Earlier this year, I made my first trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in a search for some urban refugees. Although urban refugees are not officially recognised by the government of Tanzania, some organisations which work with the urban refugee population, such as Asylum Access, estimate that there may be over 10,000 in the city.
Many of these refugees fled their countries of origin during the Great Lakes crises of the 1990s, with some Congolese especially arriving more recently having fled renewed violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In early 2014, during peace talks facilitated by the United Nations and the Arab League, the Syrian government and opposition groups reached an agreement to allow some civilians to evacuate the city of Homs after being trapped for more than a year and a half. They also agreed to the delivery of desperately-needed aid. Food supplies had drastically depleted inside the city in the previous months, and families had resorted to eating wild plants and small amounts of insect-infested grains.
In a recent speech to his governing board, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres made an intriguing but little-noticed proposal - that the humanitarian response to major emergencies should in future be partly funded by assessed rather than voluntary contributions.
But what exactly did he mean by that?
The country of Sudan has been plagued by war since it was granted independence from Britain in 1955. Conflict originated from the merging of the northern and southern regions of Sudan by the British colonial government, and religious differences and conflict over resources resulted in the outbreak of civil war from 1955 to 1972, and again from 1983 to 2005. During the second civil war, around tens of thousands of boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 17 were forced from their homes.
Five months ago, I visited a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) near Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The people living there first arrived in 2012 and 2013, having fled from armed groups who destroyed villages and killed civilians. As the chaos continued back at home, many IDPs had no choice but to remain in the camps. But the longer they stayed, the less aid they received from the United Nations and other organizations.
In the center of Erbil, northern Iraq, just next to a highway overpass, we met Yezin and his family – refugees from the fighting in neighboring Syria. Nasser himself didn’t get up to greet us. He had been wounded in a mortar attack on his Syrian hometown of Aleppo. The field surgery he had received left a metal plate in his leg that doesn’t allow him to stand or walk on his own any longer. He and his family of seventeen are now living in an abandoned construction lot in Erbil, where it has been hard for humanitarian agencies to find and help them.
When I met Amir two years ago in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, he had just graduated with a degree in Physics from Sittwe University. He was a fluent English speaker and planned to pursue a career as an engineer. Amir lived in Aung Mingalar, the only neighborhood in the capital city of Sittwe where the Rohingya still maintained a residence after 140,000 had been driven out of the city by mobs assisted by the police.
Next week, I will be traveling on mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), along with several RI colleagues, where we will be undertaking an in-depth assessment of the challenges that the humanitarian community is currently facing in keeping women and girls safe from gender-based violence (GBV).
"Thailand’s pledge to repatriate 100,000 Burmese refugees sparks concern.” “Refugees fear forced return to Myanmar.” “Thai and Burmese armies to discuss refugee repatriation in August.” According to these recent news reports, the 140,000 refugees from Myanmar who are currently exiled in neighboring Thailand are about to go home, whether they like it or not.
Refugees International traveled to Myanmar’s Kayin State to test the validity of such assertions, and found the reality of the situation to be quite different.