In this second post of a series, Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program Director Steve Connors provides context on the plight of Syrian refugees at the European border, setting the stage for the Coalition’s next Storytelling project, a series of vignettes featuring the work of SOS Children’s Villages, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), HelpAge International and Handicap International. (Photo is from one of the short films.)
Stranded In Transit
by Steve Connors
“We are at present largely no longer enforcing #Dublin procedures for Syrian citizens.”
This innocuous statement, tweeted out in the middle of an August night by Germany’s Office for Migration and Refugees, signaled an open border policy for Syrian refugees and helped set Europe on the path to a political upheaval unprecedented in the history of the European Union. Two years later, tens of thousands of displaced people remain stranded on the EU borders, unable to go forward and desperate not to go back.
Overwhelmed by refugees from the Syrian and Iraq wars, the Lebanese and Jordanian governments had recently closed their own borders. People fleeing the ongoing violence in their homeland began to head north and west in search of safety. First they arrived in Turkey, which was already sheltering close to three million Syrians. With news of the German government’s relaxation of its border policies, hundreds of thousands then made their way toward Europe - either by sea to Greece or through Bulgaria by land. None of the countries involved were in any way prepared for this mass influx of despairing humanity. None of the countries involved had the capacity - whether infrastructural or economic - to cope with the sheer volume of traffic that approached them.
They weren’t only Syrians. Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile communication, others already displaced by violence, politics or economics saw an unmissable opportunity. Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Iranians, sub-Saharan Africans and even a few Cubans, reset their course and headed for Europe's borders.
Almost all those on the move had Europe as their desired destination, and all the countries along the way were thought of - not only by the refugees but also by the host governments - as transit points along the way. The last of these transit countries has been Serbia.
In the summer of 2015 Serbia had barely recovered from the worst floods ever recorded, and now faced a flood of another kind. The first responders to the crisis were the Serbian people themselves. Being no strangers to the plight of refugees during the wars of secession that carved up the former state of Yugoslavia, people saw the desperate condition of the people arriving on their doorstep and volunteered in the thousands, loading up their cars with food and water and delivering it along the routes being traveled by the refugees. Meanwhile, the Serbian government quietly worked in the background to renovate abandoned motels, barracks, and government buildings to create habitable transit camps where refugees could be registered, and much needed services could be delivered to those on the move.
Initially, with border controls being barely recognized, people passed through quickly and easily. The non-Syrians, if they had arrived in the early weeks, were also able to pass through in the chaos, but as time went by and the Syrian wave slowed down, border controls were soon reinstated, and the transit camps began to take on a permanence for which they were not intended.
Bordered on three sides by EU countries - Bulgaria to the east, Hungary to the north, and Croatia to the west, Serbia had become a cul-de-sac. The welcome that had been extended to the Syrians was now seen to have been fulfilled, and the countries forming the European Union’s south-eastern border had become a bulwark against further passage. At these borders, refugees face hostility, and even brutality.
Still they come: Fatima (right) and her sister-in-law, Amina, newly arrived at a makeshift refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. With the official border crossings closed to Syrian refugees, the women, along with Zeinab’s husband and sons, traveled for three days across rough mountain tracks to reach safety. Amina, who was born with a club foot, was carried across the mountains by her brother and nephews.
Among the thousands still in the Serbian transit camps, perhaps the least fortunate are the Afghans. Refused refugee status because Afghanistan is deemed by the international community to be a safe country in which to live, they are stranded in Serbia waiting for their names to reach the top of a list of people allowed to cross into Europe. But even when that day arrives, most will likely be refused asylum and sent back across the border.
The sense of crisis may be fading from world headlines, but with thousands of adults and children desperately yearning for safety and an end to their journey, the mantle of responsibility for their care will continue to fall on the shoulders of international NGOs. Among those still committed to providing that care in Europe and the Middle East are the stalwart staff of the Hilton Prize Laureates.
Beginning in early October, the HPC Storytelling Program will be rolling out four short videos featuring the work of HPC Laureates in Lebanon and Serbia. The first of these vignettes will follow the experiences of Handicap International as they’ve innovated and adapted to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli. The second will focus on HelpAge International’s work with Lebanese partner organizations in Beirut, while the third will provide a glimpse into the daily work of IRCT member The Restart Center, which has been providing psychotherapy to patients living with trauma. The series concludes in Serbia, where teams from SOS Children’s Villages continue to provide for the needs of families as they transit through the country, seeking safety in Europe.
This article by Peter Laugharn, President and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, offers a perspective on the current migration crisis, with reference to Syrian refugees and those displaced by impacts of climate change. A shorter version of the article was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Many Prize Coalition members are working to face this crisis, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), who is mentioned in the article. Four other Coalition member organizations currently working in Lebanon and Serbia will be featured in the next Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program project: Handicap International, HelpAge International, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and SOS Children's Villages.
Mobilizing for a Century of Dislocation
By Peter Laugharn
Nearly 35,000 people flee war or persecution each day. These brave men, women, and children join a record 65 million others — nearly 1 percent of the globe’s population — who can’t return home. Not even World War II uprooted as many people.
Migration will only worsen in the years ahead. Political and economic disorder continue to reign supreme across much of the world — and climate change will soon make life untenable in many communities.
Humanitarian organizations, donors, host countries, and their citizens can mitigate the suffering caused by the coming century of dislocation — but only by cooperating on sustainable development initiatives.
The Syrian civil war is the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis. Already, 13.5 million Syrians — more than half the pre-war population — have fled their homes. And the flow of migrants shows no signs of abating.
In our lifetimes, rising sea levels and desertification will force tens of millions to leave their homelands. Widespread flooding, and the resulting economic strain, could displace 15 million people in Bangladesh alone by 2050.
The humanitarian community must better prepare for these unprecedented refugee flows. Its aid distribution system dates to the post-WWII era. Then, most refugees needed donations of food and clothing as they waited out conflicts in camps.
Nowadays, three in four refugees live outside a camp. Nearly nine in ten reside in low- and middle-income nations, often those bordering their home countries. Lebanon, for instance, has taken in 1.5 million Syrians, who now make up a quarter of the tiny Mediterranean nation’s population.
Host governments frequently view these arrivals with suspicion, worrying that they’ll destabilize fragile political systems and take jobs from citizens. So they box refugees out of the labor market and make them dependent on charity or black-market work. Those fleeing the hell of war and disaster find themselves in purgatory — unable to return home but barred from building new lives.
Unfortunately, the current administration is limiting the number of refugees being resettled in the United States and is proposing cuts to our foreign aid budget at a time when we need it most. Instead, our government is turning to other sources of funding, like philanthropy, to fill the gaps.
That’s not sustainable. It’s time for new approaches.
Consider Oxford’s Alexander Betts, who heads up the university’s Refugee Studies Centre. He urges host countries to allow refugees to work, pointing to Uganda as a model. Over 20 percent of refugees in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, “own a business that employs other people, and 40 percent of those employees are nationals of the host country.”
Host nations have a choice. They can either let refugees burden the economy — or contribute to it.
If refugees join the labor force, they’ll inevitably disperse into cities and towns. It’s logistically difficult for aid organizations to deliver food or clothing to these dispersed populations. That’s why David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee — which my organization previously honored with the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize — urges donors to simply give refugees cash.
Cash — which currently accounts for just 6 percent of all humanitarian aid — empowers refugees to buy exactly what they need. IRC studied 90,000 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon who received pre-loaded ATM cards. Families overwhelmingly spent the money on food, water, winter clothing, and shelter. And cash keeps kids in school — “households receiving cash assistance were half as likely to send their children out to work,” according to IRC.
Cash and work permits help refugees contribute to the economy and become partly self-sustaining.
But refugees can’t reach their full potential without an education. Two-thirds of refugee children aren’t in school. Yet less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid was devoted to education in 2016. My organization is working with international nongovernmental organizations, including Save the Children and Theirworld, to demonstrate how education initiatives for the most vulnerable young people are a smart investment for future peace and sustainability. Together, we’re supporting education programs for the children of Syrian refugees close to the epicenter of the crisis.
A long-term vision has been articulated in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Global Goals and 169 targets for improving lives around the world. By collecting and tracking more data on different aid projects, donors could better identify best practices — and make funding contingent on host nations adopting those practices. Donors could also preemptively identify areas where environmental migrants will likely flee — and work with local governments to make sure they’re able to handle large migration inflows.
Regular Americans can encourage this shift by making financial donations to organizations that implement modern approaches to humanitarian aid. They can also volunteer locally to support refugees who are beginning their new lives in the United States.
Conflict, a lack of economic opportunity, and climate change will make this a century of dislocation. By quickly adopting new approaches, aid agencies, donors, and host nations — including the United States — can turn the challenges of mass migration into opportunities.
(Photo by Jodi Hilton/IRC)
Reprinted with permission of The Hilton Foundation
The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Hilton Prize Coalition are pleased to host a special screening of the short documentary film, “On Shifting Ground.” Registration is free and open to the public, and the event will be streamed live online.
Monday, October 24th, 2016
11:00am-1:00pm (EDT) / 16:00-18:00pm (BST)
Overseas Development Institute HQ, 203 Blackfriars Rd, London; and streamed live online
How can storytelling transform the way community organizations work together? Join us for a webinar screening of the Hilton Prize Coalition short documentary, “On Shifting Ground,” featuring six prize-winning development organizations that mobilized in response to the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Stories told by staff on the ground before, during and after the earthquake offer lessons on disaster preparedness and community resiliency.
The screening will be followed by a discussion about how the process of filming created new avenues for collaboration between the participating organizations: BRAC, Handicap International, Heifer International, HelpAge International, Operation Smile and SOS Children’s Villages. Through the film as an example, learn how your organization can use storytelling as a tool to bring together a group of organizations working in a particular region or concentration.
Steve Connors, Director of the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program, will speak about his experiences connecting with the organizations' Nepal-based staff in February of 2016. Representatives from HelpAge USA, Handicap International and BRAC Nepal will also join the discussion, addressing the ways that storytelling can influence programming on the ground and inspire the next generation of leaders.
Click here for more information about the film and the Storytelling Program.
Through its Disaster Resiliency and Response Program, the Hilton Prize Coalition works to implement innovative, collaborative models for building resiliency in communities before a disaster strikes and administering efficient, collaborative approaches to disaster response. The Coalition has developed a series of disaster protocols which facilitate information sharing amongst member organizations responding on the ground. With increased knowledge of each other’s activities, Coalition members are better able to work in concert with one another.
When a disaster strikes, the Coalition activates its disaster protocols: member organizations on the ground are immediately identified and communications are sent to assess the safety of staff and beneficiaries. Updates are then shared on Coalition social media channels and highlights of Coalition members’ immediate relief efforts are collected and shared on a dedicated page of the Coalition website. The response may also include convening of information-sharing calls and coordination of resource-sharing among Coalition members in the countries or regions affected to assist with recovery.
Activation following the Ecuador Earthquake
For example, the Coalition disaster protocols were activated on Saturday, April 16, 2016, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the northwest coast of Ecuador. As of April 28, the death toll neared 600, with more than 16,000 injured. Communications were deployed among the four Coalition member organizations with active staff in Ecuador: Heifer International, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), Operation Smile and SOS Children’s Villages. Two additional Hilton Prize Laureates, Handicap International and Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, sent teams from neighboring countries to assist with immediate relief efforts.
For more information on the efforts of each organization, click on the links below.
Handicap International 2016 Ecuador Earthquake
Heifer International 2016 Ecuador Earthquake
MSF 2016 Ecuador Earthquake
Operation Smile 2016 Ecuador Earthquake
SOS Children’s Villages 2016 Ecuador Earthquake
Amul Thapa is a photojournalist with KathmanduToday.com. He is also an alumnus of Coalition member organization SOS Children’s Village Kavre in Nepal. Amul was a creative partner in the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program in Nepal, supporting Steve Connors, the Master Storyteller. He served as a photographer, travel liaison and assistant during filming. In this blog post, Amul shares his thoughts on relief programs in Nepal following the April 2015 earthquake and aftershocks, as well as the ways International NGOs can work together throughout the humanitarian sector.
Returning to Normal
by Amul Thapa
Almost a year has passed since the people of Nepal faced a tremendous earthquake. As a photojournalist, I observed the scenario of this great crisis and have been documenting our efforts as a people to return to normalcy. Though we have slowly been recovering psychologically, we are still under the same level of humanitarian crisis in terms of building shelters and other basic infrastructure necessities.
This January, I got a call from SOS Children’s Villages, the place where I spent my childhood. I was brought up at SOS Kavre, where I had been taken at the age of nine. Now I am living on my own, and this is all because of SOS. I was provided an opportunity to work with Steve Connors, a British filmmaker. My assignment was to assist him in depicting the stories of emergency response programs conducted by SOS and the other Hilton Prize Coalition member NGOs in the disaster-affected areas: BRAC, Handicap International, HelpAge International, Heifer International, and Operation Smile.
In the beginning, our team visited the representatives of the NGOs for the purpose of obtaining interviews, mainly focused on the areas of their support to the disaster-prone people. After concluding the first phase of interviews in the Kathmandu city offices, we set off to visit the various rural areas where the NGOs rendered their services. We learned how these services helped to release people from some of the terrible trauma caused by the sudden and unexpected tremors. The NGOs focused on bringing some stability back to the lives of the people by providing them various supports such as basic funds for sustainable livelihoods, establishing Child Care Spaces (CCSs) for children so they could be released from the daily pressures of dealing with the traumatic situation, and building temporary makeshift shelters.
I was continually impressed to learn how effectively the emergency relief campaigns were conducted by these NGOs. With the support of these NGOs, communities seemed to be able to return to their normal livelihood activities. When the schools and colleges in the rural areas were closed, the children continued their educational activities in the CCSs established by the NGOs.
All the service providers as well as the beneficiaries had a lot to tell. Throughout our journey to different places I was struck by the similarities between the stories told by the different people, and how relevant our experiences were to each other. Before getting involved in this project, I was unaware of the Hilton Prize Coalition member NGOs other than SOS. Through this project, I was introduced to five other NGOs and their areas of work, which seem to be strongly interrelated. After visiting the working areas and talking to representatives, I understood how the work and the people were interconnected. Though the nature of the work of these six organizations may vary, the target groups are similar and the objectives of the organizations are the same: to improve the living standards of the people and make them ready to cope with the situation. It seems that our efforts will become better and more effective as these organizations find more ways to work together to make optimum use of the available resources and to facilitate services to help their target groups return to normal.
(Amul, at right, connects with a young girl and her grandmother, who are living in a temporary shelter camp in Kathmandu. Photo taken by Steve Connors.)
Click here to learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program in Nepal
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. The earthquake killed over 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000. The member organizations of the Hilton Prize Coalition, an independent alliance of the 20 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, were among those who mobilized staff and resources in response to this devastating disaster.
Nine months later, six Coalition member organizations have come together through the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program in Nepal to share their experiences both during and immediately following the earthquake. Over the course of February 2016, photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Steve Connors traveled throughout Nepal to capture the experiences of these six organizations - BRAC, Handicap International, Heifer International, HelpAge, Operation Smile and SOS Children’s Villages - and share the stories about their staff and personnel, the individuals (and animals!) they serve, and most importantly, their communities as a whole.
Click here to read Part 1: Reminders
Click here to read Part 2: Bringing Together a Wonderful Crew
Click here to read Part 3: This Humanitarian Spirit
Click here to read Part 4: The Beauty of Our Journey
Click here to read Part 5: Returning to Normal
As the focus shifts from recovery to rehabilitation, the Hilton Prize Coalition aims to capture and communicate the invaluable voice of those on the ground both in times of stability and in times of disaster and to build a storytelling movement that amplifies the voice of the community. Be sure to check back here for updates from Nepal on the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program.
(Top - Bottom: Visit to disaster-affected area Bungamati, near Kathmandu District; Meeting with Dr. Shankar Rai of Operation Smile at Kirtipur Hospital. Photos taken by Rasmi Dangol of HelpAge Nepal)
To learn more about the work of Coalition member organizations in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, click on the links below.
BRAC 2015 Nepal Earthquake
Handicap International 2015 Nepal Earthquake
Heifer International 2015 Nepal Earthquake
HelpAge 2015 Nepal Earthquake
Operation Smile 2015 Nepal Earthquake
SOS Children’s Villages 2015 Nepal Earthquake