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  • Immigrant Detainees Languish in Notorious Etowah County Detention Center

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    The Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, houses immigration detainees along with county inmates. The facility, which on any given day houses over 300 immigrants, is notorious for poor conditions. It is hours away from any immigration court or international airport , despite only housing people who have final orders of removal from the United States. Many of the detainees have been held here for months, if not years.

    Etowah should be closed for two reasons. First, the facility is inappropriate for civil detention. It is a high security jail designed to hold dangerous criminals serving their jail sentences, not for civil offenders awaiting removal from the United States. Second, many of the detainees held at this facility cannot be removed from the United States, despite having been ordered removed, since they are victims of torture or persecution, or because the U.S. does not have an extradition agreement with the home country. The federal government should not ask taxpayers to foot the bill for this inhumane and unnecessary detention.

    Looking Beyond Camps: Alternatives Offer a More Dignified Solution

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    In a couple of recent New York Times articles (here and here), Tina Rosenberg addressed the situation of refugees who spend many years living in camps.

    Housing refugees in camps, designed originally to be a short-term solution, has more often become a protracted life of misery for millions of refugees. Camps have been the quick fix and easy solution – not only for host governments, but also for the international humanitarian assistance community. It’s easier to feed and shelter refugees if they’re all together in one place. We can count them and decide assistance needs based on identifiable numbers.

    At Risk of Deportation and Thrown Into the Clutches of Known Killers

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    Read Michelle Brané's, Director of Detention and Asylum, piece in the Huffington Post, about Edmond Demiraj who, 10 years ago, agreed to testify against an Albanian mobster living in Texas who was charged, among other things, with human trafficking. In return for providing testimony, Demiraj, who was in the country without documentation, was promised safety for himself and his family. However, the accused Bedini jumped bail and fled to Albania. No longer needed as a witness, Demiraj was deported to his native Albania. Soon after, and perhaps not surprisingly, Bedini kidnapped, beat and shot him, as payback for his cooperation with the U.S. government. Miraculously, Demiraj survived.

    Photo Blog: Taking Family Planning Door to Door in Muddy South Sudan

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    Photo from a recent trip to South Sudan to discuss family planning

    Mihoko Tanabe, Program Officer, Reproductive Health Program, recently visited South Sudan to discuss family planning with people living in Malakal, right on the border with Sudan. Take a look at some of the pictures she took documenting her visit here, and also read her blog.

    Notes from the Field: Improving Women’s Health in Haiti

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    As you drive away from the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, tarp-covered shelters spread out in all directions. Across the country, these flimsy settlements are still home to some 600,000 Haitians displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.

    A year and a half after the disaster, Haiti is still very much in crisis and its population as vulnerable as ever. As after any emergency, people try to continue with their daily routines: traveling to and from jobs in whatever mode of transport is available, visiting with friends and buying food at local markets. But this belies the fact that the country is still severely fractured by the devastation experienced 20 months ago. Amidst the damage, community-based organizations (CBOs) and international humanitarian agencies continue their efforts to rebuild Haiti and to better prepare the country for future disasters.

    Notes from the Field: Taking Family Planning Door to Door in Muddy South Sudan

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    Although it was warm and sunny the day I arrived in Malakal, South Sudan, I soon found out why the rainy season is notorious here. I was in the newly independent country in August to help assess our pilot project on community-based distribution of family planning services in the town of Malakal, which is right on the border with the North. We have been partnering with the American Refugee Committee since 2010 on a project looking at whether community-based distribution of contraceptives would be effective in a place like Malakal, where conflict and distance have severely limited access to health facilities in the past, and few people know very much about family planning. Our project engaged community workers and volunteers who informed their peers about contraceptive methods through home visits, health education sessions and radio shows. Over the last year, they offered information on family planning options, provided condoms and the contraceptive pill and referred those who were interested in other, longer-term or permanent, family planning methods to a health facility.

    Working with a local team, we set out to meet with and survey community members to see if more of them were in fact using contraceptives than before and whether the project had indeed made a difference in their lives. Along the way, I came to understand some of the challenges this community faces.

    Violence Against Women and Girls in the Horn of Africa: The Untold Story

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    Sarah Costa, Executive Director of the Women's Refugee Commission, has her blog, “Violence Against Women and Girls in the Horn of Africa: The Untold Story,” published in Huffington Post.

    Lives in the Balance: No Time to Waste in the Horn of Africa

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    Women's Refugee Commission Board members explain why the world needs to act now to save lives in the Horn of Africa. Read their Huffington Post blog.

    Sexual Attacks against Congolese Women and Girls Commonplace in Angola

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    WFP/Pia Skjelstad

    Sexual violence is systemically being carried out against Congolese women and girls in the context of expulsions from Angola to the DRC.”

    These chilling words come from Margot Wallstrom, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and describe an ongoing cycle of forced expulsions targeting citizens of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that has become a fact of life for many undocumented residents from those two countries. Unfortunately, the violent and repeated attacks on women and girls have received very little international attention.

    Displaced and Disabled Persons Get Long Overdue Attention

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    Yesterday I was honored to accept, on behalf of the Women’s Refugee Commission, InterAction’s 2011 Disability Inclusion Award at their annual Forum in Washington, D.C. I am truly proud of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s groundbreaking work and our many accomplishments on behalf of displaced people with disabilities.

    These are highly vulnerable individuals, who are rarely acknowledged. The World Health Organization estimates that between 7 and 10 percent of the world’s population lives with disabilities. Based on this, we can calculate that between 2.8 and 4 million of the world’s 40+ million displaced people are disabled. In fact, the percentage of people living with disabilities may be even higher among those who have fled civil conflict, war or natural disaster.