Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/26/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:51 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I appreciate you accommodating the change in the time to the briefing today.  We wanted to make sure that all of you had the opportunity to see the President welcome the WNBA champions, Phoenix Mercury, to the White House.  

But now that we are all assembled, let’s get started.  Nancy, do you want to start us off?

Q    Yeah, thanks.  What was the President’s reaction to the Roanoke shooting?

MR. EARNEST:  I did not have the opportunity to speak to the President about the tragic shooting that occurred earlier today in Virginia.  Obviously the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House are with the families of those who were injured or killed in that terrible incident.  The precise details of that incident continue to be under investigation.  

But as you’ve heard me say in the past, this is another example of gun violence that is becoming all too common in communities large and small, all across the United States.  And while there is no piece of legislation that will end all violence in this country, there are some common-sense things that only Congress can do that we know would have a tangible impact in reducing gun violence in this country.  And Congress could take those steps in a way that would not infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.  And the President has long advocated Congress taking those steps, and the President continues to believe that they should do so.

Q    Can you say what role federal officials will have in the investigation?

MR. EARNEST:  I do know that officials from the FBI and the ATF were involved in responding and tracking down the individual who is believed to have been responsible for this violence.  And I would anticipate that federal officials will be working to support state officials who will conduct the investigation.

Q    Also, do you have any comment on the signing of the peace agreement in South Sudan, and what the prospects are for lasting peace there?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something that was just reported within the last few hours.  What I would say is that the administration believes that President Kiir made the right decision to sign the peace agreement today.  But we should be just as clear that the United States and the international community does not recognize any reservations or addendums to that document.  And President Kiir and the government of South Sudan should abide by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development agreement that was signed today, and they should work toward ending the conflict and rebuilding the country.

Nancy, you’ll recall that the President had the opportunity to meet with leaders of other countries in the region in discussing trying to broker some peace in South Sudan.  So this is an issue that the President has not just been following but been actively engaged in.  And you heard him note that South Sudan is a country that has been wracked by terrible violence in recent years, and the United States and other countries in the region have been trying to act in coordinated fashion to broker some peace there.  So this is something that we’re going to continue to monitor as the situation moves forward.

Roberta.

Q    Has the White House raised its sights on the Iran vote?  And is the White House now trying to get enough votes to — actively trying to get enough votes to block a motion of disapproval?

MR. EARNEST:  Roberta, what our strategy is focused on right now is building as much support as possible in both the House and the Senate for the agreement.  As I’ve noted before, the appropriate congressional role here, as described and codified by Congress, is not to sign off on the agreement, but Congress does have a role in evaluating the agreement.  And essentially, the role that Congress would play at this point is spoiler.  Congress does have the capacity to kill this agreement.  

This is an international agreement between the United States and several other countries and Iran.  And our legislative efforts are focused on building enough support for the agreement to prevent Congress from spoiling, and that’s what we will continue to do.  That effort has included a variety of lobbying efforts.  This has included presidential phone calls.  Other senior members of the President’s national security team have reached out to members of Congress and their staff members to advocate for the agreement.  And you’ll note that later this afternoon the President will conduct a handful of interviews with television anchors from across the country, and this will be among the issues that will be up for discussion.  And it’s the President’s view and it’s the view of his team that the more that we elevate this discussion and the more that the American people have the opportunity to hear the arguments in favor of this agreement, the more likely they are to support it.  And that’s the reason that the President will do those interviews today.  It’s part of our ongoing effort to build as much support for the agreement in Congress as possible.

Q    So does the White House feel that it’s possible — feasible at all to get 41 votes of support in the Senate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the last I saw, I think that there are 26 or 27 senators who support the agreement.  There are only two Democrats that have come out in opposition to it.  That’s an indication that we’ve got a lot of momentum built up in terms of building support for this agreement.  But what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get as many members of the Senate as possible — and as many members of the House as possible — to back the agreement.

I would note that there was a letter that was signed by about 150 House members prior to the completion of the comprehensive agreement back in July indicating their support for an agreement that was consistent with the aims that the President had identified for a final agreement.  And the essence of the final comprehensive agreement does fulfill that criteria, and so we are optimistic that we will be able to earn the support of those who sign that letter — we’re still hard at work in that effort.  But what’s notable is that there are several Democrats in the House of Representatives who declined to sign that letter, but yet have announced their support for the final agreement.

So there are several indications that we are succeeding in our efforts to build sufficient support for the agreement in the Congress, but we certainly want to collect as many votes as possible.  

Q &

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Bombing in Bangkok

There has so far been no claim of responsibility for the worst attack in Thailand in many, many years.” A powerful explosion sent a fireball and hail of debris through a busy Bangkok district filled with shoppers and tourists Monday, killing at least 19 people near a site that also has been a hub for political rallies and clashes, police said. More than 120 people were reported injured in what authorities described as a bomb blast, and one police official said many foreigners were among the casualties. There was no assertion of responsibility for an attack whose location — near one of the city’s tourist and commercial crossroads — and timing — shortly before 7 p.m. — may have been chosen to maximize damage and bloodshed.” (WaPo http://wapo.st/1JdpEEz)

Just a little more time, please…South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said he needs more time before he will sign a compromise deal with rebel forces led by his former deputy, mediators said Monday. (AP http://yhoo.it/1hIle2x)

Good News on the Ebola Front…Sierra Leone has not recorded a new case of Ebola in the last week, a first since the outbreak reached the country in March last year, the World Health Organization said Monday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1hjugmL)

Africa

Separatist rebels in northern Mali attacked positions of a pro-government militia on Monday in fighting that is undermining government attempts to pacify the region, sources from both groups said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1JmGZ4c)

Burundi’s foreign minister said his government is doing its best to ensure that the country does not degenerate into ethnic conflict by bringing those responsible for violence to justice. (VOA http://bit.ly/1hjfbBH)

Central African Republic refugees in eastern Cameroon are insisting on leaving refugee camps due to difficult living conditions, saying they are being poorly fed, and their children lack school and humanitarian assistance. (VOA http://bit.ly/1TPN1zj)

Rights groups are calling on leaders from the 15-nation Southern Africa Development Community to take steps to improve the rule of law and human rights as they meet for an annual summit Monday and Tuesday in Botswana. (VOA http://bit.ly/1hjff4x)

MENA

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief called attention Monday to the impact that the ongoing conflict in Syria is having on civilians in the country and the risk it poses to stability in the Middle East. (VOA http://bit.ly/1hjfi07)

U.N. and camp officials in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region are already preparing for another wave of Iraqis displaced by war to flood into the area as the conflict against Islamic extremists rages on. (VOA http://bit.ly/1KrPfuw)

Israel on Monday offered to free a Palestinian detainee whose two-month hunger strike has left him in a coma — but only if he goes abroad, a demand his lawyer immediately dismissed. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1KrYg6N

The almost year-old UN-facilitated dialogue aimed at ending the political power struggle at the heart of Libya’s civil war has pitched its tent in several locations inside and outside the country since it began last September. Last week it was again the turn of Geneva’s Palais des Nations. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1hjfnAM)

Qatar on Tuesday officially launches one of its most “significant” labour reforms to guarantee migrant workers’ wages, but rights groups are concerned over implementation of the new regulations. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1fl8xsC)

Lebanon’s health minister says the country is on the brink of a “major health disaster” unless an immediate solution is found for its mounting trash problem. (AP http://yhoo.it/1hjugDj)

Damascus should allow greater humanitarian access to people in need inside Syria, the United Nations’ aid chief said on Monday after his first visit to the country. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1KrYf2K)

Asia

Armed men kidnapped a foreign aid worker, believed to be German, in downtown Kabul on Monday, the latest in a spate of attacks on foreign targets at a time of declining security in the Afghan capital. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1hjukmv)

Local aid groups and the United Nations are urging Myanmar to allow access to about 1,400 people who are running out of food in makeshift camps in the jungle after fleeing clashes between the military and an ethnic armed group in Kachin state. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1TPmZfx)

Aid workers warn the problem of underage sex work could get worse if not confronted by authorities as Myanmar society opens up after half a century of isolation under military rule. They say support and rehabilitation is more important than punitive measures. (TRF http://yhoo.it/1fl8Cwv)

A general strike imposed by smaller political parties protesting a proposed new constitution that would split Nepal into six federal states crippled daily life across the Himalayan nation Monday. (AP http://yhoo.it/1DYw6DP)

The Americas

Latin America’s booming urban slums look set to continue their rapid expansion as government housing policies fail to tackle an explosion in informal housing, legal experts said on Monday. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1fl8vRK)

A group of prominent writers, artists and intellectuals have called on the Mexican president to address the country’s terrible record on protecting journalists who report on drug violence and other criminal activity. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1DYw6Um)

The millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States must leave, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said Sunday, as he unveiled his immigration platform. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1KrQfib)

Flooding from days of heavy rain in Uruguay has forced nearly 4,000 people from their homes, officials said Monday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1KrYfj8)

Cuba put its civil defense system on alert on Monday due to a year-long drought that is forecast to worsen in the coming months and has already damaged agriculture and left more than a million people relying on trucked-in water. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1KrYdrt)

A criminal gang attacked and killed five police officers on Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast, one of the Central American country’s most violent regions, authorities said. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1KrYcUD)

…and the rest

Turkish coastguards have rescued almost 18,300 migrants in the Aegean Sea in the last month amid a drastic rise in the number attempting the maritime crossing to the EU, the government said on Monday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1hjuhap)

Opinion/Blogs

Global Dispatches Podcast: Mark speaks with Carne Ross, founder of the non profit Independent Diplomat and former British foreign service officer who resigned over the Iraq war. http://bit.ly/1LgEHE3

The exploitation of migrants has become our way of life (Guardian http://bit.ly/1TNcmoc)

What’s the point of international development think tanks? (ODI http://bit.ly/1KrORfv)

What does changing complex systems look like in practice? (Aid Leap http://bit.ly/1Ks1M0M)

Bright ideas for better aid (IRIN http://bit.ly/1KrPBkM)

Why is India dragging its heels over the criminalisation of marital rape? (Guardian http://bit.ly/1PhMtM1)

Africa’s Development – Myths and Missed Opportunities (News of Rwanda http://bit.ly/1NorRmI)

Does the ADB have a problem with women? (Aidnography http://bit.ly/1TNJgoS)

Discussion

comments…

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New Global Population Estimates from the UN

The report from the number crunchers at the UN also show that life expectancy in the least developed countries has increased sharply over the last 6 years. “The world’s population is projected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050 and exceed 11 billion in 2100, with India expected to surpass China as the most populous around seven years from now and Nigeria overtaking the United States to become the world’s third largest country around 35 years from now, according to a new United Nations report released today. Moreover, the report reveals that during the 2015-2050 period, half of the world’s population growth is expected to be concentrated in nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, the United States, Indonesia and Uganda.” (UN http://bit.ly/1KApafa)

The Largest Refugee Camp in the Middle East Turns 3 Years Old…The Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, which opened July 29 2012, has some 81,000 Syrian residents and can’t take any more. “With Za’atari at capacity, the number of urban refugees seeking shelter in Jordan’s second camp, Azraq, increased fourfold in the first six months of this year,” UNHCR spokesperson Ariane Rummery told a press briefing in Geneva. In the first half of 2015, 3,658 people returned to Azraq from urban areas, compared to just 738 in the second half of 2014. This trend is driven by increasing vulnerability of urban refugees in Jordan whose savings are depleted after years in exile, and who are unable to find secure legal livelihoods. Those living in Amman, in particular, are trying to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the Middle East.” (UNHCR http://bit.ly/1KAj4LX)

Where’s the money? Only one percent of Kenyan government spending can be properly accounted for, according to a report by the country’s auditor-general released just days after US President Barack Obama warned corruption was holding the country back. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1JvuvpB)

Deadly Flooding in India…Flash floods triggered by torrential monsoon rain have killed at least 26 people in a west Indian state in the past 48 hours, authorities said Wednesday. (AFP http://bit.ly/1D97jMX)

Africa

The president of Nigeria made his first official state visit to neighboring Cameroon on Wednesday, as the two former enemies struggle to contain the mutual threat posed by Islamic militants carrying out suicide bombings across the region. (AP http://yhoo.it/1H2OANP)

Nairobi announced it was going to relocate street children to rehabilitation centers in the country. The move coincided with a project to clean up the streets before the president’s arrival. Many say there must be a better way to address the plight of the Kenyan city’s street families. (VOA http://bit.ly/1MtVoes)

Fears are growing that endemic graft in Tanzania will deny the majority of its people a fair share of the wealth generated by the country’s natural gas riches. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1JRP4Z6)

Sudan’s foreign ministry summoned the European Union’s representative in Khartoum to complain about “false information” it said the EU had disseminated about the number of refugees and displaced people in the country. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1MtVrqB)

Threatened by the advance of a desert that already covers two-thirds of Niger, the poor Sahel nation hopes to halt rapid deforestation by promoting natural gas. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1Jvu9PM)

Nigeria has appointed a new boss for the amnesty scheme for ex-Niger Delta oil rebels, in a move seen by observers as an attempt to put back on track the programme which doused militancy in the oil-rich region. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1JvupOH)

More than 5 million text messages have been sent to subscribers, who get health information and reminders for doctor’s appointments direct to their mobile phones – many of them in distant parts of Tanzania. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1DbeqnG)

US President Barack Obama’s visit to Ethiopia, which saw him speak out against democratic restrictions, was positive but Washington must maintain pressure on the government, an Ethiopian opposition figure said Wednesday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1I1XFKv)

MENA

A car bomb exploded outside an Ismaili mosque in Yemen’s war-damaged capital Sanaa on Wednesday, killing four people and wounding six, health authorities and a security source said. (Reuters http://reut.rs/1KAklm0)

Saudi-led warplanes bombed targets in Yemen’s northerly Saada province, a stronghold of Iranian-allied Houthi forces, local officials said Wednesday, and a U.N. official accused both sides in the conflict of failing to respect international law. (VOA http://bit.ly/1KAktlu)

Turkey’s renewed conflict with Kurdish militants intensified on Wednesday as the government launched a new wave of airstrikes in northern Iraq and a blast temporarily crippled a key oil pipeline in southeastern Turkey. (WSJ http://on.wsj.com/1KAkzd0)

Asia

China’s widespread crackdown on rights lawyers and activists over the past three weeks has fueled growing concerns that President Xi Jinping is using the law as a tool to mute dissidents and those who defend them in court. (VOA http://bit.ly/1MtVpiz)

Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence for an influential opposition leader and an aide to a former prime minister for his role in mass killings during the country’s independence war against Pakistan in 1971. (AP http://yhoo.it/1OOL2Fb)

Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday registered for November elections to keep her seat in parliament and challenge the ruling military-backed party. (AP http://yhoo.it/1H2OR3g)

The Americas

The jaguar is being defeated by a ruthless, modern-day warrior: Powerful drug cartels are carving up its Central American natural habitat. In some areas, particularly in Honduras and Guatemala, the big cats are at risk of disappearing entirely. (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/1Db5EGe)

Organisers of the 2016 Rio Olympics are facing a serious challenge to clean polluted waters for sailing and windsurfing events. (BBC http://bbc.in/1Db5ONZ)

Concerns of a humanitarian emergency in Haiti are mounting as a growing number of Haitians returning to their country from neighboring Dominican Republic are living in rapidly growing tent cities with little resources. (CNN http://cnn.it/1D96S58)

The Brazilian government plans to use drones to strengthen its fight against slave labor in rural areas, the Labour Ministry has said. (TRF http://yhoo.it/1MtVrqE)

Opponents of President Barack Obama’s soon-to-be-implemented policy to cut carbon emissions from power plants are planning to use an unlikely and potentially potent weapon against him: the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that saved Obamacare. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1gmGfzq)

…and the rest

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde says the world economy is recovering but fragile and “faces some downside risks.” (AP http://yhoo.it/1H2OF46)

Aid agencies have no problem agreeing that gender-sensitive programming is a good idea, but few have come up with concrete methods for evaluating the impact it has on those it is supposed to be helping. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1Dbeyn6)

Western Union Co plans to invest more in its compliance and monitoring systems in a renewed effort to combat fraud and money laundering, a senior executive said on Tuesday. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1DbePXf)

Opinion/Blogs

Unpacking Obama’s Message to the African Union (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/1OOQTKK)

Why Local Content in Extractive Sector Won’t Work Without Home Grown Human Capital (The Conversation http://bit.ly/1Db4E4N)

Obama probably won’t be invited to speak at the African Union again any time soon (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/1OOGEWD)

Did Malaysia merit its human trafficking upgrade? (IRIN http://bit.ly/1Db5mzh)

Secret aid worker: sexual harassment and discrimination in the industry (Guardian http://bit.ly/1Db5L4J)

Analysts: Obama’s Africa Trip Underscores Drive for Foreign Policy Legacy (VOA http://bit.ly/1DP50Jo)

Will Kenya’s Heightened Security Leave With Obama? (RFI http://bit.ly/1DP6inK)

Africa Will Grow Faster When Private Sector Finally Steps Up (East African http://bit.ly/1DP6rHX)

South Africa: Rebranding Condom Campaign – Will It Work This Time? (The Conversation http://bit.ly/1DP6HH1)

5 things needed to turn the SDGs into reality (Devex http://bit.ly/1h5mIDO)

The Politics Behind Mobile Money in Ethiopia (CFI Blog http://bit.ly/1h5mInb)

Humans of Lagos offers a glimpse at daily life in the West African mega city (Africa is a Country http://bit.ly/1h5mHzz)

Zimbabwe’s Opportunity to Join the African Economic Success Story (CSIS Prosper http://bit.ly/1OOQTu0

Discussion

comments…

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Questions and answers on how the European Commission helps refugees

Who is a refugee?

Every year natural disasters, conflicts and human rights violations force millions of people to leave their homes and to flee to save their lives. Their survival often depends on international assistance and protection.

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home country and is unable or unwilling to return because of fear of persecution. The 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees gives refugees legal protection under the international refugee law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated to respond to refugee needs.

An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who was forced to flee his/her home but who did not cross a state border. IDPs benefit from the legal protection of international human rights law and, in armed conflict, international humanitarian law.

However, IDPs do not benefit from the specialised protection of international refugee law. No UN or international agency has been formally mandated to assist them. National governments have the primary responsibility for the security and well-being of all displaced people on their territory, but often they are unable or unwilling to comply with this obligation. The most important reference document to address the issue of protection and assistance to IDPs is the non-binding Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement from 1998. The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance to IDPs in Africa (the so called Kampala Convention), which entered into force in 2012, is the first ever binding international legal instrument on the rights of IDPs.  

How many refugees are there?

Today, there are more than 59.5 million people in need of help and protection as a consequence of forced displacement, more than at any time since comprehensive statistics have been collected, with the continuing crises in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan and Ukraine as major aggravating factors. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), globally some 38.2 million people are IDPs, around 19.5 million are refugees and 1.8 million people applied for asylum in 2014. Together, these forcibly displaced people represent the combined population of greater London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna, Budapest, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Stockholm, Lisbon, Warsaw, Athens, Barcelona and Brussels.

According to the latest UNHCR data, about half of the global refugee population are children under 18, the highest proportion in more than a decade. About half of the entire refugee population are women and girls. In many societies, they face specific risks such as discrimination and are less likely than men and boys to have access to basic rights.

Syria became the world’s largest source country of refugees during 2014 with an estimated 3.9 million people, overtaking Afghanistan, which had held this position for more than 30 years. Somalia, Sudan, South-Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar follow. It is estimated that around 45% of the world’s refugees are trapped in protracted situations (in exile for five years or more without prospects of immediate durable solutions).

For humanitarian workers, helping the displaced is becoming more difficult, costly and dangerous. In countries such as Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen or Iraq, getting help to internally displaced populations means working in environments where access is difficult and conflict or criminality present deadly risks.

86% of today’s refugees live in the developing world, which means that they find refuge in countries and among people who already struggle with poverty and hardship. Greater international solidarity is needed to address this challenge.

According to the UNHCR, out of the total 14.4 million refugees in the world in 2014, more than 1 million were in the EU.

What is World Refugee Day?

Each year, on 20 June, the world focuses on the plight of people who are forced to flee their homes due to conflicts or natural disasters. This day has been significant since 2001, when the UN General Assembly designated it on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Humanitarian situation and needs

Many of the people forced to flee and abandon their homes often have to do this at very short notice and to leave with nothing or very few possessions. Particularly in volatile contexts, they rely on local communities and international humanitarian aid for their survival. Too often, their flight to safety turns into protracted and long term displacement, as the problems that uprooted them take a long time to resolve.

Sustainable solutions for refugees include voluntary repatriation to their home countries, which is the preferred long-term outcome for the majority of refugees. Another solution is local integration or resettlement either in the asylum country where they are living or in third countries where they can be permanently resettled. The IDPs can be reintegrated in their place of origin (return), integrated in areas where they have taken refuge (local integration), or integrated in another part of the country (settlement elsewhere).

Refugees and those internally displaced (IDPs) face major challenges in terms of protection, access to shelter, food and other basic services such as health, nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene and education. Those who end up living in urban areas (IDP’s, refugees) may encounter poverty, lack of psychosocial support and difficulties in normalizing their status. Violence, abuse and exploitation against the most vulnerable often peak in the aftermath of emergencies, which underlines the importance of effective protection mechanisms to be put in place immediately.

The patterns of displacement are increasingly complex, as large numbers of migrants flow inside and between countries and regions. Their problems, and the burden on host countries, are worsened by climate change, increasing urbanisation, population growth and food insecurity. At the same time, the efforts of the humanitarian community to bring relief and contribute to lasting solutions are made more difficult by donors’ budgetary constraints, triggered by the global financial and economic crisis and the multiplication of crisis in need of funding.

The European Commission’s humanitarian response

Refugees are among the most vulnerable in humanitarian crises. This is why the European Commission provides substantial resources to help them. The European Commission gave more than €854 million or some 70% of its annual humanitarian aid budget in 2014 to projects helping refugees and IDPs in 33 countries worldwide. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) invests heavily in assisting displaced people and is currently responding to crises such as: Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan, Somali refugees in Kenya and Yemen, Congolese refugees in the Great Lake region, Colombian refugees in Ecuador and Venezuela, Myanmar refugees in Thailand, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and Sahrawi refugees.

Humanitarian aid delivered by the European Commission helps:

  • meet the most pressing needs of refugees;
  • protect and support refugees during their displacement and when returning to their place of origin;
  • increase the self-reliance of refugees and reduce their ‘dependency syndrome’.

The Commission focuses its support on organisations dealing with migrants, refugees and IDPs including the UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Red Cross and Red Crescent family and non-governmental organisations. The three above-mentioned organization remained in 2014 among the first five humanitarian aid partner of the Commission, in terms of volume of funding (2. ICRC, 3. UNHCR, 5. IOM).

Through this support, the Commission’s action paves the way for durable solutions for refugees and IDPs. It coordinates its assistance with the organisations in charge of early recovery and development.

While supporting the victims of displacement, the European Commission is also working to decrease the number and scale of refugee crises: for instance, through its work on disaster preparedness and prevention, which aims to reduce the vulnerability of disadvantaged communities and prevent their displacement.

Refugees and development policy

The European Commission also provides development assistance to tackle the challenges related to forced displacement, since there is growing recognition of the importance of refugees and IDPs to the economy and development, with the potential to contribute to the economy of hosting countries (also acknowledged by the European Council in 2013).

This is particularly relevant in the case of refugees who are displaced for the long term; either in camps or urban areas (known as protracted displacement). These challenges must therefore be addressed by long-term development strategies in order to enable the refugees to be self-reliant and to support host communities.

The Commission is already a leading international donor in terms of support for refugees in developing countries with €200 million in ongoing projects from development funds.

In addition, the European Commission is currently working on developing new, more comprehensive and multi-sectoral approaches aimed at seeing sustainable solutions for refugees, IDPs and returnees. The objective is to ensure that development actors, together with humanitarian actors, will engage to address the crisis that forces the population to flee from the beginning in order to prevent that displacement turns into a permanent situation.

Examples

The humanitarian consequences of the crisis in Syria have reached an unprecedented scale. Around 11.5 million Syrians are internally displaced or are living as refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, North Africa and the EU. Many of those who were able to reach the neighbouring countries are now living in hardship; struggling to find shelter and food for their families and schooling for their children. The European Union is a leading donor in the response to the Syria crisis with around €3.6 billion of total budget mobilised by the Commission and Member States collectively in humanitarian, development, economic and stabilisation assistance. EU humanitarian assistance channelled through the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) primarily supports life-saving medical emergency responses, the provision of essential drugs, food and nutritional items, safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), shelter, distribution of basic non-food items and protection programmes. This funding is channelled through UN agencies and accredited international humanitarian organisations to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people.

In 2015, the Commission has increased its humanitarian assistance to the Syria crisis by €136 million, half of which will go to meet needs inside Syria, and the other half to Syrian refugees and host communities in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. This includes €2.5 million to respond to the emergency inside Yarmouk refugee camp.

A new EU comprehensive strategy has been developed to tackle the crises in Syria and Iraq, which will include €1 billion in funding over the next two years. The new strategy will champion activities from several EU instruments and increase the impact of Europe’s solidarity and political support. This will include enhancing economic resilience among refugee and host communities especially to promote prospects for young people.

The Third International Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait City was held on 31 March 2015. During the conference, donors pledged a total of US$3.8 billion in humanitarian and development assistance to the Syria crisis out of which the EU and its Member States pledged €1.1 billion – the largest pledge by any donor.

To strengthen the development and protection capacities in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, and to enable Syrian refugees to tap into their own potentials, the European Commission is funding a Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP) in the region. The programme combines efforts to improve protection of refugees with longer-term livelihood support to host communities and, whenever possible, refugees alike. The Commission is currently also developing RDPPs for the Horn of Africa and North Africa in close collaboration with EU Member States.

The on-going crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) has forced an estimated 220 000 people since December 2013 to flee to Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo, bringing the number of Central African refugees in neighbouring countries to over 462 000 people. The European Union is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to CAR with over EUR 186 million provided since 2014. The European Commission alone has provided EUR 69 million (including about EUR 20 million for CAR refugees in neighbouring countries) in humanitarian aid since December 2013.

Almost half of the funding is spent in Chad, which was facing the biggest influx of people fleeing CAR at the beginning of the crisis, €7.8 million in Cameroon and €1 million in the DRC and the Republic of Congo. The humanitarian assistance addresses the basic needs of refugees such as shelter, food, health, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene. The funds are implemented through the European Commission’s partners such as UN agencies, International NGOs, and international organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies.

In CAR, the European Commission is funding humanitarian projects to enable free access to primary health services through mobile clinics. Projects seeking to improve the protection of civilians are also being supported. Food assistance is a priority. Moreover, the European Commission is supporting integrated actions to provide safe drinking water, re-establish decent sanitation facilities and promote better hygiene practices (WASH).

The situation in South Sudan since the outbreak of civil war in December 2013 remains one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. Over 2 million people have fled their homes, of which 565 000 South Sudanese have taken refuge in Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, putting additional resource constraints on these countries and having a destabilising effect on the whole region. At over 1.5 million people have been internally displaced (IDPs), mostly because of widespread violence against civilians. More than half of the refugees (around 60%) are children. At the same time, the country hosts more than a quarter of a million refugees, mainly from Sudan. Overall, life-saving needs for food, health care, clean water, shelter, sanitation, protection, etc. continue to rise.

Humanitarian aid is delivered in extremely and increasingly challenging circumstances. Hostilities and attacks against humanitarian workers seriously constrain access to those in need. The commandeering of assets and other illegal obstructions further constrain the work of aid organisations.

The European Commission has made available more than €200 million since 2014 (over €120 million in 2015 alone) to respond to the unfolding and intensifying humanitarian crisis inside the South Sudan and support the urgent needs of refugees in the Horn of Africa, including South Sudanese refugees. The aid covers the provision of food aid, basic health care, clean water, sanitation, shelter and protection for the most vulnerable people. The funds also support the response to epidemics such as cholera and Hepatitis E.

As a result of the illegal annexation of Crimea and fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in Eastern Ukraine, over two million people have been forced to flee their homes and have become increasingly vulnerable. As of June 2015, over 1.3 million people are registered as internally displaced (IDPs), and more than 860 000 have fled to neighbouring countries, especially Russia, Belarus and Poland. Refugees and internally displaced persons need shelter, food and sanitation items as well as proper healthcare and psychosocial support, education and protection. Medical supplies are extremely limited across the conflict zone. Despite a ceasefire agreement that came into force in February 2015, access to Donetsk and Luhansk regions remains challenging for humanitarian organisations.

The European Union and its Member States have jointly contributed over € 139 million in financial aid to the most vulnerable since the beginning of the crisis. Aid is provided to all affected populations, including refugees in Russia and Belarus, and is delivered according to humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. On the ground, the assistance is being delivered through partner organisations, including UNICEF, UNHCR, WHO, IOM, Save the Children, Danish Refugee Council, People In Need, WFP and ICRC.

In a joint operation in January 2015, EU and its Member States organised the delivery emergency supplies by air and road, including tents, blankets and sleeping bags for the harsh winter conditions, in cooperation with humanitarian partners including UNICEF and UNHCR.

Asylum in the EU

Most displaced persons remain in their own countries or find refuge in neighbouring states, but many also travel to Europe to seek asylum. The EU has stepped up its search and rescue activities in response to the tragic situation in the Mediterranean, and thousands of people are being rescued every week.

The new European Agenda on Migration sets out proposals to establish a temporary relocation mechanism for 40 000 persons in Italy and Greece in clear need of international protection, to be relocated within the EU. The Agenda also includes a recommendation for an EU wide scheme to resettle 20 000 refugees in all Member States.

For further information

European Agenda on Migration

Homepage of DG HOME

Homepage of DG ECHO

Homepage of DG Europeaid

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Speeches: Making Progress: US Prevention of Mass Atrocities

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Thank you very much, Ambassador Daalder, for your warm welcome to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. You are certainly missed at the State Department. I join you this afternoon to mark the third anniversary of the Atrocities Prevention Board, but first I have to applaud you and your team for the Council’s commitment to educating the public about the important global challenges that we face and strengthening the public discourse about U.S. foreign policy. Thank you.

Three years ago yesterday, President Obama announced that mass atrocities prevention is both a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility. The President committed the United States to becoming a global leader in preventing large-scale violence against civilians worldwide, but he made clear that the U.S. cannot and should not intervene militarily every time there is an injustice or an imminent atrocities threat. Instead he called for the U.S. government to use its full arsenal of tools – diplomatic, political, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement – to prevent these terrible crimes.

As one such tool, the President established the Atrocities Prevention Board, referred to in government-speak as the APB, to put this prevention approach into practice. This interagency forum serves a horizon-scanning function by identifying atrocity risks by looking at early warning indicators and bringing together senior officials from across the executive branch to develop coordinated, whole-of-government responses to mitigate them.

The Atrocities Prevention Board speeds up the cogs of our government’s bureaucracy by bringing attention to at-risk cases within the interagency policy process. To be clear, the APB was never envisioned as the singular solution to mass killings, nor is it meant to replace the work we are already engaged in to address atrocities. Rather, its role is to prompt coordination among the larger U.S. national security apparatus to better address these problems early on by recognizing warning signs. The APB’s comparative advantage, then, is focusing on potential or ongoing violence that might escape attention in existing policy fora rather than expending its energy focusing on cases where threats to civilians – such as Assad’s brutalities against the Syrian people – are well-recognized and are the subject of extensive work in regionally-focused policy discussions. This early warning, preventive approach gives the U.S. government additional reaction time to plan and implement appropriate de-escalation interventions. Another benefit of this whole-of-government approach is that when threats emerge, the APB can marshal attention, technical expertise, and occasionally financial resources from across the government to better support our embassy-led responses on the ground.

On this third anniversary of the APB, we are invigorated by the U.S. government’s progress in further highlighting atrocities prevention into the foreign policy process and institutionalizing the capabilities, analysis, and expertise that is needed to do prevention work.

Since becoming Under Secretary for Civilian Security, I’ve worked to strengthen the State Department’s internal response to the threat of mass atrocities and to build a closer relationship with our prevention partner, the U.S. Agency for International Development. I have also redirected the focus of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), to provide dedicated expertise and a formal analysis, planning, and coordinating role in support of APB priorities. As the new hub for State’s atrocities prevention work, the bureau works with USAID to produce assessments of the drivers of conflict in a targeted set of countries as well as corresponding risk assessments. This new analytical atrocities assessment framework allows CSO to work with the Department’s regional bureaus to develop evidence-based, civilian-focused intervention options, including diplomatic, programmatic, multilateral, and economic efforts. CSO is also developing a growing collection of best practices that are informing more targeted, effective government responses.

The APB has also formalized and increased our coordination efforts. At the State Department, we’ve established an Anti-Atrocities Coordination Group to help facilitate State’s work in at-risk countries, engage with regional experts who know the political, regional, and sub-national dynamics best, and help chart the course for institutionalizing the necessary atrocity prevention tools within the normal State processes. Finally, we continue to coordinate with our embassies on atrocity prevention work. Frontline officers are often the first to detect and report on emerging atrocity risks, and chiefs of mission can request that the APB conduct risk analysis of their host countries as well as identify appropriate interventions to mitigate the risk.

Let me provide some examples to illustrate how the U.S. Government identifies and responds to risks of extreme violence. When the Department’s atrocities watchers grew concerned about escalating tensions in Burundi, they sounded the alarm. This concern immediately initiated the APB process, elevating the level of attention on the threat. The State Department and USAID put together an interagency team from both the regional and functional parts of the government to conduct a thorough analysis of risks for violence, which led to a broad diplomatic engagement and programmatic strategy that was operationalized by our embassy in Bujumbura. The APB process also galvanized over $7 million in State and USAID funds to address the risks identified in the assessment through creative programming. For instance, the USG-financed projects provide conflict resolution training for community leaders, support a saving and lending program to improve economic opportunities for vulnerable youth, and empower civil society partners to monitor hate speech. With this additional funding, the Department was also able to deploy a prevention advisor to support the embassy in advance of Burundi’s upcoming national elections beginning in May. By sounding the alarm early and laying the groundwork two years ago, we are now in a much better position to monitor and respond to the worrying signs of political tension that are coming to the surface in Burundi. Let me be clear, we remain deeply concerned about the rising tensions, and the international community and the region must be vigilant as we urge President Nkurunziza to respect of the two term limit provision the Arusha Accords and continue to press for credible, peaceful elections. We continue to call on all parties in Burundi to play a peaceful role in this electoral process and refrain from violence. We have warned anyone who might be considering violence that they will not be welcome in the United States and that, as appropriate, we will deny visas to anyone who orders, plans, or participates in acts of violence. We will continue to monitor the situation in Burundi closely in the coming days and weeks and take steps to prevent, mitigate, and address violence.

Let’s also look at the Central African Republic. When violence quickly escalated in that African nation in December 2013, the Board’s atrocity prevention experts worked hand in hand with our regional bureaus as senior leaders from across government identified key interventions, including from DOD, USAID, and State. Together, over the last two years, we provided over $100 million in peacekeeping and security assistance and over $30 million in funding for conflict mitigation, reconciliation, justice and accountability, and governance. This has funded everything from community and grassroots peace and reconciliation programs to the purchase of vehicles and other equipment desperately needed by peace keeping forces. This is in addition to the $452 million we have provided in assessed funds to the UN for the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA). With 2.5 million people – over half the country’s population – in dire need of humanitarian assistance, we have also provided almost $200 million in critical aid, saving thousands of lives. And we have married funding with increased diplomatic and public engagement, including naming a Special Representative and transmitting a peace message recorded by President Obama on local radio stations throughout the country at the height of the crisis.

Another example of this Administration’s commitment to atrocity prevention is US support for the counter-Lord’s Resistance Army mission in the central Africa region that has led to dramatic results in protecting civilians from LRA atrocities. Over the past three years, the Ugandan-led African Union Regional Task Force – with Defense Department logistics and support from US Special Operations Forces and State civilian liaisons – has removed three of the LRA’s top five most senior and notorious commanders from the battlefield. The United States worked with leaders from the Task Force’s member countries to ensure that LRA number-two commander Dominic Ongwen, who was transferred to the International Criminal Court in January, faced justice, and we continue to offer up to $5 million in rewards for information leading to the arrest, transfer, or conviction of LRA leader Joseph Kony. During that time, defections and releases from the LRA have significantly increased, with more than 250 individuals putting down their arms and leaving the LRA, and the number of people killed by the LRA has dropped by over 75 percent. According to the U.N., the number of people displaced by the LRA decreased from approximately 400,000 one year ago to roughly 160,000 in 2014, the lowest number in a decade.

Obviously, the USG has been focused on countering the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by building a strong multilateral coalition to address the spreading threat as it grew in Syria and then Iraq. In this case, the APB did not need to play a role in raising awareness of ISIL’s atrocities; instead, it was able to play a value-added role by focusing attention on particular cases, helping to prompt swift action. For example, when ISIL drove tens of thousands of members of the Iraqi Yazidi religious minority from their homes last year, the APB again helped ensure a swift USG response by working with our Embassy and consulates in Iraq along with the State Department’s Religious Freedom Office to collect credible information. This information helped inform the U.S. decision to launch strikes that degraded ISIL’s capabilities and gave the local Kurdish military forces enough momentum to break the siege and free the Yazidis from Mount Sinjar.

We recently registered another achievement in advancing a preventive approach to mass atrocities – this time in Nigeria, which conducted a largely peaceful election last month. The US government has long been focused on preventing violence in Nigeria, and the APB worked to complement that focus by spurring contingency planning and advocating for more of an atrocity prevention focus into the normal interagency policy processes. To prevent the violence that left over 800 dead after the 2011 national vote, the APB provided support for the implementation of the USG’s election assistance strategy for Nigeria, contributing to and enhancing multiple USG agencies’ efforts to prevent violence and ensure transparency and credibility more than a year in advance of the election. And while there were dozens killed during this election, which is too many still, there was a dramatic decrease in violence – a decrease many attribute to increased transparency, credibility, and a democratic transfer of power. The APB also helped galvanize the interagency to more effectively address the horrific atrocities being committed by the violent extremist group, Boko Haram, identifying gaps in the regional governments’ security approach, finding some new resources, and developing programs to strengthen the region’s and local communities’ capacity to respond. For example, the APB has contributed to ongoing efforts by the USG to work with the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Benin to support their cooperative efforts to take on Boko Haram, which may eventually include a Multinational Joint Task Force to better coordinate these efforts, while at the same time supporting local communities and law enforcement efforts that address the root causes of the insurgency. In northeast Nigeria, USAID has launched an initiative to improve stability and strengthen democratic institutions. The program focuses on strengthening links between local government, civil society, and communities to mitigate and prevent conflict, increasing access to credible information, and reducing youth vulnerability to violent extremist influences. We are encouraged by the commitment of Nigeria’s President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, to tackle the Boko Haram threat.

In addition to amplify our prevention efforts, we are also seeking to encourage like-minded partners to adopt a similar approach. I recently led a group of State and USAID officials to meet with UN interlocutors who oversee issues of atrocity prevention, which resulted in a collaborative dialogue that I intend to regularize. We are also further highlighting mass atrocities prevention in ongoing bilateral and multilateral diplomatic discussions, such as the U.S.-EU Civilian Security and Development Dialogue.

Despite its important achievements and the President’s commitment to elevating atrocity prevention as a U.S. foreign policy priority, challenges remain. Chief among these are resource constraints. While APB meetings do not require funding, effective prevention tools do depend on resources, particularly sources of funding that can be accessed and mobilized swiftly. While we have sometimes succeeded in marshaling funding to respond to an escalating crisis, in this constrained budget environment, we often see prevention needs that we are unable to meet before the crisis escalates. In a world of proliferating crises and limited resources, prevention work is more critical than ever.

Some observers have expressed dissatisfaction with the Obama Administration’s commitment to preventing mass atrocities across the globe. I understand their perspective. The APB has not halted violence worldwide; in its three years of existence, it has not protected every civilian from governments, insurgents and terrorists. As imperfect as our current efforts are, they represent undeniable progress – both in further prioritizing atrocity prevention and in delivering concrete results. On the APB’s third anniversary, we are certainly closer to realizing the President’s intent that the United States government embraces the mission of preventing mass atrocities. It is my hope that three years from now, the United States will have made its tools, resources, and actions even more effective in preventing mass violence against civilians.

President Obama took a bold step by elevating concern about mass atrocities as a foreign policy priority. Atrocity prevention, he said, is not just a matter of values and a moral responsibility but also a core national security interest. The President acknowledged that “It can be tempting to throw up our hands and resign ourselves to man’s endless capacity for cruelty,” but he reminded us that Elie Wiesel and other holocaust survivors chose never to give up. Nor can the United States of America.

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Nigerians Vote Out Sitting President

We’d normally go with an April Fools headline. But Goodluck Jonathan’s concession to Muhammadu Buhari is a critically important moment in African history. Our poor attempts at humor just wouldn’t seem justified. This is the first time in Nigeria –Africa’s largest democracy– that an incumbent peacefully ceded an election to his opposition. Predictions of election related violence were overblown. Nigeria passed a huge milestone today. “Today’s concession puts Jonathan, whose administration had been synonymous with corruption and whose handling of Boko Haram had been called inept by many, in the history books for something irrevocable and positive. ‘He is the first leader in our country to have done this,’ said Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, chair of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission. ‘It’s not just a moment for Nigeria. It’s big for Africa, and it’s big for the black race. If Nigeria can do it, you can. This is an awesome moment for me as a Nigerian, for me as an African, for me as a black person. I feel close to tears.’” (Buzzfeed http://bzfd.it/1BN1kXk )

Here’s How Much The International Community Cares About Suffering Syrians…The international community has pledged $3.8bn to tackle the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Syria – less than half the amount the UN says is needed this year to help the millions of people affected by the ongoing conflict. At the start of the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria – which was held in Kuwait on Tuesday – the UN asked for $8.4bn: $2.9bn for people inside Syria and $5.5bn to help those who have fled to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The largest sums came from the EU, which pledged $1.2bn, the US ($507m) and Kuwait ($500m). Ahead of this year’s gathering, the German government said it would pledge $277m in new aid. Kuwaiti state media said local charities and aid organisations pledged another $506m just before the conference started. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1HhUOvo)

Iran Nuke Talks Extended…”Enough progress had been made to warrant the extension past Tuesday midnight, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, although there still were “several difficult issues” to bridge. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had planned to leave the talks on Tuesday, was remaining. And an Iranian negotiator said his team could stay “as long as necessary” to clear the remaining hurdles.” (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1BN2j9U)

A Key Climate Inflection Point…March 31 was a key deadline in the lead up to the Paris Climate talks in November. Each country was expected to formally submit their own national action plans. The American approach was revealed by the White House today in a conference call with reporters. “Mr. Obama’s new blueprint brings together several domestic initiatives that were already in the works, including freezing construction of new coal-fired power plants, increasing the fuel economy of vehicles and plugging methane leaks from oil and gas production. It is meant to describe how the United States will lead by example and meet its pledge for cutting emissions.But the plan’s reliance on executive authority is an acknowledgment that any proposal to pass climate change legislation would be blocked by the Republican-controlled Congress.” (NYT http://nyti.ms/1C4uVKI)

Africa

Guinea has detected at least three new cases of Ebola in the alumina hub of Fria, according to the national coordination of the fight against the disease, as authorities blamed popular resistance for hampering the battle against the virus. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1F0b9lV)

Gunmen killed a driver with the International Committee of the Red Cross in an attack on his aid truck as it headed across northern Mali towards Niger, the ICRC and Red Cross officials said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1bOmZsa)

Human rights groups have welcomed moves to change a Kenyan law passed to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, which criminalises pregnant women who pass HIV/AIDS to their babies, saying it discouraged people from finding out their status. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1F0b8OP)

Researchers recently completed a study of a new method of giving healthcare to women in Northern Nigeria. They found women and children would use health services more often when they could see a female health worker. (VOA http://bit.ly/1HhV1ig)

Kenya’s anti-graft watchdog published a report detailing corruption allegations against 175 government officials on Tuesday, with some cases involving multi-billion-dollar Chinese-backed infrastructure projects. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1F0bapM)

A rise in illegal fishing off Somalia could spark a resurgence in piracy, United Nations and Somali fishing officials have warned, nearly three years after the pirates’ last successful hijacking in the Indian Ocean. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1bOn0fu)

Cameroon said it has attained the status of a “non-polio exporting country” – hitting the 6-month mark without a new case – but the country is still considered a high-risk nation with pockets of resistance to polio vaccination programs for children – especially in refugee camps. (VOA http://bit.ly/1GJzhOd)

A rapid Ebola diagnostic kit similar to a pregnancy kit has been developed by British military scientists and NHS medics in Sierra Leone. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1bOpKtB)

The next president of the African Development Bank must improve the livelihoods of the continent’s poorest people, address huge energy shortages and fill infrastructure funding gaps, according to the bank’s outgoing president, Donald Kaberuka. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1bOpOt4)

MENA

The USA announced it will resume transfers of military assistance to Egypt, suspended in the wake of al Sisi’s coup. (NYT http://nyti.ms/1BN0wSi)

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday they could not safely get aid into conflict-hit Yemen and that a local Red Crescent worker had been shot dead while evacuating the wounded. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1C424pQ)

In an unusual move, an Egyptian court acquitted on Tuesday 68 people, including members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, who were charged with gathering illegally and attacking security forces, judicial sources said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1bOmWwq)

The UN Refugee agency has called for an investigation into the mistreatment of asylum seekers at Bulgaria’s border with Turkey following the deaths of two Iraqis. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1GJz5P4)

For months, members of the Arab League have been calling for a joint military force to quell the violence engulfing the region. Now that member states have largely agreed, analysts say having the force materialize and preparing it to fight complex modern conflicts may be an insurmountable challenge. (VOA http://bit.ly/1HhV0L5)

Asia

The stabbing death of an atheist Bangladeshi blogger in Dhaka a month after the killing of a prominent Bangladeshi-American author highlights the growing threat facing critics of religious fundamentalism in the South Asian nation. (VOA http://bit.ly/1HhUYD4)

A Thai military court sentenced a businessman to 25 years in prison on Tuesday on charges of defaming the country’s monarchy in what appears to be the longest sentence handed down in recent years for the crime of lese majeste, a civil liberties lawyer said. (AP http://yhoo.it/1C42axG)

The government of Myanmar and representatives from 16 major ethnic rebel groups have signed a draft cease-fire accord that aims to end decades of armed conflict. (VOA http://bit.ly/1HhUXPu)

China announced plans on Tuesday to roll out its first deposit insurance in May as part of steps to make the state-owned banking industry more flexible and competitive. (AP http://yhoo.it/1GdZqE5)

The Americas

The United States and Cuba met on Tuesday to discuss how they intend to treat future dialog on the thorny issue of human rights as the countries move toward restoring diplomatic ties. (VOA http://bit.ly/1GJzi4M)

Argentina’s public transport networks ground to a halt Tuesday, while port workers at the grains export hub of Rosario refused to work and banks shut their doors as a one-day strike to back demands for changes to income tax rates gripped the country. (VOA http://bit.ly/1GJzjWg)

Peru’s Congress has sacked the prime minister, Ana Jara, over alleged spying against lawmakers, reporters, business leaders and other citizens. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1GdZsMc)

…and the rest

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario. (IPS http://bit.ly/1C42v3H)

Research on climate-resilient agriculture must be turned urgently into initiatives to help farmers adapt to deteriorating land conditions, a conference has heard. (SciDevNet http://bit.ly/1C42Kf4)

Opinion/Blogs

Kidnap, rape and ‘honour’ killings: on the road with a female reporter in rural India (Guardian http://bit.ly/1GJyZ9S)

Map: Which countries are doing their fair share for Syria? (IRIN http://bit.ly/1HhUQ6o)

Trevor Noah: the South African comic who sails close to the wind (Guardian http://bit.ly/1C3X0BX

African Comic Has Chance to Change US Perspectives (VOA http://bit.ly/1GJzhOg)

Cuba and the European Union – The Thaw Begins (Inter Press Service http://bit.ly/1GdZsvN)

Why You Should Still Care About Syria (USAID Impact http://1.usa.gov/1HhXfht)

Book review: Indonesia Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani (Devpolicy http://bit.ly/1HhXgSC)

A Novel Idea: Would Fiction be a better induction to a new job than boring briefings? (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1HhXgCj)

On Palestine, International Law and the International Criminal Court (Justice in Conflict http://bit.ly/1DoXLuZ)

The Other White Saviors: The Media’s Faith in the South African Mercenaries Fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria (Africa is a Country http://bit.ly/1DoYpc7)

Discussion

comments…

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