17 Jan

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

The refugee crisis

Columns Viewpoint


Refugees and other distress migrants have been forced to leave their homes in exceedingly large numbers for the past 18 months. It has become commonplace to refer to the current situation as the worst refugee crisis since World War 2, with over 65 million people – a figure in excess of the entire population of many countries – forcibly displaced.

No individual region or triggering factor can be singled out as the only precipitating cause. Refugees have been fleeing relentless bombing in Aleppo, Homs, Mosul, and Juba – victims of civil wars that they have no control over and that are determined by forces indifferent to humanitarian tragedy. Refugees have been pushed out of El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico by vicious drug wars and the gangs and other forms of criminal violence that they spawn. In Eritrea, Ukraine, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, refugees flee their homes because of intolerable political oppression by authoritarian governments who care only about keeping power – whatever the human cost.

2017 doesn’t look any better.

So, how can the current extreme humanitarian suffering of millions of forced migrants be alleviated over the coming year?

The most obvious answer is peace. A toxic combination of violence and conflict, deployed to maintain or assert power, lies at the heart of all the migration push factors above. Any moves – diplomatic, economic, political, or social – that contribute to ending or reducing conflict will alleviate human suffering. If a lasting and sustainable truce is negotiated in the Syrian conflict, if the South Sudanese power struggle is peacefully resolved, if the government of Myanmar can be persuaded to enforce the minority rights of the Rohingya community, if drug wars in Central America are undermined by effective social policies and law enforcement measures, massive human suffering and the inevitable refugee outflows will be reduced. The urgent necessity of these resolutions cannot be overstated.

But peace is elusive.

So then what kind of alternatives exist? This is the question that the UN General Assembly addressed in detail during its first ever plenary session on Large Movements of People, held on September 19th, 2016. The outcome document of that high-profile meeting, known as the New York Declaration, and signed by 193 affirming member states, sets out a comprehensive, ambitious, and convincing agenda for action. First and foremost, the declaration participants recognized the importance of continuing to support the right to refugee protection; this is a right that has been enshrined in international law since the end of World War 2. Despite the many hostile sentiments expressed towards unexpected large-scale migrations, no single country or politician has spoken about withdrawing their country’s support from this obligation. Building on this collective commitment, the UN called for a concerted effort to greatly increase the responsibility of sharing refugees among nations. Hopefully the humanitarian investment in assistance, protection, and inclusion will fall more equitably on a wider cohort of players than has been the case so far.

This is a critical demand. If only a small number of countries are willing to host refugees then the refugee architecture rapidly becomes fatally flawed. Schools, hospitals, public housing, language classes, and skill training programs cannot function under conditions of massive overload; and the political consensus that supports investment in humanitarian assistance crumbles under the weight of overwhelming pressure and demand. The example of acute “humanitarian burnout” in Jordan and Lebanon, Germany and Sweden clearly illustrate the point.

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US politics >>

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UK counter-terror laws most Orwellian in Europe, says Amnesty

Human rights group says Britain is leading ‘race to the bottom’ with measures that threaten rights and freedoms

Met counter-terrorism officers.

Met counter-terrorism officers. Amnesty International says UK anti-terror laws among most draconian in Europe. Photograph: Reuters

The UK is leading a Europe-wide “race to the bottom” with Orwellian counter-terrorism measures that seriously threaten human rights, according to a comparative survey of security laws by Amnesty International.

A 70-page report, entitled Dangerously disproportionate: The ever-expanding national security state in Europe, alleges that Britain has introduced powers in the name of national security that are “among the most draconian in the EU”.

In more than half the areas of concern highlighted by the report, the UK is judged to be at one end of the spectrum in relation to regulations on “mass surveillance”, use of “diplomatic assurances” to deport people where there is a risk of torture, stripping people of their nationality, controlling their movement and detaining without charge or sufficient legal process.

Amnesty’s stark assessment is a response to widespread changes in counter-terror laws across Europe, enacted in the wake of numerous, Islamic State-inspired attacks. It follows the UK parliament’s vote for the Investigatory Powers Act, nicknamed the snooper’s charter.

Amnesty’s report – based on research comparing 14 EU countries – is at odds with the latest annual report produced by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, who concluded: “The terrorism acts, as refined by parliament and by the influence of the courts, are a broadly proportionate reaction to the current threat.

“Based on my own observations over six years, the hostile narrative of power-hungry security services, police insensitivity to community concerns and laws constantly being ratcheted up to new levels of oppression is, quite simply, false.”

The Amnesty report, however, says that many EU countries have joined the ranks of surveillance states as new laws have enabled intrusive mass surveillance powers.

Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The Big Brother surveillance state that George Orwell warned of back in 1949 is alive and dangerously well in Europe today. Governments, including the UK, are not far off creating societies in which freedom is the exception and fear the rule, which should be of deep concern to us all.

“After a series of horrific terrorist attacks across Europe, EU governments have rushed through a raft of repressive laws. There is an obvious and urgent need to protect people from this kind of violence – protecting the rights to life, and to live, move and think freely are essential tasks of government, but they are not ones to be achieved by any means and at the cost of such rights themselves.

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Black Lives Matter: birth of a movement

The killing of Michael Brown created a new generation of black activists, with thousands taking to the streets, and a hashtag used more than 27m times. But will the movement survive the Trump era?


OK, let’s take him.” Within seconds two officers grabbed me, each seizing an arm, and shoved me against the drinks machine that rested along the front wall of the McDonald’s where I had been eating and working on my report. As I released my clenched hands, my mobile phone and notebook fell to the tiled floor. Then came the sharp sting of the plastic cable tie as it was sealed, pinching tight at the corners of my wrists. I’d never been arrested before, and this wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it would go down.

Two days earlier, I’d been sent to Ferguson, Missouri, by the Washington Post, to cover the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. The fatal gunshots, fired by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, on 9 August 2014, were followed by bursts of anger, in the form of protests and riots. Hundreds, and then thousands, of local residents had flooded the streets. For the Ferguson press corps – which would eventually swell from dozens of reporters for local St Louis outlets into hundreds of journalists from farther afield, including dozens of foreign countries – the McDonald’s on West Florissant Avenue became the newsroom.

Because the protests were largely, in those first days, organic and not called by any specific group or set of activists, they were also unpredictable. Some of the demonstrators came to demand an immediate indictment of the officer. Others wanted officials to explain what had happened that day, to tell them who this officer was and why this young man was dead. Scores more stood on pavements and street corners unable to articulate their exact demands – they just knew they wanted justice. Covering Ferguson directly after the killing of Mike Brown involved hours on the streets, with clusters of reporters staked out from the early afternoon into the early hours of the morning. At any point a resident or a group of them could begin a heated argument with the police or a reporter. A demonstration that had for hours consisted of a group of local women standing and chanting on a street corner would suddenly evolve into a chain of bodies blocking traffic, or an impromptu march to the other side of town.

It wasn’t much later that the riot-gear-clad officers entered the McDonald’s, suggesting we all leave because, with protests still simmering outside, things could get dangerous once the sun went down. Then, when it became clear that we were happy to wait and see how things developed outside, they changed their tune. Now the officers were demanding we leave. When I didn’t move fast enough, they grabbed me.

I was led out of the restaurant to wait for transport to police headquarters, with Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, who had also been arrested. We were driven across town in a police vehicle also containing a local minister, still in her clerical collar, who sang hymns for the entire journey.

The officer who arrested us had told us, smirking, that we’d be spending the night in the cells, but he was wrong. They locked us in a cell, but about half an hour later, we were turned loose. Inundated with phone calls from other reporters and media outlets, police chief Thomas Jackson had given orders for us to be released. By the time we were given back our belongings – unlaced shoes, notebooks, phones – we’d become momentary media celebrities.

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A new study shows the Northeast USA will reach the dangerous 2°C warming threshold faster than most of the rest of the planet

Global surface temperatures in July 2016 according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). The Earth isn’t warming uniformly; some regions are heating faster than others.

Global surface temperatures in July 2016 according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). The Earth isn’t warming uniformly; some regions are heating faster than others. Photograph: GISS/NASA

Global warming obviously refers to temperature increases across the entire globe. We know the Earth is warming, we know it is human-caused, we have a pretty good idea about how much the warming will be in the future and what some of the consequences are. In fact, when it comes to the Earth’s average climate, scientists have a pretty good understanding.

On the other hand, no one lives in the average climate. We live spread out north, west, east, and south. On islands, large continents, inland or in coastal regions. Many of us want to know what’s going to happen to the climate where we live. How will my life be affected in the future?

This type of question is answered in a very recent study published by scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The team, which includes Dr. Raymond Bradley and researcher Dr. Ambarish Karmalkar looked specifically at the Northeastern United States. They found that this area will warm much more rapidly than the globe as a whole. In fact, it will warm faster than any other United States region. The authors expect the Northeast US will warm 50% faster than the planet as a whole. They also find that the United States will reach a 2 degree Celsius warming 10–20 years before the globe as a whole.

So why does this matter? Well first, it matters because some of the effects people will experience are directly tied to the temperature increase in their region. For instance, we know that warmer air leads to more intense precipitation. In fact, we are already observing increases in very heavy rainfall across the United States (especially in the Northeast). Based on this new research, that trend will only get worse. It means that winters in this region will get warmer and wetter – more winter precipitation will likely occur as rain rather than snow. This affects the availability of water into the spring months. It also means that summers will have more intense heat waves which will lead to more severe droughts.

However, there is another impact to this study. We often hear that it is important to avoid increasing the Earth’s temperature by 2°C if we want to prevent the worst risks of climate change. This 2-degree target is somewhat based on science and somewhat based on messaging and politics. There’s nothing magic about this number. It isn’t like everything will be fine so long as we stay below 2 degrees; similarly the world won’t end if we exceed 2 degrees.

It turns out that staying below a 2°C warming means we think we have a reasonable chance of avoiding some of the worst climate impacts and some of the potentially disastrous tipping points. But this is really just an educated guess. Some people have argued convincingly that our target should be lower, perhaps 1.5°C. Others argue that even 2°C is not achievable.

Regardless of the so-called temperature target, what this study shows is that even if we do keep the globe as a whole to a 2°C temperature increase, some regions, like the Northeast United States will far exceed this threshold. So, what is “safe” for the world is unsafe for certain regions.

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The Iran nuclear deal is a success – and the whole world is safer for it

Federica Mogherini was the EU’s chief negotiator on the nuclear deal with Iran

One year on, brave leadership and hard work have paid off. Iran is adhering to its obligations, to the huge benefit of the region and beyond. The critics are wrong

Iranians cross a street in Tehran

Tehran: ‘More work is needed, including domestic economic reforms, to make these positive results trickle down to the Iranian population, especially its youth. But the trend is absolutely clear, and progress undeniable.’ Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

One year ago this week, the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, the US and Iran began to implement the joint comprehensive plan of action on Iran’s nuclear programme. This agreement was the result of brave choices, political leadership, collective determination and hard work. A year on, we can clearly say that the Iran deal is working and we need to maintain it.

To those critics who have raised concerns, both about the terms of the agreement or about the very idea of having an agreement at all with Iran, I say: take a close look at the facts.

The agreement has already paid off by addressing a highly contentious and longstanding dispute in a peaceful manner. In its absence, today we might be facing one more military conflict, in a region that is already far too destabilised.

The deal, one year after its implementation, is delivering on its main purpose: ensuring the purely peaceful, civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. The International Atomic Energy Agency – the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog – has issued four reports on the matter and has regularly verified that Iran is complying with its nuclear-related obligations. This means that the Iranian nuclear programme has been significantly reformatted and downsized and is now subject to intense monitoring by the IAEA. The joint commission – which I coordinate – oversees constantly the implementation of the agreement, meeting regularly, which allows us to detect even minor possible deviations and to take necessary corrective measures if the need arises.

The deal is also working for Iran. Major companies are investing in the country: the oil sector, the automotive industry, commercial aircraft, just to give a few examples, are areas where significant contracts have been concluded. The International Monetary Fund has forecast real GDP growth in Iran to rebound to 6.6% in 2016-17.

More work is needed, for sure, including domestic economic reforms, to make these positive results trickle down to the Iranian population, especially its youth. But the trend is absolutely clear, and progress undeniable. Trade between the EU and Iran has risen by a staggering 63% over the first three quarters of last year. After more than 30 years of a diplomatic ice age, the EU and Iran are also discussing cooperation on matters as diverse as the economy, protection of the environment, migration, and culture – and the list could continue.

Therefore – and despite criticism that deceitfully stresses the deal’s perceived shortcomings and overlooks its proven benefits – it is important to state very clearly: the nuclear agreement with Iran is working.

There should be no doubt that the EU stands firmly by the deal, which is a multilateral endeavour. It was borne out of the efforts of the “E3/EU+3” – Britain, Germany, France plus the US, Russia and China – and Iran, but it now belongs to the entire international community, through its endorsement by the UN security council.

Without the agreement, the regional situation would be even more alarming. And we would be losing a historic opportunity if we missed the chance to build a more cooperative regional environment.

Against a dramatic regional background, the nuclear deal is a glimpse of what is possible in international relations, by tackling the conflicts affecting the region in a cooperative manner.

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