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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

food insecurity in ethiopia
Despite the fact that Ethiopia has a stronger economy than many other countries in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, it still remains one of the world’s least developed countries. In 2017, Ethiopia ranked 173 out of 189 countries and territories in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI). Food insecurity contributes to a lack of development in Ethiopia.

Drought, Conflict, and IDPs

Drought is one of the principal sources of food insecurity in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is currently suffering from the lingering effects of past droughts. There have been two devastating droughts in Ethiopia since 2015, which has forced many out of their homes in search of food and basic services. Droughts are a primary factor in the creation of internal refugees, or internally displaced person (IDPs) in Ethiopia.

Currently, nearly three million Ethiopians are categorized as IDPs. In addition to drought, the number of IDPs has increased due to a surge in ethnic violence, particularly along the Oromiya-Somali regional border. Nearly 600,000 individuals from the Oromiya and Somali regions have become IDPs.

The combination of drought, displacement, violence and underdevelopment has resulted in widespread food insecurity in Ethiopia. Due to this, roughly 7% of the population relies on food aid. The U.S. Government has been heavily involved in battling food insecurity in Ethiopia. Currently, food insecurity and under-nutrition are two of the greatest economic hindrances in Ethiopia.

Here are five things you need to know about the United States’ involvement in addressing food insecurity in Ethiopia.

5 Ways the U.S. Helps Food Insecurity in Ethiopia

  1. “Feed the Future,” an initiative launched by the Obama Administration in 2010, has been one of the more successful programs in promoting food security in Ethiopia: Feed the Future worked in different areas in Ethiopia from 2013 to 2015 and reduced the prevalence of poverty in those areas by 12 percent. Additionally, in 2017, those who were reached by Feed the Future generated $40 million in agricultural sales and received $5.7 million in new private investment. The economy and food security in Ethiopia are closely intertwined because the nation’s economy is dependent on agriculture. Agriculture-led economic growth, therefore, has been one the primary missions of Feed the Future within Ethiopia.
  2. The US has focused on restoring Ethiopia’s potato and sweet potato supply due to its high source of Vitamin A as a means of reducing food insecurity in Ethiopia: In June 2016, The USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) supported the International Potato Center (CIP) to assist drought-affected farmers in planting potatoes and sweet potatoes. Due to this support, the CIP was able to provide sweet potato seeds to nearly 10,000 farmers and trained more than 11,300 men and women on various ways to incorporate this vitamin-rich vegetable into more of their meals. The USAID/OFDA continues to support programs that promote the development of critical agriculture, such as sweet potatoes, in Ethiopia.
  3. Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams (MHNTs) are working in Ethiopia to help manage issues of malnutrition: The USAID’s OFDA and UNICEF have partnered together to deploy MHNTs in order to provide malnutrition screenings, basic health care services, immunizations and health education. The team also offered patient referrals when necessary. In 2017, 50 MHNTs provided 483,700 individuals in the Afar and Somali regions of Ethiopia with life-saving health and nutritional services.
  4. Humanitarian assistance has been essential in reducing severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in children: Although USAID provides resources to help treat SAM, 38 percent of children under five still have stunted growth due to malnutrition. As of March 2018, 31,066 children were admitted and treated for SAM. Approximately 30 percent of these cases were in the Somali region due to the region’s issue with ethnic violence and drought. Significantly more assistance is needed in the Somali region in order to sufficiently manage malnutrition.
  5. Humanitarian assistance has been one of the primary reasons Ethiopia has not entered into a state of emergency for food insecurity: Although increased rainfall and a reduction in disease outbreak have helped minimize food insecurity in Ethiopia, the country would be much worse off without the help of humanitarian aid. Currently, Ethiopia is in crisis, which is phase three of five on the food insecurity scale. The phases include minimal, stressed, crisis, emergency and famine. Experts from the Famine Early Warning Systems Networks report that “Ethiopia would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance.”

Looking Forward

The need for humanitarian aid will increase as Ethiopia’s population rapidly grows. Currently, Ethiopia ranks second in Africa for the number of refugees the country hosts. Nearly 100 percent of these refugees originate from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. Ethiopia currently hosts over 920,262 registered refugees and asylum seekers as of May 31, 2018.

The number of asylum seekers in Ethiopia will continue to grow because Ethiopia has an open-door asylum policy. As Ethiopia’s population continues to grow due to this policy, food sources will become increasingly strained. The need for humanitarian assistance to promote sustainable agriculture and farming practices, therefore, has become essential for reducing food insecurity in Ethiopia.

Ariana Howard
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about the Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act
The North Triangle of Central America (NTCA) is made up of three nations: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Though rich in culture and wildlife, the three countries this region houses are considered incredibly dangerous. Honduras, in 2011, was named the “murder capital of the world”. Every year, the number of asylum seekers fleeing from the NTCA increases as violence, poverty and drug trafficking in the region worsen.

In May 2019, a bill titled the Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act (NTEEA) was introduced in the US House of Representatives. This bill, in a nutshell, aims to address the aforementioned causes of migration from the NCTA. There are two goals to this bill. First, to promote regional stability in the NCTA. Second, to increase border security in the US. Currently, the bill has passed through a committee that aims to issue a report to the House for further consideration. Here are 10 facts about the NTEEA.

10 Facts about the Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act

  1. The Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act was introduced by two Representatives from different states: Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, and Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas. Engel serves as the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs while McCaul is the Committee’s Ranking Member. In addition, NTEEA is co-sponsored by Representatives Albio Sires, Francis Rooney, Norma Torres, Ann Wagner and Henry Cuellar 
  2. NTEEA calls for $577 million in foreign aid to Central America, beginning in the 2020 Fiscal Year: This assistance will go toward understanding and addressing the causes of migration from the NCTA. In 2019, the number of asylum seekers fleeing from Central America is expected to reach more than 539,000. A number of factors contribute to this number, though gang and gender-based violence remain at the top of the list.
  3. A major aspect of NTEEA relies on collecting data from this region: By collecting data the NTEEA aims to enhance national security and understand the severity of the issues plaguing the NCTA. Potentiostat data includes all criminal activity in the region, with an emphasis on two criminal organizations in particular: MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang.
  4. Additionally, information regarding criminal activity reported to authorities will be collected to address the issue of unresolved or ignored crime in this region: The NTCA, due to high poverty rates and weak government institutions, is known for its 95% impunity rate. Citizens of the NTCA find law enforcement in this region untrustworthy and incapable of appropriate prosecution.
  5. Internal displacement of citizens is a massive problem within this region: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) believes that more than 430,000 citizens from the NCTA were internally displaced within their countries by the end of 2017. To understand and combat this issue, services like temporary shelters will be given to those displaced, alongside the collection of data and information regarding displacement.
  6. Gender-based violence and violence against children are two issues that NTEEA aims to reform: In the NTCA, gendered sexual and domestic violence remains a leading factor forcing females to seek asylum. To begin to solve this layered and complicated issue, NTEEA will collect data regarding gender-based violence by region and study its correlation to internal displacement
  7. This bill will increase engagement with the Mexican government in hopes of supporting the citizens of the NTCA: Because Mexico shares a border with Guatemala and Belize. This that means the US will be required to develop an improved partnership with its southern neighbor to achieve success. 
  8. This bill aims to address the issue of poverty that contributes to both the violence and the ensuing migration of its citizens: To do this, NTEEA will provide access to clean water used for drinking and hygienic purposes, shelter for those displaced, and immediate health resources.
  9. Progress in curbing migration from the NTCA will be annually benchmarked to monitor improvements within this region: Updates will begin one year after the bill is signed and every three years after that.
  10. For those displaced, NTEEA will include tools for increased returns to country-of-origin: Eligible repatriated persons will be supported by the private sector in an effort to be trained and hired for acceptable jobs within the NTCA.                                                 

The 10 facts about the Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act demonstrate the strong need for foreign assistance in the Northern Triangle region of Central America. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, all homes to rampant violence and harrowing poverty, are expected to majorly benefit from the NTEEA.

Anna Giffels
Photo: Flickr

Refugee Food AssistanceFor more than 60 years, the U.S. Agency for International Development has upheld its commitment to end global poverty, providing desperately needed refugee food assistance today. USAID works in more than 100 countries. It primarily provides humanitarian assistance, promotes global health and supports global stability. All around the world, more than 25 million people face refugee crises. And among these 25 million people, more than half are young children.

Food Assistance

USAID assists refugees by providing emergency refugee food assistance to 25 countries. In particular, USAID’s food assistance reaches Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia, Chad, Uganda and Bangladesh. One of the world’s biggest refugee camps lies in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh, in Cox’s Bazar. There, an estimated 868,000 Rohingya refugees seek safe haven. In order to escape western Myanmar, refugees must travel on foot through forests and turbulent waters. Often times, refugees do not have enough food for the trip and witness the deaths of loved ones. By the end of this journey, many refugees have nowhere to live and no source of living. Fortunately, USAID’s programs offer assistance.

Furthermore, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace and the United Nations’ World Food Programme partnered to assist those seeking peace, who lack a home and food. USAID and WFP provide packs of high-energy biscuits as meal replacements for arriving refugees. Moreover, USAID gives WFP resources to buy rice from Bangladesh’s national rice reserve. However, it takes time to distribute food to refugee camps. USAID even supports CARE International, which provides U.S. imported food to Cox’s Bazar.

Relief Tactics

Altogether, USAID programs lay out plans for permanent and stable recoveries using four types of relief tactics. Firstly, USAID provides locally and regionally purchased food, which is more quickly accessible than imported food. Secondly, if local food is unavailable, USAID provides U.S.-grown food. Thirdly, if imported food distorts local prices, USAID offers paper or electronic food vouchers. These vouchers allow refugees to purchase local food and support local communities. Fourthly, if more flexible solutions are required, USAID supplies cash, mobile or debit card transfers.

Beyond relief tactics, USAID helps improve global stability. Every year, USAID assists more than 40 to 50 million people worldwide with emergency food assistance. In 2018 alone, USAID gave more than $690 million to help refugees around the world. Overall, numerous countries benefit from USAID. By providing refugee food assistance, USAID plays a huge role in helping millions living in extreme poverty.

Fita Mesui
Photo: Flickr

Challenges Facing Refugees in SerbiaIn 2016, 65.6 million people were forced to leave their homes, and these people are known as refugees. Refugees are usually forced to leave their countries for one of three reasons: victimization, violence or war. Refugees everywhere face immense hardships, and the challenges facing refugees in Serbia are widespread.

Serbia is mainly viewed as a stop along the way for refugees hoping to reach countries in central Europe. In 2015 and the first part of 2016, over 920,000 refugees traveled to Serbia. According to the European Commission, the shutting down of the Western Balkans migration route left 4,146 refugees stranded in Serbia.

Kimmie Whicher, a student at George Mason University, traveled to Serbia on scholarship from Boren. There, she worked with a small non-governmental organization (NGO) to provide food and clothes for hundreds of refugees in a camp in Belgrade, Serbia. In the nine months that Whicher was there, her NGO grew from feeding about 300 to upwards of 800 men.

Approximately 2.6 million refugees live in camps; many of these refugees are living in extremely harsh conditions. In Whicher’s experience, here are some of the challenges facing refugees in Serbia.

1. Poor Living Conditions

One of the challenges facing refugees in Serbia is poor living conditions. According to Caritas, eight out of 10 refugees in Serbia stay in government shelters, the rest must sleep outside in public parks. Among the hardships that come with living outside is the extremely cold weather. Whicher recalled the winter weather in Serbia: “The cold is absolutely ruthless. Our organization that cooked for these men would take hot kettles of boiling water and when we tried to clean up after cooking we would pour it on the table and it would freeze the second it would hit the table.”

Winter temperatures in Serbia are often below freezing. Many refugees are left no choice but to sleep in public parks where they risk getting frostbite, among other conditions due to prolonged exposure to the cold weather. According to The Independent, many children don’t even have gloves or shoes to keep them protected from the snow.

2. No Protection by the Government

A common hardship for many refugees is the lack of safety and protection provided by the government. According to Whicher, “It was a very miserable place. A harsh reality for many of these boys was that this is the border of Europe, so when you’re living here and you’re trying to get through, if you go to a camp you’re probably going to get deported or the police are going to break your phone or take your clothes.”

3. Hunger

Another one of the challenges facing refugees in Serbia is hunger. Refugees have to scrape by on whatever they can get to eat in a day. Small NGOs such as Whicher’s can provide some meals for the refugees, but the majority of those escaping their home countries are still underfed. According to Whicher, “One hot meal a day was our motto.” In this way, organizations can begin to help refugees by providing food and clothes, but they do not have the means necessary to help every refugee.

4. Worsening Physical and Mental Conditions

Due to these hardships, refugees struggle with new or worsening sickness. Due to the freezing temperatures in the winter, refugees in Serbia suffer from frostbite. According to The Independent, in order to escape the freezing temperatures, refugees light fires in their makeshift shelters, which further leads to respiratory problems from the smoke. However, physical sickness is not the only sickness refugees endure. Whicher recalled her experience: “You would literally watch them lose their minds… We saw this one man deteriorate to the point where if he were to go back to school, he would have to be in a special education classroom.”

Despite the harsh reality for many refugees in Serbia, organizations are making great strides to improve refugee conditions. Just by supplying food and clothes to these refugees, these organizations such as the one for which Whicher volunteered, are saving the lives of many.

– Olivia Booth
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


Relying heavily on irrigation from the ancient Tigris and Euphrates rivers, creating sustainable agriculture in Iraq entails overcoming numerous environmental, economic and political dilemmas.

Home to 37 million people, Iraq has experienced worsening agricultural results in the past 20 years, with a GDP contribution of only six percent from the agriculture industry since 1993.  Some of the most influential problems that prevent the development of sustainable agriculture in Iraq include the lack of technologies and educated farming practices, lack of economic power, lack of access to clean water and even civil unrest among cities full of refugees.

According to Nations Encyclopedia, about one-third of Iraqis in the labor force are in the agriculture industry, despite having such a low GDP contribution. A few of the main crops in Iraq include wheat, barley and dates, some of which are staple, or exported crops.

In 1989, the Iraqi government privatized the agriculture industry in an unsuccessful attempt to boost the industry. Still faced with problems today, the privatized farms struggle to produce enough crops to support the urban populations. In response to this food shortage, Iraq began importing food through the United Nation’s Food-for-Oil program, starting in 1995 and lasting until 2003, through which Iraq traded oil reserves for imported foods.

This program led to an increase in competition for local farmers, increasing the difficulty for Iraqi farmers to sell their crops. However, there are aid programs that strive to provide sufficient nutrition to overcrowded, urban areas. The World Food Program (WFP) provides rations to more than 230,000 Iraqis struggling to obtain food. Rations include basic ingredients such as wheat, flour, rice, beans and more.

Additionally, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the European Union donated more than €80 million in agricultural advancement. USAID has invested about $6.6 billion toward improving a wide variety of issues in Iraq, some of which include the improvement of marshlands by reflooding original marshlands, the financing of small, local farms and the improvement of irrigation techniques. The World Bank has also provided more than $990 million since 2003 in grants and soft, low-interest loans for farmers to improve their water supply, irrigation and drainage resolutions.

One of the biggest problems that these programs address is Iraq’s water irrigation systems and cleanliness. Iraqi farmers normally irrigate their crops by flooding their fields; however, this is a short-term solution which causes even more problems in the future, including erosion. The constant flooding of fields leads to water-fueled erosion, which disrupts irrigation canals and tunnels that have gone without maintenance due to a lack of funding and resources from the Iraqi government.

Another dilemma in creating sustainable agriculture in Iraq is the salinity of water used to irrigate crops. According to FAO, about 70 percent of arable land in Iraq is threatened by salinity. Salinity reduces the soil’s health and fertility, directly impacting farmers’ abilities to produce a high yield of crops.

Another short-term solution that Iraqi farmers have found is overgrazing. Overgrazing allows farmers to produce more livestock to meet the high demands of urban populations. However, overgrazing without improving the quality of pastures has led to nutrient-deprived soils, drastically affecting sustainable agriculture in Iraq and advancing soil erosion.

Lastly, the recent political unrest and violence in Iraq has created a massive population of war refugees, as well as directly impacted the ability to grow crops. More than 700,000 people are living in refugee camps, and as of 2017, more than 800,000 Iraqis still require a food assistance program to survive. Such a high number of refugees is what initiated the nation’s increase of imports, therefore causing increased competition with Iraq’s farmers. Violence and conflict can also result in physical damage to arable land as well as to irrigation systems, causing more strain on farmers.

Creating sustainable agriculture in Iraq is a continuous struggle with issues that cannot be fixed through a simple method. The ongoing violence ensures economic hardship for farmers, and with few technologies accessible, alternative, long-term solutions are farmers’ only option to create a sustainable agriculture industry.

– Austin Stoltzfus

Photo: Flickr

 

Learn about Poverty in Iraq

 

When the 2011 Arab Spring swept through the Middle East, it left behind a number of ongoing conflicts that still continue to rage. One of the most serious of these conflicts is the Libyan civil war, which began with the ousting and subsequent death of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The conflict has been a long and complicated one, with many different factions taking their turn in the spotlight. Below are 10 facts about the Libyan crisis:

  1. The current phase of the war is primarily being fought by the House of Representatives government, based out of Tripoli, and the rival General National Congress, elected in 2014, as they both vie to take control of the whole nation.
  2. The U.N. brought the two sides together in 2016 to sign the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) and form a transitional government, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, that would help bring stability to the nation. It still remains unclear whether the new government will be able to enforce its U.N. mandate.
  3. Khalifa Haftar, general of the Libyan National Army, has aligned himself with the House of Representatives, who voted against the U.N. agreement, and has been aiding them in their struggle with al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA).
  4. When the House of Representatives was voted into office in 2014, only 18 percent of eligible voters turned out and cast their ballots. This was largely due to a lack of confidence in the ability of an elected government to make meaningful change.
  5. Considering such low voter confidence and the fact that the original LPA expires in December of this year, the U.N. has begun taking steps to amend the LPA to ease the divisions between the House of Representatives and the GNA, as well as create free and fair elections.
  6. The Libyan crisis is commonly divided into two official civil wars. The first lasted for several months in 2011 and was marked primarily by the deposing and killing of Muammar Gaddafi. The currently ongoing civil war began in 2014 when the national government came into conflict with the General National Congress, a Muslim Brotherhood-backed Islamist government.
  7. The second civil war has already claimed nearly 7,000 lives, with over 20,000 people wounded in the conflict and many thousands more displaced from their homes. Fighting in Sabratha, a city near Tripoli, saw nearly 10,000 people fleeing their homes to seek aid from U.N. groups in Libya.
  8. Fleeing the same fighting in Sabratha, a group of immigrants, as over 100,000 others from all across North Africa have sought to do this year alone, tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy in a dinghy that subsequently ran out of fuel and capsized. Of the 100 refugees in the boat, more than 50 are feared to have drowned. They join the over 2,400 of that 100,000 that have drowned crossing the Mediterranean while fleeing the fighting in their home countries.
  9. The BBC reports that refugees caught fleeing Libya are thrown into crowded and dirty detention centers where they are held to keep them from fleeing. There are also rumors that the falling numbers of Libyans fleeing to Italy is spurred by the GNA’s use of Libyan militias, who may be involved in human trafficking.
  10. Though representatives of the U.S. government have made statements in favor of the measures being taken to end the crisis, actions such as the United States’ past military involvement with the Libyan oil industry and the inclusion of Libya in President Trump’s travel ban have led many to questions as to what the U.S. is doing to help bring stability to the nation.

The wars in Libya are an increasingly complex, evolving and seemingly convoluted issue. These 10 facts about the Libyan crisis can serve as an overview of the conflict, but there is far more information to be delved into as the world seeks a resolution to the crisis.

Erik Halberg

Photo: Flickr

Higher Education for RefugeesIn 2016, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published its annual Global Report on the state of the world’s refugee crisis. Among other things, the report highlights a 6 percent rise in what it terms ‘populations of concern’ over the past year alone. That is a total increase of one million people.

Specifically, the global number of refugees — people who have been forced from their home countries due to war or other life-threatening occurrences — has risen by 6.7 million in just five years.

Imagine if nearly the entire population of Washington state was suddenly forced to leave, and depend entirely on their ability to convince a political body, over which they have no control, of the unequivocal necessity of their leaving home. The total number of people living this reality stands at 16.5 million.

What does this situation mean for college-aged adults? What access is there to higher education for refugees? According to UNHCR statistics on refugee education, the situation is bleak. Just 1 percent of all college-aged refugees are able to seek higher education, while the other 99 percent is left out.

However, there is one program that seems to have had a profoundly positive impact on thousands of college-aged refugees. The UNHCR’s Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative Fund (DAFI).

DAFI was first implemented in 1992, and has continued to receive a majority of its funding from the government of Germany. Through the financing of higher education for refugees at approved universities, DAFI aims to:

  • Promote self-reliance and empowerment for sponsored students and their family
  • Help sponsored students to become adept community leaders capable of assisting their home countries
  • Provide the training necessary for scholarship recipients to work within refugee communities while awaiting repatriation
  • Facilitate host country integration for scholarship recipients and their families
  • Demonstrate to all, especially women and girls, the value of education

So, what does it take for a potential scholar to be granted a DAFI scholarship? First, students must be in what the UNHCR terms “developing countries or countries in transition”, as well as have been granted asylum from the country in which they will pursue their studies. Second, they must be under 28 years of age when their studies begin.

Additionally, as the program is intended to arm a generation with the necessary skills required to help rebuild their countries of origin, all students must decide on a course of study that will see them quickly employed upon repatriation.

As of 2015, 2,321 people were able to achieve their dream of attending university. This is a substantial increase from a total of just 4,774 scholars in the first 15 years of its operation.

For its relatively short history, it would seem that the program of higher education for refugees has been hugely successful. Indeed, one of its only critiques may be that it cannot reach more would-be college students faster.

Katarina Schrag

Photo: Flickr

Hungary_refugeeThough the European refugee crisis has largely faded from the international media’s spotlight, thousands of asylum-seekers continue to enter Europe by any means possible with the hopes of starting a new life. In the face of this ongoing humanitarian crisis, the Hungarian grassroots organization Migration Aid has harnessed the power of social media as a means of delivering aid and guidance to thousands of refugees.

Migration Aid was founded in June 2015, at the height of the European refugee crisis, by a handful of concerned citizens in Budapest that desired to help people in Hungary. The organization originated as a closed group on Facebook, which was utilized as a virtual planning board for orchestrating aid delivery, which included food and supplies distribution. The organization also consisted of various specialty groups with coordinators assigned to handle legal matters, storage, logistics and any other issues. Migration Aid set up centers in the railway stations of Budapest and the surrounding area, and quickly grew to over 600 volunteers.

Two years have elapsed since the group’s inception, during which time Migration Aid has helped feed, clothe and provide direction to thousands of refugees, but the situation faced by asylum-seekers in Hungary remains extremely tenuous. Hungary’s geographic location has forced the country into a major role in the crisis, as it is a popular by-way for migrants hoping to settle further afield from the Middle East in Northern and Western Europe. Between January and August of 2017, 2,491 asylum applications were registered in Hungary alone.

The European Union has endeavored to establish a comprehensive and effective means of responding to what has become the largest global displacement crisis since World War II. In September 2015, the European Commission announced a minimum quota of refugees that each EU member country would be expected to host, with the intention of fairly distributing the burden of providing for the record numbers of migrants streaming into the continent. It was also in September 2015 that Hungary closed its borders to refugees, and began strictly limiting their movement throughout the country.

Furthermore, Hungarian officials have resisted compliance with the quotas and policies made obligatory for all members of the EU. In March 2017, the Hungarian government implemented a law requiring that all refugees whose asylum applications were pending be housed in detention centers. When it was discovered that the housing units available at these detention centers were comprised of shipping containers, and that refugees were being forced to pay for their stay, the United Nations refugee agency urged the E.U. to stop sending asylum seekers to Hungary, declaring this mandatory detention a violation of international law that guarantees people access to asylum.

Additionally, Viktor Mihály Orbán, a Hungarian politician, petitioned the European Commission President to exempt Hungary from the migrant relocation quotas, a request which was denied and earned the Hungarian government a lawsuit for failure to comply.

In the face of the conditions now being imposed on refugees, Migration Aid has developed new strategies to help people in Hungary. Recognizing the need for information dissemination pertaining to the new laws and regulations, the organization developed a new application named InfoAid, which seeks to provide information to asylum-seekers in their native language. According to Migration Aid’s website, the InfoAid app seeks to provide the following types of information:

  • what rules apply to them
  • where they can receive care
  • what is going on in transport
  • where there is safe drinking water in Hungary
  • where and how they should buy train tickets
  • where they can receive medical care
  • how they should collect the waste they generate
  • where, when and why they have to register and what exactly it involves

The InfoAid app supplies information in English, Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. Migration Aid is currently seeking the help of volunteer translators so that they can keep up with the need for translated information, as well as expand their offerings to include Greek and Pashto.

Thanks to internet technology, anyone around the world with relevant language skills wondering how to help people in Hungary can act as an invaluable source of aid by donating their time and skills. More information about volunteering can be found on Migration Aid’s official website, or on the Facebook page.

For individuals desirous of contributing but who lack the language skills requisite to volunteer, Migration Aid also accepts monetary donations, which are fundamental to the organization’s ability to help people in Hungary. Now more than ever, the innovative and progressive efforts that this organization continues to make on behalf of refugees in Hungary is a tremendous source of hope and comfort to many.

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr