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Kenya issues ultimatum to UN to close camps housing almost 400,000 refugees | Migration and development

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Kenya has once again threatened to close two huge refugee camps in the country, in a move that has alarmed the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and donor organisations.

A tweet from the ministry of interior gave the UNHCR a “14-day ultimatum to have a roadmap on definite closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps”.

The ministry added there was “no room for further negotiations”, even as the UNHCR said it intended to open dialogue with local authorities on the matter before the 6 April deadline.

As of 28 February, Kenya hosted 512,494 refugees and asylum seekers, with Dadaab and Kakuma accounting for 224,462 and 163,299 refugees respectively. Of the total, 274,299 are from Somalia.

The government gave no reason for the orders but observers were quick to point to Kenya’s deepening row with its neighbour that has resulted in Somalia severing diplomatic relations.

The two countries are embroiled in a maritime delimitation in the Indian Ocean that led Somalia to refer Kenya to the international court of justice.

Dadaab camp is situated in Garissa county, which borders Somalia.

The government’s statement appeared to have caught the UN agency off-guard. “UNHCR has been informed by the Kenyan authorities of their intention to close Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps within a short timeframe,” the UNHCR said in a statement.

While the UN body thanked Kenya for “generously hosting refugees and asylum seekers for several decades”, it said the order would be challenging to implement in light of the recently imposed partial Covid-19 lockdown.

“UNHCR is concerned about the impact this decision would have on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. We urge the government of Kenya to ensure that any decisions allow for suitable and sustainable solutions to be found, and that those who continue to need protection are able to receive it,” the UNHCR statement said.

A day after the announcement, local government officials held an emergency meeting about the planned closure of the refugee camps with partners including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and 25 heads of foreign missions in Nairobi. Details of the meeting were not made public.

Glenn Jusnes, who heads the external relations department at UNHCR Kenya, confirmed that talks were continuing at “higher levels” to try to break the deadlock.

“We too are trying to unpack the information from the government,” Jusnes said. “Despite all manner of speculations regarding the announcement, our brief is to come up with a roadmap within two weeks, and that is what we are trying to do.

“It doesn’t take a lot of imagination as to what (closure) will mean in light of the current situation with the pandemic,” said Jusnes.

The threat is the latest of several attempts by Kenya to relocate the camps from within its borders.

A market in the Dadaab refugee camp, which Kenya has demanded the UNHCR shut down.
A market in the Dadaab refugee camp, which Kenya has demanded the UNHCR shut down. Photograph: Sally Hayden

In 2016, the government issued a similar warning, vowing to close Dadaab, then the world’s biggest refugee camp, and send thousands of people back to Somalia. It claimed a string of terrorist activities in Kenya had been planned from within the refugee camp.

But UN bodies, aid agencies and human rights groups have always pleaded with the government to retract such orders, as the conditions that displaced thousands of people still exist in their countries of origin.

Human Rights Watch has said: “Despite the Kenyan government’s frequent statements that Somali refugees in Kenya are responsible for Kenya’s insecurity, officials have not provided credible evidence linking Somali refugees to any terrorist attacks in Kenya.”



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Build Back Better: Friendly fire aimed at Joe Biden | USA

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In early October, a group of activists kayaked to the houseboat belonging to US Senator Joe Manchin in Washington to protest his opposition to the Democratic Party’s €3.5-trillion Reconciliation bill, which is a star policy of the Joe Biden administration. This came just days after Senator Kyrsten Sinema was ambushed by protesters during her trip back to Washington.

But neither Manchin nor Sinema are part of the Republican Party’s offense against the bill: they are two moderates in the Democratic Party who are forcing the president to reconsider the reforms. In the meantime, Biden is facing both pressure and disillusionment as his popularity in the polls plummets.

The Democratic Party’s ambitious spending plan, called Build Back Better, involves the largest extension of social-welfare coverage in the United States since the 1970s when Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was in power. The bill includes a tax credit for children and other dependent family members, extends aid to the elderly and disadvantaged people, and in its current form, funds a raft of sweeping measures aimed at fighting climate change and promoting renewable energy. But it is the environmental side of the plan that Biden is now considering changing due to the complete opposition from Senator Manchin, whose state – the conservative West Virginia – relies heavily on coal mining for employment. The plan is estimated to cost $3.5 trillion (around €3 trillion), but it is likely that it will be cut back to less than $2.5 million.

This is because, unlike former president Lyndon B. Johnson, Biden only has a narrow majority in Congress. In 1965, when Johnson signed the Medicare bill – which established a health-insurance program for the elderly – the Democratic Party had an overwhelming majority in Congress and held control of two-thirds of the Senate. But even then it was difficult to convince the moderate sector to approve the bill. Fifty years later, in 2011, when former president Barack Obama put forward his healthcare reforms, he also had a stronger position than Biden in both legislative chambers: 57 democrats and two independents in the Senate.

Senator Manchin’s opposition to the social-welfare plan is based on fears over rising inflation in the US, an increase of public debt and – something more abstract – concern that it will turn the country “into an entitlement society,” as he stated at the beginning of October. The statement came after he published an opinion poll in The Wall Street Journal called “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion.” In the article, he argues: “Establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy.”

Since becoming a senator after the 2020 election, Kyrsten Sinema has defended a bipartisan approach to legislating – a position she has also taken with the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, which is still awaiting ratification. “The American people are asking for us to take action. What they don’t want to see is us sit on our hands, waiting until we get every single thing that we want,” she said in a radio interview with NPR in August. “That all-or-nothing approach usually leaves you with nothing,” added Sinema, who is the first Democratic senator in the state of Arizona in 30 years.

Both senators raised record sums of money in the third quarter of the year, thanks to large contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services sectors, according to filings recorded and published by the Financial Times. Manchin raised $1.6 million (€1.38 million), up from $1.5 million ( €1.29 million) in the second quarter and just $175,000 (€150,000) in the first. Meanwhile, Sinema received €1.1 million (€950,000) in donations in the third quarter, a figure narrowly outstripping the second and far from the $375,000 (€322,000) in the first. This is despite the fact that neither of the politicians face reelection until 2024.

Two Senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want

Senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders

In the meantime, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is starting to lose patience and is also pressuring the White House. “Two senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want,” Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont, wrote in a message on Twitter. “Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation,” he added in a separate tweet. In a similar vein, Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said: “Four percent of Democrats are opposing passing the president’s agenda.”

Democrat veteran Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has begun to try to solve the conflict and is preparing lawmakers to accept cuts to the reconciliation bill. “I’m very disappointed that we’re not going with the original $3.5 trillion,” she admitted on October 12. “But whatever we do, we will make decisions that will continue to be transformative.”

The greater debate with respect to the spending plan is over the size of public spending and to what extent the state should intervene in the economy. Biden came to the White House with the message that a monumental crisis required a strong and broad government. The Biden administration has been able to pass new legislation on voting rights at a time when Republican-led states are pushing for restrictions, which in practice, hinder access to minority groups and the disadvantaged. But there are more projects in limbo. The reason is that it is not enough to have a simple majority in the Senate; the Democratic Party needs 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber, but only has 50, plus the casting vote of Deputy President Kamala Harris.

Meanwhile, Biden’s popularity has taken a nosedive. He entered the White House on January 20 with a 57% approval rating, according to respected pollster Gallup. But in August, after six months in power, the figure had fallen below 50%, and in September, the last month for which there is available data, it was down to 43%. This is higher than the approval rating of former US president Donald Trump, which came in at 37% after the same period of time, but is nine points lower than the same figure for Obama. The fall is largely due to the drop in support among independent voters: before the election, 61% of them approved of Biden, compared to 37% now.

Economic uncertainty, an uptick of the coronavirus pandemic over summer and stalled reforms are among the reasons Biden’s popularity is waning. Other factors include the administration’s migration policy, which has maintained some of the most restrictive elements of the Trump era, and the upheaval following the US army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. With the anniversary of the November 2020 election fast approaching, Biden is hoping that he will be able to pass his star legislation, despite the internal opposition.



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Too hot to handle: can our bodies withstand global heating?

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Extreme heat can kill or cause long-term health problems – but for many unendurable temperatures are the new normal

The impact of extreme heat on the human body is not unlike what happens when a car overheats. Failure starts in one or two systems, and eventually it takes over the whole engine until the car stops.

That’s according to Mike McGeehin, environmental health epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When the body can no longer cool itself it immediately impacts the circulatory system. The heart, the kidneys, and the body become more and more heated and eventually our cognitive abilities begin to desert us – and that’s when people begin fainting, eventually going into a coma and dying.”

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Polish TV sabotages Tusk press briefing

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Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk clashed with Polish propaganda outlet TVP in Warsaw Tuesday. A TVP reporter asked him why Tusk’s party wanted Poland to leave the EU. “This is beyond imagination … I won’t answer such absurdities,” Tusk, whose Civic Platform party is pro-EU, said, before a prickly exchange ensued. TVP also muted MEPs who said Poland should face EU rule-of-law sanctions in its coverage of a Strasbourg debate.

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