Mica Bevington published 42 NGOs warn that return of refugees to Myanmar now would be dangerous and premature in Press Releases 2018-11-19 10:52:06 -0500November 09, 2018
Humanitarian and civil society agencies working in Rakhine State in Myanmar and in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are deeply concerned that the repatriation of refugees will commence in mid-November, according to an announcement of the Joint Working Group of the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on October 30, 2018.
The Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh have made assurances to the refugees and the international community that repatriation will only happen when it is safe, voluntary and dignified. We call on both governments to stand by their commitments.
The UN has repeatedly stated that conditions in Myanmar are not conducive to return at this time. Refugees continue to flee Myanmar and facilitating repatriation now would be premature. The involuntary return of refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, where their lives and safety remain at grave risk, is a violation of the fundamental principle of non-refoulement.
Refugees have consistently told us that they want to return to their own homes and places of origin, or to places of their choice. They want guarantees that they can enjoy equal rights and citizenship. They want assurances that the extreme human rights violations they have suffered will stop, and those responsible for the violence they fled will be brought to justice. They do not want to return to conditions of confinement with no freedom of movement or access to services and livelihoods. They fear that these conditions will become permanent, like the situation in Central Rakhine State where 128,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been confined to camps with no freedom of movement for over six years.
Most of all, refugees tell us that they are afraid. They fled to Bangladesh to seek safety and they are very grateful to the Government of Bangladesh for giving them a safe haven. However, they are terrified about what will happen to them if they are returned to Myanmar now, and distressed by the lack of information they have received.
"We really want to go back, but not without citizenship...," says a refugee woman living in camps, in her mid-thirties. "They must give us citizenship and a normal life, like the other people are living in Myanmar…. They need to keep us in peace and not hurt us.
I have a brother back in Myanmar. … They are still afraid to sleep at night. They are still afraid to be killed in their beds. After coming here, through the blessings of Allah and the Bangladesh government, we can sleep at night. But my brother, he cannot sleep at night.”
As the UN agency mandated with the protection of refugees, UNHCR must play a key role in any organized return process, including providing refugees with objective, up-to-date, and accurate information in relevant languages and formats to allow them to make genuinely free and informed choices about whether and when they would like to exercise their right to return, obtaining their consent and monitoring that conditions are safe for return in Myanmar.
We call on the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to uphold their commitments, and ensure that refugees in Bangladesh are able to make free and informed choices about return, based on access to full and impartial information about conditions in Rakhine State. UN agencies should have unimpeded access to all parts of Rakhine State in order to provide this information and to monitor the situation in areas of potential return.
Note to editors
- For further information about conditions necessary for safe and voluntary return please see a joint statement by INGOs in Myanmar issued on December 8, 2017.
- Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina publicly affirmed Bangladesh’s commitment to not return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar until the conditions are conducive including “guaranteeing protection, rights and pathway to citizenship for all Rohingyas” at her UNGA statement on September 25, 2018 in New York. The Government of Myanmar has also made public statements that refugees should return “voluntarily in safety and dignity."
- For further information about human rights conditions inside Myanmar see the full report of the Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar published on September 18, 2018.
- The fundamental principle of non-refoulement is the cornerstone of international refugee protection and prevents the return or expulsion of a refugee “in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." [Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention]. Even States that are not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention are bound by the principle of non-refoulement which is a recognized principle of customary international law. Human rights law (the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture, and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) also prohibit the return or expulsion of a person to a country where they would be in danger of torture or persecution. For more information – see UNHCR Note on the Principle of Non-Refoulement.
- For more information on international standards relating to Voluntary Repatriation, see UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation.
Photo caption: Rohingya women wait for humanitarian aid at a refugee camp in Bangladesh where HI works.
Mica Bevington published HI launches new challenge to map areas at risk of humanitarian disaster in Press Releases 2018-10-04 14:23:44 -0400October 04, 2018
In emergencies like the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami, humanitarian actors are often confronted with a lack of maps, which are crucial to make quick decisions, ultimately saving lives. To address this issue, HI and crowdAI launched the Mapping Challenge. The five best solutions are being presented at the 5th International Conference on Data Science and Advanced Analytics, held in Turin on October 1st to 4th, 2018.
In emergency situations, humanitarians need recent and precise maps of the damaged or destroyed area.
“We need a clear picture of the situation so we can make the right decisions quickly,” explains Paul Vermeulen, Project manager for Strategic Innovation at HI. “We also need regular updates of these maps during our interventions.”
Many parts of the world have never been mapped. For instance, in developing countries, settlements with several thousand inhabitants might be marked by no more than simple roads. Such inadequate mapping is especially true in the most marginalized areas—those most vulnerable to natural disasters.
“Without accurate maps, it is a huge challenge for international organizations to identify resources and plan an effective emergency response,” explains Lars Bromley, principal analyst and research advisor at UNOSAT. “Obtaining maps of these potential crisis areas greatly improves the preparations, planning and implementation of emergency actions. UNOSAT and others have long worked hard to provide such information. More data for mapmaking is always a crucial need and one of our primary focuses.”
Saving lives with algorithms
Satellite imagery is readily available to humanitarian organizations, but translating these images into maps is an intensive effort. Today specialized organizations produce these maps, or they rely on events such as mapathons, where volunteers annotate satellite imagery with roads, buildings, farms, rivers, etc.
Images of the earth are increasingly available from a variety of sources, including nano-satellites, drones, and conventional high altitude satellites. “Today, the data market is booming and actors buy those images at unaffordable prices,” Vermeulen says.
“It is an imperative for NGOs and civil society actors to develop partnerships with the scientific and private sectors, in order to access maps at reasonable cost.”
HI launched its first Mapping challenge in partnership with crowdAI and with the support of UNOSAT and UN Global Pulse. The mission, for more than 50 participating researchers, was to produce maps of buildings using machine learning.
Over two months, the researchers developed and tested algorithms capable of accurately translating the pixels from satellite images into features on maps. crowdAI then evaluated each contribution. Out of 717 algorithms, they identified the five best performing ones for further testing.
Hope for populations living in unmapped zones
“This is a big hope for populations living in unmapped zones,” says Vermeulen. ”With the mapping challenge, we are identifying new actors and possible solutions to make recently updated maps more accessible. In addition, we are confident that innovation will allow new partnerships for increased access to updated maps.”
Platforms developed by start-ups for automated image analysis will soon be tested. What’s more, areas contaminated by landmines can be captured in high definition by cameras and various sensors attached to drones and analyzed by these same platforms. HI, a leading actor in humanitarian demining activities, will testing such technologies in 2019.
Mica Bevington published Displaced and disabled: humanitarian services fall short in News 2018-08-06 16:36:37 -0400
Conditions are extremely harsh for everyone living in South Sudan’s Bentiu camp, but people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. A new report by Humanity & Inclusion and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assesses the situation in the Bentiu Protection of Civilians Site in South Sudan, where humanitarian services struggle to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
The civil war raging in South Sudan has forced many Southern Sudanese to flee to camps like Bentiu. Several humanitarian organizations are helping, but improvements must be made to ensure humanitarian response takes into account the needs and rights of people with disabilities.
Present in the field, HI and IOM have identified discriminating factors affecting people with disabilities and recommended ways to promote more inclusive humanitarian response.
Inaccessible water and food
People with disabilities say they’re unable to fully benefit from the site’s humanitarian infrastructure and services. Major barriers identified include long distances, inaccessible infrastructure and roads, information formats poorly adapted to their disability, and discrimination. In fact, some 49% of surveyed people with disabilities reported particular difficulty accessing clean drinking water due to the distance to water pumps and unsuitable road surfaces. Many people reported difficulty moving around their shelter. Children with disabilities cannot access child-friendly spaces.
Although there are priority queues at food distribution sites, people with disabilities are finding it difficult to get their rations home safely, because containers are unsuitable and often stolen by others along the routes to their shelters.
These are just some of the discriminating factors that make daily life more difficult for people with disabilities in the camp.
Inclusive humanitarian services needed
The report suggests ways for humanitarian services to become more inclusive. These include prioritizing funding for inclusive programs, adapting infrastructure and information sources, improving mechanisms to protect against abusive behaviour, and requesting technical support from local and international disability representatives.
Funding bodies, camp coordinators and humanitarian organizations can ensure that people with disabilities feel protected and involved in sites like Bentiu. By adapting their activities to meet the needs of people with disabilities, humanitarian actors can optimize services for people living in camps and help ensure inclusive and accessible humanitarian assistance for all.
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