Inflammation and stories on UNHCR

UNHCR_dominican_replublic
A court case ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic regarding a Dominican woman, Ms. Juliana Dequis Pierre, 29, and her four children is causing great concern and eagerness to act by UNHCR.

Ms. Juliana Dequis Pierre’s parents were migrants from Haiti, and moved to the Dominican Republic several decades ago. Although she was considered a Dominican citizen when born, she does not meet qualifications based on the ruling. If implementation of the case ruling progresses, hundreds of thousands of persons of Haitian descent would be forced out of the state, and rendered stateless. According to the Tribunal’s criteria, descendents of Haitians registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929 would be considered, and instructed to leave the country they have called home for decades.

Several UNCHR officials voiced worry for the fate of almost 300,000 people born in Dominican Republic since 1929. Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Santo Domingo explained, “it is difficult to image the devastation of being told you are no longer a citizen of the country where you were born and lived your entire life.” Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR’s Regiona; Representative for the U.S. and Caribbean furthered these concerns by discussing a potential risk of these people being stripped of a recognized nationality, and how it is a “basic principle of international law that no one be deprived of a nationality if that action leads to statelessness.”

According to the ruling, the people should not have nationality because their parents were considered “in transit” and were never truly citizens of the Dominican Republic. Defending the ruling against a backlash of humanitarian supporters, Roberto Rosario, President of the Central Electoral Board, states, “The ruling unifies the country,” and “clarifies and defines a legal way and provides a framework to seek a humanitarian way of for those people.”

However, within the harsh criticism of so many humanitarians, information has leaked about the working conditions for Haitian descendents in the nation’s profitable sugar cane trade. The U.S. was able to conduct reports, and found Haitian sugar cane workers were underpaid, and worked in unsanitary conditions.

Additionally, children of Haitian descent have lived the effects of the hardship caused by a ruling in 2008, because parents were undocumented. School-aged children were stripped of the opportunity to take required standardized tests because they lacked their birth certificate.

Ms. Deguis’s lawyer states, “It’s essentially a life suspended.” U.S. involvement is at a consequential place in this case, as the U.S. imports more sugar from the Dominican Republic than any other nation. The U.S. Department of Labor announced it will revisit the situation involving labor laws in six months and a year.

As for the court ruling, Roman Catholic priest Father Christopher Hartley described the situation saying, “The truth is finally coming out.” Haitian officials will consult with UN members on how to further respond to the ruling.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: UNHCR, UN Radio, Haiti Innovation
Photo: Castlebar News

ikea_diy_shelter
The Swedish “do-it-yourself” furniture giant, IKEA, has teamed up with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop a flatpack shelter that can being used for refugee housing. Currently, there are over 45 million people displaced across the world because of conflict or natural disaster. IKEA is working to return dignity, security, and a life to these people.

IKEA’s flatpack shelters are chock full of innovative technology developed solely for these structures. The shelters are made from a lightweight polymer plastic, which is mounted on a steel skeleton. Refugee Housing Unit designed this polymer plastic to be strong enough to withstand the harsh climates of refugee camps, light enough to be transported cost-effectively, and to create privacy. Each shelter also has a metallic fabric shading cover that reflects the sun during the day and retains heat at night. Solar panels on top of the shade net generate electricity for a built-in light and a USB port inside the shelter.

The shelters require no additional tools for construction and can be built in around four hours. Each one can comfortably house five people for around three years. These features make IKEA’s flatpack shelters a vast improvement over the housing options that are currently available to refugees. Unlike this new innovation, traditional canvas ridge tents are usually not insulated, are half the size, and have a lifespan of around six months, which combined severely limit quality of life.

IKEA’s current flatpack model is two years in the making, but still in the prototype phase. Refugee camps in Iraq, Lebanon, and Ethiopia are testing around 50 of these prototypes. In the future, the design team hopes to increase the shelter’s solar electricity capacity, as well as its water harvesting and purification capabilities. Lockable doors and windows are also in the works.

Thus far, IKEA’s philanthropic branch, IKEA Foundation, has invested $4.8 million into developing the shelters. Each unit reportedly costs around $7,500 to create, but designers are hopeful that they can settle on a cost of $1,000 each, once in mass production. This price is double the cost of current tents, but with a vast amount of additional features most important to refugees.

Though IKEA’s do-it-yourself model can sometimes pose a construction challenge to its average customer, this model excels within the constraints of refugee housing. IKEA has used its fortune to bring innovative, improved shelter to those truly in need of it.

– Tara Young

Sources: NPR, Wired, The Guardian
Photo: Inhabitat

Stateless People UNHCR International Aid Global Development Refugee
What do you do when no nation recognizes you as a citizen? For 12 million people around the world, statelessness is a daily reality. Born without citizenship, they are often doomed to a lifetime of joblessness and homelessness,with deportation a constant threat.

Without official papers verifying citizenship, the stateless cannot be hired by any employer. They also cannot qualify to rent or own a house or other property. Forget opening a bank account, renting a car, getting a drivers license, traveling long distance via airplane, or getting married. Public services that most people would consider to be basic human rights–such as education and healthcare–are not permitted for non-citizens.

As undocumented people, they live in legal limbo and are subject to harassment by the police for being “illegal immigrants.” Yet deportation is not possible, since they have no country to claim them. They “often end up in detention, in destitution or being bounced around like a ping pong ball from one country to another,” says Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Similar to undocumented immigrants, stateless people  suffer persecution and isolation, which often leads to “depression with strong feelings of helplessness, frustration and exclusion,” according to Manly.Without any avenues to citizenship and no country to return to, stateless people are unable to advocate for themselves or to improve their existence.

“If we don’t have common, minimum rules there will always be people falling through the cracks. So while the work on accessions and reform of nationality laws is not very glamorous, it is very important,” Manly said.

Without consistent citizenship laws across all countries, people can become stateless in a variety of ways. Children born in one country to parents who are citizens of another country sometimes go unclaimed by either nation. Countries also make it national policy to deny certain ethnic groups citizenship, like the 93,000 Bedouins of Kuwait or 800,000 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UNHCR has recently increased its efforts to spread awareness about statelessness, and a number of countries have amended laws that once left people  without citizenship. UNHCR’s campaign has also prompted several countries to sign the UN Conventions on Statelessness. Other nations have also improved their handling of stateless people, recognizing their unique situation, and providing them with basic human rights and legal protection.

– Jennifer Bills

Sources: The UN Refugee Agency News, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Photo: libcom.org

human_rights_abuses_in_North_Korea
This week, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been conducting public hearings on potential human rights violations committed by the DPRK. This was the first panel established to investigate claims of human rights violations by the government of North Korea.

The Commission was started by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March with a one year mandate to investigate such claims. The panel is the most direct confrontation of the North Korean government by the international body.

While the world body has been critical of North Korea’s nuclear program, it has been less vocal about the repressive nature of the country towards its citizens. The International Criminal Court has been accused of focusing predominantly on Africa, while turning a blind eye to the situation in North Korea. The expanded focus of the ICC is an important step for the international community in dealing with problems of this kind.

The DPRK manages to keep a tight grip over its citizens, preventing migration in or out of the country. Without direct access to the country, the international body relies on defectors to provide a glimpse into life in the repressive country.

Although North Korea denies their existence, there are approximately 80,000-120,000 political prisoners held in 5 prison camps across the country. Many prisoners lose their lives during their stay due to the harsh conditions and torture.

North Korea denies committing human rights abuses and has called past UN resolutions on the subject as a part of a ‘political plot’ to destabilize its government. Many defectors hope that the panel will lead to the indictment of Kim Jong-un and his government allies in the International Criminal Court.

As one defector, Shin Dong-hyuk, explained, “We were expendables they were keeping as beasts of labor, to get the most out of us before we die.” Shin, like many others, was forced into a labor camp. Unlike most of his peers, Shin escaped. Shin is now telling his story to the panel in hopes of advocating against the government of North Korea.

A female defector, Hee Heon-a, explained that conditions inside the prison camps are often unbearable for women. Most women are sexually exploited and some are even beaten until they miscarry. Thus far, the commission has identified nine patterns of human rights violations used in the country, such as torture, induced famine, and arbitrary detention.

Later this month, the commission is set to convene in Japan to meet with defectors from the country and those knowledgeable about the abduction of Japanese nationals. The hearings will take place in Tokyo on August 29-30. Government officials, NGOs, and other research organizations are set to take part in the discussion.

The chairman of the Commission, Michael Kirby, said Pyongyang has not yet agreed to participate in the hearings. Although there are few options to prevent such abuses from occurring further, the international community is utilizing the panel as a forum to raise awareness about the human rights abuses in North Korea.

– Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: UN, New York Times, Policy Mic
Photo: Washington Post

Somali_Refugees_Ethiopia
Somali refugees continue to arrive in Ethiopia in large droves due to poor growing conditions, food shortages, and continued conflict. While the situation is slowly improving, John Ging, Director of Operations in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, urges continued attention to the crisis and says, “I call on the international community to invest now to build the resilience of Somalis and stop the cycle of crisis they have endured far too long.”

To that end, The United Nations World Food Program, UNHCR, European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, and the government of Ethiopia have partnered to launch an aid project that provides Somali refugees with monthly cash installments in addition to food aid. Currently, 12,000 refugees are receiving monetary relief and the project plans to extend cash aid to 13,000 more by October.

Monetary relief allows Somali refugees to round out their diet with fresh produce, proteins, and dairy from the local market, providing an important supplement to the basic grains and non-perishables received from aid agencies. It also gives the refugees an opportunity to inject money into the local economy. This economic boost is helpful to the communities supporting the large number of refugee settlements.

Currently the refugees who are part of the pilot cash program receive 100 Ethiopian Birr per month, or about $5.00. The organizations backing this program are optimistic that these cash transfers will greatly alleviate the most acute suffering and make the refugee situation less of a burden. Between Ethiopia, Kenya, and Yemen, there are over 1 million Somali refugees. The cash relief program gives refugees an opportunity to regain a little agency and make decisions about what groceries to purchase while also offering much needed hunger relief.

– Zoe Meroney

Sources: World Food Program, United Nations, All Africa
Photo: UNHCR

tibet_opt
An ethnic Tibetan who grew up under the Chinese Communist regime and currently works as a high-ranking Communist Party official has decided to speak out against the Tibetan atrocities currently taking place. Choosing to remain anonymous, the government official claims that the current state of Tibet is “far worse than people in the West suspect.”

When the Chinese military invaded Tibet in 1950, many Tibetans thought the Chinese would modernize the region and bring order to the land that was previously ruled by monks and monasteries. These thoughts were quickly dashed when the Chinese began erasing any signs of Tibetan culture and forcibly removing people from their homes into communes. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, Tibetan leaders were sent to Maoist reeducation camps and hundreds of monasteries and relics were destroyed. Many of these injustices are still occurring today.

The streets of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city, are still patrolled by Chinese security forces that act like occupiers. The Communist official claims that the security forces often take property and beat residents at their own discretion and without cause. During another Lhasa revolt surrounding the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the military arrested 6,000 people. The practice of self-immolation, or the public death by lighting oneself on fire, has gained popularity with monks to raise awareness for their struggle. Since 2011, over 100 people have resorted to self-immolation to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Another horrifying byproduct of Chinese rule has been the destruction of the Tibetan plateau. The Communist official alleges that the increase in cultivation due to Chinese immigrants coming to Tibet has resulted in diminished grasslands and desertification. The number of rivers that feed into Qinghai Lake decreased from 108 to 8 due to extensive irrigation systems. Furthermore, the area as a whole is said to be a toxic dumping ground for Chinese industries.

Human Rights Watch recently published a 115-page report corroborating many injustices that the Communist official is claiming. Their report focuses on the re-housing project currently underway that has relocated over 2 million Tibetans since 2006. Hundreds of thousands of nomadic herders have been placed into “New Socialist Villages” destroying their livelihoods without adequate compensation.

These obvious and blatant human rights abuses are occurring all across Tibet. The Communist official hopes to publish a book in the West detailing his eyewitness accounts of the current state of Tibet and hopes that the Chinese will someday allow public debate on the matter. He says that a style of democracy tailored to the culture and people of Tibet would be the best solution if such an option were possible.

– Sarah C. Morris 

Sources: Spiegel, Human Rights Watch
Sources: New York Times

khaledborder_opt
His novels have tugged at the heartstrings of millions around the world. Throughout his eight year writing career, renowned author Khalid Hosseini has enchanted his readers with the moving, powerful stories of characters like Amir in The Kite Runner, Laila and Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns, and Abdullah in his latest novel, And the Mountains Echoed. But Hosseini’s successes do not end at the tip of his pen. Since 2006, he has extended his work to his native Afghanistan not as a novelist, but as a humanitarian.

Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965. After a communist coup brought bloodshed and anarchy to the country, Hosseini’s family sought political asylum in the US in 1980, where Hosseini has lived since. He practiced as a physician in California until he began his career as a writer with the release of The Kite Runner in 2005. In 2006, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) named Hosseini a Goodwill Envoy, taking him back to Afghanistan to work with millions attempting to rebuild their lives. In 2007, inspired by his work with the UN, Hosseini started a foundation in his name dedicated to helping the people of Afghanistan.

The Khaled Hosseini Foundation (TKHF) is a nonprofit organization based in San Jose, CA that works with the UNHCR to create shelters as well as employment and educational opportunities for refugees, women and children in Afghanistan. To date, approximately 5.7 million Afghani refugees have returned to Afghanistan. Many of them homeless, these refugees have faced harsh summers and cold winters that have claimed the lives of thousands. And when looking for schooling or employment that could allow the population to rebuild, many Afghans have hit a dead-end.

TKHF came to help by focusing on building homes and infrastructure for those living without shelter, supporting the creation of jobs, and promoting and funding schools for girls and boys whose futures had seemed bleak. By 2012, TKHF provided over $650,000 to the UNHCR to build shelters for Afghanistan’s homeless. Through Trust in Education and the Afghan Friends Network, TKHF funded the education of hundreds of children. And through Markets for Afghan Artisans, TKHF is able to promote an array of jewelry, bookmarks, and purses handcrafted by Afghan women living as refugees in Pakistan, helping to keep these women employed.

Find out ways to get involved and join in Hosseini’s effort here.

– Lina Saud

Sources: Khaled Hosseini Foundation, UNHCR
Photo: The Guardian

drinking_water_africa

Drinking water is a major problem for many parts of Africa, particularly in refugee camps, where minimal living conditions are make it difficult to secure safe drinking water. The recommended minimum amount of water a person needs in an emergency situation is 15 liters a day. In Ab Gadam, a refugee camp in southeast Chad, UNHCR struggles to provide refugees with 10 liters per person per day. Currently in Ab Gadam the drinking water is filtered from a nearby lake, however, when the rain comes, this source of water will be cut off. UNHCR is trying to find new solutions to be able to meet this challenge.

“It is really serious…we need to increase the supply – and that is what we are working on,” said Dominique Porteaud, UNHCR’s senior water and sanitation officer. He made it clear that if a solution was not found people would turn to alternative, unsafe ways of obtaining water that could lead to disease.

Zenab, a refugee living in Ad Gadam with five children, knows all too well the effect unsanitary water can have. After having to flee their village in the troubled West Darfur region, she and her family spent weeks in the border area. While there they dug small holes in the ground to find drinking water. This drinking water was not filtered and caused Zenab’s two-year-old son Ali to get sick. After entering the Ad Gadam camp, Ali is still sick but is now receiving treatment.

As the rain season quickly approaches UNHCR has been looking at several different approaches to supply safe drinking water to the refugees of Ad Gadam. Some of these measures include increasing the number and size of water storage tanks and continuing the search for productive boreholes.

UNHCR has already developed a water treatment plant, which chemically sanitizes water brought in from the nearby lake. The plant can produce enough clean water to supply refugees with 10.5 liters per day, which is still short of the minimum recommended. Refugees have also begun to find their own source of clean drinking water. Zenab and her family collect rainwater that they use to clean clothes, pots and pans, and bathe.

To inform people about the dangers of unsafe drinking water, UNHCR has begun to run awareness programs that stress the importance of clean water, sanitation and hygiene. “It is important that everybody, including the children, know about the best use of water and the dangers of drinking dirty water,” says Barka Mahamat Barka, a UNHCR water and sanitation expert.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: UNHCR, UN
Photo: Contribute

The civil war in Syria is entering its third year, having displaced more than 3 million people. Most of these people leave all of their belongings behind, fleeing the country without crucial resources. Refugees find themselves entirely dependent on others, relying on the UN Refugee Agency, foreign governments, and other aid organizations to survive without employment or permanent housing.

While the prospects in refugee camps may seem bleak, some Syrian refugees have managed to attain financial independence by utilizing particular skills. Diar*, a young man who arrived at Iraq’s Domiz Camp last July, opened a tailor shop that served refugees and the surrounding community. He ran his own tailor shop for years in Damascus, helping his younger siblings go to school with his income.

When two explosions forced him to leave Syria and abandon his shop, Diar decided to bring his pressing machine with him in case he could use it as a source of income.

As one of more than 90,000 Syrian refugees living in the Kurdish region of Iraq and 31,000 living in Domiz alone, Diar recognized a potential market and used his family’s small camp space to create a new tailor shop.

With upfront help from the UNHCR, which provided him with the initial electricity and space to operate his business, Diar has managed to gain a loyal following. His customers laud his shop for its “quality and better service,” claiming that Diar has better prices than do businesses outside of the camp. Diar has also gained customers native to the region because of his competitive prices and good service.

Diar’s tailor shop may seem like an anomaly within the atmosphere of a refugee camp, but he is one of many business owners who have contributed to the camp economy in Domiz. Small-scale businesses are helping to reduce the demands on aid organizations by providing services for affordable prices. The businesses also help ensure that refugees do not lose their sense of autonomy after being forced from their own country.

While it is costly for the UNHCR to administer refugee camps, entrepreneurs are lessening the burden, using the help they receive from aid organizations to give back to their new communities.

* Name has been changed.

– Katie Bandera

Source: UNHCR The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

Refugees_in_central_Africa_and_insurgency
In Central Africa and the Great Lakes region, countries with already large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are burdened with refugee influx from neighboring conflicts. Many of the IDPs and refugees in Central Africa are served by U.N. camps across the region. Others are housed by local populations or public buildings. With recent outbreaks of violence humanitarian services have become unavailable in  regions.

In April, a UNHCR spokesman gave the number of Central African Republic (CAR) refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at 30,000. Many of these were forced to flee the violence in the capital Bangui. UNHCR also estimated that the number of IDPs in CAR reached 173,000. While this situation is grim the added strain on refugee camps and humanitarian services is exacerbated by the refugees crossing into CAR. Driven by conflict in the Western Darfur region and recent fighting in the DRC capital of Goma, Sudanese and Congolese refugees are seeking care in CAR. In April UNHCR estimated 21,000 refugees from the DRC and Sudan have sought refuge in CAR.

Despite peace talks currently taking place between the DRC government and the M23 rebel forces, the environment in the DRC remains uncertain and rife with tension. Rebel troops briefly held the capital, Goma, in November 2012 but lost control again to the government after a short period. The current standoff between the two sides has boosted the potential for forced recruitment in the countryside. Citizens fleeing the conflict and young men trying to avoid forcible recruitment spill into neighboring countries. In the last six months of 2012 UNHCR estimates that 60,000 Congolese refugees fled to Uganda and Rwanda. Many more were internally displaced.

Recent violence in the DRC has led the U.N. to deploy troops with one of its strongest mandates yet: counter insurgency operations. Despite a 20,000 U.N. peace force deployed in the region the rebel forces took and held Goma for 10 days last November, committing many atrocities including mass rape. The new U.N. deployment, consisting of troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi is intended to prevent new atrocities. The effectiveness of this newest deployment is uncertain. Troops will be engaging in joint operations, requiring coordination in an unfamiliar setting and already logistics and bureaucracy have delayed troop deployment.

Other military forces also have a presence in CAR. South Africa deployed 200 soldiers in January this year with the potential to deploy an additional 200. These forces will assist in training the CAR army and are not intended to engage directly with rebel forces. Ugandan soldiers with U.S. Special Forces support are also deployed in CAR. The Economic Community of Central Africa has authorized forces to deploy in the country as well. And France recently boosted their troop presence in CAR from 250 to 600.

The global and regional community recognizes the need for military intervention in the region demonstrated by the troop deployments. Whether this leads to a cessation in violence or even a lasting peace is uncertain.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: IRIN, The Economist, UNHCR
Photos: IRIN