Posts Tagged ‘United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’

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

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

Highly awarded Sadako Ogata – former UN refugee chief – dies at 92

October 29, 2019

Sadako Ogata the first woman to head the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has died at the age of 92 on 22 October 2019. I served under her for many years and have the greatest admiration for her. Sadako Ogata worked on some of the largest crises of the decade during her time in service from 1991 to 2000, including the Kurdish refugees fleeing from Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, the Balkans War and the Great Lakes region of Africa. Before joining the UN, she was an academic – serving as dean of the faculty of foreign studies at Sophia University in Tokyo in 1989, where she had been a professor since 1980. She was well respected by UN staff and world leaders alike, and was described by her colleagues as a “five-foot giant” for her formidable negotiating skills and ability to confront hostile factions. From 2003 to 2012, Ogata was the head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, overseeing efforts to provide assistance to those in developing countries.

Back in Japan, she also criticised her country’s low acceptance of refugees. “Japan has to set up a situation to welcome people… those who are in need, in serious need… I think we should be open to bringing them in,” she said in a Reuters interview in 2015. “[To say] Japan does not have resources, that’s nonsense.

She rightly received a lot of recognition while alive, including:

1994   Franklin Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award

1994   Prize for Freedom (Liberal Int’l)

1994   International Human Rights Law Group Award

1995   Liberty Medal

1995   Freedom Award (refugees)

1997   Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership

2001   Indira Gandhi Prize

2015   In Pursuit of Peace Awards.

In March 2020 Japanese TV station NHK broadcast a programme on Mrs Ogata: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/3016069/
——

A good appointment at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

August 9, 2019
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On 8 August 2019,  Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that Austrialian Gillian Triggs [@GillianTriggs] has been appointed Assistant High Commissioner for refugee protection. He states that she will bring to #UNHCR substantial legal expertise, knowledge and experience of refugee issues and a passion for human rights. From the single blog post I have on her that seems indeed very likely: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/16/the-importance-of-independent-national-human-rights-bodies-illustrated-in-australia/

Filippo Grandi in Security Council denounces ‘toxic language of politics’ aimed at refugees, migrants

April 10, 2019

Dissecting the term “refugee crisis” itself, Mr. Grandi asked the Security Council to consider to whom, exactly, that applied: “It is a crisis for a mother with her children fleeing gang violence; it is a crisis for a teenager who wants to flee from war, human rights violations, forced conscription; it is crisis for governments in countries with few resources that, every day, open their borders to thousands. For them, it is a crisis.

UN Photo/Evan Schneider. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, briefs the Security Council. (9 April 2019)

But it is wrong, he continued, to portray the situation as an unmanageable global crisis: with political will and improved responses, as enshrined by the Global Compact for Refugees, adopted last December, it can be addressed, and the Security Council has a critical role to play, particularly in terms of solving peace and security crises, supporting countries that are hosting refugees, and working to remove obstacles to solutions.

Conflicts, Mr. Grandi pointed out, are the main drivers of refugee flows: of the nearly 70 million people that are displaced, most are escaping deadly fighting. However, from the point of view of the UN High Commission for Refugees, approaches to peace-building are fragmented; addressing the symptoms, rather than the causes.

..[he goes into more detail on the Libyan situation]…

The UN refugee chief went on to exhort the Security council to step up support for the developing countries that host 85 per cent of the world’s refugees, to avoid leaving governments politically exposed, and refugees destitute. With regards to the return of refugees and migrants to their countries of origin, Mr. Grandi countered the misconception that UNHCR blocks returns: refugees have both a right to return, and also a right to not return, he said, in the absence of security and basic support. The informed choice of refugees must be respected, and returns must be dignified.

Mr. Grandi concluded by returning to the consequences of the toxic language surrounding refugees and migration, citing the example of the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, which left 49 dead. The response of the New Zealand Government should, he said, be seen as an good example of effective leadership and how to respond to such toxicity, in a firm and organized manner, restating solidarity with refugees, and reaffirming the principle that our societies cannot be truly prosperous, stable and peaceful, if they do not include everyone.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/04/1036391

Angelina Jolie gives 2017 Sergio Vieira de Mello lecture on 15 March 2017

February 27, 2017

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The Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation announces that the UNHCR Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie, is to give the 2017 Sergio Vieira de Mello lecture. She has spent fifteen years advocating on refugees’ behalf.

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The lecture is organised by the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation and the Graduate Institute, to honour the memory of Sergio. The event is hosted by the United Nations Office at Geneva. Wednesday 15 March 2017, 18:30 – 20:00
Assembly Hall, Geneva.

Registration for this event is now closed.

For earlier post on Angelina Jolie see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/angelina-jolie/

Greek Volunteers share UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award 2016

September 6, 2016

Today, 6 September, UNHCR announced that the Hellenic Rescue Team and Efi Latsoudi of “PIKPA village” on Lesvos are the joint winners of  the 2016 Nansen Refugee Award. Read why:.. Read the rest of this entry »

UNHCR extends Nansen Refugee Award nominations until 25 April 2016

April 18, 2016

The UN Refugee Agency is inviting further nominations for the Nansen Refugee Award 2016 until 25 April 2016. For more information on this humanitarian award for an individual or group who has gone beyond the call of duty to assist refugees, internally displaced or stateless persons, see: http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/nansen-medal.

Nominations made during this additional period will join nominations from the previous round which closed on 8 February 2016. The winner will be announced in September 2016. Anyone can submit a candidate for the Nansen Refugee Award at www.unhcr.org/nansen.

Source: UNHCR – UNHCR reopens Nansen Refugee Award nominations for 2016

for last year see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/nansen-refugee-award-to-afghan-refugee-teacher/

Annual Sergio Vieira de Mello debate on 7 March 2016

February 17, 2016

The Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation, dedicated to promoting dialogue for the peaceful resolution of conflict, organizes its annual debate on 7 March 2016, from 18h30 to 20h00, together with the Graduate Institute of Geneva. The subject is: “Mass migration: how can we ensure people’s safety and dignity?“. I takes place in the Auditorium Ivan Pictet, Maison de la Paix, Geneva. The speakers are:

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Peter Maurer, President, International Committee of the Red Cross

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Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/filippo-grandi-new-united-nations-high-commissioner-for-refugees/ Read the rest of this entry »