Child Refugees in MexicoIn recent years, Mexico has become an increasingly significant place of asylum. More than 70,000 refugees have submitted asylum applications in 2019, and despite an initial drop in applications in 2020 due to the pandemic, COVID-19 claims for asylum in December 2020 hit a record high. The well-being of child refugees in Mexico is of particular concern.

Child Refugees in Mexico

People are arriving in Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela in search of safety, local integration, Mexican residency and a pathway to U.S. citizenship. In 2020, one in five refugees were children. With such alarming demographics, it has been essential for Mexico to address its overwhelming influx of asylum-seekers and find solutions to protect those vulnerable, especially children.

COVID-19 has heightened poverty among child migrants. Child refugees in Mexico are escaping forced recruitment, gang violence and crime that is a daily reality in their Central American countries. This has resulted in displacement, food scarcity and poverty. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of insecurity amongst these children have only increased, with about 5,000 children (60% unaccompanied) returning to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

COVID-19 has devastated children and families as extended lockdowns, school closures, stalled essential economic activities, neglected migrant reparations and rising violence has escalated vulnerability. Children seeking asylum are most affected by the virus due to the lack of access to safe water, sanitation and other essential services. Restricted access to international protection and regular migration pathways are other obstacles they are facing as they search for safety.

UNICEF has responded with efforts guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action that focus on providing 2.3 million children and their families, including children affected by human mobility,  protection from the exposure of COVID-19.

Trump Policy Endangers Child Refugees

Since the Trump administration’s 2019 Remain-in-Mexico program, 70,000 non-Mexican refugees have been waiting in asylum camps for their U.S. court hearings in northern Mexico. Within this group, 700 children have crossed the U.S. border alone as their parents wanted them to escape the terrible camp conditions and show themselves to U.S. border officials since unaccompanied minors cannot be returned to Mexico under U.S. policy and law.

CBS News reported that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been able to house all children who had left their parents in Mexico and 643 of them have been released to family members in the U.S. Although this is good news, the Justice Action Center has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its plan to deport children with circumstances like these, threatening their safety if they go back to their home country. The NGO, Human Rights First, has complied more than 1,300 reports of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and assault against migrants returned by the U.S.

Mexico Enlists Reforms to Protect Child Refugees

As of November 2020, Mexico has approved reforms that apply to children in all migration contexts, accompanied or not. The reform will put an end to immigration detention centers for boys and girls and instead will be referred to alternative accommodation. It will also allow international protection and eligibility for temporary humanitarian visas to prevent deportation or return until the migrant child’s best interest can be resolved.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is collaborating with associated government agencies, U.N. sister agencies and civil society organizations to certify that referral procedures and appropriate shelter capacity are arranged.

Mexico’s Solidarity Plants Seeds for Progress

For a country that has been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants desperately seeking asylum, Mexico has responded with compassion and an assertion to reform its immigration policy. This combined with other humanitarian efforts will provide monumental aid and help eradicate the suffering of child refugees in Mexico.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Struggles of RefugeesFact or fiction, books are a great way to create empathy and understanding of the real-life experiences of other people. An experience that is not uncommon yet unique to each individual who has lived it, is the global refugee struggle. There are many books that tell the stories of refugees and contemporary fiction books are only one example of a genre that can raise awareness through storytelling. Raising awareness about the struggles of refugees through books and literature helps encourage more humanitarian efforts directed at helping refugees.

Kiss the Dust

Published in 1994, this historical fiction book by Elizabeth Laird takes place in 1991. Tara is a 12-year-old Kurdish girl living in Iraq during a time when conflict was high between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Kurds. After her father’s involvement with the Kurdish resistance movement, Tara and her family are forced to flee to Britain, where her whole world changes completely. Though “Kiss the Dust” is more about Tara and her family’s struggles as refugees living in London, there is also a lot of focus on the Kurdish resistance movement in 1991 and the trauma that many experienced because of it. There is also an emphasis on overall trauma from war-ridden areas, something that has lasting effects on refugees.

The Red Pencil

“The Red Pencil” was written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and published in 2014. Inspired by a true story, it revolves around 12-year-old Amina living in Darfur, Sudan, in 2003. She nearly loses everything when her village is attacked, and after, she and her family are forced to find a refugee camp on foot. This book describes the struggles of her journey to the refugee camp in Kamal as well as her struggles while living in the camp. Due to the trauma, Amina stops speaking. Eventually, one of the relief workers gives her a red pencil which she uses to begin her journey of recovery. While describing Amina’s journey, the book also highlights Sudan and its prolonged conflicts and wars, showing how many Sudanese people have been forced to flee their homes throughout the years, making Amina and her family only one of many Sudanese refugees.

The Bone Sparrow

Written by Zana Fraillons and published in 2016, “The Bone Sparrow” follows a young boy named Subhi who was born in an immigration detention center in Australia. His mother and sister were part of the flood of Rohingya refugees who escaped their homeland due to the genocide of their people. Because he spent his entire life behind fences, Subhi struggles to curb his curiosity about the outside world. His only access is through his mother’s stories and his imagination. Eventually, he meets a girl on the other side of the fence who contributes to his journey of freedom, imagination and knowledge about the world. Through Subhi’s struggles, the author illustrates the refugee struggle of not having a place to truly call home. The story also shines a light on the Rohingya genocide and the number of refugees created as a result, a conflict still going on today.

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles

Enaiatollah Akbari was 10 years old when his mother sent him to Pakistan from Afghanistan, to protect him from the Taliban, portraying the many years the Taliban have been creating conflict in areas around Pakistan and Afghanistan. Published in 2010, the novel by Fabio Gada revolves around Akbari’s five-year journey as he travels through Iran, Turkey and Greece, eventually ending up in Italy at the age of 15. Throughout his journey, he encounters many hardships. This story highlights a refugee’s journey of loss and rebuilding.

The Good Braider

Published in 2012 by Terry Farish, this book is about a Sudanese family escaping war in their homeland and eventually ending up in Portland, Maine, a place with a lot of other Sudanese immigrants. The community of Sudanese refugees in the United States portrayed in this book shows the impact of the current and previous conflicts in South Sudan. The main character, Viola, struggles to balance the differences between her Sudanese heritage and the culture of the United States. By portraying Viola’s struggles within a Sudanese immigrant community, this book highlights the communal struggles of refugees and immigrants living in the United States.

The Unique Struggles of Refugees

Though the characters are fictional, all of these stories are based on real-life events that forced thousands of people to flee their homes. From war to genocide, each book highlights a unique yet similar set of events that the characters experience, based on their history, setting and context. These different perspectives not only allow people to empathize with victims of history but also bring more of an understanding about the lives of refugees and encourage more humanitarian efforts to address this global issue.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

Central African RepublicOne year after repatriation efforts began, refugees from the Central African Republic are returning home. Although repatriation operations began in November 2019, the return of refugees from the Central African Republic was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Enhanced health and safety precautions made their return possible. The United Nations Refugee Agency, a U.N. agency responsible for protecting refugees, organized the implementation of health and safety precautions. Measures included the use of masks and temperature screening. Handwashing stations were also installed to prevent the spread of disease.

Central African Republic Refugees

Repatriation efforts began after security conditions in the Central African Republic improved. Stability in the country has developed at a slow pace. Less violence in regions of the Central African Republic known for volatile shifts prompted the voluntary return of refugees.

Beginning in 2012, violent confrontations between armed factions throughout the Central African Republic forced more than 500,000 people to flee. Thousands more went into hiding, often in the wilderness, where access to food and clean water is scarce. A staggering rate of poverty among citizens of the Central African Republic reflects years of political instability.

Poverty in the Central African Republic

Both domestically and abroad, refugees from the Central African Republic experience rates of extreme poverty and hunger. The Central African Republic was one of the last two countries on the 2018 Human Development Index ranking. Combined with the political instability of the nation, the Central African Republic’s low development score contributes to the nation’s high rate of poverty.

With a population of a little less than five million people, almost 80% of the country’s people live in poverty. While political instability is a major factor that contributes to the high rate of poverty in the country, meager production rates, insufficient markets and pronounced gender inequality also contribute to the high rate of poverty. Additionally, it is estimated that nearly half of the population of the country experiences food insecurity.

Alarmingly, almost 90% of food insecure individuals in the country are classed as severely food insecure, which is nearly two million people. This has particularly devastating effects for children aged between 6 months and 5 years old. More than one-third of all children within that age range are stunted due to lack of appropriate dietary nutrition.

The World Food Programme Alliance

In partnership with the government of the Central African Republic and other humanitarian organizations, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided emergency food and nutritional assistance to nearly 100,000 people, in 2018. This assistance was delivered to individuals who were affected by the violence that resulted from the coup in 2013, the civil violence that was unleashed by competing factions after the coup and the violence that continued through 2017, as hostility between armed groups was reignited. This method of the WFP’s humanitarian aid involves the distribution of food packages and the implementation of nutrition activities for children and pregnant mothers.

Time will tell whether refugees are returning to a country that will eventually provide for them. Through various initiatives, including Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress, the WFP hopes to turn civic, humanitarian functions over to the country’s government.

Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress

Both the Food Assistance for Assets and Purchase for Progress initiatives were designed by the United Nations to help partner nations achieve objectives set by the ‘Zero Hunger’ Sustainable Development Goal. Food Assistance for Assets “addresses immediate food needs through cash, voucher or food transfers.” Its response to immediate needs is paired with a long-term approach. Food Assistance for Assets “promotes the building or rehabilitation of assets that will improve long-term food security and resilience.”

Purchase for Progress works in tandem with Food Assistance for Assets. It is a food purchase initiative, whereby the WFP purchases more than $1 billion worth of staple food annually from smallholder farms. This food is used by the WFP in its global humanitarian efforts. Meanwhile, its ongoing investment in smallholder farms contributes to national economies.

Through the initiatives of the World Food Programme and its dedicated efforts for humanitarian assistance and hunger eradication, the Central African Republic will hopefully reach a point where its citizens never again have to flee the country they call home.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Sesame Street's Rohingya MuppetsSesame Street is developing two Rohingya muppets to help refugee children overcome trauma. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by fostering access to education. Poverty affects all aspects of life. Children who live in poverty suffer from many physical, intellectual and emotional complications. Child stunting, for example, is a result of nutrient-deficient diets, repeated infection and a lack of psychosocial stimulation in the first years of a child’s life. This has dire long-term outcomes for children, including impaired intellectual development. Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets aim to improve the intellectual development of Rohingya children, which directly affects education, and in turn, poverty.

Stunting and Malnutrition in Rohingya Children

The Rohingya people are a stateless Muslim minority group who have lived in a state of flux, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, since they were forced to flee Myanmar. They were violently persecuted by the Myanmar military, an instance of ethnic cleansing. Close to 800,000 Rohingya refugees have escaped to Bangladesh. It is common for refugees to live in refugee camps within Bangladesh.

A group of refugee camps, located in Cox’s Bazar, was the subject of a 2017-2018 study on the rates of stunting and malnutrition in Rohingya children. The study found that the rate of stunting “dropped from 44% to 38% in the main camp.” Although it is positive that the rate of childhood stunting declined, the rate of childhood stunting still remained dangerously close to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical health emergency threshold of 40%.

Additionally, the rate of acute malnutrition dropped from close to 20% to nearly 10%. Childhood deaths declined. The rate of diarrhea, caused in some instances by dehydration or bacterial infection, also declined. Nonetheless, these rates remain too high to relieve concerns and the situation is still described as dire.

Malnutrition affects a child’s developing brain, impacting education and reducing the ability of a person to lift themselves out of poverty.

Sesame Street’s Rohingya Muppets

The majority of humanitarian funding is deployed to address acute effects of poverty like stunting and malnutrition. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing on education and intellectual development. Sherrie Westin is the president of social impact for Sesame Workshop and she identified that “less than 3% of all aid is used for education.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets consist of two characters, Noor Yasmin and Aziz, to connect with Rohingya children on an intellectual and emotional level. Westin feels that without intervention by Sesame Street, Rohingya children risk growing up unable to read and write or do simple math.

Westin cited scientific research as the basis for her concern. Similar to the way inadequate dietary nutrition and disease lead to physical stunting, stress and trauma stunt brain development. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by providing emotional and intellectual support to Rohingya children who have endured trauma.

BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Lab

In Bangladesh, Sesame Street partnered with BRAC. BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Labs are designed to help children learn through play and recover from emotional trauma in the process. BRAC designs its play labs to resemble settings that are familiar to the children it works with. In Bangladesh, this means that Rohingya children are surrounded by “motifs and paintings significant to Rohingya culture.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets reflect an integral part of BRAC’s approach. Children relate best to characters that they can identify with and they flourish in settings that are familiar and comfortable. BRAC’s success speaks for itself. Close to 90% of the kids that BRAC works with complete the fifth grade of schooling.

Sesame Street Addresses Rohingya Poverty

While the humanitarian crisis among Rohingya refugees is ongoing, recognition of the long-term effects of stress and trauma on intellectual development is crucial to lifting the Rohingya out of poverty. Education alleviates poverty and negating the effects of trauma will allow for proper intellectual development to take on educational endeavors. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing its attention on the intellectual development of Rohingya children.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Benefits of Hosting RefugeesIn 2019, the U.N. Refugee Agency reported that there were about 26 million refugees globally. An estimated 68% of refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. Refugees exist in a state of flux, with their futures and fates in the hands of potential host countries. Refugees are one of the world’s most vulnerable groups yet the idea of hosting refugees comes with hesitancies due to misinformation and misconceptions. There are several benefits of hosting refugees.

Refugees Bring Productivity

There is a misconception that refugees come into a host country and subsist on benefits instead of working. Though not every country allows refugees to work, those that do allow this, see just how productive refugees are. Often unable to use their credentials in other countries, refugees are known for starting from the ground up and they are effective at it. Economic advisor, Phillipe Legrain, estimates that 1,000 refugee businesses could generate $100 million each year. If host countries loosen restrictions and allow refugees to expand their job opportunities, it could significantly improve the economies in host countries.

This would also mean making language learning classes and integration courses more accessible, but in the long run, the fiscal rewards outweigh the cost. Countries that allow refugees to work and open up businesses know that the influx of productivity is one of the major benefits of taking in refugees.

Refugees Enrich Culture

Some fear that accepting refugees means that the native culture will disappear. According to Anna Crosslin of the International Institute in St. Louis, cross-cultural understanding is vital for integration. Events like the annual Festival of Nations, which is run by the International Institute, not only help expose St. Louis residents to other global cultures but also help immigrants feel more at home. Even though there are differences between each culture, most cultures are incredibly similar at their core. Refugees are fleeing the same things ordinary citizens fear: families being torn apart, the right to vote being taken away, lack of education and more.

Refugees do not aim to disrupt the culture of their host countries but enrich it. They may bring with them different practices, foods and religions, but in the end, most people have similar ideals.

Refugees Stimulate the Economy

The more people participating in a country’s economy the better. Economic activity alone is one of the many benefits of taking in refugees. There is an initial investment required when allowing refugees into a country. Housing, language classes, healthcare, sustenance. All of these things cost a significant amount of money to provide, but once refugees are established in their host country, the initial investment pays off.

Refugees start businesses that employ locals, pay taxes and generate wealth. In countries with an aging workforce, young refugees entering the workforce complement their work and allow them to retire, while also contributing to social security or pension funds. Being able to work and make money, in general, allows refugees to stimulate the economy of their host country. Refugees allowed to work and enterprise are great for an economy, much more so than refugees that are not allowed in or not allowed to work.

Refugees Complement the Job Market

There is a misassumption that refugees take jobs away from their host country’s job market. Most studies conclude that refugees have very little effect on the job market at all. The U.S. State Department’s analysis of the labor market over a 30-year period showed that not only did refugees not negatively impact the job market, but they had no effect when compared to regions with no refugee population.

The work migrants do actually fill in the job market. In the United States, it is migrants doing much of the hard, physically demanding work like farming and cleaning meat and fish for consumption. These are jobs that not many native citizens want to do. The economic benefits of taking in refugees are also seen in areas with low domestic migration. In these places, migrants offer an economic boost that native citizens do not.

Refugees Bring Novel Skillsets and Knowledge

Many cultures make rugs, but who makes them like the Persians? Who can delicately remove the meat from a poisonous pufferfish like a Japanese sushi chef? Every country and culture has something that makes them stand out, something that they can teach and share with others.

Refugees offer language skills that natives might not. Many already have professional qualifications from their home countries. Most refugees exhibit a high degree of adaptability, a skill that is important in every industry. To top it off, organizations benefit greatly from diversity, experiencing greater profits, collaboration and retention than organizations that are not as diverse. Though refugees are not the only way an organization can become more diverse, the experiences, skills and perspectives gained are some of the greatest benefits of hosting refugees.

Welcoming Refugees

Resistance to accepting refugees is often due to misconceptions. Native citizens fear a disruption in their economy and culture. But in actuality, refugees stimulate the economy, enrich culture and supplement the job market. Better understanding the benefits of hosting refugees will hopefully mean that countries globally will be more accepting of this vulnerable group, realizing that benefits are provided on both sides.

– Maddey Bussmann
Photo: Flickr

Greek Roma
In Greece, tensions remain high between citizens of Greek descent and the Greek Roma. The Romani people, a historically disadvantaged and impoverished community, are spread throughout Europe and the world. Originating from India, the Roma migrated to Europe around the ninth century C.E. They have since built homes and lives for generations in countries such as Greece, but nevertheless continue to face ostracism and persecution.

History of Problems

In Greece specifically, tensions have risen between the Romani and non-Romani Greeks since the economic crisis in 2009. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Taso Lagos, professor at the University of Washington School of International Studies and researcher of the conditions of the Roma in Greece, said that for non-Romani Greeks, the unemployment rate at the time was “as high as 30%,” but for the Roma, “went up to 60%.”

Ten years after the crisis, the Romani people in Greece still face extreme poverty. A recent staggering report showed that while approximately 20% of the general Greek population is at risk for poverty, the same is true for nearly 100% of the Greek Roma.

According to Professor Lagos, there are 351 Roma settlements throughout Greece. In these settlements, many Roma “live in tents where [they] have no running water, no central heating,” and “no indoor plumbing.” Some also live in permanent housing such as caravans, but conditions there are also frequently bleak.

In the early 2000s, the Greek government set out with a plan to improve conditions for the Roma, but many say that these efforts were unsuccessful and that most communities are in the same conditions as before.

Causes of Poverty

There is an ongoing debate over what causes this vicious cycle of poverty affecting the Roma. Many people attribute it to a problem of wide-spread lack of education. More than 90% of Roma children in Greece do not attend pre-school or kindergarten. Slightly less than 50% of Roma children will never receive any formal schooling.

In the case of Romani girls, especially, education is a primary concern. Many are married as teenagers and are expected to run households. Therefore they are unable to finish high school. Others exit the school system early due to perceived dangers and stereotypes Romani people hold about the general Greek community. Professor Lagos explained that many Roma girls do not finish high school because “their parents regard Greek schools as denizens of vice and licentiousness.”

Further, the Romani children who do attend school are frequently the victims of bullying. Sometimes the early recipients of prejudice, these children endure stereotypes that they are dirty, drug-users, or thieves. These perceptions and stereotypes run deep in both communities. They continue to add to the problems affecting the wellbeing of all Greeks.

In one instance, a young girl was taken from her family when her caretakers were accused of kidnapping her. This proved to be false through DNA evidence. But many Roma continued to receive backlash and criticism from the general population following the event.

Signs of Progress

Years later, there remains ongoing misunderstanding and lack of communication between the two groups. However, some believe that there is hope for improving relations between non-Roma and Roma. This will improve other conditions for the Romani people.

Recent subjects inspiring calls to action for the Greek Roma include:

  • Health and COVID-19: As the virus continues to spread throughout Greece, the Roma are at a greater risk for infection, often lacking access to clean water and sanitation practices. Many cite the pandemic as being a primary example of the need for better healthcare and living conditions for the Roma.
  • Education: Teacher training programs that are focused on the education of Roma students with respect and understanding of their unique struggles and adversity have grown in popularity in Greece. These programs encourage the safety and wellbeing of children while in school and destigmatize Roma students.
  • Integration: The EU funded a program to last from 2014-2020 in which part of the proceeds (totaling approximately .8 billion Euros) would be designated to helping integrate the Roma community into greater Greek society, combatting social exclusion. As around half of Greek Romani people live in the margins of Greek society, this is especially important to influence all other aspects of improvement.

Another group that is affecting positive change for the Greek Roma is the Panhellenic Association of Greek Roma. This organization, which began in 2007, has afforded over 50 Roma people grants. These grants help them establish businesses, connect community members with social and emotional support and provide legal support to those struggling with housing.

Professor Lagos spoke on the importance of communication between the Roma and non-Roma of Greece. He argued that it is critical “to institutionalize community dialogue between regular people”. This, he said, “would have a huge impact.”

Aradia Webb
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Jordan

While known for political stability in a region associated with civil wars and political violence, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan does have its fair share of struggles when it comes to the economy. Poverty in Jordan is the outcome of many factors shaping the country’s economic struggles. The kingdom has a scarce amount of natural oil stock in its eastern desert, and the country is heavily reliant on foreign importing to meet its energy needs, constituting up to 30% of its total imports.

The country also happens to experience a wide range of issues like meeting only half of the population’s water demand, only 2.6% of its land being arable, an average labor participation rate of 38.1%, an unemployment rate of 23.9%, millions of refugees from Iraq, Palestine and Syria and a debt crisis consisting of 95% of the kingdom’s gross domestic product. All of these issues tend to result in very problematic numbers for poverty in Jordan.

Effects of Poverty on Jordan’s Youth

While poverty in Jordan affects people of all ages, a look at Jordan’s children tends to give a grim view. The population of children in Jordan is around 3 million. Of this number, 0.6% of them are considered to be multidimensionally poor, which is defined as deprivation regarding health, education, living standards as well as experiencing poor quality of work, hazardous environments, disempowerment, and living under the threat of violence.

Poverty in Jordan tends to particularly affect the refugee populations. The number of Syrians in Jordan living below the country’s poverty line is 78%. For Syrian children, 94% of those of age up to 5 years old experience multidimensional poverty. When it comes to malnutrition, 17% of the children are malnourished due to poverty in Jordan. The infant mortality rate is 31 per 1,000 children.

Green Innovation

One of the issues that relate to poverty in Jordan, as previously mentioned, is the issue of resource shortage. Addressing this is one way to combat one of the effects of poverty in Jordan. To overcome those challenges, the Hashemite Kingdom is spending more than $5 billion in renewable energy as a way to become more self-sufficient. Solar energy is already saving money for the local population with one religious clerk saying the bills necessary to generate electricity for his mosque used to be up to $18,350 per year. Now, that cost has gone down to near zero.

In 2012, 11 renewable energy projects were launched in the Maan province alone. Since then, the growth of the kingdom’s reliance on green power has resulted in 11% of the nation’s total power relying on renewables in 2019. It is estimated 15% of today’s households have solar-based water heating systems. This investment in renewable energy will make Jordan less dependable on foreign oil markets. It will also drive economic growth through job creation. An estimated 40 million new jobs could exist by 2050. Meeting energy demands, self-sufficiency, reducing the costs of power and economic growth will help in alleviating the poverty in Jordan. This will have a direct effect on children, the most powerless and vulnerable to the effects of poverty in Jordan.

– Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Saving the Venezuelan EconomyA combination of poor leadership and crippling sanctions have created a nation-wide economic crisis in Venezuela. The Center for Strategic and International Studies found that even before U.S. sanctions were placed on Venezuela, the country was already enduring hyperinflation, had seen food imports fall by 71% and more than two million Venezuelans had fled the country. Nevertheless, sanctions only exacerbated the crisis as Torino Economics found U.S. sanctions on Venezuela were associated with an annual loss of $16.9 billion in oil revenue. As a result, the Atlantic Council reports that more than 80% of Venezuelan households are food insecure and 3.7 million individuals are malnourished. Consequently, refugees filed more asylum claims globally in 2018 than any other country has. The number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees is expected to reach eight million in 2020, surpassing Syrian migration by more than three million. Reforms in the county are being implemented with the aim of saving the Venezuelan economy.

Saving the Venezuelan Economy

While this economic collapse still ravishes the country, there is certainly hope for the future. Due to both internal and external pressures, the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has begun to encourage policies of economic liberalization and privatization that are indicating an economic rebound.

Toward the end of 2019, Argus Media reported the Venezuelan government was beginning to ease economic controls. Specifically, the Maduro government erased most price controls, loosened capital controls, tightened controls on commercial bank loan operations, and most importantly, began to accept informal dollarization. Immediately these policies curbed the levels of hyperinflation that had caused the food crisis across the country. Advisers estimate inflation to be at only 5,500%, a significant improvement compared to the International Monetary Fund forecasts that predicted inflation levels of more than 10 million percent. This is largely in part to the importation of dollars into the Venezuelan economy, pushing out the uselessly-inflated Bolivars. Indeed, a Bloomberg study found Venezuela’s economy is increasingly dollarized, as 54% of all sales in Venezuela by the end of last year were in dollars. Most importantly, food and medicine imports have rebounded, now reaching 15% of the population.

Privatization of the Oil Industry

In addition to the Maduro government relaxing economic controls, the economic rebound in Venezuela has occurred due to increased privatization of the oil industry. Despite being under the control of the military for years, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company has trended toward letting private firms handle operations, aiding in fixing the mismanagement perpetrated by the military’s control of the industry. For the first time in decades, the private sector accounted for more than 25% of GDP in 2019 and likely more by the end of 2020. Consequently, the Panam Post reported that oil production increased by more than 200,000 barrels, a 20% increase following privatization.

Initiatives to Help Venezuelans in Poverty

The South American Initiative, through its medical clinic, provides medical care and medicine to Venezuelans in need, with a special focus on mothers and children. To provide these essential services, it relies on donations that people provide on the GlobalGiving platform.

Fundacion Oportunidad y Futuro addresses hunger and malnutrition with regards to children in Venezuela. It is running in an initiative to provide meals to 800 school-aged children in Venezuela. It also operates through donations via the GlobalGiving platform.

The Future of Venezuela

While there is hope to be found in these reforms, Venezuela has far from recovered. The National Survey of Living Conditions indicates that more Venezuelans are in poverty in 2020 than in 2018, with food security decreasing another 7% over the past two years. The average income of Venezuela remains low at just over 70 U.S. cents a day. These reforms are the foundational steps needed to begin to reverse the economic trend that has relegated millions of Venezuelans to extreme poverty. If the economy is ever to correct itself, liberalization and privatization will be the jumping-off point for an economically thriving Venezuela in the future.

– Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr

The Khaled Hosseini Foundation
The Khaled Hosseini Foundation was formed in 2007 after Hosseini traveled Afghanistan with the U.N. Refugee Agency. He noticed the desperate need for intervention in the impoverished villages, as many of these families were barely surviving on $1 a day. After being exposed to these vulnerable populations of women, children and refugees, Hosseini started the foundation to provide these people with the basic resources needed to survive.

The Foundation’s Goals

The Khaled Hosseini Foundation operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works tirelessly to help the people of Afghanistan. Specifically, the foundation focuses on providing the following services:

  • Humanitarian aid and shelter to poverty-stricken families
  • Economic opportunities for women
  • Healthcare and education for children

Supporting Nonprofit Work

In the past few years, an abundance of work has been done through the foundation. A primary method of their work centers around their Omid Grants. Reviewed on an annual basis, The Khaled Hosseini Foundation gives out grants to nonprofits providing humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. The number of grantees continues to grow, but some of the most notable organizations funded by The Khaled Hosseini Foundation include:

  • U.S. Fund for UNICEF: The “Let Us Learn” program targets five impoverished countries, including Afghanistan, and works to educate children in remote areas who face either social or educational exclusion. In Afghanistan, the “Let Us Learn” program helps Afghani girls complete their secondary education through an accelerated program.
  • UNHCR: Afghanistan possesses the largest refugee population in Asia and the second largest in the world. In response, the UNHCR works to provide core relief items and emergency shelter assistance, as well as protect internally displaced people. The Khaled Hosseini Foundation has donated more than $1 million to UNHCR and provided homes to more than 3,200 families through this organization.
  • Afghan Connection: Founded in 2002, Afghan Connection works to bring educational and sports opportunities to children, especially girls, in Afghanistan. Afghan Connection has created 46 new schools that have served more than 75,000 children. The Khaled Hosseini Foundation heavily supports its Community Based Education Program based in the Takhar Province in Afghanistan.

Raising Fundings With Literature

As an author, Hosseini uses the funds raised from the sale of his books to support humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. The proceeds from Hosseini’s latest book “Sea Prayer” are being given to the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, as well as the UNHCR and the U.N. Refugee Agency.

“Sea Prayer” was published in September 2018, which marked the 3 year anniversary of the death of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee. The content of this novel reflects the cause behind the fundraising initiative; “Sea Prayer,” written in the form of a letter, tells the story of a father and son who are fleeing war-torn Syria in hopes of finding a better life.

On the need to support refugees in Afghanistan, Hosseini stated, “We all have an individual duty to let our friends, our families, our communities, our governments know we support refugees, that we want to see the expansion of safe, legal pathways for those in need of international protection, and when, if they should reach our own doorstep in search of safety and sanctuary that we welcome them. We can show solidarity #WithRefugees in so many different ways. Please take action today.”

Moving Forward

Khaled Hosseini, known for his riveting written works, has been working tirelessly to help vulnerable populations in Afghanistan. The Khaled Hosseini Foundation is the most principal example of this effort, fighting for women, children and refugees. Moving forward, it is essential that efforts by the foundation and other related organizations continue in order to help bring these groups out of poverty.

Hope Shourd
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Lebanon
Conflict has impacted Lebanon over the past few decades, including civil war, revolution and occupation. As a result, many children in Lebanon grow up and live in harsh conditions. Here are five things to know about child poverty in Lebanon.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Lebanon

  1. Poverty by the Numbers: There is severe inequality in Lebanon as 5-10% of the population receives more than half of the total national income. Around 25-30% of Lebanese people live in poverty. Refugees and other populations face an even higher rate of poverty. For all of these groups, families with children are more likely to live in poverty. Current estimates say 1.4 million children in Lebanon are living in poverty. This affects their ability to receive an education, adequate nutrition and water and future standard of living and employment.
  2. Education: An estimated 10% of children in Lebanon do not attend school. The schools that do exist are low quality in both education and the physical state of the buildings. The poor education in Lebanon causes less young people to acquire jobs in technical or competitive fields. Armed and violent conflicts in Lebanon have also damaged school buildings. Furthermore, children’s access to education is hindered by the 1925 Nationality Law, in which only children with Lebanese fathers receive citizenship. If a child’s only parent is their mother or the father is not Lebanese, public schools will not admit them until all other Lebanese children are enrolled.
  3. Child Labor: Lebanon has lower rates of child labor than many of the surrounding countries, but still 7% of children work. Many of these children work to support their families, though their salaries are often low. Boys often work in factories or agriculture which have inhumane and very harsh working conditions. Lebanon has signed on to the ILO’s Convention on Child Labor, but this has not decreased child labor.
  4. Refugee Children: Lebanon has a very high number of refugees living inside its borders because of its geographical location. These refugees come from Iraq, Syrian, Palestine and more. The majority of refugees live in extreme poverty. Refugee children often work in poor conditions to make money. Many also suffer from mental health problems due to their trauma. In refugee camps, children face many dangers, including domestic violence, drug use and minimal health care and basic hygiene. Lebanon has not ratified the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and does little to protect these people living inside the country. The country also lacks the resources to address children’s mental health problems, but NGOs are working to provide more medical help inside the refugee camps.
  5. Reducing Child Poverty: The Government of Lebanon launched the National Poverty Targeting Program in 2011. The World Bank provided technical and financial assistance to this program to provide a safety net for families living in extreme poverty. Families are chosen based on level of food security, labor force status and other variables. This program currently helps 43,000 households, although more than 150,000 families are in extreme poverty and more than 350,000 qualify are in poverty. The families benefiting from the program receive a “Hayat Card,” which gives them access to free health care and educational services, and the poorest receive a debit card for food.

Children in Lebanon are still heavily affected by poverty, whether it is through health care, education or labor. Refugee children and girls are particularly vulnerable as they lack basic rights under law. Although strides have been made in recent years to eradicate poverty, the government and other organizations must prioritize addressing child poverty in Lebanon.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr