Monthly Archives: June 2014

Alumni Update: Andy McElroy (IDHA 16)

Andy McElroy (IDHA 16) has recently published an article, “UNISDR Chief: ‘recapture spirit of 2005,‘” outlining the key points discussed at the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

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Alumni Update: Antenanie Goshu (IDHA 36)

Antenanie Goshu (IDHA 36) is now working with GlobalMedic in the Philippines. GlobalMedic is currently running emergency WASH programming in Bosnia, Haiti, the Philippines, Syria, and the Central African Republic (CAR) as well as a shelter program in the Philippines. Antenanie is working on Monitoring and Evaluation for GlobalMedic’s WASH project.

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Humanitarian News Brief: Child Migration and Central America

Child Migration and Central America: A Humanitarian Crisis

During this fiscal year, nearly 50,000 minors have been detained by U.S. immigration authorities; almost double the number from last year. This huge influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America is threatening to become the biggest refugee crisis the United States has faced since 1980 during the Mariel boatlift when thousands of Cubans fled their home country by boat. The increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the border is said to be part of a larger flow of people fleeing Central America including many families with small children. On June 2nd, President Obama ordered federal emergency authorities to take charge of the relief effort calling the surge in unaccompanied children crossing into South Texas “an urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated federal response.”

When children from non-contiguous countries are caught in the United States, they are taken into U.S. custody by Border Patrol Agents. According to Federal Law, unaccompanied minors can only be held in a Border Patrol facility for a maximum of 72 hours. After that, they either have to be sent to a relative in the U.S. where they will await a hearing to determine whether or not they can remain in the U.S., or they are sheltered by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS Spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said that the office operates about 100 permanent shelters for unaccompanied minors. Because of the steep increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border recently, all of these facilities are filled. In May, the first supplemental shelter was set up at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, which was equipped to accommodate 1,200 minors; by early June it had already received 1,000 minors. On June 2nd, officials said the youths would begin to be transferred to a new shelter at Naval Base Ventura County in Oxnard, California, which will house up to 600 children. Now, a third shelter has been set up at Fort Still in Oklahoma.

The Border Patrol’s holding facilities were not open to the press until June 18th when under mounting pressure from lawmakers and immigrant rights groups, reporters were allowed access to processing facilities in Nogales, Arizona and Brownsville, Texas under strict guidelines that included being prohibited from speaking to any of the children. Previously, leaked photographs have shown cramped cells and an inadequate supply of food, beds, toilets, and showers. A recent lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and four immigrant rights groups on behalf of 116 children are chronicling a situation that they say “paint[s] a consistent picture of widespread abuse and mistreatment.” The groups interviewed about 1,000 children between ages 5 and 17 who had been detained in Texas this year, and found about 80 percent of them had been provided “inadequate food and water.” The complaint states that, “approximately half of the children described the denial of medical care. More than half reported physical abuse…Approximately 70 percent of these children were detained beyond the 72-hour statutory limit.”

After the children are either reunited with family, or housed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they are given a court date where they are, in theory, given the opportunity to present their claims for asylum. In reality however, the children are not required by law to have a government appointed lawyer because they are not involved in a criminal proceeding. Non-profits have been scrambling to find lawyers to represent the unaccompanied minors pro bono. Immigrant Advocacy Organizations have been calling for federally funded public defenders for unaccompanied minors, and their cries for assistance have taken on a wider scope and a new sense of urgency in the face of this new influx. Recently, the Obama administration said it was starting a program to provide lawyers for children facing deportation. Under the program, the federal government will issue $2 million in grants for 100 lawyers and paralegals to represent immigrant children. In a statement issued by the Justice Department, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said, “How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings — many of whom are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse or trafficking — goes to the core of who we are as anation.” Advocates gladly welcomed the program saying that it was long overdue. There are however, challenges presented by the new plan such as lack of training for this specific type of court case. Other advocates have critiqued the program as a seemingly small measure that fails to cope with a much larger problem, saying that, “a hundred lawyers nationwide is not going to satisfy our commitment to protecting these children…If we have to give lawyers to murderers, then perhaps we should give them to refugee orphans.” A spokeswoman for a community service corporation noted that, “The program has been in the works for a really long time… it’s consistent with the [Obama] administration’s efforts to provide a comprehensive response to the influx.” Despite the administration’s commitment to support lawyers who will help these unaccompanied minors attain asylum in the U.S., Cecilia Munoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, surprisingly anticipates that many of these young children may be deported regardless of the legal representation. In a recent article, Munoz states, “The end result of this process is likely to be that the vast majority of those kids end up going back. There may be some isolated cases where there is some basis for them to be able to stay, but the borders of the United States are not open, not even for children who come on their own, and the deportation process starts when they get here, and we expect that it will continue for the vast majority of these kids.”

There are many push factors that are creating this influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. The unrest and economic hardship plaguing many Central American countries due to gang related violence is one of the main reasons why many young people are fleeing their home countries. Daniel Penado Zavala was 17 years old when he decided to leave his home country of El Salvador after his stepfather was slain by gang members. He thought that if he stayed, he too would be a victim if he resisted the wishes of the gangs. He saved $7,000 to pay a smuggler, frequently known as a coyote, to arrange his journey first from El Salvador to Mexico, and then from Mexico to Texas. Daniel’s story is just one of many tales of young children fleeing gangs who are increasingly recruiting from schools, youth centers, and youth groups at churches to fill roles such as drug mules and assassins. In a meeting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC on June 13th, the President of Honduras spoke of the role that U.S. drug consumers have played in this disaster, “We are very worried about the children, but sadly this is a security problem provoked by drug trafficking from the drugs consumed by the U.S., and this has had an impact on the situation involving the displacement [of Hondurans].” Honduras currently has the highest murder rate in the world. In one of its cities, San Pedro Sula, 169 out of 100,000 people are murdered, making it the deadliest city in the world.

Some lawmakers, Republicans especially, are blaming President Obama and his lax immigration policies as possible pull factors for why so many children are coming into Texas. On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden extended a planned trip to Central America in order to have a summit-type meeting, to be held in Guatemala, on this issue with the Presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador along with a top official from Honduras. Senior Obama Administration officials told reporters that they are greatly concerned by the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America coming to the United States. They said, “our top priority is to manage this urgent humanitarian situation… The entire U.S. administration is engaged in addressing the situation, in making sure these children are housed and fed and receive medical treatment, but at the same time we also realize the crucial importance of stemming the tide of migration.” There are misleading rumors in Central America that children who make it to the United States by June 2014 will be eligible for deferred deportation or may be eligible to stay in the U.S. indefinitely or permanently. Usually June and July are months where immigration rates are not as high, but this year will be an exception.   Senior Obama administration officials said that, “The vice president will be making this trip to Guatemala to discuss both the violence and economic opportunity side and the misperceptions of U.S. immigration policy… while he’s there in Guatemala he will emphasize that illegal immigration is not safe. That putting your child in the handsof a criminal smuggling organization is not safe. And he will make clear that recently arriving children arenot eligible for [the deferred deportation program] or earned citizenship provisions in current immigration reform legislation…the bottom line is that it’s not worth subjecting children to a perilous journey when, at the end of the day, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.” Last Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress that his agency was struggling to keep up with the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States saying, “the numbers are rising… Undeniably, there is a problem of humanitarian proportions.”

A Texas lawmaker, U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas’ 28th District, recently visited with Border Patrol agents and children while touring an immigration detention facility. Talking to the Border Patrol agents, Cuellar found that they were pained to see so many children and mothers crossing the border. He has asserted that the United States must do more than use enforcement to stop this surge of child migrants. He is urging the country to do more to prevent children from dangerously travelling to the United States in search of economic opportunity and safety by helping to build up the Central American economy: “We as Congress pay attention to all over the world except our own backyard… I’ve been saying we have to do more with those economies in the south. If not, they are going to keep coming.”

To deal with the influx of immigrants the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Committee unveiled a $1.94 billion bill that would give the Department of Health and Human Services the means to fully deal with the increase. Meanwhile, the White House has announced that the issue will be addressed in the upcoming Homeland Security and State Department appropriation bills. The bills will not ask for increases for the already-written departmental allocations, but will instead halt or reverse sequestration limits for more than two-dozen areas. Administration officials further announced $9.6 million in additional support to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to help them reintegrate people who have been sent back, along with $40 million to launch a program to improve security in Guatemala, a $25 million program to provide services to youth in El Salvador who are vulnerable to organized crime, and $18.5 million to build youth outreach centers in Honduras. While most of the recent attention has been focused on the influx of unaccompanied minor immigrants coming into the U.S., law enforcement officials are becoming increasingly worried about the effect this surge is having on drug traffic coming into the U.S. The Border Patrol union representative in the Rio Grande region, Chris Cabrera, highlighted the issue in a recent statement, saying, “The arrival of large groups of women and children on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande is pulling agents away from their patrol stations elsewhere along the border, creating gaps in coverage that the traffickers can exploit… The smugglers wait on the southern banks of the Rio Grande as migrant groups as large as 250 wade across at dusk and turn themselves in to the Border Patrol…then groups of single men proceed to cross under cover of darkness…The most recent statistics…show that narcotics seizures have fallen across the entire border with Mexico this year.”

Updated 6/23/14

Margaret Dunne, IIHA Intern

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Alumni Update: Argentina Szabados (IDHA Alumni Council Chairperson Emeritus, IDHA 2)

A warm congratulations to Argentina Szabados (IDHA Alumni Council Chairperson Emeritus, IDHA 2), who was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC) as the IDHA Alumni Representative!

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Alumni Update: Joe Lowry (IDHA 12)

In his recent blog post, “Breaking on the Border,” Joe Lowry (IDHA 12), a Senior Media and Communications Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), reflects on his experience on the Cambodian-Thai border.

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Press Release: Lord David Owen Speaks to IDHA 43 at Fordham University

Lord David Owen Speaks to IDHA 43 at Fordham University


To be staying in the United States at this time is to experience a strange mood of puzzlement and anger as to how the foreign and security establishment in America should react to ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  The title for the organisation is at least for the present a reality – for they do control substantial territory in both Syria and Iraq. The question is for how long?

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal had an article by Dick Cheney and his daughter headlined ‘The collapsing Obama doctrine’.  It demonstrated in every line that the former Vice President has learnt nothing from the debacle of his own judgements over the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In its vehemence and its partisanship it is below the level one should expect. In its simplicities it echoes the ill-advised words of our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair.   Both men are incapable of accepting any responsibility for the mess the region is in. At least Cheney no longer holds any office. President George Bush wisely continues to show a decent respect for his successor as President, keeping his thoughts to himself as part of a dignified retirement. Blair by contrast assumes he must play a major role.

I find amongst many Americans that Tony Blair’s words are thought to represent the European Union.  When I point out that he speaks only for the Quartet, a combination of the EU, US, Russia and the UN on the limited mandate of developing the economy of Palestine, they appear very surprised, thinking he is a Middle East envoy for the whole region. They also seem to think that the UK automatically supports Blair’s views as well as the EU’s  on the military coup in Egypt and the present leaders.  This is, of course, far from the truth.  A letter from William Hague to me makes it clear that on this issue of Egypt and the unilateral bombing of Iran Tony Blair speaks only for himself. Certainly judging from the situation in America Tony Blair should no longer be allowed to speak for the EU on the Middle East and someone else found for helping Palestine without his past record and crusading messianic fervour.

A different and more important article also appeared yesterday in the New York Times by Anne Marie Slaughter headlined ‘Don’t fight in Iraq and ignore Syria’. She was Director of Policy Planning in the State Department from 2009-2011.  She has been a consistent advocate of using force in Syria.  She believes that the reason the White House did not act militarily over Syria was that no matter how heart-rendering the images and how horrific the crimes, America’s vital interests were not engaged it was just people. Whereas in Iraq she believes, in contrast to Syria, the strategic world of government interests are involved “where what matters is the chess game of one leader against another, and stopping both state and non state actors who are able to harm the United States.”

The danger of her analysis is that military intervention around the world when faced by humanitarian disasters can delay as well as speed up the establishment of peace. Many have never been convinced that military action from the air in Syria will do anything other than perpetuate and indeed exacerbate an already horrendous humanitarian crisis.

The arguments for this viewpoint are not trivial.  I strongly supported the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. But even that intervention has run into huge difficulties.  It started however with a UN Security Council resolution that was not vetoed by either Russia or China. Because both countries believed, rightly or wrongly, that we broke the inhibition in the resolution on regime change they were never prepared to support in the UN military intervention from the air over Syria. Also even had such an intervention taken place it would not have stopped all flights over Syria. With Russian and Iranian military advising and supporting the Assad government, not only would all the ground-to-air missile defence systems have been difficult to destroy but they would have been replenished.  The fighting would not have stopped in the way that it did in Libya.  And the belief that on the ground inter-ethnic and religious fighting can be stopped from the air would have been shown up as a myth fostered by too glib assumptions from the Balkans, particularly Kosovo.

There were and still are other problems associated with intervention in Syria. There has been an understandable difference of opinion in the past over whether to supply sophisticated armament to the Sunni forces fighting Assad.  For Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region there was a readiness to supply to both moderate Sunni forces and Islamic extremist forces, but this option was not available to the US and the EU.  We remembered with some regrets that by supplying the Mujahideen in Afghanistan with sophisticated weaponry to help oust the Soviet Union from 1979 onwards those same weapons, when they passed into the hands of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, were used against ourselves.

These and many other factors led to the House of Commons in August of last year rejecting on a cross party basis the idea that the British government should intervene militarily in Syria.  When a few days later President Obama put the same issue to the US Congress it quickly became apparent without a vote that they too were not prepared to take responsibility for such military action. What is democracy if it does not mean taking note of democratic legislatures of two important countries.  The truth is that military intervention in Syria was rejected democratically.

However, no one can deny that the geo-strategic situation has changed dramatically with ISIS forces now controlling the Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Tikrit, Mosul and Tel Afar.

First, it is possible to envisage now that the UN Security Council might agree to some military action to restore the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria if for no other reason than the Iraqi government of Prime Minister al-Maliki has openly requested military support.

Secondly, it is already a fact that President Obama has authorised discussions to be undertaken with Iran following the open invitation from President Rouhani and that though this has aroused inevitable criticism from Senator McCain that criticism has not been replicated by other significant Republican Senators who are prepared at least to wait and see if there is a new way forward.  The British government has also wisely taken the opportunity to re-establish an Ambassador in our Embassy in Teheran.

If we can start to cooperate with Iran on strategic problems facing Iraq it will be inevitable that we will also have to discuss the implications for Syria.  There can be no solution that ignores Syria and it may even have to involve military action, such as drones and conventional aircraft. President Obama and David Cameron are right to exclude boots on the ground. Were the US and even NATO to take limited military action in the present circumstances it would be very different from any action that took place in the Iraq war or was contemplated to be taken in Syria.  It would be action from outside the region that carried regional support from all the major players and might well have the endorsement of the UN.  That is why it is imperative that Turkey, a NATO ally, helps guide the policy of European countries on whether we should be ready to offer NATO support in addition to anything that might come from the US.

United diplomatic and military action has a real chance of unifying not dividing the region. It would not be seen primarily as intervention from outside but of  outside reinforcement.  The leaders who would have the most to lose if they failed to respond creatively to the new situation would be al-Malaki and Assad.  The overall prize – and it is a very big one – is to achieve the destruction of ISIS, who in many ways are a more horrendous opponent than Al-Qaeda.

Just as it is vital that there is pressure from Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia on Prime Minister al-Malaki to build a proper coalition representative of his country with the full involvement of the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish citizens, so it is vital for those three countries to exert the same pressure on President Assad to come up with a negotiated settlement with the moderate Sunni forces that are fighting with government forces in an ever futile civil war.  These people have lived together and they can do so again.  But Assad will have to recognise just as al-Malaki may have to that their past record excludes them from providing the healing leadership that is essential if Iraq and Syria are to be held together as stable countries within their present boundaries.

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Alumni Update: Angie Jackson and Mark Little (IDHA 27)

Angie Jackson and Mark Little, alumni of IDHA 27, are now 7,000 miles into the Mongol Rally with the aim of raising $100,000 for two organizations (the Royal Flying Doctor Service & Cairns Hospital Emergency Department) which provide vital healthcare to Far North Queenlanders. Just last week, as they passed through Bishkek in the Kyrgyz Republic, Angie and Mark reunited with fellow IDHA 27 Alumna, Tursunay Usubalieva. Follow Angie and Mark’s journey on their team’s blog: FNQ Medics

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Alumni Update: Dominic Kilban (IDHA 37 New York)


Congratulations to Dominic Kilbane (IDHA 37 NY), and his wife, Helen, on their newborn, Ella!

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Alumni Update: Andreas Kiaby (IDHA 30 New York)

Andreas Kiaby (IDHA 30 New York) assumed a position as International Advisor in Humanitarian Advocacy and Humanitarian Law at the Danish Red Cross. He now supports international programs in 27 countries with a particular focus on advocacy, IHL, human rights, gender and social inclusion. He works alongside Kaspar Bro Larsen (IDHA 13 Geneva) and recently met with Emilie Chazelle (IDHA 30 Dublin and Forced Migration 3 Barcelona) in Amman and Bettina Schulte (IDHA 40 New York and Communications & Media 2 Nairobi) in Copenhagen.

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Alumni Update: Gisele Menye Ntsama-Langue (IDHA 39 Berlin)


Gisele Menye Ntsama-Langue (IDHA 39 Berlin) graduated from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy with a Master of Arts in Humanitarian Assistance (with a focus on Post-conflict interventions and nutrition policies).

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