Saturday November 18, 2017

“Virtual Volunteer”: Red Cross App Helps Refugees in Italy to Find Food, Banks and Doctors

The digital platform called "Virtual Volunteer" was unveiled on World Refugee Day as new data showed the number of refugees globally reached a record 22.5 million in 2016

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FILE - A migrant uses his mobile phone as he sits on a dock of Valletta harbor, Malta, Feb. 2, 2017. VOA
  • Nearly 70,000 have arrived in Italy so far this year, mostly migrants from West Africa and Bangladesh, according to the International Organization for Migration
  • The app — developed by the IFRC and tech giant IBM — has already been rolled out in Greece and Sweden, where it has been used by 30,000 people
  • Virtual Volunteer, also accessible as a website, offers information in multiple languages depending on what is most needed in each country

London, June 21, 2017: The Red Cross launched a smartphone app Tuesday to help refugees and migrants arriving in Italy access information and services, including medical, psychological and legal support.

The digital platform called “Virtual Volunteer” was unveiled on World Refugee Day as new data showed the number of refugees globally reached a record 22.5 million in 2016.

“People moving are often caught in a fog of poor information,” said Jagan Chapagain, head of programs and operations at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “They don’t always know what services are available to them.

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“This is a tool that will help give them a clearer view so that they can make informed decisions,” he said in a statement.

Italy is on the front line in the European migrant crisis, which has seen hundreds of thousands of people arrive in the continent by land and sea after fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Nearly 70,000 have arrived in Italy so far this year, mostly migrants from West Africa and Bangladesh, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Goods, services, tips

Virtual Volunteer uses geolocation to show users on a map where to access shelters, food banks, canteens, showers, clothes distribution points, maternal health centers, free legal assistance, dentists and language schools.

Refugees and migrants can also find advice on how to protect themselves from traffickers and can access information to help them locate family members if they have become separated.

The app — developed by the IFRC and tech giant IBM — has already been rolled out in Greece and Sweden, where it has been used by 30,000 people. “Information saves lives. Ensuring that people can access unbiased, factual information has a big impact,” Italian Red Cross President Francesco Rocca said in a statement.

Virtual Volunteer, also accessible as a website, offers information in multiple languages depending on what is most needed in each country. Languages in Italy include French, Arabic and Tigrinya, reflecting the high number of Eritrean arrivals, while those in Greece include Arabic, Farsi and Dari.

The IFRC plans to roll out the service in other countries affected by migration, including the Philippines and countries in West Africa. (VOA)

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World in the Grip of ‘Hidden Crimes’ : Over 40 Million People, Including Women and Children Trapped in Modern Slavery, Reveals New Report

In the past five years, 89 million people suffered in some form of modern slavery, lasting from days to years, the report estimates

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A government raid empties a shrimp shed in Samut Sakhon, Thailand. Slavery has often been considered an acceptable business practice in the country's seafood export capital. (VOA)

New York, September 20, 2017 : More than 40 million people were trapped as slaves last year in forced labor and forced marriages, most of them women and girls, according to the first joint effort by key anti-slavery groups to count the victims of the often hidden crime worldwide.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), the human rights group Walk Free Foundation and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016 — but added that this was a conservative estimate.

They estimated 24.9 million people were trapped working in factories, on construction sites, farms and fishing boats, and as domestic or sex workers, while 15.4 million people were in marriages to which they had not consented.

Almost three out of every four slaves were women and girls and one in four was a child, with modern slavery most prevalent in Africa followed by Asia and the Pacific region, said the report released Tuesday.

“It’s a conservative number,” Andrew Forrest, founder of Walk Free, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It cannot capture the full extent of the horror of modern slavery.”

No region exempt

In the past five years, 89 million people suffered in some form of modern slavery, lasting from days to years, the report estimated.

“Forced laborers produced some of the food we eat and the clothes we wear, and they have cleaned the buildings in which many of us live or work,” the groups said in the report, stressing the crime was prevalent in all nations.

The findings mark the first time the groups collaborated on an international estimate and prompted calls for stronger labor rights, improved governance of migrants, action to address root causes of debt bondage, and better victim identification.

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“Having a global number shows the prevalence of the issue of modern slavery. It shows there is impunity around the world where people are being traded by organized criminals” and “being let down by systems,” said Kevin Hyland, Britain’s independent anti-slavery commissioner. “We need to see this translated into action that develops a response about how we safeguard people.”

Previously the anti-slavery groups had used different data, definitions and methodologies to reach separate global estimates, said Kevin Bales, professor of contemporary slavery at Britain’s University of Nottingham and a member of Walk Free’s statistical team.

The latest estimate “is more accurate than any number that we’ve had previously,” he said. “We just have better data and better methods than we’ve ever had before.

“It’s a hidden crime,” he added. “It’s tricky to get at.”

modern slavery
A boy sells colored balloons in Kabul, Afghanistan(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul) (VOA)

Child, sexual exploitation

The estimate compared with a 2016 Walk Free finding that 45.8 million people were slaves and an ILO figure of 21 million in forced labor, but both the ILO and Walk Free cautioned the latest number cannot be compared with earlier figures to show progress or failure in anti-slavery efforts.

But having an agreed-upon estimate can help galvanize anti-slavery efforts, said Jean Baderschneider, head of the U.S.-based Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.

“I’m so thrilled that they got this together. It’s a big deal for the field today,” she said.

Fiona David, executive director of global research at Australia-based Walk Free, said unlike previous estimates, the findings explicitly included people forced into marriages.

Many are women taken from their homes, raped and treated like property that could sometimes be bought, sold or passed on as inheritance, she said.

More than a third of the 15 million victims of forced marriage were under 18 when wed, and nearly half of those were younger than 15. Nearly all were female.

“Really the label marriage is actually a little bit misleading. When you look at what’s behind it, it could also be called sexual slavery,” she said.

modern slavery
Women arrive at the entrance to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for a trial hearing about evidence of forced marriage and rape during the Khmer Rouge regime, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (VOA)

Including forced marriage is a breakthrough that helps draw needed attention to the issue, Bales said.

“In a lot of countries around the world, they don’t even want to discuss the idea of marriage … in the same room as the idea of slavery,” he said.

Child labor

The ILO also released a separate report showing 152 million children were victims of child labor, which amounted to nearly one in every 10 children worldwide, with almost half of those engaged in hazardous work.

More than two-thirds of these children were working on a family farm or in a family business, with 71 percent overall working in agriculture.

The calculation of forced labor included the private economy, forced sexual exploitation and state-imposed labor.

Half of forced laborers were victims of debt bondage, who were made to work to repay a debt or other obligation, and nearly 4 million adults and 1 million children were victims of forced sexual exploitation.

“The vast majority of forced labor today exists in the private economy. This underscores the importance of partnering with the business community … to eradicate forced labor in supply chains,” the report said.

The ILO and Walk Free conducted surveys in 48 countries and interviewed more than 71,000 people, with findings supplemented by data from the IOM. (VOA)

 

 

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Suicide Rates on Rise among Myanmar Refugees in Thailand’s Biggest Camp, says UN Study

Collaborative efforts between nongovernmental groups and government agencies could help identify the cause and ways to prevent suicides

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Refugees shop for food in a market inside Mae La camp in Tak province, northwestern Thailand, June 2, 2012. Benarnews/RFA
  • The study found that only one person committed suicide in Mae La camp in 2014, but the number escalated to 14 each year in 2015 and 2016
  • During the same three-year period, 96 people attempted to kill themselves at the camp, the study said
  • Family conflicts, financial situations, alcohol and drug abuse and depression could have contributed to the rising figures

Myanmar, July 1, 2017: Suicide among Myanmar refugees in Thailand’s biggest camp increased at an alarming rate during the past two years, according to a study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The study, which was released on Monday – the eve of World Refugee Day – found that only one person committed suicide in Mae La camp in 2014, but the number escalated to 14 each year in 2015 and 2016.

During the same three-year period, 96 people attempted to kill themselves at the camp, the study said.

“The trend is increasing in the past couple of years,” said Dana Graber Ladek, chief of IOM mission in Bangkok. “This actually needs more services, such as by counselors and psychiatrists in the camps, to prevent suicide.”

Mae La camp in Thasongyang district of Tak province, about 500 km (312 miles) north of Bangkok, harbors about 40,000 refugees, mostly ethnic Karen from eastern Myanmar. It is the largest of nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, where about 100,000 people resettled after the Myanmar military regime launched offensives against ethnic rebel forces during the 1980s.

Ladek said collaborative efforts between nongovernmental groups and government agencies could help identify the cause and ways to prevent suicides.

“The Interior Ministry of Thailand takes this refugee situation very seriously, and it’s not a situation that one agency can address,” Ladek told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. He added that the effort would require a collaborative approach on many different levels.

The study said no conclusive cause for the surge in suicides had been established. But, it said, family conflicts, financial situations, alcohol and drug abuse and depression could have contributed to the rising figures.

Middle-age people, mostly those who have spent their entire lives in the camp, were statistically at higher risk of suicide, the study said. It said the most common methods used were hanging and drinking herbicides which are easily available because many refugees work on farmlands.

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Government officials respond

Officials of a Thai government agency that manages the camp said they were aware of the suicides. They responded by fielding psychiatrists who provided counseling to vulnerable individuals and set up checkpoints to stop drug trafficking into the camp.

“We have our representatives staying with refugees in the camp who observe and are ready to talk with them 24/7,” Kwanruen Srichan, director of Border and Refugee Affairs Section, told BenarNews during a phone interview.

“We are expecting that attempted and completed suicides would decline,” she said.

Thailand began hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1970s. More recently, Thailand has received populations threatened by armed conflict and ethnic persecution in Myanmar, according to Amnesty International (AI).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said more than 80,000 Myanmar refugees in Thailand had resettled in other countries since 2005. It said tens of thousands had returned to Myanmar after the new democratically elected government announced its commitment to voluntary refugee repatriation.

But the 100,000 refugees remaining in nine camps are facing reduced funding, decreased resettlement opportunity and poorer services, officials said.

“This is very complex,” Ladek said. “All the reasons are contributing” to the problem.

Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, but officials said the country has been committed to providing the humanitarian needs of refugees and asylum seekers.

In addition to the 100,000 people living in refugee camps, AI said there were about 8,000 asylum seekers from more than 50 countries in Thailand.

Another 330 UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers are being held in immigration detention centers in difficult living conditions and many have been forcibly repatriated.

On Tuesday, AI said that despite Thailand’s role in hosting and supporting large refugee populations, the nation had failed to consistently protect their rights.

“Refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand are not afforded any legal status under Thai law and remain extremely vulnerable to arrest, detention, forcible deportation and exploitation,” AI said in a statement.

-Benarnews/RFA

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Migration Refugee Crisis Unfolding in Yemen, Djibouti

The International Organization for Migration said about 10,000 migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, make the long, dangerous trek across the blistering hot desert to Djibouti every month

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FILE - An illegal immigrant from Ethiopia covers his face as he waits with others for a boat to cross into Yemen outside the town of Obock, north Djibouti.(VOA)

Geneva, October 16, 2016: The International Organization for Migration warns a migration refugee crisis unfolding in Yemen and Djibouti is having a serious impact across the Horn of Africa.

NewsGram brings to you current foreign news from all over the world.

The International Organization for Migration said about 10,000 migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, make the long, dangerous trek across the blistering hot desert to Djibouti every month. From there they transit through war-torn Yemen to Saudi Arabia in search of work.

The IOM said most of the migrants are young men. About 30 percent are unaccompanied minors, some as young as 11. It said very few women are to be seen.

Speaking by telephone from Obock, Djibouti, IOM Director for East and Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Labovitz, said the women are largely invisible because smugglers take them to Saudi Arabia by car to work as domestic servants.

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“It is much more clandestine and organized,” he said. “And so we are not seeing them. But, it also means in terms of protection, we do not know what is going on at all.”

Labovitz said Yemen recently began deporting Ethiopian migrants to Djibouti. He said it appears thousands are likely to be deported in the near future and called such a prospect “very worrying” for a “small country like Djibouti.”

“What we are seeing right now, too, in Yemen is that in the government areas, they are asking us urgently to provide food and services to over 4,000 individuals in detention,” he said. “And we also hear in the coalition areas that there are several thousand who may be deported soon. We do not know.”

Labovitz said the IOM will not be able to handle such a huge surge of migrants. He said the Migration Response Center, the transit center run by the IOM and the Ministry of the Interior in Obock can take care of about 100 migrants at one time. Currently, the center is hosting between 600 and 700 stranded Ethiopian migrants, he said.

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Djibouti could soon be facing a massive surge of migrants, creating a humanitarian crisis, added Labovitz. To make matters worse, he said the IOM’s voluntary return program is largely on hold because most of the Ethiopian migrants have no documents and the IOM is strapped for cash.(VOA)