Torch Tiles

University of Southern California (USC) has a course called “Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” As part of the class, a team of USC undergraduates visited the Moria refugee camp to learn from and engage with the displaced peoples about their experiences. The need for more livable housing was the impetus for students’ project development. The result was Torch Tile — an adaptable, low-cost, user-friendly solution to the sheltering challenges of the displaced peoples in Moria.

Living Conditions of the Sprawling Moria Refugee Camp

On the eastern coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, is the Moria refugee camp. Moria is the largest refugee camp in Europe. It is the landing pad for the daily stream of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey via a harrowing boat trip across a six-mile stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. The camp was originally designed to shelter 3,000 people. Currently, it is overflowing with over 13,000 refugees.

Tents sprawling the foothills surrounding Moria have constituted as impermanent shelters or “homes” for these refugees. Some asylum-seekers have even established residence with flowers, hand-made tandoori ovens and power cords for hijacking electricity. Despite these additions, the tents are no match for the temperature swings of Greece’s climate. In the summers, heat waves can break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters on the island bring lasting snow from the sea moisture. Asylum-seekers can expect to wait a year before their asylum applications are processed ensuring they will experience both extreme weather conditions.

In the past, asylum-seekers have employed cardboard and tarps in an attempt to block out the extreme cold and heat. Increasing the temperature a few degrees led to refugees living in environments with dank, humid air that condenses on the tent inner walls. Running water is only available inside of Moria, and these moist environments put asylum-seekers at risk for health complications. Many suffer from pneumonia and heat stroke, which there are limited resources with which to treat.

In stepped the Torch Tile.

The Product

After over thirty different prototypes and dozens of hours of overnight testing, the team created the Torch Tile. The users’ needs were at the forefront of the creation’s design. The product comes in 36 or 55 sq. ft. sheets that can be laid side-by-side (like tiles) to fully surround a tent. The sturdy, lightweight and flexible material of the tiles is Aluminet.

The knitted screen-like material allows for airflow, reduces indoor humidity and lets light into the tent for visibility. Secured using zip ties and draped over the tent ceiling, the Torch Tile cools the interior by deflecting outdoor heat and light on warm days. Similarly, in winter weather one layers a tarp over the Torch Tile to warm the tent by 5-15 degrees by reflecting body heat inward.

Then, the team founded Torch Global Inc., a nonprofit currently fundraising to mass produce tiles for distribution. The goal is to provide tiles for those in Moria and for the unsheltered populations in Los Angeles.

Protecting Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The distribution of Torch Tiles has been paramount to enabling people to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. One Torch Tile user from Los Angeles shared, “I have COVID and can’t isolate because my tent is too hot. This product will keep my tent cooler, so I can actually stay inside and isolate.” Recently Torch Global Inc. fundraised $13,000 for the ordering of 1,500 more Torch Tiles — protection for 1,500 more people in their homes.

The collective, global mobilization and coordination of resources necessary to resolve the refugee crisis in Greece is unlikely to occur soon enough. Even when it is, situations and conflicts will likely displace more people in the future, and asylum-seekers living in tents will be inevitable. By thermo-regulating shelters, Torch Tiles alleviate one aspect of refugees’ vulnerability and address the downstream effects of displacement.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr

Child Hunger in IdlibThe Syrian conflict continues to rage through this pandemic. The locus of fighting has shifted to the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Since 2019, the Syrian government — with support from Russia — has engaged in various bombing campaigns in the region and sent ground forces as well. Idlib is clearly feeling the effects of this violence. The need for aid in the province grows alongside the increasing size of the humanitarian crisis. One particularly important but overlooked aspect of the devastation in Idlib is the rising cost of food. Child hunger in Idlib is a result of the rise in levels of food among the youth due to price increases.

The Issue

Child hunger in Idlib — for infants in particular — has become an area of concern as COVID-19 has become more prevalent throughout the country. One big factor is that food has generally become much less accessible. According to The New Humanitarian, “‘An infant needs one container of formula per week, but the price has risen to $12,’ up from $9 three months ago … For many parents, that sum is out of reach.” This increase in price manifests itself often in the form of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). The disease primarily affects children under the age of 5, is highly dangerous and often turns life-threatening. Effects of SAM include a process known as “stunting,” which limits the physical growth in very young children. Stunting and other effects of SAM lead to other problems later in life for these children.

Another frequent issue is malnutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women. It not only affects them personally but impacts the growth of their infants as well. The New Humanitarian also reports a rise in SAM hospital cases over the summer of 2020. The ratio jumped to 97 out of 1,692 people screened from the January status of 29 out of 2,199. This is likely a lower estimate given the number of people who cannot get screened or don’t have access to testing. Time is of the essence after receiving a SAM diagnosis. Once a child with this condition reaches 2 years of age, they will likely deal with the consequences of SAM for the rest of their life.

Fighting Worsens the Problem

Child hunger in Idlib — and in Syria more widely — is deeply concerning. The issue is compounded by the broader poverty levels and violence that plague the entire country. As a result of the fighting, the majority of  Syrians are internally displaced from their homes.

There is no clear end in sight to the fighting between rebel forces and the Syrian state military. Refugee camps are essentially at capacity and can’t withstand an influx of people if the civil war persists. Additionally, COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, which will likely increase the number of Syrian refugees and displaced persons.

In addition to the housing issue, food scarcity is prevalent in the country. Food options are usually unavailable or unaffordable. As such, many Syrians rely on foreign assistance and aid from NGOs as resources for food.

Aid

There are, however, numerous aid organizations and NGOs working to provide food security and address the growing refugee crisis. They are especially targeting the northwest, where Idlib is located. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is an organization working to expand health care access to those who need it. SAMS also provides meals to both children and adults at risk of food insecurity. Yet another part of their work focuses specifically on care for those with Severe Acute Malnutrition.

SAMS fights against child hunger in Idlib and throughout the rest of the country. They report that in 2019, the last year for which data is available, SAMS performed more than 2.5 million medical services for the Syrian population, at no or greatly reduced cost. Since 2011, they have provided more than $207 million worth of aid and medical resources as well.

SAMS and other similar organizations are vital to the survival of millions of Syrians. However, there is still more to be done. The international community must redouble their efforts to provide resources to those displaced and malnourished. Everyone must work to end the violence that has been a constant in the country for so long.

Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in EritreaMilitarism and instability are endemic to Eritrea. The degradation of civil society is a result of those two factors. Child poverty in Eritrea is rampant due to such foundations; however, the country is not without benefactors. UNICEF’s aid efforts are improving children’s health within Eritrea despite the current conditions.

A Brief History

Eritrea is one of the few countries that can truly be considered a fledgling state in the 21st century. After a decades-long secession war, the Eritrean government achieved full independence from Ethiopia in 1993. They solidified the totalitarian one-party dictatorship that has retained power since. A brief period of peace followed, during which promised democratic elections never materialized. Then, Eritrea’s unresolved border disputes with Ethiopia escalated into a war that lasted from 1998 to 2000. It killed tens of thousands and resulted in several minor border changes and only formally ended in 2018. In the wake of this war, the Eritrean government has sustained a track record of militarization, corruption and human rights violations that has continually degraded civil stability. As of 2004, around 50% of Eritreans live below the poverty line.

Eritrea’s Youth at a Glance

Housing around 6 million people, Eritrea’s youth make up a significant proportion of its population. Eritrea has the 35th highest total fertility rate globally, with a mean of 3.73 children born per woman. It also has the 42nd lowest life expectancy at birth at a mere 66.2 years, with significant variation between that of males (63.6 years) and females (68.8 years).

Forced Conscriptions of Children

Under the guise of national security against Ethiopia, Eritrea has maintained a system of universal, compulsory conscription since 2003. This policy requires all high school students to complete their final year of high school at Sawa, the country’s primary military training center. Many are 16 or 17 years of age when their conscription begins, which led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to accuse Eritrea of mobilizing child soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report also blamed Eritrea’s conscription practices for a number of grievances. Its prolonged militarization has wide-reaching effects for the country. Many adults are held in service against their will for up to a decade, but it is particularly damaging to Eritrean youth. Students at Sawa face food shortages, forced labor and harsh punishment. Many female students have reportedly suffered sexual abuse. Besides fleeing, “Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription.”

Further, “The system of conscription has driven thousands of young Eritreans each year into exile,” HRW claims. They estimate that around 507,300 Eritreans live elsewhere. Because of its conscription practices, Eritrea is both a top producer of refugees and unaccompanied refugee children in Europe – they not only result in child poverty in Eritrea, but in other regions as well.

Education Access

HRW claims that Eritrea’s education system plays a central role in its high levels of militarization. It leads many students to drop out, intentionally fail classes or flee the country. This has severely undermined education access and inflated child poverty in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has the lowest school life expectancy – “the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive” – of any country. Eritrea has reportedly made strides to raise enrollment over the last 20 years. However, 27.2% of school-aged children still do not receive schooling, and the country retains a literacy rate of only 76.6%. Illiteracy is much more prevalent among females than among males, with respective literacy rates of 68.9% and 84.4%. In general, girls and children in nomadic populations are the least likely to receive schooling.

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

As mentioned earlier, over half a million Eritreans have fled the country as refugees. Around one-third of them – about 170,000, according to the WHO – now live in Ethiopia. A majority reside in six different refugee camps. As of 2019, around 6,000 more cross the border each month. Reporting by the UNHCR shows that “children account for 44% of the total refugee population residing in the [Eritrean] Camps, of whom 27% arrive unaccompanied or separated from their families.” Far from being ameliorated by domestic education programs, child poverty in Eritrea is merely being outsourced to its neighbors.

Children’s Health as a Site for Progress

Adjacent to these issues, UNICEF’s programs have driven significant improvements in sanitation, malnutrition and medical access. Its Health and Nutrition programs, among other things, address malnutrition by administering supplements, prevent maternal transmission of HIV/AIDS during birth and administer vaccines. Teams in other departments improve sanitation and lobby against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In its 2015 Humanitarian Action for Children report on Eritrea, UNICEF wrote that Eritrea “has made spectacular progress on half the [Millennium Development Goals],” including “Goal 4 (child mortality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality), Goal 6 (HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases) and is on track to meet the target for access to safe drinking water (Goal 7).”

Figures illustrate this progress on child poverty in Eritrea. Since 1991, child immunization rates have jumped from 14% to 98%, safe water access rates are up at 60% from 7%, iodine deficiency has plummeted from 80% to 20% in children and the under-five mortality rate sits at 63 deaths per 1000 births, rather than at 148.

Child poverty in Eritrea is a far cry from being solved, but it is not a lost cause.

Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Rohingya refugee campsLow-income areas with a high population density are at the highest risk of contracting the coronavirus. This threat is very prevalent in the Rohingya refugee camps, especially for women and girls.

The Issue

Currently in Bangladesh, there are over 860,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps. The Rohingya people, a minority ethnic group from Myanmar, are fleeing from genocidal violence, persecution, discrimination and human rights violations. The Rohingya face violence because they mainly practice Islam while the majority of Myanmar is Buddhist. The large mass of people fleeing into Bangladesh has caused the refugee camps to become immensely populated. The result is overcrowding, only temporary shelter, communal bathrooms and water facilities and limited food space.

Overcrowding and limited space in refugee camps result in the Rohingya having an especially high risk of contracting COVID-19. Currently, the best way to prevent the spread of this disease is to social distance, wear masks and increase testing. However, the Rohingya refugees do not have the space or resources to do this. As of June 2020, there were four deaths and 45 confirmed cases within the Rohingya refugee population. However, because there is a huge lack of testing, these numbers are most likely not accurate. The hospitals in city centers no longer have resources themselves to treat any more people. As such, many infected Rohingya aren’t being accepted.

How Women are Fighting Back

Oxfam, an NGO fighting poverty, traveled to the Rohingya refugee camps to help build better water, sanitation and hygiene stations. This includes systems like water taps and hand washing stations, which could be potential risk areas for disease spreading. When designing the new water and sanitation facilities, Oxfam interviewed many girls and women to hear their thoughts. The women and girls contributed to design aspects like how the stations should stand, where hooks should go, and even suggested a mirror. All of the expertise given by those Rohingya women and girls has spread to other camps. Now 300 hand-washing and water stations are implemented in three different refugee camps.

Women also have taken on the important role of spreading information and discounting myths surrounding COVID-19 in the refugee camps. One woman, Ashmida Begum, walks around the camp dispelling myths. Begum explained that she uses the Quran to help explain the virus and disease prevention. She mainly helps other women and children who are a large majority of Rohingya refugee camps. Misinformation has led Bangladesh to lift internet restrictions on the Rohingya refugees. The barriers were originally in place to quell panic and stop rumors. Instead, rumors and myths spread and local women like Begum worked to stop them.

Why Women

Women have been so effective in helping the refugee camps because the local people trust them. They have special access in reaching other women, who normally do not leave their homes often and do not have internet.

Women are traditionally the primary caregiver of the family, so they especially need to be healthy and informed to keep the rest of the family safe. This is also why women’s input is needed in the sanitation and water stations; women will be using them the most.

Impacts of this Work

The work that the women and girls of Rohingya refugee camps have impacts beyond fighting COVID-19. Oxfam reports that the design process helped girls take a more active role in their own lives. They were able to think and speak for themselves.

The rise in panic and social tensions in the camps resulted in a rise in domestic violence and violence against women. Rohingya women stepped into leadership roles and formed networks to help combat that panic around the virus to counter the gender-based attacks.

The work done by the women in Rohingya refugee camps to fight COVID-19 is helping to increase cleanliness and knowledge about the virus. They are slowing the spread of the virus and giving women and girls a way to be leaders in their communities.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

4 innovative solutions that are helping refugees

In the world today, there are nearly 26 million refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution and ongoing conflict. Refugees are among the world’s most vulnerable populations and are at risk of severe physical and mental health repercussions. Despite the limited access to resources and the substandard conditions that refugees face daily, advancements and innovations in refugee camps have eased these burdens. In times of strife and hardship, people can create something extraordinary and beneficial for society. Here are four innovative solutions that are helping refugees manage life in refugee camps.

4 Innovative Solutions Aiding Refugees

  1. Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS), a World Vision program, was created to improve efficacy and accountability in humanitarian service delivery. This innovative technological solution ensures that aid recipients are tracked without error, rations are precisely calculated and dispensed and online reports are immediately accessible for stakeholders and donors who are at the base of key operations. LMMS also helps address issues affecting aid deliverance, including prolonged wait times, inaccurate tracking of supplies and inventory and errors in allotments to families. This program has been established in more than 30 countries by 20 different humanitarian groups, registering more than 10 million aid recipients.
  2. In Jordan’s Za’atari camp, Syrian refugees are converting caravans into serviceable facilities, such as shops, homes and furniture. A 2014 study asserts that nearly 64% of Za’atari’s businesses work from caravans. It is also estimated that approximately 10% of women in Za’atari are operating craft-making and other businesses from these adaptable vehicles. Most of the shops’ shelving, signs, and general household items are made from the same wood paneling that comes from these caravans’ flooring. Through the conversion and adaptive use of caravans, Syrian refugees have shown that there are creative ways to use the resources available to them to obtain a higher quality of life.
  3. Community kitchens in camps such as the Kutupalong refugee camp are equipped with gas stoves, allowing many refugee mothers to feed their families nutritious food and minimizing the dangers of cooking with an open fire. This innovative solution is a frugal choice when it comes to getting daily meals. Because of its implementation, refugees do not have to buy firewood and can better allocate their money toward food and other necessities. Beyond this, community kitchens are much more than safe areas to cook and affordable cooking alternatives. These are places where women get together and empower each other to become leaders in their communities, help each other solve problems and make informed decisions for their families’ well-being.
  4. Hand-made dynamos have changed the tides in Kenya’s Kakuma camp. Kakuma is not connected to the national power grid, so homes and businesses depend on solar power and generators to generate electricity daily. William, a Burundian installation expert, has been the go-to mechanic for dozens of business owners who need electricity in the camp. He once used an old treadmill to build a dynamo and has been redesigning the devices based upon the accessibility of resources, including fans and condensers from trashed air conditioners. In his workshops, William trains refugees so they can bring a set of general skills to meet the challenges in refugee camps.

Refugees and allied partners have shown their resourcefulness and resilience when placed in challenging situations. Many refugees do not allow the substandard living conditions they must reside in to hold back their desire to change the unfavorable systems and their circumstances. Refugees have demonstrated that innovative solutions come in many forms and that building community is key to improving refugees’ quality of life.

—Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Camps in Greece
Over the past five years, Greece has struggled to accommodate the thousands of migrants arriving on its borders. Since the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015, over one million migrants have arrived in Greece in order to seek asylum in the European Union (EU). While many have traveled onward to stay in other European countries, large numbers have remained in migrant camps in Greece. The nation has struggled under this pressure.

Greece’s location makes it a prime port of entry for incoming migrants. However, the country has recently been accused of refusing to accommodate refugees due to overcrowded migrant camps. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this situation, as Greece has struggled to maintain a high standard of sanitation and healthcare within migrant camps. The EU and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are working to improve the situation and support Greece.

Who Are the Newest Migrants?

The refugees currently arriving to migrant camps in Greece originate from countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Palestine and Syria. Fleeing war-torn countries, oppressive regimes and extreme poverty, they travel through Turkey and Northern Africa, risking their lives to seek asylum in Europe. Greece has become a hotspot for arrivals since the start of the migration crisis. The nation acts as a European port of entry due to its geographic location near Africa and Turkey.

Turkey also worsened the situation by announcing in March 2020 that Europe is open for asylum seekers and urging migrants to travel to Greece. These declarations came in response to the EU not providing funding for Turkey’s own refugee arrivals. In response to Turkey’s statements, Greece declared that it would not accept illegal immigrants and vowed that it would protect Europe’s external borders. However, Turkey does not qualify as a safe third country and therefore, according to EU law, Greece should not return migrants to Turkey. This situation has increased pressure on Greece to accept and support increasing numbers of migrants. No new deal between Turkey and the EU has been reached yet.

Greece’s Actions

In August 2020, Greece was accused of refusing over 1,000 asylum seekers that arrived from Turkey by sea, turning them away in rafts. Pushbacks at land borders and police brutality have also been reported in the last year. These actions go against the EU’s laws regarding respect for human rights. It also goes against the obligation to not return asylum seekers to dangerous environments. The Greek government denies these allegations, suggesting that Turkey is responsible for conducting a misinformation campaign to diminish Greece’s credibility.

However, credible footage and interviewed victims have recently added to the mounting evidence that Greece is not upholding the standard of human rights required by the EU. To ensure the protection of human rights and those of asylum seekers, the UNHCR is currently investigating reports of Greece’s abandonment of migrants. The organization is also supporting migrants’ rights within migrant camps in Greece.

Migrant Camps and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions of the thousands of migrants currently located in migrant camps in Greece, on both the mainland and the islands. Greece’s measures have generally been beneficial in controlling the spread of the virus; however, the migrant camps lack specialized sanitation and healthcare and have become increasingly overcrowded since arrivals spiked in early 2020. These circumstances contribute to an environment that is particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, the Greek government has tightened restrictions on the movement of migrants in camps. Major outbreaks within the camps have been prevented, but some camps, like those in Moria and Lesbos, have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and imposed strict lockdown measures to avoid spreading the virus. The camps are also routinely providing thorough health checks. Furthermore, in an effort to address the overcrowding of migrant camps, officials have been relocating migrants to hotels or apartments, which sometimes reduces the availability of public services.

In Search of Solutions

Greece’s migrant crisis has continued since 2015 and has recently been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, tensions with Turkey and an increase in asylum seekers. Despite the country’s best efforts to control the situation, migrant camps in Greece are under extreme pressure.

In September 2020, UNHCR officials visited Greece to assess the situation and create a plan to help Greece cope, focusing especially on accommodation and the COVID-19 response within migrant camps. The UNHCR is now working with Greek authorities to implement accommodation transitions and cash-based assistance programs. It is also calling upon the EU and its member states to increase their support for Greece through financial assistance and the relocation of asylum-seekers.

Through these measures, Greece’s new and current migrants are receiving support until the EU can provide increased assistance. Solving the migrant crisis in the long-term, however, will require coordinated efforts between the EU, surrounding nations and humanitarian organizations.

Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr

Fragility, Conflict and ViolenceFragility, conflict and violence (FCV) is among the largest threats to development, continuously putting both low-income and middle-income countries in danger of inescapable poverty. Addressing FCV is a top priority for the World Bank specifically, as the organization considers it an essential problem to solve in order to both end extreme poverty and promote collective prosperity. Alongside other global organizations working towards peace, the World Bank looks to address FCV in the hopes of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16 for peace, justice and strong institutions.

Understanding Through Numbers

The World Bank estimates that as many as two-thirds of those in extreme poverty could live in FCV environments by the year 2030. Even today, conflict accounts for almost 80% of the world’s humanitarian needs and conflict is estimated to worsen gross domestic product (GDP) growth by two percentage points annually. Sadly, the number of people living close to conflict, which includes those within 60 kilometers of at least 25 conflict-related deaths, has more than doubled since 2007.

As of 2019, almost 80 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of FCV settings. Of that 79.5 million, four out of five of those displaced have been in those conditions for at least five years. And, startlingly, more than two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Today, all five of these countries face significant fragility, conflict and violence, sparking refugee crises and general instability.

What is Being Done

The World Bank has developed a Fragility, Conflict and Violence Strategy in its IDA19 Special Theme documents. The proposed four pillars in the strategy involve: “pivoting to prevention, remaining engaged in conflict, escaping the fragility trap and mitigating FCV externalities.” Given that the World Bank has tried to reduce FCV conditions in the past, this newly developed strategy is focusing on improving the organization’s response to mitigating risks and is focusing on partnering with a more diverse group of stakeholders.

So far, the World Bank has found mixed success in its efforts to reduce fragility, conflict and violence. In Cameroon, the World Bank shaped the policy of the government to better protect refugees, using its reputation and finances to leverage a stronger policy. In Lebanon, its cash transfer program focused on host communities, making the program more inclusive to even the communities that feel excluded by humanitarian organizations providing aid to refugees. However, while the emergency cash transfer program implemented in Yemen was successful in that it helped millions buy food, the approach was unorganized and many humanitarian efforts overlapped, resulting in duplication and inefficiency.

In today’s world, fragility, conflict and violence stand as one of the largest threats to global peace and stability, for not just low-income countries but middle-income countries as well. The efforts on behalf of the World Bank prove not only that this is an urgent humanitarian issue, but if solved well, these efforts can work to end extreme global poverty.

Olivia Fish
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

UNRWA
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was specifically created to help Palestinian refugees after the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. The Palestinian refugee problem has only grown since its formation, so the U.N. has allowed the agency to continue operating.

Palestinian refugees are unique. Every person who was a resident or a resident’s descendant of what is now Israel all have a legal designation as ‘refugees.’ UNRWA now serves four generations of Palestinian refugees, having grown from serving 750,000 to 5.6 million.

The United States Pulls Funding

The United States pulled its funding from UNRWA in 2018. President Trump cited the reason behind the defunding as the agency’s incompetency. The United States had previously been contributing about $355,000 million of UNWRA’s budget.

The United States’ decision affected refugees who rely on UNRWA’s aid for education, health care, protection and basic human needs like food security. In 2017, reports determined that 39% of Palestinian refugees lived in poverty, and very little effort has occurred to assimilate Palestinians into host communities.

Palestine, Israel and the international community, in general, see the United States’ choice as an effort to delegitimize UNRWA and the 5.6 billion Palestinian refugees it serves. Revoking these generations of Palestinians’ refugee status would take away their right to return to their homeland.

Aftermath of Funding Removal

In 2020, the U.N. extended UNRWA’s mandate to the year 2023. However, UNRWA is still struggling financially. Not only did it appeal to the international community to donate a minimum of $1.4 billion for the yearly budget, but it requested another $14 million for COVID-19 emergency aid.

The UNRWA reported that it can only sustain operations until May 2020 with the added health crisis that COVID-19 brought on. It has only raised one-third of its budget. UNRWA’s director stated that the UNRWA must run on a “month to month basis” enduring the biggest financial instability since its creation.

Pleas for Help

The United States made the suggestion to transition the UNRWA’s responsibilities into the hands of the Arab countries that host Palestinian refugees. However, these nations are struggling to fill their own funding gap. Arab countries are suffering from high poverty rates and an influx of refugees from the ongoing conflict in Syria.

UNRWA has also sought the help of NGOs, such as Islamic Relief USA, to fill the funding gap. This is a faith-based organization that works to raise funds and mobilize volunteers for a range of initiatives including UNRWA. It has been helping Palestinian refugees since 1994. Islamic Relief USA has served 1,077,000 people from 2017 to 2019.

The United States government might have cut off funding to UNRWA as a result of flaws within the agency. It might have hoped to delegitimize the Palestinian right of return. Either way, Palestine’s impoverished people need UNRWA’s support. If UNRWA is not successful in gaining new donors, they will lose their access to education, health care and other necessary securities that are human rights.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

Efforts and Solutions for the Refugee Crisis in Mozambique
Mozambique is facing a refugee crisis. Around 600 people have been killed and over 115,000 people are displaced due to violence in Cabo Delgado. Most internally displaced people fled to Pemba, with others opting to escape to Mocimba da Praia, Ibo Island and Macomia. The region, one of the poorest in Mozambique, is prone to violence, disease outbreaks and extreme weather events, such as 2019’s Cyclone Kenneth.

Conflict in Cabo Delgado

Ansar al Sunna is allegedly responsible for much of the recent violence. It carried out attacks more frequently beginning in 2020. Violence in Cabo Delgado has now spread to most of the province’s 17 districts. Because of the attacks, agricultural workers have stopped planting crops. As a result, there is rising food insecurity and loss of income. In addition, the increased violence is preventing students and teachers from being in schools, threatening to lower the current literacy rate of 44% in the province.

The Refugee Crisis in Mozambique

The most urgent need for refugees is shelter, but this presents several challenges. Dozens of people have been living together in the same home after fleeing violence in Cabo Delgado. Additionally, thousands have been residing in schools set up as makeshift shelters, causing COVID-19 to spread more easily.

Additionally, violence has caused people to abandon numerous hospitals in Cabo Delgado. Before the violence, Cabo Delgado had limited medical infrastructure and hospital space, making it difficult for it to respond to disease outbreaks, like cholera and COVID-19.

Solution for the Refugee Crisis

One possible solution is to increase coastal security. Natural gas fields are located off the coast of Cabo Delgado, and the groups use this as an opportunity to smuggle drugs.

Another potential solution is for greater regional cooperation in southern Africa. According to Mail & Guardian, this is difficult because of Mozambique’s aspiration to have control over the situation and using armed forces to commit human rights violations, such as accusing IDPs of being the perpetrators of violence and treated as criminals. While military action might be necessary, there needs to be a regional response to poverty and security in the province to stop violence in Cabo Delgado. The South African Development Community would spearhead this. This organization consists of 16 countries, including Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Cooperation is necessary to protect stability throughout the region.

Organizations That Alleviate Refugee Crisis in Mozambique

Various organizations have taken steps to help alleviate the hardships the refugees face. This includes a collaboration between the United Nations Development Program and Japan. Through a $643,000 grant, more than 3,000 households and roughly 16,000 people in poverty will receive help. The grant aims to address the root causes of poverty to help alleviate violence. Meanwhile, the United Nations Refugee Agency committed $2 million in February 2020 to address the issues in Mozambique. This includes helping roughly 15,000 people through additional resources and representatives on the ground. Similarly, in July 2020, The European Commission agreed to provide 65 million Euros to several countries in southern Africa. About 5 million Euros will go to Cabo Delgado specifically to address security, food, shelter, disaster readiness and health care relief efforts, with emphasis on COVID-19 relief.

Within Cabo Delgado, The Bishop of Pemba has been one of the loudest voices for humanitarian aid. He recounted the violence of churches burning and suffering destruction by insurgency, the growing humanitarian crisis and the importance of aid to the region. As a result, Vatican News described him as a “voice of the voiceless.” In April 2020, he said that it was complicated to tell whether all of the violence was government-sponsored or a result of extremist groups. The Bishop of Pemba claimed that even though the province has offshore oil, the government’s failure to address poverty and unemployment has only led to more exploitation in the region. Through his appeal to The Vatican, The Bishop was able to get Pope Francis to mention specifically the humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado in his Easter message.

Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Flickr