Celebrating World Refugee Day in Chicago, Part 2

Story by Michelle McSweeney, SAF and International Services Manager, Chicago, IL

Foster Beach, June 20th 2015

On Saturday June 20th, the American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois continued our World Refugee Day celebrations with our annual Soccer Tournament and Potluck event at Foster Beach Soccer Fields located in Uptown, Chicago.

The tournament kicked off at 9am in the morning, where 8 teams competed for the Championship, and home pride. Teams represented communities from Iraq, Karen (Burma), Chin (Burma), Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, and Ethiopia.

 Red Cross staff and volunteers promote the organization's reconnecting families services.

Red Cross staff and volunteers promote the organization's reconnecting families services.

Alongside watching the soccer games, there were a variety of youth activities including kite-building and flying, face painting, finger painting and more. Attendees also had fun at the flower potting station, and many stopped by the advocacy table to sign up for voter registration, and sign petitions for fair housing for refugees. Then they headed over to the food station where cuisine from Somalia, Ethiopia, Iraq, India, and Burma covered the tables and drew lines around the park!

 Event attendees join the dance.

Event attendees join the dance.

Following lunch, it was dance time! Performers from After School Matters, Living Water Church, and the Burmese Youth Dance Group helped continue the festivities and fun throughout the afternoon.

The Red Cross had our own booth as well, where we were able to provide 136 free emergency first aid kits to refugee families. We shared Restoring Family Links keychains and information in multiple languages about how the Red Cross helps reconnect separated families. And while our health services team was there, they fortunately did not have many injuries to attend to!

 A representative from ICNA speaks about the importance of supporting refugees.

A representative from ICNA speaks about the importance of supporting refugees.

At the height of the event, we all took a few minutes away from celebration and soccer to reflect on the reason we all came together that day, and to recognize those who are observing Ramadan. Our partner from the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) USA spoke to the crowd on how “Ramadan teaches us all to remember how many around the world go without, and that service to others, no matter how small, can make the largest impact on someone else’s life.”

 The winning team: United Star (Liberia)

The winning team: United Star (Liberia)

It was a wonderful day of family, celebration and recognition. Oh and who won the tournament? United Star (Liberia) of course!

Celebrating World Refugee Day in Chicago, Part 1

 Red Cross volunteers pass out cake to celebrate World Refugee Day and the 100th anniversary of the Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter.

Red Cross volunteers pass out cake to celebrate World Refugee Day and the 100th anniversary of the Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter.

Story by Michelle McSweeney, SAF and International Services Manager, Chicago, IL

Daley Plaza, June 15th 2015

Cultural performances, exhibits, birthday cake, and rainstorms!  On June 15th, we kicked-off our celebration for this year’s World Refugee Day at Chicago’s downtown Daley Plaza. This event marked the first time in several years that the World Refugee Day Planning Committee, which includes members from over 15 refugee service provider organizations, hosted a public awareness and cultural event. The goal was to draw in members of the community who may not be aware of or understand our refugee communities here, and provide a platform to showcase the people and talents that make our city so uniquely diverse.

 Red Cross volunteers educate the public about refugee issues and Red Cross services.

Red Cross volunteers educate the public about refugee issues and Red Cross services.

This year is also special because it is the 100th Anniversary of the Greater Chicago Chapter, since it opened its doors on June 18, 1915. Despite the heavy rain and storms, our Red Cross team remained outside in Daley Plaza, serving Portillo’s birthday cake in honor of our 100th birthday. And as individuals came into the tents we were able to share information about the Restoring Family Links program, our partner organizations, and how the Red Cross supports our international mission locally.

We simultaneously invited our guests to enjoy the event inside, and while there were quite a few moments of heavy rain, luckily the tents protected us (for the most part). And the rain did not deter the 300+ pieces of chocolate cake from disappearing in front of us!

 Chicago's CBS2 news anchor, Mai Martinez, takes a selfie with the crowd in Chicago's Daley Plaza.

Chicago's CBS2 news anchor, Mai Martinez, takes a selfie with the crowd in Chicago's Daley Plaza.

The World Refugee Day kick-off event continued on inside, emceed by Chicago’s CBS2 news anchor Mai Martinez.  And crowds gathered, including our team, to watch and listen to international sounds and dance of the Chicago Chin Baptist Choir (Burma), Oud player Amro Helmy (Iraq), and guitarist Abraham Mellish (Liberia).

Surrounding the room were several exhibits, including one from Changing Worlds that described examples of the extensive journeys refugees take to get to safety; another from Photovoice Exhibit that showcased a project between Heartland Alliance and Sulzer Regional Library, where 12 refugee clients where provided photography equipment and training, and selected their favorite photo in Chicago describing what their experience was like arriving in the new city; and displays that highlighted leaders in Chicago that came to our city as refugees.

 Chicago Chin Baptist Choir performs for World Refugee Day

Chicago Chin Baptist Choir performs for World Refugee Day

Overall, the event was an exciting success! We were able to connect with at least 200 individuals to share our Restoring Family Links program, a Red Cross service that helps reconnect loved ones separated by war. Those who may be less aware of our refugee communities or have misconceptions about their experiences hopefully walked away with a new understanding and respect for those forced to leave their homes and everything they know behind, in hopes of finding safety for themselves and their family.

International Reconnecting Families Bulletin: Andaman Sea Migrant Crisis

Situation: Since May 1, 2015, when camps and burial sites of migrants were discovered in South Thailand, a crack-down was initiated on the smuggling and trafficking networks in Malaysia and Thailand. As a result, several boats with hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were left stranded at sea in a dire humanitarian situation. Hundreds of Rakhine Muslims (Myanmar) and Bangladeshis made the journey from their respective locations to Malaysia, usually through Thailand.

International pressure led authorities from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to allow the migrants to disembark in their territory.   As of today, those countries have had hundreds to more than a thousand migrant arrivals.  Following the arrival of the migrants, different measures have been taken, ranging from sending them to Immigration Detention Centers (IDC) and/or shelters in Malaysia and Thailand, to temporary shelters and facilities in Indonesia.  In Myanmar, authorities have taken charge of organizing the disembarkation of boats stranded off their shores into Rakhine state. In Bangladesh, border guard authorities received those who arrived on the country's shores.  Please see below for specific activities taken by each country (Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh) and our ability to conduct Restoring Family Links (RFL) services in relation to this crisis.

RFL needs, capacity and movement response:

Thailand

Since 2013, the ICRC Delegation in Bangkok has been visiting Immigration Detention Centers in coordination with United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

About 522 migrants from Myanmar, 350 Bangladeshis are being held in two Immigration Detention Centers and four shelters. 

At present, 117 Safe and Well calls were provided to 71 Rakhine Muslims, 43 Bangladeshis and 3 Burmese, with further visits scheduled to provide RFL services.

ICRC is also collecting information on death of migrants.

In addition, the ICRC team is in contact with Save the Children and World Vision to coordinate their activities linked to the current crisis.

Myanmar

According to information provided by UNHCR, 941 people have disembarked in North Rakhine, organized by Myanmar authorities, in coordination with UNHCR and other international NGOs. All who disembarked are under the supervision of the Border Guard Police (BGP),

Of those migrants, 33 were identified as unaccompanied minors and 8 are from Myanmar. UNICEF has registered the unaccompanied minors.

UNHCR has coordinated Safe and Well calls home, as ICRC does not have access to BGP stations.   ICRC stands ready to provide RFL services should authorities grant them access.  ICRC is closely coordinating with UNHCR and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the response.

ICRC has access to other detention centers and shelters in Rakhine state and can provide Safe and Well phone calls.

Indonesia

According to UNHCR, migrants brought ashore in Aceh and North Sumatra over the past few weeks numbered more than 1700 and are sheltered in 6 locations.  There are approximately 993 migrants from Myanmar (estimated 208 children) and 731 migrants from Bangladesh.

The ICRC and Indonesian Red Cross RFL team provided 281 Safe and Well phone calls (41 to Unaccompanied Minors) in five days and collected 35 Safe and Well messages.

Services are continuing to be coordinated with the related actors in the field, such as the local Government, UNHCR, IOM, INGOs and NGOs.

Malaysia

According to the UNHCR, 1107 migrants arrived in Langkawi on 11 May 2015, out of which 700 are from Bangladesh and 407 are from Myanmar.  All migrants were transferred to Immigration Detention Centers (IDC), which had already housed a significant population. 

The ICRC has been visiting IDCs in Malaysia since 2010 and in tandem with the Malaysian Red Crescent (MRC) since 2011. The RFL team is able to provide Red Cross Messages as well as Safe and Well phone calls.  

Bangladesh

The ICRC is in contact with Border Guard authorities in view of the possible return of Bangladeshi migrants rescued in Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand. The Bangladesh Red Cross Society (BDRCS) has access to detention places for RFL services should foreign migrants be sent there.   

Both the ICRC Delegation and the BDRCS are coordinating their efforts, highlighting the readiness of the BDRCS and the ICRC to provide RFL and health services including transport expenses and accompaniment of beneficiaries, at the airport when migrants return.
BDRCS and/or ICRC have been undertaking the following activities:

The ICRC and the BDRCS are currently processing 29 tracing requests for Unaccompanied Bangladeshi minors who arrived in Rakhine mid-May.

If you or someone you know has lost contact with a family member or loved one due to migration in the Andaman Sea region, the American Red Cross can help. To learn more about this service and start your search today, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies. You can also start your search by contacting your local chapter.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 05/09/2015 - 05/15/2015

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.

 Migrants rest inside a shelter after being rescued from boats at Lhoksukon in Indonesia's Aceh Province (Roni Bintang/Reuters)

Migrants rest inside a shelter after being rescued from boats at Lhoksukon in Indonesia's Aceh Province (Roni Bintang/Reuters)

Rohingya Migration Crisis: This week, the plight of over 1,000 refugees seeking asylum in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia came to the forefront in the news. The refugees are reported by officials as being a mix of Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohingya, a persecuted and stateless minority living in western Myanmar and eastern Bangladesh. These men, women, and children flee persecution and poverty, making the long and often dangerous journey by wooden boat through the Andaman Sea.

The three nations where people have sought asylum have all attempted to push the refugees back to the sea, saying they have done enough to help the persecuted minority and that they have to do more to protect their borders. Many organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have called on these nations to end these pushbacks and provide the asylum seekers with the protection and aid that they desperately need. While thousands have attempted to make it to shore, it is feared that thousands more remain stranded in rickety boats with nowhere to go. International law continues to debate how to best address the needs of stateless persons, and whether these persons can be recognized under current refugee law.

 Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files/Courtesy Reuters

Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files/Courtesy Reuters

Migration in Europe: As the European Union continues to see an increase in migration across the Mediterranean, several proposals have been put forward to address the humanitarian crisis. One would address the uneven burden of meeting the needs of the migrants. As the majority of migrants cross from Libya, Italy has struggled to meet their protection needs. The proposal would distribute 20,000 migrants a year among EU nations based on the country’s current population and capacity for providing protection to asylum seekers. This proposal has been promoted by Germany, whereas other nations that would receive a large percentage of the 20,000, such as the UK, have rejected this solution. Another proposed solution involves using military force against smugglers; however, many immigration advocates have warned that such actions could further endanger the lives of migrants. The Red Cross has urged for a humanitarian approach to addressing the crisis.

 Nepal military personnel and earthquake survivors search for belongings in collapsed houses in Sankhu, on the outskirts of Kathmandu (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Nepal military personnel and earthquake survivors search for belongings in collapsed houses in Sankhu, on the outskirts of Kathmandu (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Nepal Update: On April 25, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck 48 miles NW of Kathmandu, Nepal, affecting an estimated 8 million people across 39 districts in Nepal’s West and Central Regions.  The earthquake resulted in more than 8,300 deaths, injured 17,800 people, and damaged or destroyed more than 500,000 houses.  Initial U.N. assessments have found that more than 90 percent of houses were destroyed in Sindhupalchok and Gorkha districts.

On May 12, a second major earthquake—of magnitude 7.3—struck 47 miles NE of Kathmandu, affecting 32 districts, including those still recovering from the April 25 earthquake.  The government of Nepal had confirmed 117 deaths and more than 1,900 people injured as of May 15.  Additional damage to houses and buildings also occurred as a result of the second earthquake.

Although humanitarian aid is now reaching many of the communities affected by the April 25 earthquake, access remains a challenge for some of the worst affected areas, particularly remote communities north of Kathmandu.  Debris removal remains a top priority in districts affected by the May 12 earthquake, as landslides have damaged roads and rendered some areas inaccessible. Many people displaced by the earthquakes are currently living outdoors in cold, wet conditions.  Additional disaster risks are also complicating response operations; many earthquake-affected areas are at continued risk of landslides and aftershocks, and heavy rains have occurred in some locations.

The earthquakes damaged schools and health facilities, limited access to water and sanitation, and left an estimated 3.5 million people in need of food assistance. Sustained relief and recovery efforts are required before the next monsoon season which is forecasted to begin in several weeks.  The Government of Nepal has identified shelter, health care provision, food, and water, sanitation and hygiene as key priorities for the response.

The American Red Cross has contributed $5 million to the response. The American Red Cross has also deployed a total of 11 disaster specialists and is providing relief supplies to support the response.  The American Red Cross is working closely with the Nepal Red Cross and the IFRC to coordinate additional support.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 03/07/2015 - 03/13/2015

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.

Syrian-refugees-011.jpg

Syria: This week we highlighted some of the ongoing problems facing Syrian refugees. With the war in Syria entering its fifth year, millions of displaced people continue to suffer from a lack of humanitarian aid. International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, Joanne Liu, describes how her organization faces a series of political and social obstacles in providing medical services to the region. In addition to facing physical threats, Syrians are also in danger of losing part of their cultural heritage. With ISIS and other military forces continuing to operate in Syria, fighting has led to a transnational effort to protect cultural and historical artifacts that lie within the combat zone. 

Outside of Syria, the country’s neighbors also face numerous obstacles due to the massive influx of refugees requiring assistance within their borders.  As the war drags on, deeper issues outside of meeting basic living standards have arisen. With much of the adult Syrian men back at home, a large proportion of refugees are women and children. As a vulnerable population group, they have been subject to numerous challenges including forced prostitution, child labor, and religious persecution. In Turkey, for example, only 1/3 of Syrian youth are receiving a formal education – raising fears of a poorly educated generation entering the labor market.  Unless there are some radical new developments the situation will only get worse since the total number of Syrians forced out of their country could exceed 5 million by the end of the year (from roughly 4 million now).

Unaccompanied Children - Pressing obstacles and issues still exist for minors around the globe – specifically youth who have been separated from their families. In the US, research has indicated that some states are far more likely to deport unaccompanied minor migrants who have entered the country than others (i.e. 30% in Georgia vs. 9% in Florida). These differences in court processing present an interesting situation regarding federal oversight of state policies. In cases where migrant youth have obtained legal status there have already been successful stories of their acclimation into American society.

Globally, hundreds of fleeing minors have perished during treks across the Mediterranean, facing deceitful traffickers, extortionists, and the ferocity of the high seas. This week, the UN announced proposals for actions European nations should take to address their migration crises, including meeting the needs of unaccompanied children. Organizations such as Save the Children have already been mandated by respective governments to provide services to youth that land on European shores.  

International Women's Day-  This past week celebrated International Women’s Day, with Restoring Family Links giving a special shout out to current and former female activists.  This week, a group of women announced plans to walk across the demilitarization zone between the Koreas in a call for peace and “to help unite Korean families tragically separated by an artificial man-made division.” In addition, we highlighted the ongoing sociopolitical struggle in much of South East Asia – Burma in particular – where Zin Mar Aung, a female rights activist who has spent 11 years in prison for protesting government policies, continues to promote democracy and increased female agency within the region. We also honored Clara Barton, a powerful social agent and founder of the American Red Cross in her quest to alleviate human suffering and promote principles that affirm the intrinsic value of every person within society.