Posts Tagged ‘UNHCR’

Where is Dong Guangping?

November 23, 2022

Disappeared Chinese human rights defender must be allowed to reunite with his family in Canada

After 31 months in hiding in Vietnam, on August 24, 2022 Chinese human rights defender Dong Guangping was arrested by Vietnamese police.  There has been no news of his fate since then. His wife and daughter, who live in Toronto, are fearful that he has been handed over to Chinese authorities. In China he would face a grave risk of once again being jailed for his human rights activism. He has previously served three prison terms there, simply because he believes in human rights and refuses to remain silent in the face of grave violations in the country.

Dong Guangping had been recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and accepted for resettlement to Canada as a refugee in 2015. He was in Thailand with his wife and daughter at that time. However, Thai police unlawfully handed him over to Chinese authorities before he was able to travel to Canada.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/12/08/thailand-returns-recognized-refugees-to-china-and-falsely-claims-they-did-not-know-about-their-status/

He was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison in China. After he was released in 2019, Dong Guangping wanted to reunite with his wife and daughter in Canada. However, as China refused to issue him a passport, he was not allowed to leave the country through official channels. He first tried unsuccessfully to reach safety by swimming to a nearby Taiwanese island. In January 2020, he clandestinely crossed the border into Vietnam.

With backing from the Canadian government, Dong Guangping and his family had been hopeful that he would soon be allowed by Vietnamese officials to leave the country and travel to Canada. His arrest was unexpected and his subsequent disappearance has come as a crushing blow.

You can express Your Concern to the Embassies Please write, phone or send an email to Vietnam’s and China’s Ambassadors to Canada:

  • expressing your concern about Dong Guangping’s arrest in Vietnam on August 24, 2022 and the fact that there has been no news of his whereabouts or wellbeing since then;
  • asking them to immediately disclose where Dong Guangping is at this time and that Canadian officials be granted access to him; and
  • requesting that Dong Guangping be allowed to travel to Canada without any further delay, to join his wife and daughter.

His Excellency Cong Peiwu
Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Canada

515 St. Patrick Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 5H3

Tel: 613-789-3434

Email: chineseembassy.ca@gmail.com

His Excellency Pham Cao Phong
Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in Canada

55 Mackay Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1M 2B2

Angela Merkel wins UNHCR’s Nansen Award for protecting refugees at height of Syria crisis

October 11, 2022

Angela Merkel, the former Federal Chancellor of Germany, accepted the 2022 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award at a special ceremony in Geneva on Monday night, 10 October, saying the prize was in honour of “the countless people who lent a hand” when large numbers of refugees arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016.  

She has won several other human rights awards: see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/582C2D4E-FDD9-9C1D-40F3-64DE01C2F46E

Merkel had been selected as the latest recipient of the Nansen Refugee Award for her efforts to welcome more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum seekers into Germany between 2015 and 2016, at the height of the conflict in Syria and amid deadly violence in countries around the world. The selection committee hailed Merkel’s “leadership, courage and compassion in ensuring the protection of hundreds of thousands of desperate people” as well as her efforts to find “viable long-term solutions” for those seeking safety.

By helping more than a million refugees to survive and rebuild, Angela Merkel displayed great moral and political courage,” Grandi the UN high commissioner for refugees, said. Presenting the award to Angela Merkel, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the former Chancellor: “You demonstrated indeed vision, courage and fortitude. And you demonstrated a moral compass which not only guided your work and the actions of your country, but it showed the way for so many of us in Europe and in the world.”

Speaking at the time, the then chancellor said it was a situation “which put our European values to the test as seldom before. It was no more and no less than a humanitarian imperative.”

For more the Nansen Refugee Award and similar awards for refugee work see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/CC584D13-474F-4BB3-A585-B448A42BB673

Also honoured during the ceremony in Geneva’s Haute école d’art et de design (HEAD) were the four regional winners for 2022. For Africa, the leader of the Mbera Fire Brigade in Mauritania, Ahmedou Ag Albohary, accepted the award in recognition of the refugee volunteers’ bravery in fighting bushfires and protecting the local environment, while former midwife Vicenta González was honoured for nearly 50 years of service to displaced and vulnerable people in Costa Rica.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2022/10/6345384a4/merkel-says-nansen-prize-honours-welcome-refugees.html

The Swimmers: Netflix film about Syrian refugee swimmers

September 15, 2022

UNHCR announced on 9 September 2022 that a new Netflix film, The Swimmers, tells the remarkable tale of Yusra Mardini, a young Syrian refugee and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, who escaped conflict and went on to compete in two Olympics.

“This is a movie that any person in the world can relate to,” the 24-year-old said shortly before the film’s world premiere on Thursday at the prestigious opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). “We want the movie to make a difference.” UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yusra Mardini hopes the dramatic new film of her and her sister’s escape from conflict to new lives in Europe will challenge attitudes towards refugees.

Directed by acclaimed Egyptian-Welsh filmmaker Sally El Hosaini of My Brother the Devil, the film stars Lebanese actors and real-life sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa, as Yusra and her older sibling Sara.

It tells the story of their childhood in Damascus, their focus on swimming from a young age, and their dramatic journey to Europe in 2015 that saw them help save the lives of fellow refugees by jumping into the water and steering their stricken dinghy to shore through the Aegean Sea’s dark waters.

While the public will have to wait until 23 November for the film’s general release, Mardini has already seen it twice and says it is impossible for her to pick the best moments. “Honestly, the whole movie is my favourite scene!” she says.

She hopes it will prove much more than simple entertainment. “This movie is going to put the conversation on the table of what a refugee is, of what we want to change,” says Yusra.

El Hosaini, the director, echoes this ambition. “My greatest hope for the film is that it subverts the tired stereotypes of both refugees and young Arab women.

“I want the film to remind us that refugees are regular people with full, regular lives, with hopes and dreams. Ordinary people who’ve had to make unimaginable choices, leaving their homes and risking everything in search of a safer, better life.”

Since becoming the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2017, and competing as a swimmer in both the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Yusra has emerged as a leading voice for refugees, one that The Swimmers will amplify still further.e

To change perceptions of refugees, understanding must come first, she says. “The education systems have to change: they have to be more open, they have to teach the stories of migrants and refugees,” says Yusra, who hopes sharing her story far and wide, through her 2018 memoir Butterfly and now The Swimmers, will help educate people about the potential, and the value, that all refugees have. “We have to treat everyone the same,” she says.

The Olympic Games changed the way I think about being a refugee. I walked into the stadium in Rio and I realised that I can inspire so many people. I realised that ‘refugee’ is just a word, and what you would do with it is the most important thing.”

Despite being in the Hollywood spotlight, Yusra has not lost sight of her calling. “A lot still has to change for refugees,” she says. “This is not the end. This is just the beginning.”

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2022/9/631b527f4/netflix-brings-yusra-mardinis-inspiring-story-world.html

New High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk – the man for an impossible job?

September 15, 2022

On 23 June 2022 Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group posted a Blog: “Time to ask again: is being the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights an impossible job?”

In February 2018, he published a blog on the early departure of the previous High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The blog responded to David Petrasek’s article in OpenGlobaRights, entitled ‘Another one bites the dust’ (8 February 2018).

Limon argues that the High Commissioner position is, in fact, several jobs rolled into one. The mandate of the High Commissioner and his/her Office comprises inter alia:

  • Monitoring and speaking out about human rights violations around the world – ‘preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world,’ (OP4f of GA resolution 48/141 of 7 January 1994).
  • Acting as the Secretariat to the ‘competent bodies of the United Nations system in the field of human rights and [making] recommendations to them,’ (OP4b of GA res. 48/141).
  • Providing capacity building, advisory services and technical assistance, at the request of the State concerned, ‘with a view to supporting actions and programs in the field of human rights,’ (OP4d, GA res. 48/141).
  • Engaging in human rights diplomacy (‘dialogue’) with governments and ‘enhanc[ing] international cooperation,’ in order to promote the implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments, and respect for human rights, (OP4g, OP5h, GA res. 48/141).
  • Coordinating human rights mainstreaming across the UN system, (OP4i, GA res. 48/141).
  • Making recommendations and driving efforts to ‘rationalize, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations machinery in the field of human rights with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness,’ (OP4j, GA res. 48/141).

It is clear that, when held in the hands of a single human being, these different parts of the High Commissioner’s overall mandate operate in tension and are, perhaps, even mutually incompatible…

Is it possible for one person to wear all these hats at the same time? Can a single person publicly criticise States in one breath, then in the next reach out to them to forge agreement on reform of the UN human rights system or to provide human rights technical assistance?

Petrasek has made no secret of his belief (apparently shared by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres) that Zeid over-prioritised human rights monitoring and public advocacy, to the detriment of almost all other parts of his mandate. Yet for many other civil society representatives in Geneva and for many Western diplomats, this singlemindedness (together with Zeid’s natural eloquence) made the former High Commissioner something of a cult hero and the perfect High Commissioner,

Fast forward four and a half years and Zeid replacement as High Commissioner, the former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, has also fallen on her sword – yet for precisely the opposite reasons as Zeid.

Bachelet was handpicked by Guterres to mark a clear break from Zeid by pursuing a more holistic and balanced approach to the role and mandate of the High Commissioner. In addition to public advocacy Bachelet tried to emphasise human rights diplomacy, international cooperation, support for the international human rights machinery, a focus on emerging thematic human rights concerns (e.g., climate change, the right to a healthy environment, prevention, digital technology), and the on-the-ground delivery of technical assistance and capacity-building support.

See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/06/09/disappointment-with-un-high-commissioners-visit-to-xinjiang-boils-over/ and

In truth, the world needs a High Commissioner Zeid and a High Commissioner Bachelet. The question is: is that possible? Maybe other solutions might be considered? Might, perhaps, the High Commissioner focus on public advocacy, and the Deputy High Commissioner on the more cooperation-orientated aspects of the mandate? Maybe different Deputies could be appointed for each of the main ‘baskets’ of the High Commissioner’s overall mandate? Or maybe the parts of the mandate related to the human rights machinery could be ‘spun off’ – for example, into a new position of secretary-general of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and of the Treaty Bodies?

These are difficult and sensitive questions, and yet it is surely important that they be asked and considered now rather than later. Perhaps today, as the Secretary-General ponders the appointment of the next High Commissioner, is an opportune moment to do so?

On September 7, 2022, the UN announced Secretary-General António Guterres’ decision to appoint Volker Türk, an Austrian national, to replace Michelle Bachelet.

Reactions were swift, most of them expressing the need for action, e.g. “The new UN high commissioner for human rights should neither seek nor expect a honeymoon period from UN member states,” said Tirana Hassan, interim executive director of Human Rights Watch on 8 September “What’s needed by the millions of people around the world whose rights are being violated every day is an advocate in their corner who will take on abusive governments large and small without fear and without hesitation.”

Yoni Ish-Hurwitz, Executive Director of Human Rights Likeminded Office was invited by the Universal Human Rights Group on 12 September, 2022, to contribute a Blog `’Who is Volker Türk?’:

Opinions have already begun forming about Volker Türk in the short time since the announcement of his appointment last week as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. However, in the absence of a public competition, there was little opportunity to learn about Türk. He is also not well-known outside of the UN (and had few followers on twitter until last week). Therefore, in the absence of personal familiarity, it may be useful to focus on his biography, body of work and statements. This would lead to a better understanding of why he was selected for this role. [DISCLAIMER; I happen to know him personally from my days in UNHCR. He has always struck me as an honest and dedicated person with a pronounced interest in the human rights side of refugee work.]

Central to Türk’s biography is his long professional relationship with the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. They worked together at UNHCR when Guterres led the agency as High Commissioner for Refugees. When Guterres became UN Secretary-General, Türk joined him in New York, to serve as Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in the Executive Office. Guterres promoted him in January, to the rank of Under-Secretary-General for Policy, also in the Executive Office, perhaps setting him up to take the role of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Having a close confidant as the High Commissioner may be especially important for the Secretary-General at present, considering the significant current political challenges he faces. This is especially the case in the aftermath of the release of the long-awaited report on Xinjiang by the former High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. She spared Türk the need to continue holding this hot potato. However, China won’t let Türk off the hook, and will likely exert pressure on him, as it has done with Bachelet, to carefully weigh his words and the way he manages his Office’s work on China. In the meantime, Chen Xu, the Permanent Representative of China in Geneva, announced that ‘the Office closed the door of cooperation by releasing the so-called assessment.’ This means that this is one political crisis that will not end with Bachelet’s departure.

One key question is whether the new High Commissioner will prioritise engagement over speaking truth to power. Bachelet was criticised of doing just that following her recent statements on China, until she released her report at the 11th hour on the job. .. On the face of it, it may appear that Guterres selected a diplomat, rather than an advocate. Türk is a UN career officer through and through, and as such he is in a better position to offer ‘good offices,’ as the UN does, compared to any former Head of State that could have taken the High Commissioner’s post. Among his predecessors were two presidents, two supreme court judges, one foreign minister and one permanent representative to the UN headquarters. However, every day before walking into his new office, the face that Türk will see first is that of his predecessor Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who also spent most of his career in UNHCR. He was commemorated in a bust at the entrance to Palais Wilson, four years after his death in a bombing at UN headquarters in Iraq.

Türk worked in the UN refugee agency for over 30 years, including in the field. Coming from within the UN system is an asset for navigating organisational politics, fostering collaboration with other parts of the UN, enhancing the contribution of OHCHR to all relevant UN fora, and understanding how to engage with Member States to address the situation of the most vulnerable people. His intimate understanding of the UN system is manifested in two major initiatives he stewarded – the Secretary-General’s flagship report, Our Common Agenda, as well as the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights. This may not be the place to analyse their successes or shortcomings, but it can be said that they were both well-received. Our Common Agenda offered a vision for mobilising the UN to address global challenges. OHCHR needs a manager with this kind of foresight to grasp the organisation’s structure, programmes and needs. The second initiative, the Call to Action for Human Rights, identified areas for action to advance human rights. As High Commissioner, perhaps Türk will be in a better position to support the implementation of the Call to Action.

This work demonstrates deep engagement on human rights. His legal background, holding a doctorate in international law, will support his role as an advocate. He can substantively articulate concerns and uphold norms based in international human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law. He certainly appears as an advocate on twitter (@volker_turk). His tweets show his compassion, as he mostly addresses human rights concerns, with people at the centre.

Civil society was concerned about the selection process. Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), said: ‘The lack of transparency and meaningful consultation with independent civil society in the selection process meant that the Secretary-General missed a key opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next High Commissioner.’ The appointment of the Secretary-General’s confidant may have reaffirmed worries that the High Commissioner would prioritise diplomacy and engagement over advocacy for human rights. However, Türk appears to have the appropriate biography and a heart in the right place to fulfil both of the High Commissioner’s roles as an advocate and a diplomat. Hopefully he will be attentive to civil society and rights-holders, in line with his advice during his time as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR: ‘Listen to what refugees are telling us.’

After being appointed at the last minute as the next UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk is not expected to be at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council, held from 12 September to 7 October. When he does, Turk will have to grapple among other challenges with his predecessor’s report on Xinjiang, but for the moment deputy high commissioner Nada Al Nashif is in charge of the UN rights office and will have to answer any questions about China that might come up during the first days of debate..

https://www.universal-rights.org/uncategorized/time-to-ask-again-is-being-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-an-impossible-job/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/08/un-new-rights-chief-should-speak-out-all-victims

Video game launched to experience a refugee’s journey

July 14, 2022

Ruth Schöffl reported from Vienna, on 08 July 2022 how a Syrian refugee game developer, an Austrian company and UNHCR teamed up to create a video game that reveals the life-or-death decisions that refugees face.

Jack Gutmann was never one of those children whose parents badgered him to limit his screen time and go outside and play. On the contrary, they encouraged Jack and his four brothers to spend as much time as possible absorbed in computer games so they would stay indoors, safe from the conflict raging on the streets outside their home. 

I was scared, and I tried to escape reality,” says Jack, named Abdullah at birth and brought up in Hama, Syria’s fourth-largest city. “I didn’t want to see the war and I did not want to hear it.” When there was electricity, he played video games. When the electricity went out, he played on his laptop. When the laptop battery died, he designed on paper.  

He never dreamed that years later – safe in Austria – his passion for computer design would equip him to produce an award-winning video game. A teaching edition of Path Out was re-launched by UNHCR for World Refugee Day (20 June 2022) this year to help schoolchildren in Austria and elsewhere stand in the shoes of a refugee, making life-and-death decisions along a hazardous journey to safety. 

Jack, who took a new name when he forged a new life in Austria, began drawing and colouring digitally as a child and mastered the graphics programme Photoshop by the time he was fourteen.

Digital art and computer games were the window to the world for me, out of my room in Syria, away from the war into a diverse world with very different people,” he says, reflecting on the crisis that broke out in March 2011, the same month he turned 15.  

Since the start of the crisis in 2011, millions of Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. Today some 6.8 million Syrians have fled abroad as refugees, and almost as many – 6.9 million – are displaced within the country.  

At 18, facing the danger of being drafted into the army, Jack fled his homeland – a dangerous and circuitous journey to Turkey and then across a number of countries until he reached Austria in the heart of Europe. This was the first place he truly felt safe. 

“I didn’t plan to stay in Austria,” he freely admits. “But when I arrived here with my brother, we were really shocked because so many people helped us – positively shocked.” 

Shortly after arriving, Jack met Georg Hobmeier, head of Causa Creations, a Vienna-based game-design company that sees video games not only as entertainment but, in the words of its website, as “meaningful, enriching experiences that can connect us, challenge our perceptions, and give insights into the world around us.” They’ve worked on issues such as migration, climate change and nuclear energy. 

  • Game designer Jack Gutmann (left) sits alongside Georg Hobmeier, head of Causa Creations, at their offices in Vienna, Austria. Game designer Jack Gutmann (left) sits alongside Georg Hobmeier, head of Causa Creations, at their offices in Vienna, Austria. © UNHCR/Simon Casetti

Jack, eager to turn his passion into a profession, teamed up with Causa Creations on a joint project. The result was Path Out, in which the player replicates Jack’s surreptitious trek from Syria, sometimes in the hands of people smugglers. 

We decided that Jack himself would be the main character of the game,” says Georg, adding that it was particularly important to show that behind every refugee statistic there are complex stories and complex personalities.  

In the Japanese game style they chose, the cute characters contrast with the harsh reality of the journey. Jack – the designer and the character – are dressed throughout in the yellow shirt he actually wore on his odyssey, which now has sentimental value to him.  

From a box in the corner of the screen, real Jack comments on the players’ moves in Youtuber style, often with humour. “You just killed me, man,” he exclaims when the player makes the wrong move. “In reality I wasn’t as clumsy as you.” 

Originally released as a two-hour game in 2017, Path Out has won international and Austrian awards for “its effort to shed light on a serious issue.”

The new version Causa and UNHCR developed for schools takes no longer than one lesson and helps pupils who might never meet real refugees learn that Jack led a life much like theirs until his world was turned upside down and he had to leave everything behind. It was rolled out in German and English for World Refugee Day; other language versions are to follow. 

Jack the designer is still writing his own happy ending. He felt safe as soon as he reached Austria, but it took time for the country to become his true artistic and emotional home.  

It took five years until I felt my journey was over, until I really felt relieved,” he says. Now 26, he speaks nearly flawless German and English. He completed vocational training, worked for a few years in a game development company, and now is training further in 3D modelling and animation to become an even better game developer and designer.  

He met an Austrian woman who also plays video games – though not by profession – and they married last year. 

And he maintains his sense of humour, a trait he considers essential both in real life and in his game, Path Out. “The story of flight and war is bad enough; one needs humour to be able to cope with it,” he says.  Since the game reflects his reality, “it’s funny at the same time. After all, computer games are supposed to be fun.” 

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2022/7/62c822f14/unhcr-video-game-lets-pupils-experience-refugees-perilous-journey.html

FC Barcelona will support programmes for displaced children

March 28, 2022

Having pointed to football clubs’ bad behaviour on several occasions [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/25/premier-league-football-and-human-rights-continuing-saga/], it is fair to point out good examples: UNHCR, along with its National Association in Spain, Spain for UNHCR, announced 24 March 2022 a new partnership with FC Barcelona and the FC Barcelona Foundation.

The partnership will span the next four years. From next season, the UNHCR logo will appear on the back of the iconic FC Barcelona jerseys worn by the men’s and women’s first team and the Barça Genuine Foundation team, below each player’s number, with the aim of raising awareness of the plight of refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world.

In addition, the Foundation will make a cash contribution of €400,000 per football season towards four UNHCR projects on four continents (€100,000 per project), plus a separate donation (valued by the club at €100,000 per season) of FC Barcelona sports equipment, as well as the technical expertise of the FC Barcelona Foundation’s sports specialists.

The president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, has stressed the club’s desire to respond to the growing number and complexity of refugee crises. UNHCR has been increasing its focus on the power of sport to help forcibly displaced people – and local communities that host them – to rebuild their lives.

FC Barcelona, through its Foundation, has collaborated with UNHCR since 2009 in various initiatives and programmes for people forced to flee. The Foundation has developed several of its own programmes in refugee settlements in Greece and Lebanon, and for unaccompanied children in Italy and Spain. In 2019, the FC Barcelona Foundation joined the Sport for Refugees Coalition, which was set up at UNHCR’s Global Refugee Forum, where it pledged to increase availability and access to organized sports and sport-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/3/623c47ef4/fc-barcelona-unhcr-unite-forcibly-displaced-children-worldwide.html

Exiled Nicaraguan Human Rights Defenders in Costa Rica

March 15, 2022

A recent case study by Freedom House focuses on programming that offers holistic protection, support, and services, tailored to the needs of human rights defenders in their host country. This case study focused on the most current wave of migration of HRDs and CSOs who were forced to flee after anti-government protests in April 2018.

The Nicaraguan government continues to violate freedoms of expression, assembly and information and thwart the work of HRDs, including journalists and CSOs. Ortega-Murillo’s recent actions against potential presidential candidates and opposition figures demonstrate that the country will continue to see an outpouring of critics, activists, and HRDs to Costa Rica, among other countries. Nicaraguans continue to flee based on the attacks and harassment they face as HRDs and members of CSOs that champion democracy and human rights. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/21/nicaragua-death-in-detention-and-sham-trial/

Of those 20 Nicaraguan HRDs who were surveyed, almost 90% stated that harassment and surveillance was a primary reason for leaving Nicaragua, followed by violence (65%) and threats (50%).
Costa Rica provides comparatively ample protection for migrants, and recently launched a new asylum category for those fleeing from authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. The flow of migration since 2018 has persisted until March 2020 when the border shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, migrant flows have begun to increase in recent months. However, Costa Rica is struggling to recover economically from the pandemic, particularly within the tourist, service, and commercial industries where most migrants and refugees find work. Most Nicaraguan refugees find themselves in a precarious economic situation, unable to find steady work, forcing many to resort to informal work with low salaries. HRDs are often not recognized as having different needs or characteristics from the larger refugee population, either by organizations or the Costa Rican population in general. Even for those who continue to work in human rights describe their ability to
continue work is difficult, and many express experiencing severe trauma as an exile, with remorse for not being able to stay and remain fighting for human rights at home. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/24/vilma-nunez-human-rights-defender-who-stays-in-nicaragua/]
However, many Nicaraguan HRDs try to carry out their work by investigating the laws and procedures in Costa Rica, accompanying their compatriots in their efforts, sharing knowledge, and giving advice. There are support and protection options for HRDs and CSOs in exile in Costa Rica, including a network of organizations and institutions facilitated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that provide access to vital services.

All available support and protection options for Nicaraguan HRDs are operating at full capacity and cannot keep pace with the growing demand. We believe that it is necessary to seek support and accompaniment mechanisms for HRDs that facilitate their subsistence and enhance the
implementation of their work to defend the human rights of exiles and other Nicaraguan migrants who lack mechanisms for complaint and demand for their rights in Costa Rica.

https://freedomhouse.org/article/fighting-democracy-exile-my-story-nicaraguan-activist

later: https://thegaltimes.com/daniel-ortegas-regime-outlawed-another-25-ngos-in-nicaragua/87071/

New timely book on refugee flows

February 28, 2022

With massive new flows starting in the wake of the Russian attack on Ukraine, the new book announced on 28 February 2022 by UNHCR –People Forced to Flee: History, Change and Challenge – is most timely.

People Forced to Flee draws on the lessons of history to probe how we can improve responses to forced displacement. Tracing the roots of asylum from early history to contemporary times, the book shows how the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees turned the centuries-old ideals of safety and solutions for refugees into global practice. It highlights the major achievements in protecting people forced to flee since then, while exploring serious setbacks along the way.

Published at a time when over 84 million people in the world are forcibly displaced, it examines international responses to forced displacement within borders as well as beyond them, and the principles of protection that apply to both: reviewing where they have been used with consistency and success, and where they have not. At times, the strength and resolve of the international community seems strong, yet solutions and meaningful solidarity are often elusive.

Most forced displacement is experienced in low- and middle-income countries and persists for generations. People forced to flee face barriers to improving their lives, contributing to the communities in which they live, and realising solutions. Responding better is not only a humanitarian necessity but a development imperative.

The book shows how this work gained momentum with the international affirmation in December 2018 of the Global Compact on Refugees; and it illustrates how it is being supported by a growing group of partners encompassing forcibly displaced people, local communities and authorities, national governments, international agencies, non-governmental organisations and the private sector.

People Forced to Flee also examines how increased development investments in education, health and economic inclusion are helping to improve socio-economic opportunities both for forcibly displaced people and their hosts. Alongside this are greater investments in data, evidence and analysis pointing to what works best. And it discusses the wide array of financing mechanisms that can support sustainable responses.

As noted by Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in his foreword, the book highlights with great clarity the enormous challenges to preventing, mitigating, and finding solutions to forced displacement. “The drivers of displacement are unrelenting; the demands placed on humanitarian funding are growing,” Grandi notes. Yet he adds that while “the challenges are enormous, history has repeatedly demonstrated the potential for, and power of, positive change”.

The book is published by Oxford University Press in hardback or in digital format via this microsite.

People Forced to Flee: History, Change and Challenge, takes up the mantle of a series of UNHCR publications, stretching back to 1993, that were previously entitled The State of the World’s Refugees. This book was written by Ninette Kelley.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/2/621c851f4/new-book-explores-past-present-future-protecting-people-forced-flee.html

Cartoonist Hani Abbas draws for refugees

November 5, 2021

To mark the UN Refugee Agency’s 70th anniversary, award-winning cartoonist Hani Abbas has created seven images that will be sold as digital assets to raise funds for Afghanistan.

Syrian-Palestinian cartoonist Hani Abbas, 44, was born and grew up in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in the southern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus. From the late 1990s his cartoons appeared in publications and exhibitions in Syria and across the Middle East, before he and his family fled the conflict in 2012 and eventually settled in Switzerland as refugees.

Since then, Abbas’s work – which tackles themes of injustice, loss, and the human cost of conflict – has featured in publications including Le Temps and La Liberté in Switzerland and France’s Le Monde. He is also a member of the Cartooning for Peace organization, a network of press cartoonists committed to promoting freedom and democracy. In 2014, Abbas received the International Editorial Cartoon Prize in Geneva. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/01DCF77A-3DEA-97F4-CE95-6BD185538207]

To mark the 70th anniversary of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Abbas has teamed up with national partner association Switzerland for UNHCR to launch the agency’s first-ever NFT (non-fungible token) fundraising sale. Abbas has created seven cartoons, from which ten copies of each will be converted into unique digital assets and sold as NFTs on the OpenSea online marketplace to raise funds for UNHCR’s Afghanistan crisis response.

Ahead of the start of the sale on 4 November, UNHCR spoke with Abbas and asked him about his life in Syria, his experiences as a refugee, and the meaning behind the images he has created.

What was your early life like growing up in Yarmouk camp?

Yarmouk is called a camp, but it’s really a part of the city with buildings, streets, and all the normal services. Growing up there was something nice and something hard. A lot of people in a small area; many pupils in the school. We had a beautiful, funny life – hard, but beautiful. Sometimes hard memories become nice when you look back. When I remember it now, I have nostalgia about that time. I remember my friends, my neighbourhood, my street, my family home.

When did you first show a talent for drawing?

When I was a child, I loved to draw. I drew everything, and I drew on everything – I was drawing on the walls, in school textbooks, on my body – everywhere. This is a child’s job! I loved drawing and when I was in school, my art teacher supported me and entered my work in a UN children’s drawing prize which I won twice, when I was 13 and 14. Those prizes gave me the power and the belief to continue drawing – I felt like I had something to say through my drawing. You can explain your story, your feelings, your ideas.

Did you always want to be a cartoonist?

No. At first it was anything, but when I was around 18, I started thinking about cartoons because I saw a lot in the newspapers, and on the walls of the camp. The walls were like our newspaper in the camp. Yarmouk was one big newspaper. In 1998 I published my first cartoon in a Palestinian magazine, then had exhibitions in the camp, in Damascus, Aleppo and Lebanon. I started connecting with newspapers – that’s how it goes. At the same time, I was also a teacher in an elementary school in Damascus.

What themes do you address in your cartoons?

My early cartoons were about Palestine, Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. More political than funny because it was difficult for me to draw something funny. I always go towards tragedy and darkness because I draw what I’m feeling. I’m trying to explain about myself and my people. At that time, I was just drawing and there was no problem for me, but when the conflict started, you had to take your life in your hands when you drew.

I’m still drawing now. Drawing in a safe place like Switzerland is good, you have total freedom. But you lose the sense of danger, the challenge. For me I did my best drawings under the bombs. I lost a big part of my power when I left Syria, but I still have the power of memory.

“The memories occupy my mind all the time.”

How did the conflict affect you personally?

I moved many times in Syria starting from March 2011 until December 2012 when I left. The last six months were very difficult to live under the bombs all the time. At that time, we would hear three sounds. The first was the sound of the shell when it was launched. The second was the sound of the shell above us in the sky. The third sound was the sound the of the explosion on the ground, or in a building. I was drawing all the time, but when I heard that first sound, I would lift my pencil and wait, thinking: ‘maybe this is my last drawing’. If I heard the third sound, that meant I was still alive. I’m lucky because I always heard all three sounds, but many thousands of Syrian people around me never heard the third sound.

You managed to escape Syria, first to Lebanon and then Switzerland. How did your life change?

Before, my family was all in the same place, now everyone is spread around the world. I’m here in Switzerland, in Geneva, my brother is in Cologne in Germany, my parents and two other brothers are in Sweden, and another brother is in Madrid, in Spain. It’s not easy to connect with them. It’s good we have social media and video calls, but it’s not the same. My kids are speaking French now, my brother’s kids are speaking German, Swedish, another Spanish. When they meet now it’s not easy to connect with so many languages, different cultures, different educations. We will lose our family tree. The branches have been cut off and are drifting down the river in different directions. But Switzerland is very good for my kids, without any problems and without any bad memories, without any dangers in the future. For me, it’s okay. I’m working here, I’m still drawing, I’m feeling good – life is good – but the memories occupy my mind all the time.

The images you’ve created for the NFT sale are part of a series you call “Windows”. What significance do windows have in your work?

What is the meaning of windows in my heart? They are our windows to see the country, to see people – to connect with them and hear them. In 2011, after four months of the conflict I drew the first window – a destroyed building with just a window still standing, and a young man waiting outside with a flower to see his love, who was gone. It represents what we’ve lost. I’ve drawn other figures who have left everything else behind but take a window with them, because the window is their memory. I have my own ideas and feelings about the images, but I hope everyone who looks at them can see the effect of war on people.

I hope all the people who have problems in their countries can get out.

The money raised in the sale will be used to support the people of Afghanistan. How did you feel watching recent events there?

It felt familiar for me because we were – we’re still – like them. The same problems, the same feelings, the same stories. In the news we always heard about the politics, but we didn’t know what was happening to normal people. For me, I hope all the people who have problems in their countries can get out. I support people who want to get out if they have dreams, if they want to protect their kids.

You’re used to publishing your cartoons in newspapers. How do you feel about them being turned into unique digital assets and sold as NFTs instead?

I don’t have any experience of this – I just do the drawings! But every cartoonist wants their work to be seen, and I support these new ideas. Anything that will help people and explain the hard conditions and problems they face, and allow other people to support them. It’s a new idea, and when I heard about it, I loved it. We hope now it succeeds in focusing attention on the problems of [Afghans], and makes money for them of course, because they need it. Sometimes, to make a little bit of change in people’s lives they just need a tent or a little bit of food, a bit of support or a little education.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/11/6183b7be4/meet-syrian-cartoonist-behind-unhcrs-first-ever-nft-fundraiser.html

Canada puts its money where its mouth is: ‘human rights defenders’ to be fast tracked as refugees

July 19, 2021

On 16 July 2021 Reuters reported that Canada is establishing a dedicated refugee stream for “human rights defenders,” including journalists, who may need to seek asylum to escape persecution in their country,

The stream – the first of its kind in the world, according to the UN refugee agency – will accommodate 250 people a year, plus their families, and focus on people at heightened risk, such as women, journalists and LGBTQ2 rights advocates.

We must not overlook those who bear witness to these human tragedies, who are active through demonstration and reporting so the rest of us can be informed. But in doing so they risk persecution, arrest, torture and even death,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino said on Friday in a virtual news conference from Toronto.

One example a spokesperson gave of a person eligible under this program is an activist against the regime in Belarus who had fled to Poland but needed permanent refuge.

Canada aims to resettle 36,000 refugees this year, almost four times its total of 9,200 resettled in 2020. But by the end of April, only 1,630 resettled refugees had arrived in Canada, according to government figures.

https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/28355/feds-announce-dedicated-refugee-stream-for-human-rights-defenders

https://www.reuters.com/article/canada-refugees/canada-to-welcome-human-rights-defenders-including-journalists-as-refugees-idUSL1N2OS12Q