Posts

Residents of GomaOn May 22, 2021, Mount Nyiragongo erupted close to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of Goma. The active volcano’s worst eruption was in 1977, a catastrophe that left more than 600 people dead. Nyiragongo’s volcanic activities have ignited fear in the residents of Goma who are already enduring the impacts of poverty stemming from years of civil war in the country.

The 2021 Volcanic Eruption

The Goma Volcano Observatory is responsible for monitoring the Mount Nyiragongo volcano. However, ever since the World Bank cut its funding in 2020, the observatory “lacked the funding, resources and infrastructure necessary to closely observe the volcano and forecast major eruptions.” From October 2020 to April 2021, the observatory did not have an internet connection “to conduct comprehensive seismic checks on Nyiragongo.” Due to a lack of forecasting ability, the observatory could not predict the eruption and warn residents to evacuate.

Following a government directive, after the eruption, the residents of Goma were evacuated in the thousands. Villagers who lived close to the city of Goma fled to the city center. The lava flowing out of the mountain’s crater threatened access to the airport in Goma and one of the main roads, further limiting evacuation routes.

The Devastation of the Eruption

According to ReliefWeb, the eruption resulted in about 30 deaths and almost half a million people were left without access to water due to damaged water infrastructure. Without proper water sources, people are prone to infectious water-borne diseases. Some citizens were burned by the lava and others experienced asphyxiation from volcanic gases. ReliefWeb reported that about “415,700 people have been displaced across several localities in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and across the border in Rwanda.” Aside from the destruction of infrastructure that occurred, people converging in large numbers to evacuate heightened the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The Positive Impact of Organizations

Despite the devastation caused by the volcanic eruption, various groups were quick in their response, preventing further disaster. ReliefWeb provided frequent updates on the situation, enabling organizations and individuals to take precautionary and calculated steps during evacuation.

The UNHCR was among the first organizations to respond to the volcanic eruption in Goma. The organization, in collaboration with others, looked to aid the displaced in Goma by providing shelter and relief items. Reduced funding significantly impacted these efforts. Nevertheless, the UNHCR provided “soap, blankets, solar lamps, plastic sheeting and sleeping mats to 435 vulnerable families,” in the Congolese town of Sake. The UNHCR also established four shelters to temporarily house more than 400 displaced people in Sake. On June 7, 2021, the prime minister of the DRC “announced the progressive return of displaced people to Goma.”

Residents of Goma Return Home

Displaced citizens have gradually returned to resettle in Goma. In early June 2021, the prime minister of the DRC spearheaded the phased return of thousands of people as seismic activity reduced considerably. The government provided buses to help people return to Goma. The government also declared the airport safe for landing, which further facilitated the delivery of international humanitarian aid.

Slowly, the city is returning to normalcy. Businesses are reopening and vendors are back on the streets of the city. The groups of people who took refuge in Rwanda also returned. Thousands of people have returned home to rebuild their lives and reconstruct the areas destroyed by lava flow.

Even in unprecedented natural disasters, organizations can help to avert worst-case scenarios. From the volcanic eruption, it is clear to see how funding cuts can lead to severe consequences. The situation has emphasized the importance of funding to the Goma Volcano Observatory and the significance of early warning systems.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Flickr

Bosnia and Herzegovina Vaccine Rollout
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been quite profound. The country has been experiencing a severe recession, the worst in 25 years. Due to government borrowing in an effort to ease the strains stemming from the crisis, the national debt has soared. As a result, the Bosnia and Herzegovina vaccine rollout has been slow because its government has been unable to afford vaccines.

However, due to Russia, China and Europe providing donations, the country has received a large number of vaccines. On top of this, overseas organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have been continuing to advocate for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most vulnerable citizens.

The Lack of Purchase

In stark contrast to neighboring Serbia’s successful vaccine rollout, Bosnia and Herzegovina has not bought a single vaccine. Due to a disorganized government and the impact of a steep recession, the country has been relying on donations. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina has prevented the nation from organizing a rollout of its own, thus endangering its citizens.

Pilgrimage to Serbia

Because of the slow vaccine rollout in Bosnia and Herzegovina, many Bosnians have migrated to neighboring Serbia, which has had an exponentially more successful vaccine rollout, to receive their vaccine. This is particularly striking because of the tensions between the two countries. The Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is well-known for downplaying the Srebrenica genocide, which took place in 1995. This was during the Yugoslavian wars of independence and took the lives of many Bosnian Muslims.

Donations are Keeping the Country Afloat

Because of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the country has been relying on large donations from countries that are further into their vaccine rollout than Bosnia and Herzegovina. After initial donations from Russia and China, the E.U. provided vaccines to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This also included Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, with 651,000 doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine in April 2021. In June 2021, Austria committed to donating 1 million doses of mainly AstraZeneca vaccine to the Western Bulkan bloc.

The UNHCR Advocate for the Vaccination of Asylum Seekers

While the Bosnian government is reluctant to vaccinate its population of refugees and asylum seekers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continues to advocate for the vaccination of those within the country without international protection. Previous successes have been seen in Serbia where the UNHCR has managed to vaccinate a large number of refugees, with 53 having their vaccine on the first day of operations.

The Future

Despite the crushing impact that the recession has had on the vaccine rollout, with international collaboration the future is looking brighter for the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With organizations such as UNHCR advocating for the nation’s most vulnerable, few will slip through the cracks in the vaccine initiative.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Flickr

The Tigray Conflict
Thousands of refugees have fled the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia since early November 2020 to seek safety in eastern Sudan. This has resulted in a full-scale humanitarian crisis. Refugees, many of whom are children and women, have been arriving at remote border points that take hours to enter from the closest towns in Sudan. Most of them do not have any possessions and arrived exhausted from walking long distances over harsh terrain. The steady influx of daily arrivals is exceeding the existing capacity to provide assistance.

The Tigray Conflict

The Tigray conflict is an ongoing armed conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. According to the International Crisis Organization think-tank, the violence in Tigray has left thousands dead and sent tens of thousands of refugees into Sudan. Estimates have determined that the conflict has displaced more than 222,000 people, in addition to the 100,000 people who experienced displacement prior to the conflict. Moreover, the loss of livelihoods, destruction of homes and lack of resources have affected local neighborhoods. As a result, people living in those areas urgently need shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as health and protection.

Humanitarian Efforts

While humanitarian efforts are emerging to provide aid after the Tigray conflict, they remain challenged by the insecurity and bureaucratic constraints throughout the region. As a result, it can be challenging for humanitarian groups to access countrysides as well as Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps.

The U.N. is working with Ethiopia’s government and all relevant interlocutors to aid in the safe passage of humanitarian personnel and the provision of supplies to all parts of the Tigray region. Meanwhile, health facilities in major cities are partially working with limited-to-no stock of supplies and the absence of health workers and facilities outside major cities are not operational.

In addition, UNHCR and Sudan’s Commission for Refugees are continuing to relocate refugees from the border to designated refugee camps. These are further inland in Sudan’s Gedaref State, in support of the government-led response in Sudan. Um Rakuba refugee camp is approaching its full capacity. UNHCR and its partners are swiftly relocating refugees to a newly opened refugee camp, Tunaydbah, in order to keep refugees safe and offer them better quality living conditions.

Humanitarian Funding

In 2020, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, launched an appeal for $147 million to support as many as 100,000 people fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray region into neighboring Sudan. In its appeal document, UNHCR said that it took an anticipated increase of refugees into account during its planning. At the minimum, it planned to be able to help a total of 100,000 by April 2021, whereas at the maximum, it intended to be able to provide aid to an influx of 200,000 refugees.

In November 2020, UNHCR began airlifting aid to refugees, sending the first of four planeloads of supplies to Khartoum. One of the flights to Khartoum brought 100 tonnes from Dubai comprising mosquito net, blankets, plastic sheets, solar lamps, tents and prefabricated warehouses. The intention behind the appeal for $147 million was to fund UNHCR so that it could help Sudan manage the humanitarian crisis over the following six months.

Looking Ahead

CSW’s founder and president, Mervyn Thomas, urged Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to prioritize the protection of refugees within Ethiopia’s borders. These refugees’ forcible return to a country that many deem to have committed crimes against humanity is an appalling violation of international law and humanitarian norms.

Abiy Ahmed needs to take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict and enter into meaningful dialogue with regional representatives who the people of Tigray recognize. People can also call on the government of Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray immediately and end its egregious violations of the rights of Eritreans, both at home and abroad. More nations also need to step up their humanitarian support for the region, including Sudan, which is suffering the brunt of the refugee wave from Tigray.

Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

brazil helps Venezuelan refugeesDue to the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela, many of the country’s citizens are fleeing for refuge in other countries in Latin America. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Venezuelan refugee crisis is among the worst in the world. Currently, more than 5 million Venezuelans are living in other locations because of issues in their home country. These issues include violence, poverty and a plethora of human rights concerns. Of the Venezuelans living abroad, around 2.5 million of them are living somewhere in the Americas. One country hosting these refugees is Brazil. Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees in several ways.

Brazil’s Relocation Efforts

Brazil has gone above and beyond for the Venezuelan refugees that have come to the country for refuge. Many of the Venezuelan refugees resided in the Brazilian northern state of Roraima. However, a relocation strategy that launched three years ago meant 50,000 refugees that were living in Roraima were relocated to other cities across Brazil. This effort is part of Operation Welcome and it has immensely improved the quality of life for Venezuelan refugees, according to a survey that the UNHCR conducted in which 360 relocated Venezuelan families participated.

Within only weeks of being relocated to a new city, 77% of these families were able to find a place of employment, which led to an increase in their income six to eight weeks after relocation. Quality of life improved for Venezuelans who partook in this survey. The majority of them were able to rent homes and just 5% had to rely on temporary accommodation four months following their relocation. This is a great improvement in comparison to the conditions refugees lived in before relocation. Before relocation, 60% of Venezuelan refugees had to rely on temporary shelter and 3% were entirely homeless. This relocation effort is a significant way in which Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees.

Brazil’s Social Assistance

Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees with its social assistance programs, specifically Brazil’s key conditional cash transfer program, Bolsa Familia. Social assistance programs are designed to help impoverished families, many of which are Venezuelan refugees. Currently, there are low but rising numbers of Venezuelans that are taking advantage of this program. According to the UNHCR, only 384 Venezuelans were using Bolsa Familia in January 2018. More than two years later, in February 2020, this number rose to 16,707. While the number could be higher, the past two years show an upward trend of Venezuelans using this important program to improve their living conditions in Brazil.

The Catholic Church in Brazil Assists

The Catholic Church in Brazil is providing its fair share of help to Venezuelan refugees. A center in the capital of Brazil is hosting Venezuelan migrants relocating from the refugee centers in the Amazon region. The center is receiving support from ASVI Brasil, which has a relationship with the Catholic Church, and Brazil’s Migration and Human Rights Institute. The effort was designed to support Operation Welcome, the Brazilian government’s initiative to address the Venezuelan migration crisis. The center will be able to house 15 Venezuelan families at a time and will rotate families every three months. The center will ensure working people from families have a safe place to live before moving on.

Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees by providing several forms of support. Many of these Venezuelan refugees have left their country because of unimaginable conditions of poverty and violence. The support from Brazil allows these refugees to avoid the hardships of poverty and secure shelter, basic needs and employment in order to make better lives for themselves.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Palestinian Refugees
Prior to 2018, the United States was the largest contributor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA provides educational, medical and other resources to Palestinian refugees. While poverty rates of Palestinian refugees differ from country to country, about 25% live in overcrowded, unstable, underfunded and often unsafe refugee camps.

The services that UNRWA provides are vital to Palestinian refugees suffering from poverty. As a result, when diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Palestine severed, the organization lost 30% of its annual funding and basic resources became limited. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent financial crisis occurring, UNRWA’s resources have experienced severe strain.

In a United Nations press briefing in November 2020, UNRWA Spokesman Tamara Alrifai said, “Despite the immense efforts to raise sufficient funds in 2020 to maintain UNRWA’s critical services to 5.7 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, as of yesterday November 9, UNRWA has run out of money.” As a result, the organization had to cut pay for its 28,000 employees, most of whom were refugees themselves, during a global pandemic and international financial crisis.

Twenty-seven days into his presidency, President Joe Biden promised to restore diplomatic relations, including aid, with Palestine. These are three ways that impoverished Palestinian refugees may benefit when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Palestine resume.

Medical Care

Over 3 million refugees rely on UNRWA’s medical services for basic medical care. Because UNRWA’s financial crisis is also happening during a global health crisis, the biggest strain has been on the organization’s medical services. Medical facilities have been running low on supplies, staff and medicine. The strain on medical services disproportionately affects Palestinian refugees.

Seham al-Lahem, a young expectant mother, and other Palestinian refugees have requested that UNRWA cover their medical fees at a non-UNRWA facility. “We have been hearing of the financial problems facing UNRWA, and it has left me worried about my delivery and the medical services provided to me and my newborn,” said Seham al-Lahem. With the financial struggles facing UNRWA, it is possible that she may not receive the cash she needs to pay for her delivery.

Palestinian refugees are three times more likely to die from the virus than the general population and must rely on local governments to receive vaccines. In Lebanon, for example, 6,200 Palestinians have already registered to get the vaccine. However, in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Palestinian refugees rely on Israel to provide vaccines. Israel has not, as of yet, provided the Palestinian territories with any doses.

UNRWA Commissioner-General has cried out for global help to provide vaccines for Palestinian refugees in the territories and in the diaspora. “I am counting on the international community to ensure the availability of vaccines to refugees worldwide, including Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and throughout the region,” he said. It is possible that, with U.S. funding, it would be more feasible for UNRWA to connect Palestinian refugees living in the territories with vaccinations.

Food Assistance

UNRWA’s food assistance program is also under strain due to the pandemic. The organization is now asking for its donors to provide additional funds so that they can feed 1.2 million Palestinian refugees experiencing hunger. UNRWA’s food assistance programs are absolutely essential for those facing rapidly declining financial conditions. In Gaza, 75% of refugees lack the ability to put food on the table. To remedy this, UNRWA currently provides food packages to 620,310 refugees and cash-credit to another 389,680 to ensure that all Palestinian refugees meet their daily caloric goals.

Education

There are over 526,000 students in 711 UNRWA elementary and preparatory schools. These UNRWA-run schools provide books, school supplies and mental health counseling. Although UNRWA schools have stayed open despite funding cuts, the organization struggles every year to meet educational funding needs. Every year, the organization, parents and students worry that schools might not be able to open up again.

This uncertainty threatened the future of Palestinian refugee children. Education is important for children to gain the confidence, knowledge and connections required to transcend their socio-economic situation.

Schooling also meets a social need for child protective services for refugee children. According to the UNHCR, teachers and counselors at refugee schools often connect children experiencing abuse and violence with the appropriate resources. With restored funding from the U.S., UNRWA children, parents and teachers could thrive without worrying that educational opportunities may cease at a moment’s notice.

The US’s Opportunity to Embrace Humanitarianism

UNRWA’s services are essential to the health, food security and education of Palestinian refugees. The organization provides basic resources to an economically and politically vulnerable population. No political situation should ever get in the way of basic human needs such as access to food and healthcare. Therefore, it is vital that the U.S. include the restoration of funding to UNRWA in its plan to re-extend diplomatic relations to Palestine.

– Monica McCown
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program
Much of the world struggles to assist refugees and other forcibly displaced people. However, Nepal stands out as a rare success story. The nation accepted more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees since the 1990s. Nepal’s refugee resettlement program has proven to be effective. The program has relocated about 113,500 refugees to third countries. Additionally, many of the camps that emerged have shut down because they were no longer necessary. However, it is still challenging to provide refugees with their basic needs.

Origins of the Bhutanese Refugee Crisis

Ethnic Nepalis people whose origins lie in Bhutan primarily partake in Nepal’s refugee resettlement program. The Lhotshampas are Nepali people who reside in the southern portion of Bhutan and maintain a distinct culture.

The Bhutanese government initiated the One Nation, One People policy to promote the dominant Bhutanese culture. Many perceived this policy as an attempt to suppress Nepali culture in Bhutan. Additionally, this policy replaced the Nepali language with Dzongkha as the primary mode of instruction in schools. Furthermore, it forbade Nepalis from wearing their traditional clothing, forcing them to dress like the Bhutanese majority.

Bhutanese officials became wary of the substantial Lhotshampa population in the south after the 1988 census. Additionally, accusations emerged of them being illegal aliens along with instances of violence and discrimination. As a result, large numbers of ethnic Nepalis left Bhutan for refugee camps in Nepal.

Nepal’s Refugee Resettlement Program

The population of Lhotshampa refugees in Nepal has increased to more than 100,000 people. Unfortunately, talks with Bhutan failed to produce any solution. Thus, the government of Nepal developed a plan to resettle the refugees in other countries.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program started in 2007. In addition, Nepal and eight other countries collaborated with each other. These countries are the United States, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom. These nations agreed to accept Lhotshampa refugees, allowing them to lead new lives outside of refugee camps.

Organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the government of Nepal have aided in the program’s success. UNHCR and the Nepalese government underwent efforts to provide documentation for each refugee. Photos and listings of details of each person provided an accurate number of refugees. This made monitoring the program much easier. In addition, IOM oversaw the practical side of the program. This included arranging flights and teaching refugees how to navigate through an airport.

Challenges That Those in the Camps Face

As a result of Nepal’s refugee resettlement program, the number of Lhotshampas in the country has decreased to about 6,000. Furthermore, out of the seven camps that began in the 1990s, only two remain in the Jhapa and Morang districts of eastern Nepal. While this constitutes a success, the Lhotshampas who remain in the camps still face challenges.

Many people feel isolated because they are unable to join their families abroad. Additionally, they suffer a lack of emotional support and income. As a result, many suffer from depression, substance abuse and suicide in these camps. Furthermore, the camp’s dwindling population has led to a shortage of teachers. UNHCR established a suicide prevention program and youth centers to combat these issues.

Nepal’s refugee resettlement program is effective in relocating most of the Lhotshampas refugees since the 1990s. UNHCR, IOM and the government of Nepal have allowed refugees to have the opportunity to lead new lives in other countries. Many challenges remain for those in the camps. However, the government has made significant efforts to address them.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Stiller's AdvocacyThe civil war in Syria is in its 11th year, and unfortunately, there is no end in near sight. The start of the deadly conflict can be traced back to March 2011 when protests seeking government reform took place in Daraa, Syria. Millions of Syrian people have fled due to the deadly conflict in their own country. The Syrian refugees of the civil war have fled as far as the U.S and Europe, while many are still located in the Middle East. Turkey is home to the majority of Syrian refugees, with around 3.6 million living within Turkey’s borders. Refugees who live outside of refugee camps often do not have access to basic services and resources needed to live adequately. Actor Ben Stiller works to improve conditions for Syrian refugees and bring awareness to the situation. In 2018, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) honored Stiller with the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador title. Stiller’s advocacy on behalf of Syrian refugees shows his commitment as a humanitarian and not just a celebrity.

Stiller’s Travels and Fundraising

Back in 2019, Stiller’s advocacy took him to Lebanon, a Middle Eastern country that is also home to a large number of Syrian refugees. As a UNHCR ambassador, Stiller uses his celebrity status to help bring attention to issues of concern for the UNHCR. While in Lebanon, Stiller met refugees who impacted him profoundly. Stiller shared with CBS News a story about a Syrian woman named Hanadi who was forced to flee Syria with her three children. He expressed how tough daily life is for this mother of three.

Another experience of Stiller’s was an encounter with an 8-year-old child, Yazan. Yazan’s family fled Syria when he was just an infant. Yazan now sells vegetables on the side of the road in order to provide for his family. Stiller carried these experiences long after he returned home. Stiller shared his experiences in Lebanon to get public attention focused on the Syrian refugee crisis. While in Washington, D.C., Stiller provided testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in an attempt to influence the Committee’s support for Syrian refugees. Using his filmmaking skills, Stiller also created fundraising videos for the UNHCR. Stiller’s fundraising videos were so successful that in just one month he was able to raise $500,000.

Advocacy Projects

Stiller’s advocacy has also allowed him to participate in many projects dedicated to helping Syrian refugees. Using his filmmaking skills yet again, Stiller filmed an interview with supermodel, Adut Akech, who was previously a South Sudanese refugee. The purpose of the interview was to showcase the struggles of being a refugee to help foster understanding and show what the experience is like. Stiller’s participation in Syrian refugee projects also took him to Albany, New York, in 2020. Once there, Stiller advocated for the resettlement of Syrian refugees within the state of New York.

Stiller offered to narrate a UNHCR campaign promotion video as well. The video was for UNHCR’s 1 Billion Miles to Safety campaign. The campaign asked for the walkers, runners and cyclists of the world to dedicate the distances the members traveled to refugees in order to raise awareness.

A Voice for Syrian Refugees

The civil war in Syria might be raging on, but that does not mean that the refugees who have fled are not receiving help. Stiller’s advocacy has helped raise awareness of the struggles that Syrian refugees experience. Stiller has also used his specific skills and talents in filmmaking for UNHCR’s campaign adverts. By bringing attention to Syrian refugees, Stiller shows his humanitarian side and his commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Sahrawi Refugees living in AlgeriaFor more than 45 years, Sahrawi refugees have left Western Sahara into neighboring countries fleeing conflict and instability. Many Sahrawi refugees have found themselves living in camps in Algeria. In these camps, refugees struggle with food and water insecurity, lack of medicine and healthcare access. This overview of the forgotten crisis of Sahrawi Refugees living in Algeria will provide insight into the ongoing humanitarian struggle.

The Refugee Camps in Algeria

A conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front over Western Sahara’s sovereignty has gone on since Spain withdrew from the area in 1975. In the wake of this conflict, hundreds of thousands of Saharawi people have been displaced and have sought refuge in countries like Algeria. For more than 45 years, the Saharawi people have been living in camps in Algeria’s Tindouf region, which borders Western Sahara. There are five camps housing more than 150,000 Sahrawi refugees near the Algerian town of Tindouf. These refugees live almost entirely on humanitarian aid and assistance. The Algerian government has worked to improve the living conditions of these refugees by providing secondary education, healthcare services, land and infrastructure improvements. The government also works with international organizations like the UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF to continue supporting Sahrawi refugees.

Challenges for the Sahrawi Refugees

The situation of the Sahrawi refugees living in Algeria is referred to as the ‘forgotten crisis’ because there is little media coverage of their situation. According to the World Food Programme, over 88% of the Sahrawi Refugees are either at risk or suffering from food insecurity. Acute malnutrition affects roughly 8% of Sahrawi children aged five or younger and over 50% of Sahrawi women between the ages of 15 and 49 suffer from anemia. The COVID-19 pandemic has added further difficulties to the situation of the Sahrawi refugees. Since March 2020, the Sahrawi are under quarantine, with humanitarian aid continuing to arrive.

The Sahrawi refugee’s dependence on humanitarian aid has left the people lacking ways to be self-sufficient. Sahrawi refugees are at risk of radicalization or social unrest. There are few employment opportunities and frustration develops with the ongoing conflict in Western Sahara and vulnerability to flash floods and sandstorms. The lockdown has also caused many Sahrawi refugees to loose jobs, causing them to rely more heavily on aid.

Bilateral Aid

Despite being known as the “forgotten crisis,” there is still work being done to improve the Sahrawi refugees’ situation. In 2020, the EU provided more than $9 million in humanitarian aid for the Sahrawi refugees, primarily food, water and medicine. World Food Programme rations provide Sahrawi refugees with 2,100 calories a day and $5.4 million has gone toward combating malnutrition of women and children, which has been a persistent problem for refugees. There are plans to extend the water network in the camps to improve the efficiency of delivering water to the refugees. More than $500,000 have been used to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by improving hospitals and their capacities to deal with sickness. Efforts have been made to support disabled refugees to ensure they are part of the community.

Swiss contributions to the WFP’s efforts in Algeria have totaled more than $30 million over several decades. The programs have encouraged more than 40,000 children to attend school through a meal program which paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic but will continue afterward. While the Sahrawi camps are under lockdown during the pandemic, humanitarian aid provides necessary food, water and medicine to refugees. The Algerian government has included the Sahrawi refugees in its national response plan to support them throughout the lockdown in the form of sanitary services, medical supplies and a referral system to track the virus.

NGOs Helping the Sahrawi Refugees

Several nonprofits are working to help the Sahrawi refugees living in Algeria. The Danish Refugee Council has been working in Sahrawi refugee camps since 2016, providing over 200,000 people with training in business skills, self-sufficiency, business grants and technical support. Oxfam International has been providing fresh produce, clean water, farming skills and community support for refugees since the start of the crisis in 1975.

The conflict in Western Sahara continues to displace thousands of Sahrawi refugees and leaves them with few options and relying on humanitarian aid to survive. The forgotten crisis of the Sahrawi refugees living in Algeria has gone on since 1975. The Sahrawi refugees face many challenges in their daily lives, but humanitarian aid has allowed the community of refugees to survive. Until the conflict in Western Sahara resolves, there needs to be a greater awareness of the current refugee situation and continued humanitarian support for the thousands of Sahrawi refugees living in Algeria.

– Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

Statelessness in Thailand
Thailand has one of the world’s largest populations of stateless people with nearly 500,000 registered in 2020. NGOs and human rights activists believe the true number is much higher at up to 2 million. Statelessness refers to those lacking recognition of citizenship by any country. Without having a nationality, people lack access to basic necessities such as healthcare, education and social security. Here is some information about statelessness in Thailand.

Why Are People Stateless?

The cultural heterogeneity and rugged border regions of Thailand have long allowed indigenous cultures to live outside of the modern nation-state framework. Some stateless groups in Thailand’s border regions actively avoided becoming part of the Thai nation-state. They remained separate to maintain their own unique cultural customs. Discriminatory practices toward ethnic minorities by the ethnic Thais have also played a role in statelessness in Thailand.

Ethnic groups such as the Hmong, Akha, Karen and others are traditionally semi-nomadic and live throughout different Southeast Asian nations. They do not identify with one specific nation. In modern times, borders have become more solidified. The relative autonomy of indigenous cultures has largely existed within international borders. For indigenous children born within the Thai borders, their citizenship ties to their parents. These parents often lack documentation to prove that they were technically born in Thailand, which renders children stateless.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Other stateless people in Thailand are refugees from Burmese states just across the border. These refugees have endured decades of armed conflict against the central government. More than 100,000 Karen, Karenni, Shan and other groups arrived in the 1980s and 1990s to refugee camps along the Thai border. They have largely remained in these camps due to instability at home and the Thai government’s unwillingness to grant citizenship. These refugees also lack Burmese citizenship in many cases. With increased political and social instability following the recent 2021 military coup, this protracted refugee crisis will likely persist.

There are also stateless people that others know as the Moken or ‘Sea Gypsies’ in the south of Thailand, along with asylum seekers originating from dozens of countries in the Bangkok metropolitan area. Thai authorities struggle to formulate clear strategies on how to process citizenship requests for the many existing situations. Some can lay claim to ancestry within the modern Thai borders that stretch back hundreds of years. Others are more recent arrivals in need of human rights assistance.

Risk Factors of Statelessness in Thailand

There are innumerable challenges for stateless people in Thailand. Without having Thai citizenship, stateless people cannot travel freely across international borders. As a result, they fear detention and arrest while traveling within Thailand. There are also barriers to accessing legitimate jobs. This puts some at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking in trying to access decent livelihoods.

For young people, the lack of a decent education is a major concern. The Thai government has made an effort to educate all children within its borders, but stateless students are not able to access scholarships for higher education. Lack of access to decent health care and legal representation are other barriers facing stateless people.

Solutions

Since 2016, Thailand has joined one of the central goals of the UNHCR to end statelessness worldwide by 2024 in its #IBelong campaign. The country has taken great efforts to reconfigure citizenship laws to allow tens of thousands to access Thai citizenship in recent years. Leading up to joining the #IBelong campaign, Thailand had loosened citizenship restrictions in 2008 with its amendment of the Thai Nationality Law. Although implementation has been slow, the processing of citizenship claims have ramped up with the help of UNHCR.

There have been highly publicized events uncovering the plight of stateless people, which include the Thai Cave Rescue in 2018, in which several of the rescued soccer team members and their coach were stateless at the time. The Thai government streamlined its citizenship procedures shortly after the rescue operation. The players and their coach had previously not been able to travel freely to play in games outside of their local area.

Increased Awareness

While the sheer number of stateless people in Thailand may make the 2024 deadline to end statelessness difficult to reach, there is more general awareness of the issue. That offers some hope in granting citizenship to large numbers in this population. Much of the recent stateless population is due to conflict in Myanmar, and others should commend Thailand for allowing refugees to remain in relative safety within its borders.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

A Pandemic in a Refugee Camp
Since the Venezuelan refugee crisis began in 2015, over 360,000 Venezuelans have fled to Ecuador where they have sought political and economic asylum away from the tumultuous governing in Venezuela. In Ecuador, Venezuelan refugees have created camps and have attempted to rebuild their lives to little avail due to xenophobia, limited job opportunities and harsh living environments. While these harsh living conditions have continued for the Venezuelan refugees for years, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified hardships. Spending the pandemic in a refugee camp involving cramped and overflowing shelters has caused refugees to become extremely vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19.

No Access

For the hundreds of thousands of impoverished and unemployed Venezuelan refugees living in cramped refugee camps, it is challenging to social distance or to retrieve information on COVID-19. Moreover, with limited money focused on food, shelter and provisions, refugees have little left to spend on personal hygiene or personal protective equipment. As a result, refugees do not have access to much-needed medical supplies to keep safe from virus transmissions such as masks, sanitizers, gloves or vitamins. Consequently, transmission rates in refugee camps are disproportionately higher than their urban Ecuadorian city counterparts, yet the medical care is disproportionately lower.

As hospitals in Ecuador have become overrun by sick patients and Ecuadorian first responders have become absorbed with endless virus-related emergencies, Ecuadorian healthcare workers have had to choose which patients they will actually provide medical care to. This decision oftentimes coincides with heavy racism against Venezuelan refugees. Consequently, first responders have often chosen to respond to the rich Ecuadorian citizens living in urbanized areas over the far away, impoverished Venezuelan refugee camps. Similarly, Ecuadoran doctors prefer to provide medical care to the more affluent Ecuadorian citizens who can surely pay their hospital bills rather than the refugees. In turn, Venezuelan refugees are not always able to use Ecuadorian healthcare and instead have to fend for themselves without medical supplies, information about the virus or the ability to social distance.

A Solution for Refugees Surviving a Pandemic in a Refugee Camp

Because solving xenophobia in Ecuador or empowering and enriching refugees could not rapidly happen in time so that they could receive proper treatment during the pandemic, refugees had to take matters into their own hands by looking to new initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Alongside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Venezuelan refugee communities in Ecuador developed the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System in an attempt to rapidly discover COVID-19 cases in refugee camps. The system can detect individuals with COVID-19 for quarantine purposes and consequently reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission amongst refugee communities.

Once the system detects them, patients receive information about their diagnosis along with referrals for proper treatment. The system reports all cases to the national health authorities so that Venezuelan refugees can identify who they were in contact with so that all parties can undergo quarantine and testing for the virus.

How it Works

Since launching in July 2020, the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System has detected hundreds of cases and has prevented the further spread of the virus for thousands of refugees. By identifying a suspect COVID-19 case, the system is able to assess a localized community point of potential exposure for other refugees. Once discovered, the system registers all information upon a public health database that records exposed individuals and provides them with information and medical treatment for the virus. Furthermore, the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System records if a COVID-19 patient or exposed individual has access to personal protective equipment, has preexisting conditions or lives in overcrowded environments that would make them and their neighbors more susceptible to the virus.

UNHCR taught six refugee camps across Ecuador the process of contact tracing. Trained refugees can utilize the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System. This results in using telephone hotlines, community visits by healthcare workers and providing medical provisions. The system is curbing COVID-19 spread in a pandemic in a refugee camp for vulnerable Venezuelans who would have very few medical opportunities otherwise.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr