GENEVA — The World Food Program warns an estimated 20 million people in drought-affected parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia could face catastrophic levels of hunger if the region is hit with a fourth consecutive year of drought.
The rains have failed to come to the Horn of Africa nearly a month into the current rainy season, which lasts through May. The past three years of drought have taken a heavy toll. The World Food Program reports crop failure in Ethiopia has plunged 7.2 million people into acute hunger and killed more than a million livestock.
The situation is no better in Kenya, where escalating drought has left more than three million people short of food, including half a million who are facing emergency levels of hunger. In Somalia, the WFP says six million people, or 40 percent of the population, are food insecure, with more than 80,000 on the brink of famine.
Speaking from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, the WFP regional director for East Africa, Michael Dunford, says the number of hungry people could spiral from an estimated 14 million to 20 million, if the rains fail to come yet again.
"The situation is bad. It continues to deteriorate. We are desperate for these rains to succeed," he said. "But even if they do … these populations are exhausted. The water sources are exhausted. The livestock are dying. The crops are failing. And we are heading to a very severe situation unless we are able to pull it back from the precipice."
Dunford says there is anecdotal evidence that children already are dying from malnutrition-related causes because they are not able to get the nutritional feeding that could save their lives.
He says the WFP is severely underfunded. It has received 13 percent of a required $370 million. Since that appeal was launched in January, he says the number of people needing help has increased, as have the costs. The WFP now requires $473 million to scale up its operations over the next six months.
"Funding gap means that WFP is having to prioritize in such a way that the prevention of malnutrition, we are now going to have to focus primarily on the treatment," Dunford said. "And at some point, even these programs will not have sufficient funding if the current trends continue. And we will have to focus exclusively on humanitarian feeding programs."
Dunford says the fallout from the conflict in Ukraine is compounding the problems in the Horn of Africa, with food and fuel prices soaring to unprecedented highs. - Lisa Schlein, Voice of America
Priti Patel believes other countries will follow the UK’s Rwanda asylum proposals, after she issued a formal instruction for the Home Office to proceed with her policy to send asylum seekers arriving by boat to Rwanda.
The Home Secretary said Denmark could be among those to reproduce the UK government’s “blueprint” after it signed a deal to transfer those asylum seekers deemed to have arrived in Britain unlawfully 6,000 miles away to east Africa.
Her comments come after ITV News exclusively revealed Ms Patel had to sign off the new proposal because the most senior civil servant in her department was not convinced the policy would be effective enough to deliver value for money.
The policy was only able to proceed with a "ministerial direction" - which is used when the permanent secretary (in this case Matthew Rycroft) has specific concerns that means they ask the minister to sign off the spending proposal.
In this case there was not enough evidence to prove the key aim of the policy - that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda would deter others from trying to make dangerous crossings by boat, ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports.
The Home Office initially refused to comment on the ITV News exclusive, but on Friday confirmed a ministerial direction had been used.
A source told ITV News: "The asylum system is costing the taxpayer over £1.5 billion per year – the highest amount in over two decades, and we are spending £4.7 million on hotels per day between those who have arrived illegally and through resettlement programmes.
“Home office officials are clear that deterring illegal entry would create significant savings. However, such a deterrent effect cannot be quantified with certainty.
"They argued it would be wrong to "let a lack of precise modelling delay a policy aimed at reducing illegal migration, saving lives, and breaking the business model of the smuggling gangs”.
Ministerial directions are rare and this was only the second deployment of the power within the Home Office in the past 30 years.
t is understood that in a letter to Ms Patel asking for the direction, Mr Rycroft did say he was satisfied for the policy to go ahead and that deterring people would bring potential savings- but that the evidence around deterrence was uncertain.
ITV News revealed on Thursday there are tensions among Home Office officials, with fears of resignations. One source described the atmosphere as "terrible" and said some individuals felt "despair" at the policy.
The revelation comes as the UN refugee agency warned that the Rwanda pact breaches international law.
As part of the plan designed to curb migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, those who are deemed to have entered Britain by unlawful means since January 1 may be sent to Rwanda where they will be permitted to apply for asylum in the African country.
Defending the plan, justice and immigration minister Tom Pursglove said that there was a “moral imperative” to crush the “cruel” business model of human traffickers making money out of migrants wanting to cross the Channel.
He also argued the scheme would save taxpayers money in the “longer-term”, although he accepted the short-term cost would be equivalent to what the UK currently pays to accommodate and process asylum seekers domestically – approximately £5 million per day.
Ms Patel agreed a £120 million economic deal while in Kigali on Thursday and money for each removal is expected to follow, with reports suggesting each migrant sent to Rwanda is expected to set British taxpayers back between £20,000 and £30,000.
Speaking to reporters, she argued the plan was likely to be emulated by others, including countries in Europe.
“There is no question now that the model we have put forward, I’m convinced is world class and a world first, and it will be used as a blueprint going forward, there’s no doubt about that,” Ms Patel said.
“I would not be surprised if other countries start coming to us direct on the back of this as well.”
The Home Secretary said Copenhagen was in talks with Rwanda as well, adding the Council of Europe “have also basically said they are interested in working with us”.
The Rwanda deal has faced international criticism, with the UNHCR saying it “strongly condemns” the approach laid out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ms Patel.
Gillian Triggs, an assistant secretary-general at the UN refugee agency, called it an “egregious breach of international law and refugee law” and labelled it “unacceptable”.
Speaking to the BBC, the Australian also questioned whether it would act as a long-term deterrent, given Israel’s attempt to do something similar in Rwanda with Eritrean and Sudanese incomers saw the refugees “leave the country and start the process all over again”.
The Home Office denied its approach was in breach of refugee agreements.
A spokesman said: “Under this agreement, Rwanda will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws, and will ensure their protection from inhuman and degrading treatment or being returned to the place they originally fled.
“There is nothing in the UN Refugee Convention which prevents removal to a safe country.” - ITV
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed "strong opposition and concerns" on Thursday about the UK's plan to export its asylum obligations.
It urged the UK, which is a key financial contributor to the UNHCR, to refrain from transferring asylum seekers and refugees to Rwanda for asylum processing.
"UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards," said UNHCR's assistant head, Gillian Triggs. "Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention."
Earlier Thursday, the British government announced a new and controversial relocation plan that would see asylum seekers attempting to enter the UK sent to Rwanda for resettlement.
Triggs said those fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy.
"They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing," he said.
The refugee agency urged the UK and Rwanda to re-think the plans.
It also warned that instead of deterring refugees from resorting to perilous journeys, the externalization arrangements would only magnify risks, causing refugees to seek alternative routes and exacerbating pressures on frontline states.
UNHCR said Rwanda has "generously" provided a haven to refugees fleeing conflict and persecution for decades. Most live in camps with limited access to economic opportunities.
The UNHCR believes wealthier nations must show solidarity in supporting Rwanda and the refugees it already hosts and not the other way around.
"The UK has an obligation to ensure access to asylum for those seeking protection," it said.
Those determined to be refugees can be integrated, while those who are not and have no other legal basis to stay can be returned in safety and dignity to their country of origin, said the agency.
- Abdicates responsibility
"Instead, the UK is adopting arrangements that abdicate responsibility to others and thus threaten the international refugee protection regime, which has stood the test of time and saved millions of lives over the decades," said UNHCR.
The agency said the UK has supported UNHCR's work many times and provides essential contributions that help protect refugees and support countries in conflicts such as Ukraine.
"However, financial support abroad for certain refugee crises cannot replace the responsibility of states and the obligation to receive asylum seekers and protect refugees on their own territory – irrespective of race, nationality, and mode of arrival," it said.
UNHCR said it recognizes the challenges posed by forced displacement but developed countries are host to only a fraction of the world's refugees and are well resourced to manage claims for asylum in a humane, fair and efficient manner. - Peter Kenny, Anadolu Agency
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