Over the course of this semester, I have learned more about the world then I ever have before. I knew that there were problems that need fixing, people that need homes, and conflicts that need resolution, but I never thought that it would be at such a grand scale. There are millions of refugees around the world, living in a state of poverty, need, and fear that I could never comprehend. I don’t know how it feels to think that my home and my country aren’t safe. I have never not had a place to live and had to know that someone else had either destroyed or stolen my home. Never have there been people who wanted me destroyed just because of where I lived, the color of my skin, or the God that I pray to. These issues feel so foreign to me, since I have never had to deal with any of them. I feel so privileged to have grown up in luxury and stability compared to so many people around the world. As disheartening as the current world situation is, I have never looked at the world with as much hope as I do now though. There is so much potential for positive change all around the world. People are stepping up and making changes, making a difference. We in America have the opportunity to shape our policies and decisions to help in whatever way we can, and also do our best to cause no more harm then we already have. As long as we focus on fixing the problems we have caused, and doing our part to help create a safer world for everyone, hopefully we will see a better future on the horizon.
Here’s a very touching video that I saw for the first time a few weeks ago. In it, there are clips from a message Barack Obama put together for refugees in Darfur, interspersed with clips from people in Darfur sending their congratulations and support to President-Elect Obama.
I’m very interested to see the way that Barack Obama deals with refugee crises during his time as president. We haven’t had a very good track record over the last two presidents when it comes to this area (President Bush has caused some of the largest refugee crises in the world in Iraq and Afghanistan, and President Clinton refused to step in during the genocide in Rwanda, calling that the biggest mistake of his presidency). One of the first things that President-Elect Obama can do is to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and start reallocating some of the funds being spent on military to helping move the refugees back to their homes, rebuilding the infrastructure so that they can actually live in their country. Also, he can use his position to help bring attention to the problems in the Congo and Darfur, and use diplomacy to help bring about solutions involving the governments of those nations. A HUGE move that would help end the refugee problem in Colombia would be for him to end the “War on Drugs” which has caused so much fighting among drug lords in South America resulting in the millions of refugees that are internally and internationally displaced in the South. Another way that he can have a huge impact would be to change the US’s policy on Israel (which isn’t really a policy, rather a blank check with no restrictions or accountability and unlimited arms supplies to perpetuate the genocide of another people). These steps would all go a long way to help better the world as a whole and help end refugee crises that don’t have to exist.
This is the homepage for all UN work dealing with refugees, all commissions that they do, all the surveys and statistics that they find, and all of their proposed policy changes to help deal with refugee crises. Some of the best parts of the webpage are the continually updated news stories about refugees around the world, and also the “Major Operations” pages that they put up, which are full of resources and statistics that can be used when discussing some of the large refugee crises around the world, specifically Iraq, Southern Sudan, Chad/Darfur, and Afghanistan. Another great aspect of the site is the multimedia presented, including photo galleries of different areas of the world.
This link is for the specific Major Operations page on Afghanistan. All of these pages are great for finding information about specific conflicts, including news stories, photos, statistics, and reports put out by both the UN and other organizations. If you need briefing notes to give a presentation or talk about a situation, these webpages are the best place to go for that. It’s good to give you an overview of why a conflict is happening, and what the current situation is.
I love this section of the webpage because it gives an amazing visual to go along with the stories and news about refugees around the world. While some of the galleries focus on sad aspects of refugee life, others highlight positive things happening around the world. One such gallery shows how girls/women in Afghanistan went from begging on the street to working in a beauty salon, making an income and not having to beg any more. Some others of the best photo galleries are the ones showing people returning home in Chad and Afghanistan, and the education system being set up for refugees in Columbia.
Over 250 people have died in fighting in remote areas of Darfur over the last week as a result of disputes over “native administration positions.” These attacks have happened on two main tribes, the Gimir tribe which has internal conflicts (killing over 100), and attacks from other tribal fighters on the Habbaniya tribe. The full story can be found here: http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usnJOE4BE0AQ.html
Over 500 fighters attacked the Habbaniya tribe last week, causing 5,000 villagers to flee for their lives and resulting in the deaths of around 150 civilians and 6 peacekeeping officers. These attacks are not new, and are a part of a long string of attacks and counter attacks, adding to the already complex struggle happening in Sudan. Experts guess that the five year conflict has killed over 200,000 people and displaced over 2 million.
This is some of the first news coverage being given to the tribal conflicts that have arisen out of the greater fight happening in Darfur, the fighting between the Government and rebel militias. While at first, the problems in Darfur were due to rebels rising up against perceived wrongdoings by the government, the influx of arms into the area has turned traditionally small tribal rivalries over things such as grazing lands and traditional rights into armed conflicts. Both the rebels and the government have been arming tribes, in the hopes that they will fight amongst themselves to weaken the tribal system, and also using the weapons to “buy” the loyalty of some of the tribes so that they will help in the fight against the government or be a counter-insurgency against the rebels. Both of these groups need to stop this practice, because it is hurting the people of Darfur even more then they already have been, causing them to become even more inextricably linked to the fighting. While the “buzz” over Darfur has died down over the last year, we must not forget what is happening and keep putting pressure on our government to do something to help the real victims of this fighting - the people of Darfur.
Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, over 4.7 million Iraqis have fled their homes, with 2.7 million internally displaced, finding shelter either in other parts of Iraq, and the rest fleeing to other countries. Most of these internationally displaced refugees are heading to Syria and Jordan, and many are also going to Europe (Iraqis now make up the largest ethnic group of people seeking asylum in Europe). This is causing significant problems for these countries, who want to open their borders and take care of their neighbors but face internal problems as a result. One issue in particular is that of public schools, particularly in Jordan, where the most Iraqi refugees have settled. Public schools are overflowing with children, and there aren’t enough teachers or supplies to teach them all. Should refugee children be denied an education, or should Jordanian children receive a sub-par education since they have to cater to all of the students? UNHCR has been delivering food and supplies to countries that have been taking care of refugees in an effort to help ease the burden, but even then these host countries are in great need of help. A UNHCR-commissioned survey of nearly 1,000 Iraqis currently staying in Syria done in April of this year has shown that 95 percent had fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity, and that only 4 percent currently had plans to return to Iraq. If you take four percent of 4.7 million Iraqis, you have only 188,000 people planning on returning in the near future. Remember, this is just plans to return, not actually returning, leaving millions internally or internationally displaced with not even a plan or hope of returning home soon. Even if they did go home, many would find that their homes were being occupied and would face the challenges of having their property restored to them, if it was left at all.
While there are always negative side effects to war, we need to re-look at the War in Iraq and decide if it is truly worth the cost, both monetary and physical. The 4.7 million displaced Iraqis are a huge cost in and of itself, but it does not even count the millions dead as a result of collateral damage and fighting. In my opinion, no moral justification for war is worth the cost in lives that this has caused.
Even after the government-mandated demobolization of all paramilitary groups in 2006, Colombia is again facing problems with armed gangs running unchecked through the country, exploiting businesses, siezing land, and protecting drug traffikers. While the government continues to say that these gangs do not exist, over 100,000 fighters are estimated in over 100 new gangs. The full story can be read here:
This return of gangs is problematic for many reasons. Not only is it encouraging the drug trafficking problem in Colombia, but it is extremely detrimental for the people of Colombia. Over an estimated 270,000 people have been internally displaced because of these fighters, which is over 40% more then the amount of people displaced last year. Colombia has the second highest number of internally displaced people, estimated around 3 million, beat out only by Sudan (due to the situation in Darfur). Fighters will take their lands to use for growing and traffiking drugs, beating and killing people who don't leave fast enough when told. They are especially focusing on taking the costline since its very rugged and good for hiding shipments of drugs in all of the small coves. Rural states are being overrun (over 1 in 5 of the rural states in Colombia have a paramilitary presence in them), forcing the larger cities such as Tumaco to have to help with this huge influx of refugees. This increase in fighters, and thereore refugees, is being caused because with the removal of the armed military in 2006, there was a huge power vaccum that many groups are now trying to fill, at the expense of the peoples of Colombia.
The United States was in strong support of the demobilization of the armed militants in 2006, since it seemed this would help support us in our "War on Drugs." 14 top leaders were even extradited to the US to face drug traffiking charges. Our pressure on Colombia to control the drug traffiking and militants is just an added part of the many aspects which caused this refugee crisis to happen in Colombia. If we hadn't put such a big emphasis on other countries catching their drug lords, do you think that perhaps the demobolization, and therefore these power struggles wouldn't be happening, and Colombian people could be living their lives in peace? I am not suggesting that it is a good thing for people to live in countries run by drug lords, but perhaps having a home and life with drug lords in the country would be a bit better then being forced out of your home and sent as a refugee to the city, just because it was important a criminal was caught.
People and the Land is a documentary put out by the PBS filmmaker Tom Hayes in 1997, detailing the Israeli occupation of Palestine. A good portion of the footage that they got while in Israel and Palestine was taken by the Israeli police when the reporters tried to leave the country. When leaving to make the documentary, Hayes was hoping to get an unbiased view of what was going on in Israel, and after visiting and seeing firsthand the atrocities that are happening, such as buildings being bulldozed and ambulances being stopped at the border just because their injured passengers were Palestinian. The resulting hour long documentary (the above link is to the first 10 minutes - if interested, you can find the other 5 parts on youtube as well) has been played on some PBS stations and at some universities, but the majority of stations refused to play the film, caving into pressure from Pro-Israel and Pro-Zionist lobbyists. For an unedited and uncensored look, you can read in Tom Hayes' own words, the story of making this documentary ( http://www.adc.org/thelink.pdf ). If you haven't learned a lot about both sides of the story, I strongly suggest you watch this documentary. It's shocking to see even a glimpse of the way Palestinians living in the occupied territories live. Take the time - its an eye opener.