Sanitation in Rohingya Refugee CampsMass persecution and forced deportation of the stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar have created over 1 million homeless refugees in Southeastern Asia. Historically facing discrimination, the Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in western Myanmar (formerly Burma). They have been regarded as stateless, meaning without citizenship or any rights associated with it, since 1982, and the recent Buddhist nationalist movement has led to increased religious tension. They have mainly fled to Bangladesh, many of them have no choice but to leave Myanmar and enter Bangladesh illegally. This is partly due to their lack of freedom under the Myanmarese government’s labeling of stateless.

Sanitation and Water Issues

The largest refugee camp area in Bangladesh is Cox’s Bazar, where over 900,000 Rohingya people have taken up residence across 27 different locations. The area, not designed to hold this many people for so long, faces extreme overcrowding. The overcrowding is so dire, Bangladesh has been searching for ways to send back the refugees. It has been difficult for many to have adequate sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps. There has even been a worry that existing wells have been constructed too close to the latrines. If this is the case, mass disease outbreaks could occur without sanitation improvements. However, organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Oxfam have been working to improve these conditions.

Cox’s Bazar is very susceptible to long dry seasons, from November to April or even May. Long dry seasons lead to the main water reservoirs that the refugees use for their water drying up. Shallow tube wells that some organizations have constructed are also very susceptible to drying. The dry season has been much worse recently due to the climate changes associated with El Niño. To make matters worse, the rain has come only in dramatic cyclones. To ensure sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps, including clean water access and improve sanitation, organizations developed and implemented deep-well tubes.

Deep tube wells penetrate the ground past surface-level aquifers and reach the more stable water table beneath. These wells allow for more consistent water access. The water is then piped up to above-ground tanks with solar energy, where it can be monitored and the quality of water can be maintained at safe levels. Constructed in many strategically placed areas of Cox’s Bazar, there are over 20,000 shallow and deep tube wells in place. With the rapid construction of these wells, the UNHCR and Bangladeshi government have reached the goal of 20 liters per person every day.

Rohingya Women and Issues of Safety

The issue of proper latrine construction and maintenance has also been an issue that plagues the Rohingya refugees, particularly women. Many women and girls do not feel safe using the latrines, or even walking to them. They are typically in very difficult-to-reach areas of the camps. Refugees often must walk down steep, muddy slopes to reach the toilets and showers. Other than the trek, the latrines typically have no roofs or doors, and sometimes have little to no walls. In an area with hundreds of thousands of people, a third of Rohingya women did not feel safe taking a shower or using the toilet, according to a study conducted by Oxfam in 2018.

Refugee women need to feel safe and comfortable. Oxfam has been working with the women to design new latrines. These efforts also help women become more involved in the decision-making processes in the camps. The newly designed latrines have a full four walls, as well as a door, a sink and a stall. By involving more women in infrastructure projects such as these, they become more empowered and eager to participate in decision-making processes. This creates a lasting effect, especially in the younger Rohingya generations, that ensures greater stability among gender equalities in a place where women are largely left out of critical decision discussions.

The Future of Rohingya Refugees

The number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is higher than ever. But these refugees have seen major improvements through the engaging and effective efforts from many humanitarian organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. While there are still challenges to overcome, continued improvements in water access means improved sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps and clean water for refugees. Oxfam works to provide upgraded latrines and toilet sanitation for better privacy and safety for women and children. In addition, the construction of thousands of deep-tube wells ensures that no disease outbreaks will take place on account of contamination from the toilets.

While the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh remains tumultuous, those affected experience rapid developments in their living conditions. More refugees are likely to enter Cox’s Bazar, but sustained support from the international community ensures that more refugees than ever are able to have improved sanitation in Rohingya refugee camps.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Helping RefugeesOne-fourth of the population in Lebanon is made up of Syrian refugees. War and political turmoil have forced these refugees to leave behind their lives and start from scratch in Lebanon. The initial humanitarian response to this problem was to supply short-term aid for the refugees until they could return to Syria. Many refugees have been in Lebanon for almost 10 years, so returning to Syria is unlikely.

Each year, $2.75 billion is needed to address the needs of these refugees, but less than half of that is available. Simply donating the bare necessities for survival to these refugees is not a sustainable solution.

Alfanar is a venture philanthropy organization that supports social entrepreneurs aiming to improve refugee life in Lebanon. A shift to helping refugees through entrepreneurship offers a viable long-term solution.

The Ana Aqra Association is an organization in Lebanon that provides educational support services to Syrian refugees and underprivileged Lebanese children. Programs are offered in literacy, accelerated learning and social and emotional development. In order to fund their efforts in public schools, the organization sells teacher training services to private schools and international NGOs.

Another sustainable solution is pioneered by the Nawaya Network, which connects refugees in Lebanon with the resources needed to develop their talents. The organization has developed a workshop to teach young people how to launch businesses to solve problems in their community.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees works to create environments in which innovative ideas for helping refugees through entrepreneurship can emerge, some of which are social enterprises. An employee of the organization, Natalia Nahra, launched an app to provide refugees in Israel with the information needed for them to utilize services available.

Nahra noticed throughout her life that people without access to information cannot make informed choices, from U.S. workers being unaware of their rights to families in Southeast Asia sending young girls to big cities alone, unaware of the risk of human trafficking.

The problem also exists for refugees in Israel. Information for refugees is provided in English and Hebrew, which most refugees cannot read. In addition, information is scattered on Facebook or at various organizations. As a result, refugees seeking services waste frustrating amounts of time visiting organizations that cannot help them. With better access to information on services available, refugees could better access resources by only visiting organizations that have what they need.

Information such as reception hours and new policies change daily, so the information needs to be distributed quickly. Nahra launched her app in June 2017 with the hope of eliminating these unnecessary obstacles for refugees.

These solutions are examples of the viability of shifting from short-term aid to sustainable solutions for helping refugees.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr

The Young South Sudanese Refugees Crisis: How Bring About Education

The civil war in South Sudan has forced nearly two million people to flee the country. They have traveled mostly to Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan. But the youngest nation in the world also has a young population. The median age is 17, an issue that has affected refugee camps across northeastern Africa, since 62% of South Sudanese refugees are under 18 years old.

These numbers have highlighted the concern of the diverse foundations that are trying to ensure young South Sudanese refugees have basic rights, such as healthcare and employment aid. However, education has become a severe problem in several African camps because they lack classrooms, teachers and resources.

The current refugee situation started in 2011, after a referendum was held to define the future of South Sudan. Around 98% of people voted for separation from the northern part of the country. In the following years, violent conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan broke out over oil-producing areas. In 2013, the two governments signed an agreement in order to end the confrontations.

However, after a short period of peace, a domestic political problem divided the country when President Salva Kiir Mayardit dismissed his cabinet and a civil war began. Many South Sudanese have left the country, going mainly to Uganda. One million refugees, 85% of whom are women and children, now reside there. The following organizations are helping young South Sudanese refugees continue their studies.

Education Aid is a Global Effort

The overpopulation in the settlements makes it harder to provide facilities for children, especially in regards to education, where a classroom can have 200 students. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declared the South Sudan refugee crisis as an emergency operation in 2013. Thanks to donations and agreements, the organization has enrolled 41,000 refugee children in primary school and 31,000 more received livelihood kits.

Save the Children is developing a project for relief education principally in Uganda, which hosts the largest number of young South Sudanese refugees. Along with the Ugandan government, NGOs and donations, the organization is planning to construct more than 400 schools and hire 5,307 primary and secondary teachers. In addition, Save the Children provides early schooling for young children and classes for those who have fallen behind.

Technology could be another solution for young South Sudanese refugees that are looking for a better education. Columbia University has developed a program called Teachers for Teachers that provides training, coaching and mobile mentoring to educators in refugee camps. The goal of this program is to generate highly qualified teachers that can provide quality education to refugee students. The system works through mobile technology, resource sessions, discussion, participation and photo and video content.

There are several education options that refugee camps can adopt in order to improve the education of young South Sudanese refugees. The success of these programs can translate into better education for refugees all across Africa.

Dario Ledesma

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in MonacoLocated between a small strip of the southern French border and the Mediterranean Sea is the Principality of Monaco, the second smallest state in the world. With such a small territory and just 30,581 citizens, one might assume that the principality would be reluctant to host refugees. However, Monaco has gladly accepted some refugees. Here are 10 facts about refugees in Monaco.

  1. Monaco will be accepting refugees in limited numbers due to their small size.
  2. Serge Telle, the Monegasque Minister of State, has said that such welcoming of refugees is largely symbolic.
  3. In June 2016, Monaco, in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), welcomed a family of Christian Syrian refugees. Christian populations are often heavily threatened in Syria.
  4. In March 2008, Prince Albert II of Monaco announced that Monaco would donate 100,000 euros to the UNHCR refugee program.
  5. Monaco has previously supported the UNHCR’s work by fundraising through Amitié Sans Frontières, which translates to “Friends Without Borders.”
  6. Currently, an immigrant must reside in Monaco for 10 years in order to acquire citizenship through naturalization.
  7. Monaco does not accept refugees unless those refugees meet French criteria. This has been established through bilateral agreements between the principality and France.
  8. The principality has acceded to the Geneva Convention of 1951 and the Protocol of 1967, which is the most recognized international law regarding refugees.
  9. An international NGO, based in Monaco, known as the International Emerging Film Talent Association (IEFTA), launched an all-day event called “Refugee Voices in Film” at the Cannes Music Festival.
  10. The film project was done in collaboration with the UNHCR.

In lieu of the Syrian refugee crisis, the Principality of Monaco has chosen to lead by example. Despite the principality’s small size, there are now refugees in Monaco, integrating and on their way to lead happy lives. Hopefully, the rest of the world will follow suit.

Shannon Golden
Photo: Flickr

Education for Refugees
United World Colleges (UWC) has committed to raising funds for 100 scholarships per year for refugee students to attend UWC schools worldwide as a part of its UWC Refugee Initiative. Established as a response to the challenges many refugees face due to their politically insecure status, the scholarship program is intended to provide greater access to tertiary education for refugees.

The UWC values each scholarship at $75,000 and says it will cover the full education program, board and lodging, travel and visa support, co-curricular activities, educational materials and student welfare for two years. The UWC plans to finance the $7.5 million needed to support the 100 scholarships with donations from foundations and private donors.

Following the recent executive order restricting refugee access to the United States, UWC released a public statement urging U.S. authorities to ensure that students can safely continue their education in the U.S. regardless of their nationality or their refugee status. UWC’s United States campus also plans to increase its admission of refugee scholars in the fall semester of 2017. Other campuses, such as UWC Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, committed to providing additional places at their campuses for Muslim and refugee students.

“In light of the dramatic escalation in the number of young refugees, there is an urgent need for refugee talent to gain access to world-class education helping them to become tomorrow’s leaders of their communities,” UWC International Executive Director Jens Waltermann said. “UWC schools, with their emphasis on education for peace, must set an example and inspire others to open their gates to this underserved group.”

A number of other colleges and higher education programs have begun offering scholarships specifically to refugees in recent months, including Wheaton College in Massachusetts, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and Bard College in Berlin.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees outlined access to tertiary, higher education as a developmental goal in its 2012-2016 education strategy, and listed greater access to scholarships as a potential solution for providing a better education for refugees.

Casie Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Syrian Mental Health
During a 2015 study, the German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists found that half of Syrian refugees had mental issues, while nearly three-quarters of those affected have witnessed violence and 50 percent have been subjected to violence themselves. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cites that the most common clinical disorders regarding Syrian mental health are “depression, prolonged grief disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and various forms of anxiety disorders.”

A Chinese study found that children who experience the deprivation of parental care are at higher risk of intellectual and emotional struggles. Larger volumes of gray matter, which indicates “insufficient pruning and maturity of the brain,” appeared in children subjected to substantial parental absence.

Essential rights including education and access to health services are often absent among displaced refugees and children are more likely to be exposed to human trafficking. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Syrian refugees total 4.8 million and almost half of that number are children.

The International Medical Corps (IMC) found that Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) have extremely limited access to mental health facilities and 54 percent suffer from severe emotional disorders like depression and anxiety.

Refugee policies in Syria’s neighboring countries such as in Lebanon are also harmful to fostering Syrian mental health for refugees, such as the inability for the establishment of permanent refugee camps and forbiddance of Syrians to work in the country. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that 41% of Syrian youth in Lebanon have experienced suicidal compulsions.

However, during the Obama administration in the summer of 2016, Secretary Kerry announced a rise of an additional $439 million in humanitarian assistance for Syrians including increased access to mental health services. Emergency relief funding aims to support non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations and United Nations operations, especially those addressed in the eight billion dollars U.N. appeal of 2016 for Syrian aid. Included in the funding is $130 million to the UNHCR to provide mental health support and child protection for IDPs and refugees, while an additional $36 million to Turkey also provides mental health support through the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Refugees in Slovakia
Over the past several months, the influx of migrants in Europe has notoriously prompted headlines about the manageability of refugees and illegal immigrants on the continent. To explore the details about one country in particular, here are 10 facts about refugees in Slovakia:

  1. As of 2015, the foreign population in Slovakia is about 1.56 percent of the total population, numbering approximately 84 thousand people. This is one of the lowest rates in the entire European Union.
  2. Rates of migration are dramatically rising since Slovakia’s admission into the EU in 2004. The total number of foreign-born residents has quadrupled and continues to increase by approximately 8,000 new arrivals each year.
  3. The highest percentage of new migrants originate from Ukraine and nearly half come from Slovakia’s bordering countries, also including Poland, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. Outside the EU, the largest populations represented are from Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Russia, Vietnam, China and Syria.
  4. The most commonly reported reason for applicants seeking to relocate to Slovakia is for work. As for arranged arrivals, they typically utilize refugee camps in Slovakia as a backup when neighboring camps, often in Austria, face added strain.
  5. Numerous politicians in the country sparked controversy in 2015 with public statements regarding how Slovakia would only accept Christian refugees: “We could take in 800 Muslims but we don’t have any mosques in Slovakia, so how can Muslims be integrated if they are not going to like it here?” Many leaders retain the political belief that Slovakia is happy to help as a transit country but do not intend to house refugees in Slovakia as a final destination.
  6. Slovakia’s political stance is also in disagreement with many of their EU partners. Last year, a Syrian refugee relocation referendum was passed and originally arranged for Slovakia to take on a mere 1,000 out of 40,000 new refugees. However, Slovakia was one of only four countries to vote against the agreement, eventually conceding to 200.
  7. Socially, Slovakian citizens also oppose new refugees. Frequent marches and demonstrations against the perceived ‘Islamization of Slovakia’ are known to occur. As another example, the townspeople of Gabčíkovo, home to a major camp in the country, voted with a 97 percent majority to disallow fresh entrants because they value the culturally homogenous history of the country.
  8. Refugees in Slovakia are aware of the backlash as well, and reportedly often arrive in the country dissatisfied. In this respect, the views of the refugees are consistent with that of the government – Slovakia is meant to be a transit country on the path to Western Europe or the United States.
  9. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), formal legal regulations are also lacking regarding the status of many refugees. Slovakia does not have an established legal framework to define statelessness or people in flight, and there are also some difficulties with establishing dual citizenship. However, the UNHCR is also helping to overcome some of these barriers by sponsoring training programs and establishing assessment mechanisms.
  10. In addition to the camp in Gabčíkovo mentioned above, other major refugee camps are located in Rohovce and Humenné. Often such camps were originally intended to be temporary shelters during certain international crises but were later extended or reopened after prolonged instability. These areas are all near Slovakia’s borders with Hungary and Ukraine.

As a relatively poorer nation of Eastern Europe, Slovakia’s concerns for accommodating a large number of migrants socially and economically may prevail, but it is important to also ensure that refugees in Slovakia are welcomed to the highest possible degree. As the UNHCR rhetoric reiterates, Slovakia’s cooperation with resettlement arrangements is greatly needed for the most vulnerable citizens around the world.

Zachary Machuga

Photo: Flickr

State of Refugees Worldwide
When it comes to the state of refugees and displaced people worldwide, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stands ready to protect the rights of those forced to leave their homes. Since the commission’s start in 1950, the UNHCR budget has grown from $300,000 in its first year to around $7 billion in 2015. This agency collects a lot of data regarding the whereabouts and status of refugees around the world in order to maintain a steady and productive presence.

With 65.3 million forcibly displaced people, 21.3 million refugees and 10 million stateless individuals, this type of organization and statistical bookkeeping is essential to progress. Currently, the world is peaking at its highest rate of displacement on record. About half of the global refugee population is under 18, and around 34,000 men, women and children are displaced every day, begging the questions: What countries are these refugees forced to leave? What countries have taken them in?

It is measured that 53 percent of all the world’s refugees are departing from just three countries: Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria — in that order. The civil war in Somalia is the single largest event adding to the refugee population, currently forcing refugees to flee into surrounding areas such as Kenya for the past 24 years.

While in Afghanistan, rampant insurgency from the Taliban and Daesh keep refugees from returning home. Most notable in the current media landscape is the third largest refugee contributor, Syria, which is experiencing genocide, civil war and an increasingly destabilized sociopolitical landscape.

With such a massive population exiting the places they call home, every part of the globe has had to accept displaced peoples. The regions harboring the most refugees are the Middle East and North Africa, collectively populated by 39 percent of all of the world’s displaced individuals. Surprisingly, the United States and Europe admit the least amount of people to seek refuge within their borders at 12 percent and six percent respectively.

As for the individual nations containing the highest refugee populations, Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon top the list with Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan not far behind. Turkey currently contains 2.5 million displaced individuals from a multitude of areas, establishing the country as a refugee capitol of sorts. The next closest, Pakistan, contains 1.6 million displaced people. Most of this group comes from Afghanistan, as Pakistan is the closest geographic neighbor for much of the Afghan population.

The UNHCR is currently working in 128 different countries to alleviate the suffering that comes with the mass diaspora. Increased funding, as well as more nations willing to accept those without homes, is required if these problems are to end eventually. Many within the U.S. and abroad continue to work tirelessly to provide future for people with no say in how their lives progress. It will take global cooperation to see this crisis to a peaceful resolution and better the current state of refugees around the world.

– Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

Fleeing EritreaSince 2012, one in every 50 Eritreans (nearly twice the ratio of Syrians fleeing from civil war) has sought asylum in Europe. According to the U.N., 5,000 Eritrean men and boys are leaving their families and fleeing Eritrea each month.

High Rates of Fleeing

The U.N. estimates that 400 thousand Eritreans, or nine percent of the population, have fled in recent years. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly one-quarter of the 132 thousand migrants arriving in Italy between January and September of 2015 were Eritreans.

Poverty in Eritrea is extreme. The CIA World Factbook reports the nation’s GDP purchasing power as $8.7 billion, ranking Eritrea 162nd in the world. Unemployment in the country is estimated at just 8.6%, but the poverty rate is estimated at 50%. More specific numbers are nearly impossible to acquire due to Eritrea’s secretive nature.

Reasons for Leaving

Why are people fleeing Eritrea? In June 2015, the UNHCR released a 500-page report detailing the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations going on in Eritrea, violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled. The report found that a large proportion of the population was being subjected to forced labor and imprisonment.

According to the report, the people of Eritrea are not ruled by law, but by fear. The Eritrean government denied repeated requests by the commission for information and access to the country. To gain insight into the situation, the commission conducted 550 confidential interviews with Eritrean witnesses in eight countries and received an additional 160 written submissions.

Conscription for 18 months is required of each Eritrean adult but is often extended indefinitely and carried out for years in harsh and inhumane conditions. Thousands of conscripts are subjected to forced labor that effectively abuses, exploits and enslaves them.

According to the UNHCR’s report, women conscripts are at extreme risk for sexual violence during national service. All sectors of the economy rely on forced service, and all Eritreans are likely to be subject to it at some point during their lives. The commission concluded that, “forced labor in this context is a practice similar to slavery in its effects and, as such, is prohibited under international human rights law.”

Mandatory conscription has not remedied poverty in Eretria. Instead, it has exacerbated it. Commission chair Sheila B. Keethrauth urged commitment from the international community to end the climate of fear in Eritrea.

“Rule by fear — fear of indefinite conscription, of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, of torture and other human rights violations — must end,” said Keethrauth.

Aaron Parr

Photo: Flickr

 Refugees in Jordan
When the Syrian Civil War broke out, Jordan seemed a logical place to migrate. Because of its close proximity, many migrants had relatives to stay with across the border. Unfortunately, as Syria became less hospitable, the small country of Jordan became host for a massive refugee population, 664,000 people.

Newcomers struggled to integrate, and the high cost of work permits was an immense burden. In order to alleviate this, work permit fees were waived for three months, providing 20,000 refugees in Jordan with legal employment, and quotas were implemented for Syrian employment. While 80% of the 664,000 refugees in Jordan live in cities, 20% live in the city of Zaatari. According to the Wall Street Journal, Zaatari, Jordan’s fourth-largest city, is home to the fourth-largest refugee camp in the world. To a certain extent, life goes on for refugees. Those who can attend school do, and those who can work try to find jobs. However, Zaatari suffers from a lack of amenities like water and infrastructure, and many refugees work illegally, living in constant fear of discovery.

Before the grace period, work permit costs ranged from $170 to $1,270. From April to July, work permits were free for refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the story of Khaled, a Syrian man who, as his family’s sole financial provider, is proud to finally be working legally in his new home at a farm. BBC wrote about a Jordanian farmer who is happy to finally have a consistent source of legal labor.

The reception of free work permits for refugees was not entirely positive. Work permits are sponsored by fixed employers, and many employers are hesitant to make the commitment. Refugees in Jordan working odd, short-term jobs are not eligible. Furthermore, many Jordanians are frustrated by the program due to lingering unemployment rates. Between the influx of refugees and the loss of trade from neighboring countries, Jordan’s economy is lagging. These factors resulted in the number of Syrian permit recipients falling short of the country’s expectations. However, the BBC remains optimistic. Just last month, an agreement was reached permitting Jordan to sell to the European Union duty-free in exchange for fulfilling Syrian employment quotas.

The previously mentioned farmer is proud of his 350 workers and happy that they can “live with dignity.” While less than half of the expected work permits were distributed, UNHCR is still calling the initiative a success. Twenty thousand Syrian workers are now protected under Jordanian law, and recent measures should continue to encourage employment.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr