HEADLINES: Refugees

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Gutteres, presented Hawa Aden Mohamed, Somali humanitarian and women’s rights advocate, with the Nansen Refugee Award this past Monday night.  Hawa, affectionately called ‘Mama Hawa,’ is “being recognized for her work, as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia’s Puntland region, in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape.” The center provides many much needed services to these women and girls, including financial, educational, and vocational training.  The centers mission is to empower these women to make a better life for themselves, and to create a better future for Somalia.  Since the center opened over 10 years ago, the percentage of girls receiving education in the region rose 33 percent to two-fifths of the population.  The center also unafraid to tackle tough societal problems and fosters conversation around the “complex issues of female genital mutilation, puberty, early marriage, rape, and HIV/AIDS.  The award is named after Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees at the League of Nations, and has been awarded annually since 1954, when Eleanor Roosevelt was the recipient. [Allafrica]

Australia’s asylum process continues to be racked with controversy as several asylee claimants were arrested this past weekend for a ‘minor disturbance.’  In an attempt to discourage asylum seekers and traffickers, Australia recently began a new program where asylees will be held on the small Pacific island of Nauru while their cases are processed.  This would then revoke the guarantee that even if they are granted asylum they will necessarily be allowed to stay in Australia.  The new program has led to unrest among those being held in Nauru, eventually erupting in mild violence this past weekend.  The spokesman for Nauru’s government, Rod Henshaw, said, “You have to understand these people are fairly frustrated.  They don’t want to be here, but they are here.”  Depending on whether or not the Nauruan police charge those involved in the unrest, their asylum claims could be in jeopardy.  There are currently 148 people being held in the facility. [Abcnews]

According to the UNHCR, with the increasing number of refugees flooding out of Syria, 2012 is set to have the largest number of refugees of any year this century.  In 2011, more than “800,000 people crossed borders in search of refuge –an average of over 2,000 refugees every day.”  In 2012, the number of Syrian refugees alone is set to reach almost 700,000, quadrupling earlier estimates of the crisis.  August alone saw over 100,000 Syrians fleeing the violence in their homeland.  This has left host countries scrambling for economic assistance, but, with budgets already stretched throughout much of the first world, “we are at a moment when the demands on us are rising while the means available to respond have remained at a similar level to last year.”  Thus, lack of infrastructure and basic safety has led to discord among both refugee populations and host communities throughout the Middle East. [Nbcnews]

This past week, the High Court of Australia “has ruled that a government plan for a refugee ‘swap’ with Malaysia is unlawful.”  The ‘Malaysian Solution’ would have caused around 800 asylum seekers arriving in Australia on boats by the help of people smugglers to be transferred to Malaysia to have their cases processed, while also allowing for the intake of an extra 4,000 refugees currently in Malaysia.  This was meant to send a tough message to people smugglers and “boat people that they would not be processed in Australia and they would not receive ‘preferential treatment’ over other asylum seekers.”  The court, however, ruled 6 to 1 that Australia could not remove anyone to Malaysia because the country does not “offer adequate protection for refugees in law.”  Before the court ruling even began however, refugees from Malaysia had already arrived in Australia, so “the decision leaves hundreds in legal limbo.”  The current administration was very disappointed that the program was blocked, as they have been receiving immense pressure to appear tougher on immigration and to deter further people smuggling into Australia. [BBC]

Carrick, a working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, has experienced a shake-up in ethnic make-up, as the neighborhood has seen an influx in ethically Nepali refugees from Bhutan.  After a purge by the Bhutanese government of its Nepali citizens, “in the early 90’s, more than 100,000 fled to refugee camps in Nepal.”  Now, thanks to HIAS, an estimated 3,000 Bhutanese live in the Pittsburgh area.  Today, Nepali grocery stores are springing up, and though just last year there were no Nepali children in the public school’s ESL program, there are now over 60 children in a single elementary school.  Life is not always easy for refugees in Pittsburgh, though.  Resettlement agencies are drawn to the city because of its affordability, but English language skills are necessary for many basic services in the city, including transportation to a large degree.   The influx of Nepali residents has also challenged many long-time residents of the neighborhood.  “It’s a delicate situation”, said District 4 Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, “because Carrick is a working-class neighborhood where people haven’t seen people who look so different.”  After learning more about their situation, however, many residents felt like it could resonate with their own families’ roots.  One local business owner said, “It’s good to know that.  My own grandfather came here from Italy with a $10 gold piece.  I wore my cousins hand-me-downs.  I see these guys carrying furniture people put out for trash, and that’s recycling, like we did.”  Immigration is a part of our country’s past, present, and future. [Pittpostgazette]

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