We Need Global Solidarity for Refugees

As a European and a Swede (and an economist), I am struck by how often we discuss refugees in terms of the “cost” of accepting asylum seekers.

These conversations miss out on the many economic benefits of migration. Young refugees are often so inclined to start building their new lives that they integrate quite quickly into a new country with much to offer. We also miss the most important component of the conversation – the refugees themselves.

Wars, violence and persecution lead to people fleeing from their homes. A new report released on June 19, 2019 from UNHCR shows that 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced worldwide – more than the UN Refugee Agency has ever recorded. Levels have doubled in the past 20 years and increased by 2.3 million people in the past year alone.

This year’s UNHCR Global Trends report states that these figures are conservative since the Venezuelan crisis is only partly reflected. According to data from neighboring nations, about 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country, which makes it one of the world’s largest displacement crises in recent history.

What do these numbers actually mean? 

The majority of individuals who are forcibly displaced are Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – people who are displaced to other areas within their own country. There are 41.3 million IDPs worldwide. Refugees – people forced to flee their country because of conflict, war or persecution – accounted for 25.9 million people worldwide in 2018 (half a million more than in 2017). Asylum seekers are people outside their country of origin who receive international protection but are awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status. They account for 3.5 million people globally.

Now, here are some important facts: 

  • About 80% of refugees live in countries neighboring their countries of origin
  • The world’s poorest countries host a third of all refugees worldwide
  • High income countries (like most countries in Europe) host only 2.7 refugees per 1,000 of population on average
  • In 2018, every second refugee was a child

Research shows that women and children are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. Sexual violence and rape is used as a weapon of war to further inhibit civilian populations to fight for peace and their fundamental human rights. One very recent case of this is Sudan today. 

Europe has seen a surge of refugees since 2014. Many have risked their lives in horribly overcrowded rubber dinghies to cross the Mediterranean Sea for safety – sometime without functioning life vests. UNHCR estimates that over 17,800 people have died at sea between 2014 and 2018. In this year alone, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 559 people have died and are missing.

The largest group of people seeking refuge in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean are from Afghanistan.

The war-torn nation was recently reported as the most dangerous country in the world, and 2018 was the most deadly year ever recorded for civilians in Afghanistan.

So what is Europe doing to support asylum seekers from Afghanistan and those crossing the Mediterranean Sea? From what I understand and see in my daily life in Sweden – not enough.

This week, the Swedish parliament voted to extend a “temporary” stringent law which has been highly criticized by humanitarian aid organizations and UN Agencies. Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and other countries in Europe continue to deport individuals back to Afghanistan – many of whom arrived in Europe as unaccompanied minors several years ago.

Sea rescues have been criminalized as NGO rescue ships are no longer permitted to work out of Italy. Pia Klemp, a German boat captain, faces 20 years in prison and horrendous fines for saving people from drowning in the Mediterranean.

Sweden is using old prisons to forcibly detain high-school attending, Swedish speaking young asylum-seekers from Afghanistan who await deportations. The wait may last several months and the migration and judicial system for asylum seekers is highly criticized. Racism is becoming more visible.

This week, a friend of mine who is an Afghani asylum seeker in Sweden was harassed by police for no reason as he got off a train. We later found out from migration officials that they have been ordered to intimidate asylum seekers so that they will be more inclined to return voluntarily.

Despite being an eternal optimist, I have a hard time seeing anything positive in this stark situation. The message that Europe is sending is that some lives are valued less than others – that some lives are just not important enough to be saved.

“While language around refugees and migrants is often divisive, we are also witnessing an outpouring of generosity and solidarity, especially by communities who are themselves hosting large numbers of refugees. We are also seeing unprecedented engagement by new actors including development actors, private businesses, and individuals, which not only reflects but also delivers the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugee Filippo Grandi.

“We must build on these positive examples and redouble our solidarity with the many thousands of innocent people who are forced to flee their homes each day.”

We are facing a European crisis that will cost us our solidarity, our humanity and our safeguarding of human rights. The price is too high. If we lose these, we won’t have anything of value left.

I am thankful to be a part of the Swedish Facebook group Vi står inte ut! (We can’t stand it!) which has become a network of 10,000 individuals working to support asylum seekers in various ways. It is through networks like this one that I witness solidarity and fire to fight for our sisters and brothers from other countries.

It is difficult to continue to read and share the stories of refugees, but we must speak the unspeakable, break the silence and fight for a change in our world today.

Revolution & Massacre in Sudan: What Can We Do?

How much do you know about the massacre in Sudan? About the mass murder, internet blackout, rape and torture inflicted on those standing up for peace, freedom and justice over the past two weeks? How much do you know about the revolution that began last December?

If you’ve been relying on major international media outlets, the answer is quite possibly not much at all.

What happened?

After several months of demonstrations and protests, Sudan (finally) captured the world’s attention in April this year when an image of a young woman dressed in white went viral. It was celebrated as an image of hope. International media shared it widely, drawing global awareness to the courage and progress of the revolution.

Soon after, Omar Hassan al-Bashir was overthrown from his presidency, ending a 30-year reign of oppression, corruption and conflict. The Sudanese people demanded an immediate transition from al-Bashir’s presidency to a civilian-led government. Instead, however, military generals took over, agreeing at first to transition to a civilian-led government within 3 years but revoking the agreement soon after.

And so in the days and weeks that followed, protesters remained outside the military headquarters, gathering each day in an area filled with art, music and political discussion. From social media coverage, it also seemed to be a space filled with joy and fierce hope for the future.

In the early hours of Monday 3 June, Sudanese security forces began a brutal massacre.

Civilians were shot and beaten. Mutilated bodies were urinated on and thrown in the River Nile. Women, men and children were raped. At least 118 people were killed, 300 critically injured and 70 raped that day (although the true figures are probably much higher). Perpetrators were mostly members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – paramilitary forces formerly known as the Janjaweed.


As graphic videos of violence started to spread across social media, the government shut down the internet. The country has endured a total information blackout ever since. Violence continues. It has been reported that a 6-year-old girl was raped by ten men. Stories have been shared of Sudanese military officials with women’s underwear draped over their weapons.

International media have not shared news of the Sudan massacre widely. They have not drawn global awareness to the atrocities being inflicted on innocent people.

For the most part, social media and grassroots activists have been far more informative than newspapers or world leaders. Many have called out the silence of the international community in the face of such horrific events.

Coverage and information from major media outlets is increasing, but shamefully slowly and with a disturbing lack of urgency. I look at the BBC News app on my phone every day. Not once since June 3rd has a story about Sudan been the daily featured article.

What’s happening now?



What can we do?

“Shaming still works – Sudan’s government would not kill the internet if it did not,” writes journalist Nesrine Malek. “So shame the world into applying pressure on the regime and restraining the Gulf powers that support it.”

She explains that we can help “by preventing the normalisation project and aiding the Sudanese people in getting their message out during the blackout.”

If it’s within your power to do so, inform yourself about what’s happening and the context and history that has led to this point.

Spread knowledge and awareness to others in whatever way you can. The list below is by no means comprehensive, it’s simply a starting point of resources I’ve found useful in my own attempts to educate myself. If you have any to add, leave a comment and I will update the list.

Follow:

@hadyouatsalaam, @amel.mukhtar, @bsonblast, @yousraelbagir, @NesrineMalek, @reemwrites

#SudanUprising, #SudanRevolts, #SudanCivilDisobedience, #IAmTheSudanRevolution #SudanRevolution #SudanProtests #Internet_Blackout_In_Sudan

Read:

If you want to help Sudan, amplify the voices of those suffering its horrors, The Guardian

Victims of Sexual Violence in Sudan Deserve Justice, The Daily Vox

Rape and Sudan’s Revolution, BBC

Three Pioneering Women Recount the Brutal Turning Point of Sudan’s Revolution, Vogue

Tasgot Bas Archives: an up-to-date documentation of Sudan’s most recent uprising

Sudan’s Third Revolution, History Today

Sudan’s Revolutionaries: Offline but Not Silenced, BBC

No, It’s not Over for the Sudanese Revolution, Al Jazeera

Donate:

Emergency Medical Aid for Sudan

Food & Medicine for Sudan

Sign:

The UN must investigate 3 June human rights violations in Sudan

Recognise the Rapid Support Forces led by General Hemedti as a Terrorist Organization

US – Send a message to your representatives in Congress through Resistbot

Today, on International Day to Eliminate Sexual Violence in Conflict, I add my voice to the global demand for accountability for the sexual crimes committed in Sudan.

I add my voice to the chorus of those outraged that rape continues to be used without consequence as a tool for dehumanisation and a weapon of war. You do not have to be Sudanese to support the basic human rights of civilians being systematically and mercilessly massacred. I stand in solidarity with the people of Sudan, and in awe of their resilience and courage. Voices are powerful and silence is deadly.

Women are Leading the Protests in Sudan

Since December 2017, protesters have been calling for the fall of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s leader of the past 30 years. They have staged sit-ins in front of the presidential palace and army headquarters and risked their lives in large protests.

Last week, their cries were finally heard, as Omar al-Bashir was taken into military custody.

One woman’s image has captivated the world. The photo is of Alaa Salah, a young woman standing on the roof of a car.

Her traditional thobe and moon earrings glisten in the dusk light. She is pointing her index finger to the sky, whilst a sea of protestors capture her image through their mobile phones.

This 22 year-old woman has become the symbol of the revolution.

For many in the West, the image of Alaa Salah is fascinating. Perhaps because she is a woman, perhaps because she is dressed in traditional clothing, perhaps because she is a Muslim.

However, anyone who has been following the protests will know that this revolutionary spirit runs in the blood of Sudanese women. It is therefore not surprising, nor revolutionary, that in the current protests, women are taking centre stage. They have played a leading role in the peaceful uprising, which has swept across the nation – and they are not about to stop!

Videos show Salah singing the following words, as protestors chant back “Thawra”, the Arabic word for revolution:

They burned us in the name of religion
Thawra
They killed us in the name of religion
Thawra
They jailed us in the name of religion
Thawra
But, religion is not to be blamed.

Her words resonate with the struggles of the Sudanese people, who have faced continued hardship during the decades-long rule of al-Bashir. In the name of religion, a state of turmoil, oppression and instability has faced the nation. And of course, it is women who have suffered the most.

Bashir’s 30-year role saw increased suppression of women through Sudan’s public order laws. Controls to women’s freedom of dress, behaviour and education all heightened during this period. Woman continually faced threats of FGM, child marriage, sexual harassment and domestic abuse with few policies put in place to protect their rights.

Many have commented that Salah’s outfit particularly speaks to these issues of women’s oppression, through the homage it plays to the traditions and historical revolutionary spirit of Sudanese women. Hind Makki, an interfaith educator, explained the significance of Salah’s clothing on twitter. She wrote:

“She’s [the woman’s] wearing a white tobe (outer garment) and gold moon earrings. The white tobe is worn by working women in offices and can be linked w/cotton (a major export of Sudan), so it represents women working as professionals in cities or in the agricultural sector in rural areas … Her entire outfit is also a callback to the clothing worn by our mothers & grandmothers in the 60s, 70s, & 80s who dressed like this during while they marched the streets demonstrating against previous military dictatorships.”

As Makki alludes, women have always been a central part of Sudan’s revolutions. Just as Mehaira, Mandy Ajbna and Fatima Ibhrahim before them, women’s involvement in these protests have successfully overthrown their oppressive regime.

Salah has become a symbol of the revolution in Sudan because her image represents the reality of women’s leading role in these protests.

Through one image, Alaa Salah has managed to tell the world the story of Sudan’s revolution and the strength in their resistance.

But, it is important that we do not reduce women’s involvement to a reaction to women’s oppression. Of course, women are fighting to remove their subjugation, but this is just one part of their protest.

Women stand equally with men to change their country as a whole. To fight for democracy. To fight for freedom for all.

Politics Affects our Health: the Case of Sudan

‘Social determinants of health’ are the circumstances and surroundings that influence an individual’s health outcomes.

Researchers have focused on social determinants of health for decades and there is now a general consensus that higher socioeconomic status predicts better odds of future health and well-being. While this notion is scientifically accepted, it prompts the question: what creates these social determinants of health? This has brought much needed attention to the ways in which politics affect health – both directly and indirectly.

‘Political determinants of health’ are the factors that shape the social determinants of health. This is a relatively new concept and is of particular significance for women. An example of the link between politics and health can be found in Sudan.

In Sudan, the political climate is shaped by religion and the constitution is based on teachings of Sharia Law. Currently, many communities face extreme financial strain as a result of failed past politics and/or war and insecurity. This has increased pre-existing and vast social inequities, including gaps in financial and educational opportunities.

The political situation in Sudan has had inevitable consequences for health.

Social disadvantage falls heavier on women. Until recently, girls have been denied the same education as their male counterparts. Lack of education leads to limited knowledge of health, which affects an individual’s ability to improve their own health outcomes. 

One example is the issue of sexual and reproductive health. Sexuality and sexual behaviour are sensitive topics rarely discussed in conservative, religious cultures like Sudan’s. Sexual and reproductive health and rights do not enjoy a high-priority status among political agendas, either, and there has been very little consideration of introducing sexual education into classrooms. However, many educators and health officials have started to support sex education in schools, resulting in increasing support by legislators.

Another example is the high prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sudan, at a prevalence of approximately 89% countrywide. The harmful practice continues to affect many areas of the country, and although it is legally banned, it is well-known to continue with the open support of many religious leaders. This is a clear example of failed implementation of legislation that has allowed FGM to remain prevalent despite wide-spread efforts by campaigns and NGO peer-education programs.

Under Sudanese constitution, child marriage, forced marriage or marital rape are not against the law.

Much of the country’s legislation does not provide any protection for women’s rights. As a result, many Sudanese women fear persecution.

One case that struck the international community was that of Noura Hussein in 2018. The 19-year-old was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing her husband – who she had allegedly been forced to marry – after he attempted to rape her. In the eyes of the law, marital rape does not exist, and so Hussein had no claims to self-defence as she was viewed as a belonging of her husband. The ruling was thankfully overturned after increasing international pressure on the Sudanese government. Hussein received a reduced sentence of 5 years in prison. 

Historically, women in Sudan have been forced to be subordinate to men. Although this is changing and vast improvements have been made, drastic changes to the country’s politics and constitution are needed to ensure full protection of women’s rights – especially their rights to health and wellbeing.