Forced Migration Grows, Justice Withers, Say Activists at World Social Forum

Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Migration & Refugees

Migration & Refugees

"Governments are not motivated to fix migrants’ issues because the money they send home keeps their economies running" Credit: Shutterstock

“Governments are not motivated to fix migrants’ issues because the money they send home keeps their economies running” Credit: Shutterstock

KATHMANDU, Feb 19 2024 (IPS) – As involuntary migration rises around the world, partly in response to the impacts of climate change, justice for those leaving their homes and families to earn a living is largely missing, said activists meeting at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Kathmandu on Sunday.

In various sessions, participants from Europe, northern Africa and Latin America detailed governments squeezing doors shut on migrants trying to enter their countries. Disturbing stories from Asia focused on individuals falling victim to employers and traffickers as their governments looked the other way while profiting from migrants’ income remitted home.

The WSF ends in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu on Monday. During the annual event global activists gather to discuss issues ranging from education to debt relief, legalization of sex work, and poor farmers’ lack of control over their land and resources.

“One of the women we talked to told us that she had to sleep with six to seven men daily for six months. The saddest part is the employer’s wife regularly gave her a pill so she wouldn’t get pregnant,” said a researcher with the Bangladeshi organization OKUP. “Another worker was diagnosed with colon cancer: his employer sent him home without paying a single bit of his salary.”

OKUP hosted the session, Climate Change, Migration and Modern Slavery, to share its report documenting the treatment given to migrant workers from coastal regions in Bangladesh who were forced to leave after the impacts of climate change destroyed their farms and other livelihoods.

Research found that 51% of households migrated after being hit by cyclones, floods, salt water intrusion in their fields, erratic rainfall and other climate disasters. “There is no sustainable adaptation opportunities for them. In most cases people receive assistance from the government after disasters, but there is no sustainable assistance. That’s why people rely on loans to rebuild their houses or restart their farming activities,” said OKUP Chairperson Shakirul Islam.

“Before they can repay the money they experience the next cycle of climate emergency,” he added, making them desperate to go earn money elsewhere in the country or abroad.

Eighty-six percent of those displaced migrate within the country; 14% internationally. En route 90% face excessive fees, 81% do not get a promised work permit and 78% have their salaries held back. “I strongly believe that the same situation is present in other countries in South Asia,” said Islam.

Chairperson of the Bangladeshi organization OKUP, (standing far right) introduces the session Climate Change, Migration and Modern Slavery at the World Social Forum on Sunday, Feb. 18. Credit: Marty Logan/IPS

Shakirul Islam, Chairperson of the Bangladeshi organization OKUP, (standing far right) introduces the session Climate Change, Migration and Modern Slavery at the World Social Forum on Sunday, Feb. 18. Credit: Marty Logan/IPS

Malaysian activist Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna cautioned the group to not blame climate change for the migrants’ problems. “The fear I have is governments using climate change to justify migration. They will say ‘that’s why we have to send our migrants out’. They have done this to justify migration due to poverty.

“The discussion has to be that climate change is real and how the government’s policies are contributing to climate change,” added Kishna, from the organization Our Journey, which provides legal support to migrants and refugees.

In another discussion in another classroom just minutes later and only metres away, activists from India were learning about a hotline created after COVID-19 to help migrant workers in distress. In less than one year, the Migrant Assistance and Information Network has responded to 800-plus calls, said its director, Dr Martin Puthussery.

The cases include 40 deaths (19 accidents, 15 accidents, 6 suicides), 20 instances of forced labour and 16 cases of legal aid or mediation, involving wage theft, delayed payments illegal confinements and imprisonments.

During the question-answer session a participant from northern Bihar state noted that migration is a must because “everything is closed down. Where do the people of Bihar go to earn their livelihood?”

“Can we ourselves create small industries?” she asked. “We can’t depend on the government.”

Governments are not motivated to fix migrants’ issues because the money they send home keeps their economies running, said Arie Kurniawaty from Solidaritas Perempuan in Indonesia at one of the day’s last sessions, Call for Migration Coordination within the WSF in Kathmandu.

“The basic problem is the perspectives of our governments, which think that migrant workers are a commodity… They will try to send many migrant workers abroad without considering if their situation will be good or bad,” added Kurniawaty.

Other speakers in the session, which covered France, Africa, Palestine and Latin America as well as Asia, noted rising numbers of migrants but increasing hostility to them, led by governments.

In Latin America, governments’ actions are linked to rising racism and xenophobia, said Patricia Gainza from the World Social Forum on Migrations. “This is nothing new but in this case we’ve had some very bad decisions by governments, like Peru, who invite people to come but later, for political reasons, pushed them out.”

In Europe, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, of December 2023, “encourages informal and confidential agreements between European countries and migrant-sending countries that are not legally binding, so that the European Parliament will not have to ratify them,” said Glauber Sezerino of the Paris-based Centre de Recherche et d’Information pour le Développement. “The pact tries to encourage more and more of this kind of agreement, so you can expect more violation of human rights” of migrant workers, he added.

In North Africa, governments are increasingly dominating debate on migration policies, “leaving little room for civil society,” said Sami Adouani of FTDES Tunisia. In February 2023, a xenophobic speech by Tunisian President Kais Saied targeted migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. That triggered an exodus but also “exposed those remaining migrants to more institutional violence,” he added.


World Social Forum Activists Unravel Roots of Israel’s Occupation of Gaza

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

Armed Conflicts

Protesting against Israel's attacks on Gaza, at the opening day march of the World Social Forum in Kathmandu. Credit: Marty Logan/IPS

Protesting against Israel’s attacks on Gaza, at the opening day march of the World Social Forum in Kathmandu. Credit: Marty Logan/IPS

KATHMANDU, Feb 17 2024 (IPS) – Romi Ghimire has a busy life running a non-profit organization dedicated to Nepal’s rural people, but she also feels driven to do something about Gaza. “There are a lot of issues happening in the world, but right now the genocide in Gaza is the most urgent one,” she said inside the Palestine tent at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Kathmandu on Saturday.

“We’re watching it live…. we’re seeing it on a daily basis: every morning and evening I’m consuming it and I just can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t pretend that it isn’t happening,” Ghimire told IPS. “We have to raise awareness about it around the world because we are all the (Palestinians) have. They don’t have any arms or ammunition, any military — it’s just people like us that they have.”

“People like us” include the roughly 30,000 activists expected to attend the WSF, the annual global gathering of social activists, happening this year in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu until Monday. This block of the city centre is bustling with activists, rushing to reach a scheduled workshop or bumping shoulders with peers from 90+ countries amid white tents set up as temporary classrooms in a fairground.

Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, in response to an attack on Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, is one of the most discussed issues.

“Israel has refined the art of colonization through what I call the best business practice of colonialism, which invites multinational actors and corporations to invest in their colonial project. And that provides an economic incentive to ensure that political positions are supportive of Israel”

On Friday, Dr Varsen Aghabekian spoke to 30 activists from Nepal, South Asia and beyond. The former Commissioner General for the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, Aghabekian detailed the history that has culminated in Israel’s occupation of Palestine, stressing the deep roots of the current assaults.

Demographic strategy

For example, in Mandate Palestine (as it was known in 1947), Palestinians made up 93% of the population and Jewish people were 7%. By 2023 the make-up had changed dramatically, with Palestinians at 51% and the Jewish population equal to 49%, said Aghabekian, labelling the process part of Israel’s “erasure”.

Historical “annexation” includes takeover of public and private property. In 1947, 90% of such property was owned by Palestinians; by 2023 they had been relegated to 22% of historic Palestine.

Israeli laws and policies “institutionalize the superiority and privilege the status of Jews,” added Aghabekian. They reserve the right of self-determination in Israel exclusively for the Jewish people, and declare Hebrew as the official state language, demoting Arabic, which had been the country’s official second language.

“We rightfully call (the situation) apartheid but when we do that many western countries frown and say: ‘It can’t be!’… Israel is trying to project that an occupier state is a victim of our resistance and our violence (but) we have the right to resist as an occupied people who want to be liberated.”

Eventually Israel must make peace with the Palestinians, added Aghabekian. “If they are prospering and we are in pain there will not be peace. The Gaza genocide, despite its disasters, is an opportunity… even the US said seriously ‘maybe we should think about the two-state solution’. I think we’re moving toward that.”

Not only is Israel misrepresenting its occupation and current attack on Gaza, the situation has revealed the hypocrisy of western legal, religious and cultural tradition, argued Mitri Raheb, the first president of Dar-al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, who spoke after Aghabekian.

Israel’s response to the Hamas attack has revealed the “warrior God,” not the God of peace, said Raheb, citing a personal example. A German bishop he met counselled Palestinians to remain non-violent. But just weeks later Raheb, who also served as the pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem from 1987 until 2017, saw the bishop on TV calling for western countries to provide Ukraine with tanks to counter Russia’s invasion.

Palestinians, he added, used to “believe in and fight for human rights because we thought they were international, they were for everyone. But I’m starting to question that. I think that human rights were meant for white Europeans, so they won’t kill each other any more, but it’s OK if the rest of the world is killed by the empire.”

“Business of colonialism”

Legal expert Wasem Ahmad dissected the economic structure that props up Israel’s occupation. “Israel has refined the art of colonization through what I call the best business practice of colonialism, which invites multinational actors and corporations to invest in their colonial project. And that provides an economic incentive to ensure that political positions are supportive of Israel.”

A human rights scholar, Ahmad told IPS he recognizes the limitations of the human rights system. “The more you do this work the more cynical you become of the system as it’s proposed. (Human rights) look very nice on paper but when you try to put them into practice you realize that there are a lot of political obstacles to that realization and it has to do with the broader imperial interests at play.”

“Our role,” he continued, “is to push that system and engage it, and force the wheels of justice to turn. Either it works in our benefit or we expose it and over time that system will change, even if it requires a breakdown to rebuild.”

But opposing Israel’s colonization through the legal system is only one approach, added Ahmad. “The idea that I’m only going to rely on the legal mechanisms, ignoring that the law is a social construct connected to economic, political and cultural interests and beliefs in society ignores that reality.”

Despite his critique of the West’s legal and cultural traditions, Raheb said he was invigorated by the throngs of people worldwide, and at the WSF, protesting Israel’s attacks. “Gaza was the wake-up call for all of us. And I think in the future this will just get stronger and stronger… Gaza galvanized the global South because it was the magnifying glass: suddenly we could see clearly. That was the turning point.”


Tracking Global Development in Child Benefits Through New Monitoring and Information Platform

Active Citizens, Child Labour, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Population, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Youth

Sustainable Development Goals

Students attending at the Souza Gare school in the Littoral region, Cameroon. The school hosts displaced children who have fled the violence in the North-West and South-West regions. Photo credits: ECW/Daniel Beloumou

Students attending class at the Souza Gare school in the Littoral region, Cameroon. The school hosts displaced children who have fled the violence in the North-West and South-West regions.
Credits: ECW/Daniel Beloumou

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 15 2024 (IPS) – Inclusive social protections for children would be a positive signifier of social development in a time where 1.4 billion children globally are denied them. A step towards realizing this has been taken through a new monitoring tool on current social protection and child poverty statistics.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF, and Save the Children have partnered together to create the Global Child Benefits Tracker. This online platform will globally monitor children’s access to social protection and identify gaps in existing social protections systems in over 180 countries.

On Wednesday, this tool was launched at a side event on universal child benefits (UCBs) during the 62nd Commission for Social Development (CSoCD62) hosted in New York. One of the prevailing themes for this year was the use of digital transformation to promote inclusive growth and development. In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, the tracker would go forward to monitoring growth in poverty eradication by calling on governments to implement responsible and appropriate social protection systems for all by 2030.

The platform includes a breakdown of child poverty statistics by country, region, and income bracket. Notably, the percentage of children that currently have access to social protections is higher when compared to the percentage of the country’s population that is covered by benefits and the expenditures on these social protections. The platform also provides data on the percentage of children at risk of or experiencing monetary or multidimensional poverty. The purpose of this platform will be to serve as a knowledge tool for use in designing evidence-based child-sensitive social protections, intended for use by policymakers in government and international development programmes, social protection programmes, and civil society organizations. The tool would facilitate the exchange of best practices and inspire greater investment in child-sensitive social protection.

The platform also includes a community tab, where supplemental material can be shared as designed by experts and practitioners, such as blog posts, podcasts, videos, and links to resources. David Lambert Tumwesigye, the Global Policy & Advocacy Lead, Child Poverty, of Save the Children International, has urged members of government, academia, development partners, and practitioners to contribute to the community tab and expand the broader understanding of child poverty. “We aim to highlight the scale of global child poverty,”  he said.

Disruptions in the global economy, increased costs of living, and the COVID-19 pandemic are cited as some of the factors that have underlined the need for resilient and comprehensive social protections, especially for children at high risk of experiencing poverty. Yet, as was pointed out by speakers at the event, there have been limited investments in social protections for children, despite the general sentiment that these would be imperative. This was described as a “moral, social, and economic catastrophe,” by ILO Director in New York, Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon.

At the launch of the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF, and Save the Children's Global Child Benefits Tracker. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

At the launch of the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF, and Save the Children’s Global Child Benefits Tracker. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

“Life without social protection inflicts enormous social costs, and they result in squandered and prematurely shortened lives,” she said. “For children, social protection can literally be a lifesaver. It can make the difference between a healthy, happy, and long life or one that is punctuated by ill health, stress, and unrealized potential.”

The data on countries’ current social protections has been compiled through public studies and those conducted by the ILO and UNICEF. It reveals that social protection programmes in low-income countries reach less than 10 percent of their child population, in contrast to high-income countries, where their programmes reach more than 80 percent of their child population. Yet, the global average of children covered by social protection or benefits caps out at 28.1 percent. Although the evidence suggests that low-income countries struggle to provide universal child benefits, child poverty is still a global issue that affects all countries, regardless of their income group.

ILO, UNICEF, and Save the Children have urged policymakers and leaders to take the necessary measures to implement universal child benefits, or at least more inclusive, child-sensitive social protections. This includes building a social protection system that provides benefits to its citizens across the life cycle, from birth to old age, and securing financing for these programmes through increased public investments and mobilizing domestic resources.

A comparison of child benefits in South Africa compared to the region. Credit: Child Benefits Tracker

A comparison of child benefits in South Africa compared to the region. Credit: Child Benefits Tracker

The Global Child Benefits Tracker may be a step forward in monitoring progress towards social development when considering the progress that remains in achieving the SDGs. While it is still in its early days, the tool may benefit from expanding its coverage to include contributions from actors on the ground. Philip Alston, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, suggested that the platform should include qualitative evidence through testimonies to get a clearer sense of the challenges that hinder social protections and how governments have chosen to act.

There will remain challenges to implanting the sort of social protections and benefits that are being called for. There are still gaps in information, as not all countries are featured. At present, there is limited investment in child benefits. It was acknowledged that the fiscal space is a determining factor, and for the low- and middle-income countries in the Global South, this can be even more challenging due to the limitations in their financial state. It is here that solidarity from the international community and support from financing institutions would serve these countries.

Child benefits can be part of the wider social protection systems, and it has been proven that they can positively contribute towards food security and improved access to basic social services, according to UNICEF’s Global Director of Social Policy and Social Protection, Natalia Winder Rossi. Not only can they directly benefit children and their families, but they can also contribute to their communities and local economies.

“The investment is clear, the evidence is clear, but we continue to face challenges in convincing our own policymakers that this is a wide choice,” she said. “I think the Tracker provides some of that progress, to track some of those results… At UNICEF, this is part of our very strong commitment to closing the coverage gap for children. To make sure that we have systems that are strong and inclusive, we must make sure that every child is part of them and receives adequate benefits. But also that systems are adequately responding to crises.”

Visit the Global Child Benefits Tracker here.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Last Chance Saloon? Myanmar Junta Imposes Military Conscription

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Armed Conflicts

A Buddhist pagoda towers above a teeming thoroughfare in Mae Sot, a Thai town dense with tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict in nearby Myanmar. Credit: William Webb/IPS

A Buddhist pagoda towers above a teeming thoroughfare in Mae Sot, a Thai town dense with tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict in nearby Myanmar. Credit: William Webb/IPS

MAE SOT, Thailand, Feb 15 2024 (IPS) – The news travelled like wildfire. In the teashops, bars, and market stalls that make Thailand’s border town of Mae Sot feel far more Burmese than Thai, the feared rumours circulating at the weekend were suddenly confirmed.

Military conscription would be imposed on young men and women for two to five years, regime-controlled broadcasters in Myanmar announced on the Saturday night airwaves. Details were sparse.

Panic scrolling through social media suddenly replaced conversation in one popular Mae Sot hangout run by a Burmese activist-entrepreneur for his clientele of exiles, fugitives, and migrants. Pool players stopped mid-break. “What the ***!” exclaimed the member of a rock band. 

Myanmar’s junta has been at war with much of the country since staging a coup three years ago, but still, it has come as a serious shock that for the first time in modern history, the military will impose on young people the choice of two uniforms—army or prison.

Analysts—Burmese and foreign—interpreted the developments in various ways. For some, it was a clear sign that the military was losing this patchwork civil war and could not sustain itself. For decades, it had thrived on recruiting youngsters from poor areas of the Bamar-majority heartlands of Sagaing and Magwe. But now those same arid regions are hotbeds of resistance against the regime, its forces stretched across the length and breadth of almost the entire country, depending mostly on air power to bomb civilian areas into submission.

A Burmese woman wearing thanaka to protect her face from the sun walks through a market in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. The stall is selling the wood bark that is ground into the cosmetic paste so popular in Myanmar. Credit: William Webb/IPS

A Burmese woman wearing thanaka to protect her face from the sun walks through a market in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. The stall is selling the wood bark that is ground into the cosmetic paste so popular in Myanmar. Credit: William Webb/IPS

“An act of desperation,” Igor Blazevic said of the junta’s move, which follows sizeable territorial losses and a meltdown of its forces in northern Shan State late last year. Blazevic, a Myanmar expert at the Prague Civil Society Centre, predicted on Facebook that the measure would backfire because the regime was too “weakened and broken” to be able to administer recruitment on a large scale.

But on Monday night, more news was breaking that indicated the junta had got its ducks in a row—airports were suddenly requiring military authorisation stamped on tickets for even internal domestic flights. According to unconfirmed reports, some junta-controlled border posts were closing or imposing similar restrictions, and young men had been picked up on the streets of the commercial capital Yangon.

“It’s another way of terrorising the population,” was the view of one young Burmese who did not want to be named for obvious reasons.

In the Myanmar capital, Nay Pyi Taw, junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun simply said conscription was essential because of the “situation”.

“The duty to safeguard and defend the nation extends beyond just the soldiers but to all citizens. So I want to tell everyone to proudly follow this people’s military service law,” he intoned.

No way, retorted May, a young refugee whose dream of becoming a doctor was shattered by the 2021 coup and the arrest of her father.

She said compulsory military service would simply drive more young people to join the People’s Defence Forces of the resistance— despite the heavy losses they are incurring and the military’s barbaric treatment of prisoners subjected to torture, summary executions, and, most recently, strung up and torched.

May slipped across the nearby border into Mae Sot with her family after spending two years as a refugee in a camp run by a section of the Karen National Liberation Army fighting what is known as the world’s longest-running civil war dating back to 1949.

“I cannot go back to Myanmar,” she said. At 19 years old, she fits the age range of 18 to 27 for single women to be conscripted. For men, it is 18 to 35 years, rising to 45 for specialists like doctors and IT workers who quit their state sector posts in droves after the coup, joining the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of non-violent resistance.

On Sunday night in Mae Sot, large crowds of this latest wave of the Myanmar diaspora gathered for an outdoor CDM fund-raising concert, featuring dancing and music performed by several of the country’s ethnic minorities, including Karen and Chin. The concert was sponsored by an online bank set up by the resistance. Stalls sold knick-knacks and garments, and beer and hot food were swiftly ferried about by teams of neatly dressed waiters.

May and her entrepreneurial family had their properties and businesses seized and sealed by the military near Mandalay and are now rebuilding their lives, running a small restaurant among the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Burmese living in and around Mae Sot, setting up businesses, social services, and accommodation safe from predatory Thai officials and regime spies.

May remains determined to study medicine somewhere somehow, representative of a young, capable, and innovative generation of Burmese plugged into a digital world while moving in and out of the shadows of war.

Bo Kyi, a veteran activist and former prisoner who co-founded the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Mae Sot 24 years ago, saw the military’s conscription order as a “huge challenge” for young people, especially those who had tried to keep out of politics and war. It would become very hard to leave the country legally now, he said.

“Millions will suffer and Burma will lose its human resources,” he said.

[embedded content]

William Webb is a travel writer who started out in Asia nearly 50 years ago

IPS UN Bureau Report


Moimuna Nursing Institute Ushers Hope for Vulnerable Rural Girls in Bangladesh

Aid, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequality, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Youth

Active Citizens

Dr MA Sayed conducts a practical with his students at the Moimuna Nursing Institute. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Dr MA Sayed conducts a practical class with his students at the
Moimuna Nursing Institute. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

THAKURGAON, Bangladesh, Feb 6 2024 (IPS) – After passing her secondary school certificate (SCC) in 2019, Sweety Akter went door-to-door to collect money to enroll in a college, but she wasn’t successful.

Born to an extremely poor family in Fultala village under Baliadangi upazila in Thakurgaon district, Akter saw her dream of studying fading as she was unable to enroll in a college because of a lack of funding, despite her good results at school.

“I went to many places but did not get the opportunity for admission. I did not have the financial support to study at a private college or an educational institute.”

Then Sweety’s fortune changed.

“I luckily got a chance to study for a nursing diploma free of charge at Moimuna Nursing Institute (MNI),” she told IPS.

Two sisters, Sweety Akter (left) and Shikha Akter (right) enrolled in Moimuna Nursing Institute, Sweety has already completed a nursing diploma with financial support from the institute and Shikha is now a second-year student. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Two sisters, Sweety Akter (left) and Shikha Akter (right), are enrolled in Moimuna Nursing Institute. Sweety has already completed a nursing diploma with financial support from the institute, and Shikha is now a second-year student. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Explaining her financial hardships, the 22-year-old Akter said her father is a gambler who had sold all the family’s assets to gamble, and he had even sold their lone homestead, where they are currently living.

“My father does not give me and my younger sister any money for education. My mother works as domestic help at the houses of people and is bearing the costs for our four-member family,” she said.

Sweety said that if she had not had the opportunity to enroll at MNI, it would have been impossible for her to pursue tertiary education, and she would have been forced to marry.

Overcoming all the odds and passing the nursing diploma, she is now pursuing an internship at Rangpur Medical College and Hospital (RMCH) with financial support from the institute, which paves the way for former students to get jobs at hospitals.

Shikha Akhter (19) enrolled in Moimuna Nursing Institute in Thakurgaon, northwest Bangladesh, to pursue a diploma in nursing science and midwifery with the encouragement of her sister, Sweety.

Shikha said she enrolled in the institute at a minimum fee, and now she is enjoying more facilities than other students as her elder sister also studied there.

“I am studying the nursing diploma and staying at the MNI’s hostel, which makes my life easy. I want to be a good nurse and serve people,” she added.

Joya Rani, a 20-year-old girl from poverty-stricken Kaliganj village under Deviganj upazila, also studied the nursing diploma with financial support from the institute.

“My father is physically challenged, so he cannot work. My mother is the only breadwinner for our family, and she supports the family by rearing cattle. That’s why she cannot give me any money (for study),” she told IPS.

Joya, who is currently doing an internship at RMCH, said she received a stipend of Taka 2,000 (USD 19) from the institute over the past two years, and if she had not received the stipend, it would not have been possible for her to continue studying.

Moimuna Nursing Institute, located 460 kilometers away from the capital Dhaka, is a non-profit approved by the Bangladesh Council of Nursing and Midwifery and offers a three-year diploma in nursing for about USD 1,500, which includes tuition fees, accommodation, uniforms, and books.

Thakurgaon is a poor district in Bangladesh, with a poverty rate of 36.7 percent against 18.7 percent at the national level. Of them, about 19.7 percent of people in the district live in extreme poverty, which prevents many from continuing their education, particularly the girls.

Since the start of its journey in 2019–20, the MNI has been providing financial support, including stipends and need-based scholarships, for students coming from underprivileged families.

MNI’s managing director, Dr. MA Sayed, said the institute authorities are providing a handful of scholarships, with three poor students receiving stipends in each batch so that they can continue their nursing education.

In distributing scholarships and stipends, a committee of the institute inspects the houses of their students. If the committee finds evidence of acute financial hardship, the MNI provides support.

Even after completing the nursing diploma, the institute’s support continues, and it facilitates sending the former students to public hospitals to do internships.

“During their internship, we are providing financial support for some selected poor students so that they can accomplish their goals,” Sayed said.

He said the MNI provides a residential facility for its students to ensure a smooth environment for education, resulting in a 100 percent pass rate, which makes it the first in Thakurgaon district.

“We also carry out career counseling for students to encourage them to consider a higher education in nursing,” he added.

Teachers, students and staff of Moimuna Nursing Institute pose for a photo in front of its main building on the campus. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Teachers, students, and staff of Moimuna Nursing Institute pose for a photo in front of its main building on the campus. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Nirmola Toppa, mother of Nila Kispotta, who recently completed a nursing diploma from the MNI, said after her daughter passed the SSC examination, she tried to marry her off because she could not afford to pay for her daughter’s educational expenses.

But a scholarship meant Nila could complete her diploma, and she is now getting a stipend of Taka 2,000 (USD19) per month from MNI to complete her six-month internship at RMCH.

Nirmala said Nila received Taka 6,000 (USD 57) to enroll in the internship too.

Founder of Moimuna Nursing Institute, Dr. Saifullah Syed, said in Thakurgaon, many rural underprivileged girls and those coming from minority and ethnic communities pass the entrance exam (SSC) to enroll in nursing institutes but do not enroll due to financial constraints.

Also, there are many who could qualify but do not take the entrance exam, thinking that they may not be able to afford the educational expenses to become nurses and midwives, he said.

“That’s why I founded Moimuna Nursing Institute to ensure that qualified poor rural girls, particularly those coming from minority and ethnic communities, get the opportunity to become nurses and midwives,” Syed told IPS.

He asserted that his institute has established an endowment fund under the control of a Board of Trustees, provides need-based scholarships, and arranges sponsors.

The MNI welcomes donations as it means more students may be assisted.

IPS UN Bureau Report


The West’s Addiction to War Must End in Gaza

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations


Sa’ada, Yemen. Aftermath of a Saudi airstrikes. Credit: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb 2 2024 (IPS) – Two months ago, an opinion piece I wrote, “The Cries of Gaza Reach Afghanistan,” was published with the hope of reminding American and other Western leaders of how quickly wars ON terror descend into wars OF terror because of their disproportionate impact on civilians and the unpredictability once unleashed.

The United States and its Western alliance of ‘forever wars’ since 9/11 were all entered under the pretext of defeating terrorism. Instead, they strengthened the political and military standing of those they aimed to destroy while simultaneously causing unimaginable suffering for millions of civilians, including their own citizens.

According to Brown University’s Cost of War Project and various other independent research groups, a catastrophic 4.5 million direct and indirect deaths are attributed to Western efforts to “defeat terrorism” since 9/11.

If Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Libya have taught us anything, it should be this. Today, the Taliban once again rules Afghanistan, and Iraq, after years of sectarian violence resulting from the U.S. invasion has moved closer to the political influence of Iran. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic rule remains firmly in place. The U.S./European NATO-led air war to rid Libya of Muammar Qaddafi and usher in democracy in 2011 was so naively executed that no consideration was paid to how such a reckless, violent endeavor would ultimately trigger a civil war, terrorism, and mass migration. In Yemen, U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Houthi rebels has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 Yemenis and strengthened the Houthis to the point where, for the “first time in history, a naval blockade is being successfully enacted” by a non-state actor with “no navy and cheap, low-grade technology.”

The same hubris that has blinded the West’s addiction to answering terrorism with war since 9/11 is the same hubris and hypocrisy that fuels its unconditional support for Israel’s war against Hamas today. To be clear, the attacks of Hamas on October 7, like the attacks of Al Qaeda on 9/11, deserve the harshest global condemnation and a proportional, strategic response that respects international law. It does not justify the unconditional support and shielding of Israel’s punitive war on Gaza’s unarmed civilian population, its civilian infrastructure, and its cultural and religious heritage while further risking the lives of the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas. Moreover, this war serves no military objective for Israel and offers no strategic benefit for those aiding and abetting Israel’s war from Washington, London, and various EU capitals.

In seeking to wipe out Hamas, all that Israel and its supporters led by the United States are doing is wiping out Gaza. In 100 days, Israel has succeeded in decimating 4 percent of Gaza’s population. Ninety thousand men, women, and children in the Gaza Strip have been killed, seriously injured, or disappeared. 75% of those killed are women and children (Source: Euro-Med Monitor), not Hamas fighters.

If Gaza was called an open-air prison before this war, now it’s an open-air graveyard. A closer look at the 4 percent shows an even bigger tragedy unfolding by the minute. Unchallenged by those who are supplying it with arms and political cover, Israel is targetting Palestinian healthcare workers, humanitarian relief specialists, journalists, artists, poets, civil society activists, and educators, along with their families. As if the killing of Gaza’s children and its brightest wasn’t enough, Israel, through the collaboration of its Western allies, is also obliterating Gaza’s residential and public service infrastructure.

According to a Wall Street Journal satellite imagery survey, “Israel has bombarded and destroyed 70 percent of homes in Gaza.” According to the W.H.O., “none of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning,” and universities, including its primary medical teaching college, have been blown up by the I.D.F. Even places of worship, mosques, and churches, historically places of refuge during times of war, haven’t been spared the wrath of the Israeli-Western assault on Gaza.

Investigations conducted by The Washington Post and Truthout state, “Israel has deployed over 22,000 U.S. produced bombs on Gaza including 2,000-pound ‘bunker bombs’ which experts warn are not meant for densely populated areas as well as white phosphorus produced by munitions manufacturer, the Pine Bluff Arsenal, in the U.S. state of Arkansas (source: Arkansas Times) and supplied to Israel by the U.S. government over the years. Despite massive protests in major U.S. cities calling for a cease-fire, President Biden has bypassed Congress on two occasions to get even more weapons to Israel. The U.K. and Europe, for their part, have also continued to supply key weapons to Israel since the start of the war (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) despite loud calls from their citizens for an immediate cease-fire.

When asked about these atrocities, the only reply from Israeli, American, British, and European officials is, “Do you condemn Hamas?” The answer should always be yes, but Hamas’s crimes against Israeli citizens on October 7 are not a license for Israel and the West to kill, maim, and displace the entire unarmed civilian population of Gaza. Furthermore, Israel’s reasoning that Hamas is using the civilians of Gaza as human shields and, therefore, justified in deploying any form of military action it deems necessary is not war but a crime against humanity. It’s also a disingenuous argument meant to create a fog of war repeated with criminal negligence by countless U.S., U.K., and European leaders and government officials.

It’s hard to imagine today, but the suffering being inflicted upon two million Palestinians and the remaining 132 Israeli hostages in Gaza, fatefully connected by history, geography, and the tragic events of October 7, will eventually come to an end. Perhaps the historic ruling by the International Criminal Court of Justice (I.C.J.) will prevail, but this could take months. In the meantime, the atrocities being committed on Gazans will intensify, and the plight of the Israeli hostages will enter an even darker, more desperate stage.

The recent ruling of the world’s highest court, while legally binding, doesn’t have the power of enforcement. Furthermore, the court’s order to Israel to “take measures which prevent further harm on Palestinians” without actually ordering a cease-fire fails to take into consideration the entrenched and sick appetite for war that exists between the world’s political elites are not only providing unconditional support for Israel’s war on the civilian population of Gaza, but participating and profiting from it.

According to EuroMed Monitoring, “Since the I.C.J.’s ruling, Israel has maintained its rate of killing in Gaza” with either no or muted reactions from Western leaders. The fury but also the inertia of powerful states, regardless of political governance and persuasion, is virtually impossible to stop once their war machines are set in motion. It’s no different for Israel.

It took the United States twenty years to end its war in Afghanistan and almost ten years in Iraq. It still maintains counter-terrorism operations with Saudi Arabia in Yemen despite the deadly impact on Yemeni civilians. Europe continues its unwavering support for continued war in Ukraine for no reason other than political arrogance. Russia, for its part, despite its upper hand in Ukraine, continues to fight with devastating consequences for both Russians and Ukrainians. So, why should Netanyahu and his war cabinet be counted on to rein in their war in Gaza? Like their militarily powerful peers, Israel’s warmongering has no bounds.

The entire population of Northern Gaza is now internally displaced, forced by Israel to move south towards Rafah on the Egyptian border. Despite the I.C.J.’s ruling, Israel has intensified its ground operation towards Rafah, where hundreds of thousands from the North of Gaza are already taking refuge on the outskirts of the city, living for weeks in a harsh desert landscape. If Israel continues its violent push into Rafah as it has warned Egypt it plans to do, the entire population of Gaza will be trapped in a tiny corner of the desert with no protection and no safe passage out.

Those who survive the daily air strikes are now dying of hunger, disease, and injuries left untreated because of the destruction of Gaza’s health care system. Two million people are now also forced to endure the extreme traumas of trying to survive without any viable shelter, food, clean water and sanitation, electricity, and safe passage while surrounded by constant air and ground bombardment, snipers, drone attacks, the cold and rain of winter and perhaps worse of all the inaction of world leaders who have it in their power to end Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza and, now it’s frightening assault on the civilian population of the West Bank, where Hamas isn’t even in power.

Only the United States, specifically President Biden, is uniquely positioned to pressure Israel to respect each of the I.C.J’s rulings. Perhaps, given its reliance on war as an answer to every foreign policy challenge since 9/11, the United States has forgotten it also has something called soft power- something it has sorely neglected the past twenty years.

The easiest way for President Biden to prove that he and the United States are still committed to international law is by announcing his personal support for an immediate cease-fire and showing proof that he’s pressuring Israel to do the same. He will also need to push for a robust and independent humanitarian assistance effort without any interference from Israel at either border crossing into Gaza.

Of course, all of this assumes that President Biden is willing to stop listening to the impenetrable wall of aides and advisors he’s created around himself and start seeing with his own eyes the scale of the suffering and the dire risks of a wider, regional war that is already endangering American lives.

According to a confidential source with extensive U.S. foreign policy experience, the deadly attack on U.S. troops on the border between Jordan and Syria this past week “exhibits how even the projection of U.S. military power serves to fuel conflict rather than mitigate it.” For totally preventable reasons, now the families of these American soldiers can join all the Palestinian and Israeli lives torn apart by the sheer insanity of this preventable war and unfolding humanitarian disaster.

Above all, President Biden needs to start hearing the calls of his fellow citizens, including the many thousands of Jewish Americans, who are demanding that their taxes and their nation not be used to wage yet another senseless war in their names. A failure to do so will have unimaginable consequences not just for Israelis and Palestinians but for the world.

IPS UN Bureau