Longterm humanitarian crises

It hasn’t gotten much attention since Russian and their aligned forces stopped moving, but things in Ukraine have not improved.

In fact, says head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, it is turning into a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Catholic News Agency reports that Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk called on participants in the G7 Summit in Bavaria to work toward effective solutions, because the conflict has global consequences.

The aggression against Ukraine is a challenge for preserving peace in the world which cannot pretend that nothing happens in Eastern Europe,” Shevchuk said. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an eastern rite Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

The background:

Conflict erupted in Ukraine last year in February when the country’s former president was ousted following months of violent protest, and a new government appointed. In March, Ukraine’s eastern peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia and pro-Russian separatist rebels have since taken control of eastern portions of Ukraine, around Donetsk and Luhansk.

More than 6,000 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Rebels have been supported by both Russian arms and troops, according to both Ukraine and Western nations.

A ceasefire was brokered and officially began at midnight Feb. 15, however fighting has continued.

“The cease-fire is being violated,” Shevchuk said. “It’s true that the intensity of fighting on the occupied territories has decreased, but it doesn’t mean that the fighting has stopped at all. Every day we receive sad news that someone has been killed or wounded in the result of continued fighting.”

And things are poised to get worse.

“Over the last months, hundreds of pieces of heavy weaponry have reached Ukrainian territory from the side of the Russian Federation. This equipment includes tanks, heavy artillery, mobile rocket launchers etc.,” Shevchuk said in the full interview, which is included at the bottom of the story. “Besides that, according to the information of the Ukrainian government and international observers, there is a massive accumulation of Russian troops in Ukraine and on the Russian border.”

In addition to the G7 officials, the church in Ukraine is asking Pope Francis for help in finding peace, and, of course, calling on God.

“We are convinced that our Savior, who became a victim Himself on the cross for the salvation of the humankind, will help us,” the archbishop said. “And the Holy Father, who is Vicar of Christ on earth, is and will be our support and our help in these difficult times.”

Refugees of Somalia

The good news is that up to 500,000 Somali refugees have found safety in neighboring Kenya.

The bad news is that after decades of protecting refugees, the Kenyan government appears to be withdrawing the welcome mat.

Every time the militant group al-Shabaab massacres another group of people, the Kenyan government further restricts refugee liberties, scapegoating the survivors of conflict and persecution, Jesuit Refugee Service reports. Somali refugees live under threat of deportation back home or persistent harassment by Kenyan police, JRS says.

Many are forced to live in the shadows, and deportation is a constant threat.

Deputy President William Ruto threatened the closure of the world's largest camp, Dadaab, home to 350,000 to 500,000 refugees, mostly women and children. Government sources claimed the camp has become a "nursery for terrorists,” but have not been able to provide any substantive evidence of this link, according to UNHCR spokesperson Emmanuel Nyabera. 

Forced repatriation would be a clear violation of international law. President Uhuru Kenyatta has since "softened" this threat, after meeting with international leaders who emphasized the importance of preserving the rights of refugees in Kenya. 

However rhetoric proposing forced return as a durable solution for nearly half a million people already deemed worthy of protection from persecution sets a dangerous precedent in Africa's second largest refugee hosting country.

Refugees say that al-Shabaab wants to foment division between Christians and Muslims in Kenya.

Still, as bad as things are – the story includes harrowing tales from several refugees – things are better in Kenya than back home in Somalia, they say. Arrest, beatings and oppression, they reason, is at least better than death.

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Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

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