The Forgotten Victims of Gender-Based Violence

The Forgotten Victims of Gender-Based Violence
Source: Tasnim News Agency

The Rohingya Crisis continues to make headlines, as more and more evidence of shocking human rights violations comes to light. Gender-based violence has been prevalent throughout the crisis. ActionAid’s country director in Bangladesh spoke recently about her experience visiting refugee camps in the country, ‘to speak to the women and girls who have borne the brunt of the crisis in many ways.’

Many Rohingya women arrive in the refugee camps alone, or are now the heads of their families. In fact, it is now estimated that 70% of Rohingya refugees are women and girls. Reading the accounts of these women, who have experienced and witnessed such unimaginable horrors which no-one should ever have to endure, a nagging question slowly begins to emerge: if most Rohingya refugees are women, where are all the Rohingya men? Reading further into survivors’ accounts provides an answer…

‘Two weeks ago, the military arrived in our village. They entered every house and rounded up all of the young men.’

‘Soldiers killed my brothers in front of me and raped me. They shot my father.’

‘Marium, 60, recounted how the security forces rounded up all the men in her village and took them away. She never saw them again.’

‘We saw them slit throats and bellies, shoot our men, and rape our women. They killed the older men, and then the men my age.’

‘The soldiers separated the men from the women. The villagers pleaded for their lives and dropped to their knees, hugging the soldiers’ boots. The soldiers kicked them off and methodically killed all the men, said Rajuma and several other survivors from Tula Toli…

…many of them are dead.

It is becoming increasingly clear that thousands of Rohingya are being systematically slaughtered, not only because they are Muslims, but also because they are men.

The history of gendercide

Sadly, the systematic targeting of male civilians for execution during conflict is nothing new. The 2005 Human Security Report states that ‘There is…compelling evidence that non-combatant males ‘have been and continue to be the most frequent targets of mass killing and genocidal slaughter as well as a host of lesser atrocities and abuses’.’ Even from just the past 50 years, examples abound of gender-based mass killings perpetrated against male civilians – so much so that they begin to look less like isolated incidents, and more like a common feature of modern conflict:

  • The 1971 genocide in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) during which an estimated 2.4 million out of 3 million Bengalis killed were adult men.
  • The 1988 Anfal Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan, the principal purpose of which was the extermination of all adult males of military service age.
    Memorial to the Rwandan Genocide
  • The 1994 Rwandan Genocide, during which, according to the Rwandan government, over one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, the overwhelming majority of whom were men and boys.
  • The 1998-1999 Kosovo War, during which ‘an overriding tactic was evident in Serb military strategy: the gender-selective detention and mass killing of ethnic-Albanian men, especially those of “battle age.”’
  • And many other examples which are too numerous to list here.

Defining gender-based violence

Definitions of gender-based violence are highly varied, but most are variations on the theme of ‘violence targeted to a person because of their gender, or that affects them because of their special roles or responsibilities in the society.’ Going by this, the examples listed above would very closely match the definition of gender-based violence. A common theme is the deliberate targeting of males based on their gender; many accounts describe men being purposefully separated from the women within a community before being killed. It also seems highly likely that men as a group – particularly men of military age – were chosen as targets of violence because of their traditional gender roles as fighters and protectors. As outlined by the Human Security Centre in their explanation of the targeted killings of civilian men during the Kosovo War: ‘The explanation? Part revenge and part bleak strategic logic: killing battle-age males minimises future threats to the victors.’

‘It’s what a man’s got to do’ – US Selective Service leaflets.

Using this definition, combat deaths could also be classed as gender-based violence against men. It has long been understood that men constitute the overwhelming majority of combat fatalities – and, after all, these men are only put in the firing line as a result of their traditional gender roles; be that through cultural pressure to volunteer, or through forcible conscription by their government or occupying force. For example, even today the United States only requires men to register for the military selective service.

However, despite the gender neutrality of the term ‘gender-based violence’, and the relevance of the term with regard to the experiences of men listed in the section above, many organisations simply see it as synonymous with the term ‘violence against women’. For example, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) writes on its website: ‘The terms are used interchangeably throughout this website and EIGE’s work, as it is always understood that gender-based violence means violence against women…’ This serves to deny the lived experience of the untold number of men across the world who have suffered violence as a direct result of their gender.

The case is often made that gender-based violence primarily – or uniquely – affects women and girls ‘as a result of unequal distribution of power in society between women and men.’ It is beyond doubt that women and girls are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence during conflict, and that this is rooted in dynamics of gender and power. But it must equally be recognised that the selection of men as targets of mass killings also stems from the unequal distribution of power in society between women and men. The societal power which men traditionally hold ironically makes them more vulnerable to being intentionally killed during conflict, as they are seen as inherently more threatening and capable of resistance than their female counterparts. This is particularly true in low-intensity conflict and counter-insurgency operations.

The power of words

The exclusion of men from the definition of gender-based violence is not merely of academic importance; it has a profound impact on the allocation of funding by international organisations. For instance, the United Nations has a whole host of programmes, and even an international day, dedicated to the elimination of violence against women. Yet no equivalent programme exists for the elimination of violence against men.

‘Leave no one behind’: logo for the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

On the ground, it can lead to men being excluded from efforts to protect civilians during conflict, as they are not considered sufficiently vulnerable. Take the below example given by a UNHCR Official in 2002:

Officially refugees were not allowed to cross the Afghani border into Pakistan last year, only ‘vulnerable’ groups, only women and children. But in fact the men were perhaps the most vulnerable and the women themselves were most concerned about the men who had the risk of being conscripted to the Taliban at this time.

It also has implications within the realm of international law. The International Labour Organization’s Forced Labour Convention of 1930 – which is still in force today – absolutely prohibits the use of forced labour if its victims are women and children, yet under some circumstances permits the use of men aged 18 to 45. Furthermore, military conscription and prison labour (which overwhelmingly affect men) are excluded from forced labour regulations. If forced labour and military conscription, which together have directly led to the deaths of millions of men throughout history, were more widely recognised as forms of gender-based violence, there would be a strong case to challenge this discriminatory legislation.

Cultural blindness to male victims of violence

The tendency in some international organisations to view gender-based violence as a phenomenon solely affecting women and girls reflects a recurring attitude throughout Western culture (and many other cultures for that matter) which views maleness as antithetical to vulnerability. Although this attitude is better suited to the Age of Chivalry than to the 21st century, it is still highly prevalent, even in countries where much work has been done to combat harmful gender stereotypes.

It can be seen in the media response to Boko Haram’s attacks on schoolchildren, with the eruption of global outrage and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign when 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped, yet barely a ripple when news emerged, both before and after this incident, of the murder of hundreds of school-age boys and the kidnap of thousands.

Daily Mail (left) and Daily Express (right) coverage of the arrival of male Syrian child refugees in the UK

It can be seen in the response to the arrival in the UK of the first wave of Syrian child refugees, who were lambasted as undeserving in the reactionary press because they were predominantly male and looked too ‘adult’. So, despite having fled a conflict where 75% of civilian casualties have been adult men, they were deemed not vulnerable enough to deserve sympathy or sanctuary.

Although many rightly recoil in disgust at the attitude of the likes of the Daily Mail towards male refugees, we perpetuate the same outdated gender stereotypes when we exclude male victims from definitions of gender-based violence. Lots of important work has been done in order to better understand the role which gender plays in violence against women during conflict, so that we can better understand and eradicate that blight upon the world, yet the role of gender in violence against men has been largely ignored.

There are thousands upon thousands of men who would still be alive today if they had been born female. For their sake if nothing else, we can’t afford to ignore it any longer.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Great Wall of Catastrophe

The Great Wall of Catastrophe

In this article Meg discusses the build of the wall in Calais to keep migrants from crossing the border into the UK and the legal, moral and ethical ramifications in relation to refugee policy.

Dubbed ‘The Great Wall of Calais’ by the media, a 13ft high concrete barrier is to be erected to protect the Rocade; the road leading to the port. The £2.3 million project is the “ Lorry drivers, shopkeepers, farmers and police blockaded the motorway earlier this year, demanding a definitive date for the closure of the refugee camp, The Jungle.

Nonviolent Peaceforce/Creative commons license
Nonviolent Peaceforce/Creative commons license

There is a rhetoric in politics and in the media surrounding the “migrant crisis”, with such simple but powerful choice of words subverting public opinion and guiding the conversation. “The Jungle”, “crisis”, “illegal”, “security”, “violence”, all of these words constantly surround and describe the plight of refugees across the world and, particularly in Britain, surrounding Calais. These words with their negative connotations are like a form of subliminal messaging, creating the impression that these amazing, strong, determined people who have fled their own countries to live free from war, persecution, torture, slavery and death are nothing more than threatening and violent entities, rather than human beings trying to obtain personal freedom and human rights. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, lawyers, businessmen, medics, to be defined by so much more than “migrant” or “refugee”.

The truth? Statistics say it all.

In Britain we have 117, 234 refugees. 0.18% of the population. 76, 439 fewer than in 2011. 45% of cases are granted asylum.

0.027% of Europe’s population are migrants.

1% of all European migrants are in Calais.

There are 84,088 detentions at France’s border every year.

An asylum seeker in Britain is not allowed to work while his case is being reviewed, which takes a minimum of 6 months. An asylum seeker receives £36.95 a week to live in Britain, £35.21 in Germany, £36.84 in Sweden and £56.62 in France. 

So why are they doing this? And is it really ok?

The 1951 Refugee Convention is the key legal document that forms the basis of refugee policy. According to the legislation, States are expected to cooperate with the UNHCR to ensure that the rights of refugees are respected and protected. According to this legislation, a refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. But in this document, it stipulates that a refugee is someone who has crossed an international border. This means that the legal obligation to accept a refugee is not applicable until that person has crossed into that state’s territory. Therefore, loopholes have arisen, allowing states to legally, although not ethically, use border controls and walls to keep out asylum seekers.

The media and the government regularly blur the lines between refugees and economic migrants, distorting the narrative further and painting refugees as people who want to use our resources, benefits and health care for a better life. In reality, refugees are strong, incredible people who have been denied their human rights and have risked everything to get them back, to be treated as they rightfully should, not tortured or persecuted or yes, held in detention camps. Meanwhile on the 19th September, a 14 year old Afghan boy just became the youngest refugee to die while trying to reach his family in Britain from Calais.

The Great wall of Calais may be legal, but it is certainly not ethical. It is skirting round the obligation to accept refugees, putting a cap on the amount that they will take rather than helping those who need it. It places the burden on the global South, on the economically weaker countries, ‘Two-thirds of the world’s refugees are in the global South, in countries that rank low on the Human Development Index… These inequalities are cemented in place by the measure that Western states use to prevent refugees arriving on their territory, like strict visa regimes, interdiction and carrier sanctions.’

malachybrowne/Creative commons license
malachybrowne/Creative commons license

The news makes refugees and migrants seem like criminals and terrorists hell bent on making life miserable and dangerous for us. But regardless of whether they are a refugee or economic migrant, they are simply seeking a better life for themselves, for their family. Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything.

Construction is coming, meanwhile the kitchens with L’Auberge Des Migrants can’t prepare enough food for the 10,000 refugees. There is a massive shortage of shoes.

The cost of the wall is more than sufficient to fix both these problems.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Cross Border Migration and the Challenge to Europe

Cross Border Migration and the Challenge to Europe

The mass movement of people across borders remains one of the most intractable challenges of modern international politics. Today, there are unprecedented numbers of displaced people, and environmental challenges will add to the push and pull factors driving further cross-border migrants. Tim Swabey examines recent cross-border migration trends, and explains why European states need to change their methods for dealing with the issue.

Contrary to the assertions of many media outlets, displaced people choose to leave their homes for a number of factors, some which push them out, and others which pull them away to find a new life. Conflict is the most significant, but it sits alongside a range of others including environmental change, economic opportunity, and perception of identity. Environmental change is likely to become an increasingly important driver of migration, and will present a major and long-term challenge for European countries. Both politicians and publics will have to adjust to a new reality in the future.

According to UNHCR, there were 65.3million displaced people worldwide in 2015. This was up from 59.5million in 2014, and 51.2million in 2013. In fact there have been significant year-on-year increases in the number of displaced persons since 2011. It seems sensible to assume that this trend will continue, and the number of displaced people is set to rise further. As of 2015, 21.3million of the displaced population were refugees, and 10million were condemned to statelessness. 33,972 people forced were forced from their homes each day last year.

Amongst the factors driving this rapidly increasing trend, war and violence are the most significant. The UN estimates 11million Syrians alone have fled their homes due to the continuing civil war, with nearly half crossing borders into neighbouring countries or Europe. With continuing violence in Libya, Sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond, conflict-driven migration is set to continue.

Conflict is the main push factor driving displacement around the world, yet environmental factors will soon play a larger part. Changes to the environment caused by global warming leads to a scarcity of resources such as water and arable land – alongside higher incidents of natural catastrophes such as storms or droughts. This drives many to abandon their homes, as their livelihoods become untenable in the face of unpredictable weather and reduced access to basic resources. The decision to uproot their families and lives is a sure indication of the desperation these people feel.

Chatham House/Creative Commons License
Chatham House/Creative Commons License

The numbers of environmental refugees today are often contested, and most commentary focuses on the projected numbers of future environmental refugees, as the impact of global warming becomes more widely felt. The most cited and controversial figure has been produced by Oxford University academic Norman Myers, who suggested that up to 200million would be displaced due to global warming by 2050. We should remain rightly sceptical of this figure, which has been criticised by many leading academics. For instance a report commissioned by the UK government in 2011 suggested that the majority of environmentally driven migration will initially remain within the national borders of developing countries.

 

Yet environmental changes will increasingly influence migration across Europe and beyond. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at UCL claimed: “Climate and vegetation zones are shifting, so the Mediterranean will likely keep getting drier this century, with knock-on negative social and economic impacts. That will be tough for Spain, Italy and Greece, where significant numbers of people may move north, and of course, displaced people from elsewhere wouldn’t stay in the Mediterranean, they’d keep travelling north.”

European Commission DG ECHO/Creative Commons License
European Commission DG ECHO/Creative Commons License

Environmental change could potentially cause unprecedented levels of cross border migration in the longer-term. The face of domestic European politics will change as a result, and political parties will define themselves along the lines of pursing open or closed societies, instead of the traditional Left-Right divide. The issue of migration is often highly controversial and politicians are keen to avoid antagonising publics further.

In doing so, they attempt to avoid dealing with the issue. European states rely on countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to take most of the refugee and migratory burden. Nearly 40% of the world’s refugees reside in the Middle East and North Africa. It seems foolish to assume that Europe can rely on regional gatekeepers in the face of further environmental-driven migration.

If the current trends in cross-border movement continue, European people and politicians will have a rude awakening in the future. Better to discuss solutions early.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Crisis in the Central African Republic – The regional impact

Crisis in the Central African Republic – The regional impact

In this article Ben Jackson discusses the regional impact of the Central African Republic crisis.

The Central African Republic (CAR), a landlocked state in the middle of the African continent, has been in crisis since 2012. Formerly a French colony, CAR gained independence in 1960, immediately becoming a one party state. A series of coups followed, culminating in the 2012 Seleka group claiming power. Ideologically Muslim, once in power Seleka targeted Christians, who responded by setting up the anti-balaka movement. Religious violence become commonplace and the crisis engulfed the entire country, with many civilians caught in the crossfire. As of now, CAR has just held relatively peaceful elections in February, and there is genuine hope that new president Faustin-Archange Touadera will be able to ensure religious violence becomes a thing of the past. Yet its geographical position, at the heart of the continent, means that countries bordering CAR have felt the effects of the crisis.

Hdptcar / Creative Commons License
Hdptcar / Creative Commons License

Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are three of CAR’s neighbours. All three countries have experienced conflict themselves over the last decade or so, creating a flow of refugees fleeing into CAR. Violence in the DRC and Sudan was taking place before 2012, meaning that CAR already had a substantial amount of refugees prior to the current crisis. Therefore the effect of the crisis in CAR on Sudan and the DRC was that those fleeing conflicts in these countries were running straight into another conflict. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Furthermore, the violence created an estimated 900,000 internally displaced civilians, with estimates that over 450,000 people have fled CAR as refugees, heading to neighbouring countries. This melting pot of refugees in central Africa creates issues for neighbouring countries in how they deal with these people, as well as making sure the violence doesn’t follow them across the border.

Many refugees have fled CAR and moved into Cameroon or Chad. For Cameroon this may well exacerbate current issues, as refugees enter into the northern section of the country. Northern Cameroon is currently experiencing a spill over of violence from neighbouring Nigeria’s efforts to combat Boko-Haram, with the extremist group targeting Cameroon as a result of its loses in Nigeria. CAR refugees in an area of instability in Cameroon is hardly ideal, and may well cause further problems as the fight against Boko-Haram continues. Communities in northern Cameroon have increased in size with the influx of those fleeing CAR, meaning that provisions have become scarcer as these communities have to share what they have. Cameroon hosts the most refugees from the crisis, as well as some from Nigeria. Therefore the conflict puts the biggest strain on Cameroons resources as opposed to other neighbouring states. Aid has been sent to help Cameroon deal with the issues, yet a 2015 EU report claimed that there were still gaps which needed addressing.

 

United Nations Photo / Creative Commons License
United Nations Photo / Creative Commons License

Chad, CAR’s northern neighbour, has also taken in refugees from the crisis. Many Chadians lived and worked in CAR, so for some it was just returning to their homeland. For many though it was leaving their own land or origin behind. The influx of refugees to Chad has created a shortage of important resources, with refugees and local inhabitants competing for the limited resources on offer. Many of the refugees from CAR were farmers, who brought their cattle with them across the border. Man and beast require food and water, something which is in scarce supply in Chad for the locals anyway, let alone for the thousands of refugees who need humanitarian assistance. Competition over resources could potentially lead to conflict between those who inhabit the region and those coming in search of safety, which would mean violence spreading from CAR into Chad. Additionally, in 2012 Chad itself experienced a crisis in the Sahel region, with a drought leaving millions in need of emergency aid. Coupled with the crisis in CAR, Chad has witnessed a significant strain on its resources, having to turn to external partners in order to provide what is needed.

It is obvious to see that the crisis in CAR put a strain on neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, while it also has impacted upon the instability in the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan. Hopefully the recent elections will bring an end to violence in CAR, allowing refugees to return home to a peaceful environment, thus lessening the strain on its neighbours.

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The inefficient border industry

The inefficient border industry

Recently, there has been a resurgence in the building of borders between countries. Carlos Arturo Aguilar questions the efficiency and effectiveness of this new industry.

According to the BBC, more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx, and creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people. However, the European countries not only seek to resettle migrants, they also want to stop the arriving of people.

According to Ruben Anderson, countries in Europe and other parts of the world are putting enormous amounts of money to increase and improve the border security in order to close the gates. These investments, which come from taxpayers, have turned security into a real business.

BBC World Service / Creative Commons License
BBC World Service / Creative Commons License

Anderson mentions that the border industry has become a very profitable sector for a bunch of corporations related to arms fabrication or security services (e.g. analysis, policing) among others.

But how much has been spent in security? These are some of the investments made by the United States and the European Union, two of the most popular destinies for migrants and refugees.

Fences:

  • $3.3 million in the border between Greece and Turkey in the Evro (2012)
  • $4.8 million in the border between Bulgaria and Turkey (2013)
  • $10.6 million between the United Kingdom and France in Calais (2015)
  • €10 million – per year – in the border between Spain and Morocco
  • $81 million between Hungary y Serbia (2015)
  • $2.3 billion between USA and Mexico for a fence/wall across 1,078 km (2006 to the date)

Defence and contracts to Security Corporations

  • $238 million from EU taxpayers to hire arms and technology R&D companies (2002 – 2013)
  • $239 million worth drones, speedboats, nightvision googles and jeeps bought to Airbus, Indra, Thales, Finemeccanica and others
  • $900 million will be invested by Texas during the next two years to reinforce the border with Mexico
  • €1.6 billion has been spent at the EU borders
  • $12 billion spent by Europe on deportation (2000-2014)

Frontex was established in 1999 by the European Union in order to manage the cooperation between national border guards securing its external borders. According to Anderson, since 2005 to the date, the EU has spent about €1 billion coordinating border patrols through Frontex since 1999 and the budget of the agency increased from €10 million to € 200 million since 2005 to the date.

Michelle / Creative Commons License
Michelle / Creative Commons License

The real problem here is that despite the amount of money put into the border security, the scenario has not improved but has actually worsened. The results has been chaotic and created externalities, and the migration is far from decreasing. Let’s take a look at the numbers – in the industrialized world everything seems logical through numbers:

  • 1 million arrivals – euphemism for migrants or people – to Europe (2015)
  • 15,000 people arrive illegally to Texas in a monthly basis
  • 3,500 people died on their way to the EU (2015)
  • 23,000 deaths during the last 15 years trying to reach the EU
  • 500 new trafficking and smuggling routes
  • $17.5 billion earned by smugglers and human traffickers
  • 21 million people victim of trafficking of human beings (56% across borders)

According to several studies the model currently used by the countries to protect their borders is clearly not only expensive but also inefficient and is causing death, risks, and unnecessary spending. Then, how is this white elephant justified?

Ruben Anderson (Illegality Inc.) and Susana Hidalgo (El Último Holocausto) mention that this industry has flourished under a discourse that puts migration as a threat to homeland security, or in other words to the wellbeing of the society. Politicians from Europe and other countries are selling this discourse and at the same time, flagging up the need to appeal to private resources to fight the foreign threat.

Just like Donald Trump lately, who affirms that the solution to USA crisis is simply to close the door to Mexican migrants. Or even Donald Tusk, the European Council President, who in November 2015 said that the best way to protect and keep Shengen was to “first and foremost, restore external border control”. These discourses have proved to be vote-winners not only in Europe or USA, but also in Australia, Saudi Arabia or Israel.

This is how politicians foster the security budget and find support from people justifying the high cost of an inefficient security model. Iñigo Moré, author of Borders of Inequality, mentions that facing migration through walls and fences is not the solution. The question of migration should not be seen as a security problem but as a humanitarian problem involving inequality and lack of security in the migrants’ countries of origin.

However, the governments do not seem to think the same. For example, Susana Hidalgo mentions that between 2007 and 2013 the EU spent overall about € 2 billion to protect the frontiers but only € 700 million to establish or develop sound measures to improve the refugees’ situation.

A reassessment of the current security model should be done in order to find an effective and efficient solution. It seems very easy and simpleminded to think that putting a lot of money to build high walls will alleviate anything. The Border Industry (this border industry) has become just a business, considered a solution when it actually provokes externalities such as chaos, misery, and death. An industry aimed to foster security but generating insecurity in many fronts.

According to EU estimates, there will be about 1.5 million arrivals by the end of 2016 and based on the above said all we can expect is not only an increasing in this foolish spending, but also more chaos and people struggling and dying.

 

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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A Refugee crisis we can’t ignore because of distance

A Refugee crisis we can’t ignore because of distance

Recent catastrophic loss of life of refugees in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Europe has resulted in a media storm about the issue. Yet those at the centre of the crisis are being persecuted and the focus being pushed further and further away from the real issue. Here, Lorraine Patch explores the underexplored but vitally important question of why it is no longer possible to ignore plights of refugees desperate to reach Europe.

Fear and scaremongering has affected our ability to see the issue from what it really should be- a human issue. With this fear, we seem to have forgotten to consider humanity.

Any issue of injustice, poverty, war or of those in need deserves an equal consideration, whatever country it originates in. However, the plight of refugees seeking to reach Europe does not fit within this category of ‘them and us’. The presents and futures are, for better or for worse intertwined.

‘Them and Us’ is no longer applicable 

In some cases, crises’ are dismissed and easily forgotten because of sheer distance, further problematising the ‘them and us’ scenario between the developed and developing world. However, the issue of refugees risking their lives to reach Europe cannot be simply dismissed because of distance, as it is right on our doorstep here in Britain and relates directly to our lives.

© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License
© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License

This week saw shockingly not the first case of two stowaways who hid in the undercarriage of plane on a 10-hour long haul fight from Johannesburg to London Heathrow. One was discovered dead on the roof of a West London office, and the survivor was admitted to hospital in a critical condition. Like those travelling by boat, this is yet another case of refugees risking everything for a chance at a better life.

Being able to ignore poverty because of its lack of proximity is becoming harder, the over used notion of ‘them and us’ is no longer applicable as our world becomes far more interconnected. This also resonates with comments made this week by the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening is something which is occurring more often, and that indicates what should be a new attitude towards poverty; “the days of being able to simply ignore poverty around the other side of the world are over”.

Interconnectedness is often seen as the best way to approach world challenges; and yet in the case of the EU refugee crisis countries and the individuals within the countries seem desperate to distance themselves from this approach.

Refugees and Migrants- what’s the difference?

One of the biggest injustices of the overuse of the term ‘migrant’ as opposed to ‘Asylum Seeker’ or ‘Refugee’ is understatement of the desperation which prompts people to pay thousands to people traffickers to board a dangerous boat and risk life to get away from where they live. The term migrant suggests a choice built on a desire for a greater financial and economic future. It is believed that many of the ‘migrants’ seeking refuge in Europe are fleeing poverty, violence or religious oppression in Somalia or Eritrea and war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

They key difference here is choice. To suggest that anyone who is fleeing violence, persecution, severe poverty or lack of freedom could make a choice to return home without the situation which forced them to leave in the first place improves, is inhumane.

Migrants can plan travel, take belongings and in some cases begin to build a plan for life in their new home country. Refugees don’t have this luxury, so the two are very different.

The sheer danger of the methods used to navigate away from their home country and seek asylum is testament to these two distinct definitions. The widespread media use of the term ‘migrant’ implicates choice and misrepresents the desperation and severe danger that refugees find themselves in.

© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License
© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License

Insensitive Representation

The Daily Mail last month published an article demonising refugees who having landed on the Greek island of Kos are living in the town centre where British tourists often visit.

With points in the article such as “The holiday-makers feel uncomfortable”, “These ladies’ view of the harbour is somewhat disrupted by dozens of migrants walking the streets” the article only seeks to further de-humanise and persecute refugees who find themselves on the island of Kos still living in poverty whilst trying to seek asylum.

This representation diminishes the tragedy and once again promotes the idea of ‘them and us’ which is so harmful in damaging public perception of those who are genuine refugees fleeing persecution.

Many of us will be lucky enough to never end up in a situation where we feel we have no option but to leave our country in search of freedom, basic rights and opportunity. Understanding and consideration of humanity is important to ensure that even further demonisation of these people already in a desperate situation does not happen.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Re-launching the centrality of Palestine’s refugee question

Re-launching the centrality of Palestine’s refugee question

The 5th of November 2014 marked the 65th anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a sui generis UN agency established upon resolution of the General Assembly for an initial mandate of three years. Yet, this mandate has been extended for far too long. Here, Kelly Petillo questions the lack of interest in the refugee status of Palestinians.

The right of return for Palestinian refugees has been defined as a “sacred” right in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. The right of refugees to return to their homeland is also stated by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its related 1967 Protocol.

Nevertheless, the Palestinian refugee question seems to have been completely forgotten, or strategically ignored.

© Institut français du Proche-Orient /Creative Commons License
© Institut français du Proche-Orient /Creative Commons License

The same Palestinian Authority (PA) that is meant to represent the Palestinian people at the international level has seemingly forgotten about Palestine’s refugees.  Last year, during a crucial moment during negotiations, Abbas showed a high degree of flexibility with regards to methods for solving the Palestinian refugee question. In general, PA’s diplomatic stance has met some general criticism by several Palestinians, who refuse to recognize Israel as “a Jewish state”, but who see the leadership oscillating between recognition and non-recognition. This generates a sentiment of suspicion, which inevitably leads to political weakness. Recognizing the state of Israel in its Jewish state formula is considered as a tricky question, since it is arguably connected to an implicit renounce to the right of return. The right of return, together with settlements, borders and Jerusalem is the cornerstone of the Palestinian identity, and therefore Palestinian refugees  nurture a strong sentiment for such a right.

Bearing in mind that there is no comprehensive solution to the conflict, without the inclusion of Palestine refugees, any agent willing to negotiate a comprehensive, effective solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must embrace their inclusion. Despite this, there has been a general exclusion from the negotiating process. This concerns two aspects: procedural marginalization –i.e. exclusion from the peace-making process itself— and textual marginalization –meaning the exclusion of refugee-related requests from the agreements.

What negotiations rather let shine through is the idea that the right of return for the totality of the Palestinians is an “impossible fantasy”, at the most a mere symbolic tool for negotiations, as revealed by the Al-Jazeera’s Palestine Papers, a series of leaked confidential documents on Palestine-related agreements. When these documents were released in 2011, what emerged was the “destructive” character of negotiations with regards to Palestinians’ self-determination claims. As of today, there is a widespread opinion that initiatives proposed by diplomats and government officials only contribute to the continuation of the status quo rather than breaking it.

What solutions are being pursued?

Besides big transnational campaigns, such as the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) or the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, throughout the years Palestinian refugees themselves have been demonstrating a general tendency towards embracing several, often undocumented forms of nonviolent resistance. From these forms of resistance, one element emerges: Palestinian refugees will not give up the vital right of return.

© Tijen Erol  /Creative Commons License
© Tijen Erol /Creative Commons License

Past attempts of return by the Palestinians have been promptly arrested by the Israeli army. It happened in May 2011, when thousands of Palestinians marched from the Lebanese and Syrian borders; and it happened in 2013 in Iqrit, where “returnees” have camped for more than two years; or few months ago, in the village of Kufr Bir’im, a semi-destroyed village where a movement called Al-Awda Hariket Abna’ Kufr Birim Al-Taqodumeyon (“The Return of the Progressive Sons of Kufr Birim”) has existed since 1982. Such attempts should continue, as they testify Palestinians’ legitimate attempts of resistance and legal rights.

UNHCR documentation  states the importance of refugees’ participation in peace-making initiatives, including the related negotiation phase. Findings related to the 2004-5 ‘Time for Them to Speak and for Us to Listen’ initiative show the importance for the Palestinians of increasing chances to elect their own representatives, or more simply to designate those intellectuals and policy makers who represent them at the local level. In this regard, they called for the establishment of community groups able to openly dialogue with their leadership.

Palestinian refugees currently have the legal right to return. However, if their involvement in the peace-making process is not  encouraged then it is unlikely that any kind of return will actually take place.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Under-reported: the story of Bhutan’s refugees

Mountains in Bhutan c. rajkumar1220

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Charlotte Marshall, who taught Bhutanese refugees last year, reports on the global diaspora caused by the ethnic cleansing that took place in the country in the 1980s and 1990s. Charlotte is studying an MPhil in Development Studies at Cambridge University.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Burma’s forgotten people

Thein Sein addressing the General Assembly c. United Nations Photo

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Earlier this month US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the President of Burma, Thein Sein, to discuss possibilities for democracy. But Burma’s treatment of its ethnic minorities has been somewhat overlooked, writes Aditi Gupta, a researcher for a documentary film company specialising in human rights.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.