Even after four years of field missions with Refugees International, I had never seen anything like it. Around midday, we were driving high along the hills of the northern coast of the Greek island Lesvos, with the Turkish mainland in the foreground. As we descended closer the shoreline, our interpreter pointed out little black specs, tinged with orange, that were dotting the sea. “Look over there! The boats are coming. The orange is from the life jackets.”
Close to two hundred governments are meeting in Paris over the next two weeks to hammer out an agreement on climate change. Global leaders are attempting to strike a deal that will reduce global carbon emissions and limit global warming to 2 °C by the end of the century. With growing evidence not only that climate change is happening, but also that the 2 °C may not be enough to avert climate change’s worst impacts, the stakes could not be higher.
Last week’s events in Paris prompted, predictably, an immediate backlash regarding the resettlement of Syrian refugees, both in the United States and Europe. The should-we-or-shouldn’t-we question that has been a steady topic of debate among politicians, policymakers, and advocates for the past several years has taken a firm turn toward we shouldn’t after a Syrian passport was found near one of the attackers’ bodies. Calls to restrict and even stop resettlement of Syrians to the U.S. have come from public figures as diverse as a presidential candidate, leadership of the House of Representatives, and state governors. But the body of evidence regarding the risks of terrorism from a potential refugee resettlement program is not borne out.
I've just arrived in Greece to assess the situation for newly arriving refugees on the country’s outer islands. In a global context of increasingly harsh rhetoric that conflates refugees with security threats, we plan to gather first-hand stories from Syrian’s fleeing the ongoing and devastating war in Syria that has displaced a staggering 12 million people.
In the aftermath of last week’s tragic events in France, Lebanon, and Sinai, Refugees International extends its deepest condolences to all who have suffered unimaginable loss due to the hateful, egregious acts of terrorists claiming affiliation to ISIS. We join them in mourning their loved ones and wish them peace and solace during this difficult time.
Kenya hosts nearly half a million registered Somali refugees, the vast majority of whom live in the Dadaab camps in the country’s North Eastern province. For over two decades, armed conflict and food shortages have caused major waves of Somalis to flee south, across the Kenyan border for refuge – most recently during the 2011-2012 famine – when war and drought combined to kill over 260,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have also taken refuge in Ethiopia.
Each year throughout the May to October monsoon season, Myanmar experiences increased rainfall and flooding. This is a part of life. However, in late July and early August 2015 record-level rainfall, worsened by tropical Cyclone Komen, led to unprecedented levels of flooding and subsequent landslides, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency.
As record numbers of people around the globe continue to flee war and persecution, there has been growing public concern about whether the world is ready to protect millions more who, in the decades to come, may be uprooted by floods, storms, sea level rise, and other climate change effects. While the issue of what to do about “climate refugees” is by no means new, groundbreaking progress was made last week when more than 110 governments met in Geneva to endorsea “Protection Agenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displacement in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change. While the event received little fanfare, its importance should not be underestimated. Many times more people displaced each year by floods, storms and other extreme weather events than are uprooted by conflict, and climate change is expected only to increase these numbers.
Just over three years ago, the Zaatari refugee camp was established to accommodate the growing number of Syrian refugees who were fleeing to the neighbouring country of Jordan. Located around 70 kilometres from the capital city of Amman and 30 kilometres from the Syrian border, Zaatari occupies a space of some seven square kilometres and currently houses around 80,000 refugees.
Being forced to flee your home is a life-altering experience. Packing a bag, bidding farewell to your land and livelihood, and leading your children into the unknown – all of this can indelibly divide a life history into ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Many people never get over the trauma of flight, and never give up hope that they will one day return to the land and people they love.
Last week, intercommunal fighting in the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, resulted in over 40 deaths and caused more than 40,000 people to flee to various displacement camps sites around the city. The violence erupted following the murder of a Muslim taxi driver, pitting armed Muslim and Christian groups against each other. The streets also filled with protesters calling for the ouster of interim president Catherine Samba-Panza, who was in New York at the time for the United Nations General Assembly.
This week, in a stifling hot room in Malaysia filled with more than 50 Rohingya refugees, my own work with the community came full circle. I was sitting among dozens of people who had fled the very same displacement camps in Sittwe, Myanmar that I had visited twice before in 2012 and 2014. When I arrived in September 2012, Rohingya were still entering the camps and there was almost no clean water, food, or shelter. People were literally starving. It was the worst situation I had ever witnessed.
All eyes are on Washington this week as Pope Francis makes his historic first trip to the U.S. This morning, he’ll address lawmakers on Capitol Hill, marking the first time a Pope has addressed a joint meeting of Congress. Climate change is undoubtedly one if the issues on his agenda. Earlier this year the pope released his Laudito Si encyclical in which he laid out the moral case for greater protection of the environment, natural resources, and the Earth's climate.
Earlier this year, the world watched in both horror and sadness as thousands of desperate Rohingya who had fled persecution in Myanmar were abandoned on boats without food or water. As countless numbers died of dehydration and starvation each day, neighboring countries quarreled over who should take them in and how limited their assistance would be. Finally, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to accept up to 7,000 Rohingya, but only on the condition that they would be resettled out of their countries within a year.
This week I’ll be traveling to Myanmar where widespread flooding and landslides brought on by severe rain and a tropical cyclone have resulted in the worst disaster since Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008. Of the country’s 14 States, 12 have been severely affected. More than 1.6 million people lost their homes and more than 1.4 million acres of farmlands were inundated.
The needs of refugees and displaced people are outstripping the resources and capacities of the existing humanitarian system. The World Humanitarian Summit is an initiative of the UN Secretary-General to seek solutions to improve the humanitarian system, thereby reducing human suffering. It will be held on May 26-27, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.
The 18 month, Russian-backed rebellion of eastern Ukraine has displaced more than 1.4 million people, cost nearly 7,000 lives, and brought the economy of eastern Ukraine ̶ the economic and industrial heartland of the country ̶ to a standstill. Two million civilians remain in homes devastated by shelling on the line of contact, what is considered the frozen frontline of the conflict.