800 Venezuelans flee to Brazil daily to escape insecurity, hunger: UNHCR

Venezuelans line up to cross into Colombia at the border in Paraguachon, Colombia, Feb. 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 800 Venezuelans stream into northern Brazil each day, the United Nations said on Friday, citing Brazilian government statistics on people fleeing the worsening crisis in the economically crippled nation.

More than 52,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil since the start of 2017, including an estimated 40,000 living in Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state, it said.

About 25,000 of the migrants are asylum seekers while 10,000 have obtained temporary resident visas and the rest are seeking to regularize their status, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

“We are stepping up our response in Brazil as the number of Venezuelan arrivals grows,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a news briefing. “According to the government’s latest estimates, more than 800 Venezuelans are entering Brazil each day.”

Venezuelans have also fled to Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina and Peru, while others have sought refugee status in the United States, Spain, Mexico and Costa Rica, according to the UNHCR.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas is faced with widespread discontent over hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines during a fifth year of recession that he blames on Western hostility and the fall of oil prices.

Venezuelans report they are fleeing insecurity, violence and often a loss of income, Spindler said. Many are in desperate need of food, shelter and health care.

UNHCR is working with Brazilian authorities to register Venezuelans to ensure they have proper documentation that entitles them to work and access services, Spindler said.

Ten shelters have been opened in Boa Vista, each with 500 people, but some Venezuelans are living on the streets, he said.

Venezuelans willing to relocate from Roraima to other parts of Brazil are being flown to Sao Paulo and Cuiaba this week, as communities and services in Boa Vista are over-stretched, he said.

UNHCR’s $46 million appeal to help Venezuelans across the region is only 4 percent funded, Spindler said, and he called for more donations.

Within Venezuela, the economic crisis has limited people’s access to health services and medicines, World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

“WHO is working closely with the health authorities in order to fill those shortages. We are providing medicines for malaria and anti-retrovirals. We are equipping maternal hospitals with supplies that are needed for pregnant women and babies.”

Venezuela’s crisis has posed major challenges for governments in the region, who also worry that assistance to Venezuelans could increase the number of people leaving their country.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

A month after PNG quake, cash-strapped government struggles to help the hardest-hit

FILE PHOTO - A supplied image shows locals inspecting a landslide and damage to a road located near the township of Tabubil after an earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands, February 26, 2018

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Almost a month after a deadly earthquake, Papua New Guinea is struggling to get aid to desperate survivors, having allocated just a fraction of its relief funds, while a rent dispute left disaster officials briefly locked out of their offices.

The scale of the emergency is testing the finances and capacity of one of the world’s poorest countries, disaster and relief officials say, after the magnitude 7.5 quake rocked its remote mountainous highlands on Feb. 26, killing 100 people.

Thousands of survivors have walked to remote airstrips and jungle clearings, awaiting helicopters bringing supplies of food, water and medicines, aid agencies and authorities say.

“To date, we do not have any money to do all the necessary things,” Tom Edabe, the disaster coordinator for the hardest-hit province of Hela, said by telephone from Tari, its capital.

“(The) government is trying to assist and have budgeted some money, but to date we have not received anything…we have only been given food, and non-food items supplied by other NGOs.”

Continuing aftershocks rattle residents, who have to collect water brought by daily rainstorms to ensure adequate supplies, Edabe, the disaster coordinator, said.

“The biggest thing that people need, apart from food, is water,” said James Pima, a helicopter pilot and flight manager at aviation firm HeliSolutions in the Western Highlands capital of Mt. Hagen, about 170 km (100 miles) from the disaster zone.

“They don’t have clean water to cook or drink … they are standing there staring. The expression on their faces is blank.”

His firm’s three helicopters fly relief missions “fully flat-out every day,” Pima added.

Destruction to roads and runways means authorities must rely on helicopters to fly in relief. But while nimble, the craft can only carry smaller loads than fixed-wing aircraft and cannot fly during the afternoon thunderstorms.

The logistics problems wind all the way to PNG’s disaster center, where officials told Reuters they had been locked out of their office in Port Moresby, the capital, for two days last week after the government missed a rental payment.

“That was correct, Monday and Tuesday,” a spokeswoman said.

In a joint report with the United Nations published on Friday, the agency cited “lack of quality data” about food shortages, limited aircraft assets and “significant gaps” in sanitation support as being the biggest problems it faced.

The office of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill did not respond to emailed questions from Reuters.

On his website, O’Neill has previously said, “There will be no quick fix, the damage from this disaster will take months and years to be repaired.”

‘POLITICAL GAMES’

The government had approved relief funds amounting to 450 million kina ($130 million), O’Neill said initially, but a later statement mentioned only 3 million kina in initial relief – or less than 1 percent – had been allocated to the worst-hit areas.

In its November budget, the government made plans to rein in spending and trim debt projected to stand at 25.8 billion kina in 2018.

The impoverished country is also missing its largest revenue earner, after the quake forced a shutdown of Exxon Mobil Corp’s liquefied natural gas project, which has annual sales of $3 billion at current LNG prices. The firm is still assessing quake damage at its facilities.

O’Neill last week hit out at critics of the aid effort for playing “political games,” while thanking Australia and New Zealand for military aircraft that provided assistance beyond the capacity of PNG’s own defense forces.

His political opponent, former Prime Minister Mekere Morauta, had called the government’s response “tardy” and inadequate.

“Relief sources say mobile medical centers and operating theaters are needed urgently, and that only international partners can supply them,” Morauta said last week.

Foreign aid pledges of about $49 million have come in from Australia, China, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, says the United Nations, most of it provided by private companies.

Exxon and its partner, Oil Search Ltd, say they have provided $6 million in cash and kind for quake relief.

Local officials say the scale of destruction, with villages buried by landslides and provincial towns flattened, has overwhelmed authorities in Papua New Guinea, which straddles the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

“Policemen are still struggling because there is no support flying in and out,” said Naring Bongi of the quake-damaged police station in the Southern Highlands capital of Mendi.

“There is not enough food to supply care centers, they need fresh water,” he added.

 

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

A child dies, a child lives: why Somalia drought is not another famine

A Somali girl is seen at a internally displaced camp in the northern Somali town of Dollow, Somalia, February 25, 2018. Picture taken February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Maggie Fick and Katharine Houreld

DOLLOW, Somalia (Reuters) – At the height of Somalia’s 2011 famine, Madow Mohamed had to leave her crippled five-year-old son Abdirahman by the side of the road to lead her eight other starving children toward help.

When she returned to search for him, she found only a grave. He was among the 260,000 Somalis who perished.

“You can never forget leaving your child to die,” she says, wiping away tears at the memory seven years later. “It is a hell that does not end.”

This time, the drought has been harsher. Three seasons of rains have failed, instead of two. But none of Mohamed’s other children have died – and the overall death toll, although unknown, is far lower. The United Nations has documented just over 1,000 deaths, mostly from drinking dirty water.

Why?

Earlier donor intervention, less interference by a weakened Islamist insurgency, a stronger Somali government and greater access for aid workers have been crucial.

Somali women stand in line to receive infants food aid in the northern Somali town of Dollow, Somalia, February 26, 2018. Picture taken February 26, 2018.REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Somali women stand in line to receive infants food aid in the northern Somali town of Dollow, Somalia, February 26, 2018. Picture taken February 26, 2018.REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Another reason is that aid agencies are shifting from giving out food to cash – a less wasteful form of aid that donors such as Canada, Europe and Australia have embraced, although the United States still has restrictions on food aid.

The U.S. Congress will debate a move toward cash-based aid this year when lawmakers vote on a new Farm Bill. Christopher Barrett, an expert on food aid at Cornell University, is one of many scholars, politicians and aid agencies demanding reform.

“A conservative estimate is that we sacrifice roughly 40,000 children’s lives annually because of antiquated food aid policies,” he told Congress in November.

 

FROM FOOD TO CASH

In 2011, a few donors gave out cash in Somalia, but the World Food Programme only gave out food. It was often hijacked by warlords or pirates, or rotted under tarpaulins as trucks sat at roadblocks.

Starving families had to trek for days through the desert to reach distribution points. Their route became so littered with children’s corpses it was called “the Road of Death”.

Now, more than 70 percent of WFP aid in Somalia is cash, much of it distributed via mobile phones. More than 50 other charities are also giving out cash: each month Mohamed receives $65 from the Italian aid group Coopi to spend as she wants: milk, medicine, food or school fees.

Cash has many advantages over food aid if markets are functioning. It’s invisible, so less likely to be stolen. It’s mobile so families can move or stay put.

WFP said it gave out $134 million directly to Somali families to spend at local shops last year.

A woman walks past thw makeshift shelters at the new Kabasa Internally displaced camp in the northern Somali town of Dollow, Somalia, February 25, 2018. Picture taken February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A woman walks past thw makeshift shelters at the new Kabasa Internally displaced camp in the northern Somali town of Dollow, Somalia, February 25, 2018. Picture taken February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“We … basically gave confidence to the market to stay active,” said Laurent Bukera, head of WFP Somalia.

And money is more efficient than bags of food: in Somalia, cash aid means 80 cents in every $1 goes directly to the family, rather than 60 cents from food aid, said Calum McLean, the cash expert at the European Union’s humanitarian aid department.

Cash might have saved little Abdirahman.

“I could have stayed in my village if I had had cash. There was some food in the markets. It was expensive, but if you had money, there was food to buy,” Mohamed said sadly.

GLOBAL SHIFT

Aid groups have been experimenting with cash for two decades but McLean says the idea took off five years ago as the Syrian civil war propelled millions of refugees into countries with solid banking systems.

Donors have adapted. Six years ago, five percent of the EU’s humanitarian aid budget was cash distributions. Today, it is more than a third.

Most of the initial cost lies in setting up the database and the distribution system. After that, adding more recipients is cheap, McLean said. Amounts can be easily adjusted depending on the level of need or funding.

“Cash distributions also becomes cheaper the larger scale you do it,” he said.

Most U.S. international food assistance is delivered by USAID’s Food for Peace Office, which had a budget of $3.6 billion in 2017.

Just under half those funds came through U.S. Farm Bill Title II appropriations, which stipulate that most food must be bought from American farmers. The U.S. Cargo Preference Act requires that half of this be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels.

Despite these restrictions, Food for Peace increased cash and voucher programs from 3 percent of the budget in 2011 to 20 percent last year.

But sourcing food aid in the United States is expensive and wasteful, said Barrett, who oversaw a study that found buying grain close to an emergency was half the price and 14 weeks faster. Arguments that food aid supported U.S. farmers or mariners were largely false, he said.

HOW IT WORKS

Aid groups use different systems to distribute cash, but most assess families, then register them in a biometric database, usually via fingerprints. Cash is distributed using bank cards or mobile phones or as vouchers.

Some charities place no restrictions on the cash; others, like WFP, stipulate it can only be spent at certain shops with registered shopkeepers.

In Dollow, the dusty town on the Ethiopian border where Mohamed lives with her surviving children, families say the cash has transformed their lives.

Gacalo Aden Hashi, a young mother whose name means “sweetheart”, remembers trudging past two dead children in 2011 on her way to get help. A third was alive but dying, she said, and her weakened family had to press on.

When she arrived at the camp, men were stealing food aid to give to their families, she said.

“Men were punching each other in line every time at food distributions,” she said. “Sometimes you would be sitting and suddenly your food would be taken by some strong young man.”

Now, she says, no one can steal her money – Coopi uses a system that requires a PIN to withdraw money. Most of her cash goes on food but with a group of other women she saved enough to open a small stall.

“The cash may end, but this business will not,” she said.

PROBLEMS PERSIST

Cash won’t work everywhere. In South Sudan, where famine briefly hit two counties last year, the civil war shut markets, forcing aid agencies to bring in food by plane and truck.

Sending cash to areas hit by earthquakes would drive up prices. But in a drought, where livelihoods have collapsed but infrastructure is intact, cash transfers are ideal, experts say.

Some problems remain. There’s often little co-ordination among donors – for instance, there are seven separate databases in Somalia, said McLean, and monthly stipends can vary widely.

In Uganda, authorities are investigating reports of fraud after the government used its own biometric registration system for refugees.

And if there’s no clean water or health service available, then refugees can’t spend money buying water or medicine.

But most scholars agree that switching to more cash aid would save more lives, a 2016 briefing paper by the Congressional Research Service concluded.

(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Venezuela annual inflation at more than 4,000 percent: National Assembly

A woman and a child look at prices in a grocery store in downtown Caracas, Venezuela March 10, 2017.

By Girish Gupta

CARACAS (Reuters) – Prices in Venezuela rose 4,068 percent in the 12 months to the end of January, according to estimates by the country’s opposition-led National Assembly, broadly in line with independent economists’ figures.

Inflation in January alone was 84.2 percent, opposition lawmakers said, amid an economic crisis in which millions of Venezuelans are suffering food and medicine shortages.

The monthly figure implies annualized inflation of more than 150,000 per cent and that prices will double at least every 35 days.

With cash in short supply and banking and communications infrastructures struggling, day-to-day transactions are becoming increasingly difficult for Venezuelans.

The government blames the problems on an economic war waged by the opposition and business leaders, with a helping hand from Washington.

Critics in turn blame strict currency controls, which were enacted by Hugo Chavez 15 years ago this week. The bolivar is down some 40 percent against the dollar in the last month alone.

A million dollars of Venezuelan bolivars bought when the currency controls were introduced would now be worth just $7 on the black market.

The government has not published inflation data for more than two years though has increased the minimum wage repeatedly in a nod to rising prices.

The government raised the minimum wage 40 percent on Jan. 1, making it roughly equivalent now to just over $1 per month.

(Additional reporting by Leon Wietfeld; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Displaced by war, some Yemenis sift through garbage for food

Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq, 11, stands in a garbage dump where he collects recyclables and food near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, January 13, 2018.

HODEIDAH, Yemen (Reuters) – After persistent Saudi-led air strikes on their home area in northwest Yemen, the Ruzaiq family packed their belongings and fled to the relative safety of Hodeidah port on the Red Sea.

But with no money or relatives to shelter them, the 18-member family joined a growing number of displaced Yemenis living on or next to the garbage dump of the Houthi-controlled city.

Despite the health risks, the dump has become a source of food for hundreds of impoverished Yemenis and given some young men a chance to try to earn some income.

People collect recyclables and food at a garbage dump near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, January 14, 2018.

People collect recyclables and food at a garbage dump near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

“We eat and drink the food that is thrown away,” said 11-year-old Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq. “We collect fish, meat, potatoes, onions and flour to make our own food.”

The United Nations estimates that more than two million people have been displaced by the war, which intensified in 2015 when an Arab coalition intervened to try to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power after the Houthis forced him into exile.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people, crippled the economy, caused a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 2,000 people and pushed the country to the verge of famine.

The Saudi-led coalition denies Houthi accusations that it targets civilians or civilian property in its operations. Riyadh sees the Houthis as a proxy militia linked to regional rival Iran. Both Iran and the Houthis deny any military cooperation.

Fatema Hassan Marouai, 53, who was driven from her home in Hodeidah by economic hardships, said that apart from picking up food thrown away by better off Yemenis, some displaced people collect metal cans and plastic bottles to sell to merchants for some cash to cover daily needs.

Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq, 11, stands in a garbage dump where he collects recyclables and food near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, January 13, 2018.

Ayoub Mohammed Ruzaiq, 11, stands in a garbage dump where he collects recyclables and food near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

But she said income from that activity was also declining.

Merchants who once paid up to 50 Yemeni rials ($0.11) for a kg of plastic bottles, now offer 10 rials only, she said.

“We had been in a bad situation and the war made things worse,” said Fatema.

Ruzaiq family patriarch Mohammed Ruzaiq, 67, said Yemenis were not asking for any aid from outside, just a goodwill effort to end the war.

“All we want is for them to stop this war and this calamity and God almighty will provide for us,” he said.

(Reporting by Abduljabbar Zeyad, writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by William Maclean)

Lootings, scattered protests hit Venezuelan industrial city

A general view of the damage at a mini-market after it was looted in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela January 9, 2018.

By Maria Ramirez

CIUDAD GUAYANA, Venezuela (Reuters) – A second day of lootings and scattered street protests hit the Ciudad Guayana in southeastern Venezuela on Tuesday, as unrest grows in the once-booming industrial city plagued with food shortages and a malaria outbreak.

At least five food stores were looted overnight, with police sources saying some 20 people had been arrested. Angry Venezuelans also blocked three major roads to demand anti-malaria medicine, food, cooking gas and spare parts for trucks.

There has been increasing unrest around the South American OPEC member in the last few weeks as a fourth straight year of painful recession and the world’s highest inflation leaves millions unable to eat enough.

Erika Garcia tearfully recounted how looters ransacked her food shop and home just 10 minutes after National Guard soldiers who had been patrolling the area withdrew late on Monday night.

“They stole everything. They broke off the water pipes, they ripped off the toilet bowl, they took away the windows, the fences, the doors, the beds. Everything. They did not kill us because we ran, but they did beat us up,” said Garcia, 38, who planned to sleep at a relative’s house on Tuesday night

She said there was no way she could reopen her store.

The overnight lootings follow at least four similar in the early hours of Monday. Around 10 liquor stores were also looted on Christmas day in southeastern Bolivar state, according to the local chamber of commerce head Florenzo Schettino.

Critics blame President Nicolas Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party for Venezuela’s economic mess, saying they have persisted with failed statist policies for too long while turning a blind eye to rampant corruption and suffering.

The government says it is the victim of an “economic war” by political opponents and right-wing foreign powers, intent on bringing down Maduro in a coup. The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment about the lootings on Tuesday.

The wave of plunder has spooked many in Ciudad Guyana, leading more people to stay indoors come nightfall and dissuading some stores from opening.

Metal worker Alvaro Becerra lives near a store that was ransacked overnight.

“We lived a night of terror,” said Becerra, 52, adding he heard gunshots and saw people carrying a freezer full of food.

“Today everything is closed. There’s no place to buy. The only people who are working are those who sell vegetables,” he said.

(Reporting by Maria Ramirez; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

North Korean women suffer discrimination, rape, malnutrition: U.N.

Women wearing traditional clothes walk past North Korean soldiers after an opening ceremony for a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korean women are deprived of education and job opportunities and are often subjected to violence at home and sexual assault in the workplace, a U.N. human rights panel said on Monday.

After a regular review of Pyongyang’s record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also voiced concern at rape or mistreatment of women in detention especially those repatriated after fleeing abroad.

North Korean women are “under-represented or disadvantaged” in tertiary education, the judiciary, security and police forces and leadership and managerial positions “in all non-traditional areas of work”, the panel of independent experts said.

“The main issue is first of all the lack of information. We have no access to a large part of laws, elements and information on national machinery,” Nicole Ameline, panel member, told Reuters. “We have asked a lot of questions.”

North Korea told the panel on Nov. 8 that it was working to uphold women’s rights and gender equality but that sanctions imposed by major powers over its nuclear and missile programs were taking a toll on vulnerable mothers and children.

Domestic violence is prevalent and there is “very limited awareness” about the issue and a lack of legal services, psycho-social support and shelters available for victims, the panel said.

It said economic sanctions had a disproportionate impact on women. North Korean women suffer “high levels of malnutrition”, with 28 percent of pregnant or lactating women affected, it said.

“We have called on the government to be very, very attentive to the situation of food and nutrition. Because we consider that it is a basic need and that the government has to invest and to assume its responsibilities in this field,” Ameline said.

“Unfortunately I am not sure that the situation will improve very quickly.”

The report found that penalties for rape in North Korea were not commensurate with the severity of the crime, which also often goes unpunished. Legal changes in 2012 lowered the penalties for some forms of rape, including the rape of children, rape by a work supervisor and repeated rape.

This has led to reducing the punishment for forcing “a woman in a subordinate position” to have sexual intercourse from four years to three years, the report said.

It said women trafficked abroad and then returned to North Korea, are reported to be sent to labor training camps or prisons, accused of “illegal border crossing”, and may be exposed to further violations of their rights, including sexual violence by security officials and forced abortions.

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Alison Williams)

 

Unversed in debt details, Venezuelans desperate for any relief

People line up to pay for their fruits and vegetables at a street market in Caracas, Venezuela November 3, 2017.

By Alexandra Ulmer and Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelans heaving under an unprecedented economic meltdown know little about the finer points of foreign debt negotiations, but long for anything that would put more food on their plate and slow the world’s highest inflation.

Few on the streets of capital Caracas really understood unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s announcement this week that he would seek to refinance the oil-rich nation’s heavy bond burden of $60 billion – or about $2,000 per person.

But those interviewed by Reuters said they were hoping any deals between the government and its multiple foreign creditors would free up foreign currency to increase imports of scarce food, medicine, and basic products.

“Maybe it will work, and improve the country,” said Johny Vargas, 53, a construction worker who says he often only eats twice a day because his salary is gobbled up by price increases.

“Everything is so expensive. There’s no food, nothing. Maduro’s useless. Look at the bad state we’re in.”

Up to now, Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party has prioritized debt payments by slashing imports, compounding four years of recession and shortages on the shelves.

Should a debt renegotiation be reached, it could free more money in the short-term for the government to bring in basic foods and medicines.

But Wall Street is skeptical, and so are many Venezuelans.

“We can’t have strong negotiations. We don’t have the credibility to sit down and make requests,” said 35 year-old accountant Mayerling Delgado, referring to Venezuela’s increasingly fraught relations with many other countries.

“So we have to pay,” she added in a resigned tone, in a busy Caracas plaza.

Experts have long warned that debt accrued under late leader Hugo Chavez was unsustainable, and urged Maduro’s government to refinance its debt load.

But pursuing such an operation now is near impossible given Venezuela’s economic mess, a dearth of technocrats in the government, and, especially, sanctions that bar U.S. banks from participating in or negotiating new Venezuelan debt deals.

 

NOT PAYING IS WORSE?

Most Venezuelans balk at the idea of a default, which would trigger lawsuits by creditors seeking to seize assets such as refineries in the United States. That could plunge the OPEC nation of 30 million people into even worse hardship.

“The majority of the population has consistently perceived a default as a negative move that could hurt the country’s economy,” said economist Luis Vicente Leon of pollster Datanalisis.

But with many analysts viewing a default as ultimately unavoidable given the parlous state of Venezuela’s coffers, some said it might be better to bite the bullet.

“What’s the science behind paying when you’ve already lost? It’s not what we as Venezuelans want … but there’s no other way out, unfortunately,” said beautician Harlee Tovitto, 42. She plans to emigrate to neighboring Colombia soon because she can no longer afford clothes or insurance for her three children.

Amid a deepening spat with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, some Venezuelans think Caracas would find a way out of its bond mess if it weren’t for the U.S. sanctions.

“If Venezuela has always paid its debt … why can’t they refinance?,” said Rafael Moreno, 30, a lawyer and former Chavez supporter who now says he does not back either the government or opposition.

 

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Andrew Cawthorne, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

 

U.N. tells Australia to restore food, water supplies to PNG refugees

Asylum seekers protest on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, in this picture taken from social media November 3, 2017

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations human rights office called on Australia on Friday to restore food, water and health services to about 600 interned refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, which Canberra cut off three days ago.

The detainees in the Manus Island Centre have defied attempts by the governments of both Australia and PNG to close the camp, saying they fear violent reprisals from the local community if they are moved to other “transit centers”.

“We call on the Australian government … who interned the men in the first place to immediately provide protection, food, water and other basic services,” U.N. rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

Australia has an obligation to do so under international human rights law and the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, he said.

There was no immediate comment from Australia or its representatives in Geneva. Its government has said the camp had been ruled illegal by PNG authorities and it had committed to supply other sites for 12 months.

Colville joined the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in warning of an “unfolding humanitarian emergency” in the center where asylum seekers began digging wells on Thursday to try to find water as their food supplies dwindled.

The remote Manus Island center has been a key part of Australia’s disputed immigration policy under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, detaining them instead in PNG and Naura in the South Pacific.

“We repeat our overall concerns about Australian offshore processing centers which are unsustainable, inhumane and contradictory to its human rights obligations,” Colville said.

Around 500 of the men have still not had their asylum claims processed, he said.

“And obviously the sooner the better, some of them have been there I think for four years,” Colville said. “So that’s a very long time to sit in effectively a detention center disguised as a regional processing center without your case being processed.”

The alternative accommodation being proposed is not finished or adequate to meet their needs, including security, he said.

“We have conveyed to the Australian government and to the local government of Papua New Guinea as well that until the time the accommodation is ready, refugees should not be moved there,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said.

“But also we have urged Australia and PNG to de-escalate the situation, resume basic services – water, electricity, medical services as well,” he said.

The last food distribution was on Sunday, he said.

“Australia’s policy of deterrence by rescuing people at sea, mistreating them and abandoning them has become a notion of cruelty,” Baloch said.

 

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Larry King and Andrew Heavens)

 

Convoy rolls into Damascus suburbs with aid for 40,000

Smoke rises at a damaged site in Ain Tarma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, September 14, 2017.

GENEVA (Reuters) – A convoy from the United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent entered towns in the besieged Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on Monday, bringing aid to 40,000 people for the first time since June 2016, the United Nations said.

A tightening siege by government forces has pushed people to the verge of famine in the eastern suburbs, residents and aid workers said last week, bringing desperation to the only major rebel enclave near the Syrian capital.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Twitter they had entered the towns of Kafra Batna and Saqba.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said in a separate tweet that the inter-agency convoy had 49 trucks.

They carried food, nutrition and health items for 40,000 people in need, OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said. “The last time we reached these two locations were in June 2016,” he said.

A health worker in Saqba who was present when the convoy started to offload said that nine trucks of foodstuffs, including milk and peanut butter, and four trucks of medicines had arrived so far.

Technical specialists were on board to assess needs in the towns in order to plan a further humanitarian response, he said.

“More aid to complement today’s delivery is planned in the coming days,” Laerke added.

At least 1,200 children in eastern Ghouta suffer from malnutrition, with 1,500 others at risk, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said last week.

Bettina Luescher, spokeswoman of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), said the convoy carried nutrition supplies for 16,000 children.

Food, fuel and medicine once travelled across frontlines into the suburbs through a network of underground tunnels. But early this year, an army offensive nearby cut smuggling routes that provided a lifeline for around 300,000 people in the enclave east of the capital.

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)