This Week in Restoring Family Links News 07/27/2015 - 07/31/2015

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

Eurotunnel: After completing dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean to the European Union, many migrants are now faced with their next challenge: how to reach the United Kingdom – a country well-known for having a smoother process when applying for asylum than other EU nations. Out of sheer desperation, migrants seem to be up to the challenge, and are trying even more dangerous methods to get there. This week, over 2,000 migrants attempted to storm the Eurotunnel, a railway that connects Calais, France to southern England. Reports say that one Sudanese man died in the efforts, with few others injured. The “Calais Crisis” has stirred up tensions between the UK, France, and Eurotunnel authorities, though the spotlight is on the entire European Union for being unable to control the migrant influxes this summer. In an effort to secure the tunnel, EU governments spent $5.2 million to erect barriers to control the number of incoming refugees, and London announced another seven million pounds to help France secure its end of the Eurotunnel.

CreditPhilippe Huguen/Agence France-Presse

CreditPhilippe Huguen/Agence France-Presse

Though the journey is dangerous and has already caused dozens of injuries, few are lucky enough to succeed. This week, the British Red Cross was able to provide medical assistance to those who made it to Kent, though supplies and volunteers are limited. According to The Guardian, more than 90 people per day are now seeking help – a significant increase from 60 per day that was reported 2 weeks ago. As many as 9 migrants have died during the journey in June and July alone. 

Germany: Over the past few months, migrant and refugee crises in the European Union have been a large component of our weekly news. Countries such as Italy, Greece, France, and the UK all receive high numbers of migrants and refugees every single day, and just as expected, the problem is growing more severe, and expanding across more countries. This week, a new surge of refugees arrived to Germany, and the government is overwhelmed. A majority of refugee centers are full, and the government is scrambling to find new methods to house refugees. In order to alleviate the crisis, officials offered private hostel vouchers, the German army offered their barracks, and the Red Cross built 21 emergency accommodations centers for refugees in need. Despite these measures, some refugees still have no place to sleep, and thousands sleep in public parks every night in order to stay together. Unfortunately, these accommodations are only temporary, and the tent sites will close down in October.

In addition to a lack of shelter, numerous reports of xenophobic attacks and rallies against refugees circulated in the news this week. Most attacks stem from gang violence or anti-Muslim protestors who station themselves outside of refugee reception centers. The anti-Muslim movement has become one of Europe’s more pressing issues, and only time will determine how the movement will progress as more refugees enter into the European Union this year. 

Restoring Family Links in Jordan: As raging conflict and poor living conditions in Syria force thousands of families to flee to Jordan in search of a safe place to live, many family members become separated. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helps reunite them through tracing services and by putting them back in touch. This week, the ICRC reports of a reconnection story between a Syrian mother and her two children after almost a year. Check out the full story here.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 07/20/15 - 07/24/15

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

Nigeria: Earlier this month, a series of elections drove the Nigerian government and rebel group Boko Haram into more intensified conflict than the country had seen since fighting begun last year. This week, violence surged in border areas of Cameroon and Niger, and as a result of the fighting, (and also in light of a suicide attack that killed 13 on July 12,) hundreds of Nigerians have fled their homes. On average, 100 Nigerians register at the UNHCR’s Minawao camp in Cameroon every day, though more are expected this weekend and into next week. The arrivals at the camp are mainly Nigerian families who have previously fled to Cameroon to escape violence in north-east Nigeria, but stayed near the border – hoping for a quick return home. However, since resources are limited at Minawao, the government of Cameroon is stationing advisors at entry zones to help council refugees as to where to go next – because conflict tends to shift regions, some areas are only temporarily dangerous, and the Cameroonian government encourages families to stay close and stay together.

Newly-arrived Nigerian refugees register with UNHCR officials at Minawao Camp, northern Cameroon [UNHCR/D. Mbaiorem]

Newly-arrived Nigerian refugees register with UNHCR officials at Minawao Camp, northern Cameroon [UNHCR/D. Mbaiorem]

The UNHCR estimates that over 12,000 refugees are unaccounted for, and worries what might happen if Minawao – home to 44,000 Nigerian refugees – becomes overcrowded. Some Nigerian families also choose to flee to the southern area of Niger, where 2,500 have already sought refuge this week. Since last year, estimates show almost 100,000 fled to this area since mid-2013.     

Elections in Burundi: After several months of unrest, fear, and soaring numbers of refugee populations, Burundi started their election process on Tuesday of this week. These elections are key to how the country will proceed, as opposition groups have protested President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for his third term. Before the voting began, grenades and rockets exploded in the capital city, and gunshots tore through polling stations. Though no one was hurt, it certainly created a precedent for the election process – as this week progressed, voter turnout was disappointing. Not only are citizens afraid to vote, but independent media has been shut down, and many opponents have fled, alike 150,000 Burundians who fear their country may again have to grapple with violence.

Child refugees arriving in Tanzania [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Child refugees arriving in Tanzania [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, refugee camps in bordering countries scrambled to prepare for influxes due to elections. Tuesday night, UNHCR estimates that over 6000 Burundians fled into Tanzania. Doctors without Borders (MSF) said on Wednesday that the Nyarugusu refugee camp near the Tanzanian town of Kasulu, close to the border with Burundi, was simply not coping with the number of new arrivals. Top UK advisors are calling Tanzanian refugees camps “deplorable” and “overstretched”, and seemingly close to their breaking point.  The UNHCR said on Wednesday that more than 79,000 Burundians had arrived in Tanzania since May, including over 2000 between July 12-19 alone, and 500 everyday. Going forward, these numbers are up in the air, as election results are expected sometime today. 

Restoring Family Links in Greece: It seems as though whenever Syria appears in the news, the possibility of anything positive is slim. The "4 million Refugees" figure is hard to ignore, and Syria, along with the entire  international community, will undoubtedly struggle with this situation for a long time. However, many humanitarian organizations have committed to helping those affected, including the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. 

After crossing the Mediterranean Sea, a Syrian father recounts the devastating ordeal of losing contact with his 5 year old son. Because of the joint efforts of ICRC staff in Damascus and Athens, his son was found in a police station on one of Greek islands, and the father and son were able to reunite in Greece. Read the full story here.

A Day in the Life of a Refugee

Story by Connor Donaldson, Volunteer, Denver, CO

During the simulation, participants receive "paperwork" that recreates the experience many refugees face when encountering an unfamiliar language.

During the simulation, participants receive "paperwork" that recreates the experience many refugees face when encountering an unfamiliar language.

Each day, millions of people around the globe scrape out an existence as refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers. To help raise awareness during last month’s World Refugee Day celebrations, the Global Refugee Center in Greeley, Colorado hosted an open house centered on their “A Walk in their Shoes” simulation.

This simulation, based on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines, attempts to give participants a glimpse of life as a refugee. Through a variety of scenarios, following the path from displacement to border crossings to life in refugee camps, the simulation uses sensory deprivation, assigned disabilities, and synthetic foreign languages to simulate the everyday hardships that refugees face. For many participants, this eye-opening experience is the first exposure to the daily plight of displaced persons and refugees. Many found it hard to handle and disturbing.

For the simulation, I was assigned the role of a five-year-old girl, initially separated from her family by a bombing and muted by a poison gas attack. As a student of international humanitarian law, it was really difficult to walk through this simulation, understanding that while we can walk away and return to our lives of comfort and ease, this is the reality of millions of people.

Each step in the process illustrated the abuses of humanitarian law, from the bombing of civilians by a government entity to the demanding of bribes by border security, violating international rights of migration. I watched as my “family” was separated, harassed, and I was eventually left behind, since my “father” had nothing to bribe the guards with to get me across the border. This is a constant reality for people living in fear, fleeing for their lives from natural disasters, sectarian and political violence, and religious persecution.

Through this simulation, I met a refugee from the Kayah State of Burma who fled political persecution with her family when she was 5 years old. She walked through the simulation with us, and afterword sat down with me to discuss the simulation and her experiences as a refugee. She mentioned that during the sensory-deprivation section of the course, with flashing lights and banging noises, gave her flashbacks to her father carrying her through the jungle, fleeing the policemen searching for her father.

That statement really affected me; a punch in the gut serving as a final reminder that this is reality for people around the globe, and that nothing we simulate can possibly reach the levels of sheer terror experienced by these people, but this simulation did have the power to give the briefest taste of such horrors.

For more information of the Global Refugee Center, visit http://www.grccolorado.org.

Read more about the rights of civilians and refugees by clicking here.

For more stories from the American Red Cross in Colorado, please visit their blog.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 7/13/15 - 7/17/15

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

Syria: With each passing week, Syria continues on a downward spiral, as fighting increases in new towns, occurs with new rebel groups, and causes more ethnic groups to flee. On Wednesday, The New York Times published an article about Syria with a title that concisely summarizes the nation’s situation: “Syria Increasingly Disintegrates in Crucible of War.”

This week, Kurdish militants stretched into the northeast region of Syria, causing hundreds of Syrians to flee the area. During their journeys, Syrian families are being separated, and with dwindling basic food staples, Syrian refugees as well as those displaced are facing health problems, such as starvation and disease. Organizations such as the UN and UNICEF are doing as much as possible with the resources available, but this week, a newest obstacle arose: Rebel groups cut off water supplies in different areas of the nation, and water is now seen as a “weapon of war.”

WAEL HAMZEH/EPA /LANDOV

WAEL HAMZEH/EPA /LANDOV

In every conflict, glimmers of hope appear in their own ways. Human Rights Activist and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 18th birthday this week, and felt that girls of Syria should receive a gift. Malala inaugurated “The Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School” for more than 200 Syrian girls living in refugee camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which will offer education and skills training to girl refugees from ages 14-18. Lebanon hosts nearly 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees, though the total number in the country may be even higher.

Hungary: Despite immense criticism, this week, Hungary began to build a wall across the Serbian border to prevent migrants from entering the country. The Hungarian government says that the project is meant to control the flow of the tens of thousands of migrants that come into Hungary, but humanitarian organizations as well as other EU countries have expressed concerns. Serbian’s Prime Minister expressed his disapproval, stating the last wall built in Europe should have been the Berlin Wall. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Anne Richard, said, All migrants, regardless of immigration status, deserve humane and dignified treatment and access to asylum procedures.” So far this year, 80,000 people have migrated to Hungary, and 80% originate from conflict zones such as Syria.

AFP 2015/ CSABA SEGESVARI

AFP 2015/ CSABA SEGESVARI

However, not all Hungarians are in agreement with the government. “Foods Not Bombs,” a group of Hungarian volunteers who cook and distribute food to migrants, station themselves around the capital city of Budapest to help families in need. The group started with a few individuals who were concerned about the amount of unaccompanied children and vulnerable families wandering around the city, and grew to dozens of volunteers over the past several years. Foods Not Bombs is one of many organizations who help to care for migrants in their time of need. 

Restoring Family Links in Burundi: A large portion of Burundian refugees entering reception centers near the border of Rwanda are unaccompanied minors, or individuals who have lost contact with their families. Responding to these needs, the ICRC recently developed a project aimed at helping Burundian refugees to get in touch with their loved ones, either by providing calling centers, or by encouraging refugees to use their own phones. So far, hundreds of families have been reconnected. Learn more about this ICRC Restoring Family Links service here.