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Living Conditions of the Muhamasheen
The Muhamasheen (the marginalized) pejoratively known as the Akhdam (servants) constitute a distinct community in Yemen that the broader Yemeni society consigns to the lowest part of the social hierarchy. Though Yemen has officially abolished its caste system, the legacy of centuries of discrimination persists today. Below are eight facts about the living conditions of the Muhamasheen.

8 Facts About the Living Conditions of the Muhamasheen

  1. Over 50 percent of the Muhamasheen population suffers from unemployment. Systemic exclusion from most employment in the agrarian sector, despite the community’s concentration in rural areas, contributes heavily to this unemployment rate. Muhamasheen workers compete for nomadic seasonal labor such as thrashing grain at harvest time. These deeply-embedded exclusionary practices cement the subordinate status of the Muhamasheen.
  2. Entrenched custom relegates urban sanitation jobs, such as street cleaners, to the Muhamasheen. Thus many urban Muhamasheen people encounter and treat waste products that higher castes view as contaminating and taboo. Inadequate compensation and the possibility of pretextual termination with little notice often awaits Muhamasheen sanitation workers employed by the municipal authorities in the cities.
  3. Inadequate housing, vulnerable to destruction by natural disasters, depresses the living conditions of the Muhamasheen. Rather than the solid and sturdy adobe construction characterizing traditional Yemeni home structures, many Muhamasheen reside in homes constructed from cardboard and thatch or even from sheets extracted from empty containers. Exposure to the elements, whether intense heat and cold or inundation during the rainy season, invariably characterizes life in these dwellings. Other Muhamasheen live in small and cramped concrete structures, the living conditions therein little better than those residing in makeshift cardboard structures.
  4. Southeastern Yemen’s October 2008 floods were particularly devastating to the Muhamasheen. In response, UNHCR provided shelters to Muhamasheen reduced to the status of internally displaced persons. The Yemeni NGO al-Dumir implemented this initiative, encompassing the construction of 100 two-room shelters, with financial backing from the Japanese government amounting to USD $300,224. Akhdam also received household items from UNHCR in the course of this relief program due to how flooding affected it.
  5. Regular exposure to the elements and inadequate access to clean water subject the Muhamasheen to increased health hazards. Respiratory and ocular infections and skin diseases all pose a greater risk to the Muhamasheen than to other groups. Muhamasheen children, many coming of age in lowland drainage areas or near landfills, are more likely to die of malaria and chronic infectious kidney disease than of other illnesses. Poor sanitation contributes to a high rate of infant deaths from parasites, while malnourishment worsens both maternal and infant mortality rates. The marginalization of the Muhamasheen limits the willingness of the health care sector to treat them.
  6. In 2014, a UNICEF study concluded that poor literacy rates pervade the Muhamasheen community. A survey sample consisting of 9,200 Muhamasheen households, encompassing 51,406 persons, yielded a literacy rate of one in five among Muhamasheen ages 15 and older. Survey data yielded school enrollment rates of two in four for youths between ages 6 and 17.
  7. In 2014, UNICEF and Yemen’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor administered a survey of 9,200 Muhamasheen households, which revealed significant inequities in education, sanitation, shelter and medical care. The following year, the government of Yemen began designing initiatives for the improvement of the social and economic standing of the Muhamasheen community. These ameliorative programs include the creation of family-targeted financial inclusion programs involving both the Social Welfare Fund Office in Taiz Governorate and nonprofit organizations such as Alamal Microfinance Bank. Other initiatives encompass enforcing the right of Muhamasheen children to attend school without discrimination and providing students with uniforms and school supplies.
  8. Testimony that WITNESS and the Yemeni NGO Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights obtained attests to the epidemic of public abuse of Muhamasheen women by non-Muhamasheen men. Out of this research, the organizations above filmed an award-winning documentary, “Breaking the Silence,” successfully spreading awareness of these endemic attacks. Given the Muhamasheen community’s limitations of access to the full weight of the justice system, such documentaries as “Breaking the Silence” play an invaluable role in revealing the systemic abuses contributing to the living conditions of the Muhamasheen.

The marginal living conditions of the Muhamasheen, a legacy of centuries of caste discrimination, remains a serious issue in Yemen. However, NGOs such as UNICEF have increasingly paid more attention to the community’s plight and designed initiatives to improve the living conditions of the Muhamasheen. These measures, alongside the awareness-spreading efforts of such organizations as WITNESS and the Yemeni NGO Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights, show that there is hope for the future of the Muhamasheen.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

Safe and Voluntary Refugee Repatriation
Despite the constant divisive debates about whether to welcome refugees, they have protection under international law by the 1951 refugee convention, a multilateral United Nations treaty. It defines who people can consider refugees and outlines their basic rights, including access to fair and efficient asylum procedures. Despite the ever-present debates about acceptance, very little of it has actually been to talk about what happens when countries refuse asylum seekers including the problem of ensuring safe and voluntary refugee repatriation rather than returning them to dangerous situations in their home countries.

Refugees in the US

A country must ensure that refugees live in safety and dignity while it is processing their claims, and safety and dignity are also integral to voluntary repatriation. In 2020, the United States will only accept 18,000 refugees. This will be the lowest number of refugees that the U.S. resettled in a single year since 1980 when Congress created the nation’s refugee resettlement program. In light of such low acceptance rates, a national debate around safe and voluntary repatriation is crucial so that those a country turns away will have safe alternatives. Without debate, there is no clear answer to where those refugees should go, if not the United States.

Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers

People often confuse the matter even more because they use the terms “migrants,” “refugees” and “asylum seekers” interchangeably, despite very different legal meanings and obligations. Amnesty International defines an asylum seeker as an individual who is seeking international protection whose claim a host country has not yet determined. In short, a country will not recognize every asylum seeker as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker. “Migrant” is a broad term that describes anyone who moves to another country for at least one year, for any reason.

“Repatriation” is when a person returns to their country of origin, whether it is because conditions have improved and they want to go home or because their host country has refused their request for asylum. According to the U.N. Refugee Repatriation Agency, safe and voluntary refugee repatriation requires not only the commitment of the international community to safely bring displaced people home but also the cooperation of the country of origin, which has to do the difficult work of reintegration and ensuring stability and safety.

So who will be the 18,000 refugees the U.S. allows in 2020? In 2019, refugees coming to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo far outnumbered those from other countries. D.R. Congo accounted for nearly 13,000 refugees, followed by Burma (Myanmar) with about 4,900, then Ukraine (4,500), Eritrea (1,800) and Afghanistan (1,200).

Repatriation

As of November 13, 2019, a total of 1,439 individuals repatriated. ReliefWeb, an online news source for humanitarian information on global crisis and disasters, reported that approximately 14,700 refugees chose to return to their country spontaneously and by their own means. However, home countries and the international community are working together to help with safe and voluntary refugee repatriation.

The United Nations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Angolan government collaborated on organizing convoys for voluntary repatriation. Wellington Carneiro, UNHCR’s interim representative in Angola, stated that voluntary repatriation faced challenges like poor road conditions in the rainy season and the need to find suitable vehicles as a result. However, Carneiro assured that the operation, which he expected to finish by mid-December 2019, would fully guarantee the returning Angolans’ safety and dignity. While the international community’s collaborative work was a big part of the success of these trips, the Angolan government played the most important role. Paolo Balladelli, the U.N. Resident Coordinator in Angola, highlighted this when he said that “the Angolan authorities have shown their solidarity by welcoming people, including children, who were at risk of life due to serious ethnic conflicts. The conclusion of this chapter demonstrates to Africa and the world that Angola is a good example of good international practices.”

Julia Stephens
Photo: Flickr

Consequences of Violence in Nicaragua
Since April 2018, the citizens of Nicaragua have been protesting against its government. What started originally as a movement against changes to the social security program quickly turned into an opposition movement demanding President Daniel Ortega and his wife’s resignations. The protests turned violent when anti-government protesters clashed with pro-government protesters and police. As a result, these protests resulted in the killings of more than 300 people and about 2,000 people becoming injured. Here are the major consequences of violence in Nicaragua.

Human Rights Concerns

One of the consequences of violence in Nicaragua has been the concerns surrounding human rights abuses by the government. According to Human Rights Watch, the Ortega administration has violated Nicaraguan citizens’ human rights by “[banning] public demonstrations by any group critical of the government, (…) [stripping] nine non-governmental organizations of their legal registration, [shutting] down media outlets, [prosecuting] journalists under the anti-terrorism law, and [expelling] international monitors from the country. The Ortega government has harassed and threatened the media, human rights defenders and other members of civil society.”

Additionally, it appears that the Nicaraguan government is not only denying its people the freedoms they are entitled to, but it is also retaliating against the reports the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published. This becomes especially apparent by the government’s reactions to the release of these reports: “Following the high commissioner’s first report, the Ortega administration failed to hold perpetrators accountable for abuses and instead promoted senior officials who bear responsibility for killings and torture of demonstrators. In response to the high commissioner’s second report, the government has even defended the armed pro-government thugs that participated in repressing protests.”

Forced Migration

Additional consequences of the violence in Nicaragua is the forced displacement of 80,000 Nicaraguan citizens who are no longer able to live in their home country. Many are seeking asylum and refuge in neighboring countries like Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico and the United States. Of the 33,000 asylum requests that Costa Rica received in this past year, the country has only processed about 4,900 leaving more than 28,000 people to seek refuge elsewhere. Due to the mass displacement of these Nicaraguan citizens, many must survive on temporary employment or none at all, leaving them to suffer as a result.

Limited Access to Resources

One of the major consequences of violence in Nicaragua is the limited access to necessary resources such as food and health care as a result of the unexpected roadblocks that continually appear throughout the country and the capital, Managua. It is rather unclear whether these roadblocks are government-sponsored or a result of government opposition leaders, however, these often lead to detours and inconveniences when Nicaraguans are attempting to access grocery stores and gas stations. Additionally, government hospitals across the country have begun denying treatment to those who they suspect of being a part of the anti-government movement, which has led to people being unable to receive any kind of treatment for their injuries.

Economic Growth Concerns

In the past, Nicaragua has maintained a steady economic growth rate. In 2017, the growth rate was 4.5 percent. However, in the last year, since the outbreak of violence and political unrest, the economy has contracted about 3.8 percent and the World Bank suspects that this contraction will grow up to 5 percent in 2019. These violent protests have caused many to lose their jobs, while also causing a decrease in consumer and business confidence. As a result, some fear that the violence in Nicaragua will cost recent progress the country has made in poverty reduction efforts.

During the years of 2014 and 2016, poverty rates in Nicaragua had fallen from 29.6 percent to 24.9 percent due to the support of international organizations such as the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). Additionally, the extreme poverty rate also dropped from 8.3 percent to 6.9 percent in the same timeframe. It is too early to predict what the poverty rates will be for Nicaragua in 2019, but there is speculation that poverty rates will rise again.

Efforts by International Organizations

After six weeks of protests, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the situation in Nicaragua by asking the government to consider allowing the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to visit the country. On many occasions, the U.N. has established its willingness to resolve the situation by acting as a mediator in “national dialogue efforts to strengthen the rule of law, respect for human rights and the peaceful resolution of differences.” Additionally, there have been requests for the government to investigate allegations of human rights violations in order to hold perpetrators accountable and to bring much-needed justice and peace of mind for victims’ relatives.

Furthermore, representatives for Amnesty International have spoken out condemning the Nicaraguan governments’ repression of its people. They also suggested the creation of a committee in order to prosecute those guilty of serious human rights violations and crimes. In a report released by Amnesty International titled “Shoot to kill: Nicaragua’s strategy to suppress protest,” there appears to be evidence of Nicaraguan paramilitary forces using lethal weapons against protesters, of which many were students. This report sheds light on the situation in Nicaragua and hopes to bring international awareness in order for others to take action against the repressive forces of the Nicaraguan government.

The consequences of violence in Nicaragua range from human rights concerns to limited access to health care and even issues regarding Nicaragua’s economic growth rate. Though there appears to be no end in sight, there is hope for Nicaragua’s citizens as international organizations attempt to raise awareness and investigate the ongoing crimes committed against the Nicaraguan people. The situation is far from resolution but as it gains more international interest, there is hope that efforts will not be in vain and that the country can find a peaceful resolution.

– Laura Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Helping Syrian Refugees After Arriving
The Syrian refugee crisis has been ongoing for more than eight years since the civil war that started in 2011. More than 5 million people have fled Syria, while many more were displaced within Syria itself. Externally, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have the highest proportion of Syrian refugees in the world. Since refugees often try to live in urban areas for better employment opportunities, they frequently struggle with financial resources and end up living below the poverty line. In response, domestic and international organizations are helping Syrian refugees after arriving in each of these three countries.

Lebanon

As of June 30, 2016, Lebanon had the most Syrian refugees relative to its population, which was about 173 refugees per 1,000 people, or a total of 1,035,700. Lebanon also hosts a high number of refugees compared to its GDP, equating to 20 refugees per $1 million in GDP. While Lebanon hosts a large number of refugees, it is struggling to provide for them. There are around a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 70 percent of whom live below the poverty line. These refugees often have little to no financial resources, which leads them to live in crowded homes with other families in more than 2,100 communities.

One organization helping Syrian refugees in the country is the Lebanese Association for Development and Communication (LADC), which emerged to help both Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Its projects range from community-based projects to aid projects with both local and more than 500 international volunteers helping to establish more than 6,500 beneficiaries. One of its projects was the Paradise Wall, a community art project to smooth the integration process between 120 Syrian and Lebanese children by asking them to work together creatively to produce a wall full of designs.

Turkey

Turkey hosts the largest number of registered Syrian refugees – currently at 3.3 million. Authorities claim that there are more than 3 million Syrian refugees, but that they have not registered. This is because they see Turkey as a transit country or fear deportation. The fear of deportation comes from the fact that Turkey offers temporary protection status to Syrians instead of internationally-recognized refugee status. This increases the likelihood of Turkey deporting the refugees while avoiding the risk of receiving international renouncement for doing so. Most refugees attempt to settle in urban areas in these countries, as opposed to refugee camps where only 8 percent of registered Syrian refugees live.

In Turkey, the UNCHR, EU and WHO have come together to fund the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM), which is a multi-regional organization that does a wide variety of work to help Syrian refugees after arriving in Turkey. It has many projects ranging from legal counseling to psycho-social support for children through playful activities. One of its projects titled Women and Girls’ Safe Space emerged to offer training sessions on women’s reproductive health.

Jordan

Jordan is proportionally the second-largest host of the Syrian refugees, sheltering about 89 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants as of 2016. Fifty-one percent of these refugees are children and 4 percent are elderly, meaning that 55 percent are dependents who rely on the remaining 45 percent of adult, working-age Syrian refugees. Consequently, more than 80 percent of them live under the poverty line.

To deal with this, the Jordanian government has initialized formal processes to help them escape poverty. In 2017 alone, the country issued 46,000 work permits so that Syrian refugees work. Recently, in collaboration with UNHCR, the International Labor Organization (ILO) established an employment center, The Zaatari Office of Employment, in the biggest camp for Syrian refugees. By August 2017, around 800 refugees benefited from this center by registering official work permits in place of one-month leave permits.

While the Syrian refugee crisis is still ongoing, it is important to note that many are helping Syrian refugees to settle and integrate into their host societies. Many countries from all over the world are starting to resettle the refugees within their borders to lift off the burden of poverty and overcrowding in certain areas. People often recognize Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey for their willingness to take in large numbers of Syrian refugees, but this must not erase the work a variety of organizations are doing to help refugees after arriving in their new homes.

Nergis Sefer
Photo: Flickr

Notre-Dame RepairsThe cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is a cultural, religious, and architectural icon that has stood at the center of Paris for nearly a millennium. For many, this cathedral is a sacred place of refuge, an escape from the world or a childhood memory. On April 15, a fire nearly destroyed the cathedral, severely damaging the spire and roof of the building. In the aftermath of this tragedy, news headlines focused on the noteworthy flurry of donations from billionaires and small donors pledged to Notre-Dame repairs.

After reaching nearly $1 billion just days after the fire, several articles marveled at how easy it was to raise these funds when investing the same amount of money and public support for other pressing issues seems so difficult. In a few op-ed pieces, authors even expressed the sadness and disappointment of how vigorous the funding was to repair a church whose religion preaches helping the poor and oppressed. This begs the question of what else could $1 billion be used for? Here are five different ways the funds for the Notre-Dame repairs could have been used.

What $1 Billion in Aid Could Do Around the World

    1. International Aid: In 2017, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) spent more than $1 billion on agricultural aid worldwide, which includes investment in capital for agricultural and technological development. USAID spent a similar amount on maternal and child health worldwide to treat cases of illness and provide medical technology to assist in childbirth.
    2. World Hunger: Through local partnerships and government leadership, the Feed the Future Inititiaive spent roughly $3.3 billion in agricultural and rural loans between 2011 and 2017 to mobilize farmers and families in developing countries. The average spending per year for this program amounts to about half of what was donated to the Notre-Dame repairs ($0.5 billion), yet the progress made through this initiative has added an estimated value of nearly $42 billion in economic output.
    3. The Refugee Crisis: The Office of the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has requested $783 million to aid the South Sudan crisis where there are an estimated 2.4 million refugees. It raised $783 million in just 24 hours after the Notre-Dame fire. The funds UNHCR has requested for the crises in the countries of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Afghanistan comes to around $879 million. That money would aid more than a million refugees collectively in the three countries.
    4. Homelessness: In Beijing, China, homelessness is an increasing problem. The Fengtai Shelter, located in Beijing, serves almost 3,000 people annually and receives just $1.2 million each year in aid from the government. With $1 billion, nearly 800 similar homeless shelters could receive $1.2 million in aid.
    5. Climate Change Relief: Alaskan residents have witnessed dramatic changes where whole villages have been sliding into rivers. The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) said relocating one such village, Newtok, would require anywhere between $80 to $130 million. Given this analysis, $1 billion could be used to relocate roughly ten such villages in Alaska, impacting thousands of people who are being displaced by increasing water levels.

Here are just five different ways that $1 billion could be used towards important problems in the world. These examples go to show the magnitude of what can be done with $1 billion to help the poor and oppressed. Although it is hearting to see so many people rally together to help with the Notre-Dame repairs, it would be an amazing leap to see that kid of dedication put towards humanitarian aid efforts.

Luke Kwong

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Education in Venezuela
The Council of Foreign Relations refers to Venezuela as a failed petrostate, or as a nation struggling economically—and, as a result, socially—due to extensive reliance on a once successful, now-fractured petroleum trade. In 2015, global prices plummeted to less than $49 per barrel of oil. Just a year earlier, the average was $93 dollars per barrel. Since then, the Venezuelan economy has experienced inflation at record high rates—the highest at 2,688,670 percent in January 2019. This led to food and vital medicine shortages across the country. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population now lives in poverty, and education in Venezuela has experienced a major decline.

The economic situation this country has experienced since 1990 is almost entirely responsible for the lack of funding and resources that the country allocates to social welfare programs—particularly those supporting electricity, running water and food security in education. Despite worldwide support for leadership change in Venezuela while it is desperately in need of humanitarian assistance and guidance, people are doing very little to address the needs of individual citizens and the currently under-covered establishment of education in Venezuela.

Why Venezuelans Cannot Stay in School

Under the current system, basic education in Venezuela is compulsory and free–in recent years, however, the Venezuelan government has failed to follow through in ensuring these elementary level schools are in stable condition to foster a learning environment. As the disadvantages of remaining in Venezuela continue to increase, a growing number of Venezuelans have begun immigrating to countries like Colombia and Brazil in search of a better life. The conditions for learning in Venezuela are so dire. UNICEF reported on May 31, 2019, that up to 3,000 Venezuelan children in one region of the country cross daily into neighboring Colombia to get to and return from their school in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta. Seven thousand more students with their families have already left Venezuela behind and migrated to Colombia to live and learn there full time.

The quality of consistent and scheduled education in Venezuela has declined drastically in recent years. Country-wide power outages that lead to the cancellation of classes for days and weeks on end discourage many people in Venezuela from trusting the educational system of their country. While the Ministry of Education in Venezuela has yet to report on the frequency of power outages in Venezuelan schools, a Reuters article found that two major blackouts in March 2019 led to the government canceling classes for a week at the beginning and end of that month. Though classes would normally end at the start of July, Venezuelan Education Minister Aristibulo Isturiz said the school would be open until the end of July to account for missed educational days.

UNESCO has found Venezuelan youth are not remaining in school as they did in years past. In 2009, the gross enrollment ratio for primary students in Venezuela was 101 percent. In 2017, that ratio became 93.37 percent. This is alarming due to the fact that nine years of education (ages 7-14) are legally compulsory by decree of 1880 Venezuelan President Antonio Guzman and solidified through the creation of the Ministry of Public Instruction and the Bolivarian social program Mission Robinson. Though there should be no obstacles keeping children of this age in school, on average 7 percent do not attend. Secondary education adolescent gross enrollment dropped from 92 percent in 2013 to 83 percent in 2017. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of out-of-school children grew by 200,000 and the number of adolescents no longer in Venezuelan schools increased by 150,000.

No Food, No School

This overall decrease in quality also has to do with the fact that children who made sure to attend for the sake of receiving at least one meal per day are no longer receiving a meal at school. At the Santo Anglo School an hour outside Caracas, the nation’s capital, schools have adjusted their protocol so that they are not responsible for feeding students anymore. They ask parents to feed children breakfast before they go to school and end school around 11:45 a.m., which is just before lunch so they do not have an obligation to provide it.

These issues persist in all parts of this country. Francy Rodriguez, a teacher in Venezuela’s capital, told an Al-Jazeera reporter that, “The children have no food at home and they come here to at least get one meal. But we haven’t had food for a year because the kitchen is broken. The children faint during physical education class because their stomachs are empty.” A Venezuelan regional president to a chapter of the National Federation of Educational workers stated that “Hungry people aren’t able to teach or learn. We’re going to end up with a nation of illiterates.”

Efforts to Fix the Crisis

In a joint effort led by the International Organization for Migration and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 95 worldwide organizations that strive to end migrant crises will be working to solve the Venezuelan migrant crisis by following the Refugee and Migrant Response Plan of 2019. This plan provided “a total of USD 738 million … for the period January – December 2019, including USD 315.5 million for Colombia, USD 117.3 million for Ecuador, USD 106.4 million for Peru, USD 56.6 million for Brazil, USD 35.7 million for the Southern Cone, USD 34.8 million for the Caribbean, USD 21.7 million for Central America/Mexico and USD 49.7 million for regional (Venezuela).”

In addition, UNICEF advocates are appealing to allocate around $70 million to the Venezuelan cause, with a focus on assisting local and national governments within that region to improve the quality of “drinking water and sanitation, protection, education and health services for uprooted children and those in vulnerable communities.” Also, the World Food Programme plans to expand its initiative supplying food in schools that are not meeting healthy standards to Venezuela. In doing so, it provides food security so that children do not feel obligated to enter the labor force at an age they should be learning and growing their intellectual capabilities.

– Fatemeh-Zahra Yarali
Photo: Flickr

 

NGO Innovation AwardEach year the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) host more than 500 representatives of nongovernmental organizations around the world in their Annual Consultations in Geneva. These delegates debate refugee issues affecting both international and regional audiences as well as discuss new advocacy issues.

These annual consultations discuss data analytics as a pathway to better welfare systems; the implementation of the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees; the maintenance of moral, legal and safe aid to refugees; and UNHCR’s transition to an increasingly decentralized, local system.

Starting in 2018, the UNHCR has presented annual NGO innovation awards to celebrate NGOs they believe embody innovative practices required to truly integrate refugees into their new societies.

Honoring Partnerships and Connectivity in NGOs

Through the NGO Innovation Award, the UNHCR showcases exceptional NGOs with new kinds of solutions in refugee aid in order to inspire further innovation in the field. Recipient NGOs fall into two categories: inclusive partnerships and connectivity.

UNHCR describes previous winners of the partnership category as having people-centered, community-based, non-traditional and creative partnerships. Focusing on inclusion and diversity, these organizations drive solution-based, positive interventions in their environments.

In the category of connectivity, UNHCR looks for organizations that demonstrate creative and novel solutions to connectivity challenges of displaced people (e.g. literacy or access to finance).

The Winners Are Archetypes of Innovative NGOs

One of the 2018 winners was SINA Loketa (SINAL), a team of six Africans from different countries helping young refugees and marginalized youths become self-sustainable and self-actualized members of their (new) communities. Specifically, this NGO aims to help individuals from these two disadvantaged communities to design and launch social enterprises from their refugee camp and host community in Uganda.

Each year, SINA Loketa leads 90 new scholars through a personal and professional transformation based on project-based learning and hands-on experimentation. After being matched with a mentor, these individuals go through training covering team building, trauma healing, one-on-one life coaching, social innovation and entrepreneurship.

SINA Loketa envisions directly creating thousands of jobs by their startups and reducing Ugandan youth unemployment by three percent by 2028.

The second winner of the 2018 NGO Innovation award was Artemisszio, a charitable foundation based in Budapest, Hungary. It strives to build an open, tolerant society based on interculturality. Artemisszio focuses on young people disadvantaged by rural circumstances, incomplete schooling, Roma ethnicity and migration. This organization helps them integrate into the labor market and into society as a whole.

Artemisszio works with central members of these marginalized individual’s communities to create supportive relationships outside of the NGO. For example, the organization hosts classes for health care workers, educators, police and military personnel, about interculturality and stress management. Artemisszio also spearheads a multitude of other innovative outreach programs, including teaching at local primary and secondary schools.

An Archetype for Future NGO Innovation

The first two winners of the NGO Innovation Award, SINA Loketa and Artemisszio, engage disadvantaged members of society as well as society as a whole to create cohesion between them. Their multifaceted approach bridges what initially seems like a fixed divide between these two groups in both Hungarian and Ugandan communities.

UNHCR is calling for innovative solutions to issues that are constantly evolving. Each year they celebrate solutions that introduce refugees as positive influences in their new communities.

The answer to what is the NGO Innovation Award lies in the annual celebration of organizations that fill a need in their communities that had not been duly addressed previously. These two winners can serve as an inspiration for current and future NGOs to better their communities.

– Daria Locher
Photo: Flickr

Jobs for Refugee Women

Lara Shaheen, a Syrian woman in Jordan, has managed to create jobs for refugee women while taking advantage of pre-existing skills. The Syrian Jasmine House in Amman, Jordan allows displaced women to monetize their crafting abilities by giving them the resources to create and sell handmade items, most commonly artisan soaps. According to the Jordanian Ministry of Planning, Jordan hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees who migrated after a civil war broke out in 2012. The conflict between the Syrian government and rebel forces destroyed significant infrastructure and caused the displacement of 13.5 million Syrians.

The Origins of Syrian Jasmine House

Shaheen fled Damascus in 2012, settling in Jordan with the common mindset that the displacement was temporary. But as the war continued, she decided to create a business that would help her break free of the aid dependence many refugees find themselves reliant upon. The initial team comprised of Shaheen and five other Syrian women who left Zaatari camp in 2014 to work on expanding their marketing of hand-sewn goods.

Since that time, the Jasmine House has created jobs for over 40 refugee women and trained thousands of women of all ages in tailoring, embroidery, stained glass, wool knitting, crochet and natural soap making. Females head over 30 percent of Syrian displaced households. As many women have lost husbands or sons due to the war, the need for female financial independence is critical. 

Although Shaheen named the company in honor of her home Damascus, often called “the capital of Jasmine,” her objective is to give Syrian women a way to integrate into Jordanian society so that they can be both productive and dependent on themselves. According to The Jordan Times, she has also trained numerous Palestinian and Jordanian women to create handmade Syrian goods, promoting independence for all vulnerable women in Jordan. 

How Syrian Jasmine House Benefits Others

 Once Shaheen realized the situation in Jordan might not be temporary, she created a for-profit initiative to help women become less dependent on aid agencies. The women first sell their products to Shaheen, making an average of $280-560 a month, according to National Geographic. Shaheen then uses her contacts and social media platforms, such as her Facebook page, to sell the goods to the general public. The income women can make through the Syrian Jasmine House is higher than the average $218 a month UNHCR gives refugee families in Jordan.

The Syrian Jasmine House helps bring in an income which can be difficult since work permits are challenging to obtain in Jordan due to already scarce jobs for Jordanians. In February 2019, Shaheen received her first large international order from the United Kingdom. The Jasmine House also offers workshops through the Airbnb Experiences network for tourists to learn new Syrian skills. A writer for The Medium, Ashlea Halpern, learned the craft of making Aleppo-soap while listening to the story of Maya Albabili who is part of the Syrian Jasmine House.

As conflict dies down in Syria and the country stabilizes, organizations have begun to look at repatriation as an option. UNHCR has labeled repatriation as the only durable solution for Syrians in Jordan, however, they are still not able to safely recommend return. Until it is absolutely safe for Syrians to return to Syria, larger organizations, such as UNICEF, are focusing on providing education and employable skills to people. Smaller organizations emphasize small business building through workshops and microloan services. 

In June 2019, Shaheen opened her second location in Istanbul, Turkey. According to UNHCR, Turkey hosts 3.2 million Syrians and Shaheen is hopeful that she can provide jobs to more refugee women and enable them to become self-dependent. The Syrian Jasmine House denotes the motto “we are producers, not refugees,” and continues to work at breaking the aid-dependent cycle countries post-conflict often find themselves in.


– Carly Campbell
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Rwanda
As of early 2019, estimates determine that Rwanda is host to approximately 150,000 refugees. To support this number, Rwanda maintains six refugee camps and four transit/reception centers, in addition to supporting refugee integration into urban areas. Rwanda is remarkable for its inclusive approach to refugees, most of whom are from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The national government, UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Government of Japan and other international, national and local organizations are all working to improve opportunities and livelihoods for refugees in Rwanda.

Approximately 79 percent of refugees in Rwanda live in the refugee camps, with the remainder — about 13,000 — living in urban centers. Rwanda gives refugees the right to do business and access health services, insurance, banking and education to promote integration. As of 2017, Rwanda had integrated more than 19,000 refugee students from Burundi into its national school system.

According to UNHCR, enabling the self-reliance of refugees is an essential part of its mission. UNHCR creates and supports initiatives that allow refugees to contribute to the economic development of their host country.

Ali Abdi has lived in Rwanda for 20 years after fleeing Somalia. After applying for a business card, he now runs a small convenience store and lives with his Rwandan wife. Ali described Rwanda as “a peaceful country” where “people do not discriminate.” He is thankful for his ability to be independent.

Supporting Refugee Entrepreneurs

In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, many refugees like Ali are finding success in entrepreneurship. UNHCR labels Kigali as a “City of Light” for its accepting and supportive attitude toward refugees. The Government of Rwanda is actively working to promote the integration of refugees into the city with targeted assistance.

For refugees aspiring to own their own business, Inkomoko is a local business consulting firm that trains and supports refugees with UNHCR’s support. Beginning in 2016, Inkomoko’s refugee program has worked with 3,300 refugees, resulting in the creation of 2,600 new jobs across the country, a significant boost to the economy. The director of Inkomoko’s refugee program, Lydia Irambona, stated, “Our main goal is to help them increase their revenue, get more customers and understand how to do business here.”

Annick Iriwacu, a Burundian refugee, went to Inkomoko after a referral from her cousin. She has since opened a successful business selling liquid petroleum gas. The business has grown enough for her to now have five employees. She stated, “They gave me the strength and hope to continue, because I was giving up.”

Financial Support for Refugee Camps

While refugees in Rwanda’s refugee camps have fewer opportunities for economic independence and contribution, supporting and protecting them is still crucial. In June 2019, the Government of Japan donated $270,000 to UNHCR Rwanda to cover the needs of 58,552 Burundian refugees in Mahama, the largest refugee camp in the country. This is one of many donations, as the Government of Japan has supported Rwanda for six years and provided a total of approximately $7 million to the UNHCR to support Rwandan refugees.

UNHCR intends to use the 2019 money to maintain and improve refugees’ access to legal assistance and protection against violence, as well as health care services. Refugee camps in Rwanda provide primary health care and send refugees to local health facilities if they require secondary or tertiary care, which can be costly.

Supporting Refugee Farmers

Many refugees living in Rwandan camps want to become more economically independent, however. While the refugee camps provide displaced people with access to basic education and health facilities, many refugees have found that working allows them to take further advantage of what Rwanda can offer them and their families.

The IKEA Foundation, UNHCR, the World Food Programme, the Government of Rwanda and the Food and Agriculture Organization have all provided funding. These organizations are working together to improve the livelihoods of both refugees and local Rwandan farmers.

In the Misizi marshland, 1,427 Rwandans and Congolese refugee farmers are working together for agricultural success. The project is also generating social cohesion, as the Rwandan and refugee farmers are learning to work together and recognize the benefits of cooperation. As of early 2019, these farmers had produced more than 101 tonnes of maize, the profits of which enabled them to feed their families.

Rwanda’s Example

Rwanda intends to continue its inclusive approach to refugees them become successful and independent whether they live in camps or cities. Refugees have found success in Rwanda because its government and international partners are working hard on their behalf.

While there is still more work to do to ensure that refugees in camps have access to work opportunities and that refugees in cities receive support in achieving economic independence, the nation serves as an example of how to successfully help refugees begin new lives and contribute to a country’s economy.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

AI to Meet the Sustainable Development Goals
Tech giants are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to create innovative strategies to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and eradicate global poverty by 2030. A central barrier to development in third-world nations is in-access to high-quality, timely and accessible data.

Big data platforms like AI expand capabilities to acquire accurate, real-time, micro-level information, while ML allows pattern recognition at a macro-level. Combined, these data advances can make data more accessible, applicable and finely scalable while accelerating the speed and scale for private and public development actors to implement change. Companies are partnering across public, private and nonprofit sectors to broaden the collective impact.

Take a look at the innovative approaches tech giants are taking to help global poor communities with data and what the incorporation of AI technologies means for the future of global poverty initiatives. These approaches aim to employ AI to meet the SDGs within its allotted time frame.

Education and Digital Training

On June 19, 2019, the day preceding World Refugee Day, Microsoft announced the inception of two projects partnering with Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). These projects supplement its AI for Humanitarian Action group to help incorporate AI to meet the SDGs.

The AI for Humanitarian Action group is a $40 million, five-year program part of Microsoft’s larger AI for Good suite (a $115 million, five-year project). The projects will provide AI tools to help staff track court dates, prioritize emergency cases and translate for families with AI speech-to-text. Microsoft also has continuing partnerships to incorporate AI/ML into educational services for refugees with the following groups:

  1. International Rescue Committee (IRC): This committee works to provide humanitarian aid through the creation of sustainable programming for refugees, displaced populations and crisis-affected communities. This includes career development programming and digital skills training to empower refugees and make them relevant for the job markets in each affected country. Microsoft and IRC’s Technology for Livelihoods in Crisis project in Jordan is an example of this.
  2. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): Together with the University of Cambridge, the UNICEF is developing The Learning Passport. The digital platform will ensure better access to education and facilitate learning opportunities for youth displaced by conflict and natural disasters. It creates scalable learning solutions tailored to each child. Crises have affected the quality of education for 75 million youth.
  3. Norwegian Refugee Council: This council is providing an AI chatbot service that uses language understanding, machine translation and language recognition to deliver high-quality education and digital skills training to refugees. This helps to close the education gap for the millions of youth affected by conflict. It will also help humanitarian workers communicate with migrants who speak other languages, which will help them best provide the best service.
  4. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): UNHCR plans to provide 25,000 refugees in Kakuma with access to high-quality, accredited, context-appropriate digital learning and training by 2020 for development in Kakuma markets. UNHCR intends this project to expand across multiple countries.

Food Security and Agricultural Development

The fact that farms do not always have power or internet security limits technological developments that address food security and agricultural development. Here are some efforts that consider the capabilities of farmers and the respective developing regions:

  1. Microsoft FarmBeats: It aims to enable data-driven farming compatible with both the capabilities of the farmer and the region. FarmBeats is employing AI and IoT (Information of Things) solutions using low-cost sensors, drones and vision and ML algorithms. This combined AI and IoT approach enables data-driven improvements in agriculture yield, lowered costs and reduced environmental impacts of agricultural production, and is a significant contribution to help AI to meet the SDGs.
  2. Apollo: Apollo uses agronomic machine learning, remote sensing and mobile phones to help farmers maximize profits in developing markets. Apollo delivers scalable financing, farm products and customized advice to farmers while assessing the farmers’ credit risk. Apollo customizes each product in order to double farm yields and improve credit. The beta project is starting in Kenya.
  3. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)/CGIAR research group: It aims to implement preemptive solutions rather than reactive solutions to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. CIAT has developed a Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS), which uses machine learning to make predictions on malnutrition patterns based on current and future estimates of crop failures, droughts and rising food prices. This approach is able to detect an impending nutrition crisis and take action instead of responding after the crisis has taken hold.

Socioeconomic Data Collection

According to a report by The Brookings Institute as a part of its “A Blueprint for the Future of AI series,” data providing national averages “conceal more than they reveal” and inaccurately estimate and map patterns of poverty. Survey data is often entirely unavailable or otherwise low in quality in many of the poorest countries where development needs are greatest. 39 of the 59 countries in Africa conducted less than two surveys between 2000 and 2010.

Even in large countries with sophisticated statistical systems, such as India, survey results remain inaccurate, with the gap between personal reporting and national accounts amounting to as much as a 60 percent difference in some countries. Companies are addressing this by utilizing big data from remote sensing satellites.

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is using Earth Observations (EO) to provide finely-tuned and near-real-time data on economic activity and population distribution by measuring nighttime luminosity. Researchers have noted a correlation between luminosity and GDP as well as subnational economic output. Collecting socioeconomic data in this way can ensure higher quality data important to policy implementation and direction to countries with the greatest development needs.

Timothy Burke and Stan Larimer launched Sovereign Sky in 2018, putting satellite data into action. Sovereign Sky is the world’s first space-based blockchain which provides secure private internet networks and powers a new Free World Currency to redistribute the world’s wealth with a goal of eradicating poverty by 2032.

The eight current satellites cover Africa and India and the organization will send boxes of StealthCrypto phones, digital wallets, smart cards and modems to people in need. Sovereign Sky will deploy 36 satellites within three to 10 years to cover the entire world in a secure blockchain internet connection, closing the gap on technological interactions between all nations and including the world’s remotest and poorest areas in internet connectivity.

Pitfalls of AI-Driven Global Development Initiatives, and Moving Forward

AI and ML have crucial capabilities in reshaping education, agriculture and data collection in the developing world. However, these technologies have a history of producing unethical racial profiling, surveillance and perpetuating stereotypes, especially in areas with a history of ethnic conflict or inequality. AI and ML applications have to adapt in ways to ensure effective, inclusive and fair distribution of big data resources in the developing world. Development experts need to be in close collaboration with technologists to prevent unethical allocations.

This diversification is why it is important that tech giants like Microsoft, and projects like those by the ICAT/CGIAR, are created in collaboration with various nonprofit, public and private sector groups to ensure interdisciplinary ethical liability for big data applications in sustainable development contexts. Ensuring the use of AI technologies is context-specific to the affected regions and populations will help prevent misappropriation of the technology and increase quality and effectiveness.

Working with local companies and sectors can create long-lasting engagement and grow permanent technology sectors in the developing areas thus contributing to the local economy. These strategies can put forth effective, ethical and productive applications of AI to meet the SDGs.

– Julia Kemner
Photo: Flickr