More Refugees Flee the Horn of Africa for Yemen

In the Horn of Africa, where drought and political violence have already cost thousands of lives this year, desperate people are turning to the sea to escape intolerable conditions all around them. They are landing by the thousands in the dangerous chaos of Yemen. In October alone, more than 12,000 people, mostly from Somalia and … Read more

WORLDVIEWS

Sticking With a Story After the Media Forget

Do you want know what happens to news reports in parts of the world after they seemingly drop from the front page? Do you get frustrated by constant coverage of certain stories at the expense of others? Do you think that the US media and the US foreign policy establishment should pay some attention to … Read more

Seven Billion? What It Looks Like in Nine Countries

The world may look more diverse than ever as it hits the seven billion population mark, though scratch below the teeming surface and you discover similarities in rich and poor countries alike. Problems of urban density, youth unemployment, elderly care and scarcer resources are shared across all economic and regional spectrums. By interviewing people in … Read more

Climate Change, Migrations and Few Welcome Mats

Climate change is being linked to such far-flung situations as rising seas that threaten to sink small island nations and drying up vast regions in Africa, which has spurred large upheavals of people, most recently in Somalia.

This week, the complicated topic of environmental shifts and their effect on migration was tackled at a lunchtime panel sponsored by the International Peace Institute with the Portuguese and German governments. This summer, the subject was debated for the first time at the United Nations Security Council when Germany assumed the presidency in July.

Human migration is an ancient adaptation strategy rooted in the desire to find a better life, and today the phenomenon still reflects that urge. But climate change and related food scarcity problems have created new pressures that few countries can handle or understand. Take Somalia again, where the drought in the Horn of Africa has led to hundreds of thousands of people displaced, straining relations with Kenya while heightening warfare within its own borders.

The Peace Institute discussion focused on how multilateral institutions are being forced to address climate change and migration, despite relative inexperience in the matter. The speakers were Udo Janz, the director of the New York office of the UN high commissioner for refugees; Susan Martin, the executive director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University; and Michele Klein Solomon, the permanent observer to the UN for the International Organization for Migration. Warren Hoge, senior adviser for external relations at the Peace Institute, moderated (http://www.ipacademy.org/news/general-announcement/276-environmental-migrants-climate-change-and-human-migration.html).

Dialogue on climate shifts and human movement remain contentious. As Professor Martin pointed out in her scholarly talk, projections of numbers have not been borne out. Experts in the environment and in migration have not been conversing with each other, though that is improving, she said.

The problem is that “there has been a great deal of disagreement about what the actual causal or determinative linkages are between environmental change on one hand and human migration on the other,” she said.

Moving away from projections, migration experts are now focusing on the ground, Professor Martin said. Migration is pushed by various factors that include economics, social relationships, politics and national and human security. The environment is an important factor, but seldom is it the only reason that people move.

Climate change affects mobility gradually from, say, rising sea levels, making life uninhabitable; increasing droughts and desertification, especially disrupting agricultural livelihoods; severe hazards like cyclones, causing sudden displacement; and intense competition for scarce resources, sowing conflicts and tension.

In addition, migration patterns vary widely and can change overnight, as in the Somalia crisis. The movements can be temporary (a few days or months) or permanent; internal (most within borders); and international – most people head to neighboring countries, where problems are slightly less extreme. For example, desperate Somalis who made the boat journey to Yemen had no idea the country was battling a civil war, so some returned home.

Migration is expected to continue mainly in developing countries, given the costs of going long distances, notably from poor to wealthier nations. One big concern, Professor Martin said, are those who can’t leave, “the most vulnerable amongst us.”

As for policies to help fix the problems, Professor Martin recommended that “pre-migration” phases focus on mitigation and adaptation – like developing coping skills to contend with unfolding dramas and finding strategies for reducing disaster risks.

Somalian refugees at an internal camp in Mogadishu. Nearly four million Somalians, half the country, have had their lives severely disrupted by the recent drought, leading to forced migration and deadly conflicts.
STUART PRICE/UN PHOTO

Yet some migration, she acknowledged, is inevitable, through either a spontaneous departure to a new location or a planned relocation, as with small island countries. Both paths involve challenges of integration or reintegration. More important, Professor Martin said, migration doesn’t end with the arrival of people in a new place but “with how they are received.”

Laws and policy programs addressing all forms of movements and phases are weak except for emergencies, particularly related to conflict, which fall under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Policies are almost nonexistent for slow-forming situations, especially for ones across borders. Some treaties are evolving for internal displacement, but most are not binding. The African Union has adopted a convention of rights of internally displaced people, though it is not in force yet. Meanwhile, African populations are the fastest-growing in the world, the UN says, increasing the number of people at risk in many places and putting greater pressures on natural resources.

Klein Solomon of the International Organization for Migration, which consists of 132 member countries that is independent of the UN, reiterated much of Professor Martin’s remarks but summarized her group’s function in migration policy discussions.

For example, IOM, as it is known, is researching situations and trends and bringing people together to talk at national and international levels, like climate change scientists with migration experts and political groups with development communities.

Janz of the UN refugee office repeatedly linked increased displacement of people to environmental factors such as natural disasters, which he said are growing in number and intensity. But he mainly concentrated his talk on drought and desertification in Africa and the plight of low-lying island countries in the Pacific, all problems stemming from climate change, he said.

“Drought and desertification are at the core of serious challenges and threats facing sustainable development,” Janz said, adding that land degradation is a major cause of forced migration and incites violent conflicts over dwindling natural resources, food insecurity and starvation, loss of biological diversity and homes, poor health and rising poverty.

Two-thirds of Africa is classified as desert or dry land, primarily in the Horn of Africa and the Kalahari Desert, farther south. More droughts are predicted, Janz said, while arid conditions are pushing more people out of their homes internally. The greatest people affected are at the lowest end, settling in the outskirts of urban areas or suboptimal coastal lands.

The effects of the drought in Somalia are threatening up to 750,000 more lives, the UN says. Unusually, some herders and their livestock have even gone to live in Mogadishu, the capital, hardly a city with a welcome mat. Women and children bear the heaviest burden, making weeks-long treks to presumed safety while risking sexual assault as their men stay behind to tend whatever livestock remains.

Sea-level rises in the Pacific are not just about islands disappearing but entire populations having to vacate long before then, Janz said, because of salinization in otherwise arable land. Twenty-two countries with up to 9.2 million people could be without homes and livelihoods.

“What can we do?” he asked. UN and other international organizations must develop efficient adaptive mechanisms, he suggested, among other actions, while countries should be more responsible for developing responses for areas prone to disasters, like Bangladesh. There, Janz said, the region is constantly vulnerable to cyclones, but a flexible shelter program has helped people manage.

Libya’s Leaders, the UN Says, Value Democracy

Very soon after the reported death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Surt on Oct. 20, the United Nations responded with a statement by the secretary-general calling for reconciliation and national unity and with a press conference live from Tripoli featuring Ian Martin, the head of the UN’s new political mission in Libya, which was set … Read more

GOINGS-ON

A Rwandan Deputy at UN Habitat

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira of Rwanda has been named deputy executive director and assistant secretary-general for UN Habitat, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya. She succeeds Inga Björk-Klevby, a Swede who was appointed by Kofi Annan, secretary-general at the time. Kirabo, appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is the governor of Eastern Province, the largest province in … Read more

GOINGS-ON

Where Murder Rates Soar

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported in early October that young men are most at risk of becoming victims of homicide in the Caribbean-Central American region and central and southern Africa. Women in those regions are at high risk of death in domestic violence. The agency’s Global Study on Homicide puts the blame … Read more

Peacekeeping’s New Chief Intent on Urgent Issues

Hervé Ladsous, a French diplomat who is the new under secretary-general for United Nations peacekeeping operations, said on Thursday that though he had “no predetermined grand vision” for the agency, he would focus on cutting back on the UN’s presence in Haiti; its work in Sudan and South Sudan; and the death this week of three peacekeepers in Darfur.

In his first address to the UN press corps, Ladsous emphasized that protecting UN peacekeepers is a top priority. Eighty-six peacekeepers have died this year so far, including 29 civilians.

“Peacekeepers nowadays have very complicated mandates, very complex, very specialized,” he said. “We need to give them all the means to face these challenges.”

With a full head of white hair and a straightforward manner, Ladsous is a departure from his French predecessor, Alain Le Roy, a bear-size man with a gentle demeanor. Ladsous is also a step apart from the soft-spoken but articulate Jean-Marie Guéhenno, another French diplomat who had the post before Le Roy. Yet Ladsous brings extensive knowledge of his past UN experience to the job, which he was assigned in September by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Herve Ladsous, the under secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, addressing the UN press corps on Oct. 14, 2011. He says that pressing issues include security for peacekeepers, cutting back in Haiti and the missions in Sudan and South Sudan. PAULO FILGUEIRAS/UN PHOTO

France is the fifth-largest financial contributor, nearly 8 percent, to the UN peacekeeping department’s budget for 2010-2012. (The US is the largest.)  The peacekeeping department has 16 missions totaling about 122,000 personnel and a current annual budget of $7.8 billion.

Most recently, Ladsous was the chief of staff for French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé; he has been France’s ambassador to Indonesia and China and was the deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in New York and a delegate to the UN in Geneva. He also served as a chief of affairs for France in Haiti. Ladsous was born in 1950 and has a degree from the National School of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris as well as a law degree.

Acknowledging that the peacekeeping department has reached its highest staffing levels ever, Ladsous said it would make cuts that could include Haiti.

“There is a lot of desire from the government of Haiti” and the Haitian people to “reclaim Minustah,” the abbreviation for the UN mission,” he said. The Security Council decides today on whether to renew the mission’s mandate for another year. The secretary-general has recommended that the council reduce peacekeeping staff by 2,750 police officers and military personnel. [On Oct. 14, the Security Council voted to extend the mission’s mandate for a year and cut uniformed personnel there by 2,500 people, leaving about 10,500 in place.]

Ladsous is heading to South Sudan and Sudan in the next two weeks on his first trip in his new post. There, at the contested border between the two countries, fighting has been brutal, particularly bombing directed by Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and other criminal acts.

But the Security Council has not passed a resolution yet regarding the fighting, though this summer it authorized an interim force, called Unisfa, supplied by Ethiopia to work in the contested border area of Abiyeh. Ladsous said that the security force’s efforts were hindered by the rainy season, making roads impassable and conflict prevention difficult. When the rains end, migrations traditionally begin, he said, along with potential for violence.

“My first goal is to get to know the interlocutors,” he said, discussing how he will proceed, meeting the leaders of South Sudan and Sudan, the UN missions and people in Darfur and Abiyeh, noting the recent fatal attacks of three peacekeepers in Darfur, which is part of Sudan and where the UN and the African Union have a joint mission. The UN also has a new peacekeeping force, called Unmiss, in South Sudan; the mission in Sudan was closed this summer.

While in Africa, Lasdous will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which is a big contributor of peacekeeping troops.

Reform of the peacekeeping agency will prevail under his leadership, Ladsous said. “Protection of civilians, helping countries changing police and justice” and protecting the rights of women are part of the mix. Years ago, he added, there were no women special representatives in UN peacekeeping; now a third of those jobs are filled by women. The agency will keep pushing this agenda with UN Women, the newest UN entity. [See Barbara Crossette’s article on UN Women: http://passblue.com/barbara-crossette/]

Ladsous emphasized that he wanted to learn and talk to “all those who have a stake” in peacekeeping, noting that partnerships and working with governments, troop contributors, the peacekeepers themselves, other UN agencies and regional organizations – like the European Union – are on his agenda. Investments in communication tools and helicopters are two areas that must continue, he added, along with building skills and knowledge.  Financial concerns by member countries, however, require the department to find the “best value for their money.”

As to sending UN troops to Libya, Lasdous said that no request by the interim government had been heard. The department provides police advisers and rule of law experts to the new UN political mission in Tripoli, headed by Ian Martin, a former British diplomat and a founder of Amnesty International.

Lasdous described the wait-and-see attitude on Libya as “comme aller les choses,” or “as things go.”

[This article was updated on Oct. 14, 2011.]

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