Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):

Sea of woes

for migrants

More migrants have drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler's boat capsized and this raises serious questions about whether the world is doing enough to help people whose only desire is to reach safer shores.

Several factors like climate change, instability and growing inequalities are forcing millions of people to look out for greener pastures and many of them resort to risky methods to reach safer places. Is it their fault?

It is tragic that such hapless people are forced to pay with their life when they actually seek better lives.

Sadly, migrants have been ignoring warnings about the extreme dangers facing them while trying to reach Europe via the so-called central Mediterranean route, which connects Libya to Italy.

Drownings in the Mediterranean began surging in 2013 as Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II began picking up speed, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Over the past five years, more than 16,000 people have died trying to make the perilous crossing to Europe, according to International Organisation for Migration (IOM) numbers.

Excluding Friday's tragedy, 246 migrants and refugees have already died trying to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, compared to 254 casualties during the first month of 2017.

As per IOM spokesperson Olivia Headon, the latest tragedy happened off the coast of Zuwara in the early hours on Friday. Survivors told aid workers that most of the migrants on board were Pakistanis, who form a growing group heading to Italy from North Africa.

Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities — under pressure from Italy and the European Union — have begun to block departures.

Migrants often face extreme hardship and abuse in Libya, including forced labour, according to Human Rights Watch and other rights groups. Such instances need to be taken seriously and addressed by the international community.

The Global Compact for Migration that is expected to be adopted by the end of this year, once negotiations by UN Member States conclude, may go a long way in alleviating the problems faced by genuine migrants.

Director-General of the International Organisation of Migration, William Lacy Swing, recently made an ardent appeal to make migration safe in a world on the move. Hope that well-meaning appeal does not fall on deaf ears.

Global unemployment

a huge challenge

While the global economy has kept up modest growth, the total number of unemployed people will likely remain high in 2018 – at above 192 million – and it will be harder to find a decent job, the United Nations labour agency has warned. The world cannot afford to take this issue lightly.

According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder, decent work deficits remain widespread: the global economy is still not creating enough jobs.

A key problem is the abundance of "vulnerable employment," a category that includes informal work arrangements with little or no social and contractual protections.

Incidentally, the problem is most acute in the developing world, where three out of every four workers have a "vulnerable" employment status.

The charity group Oxfam earlier reported that 82 per cent of the wealth created in 2017 was controlled by the world's richest one per cent.

The wealth of the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people is the equivalent to the combined net worth of six American businessmen, one from Spain and another from Mexico.

Oxfam pointed to a link between the vast gap between rich and poor and growing discontent with mainstream politics around the world.

More than 200 million people were estimated out of work around the world last year.

The question that is commonly asked all around is: Are the robots taking our jobs?

Adding to the worry is the caution by experts at the Davos summit that intelligent robots and all-knowing online networks threaten to drag humanity into a "totalitarian" nightmare of mind control and mass unemployment.

The World Economic Forum estimates that new technology could affect 1.4 million jobs in the United States alone by 2026.

A study of 46 countries and 800 occupations by the McKinsey Global Institute earlier guesstimated that up to 800 million global workers would lose their jobs by 2030 and be replaced by robotic automation.

The impact is already perceptible.

Just to cite a couple of instances, car makers are fast developing driverless vehicles. Online retail giant Amazon this week opened a 1,800 square-foot cashier-less convenience store with cameras and artificial intelligence scanning the items remotely.

It is imperative that countries intensify job-generation efforts across the globe. As ILO officials point out, additional efforts need to be put in place to improve the quality of work for jobholders and to ensure that the gains of growth are shared equitably.

Palestinian anger over

US moves justified

A true peace mediator does not take sides. But in the case of the Middle East peace process, Washington has unabashedly taken a pro-Israeli stance.

Not content with angering the entire world by recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital, US President Donald Trump has gone a step further by issuing a threat to hold back aid unless Palestinians resume negotiations with Israel.

This simply is not acceptable.

It is good that leaders of 21 humanitarian aid groups have written to the Trump administration objecting in the strongest terms to the decision to withhold $65 million in US contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

The humanitarian consequences of such a decision on life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip are unimaginable.

Adding to the concern, the State Department has stated that the United States would not provide a separate $45 million in food aid for Palestinians that it pledged last month as part of the West Bank/Gaza Emergency Appeal led by UNRWA.

As Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, points out, it is wrong to punish political leaders by denying life-sustaining aid to civilians.

This is certainly a dangerous and striking departure from US policy on international humanitarian assistance which conflicts starkly with values that US administrations and the American people have embraced.

Basic education for 525,000 boys and girls at over 700 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) schools; emergency food and cash assistance to 1.7 million Palestine refugees; access to primary health care for 3 million refugees, including pre-natal care; and dignity and human security for 5.3 million refugees, have all been endangered as a result of the limited funding.

Trump said in a Twitter post on Jan.2 that the United States gives the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year, “but get no appreciation or respect.” Such allegations do not hold water as the Palestinians have always engaged in sincere negotiations.

Instead of piling pressure on Palestinians, Trump should backtrack on major anti-Palestinian decisions like the Jerusalem declaration and aid cut threats. That’s the only way Washington would regain its status as an impartial mediator.

The two-State solution remains the only viable option for a just and sustainable end to the conflict. Neither the United States nor Israel should be allowed to scuttle this through questionable actions.

Endless anguish of

Syrian civilians

There seems to be no end to the suffering of civilians in Syria.

Hostilities in the country continue to drive hundreds of thousands from their homes and the number of displaced in the seemingly unending conflict continues to rise along with the suffering of affected communities, according to the United Nations.

This matter needs to be addressed by the international community more assertively as the civilian distress needs to be mitigated at the earliest. Rapid global humanitarian action to help the victims may be the best way forward.

As per Ursula Mueller, Deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, the situation is most concerning in north-west Syria where recent fighting has claimed many lives and forced over 270,000 civilians to flee for safety.

Camps for the displaced are overstretched, forcing most of those displaced to seek shelter in some 160 makeshift settlements. During these cold and wet winter months, many families have nothing else but improvised tents which they share with others.

The situation in the Afrin area of Aleppo governorate remains complicated and worrisome. Some 16,000 people have been displaced, while local authorities have also reportedly restricted civilian movement, particularly for those wishing to leave the area.

The situation is equally concerning in eastern Ghouta and in areas of Damascus where at least 81 civilians – including 25 women and 30 children – were killed in the first ten days of January.

According to estimates, altogether as many as 13.1 million people are in dire need of protection and humanitarian assistance, including 6.1 million people who are displaced within the country and a further 5.5 million people who have become refugees in neighbouring countries.

Compounding the problems, relief workers delivering life-saving assistance to civilians continue to face considerable challenges, including access to those in need of assistance.

Last month, none of the UN cross-line convoys could reach besieged locations and only two convoys reached hard-to-reach areas. This month, UN and partners are reported to have had no access to any such locations at all.

Most distressing is also the fact that children remain the hardest hit by unprecedented destruction, displacement and death. They have lost lives, homes and their precious childhood.

Families that managed to flee violence in some places are living under extremely difficult conditions and exposed to the harsh winter conditions.

It is imperative that all parties ensure the safety and protection of civilians caught up in the violence.

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