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Where are the Palestinian Refugees Camps?
The 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict marked the beginning of a long journey for Palestinians. During the war, approximately 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes in what is now Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories and became refugees. Following the 1948 war, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) was established by the U.N. General Assembly to provide relief and works programs for Palestinian refugees.

The UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The definition was later expanded to include all descendants of male Palestinian refugees, including adopted children. Consequently, 68 years after the 1948 war and subsequent conflicts and uprisings, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from 700,000 to roughly 5 million.

Most of the refugees sought asylum in neighboring Arab countries, where temporary camps were established and have since become permanent settlements. Nearly one-third, or 1.6 million, of Palestinian refugees live in 58 camps in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The remaining two-thirds primarily live in or near the cities of host countries and territories, including those internally displaced in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories.

Gaza Strip
The Gaza Strip is a tiny enclave on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea bordering Israel and Egypt. The territory has a population of 1.7 million, of which 1.3 million are registered Palestinian refugees. Subject to a blockade on all sides, residents of Gaza have severely restricted freedom of movement, and Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Continuous conflict between Hamas and Israel has also worsened the conditions within the Gaza Strip and has internally displaced thousands since the original 1948 conflict. As a result, 80 percent of the population is dependent on international assistance, and the eight refugee camps regularly face shortages of food, clean drinking water, medicine and opportunities to lift themselves out of the camps.

West Bank
The West Bank is an Israeli occupied territory located between Israel and Jordan with a population of 2.7 million. There are nearly 775,000 registered refugees living in the territory, mostly living in major towns and rural areas. However, around a quarter of the registered refugees live in 19 camps scattered throughout the territory. Although conditions are generally better than Gaza, refugees living in camps in the West Bank also face squalid living conditions and major freedom of movement restrictions.

Syria
Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, thousands of Palestinians fled to Syria where they were generally welcomed and treated well. They were granted the same duties and responsibilities as Syrian citizens, other than political rights and nationality. As a result, by 2003 there were over 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria living in nine camps and in Syrian cities.

Syria’s ongoing civil war has severely exacerbated the plight of Palestinian refugees in the country, leaving many in besieged or hard to reach areas. Before the conflict began in 2011, UNRWA estimated there were 526,000 registered Palestinian refugees in the country. Today, many of the camps have been deserted or destroyed, and the refugees that remain in Syria continually experience a deterioration of humanitarian conditions. For instance, the Yarmouk Camp, located just outside Damascus and home to roughly 160,000 Palestinian refugees prior to the war, recently experienced fierce clashes between rebel groups, ISIS and the Syrian Army. The fighting left nearly 18,000 refugees without food, water and medical supplies, and resulted in a severe Typhoid outbreak.

Lebanon
Situated on the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Syria, Lebanon has a population of 6.2 million, of which 450,000 are registered Palestinian refugees. The country is also home to thousands of undocumented and unregistered Palestinians, with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 40,000. Overall, Palestinians are thought to make up 10 percent of the total Lebanese population.

Around half of all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon reside in 12 refugee camps. Although many of these camps have existed for decades, they routinely suffer from high rates of poverty, unemployment and other issues such as overcrowding and lack of sufficient infrastructure. Those living outside the registered Palestinian refugee camps suffer continued discrimination, are denied basic rights and are even barred from working in certain professions. Consequently, Lebanon has the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees living in abject poverty among all other countries and territories UNRWA operates in.

Jordan
Jordan shares a border with Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the West Bank, and has a population of 8.2 million. Jordan is home to the highest number of Palestinian refugees, with 2.1 million registered and thousands more that have fled Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Palestinians account for approximately a quarter of the total Jordanian population.

Most, but not all, Palestinian refugees have been granted full Jordanian citizenship and have been well integrated into society for decades. However, nearly 370,000 are settled in ten camps throughout the country. An additional 10,000 that have crossed the border from Syria live in camps along the border that have increasingly dire conditions and residents are prohibited from leaving.

Originally forced to flee fighting in the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestinian refugees have long endured turbulent and unstable conditions since leaving home. Many have fled war only to be met with more violence and conflict in places such as Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Many are faced with severe human rights violations and are denied freedom of movement, leaving many to be born, live and die in the same place. In addition to these issues, the right of refugees to ultimately return to their homeland remains a major obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

For now, Palestinians remain part of the harrowing refugee crisis of the 21st century.

-Brendan Hennessey

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in GazaAccording to the World Bank, poverty in Gaza has risen to nearly 40 percent, twice as high as that in the West Bank. More than 65 percent of Gazans have inadequate access to water and sanitary services and unemployment rates are over 40 percent.

Despite the extreme hardships endured by the Gazan people, there are numerous nonprofit organizations across the globe helping to improve conditions in the Gaza Strip.

1. United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) – Washington D.C.

UPA’s mission statement is to alleviate the sufferings of Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank and refugee camps across the Middle East by providing direct aid through program and grants.

The Healing Through Feeling Program provides Gazan children, 50 percent of whom suffer from PTSD, with trauma counseling and community support.

Other programs include scholarship funding, medical care provisions, food security and small business education.

2. Al Mezan Center For Human Rights – Gaza City, Gaza Strip

Al Mezan’s mission is to promote the protection of human rights in Gaza through research, legal intervention and advocacy. Projects include gathering information on human rights violations, meeting with governmental bodies to discuss violations and spreading awareness.

Al Mezan also offers a variety of training courses, workshops and lectures to train lawyers and analysts on the necessary information for their professional programs.

3. Just Vision – Jerusalem, New York, Washington D.C.

Just Vision’s goal is to foster peace and build a future of freedom and equality for both Palestinians and Israelis by ending the occupation. As a team of advocates, filmmakers and journalists, Just Vision creates films about the under-documented stories of Palestinian and Israeli activists.

Award-winning films include Encounter Point, My Neighborhood, Budrus and The Wanted 18.

4. The Jerusalem Fund – Washington D.C.

The Jerusalem Fund aims to foster a greater awareness for the Palestinian cause and improve the livelihood of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and diaspora.

The Jerusalem Fund works to accomplish these goals through three programs:

The Humanitarian Link, which provides direct aid and relief services to Palestinian communities; the Palestine Center, which functions as the educational branch, hosting regular lectures and redistributing published articles; and the Gallery Al-Quds, which features contemporary Arab-American and Arab artists whose work centers on issues of the Arab and Islamic world.

5. The Freedom Theater – Jenin Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip

The Freedom Theater inspires creativity and encourages theater arts to empower the youth and women living in Jenin to both explore their own potential and use art as a catalyst for social change.

In 2008, the Freedom Theater launched a theater school which offers intensive three-year programs in various fields: acting, dance, movement, voice, acrobatics, improvisation, playwriting, dramaturgy, history of theatre, costume design, set design, production and stage management.

Whether it is by providing direct aid or spreading awareness, these five nonprofit organizations are saving lives, providing sustainability and making a difference in the fight against poverty in Gaza.

Kristyn Rohrer

Photo: Pixabay

funding_crisis
The United Nations is in the midst of its most severe funding crisis to date and the amount of people affected by it is continuing to rise.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is one of the UN agencies most heavily affected by a lack of funding. After a recent emergency meeting conducted by its Advisory Commission, the UNRWA said that “drastic measures” would have to be taken if the current deficit of $101 million couldn’t be funded before the upcoming school year.

If the deficit is not met, the academic year could be delayed for over half a million students in the middle east across nearly 700 schools. The UN stresses, however, that there is still enough funding available to provide “immunizations for children, primary health care, relief and sanitation and some emergency programmes” through the end of 2015.

The UN has also stated that from September and on it can’t ensure the stability of those resources.

“Education lies at the very heart of the identity and dignity of Palestine refugees and of what UNRWA stands for,” says a UNRWA press release concerning the issue. “Our schools also provide a measure of stability in a very unstable region. Possible delays in opening the school year would also have grave implications for host governments.”

These budget cuts also have a serious effect on Palestinian refugees currently living in the Gaza Strip. Children who attend school in the region received $20 cash vouchers until very recently, when that service stopped entirely along with free meals provided at schools.

Coupled with additional UNRWA assistance is often what families depend on. Continuing to cut these services could have severely life-altering consequences.

“Our conditions worsen every day,” Bilal Mekdad, a Gaza Strip refugee, told the Anadolu Agency. “We fear the day we will find ourselves in the street.”

Alexander Jones

Sources: Anadolu Agency, UN 1, UN 2
Photo: Anadolu Agency

gaza
Gaza’s sewage system is in crisis.

According to The Independent, “War has stopped the plant doing the job it was built for: limiting the pollution of the Mediterranean by semi-treating the 40 million litres a day it pumps into the sea.” Sewage leakage goes directly into the sea and dirty water seeps into the ground and groundwater. The sewage system has been rendered ineffective due to Israeli restrictions on imports, infrastructure errors, continuing violence and increases in population.

Hamas’s takeover of the enclave last year was met with an Israeli embargo, limiting imports to mostly food and medicines. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, this has affected the ability of aid groups (including the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and CARE International) to import equipment like pipes in sufficient quantities on a regular basis.

The sewage crisis is not only a result of poor maintenance, for the population of Gaza has increased from 380,000 in 1967 to nearly 1.5 million, therefore adding pressure to an already insufficient sewage system. The ongoing violence and security situation has been an ongoing threat and hindrance to the sewage crisis as well, for resources are being directed elsewhere.

The Israeli embargo limits the amount of aid and supplies that can be imported, therefore acting as a significant prevention to resolving the issue. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is exacerbated by the sewage crisis, for it has fomented issues with clean water and sanitation.

There are three treatment plants in Gaza: one in the north, Beit Lahiya, one near Gaza City and one near Rafah. The treatment plan in the south, near Rafah, is the primary treatment lagoon; however, it lacks the capacity to treat a majority of the sewage it receives. Citizens near Khan Younis are still using septic tanks, and the overload on the Beit Lahiya plant led to the creation of a “great lake” of waste water that multilateral bodies and nongovernmental organizations are attempting to slowly drain. Five people have died in a torrent of filth from a smaller lake in 2006.

According to the ICRC, “The environmental situation in Gaza is bad and getting worse…While exact statistics are unavailable, 30,000-50,000 cubic meters of partially treated waste water and 20,000 cubic meters of raw sewage end up in rivers and the Mediterranean Sea. Some 10,000-30,000 cubic meters of partially treated sewage end up in the ground, in some cases reaching the aquifer, polluting Gaza’s already poor drinking water supply.”

While there have been plans to build new plants or fix existing ones, the problem of sewage is critical. Most of the financing is currently coming from donors, though the medium and short term goals are to continue to drain the Beit Lahiya basins and work to at least partially treat all waste water. This approach, however, depends on the borders opening up and full donor cooperation, along with the willingness of companies to bid on tenders.

Neti Gupta

Sources: Electronic Intifada, The Independent
Photo: Flickr

children villages
SOS Children’s Villages prevent children from being abandoned. They provide individuals with the opportunity to play a crucial role in a child’s upbringing. Yet the villages themselves are susceptible to the spillover of outside violence. Children are the most vulnerable to this violence. The proper means for child development cannot be provided if their well-being is not treated with more respect and concern.

There are provisions necessary for the proper development of a child. Children need to have a loving family, respect and security. Yet with the increase of conflict, children are being placed in more and more unsecure conditions which are stripping away at their quality of development.

In the Children’s Village of Rafah, a southern city of the Gaza Strip, the sounds of bombs can be clearly heard on a daily basis. The children do not understand the cause of the violence and are terrified by the sounds. Some ask the SOS mothers, “Why are there so many people being killed? Why are there so many houses being destroyed?” But the mothers cannot even answer and simply try to keep the children happy.

The Children’s Village in Israel, home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian children, is in just as much turmoil, its occupants disturbed by the sounds of war around them. Here the Children’s Village is based in the conflict zone area, accompanied with fortified protection for families to take refuge.

Still, many children are too scared to leave the sides of their SOS mothers, some even too afraid to go to the bathroom alone. Older children say that this may be how their lives always are, always fearful of the raging war.

In Africa, the SOS Village of Malakal was forced to evacuate after threats of rebel violence. The village was later overrun by rebels and now lies in ruins. Plans of relocation to Juba, the capital city, were politically denied. Now the children of Malakal Village have no permanent home.

Countless stories exist about children who are barely surviving on the streets in their countries. From Ammar, the 10-year-old Syrian boy who spends his days collecting litter and who wakes up to insects crawling all over his body, to Tahir, an 18-year-old survivor of the SOS Village Malakal raid who ran for his life after witnessing murder, the situation of children without proper homes is worsening in these violent regions.

Ashley Riley

Sources: SOS Children’s Villages 1, SOS Children’s Villages 2, Bor Globe
Photo: SOS Children’s Villages

refuge in gaza
The number of displaced persons in Gaza has skyrocketed in the past week, leaving thousands of families without homes, food or protection from the violent conflict. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is utilizing all its available resources to aid Palestinians in dire need of protection and security. For example, U.N. schools provide a much-needed sanctuary for those seeking refuge in Gaza from the rain of missiles and military advances.

According to Christopher Gunness, the spokesman for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the number of displaced persons has doubled, with the count rising from 22,000 to over 40,000 in merely one day.

Gunness describes the scope of the strife, saying, “This is a watershed moment for UNRWA, now that the number of people seeking refuge with us is more than double the figure we saw in the 2009 Gaza conflict.”

After 10 days of aerial and naval bombardment, the Palestinian Ministry of Health has reported more than 2,260 injuries, and the U.N. Protection Cluster maintains the current death count is at least 312 people, including at least 70 children.

UNRWA is offering asylum in the 44 schools located in Gaza. People staying at these schools receive one meal a day courtesy of UNRWA in conjunction with the World Food Program.

Along with the temporary safety provided by the U.N. schools, the U.N. is working to distribute non-food items to families’ housing relatives who are homeless due to the fighting.

The U.S. recently pledged $47 million in aid to Palestinians affected by the violence. According to the State Department, $15 million of this will be allotted to the UNRWA, and the remainder of it  “will be rechanneled to meet immediate needs.”

The U.S. donation will go toward meeting the UNRWA’s $60 million dollar request for international assistance.

Al Jazeera interviewed Robert Turner, the Director of Operations for UNRWA in Gaza, who voiced his concern, saying, “The speed with which this has happened is staggering.”

While the fighting and political tensions rage on in Gaza, the U.N. is focusing its attention on the innocent civilians most in need of assistance: the families and children without a safe place to ride out the storm of missiles.

-Grace Flaherty

Sources: Al Jazeera, UN News Centre
Photo: Aljazeera

Hamas
For months, Israel and Egypt have bounced back and forth between missiles and peace talks. The most recent attempt at a ceasefire lasted mere hours. On July 15 in the earlier hours of the morning, the Israeli cabinet gathered to agree to the Egyptian-supported ceasefire set to begin at 9 a.m., along with Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups that reside in Gaza.

What seemed to be a hopeful outlook quickly turned into a fiery mess as Hamas backed out at the last second.

Hamas’ reasoning to back out of the ceasefire is vague, citing that the proposal written by the Egyptians barely assessed the needs of the Hamas leaders and heavily favored Israel more so than Hamas.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders have been asked to end the siege on Gaza and the Palestinian citizens that reside there. However, they decided to disregard the ceasefire. Instead, Hamas’s armed sector, Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, announced their presence in Israel would “increase in ferocity and intensity.”

In response, the Israeli military was forced to resume their operation against Hamas.

“Hamas has fired 47 rockets since we suspended our strikes in Gaza (this morning),” said an Israeli military agent.

NPR reporter Linda Gradstein said that during the eight days of non-stop fighting, Hamas fired more than 1,000 rockets at southern Israel and Israel bombed 1,600 sites affiliated with Hamas, according to an Israeli army spokeswoman.

The intensity of battle has left the Gaza Strip in ruins, with many Palestinians paying for it with their lives. The attempts at peace talks and ceasefires have left leaders with nothing but dirt and missiles in their hands.

With this conflict holding such deep roots in history, it is likely that it will take more than a few agreements to settle this centuries-old dispute.

“ [It is] clearly unsustainable that Israel would hold its fire any longer and let its cities be bombarded by rockets,” said an Israeli official during a conversation with Time Magazine.

The Gaza Strip inspires nothing but animosity between the groups fighting to control it, with little to no regard for those that are paying the steep price of war with their lives.

The lack of consideration for the loss of human life on both sides of this conflict leaves the world wondering how the end of the fighting can benefit anyone, especially as so much has been lost already.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, NPR, Time
Photo: NPR

unity government
After only a week of peace, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip via aircraft, injuring three and killing one. This is the first act of aggressive violence between the two nations since the Palestinian government developed the unity government plan. The aircraft attack was a response to the rocket fired into southern Israel earlier that day by Palestinian extremists.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas pledged to create peace with Israel and said this attack was nothing but a simple rebuttal. Israel blames the terrorist group Hamas for these actions.

Hamas senior leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, when interviewed by the Associated Press, claimed that “The reconciliation is ahead of us and the split is behind us. We are heading this way because reconciliation is the choice of our people. We have taken real steps and will continue.” The flare ups, such as this interaction, will continue but will not impede the direction of progress they are heading in.

Since 2007, Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since taking it from President Abbas, creating high levels of tension on top of previous issues. Hamas is the de facto leader of Gaza, but Abbas is still considered the international representative.

One of the victims in Israel was identified as a militant, an active member of Hamas police, who was linked to a group inspired by al-Qaida. In response to this report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “our policy is clear. Kill those who rise up to kill us.” It is evident that both countries wish to get rid of groups such as Hamas and other known terrorist groups.

Israel is tentative to respond to peace offers from Palestine, citing to Reuters that the unity government merely serves as a protective shield, allowing the voices of Hamas to have their way, and suspending peace talks with Palestinians.

The unity government appeared to many as a sign of change, but it’s becoming evident the new government will have little impact on relations between Palestine and Israel. Even with the support of western countries and the United Nations, the unity government is receiving little positive feedback in terms of internal opinions.

Gaza is a hot bed for conflict between the two and it’s clear that this will not be the end of their violent interactions.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Chron
Photo: Epoch Times

Rockets
Israel announced this week that it had intercepted a ship carrying Syrian-made rockets from Iran to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Tehran immediately denied that is was behind the shipment, with the country’s foreign minister calling the Israeli accusations the “same failed lies.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Wednesday that it had found rockets on a Panamanian-flagged vessel that it had tracked for several months and seized in the Red Sea off the coast of Sudan. Dozens of M-302 rockets, which have a range of 93 to 124 miles, were found on the ship, called the Klos-C, according to Israeli military spokesman Brigadier-General Moti Almoz.

“The ship may be carrying other weapons as well, but we can only know this when it reaches Eilat,” Almoz said.

In a detailed post about the seizure on the Israeli military’s website, the IDF said the weapons shipment had begun in Damascus, where it had been flown to Tehran and then taken to the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas and loaded onto the Klos-C. From there, the Klos-C headed to the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr, where containers of cement were added, before the vessel sailed around the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, through the Gulf of Aden and into the Red Sea, where it was intercepted by the Israeli navy on March 5.

The ship, whose 17-member crew was apparently unaware of the vessels elicit cargo, was headed for Port Sudan, according to the post on the military’s website.

Israel accused Iran, a longtime enemy of the Jewish state that supports militant groups in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon, of being behind the shipment of rockets, which included “numerous advanced weapons,” according to the military’s website. “There is clear and unequivocal information that this came from Iran,” Almoz, the military spokesman, said.

On March 6, Iran denied that it was involved in the shipment, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accusing Israel of concocting the story “just in time” for the annual conference of AIPAC, a powerful pro-Israeli American lobbying group. “An Iranian ship carrying arms for Gaza,” Zarif said in a Twitter post. “Captured just in time for annual AIPAC anti-Iran campaign. Amazing Coincidence! Or same failed lies.”

Hamas, an armed Palestinian Islamist group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, denied any connection to the shipment, with a spokesman for the organization characterizing the Israeli accusations about Iranian weapons shipments to Gaza as a “silly joke.”

Hamas contends that it has not fired any rockets at Israel since a ceasefire between the militant Islamist group and the Jewish state came into fruition in 2012. Israel says that more than 60 rockets have been fired from the densely populated and impoverished coastal enclave since the beginning of the year and holds Hamas responsible for rocket attacks launched by other Gaza-based militant groups.

Israel captured the Gaza Strip, along with the Sinai Peninsula, from Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War, when the Jewish state also seized the Golan Heights from Syria and the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982 and withdrew from Gaza in 2007, but continues to occupy the West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to more than 100 Jewish settlements that are viewed as illegal under international law. In 2005, Hamas seized control of Gaza after beating Palestinian Authority security forces dominated by Fatah, the secular Palestinian faction supported by the west, in a brief war.

– Eric Erdahl

Sources: BBC, Israel Defense Forces, Twitter
Photo: The Malaysian

food_aid_gaza
The World Food Program announced that over the next year, nearly a million people in the Gaza Strip will require food aid. The U.N. agency is requesting $95 million from donors to assist those in need.

Due to the projected increase in those who will need international aid, more countries will have to donate to effectively assist those who are food insecure.

According to the executive director of the agency, Ertharin Cousin, the rise in those who are hungry and requiring aid has risen 7 percent since last year and this has largely been exacerbated by Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis and high unemployment rates.

The conflict has destabilized the entire region, and competing interests for resources from states and corporate interests have left those most vulnerable without basic security and trapped in poverty.

Another reason for the most recent increase in families needing aid was the recent closure by the Egyptian government of smuggling tunnels. The tunnels that ran under the border to impoverished Palestinian enclaves provided access to jobs and construction projects, including a clandestine route for militant groups and weapons trafficking.

Currently, about 813,000 Palestinian refugees are receiving food aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The organization expects a 10-20 percent rise in demand in 2014 as the conflict continues to destabilize the region, displaces more people, and keeps the cycle of poverty continuing.

Food security is a major issue for those living in the Gaza Strip. A majority of households are food insecure. In 2012, some 71 percent of impoverished households in Gaza are either food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity. Without assistance these food insecurity levels are surely to continue to rise.

Compounding the lack of food is unemployment. Maher al-Tabbaa’, an economist from the West Bank,  recently told Reuters he expected the coastal territory’s unemployment rate for 2013 to rise to nearly 38 percent.

With less job security comes more hungry families needing more aid from the global community. Without funding from donor countries the food crisis will only continue and will also serve to further the conflict and the ongoing violence that has already cost too much.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: Forward, Sydney Morning Herald