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  • How Will Your Support of our Luncheon Help Refugee Women and Children?

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    By supporting our 2011 Voice of Courage Luncheon you will help improve the lives of refugee women and children. Your support helps to ensure that women can access emergency reproductive health care, that children and families in immigrant detention centers are protected and that youth refugees can learn marketable skills and have better futures.

    Since the Women’s Refugee Commission was established in 1989, we have been working hard to improve the lives of refugee women and children—and have made great progress. Highlights of these achievements include:

    An Interview with our 2011 Voices of Courage Honoree Thomson Reuters Foundation

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    Thomson Reuters Foundation hosts and produces AlertNet, the world’s humanitarian news network. AlertNet provides news and information on natural disasters, conflicts, refugees, hunger, diseases and climate change. At a time when crises are occurring in almost every corner of the world, the CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, Monique Villa, explains why AlertNet is a critical resource.

    How and why was AlertNet founded?

    AlertNet was set up in 1997, in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and criticism of the slow media response and poorly coordinated activities of relief agencies. The site puts our strengths of speed, accuracy and impartiality at the disposal of the humanitarian community by offering a “one-stop shop” for crisis information. AlertNet reflects a fundamental belief that cuts across all of Thomson Reuters, that the right information in the right hands leads to positive outcomes in the world. 

    Urban Refugees “101”

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    Every day it seems we hear about a new crisis somewhere in the world. With the rise in natural disasters and conflicts over the last several years, it’s not hard to see why the number of displaced people continues to grow. There are now 10.5 million refugees, and over half of them live in cities. Just 10 years ago, the UN reported that only 13% of all refugees lived in urban areas.

    To date, humanitarian efforts have focused primarily on camp-based refugees, leaving the situation of urban refugees barely understood. To find out more about the needs of displaced people living in urban settings, the Women’s Refugee Commission is conducting a one-year project to assess the urban displaced poor and will develop guidance to improve their lives and to help them thrive in the cities they now call home.

    Notes from the Field: Expanding Family Planning Options in Southern Sudan

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    Notes from the field Peer educators in Malakal, Sudan, informing local communities on family planning

    The needs are great in Malakal, Southern Sudan—where you can almost count on one hand the vegetables that are available in the local market. Rain falls heavy for half the year and drowns out what limited roadways exist. Transportation is often limited to donkeys, or people travel by foot. It is against this backdrop that the Women’s Refugee Commission embarked on a pilot project in Malakal in 2009 to improve the health and lives of refugee and displaced women and families. We wanted to determine whether community-based distribution of family planning—with community workers and volunteers informing their peers about services through home visits, health education sessions and radio shows—would be effective. Based on a trip I made to Malakal recently and the data so far, the signs are very good.

    An Interview with our 2011 Voices of Courage Honoree Zrinka Bralo

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    Journalist Zrinka Bralo fled former Yugoslavia in 1993, during the conflict, and sought asylum in the United Kingdom. Since then, she has been a fearless voice and champion for the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. Here, Zrinka shares her experiences and explains why she remains committed to the cause.

    Could you describe the situation you faced in Sarajevo?
    We woke up one day in 1992, and the city was being besieged by the former Yugoslav army and Bosnian Serb forces. Of course, there were signs earlier that things were getting out of control, but I never believed that a war would start in my city.

    We were continuously shelled by heavy artillery from the surrounding mountains. It was very chaotic, confusing and scary but, in a way there was no time to be scared because we had to focus on survival on a daily basis. On a good day, there were probably 300 to 400 shells falling on the city; on a bad day it was more than 3,000. Every time we heard an explosion, we would try to gauge where it had landed, because it could be someone we knew that was being killed or wounded. More than 10,000 people were killed during the four year siege and more than 50,000 were wounded. Every building in Sarajevo was damaged by the shelling and the damage can still be seen today.

    In addition to the massacres committed by shelling, snipers targeted people who were just walking through the city in search of food and water. We had to walk everywhere—or rather run—as there was no fuel or public transport. Water, telephone lines and electricity were cut off, and within weeks we ran out of food. There was no way out of the city for ordinary civilians. It was like medieval times.

    An Interview with our 2011 Voices of Courage Honoree Stella Mkiliwane

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    A refugee from Zimbabwe, Stella Mkiliwane has lived in South Africa for the last four years. She has used her own experiences to protect and advocate for better policies and services for refugees and displaced persons in Johannesburg and throughout South Africa. Here, Stella shares her story.

    What was it like in Zimbabwe when you left in 2007?
    In 2007, everything was deteriorating or falling apart. People were hungry and there was no food. The sick could not access medical attention. Inflation was uncontrollable. Under such circumstances you could not avoid discussing the political situation in the country and Mugabe's obsession about the “West” being the cause of all our problems. And I couldn’t keep quiet whenever such conversations came up. I was also working for an international humanitarian organization and doing field work for HIV and AIDS programs, going deep into rural areas and witnessing how people suffered. The rural folks were equally fed up and could not contain their anger anymore. Naturally conversations around these issues could not be avoided. I didn’t know who was amongst us, and I realized too late that I was at risk. One day I got an unannounced visit by men in very dark sunglasses telling me, “Change, or you will be changed.” I knew what “being changed” meant.

    Could you describe your arrival in South Africa?
    I arrived in South Africa on a visitors' visa. During that period, if you declared your intentions at the border you would either be deported back to Zimbabwe or taken to Lindela Deportation Centre and kept there indefinitely, without access to immigration officials or legal advisors. You would be held until you were deported—unless you were lucky enough to have someone from a civil society organization monitoring the Center there, who would help you to be released to apply for asylum.

    Reproductive Health in Crisis Settings Featured at Commission on the Status of Women

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    This guest blog post is written by Sameen Qadir, Student at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Intern at the Women's Refugee Commission

    Despite the grey, rainy weather on Monday, more than 100 people gathered for the United States launch of the updated Inter-agency Field Manual on Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings. The newly-launched manual builds on editions produced in 1996 and 1999, which focused principally on reproductive health in refugee situations. The new manual reflects best practices documented in a range of humanitarian settings around the world, from refugee situations to conflict zones and natural disasters.

    The Women's Refugee Commission co-hosted the launch, which was part of the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. United Nations staff, partners of the Inter-agency Working Group (IAWG) on Reproductive Health in Crises, and representatives of various organizations attended. Welcoming speeches by co-hosts Ambassador Gary Quinlan, the Permanent Representative of Australia to the U.N., Ambassador Hasan Kleib, the Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the U.N., and Purnima Mane, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), kicked off the event. Their addresses highlighted the important role the field manual has played in guiding interventions in humanitarian settings, noting examples from the field in Indonesia. Ambassador Quinlan succinctly stated, "Without addressing reproductive health, we cannot achieve our development goals."

    Call for House to Restore Funding for Life-Saving Humanitarian Programs

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    Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill that slashes funding for refugee programs by more than 40 percent and international disaster assistance by more than 50 percent. These deep cuts to humanitarian aid are very concerning and cannot be justified from a humanitarian perspective or as sound national policy.

    These funding cuts could potentially cost many lives. They will put displaced women and children at even greater risk of violence and exploitation. Young refugees will find it even more difficult to get an education that would allow them to build a life for themselves after displacement. The U.S. will be unable to respond to major new disasters, such as Haiti or Darfur. Less support for food assistance may push millions of people towards starvation.

    Finding What Works: Learning from Refugee Youths’ Struggles

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    At first glance, Staten Island’s Park Hill Avenue seems like a typical New York City block with its six-story apartments towering on the horizon. Seemingly peaceful, the area is characterized as a low-income neighborhood, with all the attendant problems: crime, drugs, homelessness and people left isolated from political and social systems. To Staten Islanders, Park Hill is “Little Liberia,” and to the more than 6,000 Liberian immigrants and refugees who have been living here since the 1990s, Park Hill is home—a haven from the war-torn country they fled and used to call their own.

    Youth Refugees Helping Each Other Adjust to their New Life in the U.S.

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    New York can be a daunting city for anyone—all the more so for a young person new to this country who may not have known life outside of a refugee camp. Fortunately, Helen Samuels, a young Burmese refugee, is helping youth refugees in situations like hers adjust to living in the big city.

    Helen and her family fled Myanmar (Burma) for Thailand before coming to the United States in 2008. Now Helen, who’s a member of our Youth Advisory Group, attends high school in New York, and shares her own experiences to help other young refugees.

    Meet Helen in this video and learn how she supports her peers and advocates for better policies for youth refugees.