Friday, February 18, 2011

Amnesty International Urges Italy

Washington, DCAmnesty International has urged the Italian authorities to deal with the humanitarian needs of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers leaving Tunisia following recent unrest.
More than 5,000 migrants have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa, according to authorities, who have described the events as a "humanitarian emergency."
"A 'humanitarian emergency' demands a humanitarian response, not a law and order one," said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International's Europe director.
"This means that boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers from Tunisia, Egypt or other North African countries must not be pushed back," continued Duckworth. "Everyone arriving is entitled to be treated with dignity, to be granted assistance and access to a fair asylum procedure."

However, the country's foreign ministry has suggested that Italy and other E.U. countries should "stop the Tunisian wave," and recently deployed more boats to patrol the country's coasts.

Amid increasing tension over the issue, on Monday night Italian border police reportedly shot at a boat carrying Egyptian migrants and asylum seekers, wounding the vessel's pilot.

Italian authorities have reinforced the patrolling of the coast following the wave of migration in the Mediterranean.

Large numbers of people were forced to sleep outdoors for several days before the Italian authorities reopened the reception center on Lampedusa.

Italy routinely detains irregular migrants, and in the past has conducted mass expulsions, in violation of international law.

"Detention should only ever be a last resort, not an automatic response," said Duckworth. " No one should be sent back before they are able to make their case or explain their circumstances before the relevant authorities, and certainly there should not be any mass forced expulsions."

Frontex, the European Union's agency for external border security, has agreed to support Italy's calls for assistance in stemming the flow of migrants from North Africa.

"The main objective of any patrolling of national or international waters carried out by Italy, Tunisia or any other force, such as Frontex, should be the safety and security of those found at sea," added Duckworth.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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DOD Strives to Strengthen, Empower Military Families

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 5:13 AM
By Elaine Wilson of American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2011 - From education opportunities to spouse employment, Defense Department officials are expanding military family support programs to better meet families' current needs, as well as to empower them for the challenges that lie ahead, the DOD official who oversees military family programs said today.
Click photo for screen-resolution image
Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, and Karen Guice, executive director of the Federal Recovery Coordination Program, take questions during the Congressional Military Family Caucus Kickoff in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 2011. DOD photo by Elaine Wilson 
"It's not just about providing fish -- it's teaching to fish as well," Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, told an audience of politicians, spouses and service organization leaders during the Congressional Military Family Caucus Kickoff in the U.S. Capitol building here.
The caucus' goal is to educate Congress members and staff about the unique challenges –- including mental health, wounded warrior care, health care, education and disability –- service members and their families face.
The military community is diverse and vast, Gordon said, with more than 2 million service members, 1.59 million military-connected children and nearly 800,000 spouses. "The question is: How do we look at that community and address their needs, but also empower them for the future?" he said.
The nation is an era of "fiscal austerity," Gordon acknowledged. However, he added, families continue to have the same needs and concerns, including education, behavioral health support, employment and community reintegration.
Gordon called for an increase in DOD partnerships to bolster family support in the years ahead. The department must continue to foster relationships with nonprofit and military spouse groups and the commercial and entertainment sectors, he added.
Leadership also is "absolutely key" when addressing the military community's most-pressing issues and concerns, he said, but it will take more than just Defense Department leaders to do the job. Government and nonprofit group leaders and senior military spouses, Gordon said, must be "focused like a laser beam on the issues and concerns of our military community."
Families have a plethora of support programs available to them, but leaders must ensure those programs are effective and adequately address needs, he added. Toward that end, Gordon touched on a few of the programs and initiatives the department is looking at to increase education and career opportunities.
The Defense Department, for example, plans to conduct an education review to ensure a "world-class" education for military children. Of the 1.2 million military-connected children in schools, roughly 85,000 are in DOD schools, about 70,000 are in public schools on military installations and the rest, Gordon noted, attend off-base public schools.
The 172-day review will look at science, technology and engineering, math, early child education and languages, he said, to ensure all 1.2 million military children are being adequately prepared for 21st-century demands.
For younger children, Gordon said the department is working to expand the number of child care slots within communities. The Defense Department has 923 child development centers with 200,000 young children needing care and a shortfall of about 30,000 slots, he said.
To alleviate the shortfall, Gordon said, DOD officials have partnered with 13 states to increase military family access to community-based, quality child care. This focus on community care makes sense, he noted, since roughly 70 percent of families live off base.
"We have to have partnerships where we provide those sorts of resources where the communities are," he said.
Officials also are focused on improving spouse employment opportunities, Gordon said. Of the 800,000 military spouses, about 77 percent would like work, he said. However, he acknowledged, spouses are hindered by frequent transitions and deployments.
The department is engaging in a spouse education and career opportunity initiative to alleviate some of those employment challenges, Gordon said. The initiative includes expanding the Army Spouse Employment Program into the Military Spouse Employment Program so all spouses can benefit, he said. The Army's program helps connect spouses with opportunities in Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies.
These are just a few of the programs the department is working on, Gordon said, noting many others are outlined in the White House report, titled: "Strengthening our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment." This report describes the sweeping interagency effort under way to better support military families. Federal agencies, he added, have made nearly 50 commitments in terms of family support.
Moving ahead, Gordon said it will take a mix of innovation and creativity to meet military families' needs, while ensuring they're empowered "to be the best they can be."
Robert L. Gordon III
Related Sites:
Special Report: Military Family Support 
Special Report: Strengthening Our Military Families 
Related Articles:
DOD Expands Community-based Child Care Options