The number of people thrown into life as a refugee has increased from 21.3 million people in 2015 to 26.4 million refugees in 2020. While there is no current worldwide count for 2021, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is predicted to increase the number of refugees forcibly displaced by at least 515,000 people.

What is Life as a Refugee Like?

Refugees often stay in refugee camps, which provide a haven from the violence or disaster they were facing at home; however, the conditions in these camps are far from comfortably livable. Life as a refugee often includes overcrowding, a lack of food and water and a lack of sanitary methods of eliminating human waste. Refugees may be displaced for 10-26 years on average. In 2016, Brookings reported that “only 2.5% of refugees were able to return to their home countries” and only .001% became naturalized citizens in their countries of asylum.

On average, one out of three refugees suffers from mental health challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. These mental health challenges cause some to turn to drug use and fosters a dangerous environment in which sexual abuse and assault are rife. A 2017 UNICEF study of the Central Mediterranean refugee crisis highlights that “nearly half of women reported sexual violence and abuse throughout their journeys.” Given the nature of the topic and the fact that not all refugees worldwide had input, this statistic is not entirely representative of the refugee population but does give an idea as to some of the dangers of life as a refugee.

Action to Aid Refugees

Groups such as the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee work to ensure that refugees get essential assistance by providing access to food, clean water, sanitation, healthcare and shelter. The U.N. Refugee Agency employs more than 17,878 personnel working in 132 countries and had more than 20 million refugees under its mandate as of 2019. Its budget in its first year was $300,000 which has since grown to $8.6 billion in 2019. Furthermore, the International Rescue Committee has made a vast impact in the Syrian region (Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon) and Afghanistan in particular. In the Syrian region, the committee has more than 2,000 aid workers and volunteers working to provide access to healthcare, clean water, education and the protection of women and children. Similarly, Afghanistan provides aid to more than 4 million people in approximately 4,000 communities. The organization’s work here promotes healthcare and sanitation in addition to reconstruction projects and education. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan are among the top countries regarding how many refugees they host.

Additionally, with the number of Afghan refugees that could arise as a result of the Taliban’s take-over, President Biden approved up to $500 million on August 16, 2021, from the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to aid in evacuation and finding refuge. Additionally, in July 2021, Congress passed $1 billion of aid to Afghans for evacuations and visas. Some Democrats in Congress want to add to this amount and “are discussing putting money to help resettle Afghan refugees in the $3.5 trillion tax and spending package.”

How Refugees Affect Poverty in Countries of  Asylum

Some citizens in host countries feel that refugees drain host state resources, overexert healthcare facilities, crowd schools and deplete the host state economy. The money host countries spend to aid refugees is high, but the benefit of adding refugees to the economy as refugees recover and rebuild a life in their host countries can far outweigh this. An economic impact study of three Congolese refugee camps in Rwanda in 2015, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes this clear, stating that “an additional adult refugee receiving cash aid increases annual real income in the local economy by $205 to $253, significantly more than the $120-$126 in aid each refugee receives.”

The Connection Between Poverty and Refugees

Refugees face life-threatening poverty in which they lack access to proper food, sanitation, healthcare and many other necessities. The reality of life as a refugee fosters conditions for extreme poverty as refugees are often forced to flee their homes rather quickly with few or no personal belongings. Host countries that are still developing often take in refugees. While this puts a strain on host countries and temporarily increases poverty, when refugees receive the right tools to succeed, they return more money to the economy than they cost. Thus, in order to break this cycle of poverty within refugee communities organizations like the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee are working to provide the support refugees need to assimilate into life in the places they seek asylum.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

children in migration
In February 2021, the European Union announced the new E.U. Global Promotion of Best Practices for Children in Migration Programme in collaboration with UNICEF and the U.N. Refugee Agency. This initiative aims to ensure protective services for migrant children. The year 2020 marked the highest migrant population ever recorded with 280.6 million people. Nearly 15% of this population are children under 19. Extra care is necessary to ensure this vulnerable group can receive proper protection.

Creating the Programme

Children in migration are often at risk of gender violence, physical harm and exploitation as they travel to their destination. This is due to the lack of resources, government protection and spending long periods in immigration detention facilities. The E.U. created its Global Promotion of Best Practices for Children in Migration Programme to address these risks of abuse in order to better protect minors in these situations. These protections are especially crucial because of the rising number of unaccompanied children in migration.

The plans include training for government officials who work with migrating children, increasing awareness of gendered violence and alternative care plans for migrant children to replace traditional immigration detention. Efforts will go towards provided education for officials to recognize child abuse and learn proper intervention techniques for the child’s safety. The program will focus on the countries El Salvador, Mexico, South Africa and Zambia.

The program expects to use approximately €7.5 million in funding and already received €7 million from the European Union by its launch date. Hopes are high that the program will protect many children within its 30-month duration; in Mexico alone in 2019, an estimated 52,000 children had to migrate.

The Risk of Gender Violence for Children in Migration

Children in migration are incredibly vulnerable to gender violence. This consists most commonly of sexual violence and exploitation. Perpetrators can easily take advantage of children without families, safe housing options or defenses. Migrating children are often subject to rape, sexual assault or even human trafficking while traveling to their final destination.

Small case studies from around the world report high rates of migrant children experiencing gender-based and sexual violence. However, the exact rates are difficult to find because so many cases go unreported. Since most children in migration do not have legal protection or support, they do not report assaults in their destination country. Girls are more likely to face gender violence, but migrant boys also report high rates of sexual violence. While migrant boys and girls face different challenges, both need special protection.

Research found officials under-trained to properly care for abused children’s needs once they reach safety. Increasing psychosocial training to assist children with sexual abuse or trauma could better prepare officials in locating resources to aid the child’s mental or physical needs.

Options for Alternatives to Migrant Children in Detention

UNICEF has already been educating partners on alternatives to putting migrating children in immigration detention, especially when they do not have accompaniment. Some children in detention have even reported sexual abuse and neglect by center workers. They need special protection even in an environment catered towards caring for migrating children.

Instead, UNICEF’s recommendations include new foster care programs or homestays with families that are trained and willing to house unaccompanied minors or children whose parents have been detained in immigration detention. Additionally, referral networks must appraise migrants of their rights and point children in migration towards protective environments.

Hope for Migrating Children

While the E.U. Global Promotion of Best Practices for Children in Migration Programme is focusing on only four countries in the world, the findings from this project can be instrumental in pioneering solutions for government officials and social workers across the world working to support children in migration. With increased intervention and assistance, children in migration can safely seek refuge without fear of abuse.

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Kosovo
Although the Kosovo war has ended, there are still citizens who remain displaced. The U.N. Refugee Agency reported that 90,000 people still need housing assistance, and there lacks a clear strategy set to combat homelessness. Although a cogent strategy has yet to reveal itself, there are key issues that the government and various aid organizations need to look at in order to combat homelessness in Kosovo. These include domestic abuse, the development of housing projects and the fate of internally displaced people (IDP).

Domestic Abuse

Many women and children suffer from domestic abuse in Kosovo. In 2016, reports determined that there were 870 cases of domestic violence in Kosovo, with women mostly being the target. Currently, officials lack adequate housing assistance for those who suffer from domestic abuse. There are two components that make housing assistance inadequate: financial instability in the shelters, and the low chance of adequate housing for women and children after they leave the shelter. These factors leave women and children at risk of homelessness in Kosovo. The shelters have been improving in recent times. According to a report from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, over 400 women along with their children received assistance and shelter from the operating shelters in Kosovo between January and November 2018.

Housing Projects

 The Kosovo war, which lasted from 1998 to 1999, has also put a number of its citizens at the brink of homelessness. The chaos from war has resulted in the destruction of 120,000 housing structures. The state of homelessness in Kosovo is also hard to define because the nation does not address the level of homelessness at the national level and instead diverts these responsibilities to different regional agencies. These circumstances have forced many refugees into a state of uncertainty. Thankfully, officials that have received the designation to work on housing projects had begun constructing housing projects for the refugees beginning to return home. Contractors begun building the R121 million-dollar housing project in the summer of 2019 and residents were able to move in the following year.

Internally Displaced People

Kosovo’s long-lasting conflict has left many of its people to fall into the category of IDPs. The term describes internally displaced people who flee their homes but still remain on the borders of their nation. A majority of the people reside in Serbia, where they have access to healthcare and social services. IDPs have the unfortunate risk of facing discrimination in the process of obtaining these rights. To add, many IDPs may lack identification which puts them into a stateless position within their own country. IDPs mainly tend to go back to rural areas rather than urban areas because they face the threat of violence upon their return. The government of Kosovo has been making slight progress on the issue of violence through services for the homeless called “do no harm” innovations. The innovation makes it required that refugees and IDPs returning home shall not be harmed. Although the act is small and not groundbreaking, it is a step towards positive change for homelessness in Kosovo.

Ashleigh Jimenez
Photo: Flickr

The Syrian Refugee conflict has been a hot topic globally for months now. Many countries have been accepting Syrian refugees since the climax of the crisis, but once a temporary home has been found, what next?

On average, a refugee will stay in a camp for 17 years. In these crowded and busy communities, individuals and families try to create a semi-normal life.

For smaller children though, living in these refugee camps means growing up without a fair chance to attend school. Therefore, greater focus needs to be placed on education for Syrian refugees.

According to The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, the Syrian refugee crisis could be a large contributor to another global crisis. Poverty rates, already at a high, could be negatively impacted if proper action is not taken.

In a study done by the UNHCR entitled “Living in the Shadows,” the organization stated, “Two in every three Syrian refugee households are below the absolute poverty line in Jordan, and one out of six is below the Jordanian abject poverty line…households’ economic vulnerability appears to increase over time.”

While humanitarian aid is a huge part of alleviating this problem, more needs to be done. Refugee education and training in vocational skills are a necessity to combat the struggle of poverty within and outside of these refugee camps.

According to The Guardian, “Globally, over 50% of refugees are children. Yet only one in every two refugee children attend primary school. Only one in four refugee adolescents receive secondary school education.”

It has been proven several times over that educational opportunities are one of the key solutions to eradicating poverty. With education comes new skills, a more secure future, and a more stable country.

Recently, more countries have started to pick up on this trend and are working to make necessary changes.

In Turkey, the refugee educational opportunities for children has risen from 199,000 in 2014 to 299,000 this school year.

Lebanon, the country with the highest amount of hosted Syrian refugees, is providing education opportunities for 200,000 of those children.

According to the University World News, “The University of Copenhagen has asked the Danish government for permission to create extra student spaces for refugees and migrants arriving in the country.”

For refugees, education is everything. It is the key to getting out of poverty and a source of hope amidst hardship. Continuance of improved and increased educational opportunities is one of the top essentials of getting Syrian refugees out of poverty and helping them contribute to society wherever they currently reside.

Katherine Martin

Sources: UNHCR, The Guardian, Today’s Zaman, Huffington Post, University World News
Photo: Todays Zaman

Fleeing political, racial and religious persecution, more than 15 million people worldwide have left their homes and sought safety across international borders. They are refugees; often as unwelcome in their host countries as they were in their own.

For many, it is out of the frying pan and into the fire.
International law forbids the deportation of peoples with refugee status. Still, deeply rooted ethnic and national divides can make neighboring countries reluctant to accept them.
It is estimated that half of refugees today settle in major cities. Hundreds of thousands of Somali citizens, for example, have gone not to internationally established camps, but to Nairobi, Kenya. These urban refugees, with neither shelter, funds nor connections, find themselves in situations nearly as desperate as the ones they left.
Hindered by language and social stigma, they are limited to the poorest paying jobs. Their ambiguous political standing, meanwhile, affords them none of the safeguards given to citizens of their new homes. The British organization, Hidden Lives, quotes one man, “I don’t have legal documentation. I don’t have a job. I don’t leave my house.”
Access to health care, though needed by many, is often restricted.
So why not just head for a refugee camp? Conditions there are no better. Camps are notoriously overcrowded and vulnerable to the spread of communicable disease. Violence and sexual assault goes largely unchecked. For basic needs such as food and water, refugees are reliant on international aid. Refugees also must rely on international aid for health care, education and development. Who do they rely on for security forces? International aid. International aid, unfortunately, must come in waves.
Consequently, any group that raises awareness or funds to sustain displaced peoples, in and out of country, becomes integral to their survival. None is more widely known, perhaps, than Refugees International (RI).
RI focuses on advocacy and policy reform. In addition to meeting with world leaders, it organizes 15 yearly field missions to determine the living conditions of refugees and internally displaced people across South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These missions are essential to the organization: because of the information gathered, it is an influential authority. RI is consulted on not only the need for aid, but also the amount required and its distribution.
It was RI that alerted the United Nations to the lack of post-rape kits available in the Central African Republic earlier this year. It was RI that encouraged the United States to support the Nansen initiative, which protects displaced victims of climate-related disasters. The U.S. set aside more than $150 million for the deployment of peacekeepers to the CAR at the request of the organization. In response to their report of violence against women in Syria, the United Kingdom provided more than $14 million dollars in funding.
The U.N. Refugee Agency calls 10.8 million people ‘refugees of concern.’ Almost three times as many live as IDPs. While they wait for resettlement, or war and persecution to end, they have to entrust their lives to the international community at large. But the nations most capable of giving aid are often the furthest removed. It is left to Refugees International, and organizations like it, to bridge the gap.
– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: UNHCR, Health Poverty Action, Refugees International, Hidden Lives
Photo: The Global Herald