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February 27 2014

[Photos]: Kolkata’s Street Dog Doctor

Kaushik Sengupta, a self-taught social documentary photographer, is the creator of a photo essay featuring Mr. Sandip Karan of Kolkata, India. Mr. Karan is known in his area as ‘street dog doctor’ because of his caring love for street dogs. Till-to-date, he has rescued and treated around 2500 street dogs in his own locality and adjacent areas. The photo essay can be found in his website, in Galli Magazine and in the Invisible Photographer Asia website.

February 23 2014

First Open Heart Surgery in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

The health international network La Chaîne de l’Espoir (The Link of Hope) reports that 7 Congolese children in critical conditions benefited from open heart surgeries [fr] on February 14 in Brazzaville, Congo. With the help of the Congo Assistance Fundation as well, Prince Béni and Maya, both suffering from cardiomyopathy were operated for several hours as told in the following report [fr]:

Elle a dix ans et ne pèse que quinze kilos. Son cœur fonctionne mal. Il l'empêche de s'alimenter et donc de grandir. La petite fille doit être opérée le plus vite possible. L'intervention dure six heures.

(Mayala) is ten years old and weighs fifteen pounds. Her heart is malfunctioning. It prevents her from getting nutrients to all her cells and therefore growing. The girl needed an operation as soon as possible. The procedure took six hours.

February 21 2014

Social Media Rallies to Help Comatose Pakistani Student in US


Screenshot of Facebook page supporting Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa

Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, a 21-year-old Pakistani exchange student in the US, has been in a coma since 13 November 2013 when a deer collided with the car he and his friends were riding in outside of the city of Minneapolis. At a local hospital after the accident, Bajwa went into cardiac arrest. Doctors were able to resuscitate him, but he suffered brain damage and has been comatose ever since. 

Just as Bajwa was fighting for his life, another battle was brewing. Bajwa's student visa was set to expire on 28 February, and Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota, where he was transferred after the accident, was making plans to deport him to a Pakistani hospital, saying its hands were legally tied. His family feared Bajwa wouldn't survive the flight. 

A student of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Bajwa was also only insured for one semester for the student exchange program with a cap of 100,000 US dollars, not enough to cover the expensive costs of an extended stay in an American hospital.    

As the visa expiration date neared, support on social media for Bajwa began to pour in, and an online campaign to raise funds and to pressure the US to allow the student to stay for treatment quickly spread throughout the web. Finally, after Pakistan’s Ambassador in the US Jalil Abbas Jilani became involved, Bajwa's brother announced on 20 February that US authorities had agreed to extend the student's visa.  

Social media takes up the cause 

Bajwa's medical costs exceeded 350,000 dollars in mid-February and continued to climb. The hospital agreed to absorb the costs and not dip into the insurance money, but warned (before the visa was extended) that it would cease paying on 28 February. Essentia Health also said it would pay the medical evacuation costs, though it threatened to pull the coverage if the family didn't sign off on returning Bajwa to Pakistan, according to his brother Shahraiz Bajwa.  

With the family unable to fund Bajwa's extensive treatment once the hospital pulled its financial support, his brother launched an online fundraising campaign on website gofundme.com, which has collected to date more than 132,000 US dollars of its 300,000-dollar goal.

On Facebook, groups such as “Support For Shahzaib Bajwa“ helped to spread the word about the need for donations. “Inshallah God will help you guys more. People show that humanity still exists in its full context,” one user, Mubarik Hasan, wrote. Other users, A Facebook user like Mohammad Jibran Nasir published statuses urging friends to help.

The peace initiative of the Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India, Aman ki Asha, shared a plea on Facebook from someone who had met Bajwa:

From an Indian about a Pakistani: “I request you from the core of my heart if you could help this lovely guy. I met him on my last visit to Pakistan and I've great memories of the time spent with him. I request you to pl help him out of the situation in which he and his family is.”

Meanwhile, an online petition was created on change.org to demand the extension of Bajwa's visa; it has so far received more than 8,000 signatures. Bajwa's family was not hopeful about the quality of treatment he would receive in Pakistan, and his mother feared signing off on the medical flight would be sending her son to his death. 

On the petition, Ivy Vainio from Minnesota wrote:

Shahzaib needs the best medical care that he can receive right now and he will get it where he is at currently. He is one of the most wonderful young men that I have met. Caring and loving to all. Please renew his visa so that he can stay and get the best treatment available to him.

Richard Mienke argued: 

I would rather see such a brilliant student and decent human being be taken care of until full recovery is attained and then give him the means to continue his degree here in the United States. It is not a question of citizenship, it is a question of humanity and doing the right thing. Period.

On Twitter, users pushed the campaign even further with tweets and retweets. Professor of International Relations, Earth and Environment at Boston University Adil Najam wrote:   

Pakistani journalist, artist and documentary filmmaker Beena Sarwar also requested the US extend Bajwa's visa: 

Political analyst and senior TV anchor Nasim Zehra wanted people to show generosity: 

Slow recovery ahead

Bajwa, who suffered severe facial fractures, will eventually need reconstructive surgery. He remains comatose, but can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs.

Doctors at the Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center say that it will take at least a few years to determine his chances of complete recovery. With his visa renewed, officials are now making plans to move Bajwa to a long-term facility in the area. 

Thumbnail image: Screenshot of Facebook page praying for early recovery of Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa

‘Central African Republic's Most Pressing Need Is Security for its People’

Mme Beatrice Epaye via Centrafrique Press blog -Domaine public

Béatrice Epaye via the CAR Press blog – Public domain

Béatrice Epaye is a former member of Parliament and today a member of the Central African Republic's National Transition Council (CNT), the body tasked with selecting a transitional president who will lead the war-torn country until the next presidential elections. When an uprising plunged the country into crisis in late 2012, the previous President-elect François Bozizé was removed by the Séléka rebels.

The terrible religious conflict continues still in the Central African Republic (CAR). On February 19, heavy fighting erupted near the airport in the capital Bangui. Anti-Balaka groups tried to block the evacuation of Muslims and disrupted a visit by a top United Nations (UN) aid official.  

Epaye agreed to answer our questions on the current situation in the Central African Republic and the steps which need to be taken to avoid a human catastrophe in her country. In addition to her role on the National Transition Council, she is the president of the “La Voix du Coeur” (Voice of the Heart) Centre, which is currently a place of welcome and support for street children in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. She also sits on the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa's parliament (CEMAC) in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, where she represents the Council.

Global Voices (GV): What's the latest situation in your area? 

Béatrice Epaye (BE): Je suis une habitante de Bangui la capitale de la RCA, une ville meurtrie par le conflit. Tous les jours, de chez moi, j'entends des coups de feux venus de certains quartiers de Bangui. Ma maison comme beaucoup d’autres accueillent des proches venus de quartiers plus fragiles. Les gens fuient et beaucoup se sont regroupés dans des lieux qu'ils estiment sécurisés : Aéroport, Mosquées, Églises, dans des familles, en brousse dans la périphérie de Bangui ou en République Démocratique du Congo de l'autre côté du fleuve Oubangui.

De même, le Centre « Voix du Cœur » que j’ai fondé est devenu un lieu de regroupement pour les enfants de la rue en détresse. Là chrétiens et musulmans se côtoient, s’entraident.

Béatrice Epaye (BE): I live in Bangui the capital of the CAR, a town battered by conflict. Every day from my own home I hear shots coming from different areas of Bangui. Like many others, my house welcomes friends who come from the most fragile areas. People are fleeing and many gather together in areas which they feel are more secure: the airport, mosques, churches, with families, in the bush on the edge of Bangui, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side of the Ubangi River.

Likewise, the Voice of the Heart Centre which I founded has become a gathering place for distressed street children. Christians and Muslims come together and help each other.

GV: How do you manage the uncertainties? What are the most pressing needs so far?

BE: Effectivement c'est une situation difficile et précaire pour tout le monde : à tout moment le pire peut se produire! Quand on sent le danger, on cherche un abri.

Le plus difficile pour les familles et sur les sites des déplacés, c'est de ne pas avoir à manger ni avoir la possibilité de se soigner. Les salaires ne sont pas payés depuis 4 mois, et l'aide humanitaire n'est pas suffisante, ou même parfois inexistante. Dans leurs fuites les populations ont laissé derrière elles le nécessaire pour le quotidien et manquent du minimum pour la survie. Ensuite les enfants ne vont pas à l'école… on en est à un tel point que je ne peux pas le décrire.

BE: It's really a very difficult and precarious situation for everyone: the worst can happen at any moment! When we sense danger we look for shelter.

The most difficult thing for the families, and at the internally displaced persons sites, is having nothing to eat and no possibility of taking care of yourself. Salaries haven't been paid in four months, and humanitarian aid is not sufficient and sometimes even non-existent. As they fled, populations left behind things necessary for daily life and don't have the minimum needed to survive. Then children aren't going to school… we've reached such a point that I can't even describe it.

GV: How has the violence between Christians and Muslims increased so quickly in a country that isn't known for religious conflicts?

BE: Effectivement, le pays n'a jamais connu de conflits religieux. Les deux communautés ont toujours vécu ensemble en cohésion. Les familles s'échangent les repas lors des fêtes de Pâques, de la Tabaski, du Ramadan, de Noël et lors des mariages religieux. Lors du coup d’État nous avons vu parmi les rebelles des étrangers, engagés comme mercenaires. Depuis le début de leur progression ils ont utilisé les communautés musulmanes avec un discours de libérateurs des musulmans face aux mécréants qui les maltraitent. Ils ont pu enrôler beaucoup de jeunes qui les ont aidé à s'attaquer aux biens de l’église et faire les exactions que nous avons tous connues. Jusqu’à maintenant, nous avons toujours recherché à vivre en harmonie entre Centrafricains, avec nos différences de confessions ; comme nation, nous avons aussi accueilli beaucoup de personnes et de familles venant des pays voisins.

Cependant, il y a l'attitude de certains agents de l’État face à des concitoyens ou des résidents qu’ils supposent musulmans. Ceux-ci sont freinés dans leur démarche pour un papier administratif ou pour passer un barrage des forces de l'ordre. De même, les populations du nord-est de la RCA proches du Tchad et du Soudan (Darfour), vivant à plus de 1000 KM de la capitale, et majoritairement musulmanes, bénéficient peu du soutien de l’Etat parce que l’administration et les services publics sont quasi inexistants dans cette région, ce qui peut amener les habitants à se sentir laissés pour compte. Ces populations sont plus liées aux populations frontalières des autres pays voisins, ce qui est normal et parlent ensemble la même langue, ont une culture proche, mais ils sont alors perçus comme étrangers et eux-mêmes se sentent loin de la majorité chrétienne du pays. Au cœur du conflit que nous vivons, en ce moment, la grande majorité silencieuse des Centrafricains refusent la violence et beaucoup ont eu a agir pour protéger ou sauver la vie d’autres, souvent d’une autre communauté religieuse qu’eux.

BE: The country has never really known religious conflict. The two communities have always lived together with cohesion. Families exchange meals at Easter, Tabaski, Ramadan, Christmas and at religious marriages. When the revolution happened, we saw foreigners amongst the rebels, taken on as mercenaries. Since they started to advance they've made use of Muslim communities by making speeches about freeing Muslims from infidels who have treated them badly. They were able to recruit many young people who have helped them attack church property and carry out abuses which we've all experienced. Until now, we've always sought a harmonious life between Central Africans with our different faiths. As a nation we've also welcomed many people and families from neighbouring countries.

However, there is an attitude which certain public officials have concerning fellow citizens or residents who they believe to be Muslim. The movement of these people is slowed down by checking administrative documents or going through a security checkpoint. In the same way, populations in the northeast of the CAR close to Chad and Sudan (Darfour), who live more than 1,000 km from the capital and the majority of whom are Muslims, receive little benefit from state aid because the administration and public services are almost non-existent in this region, which can lead to local residents feeling overlooked. These populations are more closely linked to border populations from other neighbouring countries, which is normal, they speak the same language together, have cultural similarities, but then they are seen as foreigners and themselves feel a long way from the country's Christian majority. At the heart of the conflict which we're living in at the moment is the large Christian silent majority refuses violence and many have had to act to protect or save other people's lives, often from a different religious community to their own.

GV: You say that it's critical that the communities talk to each other and have a dialogue in order to solve problems. In your opinion, what conditions are needed in order to set up this dialogue? How can the international community help in this area?

BE: J'estime que parallèlement à la sécurisation du pays il faut commencer la réconciliation entre les communautés.

Tout d'abord, rassurer la communauté musulmane qui est en train de quitter le pays, elle fait partie prenante de la RCA. Il s'agit de réfuter toute idée soit de les chasser, soit de scission du pays. Il faut éliminer dans les mentalités la confusion systématique entre Seleka et musulman.

Inviter à ouvrir un processus de dialogue politique entre toutes les parties prenantes aux conflits, mais aussi avec les acteurs non-armés afin de lancer un processus de réconciliation nationale à même d'apaiser aujourd'hui les populations désemparées et leur redonner confiance dans l'avenir.

Dès la rentrée scolaire, qu'on commence à mettre en place un programme sur le vivre ensemble pour les enfants, et aussi l'élargir dans les quartiers et villages.

Il faut renforcer la sensibilisation déjà initiée par la plate-forme inter-religieuse dans les Églises, les Mosquées et autres Temples, ainsi que d'autres initiatives locales qui concourent à la paix”. Il est vrai que l'idée d'organiser des élections fait partie des priorités de la Communauté internationale, mais cette idée fait certainement peur à la communauté musulmane centrafricaine. C'est pourquoi il serait souhaitable que parallèlement au processus électoral, soit amorcé un programme de réconciliation nationale, une démarche qui assure à chacun qu’il sera reconnu comme centrafricain à part entière.

BE: I believe that parallel to securing the country we have to start the reconciliation process between communities.

First of all, we must reassure the Muslim community, which is in the process of leaving the country, that they are a stakeholder in the CAR. We have to refute any idea of banishing them or splitting the country. We have to eliminate the systematic confusion in people's minds between Seleka and Muslim.

We must encourage the opening of a political dialogue between all parties taking part in the conflict, but also key players who are not fighting, in order to start a national reconciliation process to give comfort to helpless populations and give them back confidence in the future.

Once the new school year begins we must set up a children's program about living together and also extend this to urban areas and villages.

We have to support the raising of public awareness, which has already been initiated by the inter-religious platform in churches, mosques, and other temples, just like other local initiatives which lead to peace. It's true that the idea of organising elections is amongst the priorities of the international community, but this idea also scares the Central African Muslim community. That's why it would be desirable to launch a national reconciliation program alongside the electoral process, an approach which assures everyone that they will be recognised as fully Central African.

GV: What are the other pressing needs for Central Africa at the moment? What solutions can be put forward?

BE: Le besoin le plus pressant pour la RCA c'est d'abord la sécurité pour son peuple. L'idéal serait que les familles rentrent chez elles avant les premières pluies du mois de février, que l'aide humanitaire arrive aux habitants partout où on peut les trouver (alimentation, eau potable, soins, couchages, produits d'hygiène, vêtements…). Ce serait aussi le paiement des salaires aux fonctionnaires.

BE: The CAR's most pressing need is security for its people. Ideally, families would be able to return to their homes before the first rains in February and humanitarian aid would arrive for local people wherever they are (food, drinking water, medical supplies, sleeping bags, hygiene products, clothes..). Also, public officials would have their salaries paid.

February 20 2014

#Euromaidan Protests Spread Throughout Ukraine After Explosion of Violence

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

Euromaidan protests in Ukraine took a turn for the worse on February 18, 2014, as special Berkut police forces began their most violent crackdown yet on citizens and political opposition supporters in Kyiv. Instead of quelling protesters, the protests quickly strengthened and even spread to new towns and regions in the country. The government announced de facto martial law, with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claiming that the military now had the right to search, detain and even fire on civilians.

Earlier in the day, opposition representatives attempted to deliver a request to Parliament that would limit presidential power and were denied access to the building to do so. Soon after hearing this news, protesters moved in on the Parliament building. The situation then gravely escalated when police forces violently cracked down on protesters around 8 pm, with devastating results. The following morning, several independent and international news outlets reported that the several-hour-long aggressive police action resulted in 25 deaths and at least 1,000 people injured, but casualties are still being counted. One journalist reported that at least 40 people had been burned alive in the Trade Union building in Kyiv alone.

As this was happening, news of the crackdown traveled quickly through social media and other channels, with people following the events live throughout Ukraine and the world through several live streams. Newly angered protesters marched once again on what has been the main protest site since November 2013, Independence Square, but also took to the streets in several other cities and towns in Ukraine's 24 administrative regions. The images and information users on Twitter and other social networks were sharing, like the one below from @slava_slav, angered citizens throughout the country and incited more protests:

Trade Union Building on Independence Square [in Kyiv]

Ukraine's most popular online community of IT developers joined other Ukrainians in presenting their position on the February 18 events. The founder of the community, Max Ischenko, wrote:

Вчера украинская власть наконец-то приняла решение. Обьявила открытую войну гражданам Украины. Рубикон пройден.
Всего два выхода для честных ребят: перестать быть гражданами Украины, променяв кафкианскую реальность на нормальный мир или же остаться гражданами, приняв навязанную войну. Третий, трусливый вариант, не рассматриваем — это default route.
Голыми руками на БТР идти не надо, это не наши методы. Программисты лучше действуют головой. Я за ненасильственное сопротивление.

Yesterday, Ukrainian authorities finally made a decision. Open war against Ukrainian citizens was announced. The Rubicon has been crossed.

Honest men have only two solutions: stop being a citizen of Ukraine, changing the Kafka-esque reality to a normal world or to remain a citizen and accept the imposed war. The third one, a cowardly choice, is not considered – this is a default route.

There is no need to go against armoured personnel empty-handed, it is not our way. Developers work better by using their heads. I am for non-violent resistance.

After receiving information of the murders in Kyiv, many protests throughout other regions have been refueled, and some have now newly joined the protests. The most radical demonstrations of civil resistance, other than in Kyiv, now come from the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, which was active in the Euromaidan movement from its inception. During the night between February 18 and February 19, several government organizations fell into the control of protesters, such as the local Security Service of Ukraine in Lvyv and the Regional State Administration.

In Lviv, there is no possibility to telephone the police, as they have simply stopped responding. The majority of police stations in the region have been defeated and taken over by protesters. Information has also been circulating both on and offline that police stations in the city had been looted and fire arms stolen. Ukrainian news agency ZIK reported in a tweet:

In Lviv all weapons missing from police stations: In Lviv from the police offices some number of weapons were stolen

In the morning of February 19, Ivan Franko Lviv National University students and professors announced that they would go on strike indefinitely and asked other universities to do the same. In the meantime, students have been doing their best to organize self-defense units to protect citizens and museums from looting and violence. Young Twitter user @yostap from Lvyv said:

The creation of the student self-defense unit and strike committee has been announced.

In Uzhorod, the Regional State Administration is now occupied by the protesters, with many citizens expressing relief that their town has awoken to join what many are calling a revolution. Twitter user @mikekomar tweeted a photo of the building when it had just been occupied by the protesters:

@ukrpravda_news Zakarpatska RSA [Regional State Administration] was taking by storm, and it is now in the nation's hands! Finally, Uzhgorod has awoken! Photo [taken at] 12:35

The same has happened in a few other regional capitals. In Lutsk, a city in another western Ukrainian region, for example, the Regional State Administration is now also in the hands of Euromaidan protesters. Local users on Twitter, like @deep_monday, tweeted images and updates as they happened:

MIA [Ministry of Internal Affairs] and RSA [Regional State Administration] are defeated, everything is in flames, Bashkalenko [Volyn Region Governor Alexander Bashkalenko] was beat. We have the feeling this is not happening to us

What many feel is the cruelest news over these two days has come from Khmelnytskyi. At the Security Service of Ukraine building in this city, an elderly woman was killed and two others were injured. They were a part of the protest group that had come to that building after hearing what happened in Kyiv. Someone opened fire from the Security Service of Ukraine building. According to witnesses, the woman was unarmed and was kneeling in front of the building. The terrible image of this killing was shared by many online, including the official Twitter feed of one of the Maidan movement organizations, Will of the Nation:

Khmenytskyi. SSU is killing theirs nation.

The Ukrainian Democratic Alliance added:

Our activists have said that the shooting came from the building of the Khmelnytskyi SSU [Security Service of Ukraine]. A woman was killed. There are a few injured.

Eastern parts of Ukraine also are no longer peaceful. In Poltava, a protest was held in the city center. A Twitter account represented as Poltava Svoboda (Poltava Freedom) tweeted this image of the protests there:

Poltava. The amount of people [joining the protest] is rising.

People are once again joining forces to try to help the Euromaidan movement in any way they can. Some are collecting and bringing warm clothes and medication, while others are buying and preparing food for their fellow protesters. Food has now become more important than ever at the protest sites in Kyiv, as the Trade Union Building, where most of the food collected for the protesters had been stored over the past weeks, was burned during the February 18 police attacks, leaving protesters with no food at all.

In Kyiv and Lviv, people have also been donating blood and more donors are needed. Information about this is also being spread through social networks and a new hashtag #ядонор (#Iamadonor) can be seen along with the now standard #Euromaidan. Twitter user Ana Toliivna from Lvyv was among those who donated and called for others to do the same:

#Iamadonor RT @euromaidanlviv: On Pekarska street 65 it is possible to donate blood for those affected [at] #Euromaidan #Lvyv

People are also collecting money for those affected by the latest escalation of events. Even those with very little to give are offering what they can in support of the protests. Ukrainian author and journalist Dmitry Gordon shared this image of an elderly woman showing undeniable support of the protests in her country:

This old woman brought half of her monthly pension for those affected at Euromaidan.

February 18 2014

VIDEO: UN Report on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea

Horrible stories about North Korea is nothing new. But this may be one of the most extensive reports worth-reading on the country's abysmal human rights condition. A new report by a UN Commission of Inquiry reveals unspeakable crimes against humanity carried out by the North Korean regime against its own people which include systematic murder, torture, rape, forced abortions, deliberate starvation, and even infanticide. The Human Rights Watch post a short video version of the report on its Youtube channel and it seems rapidly gaining traction. 

“Bring All the Culprits of Ethnic Cleansing to Justice” Says a CAR Citizen of Muslim and Christian Descent

Here is Moussa Tanko–Tchaibou's take on the ethnic cleansing that is underway in his country, the Central African Republic and what should be done to stop it [fr]:

Je suis centrafricain de confession musulmane avec cette particularité illustrative de la cohésion sociale, celle d’avoir un père de confession musulmane et une mère d’origine chrétienne [..]  Alors que la maison commune est en train de bruler qu’apportent-ils comme contribution afin de mettre fin à cette situation? Rien à part se préparer pour les prochaines échéances électorales, à attiser à distance cette haine contre une certaine catégorie de population [..]  il faudrait que les choses avancent vite, car ne pas traduire les coupables de ces crimes horribles devant la cour pénale internationale laisse la porte ouverte à d’autres massacres.

I am a Central African Republic citizen who happens to be muslim. In what used to be an illustration of the social cohesion of the past in my country, my father is Muslim and my mother is Christian. [..] While the house of Central Africa is now burning, what did that they (political leaders) do to put an end to this situation? Nothing but prepare for the next elections and stir up hatred against a certain group of people [..] The world needs to move quickly (in identifying the culprits), because if we doe not bring the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to the International Criminal Court rapidly, we will leave the door open for other massacres to occur.

Hayes Brown unpacks why it is important to better understand the two-way atrocities in the region and whether the use of the term genocide in the media is appropriate. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch states that without prompt action, the country will be emptied of its Muslim population [fr]. 

February 12 2014

Insurgent Group Tweets Photo of Iranian Soldiers Abducted at Iran-Pakistan Border

Five Soldiers kidnapped nera Iran-Pakistan border, source: Jaish al-Adl's Twitter

Five abducted Irani soldiers. Photo released by  Jaish al-Adl's Twitter account

Iranians are using the #FreeIranianSoldiers hashtag to spread awareness about five Iranian border guards abducted at the Iran-Pakistan border. The Baloch Sunni-muslim insurgent group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) claimed responsibility and published the above photo of the abducted soldiers through their Twitter account. 

Jaish-al-Adl operate in Sistan-Baluchestan, one of Iran's largest and poorest provinces, which is home to 2 million Sunni-muslims. The ethnic Baloch and Sunni-muslim insurgents in the area have been demanding more autonomy from the Shia-government in Tehran in recent years.
 
In October 2013,  Jaish-ul-Adl which is called a terrorist group by the Irani state, ambushed and killed 14 Iranian border guards. In response,  authorities in the Shia-dominant country executed 16 people from Sistan-Baluchestan allegedly associated with Jaish-ul-Adl.
 

 Mohammad Reza Aref, an Iranian reformist politician, tweeted:

An Iranian social media researcher and blogger Narima Gharib tweeted:

Canadian-Iranian Maryam Nayeb Yazdi tweeted:

 

Iran-based Twitter user Opium calls for unity:

Hey you, don't tell me there's no hope at all  Together we stand, divided we fall. #FreeIranianSoldiers

— opium (@opiums) February 10, 2014

 
Since 2006, Baluchis, who make up 2% of Iran’s population, have accounted for about 20% of state executions, according to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a US-based group which tracks human rights abuses in Iran.
 
The Irani government believes Jaish-ul-Adl is hiding in Pakistan's Balochistan province, which borders Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province. Pakistan is battling its own Baluchi insurgency,and has been criticized by Iran for failing to crack down on militant camps in its territory.
Reposted byiranelection iranelection

February 09 2014

Iran: Five Soldiers Abducted near Iran-Pakistan Border

Five Iranian soldiers were kidnapped on Friday, near Iran-Pakistan border by Sunni extremists. Iranians launched a tweet campaign to support abducted soldiers.Amin Sabeti tweeted

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

February 07 2014

Change From the Ground Up in War-Torn Central African Republic

Refugees of the fighting in the Central African Republic via wikipédia Public Domain

Refugees of the fighting in the Central African Republic via Wikipedia – Public domain

Full-time volunteers from the ATD Fourth World Movement in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been working with those most disadvantaged since before the violent religious conflict there began to tear the country apart. The actions they have taken to support local populations have preserved unity and social cohesion in some of the communities weakened by the fighting between Seleka rebels, mostly of Islamic confession, and anti-Balakas, mostly composed of Christian youth groups. The group's continued presence within the community has rendered them key players and observers of the current situation.  

Global Voices approached the volunteers to learn their perspective on the situation and what they think needs to be done to rebuild the country. What follows is the second part of an interview with Michel Besse, the local team leader of the ATD Fourth World Team in Bangui and his collaborators. You can read the first part of the interview here

Global Voices (GV): Which of the actions taken so far have proved to be most useful to the population? 

Michel Besse: Pendant l'année de plomb qu'à vécu le pays en 2013, une douzaine de membres du Mouvement ATD Quart Monde, sont venus de leurs quartiers et de leurs villages chaque semaine jusqu'au Centre-Ville. Ils ont procédé à l’élaboration du programme d'action du Mouvement pour 4 ans, exprimer ce qui est le plus important pour leur pays ne pas laisser se perdre l'intelligence des enfants, et rejoindre d'autres qui souffrent plus encore ! Dans un pays ou même le lendemain est incertain, ils ont persévéré et résisté : malgré la pression de l'urgence et des dangers, malgré les incertitudes du présent, pour eux penser l'avenir était important. Ils voulaient semer l'espoir maintenant pour garantir l'avenir et ils continuent.

Michel Besse: During the year of carnage that the country endured in 2013, a dozen or so members of the ATD Fourth World organization travelled every week from their neighbourhoods and villages to the town centre. The members worked on the movement's four-year action programme, identifying what matters most for their country; not allowing children's intelligence to be wasted, and joining forces with others who are suffering even more! In a country where even the next day is uncertain, they have persevered and resisted hatred; despite the pressures of the emergency situation and the dangers involved, despite the present uncertainties, it was important for them to think of the future. They wanted to sow the seeds of hope in the present to secure the future, and they are continuing to do so.


Video of children in Bangui, CAR  with schoolchildren from other countries.

GV: You say that it is crucial for communities to talk to each other and maintain dialogue to resolve problems. What conditions do you consider to be necessary for this dialogue to take place? How can the international community assist with this?

MB: Ce que le Mouvement ATD Quart Monde a appris de l'expérience, pour l'avoir vécu ailleurs aussi, c'est que partout où il y a des catastrophes, des crises, les premiers à y faire face, ce sont les gens du pays, et en particulier les gens d'en bas : les habitants des quartiers qui s'organisent sans attendre l'aide internationale, ceux dont les paroles et les actes restent encore invisibles.  La plus grande crainte, c’est que le fossé ne se creuse trop entre les communautés, et qu’il soit trop difficile ensuite d’envisager la réconciliation. Alors, chaque perte en vie humaine est une souffrance pour tous ceux qui veulent la paix. Il faut soutenir les initiatives qui vont dans le sens de la paix, aider à faire entendre les voix et voir les gestes qui portent cette aspiration profonde de fraternité et d’unité.

Les jeunes n'ont pas attendu que le recensement du camp de personnes déplacées de 100.000 soit fait à l'aéroport pour commencer des bibliothèques de rue. Chancella, Kevin et Herbert l'ont fait sans autres moyens qu'un tout petit peu de matériel, quelques crayons et leurs chansons mais surtout toute leur personne. Ils n'ont pas attendus pour se mettre au service communautaire dans les camps : aider les personnes malades à prendre leurs médicaments, aller chercher de l'eau pour les plus faibles, enterrer les morts, mais aussi les mères de familles à réorganiser leur petits commerces pour les besoins du camp et pour nourrir leur familles. Comme ces jeunes, ce que les habitants du pays espèrent, c'est d'être aidés mais en étant soutenus dans leurs initiatives.

MB: The ATD Fourth World Movement has learned from experience, having gone through it elsewhere, that wherever disasters and crises occur, the local people are the ones who have to deal with things first, especially the poorer people; the neighbourhood residents, who organize themselves without waiting for international aid, and whose words and actions remain invisible. The greatest fear is that the gap between the communities will become too wide, making reconciliation a difficult prospect. Every human life lost causes suffering for those who want peace. It is important to support peace initiatives, to help ensure the voices and actions that convey this deep desire for brotherhood and unity are heard and seen.

The young people of Bangui did not wait for the 100,000 displaced people camped at the airport to be listed before starting to set up street libraries. A few of the youngsters who volunteered to help, Chancella, Kevin and Herbert, achieved that with nothing more than a tiny scrap of material, a few pencils and their songs, but most importantly, they put themselves into it. They didn't hesitate to put themselves at the service of the community in the camps, helping the sick to take their medicine, fetching water for the weak, burying the dead, and helping mothers to rebuild their small businesses supplying the needs of the camp and to feed their families. Like these young people, the country's inhabitants wish to be helped, but by being supported in their own initiatives.

GV: How can international aid help rebuild the country, without overlooking those who are the country's driving force?  

MB: On l'a souvent vu ailleurs, l'état a été dénigré et contourné par l'aide internationale.  Il faut soutenir les initiatives des gens du pays et ne pas les écraser. Comment dire qu'on ne peut se mettre derrière ceux qui sont engagés et ont une expérience et une réflexion sur ce qu'il faut faire, nourrie par des années d'engagement ? Les responsables  d'une « maison » pour enfants vulnérables a vu des tonnes de riz distribué en rations individuelles… et les plus faibles se faire dépouiller, ou le vendre à vil prix pour avoir quelques sous. Ces responsables auraient su comment procéder avec ses collègues pour qu'il serve à tous les enfants, plus équitablement.

MB: We've seen it happen elsewhere, the state being denigrated and bypassed by international aid. The initiatives of the country's people have to be supported, not crushed. Why refuse to support those who are involved and have experience and an appreciation for what needs to be done, gained through years of involvement? The people in charge of a “home” for vulnerable children have seen tonnes of rice distributed in individual portions… and the weakest ones having it stolen from them, or it is sold at a low price just to have a few cents. The people in charge of these homes would know how to work with these colleagues to ensure that the rice was used to help all the children more fairly.

GV: How should we go about gathering the people's views and ideas and engaging with them as partners?

MB: Alors qu'elle était Maire de Bangui, l'actuelle Chef de l’État de la transition avait expliqué lors d'une table ronde des organismes humanitaires cet enjeu central : « des chefs de quartier peuvent sembler de vieux messieurs, des instituteurs sans travail depuis des mois ou des responsables d'associations de jeunes dont les locaux sont détruits depuis des années peuvent ne pas ressembler à des interlocuteurs habituels pour ces ONG, mais c'est pourtant avec eux qu'une action passe et peut être acceptée par les habitants ». C’est vital, et c’est d’ailleurs le principe de respect des peuples et un sens profond de la solidarité qui garantie la paix et le vrai progrès avec tous.

MB: While she was Mayor of Bangui, the current transitional Head of State explained the key issue at a round table for humanitarian organizations: “It may seem that some community leaders are old men, teachers who have been out of work for months, leaders of youth associations whose premises were destroyed years ago, and they may not seem to be the kind of people these NGOs are used to liaising with, but it is through them that measures are achieved that are acceptable to residents”. It is vitally important, as it involves the principle of respect for the people and a profound sense of solidarity, which ensures peace and progress for everybody.

February 05 2014

British Mother Yells at Syrian Officials: “Why Did You Kill My Son?”

“Why did you kill my son?” yells Fatima Khan, the grieving mother of British doctor Abbas Khan who was killed in Syria, at regime officials who were in Geneva for peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war. Dr Khan had traveled to Syria to provide humanitarian aid in Aleppo, and according to his mother, was killed because “he entered Syria illegally.”

The video, uploaded on YouTube by newutopiacity1 (subtitled in Arabic), shows Mrs Khan confronting Syrian regime officials about the death of her son in Syrian custody on December 16, 2013.

February 03 2014

Lessons of Peace from the Central African Republic's Most Disadvantaged

Une école à Bangui, Centrafrique via wikipédia - license  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A school in Bangui, Central African Republic via Wikipedia. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Full-time volunteers from the organization ATD Fourth World in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been working with those most disadvantaged since before the violent religious conflict began to tear the country apart in early 2013.

The Central African conflict between the government and Seleka rebels has worsened alarmingly for the past year. The initially political conflict has now evolved into a religious conflict between Seleka Rebels, mostly of Islamic confession and anti-Balakas, mostly composed of christian youth groups. ATD Fourth World's mission in CAR is to support the more disenfranchised civilians living in extreme poverty by providing shelters for the neediest and some schooling for a few children.  

The actions they have taken to support local populations have preserved unity and social cohesion in some of the communities weakened by fratricidal fighting. Their continued presence within the community has rendered them key players and observers of the current situation. 

Global Voices approached the volunteers to find out how they see things and what they think needs to be done to rebuild the country. What follows is the first part of a lengthy interview with Michel Besse and the ADT Fourth World team in Bangui.

Global Voices (GV): What are the most  pressing issues for the Central African Republic right now?  How could they be resolved?  

Michel Besse (MB): Pour nous, ce dont le pays a besoin pour reconstruire,  c'est de tenir compte de ceux qui ont résisté, et compter avec eux, s’appuyer sur leur expérience et leur savoir. Des familles, des personnes qu'on considère pour rien, isolées de tous et sans appuis chez les « kotazo » (les puissants, en sango langue nationale), ont maintenu malgré tout un lien de paix et de survie, au cœur des conflits. C'est ce lien dont le pays a besoin pour se rassembler après toutes ces distensions brutales. En revanche ceux qui sont restés comme des « blocs » par l'usage de la force (les milices armées) ou par l'usage de la ruse pour la survie de leurs intérêts politiques ou autres, n'ont pas cette vision de résistance et de reconstruction. Nous souhaitons que cette sagesse de paix des très pauvres puisse être connue de ceux qui sont dans leurs sécurités, ceux qui peuvent se protéger, ou ceux qui sont à l'abri. 

Michel Besse (MB): For us, what the country needs in order to rebuild itself is to take into account the views of those who are fighting the hatred, and trust them, rely on their experience and their knowledge. Families and people who are being left stranded now, isolated from their loved ones and without any influence over the “kotazo” (the powerful ones, in the national Sango lauguage) have, despite it all, managed to maintain peaceful social relationships in the midst of conflict. It is these kind of links that the country needs in order to come together after all of these brutal flare-ups. On the other hand, those who remained in their fighting stances like “blocks of violence” (the armed militia) or by ruse in order to preserve their own interest or political agendas, these people do not hold the vision of resistance to hatred and reconstruction. We hope that the wisdom for peace held by the poorest can be felt by those who are in more privileged positions, those able to protect themselves, or those who are sheltered. 

GV: What is the current situation in the area where you are?  Are their refugees, and if so, where are they coming from?

MB: On peut dire que depuis le 24 décembre, toutes les maisons dans notre quartier ont accueilli des familles déplacées fuyant les quartiers devenus dangereux ; nous-mêmes, à la Maison Quart Monde, nous accueillons désormais une vingtaine de personnes, des membres du Mouvement venant de quartiers proches. Par ailleurs, un site de déplacés existe à quelques rues de chez nous, avec 19.000 personnes déplacées.
Des jeunes de ces familles déplacées sont souvent envoyés pour essayer de passer une nuit dans les maisons familiales, mais au bout de quelques essais ils retournent à nouveau dans des quartiers plus sûrs, à cause de regain de violences et de scènes de tueries qui ont eu lieu dans les zones d'affrontement. La situation, d'après ce que nous entendons de leur part, ainsi que par d'autres amis du Mouvement ATD, l'instabilité d'un jour sur l'autre est la marque de cette insécurité. Elle empêche de pouvoir se réinstaller durablement chez soi.
Beaucoup de ceux avec qui nous sommes en lien, entre autres des jeunes qui viennent prendre des matériaux d'animation pour les Bibliothèques de Rues dans leurs sites, et qui nous racontent leur vie quotidienne dans ces camps dont le plus grand à l'aéroport compte 100.000 personnes, nous le disent : « Ça fait très mal quand je vois ma famille sur cet aéroport. Quand je fais l'animation avec les enfants, la douleur est enlevée, j'ai moins de soucis ni de tracas, pas de douleur ».

Quand il y a de l'électricité, nous pouvons rester en lien avec des membres du mouvement, donner et recevoir de nouvelles des uns et des autres. Comme les déplacements sont limités, ces liens se font par téléphone mobile, surtout avec des familles qui sont dans zones de combats, avec un SMS, un appel de quelques secondes, parfois ces familles répondent en murmurant, de peur d’être entendues par les groupes armés qui passent, dans les ruelles près de leurs maisons. Nous faisons tout le possible pour que les nouvelles circulent : nous savons que c'est vital pour ne pas se sentir seuls.

Nous avions un projet de faire découvrir aux enfants et aux animateurs de Bibliothèque de rue et d’action Tapori dans sept zones de la capitale un DVD de chansons Tapori . C’était prévu pour Fin 2013, début 2014 : malheureusement, la flambée du 5 décembre nous a empêché de vivre ce projet : « C'est reporté, pas annulé », disait un de ces animateurs. « Dans le pays, un jour le calme viendra, alors ça sera possible ». Mais en attendant, les animateurs ne restent pas les bras croisés. Ils ont rejoints les enfants dans différents camps de déplacés. A l’aéroport, ils les réunissent plusieurs fois par semaines autour des livres, des chansons, du dessin. C’est ainsi que les enfants de la BDR du Camp de Mpoko, ont réalisé des coloriages, et ont choisi de les offrir à l’hôpital-mobile de MSF [ Doctors Without Borders] lors de l'inauguration , et avec leur fameux DVD en prime ! En recevant ce cadeau, la Directrice de l’hôpital, une MSF qui avait travaillé dans bien d'autres pays, disait sa joie de voir pour la première fois de sa carrière, que la force des enfants à travers leurs paroles et leurs chansons des enfants pour la joie d'autres enfants était mise en avant.

MB: I can tell you that since 24 December all of the houses in our part of town have taken in displaced families fleeing those other parts which have become danger zones. At the ATD Fourth World HQ, we are also hosting 20 people from surrounding neighbourhoods. A refugee site for displaced people is set only a few streets away from us and it holds 19,000 displaced people.

Youngsters from the displaced families are often sent to try and spend the night in the family's homes, but after a few failed attempts, they return to safer neighbourhoods due to the increased violence and the killings which have taken place in the trouble spots. The situation, according to what they tell us, as well as what other friends of the ADT Movement say, is one of day-to-day volatility. It prevents people from going back home for good.

Many of those who we are in contact with, including the youngsters who come to get materials for use in activities at the street libraries, a collection of children’s artwork to decorate hospitals in Bangui on their sites, tell us about their day-to-day lives in these camps, the biggest of which is at the airport and holds 100,000 people. They say that “it makes us feel really bad to see our families at the airport. When we lead activities with the children, their pain is alleviated and they have fewer worries, less pain”.

When there is electricity, we can stay in contact with members of the movement, exchange news. As travel is limited, these exchanges are made by mobile phone, especially with families who are in the combat zones, by text message or a call lasting only a few seconds. Sometimes these families answer with only a whisper, scared of being heard by armed groups who pass by near their houses. We are doing everything we can to make sure news gets round: We know it is essential in order to combat feelings of isolation.  

We had a project to introduce a DVD of Tapori [a worldwide network of young members of the ATD Movement] songs to children and facilitators at the Street Library and Tapori action in seven zones around the capital. It was planned for the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately, the flare-up on 5 December prevented us from carrying out the project: “It is postponed, not cancelled” said one of the facilitators. “One day, calm will come back in the country, that's when it will be possible”.  But in the meantime, the facilitators are not just sitting around. They have travelled to the children in the various displacement camps. At the airport, they bring them together several times a week around books, songs and drawing. This is how the children of the Street Library in the Mpoko camp produced their colouring picture book, and decided to give them to the MSF mobile hospital during it's inauguration. On receiving the gift, the hospital's director, who has worked with MSF in many other countries, expressed her joy at seeing for the first time in her career that the strength of these children, coming from their words and their songs for the joy of other children, was being showcased.

GV: The day-to-day situation is truly worrying. How do you manage the uncertainty? What are the most pressing needs at present?

MB: Nous voyons que pour les familles qui sont déplacées, l'important est de pouvoir continuer à gagner de quoi vivre. Pour deux mères de familles qui sont avec nous, il s'agit de vendre de la farine de maïs : pour cela il faut aller acheter le grain en vrac, puis le mettre à tremper une nuit, le sécher et aller trouver dans le marché Lakouanga à deux kms un moulin qui fasse la farine à bon prix, et enfin organiser la vente au détail dans l'un ou l'autre marché « spontané » qui est né du déplacement de la moitié de la ville. Toute cette activité de survie donne à la famille toute entière une raison de se lever, de se battre, d'espérer.
L'incertitude, c'est de vendre suffisamment pour pouvoir acheter de quoi manger à la famille ; c'est aussi d'avoir à traverser des quartiers où les conditions de sécurité sont tellement changeantes : celui qui a moulu mon grain aujourd'hui sera-t-il encore vivant demain ? C'est par exemple sur ce trajet de fabrication de la farine de maïs qu'une des mamans a été témoin devant ses yeux du lynchage d'un homme par la foule. C'est aussi l'incertitude de pouvoir rentrer avant le couvre-feu et la tombée de jour à 18 heures, alors que des bandes commencent à sortir pour aller piller des maisons désertées. L’autre souci des parents, c’est l’éducation des enfants, ils ne veulent pas que les enfants soient témoins de scènes de violence. depuis le début des tensions, les animateurs disaient : « il nous faut continuer nos Bibliothèque de rue pour désarmer l’esprit des enfants ». c’est aussi pour cela que nous allons soutenir l’initiative de l’école qui se trouve proche de la Maison Quart Monde. elle accueille depuis quelques jours plus de 1000 enfants et proposent des activités ludiques.

Depuis le jeudi 20 janvier 2014 et la prestation de serment de la Présidente de la transition, les radios nationales donnent des communiqués sur les réalités de violence qui continuent de toucher le pays : cela fait que les déplacés qui vivent avec nous, et d'autres qui passent nous voir, se posent beaucoup de questions pour le devenir de leur pays. Si malgré un deuxième gouvernement de transition les choses en restent à la violence, alors qu'est-ce qu'on va devenir?

La situation est très compliquée, c'est vrai. Mais on ne peut pas dire que tout le monde est ennemi. On ne peut pas sous-estimer les risques que prennent certains pour sauver d'autres qui ne sont pas de leur communauté. Par exemple, telle maman musulmane qui un midi voit passer une jeune fille chrétienne, ployant sous le poids du sac de grain qu'elle est allée moudre, et s'avance dans une rue ou des exactions viennent d'avoir lieu : « Viens ma fille »,dit-elle pour faire croire qu'elle est une parente, « je t'aide à porter »… et elle lui montre une ruelle pour éviter le quartier ! Dans ce même quartier, 17 lieux de culte chrétiens ont étés protégés par des groupes de jeunes musulmans qui ont voulu que l'honneur de leur voisinage soit respecté. Un autre exemple, un jeune chrétien a sauvé un homme poursuivi par une foule qui le soupçonnait d’être un ex rebelle. Lorsqu’on lui a dit : « mais pourquoi tu as sauvé ce rebelle ? » il a répondu : « j’ai sauvé un homme ».

En parlant de l'avenir du pays, un éducateur spécialisé dit : « Qu'on en finisse avec la haine. C'est une catastrophe. Les centrafricains veulent quelqu'un qui peut assurer cette transition, faire grandir un esprit qui bannit la haine et la jalousie. Qui favorise que l'un accepte l'autre. Un esprit de pardon pour assurer la paix, quelles que soient les origines de l'un et de l'autre. Les politiques doivent accepter que les gens veulent vivre en paix. Les gens réfléchissent : des dirigeants créeront-ils encore des divisions ? Car depuis si longtemps nous arrivions à vivre sans tenir compte de l'appartenance religieuse».

MB: We can see that for the displaced families, the most important thing is to continue to be able to earn enough to live on. For two of the mothers who are with us, it's a question of selling maize flour: to do that, they have to go and buy the grain in bulk, then leave it to soak overnight, dry it and then go to the market at Lakouanga, two kilometres away, to find a miller who will mill the flower at a decent price, before arranging to retail the flour at one or other of the “pop-up” markets which have been born out of the displacement of half the town. Any survival activity gives the family a reason to get up, to fight, to hope.

Uncertainty comes from whether enough flour will be sold to be able to buy the family something to eat; it is also about being able to cross neighbourhoods where the security situation is very changeable. Will the person who milled my grain today still be alive tomorrow? It was, for example, via the production of maize flour that one of the mothers came to witness the mob lynching if a man. Uncertainty also comes from not knowing whether you'll be able to return before the 6 p.m. curfew when gangs begin to appear looking to loot the deserted houses. Another worry for parents is their children's education; they don't want their children to witness scenes of violence. Since the beginning of the troubles, the facilitators have said, “We need to continue on with our street library in order to take away violence from the children's spirits”. This is also why we are going to support the initiative of the schools. For the past few days, the schools have entertained more than 1,000 children and offered fun activities.

Since Thursday, 20 January 20, 2014 and the swearing into office of the transitional president, the national radio stations have been broadcasting bulletins on the reality of the violence that continues to affect the country. This has lead to the displaced people who are living with us, and others who stop by to see us, to ask a lot of questions about the future of their country. If, despite a second transitional government, the violence continues, what will their future hold?

It is true that this is a very complicated situation. But it cannot be said that everyone has suddenly become an enemy The risks which some are willing to take in order to protect others not from their own communities shouldn't be underestimated. For example, a Muslim mother saw a young Christian girl passing by one midday, buckling under the weight of a sack of grain she was taking to be milled and heading for a street where scenes of violence had recently played out. “Come on, my darling girl”, she said to indicate that she was the girl's parent, “I'll help you carry it,” and she showed her a side street to bypass the neighbourhood! In this same neighbourhood, 17 places of Christian worship have been protected by groups of young Muslims who want to ensure the honour of their neighbours is respected. In another example, a young Christian saved a man who was being pursued by a crowd who suspected him of being a former rebel. When he was asked, “But why did you save this rebel?” he replied, “I saved a man.”

Talking about the future of the country, an educational specialist said, “The hate needs to stop. It's a catastrophe. Central Africans want someone who can ensure a transition, engender a spirit which banishes hate and jealousy. One which encourages acceptance of one another. A spirit of forgiveness in order to ensure peace, whatever each others origins. Politicians need to accept that people want to live in peace. People are thinking, will our leaders create further division? Because for a long time we managed to live without religious affiliation being an issue.”

The second part of this interview on how the Central Africans can be helped will be published in a follow-up post. 

January 29 2014

Putting Faces on the Mysterious Disease Killing Nicaraguan Sugar Cane Workers

Photo by Ed Kashi, used with permission.

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

An epidemic of fatal Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu) is killing sugar cane workers at alarming rates in Nicaragua, and photojournalist Ed Kashi has set out to document their stories to “draw attention and resources that could help save lives.”

Kashi explains in his Indie Voices funding campaign:

We’re infatuated with sugar. But where does our beloved sweetener come from? and who tended the crops? More importantly, how does sugar affect them?

In Nicaragua, which exports 40% of its sugar to America, the average life span of men who harvest sugar cane is 49 years. At the root of these early deaths is an epidemic of fatal Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu). In the town Chichigalpa, often called the “Island of Widows,” 1-in-3 men, mostly cane workers, are in end-stage renal failure. This fatal disease is not only a public health crisis, but also a social injustice. The cause of this epidemic is unknown, which is why we are launching this documentary project.

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The New York Times recently featured Kashi's photographs in their blog LENS. In a post about the project, David Gonzalez writes:

What he encountered when he arrived in Nicaragua was troubling: There were daily funerals and increasing evidence that younger workers were falling ill. A former Sandinista commander who had spent the last 20 years in the cane fields died a month after Mr. Kashi photographed him. Mr. Kashi also learned how the kidney condition was killing workers in parts of India and Sri Lanka, where large-scale mechanization had yet to be introduced.

Gonzalez concludes by quoting Kashi about his goal for this project:

“How do we use visual storytelling to not only tell the tough stories but also offer some amount of light?” he said. “That’s why in my practice my goal now is to humanize and maintain the dignity of my subjects and open people’s eyes so they will at least learn, and maybe also take action.”

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Photo by Ed Kashi. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Kashi wants to return to Nicaragua to capture more videos and photographs in order to “generate education, support, and community awareness.”

Ultimately this material could be utilized in local information and outreach programs to address problems confronting the workers and their families, to stimulate conversation within Nicaragua, to facilitate the development of community-lead solutions, and to expand the network of people willing to take a stand.

Worldwide print and digital media outlets would draw on the work to raise awareness of this growing health issue in an industry whose product is consumed by nearly everyone on earth: sugar. Furthermore, I will make my work (images and film) available to La Isla Foundation, and any other advocates working to raise awareness of the issue, support affected families and eliminate this growing work place hazard.

You can see more of Kashi's photographs and contribute to his campaign for the documentary project “The Island of Widows” on Indie Voices. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

To learn more about this disease, visit this video post where we feature the work of another photojournalist, Esteban Félix from the Associated Press, who received the Gabriel García Marquez Prize for Journalism [es] for documenting this disease affecting Central American sugar cane workers.

January 27 2014

What Does Climate Change Mean to You? Documentary Competition

Young filmmakers from all over the world are invited to produce and submit a 1-12 minute video documentary telling a story about climate change. What the #Action4Climate video challenge wants to know is:

How is climate change impacting your community? What are you doing about it? What needs to be done to solve the climate challenge?

The deadline is April 1, 2014. To learn more about eligibility, prizes and the jury, visit the competition's webpage at connect4climate.org and watch the short video below: 

Updates are being shared on Facebook and Twitter.

January 26 2014

Cries of Discrimination as Israel Detains Illegal African Immigrants

La grève des immigrés africains  à Tel-Aviv

Screenshot of African immigrant demonstrators in Tel-Aviv via Zahi Shaked on YouTube 

About 30,000 undocumented Africans living in Israel [fr] mounted a three-day strike and a series of protests backed by human rights defenders in early January against an act that allows Israeli authorities to place illegal immigrants in detention without any trial nor case review for up to a year.

Aside from the new law, approved on December 10, 2013, protesters denounced the refusal of Israeli authorities to consider their applications for refugee status as well as the detention of hundreds of them. The video below highlights the scale of events and presents protesters demands:   

The Holot detention centre in the Negev desert, near the border between Israel and Egypt, already has received numerous inmates since December 2013.

The site irinnews.org offered an idea of the centre's capacity

Holot can house 3,300 migrants and is set to expand, eventually reaching a capacity of between 6,000 and 9,000 people, according to Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's Public Security Minister.

The anti-illegal African feeling has reached alarming levels, fed by hate speech, such as the “Le sentiment” video published by Djemila Yamina. The video shows Israeli citizens stating in a public gathering that illegal immigrants are “psychopaths, scum and manure that need to be expelled from our country”

Elsewhere, minority extremist groups have attacked immigrants. In Israel, the government and the judiciary systems are taking an active part. Previously in July 2012, Allain Jules condemned [fr] on his blog:

 Ce qui se passe en Israël actuellement est indigne. Entre un ministre qui demande que les clandestins soient simplement assassinés, puisqu’il recommande qu’on tire sur eux au moment où ils tenteront de franchir les frontières, un autre qui parle du risque d’impureté future de l’État d’Israël qui doit garder son caractère juif 

What is going on in Israel is shameful. Between a minister demanding that illegal immigrants are simply assassinated, suggesting we shoot at them at the very moment they try to cross the borders, and another minister that talks about the risks of impurity for the future state of Israel that must retain its Jewish character

Racism was apparent even before the new law. On July 18, 2013, Darfuri asylum-seeker and actor, Babaker (Babi) Ibrahim was arrested simply for not having a receipt for his bicycle.

Jean Shaoul explained [fr] the reality for asylum seekers in Israel on his blog cameroonvoice.com: 

En vertu de la loi israélienne, il est interdit aux immigrés de travailler tant qu'ils ne sont pas enregistrés comme demandeurs d'asile. Ce qui leur est pratiquement impossible. En effet, selon l’agence des Nations unies pour les réfugiés, alors que le taux de reconnaissance national moyen des demandeurs d’asile est de 39 pour cent, en Israël ce taux est inférieur à 1 pour cent. En Israël, la plupart des demandeurs d’asile sont des Erythréens et des Soudanais qui connaissent un taux de reconnaissance international moyen de 84 pour cent et de 64 pour cent respectivement.

By virtue of the Israeli law, work is prohibited for immigrants as long as they are not registered as asylum seekers. Which is virtually impossible for them. In effect, according to United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), while the national average recognition rate for asylum seekers is 39 percent, in Israel this rate is lower than 1 percent. In Israel, the majority of asylum claimants are Eritreans and Sudanese, that have an international recognition rate of 84 percent and 64 percent respectively.

 In a post published on a Mediapart blog, JOSEPH AKOUISSONNE [fr] wrote:

Ce racisme est incompréhensible de la part d’un peuple qui a souffert de l’abjection nazie, avec sa cohorte d'actes odieux visant à l'extermination des juifs. Pourtant, c'était bien Madame Golda Meir qui proclamait que  : « …les Africains et le peuple juif partagent des points communs. Ils ont été victimes de l’histoire : morts dans les camps de concentration ou réduits en esclavage… » Dans les années 1960, l'état d'Israël avait tissé des liens très forts avec le continent noir. Des étudiants africains étaient accueillis dans les kibboutz. Inversement, nombreux étaient les Israéliens qui allaient en Afrique pour soutenir le développement des états fraîchement indépendants. Il faut aussi rappeler le combat des juifs sud-africains, aux côtés de Nelson Mandela dans sa lutte contre l’apartheid. Sans oublier ceux qui s’engagèrent avec les militants des Droits Civiques aux États-Unis.

This racism is incomprehensible coming from people who have suffered under the Nazis, with its cohort of heinous acts aimed at Jewish extermination. Nevertheless, it was Golda Meir who proclaimed that:  “… Africans and Jews share common points. They have been victims of history, who died in concentration camps or have been enslaved… “. In the 1960s, the Israeli State forged strong links with the African continent. African students were welcomed into the kibbutz. Vice versa, there were plenty of Israelis who were involved in supporting the development of the newly enacted independent states. It is worth mentioning too the struggle of South African Jews alongside Nelson Mandela in the strife against apartheid. Not to forget those who engaged with the Civil Rights activists in the United States.

What is it about illegal immigration that provokes so much hatred in Israel? In response, JOL Press site presents figures [fr] from the Freedom 4 Refugees Association:

“Environ 50 000 demandeurs d'asile et réfugiés africains vivent aujourd’hui en Israël. Nous avons fui la persécution, les forces militaires, la dictature, les guerres civiles et le génocide. Au lieu d'être traités comme des réfugiés par le gouvernement d'Israël, nous sommes traités comme des criminels » explique Freedom4Refugees. ”Nous réclamons l’abrogation de la loi, la fin des arrestations, et la libération de tous les demandeurs d'asile et les réfugiés emprisonnés”, ont encore déclaré les réfugiés dans une pétition relayée par l’association Freedom4Refugees. Principalement d'origine soudanaise, sud-soudanaise et érythréenne, les manifestants demandent également que les demandes d'asile soient effectuées de “manière individuelle, équitable et transparente ”.

“Approximately 50,000 asylum seekers live currently in Israel. We fled persecution, military forces, dictatorship, civil wars and genocide. Instead of being treated as refugees by the government of Israel, we are being dealt with as criminals,” explained Freedom4Refugees. “We demand that the law be revoked, the end of arrests, and the release of all asylum seekers and refugees imprisoned,” the refugees declared in a petition communicated by the Freedom4Refugees Association. Mainly Sudanese, South Sudanese and Eritrean demonstrators further demand that asylum applications are made “in an individual, fair and transparent way”.

Al Monitor website noted the discriminatory character of measures taken against African immigrants:

At the same time, however, there are some 93,000 “tourists without valid visas” in Israel, about half of them from the former Soviet Union. Needless to say, the government is not building special detainment centers for them. The number of people requesting asylum is also significantly lower than the number of legal guest workers in Israel (approximately 70,000), much to the relief of those companies that arrange to bring them to the country and employ them.

There has been striking indifference at an international level. In an article published on Rue89, Renée Greusard disclosed everyday racism against Israel's black population:

Quand nous abordons ce sujet ensemble, David Sheen, le journaliste américain, pèse ses mots et parle plus lentement :

“Le niveau de racisme actuel en Israël, il peut être comparé à ce qu’on a connu dans d’autres pays occidentaux, il y a cinquante, soixante ans. Les gens se font insulter dans la rue. Souvent, quand les Noirs entrent dans les bus, les gens se bouchent le nez, bloquent les places à côté d’eux, ouvrent les fenêtres, pestent : “Ah ! Mais on n’a pas besoin de tous ces Noirs !”

Dans les autres pays, les gens sont gênés par leurs pensées racistes. Ils ne les disent pas en public. Là, non. C’est un racisme assuré, et dont les gens sont fiers. “

When we address this issue together, American journalist David Sheen weighs his words and talks slowly: 

“The current level of racism in Israel can be compared to what has been experienced in other Western countries 50, 60 years ago. People are insulted in the streets. Often when blacks board buses, people would plug their noses and block the seats near them, opening the windows while ranting ‘Ah! But we don't need all these blacks!' 

In other countries, people are embarrassed by their racist thoughts. They do not divulge them in public. Here, not quite. They are confident and proud on their racism.”

These anti-black sentiments can be observed even from the comments published on blogs and online media such as  lemonde.frseneweb.com and tempsreel.nouvelobs.com.  

These types of comments frequently arouse passions on both sides of the issue. An article by Jack Guez on Yahoo News has received 2,410 comments, and many of these comments have in turn attracted plenty of “likes”. The comment below has received 82 favourable opinions

People criticize Israel but no one says a thing about Saudi Arabia, why? 

Saudi Arabia expelled 200,000 Africans a few weeks ago!

The death of Ariel Sharon brought the protests and strike to a temporary halt for a few days. However, the struggle of the undocumented migrants in Israel continues. After marching outside the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as other foreign embassies in Tel-Aviv, protesters have held demonstrations in front of The Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the government continues to herald sluggish proposals.

Brazil's Evolving Relationship With Refugees

Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, November 2012. Photo from UNHCR on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, November 2012. Photo from UNHCR on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Despite the sparse knowledge of the Brazilian population on the issue of refugees, the question of war is always present. It will astonish no one to say that we live in an era of generalised conflict around the world. In contrast to the two Great Wars of the last century, in which blocs of countries confronted each other generating mass displacements of populations, today we see numerous conflicts scattered all over the globe.

But to what extent can conflicts in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East affect societies to whom these problems are distant and alien? The answer to this question can be found with refugees and immigrants, who end up the responsibility of nations other than those from where they originated.

Fleeing war and poverty  

Refugee and immigrant: two terms which are generally confused. The difference between them is basically juridical. For refugee, we quote here the definition used by Brazil's National Committee for Refugees (CONARE) [pt], linked to the Ministry of Justice in Brazil:

Será reconhecido como refugiado todo indivíduo que:
I – devido a fundados temores de perseguição por motivos de raça, religião, nacionalidade, grupo social ou opiniões políticas encontre-se fora de seu país de nacionalidade e não possa ou não queira acolher-se à proteção de tal país;
II – não tendo nacionalidade e estando fora do país onde antes teve sua residência habitual, não possa ou não queira regressar a ele, em função das circunstâncias descritas no inciso anterior;
III – devido a grave e generalizada violação de direitos humanos, é obrigado a deixar seu país de nacionalidade para buscar refúgio em outro país.

A refugee is a person who:
I – finds themselves outside of their country of nationality as a result of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group and who cannot or does not wish to seek protection from that country;
II – is without nationality and is outside of their country of previous habitual residence, and cannot or does not wish to return to this country as a result of the circumstances described in the previous section;
III – as a result of serious and widespread human rights violations, is forced to leave their country of nationality to seek refuge in another country.

“One refugee without hope is too many”. Campaign image from World Refugee Day (20 June 2011). Photo from the United Nations – Armenia on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The blog Citizenship and Professionality [pt] gives an idea of how citizens, in this case Portuguese, understand immigration and emigration, explained here by readers Helder Monteiro and Helder Ribeiro:

A emigração é o acto e o fenómeno espontâneo de deixar o seu local de residência para um país estrangeiro.
A imigração é o movimento de entrada, permanente ou temporário e com a intenção de trabalho e/ou residência, de pessoas ou populações, de um país para outro. A imigração em geral ocorre por iniciativa pessoal, pela busca de melhores condições financeiras.

Emigration is the spontaneous act and phenomenon of leaving one's place of residence for a foreign country.
Immigration is the inward movement of people or populations from one country to another, permanently or temporarily, with the intention of working or residing. Immigration generally occurs by individual initiative, as a result of a search for better economic conditions.

In the case of Brazil, as in other countries, it is the Constitution [pt] which defines the legal status of foreigners who become Brazilian. Chapter III “On Nationality” clearly defines who has the right to naturalisation: “Foreigners of any nationality, resident in the Federal Republic of Brazil for more than 15 consecutive years and without criminal convictions, on the condition that they request Brazilian nationality”.

Therefore, superficially speaking, whereas refugees are forced to leave their countries as a result of conflict and persecution, emigrants leave voluntarily in search of more favourable working conditions to support their families. Examining the issue in more depth, the juridical question presents itself in the following manner: refugees have their status determined initially by the United Nations, whose asylum request is then judged by the receiving country; yet immigrants are subject solely to the laws of the country which receives them, without external interference.

Refugees in Brazil: number and profile

Flight, Milan Dusek. Art and Refuge in Brazil: a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Fridtjof Nansen. Image shared by UNHCR on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Flight, Milan Dusek. Art and Refuge in Brazil: a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Fridtjof Nansen. Image shared by UNHCR on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, at the end of 2012 there were around 15.4 million refugees in the world. Of this number, Brazil was providing refuge to around 4,656 at the end of 2013 [pt]. This number is alarmingly small in comparison with the country which takes in the highest number of refugees, Pakistan, with around 1.6 million people.

However, although the numbers themselves are still small, proportionally speaking the number of refugees practically tripled from 2012 to 2013, from 199 authorisations to 649, according to an article re-published on the blog ‘Lajes do Cabugi’ [pt].

This is the result of external pressure placed on Brazil by NGOs, and even other countries, which demand that the discourse portraying the country as a third-world nation – with insurmountable internal problems to worry about – should be abandoned. For this reason and others, a national debate on making the laws governing this issue more flexible arose last year. In the same vein, since the number of people displaced by conflicts around the world has practically doubled since 1990, the country has assumed more external responsibilities and has consequently received more refugees.

The most striking example is that of Syrians who seek asylum in Brazil. Given the bloody civil war in Syria, the Brazilian government recently announced a plan to grant special “humanitarian visas” for Syrian nationals who seek refuge in Brazil – the first initiative of its kind in Latin America – which will be more quickly delivered than the usual waiting time for this kind of document. Moreover, the humanitarian visas can be extended to relatives of the refugee who are living in countries that neighbour Syria.

The blog “O Estrangeiro” (The Foreigner) [pt] describes the evolution in numbers of Syrian refugees in Brazil:

O Brasil tem sido um destino cada vez mais recorrente dos cidadãos sírios que tentam escapar da guerra civil que abala o país há mais de dois anos, agravada pela possível intervenção militar dos Estados Unidos. Desde o início dos conflitos, em março de 2011, o número de refugiados sírios no Brasil saltou 15 vezes: foi de 17 para 261. Eles já correspondem a 6% do total de refugiados no país.

Brazil has become an increasingly recurrent destination for Syrian citizens trying to escape the civil war which has hit the country for over two years, aggravated by possible military intervention by the United States. Since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011, the number of Syrian refugees in Brazil increased 15 times over: from 17 to 261. They already comprise 6 percent of the total number of refugees in the country.

Remaking Brazil's image in the eyes of the world

Brazil's ambitions to become a member of the UN Security Council, along with an increase in its participation in global governance, have given rise to an unavoidable dilemma: passivity without risk or taking responsibility for issues which were unfamiliar to the country until recently. This new positioning implies an increase in the number of troops sent abroad on missions under the mandate of the UN and participation in organisations such as the advisory body of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), to which the country awaits its admission once a donation of 6.5 million US dollars has been ratified.

The debate on refugees in Brazil promises to be exciting. It will bring foreign refugees face to face with Brazilian refugees. Yes, they do exist: They are the inhabitants of the slums known as “favelas” subjected to the violence of drug traffickers and corrupt police, and migrants from the poorest states in the country who accept jobs akin to slavery in the larger cities to escape the absolute misery of their villages, among others. Both realities have much in common, and if they were observed closely by the congress members, they would notice that in many corners of Brazil the situation is very similar to that experienced by the people of Palestine or South Sudan. 

January 25 2014

“Find and Support all the Mandelas in the Villages” for Reconciliation in the Central African Republic

Residents of Bangui were asked about the current escalation of violence in the Central African Republic. Here are some of their thoughts as collected by ATD Fourth World :

Muslim and Christian leaders try to lead reconciliation in CAR via @faitreligieux

Muslim and Christian leaders try to lead reconciliation in CAR crisis via @faitreligieux1

It’s a question of dialogue, because there are two parties, the Seleka and the Anti-balaka. If there isn’t dialogue, it will get worse. It’s become a question between Christians and Muslims, and that requires working from the heart, forgiveness, patience, so that there is no more hate.

A huge reconciliation won’t do anything. What we need is to find and support all those Mandelas in the villages

Respect things, people, without trampling on the rights of others.

We need forgiveness. The radio says it too, it’s their slogan. We have to bring people to love each other again.

January 24 2014

Minister Stabbed to Death by Mob as Violence Escalates in Central African Republic

Several sources report that a Muslim minister was attacked and killed with knives by mob in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) today (24/01). This recent twitter update by Peter Bouckaert, Emergency Director at Human Rights Watch confirms the identity of the minister:

The conflict between Séléka and anti-balakas in CAR has already forced the displacement of more than 1 million people.       

January 21 2014

Who Actually Lives in the Houses Built After Haiti's Earthquake?

This is an edited and condensed version of an original report by Haiti Grassroots Watch on January 8, 2014 and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

Four years after the January 12 2010 earthquake, questions haunt the four main post-disaster housing projects built by the governments of René Préval and Michel Martelly. Who lives in them? Who runs them? Can the residents afford the rents or mortgages? Are the residents the earthquake victims?

By some estimates, the catastrophe killed some 200,000 people and made 1.3 million homeless overnight. But the new projects do not necessarily house earthquake victims, over 200,000 of whom still live in tents or in the three large new slums called Canaan, Onaville and Jerusalem.

Empty homes at the heart of the Lumane Casimir Village. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

Empty homes at the heart of the Lumane Casimir Village.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

An investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch involving over 20 interviews and many visits discovered that, even though there are newly housed families, many – probably the majority – are not necessarily victims of the earthquake. Several others are plagued with lack of services and persistent acts of vandalism, theft and waste.

Homes Too Expensive

On July 21 2011, President Martelly, former US President Bill Clinton and then-Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive inaugurated the Housing Exposition: a fair featuring about 60 model homes in Zoranje.

One of the first projects approved by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the Expo cost over US$ 2 million in public reconstruction money. Foreign and Haitian construction and architecture firms also spent at least US$ 2 million more. The objective was to provide models for the agencies and businesses engaged in post-earthquake housing construction.

Everyone agrees the Expo was a failure. Few visited the site and fewer still chose one of the model homes – many of which were very expensive by Haitian standards – for their project.

According to David Odnell, director of the government’s Unit for the Construction of Housing and Public Buildings (UCLBP), one of three government agencies involved with the housing question:

There were some really odd examples. Some of them had nothing to do with the way we Haitians live or think about housing. It was a completely imported thing.

Today, surrounded by weeds and goats, the fading and cracked houses are home to dozens of squatters.

A young pregnant girl who said her parents are “renters”, explained:

All the houses have new owners. They have been taken over.

A woman cooking in front of a model house on the Expo site.  Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

A woman cooking in front of a model house on the Expo site.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

The young woman who said she was “owner” of the girl’s house sat nearby with a child. Both women wanted to remain anonymous, but she was happy to share her story:

I didn’t follow any procedure got get this. I just took it. My brother was the security guard here. Nobody asked us to pay anything and nobody said anything. And in any case, who would we pay?

According to at least four residents as well as a government consultant, the squatters are all people who already lived in Zoranje. Many of the units are now being rented out.

In a November 2013 interview, Odnell, an architect, agreed:

Yes, that’s possible, and you know why. There is a void…and there is no authority there. But [the project] is not exactly a waste. I could call it poor planning, because the houses can always be recuperated.

Odnell’s counterpart at the government Fund for Social and Economic Assistance agency (FAES), Patrick Anglade, said much the same thing:

Aside from the inauguration week, the project has been forgotten. Nobody goes over there because nobody was really managing the project. The entrepreneurs left and nobody promoted the houses. It’s a problem that can be solved, but we have to figure out how to do that.

Squatters Reign

Another new project sits practically across the street from the Expo: 128 apartments built by the Venezuelan government for US$ 4.9 million (according to its figures) during the Hugo Chavez presidency. They are usually called “Kay Chavez yo” – “The Chavez Houses.”

Earthquake-resistant, sporting two bedrooms, a bath, a living room and a kitchen, and painted in bright colors, today most of the homes house people who simply broke down the doors and moved in. Only 42 of the 128 have “legal” inhabitants: families invited by the Venezuelan Embassy. Empty for 15 months, some were vandalized. Fixtures, toilets, sinks and other items, including water pumps, were stolen.

Inhabitants are already making adjustments: changing some doors, adding windows, building gates and fences.

One of

One of “The Chavez Houses”. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

Surrounded by neighborhood men, Jules Jamlee sits with on a broken chair across the street from a home that is being expanded with the addition of an extra room. Like his friends, he is insistent about his right to “his” home:

The president knows very well that we are revolutionaries. He might make threats but he knows we don’t agree with them.

The housing development still lacks water and residents complain that the lack of adequate water means that the toilets don’t work well. Many residents instead use nearby weedy areas for their physiological needs.

When Haiti Grassroots Watch visited in June 2013, journalists learned that six out of ten residents polled said they walk to get water by bucket. Four said their toilets did not function.

Poor Quality

Known as the 400% or “400 in 100” project because Martelly promised 400 homes would be built in 100 days, the nearby US$ 30 million project, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, was inaugurated on February 27 2012. The development has three kilometers of paved streets, a water system (which lacked water until just recently), an electrical system, street lamps and a square with a basketball court.

But not all of the new residents are earthquake victims. Many are public administration employees. There was a rush to fill the houses at the beginning. And there are other complications, because the houses are not gifts. Residents must pay a five-year mortgage.

The mortgages are between US$ 39 and US$ 46 per month. The contract says that “non-payment by the renter/beneficiary for three consecutive months will result in a 5% penalty for each unpaid month” and that “non-payment could lead to expulsion.”

The contract has caused a great deal of grumbling. Yves Zéphyr, an unemployed father of two who has lived in the development since November 2012, noted:

The president did not give us a house. He is selling it to us. They are too expensive. What can a person do in this country where there is no work? How can one find 1,500 gourdes (US $39) each month?

FAES admits it faces a challenge:

We are not achieving 100% payments, not even 70%. At least 30% are behind.

A small poll by Haiti Grassroots Watch gives an idea of why some people are behind. One-half of ten residents questioned said they are unemployed.

When the project was launched, the government received financing to prepare the land, build the houses, and set up the electricity system, but not for the actual services necessary for a housing development, like water, septic system cleaning, a marketplace, schools, a clinic and affordable transportation to downtown. The UCLBP's Odnell explained:

The unused toilet of one resident, who said the septic system  is not deep enough. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

The unused toilet of one resident, who said the septic system
is not deep enough. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

We have space for all the necessary services. They were all in the initial plan, but we couldn’t achieve all of them. In the end, we could only build the houses. We were only able to put in the water recently, once we looked for and got the necessary financing.

While many residents say they are happy with their new homes, there were also problems. Some roofs leaked every time it rained, and residents said that electricity was very rare. Some of the houses had been vandalized before residents moved in: tin roofs and toilets had disappeared. The septic systems for some of the houses are also causing problems.

Up to the Challenge?

The Haitian government recognizes that it faces an enormous challenge. Some 150,000 earthquake victims still live in about 300 camps and another 50,000 live in the new sprawling slums Canaan, Onaville and Jerusalem. Half of the camps have no sanitation services and only 8% are supplied with water, according to an October 2013 report from the UCLBP and the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM)/Shelter Cluster. Residents of over 100 camps are in imminent danger of being evicted. In December, 126 families were forced to leave their homes and shacks in Canaan, near Village Lumane Casimir.

According to the government, the housing deficit will only continue to grow as people leave the countryside and smaller towns and move to cities.

According to the UCLBP’s new Policy of Housing and Urban Planning (PNLH):

Haiti needs to meet the challenge of constructing 500,000 new homes in order to meet the current and housing deficit between now and 2020.

The new policy is ambitious but vague. The language of the document implies that the government will seek to resolve the deficit in partnership with the private sector. While this kind of orientation should not necessarily be rejected out of hand, already with the Lumane Casimir Village and the 400% and Chavez Houses projects, it appears that the government is no longer going to build social housing that is within reach of the majority of Haitians.

Philippine Typhoon Haiyan Victims Complain of Slow Relief and Substandard Shelters

Dead bodies are still being retrieved in Palo, Leyte. Photo from Tudla.

Dead bodies are still being retrieved in Palo, Leyte. Photo from Tudla.

Also see Haiyan Devastates the Philippines, our special coverage page.

More than two months have passed since super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) hit the central part of the Philippines but many survivors are still complaining about the slow arrival of government relief in their communities. In one village in Palo, Leyte, dead bodies are still being retrieved:

In Brgy. San Joaquin, Palo, Leyte, more than 2 months after typhoon Yolanda, bodies are still being retrieved in a swampy area of the village. According to retrieval operations volunteers in the village, they did not receive support from government like equipment and manpower for the retrieval of dead bodies. Volunteers are having difficulty in retrieving the bodies because of the inaccessibility of the area and lack of equipment.

Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people (the government is not yet finished counting the dead) when it caused a four-storey storm surge in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines. It was the world’s strongest and deadliest storm of 2013.

Millions were left homeless after Haiyan completely devastated large areas in the region. The ground zero of the disaster is Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province. A drone flight by the Thijs Bertels Videoproducties clearly documents the extent of destruction left by Haiyan in the city.

Adding to the burden of refugees is the reported construction of overpriced and substandard temporary shelters by the government. This latest scandal has enraged many people who accused politicians of stealing from the rehabilitation funds.

But Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman assures the public that the government has been continuously providing all forms of assistance to typhoon victims:

Tudla, a multimedia group, reported that some of these overpriced bunkhouses have remained unoccupied:

More than two months after typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Philippines, until now these temporary shelters or bunkhouses in Bliss, Tacloban City have no occupants.

No occupants for these controversial bunkhouses.  Photo from Tudla

No occupants for these controversial bunkhouses. Photo from Tudla

Eric Aseo writes about how to improve the reconstruction process:

While victims of Yolanda endure the monsoon rains inside flooded tents and leaking houses, it’s urgent that the government and international partners prioritize plugging up these leaks and leaks of all sorts so that effective reconstruction efforts can move forward.

Despite the relief pledge of many countries, funds have not yet reached the Philippines according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad:

What we heard them say at the height of the Yolanda relief operations versus what you see them now delivering by way of cash, there's a big disparity.

Meanwhile, concerned citizens belonging to Kusog Tacloban have created an online petition asking foreign governments to make a complete accounting of the funds they gave to the Philippine government in order to monitor the utilization of the global aid:

Full transparency from you, the governments providing the aid, will enable us, watchdog groups, and concerned citizens, to hold government and private contractors to account in the difficult and long task of rehabilitation and rebuilding after Super Typhoon Yolanda. So we hope you, the foreign governments, continue to help us—please help us to monitor the rebuilding of our home.

Also see Haiyan Devastates the Philippines, our special coverage page.

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