This article by Peter Laugharn, President and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, offers a perspective on the current migration crisis, with reference to Syrian refugees and those displaced by impacts of climate change. A shorter version of the article was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Many Prize Coalition members are working to face this crisis, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), who is mentioned in the article. Four other Coalition member organizations currently working in Lebanon and Serbia will be featured in the next Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program project: Handicap International, HelpAge International, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and SOS Children’s Villages.
Mobilizing for a Century of Dislocation
By Peter Laugharn
Nearly 35,000 people flee war or persecution each day. These brave men, women, and children join a record 65 million others — nearly 1 percent of the globe’s population — who can’t return home. Not even World War II uprooted as many people.
Migration will only worsen in the years ahead. Political and economic disorder continue to reign supreme across much of the world — and climate change will soon make life untenable in many communities.
Humanitarian organizations, donors, host countries, and their citizens can mitigate the suffering caused by the coming century of dislocation — but only by cooperating on sustainable development initiatives.
The Syrian civil war is the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis. Already, 13.5 million Syrians — more than half the pre-war population — have fled their homes. And the flow of migrants shows no signs of abating.
In our lifetimes, rising sea levels and desertification will force tens of millions to leave their homelands. Widespread flooding, and the resulting economic strain, could displace 15 million people in Bangladesh alone by 2050.
The humanitarian community must better prepare for these unprecedented refugee flows. Its aid distribution system dates to the post-WWII era. Then, most refugees needed donations of food and clothing as they waited out conflicts in camps.
Nowadays, three in four refugees live outside a camp. Nearly nine in ten reside in low- and middle-income nations, often those bordering their home countries. Lebanon, for instance, has taken in 1.5 million Syrians, who now make up a quarter of the tiny Mediterranean nation’s population.
Host governments frequently view these arrivals with suspicion, worrying that they’ll destabilize fragile political systems and take jobs from citizens. So they box refugees out of the labor market and make them dependent on charity or black-market work. Those fleeing the hell of war and disaster find themselves in purgatory — unable to return home but barred from building new lives.
Unfortunately, the current administration is limiting the number of refugees being resettled in the United States and is proposing cuts to our foreign aid budget at a time when we need it most. Instead, our government is turning to other sources of funding, like philanthropy, to fill the gaps.
That’s not sustainable. It’s time for new approaches.
Consider Oxford’s Alexander Betts, who heads up the university’s Refugee Studies Centre. He urges host countries to allow refugees to work, pointing to Uganda as a model. Over 20 percent of refugees in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, “own a business that employs other people, and 40 percent of those employees are nationals of the host country.”
Host nations have a choice. They can either let refugees burden the economy — or contribute to it.
If refugees join the labor force, they’ll inevitably disperse into cities and towns. It’s logistically difficult for aid organizations to deliver food or clothing to these dispersed populations. That’s why David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee — which my organization previously honored with the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize — urges donors to simply give refugees cash.
Cash — which currently accounts for just 6 percent of all humanitarian aid — empowers refugees to buy exactly what they need. IRC studied 90,000 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon who received pre-loaded ATM cards. Families overwhelmingly spent the money on food, water, winter clothing, and shelter. And cash keeps kids in school — “households receiving cash assistance were half as likely to send their children out to work,” according to IRC.
Cash and work permits help refugees contribute to the economy and become partly self-sustaining.
But refugees can’t reach their full potential without an education. Two-thirds of refugee children aren’t in school. Yet less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid was devoted to education in 2016. My organization is working with international nongovernmental organizations, including Save the Children and Theirworld, to demonstrate how education initiatives for the most vulnerable young people are a smart investment for future peace and sustainability. Together, we’re supporting education programs for the children of Syrian refugees close to the epicenter of the crisis.
A long-term vision has been articulated in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Global Goals and 169 targets for improving lives around the world. By collecting and tracking more data on different aid projects, donors could better identify best practices — and make funding contingent on host nations adopting those practices. Donors could also preemptively identify areas where environmental migrants will likely flee — and work with local governments to make sure they’re able to handle large migration inflows.
Regular Americans can encourage this shift by making financial donations to organizations that implement modern approaches to humanitarian aid. They can also volunteer locally to support refugees who are beginning their new lives in the United States.
Conflict, a lack of economic opportunity, and climate change will make this a century of dislocation. By quickly adopting new approaches, aid agencies, donors, and host nations — including the United States — can turn the challenges of mass migration into opportunities.
(Photo by Jodi Hilton/IRC)
Reprinted with permission of The Hilton Foundation
June 20th marks World Refugee Day as recognized by the United Nations. This year the world has reached unprecedented numbers of people fleeing their homes for fear of persecution or violence. On this day, the international community honors and recognizes the profound struggle of those who have no choice but to abandon their homes and face a future of impermanence and instability. As the refugee crisis persists, many agencies fight to advocate for and provide humanitarian assistance to the voiceless.
Hilton Prize Coalition members are at the forefront of response to the refugee crisis, providing leadership in their practices and partnerships. The Hilton Prize Coalition’s next Storytelling project will shine a spotlight on some the powerful and collaborative work being done by Coalition members in their efforts to aid refugees in the Middle East. Storytelling Program Director, Steve Connors, is spending the month of June traveling throughout Lebanon and Serbia to connect with Coalition members as they work with refugees in the region. The project will feature SOS Children’s Villages, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), Handicap International, and HelpAge International. Read more about the Storytelling project in this blog post.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents.” In honor of World Refugee Day, below are some more highlights of work being done by Coalition member organizations to respond to the crisis.
Women for Women International (WfWI)
The winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2006, WfWI leads the world in empowering marginalized women in regions plagued by humanitarian emergencies. They harness the skills of women and provide them with the necessary resources to support themselves and their families, promoting community development.
In the context of the refugee crisis, WfWI offers invaluable resources to women and their families around the world. Programs include mental health counseling to women who have suffered the trauma of being forced to leave their homes and who often take on the leadership role for their families. WfWI also has a strategic partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, which have been long been affected by displacement. Programs under this partnership combine their areas of expertise to teach women useful skills that help create economic opportunities for them as they search for stability in an unfamiliar place.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC)
The IRC received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1997, and has been a global leader in response to humanitarian crises for 83 years. In regions all over the world, the IRC provides best-in-class aid, promoting safety, health care, education and economic development for people affected by disasters and conflicts.
One recent initiative illustrates the power of collaboration and technology in the response to the refugee crisis. The IRC has recently partnered with Air BnB, the popular home rental service, in the creation of their “Open Homes” platform. This philanthropic endeavor will allow the IRC to connect refugees with Air BnB volunteers around the world who are willing to temporarily open their homes to refugees—for free. Temporary housing will then give the IRC time to resettle the refugees in a more permanent home.
Stay tuned for more stories about Coalition members as they continue to lead efforts to alleviate the suffering of refugee populations around the world.
Photo: Syrian women from a refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley plant seeds in a local farmer’s field. (Steve Connors)
In this post by youth psychologist Gabriela Monroy, readers are offered a glimpse inside one of the projects currently being implemented under the Hilton Prize Coalition’s Collaborative Models Program. Coalition members Covenant House International and the IRCT (the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) are working together to develop a comprehensive set of materials on issues related to trauma informed care. These materials will be used for training and as reference for healthcare workers and specialists to better understand the effects of trauma and how to approach traumatized youth.
Reflections on Working with Survivors of Violence and Torture
by Gabriela Monroy
I am a psychologist at La Alianza, Covenant House International’s (CHI) safe house for trafficked and sexually exploited girls in Guatemala. I am also the CHI regional coordinator in Latin America for the Hilton Prize Coalition’s Collaborative Models Program on trauma-informed care, which is being carried out by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and CHI. I was invited to attend the 10th International Scientific Symposium organized by the IRCT in December 2016 in Mexico City. When I received the invitation, I very much looked forward to the opportunity to learn from survivors of torture and those who work to support them. I knew I had much to learn and much to share. After three days of listening to the presentations and experiences from different countries, I began to realize that in many countries across the globe like mine, “normal” is similar to a war zone where death, torture, rape, abuse and abandonment of children is the norm and life is a continuum of traumatic events. The exception is a moment of human and humane interaction–which is what we strive to accomplish at La Alianza.
At La Alianza, young girls who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation find an environment that offers them the opportunity to finally be treated as human beings, in a dignified, respectful and non-violent way. For some of them, the violence in their lives has been so overwhelming that it can feel traumatic to be treated in such a humane fashion. Using a trauma informed care lens in my day-to-day work as a youth psychologist, I see, after some time of working with them, that the impact on their lives is visible. Society seems so surprised at the transformation that care, affection, and dignified treatment can produce. It is ironic because acting in a humane way should be the most common thing we do as humans, yet it still surprises us even more than the violence itself.
Every single presentation at the Symposium presented the testimonies and experiences of survivors on this continuum of violence and torture as examples of integrity and dignity. This simple reflection on my experience of this symposium hopefully will be a recognition and a homage to their courage and an expression of my respect for each one’s journey and all they have gone through.
When we work with persons who have been tortured or victims of violence without seriously questioning and denouncing the existence of this continuum of violence, we run the risk that our support can become yet another act of violence, even without intending so. And because of this, as professionals and as members of humanitarian organizations, it is necessary to develop an internal alarm system sensitive to this reality.
Also, we need to realize that best practices for dealing with survivors of torture and violence need to be based in respect for their day-to-day experience and respect for the ways they have survived, and if we can recognize this then we may be able to transform the norm that violence has become into the exception. This is my hope. I am grateful to the Hilton Prize Coalition for giving me the opportunity to be a witness to such courage.
(Gabriela Monroy, right, with one of her patients at La Alianza in Guatemala)