Refugee CrisesWars, persecution and horrific conditions caused by extreme poverty created 36 million refugees around the world. 24 million of these refugees come from just 5 countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. Here’s a look into the five largest refugee crises of our time.

Syria

Syria has 5.6 million refugees and is among the largest and most well-known refugee crises today. When the government cracked down on peaceful student protests, the Syrian Civil War started March 15, 2011 and has now killed 500,000 people.  Bombing infrastructure destroys living conditions resulting in 6 million people being displaced. With 70% of Syrians living in extreme poverty, nearly 11 million Syrians need humanitarian aid. Due to conflict, aid groups are struggling to access the areas that need assistance.

One-fourth of the world’s refugees are from Syria. Turkey and Germany host many Syrian refugees. The neighboring country of  Turkey hosts the most refugees in the world, totaling 3.6 million Syrian refugees. To handle the large influx of refugees in its country Turkey is working to improve refugee conditions. Germany hosts 1.1 million Syrian refugees. Germany recently obtained the EU presidency and plans on reforming the asylum rules so there will be a more equal number of refugees among EU states. The Syrian refugee crisis has lasted a decade and affects over 17 million people globally. If Turkey and Germany continue to work to adjust laws regarding asylum, more Syrian refugees will be able to find a safe haven in those countries.

Venezuela

Venezuelan refugees number 3.7 million. In 2014, oil prices fell and created an economic collapse. The current inflation rate of 15,000%  has pushed 14 million Venezuelans to live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day. Shortages of food, water, and medicine constantly threaten the health of Venezuelans. Hyperinflation and lack of resources drive refugees from this crisis into bordering countries such as Columbia.

Columbia hosts the second most refugees in the world with 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees. The Columbian government is working to include Venezuelan refugees economically by providing Special Stay Permits that allow more than 100,000 refugees to earn a living working in the country.

Afghanistan

Forty years of conflict following the Soviet invasion in 1979 created 2.7 million refugees from Afghanistan. Political uncertainty and conflict have led to 2 million people being displaced in Afghanistan. Natural disasters and attacks on aid workers prevent those displaced from receiving much-needed support. Pakistan and Iran host most of these refugees.

With one out of every ten refugees being from Afghanistan, this crisis needs immediate attention. Pakistan hosts 1.4 million Afghan refugees and is working with the UN to provide more schooling opportunities. However, if conditions improve in Afghanistan, it is possible that 60,000 refugees could return to Afghanistan.

South Sudan

Around 2.2 million refugees are from South Sudan. South Sudan is the youngest nation in the world after becoming independent from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, a civil war broke out causing 383,000 deaths due to violence and hunger. Meanwhile, 4 million people became displaced from their homes. Food insecurity caused by famines and war has left 5.5 million people hungry.  Malnourishment greatly affects the development of children, who make up 63% of this refugee population. This is the largest refugee crisis in Africa, with most refugees fleeing to Ethiopia and Uganda.

Uganda hosts 1.7 million refugees and works to integrate them into society by providing them with land.
Currently, there is a mental health crisis among refugees. Suicides are on the rise, and COVID-19 puts an even bigger strain on the health of South Sudanese refugees. If Uganda gains more funding, it can improve the mental health of refugees by providing more support. Uganda’s progressive approach to refugees can help South Sudanese refugees start a new life.

Myanmar

The Rohingya Crisis has created 1.1 million refugees from Myanmar. Myanmar is a Buddhist country, but the Rohingya Muslims are a minority group. The Myanmar government refuses to recognize the Rohingya people as citizens, therefore they are a stateless people. In 2017 the Myanmar army burned up to 288 Rohingya villages and carried out mass killings.  To escape persecution, over 700,000 people have fled to Bangladesh and now stay in the largest refugee camp in the world: Cox’s Bazar. In 2020 the United Nations International Court of Justice has called for an end to the violence against the Rohingya and for the government to recognize the Rohingya as citizens.

Future of Refugees

Conflict and poverty are creating refugees in 2020. Most refugees originate from Syria, but Venezuela’s numbers are beginning to rise to the same level. Host countries need to continue to reform government laws to include refugees in their communities. Millions of people, both refugees and host countries, are globally affected by the current refugee crises.

— Hannah Nelson

Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Cyprus
Homelessness in Cyprus is increasingly becoming a problem, or at least, many are just now recognizing it as a problem. Thousands of families are unable to afford the high rents and loan installments. Furthermore, asylum-seekers from a number of countries such as Syria, Cameroon, Somalia and Iraq are unable to find housing. However, the Ministry of Labor claimed in 2019 that “there isn’t a single person living on the street, not one homeless person exists.”

The leaders of Cyprus claim that the economy has spectacularly recovered from a 2012 to 2013 economic crisis in which the second-largest bank shut down and the largest, the Bank of Cyprus, had to seize deposits from savers in a bid. The government bailed out the economy, and Cyprus was able to repay the emergency liquidity assurance and regain the trust of its people. While it is true that Cyprus has made a remarkable recovery, the country cannot continue to ignore its housing problem.

Although the government has generally failed to recognize and take action against the problem of homelessness in Cyprus, here is some information regarding how Cypriots are coming together to make a difference.

Housing for All

Created in 2019, an alliance called Housing for All unites 20 social organizations together to fix the housing problem. It put forward demands and proposals to address the issue of homelessness across the European Union.

SXEDiA Shelter

A new center for the homeless opened on July 15, 2020, in Limassol called SXEDiA. The center, led by Nicos Nicolaides, teamed up with the Labor Ministry and provides shelter and support. The center’s goal is for homeless people to gain skills to re-enter the workforce. It also works to help the homeless strengthen support networks and find housing. Cyprus’ lack of data on the homeless population fuels the problem, so the group will also collect and monitor data. This is one of the first temporary accommodation centers in Cyprus.

UNHCR

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is advocating for Cyprus’ homeless, specifically the refugees. The Cyprus Refugee Law guarantees asylum-seekers immediate access to housing and social assistance after applying. However, the system currently fails to deliver on these promises. One problem is the time it takes to receive these applications, leaving many homeless and without money for long periods of time. The Kofinu Reception Center is no longer admitting single asylum-seekers, further exacerbating the problem.

However, the UNHCR claims the problem is avoidable. By allowing refugees to work as early as possible, they will become independent of state welfare and also contribute to the development of Cyprus’ economy. The UNHCR pushes for the government to review the current policy on asylum-seekers so that they can ensure a certain standard of living. They also push for assisting asylum-seekers outside of organized centers so they can more easily integrate into society.

Although homelessness in Cyprus does not seem to be a pressing problem due to the “very low rates,” it is much more of a problem than many realize. The limited statistical information hides the issue, but the number of those without housing is rising dramatically. Luckily, various organizations are taking action to ensure that the thousands in need of housing will receive it. Through direct action, Cyprus can solve its homelessness problem.

Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

homelessness in SerbiaAgainst a backdrop of poverty, unemployment, privatization and eviction, Serbia is facing a housing crisis. This widespread homelessness in Serbia disproportionately targets minority groups.

Poverty and Unemployment in Serbia

Homelessness in Serbia stems in part from the country’s poverty and unemployment rates. In 2013, a survey by The World Bank found that poverty threatened 24.5% of Serbia’s population. Recent economic recessions have highlighted joblessness as another major problem within the country, with the unemployment rate ranging from a high of 24% in 2012 to a recent low of around 12% in 2019. With many people out of a job and fighting to stay above the poverty line, homelessness looms as a real threat to Serbia’s people.

Serbia’s Housing History: Privatization and Eviction

The problem of homelessness in Serbia has been augmented by recent cuts in public housing. The privatization of housing in Serbia began with The Housing Law of 1992. The law disincentivizes the government from providing adequate public housing. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, there has since been a “virtual disintegration of state responsibility” for housing.

In 2016, another law worsened Serbia’s housing crisis. The Law on Housing and Building Maintenance, among other things, increased evictions. Evictions can catastrophically undermine human rights, especially when they threaten vulnerable communities. Before Serbia’s 2016 law was even enacted, Amnesty International called out its potential to “violate the rights of individuals and families in vulnerable communities at risk from forced eviction.”

This lack of public housing and frequent evictions have increased the threat of homelessness in Serbia. While the exact scope of the country’s situation is difficult to measure, the most recent census in 2011 estimates that around 20,000 people face homelessness in Serbia.

Vulnerable Communities: Refugees and the Roma People

When it comes to homelessness in Serbia, refugees are particularly vulnerable. Of Serbia’s refugee and internally displaced persons population, roughly 22% face poverty, placing these groups at a high risk of homelessness.

Additionally, Serbia lacks adequate space within refugee camps to shelter those coming into the country. Despite the large refugee population, the Serbian government provides sparse accommodations. In 2016, the Serbian government provided only 6,000 beds to asylum seekers, leaving many without shelter.

Another vulnerable group within Serbia is the Roma population. Low levels of education and high rates of poverty leave the Roma people struggling to afford private housing, while discrimination against them puts them at a disproportionate risk of eviction. Evictions of Roma people have become so targeted that the European Roma Rights Centre and Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm when, with little notice, 128 Roma people were evicted from their homes in Novi Beograd within one day.

Who Is Helping the Homeless?

There is good news. The Regional Housing Programme (RHP) is fighting homelessness in Serbia by providing housing for refugees. The organization has worked with over 7,000 housing units and, by 2019, had provided housing to 4,200 refugee families. On June 20, 2020, the organization celebrated World Refugee Day by moving 270 families into the RHP’s newly constructed apartment building in Belgrade. The organization’s work has gotten media attention in the form of a new film. “Here to Stay” describes RHP’s achievements and shares stories from the refugees who have found a home thanks to RHP’s help.

Another organization, Združena Akcija Krov nad Glavom (Joint Action Roof Over Your Head), is helping Serbia’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with providing housing accommodations, the organization delivers essential supplies such as food, protective masks and sanitizer to the homeless.

Organizations like these provide hope in Serbia’s fight against homelessness. In the face of the Serbian government’s lack of effort to provide clean and safe public housing to its people, these organizations are making a huge difference for the many people affected by homelessness in Serbia.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

Colombian agribusiness
As of June 2019, approximately 4 million Venezuelan refugees had fled their home country in search of shelter from the “State-Sponsored Terror” of dictator Nicolás Maduro; by the end of 2020, this number could increase to as many as 8.2 million total Venezuelans seeking refuge. Already, around 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees have sought shelter in neighboring Colombia, creating an overwhelming demand for food and other supplies in regions closest to the Colombia-Venezuela border. In response to this emerging humanitarian crisis, a Colombian agribusiness has found an innovative solution that ensures Venezuelan refugees receive food and humane treatment while also helping struggling local economies. What exactly is this solution? The agribusiness of imperfect potatoes.

Agribusiness In Motion

The Colombian agribusiness company Acceso works to revitalize the economy of a nation whose rural poverty rate is 35%. Acceso’s success derives from its business model, which links rural farmers to urban marketplaces and provides a variety of resources to farmers–from startup cost aid to seed access–to ensure that they turn a profit.

Essentially, Acceso acts as a middleman between small Colombian farms and larger stores. Acceso buys crops in bulk from small Colombian farmers in order to resell them in commercial marketplaces. However, in doing so, Acceso often ends up purchasing products like “imperfect looking but edible potatoes.” Despite their imperfections, these potatoes hold the key to the success of Acceso’s entire operation.

Crops that are too small or have visual defects like scratches are still nutritious and viable; their defects, though merely visual, impair the ability of farms and Colombian agribusiness firms to sell them in commercial marketplaces. For the small farmer, growing imperfect crops elicits a loss of money. In normal farmer-market relationships, imperfect crops either have to be sold by small farmers in local markets for a lower price or they go to waste.

Because Acceso buys all of a farm’s crops regardless of their condition, they assure that farmers are adequately compensated for all of the crops they grow. An Acceso partnership can increase the revenue of an individual farm by as much as 50%. It maximizes the profit of small farms because Acceso pays more than normal consumers would for every piece of produce grown, enriching every sector of Colombia’s farming industry and helping stabilize the economy of rural Colombia.

Colombia’s agricultural GDP has increased by 1,502 billion Colombian pesos (about $400 million) since late 2019. An increase of this quantity illuminates how the growth of Colombian agribusiness keeps small farmers from falling into poverty, rewards them for their hard work and expands the Colombian economy.

Kitchens Without Food

In 2017, 8 out of 10 Venezuelans reported having a reduced caloric intake due to a lack of food at home, and around one-third of Venezuelans eat less than three meals each day. This explains why many Venezuelan refugees in Colombia–especially children–come across the border severely undernourished.

As they cross the border into Colombia, these refugees–some of whom have only eaten salted rice for an extended period of time–need nutrition urgently. This creates immense demand for food in border cities like Cúcuta, which have seen a massive influx of Venezuelan refugees. The Colombian government has partnered with NGO’s to establish relief kitchens on the border such as Nueva Ilusión in Cúcuta in order to meet the nutritional and humanitarian needs of Venezuelan refugees.

Unfortunately, these border kitchens still struggle to find adequate funding. International relief aid for the Venezuelan refugee crisis has only totaled $580 million, a number woefully short of the amount needed to ensure humane treatment for all refugees entering Colombia. To remedy this, the Colombian government has launched over $230 million in credit lines to invest in border cities with high numbers of refugees.

Albeit, even an amount that large might be insufficient to meet the needs of the incoming refugees. Many border kitchens providing nutritious meals to Venezuelan refugees lack the appropriate financial resources to provide enough of it.

Supply? Demand.

Each organization mentioned thus far faces an issue. Acceso has acquired imperfect crops that they cannot sell. Border kitchens lack funding and need nutritious foods to turn into meals for Venezuelan refugees.

This is where supply meets demand.

Recognizing the gravity of the malnutrition crisis among Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, Acceso partnered with border kitchens like Nueva Ilusión to give Venezuelan refugees the dignified treatment they deserve.

Instead of throwing away the imperfect crops that they cannot sell, Acceso now donates these crops to border kitchens. As of March 2020, the Colombian agribusiness contributed over 480 metric tons of fruits and vegetables to border kitchens, making 4.3 million nutritious meals.

On a daily basis, the products donated by Acceso are made into around 2,000 meals per day per kitchen, 600 of which are served to malnourished children fleeing from Venezuela. By donating food to meet the demand of border kitchens, Acceso has helped make progress towards alleviating the nutritional crisis that plagues Venezuelan refugees both young and old.

With their agribusiness, Acceso links the needs of two impoverished groups in Colombia and assures that their needs are met with reciprocal flourishing. In conjunction with both the farmers and kitchens, Acceso confers economic benefits to small Colombian farms while also ensuring that border kitchens have enough food supplies to provide refugees.

Acceso’s work linking the needs of small Colombian farmers and Venezuelan refugees has helped to fill the gap in relief created by a lack of funding for humanitarian aid efforts in this region. Its successes with rural farmers and malnourished Venezuelan refugees have shown how the most impactful relief can often be found in the most dignified mediums of exchange.

Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in Refugee Camps
The African country of Burundi exists between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. Despite being slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Maryland, Burundi is home to over 10 million people. The poverty-stricken nation, independent since 1962, is currently one of the poorest countries in the world, and it relies predominantly on aid from outside donors to support its people and economy. Considering the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Burundi, maternal health in refugee camps in Burundi is a significant concern that requires attention.

The Humanitarian Crisis in Burundi

Burundi was recovering from a 10-year-long civil war when the nation descended into turmoil in 2015. The widely contended decision of President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for an unconstitutional third term in office sparked a period of intense political unrest and violence in Burundi. Occupied with dismantling resistance efforts, the government of Burundi failed to meet the basic humanitarian needs of many of its citizens. As of 2015, estimates determined that an alarming 67.3% of the population experiences undernourishment. Additionally, ongoing climate hazards continue to destroy life-sustaining farmlands and livelihoods in rural communities. Coinciding food insecurity and economic decline have also led to severe outbreaks of disease.

Burundian Refugee Camps

The instability afflicting Burundi has displaced nearly half a million people, forcing hundreds of thousands of Burundi’s citizens into refugee camps in Burundi and into neighboring countries. The quality of life in refugee camps is often poor due to overcrowding and limited resources.

Maternal Health in Refugee Camps

The influx of Burundi refugees fleeing to neighboring African countries strains pre-existing, inadequate public health infrastructures. The rise in the number of refugees seeking sanctuary in refugee camps accompanies the increased demand for health care workers and services and essential medical supplies.

The situation is particularly concerning for women as limited access to quality maternal health care in refugee camps results in alarmingly poor maternal health outcomes. Burundian women in refugee camps face high maternal mortality rates, a lack of birth preparedness and maternal services and poor treatment of obstetric complications.

Addressing the Situation

The Burundi refugee situation stands as one of the most underfunded humanitarian crises in the world. The U.N. Refugee Agency, UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations continue to fight for funding and donor support in efforts to ensure that refugees in struggling refugee camps throughout Burundi and its neighboring nations can meet their basic needs.

The U.N. Refugee Agency works specifically to improve maternal health in Burundi refugee camps. By ensuring that skilled birth attendants are available and supporting health workers with clinical training and necessary medical supplies, maternal mortality rates in refugee camps have decreased in recent years. The U.N. Refugee Agency also works to promote other central aspects of maternal health care for Burundian refugees by increasing access to care before, during and after pregnancy. Additionally, it works on granting testing and treatment of cervical cancer and fistula to women along with providing education about sexual and reproductive health and health services.

In addition to these efforts by the U.N. Refugee Agency, the United Nations Population Fund has improved maternal health in refugee camps by distributing emergency reproductive health kits, hygiene supplies and contraceptives. For Burundian refugee Chantal Uwamahoro, support from this international agency ensured the safe, healthy delivery of her baby in a fully operational maternity ward in the Mahama Refugee Camp. Uwamahoro did not expect to deliver her baby normally, as she had been walking for days to reach a camp, carrying her son on her back. However, the humanitarian efforts of the United Nations Population Fund ensured the health of both her and her baby.

Moving Forward

Though political tension and humanitarian crises endure in the nation of Burundi following the tumultuous 2020 presidential election and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, various agencies’ work to improve the quality of life in refugee camps is critical, as are efforts to better maternal health in refugee camps and bolster maternal health outcomes across the region.

Alana Castle
Photo: Flickr


In 2018, the Netherlands’ government reported that 584,000 households, or 7.9% of the general population, were subsisting on an income at or below the poverty line. In other words, they were making less than 60% of the national median disposable income. This is relatively low; the Netherlands has the fifth-lowest rate of poverty amongst the nations in the European Union, and poverty rates have been on the decline over the past several years due to economic growth and lower unemployment rates. However, refugee poverty in the Netherlands remains a major concern.

The Netherlands’ Reputation

Refugees and immigrants have always been attracted to the country because of its historically high levels of tolerance. The Netherlands is also notorious for being a nation of prosperity, egalitarianism, and humanitarian aid. For instance, in World War I, 900,000 Belgians sought refuge in the Netherlands, which was neutral, to escape fighting. During the Holocaust, tens of thousands of people fleeing the Nazis hid in the Netherlands until it was occupied by Axis powers. 

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and once again, tens of thousands of people from all over the world are applying for asylum in the Netherlands each year. Although some are moving around within the European Union, many are escaping their war-torn countries of birth. In 1998, this was due to the Yugoslav wars, which kept the number of asylum seekers at high numbers until 2004. In 2015, the Syrian Civil War commenced the flow of a new wave of refugees that are still coming in high numbers today.

Refugees Struggle Financially

Although these refugees are welcomed into the country, they do not fare as well economically as their Dutch counterparts. Currently, 79% of Syrian refugees are making less than the low-income threshold, and 95% rely on income support as their main source of income.  The nationality of refugees that are best off, Iranians, are still four times as likely to be living in poverty as their Dutch counterparts. In total, 53% of refugee households have a low income

A cycle has developed because sectors of the Dutch economy, such as agriculture and labor, depend on migrant workers. However, these jobs consistently do not pay well, and few efforts have been made to increase their wages. Because refugees typically do not have schooling on par with those from the EU, they have limited job options, and they continue to struggle economically.

Who Is Helping

The Dutch government has done a lot to help incoming refugees. To ensure that immigrants are adjusting well to a new country, immigrants must take a national integration exam within three years of arrival. There are additional levels of support for highly educated refugees resettling in the Netherlands. The Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF) allows for better planning of “educational guidance, language training and educational courses once refugees arrive in the Netherlands.” UAF provides housing for refugees in areas that are close to universities and higher education establishments, and it has recently created a mentor program that matches Dutch students with resettled refugees to provide them with support to settle into university life.

The Netherlands has been a place refugees immigrated to during many different conflicts, including the 2015 Syrian Civil War. However, an economic gap still remains between native-born Dutch citizens and refugees. In order to address this issue, the government and UAF have been working to make the transition into the country easier and positively impact refugee poverty in the Netherlands. 

– Sophie van Leeuwen
Photo: Pixabay

Humanitarian Aid for the Rohingya Refugee CrisisThe Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar, a Buddhist country, has been severely discriminated against throughout history. Discriminatory policies in Myanmar deny citizenship to the Rohingya people. Additionally, Rohingya individuals cannot obtain birth certificates, receive an education or be employed legally. In August of 2017, violent attacks and persecution against the Rohingya people forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Almost one million Rohingya refugees currently live in refugee camps in the Cox Bazar region of Bangladesh.

Many organizations and international agencies are providing aid and support to the Rohingya refugee crisis. In addition to improving access to basic needs such as food, water, and shelter, UNICEF and the UNHCR have recognized access to education as a top priority.

The UNHCR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is supporting the refugee population with basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and health services, including mental health resources. One of the largest challenges that the refugee camps face is flooding from annual monsoons in the Cox Bazar region. The UNHCR was able to relocate over 24,000 Rohingya and provide more than 150,000 monsoon preparation kits in anticipation of the monsoon season. These efforts continued through 2019 with the additional construction of 50 miles of infrastructure including bridges and roads and the distribution of post-disaster kits.

The UNHCR also provides first aid training for refugees and has trained more than 1,200 individuals. They also lead sessions to raise awareness about emergency preparedness within communities and have reached more than 80,000 Rohingya through these programs. Providing the Rohingya with access to education is one of the main goals for the UNHCR. Many children were not receiving any formal education in Myanmar due to discriminatory policies. The UNHCR has reached 502,000 refugee children with some form of education by building 1,602 learning areas and bringing 1,251 teachers to the area.

UNICEF

In collaboration with the government of Bangladesh, UNICEF has recently launched a plan to increase access to education for Rohingya refugee children in the Cox Bazar region. The curriculum will be tested on 10,000 children in grades six through nine during the first half of 2020. From there, it will expand for all ages. Education is a key factor to help the integration of the Rohingya people into society in Myanmar. Refugees are already at a significant disadvantage as a result of discrimination and consequential displacement. They lack basic resources such as nutritious food, proper housing and medical services. Access to education can help Rohingya refugees to reintegrate into society instead of further exacerbating disparities. It can increase their chances of finding employment and decrease poverty rates.

UNICEF has also been running informal education programs that have reached 315,000 refugee children in 3,200 learning centers. Subjects studied include English and Burmese language, Math and life skills or science depending on the level. The majority of children are still at levels one and two which are comparable to pre-primary to second-grade level. UNICEF has programs in place for adolescent education as well which include vocational and life skills. Education can tackle the Rohingya refugee crisis by reducing the chances of children being exposed to trafficking, child marriage and abuse as well as empowering refugee children.

Southeast Asian Governments

Two boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees set out in February 2020 but were stuck at sea for months after setting out to find refuge. Many countries have denied them entry, leaving the refugees stranded without sufficient supplies of food or water. Bangladesh has taken in over one million Rohingya refugees since the violence and persecution began in Myanmar. However, in April 2020 the Foreign Minister Abdul Momen stated that Bangladesh would not allow any more Rohingya into the country. Momen cited the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the numerous refugees already in Bangladesh, as reasons for this decision.

Other Southeast Asian governments such as Malaysia and Thailand have also failed to assist the refugees. The Malaysian officials who initially found one of the boats attempted to bring it back to international waters but about 50 refugees were able to swim to shore and are currently detained in Malaysia. The UNHCR has requested access in order to support these refugees with humanitarian aid with no response from Malaysia.

Nearby governments should cooperate to provide assistance to Rohingya refugees in their own countries. They need to provide resources such as health services and basic needs, especially during a global pandemic. These governments should be cooperating with international agencies to address the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar.

– Maia Cullen
Photo: Human Rights Watch

Hunger in Niger
About 20% of people in Niger are food insecure due to a growing population, regional conflict and environmental challenges. Though that percentage is rising, international organizations and governments are finding innovative ways to end hunger in Niger.

Threats to Food Security in Niger

According to the World Bank, Niger’s population is increasing annually by 3.8%, well above the average for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Coupled with a large number of refugees from countries like Mali and Nigeria, an extremely high birth rate is driving Niger’s population growth and ultimately causing food resources to become scarce.

As a result of the conflicts on the borders of Mali and in the Lake Chad Basin, an influx of refugees has migrated to Niger. Further, these regional conflicts have caused widespread displacement among Nigerien citizens domestically, resulting in a major displacement crisis. According to the Norweigan Refugee Council, Niger’s displacement crisis is severe and worsening from the lack of international aid and media coverage. Because food resources are scarce, this displacement crisis is intensifying hunger in Niger.

In addition to the upsurge in Niger’s population, environmental challenges pose a threat to food security. Niger experiences an annual dry or “lean,” season where a lack of rainfall limits crop production and thus lowers the availability of food. A dry season is regular and Niger’s people expect it; however, in the past 20 years, rainfall and temperature have become increasingly irregular, causing more severe food shortages. Nigerians are concerned that desertification and rising global temperatures will only extend and intensify the dry season, disrupting the livelihoods of the majority of rural Nigerien households that rely predominantly on agriculture to survive.

Although food insecurity affects all types of Nigerien communities, it more heavily affects two demographic groups: women and children. Women and children in Niger are more likely to experience malnourishment, which leads to higher rates of anemia. According to the World Food Programme, estimates determined that 73% of Nigerien children under the age of 5 and 46% of Nigerien women are anemic.

The International Community’s Role in Ending Hunger in Niger

Countries like the United States are supporting programs like the World Food Programme, Mercy Corps and Doctors Without Borders to relieve both the immediate and long-term effects of food insecurity in Niger. Each organization takes unique approaches to end hunger in Niger.

The World Food Programme, for instance, focuses on land rehabilitation programs that provide food and financial aid to families who are trying to recover unproductive farmland. The hope is that healthy land will allow agriculture in Niger to be prolific in the future.

Mercy Corps works with mostly Nigerien citizens on projects that encourage people in Niger to diversify their livelihoods in order to ensure that families have several opportunities to earn income in the event that climatic shocks should continue to stunt the agricultural industry. It helped more than 130,000 people in Niger in 2018.

While the World Food Programme and Mercy Corps focus largely on developing a self-sufficient Nigerien economy, Doctors Without Borders works to alleviate the immediate consequences of hunger in Niger by treating acute malnutrition, especially in children. The organization provided 225 families with relief kits in Tillabéri.

While regional conflict, a rapidly growing population and unpredictable weather further food insecurity in Niger, the international community is seeking a multidimensional solution to stimulate the Nigerien economy, end hunger in Niger and help communities flourish.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Flickr

signpostAs of last year, there were almost 80 million “forcibly displaced people worldwide.” This figure includes refugees, asylum-seekers and others. As refugee communities are in crucial need of proper medical aid to withstand the COVID-19 pandemic, global powers are devising plans to help them. During the early stages of worldwide lockdown, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) proposed a $33 million pandemic-response plan for improving refugee settlements. Objectives include increasing health service availability, spreading reliable and medical-oriented information throughout refugee communities and implementing efficient surveillance systems. 

Although these efforts were a step in the right direction, they are not enough to assist every displaced refugee in the world. Groups like the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) are certainly championing refugees’ needs. However, it does not take a global superpower to make a positive impact on refugee communities; one website has helped refugees during the pandemic through access to information.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Refugees

COVID-19 has impacted refugees and other forcibly displaced people in three major ways:

  • Health: Constantly sanitizing, maintaining social distance and obtaining medical information are luxuries that many refugees do not have access to. As such, a refugee’s health is in constant jeopardy.
  • Income: Refugees working in informal jobs are likely to have been laid off due to the pandemic, and losing work means losing the only financial safety net for a refugee.
  • Protection: Hostile xenophobic and racist sentiments have been directed at asylum-seekers during the pandemic, which makes those seeking refuge in foreign countries targets for violence.

While these three obstacles are preventing many refugees from securing safety, they can be solved with one essential tool—information. Reliable information regarding health, income and protection can help many refugees.

Signpost as Virtual Back-up

Signpost is a non-governmental organization (NGO) and a virtual project that utilizes digital platforms to spread critical information throughout vulnerable communities. The organization has made a large impression since its founding in 2015. It has positively impacted almost two million people. Signpost has effectively helped and communicated with people across eight different countries, which demands fluency in several languages. Accurately conveying information regarding public health services and other needs to refugees using their native tongue has saved thousands of lives.

Everywhere, refugees are struggling to find trustworthy information about COVID-19. In response, Signpost has been reaching out and providing valuable, potentially life-saving, information to refugees. In particular, Signpost has supported the most vulnerable communities in countries like Greece, Italy, El Salvador and Honduras.

  • Signpost in Greece: Signpost has developed an app that has numerous services listed for refugee use such as medical services, transportation and housing. Also, the organization is scheduled to put out a website for current COVID-19 information throughout the country.
  • Signpost in Italy: The organization has given asylum-seekers information about essential services through Facebook, an established panel where users could ask questions and share key information regarding COVID-19. In Italy, Signpost focused specifically on informing refugees about Italy’s healthcare services and policies.
  • Signpost in El Salvador and Honduras: Signpost developed CuentaNos. It is a virtual platform that not only provides vulnerable people with information about housing or protective services, but also about COVID-19 and locations for medical assistance. Signpost also bundled its online resources efficiently to allow refugees accessibility through WhatsApp.

Everyone has been affected by the pandemic, but asylum-seekers and refugee communities are especially disadvantaged since they are displaced from their home country. Signpost, a website, has helped refugees by providing access to important information about dealing with COVID-19. Although Signpost is just one example, technology-based organizations are mobilizing to provide some type of digital support for refugees. Whether help comes via the Internet or in-person, any outstretched hand toward refugees anywhere is a glimmering sign of hope for a better future.

– Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Libya
Libya is home to historical Greek ruins, the Sahara desert and valuable oil reserves. However, it also currently suffers from a state of instability. The country has experienced division due to a civil war between Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar’s militias in the east. Militant groups who gained power amid the lack of government control, including al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia, have exacerbated this conflict. This fractured leadership has left civilians suffering from a struggling economy and the continual violence plaguing the region. Libyans must flee their homes to avoid imminent danger, often with nowhere to go. As a result, homelessness in Libya is a growing problem that requires attention and resources.

The Growing Homelessness Problem

War often leaves people displaced or lacking basic necessities, and the Libyan war is no exception. The threat of shellings and uncontrolled violence has left around 120,000 people homeless in and around Tripoli, the nation’s capital. Many have no choice but to sleep on the streets, under trees or with whatever materials are available. Others find makeshift shelters such as public gardens, tents or converted buildings to offer slightly more protection. Old hotels, abandoned factories and schoolhouses become temporary homes for those who have nowhere else to turn.

With so many severely in need of shelter and resources, Libya turned to the Government of National Accord (GNA) for help. In response, the GNA dedicated about $85.7 million to help displaced civilians. However, homelessness in Libya persists and calls for further solutions.

The Plight of Refugees

As violence escalates, some Libyans search for better lives in different countries. Many have tried to escape to Europe, Niger or anywhere that offers more peace and stability. Unfortunately, due to Libya’s proximity to Europe, even refugees fleeing other countries must first travel through Libya. This pathway to Europe is so heavily trafficked that some estimate there are over “645,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Libya.” Only a percentage of people successfully make this journey, leaving many stranded and homeless.

Detention facilities under the GNA are holding refugees who are unable to leave the country. According to the U.N., detention centers have been holding about 3,200 people as of February, 2020. The centers pose new problems. They are overcrowded, unsanitary and lacking ventilation and lighting. They also severely lack the resources necessary to feed those experiencing detainment there. One GNA employee told The New Humanitarian that each day the center allots residents only “one piece of bread” and a “plain pasta dish for every six people.”

Organizations such as Refugees International urge the E.U. to put pressure on Libya to improve conditions. For example, it asks that the GNA discontinues the detention of refugees in closed facilities and instead employs the use of open facilities. When detention centers are open facilities, they are subject to international standards and must grant access to NGOs wanting to help.

As homelessness in Libya increases due to war, organizations are working to ensure that people seeking refuge no longer have to endure inhuman conditions in detention centers.

NGOs Answering the Call

In addition to Refugees International, NGOs such as the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are working to address the current crisis in Libya. The UNHCR recognizes the needs of refugees and displaced people. In order to improve the lives of this demographic, the UNHCR provides a number of services:

  1. The UNHCR funds public services such as hospitals and schools. This improves the quality of life and creates an opportunity for growth in the community.
  2. It provides displaced people with shelter, money and resources to ensure that they receive some aid.
  3. The UNHCR fights to end detention centers, advocating instead for more humane alternatives like programs for child care and family tracing.
  4. It works to resettle and reunite families. The goal of resettling is to create a sustainable, safe and healthy life for families displaced due to war.

Looking Forward

For the first time in years, there is some hopeful news out of Libya. In June 2020, the GNA pushed Haftar out of the west and out of Tripoli. This may be an opportunity for international intervention and support in the form of increased security or economic aid. Libya may finally be able to imagine an end to its turmoil and look toward rebuilding. This should also grant hope for a solution to homelessness in Libya. Economic improvement and rebuilding could allow citizens to return to their homes and their lives so that they too can try to rebuild.

– Abigail Gray
Photo: Wikimedia Commons