Child Poverty in EritreaMilitarism and instability are endemic to Eritrea. The degradation of civil society is a result of those two factors. Child poverty in Eritrea is rampant due to such foundations; however, the country is not without benefactors. UNICEF’s aid efforts are improving children’s health within Eritrea despite the current conditions.

A Brief History

Eritrea is one of the few countries that can truly be considered a fledgling state in the 21st century. After a decades-long secession war, the Eritrean government achieved full independence from Ethiopia in 1993. They solidified the totalitarian one-party dictatorship that has retained power since. A brief period of peace followed, during which promised democratic elections never materialized. Then, Eritrea’s unresolved border disputes with Ethiopia escalated into a war that lasted from 1998 to 2000. It killed tens of thousands and resulted in several minor border changes and only formally ended in 2018. In the wake of this war, the Eritrean government has sustained a track record of militarization, corruption and human rights violations that has continually degraded civil stability. As of 2004, around 50% of Eritreans live below the poverty line.

Eritrea’s Youth at a Glance

Housing around 6 million people, Eritrea’s youth make up a significant proportion of its population. Eritrea has the 35th highest total fertility rate globally, with a mean of 3.73 children born per woman. It also has the 42nd lowest life expectancy at birth at a mere 66.2 years, with significant variation between that of males (63.6 years) and females (68.8 years).

Forced Conscriptions of Children

Under the guise of national security against Ethiopia, Eritrea has maintained a system of universal, compulsory conscription since 2003. This policy requires all high school students to complete their final year of high school at Sawa, the country’s primary military training center. Many are 16 or 17 years of age when their conscription begins, which led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to accuse Eritrea of mobilizing child soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report also blamed Eritrea’s conscription practices for a number of grievances. Its prolonged militarization has wide-reaching effects for the country. Many adults are held in service against their will for up to a decade, but it is particularly damaging to Eritrean youth. Students at Sawa face food shortages, forced labor and harsh punishment. Many female students have reportedly suffered sexual abuse. Besides fleeing, “Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription.”

Further, “The system of conscription has driven thousands of young Eritreans each year into exile,” HRW claims. They estimate that around 507,300 Eritreans live elsewhere. Because of its conscription practices, Eritrea is both a top producer of refugees and unaccompanied refugee children in Europe – they not only result in child poverty in Eritrea, but in other regions as well.

Education Access

HRW claims that Eritrea’s education system plays a central role in its high levels of militarization. It leads many students to drop out, intentionally fail classes or flee the country. This has severely undermined education access and inflated child poverty in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has the lowest school life expectancy – “the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive” – of any country. Eritrea has reportedly made strides to raise enrollment over the last 20 years. However, 27.2% of school-aged children still do not receive schooling, and the country retains a literacy rate of only 76.6%. Illiteracy is much more prevalent among females than among males, with respective literacy rates of 68.9% and 84.4%. In general, girls and children in nomadic populations are the least likely to receive schooling.

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

As mentioned earlier, over half a million Eritreans have fled the country as refugees. Around one-third of them – about 170,000, according to the WHO – now live in Ethiopia. A majority reside in six different refugee camps. As of 2019, around 6,000 more cross the border each month. Reporting by the UNHCR shows that “children account for 44% of the total refugee population residing in the [Eritrean] Camps, of whom 27% arrive unaccompanied or separated from their families.” Far from being ameliorated by domestic education programs, child poverty in Eritrea is merely being outsourced to its neighbors.

Children’s Health as a Site for Progress

Adjacent to these issues, UNICEF’s programs have driven significant improvements in sanitation, malnutrition and medical access. Its Health and Nutrition programs, among other things, address malnutrition by administering supplements, prevent maternal transmission of HIV/AIDS during birth and administer vaccines. Teams in other departments improve sanitation and lobby against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In its 2015 Humanitarian Action for Children report on Eritrea, UNICEF wrote that Eritrea “has made spectacular progress on half the [Millennium Development Goals],” including “Goal 4 (child mortality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality), Goal 6 (HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases) and is on track to meet the target for access to safe drinking water (Goal 7).”

Figures illustrate this progress on child poverty in Eritrea. Since 1991, child immunization rates have jumped from 14% to 98%, safe water access rates are up at 60% from 7%, iodine deficiency has plummeted from 80% to 20% in children and the under-five mortality rate sits at 63 deaths per 1000 births, rather than at 148.

Child poverty in Eritrea is a far cry from being solved, but it is not a lost cause.

Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Aid to the Rohingya
At the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh, almost 700,000 people are living in makeshift refugee camps in a location called Cox’s Bazar. These people are Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar in late August due to targeted violence and persecution. Faced with such challenges, various agencies are providing aid to the Rohingya refugees.

The Rohingya are a Muslim population formerly located on the western coast of Myanmar. Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country and the Rohingya are among a small number of people who practice Islam. The minority group has endured prosecution for centuries, but a new wave of violence escalated in the summer of 2017 to levels never before witnessed in the country.

Primarily an issue of land rights, the tension between the Rohingya and the majority of Myanmar’s population has caused thousands of people to flee and cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh. After a treacherous journey across the river, refugees find themselves in a country without persecution but with no place to go.

The refugee camps are not a sustainable solution. Makeshift homes have been created out of primarily plastic and bamboo. Inadequate water and sanitation conditions persist as more and more people flee across the border. The refugees are stuck in limbo as Bangladesh does not have room for an additional 700,000 people and the prospect of going back to Myanmar is off the table for many of the refugees.

In the midst of all of this uncertainty and desperation, many international organizations are working to provide aid to the Rohingya.

Doctors Without Borders

One of the larger organizations providing aid to the Rohingya is Doctors Without Borders. The organization has been present in the camps since the beginning of the crisis in late August. At first, Doctors Without Borders focused on water, sanitation and emergency health care assistance. As the crisis continues to unfold, the organization has been adapting to the needs of the refugee community.

Mental health services have recently been offered as the trauma of the violence continues to haunt many of the Rohingya victims. Additionally, Doctors Without Borders is working with both other aid organizations and the Bengali government to address the crisis and how to proceed.


UNICEF is another organization working to improve camp conditions and provide aid to the Rohingya. The group is looking to move toward a more permanent solution for the refugee population. Mostly focused on proper shelter, adequate food and clean water, UNICEF also has plans to install water pumps in the future.

Another major project for UNICEF is providing vaccinations. In September, the organization set a goal to vaccinate at least 150,00 children against diseases like rubella, polio and measles.

Bracing for Rain

As spring approaches, the Rohingya refugees must brace for a new crisis. Monsoon season in Bangladesh brings the threat of floods and landslides. Cyclones are also a major threat to the area, with their primary season spanning March to June.

The U.N. is fervently working on prepping for the potential crisis. In February, U.N. agencies sent out engineering crews to clear blocked sewage canals that had the potential of overflowing during the monsoon season. Rice husks have also been distributed to refugees as an alternative to firewood.

U.N. agencies are working on relocating 100,000 refugees from the major camp at Cox’s Bazar. As monsoon season quickly approaches, all of the organizations working will need the support of the broader international community to lift up efforts to provide aid to the Rohingya.

– Sonja Flancher

Photo: Flickr


FilmAid, the brainchild of award-winning film and television producer Caroline Baron, began in 1999 as a kind of balm for refugees living in Macedonian camps after fleeing from their homes in Kosovo. Baron believed that there could be a relationship between FilmAid and refugees, as entertaining films have the power to bolster spirits and lift morale amid the drudgery and displacement of camp life.

She was proven right, and after witnessing the numbers of people in attendance for even an hour or two of distracting and satisfying amusement, Baron realized her screens were capable of so much more.

FilmAid Evolves

Once she’d accomplished her first goal, Baron’s next step was to produce and present videos that provided vital information to the camp’s inhabitants. FilmAid contributed films on relevant topics like HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, health and hygiene, women’s rights and conflict resolution, reaching thousands of refugees at camps spread throughout Africa, Europe, South America, Haiti and Asia.

But the project didn’t stop there. After partnering with the United Nations, other nonprofit organizations and some high-powered industry brass, the making of FilmAid productions ended up squarely in the hands of the refugees themselves.

For Refugees, By Refugees

Since then, refugees and FilmAid volunteers have shaped the organization into a community-led creative force. An incredibly unique organization, the participatory relationship between FilmAid and refugees creates an outlet for those enduring the rigors of camp life and the trauma of displacement. In being able to creatively express themselves, many refugees can express hope as well.

All FilmAid activities now fall under one of three categories: Media Content, Community Outreach and Skills Development. Media Content projects include films that tell stories, documentaries, public service announcements containing critical health information (a documentary about landmine awareness and detection skills is of particular note) and even music videos. Activities are not restricted to film only. The Refugee Magazine is written and produced by and for inhabitants of Kakuma and Dadaab camps in Kenya. FilmAid’s official website gives full access to each issue of The Refugee Magazine.

Community Outreach projects include the mobile cinema, in which a screen is secured to the bed of a truck and rolled through camp, displaying media projects, pertinent information and the occasional Charlie Chaplin film. Workshops focused on community engagement, mass media broadcasts and online and social media utilization to share community-made content are all part of FilmAid’s scope in the refugee camps.

Finally, Skills Development brings all aspects of FilmAid together. Through education in photography, journalism, radio and digital media, FilmAid empowers people, especially young people, to tell their stories. Additionally, through its media content, FilmAid provides training to community members who want to facilitate workshops on health, protection and rights issues.

The Film Festival

In 2016, the Tenth Annual FilmAid Film Festival was held in Nairobi. The festival’s theme that year was “Where I Am: Stories of the Relationship Between Identity and the Environment.” The festival showcased young filmmakers from the Dadaab and Kakuma camps while providing a platform for other international filmmakers to share stories relevant to the theme. In addition to films screened and awards distributed, a panel discussion was held on the topic “Media, Arts and the Refugee Narrative.”  Through the festival, the creative teamwork of FilmAid and refugees is highlighted while simultaneously entertaining, informing and empowering camp inhabitants.

It’s “a different kind of aid – a skills-driven aid,” says Emmanual Jal in an interview with Vanity Fair. Jal, a former child soldier from Sudan who is nurturing a growing career as a hip-hop musician and actor, performed for a concert in the Kakuma camp in 2015. During the show, volunteers for FilmAid and refugees filmed a music video for one of his songs.

Jal credits FilmAid for being among the few investors in a “cure” for problems rather than just treating them. As the young artist says, “to actually empower somebody and let them rise and gain their dignity, that’s the difficult part.” By giving a voice to the voiceless, FilmAid is helping to improve the quality of life in refugee camps across the globe.

– Jaymie Greenway

Photo: Flickr

Combatting Malaria Threat Important for Poverty AlleviationDespite the progress being made in improving global healthcare, malaria still remains a pressing concern. After HIV, it is becoming one of the most ubiquitous diseases in war-torn and impoverished countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The impacts of malaria can be especially debilitating for the poor. Even though the threat of malaria has decreased during the past 15 years, it still belongs to the group of 20 ‘’neglected tropical diseases’’.

Malaria is a disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite that is secreted by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. Anopheles mosquitos often lay their eggs in stagnant water, after which these eggs become adult mosquitos. The disease is prevalent in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene facilities, making it especially common and potentially dangerous in refugee camps.

The WHO estimated in 2015 that nearly half the world’s population is vulnerable to malaria, with a significant proportion concentrated mainly in sub-Saharan African countries. In 2015 alone, there were more than 222 million cases of malaria recorded, with a death toll of nearly 492,000. It was discovered that there is a link between climate change and the threat of malaria and other diseases. Global warming is resulting in an increase in global temperatures, which creates a more favorable environment for Anopheles mosquitos.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a renowned organization spearheading development funding and global health initiatives, has spoken about the U.S. budget cuts to foreign aid and healthcare. Achieving further progress in countering the malaria threat will be hindered by these cuts. Their analysis estimated that this decrease would lead to an additional 5 million deaths by 2030.

Fortunately, UNICEF noted that between 2000 and 2005, the malaria mortality rate has actually fallen by around 37 percent globally. Artemisinin-based therapies have been quite successful in reducing the harmful impacts of Plasmodium falciparum, one of the most deadly forms of malaria.

Many of the countries most affected by malaria are stepping up their efforts to combat the disease. Rwanda is treating the malaria threat with insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying and the use of artemisinin-based drugs.

Nigeria alone accounts for nearly 25 percent of the malaria cases in Africa, which is one of the leading causes of premature death in the country. The Global Fund is working in Nigeria to treat the record levels of malaria cases and control the spread of the disease. WHO is also scaling up its operations in addressing the malaria threat in the country.

The recent malaria prevention drive in South Africa reaffirmed its support for alleviating the malaria threat in the country. The initiative is a collaborative agreement between South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. The high incidence of diseases like HIV in South Africa often exacerbates the impact of malaria, making it particularly important to be addressed.

Working on preventive and mitigation efforts for malaria will go a long way towards addressing the rampant spread of the disease. The progress currently being made in reducing the malaria threat will yield successful results in the future.

Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

Elpida home for refugees
While the 2015 refugee crisis somewhat faded from the international media’s view, the flow of refugees and the vulnerability of their human rights remains a meaningful concern among the international community.

From the start of the year to July 2017, more than 100,000 asylum seekers arrived in Europe by sea and upward of 2,000 additional individuals did not survive the attempted crossing. Since the beginning of the crisis, asylum seekers who managed to reach Europe arrived to inadequate and sometimes even dangerous conditions.

At first, in 2015, this seemed to be a symptom of inadequate legislation. However, the fact that these inhumane conditions have persisted points to insufficient humanitarian funding and the deliberate neglect of refugees.

Emina Cerimovic, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, stated that “the mental impact of years of conflict, exacerbated by harsh conditions” and “the uncertainty of inhumane policies, may not be as visible as physical wounds, but is no less life-threatening.” This warning came at a crucial time, as Hungary continues to house asylum seekers in shipping containers despite protests from the United Nations, European Union and the greater international community. As time has gone on, conditions in refugee camps remained stagnant and residents became increasingly less independent. They are forced to rely on the entity running their center for more of their basic needs.

NPR reporter Soraya Nelson, who visited a camp on the Hungary-Serbia border, describes it as a detention camp with only one accessible exit, which enters Serbia, a country that also struggles to uphold just migration policies. According to Nelson, all other gates are heavily guarded. The idea is that “people will get so fed up, they might just decide to leave.”

The containers that make up the camp, while more sturdy than the tents provided in many E.U. refugee centers, are undeniably cramped and allow for little ventilation. Their structure provides no clear separation of families and also house unaccompanied minors, one of the most controversial groups within the asylum-seeking population.

Despite this failure, the Elpida Home for Refugees, located near the industrial Center of Thessaloniki, Greece, provides a model for the future. Elpida, which means “hope” in Greek, managed to bridge the gap between inhumane refugee policies and the humane treatment of refugees. The center was founded by American philanthropist Ahmed Khan in partnership with the Radcliffe Foundation and the Greek Ministry of the Interior as an experiment in refugee assistance.

The Ministry donated an abandoned textile factory to the cause when presented with the concept for Elpida: to provide refugees the independence and services they need to continue their lives. The 6,000 square-meter space was converted into 140 residential units, each for six people or less, with shared bathrooms and a communal kitchen, allowing residents to enjoy private space, prepare meals and participate in the community.

The Elpida Home for Refugees is based on the idea that refugees need assistance from the bottom-up instead of from the top-down as is provided elsewhere. Top-down assistance means asylum seekers receive a small designated space in an overcrowded, often outdoor facility, with limited access to proper nutrition, hygiene and medical care. In these scenarios, typical of most refugee camps, residents are entirely reliant on the government or NGO who operates the camp.

Alternatively, the bottom-up care provided by the Elpida Home for Refugees allows its residents to utilize the tools made available by the organization, such as access to medical care, education, and their own personal rooms, to reclaim their lives and become independent.

The cooperation between the Greek government and the Radcliffe foundation can easily be replicated by other countries and organizations and then even more asylum seekers may find Elpida’s “hope” when they are most vulnerable.

Alena Zafonte

Refugee camps

Refugee camps are supposed to be temporary living settlements for displaced people fleeing violence and persecution from their home countries. While the accommodations within refugee camps are built on short-term solutions, the idea of “temporary” for refugees grows obsolete as their living situations become more permanent.

A refugee spends an average of 12 years living in a camp according to the New York Times. These camps face their own significant problems. In the last 10 years, the number of displaced people in the world tripled. Over 60 million people are now displaced, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Refugee camps are constantly subjected to insufficient funding and support from the international community, overcrowding, scarcity of food, shortage of clean water and poor sanitation.

Without adequate food, refugees are susceptible to chronic malnutrition, which increases their risk of disease or illness. While the UNHCR recommends a daily minimum of 20 liters per person per day, many refugee camps fail to meet these standards. A lack of clean water and poor sanitation systems result in more diseases, such as diarrhea and cholera.

Proactive health measures, however, are being taken. To combat malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies, some refugee camps have implemented community gardens. At the Meheba refugee camp in Zambia, for example, refugees can grow their own food and add fruits and vegetables to their diets. Calls for improvements in both the latrine and sufficient waste disposal systems have also been made, as these will not only improve sanitation but also prevent disease.

The Kilis Refugee Camp in Turkey resembles more of a permanent shelter. There are no tents, but sturdy containers instead. The camp has amenities that many others lack; electricity, maintenance, a clinic and grocery stores. Within the grounds, there are also schools and counselors.

However nice the camp is, the prolonged stay of many of the refugees makes it more difficult to maintain psychological well-being. The placement of refugee camps away from society and the increasing length of stay by their residents make it hard for the people to remain engaged. Without employment and integration, refugees cannot practice their skill sets or feel connected to the local community.

UNHCR Engineer and Physical Planning & Shelter Officer Anicet Adjahossou found that one solution to strengthen community building within refugee camps was to work with anthropologists and refugees to redesign the standard refugee camp grid format into a new housing layout.

In 2012, Adjahoosu worked with UNHCR at the Dollo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia to organize the homes into sets of U-shaped enclosures. The innovative arrangement prompts more family interaction and allows for larger communal areas. Also included were locations for schools, water distribution points, markets and health centers.

In addition to improving the living conditions in refugee camps, more aid must be given to prevent and end conflicts, so that we do not continue to see an increase in people forced to flee their homes in search of safety. Luckily, it appears that advocates like Anicet Adjehossou are taking the lead.

Erica Rawles

Photo: Flickr

Darfur Genocide
The Darfur Genocide is one of the worst human rights abuses of modern time. Over 90 diverse tribes and sub-clans populate the region of Darfur which is located in western Sudan. With a pre-conflict population of 6 million people, tensions within the region leading to the Darfur Genocide were produced by multiple interconnected factors including ethnic conflict, economic instability and political opportunism.

The level of violence and destruction at the height of the Darfur genocide was staggering. In 2005, the Coalition for International Justice interviewed 1,136 Darfur refugees located in 19 camps in neighboring Chad. A staggering 61 percent of the respondents noted that they had witnessed the killing of one of their family members.


Top 10 Darfur Genocide Facts:


  1. In 1989, then-General Omar al-Bashir seized control of Sudan through a military coup. The country was in the middle of a 21-year civil war between the North and South regions when the leader came to power and tensions continued to build. Conflicts began to increase within the ethnically diverse Darfur and weapons started flowing into the area due to a struggle for political control.
  2. The conflict escalated in 2003 when two non-Arab rebel groups within Darfur, the Sudan Liberian Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, accused the government of neglecting the region and took up arms against it. The Sudanese government, led by al-Bashir, quickly responded with a counter-insurgency campaign against the rebels and began backing a brutal Arab militia known as the Janjaweed. Civilians within the country were the ones to ultimately pay the price for the escalating violence and began receiving a barrage of attacks from the government, pro-government troops and rebel groups.
  3. The dispute is generally racial and not religious in nature. Muslim Arab Sudanese (the Janjaweed militia group) systematically targeted, displaced, and murdered Muslim black Sudanese individuals within the Darfur region. The victims are generally from non-Arab tribal groups.
  4. According to the United Human Rights Council, over 400 villages were completely destroyed through the conflict, forcing mass amounts of civilians to be displaced from their homes. The Janjaweed would set out to destroy the houses and buildings within the community, shooting the men and gang-raping the women and children. Families would be separated and killed. Those who escaped the brutal onslaught would then be faced with an arduous journey to find refuge.
  5. Many citizens fled the violence and relocated to refugee camps within the area and neighboring Chad. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, approximately two million individuals are still displaced due to the violence, with the majority having left their homes between 2003 and 2005 — the height of the conflict.
  6. Malnutrition, starvation and disease were serious concerns. Residents have been able to receive limited humanitarian assistance during the conflict due to the Sudanese government hindering aid efforts within the region and violence against humanitarian programs already in place. According to UNICEF, attacks on humanitarian vehicles, convoys, and compounds are common, impacting the availability of vital aid services. Approximately 25 to 30 international relief organizations have left the area due to security concerns or have been expelled by the government, as reported by The Washington Post.
  7. In June 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched investigations into the human rights violations occurring in Darfur. According to the United Human Rights Council, the government refused to cooperate with the investigations and denied any connection with the Janjaweed militia group.
  8. On March 4, 2009, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first-ever sitting president of a country to be indicted by the ICC for directing a campaign of mass killing, and rape against civilians in Darfur. His accusations according to the BBC include crimes of humanity including murder, extermination, rape and torture, as well as war crimes including attacks on civilians in Darfur, and pillaging towns and villages.
  9. The United Nations estimates that as many as 300,000 individuals have been killed since the start of the Darfur conflict in 2003. The majority of these casualties are from civilian men, women and children who lived within communities throughout the area.
  10. While the conflict has eased, it is by no means over. According to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, levels of violence have increased since the start of 2013. Approximately 400,000 individuals were displaced from their homes during the first half of 2014 alone as the Darfur crisis persists.

Lauren Lewis

Sources: BBC, United Human Rights Council, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Darfur Australia Network, UNICEF, The Washington Post, Sudan Research, Analysis, Advocacy
Photo: Haiku Deck

Sudanese refugee camps
South Sudan is a country that has been torn apart by war and internal conflict for over 20 years, having only brief interludes of peace. The violence continues today, pushing many people to flee to nearby countries like Uganda and Kenya. However, the violence disrupts more than just daily lives. Over one million South Sudanese children do not attend primary school. Many have fled to Sudanese refugee camps where an education is not offered, and for those who stayed, the conditions are too dangerous to hold or attend classes.

The decades of war have damaged several generations of young Sudanese students, denying them an education. As a result, there is a high illiteracy rate in South Sudan. The adult population that grew up under the first waves of conflict, is about 73 percent illiterate. In the age range of 15 to 40, more than two million people are illiterate. Females have a higher illiteracy level because they are less likely to receive an education due to traditional customs of marrying at a young age. About 65 percent of the illiterate youth are female. About 10 percent of children, ages 6 to 17, have never been to school, with the percentage being higher in rural areas versus urban.
Several individuals, and an organization known as Project Education South Sudan, are out to give the next generation the gift of knowledge both in the country and in Sudanese refugee camps. Many believe that creating schools and educating the next generation is the best way to heal a war-torn nation. Alaak, a teacher in a Sudanese Refugee Camp in Uganda told the U.N., “Education is crucial in raising a generation of informed and skilled people, and also as a way to help children deal with the horrors they have witnessed… If you give them [children] education, they will grow up with healthy brains.”
By building schools and providing the resources in refugee camps, the teachers hope the education can encourage these students to create a peaceful South Sudan.
Katherine Hewitt

Sources: UNICEF, Project Education Sudan, NPR, UNHCR, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

refugee camps
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, 2.8 million registered refugees have fled the country and over four million have been displaced internally. With no end in sight, the United Nations has begun to rethink how to handle mass influxes of refugees in host countries.

Refugee camps have long been the main way international aid groups have sheltered people fleeing from conflicts around the world. However, this practice is being reconsidered by the UN, which hopes to place refugees in local communities as opposed to camps.

In camps, refugees often do not have the opportunity to work and are usually confined to restricted areas. However, when refugees are integrated into local communities, they are able to become more self-reliant and contribute to the local economy. This also allows the UN to utilize their funding on already existing communities, as opposed to building and maintaining brand new camps.

Although integration into local communities is preferred for refugees it is ultimately up to the host country–and many have been reluctant. Host countries often experience a drain in resources due to increases in refugee populations, fueling an increase in tensions between the two groups.

The UN hopes to convince host countries that they can benefit economically by allowing refugees to integrate. In addition to basic market advantages, host countries will also be eligible for Targeted Development Assistance (TDA).

TDA allows the UN as well as donor states (such as the United States) to specifically allocate monies to countries that host large refugee populations. The goal is to help host countries provide better security, medical assistance and supplies, as well as educational and vocational training within their existing communities. These services will not only benefit the refugees, but also the lives of the local populations.

A host country cannot be expected to bear the brunt of the refugee influx on its own. Furthermore, camp situations are often unable to provide anything beyond basic necessities, and do not allow refugees enough economic freedom to become more self-reliant. Because of this, international aid is used at a faster rate. As the world experiences a surge in refugees, rethinking how to provide a safe place for refugees while also considering the effects on local populations is essential in order to avoid the development of further conflict.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: IRIN, U.S. Department of State, The New York Times, UNHCR
Photo: IRIN

Fleeing political, racial and religious persecution, more than 15 million people worldwide have left their homes and sought safety across international borders. They are refugees; often as unwelcome in their host countries as they were in their own.

For many, it is out of the frying pan and into the fire.
International law forbids the deportation of peoples with refugee status. Still, deeply rooted ethnic and national divides can make neighboring countries reluctant to accept them.
It is estimated that half of refugees today settle in major cities. Hundreds of thousands of Somali citizens, for example, have gone not to internationally established camps, but to Nairobi, Kenya. These urban refugees, with neither shelter, funds nor connections, find themselves in situations nearly as desperate as the ones they left.
Hindered by language and social stigma, they are limited to the poorest paying jobs. Their ambiguous political standing, meanwhile, affords them none of the safeguards given to citizens of their new homes. The British organization, Hidden Lives, quotes one man, “I don’t have legal documentation. I don’t have a job. I don’t leave my house.”
Access to health care, though needed by many, is often restricted.
So why not just head for a refugee camp? Conditions there are no better. Camps are notoriously overcrowded and vulnerable to the spread of communicable disease. Violence and sexual assault goes largely unchecked. For basic needs such as food and water, refugees are reliant on international aid. Refugees also must rely on international aid for health care, education and development. Who do they rely on for security forces? International aid. International aid, unfortunately, must come in waves.
Consequently, any group that raises awareness or funds to sustain displaced peoples, in and out of country, becomes integral to their survival. None is more widely known, perhaps, than Refugees International (RI).
RI focuses on advocacy and policy reform. In addition to meeting with world leaders, it organizes 15 yearly field missions to determine the living conditions of refugees and internally displaced people across South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These missions are essential to the organization: because of the information gathered, it is an influential authority. RI is consulted on not only the need for aid, but also the amount required and its distribution.
It was RI that alerted the United Nations to the lack of post-rape kits available in the Central African Republic earlier this year. It was RI that encouraged the United States to support the Nansen initiative, which protects displaced victims of climate-related disasters. The U.S. set aside more than $150 million for the deployment of peacekeepers to the CAR at the request of the organization. In response to their report of violence against women in Syria, the United Kingdom provided more than $14 million dollars in funding.
The U.N. Refugee Agency calls 10.8 million people ‘refugees of concern.’ Almost three times as many live as IDPs. While they wait for resettlement, or war and persecution to end, they have to entrust their lives to the international community at large. But the nations most capable of giving aid are often the furthest removed. It is left to Refugees International, and organizations like it, to bridge the gap.
– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: UNHCR, Health Poverty Action, Refugees International, Hidden Lives
Photo: The Global Herald