#NHS70

nhs 70

October 1990, I’m expecting my first child.  After a straightforward pregnancy, we’re now getting slightly anxious that the baby is overdue and no signs that he/she is going to make an appearance without intervention.  I’ve got a NCT birth plan and everything, but once the process of induction is underway that goes out of the window.  I work my way up through the hierarchy of pain control, barely bothering with the gas and air, quite enjoying the pethidine until it ceases to really touch the edges of the pain.  Epidural now, that does the trick. Blissful moments of peace.  But still no baby, so we’re now looking at a Caesarean, and I’m conscious but pain-free as they lift him out of my belly.

Pain and exhaustion and bliss all at once.  A few weeks later, at home with our son, and he’s crying all the time.  Really, all the time.  Nothing seems to make it better.  I don’t know whether there’s something wrong, or I’m doing it wrong, but then at the 8 week check-up at the GPs, we find out that he’s lost weight.  The baby books are full of reassurances that you shouldn’t panic if your baby hasn’t gained as much as the charts say, but none of them tell us that we shouldn’t panic if he has lost weight.  Next day I’m at the maternity hospital for a post-C-section checkup and hand the baby to a nurse whilst they examine me.  My consultant sees him and tells us to go to the Children’s Hospital A&E.  Now.  Don’t go home first.  We head straight there and the baby and I don’t leave for a fortnight.

childrens hospital

The consultant is baffled, but we’re taken care of and I’m looked after when I go down with a tummy bug a few hours after we’re admitted.  And soon they’ve got the baby on medication and he’s starting to recover – turns out his adrenal gland either never kicked in when he was born, or stopped working, and so those hormones need to be replaced artificially.  He also has to have a minor op to correct vesicoureteric reflux which is causing recurrent UTIs (one of which may have triggered the adrenal shutdown).

Once he’s settled on the meds he’s a different baby.  We have a regime of medication, and an emergency kit to inject him if he has an accident or something that might provoke another shutdown, given that his meds are just keeping him at normal hormonal balance, not fight or flight levels (we never used it).  He’s got regular outpatients appointments to check on his progress, and when he’s eighteen months old he goes back into hospital and is taken off the meds to see how he responds.  Amazingly, his adrenal gland kicks straight in, and whilst no one can fully explain what went wrong and then what went right, he’s now a healthy small person, albeit with one kidney that’s just at the lowest level of functionality.  The hospital keeps on monitoring him for several years, and whilst we continue to be anxious for a while, gradually we learn not to be.  We are, as he is, incredibly and for ever grateful for the NHS staff who spotted that there was a problem and then put in place all the resources to solve it.

That is the most dramatic #NHS70 story we’ve got.  But our reliance on the system has continued. It saw us through the birth of our daughter, a problematic delivery after which I needed a blood transfusion (which, ironically, is the reason both why I so much wanted to donate blood myself, and why I can’t). Between the four of us we’ve sampled pretty much all of the various outpatient clinics at the Children’s/Royal Hallamshire/Northern General.  Appendicitis, type 2 diabetes, asthma, hypertrophic cardiac myopathy, hypersomnia, depression, and all the usual ear/chest infections, minor injuries, plus breast screening, smear tests, bowel cancer screening, blood tests, diabetic check-ups, retinal neuropathy screening…  We’ve had help from a panoply of GPs, practice nurses, consultants, registrars, hospital nurses, physiotherapists, healthcare assistants, surgeons and counsellors.

We’ve got so many reasons to be grateful – we know that the system is over-stretched, we know that there’s a problem where medical treatment and social care intersect (or should), and of course not all consultants, nurses, GPs, healthcare assistants or therapists are as helpful, as good at listening, as each other.

But whilst it’s under-resourced, and whilst the quality of treatment will vary from area to area, from person to person, and from medical condition to medical condition, some things are constant.

We’ve had our share of worry – from the paralysing terror of losing a baby to the niggling anxiety that this lump or that twinge might presage something serious.  But we’ve never had to worry about whether or not we could afford to get that niggle checked out.  We’ve never had the fear that the cost of treatment would drive us into debt.  We’ve always known that it’s there for us.

It’s original core principles were:

  • that it meet the needs of everyone
  • that it be free at the point of delivery
  • that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

nhs doc

Those principles have been expanded upon over the last seventy years, as society has changed, and as our understanding of what ‘the needs of everyone’  might entail has deepened.  But fundamentally, what we as a family have called upon when we needed it is the NHS as Nye Bevan envisaged it.  It’s met our needs.  It’s been free at the point of delivery.  And it has never, ever, given a damn about our ability to pay.

To those across the pond who talk of NHS death panels whilst so many of their citizens avoid seeking medical help for fear of the medical bills – check your facts, and check your privilege.  If your citizens really understood what we have here, they would want it for themselves, and they would be willing to pay for it through taxation, if they knew that they would never again have to fear the cost of treatment.

To those closer to home who want the service to die the death of a thousand cuts, to point to its deficiencies as evidence that it doesn’t work, to privatise it bit by bit until those core principles no longer mean a damn thing – know this, we will fight you every step of the way.  We have something precious and we won’t let you take it away.

 

To the NHS, and all who work within it, thank you, we love you. And Happy Birthday.

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The Life of a Refugee

Refugee Week 2018 may be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to forget about them.  They’re still on the move, trying to find a place of safety, trying to find a way of building a new life.  And they have been doing so for generations.  This is kind of a postscript to my week’s worth of Refugee Week blog posts.

Many of those posts take a broader view, looking at the history of refugees in a particular part of the world, or a particular period of history.  But sometimes the most powerful way to understand is to focus on one person.  An ordinary person who, because of the time and place of their birth, became part of extraordinary events. Thank you to Marek Szablewski, who presented this account of his mother’s life at the 2018 24 Hour Inspire, and kindly agreed to let me post it here.

Marek at Wildflecken

 

Barbara was born in Warsaw on 2 April 1932, daughter of Zofia and Jan Czerniajew (himself a refugee to Poland  from the Ukraine after the civil war which came after the revolution).

 

Just before the Second World War, Barbara’s parents rented an apartment on the outskirts of Warsaw in Wrzosów, and next to it they began building a house which was left uncompleted due to the outbreak of war. Barbara, together with her mother and brother, were evacuated to Warsaw.

 

At the end of the battle in 1939, they returned to Wrzosów where Barbara started primary school in Łomianki.  During the German occupation, when Barbara played in the forest, she was witness to executions of fellow Poles by the Gestapo.

 

 

 In 1944 she was deported to Germany with her mother and brother. She was forced to work in a factory peeling onions in Reichenbach in Southern Silesia.  She lived through the bombing of Dresden in 1945.

Dresden

In the spring of that year she survived the long march to the west. At the beginning of May she was liberated by the Russian Army near Karlsbad, from where she escaped to the American Zone 200 miles through the hills on foot. She reached a Displaced Persons camp in Hof in Bavaria, under the care of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).  She recommenced her education, and joined the girl scouts, making a lifelong pledge to God, her Country and helping others. The family was moved from camp to camp, she attended high school in the  Wildflecken UNRRA camp until 1948-9 when she came to England.

 

Her father located the family through the Red Cross, and they settled in Leominster, working on a farm and then in the Polish camp and hospital at Iscoyd Park near Whitchurch.

 

After high school she completed Teacher Training at Edghill College in Omskirk.

 

Her first job was in High Wycombe at a girls school, followed by Sheffield where she met and married Witold Szablewski in 1956.

SheffieldShe worked in Woodthorpe School until the birth of her son Marek in 1963, and in Carfield Junior School. After gaining a diploma at Sheffield University in ‘Education of children with learning difficulties’ in 1974, she worked in Chantrey and Oakes Park schools. For 12 years she was the head teacher of the Polish Saturday School in Sheffield and was awarded the Silver Cross of Merit for Educational Work in the Polish Community in 1998 by the Polish Ministry of Education.

Object 10 MedalBarbara worked with Polish Cubs and Brownies locally, and on leadership teams for camps in Penrhos, north Wales and Fenton in Lincolnshire.

After retiring, she interpreted for the NHS and Sheffield council, helping many new Poles to settle and make friends. She found time for all of this, despite looking after her mother for many years, and then for the last three years, her husband Witold who was seriously ill following a stroke.

 

She fell ill only 4 weeks after the death of her husband in February of 2008 and died in April 2008.

 

Barbara Szablewski’s journey involved many dangers, many traumatic experiences.  It ended in safety and stability.  She raised a family, she contributed to her community, she worked to help other people, from her own community and beyond it.  Refugees want to contribute – Barbara was given the chance to do so and took it.  If we don’t give today’s refugees the same chances, we all lose out.

 

 

 

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Welcome: Refugee Week 2018

(first published for Refugee Week 2016)

ref week

What is it they want, all these people?

What do we want?   What do we hope for, for ourselves and for our children?  We may hope for prosperity, for a nicer house in a nicer part of town, a better job, for our kids to be successful as well as happy.  But if what we have was taken from us, what then?

We’d want to be safe.  If our home, our street, our place of work, the school our children go to, the hospital they were born in and where we go if we’re sick, are bombsites and warzones, we’ll take our chances to go somewhere that perhaps just might be safe.

We’d want to be safe from violence and the constant threat of violence because we believe in the wrong god or in no god, because we love the wrong people, because we support the wrong political movement, because we are the wrong race.  We’d want to be safe from rape and the constant threat of rape, from abuse, from mutilation in the name of tradition.  We’d want to be safe from the constant threat of starvation and disease, the desperate quest for enough food to just stay alive, the desperate quest for help when we or our children are sick.

But we’d want more than that.

We’d want to have a place where we can shut our door and hang up our hat, and sleep without fear, and be with the people we love.  We’d want the chance to work, to use our skills to earn enough to provide for ourselves and the people we love, to prepare healthy meals, to buy new shoes for the children as they grow, to be warm enough in winter.  We’d want the chance to learn new languages and new skills, and we’d want our children to go to school and learn all that they need to make their way in the world, and to make friends and play.

We’d want to become part of a community.  Paying our way, making a contribution, chatting to our neighbours, free of the threat that there will be a knock on the door early one morning and we’ll be sent away, back where we came from, or just away, to anywhere that’s not here.

And with all of that we’d want not to be told in the headlines of the newspapers that we’re a threat, that we’re terrorists, that we’re spongers, that we’re liars, that we’re cowards.  We’d want not to see in the eyes of the people we meet that they wonder whether that’s true.

We’d want to be welcome.

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Refugee World Cup, Sunday 24 June

Playing today: England (already covered: Colombia, Poland, Japan, Senegal, Panama)

england flag

England

Home.  The country where I was born and have lived most of my life.  I love so many things about this place – its hills and woodland and coastline, its musicians and writers and artists.  I love the NHS which has seen me and my family through so much.  I love its diversity – the culture formed through the influx of so many different peoples (invaders, migrants, refugees) and so much richer for it.  I’ll be rooting, of course, for its football team.

But there’s the rub.  My relationship with the England national team is tainted by so many disappointments, that can feel like betrayals.  And that mirrors how I feel about my homeland too.  When other nations treat refugees like dirt, I can feel righteous anger and solidarity and a sense of shared responsibility, but not quite the same degree of disappointment, not quite that same sense of betrayal, not quite shame.

I so want to not feel that shame.  But with Windrush and Brexit and the ‘hostile environment’, with the rhetoric of ‘citizens of nowhere’, I can’t avoid it.

But as always, there are so many people who not only care, but are working incredibly hard to challenge the misinformation, defend those who are being treated so shamefully, campaign for changes to the law.

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One of those organisations is Refugee Action.  They support refugees, to put it simply.  They stand up for asylum seekers.  They’ve campaigned about how failed asylum seekers are left in destitution, about how people within the system are denied the opportunity to volunteer,  about the rule that if people wanted to make a fresh asylum claim, they would have to do so in person in Liverpool, no matter where they lived and with no help for those who couldn’t afford the journey.  And so much more.  And they work with individuals too, providing advice and support, and guidance through the labyrinth of the asylum system.

One of their current campaigns is to change the system.

We believe a future is possible where those forced to flee the homes they loved receive compassion, a fair decision, essential support and help to rebuild their lives.

Our new report exposes the asylum process as one of long delays, poor decisions and a total lack of information. It is a system that disempowers, dehumanises and damages people.

If you believe that everyone who comes to Britain in search of safety should be treated with fairness and compassion, that they should be given sufficient support to make sure they don’t face homelessness and hunger, email your MP to #StandUpForAsylum and call for change now.

The report sets out how things could change for the better.  How the asylum process could be fairer, and more compassionate.

An asylum system that might look something like this….

The Home Office gathers the right information from asylum applicants during interview, and uses this to make correct decisions the first time around.

The Home Office provides accurate and timely information to people seeking asylum.

The Government ensures a comprehensive and public review of current legal aid provision.

The Government achieves the targets it sets for the time taken to make decisions.

People seeking asylum, and their adult dependants, have the right to work after 6 months of having lodged an asylum claim or further submission, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list. They have access to education – including free ESOL classes – from application.

If people have to wait 12 months for a decision, they are granted Discretionary Leave to Remain.

The Home Office listens to people seeking asylum and acts upon their feedback.

The Home Office carries out regular audits of interview practice, which include consultations with people seeking asylum.

The information given during screening is not used in credibility assessments made further down the line, given that most people are unable to access any advice prior to screening interviews. 

People are given adequate notice of their substantive interviews in order to allow them to prepare this with their legal representative.

There are safeguards to ensure that poor interpreting does not have a negative impact on a person’s asylum claim,  including better training and quality control of interpreters. 

All interviews (screening and substantive) are recorded by default, and shared with the applicant and their legal representative.

The Home Office ensures that people receive information about their rights as soon as they apply for asylum, including the point of claim leaflet in a language that they understand.

People are told of the importance of accessing legal advice at the beginning of the process.

Asylum support decisions are made as quickly as possible in order to ensure that people are able to access a solicitor as early as possible.

Nobody is forced to wait more than six months for a decision on their initial
asylum claim.

Asylum support rates are at least 70% of mainstream benefits.

The report is a tough read.  The voices of the asylum-seekers themselves tell how they’ve faced scepticism, carelessness, callous indifference and bureaucratic incompetence.  And above all, how they’ve waited, waited in darkness.  But surely it doesn’t have to be like that?  Surely we’re better – kinder, fairer, more generous – than this?

Refugee Week is all about seeing those who seek asylum, wherever they come from and wherever they seek refuge, as people.  People who are fundamentally just like us.

Those of us who were born British citizens and whose right to that citizenship has never been questioned, whose families go back for generations here, might find it hard to imagine that we might find ourselves one day hastily cramming a few possessions into a rucksack and taking to the roads, handing over all our funds for the same of a precarious journey across the sea with no guarantee of a safe landing or a safe haven.  But it could so easily have been us, not so very long ago – if Britain had fallen to the Nazis, we could have been faced with those choices, like so many of our fellow Europeans.  It didn’t happen here, but it could have done, and we have no guarantees for the future.

Refugees over the centuries have contributed so much to our culture.   Who knows what the latest arrivals might offer us, if we give them the chance?

So, come on England!  Come on UK!

 

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Refugee World Cup, Saturday 23 June

Playing today: Mexico, Germany (already covered: Belgium, South Korea, Tunisia, Sweden)

Mexico

The bullet wound in Francis Gusman’s spine makes it hard for her to travel. When gangs shot at each other in her hometown of Yoro in Honduras in 2016, she was hit by a stray round and has been unable to walk since. But when gang members then murdered her sister this February, she decided she had to leave, however hard the journey.

She set off on the dangerous migrant trail north, along with her husband, 12-year-old son, and her sister’s orphaned 13-year-old daughter. After crossing the Mexican border, her husband and a friend had to carry her 36 miles along the road to this town of Tenosique in southeast Mexico. Here they have applied to Mexico for refugee status, arguing the gangsters who killed her sister could target her niece for being a potential witnesses or go after other family members….

Gusman’s story illustrates the brutality that is pushing many to leave the Northern Triangle of Central America, which includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and seek refuge in nearby countries, including Mexico and the United States. The number of asylum applications in Mexico has rocketed, from 2,000 in 2014 to more than 14,000 last year, with Honduras as the leading source of applicants, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

However, this surge comes as more Mexicans are themselves fleeing violence to seek refuge in the United States. In the first three months of 2018, the Northern Triangle nations and Mexico made up four of the six top source countries of applicants for U.S. asylum, government data shows.

“People are leaving because they are suffering from high levels of violence from gangs and other organized criminal groups. These gangs want to recruit minors, they carry out extortion, kidnapping, sexually abusing girls,” says Francesca Fontanini, spokesperson for the UNHCR in the Americas. “This flow of families from Central America will not stop because if the root causes are still there these people will keep coming to the U.S. or to other countries.”

http://time.com/5318718/central-american-refugees-crisis/

The violence in HondurasGuatemala and El Salvador continues to force thousands of people to head north in search of refuge, even as the Trump administration imposes cruel practices intended to deter them from seeking asylum. Last week, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that people submitting claims related to domestic or gang violence will not qualify for asylum—a decision that effectively closes the door to many Central Americans fleeing for their lives. In recent weeks, authorities have stepped up criminal prosecutions of people attempting to cross the border, going so far as to forcibly separate children from their families. …

Initial talks between the US and Mexican governments in May considered the possibility of converting Mexico into a “safe third country”. This would force asylum seekers to apply in Mexico, preventing them from reaching the US to demand refuge.

More than 20,000 migrants or refugees are kidnapped in NTCA countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – every year, according official sources (CNDH). Sixty-eight per cent of the migrants and refugees interviewed by MSF in places along the transit route in Mexico had been exposed to violence. Nearly one-third of the women surveyed were sexually abused. Central American gangs are operating in the south of Mexico and are responsible of some of the attacks against migrants.

MSF medical data shows that a quarter of our medical consultations for migrants and refugees in Mexico are related to injuries from intentional violence. Ninety per cent of our mental health consultations are related to violence. Our patients are suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions, which have severe consequences on their ability to function. Women, children, and members of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) community are more vulnerable to certain types of violence and require specific protection measures that are not effectively in place in Mexico.

http://www.msf.org/en/article/mexico-unsafe-country-thousands-refugees-fleeing-violence-central-america

Germany

 

In 2015, when the current refugee crisis was at its most intense, Germany took the lead.

Berlin took the lead in efforts to resolve the European refugee crisis on Monday by declaring all Syrian asylum-seekers welcome to remain in Germany – no matter which EU country they had first entered.

Germany, which expects to take a staggering 800,000 migrants this year, became the first EU country to suspend a 1990 protocol which forces refugees to seek asylum in the first European country in which they set foot.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germany-opens-its-gates-berlin-says-all-syrian-asylum-seekers-are-welcome-to-remain-as-britain-is-10470062.html

 

Germans gathered by the hundred at train stations on Sunday to welcome refugees arriving in their cities as if they were long-lost friends or returning war heroes.

An estimated 10,000 refugees were expected to arrive in Germany by train from Hungary and Austria on Sunday, and they were greeted with spontaneous rounds of applause and songs, as well as sweets, pastries and toys, on station platforms across the country. At Munich station, volunteers amassed a large stockpile of food. Helpers at the main train station in Frankfurt formed human chains to pass bags of food, clothing and toiletries to the exhausted arrivals, whom they welcomed with banners and balloons.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/11847545/Migrant-crisis-Refugees-welcomed-in-Germany-like-war-heroes-as-Berlin-expects-10000-in-one-day.html

Three years on:

 

Today, four Syrian families have made their home in Wegscheid – including the Aljumaas. Mahmoud Aljumaa arrived in Germany in 2015; his two daughters and wife, Ghofran, a year later. The girls, 6 and 8, already speak perfect German, tinged with the local Bavarian accent.

The Aljumaas say they have been welcomed with open arms here, but the political debate over immigration and asylum has changed the tone, stoking fear and uncertainty. They have asylum statusfor now, but they fear that could change.

Sommerreise BTW Bayern Bürgerstimmen Umfrage (DW)The Aljumaa family has made Wegscheid their new home

“I want to ask German politicians a question: Are we refugees or should we integrate? If we should integrate, that means that we would be like Germans after some time. It would mean we aren’t refugees,” said Mahmoud. “My daughters can’t read or write in Arabic. My older daughter is in the sixth grade and in Arabic she would be sent back to second grade. How could I send them back to Syria, send her back to the second grade? It would destroy her life.”

Their sense of uncertainty has only grown as they have seen fellow refugees from Afghanistan – a country they say cannot be deemed safe – increasingly facing deportation.    …

Most everyone we spoke to in Bavaria seemed to agree on one point: From 2015 to now, this region has handled the refugee crisis and integration efforts well. Now they need a clear signal from German policymakers on whether refugees are really welcome to stay and become a part of German society.

http://www.dw.com/en/refugees-in-germany-are-they-still-welcome-today/a-39076113

The welcome offered to refugees in 2015 was particularly poignant in light of German history.  During the Nazi era as anti-Jewish legislation and other repressive measures were introduced and tightened, there were many desperate to leave.   People continued to try to find ways out of Germany and the occupied territories throughout the war years, at great risk to themselves and anyone who tried to help them.

One largely overlooked refugee story from that period, however, is the forced migration of ethnic Germans just at the end of the war from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

Historian R.M. Douglas has written one of the only English language books on the subject, has described it as “not merely the largest forced migration but probably the largest single movement of population in human history,” with between 12 and 14 million civilians to move in just a few years. Douglas wrote that this mass movement of peoples was accomplished “largely by state-sponsored violence and terror” – including murder, torture and rape. Hundreds of thousands of Germans ended up in internment camps, some of which had just shortly before been Nazi concentration camps.

Accounts from those who made the journeys are horrific. One woman wrote of spending days standing on a freight train traveling from what is now northeastern Poland. “Pregnant women who had given birth had frozen to the floor,” the account, later published in Der Spiegel, read. “The dead were thrown out of the windows.” …

In Germany, the expulsions are still remembered, even while Nazi atrocities are, too. “The Nazis’ crimes had been far worse,” Der Spiegel wrote in a lengthy article in 2011, “but the suffering of ethnic Germans was immense.” Perhaps that’s why the current refugee crisis, of a comparable scale to the German expulsions (almost 12 million people have been displaced in Syria alone), has found a relatively large amount of sympathy in Germany, a country that expects to receive 800,000 refugees this year. Even if many in the country are far too young to remember the German expulsions themselves, they may remember the damage wrought upon older family members. Much like these family members, modern-day refugees are having their fate decided for them by their nationality.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/03/the-forgotten-story-of-when-the-germans-were-the-refugees/?utm_term=.fc36f9d7e76f

 

 

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Return to Za’atari

zaatari 2

In 2016, researchers from the University of Sheffield went to Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan to work with the people who lived in the camps to help find innovative solutions to the practical problems they were facing.  This was not about parachuting in experts to tell people what they should do.  The people in the camp were the real experts, in terms of understanding what was needed, the resources they had at their disposal, and the constraints (the ban on creating any permanent structures, for example) on the solutions they implement.

This isn’t a one-way process.  Because to solve the everyday problems in the camp they are working with, and not just for, the people in the camp.

Obviously not everyone living there has the kind of skills that can be pressed into service to help build the resources that the communities need, and not everyone is well and strong enough after the physical and mental traumas of flight to contribute in this way.  But as a transit camp becomes a city the people living there can become again the people they were at home, can be part of the process of building and healing and problem-solving.

Innovative solutions to everyday problems are being developed, in collaboration with the people of Za’atari.  Tony Ryan, the Director of the Centre, has been working with Helen Storey from the London College of Fashion, on resource use and repurposing in conflict zones, and on specific questions from the UNHCR about the design and manufacture of all kinds of things that we take for granted, like sanitary wear, make-up and bicycles.  Resources are scarce in the camp, where 80,000 people share 6 sq km of space, and nothing is left to waste.

zaatari 1The team went back in 2018 to do some further work on these projects, and see the progress that had been made. Check out this presentation given by Professor Tony Ryan, Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, showing some of the work his team has been involved with in the camp: 24H2018 Zaatari, as well as the film below.

 

Make no mistake, the people who end up in these camps face daily struggles that many of us cannot imagine.  But those I met embodied values that are often forgotten by those of us in more privileged parts of the world: an adaptable approach to solving problems, an aversion to waste, a sense of community.  As hard as we must fight to live in a world where no one is forced to flee their home, there is much we can learn from Syria’s refugees.

Tony Ryan, Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Sheffield.

 

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Refugee World Cup, Friday 22 June

Playing today: Nigeria, Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Iceland

Nigeria

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In 2018, the Nigerian refugee crisis is into its fifth year. Since extreme violent attacks of the Islamist sect Boko Haram spilled over the borders of north-eastern Nigeria into neighboring countries in 2014, Cameroon, Chad and Niger got drawn into a devastating regional conflict. To date, the Lake Chad Basin region is grappling with a complex humanitarian emergency. Some 2.2 million people are uprooted, including over 1.7 million internally displaced (IDPs) in north-eastern Nigeria, over 482,000 IDPs in Cameroon, Chad and Niger and over 203,000 refugees.

The crisis has been exacerbated by conflict-induced food insecurity and severe malnutrition, which have risen to critical levels in all four countries. Despite the efforts of Governments and humanitarian aid in 2017, some 4.5 million people remain food insecure and will depend on assistance. The challenges of protecting the displaced are compounded by a deteriorating security situation as well as socio-economic fragility, with communities in the Sahel region facing chronic poverty, a harsh climate, recurrent epidemics, poor infrastructure and limited access to basic services.

The Nigerian military, together with the Multinational Joint Task Force, have driven extremists from many of the areas they once controlled, but these gains have been overshadowed by an increase of Boko Haram attacks in neighbouring countries. Despite the return of Nigerian IDPs and refugees to accessible areas, the crisis remains acute.

http://www.unhcr.org/uk/nigeria-emergency.html

Boko Haram may be the primary cause of flight from Nigeria but it is not the only current factor.  In twelve northern states, Shari’a law imposes brutal penalties on alcohol consumption, homosexuality, infidelity and theft.  More widely across the country, homosexual couples who marry face up to 14 years in prison, witnesses or those who help them ten years.   The law punishes the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly” with ten years in prison, and mandates 10 years in prison for those found guilty of organising, operating or supporting gay clubs, organizations and meetings.

In 1966, Igbo people fled the North after a series of coups and counter-coups led to massacres in Kano, Zaria and other northern cities.

Brazil

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According to the Forced Migration Observatory, a new database from the Brazilian think tank Instituto Igarapé, … hundreds of thousands of Brazilians are driven from their homes each year by disasters, development and violent crime. Venezuelans escaping economic crisis at home are also pouring into Brazil. Though neighboring Colombia has born the brunt of this exodus – welcoming as many as 1 million migrants since 2015 – Brazil has seen some 60,000 Venezuelans arrive and numbers are rising fast.

Despite this influx, Brazil’s main migrant problem remains the millions of displaced people already inside its borders. This domestic crisis has mostly simmered under the radar for nearly two decades.

https://theconversation.com/venezuelan-refugees-inflame-brazils-already-simmering-migrant-crisis-89008

Serbia

 

As a result of the arrival of large numbers of people into southern Europe that accelerated two years ago this month, there are 7,600 refugees in Serbia, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Most live in 18 state-run asylum centres that provide basic necessities. Many are starting to prepare for the long haul. … Meanwhile, every weekday, five people are chosen to leave Serbia and enter Hungary – and the EU – legally. It may be a double-edged sword. “In Hungary my family are in a 24-hour closed camp – when someone goes to the bathroom there are four police on every side of you,” said Weesa “They are not free like we are here.” Faqirzada says many countries could learn a lot from Serbia. “In Afghanistan, no one cares for each other. In Turkey there were no schools. In Bulgaria we slept in forests. But in Serbia, the people support each other. They support my family too, I do not forget this.” Still, if and when the Faqirzada family are given a chance to move closer to Germany, they will take it.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/08/eu-refugees-serbia-afghanistan-taliban

The Kosovo War caused 862,979 Albanian refugees who were either expelled by Serb forces or fled from the battle front. In addition, several hundreds of thousands were internally displaced, which means that, according to the OSCE, almost 90% of all Albanians were displaced from their homes in Kosovo by June 1999.  After the end of the war, Albanians returned, but over 200,000 Serbs, Romani and other non-Albanians fled Kosovo. By the end of 2000, Serbia thus became the host of 700,000 Serb refugees or internally displaced from Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia.

Switzerland

 

During World War II, Switzerland as a neutral neighbour was an obvious choice of destination for refugees from Germany and France in particular.  Switzerland’s longstanding neutral stance had also involved a pledge to be an asylum for any discriminated groups in Europe – Huguenots who fled from France in the 16th century, and many liberals, socialists and anarchists from all over Europe in the 19th century. However, Swiss border regulations were tightened in order to avoid provoking an invasion by Nazi forces.  They did establish internment camps which housed 200,000 refugees, of which 20,000 were Jewish. But the Swiss government taxed the Swiss Jewish community for any Jewish refugees allowed to enter the country.  In 1942 alone, over 30,000 Jews were denied entrance into Switzerland.

The closure of the popular migration route via the Balkans border in March 2016, led to a rapid increase in the number of refugees in Switzerland as they immigrated to Germany. Refugees entered Switzerland through Ticino, and a report estimated there were 5,760 illegal residents in this region.

Amnesty International reported that migrants and asylum-seekers with rejected asylum claims were returned in violation of the non-refoulement principle [a fundamental principle of international law that forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they would be in likely danger of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion]. Concerns remained regarding the use of disproportionate force during the deportation of migrants. Government proposals for the creation of a National Human Rights Institution continued to be criticized for failing to guarantee the Institution’s independence.

Costa Rica

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4,471 asylum applications by refugees were received in 2016 in Costa Rica – according to UNHCR. Most of them came from El Salvador, Venezuela and from Colombia. A total of 2,815 decisions were made on initial applications, of which 81 per cent were initially rejected. Violence in El Salvador and Honduras is causing refugees to arrive in increasing numbers.

Because they’re often escaping severe violence in their countries of origin, they often need greater psycho-social assistance to address mental health needs. A lack of local support networks means they require more material and economic assistance than other groups, too.

As in other contexts, refugees in Costa Rica face barriers that prevent them from fully exercising their rights: discrimination, xenophobia, and a lack of information (either on their side or from the host community). Unlike many places hosting displaced populations, however, refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica have the right to work, start their own businesses, open bank accounts, and access public services (health care, education, etc.). Understanding this context is critical to counteracting barriers, easing local integration, and increasing self-reliance. UNHCR identifies individuals and families living in the most vulnerable conditions and addresses their immediate needs. Then, to empower households to build new economic and social lives and better integrate into their host countries, they’re included in the Graduation program.

To encourage this integration and address extreme poverty faced by Costa Rican households, several women from local communities are included in the project. Most are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, single mothers in highly vulnerable conditions, or HIV positive. Not only does this provide vulnerable women from Costa Rica with a pathway out of poverty, it also enhances the self-reliance and community integration of refugee women and children by connecting them to a similarly vulnerable local community of women.

https://trickleup.org/the-case-of-costa-rica/

Iceland

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Since Iceland’s refugee policy was first initiated in 1956, the country has accepted a grand total of 584 refugees, a rate lower than other Nordic countries. Groups and families of refugees have arrived from a diverse range of countries — Vietnam, Poland, Hungary, former Yugoslavia and Serbia. Post-recession, Iceland’s economy has recovered at a four percent growth rate per year. However, according to a PBS report, Iceland would require 2,000 new immigrants a year to maintain that level of growth — refugees would contribute to this number. The Mayor of Akureyri,  Eirikur Bjorgvinsson, explains that refugees contribute more to Iceland’s economy than the amount of assistance that they are actually receiving. In order to become assimilated in Iceland society, the government offers financial assistance, education, health services, housing, furniture and a telephone for up to one year to refugees in Iceland. According to the Ministry of Welfare, the policy in Iceland has welcomed a quota of 25 to 30 refugees every year. However, this quota has changed in the last few years with the crisis in Syria, protests from Icelandic citizens and an exception in 1999 with the outbreak of the war in Kosovo.

In the next few weeks 52 new refugees are expected to arrive to Iceland, as reported by Vísir.is. Most of them are children and young adults under the age of 24. Last August, the Icelandic government agreed to welcome 55 refugees. As we reported last year, however, a Market and Media Research poll on the subject showed that 88.5% of Icelanders believe the government should welcome more of them.

The 52 refugees who are on their way to Iceland are mostly of Syrian, Iraqi and Ugandan origin. While the Syrian and Iraqi have lately been residing in refugee camps in Jordania, those coming from Uganda were forced to seek asylum away from their home country because of their non-normative sexuality (Iceland has been accepting queer refugees since 2015).

Upon arrival they will be sent to different parts of the country: 4 families are going to the Fjarðabyggð municipality in the east, 5 families to the Westfjords peninsula in the North and 10 individuals will stay in Mosfellsbær, close to Reykjavik.

The Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Dádason assured that the preparations to receive the refugees are in full swing. “The results have been positive so far and we received applications from the municipalities to participate in the program,” he said. “It’s a very good example of a solid partnership between the state, the local authorities and the Red Cross.”

https://grapevine.is/news/2018/02/09/52-refugees-on-their-way-to-iceland/

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