Refugees in Calais France
Having fled armed conflict and political repression, the refugees who reach Calais, France find no end to their struggle to survive. Aided by charities on the ground, volunteers care for them, but still, their lives are far from comfortable. Martha Haslam, a former volunteer in Calais, spent six months working for the charity Care4Calais to improve the lives of refugees. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Haslam said that volunteers “help to prepare donations for distribution and run the services at unofficial settlements.” During her time in Calais, amid a harsh winter and COVID-19 restrictions, humanitarian resources were less readily available. However, the organization worked continually to support the refugees in Calais, France as much as possible.

About the Refugees in Calais, France

The top 10 refugee-producing countries have either an ongoing conflict or poor human rights records or both. In Syria, a country that produces the most refugees in the world, more than 80% of the remaining population lives in poverty. Meanwhile, much of Eritrea’s population is subject to “forced labor and conscription.”

Haslam specified that the refugees in Calais have fled “recruitment by extremist groups and warlords (in Afghanistan and Sudan), political persecution (in Iran and Iraq), forced conscription (in Eritrea) and war (in Syria, Yemen and Kurdistan).” So, despite the hostile conditions, Calais is preferable to refugees’ home countries, where pushback tactics and even migrant slave trades are in full force. Yet, Calais is usually only a temporary stop, as the majority of refugees dream of reaching the United Kingdom, but often, there is no safe nor legal passage to get there and many refugees risk their lives in the process.

Living Conditions in Calais

Charities such as Care4Calais do their best to provide jeans and coats for the refugees as Haslam told The Borgen Project that many have been “wearing the same set of clothes for weeks or even months straight while they have been traveling to Calais.” Various organizations are distributing provisions despite waning supplies and tightening government laws.

The living conditions in Calais also vary dramatically with the seasons. Commenting on the winter months, Haslam explained that she “frequently encountered people suffering from hypothermia” due to inadequate bedding and clothing. She also said that tap pipes containing the water supply from the French state froze for much of January 2021. Thankfully, this was not the only source of drinking water as charities also have reserves.

The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affects living conditions in Calais. Aid from charities has significantly dwindled as fewer volunteers and donations are able to reach organizations due to restrictions. Also, tents that usually come from U.K. festivals are scarce due to a lack of public events during COVID-19. Further obstacles, such as increased policing and a lack of easy access to PPE, serve as added difficulties for refugees.

The pandemic has raised concerns due to the health risks it poses in a place where social distancing is often virtually impossible. Yet, the health dimension is, comparatively, a small problem for the refugees. “They have other worries that are more of a priority to them,” Haslam explained, stating that the refugees “generally aren’t that worried of catching the virus themselves.” The safety of the refugees is nevertheless a top priority for charities like Care4Calais, with volunteers sterilizing equipment and wearing PPE while encouraging the refugees to socially distance themselves at distributions and giving protective masks to those in need.

Care4Calais and Other Organizations

Care4Calais distributes basic necessities such as food, clothes and camping equipment. On top of this, it provides extra services like hair cutting and hot drink stations. Haslam says that an important role of the volunteers is to talk to the refugees every day and “let them know that there are people who care about them.”

More than 1,000 refugees depend on Care4Calais for provisions, but due to shortages, distributions are often sporadic. Haslam says that, as a large charity, Care4Calais is, fortunately, able to help when someone is in particular need, but that regular and sufficient distributions are simply not possible. Haslam regrets that “there is never enough to adequately supply the guys with enough to make them comfortable in Calais.”

La Vie Active, a French state-funded organization, offers showers and emergency accommodation to minors when winter conditions get extreme. Various groups also provide firewood when the country reaches low temperatures to help improve the living conditions in Calais in harsher months. Additionally, First Aid Support Team (FAST) provides emergency first aid in both Calais and Dunkirk should refugees in those locations need it.

Looking Forward

Although safer than many other countries, the living conditions in the French city of Calais are still challenging and refugees do not intend to stay long. There is hope, however, that with the warmer months and the easing of pandemic restrictions, conditions will improve and more help will become available in the form of supplies and volunteers. There are many organizations that work hard to improve the lives of refugees and to show them that people care. Although the lives of these refugees in Calais, France are full of uncertainty and suffering, their temporary stay in Calais does not need to be the same.

– Hope Browne
Photo: Flickr

Workforce Training for Kenyan Refugees
Many people have to uproot their entire lives and flee their homelands due to poverty, lack of opportunities, conflict and violence. Even after relocating to a potentially better country, many refugees struggle to assimilate into society because they are unable to obtain stable job opportunities due to a lack of education or skill inadequacy. To help alleviate this issue, the U.N. Refugees Agency (UNHCR) and the computer technology company Oracle are partnering on an information technology workforce training program for Kenyan refugees to upskill and look toward a potential career in the IT sector.

The Refugee Situation in Kenya

With an estimated total of nearly 530,000 refugees currently situated in Kenya, the country is the second-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa after Ethiopia. Somalian refugees comprise 54% of the total refugees in Kenya, followed by Sudanese refugees at 24.6% and Congolese refugees at 9%. South Sudan, the “world’s youngest country,” broke into conflict again in 2013, forcing millions to flee the only home they ever knew because of war, economic distress, disease and hunger. Children comprise nearly 63% of Sudanese refugees.

Civil war has affected Somalia for roughly 30 years, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the situation in the country. Floods and locust infestations bombarded the country, which has led to poor and unsanitary living conditions, food insecurity, disease and increased crime.

The political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as violence and disease, caused millions to flee the country in search of a better place to live. The country has seen the second-worst Ebola epidemic ever recorded in history, worsening the living conditions for many in the country and forcing citizens to flee their homes. There are several UNHCR camps in Kenya: Dadaab, Kakuma and a diaspora of camps in the capital, Nairobi. Nearly 44% of all refugees live in Dadaab, 40% reside in Kakuma and 16% reside in Nairobi.

Oracle’s IT Certification Program

With successful completion of the IT workforce training program, refugees gain IT skills on Oracle’s cloud-based technology and a course completion certificate from Oracle University. This qualification will help refugees gain employment within Africa’s growing IT sector.

“As digital transformation gathers pace across Africa, programming skills continue to be in high demand. This training program is designed to help prepare young learners to kickstart a rewarding career in the IT industry, directly empowering the youth in refugee camps to sustain their livelihood,” said Oracle Kenya Country Leader David Bunei.

Amid Africa’s “digital transformation, anyone with programming skills will be extremely vital to the Information and Communications Technology Industry.” IT skills can pave the way to a better future for many Kenyan refugees by helping them secure higher-paying, skilled employment to earn an income and rise out of poverty.

The workforce training program will deliver professional learning courses to the refugee diaspora in Kenya primarily focusing on Oracle Cloud technologies. This will help them develop a solid background in information technology. This program is vital because refugees in Kenya lack professional certification and industry-driven skills. In collaboration with the UNHCR, Zinger Solutions Limited, Oracle’s workforce development partner and a member of Oracle PartnerNetwork will specifically train the refugees on Oracle Cloud technologies.

Empowering Refugees with Skills and Education

Kenyan refugees residing in the diaspora of the Nairobi camps and the Kakuma camp have received training on Java SE8 programming and Java SE8 fundamentals. Java skills can aid in creating apps, building games, coding websites and much more. Overall, Oracle and UNHCR are uniting to address the issue of inadequate skills and education, helping refugees secure job opportunities for a better and brighter future.

Matthew Port Louis
Photo: Flickr


The number of people thrown into life as a refugee has increased from 21.3 million people in 2015 to 26.4 million refugees in 2020. While there is no current worldwide count for 2021, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is predicted to increase the number of refugees forcibly displaced by at least 515,000 people.

What is Life as a Refugee Like?

Refugees often stay in refugee camps, which provide a haven from the violence or disaster they were facing at home; however, the conditions in these camps are far from comfortably livable. Life as a refugee often includes overcrowding, a lack of food and water and a lack of sanitary methods of eliminating human waste. Refugees may be displaced for 10-26 years on average. In 2016, Brookings reported that “only 2.5% of refugees were able to return to their home countries” and only .001% became naturalized citizens in their countries of asylum.

On average, one out of three refugees suffers from mental health challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. These mental health challenges cause some to turn to drug use and fosters a dangerous environment in which sexual abuse and assault are rife. A 2017 UNICEF study of the Central Mediterranean refugee crisis highlights that “nearly half of women reported sexual violence and abuse throughout their journeys.” Given the nature of the topic and the fact that not all refugees worldwide had input, this statistic is not entirely representative of the refugee population but does give an idea as to some of the dangers of life as a refugee.

Action to Aid Refugees

Groups such as the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee work to ensure that refugees get essential assistance by providing access to food, clean water, sanitation, healthcare and shelter. The U.N. Refugee Agency employs more than 17,878 personnel working in 132 countries and had more than 20 million refugees under its mandate as of 2019. Its budget in its first year was $300,000 which has since grown to $8.6 billion in 2019. Furthermore, the International Rescue Committee has made a vast impact in the Syrian region (Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon) and Afghanistan in particular. In the Syrian region, the committee has more than 2,000 aid workers and volunteers working to provide access to healthcare, clean water, education and the protection of women and children. Similarly, Afghanistan provides aid to more than 4 million people in approximately 4,000 communities. The organization’s work here promotes healthcare and sanitation in addition to reconstruction projects and education. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan are among the top countries regarding how many refugees they host.

Additionally, with the number of Afghan refugees that could arise as a result of the Taliban’s take-over, President Biden approved up to $500 million on August 16, 2021, from the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to aid in evacuation and finding refuge. Additionally, in July 2021, Congress passed $1 billion of aid to Afghans for evacuations and visas. Some Democrats in Congress want to add to this amount and “are discussing putting money to help resettle Afghan refugees in the $3.5 trillion tax and spending package.”

How Refugees Affect Poverty in Countries of  Asylum

Some citizens in host countries feel that refugees drain host state resources, overexert healthcare facilities, crowd schools and deplete the host state economy. The money host countries spend to aid refugees is high, but the benefit of adding refugees to the economy as refugees recover and rebuild a life in their host countries can far outweigh this. An economic impact study of three Congolese refugee camps in Rwanda in 2015, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes this clear, stating that “an additional adult refugee receiving cash aid increases annual real income in the local economy by $205 to $253, significantly more than the $120-$126 in aid each refugee receives.”

The Connection Between Poverty and Refugees

Refugees face life-threatening poverty in which they lack access to proper food, sanitation, healthcare and many other necessities. The reality of life as a refugee fosters conditions for extreme poverty as refugees are often forced to flee their homes rather quickly with few or no personal belongings. Host countries that are still developing often take in refugees. While this puts a strain on host countries and temporarily increases poverty, when refugees receive the right tools to succeed, they return more money to the economy than they cost. Thus, in order to break this cycle of poverty within refugee communities organizations like the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee are working to provide the support refugees need to assimilate into life in the places they seek asylum.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

Ways to support PalestineOn May 10, 2021, Hamas launched a rocket attack on Jerusalem in retaliation for recent police clashes. Subsequently, this led to over a week of ongoing violence leaving hundreds dead. While the history of this conflict is long and complicated, there are ways to support Palestine right now. With millions living in the region who do not have access to basic necessities such as clean water and electricity, support from the international community is vital.

Educating Oneself

The history of the conflict in Israel and Palestine is long and complicated, going back over 100 years. Therefore, one of the best ways to support Palestine is for one to garner education on what has led to the current circumstances. For example, a few good sources where people can learn the history of the conflict are:

  • The History Channel. The History Channel offers background on what is happening in the region as well as the history of how things got where they are.
  • Britannica. Britannica offers a deeper look at the Arab-Israeli wars that have happened since 1948 to show how violence has spread throughout the region.
  • The United Nations. The United Nations has a fact sheet about the history of “The Question of Palestine” which explains the international community’s role in the situation.

Economic Boycott

Another way to support Palestine is through targeted consumer boycotts. Some companies that benefit from the conflict include:

  • Hewlett-Packard. Hewlett-Packard (HP) is responsible for the biometric ID system that helps Israeli officials restrict the movement of Palestinians.
  • Sabra. The Strauss Group partially owns Sabra. This is an Israeli “company that provides financial support to the Israeli army.”
  • Pillsbury. In contrast to Sabra, Pillsbury has factories on occupied land that belongs to Palestinians.

Despite their involvement, none of these companies have issued a statement on the current conflict.

Contact Elected Officials

On April 15, 2021, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act. This act would prohibit Israeli authorities from using U.S. funding in Palestinian detention camps, demolishing Palestinian homes and annexing further Palestinian lands. Contacting elected officials and urging their support for this bill is one of the most effective ways to support Palestine.

Share Palestinian Voices

Today, social media is an immensely effective tool that people can use to communicate with others across the globe. For instance, among the ways to support Palestine, sharing Palestinian voices on social media is one of the easiest to do. Additionally, some informational social media accounts to follow include:

Organizations Already Helping

There are, in fact, already many organizations finding ways to support Palestine. Some of these organizations include:

  • Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres. Services include remote counseling, supporting local hospitals and providing hygiene and sanitation training. Additionally, it has provided basic first aid training to hospital staff. Over 90,000 outpatient consultations occurred in 2019.
  • United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA). The UNWRA provides humanitarian aid such as education, healthcare and infrastructure improvement within 27 refugee camps throughout Gaza and the West Bank. With access to clean water and electricity at crisis levels, support from UNRWA is vital to the people in these camps.
  • Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. This organization provides medical care to sick and injured Palestinian children. To do this, it sends volunteer doctors overseas, sponsors orphans, runs humanitarian programs and works on infrastructure projects. Since its founding in 1992, PCRF has sent over 2,000 children abroad for free medical care and built two pediatric cancer departments in Palestine.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine goes back decades and has complicated roots. However, there are people in the area that need help now. The good news is that there are ways to support Palestine from right where you are. By educating oneself, donating, boycotting, contacting elected officials and sharing the voices of those in Palestine, anyone can help support the people who live there.

– Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Vaccinating Refugees

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

Barriers to Refugee Vaccination

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

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

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

– Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

The Afghanistan CrisisIn early April 2021, the President of the United States Joe Biden announced that he would be withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. In the months following the announcement, increasing issues have plagued the Middle Eastern country. The resurgence of the Taliban and the rapid collapse of the Afghan army are examples. Over a few months, the Taliban aggressively took over parts of Afghanistan; at one point, it circled the capital of Kabul before taking over. In the aftermath of the Afghanistan crisis, the country’s citizens are facing many challenges.

The U.S. spent 20 years and an estimated $83 billion to help build the Afghan army, not including larger costs to fight the war in Afghanistan overall. Both U.S. and Afghan soldiers worked to overthrow the Taliban government and stabilize the country.

Taking Over Afghanistan

When the U.S. completely withdrew its forces, the Taliban invaded and took over U.S. military bases that the Afghan army operated. The Taliban took over at least two-thirds of the country’s provincial capitals in the time it took for the U.S. to take out its troops.

The Taliban took advantage of the United States’ departure, and from the months of May and June, it began its conquest over the country. In those months, Afghanistan saw significant violence compared to the past two decades.

The Taliban started its attacks to take over the country in haste. It targeted the northern part of the country, maximizing its influence and existing strongholds. It had control over 50 of the 370 districts as of June 22.

“The Taliban contest or control an estimated 50 to 70 per cent of Afghan territory outside of urban centers, while also exerting direct control over 57 per cent of district administrative centers,” said the U.N. report.

Consequences that the People are Facing

The Taliban gained more and more ground, seizing major cities all throughout the country. Its actions led to negative effects on the people who live in Afghanistan. Many abandoned their homes in fear of their lives. As the Taliban continued its conquest of the country, the people have been caught in the crossfire, even in attacks in major cities. Videos and photographs have emerged of insurgents going into people’s homes and lynching families, even taking the lives of children.

In the face of this, civilians tried to get out in any way they could. As they sought refuge anywhere they could in the aftermath of the Afghanistan crisis, several countries gave them permission to enter and be safe behind their borders.

“The Taliban have been executing people summarily, they have been lashing women, they have been shutting down schools. they have blown up hospitals and infrastructure,” said former Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani in an interview with NPR.

Responses from Other Countries

The government of Canada has decreed that it will take in about 20,000 Afghan refugees into its country in the aftermath of the Afghanistan crisis. This includes women leaders, government workers and others whose lives are in danger. Refugees will receive shelter and aid as they escape from a hostile environment. Even neighboring countries like Pakistan and Turkey have extended their hand in taking in civilians fleeing Afghanistan.

“The situation in Afghanistan is heartbreaking and Canada will not stand idly by,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in a news conference.

Despite the withdrawal, the United States, under the orders of President Biden, decided to aid Afghan in the face of the Taliban problem. This included intensified airstrikes to help counter the Taliban’s advance and assistance in evacuating diplomats from embassies amid the Taliban takeover.

– Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

afghan refugeesThe recent resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan has sparked fear in Afghan citizens, resulting in large numbers of Afghans fleeing Afghanistan to seek refuge in other countries. Some countries have welcomed Afghan refugees with open arms, but others simply do not have the capacity to host large groups of refugees. As many countries around the world scurry to help Afghan refugees find shelter, Airbnb has stepped up to help. “The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. We feel a responsibility to step up,” says Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky.

Airbnb to the Rescue

On August 24, 2021, Airbnb announced the offering of “free temporary housing” for roughly 20,000 Afghan refugees across the globe. Two days after, on August 26, the company added that any ordinary individual, not just the company’s “hosts,” can offer temporary housing through its services. This may potentially open up substantially more temporary housing options. For Afghan refugees, this offer of temporary shelter could bring some stability amid a crisis. For world governments, temporary housing could be key to avoiding a repeat of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Airbnb’s plan comes through its Open Homes platform, a tool created by the company in 2017 after former President Trump’s administration implemented a travel ban on several predominantly Muslim nations, including war-torn and heavily displaced Syria. At the time, countries such as Germany were grappling with a surge of refugees from Syria. Airbnb’s plan in 2017 looked to “provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need.” The company is building on that promise through the Open Homes platform.

How the Open Homes Platform Works

The purpose of Open Homes is to “Give people a place to call home in times of crisis.” Open Homes serves as a middle ground for refugees from Afghanistan and other conflicted nations to create a plan for more permanent housing. Airbnb’s platform works as a tool for hosts to open their homes to screened and approved guests including refugees. According to the company’s website, hosts receive a guide on the process of listing their home as a temporary residence.

The process is similar to Airbnb’s staple rental service. However, Airbnb’s announcement on August 26 made it clear that more than established hosts can use the platform to help. The platform relies on donations to cover the costs of temporary housing. Donations can be made by anyone willing to help cover the costs of refugee stays. For Afghan refugees, the platform is established and tested and may serve as an important tool in navigating the crisis.

The Importance of Temporary Housing

By definition, a refugee is an individual that cannot return to their home country due to reasons that jeopardize their safety and well-being. As the Afghan refugee crisis begins, there is precedent that can serve as guidance for how the U.S. can address this humanitarian issue. From past refugee crises, humanitarian groups find that shelter is one of the most important aspects of addressing the issue. Without a place to call home, refugees are denied the basic rights to adequate shelter and safety.

Temporary housing provides safety while refugees find more stable living situations. An influx of refugees with no place to go places greater strain on governmental agencies. This also potentially means more taxpayer money would go toward temporary housing subsidies and the governmental mediation of desperate refugees. Private options such as Open Homes can supplement the burden that the government and taxpayers struggle to fill.

According to the nonprofit Refugees Welcome!, asylum seekers lack “access to housing, food stamps or other benefits afforded to documented immigrants or citizens.” For people forcibly displaced by conflict such as current Afghan refugees, programs such as Open Homes provide a solution to the lack of safe and proper shelter for influxes of refugees. Open Homes may be the only viable option for families forced out of a nation.

To help address the Afghan refugee crisis, Airbnb’s Open Homes platform provides a commendable solution. Even an ordinary individual can get involved in this initiative, providing hope to vulnerable people with no place to call home.

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Flickr

Made51 artMADE51 is a global initiative created by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Free Trade Organization to showcase the creative talents and skills of refugees while giving them an opportunity to earn an income by selling their art. MADE51, which stands for Market Access, Design and Empowerment for Refugee Artisans, connects artisans with markets in order to economically empower artisans and help them rise out of poverty. U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements states that “Rather than viewing millions of refugees across the globe as a burden, MADE51 sees untapped talent and potential that, if unlocked, can directly benefit” refugees, host countries and local enterprises.

How MADE51 Works

MADE51 gives refugees the opportunity to build sustainable livelihoods by selling “artisanal home decor and accessories.” Sales from MADE51 products allow “refugees to contribute to their host country’s economy” and reinforces their ties with society. Instead of seeing refugees as a burden, MADE51 gives them a platform to showcase their talent.

The initiative connects artisans with local social enterprises in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. According to Herbert Smith Freehills, “International trade in artisan crafts is now valued at over $32 billion per year, with 65% of handicraft exports coming from developing countries.”

MADE51 promotes economic inclusion using an innovative marketing solution. It identifies refugee artisans and gives them a platform to showcase their traditions and skills by helping them form partnerships with local businesses. Then, the initiative brings in its partners’ technical expertise for branding, marketing, capacity building and more.

The UNHCR also conducts assessments to make sure partner businesses follow UNHCR principles and Fair Trade standards. Fair Trade principles ensure that workers receive adequate compensation while working in a safe environment. MADE51 embodies the spirit of the UNHCR’s Global Compact on Refugees.

A lot goes into the success of the MADE51 collection. MADE51 receives help from strategic partners in product design, integrated technology, branding and marketing.

MADE51’s Impact

Other than providing a way for refugees to make a living, the initiative presents an opportunity to show solidarity with refugees. MADE51 “demonstrates the talents that refugees possess and how if given the opportunity, they can become positive contributors to societies and economies.”

MADE51 gives refugees the chance to honor and preserve their heritage and culture through art. Often the only things refugees can take with them when displaced are intangible skills, craftsmanship, knowledge and traditions. The collection shares these skills with the world while allowing refugees to “regain economic independence.” MADE51 is also a way of telling the human story of refugees rebuilding their lives from scratch.

How to Help

As a global collaborative initiative, MADE51 relies on the help of strategic partnerships. It is currently seeking partners in several areas such as retail branding, design and logistics. Individuals can also play a role in uplifting and empowering refugees by supporting the collection. For example, individuals can promote the collection on social media platforms, utilize word-of-mouth marketing and purchase items from the collection. The collection is diverse, containing protective face masks, towels, aprons, laptop sleeves, key chains, travel bags and more.

According to the UNHCR, at the close of 2020, “there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people in the world.” More than 25% of this population was made up of refugees. MADE51 presents an inspiring tale of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people using their creative skills to rebuild their lives while simultaneously sharing and preserving their culture.

Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s COVID-19 ResponseCurrently, approximately 26.4 million refugees worldwide have had to flee hardship in their countries of origin. Though international laws protect them, refugees are often denied basic human rights such as protection from violence, stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. Access to reliable healthcare is critical to preventing diseases, treating underlying conditions, providing medicinal resources and offering immunizations. Because refugees are often unable to join national health plans in the country in which they settle, lack of access to healthcare is a common experience. Nepal’s COVID-19 response intends to include vulnerable and marginalized populations such as refugees.

How COVID-19 Threatens Refugees

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for reliable healthcare access among refugee populations, who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many live in densely populated areas and lack face masks and adequate sanitation, such as handwashing facilities. This increases their risk of contracting the virus. Many have also lost their sources of income and are unable to pay for medical care. In addition to the high rates of poverty refugee populations experience, being too sick to work or caring for sick loved ones only compounds this issue.

The world’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic is incumbent on ensuring that all populations can limit case numbers and treat the infected. While the best way to mitigate the virus is to provide vaccinations, many countries are not yet offering them to refugees. As a result, many refugee populations live in a constant state of crisis and are unable to return to normalcy at the same rate as the general public.

The Nepalese Example

There are now more than 19,000 refugees in Nepal, most of them from Bhutan and Tibet. These communities experience high rates of poverty and are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Nepal’s COVID-19 response has been markedly different from other countries in the region as it was “the first country in Asia and the Pacific to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to refugees.” Starting March 7, 2021, refugees older than 65 were eligible to receive the vaccine along with other eligible citizens. As of March 24, 2021, 668 refugees had received the vaccine and many more are set to be vaccinated as the country obtains additional doses.

Nepalese officials have made it clear that they believe ensuring the health and safety of the entire country means providing healthcare for everyone. Nepal’s COVID-19 response is unique because Nepal is deliberate in ensuring that refugees have access to healthcare that is on par with the rest of the country. Equitable access to vaccinations remains an important step to ensuring the country is able to fully recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Next Steps

Nepal’s COVID-19 response sets an example of measures that other nations should take. As other countries observe Nepal’s vaccination procedures, refugees and other marginalized communities exist in an important context. Organizations like CARE Nepal advocate for a vaccine rollout with “the most vulnerable groups” being prioritized.

Nepal is far from the only country in the world, or even in the Asian Pacific region, with a large refugee population. All populations must have access to adequate healthcare to ensure everyone can recover from the COVID-19 crisis as quickly and effectively as possible. Ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine is one of the best ways for countries to achieve this.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Parfait HakizimanaBurundian athlete and refugee, Parfait Hakizimana, has overcome significant obstacles throughout his life. In the near future, Hakizimana will represent the Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT) at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games, vying for gold in the men’s under-61-kilogram division in Taekwondo.

Refugee Paralympic Team

The Refugee Paralympic Team will compete for the first time in these Games, marking Hakizimana, age 32, and his five teammates as historic competitors and inspiring examples of lifelong perseverance. Featuring athletes from across the Middle East and Africa, the Refugee Paralympic Team represents more than 82 million individuals worldwide who have experienced displacement due to war, conflict and poverty. About 12 million refugees worldwide (roughly one in seven) live with a disability and the Refugee Paralympic Team serves as an inspiring example of hope, uplifting those who have lived through some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.

Parfait Hakizimana’s Story

Amid a devastating Burundian Civil War in 1996 that took place in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, Hakizimana suffered a permanent injury caused by a serious gunshot wound to his left arm at 8 years old. Tragically, his mother died the very same day. Hakizimana and his family had already been living at an internally displaced camp, and following this tragedy, Hakizimana spent nearly two years in a hospital. His arm took a long time to heal and he began to find hope and rehabilitation in sport following the healing process.

Hakizimana discovered Taekwondo at age 16 and took a quick liking to it. Before long, Hakizimana had earned his first black belt in 2010. However, upon further dissent and destruction in his home nation of Burundi, Hakizimana sought refuge in Rwanda. Since 2015, Hakizimana has called the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda his home. Hosting around 60,000 people, many of whom have escaped Burundi, the camp is the largest in Rwanda. Hakizimana, his wife and their 18-month-old daughter still live there today, making his journey to the Paralympics the longest of long shots.

Continuing to learn and progress in Taekwondo, Hakizimana has competed in several major paraplegic sporting events across Africa, even winning a bronze medal in 2019 at Rwanda’s Ambassador’s Cup. For the first time, Hakizimana will take on the world, hoping to medal in the K44 classification of Taekwondo. Hakizimana will be the first-ever Olympic or Paralympic athlete to go directly from a refugee camp to compete in the Games.

Giving Back Through Teaching

Hakizimana continues to emphasize how sport has helped him rise above his troubled past and find community among his fellow refugees. Hakizimana has taken that positivity and paid it forward by now teaching and training more than 150 refugees at the Mahama Refugee Camp.

Taekwondo has been a unifying force at the refugee camp, breaking down superficial barriers, including regional and tribal identities, to provide a positive outlet for refugees to build friendships and find purpose. Parfait Hakizimana will undoubtedly have many fans cheering for him in both his country of refuge, Rwanda, and his homeland, Burundi, as he takes to the mat in Tokyo for the Paralympic Games. Hakizimana represents a worldwide community of impoverished refugees whose living conditions have forced them to flee for safety and improved opportunities. Parfait Hakizimana inspires hope in one of the most vulnerable populations of the world, encouraging them to break barriers and achieve success regardless of their physical impediments or their disadvantaged backgrounds.

– Sam Dils
Photo: Flickr