Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘UNHCR’

Syrian Refugees Survival

Dear Gabriel,

I recently returned from 6 weeks in Jordan, now home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. My stay included time in Za’atari, the camp for Syrian refugees, not far from the border to the war-torn country. What I saw and what I learned in conversations with the families who have escaped from the brutal violence of the Syrian war was shocking.

The camp was started at the end of July. When I first visited, there were only maybe 3,000 refugees. By the end of August, there were 40,000.

Even though there is an effort underway to double the camp’s capacity before the end of the year, it’s not nearly enough space for the families fleeing their own country, where war and terror and violence are raging.

Check out more information about the dire and worsening conditions in Jordan, including my interview on Al Jazeera.

In the camp, wind is blowing constantly, and fine-grained sand is everywhere. The camp is a safe place, but of course, it’s not a home. It’s not anywhere close. Nearly every refugee I’ve talked to says if the war ended, they’d go back immediately. They want to rebuild their destroyed homes, to secure a future for their children, and get them back in school.

So far, that doesn’t look likely to happen soon. Instead, thousands more exhausted families stream in every day. A lot of times they refuse to be registered by the Jordanian government. They fear retribution and sometimes the Syrian government has taken their passports, making a return to their homes even more difficult. UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, is expecting 250,000 refugees in Jordan by the end of the year. The Jordanian government estimates an even higher number – 350,000 or so.

Everyone on the ground, including UNHCR, has been working like mad and doing everything they can to step in, especially before the frigid Jordanian winters make tent living truly hazardous. At CARE, we’re scaling up our response to help distribute emergency support so that refugees have basics like food and medicine, and also psychological support to help bring healing to those traumatized – especially children – by the brutal, horrifying events they’ve endured.

Things are changing rapidly here, so we’re prepared to be flexible. Even at the end of September, the needs were 300% higher than we’d expected 2 months before. We’ll continue to keep you updated on the refugee crisis as it progresses.

Sincerely,

Thomas Schwarz
Director International Communications, CARE

Climate Displacing Thousands

From Nation of Change and New America Media
by Andrew Lam
16 August 2012

The Rising Tide – Environmental Refugees

The modern world has long thought of refugees in strictly political terms, victims in a world riven by competing ideologies. But as climate change continues unabated, there is a growing population of displaced men, women and children whose homes have been rendered unlivable thanks to a wide spectrum of environmental disasters.

Despite their numbers, and their need, most nations refuse to recognize their status.

The 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person with a genuine fear of being persecuted for membership in a particular social group or class. The environmental refugee – not necessarily persecuted, yet necessarily forced to flee – falls outside this definition.

Not Recognized, Not Counted

Where the forest used to be, torrential rains bring barren hills of mud down on villages. Crops wither in the parched earth. Animals die. Melting glaciers and a rising sea swallow islands and low-lying nations, flooding rice fields with salt water. Factories spew toxic chemicals into rivers and oceans, killing fish and the livelihood of generations.

So people flee. Many become internally displaced, others cross any and all borders in order to survive.

Experts at last year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) estimated their numbers would reach 50 million by 2020, due to factors such as agricultural disruption, deforestation, coastal flooding, shoreline erosion, industrial accidents and pollution. Others say the figure will triple to 150 million by 2050.

Today, it is believed that the population of environmentally displaced has already far outstripped the number of political refugees worldwide, which according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) is currently at around 10.2 million.

In 1999 the International Red Cross reported some 25 million people displaced by environmental disasters. In 2009 the UNHCR estimated that number to be 36 million, 20 million of whom were listed as victims of climate change-related issues.

More accurate statistics, however, are hard to come by.

Because the term “environmental refugee” has not been officially recognized, many countries have not bothered to count them, especially if the population is internally displaced. Other countries consider them migrants, and often undocumented immigrants, and therefore beyond the protection granted refugees.

Another factor obscuring the true scope of the population is the fact that their numbers can rise quite suddenly — such as after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, or Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, which in a matter of hours displaced more than 3 million people.

A “Hidden Crisis” No More

Two decades ago, noted ecologist Norman Myers predicted that humanity was slowly heading toward a “hidden crisis” in which ecosystems would fail to sustain their inhabitants, forcing people off the land to seek shelter elsewhere. With hurricanes Katrina and Rita, that crisis became painfully obvious.

Along with images of hundreds of thousands of displaced Americans scurrying across the richest nation on Earth searching for new homes came an awareness that no matter how wealthy or powerful, no country is impervious to the threat of climate related catastrophe.

Indeed, being displaced by natural disasters may very well become the central epic of the 21st century. Kiribati, the Maldives and Tuvalu are disappearing as we speak, as the sea level continues to rise. The World Bank estimates that with a 1 meter rise in sea level Bangladesh — with a population of 140 million — would lose 17.5 percent of its land mass and along with it river bank erosion, salinity intrusion, flood, damage to infrastructures, crop failure, destruction of fisheries, and loss of biodiversity.

Those that have already fled the country to neighboring India – largely because of flooding — face lives of immense misery and discrimination.

China, in particular, is a hot spot of environmental disasters as it buckles under unsustainable development, giving rise to rapid air pollution and toxic rivers. Alongside desertification, these man-made catastrophes have already left millions displaced.

John Liu, director of the Environmental Education Media Project, spent 25 years in China and witnessed the disasters there. He offered the world this unapologetic, four- alarm warning some years ago: “Every ecosystem on the planet is under threat of catastrophic collapse, and if we don’t begin to acknowledge and solve them, then we will go down.”

Growing Numbers, Fewer Alternatives

When President Obama granted temporary protected status (TPS) to undocumented Haitians living in the United States in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, it was a step in the right direction. After all, repatriating them back to an impoverished nation devastated by one of the worst-ever recorded disasters would be immoral at best, and at worst, a crime against humanity.

Sadly, such actions are rare and when they do come, they manage to address barely a fraction of the pressing legal and humanitarian needs of the growing population. What solutions do exist, experts agree, must recognize that the needs of environmental refugees are one and the same as those of our planet.

Read complete article at Nation of Change.

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