The police station near the Mugu airstrip, destroyed by the Maoists in 2005. Photo: Peter Biro/The IRC
|The IRC’s Peter Biro is reporting from Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries. Despite a 2006 peace accord that ended a decade of civil war, and recent elections that will help determine the country’s future, life is a daily struggle for most people in the Himalayan nation. Read all of Peter’s posts from Nepal here.
From the window of a small cargo plane filled with rice sacks and jerry cans, I get a close-up look at the magnificent Himalayan Mountains. The snow-capped peaks rise well above our cruising altitude and winds from the valleys below rock the aircraft with violent bumps of turbulence.
Archive for April, 2008
Posted by Peter Biro on 30 April, 2008
Posted by Kate Sands Adams on 29 April, 2008
Newly arrived Cuban refugees wait in Miami for assignment to the care of American individuals and groups providing aid. Photo: The IRC
|As the International Rescue Committee observes our 75th anniversary this year, IRC president George Rupp is blogging about one moment from IRC’s rich history each month (you can find all of his posts here):
The IRC’s founders responded to the rise of Nazi terror with swift, independent action. Thanks to the daring work of Varian Fry and others, thousands of refugees were able to escape from Nazi-occupied France. More than that, however, the IRC stayed with the suffering refugees of Europe long after the guns of World War II had fallen silent. We helped Europe’s displaced to return to their homes, and we aided the brave Hungarian revolutionaries in 1956.
By 1960, the IRC faced a crossroads. The IRC had begun as a temporary committee, arising from a crisis in Europe. The question that now arose went to the core of the IRC’s mission and was to determine its course into the 21st century. Did the IRC’s mandate extend to aiding the many thousands of refugees being driven from their homes in Asia, Africa, and Latin America?
The IRC’s leadership decided that to limit its mission to the borders of Europe would betray the impulse on which it was founded. Instead, the IRC determined that the organization had a global mission and responsibility. From 1960 to 1967, the IRC helped people fleeing Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Angola, Uganda, and Nigeria.
During those same years, the IRC began a long-term relationship with people fleeing Cuba. In 1959, rebel forces in Cuba overthrew its unpopular dictator, Fulgencio Batista. A young revolutionary by the name of Fidel Castro took control of the government. By year’s end he had drawn closer to the Soviet Union and committed a series of political executions and expulsions.
So began a new flow of refugees, one that would profoundly shape the IRC’s emerging international role.
Within a month of Castro’s rise to power, the IRC was on the scene gathering information and soon become one of the principal agencies helping Cubans to reach America, resettling more than 62,000 during the 1960s and 70s. As more and more refugees arrived in Florida, the IRC opened an office in Miami, its first resettlement office outside New York. IRC caseworkers focused on helping to find jobs, a place to live, and warm clothes for the refugees. Today, the IRC’s 25 U.S. resettlement offices carry out much the same work.
In 1969, two young Cubans hid in a wheel compartment on a jetliner bound for Madrid. One of the refugees dropped into the sea; but the other, a 17-year-old, miraculously survived the nine-hour flight. With the IRC’s sponsorship, he found a home in the United States. Then IRC president William J. vanden Heuvel reported that when asked why the young man had taken such an incredible risk, the new refugee replied, “I was looking for a better world and a new future.”
Posted by Tim Lash - IRC on 28 April, 2008
Photo: DR Congo, courtesy Kevin Sites hotzone.yahoo.com
|Karin Wachter, who serves as IRC’s Gender-Based Violence Technical Advisor, testified about sexual violence against women and girls recently before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. Here is an excerpt of Karin’s moving testimony on Capitol Hill:
I wish I could share with you the voices, concerns and hopes of the tens of thousands of women and girls who come forward for help, having been assaulted, tortured, humiliated and disabled simply for having been born female and getting caught in the cross-fire of war.
I started working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in eastern Congo, where, already back in 2002, women were talking about not the one time they were brutally sexually assaulted, but about the third or fourth time… In the past six years, I have seen firsthand the sexual and physical violence against women and girls in 10 different conflict-affected African countries. We would not be exaggerating to call this violence a global human rights, public health and security crisis. The perpetration of sexual violence is both a tactic of warfare, and an opportunistic consequence of conflict and displacement…
Addressing violence against women in conflict is smart foreign policy and the American people care more about this issue than we may think. When the IRC launched a web-based petition to help garner support for the IVAWA bill, a surprisingly high number of the 50,000 Americans who signed the petition also wrote a personal note, expressing their sincere concern about violence against women and girls in conflict. This unexpected outpouring of concern led us to launch a modest e-advocacy campaign, in which the general public was invited to write words of encouragement to Congolese women and the local activists and organizations working to assist them. Within 10 days of launching the campaign, we had 2,779 people who wrote messages of support in response to the crisis in DRC.
Please permit me to share two examples of what people wrote:
A woman from New York wrote: “There are few words that can express the nature of the horrible wrongs which you face every day. We all have the right to safety and respect. Continue to speak out of the injustices and the violations of your souls. We are listening…”
A man from Virginia wrote: “We are writing our leaders and sending funds to help. I have also included your story in my blog. I hope that we can make a difference. I am remembering you when I vote and write Congress. I hope that the U.S. can become a force to help you in the Congo.”
The full text and audio of Karin’s testimony is available on the Senate Web site. Please urge your Senators to support the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) by taking action now. You can also send a message to Congolese women who have survived sexual violence.
Posted by Peter Biro on 23 April, 2008
Despite a government ban on bonded labour in 2000, life for the former bonded labourers, or Kamaiya, has hardly improved. Chediya’s simple clay dwellings are built on infertile and unattractive land, temporarily given to the Kamayia by the government. Photo: Peter Biro/The IRC
|The IRC’s Peter Biro is reporting from Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries. Despite a 2006 peace accord that ended a decade of civil war, and elections that will help determine the country’s future, life is a daily struggle for most people in the Himalayan nation. Read all of Peter’s posts from Nepal here.
The sun has barely risen over the arid fields of Chediya, a village inhabited by one of the poorest and most neglected groups in Nepal. Known as Kamaiya, the people here are former bonded labourers. For generations, the Kamaiya had to work under slave-like conditions on plantations to repay debts that had been passed from one generation to another.Most of them remained illiterate and were never certain when, or if, their debt had been paid off. As a result, they remained in perpetual servitude. The system is deeply rooted in the complex caste system in Nepal which discriminates against groups identified as “untouchable” by higher castes.As we walk around the dirt track that runs through the village, flanked by simple clay dwellings, Virendra Singh Thaguna, programme manager with the International Rescue Committee, says that despite a government ban on bonded labour in 2000, life for the Kamaiya has hardly improved.
“Like here in Chediya, they have been given temporary land by the government,” he says. “But the houses are very bad and the land is infertile and unattractive.”
The bank of the Karnali River is just a stone’s throw away and every year the 4,000 people here are forced by seasonal flooding to leave their houses and sleep out in the open in a nearby forest. Poverty is rampant and many of the villagers see no other option but to go back and work for their former landlords for a pittance.
“The government freed these people without a back-up plan, Virendra sighs. “They have very few options now.”
The IRC has tried to make life easier for the villagers by setting up small-scale vegetable gardens and distributing household articles and livestock, such as goats.
“We were often beaten by our landlord,” Ramkrishni tells me. “When we were finally freed I moved to this place. I cut bamboo and collected mud and the men helped me construct this house. I have very little money but at least I can decide over my own life.”
Ramkrishni makes less than two dollars per day, mainly by transporting heavy loads on her back for the local farmers. She grows a small vegetable garden outside her house and an IRC-donated goat is grazing in the shrubs. The villagers will breed the animals and share them with the community, Virendra explains.
Although desperately poor, the community has seen many things change for the better. A large communal vegetable garden is providing much-needed additional food for the most needy.
The IRC has helped Chediya’s inhabitants organize themselves in a village council, which is
And with the assistance of the IRC, Chediya’s inhabitants are now organised in a village council, which is debating and organising the development of the community. Virendra tells me that its members, who have been elected by the people of Chediya, have just gone through an IRC training programme where they were taught bookkeeping and how to write formal proposals for funding, which will be submitted to the local government and aid groups.
“This is very important for us,” says the council chairman, Raju Choudri. “We have never asked for aid before, because we didn’t know the process.”
The council has just submitted a proposal to the local authorities. It is to fund a dam project that will prevent the banks of the river from overflowing, Raju says.
“We are just too tired of moving.”
Posted by The IRC on 23 April, 2008
Photo: Melissa Winkler/The IRC
|In an opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times, the International Rescue Committee says Iraqi refugees are living in deplorable and declining conditions in Syria and Jordan.
“They are clustered not in camps but in overcrowded urban neighborhoods, crammed into dark, squalid apartments,” say the four co-authors, all of whom took part in a recent IRC delegation to the Middle East. “Many have been traumatized by extreme violence. Their savings are dwindling; many cannot afford to pay for rent, heat and food; few have proper medical care.””There is no denying that the United States has a special responsibility to help,” the co-authors say. “The sectarian violence these Iraqi refugees fled is a byproduct of the invasion and its chaotic aftermath.”
The op-ed outlines critical steps the United States and the international community should take to address the humanitarian emergency. Please read this urgent call for action in the New York Times and send it to family and friends.
ALSO IN THE NEWS
A cover article in yesterday’s USA Today spotlights the small number of Iraqi refugees being granted refuge in the United States. The story is set in Boise, Idaho, one of nearly 20 U.S. locations where the IRC is helping newly arrived Iraqi refugees:
HOW TO HELP
Millions of Iraqis have had to flee horrific violence. You can speak out for the innocent bystanders of the Iraq conflict. Please add your name to our pledge to aid desperate and uprooted Iraqis and spread the word about their plight.
Thank you for making a difference in the lives of vulnerable Iraqi families.