HEADLINES: Refugees

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The head of the UNHCR says deepening humanitarian crises across the Middle East and North Africa combined with persistent global economic woes have created a “nightmare scenario.” The formation of a broad crisis area across Africa encompassing Libya, Nigeria, Mauritania and Somalia poses a major threat to global peace and security. “We feel there are more and more needs, and we see that there are limitations to mobilize the resources required to address those needs,” Guterres told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan devoted to the issue of refugees in the Islamic world. More than two-thirds of the 17.6 million displaced people worldwide are from and sheltered in Islamic countries, according to UNHCR figures. Political unrest and civil conflict in countries such as Syria, Mali and newly independent South Sudan over the last year have further stretched thinly resourced humanitarian organizations. “There is no humanitarian solution for these problems. The solution is political, and it is essential that the international community comes together to be able to quickly promote effective political solutions in each of these situations,” Guterres said. [Associated Press]

Gulam recalls the evening she fled her home in northern Afghanistan on foot, running with her teen daughters under the cloak of darkness to avoid cooking a dinner for 20 Taliban insurgents. That night six months ago, Gulam and her family joined the half a million Afghans who are internally displaced, mostly from conflict but also natural disasters, a number which has been steadily increasing since 2008. Intensifying violence as NATO combat troops prepare to leave by end-2014 and a poor economic outlook in the face of shrinking aid could spell a humanitarian disaster for Afghanistan, where a third already live beneath the poverty line. U.N. Humanitarian Affairs chief Valerie Amos, meeting internal refugees in the country’s north late last week, warned that their plight could worsen when the enormous sums being poured into the country as part of the U.S.-led war and nation building effort disappear. “We are worried that people will be forgotten. We are worried that the sort of resources we need on the financial side are not going to be available,” Amos told Reuters. Amnesty International says 400 Afghans become internally displaced every day, and the organization predicts this number will swell. [Reuters]

For years, Gac Filipaj mopped floors, cleaned toilets and took out trash at Columbia University. A refugee from war-torn Yugoslavia, he eked out a living working for the Ivy League school. But Sunday was payback time: The 52-year-old janitor donned a cap and gown to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in classics. As a Columbia employee, he didn’t have to pay for the classes he took. His favorite subject was the Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca, the janitor said during a break from his work at Lerner Hall, the student union building he cleans. “I love Seneca’s letters because they’re written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family — not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life,” he said. His graduation with honors capped a dozen years of studies, including readings in ancient Latin and Greek. “This is a man with great pride, whether he’s doing custodial work or academics,” said Peter Awn, dean of Columbia’s School of General Studies and professor of Islamic studies. “He is immensely humble and grateful, but he’s one individual who makes his own future.” Filipaj was accepted at Columbia after first learning English; his mother tongue is Albanian. For Filipaj, the degree comes after years of studying late into the night in his Bronx apartment, where he’d open his books after a 2:30-11 p.m. shift as a “heavy cleaner” — his job title. Before exam time or to finish a paper, he’d pull all-nighters, then go to class in the morning and then to work. On Sunday morning in the sun-drenched grassy quad of Columbia’s Manhattan campus, Filipaj flashed a huge smile and a thumbs-up as he walked off the podium after a handshake from Columbia President Lee Bollinger. [Associated Press]

 

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