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Libyan Refugees
The U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees in the fiscal year 2016. While only one was from Libya, the North African nation is among the seven countries included in President Donald Trump’s controversial refugee ban.

Thousands of refugees and migrants leave the coast of Libya for other nations every week. The majority of Libyan immigrants and refugees are traveling to the EU. Here are 10 facts about Libyan refugees:

  1. The route Libyan refugees and migrants take to Europe is dangerous and often deadly. Boats can easily wreck or capsize as they cross the Mediterranean Sea. According to the U.N., more than 5,000 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. The majority of these fatalities were on the route from Libya to Italy.
  2. The Libyan government receives funds to stop migrant boats leaving the country as part of a deal with leaders of the EU. Authorities have already stopped about 2,000 Libyan refugees and migrants en route to Europe since the start of 2017.
  3. When migrants fleeing on boats are stopped by Libyan authorities, they are held in detention centers. Libyan detention centers are overcrowded and are notorious for human rights violations. The amount of time that detainees are held can stretch to weeks and even months. People who have been held in these detention centers have reported instances of poor sanitation, little food or water, beatings from guards and coercion into hard labor.
  4. The number of people migrating to Europe from Libya has quadrupled since 2013, following an increased presence of Libya’s Islamic State militant group and lawlessness after the death of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Rival groups have fought for control of Libya since rebel fighters killed Qaddafi in 2011.
  5. Refugees and migrants from all across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia depart from Libya. The route to Europe from Libya has become more popular after the passage to Greece from Turkey was cut off by an agreement between the EU and Turkey. Under the agreement, Turkey and Greece were to turn away all refugees or migrants that entered Greece through irregular routes from Turkey. In exchange, the EU agreed to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkish refugee camps for every migrant or refugee turned away. However, the deal only lasted from March to September 2016.
  6. Aside from the short distance from the Italian island of Lampedusa to Libya, the route also became popular because of Libya’s lack of a centralized government. These conditions made it easy for smugglers to carry out operations however they chose.
  7. Smugglers often take advantage of refugees and migrants, holding those unable to pay for the passage hostage as slaves. They may also maintain control by stealing passports and holding refugees and migrants for ransom, especially targeting unaccompanied children.
  8. Most Libyan refugees and migrants leave the country on crowded boats. Libyan authorities who stopped more than 2,000 people fleeing the country by boat in May 2016 reported that each boat held about 500 people.
  9. Although countries in the EU have increased efforts to stop the flow of Libyan refugees and migrants, international laws prohibit countries from sending them back to places in which they could be in danger, according to human rights groups.
  10. With rival groups and Libya’s Islamic State militant group fighting for power in Libya and human traffickers taking advantage of the chaos, it is likely that those sent back to Libya would be in danger.

For the thousands of Libyans for whom remaining in their home country has become untenable, the best response is a compassionate one. Safe, stable nations must respond with humanity rather than seeking ways to reject these desperate people.

Cassie Lipp

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Malta
The state of poverty in Malta is categorized as relative, but 2014 estimates show that 15.9 percent of citizens live below the poverty line. However, poverty in Malta is a consequence of recent economic expansions at the expense of employment stability, access to child care and has marginalized family incomes, especially for single mothers.

Economic stability in Malta is driven by tourism, trade and manufacturing. The country also boasted the European Union’s (EU) lowest unemployment rate of 3.9 percent in July 2016.

Malta is located between Sicily and North Africa, situating the country within several of the world’s highest trafficking shipping routes. The government of Malta recognizes the potential for growth due to the influence of global investment and trade.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in the forms of health technology, communication and information technology, aerospace and defense and finance services to expand the rate of economic development is especially important, according to the U.S. Department of State.

According to the 2010 European Social Watch Report, economic infrastructures in Malta established increased flexibility due to labor market deregulation and liberalization of the market.

Economic developments have resulted in more jobs and profit, but at the cost of the deterioration of labor standards, unstable work status, unemployment and decreased incomes for families.

According to the University of Malta, groups that report the lowest yearly average are single parents, parents of big families and the elderly. These individuals are at a higher risk of poverty than others, while all aforementioned groups report housing inefficiencies to be a notable hindrance. Due to low familial incomes, children often lack access to food, adequate housing, health care and clothing.

The European Commission noted that Malta is relatively far from achieving its poverty reduction target as outlined in the Europe 2020 Strategy in a 2016 Maltese country report. Individuals with low skills and children have been affected most, while the absence of material goods in households further contributes to the facilitation of poverty and social exclusion.

As a recent addition to the collection of member states within the EU, the country is in the process of implementing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, the Maltese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has yet to operationalize educational initiatives but stated that, “Malta is fully committed to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and in this regard is participating and following discussions at both regional and international level.”

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Zade Dirani becomes a UNICEF Ambassador
Zade Dirani recently became the Regional UNICEF Ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa. The famous Jordanian pianist is continuing on with his steadfast involvement in advocacy and charity work. Dirani joins the ranks of other ambassadors like Egyptian actor, Mahmoud Kabil and Lebanese entertainer, Nancy Ajram.

Previously, as the founder of the Zade Foundation for International Peace and Understanding, Dirani demonstrated a passion for helping others.

Now in his new partnership with UNICEF, he will be working to further the rights of children in the Middle East and North Africa, with a special focus on children caught in conflict or dealing with violence and poverty.

Dirani is an immensely talented pianist. Previously described as a “Piano Prodigy” by People Magazine, he has touched tens of thousands of people in live performances, including Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth.

In the past, through his namesake foundation, Dirani used his musical talent working with young musicians to foster a culture of peace and understanding. Work done through the Zade Foundation attempts to create peace builders and future community leaders.

The piano superstar is already hard at work. Dirani went on his first a field visit as a UNICEF Ambassador to a Za’atari, Jordan refugee camp and to the neighboring town of Mafraq, Jordan.

There, he played for groups of around 300 children and adolescents. Dirani met and spoke to youth from various different backgrounds, bringing joy to many who had fled the violence in Syria.

Dirani spoke about the experience saying, “I wanted to bring my music to children and youth – today and in the months to come – as a way to engage them and become a form of therapy for those who have witnessed things that no child should ever experience.” His talent and commitment to his cause are inspiring and a valuable asset to UNICEF.

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

Middle_East_and_North_Africa
On July 22, the Subcommittee on the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) met for a hearing on promoting U.S. commerce in the region. Congressional members of the subcommittee called upon two witnesses from the State Department, Mr. Scott Nathan, special representative for Commercial & Business Affairs, and Ms. Elizabeth Richard, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near East Affairs, to give testimony and answer questions.

The hearing largely consisted of a few Congress members inquiring about the state of the MENA economies and the State Department officials responding in optimistic anecdotes. Interestingly, throughout the hearing, certain assertions were made and accepted without dispute.

First, the economic state of affairs in the MENA region is far from ideal. As Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen observed, the MENA region accounts for 5.5% of the world’s total population, yet economic output falls short of expectations, just contributing 4% of the world’s GDP.

Second, poverty facilitates the fostering of terrorism. This assertion was repeated by all Congress members who gave initial statements. For example, Congressman Darrell Issa said “Everyday ISIS is in the frontlines of discussion. When in fact, the areas that have fomented so much opportunity for extremism does not get looked at properly.” He followed up by listing one of the areas that does not get looked at properly as “the opportunity in an entrepreneurial, economic way to go from a lack of prosperity to prosperity.”

Third, U.S. businesses have a role to play in strengthening the economies of these countries. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen went as far as to say, “Increasing trade with the region will strengthen business, the missing piece of the Arab Spring in the region.”

In all, the Congress members argued that the poor state of the economies of the MENA region allowed terrorism to grow and that a crucial part of the U.S. strategy for thwarting terrorism should be to encourage U.S. business investment in the region.

Analysis of global poverty reveals the Middle East and North Africa, home to roughly 350 million people, are not in a particularly dire economic situation relative to other regions. Of the 350 million, only around 2% live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank in 2010. In contrast, in China that figure is 12%, in India, 33%, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, 48%.

Granted, since the Arab Spring in 2011, holistic data on the economies in the region have been hard to attain. Congressman Gerry Connolly’s line of questioning touched upon that reality and the State Department acknowledged it.

Nevertheless, certain realities are known for certain. Poverty has increased since the Arab Spring in certain parts of the region, notably Syria and Iraq. Since 2011, 4 million Syrians have fled Syria as the civil war rages, of which 2.3 million went to MENA countries. Where there is conflict and turmoil, inevitably the straining of resources and poverty follows.

But even with the worsening of the economic situation in certain areas of the MENA region, areas such as China, India and Sub-Saharan Africa still struggle with much greater extreme poverty.

Yet these regions do not face the specter of terrorism like the MENA region does. Leading to the obvious conclusion, terrorism is a multi-causal phenomenon that cannot be simply attributed to a lack of economic opportunity. But as the Congress members asserted, lack of economic opportunity intuitively does allow for terrorism’s growth as people in poverty have little to lose and less to hope for.

And although reducing poverty in the region will be far from a magic bullet against terrorism, it should not only be pursued for normative reasons but for geopolitical considerations as well.

Maybe the Congress members are right in the importance they place on the role of U.S commerce in the region in hampering terrorism. There is only one way to know, and millions to be helped out of extreme poverty.

Connor Bohannan

Sources: Congressional Research Service, House of Committee Foreign Affairs, World Bank 1, World Bank 2, UN Refugee Agency
Photo: Flickr

At least 5,000 migrants floating in overcrowded boats have been rescued off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea since Thursday, June 5. Varying reports have indicated a range of 5,200-5,470 people having been rescued so far. As a result of this most recent rescue effort, the total amount of migrants that have reached Italy from North Africa has exceeded 50,000 in 2014.

The most recent rescue effort has been spearheaded by one operation led by the Italian government, called Mare Nostrum. This operation has been in effect since October 2013, and was launched in response to 366 migrants drowning after their boat collapsed just off the shore of Sicily. That disaster not only spawned Mare Nostrum into being, but also prompted a one-off response from the EU in the form of a $30 million euro emergency fund that focused on land facilities.

Ever since that initial disaster and relief fund, Italy has been repeatedly asking for more help from the EU, with very little, if any, response. This is highlighted by the fact that only Slovenia offered one ship for the span of two months last year, and that a U.S. Navy ship and a Maltese merchant vessel rescued a combined 307 migrants in the most recent event on June 5.

This most recent event is only another vivid example of the continuing problem of migrants risking their lives to flee North Africa in the hopes of a better future in Europe. This past May, an unknown number of migrants died and 17 bodies were recovered after a similar shipwreck occurred. Throughout 2013, at least 40,000 migrants landed in Italy, and this year is on track to top the record of 62,000 set in 2011 during the Arab Spring revolutions.

The Director General of International Organization for Migration, William Lacey Swing, recently released a statement trying to utilize this incident as a means to raise awareness and take action on this recurring problem. “The tragedy of migrants drowning at sea is unfortunately a global phenomenon, not just a Mediterranean emergency,” Swing said. “The unnecessary deaths of these migrants and asylum seekers is an affront to all civilized nations.”

Swing went on to state that “the international community must develop a more comprehensive approach to protect migrants and uphold human dignity. No single action is enough to address the root causes of these mixed migration flows, but lives will be saved if action is taken now to help both migrants and countries during the entire length of the migratory route.”

The International Organization for Migration has since called for a high level debate on migratory flows in the hopes of bringing together nations of destination and origin. As Swing put it: “We need to urgently look at a comprehensive range of actions that we can take together to prevent further loss of life. These include the enhancement of legal avenues for migrants seeking better prospects in Europe and the establishment of various mechanisms and measures in countries of transit in North Africa to provide migrants and asylum seekers in need of protection with opportunities to receive legal counseling.”

With any luck this most recent occurrence will cause more nations to pay attention and provide a sustainable solution to the ever-present issue of migrants attempting to leave their home countries to find a better future elsewhere.

– Andre Gobbo

Sources: International Organization for Migration, Reuters, HUffPost

Tunisia_Constitution_Celebration
The Arab Spring brought the air of revolution to Tunisia, and after years of struggling to create a steady and free democracy, the assembly has reached an agreement and approved a new constitution.

Out of the 216 members of the Tunisian assembly, 200 affiliates voted to pass the constitution. Of the remaining 16 members, 12 voted against the constitution and four members abstained from the vote.

Three years ago, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from the highest political office in Tunisia, which marked the beginning of the tumultuous journey towards democratic stability.

Ben Ali was overthrown in January 2011, and it was not until about October 2012 that the Islamist party, Ennahda, gained control of Tunisia. It has held power ever since, but agreed to step down from office once the final draft of the constitution was passed in the assembly.

After the overthrow of Ben Ali, there came multiple terrorist attacks and two political assassinations of secular leaders. The Islamist party Ennahda denounced the violent acts, but certain radical Islamists are held responsible. Their motive was to maintain Islamic leaders in powerful positions.

The two years it took to draft the new Tunisian constitution stirred tensions between Islamists and Secularists, as the Islamists wanted to invoke Sharia (Islamic) law. The compromise within the constitution seems promising, and the Ennahda has stepped down. An appointed caretaker government will be taking power until elections that will take place later this year. The Prime Minister of the caretaker government, Mehdi Jomaa, is a respected technocrat who will lead the transitional period until the time comes for free elections.

The Assembly Speaker, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, was quoted after the vote, saying, “This constitution, without being perfect, is one of consensus… we had today a new rendezvous with history to build a democracy founded on rights and equality.”

From what is known of the new constitution so far, it seems to be the most broadminded within the Middle East/North African region, with the guarantee of gender equality and protection of the environment. There are also laws that keep the state responsible for detecting and confronting corruption.

Power is split between the Prime Minister and the President, with more control in the Prime Minister’s hands and the President’s dominance lying mostly within defense policies and foreign relations.

The Tunisian constitution does not cite Sharia law, but Islam is declared as the country’s religion and the state outlaws attacks on Islam. As religious differences were a major obstacle in drafting this new constitution, this is a remarkable step for the North African country.

“All eyes around the world are fixed upon Tunisia’s democratic experience,” Jaafar stated. His words are appropriate, especially with the most recent turmoil in nearby countries, such as Egypt and Yemen.

Hopefully this milestone in Tunisia will be a model for countries struggling to obtain stability after the turmoil of the Arab Spring. The revolutions were necessary for the inspiration of new democratic ideals, however the loss of control has left many countries vulnerable to terrorist organizations and leaders with ulterior motives. The constitution marks a new era for the Tunis people that will hopefully lead to a thriving economy and strong democracy.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: Aljazeera, CNN, New York Times
Photo: Blouin News

algeria_poverty
Rural poverty in North Africa is similar to rural poverty in South Africa, though the national poverty line varies dramatically. According to Rural Poverty Portal, this includes the differences between 6% in Tunisia and 90% in Somalia. North-African economies are in dire straits.

Poverty-ridden people, they said, “constitute about one third of Tunisia’s poor population, and about three fourths of Somalia’s poor.” However, poverty in Northern Africa is still concentrated in rural areas.

This has deep causes such as the limited availability of “good arable land and water,” and “the impact of droughts and floods.” Conflict has similarly disrupted agriculture and thus intensified poverty, especially in Somalia and Sudan.

Algeria is a country in Northern Africa whose economy is dominated by the state, according to the CIA World Factbook.

“Hydrocarbons have long been the backbone of the economy,” the Factbook explains, “Accounting for roughly 60 percent of budget revenues, 30 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) and over 95 percent of export earnings.”

This hydrocarbon exportation has brought relative “macroeconomic stability, with foreign currency reserves approaching $200 billion.”

Despite Algeria’s relative stability, things such as transportation and a stable social infrastructure remain obstacles for Northern Africa. High rates of illiteracy, especially among women, also negatively affect the economy.

Rural Poverty Portal furthermore illustrated that the northern region of the continent has “weak local institutions, poor integration with the national economy, and the migration of rural youth to urban areas.”

However, the urban areas in Northern Africa hold the most political influence. “Government policies and investments in the region tend to favor urban areas over rural areas,” they said.

Just south of Algeria lies Niger, a land-locked, Sub-Saharan nation. Though it shares a border with Algeria, a relatively stable African country, it has a very low income – less than $250 USD gross national income per capita, according to the World Bank Development Indicators as of 2005.

Moreover, CIA World Factbook states that Niger qualified for “enhanced debt relief under the International Monetary Fund program for Highly Indebted Poor Countries.” This significantly reduced Niger’s debt and annual obligations, and freed up funds for “basic healthcare, primary education, HIV/AIDS prevention, rural infrastructure and other programs geared at poverty reduction.”

The Factbook said that food security remains a problem in Niger, and is enhanced by refugees from Mali.

Sixty-three percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the most recent data which was gathered in 1993.

Northern Africa has a wide disparity between the very poor and the middle-class. Though some countries are more stable than others, education, food stability, access to clean water and social stability remain significant obstacles for the reduction of African poverty as a whole.

– Alycia Rock

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, BBC, Rural Poverty Portal, Central Intelligence Agency
Photo: Reuters

refugee_opt
Abdel is a refugee in Choucha Refugee Camp, Tunisia. He arrived there in 2011 after years as an orphan in Libya. Originally from Cote D’Ivoire, Abdel’s parents had to flee that country for unspecified reasons, and his mother died before he turned five years old.

During the Libyan uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in February 2011, Abdel was held captive for ten months, during which time he and his father were forced to watch his sister’s rape and murder. After the ten months, he was freed and fled to Choucha in the city of Misrata, which at its peak held tens of thousands of Libyan refugees (most of which have been relocated to other countries).

Abdel soon decided that he could not tolerate sitting around in the camp all day, being bored and lonesome. That drive inspired him to apply for a pilot skills training program organized by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Danish Refugee Council, located about 87 miles from Choucha.

Abdel’s enrollment not only gave him something to do other than sit in Choucha, it also gave him a bit of hope for the future. In an interview, he admitted that for the first time in years he is sleeping well and that he’s looking at opportunities to continue his studies beyond Choucha.

In his class, Abdel is learning to make jewelry. The refugees eat and sleep in dormitories during the program, and the close quarters allow them to form friendships that help with feeling lonely or helpless. The program consists mostly of young males, but as the classes have begun to soar in popularity, young women have started to apply as well.

Abdel isn’t the only success story of the pilot programs. Danish Refugee Council project officer Gianmaria Pinto expressed in an interview that at the last session before the end of year break, all of the refugees were excited about that prospect of learning and did not want to return to Choucha.

Choucha is scheduled to close at the end of June 2013. Spokesperson for UNHCR Ursula Aboubacar insisted during a press conference in Tunis that the closing of Choucha will give the 900+ refugees still living there a better life. Though many of the refugees have nowhere to go and are still waiting to be relocated, the closing of Choucha will force them to make arrangements to support themselves.

Choucha housed many North African refugees in a time of violent tumult, and in the cases of young men and women like Abdel, has even given them skills and resources that they can use to generate some sort of revenue or self-worth. UNHCR and the Danish Refugee Council have put together a program that will help refugees and Tunisians alike get on their feet and build futures for themselves that, if all goes well, don’t reflect their pasts.

– Lindsey Rubinstein

Sources: Libya Herald, UNHCR
Photo: Demotix

Poverty in Morocco
Poverty in Morocco is a fact of life for many. The name Morocco does not immediately conjure images of destitution. The country has done well as branding itself as an exotic tourist destination, but the country is suffering a significant poverty problem, one that cannot be disguised even to foreigners.

A blogger wrote of her travels in Morocco:

“…from the minute you arrive, the beggars, orphans, story-tellers and snake charmers, all desperately competing to prize a few pennies from the newest tourist’s pockets, not only colourfully line the city’s streets, but paint a picture that poverty, in one of Morocco’s most imperial cities and capital of the south, is depressingly genuine.”

The majority of poverty in Morocco is in rural areas –- according to the Rural Poverty Portal, of the 4 million people living under the poverty line in Morocco, 3 million of them are in rural areas. This may stem from the number of people depending on agriculture as a source of income in a geographically challenging region, as well as a lack of access to resources like water and financial credit and also a low level of training and education.

Morocco has seen vast improvement in its poverty levels in the last two decades, but is still far behind other countries at the same income level. Infant mortality is higher than most lower-middle income countries and total school enrollment and female enrollment are both lower. In rural areas, the vast majority still do not have access to clean water or electricity.

The Moroccan government is indeed working towards alleviating poverty in the country, though recommendations by the world bank have suggested they focus more on improving the agricultural sector as well as targeting services towards the poor and encouraging the better off to use private services.

– Farahnaz Mohammad
Source: UN Post, Rural Poverty Portal, World Bank
Photo: Sanatoy