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The recent use of chemical weapons in Syria has once again brought attention to the country and its citizens, those remaining within Syrian territory and facts about refugees who have been forced to flee. The conflict in Syria has created an unprecedented amount of refugees, the largest number on record. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees defines a refugee as “any person forced to flee from their country by violence or persecution.”

The journey of the refugee is riddled with uncertainty. The person is forced to leave their home and become an asylum seeker. The asylum seeker enters a foreign state in search of refugee status. For many asylum seekers, the journey is perilous. Traditional and safe forms of transportation across state boundaries are rare. For Syrians hoping to make landfall in Europe or Libya, options were limited and sea voyages were often part of the journey.

The lack of adequate vessels and safety equipment led gave way to unfortunately high mortality rates on the sea. The images emerging from the shores of Greece, Turkey and Libya capture the dire situation under which this journey was made. Major media outlets have published images showing refugees tired, distressed or worse. What is missing from this seemingly hopeless narrative are the rights guaranteed to these people as global citizens.

Refugees are entitled to certain rights. These persons are entitled to security, are not to be involuntarily returned to the country from which they are fleeing and should receive the same rights as other foreign nationals. Often, the influx of large quantities of people into already fragile economies creates an environment that does not allow the refugee the living conditions and opportunities for education, work and healthcare that are called for by human rights standards.

Often the very meaning of the word refugee is misunderstood. Surrounding the issue of displaced persons are numerous misconceptions and the facts are lost in assumptions. In hopes of clarity and dissuading any misconceptions about who refugees are, here are some facts about refugees:

Facts About Refugees

  • Around 65 million people are displaced currently; this number accounts for refugees living inside and outside the country where they are facing persecution.
  • More than half of refugees are produced by only three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.
  • More than half of the refugees around the world are under the age of 18. These children are five times less likely to be enrolled in school.
  • Lack of economic opportunity and poverty do not qualify a person as a refugee.
  • Refugee crises are far-reaching and impact almost every continent. The Middle East and North Africa is not the only region impacted by refugees.
  • The average length of displacement is more than 10 years.
  • Being granted asylum in a state does not guarantee resettlement in that state.
  • In 2016, 189,900 refugees were resettled, compared to the 22.5 million refugees that were living outside their home country.
  • African and Middle Eastern countries host more than half of all current refugees. European countries and the Americas account for a little more than 30 percent of refugees.
  • The United States accepted the largest amount of refugees in its modern history in 1980.
  • The United States Refugee Admission Ceiling in FY 2016 was 85,000 persons.

The story of the refugee cannot be easily described through numbers and statistics. The larger narrative is more complex than can be easily summarized into key facts. The numbers neglect the individual experience of the refugee. These facts about refugees not do justice to the larger issue of statelessness but rather offer a snapshot of the problems facing displaced persons and the global community.

As these facts about refugees illustrate, refugees are often subjected to living in extreme poverty due to lack of resources available in camps and the slow, bureaucratic process of resettlement. These individuals lack access to adequate healthcare, education and opportunity for economic growth. Camps intended for emergency shelter become long-term solutions. There are many organizations doing incredible work to provide food, shelter and services to displaced persons.

– Madison Shea Lamanna

Photo: Flickr

seven facts about the poverty crisis in SyriaSyria’s economy was once promising, and the nation even functioned as a resettlement country for refugees. However, the past seven years of war have disrupted economic activity and shaped Syria into one of the worst the humanitarian and economic catastrophes of the present time. As of 2018, the conflict is still continuous with no predicted end in sight. Below are seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria and how the current war has contributed to the country’s extremely poor state.

Seven Facts About the Poverty Crisis in Syria

  1. The war isn’t over, and casualties are increasing on a daily basis.
    Since the Syrian Civil War in 2011, around half a million people have been killed. President Bashar al-Assad and government forces are carrying out chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, in an attack against civilians. Right now, some of the worst violence is intensifying each day in Eastern Ghouta, located just 10 kilometers east of the capital Damascus. More than 600 residents are believed to have been killed and at least 2,000 injured since President Assad’s forces launched an air and ground invasion on February 18.
  1. Access to basic necessities in war-stricken areas is scarce.
    Civilians of the Eastern Ghouta area have limited or no access to food, medicine or sanitary supplies. Access to adequate health care is severely restricted for an estimated 350,000 civilians trapped in the area as well. Eastern Ghouta now has just one doctor per 3,600 people; 75 percent of Syria’s doctors and medical personnel have fled the country
  1. Syria has the biggest internally displaced population in the world.
    Since the civil war began, more than six million people have fled their homes but have not crossed Syria’s borders to find safety. Approximately 6,550 Syrians are displaced each day and live in camps, informal settlements or abandoned buildings along the Turkish border in Northern Syria.
  1. Kids are at great risk.
    Before the war, Syria had an actively strong education system, with almost 100 percent primary school enrollment and 70 percent secondary school enrollment. However, today about 1.75 million Syrian children and youth do not have access to an education. More than a third of schools in Syria have been damaged, destroyed or are being used as shelters by internally displaced people, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and professors have fled the country. Additionally, Syria is enduring the worst outbreak of child malnutrition yet, where an estimated 1.7 million children and pregnant or lactating women have been screened for acute malnutrition.
  1. There is an extreme lack of clean water and sanitation.
    Safe drinking water and basic sanitation services are scarce due to damaged pumps and pipelines, which increases vulnerability to epidemic diseases. In some areas with the greatest refugee populations, the water supply has hit a low of 22 liters per person per day, which is less than one-tenth of what the average American uses.
  1. Syria is lacking in natural resources.
    Although the country does have some oil, the country is not as abundant as it used to be when oil production peaked at 677,000 barrels per day in 2002. Since the growth of the Syrian conflict in 2011 to today, barrel production has declined to about 25,000 per day. Also, the increased armed conflict has impacted Syria as an agricultural nation. The ongoing war has caused major destruction to agricultural production, resulting in more than $16 billion of lost crop and livestock production and destroyed farming resources.
  1. The economy has deeply collapsed.
    As these seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria indicate, years of conflict has destroyed the country’s economy. Syria’s economy has declined more than 70 percent since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, and now the country has one of the world’s highest inflation rates. As of December 2017, the inflation rate in Syria was recorded at 43.2 percent and reached an all-time high of 121.29 percent in 2013. Additionally, over half the population is unemployed and 82.5 percent are living below the poverty line.

These seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria allow for a better understanding of the harsh reality of the country’s current state. While it may be easy to become desensitized to the Syrian conflict, it is easy to help through donations or mobilization. Reputable charity organizations including UNHCR, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, the International Red Cross and Save the Children are all working to provide aid to the millions of Syrians affected by the war and poverty. Furthermore, taking action by emailing or writing to members of Congress and asking them to support aid to Syria is another way to help.

– Natalie Shaw

Photo: Flickr

5 Development Projects in SyriaSyria, home to many diverse ethnic and religious groups, is a country that has lost hundreds of thousands of lives to war and violence. Because of this crisis, millions of people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, and development projects in Syria aim to address this need.

Like many countries in the world, Syria is fighting extreme poverty. According to the United Nations Development Programme, four out of five Syrians live in poverty and 64.7 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. The Arab region is the only region in the world where poverty has increased since 2010, rising from 28 percent in 2010 to 83.4 percent in 2015.

Here is a list of five development projects in Syria that may help relieve the nation’s citizens.

  1. Switzerland donates ambulances to Syria’s suffering population
    Switzerland financed twelve new ambulances to help the people of Syria facing the consequences of the war. Syria was in need of more ambulances as a result of the devastatingly high number of victims caused by the war, including attacks against hospitals. The vehicles were purchased through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Dubai. This project was completed in 2017.
  2. Contribution to UNRWA’s Programme Budget 2017-2020
    The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is one of Switzerland’s key multilateral partners in the Middle East, addressing all kinds of humanitarian aid needs, including medical services, education, emergency assistance, healthcare and more. With more funds contributed to its budget, it has been able to work toward universal access to quality primary health care, basic education, relief and social services to refugees in need. This is an ongoing project expected to be completed by 2020.
  3. Swiss experts to U.N. agencies in the frame of the regional crises in the Middle East
    Through this completed project, experts from Switzerland were able to provide technical support and advice. The experts accounted for the provision of shelter in camps and noncamp settings for vulnerable displaced persons; for a multisector and multistakeholder strategy for cash-based response for IDPs, refugees and host communities; for the protection of the most vulnerable population, including children and youth; advice and strategic planning on activities in the domain of water; and support to the coordination of humanitarian interventions within the U.N. agencies and national/international actors.
  4. Contribution to UNRWA’s General Fund 2016
    Contributions to UNRWA’s 2016 General Fund allows for the sustaining of the agency’s humanitarian and human development programs, servicing over five million Palestine refugees and contributing to peace and stability in the Middle East. This completed project targeted Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. Results included financial support enabling various programs in health and education, and management reforms including resource mobilization, ERP and more.
  5. UNDP- Livelihoods Restoration in Crisis- Affected Communities in Syria
    This completed two-year project worked on restoration interventions in Rural Damascus, Horns, Tartous and Latakia. The project created local economic opportunities and restored critical community infrastructure and services, improving access to hygiene and other basic needs.

These committed development projects in Syria leave marks of improvement and hope in a nation that has been ravaged by violence and poverty for far too long.

Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr

UN-Scales-Back-on-Food-Aid-for-Syrian-Refugees
In the wake of large budget cuts and conflict with the Islamic State, or ISIS, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is scaling back its food aid for more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. These cuts will manifest themselves in the monthly food assistance vouchers that Syrian refugees receive. Normally valued at $19 per person, the vouchers will be reduced to $13.50 as of July.

Around 75% of Syrian refugee households in Lebanon are undergoing “some level of food insecurity,” according to a recent WFP survey. In addition, roughly 800,000 refugees in Lebanon qualify for food vouchers, and this scale-back is arriving right in the middle of Ramadan.

The WFP was banking on a ceasefire between ISIS and the Syrian government in order to let Syrian farmers harvest wheat stored in ISIS territory. No such ceasefire took place.

“That wheat that is harvested cannot be brought across lines of conflict into the area where it is needed most by people who are suffering now into a fifth year of this conflict,” WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin told the Associated Press.

A WFP press release issued earlier this month points out that the WFP’s refugee operations are currently 81% underfunded. The WFP is requesting $139 million in order to continue aiding refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through the summer.

“We are extremely concerned about the impact these cuts will have on refugees and the countries that host them,” WFP Regional Director Muhammad Hadi told the U.N. News Centre. “Families are taking extreme measures to cope such as pulling their children out of school, skipping meals and getting into debt to survive. The long-term effects of this could be devastating.”

– Alexander Jones

Sources: McGuirk, UN, Wood
Photo: The Guardian

camps_in_johannesburg

For the last 25 years, Women’s Refugee Commission has pushed hard for policies and programs that would drastically improve their way of living. Displaced women, men, children and young people have been living in tents in extremely populated, dusty camps. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has come up with ways to change the way refugees are living and want to make crowded, dirty camps an anomaly as opposed to the norm for Johannesburg.

The international humanitarian community saw the crisis in Syria, that left over three million refugees, and realized that there needs to be action taken to improve the reality in Johannesburg. Currently, there are 17 million refugees in the world, and only about one third of them live in camps. The ones who choose to not live in the camps live in the cities where it is possible for them to live more independently.

UNHCR released a policy statement back in 2009 saying that urban areas were a legitimate place for refugees to enjoy their rights. Going even further, now there has been a new policy released that commits the agency to “actively pursue alternatives to camps whenever possible.” This is the first recognized statement that we know of by the UNHCR saying that camps should indeed be a last resort for refugees.

In addition, refugee camps in Johannesburg have grown to become difficult to fund. “A lot of funding goes to new emergencies but within as little as 18 months, if the emergency is not continuing, there’s a falling away of donor support,” said Steven Corliss, director of UNHCR’s Programme Management and Support division. As the funding starts to trickle away, even basic services start to be in jeopardy like education and food.

The biggest obstacle that this policy would face is getting host states on board with it. The objective would be to convince the governments of these host states that alternatives to camps can not only improve the lives of the refugees and be better for them overall, but also it can increase local economies and communities.

The first step to executing this policy is to not only offer the refugees aid but also rights. These rights would include things like the right to go to work and send kids to school to get basic education. Michael Kagan, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at Nevada University’s William S. Boyd School of Law, supports the alternatives to refugee camps and said, “They have to have rights to be able to rebuild their lives in dignity. And that requires government buy-in.”

Although this policy is ambitious, it seems to have the support needed to be implemented and in turn help the refugees live more independently and build a better future.

Brooke Smith

Sources: IRIN News, Women’s Refugee Commission
Photo: Flickr