Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Lebanon is currently experiencing an economic crisis that, according to the World Bank, is one of the most severe economic crises worldwide since the 19th century. The impact of the crisis is widespread. More than 70% of Lebanon’s population currently lacks access to basic necessities such as food. Not even the wealthy are insulated from the impact of the current crisis, as previously affluent families are being pushed into poverty. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are particularly vulnerable to the crisis.

The Status of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Approximately 1.7 million refugees are believed to be living in Lebanon as of 2020, with 1.5 million originating from Syria. Of these Syrian refugees, more than 80% are not legal residents, placing them in a precarious position. Syrians who have legal status either entered the country before 2015 or have a sponsor in the country. These Syrians must also pay a $200 fee every year. Lebanon practices non-refoulement of refugees, which should protect the right of Syrian refugees to live in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese government implemented policies that streamlined the process for Syrians to leave Lebanon in 2020 and expressed interest in having Syrian refugees return to their country of origin.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon often struggle to access services such as educational opportunities despite having the legal right to attend public schools. Because they typically live in temporary or informal housing, it can be difficult for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to locate Syrian refugees in order to help them. Factors such as language barriers can also present a challenge to Syrian refugees. Approximately 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live on less than half of the Lebanese minimum wage.

Syrian Refugees in the Lebanese Economic Crisis

Due to political instability, debt, banking problems and economic stagnation, Lebanon entered its current crisis in October 2019. Prior to October 2019, approximately 55% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon lived in poverty, demonstrating that the Syrian refugee community needed support even prior to the crisis. Today, approximately 90% of Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty, showing a significant increase in poverty levels during the economic crisis.

As poverty levels among Syrian refugees in Lebanon increased, the value of Lebanon’s currency, the Lebanese pound, decreased. Between 2019 and 2021, Lebanese food prices increased by 402%. Consequently, Syrian refugees who generally struggled to afford basic necessities prior to the start of the crisis now have even less purchasing power. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are accumulating debt because they lack the funds to buy everyday necessities. Even for Syrian refugees who can afford everyday necessities, accessing products, such as medication, is proving difficult as pharmacies face shortages.

Not all refugees are equally impacted by the crisis. Syrian refugee households headed by women experience disproportionately high rates of food insecurity. Children in these households are particularly vulnerable to the crisis. Unfortunately, Lebanese child labor rates nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020. Additionally, the rate of child labor is higher in Syrian refugee households headed by women than in households run by men.

The economic crisis is also contributing to anti-refugee sentiments. Prior to the start of the crisis, Lebanese politicians used the pending economic crisis to justify anti-refugee rhetoric. As economic conditions deteriorate for the entire country, native Lebanese people blame Syrian refugees for taking their opportunities away.

Providing Aid for Refugees

Several organizations provide support for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are longstanding aid providers for refugees living in Lebanon. UNHCR Lebanon has prioritized humanitarian assistance to Syrians through cash cards, vouchers and ATM cards in order for them to secure basic necessities at local markets. These purchases, in turn, stimulate the local economy. In 2018, the UNHCR provided cash support of $175 per month to nearly 33,000 Syrian households. Similarly, the WFP provides food assistance to Syrian refugees and struggling Lebanese by providing e-cards credited with $27 at the start of each month so that individuals can buy food from local stores.

As poverty increases in the country, the need for aid to the general population is increasing. With cities such as Tripoli facing poverty rates as high as 85% among their residents, the Lebanese government is focusing on providing widespread relief for the population. The Lebanese parliament recently approved measures to support more than half a million families in Lebanon, fortunately including Syrian refugees.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

Greece's Refugee COVID-19 VaccinationAfter much delay, the Greek government has finally rolled out a concrete plan for vaccinating an estimated 60,000 migrants and refugees within its borders. Announced on June 3, 2021, Greece’s refugee COVID-19 vaccination campaign will use Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine to begin inoculating more than 11,000 asylum seekers on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos.

Greece’s Refugee COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the center-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for failing to make refugees a priority during the country’s vaccine rollout. Mitsotakis’s administration pledged to make refugees eligible for vaccines, but until this recent announcement, the national vaccination campaign had largely sidestepped Greece’s large migrant population.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and others have called the country’s “Greeks-first” policy discriminatory and misguided. Organizations argue that inhabitants of refugee camps are far more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general population due to overcrowding, limited space and lack of access to proper sanitation facilities. Another point of argument is that stopping the spread of COVID-19 within these vulnerable populations can limit transmission in the rest of society, ultimately benefiting the whole country.

Refugees in Greece

The tension between refugee advocates and the Greek government began long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Greece is one of the most popular routes for migration into Europe from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. After crossing from Turkey, migrants often end up in Greece waiting for their asylum claims to process.

Resentment between Greek citizens and migrants has been steadily rising over the years and the Mitsotakis government has adopted an increasingly tough stance on illegal migration that has come under fire from human rights organizations.

Multiple groups have accused the government of illegally returning asylum seekers to Turkey or leaving them adrift at sea rather than processing them through official asylum channels. One particularly startling accusation claimed that “13 men, women and children currently residing in a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos were beaten, robbed and forced onto a life raft” by uniformed officials who claimed the group required COVID-19 testing. The Greek government has denied these allegations but humanitarian groups still stand strong in protecting the human rights of migrants and refugees.

Vaccination Challenges for Refugees

Mistrust could hamper Greece’s refugee vaccination campaign. According to officials, only about 15% of asylum seekers in Greece have expressed interest in receiving a vaccine, although the number may increase as the campaign gets underway. Across the globe, many refugees fear that registering with a government vaccination platform could lead to arrest, detention or even deportation. Others fall prey to misinformation or encounter language and digital access barriers.

However, the main reason for limited global refugee vaccinations so far is the dramatic difference in vaccine supply between wealthy and low-income nations. Wealthier countries account for 85% of the world’s administered vaccines yet “85% of the 26 million refugees in the world are hosted in developing countries.” A recent contributing factor to limited vaccine access relates to COVAX, the vaccine initiative providing COVID-19 vaccines to low-income nations. Due to supply issues, expectations determined that COVAX would distribute 190 million fewer doses than originally anticipated by the end of June 2021.

Reasons for Hope

Although the road to refugee vaccination in Greece has been bumpy, the newly announced campaign is still a positive first step toward providing the country’s vulnerable migrant population with access to COVID-19 vaccines. There are also signs from around the globe that refugees will soon be able to receive vaccines in far greater numbers.

As of May 2021, 54 countries have started vaccinating refugees and 150 countries have said either publicly or privately that they will include refugees in their vaccine campaigns. Jordan’s campaign, in particular, has had a strong start. The country was the first in the world to include refugees in its COVID-19 vaccination drive. By the end of May 2021, 30% of Jordan’s refugees had received at least one vaccine dose.

International health officials are optimistic that the vaccine inequality between upper and lower-income nations will soon decrease. In June 2021, the United States announced that it would be donating 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccines to “92 low- and lower-middle-income countries and the African Union” through COVAX. Recent positive efficacy results from the Novavax vaccine should boost global supply even further. Overall, hope is on the horizon as the world comes together in a collaborative effort toward combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jackson Fitzsimmons
Photo: Flickr

Venezuela TPS ActVenezuela is currently experiencing “the second-largest migration crisis” in the world. More than five million people have fled the country in the past five years. Many Venezuelans look to the United States as a potential place of refuge to escape the extreme poverty in Venezuela. To help accommodate the refugees, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL-9) introduced H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. The bill will grant Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status (TPS) and other authorizations.

H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021

Introduced on January 4, 2021, the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 is a bill that would make Venezuelan citizens eligible for temporary protected status, allowing refugees to stay, work and travel in the United States for 18 months from the date of legal enactment if the bill becomes law.

Many Venezuelan refugees had to completely abandon their old lives and seek out a better one without a plan in mind. With 96% of Venezuelans living in poverty, it is clear that there are very few opportunities left in Venezuela. As a result, Venezuelans need support and opportunities to succeed in a country that is not their own. On March 4, 2021, the House referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for further review.

Accepting Refugees Benefits the US

The U.S. is currently experiencing labor shortages in low-skilled jobs in the wake of COVID-19. According to research from The Conference Board, 85% of companies in blue-collar industries are struggling with recruitment. These jobs range from factory work to service jobs with commercial fast food employers.

Venezuelan refugees are eager to work and earn money to provide for their families in essentially any role. Many U.S. citizens are not interested in such jobs and hold degrees that make them more suitable for the white-collar industry. However, most Venezuelan nationals would be more than willing to fulfill these roles. This allows the refugees to earn an income while also helping the U.S. reduce its labor shortages. In this way, the Venezuelan TPS Act will aid the U.S. economy while providing a path out of poverty for Venezuelans.

Federal Register TPS Notice

On March 9, 2021, the Federal Register posted a notice that Venezuela would be granted TPS for 18 months through September 9, 2022, just five days after Congress moved the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. President Biden granted this allowance as part of his campaign promises. This allowance makes 323,000 Venezuelan people eligible to receive the same entitlements expressed in the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021. The bill still remains alive in the House, however.

Columbia is a good example of an open-door refugee policy. Colombia has been a leader in the refugee crisis, granting TPS to Venezuelan refugees for up to 10 years. This has helped nearly two million Venezuelans in the process. It is important to realize that most Venezuelan refugees are not looking to permanently settle in a new country and would rather return to Venezuela once the country is no longer under the dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro. In a survey conducted by GBAO, 79% of Venezuelan refugees said they would be likely to return to Venezuela if the president was replaced by “an opponent of the Maduro regime” and the economy improved.

Extended TPS for Venezuelans

An improved home country is likely going to take longer than 18 months given the scale of the crisis in Venezuela. As a result, the U.S. should grant Venezuela TPS for longer than 18 months. Making this change falls on the members of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship as the Subcommittee is responsible for deliberating and suggesting changes to the Venezuela TPS Act. Increasing the span of Venezuela’s TPS would grant more long-term stability to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees while providing the U.S. with its labor needs.

The Venezuelan TPS Act of 2021 ensures a better future for Venezuelan refugees. Amending the bill to match Colombia’s provision of 10 years of TPS for Venezuelan refugees will provide long-term protection and support as refugees await the end of the crisis in Venezuela in order to return home.

Jeremy Long
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

The Tigray Conflict
Thousands of refugees have fled the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia since early November 2020 to seek safety in eastern Sudan. This has resulted in a full-scale humanitarian crisis. Refugees, many of whom are children and women, have been arriving at remote border points that take hours to enter from the closest towns in Sudan. Most of them do not have any possessions and arrived exhausted from walking long distances over harsh terrain. The steady influx of daily arrivals is exceeding the existing capacity to provide assistance.

The Tigray Conflict

The Tigray conflict is an ongoing armed conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. According to the International Crisis Organization think-tank, the violence in Tigray has left thousands dead and sent tens of thousands of refugees into Sudan. Estimates have determined that the conflict has displaced more than 222,000 people, in addition to the 100,000 people who experienced displacement prior to the conflict. Moreover, the loss of livelihoods, destruction of homes and lack of resources have affected local neighborhoods. As a result, people living in those areas urgently need shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as health and protection.

Humanitarian Efforts

While humanitarian efforts are emerging to provide aid after the Tigray conflict, they remain challenged by the insecurity and bureaucratic constraints throughout the region. As a result, it can be challenging for humanitarian groups to access countrysides as well as Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps.

The U.N. is working with Ethiopia’s government and all relevant interlocutors to aid in the safe passage of humanitarian personnel and the provision of supplies to all parts of the Tigray region. Meanwhile, health facilities in major cities are partially working with limited-to-no stock of supplies and the absence of health workers and facilities outside major cities are not operational.

In addition, UNHCR and Sudan’s Commission for Refugees are continuing to relocate refugees from the border to designated refugee camps. These are further inland in Sudan’s Gedaref State, in support of the government-led response in Sudan. Um Rakuba refugee camp is approaching its full capacity. UNHCR and its partners are swiftly relocating refugees to a newly opened refugee camp, Tunaydbah, in order to keep refugees safe and offer them better quality living conditions.

Humanitarian Funding

In 2020, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, launched an appeal for $147 million to support as many as 100,000 people fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray region into neighboring Sudan. In its appeal document, UNHCR said that it took an anticipated increase of refugees into account during its planning. At the minimum, it planned to be able to help a total of 100,000 by April 2021, whereas at the maximum, it intended to be able to provide aid to an influx of 200,000 refugees.

In November 2020, UNHCR began airlifting aid to refugees, sending the first of four planeloads of supplies to Khartoum. One of the flights to Khartoum brought 100 tonnes from Dubai comprising mosquito net, blankets, plastic sheets, solar lamps, tents and prefabricated warehouses. The intention behind the appeal for $147 million was to fund UNHCR so that it could help Sudan manage the humanitarian crisis over the following six months.

Looking Ahead

CSW’s founder and president, Mervyn Thomas, urged Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to prioritize the protection of refugees within Ethiopia’s borders. These refugees’ forcible return to a country that many deem to have committed crimes against humanity is an appalling violation of international law and humanitarian norms.

Abiy Ahmed needs to take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict and enter into meaningful dialogue with regional representatives who the people of Tigray recognize. People can also call on the government of Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray immediately and end its egregious violations of the rights of Eritreans, both at home and abroad. More nations also need to step up their humanitarian support for the region, including Sudan, which is suffering the brunt of the refugee wave from Tigray.

Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

brazil helps Venezuelan refugeesDue to the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela, many of the country’s citizens are fleeing for refuge in other countries in Latin America. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Venezuelan refugee crisis is among the worst in the world. Currently, more than 5 million Venezuelans are living in other locations because of issues in their home country. These issues include violence, poverty and a plethora of human rights concerns. Of the Venezuelans living abroad, around 2.5 million of them are living somewhere in the Americas. One country hosting these refugees is Brazil. Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees in several ways.

Brazil’s Relocation Efforts

Brazil has gone above and beyond for the Venezuelan refugees that have come to the country for refuge. Many of the Venezuelan refugees resided in the Brazilian northern state of Roraima. However, a relocation strategy that launched three years ago meant 50,000 refugees that were living in Roraima were relocated to other cities across Brazil. This effort is part of Operation Welcome and it has immensely improved the quality of life for Venezuelan refugees, according to a survey that the UNHCR conducted in which 360 relocated Venezuelan families participated.

Within only weeks of being relocated to a new city, 77% of these families were able to find a place of employment, which led to an increase in their income six to eight weeks after relocation. Quality of life improved for Venezuelans who partook in this survey. The majority of them were able to rent homes and just 5% had to rely on temporary accommodation four months following their relocation. This is a great improvement in comparison to the conditions refugees lived in before relocation. Before relocation, 60% of Venezuelan refugees had to rely on temporary shelter and 3% were entirely homeless. This relocation effort is a significant way in which Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees.

Brazil’s Social Assistance

Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees with its social assistance programs, specifically Brazil’s key conditional cash transfer program, Bolsa Familia. Social assistance programs are designed to help impoverished families, many of which are Venezuelan refugees. Currently, there are low but rising numbers of Venezuelans that are taking advantage of this program. According to the UNHCR, only 384 Venezuelans were using Bolsa Familia in January 2018. More than two years later, in February 2020, this number rose to 16,707. While the number could be higher, the past two years show an upward trend of Venezuelans using this important program to improve their living conditions in Brazil.

The Catholic Church in Brazil Assists

The Catholic Church in Brazil is providing its fair share of help to Venezuelan refugees. A center in the capital of Brazil is hosting Venezuelan migrants relocating from the refugee centers in the Amazon region. The center is receiving support from ASVI Brasil, which has a relationship with the Catholic Church, and Brazil’s Migration and Human Rights Institute. The effort was designed to support Operation Welcome, the Brazilian government’s initiative to address the Venezuelan migration crisis. The center will be able to house 15 Venezuelan families at a time and will rotate families every three months. The center will ensure working people from families have a safe place to live before moving on.

Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees by providing several forms of support. Many of these Venezuelan refugees have left their country because of unimaginable conditions of poverty and violence. The support from Brazil allows these refugees to avoid the hardships of poverty and secure shelter, basic needs and employment in order to make better lives for themselves.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Matamoros Refugee CampNot until 2019, under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program (MMP), has a refugee camp existed on a United States border. After two years of operation, on February 24, 2021, the Matamoros refugee camp closed and the U.N. Refugee Agency began its in-person registration of the 750 people who lived there. The MPP policy forced people seeking asylum in the U.S. to remain in Mexico until their cases could be heard in U.S. immigration court.

The Matamoros Refugee Camp

The influx of immigrants to the U.S. border can be attributed to root causes of “economic problems, ongoing violence, worsening corruption, challenges to democracy as well as the devastating impact of the coronavirus.” In 2017, the majority of immigrants from Central America were from El Salvador (39.7%), Guatemala (27.2%) and Honduras (18.6%).

An asylum seeker is defined as “a person who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country.” Since the implementation of the MPP, roughly 70,000 people made the difficult choice to leave their country of origin to seek asylum in the U.S. and about 70,000 were returned to Mexico. A refugee camp thus formed in Matamoros, Mexico, located on the southern bank of Rio Grande, directly across the border from Brownsville, Texas. At this camp, hundreds, and at times, thousands of people wait for the duration of their immigration proceedings.

The conditions of living at the camp posed serious health risks. Furthermore, as of December 2020, there were more than 1,000 reports of “rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent attacks” against asylum seekers at the U.S. border. In addition to the risks posed at dangerous border towns, the camp faced deteriorating conditions, including a lack of access to water and sanitation. In juxtaposition to the peril faced in a crowded refugee camp, there were celebrations within the community of residents. People formed church groups and tent schools. They celebrated quinceaneras and fell in love. The refugees at the Matamoros camp showed resolve to find some level of normalcy within a period of uncertainty and fear.

Organizations Supporting the Camp

Resource Center Matamoros (RCM) is a humanitarian organization that has become a staple of social support for immigrants at the border. Gaby Zavana, the organization’s co-founder, told The Borgen Project that there were no medical resources and no infrastructure in the early days of the camp.”We initially provided food, tents and blankets, but that shifted to providing an office building for the refugees to have access to legal teams, medical teams and social support services.” The work that Zavana does within the RCM is multi-faceted. She explained that as the organization expanded, RCM started to take on the role of camp management.

Zavana says that RCM prioritized public health issues by setting up temporary camp showers so that people would not have to bathe in the river. Additionally, RCM targeted camp infrastructure, paving walkways and helping people construct better home structures and kitchens. The work of RCM extends to lobbying the Mexican and U.S. government and advocating on behalf of the asylum seekers at the U.S. border.

Angry Tias and Abuelas, the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2019, is an organization based in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. The organization has engaged in efforts to provide food to the hungry, visit the imprisoned and comfort people stranded at the border. It also set up stores in the Matamoros camp to supply essential items like diapers and cooking utensils to the migrants, free of charge.

Fixing Immigration Policy

The Biden administration announced in late February 2021 its plans to close the Matamoros refugee camp, terminate the MPP and dedicate $4 billion to address the underlying causes of migration from Central America. The administration has started processing migrants and all of the residents of the camp have now moved to await their hearings in the U.S. When asked about the environment of the camp upon hearing the news of its impending closure, Zavana told The Borgen Project that the residents were unusually quiet. The quietness could signify a deep, silent reflection of their experiences at the camp and futures in the United States.

The number of people coming to the border has increased dramatically since the termination of the MPP. Zavana says that “a big portion of RCM’s work has gone to the camp so the closure of the camp can free up resources to focus on new arrivals.” RCM is currently working on an interim shelter to house new arrivals until more shelter facilities open up.

The Road Ahead

The tides are shifting for asylum seekers at the U.S. border. The Matamoros refugee camp provided some level of security for thousands of people fleeing persecution, violence and poverty in hopes of receiving asylum in the United States. The efforts of organizations like the Resource Center Matamoros allowed camp residents to live with more dignity and humanity. The Biden administration’s upheaval of Trump-era immigration policy is promising for the past residents of the Matamoros refugee camp.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Palestinian Refugees
Prior to 2018, the United States was the largest contributor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA provides educational, medical and other resources to Palestinian refugees. While poverty rates of Palestinian refugees differ from country to country, about 25% live in overcrowded, unstable, underfunded and often unsafe refugee camps.

The services that UNRWA provides are vital to Palestinian refugees suffering from poverty. As a result, when diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Palestine severed, the organization lost 30% of its annual funding and basic resources became limited. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent financial crisis occurring, UNRWA’s resources have experienced severe strain.

In a United Nations press briefing in November 2020, UNRWA Spokesman Tamara Alrifai said, “Despite the immense efforts to raise sufficient funds in 2020 to maintain UNRWA’s critical services to 5.7 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, as of yesterday November 9, UNRWA has run out of money.” As a result, the organization had to cut pay for its 28,000 employees, most of whom were refugees themselves, during a global pandemic and international financial crisis.

Twenty-seven days into his presidency, President Joe Biden promised to restore diplomatic relations, including aid, with Palestine. These are three ways that impoverished Palestinian refugees may benefit when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Palestine resume.

Medical Care

Over 3 million refugees rely on UNRWA’s medical services for basic medical care. Because UNRWA’s financial crisis is also happening during a global health crisis, the biggest strain has been on the organization’s medical services. Medical facilities have been running low on supplies, staff and medicine. The strain on medical services disproportionately affects Palestinian refugees.

Seham al-Lahem, a young expectant mother, and other Palestinian refugees have requested that UNRWA cover their medical fees at a non-UNRWA facility. “We have been hearing of the financial problems facing UNRWA, and it has left me worried about my delivery and the medical services provided to me and my newborn,” said Seham al-Lahem. With the financial struggles facing UNRWA, it is possible that she may not receive the cash she needs to pay for her delivery.

Palestinian refugees are three times more likely to die from the virus than the general population and must rely on local governments to receive vaccines. In Lebanon, for example, 6,200 Palestinians have already registered to get the vaccine. However, in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Palestinian refugees rely on Israel to provide vaccines. Israel has not, as of yet, provided the Palestinian territories with any doses.

UNRWA Commissioner-General has cried out for global help to provide vaccines for Palestinian refugees in the territories and in the diaspora. “I am counting on the international community to ensure the availability of vaccines to refugees worldwide, including Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and throughout the region,” he said. It is possible that, with U.S. funding, it would be more feasible for UNRWA to connect Palestinian refugees living in the territories with vaccinations.

Food Assistance

UNRWA’s food assistance program is also under strain due to the pandemic. The organization is now asking for its donors to provide additional funds so that they can feed 1.2 million Palestinian refugees experiencing hunger. UNRWA’s food assistance programs are absolutely essential for those facing rapidly declining financial conditions. In Gaza, 75% of refugees lack the ability to put food on the table. To remedy this, UNRWA currently provides food packages to 620,310 refugees and cash-credit to another 389,680 to ensure that all Palestinian refugees meet their daily caloric goals.

Education

There are over 526,000 students in 711 UNRWA elementary and preparatory schools. These UNRWA-run schools provide books, school supplies and mental health counseling. Although UNRWA schools have stayed open despite funding cuts, the organization struggles every year to meet educational funding needs. Every year, the organization, parents and students worry that schools might not be able to open up again.

This uncertainty threatened the future of Palestinian refugee children. Education is important for children to gain the confidence, knowledge and connections required to transcend their socio-economic situation.

Schooling also meets a social need for child protective services for refugee children. According to the UNHCR, teachers and counselors at refugee schools often connect children experiencing abuse and violence with the appropriate resources. With restored funding from the U.S., UNRWA children, parents and teachers could thrive without worrying that educational opportunities may cease at a moment’s notice.

The US’s Opportunity to Embrace Humanitarianism

UNRWA’s services are essential to the health, food security and education of Palestinian refugees. The organization provides basic resources to an economically and politically vulnerable population. No political situation should ever get in the way of basic human needs such as access to food and healthcare. Therefore, it is vital that the U.S. include the restoration of funding to UNRWA in its plan to re-extend diplomatic relations to Palestine.

– Monica McCown
Photo: Flickr

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

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

Demographic Changes

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

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

New Integration Efforts

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

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

Opportunities in Rural Areas

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

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

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

Arising Challenges

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

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

Hope for Rural Resettlement

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

– Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees' Integration
Integration happens in the workplace, neighborhoods, schools and public spaces. However, problems can appear when many people enter a host state in the same period of time when they have different cultural and religious backgrounds. The European migration crisis is an example of this when a high flow of asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Europe in a short span of time. Syrian refugees’ integration presents Germany with some significant challenges.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

To clearly understand migration, it is essential to study terminologies. There are significant differences between the terms “asylum seeker” and “refugee.” An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In the E.U. context, “asylum seeker is a third-country national or stateless person who has made an application for protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention and Protocol in respect of which a final decision has not yet been taken.”

Meanwhile, refugees are “people who have successfully applied for asylum and have been granted a formal refugee status according to the Geneva Convention of 1951 (GCR) or due to authorizations to stay for humanitarian reasons due to specific national legislation.” In 2015, Europe nearly received 1.3 million asylum applications and almost one-in-five asylum seekers came from non-European countries. The leading origin countries of the asylum seekers were Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Asylum seekers from Syria numbered 378,000 (29% of all Europe’s asylum seekers).

The Flow of Refugees into Germany

The pull factors for asylum seekers are safety and security but they take economic factors into consideration as well. Better economic opportunities make the E.U. an attractive destination among asylum seekers. They risk their life to use dangerous and sometimes deadly routes to reach Europe. As a member state of the E.U., Germany was the essential destination country for asylum seekers. In 2015 and 2016, 1.2 million asylum seekers registered in Germany of which Syrian nationals were the leading group of origin of asylum seekers. In total, 424,907 Syrian refugees applied for asylum in 2015 and 2016.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy is the fundamental reason Germany is a top destination among asylum seekers. In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during her speech at the Federal Press Conference, announced emphatically, “Wir schaffen das,” meaning “We can do it,” effectively committing to a permissive asylum policy. Several days later, she stressed that there is no legal limit to the number of asylum seekers that Germany will try to accept from Syria. After permitting a significant number of Syrian refugees to enter Germany, integration became the main goal.

The German Integration Model

In Germany, there are several numbers of different stakeholders involved in the integration process of asylum seekers and refugees. The recognized refugees can participate in the labor market. The federal authorities of the country are responsible for implementing a legal structure for the integration mechanism. They also control language courses and access to the labor market.

The municipalities have a crucial role in the integration process and must implement federal or regional legislation. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) is responsible for evolving asylum applications and the execution of general and vocational language courses for refugees. Local education schools carry out the language courses, and in most cases, adult education centers or language courses are responsible for the courses. Furthermore, The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ control, assists asylum seekers and refugees in developing their skills and finding jobs.

Legislation for Migrants

Since late 2014, the German government enforced several new integration policies and changes that aimed to ease the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. In 2016, the new Integration Act emerged to promote mandatory participation in language training and civic orientation. Also, the hours of orientation courses increased from 60 to 100 hours. Still, the structure of language courses remained the same. Under the Integration Act, the condition of receiving permanent residence permits depends on the outcomes of integration. Refugees can obtain permanent residence cards after five years and they should reach the A2 level in German and ensure that they can finance their means of subsistence. Moreover, since January 2016, the government monthly pays was 670 euros per asylum seeker.

The responses of the German government still show room for improvement for better integration of refugees. Nonetheless, the fact that Germany has allowed so many asylum seekers access to it may have helped prevent catastrophe. At the same time, Germany’s new integration policies are helping Syrian refugees obtain better opportunities.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr