Refugees International (RI) was just on the ground in Malaysia exploring conditions for several Rohingya communities who are among the tens of thousands who have fled persecution in Myanmar in recent years. Their journeys were often more horrific than the conditions from which they fled and their lives in Malaysia are only better in relative terms. The truth of this reality is starkly illuminated in the story of two sisters, Amina and Khadija.*
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, has never been an easy place to live. Stretching for miles and across arid land in Kenya’s underdeveloped northeast region, Dadaab is home to several hundred thousand refugees, primarily from Somalia, who are seeking refuge from war and hunger in their home country. Dadaab’s residents subside on monthly food rations, struggle to find work among limited opportunities, and face restrictive Kenyan policies that prevent the establishment of anything resembling permanent infrastructure.
Kisimayo, the capital of the southern-most province of Somalia, was recovered from the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization in 2012 by Kenyan and Somali troops. With the change of control, the local government is now actively trying to set up a functioning administration. Yet a mere 10 to 15 km from the city, areas are still under control of the same terrorist group from which many refugees fled in the past decade. My colleague Mark Yarnell and I recently visited Kisimayo to see how the Somali refugees returning from Kenya’s Dadaab camp are faring.
On May 6th, the Kenyan government announced plans to close the Dadaab refugee camp, home to several hundred thousand Somali refugees, by the end of this year. Since December 2014, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), supported by donor governments, has facilitated the return of 28,000 refugees from Dadaab to Somalia. However, with Kenya’s push to close Dadaab, the voluntary nature of the returns has been called into question.
On August 24, the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) came to a peace agreement after negotiations that lasted nearly five years. It is hoped that the peace deal will mark an end to some of the bloodshed from battles between the government, paramilitaries, and FARC guerrillas.
As President Obama welcomes Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to the United States this week and celebrates her country’s democratic reforms, Refugees International will be traveling to Southeast Asia to meet with a population that is not welcome in her country: the Rohingya.
In recent weeks, the crisis facing the people of South Sudan has only worsened. Throughout the county, 1.61 million people are internally displaced, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and another 751,000 people have escaped into neighboring countries, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, since conflict broke out in 2013.
One by one, women came forward, approaching with caution. Before long, , a small line had formed.
“Sigo yo?” the women asked. “Am I next?” What they were really asking: is it time to tell my story? Will you listen?
Many are heralding this as an historic moment for the South American nation, host to more than seven million of its own displaced citizens, making it the second-largest internal displacement crisis in the world after Syria. If and when the Colombian people vote “yes” on peace, Colombia’s humanitarian stakeholders should not let their enthusiasm obscure the continued challenges the country will face – challenges that could imperil the peace agreement’s viability at any time.
The tragedy at the Terrain compound in Juba, as recently reported by the Associated Press, has shocked the humanitarian community and all those who care for the people of South Sudan. Over the course of more than four hours, armed men broke into the residential complex, killed a South Sudanese journalist employed by an aid organization, and beat and gang raped multiple foreign aid workers. Victims reportedly made multiple appeals for protection to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the US Embassy, but the peacekeepers failed to respond.
All parties to the conflict in Syria must ensure countrywide humanitarian access, allow humanitarian aid, and guarantee the safety of civilians. To achieve that, there must be an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo, and barring that, the requested 48-hour humanitarian pauses must begin immediately.
Driving across the parched landscape of Matabeleland North in western Zimbabwe, it’s hard to imagine that this country was once the breadbasket of Southern Africa. The annual rainy season ended in March, and this is supposed to be the most food secure time of the year, when granaries and stomachs are full. But Zimbabwe is in the grips of a second year of drought, exacerbated by El Niño, which has left an estimated 4.5 million people – nearly half of the rural population – without sufficient food.
Ongoing emergency evacuations of foreign citizens from South Sudan and President Obama’s decision to deploy 47 U.S. troops to protect the U.S. Embassy and staff are stark reminders of the potential for further escalation of violence in this conflict-ridden country. A fragile ceasefire has opened a window that the UN and other international actors must utilize to address the immediate fallout, act to protect civilians, and deliver much needed humanitarian aid.
Zimbabwe is currently suffering its worst drought in 35 years, aggravated by El Niño that is gripping the entire region. Two consecutive years of poor rains and crops failures, compounded by a severe economic crisis, have left almost half of the country’s rural communities without sufficient food.
While the ongoing El Niño has been impacting countries across the globe, in Zimbabwe, a country where 72 percent of the people live in chronic poverty and 70 percent rely on rain-fed agriculture to survive, the impacts of the prolonged drought and repeated crop failures have been severe.
World Refugee Day 2016 must be an occasion for the global community to recommit itself to the foundational principles enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as in the Geneva Conventions: to uphold and defend the humanity and internationally guaranteed rights of the most vulnerable.
The UN Security Council increasingly recognizes Protection of Civilians as a critical task of UN peacekeepers. And in a growing number of peacekeeping mandates, the Council has proclaimed that PoC is the most important task. More than that, roughly 98% of UN peacekeepers now serve in missions with PoC mandates. As the Uruguayan Undersecretary for External Relations, Amb. Jose Luis Cancela, said at the Security Council this year, “No one is questioning whether the protection of civilians should be a component of peacekeeping organizations; what is basically at issue here is ‘the how’.” It’s this “how” that I’d like to discuss today. When a threat to civilians arises, how can peacekeepers respond? What is the lawful, moral, and effective way to use force?
Earlier this week, some 9,000 participants from around the world gathered in Istanbul for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS). The Summit was the brainchild of outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who, during his tenure, has witnessed a humanitarian system strained to the point of breaking.
The huge number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq – and the possibility that by the end of the year there could be two million more – has recently recaptured some attention in the news. In early May, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, declared the humanitarian crisis in Iraq to be “one of the world’s worst”, and the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016 from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre included the fact that over half of the global total of IDPs reside in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq alone.
Unprecedented humanitarian needs. Worldwide displacement at an all-time high. Throughout it all, Refugees International is there.