Inflammation and stories on UNHCR

The French government has pledged to provide €500,000 ($567,000) to a migrant town near Calais. The make-shift town has been a source of controversy for France and a point of criticism from the United Nations due to poor sanitation standards and treatment of migrants.

This camp, dubbed “New Jungle” by locals, is home to an estimated 4,000 migrant workers who left their home countries to find work and refugee status in Great Britain. When high security prevented them from crossing the English Chanel the migrants were left stranded in France, in a political limbo.

The majority of the migrants are sans papiers (without papers) and have a difficult time finding work or government aid without legal documentation. When opportunities in France dwindle, the migrants (including women and children) are left without a place to go except for the camps.

Last year, the government of France shut down another nearby migrant town nicknamed the “Jungle”. The area had had humanitarian groups concerned for several years.

Since the area was not a legal town, it did not have any government protection nor requirements to meet health standards. Makeshift tents surrounded the area, and the undocumented migrants living there had little to no access to water, electricity or food resources.

The destruction of the camp only resulted in the creation of another migrant camp north of Calais, the current “New Jungle”. Like its predecessor, New Jungle has been condemned by the United Nations.

Philippe Leclerc, a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, described living conditions as “absolutely appalling”.

New Jungle residents are often surrounded by garbage and there is no running water. Although there are surrounding towns, several of the migrant workers fear leaving due to worries about racial discrimination and hate crimes.

As a result, sanitation standards are very low and the migrant workers have very little opportunities to buy food or seek medical attention.

The current aid will lessen some of the migrant workers’ woes. The French government will begin working on plans to provide running water, electricity and better access to medical care for the migrants.

Part of the money will also go into creating sturdier homes in the New Jungle and another 10,500 lodgings throughout France. These lodgings will be available to men, women and children who currently reside in France as migrants.

While the European Union believes it is a step in the right direction, the French government worries for how long this can last. France has experienced large amounts of migrants entering the country for the past 15 years. However, current crises in the Middle East and Africa have caused more people to enter France in the past six months.

Brigitte Lips, a Calais resident, states, “The ones who make it here have already escaped death several times. They’ve crossed war-torn Sudan, then the Libyan desert, and then packed into rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea.”

As long as war and poverty continue to grow in regions such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Syria the amount of refugees and migrants entering France will continue to increase.

Erendira Jimenez

Sources: UNHCR, Express, NPR
Photo: Express

Why Are Libyan Refugees Drowning At Sea?-TBP
The distance from Benghazi to Sigonella, Sicily is 470 miles. On a small and inefficient fishing boat, that could be two to three weeks at sea. Ahmad, like all Libyan refugees, must be ready to endure an extremely dangerous voyage upon a vessel crammed over capacity. He must be ready to not have adequate water and food as he and many others navigate the perilous waves and winds of the Mediterranean Sea. In the back of his mind, he is aware that he may drown, like the 800 Libyan refugees in April of 2015 when their over-packed fishing boat capsized.

Yet, he is willing to make the sacrifice for a supposedly better life. So why are he and countless other Libyan refugees willing to drown at sea for this trip? The answer is not simply due to political violence and warring factions that fight for control of precious resources and cities. The situation is far more complex, but one of the main reasons is the inadequate aid that Libya’s health and educational systems are receiving after NATO’s military intervention in 2011.

In 2010, barring debates of human rights violations, Libya was considered an economic jewel of Northern Africa. Life expectancy was higher than anywhere else in Africa and the Middle East. Children between the ages of one and two years of age had a 98% immunization rate against measles, and 97% of the population had access to improved sanitation facilities.

Education was another bright spot for the nation. Women’s education was the most progressive in Northern Africa, where over 50% of university enrollment were women. According to data from the United Nations, primary-secondary enrollment ratio (female/male per 100) between 2006 and 2012 was 112.5 to 106.0.

Today, the educational system in Libya is in complete shambles. A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson explained that one of the main areas of concern for Benghazi was the closure of over 60 schools and universities. Instead of teaching, many of the schools are now public housing for displaced Libyans. As the next generation becomes uneducated, they are more likely to join extremist groups in hopes of achieving work and status.

The lack of access to medical treatment is taking its toll on the country’s vulnerable population. In a World Health Organization (WHO) report from January 2015, Libya’s hospitals are overburdened with internally displaced persons (IDPs). There is an increasing strain on Emergency Medical Services (including obstetric care) and insufficient capacity of health services to cope with increasing numbers requiring emergency healthcare due to decreased staff numbers.

On top of the lack of staff and facilities, there is a significant risk of transmission of communicable disease (TB, HIV and possibly Ebola) through the thousands of illegal immigrants passing through Libya. The report also states that there is “an increased possibility of outbreaks (especially measles) due to the recent displacement and the disruption of the primary health care network in the main cities.”

Since the start of the year, there are an estimated 150,000 refugees migrating to Europe. That number is only likely to increase.

Countries such as Italy and Greece have been overwhelmed by the majority of refugees. On June 14 of this year, the Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi addressed the European Union (EU) insisting that “Europe’s answers have so far have not been good enough.” He urges the EU to aid in setting up refugee processing camps in Libya to help with the relocation process.

This is, however, not enough, as processing camps will eventually become overwhelmed with escaping refugees. More aid is needed to address the growing needs of the Libyan people. In March, WHO delivered medical supplies to help serve 250,000 people. The aid was donated by Italy and the Central Emergency Response Fund.

On May 21, the United Nations hunger relief agency delivered ten trucks with food and humanitarian relief. In conjunction with the World Food Programme, they aim to provide life-saving assistance to over 243,000 IDPs over the course of six months. Unfortunately, no aid was delivered in March and April due to lack of funding, and another $14 million is needed to ensure the food operation continues uninterrupted.

The United States and its allies must send foreign aid to Libya for the rebuilding of the health and education systems. Libya is slowly heading down the same path as Iraq and Syria. If no aid is sent, the migration pressure on Europe will become too strenuous, eventually affecting that region. If the Libyan people are not assisted and more take to the seas, the economic conditions will further worsen in Europe, which in turn, will not bode well for the United States.

– Adnan Khalid

Sources: Centre for Research on Globalization, Free Map Tools, The Guardian, UN Data, UN 1, UN 2 UN Refugee Agency, WHO 1, WHO 2, World Bank
Photo: Esquire

Khaled Hosseini Foundation: 2015 Update
Khaled Hosseini has worked hard to give back to his native country of Afghanistan over the years. His novels show the ravages of poverty, gender discrimination, militant oppression and children being orphaned in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, what he describes in his novels is not limited to fiction.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that Afghans are displaced due to insurgency, and that the country’s stability is still threatened in 2015. Although the violence continues, many of the previously displaced citizens are returning to Afghanistan, primarily in urban regions. UNHCR also reports that “currently, there is no national asylum and refugee legislation in Afghanistan, so UNHCR is conducting refugee status determination (RSD).”

The Khaled Hosseini Foundation has partnered with UNHCR to help the Afghan people, especially refugees, move out of poverty by providing educational and economic opportunities, building shelters and supplying healthcare for women and children.

Those are broad categories and great initiatives but they are not unreachable: people’s lives are being positively affected through the financial support that the foundation has given, which has gone towards the following programs:

  • Building Shelters — Much of the foundation’s focus is on providing shelters for refugees to protect Afghans from the country’s harsh summers and bitterly cold winters.
  • Funding to Trust in Education — The grant in 2008 and 2009 gave teachers financial support and provided for the construction of classrooms to help teach 849 children, 602 of whom were girls. In 2014-2015, funding was used to run before- and after-school programs and 10 Aschiana scholarships (sums given to families to offset what children would have made on the street to keep those children in school) were awarded.
  • Emergency USA — In 2011, a mobile ultrasound machine was bought for a maternity center in the city of Anabah. In 2013-2014, another center was able to purchase a CPAP machine for its neonatal unit, and in 2015 further support was given to an Emergency USA center’s maternity and gynecology unit.
  • Afghan Women’s Writing Program — In 2014, the foundation gave funds to help expand the program online, to give weekly writing prompts with mentor feedback and to have more published pieces in the Dari dialect for the women in the program.

There are many more wonderful programs that the Khaled Hosseini Foundation is supporting through grants and funding, all for the purpose of helping the people of Afghanistan, but most of the programs have the same foci as the ones mentioned above: providing shelter and helping women and children become educated and receive proper healthcare.

The foundation also offers many ways for individuals to become involved and help raise funds and awareness for the people of Afghanistan.

  • Donate — The foundation is a non-profit that works through the gifts of generous people.
  • Purchase Fair Trade Gifts — The shop on the website has many wonderful products that include bracelets, purses, bookmarks and a Golden Star Ornament. The crafts are created by women in refugee camps and the money from the sales goes to provide food, medical care and education for the families there.
  • Book Club Program — The foundation has created videos and supplementary materials to correspond with Hosseini’s novels. Your book club could not only read the novel and learn more about modern Afghanistan, but could also have a funding drive to help provide a shelter for an Afghan family.
  • Student Outreach for Shelters (SOS) — This is an offshoot of the foundation and is geared toward students. Free curriculae based off of Hosseini’s books are available for download. Students are then given the opportunity to fundraise to help build shelters in Afghanistan.

The Khaled Hosseini Foundation is creating an impact among the Afghan people through direct support of vital needs in the communities. Hosseini is also using his influence as an author to open the eyes of his readers to the needs of the Afghan impoverished.

If you would like to learn more about his foundation, click here; to incorporate his books into your lesson plans, visit SOS.

– Megan Ivy

Sources: Khaled Hosseini Foundation, Student Outreach for Shelters, UN Refugee Agency 1, UN Refugee Agency 2
Photo: Yahoo

Angelina Jolie UNHCRAngelina Jolie is invested in refugee issues, and has been involved with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as UNHCR, since 2000. Her interest and activism in humanitarian affairs began in 2000 when she visited Cambodia to shoot her film “Tomb Raider.” Her dedication to displaced persons, refugees and humanitarian assistance has generated substantial domestic and international attention.

In 2001, she was named a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, as she conducted forty field missions to some of the most remote areas of the world. In April 2012, she was appointed as Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. According to UNHCR, “In her new and expanded role, she will be focusing on major crises resulting in mass population displacements; undertaking advocacy and representing UNHCR and Guterres at the diplomatic level; and engaging with decision-makers on global displacement issues. Through this work, she will help contribute to the vital process of finding solutions for people displaced by conflict.” Her first mission as Special Envoy was in Ecuador in 2012.

Jolie’s contributions to UNHCR have been tremendous. Not only does she advocate on the behalf of refugees, engage with diplomacy and activities relating to global displacement issues and inspire others, she has also donated over five million dollars to UNHCR since 2001. Jolie continues to bear witness to and support disaster relief, vulnerable children, environmental conservation and international law and justice efforts.

In 2003, she started the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which has contributed funds to Namibia, Ethiopia and Cambodia. This foundation includes microcredit programs, rural planning, health care, agriculture, education and infrastructure. She also launched the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children, co-chairs the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, became a member of the influential Council on Foreign Relations and continues to be active in the international community and zones of conflict and instability.

In January 2015, Jolie visited Dohuk, Iraq in pursuits of ending suffering in the region. She met with Syrian refugees and Iraqi citizens of the Kurdistan region, investigating the current humanitarian situation. She reported, “As the conflict in Syria approaches its fifth year, the war in Syria is at the root of so many of the problems faced here in Iraq and across the region. There is an urgent need for international leadership to break the cycle of violence in Syria, and to find a way forward towards a just and sustainable peace agreement.” Her dedication to the cause of refugees, displacement and humanitarianism is indispensable.

Jolie has been recognized for her effective efforts. She was the first recipient of the Citizen of the World Award in 2003, followed by the Global Humanitarian Award in 2005 for her work with refugees. Her efforts were further recognized in 2007, when the International Rescue Committee awarded the Freedom Award to Jolie and High Commissioner Guterres for their contributions to the cause of refugees and human freedom.

Neti Gupta

Sources: UNHCR 1, UNHCR 2, USA for UNHCR
Photo: Flickr


For the last 25 years, Women’s Refugee Commission has pushed hard for policies and programs that would drastically improve their way of living. Displaced women, men, children and young people have been living in tents in extremely populated, dusty camps. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has come up with ways to change the way refugees are living and want to make crowded, dirty camps an anomaly as opposed to the norm for Johannesburg.

The international humanitarian community saw the crisis in Syria, that left over three million refugees, and realized that there needs to be action taken to improve the reality in Johannesburg. Currently, there are 17 million refugees in the world, and only about one third of them live in camps. The ones who choose to not live in the camps live in the cities where it is possible for them to live more independently.

UNHCR released a policy statement back in 2009 saying that urban areas were a legitimate place for refugees to enjoy their rights. Going even further, now there has been a new policy released that commits the agency to “actively pursue alternatives to camps whenever possible.” This is the first recognized statement that we know of by the UNHCR saying that camps should indeed be a last resort for refugees.

In addition, refugee camps in Johannesburg have grown to become difficult to fund. “A lot of funding goes to new emergencies but within as little as 18 months, if the emergency is not continuing, there’s a falling away of donor support,” said Steven Corliss, director of UNHCR’s Programme Management and Support division. As the funding starts to trickle away, even basic services start to be in jeopardy like education and food.

The biggest obstacle that this policy would face is getting host states on board with it. The objective would be to convince the governments of these host states that alternatives to camps can not only improve the lives of the refugees and be better for them overall, but also it can increase local economies and communities.

The first step to executing this policy is to not only offer the refugees aid but also rights. These rights would include things like the right to go to work and send kids to school to get basic education. Michael Kagan, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at Nevada University’s William S. Boyd School of Law, supports the alternatives to refugee camps and said, “They have to have rights to be able to rebuild their lives in dignity. And that requires government buy-in.”

Although this policy is ambitious, it seems to have the support needed to be implemented and in turn help the refugees live more independently and build a better future.

Brooke Smith

Sources: IRIN News, Women’s Refugee Commission
Photo: Flickr

UNHCR Aids Western Libya
Over the past few weeks, what started as a confrontation between militias in Libya, has slowly escalated to a point that concerns various countries: that Libya will deteriorate and become a full-fledged failed state. As a result, for the first time, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has sent aid to those in Western Libya.

The UNHCR has estimated that their supplies will reach around 12,000 people who have been internally displaced since the conflict reignited a few weeks ago. Members of the UNHCR aid Western Libya with vital supplies like blankets, sleeping bags and various medical equipment. The majority of the aid has been dropped off at Zawiya, which is offering shelter to the refugees and is located about 45 kilometers to the east of Tripoli.

Saado Quol, the acting chief of mission in Libya for the UNHCR, said that “This weekend’s operation is crucial and, we hope, paves the way for other humanitarian aid to reach affected populations who are stranded and in dire need of assistance.”

The current conflict was recently reignited about a month ago, starting with small-scale fighting and combat between a couple militias over control of the Tripoli airport. Since then, fighting has increased exponentially to the surrounding areas, causing an international response and certain nations pulling their diplomats from the country. It has also caused disruption in the supplies of food, water and food to civilians. The Red Cross and Red Crescent have estimated that at least two million people are at risk of food shortages.

The flight of diplomats and foreign assistance has only worsened the situation. This recent batch of aid is a step in the right direction of helping, but other nations need to increase, not decrease, their presence if they desire a safe and lasting conclusion to the instability in the country.

– Andre Gobbo

Sources: UNHCR, The Borgen Project, Foreign Policy, NY Times
Photo: UNHCR

Kurdistan Border
The recent turmoil taking place in Iraq has caused massive changes in the political, social and cultural landscape of the country. One interesting area that hasn’t been given very much attention is Kurdistan, located in the northernmost portion of the country.

The semi-autonomous region has remained very stable, which is particularly intriguing considering that the rest of the country is beginning to unravel. As a result, it has become a very desirable destination for Iraqi refugees suffering from the turmoil in their local communities; the number of Iraqis attempting to cross the Kurdistan border has grown.

When conflict first started to break out in Iraq, the Kurdistan borders were open for any Iraqi who needed shelter and security. In the immediate aftermath of ISIS taking Mosul, around 500,000 Iraqis made their way into Kurdistan. However, more recently the border has been significantly tightened as fewer and fewer people are able to cross into Kurdistan.

According to various NGOs working along the border, checkpoints have been increasingly closed off to migrants, leaving thousands waiting for days on end in the blazing heat. This wait is made even worse by a severe lack of information and limited access to food, water and shelter.

One major checkpoint, Khazair, does have a transit camp that is open to those waiting to get into Kurdistan. It offers some modicum of shelter and safety, but very little comfort. A recent report from REACH has indicated that just under half of the refugees were at the camp because they had been refused entry into Kurdistan.

Despite these less than ideal circumstances along the Kurdish border, there’s an even deeper layer to the process of entering the area. Various rights groups have brought attention to different levels of access offered to people and families based on their religious affiliation and ethnicity. Kurds, Christians, and those who have sponsors inside Kurdistan are able to cross with relative ease.

In comparison, Sunni and Shia Arabs have been regularly stopped and/or sent to temporary holding sites. As one senior aid worker from an NGO who chose to remain anonymous said, “The blocking of entry to people along ethnic lines is an issue and it needs to be looked at.”

This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that the Kurdish Regional Government has no well-defined entry policy for their region. As Liene Viede, a public information officer for the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) explained: “There is no general and common access policy… According to the observations of our monitors, access policies applied at checkpoints are increasingly unpredictable.”

It remains to be seen how badly this discrimination is affecting the overall access to Kurdistan, or whether more complete or better defined regulations regarding border crossings are in the works. However, the lack of predictability and potential for conflict along ethnic lines is beginning to loom large in what is considered to be one of the most stable areas in the country.

Andre Gobbo

Sources: IRIN 1, REACH, IRIN 2
Photo: The Guardian

Innovative new technologies are changing the way commissioners design shelters for refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has partnered with Stanford University and Ennead, a prominent firm of U.S. architects, to create a new way of designing refugee settlements. This new method accomplishes design prep work in advance, allowing settlements to be mapped out to specifically cater to the region’s needs.

The UNHCR estimated that in 2011, 42 million people were displaced from their homes, 10.5 million of which were refugees who lived in camps. Three years later, that number has topped 50 million. On average, refugees spend 17 years in asylum and camps are increasingly becoming long-term places of residence.

Because of the growing number of refugees and the changing nature of the settlements, the UNHCR decided to “look critically at the process of planning and designing camps.”

UNHCR met with architects from Ennead Laboratories at Stanford University, and this collaboration has turned into a three-year venture with innovative results. The project lead to the creation of an innovative settlement mapping toolkit.

When refugees are pouring over borders, desperately seeking asylum, there isn’t time to labor over designing a refugee encampment. The toolkit developed by Ennead labs gives governments the ability to make a smart choice about where to set up refugee camps.

According to UNHCR’s Monica Noro, “The tool aims to provide more information about whether those sites being proposed are viable or not, and whether or not another option eventually could have a better impact, not just on the life of the refugees but also on the life of the local population.”

Using data maps, Google Earth topography and 3-D printers, proposed camps can be presented in a tangible, easy-to-visualize manner.

The New York Times described the change in camp mapping as “a basic civilizing push toward urbanization that clearly happens even in desperate places –people leaving their stamp wherever they live, making space they occupy their own.”

The Zatari Refugee Camp in Jordan is an example of such a space. Just miles from the border of war-torn Syria, this camp was designed as an informal city, complete with neighborhoods and a growing economy.

Zatari even boasts its own pizza delivery service and a travel agency with pickup service at the airport.

When refugees are living in camps, they are more likely to make a smoother transition from extreme poverty into their new lives.

Smarter planning of settlements assures that refugees are not a burden on the host country, but rather a well-planned asset.

– Grace Flaherty

Sources: IRIN News, NY Times

Around 230,000 people have fled their homes due to the conflict in Ukraine between the Kiev government forces and self-defense forces.

As of July 18, around 100,000 have left the conflict-ridden area for other parts of Ukraine while nearly 130,000 have crossed the border into Russia.

The destinations of Ukrainians displaced by the conflict are camps in other parts of Ukraine or in southern Russia. Some have registered as refugees, while many are staying in Russia without visas after Moscow announced Ukrainians could stay for 180 days. Many Ukrainians have not applied for refugee status because they are afraid of punishment if they return to their homeland of Ukraine.

UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton stated that there are many reasons for people leaving their homes, with the fear of being caught in the crossfire as a main reason.

The number of people escaping the fighting to other areas of Ukraine has nearly doubled since the end of June. That number includes 12,000 Muslim Tatars from Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in March.

The number of people escaping the conflict in Ukraine and crossing the border to Russia has increased exponentially since the spring.

Thousands of Ukrainians cross the border into Russia everyday. Since the beginning of the military operation, about 517,000 refugees have come to Russia from southeast Ukraine.

More than 28,000 refugees from Ukraine have applied to the Russian Employment Office and almost 2,000 have been employed. Among the refugees, the largest number that have applied for jobs are education and health care specialists, blue-collar workers, construction workers, sales people and drivers.

Almost 30,000 Ukrainian refugees have applied for Russian citizenship.

Russian schools are preparing for enrollment of Ukrainian children who fled their homeland.

The legal procedures for Ukrainian refugees applying to receive Russian citizenship have also been sped up.

Young mother Natasha left home amid the conflict in Ukraine when her town of Krasnogorivka became the forefront in the battle between Russia and Ukraine. She said everyone who had the resources had to leave the town immediately. Natasha and her family are now in the refugee camp in the Russian city of Blagodatny.

“We left everything and fled in a hurry as they were bombarding the town,” she said.

In only three months, the eastern Ukraine conflict has taken more than 1,000 lives.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: NDTV, Ria Novosti, ABC News
Photo: Trans Conflict

The United Nations Human Rights Council has just agreed to launch an investigation into violations that may have been committed by Israel during its last military offensive in Gaza.

The Gaza Health Ministry reported 664 Palestinian deaths from the attack; though it’s unclear how many of these were civilian, the United Nations estimates the count to be around 70 percent. With the country now under investigation, the Human Rights Council is pushing for increased precautions and an end to the blockade of Gaza, which is the underlying conflict between the two nations. Still, it’s unclear whether these actions from the U.N. will fix anything.

While Israel certainly holds more responsibility for the death count in the conflict (more than 550 Gazans were killed, compared to 25 Israeli soldiers and 2 Israeli citizens,) pressure from external forces is not changing the country’s stance on the issue.

“Israel must not agree to any proposal for a cease-fire until the tunnels are eliminated,” said Gilad Eran, the right-wing minister of communications. In fact, both sides remain adamant on their stance: while Israelis feel they withdrew from Gaza only to allow it to become a launching pad for rockets, Hamas refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

Israel’s envoy to the UNHRC, Eviatar Manor, responded to the HRC’s comments, stating that Hamas was in fact committing war crimes by using people as “human shields” and insisted that it was a terrorist group. “There can be no moral symmetry between a terrorist aggressor and a democracy defending himself,” Manor preached.

Nevertheless, the conflict’s lopsided death toll has raised skepticism from parties other than the United Nations. The United States’ Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently urged a cease-fire, as well. Yet the battle seems to only be half-finished.

“With Hamas there, there is no option for a political solution,” said Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “If anybody believes in peace negotiations, two-state solution, Gaza is clear proof we are far away.”

Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Guardian, CNN, The New York Times
Photo: Haaretz