Google+ Followers

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Obama Admin. Extends Amnesty For Somalis, Despite Recent Terror Concerns - Breitbart

Obama Admin. Extends Amnesty For Somalis, Despite Recent Terror Concerns - Breitbart

The Obama administration is extending the availability of Temporary Protected Status for current TPS beneficiaries from Somalia for another 18 months, through March 17, 2017.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services highlighted this week that the deadline for TPS Somalis to re-register is July 31. Those granted TPS are allowed to stay in the U.S. legally and are eligible for work authorization.
TPS is afforded to eligible nationals of countries the Secretary of Homeland Security designates due to conditions in the country that prevent its nationals from a safe return. A congressional aid noted that TPS often applies to immigrants without legal status, such as those who have overstayed their visas, and are issued on top of the government’s refugee programs.
“Friday, July 31, 2015, is the deadline for current Somalia Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries to re-register for the 18-month extension of TPS that runs from Sept. 18, 2015, through March 17, 2017,” USCIS explained in a new notice. “The law requires USCIS to withdraw TPS for failure to re-register without good cause. Therefore, if you fail to re-register by this deadline, you may lose your TPS and your work authorization.”
Besides those TPS beneficiaries, the U.S. has additionally resettled thousands of Somali refugees in the U.S. So far this fiscal year, the U.S. has admitted 6,200 Somali refugees.
The extension of TPS comes following recent national security concerns involving Somali immigrants.
In April, for example, six Somali men living in Minnesota were charged with trying to join the terrorist group ISIS. Last year a naturalized Somali-American was sentenced to 30 years for a plot to blow up a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Oregon.
Fox News reports that since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men living in Minnesota have left to join the terrorist group al-Shabaab.

Mum-to-be killed in Barton Hill stabbing named as Amal Abdi | Bristol Post

Mum-to-be killed in Barton Hill stabbing named as Amal Abdi | Bristol Post

A 21-year-old pregnant woman stabbed to death has been named as Amal Abdi.
Police have confirmed she was four months pregnant when she was stabbed to death on Sunday night.
Officers were called to a seventh floor flat at Longlands House in Barton Hill on Sunday evening.
Paramedics attempted to save her life after finding her unconscious, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
         
A 21-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in police custody.
Officers said this morning that the incident was being treated as domestic-related.
Forensic officers remain at the scene as investigations continue.
One shop keeper said Amal came in his store regularly with her daughter.
He said he believed she had recently helped her husband move from Somalia via Italy so they could be together.
"She had helped him come over and he only got here recently, so I don't know him," he said.
"But she was a lovely young girl. She was quiet and always polite.
"We are just all shocked that this has happened.
"She has got other relatives in Bristol as well. Her family will just be devastated. It is such a sad situation."
Another neighbour added: "There were police and ambulances everywhere on Sunday.
"No one really knows what happened, but a lot of people have said she was pregnant and was stabbed.
"Forensic teams have been coming in and there have been police everywhere. I think she lived with some of her family, including her cousins.
"She was a young Somali girl, a pretty girl. It is just devastating that this kind of thing can happen to someone so young.
"It's such a waste of life."
A spokesman for the police said: "We can confirm that the woman who died on Sunday in the incident at a property in Morley Street, Barton Hill was Amal Abdi, aged 21.
"Amal, who is Somalian, was four months pregnant and the post mortem has confirmed that she died from stab wounds.
"A 21-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of her murder remains in police custody. A further warrant of detention has been obtained, enabling officers to continue questioning him.
"Specially trained officers are supporting the woman's family and the local neighbourhood policing team are patrolling the area, providing reassurance and receiving information from members of the local community."
A resident who lives in sheltered accommodation opposite said: "I heard from her cousin that she got stabbed. All I've been told is that the girl got stabbed.
"It was swarming with police cars and they've still got one over there.
"Yesterday they had one of the forensic vans over there too.
"There were half a dozen police cars, two ambulances and paramedics everywhere. We couldn't get in or out of our building."

UNHCR: Talented Somali refugee dreams of new life in America to honour father who died for his art

UNHCR: Talented Somali refugee dreams of new life in America to honour father who died for his art

It has been said that if you suffer for your art, you will never die. For 16-year-old Abdirahim Abdulkadir Osman, a talented Somali refugee artist, it is the memory of his father's brutal murder that keeps his dreams of a better life in America alive.
It was June 2009 when Al Shabaab gunmen forced their way into the home of his father, a teacher and co-founder of the Picasso Art School in Mogadishu. They shot him, along with three of his young children, and violently beat his mother Lul, leaving her in a coma for weeks.
Abdirahim was just 11 years old at the time and attending school with his elder brother Abdulahi. As a result, the pair were spared, along with three other siblings who also escaped the gunmen's fire.
"Everyone has something in their life and that school was his life," said Abdirahim about his father, as he sipped on a macchiato coffee in the canteen of the UNHCR office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "When I was small, he would carry me on his back as he was teaching."
After the attack, with his mother lying unconscious in a hospital bed, neighbours hastily arranged for the two eldest boys to flee Mogadishu with them on the next available flight to Hargeisa, in northern Somalia. From there they crossed the border to Ethiopia and found safety at Aw-barre refugee camp where their grandmother was living.
When Abdirahim's mother emerged from her coma and was well enough to travel, she journeyed with her remaining children to Aw-barre. It was an emotional reunion with her eldest sons. Later, she married Abdirahim's uncle after he joined her and her children in Aw-barre in 2011. "We were happy to have a daddy and to be a full family again," said Abdirahim.
Life in Aw-barre was tough. He and his brothers and sisters earned a meagre living supplementing their rations by painting signs and posters for UNHCR and other partners during events, including World Refugee day. But, after word of their talent spread, the family were eventually assisted to leave Aw-barre and relocated to Addis where they could use their artistic skills to earn a living. They were also supported by UNHCR's urban refugee programme.
Last year, Abdirahim won first prize in the UNHCR Somalia World Refugee Day art competition for a painting on the theme of 'My Somalia' which depicted UNHCR's support to refugees and IDPs.
Today, despite everything he has been through, the young artist is once again able to dream big as he and his family enter into the final stages of what will hopefully be a successful resettlement process to America. "I want hope," he says. "Hope to give back. I want to live an artistic life."
He looks forward to improving his English and using his artistic talents at high school. But really all he dreams of is a better life away from Mogadishu, Aw-barre, and Addis – which he says is "good and full of peace but still difficult." He even hopes to work for UNHCR in the future.
"We hope now that we can all get a good education and have a good future," Abdirahim concluded, draining his coffee. "The life our father dreamed for us and which cost him his life."
Picasso would be proud.
By Andy Needham in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Obama vows to keep up pressure on Somalia’s al-Shabab - Al Arabiya News

Obama vows to keep up pressure on Somalia’s al-Shabab - Al Arabiya News

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday praised recent advances by Somali and African Union troops against al-Shabab militants, but said it was important to keep up the pressure.
Speaking in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Obama said the al-Qaeda-affiliated militants offer nothing but “death and destruction”.
“Ethiopia faces serious threats,” Obama said. “We’ve got more work to do.”
The comments followed an bloody attack on one of Mogadishu's most secure hotels, which severely damaged the building killing 15 people including a Kenya diplomat, a Chinese embassy guard and three journalists.
The scale of the truck bomb used against the Jazeera Hotel has stunned Mogadishu, a capital long used to conflict and raises fears of an escalation of force by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group battling the government.
Somalia's foreign minister Abdisalam Omer told The Associated Press by phone from Djibouti that a Kenyan diplomat was also wounded in the attack.
The attack was claimed by the al-Qaida-linked Al-Shabab group and also wounded some 20 people. The walled, luxury Jazeera Hotel is considered the most secure in Somalia’s capital and is frequented by diplomats, foreigners and visiting heads of state.
“This is really scary - destroying the Jazeera hotel like this means no blast walls can make anyone safe,” said bystander Yusuf Mohammed. The use of huge truck bombs is a relatively new phenomenon and throws into doubt whether any place in the capital is now adequately protected.
While blast destroyed at least eight rooms and stunned the residents of the Somali capital, it wasn’t as bad as it might have been because the truck, which contained a ton of explosives, was stopped at the blast walls outside the hotel.
“The damage is big but a lot less because the truck bomb couldn’t go beyond the walls that lay a few meters from the hotel’s perimeter walls,” said Mohammed Abdi, a police officer.
Nervous soldiers fired in the air to disperse a crowd who surged toward the hotel after the blast as medical workers transported wounded victims into awaiting ambulances.
The attack comes as Somali forces backed by troops from the African Union have launched an offensive, dubbed Operation Jubba Corridor, to push al-Shabab out of its last strongholds. The coalition already has driven the group out of the capital.
In a statement, Al-Shabab said the attack was in retaliation for the deaths of dozens of civilians at the hands of Ethiopian forces, which are part of the AU force, and that the hotel was targeted because it hosts “Western” embassies coordinating the offensive.
The attack came as President Barack Obama was leaving neighboring Kenya for Ethiopia. The president’s visit has included discussions about how to deal with the threat of al-Shabab.
On Sunday, the White House Press Office issued a statement condemning the attack and extending condolences to the families of the victims.
“Despite the very real progress Somalia has achieved in recent years, this attack is yet another reminder of the unconscionable atrocities that terrorist groups continue to perpetrate against the people of Somalia,” the statement read, adding that the United States remains steadfast in its commitment to work with Somalia to bring an end to such acts of terrorism.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Seattle-area Somalis seek to shape politics back home | The Seattle Times

Seattle-area Somalis seek to shape politics back home | The Seattle Times

With one of the largest Somali communities in the U.S., Washington state could play a role in the fate of one of the most chaotic and violent places in the world. That’s why Somali politicians are coming to Seattle to campaign.
In a vast banquet room at a DoubleTree Suites in Tukwila, former Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed made his way down the aisle. The crowd of several hundred — men in dark jackets on one side, women in brightly colored headscarves on the other — had been waiting for hours.
As their ancestral national anthem began to play, they leapt to their feet, singing along, clapping and waving little Somali flags bearing a white star on a background of sky blue.
In the crowd was Abdulkadir “Jangeli” Aden Mohamud, who had greeted the former prime minister at the airport and had him to his Renton home the next morning for breakfast. They had nothing less than the future of Somalia to discuss, and Mohamud, once head of Somalia’s development bank and more recently the owner of a local MaidPro janitorial franchise, was poised to help the former leader carry out his agenda.
Now, the former prime minister, ousted in December amid a standoff with the president, took the stage, raised his fist and urged the crowd to be part of history.
In 2016, Somalia is supposed to hold its first democratic election in more than 40 years. There are obstacles, to be sure, among them attempted disruption by the extremist Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab. But if it comes off, the election could bring a measure of stability and order to one of the most chaotic, corrupt and violent countries in the world.
Washington state could play a vital role. Its Somali community is thought to be the third largest in the U.S., after Minnesota and Ohio, and to number anywhere from roughly 13,000 (according to the latest Census figures, which tend to underreport immigrant populations) to 30,000 (as estimated by community leaders).
Mohamed, among others, believes Seattle-area Somalis — indeed all of the country’s emigrants around the world — should get a vote. And he wants them to pressure the Somali parliament, as well as influential U.S. officials, to make that happen.
Some have taken up his call. Meeting in living rooms and suburban malls, teleconferencing with their compatriots around the globe, they are brainstorming about people to talk to and petitions they might start. You wouldn’t necessarily know it from their current occupations, but back in their homeland, many had impressive, even exalted, pedigrees.
“It’s a shattered country, ” said Mohamud, the former banker and amateur painter who came to the U.S. in 1989, as his country was on the brink of civil war. “We need to stitch every piece together and make reconciliation.”
For that to happen, he and other Somalis say, the diaspora must become involved. That was the message of former Prime Minister Mohamed, who spent a decade in Canada before returning to Africa. Particularly in the West, he said in a Seattle Times interview, Somali refugees have come to know “the benefits of democracy, peace and stability.”
With as many as 20 percent of native Somalis spread around the world, support for the candidates of their liking — financial and electoral — is crucial.
“If they are allowed to vote, they would be more inclined to open up their wallets,” said David Shinn, a lecturer in African affairs at George Washington University and a former ambassador to Ethiopia.
That would make Seattlean important campaign stop for Somali politicians.
Mohamed, who isn’t making his personal political aspirations known, isn’t the first to come here. Fadumo Dayib, a Harvard University fellow who is braving death threats and challenging cultural mores as she seeks to become Somalia’s first female president, made a stop in Seattle in April.

“It’s in my blood”

“Just in case you’re wondering who’s going to be the future prime minister, you’re talking to him,” Dualeh Hersi said during the May event at the Tukwila DoubleTree.
Hersi, 46, related that he is a nephew of Siad Barre, the former president and military dictator who ruled Somalia for decades before being ousted by a civil war in 1991. As rebels encroached upon Barre’s villa, Hersi’s family made a split-second decision to join a convoy headed for Kenya.
He was 22 and a recent graduate of Somali National University. Eventually making his way to the U.S., he took computer classes while supporting himself with a series of menial jobs. He now works as a program manager for Amazon.
“I cry in my heart when I see the way Somali people are treated around the world,” he said, explaining why he might give up a comfortable life here to go back to a place he calls a “black hole.” While the elite hide in fancy hotels and houses surrounded by tall walls, he said, hundreds of thousands are still crammed into refugee camps. He said that will likely only change with the help of Somalis who have benefited from opportunities abroad.
“It’s in my blood,” he added.
The Barre connection would have been a liability at one point, but Hersi believes that has changed after all this time, especially as he and others once connected to the regime are voicing support for democracy.
When Hersi might go back is uncertain. Yet, he has already tested the waters. In December, he traveled to Mogadishu to make a pitch for a new cabinet position that would improve the country’s shoddy telecommunications. The government wasn’t interested, he said, and he returned to Seattle.
This back and forth to Somalia isn’t unique to Hersi. “The diaspora and the population inside the country are so interconnected,” said Matt Bryden, speaking by phone from Nairobi, where he heads Sahan, a think tank focusing on the Horn of Africa.
Inside a little storefront in SeaTac or a nonprofit in Seattle, you might find a recent Somali member of parliament, an entrepreneur with investments in Mogadishu or a behind-the-scenes player with deep political ties to his African compatriots.

Couple of influence

Talking in his Renton home, with the curtains drawn — African-style, against the afternoon sun — Mohamud recounted his departure from Somalia in 1989, as a civil war was beginning to brew. You couldn’t just quit a job in the Barre administration, related the former official, dressed on this day in a navy suit with a green handkerchief tucked neatly into the breast pocket. You had to leave the country.
He landed in the Washington, D.C., area, where he lived for 16 years. When several of his five children made their way to the Seattle area, he moved here. Despite dealing with kidney failure and dialysis, he remains active in Somali affairs.
When he and Mohamed met for breakfast, Mohamud recalled, the former prime minister asked for his support. A considerable amount of tact was involved. “He said, ‘You are not joining us. We are joining you,’ ” Mohamud recalled.
The former prime minister was alluding to a political party Mohamud had helped form in 2011. The purpose, he said, was to create a “culture of parties” that would supplant the culture of corruption and clan-based rivalries that reigned in Somalia. Called Hiil Qaran and composed of Somalis around the world, it has no ideology, he said; Somali politics haven’t reached that point. Instead, he called its mission “patriotic”— the building of a democratic republic.
Mohamud now chairs Hiil Qaran, which has maybe 300 members. That’s not a lot, but apparently it carries enough clout to be courted by a prominent politician.
Or perhaps it is Mohamud who has the clout. Asked if he has political aspirations himself, the former banker demurred. “But I may be a kingmaker,” he said.
He later thought better of the boast and said he was joking. Yet, he noted his influence as a commentator on websites and radio shows targeting the international Somali community.
His wife, Hamdi Abdulle, is also a force to be reckoned with. She serves as executive director of the Somali Youth and Family Club, a Renton-based nonprofit.
She said she was pleased by the talk of reconciliation during the former prime minister’s visit, and gave a speech supporting women’s rights at the DoubleTree event. But she did not sit on stage. They were, she said pointedly, “all men, including my husband.”
She also said there was an expectation that women would sit apart from men. Abdulle, wearing a vivid black and red headscarf as she talked with a reporter, observes some traditional customs. Still, she said, “I don’t want anybody to dictate to me where to sit.”
You might think she would be susceptible to a woman’s bid for president, but she was critical of Dayib’s Seattle appearance, which took place at an Eritrean community center — a foreign venue for local Somalis, according to Abdulle. That may be why only about 30 people turned out.
Nourah Yonous, a 28-year-old Somali woman, invited Dayib here. A recent transplant to Seattle, she grew up in Tanzania and went to college in California, where she studied feminist theory. Moving here for a job at a local nonprofit immersed her for the first time in a big Somali community. Over lunch at a Chinese restaurant near her work in Rainier Valley, she confessed she finds it tricky to navigate the community’s mores.
Still, Yonous, whose very appearance raises eyebrows — her mass of curly hair falls to her shoulders uncovered — declared her intention to support Dayib as much as she can.
“For the first time in our history we have a Somali woman candidate,” she said. And the incredulous reaction by some merely underscores for her the need to press on.
It also suggests the diaspora, if allowed to vote, will have an unpredictable influence. “There are many diasporas,” observed Nairobi’s Bryden, citing one in the West, one in Asia and one in Somalia’s neighboring countries.
The diaspora in the West “might be more inclined toward a secular, multiparty system,” he speculated. Yet, he added: “Even in the West, there’s a lot of division … Some of the most rabid, pro-clan propaganda comes from outside Somalia because they don’t have to suffer the consequences.” (A smattering of al-Shabaab recruits have also come from the West, including at least a couple from Seattle, although the terrorist group’s pull abroad has diminished, according to Somali observers.)

Roused to action

Whatever way they lean, Somali emigrants won’t get a chance to weigh in unless they win the vote in Somalia. That’s something that Abdulhakim Hashi is working on.
The 54-year-old, who jokes that his eight children have given him a clan of his own, left Somalia in the 1980s to study at the University of Amsterdam. With a mother-in-law in the Seattle area, he came here in 1998 and now runs a nationwide business — wiring money to Africa, selling insurance and preparing tax returns — out of an odd little SeaTac building in the shadow of a mall featuring a cavernous Somali grocery and restaurant.
In 2000, when a peace conference in Djibouti established a transitional government, Hashi said, he went back to serve in parliament. But warlordism and chaos continued to reign. He returned to Seattle.
He still visits Somalia, in part to work on a bank he and other investors are trying to get off the ground. On one such trip in February, he said, he attended the founding meeting of Mohamed’s Forum of Unity and Democracy. The memory is tinged with sadness for Hashi. A few days later, he lost a good friend in an al-Shabaab hotel bombing that killed about 25 people.
Mohamed’s visit to Seattle in May roused Hashi to action. He became part of a local task force that is discussing ways to get the voices of the diaspora heard, including a possible petition drive among Somali immigrants, asking the U.S. State Department to intervene.
Donald Teitelbaum, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for East African Affairs, does not sound so inclined. “I think the decisions on the specifics of the voting is something for the Somalis to decide.”
With President Obama’s trip over the weekend to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya, the fate of Somalia is likely on his mind, but he may be more focused on ending al-Shabaab violence than shaping the next election. Amid furious political maneuvering now going on in Mogadishu, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has said he thinks security concerns will make a one-person one-vote election “difficult.”
Local Somalis are watching all this carefully. Whatever their differences, they seem to agree on this sentiment, as expressed by Hashi: “We need Somalia to join the rank of civilized nations.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Somalia blast: Mogadishu hotel rocked by bomb - BBC News

Somalia blast: Mogadishu hotel rocked by bomb - BBC News


At least 10 people have been killed in a huge bomb explosion at a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
A BBC correspondent in the city says a lorry was used to attack the Jazeera Palace Hotel near the airport.
Ambulances have been collecting the dead and wounded in what he describes as one of the worst scenes of destruction he has seen in Mogadishu.
Somali militant Islamist group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The al-Qaeda linked group said it was responding to assaults by an African Union force and the Somali government.
The blasts came as President Barack Obama was leaving Kenya for Ethiopia, at the end of a trip during which he had discussions about dealing with the threat from al-Shabaab.
Soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) patrol outside a mosque during Eid al-Fitr prayers 17/07/2015
Soldiers from the African Union mission patrol the Somali capital
International diplomats often stay at Jazeera Palace Hotel, which has been targeted in the past. It also accommodates several embassies including those of China, Qatar and Egypt.
"A suicide car bomb exploded at the gate of Jazeera Hotel," Major Nur Osoble, a police officer, told Reuters news agency.
A government security officer was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying hotel security guards were among the dead.
Al-Shabaab is battling Somalia's government for control of the country. While security in Somalia has improved, the group still attacks Mogadishu regularly.
On Saturday, a member of the Somali parliament and an official from the prime minister's office were killed in separate attacks in the capital claimed by al-Shabaab.
In recent days the group has lost two of its remaining strongholds - the south-western town of Bardere and the south-eastern town of Dinsor. Both had been under Shabaab control since 2008.
The militants have also targeted neighbouring countries, killing almost 150 people in an assault on Garissa University College in Kenya in April.
map showing who controls which parts of Somalia 

Obama commits U.S. to intensified fight against terrorists in East Africa - The Washington Post

Obama commits U.S. to intensified fight against terrorists in East Africa - The Washington Post

President Obama on Saturday committed the United States to an intensified fight against terrorists in East Africa, announcing here that his administration would expand support for counterterrorism operations in Kenya and Somalia, including increased training and funding for Kenya’s security forces.
“We have to keep that pressure going even as we’re strengthening the Somali government,” he said at a joint news conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Obama acknowledged that al-Shabab terrorists retain the capacity to attack “soft targets” in both countries, even after years of American drone strikes and efforts from a regional, U.S.-backed counterterrorism force based in Somalia. But he said al-Shabab’s territory had been “systematically reduced.”
Obama came to office vowing to move the United States off a perpetual war footing and promising to wage a smarter, swifter war on international terrorism.
But his East African sojourn this week serves as a stark reminder that seven years into his presidency the long, difficult fight against terrorism remains a central and vexing component of his foreign policy.
“As is true around the world, what we find is, is that we can degrade significantly the capacities of these terrorist organizations, but they can still do damage,” Obama said at the news conference. “And part of our announcement today involves additional funding, additional assistance that we’re providing the Kenyan security forces to deal with these very specific counterterrorism threats.”
Obama’s discussions with Kenyatta have been dominated by the question of how best to counter Islamist extremists engaged in regular attacks against civilians. “We are deepening that democracy while fighting global terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life,” Kenyatta said. “Left undefeated, they will redraw the international system and make room for violent extremism and tyranny.”
Kenyatta said his country is new to the fight against terror and is learning from partners such as the United States, and added: “This is an existential fight for us.”
Security will also be similarly dominant during the president’s time in Ethiopia, a nation that has worked to keep the instability in Somalia from spilling across its borders and that has dispatched peacekeeping forces to South Sudan and elsewhere.
“Counterterrorism will certainly be a focus” national security adviser Susan E. Rice told reporters before Obama left for the trip. While al-Qaeda affiliates are the primary concern in East Africa, Rice said, “in West and North Africa, obviously we have seen [the Islamic State] become an increasing presence, particularly in the Maghreb, but also in Nigeria.”
Kenneth Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College, said it is hard to be hopeful that closer cooperation between countries could resolve the region’s problems anytime in the near future.
“The Horn of Africa presents extraordinarily complex political and security dilemmas, for which there’s no obvious answer,” Menkhaus said in an interview. “The question really is which is the least bad choice, and how can you kick open doors which, down the road, could present opportunities for conflict resolution.”
Obama’s decision to visit the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — the first sitting U.S. president to do so — is part of his push to build capacity among African nations to address the problems of their region.
Ethiopia and Kenya — both of which border Somalia and South Sudan, countries that remain riven by deep conflict — have contributed troops to multiple regional peacekeeping operations. Both are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and the U.N.-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Ethiopia is also part of another U.N. force in Sudan and played a key role in trying to broker a peace agreement in South Sudan, while Kenya has sent troops to the U.N. peacekeeping mission there.
In 2015, Kenya received $100 million in U.S. counterterrorism assistance — more than doubling the amount allocated the previous year.
As a result of this weekend’s talks, the Massachusetts National Guard and the Kenyan government will sign a partnership agreement, a senior administration official said, and the administration has pledged to work with Congress to provide additional counterterrorism aid to Kenya.
Vicki Huddleston, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mali as well as deputy assistant secretary for Africa at the Pentagon, said the two countries “have stepped forward in the fight against terrorism in Somalia, and we need to recognize Ethiopia for what it’s done regarding terrorism and extremism in the region.”
Obama has promoted U.S. counterterrorism work with allies in Somalia and Yemen as a model for how the United States can pursue its security goals without deploying combat troops.
Ethiopia has widely been perceived as having an effective military force, including in its Ogaden region, which is largely Somali, though some of its efforts have been accompanied by acts of political repression.
Al-Shabab launched two horrific attacks in the past two years: the September 2013 occupation of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, which left 67 dead, and the strike in April at Garissa University College in Kenya, which took the lives of 147. Those losses have seared the consciousness of Kenyan leaders in the same way the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks affected American politicians.
Obama noted those attacks in his remarks Saturday. “Earlier, I had the opportunity to meet with survivors and families of victims of the bombing of our U.S. Embassy in 1998,” Obama said at the news conference. “In the face of despicable violence, such as the attack on Garissa University College and the Westgate Mall, the Kenyan people have shown incredible resolve and remarkable resilience.”
Part of the aim of Obama’s visit is to bolster that resolve. “On security, the United States and Kenya are already strong partners,” he said, “and today we reaffirm that we stand united in the face of terrorism.”
Mwenda Njoka, a Kenyan Interior Ministry spokesman, said in an interview that “terrorism is the key threat we face” and that Kenya needs more U.S. aid to wage the battle.
“We need technology that allows us to monitor and prevent the enemy’s efforts at recruitment,” Njoka said. “Whether that’s surveillance or encryption technology, we know the Americans have the capacity to do this.”
The country’s security forces were heavily criticized after the Westgate attack, which they failed to prevent despite warnings from Kenyan intelligence agents. Officials admit those mistakes and say they have improved their capacity.
“The left hand didn’t know what the right was doing,” Njoka said, calling Westgate “a wake-up call.”
But Kenya’s renewed determination to fight extremists has come at a cost.
Some of the country’s efforts to crack down on terrorists within its borders have prompted an outcry from Muslim organizations and human rights groups, who say that a combination of ethnic profiling and corruption have undermined the efforts’ effectiveness and fueled extremism.
One of the most notorious counterterrorism operations occurred in 2014, when Kenyan police rounded up more than one thousand Somali refugees and Kenyan Muslims in Nairobi and detained them in a large soccer stadium for days. Kenyan officials said it was a crucial operation to prevent another attack, but human rights groups said it was unlawful and inhumane.
Obama will be speaking in the stadium during his visit — a shock to Kenya’s Somali community, which remains troubled by the operation.
At Saturday’s news conference, he encouraged the Kenyan government not to persecute or alienate minority groups in its efforts to crack down on terrorism. Al-Shabab has long tried to recruit fighters in Kenya by pointing to the security forces’ mistreatment of Muslims.
“We need to make sure the approaches taken in rooting out potential terrorist threats don’t create more problems than they solve,” Obama said.
Muslims make up roughly 11 percent of Kenya’s population; Somali refugees in the country number nearly 422,000, and the number of Kenyans of Somali origin is estimated to be more than 2 million.
Al-Amin Kimathi, who chairs the Muslim Human Rights Forum, said the tactics have “led to a polarization of Kenyan society” and have been “one major contributor to the radicalization that we’ve seen across the republic.”

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Silicon Valley mogul wants to solve the global refugee crisis by creating a new country - The Washington Post

A Silicon Valley mogul wants to solve the global refugee crisis by creating a new country - The Washington Post

The world is in the midst of an extraordinary migration crisis. Across the globe, chaos and violence have left  nearly 60 million people displaced, largely living in difficult conditions in poor nations. These people have nowhere to go, and many are willing to risk their lives in the hope of reaching a better life somewhere else. It is a crisis with horrifyingly serious consequences.
Last week, I was contacted by a member of a team working for a man who thinks he can solve this crisis. He isn't a politician or academic, nor does he work directly with refugees at an NGO. Instead, he's a Bay Area real estate mogul. His solution is, depending on your position, either strikingly simple or absurdly naive: The world needs to come together to create a new country for refugees to live in.
"It's almost shocking to me that nobody's talking about this as a solution," Jason Buzi says in a phone call about Refugee Nation, his plan to create a new state to house the world's refugees. "We have a lot of stateless individuals all over the world right now," he explains. "The idea is, if we could give them a state of their own, at least they'd have a place to live in safety and be allowed to live and work like everybody else."
To some readers, it may seem quite obvious why no one is talking about this idea: Creating a brand-new state purely for refugees and stateless people is the stuff of science fiction. And frankly, Buzi's background makes it easy to dismiss him as another hopeful "Silicon Valley disrupter," ignorant of the complexities of what he is proposing and looking for a silver bullet.
However, refugee experts I contacted have been surprisingly sympathetic to the concept, even if they don't necessarily believe a new state is the way forward. Buzi is right to feel that the way the world deals with refugees doesn't appear to be working, some said, and perhaps we really do need a new approach.
"What I love about it is his sense of moral outrage about a problem that could be fixed but no one is fixing," James Hathaway, the director of the Program in  Refugee and Asylum at the University of Michigan Law School, told me after reading Buzi's manifesto.
In his day job, Buzi works at buying, selling and occasionally building properties in the Bay Area, something that earned him some unfavorable news coverage in the past. His name might ring a bell for other reasons, however. Buzi was outed last year as the benefactor behind Hidden Cash, an elaborate scavenger hunt that saw money hidden around various cities. The project prompted both praise and scorn. Hidden Cash has been mothballed for some time now; Buzi claims it simply became too much work.
The new project is perhaps similar in its idealistic simplicity, but it is leaps and bounds more ambitious. So far, Buzi says he has poured between $10,000 and $15,000 of his own money into setting up a team and Web site to help promote his idea of a Refugee Nation, and he plans to put in a sizable amount more to help the idea gain traction. He plans to use the exposure (and Twitter followers) he got from Hidden Cash to benefit his new cause. "I'm not a billionaire," he says. "But I'm in a place where I can spend some of my own resources to try and promote in and help it along."
His end goal of buying or leasing a large amount of land to create a state will require much more --  tens of billions at least, he says -- so he is hoping to get some of the world's richest people or governments involved in his plan. He talks hopefully of getting celebrities on board. "Nobody knows or cares who I am, but if you've got Angelina Jolie, for instance, behind it, it's going to influence a lot more people and get more people to know about it," Buzi says.
Compared to his end goal, getting Jolie involved might be relatively easy. Nation states have been created in recent history – Buzi's birthplace, Israel, is an example – but it's hardly something that happens often or easily. Buzi suggests that a country with uninhabited islands might be willing to let some go for a sum. Someone offered to sell him an island when he was recently in the Philippines, he says: "It wasn't even that much, compared to prices here in San Francisco anyway." He talks about countries with small populations that might be willing to let people live with them in exchange for money, such as the Caribbean island state of Dominica, but it's unclear how the process would actually happen.
Even if the space could be found, how the state would function after creation is murky. Buzi argues that countries with people from different backgrounds often become tolerant places, and that large-scale infrastructure projects and foreign investors – who might be attracted by the publicity value of the new "Refugee Nation" – would provide jobs. Other issues, like social welfare and political infrastructure, would be worked out later, he says. "Right now it's a little like meeting a girl on a first date," he explains, "I'm not thinking yet about what I'm going to name my children, right?"
To those who work in the world of refugees, these responses may give reason to pause. Buzi says he is prepared for that response – an acquaintance who works at at refugee NGO dismissed the idea years ago, in part spurring him on to push further with the idea. Notably, a section of his report outlining his plans for Refugee Nation addresses a potential conflict with the refugee NGO community head on. "It sometimes takes an outsider’s viewpoint to shake things up," it reads, before comparing the situation to Netflix and Blockbuster.
Perhaps that is true (a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency said they had not heard of the plan when asked). However, to put it to the test I asked a number of refugee experts, many of whom are also critical of the current situation. Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Program Director at Human Rights Watch, is typical of the reaction when he says he was "flabbergasted" by the idea. "Of course your first reaction is that it's so idealistic, a castles in the sky type of thing," he says. "How do you bring something like this down to earth?"
One big issue is whether refugees would actually choose to move to the new state, or whether they would have to be compelled. "In a globalized world, given freedom of choice, people ultimately want to choose where they live, and are likely to seek to move to where their friends, family, and greatest opportunities lie," Professor Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Center at Oxford University says. Artificial nation-building often leads to displacement and violence, Betts adds, and it would be hard to imagine people wanting to permanently live in such a place unless it were "more or less utopian."
If they had to be compelled, there could be serious human rights concerns. University of Michigan's Hathaway points to Australia, which has leased land on Pacific Island nations to house asylum seekers. "You end up with refugees trapped forever in what is effectively large scale prison camps," Hathaway says, warning that the Refugee Nation could easily end up becoming like the Gaza Strip. "Is a battered woman better off in a jail than in an abusive home? I guess you would say yes but it's hardly a dignified solution."
"It would have to be a utopia or it would become a dystopia," Frelick says.

Despite these deep misgivings, these experts had some kinder words for the proposal. They said that Buzi had accurately pointed to many of problems with the current system: that countries like Kenya, Lebanon or Jordan have become overburdened; that Western nations are not doing enough to help to resettle refugees; that refugees in camps often languish, cut off from society and opportunity; and that NGOs and international bodies are financially beholden to the current system, even if it is failing and the situation is clearly getting worse.
There was agreement that radical change is needed. Where the experts differ is what that radical change should be. Speaking of Refugee Nation, Frelick asks: "Is this something that is serving the needs and respecting the rights of refugees, or is this something that is serving states' interests to basically rid themselves of a problem?" It's a fair question. Why is it easier to create a new country than successfully resettle refugees or provide funding to improve their lives where they are currently, for example?
"I don't think the political will is there," Buzi explains. He has a point, considering the fierce opposition to immigration in the United States and Europe and chronic underfunding of refugee agencies. "I think [Refugee Nation] is actually much easier to accomplish," Buzi adds. If he is right, perhaps we're already living in the dystopia.

IRIN Global | Counting the uncountable | Global | Human Rights

IRIN Global | Counting the uncountable | Global | Human Rights

How do you design effective policies and programmes to help vulnerable populations when you don’t know how many people you’re dealing with?
The difficulty of collecting reliable data in the midst of an emergency is a perennial problem for the humanitarian sector, but it is compounded when the people you’re trying to count have gone uncounted by their own government for decades.
Statelessness – the result of not being considered a national of any country – is often, by its very nature, an invisible problem that is extremely difficult to measure. Denied rights and services and forced to live on the margins of societies, stateless people are usually undocumented and ignored by authorities. They don’t show up in national censuses or in your typical databases.
The many potential causes – from lack of birth registration to redrawing of state boundaries to discriminatory nationality laws – complicate the task of tracking stateless populations. This presents a problem for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, which is mandated to prevent and reduce statelessness and provide protection to stateless people.
UNHCR relies primarily on government statistics to map statelessness, but most states have shown little interest in trying to quantify something they may deny even exists. Myanmar, for example, has long asserted that its 1.3 million Rohingya cannot be nationals of Myanmar because they are Bengali migrants.
In addition, many stateless people are themselves reluctant to self-identify as stateless, said Stephen Pattison, a spokesperson on the issue for UNHCR.
“They don’t want to be stigmatised because of it,” he told IRIN. “Classifying populations as stateless can have the reverse effect we want – of [further] excluding them.”
Guesstimate
The result of these challenges is that UNHCR only has data from 77 countries, providing a tally of 3.5 million stateless people by the end of 2013. With statelessness remaining unmapped in over 50 percent of states, UNHCR’s estimate that there at least 10 million stateless people globally is little more than guesswork and, most experts agree, probably a significant underestimation of the true number.
Brad Blitz of Middlesex University, who has researched statelessness, argues that the main problem with UNHCR’s data is its narrow definition of the problem, one which focuses on the “de jure” stateless and excludes large numbers of “de facto” stateless – people who have a nationality but are unable to avail themselves of it, often because they are living in another country.
Blitz gives the example of failed asylum seekers who have been deemed ineligible for protection but are unable to return to their home countries. “I would say that having an Eritrean passport doesn’t do much for you if you’re not considered a refugee; it doesn’t give you protection. There are large numbers of people like that,” he said.
Research that Blitz has done together with Rajith Lakshman at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University found that being stateless had long-term negative impacts on income, health and education levels. To mitigate those affects, “you need to be accurate [with your data] so you can have targeted policies in place,” he told IRIN.
Gaps in Africa
Last November, UNHCR launched a 10-year campaign to end statelessness by 2024 with a 10-point action plan that includes improving qualitative and quantitative data on stateless populations.
Bronwen Manby, a human rights and democracy researcher at the London School of Economics, predicts that the campaign will actually “increase” statelessness by many millions of people by bringing greater attention to the issue and bringing previously uncounted populations into focus.
Manby has written about major gaps in UNHCR’s current figures for statelessness in Sub-Saharan Africa – the total given is 721,303 in just four countries, the majority of them (700,000) in Côte d’Ivoire. There are no figures for many other African countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Zimbabwe – all of which are likely to have sizeable populations of stateless people but where there is little political will or resources to count them.

Expecting a government that introduced discriminatory nationality laws to collect data on the people it made stateless is probably not realistic, Manby points out, giving the example of Zimbabwe where people born to foreign parents were made stateless by a 2001 change to the country’s Citizenship Act.
 
Getting civil society involved in mapping statelessness is also problematic, says Pattison of UNHCR, because it raises issues around the quality and reliability of data that has to conform to the UN’s strict standards.
The result, according to Blitz, is that statelessness is being under-represented, making it harder to marshal public support to end it at a time when refugee numbers are soaring and statelessness is in danger of becoming less of a priority.
Knowing enough to act
He suggests that there are ways to better survey statelessness than UNHCR is currently using. “I think we need to expand definitions, employ more demographic methods and draw upon what we know about how people become stateless,” he told IRIN.
This could involve zeroing in on countries that have experienced state secession, such as South Sudan or former Soviet Union countries; or looking at long-term migrants from countries with laws stating that nationality can expire after a certain period of non-residency.
Manby points out that establishing truer figures of statelessness is often just too costly and difficult. “In order to establish accurate numbers in Zimbabwe, for example, you’d have to do quite an elaborate household survey and you’ll find some people have one document but not the other, so are they stateless or not?”
“Better data is a really good thing to have, if you can get it,” she adds. “But in the context of some countries where it’s really hard and expensive to get, is it really the priority? I think in many countries we know enough to act.”

Obama Arrives in Kenya, on Personal and Official Journey - The New York Times

Obama Arrives in Kenya, on Personal and Official Journey - The New York Times

President Obama arrived on Friday in Kenya, his father’s home country, for the start of a four-day swing through East Africa, combining a personal journey with a geopolitical mission that reinforces a shared campaign against Islamist extremism while wrestling with tough messages about democracy and gay rights.
Mr. Obama, the first sitting American president to visit Kenya, arrived on Air Force One after dark to a deliberately low-key, even anticlimactic, reception, with none of the pomp that is being saved for daylight on Saturday. He was greeted on the tarmac by President Uhuru Kenyatta and an 8-year-old girl who handed him flowers. He then shook hands with dignitaries along a red carpet and signed a guest book before getting into his armored car.
His motorcade ride into the city was eerily quiet, without the sort of throngs often lining the route when an American president visits a country in Africa or elsewhere for the first time. Concerned about security, the Kenyan authorities closed major highways at 2 p.m., and the business district was deserted for much of the day. Those who did wait along the route in clutches of several hundred at a time recorded the moment of history on cellphone cameras.
But that did not mean Kenyans were not excited about the arrival of a major world figure they consider their own. Roads have been cleaned and repaved, flowers planted and lights fixed along every route that Mr. Obama will travel. American flags are flying and being sold across the Nairobi, the capital. T-shirts emblazoned with Mr. Obama’s face are being sold at stores and wooden roadside stalls.
“Son of a Kenyan Student Who Changed the World,” screamed the headline of the newspaper The Daily Nation this week. Another major newspaper, The Standard, ran a 128-page issue on Friday about “the son of a Kenyan father who rose from obscurity to rule the world.” On his ride into the city, Mr. Obama passed a billboard that said, “Karibu POTUS,” using the Swahili word for welcome to greet the president of the United States.
“He’s a man I admire for his humble background,” said Wilfred Olali, 35, a human-rights activist. “Rising from a community organizer to president. That’s in itself really inspirational.”
Mr. Obama emphasized his ties to Kenya shortly after his arrival when he had dinner at his hotel with about three dozen members of his extended family, including his half sister, Auma, and his step-grandmother, known as Mama Sarah.
The powerful symbolism masked the daunting challenges as Mr. Obama tries to use the visit to Kenya and then Ethiopia to deepen trade ties, encourage economic development and bolster efforts to combat the Shabab, a ruthless affiliate of Al Qaeda based in Somalia, while nudging both countries away from the repression of dissent that has characterized recent years.
Mr. Obama will face several awkward moments. In Nairobi, where he will address the Global Entrepreneurship Summit meeting, he will be honored at a state dinner by Mr. Kenyatta, who was charged with crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, where he was accused of helping to instigate violence that killed more than 1,000 people after disputed elections in 2007. The case against Mr. Kenyatta was dropped last December for lack of evidence, but his deputy president, William Ruto, still faces similar charges and will be on hand for the visit.
Mr. Obama defended his decision to visit the two countries. “What we found is that when we combined blunt talk with engagement, that gives us the best opportunity to influence and open up space for civil society,” he told the BBC before leaving Washington. He compared the trip to visiting Russia and China. “Even when we know that there are significant human rights violations taking place, we want to make sure that we’re there so that we can have this conversation and point them in a better direction.”   
Mr. Obama received a warm greeting from his half sister, Auma Obama, after he arrived in Nairobi. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
Mr. Obama brings to the task enormous popularity in Africa. In Kenya, 80 percent of those surveyed in the spring have confidence in him to do the right thing, while 65 percent of those in Ethiopia agree, according to the Pew Research Center.
“There’s huge, runaway expectations in Kenya about this trip,” said Jennifer G. Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There was a lot of disappointment when he went to Ghana that he did not make his first trip to Kenya.”
In choosing Kenya and Ethiopia for his fourth visit to sub-Saharan Africa, though, Mr. Obama opted to go where no president has gone before. In a continent rife with corruption and autocracy, visiting American presidents usually stick to a handful of what one analyst called “safe-bet countries” with largely functioning civil societies, like Ghana, South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania. They stayed away from places like Kenya and Ethiopia.
“That’s why this visit is so important, because he’s sort of breaking out of that mold, and I think that’s an important step,” said Witney Schneidman, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative.
The Shabab have carried out horrific attacks, killing at least 67 people at Westgate Shopping Mall in 2013 and nearly 150 at Garissa University College just three months ago. Three autonomous Shabab units in northeast Kenya and on the coast operate in close-knit, secret and highly mobile cells that take over whole villages for hours or even days before being forced out, according to E.J. Hogendoorn, deputy Africa program director for the International Crisis Group.
But in responding to the threat, Kenya has cracked down on those seen as disloyal. Advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First cite unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, excessive force and interethnic violence. Two advocacy groups, Haki Africa and Muslims for Human Rights, or Muhuri, were placed on a list of entities suspected of ties to the Shabab. Although a court ruled that they do not belong on the list, their bank accounts remain frozen.
Ethiopia, the second-most-populous state in sub-Saharan Africa, has an impressive record of economic development, averaging 10 percent growth over the last decade. But it too has shrunk the space for dissent. The government recently released a half-dozen journalists and bloggers whose arrests had generated international protests, but others remain locked up.
Mr. Obama might not have gone to Ethiopia except that it is the home of the African Union, which he will address. The United States has relied on Ethiopia’s military as a bulwark against the Shabab in Somalia, where an African Union force with both Ethiopian and Kenyan troops has succeeded in sweeping militants out of the capital and other towns.
Terrence Lyons, an associate professor of conflict resolution at George Mason University, said Mr. Obama’s visit gives him influence. “This is a big, big deal in Ethiopia,” he said. “And therefore to me, the question is how has that leverage been used in ways that can advance U.S. interests in democracy and human rights? And I think at least to date the answer — there hasn’t been much to show for it.”

United Nations News Centre - UN health agency welcomes European regulators’ initial green light on malaria vaccine#.VbOwDc_JDIU#.VbOwDc_JDIU

United Nations News Centre - UN health agency welcomes European regulators’ initial green light on malaria vaccine#.

The World Health Organization (WHO) today welcomed a major regulatory hurdle cleared by a malaria vaccine, saying it expects to make a policy recommendation later this year on its use in the context of an overall panoply of public health tools for combatting the disease which kills one African child a minute.
“This is the first time ever that a malaria vaccine has gotten to the point to be reviewed by a regulatory authority,” WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl told reports in Geneva following the announcement by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that it had adopted a “positive scientific opinion” for the vaccine Mosquirix for use outside the European Union.Mr. Hartl hailed the decision as “a big development” but “not finished yet.”The spokesperson said the EMA assessment will be reviewed by WHO in October, taking into account public health aspects of the vaccine such as affordability and cost-effectiveness, using the vaccine in field situations in developing countries, and other effective malaria control measures such as such as scaling up bed nets and rapid diagnosis tests.Following that step, he said, the UN health agency’s policy recommendation – which will go beyond simply the efficacy, quality and safety issue aspects of the vaccine and look into whether or not this vaccine should be added to existing malaria control tools – is expected in November 2015.There are currently no licensed vaccines against malaria, which is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells.Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, and vomiting, and usually appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite. If not treated, malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs.According to the latest statistics available from WHO, there were nearly 200 million cases of malaria in 2013 and close to 600,000 deaths.“Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every minute from malaria,” according to WHO’s latest malaria fact sheet.Mr. Hartl explained that the clearance given by the EMA did not constitute a regulatory authority approval, since the vaccine was not destined for use in the European Union. The EMA only gave an opinion on its efficacy, quality and safety. He also clarified what “from a public health perspective” meant, namely, addressing its implementation, its use in the field in conjunction to other measures to combat malaria and measures to make the vaccine fit in with other vaccines. Key interventions to control malaria include: prompt and effective treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies; use of insecticidal nets by people at risk; and indoor residual spraying with insecticide to control the vector mosquitoes.

United Nations News Centre - As health needs rise in Somalia, funding hits new low, cutting off 1.5 million from care – UN#.VbOu38_JDIU#.VbOu38_JDIU

United Nations News Centre - As health needs rise in Somalia, funding hits new low, cutting off 1.5 million from care

Somalia – a country where every two hours a mother dies due to pregnancy complications – is facing cuts in life-saving health services because of the lowest funding levels in seven years, according to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).
“We cannot afford to let the country slide back into a humanitarian crisis,” WHO Representative for Somalia Dr. Ghulam Popal said. “Otherwise, we would undermine all gains made until today.”UN health partners in Somalia are expressing concern that they will face difficulties in continuing to provide life-saving health services at the scale required as a result of declining humanitarian funding for 2015 and the forecast for 2016, WHO warned in a press release issued Thursday.The lack of funding for UN’s humanitarian response plan in 2015 has left more than 1.5 million people cut off from primary or secondary health care services, according to the press release. As of July 2015, out of a required $71.5 million, only $6.1 million (8.5 per cent) has been received, the lowest since 2008, despite ongoing early warnings and appeals for adequate funding.According to WHO, there are currently 3.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid in Somalia, where every 2 hours a mother dies due to pregnancy complications, every hour, 8 Somali children below the age of 5 die; one in 4 children suffers from chronic malnourishment; and only 1 in 3 Somalis have access to safe water.“Over the past 3 months, at least 10 hospitals in Somalia have either been closed or have majorly curtailed their services across the country, and at least 3 other hospitals are at risk of closure in the near future,” the agency said. “Basic health posts and clinics are currently struggling to meet primary health needs, and many aid agencies have withdrawn health workers from high-need areas.”

IRIN Global | IRIN's Top picks: Effective altruism, humanitarian complicity and Boko Haram | Cameroon | OPT | Aid Policy | Conflict | Governance | Human Rights

IRIN Global | IRIN's Top picks: Effective altruism, humanitarian complicity and Boko Haram | Cameroon | OPT | Aid Policy | Conflict | Governance | Human Rights

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, interviews, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.
Five to read: 
Jason Cone, executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) USA, writes candidly and in detail about the ever-growing physical and mental health needs of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as well as the challenges MSF faces in assisting them. The desperate and intractable situation leads him to question whether aid organisations have crossed the line and are now complicit in perpetuating the suffering. “What our staff sees, day in and day out, are the medical consequences of the occupation. But while we can treat some of our patient’s symptoms, we can’t alter the underlying causes of their suffering.” He says: “This is humanitarian’s dilemma: how to alleviate the suffering of a population while not enabling the powers at the root of the pain.”
As Boko Haram’s toll of death and violence grows, so too does its impact on neighbouring countries. In a five-part series for New African Magazine, James Schneider visits Cameroon’s Far North region, speaking to Nigerian refugees about their chilling first-hand experiences of the Islamist militant group and the hardship of their lives in exile. Schneider also speaks to Cameroonians caught up in the violence, including hostage victims and child soldiers. Embedded with Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Battalion, he explores the regional and political barriers holding back the Boko Haram tide and examines the group’s exploitation of child soldiers. Good on-the-ground reporting from a very troubled part of Africa where humanitarian needs are growing at an alarming rate.
Wikipedia defines “effective altruism” as “a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determining the most effective ways to improve the world.” This Boston Review multi-voice debate, kicked off by Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University and author of Doing the Most Good, explores the concept and its limitations. As well as examining why “effective altruism” has become such a popular niche in American academic and philanthropic circles, Singer also presents wider reflections on giving and our motivations for doing so. An interesting read that informs the on-going global discussions about how to raise more money for humanitarian and developmental response.
Published in the run-up to next year’s World Humanitarian Summit, this paper calls for a more collective approach to crisis management. Authors Samuel Carpenter of the British Red Cross and Christina Bennett of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute, examine the impact protracted humanitarian crises have on development factors, while pointing out that the two sides continue to work with different goals via divided architecture. The way aid is financed is a major barrier, they note, as are cultural and structural differences between the two sectors. Recommendations to bridge the gap include: ensuring coherence across the post-2015 global policy agendas; multi-year flexible financing; minimisation of conceptual divides; and creating positive incentives for coherence and risk-informed approaches.
See our report on this topic:  Aid, it’s complicated
The State of Civil Society Report 2015 produced by global civil society network CIVICUS focuses on how to raise more money for the sector. This collection of 27 guest essays explores financing challenges and solutions. Topics include: improving accountability; Arab philanthropy; Islamic Zakat; the impact of the BRICS (emerging nation) donors, corporate social responsibility; and the rise of social enterprise. A timely read in the aftermath of last week’s third UN Financing for Development summit in Addis Ababa.
One to watch:
Raw and disturbing footage from some of Europe’s key migration flashpoints. These short videos offer a window onto both the suffering of fleeing migrants and the challenges faced by their destination countries. Footage from the Turkish/Bulgarian border, the Spanish enclave of Melilla that borders Morocco, the Italian island of Lampedusa, France’s Calais – where hundreds are trying to cross the Channel into Britain – and Rome’s Fiumicino airport. The films were produced with the support of the Open Society Foundations and first published on the Italian website Internazionale.
For more on the global migration crisis see our coverage
Coming up:
Thursday, 6 August (13-15 GMT) 
Join the International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP) for this online discussion about Gender-Based Violence (GBV) programming in humanitarian settings. Speakers include: Jasveen Ahluwalia, of CARE International, Angeline Annesteus from Action Aid Haiti, Erin Kenny GBV specialist at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Adama Moussa, deputy director of UN Women's country office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
From IRIN:
Thousands of people have been returning to their homes in the Central African Republic (CAR) more than a year after fleeing a violent and complex political crisis. But while security may have improved in some areas, resuming any semblance of a normal life is proving a major challenge for many returnees. We report from Bangui about the hardship for CAR citizens struggling to make ends meet in a country ravaged by war and largely forgotten by the international community.

IRIN Middle East | Yarmouk camp no longer besieged, UN rules | OPT | Syria | Aid Policy

IRIN Middle East | Yarmouk camp no longer besieged, UN rules | OPT | Syria | Aid Policy

The United Nations has quietly removed a major Palestinian camp from its list of besieged areas in Syria, despite not being able to deliver aid there for four months, and to the shock of residents.
The Yarmouk camp, a sprawling residential area on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, was home to over 200,000 Palestinians before the country’s civil war began in 2011. The vast majority of the population has since fled, but around 18,000 people have remained trapped inside by a government siege for more than two years. 
Earlier this year, militants from the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) briefly infiltrated Yarmouk and seized a large part of it. Control of the camp is still disputed but government forces maintain checkpoints around the area preventing people from coming and going.
The UN continues to have no direct access, but has been able, with partners, to deliver aid to three nearby suburbs. Consequently, in his latest report to the UN Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reclassified the camp.
Ahmed*, a Yarmouk resident, said that people were still denied entry and exit and that no support had been received for more than a month. 
When told that the UN no longer considered the camp besieged, he called the organisation “liars.”
“The UN stopped its support more than 50 days ago,” he told IRIN.
When is a siege not a siege?
Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for UNWRA – the UN’s agency for Palestinians and the leading UN body concerned with Yarmouk – confirmed that no aid had been allowed in for months.
“Access to Yarmouk in the context of the last few years has been appalling,” he said. “We have not managed to have the access that we need and certainly we have not been in the camp since March 28, just a few days before ISIS moved in.”
The final decision on the status of the camp, however, is made not by UNRWA but by the UN secretary-general (UNSG) on the advice of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which oversees all the UN’s emergency aid programmes.
The latest UNSG report on Syria – released at the end of June – says that 422,000 people remain besieged in Syria, down from 440,000 earlier this year. The difference is due to the 18,000 people in Yarmouk, who are no longer considered besieged.
The report argues that aid has reached those who have crossed into the neighbouring areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm, but even that assistance has been cut off since the government withdrew permission on 8 June.
Inside the camp, it says, “no humanitarian access has been granted directly” since 28 March.
The UN defines a besieged area as one that is, "surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit the area.”
Ahmed told IRIN civilians were unable to leave Yarmouk for fear of arrest at Syrian government checkpoints.
The reclassification of Yarmouk – an iconic location in the civil war due in part to a globally shared photo (shown above this story) of thousands of Palestinians waiting for aid – comes as the United Nations faces separate criticism for allegedly underestimating the number of people under siege, particularly those by the Syrian regime.
The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation, a US-registered non-profit, released a report in March alleging that more than 600,000 people are under siege by government forces, more than treble the number the UN claimed at the time. The report, which did not include more than 200,000 people under siege by the so-called Islamic State, identified 38 communities it said should be considered, beyond those the UN actually recognises.
Valerie Szybala, author of the report, said OCHA has not applied its definition of besieged consistently.
She pointed out that the Moadamiya al-Sham neighbourhood in the Western Ghouta area of the Damascus suburbs was one of the longest and harshest sieges in Syria until last November when it was removed following a brief local ceasefire. “After the collapse of the ceasefire, it has remained unclassified.”
“OCHA makes concessions to the Syrian government regarding besieged areas that it feels are appropriate to do good work. This means sacrificing the means in order to deliver the ends,” Szybala said. “But it is not appropriate, and I think they are doing more damage than good.”
The UN relies upon the Syrian government to grant it access to populations in many areas. However, the Assad regime routinely denies permission.
Photo: UNRWA
A malnourished child cries in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinians

So far in 2015, the UN has submitted 48 requests to deliver aid to besieged or hard-to-reach areas. Of these, 20 have been approved and only seven planned deliveries have been fully completed, according to the UNSG’s latest report.
Szybala raised concerns of “political influence" in this approach.
OCHA spokesperson Amanda Pitt did not comment on exactly why Yarmouk was reclassified.
“For the time being, Yarmouk is not considered besieged but it remains an area of highest concern,” she told IRIN. “Thousands of civilians remain trapped in the area, and thousands more have been displaced to the surrounding areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Saham.”
 
* Name has been changed to protect his identity.