This Week in Restoring Family Links News 4/4/2016 - 4/8/2016

Laos, 2014. Photo credit: Getty Images/ICRC

Laos, 2014. Photo credit: Getty Images/ICRC

Mine Awareness Day: On Monday, the world observed the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. On December 8, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly declared that the day would be observed on April 4th of every year, with the intention of calling on states to help establish and develop anti-mine technology and capacities in countries where they are still an everyday threat. At the time, an estimated 15,000-20,000 adults and children were killed or severely injured every year from mines which remained in the ground. 

Since the signing of the 1997 Ottawa Treaty by 162, this figure has decreased dramatically to about 3,500 per year killed or severely injured by mines. Production and transference of mines has been nearly eliminated, and 48 non-state armed groups across the world have pledged against using mines as well. 

Yet, the ultimate goal has yet to be realized. Thirty states who signed the treaty have still not met obligations to clear mines from their land, and several others have not made sufficient advances in providing services to mine victims. Ukraine, a signer of the 1997 treaty, has seen both rebel and government forces make use of landmines during the ongoing conflict, resulting in 600 killed and 2000+ wounded in the past two years from mines there. The ICRC, along with the international community, continue to work toward creating a world where people can safely interact with their local surrounding without fear of hidden weapons. 

Photo credit Tyler Hicks, New York Times

Photo credit Tyler Hicks, New York Times

EU Deportations: The European Union deported 202 refugees from the Greek islands to Turkey, as specified under the controversial EU-Turkey deal which has now been put into effect. Under the terms of the deal, those who arrive on or after March 20 will be sent back to Turkey, and for every one returned, the EU will resettle another. The justification behind this deal is that the EU now considers Turkey to be a "safe third country" for Syrians and other refugees to settle in, but this is not particularly true. An Amnesty International report released last Friday cites abuses by Turks toward Syrian refugees, such as the rounding up of large groups who are sent directly back to Syria, as well as shootings of those trying to cross the border into Turkey. 

Out of fear of being deported to Turkey, asylum applications by refugees have skyrocketed during the past week, causing a slowdown in deportations. Some, such as inmates in the Moria detention center who passed a letter on to authorities, warn that "If they deport us, we will kill ourselves. We will not go back". These mass deportations also present an enormous logistical challenge, as demonstrated by the 13 refugees deported to Turkey on the first day "by accident" before being given the opportunity to apply for asylum. As for the rest of the potential deportees, those inside and outside of Turkey are unsure how the country will be able to accommodate them properly. 

Fallujah has been under ISIL control for two years but is cut off by Iraqi forces. Photo credit: Al Jazeera

Fallujah has been under ISIL control for two years but is cut off by Iraqi forces. Photo credit: Al Jazeera

Fallujah: The city of Fallujah, Iraq has been under siege by the Islamic State since early 2014, and is facing starvation-level food insecurity due to blockage of outside aid by government forces since their recent recapture of the nearby city of Ramadi in December 2015. This has resulted in as many as 50,000 Iraqis trapped in the city, with little access to medical supplies and virtually no food, as the last time food was re-supplied to the city was several months ago.

The price of what little food remains for sale in markets has skyrocketed, causing residents to resort to eating items such as "bread made from ground date seeds and soup made from grass". At least 140 have died, mostly elderly and children, from starvation over the past few months as a result. Compounding this are ongoing airstrikes and bombings by government forces, some of which have destroyed hospitals, as well as the threat of executions and arrest by ISIS to those who attempt to leave the city. 

While the laws of war do not prohibit the siege of a foe's military forces, they do treat the intentional starvation of a civilian population as a war crime. Yet, as the fighting in the region continues and the city remains inaccessible, it is unclear how or when the situation will improve in Fallujah.