In this second post of a series, Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program Director Steve Connors provides context on the plight of Syrian refugees at the European border, setting the stage for the Coalition’s next Storytelling project, a series of vignettes featuring the work of SOS Children’s Villages, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), HelpAge International and Handicap International. (Photo is from one of the short films.)
Stranded In Transit
by Steve Connors
“We are at present largely no longer enforcing #Dublin procedures for Syrian citizens.”
This innocuous statement, tweeted out in the middle of an August night by Germany’s Office for Migration and Refugees, signaled an open border policy for Syrian refugees and helped set Europe on the path to a political upheaval unprecedented in the history of the European Union. Two years later, tens of thousands of displaced people remain stranded on the EU borders, unable to go forward and desperate not to go back.
Overwhelmed by refugees from the Syrian and Iraq wars, the Lebanese and Jordanian governments had recently closed their own borders. People fleeing the ongoing violence in their homeland began to head north and west in search of safety. First they arrived in Turkey, which was already sheltering close to three million Syrians. With news of the German government’s relaxation of its border policies, hundreds of thousands then made their way toward Europe – either by sea to Greece or through Bulgaria by land. None of the countries involved were in any way prepared for this mass influx of despairing humanity. None of the countries involved had the capacity – whether infrastructural or economic – to cope with the sheer volume of traffic that approached them.
They weren’t only Syrians. Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile communication, others already displaced by violence, politics or economics saw an unmissable opportunity. Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Iranians, sub-Saharan Africans and even a few Cubans, reset their course and headed for Europe’s borders.
Almost all those on the move had Europe as their desired destination, and all the countries along the way were thought of – not only by the refugees but also by the host governments – as transit points along the way. The last of these transit countries has been Serbia.
In the summer of 2015 Serbia had barely recovered from the worst floods ever recorded, and now faced a flood of another kind. The first responders to the crisis were the Serbian people themselves. Being no strangers to the plight of refugees during the wars of secession that carved up the former state of Yugoslavia, people saw the desperate condition of the people arriving on their doorstep and volunteered in the thousands, loading up their cars with food and water and delivering it along the routes being traveled by the refugees. Meanwhile, the Serbian government quietly worked in the background to renovate abandoned motels, barracks, and government buildings to create habitable transit camps where refugees could be registered, and much needed services could be delivered to those on the move.
Initially, with border controls being barely recognized, people passed through quickly and easily. The non-Syrians, if they had arrived in the early weeks, were also able to pass through in the chaos, but as time went by and the Syrian wave slowed down, border controls were soon reinstated, and the transit camps began to take on a permanence for which they were not intended.
Bordered on three sides by EU countries – Bulgaria to the east, Hungary to the north, and Croatia to the west, Serbia had become a cul-de-sac. The welcome that had been extended to the Syrians was now seen to have been fulfilled, and the countries forming the European Union’s south-eastern border had become a bulwark against further passage. At these borders, refugees face hostility, and even brutality.
Still they come: Fatima (right) and her sister-in-law, Amina, newly arrived at a makeshift refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. With the official border crossings closed to Syrian refugees, the women, along with Zeinab’s husband and sons, traveled for three days across rough mountain tracks to reach safety. Amina, who was born with a club foot, was carried across the mountains by her brother and nephews.
Among the thousands still in the Serbian transit camps, perhaps the least fortunate are the Afghans. Refused refugee status because Afghanistan is deemed by the international community to be a safe country in which to live, they are stranded in Serbia waiting for their names to reach the top of a list of people allowed to cross into Europe. But even when that day arrives, most will likely be refused asylum and sent back across the border.
The sense of crisis may be fading from world headlines, but with thousands of adults and children desperately yearning for safety and an end to their journey, the mantle of responsibility for their care will continue to fall on the shoulders of international NGOs. Among those still committed to providing that care in Europe and the Middle East are the stalwart staff of the Hilton Prize Laureates.
Beginning in early October, the HPC Storytelling Program will be rolling out four short videos featuring the work of HPC Laureates in Lebanon and Serbia. The first of these vignettes will follow the experiences of Handicap International as they’ve innovated and adapted to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli. The second will focus on HelpAge International’s work with Lebanese partner organizations in Beirut, while the third will provide a glimpse into the daily work of IRCT member The Restart Center, which has been providing psychotherapy to patients living with trauma. The series concludes in Serbia, where teams from SOS Children’s Villages continue to provide for the needs of families as they transit through the country, seeking safety in Europe.
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
July 30th marks the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, as recognized by the United Nations since 2013. Human trafficking is defined as the illegal transporting of persons between countries, typically for labor or sexual exploitation purposes, and is often referred to as modern-day slavery. It is the 3rd most lucrative illegal trade practice in the world. Human trafficking is an issue that crosses borders, leaving a trace in every country on the globe. 21 million people around the world are estimated to be trafficked for forced labor or sexual exploitation; 71% of them are women and girls, while one-third of them are children.
The global community recognizes this day in order to raise awareness for the victims of human trafficking and promote their rights as the fight to put an end to this illicit trade continues. Hilton Prize Laureates ECPAT International (ECPAT) and SOS Children’s Villages (SOS) are among the organizations at the forefront of this battle. In honor of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, the Hilton Prize Coalition would like to shine a light on the work these organizations do.
Leading the effort for 25 years, ECPAT is the only international NGO that is dedicated exclusively to advocating against the sexual exploitation of children. ECPAT began in Thailand but has since grown to have a presence in 88 countries. A recipient of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2013, ECPAT provides crucial research, programs, and campaigns that contribute to their vision of a world without child sex trafficking.
Tourism creates a hotspot for child sex-trafficking, and as it increases globally, it puts more of the world’s children at risk. ECPAT leads initiatives in raising awareness of this massive problem and forging strategic partnerships to combat it. This July in Madrid, ECPAT served as one of the co-hosts for the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Transition Meeting on Implementation of the Recommendations of the Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (SECTT), demonstrating their expertise and global leadership on the subject. This meeting placed pressure on the global community to prioritize the protection of children in lieu of the increase in tourism and its positive correlation with sex trafficking. Reports that resulted from the meeting are available here.
SOS Children’s Villages
2002 Hilton Humanitarian Prize winner SOS is dedicated to the care of orphaned and abandoned children. The organization provides care, education, health services, and emergency response for children who have lost their families or are at risk of losing them, with a priority on ensuring the rights of children and giving them a safe space just to be kids.
Displacement in areas such as Syria puts millions of children on the move and can often lead to the separation of families. Children in such areas under the pressures of conflict or socio-economic stress are at higher risk of becoming victims of child sex-trafficking. SOS Children’s Villages Emergency Response programs bring shelter and safety to vulnerable children in areas experiencing violence; these measures protect children who have lost everything from becoming victims of sexual exploitation.
The work of SOS to protect children in Syria and the surrounding region will be featured in the next project of the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program. Stay tuned for updates.
(UN Photo by Alessandro Scotti)
Today’s post was written by Regine A. Webster, Vice President at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. The organization aims to transform the field of disaster philanthropy by providing educational, fund opportunities and strategic guidance to increase donor effectiveness throughout the lifecycle of disasters. In this piece, Ms. Webster provides an overview of the current refugee crisis with an eye on what smart funders are doing to achieve greater impact.
Trends in the Refugee Crisis: Tips for Smart Funders
By Regine A. Webster
[ref-u-gee: noun A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or violence.]
The global refugee crisis has continued to grow, and more than 65 million people are forcibly displaced around the world. More than half of those refugees come from three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), and Somalia (1.1 million).
The United Nations Refugee Agency notes that a record 34,000 people a day, or roughly 24 people a minute, are displaced from their homes by conflict and violence daily. Children make up 51 percent of the world’s refugees. The organization lists three main reasons:
- Conflicts that cause large refugee outflows, like Somalia and Afghanistan – now in their third and fourth decade respectively – are lasting longer.
- Dramatic new or reignited conflicts and situations of insecurity are occurring more frequently. While today’s largest is Syria, wars have broken out in the past five years in South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine and Central African Republic, while thousands more people have fled raging gang and other violence in Central America.
- The rate at which solutions are being found for refugees and internally displaced people has been on a falling trend since the end of the Cold War, leaving a growing number in limbo.
As stated by UNHCR, “We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.” This comes as we enter the seventh year of the Syrian civil war. And, at the same time that the world is witnessing four countries tumble into famine. In effect, we are not just witnessing the largest displacement, but rather, it is the largest human displacement coupled with the largest number of food insecure people across the globe since World War II. If that fact is not enough to stop you in your tracks, then I am not sure what could.
And yet, remaining complacent is not an option. Doing nothing is not an option.
To make a real difference, I recommend that your organization look to follow in the footsteps of smart funders who are taking the following actions:
- Educate yourselves about the crisis. Funders are learning about effective actions taken by other members of the U.S. funder community, researching what they can DO to make a difference, and working to understand the refugee journey. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) has authored a series of resource guides that support this investigative effort. CDP is also always available for a phone conversation to help you and your organization craft a strategy to support the global refugee crisis.
- Give your time, talent, and resources. Smart funders are working outside of normal bounds by volunteering locally for a refugee resettlement organization (or one of their local partner organizations like a food bank). They are also lending their legal, financial, or computer expertise to local resettlement organizations or national NGOs. Lastly, smart funders are investing their own personal dollars or recommending organizational investments to finding solutions to the refugee crisis or providing life saving services to refugees and internally displaced persons globally.
- Share and discuss. Smart funders are talking about the refugee crisis with their work colleagues and friends to let them know what they are reading, how they are working to help mitigate suffering or resolve the crisis, and how they are investing their dollars (or recommending institutional dollars be channeled) for good.
- Be a champion. Smart funders are paying careful attention to the proposed changes to the federal budget. The proposed budget cuts 31 percent from the State Department and foreign assistance budgets. It also cuts the U.S. Refugee Admissions budget by 11 percent and the Department of Health and Human Services Refugee and Entrant Assistance budget by 31 percent. All told, more than $1 billion dollars in cuts to programs that not only help the world’s most vulnerable, both at home and abroad, but help preserve our national security interests around the world. As it pertains to these budgetary issues and welcoming refugees, smart funders are making calls, and sending letters or emails to members of Congress. According to Georgetown Professor Emeritus and CDP Advisory Council member, Susan Martin, members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee are being asked by smart funders to:
- Provide full funding to organizations that aid and protect refugees and internally displaced persons.
- Maintain robust levels of refugee admissions so that the US can continue to provide much needed leadership with regard to refugee resettlement.
- Ensure that US asylum and temporary protection policies protect refugees who are already in the United States from return to life threatening situations at home.
I started this post with the definition of a refugee – A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or violence. Imagine packing one bag per person as you are forced, by fear or famine, from your home. I urge you to read that definition out loud – make it real to you, make it real for your work, make it real for your community.
Links and Additional Resources:
(Photo by Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps, courtesy of CDP)
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)
As part of the Hilton Prize Coalition Collaborative Models Program, Operation Smile hosted training sessions alongside the American Heart Association (AHA) and Help Age International at Operation Smile’s Roma Downey Center in Amman, Jordan, on March 15 -16, 2017.
With support from the Coalition, Operation Smile invited Hilton Prize Laureates to participate with Jordanian and Lebanese health care workers involved in the treatment of refugees. The program featured an AHA training session, which focused on strengthening emergency life-saving skills for healthcare professionals. Participants also had the opportunity to learn about caring for elderly populations and received instruction from experts around psychological first aid during presentations by HelpAge International advisors. Participants, including staff from the Jordanian Ministry of Health, the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET), UNHCR, HelpAge Lebanon and HelpAge Jordan, as well as medical volunteers from Operation Smile Jordan, observed an Operation Smile medical mission at a local hospital as well.
Overall, a total of 30 AHA certifications – 29 Basic Life Support (BLS) Provider certifications and one BLS Instructor re-certification – were issued by Egypt-based AHA instructors.
One trainee who received his BLS Instructor re-certification, longtime Operation Smile volunteer and Jordanian emergency room physician Dr. Tareq Househ of Specialty Hospital in Amman, offered insight into the experience:
“As an ER physician, I realized that we look after and care for physically-injured casualties more often. We are not always looking out for post-traumatic psychologically-injured people who may also need a lot of help; especially women, children, adolescents, elderly and people with health conditions, disabilities and chronic illnesses.
The program gave me a new approach for these groups, namely the psychological first aid for patients, including looking and caring for their basic needs and safety, listening to them, connecting them with social support teams, screening them for disaster-related disorientation, and addressing effects on their chronic illness, mainly in the elderly.
The life support program also continued to emphasize supporting life for these groups and the value of life for all. Saving lives by providing high-quality life support and providing psychological first aid for the patient needs and their families are examples of (the Help Age International and Operation Smile/AHA training) programs working together.
I would like to thank everybody who enrolled in the Hilton Prize Coalition and Operation Smile Collaborative Education Program. I enjoyed the combination of the basic life support and the Help Age lectures since both of them support human beings in crisis. The trainers demonstrated professionalism and successfully motivated the trainee to participate. The program was well-organized, professional and friendly.”
Since 2003, Operation Smile has educated more than 25,000 health care professionals in life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills through AHA training programs. According to the AHA, when CPR is administered in the first few minutes of a cardiac arrest, a person’s chance of survival can be doubled or tripled. By providing AHA and other skill-specific training sessions for our international medical volunteers, Operation Smile improves patient safety and strengthens health systems where it works.
(AHA Training participants in Amman, Jordan)
Now is the Time for Compassionate Leadership – @hiltonfound partners w/ @theIRC & @save_children to continue efforts in #RefugeeCrisis http://ow.ly/h0OS30aCxmd