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February 21 2014

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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 28 2014

Colors from the Zaatari Refugee Camp

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

The impact of the escalation of violation in Syria on a whole generation of children has become a priority for many Syrian activists and organizations. Colors from the Zaatari Camp is one of the many initiatives focusing on the future of Syria by trying to improve the life conditions of refugee and displaced children.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp Facebook page.

 

The Zaatari camp, located on the Syrian-Jordanian border, is the largest Syrian refugee camp, hosting more than 100,000 refugees, many of them children. According to Dima al-Malakeh, who works for the Dubai-based association For Syria:

“We chose Zaatari for this project because it is a place where many Syrians live together now, one where we can start working together in the field of schools and education.”

She added:

The Colors of Zaatari project throws light at the work of children to highlight their voices, their talents and their dreams, in an attempt to reach out to international organizations and institutions so that they can help them go back to school. Going back to school is what the children dream of, and so do we.

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp Facebook page

 

The idea was born after activist Mahmoud Sadaka saw a number of drawings that children living in the camp had made. “The drawings were beautiful, powerful and revealing, and I thought it was a shame that they stayed in the camp and no one else could see them”, he explained to Syria Untold. 

In coordination with For Syria and other Syrian journalists and activists such as Milia Aidamouni, they decided to highlight Syrian talent through these children’s creations. They collected the best works and organized their first exhibition in Amman on January 16-17, 2013. A total of 60 art pieces, properly framed with the help of artist Lina Mohamid, were exhibited.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

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 22 2014

Rule of Law Overturned in Nauru

Sydney Asylum Seeker Protest

A protester at the Refugee Action Coalition rally holds a sign reading: ‘Close Manus and Nauru – No offshore detention gulags’. Photo by Richard Milnes © Demotix (22 November 2013)

Democracy in the tiny pacific island Republic of Nauru has been imploding with the sacking of its Resident Magistrate, aptly named Peter Law, the exiling of Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames and the resignation of solicitor-general Steven Bliim in protest. All three are Australians.

Nauru has been the focus of political controversy over the Australian government’s use of the country as an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Currently the detention centre has approximately 900 detainees. Mr. Law was due to hear charges against dozens of asylum seekers who allegedly rioted in July 2013.

The Australian government has been slow to react with some on twitter accusing it of complicity, citing Ben Saul, professor of international law at the University of Sydney, in Guardian Australia’s ‘Comment is free’:

Legal academics have been busy online. Kevin Boreham blogged at The Conversation: Australia owes obligations to the asylum seekers we have transferred to Nauru and we have a legal interest in the maintenance of the rule of law in Nauru.

Barrister and human rights advocate Julian Burnside also took to the web, criticising several recent governments who have supported the Pacific Solution, the ‘policy of transporting asylum seekers to detention centres on island nations in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on the Australian mainland’:

…both governments – in Nauru and Australia – have an interest in seeing the rule of law fail in Nauru.

Australia is Nauru's paymaster. It will do pretty much anything we tell it to, because we are its main source of income. That is very convenient for Australia. Howard recognised this; Gillard and Rudd recognised it; Abbott recognises it.

Many on twitter have been calling on the Australian government and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to take strong action such as boycotts imposed on Fiji in similar circumstances:

The Nauru legal system is apparently funded through New Zealand’s aid program:

Meanwhile, in its annual report Human Rights Watch has criticised Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers for its:

…pernicious policies designed to deter asylum seekers at the expense of their rights, including mandatory offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat, “enhanced screening” or fast-tracked deportations after cursory interviews, and withdrawing government-provided legal assistance to asylum seekers.

There is a new twist to this unfolding story:

On its Facebook page, ‘representing independant Members of Parliament in Nauru’, Nauru Eko Dogin warns:

The fact that the New Zealand Government is considering this action [terminating funding] is a significant statement that they condemn the actions of the Waqa/Adeang government and will not continue to support such blatant abuse of power and disregard for democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

Nauru simply cannot afford to risk the support of our neighbours and friends. Whilst our economy is stronger than it was 10 years ago, it remains incredibly fragile and just as quickly as this Government have destroyed our Judiciary, they can also ruin our economy in a flash.

The Nauruan government has made a range of accusations against Peter Law who has threatened to sue.

@NObservers, an ‘independent political observer in Nauru’ tweeted:

For further developments, please follow the twitter hashtag #Nauru. On this island with only 10,000 locals and an area of just 21 square kilometres (8.1 sq miles), not much else is making news.

January 21 2014

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.

January 11 2014

PHOTOS: Mount Sinabung Eruption Displaced 20,000 in Indonesia

Mount Sinabung erupted when a cloud of dust and heat to form an image of human skull. Photo by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (1/9/2014)

Mount Sinabung erupted when a cloud of dust and heat to form an image of human skull. Photo by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (1/9/2014)

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, located in North Sumatra, has erupted more than 200 times since last year and has already displaced more than 20,000 villagers. The volcano has been dormant since the 1600s.

Volcano Discovery provides the latest volcanic activity of Sinabung:

The actively growing lava dome, being a mass of unstable, moderately viscous lava, frequently collapses in parts and produces hot bloack and ash avalanches (pyroclastic flows) that reached up to 4.5 km distance. According to the latest figures, the number of refugees from the 5-7 km exclusion zone has reached approx. 25,000.

Indonesia, located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, has more than 100 active volcanoes. But Carl believes Sinabung will only lead to medium size eruption:

The magmatic system under Sinabung does not in any way contain enough magma for a supereruption.

Since so little is known about this volcano it is probably a good idea to look at the surrounding volcanoes to get an idea of what might be in store. Just a few kilometers away is the double volcano system of Mount Sibayak/Mount Pinto, and that might give a good clue at what might be in store.

Evacuations have been ordered by authorities who also assured affected residents that aid will be delivered promptly to those who are in temporary shelters. But aside from displacing villagers, the eruption of Sinabung made a tremendous negative impact on the local agriculture.

Utami Irawati expressed solidarity to those affected by the eruption:

The photo below from Demotix shows Mount Sinabung throwing ash and lava in the air.

Mount Sinabung ejected lava and hot clouds over Berastepu and Bakerah villages. Photo by by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (1/5/2014)

Mount Sinabung ejected lava and hot clouds over Berastepu and Bakerah villages. Photo by by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (1/5/2014)

Farmers harvest tomatoes covered in a thick layer of ash from the eruption of Mt. Sinabung. Photo by Ahmad Ridwan Nasution, Copyright @Demotix (1/6/2014)

Farmers harvest tomatoes covered in a thick layer of ash from the eruption of Mt. Sinabung. Photo by Ahmad Ridwan Nasution, Copyright @Demotix (1/6/2014)

The eruption of Mount Sinabung on November 24, 2013 ejected ash in the air with a height of about 10,000km. Photo by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (11/24/2013)

The eruption of Mount Sinabung on November 24, 2013 ejected ash in the air with a height of about 10,000km. Photo by Abdullah Arief Siregar, Copyright @Demotix (11/24/2013)

January 07 2014

A Call for Africans Leaders to Stand Up for the Central African Republic

As the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) drastically worsens [fr] (935 000 IDPs as of today), Thione Niang, the Senegalese head of the GIVE1Project and Mehdi Bensaid, a Moroccan MP, calls from the African continent to stand up and show support to the victims of the  conflict in CAR [fr]: 

Nous ne pouvons plus accepter que des frères s'entretuent sur le sol africain [..] Ainsi doit émerger une nouvelle génération de politiques inquiets pour l'avenir du continent et qui comprennent que servir l'intérêt général est l'unique solution pour résoudre les problématiques de développement en Afrique [..] Nous appelons l'ensemble des parlementaires africains à se préoccuper de la situation en Centrafrique, à inviter leurs gouvernements à s'impliquer davantage dans ses problématiques sécuritaires, à la construction d'une Afrique stable, seule solution possible à une croissance globale et sereine.

We can no longer accept that our brothers are killing each others on African soil [..]  A new generation of politicians worried about the future of the continent must emerge, politicians who understand that serving the general interest of all is the unique solution to development issues in Africa [..] We call on all African parliamentarians to address the situation in the Central African Republic and we urge their governments to get more involved in its security issues and build a more stable Africa. This is the only solution to foster a sustainable and peaceful growth across the continent.  

December 26 2013

Haze and Haiyan: Southeast Asia’s Deadly Disasters of 2013

A Malay couple wears a face mask while celebrating their wedding day during haze in Muar, in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor bordering Singapore. Photo by Lens Hitam, Copyright @Demotix (6/22/2013)

A Malay couple wears a face mask while celebrating their wedding day during haze in Muar, in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor bordering Singapore. Photo by Lens Hitam, Copyright @Demotix (6/22/2013)

2013 will be remembered as a year of disasters in Southeast Asia. Oil spills, dengue outbreaks, earthquakes, coral reef destruction, bus crashes, hail storms, and massive floods devastated many towns in the region. But the two biggest disasters of the year are the transboundary haze pollution which covered the skies of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia; and supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) which hit the central part of the Philippines.

Forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia caused a thick blanket of smog to descend on Singapore and many parts of Malaysia last June. While it is true that forest fire is a recurring problem in the region, this year’s transboundary haze was worse than in previous years. It was bigger, blacker, thicker, and harder to clear. It caused air pollution indexes to soar to record levels in both Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologized to Singapore and Malaysia for Indonesia’s failure to prevent the burning of forests in Sumatra which caused the haze in the region.

Naturally, the haze gravely affected the lives of many Singaporeans and Malaysians. In Singapore, the wearing of face masks as protection against the haze has become the new normal in the prosperous city state. N5 face masks have become ridiculously expensive and many people have had to wait in line for several hours just to buy them. Workers have been advised to go home, travel has been restricted, and the young and old have remained indoors. Dozens of schools in south Malaysia also suspended operations.

Numerous apps and online portals were developed to help citizens monitor the haze situation, as well as to track the location of reliable haze masks, clinics, and shelters.

As expected, media reports focused on the impact of the haze in Singapore and other urban areas of Malaysia. Unfortunately, there was scant reporting on the situation of Indonesian citizens who have tremendously suffered from the impact of both the haze and forest fires. Riau, located west of Indonesia, is considered the ‘ground zero’ of the haze disaster.

Aside from writing about their haze experience, many netizens also highlighted the need to address the root of the haze problem. In particular, they wanted palm plantation companies to be made accountable for the burning of forests. They also pressed for greater protection of the environment.

Children preparing a big Christmas lantern in the typhoon-hit city of Tacloban in Leyte. Photo from Facebook of Max Baluyut Santiago

Children preparing a big Christmas lantern in typhoon-hit city of Tacloban in Leyte, Philippines. Photo from Facebook of Max Baluyut Santiago

After the haze subsided in the region, a series of disasters struck the Philippines. A strong earthquake destroyed many buildings in the Philippine provinces of Bohol and Cebu on October. A few weeks later, a super typhoon wrought destruction in the nearby provinces of Samar and Leyte.

Haiyan was the world’s strongest storm of the year. It was also the fourth strongest to make landfall in world history. Situated in the typhoon belt of the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines gets battered by more than a dozen storms every year. But Haiyan was different. It proved to be a real super typhoon when it caused a tsunami-like storm surge that instantly killed thousands. As of this writing, more than 6,000 have died but the fatalities could be higher as relief workers continue to clean the debris in many villages.

The areas hit by Haiyan are among the poorest provinces in the Philippines. In fact, Eastern Visayas is the third poorest region in the country.

Many survivors have complained that aid was not properly and quickly delivered to communities. Many dead bodies were still seen lying in the streets, refugees had been begging for food, and rescue efforts have not yet reached the other remote islands of typhoon-ravaged provinces a week after the disaster.

After the partial restoration of telecommunication signals in some areas, some survivors and relief workers were able to connect online and they were able to narrate their ordeal during the storm; and also about how they coped for several days without power, food, and shelter. These were heartbreaking and powerful stories of loss and survival.

After the disaster, environmental activists pressed for more effective climate change treaties to prevent large-scale destruction in small island nations like the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Filipinos have been inspired by the global outpouring of aid and sympathy for the typhoon victims.

As 2013 draws to a close, it’s important to remember the painful lessons from Southeast Asia’s experience with the haze and Haiyan. The haze will return once more in 2014 if no regional effort is made to prevent forest fires in Sumatra. In the case of the Philippines, rehabilitation in the typhoon-hit provinces must be aggressively pursued or else the humanitarian crisis will further prolong the suffering of the typhoon victims.

Merry Christmas from Syrian Artists

Syrian Christians quietly celebrate Christmas as the nation's civil war enters its forth year, marking a death toll of more than 100,000 people and the displacement of millions to neighboring countries seeking shelter.

With shelter, came a stark winter and a prayer of return, as this Al Jazeera report explains:

This year, Syria witnessed a great deal of havoc, death, and a tremendous amount of kidnappings that left most of its citizens hopeless. This hopelessness can be seen in the works of artists who, at times, express a nation's distress in a single artwork better than a million words.

Depictions of Santa in Syrian Artworks

Emulating kidnappings in Syria, Jawad painted an abducted Santa in ragged clothes, kneeling on his knees at gunpoint:

[Photo source: Art by Jawad Facebook Page]

[Photo source: Art by Jawad Facebook Page]

In another artwork by Anas Salameh, Santa's corpse is being carried out of Syria's Al Yarmouk Refugee Camp for Palestinians:

[Photo source: Anas Salameh's Facebook profile]

[Photo source: Anas Salameh's Facebook profile]

Santa is also seen in tears as his gifts arrived a little too late for Syria's martyred children:

Done by Comic4 Syria كوميك لأجل سوريا [Photo Source: Comic4 Syria كوميك لأجل سوريا Facebook Page]

Done by Comic4 Syria كوميك لأجل سوريا [Photo Source: Comic4 Syria كوميك لأجل سوريا Facebook Page]

Here, he sits alongside their graves in mourning:

Artwork by Wissam Al Jazariry [Photo Source: Wissam Al Jazariry Artworks Facebook Page]

Artwork by Wissam Al Jazariry [Photo Source: Wissam Al Jazariry Artworks Facebook Page]

The Holiday Spirit: Jingles, Christmas Trees, and Ornaments

A skit playing off the Jingle Bills Christmas song calls for freedom and the ousting of Bashar Al-Assad. The creator, known as Mogwli Mowgli, has died under torture:

Anwar Al Eissa paints a metaphoric ornament soaked in blood, hanging in a freezer, as if depicting the dire freezing conditions many Syrians are going through this Christmas:

[Photo Source: Anwarts Facebook Page]

[Photo Source: Anwarts Facebook Page]

Amjad Wardeh paints a Christmas tree out of an explosion's aftermath:

Whereas Hani Abbas creates it out of refugee tents:

[Photo Source: Hani abbas cartoon]

[Photo Source: Hani abbas cartoon]

Aleppian artist Mohamad Alweis writes “Merry Christmas” with a snowflake made of barrels, subtly commenting on the 100 barrels that fell over Aleppo this past week:

[Photo Source: Mohamad Alweis's Facebook Profile]

[Photo Source: Mohamad Alweis's Facebook Profile]

However, with darkness arises a flicker of hope and belief in a better tomorrow. Watch as Syrian filmmaker Eyad Aljarod films Saraqeb's children, Muslims and Christians, celebrate Christmas and share their dreams:

Bells 2013 – أجراس 2013 from eyad aljarod on Vimeo.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

December 23 2013

10 Global Haiyan Relief Efforts That Touched Filipino Hearts

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

After supertyphoon Haiyan battered the central part of the Philippines last month leaving thousands dead and homeless, the global community quickly responded by sending aid, volunteers, and solidarity messages. Media groups provided extensive coverage of the disaster, UN agencies facilitated the entry of emergency supplies, and global aid organizations were immediately on the field assisting typhoon survivors. Foreign governments also deployed humanitarian teams which helped in the transporting of relief goods and other supplies.

There were many small and big initiatives that contributed to the global relief effort and all of them were greatly appreciated by Filipinos. These acts of kindness uplifted the spirits of many, especially typhoon victims. Below are some of these humanitarian actions which inspired Filipinos:

1. Two girls selling lemonade drinks in Los Angeles, California for the benefit of typhoon victims. The photo was taken two days after typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines

2. A six-year old Japanese pre-schooler donated his piggybank savings to typhoon survivors. Shoichi Kondoh was accompanied by his mother when he donated 5,000 Yen to the Philippine embassy in Tokyo.

Photo by R. Gavino. Philippine Embassy in Tokyo

Photo by R. Gavino. Philippine Embassy in Tokyo

3. The Empire State Building in New York lights up the colors of the Philippine flag

4. Toronto’s CN Tower lighting solidarity for the Philippines

5. Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker died in a car crash after attending a charity drive. He also sent a video message expressing sympathy for typhoon victims.

6. Pop star Justin Bieber came unannounced in the Philippines to cheer typhoon victims. He sang for the kids and played basketball in Tacloban, the ‘ground zero’ of the typhoon disaster.

7. ‘NBA Cares’ for the Philippines. Basketball is the most popular sports in the country. Filipino-American coach Eric Spoelstra of the Miami Heat sent his condolences to Filipinos:

On behalf of the Miami HEAT organization, we would like to extend our condolences to the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. We value the many fans that we have over there, and we will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

Kobe Bryant, who visited Manila several times, also tweeted his support for the Philippines

8. Football teams showing support for the Philippines.

Doug Baldwin of Seattle Seahawks holding Philippine flag albeit the wrong way. It’s upside down (and it means the Philippines is at war) but Filipinos still appreciated the gesture.

9. Pope Francis offering prayers for the Philippines. The Philippines is the biggest Catholic-dominated nation in Asia.

10. American singer Alicia Keys surprised typhoon victims in Manila. Keys visited an evacuation camp in Manila where survivors from Tacloban are temporarily sheltered.

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

December 08 2013

Syria's Desolate Winter Just Got $100,347 Times Warmer

With the help of netizens, the Illinois-based Karam Foundation raised a total of $100,347 from an original goal of $10,000 in its “Shave a Mustache, Keep a Syrian Child Warm” virtual campaign that lasted from November 30 to December 4.

The campaign originally yielded a stunning $56,287 by December 3 and in effect won the Razoo Foundation’s #GivingTuesday competition, hence winning an additional $15,000. The donations amount continues to increase to date.

It involved 27 participants and organizers from 12 teams based in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, who competed to raise money by not shaving their movember mustaches.

Photo source: Karam Foundation's fundraiser page

Photo source: Karam Foundation's fundraiser page

Proceeds of the campaign will go to creating $20 winter packages for children inside Syria that include a winter coat, a blanket, and a hat, mitten or scarf in each set.

Kareem Omara, one of the organizers, said he was ecstatic to be part of the campaign, adding that having hope can go a long way:

Every single one of you is a beautiful person that has made a difference whether you donated, advertised, or whatever. I mean I'm just some broke college student that can't donate that much, but I found my way to contribute. Don't lose hope and think you can't make a difference. We can all contribute in our own way, no matter how big or how small.

Another organizer, Kenan Rahmani stressed on the need for united efforts to yield the best results:

We are BETTER when we're TOGETHER. Seriously people. The activist community always likes to go in ten directions at once and we hardly ever come together like we did for this campaign. Maybe I am guilty of this too. I completely understand that everyone has their own ideas and they want others to support them.

Mohannad, too, was quite pleased with what they achieved:

Syrian columnist Robin Yassin-Kassab, who also participated in the campaign, vouched for the integrity of the organizers, adding that:

I know the organizers of this charity and can vouch that they are absolutely honest, that every single penny will go to keeping a Syrian child warm this winter. Please do donate, and please share this page. We just have a few days to raise as much as we possibly can.

Winter Has Come

Three years into unrest, Syria’s winter is far from dead, and spring is nowhere near. If not the shelling – then the rattling cold will keep Syria’s little angels from sleep at night. In December of 2012, Save the Children organization complied testimonies and photos to document the stark reality Syrian families endure during winter. Quoted in the report, 11-year-old Ali said that while help is provided, it is not enough:

“We have one blanket. We don’t have anything else – even clothes. We received one blanket and there are three of us. How is it going to fit us? How is it going to warm us? It is not enough. We are getting sick – i’m getting sick.”

Earlier last month, Istanbul-based photographer John Wreford said that displaced Syrian families not only endure exile but also have winter to fear:

Help is also needed inside Syria, says Homs-based activist Luisa Zangh, who pleaded for humanitarian help:

Every penny counts. You can still donate here.

In Japan, Disaster and a Radio Show Put Refugees On the Agenda

Nanmin Now

Radio host Katsuya Soda talks to the audience at Radio Cafe, a community radio station in Kyoto. Used with permission. 

“You see, it’s different here. It’s much safer and more peaceful in Japan,” said my friend. I was introducing her to the idea of Global Voices: hearing stories from other side of the world, because “the world is talking”.

She continued: “There’s almost no need for people here to voice any kind of opinion or point of view, especially when your life is secured by following the norm.”

In a way she’s right. People living in Japan don’t always have to be concerned to what’s going on elsewhere. News headlines reflect this: in the public evening news broadcast, international news makes up only 7% of the total coverage. A researcher who monitored the broadcast [ja] over a period of three months found that a total of only two minutes, or 0.7 % of overall, were dedicated to reporting anything related to the African continent.

What’s going on outside the island usually doesn't matter to Japanese, unless it’s North Korea conducting nuclear tests, or something significant related to the superpower, the United States. And ignorance is bliss, as they say.

One Japanese citizen who disagrees is Katsuya Soda, who believes that the public’s indifference to world affairs is ruining things in Japan. In February 2004, Katsuya started Nanmin Now! [ja], a radio program about refugee issues that airs on a community radio station in Kyoto. The show begins with an introduction by Katsuya in Kyoto-flavored dialect: “It’s time for Nanmin Now! A program that reports refugee information like a weather report.”

Before the Internet and social media became a space for popular expression, low-power FM, or community, radio was the only medium available to those who wanted to get an issue like the plight of refugees on the airwaves in a traditional city like Kyoto.

“At that time, information from the Internet had even less credibility than it does now,” says Katsuya. “I thought it was important to provide information via a medium that was familiar to everyone. Community radio is small in terms of reach, but it’s a trusted medium, as the airwaves are mandated by law to transmit information.”

With Nammin Now!, Katsuya’s ambition was to report news about refugees in such a way as to make refugee issues an item of concern in the minds of fellow Japanese. He was inspired to start the show after reading a book by Sadako Ogata, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “It taught the importance of the role of media and sustainable relationships, and the idea of a weather forecast came to my mind,” Katsuya says. “I decided to start a radio program that continuously reports on refugee issues just like the weather.”

Since launching the show, Katsuya has interviewed more than 500 people on the topic of refugees. The six-minute broadcast airs on a Saturday.

The word refugee—“nanmin” in Japanese)— doesn't appear very frequently in the Japanese news headlines. Japan accepts fewer than 50 refugees per year (in 2010 it accepted 39), even though it makes the world’s second largest financial contribution to the UNHCR. This is a surprisingly small number for a secure and peaceful island country. Some of these asylum-seekers even experience difficulties in Japan, such as deportation and detention. For the Japanese, the refugee problem is something going on the other, poorer side of the world. “It’s like a distant sorrow,” Katsuya says, “not just in terms of physical distance but also mentally. People believe they could never be a refugee.”

The mission of Nanmin Now! Is to ensure that “all the children of the world can sleep at home safely,” referring chiefly to places like certain countries in Africa, Afghanistan, and Myanmar, major sources of refugees. In the aftermath of Japan’s March 2011 earthquake, however, and accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that followed, Katsuya became concerned about children in Japan.

The disaster destroyed 126,583 residences [ja], and, in Fukushima alone, 160,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. 100,000 people now live in temporary housing inside Fukushima, with another 60,000 are scattered throughout Japan.

After the earthquake, Katsuya joined a team setting up a temporary radio station in a disaster-stricken area to provide emergency information. After the government shifting the radiation exposure limit [ja] for children from 1 to 20 millisieverts, some people in Japan came to consider they were being put at risk by their own leaders, and Katsuya became actively involved with people who evacuated from Fukushima.

“When I communicated with evacuees from area with high radiation levels,” Katsuya says, “I started to see a kind of similarity between Fukushima evacuees and refugees: both have to do with structural violence. People had to evacuate from their homes in Fukushima because there was a nuclear accident. The act of locating a nuclear power plant is like a domestic colonization, which marginalized communities have to accept.”

For the Japanese people, the 2011 earthquake and the Fukushima accident have brought the refugee issue very close to home, both validating and amplifying the work Katsuya has been doing for nearly 10 years.

Nanmin now! airs on FM79.7MHz, a community radio station in Kyoto, as well as online on-demand. Katsuya Soda's first book [written in Japanese] A Proposal from Community Radio in an Era When Everyone Has a Risk of Becoming a Refugee―Connecting the Voices from Fukushima is available [ja] on Amazon.co.jp.

Keiko Tanaka is a Japanese civic media enthusiast interested in digital engagement, radio and youth culture. 

December 06 2013

Relief Volunteers Share Stories from Typhoon-Hit Philippines

A street full of debris in Tacloban. Photo from Tudla

A street full of debris in Tacloban. Photo from Tudla

Almost a month has passed since super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) hit the central part of the Philippines. Many towns were completely devastated by the storm surge which killed more than 5,000 thousand and left millions homeless.

Typhoon survivors initially complained about the slow arrival of food, water, medicine and other urgent aid. Remote towns couldn’t be reached because of bad roads and other logistical problems. Responding to criticism, the national government assured the public that it is doing everything to extend assistance to all disaster victims.

The widespread destruction caused by Haiyan inspired a global relief and rehabilitation effort. In the Philippines, thousands volunteered in relief and repacking centers. Many also travelled to the typhoon-hit villages where they documented the extent of damage left by Haiyan while providing much needed assistance to refugees.

These volunteers were able to share photos, videos and stories of what they witnessed in Samar and Leyte. Their documentation validated earlier reports about the deadly impact of Haiyan and the slow response of government offices.

Michael Beltran described the scene outside Tacloban airport. Tacloban is capital of Leyte and the ‘ground zero’ of the typhoon disaster:

The first image of our week in Leyte was an airport with people shivering and hungry on the one side, being ignored by the military and US Navy, and boxes and boxes of goods on the other. Apart from any physical structure that’s barely standing, what struck me the most was the grass and trees. Absent of any pigmentation, still upright, dry, no mud, just dead plants as far as the eye could see; trees with branches and leaves, frozen in the opposite direction of the wind brought by the supertyphoon. The image becomes permanently embedded in your mind right before you become acutely aware of the smell.

Activist Renato Reyes hit the slow recovery of dead bodies in the city:

After the pictures of the body bags in the public market in Tacloban, I stopped taking shots. I had to comprehend the fact that 2 weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, bodies were still being recovered, people were still living near decaying corpses, and there's an effort by the national gov't to downplay the casualty count and cover up official incompetence in dealing with the calamity.

Tent and candle towns are rising in Samar and Leyte, wrote environmentalist Leon Dulce:

We personally witnessed tent and candle towns rising above the debris amidst persisting rainfall. Fisher folks lost all their boats and other implements to the storm surges, while farmers can only stare at the hectares upon hectares of uprooted coconut trees and flooded rice fields.

Many survivors waited for several days before aid was provided to them. Photo from Antonio Tinio

Many survivors waited for several days before aid was provided to them. Photo from Antonio Tinio

A curfew was imposed in many typhoon-hit villages to maintain peace and order, specifically to prevent widespread looting. Photo from Antonio Tinio

A curfew was imposed in many typhoon-hit villages to maintain peace and order, specifically to prevent widespread looting. Photo from Antonio Tinio

Electricity will be restored in two to three months. Meanwhile, electric cables are still useful for those who need to dry their clothes. Photo from Antonio Tinio

Electricity will be restored in two to three months. Meanwhile, electric cables are still useful for those who need to dry their clothes. Photo from Antonio Tinio

Thousands of typhoon survivors are leaving Samar and Leyte. Many are migrating to Manila and other urban centers like Davao. Professor Mae Fe Templa explained how migration also reflected the loss of trust in the government:

The migration of survivors indicate the rising problem of people having lost trust in government.

The movement of Yolanda survivors from Leyte to anywhere in the country indicates two things: One is government inaction as people lose trust in government. Two, is the people’s initiative to transform their own lives and redefine ways of living under extreme conditions of poverty and climate change

Grounded ship along Anibong road in Tacloban City. Photo from Tudla

Grounded ship along Anibong road in Tacloban City. Photo from Tudla

Many farmers also lost their livelihood in Marabut, Samar.

Many farmers also lost their livelihood in Marabut, Samar. Photo from Tudla

A damaged house in Hernani, Eastern Samar. Photo from April Val Montes

A damaged house in Hernani, Eastern Samar. Photo from April Val Montes

A typewriter was one of the salvaged things in Balangkaya, Eastern Samar. Photo from April Val Montes

A typewriter was one of the salvaged things in Balangkaya, Eastern Samar. Photo from April Val Montes

A mass grave marker in Palo, Leyte. Photo from Pher Pasion

A mass grave marker in Palo, Leyte. Photo from Pher Pasion

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