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People affected by crises everywhere deserve support
by IFRC, NRC, IRC, agencies
1:15pm 15th May, 2022
July 2022
There is no hierarchy of human suffering, by Laila Matar - Director of Advocacy, Norwegian Refugee Council.
Driving through the windswept camps in Hajjah, north-west Yemen in June, I was struck by the stark contrast between the precarious makeshift homes, and the conference hall in Geneva where two months earlier donors had pledged less than a quarter of the aid needed by these war-ravaged communities to simply survive.
Although one of the world’s most high-profile humanitarian crises, Yemen is now severely underfunded and at risk of joining the long list of countries neglected by world leaders.
Each year, the Norwegian Refugee Council publishes its report on the top ten most neglected displacement crises in the world. The analysis looks at the crises that rarely make international headlines, receive inadequate aid, and are ignored by politicians.
This year, analysis from prior to the escalation of the war in Ukraine found that all of the ten most neglected crises were on the African continent: Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, South Sudan, Chad, Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Burundi, and Ethiopia.
For the coming year, this list will likely see a race to the bottom as previously headline-hitting crises such as Yemen and Syria become increasingly overshadowed by the needs in Europe, driven by the war in Ukraine. But this is not inevitable.
The response to the devastating war in Ukraine, which I visited in April, has demonstrated the gap between the immense support that can be generated when the international community rallies behind a crisis, and the daily reality for millions of people suffering in silence and on the brink of being forgotten.
It was heart-warming to see that in a matter of hours, the UN’s Ukraine appeal was almost fully funded, politicians mobilised, publics around the world donated record amounts, and newspapers ran front page after front page reporting the horrors of the unfolding war. Of course, this conflict is still far from being resolved and will need sustained action for many months to come.
But seldom has the selectivity of the world’s attention been so striking. This strong reaction to a conflict happening within Europe which has uprooted 14 million people, and which has vast global consequences, is human and understandable.
But the desperation I saw on the faces of people in Bucha, Ukraine bore striking similarities to those I have seen in Yemenis, Syrian refugees in Jordan, or Afghans who have fled to Iran. These people and the millions of others chronically ignored around the world have also been forced from their home, and they all deserve our support. There is no hierarchy of human suffering.
Whether driven by geopolitical interests, fatigue due to the protracted nature of many neglected crises, or even a form of eurocentrism and racism, the glaring gap between the response to the Ukraine crisis and the meagre support offered to many of the world’s neglected crises is undeniable.
But rather than simply make comparisons between the support given to Ukraine and to other crises, pitting one against the other, we should instead focus on learning and replicating this unprecedented response to inspire robust action for all those at risk of being forgotten.
As the number of people displaced around the world reaches 100 million – a record high – now more than ever the world must rally together and dig deep to provide the funding and political will required to prevent creating another lost generation of displaced children.
Countries must avoid devastating cuts to their humanitarian budgets as we have seen in the UK, or redistributing already limited funding away from crises countries to support the local hosting of Ukrainians as we have seen in Sweden, Denmark and in Norway. Instead, it is imperative that the world richest nations – which have the ability to fully fund all UN humanitarian appeals overnight if they wish – increase their support across the board.
We urge donors to scale up their efforts in meeting their target of providing 0.7% of Gross National Income in development assistance as soon as possible, supporting those most in need in crisis-affected countries. This aid must be allocated based on need rather than based on perceived national interest or the level of media coverage.
Beyond this, political will must be put towards finding lasting real solutions to these crises to halt them in their tracks. International support for inclusive solutions at national and regional level is essential to allow conflict-affected populations to rebuild their lives.
Women I met in Yemen, like Mariam who is losing her sight from malnutrition, or Mona who cannot find enough food for her children, cannot afford to wait for the world to debate the severity of their needs. They need action from leaders today.
June 2022
Covid-profiting super rich should fight hunger, says UN food chief. (EU Observer)
Covid-profiting billionaires and Gulf countries currently enjoying high fuel prices need to do more to end global hunger, says the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
The world's global food crisis is set to only get worse with some 345 million people marching towards starvation, compared to 80 million six years ago, said WFP executive director David Beasley on Thursday (30 June).
"Within that there are 50 million people knocking on famine's door in 45 countries," he said, noting it could also trigger mass migration.
But with a $10bn [€9.6bn] shortfall in WFP funding and Russia's war in Ukraine, the issue of food insecurity may spiral out of control, he warned.
Beasley said immediate action was needed, noting that billionaires during the height of the pandemic had a net worth average increase of $5.2bn per day. "All we're asking for is to give us one to two days worth of your net worth increase," he said.
Oxfam echoed that, saying billionaires during the pandemic saw their fortunes increase by $820bn. Among the profiteers were Tesla's Elon Musk, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and Meta's Mark Zuckerberg, among others.
Beasley also pointed to the Gulf states, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. "Now with oil prices so high, the Gulf states are not stepping up like they should". He said they are projected to have almost $1 trillion of reserves due to increased fuel costs, which should be used to fund humanitarian relief in Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
He was also alarmed by the possibility of a major rice shortage next year, on top of the already dwindling supply of wheat produced by Ukraine and blocked in its port city of Odessa by Russia. Ukraine, for instance, grows enough food to feed 400 million people. Half of that food is no longer available.
* (On the 1st of August under a UN brokered agreement, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the first Ukrainian shipment of grain left Odessa, followed by 3 further ships a week latter)
"Before Ukraine, we were already facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two," he said. Diminished access to fertilisers produced by Russia and Belarus are also an issue set to impact farms in Africa, he said.
The WFP feeds 65 million people inside Africa, a continent whose population is around 1.4 billion. Smallholder farms in Africa feed around 70 percent of the population, or around 980 million people.
"We're feeding 65 million, we're not feeding the rest," he said. "And so if the smallholder farms reduce their harvest, you're talking about dozens upon dozens of millions of more people coming into emergency food insecurity," he said.
June 2022
With all eyes on Ukraine, is humanitarian support to the Horn of Africa crisis missing in action? (Overseas Development Institute)
It is possible that you don’t know how dire the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa is right now, judging from the lack of attention it is getting both in the media and even in aid circles. But there are already reports of one person dying every 48 seconds in the Horn of Africa. When mortality rates are framed in the number of seconds between deaths, you know things are serious. And since the next rainy season isn’t due for months, it is inevitable that things will get worse, even if those rains are good. (The current forecast is that they won’t be.) Famine is already underway in some parts of Somalia.
The Horn of Africa is now facing the worst drought for 40 years, with up to 20 million people at risk of going hungry. The current crisis is drawing parallels to the famine in 2011 that killed nearly 260,000 in Somalia alone.
May 2022
A hunger crisis threatens millions, by Gareth Owen - Humanitarian director of Save the Children UK
The combined effects of climate change, COVID-19 and the Ukraine war are threatening a global disaster that not nearly enough people are talking about, least of all world leaders.
In just two years, the number of severely food insecure people has doubled from 135 million to 276 million, with almost 50 million on the edge of famine.
Global food commodities and fuel prices are soaring due to the conflict in Ukraine, which, together with Russia, provides huge quantities of the wheat, maize and sunflower oil used to feed populations in places like Somalia, Yemen and Lebanon.
But even before Russia invaded Ukraine, it was clear there could be famines this summer.
A new report, co-authored by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Food Programme, warned humanitarian action is urgently needed in 20 “hunger hotspots”. These are areas where lives and livelihoods are likely to be endangered by “a significant deterioration of acute food insecurity in the coming months”.
Among the hotspots are Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Honduras, the Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic, while Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen are the four countries most at risk.
The Ukraine crisis will likely be cited as the reason why world leaders have not yet responded to such warnings with an urgently needed global galvanising effort – but it shouldn’t be.
I began my aid career responding to famine in Somalia in 1993. Three decades later, the world has changed and the causes are different, but the obscenity of lives unnecessarily lost to starvation remains tragically the same.
Today, it is estimated that one person is dying from hunger every 48 seconds in drought-ravaged East Africa. Nearly half a million people are facing famine-like conditions across parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, with the lives of 350,000 severely malnourished children hanging in the balance in the latter. In Kenya, 3.5 million people suffer from extreme hunger, while across the three countries, this rises to over 23 million – more than double the number last year.
This desperate situation is far from unique: around four million children aged under five in Africa’s Central Sahel are at risk of starvation in the coming weeks. West Africa is facing its worst food crisis in a decade, with 27 million affected – up from seven million in 2015.
Yet, urgent appeals are woefully underfunded.
On 26 April, world leaders pledged $1.4bn for the East Africa crisis – far less than the United Nations request for $4.4bn. Moreover, not all the donations are new money, some of the amount pledged is funding already allocated. To make matters worse, just 2% ($93.1m) of the current appeal has actually arrived.
In 2017, when 16 million people in East Africa faced severe hunger, the UK provided £861m as part of the timely global response that helped avert widespread famine. Despite a higher number of people affected, over the past year the UK allocated only £219m to the three countries.
The story is no better in places like Yemen and Afghanistan, where less than a third of the humanitarian funds needed in 2022 have been made available, but the needs remain enormous. It’s a story that is repeated in most current humanitarian emergencies, a tale of financial austerity that has been consistently trending downwards in recent years.
Except in Ukraine, where rich nations successfully raised over $16bn in one month to address the terrible crisis. The stark fact is that the massive, abundantly resourced humanitarian response in Ukraine may well come at the expense of lives elsewhere.
A new report, ‘Dangerous Delay 2: The Cost of Inaction’, produced by Save the Children and Oxfam in partnership with the Jameel Observatory, warns that national and global responses largely remain too slow and too limited to prevent a repeat of Somalia’s 2011 famine, which killed more than 260,000 people. Entrenched bureaucracies and political choices continue to curtail a unified global response, despite enhanced government programmes, improved early warning systems and efforts by local organisations.
The clock is ticking. Every minute that passes is a minute closer to starvation and possible death for children. It should be unconscionable that millions of children’s lives are at risk.
But, without political action to tackle inequality and climate change, preventing people from dying of starvation will not stop the cyclical and predictable crises experienced by millions around the world.
Mass starvation is always a failure of leadership. If we are unable to summon the collective political will to meet the most basic survival needs of millions of people today, then what chance does the human race have of solving the ever graver planetary challenges that inevitably lie ahead?
May 2022
Global hunger crisis pushing one child into severe malnutrition every minute in 15 crisis-hit countries. (UNICEF)
Soaring food prices driven by the war in Ukraine and pandemic-fuelled budget cuts are set to drive up child hunger.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell on the global food security crisis.
"This crisis is getting worse – and the lives of millions of children hang in the balance. "The combined force of conflict, climate change, and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children. Food prices had already hit all-time highs. The war in Ukraine has only made this worse, driving food, fuel, and fertilizer shortages.
"Over the last few months as Executive Director of UNICEF, I have seen with my own eyes what food insecurity means for the most vulnerable children and women.
"It means more than a shortage of food. It means hunger. Malnourishment. Disease. Excruciating pain. Death.
"In April, I visited Gode, in Ethiopia, where I met children suffering from severe wasting – the most lethal form of acute malnutrition. These children were so thin and frail, they seemed skeletal. It was painfully clear that without treatment, some of them might die.
"The month before, I travelled to Kandahar in Afghanistan, where I met the mother of a newborn. "She was so malnourished that when I put my arm around her shoulders, I could feel her bones through her wrap. When I held her baby, I could barely feel its weight in my arms.
"Most people have never heard of wasting, the most lethal form of malnutrition. But it is one of the leading underlying causes of preventable deaths in children – and it is on the rise, even in comparatively stable communities.
"Children suffering from wasting can’t eat normally. You can’t save starving babies with a bag of wheat. They need urgent therapeutic nutrition, delivered in the form of a paste we call RUTF – ready to use therapeutic food.
"RUTF can literally mean the difference between life and death for a child. "But this year, around 10 million children who desperately need it are not receiving it. To make matters worse, the price of RUTF has already risen by 16 per cent. If funding doesn’t increase immediately to meet these rising costs, hundreds of thousands of children will not receive this lifesaving treatment.
"A child malnutrition catastrophe is not inevitable. We know what works, and we know how to deliver it. But we need to come together – and we need to act now.
World a ‘virtual tinderbox’ for catastrophic levels of severe malnutrition in children.
The number of children with severe wasting was rising even before war in Ukraine threatened to plunge the world deeper into a spiralling global food crisis - and it’s getting worse, UNICEF warned in a new Child Alert.
Just released, Severe wasting: An overlooked child survival emergency shows that in spite of rising levels of severe wasting in children and rising costs for life-saving treatment, global financing to save the lives of children suffering from wasting is also under threat.
“Even before the war in Ukraine placed a strain on food security worldwide, conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19 were already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “The world is rapidly becoming a virtual tinderbox of preventable child deaths and children suffering from wasting.
Currently, at least 10 million severely wasted children – or 2 in 3 – do not have access to the most effective treatment for wasting, ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF).
UNICEF warns that a combination of global shocks to food security worldwide – led by the war in Ukraine, economies struggling with pandemic recovery, and persistent drought conditions in some countries due to climate change – is creating conditions for a significant increase in global levels of severe wasting.
Meanwhile, the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food is projected to increase by up to 16 per cent over the next six months due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw ingredients. This could leave at least 600,000 additional children without access to life-saving treatment at current spending levels. Shipping and delivery costs are also expected to remain high.
“For millions of children every year, these sachets of therapeutic paste are the difference between life and death. A sixteen per cent price increase may sound manageable in the context of global food markets, but at the end of that supply chain is a desperately malnourished child, for whom the stakes are not manageable at all,” said Russell.
Severe wasting – where children are too thin for their height resulting in weakened immune systems – is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Worldwide, millions of children under five suffer from severe wasting, resulting in 1 in 5 deaths among this age group.
South Asia remains the ‘epicentre’ of severe wasting, where roughly 1 in 22 children is severely wasted, three times as high as sub-Saharan Africa. And across the rest of the world, countries are facing historically high rates of severe wasting.
In Afghanistan, for example, 1.1 million children are expected to suffer from severe wasting this year, nearly double the number in 2018. Drought in the Horn of Africa means the number of children with severe wasting could quickly rise from 1.7 million to 2 million, while a 26 per cent increase is predicted in the Sahel compared to 2018.
The Child Alert also notes that even countries in relative stability, such as Uganda, have seen a 40 per cent or more increase in child wasting since 2016, due to rising poverty and household food insecurity causing inadequate quality and frequency of diets for children and pregnant women.
Climate-related shocks including severe cyclical drought and inadequate access to clean water and sanitation services are contributing to the rising numbers.
The report warns that aid for wasting remains woefully low and is predicted to decline sharply in the coming years, with little hope of recovering to pre-pandemic levels before 2028. Global aid spent on wasting amounts to just 2.8 per cent of the total health sector ODA (Official Development Assistance) and 0.2 per cent of total ODA spending.
To reach every child with life-saving treatment for severe wasting, UNICEF is calling for:
Governments to increase wasting aid by at least 59 per cent above 2019 ODA levels to help reach to help reach all children in need of treatment in 23 high burden countries.
Countries to include treatment for child wasting under health and long-term development funding schemes so that all children can benefit from treatment programmes, not just those in humanitarian crisis settings.
Ensure that budget allocations to address the global hunger crisis include specific allocations for therapeutic food interventions to address the immediate needs of children suffering from severe wasting.
Donors and civil society organizations to prioritize funding for wasting to ensure a diverse, growing and a healthy ecosystem of donor support.
“There is simply no reason why a child should suffer from severe wasting – not when we have the ability to prevent it. But there is precious little time to reignite a global effort to prevent, detect and treat malnutrition before a bad situation gets much, much worse,” said Russell.
Apr. 2022
People affected by crises everywhere deserve support. (IFRC)
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calls for solidarity with people affected by crises everywhere as the response to the conflict in Ukraine shows the way.
The support from people and donors around the world demonstrates what is possible and illustrates the good practice essential in any humanitarian crisis. At the same time, the massive differences depending on where a crisis occurs and who it affects have been thrown into stark relief.
Secretary General of the IFRC, Jagan Chapagain, says:
"The immense suffering experienced by so many people in Ukraine is unimaginable for some. Unfortunately, for many others around the world the loss and pain are all too familiar. In Syria for example, 11 years after the conflict began needs in the country are at an all-time high. In Tonga tens of communities are still to recover from the devastating volcanic eruption in January. In the horn of Africa millions of people are currently experiencing one of the most dramatic food crises in years, away from the eyes of the world. These are but a few examples. We call on donors and partners to ensure that we can support everyone in need, no matter where, no matter who."
The situation in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya is critical as these countries are facing a fourth consecutive drought along with the impacts of COVID-19, conflict in the region and escalating food prices due to heavy reliance on wheat imports from Ukraine and Russia. With 14 million people currently in need of urgent food assistance - a number that is expected to reach 20 million this year -- IFRC has launched emergency appeals to provide life-saving assistance. This also includes longer term support for sustainable livelihoods adapted to the increasing negative effects of climate change to help strengthen communities' resilience.
Every day, in every community around the world, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers continue to respond with an impartial needs-based approach to people affected by crises everywhere, regardless of their status, nationality, ethnicity, religion or any other criteria. While National Societies are working hard to provide the humanitarian services necessary in Ukraine and surrounding countries, it is critical to ensure continuing focus on other crises as well as in preparing for those that will happen next.
"IFRC with its network of 192 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is well placed to channel solidarity and mobilize support to respond to crises and disasters that are happening concurrently around the world. But to be able to do this, needs-based support and funding is essential," concluded Mr Chapagain. IFRC currently has 29 emergency appeals open for big and complex disasters.
Mar. 2022
Ukraine conflict must break the deadlock of indifference in the world, by Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council:
“At the first ever European Humanitarian Forum starting in Brussels today, EU leaders have the opportunity to showcase that it is possible to rally collective responses to humanitarian crises wherever they occur.
“Ukraine is the latest terrifying conflict on a long list of emergencies that need immediately scaled up humanitarian response and conflict resolution efforts. Protracted crises in Syria, Yemen, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel are worsening while the horrors in Ukraine are getting our attention. Humanitarian relief can help mitigate the effects of these crises on vulnerable communities, but ultimately, inclusive political solutions are needed to end them.
“Leaders need to break the deadlock of indifference towards conflicts in other parts of the world. The speed at which the EU, the United Nations and other international partners acted in response to the war in Ukraine should trigger the same urgency for solutions to the neglected crises of our time. Widespread condemnation, appeals for a cessation of conflict, rapidly mobilizing funding, and opening borders to citizens seeking protection, must be replicated in other crises.
“It is the first time Europe has witnessed mass flight at such speed at its doorsteps. But proximity does not define greater responsibility under international refugee law. We expect the EU to lead by example and pave the way to revise existing protection mechanisms, guided by a humanitarian imperative, so that all people can be equally protected – regardless of their passports.
"The EU and UN should immediately convene a European Summit where heads of governments agree on real responsibility-sharing when it comes to refugees fleeing Ukraine and elsewhere. The summit should also address effective refugee resettlement across Europe, providing long term aid inside Ukraine, and diplomacy to pave the wave for a ceasefire and peace talks.”
* Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a medical practioner:
"Ukraine is a humanitarian catastrophe and the worst refugee crisis since the 1990s. But I would emphasize that the suffering that’s caused by war is profound wherever it occurs, and populations elsewhere are facing the devastation of war—in Yemen, Syria, the Tigray region of Ethiopia, and across central Africa. These crises affect millions, and are compounded by the challenges in accessing vulnerable populations. Yes, what’s happening in Ukraine is awful and it is a true humanitarian emergency, but it’s important to remember that we are dealing with several major humanitarian emergencies around the world at the same time that are equally as important".
Mar. 2022
Trends of civilian harm and humanitarian access denial in conflict are growing, by Harlem Desir.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed devastating scenes in Ukraine as civilians have come under sustained bombardment in cities across the country.
Mariupol and other cities have been encircled, preventing lifesaving supplies from being brought in, and people out, despite commitments to establish humanitarian corridors.
The developments we are now seeing in Europe are reminiscent of the horrifying tactics used in Syria where civilians in cities such as Aleppo and Homs were cut off from vital aid as their cities were destroyed.
The deliberate denial or restriction of humanitarian access — a violation of international law — rarely attracts significant international outrage, despite the staggering human costs. Yet across the globe, the trends of civilian harm and humanitarian access denial in conflict are growing.
In contexts like South Sudan and Yemen, constraints on the ability of humanitarian actors to deliver aid and reach those most in need have had devastating consequences, contributing to widespread and severe levels of hunger. Humanitarian workers are also increasingly themselves becoming targets of violence.
In 2021, the number of countries facing the highest level of access constraints more than doubled compared to late 2020.
More than a quarter of the 20 countries on the IRC's Emergency Watchlist of crises at greatest risk of significant humanitarian deterioration in 2022 saw serious declines in humanitarian access: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria and Somalia.
Denial of access for aid is not always as blatant as in Ukraine or Syria. The IRC has operations in 40 countries. On a daily basis we see the insidious use of policies and laws to limit and control the delivery of aid.
In Yemen, for example, restrictive bureaucratic controls in the north and south of the country mean it can take our teams months to secure the paperwork they need to deliver programmes. Counter-terror policies leave both financial institutions and NGOs fearful of facing criminal charges just for delivering aid or engaging with non-state military actors to negotiate access.
All these policies delay the delivery of urgent and often life-saving aid to those who need it most.
Next week, the European Commission and French Presidency will host the first European Humanitarian Forum bringing together leaders and civil society organisations in an effort to act on the unprecedented level of needs worldwide, and ensure the delivery of effective, efficient and principled humanitarian responses in coordination with humanitarian partners.
If this is to make meaningful progress, the EU and its member states must seize this chance to commit to taking three key actions.
Firstly, if denial of access is to be elevated and to receive similar outrage and condemnation as other violations of international humanitarian law — the set of rules that seek to limit the effects of armed conflict including protection of civilians and safe passage of humanitarian aid — then evidence is vital. It's now essential that the EU casts the net wide in its analysis and shines a light on contexts where humanitarian access is denied. This would be an important first step.
EU member states should also champion efforts in the UN General Assembly to establish an independent panel to monitor humanitarian access in Ukraine, with a mandate to report to the Assembly on a regular basis regarding the status of access to aid for people inside the country.
Secondly, EU member states must throw their full weight behind mechanisms that seek to hold perpetrators both responsible and accountable for violations. Having such tools in place has a clear impact — as does their absence.
For example, in Yemen, the only international, impartial, and independent body reporting on rights violations and abuses in the country was dissolved in October 2021. In the two months that followed, Saudi coalition bombing rates increased by 43%. EU member states should call for such findings to be presented at the UN Security Council and support the establishment of a new Organisation for the Protection of Humanitarian Access to call out the unacceptable strangulation and weaponisation of humanitarian aid in conflict zones.
Finally, as Europe positions itself for a new era of self-reliance, it must reinforce its commitments to the world's most vulnerable.
The EU's member states should increase their funding and international aid to states impacted by conflict, climate change or economic crisis. This is especially urgent with donor conferences for both Yemen and Afghanistan coming up this month. The EU must now demonstrate its ability to achieve the diplomatic objectives it has set itself of finding solutions to ensure the delivery of aid.
The dire situation we're witnessing in Ukraine today is abhorrent and yet another example of the Age of Impunity that has defined the past decade of conflict worldwide — an era where the laws of war are disregarded, and civilians always bear the brunt.
* Harlem Desir is senior vice-president Europe, International Rescue Committee.

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