Tag Archives: international issues

World Refugee Day

On World Refugee Day, 5 correspondents reveal what it’s like to cover the crisis

June 20 at 4:00 AM

World Refugee Day is observed each year on June 20.  On this day, refugee advocates urge people to focus on the plight of those who have been displaced by famine, war and oppression.

By the end of 2016, more than 65 million people worldwide were forced to leave their homes due to conflict and persecution, data published by the U.N. Refugee Agency reveals.  That’s an average of 28,300 people per day, almost 20 people every minute.

From Kenya to Greece, our correspondents have traveled far and wide to tell the stories of those fleeing devastation in search of safety.

We asked five correspondents to share their most memorable moment from their time covering the refugee crisis. Here are the stories of the people they won’t forget:

“As an editor, I think about who is going where, and why.” Tiffany Harness, Middle East editor

The young mother was crying, uncontrollably it seemed, as the rescue boat that had picked her up off the coast of Libya drifted in the sea.

She and more than 600 others had piled into a smuggling vessel that was probably overloaded, unseaworthy or both. When the boat capsized, most of those onboard were rescued. At least 30 were not, including the woman’s baby.

I will never know more about them than that.

The photo, taken last month by Chris McGrath of Getty Images, conveyed a heartbreakingly common story in a crisis marked by death and numbers. More than 5,000 migrants and refugees drowned last year in the Mediterranean as they tried to reach Europe. More than 1,600 have drowned in the same waters this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, a slower pace than last year but still horrifying.

And that is just a sliver of a global crisis, with the number of people uprooted from their homes in the tens of millions.

As an editor, I try to understand the data — I look for trends and patterns. I think about who is going where, and why, and how we can best tell those stories.

It is a topic that sets off heated discussions among nations, politicians and neighbors. Who should be labeled a refugee, who is an economic migrant? Should it make any difference? Who should pay to help them?

I do not know why I stared so long at the photo. I see many similar images almost every day. But as I looked at it, one question seemed more important than the rest, and unanswerable: Who is responsible for the death of this baby, tragically drowned at sea? 

Read the story.

“I came to better understand the painful hardships that erupt during a refugee’s flight to safety.” Anthony Faiola, Berlin bureau chief

When I first saw the Jinaid family, dawn was breaking outside a cheap flophouse for Syrian refugees in northern Greece. It was the spring of 2015, and we were on the Greek-Macedonian border trying to capture an important moment — the beginnings of a surge that would turn into Europe’s extraordinary refugee crisis. More than 1 million immigrants, most of them Syrians, would make a break for the wealthy nations of central Europe, the majority traveling via a snaking, dangerous path through the Balkans. Many of the migrants who risked the trip would end up brutalized by bandits and corrupt police. A few would die en route.

In the hotel foyer, I was chatting with a few young Syrian men who had been beaten and pushed back by Macedonian police when the Jinaids lumbered by. Their tired eyes and beaten-up gear said refugees. But their clean clothing and supreme unease screamed fish out of water: Like so many of the families who came after them, these were average middle-class folk thrust into a frightening unknown. I gently stopped them as they made for the door with their bags. Yes, said the family’s leader — Aleppo truck driver Ahmed Jinaid — they could spare five minutes for a chat.

They ended up giving me days — days in which I came to better understand the hardships and complex family emotions that erupt during a refugee’s flight to safety. Ahmed’s brother had escaped Syria and made it to Austria. Ahmed was taking his brother’s two children to their father. On their route to safety they faced miles of hiking by moonlight through bandit-filled forests, did jail time in Hungary, lost weight and became ill from endless walking and poor-quality food. They offered insight into one profound truth: Refugees are creatures of circumstance, not of choice.

Perhaps that is the single biggest point to remember on World Refugee Day.

Read the story. 

“I remember Asad brushing aside his hair and showing me the scar on his forehead.” James McAuley, Paris correspondent

When I think about Calais, I think mostly about the two of them.

We met on the day the infamous “Jungle” was demolished, near the long lines where refugees such as Siddiq and Asad were waiting to board buses to take them to “welcome centers” throughout France. The Jungle was the makeshift migrant camp outside Calais, where thousands — mostly from the Middle East and East Africa — waited as they sought to enter Britain, a short 20 miles across the English Channel. Some, such as Asad, learned the hard way that this was never going to be easy: The British, even before the Brexit vote, had strict regulations about who could enter the country, and French authorities did not hesitate to use force to ensure that those in Calais stayed in Calais.

I was there to understand this experience, talking to people such as Siddiq, 25, and Asad, 24, both from Afghanistan. They had met just a few months before and recounted to me what basically amounted to horror stories about trying to escape the camp and being apprehended by authorities. I remember Asad brushing aside his hair and showing me the scar on his forehead, a thick purple gash where stitches had recently been removed. What sticks with me most — more than Siddiq gesturing at the Jungle’s entrance and saying, “this is not life” — is that the two of them didn’t seem upset about the fact that they would not be able to enter Britain, after months of waiting. What bothered them was that the relevant authorities had told the two friends that they couldn’t be transferred out of Calais together.

On top of everything else, what was doubly painful for so many migrants and refugees I met in Calais was that whatever small semblances of normalcy they had been able to create — a friendship, a makeshift home, even a daily routine — were ultimately destroyed, just as their previous lives had been. No one understood this bitter transience better than the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, exiled from Nazi Germany for years. After the Jungle was shut down, I couldn’t stop thinking about this stanza from his poem “On the Term of Exile”: “Don’t worry about watering the flowers — / In fact, don’t plant them./ You will have gone back home before they bloom, / And who will want them?”

Read the story.

“On his phone, Rashid watched the world change. But he was still stuck in the camp.” Kevin Sieff, Africa bureau chief

I first met Mohammed Rashid in the days after President Trump’s travel ban had been introduced.

Rashid was 38. He had been a refugee since 14, when he fled Somalia’s devastating civil war. For seven years, he had been on the waiting list for resettlement in the United States, spending most of his life in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, called Dadaab, in northern Kenya.

Rashid’s life was confined to the camp, but with a smartphone and a Facebook account, his world had broadened. He could check on his friends in America, posing next to their cars and in their apartments. He could follow the president of the United States on Twitter, as Trump announced his plan to temporarily bar the entry of people from seven countries — including Somalia — and freeze the admission of refugees to the United States.

On the one hand, technology turned Rashid, stuck in his Dadaab hut, into someone conversant in global affairs and American idioms. On the other, it made the tragedy of his life that much more apparent to him. On his phone, Rashid watched the world change. But he was still stuck in the camp, his chances of leaving growing dimmer under Trump, whose ban was soon being challenged in the courts.

A few months after I first met him, that distance between Rashid and the life he wanted grew even wider. A flood swept through Dadaab, tearing through Rashid’s hut, where he lived with his wife and three children. He posted a blurry picture on Facebook of his family escaping in the middle of the night on a cart pulled by a donkey.

“My beloved family evacuating/fleeing by donkey carts. May Allah help us,” he wrote.

For two weeks they stayed with a friend until the waters receded. When they returned to their hut, it was largely destroyed. I visited him again in May, when he was debating what to do next.

He could try to raise money to rebuild the hut. But how much sense did it make to spend whatever he had on a temporary home that he was trying desperately to leave?

On his phone, he updated his Facebook status:

“You will either experience the pain of discipline or the pain of regret,” he wrote. “The choice is yours.”

Read the story.

“It was not the end of the world, but it was the end of a dream.” Pamela Constable, Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief

Several months ago, I met three Afghan men in Kabul who had just been deported from Germany. They were safe, unharmed and being provided with temporary shelter by the government, but their faces had the same dazed and exhausted look of failure. Like tens of thousands of their fellow Afghans — mostly young men, alone or single — who had attempted to flee their war-torn, impoverished country in the past several years, they fell somewhere between the murky official definitions of  “refugee” and “economic migrant.”

For a time, they had fared well in Germany, a wealthy and liberal country that welcomed needy foreigners from troubled lands and offered them generous assistance and benefits. They had been able to attend language classes, find temporary jobs and live without fear of harassment while awaiting the government’s final decision on their applications for permanent refugee status. By the time I met them last winter, in a clean but barren little bunk room in Kabul, two spoke Afghan Dari with a German accent.

Meanwhile, though, the flood of refugees from Syria and other countries began to overwhelm Europe, and even German generosity frayed under the pressure. The standards for refugee approval were enforced with new bureaucratic vigor, and the process of deciding who could stay was speeded up. Last winter, all three Afghans were unexpectedly informed that their applications had been rejected. They were taken to government centers to await a flight home, under guard.

When they landed in Kabul, they had nowhere to go, no jobs or savings, no close relatives waiting, and no possessions except those they carried. It was not the end of the world, but it was the end of a dream, and of a desperate, costly effort to flee from a country that had seemed to offer them no future. Now they were back.

Read the story.

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FBI: Guatemalan Migrants Exploited in Forced Labor Scheme


With talk of educational opportunities for minors and good paying jobs for adults, traffickers lured Guatamalan migrants to Ohio. Rather than going to school or finding lucrative employment, they were forced to work long hours for little pay at a chicken farm. Their living conditions were almost as deplorable as those of the chickens. Based on a hotline tip, the traffickers were arrested and the Guatamalan slaves rescued. This is in modern-day America, folks. Read the report: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/guatemalan-migrants-exploited-in-forced-labor-scheme?utm_campaign=email-Daily&utm_medium=email&utm_source=fbi-top-stories&utm_content=587383



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A Girl with a Book: a Powerful Weapon

My two favorite quotes from the article that follows:

Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population.  


I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.

Sultana picture 2

Meet Sultana, the Taliban’s Worst Fear

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, JUNE 4, 2016

Sultana pursued an education from inside her home in Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened to douse her with acid if she went back to school. Because of the danger to her and a photographer if she was visited there, her picture was taken via Skype. CreditAndrew Quilty for The New York Times

OF all the students preparing to go to college this fall, perhaps none have faced a more hazardous journey than a young woman named Sultana. One measure of the hazard is that I’m not disclosing her last name or hometown for fear that she might be shot.

Sultana lives in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, and when she was in the fifth grade a delegation visited her home to warn her father to pull her out of school, or else she would have acid flung in her face. Ever since, she has been largely confined to her high-walled family compound — in which she has secretly, and perilously, educated herself.

“I’m unstoppable,” Sultana laughs, and it’s true: She taught herself English from occasional newspapers or magazines that her brothers brought home, in conjunction with a Pashto-English dictionary that she pretty much inhaled. When her businessman father connected the house to the internet, she was able to vault over her compound walls.

“I surrounded myself with English, all day,” she told me by Skype. Today her English is fluent, as good as that of some Afghan interpreters I’ve used.

Once she had mastered English, Sultana says, she tackled algebra, then geometry and trigonometry, and finally calculus BC. She rises about 5 a.m. and proceeds to devour calculus videos from Khan Academy, work out equations, and even read about string theory.

Sultana, now 20, says she leaves her home only about five times a year — each time, she must wear a burqa and be escorted by a close male relative — but online she has been reading books on physics and taking courses on edX and Coursera. I can’t independently verify everything Sultana says, but her story generally checks out. After reading a book on astrophysics by Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, she reached him by Skype, and he says he was blown away when this Afghan elementary school dropout began asking him penetrating questions about astrophysics.

“It was a surreal conversation,” Krauss said. “She asked very intelligent questions about dark matter.”

Krauss has become one of Sultana’s advocates, along with Emily Roberts, an undergraduate at the University of Iowa who signed up for a language program called Conversation Exchange and connected with Sultana.

By Skype, Emily and Sultana became fast friends, and soon they were chatting daily. Moved by Sultana’s seemingly unattainable dream of becoming a physics professor, Emily began exploring what it would take for Sultana to study in the United States.

With Emily’s help, Sultana has been accepted by a community college in Iowa, with a commitment by Arizona State University to take her as a transfer student a year later. Emily started a website to raise money for Sultana’s university education.

Sultana reminds us that the greatest untapped resource around the globe isn’t gold or oil, but the female half of the population. Virginia Woolf wrote that if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister, she never would have been able to flower — and Sultana is Shakespeare’s sister. Yet it’s also clear that internet connections can sometimes be a game changer.

Sultana’s family is wary of her passion for education but surrenders to her determination. “My mom said a lot of mouths will be open, a single girl going to the Christian world,” she said. “But I will die if they stop me.”

Unfortunately, the United States isn’t helping. Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul rejected her application for a student visa. That happens all the time: Brilliant young men and women are accepted by American universities and then denied visas because, under U.S. law, they are seen as immigration risks.

(As a Muslim, Sultana would also be barred by Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims. I asked her what she thought of Trump, and all she would say, with quiet dignity, was: “He thinks all Muslims are bad. It’s painful.”)

Michelle Obama has pushed an impressive campaign called Let Girls Learn, yet her husband’s administration has never seemed as enthusiastic, and America routinely denies visas that would actually let girls learn. The United States spends billions of dollars fighting terrorism by blowing things up; I wish we understood that sometimes the most effective weapon against terrorists isn’t a drone but a girl with a book.

The Taliban understand this: That’s why their fighters shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. If only we were as cleareyed as the Taliban about the power of girls’ education to transform societies.

Sultana now spends her days working on calculus equations, listening to Bon Jovi and doing household chores while listening to the BBC or self-help audiobooks. It also turns out that she is a longtime Times reader and gets my email newsletter. She’s now working her way through more serious reading: Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.”

Sultana has set up another appointment for a visa, for June 13. It won’t be Sultana who is tested but American policy itself. I’ll let you know what happens.

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A Theology of Rape

New York Times: ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

A Yazidi girl from the New York Times article: ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

The article linked below appeared in the New York Times this morning and describes the development of a human trafficking network within ISIS and the theological justifications used by their leaders to condone rape of women and girls. In it, escaped Yazidi captives tell their stories. I was shocked, disgusted and disturbed by the treatment of these girls and especially so because their rapes were surrounded by acts of prayer and justifications from the perpetrators that, in essence, blamed the victims–if they had not been infidels, they would not be treated so.

Then I reined in my outrage and asked myself: is this anything new? Once a person/group decides that another race, religion, or gender is less than human, he can justify whatever he does. It happened in this country in our own slave history–owners repeatedly raped their slaves. It still happens in this country–not just in other parts of the world, but here too, lest we be tempted to point fingers at these “barbaric” people as if we’ve evolved above such things. Unchecked, hiding in the shadows, humans are capable of all manner of atrocities in any country, anywhere. One need only scan a few days’ worth of news article to see that.

Yes, ISIS’s deeds are horrible. Yes, Boko Haram commits cowardly inhumane acts. I am not diminishing the horrific nature of their crimes. My emotional response: I would love nothing more than to see their own barbarity turned back on them. But there is a bigger picture here. These groups have developed a “culture” around their behavior that makes it socially and morally–even theologically–acceptable for them to commit these heinous acts. If someone raped one of their little sisters, they would probably behead him. The difference: the captives are not considered human, they’re property. And it is no different for the wealthy Coloradan, whose purchased domestic worker is his to rape at will. We, as a combined human race, must say that NEVER is it right for one human to do this to another, that no religious conviction, no social conviction, no caste system, no economic condition can justify the brutality of rape. This requires a basic understanding that all humans have the right to be treated as humans, not chattel, even if we dislike them or don’t agree vehemently with them.

So, even though my emotions would like to see the barbarity returned onto the perpetrators in kind, my moral and ethical code says they must be treated as human beings, deserving of due process and respect. We need to process these actions as war crimes in the world court.



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Commodification of Women and Children by ISIL

A report from the U.S. State Department today speaks to the commodification of women and children by ISIL, particularly the captured Yezidi population. The State Department strongly condemned ISIL’s actions and called for international support in bringing the offenders to justice. They estimate the number of victims to be in the thousands–women and children being enslaved, brutalized, and trafficked. I agree with the State Department: These acts are barbaric and call for universal condemnation.

State Department Meetings With Yezidi Leaders (Taken Question).

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Courageous Girls Escape Boko Haram

As Halloween approaches I am reminded of the real-life monsters that exist all around the world in different shapes and sizes. The Boko Haram are craven creatures who attack helpless school girls for no better reason than the girls wanted an education.

BBC News – Escaping Boko Haram: How three Nigeria girls found safety http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29762252

I am amazed and humbled by the courage of these three young Nigerian girls in the face of the Boko Haram monsters. And hope that we do not forget the others who are still held captive. These “men” (I started to call them animals, but no animal is this cruel and base) need to be stopped.

This second article talks about some of the things to which these kidnapped girls are subjected. Not an easy read.


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The Complexities of Reabolishing Slavery Worldwide


The above article from CNN focuses on slavery in Mauritania but addresses issues that are worldwide. It is masterful at personalizing the plague of modern day slavery and pointing out the complex issues found in trying to address the practices, beliefs, and customs that are sometimes centuries old.

I’m an American–a privileged, white American–who has a difficult time wrapping my head around the idea that someone would not jump at the chance to be free. But this article helped me realize that it is not so very different from when I was a child, trapped by abuse, not knowing there was anything better out there, afraid to trust, believing that anyone who offered help might only make things worse. I listened to the people in this article, and I heard bits of myself. Now that I’m free, I can see it so clearly, just as the former slaves in this article do.

Modern slavery and human trafficking are complex, multi-dimensional problems, but we have to keep fighting for the sake of those not yet free and those who don’t even realize there is something better out there.

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Human trafficking: the numbers

I’m a visual learning. I find charts and graphs an easier way to grasp unimaginable numbers. I think these charts do a good job, though focused mostly on EU and UK.

News on Modern Day Slavery


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Human Trafficking Awareness for Students in Qatar

Wonderful to see children so young being taught what to watch for. This is how we change the future.

News on Modern Day Slavery

Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking (QFCHT) has conducted a special programme for school students in Qatar to introduce them to the concepts of human trafficking.
The programme, “We are all humans”, targets school students of different ages to raise their awareness about the types and causes of human trafficking, related legislations and agreements, and the current stand of Qatar on the issue. It also aims at introducing them to the role and tasks of QFCHT in addressing such phenomena.
The programme was initially launched in three local independent schools of kindergarten, primary and preparatory stages, where a team of QFCHT spent a complete school day with students.
The team distributed pamphlets among the students that contain simplified information on human trafficking related issues and engaging exercises as well.
The team conducted various competitions and quizzes to encourage children to acquire the information in an interesting way. Children expressed their…

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Once again, sexual violence is used as a weapon

Sexual terrorism in Egypt

This came from a friend of mine in Cairo, Egypt where rape and sexual assault are being used as weapons to terrorize and silence protestors. Almost daily, he is sending reports of women being assaulted in the crowds and on the streets. Why do men do this? I just don’t understand. Those commiting assault say it is improper for a woman to have her head uncovered or her face or her feet or even her eyes or her voice should not be heard on the streets, but it is not improper for a man to tear her clothes off, grope her or shove his hands inside her or worse?? Like in the New Delhi rape or Sohaila Abdulali’s case, the men point at the perceived improper behavior of the women and justify their own rampant sexual violence. Again, I just don’t understand. Sigh.

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