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Impact of COVID-19 in CyprusSituated south of Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus is a small island with a population of 1.2 million, increasing modestly. Approximately 15.3% of the population is vulnerable to poverty or social exclusion — and given the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cyprus, this percentage is only rising.

Cyprus Before the Virus

Poverty existed in Cyprus before the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due in part to the country’s political divisions, which include the Northern Republic of Cyprus, a Turkish de facto state that has controlled one-third of the island since 1974, and the Southern Republic of Cyprus. With such a stark division, the Cypriot government has found it difficult to track its impoverished population and provide assistance where it is needed.

A recent survey found that in 2019, just one year before the advent of the pandemic, “194,400 Cyprus residents were living in households with disposable income below the at-risk-of-poverty line.” Cyprus’s ethnic division also accounts for this, in that dense Greek-Cypriot populations in the South have tight-knit familial relationships. If one person in these families falls into financial difficulty, they are likely to not have another stable family member to fall back on. This leaves unsupported people like immigrants, single mothers and the elderly most vulnerable to poverty.

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Cyprus

As one of the most popular destinations in Europe, tourism is a vital component of Cyprus’s economy. Prior to COVID-19, Cyprus had three consecutive record years of tourist arrivals, topping 4 million annual tourists. International travel bans that were implemented in March 2020 stagnated the country’s economy and exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cyprus. In that vein, domestic quarantine restrictions also halted the progression of potential reunification talks between Turkish-Cypriot President Ersin Tatar and Greek-Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

Cyprus also saw a surge in unemployment rates at the height of the pandemic. According to the most recent data on Cyprus’s unemployment rate, unemployment rates were at a low of 6.3% in July 2019, but jumped to 10.2% a year later, just a year after the pandemic hit.

Taking Initiative: Caritas Cyprus

Despite these drawbacks, fellowships have been able to make a dent in combating the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cyprus. Organizations like Caritas Cyprus were among the first to do so.

Since its inception in 1986, Caritas Cyprus, a member of the Caritas Internationalis confederation, has worked at the grassroots level. It aims to end poverty, promote justice and restore dignity by “responding to humanitarian needs on the island with the aim of providing compassionate care and support to the poor, dispossessed and marginalized.”

Caritas Cyprus primarily works through local parish initiatives as well as cross-island programs that focus on migrants, local needs (diaconia) and youth engagement. The Migrant Sector typically affords support to hundreds of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants through the operation of two centers. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine restrictions, these two centers weren’t able to operate at full capacity. Nonetheless, the organization still provided sufficient aid through its two other sectors.

The Diaconia Sector provided extensive relief for Cyprus’s unemployed population amid the pandemic. Job Search Program connected jobseekers with potential employers using networks within the community.

Following the relaxation of quarantine restrictions, the Youth Sector encouraged the country’s youth to participate in volunteering, fundraising, social events and other humanitarian efforts to raise awareness for groups that bore the brunt of the pandemic’s poverty.

Looking Ahead

As of October 2021, Cyprus has administered more than 1.1 million doses of COVID vaccines; assuming that every person requires two doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated nearly half of the country’s population. Though the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Cyprus has posed an acute setback on the country’s economic progress, hope still exists that the country can recover. The rapid distribution of vaccines, assistance from organizations and potential reunification talks between Northern and Southern Cyprus can not only suppress the spread of COVID-19, but ultimately make headway in eradicating poverty.

– Tiffany Grapsas
Photo: Flickr

Hurricanes Eta and Iota
Honduras is a Central American country bordering the Caribbean Sea. Because of its location, Honduras is able to produce valuable goods like textiles, sugar cane and coffee. However, 2020 proved to be a challenging year for the country and its economic output. COVID-19’s impact on Honduras was undoubtedly destructive but the added impact of Hurricanes Eta and Iota further affected Honduras’ economy and overall conditions in the nation.

COVID-19 in Honduras

Honduras confirmed its first official case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in early March 2020. Schools closed shortly after March 13, 2021, and businesses were limited to 50% capacity per a nationwide mandate. These commissions stunted the economy and placed Honduras in a financial crisis. While the country’s GDP contracted, Honduras experienced a period of inflation. Prices of everyday items, like coffee, skyrocketed. In addition, a decrease in worldwide tourism led to growing economic instability. The World Bank reports about 45% of Honduran households facing income losses in the wake of the pandemic. Suspended operations and businesses put approximately half of Honduras’ citizens out of work. The emotional toll of the virus itself is equally notable. The significant number of deaths reflects COVID-19’s impact on Honduras. More than 9,000 citizens have died since the start of the pandemic.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota and Honduras

On November 3, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall in Honduras as a Category 4 storm, affecting more than 1.8 million people. Not even two weeks later, Hurricane Iota made landfall on November 17, 2020. An astounding number of vulnerable families experienced displacement, forcing many to relocate to crowded collective shelters. Helpful and necessary resources in shelters dwindled fast and the lack of proper social distancing mandates contributed to Honduras’ increase in COVID-19 infections. The devastating effects of Eta and Iota’s flooding had major impacts in the flooded San Pedro Sula airport, restricting people’s abilities to seek refuge elsewhere via flights.

Vaccine Rollout in Honduras

COVID-19’s presence was difficult for most countries to endure, but with the destructive addition of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, the year was undeniably life-threatening for Honduras. Honduras has vaccinated about 24% of its total population. Compared to other countries, it also has a decreasing number of peak cases. However, as of April 2021, COVID-19 vaccine rollouts have slowed in Honduras because of the United States’ own complicated vaccine rollout.

As newly mutated strains of the virus can easily prolong Honduras’ medical and economic ruin, COVID-19’s impact on Honduras is apparent. With the introduction of the COVAX initiative in August 2020, co-led by WHO, CEPI and Gavi, more developing countries will be able to access vaccines. However, with the United States’ slowed distribution and environmental challenges like Hurricanes Eta and Iota, it is difficult to ascertain how long it will take Honduras to rebuild itself. Addressing the country’s needs with sufficient funding and resources will, most likely, be an incredibly instrumental means of aiding Honduras.

The Road Ahead

Caritas Internationalis created a two-month-long emergency relief program to assist Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala in recovery. Each nation received €250,000 worth of aid for “food, hygiene kits, access to safe drinking water and ensuring people can protect themselves from COVID-19.” Caritas committed to aiding in the recovery and well-being of about 2,500 families in this period, which equates to 12,500 citizens. Additionally, increased congressional support of the COVAX initiative could help Honduras access more vaccines, stabilizing the nation and protecting it from further impacts of the virus.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in PortugalCOVID-19 has heavily impacted the way people live, even more so for those living in poverty. According to a report published by Agencia EFE Portugal, 21.6% of Portugal’s citizens were already at risk of poverty before the outbreak of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 have pushed thousands of people to poverty.

The Effect of a Pandemic on Poverty

The social, economic and health consequences the pandemic provoked worldwide are undeniable. While eradicating poverty has always been at the core focus of many nonprofit organizations, since the beginning of COVID-19, many nonprofit organizations have prioritized sanitation and clear water programs to eradicate COVID-19 and diminish poverty levels.

Poverty in Portugal is partly due to the enormous social and economic inequalities governing the country. Furthermore, COVID-19 has only exacerbated existing poverty rates. As reported by the World Bank, poverty in Portugal had been decreasing since 2017. During 2018, approximately 17% of the population lived in poverty. However, the situation has dramatically changed. The outbreak of COVID-19 has led to 400,000 additional impoverished citizens in Portugal and “a 9% increase in inequality,” according to a study by PROSPER published in June 2021. Unquestionably, COVID-19 is directly linked to a social and economic crisis that is bringing instability to many countries. As this health crisis evolves, economic hardship increases too.

How Portugal is Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic

The United Nations has published a country report analyzing how the Portuguese government is dealing with the economic situation amid COVID-19. As reported, poverty in Portugal is becoming a core issue for the country. As such, the government has designed several programs covering education, health and social security to combat inequalities. For example, there is a compelling need to adjust pensions as many pensions equal €180 a month. If pensions increase, pensioners will be able to access and afford higher quality products and services and poverty will be alleviated.

Poverty in Portugal is also being addressed by several NGOs. The Portuguese Non-Governmental Development Organizations Platform (NGDOs) is a nonprofit society composed of 62 NGDOs. Cuerama and Caritas are two of the major organizations helping the most vulnerable communities in the country.

Caritas has steadily diminished poverty rates in Portugal. As Caritas published in 2018, the level of citizens demanding social services decreased by 12.7%, which is a historical record. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, disparities have increased again. The Social Observation Centre has been concisely preparing a platform to gather and track as much data as possible to improve the performance of Caritas.

Additionally, in Portugal, the coalition Global Action Against Poverty concisely combats poverty and inequalities. Since 1990, poverty in Portugal has been diminishing. However, as stated above, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the situation has worsened and Portugal is still one of the most unequal countries in Europe. As published by The Portugal News, Portugal “comes ninth in the ranking of most unequal countries out of the 34 the OECD measured.” Tax benefits are one of the most efficient policies introduced by the authorities trying to alleviate inequalities and poverty.

Tackling Poverty in Portugal Amid COVID-19

Poverty in Portugal has always been present. Yet, the outbreak of COVID-19 has tremendously aggravated the situation. As displayed above, figures have been dramatically increasing as social and economic inequalities have risen from the crisis. However, poverty in Portugal has become one of the main focuses for authorities and organizations. Policies like increasing pensions and tax benefits are already in place to combat poverty. Besides creating policies, there is a need to strengthen communication and education to ensure all these programs are successfully implemented.

With the efforts made by the government and NGOs alike, Portugal will hopefully be able to tackle poverty and COVID-19 simultaneously.

– Cristina Alvarez
Photo: Flickr

female labor in PakistanThe Karachi branch of Caritas Pakistan works to provide technical assistance and job training to the women of small Pakistani farms in several villages as part of its Acre for Women campaign. The campaign’s goal is to leverage the untapped potential of female labor in Pakistan. Providing training and opportunities to women will expand food security among the country’s vast population of subsistence farmers by encouraging self-sufficient practices with the resources on hand, ranging from basic water efficiency to crop rotation.

A Nascent Workforce

Amir Robin, an Acre for Women regional coordinator, explained both the long- and short-term benefits of training the women of several independent farms that range as small as a single acre. In an interview with UCA News, he states that aside from increasing food security, such training helps household farms minimize the cost of adapting to changing environmental conditions.

Female participation in the Pakistani labor force runs as low as 25%, according to World Bank estimates. The government aims to increase the amount to 45% by 2025. Accelerating Pakistan’s economic growth by boosting female labor involves eliminating the reasons for female labor’s systemic underuse.

Educational Disparities

First, women face limited access to formal education or vocational training. Girls make up about 53% of children that do not attend school in Pakistan, therefore, girls benefit the most from development programs. Such programs include those sponsored by the Engro Foundation, the “social investment arm” of Engro Corporation, a conglomerate company headquartered in Karachi, Pakistan. By sponsoring new government schools and refurbishing old ones with computer labs, Engro aims to increase the literacy rate among girls.

In light of COVID-19’s effect on unemployment rates, expanding educational opportunities remains the primary short-term focus of increasing female participation in the labor force. Engro’s programs are demonstrating fast results. More than 19,000 self-employed women are improving their livelihoods through vocational training in “animal husbandry practices, entrepreneurship in milk collection and livestock extension services in the dairy value chain.” Additionally, a surge of technologically literate women helps overcome difficulties in the job market due to greater access to advanced occupations.

Farm Income Depends on Women

Pakistan’s largest source of potential growth lies in its agricultural sector. Around 64% of Pakistanis live in rural areas and mostly work in agriculture. A large portion of the national economy depends on the output of family farms. There are two significant reasons why discounting women as a source of skilled labor in farm management is becoming an increasingly untenable prospect.

  1. Subsisting on relatively small parcels of land leaves farmers vulnerable to fluctuations in output. Because population growth and regular divisions of hereditary ownership make land parcels ever smaller, families that make do with smaller farms do not have the luxury of maintaining inefficient practices when handling their crops or their labor pool. A report by Victoria University says Pakistan’s high concentration of household farms means greater efficiency can be achieved, in this case, by including female labor. This translates into direct income boosts for families along with greater business activity thanks to new surpluses.
  2. Running a successful farm with little land is already dependent on women. Despite lacking gainful employment, women are informal participants in the Pakistani economy through unpaid domestic work. Victoria University’s study correlates a lack of job training and reduced output from inefficient practices, meaning that a lack of trained women is a bottleneck stifling household income growth.

Individual Growth for Women

Households stand to benefit from elevating women in the agricultural labor pool. Furthermore, developing female labor in Pakistan by addressing women’s exclusion in skilled practice will reverse the economic misfortune that prior restrictions have inflicted on women.

Because most women tie their fortunes as self-employed laborers to those of their families, increasing farm income is an effective way to enrich farming women’s income. Growth for Rural Enhancement and Sustainable Progress (GRASP) is yet another initiative operating in Pakistan working to achieve this goal. Its primary objective, according to coverage by Intracen (International Trade Centre), is training women to care for livestock and teaching them how to trade their produce. Rather than simply teaching women how to produce more, job training affords them additional autonomy by empowering them to take on a managerial role in the distribution process.

Economic Empowerment for Women

Sharmeela Rassool, a Pakistani country representative to the United Nations, emphasizes the importance of individual autonomy when it comes to increasing the participation rate of female labor in Pakistan. “For many women, entrepreneurship offers a path to economic empowerment,” she wrote in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. More and more women are using their educational attainment to run businesses outside the agricultural sector.

While COVID-19 has slowed economic growth across Pakistan, it has also exposed systemic inequality, raising an opportunity to put women in a starring role for economic recovery. The gradually decreasing gender wage gap indicates that the current trend of a diversifying workforce has yet to reach its ceiling. Overall, women’s inclusivity in Pakistan has the potential to create widespread benefits for Pakistan, helping the nation to rise out of poverty.

Samuel Katz
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Austria
According to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a human right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. The number of refugees around the world has doubled since 2010, from 40 million to 79 million in 2019. During the Syrian War, where nearly 1.3 million migrants sought asylum in the E.U. in 2015, Austria became a crossing point. At the peak of the crisis, 89,000 people applied for asylum in the country, though it only accepted 15,000. The relationship with refugees in Austria is paradoxical in nature. Even though the country has accepted more refugees in the past few years, animosity toward these refugees is rising. These refugees face difficulties integrating into the Austrian society, forcing them into the outskirts of society and into poverty. At the same time, several initiatives continue to help support these refugees in creative ways.

The History of Relocation

In the past century, Austria experienced three main waves of refugees. The first came after 1945, where 1.6 million Jews, Hungarians, Romanians, Yugoslavians and German Poles escaped persecution from Germany. Only about 19% of these refugees stayed permanently in Austria. Another wave of 180,000 Hungarians, Czechoslovakians, Poles and Jews from the Soviet Union sought refuge in Austria in the 1960s. Only 10% of the Hungarian refugees stayed. The last major wave occurred in 1981 after the Polish Solidarity movements caused the country to become unstable. About 66,000 of the estimated 160,000 stayed in Austria. The last major wave came to Austria in 2015. That year, 89,000 mainly Syrians, Afghani and Iraqi applied for asylum.

Though Austria received international aid to handle the influx of refugees, the public still called refugees ‘ungrateful.’ Critics accused refugees of taking away jobs and housing from native-born Austrians. Since 1956, Austria has considered itself a place of first arrival and transit, but not as a place of resettlement. When the first 2015 refugees came, Austrians were welcoming toward the newcomers, waiting at the borders with supplies and support. Three years after the Syrian refugee crisis, public opinion shifted dramatically. It polarized, negatively affecting the relationship with refugees in Austria. The legislative election of 2017 brought a right-wing majority to the Austrian federal government, cementing the feelings of animosity toward refugees. By 2018, three years later, most 2015 refugees were still waiting on the results of their applications. Refugees coming to Austria face several problems, from the moment of their arrival to their integration at the economic and social levels.

Arrival

For Austrian authorities to consider a person a refugee, that individual must prove they are fleeing from persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The Austrian police determine this during an interview with the potential refugees. There are, however, several ways to redirect these asylum-seekers in Austria. Under the Dublin Regulation, if a migrant does not receive asylum, they must go back to their country within six months. Austria also has a ‘fast track’ procedure that speeds up the asylum process when a migrant comes from a country that the government considers to be ‘safe.’ The historical mindset of sending people back immediately puts potential victims of human trafficking at risk. Moreover, gay people who come from countries that Austria considers ‘safe’ are at higher risk when they have to return to countries they fled. This is because these countries may prosecute queer people and women (who authorities do not question separately from male relatives).

According to the UN, host countries have a duty of care to identify the vulnerable situations of each migrant. In Austria, however, the identification methods are ‘random and unsystematic,’ where intervention occurs only when the vulnerabilities are visible or the asylum seekers state them themselves. This diminishes the rights of migrants to individual assessment, limiting their access to counseling, rehab and health services.

Economic Problems

Just over 1.2 million people in Austria were in danger of falling into poverty. While poverty threatened 39% of people with migration backgrounds in 2018, this percentage was 50% for people from non-European lands. Without these jobs, refugees are often at risk of falling into poverty. In 2019, 11% of people in poverty were from foreign lands, compared to 6.4% of Austrians. In total, 64% of people with migration backgrounds had employment. Syrians had the highest unemployment rate at 61.8%.

Access to the Austrian labor market as a refugee has limitations, especially before their claims for asylum have received acceptance. Even with diplomas from their home countries, Austria does not always recognize these diplomas. In 2016, about 22% of people with migration backgrounds were overqualified for their jobs.

Other major barriers to entry include discrimination, lack of social capital (both between members of the same ethnicity and with Austrians) and unfamiliarity with cultural nuances of how the host country’s labor market works. According to Amy Dudgeon, who has worked for more than 27 years with refugees and immigrants in New Orleans, Louisiana through Catholic Charities, a religious organization that provides immigration and refugee services, “The number one thing is the language barrier.”

Social Problems

The relationship with refugees in Austria is especially troubling in social integration. There is a rising intolerance for refugees in Austria. Though 41% of the population in 2020 agreed that Austria should help refugees, this is down from 51% in 2018. About 61% of the population also saw the coexistence of refugees and Austrians as ‘bad.’ Refugees themselves felt the discrimination. In fact, around 73% of people felt that their skin color, accent or where they come from caused them to face discrimination.

Finding Creative Solutions

These problems are not separate. In fact, there exists a causal link from social integration to labor market integration. When refugees create relationships within their ethnic communities, they can overcome their initial isolation and heighten their chances of getting their first job. Even better job opportunities open when refugees form relationships with people from Austria, as Austrians have insider and cultural knowledge about navigating the local labor market and job-searching process.

As Dudgeon pointed out, “I’ve met so many different people in so many different vocations in their home country, and then they come here and they can’t speak English so they have to do menial jobs. Just keeping an open mind, that just because they can’t speak English … it’s not an indicator of their intelligence or experience or anything like that.”

After two years, the employment rates of refugees start to converge with Austrian-born and other migrants. After seven years, they are as likely to receive employment as non-European migrants. The following organizations have found ways to aid refugees in Austria.

Organizations Helping Refugees in Austria

  1. Caritas: Caritas is one of Austria’s largest emergency help organizations of the Catholic Church. It has more than 16,000 employees, 50,000 volunteers and thousands of projects a year. Projects range from combatting homelessness to caring for young mothers. To support refugees, the organization offers “Lerncafes,” where children from 6 to 15 can receive free help for completing homework or learning German. Through interactions with both local volunteers and other refugees, these refugee youth learn how to integrate more fully into society. Additionally, these interactions prepare them to enter the job market.
  2. The Austrian Integrations Fonds (ÖIF): The ÖIF is an organization that the Republic of Austria and UNHCR created in the 1960s to help manage the influx of Hungarian refugees. Today, the organization helps all migrants integrate into Austrian society. One of its main targets is language learning with a focus on integrating refugees into the job market. To reach this goal, the organization offers free German-language lessons. The lessons range from beginner to advanced, with special courses involving business-specific knowledge. In 2017, the Austrian government spent 25 million Euros to support this organization, which allowed it to offer 20,000 spots to new language learners.
  3. CoRE Project: Beginning in 2016, this project brought together five partners, from NGOs to local governments. Together, they worked on a holistic approach to integrating refugees in Vienna, Austria, home to the largest number of refugees in the country. The project focused on empowering refugees by offering volunteer activities for them to take part in. By finding them places to volunteer, the project fought social exclusion, racism and intolerance. All the while, the refugees built personal and professional skills and competencies. Volunteering ensured that integration was a two-way street: refugees were able to give back to the country that took them in, making them equal citizens. Some volunteer organizations include Deutsch ohne Grenzen (German without Borders), which offers German language courses, free time activities and workshops around the topic of immigration.
  4. Refugees for Refugees (R4R): Refugees have been running this organization for refugees since 2015. The 150 members of R4R form events and activities that members can take part in, bringing refugees together through sport and culture. The organization, for example, regularly visits museums to help refugees integrate themselves into Austrian society.
  5. OLIVE: To help refugees and people of asylum status connect their previous professional and academic experience to their new lives in Europe, the University of Vienna offers free academic, bilingual non-degree programs. Some branches of the program include OLIVE Women and OLIVE Youth. These branches feature relevant seminars for each group to help them achieve both academic and professional goals.

Though the relationship with refugees in Austria is paradoxical, these five initiatives prove that Austria is beginning to decrease the discrimination that refugees in Austria face today.

Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

Fight Against Homelessness in Italy
Italy is located along the Mediterranean coastline. The European country has a population of more than 60 million people with an average of 95 million tourists visiting every year. What many are not aware of is that immigrants, women and children are especially vulnerable to experiencing homelessness in Italy. The fight against homelessness in Italy has become a more prominent issue. Police began fining homeless people in the street for not following the lockdown measures that the country implemented. Thus, the Italian Federation of Organizations for Homeless People has appealed for greater leniency from the state.

The organization wrote, “They cannot stay at home because they do not have a home. There is an economic sanction which they cannot pay, and they have to go to the magistrate. They are not on the street for fun.”

Historical Context of Homelessness in Italy

Though worsened by the pandemic, homelessness in Italy has long been an issue. Italy is a developed nation with a GDP that expectations have determined will be around $1920 billion in 2021. However, homelessness has worsened due to the economic crisis. In 2016, homelessness impacted 50,724 people in Italy. Since 2013, this number has increased by roughly 3,000. Furthermore, 5.1 million people were living in extreme poverty in 2017. Due to its geographical location, Italy receives an influx of immigrants. As a result, 58% of Italy’s impoverished population are immigrants. In 2017, 117,153 people arrived in Italy by ship. About 67% of these migrants use Caritas, a counseling service offering advice regarding homelessness. Homelessness impacts the region of Lombardia in northern Italy the most. According to Italian Caritas, there is an increase in youth homelessness as well.

The Good News

There are various organizations that are striving to fight homelessness in Italy. For example, the Baobab Experience is an organization that previously aimed to find shelter for 120 people who slept in Piazzale Spadolini (Tiburtina Station) and has continued to provide hospitality for the homeless population in Rome. Additionally, it has advocated that the homeless receive health checks, beginning with migrants who do not have residency permits. Many of these migrants avoid hospitals in fear of detainment, so this would allow them to check their health without those consequences.

The Baobab Experience emerged in 2015 as a result of a migratory emergency when 35,000 migrants passed through Baobab, located in Via Cupa, Rome. More than 70,000 people have passed through the camps that the organization has since established. Thanks to private donations, the Baobab Experience also supports individuals with medical and legal assistance. Furthermore, the organization provides water, food, clothing and an opportunity for leisure. Many of the migrants travel through Italy to reach other countries, however, others are asylum seekers, often must wait in the streets for months before any legal practice can begin.

Further Efforts

Other NGOs such as Asgi, Naga, Magistratura Democratica and Fondazione Migrantes have called on the government to protect vulnerable migrants and homeless people. The organizations argue that these people lack sufficient protection from COVID-19 and protecting them will improve public health. Additionally, the NGOs have requested authorities shut down large migrant reception centers, enable access to the international protection system, accept homeless people into appropriate facilities and create alternatives to detention centers.

Although the fight against homelessness in Italy remains a serious problem, especially for marginalized groups such as migrants, women and children, NGOs and similar organizations keep the government accountable and provide hope for all of those impacted. By supporting such organizations that positively impact the lives of thousands, we can all contribute to eliminating homelessness in Italy.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

human trafficking in Syria
In March 2011, protests against the Bashar al-Assad regime began in Syria. Since then, more than 500,000 people have lost their lives. About 5.6 million people are refugees in Syria and 6.2 million people have experienced displacement from the war within the country. These factors make human trafficking in Syria for the purpose of both labor and sex more prevalent due to the Syrian people’s vulnerability.

The Situation

The Syrian government has not held anyone accountable for these crimes. In fact, the government is often complicit in trafficking. Traffickers often force children displaced within Syria’s borders into combat as child soldiers. On the battlefield, regime soldiers use children as human shields or suicide bombers. The regime soldiers also trap women and young girls into marriage or force them into prostitution.

Due to the size of refugee populations, surrounding countries have reduced the number of visas they grant, leaving refugees with no choice but to cross borders illegally. Doing so means their fate is in the hands of smugglers. But, staying in Syria would mean having to survive unconscionable levels of violence and struggling to attain even the most basic resources.

How to Prevent Human Trafficking in Syria

The U.S. Department of State laid out the groundwork for breaking the cycle of abuse in its 2019 report on human trafficking in Syria. The first step is to identify the victims as quickly as possible followed by holding the government of Syria accountable for its own part in the problem. In addition, the report determined that victims should not receive prosecution for any crimes they committed. The final stretch to ensuring human trafficking becomes part of the past is for all those guilty of trafficking to experience prosection. So far, Syrian officials have not enacted any of these policies.

A large part of the issue is that there are no official laws banning human trafficking in Syria. This makes it difficult to identify victims, let alone perpetrators. When prosecuting criminals (such as prostitutes or beggars), the Syrian government does not make efforts to differentiate between trafficking victims and true criminals.  Too often, it punishes people for crimes they would not have willingly committed. The government has not spoken out against human trafficking, making it easy for victims of human trafficking in Syria to fall through the cracks, especially given the state of the civil war.

The Implementation of Sanctions

The lack of attention that Syria has paid to human trafficking has put it at risk of facing American sanctions. This means that the country could potentially face steep tariffs or limits on trading with the U.S. Currently, Syria already faces sanctions due to its association with and sponsorship of terrorist organizations.

Sanctions only worsen the state of poverty in Syria, causing the prices of necessities and goods to skyrocket. Organizations such as Caritas aim to provide food and shelter to anyone who war has affected, but it is an uphill climb. Human trafficking victims receive assistance from organizations like Caritas, but only when victims come forward themselves. Syrian officials make no effort to refer victims to organizations that may help them.

Despite the efforts of the U.S. government and charitable organizations, human trafficking in Syria remains an alarming situation. The government of Syria prevents meaningful change by not taking efforts to aid victims or prosecute traffickers. In order for the situation to improve, the government must stand up to protect its own people. Until then, the state of affairs will continue.

– Maddey Bussmann
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Norway
The nation of Norway utilizes comprehensive social service programs in order to provide medical care, education and pension to its citizens. These policies have assisted in maintaining a low rate of poverty and hunger in Norway. In the previous decade, Norway has experienced an increase in labor and refugee immigration. Though only 3% of the nation’s citizens suffer from food insecurity, immigrants often face hardships in gaining adequate nutrition.

Immigrant Hunger

Asylum seekers are defined as individuals who are forced to immigrate to another country and await refugee status. In Norway, such individuals often represent the countries of Syria, Turkey and Eritrea. The nation experienced a steady increase in refugee applicants beginning in 2006, peaking at 30,470 applicants in 2015 and declining in the following years. In 2017, Norway granted each asylum seeker 250 euros per month while they awaited approval. However, a typical adult in Norway spends 250 euros each month on food alone, and food-related costs account for only 11% of an average family’s total spending.

Language barriers, low income, unfamiliar cuisine customs and religious standards also contribute to immigrant hunger in Norway. For instance, a study conducted in 2014 discovered that immigrant women shopping for food in Norway largely purchased what appeared “familiar or safe” due to lack of knowledge about meal preparation and ingredients that would affect religious customs. Along with acquiring monetary means to purchase food, lack of nutritional savvy poses a barrier to sustaining a healthy diet.

School lunches also pose a threat to immigrant food security. While equal access to free public education is a norm, school lunches must either be purchased or provided. A study analyzing the influences of ethnicity, financial constraints and food consumption revealed that immigrant families must often make small sacrifices to supply the standard packed lunch of bread and meat. Thus, the inability to provide packed lunches contributes to hunger in Norway among school-aged children.

Immigrant Statistics

  • A 2018 study found that individuals with an immigrant background were three times more likely to experience economic difficulties and inadequate housing.
  • The same study revealed that individuals with an immigrant background were twice as likely to possess insufficient income, further exacerbating immigrant hunger in Norway.
  • In 2019, a study focusing on asylum seekers found that 93% were food insecure and 78% were food insecure with hunger.
  • Of families with children in the same study, 20% encountered child hunger.

Welfare Policies

Generous social policies and relatively equal wage distribution are trademarks of Norway’s welfare model. Such policies, however, are contingent upon a qualified labor market and a high rate of employment in order to generate the economic stability required to fund the country’s programs.

When considering immigrants, this model presents negatives and positives. Negatively, integration into the labor market has proved difficult among immigrant populations due to differences in qualifications, educational backgrounds, professional experiences and instances of discrimination. Positively, educational systems and equal wage distribution provide foundations for crafting a prosperous life.

An article published in the New Political Science journal in 2018 revealed that strict immigration policies of right-wing populist groups (exemplified in Norway by the Progress Party) have contributed to the groups’ recent successes across Europe. Debates between the coalition government of the Progress and Conservative Parties and the Labor Party reveal a wide range of stances. Opinions vary, from tightening the immigration policy to celebrating the increased economic productivity and diversity.

These debates concerning how to address the new realities of immigration have the potential to affect the Norwegian welfare model. Specifically, these beliefs could impact the educational system frameworks, training for employment and qualifications for government assistance.

Norwegian Humanitarian Initiatives

Domestically, a humanitarian foundation called Caritas provides career services, housing accommodations and healthcare counseling to immigrant families in Resource Centers across five major Norwegian cities.

In 2019, the Norwegian government developed an action plan titled “Food, People and the Environment” to promote global food security through sustainable food development in accordance with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. This action plan is an integrated governmental approach that addresses malnutrition and inefficient agricultural practices as a part of Norwegian foreign and development policies.

Additionally, Norway has worked with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to utilize its knowledge of aquaculture to promote responsible fishing practices among developing countries. This partnership also works to combat deforestation, provide emergency relief and establish prosperous legislative frameworks.

 

As a leader in foreign assistance and domestic development, Norway exhibits strategies for promoting food security. Though there is a relatively low rate of hunger in Norway, it remains necessary to resolve immigrant food insecurity, and this nation has taken steps to do so.

Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr

trevi fountain fights povertyIn 2017, the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) reported the highest levels of poverty in Italy in the past 12 years with 8.4% of the population living in “absolute poverty.” Absolute poverty is the state in which individuals are not able to purchase necessary goods and services resulting in detrimental social exclusion. Although slightly lower than the national poverty rate, Italy’s capital Rome reported that 6.4% of its population lived in “absolute poverty” in 2017. Additionally, there were 7,709 people were homeless in Rome in 2014. The Italian government is working on ways to improve the significant issues of poverty and homelessness in the country’s capital. However, one man and one fountain have made a huge impact on improving impoverished conditions in Rome over the past decade. Today, the Trevi Fountain fights poverty through the coins thrown into it.

The Trevi Fountain

The Eternal City is home to countless ancient and renowned monuments including the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and, of course, the Trevi Fountain. Apart from being one of the most famous baroque fountains in the world, the Trevi Fountain is also known for its coin tradition. Visitors throw three coins over their shoulders into the fountain’s vast pool of water. The first coin promises that the owner of the coin will one day return to Rome. The second coin promises that love shall soon be discovered. The third coin promises that the owner of the coin will marry the love they found. Due to this tradition, approximately €3,000 a day are thrown into the Trevi Fountain totaling €1.5 million annually.

In 2002, the Trevi Fountain became famous for a reason other than its ancient history and romantic traditions. Its new fame arose because of a man named Roberto Cercelletta. Cercelletta was homeless and used the Trevi Fountain’s coin tradition to alleviate his poverty. Every night, Roberto would wade into the fountain’s pool and collect the coins, all while evading detection from the police. Roberto could collect almost €1,000 in about 15 minutes of scavenging. He got away with his escapade for 34 years before his arrest by the police in 2002.

Roberto Cercelletta’s Impact on Poverty in Rome

The story of Roberto inspired the Italian government to donate the Trevi Fountain’s coin collection to helping Rome’s homeless and disenfranchised population. Today, the coins from the Trevi Fountain are removed three times a week by a company known as Azienda Comunale Energia e Ambiente (ACEA). ACEA typically collects €8,000 from the fountain per visit. The ACEA then gives the coins to the police to weigh and deposit. After depositing the coins, the Italian government donates the money (which is usually $1.7 million per year) to a local charity called Caritas Roma that is dedicated to providing support to the poor and homeless in Rome.

5 Facts About Caritas Roma

  1. Caritas Internationalis – Caritas Roma is a local branch of the much larger Caritas Internationalis organization. Caritas Internationalis was founded in 1897 and it consists of 165 Catholic service groups that work to promote justice and end poverty. Caritas Internationalis emphasizes the Catholic Church’s social mission of acting on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The organization operates in over 200 countries and serves millions of impoverished individuals.
  2. Caritas Roma – Caritas Roma emphasizes the power of service and volunteering. The main purpose of the nonprofit is to encourage Christians around the world to view charity as the focus of their life. Therefore, Caritas Roma coordinates volunteers and services in the social-welfare sector to provide resources and support for the impoverished populations in Rome.
  3. Other organizations – Caritas Roma works with 45 other organizations to improve living conditions in Rome. Caritas Roma has partnered with services such as health facilities, family centers, housing communities and reception centers to provide holistic support for poor and homeless individuals. These facilities also provide opportunities for Christians to volunteer and stand in solidarity with the city’s poor.
  4. Methodology – Caritas Roma carefully researches the needs of the poor and homeless in Rome. Caritas Roma observes the demographics and locations of the poor and homeless populations in Rome and generates an annual report. These reports are used to describe the social exclusion affecting these populations in order to determine the best methods for providing help.
  5. Counseling services – Caritas Roma coordinates with Carita Counseling Centers throughout Italy. Carita Counseling Centers cover over 80% of Italy’s territory, providing widespread help in all of Italy’s many regions. These counseling centers have provided support for 205,090 people, including over 26,000 homeless people.

Although Roberto Cercelletta was a thief of some notoriety, he inspired monumental change in policies that never truly recognized the plight of homelessness. Now, the Trevi Fountain fights poverty through every coin thrown into it. This story reflects how a simple diversion of funds from a long-standing tradition can make a lasting and positive impact on poverty.

– Ashley Bond
Photo: PublicDomainPictures

 

poverty in Uruguay
Situated on the Atlantic coast of South America is Uruguay, the second smallest country on the continent. With a population of more than 3.4 million and about 60% of them comprising the middle class, Uruguay stands as one of the most economically stable countries in the region. In fact, Uruguay has the lowest poverty rate in South America and is ranked high on such well-being indices as the Human Development Index. In building a secure place as a country, Uruguay has witnessed improvements as well as hindrances in various aspects of its society. Here are six facts about poverty in Uruguay.

6 Facts About Poverty in Uruguay

  1. Life is improving: The percentage of the population living on less than $3.20 per day in Uruguay significantly decreased from 2006 to 2017. While the rate peaked at 3.7% in 2006, it dropped to 0.4% by 2017. In accordance with the near eradication of extreme poverty, the moderate poverty in Uruguay also decreased from 32.5% in 2006 to 8.1% in 2018.

  2. Child labor: In Uruguay, child labor affects 8% of the 8 to 14 year olds. These children work long hours for low wages. In order to make meager earnings to financially support their families, many children in Uruguay forgo school education to work under unfavorable conditions. There has been little progress made to reduce child labor, as the percentage of children ages 5 to 14 in the workforce remained at a relatively constant rate of 6.1% in 2016. Nonetheless, certain organizations like the Telefónica Foundation have been working to raise awareness of and prevent child labor in Uruguay. One program under the organization is ProChild, which was established in 2000 and has developed since then to include a network of 10,000 participants. Another organization that helps children shift out of labor is the MIDES Youth Affairs Bureau. It employs various programs that keep children from entering the workforce at a young age by implementing education services and training.

  3. Higher quality of water sanitation: With the help of the World Bank Group, Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE) is now able to provide drinking water to 98% of Uruguayans. In previous years, there had been a chronic shortage of water supply and sanitation services in Uruguay due to the combined effect of low labor productivity and severe floods and droughts. However, with financial support from the World Bank Group, OSE has been able to significantly reduce water loss and continue its upward trajectory of water and sanitation quality.

  4. Decrease in unemployment: In 2002, Uruguay experienced an economic crisis that significantly impacted the country and created widespread unemployment, However, the unemployment rate decreased significantly over the next decade. It was estimated to be 7.6% in 2017 and remains low to this day. Still, the unemployment rate among the young generation has not fared well and continues to rise.

  5. Equitable income levels: There are still disproportionate rates of child- and afro-descendent-Uruguayan populations living below the national poverty. However, income levels in general have seen improvements. Among the poorest 40% of the population, average income levels have risen faster in comparison to the entire population’s average growth rates.

  6. Low gender inequality: The labor market participation ratio between female and male workers in Uruguay is the fourth highest in Latin America. Although the salary gap still exists, as in many of the OECD countries, there has been a steady flow of both female and male laborers into the workforce of Uruguay.

Multiple organizations have stepped up to address and improve the issue of poverty in Uruguay. One such organization is Caritas, which works to provide aid for the poor, from those who have been deprived of liberty to those who lack access to education. Especially through education, training and counseling, the organization has been able to help the most vulnerable groups in Uruguay to cope with their challenging situations.

Despite the recent progress made toward the issue of poverty in Uruguay, certain fundamental limitations in the funding of systems like infrastructure and education have constrained the maximum potential for growth. Certain groups like children and women remain more vulnerable to poverty. Nevertheless, the government has successfully implemented policies and efforts to close the gap between classes over the past years. Now, Uruguay stands on par with many other well-positioned countries around the world with relatively little aid from organizations.

Seunghee Han

Photo: Flickr