November 23, 2010

The Shermeyateva 16, Somali Refugees Stranded at Airport in Moscow

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Have you ever seen the Tom Hanks movie about the man from Eastern Europe who is stuck in an airport when when his country implodes and invalidates his passport before reaching customs?  That movie was based on the real life experience of an Iranian man who was stuck at a French airport due to his own idiocy.  The man had acquired refugee status in Belgium, then got on a ferry to England and sent his legal document back to Belgium in the mail, thus leaving him stranded between borders with no legal clearance.  Later he wrote a book about it, which I found shoved in the corner of guest house in India, and have wondered periodically about how the matter was resolved.

But these stories are more than fiction.  Such things actually happen.

A few days ago I received an email that said the following:
This past weekend I was traveling in Russia and I encountered a group of 8 Somali refugees who told me they have been stranded in the Moscow airport for the past nine months.  I spoke with two who have very good English.  The group is safe, but they are sleeping on the airport floor surviving on instant soup and have not been able to leave the airport at all.  I'm assuming this is the same group who Rachel encountered in June.I found your contact info on the forced migration list serve via a Google search and am following up to see if you have any additional information or ideas for how to support them.  I have referred them to the Advocates for Human Rights, a Minnesota-based organization in the US, but am looking for all ideas for how to help them.  The situation seems inhumane and I would like to do whatever I can to assist them in finding a permanent new home. A Russian airport staff person has donated a laptop to the group and they have internet access.  Here is the email address that can be used to reach them [redacted].

Please let me know if you might be able to help this group, or suggest someone who can, or have any advice for the best way to raise the profile of their plight."

Having read something about this sometime during the summer, I was disappointed to learn the situation is otherwise unchanged.  Airports are a legal curiosity, as they present passengers with a 'legal fiction' of control between border points while remaining trans-national space.  Yet I cannot wonder about the particular issues facing this group.  Were they denied entry to Russia?  Were they denied exit?  Were they in transit to another destination but lacked transit visas?  What happened?  If anyone can tell me more about this, I'd like to hear about it.  You can contact me here.

Moscow Airport

November 19, 2010

The Seemingly Impossible is Possible

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Today I am sharing Hans Rosling's presentation at TEDTalks, wherein he uses a wealth of statistical data to show how the world is changing - for the better.  He begins this by presenting an excellent analysis of aggragated data, comparing the GDP of countries vs. their infant mortality rate over the last 100 years.  The data reveals the discrepancies between economic growth and social development, for example, in 1957 the United States had same economy as contemporary Chile, yet only in 2002 does the quality of health with the United States reach the quality of health within Chile. As the presentation advances, he introduces the lessons learned from his long experience as a public health researcher and strategies toward mitigating the obstacles toward further advances.   What I love most about this presentation is that he deconstructs the industrial/developing mindset and shows that many of the countries in the world we consider 'developing' have actually advanced more in the last 50 years than any other country in the world if one were to accurately consider the circumstances these countries were facing 50 years ago. Not only is the presentation insightful, but it is incredibly entertaining as well.  Enjoy.

November 16, 2010

Now Online: An Assessment of Sphere Humanitarian Standards for Shelter and Settlement Planning in Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Camps

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Photo: Evelyn Hockstein for The New York Times

I am pleased to announce that my graduate Community Planning thesis in International Development is now online.  Although it has been published to various academic research databases, I am also making it available online through this blog.  For those interested in the Sphere Humanitarian Charter's Minimum Standards, this thesis examines the applicability of the Sphere emergency shelter standards to a protracted crisis, specifically the Dadaab refugee camp.  The research process includes an assessment of local shelter construction, refugee camp design by the Norwegian Refugee Council within Ifo II, and an older pres-sphere agency shelter design.  Research was conducted in the Dadaab camps  in 2007 with follow up research in 2009.  To download the pdf, just click the link below.   I am also pasting a copy of the abstract below.





Abstract

This thesis examines the viability of Sphere Humanitarian Shelter Standards within the construction of Ifo II, a new refugee camp in the Dadaab refugee camps of northeastern Kenya in 2007.  One of the largest refugee settlements in the world, the Dadaab camps contain over 300,000 refugees and have been in place since 1991.  As the Sphere Standards have been designed for use within an emergency crisis, this thesis investigates their applicability in the protracted settlement of Dadaab by utilizing a recent shelter initiative as a case study.

In 2007, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) initiated a new housing and camp expansion project in Dadaab to accommodate future population growth and to overcome many of the problems of the earlier camps.  Committed to sustainable solutions for displaced populations, the agency relied upon the Sphere Standards as a means to provide culturally, environmentally, and economically appropriate housing and infrastructure planning.   To determine if Sphere Standards meet the needs of the refugee populations, three months of qualitative research were undertaken within the Dadaab camps in 2007, with additional follow-up research in 2009.   Field research focused on the socioeconomic roles of informal housing consolidation strategies in the camps, pre-Sphere agency-provided housing, and the new NRC camp expansion.

Field research revealed that Sphere does not provide the tools necessary to contend with the matured socioeconomic dynamics of a protracted settlement. By expanding the standards to include a stronger recognition of the conditions which frame the lives of those in protracted displacement such as national policies, regional conflict, and local market activity, Sphere will provide humanitarian agencies with the means to provide displaced populations with better shelter and settlement solutions.