The political struggle underway in Burundi has thrust that tiny Central African nation into the global spotlight. Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third term despite being limited to two by Burundi’s constitution, and by the terms of a peace deal signed in 2000. Nkurunziza’s supporters maintain that his first term did not count because he was appointed by parliament rather than elected. His political opponents disagree.
More than two years since a rebel movement launched a violent campaign against the Central African Republic government, the country is continuing to experience a major humanitarian crisis. In March 2013, the Seleka group (an amalgamation of rebel groups from the north) overthrew the central government in Bangui, and since then sectarian violence between Christian militia groups, known as anti-Balaka, and former members of Seleka, who are mainly Muslims, has permeated the country. Further, inter-communal violence has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and the political conflict has also exacerbated simmering tensions between pastoralist and agriculturalist communities, resulting in violent clashes.
It’s a sunny morning in the city of Nairobi. I am greeted on a busy street by my friend, Fatima. Fatima tells me about the difficulty she has had since I was last in Nairobi a year ago. She is a refugee from Somalia. She and her mother fled Somalia in 2009 after an attack by the Al Shabab terrorist organization. Her father was killed and her brothers were ‘lost’. She and her mother arrived in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, but her mother did not live long after their arrival. On her own at the age of 14, Fatima, like many young unaccompanied women, chose to come to Nairobi.
Each year, millions of people across the globe are forced to flee disasters, primarily floods, storms, and other acute, weather-related events. As the effects of global climate change continue to unfold, more extreme weather, growing food insecurity, and other drivers of displacement will only increase. Of utmost concern is how climate change will affect low-lying island nations who face increased storm surge, salt water inundation of fresh water resources, and sea level rise, threatening their very existence.
A few weeks ago, Israel began sending letters to thousands of asylum seekers informing them of their imminent deportation to an unnamed African country. If they resist deportation and refuse to “voluntarily” leave Israel, the letter claims, they will be sent to jail within 30 days. This is an unconscionable violation of the rights of asylum seekers.
One day on the shores of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Micheline went to jail. The arrest probably did not come as a surprise to her. Working as a sex worker, run-ins with the police may have been a common occurrence for Micheline. But when she reached the prison on that particular day, things took an ugly turn.
“We must not forget the millions of stateless people whose dreams of nationality will never come to fruition. They also need our help to enjoy basic human rights right now,” remarked UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in 2007. Yet the international community often highly overlooks statelessness and the adverse implications of such status. While many individuals tend to take the legal acquisition of a nationality for granted, the acquirement of nationality can heavily dictate the quality of life for an individual.
Avalanches and flash floods played havoc on parts of Afghanistan last month, causing the deaths of over 285 villagers in Panjshir province. The snow and floods destroyed hundreds of homes and forced hundreds of families to turn to their neighbors and aid agencies for food, clothing, and shelter to survive.
The southeast provinces of Turkey, on the Syrian border, are home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Some of the refugees have been there for up to four years. Most are struggling to get by and trying to avoid having to go into a camp. The Turkish government is in the process of registering Syrians, but those who have not yet become “official” are not eligible for government assistance.
With so many humanitarian crises around the world, priority humanitarian and peacekeeping accounts need increased support from Congress now more than ever. This includes the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) and the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) humanitarian accounts, along with the core peacekeeping accounts including Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and Contributions for International Peacekeeping (CIPA).
Imagine that your own birth was never officially recorded. Your family members and friends would know you, and know that you exist. You might receive services from local organizations, like the church or the fire department. But what would happen when it’s time to enroll in school, get a job, or apply for a driver’s license? Now imagine all of this is happening to you in a foreign country. You fled your home because of war. But when it’s time to return home with the rest of your family, how could you prove that you belong there? How could you convince anyone that you, too, had rights in the country that you consider home?
When I was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last October, every meeting that I held with Congolese government officials sounded surprisingly similar. They were all engaged in a battle to change the long-held image of the country as “the rape capital of the world.” Government officials explained to me that now that the threat of the M23 rebel group was behind them, the country is at relative peace and women can start to experience the dividends of that peace. Conflict-related sexual violence is no longer a problem in the DRC, or so they claimed. Not only is that statement incorrect, but engaging in this type of PR campaign is the last thing that the DRC needs right now.