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.
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .