Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Refugee Day

That's Angelina Jolie above, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, speaking about the importance of World Refugee Day: "Having a home, a place where we feel safe, is something most of us take for granted. Yet those who flee from conflict and persecution no longer have a home. And it will be years before they can even return. In fact, many may never go home again. On this day, World Refugee Day, please remember the millions of people around the world forced from their homes whose only hope of returning is to not be forgotten." World Refugee Day is tomorrow. Yesterday at the State Dept (link has text and video), Assistant Secretary Eric P. Schwartz commented on World Refugee Day. We'll note the following:

Good afternoon. Today, the Secretary hosted an event at the Department with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Gutierrez, in which we marked World Refugee Day, which is an international commemoration designed to highlight the needs of refugees and vulnerable people, as well as to promote sustained commitment to international humanitarian response.

It was quite an event. Scott Pelley of CBS hosted it and featured through video and audio hookup Angelina Jolie, who was in Ecuador, and UNHCR representatives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Antonio Gutierrez was in Syria. And so I thought I would talk a little bit about our program, our refugee program, and answer any questions you might have about humanitarian response.

There are many reasons why the protection of the most vulnerable really needs to be and is at the center of policy making. First, it’s the moral imperative, the simple policy goal of saving lives. The people of the United States, and in particular the Congress, has demonstrated really remarkable support for efforts to alleviate human suffering. Even in this very difficult budget time that we face, consistently the Congress gives us more money than we ask for for these activities. And if you think about it, that’s a pretty significant statement. And we have a profound responsibility to make good use of the resources they provide.

Second, our leadership role on these issues helps us to influence the progressive development of international humanitarian law, international programs, and policy, so that the quality of the international community’s response continues to improve. And also it enables us as leaders to drive the development of these issues like no other government in the world.

Normally we could all have a good laugh at that last paragraph above. Leadership? The US led on the Iraq War, that is to be sure. The illegal war which produced the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since WWII. And under the previous and current White House administrations, the US government has granted refugee status to very, very few applicants. But this year, doing too little is -- by comparison -- a plus.

How did that happen? Many European countries, with England showing 'leadership,' decided the thing to do was to begin forced deportations back to Iraq for refugees -- the UN's warning against such a move be damned.

Forcing refugees to return to an unsafe country is a War Crime when the region is engulfed in war. As bad as that is, beating the refugees to get them on the plane and beating them to get them off the plane would constitute further crimes. England stands accused of allowing their border agency to beat the refugees. In what will stand as one of the biggest governmental p.r. blunders of 2010, Jim Muir (BBC News) reports that when the United Kingdom Border Agency staff was questioned about the allegations, "The UKBA declined to comment on the specific allegations, but said minimum force would only be used as a last resort." Did UKBA employees beat Iraqi refugees? Response: If so, it was only as last resort. (The UKBA has since issued a statement denying any abuse.)

Congratulations, British government officials, short of submerging a refugee in a vat of boiling water, your actions have provided cover for the appalling and indecisive 'leadership' of every other government when it comes to Iraqi refugees. What a proud moment on the eve of World Refugee Day.

The following community sites updated last night and today:

Joan Wile is the founder of Grandmothers Against the War and has written the book Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace. We'll close with her "GRAY PANTHERS OPPOSE NANCY PELOSI ON HEALTH CARE BILL:"

The fight for a single payer health care bill is not over, if the Gray Panthers have anything to do with it. In no uncertain terms, they told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's staff on May 26 that the so-called "reform" health care legislation was not acceptable to their organization. Although there are a few aspects of the bill that they deem adequate, for the most part they cannot support it.

"Since 1970, the Gray Panthers have always fought for a single payer system, and we are still committed to that objective," said Susan Murany, Executive Secretary of the group, who attended the meeting in Pelosi's office, along with others representing organizations advocating for seniors.

Ms. Murany explained to the Speaker's staff that the Panthers demand a Single Payer system or, at the very least, a Public Option plan with teeth -- one for EVERYbody only. That is certainly not the case now, inasmuch as there is no public option at all in the current bill.

The other participants at the meeting in the Speaker's office, all leading organizations dedicated to seniors' issues, did not oppose the new legislation openly. Only Ms. Murany objected, expressing the Panthers' dissatisfaction and their resolve to keep struggling for a single payer system.

Generally, there appears to be considerable disappoiontment with new Congressional legislation. At the Campaign for America's Future Conference on June 8, for instance, Pelosi was shouted down on a number of issues.

Upon listening to its members after the so-called "reform" bill passed in March 2010, the Gray Panthers decided to launch an aggressive campaign to obtain a single payer health care plan rather than endorse the current legislation as the other seniors groups apparently have done. The Panthers state in their March 2010 response to the passage of the health care bill, "The Gray Panthers believe that profit needs to be taken out of health care." To that end, the Gray Panthers will dedicate themselves tirelessly to working for single payer health care and will do so, if necessary, without the support of other “aging” organizations.

"We need to be fighting for health care reform, NOT health insurance reform," Ms. Murany firmly declared.

The Gray Panthers, an intergenerational, multi-issue national social action organization formed in 1970 by the legendary firebrand, Maggie Kuhn, has been reinvigorated in recent years by a new Board of Directors and its dedication to three main causes -- the environment, health care, and peace. 2010 is their 40th Anniversary year, and to commemorate it, they designated 40 actions to occur throughout the year. Two have already been held on April 17, 2010 -- a 40th Anniversary gala in Washington DC and a demonstration in front of the White House demanding environmental protection.

And, now, once again, with their public announcement of opposition to the health care plan, the feisty Gray Panthers are in the vanguard fighting for a just cause where others fear to tread.

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oh boy it never ends