Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In honor of World Refugee Day on  June 20, this week’s wrap-up includes articles about how technology is helping to address the crisis, climate refugees in Somalia, and education access for refugee children.

The current humanitarian crisis is the largest since World War II. UUSC is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of refugees. Learn more about our partner organizations working in Croatia to provide humanitarian aid for and protect the rights of refugees.

Refugee hackathons and 3D printing: apps for the world’s displaced people, Tazeen Dhunna Ahmad, The Guardian, June 20, 2017

Although humanitarian aid provides refugees access to the essentials, like food, clothing, and shelter, refugees also need access to opportunities to improve their situation. This is where technology comes in and has helped “to transform conditions and empower more than 22 million refugees worldwide.”

The majority of refugees have mobile phones, which has made travel and global communication easier. However, it’s tech initiatives, like the ones Ahmad highlights in this article, that are really helping to create education and employment opportunities for refugees. Ahmad shares the story of, Admir Masic, a former refugee who is now an associate professor at MIT, who recently launched a global hub, Refugee ACTion Hub (ReACT), to provide refugees with education. 3Dmena, another tech partnership, is providing refugees with access to prosthetic limbs, “custom-built and cheaper” due to advances in 3D printing technology.

Hackathons and other tech-centric competitions provide refugees with an innovative platform to solve the problems their communities face and to find job opportunities – from solving water leakages on camps to employing refugees to take on a backlogged recycling system.

It’s rare to find stories about refugees that aren’t grim. Technology and the opportunities it brings for human creativity and collaboration can change the conversation.

Amid Drought, Somali Pastoralists Watch Their ‘Sources of Life’ Perish, Samuel Hall Research Team & Ashley Hamer, News Deeply, June 20, 2017

The number of climate refugees is growing, and is set to grow at a higher rate as the impacts of global warming accelerate. Despite this, efforts to address climate forced displacement have been lacking and even avoided, meaning climate refugees “remain on the fringes of humanitarian support.”

Due to drought in the Horn of Africa, over 739,000 people have been forced to leave Somalia since November. Most are pastoralists who have watched their livestock die of starvation and dehydration and who have no other means of livelihood. Climate forced displacement can have, and already has had, a global ripple effect of economic disparity and violence, namely because of the damage that displacement does to families and communities. Addressing the needs of climate refugees will not only save hundreds of thousands of lives now, but can curb the more widespread conflicts that will likely come in the future.

UUSC has highlighted climate refugees as a marginalized group who are not receiving the help they need, even within the sphere of humanitarian aid providers. This is why our Environmental Justice portfolio is focusing its resources on communities at high risk of climate forced displacement.

What we owe refugee children, Elias Bou Saab, Gulf Times, June 22, 2017

Fifty-one percent of the world’s refugees are children, and without access to education, there are concerns that this group will be a “lost generation” growing up without the skills needed to rebuild their communities or to thrive. Saab, former Lebanese education minister, points out the benefits education access has for children: “Education is also a vital instrument for combating violent extremism, which can capture the minds of young people with no hope for the future. And school attendance is essential for children’s welfare, because it gives them access to basic healthcare services and protects them from the horrors of child labour and prostitution.”

World leaders have recognized the need to educate refugee children, but efforts on the part of host countries to provide education haven’t been enough. Education access has been delayed by poor organization, violence, and strained resources. Saab signifies how important it is that governments and organizations meet their monetary pledges – which many have not – but also calls on them to step up their funding for programs that make remote and online education possible. No child should grow up without an education. Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to learn more.

On the Ground in Greece

Delivering Aid with Dignity to Refugees in Europe

His name was Jawed, and he was screaming in pain when Latifa Woodhouse met him and his mother. His hands were swollen, bleeding, severely frostbitten. And he was just one of the thousands of refugees arriving on the shores of Lesbos, Greece, every day. Latifa and her husband, Colin — both longtime and deeply committed UUSC supporters and volunteers — met the family while volunteering for a week at Camp Moria in Lesbos, where UUSC is partnering with PRAKSIS, a Greek civil society organization, to support refugees fleeing their homes and seeking safety in Europe.

PRAKSIS: UUSC’s partner

Thanks to generous supporters who have donated almost $630,000 to the UUSC-UUA Refugee Crisis Fund, UUSC has established strategic partnerships with grassroots groups across the migration route in Europe. UUSC started working with PRAKSIS (which, translated from Greek, stands for Programs for Development of Social Support and Medical Cooperation) in December to deliver vital aid to refugees — from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — who are arriving daily in Greece from Turkey.

Founded in 2004, PRAKSIS provides humanitarian aid in the form of medical care, legal assistance, social welfare, and psychological and financial support to socially vulnerable groups in need. To serve the vast influx of Syrian refugees — who have faced a dangerous journey across the sea, brutal weather and travel conditions, and exploitation by traffickers — UUSC teamed up with PRAKSIS to facilitate transportation of refugees from their arrival on shore to the refugee camps 40 kilometers uphill. UUSC’s support also enables the distribution of winterization kits for 536 babies, to help ensure they stay warm and healthy during the cold winter months.

When the Woodhouses — who served for 10 years as UUSC volunteer regional coordinators and presently are UUSC volunteer local representatives at the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock — began their humanitarian mission in Greece, they met PRAKSIS staff members by chance: walking through the camp, Latifa saw people wearing PRAKSIS jackets, introduced herself, and made the connection with Youta, a social worker, and Eva, and a teacher, who mostly work with Syrian refugee children at and around the U.N. compound at Camp Moria.

Navigating the refugee journey

When Latifa met Jawed and his mother, the mother was relieved to hear a familiar language — Pashto, her own. With Latifa’s help translating and navigating the unfamiliar camp, Jawed received initial treatment and pain relief at a health clinic and his family was set up in Camp Pikpa — for vulnerable children, disabled refugees, and those recovering from wounds, sickness, and the loss of loved ones. Not only that, Jawed’s mother was assured that a surgeon would provide necessary care for Jawed’s hands.

During their time together, the mother told Latifa the family’s story: They were an extended family of 22, traveling from Kunduz, Afghanistan, where they feared for their lives. They used all their money to pay a smuggler to get them to Greece; the trip to Turkey, over mountain ridges, took 22 hours, in brutal cold. Their elderly grandmother died on the trip. Jawed lost a glove and suffered severe injuries to his hands, and the whole family suffered frostbite. In Turkey, they were turned away from a doctor for lack of funds and insurance. They were directed by a smuggler to take a small rubber boat — that was over capacity — across the Aegean Sea to Greece. They had never seen water like that. They were one of the lucky families that made it to the shore of Lesbos.

That is the story of just one family among millions. The Woodhouses heard heartbreaking story after heartbreaking story. But they were struck by the strength and resilience they witnessed. “They are really amazing, strong people with a great hope for the future,” reflects Latifa.

The Woodhouses’ mission

“The refugee issue is very close to both of our hearts,” explains Latifa, the daughter of Afghan refugees herself. The Woodhouses saw the refugee situation unfolding — and worsening — in the Middle East and Europe and felt they must get involved. They raised money amongst friends, family, and community, including urging their congregation, the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, to contribute $100,000 to UUSC’s refugee relief efforts.

With the funds they personally raised, Latifa, Colin, and their daughter Alexandra traveled to Lesbos in January, and they were joined by Diane Lombardy, a pediatrician. At Camp Moria, a processing center surrounded by tents hosting refugees going through registration, they got to work doing the following and more:

  • Helping provide and distribute aid, like clothing, firewood, and food
  • Creating vital camp infrastructure like walkways and irrigation, and making the medical tent and other areas accessible to wheelchairs
  • Translating and navigating language barriers (Latifa is fluent in Farsi and Pashto, and can converse in Arabic and Urdu)
  • Providing crowd control
  • Sharing information and connecting people to services

The Woodhouses worked with and alongside volunteers from around the world and with the refugees themselves, from sunrise to well past sunset. “During the past four days we have gone to the shore at night and welcomed the boats that have arrived in the dark. There is truly so much one can do,” Latifa wrote from the field. “Especially with my language ability, I have been everywhere. At the health clinics to translate for doctors. At clothing facilities to make sure every one is fitted properly. At the information booth to guide them to buy their tickets for Athens and how to register as they arrive from Turkey. It goes on and on. I have become everyone’s aunt and sister.”

“We must be involved”

The Woodhouses embody the values that UUSC puts into action every day. Martha and Waitstill Sharp, two of UUSC’s founders, carried out vital missions in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, rescuing Jews, dissidents, and refugee children at great personal sacrifice. “There’s no better organization to take this work on than UUSC, given its history and legacy,” says Colin. “UUSC and the story of the Sharps inspired us. The similarities are incredible — this refugee crisis is global and it’s the worst since World War II.  We must be involved.”

With a shifting situation that changes daily, working with local grassroots groups that know the realities on the ground is essential. Europe has been further tightening its borders and shutting its doors to the refugees arriving on its threshold. Christen Dobson, program director of research and policy at the International Human Rights Funders Group, recently wrote: “Moria, the reception centre where asylum seekers were registered and received assistance and from which they were able to freely depart, has become a detention facility.”

The Woodhouses reported to their personal donors: “Refugees continue to arrive in Les[b]os every day, but now are regarded as criminals, locked up, and told they will be sent back to Turkey or their country of origin. For many, this is essentially a death sentence. . . . How can we force people to return to communities in ruin and homes in rubble? How can we send them back into the line of gunfire, brutality, and war? We cannot. We will, however, continue our efforts to bring compassion, love, comfort, and justice to the people who deserve no less.”

Indeed, this is why UUSC is committed to providing emergency aid, ensuring access to legal help and resettlement support, and advocating for necessary changes in policy and public perception of the refugees attempting to find safety and build new lives in Europe. Colin reflected on their time in Lesbos: “All we did was offer a little humanity.” Everyone deserves that. Asylum seekers are not criminals. And UUSC will continue to deliver aid with dignity to refugees throughout the Middle East and Europe.

What you can do

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1.Time to Turn Olive Garden’s Good Food Rhetoric into Reality,” by Kari Hamerschlag and Hannah Hafter, Food Tank

“Fixing our broken food system won’t work if we only focus on one part of the problem. By adopting the following principles Darden can turn its citizenship ideals into meaningful action for customers, communities, farmers, the environment and thousands of Darden restaurant employees.”

This piece, coauthored by UUSC’s own Senior Program Leader for Activism Hannah Hafter, outlines the case for Olive Garden — and its parent company, Darden Restaurants — to adopt Good Food Principles. These principles call for fair working conditions, environmental sustainability, more humane treatment of animals, support for local economies, and better health and nutrition. UUSC is part of a robust coalition that is pressing the restaurant giant toward ethical practices through the Good Food Now! campaign. Join us! Sign the petition and share with your friends, family, and networks today.

2.The Syrian Refugees and Us,” by Leon Wieseltier, via Emerson Collective

“We recognize that their appeal for our assistance is made not only on the basis of sentiments but also on the basis of rights. They have been dispossessed of many things, but not of their human rights. Nobody — not Assad, not ISIS, not Putin, not Khameini, not the fascists of Europe — can deprive them of their humanity. Indeed, in their courage, and in their devotion to their children, and in their dream of democracy, they are giving us all lessons in humanity.”

This moving reflection from the son of Holocaust survivors draws heartfelt parallels between the refugee crisis of World War II and today’s refugee crisis. If you have felt desensitized from ongoing news coverage, read this and allow it to sink into your consciousness. It will breathe new life into your commitment to showing up and taking action to support Syrian refugees.

3.Sajad, 15 — safe in Austria,” by UNICEF

“In 2015, more than 1 million people crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe. One in four of them was a child. Children on the move have specific vulnerabilities and protection needs, and their journeys — by sea or over land — pose significant risks for them and their families, as well as challenges for European countries where people are on the move and at final destinations.”

This powerful photo essay from UNICEF shares the story of Sajad, a young refugee living with disabilities whose family survived the harrowing trip from Iraq to Austria. It highlights the added difficulties that children and people with disabilities face when seeking safety and refuge in the midst of humanitarian crises. That’s why UUSC works with grassroots groups on the ground who are especially situated to meet the needs of people who are too often left out or overlooked by relief efforts.

Rights Reading

Growing movements

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1.How can we fight Islamophobia in America?” by Erik K. Ward, Ford Foundation

“It’s clear that there has been a troubling rise in xenophobic political rhetoric, hate speech, and brazen incidents of violence against American Muslim, South Asian, and Arab communities in the United States. In the months following the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis, hate crimes against American Muslims tripled.”

This piece from the Ford Foundation’s program officer for gender, racial, and ethnic justice features highlights from “Confronting Islamophobia in America Today.” This conversation the foundation cohosted brought together leaders from the nonprofit, government, social service, and philanthropic sectors to discuss strategies to counter increased xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric and behavior. Participants shared their views on how to decrease such rhetoric and behavior, bolster intersectional responses, and support Muslim communities.

UUSC has a long history of fostering interfaith and intercultural understanding (at one time through the Building Bridges program) and is dedicated to continuing that, especially as some in the United States use the global refugee crisis to push forward bigoted views and policies. In April, look out for UUSC’s Refugee Support and Advocacy Tool Kit, which includes a section on ways you can counter Islamophobia. Contact Hannah Hafter, UUSC’s senior program leader for activism, at hhafter @ uusc.org if you would like to get on the distribution list for the tool kit.

2.U.S. top court rules against Tyson Foods in class action case,” by Lawrence Hurley, Reuters

“Workers at the meat-processing facility, which employs around 1,300 people, sued in 2007, claiming they were entitled to overtime pay and damages because they were not paid for time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment and walking to work stations.”

UUSC was happy to hear that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of workers yesterday in the Tyson v. Bouaphakeo case. The court ruled against Tyson, who was objecting to the use of statistics to determine liability in class action lawsuits. The case in particular involved workers from a Tyson plant in Iowa who were suing after not being paid for time they clearly worked.

Tyson has a bad track record in terms of treating its workers with respect. Arkansas poultry workers routinely face wage theft, poor safety conditions, discrimination, and harassment, according to a troubling report from UUSC partner the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center that was released in conjunction with Tyson Foods’ shareholder meeting in Springdale, Ark. Learn more about the challenges poultry workers face, tell your friends and family, and take action.

3. “Water Affordability Is A New Civil Rights Movement in the United States,” by Brett Walton, Circle of Blue

“‘Where water infrastructure is crumbling are the places without the ability to absorb the cost increases,’ Stephen Gasteyer, a Michigan State University sociologist who studies water access, told Circle of Blue. ‘The people who were left in these cities are predominantly minorities. Where you see things falling apart are predominantly minority communities.’”

Circle of Blue is a hub for “relevant, reliable, and actionable on-the-ground information about the world’s resource crises.” Highlighting the work and voices of UUSC’s partners and our own Patricia Jones, this article outlines the growing movement for water affordability. Families across the United States —most in low-income communities of color — are being denied their human right to water because of soaring water rates. UUSC has been working with groups throughout the country — including the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization — on this issue and will be releasing a series of reports in the coming months to help move the human right to water forward.

Rights Reading

Standing Up for What’s Right

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “Flint Families Come to Washington to Demand Answers and Solutions from Rick Snyder,” by Kenneth Quinnell, AFL-CIO

“Duell is a single parent. She experienced bleeding from the ears following the water exposure and struggles to afford the city’s extremely high water bills. Her son, David, is 10.”

That’s the story of just one family in Flint who has been affected by the water crisis there. This article details how five Flint families journeyed to Washington, D.C., with the AFL-CIO and Flint Rising to deliver a strong message to their elected officials that this crisis is unacceptable.

Besides the horrific health consequences of Flint’s contaminated water, of particular note is the fact that this single mother struggles to pay her water bill. UUSC has been working on the issue of water affordability with partners on the ground in Michigan — and throughout the country — for several years and will soon be releasing a series of reports and recommendations to help continue pushing forward advocacy for commensense solutions that ensure people’s human right to water. No family should have to choose between putting food on their table and paying their water bill.

2. “Farmworkers, Consumers Declare National Boycott of Wendy’s,” by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

“Wendy’s has chosen public relations over human rights protections: Instead of joining the Fair Food Program and its widely-acclaimed, uniquely successful worker-driven model of social responsibility, Wendy’s released a new supplier code of conduct this past January that contains no effective mechanisms for worker participation or enforcement. Wendy’s new code represents the very worst of the traditional corporate approach to social responsibility driven by public relations concerns rather than the verifiable protection of human rights.”

In case you missed it, the CIW, its partners (including us!), and consumers have declared a national boycott of the fast-food chain Wendy’s! Check out the details in this announcement of the boycott, and then take a stand with farmworkers by sign on to the boycott!

For decades, Florida tomato pickers’ lives were threadbare and harsh: low pay, threats of violence, withheld wages, rat-infested camps, and worse. While these conditions continue in some places, farmworkers in Florida united with growers and major tomato purchasers to end decades of farm labor abuse. The Fair Food Program, launched by the CIW in Florida, is a groundbreaking social responsibility program that’s been recognized by the United Nations and the White House for bringing together workers, growers, and corporations. It’s helped bring a new day of fair wages and treatment for farmworkers throughout the country. And Wendy’s is the only major fast-food chain that has refused to sign on to the Fair Food Program. Philip Hamilton, UUSC’s associate for economic justice, was on the ground in New York City helping begin the boycott, and we’ve been rallying supporters to the cause. Please join us!

3. “10 Insights About the Syrian Refugee Crisis Five Years On,” by Amin Awad, UN Refugee Agency

“How we choose to respond to the current crisis will define the future of international protection and humanitarian response. . . . Finally, when we look back on history, we know that closed borders and closed minds have never led to progress or innovation, or changed this planet for the better.”

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues, Amin Awad, the U.N. regional refugee coordinator for the Syria and Iraq situations, addresses some common questions that he hears with a series of insights he’s gathered during the crisis. The vast extent of the crisis, its protracted nature, and the dire needs of the millions of refugees mean that there is so much that still needs to be done to support these refugees in seeking safety. With more than $610,000 in generous support raised for the UUSC-UUA Refugee Crisis Fund, UUSC is doing its part across the migration route by providing emergency aid, legal access, resettlement assistance, and policy advocacy.

Rights Reading

International Women’s Day Edition

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “Nurse Freshta Poupal: ‘I had women throwing their babies at me to safety,’” by Fariba Nawa, Women in the World/New York Times

“‘As a critical care physician, I’m accustomed to seeing traumatic things, but this situation is different,’ Hakimi said. ‘Being a refugee myself and seeing my own people with so much hope in their eyes crushed and devastated is something I can’t explain. It’s not all despair, but we can’t let this problem slide by and assume it will disappear. I think it will get worse before it will get better.’”

This article details how dozens of Afghan Americans, many of them women who were once refugees themselves, are working to help Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugees arriving in droves on the Greek island of Lesbos. This is what solidarity looks like, and we’re truly moved by the work these volunteers are doing to support refugees in Greece. UUSC is also working in Lesbos, partnering with PRAKSIS (which, translated from Greek, stands for Programs for Development of Social Support and Medical Cooperation) to deliver much-needed support — including transportation and winterization kits for babies — to arriving refugees.

2. “Empowering Women Refugees,” by UNHCR (the U.N. Refugee Agency) Staff, UNHCR Tracks 

“Her family fled their home in Syria after violence engulfed their neighbourhood. They tried to make a life closer to the border with Jordan, but were driven to flee again after barrel bombs hit their home.”

This striking photo essay highlights the strength and resilience of women who have been forced from their homes, have sought safety elsewhere, and are slowly building new lives. Women face particular challenges as refugees — whether it’s increased risk of sexual violence and trafficking or fewer educational and job opportunities. That’s why in its work with partners throughout the world, including with refugees in the Europe and the Middle East, UUSC strategically attends to women’s rights and needs.

3. “Women Are The Ones Fighting The Tough Environmental Battles Around The World,” by Marlene Cimons, ThinkProgress

“But these three represent thousands of other women globally who are engaged in local battles against climate change and other environmental conflicts, often at significant personal risk and with great courage. These women understand that the struggle for environmental justice also is a fight for gender equality, land rights, economic and cultural rights, and food security, among other things, and that local activism can be a critical portal to the political process and policy decision-making. It seems fitting to recognize them on International Women’s Day.”

Highlighting the stories of three women environmental justice activists, this article outlines the ways that issues of environmental justice — including climate change, food sovereignty, and more — disproportionately affect women. And it also shows the amazing ways that women are taking action around the world to stand up for their rights. It reminds us of all the inspiring women we partner with to advance the human right to water — like Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization in Detroit, the members of the Tanzania Gender Networking Program, and many others.

4. “16 Courageous Women Standing Up to Violence,” by Kristin Williams, Yes! Magazine/The Institute for Inclusive Security and PRI

“‘Discrimination and inequality are so deeply rooted in our country,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t only affect me as an individual,’ but is the cause of Myanmar’s 68-year civil war, the longest-running in the world.”

In case you need a little more inspiration heading into the weekend, check out these short profiles of 16 women working to end violence. From Sudan to Myanmar (also known as Burma), Mexico to the Ukraine, these women are making vital change and getting us closer to a world in which all can realize their full human rights.