Category Archives: refugees

Good Shepherd sisters in Mozambique minister to refugees fleeing crisis

Good Shepherd Sr. Eva Ribeiro, in white blouse, and project manager Pirai Oriente, in red T-shirt with white trim, work with displaced families from Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique. (Courtesy of Eva Ribeiro)
Good Shepherd Sr. Eva Ribeiro, in white blouse, and project manager Pirai Oriente, in red T-shirt with white trim, work with displaced families from Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique. (Courtesy of Eva Ribeiro)

Mozambique seems to be a part of the world many know little about. I certainly knew very little about the East African nation until I traveled there in 2008 as the executive director of the Hilton Fund for Sisters. Traveling from place to place, I witnessed much suffering, particularly in rural areas: lack of water, food, education and health care. At that time the country, including the sisters, were still recovering from the impact of independence from Portugal in 1975 when the government nationalized all the schools and health care centers. Sisters had lost everything and, as often happens without experienced government employees taking over the administration, the institutions began to decline sharply in quality and services.

Consequently, when they can no longer manage, such governments return the educational and health care centers to the sisters, having done little or nothing to build them up. This means the sisters must start over from scratch. Governments rarely offer financial assistance for rehabilitation. Rural areas suffer the most, as they are basically abandoned by governments that focus on city development. This seems to be one reason Cabo Delgado has become the epicenter of the national crisis involving an extremist power struggle.

Day by day, as I listened to the paltry news coverage of the tragedy going from bad to worse, I wondered if any sisters could help us understand what is happening and how they are responding to the crisis there. I eventually found the enlightening story of four Good Shepherd Sisters who are living and serving in the thick of it.

They began by describing the Cabo Delgado region in northeastern Mozambique, where insurgents are causing monumental damage and chaos. Radicalized Islamic groups have been fostering unrest and terrorism along the East African Coast of the Indian Ocean for many years. Conditions worsened in 2017, Cabo Delgado was terrorized and attacked by jihadist gangs. Cyclone Kenneth struck in 2019, exacerbating the instability of Cabo Delgado caused by al-Shabaab, Islamist militants with ties to al-Qaeda. The local people, already frustrated and angry at the government’s unwillingness to listen, began joining al-Shabaab and adding energy to the confusion and terror. 

According to the U.S. Institute of Peace, motivation might also have been fueled by the memory of Cabo Delgado as the birthplace of Mozambique’s liberation from Portuguese colonialism. The people grew weary of government corruption; police colluding with illicit gems, wildlife and drugs; human rights abuses; and ancestral land grabs for foreign interests. Radicalized groups have occupied strategic areas of the north, where gas and oil fields have been recently discovered. 

Already, nearly 800,000 people, particularly women and children, have left the Cabo Delgado area — some for neighboring countries; those who choose to stay in Mozambique, went to  Nampula, the country’s third largest city just to the south.

Four Good Shepherd sisters came to Mozambique in 1997 and to Nampula province in 2002 at the invitation of the local bishop. Later, to allow young sisters to study in local universities, they established a house in Nampula town, where some moved to continue their education. The sisters belong to the Angola/Mozambique Good Shepherd unit, citizens of two of the six Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. Upon arrival in the Nampula region, they settled in Namaponda, a small, rural town that grew as families moved from remote areas.

The sisters began searching for the best way to address the needs of families marginalized by lack of employment and education. They eventually set up an adult literacy program, an informal day school and nutrition program for the children in the neighborhood of Serra da Mesa on the periphery of Nampula. The primary Good Shepherd focus is always on women and children, particularly those marginalized, in poor health, abject poverty and vulnerable to trafficking.

Since 2020, the sisters have been engaged in limited ministry there because of COVID-19, but at the end of 2020 they joined efforts assisting refugees in camps on the outskirts of Nampula town. They began by distributing water, food and medicine. Many family members were traumatized from witnessing parents, siblings and relatives raped, tortured or killed and disappeared. 

The sisters, who were not trained, referred people to international NGOs and government ministries. As the crisis grew, the U.N. named it a “Children’s Crisis” because so many children in the camps had no idea where their parents or family members were.

After months of struggling, and overwhelmed as the numbers of refugees and displaced people increased daily, the sisters organized a team of lay mission partners to work with them. With funds from the Good Shepherd International Foundation in Rome, they purchased medicine, water and food, as well as local materials to build temporary shelters and replace roofs on houses. They also set about monitoring the most vulnerable, settled families — those who have been in the camps for many months. They organized home visits and education in hygiene, health and agriculture, giving the residents seeds and gardening implements to improve their diets and nutrition. Fifty-three percent of the people suffer from malnutrition, compared with the national average of 43%, and the illiteracy rate of those arriving is about 67%. This rate confirms that most are from rural areas, where educational opportunities are still minimal, as I witnessed in 2008.

The sisters lament that, even with aid coming into the area, there is not enough drinking water, food or sanitary facilities. Without access to medicines, diseases spread quickly, including cholera and COVID-19. HIV/AIDS is a persistent problem, its management made difficult because of food insecurity. Antiviral medicines do not work without proper nutrition. I remember the rising incidence of HIV in that 2008 visit, and now these same problems are plaguing the people again. As people are forced to move about, the disease will only flourish.

Sisters are also concerned about trafficking, which finds fertile ground in the camps. People struggle to survive and listen to false promises of jobs to provide income for their families. The sisters are working hard to find ways to keep this pandemic under control by staying in contact with families who are vulnerable. There seems to be no end in sight for this terrible situation. How does the country get others to help as hope lags?

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/religious-life/blog/good-shepherd-sisters-mozambique-minister-refugees-fleeing-crisis

Violence towards refugees at Libyan detention centres forces MSF to pull out

Refugees and migrants at a detention centre in Zawiyah, 45 kilometres west of the Libyan capital Tripoli. Interceptions of small boats crossing the Mediterranean have increased in recent months.
Refugees and migrants at a detention centre in Zawiyah, west of Tripoli. Interceptions of small boats crossing the Mediterranean have increased in recent months. Photograph: Taha Jawashi/AFP via Getty

Increasing violence towards refugees and migrants held in Libyan detention centres has forced Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to suspend its operations at two facilities, the medical charity said.

MSF said its teams witnessed guards beating detainees, including those seeking treatment from MSF doctors, during a visit to the Mabani detention centre in Tripoli last week.

It also said its doctors treated 19 patients suffering from fractures, bruises, cuts and blunt trauma from beatings reported to the organisation, which has also suspended operations at Abu Salim detention centre.

“This is not an easy decision to make, as it means we won’t be present in detention centres where we know people are suffering on a daily basis,” said MSF head of mission in Libya, Beatrice Lau.

“However, the persistent pattern of violent incidents and serious harm to refugees and migrants, as well as the risk to the safety of our staff, has reached a level that we are no longer able to accept. Until the violence stops, and conditions improve, MSF can no longer provide humanitarian and medical care in these facilities,” she said.

Detention centres in Libya have been the repeated focus of allegations of abuse and violence by human rights organisations and charities.

The UN has condemned the EU-backed system of using the Libyan coastguard to intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to detention centres in Libya, which it deems unsafe.

On Sunday, Associated Press reported allegations that minors were being sexually assaulted by guards at a centre run by Libya’s EU-backed department for combating illegal immigration.

Vincent Cochetel, the UN’s envoy for migrant crossings in the Mediterranean, tweeted: “End arbitrary detention in Libya starting now, with all women and children & do not claim it is not possible.”

MSF said it had received reports of detainees being injured by automatic fire at the Abu Salim centre on 13 June, but was not given access for a week afterwards. In April, it reported that one migrant was killed and two were injured when shots were fired into cells after rising tensions between detainees and guards.

MSF said violence had coincided with the detention centres becoming increasingly crowded because of an increase in interceptions at sea. So far this year 14,000 people have been intercepted and returned to Libya, exceeding the total number in 2020.

In March the UN said it was concerned by conditions in the centres, with thousands of people “detained in dire conditions with limited access to basic services and overcrowding”. It said Mabani and Abu Salim, alongside Triq al-Sika, were the most crowded.

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jun/24/violence-towards-refugees-at-libyan-detention-centres-forces-msf-to-pull-out

Refugees use farm training to survive food shortages during the pandemic

Rose Geno, 30, tills her land in preparation for the next planting season, which began in March. With the skills and support she received from Sr. Lucy Akera and Salesian missionaries, she hopes to increase her harvest. Geno started farming to mitigate fo
Rose Geno, 30, tills her land in preparation for the next planting season, which began in March. With the skills and support she received from Sr. Lucy Akera and Salesian missionaries, she hopes to increase her harvest. Geno started farming to mitigate food shortages at the Palabek refugee camp in northern Uganda, amid the pandemic. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo)

Palabek Refugee Camp, Uganda — It is just after midday and the sun is high up in the sky above this dusty, sprawling settlement of 55,574 people in northern Uganda. Rose Geno with her three children sit inside their grass-roofed mud hut to escape the scorching heat as she prepares a meal of corn and beans.

The 30-year-old South Sudanese refugee said her school-age kids now eat smaller meals more often after she managed to harvest enough crops during the previous season (June-November). She is among thousands of refugees who have received seeds and farming support from the Salesian missionaries and a nun to help mitigate food shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My life became unbearable when the pandemic hit us,” she said. A lack of funding from international bodies reduced food rations at the camp. “We slept hungry many times because the ratio was cut by 40% at first and it was later reduced to 20%,” she said.

Geno fled from Pajok, a town in South Sudan located 10 miles from the border with Uganda, in April 2017 after fighting intensified between government forces of President Salva Kiir, and forces loyal to the former vice president, Riek Machar. She escaped with her children after her husband was killed by soldiers, walking for three days in the bush before reaching Palabek.

She says the coronavirus and the resulting ration cuts and food shortages threatened their lives more than the civil war in her young country in which more than 380,000 people have been killed and nearly four million people displaced.

“We nearly died from hunger during the peak of the pandemic but thanks to the priests and a nun who came to our rescue in our time of need,” she said.

Sr. Lucy Akera of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu said they had to act quickly to save the lives of refugees. “We distributed the little food we had in our store to refugees and we quickly realized we had to look for a long-lasting solution to hunger, which was farming,” she said.

Over 1.4 million refugees in more than 14 refugee camps across Uganda bore the brunt of the pandemic after the East African country registered its first case of COVID-19 a year ago.

Catholic groups moved swiftly to provide food, clothing and counseling to thousands of refugees. Salesian Fr. Lazar Arasu, director of Don Bosco Palabek, said his congregation gave packets of food including corns, flour, beans, rice and cooking oil to the refugees and also distributed blankets, dozens of pairs of shoes and clothes.

“When the pandemic hit the world, it came to us as a shock.We were not prepared at all. Everything was closed down and refugees were left for dead,” said Arasu, who is among the five Salesian missionaries living and working in the Palabek refugee camp. “We were forced to share our little food and other essential goods with the refugees to keep them alive amid the pandemic.”

However, Akera had a different way of tackling food shortages in the camp. With the help of the Salesian missionaries, she began providing training, tools and seeds for refugees to plant and harvest crops to support their families in the midst of the pandemic.

She and the Salesian missionaries distributed fertilizers and several hundred kilos (thousands of pounds) of beans, maize, soya beans, simsim or sesame, groundnuts and many assorted vegetable seeds such as collard greens. They also distributed tons of cassava cuttings.

“The only way we could tackle hunger during the pandemic was through farming. So we had to train and support refugees with seeds and fertilizers to plant and harvest enough crops to feed their family,” said Akera, the only nun working at the Palabek camp. She lives in a small mud hut built of sticks, mud and metal scrap. “I also did farming and I planted groundnuts, soya beans and maize. I have enough food which I share some with my neighbors who are refugees.”

Akera, who grew up in a farming family, has been able to transfer her agricultural skills to the refugees. The 58-year-old nun, who comes from Gulu town, 60 miles away from Palabek, said her calling to serve led her to work in the camp despite the hardships, though she sometimes feels lonely.

“I feel happy being in the camp though I’m lonely. No sister wants to come and live in this hardship area,” said Akera, whose congregation is in Gulu. “I was born and raised in a rural area so living in the camp for me is a normal thing.”

The East African country of more than 44 million is celebrated around the world for providing refugees with the land for shelter and agricultural use. Arasu said his congregation has been renting land from the local Ugandans for refugees who don’t have enough land for farming to help them grow enough crops to feed their families.

“I rented some farms from the hosting community. The money I used was provided by the Don Bosco missions and since children were home, they helped their parents in farming,” he said. “God was also faithful; it rained a lot and since the land was virgin land, it produced really well.”

Akera came to the camp in 2018 after the Salesian missionaries requested the Archdiocese of Gulu to ask sisters to come and help serve the people in the camp. Before the pandemic, she tried to provide hope and solidarity to refugees while helping to distribute aid. But she now has a new ministry amid the pandemic: sensitizing refugees on the importance of farming.

“My new ministry is to ensure refugees support themselves through farming because COVID-19 has taught us the biggest lesson of not relying completely on food aid distributions,” she said. “We want to keep on training them on how to plant crops and ensure they have enough harvest.” She began training refugees on farming in May 2020 after the pandemic reduced food rations for refugees. 

Every morning, Akera visits various villages within the camp to train and emphasize to refugees the importance of farming. She recently demonstrated to a group of farmers how to plan their farms from the beginning of the season up to harvest without encountering any problems.

The training involves land preparation, seed selection, planting, weed management, soil fertility management, harvesting, postharvest handling and storage, she said.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/refugees-use-farm-training-survive-food-shortages-during-pandemic

Fire at Bangladesh Rohingya camp leaves thousands without shelter

A Rohingya man reacts after a fire burned houses of the Nayapara refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh [Mohammed Arakani/Reuters]
A Rohingya man reacts after a fire burned houses of the Nayapara refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh [Mohammed Arakani/Reuters]

A fire has swept through the Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, destroying homes belonging to thousands of people, according to the United Nations.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said more than 550 shelters – home to at least 3,500 people – were either totally or partially destroyed in the blaze on Thursday, as well as 150 shops and a facility belonging to a non-profit organisation.

Photographs and video provided to Reuters news agency by a Rohingya refugee in Nayapara Camp showed families, including children, sifting through charred corrugated iron sheets to see if they could salvage anything from their smouldering homes.

But little remained of the camp, which had stood for decades, aside from concrete poles and the husks of a few trees.

“E-block is completely burned down,” said the refugee, Mohammed Arakani. “There is nothing left. There was nothing saved. Everything is burned down.”

“Everyone is crying,” he added. “They lost all their belongings. They lost everything … all their goods.”

The UNHCR said it was providing shelter, materials, winter clothes, hot meals, and medical care for the refugees displaced by the calamity at the camp in Cox’s Bazar district, a sliver of land bordering Myanmar in southeastern Bangladesh.

“Security experts are liaising with the authorities to investigate on the cause of fire,” the agency said, adding that no casualties were reported.

Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said the fire service spent two hours putting out the blaze but was hampered by the explosion of gas cylinders inside homes.

He said there had been no decision on whether shelters would be rebuilt or refugees moved elsewhere.

The Bangladesh government has moved several thousand Rohingya to a remote island in recent weeks, despite protests from human rights groups who say some of the relocations were forced, allegations denied by authorities.

More than a million Rohingya live in the mainland camps in southern Bangladesh, the vast majority having fled Myanmar in 2017 in a military-led crackdown the UN said was executed with genocidal intent – charges Myanmar denies.

The fire destroyed part of a camp inhabited by Rohingya who fled Myanmar after an earlier military campaign, according to refugees.

In a statement, Save the Children NGO said the fire was “another devastating blow for the Rohingya people who have endured unspeakable hardship for years”.

“Today’s devastating fire will have robbed many families of what little shelter and dignity left to them. It stands as another ghastly reminder that children stuck in the camps in Cox’s Bazar face a bleak future with little freedom of movement, inadequate access to education, poverty, serious protection risks and abuse including child marriage,” Save the Children’s country director in Bangladesh Onno van Manen said.

The NGO said the international community must find a “lasting and durable solution to the plight of the Rohingyas”.

“In addition, the international community must fully fund the humanitarian response for the Rohingya crisis, which is woefully under-funded. Without adequate funding, essential lifesaving services for the Rohingya will suffer,” it said.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/14/fire-leaves-at-least-3500-rohingya-without-shelter-in-bangladesh

Eyewitness: Refugees in Calais face bleak winter

Food distribution in Dunkirk. Image Neli Ban.
Food distribution in Dunkirk. Image Neli Ban.

Poorly pitched tents shake in the wind as the rain beats down on the only place that refugees in northern France can call home. Following extensive evictions of the small areas where it is possible to assemble a makeshift camp, families and individuals in Calais and Dunkirk who are from Sudan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Syria and Eritrea suffer as winter takes hold.

There are still more than 400 people living rough in this part of France. Following the destruction of ‘the Jungle’ in 2017, conditions for vulnerable people hoping for a safe life are worse than ever.

Autumn has seen a further deterioration of circumstances that affect living conditions. As reported by aid organisation Calais Food Collective ( see: https://calaisfood.wixsite.com/calaisfood ) in September this year, the local politicians in the seaside city made it illegal to provide food in certain areas. Alongside these new regulations, the French riot police, the CRS, have been monitoring, questioning and disrupting their volunteers during food distributions in the new, permitted locations.

Neli Ban, a volunteer with another organisation, appreciates the growing problems that winter is causing. “A flimsy tent they sleep in must feel like it’s about to fly off, and they have nowhere to dry their soaked clothes and shoes.” Evictions of the basic camps took place last week. Tents and sleeping bags were taken or ruined, pots and pans were confiscated. Removing the ability to be able to cook is a multifaceted problem. Not only has your daily social activity been taken away, but you must now walk several kilometres in order to stand in a queue to receive a meal, and you have to do this three times a day.

As conditions in France worsen, so do the chances of being able to reach the UK. On 28th October, reports of a family from Kurdistan drowning in the sea shook the migrant community on both sides of the Channel. People from aid organisations together with refugees paid tribute to the adults and children whose lives were lost in the search for safety.

Another cause for concern are the decisions being made in the UK parliament. Family reunification is at risk after the Brexit transition period ends, as the Dubs Amendment has been repeatedly voted down, even after this tragic news. “If there are safe routes,” said Lord Alf Dubs, former child refugee, “then people will take them. If there are not, people will risk their lives.”

The penalty of a failed attempt weighs heavily on those in Calais. Fear of the water has to be weighed against the hope of joining family and having a new life. It takes many months and many risks for people to get even as far as France, the route from Greece through the Balkans will have included scaling mountains and facing the notorious Croatian border authority whose brutal and illegal actions are well documented ( see: https://.www.borderviolence.eu ). Another winter on the road, the elements and the police to contend with, is no way for Europe to treat vulnerable people from war-torn countries.

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40927

Baby, six months, dies hours after being saved from Mediterranean

Baby Joseph was rescued from the Mediterranean but tragically died hours later [Sergi Camara/AP]

A six-month-old baby died hours after he was plucked from the Mediterranean, Spanish refugee rescue charity Proactiva Open Arms said on Thursday.

The baby boy from Guinea, Joseph, was among 111 survivors taken in by Open Arms on Wednesday after it sent rescue units to a rubber dinghy that was sinking off the Libyan coast.

In video footage of the rescue operation, Joseph’s mother can be seen sliding across a boat as it moves on the waves, shouting: “Where is my baby? I lose my baby. Find my baby, find my baby!”

In the operation, five bodies were recovered.

Joseph’s death brought the total death toll from the shipwreck to six.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, tweeted: “Every life matters. It could have been our [baby].”

Joseph and his mother, plus a pregnant woman, were evacuated by the Italian coast guard and taken to Lampedusa island, an Open Arms spokeswoman said.

Three more survivors in urgent need of medical care – a three-month-old baby girl, her mother and a 25-year-old man with serious heart trouble – were airlifted to Malta.

They were taken there because Malta offered the nearest hospital, the Italian coast guard said in a separate statement, noting that Maltese authorities helped with the transfer.

The Open Arms, currently the only active charity rescue vessel in the central Mediterranean, has 257 refugees on board, after three separate operations between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Five bodies are also still on the ship, Open Arms said on Twitter.

“The Med is a cemetery with no gravestones,” the organisation said.

For months, small boats carrying refugees and migrants have been departing from Libya and Tunisia, usually trying to reach Italy.

According to Italian interior ministry data, the country has registered almost 31,000 refugee arrivals in 2020 so far, compared with almost 10,000 over the same period last year.

So far this year, at least 796 people have died while trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/12/baby-six-months-dies-hours-after-being-saved-from-mediterranean

Refugees at risk of hunger and malnutrition, as relief hit in Eastern Africa

© UNICEF/Kate Holt: Women and children stand outside temporary tents at a refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border. (file photo)

According to WFP, over 2.7 million refugees in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and Djibouti have been impacted, with food or cash transfers reduced between 10 to 30 per cent, as the socio-economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic reduces vital funding from donors.

“Refugees are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 because they are crowded together in camps with weak or inadequate shelter, health services and access to clean water and sanitation,” said Michael Dunford, WFP Eastern Africa Regional Director. 

In addition to COVID, the refugees, especially women, children and elderly, are also at risk of becoming malnourished, which can in turn impact their immune systems and increase their risk of being infected by disease, a tragic vicious cycle in the midst of a global pandemic. 

“With COVID yet to peak in East Africa, we cannot turn our backs on people forced to flee and stuck in remote camps,” added Mr. Dunford.  

Hard-won development gains at risk 

COVID-19 restrictions closed schools in refugee camps, meaning children missed out on vital school meals in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda. In these countries except in Rwanda, funding shortages meant that WFP was unable to provide take home rations to refugee children to help them study at home and stay nourished. 

Extended school closures can also expose children to additional challenges, including, teenage pregnancies, sexual abuse, early marriage, violence at home, child labour and high school dropouts, eroding hard-won development gains made over several years. 

Women and girl refugees are also at heightened risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, in addition to resorting to having sex for payment in order to survive. People with disabilities and unaccompanied or separated children are the most vulnerable, said the UN food relief agency. 

World cannot let the most disadvantaged suffer 

“Sadly, it is the poorest and most disadvantaged who suffer the most,” said Mr. Dunford, adding, “We simply cannot let this happen. COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for the world to turn its back on refugees at this terrible time.” 

Given the pressing situation, WFP is appealing both to traditional donors and new would-be donors, such as international financial institutions, to step forward and assist refugees precisely because their vulnerability only increased with COVID-19. 

The UN agency needs some $323 million to assist refugees in the East Africa region over the next six months, about 22 percent greater than during the same period in 2019. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1071062

Meet the entrepreneurs using fintech to help refugees

Lucia Gallardo, CEO of Emerge, in Tijuana, Mexico in 2018. Photo provided by Lucia Gallardo

ROME, – Berat Kjamili has vivid memories of queuing for days outside a government building in Turkey for papers that would allow him – an 18-year-old refugee from North Macedonia – to legally reside and study in the country.

“There were 1,000 people there and I couldn’t get in. The next day I went at 6 a.m. and still I couldn’t get my papers. The third day, I slept on the street that night (to beat the queue),” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The experience led him to build a website where refugees can apply for residency permits. It is now operated by the Turkish government.

Kjamili, 27, is part of a generation of refugees who have set up fintech firms to help other refugees and migrants send money, access paperwork and share information about housing and jobs.

Often working in shops, cafes and factories, refugees have been harder hit by coronavirus-triggered job cuts than citizens in their host countries, U.S. development groups said on Wednesday.

Businesses like Kjamili’s could play a key role in helping refugees to integrate amid a global pandemic that, according to the United Nations, has increased xenophobia and led to a surge in evictions.

LOCKED OUT

Among the world’s 30 million refugees and asylum seekers are many who lack bank accounts and have only intermittent access to Internet and mobile phones.

More than 1 billion people worldwide lack government-issued credentials to prove their identity, which can result in “social, economic, and political exclusion”, UNHCR said in a recent report. 

Refugees given ID cards by the United Nations on arrival in a new country have limited ways to partake in the economy, said Hanna Mattinen, a senior officer in the agency’s cash aid team.

“In the vast majority of cases, with this ID… they can’t open bank account, they don’t have access to SIM cards,” she said.

As businesses go cashless and require card payments – a drive hastened by COVID-19 – refugees and migrants could be left “locked out of the system”, said Marta Zaccagnini, Program Manager Europe for Village Capital, an organisation supporting impact-driven start-ups.

A NEW BANK

Roham Soleimani, an Iranian refugee in Berlin, is hoping his company BankeNu – Nu means new in Persian – could help. The 28-year-old is working on a blockchain-based service that would allow people to transfer money from anywhere.  

“It’s a big opportunity to help people like us. To give opportunity to people who suffer sanctions, the un-banked, the migrant communities… and offer the services with low fees,” he said.  

Soleimani set up a marketing agency that helped secure European wages for Iranian freelance designers back home.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200709093832-5q87i/

Nonprofit seeks to provide computers to Iraqi Christian schools

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Refugee children at a refugee camp in Duhok, Iraq, March 28, 2015. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

– While Christian schools in Iraq continue to suffer, a non-profit that promotes positive engagement in the Middle East is aiming to provide computers to Assyrian Christian schools.

In partnership with the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, the Philos Project is trying to raise $25,000 to install computer labs for Christian schools throughout northern Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan has seen a drastic decrease in educational funds, said Juliana Taimoorazy, advocacy fellow for the Philos Project and founder of Iraqi Christian Relief Council.

“These schools don’t have what they need from a technology perspective,” she said.

“It’s really debilitating because they’re unable to type on Word for example, physically or create spreadsheets. Everything they’re doing is by theory. I mean, you can imagine how integral computers are in our daily lives,” she said, pointing to the fact that most homes in Western culture have a computer.

She said that out of 23 Christian schools in the area, the project will provide computer labs for five of them. The Christian schools range from elementary to high school.

These computer labs will consist of printers, projectors, and at least five laptops, electrical wires, and internet routers.

For four years, these schools in Iraq have requested Taimoorazy for new computers because scarcely any families have this technology themselves and the few schools that do have these machines own computers that were manufactured around 2004.

“I kid you not, they have books. They study book to book through pages [on how to] create spreadsheets, how to turn it on and off, how to do a cut and paste, how to create a graphic for example, or attach a graphic into the word document,” she said.

Taimoorazy, who is the granddaughter of a survivor of the Armenian genocide, has also been persecuted in Iraq for her faith. She said Christian children not only face difficulties to obtain their education but they have also been persecuted. During her time in Iran, she talked about times when she was not allowed to play with Muslim children and moments when she was ridiculed for her faith.

She said that since the invasion of the Islamic State funds for Christian schools have drastically decreased.

“People started giving to life-sustaining projects like food, tents, and repairing their homes, if they’re going back to their homes. The amount of money that was allocated for schools, for teachers or transportation or printing books and translating books from Kurdish to Assyrian or Syriac, it’s dropped to really a very, very low level.”

Among other hardships that these schools face, she said educators continue to teach without being paid and some students are not able to access school because of a lack of transportation.

However, she said they are strong-willed people with a deep respect for education. Some of the students are even trilingual, understanding Assyrian, Arabic, and Kurdish. She said that while parents will struggle with the basic necessities, these families will sacrifice to further their children’s education.

“They’re actually resilient children, but they haven’t seen anything but war, devastation, hunger, and yet they have such love, profound love for education,” she said.

“[These] people will grow up to go out there in the world to serve humanity and based on their own experience, based on the trauma that they’ve gone through, they can be even more impactful. I come from a traumatized generation … We suffer from collective and generational trauma. We have been persecuted. My great grandparents were persecuted.”

She expressed hope that the worldwide Christian community and people of goodwill will take this project seriously. She stressed the importance of offering these children equal opportunities in technology, noting that, in order to be successful, these children must have hands-on experience with computers.

“We have to remember what John Paul II said that ‘the Church breathes with both lungs’ and we cannot forget the right lung of the Church, which is Eastern Christianity. So my plea to the Catholic world, to the Christian world in the West is not to forget their brothers and sisters in the East, and to really help these young minds, these young children to lead dignified lives,” she said.

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/nonprofit-seeks-to-provide-computers-to-iraqi-christian-schools-14988

World Court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide

Rohingya
Rohingya refugees take part in a prayer as they gather to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman/File photo

THE HAGUE/COX’S BAZAAR, Bangladesh, – The International Court of Justice on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide, a ruling cheered by refugees as their first major legal victory since being forced from their homes.

A lawsuit launched by Gambia in November at the United Nations’ highest body for disputes between states accuses Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya in violation of a 1948 convention.

The court’s final decision could take years, and Thursday’s ruling dealt only with Gambia’s request for preliminary measures. But in a unanimous ruling by the 17-judge panel, the court said the Rohingya face an ongoing threat and Myanmar must act to protect them.

Myanmar must “take all measures within its power to prevent all acts” prohibited under the 1948 Genocide Convention, and report back within four months, presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said, reading out a summary of the judgment.

Myanmar must use its influence over its military and other armed groups to prevent violence against the Rohingya “intended to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Rohingya activists, who had come from all over the world to the Hague, reacted with joy to the unanimous ruling which also explicitly recognised their ethnic minority as a protected group under the Genocide Convention.

“That is something we have been fighting for a long time: to be recognised as humans the same as everyone else,” Yasmin Ullah, a Canada-based Rohingya activist said. Majority Buddhist Myanmar generally refuses to describe the Muslim Rohingya as an ethnic group and refers to them as Bangladeshi migrants.

Myanmar’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement late on Thursday it “takes note” of the decision.

“The unsubstantiated condemnation of Myanmar by some human rights actors has presented a distorted picture of the situation in Rakhine and affected Myanmar’s bilateral relations with several countries”, it added.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-led crackdown in 2017, and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh. U.N. investigators concluded that the military campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent”.

In camps in Bangladesh where they have fled, Rohingya refugees hovered over mobile phones to watch the judgment.

“For the first time, we have got some justice,” said Mohammed Nur, 34. “This is a big achievement for the entire Rohingya community.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200123093823-gfm4x/