Afghan Refugees Face Harsh Winter, Continued Uncertainty
Earlier this week, Pakistan and Afghanistan reached an agreement, planning for the return—phased over three years—of 1.8 million Afghan refugees. Pakistan’s Minister of Border Affairs, Aftab Sherpao and Afghanistan’s Minister for Refugee Affairs agreed to the plan on Tuesday, calling for the closure of refugee camps—some created as early as 1979 when the Soviets invaded.
During the last two decades, more than three million Afghans have sought refuge in Pakistan, according to the Associated Press. Since January, roughly 1.5 million refugees have returned home, but 1.8 million remain, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Still, conditions throughout the region remain harsh, exacerbated by the severe winter. Last week, following a review of its data, the UNHCR released new numbers showing a decline in the Afghan refugee population for nine camps in Pakistan’s North West Frontier province. The drop from 54,767 to 49,943 people was attributed to earlier record-keeping inaccuracies as well as recent deaths from the cold winter.
Aid agencies caution that plans to return refugees to Afghanistan are premature, given the unstable environment. Last year, in Kabul alone, returning refugees boosted the population from 1.7 million to 2.5 million. Still, the AP reports that many have fled again due to decrepit infrastructure and continued violence, including battling warlords, the recent bombing of 12 girls’ schools; threats to Loya Jirga delegates who have spoken out for human rights, including Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr. Sima Samar; the assassination of two government ministers; violence against women in the Northern provinces; violence against humanitarian aid workers; and the continued use of tactics of intimidation against the return of girls to school. The need for expansion of peacekeeping forces both within and beyond Kabul remains urgent.
In southern Afghanistan, where there are nearly 400,000 “internally displaced people", the recent deaths of 10 refugee children has prompted the UN to re-examine its winter aid efforts, reported the BBC. Despite the distribution of blankets and supplies to more than two million people, additional assistance is critically needed.
10/31/2014 Federal Judge Exempts Another Catholic University from Birth Control Coverage - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Ave Maria University, a Catholic university in Florida, does not have to comply with federal rules meant to ensure that covered employees can exercise their right to obtain birth control at no cost.
The Affordable Care Act requires all new health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives - such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. . . .
10/31/2014 Women of Color in Tennessee Are United in Opposition to Amendment 1 - Just days before the general election in Tennessee, a coalition of community leaders, clergy, and advocates led a press conference encouraging women of color to vote no on Amendment 1, a dangerous and far-reaching measure on the state's ballot.
SisterReach, a grassroots organization focused on "empowering, organizing, and mobilizing women and girls in the community around their reproductive and sexual health to make informed decisions about themselves," organized the press conference "to call attention to the unique concerns Black and poor communities throughout Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee face on a daily basis" and to emphasize how the upcoming election "could further limit [black women's] reproductive, economic, political, and social autonomy."
"We assemble today to impress upon black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote," said SisterReacher Founder and CEO Cherisse Scott at the event.
SisterReach has been educating voters about the particularly dangerous impact of Amendment 1 on women of color. . . .
10/30/2014 Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling - An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1.
The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. . . .