I first visited Domiz refugee camp in May 2013. Situated near the
city of Dohuk in northern Iraq, and spread out over 1.5 million square
meters of land which once housed an army base, the camp accommodates
around 45,000 Syrian Kurds who have escaped from the conflict in their
homeland, the border of which is just 70 kilometers away.
I was in Amman, Jordan, at the time, just finishing a field mission with Refugees International to assess how Syrian refugees who have fled to both northern Iraq and Jordan are faring, having been separated maybe days, maybe months from their homes and relatives, with winter approaching. All told, there are about 200,000 Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan part of Iraq and more than 600,000 men, women and children who have chosen Jordan, amounting to upwards of 10% of the Hashemite Kingdom's population.
In a dramatic move, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced today that,
after 22 years, it is ending its work in Somalia. The international
medical relief organization cited “extreme attacks on its staff in an
environment where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly
support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of
humanitarian aid workers.”
Migration has always been a way of life in the Sahel, an arid belt of
land that stretches across Africa just south of the Sahara. Many of the
region's 100 million inhabitants lived for millennia as nomadic
pastoralists who moved with their herds in search of water and pasture. But recently, changes in rainfall patterns and rising temperatures have
led to a disturbing form of population movement: climate displacement.
over a month ago, I sat with a woman named Mary in a small, dust-filled
compound in Jonglei State, South Sudan. We talked about her family and
her future, but mostly about the violence that caused her to flee her
home. A few days before my colleagues from Refugees International and I
met Mary, she had escaped from Pibor town in southern Jonglei, where
attacks on civilians had forced tens of thousands of people to flee into
Two years ago today, South Sudan gained independence from Khartoum,
becoming in the process the world’s youngest country. The Sudan People’s
Liberation Army, which today is South Sudan’s national army, was then
just a group of rebels, fighting in the mountains and deserts for
sovereignty for their people. But this independence day, many South
Sudanese aren’t cheering the SPLA – they are running from it.
Driving north from Kaya in northern Burkina Faso, the land grows
increasingly barren. Acacia trees, with their forbidding inch-long
thorns, are scattered across the dry, red earth. Goats appear here and
there, some standing on their hind legs to reach the few leaves that
remain at the end of the lean season, before the rains come
are roughly 4,000 ‘citizens of nowhere’ in the United States today.
They are from Kuwait, Burma, the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and
many other places. Legally speaking, however, they don’t belong
anywhere. No country claims them as citizens. Some were rendered
stateless after their nations disintegrated; others were stripped of
their rights because of ethnic, racial, gender, or religious
discrimination in their home countries.
Syria’s civil war has become one of the largest humanitarian disasters in recent memory. The number of displaced Syrians is climbing rapidly, and the United Nations now estimates that half of Syria’s 20 million people could need aid by the end of this year. The Obama Administration and Congress have responded generously to the needs of Syrians during the last two years of conflict, but clearly more must be done.
The young girl stood in the middle of the classroom, with visitors and fellow students gathered around. Speaking softly and steadily – but still with tears in her eyes – she told us how she had fled her home in outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. She lost several family members (including her father and a brother) during the rebels’ advance on the city and the government’s relentless bombardment.
are now roughly 200,000 Syrian refugees in 17 camps throughout
southeastern Turkey, and this week a Refugees International team visited
one such camp in Kilis Province.
Last week in Iraqi Kurdistan, two solemn anniversaries were being commemorated: the chemical weapons attack on Halabja 25 years ago and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, there was another anniversary that went largely unnoticed: the second anniversary of the conflict in Syria
The last time I visited Domiz camp in northern Iraq was in October,
when the Syrian refugee population there was about 17,000. People were
frantically trying to prepare for the coming winter. There were
shortages of food, fuel, warm clothing, and medical care for
cold-weather illnesses. Every refugee I spoke to expressed concern about
their children, in particular, making it through the winter. This
week, my Refugees International colleague and I made our return to
Domiz. The cold weather has long since passed, but Iraq’s long, hot
summer will begin soon, and that will bring its own hardships.
When the sun goes down over eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
Kishusha camp falls into complete darkness. No light bulbs hang
overhead, and no flood lights protect the perimeter. There is only the
faint glow of oil lamps and cooking fires. In this darkness, soldiers
from the Mai Mai Nyatura rebel group and Congolese army are able to move
through the camp undetected. And without police or peacekeepers to
protect them, the residents of the camp are vulnerable.
In the last few weeks alone, the country has seen summary executions,
the bombing of a major university, and population displacement on a
massive and growing scale. While briefing the United Nations
Security Council last week, the envoy of the UN and the Arab League,
Lakhdar Brahimi, described the situation in Syria as "grim". In truth
even that doleful sentiment seems inadequate. Mercifully, last week brought a rare bit of good news.
What is something that you do no less than ten times every day? Check
email? Send a text message? No less than ten times a day, Colette
listens to the story of a woman who has just been raped.
The French military intervention in Mali is just a few days old, and
there is plenty of uncertainty about the operation’s strategy and
potential outcomes. But one thing is clear: as this campaign escalates,
more civilians are being forced to flee their homes – exacerbating a
humanitarian crisis that has plagued Mali for more than a year.
Governments and aid agencies in the region must be prepared for the
worst and take steps immediately to assist this new wave of displaced
The neighborhood of Eastleigh, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, is home to
tens of thousands of Somali refugees. It is one of many cities around
the world -- from Minneapolis to Toronto to Helsinki -- where Somalis
have settled in large numbers and built communities of their own. In
recent months, however, Eastleigh has suffered a series of grenade and
bomb attacks. Kenyan police have also been ambushed near the
Kenyan-Somali border - not far from the battlefields of southern Somalia,
where fighting between Kenyan soldiers and Al Shabab militants
Last week, CNN’s Dan Rivers reported that he “wasn't prepared to see
children starving to death” when he went to camps for
internally-displaced Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Though no one
can (or should) ever get used to such horrors, the prevalence of
starvation in this region should not come as a surprise.
Today, no one - not even Burma's president - is denying the Rohingya's existence
or their suffering. That represents both a remarkable change and a major
opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama, as he becomes the first
American president ever to visit Burma.
In a darkly-lit house on a dusty, garbage-strewn street on the outskirts
of Bamako, an elderly couple and a man in a white robe are seated on
Last month, I had the opportunity to travel with Refugees International
to Jordan, where I met Syrian refugees living near the capital, Amman,
and at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border. Their resounding
request of me was simple: “Please tell the world what is happening to
us and ask them to help; help us to stop the senseless killing of
When you think of getting ready for winter in D.C., it seems straightforward enough: you pull out a heavier coat, a hat and gloves; throw a comforter on the bed; and set the climate control to 68 degrees. But for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who are receiving humanitarian assistance, winter is a much more ominous prospect.
Hannan, four years old, squirms on her pink hospital bed, covering her
face with her hands as if I cannot see her that way. When she thinks I’m
not looking, she peeks up at me between her fingers and I give her a
quick smile. She smiles back, and then immediately rolls over, hiding
from me and my colleague.
Lamees is a lanky 14-year old with a ponytail, glasses, and an
impressive command of English. She now lives in a Turkish border town
with her parents, one sister, and two brothers – all of them refugees
from Syria’s civil war.
Hargeisa’s displaced have been unable to escape the uncertainty and
restrictions that prevent them from being truly settled, in spite of the
fact that they – unlike many Somalis – live in a region that has been
relatively stable for the past two decades.
Poverty and malnutrition are chronic in the countries of the Sahel, a
region in northern Africa stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red
Sea, and the surrounding area is hardly a paragon of political
stability. This year, however, a confluence of man-made and natural
disasters has sent the region into a tailspin.
The first thing you notice are the colors. The vibrant reds, blues, and
greens of the multi-colored domes that dot an otherwise dry and dusty
landscape. From a distance, it could almost be described as beautiful.
But as we drive closer, the domes transform into the crude and woefully
inadequate shelters of thousands of displaced Somalis.
Sudan is one of the world’s toughest places to live, as anyone who
visits the country will notice immediately. Grinding poverty is
everywhere, and people struggle to survive without roads, water,
electricity, and basic services. Some of the cruelest realities of life
there, however, are less visible to the foreign observer.
“I will never be the same. I am not the same as before. That’s the
hardest thing.” With these lines Paula, one of Colombia’s more than 4
million internally displaced persons (IDPs), started to recount the most
excruciating part of her life’s story.
Syria's border with Israel is the last national boundary that refugees
so far have not crossed seeking safety, and to close this potential
avenue of escape is unconscionable.
More than eight million people in South Sudan await proof of their
nationality, while an additional half a million southerners still in
Sudan are at a high risk of statelessness after being stripped of their
Sudanese nationality in August 2011.
Donors clearly must increase their support to the Malian refugee response. But they cannot forget the impact new arrivals are having on local populations in neighboring countries which are themselves facing severe poverty and food insecurity.
It's been more than 10 years since the late Ambassador Holbrooke's early
advocacy on behalf of internally displaced people (IDPs). And yet the
international humanitarian system is still struggling to provide timely,
adequate assistance for these populations and ensure that the necessary
interventions lead to greater physical protection and well-being.
In communities across the country, Jordanians have taken Syrian families
into their homes and supported them. The government has also done its
part by keeping the border open to Syrians, providing nearly-free health
care to registered refugees, and placing thousands of Syrian children
in the nation’s public schools. But they have done so because they see
it as their duty, not because it’s been easy.
It was a foreboding way for my Refugees International colleagues and me
to start our afternoon in this remote region, where displacement and
cross-border violence have become the norm in recent months. Villagers
have been kidnapped, journalists have been shot at by Syrian border
guards, and aid deliveries were briefly cut off this month as the
Food insecurity and malnutrition are chronic in Niger. But things this
year are worse. For the third time in just seven years, Abala and the
surrounding areas have been especially hard hit by poor rains and low
agriculture yields that have left a mind-boggling 16 million people
across the Sahel without sufficient food.
Lebanon is a country of tremendous complexity. But the country's mood today can probably be summed up in one word: tense. It may not seem that way to tourists in Beirut, where the mix of cosmopolitan nightlife and Mediterranean views is enough to keep any visitor occupied. But residents say that the bars are not as busy as they once were. Soldiers are patrolling streets where they would have been absent a few months before. More and more people are arming themselves, and have been using those arms in clashes in Beirut and Tripoli.
This afternoon’s House mark-up of the State, Foreign Operations spending
bill will show the world just how far and how fast some in the U.S. are
willing to retreat from assuming America’s traditional leadership role
in global affairs.
Over the past few weeks, Kenyan government ministers have made persistent calls for the country's Somali refugees to be "resettled" inside Somalia. These calls echo the sentiments of President Mwai Kibaki, who said at February's London conference on Somalia: "Kenya can no longer continue carrying the burden."
Driving from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo, I prepare
myself for certain things. I know I will be confronted with extreme
poverty. I know I will meet people who are facing hardships that would
be unendurable to many. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the
incredible beauty of the country.
Last week, my colleague Alice Thomas and I were entangled in an
interminable web of meetings and traffic in Bogota. Our discussions
centered on two very different, yet interrelated, challenges facing
On Thursday, an impressive group of world leaders lead by Prime Minister
David Cameron gathered at Lancaster House to discuss Somalia. But like
many international conferences before it, the outcome was known well in
advance of the first plenary. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the
conference, "leaked" copies of a draft communiqué had been floating
around the Internet.
On a craggy, windswept hill in northern Lebanon, high above the
Mediterranean Sea, my Refugees International colleague and I knocked on
the door to what looked like a small, derelict building.
As we approach the town of Manatí, in northern Colombia, I look eagerly out the window for signs of change. When I was here almost a year ago,
makeshift shelters and tents lined the sides of the road. Random pieces
of furniture were piled nearby: a refrigerator or a rocking chair –
anything people could save from the floodwaters.
Humanitarian reporting is a tough beat these days. Amid the
proliferation of political news and commentary in recent years,
reporting about the world’s most vulnerable populations — the poor, the
displaced, and the victims of conflict — seems to have been left behind.
The Sudanese government’s refusal to allow international aid agencies (both UN
and private) into its territory is putting tens of thousands of lives at
risk. But can the aid blockade be broken?
The global aid community has grown tremendously since the early days of
humanitarian and development assistance. Our understanding of how aid
works has also grown more sophisticated. One of the lessons we have
learned is that aid must change as needs change.
Traveling in Burma last month, it wasn’t hard to see that things really
are changing in this beautiful but troubled country. Posters of Aung San
Suu Kyi filled market stalls and hung proudly in the offices of local
civil society groups – a remarkable change from the past, when
possessing just one was a cause for arrest.
At a high-level meeting in Geneva this week, 145 governments came together to re-affirm their commitment to a number of landmark humanitarian agreements.
Without a clear U.S. strategy to address the shortcomings of this program, abusive Afghan Local Police units will only continue to spread fear, fuel tribal and ethnic tensions, and further destabilize the country. Moreover, left unchecked the ALP will become a catalyst for the insurgency.
While working as a gender-based violence consultant for my first UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was surrounded by victims of violence. I thought constantly about their plight and what was missing in the response by the international community. “Here, more than anywhere,” I thought at the time, “women peacekeepers could do so much to protect and respond to the needs of their fellow women.”
For the vast majority of the Afghan population -- the displaced, the deprived, and the fearful -- today is just one more day.
While it is true that droughts are an act of nature, there is nothing
"natural" about the resulting famine in Somalia -- the only country in
the Horn where famine has been declared. There, the famine is a result
of a lack of governance and direct human actions which have deprived
millions of people access to food.
It’s the “Rohingya problem.” Burma’s history of brutal persecution of
the Rohingya – coupled with their lack of citizenship rights – have
forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee to neighbouring
The plight of the Rohingya originates with the Burmese
government’s abuses of this minority. In an ongoing policy review, the Bangladesh government must protect the
Rohingya’s basic human rights to safety, food, shelter, and – as
stateless people – an identity.
I have spent the past two weeks visiting these three countries to assess
the immediate needs of those fleeing the violence in Libya. To the
outside world, the first indicator of the level of violence being
unleashed on civilians by Colonel Gaddafi's regime was the large-scale
exodus of people across the borders into Tunisia and Egypt. More than
300,000 people have fled across these two borders in the past month. The
majority of these are migrant workers -- from countries as diverse as
Egypt, Pakistan and the Philippines -- who need flights back to their
countries. Others are from sub-Saharan African countries who need
protection from intimidation and attacks, as they have been mistakenly
identified as mercenaries or are victims of racist and thuggish
behavior. Many of them now have no home to return to.
America has a choice to make. As the Senate begins debate on the budget
for the remainder of fiscal 2011, senators will have to decide what this
country’s international priorities are.
As President Obama pushes forward with his military strategy for Afghanistan, ordinary Afghans are undeniably worse off. More and more Afghans are forced from their homes by violence, especially as the military offensive in the south pushes insecurity north. Meanwhile, the Afghan government remains too weak, and humanitarian organizations are unprepared to meet even the most basic needs of the population. As the U.S. proceeds into its 10th and most challenging year yet in Afghanistan, it must recognize and address the growing humanitarian needs and ensure that the most vulnerable Afghans do not fall through the cracks.
In November, Refugees International traveled to Afghanistan to look at the capacity of the United Nations and the various aid agencies to provide Afghans with the basics for survival. In short, the current aid system is broken.
Imagine having to leave your home in a hurry, bringing hardly anything
with you. Imagine building a flimsy shelter, out of old rugs, branches,
and, if you are lucky, plastic tarps. Imagine having no running water.
Imagine not knowing if you will find food for your children tomorrow.
Imagine not being able to put them into school. Imagine fearing your
daughter will be raped every time she goes to the toilet. Imagine that
this is your everyday ordeal for months, years, decades. This happens to be the daily reality of hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia.
Lazaro Sumbeiwyo and John Danforth
Four months away from a scheduled referendum on self-determination,
Sudan is at an historic crossroads. In January, the people of south
Sudan will choose whether to stay unified with the north or secede to
create a new country roughly the size of Texas. This referendum, the
cornerstone of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which the two of
us helped negotiate, was to be the pinnacle of a six-year process to
make Sudan more democratic and peaceful. Neither the north nor the south
has succeeded in “making unity attractive’’ as it was hoped, and most
analysts expect an overwhelming vote in favor of southern secession.
L. Craig Johnstone
Thirty-five years ago, two young Foreign Service officers went AWOL from
Henry Kissinger's staff at the State Department to go to Vietnam in the
days before the collapse of Saigon. I was one of them. Our action drew
stern rebukes and orders that we be arrested and returned to the United
States. We had each been posted in Vietnam. We went back there at our
own expense and in defiance of our superiors because we were alarmed at
the lack of planning on the part of our government regarding the
well-being of our Vietnamese employees and allies as the end to the war
approached. We believed that the United States had a moral obligation
and a humanitarian responsibility to rescue those who had worked and
sided with us on the battlefields of that unwinnable conflict.
“We are one country, one religion…why is this happening now?” asked a
man sitting in his half-ruined house in Jalal-Abad. I should be tending
to my crops, repairing my house, but I cannot…. I have sent my children
away … it is not safe here …Will it happen again?”
Kyrgyzstan, a country of 5.3 million people, just approved a new
constitution, setting up Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy
with elections planned for October 10. But this young country is now
reeling from inter-ethnic violence that destroyed 3,000 buildings,
forcing an estimated 300,000 people from their homes. One hundred
thousand people – mostly women, children, the elderly, disabled and
wounded – received brief refuge and aid in neighboring Uzbekistan.
Being American has never been about where you were born. Being American
is about ideals, principles, strength and faith. Being American is
answering the cry for help, even when times are tough.
On Sunday, as the nation marks World Refugee Day, it’s time to reflect
on America’s rich history of responding to humanitarian crises, examine
the connection between our national morality and our national security,
and recommit ourselves to being the world’s moral leader.
Patrick Duplat and Renata Rendón
Since Sept. 11, the United States has given large sums of money to
Pakistan to gain allegiance and support in the global war on terror.
In return, the United States hopes for cooperation on issues ranging
from nuclear disarmament to cracking down on jihadist groups. As a
result, President Obama is confronting questions over how to balance
security concerns with humanitarian and human rights principles, the
very choice he denounced as false in his campaign.
As chairman of the Motion Picture Association of
America, I worked with filmmakers who capture compelling stories and
inspire millions of people. I saw powerful films, such as "Hotel
Rwanda" and "Blood Diamond," bring the suffering of displaced people
out of the shadows. They remind us all of our shared values.
Lazaro Sumbeiwyo and John Danforth
attention was rightly seized by the terrible conflict in Sudan’s
western region of Darfur, in which hundreds of thousands of civilian
lives were lost. It is often forgotten, however, that the tragedy of
Darfur came after Sudan’s north-south conflict, Africa’s longest
running civil war, in which more than 2m people were killed. On Friday
it is five years since the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement was
signed between north and south Sudan, yet there is a real threat of
all-out war returning to Sudan and still no permanent resolution to the
With Susan Rice in as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, policy toward the long vexing Darfur refugee crisis is bound to change. But many questions remain about new approaches to one of the great humanitarian challenges of our time.
Three events on Monday, Aug. 25, help illustrate the cruel complexities
of the death, destruction and displacement in the Darfur region of
First and most worrisome, Sudanese troops attacked the huge Kalma Camp,
where 90,000 people displaced from their homes by violence live in
crowded squalor. The Sudan Tribune quoted a source saying that 86 people
died and 221 were wounded during the attacks against people seeking
refuge from violence (in other reports the number of deaths cited is
At his final economic summit, President Bush highlighted his commitment to Africa, where he has increased assistance and programs to reduce HIV/AIDS. But a more enduring legacy may be a change in U.S. military structure that gives the Pentagon a bigger role in U.S. policies toward Africa.
Scheduled to become fully operational October 1, 2008, the new Africa
Command, known as AFRICOM, is developing at a time when the Pentagon
controls an increasing share of foreign aid that used to be directed by
civilian agencies. The percentage of Official Development Assistance
that the Pentagon controls has skyrocketed from 3.5% to nearly 22% in
the past decade.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been struggling
to address issues requiring special engagement with its sovereign
members, such as human rights and natural disasters. A humanitarian
expert describes how the group can save lives in Burma. Cyclone Nargis has killed several tens of thousands in Burma's Irrawaddy
delta. And if the relief effort continues at the current feeble pace,
informed estimates are that the death toll will reach 200,000 in the
The Thai government has launched a dangerous trial balloon in its
efforts to repatriate several thousand Hmong from Laos. If the
international community does not weigh in rapidly and effectively with
the Thai government, many Hmong will be forced back to Laos where they
will face possible persecution. Most of the 8,000 Hmong from Laos are in Thailand's Petchabun province.
Also under threat of forced repatriation are 150 or more Hmong
recognized as refugees by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who are being
held in wretched conditions for more than a year in a detention center
in Nongkhai, perilously close to the crossing point to Laos. These
refugees have all been offered opportunities to resettle in third
countries, but Thailand has refused to consider these offers.
Kenneth H. Bacon
James Baker has never met Alia Al-Naradi, but they both have an interest
in seeing the United States engage Syria on Iraq. For Baker, engagement
is about stabilizing Iraq to allow the United States to exit
gracefully. For Alia, it's about survival. Alia is an Iraqi refugee who fled to Syria, a country that has absorbed
more than 750,000 Iraqis since the beginning of the war. Syria's
resources are now stretched thin, and without international help, it may
not be able to accept vulnerable Iraqis much longer. Working with Syria
through the United Nations to help Iraqi refugees could provide a
humanitarian first step for greater engagement.
Shyama Venkateswar and Joel Charny
Whatever it does or doesn’t signal about DPRK nuclear capability, North
Korea’s brief test of a nuclear-capable missile will create real
casualties by aggravating ordinary North Koreans’ suffering. With US
sanctions already biting and US humanitarian aid halted, Japan is
considering calling for more UN sanctions, and even South Korea says
contintuing food aid, hitherto decoupled from Pyongyang’s behavior,
“will be difficult under the circumstances.”
Kenneth H. Bacon
KHARTOUM, Sudan - As rebel leaders sit at the Green Village Hotel in
Khartoum, the prospect of peace in the Darfur region of Sudan suddenly
becomes tangible. Looking slightly uncomfortable in suits and ties, they
are discussing development plans for Darfur and a scheduled meeting
between their leader, Minni Minnawi, and President Bush. But reports from Darfur give a different impression. In the large camps
housing many of the 2.2 million people displaced by the civil war,
violence has increased since the May 5 signing of the Darfur peace
Kenneth H. Bacon
How can the United States best use its monthlong turn as president of
the United Nations Security Council, which it assumes tomorrow? It could
start by devoting itself to ending the violence in the Darfur region of
western Sudan — violence that President Bush has characterized as
genocide. There is precedent for such action. The last time the United States
assumed the rotating presidency of the 15-member Security Council, it
made a real contribution to peace in the region. John C. Danforth, then
the ambassador to the United Nations, brought the entire Security
Council to Kenya to pressure the government in Khartoum and the
insurgents in the south to end their 21-year civil war.