Fusion: Climate refugees, lacking protections, can’t even live like refugees

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By Ari Phillips

At the UN General Assembly’s first-ever Summit for Refugees and Migrants this week, world leaders are working towards a resolution to the growing refugee crisis. According to the UN, an “unprecedented series of simultaneous, complex and protracted crises and humanitarian emergencies” has created the perfect storm, leaving the international community facing a daunting migrant crisis that shows no sign of relenting.

As of 2015, there were 65 million forcibly displaced persons in the world, including over 21 million refugees, three million asylum-seekers, and over 40 million internally displaced persons.

These statistics include an unknown number of climate refugees, driven to relocate due to natural disasters and other adverse impacts of global warming. To-date, climate refugees are not officially protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention. The solution is not necessarily as simple as just amending the Convention, which was adopted before human-driven climate change became its own global crisis, and entered the global consciousness.

“With the international community unable to address the current flux of refugees and migrants, it is extremely important for world leaders who are attending the UN Summit to draw the link between climate change and forced migration,” said Alice Thomas, Climate Displacement Program Manager for Refugees International.

Thomas said the reasons for this are twofold. First, because the adverse impacts of climate change, such as “mega-floods, extreme droughts, growing food insecurity, and sea level rise” are increasingly permanently driving people from their homes. Secondly, the current international framework for protecting refugees doesn’t include people uprooted specifically by these causes.

The stakes are extremely high. Approximately 37 million people in India, 22 million in China, and 21 million in Indonesia will be at risk of displacement from rising sea levels by 2050, according to the the Asian Development Bank. Millions of people across the world, including recently in Louisiana, have been forced to flee due to extreme flooding made worse by the impacts of climate change.

Even the proper use of the term ‘climate refugee’ remains unresolved. As Thomas pointed out, a refugee is someone who is forced to flee because their government is unable or unwilling to protect them. When it comes to ‘climate refugees,’ the problem is not necessarily with their own government, but the “actions of other countries” that are forcing them to migrate.

Roger-Mark De Souza, the Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Wilson Center, reiterated Thomas’ concerns.

“‘Environmental refugee’ and ‘climate refugee’ are inaccurate and simplified terms that confuse legal protections afforded to refugees, as defined by the UN Convention on Refugees,” he said. “Those displaced by disasters or climate change are not protected by the Refugee Convention. Whether or not they should be covered by a similar pact is an open and very difficult question because of political sensitivities, tracking responsibilities, and the existing refugee crisis.”

De Souza emphasized how any international designation should not absolve governments of their responsibility towards those displaced by environmental factors.

“How governments manage natural resources and respond to climate change can be just as damaging as the climate effects themselves,” he said, noting that it is difficult to separate out climate impacts from other contributors to migration, such as political, social, economic, and demographic circumstances.

While De Souza stated that people displaced by natural disasters are less likely to create conflict due to the vulnerability of their circumstances, he did say that “an increase in numbers could exacerbate violence and conflict as populations concentrate and put cities under stress, and competition for resources grows.”

De Souza and Thomas mentioned the Nansen Initiative, now called the Platform for Disaster Displacement, as one promising effort to address the problems with the current international framework. Launched by Norway and Switzerland, and now led by Germany, the PDD is a state-led, bottom-up program that creates a toolbox for international cooperation on cross-border, disaster- and climate change-induced displacement. The UN’s refugee agency supports the Nansen Initiative and its follow up, the PDD.

In an op-ed this week in The Huffington Post, Christina Figueres, the head of the UN’s climate convention until recently and the leader behind the passage of the Paris Agreement, warned how the the ‘massive’ refugee crisis and the numerous urgent tasks at hand are only getting bigger.

“With temperature records being broken month by month, the impacts that climate change has had on conflict and refugees in places like Syria and Mali will only grow,” she wrote. “With sea-level rise advancing more quickly than scientists predicted, those communities in the South Pacific and in Alaska who have already been forced to move will be joined by many more. Though climate is not the only factor impacting the choices being made by these people, it is a real and growing danger.”

Thomas said the main obstacle in rising to these challenges is overcoming a lack of political will to both address the root of the problem, climate change, as well the actions required to address climate displacement and migration.

“The Paris Agreement was a huge success on many levels but it still does not go far enough in terms of keeping global temperatures at a level necessary to avoid potentially large scale human displacement,” she said. “In order to better prepare for this reality we need to take immediate action to support the most vulnerable countries and communities to put in place measures to avert displacement by building resilience, reducing displacement risk by enhancing disaster risk reduction measures, and adapting to unavoidable climate change effects.”

On Monday, delegations at the UN summit adopted The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the Declaration will mean that “more children can attend school; more workers can securely seek jobs abroad, instead of being at the mercy of criminal smugglers, and more people will have real choices about whether to move once we end conflict, sustain peace and increase opportunities at home.”

As Climate Home noted of the draft Declaration, it recognizes “that climate change is becoming a driver for people to leave their homes. Still, the rules are written for those escaping war zones or persecution, not creeping desertification or weather disasters.”

AP: Turmoil behind them, Congo refugees find new lives in state

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By AMELIA PAK-HARVEY - Associated Press - Monday, September 19, 2016

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) - Michel Kawaya’s father worked in President Mobutu Sese Sako’s government around the 1980s.

That meant life in what was then called Zaire was pretty good.

He recalls the luxury of going to school in a car he called “turtle.” He watched as he drove by the other children who didn’t have a car.

But Mobutu, regarded as a corrupt dictator, had enemies. When he was exiled in 1997 during Kawaya’s adulthood, things changed for Kawaya’s family.

Kawaya, now 45, doesn’t speak much English.

But his eyes grow big as he explains to a French-speaking translator the dangers to his family. Anyone linked to Mobutu’s government was at risk.

His father was murdered. With his 2-year-old daughter, Claudine, he had a decision to stay or flee.

“He has me, a young daughter of 2 years old,” said Claudine, now 18 and a student at Middlesex Community college. “He has to make a plan, he has to decide whether I stay or I go. ‘If I stay I will die, my daughter will die. … What will I do? I have to run away.’ “

Kawaya fled.

He left behind a country, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, still racked in violence and turmoil, as political parties jostle for power.

It’s an area where sexual violence prevails, with rape used as a weapon of war.

And this year, the Human Rights Watch wrote a pleading letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for action against a crackdown by President Joseph Kabila against any opposition.

Parts of Kawaya’s own story make him pause. His French comes out hesitantly, as some details of his journey are too painful and delicate for him to share.

But he and his daughter are among nearly half a million DRC refugees who have fled their homeland, according to 2013 numbers from the UNHCR.

Since October 2015, 315 Congolese have settled in the state, with 100 placed in Lowell, according to the latest U.S. Department of State statistics.

And though public attention has focused on Middle Eastern refugee populations, the Congolese are a sizeable portion of refugees coming to the Mill City. They made up 46 percent of the International Institute of New England-Lowell caseload in fiscal 2016.

“Actually, our Congolese are one of our largest populations and they’re often overlooked,” said IINE-Lowell Director Cheryl Hamilton. “One of the differences in the Congolese specifically is that they’ve been displaced for a long period of time.”

That means they could have experienced all the other tribulations of refugees- trauma, sexual violence, torture, imprisonment -for a long amount of time, Hamilton said.

In the DRC, instability reaches as far back as the 1990s, with the violence of the neighboring Rwandan genocide pouring over into the DRC.

“The genocide and its aftermath had enormous consequences on the eastern Congo, displacing millions of people and disrupting the lives of many families,” said Michael Boyce, a Refugees International advocate whose work has focused on the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Many of these refugees don’t have any hope of integrating into the countries where they have been living for decades, he said.

“They have been living for years, generations in some cases now, in countries where they really don’t have basic rights as local citizens,” Boyce said. “They don’t have the opportunity to work legally, they may not have the right to buy land. They often don’t have the right to obtain citizenship in the country where they are displaced.”

The country continuously struggles with peaceful transfer of power from one government or president to another, Boyce said. People affiliated with an outgoing leader may be targeted for violence.

“There are people affiliated with past governments who have committed serious crimes and who should be held to account,” he said. “But there are also people who were just bureaucrats or were affiliated with the same ethnic group as the previous government or the previous president, and they may be targeted for violence and prosecution simply on that basis.

Kawaya fled with his daughter to Cameroon, where they lived before he applied for refugee status. There, he met his current partner Marianne Ndgock, who gave birth to their daughter, Rachel.

They arrived in Lowell four years ago and had a second child, Thomas, now 2.

Claudine, who hopes to become a chemical engineer, views her father with reverence.

“He gave me a lot,” she said. “Today I am in school, I’m in college, I can speak English, I can do a lot of things. That’s because he made a great choice.”

She learns of her native country only through the stories her father tells her. One day, she’d like to go back.

But the violence against women makes her father uneasy about the idea.

In Lowell, the family is assimilating into society. Rachel attends school while Claudine juggles a job at Hannaford and classes.

Kawaya works at UMass Lowell in food service, while Marianne works at the Inn and Conference Center. They each make $11 and $12 an hour, respectively, he said.

The family gets by with $300 in food stamps, they say. They’ve also been blessed with a new Habitat for Humanity house on Dalton Street that makes Kawaya’s face light up.

“I’m a winner,” he says, snapping his fingers with a broad smile. “I am winner.”

In his own car, Kawaya drops his children off and picks them up from school. Thomas is in love with the car, just like his father was as a child.

Life goes by really fast, he explains to the translator, IINE-Lowell Case Specialist Sabyne Denaud.

“He wants to be like his father, so he has big dreams- go, go, go, go, go, don’t stop,” she said. “The only thing is, he’s not going to be like his father. They’re not going to kill him for the progress that he’s made.”


Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, http://www.lowellsun.com

Washington Post: Obama hoping to rally world support at the U.N. for worsening refugee crisis

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By Greg Jaffe and David Nakamura  

NEW YORK — With record numbers of people fleeing trouble in their homelands, the Obama administration is struggling to confront what Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Monday described as a “global humanitarian crisis, in some places a catastrophe.”

The scale of that emergency has intensified dramatically over the past decade, with an estimated 65.3 million people forcibly displaced by war, sectarian conflict and persecution in 2015, up from 37.5 million in 2005, according to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

On Tuesday, President Obama will convene a special summit here on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly aimed at rallying global support for the victims of the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Obama is expected to announce new commitments from world leaders and business executives to help relocate and provide economic aid to refugees — including a vow to welcome 110,000into the United States next year, a 30 percent increase from 2016.

But critics said the summit also highlights Obama’s failings on the issue, including his refusal to use U.S. military power to carve out safe areas for those fleeing the Syrian government’s barrel bombs and artillery attacks.

The war between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and an array of rebel forces, including the Islamic State, has produced an exodus of 4.8 million Syrians, many of whom have massed in Turkey and spread into Europe.

“The bitter truth is this summit was called because we have been largely failing — failing the long-suffering people of Syria in not ending the war in its infancy,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations’ human rights chief, said Monday as world leaders gathered in New York.

Images of injured and dead children have highlighted the humanitarian disaster in Syria, but rising strains of nationalism in Europe and the United States have blunted appeals from human rights advocates for the admittance of a greater number of refugees.

The Obama administration announced in August that it had met its goal of welcoming 10,000 Syrians this year, a number that officials said is expected to rise in 2017. Yet Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has cited terrorism fears in his call for a temporary ban on Muslim refugees from Syria and elsewhere.

Over the past year, Obama has tried with increasing urgency to counter Trump, lambasting his proposals as contrary to American values and counterproductive to fighting terror.

This year, the United States had accepted 28,957 Muslim refugees through early August, the highest number since data on religious affiliation became available in 2002, according to an analysis from the Pew Research Center.

But the bombing attacks that injured 29 in New York and New Jersey over the weekend underscored Obama’s challenge in calming public anxiety. The initial police investigation focused on a 28-year-old Afghan immigrant, and the president urged the public not to “succumb to that fear.”

Terrorists, Obama said in a brief public statement, “want to inspire fear in all of us, and disrupt the way we live, to undermine our values.”

Human rights advocates praised the president’s summit, calling it a small first step in a process that will require sustained, long-term engagement from the United States and other nations.

Of the world’s estimated 65 million refugees, 41 million have fled their homes but remained in their own nations, and 21 million have fled their countries, the U.N. report found. An additional 3 million are awaiting decisions on asylum.

Obama’s efforts are “still just a tiny drop in the bucket,” said Margaret Huang, interim executive director of Amnesty International. “The United States does accept more refugees than any other country in the world, and there are reasons for this administration to be proud of its record. . . . But it’s not enough.”

The U.N. summit will seek to address a crisis that goes well beyond Syria and the broader Middle East. Most refugees today are trapped in camps in relatively poor nations such as Thailand, Jordan, Kenya and Pakistan. Burma and Congo have sent the most refugees to the United States this year, followed by Syria and Iraq.

In all, eight countries host more than half the world’s refugees, and 75 percent of the U.N. budget for migrants and refugees comes from 10 nations, according to the world body.

“We need to give them basic succor,” said Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International, an aid group based in Washington. “And the money has not matched the rise in need.”

Nor has the political will. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to accept tens of thousands of Syrians last year prompted massive protests. On Sunday, her ruling coalition suffered major losses in the Berlin state election to the far-right opposition party that campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform.

In Hungary, public polling has shown that voters are likely to reject a refu­gee quota mandated by the European Union in a national referendum early next month.

“People around the world are frightened by things they see happen, acts by extremists, but it’s very important to understand refugees are not the perpetrators of this kind of violence,” said Chris Boian, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency. “They’re fleeing that same violence.”

In the United States, a bipartisan coalition in the House, including 47 Democrats, approved a bill in November that would require stringent new screening procedures for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. That same month, Obama toured a Malaysian refu­gee center during a trip to Asia, kneeling on the floor to chat with schoolchildren.

“The notion that somehow we would be fearful of them, that our politics would somehow leave us to turn our sights away from their plight, is not representative of the best of who we are,” Obama said then.

Yet human rights advocates have criticized the administration for not doing more to resettle the tens of thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America who have illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico in recent years.

The Obama administration has said those migrants are subject to deportation if they fail to qualify for political asylum. Under pressure from advocates, the administration expanded a refu­gee program for the Central American minors in July, but only a few thousand have been granted refu­gee status.

“It’s a massive failure on the Obama administration’s part to not deal with this issue,” Huang said.

Nakamura reported from Washington. Carol Morello in New York contributed to this report.


Reuters: U.N. 'certain' Paris climate deal will enter into force by end-2016

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By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.N. officials have said they are confident the Paris climate change agreement will enter into force by the end of 2016, with at least 20 countries indicating they will join it at a U.N. event on Sept. 21, adding to the 27 that have already done so.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited states to deposit their instruments of ratification or approval of the Paris deal at the one-hour event on Wednesday morning.

Leaders whose countries are not yet ready to join but plan to do so this year have been invited to contribute videos expressing their commitment, said Selwin Hart, director of the U.N. chief's climate change support team.

"When we start to look at the countries that are joining the... agreement and the countries that are going to commit to join before the end of the year, we are absolutely certain that we will have the Paris Agreement on climate change entering into force by the end of 2016," said David Nabarro, Ban Ki-moon's special advisor on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

To take effect, the Paris climate agreement needs ratification by at least 55 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, representing at least 55 percent of global emissions.

The officials told journalists in New York on Thursday that the United Nations had so far received 27 ratifications covering 39 percent of global emissions, including from the world's top two greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and China.

Among those expected to join formally next week are Mexico and Brazil.

Brazil completed its domestic process on Monday, but while it produces around a tenth of global carbon pollution, its share of global emissions that will count towards the Paris threshold is only 2.48 percent, as it is based on 2010 data.

Experts with the World Resources Institute calculate that if all the nations that have said publicly they will join the Paris agreement this year fulfill that pledge, it could begin in 2016.

Whether it will take effect even before the annual U.N. climate conference in November in Morocco is unclear. For that, the thresholds would have to reached by Oct. 7, as the deal will enter into force only 30 days after they are passed.

If that does not happen in time for the Marrakesh meeting, the first talks on implementing the Paris deal will take place later in 2017.

The officials said it was "remarkable" the agreement could enter into force so soon after being adopted last December - a process that can often take years or decades.

All eyes are now on the European Union, which has indicated it is looking for a way to speed up its Paris ratification - a complex process involving its 28 member states.

Hart said there was even a possibility the EU could now join this year - but it was a "work in progress".

Under current rules, the European Union and each of the nations it spoke for in Paris must deposit their ratification documents with the United Nations simultaneously, and so far only three states - France, Hungary and Austria - have ratified the agreement.


Another major focus at the United Nations next week will be two summits on strengthening the world's response to the rising numbers of refugees and migrants.

A draft outcome document for Monday's U.N. meeting on that subject acknowledges that the "adverse effects" of climate change and natural disasters are among the factors causing people to leave their homes.

It refers to implementation of the Paris climate agreement, as well as the Sendai framework to reduce the risks of disasters, and a set of voluntary guidelines to help those forced to cross borders due to disasters and climate change.

But it does not offer new ways of formally assisting those people, who have no protection in international law, unlike refugees fleeing persecution and violence.

Alice Thomas, manager of the climate displacement program at Refugees International, said the number of people uprooted each year by more extreme weather, coastal erosion and growing food and water insecurity already far exceeds those displaced by conflict, and will continue to rise sharply.

Governments should next week agree to step up efforts to tackle the problem, she said.

"States will need to commit to supporting the most climate-vulnerable countries to take concrete measures to avert, minimize and address climate displacement through increased investments in disaster risk reduction, building the resilience of the most vulnerable, and by addressing gaps in the international legal framework for those forced to flee climate change,” she said.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)


MTV News: Burundi Specific

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It’s a big, wide, complicated world out there. And for most of us, it’s impossible to keep track of everything that’s going on. We get ground down. We get distracted. We get on Snapchat and spend half an hour making our friends look like lions. It happens.

Meanwhile, out in the world, there’s a lot happening. But for a range of reasons — including racism, the lingering effects of colonialism, and a mass-media culture that ignores a continent of 1.2 billion people — you probably haven’t seen much about Africa in your news feeds lately.

This is a series about the African continent, because what happens in Niger or Nigeria has implications for all of us, and vice versa. This is just a slice of what’s out there, so keep reading and keep learning. This is Africa Specific.

Imagine if your Facebook posts got you arrested for “defaming the government and insulting public institutions.” In Burundi, that can happen.


In Burundi, a country of 10 million people surrounded by Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, you can have your phone searched in the street at police checkpoints, or be arrested for your posts on social media, or even prevented from leaving Burundi altogether. All because the country is wedged in a political crisis.

In April 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to go after a third term in office — a move that, like in America, is banned by term limits under the country's constitution. Nkurunziza argued that since he spent his first term leading a transitional government following a civil war, those years didn't count against the limit. Unsurprisingly, this presidential power-grab has been met with fierce opposition. In May of last year, that civic disapproval went as far as a failed coup attempt.

To suppress dissent, the Burundian government has harassed, threatened, and arrested journalists. The country is now one of the worst places to work in media. And without reliable access to newspapers or cable, social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook have been critical resources for people in search of information. Mido (a pseudonym), a Burundian journalist who covers politics, security, and culture, told MTV News that Burundians are using social media to stay informed after many radio and print outlets were attacked in revenge for the coup. But this has brought a whole new set of challenges.

Dr. Yolande Bouka, a Fulbright Scholar and a Research Associate for the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), says the Burundian government publicly asserts that it has no interest in covertly surveilling the conversations of its citizens. But who needs to eavesdrop on a conversation when you can just read it directly? “People have grown concerned,” says Bouka, “about agents of the state routinely seizing phones.”

Young people especially are getting used to having their messages searched in the street for evidence of opposition to the government — and getting used to being arrested, too. Last week, 54 people were detained at a bar in the capital city of Bujumbura for being members of a political discussion group on WhatsApp that “defamed” the government. Eight of them are still in prison.

Mido says that using your phone to chat with friends about politics now feels dangerous. “There are some points where police or theImbonerakure [a youth group aligned with the leading political party] ask for your telephone and check if you have any chats about politics or that show you are in opposition. If they discover those chats, you are arrested. So people always delete every single chat before leaving home.” Adding that social media chat groups have started using rules to protect members, he said, “If you are new, they tell you not to bring up political discussions or opinions. Maybe a football player's chat group, or student chat groups. So if someone talks about politics, people will leave.”

Mido also says Burundians are getting very good at censoring themselves online to stay safe. “For ordinary people who discuss issues even opposing the government, they delete any sensitive messages that could push them to be arrested. Others change their names on Facebook because of fear.”

Will Burundi lift presidential term limits and open the door to leaders-for-life? We could find out this fall.

In Burundi's constitution, presidents are limited to two five-year terms. But Nkurunziza's party, the CNDD-FDD, wants to keep its president in power. In 2015, Nkurunziza created and staffed the Inter-Burundi Dialogue Commission. He then tasked it with finding a (totally objective, of course) solution to the country’s year-long political crisis (which, to be clear, had been catalyzed by his bid for a third term in office). The Commission's findings? Surprise: the solution is to just give presidents the opportunity to run for office as many times as they want. Commission chairman Justin Nzoyisaba chalked the results up to the will of the governed.

But that's not what Burundians told the research network Afrobarometer, when it asked similar questions about presidential terms in 2014 and 2015. “I find it highly suspect that the Burundian people have made an about-face,” Dr. Cara Jones, a scholar of African politics who has written extensively on Burundi’s political sphere, told MTV News. Speaking to the Commission's recent findings, she added, “My colloquial take is that it's complete BS.”

Bouka explains that the fight to end term limits comes at a time “where most of the political opposition leadership is in exile, civil society organizations that have challenged the state in recent years have been muzzled, and free press has been destroyed or put under the government's thumb. Additionally, you have documented cases of government-sponsored extrajudicial killings and torture. That taints the legitimacy of the consultations the government engaged in in recent months.”

If the government does do away with term limits (the issue is before Parliament), it will have to change Burundi’s constitution. And according to Bouka, “Any revision will likely include not only changes to term limits, but also alterations to the power-sharing provisions that many deem to be the glue that kept the country together after over a decade of civil war.” That glue, the Arusha Accords, set a two-term limit for presidents in the first place, as it was understood that leaders having access to an open-ended stay in power had contributed to previous conflicts, Bouka says.

But don’t expect Burundi to just give in to a future without any limitations on how long Nkurunziza, or future presidents, can seek to stay in power. “I do think the state-sponsored violence is acting as a check on [opposition],” says Jones, “but I think the idea that Burundians will accept this quietly is a mistake. Burundi has a lot of bright spots. The population is extremely young — 60 percent of Burundians are under the age of 18 — and youth don’t tend to take shit the way that adults do. That’s a good sign.”

More than 280,000 people have fled Burundi — but to their government, fleeing violence is evidence of refugees' desire tocommit violence.

Over the last 16 months, since the third-term turmoil began, 286,000 people have left the country, mostly for Tanzania and Rwanda. “We have talked to many refugees who report that, because of their political opinions, or their perceived political opinions, they were targeted for violence and for threats, and this led them to leave their jobs and decide ultimately that they had to leave,” Michael Boyce, an Advocate withRefugees International, told MTV News.

For many who have been a part of this mass exit from Burundi, this is a frustratingly familiar journey. “There were many people who had to flee Burundi during previous wars, who lost access to their land and other property, and when they were able to return, say in 2012, after the previous war ended, they didn’t have access to anything that could help them rebuild their lives,” Boyce said, adding that this “put them in greater danger when violence began to come back during the recent crisis” last year.

But even wanting to get away from violence can make refugees targets for government reprisal. “On the Burundian side of the border,” Boyce said, “there are a lot of people, especially young people who want to flee the country because of persecution, who are being prevented from leaving — whether or not they intend to oppose the government once they’re safely away. They’re being told by the police, by immigration officials, or by militia groups aligned with the government, that you can’t leave, because leaving signals that you want to join a rebel movement abroad.” Boyce said that the first time he went to Burundi, “We saw a number of young men who had been trying to leave who were being taken off to a police station by a police officer with their arms tied around their backs, and some of them we know were later taken to prison because they had tried to flee.”

Within official circles, those who have been displaced are often viewed as an inconvenience. “The Burundian government doesn’t want to acknowledge the scale of the problem,” Boyce said, “They don't want to acknowledge the kinds of threats and abuses that people across the country are facing because of their political opinions.” And yet, the presence of more than a quarter of a million Burundians who have been able to cross into Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and farther afield is a very loud reminder that jailing people for political differences of opinion and advocating for “forever presidents” is definitely not a reflection of how most Burundians actually want to live.


CBC: U.S. welcomed its 10,000th Syrian refugee — is it time to do more?

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U.S. welcomed its 10,000th Syrian refugee — is it time to do more?

As U.S. meets its Syrian refugee goal, a look at how its program stacks up internationally

By Matt Kwong, CBC News Posted: Aug 31, 2016 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Aug 31, 2016 5:11 AM ET

"At least 10,000."

That's how many Syrian refugees U.S. Secretary of State John Kerrypromised last year to welcome by the end of this fiscal year. By Monday, the government had fulfilled its pledge.

To hear the White House describe it, the effort was a success by several measures, demonstrating an ability to securely resettle migrants fleeing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, and doing so nearly a month ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline.

But the per capita number of Syrian refugees accepted to the U.S. in fiscal 2016 remains dwarfed by goals set by Canada and some other nations. The 10,000 number might even sound low compared to the target of 65,000 that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed.

Just how low?

"This isn't even the floor. This is the basement," said Jennifer Quigley, the refugee protection advocacy strategist for Human Rights First.

Taking together the estimated 480,000 Syrian refugees in need of resettlement, the 10,000 commitment "is really just two per cent" of Syrian refugees who have found new homes in the U.S., she says.

Quigley and other refugee advocates are pushing for the U.S. to double last year's global refugee resettlement goals to 200,000 for the next fiscal year, with half the spots reserved for Syrian migrants.

In a February 2016 report, Oxfam calculated that the U.S. had the capacity to absorb about 170,000 Syrian refugees this calendar year. That's 17 times more than the fiscal year pledge outlined for 2015-2016.

To determine what each nation's responsibility for accepting Syrian refugees ought to be, the humanitarian organization crunched the data based on the size of the economies of select nations and came up with what it calls a Fair Share Analysis 

According to that analysis, the U.S. has accepted only seven per cent of what it would be expected to since 2013. Canada, which placed more than 30,000 Syrian refugees since the start of last November alone, had a 239 per cent Fair Share score. The Canadian score was based on a pledge of taking in 36,500 Syrian refugees since 2013.

"Canada has been in a really great place. Canada's just outpacing everybody else, aside from Germany, which is fantastic," Quigley said.

Germany, which settled nearly 42,000 refugees fleeing Syrian since 2013, had contributed 113 per cent of its fair share. Other nations highlighted for their Fair Share contributions included Australia, which scored 64 per cent, Sweden (60 per cent), Finland (85 per cent) and Iceland (63 per cent).

While refugee advocates were pleased the U.S. met its resettlement goals this fiscal year, Oxfam America's Noah Gottschalk notes that the announcement comes at an opportune time. Later this month, President Barack Obama is due to convene a summit on refugees at the United Nations General Assembly.

"At the summit to ask world leaders to do more to resettle refugees, it's incumbent for the U.S. to lead by example in this case," said Gottschalk, Oxfam America's senior policy advisor for humanitarian response.

"That 10,000 is a number we could do in our sleep. We were pushing for 10,000 because we thought it was the bare minimum, a number which, although incredibly modest, was at least a starting point."

The U.S. refugee policy post-Obama could vary widely, depending on political will from Congressional leaders to appropriate enough funds for resettlement programs, as well as the vision of the next president.

Although Clinton has called the 10,000 refugees goal a "good start," she said she wishes to expand the program to 65,000. Her Republican opponent has taken a different tack.

Donald Trump is due to deliver a major speech on immigration today from Phoenix, hours after he meets with President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico. His speech is expected to focus on undocumented illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico, but he may also bring up the U.S.'s handling of the Syrian refugee crisis.

In June, Trump called for the suspension of the State Department's Syrian refugee program, citing security concerns stemming from the "tremendous flow" of migrants.

"We don't know who they are, they have no documentation, and we don't know what they're planning," Trump said during a speech on national security and terrorism following the attack at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, which killed 49 people and wounded 53.

But Gottschalk argues that so-called Trojan Horse concerns about extremists blending in with vulnerable refugee populations are unjustified, cautioning against misinformation by political forces that have sown Islamaphobia.

Those distrustful of refugees often don't understand that they are fleeing the very violent extremism that the U.S. stands against, he says.

"If you're looking at where there's vulnerabilities in the U.S., the refugee program is not it," said Gottschalk.

A bipartisan letter to Congress signed by national security leaders in December 2015 reiterated that point, noting that refugees eligible for resettlement in the U.S. are "vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler" — a rigorous process that can sometimes take more than two years.

Previously, Trump has incorrectly claimed the U.S. has "no system to vet" refugees. His statement was determined to be false by the non-partisan fact-checking project PolitiFact in June.

"There's this narrative that we have no clue who these people are, they're going to show up here, God knows what they're going to do?" said Hans Hogrefe, director of policy at Refugees International. "These are myths and exaggerations and outright defamation against those people who have been carefully vetted and screened."

Welcoming immigrants and vulnerable populations is part of the U.S.'s DNA, Hogrefe says. But he stresses that the burden of hosting refugees can't fall on the U.S. alone.

"We can always do more," he says. "It's not about welcoming a specific number [of refugees]. We have to constantly challenge ourselves and say, can we do more? Can we do better?"

NPR: U.S. Is On Target To Accept And Resettle 10,000 Syrian Refugees

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U.S. Is On Target To Accept And Resettle 10,000 Syrian Refugees

August 5, 2016  5:42 PM ET


The Obama administration is on track to make its goal of admitting and resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees before the end of September, despite concerns that Islamic militants could enter with them.

"The current pace of arrivals will continue thru the end of this fiscal year so we may exceed 10,000," said Anne Richard, assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "For next year, we will continue to welcome large numbers of Syrians."

After a slow start, the resettlements accelerated to 8,000 by early August; Syrian who have fled violence and persecution in their country's brutal civil war. More than half of the arrivals are under 18, according to Richard.

"It is moving fast. The month of July has been our busiest month," says Mahmoud Mahmoud, director of Church World Service in Jersey City, New Jersey. Church World Service is one of nine official resettlement agencies that implements the federal program. The Jersey City office resettled five Syrian families in July with more expected in the next two months, says Mahmoud.

"We do expect it to be heavy because we've received notification from the Department of State that they want to meet those numbers."

The Obama administration has been under intense pressure from aid agencies and advocacy groups that raised doubts the resettlement goals would be met. In May, more than half of the Democrats in the Senate signed a letter urging the president to accelerate the program after Canada resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees this year.

The administration's goal is now within sight despite a political backlash from Republicans. The Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, wants to ban anyone coming from an area with terrorism ties and a majority of governors, all but one a Republican, insist Syrian refugees are not welcome because some could pose a security threat. The opposition has grown after last year's terrorist attacks in Paris. State legislatures have proposed laws to bar refugees but state governors have no legal authority to halt federal immigration programs.

The opposition centers on concerns that security screenings are inadequate and Islamist militants could slip in among the newcomers.

Administration officials insist there are no security shortcuts. Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said that "hundreds" of Syrians have been denied entry based on rigorous security check. "Our approval rates are 80 percent our denial rates are 7 percent with the remainder on hold," he said in a State Department briefing on Friday.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that the increase in arrivals was due to a "surge" of State Department and Homeland Security officials in the region and the vetting has been stepped up. "We have added security checks," he said, in an enhanced process specifically for Syrians.

The roughly 8,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in 38 states where nonprofit groups, faith-based communities, and volunteers organize resettlement.

"We don't just dump them some place in this country," Johnson told reporters, "they are resettled in communities that are able to absorb refugees."

Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International, an advocacy organization based in Washington, said there are multiple checks that begin with the United Nation's refugee agency. UNHCR identifies those who are most vulnerable which typically includes single mothers and children. The total of Syrians admitted to the U.S. include 78 percent women and children.

The U.S. security checks are stringent, he said. "I would even dare to say that if you are running an organization that wants to harm this country, there are much easier ways to come to the U.S. than to come as a resettled refugee."

Still, he said, 10,000 is a modest number compared to the refugees hosted by Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. In Lebanon, one person in four is a refugee.

"I hope that next year the U.S. will increase the number but it's sticking to your commitments," he said referring to the administration goal.

The goal will likely be met before Obama heads to the UN at the end of September to urge world leaders to admit more refugees and step up funding for relief organizations. For countries that host large number of refugees, Obama will urge them to "let refugees work and children to school," says the State Department's Anne Richard. The president is convening a "Refugee Summit" in New York to address a historic surge of civilian displacement, now an international crisis that stems primarily from wars in the Middle East and Africa.

The Courier: We Are Desperate and Without Help: The Plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar

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The Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have been described as the most persecuted people in the world. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Early Warning Project, they are at the highest risk of state-led mass killing of any population. In fact, recent news reports acknowledge strong evidence that genocide of the Rohingya may already be happening.

The Stanley Foundation genocide prevention policy team— Carrie Dulaney and Jai-Ayla Sutherland—sat down with Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate at Refugees International, to discuss the plight of the Rohingya. Sullivan has traveled to Myanmar and met with displaced Rohingya a number of times.

The Stanley Foundation (TSF): Tell us about the Rohingya.

Dan Sullivan: The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority mostly based in western Myanmar in Rakhine state. Over a million [Rohingya] live in Myanmar, and several hundred thousand more have been displaced in the surrounding countries, including Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Thailand. They are stateless people, so they do not have citizenship. That’s a huge part of the challenge they’re facing. Effectively, if you’re stateless, you don’t have citizenship in any country, therefore, you don’t have the protection of laws in any particular country.

The Rohingya are facing a combination of decades of state-sponsored persecution and widespread discrimination among the population in Myanmar, largely driven by a general fear of the Other and Muslims. Myanmar is 90 percent Buddhist. There’s a small contingent of ultranationalist Buddhist monks who have really been stirring up this fear and trying to paint a picture of the Rohingya as an existential threat to Buddhism in Myanmar.

The government of Myanmar has refused to recognize the Rohingya as a people. They are even asking the international community not to use the word Rohingya. They consider the Rohingya to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh, even though many Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations. There have been members of parliament who have identified as Rohingya, who have served the government. Yet the government continues to refuse to recognize them as a people, even denying them the right to self-identify.

TSF: What level of risk do the Rohingya face? Why and how are the Rohingya being targeted?

Sullivan: The Early Warning Project, which is affiliated with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, has continued to list Myanmar as the country most at risk of state-led mass killing, based on the risk faced by the Rohingya. Additionally, the Holocaust museum went on a mission to Rakhine state to monitor the situation and returned with the warning of a very high risk of further atrocities and even genocide against the Rohingya. There have been other groups, including a Yale Law School group with Fortify Rights, that have said there’s strong evidence that genocide may already be happening.

The current situation has been set up by decades of persecution that has been exacerbated by the rise of ultranationalist rhetoric against the Rohingya painting them as a threat, as the Other, and scapegoating them for the lack of development in Rakhine state. The Rakhine Buddhist population—the majority population where most Rohingya live—has been marginalized through the years and suffered at the hands of the former military dictatorship.

But just since 2012, violence broke out between the local Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya, resulting in some 200 Rohingya deaths and 140,000 people being displaced, mostly Rohingya. They continue to be displaced today in camps that have been described as open-air prisons with very squalid conditions. People are not allowed to enter and leave; the government is keeping them there. They’re not allowed to move. They have no access to higher education and very limited access to medical care. The conditions are very difficult.

Now, the [United Nations] is reporting that some of the people have been allowed to go back, but that’s misleading because it hasn’t always been voluntary. Regardless, there are some 120,000 people who still live in those camps. Even the one million who are not in camps are still facing restrictions on their access to work, education, and medical care, not to mention restrictions on their rights to marry and have children.

TSF: What is Buddhist nationalism, and how is it leading to violence against the Rohingya?

Sullivan: There has been hate speech in Myanmar that has incited mob violence against Myanmar’s Muslim populations, including the Rohingya. One infamous source of this speech is Wirathu, a firebrand Buddhist monk who has traveled the country holding rallies and using vitriolic language comparing Muslims to vermin, and rallying people, riling them up, and appealing to their baser, violent urges. We’ve seen a lot of violence coming out of his efforts.

He’s part of this bigger movement of the Ma Ba Tha, or Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion. They are very well-organized. Wirathu has had his DVDs and different promotional material sent out all over the country. Initially, there were organized boycotts of Muslim shops. We’re seeing that this movement has spread and become more sophisticated and dangerous, even though it has gotten a lot of international criticism.

At the urging of Buddhist nationalists, the [Myanmar]government recently passed laws for the protection of race and religion, which target Rohingya by limiting who they can marry and how many children they can have. They also restrict the ability of the Rohingya to convert to a different religion. The troubling thing is that we haven’t always seen people speaking out. With the previous government, the president, Thein Sein, described Wirathu as a son of Buddha and supported him. Though there has been recent denunciation of radical Buddhism, it is not always as strong as we might have hoped.

TSF: Because conditions are so poor within Myanmar, many Rohingya have fled by boat to surrounding countries. What has happened to them?

Sullivan: Over time, the Rohingya have been forced out and have chosen to flee because of the conditions in Myanmar. Just since 2014, the [United Nations] estimates some 50,000 have fled by sea. The Rohingya have taken to sea to flee their conditions to Thailand or to Malaysia, in rickety boats, some of which have sunk. Over a thousand are estimated to have perished on those journeys. Their plight got international media attention last year.

The Rohingya are often prey to human traffickers because they cannot travel freely. In May 2015, there was a crackdown on human trafficking over land after the discovery of some of the human trafficking camps on the border of Thailand and Malaysia, where there were over 100 bodies found, many of them Rohingya. As a result of the crackdown, many traffickers abandoned boats full of Rohingya in the Andaman Sea.

Many of those who fled are still being detained in different places, in countries like Malaysia and Thailand. Those who were not detained are living in very crowded conditions. They have difficulty finding work, and on a daily basis they are subject to harassment by authorities or being forced to pay bribes. The Rohingya present a major challenge to the region.

TSF: Are there any international laws that would protect populations like the Rohingya that lack citizenship? How does the Responsibility to Protect come into play here?

Sullivan: On the international level, there are legal protections for stateless people, including the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Human rights and humanitarian law apply to all persons, whether with citizenship or not. But these standards aren’t always enforced, especially when they are not supported by national laws.

Pillar one of the Responsibility to Protect does technically obligate the state to protect populations within a state’s territory, but it gets tricky when a state refuses to recognize a population. The Myanmar government treats the Rohingya as unwelcome and wants to push them out. Therefore, the responsibility has needed to become more global, and there’s been a need for sustained international support and pressure to ensure that the Rohingya are protected.

TSF: In November 2015, elections brought in a new political party, the National League for Democracy, in Myanmar. Have the elections started to change the landscape for the Rohingya?

Sullivan: In November of last year, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist, and her National League for Democracy Party, the NLD, won a great victory and gained a majority in Parliament. The problem is that because of the existing constitution that was written by the previous military government, she is barred from being president, and the military is guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary assets, which is an effective veto for any changes to the constitution. Despite the rejoicing, the military continues to exert considerable influence.

There has been a great sense of hope among the Rohingya with whom we’ve spoken during our missions, but the situation hasn’t looked great recently. Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have made statements saying that addressing the plight of the Rohingya will not be a priority, that it shouldn’t be overexaggerated. The government recently gave international embassies the instruction that they should not use the word Rohingya—a continuation of the very same policies of the military government.

The one glimmer of hope is that Aung San Suu Kyi has set up a commission to look at peace and development in Rakhine state. While the commission has not explicitly mentioned the Rohingya, its creation shows a tacit willingness to tackle development challenges in Rakhine state, which realistically cannot be tackled without addressing the plight of the Rohingya.

During the elections, some of the more extremist groups were trying to paint Aung San Suu Kyi as a Muslim lover, as somebody who is going to destroy the country. As a result, she now must continue to walk a very fine line. At the same time, there’s great disappointment because Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was held in house arrest and was a very strong voice for democracy and human rights. But now that she’s in government, she’s been much more muted.

TSF: What role have multilateral bodies like the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) played in protecting the Rohingya?

Sullivan: The record has been mixed. There have been some very strong reports out of the [United Nations]. A couple of UN special rapporteurs for human rights have come out with consistently strong reports about the severity of the situation. There have been some higher-level UN statements about the need to address the plight of the Rohingya, while the support has been weaker at lower levels and within the country.

Within the regional organization, ASEAN, the principle of sovereignty is strong, and there is a reluctance to engage in another country’s affairs. For a long time, we never saw any kind of criticism, or pressure, or engagement among ASEAN, Myanmar’s neighbors. Before the ASEAN summit last April, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights sent a delegation to Myanmar and Rakhine state; they released a report to push for the recognition of the Rohingya as a regional issue. The Malaysian government echoed this assessment. The regional nature of the problem was highlighted the following month in May during the height of the boat crisis. I think there’s been increased recognition within ASEAN that it needs to be addressed, but still very limited actual pressure or engagement by ASEAN with Myanmar.

TSF: Has it been difficult to get the international community to incentivize protecting the Rohingya, after it has broadly approved of the ongoing reforms in Myanmar since the end of the military junta (1962­–2011)?

Sullivan: Obviously, there’s been a lot of good news coming out of Myanmar over the recent years. The country just emerged from almost 50 years of a military dictatorship. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest, and now she’s basically running the government. There’s a long struggle for democracy and freedom. And there have been some very significant reforms and political prisoners released. So, when you hear all that news, you think it’s a good news story. But lost in that and overshadowed is the plight of the Rohingya and other ethnic groups. Many governments want to cast Myanmar as a success story. The business community also has a vested interest in turning away from continuing human rights abuses, as it wants to invest in Myanmar. There needs to be continued pressure by the United States, by the [United Nations], by ASEAN, to make sure that the Rohingya are not just forgotten in the context of all these other back-and-forth reforms, that it remains a priority for US-Myanmar relations and for multilateral institutions as well.

TSF: What is the nongovernmental organization (NGO) community doing to ensure that the plight of the Rohingya remains at the forefront?

Sullivan: It has been hard to get information about the on-the-ground situation in Rakhine because of the limited humanitarian access. Key aid groups have been consistently threatened with expulsion. Doctors Without Borders was kicked out actually while I was in Myanmar. They were the top health provider to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Rakhine. This led to many preventable deaths, as covered by The New York Times. Eventually, under sustained pressure, they were allowed to return, but at a much reduced level, and there continue to be restrictions on access.

This is important not only because it’s leading to otherwise preventable deaths but also because it means a lack of witnesses in a situation at a high risk of atrocities. Which reminds me of another point, that the last president [of Myanmar] had made 11 commitments to President [Barack] Obama. One of those was opening an in-country Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. That would be huge to allow observation of what’s going on and address the plight of the Rohingya, and just get a better sense of what’s going on there. That still hasn’t happened.

Now, what groups in the [United States] and elsewhere are doing— groups that have been very dedicated to the plight of the Rohingya—are helping get it into the spotlight and getting the attention and bringing journalists in to get some big stories out. Nick Kristof of The New York Times has been there, as has [the PBS documentary series] Frontline. [The international news organization] VICE News recently had a really good short documentary about what’s going on. Activists have been helping to get that attention and get media there as well.

There was also a big campaign that was launched by United to End Genocide called “Just Say Their Name,” which went global and really got the ear of the White House, helping to ensure that the Rohingya problem is addressed by name by the US government. On a recent visit, [US] Secretary [of State John] Kerry made some strong statements and used the name Rohingya, despite pressure not to.

Of course, the crisis continues, and we need to do more to call attention to the plight of the Rohingya and to work toward improving their situation.

TSF: What’s the way forward for the international community to respond to the plight of the Rohingya?

Sullivan: I think the answer is that there is an ability to work with the government of Myanmar, especially with the new reforms. And that would really be the most peaceful and productive way to move things forward. There’s a 1982 citizenship law that’s on the books that recognizes only certain ethnic groups as citizens of Myanmar. So it shows that it’s not written in stone. It would take a huge amount of pressure and time to get the Myanmar government to include the Rohingya, but it should be a long-term goal. The short-term goal should be pressuring and working with the new government and incentivizing them to allow for unrestricted humanitarian access and to launch an investigation into previous human rights violations. There is a lot that can be done with the government.

We can also engage other stakeholders, particularly the business community. There had been a very robust sanctions regime on the military junta in Myanmar, and it can be partially credited for helping to open up the government, to get the military to be open to reforms. For many of us in the human rights community, the sanctions were lifted too quickly. There has been considerable backsliding in recent years, and many political prisoners, including Rohingya, have been detained. For this reason, it is important to review and at least maintain the current sanctions levels.

Myanmar is a country that is rich in natural resources: gems, minerals, and oil. The business community has historically been part of the pressure to open Myanmar, because it wanted to be able to invest in the country. Since 2011, several companies have moved into Myanmar to begin investment. There’s been pressure by human rights advocates and some work within the [Obama] administration to try to balance that by creating reporting requirements for business investment. The business community has an important role to play and can really help incentivize and make sure that those who commit human rights abuses aren’t being rewarded.

Perhaps the most important thing that international NGOs can do is support the voices of the Rohingya themselves. Activists like Wai Wai Nu, a young Rohingya woman who spent years as a political prisoner, have bravely spoken out on the conditions faced by the Rohingya. Many others are taking risks within the country to promote religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence and need the support of the international community.

TSF: Any parting words?

Sullivan: I think there’s a lot that can be done by your readers. The first thing is just being aware and educated about what’s going on and sharing that with others to build up attention. Another thing that can be done is writing to your local newspaper, letters to the editor, to make sure that they’re covering this. It really does make a difference, and it all adds up to much needed pressure. I mentioned that within Myanmar, there are a lot of disincentives for anyone to speak out, and it can be dangerous. So there’s all the more reason and need for international pressure and support for the voices of some of the most persecuted people in the world, and all the more reason to make your own voice heard.

Dan Sullivan is the senior advocate at Refugees International focusing on Myanmar, Central America, and other areas affected by mass displacement. He has over a decade of human rights and foreign policy experience, having worked for United to End Genocide (formerly Save Darfur), the Brookings Institution, Human Rights First, and the Albright Stonebridge Group, where he assisted former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in her role as cochair of the Genocide Prevention Task Force. Sullivan can be followed on Twitter at @EndGenocideDan.

PolicyForum: Violence threatens new Myanmar

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Violence threatens new Myanmar

Resurgence of anti-Muslim sentiment shows problems were out of sight, not out of mind


Silence from the government in the face of escalating anti-Muslim attacks only adds fuel to the fire and undermines aspirations for a peaceful future in Myanmar, Daniel P Sullivan writes.

The recent destruction of a Muslim prayer hall in central Myanmar, and the burning of a mosque in the north, mark a rekindling of tensions that have been smouldering since the first large-scale attacks against Muslims in the country in 2012.

Those attacks, initially sparked by the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in June and followed by more coordinated attacks targeting Muslims in October, ended with 200 dead and 140,000 displaced, mostly Muslims. The timing of these most recent attacks, just as the new Aung San Suu Kyi-led government reached its first 100 days in power, is an inauspicious reminder of the dangers of not addressing those hate-driven dynamics.

Since 2012, anti-Muslim feeling has led to violence that has displaced tens of thousands of people and led to almost 300 deaths. Most of those affected have been Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar who face unique prejudices and persecution as the government fails to recognise them as citizens. But anti-Muslim sentiment and violence has also affected non-Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state and spread to affect disparate parts of the country, from Okkan in the northwest to Lashio in the northeast and just outside the country’s largest city Yangon in the south. In 2013, anti-Muslim attacks in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar led to the deaths of at least 40 people, including many students. Riots in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, in 2014 led to the deaths of one Buddhist and one Muslim man.

The opening of the military-dominated government to reforms in 2011 has led to many notable changes and the first civilian-led government in Myanmar in half a century. But it has also opened the way for dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric, spread by a group of opportunistic, ultra-nationalist monks.

While a sense of Buddhist Burmese nationalism is not new, the level of organisation, influence, and resulting violence is. Monks like Ashin Wirathu have travelled the country dispersing DVDs and hate-propaganda and giving vitriolic sermons that paint Muslims as an existential threat to Buddhist Burmese religion and culture. They formed the “969 Movement” which organised boycotts of Muslim businesses and later a more sophisticated Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion orMa Ba Tha, which has drafted and successfully pushed through Race and Religion Protection Laws that largely target Muslims.

In past elections, Muslims, including Rohingya, were allowed to vote and even take office. But in 2015 hundreds of thousands of Muslims, mostly Rohingya, who had voted in the last election were disenfranchised and sitting Muslim members of Parliament were barred from re-election. And it is not only the more extremist voices that have supported this trend. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy did not field a single Muslim candidate.

The alarming silence of the country’s leaders has been just as loud as the vitriolic rhetoric of the ultra-nationalist monks. In the lead up to the elections, sympathisers often cited the need for Suu Kyi to balance getting elected with taking unpopular stances. Speaking out for Muslims was described as the third rail of Burmese politics. If Suu Kyi wanted to gain the power to change things, they claimed, she first needed to get elected. But three months into the new government, little has changed.

Perhaps most troubling is the lack of accountability for the recent attacks, a sad continuation of the old military-led government’s policies. Of the large mob involved in the destruction in Kachin state, only five individuals have been arrested. No arrests were made in Bago where a local official said, “If we take action on people, the situation will be bad.” But the situation is clearly already bad and ongoing tensions threaten to flare up in new bouts of violence. Impunity will only further fuel the current dynamics.

Aung San Suu Kyi has the ability to tackle these tensions. Her resounding election victory and widespread good standing give her room to manoeuvre. And she would not be alone in acting. A few brave local civil society actors have spoken out and several interfaith harmony efforts are at work.

Suu Kyi is not only the effective leader of the country, she is also the head of a Myanmar Human Rights Commission that is investigating the recent attacks. Perhaps she will continue to calculate the need to be silent on controversial topics in order to make headway on others. But she need not fully revive the strong appeals of her human rights icon days. Simply standing for accountability in cases like Bago and Kachin would speak volumes. Failure to do so will only allow the voices of hate to grow louder.


The Guardian: 'Fake calm' in Burundi as tension threatens return to violence

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'Fake calm' in Burundi as tension threatens return to violence

Human rights experts paint chilling picture of state ruled by fear after a year of political instability, with peace talks expected to fail

Thursday 14 July 2016 

After more than a year of turmoil, Burundi is suspended in a “fake calm” with risks of further instability exacerbated by an economic slowdown, regional tensions and destructive ethnic rhetoric, a British parliamentary committee has heard.

Human rights and aid experts painted a chilling picture of a state ruled by fear, where authorities have become increasingly sophisticated in concealing repression and where high inflation, flooding linked to El Niño, and the political crisis have conspired to make it harder than ever for most people to make ends meet.

During its session on Burundi, the International Development Committee (IDC) heard that the UK’s priorities include supporting hobbled peace talks in Tanzaniaand pushing at the UN for the deployment of an international police contingent.

A failed coup and Facebook: the story of Burundi's elections


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In April last year, President Pierre Nkurunziza declared he would stand for a third term, triggering street protests, a failed coup and months of terror during which, human rights activists say, scores were killed or abducted and tortured by intelligence services. More than 285,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries. 

On Wednesday, a former government minister and BBC journalist, Hafsa Mossi,was shot dead in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, by unknown gunmen – the latest in a series of apparently politically motivated assassinations. Nkurunziza said the murder was a “vile and cowardly act”.

In her testimony, Carina Tertsakian, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “The government of Burundi has shown no sign of relenting and the repression towards anyone suspected of being an opponent or critic is absolutely brutal,” citing a recent HRW report.

“Some of the torture techniques that we have documented are so vicious it’s unbelievable that anyone survives: for example, intelligence agents use metal bars, hammers to smash people’s bones, to smash their jaws, pulling out their teeth with pliers, tying ropes to the genitals of male detainees and pulling them, and other acts of torture that are just horrific. For these abuses, there is complete impunity,” she said.

Richard Moncrieff, project director for central Africa at the International Crisis Group, said Nkurunziza’s government had become increasingly radicalised whilestop-start peace talks were unlikely to succeed, not least because of the fragmentation of the opposition.

“I would describe the situation as a fake calm,” Moncrieff told the panel of MPs, describing a toxic “ethnicisation from above” that he said had yet to take hold in the general public or in the army but was present at the top levels of government, and among the ruling party’s armed youth wing, the Imbonerakure.

Although this latest crisis is political in origin, there is concern it could revive the divisions of a 12-year internal conflict, during which 300,000 people were killed as Hutus rebelled against the Tutsi-dominated armed forces.

Analysis Burundi turns to WhatsApp as political turmoil brings media blackout

Threats and harassment have driven journalists into exile, leaving social media to fill the void for those wanting to reach the world and connect disparate groups


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“The regime is trying to push the ethnic card to shore up its support among its core supporters, its Hutu supporters but also in the security forces … All the evidence shows that the general population is quite resistant to that … But we see that the police and … the Imbonerakure are clearly using ethnic rhetoric … we see top levels of government continuing to use very unpleasant ethnic rhetoric,” Moncrieff said.

“This poses a very serious threat to long-term social cohesion and an immediate threat to the stability of the country … because the poisoning of the atmosphere in this way, when it enters the security forces and informal militia … can have catastrophic consequences.”

In January, the UN warned that “a complete breakdown of law and order is just around the corner” and said it was investigating allegations of gang-rapes, enforced disappearances and the digging of mass graves during an eruption of violence last December.

Nick Hurd, Britain’s minister for international development, said the UK government was putting diplomatic pressure on players to attend peace talks.

“There’s a process under way that is frustrating and slow. We’re a player in that and also through the UN, we’re working those channels to keep the focus on this situation, not least to get agreement on the police contingent we’d like to see deployed,” Hurd said, adding that one problem was the need for approval from Burundi’s government, which reportedly opposes the UN deployment.

Benjamin Chemouni, of the London School of Economics, said Nkurunziza’s administration was becoming more professional in its repression. “They are much better in targeting people and doing that behind closed doors,” he said.

'Why does no one mention Burundi?' asks winner of new humanitarian award


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In June, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said there had been at least 348 extrajudicial killings in the year to April, and he spoke of a climate of fear.

There are reports (pdf) that Burundians are being recruited in refugee camps in Rwanda to join anti-government militias.

“If Rwanda is training people in camps, that would give the regime in Bujumbura a reason to say, ‘Look, these people are just puppets of a Tutsi government’, and then it would give them a base for having this inflammatory rhetoric of ethnicity,” Chemouni said.

Hurd said: “We have sent very clear signals to Rwanda that we want their interventions in this situation to be constructive.”

The expert panel called for sanctions on hate speech, an international inquiry into crimes, the deployment of the police contingent and greater support from donors.

The IDC’s chair, Stephen Twigg, said strong action was needed from bilateral partners, including the African Union and the UN, to prevent further violence, adding: “We must not let this quiet crisis fall off the international agenda.”

NPR: 'Running (Refugee Song)' Turns Headlines Into A Jazz-Rap Reflection

Read the original article here.

At first it seems like a typical music video.

A big, calm-looking bearded man sits in a posh armchair and sings in an emotion-choked baritone, "I'm running, I'm running, I'm running."

He's Grammy Award-winning jazz singer Gregory Porter.

A little bit into the song, a rapper joins in: "I fight through the night just to find a stronger day."

He's the Oscar-winning hip-hop artist Common.

But they're singing and rapping about the unlikeliest of topics for a song: refugees.

"Running (Refugee Song)" was released this week in honor of World Refugee Day. It's the first composition from a new venture called Compositions for a Cause, a collaboration of musicians Keyon Harrold and Andrea Pizziconi. Harrold, an acclaimed trumpeter, composed the song with Pizziconi. Common contributed to the lyrics. The song can be downloaded fromrefugeesong.com for a donation and will soon be available on iTunes for $1.99. Proceeds go to some of the world's biggest refugee-oriented groups, includingRefugees InternationalHuman Rights First and theInternational Rescue Committee.

To learn more, we spoke with Harrold while he was riding on a bus; he's currently performing with the soul singer Maxwell on a national tour. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights

Did a refugee group ask you to write a song about refugees?

Actually it's the opposite. Myself and Andrea Pizziconi were talking. We wanted to do something together musically and the prerequisite was that it had to be cause-related. We wanted to help people, raise funds, raise awareness. So we started this thing called "Compositions for a Cause," and this song happens to be the first one we wanted to attack.

Why refugees?

Andrea was the one who really opened my eyes to what was going on as far as that crisis. We scrutinized every word and statistics about what was going on. And I started writing.

It might be hard to get people to pay attention to the refugee crisis. It doesn't seem like an issue that's top of mind in the U.S.

Absolutely. We're thinking about Donald Trump and gun violence, but meanwhile there's like 35,000 people every day being displaced who can't go home. They're literally running from the place that they know.

Is it different writing a song about a cause than writing a regular song?

What's different is you have to be very careful in what you say because it will be scrutinized. I did a focus group to play the song for refugees. I wanted to see that it was actually valid.

Where were the refugees from?

I did it at one of the International Rescue Committee classes [for refugees] — they were from Sudan, they were from Burundi, places in Asia, from all over the world.

Did your research change the song?

The song used to say, "God, show me where to go, I'm running, I'm so tired, I'm so worn, I just hope someone can hear my song."

But we had to rethink certain things about it. We changed it to a hopeful place: "I want to go someplace where I'm safe and strong." Since the refugees who listened had made it to America, the song is now more of a triumph.

You got A-list talent to perform the song.

Common and I go way back. He was my first employer on my first tour in 2000. I work with Gregory a lot. I worked with him on his new record, Take Me to the Alley.

And this song is hot off the musical presses.

Common recorded last Wednesday. Greg recorded Thursday. I was doing rehearsals with Maxwell in Seattle, and I took a train for three hours to Portland and we recorded Gregory in the hotel room.

The song has a jazz feel to it. And jazz isn't the most popular musical idiom. Why did you decide to go with a jazz song?

Do you think it's jazz?

Um, yes.

You know what, I'm a musician, a producer, a composer. Once I write the music, the artist gets to typically decide what the genre is going to be. If Justin Bieber sings the song, I don't care if the beat is swung ... it's pop.

How will you know if the song is a success?

I pray that lots of people download this song and actually learn about what's going on and take some time to delve into the situation. People need to know this exists on a daily basis, people leaving and being shoved from their homes in so many ways.

I'm praying people download it so we can raise a lot of money to go to the front lines of the refugee crisis.

Is there one fact about refugees that really struck you in your research?

What's staggering to me is the number of people who are displaced. Right now, 60-some million people have nowhere to go. That's crazy.

Can I ask a question about your other musical work? You played the Miles Davis trumpet parts in the movie Miles Ahead, starring Don Cheadle. Was that intimidating?

It could have been pretty intimidating if I would have thought about it. But Miles is one of my biggest influences. I didn't have to study to sound like Miles, I know what that is. It's the equivalent of me talking like my dad. I know what my dad sounds like.

And that's your trumpet on "Running" I assume.

Andrea was like, "You gotta play the trumpet, come on, put some horn in it."

What's next on the agenda for "Compositions with a Cause"?

We're deliberating on what's gonna be next. There's so many causes.

Some causes will revive an old song — like the re-recording of "What The World Needs Now Is Love" to raise money for the LGBT Center of Central Florida in the wake of the Orlando massacre. What do you think of that?

There's definitely a value in that. The beauty of songwriting is that if it's a good song, no matter what beat it is, it's going to stand the test of time. I aspire to write songs like "We Are The World" that touch people, that have political and social impact. A song that people need to get through as an anthem in life.

US News & World Report: 5 Refugee Crises That Aren't Tied to Syria

On World Refugee Day, roughly 60 million people are either refugees or displaced.

Today, on World Refugee day, an estimated 60 million people around the world are either refugees or internally displaced – a high since World War II. Here are five refugee crises, aside from the headline-grabbing situation in Syria, that should be on your radar. 

Read the full article here.

IRIN: Sudanese refugees in Chad must adapt or starve

Read the original article here.


Sudanese refugees in Chad must adapt or starve
How the needs of more than 300,000 Darfuris are neglected by the aid system

By Mahamat Adamou
IRIN Contributor

GOZ BEIDA, 9 June 2016

 The Darfur conflict fell out of the headlines years ago, but more than 300,000 Sudanese are still living as refugees in neighbouring Chad, a country with its own problems of poverty, climate change, and insecurity. As humanitarian aid has dried up, how are they surviving in this harsh, arid setting?

At first sight, nothing distinguishes Djabal refugee camp from surrounding towns and villages, except perhaps the billboards along the main road promoting various international aid organisations. This sprawling settlement of huts near the town of Goz Beida in eastern Chad’s Sila Region is home to some 20,000 Sudanese who fled war-ravaged West Darfur in the early 2000s.

The camp’s marketplace is as busy and colourful as any local market. Vegetable stalls offer tomatoes, carrots and onions, and butchers slice and hack at pieces of fresh meat displayed on wooden table tops.  Across the street, barbers attend to their customers in a makeshift shop, and a teenager behind a laptop offers to download pirated songs. He also sells petrol in plastic bottles, cigarettes, mobile phone credits, and can recharge a mobile phone battery for a modest fee.

However, beneath this veneer of normalcy is a protracted displacement crisis that the humanitarian aid system seems to have forgotten about as it deals with more pressing emergencies.

The refugees of Djabal represent just a fraction of the 304,650 Darfur refugees living in eastern Chad (in the south, the country hosts another 74,000 refugees from Central African Republic and Nigeria). Sila Region alone hosts 62,000 refugees, in three camps – Djabal, Goz Amir, and Kirfi – that have been running for more than a decade.

Jenada Boldadet, a local prefect dressed in a traditional white robe, said the camps are putting a huge strain on this poor, sparsely populated region. He gave IRIN an avalanche of figures and statistics to explain the impact the refugees have had. For example, he said Goz Beida’s water supply system, designed to cater for 7,000 people in the regional capital, has struggled to cope with the additional demand.

Hard choices

The aid agencies providing for most of the refugees’ basic needs over the past 12 years have challenges of their own. With dwindling funding available from donors preoccupied by newer emergencies, they have had to take tough decisions.

By the end of April, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) operations in Chad were only 16 percent-funded for the year. Lack of funds has forced the World Food Programme to cut monthly food rations by as much as 60 percent since 2014. Food is now distributed based on four categories of need, ranging from the very needy to the relatively well-off. The very poor receive 70 percent of the previous full ration of 2,100 calories a day, while the less needy receive only 40 percent of a full ration. More cuts to these already meagre rations may be on the way.

Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP’s country director for Chad, told IRIN that the agency was in urgent need of $17 million for its refugee assistance programmes in the country. “WFP needs to pre-position large quantities of food stocks for the refugees in advance of the rainy season as many of the refugee camps become inaccessible for trucks from June onwards,” she said. “WFP faces significant funding shortfalls to complete this exercise.”

With little prospect of refugees being able to return to Sudan anytime soon and funding drying up, UNHCR and its partners have little choice but to push the refugees towards being largely self-reliant.

“The way UNHCR and partners have been delivering assistance has entrenched a dependency mentality that we need to work on now if we’re going to give them the capacity to fend for themselves and be self-sustaining,” the UN agency’s representative in Chad, Antonio Canhandula, told IRIN.

He added that the task was not made easier by the region’s arid environment and the struggles that even local people face in finding livelihoods.

Adapting to survive

Last July, Refugees International released a report that was highly critical of the aid system’s lack of support for Sudanese refugees in Chad to move towards self-sufficiency and local integration.

“It is unrealistic to expect refugees to become self-sufficient in a place where livelihood opportunities are hard to find, government services are limited, cost of living is high, host community tensions are increasing, and most crucially, little development funding exists,” wrote the authors.

A year later, there is evidence that some of the refugees, eager to improve their living conditions, are making their own way. Those with personal contacts in nearby villages have persuaded traditional chiefs to grant them land to cultivate. The village of Koutoufou for example, offered some refugees from Djabal parcels of arable land for farming.

Starting in 2014, refugees and villagers organised themselves into a farming association, or “groupement”, which receives funding from UNHCR in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation. LWF provides agriculture kits – seeds, farming tools, water pumping generators and fences – as well as technical assistance. The project is boosting the income of the villagers and helping refugees integrate into the local community.

Koutoufou, which had just 60 inhabitants before, has seen its population more than double with the arrival of the refugees. “We are much better today,” said Mahamat Zene Youssouf, a villager whose annual income has soared since joining the association, from around 15,000 CFA francs ($26) to about 75,000 ($130).

Thinking long-term

Sidikh Djimet Idriss, 25, who arrived at Djabal camp when he was just 13, joined the association two years ago. Since then, he has married and had a child. He told IRIN he worries less about his own future than about how he’ll ensure his child gets the education he didn’t. His hope is to attend a vocational training school like the one set up by LWF in Djabal.

In operation since 2006, the centre has trained around 2,000 refugees and local Chadians in trades ranging from construction, carpentry, soldering, mechanics and electricity, to agriculture. The course initially lasted nine months but has had to be reduced to six due to funding shortages, explained Khamis Barka, head of the training centre.

But such initiatives are only benefitting a minority of the refugees. Others compete for occasional casual work in Goz Beida and surrounding villages. Job opportunities are few and far between in this drought-prone region, where many of the local Chadians are themselves in need of food assistance.

Abdallah Djouma, 58, lives at Djabal camp with his wife and four children. He earns a few dollars a day reselling goods he buys from traders at local markets. He also farms a small plot of land. “Last year was bad,” he told IRIN. “We didn’t have sufficient rain.”

“I am not an idle man,” he added. “I always manage to get extra revenue to take care of our basic needs.”

Without that extra income, the family would not survive. “The reduced rations are far from sufficient to cover our everyday needs,” he said.

The reality is that aid agencies like UNHCR cannot provide for the refugees’ needs in the long term. “People see us as a development body, but we are just an emergency aid agency,” commented Peggy Pentshi-a-Maneng, head of UNHCR operations in Goz Beida. 

After 12 years, the Darfur refugees can no longer be considered as an emergency case, said Canhandula, the UNHCR country head, adding that they should be seen as part of the broader development challenges facing their host country. “I think more attention needs to be paid… to what 400,000 refugees represent to the government of Chad, because it’s a country that’s quite poor, where the standards of living, health, water, and education are very low.

“There should be solidarity with the government of Chad.” 


RFI: Les réfugiés burundais en situation précaire en RDC

Depuis le début de la crise au Burundi, plus de 20 000 Burundais se sont installés en République démocratique du Congo. Des défenseurs des droits des réfugiés constatent qu’ils vivent dans une grande précarité au Sud-Kivu, certains dans un camp, d’autres parmi la population en général. Selon Refugees International, une ONG américaine, plusieurs d’entre eux font les frais de l’insécurité qui règne dans la région. Michel Gabaudan, le président de Refugees International, à Washington, a abordé le sujet avec Michel Arseneault. 

Washington Diplomat: Refugees International Honors Richard Branson, Other Advocates

Read the original article here.

By Mariam Azimi
Uploaded on May 26, 2016

Nearly 60 million people are displaced from their homes around the world due to war, disease, natural disaster, poverty, persecution and terrorism. The refugee crisis has not reached such devastating heights since World War II.

In response, Refugees International (RI), an independent advocacy organization, has worked to raise awareness of, and assistance for, refugees from South Sudan to Syria to El Salvador.

RI President Michel Gabaudan says, “The need to speak out in defense of the displaced and find solutions to their plight has become more important than ever.”

Refugees International held its annual fundraising dinner on April 26 at the Mellon Auditorium. The group started in 1979 as a citizens’ movement to protect Indochinese refugees. Since then, it has expanded to become a leading advocacy organization that provokes action from global leaders to resolve refugee crises. Photos: Refugees International

Refugees International held its annual fundraising dinner on April 26 at the Mellon Auditorium. The group started in 1979 as a citizens’ movement to protect Indochinese refugees. Since then, it has expanded to become a leading advocacy organization that provokes action from global leaders to resolve refugee crises. Photos: Refugees International

Over half of the world’s refugees come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. RI was recognized as the first NGO to raise the alarm about a lack of programs to address and prevent gender-based violence among displaced Syrians. It also pushed for greater help for Syrian refugees living outside of formal camps.

While Syria has commanded the attention of aid workers, RI has also tried to highlight lesser-known refugee crises around the world. In 2013, for example, it learned that the United Nations was not assisting at least 200,000 displaced Congolese because they lived in so-called “spontaneous sites,” rather than official camps. Following RI’s request, the U.N. revamped its approach to camp management and pledged to assist all Congolese IDPs on the basis of need. The group has also lobbied the U.S. government to support people who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of climate-related disasters.

RI celebrated individuals who have helped shed light on the growing number of global refugees at its 37th annual Anniversary Dinner, held April 26 at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

From left, Refugees International (RI) President Michel Gabaudan and RI Board Chair Eileen Shields-West join Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) at the group’s 37th annual Anniversary Dinner, where Cardin was given the Congressional Leadership Award.

From left, Refugees International (RI) President Michel Gabaudan and RI Board Chair Eileen Shields-West join Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) at the group’s 37th annual Anniversary Dinner, where Cardin was given the Congressional Leadership Award.

Sir Richard Branson, the British billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, was honored with RI’s highest humanitarian award, the McCall-Pierpaoli Award. The Congressional Leadership Award was presented to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and the Richard C. Holbrooke Award went to Ukrainian civil society leader Olena Honcharova.

“How we deal with this crisis and the social upheaval created in both the East and West will define our generation,” Branson told the 500 guests gathered for the event.

“Refugee crises don’t just appear out of nowhere; they are the symptoms of greater social ills and challenges — from climate change to global terrorism and poor governance.”

In the early 1990s, Branson worked with Queen Noor and the late King Hussein of Jordan to provide aid and care for tens of thousands of refugees streaming in from Iraq to Jordan during the Gulf War.

“Twenty-five years later, it feels as if there hasn’t been a year when the world wasn’t faced with a refugee crisis — be it in Burundi, Bosnia or Somalia, in Kosovo, Afghanistan or Darfur, or now in Syria,” he lamented.

Sir Richard Branson, the British billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, was honored with Refugees International’s highest humanitarian award, the McCall-Pierpaoli Award.

Sir Richard Branson, the British billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, was honored with Refugees International’s highest humanitarian award, the McCall-Pierpaoli Award.

Branson said that in addition to increased levels of aid, the international community needs to ensure that displacement does not become normalized.

“When refugees become a commonplace occurrence, the greatest danger is indifference,” he warned. “Just last week, at least 400 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea were reported to have drowned in the Mediterranean when the boat ferrying them from Egypt to Italy capsized.”

He pointedly added: “What does it say about us when this immense tragedy at Europe’s borders isn’t even breaking news any more?”

Record numbers of displaced people not only need physical support in the form of water, food and shelter, but emotional and psychological support as well, speakers at the RI dinner stressed.

Refugees need to be integrated into neighboring countries by being allowed to work and restart their lives. They need to be welcomed, not ostracized or demonized.

Aid groups warn that when these destitute communities are marginalized from society, particularly the youth, that is precisely when they may turn to violence, radicalism and possibly terrorism.

Suspicions about immigrants and Syrian refugees have run rampant in this year’s U.S. presidential contest, with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump railing against Mexicans and Muslims alike.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), left, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson attend Refugees International’s 37th annual Anniversary Dinner.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), left, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson attend Refugees International’s 37th annual Anniversary Dinner.

“How we treat refugees is a crucial test of how open and progressive our societies are,” Branson pointed out. “This is not just a humanitarian crisis; it is also a moral one.”

Sen. Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed that sentiment. “Every person deserves the right to live with passion and dignity.”

Other notable donors and RI board members at the event included French Ambassador Gérard Araud, actors Matt Dillon and Sam Waterston, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and chef Fabio Trabocchi.

While Syria and the European migrant crisis have dominated the news, Ukrainian civil rights activist and honoree Olena Honcharova reminded the audience that other parts of the world continue to struggle as well.

Shamim Jawad and former Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad attend Refugees International’s 37th annual Anniversary Dinner.

Shamim Jawad and former Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad attend Refugees International’s 37th annual Anniversary Dinner.

Honcharova discussed a litany of pressing issues that displaced populations are forced to contend with, including diseases such as Hepatitis, HIV and tuberculosis, economic issues such as unemployment, as well as the sexual and physical abuse of women and children.

Despite a fragile ceasefire between the government in Kiev and Russia-backed rebels in the east of the country, Honcharova said fighting continues to ravage Ukraine. “Many communities in the ‘gray zone’ every night are exposed to shelling, including heavy, large-caliber artillery, as well as cluster bombs.”

She added: “Civilians are being killed and there is a high level of looting and sexual violence, including against children.”

Although great efforts have been made to end the violence, Honcharova urged audience members to “not forget Ukraine and its people in need.”


Mariam Azimi is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.