HEADLINES: Refugees

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In the ever-expanding refugee camps stemming from the Syrian crisis, doctors and aid-workers are not the only foreigners streaming in.  More and more, wealthy men and matchmakers from the gulf are coming into the camps looking for Syrian brides.  Many women have had their husbands killed in the conflict and their families have lost everything in the conflict.  Proponents of the marriages see it as an act of charity for these destitute women.  “This is not exploitation.  This is generosity, said Ziyad Hamad, whose charity, Kitab al-Sunna, is one of the largest organizations helping Syrian refugees in Jordan.”  Others see malice in the situation, fearing that many of these women and girls will end up being exploited.  In fact, “United Nations officials said that most of the marriages are brokered and that many are not consensual.  The results, they said, include increasing numbers of child brides and marriages that, in some cases, end in abandonment or forced prostitution.”  The number of wealthy Arab men and matchmakers making their way into the camps, some even disguised as aid workers, has been steadily increasing. [Washpost]

As the number of Syrian refugees tops 400,000 and more than 1.2 million are internally displaced within Syria, aid groups are growing increasingly worried with the onset of winter.  The UN is seeking $487 million dollars for their aid efforts, but they have so far only raised 35 percent of their goal.  Turkey, which has “spent $400 million of its own dollars on state-of-the-art camps with three hot meals daily, is also now seeking aid.”  Jordan has already asked for over $700 million dollars.  The impending cold is only exacerbating the lack of funds. “Middle Eastern winters can be bitter, with snow in some areas and chilly winds slamming across the deserts.”   Aid organizations and government agencies are struggling to fill the need basic goods and human services in every country in the region.  [Nytimes]

In Phoenix, urban farming is providing revitalization for both the city’s vacant lots and its refugee communities.  The city bought several vacant lots around the city and is working with the International Rescue Committee to make this program a success for Phoenix and its refugees.  The once barren lots, symbols of urban decay, are now “filled with opportunity,” as “the refugees were preparing the land for farming and soon, shady trees and murals painted by local artist will color the barren landscape.  Food trucks will operate there someday, Mayor Greg Stanton said, and there will be plenty of space for children to play and adults to socialize.” [Nytimes]

The Muslim Rohingya of Burma are among the most persecuted groups of people in the world, as violence between the Buddhist Rakhine majority and the Rohingya have left more than 100,000 homeless and many dead.  In “an assessment by Refugees International, 2,000 acutely malnourished children were found in refugee camps,” as “camps facilities are unacceptable and fall well below international standards.”  The United Nations has just recently launched an appeal for $41 million dollars.  While Barack Obama did address the Rohnigya issue during his visit to the country last week, activists have continually criticized famed politician Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to take a strong position on this issue.  Strong Buddhist-Nationalist sentiment is present in the entire nation, even resulting in protests outside a main mosque outside of Yangon.  [CNN]

While the stereotype of a refugee is mired in our antiquated ideas of refugee camps, these camps are no longer the norm for displaced peoples, as many are driven to live in urban slums instead.  The Jesuit Refugee Service has taken the lead on this critical issue pushing “governments to provide refugees within their territories the basic human rights enshrined in the UN Refugee Convention.  These rights should apply equally to those who choose to live in camps and to those in urban areas.”  In reality, however, “urban refugees face significant difficulties in accessing housing, health and educational services.  Urban refugees also face the same concerns as local populations in terms of rapid urbanization and the resulting infrastructural issues this brings.”  2012 is set to see the largest number of refugees in recorded history. [Huffpost]

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