A Package Tracking Service for Refugee Aid

This article first appeared on Refugees Deeply

Sudan ssudan conflict refugees

World Food Program (WFP) workers stack humanitarian aid parcels that will be distributed to South Sudanese refugees on May 20, 2017, at Al-Obeid airport in Sudan’s North Kordofan state. AFP/ASHRAF SHAZLY

 

WHEN AN EMPLOYEE of the United Parcel Service (UPS) saw firsthand the complexity of aid delivery during emergencies, the global distribution company launched a system to help humanitarian workers expedite supplies as well as oversee their destination.

That system was later developed to specifically help the U.N. refugee agency track aid deliveries to displaced people in countries around the globe.

Headquartered in the U.S. state of Georgia, the company also runs a “skilled volunteer” program that deploys UPS logistics experts to support ground efforts in emergency situations.

As part of our interview series with private sector leaders engaging in the refugee crisis, Refugees Deeply spoke to Joe Ruiz, director of the UPSHumanitarian Relief & Resilience Program at The UPS Foundation about the results of their work with refugees to date, and the challenges they faced along the way.

Refugees Deeply: How did the company’s work with refugees begin?

Joe Ruiz: It really started in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. One of our UPS skilled volunteers [was] deployed to Haiti [and] saw firsthand how challenging of an environment it was to distribute vital food and non-food items. There was naturally chaos and violence. Some people were afraid, and others who were aggressive got meals for their families, while others stayed out of the mix and were left out.

The UPS volunteer quickly mobilized efforts to set up a UPS tracking system called Trackpad that would allow the Salvation Army to track items distributed to ensure all the families received what they were supposed to receive – both food and non-food items.

Each family received an ID card that could be scanned each time there was a distribution of food and supplies. In order to receive food and non-food items, the moms would line up and receive the appropriate amount of supplies for their family. Word spread to the U.N. refugee agency, who reached out to The UPS Foundation to learn more about the technology.

From that camp in Haiti, we have worked with UNHCR to develop UPSRelief Link, a tracking system that has been adapted to meet the needs of UNHCR beneficiaries. The system has improved distribution efficiency and was recently tested in Greece to assist with the distribution of supplies to refugees arriving in Lesvos.

Over the past few years, UPS has become UNHCR’s Emergency Standby Partner, leveraging our global network to help deliver life-sustaining supplies to support internally displaced people and refugees across the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Our financial and in-kind commitment to the agency is annually over $1 million per year.

The scope of the aid has included a combination of donated supply-chain and logistics services, transportation, human capital expertise and financial contributions. UPS also provided an automotive fleet manager to UNHCR on loan for six months in Africa to help assess their fleet management practices and share best practices.

Refugees Deeply: What results have you seen from your refugee programs to date?

Ruiz: UPS Relief Link uses UPS’s proprietary Trackpad technology to link data on the distribution of food, blankets and other emergency goods or services to UNHCR-registered refugees – a task previously done via paper. It’s compatible with handheld barcode readers and Android tablets, and lets UNHCR view what each household received and when, helping it to keep track of supplies and refugee location. Relief Link has reduced distribution time by 50 percent and reduced the number of computers that were needed to record the distributed supplies.

Refugees Deeply: What has UPS learned about the risks and opportunities that companies are likely to face in addressing the refugee crisis?

Ruiz: What we’ve learned [from Relief Link] is that all humanitarian agencies are in need of more effective IT and track and trace technology systems. However, the operating environment where these organizations operate in the most remote corners of the world makes it challenging to develop, maintain, support, and sustain these systems.

It is always challenging to create strong, effective public-private partnerships. Yet that’s exactly what’s needed in order to scale to the level of support that is needed, given the size of the refugee crisis at any given time.

Refugees Deeply: How are you measuring the success of the company’s refugee programs?

Ruiz: By nature of being [UNHCR’s] emergency standby partner, we are constantly focused on meeting the emergency needs of our U.N. and agency customers. Our efforts are measured on whether we can deliver when and where they need their supplies – food and non-food items. We provide the appropriate mode of transportation, ground, ocean and air as needed, leveraging our global UPS network and customs brokerage skills.

Cities for all: towards a new paradigm for integration

This article first appeared on Open Migration

How do stakeholders find and craft win-win lasting solutions that would benefit both migrants, refugees and hosting societies?

PHOTO: A

From the UK’s decision to leave the EU earlier this year to November’s presidential election in the US, refugees and the wider subject of immigration have been used as political campaign weapons to polarise public opinion and win votes. The emergence of anti-migrant narratives has threatened to undermine both the EU’s and individual countries’ efforts to promote refugee integration in the face of the worst migrant crisis in recent history.

But beyond the heat of the headlines, the longer-term challenge for countries welcoming refugees and migrants remains how to sustainably support them in their new communities. Where are the innovative solutions to integration? And what are cities doing to invest in the future of their new arrivals?

Reframing the narrative

From housing to employment, the global migration and refugee crisis presents myriad problems for cities trying to support an influx of permanent or transitory residents. But it also offers opportunities for innovation and investment that can have a lasting positive impact on both local populations and new residents.

According to the UNHCR, more than 60 per cent of the world’s 19.5 million refugees and 80 per cent of 34 million internally displaced people live in urban environments. While cities offer newcomers anonymity and opportunities to build a new future, they can often be hostile environments for vulnerable refugees struggling to find the support they need to navigate new systems or compete for jobs.

The UN’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016 represented the first attempt by the General Assembly to discuss large movements of refugees and migrants at the heads of state and government level. Seen as a watershed moment, the summit focused on strengthening governance of international migration and creating a more responsible system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants.

At the summit, 193 member states signed up to the New York Declaration, which commits signatories to strengthening the positive contributions made by migrants to economic and social development in their host countries. Signatory states also committed to expanding the opportunities for refugees to relocate to other countries through, for example, labour mobility or education schemes.

Responding to change

These challenges are resonating both in Europe and elsewhere. Susan Downs-Karkos is the director of strategic partnerships at Welcoming America, which works with organisations and communities to engage Americans in immigrant integration efforts. She says: “There is greater concern than ever before about the plight of refugees everywhere, and the need to create a more welcoming policy and culture so people can rebuild their lives has rarely been so clear. How can we transform one of the greatest challenges of our time into a significant opportunity – one that can make a difference in the lives of millions of immigrants, in Europe and across the globe – and to the local communities that welcome them?”

Three years ago, Welcoming America began research into how US cities were responding to their changing populations and to identify local government’s role in creating a welcoming community that attracts and retains global talent. This included documenting local policies and programmes that helped immigrants integrate into the community and helping longer-term residents connect with and appreciate their new neighbours.

The result was the Welcoming Cities & Counties network, which enables US municipalities to learn from and share welcoming approaches with one other. The network has grown from 10 to around 100, from Anchorage, Alaska to Salt Lake County, Utah. Partners include companies and economic development agencies as well as civic organisations such as universities and local YMCAs.

Welcoming America’s support for member municipalities includes annual events, webinars and communication campaigns to tackle issues ranging from workforce development strategies to community policing and language access for immigrant entrepreneurs.

Downs-Karkos says Welcoming Cities reduces the barriers faced by immigrant entrepreneurs, for example by demystifying regulatory and financing structures or providing access to micro-lending services.

The city of Denver in Colorado set up a commission on immigrant and refugee affairs three years ago. Projects include a mini-grants programme, launched in 2015, for local organisations with creative ideas to bring neighbourhoods together. Ten winning projects receive $1,000; this year they included a “movies in the park” night to connect community residents and local businesses, and a digital storytelling project focused on refugees rebuilding their healthcare careers in Colorado and culminating in a public video screening.

Business partners

Enterprise is proving a successful model for integration. Every weekend at north west London’s Queen’s Park Farmers Market, the Spice Caravan stall serves up savoury and sweet dishes hailing from Eritrea, Kenya and Somalia. A catering co-operative founded in 2011, Spice Caravan has grown from a group of six refugee mums cooking at school events, to a successful enterprise supplying the local farmers’ market, private events and festivals.

Ayan Hassan, a Somali-born mother of three and a co-founder of Spice Caravan, says a large part of its success is due to the support of Salusbury World, the UK’s only refugee centre within a school (Salusbury Primary). Established in 1999, the charity helps children and families adjust to UK life through after-school clubs, English classes, mentoring and community activities. As well as providing Spice Caravan with kitchen space and start-up funding of £500, Salusbury World also helped the women to access training in business planning and food hygiene.

Salusbury World manager Sarah Reynolds says schools can play an important role as mediators between local communities and new arrivals, as they know and have the trust of the local community. The charity’s work across four schools and colleges supports around 200 children and young people and 250 adults each year.

But Reynolds is concerned by the lack of specialist support for new arrivals: “The growing number of unaccompanied teenagers likely to be arriving across those schools is deeply worrying as the support offered by social services tends to be quite inadequate, they themselves being subject to swingeing cuts, poor publicity and a lack of foster carers.”

Salusbury World is part of a new network of groups supporting young refugees in north London, which Reynolds hopes will help to join up services and address needs more effectively.

Route map to integration

Writing earlier this year, Judith Sunderland, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, remarked that the integration debate has often been “fractious”,  pitting those who favour more assimilationist policies against those who argue for variations of multiculturalism and protection of cultural diversity. Sunderland identifies the main stepping-stones to successful integration as legal status, appropriate accommodation, access to employment and education (including language classes), and family reunification.

Starting in 2016, the Migration Policy Group is the coordinating research partner for a six-year long monitoring of refugee integration in 14 EU member states. The National Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM) evaluates policies according to the needs and situation of beneficiaries of international protection and asylum seekers. Assessments completed in 2017, 2019 and 2021 will contribute to national and European debates on improved refugee integration and provide governments with evidence for more efficient and effective policies.

Private sector involvement and investment is essential to the mix. In Germany, With Migrants for Migrants (or MiMi by its German acronym) is an integration programme that recruits bilingual individuals from within immigrant communities to become cultural mediators who can make the German health system more accessible to immigrants. Emerging from a public health project by Ramazan Salman, a Kurdish immigrant from Turkey, MiMi trains these mediators to support campaigns from alcohol abuse to vaccination. It says some 1,000 mediators have reached over 32,000 migrants. Salman claims the small annual budget (euros 1.5 million) reaches more immigrants than his state-run competitors.

Creative solutions and support from both public and private sector organisations are vital if cities are to embrace the diversity and talents of their new inhabitants. CILD’s director Andrea Menapace says: “We need a paradigm-shift that would allow stakeholders to find and craft win-win lasting solutions that would benefit both migrants, refugees and hosting societies.”

The first event of the Cities For All project by CILD and Humans on the Move (in partnership with Impact Hub Milan and in collaboration with the City of Milan) took place on 16 December. More information here.

Brexit and beyond: What will the UK out of Europe mean for migration?

This article first appeared on Open Migration

The weeks and months following the UK’s Brexit vote have been dominated by confusion and uncertainty about what this will actually look like in reality, when it might be implemented and how it will impact on issues such as migration.

48%

On 23 June 2016, the UK went to the polls in a historic referendum to decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union. The country woke up the following day to find that 52% of those 30 million-plus voters had opted to leave the community it joined 43 years previously.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU – popularly known as ‘Brexit’ – surprised many at home, sent shockwaves across Europe and reverberated around the rest of the world. The ensuing weeks and months have been dominated by confusion and uncertainty about what Brexit will actually look like in reality, when it might be implemented and how it will impact on issues such as migration.

Recent months have also seen an intense Conservative Party leadership contest following the resignation of the (pro-Remain) prime minister, David Cameron and the arrival of (pro-Remain) Theresa May as his successor, the appointment of a new cabinet and abolition of the role of minister for Syrian refugees.

Leave vs Remain

June’s referendum fractured the UK government and the main political parties. The official Leave campaign, whose supporters included former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, wanted to see an end to what it called “the supremacy of EU law” and argued that the £350 million sent every week to Brussels (a fact much disputed by their opponents) should instead be spent on the NHS and science research.

The pro-Leave UK Independence Party (UKIP) seized on immigration as their strongest campaign weapon, urging voters to “take back control of our borders” in a widely criticized ‘Breaking Point’ poster launched by UKIP leader Nigel Farage. The poster used a photograph of a long line of migrants and refugees on the Croatia-Slovenia border – part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.

Pre-Brexit prime minister David Cameron was a leading voice in the Remain campaign, which argued that UK membership of the EU made it stronger, fueled economic growth through immigration and protected workers’ rights.

Exploring the post-Brexit landscape

Many political pundits have commented on the UK government’s lack of contingency planning for a Leave vote. But on taking up her new role, Theresa May asserted: ”Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it.”

In order to leave the EU, the UK has to invoke an agreement called Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This gives both sides two years to agree the terms of their parting. May says she will not start this process before the end of 2016, so a clear picture of what kind of deal the UK will be seeking from Europe in terms of trade and immigration is unlikely to emerge until next year.

The UK has sovereign authority over non-EU migration. But Brexit has direct consequences for intra-EU migration, affecting the estimated 3m EU citizens living in the UK and the 1.3m UK citizens in EU countries. The UK government has stated that any decision on the future of the former is dependent on the position of the latter as Brexit negotiations unfold.

Norway and Switzerland, both outside the EU, are cited as potential models for the UK to follow. Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) and, as such, must apply the same free movement rules as EU member states but has no vote on the rules. Meanwhile the bilateral Free Movement of Persons Agreement removes restrictions on EU citizens wishing to live or work in Switzerland. These models of residency and work rights for EU citizens that are virtually identical to those of EU member states. So, even if Brexit results in tighter controls of the migration of EU nationals, free movement could be largely unaffected if the UK were to follow a similar model.

The greatest fear for many is that Brexit appears to give legitimacy to the anti-migration feelings expressed by UKIP in its campaigning. Stephen Hale, chief executive of charity Refugee Action, says the result is “a very divided Britain with an uncertain outlook”.

“The public now need clarity that this was not a vote to slam the borders shut, or to fan the flames of prejudice towards 3 million understandably anxious Europeans living and working in the UK today,” he says.

PHOTO: Walt Jabsco / Flickr Creative Commons

 

The UK on asylum

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford notes that, aside from citizenship and the internal market, the UK participates selectively in EU policy on asylum and immigration.

The EU’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is intended to ensure that the rights of refugees under international law are protected in its member states. The system sets out minimum standards and procedures for processing and assessing asylum applications, and for the treatment of both asylum seekers and those who are granted refugee status. The UK chose not to participate fully in the recent CEAS reform process, stating that it did not judge that adopting a common EU asylum policy “is right for Britain”.

The UK has also opted out of any refugee quota as part of the EU’s reform of the Dublin system, which currently says asylum seekers must be processed in the first EU country they reach and any that make it any further can be sent back.

In response to the breakdown of that system at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, new proposals would see Brussels calculate how many asylum seekers each EU country could cope with based on size and wealth. If arrivals exceed this number by 50 per cent, asylum seekers would automatically be sent to other EU states.

The UK is not part of the Schengen area, which has no border controls. The Le Touquet agreement, reached between the UK and France in 2003, permits each country to carry out passport checks on the other country’s soil. Critics say this has accelerated the growth of the “Jungle”, which is currently home to almost 5,000 refugees.

While signed outside the auspices of the EU, so not affected by Brexit, Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart believes France should consider renegotiating the agreement, and handle migrants’ asylum requests in Kent rather than in Calais. But a home affairs select committee report published in August has called on the UK government to maintain the Le Touquet agreement as “a priority”.

The report also shows that the UK is struggling to meet its pledge to welcome 20,000 Syrian by 2020. Between September 2015 and March 2016, 1,602 Syrians had been resettled under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme aimed at those in camps on the Syrian borders. The UK received only 3.1% of the 1.25m first-time applications for asylum in EU member states in 2015, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The fence surrounding the port of Calais next to "The Jungle" in Calais, France. (VOA/Nicolas Pinault)

Fear of contagion

So could Brexit be an early sign of a European political tsunami? New research by the European Council on Foreign Relations has found 34 anti-EU referendum demands in 18 other countries. ECFR surveyed 45 of Europe’s “insurgent” parties – from the hard left to the far right – on subjects from their country’s membership to the EU to specific policy issues such as refugee relocation quotas.

Of the total interviewed, 36 oppose the EU-Turkey deal on the refugee crisis, many of them voicing concern about the EU-Turkey deal because it will lead to closer co-operation between the EU and Turkey.

ECFR director Mark Leonard says these challenger parties represent “a revolution” in European foreign policy: “Even where they don’t win power directly, they are so politically powerful that they are forcing mainstream parties to adopt their positions.”

Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen has been calling for a French EU referendum for three years and promises an in-out vote on France’s EU membership if she is elected next year. She hailed June’s Brexit vote as “a victory for freedom”.

Italy’s Eurosceptic Five Star Movement (M5S), an anti-establishment party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, won a quarter of the national vote in 2013 and last month clinched the mayoral seats in Rome and Turin. While the M5S is committed to EU membership, it has called for a national referendum on the euro.

Anatole Kaletsky, chief economist and co-chairman of Gavekal Dragonomics, believes the Brexit referendum’s outcome has transformed the politics of EU fragmentation. He wrote recently: “Before, advocates of leaving the EU or euro could be ridiculed as fantasists or denounced as fascists (or ultra-leftists). This is no longer possible.”

HEADER PHOTO: Duncan C / Flickr Creative Commons

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.”

 

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?”

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.