Earlier this year, the world watched in both horror and sadness as thousands of desperate Rohingya who had fled persecution in Myanmar were abandoned on boats without food or water. As countless numbers died of dehydration and starvation each day, neighboring countries quarreled over who should take them in and how limited their assistance would be. Finally, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to accept up to 7,000 Rohingya, but only on the condition that they would be resettled out of their countries within a year.
This week I’ll be traveling to Myanmar where widespread flooding and landslides brought on by severe rain and a tropical cyclone have resulted in the worst disaster since Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008. Of the country’s 14 States, 12 have been severely affected. More than 1.6 million people lost their homes and more than 1.4 million acres of farmlands were inundated.
The needs of refugees and displaced people are outstripping the resources and capacities of the existing humanitarian system. The World Humanitarian Summit is an initiative of the UN Secretary-General to seek solutions to improve the humanitarian system, thereby reducing human suffering. It will be held on May 26-27, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.
The 18 month, Russian-backed rebellion of eastern Ukraine has displaced more than 1.4 million people, cost nearly 7,000 lives, and brought the economy of eastern Ukraine ̶ the economic and industrial heartland of the country ̶ to a standstill. Two million civilians remain in homes devastated by shelling on the line of contact, what is considered the frozen frontline of the conflict.
Over the course of the past decade, millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes. Prior to 2014, approximately one million Iraqis were internally displaced, mostly due to the sectarian conflict of 2006 – 2008. Since January 2014, millions more have been uprooted by government-militant violence and the advance of the group known as the Islamic State or ISIS.
The 18-month, Russian-backed rebellion of eastern Ukraine has displaced more than 1.4 million residents from the eastern Donbas region into central and western Ukraine. It has cost nearly 7,000 lives, brought the economy of eastern Ukraine ̶ the economic and industrial heartland of the country ̶ to a standstill, and is putting increasing stress on a government bent on addressing the challenges of political reform, widespread corruption, as well as economic and structural adjustments.
Since the Islamist insurgency group Boko Haram began scaling up its attacks on civilians, an estimated 1.3 million Nigerians have been internally displaced and at least another 150,000 have taken refuge in neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. The exodus of Nigerians fleeing the country’s northeastern region for government-sponsored camps or host communities has intensified the pressure on already scarce natural resources.
The civil conflict that has engulfed the Central African Republic for more than two years has displaced nearly 20 percent of the 4.6 million population, both internally and in neighboring countries. In the past year, certain parts of CAR have stabilized, including the capital, Bangui, and international donors have begun to turn their attention toward early recovery programs and planning for national elections. But the crisis is not over. Areas of conflict and volatility have simply shifted as rebel groups and militias relocate throughout the country. Strong humanitarian support from donors is essential to mitigate the impact of continuing violence, and aid agencies must take steps to ensure that the aid systems in place are as effective as possible.
In a research paper released last week by climate change guru Dr. James Hansen, he and 16 fellow scientists make the case that warming-induced melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is happening much more quickly than previously anticipated. Needless to say, the idea that parts of Manhattan or Miami could be underwater in as soon as 50 years has sparked a good deal of alarm – and controversy, as the tricky business of climate modeling always does. But the fact that scientists still can’t say with certainty exactly how soon, or under what warming scenarios, major changes to the climate system are going to occur has made one thing evident: we’re simply not prepared – physically, psychologically, or policy-wise – to deal with that reality anytime soon.
The Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti share many things—a background of slavery, oppression, dictators, and the island of Hispaniola. Yet, in the DR, a history of racism and prejudice runs deep toward their Haitian neighbors who were often recruited for undesirable work in the DR’s sugarcane fields. In 1932, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo massacred over 10,000 Haitian sugarcane workers in an attempt to ‘whiten’ the country. Still, Dominicans of Haitian descent have long roots in the DR, and contribute to the economy and society alongside their fellow citizens. But because registration and certification of births were often done on an arbitrary basis, proof of birth in the country has been difficult to verify.
For the sake of Somali refugees like Farah, let’s also hope that refugee rights are on the agenda. For years, Somali refugees in Kenya have faced abuse and extortion at the hands of Kenya’s security services. However, as Kenyan government officials have sought to link the broad refugee population with the threat of terrorism, police have used this as leverage to detain, abuse, and extort money from refugees at unprecedented levels.
Without official proof of a Syrian father, exiled Syrian children are at a heightened risk of statelessness, which could make their ability to access education, health care and social services less likely, and could prove a barrier to returning and taking up Syrian citizenship, if and when the possibility arises.
The conflict that began in Syria in March 2011 has now endured through four winters, with a fifth one on the way. If it seems too early to be thinking about preparing the displaced for winter, consider that each of the past four winters in the region has been greeted with insufficient planning, funding shortfalls, and program cuts. It shouldn’t be possible that winter takes us by surprise— winter arrives whether there’s a displacement crisis or not
On Thursday, the Vatican will release Pope Francis’ first encyclical on the theme of the environment and the poor. In addition to emphasizing how environmental destruction and natural resource exploitation harm the poor, the document is expected to include a statement on role of humans in contributing to climate change. Given the Pope’s popularity, and as the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics around the world, his decision to narrow in on environmental exploitation and climate change has garnered significant attention from all sides.
World Refugee Day: a day to “recognize the lives of refugees and those who are dedicated to helping them.” So many of the people dedicated to helping refugees (and IDPs, asylum-seekers, and the stateless, all of whom are included in the purview of World Refugee Day) are refugees themselves. We normally think of international aid workers as the ones helping the displaced, but in places where access is difficult or dangerous, it’s often a case of refugees helping their own communities.
It is a Saturday evening in El Salvador, and my Refugees International colleague and I are riding in the back of a car with our heads on our knees. We are on our way to meet with a displaced family who are being hidden in a "safe house." We have been asked to stay undercover for the last five minutes of the approach – a security precaution to protect both ourselves and, more importantly, the family we are about to meet. It makes a profound impression upon us both as to the immediacy of the threat faced by those displaced by violence in this country.