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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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

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Happy 70th, UN Charter

The treaty that created the United Nations turns 70 years old today. On June 26, 1945 leaders from 50 of the original member states gathered in San Francisco to sign the United Nations Charter. Ban Ki Moon is back in the Bay Area today for celebrations to commemorate the event. Mark speaks with historian Stephen Schlesinger who discusses the fascinating–and legitimately entertaining —  historiography of the UN Charter. A naked Winston Churchill is central to this story. UN Nerds, international affairs enthusiasts and history buffs will enjoy this conversation.  (Global Dispatches Podcast  http://bit.ly/1LsdWek)

More Trouble in Burundi. The USA and Belgium are in the Thick of It…”One of Burundi’s vice presidents has fled to Belgium, saying he had been threatened after denouncing President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office, an allegation denied by Burundi’s government…Rallies have petered out but the mood remains tense. Three grenade attacks in the capital on Thursday injured several people, the latest in a series of similar assaults in the past week that have killed four people and injured dozens in Bujumbura and other towns. The U.S. embassy said students camped out in a nearby construction site had fled after police entered the area on Thursday, and about 100 had taken refuge in an embassy parking area. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1SNst6C)

Pledges total $3bn for Nepal Recovery…”International donors and multilateral agencies have pledged about $3 billion in aid to help rebuild Nepal as it struggles to recover from a devastating earthquake.  The Himalayan nation got the largest pledges from its two giant neighbors, India and China.” (VOA http://bit.ly/1SNrFia)

And the most peaceful country in the world is…According to the nonprofit Institute for Economics and Peace, Iceland, the thinly populated island in the midst of the North Atlantic has retained its place as the most peaceful country in the world. (CNN http://cnn.it/1GtAbuW)

Should I stay, or should I go? South Africa said it may withdraw from the International Criminal Court after controversy rose last week over its refusal to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on genocide charges. (VOA http://bit.ly/1Jlyi9E)

Quote of the Day: “We must face hard truths — if the current rate of new HIV infections continues, merely sustaining the major efforts we already have in place will not be enough to stop deaths from AIDS increasing within five years in many countries,” said Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1QRLcAr)

Africa

Authorities in Sierra Leone quarantined three doctors and 28 nurses in the capital Freetown when a mother tested positive for Ebola after giving birth, the health ministry said on Thursday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1GKkyS1)

Guinea will put four villages under a 21-day quarantine as part of a robust strategy to stamp out a lingering Ebola epidemic after new cases of the disease were discovered there. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1Jlzda9)

The United Nations said it has started an emergency program to distribute planting seeds and medical aid as a food and health crisis looms in northern Cameroon. The region is hosting thousands of refugees and people internally displaced by Boko Haram fighting. (VOA http://bit.ly/1GKkxha)

Warring forces in South Sudan have abducted as many as a thousand more child soldiers in the latest abuses in the 18-month long civil war, monitors said Thursday, amid fresh efforts to bring rivals back to talks. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1Lxr42W)

Africa can create jobs, improve social services and cut poverty if its governments can stem the $50 billion a year lost in illicit outflows, mainly through multinationals, campaigners said on Thursday. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1LxqYIK)

A Tanzanian court ordered an Islamist rebel leader on Thursday to be extradited to Uganda to face murder charges, though he said he would appeal against the decision. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1Lxrian)

The British government told Ethiopia on Thursday its treatment of an imprisoned opposition figure, who is also a British national, was unacceptable and that the case risked hurting ties between the two countries. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1Lxr6bb)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, joint operations by the Congolese army and the United Nations mission MONUSCO have weakened one of the most active rebel groups in the country.  The mission chief said that about a quarter of the combatants with the FRPI rebel group have been taken out of action in the past four weeks. (VOA http://bit.ly/1GKkzFJ)

China’s Defence Ministry on Thursday declined to confirm a report that it was in talks for a military base in Horn of Africa country Djibouti, though it said all countries had an interest in regional peace and stability. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1Jlz5aA)

MENA

Show me the money…United Nations aid agencies said on Thursday that a $4.5 billion appeal to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 was less than a quarter funded, putting millions of vulnerable people at risk, and had already led to cuts in vital assistance. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1Lxr5DZ)

Eight international NGOs delivering desperately needed food, blankets and medical aid to war-torn Syria have finally been granted legal status in Turkey after years of deadlocked applications. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1Jlyt4Z)

Journalists face unprecedented threats in President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s Egypt, a watchdog group said Thursday, with the highest number behind bars since it began keeping records in 1990. (AP http://yhoo.it/1GKkthp)

Asia

The worst heat wave to hit Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi for nearly 35 years has killed more than 1,000 people, a charity said on Thursday, as morgues ran out of space and public hospitals struggled to cope. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1Lxr3Mj)

South Korea on Thursday announced a $14 billion stimulus package to boost its troubled economy, hammered by the deadly MERS outbreak which has dented consumer spending and business sentiment. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1GKkrGb)

The Americas

A US House of Representatives Homeland Security subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on the possible security risks involved with resettling some of the estimated 4 million refugees from the brutal civil war in Syria in the United States.  (VOA http://bit.ly/1Lxrgiy)

President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced a reform of U.S. policies for dealing with kidnappers. Mr. Obama said the U.S. will use “all instruments of national power” to recover Americans held by terrorists in other countries. (VOA http://bit.ly/1LxriHd)

As spotlight returns to decades-long violence against native women and girls in Canada, calls for national inquiry have been rebuffed but groups refuse to give up. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1QRL4kz)

…and the rest

Britain’s Foreign Office has launched an inquiry into its foreign aid spending after a tabloid newspaper reported that it had spent thousands of pounds on initiatives such as Hamlet workshops in Ecuador and a television game show in Ethiopia. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1SNs4kv)

Faced with increasing chaos at its borders, the EU Commission is urging member states to take a tougher stance on migrant returns. Draft conclusions from Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels note that “all tools shall be mobilised to promote readmission of illegal migrants to countries of origin and transit,” and that an increased budget will be made available to support more effective returns. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1QRKRO6)

Opinion/Blogs

The Perfect Package for Reducing Poverty Is Made Up of Different Parts (The Conversation http://bit.ly/1QRL5Vr)

Health sector first casualty of Myanmar aid cuts (DevPolicy http://bit.ly/1LFQbxx)

When foreign companies want local land (WhyDev http://bit.ly/1KcNp41)

Internet in Africa – Empowerment or Exploitation? (DW http://bit.ly/1LxriqV)

Ten reasons why European governments should back a global tax body (Reuters http://bit.ly/1Jly4zz)

Development finance’s $83bn question: who will pay for gender equality?(Guardian http://bit.ly/1SNs1oO)

Just when I despair that decades of intellectual work on development have fallen on deaf ears, comes stuff like this (Chris Blattman http://bit.ly/1BM8O2R)

Tackling Grand Corruption: Guatemala’s Successful Experiment (Global Anticorruption Blog http://bit.ly/1KcOXuQ)

Who is the richest man in history? (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1KcOd8X)

Term limits in central Africa: utility or artifact? (Eyes Wide Open http://bit.ly/1KcOkBm)
This giant mural in downtown Oakland Commemorates the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations Charter. (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/1Lx3R0X)

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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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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

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