FMIP Director Interviewed by Dallas TV Station: “Border Crisis: Immigrants or Refugees? Why it Matters”

Dr. Faith Nibbs was interviewed on July 12 by WFAA-TV (Ch. 8-ABC) in Dallas about issues related to the influx of unaccompanied children at the Texas-Mexico border. To see the full interview, click here. One aspect of the humanitarian crisis that seemed to surprise the interviewer is the issue of refoulement, the forcing back of people to their place of origin where they are expected to face persecution or threats to life and liberty on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. Refoulement is a breach of international law, Dr. Nibbs noted.

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Humanitarian News Service, IRIN, Highlights OXHIP’s Groundbreaking Research in Uganda

Refugee economies – the Ugandan model

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LONDON, 30 June 2014 (IRIN) – When a team from Oxford University’s Humanitarian Innovation Project set out to explore what work refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda had managed to find, they were struck by the breadth and scale of businesses they were engaged in – from being café owners to vegetable sellers, to farmers growing maize on a commercial scale, millers, restaurateurs, transporters and traders in fabrics and jewellery. With the number of the world’s displaced having now passed the 50 million mark and rising, debates are intensifying over how this many people can be supported. Alexander Betts and his team wanted to see whether it was realistic, and politically acceptable, to encourage refugees to be more self-sufficient. Uganda has a relatively liberal policy towards its 387,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, most of whom have fled conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. Uganda does not have refugee camps as such, but most live in designated refugee settlements where there are allocated plots of land to farm. They can, however, get permission to live outside these settlements if they think they can support themselves, and Kampala in particular has a sizeable refugee population. Betts told IRIN: “Uganda is a relatively positive case in that it allows the right to work and a significant degree of freedom of movement. That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, but it’s definitely towards the positive end of the spectrum. The reason we chose it is that it shows what’s possible when refugees are given basic economic freedoms.” His team spoke to more than 1,500 households in Kampala and in two rural settlements – Nakivale in the south, and Kyangwali on the DRC border. The families were registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as refugees, but that did not mean that they all received humanitarian assistance. In Kampala 78 percent of refugee households receive no assistance at all from UNHCR or any other agency. Even in the refugee settlements, 17 percent of households receive no assistance, and even where families do get help they are unlikely to be fully dependent on aid, since UNHCR gives food rations for a maximum of five years, unless the refugees are designated as vulnerable. So what do they do instead? They farm, certainly, in and around the rural settlements. Around half the Congolese, Rwandan and South Sudanese refugees the researchers talked to there had plots of their own, and others worked as farm labourers. Only the Somalis showed little or no interest in farming.

Not just subsistence farming

Ugandan crop buyers come regularly to the settlements, and take truckloads of produce from Kyangwali to the market town of Hoima. The researchers spoke to a trader in Hoima who said he bought around 500 tons of maize and beans from the refugee farmers last year, some 60 percent of his stock. He sold the maize on to other parts of Uganda, but also further afield, to Tanzania and South Sudan. Now the farmers in Kyangwali are trying to cut out the middlemen and take their crops directly to market, through a cooperative with more than 500 members, including some Ugandan farmers from local villages. Kyangwali Progressive Farmers is registered as a limited company, and has started getting contracts to supply produce directly to manufacturers.

Photo: RSC/N. Omata
Kagoma weekly market in Kyangwali refugee settlement, Uganda

The research uncovered another substantial trading network with refugees at its centre – in this case Congolese refugees who were doing business in jewellery and printed cloth, known as bitenge. They buy from Ugandan wholesalers in Kampala, and sell, not just in the refugee settlements but also to Ugandan customers in nearby towns. Some also engage in cross-border trade, taking their wares into Kenya and South Sudan. The picture which emerges is of a very “connected” economy, with refugees using their networks of contacts among fellow refugees and in their countries of origin to do business. But they also trade with their Ugandan neighbours, work in Ugandan enterprises and – when they prosper – create employment both for their countrymen and members of the host community.

A lesson for other countries?

The picture is a generally positive one, but not every country chooses to allow its refugees such economic freedom. Governments worry that if they are making a good living where they are, they will never go home, although Betts points out that when the time does come to leave, it is a lot easier to repatriate someone who has been busy and active and developed their skills, than someone who has spent years surviving on food rations in a refugee camp. Successful refugees can also generate resentment in local populations. Uganda has remained generally tolerant, unlike neighbouring Kenya, where there has been a backlash against Somali refugees following a series of Al Shabab attacks. Uganda has also suffered terrorist attacks, but says Betts, “for some reason, unlike Kenya, they haven’t been connected to refugees in the same way, perhaps because in Kenya politicians have started to use the refugee issue for political gain.” So the situation in Uganda does very much depend on its local context. Even so, Betts and his team are convinced that their study has implications for refugee policy elsewhere, particularly for the new crisis in the Middle East. “The traditional response is to create camps,” he told IRIN, “but we can’t afford to do this in places like Lebanon. The cost – the human cost in terms of the waste of potential, and the possibility of developing resentment and frustration – is just too high. “We have to realize what refugees can contribute, and not just warehouse them in camps. We should start by recognizing that long-term encampment is not an option, and that when they are allowed, human beings can do a lot for themselves.”

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FMIP Director Presents at UNHCR Annual Consultations With NGOs in Geneva

FMIP Director Dr. Faith Nibbs is a presenter at the UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs in Geneva June 17-19. Dr. Nibbs will present at the International Conference Center Geneva (ICCG) as part of a panel entitled, “Achieving Self-Reliance: Paving the Way for Safe, Lawful and Sustainable Livelihoods.”

In her presentation, Dr. Nibbs argues that refugee work rights are vital, but notes that access to safe, lawful employment should not be a goal in and of itself if having that right leads to the creation of a new underclass of exploited peoples with diminished financial resources and long-term dependence.

UNHCR has been holding annual consultations with its NGO (non-governmental organization) partners for more than a quarter-of-a-century. The gathering in Geneva has evolved from a one-day meeting where NGOs prepared for their interventions at the annual meeting of UNHCR’s governing Executive Committee to three days of dialogue on a wide variety of subjects of interest to NGOs and UNHCR.

The conference gets bigger every year, with more than 350 representatives and some 200 organizations from around the world attending the consultations. Participants include representatives of small and large, national and international assistance and advocacy organizations (including those specialized in resettlement). Sister UN agencies also attend.

It provides an important forum for NGOs to raise issues, network and exchange views with UNHCR. Typical topics for discussion include human rights; urban refugees; the shrinking of humanitarian space; refugee law; post-primary education for teenagers and youth; internally displaced people; protection of women and children at risk; regional issues; and monitoring of refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants in detention.

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Student Team from Miami University Submits Top FMIP Paper

A student team from Miami University’s Anthropology Department submitted the top paper in an informal student paper competition sponsored by FMIP. Over the spring semester, FMIP partnered with Anthropology students in Dr. James Bielo’s class to help collect data on how refugees are portrayed in national discourse. Laura Louden, Annie Reiswig, and Alex Watson authored the winning paper, “Constructed Narrative: Media Discourse and the Refugee Experience in the United States.”

“We are pleased to offer our congratulations to all the students on their fine work, much of which will be used in our final analyses,” said Dr. Faith Nibbs, FMIP Director. “We would like to particularly congratulate the three students who turned in a top-notch paper that really spoke to central themes of our program. We are posting their paper in hopes that others can learn from its analysis.”

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A Visit with the Mayor of Racine, WI

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From left to right: Mr. Olatoy Baiyewu, Mayor John Dickert, Dr. Faith NIbbs, Ms. Carrie Perkins

On May 8, FMIP’s Project Director Faith Nibbs and Research Assistant Carrie Perkins flew to Racine, Wisconsin to meet with Mayor John Dickert and Mr. Olatoy Baiyewu, Director of the Human Capital Development Corporation (HCDC). The HCDC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that helps marginalized peoples gain the skills they need for sustainable livelihoods. Most of the organization’s participants find employment in the building trades. Our two FMIP representatives discovered that the HCDC has enabled several refugees who have passed through the six-week course to earn over $20 an hour. The next day, Dr. Nibbs and Ms. Perkins met with refugees who were on the job to find out more about their situations and how organizations like the HCDC continue to make a difference in their lives.

 

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FMIP Director’s New Book Examines Lives of Hmong Refugees

BelongingsbookCarolina Academic Press has just published a brand-new title concerning the lives of Hmong Refugees written by FMIP Director Dr. Faith G. Nibbs. With over a decade of experience researching refugee resettlement in the United States and in Europe, Dr. Nibbs brings readers face-to-face with the challenges that resettled refugees confront every day with her book, Belonging: The Social Dynamics of Fitting In as Experienced by Hmong Refugees in Germany and Texas.

The book explores the varying degrees of success, or perceptions of success, that Hmong Refugees have experienced as a result of settling in different environments, such as big cities versus small villages. The book also describes how locals react to the new arrivals and what infrastructure—in both the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and Gammertingen, Germany—are currently in place to help refugees navigate the new culture and economy. Belonging is available to order online.

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An FMIP Shoutout from Maryland-based Refugee Program

A provider of newcomer workforce solutions and a supporter of career entry and advancement for resettled refugees, Higher Advantage, cited the work of FMIP in its most recent newsletter. Higher provides newcomer workforce solutions to corporations across the U.S. while supporting career entry and advancement for resettled refugees and other new Americans. Began as RefugeeWorks, this program has served as the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement’s training and technical assistance arm for employment and self-sufficiency activities for 15 years.

In the March 2014 March newsletter, Higher Advantage cites the work that FMIP is conducting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Readers may check out the story and sign up for the Higher Advantage newsletter.

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