Malaysian RefugeesAlthough the majority of Malaysian refugees reside in or near the country’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, thousands live outside this area and struggle to access urban centers for crucial services. As a result, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has opened its first outreach and community center outside Kuala Lumpur.

Refugees In Malaysia

Nearly 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR across Malaysia. Currently, refugee community groups estimate that tens of thousands more reside in the country undocumented. Rohingya Muslims make up the majority of Malaysia’s refugee population. Malaysia currently hosts the largest number of Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Other refugee populations originate from countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Rising Hostility

Although initially supportive of refugees and asylum seekers, Malaysia has become increasingly hostile towards these vulnerable populations. For example, the country is not a signatory to the 1953 UN Refugee Convention. This means it does not recognize the legal status of refugees and asylum seekers. Classified as illegal immigrants, refugees in Malaysia risk arrest, detention, and deportation. Xenophobia towards foreigners has risen in recent years. Many now view Rohingya refugees as a threat to the nation’s social, economic, and security systems.

Malaysia’s refugee populations are especially vulnerable to aggressive crackdowns on immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysian authorities have increased immigration arrests in refugee and migrant neighborhoods and turned away nearly 30 boats of displaced Rohingyas since the virus began. Human rights groups warn that the virus could spread through the country’s overloaded immigration detention centers, and reduce the likelihood of refugees seeking coronavirus treatment. The Malaysian government’s COVID-19 relief package excludes refugees despite their need for food and essential services.

The Johor Outreach and Community Centre

As there are no refugee camps in Malaysia, most settle into urban areas of the greater Klang Valley Region including Kuala Lumpur. However, thousands of refugees live outside this region and struggle to access urban UNHCR centers. These refugees have to travel long distances just to access crucial services. UNHCR is working to make essential services accessible to refugee communities living outside Kuala Lumpur through the establishment of outreach and community care centers. The refugee agency has recently opened a model outreach center in Johor, a southern state near Kuala Lumpur, and plans to develop more centers across Malaysia in the coming years.

The Johor Outreach and Community Centre (JOCC) will make essential services accessible to over 16,000 refugees in Southern Malaysia. This will save these vulnerable communities over three and a half hours of travel time and excessive bus fare costs. Moreover, the outreach center is life-changing during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it will bring vital services to Johor’s refugee population while preventing the movement of people and gathering of crowds in urban areas.

The JOCC will be managed by Cahaya Surya Bakti (CSB), a partner of the UNHCR. Since 2013, the Malaysian-based NGO has provided community-based support to Johor’s refugee community. CSB works to ensure the education of refugee children in Johor and develop resilient communities through the establishment of schools, refugee empowerment programs, health services and outreach initiatives like food distributions. The JOCC will help CSB strengthen its existing community-led initiatives and provide a safe space for refugees throughout the state.

The Importance of UNHCR Documentation Services

Outreach and community centers provide critical UNHCR registration and renewal services to Malaysia’s refugee populations. Registering with the UNHCR provides refugees claims of asylum and identification as “Persons of Concern”. UNHCR cards demonstrate official identity and refugee status and are usually respected by Malaysian authorities, protecting refugees from illegal immigration arrests. In addition, UNHCR cards incentivize businesses to employ refugees in the informal economic sector and reduce the foreigner’s fare at public hospitals. Refugees are deemed illegal immigrants with no rights if their UNHCR card is not updated every five years. The JOCC will make UNHCR registration and renewal services more accessible and prevent card expirations from upheaving the lives of Johor’s refugee community. The center will also provide accurate, up to date information on refugee protection in Malaysia, as well as available services.

Looking Ahead

The JOCC is a symbol of hope for refugee populations outside Malaysia’s urban areas. Expanding UNHCR outreach and community centers across the country will give refugees greater access to documentation and essential services. Therefore, this is a vital step in enabling them to contribute to society and rebuild their lives.

Claire Brenner

Photo: Flickr

alphonso daviesAt the age of 19, Alphonso Davies has become the face of Canadian soccer and one of the most highly regarded left-backs in the world. After winning two Bundesliga titles, two German Cups and Bundesliga Rookie of the Season for 2019-20, Davies became the first Canadian to win the European Champions League, club soccer’s most coveted prize. Although the teenager’s incredible skills already shine throughout Europe, his journey from a refugee camp to the soccer stadium is an even more fascinating tale.

Born in a Refugee Camp in Ghana

The Davies family is of Liberian origin. Alphonso’s parents, Debeah and Victoria Davies, once lived in Monrovia, the nation’s capital. When the second civil war broke out in Liberia in April 1999, the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) besieged the capital city. The war caused numerous deaths and displaced more than 450,000 Liberians from their homes, including the Davies parents. They soon fled their homeland and arrived in Buduburam, Ghana. Sheltering in a refugee camp, they struggled every day to find clean water and food. Additionally, as Dabeah Davies recollects, he sometimes had to carry guns just to survive. It was into this difficult life that the little Alphonso was born, in the refugee camp on November 2, 2000.

The Canadian Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP)

By the end of the twentieth century, there were approximately 18 million refugees and counting in the world. The global refugee problem is particularly serious in Africa, which harbors nearly half of the world’s refugees. Liberia, for example, was among the countries generating the most displaced persons at this time.

Without external assistance, life as a refugee would have appeared hopeless. Fortunately, the Davies family learned of the Canadian government’s Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP). This initiative helps international refugees resettle in Canada by providing direct financial support and other essential services. These include port of entry and reception, temporary accommodation and life skills training. The Davies family filled out forms, completed an interview and successfully relocated to Ontario when Alphonso was five. They eventually settled down in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Soccer Starlet

As a child in Edmonton, Alphonso Davies first played soccer in school teams. He then played through Free Footie, a local after-school soccer league for elementary schoolers who cannot afford registration fees, equipment or transportation to games. The coaches immediately discovered Davies’ talent and helped him make rapid progress. Davies joined the Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Residency program at just 14 years old. One year later, he made history as the first player born in the 2000s to play Major League Soccer (MLS). In 2017, only weeks after having obtained his Canadian citizenship, Davies received the call from the Canadian men’s national team. He then became the youngest player to ever play and score on the national team.

The once-in-a-generation talent soon attracted interest from European clubs as well. In January 2019, Davies joined FC Bayern for a then-record transfer fee of $13.5 million. After his soaring season in Germany and strong performance against Chelsea and Barcelona in the European Champions League, the world  knows this soccer star by name. On the Champions League Final night, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, congratulated Davies on Twitter. Trudeau wrote: “A historic moment – you made Canadians proud out there.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Despite gaining global recognition as a soccer prodigy, Davies’ feet are rooted firmly on the ground. He has not forgotten the hard days he faced or the help he received. During his 2018 speech at a FIFA Congress, Davies recounted his moving journey from being a refugee in Africa to a professional soccer player in Canada.

Davies also collaborates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), endeavoring to inspire more refugees using his own story. In April 2020, in support of UNHCR’s COVID-19 appeal, Davies and fellow soccer player from refugee camp Asmir Begović held an eFootball PES 2020 live stream tournament. Their aim was to raise funds for the U.N. Refugee Agency’s COVID-19 response. This initiative ensures that national health plans include refugees and give them access to necessities like soap and clean water.

“I want to use my platform for causes that I care about,” said Davies. “As a former refugee myself I am very grateful for the help my family received, and the opportunities this opened up for me and where it has brought me. I hope that whilst people are keeping themselves and their families safe, they can also help support refugees who have lost everything.”

The success and promising future of Alphonso Davies as a soccer starlet from a refugee camp are beyond inspiring. Talent shines everywhere, so long as it can grow in an environment of support. With growing amounts of governmental and organizational assistance for global refugees, it is not irrational to expect success from young resettled people from all walks of life.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

ngos in lebanonBordered by Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon is a Middle Eastern nation of almost 7 million citizens. Its history has only grown in complexity since it gained independence from France in 1944. Lebanese people have faced civil war, political and economic instability, border disputes and human rights violations into the present day. Thankfully, many NGOs in Lebanon work to address these issues. NGOs have supported the Lebanese people in suppressing terror, promoting gender equality, ending militarization, advocating for human rights and recovering from the Beirut explosion. Paramount to Lebanon’s security and future are not just improved government and policies, but also these NGOs on the ground.

Terrorism

In 2019 alone, four major terrorist groups posed an ongoing threat to Lebanon’s national security. Three acts of terrorism that year sparked an unprecedented governmental and legislative response. Lebanon is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and recently launched a national Preventing Violent Extremism Coordination Unit. However, the Lebanese people’s long-standing lack of trust in government remains. This is where NGOs in Lebanon come in.

Since 1985, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American NGO, has promoted peace in Lebanon. The NGO identifies Lebanese entities actively promoting terror from within the government, such as Green Without Borders. The institute proposes counteracting these entities from abroad by publishing research and pushing policies for financial transparency. Its work is therefore vital to an effective government free from ties to terrorism.

Gender Inequality

Even though Lebanese women got the right to vote in 1952, gender inequities and violence remain among Lebanon’s most critical issues. In 2020, Lebanon ranked 145th among 153 countries in closing the gender gap. This ranking represents variables such as economic participation, educational attainment, health, survival and political empowerment. With women holding just 4.7% of parliamentary seats, NGOs in Lebanon are working to pave the way for female representation in government to empower marginalized citizens.

While global humanitarian groups have funded many gender equity campaigns in Lebanon, NGOs in Lebanon, like the feminist collective Nasawiya, spearhead much of the cultural change. Nasawiya advocates not just for the humane treatment and representation of women, but also for all genders and identities within Lebanon. With 11 projects underway, Nasawiya lobbies the Lebanese government and provides resources for women affected victimized by gender violence.

Militarized Justice Systems

Although Lebanon is officially a unitary multiparty republic with a parliamentary system of government, its justice systems are increasingly militarizing. Lebanon’s controversial pattern of suppressing peaceful civilian protests has garnered international attention as its use of military courts grows. In Lebanon, trials in military courts lack qualified judges, permit torture-induced confessions as evidence, issue inconsistent and lengthy sentences and fail to deliver due process. This affects more than just adults. Indeed, the Union for Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon identified 355 children tried before the military courts in 2016 alone.

As the line between the Lebanese justice system and the military blurs, prosecutors have even brought charges against human rights lawyers and activists who oppose them. NGOs like Helem, which advocates for LGBT rights, are working to hold courts accountable to their victims. The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law and other NGOs in Lebanon have launched further investigations into Lebanon’s militarized courts. By publicizing records and providing credible research, they promote justice in Lebanon.

Migrant and Refugee Rights

An estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees and over 250,000 migrant workers from neighboring countries reside in Lebanon. Unfortunately, exclusionary immigration and refugee policies have created a human rights crisis. Migrant workers and refugees in Lebanon work in unregulated conditions, lack permanent residency and are victims of mass evictions. In 2017, 76% of refugee and migrant households lived below the poverty line. Additionally, 77% experienced food insecurity and 36% lacked an employed family member.

NGOs in Lebanon like International Alert advocate both for reforming the justice system and improving refugee and migrant rights. International Alert promotes policies targeted at improving legal conditions for these marginalized populations in Lebanon. Care, another NGO, also works on the ground to provide interim resources and housing for refugees and migrants in Lebanon.

The Beirut Explosion

When 3,030 tons of ammonium nitrate stored near a port in Beirut caught on fire and exploded in early August 2020, at least 200 people died, over 6,000 were injured and several hundred remain missing. The severe damage inflicted on some 70,000 homes left an estimated 300,000 Lebanese homeless. The Lebanese Red Cross met a large part of the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people affected by the explosion. This NGO has provided free medical care to over 23,700 people  through 36 health centers and nine mobile medical units.

The Lebanese Red Cross is also providing shelter for 1,000 displaced families and is expanding to help a projected 10,000 families. Additionally, the organization provides families with food, water, masks, gloves and other supplies. Another facet of this NGO, the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, reconnects separated families. It also provides mental health and counseling resources for victims.

NGOs in Lebanon Continue the Fight

While the Lebanese people continue to suffer from a legacy of conflict, instability, inequality and oppression, NGOs are working hard to help mitigate these critical issues. NGOs in Lebanon strive to improve human rights to help bring peace and prosperity to this Middle Eastern nation.

– Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sudanese RefugeesMany refugees in Sudan fled on foot to Egypt to escape violent and impoverished conditions in Sudan. About 3.8 million Sudanese refugees currently live in neighboring Egypt, which is a popular destination for Sudanese refugees because the country is accessible on foot and the refugees are still able to receive help from relatives. Egypt is a close destination and for some, it is a stopping point before they attempt to flee to Europe, which is an even more dangerous route. Although they may flee to Egypt, however, many face adversities of discrimination and poverty once there.

Sudanese Refugees

Many Sudanese flee their home country to other regions of Africa due to political conflict and economic turmoil. Refugees in Sudan escape their country on foot to neighboring countries. When the first civil war started about 60 years ago in southern Sudan, Sudanese refugees began to flee to Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Many individuals have fled for different reasons; some flee to obtain better rights, but in particular, many flee to escape religious persecutions. One Sudanese man was targeted due to his Christian faith and the police told him to renounce his faith. The Muslim faith is prominent and individuals who practice the Christian faith have suffered persecution. Since he continued to believe in his religion, the man went to jail where he faced beatings and torture. After spending weeks in jail, the Sudanese man fled to Cairo, Egypt.

Sudanese Refugees Face Discrimination in Egypt

Many refugees in Sudan flee to Egypt resulting in a burden on resources. Overall, Egypt hosts millions of refugees who flee their country’s terrible conditions, only to face racism in Egypt. Some Egyptians will call Sudanese refugees slaves and other ethnic slurs. Some have faced harassment that brings up traumatic memories and flashbacks of violent conditions they experienced in Sudan, including torture and rape. Sudanese children are sometimes bullied in school. Egyptians and even refugees from other countries exhibit this behavior.

Some individuals in Egypt recognize there is a problem and acknowledge that Sudanese refugees are negatively treated. The president of Egypt, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi calls for his citizens to take action and to not mistreat Sudanese refugees. In 2018, an Egyptian court sentenced a man to seven years in prison for harassing, beating and killing a South Sudanese teacher who worked with refugees in Cairo.

Sudanese Refugees Face Poverty in Egypt

More than 5 million refugees in Sudan left their country to escape poverty but have subsequently faced financial hardships in Egypt. Sudanese refugees in Egypt are provided with 1,500 Egyptian pounds (LE) for every child from the United Nations through the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), with no additional assistance from the state. Thus, it is difficult for the refugees to pay for schools and other expenses. At the same time, it is difficult for a Sudanese refugee to find work in Egypt, even for those with higher education, since the residence permit does not allow work. Many who do find jobs work by cleaning houses and shops.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many refugees in Sudan have faced an increased level of previous hardships. A fifth of foreigners were vulnerable and lost their jobs from the COVID-19 lockdowns in Egypt. In addition, many Egyptians have lost their jobs and in return have been forced to let go of migrant workers from Africa and Asia.

A Sudanese charity has financially helped more than 500 struggling families whose breadwinners have lost their jobs. Eviction has been a major problem for Sudanese refugees in Egypt, some of whom are attempting to return home.

Many Sudanese refugees escape their home country, only to face similar problems. Impoverished conditions continue to follow them within Egypt, although many strive to work harder in the new country. Organizations within Egypt need to help to eliminate discrimination against Sudanese refugees to alleviate their added struggles.

Ann Ciancia
Photo: Flickr

 COVID-19 in Sudan
Sudan, a country in northeastern Africa, has weathered a civil war that resulted in the creation of South Sudan, a coup d’état and food shortages, all within the last decade. The results of these events include a stunted healthcare system and an influx of refugees, which has affected the nation’s response to the coronavirus. With the number of cases reaching tens of thousands, Sudan’s leaders must find a way to keep citizens and refugees safe from the virus. Here are six facts about COVID-19 in Sudan.

6 Facts About COVID-19 in Sudan

  1. As of August 2020, the number of cases in Sudan is continuing to rise. The total number of cases is over 13,000, with 833 deaths. Most of the cases are in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. Since March, the virus has spread to all 18 regions of the country. This is alarming because rural areas do not have the same access to healthcare as the cities.
  2. Sudan’s healthcare system was fragile before COVID-19 entered its borders. Before 2020, an estimated 9.3 million out of Sudan’s 41.8 million people lacked basic healthcare and were in need of humanitarian assistance. With the coronavirus pandemic in full force, community resources and previously accessible services are limited. For migrants and displaced communities, losing what little healthcare they did have puts them at greater risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
  3. The government has restricted movement within the country. Since healthcare infrastructure is still being built, the government is taking containment measures into its own hands. While lockdown restrictions have eased in Khartoum, a curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. is still in effect for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, though a handful of internal borders reopened and are resuming bus transportation, wearing face masks and social distancing are still required. As of August 2020, Port Sudan International Airport remains closed for entering and exiting the country; however, Khartoum’s airport is open for repatriation flights of Sudanese citizens stranded abroad because of the virus.
  4. At the same time as the pandemic, Sudan is experiencing heavy flooding, the worst in a century. As of September 2020, 125,000 refugees and displaced persons are suffering from these floods. Most of the flooding is in regions of East Sudan, Darfur, White Nile and Khartoum. As a result, makeshift shelters, latrines and buildings were destroyed, heightening the risk of disease in general, let alone the risk of COVID-19 in Sudan. Without access to latrines and clean water, many refugees in these communities are unable to wash their hands regularly, an essential COVID-19 prevention measure. Additionally, since the roads are too muddy for transportation to get through, these communities are not receiving the much-needed aid as quickly as they should.
  5. Luckily, global aid organizations are responding to this call for help. Working with the Sudanese government, the UNHCR is providing emergency aid to the refugees and displaced communities across the country. They predict the results of this flooding will be long term and have successfully appealed for support in this endeavor.
  6. Turkey is also assisting in Sudan’s battle against the virus. The organization Turkish Red Crescent’s donation has 1,236 items, including ventilators, masks and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. Irfan Neziroglu, Turkey’s ambassador to Sudan, welcomed the donations when they arrived by way of an airplane in Khartoum.

Sudan was already enduring the aftermath of a war, political unrest and food shortages before the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, unprecedented flooding destroyed the lives of over 100,000 refugees and displaced Sudanese. However, this has not stopped the nation’s efforts to contain the virus to the best of its ability. With help from humanitarian organizations, COVID-19 in Sudan will hopefully decline.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Libya
Torn by civil war and violent conflict since 2011, Libya is a centerfold for poverty and mass hunger. Due to its geographical location and long history of favorable migrant-worker policies, hundreds of thousands of migrants flock to Libya every year. However, coupled with the country’s instability and the burden of over 600,000 refugees, Libya is reaching a tipping point.

Moreover, when it comes to dwindling food supplies and collapsing regional markets, hunger in Libya is becoming a more pressing issue with each passing day. So far, international organizations such as the World Food Programme are teaming up with local and regional nonprofits to provide meal kits to internally displaced families. While these efforts are noble, more work is necessary to resolve hunger in Libya.

Overview

Since 2014, children in Libya have lacked access to clean water and nutritious food. In fact, “21% of children aged less than five are stunted [in growth and development].” The situation is dire, as both institutional and external reforms are needed for any change to occur.

One of the main challenges for citizens and refugees in Libya in search of food is high prices and stagnant job markets. In fact, one of the most significant challenges for Libyan migrants relates to finding a way to make a living, followed by high food costs.

Furthermore, key EU countries, such as Italy, are criminalizing humanitarian assistance and food aid to refugees. This makes it incredibly difficult for nonprofits and local organizations to take care of fleeing migrants. As a result, they frequently have to return to Libya, which in turn increases the scarcity of food in Libya.

According to the Center for Global Development, “France and Italy have forbidden citizens from giving food, water, and shelter to refugees and migrants. Hungary passed the “Stop Soros” law, criminalizing individuals and NGOs helping migrants claim asylum. Anti-smuggling laws are also being used to prosecute individuals who provide aid close to the borders.”

Overcoming the Challenges of Hunger in Libya

Despite challenges presented to them, nonprofits and international organizations are taking gradual and significant action to reduce hunger in Libya. For instance, one prevalent challenge is the ever-changing environmental landscape and sporadic resource availability. Due to dramatic fluctuations in global markets, food has become more scarce. Since the Middle East and North African region is one of the world’s largest food suppliers, rising temperatures and diminishing ability to sell food amplify hunger, especially in Libya. In fact, countries like Libya are also the most stressed for water, making matters worse.

Moreover, growing conflict in the region is straining already fragile food supplies in Libya. As Libya engages in a series of ethnic, political and military conflicts, millions have descended into hunger to the point where some are considering it one of the top 18 countries struggling with hunger.

Furthermore, warring governmental and political forces are amplifying corruption and halting aid. Since the government relies upon oil for 95% of its funding, tanks in the oil markets for the past two years have devastated the national reserve. Moreover, in a country where militias are a priority, mass Libyan hunger is often a backburner issue.

Reforms for the Future

Although hunger in Libya is a prevalent issue, if international organizations and governments work together, they can make the situation less bleak. For example, inter-regional cooperation between neighboring local governments and regional organizations can maximize food availability.

The opening of trade routes in the region has had positive effects in the past. Take, for instance, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA), which has so far provided a solid framework for increases in agricultural markets and boosting food supplies. Moreover, internationally sponsored research and development into sustainable food systems could provide fruitful prospects, such as:

  1. Increase evidence of the nutritional value and biocultural importance of these [sustainable] foods.
  2. Better link research to policy to ensure these foods are considered in national food and nutrition security strategies and actions.
  3. Improve consumer awareness of these alternative foods’ desirability so that people may more easily incorporate them into diets, food systems and markets. This approach already underwent testing in seven countries and has already shown several positive effects, reducing hunger and increasing food quality.

If international organizations, local governments and development aides spearheaded such policies, hunger in Libya could reduce if not resolve. Hunger in Libya is a serious problem, one that affects hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Nevertheless, if the world bands together to fight against poverty and hunger, Libya could see beyond tomorrow.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

UNRWA
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was specifically created to help Palestinian refugees after the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. The Palestinian refugee problem has only grown since its formation, so the U.N. has allowed the agency to continue operating.

Palestinian refugees are unique. Every person who was a resident or a resident’s descendant of what is now Israel all have a legal designation as ‘refugees.’ UNRWA now serves four generations of Palestinian refugees, having grown from serving 750,000 to 5.6 million.

The United States Pulls Funding

The United States pulled its funding from UNRWA in 2018. President Trump cited the reason behind the defunding as the agency’s incompetency. The United States had previously been contributing about $355,000 million of UNWRA’s budget.

The United States’ decision affected refugees who rely on UNRWA’s aid for education, health care, protection and basic human needs like food security. In 2017, reports determined that 39% of Palestinian refugees lived in poverty, and very little effort has occurred to assimilate Palestinians into host communities.

Palestine, Israel and the international community, in general, see the United States’ choice as an effort to delegitimize UNRWA and the 5.6 billion Palestinian refugees it serves. Revoking these generations of Palestinians’ refugee status would take away their right to return to their homeland.

Aftermath of Funding Removal

In 2020, the U.N. extended UNRWA’s mandate to the year 2023. However, UNRWA is still struggling financially. Not only did it appeal to the international community to donate a minimum of $1.4 billion for the yearly budget, but it requested another $14 million for COVID-19 emergency aid.

The UNRWA reported that it can only sustain operations until May 2020 with the added health crisis that COVID-19 brought on. It has only raised one-third of its budget. UNRWA’s director stated that the UNRWA must run on a “month to month basis” enduring the biggest financial instability since its creation.

Pleas for Help

The United States made the suggestion to transition the UNRWA’s responsibilities into the hands of the Arab countries that host Palestinian refugees. However, these nations are struggling to fill their own funding gap. Arab countries are suffering from high poverty rates and an influx of refugees from the ongoing conflict in Syria.

UNRWA has also sought the help of NGOs, such as Islamic Relief USA, to fill the funding gap. This is a faith-based organization that works to raise funds and mobilize volunteers for a range of initiatives including UNRWA. It has been helping Palestinian refugees since 1994. Islamic Relief USA has served 1,077,000 people from 2017 to 2019.

The United States government might have cut off funding to UNRWA as a result of flaws within the agency. It might have hoped to delegitimize the Palestinian right of return. Either way, Palestine’s impoverished people need UNRWA’s support. If UNRWA is not successful in gaining new donors, they will lose their access to education, health care and other necessary securities that are human rights.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

helping refugees find answers
In 2015, social entrepreneur Cornelia Röper saw a need for a platform that would help newly settled refugees with questions about employment opportunities, health, education and asylum. Röper’s experience working with a collaborative workshop for refugees in Germany made it clear to her that more work remained to help them. This was how the concept for Wefugees, an online platform helping refugees find answers to their questions, came into being.

Global Displacement Is High

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, global displacement is higher than ever before. By December 2018, around 70.8 million people had been displaced from their homes. Violence, human rights violations and wars can all cause people to migrate. Though the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe has decreased since 2015, 141,472 people arrived in Europe in 2018 alone. The death rate for those trying to reach Europe on the Mediterranean has increased to more than 1,000 people in 2019. Almost 33% of worldwide refugees come from Syria. Another 33% of the global refugee population hails from Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Children Seeking Asylum

Children and young people younger than age 18 make up 50% of the worldwide refugee population. Of these children, some 110,000 are separated from their families. In 2018, 27,600 children sought asylum in countries all over the world. As a result of this trend, 3.7 million children are currently not attending school, due to displacement.

Integrating Refugees into Society

The Wefugees platform addresses these issues by helping refugees in Röper’s native Germany become visible and successful at integrating into their new society. The interactive platform offers a safe place where displaced persons can ask specific questions, and volunteers can provide the answers.

Röper has been working full-time on these issues since February 2016. She was then joined by Wefugees co-founder Henriette Schmidt. Röper and Schmidt feel that refugees will be able to integrate into a new, unfamiliar society more effectively if they can solve their problems independently. By helping refugees find answers, Wefugees works to pass along information so that displaced persons can help themselves (with the aid of volunteers). The goal is for refugees to start their new lives on their own. Consequently, this online platform helping refugees relieves the pressure on conventional aid programs as well.

From Visas to Scholarships

The Wefugees platform addresses questions about problems such as obtaining asylum, traveling between countries, establishing residency in various countries and applying for citizenship. Also, this online platform is helping refugees with concerns about visa issues, relocation and the deportation process. Additionally, Wefugees helps refugees find answers to queries about power of attorney, international drivers’ licenses, housing markets, cultural activities and scholarships for students. The information exchange assists in the goal of helping refugees find answers to persistent problems. For instance — finding work, legal advice, healthcare, education and housing.

Changing the Future for Refugees

Word about Wefugees is growing. In 2018, Röper was included in Forbes’ list of “30 under 30 Europe: Social Entrepreneurs.” She has also received the Gates Foundation Changemaker Award. The online platform that Röper started is the world’s largest for refugee topics, with more than 8,000 users per month. More than 20,000 people have used the site, which continues the important work of helping refugees find the answers to improve their lives.

– Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

refugee storiesOf the world’s population, 79.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. There are currently about 26 million refugees worldwide. Many of these individuals have been forced to flee their homes, experiencing extreme difficulty and hardship. At the peak of the 2015 European refugee crisis, headlines surrounding refugees’ stories of fleeing their home countries saturated the news. Combined with sobering photographs, these refugee stories provided the world with a glimpse into the realities of what thousands of individuals and families were experiencing and enduring. As the years have passed, this coverage has diminished, but thousands of refugees continue to flee their homes to find asylum elsewhere.

Refugee Stories in the News

One World Media, an organization supporting independent media coverage on circumstances in developing countries, advocates for continued media coverage of the European Refugee Crisis. To do so, it launched the Refugee Reporting Award. In partnership with the British Red Cross, the award encourages accurate and empathetic coverage of the state of the continuous refugee crisis.

The Executive Director of Communications and Advocacy at British Red Cross, Zoë Abrams, expounds on the importance of telling refugee stories. She explains that these stories are key to breaking down misconceptions and bias surrounding refugees and migrants. Abrams further states that “the relative trickle of stories nowadays means it is easy to wrongly assume that the situation for people on the move has dramatically improved.” This, however, is far from true, as issues regarding migration have increased across the globe.

How We Tell Refugee Stories

Although it is important to compile and share refugee stories, the manner in which individuals and their stories are portrayed should be carefully considered. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) advises readers not to focus on refugees’ pasts, but to consider what individuals can accomplish despite what they have experienced.

The UNHCR shared the story of Shahm Maskoun, a Syrian refugee now living in France. He was finding great success in his life in Syria, but then war broke out and he was forced to flee, leaving everything behind. When Maskoun arrived in France, he had nothing and was very lonely. However, taking advantage of the support offered to refugees and migrants, he received some financial and health support. He eventually enrolled in a master’s program and then began giving back, assisting students in his classes and using his skills in internships. Reflecting on his own experiences, Maskoun says that he wants people to understand that refugees themselves aren’t the crisis, but the manner in which the media tells their stories can be problematic, insinuating they are defined by the hardships they have experienced.

The Importance of Refugee Stories

All types of refugee stories, including those highlighting the difficulties that individuals experienced while fleeing their homes and those describing the success found by refugees in other countries, have their place. A recent study shows that children need to hear refugee stories because it makes them more compassionate and empathetic, especially if refugee children are living in their communities and attending their schools.

Testing three groups of children, the results illustrated the connection between empathy and a willingness to help others. In this case, hearing the stories and experiences of the refugee children who would be joining their school class made children act accordingly with kindness and mindfulness toward their new classmates.

Compiling and telling refugee stories can be a useful tool in educating and informing the public about the state of the refugee crisis. As these stories foster empathy, it is likely that communities will remember refugees and seek to help provide them with relief and safety.

– Kalicia Bateman
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 on Migration
The novel coronavirus spread at dramatic rates since its discovery in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Some countries including China, Vietnam, New Zealand and Norway have successfully stopped the spread with an aggressive response; other countries, however, have been unwilling or unable to make similar progress. Worldwide confirmed cases currently top 20 million. While the virus is certainly transforming many aspects of life, the impact of COVID-19 on migration has become especially significant.

How COVID-19 Affects Refugees

About 80 million people have experienced forcible displacement from their home countries throughout the world. Additionally, 72 million of those asylum seekers are currently living in developing countries that lack the resources to aggressively fight a pandemic like COVID-19.

The International Rescue Committee estimates that up to 1 billion cases of COVID-19 could hit fragile countries housing the world’s refugees, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. Yemen has struggled with a major humanitarian crisis since its civil war escalated in 2015. Today an estimated 24 million people within the country are in need of assistance, with half of those individuals being children.

In most refugee camps, social distancing is impossible. One can find a prominent example of this difficulty in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. This camp crams more than 850,000 Rohingya refugees into a very small, dense area. These refugees have severely limited access to health care. The lack of clean water for handwashing could prove disastrous when attempting to combat COVID-19. In addition, malnutrition and poor sanitation make refugee camps like Cox’s Bazar a potential hotbed for viral transmission. Medical depots at the camp only have 300 beds available and will be overrun if an outbreak emerges. These makeshift hospitals lack the lifesaving respirators needed for those in critical condition. In addition, medical workers must deal with COVID-19 on top of other preexisting health crises. Diseases like cholera, malaria and tuberculosis remain a constant issue.

The impact of COVID-19 on migration is evident in the record low numbers of refugee resettlement. For the time being, the United Nations has suspended relocation. People living in these unsuitable conditions are in dire need of help. Rather than taking in these refugees, most countries have chosen to lock down their borders without exception.

The Fate of Migrant Workers

Many industries in developed and undeveloped countries alike rely on a steady stream of foreign laborers. In the age of COVID-19, there is a premium on skilled workers in key industries like healthcare. As such, some countries have expedited the migration process for doctors, nurses and scientists.

Other job types have not experienced such demand. In countries like the United Arab Emirates, migrant workers are unemployed or have unpaid wages as a result of the pandemic. These men and women have no income to send back to their families and home villages, and many face a difficult decision: return home to their families where work is even rarer or scramble to find another job under their visa before being deported.

An Opportunity for Change

The long-term impact of COVID-19 on migration remains unclear. Asylum seekers in refugee camps will likely be the last on the priority list when vaccines become available, thus delaying their relocation even further. Until refugees obtain similar health protections to citizens, coronavirus will never fully resolve.

As lockdowns gradually end, the countries hit hardest by COVID-19 will face the immense task of rebuilding their economies. As part of this process, there will likely be a focus on hiring citizens over migrant workers. Governments may choose to distribute funds to domestic industries and put foreign aid on the back burner.

There is, however, a chance to reimagine human mobility. Portugal, Ireland and Qatar moved to ensure everyone has access to health care, regardless of their citizenship status. Several European Union countries have emptied their immigration detention centers to avoid outbreaks. Italy’s new amnesty law has granted 200,000 work permits to migrant workers.

Migrant workers are a major contributor to the global GDP, performing jobs across skill levels. Foreign labor is vital to successful economies, and a more fluid entry system would help expedite the road back. It is finally in the self-interest of governments worldwide to provide an easier path for these workers and mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on migration.

– Matthew Beach
Photo: Pixabay