Blocked by Trump, unwanted by Kenya, Somali refugees face new crisis as famine looms

Somali refugees have no good options any more. With Kenya vowing to close the Dadaab refugee camp within months and resettlement to the United States suspended, many will succumb to growing pressure to return home, where al-Shabab militants and a potential famine await.

Mulki Mahmood lives in a busy tenement block of two-bedroom apartments, narrow corridors, and billowing lines of washing in Nairobi’s working class suburb of Eastleigh.

As a Somali refugee and single mum, life has not been easy. The one bright spot was that she had finally been accepted for resettlement in the United States, and was expecting to swap her down-at-heal neighbourhood, with its criminal gangs and hand-to-mouth existence, for a new life with her daughter in Ohio.

But US President Donald Trump’s executive order on Friday, suspending refugee admissions for four months, has put Mahmood’s plans � like so many others � on hold.

We’ve been vetted, and vetting is good, she told IRIN. I’m just asking for our humanity to be respected, because we are not related to any group causing mayhem or instability.

Mahmood, 30, has twice been a refugee. First as a child in 1992, escaping the start of the Somali Civil War. Then in 2003, after she had returned home, she was forced to flee again to Kenya, ending up in the Kakuma refugee camp.

Respect

Mahmood got married in Kakuma, but as soon as she gave birth, her husband divorced her. She had little choice but to come to Nairobi to look for work to support her child. She got set up selling snacks on the streets; always having to dodge the police demanding money, the threat being they can send you back to Kakuma.

Mahmood has also survived rape, attacked by a man until she fainted, according to the medical report from the Medecins Sans FrontiAres clinic she visited. All she wants, she says, is a future for herself and her daughter.

Men here don’t respect you as a single mother, they misuse you, she told IRIN. America is a great country. People’s rights and women’s rights are respected. I can educate my daughter and maybe get married.

Mahmood has been chasing resettlement for nine years. I used to sleep outside the [UN refugee agency] UNHCR office in Westlands, she laughed, her niqab off her face, relaxed. Now my resettlement process is due, Don I can’t even say his name, has put me on hold!

Mahmood has a resettlement number but has not been given a travel date, so she is yet to properly begin the process of packing up her life in Kenya.

Vulnerable groups

Omar Hassan Ibrahim, on the other hand, was due to have flown out last weekend, hours after Trump’s executive order was published. He and 140 other Somali refugees are now stuck in a transit centre in Nairobi run by the US State Department. What happens next is far from clear.

I don’t know what will be my future, 28-year-old Ibrahim told IRIN over the phone, describing resettlement as his one and only chance.

The transit centre is only meant to hold people for a couple of nights. UNHCR and its partner, the International Organization for Migration, are scrambling to find a way to safeguard the most vulnerable protection cases, including LGBT refugees.

Our staff are more than a little concerned. They know these [resettlement] cases really well, said IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle. We’re working closely with UNHCR to ensure those that can’t leave [the centre] are given all the support they need.

Ibrahim assumes he will probably have to go back to the Dadaab refugee camp, in Kenya’s remote northeast, where he has lived since 1992. That will be a psychological as well as a material blow.

People about to be resettled have typically given up their shelter, sold off their possessions, taken their children out of school, said their goodbyes and mentally checked out. They will now have to reconnect with a bureaucracy they thought they had escaped, including reapplying for the all-important ration card.

The United States is the world’s top resettlement country. Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo represent the bulk of the refugees from Africa accepted by the US. In 2015, it took in roughly 9,000 Somalis. In 2016, it planned to resettle 3,000 Somali refugees.

Trump’s executive order chimes with the position of governments like Kenya. The country has been a generous host, but the welcome towards Somalis soured after a series of high-profile attacks by al-Shabab jihadists on a shopping mall in 2013 and a university in 2015 that killed at least 215 people in total.

Pressure from Kenya

There is no public evidence that the attacks were planned in Dadaab, a sprawling refugee complex that was once the world’s largest. But the government has set a final deadline of May for the camp’s closure and the repatriation of 261,000 refugees living there.

It has piled on the pressure, revoking the prima facie refugee status for Somalis and disbanding the Department of Refugee Affairs. It has also pushed UNHCR to speed up a voluntary repatriation programme, which human rights groups condemn as being far from voluntary.

With food rations repeatedly cut in Dadaab, the generous repatriation package being offered to refugees is a real lure. But they are returning to an insecure country, where social services are absent, and returnees are typically stuck in crowded IDP camps in the southern city of Kismayo, unable to reach their home regions because of al-Shabab.

We have been caught between two rocks, or even three, Yakub Abdi told IRIN over the phone from Dadaab’s Ifo camp. Life in the camps has been deteriorating over the past years: food insecurity, poor health facilities, and constant threats to close the camp by Kenya. And now comes Trump.

His colleague, Ahmed Dahir, said that despite serious misgivings he would go back to Somalia after 25 years in Dadaab. The only hope I had was to be resettled in the US, and that has now shut down.

Drought crisis

But a graver risk even than that of al-Shabab harassment and recruitment is a drought under way in Somalia that bears all the hallmarks of the 2010-2011 catastrophe that led to the deaths of nearly 260,000 people, including 133,000 children.

An estimated five million Somalis � 40 percent of the population � are in need of food aid as a result of what is now the fourth consecutive drought in parts of southern and northern Somalia.

The UN and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network are sounding the alarm. If there are poor rains again in the March/April season, if people’s purchasing power (as is likely) remains weak, if al-Shabab blocks humanitarian access, then famine would be expected, warns FEWSNET.

In South West State, people are already abandoning their homes for IDP camps in the main town of Baidoa in search of food. World Vision is reporting similar distress migration in the Mugud and Bari regions of Puntland in the northeast.

If it goes to famine, where are these people going to flee? said Human Rights Watch researcher, Laetitia Bader. Will they have to avoid Dadaab, which was where many sought refuge in 2011? Will they have no option but to end up in the dangerous and poverty-stricken displacement camps in Somalia?

Somali refugees in Dadaab are increasingly trapped, said Bram Frouws with the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat. There’s nowhere for them to go.

They are squeezed by the Kenyan government; the EU has also struck a deal with Sudan to stop overland migration flows to Libya and Egypt; South Africa, previously a regular destination, has announced stricter migration policies; and Yemen, also a historical bolt hole, is now off the map due to its own conflict and deepening humanitarian crisis.

There have been anecdotal reports of refugees in Dadaab buying Kenyan IDs and heading to neighbouring Uganda, which has a far more liberal refugee regime. But Uganda is already struggling to shelter some 580,000 South Sudanese refugees who have entered the country since 2013.

My best guess is that those who have money have already tried to leave, said Frouws. Those without money or opportunities are either stuck in Dadaab for now, and must wait and see [whether the government follows through with its closure threat], or take the return packages and return to Somalia.

Trump, Kenya, drought � it’s all extremely negative, he said.

Source: IRIN

Sugar tax to promote health, curb obesity

As the debate over imposing a tax on sugary beverages commenced on Tuesday, Members of Parliament (MPs) heard of concerns that the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages in South Africa was increasing steadily.

MPs were told that the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to obesity, which is a global epidemic, and that tax measures were needed to curb consumption behaviour.

The debate ensued when Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance and the Portfolio Committee on Health held public hearings in Cape Town on Tuesday to debate the pros and cons of imposing a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan tabled a proposal in his 2016 Budget Speech for government to introduce a tax on sugary beverages amid growing concerns in South Africa and globally regarding obesity.

Dr Malcolm Freeman, the Chief Director of non-communicable diseases at the Department of Health, said the intake of sugary beverages in South Africa remained a concern.

[According to a study] the intake of added sugar is increasing steadily in South Africa. Children consume 40 to 60 grams per day and this increases to 100 grams a day in adolescents, he said.

Freeman said the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was linked to obesity, which is one of the major risk factors for non-communicable diseases.

He said between 1980 and 2014, the world wide prevalence of obesity nearly doubled, with 11% of men and 15% of women � which equates to more than half a billion adults � being classified as obese.

In 2013, an estimated 42 million children under the age of five were overweight, with the highest rates of increase being observed in Africa and Asia.

South Africa is the most obese country in Sub-Saharan Africa, Freeman said.

He said being overweight, or obese, increases the risk for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease such as hypertension, heart attacks, a stroke and cancer by four to eight times.

He said while non-communicable diseases were a burden to the healthcare system, Freeman favoured imposing food taxes as the most cost-effective way of dealing with the scourge.

Tax proposals on sugary beverages

Ismail Momoniat, the head of tax and financial tax policy at the National Treasury, said fiscal measures can be used to promote health and prevent disease aside from raising revenue.

Globally, fiscal measures such as taxes are increasingly recognised as effective complementary tools to help tackle non-communicable diseases and obesity epidemic at a population level, he said.

He said this could influence manufacturers’ production and consumer behaviour.

Studies suggest that a 10 to 20 percent price increase of sugar-sweetened beverages may be required to translate into meaningful impact on health outcomes, Momoniat said.

He said while there were concerns that a tax would have a negative impact on the poor, this would change consumer patterns and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

The poorer you are, the more likely you will not purchase sugar-sweetened beverages after a price increase [with a tax], reducing [sugary beverages] consumption and in effect, reducing obesity and the non-communicable diseases risk, and in the long run, achieving better health outcomes, he said.

He said the National Treasury proposed a tax at a rate of R0.029, or 2.29 cents, per gram of sugar.

This equates to a 20 percent tax incidence on 1 litre of Coca Cola.

By way of example, a litre of Coca Cola has about 106 grams of sugar. [This] means the tax rate will be around R2.42 per litre, he said.

Source: South African Government News Agency

Gauteng Health MEC resigns

Qedani Mahlangu has tendered her resignation as the Gauteng MEC of Health and a member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature following the release of a report into circumstances surrounding the deaths of mentally ill patients in the province.Dubbed “No…

South Africa: ‘Lost Continent’ Found Under Mauritius

Lava-covered piece of continent is an ancient remnant, left over from the break-up of the supercontinent, Gondwana, which started about 200 million years ago.

Scientists have confirmed the existence of a “lost continent” under the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius that was left-over by the break-up of the supercontinent, Gondwana, which started about 200 million years ago.

The piece of crust, which was subsequently covered by young lava during volcanic eruptions on the island, seems to be a tiny piece of ancient continent, which broke off from the island of Madagascar, when Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica split up and formed the Indian Ocean.

“We are studying the break-up process of the continents, in order to understand the geological history of the planet,” says Wits geologist, Professor Lewis Ashwal, lead author on the paper “Archaean zircons in Miocene oceanic hotspot rocks establish ancient continental crust beneath Mauritius”, published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

By studying the mineral, zircon, found in rocks spewed up by lava during volcanic eruptions, Ashwal and his colleagues Michael Wiedenbeck from the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) and Trond Torsvik from the University of Oslo, guest scientist at GFZ, have found that remnants of this mineral were far too old to belong on the island of Mauritius.

“Earth is made up of two parts � continents, which are old, and oceans, which are “young”. On the continents you find rocks that are over four billion years old, but you find nothing like that in the oceans, as this is where new rocks are formed,” explains Ashwal. “Mauritius is an island, and there is no rock older than 9 million years old on the island. However, by studying the rocks on the island, we have found zircons that are as old as 3 billion years.”

Zircons are minerals that occur mainly in granites from the continents. They contain trace amounts of uranium, thorium and lead, and due to the fact that they survive geological process very well, they contain a rich record of geological processes and can be dated extremely accurately.

“The fact that we have found zircons of this age proves that there are much older crustal materials under Mauritius that could only have originated from a continent,” says Ashwal.

This is not the first time that zircons that are billions of years old have been found on the island. A study done in 2013 has found traces of the mineral in beach sand. However, this study received some criticism, including that the mineral could have been either blown in by the wind, or carried in on vehicle tyres or scientists’ shoes.

“The fact that we found the ancient zircons in rock (6-million-year-old trachyte), corroborates the previous study and refutes any suggestion of wind-blown, wave-transported or pumice-rafted zircons for explaining the earlier results,” says Ashwal.

Ashwal suggests that there are many pieces of various sizes of “undiscovered continent”, collectively called “Mauritia”, spread over the Indian Ocean, left over by the breakup of Gondwanaland.

“According to the new results, this break-up did not involve a simple splitting of the ancient super-continent of Gondwana, but rather, a complex splintering took place with fragments of continental crust of variable sizes left adrift within the evolving Indian Ocean basin.”

Gondwanaland

Gondwanaland is a super-continent that existed more than 200 million years ago and contained rocks as old as 3.6 billion years old, before it split up into what are now the continents of Africa, South America, Antarctica, India and Australia. The split-up occurred because of the geological process of plate tectonics. This is the process where the ocean basin is in continuous motion, and moves between 2 cm and 11 cm per year. Continents ride on the plates that make up the ocean floor, which causes the movement of the continents.

Mauritius

Known as a tropical holiday destination, Mauritius is a volcanic island, formed by the eruption of volcanoes starting at about nine million years ago. The island forms part of a string of islands, formed by a stationary hotspot (volcano), presently located at Reunion Island. Originating from deep within the earth, the hotspot stays stationary while the ocean’s tectonic plates move across it, creating a string of volcanic islands.

Source: University of the Witwatersrand

UN envoy strongly condemns attack on UN team near Nigeria-Cameroon border

Strongly condemning an attack against a United Nations monitoring team near the Nigeria-Cameroon border that resulted in the death of five persons, the UN envoy for West Africa and the Sahel region, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, called on both countries to take swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice.

According to preliminary reports, at around 14:00 hours, yesterday, an unknown armed group attacked a UN Technical Monitoring Team, killing five individuals � a UN independent contractor, three Nigerians nationals and one Cameroonian national � and injuring several others.

The team was conducting a field mission in the vicinity of Hosere Jongbi, near Kontcha, Cameroon, about 700 kilometres north of the capital Yaounde, as part of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission mandate.

In a news release issued by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mr. Chambas reiterated the vital role of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission in accomplishing the border demarcation, in compliance with a judgment of the International Court of Justice, and in contributing to stability and security in the region.

He also offered his condolences to the families of those killed in the attack and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.

The Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission was established by the UN Secretary-General, at the request of Presidents of Cameroon and Nigeria, in 2002, to settle border issues between the two West African neighbours.

The Mixed Commission’s mandate includes demarcation of the land boundary and delimitation of the maritime boundary between the two countries; withdrawal of troops and transfer of authority in the Lake Chad area, along the land boundary and in the Bakassi Peninsula; addressing the situation of populations affected by the demarcation activities; and development of recommendations on confidence-building measures aiming at promoting peaceful cross-border cooperation.

Source: UN News Centre