Friday, March 4, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, protests take place across Iraq, Iraqi forces attack journalists in Basra, Mosul demonstrators are threatened with a number forced back into their homes, the US government remains largely silent on the protests, the political situation in Iraq continues to resemble a square dance and more.
KUNA reports, "Thousands of Iraqi demonstrators are flowing to Baghdad and other Iraqi cities in what is called 'Friday of Dignity' in protest against poor services and boringly sluggish efforts against alleged corruption and fraud in Iraq." Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that, today, "a crowd of about 2,000 people had descended Baghdad's Tahrir Square by early afternoon, another 1,000 gathered i the southern city of Nasiriyah and about 300 were in the central city of Hilla."AGI notes, "The protesters mostly arrived on foot because of a ban on the movement of vehicles in the square." Bushra Juhi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) note Bahjat Talib had to stop at eight checkpoints to get from the Sadr City section of Baghdad to Tahrir Square and they quote him stating, "Our country is lost and for the last eight years the government has failed to offer services for people. Thousands of youths are without jobs." In Nineveh Province, the Dar Addustour live screen crawl noted, protesters have again demanded that the release of detainees and the expulsions of US forces from the country. Al Rafidayn adds security forces in Nineveh used water cannons and batons to disperse the crowd. American University Cairo's Firas al-Atraqchi Tweeted this observation about the Iraqi protests:
The Day of Dignity follows last week's Day of Rage which saw protests across Iraq with demonstrators often attacked by police leaving less than 30 dead and hundreds injured. The attacks were not just on the demonstrators, Iraqi forces also attacked the press. Physically attacked the press. The groundwork for that physical attack was laid by Nouri who ordered forces to bust into news outlets and journalistic organizations in the days prior to last Friday's Day of Rage. In addition, Nouri also outlawed live broadcasts from Baghdad on that Friday. Through his actions, he sent the message that his government did not respect or support a free press and his thugs then acted accordingly -- in one instance, barging into a Baghdad restaurant and physically attacking four journalists who were eating lunch, beating them in the heads with the butts of their rifles and then arresting them. Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) reminds, "Witnesses in Baghdad and as far north as Kirkuk described watching last week as security forces in black uniforms, tracksuits and T-shirts roared up in trucks and Humvees, attacked protesters, rounded up others from cafes and homes and hauled them off, blindfolded, to army detention centers. Entire neighborhoods -- primarily Sunni Muslim areas where residnets are generally opposed to Maliki, a Shiite -- were blockaded to prevent residents from joining the demonstrations. Journalists were beaten." In an essay on last Friday's protest, Danial Anas Kaysi (Foreign Policy) observes:
After the March 2010 elections, the Iraqi people waited close to ten months for their political representatives to agree on a framework and form a government (which is yet to be truly completed due to disputes concerning the naming of security ministers). Those were months in which the population continued to live in the shadow of an occupation, in face of high unemployment levels and in deteriorating conditions -- from low levels of electricity and water to mismanaged sewage systems and ration card provisions.
When Maliki was chosen, the Iraqi people continued to patiently await the creation of a national unity government capable of addressing their needs. All along, Maliki led a protracted campaign to retain the premiership, arguing that was Iraq's best choice in guiding it away from its woes at a time of uncertainty. While services were not central to his coalition's campaign, Maliki concentrated on his capability to impose the rule of law and bring back stability and security so that the country might begin to truly rebuild. Security could be quite the convincing argument had terrorist attacks decreased rather than increased, and had the prime minister not been creating police forces outside the regular chain of command, such as the infamous Baghdad Brigades, which is feared by the residents of the city.
The prime minister's image can no longer be built on a mirage of security and stability. Worsening conditions, coupled with clear corruption and an increase in terrorist attacks, have led people to lose trust in their local, provincial, and federal representatives. Two months after government formation, it has become clear to the people that it is one of a starkly political nature, formed through backroom deals and the placating of various factions.
Al Mada notes that yesterday a vehicle ban was placed on Basra in anticipation of the protest (in anticipation of curbing the protest) and those violating the ban will not have their vehicles returned until some time after Friday. Basra is where 23-year-old Salem Garuq al-Dosari died last Friday, killed for the 'crime' of protesting. In reply to a question about violence from McClatchy's Hannah Allam, AFP's Prashant Rao Tweeted:
Aref Mohammed (Reuters) informs of today's Basra protest, "A Reuters reporter at the scene said some journalists were also beaten by security forces. A vehicle ban was in effect." J. David Goodman (New York Times) also notes the attacks on journalists ("beaten by authorities there"). The Dar Addustour live screen crawl noted Diyala, Kirkuk, Tikrit and Samarra were also placed under curfew. Ammar Karim (AFP) adds, "Nasiriyah, in the south, barred anyone from entering. Complete vehicle bans were also placed on every non-Kurdish province north of the capital, with protesters not even allowed near provincial governorate offices in the city of Mosul, after five demonstrators were killed and one building set ablaze in rallies there a week ago."
While bans were put in place, Al Mada reveaks that the Iraqi Jurists Association announced they would be participating in today's protests and called on the "legitimate" reforms protesters have demanded to be implemented. They also saluted the protesters noting that they have shown strength, that all Iraqis are one people and one destiny.Al Rafidayn reports that the protesters in Baghdad today found Tahrir Square cordoned off by security forces and that blockades were utilized to close down roads and prevent access to areas including the Green Zone and the Sinak Republic Bridge. Osama Mahdi (Kitabat) reports that protesters in Baghdad chanted "Liar Liar Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Liar Liar" and "Peaceful, Peaceful" while carrying flags and banners -- one banner read "Where did the people's money go?" Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) notes that "security was tight as police in riot gear faced the demonstrators, and it was unclear whether crowds would become larger following Friday prayers. Many protesters in the square said they were nervous about staying there considering violence that followed last week's nationwide demonstrations." The crowds did increase despite many obstacles, going from hundreds before ten this morning to, Aref Mohammed (Reuters) estimates, "around 3,000," Tahrir Square is now being called "Iraqi Liberation Square". But not all who wanted to take part in Baghdad were able to. Alice Fordham and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) quote Hansa Hassan who says, "There were many people who wanted to participate but who were prevented; my husband insisted, and he managed to go in, but there were many barriers." NPR's Jonathan Blakley reported from Baghdad:
Most of the participants today were young people, waving Iraqi flags and plastic flowers. Many were college-age students, dressed in red and black caps and gowns, upset because, they say, they couldn't find work after graduation. Some demonstrators had walked for hours to get to Tahrir Square.
One Iraqi [home maker] said the protestors would "expose the thieves" -- referring to government corruption. She said people would march every Friday until their demands are met.
I've changed the term to "home maker." It's 2011 and I'd love to Alicia explain why NPR is using the term I'm not allowing at this site. Was today "Remember Glen Campbell Day"? I don't know. Reporting for Al Jazeera (link goes to Al Jazeera's YouTube page which provides a live feed) from Baghdad, Jane Arraf stood in front of a large crowd gathered in Tahrir Square explaining the thousands "have walked for hours to come to this square," that the government had put up conrecte blocks at the end of Sinak Republic Bridge and walled off the Green Zone and "despite this, thousands of people came to chant that they believe the government they elected are liars and they can do better." Iraqi Streets 4 Change has a photo essay of the Baghdad protest at the top of their web page.
The Dar Addustour live screen crawl noted so reports that Baghdad Operations have been ordered to evacuate the square of journalists and protesters. Al Rafidayn reports that Iraqi state television reported the protest in Baghdad was over and there were no incidents and that, after this was announced by state TV, Baghdad security forces in Tahrir Square dispersed the protesters --- still present, the protest hadn't ended despite the TV claims -- and did so with force and utilizing batons after one p.m. (Baghdad time). On this violence, Iraq Oil Report Tweeted a reply to AFP's Prashant Rao and McClatchy's Hannah Allam:
Alsumaria TV adds, "In Diwaniya, hundreds of citizens rallied against weak services in their province and called to dismiss the governor and dissolve the provincial council. Demonstrators criticized the government's delay in meeting their demands. Protestors called to dismiss governor Salem Alwan along with head of the provincial council and its members on account of their failure to provide their province with basic services, Alsumaria News reporter said." Dar Addustour live screen crawl noted protesters in Muthanna wants the provincial council and the governor removed. DPA reports Mosul protesters were repeatedly intimidated and quotes Mohamed Saadon stating, "Security forced me to return home though I was planning to join protests. They threatened to shoot me in the leg if [I] did not go back to myhome. They also prevented my three children from leaving home."
Al Rafidayn notes that MP Kamal Saadi has invited the protesters to meet with the Parliament on Saturday and discuss their demands according to Jalal Iipoidica who states that a call for this meet up with go out across Facebook.
In one of the saddest developments, Gilbert Mercier (News Junkie Post) observes, "The US media and most world news outlets (including the BBC) have been strangely silent over the situation in Iraq. Of course it can be explained by the fact that our current news cycle is on steroid. Tracking the Arab revolution's progress is overwhelming even for big news outlets. Libya and the armed revolution to finish off Gaddafi is the big headline, but not for long as it seems that the days of the mad man are counted. Egypt and Tunisia are still in mid-revolution limbo. Both are under military control, but the people are still putting pressure on their respective military to make sure that the revolution doesn't get hijacked by a military junta." Iraqis will most likely be gain ingored by the bulk of US media but with the White House refusing to support the protests, media lackeys will fall in line and declare it 'non-news'. Which is so very true. The outlet that's owned the story domestically would be the Washington Post. (CNN has done some very strong reports -- most of which didn't air on CNN but aired on CNN International.) Kelly McEvers (NPR) did some strong reporting but she left Iraq Tuesday. AP has done strong and consistent work. Monday morning we were noting how the New York Times couldn't be bothered mentioning the assault on Iraqi journalists.
Asked generally about the violence against Iraqi demonstrators  on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said only "the approach we've taken with regard to Iraq is the same that we've taken with regard to the region," which he said was to call on governments to respond to the protests peacefully. Neither the White House  nor the State Department seem to have mentioned the matter since. Yesterday's State Department briefing discussed Libya, Egypt, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, Pakistan, Argentina, South Africa and Haiti -- Iraq was never discussed .
Wednesday, Sami Ramadani (Guardian) reported on efforts to stop last Friday's protests (more protests are scheduled for this Friday) -- efforts by the US government to stop the protests:
For its part, the world's biggest US embassy -- the power behind the throne -- took the unprecedented step of broadcasting in Arabic, on state TV, a thinly veiled threat to protesters not to go too far in their demands. The US, it stressed, fully backed the "democratically elected" regime, while supporting the right to peaceful protest. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama must be pretty confused as to which dictatorship they should now abandon and which to prop up.
So it's not silence -- bad enough -- it's also actively attempt to scare Iraqis from protests. The US is supposed to be a democracy and shame on any White House that uses tax payer money in another country to encourage people not to utizlize the right to assembly and the right to free speech. Shame on the White House.
From the shameful games of US politics, to the circle game that is Iraqi politics, American University Cairo's Firas al-Atraqchi Tweeted:
An older looking Muqtada Sadr meets with Iyad Allawi - both say they support #iraq peaceful protests31 minutes agovia web
EuroNews notes, "Earlier, former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi and Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr held talks to discuss the protests. Last week, al-Sadr asked his supporters to give the government six months to try to address their demands." UPI notes, "Allawi conducted a joint news conference in Najaf with his one-time enemy, Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, calling on his followers to protest in support of the Libyan people and against U.S. intervention. Sadr did not directly call on his followers to join the demonstrations." Relationships may be shifting in Iraq. From yesterday's snapshot:
In political news, the big news may be Ayad Allawi's announcement. Al Rafidayn reports the Iraqiya leader has given a TV interview in which he has declared he will have no part of the National Council on Supreme Policies. He termed his decision "final" and said Iraqiya could nominate or back someone else for that post if they want to. Iraiqy won the most votes in the March 7th elections which should have meant Ayad Allawi had first crack at forming a government but the Constitution wasn't followed. To end the stalemate, the US government increased the pressure on various parties resulting in an agreement largely brokered by the Kurds which gave Nouri the prime minister poster and would make Allawi head of the National Council on Supreme Polcies; however, that body has still not been created. For those who can remember, after the agreement there was much fan fair in Parliament the next day . . . except for Iraqiya walking out as it became obvious that their rewards in the agreement were not priority. Among those who walked away then was Allawi. It probably would have been smart for others in Iraqiya to have taken a stand back then when it might have made a difference. Dar Addustour reports the assertion that the National Council wil lbe formed. When? Iraq still doesn't have a full Cabinet. In related news, New Sabah reports that Iraqiya is stating Nouri is using his '100 days' (a time of review Nouri's given himself) not to reform, but to stall. Arab News reports: "The Chairman of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), Ammar al-Hakin, and the Leader of al-Iraqiya Coalition, Iyad Allawi, have discussed on Wednesday the activiation of the agreements, reached among different Iraqi political parties, to activiate the national partnership to respond to the people's demands, an SIIC statement said on Thursday. In further related news, Alsumaria TV reports, "Al Sadr Front threatened to stop supporting the government of Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki if he keeps on his weak performance and failures. The front even hinted about allying with Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi to form a parliamentary majority in case the government fails to provide its people the needed services within the six month deadline set by Sadr's referendum." UPI notes, "The party loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr could rally against the country's prime minister if he doesn't address national woes."
Alice Fordham (Los Angeles Times) reports "In an interview on Iraqi TV, Allawi alleged that he was being watched by intelligence services and said that he would not head the proposed National Council for Strategic Policies. The council, backed by the United States, was conceived as a counterweight to the power of the prime minister to end the months-long deadlock on forming a government." Meanwhile Michael S. Schmidt and Jack Healy (New York Times) note the fact that (Nouri's) Supreme Court gave him the power over the Electoral Commission and other independent bodies at the start of the year, that -- following Ned Parker's secret prisons report for the Los Angeles Times -- Human Rights Watch and Amnesty both released reports on the secret prisons in Iraq under Nouri's command: "And in July, Iraq's high court ruled that members of Parliament no longer had the power to propose legislation. Instead, all new laws would have to be proposed by Mr. Maliki's cabinet or the president and then passed to the Parliament for a veto. Political experts said they knew of no other parliamentary democracy that had such restrictions." Iraqiya's Aliya Nasif tells the reporters, "This is the beginning of dictatorship. We are regressing by centuries."
Regressing? Standing still on the issue of Kirkuk to be sure, the oil rich, disputed territory in Iraq. The central government or 'government' in Baghdad claims it has the right to it while the KRG claims it belongs to them. Both lay claims about this period of time where their own was most discriminated against and forced out. The issue was supposed to have been addressed sometime ago. Supposed? The Constitution mandated that it be addressed. The US White House's 2007 benchmarks -- signed off on by the US Congress and Nouri al-Maliki -- demanded that progress be made on the issue or US funds would be cut off. That didn't happen -- it didn't get addressed and US tax payer dollars continued to flow like honey to Nouri. The issue has been postponed repeatedly. More recently, the Constitutionally mandated census -- long pushed back -- was supposed to finally take place in December. That got 'postponed'. It's an issue that's been kicked down the road repeatedly.
Wednesday's snapshot noted, "Al Rafidayn reports Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani held a press conference yesterday where he said the KRG would weigh reforms while noting that he had ordered the pesh merga into Kirkuk. Dar Addustour reports that Kirkuk's curfew was removed yesterday in part due to the influx of additional pesh merga forces."
Today, Al Rafidayn reports that a source close to Nouri al-Maliki is stating that Nouri is demanding the KRG remove the thousands of pesh merga they've deployed to Kirkuk without his permission. Nidhal al-Laithi (Azzaman) reports KRG President "Massoud Barzani, in comments on his decision to send in his militias, said he wanted to protect the Kurds in the city. However, he did not say from whom. The presence of the Kurdish militia has ignited harsh criticism from both Arab and Turkmen communities in Kirkuk who charge that the Kurds are intent to resort to force to annex the city." Wednesday, Wisam al-Bayati (Press TV -- link has text and video) filed a report noting, "Turkmen lawmakers and officials described the presence of these troops as unconstitutional. They say Iraqi security forces have the capability of dealing with the situation by themselves, and that the Kurds have the ambition to take over the city." The report (video) also notes Mohammed al-Juburi, of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, who asserts "that the US presence in Kirkuk is one of the main obstacles to stability. He claims that the US is creating instability by supporting the Kurds against the Arabs and the Turkemen." He is quoted stating, "An active role has been played by the US troops in the city and allowing US troops to commit violations against the Arabs means that they are supporting these violations." What to do about Kirkuk? This week, American intellectual Noam Chomskey observed, "Look how hard it is just to try to settle the issue of Kirkuk," when speaking with Namo Abdulla (Rudaw):
NA: Talking about the issue of Kirkuk and other disputed regions, some people here believe that as soon as the American forces are withdrawn from Iraq, there could be an Arab-Kurd war over those issues. How possible is that?
CHOMSKY: You know better than I do. I don't think anyone really knows. For another thing, I don't really think that it's very likely that the American forces will be completely withdrawn. It doesn't look like it, but it is a hard problem. I have not seen a sensible proposal about Kirkuk. I am not in a position to make any sensible prediction about it.
Staying in the US, Wednesday's snapshot covered the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the VA's refusal to implement the caregivers law Congress passed. Kat covered it in "Burr promises VA 'one hell of a fight'" and Ava covered it at Trina's site with "The VA still can't get it together." Also Wally covered yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at Rebecca's site with "No one gives a damn about your money (Wally)." Kimberly Hefling (AP) reported on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing and noted, "President Obama on May 5 signed a law instructing the VA to provide a monthly stipend, health insurance, mental health help and other aid directly to caregivers to help keep wounded veterans out of nursing homes. But the VA missed a Jan. 31 deadline for implementation. And the Associated Press reported last month that while the VA did announce plans soon after that to help caregivers, aid was available to fewer families than Congress intended." Which is why, see Wednesday's snapshot, Committee Chair Patty Murray wanted VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to explain how that happened.
Chair Patty Murray: I've already discussed the caregiver issue with you, I've talked about it with Jack Woo, I've talked with senior staff at the White House and I have spoken directly with the president of the United States. VA's plan on the caregivers issue was overdue and once submitted it hardly resembled the bill that unanimously cleared this Congress. Three weeks ago, my Committee staff requested information on how that plan was developed and to date no information has been provided. Rather than following the law, the administration set forth some overly stringent rules bureaucratic hurdles that would essentially deny help to caregivers. Sarah and Ted Wade who were staunch advocates and worked hard with us to get this passed were invited by the president to attend the bill signing at the White House, they won't be eligible for the program under the plan that the department submitted. We're also hearing a lot from veterans and caregivers from across the country who fall outside of this new line in the sand the VA has drawn, who have been left in limbo and now don't know if this benefit that they advocated and worked so hard for will support them. Mr. Secretary, it appears your that department is not complying with the law as we have written. Can you please tell this Committee why?
We included Shinseki's non-response in full in Wednesday's snapshot. The short answer is: He doesn't know but he sure used a lot of words to say that. Rob Hotakainen (McClatchy Newspapers) reported, " According to Murray, Congress wanted the law to serve at least 3,500 caregivers, at a cost of $1.7 billion over five years. The VA's plan, which calls for covering only 840 caregivers, "is simply not good enough," she said." Richard Burr is the Ranking Member on the Committee (most senior Republican) and Kat covered his comments to Shinseki which included promising "one hell of a fight" with the Committee if the law they passed was not properly implemented. Rick Maze (Army Times) explained, "The Obama administration's narrow interpretation of a new law granting benefits and support to the caregivers of severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has sparked bipartisan outrage in Congress, with a key senator warning of a 'hell of a fight' if the administration moves ahead with its pending regulations." There weren't a lot of strong reports on the national level (and I'm sure I missed some strong local reporting). There wasn't room to note the coverage of Wednesday's hearing in Thursday's snapshot so we're noting it today and we'll close (today) this topic out with this from the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs (also on yesterday's hearing):
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, heard testimony from Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and representatives from veterans groups and the American Federation of Government Employees on next year's budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"On balance, and given that other agencies are facing budget cuts, this VA
budget is a very good starting place from which to work," said Senator Murray. "The President has requested an overall increase for VA funding during a very difficult budget year, but we must ensure that the cuts he also proposed do not hurt the veterans who have sacrificed so much for this nation. Going forward, I will work to add funding that is necessary for programs vital to veterans, such as for research and the operation of VA's Inspector General which helps root out fraud and other problems with existing programs."
The President's budget request includes an overall increase of $1.8 billion in discretionary spending over Fiscal Year 2011 levels. It also includes various proposed funding cuts, however, including a reduction in spending for construction and non-recurring maintenance, and a proposed $72 million cut for VA research funding.
Following today's hearing, Members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee will provide the Senate Budget Committee with their views and estimates for VA's budget. Views and estimates are a formal part of the federal budget process, in which Congressional Committees recommend funding levels for programs and activities under their legislative jurisdiction. (For the Veterans' Affairs Committee's jurisdiction, click here.) The House and Senate Budget Committees review these recommendations when formulating the proposed Budget Resolution for the coming fiscal year.
The Chairman's opening statement is available in audio form here. For the full witness list and the witnesses' written testimony, please visit http://veterans.senate.gov.
Meanwhile as protests rocked Iraq today, the question is whether a planned demonstration against the ongoing war will rock the US? A.N.S.W.E.R. and March Forward! and others will be taking part in this action:
March 19 is the 8th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq today remains occupied by 50,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries.
The war in Afghanistan is raging. The U.S. is invading and bombing Pakistan. The U.S. is financing endless atrocities against the people of Palestine, relentlessly threatening Iran and bringing Korea to the brink of a new war.
While the United States will spend $1 trillion for war, occupation and weapons in 2011, 30 million people in the United States remain unemployed or severely underemployed, and cuts in education, housing and healthcare are imposing a huge toll on the people.
Actions of civil resistance are spreading.
On Dec. 16, 2010, a veterans-led civil resistance at the White House played an important role in bringing the anti-war movement from protest to resistance. Enduring hours of heavy snow, 131 veterans and other anti-war activists lined the White House fence and were arrested. Some of those arrested will be going to trial, which will be scheduled soon in Washington, D.C.
Saturday, March 19, 2011, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be an international day of action against the war machine.
Protest and resistance actions will take place in cities and towns across the United States. Scores of organizations are coming together. Demonstrations are scheduled for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and more.
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There has always been a conflict in U.S. labor about immigration. Conservatives historically sought to restrict unions and jobs to the native born, to whites and to men, and saw immigrants as job competitors-the enemy. This was part of an overall perspective that saw unions as businesses or insurance programs, in which workers paid dues and got benefits in return. Labor's radicals, however, from the IWW through the CIO to those in many unions today, see the labor movement as inclusive, with a responsibility to organize all workers, immigrant and native-born alike. They see unions as part of a broader movement for social change in general. In 1986, the AFL-CIO supported the Immigration Reform and Control Act, because it contained employer sanctions. This provision said employers could only hire people with legal immigration status. In effect, the law made it a federal crime for an undocumented person to hold a job. Since passage of the law, immigration raids have led to firings and deportations of thousands of people in workplaces across the country. In many cases employers have used the law as a way to intimidate immigrant workers, and rid themselves of those trying to organize unions and protest bad wages and conditions. Transnational corporations invest in developing countries like Mexico, moving production to wherever wages are lowest. Treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement promote low wages, privatization, the dumping of agricultural products, and other conditions that increase corporate profits. But those measures also impoverish and displace people, forcing them to migrate to survive.