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Wednesday: April 2, 2014 

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in refugees (12)

Monday
Sep102012

Australia asylum seekers pour in as others sent to Nauru (REPORT) 

(Video: Al Jazeera English)

(September 11, 2012) - Australia's ruling Labor party still hopes its asylum seeker people-swap deal with Malaysia will succeed, with Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirming the government would continue to ‘‘vigorously prosecute’’ the  arrangement.

As the government prepares to send the first handful of asylum seekers to Nauru, and boats continue to pour into Australian waters at record levels, Mr. Bowen said the Malaysia deal was still part of his calculations.

"We have been in contact with our Malaysia counterparts at various levels," he said.

(PHOTO: Aerial view of Nauru Island, South Pacific/Wikipedia)The final legislation designating Nauru as an offshore processing location was introduced yesterday as another four boats carrying a combined 265 people were intercepted. This made eight boats since Friday and 2150 asylum seekers on 36 boats arriving in Australia since August 13.

On that day the government announced it would reopen Nauru and Manus Island and warned anyone intercepted after that day risked being taken offshore.

Nauru will have a final capacity for 1500 people, including 500 by the end of this month, and Manus Island is being set up to accommodate 600, for a total offshore capacity of 2100 when both camps are set up.

It will be impossible to send to the camps all that have arrived since August 13, meaning people will be selected from among those who have already arrived. The government hopes it will deter others. The opposition called this a lottery, and said the government must undertake that everyone who arrives from now be sent to Nauru.

''If the government says they are now in a position to send people there for processing then send people there they must,'' the opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said. "Any exceptions on those the government sends to Nauru will only dilute what is already a half-hearted message that this government is sending out to people smugglers.''

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, announced a military team was en route to Papua New Guinea to begin setting up the Manus Island camp. He said there were enough temporary facilities on Nauru to send people there by the end of the week.

(PHOTO: More asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island, South Pacific/Sharon Tisdale)They will be flown there and they will have no idea how long they will stay. The government has yet to finalize the ''no advantage'' period, which will require asylum seekers, even those who are found to be refugees, to spend as long on Nauru and Manus Island as they would if they had stayed in a refugee camp. This period will be several years.

The legislative instrument tabled by Mr. Bowen says it is estimated 704 asylum seekers have died at sea since October 2009, and the cost to the budget over the next four years due to the surge in arrivals is not more than $5 billion.

The imminent transfer of asylum seekers offshore is also not deterring asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Pakistan arriving in Indonesia en route to Australia.

An Afghan refugee in Cisarua, south of Jakarta, told the Herald that only days ago a new group of refugees arrived after flying from Quetta, Pakistan.

"They are coming little by little. Four days ago, 20 people came to Jakarta Airport," said refugee Alemzadeh, who is in Cisarua waiting for a boat to Christmas Island. "They know [about the new policy], but they don't stop. They say it's too dangerous to stay in Pakistan."

Alemzadeh said that for perhaps 15 days after the government's policy was announced, the influx from the war-torn regions had stopped, but it had now resumed. The recent drowning of more than 100 Hazara asylum seekers had also not deterred them.

- This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald by Phillip Coorey and Michael Bachelard and Jessica Wright.

Monday
Jun112012

In Northern Myanmar, Kachin Refugees Are Victims of the New Asia (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: Irrawaddy News, August, 2011)

By Rowan Jacobsen

LAIZA, Myanmar—Jangma Pri Seng was in the paddy fields, harvesting rice far from her house, when she heard the artillery shells exploding in the distance. Though her stomach always sunk at the sound of explosions, at first she didn’t panic. It was November 2011, five months since the Burmese army had broken a 17-year-old ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and invaded Kachin State, the jagged northern tip of Myanmar that is home to ethnic Kachin like Jangma. For five months, the residents of Nangkyu, Jangma’s village, had been listening to explosions in the hills as the KIO fought desperately to keep the army out of its territory. Several times they had fled into the jungle as the fighting neared, but always Nangkyu had been left alone.

Still, as the only Kachin village in an area dominated by ethnic Shan villages, they knew they were a target. The Burmese authorities, convinced the village was harboring KIO soldiers, had ordered them not to leave the village without permission, and had made a list of all members of the village. No outsiders were allowed to enter. One man caught on the road between villages was arrested and beaten. It was a grim way to live, but as long as they obeyed, they survived.

(PHOTO: Je Yang Refugee Camp/Mizzima)Yet that November evening, when Jangma and her fellow villagers returned exhausted from the fields, they walked into a nightmare. More than twenty artillery shells had struck Nangkyu. Many houses were burning or obliterated. The oldest and youngest citizens of Nangkyu were hiding terrified in the remaining houses. Jangma found her four young children, who were unharmed. Miraculously, no one in the village had been killed, but the animals had not been so lucky. A pigsty had been ripped apart by a direct hit, scattering pig remains across the smoking ground.

And the army was very near.

Jangma and the rest of the villagers immediately grabbed whatever things they could carry and ran into the jungle. They had heard what had happened to other villages that didn’t. “If we had stayed any longer, we’d be dead now,” she says. They hid in the jungle for the next three days, trying to figure out what to do. “It was terrifying. Most people hadn’t brought anything but the clothes they were wearing. We didn’t have enough food. And we could hear troops everywhere. We couldn’t make a sound. We couldn’t even let the kids cry.” Eventually, they made some calls on cell phones to relatives and some friendly Shan neighbors, and a motor-scooter convoy came to the rescue, slipping around the army positions.

They loaded three to four people on each scooter. Jangma helped her 108-year-old grandmother onto a scooter with another villager behind her, holding her tight. In that position, they made the tortuous eight-hour journey over rutted dirt roads to Laiza, capital of the KIO, where they finally collapsed in one of the bursting refugee camps filling the Laiza countryside.

A UNIQUE CULTURE CAUGHT BETWEEN MYANMAR AND CHINA

(PHOTO: A young girl walks the corridor at N Hkawng Pa camp in Kachin State/Francis Wade) Walk through any of the refugee camps in KIO territory, and you will find endless stories like Jangma’s. For nearly a year now, Myanmar’s notorious military, which has kept a stranglehold on its citizens since it seized power in a 1962 coup, has been trying to squeeze the life out of the KIO, which has controlled much of Kachin State during those same 50 years.

Though unrecognized by any nation, the KIO has functioned as an independent micro-state. It collects taxes and generates additional income through government-owned mining and logging businesses. It operates immigration departments, police departments, fire departments, drug treatment centers, hydropower plants, bottled-water plants, free schools, free hospitals, Kachin cultural programs, and, of course, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

It has been a lifeline for the Kachin people, who originated in the mountains of Tibet, before migrating centuries ago across the border to Northeast India and eventually occupying the rugged borderlands between India, Myanmar, and China. Despite the lines on the map, the two million Kachin of the region are united by their unique language, religion, and culture. That culture was allowed to flourish in Kachin State, the northernmost region of Myanmar, where the terrain was so rugged and difficult to cultivate that it held no interest for the Burmese, who live in the fertile tropical river plains of southern Myanmar.

(PHOTO: Je Yang Camp/Rowan Jacobsen)Yet now, even as Myanmar opens up to the world and tries to parlay its democratization into an easing of international sanctions and an increase in financial support, it has decided to exterminate the KIO and take brutal control over Kachin State. The timing seems strange, until one understands that Kachin State has transformed from worthless backwater to one of the key geopolitical spots on the planet. The Burmese regime plans to fuel its metamorphosis into a Southeast Asian powerhouse with a series of highways, oil and gas pipelines, and some of the largest hydroelectric dams the world has ever seen, all built in Kachin State. When completed, they will link landlocked sections of India and China with Myanmar’s ports on the Bay of Bengal, and create a new energy-rich nexus for the New Asia, centered right in northern Myanmar. The only thing standing in the way is the Kachin people.

Across Kachin State, villages like Nangkyu are being emptied as the KIA is driven back to its core territory, a 100-mile strip of land along the border with China. As the NGO Human Rights Watch documented in a March 20 report, the army has murdered civilians, tortured men suspected of being KIA members, and raped women. It has ransacked churches, burned entire villages to the ground, killed livestock, and pillaged food supplies. With resupply routes along Myanmar’s crumbling roads difficult at best, the 146 Burmese battalions in the region must feed themselves. It’s no coincidence that the wave of attacks intensified right around harvest time in November. And then there is the most insidious part of the army’s plan: What better way to paralyze your enemy than by sending wave after wave of its own people, hungry and penniless, onto its doorstep?

(PHOTO: A UN convoy on its way to Kachin State in April/UN)Of the 75,000 refugees, mostly Kachin, who have fled the Burmese army since its June invasion, about 40,000 are sheltering in KIO-operated camps. Another 20,000 are living in camps run by the government. The other 15,000 are off the map, likely hiding somewhere in China. Other than two minor exceptions, the government has prevented United Nations relief convoys from reaching the refugees in KIO territory. Some speculate that this is because the government fears the KIO being seen as a caretaker of the refugees, rather than the “insurgents” it labels them. Others believe that the goal is to stress the KIO’s limited resources to the breaking point.

CAMP LIFE

For all the trauma suffered by its residents, Je Yang Camp, the largest of the refugee camps, is a surprisingly pleasant place. 5,764 people, about half under the age of sixteen, live along the banks of the Je Yang River in peace and security, if not exactly comfort. This is a testament to the KIO, which has been anticipating a Burmese offensive for years. A refugee committee was already in place, emergency supplies stockpiled, and land for the main camp had already been chosen, so when the refugees began pouring out of the jungle into Laiza last summer, they were ready.

The KIO had previously donated a large tract of land along the Je Yang River to the Roman Catholic Church to be a wildlife sanctuary - badly needed in this state, whose fabulous hardwood forests are being cut and shipped to supply China’s building boom. Now the church turned around and donated the land back to the KIO, which went to work building bamboo huts, outhouses, and wells. When the first refugees arrived on June 27, two weeks after the fighting had started, they were assigned huts and broken up into village blocks, delineated by a grid of dirt footpaths. Block leaders were chosen. People volunteered for administrative, health, and religious committees. The new people began building huts for the next arrivals.

(PHOTO: Lazing Lu, is a 108-year-old refugee in Laiza/Rowan Jacobsen) Today, Je Yang Camp is a case study in how order can arise from chaos, a living embodiment of the Gilligan’s Island fantasy that an entire society can be built if you have enough bamboo. There are bamboo houses, restaurants, marketplaces, clinics, schools, administrative centers, and weaving centers. There is bamboo furniture and bamboo pigsties. The bamboo Baptist church holds 600 people. Now there is also a concrete stage, a concrete well, and a concrete micro-hydro installation in the river that generates enough power to light the Christmas lights in the church and to power a handful of computers. Acres of gardens line a terraced hillside.

Gaggles of boys splash in the river all day.

Jangma Pri Seng spends her days cooking food, cleaning their shack, which, like most shakcs in the camp, houses three families, each squeezed into a ten-foot square room, and caring for her four children and her grandmother, Lazing Lu, who is an unexpected source of comic relief.

“DID YOU LIKE RIDING ON THE SCOOTER?” Jangma shouts in the deaf woman’s ear.

“I don’t remember,” she responds. “Was that the thing with all the shaking?”

“DO YOU WANT TO GO BACK TO OUR VILLAGE?”

“No! I can’t walk that far.”

“DO YOU LIKE IT HERE IN THE CAMP?”

“I have nothing to do,” the old woman responds, pausing with perfect timing before breaking into a toothless grin. “It’s so relaxing!”

Part of the reason the camp is so peaceful, says camp director Hting Nam Ja, is because drugs and alcohol are banned. The main evening entertainment is at the churches, which hold a service every night. And every night, people pack into them, sing a few hymns in the Kachin language, and then 5,764 people settle down for an amazingly early and quiet night.

(PHOTO: Camps on hillsides in Kachin State, April/UN)Yet the pleasantness is misleading, says Hting. Just around the corner are the monsoons, the endless rains and winds that last all summer. “What we have won’t survive the rainy season,” he says. The blue tarps tacked to roofs with bamboo strips will be shredded by the winds. “We need corrugated tin. But most of all, we need food and medicine. We have plenty of rice that people have donated, but we have almost no protein. Soon, there will be malnutrition. And when the rains come, so do the waterborne infectious diseases.” The charming, dusty footpaths will become mudpits. The firewood will smolder. And, over everything, looms the constant threat of the Burmese. “Yes, I worry that the army will come,” says Hting. “But there’s nothing I can do about it.”

The refugees also have little choice. They know that, if the army comes, there will be nowhere to run this time. Even if there is a ceasefire, they couldn’t easily return to their villages; having missed the harvest and lost their livestock, they would have no food. Many of them from outlying villages, having been harassed by Burmese soldiers for years, have begun to savor the safety and freedom of living in KIO territory. A few have begun murmuring that—if the KIO survives—it would be nice to see Je Yang take that final step and transform into a permanent town.

Jangma, too, has no illusions about returning to her village anytime soon. “I have no idea how long we’ll stay,” she says, fighting back tears. “I miss my home, I miss being self-sufficient, and I really miss my animals. It’s not perfect here. But we’re out of the rain, we’re not starving, and we’re safe. That’s such a relief. For so long, I had to worry all the time.” When asked if she’d like to send a message to the outside world, she pauses, trying to think of something good, then finally gives up with a shake of her head. “Just have pity on us,” she says.

-- Rowan Jacobsen is the author of five books, including Fruitless Fall, American Terror, and Shadows on the Gulf. His Outside Magazine story "Heart of Dark Chocolate" received the 2011 Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers for Best Adventure Travel Story of the Year, and his Outside piece "Spill Seekers" appears in the 2011 Best American Science and Nature Writing collection. He lives in Vermont.  He is currently a fellow with the Alicia Patterson Foundation  studying in Northeast India and Northern Myanmar during 2012. His commentary originally appeared HERE.

Tuesday
Apr102012

Sahel NOW: Decisive action is needed to avoid another famine crisis (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video UN)

By Rebecca Barber

This time last year, the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned that the food security situation in the Horn of Africa was 'alarming', and that poor rains could lead to famine conditions in parts of Somalia.

As an international community, we failed to respond.  Four months later the worst was realised and the UN declared a famine in six regions in Southern Somalia. By November, 750,000 people were at risk of starvation.

It's now acknowledged that last year's food crisis in the Horn of Africa took no-one by surprise, and that we had the information needed to take cost-effective, preventive action to save lives.  An evaluation conducted late last year by the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee found that there was a 'failure of preventive action from late 2010', and a 'failure to respond with adequate relief from the time it was needed in early to mid-2011'.

We don't know exactly how many people died in the Horn of Africa, although one estimate suggests a figure of between 50,000 and 100,000. What we do know is that an earlier response which supported livelihoods, preserved household income and supported markets would have reduced rates of malnutrition, and that more substantial provision of food, nutrition, clean water and health services would have reduced the number of deaths. If an earlier response had saved even a small percentage of the lives lost, thousands of men, women and children would be alive today.

(MAP: The Sahel region in West Africa/Wikipedia)In the aftermath of the crisis, Australia has strengthened its commitment to tackling food insecurity in Africa, as well as its commitment to ensuring timely response to crises when they occur.  At the conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth last year, the Australian government together with other Commonwealth member states recognised food insecurity as 'one of the most pressing and difficult global challenges of our time', and called for 'decisive and timely measures to prevent crises occurring' and to 'mitigate their impact when they do'.

This commitment is timely, because now another food crisis is unfolding in the Sahel – a belt of arid land that stretches from Senegal in the west through Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad to Sudan. This time, albeit far from the media spotlight, Australia together with the rest of the world has an opportunity to demonstrate lessons learned from the Horn.

More than 13 million people are at risk of hunger in the Sahel – a result of poor rains, a 25 per cent decline in food production across the region, a reduction in remittances from neighbouring countries, and skyrocketing food prices.  Recent assessments by Save the Children show that in some parts of Niger, communities lack nearly two-thirds of the food and cash they need to survive the year. 

In some parts of Mali, families are struggling to cope as the price of millet has risen by more than 80 per cent, while at the same time remittances have fallen by as much as 70 percent as workers return from Libya and Algeria.

One million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition – in plain language this means severely wasted. Malnutrition levels in some areas now exceed the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.  Families have already begun to adopt 'harmful coping mechanisms' such as reducing the number of daily meals, selling livestock which is usually relied on for food and income, going into debt, and taking children out of school. In the long-term this reduces resilience and food security.

In a promising demonstration of lessons learned from the Horn, a number of donors have recognised the scale of the impending crisis and made early and generous commitments to the Sahel. 

The US has pledged $75 million, Canada $41 million, France $22 million, and Germany $19 million.  Australia has pledged $10 million – an amount that pales in comparison to the $128 million contributed to the Horn of Africa last year.  It's not enough.

(PHOTO: Nomads in the Sahel/DailyMaverick) The UN estimates that it will need $725 million to tackle food security and nutrition in the Sahel, but so far just over half of this has been pledged – and even less actually committed.  The lean season (the time between harvests when household food stocks dwindle) is approaching, and the next harvest is not until October. 

The head of the Food and Agricultural Organisation warned last month that there were only two or three months to act to avoid a crisis on a scale similar to that seen in the Horn of Africa last year.  That window of opportunity will soon close.

With the indicators of crisis becoming stronger, the Australian government has an opportunity now to take decisive action and demonstrate lessons learnt from the Horn of Africa.  The consequences of failing to do so will be millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance, and thousands of lives lost.

- Rebecca Barber is Save the Children's humanitarian policy and advocacy advisor. This editorial originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Tuesday
Feb072012

Mali refugees in Niger fleeing Tuareg uprising await food and water aid (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Mali refugees arriving in Niger, February 4, 2012/Radio Netherlands)The thousands who fled the ongoing Tuareg rebellion in Mali to seek refuge in western Niger are suffering from a severe food-and-water shortage, local officials and aid providers say.

"We must fear a humanitarian catastrophe, if nothing is done," Boureima Issaka of the Niger-based aid group Timidria said in Chinegodar, a small village that has seen an influx of some 6,000 refugees in less than a month.

They have sought shelter from a conflict in Mali between government troops and armed rebels that has caused dozens of casualties on either side.

The combat began on January 17, when the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) launched an attack in northern Mali -- the largest offensive by Tuareg rebels since 2009 -- sparking clashes with the army.

Malian civilians have since fled to neighbouring West African countries Mauritania and Burkina Faso, as well as Niger, which has struggled with its own Tuareg rebellions in the past.

Western Niger's small village of Chinegodar, 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border, has grappled with a food crisis following a country-wide drought and the influx of refugees has further stretched resources.

The village, which normally numbers 1,600 residents, has also seen its only well dry up, prompting a severe water shortage, according to the village chief.

Children are among those suffering from malnutrition and dehydration in the refugee camp.

"These children are terribly hungry; we can hear their crying every night," said Balki, a Chinegodar resident who is sheltering 10 of the refugees in her modest home.

According to officials and aid groups, about 10,000 people fleeing the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali and reprisal attacks in Bamako have crossed into Niger, more than 4,500 into Mauritania and 1,500 into Burkina Faso.

General conditions in the Niger refugee camp are also poor, according to Boureima Issaka, the aid worker.

"The majority of people no longer bathe; they sleep under the stars at the mercy of wind, cold nights, scorpions and snakes," Issaka said.

(PHOTO: Newly arrived Mali refugees in Mauritania/Int'l World Service)Shelters made of blankets and cloth protect the refugees from the hot sun and cold nights, but the situation remains bleak.

A United Nations mission visited the village last week and found conditions to be extremely difficult and the hygiene deplorable, prompting fear of a cholera epidemic.

The crisis is compounded by the fact that the Malian region of Menaka -- one of the main flashpoints in the latest fighting -- was the principal source of essential commodities for Chinegodar.

For now, the Chinegodar mayor's office has offered the refugee camp half a tonne of cereal, Doctors Without Borders provided a few boxes of medicine and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working on the water supply.

The refugees themselves leave early in the morning to pick berries or pods of "Dani," a thorny plant sought out in times of scarcity.

Still, some refugees have not eaten in days and wait anxiously for aid.  "Give us something to eat, I suffer from dizziness," Nako, a Malian woman in the refugee camp, told a Doctors Without Borders team tallying the number of malnourished children.

--- This article originally appeared on Africasia.

Thursday
Jan262012

Somalia: Returning to my Homeland (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW)

Michael Bociurkiw interviews UK-based Somali, Samira Hashi upon her return from her homeland and talks to her about leaving, why she went back, the dire situation in refugee camps and bringing about change.

Michael Bociurkiw: You fled Somalia as an baby at the beginning of the civil war, where did you and your family go? - how did you end up in the UK? 

Samira Hashi: I was born in 1990 in the city of Mogadishu, once known as the 'Jewel of Africa'. Ten days into my livelihood the civil war broke out in Somalia. 

My mother had two choices, to hang about and wait till things got worse of flee for a better life and future for herself and her children. My mother, one of the many educated people in Somalia, fled as early as possible. 

The nearest location for safety, at the time was Kenya, which hadn't even opened a refugee camp yet. Whilst they (refugee camps) were being established my family and I stayed in camps in Mombassa, later moving to another similar refugee camp in Otanga. For two years my family struggled to survive, barely being able to feed ourselves let alone put a roof over our heads. Luckily organizations such as the Red Cross were there to offer support and aid as well as relief from the trauma of the on-going war. 

I come from a very large family that are all spread around the world, they couldn't bare to see me and my family suffer and they did all they could to support us in such a difficult time as well as getting us out of that grueling situation. I moved to the UK at a very young age, we settled quickly and began out new lives here. I would say that was one of the best and most admirable decisions my mother made and I give her my greatest gratitude towards her. 

MB: What has life been like for you growing up in the UK? 

SH: Coming from a country with little solidarity, security and governing system, that is now recognized as a 'failed state', my mother put great pressure in teaching us the value of liberty and independence. 

Education was always her priority and she ensured me and my sisters obtained qualifications that would one day help us stand on our own two feet. As soon as we came into the UK me and my sisters began nursery and have been working consistently up the academic ladder. As a result of a strong, persistent mother all of my 4 older sisters have successfully passed higher education and have achieved a university degree, some now on advance levels working towards procuring their masters.

Currently I am studying International Business and Law at Kingston University, not only to demonstrate my intellectual ability but also to achieve my goal in establishing my own business. Education is an essential part of my life as one day I wish to enlighten and empower girls and young women all over the world using my knowledge and skills in life. 

MB: You are model and have grown in that field, how did you start and what are you looking to do now? 

SH: At a very young age I was aware that I was different from all of my other sisters. They are very reserved and shy and found that they sat well with the education system. I have always had this suspicion that although knowledge is power theirs more to life than just an exam paper and textbooks. I was desperate to explore the world, learn and experience things that a printed document written by a man twenty years ago couldn't teach me. My mother wasn't always fond of my new aspirations, she always believed I would get lost in this cruel, harsh, beautiful world. Despite all her pleading and appeal for me to stick with my sisters, I became to anxious and set out on a journey in finding myself and my purpose of living. 

Throughout my journey I came across a modelling agency at the age of 17 who seemed very intrigued in working with me. I signed the contract and later realised that this is something I entirely enjoy. It was more than taking a photo with a camera man that captured me, its the warmth feeling I felt when connecting with people I was working with. The ability to portray a strong emotion or expression without speaking, the idea of manipulating an image to create something that could be compared with art, it excited me. I grew a passion for modelling, I was determined to succeed and knew nothing could stop me other than myself. I learnt the ropes of the industry and gained further confidence.

Soon I felt restricted and believed I could achieve great things from my modelling career but felt I wasn't given the opportunities to deliver. This lead me to leaving my old agency and advertising and promoting myself to gain recognition from modelling agencies that were on a higher level. For one year I crafted and worked extremely hard, I was dismissed and rejected by a number of agencies still I refused to loose hope and give up on my dreams and ambitions. I learnt to brand myself, believe that I had the ability to be the best and make use of any opportunity that passed my way. I discovered my purpose in modelling when I got signed to one the biggest modelling agencies in the world 'Elite London'. It verified the belief I had in myself now knowing that individuals that have the ability to transform my modelling career are convinced that I can achieve great things.

Through my modelling career I understand that I could put myself in a position where I am recognised for the work that I do. I have never wanted to make a fortune or become famous. My aim in modelling is to become a role model, to get to a point in my career where I can bring about change and make a difference to the world. Where I have the ability and power to educate and inspire girls and young women and give a voice to those that are not heard.

I wish to motivate young people to take no notice of what their forced to believe and to create and carve their own pathways for themselves. Like myself to find their own destiny and work towards becoming a unique, successful, independent individual. 

MB: What motivated you to go back to Somalia now? 

SH: Somalia has always played a huge role in my life. My mother enlightened me and my sisters with the Somali culture from the clothes she wore, to the food we ate, the weddings we went to, the music she would sometimes blast from the stereo or laptop. My mother refused to let go of her culture and everything she knew just because she came into the UK. She wanted to teach us about our heritage and roots.

Other than the war my mother always embraced the good memories she held of our country and never failed to stop telling us stories. Somalia was always in my heart but I never felt any connection as I was to young to remember. The only recollection I had was what I saw on the news and many times that wasn't something positive.

I always knew I had some responsibilities towards my country as a young Somali growing up in London but I never thought of the extent or necessity that our help was needed. What motivated me to return was the desire to gain a deeper understanding of my country, to feel assured and content with my roots and myself, and to see what aid I can offer or facilitate in helping a country that most desperately needs it.  

As Somalia is my country of birth and previous home to my large family I felt obliged to return and participate in the process of development. At many of times prior to going back home and even when I was actually in Somalia I was scared for my safety and constantly prayed that God would protect me. Despite that, I defeated that anxiety for the purpose of a better future not only for myself and my family but for the whole of my country and its people. 

MB: Tell us about the documentary you worked on... 

SH: I recently contributed on a 60 minute documentary for BBC 3 which enabled me to return to Somalia and highlight issues such as; the war, famine and drought and bring them into the surface of the media.

As a young Somali who fled in 1990 my age and the war in Somalia are in correlation; we both turned 21 last year. The idea of the documentary was to reach out to a young audience that may not have any concept of current affairs and issues occurring on the other side of the world. The documentary was mind-blowing as it fulfilled all my desires in gaining a connection with Somalia and grasping a broader concept of its current state.

Working on this documentary not only altered my views on my country, it also changed me as a person. My experiences in Somalia has made me more humble than I ever thought by appreciating the simplest things that we take for granted, such as clean water that runs continuously from our taps. The programme that was once only supposed to be a personal journey, I am now seeing as a platform to bring about change.

MB: What are the conditions like for the people you met .... is there one particular person or memory that touched you? 

SH: The conditions in Somalia were not as vibrant and radiant as the stories my mother used to always share with us. The powerless state has little effect in protecting and preventing the on-going war that's now long over due.

Somali's have been fleeing since 1990 and continue to still leave hastily in their thousands. Current invasion of Al'Shabaab militants have left the country in turmoil and people in fear, restrictions on aid and external intervention has left the Somali people to perish due to the famine and drought. Hope for a better further and better lives melt away day by day. Even when they think the suffering is all over, Somali's overcome many more barriers and hurdles.

The refugee camp at times cannot accommodate the thousands of displaced people so they have to sit and wait for days sometimes months for just a piece of sheet of plastic to shelter themselves and their families. Food is always scarce and with such harsh conditions of heat and lack of water, Somali's are bound to deteriorate.

A special memory that I refuse to neglect is the protection and safety of Somali refugees in one of the camps in particular area situated in Ethiopia called 'Halloweyn'. The security and preservation in some these refugee camps is extremely poor. One of the issues raised and covered in the documentary is the number of rape victims that actually occur so often in the camps and the diminutive action taken to prevent this as well the level of awareness which is more less being concealed.

I interviewed two young women who had been subjected to rape by the locals due to travelling far into the woods to collect wood fire to cook and feed their families. I then discovered that this happens so often that the Somali refugee's had protested outside the UNHCR compound in Dollo Ado, for their voices to be heard and someone to do something about it.

It is embarrassing to say that this issue has not once been raised in the UK media or in fact anywhere else. I am currently in the process of establishing my own charity that helps protect vulnerable women all over the world and I feel compelled to begin with Somali women. I am going to develop this charity by initially gaining support from the large Somali Diaspora located all over the world. I want to raise a petition that helps support my concerns and votes against the defective security and protection system that is currently in place in this particular refugee camp. I plan to transmit these problems to my local MP who I hope could then highlight them within the House of Parliament.  My objective this year is to help establish a beneficial system where Somali women within the 'Halloweyn' refugee camp our guarded from rape and gender based violence.

Simple almost effortless arrangements could be put in place for example; a security guard that safeguards the women and observes whilst they collect the wood fire, women proceeding into the outskirts only in large numbers, only men collecting the wood fire or even a half way meeting point. This will ensure and shield the well-fare of not only the mental mind state of Somali women but also their health and future refuge. 

MB: What more can the rest of the world do... what is your message? 

SH: The outside world can:

  • Raise more awareness about Somalia
  • Deal with issues that are could easily be dealt with but are overlooked by the war and famine such as; the number of rapes that occur within the refugee camps
  • Urge the Somali Diaspora (especially the young) to do more for their country as hope lies within them. We are the future of Somalia
  • Highlight areas such as; Somali-land that has maintained a safe and working system for the Somali people - Showing that not everything within the Somali community is negative.
  • Please get involved and sign up for my petition and help protect our girls, young and old women  

My message: This is not the end for Somalia, we have a very bright future and only us the people of the country can bring about those changes. Don't give up on such a beautiful place and don't loose hope. Believe and we will all achieve a better and safer environment for ourselves and our children. 

You can contact me if you wish to help or discuss any of the issues that I have raised further

 samirahashi5@hotmail.co.uk 

Monday
Oct032011

Africa's Famine: Seeing is Believing (REPORT) 

By Peter Greste in Africa

Dadaab Refugee Camp, KENYA - As with most natural disasters, numbers swirl around the drought on the Horn of Africa like so many dust particles. 

They float up from the tyres of aid agency Land Cruisers in great billowing clouds; they blow in from donor conferences like a sandstorm sweeping in from the east; they get in your eyes, and cloud the air making it almost impossible to see through the statistics and understand what is really going on.

Consider a few of the big ones: in Somalia alone, four million people are still starving nationwide; three million of those live in the South. Of these, 750,000 people risk death in the next four months if they do not get aid immediately. 

According to the United Nations agency responsible for monitoring food supplies in Somalia, almost half a million children are suffering from "severe acute malnutrition". About 75 per cent of those are also in the south. 

More than 900,000 Somalis are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries - 90 per cent of them in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya - already the biggest in the world - has 450,000 of them, and will almost certainly reach half a million by the end of the year. In Ethiopia, the camp in Dolo Ado has taken in 83,000 refugees in the last nine months. 

UN-estimated mortality rates among children under five are alarmingly high, with an average of 15.43 deaths per 10,000 individuals daily, well above the famine threshold of two deaths per 10,000 people per day.

The numbers are of course vital in describing the vast scale of this crisis. Without them, the logisticians trying to deal with it would never be able to get a handle on their jobs. 

But once you get on the ground and start seeing those towering numbers in terms of real people with tragic stories, the fog starts to clear a little, and you begin to get a sense of what it means in human terms.

'Tragedy and loss'

Think a bit more about those last set of figures. If you were in southern Somalia, and your five-year-old child was in a school of a thousand other children, malnutrition would be killing one or two of their classmates every single day. It would probably be only a matter of days before a friend of your child's would be among the dead. 

In just two months, 90 would have died, and at that rate there is a one-in-ten chance that your own child would have been among them. And that is just amongst the under-fives. When you consider the impact of this famine on the old and the frail; on illnesses attacking those with immune systems already weak with hunger; on the consequences of exhausting treks through the desert, death comes to almost every family in one way or another; often many times over.

This is not hypothetical. It is true of almost every one of the thousand people who walk into Dadaab every single day. 

Each has a name and a face and a chilling story of tragedy and loss.

Consider 70-year-old Rahma Ali Hussein and her sister Fatuma Mursal, who thinks she is 90. They lived with their extended family in Dinsor in the Bay region of southern Somalia. Like farmers everywhere, they hung on to the land, hoping they would be able to survive until the drought broke. 

But the al-Shabab fighters, who still govern over much of southern Somalia, kept out most donors and kept in civilians who wanted to flee. One by one, Rahma's and Fatuma's relatives died, until all that remained were the two resilient old sisters, their granddaughter, her child, and a couple of goats.

'Colossal' price

That was when they decided they had no choice but to risk al-Shabab's checkpoints and walk with the goats to Dadaab in neighbouring Kenya. Neither knew how far it was, but it would be two and a half months on foot before they would reach the refugee camp.

Once they arrived, they joined a queue, registered their presence, received a package of food and added their names to the refugee statistics.

I met them as another group of local refugees who had formed their own aid agency, replaced the tattered rags they arrived in with a new set of clothes and a few shreds of dignity. They told their story matter-of-factly, with flat unemotional voices as though it was not unusual; and in a way they were right. 

Their tale - or variations of it - has been repeated hundreds of thousands of times across the region, and so because of that, outsiders tend to see each one as nothing remarkable.

That seems to miss the point completely; the extraordinary thing is just how many of those tales are piled one on top of the other in a heap so big that it becomes impossible to see the detail. In the end, our eyes glaze over, we lose sight of what it all means and wind up looking only at colossal numbers again.

Of course, sometimes the numbers do reveal something important, and here is one set we ought to consider. In the summary of the same UN report that detailed the statistics I began with, there is a graph that compares the amount of money the UN reckons it needs for a particular part of the crisis, with the amount actually donated.

The numbers show that international donors have promised 119 per cent of the amount they need for food assistance - a lot more than is actually needed.

Almost all of the emergency food goes to distribution points in centres like Mogadishu and Daddab - places that draw people away from their homes and their fields, into huge camps where they are easy to reach. But food aid is high profile; it looks good on television news programmes at home, and often the money gets spent in the donors' own country buying food from farmers with their own powerful domestic lobbies.

But for less visible things like assistance for agriculture or education in Somalia that would actually encourage people to stay in their homes and so recover once the crisis has passed, the UN has received 29 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. 

For once, the numbers appear to speak for themselves.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing  

Saturday
Jul162011

Horn of Africa Drought Threatens Millions (VIDEO REPORT)

Monday
Jun202011

On World Refugee Day, UNHCR Reports Highest Number of Refugees Worldwide in Fifteen Years 

(CREDIT: UNHCR, World Refugee Day 2011) (HN, June 20, 2011) - June 20th is always the United Nations globally recognized `World Refugee Day’.  But this year the day holds significance for more people on the planet than in the last 15 years. 

That’s because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that as of last year, 43.7 million people around the world have been displaced from their countries by war, conflict or persecution.  

Adding insult to injury, eighty percent of those refugees fleeing the safety of their own homes are being kept safe with food, shelter and water by some of the world’s poorest nations, and UNHCR is warning that these countries cannot continue to afford this cost alone.

This past weekend António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, spent time with the actress Angelina Jolie meeting with some of the refugees who most recently fled  Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and other Middle East nations currently experiencing internal turmoil which has forced thousands to stream across their nations borders for other countries such as Turkey and Malta.  

(CREDIT: UNHCR, Gooodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie at a camp for Syrian refugees in the southern Turkish town of Altinozu.)In a statement reflecting `World Refugee Day’, Guterres says, “Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industrialized countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration. It’s poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden.”

UNHCR’s 2010 Global Trends report, flags Pakistan, Iran and Syria as the world’s biggest hosts of refugees by amount of people who have fled there – totaling three million collectively that the countries have taken in; 1.9 million refugees are being housed in Pakistan alone.

And the world’s refugee populations are only expected to grow as predicted by UNHCR, next year and beyond.  In 2010, the refugee agency projected that 747,000 locations places were needed to resettle the global flow of refugees, and the 22 countries that accept such displaced people, led by the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway, took in only 98,000 people. In 2011, UNHCR estimates that 805,000 locations for refugees to be resettled will be needed.  

The developed nation housing the largest refugee population is Germany, hosting 594,000 people.  Guterres urged industrialized nations to increase the number of people they accept who are seeking asylum, lessening the burden on already poor and overwhelmed countries, some whom, like Syria, are going through their own internal strife and seeing its own people flee to Turkey.

Civilians fleeing the fighting in north-west Syria has picked up significantly in the last two weeks with more than 9,600 people now living in four camps managed by Turkey and the Turkish Red Crescent.

(CREDIT: IGEO, a camp for Darfur, Sudan refugees in Chad.)Not only are there more refugees in the world today but more people are staying in a `refugee state’ much longer than ever before.  Some like those in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere spend their whole life in refugee camps. 

In 2010 for instance, 7.2 million people, the highest number in ten years, had been exiled from their home countries for five years or more; mostly due to the length of the conflict they were fleeing from, which prevented people from returning to their homes. Only 197,600 refugees, were able to return to their homes in 2010, the lowest number since 1990.

UNHCR puts the official number of refugees who registered with it last year, along with the agency for Palestinian refugees at 15.4 million in 2010; with another 27.5 million people – the highest level in ten years - having been displaced by conflict within their own home countries’ borders.

--- HUMNEWS staff

Friday
Apr082011

Recent Fighting in Somalia Displaces 33,000 People Says UNHCR (NEWS BRIEF)

Somali refugee camps in Dadaab PHOTO CREDIT: UN News(HN, April 8, 2011) Some 33,000 people have been displaced in the past six weeks due to fighting in southern and central Somalia between government forces and Al-Shabaab militants.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) more than half of these are people who have been displaced in Mogadishu – the Somali capital already shelters about 372,000 of the more than 1.4 million people displaced people in this African nation.

Adrian Edwards, the agency’s spokesperson in Geneva told a news conference that the “UNHCR is monitoring a deteriorating situation in south and central Somali where sporadic fighting has continued to be reported in the towns of Doolow, Bulo, Hawo, Luug, Elwaag, Dhoobley, Diif and Taabdo”

He went on to say “We are again urging all armed groups and forces in Somalia to avoid targeting civilian areas and to ensure that civilians are not being placed in harm’s way.”

“According to local sources, the town and its surrounding areas remain tense. Pro-Government forces have been consolidating their control of the town, which they took earlier this week,” said Mr. Edwards.

Many of the most recently displaced people are people who have fled shelling in their towns.

In Bulo Hawo, a Somali town across the border from Mandera in north-western Kenya, people are in desperate need of shelter. UNHCR staff report that 150 permanent shelters and some 400 to 500 temporary structures were destroyed during recent shelling. The market area has also been destroyed and many people are sleeping outside.

Mr. Edwards said that, security and access permitting, UNHCR hopes to have its staff, as part of joint UN assessment missions, visit these areas and plan distributions of aid.

Meanwhile, UNHCR said the number of Somalis arriving in Kenya has been growing over the past three months, with over 31,000 having arrived this year alone. Kenya hosts more than half of the 680,000 Somalis who live as refugees in neighboring countries. 

- HUMNews Staff, UN News Center

Thursday
Mar172011

Ivory Coast: The Deteriorating Humanitarian Situation (Report)

Fighting in Abidjan, photo courtesy of Africasia(HN, March 17, 2011) --  Life for the people of the Ivory Coast is getting increasingly worse. The three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo and militias that support him gives every indication of amounting to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The crisis has escalated since the end of February 2011, with clashes between armed forces loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara in the western and central regions of the country, as well as in Abidjan, the financial capital.

With around 400,000 displaced persons and the deaths of almost 400 civilians documented by the United Nations the vast majority killed by pro-Gbagbo forces in circumstances not connected with the armed conflict and with no apparent provocation - the attacks appear to be widespread.

On the Ouattara side, armed fighters have begun a pattern of extrajudicial executions against alleged pro-Gbagbo combatants detained in Ouattara territory since the Forces Nouvelles ("New Forces" or FN) gained effective control of the Abobo neighborhood and Anyama village around February 26.

"The time is long overdue for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies directly implicated in the grave abuses of the post-election period," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The international community should also send a clear message to Ouattara's camp that reprisal killings will place them next on the list."

Armed fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara clashed with the pro-Gbagbo security forces yesterday in several areas including Yopougon and Attecoube, while foreigners and ethnic groups viewed as pro-Ouattara are repeatedly harassed.

Fierce fighting and gun battles in the cities of Abobo, Abidjan and Williamsville have seen the most bloodshed. 

Although there is no reference whatsoever on state TV of the ongoing battles in the streets life for much of the population has become very bleak.

Many shops in these cities have been looted and those that have not have been closed as well as most banks.

Man wounded by gunshot in district of Adjame, photo courtesy of AfricasiaDoctors without Borders is reporting that in the city of Abobo only one hospital remains open and in the last two weeks doctors there have treated 129 patients 89 of which have come in with either knife or gun shot wounds.

UNICEF has said that the nation is on the verge of collapse with 1.5 million people at risk from epidemics. Reports of cholera have begun in Abidjan as rubbish lies uncollected and there have been 10’s of deaths reported in rural areas as a result of yellow fever.

In the north schools are closed leaving 800,000 children out of school and although the situation is better in the southern part of the country there are schools closed there as well.

Crime levels are up and armed youth roam the streets with impunity.

As the situation in the Ivory Cost continues to intensify and the country plunges further into economic decay there is real worry that shortages of basic needs will not be able to be met – electricity blackouts and water cuts are among the things people are most concerned about.

Attacks on Foreigners

According to Human Rights Watch residents from Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Niger have given detailed accounts of daily attacks by pro-Gbagbo security forces and armed militias, who beat foreign residents to death with bricks, clubs, and sticks, or doused them with gas and burned them alive.

A Malian man interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how he and six other West Africans were forced into two vehicles by armed militiamen and taken into the basement of an abandoned building. More youths were waiting, who then executed five of the captured West Africans at point-blank range. The homes, stores, and mosques of hundreds of other West Africans have been burned, or they have been chased out of their neighborhoods en masse under threat of death at the hands of pro-Gbagbo militias.

The brunt of these attacks came immediately after Gbagbo's "youth minister," Charles Blé Goudé, called publicly on February 25 for "real" Ivoirians to set up roadblocks in their neighborhoods and "denounce" foreigners.

The situation threatens to worsen further, as a March 7 letter addressed to the Burkina Faso ambassador by a militant pro-Gbagbo group warned. The letter threatened to "cut the umbilical cord" of the Burkina Faso nationals in Côte d'Ivoire unless they left the country by March 22.

Refugees 

U.N. officials say the political crisis has also driven more than 75,000 Ivorian civilians across the border into Liberia, with half that total arriving in just the last two weeks. Aid officials in Liberia's Toe Town say they are struggling to keep up. Augustine Nugba is the local program coordinator for the Catholic charity Caritas.

"As soon as the place is given and we receive the government's okay, we will start to construct a camp and to remove everyone from here," said Nugba.

Food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitation have brought cases of diarrhea and malaria for refugees, including Victorine Tohogninon.

Tohogninon says that since the refugees came to Liberia, the children and the elderly are getting sick.

If the political crisis is not resolved soon, refugee Charles-Camille Kpehia says there will be no one left in Ivory Coast to govern.

- HUMNews Staff

Sunday
Jun202010

World Refugee Day - (VIDEO REPORT) UN warns that many displaced are unable to return home

The video story below of Somalian refugees fleeing to Dadaab, Kenya is but one example of the work UNHCR is doing and the condition many refugees from around the world live in today.

(HN, June 20, 2010) -- Today marks the 10th year that World Refugee Day will be recognized around the globe. From June 18 to 20 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) commemorates World Refugee Day encouraging people from around the globe to host events in order to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees worldwide who are forced to flee their homes.

In 2000 The United Nations General Assembly, in Resolution 55/76 decided that from 2001, June 20 would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. UNHCR was originally established in 1950, to help an estimated 1 million Europeans uprooted as a result of World War II to return home. In the 1960’s, the decolonization of Africa produced the beginning of the continent’s many refugee crises. New waves of refugees emerged in the following decades as a result of displacement issues arising in Asia and Latin America, continuing in Africa and turning full circle, at the end of the century, in Europe from the series of wars in the Balkans.

Today the refugees of concern to the UNHCR span the globe. More than half are in Asia and another twenty-two percent in Africa. Latin American countries host hundreds of thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons (IDP’s); most come from Colombia. In the Middle East there are an estimated 1.8 million Iraqi’s seeking shelter overseas – while the largest number of refugees are from Palestinian territories with an estimated 4.7 million seeking a home. In Eastern Europe, statelessness, particularly as a result of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, remains an issue of concern throughout the region. The precise number of people who are fleeing their homes in Eastern Europe is not known - but may be as high as 120,000 - as UNHCR is only beginning to quantify the problem. 

Refugees live in a wide variety of conditions, from well-established camps and centers to makeshift shelters to living in the open. The United Nations Refugee Agency operates in 110 countries, this year, has a record annual budget of $3.058 billion (U.S.) for 2010 in order to help an estimated 40 million people return to their home of origin, integrate locally or resettle in a third country.

Among the longest-standing refugee camps are the ones located in the countries adjacent to the Palestinian Territories - Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. There is now an entire generation of young people who know no life outside the walls of a refugee camp. In some of the countries, the refugees are banned from working and their children have limited access to services.

The latest wave of refugees to become part of UNHCR's case load are the more than 100,000 refugees that have fled Kyrgyzstan because of ethnic violence.

So heavy is the strain on UNHCR's resources that the Geneva-based agency suffers from a chronic shortage of donor funds.

On World Refugee Day, Seeking a Place to call "Home" (VIDEO REPORT)  

(UN News) -- The United Nations is marking World Refugee Day by urging governments and individuals not to forget the 15 million men, women and children who have been uprooted by conflict or persecution and are unable to return to their homes.

The theme for this year’s observance on 20 June is “Home,” and highlights the need to ensure that all refugees can have a place to call home, whether they return to their places of origin, settle in host countries or re-settle in a third country.

“Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but they must not be deprived of their futures,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to mark the Day, calling for working with host Governments to deliver services, and intensifying efforts to resolve conflicts so that refugees can return home.

A recent report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted a decline in the number of refugees who are able to go home. In 2005, more than a million people returned to their own country on a voluntary basis.

Last year, only 250,000 did so – the lowest number in two decades. The reasons for this include prolonged instability in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and southern Sudan.

“Despite the decline in voluntary repatriation opportunities for refugees, UNHCR is working hard on solutions,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in his message.

Mr. Guterres is marking the Day in Syria, which, according to Government estimates, hosts over 1 million refugees, the majority from Iraq. It was announced today that 100,000 Iraqi refugees have been referred for resettlement from the Middle East to third countries since 2007, a major milestone for one of the world’s largest refugee populations.

He stressed the need to find solutions to help ensure that refugees have a place to call home, to do more to combat misunderstandings about refugees, and to provide education and other skills training so that even if they do not have homes they can still have a future.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and award-winning actress Angelina Jolie is in Ecuador, where she is highlighting the challenges facing refugees.

“Having a home, a place where we belong, a place where we feel safe is something most of us take for granted,” she said on the occasion of World Refugee Day. “Yet those who flee from conflict and persecution no longer have their homes, and it will be years before they can even return. In fact, many may never go home again.”

There are around 51,000 registered Colombian refugees in Ecuador, but UNHCR estimates that about 135,000 people are in need of international protection. This makes Ecuador the country with the largest refugee population in Latin America.

Mr. Guterres and Ms. Jolie are taking part today, along with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a live video link – “WRD Live” – which will connect with Washington DC, Malaysia, Syria, northern Ecuador and DRC to talk to refugees about their experiences.

For the first time, the 79-year-old Empire State Building in New York will be lit blue on 20 June to honour the world’s refugees. Other global landmarks that will turn blue include the ancient Coliseum in Rome and – also for the first time – the bridge across the Ibar River in the divided Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

World Refugee Day activities also include film screenings, photography exhibitions, food bazaars, fashion shows, concerts and sports contests across countries in the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas and Africa.

Source: UN News, UNHCR, staff files

Tuesday
Jun012010

Dispute Pushes Thousands of Ghanaians Into Togo

(HN, May 31, 2010) A violent dispute between two villages in northeastern Ghana had forced some 3,500 Ghanaians to flee their homes and cross into neighbouring Togo since April.

Ghanaian refugees, presently sheltering in four Togolese villages, have told United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that their houses have been pillaged and destroyed, their belongings torched.

Fortunately, Togolese authorities are providing Ghanaian refugees with immediate emergency assistance and food. The refugees are in need of water, food, shelter and medicines, said Andrej Mahecic of the UNHCR. Most belong to vulnerable groups – including many children, some of them suffering from diarrhea and malaria. 

The refugees - who represent six communities with a total of 375 households - presently outnumbered the local population and share their quickly diminishing resources, said Mr. Mahecic. Water is of particular concern and UNHCR has offered to rehabilitate several wells in the area.

A first UNHCR emergency aid convoy left from Accra last week, loaded with humanitarian assistance, and another convoy will leave in the next few days with additional aid items - including some 700 tents and other shelter materials.

UNHCR has identified a new site in Togo, further away from the border, where it plans to transfer the refugees. This move would help to improve security and alleviate the pressure on the scarce resources of the host communities and free the public buildings presently used as shelter by refugees.

Since the Ghanaian refugees come from opposing villages involved in the violent dispute, UNHCR is working with the local authorities in Togo to identify a second site that will allow the separation of the two opposing groups, which would also prevent the perpetuation of the conflict while in displacement.

This is not the first time the Ghanaian villagers crossed into neighbouring Togo seeking safety and shelter. In early March some 300 Ghanaians fled to Togo due to the same land dispute, but had returned home within a few weeks, said Mr. Mahecic. This time however, refugees claim they have lost everything and are reluctant to return home.

Late last week, senior delegations from both affected countries met to try to find an amicable solution to the refugee problem. Togo, for its part, said it would not force its displaced guests to go back home.

--Reporting by Michael Bociurkiw and staff