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refugee storiesOf the world’s population, 79.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. There are currently about 26 million refugees worldwide. Many of these individuals have been forced to flee their homes, experiencing extreme difficulty and hardship. At the peak of the 2015 European refugee crisis, headlines surrounding refugees’ stories of fleeing their home countries saturated the news. Combined with sobering photographs, these refugee stories provided the world with a glimpse into the realities of what thousands of individuals and families were experiencing and enduring. As the years have passed, this coverage has diminished, but thousands of refugees continue to flee their homes to find asylum elsewhere.

Refugee Stories in the News

One World Media, an organization supporting independent media coverage on circumstances in developing countries, advocates for continued media coverage of the European Refugee Crisis. To do so, it launched the Refugee Reporting Award. In partnership with the British Red Cross, the award encourages accurate and empathetic coverage of the state of the continuous refugee crisis.

The Executive Director of Communications and Advocacy at British Red Cross, Zoë Abrams, expounds on the importance of telling refugee stories. She explains that these stories are key to breaking down misconceptions and bias surrounding refugees and migrants. Abrams further states that “the relative trickle of stories nowadays means it is easy to wrongly assume that the situation for people on the move has dramatically improved.” This, however, is far from true, as issues regarding migration have increased across the globe.

How We Tell Refugee Stories

Although it is important to compile and share refugee stories, the manner in which individuals and their stories are portrayed should be carefully considered. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) advises readers not to focus on refugees’ pasts, but to consider what individuals can accomplish despite what they have experienced.

The UNHCR shared the story of Shahm Maskoun, a Syrian refugee now living in France. He was finding great success in his life in Syria, but then war broke out and he was forced to flee, leaving everything behind. When Maskoun arrived in France, he had nothing and was very lonely. However, taking advantage of the support offered to refugees and migrants, he received some financial and health support. He eventually enrolled in a master’s program and then began giving back, assisting students in his classes and using his skills in internships. Reflecting on his own experiences, Maskoun says that he wants people to understand that refugees themselves aren’t the crisis, but the manner in which the media tells their stories can be problematic, insinuating they are defined by the hardships they have experienced.

The Importance of Refugee Stories

All types of refugee stories, including those highlighting the difficulties that individuals experienced while fleeing their homes and those describing the success found by refugees in other countries, have their place. A recent study shows that children need to hear refugee stories because it makes them more compassionate and empathetic, especially if refugee children are living in their communities and attending their schools.

Testing three groups of children, the results illustrated the connection between empathy and a willingness to help others. In this case, hearing the stories and experiences of the refugee children who would be joining their school class made children act accordingly with kindness and mindfulness toward their new classmates.

Compiling and telling refugee stories can be a useful tool in educating and informing the public about the state of the refugee crisis. As these stories foster empathy, it is likely that communities will remember refugees and seek to help provide them with relief and safety.

– Kalicia Bateman
Photo: Flickr

homelessness in SerbiaAgainst a backdrop of poverty, unemployment, privatization and eviction, Serbia is facing a housing crisis. This widespread homelessness in Serbia disproportionately targets minority groups.

Poverty and Unemployment in Serbia

Homelessness in Serbia stems in part from the country’s poverty and unemployment rates. In 2013, a survey by The World Bank found that poverty threatened 24.5% of Serbia’s population. Recent economic recessions have highlighted joblessness as another major problem within the country, with the unemployment rate ranging from a high of 24% in 2012 to a recent low of around 12% in 2019. With many people out of a job and fighting to stay above the poverty line, homelessness looms as a real threat to Serbia’s people.

Serbia’s Housing History: Privatization and Eviction

The problem of homelessness in Serbia has been augmented by recent cuts in public housing. The privatization of housing in Serbia began with The Housing Law of 1992. The law disincentivizes the government from providing adequate public housing. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, there has since been a “virtual disintegration of state responsibility” for housing.

In 2016, another law worsened Serbia’s housing crisis. The Law on Housing and Building Maintenance, among other things, increased evictions. Evictions can catastrophically undermine human rights, especially when they threaten vulnerable communities. Before Serbia’s 2016 law was even enacted, Amnesty International called out its potential to “violate the rights of individuals and families in vulnerable communities at risk from forced eviction.”

This lack of public housing and frequent evictions have increased the threat of homelessness in Serbia. While the exact scope of the country’s situation is difficult to measure, the most recent census in 2011 estimates that around 20,000 people face homelessness in Serbia.

Vulnerable Communities: Refugees and the Roma People

When it comes to homelessness in Serbia, refugees are particularly vulnerable. Of Serbia’s refugee and internally displaced persons population, roughly 22% face poverty, placing these groups at a high risk of homelessness.

Additionally, Serbia lacks adequate space within refugee camps to shelter those coming into the country. Despite the large refugee population, the Serbian government provides sparse accommodations. In 2016, the Serbian government provided only 6,000 beds to asylum seekers, leaving many without shelter.

Another vulnerable group within Serbia is the Roma population. Low levels of education and high rates of poverty leave the Roma people struggling to afford private housing, while discrimination against them puts them at a disproportionate risk of eviction. Evictions of Roma people have become so targeted that the European Roma Rights Centre and Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm when, with little notice, 128 Roma people were evicted from their homes in Novi Beograd within one day.

Who Is Helping the Homeless?

There is good news. The Regional Housing Programme (RHP) is fighting homelessness in Serbia by providing housing for refugees. The organization has worked with over 7,000 housing units and, by 2019, had provided housing to 4,200 refugee families. On June 20, 2020, the organization celebrated World Refugee Day by moving 270 families into the RHP’s newly constructed apartment building in Belgrade. The organization’s work has gotten media attention in the form of a new film. “Here to Stay” describes RHP’s achievements and shares stories from the refugees who have found a home thanks to RHP’s help.

Another organization, Združena Akcija Krov nad Glavom (Joint Action Roof Over Your Head), is helping Serbia’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with providing housing accommodations, the organization delivers essential supplies such as food, protective masks and sanitizer to the homeless.

Organizations like these provide hope in Serbia’s fight against homelessness. In the face of the Serbian government’s lack of effort to provide clean and safe public housing to its people, these organizations are making a huge difference for the many people affected by homelessness in Serbia.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

Germany's Duel System
Germany has gained worldwide acclaim for its joint education and vocational training programs. There are tens of thousands of asylum-seekers participating throughout the country, which signals concerted government effort to create a path to employment.

What is Germany’s Dual System?

Germany’s vocational education and training (VET) programs combine practical and theoretical training with real-life work experience. Those enrolled typically spend part of the week in vocational schools and the rest work directly at specific German companies. After two to three years, certification and sufficient language preparedness all but guarantees job placement, which is critical in the refugee integration effort.

After the influx of refugees in 2015, Germany’s dual system has become an essential part of the country’s integration strategy. The number of refugees entering tradecraft apprenticeships, both through vocational school and otherwise, increased 140% during 2018. Given the success of these vocational schools, many other European countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Denmark have adopted similar frameworks.

Syrian Asylum-Seekers in Germany

Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in particular benefit from Germany’s undertakings. Of the more than 1.4 million asylum applicants, the majority come from Syria.

Enrollment in a government-sponsored language program is necessary for participation in the dual system. While this may seem like a barrier to integration at first glance, asylum-seeker status guarantees the right to attend subsidized language courses.

These social measures are helping to lower barriers to employment for Syrian refugees. Germany’s dual system has positive social and economic outcomes in its own right, but it’s just one part of an ongoing, historic effort by many actors throughout the country. Participation in language courses and vocational training doesn’t guarantee quick integration into society for all, but it is a step in the right direction.

A Positive Impact

Thanks in part to this system, half of all refugees living in Germany will find steady employment within five years of arrival. The influx of asylum seekers, which initially caused much concern, has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the German economy. More importantly, the opportunity to study German and find employment has improved the lives of Syrian asylum seekers.

As the most important aspect of integration, employment reduces feelings of alienation and creates a brighter path for Syrian families. By giving refugees the chance to immerse themselves in the language and culture as well as enter the workforce, Germany makes escaping poverty a reality for many.

– Rachel Moloney
Photo: PxHere


In 2018, the Netherlands’ government reported that 584,000 households, or 7.9% of the general population, were subsisting on an income at or below the poverty line. In other words, they were making less than 60% of the national median disposable income. This is relatively low; the Netherlands has the fifth-lowest rate of poverty amongst the nations in the European Union, and poverty rates have been on the decline over the past several years due to economic growth and lower unemployment rates. However, refugee poverty in the Netherlands remains a major concern.

The Netherlands’ Reputation

Refugees and immigrants have always been attracted to the country because of its historically high levels of tolerance. The Netherlands is also notorious for being a nation of prosperity, egalitarianism, and humanitarian aid. For instance, in World War I, 900,000 Belgians sought refuge in the Netherlands, which was neutral, to escape fighting. During the Holocaust, tens of thousands of people fleeing the Nazis hid in the Netherlands until it was occupied by Axis powers. 

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and once again, tens of thousands of people from all over the world are applying for asylum in the Netherlands each year. Although some are moving around within the European Union, many are escaping their war-torn countries of birth. In 1998, this was due to the Yugoslav wars, which kept the number of asylum seekers at high numbers until 2004. In 2015, the Syrian Civil War commenced the flow of a new wave of refugees that are still coming in high numbers today.

Refugees Struggle Financially

Although these refugees are welcomed into the country, they do not fare as well economically as their Dutch counterparts. Currently, 79% of Syrian refugees are making less than the low-income threshold, and 95% rely on income support as their main source of income.  The nationality of refugees that are best off, Iranians, are still four times as likely to be living in poverty as their Dutch counterparts. In total, 53% of refugee households have a low income

A cycle has developed because sectors of the Dutch economy, such as agriculture and labor, depend on migrant workers. However, these jobs consistently do not pay well, and few efforts have been made to increase their wages. Because refugees typically do not have schooling on par with those from the EU, they have limited job options, and they continue to struggle economically.

Who Is Helping

The Dutch government has done a lot to help incoming refugees. To ensure that immigrants are adjusting well to a new country, immigrants must take a national integration exam within three years of arrival. There are additional levels of support for highly educated refugees resettling in the Netherlands. The Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF) allows for better planning of “educational guidance, language training and educational courses once refugees arrive in the Netherlands.” UAF provides housing for refugees in areas that are close to universities and higher education establishments, and it has recently created a mentor program that matches Dutch students with resettled refugees to provide them with support to settle into university life.

The Netherlands has been a place refugees immigrated to during many different conflicts, including the 2015 Syrian Civil War. However, an economic gap still remains between native-born Dutch citizens and refugees. In order to address this issue, the government and UAF have been working to make the transition into the country easier and positively impact refugee poverty in the Netherlands. 

– Sophie van Leeuwen
Photo: Pixabay

The State of Venezuelan Sex TraffickingThe recent collapse of Venezuela’s economy and political stability has made the headlines of many news outlets. The controversial reelection of President Nicholas Maduro in May 2018 plunged Venezuela back into violent protests and demonstrations. As of June 2019, more than four million people had fled from Venezuela’s deteriorating conditions. In this mass exodus, women and children are especially vulnerable to Venezuelan sex trafficking.

Venezuelan Sex Trafficking

Venezuela’s sex traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Venezuela. More than four million Venezuelans are fleeing from their country, according to the Refugee International’s 2019 field report. The recent influx of Venezuelans fleeing their country presents a new boom in Venezuela’s sex and human trafficking. Neighboring countries, mainly Colombia, Brazil, Tobago, Trinidad and Ecuador, have experience receiving refugees from Venezuela.

What makes the situation especially difficult is the sheer number of refugees who are fleeing from Venezuela. The Brazilian Ministry of Justice reported that there were 2,577 refugee status requests made between 2016 and 2017 for the state of Amazonas. This makes up 12.8 percent of the requests made nationwide.

This increase in the number of people attempting to leave the country makes it hard for many Venezuelan refugees to use the legal pathways. Many Venezuelan refugees utilize illegal means, such as the black market or illegal armed groups, to escape their country.

In June 2019, a story of Venezuelan refugees shipwrecked near Trinidad and Tobago brought the dark underbelly of Venezuelan sex trafficking to light. Traffickers in the first shipwreck included members of the Bolivarian National Guard and a member of Venezuela’s maritime authority. These individuals were arrested after a survivor of the shipwreck spoke out against them.

Survivors of the second shipwreck testified that the traffickers charged $250 and $500 to everyone aboard the boat headed for Trinidad and Tobago. In both cases, captains of the boats concealed the fact that the women and children were headed to Trinidad and Tobago to work as prostitutes. Venezuelan women and children are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking in Colombia and Ecuador, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons report.

Venezuelan Refugees Entering Colombia

Venezuelan sex trafficking is not limited to domestic trafficking. Many Venezuelan female refugees entering Colombia are in danger of sexual exploitation. Since Colombia’s legal requirements to enter the country are very strict, many Venezuelan refugees resort to informal routes and illegal armed groups to enter Colombia. In the Refugee International’s 2019 investigation, many refugees testified that women and girls are forced to pay for their safe passage through sexual services to traffickers.

After entering Colombia through illicit means, Venezuelan refugees must live without any proper identification. As refugees without any identification or means to support themselves, many Venezuelan women turn to street prostitution in order to make ends meet.

The Colombian government is taking steps to register these refugees. Colombia passed Act 985, which created the Interagency Committee for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (ICFTP).  The ICFTP works with 88 anti-trafficking committees, which work with many NGOs to train police, government officials and law officials in identifying victims and providing legal assistance to human trafficking victims. Colombia also plans to grant citizenship to 24,000 undocumented Venezuelan children who were born in the country. Experts believe that this will reduce the reliance of refugees on illicit organizations in order to escape Venezuela.

The Quito Process

In September 2019, multiple Latin American countries came together in the Declaration of Quito on Human Mobility of Venezuelan Citizens. In the declaration, participating countries agreed to bolster cooperation, communication and coordination in collective humanitarian assistance for the Venezuelan refugees.

Part of the Quito Process’ goal is to prevent Venezuelan sex trafficking and assist the victims of sex trafficking in Latin America. By streamlining and coordinating documentation required in acquiring legal resident status, the Quito Process makes it easier for participating countries to more effectively assist Venezuelan refugees.

Experts recommend the participating countries further investigate and understand the demographics of Venezuelan refugees. Since many refugees escape to other countries for financial stability, experts recommend that participating countries work to make obtaining a stable job easier.

The Colombian government has been credited for its adherence and furthering of the Quito Process. In March 2019 Colombia fulfilled its commitment to the second Quito conference by allowing Venezuelan refugees to enter Colombia with expired passports. In addition, experts are demanding increased rights for displaced refugees in the hosting countries of the Quito Process.

The crisis in Venezuela is increasing Venezuelan sex trafficking. Venezuelan women and young girls are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking and exploitation. While the current situation is grim, it is clear that South American countries are coming together to remedy the current situation. Through the Quito Process, they are working to assist Venezuelan human trafficking victims and eliminate the sex trafficking of Venezuelan refugees. With these efforts, the international community hopes for a quick end to the Venezuelan crisis.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Destruction of the Thracian BulgariansThough somewhat obscure today, the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians refers to the systematic expulsion of the native Christians (Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians) in Eastern Thrace. These atrocities occurred during and after the Second Balkan War of 1913. Additionally, it involves some of the figures later complicit in the Armenian Genocide of World War One. Historians increasingly view the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians as a prototype for subsequent Ottoman campaigns of ethnic cleansing.

Today, the descendants of Thracian Bulgarian refugees remain attached to their Thracian heritage. Amazingly, this is despite gradual assimilation into the dominant culture of Bulgaria. The Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians remains a point of contention between the governments of Turkey and Bulgaria.

9 Facts About the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians

  1. Although the Ottoman census of 1906-1907 indicated a Muslim majority in five of Eastern Thrace’s counties, non-Muslims possessed numerical and cultural significance. Moreover, both Muslims and non-Muslims occupied positions across the empire’s social strata from peasant farmers to imperial administrators. Therefore, despite Ottoman claims to the contrary, Eastern Thrace’s character transcended a single religion and ethnicity.
  2. The Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians consists of mass deportations and atrocities against Thracian Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians. This arose from the late Ottoman Empire’s suspicion of non-Muslim minorities. The transformation of Eastern Thrace from a core to a peripheral territory occurred following the Balkan wars of independence. Ottoman officials saw ethnic minorities as a liability to the cohesion and security of the state. In place of deported or massacred Thracian Christians, the Ottoman state settled Muslim refugees from the western Balkans.
  3. With the expulsion of Bulgarian forces and the Ottoman reoccupation of Eastern Thrace during the Second Balkan War, non-Muslims faced accusations of disloyalty and subversion. Locals and officers alike singled out Thracian Armenians in particular as untrustworthy. These assumptions played on ethnic prejudices that precipitated the 1906 Adana massacre. They would reach a fever pitch during the Armenian Genocide of World War One. Thus, in Malgara, occupying Ottoman forces accused the local Armenians of appropriating property from Muslims, which incited a mob to murder 12 Armenians and raze 87 houses.
  4. On July 14, 1913, the recapture of Rodosto (present-day Tekirdag) from Bulgaria by Ottoman volunteer forces occurred. Local Christians and Jews were told they must surrender “government” property. In framing local non-Muslims as unjust appropriators of property, this stirred volunteers arriving by an Ottoman battleship. Further, they despoiled the town’s unarmed non-Muslim inhabitants, killing 19 people in the process and displaced others. This constitutes one of the most serious massacres of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians.
  5. Mass expulsions of Thracian Bulgarians and Greeks, punctuated by intermittent killings, characterized Ottoman policy in Eastern Thrace. This occurred even after the September 29, 1913 peace treaty between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. Where voluntary deportation proved unfeasible, the Interior Ministry resorted to tax and labor levies to coerce emigration. The government signed three population exchange agreements between 1913 and 1914. These agreements were biased in favor of Muslim refugees from Balkan countries and against Christian refugees from Ottoman Thrace. This granted de facto legitimacy to a long-established reality arising from the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians.
  6. Enver Pasha played a role in fomenting violence against the Bulgarians and Greeks of Western Thrace across the Ottoman-Bulgarian border. Later, Enver Pasha became one of the architects of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides. Led by Enver Pasha, a coterie of fighters forded the Maritza river and razed 22 Bulgarian villages to the west of the Maritza river. Reportedly, these forces killed thousands of Bulgarians. However, the Ottomans did not regain Western Thrace.
  7. The process of resettling refugees in the wake of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians placed a strain on the Bulgarian state and people. The experience of property expropriation without compensation left the refugees initially reliant on the assistance of the Bulgarian government and people. Substantial aid only arrived in the 1920s when the League of Nations provided loans to permanently house the refugees (incidentally, the first methodical policy of its kind).
  8. Attempts to preserve the cultural uniqueness of the Thracian Bulgarians spurred the formation of the Thracian organization. This organization protested the 1925 Agreement of Friendship between Bulgaria and Turkey. The agreement essentially validated the uncompensated appropriation of Thracian Bulgarian territory by the newly-established Turkish Republic. Though the post-World War Two communist regime suppressed Thracian associations, the fall of communism promoted their resurgence. Today, the associations seek to maintain the Thracian culture within Bulgaria and Turkey without advocating for an explicit right of return.
  9. In 2011, the Bulgarian Parliament voted for a proposal urging Bulgaria and Turkey to negotiate compensation for property expropriated during the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan displayed a willingness to negotiate over the matter in October 2010. The issue of compensation remains unresolved.

Although it transpired over a century ago, the legacy of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians persists. Descendants of those directly affected especially recognize the importance of this history. The role as the prototype for the genocides of the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians during World War One is also key. Further, this confirms that the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians is anything but peripheral to an understanding of the twentieth century’s upheavals.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Many remember the Vietnam War as one of the most appalling in American history, and, as one can image, a harrowing chapter for Vietnam. The 1975 reunification of Vietnam established a brutally oppressive regime, striking fear into the hearts of those who lived in Vietnam. The result was a mass exodus of refugees now known as Boat People. Here are ten facts about Vietnamese Boat People who fled in search of better futures.

10 Facts About Vietnamese Boat People

  1. As the name implies, refugees relied on small boats. Under the new regime of the Republic of Vietnam, leaving the country was initially illegal. While this would change with time and the intervention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), escaping occurred illegally by sea. Many of those who left were families of farmers, fishermen, and people with other rural jobs who had access to boats that were well suited for sailing near shore but were not designed for travel on the open sea. The only option for leaving was by cramming families into small boats.
  2. Diverse communities were at risk. The war devastated the country’s infrastructure. While relief eventually came, it did not reach everyone. To make matters worse, in 1979 the Sino-Vietnamese War left those with Chinese heritage fearing for their lives. As there was already a precedent of executions and re-location to labor camps, people also fled the northern areas of Vietnam, at one point accounting for 70 percent of refugees.
  3. Fleeing Vietnam was dangerous. Partly because a large number of refugees from other countries were in the Indochinese area at the time, it is difficult to estimate exactly how many people fled Vietnam. However, experts estimate up to 1.5 million refugees escaped but a high estimate of 10 percent died from drowning, piracy, dehydration, or otherwise never made landfall.
  4. The crisis went unrecognized until refugee numbers grew. An estimated 62,000 Vietnamese Boat People sought refuge throughout Southeast Asia by 1978. This number rose to 350,000 by mid-1979, with another 200,000 having moved to permanent residence in other countries. At first, countries close to Vietnam accepted refugees and provided asylum, however many of those countries’ policies changed.
  5. Refugees often passed through multiple countries. Boat People initially sailed to countries closest to their own such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. The UNHCR established a temporary agreement whereby these countries, many of which began refusing asylum to further refugees, would serve as “first asylums.” This meant the refugees would only stay there temporarily until they could be screened and enter nations like the U.S. and Canada.
  6. Countries grew less welcoming to refugees as time went on. Despite the 1979 agreement, the number of Vietnamese Boat People increased in first asylum countries faster than they could process. Some estimate that for every refugee who left one of these countries, three more arrived. Hostility towards the refugees eventually increased, while political situations within each country further exacerbated tensions. Hong Kong, for example, refused to accept Chinese economic migrants but accepted Vietnamese refugees, causing conflict between the nations.
  7. Swamped by refugees to the point of exhaustion, Malaysia faced difficult choices when it came to Boat People. The situation worsened to the point that Malaysians pushed back one vessel having approximately 2,500 refugees on board. This was due in part to ethnic tension between Malay Muslims and the native Chinese. Boat People landing in areas largely inhabited by a Muslim populace further aggravated tension. As Robert Miller, the ambassador to Malaysia at the time put itA “From the Malaysian standpoint they have a very delicate ethnic balance in the country… they have an ‘ethnic fault line running the length and breadth of their country between the Malay Muslims and the pork-eating Chinese.” As a result, they, like other Southeast Asian countries, eventually refused to accept further refugees.
  8. “Full asylum” nations showed fatigue as the crisis continued. As more refugees entered the United States, people began to question whether the Vietnamese refugees were fleeing due to fear or financial situations. Suspicion arose and screening processes intensified as fewer nations wanted to house the refugees at all. As Miller put it “From the field we were always pressing for earlier decisions and decisions for bigger quotas. From the Washington perspective, they were pressing us to increase international cooperation –get more countries to take more so we could take less.”
  9. Thousands of refugees found stable homes. Though Vietnamese Boat People constituted a refugee crisis, it soothed over several years. Refugees who passed screening and inspection entered the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia able to begin new lives. While most ultimately flew the last leg of their journey on planes, at least one group made it to Australia by boat. The main solution for refugees resettling included working directly with the Vietnamese government, which eventually sanctioned departures from the country.
  10. Survival stories live on. Fleeing Vietnam was dangerous and offered no guarantee, but survivors found new lives in their new homes. Vietnamese immigrant communities eventually flourished. The UNHRC continued its work making transportation out of Vietnam legal and even encouraged. Nowadays, descendants of those who left in fear can return to discover their heritage and the stories of their ancestors, ensuring that the legacy of Boat People will live on. The preservation of their history and ongoing peaceful relations with Vietnam created a solution that finally materialized.

The fallout from the Vietnam War was, as the fallout from many wars, far worse than anticipated. These stories  and day’s refugee crisis show that people can be far less welcoming to refugees than we might hope. However, the survival of those who lived to tell these stories indicates that dangerous risks can lead to safer futures. These 10 facts about Vietnamese Boat People show that when accepted, refugees can thrive and improve relationships between nations.

– Mason Sansonia
Photo: Flickr

Fight Poverty with TechnologyIn the past two decades, Télecoms Sans Frontières (TSF), an international NGO, has provided more than 20 million marginalized people with means of communication which not only saves lives but also helps to make strides in poverty reduction. Headquartered in Pau, France, Télecoms Sans Frontièrs has assisted disadvantaged groups such as refugees and migrants in more than 70 countries. This is done through its use of emergency-response technologies.

For example, when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit numerous Indonesian islands on Sep. 28, 2018, Télecoms Sans Frontièrs quickly began to distribute aid. The NGO set up internet connections with local providers to ensure efficient humanitarian aid coordination in larger cities. Following this, the team visited isolated, comparatively poorer villages in Indonesia that lacked internet access to provide them with mobile WiFi. This is only one of more than 140 crises that Télecoms Sans Frontièrs has responded to since its founding in 1998.

TSF is currently undertaking eight humanitarian missions across seven countries. All missions involve means of technology access and adaptation. Keep reading to learn more about the organization’s mission to fight poverty with technology.

Télecoms Sans Frontièrs: 8 Global Missions To Fight Poverty With Technology

  1. The Information Diffusion System in Mexico aims to provide migrants and refugees with important information regarding their location. This is made possible through a network of micro-computers in eight centers across the nation. Screens at each center present news alerts and legal information such as asylum procedures. According to one Salvadoran migrant, “The screen helped me to ask for refuge, to know my rights as a migrant and to know the location of the consulate of El Salvador.”
  2. Technological management for Guatemala’s food aid program plays a critical role, especially because TSF combats the effects of brutal droughts in the Dry Corridor region. TSF partnered with the government and four other NGOs to efficiently run the “Operation Opportunity” food aid program, which financially supports the extremely impoverished. Among other technological roles, TSF determines the necessary equipment for fields and configures administrative technology.
  3. Emergency call centers for Venezuelan refugees in Brazil offer the ability to communicate with their relatives through an IP telephone solution. Moreover, the centers have proven essential for the refugees to carry out asylum applications, and for aid distributions. Efforts that help migrants obtain legal standing are key to escaping poverty.
  4. Internet connectivity for Middle Eastern and North African migrants and refugees in Bihać, Bosnia, not only allows them to contact their families but also benefits the humanitarian actors aiming to mitigate the issue. Organizations such as the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and UNHCR are few and are in desperate need of financial and human assistance. By providing internet connectivity that covers a total of 20,000 square-meters, humanitarian efficiency and coordination are vastly improved as Bosnia faces growing refugee populations.
  5. The community telecenter in Burkina Faso, in partnership with the Zoramb Naagtaaba Association, works to bridge the digital divide between the capital Ouagadougou and the rural region of Guiè. While the Internet proved to be a ground-breaking tool in industrializing Burkina Faso from 1997 onwards, Guiè has remained relatively isolated from technological and economic progress. Until late 2010, inhabitants of Guiè needed to commute up to 12 hours just to access the Internet. The region’s community telecentre not only provides internet connection and modern computer equipment but even offers computer training tailored for many occupations, such as for students and farmers. Education efforts like these are key to enabling social mobility and reducing poverty.
  6. A cybercafé established in Miarinarivo, Madagascar provides locals with the ability to carry out personal work with internet access. Additionally, the café provides its users with technological equipment such as computers and printers. Considering how the café’s users are predominantly adolescents, in partnership with the NGO IT Cup, these students are given introductory computer lessons essential to escaping poverty.
  7. The mLearning project for Syrian children has provided displaced and refugee children in war-stricken areas with educational resources all through the use of digital technologies. With tablets offering a range of tools such as courses, interactive documents, and quizzes, TSF’s digital program is a clear example of how the NGO aims to fight poverty with technology. Providing the younger generations of vulnerable regions with education is a central milestone towards escaping poverty.
  8. Connectivity between Syrian medical centers allows for coordination in TSF’s mission for hospitals to efficiently aid the country’s wounded. Since 2012, TSF has connected 53 hospitals, pharmacies and clinics by creating broadband connections and establishing over 20 satellite lines. In the last seven years, this has equated to the transferring of 35.9 TB of medical data along with the treatment of 3.2 million patients across these medical centers.

There’s no doubt that the critical role of technology in the 21st century is continuing to grow. Rather than feeling threatened by this change to tradition, TSF embraces any challenge to orthodoxy as an opportunity. For the past three decades, TSF has consistently adapted to and used these changing conditions to its advantage. In fields ranging from global health to economics, Télécoms Sans Frontières continues to fight poverty with technology and ultimately aims to secure human rights internationally.

– Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

 

foreign aid leader

Sweden is a Scandinavian country known for providing an impressive amount of humanitarian aid. Sweden’s foreign aid strategies are both similar and unique to the objectives of other countries. The Organisation for Economic Cooperative and Development (OECD) praises Sweden as a leader in foreign aid because of the nation’s “consistent generous levels of official development assistance” and for “its global development leadership on peace and conflict prevention.”

Sweden’s Foreign Aid Record

The Swedish government has long shown concern for humanitarian issues. In 1975, the country achieved the United Nations’ goal of providing 0.7 percent of the nation’s gross national income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA). In 2008, Sweden contributed 1 percent of its GNI. This number has continued to escalate and is now at 1.4 percent.

In comparison to other countries, Sweden is the largest donor in proportion to the productivity of its economy. Countries that follow are the United Arab Emirates, which contributes 1.09 percent of its GNI, and Norway, which contributes 1.05 percent. These countries are the only three countries whose foreign aid agenda reserves more than one percent of their GNI.

Equality is a core tenant of the Swedish foreign aid mission. In 2014, Sweden was the first country to implement a Feminist Foreign Policy, a strategy that promotes gender equality and women’s rights. Socially, women in countries receiving aid have been provided with programs on how to prevent and resolve instances of discrimination and abuse. Legally, female representation in the government and in the private sector has improved in these countries as well.

Other long-term foreign aid objectives in Sweden focus on installing democracy, peace and security, health equity and efficient education systems in the countries that lack these necessities.

Sweden’s Foreign Aid Agency

Sweden’s most effective agency that works to downsize poverty and foster development is called Sida, or the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The agency methodically establishes democracy throughout countries in order to achieve these two goals.

Sida provides impoverished countries with humanitarian aid for emergency relief and long-term aid for development. Long-term development is the more intricate of the programs. The Swedish government implements this long-term aid with two principles in mind. First, that varying policy areas need to work together to produce positive development; second, that humanitarian aid should be implemented with the perspective that people are capable and eager to accept change.

As of 2007, Sida has 33 partner countries to which they are currently providing aid. While this number has reduced from approximately 125 since the 80s, the extensive efforts put into individual projects illustrate why Sweden is a leader in foreign aid.

Sida’s Work in Syria

Most recently, Sweden has proven itself as a leader in foreign aid through its dedication to those suffering through the Syrian crisis. Due to the disastrous conflict, there are currently 11.7 million individuals in need of assistance. Many hospitals, schools and markets have been destroyed as well.

Sida has allocated more than SEK 367 million (approximately 37.2 million USD) to humanitarian relief in Syria in 2019. This aid goes directly toward life-saving interventions. Basic needs are given to the country’s most vulnerable individuals who live in refugee camps and other communities. Much of Sida’s aid has also gone to Syria’s neighboring countries who receive the most refugees such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Lastly, Sida donates to United Nations organizations present in Syria. The Swedish foreign aid machine has worked closely with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, as well as UNICEF, to improve the infrastructure required to fulfill the needs of Syrian refugees. These organizations have access to local partnerships scattered around the region that continue to provide health care, education and safe housing to displaced individuals.

What Does the Future Hold?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that the number of refugees around the world will increase in the years to come. As this reality materializes, global leaders will only benefit from emulating the Swedish government’s extensive efforts to fund, provide and implement efficient humanitarian aid policies.

– Annie O’Connell
Photo: Flickr

Visual Impairment in Refugees

Last year, there were an estimated 70 million forcibly displaced individuals in the world. NGOs and governments stepped up by providing funding for food, water, sanitation, education, and healthcare, but visual impairment in refugees is rarely ever prioritized.

Vision Impairment is a Major Life Obstacle

Eye care is something often overlooked when organizations are administering urgent medical treatment to refugees–in most cases, eye injuries are not considered life-threatening. While an eye injury may not be fatal, it can greatly reduce the quality of life. This was the case for 10-year-old, Hala Shaheen, who suffered retinal detachment before the outbreak of the Syrian War and was undergoing treatment to fix the issue. She required specialist care and regular check-ups.

However, when chaos and violence broke out in Syria, Hala and her family were forced to flee to the Rukban refugee camp between Syria and Jordan, where no eye care specialist could be found. Now Hala is blind in one eye and her vision in the other eye is continuing to deteriorate. When asked about her condition, she told reporters, “I don’t want to continue living with this level of pain and suffering.”

Refugees like Hala do not have the resources to prevent or tackle blindness, Hala could have retained her vision. Blindness prevents her from experiencing life fully. Since braille is not readily taught, getting an education is difficult. Hala’s condition forces her to be dependent on her family. When blindness presents itself in adult refugees, it stops them from being productive workers and the extra burden is placed on their family’s shoulders. Thankfully, some NGOs have identified this problem and are on their way to creating better conditions to fight visual impairment in refugees.

Bringing Clarity to the Visually Impaired

NGOs and charities are assembling coalitions all over the world to find solutions for visual impairment in refugees. The main mission is to provide diagnostic services and visual assistance to those who need it.

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is working in Cox Bazar, a Rohingya refugee camp of over 900,000 people, has created an eye care plan to fight visual impairment in refugees. They plan to provide over 150,000 eyeglasses each year and deploy 30 optometrists and 30 ophthalmologists to conduct Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) exams. These exams are vital in the prevention of blindness and vision loss, which can be the result of neglected chronic eye disease. In Cox Bazar, there is an estimated 30,000 at risk for diabetic eye disease and 70,000 at risk for glaucoma. If left untreated, it could result in a massive amount of vision loss.

There are numerous other coalitions like the IAPB. VisionSpring works with EYElliance in Ghana and Liberia to provide glasses to children and launch country-level initiatives to identify visual problems in refugees. SightGeist is an annual conference of companies and organizations from various sectors who come together and use their resources to provide visual assistance and preventative care to those affected by visual impairment. NGOs like Light for the World work together with Warby Parker, an eyewear company, and Aravind Eye Care System, a chain of hospitals in India, to come up with solutions to problems that are too large to tackle alone.

Gender and Visual Impairment

Another aspect of visual impairment in refugees is gender. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by visual impairment, accounting for two-thirds of those with severe vision loss. This can be due to the impact of traditional female roles, like having to collect water and wash clothes. These duties put them at risk of being bitten by blackflies which transmit parasites that destroy vision. In developing countries, women are typically not in charge of finances, so they have less control over the budget and cannot pay for healthcare. Women are also often too busy taking care of the home and may not even know where to go to access eye care.

Visual impairment in refugees, particularly females, deepens their plight; those who are visually impaired are more likely to suffer sexual violence and shamed by their families. Programs like CATCH in Uganda and Lady Health Worker in Pakistan are reaching out to these women. CATCH conducts exams to detect visual impairment early and provide preventative care to women. The Lady Health Worker program empowers female workers to provide healthcare and eye care to women and children in their own communities. Simply bringing attention to eye care and reducing the stigma of visual impairment can vastly improve lives.

Visual health underpins many of the Sustainable Development Goals put forth by the U.N. It is up to these organizations now to spread the word and see to it that visual impairment in refugees and developing countries become a greater priority for donors.

– Julian Mok
Photo: Flickr