Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.
Madaya: This past Monday, long-awaited relief finally came to Madaya, a remote Syrian town on the outskirts of Damascus where more than two dozen people have starved in the past two weeks as a result of humanitarian blocking from pro-government forces. The last time Madaya received any form of aid was October 18, driving residents into such desperation that many have been trying to survive off of grass, leaves, and boiled water. Madaya has garnered an immense international response, with many prominent figures speaking out about the state of horror there. UN Secratary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday called the use of starvation as a weapon a "war crime", and relayed reports from UN teams that the residents of Madaya were "little more than skin and bones: gaunt, severely malnourished, so weak they could barely walk".
The first ICRC aid trucks on Monday came with desperately needed food, blankets, and medicine, after months of stalled negotiations between warring groups. A second wave of aid convoys came on Thursday evening. Previous plans to evacuate the 400+ in critical condition were scrapped; doctors and nutritionists with the convoy will treat them within the city instead. While these convoys have provided much-needed relief, future help to the residents of Madaya and neighboring towns will be difficult not only because of their mountainous, remote locations, but also because ongoing negotiations are still in the works. The civil war is still in full-swing, and civilians are in constant fear of being caught in airstrikes. The war is nearing its five-year mark, and so far 250,000 Syrians have been killed.
Central America: Since November 14, a pilot group of 180 Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica en route to Mexico were allowed to buy their own commercial airline and bus tickets to reach Mexico via El Salvador and Guatemala, an arrangement put together by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) after the Costa Rican government declared a migration crisis. These 180 served as a pilot group for the 7,802 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica, and if successful, could provide a safe, dignified, and legal method for these migrants to reach their final destination.
For Central American migrants coming to the United States, the Obama administration is set to announce a joint program with the United Nations refugee agency to set up processing centers in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This would provide a safe space for migrants from otherwise violent surroundings, and would help to screen migrants who could potentially be allowed to migrate to the US. The administration said this could lead to safer, more fluid migration for up to 9,000 migrants per year. This move came after backlash against the Obama administration, which recently denied asylum and issued removal orders to at least 121 to this region in the past couple of weeks.
This comes at a time intensifying push factors to leave the region. The Peace Corps recently suspended its operations in El Salvador since the country is now too dangerous. Moreover, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are experiencing the worst drought in decades compounded by the effects of El Nino, causing widespread food insecurity. Yet, with the Obama administration's recent announcement more options for protection are opening for Central Americans, hopefully reducing the number forced to make a perilous trip.
Ebola: On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the "end of active transmission" of Ebola in Liberia, following 42 days without a single new case. Liberia thus joined its neighbors Guinea and Sierra Leone, who earned the same status last year.
The declaration caused worldwide rejoice, effectively declaring an end to the disease in the region. Since December 2013, the deadly disease has killed more than 11,000 in the region, and another 17,000 survivors continue to live with a wide range of complications and social stigma.
This, however, is not the first time Liberia has been declared Ebola-free; the disease re-emerged after two prior declarations. While the virus quickly disappears from survivors, it can remain in bodily fluids for up to a year and in rare instances, be transmitted to intimate partners. Amid celebration, the WHO reminded us that these flare-ups of the disease have happened in the past, and can happen again.
A day after the declaration, a 22-year old female student was taken ill near the Guinean border. Three swab tests were performed, and all came back positive for Ebola. It has since been reported that she was treated as an outpatient, and came into contact with 27 people.