Palestinian refugees from Syria

This month I have been twice to Lebanon to visit Palestinian refugee camps and in particular to investigate the conditions of the Palestinian refugees who have been displaced from Syria. Their situation is very bad and we should all do more to help.

As everyone must be aware, there is a terrible conflict taking place in Syria and refugees are moving to escape the violence, across the borders into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. My recent visit to Lebanon were focused, in particular, on the Palestinian refugees who were previously living in camps in Syria. I understand that the Syrian refugees are having great difficulties and should be given greater help but the Palestinians in Lebanon are already very poor and deprived of the right to work or own property and so completely confined to the camps set up in 1948, and now they are hosting new displaced Palestinian refugees from Syria. We met many families who were living twelve to one room and sharing bathroom and cooking facilities with very many others. We met one family living in an animal outhouse with no shower or toilet.

The situation is quite terrible, obviously the situation inside Syria is dreadful and it is very difficult to do much to help but it is not difficult to provide resources to help the refugees, and this is not being done adequately. UNRWA has had responsibility for the Palestinian refugees since 1948 and continues to be responsible for the new refugees in Lebanon. They do not have enough money to help with shelter, which is the most desperate need. It is disgraceful that the major donors do not provide the necessary funds to enable UNRWA to do its job. UNHCR are providing for the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, as I say I have not seen their camps and conditions but equally importantly they must be provided with enough resources to simply keep people living in basically decent conditions until the conflict in Syria is resolved.

There is a long-standing tradition that the Disasters Emergency Committee makes an appeal to the public when there is an extreme humanitarian emergency. They have not done so for the Syrian refugees and I think it is time they did.

Bill Gates

On 29 January I attended the Dimbleby Lecture given this year by Bill Gates. He focused on the possible eradication of polio by ensuring that vaccines are delivered to all children in the countries that remain a problem, which are Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

This was all very worthy and desirable, but actually he said nothing new. The efforts to eliminate polio has been led by the World Health Organisation and supported by the international development system over many years and the job is nearly done. It is good that Gates is coming in to support, but to keep things in perspective, his foundation spends $2.5 billion per year, and so far has spent $26 billion but the UK development spend is £10 billion every year. So Gates is to be congratulated for helping but it is the ordinary taxpayers of countries like the UK that are doing the main job.

The film Lincoln

This is a powerful film. It reminds us that it was only 150 years ago that the US was a primitive country fighting a vicious civil war with slavery entrenched in half its territories. The film depicts Lincoln as a great leader who pressurised wavering voters in Congress to support the abolition of slavery. I think the film is worth seeing but then everyone should come home and read the real history. Lincoln had earlier supported a proposed 13th Amendment to the Constitution that would have frozen the status quo i.e. allowed slavery to continue in the states where it was already entrenched and not in any new territories. This reminds us that hostilities to slavery was not for all a matter of principle, it was also a question of economic’s because white workers were threatened by the cheapness of the labour of slaves. The contribution of slaves to the elimination of slavery and the fighting in the Civil War, is not properly acknowledged, nor the contribution of the principled opposition to slavery; but to pretend that Lincoln was the great abolitionist is not an accurate account of his historical contribution.

10th anniversary of the Iraq War

On 7th of February I went to Goldsmith College to participate in the debate about whether the Iraq war was worth it. The debate was sponsored by the Huffington Post. I do not particularly like the classical debate format where people line up on either side of a non-nuanced proposition and simply oppose each other. The very question “was it worth it”, is a wrong way of discussing the war. But it was interesting that the hall was completely full, most of the people were young and would have been very young 10 years ago, but still felt passionately strongly that the war was wrong. A vote was taken before the debate took place and it was overwhelmingly of the view that the war was not worth it, the vote was even bigger afterwards.

I was asked by the Independent to give a quote on my reflections on the war:

10 years on, I conclude that the road to war was littered with deceit and ulterior motives; as a result of the deceit, preparations for the post invasion situation were not properly made; very large numbers of Iraqis have lost their lives or been badly injured, millions of Iraqis have been displaced and the present situation in Iraq is unstable and oppressive; many soldiers lost their lives were injured or mentally damaged; large amounts of money were wasted; Britain’s reputation was badly damaged and our system of government shown to be unreliable.

There is of course more to say but that is what I said.

Interesting facts

Social mobility

In a comparison of social mobility in eight advanced countries by Blandon, Gregg and Machin of LSE, Nordic countries occupied the first four places, the US and the UK last.

Global GDP

According to the IMF, global GDP is expected to double between 2010 and 2030.

Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland census published in January 2013 showed that for the first time Protestants become less than half the population; of a population of 1.8 million 48% were Protestant, 45% were Catholic and the rest of different religions or none (Susan McKay LRB 7 Feb 2013).

Who benefits from extractive industries?

Ivan Glasberg and his partners bought Glencore from Mark Rich for $600million after he became CEO in 2002. It is now worth $500 billion (FT 29/30 Dec 2012).

Financial Industries

The leading twenty hedge-fund and private-equity managers earned $12.6 million per week in 2007.


Google shifted $9.8billion revenues to Bermuda (a British dependent territory) where there is no corporate income tax (Nikhil Kumar Independent11/12/12).

Employment conditions in Amazon

Read this shocking article from the FT, ‘Amazon unpacked‘.

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