Syrian Refugees: Europe Struggles to Cope

(A Hungarian police officer stands in front of Syrian refugees made to disembark a train en route to Germany)

Tensions are mounting in Europe, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have sought stability and security after fleeing their home country, which is embroiled in an ongoing civil war fought amongst a dizzying array of factions.

On Monday, French authorities cleared a highly publicized refugee camp in Calais – a town situated on the English Channel in the north of France.

The camp in Calais – pejoratively known as “the jungle” and housing an estimated 4,000 migrants from across the Middle East and Africa – was torn down following a court order that denied an appeal filed by nonprofit organizations that sought to stay the order. While many of the residences inside the camp were destroyed, the order prevented the demolition of religious centers, schools, and medical facilities set up in the area.

One photo taken of the eviction shows a camp resident holding a sign that reads “we are not terrorists so don’t destroy our homes” as he flees a water canon deployed by French authorities against migrants protesting the camp’s demolition.

The government’s decision to destroy the camp essentially kicks the can down the road, as European governments continue to drag their feet on a united and comprehensive plan to deal with the refugee influx.

Many migrants – especially young refugees – have already moved to a camp located in Dunkirk, which nonprofits say has even worse conditions and poses a serious sanitation emergency with about one toilet for every 100 refugees. Mathieu Balthazard – an aid worker with Médecins Sans Frontières, one of the non-governmental organizations working to help refugees – remarked on the makeshift community in Dunkirk:

It is truly exceptional to see a camp like this. I have seen a camp in Ethiopia which had mud like this, but here it is worse: there is less organization. It is becoming more and more shocking every day.

While many refugees have been accepted by EU member countries, there are a number of signs that individual governments are at the breaking point. Sweden – famed for its strong humanitarian position and open border policy for refugees – has enacted identity checks on trains and border crossings and has announced plans to stop accepting new refugees. Austria has introduced border controls. Italy and Greece – cash-strapped EU member states that have borne the brunt of the crisis – received more than 110,000 refugees in the first two months of 2016 alone.

Outside of logistical issues posed by what some analysts are calling the greatest displacement of people since WWII, the influx of Syrian refugees has stoked racial tension, with far-right nationalist politics on the ascent across Europe. In Germany, there have been more than 200 arson attacks on refugee centers, raising eyebrows in a country that – in acknowledgement of its role in the Holocaust – has long boasted a strong track record on tolerance and the respect of human rights.

While governments struggle to muster a unified response to the crisis, there are many organizations and individuals stepping up to ensure that migrants stuck in this tortuous limbo receive bare necessities including food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Charity Navigator has a list of vetted, highly credible organizations working to ease the plight of Syrian migrants. A number of US organizations are stepping up as well, accepting donations to help provide basic needs assistance and educational opportunities for children caught up in the crisis.

How to Help Paris Attack Victims

As Paris reels from yesterday’s deadly attacks that claimed the lives of at least 127 people, there are a number of ways that you can help. Below you’ll find a number of organizations that are either based in Paris or provide emergency and/or basic needs assistance in France.

Secours populaire française
This relief organization fights poverty and strives for inclusion within France. Individuals can also contribute their time and skills to the organization.

Médecins Sans Frontières
Also known as Doctors without Borders, this Paris-based organization provides emergency medical care to vulnerable populations around the globe. While there has been no announcement that the organization will work on the ground in Paris, this NGO is highly vetted and renowned, symbolizing  international goodwill.

The French Red Cross
This organization was active while the tragic events in Paris were still unfolding, providing resources and personnel to the hundreds of people impacted by the attacks.

The Secours Catholique-Caritas France
This Catholic organization provides assistance to needy families in France, as well as emergency relief services during disastrous events such as last night’s attacks.

Help Afghanistan Earthquake Victims

Disaster struck Central Asia on Monday. A magnitude-7.5 earthquake rippled throughout northeastern Afghanistan, stretching across the region and impacting India, Pakistan, and Tajikistan as well.

In Taluqan, Afghanistan, 12 schoolgirls died in a stampede following the onset of the earthquake. Nearly 150 deaths were reported in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Officials expect the death toll to rise, reaching into the hundreds. Dramatic images appeared on Twitter depicting destroyed structures. The impact will be especially hard for the region, which already suffers from underdevelopment and poor infrastructure.

A number of first-responder organizations are on the scene and could use your help.

Doctors without Borders announced that they will be providing medical supplies and personnel to cope with the earthquake’s aftermath. UNICEF is highly active in the region. The Afghan Red Crescent Society is also accepting donations in their ongoing efforts to aid those impacted by the disaster.

Kickstarter and UNHCR Team Up to Help Refugees

In recent weeks, Shaping the Story has looked at the ongoing refugee crisis stemming from the conflict in Syria. Relief agencies are struggling to cope, having raised only a fraction of the funding necessary for the massive scope of operations required to deal with the situation.

A new partnership is looking to buck the trend, raising money from U.S. citizens to help support the millions impacted by the intractable Middle East conflict.

After being contacted by the White House, crowdfunding website Kickstarter has teamed up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to raise money on behalf of Syrian refugees. The Guardian will contribute video reporting on the crisis to be featured on the campaign page.

The alliance correlates with the Kickstarter’s new socially oriented direction. Recently reincorporated as a Public Benefit Corporation, Kickstarter possesses a charter requiring it to invest in nonprofits and expend resources on social good causes. The partnership will surely satisfy a portion of the company’s obligations.

It remains unclear if Kickstarter will profit from the campaign, or if all resources raised will go to relief efforts.

As governments in Europe struggle to produce a unified response and raise the requisite funding, this development is a welcome addition to humanitarian relief efforts. The world is witnessing the single greatest displacement of people since World War II. Many countries receiving massive influxes of refugees – from Turkey to Greece, Italy to Lebanon – are so cash-strapped that they cannot provide meaningful unilateral assistance.  The situation is exacerbated by xenophobic tension in host countries, evident in the hostile reception of refugees in countries such as Hungry.

Desperate people are also subjected to risky, potentially lethal migrant routes. Mediterranean raft travel has grown in frequency, as refugees try to land in European Union nations. This has resulted in a number of tragedies, including drownings. This horrific reality was documented in the widely circulated image of a drowned Syrian boy discovered on the coast of Turkey.

While a truly impactful approach will require the collaboration and robust efforts of world governments, the Kickstarter-UNHCR partnership will at least get the ball rolling. Visit the campaign page to learn more about how you can help make a difference.

U.S. Planes Bomb Doctors Without Borders

A catastrophic bombing in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province claimed the lives of 12 staff members of the international humanitarian nonprofit Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières). Carried out by U.S. aircraft on October 3 in the midst of the ongoing conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the attack also killed 10 civilians, including three children.

A nurse who worked at the hospital and was present at the time of the bombing recounted the horrific events in a post featured on the organization’s website:

These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people… and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

The nonprofit – founded in Paris in 1971 – provides medical services to war-torn and poverty-stricken regions around the world. The organization is a nobel peace laureate.

In a statement following the bombing, the non-governmental organization labeled the attack a war crime, demanding an independent probe into the bombing.

The details of the U.S. decision making leading up to the attack are currently unknown. Doctors Without Borders had, on multiple occasions, relayed its location to all belligerents in region’s conflict. Despite this awareness – and the fact that the organization notified U.S. authorities immediately after the bombing commenced – the raid lasted for thirty minutes, terrorizing the staff and civilians inside. The hospital provided the only trauma care in the province. Locals will now have to travel hours to neighboring provinces in order to receive life-saving treatment.

U.S. and Afghan officials allege that Taliban fighters had entered the perimeter of the hospital. Even if this were the case, the incident could still qualify as a war crime under internationally recognized definitions of the term.

While Doctors Without Borders is yet to announce a widow’s fund, you can still help. The organization fundraises around its work assisting regions damaged by aerial bombing campaigns. It is a tragedy that courageous nonprofit workers perished in such a manner, but a fitting tribute is to give to the group’s invaluable mission providing for people around the world whose lives are caught up in the awful grind of war.

You can find more details on how to give to Doctors Without Borders here.

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