In recent days, all eyes have turned to the Syrian refugee crisis in the wake of toddler Aylan Kurdi’s body washing up on Turkish coast. Although graphic, a photograph of Aylan’s body has been shared and printed thousands of times, making international impact as global citizens demand shelter for these fleeing refugees. While it is tragic that it took the death of this child to draw international attention to this crisis, the results have forced administrators to address the refugee crisis.
Videos of German citizens cheering and applauding arriving refugees have circled the web, but unfortunately, these sentiments are not shared across Europe. France has announced they will accept 24,000 migrants and Britain an even fewer 20,000. Even Germany, the country that has arguably done the most to address the crisis, must cap their refugee admittance at 500,000 migrants annually. These efforts hardly seem sufficient as in 2015 alone, 367,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean in hopes of reaching Europe’s safer shore.
Some countries have had an openly hostile response to the refugees flooding their shores. In Hungary, government officials are refusing to deny asylum to refugees under the argument that they are simply fleeing bad economic conditions and not violence. The Prime Minister is pushing for the completion of a 13-foot fence along the Hungarian-Serbian border and many nations have refused to acknowledge the refugees at all.
What does this mean for the U.S.? Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict four years ago, the United States has accepted only 1,500 refugees. The Obama administration has said it is “actively considering” more ways to help and an official White House petition has over 48,000 signatures from citizens urging the administration to allow refugees into the country. The administration adds that the U.S. has provided over $4 billion in humanitarian assistance since the Syrian crisis began, and over $1 billion in assistance this year, making the U.S. “the single largest donor to the Syrian crisis.” We eagerly await more information from the administration and hope that this crisis can be addresses swiftly and safely.
The Olympic spirit has been high over the past 2 weeks, both locally here in Boston and throughout the nation and globe. It is truly a worldwide shared experience (not only are 204 countries represented, this year all countries participating sent women athletes, leading to the unofficial designation as the Year of the Woman!). The Olympics, in a small (and large way, since 3.2 billion people are tuning in!), represents much of the mission of the UN – as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in remarks leading up to the London games, “today, sports and events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games break down barriers by bringing together people from all around the world and all walks of life….The Olympic Truce – and more broadly the Olympic ideal — carries a powerful message: that people and nations can set aside their differences and live and work together in harmony. And if they can do it for one day, or for one event, they can do it forever. This is the dream on which the United Nations is built, and the goal of our daily work.”
Bringing forth this mission, the UN has helped the Olympics get off to a fiery start late last month. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon took part in the Olympic torch relay in London, setting the flame and the stage for the world’s biggest athletics meet. Dressed in a white tracksuit, he cited the experience as a great honor and congratulated the UK on their preparations for the events which will continue into September. He then participated in the opening ceremony, carrying the Olympic flag with fellow peace makers and global heavyweights Daniel Barenboim, Sally Becker, Shami Chakrabati, Leymah Gbowee, Haile Gebrselassie, Doreen Lawrence, Marina Silva, and Muhammad Ali.
Ban also addressed the UN’s Olympics truce resolution. The resolution calls on Member States cooperate with Olympic committees to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation. The truce is based on the Greek Olympic tradition of ensuring that athletes return to safe villages once the games concluded; the UN’s modern version has been in place at every Olympiad since 1993.
The UN hoped that this year’s resolution would be signed unanimously by all 193 member-states to observe peaceful activity until from the opening ceremony, July 27, to the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, September 9. The news comes as concern grows surrounding unrest in Syria– Moon thought this was a good opportunity to urge the Syrian government to halt their offense.
Furthermore, the Secretary-General advised us to be considerate of those around the globe who do not have access to sport, encouraging governments to provide opportunities to their citizens, not as a luxury but as a path to healthier living, cooperation, and mutual tolerance and respect. He added, “When you see the magic that a ball can create among children in a shantytown or refugee camp, you see potential that we must harness.” Mr. Ban said, “If people and nations can set aside their differences, if they can place harmony over hostility, if they can do it for one day, or for one event, they can do it forever.”
Other UN agencies raising awareness at the games include UNEP (Environment), UNHCR, (Refugees), and UNAIDS (HIV/AIDS). UNEP is working with the International Olympic Committee to ensure that the games are sustainable while UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization will be holding side events over the next few weeks. Let us not forget about all of the UN Goodwill Ambassadors who are also participating in the games. High-profile athletes from all over the world are competing in soccer/football, swimming, tennis and more. For example, representing the US and UNICEF is Serena Williams, while Maria Sharapova, Lee Chong Wei, and Ana Ivanovic are representing Russia, Malaysia, and Serbia respectively.
Locally the Olympics are also making quite the splash here. Massachusetts has a few athletes competing, such as Stuart McNay, a sailor from Newton, Karen O’Connor, an equestrian from Bolton. Boston’s brightest star during the games has been Aly Raisman, a Team USA captain and Needham teen, who won gold along with her USA teammates in Women’s Team Gymnastics, came in fourth for the all-around competition, and will be competing today in the beam and floor exercise finals. It’s not just Massachusetts natives we’re cheering for; there are many athletes competing who are Mass. college and university students or alumni. Massachusetts students are making an impact on the games, and Harvard and BU are topping the all-time medal count when it comes to local institutions. Harvard grads have earned 91 medals since the first Olympiad, and this year’s stars are from the Crimson’s crew team.
To keep the local spirit going, join UNA-GB in rooting for our athletes in addition to championing the Olympics as an example of how sports can bring people together not only competitively but also in a peaceful manner. As Ban Ki-moon says, “One day of peace can lead to a week of peace … a month of peace … and eventually an end to war. The United Nations was founded on this dream. Every day we work to make peace a reality. May the torch of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London unite the world for harmony and peace.”
Despite the dreary weather on Monday, UNA-GB launched a fantastic week of programming. Staff and interns took a field trip to Harvard Business School where the 2012 Model UN Summer Institute’s first session kicked off, with nearly 50 6th-12th grade students from around Boston and the country coming together for an intensive week-long program focused on global diplomacy and leadership.
Across the quad, in Spangler Hall, UNA-GB staff, Advisory Council members, and Board officers gathered for our annual Advisory Council luncheon. This year we were pleased and honored to welcome Ambassador Robert Pelletreau and his wife Pamela as our special guests.
Pelletreau has impressive and timely expertise in the Middle East, having served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs as well as Ambassador to Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain throughout his 35 year career in the Foreign Service. Upon leaving government, he joined the international law firm of Afridi & Angell , and in 2002, along with his wife, became Co-Director, of Search for Common Ground in the Middle East. Mrs. Pelletreau was an active volunteer of UNA in New York, and since moving to the Cape this year, has become more involved with UNA-GB.
The luncheon opened with an energizing introduction from UNA-GB President Richard Golob, who spoke enthusiastically about the Advisory Council and their role as ambassadors to the Boston community. Council Member Peter Smith echoed Richard’s comments, describing the crucial role of the Advisory Council as not only spokespeople for UNA-GB overall, but also specifically as avid supporters of our Model UN global education programming.
Ambassador Pelletreau spoke next, giving all those gathered at the table a clear, organized and engaging update on the current status of political changes in the Middle East, while also bringing in charming personal anecdotes; he opened with a story about playing squash with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. During his remarks, he shared 4 general observations on political uprisings in the last year or so:
- globalization of communications
- the key role of a slumped global economy
- a shift in demographics due to a huge youth population
- and the rise and influence of Islamist parties.
Pelletreau stated that a combination of these factors was the catalyst for the uprisings, pointing out that in an increasingly globalized world where news access is everywhere and stories can spread like wildfire, it is harder to cut your citizens off from the rest of the world. Ambassador Pelletreau gave his take on what the future may look like in this region, and in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria specifically, saying that while much is unclear, fighting is likely to continue. As a final wrap up to his informed commentary, Pelletreau shared another anecdote, this time about Henry Kissinger’s legendary trip to China in 1971, during which Premier Zhou was asked about the implications of the French Revolution – he replied that it was “too early to say”. All those in attendance laughed at the irony, and with understanding that issues as complicated as those currently faced in the Arab world will indeed take time.
After a brief time of Q&A, Executive Director Lena Granberg updated the Council on UNA-GB programming so far this year, particularly highlighting the successes of our Model UN program, now serving almost 3,000 6th-12th grade students in the greater Boston area. (To catch up on recent UNA-GB events or upcoming programs visit the website). Ann Kirby, who works on educational development at UNA-GB, gave a brief introduction to the Model UN Summer Institute, which teaches 6th-12th graders the values of debate, teamwork, and public speaking while engaging in simulated negotiations on real-world global challenges.
The Advisory Council members then had a chance to sit in on one of the Institute’s sessions to experience the impact of this transformative college-preparatory program firsthand. The students were finishing up an exercise through which they established a working definition of human rights for use in their simulations. This was followed up by an engaging and entertaining public speaking exercise where they had to go around the circle, state their name, the names of those before them, and an activity/like they have. It provided much fodder for discussion about the importance of active listening and ways to remember key facts when speaking.
It was great to see various aspects of UNA-GB come together in one place, and to see our mission come alive through the Summer Institute. Teens from the Greater Boston Area as well as active community members, professionals, and former ambassadors were all laughing and learning together. And no amount of torrential rain could dampen the inspiration felt around both the work of the UN and UNA-GB’s work to empower the next generation of global leaders that afternoon!
Wondering how you can join in? Check out how to get involved on our website!
Happy 4th of July to all! As we celebrate the independence of our country on this day and the freedoms we are thankful for, we would like to take a closer look at the road towards independence for other countries around the world. News headlines the past few months have been dominated by the strive for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. Here’s our second blog post from our newest blog series–Get Educated, One Topic At A Time featured every Monday, whose focus today is on this year’s “Arab Spring” from start to present! And speaking of emerging democracies, stay tuned for a blog post later on this week in honor of Southern Sudan’s official independence on July 9th!
While the term, “Arab Spring” is one of some contention, there can be no denying that there is a major change happening in the Middle East and North Africa. Said by some to be as important, if not moreso to world history than the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “Arab Spring” has significantly changed the political atmosphere both within the region and around the world. Beginning when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian college graduate who was selling vegetables from a cart because of the high rates of unemployment there, set himself on fire on the steps of parliament after corrupt police confiscated his wares, the resulting protests soon spread from Morocco to Iran. On January 14, 2011, President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, becoming the first dictator to be ousted as a result of the “Arab Spring.”
Protests soon spread to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was the next to step down after three decades in power. The demonstrations were centered in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo, Egypt’s capital city. Thousands of people stayed in the square for eighteen days amid attempts by the government to placate the crowd with small concessions and violent attacks by forces loyal to Mubarak. The Egyptian people persevered, however, and are now, hopefully, on their way to free and fair democracy.
Today, movements have sprung up in almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa, from small scale peaceful demonstrations for social and political reforms like in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to outright bloody conflict and civil war like in Syria and Libya.
The United Nations has not become directly involved in any country yet, though it has issued several statements expressing deep concern over the human rights abuses that are taking place. The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “resort[ing] to lethal or excessive force against peaceful demonstrators not only violates fundamental rights, including the right to life, but serves to exacerbate tensions and tends to breed a culture of violence.” The UN Security Council has also given its support to the NATO mission in Libya, and we will likely see further discussion in other UN bodies as the “Arab Spring” continues.
As the rest of the world scrambles to adjust to the rapidly changing political climate, the people of the Middle East and North Africa continue to stand up for their rights in a region that previously represented the only part of the world virtually devoid of democratic governments. There is still a lot of hard work ahead for the reformers and nation builders of the “Arab Spring,” but they have taken a revolutionary first step on the road to democracy and freedom.
To keep up with the journey as it continues, follow the Guardian’s “Path of Protest”.