IRC in the News
Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war-ravaged Syria and other countries in crisis are making desperate choices to seek safety in Europe. More than half of them are landing by boat on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Every day, International Rescue Committee staff members greet thousands of refugees arriving on the island, providing them with reliable information and guidance -- commodities as valuable as food and shelter. Most of these new arrivals, while thankful for reaching dry land safely, are exhausted, wet and frightened. IRC counselors, social workers and translators do their best to address their concerns and answer their most pressing questions.
The capital of the Greek island has a population of 30,000 – and had just registered 15,000 refugees en masse in order to get them on to ferries heading to the mainland. Until then thousands of people, predominately refugees fleeing the war in Syria, had been sleeping rough in public parks, or in tents in parking bays at the main port.
The crisis in Europe pales in comparison to the experiences of towns and cities in the Middle East. There are more Syrian refugees in Istanbul alone than there are in the rest of Europe. In Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the arrival of refugees has sometimes doubled the size of hosting towns. Despite this, municipal authorities are under intense pressure to carry on providing services that residents have come to expect, while also extending these to refugees, with little or no increase in resources.
For more than a decade, Maryland’s largest city has been used as an entry point for refugees, with federal agencies led by the State Department sending 700-800 there each recent year from such troubled places as Nepal, Iraq and Eritrea. About two-thirds moved on after a few years, guided by networks of relatives and compatriots who built lives in other places.
The mayor wants more to stay put. In September she joined 17 other mayors in commending President Barack Obama for his decision to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees next year (up from fewer than 2,000 this year), and urged him to accept still more. She makes clear that welcoming outsiders is more than a question of charity. Refugees are an exceptionally “resilient” bunch. “They want a better life for them and their children, and they are willing to work for it,” the mayor says.
The Bhutanese men abandon their canes and walkers by the yoga studio door, do a few gentle poses, and “leave with a spring in their step,” says Andrea Hammonds, behavioral health supervisor and head of the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) Survivors of Torture (SOT) program in Tucson.
Yoga, sewing, dance, drumming, acupuncture, and massage may sound like selections from a spa menu, but the emotional healing these SOT programs provide survivors of torture can be profound: Until he started practicing yoga, one Sudanese man couldn’t close his eyes without seeing the face of his torturers.
“We’ve been able to build this sense of home for people who have had that ripped away from them,” says Hammonds.
Of the 400 refugees Tucson’s IRC resettles a year, anywhere between 5 and 50 percent of refugees are survivors of torture, says Hammonds. The exact number is unknown because many people don’t disclose that fact. Refugees are those forced to flee their home country because of war, political oppression, or conflict. Although refugees are provided with apartments, cultural orientation, and work training immediately upon arrival in the U.S., they are expected to achieve self-sufficiency quickly.
"Working with the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps, we've developed an open source project called Crisis Info Hub to disseminate such information in a lightweight, battery-saving way," the statement said.
For two years, Syrian teenager Ibrahim scraped together a paltry living selling lottery tickets and tissues on the crowded streets of Beirut, but that seems like a lifetime ago now. The 18-year-old’s life turned around after three months’ training at a flower shop as part of an apprenticeship programme for vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian youths organised by an international humanitarian group.
“Among the flowers, I forget what happened to us. I forget our worries,” Ibrahim said, gently arranging a bouquet. He was one of 24 Syrian and Lebanese youths who took part in a training scheme organised by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) that took them off the streets and provided them with a small stipend.
Mohanad Al Abdullah prayed for the first time in two years during the several hours he spent in a crowded smuggler's boat crossing the Aegean Sea in September. Stepping onto the shores of Greece on the way to Germany, he celebrated surviving his dangerous sea journey from Turkey with a selfie, posting the snapshot to Facebook using the same phone that would allow him to navigate through Eastern Europe and begin learning the language of his adopted nation.
Mohanad, 17, was one of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who braved dangerous boat crossings since January to enter Europe via the Aegean Sea after fleeing an escalating civil war in Syria. Forced to abandon most possessions, Mohanad, like many refugees, took an item that can be used for everything from navigation to communication: his smartphone.
It’s been called the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II. But while the stories of people who are fleeing violence and oppression have shocked the world, grasping the scale of the number of migrants seeking asylum on the continent can be difficult.
That’s where Lucify, a data visualization company based in Helsinki, Finland, hopes to help. The company used data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the origin and destination of all the refugees in its database over three years to create an interactive graphic of the mass movement of people into Europe.