Supporting Refugees During RamadanRamadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims globally. During this month, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day for 30 days as an act of worship, a way to practice self-discipline and a period to empathize with the needy and less privileged. Every evening in the holy month, Muslims break their fast with a meal known as ‘iftar’.

Apart from being a fast-breaking meal, iftar plays a vital role in balancing health and nutrition. Unfortunately, in a world where 11.7% of the entire global population experiences extreme food insecurity, millions of Muslims often have no food to break their fast with. Food insecurity is a major issue affecting refugees and displaced people who rely on donations and aid to access food. In a bid to alleviate the issue, charities like Restless Beings are supporting refugees during Ramadan by providing them with iftar meals.

Restless Beings is a U.K.-based human rights organization that is making efforts to address food insecurity during Ramadan. Through distributing food packages in nations with high numbers of refugees and displaced people, such as Syria and Bangladesh, it provides iftar meals for Muslims around the world.

The Borgen Project spoke with one of the directors of Restless Beings, Rahima Begum, to find out more about the organization’s food packages and other ongoing efforts aimed at supporting refugees during Ramadan.

Food Packages

In 2023, Restless Beings is distributing food packages in Gaza, Turkey, Syria and the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. The content of the food packages varies for each nation depending on dietary requirements and cultural sensitivities. According to Rahima Begum, “As Restless Beings is a highly consultative organization, we ensure that at all stages, we speak to the community about their needs and what they want in their food packs.”

For example, the packages for refugees in Bangladesh include food items such as rice, chickpeas, lentils, vitamin supplements, oil, onions and seasonings. These are all staple items in a typical Bangladeshi diet. In Gaza and Syria, the packages include tea, pasta, beans, feta cheese, dates and bulgar. The Turkish food packages include most of the aforementioned as well as olives, tahini and ingredients for making traditional Turkish bread. Each food package contains enough to feed a family for at least one month.

The food packages are distributed by the organization’s on-the-ground teams. As of April 2023, Restless Beings has provided food packages and other forms of assistance to over 50,000 refugees globally.

Feeding Refugees in the UK

For Restless Beings, supporting refugees during Ramadan in the U.K. is just as important as supporting refugees abroad. It partners with other organizations that specialize in assisting refugees and migrants arriving in the U.K. to provide occasional free, warm iftar meals throughout Ramadan. It also donates baked snacks, including bread and pastries, which refugees can take away. The service is not exclusive to only Muslims, as Restless Beings is committed to helping refugees from all religious and cultural backgrounds. The organization is affiliated with two food banks in East London, both of which provide free or discounted food to the homeless and those affected by extreme food insecurity.

Gifting Presents and Haircuts

Restless Beings is supporting refugees during Ramadan in ways other than providing food. It also aims to restore joy and hope in the lives of refugee children. Many of the children that Restless Beings works with have witnessed extreme violence and experienced severe political conflict and displacement. This has stripped them of their fundamental human right to safety and deprived them of their childhood.

The organization is making efforts to give children something to look forward to while encouraging them to believe that there is hope for a better future. It gifts children in the Rohingya refugee camps hampers, new clothes, shoes and fresh haircuts to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the day that follows the end of Ramadan. For Rahima Begum, the gifting service is of utmost importance because it bestows a sense of normalcy and dignity on the recipients that aids their emotional healing. She says “When a child is reminded of their dignity and given an opportunity to feel and look fresh… this child feels like they are seen, heard and most of all, valued.”

Concluding Thoughts

Through their work in supporting refugees during Ramadan, Restless Beings is addressing global food insecurity and bringing nourishment and familiarity to affected people. A Muslim herself, Rahima reflects that “feeding a fasting person is a blessed action” and doing so provides her with the opportunity to ensure Muslims less fortunate than herself can “observe the religious duties that [she is] personally adhering to, in the most comfortable way possible.”

– Mohsina Alam.
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Children Refugees
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, there have been mass casualties, millions of displaced citizens and uncertainty about the country’s future.  According to the UNHCR, the war has forced nearly 5.7 million Syrians to find refuge in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, more than half of whom are children. In total, the UNHCR estimates that more than 13 million Syrians have been displaced or forced to leave the country. With the disruption of the war, Syrian children refugees are at a higher risk for mental disorders like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Psychosocial Problems

A 2015 UNHCR review suggests that Syrian refugee children have heightened psychosocial problems such as fear, grieving, withdrawal, hyperactivity, warlike play and behavioral problems. According to a UNICEF report in 2019, there were 8 million Syrian children in need of resources and 10,000 unaccompanied or separated children.

Providing mental health treatment for Syrian children refugees is no easy feat. With refugees spread out among several countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Germany and Turkey and with some still residing in Syria, it is difficult to know just how many children need help.

However, providing mental health treatment for Syrian children refugees is a necessary and time-sensitive issue. The disruptions of the war have created barriers to physical and mental health and could affect generations to come.

Current Treatments and Organizations

As of now, countries around the world offer mental health support for Syrian children. For example, the UNHCR uses a community-based approach to provide the most helpful mental health treatment for Syrian children refugees in different areas. Its child protection programming assists Syrian children in counseling, recreational activities and life skills.

Syrian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also provide care, although they mostly operate outside the country. Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) provides mental health and psychosocial support in Syria and in host countries, such as Jordan and Turkey. It manages eight safe spaces for women and girls in northwest Syria, where counselors provide support for those gender-based violence affects.

However, despite efforts at the local, national and international levels, many Syrian children refugees lack mental health resources. There are many overlapping reasons for the lack of resources, ranging from burnout among mental health officials to financial barriers, medication or supplies.

What Experts Recommend

Experts in medicine, psychosocial support and individuals working closely with the Syrian mental health crisis have proposed several new avenues for helping Syrian children. Isra Hussain, a research assistant and program coordinator with the Global Health Policy Center, pushes for a “multilayered system of response.” Instead of only providing basic mental-health resources, Hussein suggests a coordinated approach involving local officials, public and private organizations and humanitarian agencies.

The American Psychological Association proposes a three-step intervention for Syrian refugee children: culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services, providing services at the client’s preferred location and having trained professionals who can detect mental health difficulties in refugee children.

Apart from direct mental health counseling, Michelle L. Burbage and Deborah Klein Walker with the National Academy of Medicine urge more social and community support for Syrian refugee children. In addition to adjusting support according to different cultural backgrounds and social influences, Burbage and Walker emphasize community outreach and health education to engage Syrian children refugees in mental health programs.

Looking Forward

As the Syrian war continues, more children will undergo life-changing events and potentially traumatizing experiences. It could eventually fall upon the children now to sustain the country’s economy and infrastructure. As many health experts have suggested, it is imperative to address the humanitarian and mental health crisis at hand and look for possible solutions.

– Anna Lee
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Colombia
In 2019, World Bank data found that Colombia’s child poverty rate for ages 0-14 stood at 20%. After years of civil unrest, Colombian children are growing up in an era of displacement and poverty. These past conflicts have a way of infiltrating the lives of children as their guardians work to rebuild their own lives. Child poverty in Colombia is an issue that persists as countless families seek to gain stability.

Colombia’s History of Conflict

The prevalence of social injustice issues and the uprising of guerilla groups during the mid to late 20th century, threatened governmental authority in Colombia. Colombia’s 2016 Peace Accord put to rest 50 years of conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), providing Colombia with its first signs of hope in decades.

Colombian children now have the opportunity to grow up in a peaceful country for the first time in more than 50 years. The long-awaited end to the civil conflict brings hope but the legacy of conflict and violence has lasting consequences for Colombia’s people.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Colombia has one of the highest rates of internally displaced persons in the world —  a consequence of the decades of war. As of 2022, 8.5 million Colombians suffer internal displacement, which equates to a staggering 74% of the population.

The ripple effect of this displacement plays a large role in child poverty. As conflict and violence force families to flee their homes, many people lose their assets, land and houses and are unable to return to their former lines of work. This leads to a rise in poverty and unemployment, which, in turn, leads to children growing up in impoverished environments due to inadequate sources of income.

Effects of Child Poverty in Colombia

Malnutrition is a serious effect of child poverty in Colombia. According to a 2016 report citing UNICEF, “one in 10 Colombian children suffers from chronic malnutrition.” Further, the consequences of poverty disproportionately impact Indigenous Colombian children — the region of La Guajira accounts for only 7% of Colombia’s population, however, it accounts for more than 20% of malnutrition-related death among children younger than 5. Since the beginning of 2021, 17 Indigenous Wayuu children in La Guajira have died due to malnutrition.

Growth stunting is another consequence of malnutrition. In 2021, the Global Hunger Index showed a 12.7% prevalence of growth stunting among children younger than five in Colombia. As malnourishment increases, the depletion of mental and physiological strength necessary for work and school diminishes, leading to an exacerbation of poverty.

Violence Against Children

Sexual violence is another devastating outcome of child poverty in Colombia. Children who experience this sexual violence often come from low-income households. Poverty increases the risk of child labor, trafficking and sexual exploitation. The perpetrators are typically criminal gangs or even one of the child’s own family members. These victimized children tend to reside in slums or remote, outlying communities where victims rarely acquire justice.

According to a 2019 survey that the Health Ministry and Family Welfare Institute conducted, nearly 42% of Colombia’s youth endured “physical, sexual or psychological abuse as a child.” Unfortunately, Colombian NGOs have said that people report only 30% of these cases. In fact, the Colombian Public Prosecutor estimates that up to 200,000 Colombian children face sexual abuse annually.

Lack of education is another component that goes hand-in-hand with child poverty in Colombia. For these children, education is a doorway to a better life, but is, unfortunately, not as accessible as it should be. Despite the Colombian constitution’s mandate that children between 5 and 15 attend school, a 2019 article from Children Incorporated discloses that about 10% of Colombian children receive no education at all. This 10% equates to about 35,080 Colombian children out of primary school in 2019.

Children International in Colombia

Children International is an organization that acknowledges the severities of child poverty in Colombia. The organization has been working in Colombia for 33 years now, transforming the lives of Colombian children.

With malnutrition being a prominent result of child poverty in Colombia, Children International recognizes a need for check-ups and exams. Health care can be expensive, a fact that is especially true for Colombia’s lower class. To date, more than 74,000 sponsored children have received medical exams from Children International’s clinic.

Children International has implemented the HOPE Scholarship program, which provides funds that give children an avenue to complete tertiary studies after high school in order to obtain skilled jobs and break cycles of poverty. Through Children International’s Into Employment program, children learn skills for jobs in demand within their communities. About 71% of Into Employment program members found placement in jobs requiring the skills they gained during the program.

Child poverty is a persistent problem in the reverberations of Colombia’s civil conflict. Malnutrition, sexual violence and lack of education are a few of the direct effects that contribute to the vicious cycle of child poverty in Colombia. Thankfully, Children International has dedicated itself to improving these lives. With help from organizations such as this one, Colombian children may have the chance to escape the firm grip of poverty.

– Madeline Ehlert
Photo: PxHere

Child Displacement
Child displacement impacts children across all sectors and nations. As of 2020, more than 33 million children are living in forced displacement. This includes 11.8 million child refugees, 1.3 million asylum-seeking children, 20.4 million children displaced within their own country and 2.9 million children living in internal displacement as a result of natural disasters. Here is some information about child displacement in developing nations.

The Types of Child Displacement

A few types of child displacement exist. These include:

  • Internal Displacement: According to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the definition of an internally displaced individual is “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters and who have not crossed an internationally recognized border.”
  • Displacement on a Large Scale: An example of this is the Palestinian exodus in 1948 which resulted in the displacement of more than 750,000 people.
  • Separation From Family: This type of displacement uniquely relates to children in developing nations. When children are working away from family, they are susceptible to kidnapping, human trafficking and violence. For example, there are 10.1 million child laborers in India and one child is declared missing every 8 minutes.

Cognitive Harm

A study that Child Development published tested executive functions, which are the higher-order cognitive skills needed for decision making and complex thought, among Syrian refugees. The study found that the burden of house poverty affected displaced children’s working memory. This has a long-term impact on the ability to succeed in school and make correct decisions. These findings align and have a serious impact on the refugee crisis in Syria where 45% of Syrian refugees are children with more than a third without access to education.

Child Labor and Violence

Children comprise 25% of all human trafficking victims and are at higher risk for forced labor. After displacement, they can experience separation from family and traffickers can force them to work in fields such as agriculture, domestic services or factories. To date, an estimated 168 million children are in forced labor and more than 50% complete dangerous work.

Children who do not have access to safe and regular migration pathways often turn to irregular and dangerous routes, which further puts them at risk for violence and exploitation. According to the U.N., “around 1,600 migrant children between 2016 and 2018 were reported dead or missing, an average of almost one a day.”

A Lack of Data on Child Displacement

There is simply not enough data on child displacement which translates to inadequate information on the causes and long-term effects. For example, only 20% of countries with data on conflict-related internally displaced persons (IDP) break the statistics down by age.

Data disaggregation by age, sex and origin are essential as it will inform policymakers in the regions most directly impacted by child displacement on how severe the issue is. This will allow them to begin to construct resources to support all children. For example, children who cross borders may not receive services such as education and health care because the statistics regarding how many children are out of school and the long-lasting impact on child displacement are insufficient.

The Global Refugee Compact

In December 2018, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Global Refugee Compact. This is an international agreement amongst nonprofits, the private sector and international organizations to provide objectives to better include refugees in national systems, societies and economies and provide equal opportunity for them to contribute to communities. Through updated guidelines, the U.N. and partner organizations can craft effective modern solutions.

One of the unique features is the digital platform where partners and practitioners can share effective techniques, or Good Practices, to allow others to implement them in another location. The platform also builds a repository of overcoming humanitarian crises through good work that can be studied and implemented across a multitude of sectors.

There are various good practices targeting child displacement shared on the platform. For example, The BrightBox Initiative by the Simbi Foundation began in Uganda in July 2019 with the goal “to enhance access to education for students in UNHCR refugee settlements.” It transforms shipping containers into solar-powered classrooms to“provide access to literacy resources for a community of 6,000 simultaneous learners.” These types of resources are essential as Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa at about 1.5 million. Additionally, 60% of them are children.

Child displacement across the world exists for various humanitarian issues all rooted in poverty and are detrimental to the well-being of the world’s most vulnerable population. However, through large-scale global action, the world can address the causes of child displacement and begin crafting effective solutions.

– Imaan Chaudry
Photo: Flickr