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Refugees

Five Ways Americans Can Help Refugees Right Now


Displaced by war, violence and poverty, hundreds of thousands of people are at this moment searching for a better place to raise their family and build a life. Today we have a guest post from Mallory Sutika-Sipus, specialist in international migration and human rights law who brings several years experience working with displaced populations from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Congo and elsewhere.

Five Ways Americans Can Help Refugees Right Now

By Mallory Sutika Sipus

It is nearly impossible to look away from news of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, as shocking images and stories of refugee deaths and exploitation comprise a 24-hour cable and radio news loop as well as a host of viral social media stories. I’ve spoken to several friends and acquaintances outside of the human rights and forced migration communities who are in the grips of trying to process and understand the issues surrounding the crisis. Seeing images of such suffering might have you wondering what you might be able to do to help reduce refugee suffering in some small way. There is a list going around the internet that includes places to donate, etc but it is admittedly a bit Eurocentric. Unfortunately the refugee crisis is not a strictly European phenomenon and there are some things Americans can do right now to help refugees – without leaving their own communities.

1. Educate yourself on what it means to be a refugee.

Generally speaking, refugees are people who were forced to flee their home country out of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. This official definition of refugee was determined by the 1951 Convention on Refugees. Today, refugee law also includes the 1967 protocol as well as a body of case law. You do not have to be a lawyer to understand refugee basics though! With so many resources out there, you can spend 5-20 minutes reading the Cliff Notes/FAQ version or just poking around the UNHCR website. In doing so, you will gain a better idea of the context of the refugee crisis, putting you in a position to effectively engage others.

2. Respectfully challenge ignorance of others

Now that you understand what a refugee is, speak up when you hear other spew ignorance and hate. It can be intimidating, especially when others may speak with arrogance. No one is asking you to ruin your friendships, but you can still stand up for what you believe and correct misinformation. Refugees are not “illegal immigrants” because the 1951 Convention specifically grants that protected class of people the right to seek asylum. Moreover, I encourage you to challenge the conceptions of refugees as poor, lazy, or monolithic. The truth is that many (if not most) refugees are among the middle or even upper classes in their home countries – after all, it takes resources just to even attempt to leave. The poorest and most vulnerable are often left behind trying to survive the conflict. Refugees are homeowners, engineers, doctors, teachers. Refugees are grandparents, brothers, and children. Refugees are people. Help others internalize this.

3. Write your Congressman/woman, and ask them to stop refugee child detention in the United States

It is easy to look and Europe and think, “My goodness, what are they doing?” It may be more difficult to look inward at our own policies towards refugees. Unfortunately many Americans have a blind spot with regards to refugees and immigration here at home. It is standard practice to place asylum seekers in the US in “detention processing centers,” – prisons – sometimes for months on end, until they are found to meet the legal definition of a refugee. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have come into the United States and are currently in institutions such as these. If you want to take action to help refugee children today, one of the best things you can do is call, write, or email your Congressman and tell him/her that you are watching their actions on the treatment of these children. Urge them to actively pass legislation that takes asylum seekers – especially unaccompanied children – out of detention immediately. So many of these children have already survived nightmarish circumstances, let us help them begin to heal instead of treating them like criminals.

4. Donate to an organization that works with refugees directly

If you are able and willing to make a monetary (or goods) donation, do so. Obviously, you are always able to donate to big organizations like UNHCR or Save The Children, but also consider the less obvious. Medicines Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) does good work directly in the field while maintaining an impressive devotion to their message and neutrality. St. Andrew’s Refugee Services in Cairo and small grass roots organizations like them are a worthy cause. Church World Service also has a variety of refugee related activities throughout the world. As long as you do your research, chances are you will find an organization that will put your money into programming you believe in.

5. Reevaluate your perception and interaction with refugees in your own community

One would be hard pressed to find a major metropolitan area without refugee community members. Surely they are in your own community, but have you given it much thought? You do not have to run out and volunteer with a local organization that provides integration services. (Though by all means, if you feel compelled – do! Such organizations are always chronically short staffed and underfunded, so they would likely appreciate a free set of hands, even for basic administrative tasks). Challenge the way you think and interact with unfamiliar people in your community. Adjusting to life in a new country is always complicated and somewhat intimidating – America is no different. Maybe you have been annoyed with the woman who seemed to be holding up the grocery checkout because she struggled to understand the clerk speaking English. Or maybe you have avoided a store or restaurant where you know the employee is from “somewhere else.” Remind yourself that we are all from somewhere else, and offer a smile. Reach out and have a conversation when it is appropriate. You never know where that person has been or what their story is, but offering patience and kindness instead of fear and animosity will only make your community a better place – refugee or not.

Planning for the Future Reconstruction of Syria from Chaos and Complexity



The world is abuzz over the current civil war and the possibility of external military intervention in Syria.  While the conversation is primarily focussed on the use of chemical weapons in violation of the Geneva Charter, there has been little discussion about the long-term implications of the civil war, regardless of the role imposed by outside militaries.  What will be the result of so much bloodshed and how will the nation rebuild?  In what form?

Spatial Distribution of Conflict.  August 2013.
The severity of physical and social damage established in the last two years, broad distribution of conflict and the lack of unity among non-state actors within the conflict suggests that the civil war will be a long one, perhaps 10 years or more.   The resolution to this will not be political process as the lack of clearly established leadership among rebel groups positions no one to pursue negotiations with the State.  The massive refugee outflow, consisting 50% of children, weakens the social fabric of the nation and will continue to do so.


Engineering A New Outcome

If you discover that you are genetically predisposed toward a certain ailment, you adapt your lifestyle to mitigate the future.  You hedge your bet.  Likewise with Syria, the most probable outcome right now is protracted conflict followed by a painful reconstruction process (like Afghanistan).  But if examine the current variables, and measure the inter-relations between those variables, we can attempt to coordinate a strategy toward a desired outcome - ie., less war and more rapid recovery.   Because each variable maintains the same potential as a butterfly to inspire a hurricane, we don't have the control as we do with our bodies, but we do have the ability to better position some social and structural elements in terms of probable outcomes.  If this process were to begin now in Syria, it could potentially lead to a better future.

In this case, the goal is for the war in Syria to play out in such a manner that all relevant resources (community groups, finances, areas of destruction vs. preservation, social allegiances and so on)  are best organized for a rapid and successful reconstruction process.  The variables are numerous and so too are the methods of working with them.  So where do we begin?

The role of strategic planning and development within the battlefield is not new.  As an expansion of the Hearts and Minds campaign of Vietnam, development was heavily undertaken by NATO in the Iraq and Afghanistan and implemented via Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). The PRTs were designed and operated in coordination with a broader mandate of Counter Insurgency doctrine (COIN). This was not a flawless system, it required massive layers of security that isolated the infrastructure creation process from the populations served, and when the projects were turned over to communities, unsurprisingly the outcomes were not always as hoped. Yet these methods were only viable as a strategy because of the massive allotment of resources.  Furthermore, PRTs had an inconsistent impact across regions and populations.  It is a tactic that will be likely replicated in the future but it simply won't apply in Syria.

In the recent 21 years of conflict in Somalia, intervention was limited to MSF operations, WFP, and other UN backed initiatives typically implemented by local NGOs.  In this regard, Somalia is a better region of comparison to Syria.  The problem here is that such agencies are designed only for humanitarian relief. This is essential, but it doesn't facilitate a resolution as much as institutionalize a process of triage across a fragmented society.  The inequitable distribution of services doesn't maintain a status quo as much as introduce a new variable, randomly redistributing the lines of power among a downtrodden population.  Potential outcomes vary from relief to militarization.


Urban Planning and Development In the Syrian Conflict

Typically when I tell people that I apply urban planning methods to mediate violent conflict, people imagine I'm referring to zoning and bike lanes.  Sigh... thats so boring.  But I suppose on the imaginative level there could be something here as one could argue that territorial patterns of warfare form emergent conflict zones, interconnected by supply corridors - don't forget that al-Shabaab had covered Mogadishu with a complex network of trenches to quickly mobilize troops and supplies yet also grinding the speed of territorial changes to a halt.  Yet these concepts in the current state of the conflict can only apply to analysis and not to planning outcomes.

A more pragmatic approach is to better understand the diversity of stakeholders in the conflict, as the fragmentation of non-state actors is a major obstruction to the peace process.  This obstruction was likewise a major obstacle in Afghanistan and it is no surprise that the suitcases of money provided by the CIA in 2002 to mobilize diverse ethnic groups for a common interest did not build a sustainable peace or found strong governance.  

Expanding and integrating diverse stakeholders is a cornerstone of the urban planning process, and while stable nations have the benefit of easily organizing community groups or legal proceedings,  it remains possible to mobilize stakeholders in hostile territories.  A key feature of this "non-rational" process is that it does not necessarily require strong, easily defined internal leadership.  Rather the process only requires an entity committed to the interest of all stakeholders, committed to a win/win outcome, and who can manage an otherwise neutral disposition.  Notably, this entity will not be successful if all authority is founded on outside power (US intervention for example), but rather this entity must have acquired a local, grass-roots level of respect combined with recognition among high-level community leaders.  At the moment, there is no one of this description involved in the conflict. Yet this can change.  After all, the war could take 10+ years so its completely feasible for an individual or organization to emerge to do the work.

Another critical element toward the future pacification and reconstruction of Syria is the role of the internally displaced and refugee populations.  The role of displaced populations could effect rebuilding of Syria in a combination of ways, yet two possibilities are immediately obvious.  When the war in Afghanistan drove thousands from their homeland, many children were left secluded in Pakistani refugee camps where Saudi madrasas promoted Wahabist beliefs, laying the foundation for the emergences of the Taliban.  During the same time, the war in Somalia drove thousands abroad who were then exposed to a variety cultures, educations, and lifestyles.  The return of Somalis in diaspora has made the sudden rebuilding of Somalia a possibility as they return with new social capital to invest.

Number and Location of Syrian Refugees. US State Department 2013.
At present the 1.9 million displaced refugees are primarily distributed throughout Lebanon and Turkey.  While I don't believe those nations would have a detrimental impact upon the refugee population and the long-term psycho-social advancement of the youth, it is unlikely that those nations have the resources necessary to invest.  At present, Turkey is already hosting 200,000 refugees in camps and has 200,000 refugees outside of camps.  
As you can see from the map, many of these camps are open, but it is clearly getting stretched to a limit. If it is becomes commonly accepted that the the civil war will be long and drawn out, initiatives to excel the resettlement of Syrian families into new communities could provide the investment needed for the future of Syria to be founded on socially productive and worldly populations. 

#Dadaab Research and Information, #Somalia #Refugees, and #Architecture


Events within the Dadaab refugee camps have reached a fever-pitch in the last few weeks.  Or more accurately, there has been a surge of interest in the Dadaab camps, as circumstances have always been dire. I have lately received many emails from those interested in working at the camps, designing solutions, or basic requests for information.  

At the moment I am traveling and have limited access to a computer so I apologize for the delayed responses.  However this week I added a new page The Humanitarian Space, specifically compiling some resources and information about Dadaab.  The resources are drawn from my own work or is work on which I am quite familiar and can answer questions.

In the next few days I will provide a more thorough background on recent events,  information about refugee camp design, and answer some of the most recent questions.  

#Somalia: Hot, Dry and Dangerous


The last few days in Somalia have been like any other - hot, dry, and dangerous.   The aggressive drought has displaced thousands, crowding the Dadaab camps and bringing the ongoing humanitarian crisis to an unprecedented level.  At the same time, it is clear that the US government is slowly focusing more attention on the region, recognizing the increasing threat that this nation poses to international stability.  Here is a quick overview of current conditions.

Drought
Drought (red) concentrated in South
The drought has continued to devastate Somalia to such an extent that al Shabaab has even welcomed aid agencies to return to the region.  While agencies such as WFP are mobilizing, it doesn't appear that everyone got the message, as some Shabaab fighters have continued to capture aid workers.  The question remains if Shabaab will continue to have the significant power to administer the region, as head commander Ahmed Abdi Godane discussed problems the group is facing on a Shabaab friendly radio station.

The current dry spell is far worse than previous years, such as th early 1990s, as there is no longer any alternative infrastructure to absorb the catastrophe.  Although the western regions have seen a little rainfall, the Juba valley remains dry. While international agencies scramble for access, the TFG finds it has too little resources to make an impact, evidenced by TFG soldiers offering their own paychecks over to afflictedfamilies. While over 350,000 displaced people seek protection in the Dadaab refugee camps, the population will likely continue to increase as nearly 75% of the nations harvest is expected to fail.

US Intervention
CIA conducting interrogations in Somalia.  As shown within a recent congressional hearing, the US Government believes to officially recognize the  strengthening  regional links between Somali militants and al Qaeda and the devastation of the nation is globally permeating.  he CIA have been increasing their presence and interventions in the region, most recently training TFG soldiers in counterterrorism strategies and intelligence collection.  Many of the interrogation practices are supposedly undertaken in an airplane hanger adjacent to the airport and in the basement of the TFG's National Security Administration.  The NSA basement has a long history of abuse and torture, infamously known as godka, the hole, while under the rain of dictator Siyad Barre.  

Al Shabaab
Moderate pro-government militant group Ahulu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) has elected a new leader, Sheikh Aydarus Sheikh Ahmed Siid Warsame, and vowed to fight against al-Shabaab in Gedo region.  The former leader was killed in an ambush by Shabaab fighters. 

In related news (ambushed convoys), it was confirmed that the helicopter attack near Kismayo was actually a drone attack upon an al-Shabaab convoy, targeting and killing on of the top leaders, Ibrahim al Afghani.

Media
Below is a brief video from BBC.  The story is covers the general state of conditions but the footage is quite strong.  The beginning features a spectacular flyover of Dadaab.


Planning and Conflict in #Dadaab Refugee Camp: Land Use Law, Zoning Regulations


Violence erupted at Dagahaley camp (aerial view above), in the Dadaab Refugee Camps this week.  Rioting was incited when Kenyan police attempted to demolish a Mosque and small businesses.   According to UNOCHA, "Rioting broke out when police sought to disperse a crowd that was protesting an attempt to demolish illegal structures around a food distribution point. Teargas was used, and later live gunshot. Our information is that two refugees were killed and around a dozen injured."

The event raises several questions: for structures to be illegal, what sort of land use laws are in place within the camp? Who determines the legality of these structures?  How does the process work?

As it was Kenyan police attempting to demolish the site, we can assume that the Kenyan government serves as the enforcement body.  Other reports site that the demolition squad was acting on behalf of refugee aid agency that requested the demolition.  The same report cites the Director of Refugee Affairs as having requested the demolition, which is more likely since no aid agency is going to have the ability to use Kenyan Police.  Not to mention, aid agencies are the guest of the host nation, and do not have the ability to declare structures as "illegal" although the state may request the agency to curtail illegal processes.

A question comes to mind however, as the circumstance suggests some sort of zoning law and legal structure to oversee the regulation of land use within Dadaab.  There are planning processes undertaken by UNHCR and the Ministry of Refugee Affairs, as bore-holes, market spaces, and housing blocks are planned within each refugee camp.  In addition, efforts have been taken to relocate many of the settled refugees who occupy low lying land are subject to flooding.  The town of Dadaab and the surrounding camps however do feature a publicly accessible centralized plan nor is there a specific planning office to manage such issues.

In the meanwhile, it is expected that Dadaab will reach a total population of 450,000 by the end of 2011.  Other cities with about the same population size are Cleveland Ohio, New Orleans Louisianna, and Dublin Ireland - yet those cities all have economic infrastructure, transportation, and clean water.  In the meanwhile, thousands of Somalis are stuck living outside the camps, subject to harsh conditions, no water, no food, and violence.  It has been reported that men are working in shifts to guard their families from hyena attacks.  One of the major problems is that the UN refugee registration center is several days journey from the camps, positioning refugees needlessly in the way of danger.

The host government maintains its grip on the land, as the camps are beyond capacity with 370,000 refugees in need of protection. In the meanwhile the extension camp IFO 2, constructed by the Norwegian Refugee Council in 2007 remains mostly empty as the Kenyan Government refuses access to the camp and it remains nonoperational although several ngos are ready to implement services.

The support of al-Shabaab through diaspora


I am pleased to announce publication of my article "The support of al-Shabaab through diaspora."  The research was conducted in two phases, in the winter of 2010/2011 and with follow up research in October of 2011.  The first phase was conducted personally in Nairobi while the second required more subtle means with the help of a local research assistant and translator whose name must be withheld to protect his identity.

The article does not go into methodology, however, research was conducted by qualitative techniques, relying upon non-participatory observation, participatory observation, unstructured and semi-structured interviews.  Research was conducted in public locations in Nairobi, Kenya.

The article posits some answers to the question, "why would those who have suffered from the actions of Somali militant group al-Shabaab be inclined to support this organization?"  Ultimately research has found that the ideology of the group to promote Islam over the interests of tribalism, the organizations socio-economic integration with the diaspora community, and its potential to provide an eventual peace are fundamental to the support of the organization.  Other initial findings include organization recruitment strategies that exploit pscho-social trauma, however additional research is necessary in this area.

Click this link to download a free .pdf copy of the Forced Migration Issue 37.  

To download a pdf of my own article,  http://www.fmreview.org/non-state/29.pdf

Somalis at the Moscow Airport Part IV


The other day I received an email about the Somalis who have been stranded in the Moscow airport for over a year.  Having received permission from the author, I'm posting it below.

Hello!
My name is Orshi. I was changing planes at the Moscow airport on Monday, 01.10.2011
I met a girl there, who is a Somalian refugee, and spoke suprisingly good english. She told me there are 6 of them now - 2 women and 4 men. And they are hoping to get into the EU somewhere. 


They applied for immigration, and waiting for papers. Also, they have a place to sleep, kind of, and regular food. Some international Union (sorry, forgot the name) gives them food once a week, every week, so she said they have enough.  They've been there for 10 months, and not really any hope how to get out. 
She told me they are trying to follow up on what is happening in Somalia through the net, and have no idea what happened with loved ones back there. 


Also, their problem there is that they are bored to hell, i think. She told me she would like to study, she had good education, compared to others, because she has studied for 8 years. When I had to leave to catch mz fight she asked me for blank papers, or a notebook to have something to write on. I gave her a bunch of papers. 
I don't know what could I do for them, but I really hope they won't be there for much longer. 
Maybe you can help. 

Orshi

Part III, New Information on the Shermeyateva 16, Refugees in Moscow Airport

Contribution by Dani Grisby, Posted December 12, 2010
Good news! The Shermeyateva 16 is now down to 14. Two members have been resettled to Sweden.

Bad news: there are still 14 people stuck in the Moscow airport. We cannot stop writing Amnesty International, asking them to take this deserving group on as a focus case.
Here's an e-mail I recently received from Suheeb, one of the 16 stranded, which really expresses the severity of their situation.
Dear Dani,
We are doing good but are still in the airport. We were told we may get to go to Sweden but we're not sure.
Two of us have recently been sent to Sweden, they came to the airport before us. Now we are hoping insha Allah.

It will be very painful to be stateless for the new year. Especially as we have almost been here a year.

We don't know who to blame for this situation. But it's really bad when this huge planet cannot find room for you within any border, for no reason. We did not commit a crime, we are just seeking asylum. Maybe we can go to the planet mars, maybe life is better there.

Also, it's really hard for me to see what the two women who are with us have to go through. Most of us, we are men, But for the women to suffer, it really hurts me, too much. They have no privacy.

Any information you have from amnesty on our case?

Thank you,

Suheeb


If you've emailed on their behalf before, please do so, again. While we received a response from AI-USA (telling us to talk to the London office) we have yet to hear anything from London.

Send emails to: amnestyis@amnesty.org

"Hello!

My name is _____________, and I am writing to request that Amnesty International take up, as an urgent action, the case of 16 Somalis who, as victims of a smuggling scheme, have been stranded in the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow for the past ten months. The Russian Federation is required under international law to assist these Somalis and allow them to access courts and other mechanisms that would facilitate their right to asylum. So far, the Russian Federation has failed to meet even the most basic of its international obligations in this case. We, as members of the international community, thus have an obligation to stand in solidarity with the Somalis and to make our voices be heard.

Thank you for taking this case into consideration.

Sincerely,

Your Name Here"

Write to the author of this post Dani Grisby, Policy Intern, at grigsby@miracoalition.org

Update on the Somalis in Moscow Airport

Shortly after posting my previous article, The Shermeyateva 16, Somali Refugees Stranded at Airport in Moscow, I was contacted by a woman who works in refugee assistance and who has worked to assist this group of Somalis for quite some time.  She has given me permission to repost some of her previous writings on the subject.



Originally posted at MIRA, November 27, 2010

“Because [they] slipped through and fell in a crack. Nobody likes staying in a crack because they're nothing. Nobody likes to be stuck in a crack.”–Frank Dixon, character from DreamWorks’ 2004 film, ‘Terminal’

In 2004, theater-goers were regaled with the fictional tale of Viktor Navorski—a man from “Krakoshia”, an artificial Eastern European state—whose country became engulfed in war while he was in transit to the US. Upon his arrival at US customs, his passport was invalidated, no longer recognized by the US government. He was forced to remain in the airport until his status could be determined; he could not return to his war-tattered nation, nor could he, legally, enter the USA.

Comedy, friendship, love and intrigue are artistically woven into Navorski’s story as he navigates airport life over the course of the film. An ever-resilient Navorski is finally able to return “home.” This humorous and intriguing story is intended to be a piece of mainstream entertainment, enjoyed and then forgotten. But the situation is all too real.

Suheeb Mohammad and his travel companions have been living the fictional horror of Viktor Navorski for the past six months. These young men and women, desperate refugees from Somalia, paid $3,500 USD each to an individual who purported to have the means to assist them in seeking asylum via Moscow, Russia. They learned that they had been deceived upon arrival to Moscow’s Shermeyateva Dva airport, 45 minutes north of the city, in May of 2010. Russian customs officials discovered their falsified documents and their visas were summarily revoked. Unable to officially enter or exit the Russian Federation, their fates are left in the hands of charitable airport staff and non-governmental workers in Moscow’s unofficial humanitarian services sector. Food, water, and clothing needs are met through daily acts of charity. Their future remains unclear, and their hope dwindles.

In Suheeb’s own words:

“We feel stress and we need a big help. . .it’s taking a long time, you understand? Being in an airport for months? I cannot describe it. It hurts so much to be in this place but we don’t have a choice . . . we don’t feel safe and worry for the future. All we ask is when will we be out of here? Please, please try to help us.”

Suheeb and his travel companions (deemed the Shermeyateva 16) are not the first refugees to fall victim to Russia’s inadequate asylum system, forced to remain captive within its borders. Refugees and other forced migrants have sought refuge in or via Russia in great numbers since the fall of the Soviet Union. Seen as a veritable portal to the west, Moscow’s emerging economy and seeming openness (Soviet détente established ‘friendship universities,’ and recruited attendees from developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond) has captured the attention of the desperate asylum seekers from far abroad.

The first such noted case of airport detainees was documented in the Moscow Times in 1992. A group of over sixty refugees were held in a Moscow airport for months before finally being returned to their country of transit.

International conventions, to which Russia freely submits, set forward standard operating procedures to ensure the rights of forced migrants like Suheeb. The UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention recommends that governments “continue to receive refugees in their territories and that they act in concert in a true spirit of international cooperation in order that these refugees may find asylum and the possibility of resettlement.” What’s more, disallowing the Shermeyateva 16 access to the court system is, too, in direct violation of international standards set forward in the 1951 Convention.

This real-life drama, grimly mirroring fabricated situational comedy, unfolds day by unchanging day for these refugees. How it plays out depends very much on the tenacity of the cast of characters involved. Global advocates must step-up, forgive the pun, to the international stage. Decision makers, law enforcers, and politicians must unite in political prowess on behalf of the Shermeyateva 16.


Join us in asking Amnesty International to host a worldwide letter writing campaign to grant these individuals equitable access to asylum proceedings. Write or call Amnesty International USA and offer your support of this campaign: (212) 807-8400 or submit the following email to: aimember@aiusa.org and please cc: ellenp@alum.dartmouth.org.

Dear Amnesty International USA:

Please take up the case of the Shermeyateva 16 as a special focus case. This group of 16 refugees have been unofficially detained in Moscow’s Shermeyateva Dva airport for the past six months without access to legal support of any official asylum proceedings. We urge you to allow us to unite and take action under Amnesty’s esteemed reputation, in order to reach a broader global support network and assist in ensuring these refugees are afforded their full, deserved human rights.

For more information, please contact Danielle J. Grigsby, Shermeyateva 16 Coordinator, at grigsbyd@bc.edu or 801-710-7148.

Respectfully,

Your Name Here

The Shermeyateva 16, Somali Refugees Stranded at Airport in Moscow

Have you ever seen the Tom Hanks movie about the man from Eastern Europe who is stuck in an airport when when his country implodes and invalidates his passport before reaching customs?  That movie was based on the real life experience of an Iranian man who was stuck at a French airport due to his own idiocy.  The man had acquired refugee status in Belgium, then got on a ferry to England and sent his legal document back to Belgium in the mail, thus leaving him stranded between borders with no legal clearance.  Later he wrote a book about it, which I found shoved in the corner of guest house in India, and have wondered periodically about how the matter was resolved.

But these stories are more than fiction.  Such things actually happen.

A few days ago I received an email that said the following:
This past weekend I was traveling in Russia and I encountered a group of 8 Somali refugees who told me they have been stranded in the Moscow airport for the past nine months.  I spoke with two who have very good English.  The group is safe, but they are sleeping on the airport floor surviving on instant soup and have not been able to leave the airport at all.  I'm assuming this is the same group who Rachel encountered in June.I found your contact info on the forced migration list serve via a Google search and am following up to see if you have any additional information or ideas for how to support them.  I have referred them to the Advocates for Human Rights, a Minnesota-based organization in the US, but am looking for all ideas for how to help them.  The situation seems inhumane and I would like to do whatever I can to assist them in finding a permanent new home. A Russian airport staff person has donated a laptop to the group and they have internet access.  Here is the email address that can be used to reach them [redacted].

Please let me know if you might be able to help this group, or suggest someone who can, or have any advice for the best way to raise the profile of their plight."

Having read something about this sometime during the summer, I was disappointed to learn the situation is otherwise unchanged.  Airports are a legal curiosity, as they present passengers with a 'legal fiction' of control between border points while remaining trans-national space.  Yet I cannot wonder about the particular issues facing this group.  Were they denied entry to Russia?  Were they denied exit?  Were they in transit to another destination but lacked transit visas?  What happened?  If anyone can tell me more about this, I'd like to hear about it.  You can contact me here.

Moscow Airport

The Burundi Fund for Hope and Restoration

Bujumbura, Burundi   BFHR 2010
Within one year from now, I look forward to the Burundi Fund for Hope and Restoration being on the ground and in fully in motion.  As a member of the BFHR's Board of Directors, its been a slow process for the last 8 months as we have worked to coordinate with local agencies, refine our programming scope, and develop our fundraising processes.  However the continuous efforts of the team to work toward enhancing education opportunities for the youth of this East African Nation are finally coming to fruition.  I will be soon blogging much more on the status of this agency, as we are on the cusp of putting all the initial planning into action. 

The mission of the Burundi Fund is to assist repatriated refugee children to access the education they deserve but cannot afford.  Although primary schools are free in Burundi, secondary education often requires tuition ormany children cannot attend as they cannot pay the additional costs.  Schools may be to far away, supplies, books, and school clothes are prohibitively expensive, or the family needs the child to stay home to assist with domestic duties, such the family business or as local labor.  As a result of conflict and poverty, Burundi has a national literacy ranking of 150 out of 177 according to the United Nations Development Program.

Burundi School Children   BFHR, 2010
The Burundi Fund specifically works to assist the needs of repatriated refugee youth within Burundi. After having lived in camps for as long as 15 years, and returning as strangers to their homeland, repatriated youth are among those with the greatest challenge to access opportunity within Burundi.  The Burundi Fund addresses this problem by working to secure improved access and options to students of all ages with coordinated partnerships with local agencies and businesses so that this education may directly carry over into employment opportunities and expanded markets.  

Please join our Facebook page to receive more updates about Burundi Fund and how you can get involved.  

More information about returning refugee youth to Burundi can be found in this UNICEF video.

Architecture, Refugee Camp Design, and Psycho-Social Refugee Health

 How can the design of refugee camps positively  impact the psychological health of refugees?

Some time ago I asked this question in a blog post and meant to get back to it, yet it never quite happened, so I might as well explore the topic today.  Refugee camp design is a common interest among architects and urban planners, although after several years of working within this subject, I admit that it isn't not nearly as illustrious as a Hollywood movie.  Every year books and exhibitions like Design Like You Give a Damn or Design for The Other 90 Perceent spotlight initiatives by designers to solve problems in the third world often by means of new technologies, new research, and usually really expensive and sleek looking products.  But in truth, the solutions to many of these problems has more to do with just legal systems, public interests, access to capital, and then eventually to skillful implementation.  Nonetheless, everyday people read my blog looking for information on Refugee Camp Design, Refugee Camp Technology, and Refugee Shelter, so I figured I might as well expand on some of these issues.

As for innovations within refugee camp design, these are slow moving because new technologies often fail to be well implemented or are too expensive  or are  totally unnecessary.  The most common reason why architects and planners design solutions that will never see the light however is because these designers do not understand the legal framework in which humanitarian interventions exist.  For example, the plan for Dadaab below by New York based architect Deborah Gans is completely impossible due to the restrictions of Kenyan Policy as outlined in the 2006 Refugee Act, their reservations on the 1967 Convention on Refugees, and the social limits of these camps.  While the architect wants to use these camps as a means to experiment with creating a new idea on cities, the truth is that such a presumption is impossible.  Not to mention, a protracted crisis is not a laboratory for social experiments.


There are other aspects of this plan that are inconsistent with the reality of the camps.  The camps are high-density to maximize all resources and security, and  any form of agricultural production within the camps is illegal.  Consequently to expand the settlement and build on agricultural production will simply not be possible.   Although Dadaab has been in place for 20 years, long term settlement planning is against the interest of government policy and consequently initiatives such as this can never be constructed.  Therefore any planning initiatives must somehow comply with policy while advancing the interests of the population.  I'm not saying this is a good thing, but if one can't build illegal structures in America, why would that be okay anywhere else?  On last thing, the architect has clearly done only limited research as the water pathways and vegetation within the diagram are only present during the aggressive floods in October and November.  The rest of the year the place is a dry, bleak, and empty gravel parking lot as far as you can see.


When contemplating refugee camp design from an architectural perspective, a more useful approach is to analyze the architecture of the institutions.   Displaced people are only designated refugees when they obtain the legal status from the host country, which often requires the assistance of UNHCR.  Depending upon the laws of the host country, refugees may or may not have access to employment, healthcare, social services or education.  Yet this institutions appear hostile and are dehumanizing.

Life as  refugee means hours upon hours standing in line.  Waiting to for your name to be called, waiting to be addressed, waiting to be heard, being told to come back tomorrow, or the day after, and waiting for weeks or months, or even years, for phone calls that never come.  Time and again I've seen institutions abuse people through this process, failing to consider what it must be like to always wait and never have an answer.  Some agencies are even located far from the urban center, such as UNHCR's office in Cairo, and therefore people in need of assistance have to travel nearly 2 hours to stand in line with little hope of receiving attention.

If architects and planners want to really improve the lives of displaced populations, the biggest contribution they can make with new design is not within the immediate crisis.  It is by reorganizing the interface by which refugees interact with agencies.  To remove the hostile fencing and aggressive facades and to replace these structures with something equally inexpensive, equally utilitarian, and significantly more humane.  Architecture has always been the tool of the power, and to aid the powerful organizations to better assist refugees is a natural progression for the discipline.  Sustainable refugee camp design and technology is an important area of concern, yet as these only occupy a small part of the problem facing displaced peoples, it is time rather to make architecture more humane.

New Dangers in Dadaab


For the last few weeks I have been in Nairobi, awaiting transit to the Dadaab refugee camps.  However it appears that I might have sufficient reason to not go these camps.  Perhaps if I was working for a large NGO or UN organization that had the capacity to provide med/evac and proper security assistance, I would be comfortable to accept the current risks.  Yet working for a small non-profit out of California, I'm not so sure.  Today I received word that Oxfam has pulled out its staff from Dadaab and the nearby town of Wajir.  Consequently, I'm having doubts if this is worth pursuing.

In recent weeks, Al Shabaab have overtaken the border town of Dhobley from another major militant group, Hezbal Islam.  Now in power, they have already begun to enforce their own twisted form of Sharia law upon its citizens as evidenced by the recent demand for all women to to wear veils.

Somalia-Kenya Displacement
With Al Shabaab so close, Kenyan border patrols are on high alert.  Yet as the Kenyan government has also been recruiting and training Somali youths from within Garissa and the Dadaab refugee camps to fight in Somalia, the new proximity of Al Shabaab has tremendously raised security concerns.  Not only because of the threat of Al Shabaab crossing into Kenya, but also concerns of Al Shabab recruiting Somali youth and training them for terrorist activities.

When I worked at Dadaab in 2007, there was of course a security concern, yet it appears that much has changed within the last 2 years.  While the camps contain the operations of multiple NGOs, that may begin to change as well.   As much as I love the people and the place of Dadaab, it is certain that I should not pursue this in a reckless manner.  As I continue to consult with various ngos etc, I will have a better understanding of the circumstances.  For now my plan is to get in, do my job, and get out.