On April 22, 1970, 20 million people gathered across America marking the first Earth Day and the advent of a global environmental movement. Since then, the United States and other countries have adopted vital international agreements and national laws to better protect our planet. But in 2018, does Earth Day need a make-over? Nearly a half century later, the world faces a new threat that will have far more serious implications not just for the Earth but for human beings as well: climate change.
Just back from a field mission in Syria, Hardin Lang writes that last week’s strikes against Syria won’t change the arc of the conflict, nor will they alleviate the suffering of the civilian population: chemical weapons are responsible for but a tiny fraction of that suffering. Their absence will not stop the Assad regime from continuing to press its military advantage.
As Ukrainians celebrate Easter and Holy Week, the government and separatists backed by Russia have agreed to a total ceasefire in the five-year old conflict. This year, they hope to observe the Easter Pascha holiday in both government-controlled and separatist-held areas without the threat of attacks or shelling. But will the Easter ceasefire hold?
No doubt, the civilians living along the 450 km line separating the warring parties remain skeptical.
In this blog, part of the "Welcoming Communities" series, Jessica Thea writes about the organization Northern Virginia Friends of Refugees, which is comprised of 640 members representing faith communities, NGOs, elected government officials, refugee communities, businesses, and schools in the D.C. area. The community-based group is dedicated to mobilizing communities in support of refugees who have resettled in the greater Washington, D.C. region.
To create greater awareness of the plight of refugees Elena Kvochko climbed Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, the tallest mountain in both North and South America. Through her journey, Elena hoped to inspire colleagues to stand up for causes they believe in, using her climb to draw attention to the plight of refugees and displaced people around the world.
Six months after Hurricane Maria, the slow response to the needs of the Puerto Rican people continues to be woefully slow. The Puerto Rican and federal authorities' failure to adequately respond has been nothing short of a travesty. Alice Thomas writes that if there is a silver lining to this disaster, it is the incredible dedication of Puerto Rico's civil society groups in working toward the recovery of their communities and their most vulnerable neighbors.
In this blog, Senior Advocate Izza Leghtas write about refugees who have been evacuated from Libya to Niger under a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) emergency program. At a time when the world’s richest nations are closing their doors to people fleeing conflict and persecution, Niger has agreed to host some 900 refugees evacuated from Libya. But at the end of the day, Leghtas writes, EU member states and other wealthy countries must offer resettlement opportunities for these refugees if the evacuation system is to work.
In 2017, Elena Kvochko scaled Mt. Everest, climbing more than 18,300 feet to raise awareness of refugees and displaced people around the world. Elena recounts her journey and what inspired her to climb in support of refugees.
Last week, when I was in Minneapolis teaching at the University of Minnesota, I took the four hour drive up I-94 to Madison, Wisconsin for an evening of music benefiting Refugees International. The band The Whiskey Farm performed their song, "You are Welcome Here," which honors America's tradition of welcoming and supporting refugees and displaced people from around the world.
When the militant group Boko Haram took over in 2013, the majority of Bama, Nigeria's population those fled and have yet to return. Nigerian forces successfully recaptured Bama in 2015, and, recently, the city has become the focus of highly publicized reconstruction plans and along with plans for the return of its former residents. But the security situation in surrounding areas remains perilous. With approaching Nigerian elections in 2019, the government wants to return people to Bama, but security and stability should dictate returns, not politics.
In an age of travel bans and closing borders, communities across the United States continue to welcome recently arrived refugees into their neighborhoods. As a student at Washington University in St. Louis, a city troubled by economic disparity and home to an often isolated resettled refugee population, it was hard not to notice how insulated my campus was from its surrounding neighborhoods. I wanted to change that.
The first time I ordered food from Foodhini, a Washington D.C.-based start-up that delivers meals cooked by refugee and immigrant chefs, I chose dishes prepared by Syrian Chef Majed. The incredible sautéed okra and baked chicken were accompanied by a note with Majed’s story: how he fled from Syria to Jordan before being resettled in the United States, and how he learned to cook from his mother back in Syria.
Earlier this month in Geneva, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) held a high-level ‘stocktaking’ meeting on the Global Compact on Refugees. Governments, international organizations, and civil society gathered to provide input before UNHCR releases a draft Compact in late January 2018. Many remain understandably skeptical that the Compact negotiations will ultimately lead to the kind of systemic change demanded by the global refugee crisis. In Geneva, however, there were cautious signs that the process is headed in the right direction.
While brutal attacks against the Rohingya Muslims continue, the minority ethnic Kachin people in northern Myanmar also live under severe human rights abuses at the hands of Myanmar's government and military. One displaced woman, Aye Hkine, sends a simple message on Human Rights Day.
At the close of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, Francisca Vigaud-Walsh writes that women’s bodies are often a battleground in conflict zones, and humanitarian aid areas must be a place for healing their wounds. Programs such as the U.S. initiative "Safe From the Start" are essential tools in the addressing the impacts of violence against woman and girls in conflicts.
Responding to the current global refugee crisis, the UN General Assembly in September 2016 convened a special meeting to examine the effectiveness of the international community’s response to mass movements of people. That meeting lead to two important outcomes, with the third - the Global Compact on Migration - still pending. Jeff Crisp argues that the formulation of a Global Compact represents an invaluable opportunity to reassess, revise and reinvigorate the international community’s efforts to protect and find solutions for the world’s refugees.
Following a recent mission to the Northern Triangle region of Central American, Refugees International finds that current conditions require that the United States government not deport Temporary Protective Status beneficiaries from Honduras and El Salvador. Rather, the U.S. should provide alternatives for Honduran and Salvadoran women, men and children to remain in the United States legally.
An important renewal of global commitment to peacekeeping took place recently at the United Nations Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial conference in Vancouver. Member countries and international organizations presented their commitments to improve and reinforce peacekeeping efforts. But at this time of funding cuts in many countries, the actual fulfillment of those pledges will be a challenge.
This was a year of new beginnings and the start of an exciting opportunity as I took on the leadership of Refugees International. But as I begin this gratifying new chapter of my own professional life, I am fully aware that for millions of refugees and displaced people around the world, 2017 was a devastating year.
In short, two months after Hurricane Maria pummeled this island, the U.S. response remains too slow and bureaucratic, and lacks transparency and the broad information-sharing that is essential to an effective disaster response.