Elderly Poverty Rate in Romania
The elderly poverty rate in Romania is a challenge to not only the elderly population but also the country itself. Romania’s poverty rates for retired individuals and elders over the age of 65 have increased drastically from an already high level.

The Issue

Romania’s elderly at-risk poverty rate reached a record high of 25.1% in the year 2020, whereas it was previously 14.4% in 2012. Additionally, 24.5% of elderly women in Romania are under the poverty line with a pension, comparable to the record high of 25.7% in 2016 and a record low of 22.1% in 2010. Comparably, males with pensions reached a record high of 18% in 2020 and a record low of 7.9% in 2012.

These statistics present an evident truth; as the years pass in Romania, the elderly poverty rate is quickly rising. This leads poor elders to search for work to make enough money to survive, which they often do not have the qualifications for. In the end, impoverished elders rely on pension payments, which some do not even qualify for, while others struggle to survive below the poverty line.

Romania’s Health Care System

Romania has a dual health care system. Similar to countries such as Australia, it has both a private and a public health care system. However, its system differs from others when it comes to the government’s involvement. Romania’s government spends an average of 4% of the country’s GDP on health care, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU. The government does not fund private healthcare, thus leading those in poverty towards government-funded health care, which has proven to be inadequate. Furthermore, those who do pay for private health care do not always get a better deal. Since the government is uninvolved financially, private hospitals can overcharge patients exorbitant amounts for as little as a consultation.

Also, since the year 2007, about 15,700 Romanian medical experts from both private and government-funded institutions left the country to pursue a better salary in other European countries. With a sub-par salary for Romania’s government-paid doctors (some specialists receive as little as $350 a month), Romanian doctors often resort to bribery, in which they charge patients additional fees for even the simplest consultations.

In terms of the elderly poverty rate in Romania, it is clear that either of the two options for health care in Romania can be costly, and their physical health frequently undergoes neglect. As of 2020, only 23.4% of Romanians over the age of 65 would rate their health conditions as “good” or “very good,” while the EU average is almost double this, at 41.1%. Additionally, 66.7% of these people reported issues with walking, and 51.9% with vision problems, which they cannot treatments for. In comparison, only about 40% of adults over the age of 65 in the United States have a disability.

The Pension Problem

Romania’s pension system is likely to face challenges due to the country’s aging population. Romania is facing a demographic challenge, with a population decline of approximately 25% from 21.4 million in 2008 to approximately 15 million in 2050. Though Romania will most likely face additional challenges as a result of the projected population drop, one major issue could be pensions.

Furthermore, the proportion of elderly people in Romania could reach 29.9% by 2050, subsequently leading to a strain on the pension system. With an aging population, more people will require pensions, putting the government in a dilemma about whether to pay the full amount necessary. As proven with the health care system that the Romanian government provided, the corrupt country will not be eager to allocate so much money to pensions.

Having said that, Romania does have a solid pension system in place, which is based on citizens’ contribution to the economy over a minimum contribution period of 15 years. However, a growing elderly population could cause the country’s pension system to crash according to projections, potentially impacting the elderly poverty rate in Romania.

Lastly, another issue with the Romanian pension system is the fraud that seems to consistently reappear throughout the years. One of the greatest scandals occurred in 2009, in which Romania reported $7.15 million in pension fraud. Resolving an issue like this would require stronger pension security and a potential re-evaluation of the pension granting system.

People Against Poverty

People Against Poverty is an NGO that works in six countries, including Romania, to reduce poverty levels. It has been working to reduce poverty in Romania since 2003 and has hosted a variety of projects, including an Agricultural Project which provides resources for people in Romania who live in rural communities. NGOs like People Against Poverty are extremely important when considering poverty reduction in entire countries, and the implementation of its programs can help in solving Romania’s elderly poverty issue.

Elderly poverty in Romania has been an increasing problem within the past decade, and will likely continue to be one into the future. It remains in the hands of the Romanian government to solve this problem before the elderly population reaches a peak. However, hope exists that the population will regulate itself, or that the economy will open more jobs for impoverished elders. With the help of NGOs like People Against Poverty and the growing economy in Romania, there is certainly hope that the elderly poverty rate will decline over the upcoming years.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Unsplash

Human trafficking in Albania
Albania experienced greater prosperity than it ever had during its years as a Soviet satellite state, with its national income and standard of living skyrocketing as the country industrialized and urbanized. When the communist government lost power following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, political instability, government-backed pyramid schemes and civil war caused an economic disaster. As a result, many of Albania’s desperate poor, particularly women and children, became vulnerable to human traffickers, who significantly expanded their operations.

The Situation in Contemporary Albania

The Albanian government and the National Coalition of Anti-Trafficking Shelters identified 81 potential trafficking victims, with an additional five victims officially recognized in 2020. Of the 85 total victims, 58 were children and 62 were female. These figures are lower than in 2019, when there were 96 potential victims and seven confirmed victims, 80 of whom were female and 67 were minors. However, the number of victims is likely higher, and prosecutors did not convict any traffickers in 2020, whereas they did in 2019.

To compare, the state identified 134 total victims from 2005 through 2006, following the introduction of its first action plan for “trafficking in persons. Among the victims were 123 women, 77 children and 112 Albanians. In 2005, there were 49 convictions, and in 2006, there were 56. The country’s ability to identify victims has certainly improved, yet the complexity of trafficking cases has increased over the years, making convictions more difficult.

A Tier 2 source country, traffickers smuggle more people out of Albania than they bring in. The primary destinations of trafficked individuals are countries neighboring Albania such as Greece and Italy, as well as Western European countries like the United Kingdom, which had about 600 Albanian potential victims in 2015. In all, the number of Albanian victims abroad could be in the thousands. The Albanian government must fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to become a Tier 1 country, the highest and best tier. Albania has held a Tier 2 position for many years because it continues to make significant efforts to meet the Act’s standards.

The Link Between Trafficking and Poverty

Human traffickers are most likely to prey on the poor and those living in rural areas because the poor are frequently desperate for work and people living in rural areas are more isolated than city dwellers. Women, children and migrants are also traffickers’ most common prey since they tend to be easier to entice and hold captive while engaging in sexual acts with the former two is in higher demand than with adult men. Though they are not prime targets, traffickers hold men captive as well, typically forcing them to perform farm or factory work in nearby Balkan countries.

In 2016, 33.90% of the population lived on less than $5.50 per day, compared to more than 55% in 2002. Similarly, the proportion of the population living in rural areas has decreased since the expansion of trafficking in Albania, from around 60% in the 1990s and early 2000s to 37.89% in 2021. Thus, the target demographic of human traffickers is shrinking.

Examining the Targets of Traffickers

Traffickers force children to sell small items on the street and beg for money, especially during tourist season, when traffickers know tourists are more vulnerable to these practices. Their captors make these children hand over most or all of the money they earn. Traffickers also solicit minors for the purpose of sex. The traffickers tend to force children of ethnic minorities and migrant groups such as the Romani into seasonal work. Stigmas against the Romani make them vulnerable to traffickers, less identifiable as victims and less likely to receive support.

Traffickers entice poor women to work as prostitutes by posting false job ads and posing as wealthy boyfriends. These women keep little to none of the money they earn, leaving them only with the trauma of their experiences. Captive women work in nail salons, factories and as domestic servants when not performing sex work. The attitudes of men toward women are also a component in women being targets.

Transiting migrants heading to Western Europe from Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, are additional targets of human traffickers in Albania. The language barrier, the fact they are in an unfamiliar country and their desire to reach a wealthy nation make migrants susceptible to traffickers looking to exploit them.

The Albanian Government’s Response

The government is doing little to resolve law enforcement’s limited ability to screen and identify potential victims from migrant groups, children and sex workers. The Border and Migration Police have few interpreters, yet people speaking dozens of languages other than Albanian cross the border regularly. This language barrier exacerbates the difficulty of identifying and helping trafficking victims.

The lack of specialized experience prosecuting trafficking cases results in prosecutors convicting few criminals for human trafficking-related crimes. Instead, they often either convict the accused of a lesser crime, or the accused goes free. Furthermore, government employees are allegedly complicit in various human trafficking crimes. If true, corruption is contributing to human trafficking in Albania. The government claimed it would conduct an investigation but is not yet prosecuting anyone.

Government Investments to Reduce Trafficking

The government invested 29.3 million leks, the equivalent of $291,980, to the government-run specialized shelter for human trafficking victims. This is a massive increase to the 20.9 million leks or $208,270, it spent in 2019. While the government decided to reduce the funds it allocates to the salaries of support staff at NGO shelters, it spent more on food support. Delays in funding periodically undermined the efforts of shelters, however.

Additionally, the government moved 4.6 million leks ($45,840) to a fund of seized criminal assets designed for victims of human trafficking in Albania. The offices of the National Employment Services offered job priority to 60 of these victims. The government has also provided vocational training to 20 officially recognized victims and offered temporary residence permits to foreign victims.

Ending Human Trafficking in Albania

After the fall of the communist government, traffickers exploited the turmoil to expand their illegal trade, enriching themselves at the expense of their victims. However, the plague of human trafficking has undergone mitigation due to increased combined efforts of the Albanian government and NGOs. To eradicate human trafficking in Albania, the government must establish more robust social programs for the poor, expand job opportunities and improve access to support services; especially for people in rural areas. The government also needs to improve its screening of targeted groups, better train police in identification and prosecutors in dealing with trafficking cases, put greater emphasis on reintegration and fund NGO-run shelters consistently.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Romania Battles Recent Diseases
Romania is a beautiful country with rich culture and colorful nature. Romania maintains its traditional folklife with a clash of modernism. If one visited Romania, saw pictures or even watched a documentary, one would see the old and new structural buildings with sheep and cows plaguing the streets. Although thriving, many still consider the country an economically developing nation, with many aspects needing assistance. Currently, Romania is concerned with these recent diseases: the Coronavirus and measles. Diseases in Romania may not always be treatable, but vaccines can make them preventable. 

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted every country. However, it has disproportionately affected those in developing countries like Romania. On February 26, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 received confirmation. Soon after, the coronavirus disease became one of the many diseases in Romania. Romania did not have a stable healthcare system. It did not have the proper resources such as medical equipment, supplies, personnel and let alone enough medical establishments to aid those in more rural areas.

According to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) data graph, Romania appears to face continuously increased spikes of daily infections. The projection estimated for hospital resource use, both beds needed and intensive care units would increase and be in high demand by October 18, 2021. Currently, 27% of Romania’s population has received two vaccinations, compared to 54% in the U.S. Many expect that Romania will stay at 27% while the U.S.’ vaccination percentage continues to grow. Due to the severity of the situation, Romanian authorities took action to spread a national campaign through media channels such as social media and television news to more spaced-out areas in Romania.

Measles

Measles is an infectious disease that affects the respiratory system yet may come across as simple flu. The contagious disease can spread through sneezing and coughing and it is not easy to detect. Many of the diseases in Romania are not curable or treatable but people can prevent them through vaccines and proper methods of prevention. Based on the article, “Measles Epidemics in Romania: Lessons for Public Health and Future Policy” by Stefan Dascalu, measles is the main leading cause of child deaths in Romania. This preventable disease led to the deaths of children, younger than 5 years of age. Although the cases of measles decreased from 1982, it is still endemic.

There are actually two doses of the measles vaccine, which are MCV1 and MCV2. Records and expectations stated that the vaccine coverage would be greater than 95% during the 2000s era. However, in the year 2010, a decreased trend of coverage appeared. By 2014, the trend declined to 89% of coverage only with those receiving the first dose. Unfortunately, the trend will likely continue to decline. In 2016, the most recent outbreak occurred where there were cases that exceed the number of 15,500. Additionally,  the death rates reached 59 individuals who died as a result of measles by the year 2018. The high rates of deaths could be due to many components: the lack of vaccination coverage distributed to areas of the countryside, lack of adequate supplies and the lack of parents’ understanding/ education to vaccinate their children.

Improvements that Leads to Solutions

According to the article, “Romania: Thriving cities, rural poverty, and a trust deficit” by Donato De Rosa and Yeon Soo Kim, Romania has both an urban side and a rural side. Bucharest is an example of Romania’s part that is thriving as a city with a contemporary and profitable system. However, some smaller villages are in the past. As many consider Romania to be an underdeveloped country, it does not have certain advantages like the United States. For instance, Romania faces poverty that has resulted in the lack of a proper health care system and resources for residents in rural areas. Providing foreign aid is a key component to allow these countries to gain stability. Becoming stable will likely help these countries alleviate poverty. This in turn will help economically and strengthen bonds with the other nations.

Member of the European Union

As the World Bank stated in the “Golden Growth: Restoring the Lustre of the European Economic Model,” the European Union (EU) has a goal to converge developing countries for improvement and also for economic benefits. In 2001, the EU integrated Romania as part of its “Golden Growth” model. The EU developed The Golden Growth model for economic convergence, in sections such as trade, finance, enterprise, innovation, labor and government.

There were significant reforms that took place in Romania as a result of the growth model. Reforms included a transition from labor-based and low technology methods to more advanced use of machinery and electronic tools. Between 2014 and 2020, Romania received 17.6 billion euros in investments to improve the nation’s poor infrastructure. The EU’s aid positively impacted Romania’s degree of efficiency and way of life. In turn, this led to Romania’s population decreasing “from 22.8 to 19.6 million since 2000, and is expected to keep falling.” This is a great indication of Romania’s improvement since more children are surviving and thus parents are having fewer children. Still, it is essential to implement better public health programs. Foreign aid to provide supplies to the population and improved education on the importance of immunization for low-income communities can also significantly boost Romania from extreme poverty.

Foreign Aid

Although the diseases in Romania appeared to be dire, the county is not alone in facing these challenges. As a member of the EU since 2007, Romania has received assistance from fellow nations for resources. Romanian authorities’ response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was moderately swift, but it did not live up to its full potential due to the lack of medical supplies, equipment, and knowledge about the disease.

When the next outbreak struck, the country was better able to respond with the proper procedures and knowledge in place. In regards to measles, Romanian medical practitioners are developing strategies to spread the information on vaccines to poorer communities. These strategies range from advertisements to campaigns carried out on flyers. Romania has certainly come a long way from the original state of poverty. Overall, providing more foreign aid is a key component in forming stability in these countries. The U.S. does currently assist Romania but needs to do more with the assets it has.

– Jenny Liang
Photo: Unsplash

Albania’s bunkersFrom the 1960s to the 1980s, Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha fortified Albania by building more than 750,000 bunkers in anticipation of an invasion from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece and NATO. In the event of an invasion, rather than relying on the services of the army, Hoxha believed that citizens should take up arms and seek refuge in the bunkers scattered across the entire country. The invasion did not occur and Albania’s bunkers, serving no purpose, faced abandonment and decay. Four decades later, Albanians have found a new purpose for them. In addition to individuals using the bunkers for personal needs, the growing tourism industry would facilitate a new use for the abandoned structures.

Albanian Tourism

From 1946 to 1992, Albania was under the rule of a strict communist regime that barred the country from international tourism. Albania’s past significantly tainted the international community’s image of the country. However, in the past two decades, the Albanian government has managed to improve the attractiveness of the country as reflected by the increase in tourists.

Between 2007 and 2017, the number of tourists to Albania increased fivefold from about 1.1 million annual visitors to about 5.2 million annual visitors. The increase was stimulated by direct actions from the government such as fiscal incentives for constructing new hotels in the country as well as concrete development plans advertising the geographic location of the country and its rich cultural heritage. While in 2002 the poverty rate stood at 49.7%, the country made major strides with a poverty rate of 33.8% in 2017.

Revitalization of Albania’s Bunkers

To earn an income, many Albanians turn to tourism for work. In particular, the free-standing historic bunkers are undergoing refurbishing to serve as house tattoo studios, cafes, restaurants and even accommodations for tourists. In 2012, professors and students from the POLIS University and FH-Mainz in Germany embarked on the Bed & Bunker project to repurpose Albania’s bunkers as bed and breakfast hostels for tourists. The group began this project with the mission of preserving Albania’s heritage, succeeding in raising awareness for this cause.

Albanian-Canadian architect, Elian Stefa, has come up with further step-by-step guides and proposals for revitalizing the bunkers. In other words, people are recognizing the bunkers’ value and transformative plans have already come to fruition while other repurposing plans will soon occur.

Economic Growth

The demand for Albania’s bunkers as hotels and service amenities for tourists is growing. Bunkers, as displays of the country’s convoluted but rich history, has helped bring down the unemployment rate and stimulate economic growth in Albania. Between 2014 and 2020, the unemployment rate almost halved, decreasing from 18.06% to 11.7%. Furthermore, the GDP has risen as well with growth from about $12 billion in 2010 to roughly $15.3 billion in 2019. With more people working, Albania was able to decrease its poverty rate to 33.8% in 2017. Furthermore, since the bunkers are scattered throughout the country, the economic growth is not only limited to urban centers, with communities in the countryside also benefiting.

Using History to Serve the Present

Built in the 20th century, Albania’s bunkers were abandoned as the anticipated war they were built for did not manifest. This, however, did not discourage individuals from revitalizing Albania’s bunkers to serve the growing tourism sector. This growth had a positive effect, incentivizing individuals to ensure the preservation of the bunkers and uphold the rich Albanian heritage. Moreover, the resulting increase in revenue from tourism has created new jobs, reducing the poverty rate by 16% in 15 years.

– Max Sidorovitch
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in GermanyFrom 2006 to 2016, elderly poverty in Germany (people older than 55 years old) increased from 4.5 to 5.6 million people. According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the percentage of people who face poverty while receiving retirement money could increase from 16.8% to 21.6% by 2039. In other words, one in five German pensioners could face impoverished conditions by 2039. Germany intends to combat elderly poverty with a basic pension plan.

Elderly Poverty in Germany

People who receive “less than 60%” of their average working salary from their retirement funds are currently considered at risk of facing poverty. This equals a monthly retirement income of less than €905 or $997. The percentage of people depending on other financial government assistance may also rise from 9% to 12% by 2039. These people would have monthly retirement incomes of no more than €777.

3 Main Pension Systems

A German pensioner can choose from three main pension systems. The German pension apparatus consists of a “pay-as-you-go system,” which is combined with other supplemental plans. The supplemental pension plans intend to provide funds in addition to the state pension that pensioners already receive.

  1. State Pension. This pension plans awards about 70% of net income to people older than 65 who have been working in Germany for at least five years. Enrollment in the state pension plan is mandatory for everyone working in Germany.
  2. Company Pension. The company pension plan is a plan workers can monetarily contribute to via the employer. The plan intends to augment the state pension plan and has become the most popular retirement plan in Germany.
  3. Private Retirement Scheme. This plan is established through insurance organizations and banks. The German government promotes these plans through tax incentives and bonus benefits.

Despite the three main pension plans that Germany has implemented, those working for a lifetime in Germany still struggle to make ends meet after retiring. This is especially relevant for those employed in low-earning careers.

The Basic Pension Plan

Since the amount of state pension given to a pensioner depends on their net income, those who participated in low-earning jobs are at increased risk of facing poverty. To address this, Germany recently decided to implement a new basic pension plan, which ensures that those who have been working in Germany for a significant amount of time will receive a basic amount of pension.

In January 2021, the German federal government enacted the basic pension plan to combat elderly poverty in Germany. This plan guarantees that individuals who have contributed to the German state pension system for a minimum of 35 years receive a basic pension in addition to their original state pension. The additional basic pension ensures that the pensioner has enough money to pay for fundamental necessities. No application is necessary as the government utilizes an automatic system for these basic pension benefits.

According to German legislator Malu Dreyer, more than 1.4 million people will benefit from the basic pension plan. Furthermore, a significant portion of women will benefit from the plan as four out of five beneficiaries will be women. The plan also rewards those who took time off work for familial caretaking as long as their total employment time meets the minimum requirements.

Looking to the Future

In hopes of decreasing elderly poverty rates, Germany implemented the basic pension plan, which aims to provide its low-earning citizens with enough funds to secure their basic needs after retiring. The state pension only provides the pensioner with 70% of their net income, which can be problematic for citizens who spent their lives working in low-paying positions.

The German government estimates that the plan will benefit more than 1.4 million people, providing hope that more than a million elderly citizens will not live the remaining years of their lives in poverty. Overall, the German government presents a clear path ahead for combating elderly poverty in Germany.

Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19's Impact on Women and Poverty in CroatiaThe Republic of Croatia is a country located in Central and Southeast Europe, bordering Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Montenegro. Since proclaiming independence in 1991, the country introduced policies, programs and reforms to improve the quality of life of its citizens. But, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has had serious consequences for the country.

COVID-19 and Unemployment

COVID-19 devastated many countries in a social, political and economic areas. However, Croatia was particularly hit hard. Starting in 2008, the country experienced a global financial crisis that had tremendous consequences. The European Commission Autumn Economic published a report estimating a recession of approximately 9.6% GDP in 2020, nearly 7% worse than the previous year. The main reasons behind the decrease are the fall in the tourism sector, domestic consumption and eradication of exports. In addition, registered unemployment skyrocketed by 21.3% during the first year of the pandemic.

Poverty in Croatia also increased after two earthquakes in 2020 negatively impacted Croatia’s pandemic and health crisis management. In response, the European Union deployed resources for the recovery of all the member countries, especially those who also suffered natural disasters during the pandemic.

Despite this bleak outlook, an analysis by The Ministry of Finance argues for an “optimistic growth of 5%” in 2021, provided Croatia sees an increase in domestic demand and continues receiving recovery funds from the European Union.

Women and Poverty in Croatia

According to a report by the World Bank, COVID-19 is not the only factor pushing women towards poverty. Undoubtedly, women are more likely to be employed in the informal, low-skilled and part-time jobs that were hardest hit by the pandemic. In many cases, these jobs disappeared and women suffered income loss. In addition, women who lost their jobs or work at home are less likely to be guaranteed social security and health coverage by the emergency packages created since the outbreak of COVID-19. For this reason, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has been severe.

Both the European Union and the World Bank are aware of the many barriers women have to overcome. In response, they created several policies to find a solution. Some of the policies include providing equal access to the labor market for all women and removing any barriers to women’s employability.

The Government Response

Croatian authorities have become aware of the extreme need to reduce poverty in Croatia, especially for women. In 2019, authorities passed a National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security (NAP) to be carried out until 2023. This plan aims to prevent, protect and guarantee women’s rights in the country. The policy seeks to ensure that every woman has access to education, public health and active participation in the labor market.

The NAP prioritizes nine objectives to aid in prevention, participation, protection and implementation. Among these objectives are an increase in women’s role in decision-making processes and the promotion of women’s rights in conflict settings. The NAP works on the back of previous legislation that aimed to increase women’s participation in higher education. For example, women represented 59.9% of university graduates from 2015 to 2018. The same period saw a 4% increase in women in human resources and a 2% increase in female professors.

To support women’s employment, authorities introduced legislation to improve family life through maternity and parental benefits.  For example, the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy (MDFYSP) supports projects such as lengthening daycare operations, creating alternative education programs and providing children with meals. By supporting scholarships and child care, parents have more time to dedicate to their professional careers.

Hope for the Future

In conclusion, COVID-19 drastically affected Croatia in many ways. In particular, women suffered heavy damage from the health crisis. But, the international community and the Croatian authorities stepped in to design programs and resources for the eradication of poverty. Which, if the data is any indication, has promising results for the future of poverty in Croatia.

– Cristina Alverez
Photo: Flickr

TusseThe 19-year-old singer Tusse recently represented the country of Sweden at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. Tusse first rose to fame after advancing to the semi-finals of Sweden’s Got Talent and later winning Swedish Idol in 2019. With the song “Voices,” Tusse took 14th place at Eurovision. As a Congolese refugee, Tusse uses his platform to educate and empower young people facing similar challenges as he has.

Tusse’s Journey

Tusse, whose real name is Tousin Michael Chiza, was born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2002. At 5 years old, Tusse and his family fled to a Ugandan refugee camp due to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He left with his aunt, siblings and cousins. The escape effort separated Tusse from his parents. The family spent three years in the refugee camp until Sweden granted them asylum. The family then settled in Kullsbjörken, Sweden, in 2015 when Tusse was 13 years old. Tusse says that retaining his Congolese culture, filled with music and dancing, is what drove him to become a performer and singer, ultimately leading him to the Eurovision stage.

Civil War-Torn Country

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second-largest African country and has faced conflict for decades. The country experienced its second civil war from 1997 to 2003, only a year after the end of the First Congo War. Sometimes called the “African World War” due to the involvement of several neighboring countries, the war claimed close to six million lives directly through the effects of fighting or indirectly through malnutrition, financial despair or disease. Economic and political reasons surrounding the nation’s vast mineral wealth fueled the war.

Despite a peace deal at the war’s conclusion, violent conflict continued in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This conflict was due to poor governance, weak institutions and rising corruption. Armed conflict rose among dozens of rebel groups, consequently affecting and disrupting civilians’ lives. More than 2.1 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018, nationally. In Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the highest number of internally displaced people at more than five million.

Overall, the conflict has subjected Congolese residents to significant human rights violations, extreme poverty and widespread rape and sexual assault. Efforts from the African Union and the United Nations to help implement sustainable development and defuse tensions have struggled to see success. As a result, most civilians are forced to flee and seek asylum elsewhere.

Sweden’s Relationship with Refugees

Sweden has one of the most generous refugee policies in Europe. Sweden has actively welcomed refugees seeking asylum in the country. However, there has been some domestic pushback to this hospitable policy, particularly in 2015, following the migration crisis when Sweden received more than 160,000 refugees, the most per capita in the European Union. This tension was heightened when many other European countries were unwilling to accept the influx of refugees. As a result, the Swedish government passed a temporary measure limiting refugee rights to the bare minimum of what the country had previously agreed to under international conventions. Despite this, Sweden continues to receive significantly more refugees than the rest of Europe.

Tusse’s Advocacy

Tusse uses his platform and story to empower other young refugees and educate his fans on refugees’ challenges. He works with UNICEF and recently performed at Sweden’s UNICEF Gala. UNICEF utilizes partners on the ground to deliver assistance to displaced families and support children’s needs and rights. Among other projects, the organization provides and distributes hygiene kits, clean water, vaccinations for children and treatments for malnutrition.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported Tusse and two other Eurovision performers with refugee backgrounds prior to the competition. Manizha, a singer representing Russia, fled Tajikistan in 1994, and Ahmad Jodeh, a Dutch ballet dancer, is a Syrian refugee.

Tusse uses his music to share and voice his experiences as a refugee. At Eurovision, he sang “Voices,” which is about “fellowship, freedom and the importance of all voices being heard.” By gracing the Eurovision stage, Tusse brought awareness to the struggles of his home country, the challenges of adjusting to life as a refugee abroad and the resilience of young refugees.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: UNHCR

COVID-19 Vaccinations in SerbiaSerbia, a country located in Europe, has seen success when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine statistics, approvals and productions. The Serbian government is providing incentives to encourage citizens to get vaccinated with the aim of increasing vaccination rates. The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in Serbia indicates a positive upturn in Serbia’s fight against the virus.

Vaccine Statistics in Serbia

Serbia’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been successful so far as more than 38% of Serbians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of July 5, 2021. So far, the government has administered more than five million doses of COVID-19 vaccinations in Serbia. According to the latest COVID-19 statistics from Reuters, Serbia is experiencing roughly 114 new daily infections, equating to 11 positive COVID-19 tests per 100,000 people tested. During the last officially reported week, Serbia reached a daily average of more than 10,000 administered COVID-19 vaccinations.

Pfizer Vaccine Approval for Children

Serbia’s medical agency now allows children between the ages of 12 and 15 to receive the Pfizer vaccine. The Medicines and Medical Devices Agency of Serbia approved this after carefully considering the research of many clinical trials conducted in other nations. Serbian government health official, Mirsad Djerlek, says children with underlying health conditions are a priority as they are more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.

Vaccine Incentives

Serbia’s initial intention was to have half of the population vaccinated by the end of June 2021. Data indicates that Serbia did not reach this goal, but nevertheless, Serbia is still reaching a significant number of people with its vaccination campaign.

To encourage citizens to get vaccinated, President Aleksandar Vucic promised that citizens who got vaccinated before the end of May 2021 would receive a cash incentive of $30. Vucic’s expectation was to have three million people vaccinated by the end of May 2021. Serbia has made vaccination sites more accessible with locations in shopping malls. To further boost vaccination rates, Serbia announced that it would also be offering vouchers to those who get vaccinated.

Partnering with Russia

Serbia has partnered with Russia to ramp up Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine manufacturing. In June 2021, Serbia’s Institute of Virology, Vaccines and Sera “Torlak” in Belgrade began production. President Vucic and Russian President Vladimir Putin came to this agreement while acknowledging the importance of collaborative efforts in fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccine Successes

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations in Serbia, the country has seen success so far. Serbia is getting close to vaccinating half of its population. More categories of the population are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine and Serbians are receiving incentives to encourage vaccinations. Serbia is also giving a helping hand to other countries by providing vaccine donations to several countries. In May 2021, Serbia donated 100,000 vaccines to the Czech Republic, among other donations. As a production site for Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, Serbia is certainly playing a significant role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chloe Moody
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Human Trafficking in Ukraine
Human trafficking in Ukraine is a serious and overwhelming issue that has affected the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Ukraine is one of the most prominent countries in Europe for human trafficking with over 260,000 Ukrainian trafficking victims over the last 30 years. Despite this disheartening number, Ukraine’s government and some organizations are fighting human trafficking in Ukraine.

The History of Trafficking in Ukraine

When Ukraine became a separate nation in 1991, the slave and human trafficking trade skyrocketed. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has worsened the issue as it has caused displacement for millions of individuals. These individuals are far more susceptible to ending up in the trafficking trade because of the vulnerable state they are in due to the turmoil between the two countries, according to the Library of Congress Law. Traffickers often target the Roma community of Ukraine, a nomadic Indo-Aryan group of people, because they lack access to state social assistance programs. Low-skilled laborers, as well as children in state-run orphanages, are targets for traffickers as well. This is because they are poor and powerless in the eyes of the country.

Efforts to Fight Human Trafficking in Ukraine

Ukraine is taking huge strides in its governmental policies to combat human trafficking. The International Organization for Migration Ukraine Counter-Trafficking Program aims to support efforts to combat trafficking in Ukraine. It also provides access for victims to receive “assistance and justice.” The IOM program identified and was able to help around 600 victims of human trafficking from January to June 2019, with about 16,000 victims having received assistance throughout 19 years of the program’s existence. Without the help of the IOM, efforts towards tracking down victims and traffickers would not be as prominent.

Governmental Progress in Fighting Human Trafficking in Ukraine

Ukraine’s government has made huge strides in law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking in the country. This includes increasing the number of investigated offenses and apprehensions from previous years. The government has increased financial assistance to victims of human trafficking. It has also been providing shelter through government housing, psychological assistance and medical care. The Ministry for Social Policy has continually made attempts at anti-trafficking efforts by creating Child Protection Day and World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

Looking Ahead

The issue of human trafficking in Ukraine is on an upswing. This is because there is more governmental recognition of the way it is impacting Ukrainian citizens. With the efforts of organizations like IOM, there are more forces garnering action towards fighting human trafficking in Ukraine.

– Allie Degner
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Refugees in Rural Europe
In Spain, 10% of the population occupies 70% of the land. Meanwhile, the rest of the population lives in only 1,500 large and middle-sized cities. Similar to other European countries, Spain has undergone dramatic demographic changes in the last decade. Of towns with fewer than 1,000 residents, 90% have seen people move away, leading to grocery stores and other essential businesses having to shut down. The benefits of resettling refugees in rural Europe are on display in Pareja.

A school in Pareja, Spain might have had to close if not for the refugee families with young children who recently moved to the area. Towns With a Future Association is an NGO connecting refugees and small towns. The nonprofit helped one Venezuelan family relocate from Madrid to Pareja, a town with 400 inhabitants. Moving to a small town allowed the family to make connections with locals more easily, find suitable jobs and go off government support sooner. Pareja has had great success in welcoming refugees and the town has a desire for new life and increased prosperity. Every town is different and challenges exist for both refugees and receiving communities.

Demographic Changes

The demographics of the European Union (EU) are changing. A European Commission study from 2020, “The Impact of Demographic Change,” took a look at these changes and how they could affect European society. Europe has an increasingly older population due to high life expectancies and low birth rates as rural and remote regions are losing people and urban regions are gaining people. The report addressed COVID-19 recovery plans by explaining that “this is an opportunity for Europe to build a fairer and more resilient society.”

A more inclusive labor market must include increased employment for women, a better relationship between family life and work, support for disabled people, opportunities for people with little education and efforts to prevent all forms of discrimination. The working-age population of Europe will shrink in the next decade and the increase or decrease in opportunities for refugees and other underrepresented groups will have a direct effect on the speed and severity at which the population shrinks. Prosperity for refugees in rural Europe is possible if there is an adequate investment and care for receiving communities in rural regions.

New Integration Efforts

Resettling refugees in small and medium-sized towns across rural Europe has become a more frequent practice in recent years. The practice is in part due to dispersal policies, which ask small and mid-sized cities to integrate refugees to prevent overcrowding in large metropolitan areas. Furthermore, there is an increased desire from small towns to simply help out and be of service.

A research report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe, titled “Building Welcome From The Ground Up,” explored the expanding role of rural municipalities in welcoming refugees and migrants. The research argued that if EU-wide immigration policies chose to include rural regions of Europe, integration efforts in both urban and rural areas would have the potential to be longer-lasting and more sustainable.

Opportunities in Rural Areas

Smaller towns are often more personal, meaning that people may be able to more easily navigate essential services and meet locals naturally in day-to-day life. Newcomers also tend to learn the language more quickly and receive a more personalized and tailored welcome than in large cities. Rural development is an important opportunity because it benefits refugees in rural Europe and the receiving community.

Liam Patuzzi, a policy analyst at MPI Europe and an author of the study, spoke with The Borgen Project about the development opportunities that national funding provides. Patuzzi told The Borgen Project about the research by stating “we heard about this alliance of small municipalities in southern Italy that tried to use the resources and funding that come with resettlement to create community enterprises” that employ “resettled refugees.” The alliance “would help revive certain local trades and skills such as viticulture.” In the case of the small municipalities in Italy, funding from the national government helped towns create jobs for migrants and refugees that also brought back local industries.

Aside from national government funding for resettling refugees, small towns also benefit from the increased population. Businesses and institutions that rely on regular attendance, such as doctor’s offices, grocery stores and schools, are able to keep doors open. The larger and more diverse population also leads to new learning experiences. A local school in Martelange, Belgium added additional French and math classes to the school roster when more students began attending school. The town also added a new medical center because of higher demand. Meanwhile, in Sant’Arcangelo, teachers learned how to teach Italian as a foreign language for the first time. Opportunities are abundant when newcomers enter rural communities and challenges are equally present.

Arising Challenges

Rural areas may not have very specialized services, especially for refugees and migrants with complex challenges, trauma or disabilities. Limited employment opportunities are also common, usually for both newcomers and long-time residents. Life for refugees in rural Europe can be cheaper and more spacious than life in a large city at times. However, that is not the case for refugees in some towns, and especially for those without a job.

The homogeneity of rural regions can be isolating. Although social interaction with locals may happen more frequently, it does not necessarily lead to meaningful connections. For young people, it can be particularly hard to form deep friendships in rural areas of mostly older residents while there is less access to public transportation. The established elements can make the other challenges more extreme because there is not an easy way to find jobs or social connections in a nearby city. In the MPI study, transportation was one of the most challenging barriers for refugees in rural Europe to overcome.

Hope for Rural Resettlement

Despite the difficulties, there is hope that small municipalities will have a positive impact on integration with the right government policies, funding and local initiatives. Patuzzi and a team of fellow researchers in the study emphasize the importance of adequate preparation and support in order to bring prosperity to receiving communities and refugees in rural Europe. The changing demographics of many older residents, young newcomers and depopulation in rural areas will require addressing in the near future to ensure a decent standard of living for all.

– Caitlin Harjes
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