The Quiet Crisis of Europe’s Pregnant Refugees

This article first appeared on the Women & Girls Hub from News Deeply

Around one in 10 women refugees traveling through Europe is pregnant. Better coordinated approaches from states and NGOs are urgently needed to keep women and their newborn babies safe and well.

More mobile clinics and specialist services are needed for pregnant refugees crossing Europe

Tehmina was traveling through Greece from Syria when she went into labor. However, the first-time mother was determined to continue her journey and have her baby once she reached Germany. Finally, her family convinced her to go to the hospital and she agreed to give birth in Greece. Just hours later, Tehmina and her newborn left the hospital and continued to walk.

Her story is by no means unique. For the first time since the refugee and migrant crisis hit Europe, there are now more women and children on the move than male adults. Women and children account for 60 percent of refugees and migrants.

Every day, some 500 women die in pregnancy or childbirth in humanitarian settings. Sixty percent of preventable maternal deaths and 53 percent of under-five fatalities take place in countries affected by, or prone to, conflict, forced displacement or natural disaster.

The situation prompted 13 countries to announce at the first World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24 their commitment between now and 2030 to increase their support for sexual and reproductive health services and supplies.

The plight of pregnant refugees is illustrated by a recent joint field assessment from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), its Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC). Researchers looking into the risks for refugee and migrant women and girls in Greece and Macedonia heard from humanitarian agencies that women often left hospitals less than 24 hours after giving birth, some having had a Caesarean section.

Pregnant and lactating women, even those with health problems, are reluctant to access services or visit hospitals for fear of delaying their journey, losing their baby or being separated from their family. Most of the women seen in Greece and Macedonia had suffered severe physical and psychological stress while traveling. Even if they were otherwise healthy, they were at higher risk of complications, premature delivery or even death.

Deni Robey, the WRC’s director of strategic communications, says assessments show very little readily available sexual and reproductive health care: “Pregnant women were waiting until the last possible moment to go to a hospital to deliver and then were back out walking within a day.”

These expectant and new mothers receive no cards or flowers. As they make their way through Europe on foot, with numerous stops and practically nonexistent antenatal or postnatal care, they will be lucky to have a bed for the night or collect basic supplies such as diapers and formula.

Many will experience fatigue from walking, heavy bleeding or other complications related to pregnancy or recent birth. Others may be weak from dehydration and poor nutrition. Some are already caring for one child or more.

The report from UNHCR, UNFPA and WRC highlights single women traveling alone or with children, pregnant and lactating women, and early-married children – sometimes with newborn babies – as among those who are particularly at risk of extortion and exploitation, including multiple forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

The E.U.-Turkey deal that came into effect March 20 only exacerbates the situation for women. Doina Bologa, the UNFPA representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, was assigned in mid-May as the organization’s senior emergency coordinator for Europe. She says: “Currently, the migration flow through the Balkans has practically halted, with only an estimate of 200-300 illegal or irregular migrants being counted by UNHCR in transit towards the Western European countries. Some 50,000 refugees or migrants are reported to be currently stranded in Greece and accommodated in some 40 camps.”

In an open letter this month to E.U. member states and institutions, Médecins Sans Frontières international president Joanna Liu brands the official welcome offered by Europe to those stranded in Greece as “shameful,” and says camps on the Greek islands have “virtually no safeguards” in place. “Women fear to go to the toilet once darkness falls, mothers beg for milk formula to feed their babies,” she wrote.

But care and services for pregnant women are slowly starting to improve. In the last few months, UNFPA has introduced four mobile health clinics with ultrasound equipment in Serbia and Macedonia, although border closures now limit women’s access to these.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is rolling out 20 Blue Dot centers: Child and family support hubs located at strategic sites (such as border entry or exit points) that will provide a package of services including mother and baby/toddler spaces, counseling, psychosocial first aid and social workers.

Providing information in a language that pregnant women understand and having female translators at transit centers remain challenges, as does access to contraception and family planning advice, says Bologa at UNFPA.

Signatories to the 13-state WHS pledge will ensure that financing for humanitarian action includes access to sexual and reproductive health. The group also backs a rollout by 2017 of the Minimum Initial Services Package (MISP) within 48 hours of an emergency. This series of crucial actions includes an objective to prevent maternal and newborn illness and death.

Sandra Krause, director of the sexual and reproductive health program at WRC, says: “We want the commitment from all humanitarian actors to implement the MISP from the onset of every humanitarian emergency, and to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care for all women and adolescent girls as soon as the situation stabilizes.”

Krause would like to see more mobile clinics serving this itinerant refugee population, and emergency response training for local health workers.

Bologa at UNFPA says there is a need for “more systemic and sustained attention” to gender-based violence issues, given that some of these women are pregnant because they have been involved in trafficking, transactional sex or domestic violence: “This migration is quite unprecedented, and the international community is still struggling to come to terms with these problems.”

From conflict to California: a journey through cooking and food

This article first appeared on the Women & Girls Hub from News Deeply

Sharing food from their homeland is helping the San Francisco Bay Area’s women refugees to resettle in a new country, while raising awareness of migration and its difficulties.

As a single mother living in the world’s largest refugee camp for 21 years, Somali-born Halimo supported her family by running her own small restaurant. From 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day, the mother of three fed more than 100 residents of Kenya’s Dadaab camp, serving up her signature dish of malawah – a sweet Somali pancake.

It’s a recipe Halimo shares – along with her story of resettling to the U.S. in 2011 – in “Between Meals,” a cookbook celebrating the food and lives of California’s refugee women.

Welcoming some 1,400 refugees each year, the San Francisco Bay Area is home to people fleeing conflict or deprivation across the globe, from Afghanistan and Burma to Nepal and Sri Lanka. And for more than 30 years, Bay Area nonprofit Refugee Transitions has been supporting newcomers through education, family engagement and community leadership programs.

The “Between Meals” cookbook project grew out of Refugee Transitions’ home-based tutoring program – a core plank of its work that connects low-income, high-need newcomers with community volunteers who teach them English and life skills. Through sharing meals with their host families and new communities, refugee women share their traditions and much-loved foods but also talk about the experiences that have brought them to their new home.

From Halimo’s Somali malawah pancakes to Naw Htoo’s coconut chicken soup from Thailand, from Arezo’s Afghan meat dumplings to Devi’s goat curry from Nepal, every single recipe tells a story.

Arezo and her family arrived in California from Afghanistan in 2010, when it was no longer safe to live in their native Kabul. Arezo misses her homeland, and the feeling of being surrounded by a large community. So she cooks to remember home and creates meals to connect with new friends. Her meat dumplings (mantu) are made with Japanese gyoza skins from a Mexican market in San Jose in California.

“Mantu is special to me because my mother made it for me the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child,” says Arezo. “I make mantu in California, especially when I miss Kabul and my family in Afghanistan.”

Laura Vaudreuil, executive director at Refugee Transitions, says food plays a significant part in the refugee journey: “Culinary traditions are a thread that connects these women to their homeland, to the personal and cultural history. ‘Between Meals’ is our contribution to preserving these (often disappearing) traditions, and highlighting refugee women’s experiences and expertise, which are so often undervalued.”

To create the cookbook, the volunteer tutor would spend between two and four hours a week with their student to hear their story, cook together and turn their dish into a recipe. Volunteers are trained in the “language experience approach,” which uses familiar subjects such as a food to accelerate language learning.

“Between Meals” author Lauren Markham says the process of recipe and story gathering led to “deepening connections” between volunteers and their students. “When Refugee Transitions matched refugee students with a new volunteer, families were often really excited to have visitors and met them with tea, snacks or even a four-course meal,” says Markham.

“The food was so delicious and the gestures so loving. [Refugee] women may not have worked in their home country so they don’t think of cooking as a skill. In an age of celebrity chefs, all of these wonderful home chefs are under-recognized.”

One of the hardest parts of the cookbook project was turning the student’s instinctive process of creating a familiar dish into a more precise process of measuring ingredients and cooking times. “You have to see the techniques for yourself and a lot of them were new to the volunteers,” explains Markham.

Another challenge was sourcing ingredients for these traditional dishes – from locating a goat farm an hour’s drive from Oakland to make goat curry to tracking down galangal root ginger in a Chinatown market for a Burmese chicken stew.

Vaudreuil says cross-cultural bonds like those created through the cookbook project are hugely beneficial to newcomers seeking to become self-sufficient and integrate into their adopted communities.

But it’s a two-way street. “Often, volunteer tutors tell us that they have benefited as much from the partnership as their students did. After all, tutoring exposes one to new knowledge, intelligence and perspectives that newcomers bring with them to the U.S.,” says Vaudreuil.

The project has been supported by Cal Humanities, an independent nonprofit state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. All profits from sales of “Between Meals” are distributed among the women who contributed to the cookbook, which has just printed its second edition.

“‘Between Meals’ boldly strikes new ground by centralizing the stories of the powerful women featured and elevating them as historians, keepers of culture and preservers of food traditions, as well as cooks,” says chef, educator and author Bryant Terry.

Arezo learned to make jalebi – a deep-fried syrupy sweet served at birthdays, weddings and other special occasions – from her mother at the age of 13. “In our religion, Islam, it says to eat together – to talk, to enjoy. This goes, too, for cooking … Everyone loves jalebi. When I make it in California, it reminds me of many happy times.”

 

Visions of hope

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Pablo Picasso

Last week, I visited the Baobab refugee centre in Rome as part of The 19 Million Project – a gathering of journalists, designers, digital strategists, coders and humanitarians from around the world with a focus on developing innovative ways of storytelling around the refugee crisis.

The women, men and children I met there were full of hope and joy, anxiety and frustration. Their journey has been long, dangerous and frightening. But the people I spoke to are inspired to continue by the promise of a better life.

The beautiful artwork at this centre – by several artists including Alice Pasquini – is inspired by the hopes and dreams of people like us who just want the right to live in peace.

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Crucial questions for journalists during the refugee crisis

Credit: Nando Sigona

Credit: Nando Sigona

This article first appeared on the 19 Million Project website

“We need to humanize the refugee crisis,” UK-based migration specialist Nando Sigona told the 19 Million Project audience in Rome during a Skype interview on Wednesday.

Sigona, senior lecturer in migration and citizenship at the University of Birmingham in England, challenged journalists to look at the stories behind the stats, rather than treating people as “generic refugees”.

What is it like to spend four years in a refugee camp? What are the issues facing the generation of children born in camps? These are some of the questions that journalists should be asking, said Sigona. “Attempts to humanize are very important.”

Sigona urged journalists to remain inclusive about their coverage of migration stories, given the inter-sectionality of refugees: “There is a risk in the representation of ‘good’ refugees versus ‘bad’ ones,” he said. “Who does deserve our protection? Syrians are not the only ones who do.”

And while data can be a powerful tool, Sigona cautioned users to keep an eye on the bigger picture. “Numbers have power but we need to pay much more attention to how numbers are used,” he said, citing the “complete conflation” of immigration with figures on arrivals by the sea.

Measures to promote integration of refugees in their host countries vary wildly. But Sigona says he is encouraged by positive actions emerging from the Mediterranean crisis, such as Germany translating its constitution into Arabic and offering English as well as German language courses, to assist incoming refugees.

A key issue for journalists to consider over the coming months, says Sigona, is the “economy of the crisis” and its beneficiaries – such as security contractors employed by EU border management agency, Frontex. “Who is making money out of it?”

Dining to make a difference on World Refugee Day

Between Meals 5

Over the last year, Californian nonprofit Refugee Transitions has supported 1,750 newcomers to San Francisco, Oakland and the wider Bay Area through its education, family engagement and leadership programmes.

Originating from over 50 countries including Afghanistan, Nepal and Somalia, many of these people were forced to flee their homes with few belongings and little preparation for their new life in the US. Cooking traditional food – and sharing it with new friends – has provided some continuity amid this change.

Last year, RT launched Between Meals – a compilation of recipes and back stories from some of the refugee women it has worked with. Inspired by the success of the cookbook, RT has partnered with four Bay Area restaurants for World Refugee Day this year (20 June) to pilot a ‘dining with a difference’ experience.

For the event, San Francisco eateries Mau Viet Kitchen, Hillside Supper Club and Burma Superstar, and Oakland restaurant Bissap Baobab, are donating to RT a percentage of profits taken on World Refugee Day.

Jane Pak, director of strategy and development at Refugee Transitions says the restaurant project seemed a natural progression from the cookbook:  “Food is a universal language with intimate cultural particulars. Between Meals documents the cultural foodways of our remarkable newcomer students, and the restaurant project takes inspiration from this.”

RT worked closely with its restaurant partners to devise special dishes for their World Refugee Day menus. Mau chef Khai’s take on Canh chua ca (sour soup) combines pineapple from south of Vietnam and dill from the north – a reflection of her family history as her northern grandparents migrated south in 1954.

Pak hopes the event will provide Bay Area foodies and the wider community with a glimpse of RT’s work and the vibrant communities with whom it works: “We aim to raise awareness about our wonderful refugee community in the Bay Area, our cookbook, and the work of RT through the diverse food cultures that our restaurant partners represent.”

Feeding the spirit

Between Meals 1 (not in final)

As featured in The Guardian’s Pick of the blogs

As newly-arrived refugees and immigrants navigate the myriad challenges in their new environments, it is often food and its important cultural traditions that are the mainstay in this journey.

Between Meals collects stories and recipes from California’s refugee women to paint a picture of their lives, past and present. The cookbook chronicles the experiences of women leaving their homes in Afghanistan, Burma, Somalia, Sri Lanka and beyond, and the vital role that traditional cooking plays at every stage of the process.

From the malawah flatbread that Somali refugee Halimo cooked each day in the Dadaab refugee camp, to Afghan newcomer Arezo’s celebratory jalebi sweet, every recipe tells a story.

Between Meals 5

Memory box

Cookbook author Lauren Markham sees Between Meals as both a preservation project – a recipe “memory box” from the US diaspora communities – as well as a reflection on the creative process by which refugee and immigrant women put down roots in their new homes.

It highlights the challenges that women face when adapting their food to new communities, from locating a goat farm an hour’s drive away, to tracking down galangal root at a Chinatown market.

Between Meals is a project of San Francisco Bay Area non-profit agency, Refugee Transitions, which supports newly-arrived refugees and immigrants into their new communities through education, family engagement and community leadership programs.

Funded by Cal Humanities, the cookbook was developed from Refugee Transition’s home-based tutoring program, where shared meals are often core to the student-tutor relationship.

Between Meals 3

Making connections

Executive director Laura Vaudreuil says that, for those who have had to leave all behind, sharing a meal means more than just sharing food: “When all that is left are memories of home, the smells, tastes and experience of a meal recreated can take people back to friends and family.”

Arezo enjoys making her mantu Afghan dumplings for family and new friends. “Mantu is special to me because my mother made it for me the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child.

“I make mantu in California, especially when I miss Kabul and my family in Afghanistan.”

Between Meals is available to order here Profits from the book will be distributed among the cookbook contributors.