TIME Middle East

U.N. Names Gaza War-Crimes Panel

Amal Alamuddin, human rights lawyer attends the 'End Sexual Violence in Conflict' summit in London June 12, 2014.
Human-rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin attends the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit in London on June 12, 2014 Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

George Clooney's fiancée Amal Alamuddin was one of three tapped to investigate international-law violations in Gaza, but she says she can't join the team

Updated 5:33 p.m. ET

The U.N. named three experts to investigate possible war crimes and human-rights violations committed by both Israelis and Palestinians during the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip, the organization announced Monday.

One of the members, however, British-Lebanese human-rights attorney Amal Alamuddin, says she won’t be joining the group.

“I was contacted by the UN about this for the first time this morning,” the attorney, who also happens to be George Clooney’s fiancée, said in a statement. “I am honoured to have received the offer, but given existing commitments — including eight ongoing cases — unfortunately could not accept this role. I wish my colleagues who will serve on the commission courage and strength in their endeavours.”

A Canadian international-law professor, William Schabas, will lead the panel, Reuters reports. Doudou Diène, a Senegalese lawyer who has previously worked with the U.N. on numerous cases, was also named.

The team will look at “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law … in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014” and present a report in March 2015, according to the U.N.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has accused Israel of violating international law in attacking U.N. safe sites, though Israel has said the U.N. is biased against the country. The U.N. has also claimed Hamas forces in Gaza violated international laws as well by indiscriminately launching rockets at Israel.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are engaged in peace talks after a recent cease-fire agreement appears to be holding. The conflict has so far seen nearly 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis killed.

[Reuters]

TIME Western Sahara

There’s a New Terrorist Threat Emerging in Western Sahara, and the World Isn’t Paying Attention

A man flashes a v-sign as soldiers from
A man flashes a V sign as soldiers from the proindependence Polisario Front parade during a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the proclamation of independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in the Western Saharan village of Tifariti on Feb. 27, 2011 Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

For 39 years, exiled Sahrawis have watched their homeland being stripped of its resources with the West's complicity. Now, they could feed into the latest wave of Islamic extremism in North Africa

When the Sahrawi refugees of North Africa drink tea, they make each successive cup sweeter than the last. The first cup, they explain, is bitter like life, the second sweet like love. The third one is sweeter still, they say — like death.

If that’s a rather mournful thing to say about the simple pleasure of drinking a warm beverage, it’s because these refugees are a mournful people. They are former soldiers, or the children of former soldiers, from one of the world’s forgotten conflicts: the Western Sahara war. For decades, about 100,000 of them have languished in camps for the displaced, waiting to fight anew in a struggle that never picks up, and killing nothing more besides time.

North Africa has become ever more volatile since the Arab Spring, run through by militant Islamist outfits and Latin American drug cartels. The Algerian group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has established footholds in Mali, Niger and Mauritania, and recently staged its deadliest attack in Tunisia. Ansar al-Sharia has filled the power vacuum in several parts of Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall, and Morocco has, in recent weeks, raised its security alert because of the fear that terrorist fighters will return from Syria and Iraq. Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are extending their reach from the west and the east. And on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced an annual $110 million investment to counteract the increasing terrorist threat across the African continent.

Stuck in the middle of this vortex are the Sahrawis. The next lot of extremists could easily arise among them.

A territory about the size of the U.K. stretched out along the Atlantic, between Morocco and Mauritania, Western Sahara is often called “Africa’s last colony,” since it never gained independence when Spain decamped in 1975 — 91 years after seizing it in 1884. Instead, Morocco invaded and fought a 16-year-long war against a Sahrawi army of independence, known as the Polisario Front. When the war ended, the Sahrawis were left with the arid easternmost part of the territory, and half of the population fled to six refugee camps on the Algerian side of the border. Morocco took territory along the seaboard. To defend it, the Moroccans built a fortified barricade half the length of China’s Great Wall, and laid before it an estimated 9 million mines.

The U.N. called for a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawis in 1991, but since Morocco had moved in hundreds of thousands of its nationals into its part of Western Sahara, the sides couldn’t agree on the electoral rolls. The Sahrawis have since rejected an offer of autonomy within the Moroccan nation and remain keen for the U.N.-backed poll.

Morocco has meanwhile consolidated power over the territory it occupies, while the Sahrawis nurture the embryo of their would-be state — the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) — among the refugee camps in Algeria. SADR is currently recognized by 46 nations — its most vocal supporter being Algeria, which has a long-standing enmity against Morocco — and is a full member of the African Union. But because of strong Western support for Morocco — it is seen as the most stable state in the area and a bulwark against terrorism — the dream of an independent homeland seems ever more like a mirage.

That has bred a good deal of resentment. In 2012, three Spanish aid workers were abducted in the camps, and over the following year several dozen Sahrawis were reported to have taken part in the militant Islamist advances in Mali. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the risk that: “fighting in Mali could spill over into the neighboring countries and contribute to radicalizing the Western Saharan refugee camps.”

J. Peter Pham, director of the Washington, D.C.–based think tank Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, believes that is already happened. “The disconcerting fact is that because these camps are closed, there needs to be at least tacit approval on the part of those responsible to permit infiltration and exfiltration,” he tells TIME. “Whether that’s because of policy or corruption, I don’t know.”

In October 2012, Polisario reportedly set up a counterterrorism squad to protect the camps, but Pham views this initiative with skepticism. “In a way, it’s like breeding vermin and then setting up pest control,” he says. “The ongoing maintenance of a phantom state that will never exist creates the climate for extremism.”

According to Pham, Polisario should accept the offer of autonomy, because an independent state would not be viable. “The last thing Africa needs is another failed state, and that’s exactly what Western Sahara would become if Morocco left,” he says. “There are no real natural resources which can be commercially exploited, it would never be viable by itself. An independent Western Sahara would be an even bigger breeding ground for terrorists.”

That, of course, is not how the Sahrawis or their supporters see it. There is a possibility of offshore oil, and phosphates, fish and arable land are already being exploited in the occupied territory in violation of international law — and with Western connivance. In 2011, a major fishing agreement between Morocco and the European Union was scrapped, partly because fishing in Western Saharan waters was thought controversial, but in December 2013 it was surprisingly renewed. The new agreement talks about benefits to the “local population,” but makes no specific mention of the Sahrawis.

“The E.U.’s interpretation of the legal opinion is preposterous,” Hans Corell, former legal counsel of the U.N. and the author of its legal opinion on Western Sahara’s resources, tells TIME. “It is utterly embarrassing that the international community has been unable to solve this conflict. Since Morocco is able to capitalize in Western Sahara, there will be no incentive at all to change the situation.”

Neither are the E.U. or the U.N. providing any mechanism for humanitarian monitoring in the territory. The U.N. has had a peacekeeping force in Western Sahara since 1991, but it’s the only such operation in the world lacking a mandate to monitor human rights, because of an annual French veto in the Security Council. Isabella Lovin is one of several members of the European Parliament who have tried both officially and unofficially to enter Western Sahara to take soundings among the Sahrawis, but she’s been both denied and deported.

“If neither the U.N. nor the E.U. are allowed to monitor in Western Sahara, how can human rights ever be guaranteed?” Lovin asks.

Protests are commonplace in the occupied territory, but they are invariably broken up by police, since any questioning of Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara is punishable with prison terms. Activists are commonly prosecuted on trumped-up charges such as assaulting a policeman or planning riots. The binding evidence is often a written testimony, supposedly made by the defendant during extended pretrial detention without access to legal counsel. Because of the lack of monitoring, it is often impossible to tell whether these statements are true, false or coerced.

“These trials are the most blatant violations of human rights and end up in people being locked up for years,” Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, tells TIME. “Police beating demonstrators, however, is a weekly ritual.”

Some rights activists worry that the protests, beatings and trials will escalate now, as oil companies off the Western Saharan coast intensify their exploration. In 2005, Norway’s Government Pension Fund, the world’s largest sovereign-wealth fund, started divesting in Kerr-McGee, because their operations in Western Sahara constituted an “unacceptable risk for contributing to other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.” However, Kerr-McGee’s American partners Kosmos Energy, continued the enterprise.

Currently, Kosmos Energy has a drilling ship on its way to the region. Mohamed Alouat is one of many Sahrawis who have protested against Kosmos’ plans. A video from June 10 purportedly shows him taking to the streets with a poster that says the oil is Sahrawi, before a policeman assaults him with a razor blade.

“They beat my mother so she fainted,” Alouat says. “This all happened to me now because I held a poster against Kosmos. Where are our rights?”

Even though it is still some way from actual oil production, Kosmos Energy has gone out of its way to publicly promise that “local populations” will benefit from any discovery. “We believe that economic development of the territory can and should proceed in parallel with the U.N. mediation process,” a Kosmos spokesperson tells TIME. “In fact, some experts believe a discovery may be the catalyst to lead a resolution of the conflict.” The energy company adds that it is in the process of engaging with a range of local stakeholders, “including Sahrawis.”

Erik Hagen, chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch, disagrees.

“If oil is struck, the Sahrawi future is forever ruined,” he says. “Morocco is the only country in the region that doesn’t produce oil, it is completely unthinkable that they would seek a solution with the Sahrawi if they make a discovery.”

That, of course, would only stoke frustration in the refugee camps. “Militant groups are operating in the camps and their influence is growing,” says the Atlantic Council’s Pham. That could make Africa’s last colony its newest terrorist hotbed.

TIME Gaza

A U.N. School Is No Refuge as the War Worsens in Gaza

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
Palestinian civilians wounded during Israeli shelling of a U.N. school wait at the Kamal Odwan Hospital in northern Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014 Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

A strike on a U.N. school being used as a refuge in Gaza leaves 15 people dead, and puts more international pressure on Israel

Seventeen times, officials from the U.N. called their contacts in the Israeli army to give them the exact GPS coordinates of a U.N. school in the Jabalya Refugee Camp. “There was fighting very close by and the staff there was very alarmed,” Christopher Gunness, the spokesman of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with Palestinian refugees, tells TIME. “We told them what the precise coordinates were.”

Despite the worried calls, the Jabalya Elementary Girls School was hit just after the early morning call to prayer Wednesday, when most of the 3,000 people taking shelter there were asleep. A few minutes later, the school was hit by a second explosion, in which a shell or a rocket crashed through the roof of the building. Fifteen people were killed and more than 100 injured.

However it happened, the devastating attack of the U.N. school seems such an egregious example of killing innocent civilians that it could be a turning point in the three-week-old war between Israel and Hamas that senior U.S., European and Middle Eastern officials have so far failed to halt. Strong condemnations have come in from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the strike “unjustifiable,” as well as from the White House. It is the second time over the past several days that a U.N. school has been hit, and the sixth such incident since the war began.

The refugees at Jabalya “are people who were told to leave their homes by the IDF,” Gunness says. As a result, there are 200,000 Gazans around the Strip living in 85 shelters, leaving UNRWA and other aid agencies struggling to provide for their most basic needs. That includes water, which is trucked in because most of the tap water in Gaza is undrinkable even during peacetime. “We can’t offer safe sanctuary. We ask people to respect the inviolability of our offices.” Earlier in the day, Gunness tweeted: “UNRWA condemns in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces.”

Israeli forces, however, have not taken responsibility for the attack on the school. As it did after fiery destruction of a power plant a day earlier, which seemed to indicate Israel was not just striking military targets but also the kind of basic civilian infrastructure that could permanently affect the more than 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip, the IDF said it was checking the incident and could not confirm who had hit the school.

“We don’t target U.N. facilities in any way, shape or form,” Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner tells TIME. He describes the IDF’s version of events: “In the early hours of the morning, there was mortar fire launched from the vicinity of the school and there was an exchange of fire there. In the aftermath of that, there was a report of deaths in the school. We are reviewing this incident.”

Lerner says that in the past few days, there have been “several attempts by Hamas to pin on Israel launches from the Gaza Strip” that didn’t go as planned, landing on civilians instead of in Israel. “There are two cases in which we are aware of — the Beach Camp [Shati] and the attack on Shifa Hospital — which were the result of rockets that were definitely launched in Gaza.” As for UNRWA’s 17 distressed calls to the Israeli army, Lerner said that the location of the U.N. schools was not the issue. “We know where their schools are, as well as shelters and warehouses, and we have an ongoing relationship with their offices in Gaza to facilitate their humanitarian work on the ground. In fact, the humanitarian cease-fire today was to enable their ongoing activities.”

That cease-fire — though a four-hour lull or pause would be a more precise description — was declared by Israel in part because of U.N. requests, ostensibly to allow emergency workers to go out into the field and to remove bodies from the ruins. Hamas, for its part, has refused to participate in any cease-fires unilaterally declared by Israel, and continued launching several rockets even during the cease-fire, adding to the more than 2,670 that have been fired since July 7. During this so-called lull, Israeli warplanes struck a crowded market in Shujaiyeh, killing 15 people. Shujaiyeh, an area in the eastern part of Gaza City, has witnessed the heaviest bombardment by the IDF since it began its ground operation, with many of the buildings reduced to ruins.

At the Kamal Odwan Hospital in northern Gaza Strip, Said Sulaiman sits over the bed of his son Rezeq, who was seriously wounded by shrapnel at the U.N. School in Jabalya. As instructed by the Israeli army, two weeks ago they decided to flee their house in Atattra, near Beit Lahia — an agricultural area that in the past has been used by Hamas and other militants for launching rockets — and came to seek shelter at the U.N. school.

“I came to the school in search of a safe place. My family is still in the school while I am here, and I hope no strikes will happen while I am away,” says Sulaiman, 55. “We are waiting here in the room until the operation room is ready to take him into surgery. I hope they won’t have to amputate his leg. I just want to return to my house with my family safe after the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and for the aggression to stop.”

A more lasting cease-fire still seems elusive, however. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet agreed Wednesday night to intensify attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza and to keep destroying tunnels. The night before, Mohammed Deif, the head of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said that only Israel lifting its blockade of Gaza would be enough for the militant group to agree to a cease-fire.

A Hamas-made video released on the same night, showing militants infiltrating Israel via a tunnel, successfully ambushing and killing five Israeli soldiers near Nahal Oz, has only confirmed for the government that the tunnels still pose a danger, encouraging the government to continue the fight. A poll released Tuesday found that 90% of Israeli Jews think the IDF operation in Gaza is justified. The survey, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, indicated that most expected the war to continue.

The Palestinian Ministry of Healthy put the death toll Wednesday at 1,361; Israel has lost 58 soldiers and three civilians. Israeli officials blame Hamas for many of the civilian deaths, repeatedly accusing the militant group of shooting from within populated areas, including residential buildings and hospital. Netanyahu himself has charged Hamas with regularly using human shields, purposefully putting people in harm’s way. That means Israel’s soldiers and pilots have to either have to retreat from their targets or shoot anyway, knowing that civilians will be killed in the process.

Gunness counters that on three occasions, including one this week, rocket caches have been discovered in U.N. schools, but noted that these were empty, out-of-use structures undergoing maintenance — not buildings housing refugees.

“On these separate occasions, [rockets] were found in schools that have been closed for the summer and which were being inspected by UNRWA,” Gunness says. “We condemned the groups that put them there as a flagrant violation of the sanctity and neutrality of the U.N., we immediately notified all relevant parties, and we have never handed them over to Hamas.” The dispute over who hit the U.N. school continues, but the day’s grim images make one fact indisputable: there are no safe havens in Gaza.

— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza City

TIME Israel

Cease-Fire Ends in Gaza

APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
A Palestinian woman carries her belongings past the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, July 26, 2014. Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

Israel reports rocket fire from Gaza

Updated 3:11 p.m. ET

The Israeli military reported rocket fire from Gaza Saturday after militant Islamic group Hamas rejected Israel’s proposed extension of a truce by four hours.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rejected an offer announced by Israeli Cabinet member Yuval Steinitz to extend the 12-hour truce by four hours, the Associated Press reports.

The end of cease-fire comes on the same day as the death toll in Gaza hit 1,000 people, according to Gaza health official Asharf al-Kidra.

Western officials including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon are currently meeting in Paris in an attempt to create a deal that could provide a longterm truce.

[AP]

TIME Middle East

Explosions at Gaza School Kill at Least 16, Health Ministry Says

A Palestinian man holds a girl injured during shelling at a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014.
A Palestinian man holds a girl injured during shelling at a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

An estimated 750 Palestinians and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its operation to counter rocket strikes from Hamas

Updated at 7:50 p.m. ET

At least 16 people were killed after a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians in northern Gaza was destroyed, officials said on Thursday.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 200 people were wounded in the attack. This marks the fourth time that a UN facility has been hit since Israel began Operation Protective Edge on July 8, the BBC reports.

Nearly 750 Palestinians and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting, which intensified last week when Israel launched a ground operation to destroy tunnels used by Hamas to deploy a regular stream of rockets into Israel.

The international community has struggled to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, even as the United Nations has condemned both sides in the conflict.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday there was a “strong possibility” that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza while also condemning the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed “outrage and regret” after rockets were found to have been stored inside a UN building in Gaza.

A spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner, said that it was possible that the damage had been caused by Hamas rocket fire, Reuters reports. “We don’t strike schools. We don’t strike U.N. facilities. We do not target the United Nations,” he was quoted in the New York Times.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza since the fighting, many of whom have taken shelter in UN buildings, the UN has said.

According to CBS, survivors at the school on Thursday said they were warned that the school was being targeted and were preparing to leave when Israeli forces opened fire. The Israeli military told CBS it was reviewing the incident.

[BBC]

An earlier version of this story drew a premature conclusion that the attack on the Gaza shelter was committed by Israel. The source of the attack has not yet been confirmed.

TIME Iraq

UN: ISIS Orders Women and Girls in Mosul to Undergo Genital Mutilation

"This is not the will of Iraqi people," U.N. humanitarian coordinator says

Islamic extremists who control parts of northern Iraq have ordered girls and women in and around the city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, a United Nations official said Thursday.

Nearly 4 million girls could be affected by the “fatwa” issued by the militant group that refers to itself as the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters in Geneva via videolink from Iraq.

“This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” she said according to Reuters. “This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by terrorists.”

[Reuters]

TIME India

India Is Home to More Poor People Than Anywhere Else on Earth

Poverty of slums at New Delhi
Slum dwellers lead their life in poverty and unhealthy conditions in New Delhi, India on March 10, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

"We don't have to be proud of what we've done," one minister says

One third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in India, according to the latest Millennium Development Goals report by the U.N.

India only managed to reduce its poverty rate (the ratio of the number of people who fall below the poverty line and a country’s total population) from 49.4% in 1994 to 42% in 2005 and 32.7% in 2010. By contrast, regional rival China brought it down from 60% in 1990 to an impressive 16% in 2005 and just 12% in 2010.

India also accounted for the highest number of under-five deaths in the world in 2012, with 1.4 million children not reaching their fifth birthday.

“We don’t have to be proud of what we’ve done,” admitted minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla to the Times Of India on Wednesday. “Poverty is the biggest challenge.”

TIME Libya

U.N. Withdraws Libya Staff as Fresh Rocket Attack Strikes Tripoli Airport

Mideast Libya
In this image made from video by the Associated Press, smoke rises from the direction of Tripoli International Airport, in the capital of Libya, on July 13, 2014 AP

Facing spiraling unrest, the U.N. is withdrawing its entire staff from the country. "The mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work," read a statement

One person died and six were injured after a rocket assault hit Libya’s main international airport on Monday evening.

Tripoli International Airport had been closed a day before the attack because of fighting between an alliance of militia groups and rebels hailing from the western Zintan region, who have been in control of the airport for the past two years.

The terminal was attacked by “a large number of rockets, including Grad rockets,” a security source told the BBC.

Twelve planes were damaged in the barrage of fire and the control tower had taken a hit, with escalating clashes also forcing nearby Misratah Airport to close.

In response to the worsening security situation, the U.N. announced the withdrawal of its entire staff from the country. “The mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work … while at the same time ensuring the security and safety of its staff,” read a statement.

Tripoli is the main national transport hub, and as the only other international airport, Benghazi, has been closed for two months, there are no longer any flights to and from the E.U.

Libya has remained unstable since the fall of dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

[BBC]

TIME Syria

Report Details Hardships Facing Syria’s Refugee Mothers

Syrian Refugees; Lebanon; North Lebanon; refugees
Sanaa, 26, washes clothes in a borrowed washing machine at a shelter in Saida, Lebanon, on March 4, 2014. Lynsey Addario—UNHCR

Some 145,000 refugee households are headed by women

A new U.N. report grimly details the daily plight of thousands of Syrian refugee mothers who have fled civil war and now toil as their household’s primary breadwinner.

Four-fifths of the 2.8 million Syrians who have fled their war-torn homeland since March 2011 are women and children, says the U.N., leading to some 145,000 refugee households headed solely by women. The survey, based on three months of interviews with 135 women in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, provides a snapshot of the complexities they endure while trying to feed and protect their children, find enough work to make rent and retain any semblance of the lives they enjoyed before war broke out.

They represent women who once managed their homes, even as their husbands usually handled physical and financial security, but who now lead households in unfamiliar and often insecure communities. Lebanon, a nation of 4 million, has taken in more than a million people. At least 600,000 have entered Jordan, with most gravitating toward urban areas, an influx that has crushed certain infrastructure. In addition, some 137,000 have made it to Egypt.

António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said “escaping their ruined homeland was only the first step in a journey of grinding hardship” and called their treatment “shameful” as the crisis worsens. “They have run out of money, face daily threats to their safety and are being treated as outcasts,” he added, “for no other crime than losing their men to a vicious war.”

Typically, their first challenge was simply finding a roof. Many make do with overcrowded or makeshift housing, due to few options and difficulties in securing a stable and sufficient income. Only one-fifth of those interviewed had paid work, and many others said they relied on cash assistance from aid groups or generosity from others in their community.

Paying rent is among their top stressors, as is feeding loved ones. With an average of 5.6 people per household, some mothers said their families ate less as a whole or individuals held back so others could eat more. “Rent is more important than food,” one woman who lived with her seven children in Amman told the U.N. “We don’t remember what meat or fruit tastes like,” echoed another, who kept a home of nine people in Giza, Egypt.

The vast majority of women interviewed relied on food vouchers from the U.N. World Food Programme, but very few complained that their households were going hungry.

Among a number of other issues reported were an inability to afford proper medical care, regular instances of verbal harassment and even offers of free accommodation in exchange for sexual favors. A significant portion said they left their homes much less often than they did in Syria.

The U.N. expects these problems to worsen, as it estimates the total number of Syrian refugees will reach 3.6 million by year’s end, unless aid agencies, donors and host governments renew their commitments of support.

TIME Crime

U.N. Says Opium Production Has Reached All-Time High

Opium Production All Time High
An Afghan security force member destroys an illegal poppy crop in the eastern Kunar province in April 2014. Noorullah Shirzada—AFP/Getty Images

Fueled by the rising global trade in heroin

More land was used to cultivate illicit opium in 2013 than ever before, due to increased smuggling through southern Afghanistan, according to the U.N.

The annual World Drug Report released on Thursday indicates that land area used for production of opiates and opioids, the leading cause of drug-related disease and death, reached roughly 733,000 acres last year — the highest since the first estimates were recorded in 1998. For the third consecutive year, Afghanistan has logged the world’s largest opium cultivation.

Opium Production
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2014

The increase in global opium production has been attributed to the rising contraband trade of heroin, a derivative of opium poppy. An expanding route along the southern corridor in Afghanistan has facilitated the transport of Afghan heroin to Southeast Asia and Oceania, regions traditionally supplied by Southeast Asia’s opium cultivation. This “southern route” also has bumped up supply to the Middle East, Europe and Africa since law-enforcement officials began cracking down on the long-used Balkan route.

The report arrives amid a global war on drugs, as countries continue to reconsider policies that have failed to lessen illegal drug activity. In Latin America, for example, a region plagued by drug violence, U.S. attempts to suppress drug production have been largely unsuccessful, according to Washington Office on Latin America.

Meanwhile, Russia and the U.S. have maintained their positions on criminalizing illegal drugs, while many Middle Eastern countries have come under fire for imposing capital punishment for drug-related crimes, according to the New York Times. Re-examinations of global drug laws and alternatives to militarized interventions will likely be the crux of the 2016 General Assembly on the world drug problem.

The extent of global drug abuse has remained stable over time at 16 million to 39 million people.

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