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Nicholas Winton: A ray of active goodness in a splintered world

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London, Ankunft jüdische Flüchtlinge

By Gaurav Sharma

Reflecting with fond appreciation the courageous efforts of a Nazi party worker to rescue more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees from the horrific barbarity of the Holocaust, virtually every viewer of Schindler’s List remains firmly etched to the edge of his seat.

The Hollywood classic immortalized Oskar Schindler by tracing his transformation from a German spy to a humanitarian industrialist.

Although few and far between, history has always been carefully moulded by the confidential craft of Schindler like heroics.

Nicholas Winton, dubbed as the British Schindler, echoed the same bold spirit while rescuing more than 650 children in the erstwhile Czechoslovakia from the terror of the brutal Nazis.

Nicky’s Children

Winton died this week, but not before sheltering, enlivening and fathering the lives of the orphaned Holocaust children.

Comparing with the massacre of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, Winton’s contribution at first glance might not make such a big bang impression.

However, the true worth of Winton’s rescue effort can be fathomed when one witnesses the ballooning of the few hundreds saved in 1939 into a bulky lot of 6,000 people, fondly remembered as ‘Nicky’s Children’.

Much like other selfless humanists, Winton chose not to make a big fuss about his humanitarian expedition.

Had it not been for his wife’s discovery of the dusty briefcase containing the scrapbook which held the names and families of the twice born children, Winton’s philanthropic crusades would have been buried unnoticed.

Turn of Direction, Change of Heart

Professionally, Winton worked at a number of banks as a volunteer, earned a banking qualification from France and later became a stockbroker with the London Stock exchange.

During that period, Winton started associating himself with the left wing circle, morphing into an ardent socialist who was increasingly concerned about the dangers posed by Nazism.

In December 1938–on the eve of the Second World War–Winton had first hand experience of the Nazi threat.

Moving at the behest of his friend Martin Blake, who was incidentally an associate of British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Winton decided to cancel his Christmas skiing plans and instead decided to help Jewish families desperate to leave Czechoslovakia.

Seeing the wretched plight of throngs of people clamped in massive camps, Winton’s heart turned inside out. Instead of taking the official route of writing to the government, he had the vision to foresee the immediate necessity of taking personal measures.

Sole Strivings

Winton’s rescue efforts involved arduous personal strivings encompassing a plethora of activities.

He commissioned nine trains to send the children away from Czechoslovakia. All this required bribing officials, indulging in forgery apart from making painstaking efforts to contact and arrange donations from families looking for their children.

An impressive eight out of the nine trains were successful in transferring children through Germany to Britain.

Moreover, by forming crucial contacts with the German soldiers, Winton was able to advertise for foster homes in newspapers and also organized residency permits from the UK immigration office.

Relentless Altruism

In spite of contributing so much to the welfare of those caught in the mesh of Nazi brutality, Winton shunned away attempts to dub his efforts as something special.

Winton’s altruistic drive continued even after he came back to Britain, where he set up the Mencap Association to help families with differently abled children.

He also established Abbeyfield Homes, an old age home and another establishment catering to the elderly needs, apart from being an active member of the Rotary International.

In a world splintered by sectarian and civil conflicts– torn apart by Islamic State terrorism in the Middle East, sustained by the utter failure of bureaucratic intervention and brainwashing through patriotism propaganda–individual like Nicholas Winton are shining stars.

Shouting slogans of goodness while being ensconced in a blanket of household comfort is easy . Pursuing active goodness mirroring Winton is hard. Yet, it is the need of the hour.

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Syria and Refugee Crisis to Dominate the upcoming UN Meetings in New York

The second UN meeting will be hosted by President Barack Obama on Tuesday

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United Nations headquarters in New York, seen from the East River. Source- Wikimedia commons
  • The meetings at New York will be on various important humanitarian issues but the war in Syria and the refugee crisis which has overwhelmed neighboring countries and Europe will dominate the meeting
  • U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Sheba Crocker hopes that the summit will result in significant new, sustained commitments to U.N. humanitarian appeals, expanded refugee resettlement programs or alternative legal pathways for admission
  • This will be the last General Assembly meeting for Ban Ki-moon as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. His decade-long tenure ends on December 31, 2016

The war in Syria and the refugee crisis it has created are expected to dominate the agenda at the annual U.N. meetings with world leaders in New York next week.

Leaders want to limit the spillover from the Syrian war. Mainly, the human exodus to overwhelmed neighboring countries and Europe. They will discuss the issue at two summits focusing on refugees. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon will host the first meeting on Monday.

“More countries must resettle more people who have been forced from their homes. More countries must recognize the benefits of migration. And everyone, everywhere, must stand up against the animosity that so many refugees, migrants, and minority communities face,” said Ban.

President Barack Obama will host the second summit on Tuesday. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Sheba Crocker expects action on humanitarian issues.

“We expect that the summit will result in significant new, sustained commitments to U.N. humanitarian appeals, expanded refugee resettlement programs or alternative legal pathways for admission,” said Crocker.

Syrian refugees board a Jordanian army vehicle at the Rakban refugee camp. Source-VOA
Syrian refugees board a Jordanian army vehicle at the Rakban refugee camp.
Source-VOA

But there is skepticism from some, such as Richard Gowan of Columbia University, that either summit will do much to improve the situation of the nearly 5 million Syrians who have fled their homeland.

“The only way you solve the Syrian crisis is a political deal. I’m sure there will be some talk about that at the General Assembly, but Vladimir Putin is not coming to New York, and if Putin is not here, you cannot have serious talks about Syria,” said Gowan.

The United States and Russia agreed to a deal earlier this month for a cease-fire and on getting aid into Syria. The two countries also plan to cooperate on targeting terrorists, including the so-called Islamic State. Whether that deal is working or failing will likely shape discussions in New York.

The U.N. Security Council will hold a high-level session Wednesday, intended to put the spotlight on Syria, but expectations for results are low.

“The reality is decisions about Syria are made in Washington, Moscow, and Iran — not in the Security Council chamber,” said Gowan.

The rest of the week will be dominated by leaders’ speeches in the General Assembly.

Some big names like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Angela Merkel will be absent. It will be President Obama’s final time as U.S. president at the international gathering, and his speech will likely lay out his multilateralism legacy.

It will also be Ban Ki-moon’s final General Assembly as U.N. chief. His decade-long tenure ends on December 31.(VOA)

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Civilians Flee Syria’s Aleppo as Battle for Manbij Continues

The U.S. military reported 11 airstrikes near Manbij, targeting Islamic State tactical units and fighting positions

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Members of Syria Democratic Forces battle Islamic State militants in Manbij, July 29, 2016. Image source: VOA
  • An anti-IS militia is battling the militants in the city, street by street, as coalition forces tighten a circle around Islamic State’s stronghold in the city
  • The special U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura urged Russia to let the world body take charge of any humanitarian corridors in and around Aleppo, allowing civilians to escape the embattled city
  • De Mistura said he was awaiting clarification from Russian authorities on how the plan would work while reiterating the U.N. position that no civilian should be forced to leave Aleppo

Syrian state media report dozens of families have been fleeing the besieged city Aleppo after government forces opened a humanitarian corridor. The city had been sealed off for weeks as Syrian forces bombarded the city. U.N. officials and aid groups have demanded the Syrian government open routes to the city for aid deliveries, warning the estimated 300,000 people there are facing dire food shortages.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State forces has reported more airstrikes on a key city outside Aleppo, where militants have been fighting to retain control of the city centre.

The U.S. military reported 11 airstrikes near Manbij, targeting Islamic State tactical units and fighting positions. The coalition also reported some nine strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.

VOA’s Kurdish Service reports that fighting in the centre of Manbij is continuing amid the airstrikes. An anti-IS militia is battling the militants in the city, street by street, as coalition forces tighten a circle around Islamic State’s stronghold in the city.

Manbij Map. Image source: VOA
Manbij Map. Image source: VOA

One fighter told VOA he saw the bodies of several militants killed in Friday’s clashes on July 29, which started in the afternoon and continued after dark.

Separately, the U.S. military is assessing the third allegation into civilian casualties caused by a coalition airstrike near Manbij.

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Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters Friday, July 29, that assessment of those claims is in an “early phase.” Rights groups claim about 25 civilians were killed by an errant airstrike Thursday, following two similar incidents that are already under investigation.

The Pentagon official said the military’s own internal reporting triggered an investigation of the incident. He added: “We will continue to work hard every day to execute our mission while doing our best to minimise the risk to innocent civilians, and to be transparent and accountable about those efforts.”

Aleppo humanitarian corridor

Although Syrian state media reported the Aleppo humanitarian corridor open on Saturday, U.N. officials have expressed scepticism that it will be useful while fighting rages on.

The special U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, on Friday urged Russia to let the world body take charge of any humanitarian corridors in and around Aleppo, allowing civilians to escape the embattled city. Russia has proposed opening up four corridors – to be administered by Russian and Syrian government forces – to allow civilians and fighters willing to lay down their weapons to leave rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

But scepticism remains over the plan.

“How do you expect people to walk through a corridor, thousands of them, while there is shelling, bombing, fighting,” De Mistura said.

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“The clock is ticking for the Aleppo population,” the U.N. envoy said, adding there is probably only enough food in Aleppo to last three weeks. “There is a strong sense of urgency, and that sense of urgency, I want to believe, was one of the reasons, if not the reason for the Russian side to come up with an initiative.”

FILE - People queue for bread in the rebel held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, July 14, 2016. Image source: Reuters
FILE – People queue for bread in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, July 14, 2016. Image source: Reuters

De Mistura echoed calls by the U.N. humanitarian aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, for a 48-hour humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow emergency deliveries of food and other supplies into Aleppo, which has been cut off by pro-government forces since July 17. He also praised a statement from the International Red Cross that welcomed the Russian proposal, but noted such corridors should have the “consent of all parties on all sides.”

De Mistura said he was awaiting clarification from Russian authorities on how the plan would work while reiterating the U.N. position that no civilian should be forced to leave Aleppo.

Details of Manbij investigations

A coalition spokesman announced Wednesday that the U.S. military was formally investigating claims that an airstrike in Manbij on July 19 killed between 10 and several dozen civilians. The military also is assessing whether avoidable civilian casualties occurred during a July 23 strike on a village east of Manbij.

The coalition has conducted more than 520 airstrikes in support of the SAC push to reclaim Manbij from Islamic State fighters. Until now, the U.S. military has said its operations against Islamic State militants have resulted in 55 civilian deaths and 29 civilian injuries.

According to a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, there has been a total of 202 allegations of civilian casualties during operations against Islamic State, but only 59 of those have been deemed credible by the military.

Asked if the U.S. would stop conducting airstrikes until its investigations of the civilian casualty claims are complete, Cook told reporters that halting strikes would only leave local coalition-supported forces vulnerable to attacks by Islamic State extremists. (VOA)

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Humanitarian Disaster strikes Fallujah: About 60,000 people flee to escape IS-held city in Iraq

Iraqi fighters face snipers and bombs as they fight to eliminate IS militants from the city they have held for more than two years

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Iraqi soldiers help civilians, who fled from Falluja because of Islamic State violence, during a dust storm on the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq, June 18, 2016. Image source: Reuters
  • The number of people who have managed to leave the city has topped 60,000
  • People from Fallujah have managed to find refuge in warehouses or mosques as refugee camps become full
  • PM Haider al Abadi declared the Iraqi forces had been victorious in their fight to take control of the city

Exhausted, hungry and desperate, 30,000 people have poured out of Fallujah in the past three days as Iraqi forces stormed into the center of the city, pushing Islamic State fighters into the northwest of the city.

Despite the searing Iraqi summer heat, many of those who have escaped are sleeping out in the open as refugee camps are now full. Others have managed to find refuge in warehouses or mosques.

Norwegian Refugee Council staff provide drinking water for Iraqis from Fallujah at Amariyat al-Fallujah displacement camp. Photo: Karl Schembri/NRC. Image source: Reuters
Norwegian Refugee Council staff provide drinking water for Iraqis from Fallujah at Amariyat al-Fallujah displacement camp. Photo: Karl Schembri/NRC. Image source: Reuters

The number of people who have managed to leave the city has topped 60,000.

Appeal to government

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which is providing emergency food rations and bottled water to thousands of people, said the sheer numbers and a lack of camp coordination has made it difficult to reach all the newly arrived families.

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“We implore the Iraqi government to take charge of this humanitarian disaster unfolding on our watch,” said NRC Country Director Nasr Muflahi in a statement.

Iraqi army soldiers hold Iraqi flag on a top of a military vehicle in the centre of Fallujah, Iraq, June 18, 2016. Image source: Reuters
Iraqi army soldiers hold Iraqi flag on a top of a military vehicle in the centre of Fallujah, Iraq, June 18, 2016. Image source: Reuters

“We cannot continue to provide aid when we do not even know who is where and what they need,” Muflahi said.

Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared the Iraqi forces had been victorious in their fight to take control of the city.

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But in Fallujah, Iraqi fighters face snipers and bombs as they fight to eliminate IS militants from the city they have held for more than two years.

Some militants reportedly have sent their wives and children out of the city with the refugees. (VOA)

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