Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Changing the Discourse towards Solidarity

“Not a Refugee Crisis, but a Crisis of Solidarity”: 
Changing the Discourse towards Solidarity for Humanitarian Aid 

Valeria Vera, MIMS student

In May 2016, Ban Ki-moon authored a call-to-action titled, “Refugees and Migrants: A Crisis of Solidarity,”, urging world leaders and the U.N. to respond in solidarity to “one of the leading challenges of our time”: the large movements of forced migrants and refugees. Yet, in 2017, the number of displaced people climbed to 68.5 million, with 85% of those displaced hosted in countries in development, and 44 thousand people forcibly fleeing their countries daily -- 31 people per minute.

With the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, even the “leading” states are becoming complicit in human rights abuses. The EU is now funding Lybia for “migration-control,” -- to detain refugees headed to Europe in “nightmarish” conditions in which prison guards deny them medical and psychological attention, and torture them. United States authorities continue tear-gassing migrants in Mexico.

Human Rights Watch witnessed two women having what appeared to be seizures after one had attempted suicide at Tajoura detention center, Tripoli. © 2018 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

But referring to the fleeing migrants as a “crisis” is also a deep-rooted issue that needs to change: the crises are what the refugees are fleeing and our response to their movements.

In January 2019, to understand more about current humanitarian aid solidarity, 21 USF graduate students set out to Rome, Italy, for the Academic Global Immersion Program on Forced Migration and Refugee Service Management. We met humbling and passionate individuals, such as Father Fabio Baggio, Pope Francis’ Under Secretary to the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugee program, who drafted the 20 Action Points for the Global Compacts, urging the Catholic church to act in solidarity and cooperate, welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees; two African refugees, from Mali and Côte D’Ivoire, who create political audio tours of Rome through their perspectives, increasing awareness and solidarity with refugees; and large-scale organizations including Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières who were at the forefront of search and rescue missions, saving over 800,000 individuals from drowning between 2015 and 2018, until the EU forced them to cease operations.

When 85% of those displaced are in countries in development, Western and developed countries are failing in sharing sufficient responsibility to responding to crises they have likely created abroad. The organizations and individuals we met through AGI Rome evidence that solidarity humanitarian aid is possible -- not as a matter of charity, but as a matter of human rights. It is viable through strengthening intersectional and multi-disciplinary networks, adopting remedies such as counseling, rebellious legal aid, housing, medical care, safe spaces, and access to education and dignified employment, to ensure that forced migrants can regain a sense of hope and control over their lives -- especially those who are LGBTQ. Granting them legal protection is not enough because status alone cannot restore an individual’s lifelong suffering caused by severe childhood, sexual, domestic, or gendered trauma. Solidarity humanitarian aid means natives, politicians, clergy, mental health practitioners, educators, academics, physicians, authorities, and the police grant forced migrants their own voice and help them become their own advocates; accompany their journey to healing; grant them justice, freedom, dignity, and full access to their human rights.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Unheard Voices, Lost Humanity

Trapped: Inside Libya’s Detention Centres, UNICEF

Unheard Voices, Lost Humanity.
Angela Kan, MPA Student

“I escaped Somalia because I am gay, but now I’m trapped in Libya. At home they will shoot me because in Somalia, it is not allowed to be LGBT. In Libya they will also shoot me, because it’s like Somalia. Maybe it’s even worse...” If you continue to read Ali Ibrahim’s story, a first-hand account of the torture he experienced at the hands of people smugglers in Libya, you will learn that he attempted the perilous sea crossing from Libya to Italy twice, only to be intercepted and returned to Libyan detention centers. In detention he was unsafe to disclose his sexual orientation, even to UNHCR staff, based on a well-grounded fear of discrimination and violent recourse. Libya remains an extremely dangerous place for people of foreign origin, women, men and children alike, and especially dangerous for LGBT people. According to Amnesty International’s report entitled Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, “refugees and migrants [in Libya] are routinely exposed to horrendous abuses by Libyan officials, armed groups, and criminal gangs. They suffer torture and other ill treatment and arbitrary detention in appalling conditions, extortion, forced labor and killings – inflicted with total impunity.” Despite this, the EU and Italy continue to pursue cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard and other Libyan actors to intercept asylum seekers crossing by boat, with the goal of returning asylees to Libya and reducing the number of arrivals in Europe. What this is actually achieving, however, is it to ensure that women, children, and men are trapped in an endless cycle of abuse.

Ali Ibrahim’s story is a stark illustration of some of the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers around the world, issues I learned about in Rome, as a student of the USF’s Academic Global Immersion program on refugee service management. Throughout our time in Rome we reflected on the intersection of storytelling, culture, systems and power. From how storytelling can be a valuable tool to create empathy and spark action toward change. To how conservative efforts have successfully built a narrative around fear and exclusion; how the media has perpetuated these damaging narratives; and how this has impacted public opinion and ultimately public policy. Policies that stand not only in the way of human rights, but in the way of human dignity. The Ethical Journalism Network, a global campaign promoting good governance and ethical conduct in media, reported that journalists often fail to tell the full story and routinely fall into propaganda traps laid by politicians. Others have discussed the lack of preparedness among journalists to accurately and ethically report on the issues faced by refugees and asylees, including UNESCO’s article that suggests unprepared journalists often reduce refugees to one of two stories, a (male) threat or a group of victims, perpetuating a limited and divisive narrative.

Through first-hand stories like Ali Ibrahim’s, we vividly and immediately understand the intersection of vulnerabilities that exist – such as asylee and sexual minority – and how these vulnerabilities are exacerbated by policies such as the deal between Italy and Libya. Hearing directly from refugees can help emphasize the urgency in the work without fueling a sensational “crisis” narrative that perpetuates fear and an increasingly conservative approach. While it is important for journalists to understand that media coverage shapes refugees’ daily experiences, at an individual level, you and I must seek and support the voices of refugees and asylees to build compassion and understanding, and perpetuate change. I believe we can challenge ourselves and our circles of community to dig deeper, learn more, and listen better. After all, it is our shared humanity and the voices of the most vulnerable, that are at grave risk.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Solution to Mass Migration

Solution to Mass Migration:
More NGOs and governments collaboration 
Jairo Javier Medina, MNA student

Wars and political problems often trigger mass migration, but it is also a forced decision made by individuals to leave their home countries due to economic issues. These economic problems are the root of even more complex issues that plague nations. Foreign aid alone can't solve the financial problems of a country either, and private investments can be too little to help create jobs.

While the solution for mass migration is finding solutions for wars and political problems, often these situations are unavoidable, and can’t be easily be solved. Military action is costly and exacerbates the problem, leading to even more mass migration and loss of lives. The best solution is to have nations to be ready to receive the given number of refugees by supporting various NGOs present in the country that focuses on the integration of migrants in society. The presence of these NGOs can be encouraged by government regulations that can ease up their formations and private fundraising that might not even cost the government anything to support.

NGOs exist for the primary reason to help society solve social problems that it is too expensive for the government to address. Education and support are the keys to the formation of these organizations, the more, the better. Closing borders to prevent further incursions of migrants is not a solution. People will always find ways to bypass security into the country. The number of migrants or refugees can increase in numbers and can be easy prey for organized crime and forced labor.

In the United States, there have been cases of migrants targeted by unscrupulous business owners and human traffickers keeping a large group of migrants’ laborers by force. The problem is mainly invisible, and without the help of NGOs, it is often not reported. Human trafficking is a menace to society and the principles of any nation. Therefore, mass migration is a problem that can't be ignored by governments, but by passing regulations that encourages existing NGOs to tackle the problem, by private individuals and corporations. The solution is to educate and integrate people that are disadvantaged forming future productive members of society, while they are awaiting their asylum case.

Solutions to mass migrations can be solved if governments work together with private institutions and non-profit organizations. If governments can set aside politics and let NGOs work the answer can be less expensive and efficient to solve.


1) Panorama, G. (2017, June 9). We stand with refugees. Retrieved January 23, 2019, from
2) Forced Labor and Migrant Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2019, from
3) Forced Labor and Migrant Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2019, from

Acceptance After Arrival 

Acceptance After Arrival: 
Building Bridges Through Reconciliation Efforts For Refugees
Kelley Devanathan, MBA student

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and had to rush out of your home? You have to go so fast that you can't even grab your shoes, money, or most precious momento? Well, a few years ago, my house burned down and my family lost everything. We didn't have any material thing left except for the clothes we were wearing. Luckily, we had local family support and bank accounts so we would have the opportunity to rebuild our lives. For refugees that are forced to migrate to new territory, they are often not able to share the same feelings of support in a difficult time. They also may travel miles and miles being smashed in a boat, smothered in a trailer truck, smuggled by violent people, or matters that are so much worse that we can't even imagine the trek. If refugees are fortunate enough to be relocated in a host country with all of their family, unfortunately, the challenges are not over for them. Reconciliation efforts between refugees and host communities proves to be an important consideration through the refugee relocation process.

Through the Jesuit University of San Francisco AGI Immersion trip in Rome, I had the opportunity to learn more about the services provided by The Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS). In their vision to provide protection, opportunity, and participation for refugees, the JRS has prioritized reconciliation efforts as a pillar for the strategic framework for the 2019 year (1). I had not quite fully grasped the importance, nor the need, for the reconciliation efforts until I understood more about geographical locations on the refugee camps and the educational services that may be offered within those camps. Many refugee camps are often settled in areas with little development and available resources. Therefore, what are the considerations to be made for the host community when inside the refugee camps, people are receiving education, shelter support, and technical trade skills?

The JRS implements reconciliation efforts between refugees and host communities by building bridges through projects and presence (2). Refugees face a range of hostility along their journeys to safety, including but not limited to, political movements that stem from economic and cultural anxieties, climates with emerging xenophobia, as well as policies demonstrate a shift from solidarity and human rights.

It is not solely up to the JRS and the refugees to solve the problems of acclimation, integration, and reconciliation with the new host community. Campaigns such as the JRS video, I Get You, were produced in order to promote community building initiatives that have the power to break down stereotypes and combats xenophobia and racism (3). I believe that through these efforts to understand each other's journey, we gain perspective and understanding. I encourage you to try on the shoes of a person that has walked hundreds of miles, away from everything they called home, in pursuit of a safe life free from persecution. This perspective may not stop the reasons that refugees flee their home, but it may provide support to the host communities on how to respond in a peaceful manner that promotes social cohesion.

Teacher leads the students in conflict resolution in Kajokeji, South Sudan. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

Refugees and LGBT

Scars left from a homophobic assault that left this man near death and his boyfriend dead. 

When Rocks in your Shoes Follow You From Home: 
LGBT+ Refugees, Their Continued Experience 
of LGBT-Focused Discrimination, and One Way We Can Help
Sam Nelsen, MNA student

A recent class in Rome led me to explore the lives of LGBT+ refugees, lives already challenging and which are made more dangerous by being LGBT+ - even when reaching “safe” host countries: 72 countries criminalize same-sex relationships, death penalty follows in eight, and in many others cultural norms make life extremely dangerous. Donating to nonprofits/NGOs (including ORAM) that strive to support LGBT+ refugees throughout the process is one of the main tangible things individuals can do to help this exceptionally vulnerable minority population.

As a gay, white, middle-class, cis male who grew up in a stable two-parent household in a progressive region, I come from a place of significant privilege. I never wondered where my next meal would come from. My family and I never faced risk of life or limb due to war, beliefs, or regional instability. Although I had my own struggles with coming to terms with being gay, I never experienced physical violence because of my sexuality, never faced overtly-threatening religious abuse or spiritual terrorism by my pastors or fellow congregants, and was never threatened by or experienced sexual assault or rape.

The same can’t be said of many LGBT+ refugees, who may not only be fleeing their home country due to something in the common narrative (war, famine, natural disaster, political or social persecution, etc.), but also due to them being LGBT+. The challenging factor is that those resident religious or cultural beliefs move with the refugees as the region’s populations shift: those fleeing for their lives from one country to another country’s camp (or rural area) may face exactly the same hatred, ignorance, and violence.

Of the 68.5 million forced-displaced people around the world, 40 million live in their home country. Developing countries are home to 85% of the world’s refugees, with the most dangerous countries for LGBT+ people being clustered around the Middle East, southern and east Africa, and south Asia; four fifths of refugees escape from home to next door countries. In essence, a vast number of refugees remain in regions, or remain surrounded by fellow refugees, with negative environments. Although not specific to the LGBT+ experience, one of our speakers had gone through a harrowing back-and-forth between her home and a neighboring country until she was finally able to escape to Italy; other organizations described the complexity and stress of the regular process.

Many LGBT+ refugees also fear revealing their sexuality or gender identity when seeking help due to risk to themselves or to their loved ones, making it difficult to meet the requests of officials trying to verify refugee status (and difficult for nonprofits to identify the LGBT+ refugees in order to offer assistance). Personal beliefs or ignorance, if not policies, on the part of officials processing refugees’ paperwork may further complicate or endanger the process. Multiple organizations (including ORAM) are striving to fill these gaps, assist LGBT+ refugees, and/or assist in providing education for staff. We need to fund them too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

At-Risk Victims of Trafficking

At-Risk Victims of Trafficking: Central American migrant women and response of the International Organization for Migration in Mexico
Esmeralda Cardona, MIMS Student

The trafficking of persons or as it is often referred to as “modern-day slavery” is a global and social phenomenon that generates profit for organized crime. According to Amnesty International, six out of ten migrant women are sexually assaulted when in transit through Mexico. This, in fact, is concerning because it places women and young girls in vulnerable situations to being trafficked. A 2015 report from Doctors without Borders surveyed 467 migrants and refugees in Mexico- the findings included the reasons migrant left their home country and the violence they experienced along their journey. The report stated, “nearly one-third of the women surveyed had been sexually abused during their journey [and] perpetrators of violence included members of gangs and other criminal organizations, as well as members of the Mexican security forces responsible for their protection.” Therefore, migrant women in transit through Mexico are exposed to trafficking and experience different forms of violence along their journey. It is important to understand that women and children- not only those who migrate from Central America but also those who are forcibly displaced around the world- are among the most vulnerable to experience violence and trafficking.

Participating in the AGI- Rome immersion program gave me the opportunity to learn more in-depth on different organizations that are working with migrants and refugees in Italy and overall learn about migration in Europe. We were able to visit Caritas Roma, which is an organization that through the core values of the Catholic Church, works with people who are the most disadvantaged and the community. This organization also works in partnership with other organizations such as the Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings to share and identify preventative strategies to combat trafficking.

Similarly, to the organization Caritas Roma, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Mexico collaborates with different organizational sectors in training and awareness at both the local and federal level. The training and workshops are offered to government representatives and civil society and through these courses, IOM mainly focuses on identifying and assisting victims. This IOM project “Fight against Trafficking in Persons, Gender, and Migrant Children,” is crucial at this moment because of the high numbers of Central Americans who are part of the migrant caravan and are trying to seek asylum in the U.S. Their experience and journey through this process of seeking asylum also increases the danger of becoming potential victims of trafficking. Furthermore, it is fundamental for organizations to work together to inform and prevent human trafficking as well as provide services for victims and survivors.

Refugees and Human Rights

Source URL

If Refugees are a Humanitarian Crisis, Why Aren't Refugee Rights Human Rights?

Nancy Giesel, MIMS student 

The intersection of human rights and the migrant is one that is deep and complex, especially when speaking of “forced migrants” or refugees. With the rising focus on refugee issues in modern times, it is essential to know the human rights context for these issues and the rights that refugees have when fleeing their home countries. Seeking asylum is a human right, but it is not always recognized as such. To understand human rights and how they affect refugees in the modern age, it is crucial to examine the various human rights documents that deal with the rights of refugees and use those documents to place these rights in a theoretical framework.

According to the natural rights theory, there are certain inalienable rights that are guaranteed to people solely because they are human. This category clearly includes migrants. These rights exist on two levels: moral and legal. This means that human rights exist in the moral sense, in that they should be guaranteed to all persons and then the legal framework is constructed to protect these moral human rights. Human rights also have a non-discriminatory nature. This means that they are applied to people equally, regardless of nationality or background. This is not always the case, because of the perceived risk of accepting refugees and the power dynamics between nation-states. According to Alexander Betts, "The challenge, though, is that typically the taking in of refugees is perceived by states as imposing economic, social, and political costs. […] That is one of the reasons international refugee law exists: to create a set of norms that obligates governments to a reciprocal commitment to support refugees" (Betts, 366).

After World War II, two separate organizations were created to protect human rights and refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Human Rights Council. The two organizations overlap in the sense that refugees are protected by human rights in many ways. In fact, human rights are prevalent in many levels of the refugee process. It is often human rights violations that act as the so-called “push” factor for many refugees, so it is imperative to protect these rights in the receiving country.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a groundbreaking document that listed the rights of man in a clear and concise manner. Created in 1948, it followed the vow to never let the types of atrocities that occurred during World War II to happen again. In Article 14 (1), the document referencing the need to protect people fleeing persecution in their home country, stating, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” (UDHR). This is monumental because it states that refugees have a right to asylum and to be free from persecution in their home country, and puts said responsibility on the international community. The downfall of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that it cannot be enforced on an international scale. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each nation-state to do their part in “burden-sharing” the needs of refugees. When the rights of refugees are threatened, human rights are threatened. It is the moral and legal obligation of the international community to protect these vulnerable populations and their rights.

Healthcare Uncertainty for Refugees

Uncertainty: Healthcare for Refugees and the Improvements We Need to Ensure Access 

Clark Campagna, MPA Candidate 

The AGI Rome on forced migration and refugees focuses on non-profit services supporting refugees. Over the course of the week long program, one theme that we explored was the provision of health care services. For instance, we met with Doctors Without Borders, who provide specialized health and mental care services to survivors of torture and clinical care to clients at three operation centers throughout Italy.

Upon my return home, I was inspired to learn more about the provision of health care to refugees in the United States. U.S. government policies provide health care to refugees when they first arrive in the country. When refugees arrive in the United States, the Department of State requires refugees receive “core resettlement services” for 30 to 90 days. These services include “a health assessment, referrals to specialty and mental health care, and ideally, linking refugees to a medical home” (McNeely and Morland, 2016). Refugees receive health care funding through Medicaid for 3 months when they arrive in the United States. After this time expires, refugees may be eligible to receive health care funding through state run programs. (Philbrick, Wicks, Harris,& Van Vooren, 2017). Refugees who do not qualify for such programs, can receive care through the Office of Refugee Resettlement for up to 8 months after their arrival in the United States. When the eight months expire, refugees must secure care on their own (McNeely and Morland, 2016).

While the policies above provide health care for a limited time, structural barriers exist in refugee’s access to care (Philbrick, Wicks, Harris, & Van Vooren, 2017). For instance, refugees experience lag time in accessing Medicare upon arrival in the United States. Language and cultural barriers limit health care access and usage (Philbrick, Wicks, Harris, & Van Vooren, 2017). Kaiser Health News notes that it can be difficult to find a sufficient number of medical interpreters who can support the refugee community. Language also has an effect on mental health services. The Conversation reports that mental health providers may not speak the same language as the refugee community they hope to serve. Additionally, refugees are “often stymied by the paperwork and bureaucracy so unlike what they had back home” (Kaiser Health News, 2018). Women face barriers in accessing reproductive health services including abortions. Just 17 state Medicaid programs provide financial support to women seeking abortions.

The United States must develop policies and procedures to ensure refugees have access to health care. The policies elaborated above provide health care to refugees during their first 6 to 8 months in the United States, but more needs to be done to ensure timely connection to Medicaid and state run programs. Additionally, the United States needs to address inequities in access caused by language and cultural barriers. Innovative and creative solutions exist. Model Media examined a trauma treatment center in Michigan that utilized dance and yoga to help children address their anxiety. By examining and improving our health care for refugees, we ensure the long term health of the newest members of our communities.