryside hunger assessment (2011) cited high prices as the biggest barrier for vulnerable households to access food.

The coup put off a planned countrywide food security assessment in 2012 but a rapid assessment in the regions of Biombo, Oio and Quinara in June 2012 revealed one in five people were food insecure (regions in the east were not included in the survey). Some 65 percent of households at the time had under one month’s supply of food stocks and more people were resigned to further indebtedness, selling animals and producing wine from the cashew fruit, to get by.

Cashew crisis

People’s ability to buy food has been severely hampered by a crisis in the cashew industry: 80-95 percent of Bissau-Guineans depend on cashew sales to purchase food as well as meet other household expenses. Terms of trade for cashews have been deteriorating since 2011: In a good year 1kg of rice can be roughly exchanged for 1kg of cashews; this shifted to 1.5kg of cashews to buy 1kg of rice in 2012, and to 2kgs of cashews for 1kg of rice in 2013, according to Ministry of Agriculture and WFP research. “Everything here is linked to cashews,” said Sow-Sidibé.

The poor terms of trade are linked to a poor 2012 cashew crop, and plummeting cashew prices following the coup (from 80 US cents per kg in May 2012 to 50 US cents one month later), and also linked to low fixed prices on international markets.

Cashew farmers are further stymied by exorbitant petrol prices (US$1.50 per litre) which makes it increasingly expensive for them to get their crop to market.

Ongoing projects

WFP continues to run food assistance programmes where it can. In two districts in Gabu, eastern Guinea-Bissau (Mancadndje Dara, Madina Madinga), and in two districts of Bafata (Djabicunda and Sare Biro), the organization helps villagers improve their farming techniques to boost rice production, including giving them improved seeds and helping them rent animals to get their crops to market. It also helps villagers grow market gardens to improve their food diversity and boost household income.

Mutaro Indjai, head of the village committee of rice producers in Saucunda village in Gabu, told IRIN: “This project helped us improve our production to last through four months, whereas before we only produced enough for one month.”

If the project comes to an end, they will continue to use improved techniques of production, but they would lack the seeds needed to plant next year. “We won’t have access to improved seeds, nor to the animals we need to speed up planting and to help us transport our harvest to nearby villages,” he told IRIN.

Nutrition

Nutrition programmes have also been affected. WFP pushes food diversity, given that feeding practices are a key component of high chronic malnutrition levels in Guinea-Bissau.

The organization tries to push a more varied diet (than the starch-dominated fare given to most infants) including fish soup, peas, carrots, tomatoes, and millet-based cereal. They also support local NGOs to make regular visits to health centres and villages on vaccination days to talk about how to prepare nutrient-rich meals for infants made out of corn flour, peanut powder, bean powder, oil and sugar, among others. Programmes target children in their first 1,000 days of life.

Some 17 percent of children under-five are underweight, and 27 percent are stunted due to inadequate nutrition, according to a December 2012 UNICEF-Ministry of Health nutrition survey.

Hunger specialists fear chronic malnutrition levels will rise if prevention is not stepped up.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health to set up nutrition treatment centres; provides therapeutic food for severely malnourished children; and helped update the government’s strategy to manage acute malnutrition, in February 2013. “Lack of funding, very few partners in nutrition, and limited human resources trained in nutrition” are the major challenges facing UNICEF, said Victor Suhfube Ngongalah, head of child survival there. UNICEF needs US$750,000 to implement its projects in 2013 and 2014.

Guinea Bissau is ranked 176 out of 187 countries assessed in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report. Political instability has also marred development. Since 1994 no elected president in Guinea-Bissau has finished his mandate.

aj/dab/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Lack of Justice: A Malian survivor of abuse with her four-month-old baby

Posted by African Press International on May 10, 2013

Little support, no justice for Mali rape survivors

A Malian survivor of abuse with her four-month-old baby

GAO/BAMAKO,  – During the rebel takeover of northern Mali in April 2012, many women said they were subjected to rape or sexual assault. Since then, little or no support has come through for these women, say aid workers.

Aminata Touré* was on her way to her uncle’s house in the city of Gao in June 2012 when she was stopped by two men on a motorbike. “I had no choice. They were armed and threatened to kill me,” she said. While one of the men held her baby, the other took her to a nearby bush. “They took me and they did everything they could do, they raped me. Afterwards, they left me in the bush,” she told IRIN.

Since the insurgency began in the north soon after the March 2012 military coup, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has registered 2,785 cases of sexual and gender-based violence, though its Mali spokesperson, Eduardo Cue, says the real figure is much higher. Most of the cases involved rape; others included forced marriage and sex work.

When insurgents entered Gao they systematically went through each neighbourhood, stealing from some and assaulting others, said residents.

Local journalist and activist Ami Idrissa managed to stay safe by hiding in her house. Others were not so fortunate, she said. “Everyone has a sister or cousin who was raped. Daughters were assaulted in front of their fathers, women in front of their husbands. Many are still traumatized by what they saw or experienced that day,” Idrissa told IRIN.

Many residents told IRIN that members of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) were usually the perpetrators. MNLA spokespeople in France were unavailable for comment.

When Islamic militant groups arrived soon afterwards, they perpetrated different kinds of abuse, said Idrissa, who was forced to quit her job as a radio host by Islamists who would not tolerate a woman’s voice on the radio.

“MNLA raped women. MUJAO [the Islamist rebel Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa] instead forced women to marry them; in the end their marriages resulted in another system of rape when only one man married the woman and many men participated in the marriage,” she told IRIN.

Undocumented

The number of forced marriages among northerners and insurgents has not been fully documented. A UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) protection team found one case of forced marriage when questioning 105 displaced people in Mopti who hailed from Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They also uncovered eight rapes, including that of a 13-year-old girl, and 44 cases of sexual abuse.

Gao resident Mouna Awata, whose daughter was arrested for not wearing the hijab, told IRIN: “Girls were arrested, brought to the mayor’s office and then transferred to the prison. That’s where they raped the women. They had mattresses there and everything.”

One father who withheld his name told IRIN his 15-year-old daughter called him from inside the prison in Gao. “She told me there was a naked man waiting for her on the roof. She escaped… that’s when she called me.”

Gao resident Miriam Maïga*, 18, was forced to marry a man twice her age in mid-2012. When she moved to her husband’s house she found out what she had feared all along – that he was part of MUJAO. “He forced me to sleep with him. When I refused he beat me,” she told IRIN. When she finally managed to escape she took a bus to Bamako. Afraid her husband will follow her to the capital she is hoping local NGO Sini Sanuman can help her to find a place to stay.

With little to no administration in the north, there is insufficient for women who have been abused. Local and international NGOs and UN agencies such as UNICEF, are helping women in the north and south, but resources are limited. UNICEF is supporting community-level child protection committees and is raising awareness of protection norms among social workers to try to avert further incidents of abuse.

Gao-based local NGO GREFFA has set up a clinic giving medical help to survivors of abuse, and help in preventing sexually transmitted diseases at the regional hospital. Survivors also receive medical attention in local clinics, said Gao midwife Mariam Maïga.

Meanwhile, women who fled south to Mopti and Bamako often face financial as well as medical problems. In Bamako Sini Sanuman provides medical and psychological help to survivors of abuse, but its director, Alpha Boubeye, said they could not help northerners who arrive in the capital with their food or rent requirements, “something that they desperately need”.

The organization is struggling to keep up with the scale of need. In one Bamako neighbourhood Sini Sanuman identified over 300 cases of sexual assault among women who had arrived from the north since April 2012.

“Before the conflict no one was really tending to women who were victims of sexual abuse. We have had to set up a whole new strategy, training social workers and psychiatrists,” Boubeye told IRIN.

Stigma

Uncovering the extent of abuse continues to be very difficult in a country where rape is considered shameful.

“Many women do not dare to talk about being raped. They are afraid that their husbands will leave them and that they will be segregated from society,” journalist Idrissa told IRIN. “Before MNLA and MUJAO rape outside the house was not a problem in Mali. The rebels made it an issue.”

“Being raped is a very shameful thing in Mali and our social workers often visit the women many times before they open up,” said Boubeye.

And pursuing justice is not even considered an option by many abuse survivors. Touré returned home to her husband in Gao, but she has not pursued a case against her attackers. “I want the men who raped me to go to jail, but I’m ashamed for everyone else to see me,” she told IRIN.

Her focus is to support her family in increasingly difficult humanitarian conditions, she added.

According to Daniel Tessogué, state prosecutor in Bamako, only one case of sexual assault linked to the 2012 conflict is being prepared to go to court.

*not their real names

kh/aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Kenya: Clerics in Bungoma up in arms over rising attacks

Posted by African Press International on May 1, 2013

  • BY GODFREY WAMALWA, API-KENYA
Religious leaders in Bungoma county have condemned last week criminal attacks in Bungoma villgers in which over 100 people were injured,maimed and killed.
In a joint press briefing in Bungoma,the leaders led by Bungoma Gospel believers Church Bishop Francis Bushepi condemned the witnessed killings of several people and maiming others at mayanja,mukwa,Naburereya, Ndengelwa and kikwechi areas.

According to bishop Bushepi the target was not just the ordinary citizens in the region but is yet to be also unleashed to the clergy and elected leaders as well.”The move is to ensure that the newly elected county Governor does not succeed in implementing his development agenda and provision of services to the people”lamented Bushepi.
He further revealed that the security agents have carried out investigations and have found that the issue to be a political move by losers in the just concluded general elections trying to avenge for being interchanged in the whole political game. They further conveyed their condolences to the families of those who lost their beloved ones in the savage attacks.
Meanwhile ACK Archbishop Eliud Wabukala called upon human rights team to move in and bring to board those behind the ugly attack.Speaking through the phone,he called for a mass shake up of over stayed police officers in the region.

 

End

 

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Parents in Likuyani District have been called upon to heavily invest in the education of their children

Posted by African Press International on April 25, 2013

  • By GODFREY WAMALWA, API KENYA
Over 600 orphaned children from Lugari district have received a donation of school uniforms from Aphia plus through a community based organization– Mkombozi.
Mkombozi CBO’s offices at Pan Paper, Mr. Emmanuel Khaemba an officer from the CBO commended Aphia plus for caring for orphaned children and the disadvantaged in the society.
He said his organization was taking care of over 3,000 orphaned children in the larger Lugari district who deserved help.
Besides the uniform donation, he said Aphia plus was also committed to ensuring the children received other attendant care such as fees bursaries for the secondary school education, standard home care among other social amenities.
He also revealed that his organization was on the forefront in ensuring that the area was served with safe drinking water arguing that it was crucial to conserve water sources.
Accompanied with district public health officer, Mr. Elphas Imbai,he also appealed to more humanitarian agencies to aid orphaned children adding that they faced a myriad of challenges.
The beneficiaries expressed their joy and thanked the two organizations for working tirelessly to see that they get all the basic needs, live a good life and enjoy their living in the society like other children.
Parents in Likuyani District have been called upon to heavily invest in the education of their children and as well guide them to pursue subjects relevant to their envisaged careers. Chairperson to a head teachers’ caucus in the area, Mrs. Mary Manyonge said majority of the students encountered problems while making subject choices in secondary schools ending up pursuing unlikeable careers.
At the same time, Mrs. Manyonge advised them to ensure equal opportunities were also availed to their daughters to enable them effectively compete for available job opportunities with their male counterparts.
She chided that it will be a waste of time for some parents to be contented with their daughters reaching the fourth form but pointed out that they should be allowed to join tertiary institutions and ultimately universities.
“At the moment when the country is preparing to launch county governments, it will be pertinent for parents to bequeath their children with education to ensure that they effectively fitted in the new dispensation,” she said.
Mrs. Manyonge who is also the principal of Matunda secondary school which is ranked among the best performing schools in the district noted that it was important for competing schools to collaborate with views to exchanging ideas.
End

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US farms supply a bulk of the world’s food aid – Obama wants to end monetizing it aid

Posted by African Press International on April 19, 2013

US farms supply a bulk of the world’s food aid

JOHANNESBURG,  – In a major development, President Barack Obama has proposed an end to the sale of US food aid in developing countries, with options for buying food locally and cash transfers, among other radical reforms to the system. USAID has accounted for more than half of the world’s food aid every year for decades.

The President’s budget, tabled on Wednesday 10 April, ends years of US reliance for food aid on its agriculture surpluses. However, NGOs have been asking for removing the requirement to buy most of the emergency food aid in the US and transporting it on US vehicles to reduce costs and save time.

This has been met with stiff resistance from various interest groups. In a compromise move to ensure the proposals garner much-needed support in Congress and improve efficiency, the Obama administration has proposed allowing around 45 percent of emergency aid to be bought locally, and using the funds for cash transfers or food vouchers. But 55 percent of emergency food aid would still be bought in the US.

Emergency food aid – US$1.4 billion – forms a substantial chunk of the total food aid assistance package of $1.8 billion.

The changes make the food aid system more efficient and flexible, and will help feed four million more people every year, said Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in anaddress to a forum at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), webcast live on Wednesday evening.

Of the $1.4 billion for emergency assistance, $1.1 billion will be provided to International Disaster Assistance (IDA) for emergency food response in times of crises, which could be ongoing.

The 2014 budget also creates a new Emergency Food Assistance Contingency Fund worth US$75 million – roughly five percent of the total emergency food aid allocation of $1.4 billion – allowing USAID to provide emergency food assistance for “unexpected and urgent food needs worldwide”. It will also have various aid options – cash assistance, purchasing food locally, or food vouchers – according to details posted on the USAID website.

The remainder of the funds goes towards development assistance to address chronic food insecurity.

Shah said existing food aid restrictions denied the US government the flexibility to provide cash transfers that could have prevented Somali children from slipping into severe malnutrition. “Inefficiency was inexcusable“ in the country’s efforts to “accomplish something so profound [as helping people in need],” he noted.

Various studies – from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent investigative arm of Congress, to Cornell University – have pointed out that millions of US taxpayers’ dollars are wasted because of inefficiencies in the existing food aid system.

“There is no doubt that some advocates of reform would have wished to omit the guarantee of 55 percent of the 2014 budget still going to commodities purchased in the US”

There have been several attempts to fix the system. The George Bush administration, pushed by former USAID administrator Andrew Natsios, called for similar reformsbut failed to get the necessary support in Congress.

Reforms have usually faced tough opposition from a lobby referred to as the “iron triangle”, comprising agribusiness, the shipping sector, and some development organizations and NGOs, but food aid experts, NGOs and think-tanks, who have all welcomed the Obama administration’s efforts, are more optimistic this time.

The problems

There are two major flaws in the US food aid system. One is monetization, in which US agricultural commodities are donated to NGOs and development organizations, who then sell these in countries that need assistance to raise the money for their programmes.

This practice has prevailed since the beginning of food aid, which was based on the idea of providing surplus produce as gifts. Almost all major donors have now given up this practice because selling gifts of maize, wheat or other staples in developing countries often distorted local markets, and surpluses to gift are much smaller than before for various reasons, including shrinking production.

But the US has kept up with the practice. In 2007, US charity CARE was the first to turn down the monetized approach. The US has also been under pressure from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to end this trade-distorting form of development aid, which now comes to an end with Obama’s proposal.

The other flaw is a policy called the Agricultural Cargo Preference (ACP), which requires that 75 percent of US food aid be shipped on privately owned, US registered vessels, even if they do not offer the most competitive rates. Some of these costs are reimbursed by the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, but ultimately the US taxpayer foots the entire bill.

This policy affects the shipping sector of the “iron triangle”, and any efforts to change it have met with stiff resistance. In 2010, a study led by Christopher Barrett, a food aid expert at Cornell University showed that US taxpayers spent about $140 million per year to ship food aid to global destinations on US vessels – money that could have been used to feed more people.

The Obama administration has not called for the end of this policy entirely, but has reduced the percentage of food aid that has to be bought in the US and shipped on US vessels to 55 percent of the total requested $1.4 billion for emergency food assistance.

“I imagine that trying to garner political support, or at least neutralizing opposition, is part of the reason for some of the proposals such as retaining over half of the 2014 budget going to US commodity purchases,” said Daniel Maxwell, a food aid expert at Tufts University, who wrote about the “iron triangle” in the 2005 book, Food Aid After Fifty Years: Recasting Its Role, co-authored with Barrett.

Maxwell described the proposals as “a huge step” in a positive direction. “It finally puts to rest the wasteful and sometimes harmful practice of monetization. It highlights the speed and cost effectiveness of local and regional purchase of food, and it emphasizes flexible and evidence-based approaches to food assistance.”

He told IRIN, “There is no doubt that some advocates of reform would have wished to omit the guarantee of 55 percent of the 2014 budget still going to commodities purchased in the US, and… [have been disappointed] that the role of cash transfers isn’t highlighted more in the proposed changes… But the administration is clearly committed to a long-term course of reform.”

Barrett said the tabled proposal had been watered down “from the informal proposal that was floated discretely a month or so ago and elicited intense opposition from vested agribusiness and shipping interests, as well as a few NGOs”. The earlier proposal called for doing away with procuring food aid in the US only. “But that’s the political reality”, and even this proposal will face “stiff opposition”. He added, “Congressional lawmakers from both parties are indicating openness to this proposal and most of the major NGOs are strongly supporting these proposals.”

Ben Grossman-Cohen, of Oxfam America, speaking on behalf of several NGOs and think-tanks in the US who have lauded Obama’s efforts, noted that “This budget goes farther than previous reform proposals have… [and] common sense changes that get taxpayers more bang for their buck will be hard for legislators to overlook.”

Republican Congressman Vin Weber backed that view in the CSIS discussion that followed Shah’s address on Wednesday evening, saying that “budget tightness”, where even Obama has agreed to take a pay cut to show solidarity with other government officials, will force everyone to consider the reforms seriously.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Democrat Eliot Engel, the Committee’s Ranking Member, issued a joint statement supporting the reforms.

jk/he source http://www.irinnews.org

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Claiming abuse during forced removal from Europe – where are the protectors of human rights?

Posted by African Press International on April 19, 2013

By Kristy Siegfried 

Handcuff injuries sustained during an attempted forced removal from the UK

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Allegations of assault during forced removals
  • EU monitoring systems vary widely
  • UK lacks monitoring, policy on appropriate level of restraint
  • Returnees struggle to lodge complaints

JOHANNESBURG,  – Cases of excessive force being used to remove rejected asylum seekers have been documented in a number of European countries. But with the financial crisis eroding sympathy and tolerance for asylum seekers, there has been little public or political support for measures that would provide more humane approaches to removing those reluctant to accept an asylum rejection.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the forced removal of failed asylum seekers “should be undertaken in a humane manner, with full respect for human rights and dignity, and that force, should it be necessary, [should] be proportional and undertaken in a manner consistent with human rights law”.

directive on common standards and procedures for returning irregularly staying migrants, adopted by the European Parliament in 2008, included a provision requiring that member states implement an effective system for monitoring forced returns. According to a study funded by the European Commission, by 2011, the majority of European Union countries had such a system or were in the process of implementing one.

But the systems vary widely between countries, both in terms of who does the monitoring and what they monitor.

Inconsistent oversight

For example, in the Netherlands – where incidents of excessive force being used on deportees are rare, according to the Dutch Refugee Council – an independent commission oversees the entire forced return process and guidelines are in place for the allowed use of force.

In France, monitoring only occurs during the pre-return stage or if a return attempt “fails”, either because of a last-minute legal intervention or because the pilot or crew on a commercial flight refuse to take the returnee. In the latter case, the returnee is sent back to a detention centre where one of five NGOs contracted by the home affairs ministry has a presence.

Christophe Harrison, from one of the NGOs, France Terre d’Asile, told IRIN that these returnees regularly report excessive use of force by police escorts during attempted removals, but that it was difficult to know the real extent of the problem because “either they are effectively removed to their [home] country or they physically oppose their removal and are then often brought before a criminal judge, who usually condemns them to two to three months in prison.”

Lack of independent oversight is of particular concern when returns are conducted on charter flights carrying only deportees and their guards. Frontex, the EU’s joint-border agency, has made increasing use of charter flights to remove rejected asylum seekers from several different European countries.

“With the charter flights, the level of restraint is even higher than on the commercial flights, but there are no witnesses,” said Lisa Matthews, from the UK-based National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns.

Behind closed doors

In the UK, which carried out over 40,000 forced removals and voluntary returns in 2012, civil society and the media have been reporting for years on the excessive use of force by private security guards contracted by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). A 2008 report by two UK-based NGOs – Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns – and the law firm Birnberg Peirce & Partners documented nearly 300 cases of alleged assault during forced removals from the UK between 2004 and 2008. However, the UK opted out of the EU returns directive and has no monitoring system in place.

In 2010, Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan asylum seeker who had lived in the UK with his family for 16 years, died while being restrained by guards during his removal. Witnesses on the flight said they heard Mubenga complaining that he could not breathe, but in July 2012 the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the guards or their employer, G4S, a global security group.

A spokesperson with the UKBA said that members of Independent Monitoring Boards, which monitor the welfare of prisoners and immigration detainees, had observed a number of charter flights as part of a pilot exercise in 2012, but that “decisions have yet to be made about arrangements for this type of monitoring”.

Little has changed since Mubenga’s death, said Emma Mlotshwa of Medical Justice, which sends independent doctors to immigration detention centres to record injuries resulting from the allleged use of excessive force. “The death of Mubenga, we thought, would have some effect, but it hasn’t. It’s still something that’s happening pretty much behind closed doors,” she told IRIN.

The most common injuries Medical Justice’s doctors see are those related to the use of handcuffs, Mlotshwa said, but fractured bones and injuries consistent with the victim having his or her head pushed down between the knees – an unauthorized method of restraint that can result in suffocation – have also been documented.

“They held me in a position whereby I couldn’t move because I was handcuffed, and then started punching me all over my face and body”

Marius Betondi, an asylum seeker from Cameroon, said he was so badly beaten by guards working for the contractor Tascor (previously called Reliance) during a removal attempt in January 2013 that he needs reconstructive surgery to his face and has blurred vision in his left eye.

He told IRIN over the phone from the UK that he had put up no resistance before the assault began.

“They [the guards] took me to the back of the aircraft and put a big red curtain around me so passengers would not be able to see me. They held me in a position whereby I couldn’t move because I was handcuffed, and then started punching me all over my face and body. I started bleeding terribly, and I was screaming, crying, asking for help. They continued for about 30 minutes, then I went unconscious. When I regained consciousness, they continued punching me.”

Betondi was eventually taken off the plane and returned to an immigration detention facility, where the manager informed the police. A police investigation is ongoing, which is rare in such cases, Mlotshwa said.

The UKBA is also investigating Betondi’s allegations, according to its spokesperson, who said that “physical intervention… is only used as a last resort or to enforce removal where the person concerned is non-compliant.”

Mubenga’s death has focused attention on UKBA’s lack of a detailed, publically available policy on what level of physical intervention is appropriate on an aircraft.

“When we looked at what was available publicly, it was striking that there was nothing relating to aeroplanes,” said Emma Norton, a lawyer with Liberty, a UK-based human rights NGO, adding that policy was clearly designed for use with potentially violent prisoners rather than failed asylum seekers. She noted that private security guards carrying out removals often receive only five days of control-and-restraint training, which does not include techniques for use on an aircraft.

Liberty’s request for a judicial review of the restraint policy was rejected last month when it emerged that the Home Office was reviewing the policy and had contracted the National Offender Management Service to design a “bespoke” training package for UKBA and its private contractors. The UKBA spokesperson could not say when the new training guidelines would be implemented.

Ineffective complaints system

Most cases of excessive use of force come to light only when the removal fails. Even then, many victims do not have the opportunity to make a complaint. “When people are injured and the removal fails, removal directions may be sent again very quickly, before there’s time to get medical evidence, and while they are still weak from their injuries,” alleged Mlotshwa, of Medical Justice.

She said the complaints system in the UK is ineffective and lacks independence, as investigations are carried out by the Professional Standards Unit, a department of the Home Office. “Detainees are often not interviewed, CCTV footage goes missing, and injuries are often not photographed.”

UKBA’s spokesperson said “we take all complaints very seriously and ensure they’re investigated thoroughly and in a timely manner”, but Liberty’s Norton said none of the complaints her organization has assisted with have been upheld. For those who are successfully returned to their home countries, the obstacles are even greater.

Caroline Muchuma, from the Refugee Law Project (RLP) in Uganda, which provides legal and psycho-social assistance to deportees, said, “The vast majority of our clients report having been abused prior to or during deportation,” but many do not want to lodge a formal complaint or are unable to do so.

Some fear imprisonment and go into hiding after being returned; they may receive medical treatment only long after the fact, making documenting evidence of their injuries problematic.

Muchuma said RLP is still in discussions about how best to help clients who want to pursue legal redress. “There are questions about jurisdiction that need to be determined, among others.”

She added, “The use of excessive force is across the board, but many of our clients are from the UK.” RLP has compiled a report documenting abuses by escorts and plans to send it to the UKBA.

ks/he/rz

source http://www.irinnews.org

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