A recently married couple from Tehran just made their third attempt, along with 57 other asylum seekers, to reach Christmas Island, Australia.  If the weather is stable and the small boat holds up, their more than 200 mile trip across the Indian Ocean into Australian territory should last three days.  However, since June, this three day trip has ended tragically taking the lives of over 100 people.

The first “boat people” to seek asylum in Australia were the Vietnamese during the mid-1970s.  According to Luke Mogelson, a NY Times correspondent that actually endured one of these journeys posing as a refugee, Australia is extremely concerned with such people and, in response to such concerns, they adopted The Pacific Solution as a way to send asylum seekers to detention centers with the help of the Australian navy.

These detention centers are located in Papa New Guinea, or on the miniscule island state in Micronesia called The Republic of Nauru.  Both locations rely heavily on Australian aid.

Mogelson also mentions that, “over the past four years, most European countries have absorbed more asylum seekers, per capita, than Australia – some of them, like Sweden and Liechtenstein, seven times as many.”

As a result of such absorption, the Pacific Solution has been denounced repeatedly by refugee and human rights advocates.  The BBC reports that Australia plans to increase the capacity of their refugee center to more than 2,000 beds to cope with the demand.  Furthermore, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, also according to the BBC, promised to take a hard line approach to people smugglers, but insists that anyone seeking asylum will be treated humanely.

For the most part, the issue surrounding human smuggling prompts Australia to be weary of refugees.  Luke Mogelson from the NY Times has lived in Afghanistan and explains that the refugee smuggling business is conducted through a money transfer system known in the Muslim world as hawala.  This system is convenient especially for Afghani people that do not have legitimate bank accounts, but have family living abroad that are in need of remittances.

Unlike most refugees, the recently married couple from Tehran previously mentioned continuously persisted in getting to Christmas Island so their child would be born there.  Other refugees typically expect to be reunited with their respective families after arriving in Australia, few want to risk the lives of their children on the treacherous trip.

Despite the fact that thousands of refugees have died attempting to reach Christmas Island, people continue making the trip, some even more than once.  The conditions they endure during their trip are unthinkable, their dreams of a new life quickly being countered with the nightmare of a ride they face on the way to safety.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: NY Times, BBC
Photo: The Australian

Australia Multinational Political Forums
As over 60 major wildfires blaze a path toward Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissed the UN’s statement that the fires are directly linked to climate change. Australia’s rejection of the years of scientific studies that informed the UN’s statement is a sad conviction for a nation that will experience even greater harm from environmental degradation in coming years. It also draws attention to the growing necessity for a strong UN in the modern world.

If countries like Australia, the USA, China, and Russia continue to pursue energy agendas that do not adapt to the imminent environmental reality, the consequences could be among the worst experienced by humanity to date. And the belligerence demonstrated by Mr. Abbott and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggest that no changes are forthcoming.

Nation-states are not the only players on the scene; international corporations are often as powerful as national governments – and among the largest of them all are petroleum companies ExxonMobil, Shell, British Petroleum, and China National Petroleum Company. These corporations depend for their annual billions on the very substance that is most singularly responsible for the environmental crisis, and are therefore singularly committed to blocking any energy solutions not directly produced and patented by themselves.

It is for this reason that the UN finds itself in the position of unsurpassed importance. On the UN forums, the concerns of the many have the opportunity to outweigh the greed or ignorance of the few. If countries continue their harmful agendas, and in so doing threaten the existence of more fragile nations, there may be a need for the UN to impose sanctions or other means to dissuade countries from their agendas.

It is admittedly unlikely that the UN, as it is currently structured, would pursue this radical course of action – and there is no guarantee that any reasonable action could persuade an uncooperative country to adopt a sustainable agenda. Recent rhetoric at the UN by middle-income countries such as Vietnam and Nigeria show hope that the UN structure is evolving, however.

Coupled with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s continuing commitment to solving the pressing environmental problems, the UN stands in a position to increase its international influence and become a more balanced and less fettered institution – capable of voicing concerns and passing legislation that would be impossible in national forums.

– Alex Pusateri

Sources: Chicago Tribune, CNS News, Indy Bay,
Photo: Climate Shift

Australian start-up biNu may be pioneering revolutionary cell phone technology. By minimizing the required bandwidth and memory capacity of the user’s phone, biNu brings smart-phone level applications to ‘dumb’ phone users for little to no cost, and emphasizes reliability in weak or spotty networks, which cover a majority not only of the developing world, but the planet as a whole.

$7.5 million in funding from Eric Schmidt and others, and a UN ‘My World Innovation’ Award later, it seems the technology is working.

biNu dramatically widens two data streams currently existing in stunted forms. One of these is headed into the developing world. At least 4 million users in the developing world access the biNu cloud every month, utilizing hundreds of millions of webpages. Phones that were previously only usable to make calls are now empowered with the apps of corporations, governments, NGOs, and more, bringing an unprecedented level of information and communication to poor regions.

This stream is also significant for its profitability – for both biNu and others. Gary Lentell and Dave Turner, biNu’s founders, know first-hand how volatile the tech start-up world can be, having already lost all $75 million they made with their previous business, Sabela Media; biNu’s ability to bring new markets into touch with marketers means it stands to make a profit as the middle man.

But the companies who can present ads to these new markets may be the ones who profit most dramatically – if they can capitalize on the face-time as efficiently as Google has. In this way, biNu is for software what the cell phone was for hardware: a lead forward in terms of inter-connectedness.

The second data stream is headed out of the developing world, to NGOs and research institutions who now have direct access to the people they are trying to help. This second stream has already been dramatically influential, enabling over 100,000 responses to a UN survey which utilized the software.

As more NGOs become aware of biNu’s potential, its ability to make direction connections between aid givers and aid receivers will proliferate and create a more seamless development community – a community which currently suffers greatly from a major divide between those who have the resources and desire to help, and those who require help.

Lentell has repeatedly stated his interests lie dominantly in creating a solid, profitable business – not in helping people, which is only a perk. While many CEOs who express such sentiment earn derision for not being in touch with economic reality, NGOs and the developing world should be grateful to have such a practical mentality heading biNu.

Too many start-ups with the revolutionary potential of biNu sputter and die because of overly idealistic leadership. BiNu’s best chance to bridge the Digital Divide is to focus on itself and its profitability, continue to pursue the best technology and the most reliable investments, and allow its users to dictate how biNu is applied to the developing world.

– Alex Pusateri

Sources: Venture Beat, The Next Web, BINU, BINU: How It Works, INC

Throughout the world, there have been several innovations to generate new portable clean water in developing nations. The latest of these innovations is WADI, a water purification system started by the Australian corporation Helioz.

According to Helioz’ research team, WADI is an easy to use, cost effective UV measurement device for solar water disinfection (SODIS). In short, WADI is a solar powered water disinfection system that operates “without the use of chemicals, batteries or filters”. Because of its pure use, WADI guarantees its users with safe, chemical-free drinking water.

The WADI device is simple and easy to use. A user simply fills in a PET bottle with water from any source, puts the WADI device on instead of the regular bottle cap, and exposes the bottle to sunlight and UV rays until the water in the bottle registers as clean on the device. If the water is still contaminated, the device will show a sad face to the user.

If the water has been purified, the device will register a smiley face on it’s small LCD screen. However, the device does face some challenges. Although the device shows serious advancement towards clean water around the world, it also has setbacks in areas where water sources and sunlight are scarce.

In areas where sunlight is scarce, the cleaning process might take up anywhere from 45 minutes to two days longer than normal. As a result people who are in desperate need for water resort to drinking contaminated, more accessible water, researchers say.

However, the self sufficient water purification system promises to take the world by storm. The project is expected to launch in developing nations in January 2014. Currently, Helioz is working on a funding campaign for the device.

The campaign will allow the company to create a further study on the effects the device has on remote villages such as Odisha, India. The study will also help the company customize their product depending on the area it is being used in.

Projects such as WADI show great promise towards completing worldwide water purification. However, only time, and user responses will tell if the project is a success.

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: Tree Hugger, Helioz
Photo: INiTS

Syria Refugees Settle in Australia
Entire towns ransacked to ruins, food and medicine completely run out, schools and hospitals attacked, rape and disappearance of women, and blockades preventing essential flow of goods to the people—these unbelievable conditions are actually happening today in Syria. The conflict in Syria has led to over 100,000 deaths, and over two million people have already fled the nation.

The United Nations Security Council has created plans to address humanitarian action to stop the suffering of the Syrian people. However, the international support networks have not realized the plans to help these people. The international community has been unsuccessful in demanding that agencies assist Syria. The UN has voiced a need for an additional $4.5 million to meet Syria’s needs, but less than 40 percent of this financial target has been met.

Syria’s neighbors are doing their best to take in fleeing refugees. Lebanon, for example, now houses 750,000 refugees. Because an astounding two million refugees have fled Syria, surrounding nations including Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are facing great population increases. The UNHCR has requested that nations aim to alleviate the burden these neighboring nations are dealing with.

While not a neighboring country, Australia has contributed to Syrian aid as well, providing the nation with nearly $100 million, with $45.5 million allocated to support the neighboring nations taking in refugees. Australia has joined 16 other nations, and made an agreement to take in 500 Syrian refugees.

The UN Security Council’s resolution calls for the urgent and unhindered deliverance of aid toward Syrian civilians caught up in the Syrian civil war. The statement sends an urgent message that Syria must allow the UN to come in and help the innocent citizens. Australia is responding to this call.

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, said the refugee relocation will begin in 2013-2014. The agreement “guarantees more resettlement places for those waiting in desperate circumstances.” Further, Morrison explained priority will be given to refugees who are most vulnerable and need urgent security.

Morrison emphasized, however, that “The Australian people’s support should not be interpreted as an encouragement to those seeking to enter our country illegally.” He said that those arriving unlawfully on boats will not be treated differently than any other illegal immigrants.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: Business Standard The Guardian ABC Australia
Photo: ABC Australia

Australia has recently decided to take strict measures to deal with the increasing influx of asylum seekers from conflict-ridden countries. This year alone brought 269 boats with 18,888 people—44 boats with 3,057 refugees in the last two months—from places like Iran, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Many worry “the refugees could take jobs or become a drag on social services,” thus affecting stability in Australia. Australia represents “the rich Western world” for these maritime travelers who risk their lives to find basic human rights and freedom of education.

Australia’s residents, however, are concerned that while some come to Australia to escape war in their home countries, others come for better economic opportunity. They suggest that in order to stave off the growing flow of migrants, Australia should just accept the ones fleeing war-torn countries and reject “the economic ones.” Voters in Australia are growing increasingly anxious for an easy solution and are angry with their government for not providing one.

In response to these concerns during Australia’s election year, the Australian government has been working on establishing the Irregular Migration Research Program with four aims: to build a body of knowledge to enable short-term research for immediate issues, to understand the drivers of irregular migration to help develop policy, to foster informed public discussion, and to promote research in the field of irregular migration and to establish the field itself.

To accomplish its goals, Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship commissioned the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to produce recommendations to deal with the irregular migration problem. After close review, the Panel concluded that the new program needs to be, among other things, “hard-headed but not hard-hearted,” and ensures that those who circumvent the regular migration mechanisms do not receive any unfair advantages.

According to the Australian Government, the primary motivation for establishing the program is to eliminate the hundreds of tragic deaths of asylum seekers that occur at sea every year. From 2001 to June 2012, 964 asylum seekers and crew have been lost at sea while on their way to the shores of Australia; 604 people have died since October 2009. The Panel came up with 22 recommendations, many of which advocated for strengthening local, as well as, regional policy and strategy to address the issue:

  1. Manage asylum across the region, while considering Australia’s international obligations
  2. Improve Australia’s Humanitarian Program, specifically allocate places for the refugee component, focused on asylum-seeker flows from source countries into South-East Asia
  3. Expand relevant capacity-building initiatives and increase allocation of resources
  4. Advance bilateral cooperation on asylum-seeker issues, like law enforcement and search and rescue coordination, with Indonesia and Malaysia
  5. Develop strategy to engage with source countries for asylum seekers to Australia
  6. Introduce legislation to support transfer of people to regional processing arrangements into Australian Parliament
  7. Establish capacity in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to process claims of irregular migrants transferred from Australia

Australia’s new Irregular Migration Research Program will support current research, commission new research projects, partnership-based research, and approve small research grants.

– Yuliya Shokh

Sources: The Wall Street Journal
Photo: BSE

The restored canal in Cambodia has transformed lives for small rice-farming communities that depend heavily on rice for their livelihoods. Rice farming is the main source of income for 80% of Cambodia’s 14.5 million population, however, for years, farmers in the region have only been able to expect one rice cycle. Thanks to the restored canal, those in the area have enjoyed three harvests in just nine months, increasing total rice yield three times over.

Previously, the canal that zigzags across the rice paddy in the southern region of Cambodia was shallow, meaning that farmers had to depend on rainwater for a successful crop yield. Rainfall can be erratic and unpredictable. Two years before the restoration of the canal started, a bad drought destroyed rice crops, leaving scores of people hungry. The restoration involved dredging and enlarging 47 kilometers of canal in order to feed water to more than 41,100 hectares of rice in 12 provinces. Now at 6.5 kilometers wide, the canal is linked to a lake, and provides farmers with enough water to grow rice in three cycles of three months each. As a result of the project, approximately 11,240 families across the 12 provinces will have better irrigation for farming.

The restoration of the canal was funded by Sweden and Australia, and the work was carried out by an NGO in conjunction with local authorities. It was launched in an effort to help communities in vulnerable areas manage the risks of climate change. With the impacts of climate change expected to adversely affect the production of rice, it has been a goal of the UNDP to put mechanisms in place that will help to guarantee food production and food security in the future.

With rice yields already on the increase, farmers in the region are beginning to feel the financial benefits. Lim Savoeun, a rice-farmer, said the increased profits have made a big difference for her family. “In the past, we struggled to scrape by and sometimes had to loan money from others to fill the gap [in the income],” she said. “But we can avoid that since we are now able to grow rice for often that before. As long as there is water, we will keep working tirelessly on our land. We can’t complain.”

– Chloë Isacke

Sources: UNDP, United Nations
Photo: New York Times

Make Poverty History Aims
Make Poverty History (MPH) is staging a worldwide campaign. Its mission statement matches its name as it aims to raise awareness about global poverty and make concrete policy changes in various nations’ governments and in intergovernmental organizations.

The various national Make Poverty History campaigns are part of a larger international campaign called Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a worldwide alliance committed to making world leaders live up to their promises and ending global poverty.


The Admirable Aims of Make Poverty History


In comparison to other aid organizations that may struggle trying to apply single, cure-all strategies on a universal scale, MPH has experienced such widespread success because each participating country can focus its national campaign on different issues within the broader topic of alleviating global poverty.

Despite these slight variations, however, all countries generally focus on issues such as aid, trade, and justice that are relevant to the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals. Besides alleviating global poverty, MPH also aims to reduce the corruption that plagues many developing countries’ governments and prevents foreign aid from reaching the poorest members of society.

For example, the British MPH campaign is a coalition of charities, religious organizations, trade unions, and celebrities whose campaign slogans include “trade justice,” “drop the debt,” and “more and better aid.”

The call for “trade justice” demands a global trade system that does not allow half of the world’s population to live on less than $2 USD per day. This aspect of the campaign seeks to prevent the wealthiest countries and individuals from reaping all of the trade benefits at the expense of the impoverished.

Meanwhile, the “drop the debt” aspect of the campaign suggests canceling unpayable debt of the world’s poorest countries without cutting these countries off to the prospect of future aid. This includes creating a fair and transparent international process to ensure that human needs take priority over debt repayments .

Finally, the “more and better aid” component notes that increasing the proportion of national budgets allocated to foreign development aid will not make much of a difference unless nations can also change the way in which they deliver their aid. MPH believes that targeting aid specifically to basic health care and education, rather than giving money to governments for further allocation, is the best way to avoid corruption and address the underserved people’s true needs.

Meanwhile, Australia’s MPH campaign focuses on increasing Australia’s effective foreign development aid to 0.7% of its gross national income, tackling global climate change issues, and addressing chronic hunger problems across the globe.

While both the MPG and its parent campaign were originally created as a one-time-only campaign in 2005, the dual campaigns’ continued success have spurred leaders to extend the campaigning alliance until at least 2015. MPH is now considered the biggest, most widespread anti-poverty movement in history.

The leaders of MPH acknowledge that, despite its many successes, the fight against poverty continues on. Through campaigning, fundraising, and fighting to make their voices heard by politicians and policy makers around the globe,  MPH can ensure that the fire it has ignited in the hearts of its followers never dies.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: Make Poverty History, The Guardian, Oxfam Australia, Millennium Development Goals,
Photo: The Guardian

Recipients of Australian foreign aid are up in arms today following a release by the government showing a significant slash in the aid budget. In a mini-budget produced by Treasurer Chris Bowen, the foreign aid budget fell by AU$879 million (approximately USD $782 million). In addition to this cut in expected funds an additional AU$420 million of the appropriated funds will be rerouted to serve Australian asylum-seekers routed to Papa New Guinea.

Overall aid spending will still increase by 26% but the cuts will be felt by Australian aid recipients. The aid budget is projected to reach AU $5.7 billion in fiscal year 2014, which will be the largest aid budget yet for Australia.

As one of the largest markets for human trafficking and smuggling individuals Australia has grappled with its refugee population. Asylum seekers in Australia had reached 7,120 in only the first seven months of 2012. These individuals are at high risk for human trafficking and smuggling. In 2012 Australia issued a new plan for controlling and settling these asylum seekers and refugees. Under this amendment Australia will transfer these individuals to Papa New Guinea and Nauru. Critics claim this is not a solution but rather a transfer of the problem because Papa New Guinea itself has high rates of human trafficking.

Individuals from international development organizations have spoken out against this rerouting of funding. Kelly Dent, a spokeswomen for Oxfam, said, “The purpose of Australia’s overseas aid budget is to fight poverty. It is not an ATM for the government to meet its domestic financial commitments.” Aid recipients have pointed out that the fluctuation of the aid budget forces them to operate in an uncertain funding environment. Those hurt the most will be program recipients in the Middle East and Africa.

Mr. Bowen stated that Australia will still meet its target of foreign aid reaching 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) for 2017/2018. However, this is a push back from the targeted 2016/2017 deadline.

The aid cuts have surprised some because Australian aid was expected be treated more favorably by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s administration. Prime Minister Rudd, historically a strong supporter of foreign aid, appointed Australia’s first development minister since 1996. However, the aid cuts come amid an overall budget decrease of AU $17.4 billion. The government blames the massive deficit revealed as a result of GDP slowdown and a reduction of expected tax receipts. This is discouraging news for the Labor party as Australia heads into federal elections this year.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: Devex, The Australian, Devex, The Guardian, ABC News
Photo: Australia Network News

No Education for Adults Seeking Asylum
In the last few years, Australia has become very popular with young adults seeking asylum from their dangerous and crime-ridden homelands. The total number of requests for asylum has risen from 668 in 2008-2009 to 7379 in 2011-2012, with about 65% of the people screened last year aged 30 or younger.

The result of this increase has been that the country’s border patrol has increased and possibly gotten out of hand. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s current policy holds that those arriving at the country by ship who are on bridging visas lose their right to attend school at the end of the school term during which they turn 18. So, the second someone becomes an adult, they lose the right to a proper education.

Those who are seeking asylum in Australia are generally suffering persecution in their country of origin due to race, religion, gender, economic standing, or political affiliation. Many of them may be refugees and are unable to seek an education as a result. They travel to Australia with hopes that they may be able to improve their lives and flourish outside the harsh environment they had been living in.

A 17-year-old Hazara boy fled to Australia after he was persecuted in Afghanistan and Pakistan by extremists groups due to his race and therefore unable to go to school. Leaving his family and life behind, he came to seek education and work in a better place. But he has been left in a lurch thanks to the Australian government. He told The Global Mail, “When I was in my country I worked so hard, I like to work … part of the time work … to study as well. I like that. Now I am not allowed to work and study.”

Upon his arrival in the country, he was not allowed to enroll in school because he would soon be turning 18. He is also not allowed to work, but is provided a small government stipend to meet basic needs. The Red Cross pays for him to study English several hours a week, but otherwise, he just waits for his asylum claim to be processed.

The government argues that children of mandatory school age, 5-17, are put through school regardless of their asylum status but that it would be unreasonable to expect adults to stay in school because of the extra costs that are incurred as a result. However, the education of young adults is arguably just as important as that of children. Going to school provides the asylum seekers with a focus for their lives, makes them feel like part of a community, and provides them with a chance at bettering themselves before either settling down in Australia or getting repatriated back to their own country.

There are schools that are known for going against the government’s demands and allow adult students to stay and continue their education, but without citizenship, those seeking asylum are still unable to get government assistance for higher education or get jobs while they wait.

And things could be even bleaker than initially imagined. The Prime Minister announced on the 19th that all those arriving by boat would be removed to Papua New Guinea and would not be allowed to permanently settle in Australia. Those who are found to be refugees may stay in Papua New Guinea but otherwise must leave. There is no word on what this would mean for those currently waiting for ruling on their asylum requests in Australia, but it is clear that soon education will not be the only thing at stake for those fleeing their country and seeking help in Australia.

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: The Global Mail, Asylum Trends, New York Times
Photo: Harris