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Refugees in Saudi Arabia
The Syrian refugee crisis has become the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Millions of people have been forced to make new homes in foreign countries. These countries often struggle to absorb the number of refugees needing homes. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, are opposed to opening their doors to people seeking refuge altogether. This article provides 10 facts about refugees in Saudi Arabia and a few problems they have experienced during their transition process.

10 Important Facts About Refugees in Saudi Arabia

  1. Refugees in Saudi Arabia have had a difficult time initially entering the country. Saudi Arabia has faced a series of criticisms for refusing to open their doors to these refugees.
  2. Social media, the news and human rights reports have taken turns in shaming Saudi Arabia for its refusal. Saudi Arabia denies these criticisms, saying that they have given residency to 100,000 people during the crisis.
  3. The country is home to a tent city, Mina, spanning 20 square kilometers and holding about 100,000 tents. Refugees in Saudi Arabia have not been permitted to stay in these tents because they hold religious significance as a stop on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Each tent costs between $500 and $3,500.
  4. The Mina tent city has not been opened to people seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia because their government claims that this is not what such people want. The government has also voted against giving the displaced people the official designation of “refugee.”
  5. Due to increased criticism, in 2016 Saudi Arabia provided $75 million to aid refugees. However, with the number of people seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia continuously growing, the country continues to dismiss their status and refrains from putting them in refugee camps.
  6. Since Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the U.N. Convention on Refugees, there is some discrepancy over the exact number of refugees in Saudi Arabia.
  7. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are between 100,000 and 500,000 refugees in the country, but some disagree that this number is not representative enough of the Saudi population of 31 million.
  8. A significant reason for Saudi Arabia closing its doors to people seeking refuge has to do with the Islamic State and Syrian Sunni Muslims. A majority of the refugees fleeing to Saudi Arabia are from Sunni areas of Syria–areas that play host to the Islamic State. Saudi Arabian forces have bombed these regions and want to know if the refugees are escaping ISIS or the bombings.
  9. The overarching reason that people seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia are being denied status or even shut out of the country has to do with issues of national security more than threats to demographic stability.
  10. The foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council have asked Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries also halting entry to refugees to find a solution to the crisis.

The Syrian refugee crisis continues to affect a large percentage of our world. The Syrians can no longer live in safety within their country, and so they seek safer lands. But the sheer number of refugees creates trouble for host countries trying to integrate refugees into society. This problem warrants a need for significant humanitarian aid and cooperation.

Katelynn Kenworthy

Photo: Flickr

Sadiq_KhanOn May 9, 2016, Sadiq Khan entered the London City Hall to commence his new role as London’s duly elected mayor. His ascension to this role over Europe’s financial capital was a historic moment for economic equality and progression within London.

In his acceptance speech, Khan said, “I am determined to lead the most transparent, engaged, and accessible administration London has ever seen, and to represent every single community and every single part of our city as mayor for all Londoners.”

Over the last year, Khan has risen from a relatively obscure character in the British parliament to a world-renowned figurehead. His campaign was fraught with controversy over his reputation, and many did not trust his intentions as a politician. Why? Who is Sadiq Khan, and what is it that makes him such a controversial figure in British politics?

Sadiq Khan is the first Muslim to become mayor of a major Western city. And though some radicals believe the world is coming to an end with such a change, this historic event is generally viewed as a positive political breakthrough. London specifically sees this significance, but various countries throughout Europe and the West agree.

Originally planning to become a dentist, Khan instead pursued law after a teacher commented on his talent for arguing. A few years later, he graduated from the University of London and began his career as a human rights lawyer.

He quickly received attention from various high profile cases, but after a number of years as an attorney he left his practice in order to become more involved in politics. The rest is history.

In his new job as mayor, Khan plans to focus on two central points: significant reductions in poverty and inequality. CNN has observed that the divide between rich and poor in the financial powerhouse of Europe has been steadily increasing.

Statistics show that 27 percent of the nearly 9 million inhabitants are living below the poverty line. Additionally, prices for travel and housing are rising and jobs cannot compensate for the cost of living in London.

Khan has listed a number of strategies that he will implement to improve the current financial situation. First, he intends to attack the housing crisis currently facing London.

On his campaign webpage he writes, “For young families and individuals on average incomes, housing is increasingly unaffordable – with home ownership a distant dream.” Khan also intends to make affordable homes a focus of his tenure through construction reform. He plans on stopping the outsourcing of property to foreign investors.

Another problem that currently besets London is in-work poverty. Employers cannot give their workers sufficient pay raises to compensate for rising price inflation. Consequently, Khan intends to provide tax breaks to companies who pay their employees enough money to cope with London’s high living costs.

The new mayor also plans to address ethnic and gender inequality. Khan is committed to tackling each of these issues in order to help London stem the tide of its inflation while bringing poverty and inequality rates down.

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

Albania
Albania is known for its quirks and major differences if, indeed, it is mentioned at all. It is a smaller country that can be found in the Balkan Peninsula with a population of approximately three million. One of the first things to remember about this country is that a nod means “no” and shaking the head in the other direction means “yes.” The second thing to remember is if there is a stuffed toy hanging from a building, it ought not to be removed.

Yes, in this country, weather-beaten rabbits are hung by their ears, scarecrow-looking objects are posted by balconies and they are very important in keeping the peace of mind of Albanian cities. Like many Middle Eastern countries, these inhabitants seek to protect themselves against the Evil Eye.

The instrument that is used to provide this kind of protection is called the dordolec and the soft toys are also called kukull. Elizabeth Gowing, a reporter for the BBC, interviewed an owner of a furniture store: “‘It stops the evil eye from seeing our money,’… He explains that at first, he hadn’t hung a monkey up when he was building this place. ‘And then the police came. My son went out and bought a monkey and we’ve not had any trouble since.’”

The idea behind this practice is that the passer-by fixates on the dordolec and thus does not covet the property of the house it belongs to. There’s no direct correlation between these objects and a religious belief per se.

Michael Harrison from the U.K. says, “In Albania, such beliefs can be found in all religious communities, Muslim, Orthodox or Catholic – in fact, I encountered less examples of the dordolec in the north, in the area around Skhodër, where the Catholic Church is particularly strong.”

Religion doesn’t always relate directly to the customs of a country. A writer from the travel blog, A Dangerous Business, says, “In fact, most of Albania’s current reality can be traced back to that paranoid leader, Enver Hoxha, who ruled with increasing suspicion of the wider world until his death in 1985.” In driving through Albania, one might see numerous bunkers because Enver Hoxha generally isolated himself and had a strong fear of the outside world.

Now, visitors of Albania can expect to be welcomed with open arms with the natural expectation that national customs will be learned and respected.

Anna Brailow

Sources: BBC, Dangerous Business, Michael Harrison
Photo: Flickr

Fasting_During_Ramadan
Most Muslims who fast during the month-long Islamic festival of Ramadan do so under direction from the Quran, but those who abstain from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours may also experience health benefits as a result.

If done right, those who participate in fasting during Ramadan can not only see a rise in spirituality and giving, but also health benefits such as weight loss and overcoming addictions.

It’s possible to see benefits from fasting during Ramadan because food consumption is often different from usual diets, as malnutrition and insufficient calorie intake are avoided during the religious holiday.

Fasting during Ramadan can help lead to weight loss because the body’s energy is replaced during the eating periods. Instead of using glucose as the principal source of energy, the body instead turns to fat, which prevents muscle from breaking down for protein.

Using fat as energy instead of glucose preserves the muscles, in turn reducing cholesterol levels, helping with weight loss. In doing so, blood pressure can improve and be controlled better.

A study by the Annals of Nutrition Metabolism in 1997 showed just this. Results of the study revealed that, by fasting, LDL cholesterol levels, the bad lipoproteins, dropped by 8%, whereas HDL cholesterol levels, the good lipoproteins, rose by 14.3%.

Such a phenomenon can be explained by the eating and exercise behaviors of those who fast during Ramadan. Studies have shown that people often turn to healthier options during the holiday, which reduces saturated fat consumption.

Such studies have also seen an increase in physical activity during Ramadan, as exercise from the night prayers, known as “tawarih,” may be equivalent to moderate physical activity for some.

Fasting can also help those with addictions. Though self-restraint, another teaching of Ramadan, the body goes through a detoxification process, which in turn can help those who fast overcome additions such as smoking.

By understanding the teachings of self-restraint and learning from them, those who fast may find it easier to forget addictions during the day when fasting occurs.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Al Arabiya News, Mosque of Tucson, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, National Health Service of England
Photo: Flickr

global_health
A new series published in a U.K. medical journal demonstrates the growing role of religion in global health.

The three-part series from The Lancet focuses on faith-based healthcare and how religious organizations can play a crucial role in helping health coverage become universal. The series suggests a lack of evidence about the abundance of health services faith-based organizations provide and represent. However, the series also validates the important role faith-based health providers play in immunization, prevention of mother and child deaths, HIV services and antimalarial campaigns.

The role of religion in global health is even more crucial in areas with fragile health systems.

Faith-based organizations have a unique opportunity because of their experience, strengths and capacities. According to The Lancet, the chance to play a vital role in global heath arises from their wide geographical coverage, infrastructure and influence. For a faith-based organization to have an impact on global health, it needs the support and trust of its community. This is where religious leaders play a role.

Religious leaders tend to have lots of authority at the grass roots within a community, as well as the ability to shape people’s opinions. Leaders of faith-based organizations, along with having substantial social and political sway, also have a network of people they inspire, in turn mobilizing congregations to make a difference. For example, Channels of Hope, a project of the Evangelical Christian aid organization World Vision International, mobilized almost 400,000 local leaders to transform health and development in their communities.

Religious leaders are also a reliable source when it comes to information about medical programs. Some vocal minorities may use religious arguments and possible distrust of government to advocate against immunizing children, but by enlisting the help of leaders in the religious sector, medical programs can extend their reach.

Such an occasion was seen in both Angola in the late 1990s, and India in the late 2000s. In both instances, religious leaders helped to educate those who distrusted government officials.

Muslim leaders in India helped to reverse opposition to polio vaccines in certain areas where rumors and misconceptions about the government were rampant. In Angola, churches helped to end polio by making sure messages reached isolated populations — the same areas that often saw high illiteracy rates and poor media coverage.

Partnerships also play a key role in global health, as shown by case studies examined in The Lancet series.

When religious leaders partner with groups including government organizations, public-sector agencies and international development actors, effectiveness is often boosted.

Such an instance occurred in Sierra Leone in the 1980s when Muslim and Christian leaders united with UNICEF and led a campaign to increase immunization rates in children under the age of 1. By combining forces, rates increased from six percent to 75 percent.

By joining forces, not only can it be made possible that every child is vaccinated, but a successful partnership can also help generate long-term support for necessary health services for children.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Medical Xpress, UNICEF
Photo: Cross Catholic

Fighting_Ebola_in_Sierra_Leone

It is the holy month of Ramadan in Sierra Leone and attendance at religious services was up from the rest of the year on Friday. Sermons provide the best platform for educating the general population about the Ebola epidemic and religious leaders are using faith to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone.

In a country that has witnessed Ebola’s devastating effects, religious leaders from all walks of life have come together to work to end the epidemic. Of the 27,479 confirmed cases of Ebola reported by the World Health Organization, over 13,000 have been reported in Sierra Leone.

The Freetown-based NGP, Focus 1000 came up with the idea to use interfaith dialogue to educate citizens about the dangers of Ebola.  In a country that is 78 percent Muslim and 21 percent Christian, it has been one of the most successful means of combating the deadly disease.

One of the main causes of the unprecedented spread of Ebola, was the lack of understanding that Ebola spread through bodily fluids even after the victim had died. Muslim and Christian burial rites composed of family members washing the deceased patients. Coupled with mistrust of the government and aid workers body disposal protocols, it created a situation where infections were being passed along routinely.

Ramadan Jollah, the chief Imam of the Jam’iyatul Haq Mosque in Freetown explained, “Sierra Leone has a clear understanding of what religion really is — that religion is not there to create problems between people but instead to bring people together.” Together, Muslim and Christian leaders have used their anointed trust to help their communities follow health protocols.

The Imam has used verses of the Qur’an to appeal Ebola prevention tactics. The Qur’an allows Muslims who are martyred to be buried in their clothing without being washed. He quotes the Prophet of Islam imploring Muslims to wash their hands regularly.

Similarly, Reverend Christiana Sutton-Koroma addresses her congregation in a small church. The Reverend quotes passages from the Bible’s Book of Numbers – prohibiting people from coming into contact with corpses that can infect them.

She dispels myths of burial washing and also avoiding seeking care in case of infection.  Members of her congregation take her message very serious and many go home to spread the message to their families, friends, and neighbors.

International NGO’s such as World Vision have followed suit, creating venues for Muslim leaders to address Christian congregations and vice versa.  It is not uncommon in Sierra Leone to have multi-faith families.  Christians pray for their sick Muslim neighbors in churches and Muslims pray for their Christian counter-parts in mosques.

The tactics are working. Sierra Leone, while having the most cases of confirmed Ebola, has also the least mortality percentage in comparison to their neighbors in Guinea and Liberia.  New cases have begun to rapidly decline.  In May 2015, the country declared itself Ebola free for the first time.  Although it did not last long, progress is being made.

USAID has pledged to send US $126 million to the three countries-Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea- to strengthen their health care systems by providing crucial support such as vaccines and vitamins.  The United Nations says US 88.1 million dollars is needed to support the “last mile” of the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  Foreign Aid, coupled with faith, are fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, and together they are winning.

– Adnan Khalid

Sources: Al Jazeera, Ebola Deeply, USAID, World Health Organization, World Vision International 1, World Vision International 2
Photo: Caritas

climate_change
Pope Francis will deliver an encyclical this summer on the subject of climate change. In preparation for the speech, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a heavily attended workshop on April 28 in Rome. Included among the guest groups were the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and the Heartland Institute.

Another prominent guest, Cardinal Peter Turkson, asserted that “irrespective of the causes of climate change,” Christians are obligated to help the poor. Therein lies a complicating factor: Christians must now consider altruism without unwittingly aggravating the causes of climate change.

This brings to light a much more generalized question regarding religion’s role in the alleviation of poverty, or lack thereof. Fundamentalist Christians, for example, would read the Bible and disregard any pontifical command to pay attention to climate change.

The picture becomes even cloudier when politics are factored in. Most Evangelical Christians and Mormons are conservative Republicans who believe that the scientific evidence supporting the phenomena of climate change is inaccurate and/or falsified.

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and Evangelical Christian, attempts to bridge the gap between science and evangelical faith. She is a member of a statistical minority; according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, only 44 percent of evangelicals believe that global warming is both real and the result of human behavior. Some politicians even believe that God would not let human behavior destroy the planet.

Hayhoe debunks biblical arguments such as those saying that bad things still happen even with a Judeo-Christian God in existence because that God grants free will to His people. “That’s really what climate change is,” she explains, “It’s a casualty of the decisions that we have made.”

She goes on to hypothesize that many evangelicals fear the concept of climate change for two reasons. First, they erroneously believe that all scientists are atheists. Second, their typically conservative political viewpoints biases them against any and all potential “big government” interventions.

To make matters of religion and politics even more complicated, most Jews lean politically left and are beginning to take active steps as a community to alleviate climate change. The Reconstructionist and Reform movements tend to be the most liberal, followed by the Conservative and Orthodox Jews. Generally, the more traditional the sect is in its practice of Judaism, the less environmentally active that movement tends to be.

Consequently, researchers find a startling, ironic commonality between the most observant Jews and the most observant Christians. It appears that the more conservatively a religious sect’s people practice that religion, the less likely they are to take steps to stop climate change.

Adding fuel to that fire, it is the poorest populations that suffer the most from the effects of climate change. The one demographic that both Jewish and Christian ideologies make the most efforts to help is the very group that falls on the receiving end of their most devout groups’ inaction.

So what is to be done? Should the secular American population vote in politicians who choose religious freedom over environmental activism, or vice-versa? Maybe the next election cycle will bring forth more people like Katharine Hayhoe, but then again, maybe not. Only time and ballots can tell.

– Leah Zazofsky

Sources: Slate, The Heartland Institute, Yale Climate Connections
Photo: Telegraph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Leah Zazofsky

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

religious organizations
For a long time faith-based organizations have played an important role in foreign aid. One of the great advantages brought by these organizations is their ability to connect their congregations in developing countries with their counterparts in industrialized nations. But is there really a difference between the contributions of secular versus religious organizations with regard to foreign aid?

Partnerships with faith-based organizations based in countries affected by poverty, natural disasters and other crises has been key in providing access for development agencies and NGOs in these countries. Some would even argue that without faith-based organizations the flow of aid would be halted to a minimum. This argument is supported by the notion that religious individuals or groups find it much easier to translate compassion into action.

However, this argument loses some of its strength if we consider aid not as a charity, but as an investment. What is more, there are certainly large secular organizations such as Doctors without Borders or Oxfam that have made a huge impact on poverty alleviation.

There is certainly a premise within religious indoctrination that drives to donate for charitable causes. It is even specifically included in the various religious customs and traditions. However, this does not necessarily mean that there would be no aid without faith-based organization.

According to Fiona Fox, founding director of the independent press office Science Media Centre, to improve people’s lives is as much the mission of science as it is of religion. There are countless individuals and groups who do not abide by any religion, and who work arduously to fight hunger and poverty.

In fact, an expanded definition of aid which includes the work of institutes such a the Welcome Trust and the Medical Research Centre dedicated to finding solutions to many health problems in the developing world shows that faith-based organizations do not stand alone in fighting the human plight.

It is difficult to support the idea that there would be no aid without religious organizations. However, it would also be unfair to assume that these organizations do not do their fair share of the work. In the end, it should not matter how much is contributed by a faith-based versus a secular organization, but taking note of the real impact and what kind of results are being generated by both.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Center for American Progress, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: opbronx

Pope Benedict's New Look for the Catholic Church
With appointments set in the near future with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, his having chosen the first round of Cardinals, and being Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”, it is a good time to look at who the new Pope Francis is.

Most people have now run across some piece of news about him, most likely having to do with his groundbreaking decision to denounce most luxuries afforded to the Pope, such as his insistence in driving his old car, or the latest quote he made, which was deemed extremely progressive as far as how the Catholic Church has portrayed itself in the past.

Born in 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Pope Francis has been changing things up since he became Pope. News titles such as, “The Political Genius of Pope Francis” from Politico, or “Pope launches Vatican Bank Purge” from WND, give the impression that the Pope is a man of the people. Certainly Catholic followers, many more have been impressed by the new Pope, and it seems the popularity of the Catholic Church is on the rise.

This Pope comes off the heels of an unprecedented occurrence: the living Pope, Pope Benedict, stepped down while he was still alive. This means for the first time in modern history, there is a living former Pope. Mystery and occult knowledge have always enshrouded the Vatican, and one cannot expect centuries of tradition to be broken overnight. However, all the trends and decisions of Pope Benedict as of yet seem to be doing just that.

Pope Francis recently had one of his first major opportunities to manifest his vision of what the Church he now leads should look like. This came in the form of his first round of electing new Cardinals. Given most of the reporting from reputable sources, a continuance of this progressive trend, this was very heavily enacted. With so much influence and resources at its disposal, the Catholic Church, and, more succinctly the Vatican hold immense sway on the direction of how this global society progresses.

The decisions made have vast ripple effects that few other institutions have the capacity to do. With a seemingly new direction and a new leader, a new era for the Catholic church may be beginning; of course, only time will tell.

– Tyler Shafsky

Sources: The Guardian, USA Today, Huffington Post, ABC News
Photo: Slate