Economist 5/30/16

  1. The stance of the British Medical Association (BMA) is clear: doctor-assisted dying should not be made legal. But the organisation’s policy was drawn up a decade ago, and the wider discussion has moved on since then. Two assisted-dying bills were brought before parliament last year alone, though neither was successful. The topic has been debated at seven of the BMA’s 13 annual meetings since 2003.Doctors are the people who would have to put any new law into practice. And those who draft legislation look to the BMA as the voice of the profession. Its opposition was a big part of why the bills brought before parliament last year did not pass, reckons Dignity in Dying. Its Californian counterpart’s decision to shift from opposition to neutrality was probably essential in the state governor’s decision to sign an assisted-dying law last October.
  2. Lebanon has more refugees per head of population than any other country; its near-neighbour Jordan has one-third the number.Government does not allow official refugee camps) make up 15-20% of the Syrians in Lebanon. Most of the rest rent their homes, which are often just garages or disused warehouses. The camp-dwellers are the poorest of the bunch, obliged to sell assets and take on debt to pay their bills, including annual rent of $300-$1,000 a year per tent. NGOs are on hand to help, but food rations have been cut for lack of funding.Lebanon’s economy was spluttering even before the Syrian refugees crossed over, and the 1.5m now inside its borders—more than the total number of asylum-seekers who reached Europe last year—make up over one-quarter of its population, disrupting the labour market, overburdening water and sanitation systems and, since the vast majority are Sunni, upsetting the sectarian balance.Add to all this the apparently insoluble problem of the half-million Palestinian refugees living in the country.
  3. Under a deal struck in 1993 Syrians could work in Lebanon without visas; perhaps half a million were doing so before the war. (Jordan had a similar arrangement.) Many of the scruffy refugee settlements around Lebanese towns grew out of informal housing plots for Syrian farm workers. Syrians working illegally for low pay on farms or building sites are competing mostly against each other (or Palestinians); few Lebanese are interested in such jobs.Perhaps half the Lebanese economy is underground, and the authorities tend to turn a blind eye to Syrians who work without permits.Every refugee has a story to tell about ill-treatment at the hands of locals, but there have been no widespread protests or reports of systematic persecution. The wide dispersal of refugees around the country may have helped.Life has become much tougher for refugees since the government tightened its rules last year. Registered Syrians must now pay $200 to renew residency permits and sign a pledge not to work; the non-registered require a Lebanese sponsor.
  4. Dadaab,a sprawling collection of refugee camps in the Kenyan desert 90km (56 miles) from the Somali border, is closer to the reality of most of the world’s displaced people. Some 345,000 refugees, 95% of them Somalis who have fled across the border, are spread across five camps, their lives governed by dozens of NGOs that have little understanding of development or state-building, and a Kenyan police and security presence that at times can feel more like an occupying force.Back in 1991, when the UNHCR first consolidated the informal settlements established by Somalis fleeing civil war into an organised refugee camp, no one expected Dadaab to last this long.In many respects the NGOs that run the place do a fine job. The schools they operate are overstretched, but that is partly because they have attracted lots of pupils. There are no funds for treating chronic conditions, but the clinics are clean and well run; a cholera outbreak late last year was quickly contained.
  5. But agencies can do only so much. Few refugees are able to work. Once children finish school there is little chance of higher education except for the lucky few who obtain scholarships to places like Canada.Many refugees have simply pressed pause on life, idling away the hours by chewing the fat (or the khat).Dadaab is a much safer place these days, but that is not how Kenya’s politicians see things. The government says the camps harbour al-Shabab terrorists. In May it abruptly disbanded its department for refugee affairs and said it would close Dadaab by May 2017, without explaining how such a massive operation might be carried out. Some saw the announcement as a ruse to extract more money from donors, who have been distracted by the Syrian crisis. Since 2010 the UNHCR’s funding for Dadaab has fallen from $223 to $148 per person a year (excluding food).In 2013 the UNHCR and the Somali government bowed to Kenyan pressure and backed returns for Somalis in Dadaab. Under this “tripartite agreement” the UNHCR arranges journeys back to Somalia for willing refugees.Over 14,000 refugees have returned since the scheme took effect in December 2014. But that is not fast enough for the government.
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