Humanitarian and Emergencies

Today, ministers and senior diplomats from around the world meet with the UN, EU and states involved in the Syrian conflict for a high-level Conference (5 April) to identify ways forward on the crisis. This happens as news from Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib in Syria suggests that an aerial bombardment using chemical weapons has left over 50 dead, and the situation escalates across multiple besieged areas across the country. At the top of the agenda is the question of ‘reconstruction’ – yet what does ‘reconstruction’ mean in a country still at war?

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A man and boy carrying emergency shelter materials across bombed out rubble in southern Syria (2016) A man and boy carrying emergency shelter materials across bombed out rubble in southern Syria (2016)

The plight of refugee women both in Europe and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region has been largely ignored, characterised by a lack of information and lost in the broader sweep of the humanitarian disaster. This won’t be the first time in history women’s issues were side-lined in light of a bigger cause.

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Refugees in a temporary camp in Adasevci, Serbia, prepare to eat a meal provided by CARE’s partner organisation NSHC Refugees in a temporary camp in Adasevci, Serbia, prepare to eat a meal provided by CARE’s partner organisation NSHC

Human Rights Day happens 10 December every year to commemorate the day in 1948 that governments of the world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations. Human Rights Day also marks the end of the yearly 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women and Girls, which is an important moment in which activists around the world mobilise to raise awareness on women’s rights issues.

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Refugee women giving their testimonies at an event organised by CARE and Women for Refugee Women in London in September 2016 Refugee women giving their testimonies at an event organised by CARE and Women for Refugee Women in London in September 2016

Today and tomorrow (20-21 October 2016), European heads of state meet in Brussels for the European Council. At the top of the agenda is European policy on migration. Having recently returned from Greece where I was supporting CARE’s efforts to help refugees, I’ve seen for myself the desperate situation that so many refugees face. It represents a collective failure of European governments – and the proposals tabled for the European Council risk making the situation worse.

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Marzia, age 15, an Afghan refugee in Greece Marzia, age 15, an Afghan refugee in Greece

In the run-up to the Global Summits on Refugees and Migrants at the United Nations in September 2016, CARE launched a petition to campaign for better protection for innocent civilians fleeing conflicts and natural disasters. We had three asks in our petition targeting the UK Prime Minister Theresa May, which secured the support of over 21,000 people. So to what extent did the Refugee and Migrant Summits deliver on our demands?

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Refugees gathering in a park in Belgrade, Serbia, in July 2016 Refugees gathering in a park in Belgrade, Serbia, in July 2016

During her maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Theresa May launched a global campaign to end modern slavery (which she previously described as “the great human rights issue of our time”) and called upon other world leaders to join her in this endeavour. Yet every day young girls fleeing from conflict and violence fall prey to human trafficking rings and the UK is standing idly by.

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A girl holds her head at a refugee camp in Serbia, July 2016 (note: image for illustrative purposes, not necessarily an unaccompanied minor) A girl holds her head at a refugee camp in Serbia, July 2016 (note: image for illustrative purposes, not necessarily an unaccompanied minor)

We all agree that the numbers are staggering: according to the UNHCR, on average, 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier. At the last count, Greece alone was home to 57,000 displaced people, 40 per cent of them children. But on what to do and who should do it is where agreement ends and polemics begin.

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CARE staff member Basheer Alzaalan, originally from Syria, now works for CARE's KIWI refugee integration project in Germany CARE staff member Basheer Alzaalan, originally from Syria, now works for CARE's KIWI refugee integration project in Germany
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