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Refugees in LibyaHundreds of thousands of refugees have passed through Libya on their journey toward Europe, where they cross a short distance over the sea from Libya into Lampedusa, Italy. These refugees in Libya face grave danger from Libya’s Islamic State militant group and from human traffickers.

The Libyan government must take the steps necessary to protect these refugees; however, Libya has been without a centralized government since 2014. Here are ten facts that outline the trials and tribulations faced on the journey of refugees in Libya:

  1. The number of refugees passing through Libya has quadrupled since 2013. The increase in refugee traffic results in an increase in migration through Europe, where refugees are able to create their new lives.
  2. Previously, 87 percent of the almost one million refugees who crossed into Europe arrived through Greece. Now these refugees have been redirected through Libya as a result of the EU-Turkey deal that resettles one refugee for everyone turned away.
  3. These hundreds of thousands of refugees in Libya are traveling from over 12 countries, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa. Refugees face many dangers on their journey, but the new start that awaits them beyond the Libyan border is motivation enough to brave any sort of obstacles.
  4. However, refugees who do pass across the Libyan border are sometimes intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and detained in overcrowded detention centers until they are deported back to their home countries.
  5. Aside from the coast guard, many refugees are taken in by human traffickers and subject to torture. This results from a lack of government centralization and control to reduce the crime that occurs in Libya, which could be improved by foreign aid to assist the Libyan government to create a safer environment for its citizens.
  6. Armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also intercept refugees on their journey toward Europe. These armed groups are able to infest Libya by way of a weak government that has little ability to remove or keep out these dangers, though the Libyan government also poses a danger to its citizens.
  7. Refugees in Libya are at great risk of religious persecution. Those who are persecuted can be detained by the Libyan government.
  8. Female refugees in Libya can face rape and starvation at the hands of human traffickers or smugglers who sell them to criminal gangs. Despite it being incredibly dangerous for refugees to pass through Libya, many still risk it to cross into Europe.
  9.  Mass rape is such a significant issue for refugees in Libya that women often take contraceptive pills before traveling through the area.
  10. The deputy director of Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa has called for the Libyan government and authorities as well as the European Union to protect refugees from abuse as they pass through Libya.

In order to protect refugees from facing abuse, the Libyan government and the EU should focus on finding safer routes and methods of exit for the refugees who are trapped in Libya instead of focusing on keeping refugees away. Refugees who come from over a dozen countries to pass through Libya may traverse dangerous roads, but it is with the intent to create new lives for the refugees and their families.

Amanda Panella

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Central African Republic

The recent internal conflict in Central African Republic has prompted many of its citizens to flee to neighboring nations or safer places within the country. After settling into host communities, UNHCR (the United Nations refugee agency) has been able to provide assistance to the refugees and help them acclimate to new areas.

Here are six facts that you should know about refugees in the Central African Republic:

  1. Nearly 418,000 refugees in the Central African Republic are internally displaced because of the current conflict in the country. However, even prior to these issues many neighboring cities and countries were already hosting refugees from the Central African Republic. The new influx of refugees has prompted new response plans to accommodate these people, such as the CAR Regional Refugee Response Plan.
  2. Including those who are internally displaced, there are approximately 2.7 million people who are in need of humanitarian assistance, as well as 2.4 million children who are affected by the crisis.
  3. Almost one million citizens have fled their homes to seek refuge in local mosques and churches, or as far as Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After these journeys, many arrive having endured brutal attacks from heavily armed fighters along the way and are suffering from extreme malnutrition.
  4. The majority of these refugees are able to successfully settle into host villages or refugee camps. Here, UNHCR and partners provide basic social services and help the refugees to integrate into their new homes.
  5. UNHCR has received $24.7 million in aid to assist refugees in the Central African Republic. However, this is only 11 percent of the original $225.5 million that the organization appealed for. Foreign aid continues to help refugees become comfortable in their new surroundings, providing for basic needs and protection while they acclimatize.
  6. However, the basic needs of the refugees in the Central African Republic surpass the amount of aid that has been provided. More than 20 percent of the refugees arriving in camps are vulnerable with specific needs and health issues, such as malaria and malnutrition. While the UNHCR teams work to provide things such as emergency supplies and medical care, there is not enough funding to provide optimal assistance.

While UNHCR cannot provide the amount of assistance necessary, it has still been successful at helping refugees to acclimate to their host communities. As the internal conflict in the Central African Republic continues, foreign aid will continue to assist those who turn to host communities for refuge.

Amanda Panella

Photo: Flickr

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

Facts About Myanmar RefugeesMyanmar was previously known as Burma until the ruling junta changed the country’s name in 1989. It is an ethnically and religiously diverse country with a history of conflict and violence. This history has resulted in thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing and/or settling in Myanmar’s borders. Here are 10 facts about Myanmar refugees:

  1. According to The Border Consortium, a total of 108,407 refugees fleeing political upheaval, civil strife and economic stagnation in Myanmar were living in refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border as of April 2015.
  2. In addition to refugees, the IDMC estimates that there were up to 662,400 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Myanmar as of March 2015.
  3. The Rohingya Muslims are Myanmar’s largest group of stateless people and number 1.45 million as of 2014.
  4. The government does not recognize the Rohingya as a “national race” and has stripped them of their citizenship.
  5. Under the Rakhine State Action Plan that was drafted in October 2014, the Rohingya must demonstrate their family has lived in Myanmar for least 60 years to qualify for a lesser naturalized citizenship and the classification of Bengali, or they are put in detention camps and face deportation.
  6. Bangladesh struggles to accommodate the 29,000 Rohingya Muslims living as refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
  7. None of the countries harboring large refugee populations from Myanmar have signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Several countries changed their policies in order to cultivate better relations with the Myanmar government.
  8. As a result of not signing the Geneva Convention, refugees found outside refugee camps in Thailand are treated the same as illegal immigrants.
  9. Thai authorities have not allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to register more than a few refugees since 2006. Without registration, refugees cannot apply for resettlement or for most university scholarships abroad.
  10. Mae La is the largest refugee camp in Thailand. Established in 1984, the camp houses 50,000 refugees. Although over 90 percent of the refugees are Karen, Mae La is the most ethnically and religiously diverse camp along the Thai-Myanmar border. The Border Consortium—a union of 11 international NGOs that provide shelter, food and non-food items to Myanmar refugees—oversees and runs the camp.

While these 10 facts about Myanmar refugees are not an exhaustive list, they provide insight into how thousands of underprivileged people live in a system that seems to work against them.

Alexis Pierce

Photo: Reuters

Refugee
June 20, 2016 was recognized by organizations, communities and leaders alike as World Refugee Day. According to a report conducted by the United Nations, there is a record number of 65.3 million refugees who were displaced due to war by the end of 2015. This is more than the population of France, California, and Texas combined, with more than half of these refugees being children.

With such a high traffic of refugees being displaced globally, understanding the truth about this displaced population is more relevant than ever. Recent studies have shown an increase in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments in classrooms and the workplace. One such study, conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed in a survey that included over a third of American teachers reported an increase of anti-immigrant sentiments in their classrooms.

However, these sentiments are often caused by general fear and media misrepresentation rather than the refugees themselves. In fact, refugees are very beneficial to the communities they move in to, offering an increase in both civic participation and great economic contributions. World Refugee Day sheds light on these facts and aids in the perception of refugees.

A recent study of refugees residing in Columbus Ohio showed that these displaced families and individuals made economic contributions of about $1.6 million. Moreover, these refugees also contributed to social diversity as well which is ultimately conducive to building a more globalized identity.

Refugee settlement and mentor programs, such as those conducted by The Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO), which spur acceptance, tolerance and the chance at assimilation for many displaced individuals and families result in amazing rewards for the communities that establish them.

According to a study by The Refugee Integration Survey and Evaluation (RISE), which focused on the integration progress of refugees over a span of five years, most refugees offer valuable and productive roles in the communities they are displaced to. Programs such as those conducted by CCANO simply quicken the process. And events, such as those in Rochester, New York on June 18, 2016, held in honor of World Refugee Day, allow refugees to share their stories as well as their cultures, reminding us that these displaced people are first and foremost, people.

Jenna Salisbury

Photo: Flickr

Ways to Host Refugees AmericaIncreased media coverage of the global refugee crisis has prompted waves of humanitarian support and local activism across the world. Iceland made headlines when 10,000 of its citizens volunteered to house personally refugees coming from Syria, and others have followed suit in finding ways to host refugees, from Berlin to Birmingham.

Wondering about ways to host refugees in your home? Not everyone can personally provide housing, but below are three simple ways to get started in the effort to welcome refugees to America.

3 Ways to Host Refugees in America

  1. Become aware of local need. It’s easier than ever to become connected to relief and charitable organizations near you. Some of the largest and most wide-reaching of resettlement agencies in the United States are the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services, both of which organize humanitarian aid in over 100 U.S. cities. Spend some time reaching out to charitable organizations in your area to find out what their current needs are, who their clients are, and what types of schools, health or religious organizations work with them.
  2. Consider temporarily housing a refugee. Although refugees admitted to the United States for resettlement are usually quickly connected with local relief agencies, refugees are often vulnerable to unstable housing conditions or even homelessness. Several U.S. and international agencies are searching for individuals and families with extra rooms that they are willing to use to host recently arrived refugees, especially those in crisis or extreme circumstances. Connect with Room for Refugees, which specializes in providing safe temporary housing for refugees living in the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe and Canada. The chance to personally share your home with a refugee can be immensely rewarding, and provide desperately needed help for those adjusting to life in a new place. Looking for ways to host refugees in your home? Search for organizations like the Karam Foundation, a nonprofit group providing aid for Syrians, which is currently seeking to help new refugees find housing with Americans of Syrian descent. Many private nonprofit organizations are seeking to connect refugees with a variety of services for temporary housing, and your opportunity to help could be as close as your front door.
  3. Consider ways to host refugees by connecting them with neighbors. Becoming a friend and neighbor to refugees struggling to resettle may be the most powerful way to combat hateful rhetoric, both in the U.S. and abroad. Agencies like the International Rescue Committee, among others, place a high priority on helping refugee families find friends, neighbors and support structures within their new communities. When the 2015 cap for U.S. resettlement of refugees was raised to 85,000 from 70,000, it prompted waves of polarization and xenophobia across the country. A Pew Research Center survey even showed that a majority of Americans disapprove of helping to resettle more Syrians within our borders. The International Rescue Committee, along with other agencies, regularly recruit home mentors for refugee families, providing you with the opportunity to welcome your new friends into your home, or you into theirs, as you solidify a new friendship.Other aid agencies are in constant need of home tutors, both for students struggling to adjust to life in American public schools, as well as adults returning to school or learning English as a second language.

    While in-kind and monetary donations of food, clothing, furniture and supplies can help a refugee family build a home, the chance to be a family mentor, tutor or friend may do more to help refugees feel like they belong.

The U.S. admits record numbers of refugees, but schools and government agencies still struggle to help refugees feel at home and safe. Helping to find ways to host refugees and opening your home, either literally or otherwise, is a critical opportunity to be part of solving the world’s worst refugee crisis in 70 years. More importantly, it’s a chance to help your neighbors know that they belong.

Eliza Campbell

Photo: U.N. Multimedia

RefugeesFilm is undoubtedly one of the most compelling forms of storytelling and some of the most powerful yet untold stories are those of the refugees.  Many millions have left their homelands and travelled across the globe throughout history, inspiring film-makers to capture their journeys. Here are four movies about refugees—two older, fictional films and two newer, real-life stories—that portray the experiences of refugees in an important and meaningful way. Although this list is only comprised of four movies about refugees, hundreds of documentaries, feature films and shorts are available online and in stores.

Fiction

In This World (2002): Shot like a documentary, In This World portrays two Afghan refugees’ land journey. Unlike many other fictitious films about refugees, this film shows a fairly complete picture of a refugee’s journey, which includes the endless hours of waiting, hours of panic, and brief, beautiful moments of hope.

Welcome (2009): A beautiful, artistic and rather unsentimental picture of one Iraqi Kurd’s attempt to swim the English Channel in order to gain asylum, this French film portrays the stark situation of many homeless refugees living in France at the time and the legal dangers that awaited the French people who helped asylum-seekers.

Documentaries

The Land Between (2014): Documenting the everyday lives of Sub-Saharan migrants trapped between their homelands and the prospect of a new life in Europe, The Land Between addresses one of the most important questions of all migrant crises, whether past, present or future: why, and how, do people risk their lives and everything they own?

Neuland (2015): Neuland explores the lives of immigrants and refugees from all over the globe as they acclimate to life in Switzerland. Following the students in one class, the film shows the hardships and joys of building a new life in a foreign country.

In addition to many other full-length fictitious and real-life movies about refugees, many organizations, like Amnesty International, compile short films to spread awareness about refugees. In the end, whether short or long, real or imagined, movies about refugees provide an invaluable window into the lives of victims from all over the world.

Sage Smiley

Photo: Flickr

Google to Raise Millions for Refugee Aid
With the refugee crisis in Syria showing no signs of slowing down, any help provided to those in need could potentially save lives. With this in mind, Google has taken the initiative to offer refugee aid by matching donations up to millions of dollars.

The tech giant has pledged to match up to approximately $5.5 million in donations to various human rights organizations. The four organizations the money will go toward will be Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Google has already built itself a sizable reputation as a charitable company. Google has previously donated over $1 million to various relief efforts. Google is hoping that this latest effort will snowball and lead to around $11 million in donations overall.

“These nonprofits are helping deliver essential assistance, including shelter, food and water and medical care, and looking after the security and rights of people in need,” Google said in a recent statement.

Adding a more personal touch to the push, this announcement was accompanied by a blog post from Google employee Rita Masoud, who fled from Kabul to Europe when she was a child.

“Our journey involved many dark train and bus rides, as well as hunger, thirst, cold and fear,” Masoud wrote. “Fortunately we received asylum in The Netherlands where I grew up in a safe environment and was able to find my way in life. I was lucky. But as the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe has grown, many people like my family are desperate for help.”

The campaign can be located here at Refugee Relief.

Alexander Jones

Sources: CNBC, Engadget, USA Today
Photo: Google Images

Why Are Libyan Refugees Drowning At Sea?-TBP
The distance from Benghazi to Sigonella, Sicily is 470 miles. On a small and inefficient fishing boat, that could be two to three weeks at sea. Ahmad, like all Libyan refugees, must be ready to endure an extremely dangerous voyage upon a vessel crammed over capacity. He must be ready to not have adequate water and food as he and many others navigate the perilous waves and winds of the Mediterranean Sea. In the back of his mind, he is aware that he may drown, like the 800 Libyan refugees in April of 2015 when their over-packed fishing boat capsized.

Yet, he is willing to make the sacrifice for a supposedly better life. So why are he and countless other Libyan refugees willing to drown at sea for this trip? The answer is not simply due to political violence and warring factions that fight for control of precious resources and cities. The situation is far more complex, but one of the main reasons is the inadequate aid that Libya’s health and educational systems are receiving after NATO’s military intervention in 2011.

In 2010, barring debates of human rights violations, Libya was considered an economic jewel of Northern Africa. Life expectancy was higher than anywhere else in Africa and the Middle East. Children between the ages of one and two years of age had a 98% immunization rate against measles, and 97% of the population had access to improved sanitation facilities.

Education was another bright spot for the nation. Women’s education was the most progressive in Northern Africa, where over 50% of university enrollment were women. According to data from the United Nations, primary-secondary enrollment ratio (female/male per 100) between 2006 and 2012 was 112.5 to 106.0.

Today, the educational system in Libya is in complete shambles. A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson explained that one of the main areas of concern for Benghazi was the closure of over 60 schools and universities. Instead of teaching, many of the schools are now public housing for displaced Libyans. As the next generation becomes uneducated, they are more likely to join extremist groups in hopes of achieving work and status.

The lack of access to medical treatment is taking its toll on the country’s vulnerable population. In a World Health Organization (WHO) report from January 2015, Libya’s hospitals are overburdened with internally displaced persons (IDPs). There is an increasing strain on Emergency Medical Services (including obstetric care) and insufficient capacity of health services to cope with increasing numbers requiring emergency healthcare due to decreased staff numbers.

On top of the lack of staff and facilities, there is a significant risk of transmission of communicable disease (TB, HIV and possibly Ebola) through the thousands of illegal immigrants passing through Libya. The report also states that there is “an increased possibility of outbreaks (especially measles) due to the recent displacement and the disruption of the primary health care network in the main cities.”

Since the start of the year, there are an estimated 150,000 refugees migrating to Europe. That number is only likely to increase.

Countries such as Italy and Greece have been overwhelmed by the majority of refugees. On June 14 of this year, the Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi addressed the European Union (EU) insisting that “Europe’s answers have so far have not been good enough.” He urges the EU to aid in setting up refugee processing camps in Libya to help with the relocation process.

This is, however, not enough, as processing camps will eventually become overwhelmed with escaping refugees. More aid is needed to address the growing needs of the Libyan people. In March, WHO delivered medical supplies to help serve 250,000 people. The aid was donated by Italy and the Central Emergency Response Fund.

On May 21, the United Nations hunger relief agency delivered ten trucks with food and humanitarian relief. In conjunction with the World Food Programme, they aim to provide life-saving assistance to over 243,000 IDPs over the course of six months. Unfortunately, no aid was delivered in March and April due to lack of funding, and another $14 million is needed to ensure the food operation continues uninterrupted.

The United States and its allies must send foreign aid to Libya for the rebuilding of the health and education systems. Libya is slowly heading down the same path as Iraq and Syria. If no aid is sent, the migration pressure on Europe will become too strenuous, eventually affecting that region. If the Libyan people are not assisted and more take to the seas, the economic conditions will further worsen in Europe, which in turn, will not bode well for the United States.

– Adnan Khalid

Sources: Centre for Research on Globalization, Free Map Tools, The Guardian, UN Data, UN 1, UN 2 UN Refugee Agency, WHO 1, WHO 2, World Bank
Photo: Esquire

iraqi_kurdistanThere has been no shortage of news in the past year about the refugee situation wrought by the activities of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, which has displaced an approximate 1.8 million Iraqis this year — 800,000 of whom have fled to safer Iraqi Kurdistan. Currently home to one of the largest numbers of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in the world, according to UNESCO, facilities in Iraqi Kurdistan have struggled in the past year to compensate for the strain placed upon them by refugees and IDPs.

However, often overlooked in the news are the smaller stories of hope, which residents of these refugee camps are attempting to stake out a better future for themselves and their children.

One such tale can be found in the Mar Elia refugee camp in the Christian neighborhood of Ankawa, located in the larger region of Erbil; the unofficial capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Opened by Douglas al-Bazi, Mar Elia started out as an empty lot surrounding al-Bazi’s office in the Mar Elia Chaldean Church. Today, however, the refugee camp holds 500 displaced refugees—most of whom are Christians and also boasts enviable facilities for its residents such as a large playground, a volleyball court, ping-pong tables, and a set of swings.

The most important features of the camp, however, are the two classrooms that flank either side of the camp’s entrance. These classrooms, which are stocked with books, textbooks, and musical instruments, reflect the most unusual aspect of the Mar Elia camp, the emphasis placed upon education.

According to al-Bazi, he has received a lot of criticism for spending so much money on education from workers in neighboring camps in the Erbil region of Iraqi Kurdistan, such as Baharka, which hosts 4,000 displaced Iraqis yet receives fewer funding. Mar Elia, with its unique focus on education, seems out of place compared to the dozens of other poorly-funded camps built in Iraqi Kurdistan, which have sprung up since IS seized several cities in the Northern area of Iraq in the summer of 2014–including the mostly Christian area of Mosul.

Al-Bazi, however, has countered these critiques by arguing that “it’s not empty stomachs that destroyed [Iraq]; it’s empty minds.” Al-Bazi also believes that “it’s easy for IS to thrive among abandoned people”–especially among refugee youths who have been mentally abandoned by a strained aid system that has struggled to meet the educational needs of the thousands of IDPs living within Iraqi Kurdistan.

Al-Bazi thus believes that education can provide a mental shield to children and youths living in Mar Elia; which can in turn protect them from being sucked into the activities and lure of the Islamic State.

Commenting on the situation in Iraq, Zayad Abdulqadir, Advisor to the Minister of Education in the Kurdistan Regional Government stated that “as the number of IDPs in Kurdistan increases due to the crisis in Iraq, Kurdistan faces the difficult challenge of providing educational opportunities for all of them.”

In the midst of this, students and inhabitants of Mar Elia, who are called “relatives” by Mar Elia volunteer, continue to take daily lessons from a variety of courses on offer such as violin lessons.

Next year, al-Bazi hopes to include Spanish and Italian lessons in the Mar Elia curriculum.

– Ana Powell

Sources: Al-Fanar Media Al Monitor, UNESCO
Photo: Al Monitor