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Comment: World Refugee Week Roundup

We gather the highlights of our World Refugee Week coverage, including commentary advocating for long-term rights of refugees and reporting on refugee theater troupes and resettled asylum seekers.

Written by Preethi Nallu Published on Read time Approx. 7 minutes
A montage of images of men and women from displaced communities across the globe. Denis Bosnic/Jesuit Refugee Service

This year marked the 15th anniversary of World Refugee Day as well as the 65th anniversary of the U.N. Refugee Convention, the foundational law protecting refugees, with non-refoulement as its core tenet.

Yet 2016 has been rife with news of readmission deals between governments to expedite the return of asylum seekers and host states’ decisions to shut down entire refugee complexes.

To mark World Refugee Week from June 20–27 we directed our audience’s attention toward solutions and cases of success, from the impact of local integration schemes to effective advocacy for the long-term rights of displaced communities.

Coinciding with our reports and commentary on lasting solutions, we presented a series of firsthand accounts by refugees – from a theater troupe of Syrians living in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, to men and women from across the globe resettled in the United States.

As an attempt to revisit antiquated laws and challenge the validity of the current myopic responses, our analysts, journalists and experts shared pragmatic ways to tackle the accelerated flows of people, while our storytellers reported on resettled refugees and asylum seekers who are still reeling from the wrath of conflict and traumas of displacement.

Here are some highlights of our coverage over World Refugee Week.

Tala al-Jabri, a Palestinian-Syrian development analyst, called for new regional heroes with progressive and mutually beneficial migration policies to ease the Syrian refugee gridlock:

GCC governments have reacted to the catastrophe in Syria mostly by pumping in billions of dollars in direct aid, offering financing to countries hosting refugees and extending scholarship opportunities to high-caliber Syrian students.

“In fact, there is one route that the GCC has not explored – a route that is mutually beneficial for our sustained well-being and that of refugees; one that fulfills the GCC’s call for a political solution.

“The GCC must modernize and reform its immigration policy. It is not hard to prove that taking in refugees – much like when we take both skilled and unskilled expatriates – can be good for our economy and poses little risk to our well-being as the GCC. Refugees can help jump-start our economy from its current slump and accelerate growth – and therefore should become part of our long-term strategy to create more sustainable economies.”

To showcase the voices of men, women and children who experienced displacement, we discussed a mobile theater project called The Caravan, which features a group of Syrians traveling through Lebanon enacting their experiences, with its founder Sabine Choucair:

“This particular entourage will make several extended stops. Traveling as part of a mobile storytelling initiative, from the Enmaa camp in Akkar in the north to al-Borj camp in Tyre in the south, the actors – Syrian refugees living in the Bekaa Valley – will enact their own experiences as tales. It is an ambitious trail and one that will cross psychological borders within the tiny country. Lebanon – renowned for its rich tapestry of cultural-religious-social identities, which often meld into each other – is a fitting venue.

“Unlike traditional theater, where audiences go to a performance venue, this mobile troupe will go to their audiences, she points out. In a conversation with Refugees Deeply, she explains the premise and the promise of telling stories directly through refugees’ voices.”

Somali-Canadian filmmakers Asha Siad and Roda Siad visited several refugee families in Calgary, Canada, during their first weeks of being resettled in the country:

“While many good memories have been made in this house, including stories of siblings reuniting or the birth of a new family member, the opposite is also true. In many ways, the house is a living witness to some of the greatest migration tragedies our world has faced and still confronts today.

“For the past 22 years, the center has received refugees fleeing violence following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, those escaping political persecution in Colombia and families caught in the middle of the civil war in Syria.

“Many of the families staying in the house have lived in and traveled across multiple countries in order to reach Canada. They share a bond that only those who have experienced displacement can fully understand.”

Writer Hanne Steen and photographer Angie Smith contributed the firsthand accounts and portraits of the few fortunate men and women who were resettled in Boise, Idaho, which we gathered on an interactive World Map.

Sebastian Viskanic/Preethi Nallu
Journalist and specialist on migration Gregory Beals wrote about mayors of European cities, from Barcelona to Leipzig, who are banding together to integrate refugees:

“Given the combined lack of accountability and support, cities have been left to their own devices when it comes to developing the competencies needed to accommodate new refugees. They are seeking alternative means to coordinate activities in areas such as community awareness, housing, health services and public–private partnerships.

“Meanwhile, Barcelona city officials, who say the city can easily accommodate 2,000 to 4,000 arrivals over the next two years, are wondering why the Spanish government is dragging its feet.

“‘I don’t think there is a refugee problem,’ insists Ignasi Calbo Troyano, who heads Barcelona’s City of Refuge project. ‘The flow of people into Europe – it is nothing compared to other parts of the world.’”

Humanitarian commentator Paul Currion continued our “This Age of Migration” series by examining the dangerous emergence of the migration-industrial complex in the form of walls and fences:

“Europe now leads the way in erecting walls to keep people out, and has shown that border walls can work – perhaps not as well as the claims that are made for them, but well enough. The reason that they work is hinted at in Hassner and Wittenberg’s study, which noted that many border walls are constructed by authoritarian regimes. Border walls work if they are part of a wider policy framework that includes state-sanctioned repression – either in the country building the wall or in countries on the other side.

“Not only is building a wall easier for a more authoritarian state, but a wall will also tend to make the state more authoritarian, as it seeks to defend it. Yet the Berlin Wall – which was likely at the front of Angela Merkel’s mind when she considered the refugee crisis – should remind us that authoritarian states don’t construct walls solely to keep people out, but also to keep them in. We’re so busy building that wall on the border, we may not notice that particular infection until it’s too late.”

Angela Wells of Jesuit Refugee Service wrote about the impending closure of Dadaab Refugee Camp, which will leave hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in limbo:

“Said Abdullah’s daily life in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, has become a testament to the struggle to survive for Somali refugees in an increasingly hostile country. The 42-year-old clothes seller turned rights activist divides his time in the Somali-dominated neighborhood of Eastleigh between detention centers, courtrooms and community meetings.

“He is available to help those caught up in police roundups get out of jail; to advise new arrivals on how to register with authorities; and to join Somali community leaders in petitioning the Kenyan government for more workable legislation to govern the lives of around 600,000 Somali refugees in the East African country.

“The already uphill battle took a turn for the worse in May 2016 when the government abruptly announced plans to close all refugee camps within its borders and decommission its Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), effectively leaving unregistered arrivals in limbo.”

In the final installment of her series on barriers to advocacy, professor Christine Mahoney proposed advocacy campaigns that create independence from aid as the only way forward:

“I suggest a strategy that capitalizes on social entrepreneurship and microfinance to enable the displaced populations to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to become self-sustainable.

“I propose a campaign targeting concerned citizens and community-driven civil societies of the Global North to mobilize new pools of investment for displaced individuals with entrepreneurial backgrounds – from small-scale business owners to tech developers. The impressive amounts of private aid that arrived in reaction to humanitarian disasters like the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti prove that concerned global citizens and communities are willing to act, if the ‘ask’ is clear, with scope for tangible progress.”

Jessica Hansen, global engagement manager at Kiva, a microfinance NGO, wrote about the importance of pooling together funds to help disadvantaged communities before they are forced to become refugees:

“About 10 years ago, I learned about Kiva and the concept of microfinance. This is how Kiva helps build stronger communities from bottom up: By lending as little as $25 on Kiva, anyone can help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential. For some, it’s a matter of survival, for others it’s the fuel for a life-long ambition.

“As we marked the 15th anniversary of World Refugee Day last week, I realize that I have come a long way in comprehending the strife caused by displacement. I have befriended thousands of incredible people who had been displaced and found them invaluable and inspiring partners as we struggled alongside each other in this important work.”

We marked International Yoga Day, which followed World Refugee Day, by exploring how the ancient mind–body philosophy can provide long-term psychosocial support for refugees by visiting a yoga group in Berlin:

“Healing is what draws a group of refugee women and girls from around the world to a small room in a former French school in a suburb of Berlin. They regularly take part in yoga classes in their temporary home, which was transformed last year into one of Germany’s ‘initial reception centers’ for roughly 150 newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees. Despite being in the middle of a residential area, this shelter is cut off from the local neighborhood and has become something of an island.”

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