Special Education in refugee camps
Lack of education is a contributing factor to the cycle of poverty. The 1989 ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’ and the 1951 ‘Refugee Convention’ emphasizes the fact that access to education is a basic human right. However, approximately half of the world’s refugee children are out of schools. Access to schooling becomes increasingly difficult when countries enter conflicts and develop refugee camps.

The United Nations passed the ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ in 2006. The declaration clearly stated disabled peoples’ right to an education. This right is only accessible in 28 percent out of 193 states, and although there are many initiatives to support special education in refugee camps, further support is needed to help refugees with disabilities obtain and maintain the education they need.

Classification of Disabilities

Disability can be categorized into two branches: mental disability and physical disability. A mental disability is any mental disorder that affects the everyday life of an individual, and examples include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, intellectual disabilities and schizophrenia. A physical disability is an impairment of the body and/or a person’s motor abilities. These are either acquired at birth or as a result of a traumatic experience and include cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and amputations.

Obstacles Faced by Refugee Children

Special education in refugee camps is not an easy task to accomplish, and there are many obstacles that refugee children with disabilities must face in order to receive an education. The first obstacle is very simple to notice — the challenge of getting to school. In many large refugee camps, there are typically no more than a few schools that children can go to and children usually walk to school. For people with physical disabilities, transportation can pose a great problem, especially as most infrastructure is not built to accommodate disabilities. For example, an 8-year-old girl named Hayam lives in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan and suffers from muscular dystrophy. Hayam had to take a quarter-mile walk to her school every day, and her illness made this very difficult.

Another obstacle for people with disabilities is the misunderstanding of physical and mental disabilities in many communities. In many cases, people are taught to fear and look down on people who have disabilities. There are situations in which parents of able-bodied children do not want to have students with disabilities in the same classroom as their child for fear that their child’s education will be harmed.

Furthermore, integration into schools for refugee students can be a difficult task due to political, cultural, religious or linguistic differences. It can be extremely hard for schools to deal with these differences and misconceptions if they lack necessary resources, and such status is incredibly harmful to refugee children with disabilities as it can make it very difficult for them to receive schooling. Refugees are also likely to have PTSD and other related mental disorders due to witnessed trauma, and such effects can harshly affect education if there are no treatments for mental disorders that make it difficult for children to pay attention in class or attend school at all.

Organizational Support

UNICEF and Mercy Corps helped 100 students in the Za’atari refugee camps in Jordan. The two organizations have given wheelchairs to students who have physical disabilities and cannot walk. In another part of the world, the Karen Women Organization (KWO) works in Burma to support special education in refugee camps and rights for the disabled. Not only does KWO aim to ensure increased levels of education, but the organization also aims to support and expand care to children who have disabilities and educate the community.

In 2003, the KWO started the Special Education (SE) Project that runs in every Karen refugee camp. SE Project gives instruction to teachers in the schools and families at home to fully maximize the disabled child’s well-being and reach their goal of integration into society. KWO also helps to combat the misconceptions by creating various activities and workshops for those who are able-bodied and those who are not.

A nongovernmental organization helping refugees receive mental healthcare is the International Medical Corps (IMC). The IMC knows that mental illness is a huge limiting factor for education and they work to make sure there are ways that refugee children can acquire treatment. The group works with local partners in refugee camps to create spaces to talk and provide activities for children and adolescents to develop healthy habits and create relationships. IMC connects children to local youth support and sets up sustainable mental healthcare.

An Unalienable Right

Education is an unalienable right of every person, and special education in refugee camps is crucial for enabling the most endangered people to achieve this right. It is critically important that various organizations and governments continue to build systems that support the abilities of all, especially those most vulnerable.

– Isabella Niemeyer

Photo: Flickr

South Sudan Refugees

The South Sudan refugee crisis is Africa’s largest and one of the world’s largest refugee crisis. In April 2018, there were 296,748 South Sudan refugees recorded and around 1.76 million were internally displaced within the country. Although there has been a recent promise of peace and end of the current ongoing civil war in the country that caused these migrations, it is still unsafe for the displaced people to return home.

Difficulties for Return

Although some conflict has subsided in parts of South Sudan since the promise of peace in September, some aid organizations are deeming it unsafe for refugees to return to their homeland. These organizations also believe it is highly unsafe for women and children to return to South Sudan. Around 65 percent of women and girls in the country have reported being sexually assaulted. This, in addition to the high rate of children who have experienced some sort of violence or trauma, creates a hostile environment for vulnerable refugees.

The other factor is that those internally displaced, who are the most likely to return home, have not been adequately informed about their return options or that a safe journey has not been completely planned for them. There is also not sufficient planning for the long term in potential returns areas to provide ongoing aid. There is significant aid manipulation within the country as some armed groups have been known to redirect aid meant for civilians and use it for their own purposes. The government has even restricted aid from certain communities by insisting on that area’s instability.

UNHCR Help

However, the UNCHR has offered an aid solution, rather than having these refugees return to an unstable environment. The organization has recently appealed for $2.7 billion to aid refugees in their host countries and the internally displaced people. Many of the refugees in host countries are living in crowded and unsustainable conditions. In some areas they are only able to access five liters of water per person a day, many schools are without teachers and health clinics are without either doctors or medication. This strain of resources has caused tensions between the refugee and host communities.

The money proposed by the UNCHR plans to help make the communities shared by host nations and refugees sustainable by providing adequate resources for the mass influx of people. The organization believes that social cohesion between the two groups is the key to allowing them to survive and eventually thrive.

Work of the Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also been providing great aid to South Sudan refugees. The organization has been focusing on helping food insecure communities in South Sudan and its host countries by providing emergency relief and sanitation facilities. They have also provided these communities with the means to provide for themselves by equipping them with seeds, farming tools, and fishing nets.

As the UNCHR, ICRC, and other organizations work to help South Sudan refugees and displaced communities become stable and fit for survival, they provide these people with the hope of a safe and meaningful return home. These refugees desperately need aid so that they can survive in their new communities and come back to their home country.

– Olivia Halliburton

Photo: Flickr

Art for RefugeesThroughout history, art has been a respite for many who lived through trauma. Refugees live their lives in an almost constant state of precarity. Refugee children typically have a higher rate of experiencing many mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Art for refugees can help them express their feelings, grow in self-confidence, and develop problem-solving skills. There are a number of art initiatives which aim to help refugees cope with psychological stressors. Some are located in refugee camps, while others are located in resettlement cities, but they all have the same goal of providing an outlet for expression. Some such initiatives are listed below.

The Za’atari Project

The Za’atari Project is an art therapy program started by Joel Artista in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Za’atari is composed of Syrian refugees. This project serves as a bridge between the Jordanian and the Syrian communities and serves as a way to foster further understanding.

Adult artists and educators team up to create programs to enhance the lives of children living in refugee camps. These programs are both expressive and educational. They teach children about topics such as health and hygiene all while fostering healthy ways of articulating feelings. These projects include painting murals, wheelbarrows, tents and kites that allow the children to play.

The Exile Voices Project

Exile Voices is a project started by renowned photographer, Reza. This project offers a photography program to refugees in the age group of 11 to 15 in the Kawergosk camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Exile Voices aims to tell refugee stories through the voices of refugees themselves.

Partnered with the UNHCR, Reza set out to empower these children on how to use the most powerful tool that they have–their own voice. Photographs from many children in the Kawergosk camp were lined along the Seine River in Paris, France in 2015 to show people the importance of art for refugees.

Art for Refugees in Lebanon

In 2017, 1 out of every 6 people in Lebanon was a Syrian refugee. This put significant pressure on schools to make the resources available for education. To tackle rising tensions in schools, the Skoun Association started an art therapy program within schools to help refugee and Lebanese students express themselves in healthy ways.

The art therapy program allows the students to overcome the trauma they experienced and helps to strengthen social bonds. It allows students to see themselves as children first. It also helps them forget the places of disconnect.

The Amsterdam Painting Project

In Amsterdam, refugees are housed in the Bijlmerbajes prison. The Amsterdam Painting Project aims to turn the prison space into something more welcoming, one that is full of renewed hope and life. This project aspires to serve as a bridge within the community and empower refugees to become more involved with one another.

The project was founded by Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn. These two Dutch artists set out to promote community art by improving living conditions. The Project is funded by the Favela Painting Foundation, a group that has also completed projects in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Florence, Italy.

Clothes, food, shelter and other basic necessities will always be required in refugee camps or in resettlement cities. There is, however, also a need to ensure the mental wellbeing of refugees and create an outlet for them to share their experiences. Art is an excellent way to create this outlet. It allows refugees to tell their own stories and to express themselves productively. Most importantly, the idea of ‘art for refugees’ is one of the most effective ways to heal those minds that have been traumatized for a long period of time.

– Isabella Niemeyer
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Lebanon

While the Syrian civil war and other conflicts in the Middle East continue to make international headlines, the refugee crisis caused by these conflicts has slowly faded from the public eye. Many countries around the world are now focused on more immediate internal problems. For Syria’s neighboring countries, though, the refugee crisis continues to be an impactful part of their society.

Lebanon is one of these countries. This country shares most of its land border with Syria, and this made it an obvious place for war refugees to flee. The government has allowed many to remain in the country. Estimates say that there are still more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and this is only part of the country’s refugee population.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Life for Syrian refugees in Lebanon today is complicated, to say at least. While they are allowed to stay within the country, a combination of unfriendly government policies and heavily-strained infrastructure mean that few can maintain a high quality of life. Residency laws are difficult to navigate, leaving many fearful of arrest and open to exploitation.

Good work is hard to find, and 71 percent of Syrian refugees live below the country’s poverty line. This lack of financial resources helps explain why more than 200,000 refugee children were kept out of school in 2016. This education gap will only lead to more economic vulnerability in the long term.

Compounding these difficulties is the legitimate strain that 1.5 million refugees put on a Lebanese population that totals only six million. The Lebanese residents of some host communities are outnumbered by refugees. Since the start of the crisis, government spending and debt have risen while GDP has dropped and expenses have mounted. The economic troubles have heightened perception of refugees as a drain on Lebanese society and many want them to return to Syria. Of course, many Syrians would like to return home as well, especially given the conditions in Lebanon.

With the war continuing to progress, though, the United Nations does not recommend that refugees return. President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and his government continue to make returning difficult even for those that would like to take the chance. Beyond the obvious physical danger of the ongoing conflict, a strict military draft and the threat of property seizure for the many refugees who are left without formal documentation for their homes are harsh deterrents for many people.

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

It’s important to note that Syrians are not the only refugees in Lebanon. A population of around 270,000 Palestinians has settled in a few dozen U.N. camps around the country. Many of these people (or even parents of these people) have been in Lebanon since the Palestinian war in 1948. Today, these camps are essentially considered permanent settlements, and their longevity is part of what has inspired a more aggressive governmental push to ensure that Syrian refugees are only settled temporarily.

Palestinians in Lebanon have always been considered a separate legal class, with restricted access to certain public facilities, educational paths, careers and job opportunities. Many are forced to take low-paying, informal jobs.

The Syrian crisis has made life even more difficult for them, as both refugee groups must now compete for the same undesirable jobs. In 2015, 23 percent of the Palestinian population in Lebanon was unemployed. That number was only 8 percent before the crisis. Conditions are even worse for the 33,000 Palestinians who were living in Syria and have since become refugees in Lebanon as 93 percent of these people are reliant on U.N. aid as their primary source of livelihood.

International Aid for Refugees

While international news has largely moved on from the crisis, international aid continues to be involved in Lebanon and other similarly-strained countries. Thousands of families receive aid from U.N. groups, nonprofit organizations and other groups like the World Bank, to supplement governmental support and their own limited personal resources.

These sources of aid can be effective at reducing poverty, but many have been geared at short term solutions so far. As budgets and international aid dry up, support for the refugees in Lebanon will likely be most effective if it focuses on the long term effects. Groups like Habitat for Humanity are hoping to improve living conditions by building new homes and renovating old buildings as well as water and sanitation facilities. The UNHCR also has plans to shore up Lebanese infrastructure as part of the international effort.

However, with the instability in the region and the ongoing pressure to return to Syria and Palestine mounting, permanent solutions may not be a winning political idea in Lebanon. Time will tell, but in the meantime, it is vitally important not to forget the millions of people- Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese and others- who are still impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis.

– Josh Henreckson

Photo: Flickr

Lampedusa, migrantsIn 2016, more than 65 million people were displaced around the world. While a majority of these people were displaced within their own countries, millions still fleed to search for a new home. Many of them tried and successfully reached Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In popular media, the island Lampedusa began to appear in tandem with the migrant crisis. This article will answer the questions of what is Lampedusa and how it is involved in the refugee crisis.

What is Lampedusa?

Lampedusa is an eight square mile island located in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located roughly 70 miles from Tunisia, which actually makes it closer to Africa than Europe. It is a part of Italy and is populated by approximately 6,000 people.

In recent years, thousands of migrant arrived in Lampedusa. In 2013, over 13,000 migrants came to this small island by boat. This is a sharp decrease from 60,000 people that passed through the island in 2011. However, this large influx of migrants continues and puts a large pressure on the island. What is Lampedusa doing to house migrants?

Lampedusa, being a tiny island with a very small population, does not have the resources or the housing to hold the sharp influx of migrants. The remnants of an old naval base are used to help house migrants while they wait to get sent to another part of Italy to have their case heard.

However, this base only has a capacity of 800 people. In some cases, it used to house thousands of migrants. Migrants are supposed to stay for only a few days on the island but reports have shown that most of them stay for two to three weeks before leaving. During the day, migrants wander the streets since the shelters are only meant to be used during the night.

Migrant’s Health Problems

Many migrants contract diseases in their journeys to Europe due to the fact that they are in overcrowded boats, vans, buses and rafts for long periods of time. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health recently released a study examining migrants headed to Italy and Greece and nearly 40 percent of the participants reported that they contracted an illness in their route to Europe.

Migrants also suffer stress and trauma in their journeys since many are mistreated and abused by smugglers. Some also witness deaths of people traveling with them due to dehydration or suffocation in rafts. If migrants are arriving in bad conditions, what is Lampedusa doing to help them?

Although Lampedusa lacks resources, that does not stop locals from providing food, blankets and other forms of hospitality towards the groups of migrants arriving. The people of the island are helping those who arrive in every way possible, directly affecting poverty reduction of migrants. In 2011, 2014, and 2016, the island was nominated for a Noble Peace Prize for the locals’ generosity.

The Order of Malta

From the more administrative side, the Order of Malta helps Lampedusa with the rescuing and health treatment of migrants that arrive by sea. Since the Orders’ involvement with Lampedusa, it has rescued over 55,000 people. The ships also provide medical services to migrants. Between 2008 and 2013, the Order of Malta provided medical services to over 4,000 people.

As the migrant crisis continues the situation in Lampedusa remains critical. While the people of Lampedusa and the Order of Malta continue to help migrants that arrive, they lack adequate resources to meet all of the migrant’s needs.

However, it is important to acknowledge the work that is being done. It shows that even though Lampedusa is overstretched, its people and communities are still willing to help and harbor migrants in their search for a better life in Europe.

– Drew Garbe

Photo: Flickr

International Rescue Committee

At the end of 2018, a year unfortunately marked by natural disasters and violent conflict, the global community is looking for ways to cope with international extreme poverty levels measuring at 10.7 percent and provide help for the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

Recent figures published by the U.N. Refugee Agency reveal how almost one person is forcibly displaced from its home every two seconds as a result of the conflict, persecution or natural disaster. This vast number of people struggle to access and achieve basic human rights such as education, health care and employment.

According to many in the humanitarian field, this problem is expected to continue and even increase. Natural disaster-related displacement and impoverishment are expected to increase as a result of increasingly severe natural disasters as a product of climate change.

The International Rescue Committee

Although the situation is grim, there are numerous organizations and institutions fighting to safeguard the rights of impoverished and displaced people throughout the globe. One such group, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), has done so since 1933 when it was founded on the suggestion of a prominent group of American intellectuals that included the German-born physicist Albert Einstein.

The IRC, located in the United States, is a humanitarian nonprofit organization that has a mission to respond to humanitarian crises and support the people that are affected by crisis recover from their losses. Operating through 191 field offices in over 30 countries, the IRC has a broad diversity of projects underway that attempt to effectively address crises.

In 2017 alone, the organization helped nearly 23 million people access primary health care and provided 1.14 million children with schooling and other educational opportunities. In addition to their international efforts, the IRC also works in 27 cities in the U.S. in order to help newly settled refugees adjust to life in the country.

How the International Rescue Committee Works

The International Rescue Committee prioritizes evidenced-based impactful programs, fast and effective rescue and relief efforts and follows what they call better aid strategies. The IRC differentiates itself from other nongovernmental organizations with its commitment to ensuring that each of the aid or relief programs it runs are based upon solid, appropriate evidence or is at least contributing to the creation of new evidence.

Additionally, in terms of speedy response, the group has pledged to organize health care, distribute cash and deliver clean water within 72 hours of a disaster. “Better aid“, as the organization describes it, represents refocusing of aid and relief strategies to make quantifiable improvements in the areas in which the organization works (health, economic well-being, safety, education and power) while also being cost-efficient and effective.

Practically, this means devoting more time and energy to cash transfers that have been proven to effectively help people in need at a quicker pace and at lower costs. This also means adhering to evidence-based practices that make the most impact for a limited amount of resources. Additionally, the IRC is focusing on updating the way the humanitarian community approaches protracted displacement.

Protracted Displacement

Protracted displacement refers to the increased duration of displacement and refugees separation from home. The longer-term of refugees staying in host communities have posed a challenge to the traditional mold of humanitarian assistance and has pitted refugees in a burdensome relationship to their asylum governments.

In the International Rescue Committee’s effort to address protracted displacement, the organization is advocating for the advancement of a new model that connects international institutions, donors, refugee host-governments and nongovernmental organizations in a combined effort to shape longer-term sustainable development that incorporates displaced populations not as liabilities, but as contributors in a new economic partnership.

Interventions by outside bodies in the form of providing access to capital, employment, cash transfers and other strategies can uplift displaced communities and help them recover economically while at the same time benefiting host-governments by creating a new labor force willing to work for their place in the country. With new creative planning, like the one being done at the International Rescue Committee, mutualistic relationship between refugees and their hosts can be formed.

Hope for Tomorrow

In the years to come, it is highly unlikely that the crises of poverty, displacement and conflict will dwindle. With the effects of climate change creeping in upon us, bringing stronger and more frequent natural disasters, conflict and higher numbers of displaced people, there’s much work to be done in addressing the problems that will follow.

In that regard, the forward-thinking work being done by the International Rescue Committee and other similar organizations to rethink humanitarian relief strategy is an uplifting piece of news. Hopefully, it signals the impoverished and displaced people of the world that they are not forgotten.  

– Clarke Hallum

Photo: Flickr

 

Displacement in SyriaSyria is a country located in the Middle East that has been in constant warfare since 2011, leaving millions of people displaced.

Today, there are several nonprofit organizations that are directly affecting the lives of people that are affected by war and, as a result, displacement in Syria.

United Nations Work on Displacement in Syria

The United Nations estimates that 6.6 million people are internally displaced in Syria. Refugees considered, there are approximately 12 million people in and bordering Syria that need humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has teamed up with other United Nations humanitarian and development agencies to appeal for $8 billion in new funding to help millions of refugees.

The first aspect of the appeal is the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for 2018-2019.

The plan will give $4.4 billion in support for over 5 million refugees in neighboring countries and close to 4 million people in the communities hosting these refugees.

The second aspect is known as the 2017 Syria Humanitarian Response Plan and seeks to provide $3.2 billion in humanitarian support and protection to over 13 million people in Syria.

The Case of Idlib

Idlib, a city in northwestern Syria, has been hit with bombings and airstrikes in the past few months. It is estimated that over 1 million people living in Idlib were previously displaced from elsewhere in the country and citizens still face uncertainty with constant violence.

Many citizens remain trapped in the city, with main exits of the city closed. It is estimated that 30,000 people from the city have fled the country since the violence began. More than 2 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance even before the violence began.

Displacement in Syria and Water Issues

Overpopulated makeshift settlements in Syria are often reliant on unsafe drinking water.

It is estimated that 35 percent of the population rely on sources of drinking water that is not safe. Areas with the largest refugee populations have faced drastically low levels of water.

Many refugees rely on less than 22 liters of water a day, less than one-tenth of what the average citizen of United States uses.

The World Health Organization has tested and treated 650 unsafe sources of drinking water in 2017 alone. The production of water storage tanks and groundwater wells have provided water to over 200,000 people.

The WHO has developed a disease reporting system that monitors the spread of infectious diseases. Around 1670 sentinel sites have been built across the country. This system allows professionals to rapidly detect and respond to typhoid fever, measles and polio in Syria and in neighboring countries.

The WHO is also supporting the integration of mental health services into health care and community centers in Syria. More than 400 health care facilities have been built and are proving mental health assistance.

The WHO also started the Mental Health Gap Action Programme in northwest Syria in 2017. The program has trained more than 250 Syrian health care workers and mental health professionals.

Displacement in Syria is the direct consequence of the constant violence present in the country since 2011. Due to the unsafe situation in the country, people are moving from their homes in search of a safer environment in the country or abroad. Organizations such as WHO and UNHCR are providing important humanitarian support to those in need.

– Casey Geier

Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in Kutupalong BulukhailMyanmar is a nation of deep ethnic divide. In speeches, prominent military, civilian and religious leaders refer to it was “The Western Gate” — depicting Burmese society as a rhetorical last-line-of-defense, holding back “hordes” of Muslims from “invading” Buddhist Myanmar and Thailand. This “at war” mentality has fermented for generations, culminating in a climate of prejudice where any action is justified.

Background of the Current Crisis

The current crisis began when violence escalated in late 2016. Burmese security forces used hostilities against the ARSA — a Rohingya ethnic militia — as a pretext for military action in a counterinsurgency campaign.

Atrocities followed.

Over 350 villages were burned to the ground between August and November 2017 alone. And, since 2017, 688,000 Rohingya fled into Bangladesh, taking refuge in Bangladesh with the hundreds of thousands who had already fled in the years prior.

Kutupalong Bulukhail — known as the “mega camp” — is the largest of the refugee camps built in the hills of Cox’s Bazar, one of Bangladesh’s poorest districts. It serves as the home to 600,000 people. Swaths of forest needed to be cleared in order to make room for the bamboo and tarp shelters of refugees. While the camp is a source of safety, it was hastily constructed during the crisis and lacks modern infrastructure which means that facilities are far from perfect.

Containing the Spread of Disease

With masses of people living in close quarters without modern infrastructure, infection can easily spread. Focusing on preventing infectious diseases, is often more effective than treatment.

One high priority disease is Diphtheria, a potentially lethal bacterial infection that affects the airways and the heart. Children are in particular danger of contracting the disease. Since Oct. 2017 the WHO has vaccinated 898,000 children, living in and near the refugee camps as part of a targeted prevention program. By inoculating those with the weakest immune systems viruses it can be kept from spreading to adults.

To keep ahead of future problems, 153 independent health facilities serving the refugees have banded together in an electronic Early Warning and Response System created by the WHO. Everyday medical professionals verify and investigate alerts, helping to deliver fast treatment.

Addressing Hunger

Hunger is another concern. Living as stateless, often internally displaced, people many Rohingya have already endured a life of poverty. Their situation is worsened when they are forced to leave everything they cannot carry as they flee to Bangladesh.

Years of poverty and forced migration result in malnutrition. Children are especially vulnerable: 38 percent have stunted growth and 12 percent are severely malnourished.

Once they arrive, organizations like Action Against Hunger (AAH) work to feed refugees. Assisted by Rohingya volunteers, AAH operates community kitchens in the camps which serve 11,000 meals every day. Throughout 2017 the kitchens and other programs have helped 422,963 people.

Providing Access to Safe Water

Water has proven to be a more challenging problem than food or medicine. Providing drinking water and ensuring that it is drinkable is no small feat. AAH, UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders have all made efforts to improve water conditions by digging wells and constructing long-term latrines. AAH alone installed more than 230 drinking water access points in 2017.

Now as monsoon season is here, living conditions in Kutupalong Bulukhail are worse than ever. The heavy rains frequently destabilize the newly deforested terrain of the camp and the threat landslide become apparent. Fortunately, those in the most dangerous zones have been relocated to safer areas by the UNHCR.

The seasonal hardships make Myanmar’s offer of “safe and dignified” repatriation more enticing. However, the U.N. and dozens of aid organizations warn that it is likely a false promise. Refugees that return home would only put them in further danger. Kutupalong Balukhail will likely be their home for some time to come.

One refugee recalls a conversation with her brother:

“I have a brother back in Myanmar. They are still afraid to sleep at night… After coming here, through the blessings of Allah and the Bangladesh government, we can sleep at night.”

– John Glade
Photo: Flickr

Child Refugees in UgandaWith a mass exodus from South Sudan, Uganda has become the largest refugee-host nation in Africa. Both 2017 and 2018 saw a significant influx of refugees into the country. Experts believe the number of refugees is only going to increase in the upcoming period.

As more and more refugees enter Uganda, its basic services and resources are continuously put under increased stress. Child refugees in Uganda have become a very significant issue facing the Ugandan government and international organizations. However, government and different organizations teamed up to initiate a long-term plan to help refugee and native-born children alike.

The Problem in Numbers

As of early 2018, there were over one million refugees from South Sudan and 300,000 from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other closely neighboring countries in Uganda. Out of these 1.3. million, its estimated that 61 percent are children.

Due to a shortage of aid workers, funding and supplies refugee children face severe consequences such as virus and disease outbreaks. The Ugandan Ministry of Health alongside the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Funds (UNICEF) were able to successfully stop a Marburg virus outbreak in refugee camps. Despite this achievement, there are growing concerns about measles, malaria and cholera.

Many child refugees in Uganda face little access to education. Only 35 percent of 5-year-olds entering primary schooling were enrolled in any sort of educational programs provided by nonprofit organizations or by the Ugandan government.

Extremely high acute malnutrition rates ranged from 14.9 percent to 21.5 percent among new arrivals, with some areas experiencing a 2 percent growth in malnutrition rates in 2018.

There is a high number of unaccompanied children that are often the most vulnerable with little to no support from adult-aged persons. These children can be easily forced into armed groups or sex slavery.

The Northern Region of Uganda is responsible for most of the refugees and has also experienced challenges for the local children. For instance, 24 percent of females older than 15 are illiterate, 17 percent of school-aged children are out of school, 53 out of 1000 children die before their fifth birthday and 21 percent of Ugandans live in poverty.

Nongovernmental Organizations Efforts

While the refugee crisis has proven to be a great challenge for Uganda, the country has chosen to commit its resources in order to protect and provide for the vulnerable population living alongside the local population. Three international organizations have begun long-term projects in order for the Ugandan government to reform the country and better care for refugees and native populations alike.

Save the Children

Save the Children is the largest global charity for children started in the United States. The nonprofit has worked alongside the U.N. in implementing their programs throughout Northern Uganda. As of 2017, Save the Children oversaw six refugee sites, an emergency health unit teamed up the Ugandan Ministry of Health and 30 child-friendly spaces and educational facilities. Moreover, additional programs extended beyond refugee camps to encompass local communities with the goal of increasing child protection, education and food and economic security.

According to their 2017 report, 66,114 children were given shelter, 89,790 were cared for in crisis situations, 312,790 were provided with medical and sanitation supplies, 20,169 were raised from malnutrition and 3,154 parents were supported to meet the basic needs of their children.

UNHCR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has primarily focused its attention on identifying refugee populations and supporting unaccompanied children. Working in close collaboration with the Ugandan government, the agency’s largest biometric data in history was launched in 2017. The point of recording refugees and providing identification for them is to better plan and situate resources and responses. If aid groups know exactly where vulnerable populations are and what are their circumstances, then professionals will respond more effectively and efficiently. To this date, over one million refugees have been identified.

As children spill across the border without adult supervision, extra resources are needed for their protection. The UNHCR has created and built settlements where older children are the heads of the household and they are provided with shelter, protection, education and basic services. However, staff shortages have proven difficult to monitoring these children at all times.

UNICEF

UNICEF has taken a lead role in helping child refugees in Uganda by directing programs between the Ugandan government and active nonprofits. Unfortunately, the agency only received 30 percent of requested funding in 2017. Despite these shortages, 61 percent of total targets were still met in nutrition (741,436 children aided), health (667,050), sanitation (463,480), protection (13,821), education (119,059) and HIV & AIDS (4,630).

With these results in mind, UNICEF has ambitious goals going forward. In 2018, the organization is expecting a final requested funding of more than $66 million. This funding will be focused on education, health, water and sanitation, nutrition, protection and HIV/AIDS.

Furthermore, the agency is beginning the planning of a long-term and collaborative program between nonprofits, the Ugandan government and international agencies. The basic provisions of the program include the dispersion of technological supplies and know-how, national educational and health strategies linked with refugees and the strengthening of emergency response teams. For example, m–Tac, a mobile app recently introduced to Uganda, allows agencies to send vital information to field teams during crises.

Humanitarian groups and the Ugandan government are launching some of the world’s largest refugee programs. The question of receiving refugees has long been about how to best protect them from harm and danger. The child refugees in Uganda certainly have a long path ahead of them, but they won’t have to walk on alone.

– Tanner Helem
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in New ZealandWith 65.6 million displaced individuals worldwide, including 22.5 million refugees, issues of refugee resettlement have become increasingly important. Even when countries do accept refugees, finding employment and housing can often be difficult, and refugees may find that the local community is resistant to their presence. To combat some of these issues, Pomegranate Kitchen, an organization that provides catering services, was formed in 2016 exclusively to employ female refugees in New Zealand as cooks, offering them work that allows them to use skills they already possess and share their cultural food with others.

Disputes Over New Zealand’s Refugee Quota

New Zealand, which currently has a population of 4.7 million, has taken in more than 33,000 refugees since World War II. The nation prides itself on having a strong resettlement program: all refugees in New Zealand spend their first six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Center (MRRC), which has programming designed to prepare refugees for life in the nation, including how to find employment and housing. Additionally, the government has launched a community sponsorship pilot program that will assist in refugee resettlement, providing English language classes and helping refugees navigate their communities.

However, New Zealand has faced criticism for the low number of refugees that they accept. The nation maintained a yearly quota of 750 refugees from 1987 until 2016, when the government raised the quota to 1,000 in response to claims by surrounding nations that New Zealand was not doing its part in sharing the burden of the global refugee crisis. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the labor-led government pledged in the summer of 2018 to further increase the yearly quota to 1,500, although there is currently no timeline for this change.

Pomegranate Kitchen’s Inspiration

Amid these discussions of quotas and costs, Rebecca Stewart, the co-founder of Pomegranate Kitchen, wants to bring the human element of the refugee crisis back into focus. She founded Pomegranate Kitchen in October of 2016 with her step-mother, Angie Winther, to provide employment opportunities for female refugees in New Zealand. Although Stewart and Winther do not have the ability to resolve government debates, they are doing what they can by making a difference for refugee women living in their community.

The inspiration for Pomegranate Kitchen came when Stewart worked for the Red Cross and saw the difficulties many refugees had in finding employment due to language barriers and lack of experience. Stewart believes that it is important to focus on the skills that refugees possess and what they can bring to New Zealand’s society.

Growth and Structure of Pomegranate Kitchen

Although the organization started small, Pomegranate Kitchen has developed significantly since 2016. Initially, they shared a kitchen with another restaurant and had to run a PledgeMe campaign to get the business going; now, thanks to community support, the catering service is thriving and hopes to continue to grow. Stewart stated that they have “been really lucky that so many people in the community understand what we’re trying to do and support it.”

Pomegranate Kitchen currently employs cooks from Iran, Ethiopia, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite some tensions due to cultural differences, the refugee cooks at Pomegranate Kitchen all get along fairly well and operate within a collaborative, rather than hierarchical, system. Stewart provides training on how to work in a commercial kitchen, including recipe creation, health and safety and stock management, but the women do not need extensive cooking training as they already have significant skills.

Additionally, refugee women are involved at all levels of the organization, including as head chefs and supervisors. This involvement ensures that the voices of the refugees are heard and considered in the decision-making process. Women in higher-level positions are also able to develop new types of skills including managerial, interpersonal and time management.

Benefits to Local Communities

Through Pomegranate Kitchen, refugees in New Zealand have been able to connect with the local community. Pomegranate Kitchen’s cooks use their own recipes to make dishes from their homelands, bringing new cuisine to New Zealand. A refugee from Iraq who works as a cook stated that she found her work rewarding because “people are interested to learn about my culture and enjoy the food we have to offer.” Stewart emphasized the role that Pomegranate Kitchen plays in community building by stating, “Our cooks are sharing their food and bridging the cultural divide.”

Pomegranate Kitchen shows how even small organizations have the potential to make a great difference for refugees in New Zealand. While the government works through decisions on how many refugees should be accepted into the country, it is crucial that the refugees who have been accepted continue to receive the necessary support to build a new life for themselves.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr