Blog Archives

International Impact of the Debt Ceiling

One of the most publicized issues this summer has been the arguments on Capitol Hill over the debt ceiling. The political stalemates have been so much on the forefront of the public agenda that other dire issues, such as the famine in the Horn of Africa have been somewhat overshadowed. However, the two issues are linked more than one might initially think.

As most are aware at the end of the day on August 2nd, Congress finally came to an agreement on the debt ceiling debate which avoided the detrimental U.S. default. What is known about the agreement is that it cuts almost $1 trillion, however, what hasn’t been made immediately visible is the precise details of such cuts. We do know that important programs for the poor – throughout the globe – are at serious risk. It is also important to be aware of the appropriations bill that was passed by the House for the State Department and Foreign Assistance. Within this bill were cuts to the UN’s regular budget and UN peacekeeping. The simple truth is that if the bill is passed by Congress and signed into law, the UN will return to its previous state of cycles of debtCuts to the UN’s budget detrimentally impede the organization’s ability to aid in foreign catastrophes such as the current humanitarian crisis in the Eastern Horn of Africa – with Somalia suffering the most from the drought-induced famine.

In his op-ed, U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia writes: ” “from terrorism to the threat of pandemics, the United States faces challenges that are beyond the power and financial means for any single nation, no matter how powerful, to address alone. Our contributions to the UN enhance our national security and our foreign policy priorities, save dollars while growing jobs and our economy and strengthen our leadership in the international community.”  And as Massachusetts’ own US Senator, and ardent foreign relations advocate, John Kerry so eloquently put it, “We can either pay now to help brave people build a better, democratic future for themselves or we will certainly pay later with increased threats to our own national security…This is not time for America to pull back from the world. This is a time to step forward.”

The UN and the U.S. are currently making substantial efforts to help the about 11 million people directly affected by the famine. Efforts include:

  •  UNICEF is working to help over 250,000 children from Somalia who are suffering from acute malnutrition. They have already provided 8,300 bags of nutritional supplies to 2,800 children. The goal is to reach 70,000 children within the next six months and to provide them with nutrition and water.
  • As of late, World Food Programme is reaching 1.5 million people in Somalia and is scaling up to reach an additional 2.2. million in the previously inaccessible south of the country. Airlifts to Mogadishu began earlier in the month to bring special nutritious foods to malnourished children.
  • UNHCR – through its partners – has delivered emergency assistance packages to benefit 15,000 internally displaced persons in Somali camps. The organization plans to distribute 7.500 additional packages in the upcoming weeks.

The U.S. is currently the largest donor to the UN and to the relief in the Horn of Africa – what will happen if important funds are cut from such initiatives? It’s important that we stay engaged and involved in the coming months in order to demonstrate to our representatives in Capitol Hill just how important our international commitments are.

That is why we hope you will join UNA-GB and our fellow chapters around the country in engaging in dialogue with our elected officials this fall.  We will be in touch with ways to take action and specific asks that will be good to make, especially when your representatives are on fall recess. Email us at if you’d like to be involved more in depth on these advocacy efforts.

Also, if you want to learn more about the crisis in the Horn of Africa and what we can do to make a difference, on September 12th UNA-GB is co-sponsoring the DocYard’s screening of Rain in a Dry Land, a film which provides an eye-opening look at what it means to be a refugee in today’s “global village.” Purchasing tickets to view the film, which chronicles the lives of two Somali Bantu families, is a great way to get educated more on what refugees face in the transition process.  There will also be information shared about how you can help end the famine crisis in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.


A Glimpse At It All

Influential moves were made with the decisions of UN Headquarters this week, as the UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was re-elected for a second term.

Celebrities were also spotted around the globe supporting the missions and goals of the organization. The week started off strong, with the Vienna Energy Forum 2011 in Vienna, Austria as celebrity and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger made the opening keynote speech in his homeland, proud to be given the opportunity to speak at the event. Actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie also visited refugees in Turkey and Italy in support of World Refugees Day 2011. Later in the week, singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira visited children in Israel inspiring them to reach towards the world of education.

Following in the footsteps of Shakira, the UN is encouraging involvement in the development of education specifically in Southern Sudan. The region will be officially independent of the country of Sudan itself early next month and is in looking for a developed start to educate its future. The UN also urges the need for midwifery services in the world to give children a future from the second they are born, with the potential of saving 3.6 million lives a year. Not only helping the children, but also saving the mothers, as the first ever UN International Widows’ Day was also recognized this week.

Beyond youth and education, great concern is discussed this week of drug use and violence in the world and its effect on global security. The global environment is also being effected, as rainforests in Honduras and Indonesia and previously a Wildlife Sanctuary in India earlier in the week are being effected.

Here in the US this week, as the UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon supports US President Obama’s decision to begin withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, in hopes that the country’s leadership will begin to develop on its own. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also encouraged the importance of our national involvement in climate control with the development of our cities. With support of our cities’ progress, he pushes towards environmentally-friendly considerations to be made for the future. Along with the his encouragement of these environmentally-friendly considerations, a new goal has been made for 2015, as the importance of sanitation needs be available to half of those in need today.

The week has finished with purpose, as we look forward to new beginnings and developing changes and ended the week with the UN Public Service Day. Join another celebrity and learn about more global affairs over the weekend. Tune into “Nepal’s Stolen Children” documentary with actress Demi Moore about trafficking and what can be done to help the future.


It Takes One

Today, June 20th, is World Refugee Day. Starting in 2001, this event starts this day each year in the United States and reaches the rest of the globe. It recognizes the efforts that

refugees make around the world to survive after losing their homes and is used to educate and raise money for the cause’s future. World Refuge Day is supported throughout the world through the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary and now the event’s 10th anniversary.  The need for continued education and advocacy around refugee populations and service is reflected in a recent report that 80% of refugees are in developing countries, making up 4/5 of the refugee population around the world.

Join the efforts of UNHCR and become a part of the action today. Make a difference, follow the theme of this day, “Do One Thing”. UNHCR chief António Guterres and Hollywood actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined forces in a visit to an Italian island, Lampedusa in support of the event. They met with refugees escaping to the island from their countries in Africa and urged European countries to keep their borders open for refugees especially those escaping from the issues in Libya. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie also traveled to Turkey to visit refugees from Syria that were in the area of the border between the countries.

There are individual events throughout the US to support this cause–from Washington DC to New York, all the way to the West Coast! (for us Massachusetts residents, there is an event in West Springfield this evening) Not in any of these areas? You can create your own way to educate others of the cause. Invite some friends over to watch a movie related to the issue, listen to firsthand experiences from a refugee guest speaker or even cook some international food in support of the cause.

Ready to reach further than educating your friends? Be creative and make a fundraiser,  a donation or make a donation that also sends an ecard to someone you love to help educate the world about this important cause.  Anything and everything is welcome!


A Day as a Refugee: Middle School Simulation

Today, more than 30 million people around the world have been displaced due to war and violence, making nearly 10 million children refugees. As previously blogged about, countries facing an inordinate amount of displaced persons today include Somalia, Colombia, Palestine, Haiti, and Iraq.

On Monday, April 11th, the Education Department of UNA-GB guided a group of participating middle school students from the Greater Boston area through the “Torn from Home: My Life as a Refugee” exhibit at the Boston Children’s Museum. The special event was hosted in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees. The traveling exhibition provided an interactive second-hand look at the plight of refugees, particularly the children supported by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The 6th and 7th grade students from Josiah Quincy Upper School came highly prepared for the day’s simulation – when Rachel Farkas, the Asia Program Associate at Boston Children’s Museum,  sat down to give a brief introduction of the exhibition, they enthusiastically differentiated between refugees, evacuees, and environmentally displaced people!

To simulate the camp experience, the students were divided into 4 smaller groups: registration, medical, education and home. Through a series of inspiring hands on activities and guided questions from UNA-GB staff, students were able to address a myriad of complicated issues afflicting refugees. Upon ‘registration’, the students were issued individual identification bracelets and compared the food rations of a camp with their diets. In the medical center, they examined malnutrition, disease prevention, water and sanitation. While crammed into a tent, students discussed “What is home?” and “What does home mean to you?”. After exploring the exhibition, they gathered on the benches and mats of the minimalist school area to discuss the opportunities education presents to children in refugee camps and to share what each group had learned from the exhibit.

That afternoon, the students represented different countries associated with the UNHCR. They used their newfound knowledge from the exhibit to fuel a debate of the international issue of Environmentally Displaced People. The success of the day was evident due to the energetic debate amongst the students and the variety of resolutions drafted. To grasp the impact of Model UN simulation, read or watch personal feedback from the students themselves.

60th Anniversary of the Convention Related to the Status of Refugees

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, the international document that defines who is a refugee, the rights of refugees, and the legal obligation of States to protect them.

The 1951 Convention was approved at a special United Nations conference on July 28th, 1951 and entered into force on April 22, 1954. It was initially limited to protecting European refugees after World War II, but a 1967 Protocol removed the geographical and time limits, expanding the Convention’s scope. The Convention is a central component of the international community’s commitment to the protection of refugees and some 147 States (out of a total United Nations membership of 192) have now ratified either one or both of these instruments. The Convention is by far the most widely ratified refugee treaty and remains central also to the protection activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

UNA-GB is commemorating the Convention’s 60th anniversary through a unique, Model UN mini-simulation at the Boston Children’s Museum. On Monday, April 11th, participating students from the Greater Boston area will have the opportunity to explore the “Torn from Home: My Life as a Refugee” exhibit at the museum, and then debate the international issue of Environmentally Displaced People representing different countries associated with the UNHCR. The countries that will be represented at this mini-simulation include Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Maldives, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Russian Federation, Spain, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

Today, more than 30 million people around the world have been displaced due to war and violence — and 10 million of those are children refugees. Specific countries in crisis right now are Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Colombia, DR Congo, Haiti, Pakistan, and Somalia.

The men, women, and children of these countries need your help! There are several aid organizations that work with refugees around the world which you can support, including UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries, International Rescue Committee, OCHA, Refugee Council USA, Save the Children, and World Food Programme.

In the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “There is a fundamental base of universal human rights, and we are each called to recognize and protect those.” And what better time to start fighting for those human rights than now!


The Dilemma of Displaced Persons

A month ago, brutal ethnic violence erupted in Kyrgyzstan between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks peoples. As a result of four days of blood and chaos, half a million people fled from their homes, almost 200 people were killed, and thousands were injured. These displaced persons are still left without clean water, medical care, and shelter.

30 days later, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are still 75,000 people in Kyrgyzstan without a home.

We have seen many refugee crises throughout history, with several taking place in the past 100 years:

Palestine: Countless individuals have been displaced since the Israeli war of independence in 1948.

Haiti: The earthquake of January 2010 has left 1.5 million displaced persons, the majority of whom are left to roam the streets.

Iraq: The war in Iraq has resulted in about 4.5 million displaced persons since 2003, many of whom have spread throughout the Middle East.

Colombia: The Colombian Civil War resulted in 4 million displaced persons.

Somalia: Countless Somali refugees have crammed into Kenya, unable to find homes, have been forced to face xenophobia in South Africa, and still struggle to make a new identity for themselves wherever they can, due to violence and corruption in their home country.

The list continues.

The issue of displaced persons continues to be a source of conflict for host countries, the refugees themselves, and the rest of the international community. One of the biggest problems that displaced persons deal with after a conflict is a lack of identity: Because of whatever disaster or conflict they have had to endure, they flee from their homes in a heightened state of fear and stress, liable to forget important documentation. In the Kyrgyzstan case, many displaced persons have completely lost birth certificates, passports, and any documents of land ownership. In terms of anything concrete in the official government world—they are no one.

Luckily, there are external agencies to assist the displaced persons, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has recently made an arrangement with the Kyrgyz authorities to reconstruct 550 homes in the affected area.

In addition, UNICEF has made great strides in creating safe spaces for children who have had to suffer through the violence. These communities allow youth to play, draw, sing, dance, and enjoy each other’s company—and more importantly not dwell on their dire situation. This has proven beneficial given that most of the refugees in Kyrgyzstan are in fact women and children. UNICEF is also providing funding to train teachers and psychologists to help the children recuperate.

Steps to heal and reassemble normal life have been taken in Kyrgyzstan, although there is still much to be done. However, the question remains why there are so many cases of displaced persons in the world that have not yet been addressed, months, years, even decades after the original conflict.