Inflammation and stories on UNHCR

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

Khaled Hosseini Fights Poverty in Afghanistan
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 the 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

Problem of Safe Drinking Water for Refugees

Drinking water is a major problem for many parts of Africa, particularly in refugee camps, where minimal living conditions 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