Category Archives: Practitioner Profile

Tackling the Complexity of the Yemeni Crisis

Learn more at our upcoming event at Fordham University.

New York City, April 10, 2017 – Two years after the onset of conflict in Yemen, the country is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. Despite the two million Yemenis internally displaced, seven million at risk of famine and 18.8 million in need of humanitarian aid, less than 10 percent of the United Nations two billion dollar humanitarian appeal has been met by donor nations and nations party to the conflict have done little to cease hostilities.

Giulio Coppi, Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Innovation Fellow, recently embarked on a fact-finding mission to Oman and Djibouti to study the impact of the crisis and subsequent forced migration in the region. He sat down with the IIHA Communications Officer, Angela Wells, to recount his findings.

What was the goal of your recent research trip on the Yemeni crisis?

This recent research trip led me to study the regional impact of the Yemeni crisis, with a special focus on migration and health. I traveled through Oman and Djibouti, meeting local actors and visiting refugee and migrant communities. I also tried – unsuccessfully – to enter Yemen to meet people and local organizations. I really focused on understanding what lies beneath the surface of the most banal crises in the current media landscape.

 

How would you explain the Yemeni crisis to someone unfamiliar with what lies beneath the surface of the crisis?

To an outsider with little background, Yemen could look like just another case of civil war due to bad governance and political instability, or maybe another country engulfed in sectarian and religious violence. The truth is much more complicated than that: Yemen is being intentionally strangled economically, militarily and politically by internal and international actors involved in a conflict with profound historical and geopolitical roots.

Yemen was recently listed as one of four of the most serious humanitarian crises of our time. Can you explain the situation provoking people to flee the country and the complexities humanitarian workers are dealing with within Yemen?

The inclusion of Yemen as one of four of the most serious humanitarian crises of our time comes right after its definition as a forgotten crisis. The country passed from oblivion to full spotlight in a matter of days. This is mostly due to the adoption by some organizations and UN agencies of the keyword “famine”, that immediately made it to the headlines.

Unfortunately, this leads to yet another oversimplification. It generates the false impression that all is needed is to fund agencies that deliver food. This action alone would be shortsighted and ineffective, as the situation requires a much bolder response. Humanitarians are faced with a daunting task: replacing the whole public and private sector that has been wiped away by sanctions, embargoes, violence, and corruption. Overstretched and exposed, humanitarians increase their risk of being perceived as non-neutral, or partial, and becoming a target for further violence.

We know that mixed migration flows to and from Yemen are very complex with migrants from the Horn of Africa fleeing to Yemen and Yemenis fleeing to the Horn. Can you explain this in more detail?

Due to its strategic position, Yemen has always been a crossroad of nations and people. The escalation of the conflict in 2015 resulted in a temporary suspension of the migratory movements of people from the Horn of Africa, most notably Ethiopia and Somalia, towards the Arab Gulf countries.

It is counterintuitive, but with the conflict, these figures have actually increased. Some migrants do not know about the conflict, but others actually hope the collapse of internal governance could facilitate their journey. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Saudi Arabia and Oman have sealed and militarized their borders, and militias control most areas of Yemen, who kidnap for ransom and often abuse migrants.

On the other side, Yemenis fleeing to the Horn of Africa has actually dwindled. I found that Yemenis prefer to seek asylum in countries more culturally similar and with more economic opportunities. Most of the refugees who sought safe haven in Djibouti tried to move on as quickly as possible, once they realized the hardship of living as a migrant in the country.

What is the reality for Yemenis fleeing to nearby countries like Djibouti and Oman?

 For most Yemenis arriving in Djibouti, one of the poorest countries in the world, they are really shocked at the conditions in the camps. Markazi camp, where they are hosted, is a camp in the middle of a desolate desert. The closest city, Obock, is a provincial town without markets or livelihood opportunities. Food and other goods arrive from the capital city from time to time, while many items are still being brought in from Yemen. In summer, the camp is swept by the khamsin (dust storms with wind speeds as high as forty miles an hour), and temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Refugees endure these conditions in tents, huts or in containers with no electricity and really meager food provisions.

In Oman and Saudi Arabia, conditions are much better for those who manage to enter and stay. In contrast to Djibouti, which grants all Yemenis prima facie refugee status, Arab Gulf States are not parties to refugee treaties and only grant standard visas. While initially they made a display of generosity towards their neighbors, that attitude quickly changed as it became clear the conflict would not be a short one. Today, those under official visas – like medical or study visas – are granted the same services as local nationals. Those who are not so lucky face exclusion from any assistance, and a constant risk of deportation.

Where else are Yemenis seeking refuge and what are they experiencing in these reception countries?

Today, the majority of Yemenis are not hosted by their next door neighbors, but have rather continued on their journey to seek asylum in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, while some have been able to make their way to Europe or the United States. Yemen has a vast diaspora, and very often families have at least one member with a foreign citizenship allowing some refugees a chance of reunification with their community abroad, be it in Djibouti, Oman, Lebanon or Germany. Those who are able to join their communities abroad have a better chance for smooth integration and acceptance by local populations. However, coexistence isn’t always easy, especially when their expanded presence puts a strain on limited land and resources, which can destabilize local demographics and add further strain to existing public services.

Recently, a boat of Somali migrants was bombed 30 miles off the coast of Yemen by Saudi-backed forces. Do you see this as a worrying trend for the future or an isolated incident and why?

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and I do not think it will be the last. The Bab-el-Mandeb strait, a vital commercial route, was already heavily militarized before the conflict and even more so today. Furthermore, this attack is representative of a worrying trend on the access of safe routes for forced migrants globally. We see around the world how increasingly innocent civilians trying to escape the perils of war are being directly and purposefully attacked in systemic and horrifying ways. This is not only in violation of international laws, but is a deeply worrying indication that humanitarian channels and national values for unfettered humanitarian access is more compromised than every before.

 Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In these times when all the attention is focused on Syria and the horrible tragedy in Syria, it is also important to remind everyone of the words of Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “Yemen after five months looked like Syria after five years.”

The level and extent of the destruction in Yemen is unparalleled for intensity and impact. What is worse, very little efforts have been made by the UN Security Council to call for safe humanitarian access, cross-border protection, or cessation of hostilities in Yemen. It is about time the UN Security Council, and involved parties to the conflict, adopt a more proactive role to end this conflict, before Yemen and its population reach the point of no return.

Non-Fordham guests must register in advance for the upcoming event Tackling the Complexity of the Yemeni Crisis.

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Syrian Voices: Customs and Traditions in Humanitarian Crises

Monday, March 6, 2017 – As conflict wages on in Syria, nearby countries have opened their doors to millions of new people seeking refuge. In Lebanon, one in four people is a Syrian refugee. While Lebanon is the biggest host of the five million Syrian refugees globally, truly integrating their neighbors into society has proved challenging for the small country where economic strains and competition for scarce resources is ever increasing.

House of Peace (HOPe) in Syria is striving to understand and address the evolving relationships of displaced persons within refugee populations, amongst their host communities and with non-governmental organizations.

Their new report, Syrian Voices, aims to raise voices, analyze opinions and propose positive recommendations for advancing integration and social peacebuilding. HOPe conducted workshops with around 300 participants, most of whom were Syrian refugees living in Lebanon but also Palestinians and Lebanese host community members.

“The main impetus behind this paper is helping people concerned with the Syrian crisis to see things from the eyes of those who are suffering the most; to contribute in bringing people from different points of views closer by helping them overcoming their prejudices and self-evident beliefs,” said Elias Sadkni, Director of HOPe and International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance 39 alumnus.

Restrictions to integration. A major finding of the report was the ways in which government policy and NGO modus-operandi surrounding refugee response in Lebanon have changed the ways in which Syrian communities relate each other and their hosts.

Strict residency and labor laws for Syrians in Lebanon have made securing employment particularly difficult for men. Women, however, are more easily able to find work opportunities in the informal labor market and through the support of vocational trainings and services provided by organizations.

Perhaps even more disconcerting was the effect that strict work restrictions had on fueling forced marriage or labor on children in the country. In 2016, some NGOs estimated between 60 and 70 percent of refugee children are working and Human Rights Watch reported that more than 250,000 Syrian children were out of school in Lebanon.

“Harsh regulations that prevent most refugees from maintaining legal residency or working are undermining Lebanon’s generous school enrollment policies…With 70 percent of Syrian families living below the poverty line in 2015, many cannot afford school-related costs like transportation and school supplies, or rely on their children to work,” said Human Rights Watch.

The Syrian Voices report reiterated this point adding that “participants felt Humanitarian and UN efforts are not prioritizing educational establishments for Syrian refugees; in addition to this issue, the majority of educational establishments in Lebanon refuse to accept Syrians.”

Blurring cultures. Despite the challenges that come with displacement, Syrian participants also expressed that social solidarity amongst their communities remained strong in exile. This solidarity at times extended into their relationships with their host communities, and in turn caused the lines between Syrian and Lebanese cultures to blur.

“Many participants felt that adapting to Lebanese culture is causing changes in the customs and traditions of Syrian refugees. Some expressed dismay at these changes, fear their permanency, and believe they have been a source of intra-communal tension, whilst others embrace them,” said the report.

Improved humanitarian intervention. Other focus groups with NGO representatives examined the complex role NGOs play in the Syrian crisis.

Representatives voiced concerns that “their presence at times has contributed to existing tensions or created new ones”, because they failed to partake in adequate contextual and cultural analyses before implementing projects. Others noted a lack of transparency between donors and the community.

Syria Voices ultimately concludes in a list of recommendations for the humanitarian community to improve their continuing intervention, suggesting that humanitarian organizations begin to truly address the root causes of suffering amongst Syrians in Lebanon by:

  • Ensuring and advocating for equal access to adult education, vocational training and employment opportunities for Syrian adults of both genders;
  • Developing mechanisms for effective child protection from exploitation;
  • Enhancing educational opportunities for children;
  • Truly engaging with Syrian and Lebanese communities to better understand conflict
  • Improving communication methods between agencies in order to learn from each other’s experiences and best practices; and
  • Promoting more positive and less stereotypically harmful narratives about Syrian refugees in Lebanese media.

Ultimately, HOPe believes this report can be a guiding resource for the humanitarian sector, one that encourages agencies to question and improve their increasingly important response to the Syrian crisis.

Syrian Voices is a research-initiated project aimed at spreading Syrian perspectives on issues of social peace. The goal of the paper is to inform the humanitarian community, allowing stakeholders to implement recommendations and best practices to help resolve conflict in Syria and surrounding areas.

Andrew Seger, IIHA Communications Intern

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Practitioner Profile: Anthony Land, Ph.D. – IIHA Senior Fellow

Currently a Senior Fellow for the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University, Anthony (Tony) Land, Ph.D. has served as a Tutor for the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) course since its beginning in 1997. Dr. Land grew up in Borehamwood, a small town just north of London. He left school early at the age of 16 when he began to work as a laboratory assistant in the chemical industry while continuing his studies part time. In 1970 Land received his Bachelor’s degree in Applied Chemistry from Brunel University and subsequently received his Master’s degree in the areas of Chemistry and Material Science.

Following his studies, Land realized that technology was not the area to which he wanted to dedicate his life. Unsure of his next move, he decided to travel overland from Europe to India and Bangladesh, making many stops along the way. It was during this period of exploration that he had his first experience working in the humanitarian field by volunteering with church-related, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India. Leading on from this volunteering, he worked with Tearfund in Bangladesh developing the fair-trade export of handicraft items. From this job, he accepted a position with Tearfund as Field Director of ACROSS, a consortium of church-related aid organisations in, what was then, Southern Sudan.

At the time ACROSS had been subcontracted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to run refugee camps. It was this partnership that led to Land’s recruitment by the UNHCR. His work with UNHCR , mainly in field operation duties, took him to many parts of the world including Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malawi.  He also spent time with UNHCR in the Balkans, being instrumental in the establishment of the Sarajevo airlift before leading their office in Sarajevo. He then moved to Geneva to work in donor relations for UNHCR during a time when they was looking for people with field experience who could understand and communicate humanitarian operations and achievements. Land continued in donor relations for five years before being posted as Director of Operations in Kosovo and Head of Office in Vladikavkaz, North Caucasus. Returning to Geneva he worked as Deputy Head of Fundraising and then went on to become the UNHCR Head of Fundraising from the European Commission in Brussels before retiring in 2006.

Land lectured on the first IDHA course in 1997 and continued his involvement whenever possible. Following his retirement from UNHCR he became more involved with IIHA and has lectured and tutored on many courses. He now serves as a Senior Fellow with the Institute.

In a recent interview Dr Land responded to the following questions

What was your greatest accomplishment?

If I look back at one moment that stretched me and was a formative moment in my life, it would certainly be my time in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. I was caught in the middle of – and living in – a besieged city, where I was desperately trying to feed 350,000 people. My only logistics routes were a tenuous airlift, supplemented with a tortuous truck supply route both of which were often interrupted by the war. All of this had to be managed through negotiations with the warring parties, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. This is where I first worked with the now IIHA Humanitarian Programs Director, Larry Hollingworth, and Larry and I split the task of getting the convoys out of Sarajevo and across Serb territory into the Bosniak enclaves. This was accomplished by my conducting the negotiations across the front lines with Larry leading the convoys. While a convoy was in progress I was on 24-hour call to respond to the many problems Larry encountered.

What was your most difficult task?

My most difficult task was the one I got the least satisfaction from. It was my position in donor relations trying to meet the bureaucratic requirements of funding from the European Commission. The work was tedious, there were constant negotiations both externally with the Commission, and internally when there were difficulties getting information from the field with the necessary level of detail.

You mention that you have been lecturing on the IDHA course since IDHA 20. IDHA 48 was just held here in New York, and you were, again, an integral part of the course. Could you share some reflections about this latest course?

Every IDHA that I have worked on has been different. Each is a different environment. There are between 20 and 50 students on each IDHA and each course forms its own group identity. During the course we assign the students to syndicates. Each syndicate also forms its own identity. Some groups struggle more than others because they do not gel as easily different personalities giving rise to different dynamics. I can’t say that one course is better than the other but IDHA 48 has a unique identity.

While teaching, it is important to keep the purpose of the course intact while taking into consideration you are addressing a diverse range of individuals. If there are 50 students and on average each of them has two years of experience, that means you already have 100 years of experience within the student body. As a result, there is often a similar amount of experience collectively amongst the student body as in the faculty. This requires flexibility in how you teach to effectively bring out the wealth of experience in the students during the lectures.

What do you think the key challenges facing the humanitarian field today?

The humanitarian field faces many challenges and the tough part of this question is to identify priorities. The first key challenge is the possibility that you can work in an environment where only about half of the money appealed for is received. For example, this year (2016) humanitarians are appealing for about 20 billion dollars, the anticipated income is about 10 billion. This leads to credibility problems when nobody seems able to show that being fifty percent underfunded is directly leading to disaster and death. This was a problem I encountered in donor relations when I asked field teams to explain the impact of being underfunded. I could very rarely get a straight answer. One example that rose in 2014 was the impact of the underfunding of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) initiative to feed Syrian refugees in refugee camps. Some have suggested that this food shortage in the camps sparked the movement of refugees across Europe. Although others dispute this claim, this may be one case where a direct impact can at least be inferred. However, where it cannot be shown that underfunding causes direct human suffering, donors may draw one of two conclusions:

  • The money was not really needed, in which case the appeals lose their credibility, and
  • A large amount of funding included in the appeal is being provided from sources which are not effectively being tracked. Hence the deficit is significantly less than reported.

The second challenge is the continued growth of big international NGOs working in the humanitarian field with expensive overheads, international salaries, travel, and accommodation costs. The time has come when we need to train people who are living in disaster-prone areas to ensure the response can be carried out locally or at least regionally. When a disaster does happen, the funds can then go to organizations that have linguistic, cultural and economic roots on the ground, greatly reducing the need for the involvement of big foreign international NGOs. It is time to look for a different way respond to disasters and I believe this transition can be an important part of the answer. Unfortunately, the international NGOs have tremendous inertia just by their sheer size and influence on the donor community. They continue to grow and speak about growth and expansion as objectives. The transition to a more localized response is going to be difficult but it is the way ahead for the next 20 years.

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