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NGOs in Turkey
Turkey has the largest refugee population in the world, hosting more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and about 320,000 refugees from other countries. With mass amounts of people migrating to Turkey, there are several complications that must be accounted for, one being the issue of accessible education for those entering the country. Listed below are three NGOs in Turkey that have been helping refugees and local students access educational resources.

Darussafaka Society

Five young male scholars founded the Darussafaka Society in 1863 with the aim of providing quality education and resources to those in need. The Darussafaka Society provides scholarships and academic opportunities to children in need of financial aid or children who have lost a parent. Each year, 120 students receive opportunities from the Darussafaka Society. Its aim is to present equality of opportunity in education to its students, even though its students do not come from financially stable households. Darussafaka alumni have found successful careers in both the public and private sectors in Turkey. Many others have taken the opportunity to study and work abroad. As the Darussafaka Society boasts more than 155 years of experience, it is currently working to provide online learning options due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including international programs, through a virtual format.

Turkish Educational Foundation

The Turkish Educational Foundation (TEF) is one of the oldest educational philanthropic NGOs in Turkey, as it has been in service for about 51 years. Unique to the other NGOs, TEF is based in Berkeley, CA, allowing it to have more international connections and resources than foundations solely based in Turkey. TEF’s primary objective is to provide accessible education to those in need regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. Each year, TEF supports 1,000 Turkish students with their programs. It offers several unique programs for international volunteers including a Youth Group which works to fundraise and communicate their message, and an English Learning Program where students can learn from English-speaking volunteers from around the world. TEF is currently working with its Youth Group to maintain the program’s success throughout the COVID-19 pandemic via virtual fundraisers and events.

The Imece Initiative

The Imece Initiative, one of the most prominent NGOs in Turkey, has been working since 2014 to provide education services specifically to Syrian refugees in Turkey. One of the Imece Initiative’s primary beliefs is that education should not undergo distribution based on a child’s ethnic background, but that education should be accessible to everyone. “We wanted to create a community free of political and religious considerations,” stated founder Ali Güray Yalvaçlı. “To give the opportunity for anyone, regardless of their background, to contribute with their skills and time to help those in need.” One of its most notable projects is The Solar Age Project, which supports women refugees in Turkey by teaching them life skills that help them in finding employment once they undergo establishment in the country.

With organizations like these, it is easy to see that there are lots of opportunities for both refugee and native students in Turkey to receive the best education possible. Though it can be easy to lose oneself in the negative effects of poverty in the world, organizations like the ones introduced above provide hope for a better future of education for all.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Iraq
Iraq has endured decades of armed conflict. Since 2014, around 3 billion families have experienced displacement. According to the United States of America for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.S.A for UNHCR), more than “6.5 million Iraqis…including 3 million women and girls, require humanitarian assistance and protection.” Maintaining a sense of normalcy is difficult, significantly, if war and political strife exacerbate this struggle for normalcy. Many refugees in Iraq are without power and often cannot afford to keep it on. Simple chores, like doing laundry, become arduous tasks that could take all day to complete. Thankfully, one man’s trip to India proved successful in alleviating the onerous obstacle of handwashing clothes.

Sawhney’s Development of Machines

Navjot Sawhney, whose parents fled from unpartitioned India, always had an interest in humanitarianism and helping those in need. He was first inspired to create the manually operated washing machines after watching his next-door neighbor struggle with her laundry in India. The woman’s name was Divya and, upon returning from his trip, Sawhney developed the plans to create something that would make someone like Divya endure less physical strain when doing laundry.

While only volunteering at the time, Sawhney relied on his former career in engineering to develop the hand-cranked washing machine named after his neighbor. The devices, named after Divya, undergo construction in the U.K. and weigh about 5.5 kg per unit. They also wash, clean and dry clothing. Sawhney eventually developed the Washing Machine Project in 2018 and has received orders from around 15 other countries. Among the countries receiving the Divya, Sawhney has been vigilant in providing a sufficient amount for the families of refugees in Iraq.

Impact of Washing Machines

The Divya’s functionality and convenience make laundry less of an all-day task for displaced families, especially women. According to Sawhney, the long-term goal of this invention was to give women of displaced families their time back, potentially granting them a greater opportunity for an education. In 2019, Sawhney and other Divya engineers traveled to Kurdish, Iraq, to donate the machines. The displaced families, particularly the women, reacted positively to the devices. Sawhney gushed, “We have developed partnerships with large international NGOs and a funding pipeline.”

Plans for Invention

Even though Sawhney’s sojourn inspired the Divya in India, it essentially has not rolled out in the country yet. Sawhney intends to distribute the Divya to other displaced families in India, Lebanon and Uganda, among other countries. With the machine relying solely on 10 liters of water, its small size and minimal requisites make it easy to transport to other countries. Its success in Iraq proves that this machine will make the lives of those abroad even more accessible.

The Divya is still a relatively recent technological and environmental innovation, but a quiet strength lies in its smallness. This little gadget turns something time-consuming into something trivial, showing the effects of small acts of kindness and concern for others and the significant impact on populations.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Relocate Afghan Refugees
The Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal has left hundreds of thousands of Afghans either displaced or seeking refuge. The United Nations has estimated that
 up to 500,000 Afghans will flee Afghanistan by the end of 2021. As a result, as the Taliban’s power continues to grow, countries across the globe have opened their doors to help relocate Afghan refugees. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one global organization that is taking a lead in this relocation work. The IRC helps relocate Afghan refugees in Mexico, Uganda and Pakistan.

About the International Rescue Committee

Founded in 1933, the IRC responds to catastrophes and humanitarian crises across the globe. Since its inception, the IRC assists those who have had to relocate by providing them with lifesaving care and long-term stability. To date, the IRC operates in over 40 counties and 22 U.S. cities offering a range of support to people who have been uprooted and are struggling.

How the IRC Helps Relocate Afghan Refugees

For the past 30 years, the IRC has worked to provide aid to Afghanistan and continues to amid the ongoing crisis. On August 31, 2021, the IRC announced that the Mexican government will welcome 175 refugees arriving in Mexico City. Throughout its history and to date, Mexico has been a safe haven for those seeking refuge. Upon their arrival, the IRC provides urgent medical care, welcome kits, COVID-19 PPE and Psychological First Aid (PFA) to those who need it. The IRC has also announced plans to provide refugees in Mexico with cash cards to communicate with families still in Afghanistan.

Uganda is a second country that works with the IRC. Since 1998, Uganda and the IRC have supported over 1.5 million refugees and are currently working with the United States and United Kingdom embassies to provide asylum for Afghan refugees. Similar to Mexico’s approach, upon arriving in Uganda, refugees receive housing, medical assistance, COVID-19 PPE, sanitary products and temporary immigration cards. IRC staff onsite in Uganda have also provided refugees with a 24/7 medical clinic along with individual and group psychosocial services.

The IRC has also been working with Pakistan since 1980 and the partnership has helped more than 3 million Afghan refugees relocate. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has depleted much of Pakistan’s resources and ravaged its economy, Pakistani officials have assured temporary asylum for new refugees coming from Afghanistan. The IRC helps Afghan relocate refugees arriving in Pakistan by supporting them through cash assistance, health care, job training and “child-friendly spaces” where children can play and attend school in a safe environment. 

Types of Support the IRC Receives

  • Donations. The IRC website offers multiple avenues for people to donate. The Rescue Gifts page includes hundreds of gifts ranging from baby kits and survival kits to a year of school for two girls. People can also make a one-time or monthly donation that will go towards providing refugees with medical care and other emergency assistance. The IRC spends 87% of all donations on programming.
  • Volunteers. Volunteers help coordinate community outreach in various areas by hosting donation drives or working internships to get hands-on experience with refugee resettlement. They also help refugees adjust when they make it to the U.S. by hosting refugees in their homes with IRC’s partner Airbnb.
  • Community Support. Individuals can call their representatives and mobilize community members to contact their representatives. In addition, you can work alongside the IRC’s Policy and Advocacy team in the fight for policies and legislation. Text RESCUE to 40649 to start taking action

A Promising Future

The road ahead will be tough for Afghanistan and for the Afghan refugees. Nevertheless, the IRC’s support will change the course of the refugee crisis one donation at a time. 

– Sal Huizar
Photo: Flickr

Vaccinating refugeesVaccine rollout plans around the world often overlook the world’s 26 million refugees. A whole 126 countries have refugee populations of more than 500 people. As refugees make up a significant part of the population, during a global health pandemic, the world will not truly be safe until nations safeguard the health of refugees too. Although many countries are making efforts to protect refugees, barriers remain prevalent. Global inequalities continue to exacerbate the situation. Wealthy countries administered 85% of the world’s vaccines, however, 85% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries that struggle to access vaccines. Bangladesh is prioritizing vaccinating refugees and the rest of the world needs to follow suit by including the most vulnerable populations.

Bangladesh’s Vaccine Campaign for Rohingya Refugees in Cox’s Bazar

In August 2017, spikes of violence in Myanmar forced 745,000 Rohingya citizens to flee into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar is now the world’s largest refugee settlement with more than one million refugees living in the cramped camps.

At the end of July 2021, devastating monsoons in Cox’s Bazar killed about eight refugees and displaced 25,000 people, simultaneously destroying thousands of facilities, including health clinics and latrines. Damaged roads hinder humanitarian access, making Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh more vulnerable than ever.

In addition to the recent natural disasters, Bangladesh is experiencing an upward trend in positive COVID-19 cases. Bangladesh authorities recognize the extreme vulnerability of the refugee population. As such, on August 9, 2021, Bangladesh launched a vaccine drive in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. With the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other humanitarian organizations, Bangladesh plans to vaccinate all refugees in waves. The first cohort includes 65,000 refugees made up of community leaders, health volunteers and anyone older than the age of 55.

The Importance of Vaccinating Refugees

Although refugees seem to be the last group receiving vaccines, the WHO has placed refugees in the second priority group for vaccinations. Refugees fall into the same group as at-risk people and those suffering from serious health conditions because refugees tend to live in crowded communities that lack clean water and basic healthcare, making the spread of COVID-19 cases inevitable. No country can curb the spread of COVID-19 while the virus continues to ravage its way through refugee communities.

Barriers to Refugee Vaccination

Most countries understand how crucial vaccinating refugees is to ending the pandemic, however, these major barriers remain:

  • Language barriers lead to misinformation and vaccine distrust.
  • Online registrations exclude those who lack access to the internet.
  • Volunteers are registering refugees at camps, however, a portion of refugees do not live in camps, they live with relatives or family friends.
  • Many refugees fear arrest or deportation at vaccine sites.
  • Vaccine shortages as some countries like India paused vaccine exports due to rising cases in India.
  • The question of liability — who will take responsibility for refugees that suffer serious side effects from the vaccine?

The world not only needs to make vaccines accessible for refugees but must also make refugees feel safe enough to pursue vaccination. Refugees are among the most vulnerable people on the planet, therefore, it is imperative for the world to join Bangladesh in prioritizing the vaccination of refugees because no one is safe until everyone is safe.

– Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

UEFA and UNHCR PartnershipThe Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is the organization that governs football or soccer throughout the entirety of Europe. UEFA is made of multiple football associations spread across Europe and acts as a representative democracy for these associations. Among the many functions of the UEFA is the promotion of football as a tool to bring forth unity, protection of European football values and maintenance of excellent governance in European football. However, the UEFA has participated in other types of work beyond professional football. UEFA has also partnered with the United Nations High Council of Refugees (UNHCR). The UEFA and UNHCR partnership will benefit refugees forcibly displaced by war and conflict.

The UEFA Foundation for Children

Before the UEFA and UNHCR partnership began, UEFA had long worked to help child refugees with its Foundation for Children. The purpose of this organization is to improve the living conditions of child refugees. UEFA achieves this by supporting several socio-economic and sports projects. The UEFA Foundation for Children notes the negative impacts that war and conflict have on child refugees. It aims to play a part in addressing this.

By participating in sport, children learn essential life skills and values such as “respect, team spirit, diligence, courtesy and personal commitment.” These skills help prepare them for their futures, socially and professionally. Sports also allow a form of healing from the traumas that child refugees might have developed from the crises they live through. UEFA Foundation for Children has run several sports projects across the world. Among them is the Child Safeguarding Certification Programme for Sport-for-Good Practitioners in Europe. The purpose of the project is to train sports practitioners on the fundamental rights of children and how to go about protecting vulnerable populations such as child refugees.

The UEFA and UNHCR Partnership

On May 21, 2021, UEFA and the UNHCR brought their partnership to fruition by signing a “Cooperation Protocol to support refugee access to sport and enhance social inclusion.” The two organizations commit to long-term programs to support refugees and displaced individuals “by harnessing the transformative power of football to assist and uphold their rights and strengthen their integration in their host communities.”

To deliver on these commitments, UEFA member associations on the ground and UNHCR offices throughout Europe will provide support to one another. U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees Filippo Grandi commented on the partnership. He said that wherever his UNHCR travels take him in the world, he sees how football has the ability to unite people. Grandi states further, “Sport provides an opportunity for refugee children and youth to be included — it also has the transformative power to rebuild lives and inspire positive values.” Aleksander Čeferin, UEFA president, asserts that football fosters social inclusion and helps refugees better integrate into society.

The UEFA and UNHCR partnership has just started. As a result, the impact of the collaboration between the two is yet to be seen. However, both UEFA and the UNHCR devote a significant amount of effort to the well-being of refugees, which makes for a perfect team.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Bosnian War ended in 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, yet its impact reverberates throughout the country today. The Bosnian War was a three-year conflict between ethnic groups comprising of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), roughly 80% of Bosniaks died during the war. As a result of the war, homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina became rampant, leaving thousands without shelter. As of 2018, more than 90,000 refugees of the Bosnian War remain internally displaced, many of whom currently live in collective centers across the country. Homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina became a harsh reminder of the trauma endured more than two decades ago. It also serves as a reminder of the enduring challenges of post-war reconstruction.

Homelessness Statistics in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Data regarding the extent of homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina is elusive. There has only been one census completed since the conclusion of the war, limiting the government’s ability to support the homeless. Refugees and internally displaced persons are eligible for housing assistance under the Dayton Peace Accords. However, government monitoring makes the accessibility of these resources difficult.

A study by Hilfswerk Austria International, one of the few studies about the need for social housing in Bosnia, revealed data about the thousands of families who are not eligible for aid under the Dayton Accords. As of 2010, 395 families were living in collective centers. Meanwhile, another 553 families were living in temporary housing such as barracks. Roughly 359 families lived in improvised shelters and 219 families lived on the street without shelter.  Since 2010, social programs have emerged to support the homeless in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Regional Housing Programme

Under the Dayton Accords, the government pledged to close down collective centers by 2020 to find more permanent housing solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons. In the last decade, the Regional Housing Programme has worked to do just that. By 2018, the program had already changed the lives of about 14,000 people. The program has six specific sub-projects with particular goals.

  • BiH1: Securing more than €2 million worth of grant funding, this project provided building materials to 20 families and “reconstruction assistance to 150 families.” The project reached completion in 2018.
  • BiH2: Securing more than €10 million worth of grant funding, this project reconstructed 30 family houses for Croatian refugees with an additional 750 family houses for others. The initiative finished in 2019.
  • BiH3: With an estimated cost of more than €17 million, this project constructed 552 flats for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The initiative reached completion in 2019.
  • BiH4: Securing more than €2 million, this project reconstructed 435 houses for returning refugees. It also constructed 90 houses to support community integration of IDPs. The project finalized in 2019.
  • BiH5: With an estimated cost of more than €10 million, this project reconstructed 550 family houses. The project finished in late 2020.
  • BiH6: With an estimated cost of more than €18 million, 235 family houses were reconstructed and 380 flats were developed for returning refugees and IDPs. The project reached completion in late 2020.

Project Success

In July 2018, Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, visited the newly constructed apartment buildings. “The Regional Housing Programme contributes to the building of peace and coexistence in the region,” Lars-Gunnar Wigemark stated. The ambassador also explained the EU’s plans to continue work on similar projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the housing market. Since the Bosnian War, the Regional Housing Programme has made significant progress in addressing homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Another Refugee Crisis

While Bosnia-Herzegovina continues to address its poverty following the Bosnian War, a new refugee crisis threatens the country’s progress. Since 2018, an estimated 60,000 migrants arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. About 8,000 migrants are currently in Bosnia due to immigration restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of January 2021, 6,000 of the refugees are in housing centers. Now, Around 2,000 homeless people are trying to survive the severe winter in the country.

In December 2020, the situation became increasingly worse, as a fire destroyed a migrant camp called Lipa in the northwestern part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The other major camp in Bihac, just 15 miles north of the Lipa camp, closed in the fall of 2020. Despite the dangerous conditions at the destroyed Lipa camp and requests from the European Union, the mayor of Bihac still refuses to reopen the Bihac camp.

The European Union was specifically concerned with the freezing Bosnian temperatures as migrants who previously resided at Lipa now lacked shelter. In response, the Bosnian military set up 20 heated tents to accommodate hundreds of these migrants. Additionally, NGOs have also been working to support those displaced. Fresh Response, a volunteer-driven humanitarian organization has been aiding refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2019. The organization provides information, referrals for medical support and resources such as sleeping bags, jackets and blankets to those in need.

Moving Forward

Homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina is largely a tale of two converging refugee crises. Social programs and NGOs are working hard to provide for those displaced and have made major progress in helping the country’s homeless population. In the future, a collaboration between the European Union, advocacy groups and different Bosnian cantons will be able to increase safety, security and shelter for homeless people, hopefully ending the crisis for refugees.

Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Separatists in Cameroon
Cameroon is located in Central Africa, bordered by Nigeria. The southwest and northwest regions of Cameroon are Anglophone, while the rest of the country is Francophone. This split in language has been a source of conflict for separatists in Cameroon. Politically, the ruling party within the country is the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement. The party holds 152 of the 180 seats in the National Assembly. In Congress, CPDM rules more than 81% of the Senate. Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, is serving his seventh term since 1982.

Poverty in Cameroon

The poverty rate in Cameroon increased by 12% between 2007 and 2014. A total of 8.1 million people lived in poverty in 2014, with about 56% residing within the country’s northern regions. The Central African Economic and Monetary Community reports Cameroon as having the largest economy within the area that is experiencing an economic crisis. In April 2017, the World Bank’s Country Economic Memorandum stated that Cameroon would become an “upper-middle-income” country by 2035.

Who Are the Separatists?

Separatists in Cameroon are a group in the north Anglophone regions. They aggressively seek independence against Cameroon’s security forces. Starting in September 2017, this fight has progressively displaced more than 500,000 people and killed nearly 400 civilians and more than 200 military and police officers. In March 2019, the U.N. Refugee Agency claimed that 32,602 Cameroonian refugees reside in Nigeria. Of these refugees, 51% are children and 53% are women.

Separatists in Cameroon have kidnapped and killed children at school. In November 2019, the U.N. Children’s Fund found that 855,000 students were not going to school in English-speaking regions. About 90% of primary schools and 77% of secondary schools run by the state were dysfunctional or shut down.

Open to Communication

Currently, the separatist movement has left about 800,000 people homeless and 3 million lives uprooted. COVID-19 increased those numbers, and separatists in Cameroon have recently been fighting for mutual peace through this pandemic. Even though President Biya disapproves of separatists, as he considers them terrorists, a small pro-talks group led by intelligence chief Maxime Eko Eko and Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute has tried to communicate with separatist leaders.

In April 2020, a man named Sisiku Julius AyukTabe, a separatist who is serving a life sentence for terrorism, agreed to talk with Cameroon’s government to explore ways to end the conflict. The meeting occurred his prison cell and accomplished an agreement of understanding. The terms of the agreement are to keep security forces within separatist barracks, to release all prisoners and to always have a third party mediating future discussions between separatists and the Cameroonian government.

The separatist group in Cameroon formed during World War I and started taking greater action against the Cameroonian government in 2017. With the rate of poverty in Cameroon increasing due to COVID-19, the separatists and the government have tried to find common ground in their conflict. With advocates on both sides coming together to communicate with each other, there is greater hope for a peaceful future for both parties.

Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

Statelessness in Thailand
Thailand has one of the world’s largest populations of stateless people with nearly 500,000 registered in 2020. NGOs and human rights activists believe the true number is much higher at up to 2 million. Statelessness refers to those lacking recognition of citizenship by any country. Without having a nationality, people lack access to basic necessities such as healthcare, education and social security. Here is some information about statelessness in Thailand.

Why Are People Stateless?

The cultural heterogeneity and rugged border regions of Thailand have long allowed indigenous cultures to live outside of the modern nation-state framework. Some stateless groups in Thailand’s border regions actively avoided becoming part of the Thai nation-state. They remained separate to maintain their own unique cultural customs. Discriminatory practices toward ethnic minorities by the ethnic Thais have also played a role in statelessness in Thailand.

Ethnic groups such as the Hmong, Akha, Karen and others are traditionally semi-nomadic and live throughout different Southeast Asian nations. They do not identify with one specific nation. In modern times, borders have become more solidified. The relative autonomy of indigenous cultures has largely existed within international borders. For indigenous children born within the Thai borders, their citizenship ties to their parents. These parents often lack documentation to prove that they were technically born in Thailand, which renders children stateless.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Other stateless people in Thailand are refugees from Burmese states just across the border. These refugees have endured decades of armed conflict against the central government. More than 100,000 Karen, Karenni, Shan and other groups arrived in the 1980s and 1990s to refugee camps along the Thai border. They have largely remained in these camps due to instability at home and the Thai government’s unwillingness to grant citizenship. These refugees also lack Burmese citizenship in many cases. With increased political and social instability following the recent 2021 military coup, this protracted refugee crisis will likely persist.

There are also stateless people that others know as the Moken or ‘Sea Gypsies’ in the south of Thailand, along with asylum seekers originating from dozens of countries in the Bangkok metropolitan area. Thai authorities struggle to formulate clear strategies on how to process citizenship requests for the many existing situations. Some can lay claim to ancestry within the modern Thai borders that stretch back hundreds of years. Others are more recent arrivals in need of human rights assistance.

Risk Factors of Statelessness in Thailand

There are innumerable challenges for stateless people in Thailand. Without having Thai citizenship, stateless people cannot travel freely across international borders. As a result, they fear detention and arrest while traveling within Thailand. There are also barriers to accessing legitimate jobs. This puts some at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking in trying to access decent livelihoods.

For young people, the lack of a decent education is a major concern. The Thai government has made an effort to educate all children within its borders, but stateless students are not able to access scholarships for higher education. Lack of access to decent health care and legal representation are other barriers facing stateless people.

Solutions

Since 2016, Thailand has joined one of the central goals of the UNHCR to end statelessness worldwide by 2024 in its #IBelong campaign. The country has taken great efforts to reconfigure citizenship laws to allow tens of thousands to access Thai citizenship in recent years. Leading up to joining the #IBelong campaign, Thailand had loosened citizenship restrictions in 2008 with its amendment of the Thai Nationality Law. Although implementation has been slow, the processing of citizenship claims have ramped up with the help of UNHCR.

There have been highly publicized events uncovering the plight of stateless people, which include the Thai Cave Rescue in 2018, in which several of the rescued soccer team members and their coach were stateless at the time. The Thai government streamlined its citizenship procedures shortly after the rescue operation. The players and their coach had previously not been able to travel freely to play in games outside of their local area.

Increased Awareness

While the sheer number of stateless people in Thailand may make the 2024 deadline to end statelessness difficult to reach, there is more general awareness of the issue. That offers some hope in granting citizenship to large numbers in this population. Much of the recent stateless population is due to conflict in Myanmar, and others should commend Thailand for allowing refugees to remain in relative safety within its borders.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Serbia
As the Hungarian migrant crisis rages on, migrants and refugees living in Serbia face dangerous conditions in the Serbian winter. Currently, 100 people a day are attempting to get to Hungary from bordering countries such as Serbia and Romania. Many migrants, fleeing wars from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, come in masses to the border to Hungary. There, the country is now erecting a massive fence along its Serbian border.

Between January and July 2020, official records state that 90,000 refugees moved into Serbia and another 103,000 moved into Hungary. The European Union estimates that many more are still undocumented. Hungarian border police are calling this movement a new “migrant surge.”

Hungary’s Borders to Migrants

Hungary has been building its 13-foot high razor-wire fence since the migrant crisis of 2015 when more than a million migrants arrived in Central Europe. According to The New York Times, some see the fence as “a very physical manifestation of the quandary of the migration crisis and the lack of cooperation among European Union nations as they struggle to deal with it.” Hungary has defined this issue as a “state of migrant emergency,” since approximately 400,000 migrants crossed its borders in 2015, a flux of numbers that have since slowed to a trickle.

Migrants often experience horror in the form of police brutality, with those in Hungary having to move back into Serbia. A 14-year old boy told BBC about how police beat him up near the Hungarian border, poured cold water on him and forced him to walk barefoot back into Serbia. Of these accusations, the Hungarian authorities responded to BBC, saying, “Hungarian police and soldiers are defending the Schengen border of the EU for the sixth consecutive year, legally and without violence, against illegal migrants arriving on the Balkan route.”

Refugees living in Serbia, awaiting an opportunity to move into Hungary, are living in dangerous conditions. Without access to food, water or heat, many of them find limited shelter in abandoned factories. In the small Serbian town of Subotica, 10 km from the Hungarian border, an estimated 500 men currently reside in unheated tents.

Father Varga

Among the gloom, a glimmer of hope exists for the migrants of Subotica. That hope comes in the form of Protestant pastor Tibor Varga, whom the migrants endearingly refer to as ‘Father Varga.’ Varga has been working with an Eastern European charity for four years. Through his work, he has helped refugees in Serbia gain access to necessary amenities. Daily, Varga brings bread, eggs and toiletries to the migrants. For years, Varga had been the only one assisting those in Subotica. The authorities there supplied only water during the heatwave of July and August in 2020.

During the cold Serbian winter, Varga also brings heating. He builds stoves for the migrants to keep warm out of old barrels in his garden. Varga makes more than three a day. He reinforces the base and walls of the barrel with roof tiles, which a mixture of sand and clay keeps in place. He also manually scrapes off the poisonous red paint from the barrels. Varga then loads each stove, approximately 66 pounds each, into his van. He then drives and delivers them to the migrant camps.

Love and Care

Varga explained that the Hungarian border fence is a cause for concern for refugees in Serbia. However, he said that “looking at the other fences around the world, you can say that these people are very determined to get through it. They have already been confronted with major problems in their lives.” Varga looks at his volunteer work as his Christian mission, saying “these people are desperately in need of help. I hope we can just alleviate this situation with love and care.”

Nina Eddinger
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

9 Facts About IDPs in Colombia
For more than 50 years, Colombia grappled with a civil war that left more than 220,000 dead and millions displaced. The protracted issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) continues in the country despite the 2016 Peace Accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in rural Colombia. Here are nine facts about IDPs in Colombia.

9 Facts About IDPs in Colombia

  1. In 2019, there were approximately eight million IDPs in Colombia. This does not include the additional 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees in the country.
  2. There are still citizens being displaced since the peace agreement in 2016. As of 2019, the number of people of concern in Colombia has increased by 13%.
  3. The government lacks control of many rural regions of Colombia. Although FARC largely demobilized in 2016, there are other armed groups still controlling large swaths of the country that are perpetuating the IDP crisis. These groups are funded by the lucrative cocaine trade, which continues to thrive in unstable regions.
  4. Environmental impacts also play a role in the IDP situation. Colombia has the fourth-highest rate of deforestation in the world, a majority of which occurs in areas of origin for IDPs. Criminal elements and the government share responsibility for environmental degradation.
  5. Human rights activists are at risk. Since the 2016 Peace Accord, more than 400 human rights activists and environmental defenders have been killed in Colombia, many of which were from indigenous communities. These advocates are crucial in establishing crop substitution programs and helping resettle and empower IDPs.
  6. For IDPs living in urban areas, UNHCR and national NGOs have implemented the legalization of informal settlements. This has helped provide better access to government services, energy and the sewage system, along with lessening the stigma of not having ownership titles for housing. This UNHCR project has been ongoing since 2015 and has benefitted more than 24,000 IDPs.
  7. The Opción Legal NGO assists IDPs with reintegration into rural communities through legal means. Reintegration was included in the 2016 peace agreement but it is still in need of better implementation. With the help of funding from UNHCR, Opción Legal operates programs encouraging and strengthening political participation for IDPs. This NGO has assisted IDP populations in regions like Atlántico and Bolívar.
  8.  The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is supporting the implementation of the peace agreement. The agency is seeking out durable solutions to conflict, such as education and job training. The programs have benefitted more than 10,000 Colombians directly and 235,000 indirectly.
  9. USAID is working to build institutional trust in regions with high levels of IDPs. Vulnerable populations in addition to IDPs, such as women, community leaders, migrants and ethnic minorities, are all considered crucial populations for funding and empowerment. USAID also has a strategy to build capacity for youth leaders, which is viewed as a possible long-term solution for peace and self-reliance.

Looking Forward

The 2016 Peace Accord was a big step in working to improve livelihoods for millions of IDPs in Colombia. Although many challenges remain in implementation, the legal frameworks are in place for the country to continue toward its ultimate goals of peace and stability.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr