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Vocational education centers in Afghanistan
After spending nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. is withdrawing from the conflict with Taliban insurgents by August 31, 2021. The U.S. withdrawal is leaving the Afghan people and government susceptible to a Taliban takeover or all-out civil war, which could lead to the souring of Afghan-American relations. Perhaps U.S. support of new and improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan could help provide Afghans with the skills to repair the infrastructure that war has ravaged and maintain positive relations between the two nations.

History of Afghan Vocational Training

Afghanistan established its first institutions for technical and vocational training in the 1950s, with the help of countries such as the U.S., USSR, Germany and the United Kingdom. The Afghan education system integrated technical education with the creation of the Faculty of Agriculture and Engineering in 1956 and Kabul Polytechnic in 1968. However, following the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Communist Regime in 1979, many male students were unable to pursue technical education. These students either entered the military, fought with Mujahideen freedom fighters or fled the country. Additionally, many intellectuals who others associated with vocational education centers, opposed the Soviets and either went to prison, died from violence or had to flee.

The Soviet invasion severely hampered Afghan economic development and destroyed much of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, including many technical education centers. However, Afghanistan did not rebuild the infrastructure that experienced destruction in the civil war after the Soviet Union left and since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001. Additionally, much of Afghanistan’s basic infrastructure, including clean water, proper sanitation and electricity, has experienced damage from the country’s previous conflicts. More vocational education centers in Afghanistan may increase access to trained individuals who could remedy these infrastructure issues.

Benefits of Vocational Education Centers

As of 2020, the World Bank reported that Afghanistan has an unemployment rate of 11.7%. According to UNICEF, 3.7 million Afghan children do not attend school. The formation of additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan could create more employment and educational opportunities for the Afghan people. Additionally, it could potentially provide the centers’ graduates with the capability to repair the infrastructure of a country that war has ravaged. Providing Afghan citizens with more vocational education centers would aid in the alleviation of poverty throughout the developing country. As UNESCO stated in a report concerning the development of Afghanistan’s Vocational Education programs, “education is one of the keys to sustainable development, peace and stability.”

U.S. institutions and Afghan vocational education centers have worked together successfully in the past. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan had a rapidly developing set of vocational education centers. The Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University received almost all of its training in the U.S. and used U.S. textbooks for their classes. From the school’s formation in 1956 until 1978, the school had a significant affiliation with U.S. institutions through USAID support. As of 1977, the admission rate of the Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University grew from 300 to 1,000 per annum.

Additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion included:

  • Kabul Polytechnic Institute
  • Kabul Mechanical School
  • Afghan Institute of Technology
  • Kandahar Mechanical School
  • Khost Mechanical School
  • Mazar-i-Sharifi Technicum
  • Kabul Technicum

The Soviets methodically dismembered these vocational education centers following the 1979 invasion. Soon, the communist ideology took precedence over all aspects of education. This lasted until the collapse of the communist government and the subsequent civil war in 1992. After that, all technical colleges and schools in Afghanistan underwent severe damage.

How USAID Assists With Development

The U.S. has been helping with the development of Afghanistan’s vocational education centers more recently as well through the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP). USAID conceived the program in 2012 and sought to expand employment and wages in Afghanistan. It did this by increasing the employability of Afghan citizens in areas where skilled labor was necessary. This task reached completion through a four-step process. Firstly, a “labor market demand assessment” occurred to identify the skills in demand by the Afghan private sector. Following this assessment, USAID guided the curricula of the Afghan training providers to meet the demand of the private sector. After establishing the curriculum, USAID provided subsidies to help local training centers educate trainees in lacking areas. Finally, USAID provided pre-employment, job placement and follow-up services to ensure that those who completed training programs found work.

Positive Results

The AWDP was effective in many ways. As of 2018, 48,873 Afghans, 36% of them women, received training in competency-based technical and business management skills. Additionally, 28,790 participants of the program obtained assistance in finding work as a result of the AWDP. To ensure progress following the program’s completion, USAID also allowed private institutes to open career counseling centers. These five institutes trained 1,758 university graduates and landed 807 trainees jobs as of 2019. Furthermore, the program provided Master Training of Trainers (MToT) training to 1,401 master trainers attending institutes of higher learning. About 1,060 of those trainees earned jobs relevant to their expertise or received a promotion at their current jobs.

Since the U.S. military is withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021, it may be beneficial for the U.S. government to support vocational education centers in Afghanistan further. Continuing to provide resources and increase funding may help maintain positive relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Furthermore, new or improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan would increase employment opportunities and empower more Afghans with the ability to repair infrastructure and further develop the state.

– Wais Wood
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Iran's poorIn the past decade, Iran’s poor have floundered due to an overwhelming bombardment of economic sanctions. Documented human rights violations and insincere promises to slow its uranium enrichment program have garnered the Iranian state’s pariah status. Iran’s tumultuous relationship with the West has only worsened following President Trump’s decision to abandon the multilateral nuclear agreement and impose harsher sanctions in 2018. Forced to pay the price of their government’s politics, Iranians have found themselves virtually isolated from the West.

However, Iran’s reintegration into the international economy may be coming sooner than expected as the Biden administration has made concerted efforts to restore the nuclear deal and implement some stability in the region. Following initial negotiations, Iranian chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi proclaimed to state media that over 1,000 sanctions would be lifted. “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by Trump,” said Vaezi on Wednesday, June 23rd. If sanctions are to be lifted, Iran’s poor will see their economic outlooks drastically improved.

Loss of Jobs

While U.S. sanctions are intended to target the hardliner regime, it has been Iran’s most marginalized communities that have paid the biggest price. Iran’s energy, shipping and financial sectors have been completely stifled, causing essentially all foreign investment to dry up. President Trump explained that the strict sanctions were “intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.” Since 2018, Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk by nearly 15%. In addition, the unemployment rate has risen to nearly 20%. Unsurprisingly, the IMF reported zero growth in Iran’s economy in 2020.

Economic Downturn

The stagnancy of the economy can be felt everywhere, most notably in the rapid devaluation of the Iranian currency. The reinstatement of sanctions in 2018 has caused the Iranian currency to lose 50% of its value against the U.S. dollar. As a result, the rial (the Iranian dollar) is increasingly worthless. The effects of such extreme inflation have been disastrous, to say the least.

While the regime and its key supporters have been able to subsist due to rampant corruption, Iran’s poorest citizens have not been so lucky. In Tehran, it is commonplace for the children of Iran’s poor to wait in a government-subsidized queue for free food. Parents simply cannot afford to feed their children at home due to the rapid increase in daily costs. The costs of essential items such as meat and vegetables have more than doubled. Equally concerning, the price of healthcare has skyrocketed. Iran’s poor have no resources to access affordable health care, unable to pay the rising medical prices for tests. Even the prices of tobacco have increased by nearly 80%.

Reactions to Vaezi’s Claim

Understandably, Iranians were ecstatic upon hearing Vaezi’s claim that the infamous sanctions would be brought to an end. However, the U.S. has since denied that an official agreement has been reached. An unnamed spokesperson for the U.S. has emphasized that “During negotiations of this complexity, negotiators try to draft text that captures the main issues, but again, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” While there is still work to do, it seems that the conversation between the two countries is headed in the right direction. If not, Iran’s poor may have even more struggles ahead of them.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in ItalyHuman trafficking is not an issue that occurs in just a single country or region of the world. Rather, it is a global dilemma requiring a global solution. However, human trafficking rates vary per country. Human trafficking in Italy represents an issue affecting other European nations as well.

Human Trafficking in Numbers

As of 2018, Italy ranked in the top five EU Member States with the highest number of registered trafficking victims. Italy also tied fourth for the highest percentage of sexually trafficked people at 82%. The other EU countries with similar statistics include Greece, Czechia and Hungary. In comparison, EU states like Sweden and Croatia have rates of 24% and 28% respectively.

Basics of Human Trafficking in Italy

Unaccompanied, young migrants seeking asylum are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Italy. Italy’s government reported at least 1,660 victims of trafficking, with many other victims unaccounted for. Save the Children points out the concerning increase in children and minors affected by trafficking, which increased from 9% to 13% within a single year. Many of these children end up contributing to underground labor, which fuels the Italian economy.

The risk factor for other workers falling victim to forced labor and labor trafficking in Italy feeds to these statistics. The United States Department of State found that, in 2020, roughly 3.7 million irregular workers and 1.5 million unregistered workers were at potential risk of labor-related trafficking.

Preventing Human Trafficking in Italy

The U.S. Department of State classifies Italy as a Tier 2 country. This means that the Italian government has participated in some efforts to combat human trafficking but still has work to do. For example, the country has demonstrated greater cooperation with international policies and laws against human trafficking. It has also prioritized additional fundraising to support victims of trafficking and places more emphasis on training Italian law enforcement to address trafficking.

In addition, many global groups such as the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) have worked hard to hold countries like Italy accountable for strengthening their policies. GRETA has noted decent progress on the issue of human trafficking in Italy. GRETA monitors human trafficking as the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings stipulates.

The Council maintains a human rights treaty among European Nations and the Council of Europe to reach an overarching goal of assisting and protecting trafficked human beings. GRETA thus performs legislative evaluations to ensure countries meet these goals and provides comprehensive reports and guidelines on combatting trafficking and prosecuting identified traffickers.

GRETA has acknowledged the progress in combating human trafficking in Italy as recently as 2019. The Italian government increased its funding for anti-trafficking projects, which has gone toward safeguarding protections for unaccompanied children who have fallen victim to human trafficking in Italy.

Challenges in Combatting Human Trafficking in Italy

The U.S. Department of State has noted that Italy still has not reached the “minimum standards” necessary to adequately and fully combat trafficking. As a result, the U.S. government has kept Italy at a Tier 2 status. Italy is not meeting the standards due to a decrease in trafficking investigations and prosecutions. The Italian Ministry of Interior reported only 135 trafficking investigations, which is a substantial decrease from 314 persons in 2018 and 482 persons in 2017. The government also does not have a consistent database for consolidated information about trafficking investigations, convictions or prosecutions. This adds to the difficulty of monitoring and assessment efforts.

Hope for the Future

Nevertheless, hope still exists in the fight against human trafficking in Italy. The U.S. government noted improvement in Italy’s 2020 trafficking report, acknowledging the measures the country implemented, even though there is still room for improvement. For example, improvements have emerged in victim assistance and increased funding for victims and victim’s rights groups. Funding has also gone toward NGOs advocating for trafficking rights, which GRETA specifically acknowledges as a step toward overall improvement in policies. With these efforts, Italy can reduce incidents of human trafficking in the country,

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Build Back Better World Initiative
Congress has been negotiating the size and scope of a domestic infrastructure bill for most of Joe Biden’s presidency. Still, action is necessary to further infrastructure abroad. The U.S. and its allies in the G7 recognize this need and have launched the Build Back Better World Initiative (B3W) to address global infrastructure challenges. A closer look at the initiative provides insight into the state of infrastructure in low and middle-income countries around the world.

The Infrastructure Gap

Infrastructure connects people and goods, which allows economies to scale and grow. Forming highways, ports, bridges, railways, pipelines, sewage systems and more, infrastructure projects are vital for transport, communication, energy and health. Infrastructure projects are the foundation of economic development and are vital to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including universal access to water and electricity. 

Infrastructure projects are also important for developing nations because the projects can be a major source of employment, spurring economic growth and allowing workers to gain new skills. The White House currently estimates that the infrastructure needed in low and middle-income countries globally totals more than $40 trillion.

Infrastructure gaps are significant because the gaps hinder economic growth. According to World Bank research, “Every 10% increase in infrastructure provision increases [economic] output by approximately 1% in the long term.” In other words, spending on infrastructure grows an economy. Further, as environmental challenges continue to threaten nations around the world, the World Bank says that even small investments in climate-resilient infrastructure can save trillions of dollars in recovery efforts.

The Build Back Better World Initiative

Partnering with G7 nations, the U.S. launched the B3W to alleviate some of the problems associated with infrastructure gaps. The White House will look toward not only its allies but the private sector for hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for infrastructure investment. The administration says that it will leverage partnerships with the private sector because “status quo funding and financing approaches are inadequate” to meet the size of these challenges. 

The focus for projects is four distinct areas, including climate, health, digital technology and gender equity. The aim is to reach all around the world with different partners, but, USAID and other U.S. development groups will take leading roles. However, there is still an understanding that local needs will be a priority, as “infrastructure that is developed in partnership with those whom it benefits will last longer and generate more development impact.” 

The Biden administration has stressed the importance of good governance in foreign assistance and has already noted the importance of using B3W as a way to encourage full transparency with monitoring tools, common contracts and metrics for evaluation.

The Build Back Better World Initiative and US Interest

Foreign assistance supports U.S. strategic interests, which is why Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Daleep Singh has indicated support for the initiative. In recent years, especially when the U.S. has taken a step back from foreign affairs, China has accelerated spending on global infrastructure with the Belt and Road Initiative. 

However, Singh indicates that the point of the initiative is not to inflame hostilities or work as an anti-China group but rather to provide an alternative to Belt and Road financing. The goal is to “rally countries around a positive agenda that projects our shared values.” B3W supports U.S. interests by providing an alternative and showing that the U.S. is once again ready and willing to be a good partner for the world.

With Congress working on a domestic infrastructure package, it is important to not lose sight of the critical need for sustained and significant investment in infrastructure around the world. Infrastructure projects connect the world, making it safer and healthier. Funding infrastructure around the world as part of the Build Back Better World Initiative aligns with U.S. strategic interests. Hopefully, this initiative will encourage bridging gaps and becoming a more connected world.

– Alex Muckenfuss
Photo: Flickr

Food Sovereignty
Food insecurity is abundant on Native American reservations, with the lack of grocery stores and affordable fresh foods leading to high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. As of 2018, a quarter of Native Americans lacked access to nutritious foods. When COVID-19 hit, the more than two-hour round trips to get food were often fruitless, as panic-induced buying emptied store shelves. Some tribes are now taking matters into their own hands. Today, solutions to the problem are starting to emerge with a variety of tribal and intertribal efforts exploring food sovereignty.

The Structure of Reservations

Federal government mismanagement of native lands is a major underlying cause of food insecurity. Through the federal trust doctrine, the U.S. government owns and manages native lands and assets. This means that reservation residents are not usually the owners of homes. This makes it impossible to mortgage property to start a business on a reservation. Federal land ownership hinders harnessing natural resources and developing the land. On-reservation development projects must go through 49 steps, spread across four government agencies before approval. In contrast, off-reservation projects require only four steps and this difference extends wait time from a couple of months to years.

These factors, in addition to low population density and poverty, cause companies to avoid investing in reservations. Tribal leaders or entrepreneurs are able to start farms. However, the leaders often lack the complementary infrastructures needed to get their products on grocery store shelves. As such, produce and meats often leave the reservation for services such as grading, freezing and packaging. By the time the products make it back to the reservation, the produce is less fresh and marked-up due to travel.

The Disruption of Traditional Diets

The lack of infrastructure and government restrictions on hunting and gathering create food insecurity on many reservations. The Pine Ridge Reservation imports 95% of foods and everyday necessities while the Menominee Reservation, the largest reservation east of the Mississippi River, has only one grocery store.

Due to the situation, some families’ only option is to seek government assistance. In 2015, 24% of Native families participated in the SNAP program, formerly known as the Food Stamps Program. This is almost twice as much involvement as that of the general population. Furthermore, nearly a fifth of all Native children participated in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) free or reduced school lunches at the same time.

These programs, while important to feeding the hungry, do not conform with traditional diets. In 2014, the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations only allocated roughly $1 per meal. These meals are high in processed sugars and carbohydrates and lacking in fresh produce. This leads to high rates of health problems on reservations. For example, 42% of Native Americans struggle with obesity, and 20% of Navajo adults have diabetes, the third-highest rate in the world, below only Nauru and Mauritius.

Reclaiming Traditional Diets

In 2018, the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin established the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems (DAFS). Embracing their traditional culture and diets, the Menominee move toward food sovereignty by hunting, fishing, gathering, tree tapping and farming.

DAFS Director Gary Besaw told The Borgen Project that the Menominee Tribe has a long history of agriculture. Archaeological evidence shows that the Menominee gardened through the last ice age. To do so, the Menominee used advanced techniques like raised-bed farming and biochar to improve soil quality. The tribe has reclaimed producing squash, maple syrup and corn, with hopes of growing orchards in the near future.

Nature and Intertribal Efforts

Prior to reservation life, the Menominee had access to fishing over much of the Great Lakes and their river systems. The current location of the Menominee Tribe’s reservation lacks this access. This makes it difficult to obtain enough fish without depleting the local resources.

Besaw stressed the importance of intertribal commerce and collaboration since each Tribal Nation has access to different food and lands. Besaw informed The Borgen Project that “re-establishing intertribal trade and commerce allows not only for economic growth in a sustainable green industry but also allows us to obtain healthy traditional foods.” Both products and skills move between tribes. The Menominee work with neighboring tribes and organic farms to grow food, manually dealing with weeds, pests and invasive species.

One of the Menominee Tribe’s partners, the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, worked with the Intertribal Agriculture Council to form the Mobile Farmer’s Market. This organization connects Native Americans across the United States with produce grown and harvested by Native Americans. Additionally, the Mobile Farmer’s Market hosts workshops to facilitate the spread of traditional skills.

In February 2019, a workshop occurred on the Menominee Reservation, teaching farming, seed keeping and healthy diets. According to Besaw, Menominee County has the highest rate of diabetes and heart disease in Wisconsin. The move toward food sovereignty and traditional diets has had a positive impact on the community’s health. To supplement these healthier diets, the Menominee Tribe is also conducting early-stage diagnosis and tracing family trees to see who has a genetic predisposition to diabetes.

Food Insecurity and COVID-19

According to Besaw, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the level of dependency that his tribe has on the federal government for food. The food boxes that the USDA provided were a lifesaver, though sometimes compromising his tribe’s goal of growing food indigenously, without GMOs and pesticides.

Across the country, many tribes have realized this as well. In Minnesota, the Dream of Wild Health intertribal nonprofit organization is working to distribute food to food-insecure Native Americans living in the Twin Cities. The organization owns a 30-acre pollinator farm outside of the Twin Cities and produces pesticide- and GMO-free produce.

Throughout the Dream of Wild Health’s history, the organization has received heirloom seeds from around North America. In 2019, it started to identify the seeds and return them to its community of origin, benefitting in-state and out-of-state tribes. According to another seed-saving organization, Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, the demand for seeds has increased around 4,900% during COVID-19, as Native Americans strive toward food sovereignty during these challenging times.

With many tribes and intertribal organizations around to help Native Americans attain food sovereignty, prospects are growing across North America. Not only are traditions returning but traditions are also making their way between and outside of tribes. As these efforts continue with success, it is time the U.S. government steps up to give tribes the support they need in a way that will not jeopardize their health further.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination in UruguayAt the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uruguay had some of the lowest infection rates in Latin America. On June 30, 2020, Bloomberg reported that while its bordering country Brazil had 1.34 million total cases, Uruguay had only 932 cases. Now, about a year later, COVID-19 vaccination rates in Uruguay are among the highest in Latin America, with more than four million doses received by citizens.

Impacts of COVID-19 in Uruguay

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uruguay’s unemployment rates have increased dramatically. In March 2020, more than 86,000 citizens applied for unemployment insurance. Before the pandemic, applications averaged 11,000 per month. A complete vaccination rollout is critical for Uruguay’s citizens to return to work.

Uruguay has already started to reopen businesses, but since only about half of the country has been vaccinated, infections are increasing. In order to avoid another shutdown of the country and another fall in employment, efforts for COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay need to receive continued support and funding.

Vaccine Success

On June 8, 2021, Uruguay released reports about the success of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine along with more information about the Pfizer vaccine. According to Reuters, Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% successful in preventing intensive hospitalization and death. Further, the vaccine reduced COVID-19 infections by 61%. The Pfizer vaccine was 94% effective in preventing intensive care hospitalization and death and 78% effective in reducing COVID-19 infections.

Increasing COVID-19 Cases in Uruguay

COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay has been very successful so far, with 52% of the population given at least one dose of either the Sinovac, Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines. Despite this success, Uruguay is also facing a crisis as COVID-19 infections skyrocket.

For several weeks in late May and early June 2021, Uruguay had one of the highest global COVID-19 related death rates per capita. In the last week of May 2021, the small nation of just 3.5 million residents recorded an average of 55 deaths per day. Many experts blame public health guidelines that have become increasingly lax as the pandemic continues. Not enough of the population is vaccinated to support the less restrictive public health measures and Uruguay is now rushing to further increase its vaccination rates.

Global Support

The United States is working with COVAX to improve the vaccine rollout around the world, which might help Uruguay. COVAX is led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, Gavi and UNICEF. Its goal is to vaccinate at least 20% of every participating country’s population by the end of 2021. NPR notes that it may not be able to meet this goal due to the global vaccine shortage. Wealthier countries that have already secured enough vaccines for their populations need to step in to help struggling countries with vaccine donations.

Supporting the Global Vaccine Rollout

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, there are many ways in which organizations can support the global vaccine rollout. First, it is important that there is a level of trust between citizens and the distributors of the vaccine. Many people are hesitant about vaccines because they do not necessarily trust the intentions of vaccine developers. With trustworthy messengers such as community leaders and trusted organizations working to combat vaccine hesitancy, people may be less reluctant to receive a vaccine.

Second, the delivery of vaccinations requires innovation. A major problem for those in rural and low-income areas is a lack of access. Many cannot travel far to receive a dose, therefore, investing in creative ways to deliver vaccines to remote locations is important. For example, implementing mobile vaccination sites.

Finally, supporting the training of local healthcare workers in contact tracing, COVID-19 education and vaccination means more people will be qualified to address the pandemic. Thus, COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay can continue long after global organizations leave the area, ensuring efforts are sustainable. With private and public sector groups working together, combating the COVID-19 pandemic and improving global health is not a distant goal.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Venezuela TPS ActVenezuela is currently experiencing “the second-largest migration crisis” in the world. More than five million people have fled the country in the past five years. Many Venezuelans look to the United States as a potential place of refuge to escape the extreme poverty in Venezuela. To help accommodate the refugees, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL-9) introduced H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. The bill will grant Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status (TPS) and other authorizations.

H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021

Introduced on January 4, 2021, the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 is a bill that would make Venezuelan citizens eligible for temporary protected status, allowing refugees to stay, work and travel in the United States for 18 months from the date of legal enactment if the bill becomes law.

Many Venezuelan refugees had to completely abandon their old lives and seek out a better one without a plan in mind. With 96% of Venezuelans living in poverty, it is clear that there are very few opportunities left in Venezuela. As a result, Venezuelans need support and opportunities to succeed in a country that is not their own. On March 4, 2021, the House referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for further review.

Accepting Refugees Benefits the US

The U.S. is currently experiencing labor shortages in low-skilled jobs in the wake of COVID-19. According to research from The Conference Board, 85% of companies in blue-collar industries are struggling with recruitment. These jobs range from factory work to service jobs with commercial fast food employers.

Venezuelan refugees are eager to work and earn money to provide for their families in essentially any role. Many U.S. citizens are not interested in such jobs and hold degrees that make them more suitable for the white-collar industry. However, most Venezuelan nationals would be more than willing to fulfill these roles. This allows the refugees to earn an income while also helping the U.S. reduce its labor shortages. In this way, the Venezuelan TPS Act will aid the U.S. economy while providing a path out of poverty for Venezuelans.

Federal Register TPS Notice

On March 9, 2021, the Federal Register posted a notice that Venezuela would be granted TPS for 18 months through September 9, 2022, just five days after Congress moved the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. President Biden granted this allowance as part of his campaign promises. This allowance makes 323,000 Venezuelan people eligible to receive the same entitlements expressed in the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021. The bill still remains alive in the House, however.

Columbia is a good example of an open-door refugee policy. Colombia has been a leader in the refugee crisis, granting TPS to Venezuelan refugees for up to 10 years. This has helped nearly two million Venezuelans in the process. It is important to realize that most Venezuelan refugees are not looking to permanently settle in a new country and would rather return to Venezuela once the country is no longer under the dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro. In a survey conducted by GBAO, 79% of Venezuelan refugees said they would be likely to return to Venezuela if the president was replaced by “an opponent of the Maduro regime” and the economy improved.

Extended TPS for Venezuelans

An improved home country is likely going to take longer than 18 months given the scale of the crisis in Venezuela. As a result, the U.S. should grant Venezuela TPS for longer than 18 months. Making this change falls on the members of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship as the Subcommittee is responsible for deliberating and suggesting changes to the Venezuela TPS Act. Increasing the span of Venezuela’s TPS would grant more long-term stability to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees while providing the U.S. with its labor needs.

The Venezuelan TPS Act of 2021 ensures a better future for Venezuelan refugees. Amending the bill to match Colombia’s provision of 10 years of TPS for Venezuelan refugees will provide long-term protection and support as refugees await the end of the crisis in Venezuela in order to return home.

Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

The Armenia Fund
The Armenia Fund was established shortly after the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1994 following Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The conflict had left the newly independent nation in shambles and needing assistance. The NGO based out of Los Angeles sought to alleviate the lasting repercussions of the recent conflict. Its primary focus was to connect the large Armenian diaspora population to its homeland in order to further develop Armenia. With an Armenian population of roughly three million, the estimated seven million Armenians living in other countries around the world are crucial to assembling an improved Armenia. With this goal in mind, the Armenia Fund plays a vital role in extending support to Armenia.

Armenia Fund Supporters

During the recent reoccurrence of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, the Armenia Fund provided $80 million in immediate relief to the Armenian people. The imminent need for access to food, medical supplies and clean water was widespread as the war had lasting effects on the country. Many donations were influenced by the awareness raised from Kim Kardashian’s $1 million pledge to the Armenia Fund, along with the support from several other celebrities. Kim Kardashian is Armenian through her late father, Robert Kardashian. She advertised the efforts of the Armenia Fund and invited her fans to sponsor the nonprofit. Other prominent contributors consist of the Armenian Missionary Association of America, the Armenian Assembly of America, Inc. and The Manoogian Simone Foundation.

Armenia Fund Projects

Projects initiated by the Armenia Fund include rebuilding schools and churches in the nation. The NGO strives to supply resources to as many Armenians as possible while rendering aid to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. A recently completed project is the reconstruction of the Talish village. In restoring the once destroyed village, the Armenia Fund revived the historic and ancient town. Several other villages and buildings destroyed or affected by past war conflicts are primary areas the fund intends to repair.

US Assistance to Armenia

In addition to the Armenia Fund, the U.S. has long provided Armenia with support. The U.S. Embassy highlighted that the U.S. has given $2 billion in assistance funding to Armenia since 1992, aiming to develop Armenia’s democracy and sustain its economy. A 1998 foreign aid bill provided more than $45 million straight to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. At the time, the U.S. was the only country to grant such a relief package. More recent assistance includes the Valadao Amendment in 2017 and the Cox Amendment in 2019, which offered direct aid from the U.S. to the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. The legislation provided more than $1 million in direct relief. The Speier Amendment in 2019 was another notable contribution, as it allocated $40 million to democracy programs.

Armenia has had no shortage of challenges in establishing its planned democracy and strengthening itself after gaining independence from the Soviet Union. The Armenia Fund, principally supported by Armenians living outside the country, has helped shape a better Armenia. The U.S. has also been crucial, helping Armenia’s progression through foreign aid. The Armenia Fund continues to serve as a meaningful surveyor to sustain Armenia’s flourishment. The nonprofit supports Armenia by reaching the large diaspora population and continuously fighting for a more stable Armenia. Rebuilding the country physically is an investment in the Armenian people.

James Van Bramer
Photo: Flickr

Involvement in the Tigray Region

At the northernmost border of Ethiopia is the Tigray Region that stretches for more than 19,000 square miles. Tigray is home to about seven million Tigrayans, an ethnic minority that accounts for only about 6% of the country’s population. The region is now experiencing a humanitarian crisis that requires urgent aid. U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region aims to end the conflict and protect the human rights of Ethiopians.

Conflict in Tigray

Decades of conflict regarding the self-determination of the Tigrayan population boiled over in 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed postponed the election due to COVID-19. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a leftist party in control of the regional government, deemed this an “unconstitutional extension” of Ahmed’s term and held elections anyway.

The Ethiopian government declared the election void, leading to an outbreak of violence between the two sides. As the Ethiopian government and the TPLF wage a war against each other, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis has arisen. Ethiopian forces have killed thousands of people in indiscriminate shootings. The conflict has left more than two million people displaced as of January 2021. The violence on the part of the government has been described as a “campaign of ethnic cleansing.” This crisis has caught the world’s attention, with the U.N. and other international organizations working to address it. However, U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region also aims to bring resolution.

The US Takes Action

On May 26, 2021, President Biden released a statement on the crisis in Ethiopia. Biden urged Ethiopian leaders to work toward “reconciliation, human rights and respect for pluralism.” Furthermore, Biden called for a ceasefire, citing a warning from the U.N. Office of Humanitarian Affairs “that Ethiopia could experience its first famine since the 1980s.”

The administration has also implemented visa restrictions targeted at Ethiopian and Eritrean officials responsible for the conflict. The restrictions press for the resolution of the conflict. U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region involved months of failed diplomatic talks between Ethiopia and the U.S. The administration heeds warnings that further action may be taken if Ethiopia does not take steps to address the humanitarian crisis. The actions could include halting U.S. security and economic assistance and possibly leveling sanctions against Ethiopian officials.

In March 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that additional humanitarian assistance of $52 million would be provided to the region. This brings the total of U.S. aid to the region to nearly $153 million since the beginning of the crisis. The aid aims to help nearly 4.5 million people in the region in need of shelter, healthcare, food, water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Concerns of Congress

The concerns of members of Congress call for greater U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region as well as greater involvement from the international community. An op-ed by Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Gregory Meeks called attention to the tragedy unfolding in the region. Menendez and Meeks call for more decisive action to be taken to address the Ethiopian crisis.

The representatives suggest that the U.S. lead “an international arms embargo on the Eritrean regime.” The U.S. should also implement “targeted economic sanctions” and “must oppose the assistance from international financial institutions that would flow to the Ethiopian government.”

On May 28, 2021, Representative Karen Bass introduced H.Res. 445, titled “Condemning all violence and human rights abuses in Ethiopia.” The bill calls on “the Government of Ethiopia and the Government of the State of Eritrea to remove all Eritrean troops from Ethiopia.” The bill also calls for other armed groups to cease hostilities and uphold the human rights of Ethiopians while allowing humanitarian access to provide aid.

Meaningful Action

As the crisis continues, U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region continues to be a topic of discussion. Both the Biden administration and U.S. Congress will have to move forward with policy decisions to ensure meaningful action and outcomes. Every action from the U.S. and other international actors will ensure that the fundamental rights of Ethiopians are protected.

Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Reduce Poverty in Central AmericaIn an effort to stem migration, the Biden administration has unveiled a plan to reduce poverty in Central America. The administration hopes that improving the quality of life in places where people are likely to emigrate from will cause fewer people to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. border. In May 2021, Vice President Harris called on the private sector to increase investment in the Northern Triangle to bolster the United States’ efforts to develop the region and address the root causes of migration to the U.S.

Plans to Improve the Economy

In a public statement, the White House referred to the economic development initiative for the Northern Triangle as a call to action. The U.S. government hopes to bolster economic growth in the Northern Triangle region of Central America. Northern Triangle countries consist of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The aim of this directive is to implement sustainable action that will stem the mass migration of asylum seekers and ease the ensuing border crises between the U.S. and Mexico. The call to action involves six key areas.

6 Focal Areas of Development in the Northern Triangle

  1. Reform: Increased transparency and predictability by implementing “international best practices in licensing, permitting, procurement, regulation and taxation.”
  2. Digital and Financial Inclusivity: Ensuring affordable internet is more accessible to support digital inclusion and prioritizing financial inclusion of marginalized populations.
  3. Food Security and Agriculture: Developing initiatives to reduce food insecurity by improving agricultural outcomes and prioritizing resilient crops.
  4. Renewable Energy and Climate Change: Taking actions to achieve climate resilience and transitioning to renewable, clean energy.
  5. Education and Employment: “Expand job-training programs, support greater access to technical and secondary education and create higher-paying formal sector jobs,” with females and rural people as priorities.
  6. Healthcare: Develop strategies to strengthen healthcare systems in order to be better prepared for future health crises and to “ensure inclusive access to healthcare.”

Companies Aiding Poverty Reduction Efforts

The aim of the initiative is to reduce the need to emigrate by equalizing living standards between neighboring nations of varying economic status. This supports the broader goal of creating international stability with efforts to reduce poverty in Central America. The U.S. government believes partnering with the private sector will make the plan of action a reality. So far, 12 companies and organizations have committed to the goal of developing the Northern Triangle.

Technology companies such as Microsoft will provide broader internet and digital communication systems to the Northern Triangle and teach people the digital skills needed to thrive in a digital world. Furthermore, the language learning app, Duolingo, hopes to bolster literacy rates, help people learn English and provide wider access to quality education. Beyond this, international financial institutions such as Mastercard will allow for financial inclusion by giving people the financial and digital skills and services needed to reduce the digital divide and combat poverty.

The Focus on Security

A major obstacle to the plan is how to allocate such loans and funds. Part of this wider initiative of economic recovery includes cracking down on political corruption and increasing transparency and international regulation. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Mexico and Guatemala in early June 2021 as a gesture of the beginning of a diplomatic response to the migration crisis. Her discussions mainly focused on issues regarding food security, border security and economic security. Harris emphasizes that women and the youth are priorities in the action plan as they are most vulnerable.

Along with economic rejuvenation efforts, the U.S. hopes to bring its own border security expertise to other nations. This will create an extended security buffer between migrants and the U.S. border. Additionally, the Biden administration wishes to broaden legal pathways toward migration and asylum to offer alternative options to illegal migration.

The Allocation of Funds

In April 2021, the U.S. pledged more than $300 million worth of aid to Central America in order to stem the migration crisis. Almost half of the funds have been allocated toward food security and COVID-19 recovery efforts. The rest of the financial assistance will help in the areas of “health, education and disaster relief services” and aid refugees and asylum seekers.

The division of funds reflects the priorities of the strategy in order to reduce poverty and increase security in the Northern Triangle. According to the World Food Programme, the number of people facing food insecurity in the Northern Triangle increased to 7.8 million in 2021. The cause of this increase correlates directly to hurricanes and the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Therefore, the development of Northern Triangle economies will reduce poverty in Central America and decrease migration to the U.S.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr