Supporting Syria: The Supporting Syria & the Region 2016 conference was held in London, co-hosted by the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the United Nations. The conference brought together world leaders to address, coordinate, and raise significant funding to meet the immediate and long-term effects of the ongoing conflict. Building upon three previous such conferences in Kuwait, world leaders, as well as various NGOs came together to plan for and coordinate several relevant goals: raising funding, providing education access, creating job opportunities, and applying international pressure to respect humanitarian law, among others. Donors pledged over $10 billion to the cause, with the largest pledges coming from the European Union, the United States, Japan, Germany, and others.
While this is certainly a generous and important step in bringing the Syrian conflict to an end, it is only part of the solution. Conference attendee Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration, lauded the international community for their donations, but stressed that "aid is an important element in a complex formula, but clearly the most important thing is to stop the war. In the meantime, we have to save and improve lives -- and that's by educating children and creating jobs." He also stressed that solving the Syrian crisis will not put an end to the European crisis, as Syrians represent only half of the vast numbers of those coming to the continent. Money alone is not enough to solve the world's largest contemporary humanitarian issue -- ultimately, a political solution is necessary to end the conflict.
The opening film shown during the conference is included below:
Zika: The mosquito-transmitted virus, which is related to dengue fever and has been linked to microcephaly in newborn infants, continues to spread across the world. The virus was first isolated in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947, from which its name derives. While primarily transmitted by certain species of mosquito, recent cases have shown that it can be transmitted sexually, and that mother-to-child transmission can cause deformations of the brain and eye. Though there are no fatalities to date, and with only one in five infected developing symptoms such as fever and rash, the transmission and full potential is still largely unknown.
The virus has seen a recent explosion in recent weeks, with news that a pregnant woman in Spain's diagnosis marks the first such case in Europe. This news comes after several recent cases in Latin America, and some US states. The World Health Organization has declared the virus to have "explosive pandemic potential," and the Center for Disease Control has advised pregnant women in 14 countries and territories in the Americas to postpone travel plans for the time being. Below is a chart from Statista, illustrating the recent spread of the virus:
On Wednesday, the European Commission earmarked €10 million for future vaccine research and development to combat the virus. Vaccination programs are being set up around the world, but the World Health Organization stresses that a new and effective drug will likely not be available for mass distribution anytime soon. Moreover, the potential impact of the virus in relation to the ongoing refugee crisis can only be speculated upon at the moment.
Anti-Migrant Sentiment: The notorious Finnish Neo-Nazi group "Sons of Odin" vowed that it will "keep Europe's women safe from migrant sex attacks." Anti-migrant sentiment across Finland has risen in response to the large and unexpected influx of migrants, but this group--which claims to have cells across Europe--announced that it will take matters into its own hands in the form of vigilante policing in response to the perceived lack of action by the Finnish government. The group, largely made up of former convicts, patrol the streets of Finnish cities and towns at night. While many within the country are intimidated by them and do not support their movement, their Facebook page currently has over 25,000 likes from across Europe and even the US, and continues to rise.
Meanwhile, France has granted its law enforcement pervasive powers to patrol the Muslim community, and has restricted mass public gatherings as the state of emergency there continues, following the November attacks. The Human Rights Watch reports that as many as 400 have been placed under house arrest, and many more have experienced traumatic home raids and seizures, often with little explanation or evidence. Many report the police intentionally damaging property during these raids, throwing sacred objects such as the Koran on the floor, and harsh house arrest conditions are costing many their jobs and livelihoods.