Organizations Helping Refugees
It seems like every time I watch the news, there is a new group of refugees fleeing their native country in search of asylum from unimaginable violence. In recent months, Syrian and Sudanese refugees have been under the microscope, but there are large masses of refugees all over the world, an estimated 16.7 million according to USA for UNHCR.

A refugee is categorized as someone who “has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.”

Refugees are forced to leave their families and homes just to survive. Many, if they survive the journey, end up in countries where they have no contacts, legal or financial aid, or shelter.

Countless international refugee aid organizations and non-profits have been established since the early 20th century.

The United Nations General Assembly established a division entirely devoted to assisting refugees, the UNHCR, on Dec. 14, 1950, in the wake of the detrimental effects of World War II. The department was actually intended to be temporary. Its creators established a three-year mandate and then intended to dissolve the department. Then, in 1956, the UNHCR experienced its first national refugee emergency after Soviet forces crushed the Hungarian Revolution. From that point on, it was clear that the UNHCR was essential, with cases popping up in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere.

Today, the UNHCR is still active in refugee crises, but there are many more charities and organizations helping refugees who have been displaced by violence and fear. Refugee Action, established in 1981, is one of such charities. Volunteers organize fundraisers, petitions, and other platforms to provide refugees with legal advice and shelter in the UK.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants is another player working “to protect the rights and address the needs of persons in forced or voluntary migration worldwide by advancing fair and humane public policy, facilitating and providing direct professional services, and promoting the full participation of migrants in community life.”

Celebrities and other well-connected figureheads have taken advantage of their ample resources to contribute to refugee assistance organizations as well. Angelina Jolie, for example, one of Hollywood’s most well-known actresses and directors, was promoted to Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in April 2012.

UNHCR describes Jolie’s work for the organization as highly influential, stating, “Jolie previously represented UNHCR as a Goodwill Ambassador, and in this role she conducted more than 40 field visits around the world, becoming well-versed in the phenomenon of forced displacement and a tireless advocate on their behalf.”

Despite the quantity of refugees around the world, there are clearly many individuals, businesses and organizations helping refugees and working to assist those in need.

– Hanna Darroll

Sources: The UN Refugee Agency, The UN Refugee Agency, The UN Refugee Agency, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Refugee Action
Photo: UN News Centre

With allegations of sexual abuse by priests surfacing over the last 15 years, Catholicism has been portrayed negatively in the news. In turn, followers of the faith can have negative perceptions upon hearing that their beloved religious leaders have a darker, more tainted morality.

Despite the ignominy, moral Catholics continue to do volunteer work for the greater good. One of the least acknowledged organizations of the church is the International Catholic Migration Commission.

Founded in 1951, the ICMC is dedicated to the service and protection of geographically displaced people, namely refugees and migrants. It also serves people who have been internally displaced, or exiled from their homes while staying within the borders of their native countries.

Most importantly, the ICMC’s services are not restricted to members of the Christian faith. A photo on the organization’s website says it all. A smattering of huddled refugees take shelter under gold ponchos and blue blankets on the deck of a boat while it sails towards the sunrise, toward hope of a safe haven.

Its workers have proved their integrity time and time again. During the past 15 years alone, agents of the ICMC have been aiding and sheltering victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Syria.

Because the ICMC has reserved locations in many impoverished countries, its agents are often able to step in more quickly than governmental aid organizations. The work that they do in these crises is truly invaluable.

But the media will not cover it. Why? Because it is biased toward sensationalism. While members of other religious groups forge terrorist attacks upon developed countries whose people become a tad too liberal in their mockery, Christians are almost disturbingly accepting of attacks on their faith.

As a consequence of sensationalism and freedom of the press, the public views Muslims as the ultimate villains, Christians as ignorant bigots and Judaism as the only religious group that can do absolutely no wrong. All three biases are misplaced.

Furthermore, the media is talking out of two sides of its mouth. According to the Pew Forum 2007 survey, African Americans made up the most religious racial group, with 85% practicing some denomination of Christianity. Another huge swath of Christians is Hispanic. Yet the press likes to overlook these statistics, praising Obama as the first African American president and peddling the rights of illegal immigrants while mocking the religious practices and beliefs of Blacks and Latinos.

What lies at the root of these religious prejudices is the layman’s demand for ancient belief systems to conform and adapt to modern social issues. Religious leaders and followers of all faiths are then forced to reconcile what are sometimes conflicting imperatives.

Child molestation is unambiguously wrong. Subjugation of women by religious leaders is wrong. But giving the media of any nation as much moral authority as the American media effectively claims only works to throw decent people who happen to be religious in the middle of an incessant sociopolitical campaign.

Criticism of religious institutions, much like the racially slanted coverage of police shootings, only works to fuel conflicts in both the United States and developing nations. It inspires people to shoot police officers vigilante-style and rant about archaic beliefs while religious individuals in poorer countries continue to face discrimination and crimes against humanity.

Perhaps the solution ought not to be found among the hateful organizations that yell loudest, but rather among the unsung heroes like members of the ICMC. As the overlooked saviors of media-portrayed victims, they may be the most ironic and unexpected heroes of all.

– Leah Zazofsky

Sources: ICMC, International Catholic Migration Commission, Pew Forum, Pew Research, UNHCR, Voice of America
Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Riley

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

afghan radio
In Afghanistan, many families suffer from the fear of not knowing where their family members are. But after thirty years of war, attention is finally being drawn to the issue.

An Afghan radio program called “In Search of the Missing” airs twice a week and takes calls from families who want to know where their missing family member could be, regardless of how long it has been since they last saw them. During three decades of war, approximately one million Afghans have gone missing, according to officials, and this number is rapidly growing as the battle against the Taliban continues.

Disappearances in Afghanistan are something that people have come to expect. The Afghan radio program has helped reunite over a dozen families and has provided answers to several others. It is a beacon of hope for a country of 30 million. Afghans make up the largest portion of the world’s refugees with a population of around 2.5 million people, and another 600,000 displaced in their own country.

A report from 2013 by the Physicians for Human Rights states that it has become commonplace in the daily lives of Afghan people for people to go missing, “throughout decades of conflict, massive displacements, deaths and disappearances.” The missing include young girls seeking a way out of forced marriages, young boys and others who disappeared during the Soviet invasion and civil war in the 1990s.

Despite the fact that it is commonplace for citizens to go missing, many Afghan people hadn’t realized the severity of the situation until “In Search of the Missing” aired ten years ago. Today, about one million people tune into the Afghan radio show.

Founded in 2004 by Zarif Nazar, the Afghan radio program aims to locate missing Afghans by airing stories shared by relatives in hopes that a listener may know where the relative is or even what happened to them. Since the Afghan government currently has no program in place to locate missing citizens, many of the Afghan people call the radio program, preferring to put their faith in listeners of the program rather than the government.

In 2013, Dutch investigators revealed a list of around 5,000 men and women who were presumed missing, but had actually been killed by the Afghan government in 1978 and 1979, providing answers for many families. While the Afghan government had originally compiled the list, it had not been made public.

“There are thousands of people who have no proof,” said Hafiz Rasikh, the head of political affairs for the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan. The group’s main platform is to gain clarity from the government regarding those who are missing. “Maybe they think their relatives were killed, but they can’t be sure.”

Because of the Afghan radio program, siblings living in Canada managed to locate their father 15 years after the Taliban arrested him. The program has had its share of successes in reuniting families divided by borders and even oceans.

-Monica Newell

Sources: The Island Packet, Arab News
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

asylum in australia
Forty-one Sri Lankan citizens returned to their country after being denied entry into Australia. The asylum-seekers were handed over to the Sri Lankan navy without a thorough investigation by Australian authorities. They face charges when they return to their home country.

The returned citizens face a charge of illegally leaving the country. Their sentence will include “rigorous imprisonment,” along with a fine. Although the civil war ended in 2009, human rights violations that existed during the conflict continue; imprisonment in Sri Lanka is still sometimes inhumane. There have been 75 documented cases of torture since the end of the war, according to Human Rights Watch. This includes instances of rape of both men and women. Very few of these human rights abuses are punished.

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has adopted a policy of limiting refugees who enter the country, which is a popular destination for asylum seekers. This has led to a shoddy screening process for the 90 percent of Sri Lankans who attempt to enter Australia. Many boats are turned around on their way to Australia, and dozens of people have drowned because of boats capsizing.

While it is legal to return citizens when they are thoroughly screened and found to not need protection, this was not done. A hasty analysis was performed while still on the water, and no investigation was performed to determine whether the 41 Sri Lankans were in need of asylum. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees commented that Australia has a previous record of illegal screening practices for asylum-seekers.

Two boats were intercepted 12 miles from Australia. While the 41 were handed over, another 153 are still waiting on the sea to learn their fate. The first departed directly from Sri Lanka, while the other originated from the south Indian coast, from Pondicherry. They have been moved to an Australian navy ship. Although first denied, the Australian government has finally acknowledged this second ship’s existence.

Among these people trapped in limbo, 37 are children. Most of those seeking asylum in Australia are minority Tamils, who still face persecution despite the end of the conflict in their home country.

The 153 are awaiting a decision from an injunction called for by the Australian High Court. Numerous legal experts in Australia have commented on the human rights violations by their country. The decision to return the 41 Sri Lankans, and the potential return of the other 153, violate international law and the refugee convention.

The Prime Minister promised not to return the 153 without 72 hours’ notice, and a court hearing on Tuesday will determine what will happen to those still on the water.

Government lawyers have claimed those on board have no right to seek asylum because the ship was stopped outside of Australia’s immigration zone. It is possible the refugees will be sent to Papua New Guinea for further processing.

People on board have reached out to journalists and refugee advocates through satellite phones to advocate for their cause. Their families are also expressing concern for their safe arrival. One man stated through an interpreter, “I am desperate to know where my family is. I can’t function at all not knowing. I know all of them would be in very big trouble if sent back to Sri Lanka.”

– Monica Roth

Sources: The Independent, The Guardian, The Guardian, NPR, The Australian
Photo: Napalese Voice

refugees attempt entry
Thousands of refugees attempt entry into the European Union by crossing the Mediterranean Sea using unstable equipment, driven by their desperate seeking of asylum. Within the first months of 2014, over 500 refugees have died on this trek, a number that enrages many leaders within the EU.

Few of the 28 states that comprise the EU allow more than a few thousand refugees. Some countries demonstrate extreme generosity, however, “Today around half of the (EU) countries have said that they would engage in resettlement from Syria. I think all 28 (EU member states) should,” says an EU official.

To date, Europe has accepted a mere 100,000 refugees from the three-year-long civil war conflict in Syria in comparison to Syria’s neighbors where over three million displaced people have found safety and solace.

Should the EU provide faster approval and more open regulations for refugees, events such as the discovery of 30 deceased refugees in the middle of the Mediterranean could be prevented. This horrific finding left much of the EU dismayed. Prior to the finding, many were unaware of the need.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom spoke openly about the increasing number of people in need, announced at a news conference that the “European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which said the number of people applying for asylum in the EU rose 30 percent to 435,760 in 2013, the highest figure since the EU began collecting data in 2008,” drawing attention to the problem many EU officials have slid under the rug for many years. The rapid increase demonstrates the necessity for EU members to alter their refugee application processing procedures.

Malmstrom goes on to acknowledge, “we have in our immediate neighborhood a very worrying situation, in Syria of course, Iraq, Ukraine and several parts of North Africa.” He voices concern for areas of conflict that the EU could potentially intervene in should refugee applications be accepted.

Countries like Syria and Russia sit atop the list with the highest entry requests to the EU, Syria sending in 50,495 applications and Russia with around 41,000 pleas for help. Both countries experience severe demonstrations of lack of human rights, Syrians and Russians are among many who search for the same open door.

By the end of 2013, there were over 352,000 people awaiting answers from the EU regarding entry. In order to tackle the human rights violations occurring in multiple areas, the EU must attend to these people and offer them the safety they cannot find elsewhere.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Euractiv 1, Euractiv 2, Kuwait News Agency
Photo: UN News Centre

In 2013, tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children crossed the U.S. border. Most come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and are fleeing their home countries because of poverty and violence. The rising numbers of child immigrants are bringing the issue to the forefront of Washington’s political debate.

“I am personally appalled by the staggering numbers of minors — sometimes 5 and 6-year-olds — who are left with no other choice but to cross the desert by themselves,” says Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Ted Menendez (D-NJ).

There is a growing movement of minors crossing the Mexico-U.S. border in Texas, and allowing themselves to be arrested. In 2013, the Office of Refugee Resettlement took in 24,668 unaccompanied minor immigrants, up from the average of 7,000 a year in the early 2000s. This sharp increase in numbers is explained by critical lawmakers as children taking advantage of U.S. policy on child immigrants from Central American countries. The policy allows such children to live with an adult in the U.S. from the time of their arrest until their court date.

Many more than the 24,668 taken in by the Office of Refugee Resettlement cross the border without notice by authorities. Still thousands more never make it to the border. As of June 2014, Mexico has deported 4,500 U.S. bound child immigrants from Honduras alone.

Poverty and violence are the two main factors driving people out of Honduras. Mario Aquino Vasquez is a security guard in Las Brisas, a neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, one of Honduras’ most violent cities. He describes the constant gang raids in the neighborhood: “If you were held at gunpoint and you didn’t give up everything you owned, they would kill you.” The dirt roads and shack-like houses of Las Brisas represent the 60 percent of Hondurans living below the poverty line.

James Nealon, nominee for the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, addresses the issue of unaccompanied minors fleeing a poverty stricken country. The issue stems from a complex system of narcotics trafficking and organized crime. In order to address the corruption, Nealon explains, the U.S. must assist Honduras in establishing democratic intuitions, in fostering respect for the rule of law and in the successful prosecution of criminals.

He confirms that it is in the U.S. interest to promote stability in Honduras. A stable Honduras means a stronger trading partner for the U.S. and fewer drugs making their way to the U.S. All of this will indirectly result in less unaccompanied minors making the dangerous journey across the U.S. border. Learn more about poverty in Honduras.

— Julianne O’Connor

Sources: USA Today, World Bank, CNN, U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations 1, U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations 2
Photo: America Aljazeera

Trade Fair Innovative Global Development DRC Congo
A collaboration between the Salvation Army and the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has spawned a new means of delivering aid to the displaced. CHF, managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, are country-based funds around the world that collect money from donors to create a pool of funds from which aid agencies can then withdraw to meet urgent needs quickly and effectively. The CHF’s most recent role was to provide the financial backing for a trade fair in the village of Kambilo, home to about 127,000 people who fled the fighting in nearby Manono this year.

The scene would be a familiar sight to many around the world, with vendors setting up their goods on one side of a field and prospective shoppers lined up by the hundreds on the other side. What differentiates this fair from a common farmer’s market, however, is that shoppers are displaced persons looking to replace the basic supplies that they had to leave behind.

Trade fairs offer an alternative approach to providing aid that aims to preserve the dignity of those who have already suffered so much. Traditionally, NGOs and UN agencies have provided standard kits containing predefined basic necessities in mass quantities to Internally Displaced People (IDPs, or those who have been displaced within the borders of their own country).

According to Alain Decoux, the head of the CHF in DRC, “trade fairs” provide a more dignified means of ensuring that needs are met without removing a sense of autonomy from the process. “While they wait to return home,” he says “we want to rebuild the sense of empowerment and responsibility over their lives.”

At the fair, each family is given coupons worth a total of US$90. These coupons take the place of cash and can be traded for goods at the various stalls. The local merchants can then exchange these coupons for cash from the NGOs that are involved with the fair. This system mitigates the economic risk faced by small businesses when an area receives a large influx of free aid, thus providing a boost to the local economy. The trade fair also enables the displaced to purchase the goods that they need the most rather than those deemed necessary by outside agencies. For Nadège Zawadi, the mother of four with a fifth child on the way, this meant buying a bit of canvas to stop her straw roof from leaking. The fair also allowed her to purchase kitchen utensils to prepare food and clothing for herself and her children.

Though this fair is the first of its kind in Kambilo, it is not unique in DCR. Specifically, the CHF funded 23 such fairs across the country in 2012, injecting a total $16.3 million into local economies and providing aid to more than 26,000 families.

Though the trade fair is still a relatively new approach to aid provisioning, it has thus far met with resounding success. IDPs can purchase the goods that they need to survive while maintaining both their freedom and dignity.

– Rebecca Beyer
Feature Writer

Sources: OCHA, Relief Web
Photo: Landmark Education News


The American Refugee Committee (ARC) is an international nonprofit organization that has provided humanitarian assistance and training to millions of beneficiaries over the past 35 years. The ARC works with refugee communities in eight countries around the world – Haiti, Liberia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, and Uganda. The people ARC serve have experienced devastating circumstances leaving many of them with nothing. ARC provides them with a number of resources including shelter, clean water, sanitation, healthcare, skills training, education, protection and whatever additional support needed for new beginning.

The Mission
The ARC works hand in hand with its partners and constituencies to provide unique opportunities to refugees, displaced people, and host communities. The goal is to help these people survive conflict and crisis and rebuild lives of dignity, health, security and self-sufficiency.

Programs and Services
Conflict and disaster have devastated numerous countries throughout the world, forcing many innocent victims to flee for safety, sometimes with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. ARC programs are formed by listening to the people they serve, understanding existing problems, designing practical responses, and training survivors to endure the work even after the peace is restored. The ARC also provides a number of beneficial services including gender-based violence prevention and response, economic opportunity development services, and reproductive healthcare services.

What is ARC Doing?
Recently many of ARC’s aid workers have been helping Syrian refugees who have fled the civil war. The camp, located in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, is currently sheltering more than 100,000 people. The camp only represents a small portion of refugees who have been forced out of their homes by the Syrian conflict that has been taking place for more than two years. ARC officials expect the organization will remain in Jordan for while to help provide water and sanitation for another refugee camp that is being planned there. The new camp will potentially handle as many Syrian refugees as the original camp.

How You Can Help
The smallest act of kindness can make a huge difference. Any amount of effort or support can be helpful to people with nowhere to go. There are a number of ways to get involved:

  1. Send an E-Card: Email a family member an ARC E-Card on a birthday or holiday. The E-Card includes a photo of a refugee and their story.
  2. Volunteer: Help raise awareness of the circumstances of refugees. Reach beyond your community by volunteering or interning at an ARC overseas location.
  3. ARC Events: Attend an event and learn more about the work of ARC and the global refugee crisis.
  4. Introduce ARC: Tell people you know about the work of ARC. Introduce them friends, family, peers, everyone!
  5. Make a Donation: Even a small donation can save lives.

– Scarlet Shelton

Sources: ARC Relief Twin Cities
Photo: Global Impact

Syria Refugees
Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, over 1.7 million people have fled Syria seeking refuge in the surrounding countries. Lebanon has received the largest number of refugees in the region. The United Nations Humanitarian Chief recently visited Lebanon and is now calling for increased support to help the country handle the burden of caring for these refugees.

“Since my last visit to Lebanon just six months ago, the number of refugees has increased by more than 200 percent,” Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said in Beirut, at the end of her visit. “By the end of the year, refugees could make up 20 per cent of Lebanon’s population.”

To support over half a million Syrian refugees, Lebanon will need more humanitarian aid than ever before. Last month, the U.N. launched a $3 billion appeal to provide life-saving aid and protection to Syrian refugees. Of this $3 billion, Lebanon was allocated $1.7 billion. However, humanitarian organizations and the Lebanese government have only received 15% of the funding needed so far, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“The Government and people of Lebanon have opened their borders and doors to their Syrian neighbors in time of need,” said Ms. Amos,“And the crisis is taking a toll on the economy and on the provision of basic services, such as health and education, in the country.”

On her visit, Ms. Amos visited the Bekaa region of Lebanon, which is home to 180,000 refugees. After her visit to the settlements Ms. Amos commented, “Over 50% of the Syrian refugees here are children. It is Syria’s future that is being blighted. We need to do all we can to support the Lebanese Government…if you have thousands of refugees crossing the border every day, it’s a huge burden not just on the country but also on the people who are hosting the refugees.”

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: UN News, UNHCR