Posts

4 innovative solutions that are helping refugees

In the world today, there are nearly 26 million refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution and ongoing conflict. Refugees are among the world’s most vulnerable populations and are at risk of severe physical and mental health repercussions. Despite the limited access to resources and the substandard conditions that refugees face daily, advancements and innovations in refugee camps have eased these burdens. In times of strife and hardship, people can create something extraordinary and beneficial for society. Here are four innovative solutions that are helping refugees manage life in refugee camps.

4 Innovative Solutions Aiding Refugees

  1. Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS), a World Vision program, was created to improve efficacy and accountability in humanitarian service delivery. This innovative technological solution ensures that aid recipients are tracked without error, rations are precisely calculated and dispensed and online reports are immediately accessible for stakeholders and donors who are at the base of key operations. LMMS also helps address issues affecting aid deliverance, including prolonged wait times, inaccurate tracking of supplies and inventory and errors in allotments to families. This program has been established in more than 30 countries by 20 different humanitarian groups, registering more than 10 million aid recipients.
  2. In Jordan’s Za’atari camp, Syrian refugees are converting caravans into serviceable facilities, such as shops, homes and furniture. A 2014 study asserts that nearly 64% of Za’atari’s businesses work from caravans. It is also estimated that approximately 10% of women in Za’atari are operating craft-making and other businesses from these adaptable vehicles. Most of the shops’ shelving, signs, and general household items are made from the same wood paneling that comes from these caravans’ flooring. Through the conversion and adaptive use of caravans, Syrian refugees have shown that there are creative ways to use the resources available to them to obtain a higher quality of life.
  3. Community kitchens in camps such as the Kutupalong refugee camp are equipped with gas stoves, allowing many refugee mothers to feed their families nutritious food and minimizing the dangers of cooking with an open fire. This innovative solution is a frugal choice when it comes to getting daily meals. Because of its implementation, refugees do not have to buy firewood and can better allocate their money toward food and other necessities. Beyond this, community kitchens are much more than safe areas to cook and affordable cooking alternatives. These are places where women get together and empower each other to become leaders in their communities, help each other solve problems and make informed decisions for their families’ well-being.
  4. Hand-made dynamos have changed the tides in Kenya’s Kakuma camp. Kakuma is not connected to the national power grid, so homes and businesses depend on solar power and generators to generate electricity daily. William, a Burundian installation expert, has been the go-to mechanic for dozens of business owners who need electricity in the camp. He once used an old treadmill to build a dynamo and has been redesigning the devices based upon the accessibility of resources, including fans and condensers from trashed air conditioners. In his workshops, William trains refugees so they can bring a set of general skills to meet the challenges in refugee camps.

Refugees and allied partners have shown their resourcefulness and resilience when placed in challenging situations. Many refugees do not allow the substandard living conditions they must reside in to hold back their desire to change the unfavorable systems and their circumstances. Refugees have demonstrated that innovative solutions come in many forms and that building community is key to improving refugees’ quality of life.

—Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

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

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

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Refugees

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

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

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

Signpost as Virtual Back-up

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

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

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

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

– Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Top 7 Facts About Women’s Health for Syrian RefugeesSyrian refugees face a variety of hardships in their daily lives, especially those with families. Syrian refugee women often have trouble finding the care that they need for themselves and their children. This is often due to the fear of being sent back to Syria. However, many countries are making changes in order to help these women by creating policies specifically for refugees. Below are seven facts about women’s health for Syrian refugees.

Top 7 Facts About Women’s Health for Syrian Refugees

  1. Around 75 percent of Syrian refugees are women and children. The stresses of living life as a refugee bring on many of the conditions that require medical care in this group. The most common medical conditions Syrian refugee women report include gynecologic problems, “micronutrient deficiencies, sexually transmitted diseases and mental health” disorders.
  2. Many countries hosting a large population of Syrian refugees are making health needs a priority, especially for women. Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey host a total of 5 million Syrians. This makes up to almost 95 percent of the registered Syrian refugees in the world. Studying the needs of refugees in each country can give organizations an idea of what aid is needed most and where. In studying the health needs of refugees, women’s health is the second-highest priority behind mental health.
  3. Many international organizations have begun to focus on getting Syrian refugee women better access to healthcare as well as health education. Hilfswerk International is an organization in Austria that is doing this. Hilfswerk focuses on bringing medical services and healthcare education to a specific city in Lebanon. These services include classes, an increase in the capacity of ambulances, pregnancy and delivery services, nutrition and mental health support. Hilfswerk hopes this initiative will enhance the health of many Syrian refugee women and their families.
  4. Non-governmental organizations have comprised enough data to provide relative care to Syrian refugee women in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. However, this is not the case for Turkey. Turkey has strict rules that do not allow organizations or journalists to report on the refugee camps. Consequently, there is not enough data on what Syrian refugee women need with medical care.
  5. Due to Jordan having a history of an open border with Syria, the country is relatively well off when caring for its refugee population. The government of Jordan has policies for reproductive health services and provides free primary healthcare as well as immunizations for children. All women in Jordan have access to maternal care, postnatal care and trained professionals present during deliveries.
  6. In 2012, U.N. Women created a cash-for-work program for refugee women called Oasis at the most populated refugee camp in Jordan. Oasis trains refugee women to do jobs such as tailoring and hairstyling in order to provide to their families. U.N. Women also teaches women how to secure a work permit. Furthermore, it has hosted job fairs for jobs outside of Oasis. The program gives refugee women skills and a way to provide for their families. In addition, Oasis helps refugee women to create a safe community and supports mental well-being.
  7. UNICEF has created an initiative called “Dining for Women.” Dining for Women includes a $100,000 grant that provides Syrian refugee women with safe jobs and addresses the need for an increase in maternal care in Jordan. UNICEF will provide kits to women and their babies that include clothing, diapers, blankets and hygiene products. They also provide monthly payments and prenatal/postnatal counseling.

These seven facts about women’s health for Syrian refugees show that there is important work to be done. Thankfully, there are organizations working on addressing the needs of refugees, especially women.

Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 facts About Living Conditions in the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic is a landlocked country in Africa with 16 prefectures. The Central African Republic is among the poorest nations in the world even though the country has an abundance of natural resources. Roughly 90 percent of the population lives in poverty, with little access to food, decent housing, water or sanitation. One of the main causes of poverty is the ongoing conflict that shattered the country. This conflict caused the living conditions in the Central African Republic to deteriorate along with the way of life for many citizens. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in the Central African Republic.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Central African Republic

  1. The country and many humanitarian organizations are making a desperate call for aid. Around 2.9 million people of the current 4.8 million living in the Central African Republic will need assistance. This is more than half of the population. On Jan. 7, the country’s government teamed up with the U.N. to launch the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, requesting nearly $431 million to provide humanitarian assistance.
  2. For a majority of the population, the living conditions in the Central African Republic are too dangerous. Many were displaced from their homes and thrown into chaos. As of January 2019, the current number of people displaced from their homes inside the country is 640,969 people. Living mainly in churches, mosques, public buildings and the airport, the conditions the displaced live in are not any better. Refugees are often forced to sleep in the open, making them vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. They have little access to clean water, food or medical aid.
  3. For those who are able to cross the borders to refugee camps, the conditions aren’t much better. Over 598,000 refugees from the country are forced to live in crowded villages or scattered along the borders. The neighboring country to the west, Cameroon, hosts the largest population of Central African refugees according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Approximately 275,700 refugees took refuge in the country as of December 2018.
  4. Nearly half of all Central Africans are under the age of 14 years. Of note, 370,000 of these children are orphans who will grow up without one or both their parents. The SOS Children’s Villages in Bangui and Bouar are home to thousands of children, many orphaned by AIDS or civil war.
  5. Malnutrition is a major problem in the Central African Republic. A USAID survey conducted in January 2019 found that 10 of the country’s prefectures have excessive levels of severe acute malnutrition. Around 1.9 million people in the country face severe levels of food insecurity. In efforts to help, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) distributed food aid to more than 5,000 people at the Saint Jean de Galabadja parish in Bangui. In December 2018, the USAID partnered with the U.N.’s World Food Programme to provide emergency food assistance to more than 628,000 food-insecure people.
  6. Diseases such as malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis, nutritional diseases and sexually transmitted diseases are major health concerns in the country. Unfortunately, there is little support offered by clinics and first-aid posts available. The capital of the country, Bangui, only has one hospital and there is little to no health aid outside of the city.
  7. As the violence continues and more and more citizens are displaced, access to clean water is becoming harder to achieve. In rural areas, clean water is often not available at all, which allows the spread of numerous diseases. In response to this issue, the ICRC helped established 11 taps connected to the municipal water network and three water tanks fitted with a total of 24 taps for around 35,000 displaced people gathered at the airport in Bangui. The ICRC plans to have more taps and latrines set up at different sites to increase access.
  8. Transportation can be hard in the Central African Republic. The country only has about 400 miles of paved roads and no access to railways to the sea. However, most of the country rely on the rivers passing through for communication and trade. Because it is hard to navigate the unpaved roads or the lack of access to ferries, the displaced live scattered throughout the country and around the borders.
  9. Many NGOs try to improve living conditions in the Central African Republic. One of them is the Mercy Corps which worked in the country since 2007. The Mercy Corps helps the residents in various ways. It gives immediate assistance to displaced families and orphaned children fleeing from the violence that plagues the country. It also operates as a survivor support center that offers linkages to medical care, counseling and legal services for survivors of gender-based violence. Other services include the Corps’ members training vulnerable people in income-generating activities, constructing wells and leading play therapy and child protection committees that help kids heal from traumatic violence.
  10. The World Food Programme also works in the Central African Republic alongside the UNHCR, UNICEF and NGO partners to provide vulnerable communities basic food and nutrition by distributing food. The WFP also helps to support smallholder farmers in restoring and enhancing their productive assets. When school meals and general food distributions programs purchase from smallholders, it will be benefiting 46,000 farmers. 60 percent of them are women.

As the country currently stands as one of the world’s poorest countries, there is still a lot of work to do. However, there is still hope for the improvement of living conditions in the Central African Republic.

Madeline Oden
Photo: Flickr

Food Aid in SyriaIn the first week of August, the U.N. flexed its creative muscle to provide food aid in Syria to internally displaced Syrians by hoisting supplies via crane over the walled-off Jordanian border. The process was monitored by drones on the other side.

The border was sealed following a June attack on the Jordanian military. The border closure is problematic for a number of reasons, one being that the World Food Programme (WFP) and other U.N. partners previously delivered supplies from Jordan to the 75,000 people living the area.

WFP representative and country director in Jordan, Mageed Yahia said that most of the people living in the region are women, children and the elderly. Many of these individuals are sick or wounded, and none of them have regular access to food or medicine.

The BBC reports that thousands of people have been migrating to this point at the border, a heavily entrenched area known as the berm since late last year. The number has ballooned because of strict immigration restrictions imposed by Jordan, limiting those who are allowed to cross. Of the 4.85 million Syrians registered as refugees with the U.N., 655,000 are hosted by Jordan.

Five years of war have left Syria broken, beaten and scarred, but there are still some 18 million people living in the country. Outside of the capital, Damascus, the Syrian people struggle to get by; 13.5 million of them are said to need humanitarian aid.

The war has destroyed Syria’s economy with an estimated cost of $255 billion, according to the Syrian Center for Policy Research. Unemployment stands at over 50 percent, a 36 percent increase since 2011. And yet, there are still those who have not given up hope.

The WFP and other organizations came together to devise this unconventional program of food aid in Syria in the spirit of providing temporary relief to those on the other side. The partners delivered 650 metric tons of aid to two locations over three days.

Of note, 70-meter-high cranes lifted pallets over the border in Rukban and Hadalat, lowering them into encampments on the other side. Items delivered included food from WFP, bread from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and hygiene kits from UNICEF.

The WFP is calling this operation a “one-off distribution,” and says that a long-term solution is necessary to meet the needs of the tens of thousands of displaced and hungry Syrians in the area. The Jordanian government has said that it will not allow future aid deliveries to the area due to concerns over security.

This instance of food aid in Syria may have been a singular effort, but it provided food to people who had not received aid in months. Furthermore, officials at the U.N. and the WFP are using their best efforts to come up with a sustainable, long-term solution to the problem.

Aaron Parr

Photo: Flickr