Creative solutions for refugees, filling a country’s labor gaps

Nagham Abu Issa was working as an executive assistant in a cement factory in Damascus when the civil war started in Syria. Her family fled to Lebanon. She is a refugee, but she is also a valuable employee, with a degree from Damascus University in English literature and has studied human resources. Now she hopes to take that savvy to Canada, not through resettlement but to fill the country’s labor gaps.

She has interviewed with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), an international NGO that has started pilots in Canada and Australia to match a small number of refugees based in Lebanon and Jordan with employment opportunities abroad. The experiment is aiming high: to forge a new pathway for refugees to be recognized for what they can bring to a country, not for the state of the countries they were forced to leave. In so doing, TBB hopes to shift attitudes about refugees among Western nations and their immigration systems, some of which are under assault by the rise of populism and nativism. Bruce Cohen, co-founder of TBB and former chief counsel and staff director for the US Senate Judiciary Committee, created a searchable database for displaced jobseekers in Lebanon and Jordan that today holds more than 11,000 resumes. “It is really getting rid of this image of refugees as unskilled, poor, pitiful.”

In Canada jobs are plentiful. The government recently announced it will take in 350,000 immigrants in 2021, or 40,000 more than it expects to admit this year. Canadian employers have also expressed interest in hiring refugees. The TBB program works with federal and provincial governments in Canada on visas and connects employers to refugee talent. It helps businesses overcome legal barriers refugees face that traditional economic migrants would not, such as a lack of passports or access to education records.

Heather Segal, founder of Segal Immigration Law in Toronto, is working pro-bono with TBB because she says too many skilled refugees stagnate while nations like Canada face labor shortages. “Why are we obviating a group of educated, skilled people because their country fell apart?” she says. “There is a gap here that needs to be addressed…. We need creative solutions for the refugee system in the 21st century.”

In the United States, the Tent Partnership for Refugees works with businesses to facilitate refugee hires, both in countries to which they first flee and where they are ultimately resettled. Tent Partnership’s leaders argue that it is not just the right thing to do, it makes both strategic and business sense. A report released by Tent and the Fiscal Policy Institute in May, for example, showed higher retention rates and resilience among the refugee workforce in the US market.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Pope Francis criticizes migrant treatment and rising wealth inequality

Pope Francis criticized rising wealth inequality and the treatment of migrants, saying the world should not ignore those “tossed by the waves of life”.

“Injustice is the perverse root of poverty,” Francis said. “The cry of the poor daily becomes stronger but heard less, drowned out by the din of the rich few, who grow ever fewer and more rich.”

Francis also reiterated his support for migrants saying that people must pay attention to “all those forced to flee their homes and native land for an uncertain future”.

A report this year by Oxfam said 3.7 billion people, or half of the global population, saw no increase in their wealth in 2017, while 82 percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population.

[Reuters]

Bill Gates reinventing the toilet

Bill Gates thinks toilets are a serious business, and he’s betting big that a reinvention of this most essential of conveniences can save a half million lives and deliver $200 billion-plus in savings.

The billionaire philanthropist, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent $200 million over seven years funding sanitation research, showcased some 20 novel toilet and sludge-processing designs that eliminate harmful pathogens and convert bodily waste into clean water and fertilizer.

The Microsoft Corp. co-founder explained that new approaches for sterilizing human waste may help end almost 500,000 infant deaths and save $233 billion annually in costs linked to diarrhea, cholera and other diseases caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene.

One approach from the California Institute of Technology that Gates said he finds “super interesting” integrates an electrochemical reactor to break down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy.

Without cost-effective alternatives to sewers and waste-treatment facilities, urbanization and population growth will add to the burden. In some cities, more than half the volume of human waste escapes into the environment untreated. Every dollar invested in sanitation yields about $5.50 in global economic returns, according to the World Health Organization.

Gates, who with wife Melinda has given more than $35.8 billion to the foundation since 1994, said he became interested in sanitation about a decade ago.

[Bloomberg]

US yogurt billionaire’s ‘Humanity first’ solution to immigration

Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurd who built yogurt empire Chobani after immigrating to the US in the mid-90s, is challenging Americans to rethink the way they view immigration.

Ulukaya has sought to keep his mission of assisting refugees above the political fray. But on occasion he has denounced the administration’s immigration policies and the way it enforces them. The issue is deeply personal for Ulukaya — a self-made billionaire who grew up tending goat and sheep in rural Turkey.

Ulukaya said, “I have nothing against ‘America first’, but ‘humanity first’ too.”

Ulukaya started recruiting immigrants and refugees to work at Chobani in 2010 — a strategy that drew vicious attacks from far right-wing conspiracy theorists who have spread lies about the company, including allegations Chobani embarked on a secret plot to increase America’s Islamic population.

About 30 percent of Chobani’s employees are immigrants or refugees. He says his employees and suppliers are worried. “They ask, ‘What’s gonna happen to me, will I be able to see my mother, or if they’re gonna come and visit me?’ ”

Ulukaya calls America a “magic land,” alluding to its historic standing as a beacon of hope and opportunity. “Above and beyond all, I hope the idea of magic land doesn’t get damaged,” said Ulukaya.

[CNN]

Mobilizing resources to meet the needs of international refugees

Over the last several years, Hamdi Ulukaya has been making a passionate pitch to assist refugees through Tent Partnership for Refugees, Ulukaya’s nonprofit dedicated to helping improve the lives of refugees. He argues that resources, especially from corporate America, should grow to match a historic migration crisis that has displaced over 65 million people worldwide, including 25 million refugees.

Ulukaya, who launched Tent in 2016, has successfully urged companies to develop solutions by “mobilizing resources, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit of the business community.”

This week, Tent added 20 brands to a growing list of partners pledging to hire refugees or help them build a better life. The latest companies to commit to the cause include Hilton, pasta maker Barilla, Microsoft and Uniqlo. In total, Tent has secured promises from more than 100 companies.

Ulukaya is alleviating the plight of refugees at a time when the US government is reducing foreign aid and lowering the number of refugees the US will admit. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced a refugee cap of 30,000 in 2019 — the lowest level since 1980.

“Even if governments were stepping up to do the right thing, which many, including the US government, are not, the crisis is too big for government,” said Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, as she presented Ulukaya the Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Award this week.

[CNN]

Warren Buffett following through on his Giving Pledge

Warren Buffett just donated $3.4 billion to five charitable foundations. The massive philanthropic effort is a part of Buffett’s lifetime pledge to divest part of his stock in Berkshire Hathaway each year.

Buffett, 87, announced the pledge in 2006. His donations — which total about $31 billion to date — go to five organizations including the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, named for his wife and run by his children, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2010, Buffett partnered with Gates to create the Giving Pledge, a public commitment through which billionaires commit to donating half of their wealth to philanthropic causes of their choice. As of May 2018, there are 183 pledgers from 22 countries. The list includes the cofounders of Airbnb, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, former New York City mayor and Bloomberg CEO Michael Bloomberg, and Oracle founder Larry Ellison.

Buffett is the world’s third-wealthiest person with a net worth of about $83 billion, trailing only Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Gates. On Monday, it was announced that Bezos is the richest person in “modern history.” His worth recently hit $150 billion. Bezos has yet to sign onto Gates’s and Buffett’s pledge.

“I’m not an enthusiast for dynastic wealth, particularly when 6 billion others have much poorer hands than we do in life,” Buffett famously said in 2006.

He updated his pledge in 2010, writing: “More than 99% of my wealth will go to philanthropy during my lifetime or at death. Measured by dollars, this commitment is large. In a comparative sense, though, many individuals give more to others every day.”

[Yahoo News]

Rich and mid-income countries must welcome more refugees

1.4 million refugees will need resettlement in 2019, according to new figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but the number of places available do not match needs.

The Norwegian Refugee Council calls for rich and mid-income countries to increase the number of people they admit for resettlement. “The shocking lack of compassion and willingness among many rich and mid-income countries to take their share of responsibility and provide refugees with resettlement has resulted in a large and dangerous back-log,” said Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.

In the US, a country that normally has received the largest number of people for resettlement, the quotas have been cut by two thirds after Donald Trump became president. Denmark, another country that used to contribute substantially, has ended their program, and also Norway has reduced the number of places available.

“We should be able to expect countries that have the economy to host World Cups,
Eurovision or Olympic Games, to also have the capacity to host some of the world’s refugees who currently cannot find protection where they are,” Egeland said.

“The lack of resettlement places globally feeds the smuggling industry and pushes desperate people to embark on dangerous journeys,” added Egeland.

[Norwegian Refugee Council]

World Tolerance Summit to be held in UAE

The International Institute for Tolerance, part of Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, has announced the launch of the ‘World Tolerance Summit’, a two-day conference to be held in Dubai, from November 15th-16th, 2018, to coincide with the International Day of Tolerance on November 16th.

The summit will host 1,000 government leaders, key personalities from the private and public sectors, youth representatives, social leaders, social influencers, and the international diplomatic community in a platform that seeks innovative solutions and to forge fruitful partnerships that will help promote respect for diversity and productive pluralism.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan commented, “Tolerance is not simply enduring the existence of opinions, ideas, behaviors or practices that do not concur with your own. It is about recognizing, respecting and embracing diversity. It is about being secure in your own culture and beliefs, so that you respond to what is different with curiosity and compassion rather than with fear and intolerance. To be tolerant one needs to be concerned genuinely for the welfare of one’s fellow human beings, and to take action based on those concerns.”

The summit will also explore the use of social media and digital networking in advocating the significance of tolerance with respect to its societal and economic benefits. There will also be a strong effort focusing on the youth through the involvement of educational institutions in inculcating the values of tolerance as well as efforts to include women empowerment and their capacity to promote and advocate the value of tolerance.

The World Tolerance Summit is the world’s first-of-its-kind event that tackles tolerance, peace and cultural understanding among mankind.

[IPS]

Migrants-at-risk blocked from crossing US border near Tijuana

A group of Central American asylum seekers spent Monday languishing on the ground outside a border crossing after U.S. officials said they did not have space to process them. On one side of the standoff are 220 migrants, who cite their right to seek shelter from persecution back home and have traveled through Mexico in a caravan to highlight the suffering of asylum seekers. On the other side is the Trump administration, which is trying to crack down on illegal immigration and says many asylum claims are fraudulent.

Trump tweeted last week that he had ordered the secretary of homeland security “not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country,” adding, “It is a disgrace.” But under international treaties it has signed, the U.S. government is obliged to allow foreigners to apply for asylum.

The San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego has detention space for about 300 people. U.S. officials have not said how many people are being held there. Asylum seekers are typically detained until officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services conduct interviews to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution or torture if they are sent home. Many of the migrants say they face threats to their lives in their native lands.

Suany Rodriguez, 6, who had been running to the bathroom all day with a bad case of diarrhea, grabbed a Barbie before sitting down in the street in front of a pharmacy. Her mother, Irma Rivera, 31, said that the girl had woken up sick after a bitterly cold night at the border. The family had left Honduras after Rivera’s husband was killed in a cornfield…She said she received anonymous phone calls stating that … other members of her family would be slain. That’s why she’s seeking asylum.

“We’re asking for them [U.S. authorities] to be fair. You don’t leave your country because you want to. The violence makes you leave,” Rivera said. “My life is at risk and so are the lives of my children.”

[Washington Post]

Twice a refugee

Amira is 61 years old, each wrinkle on her face reflecting a sorrow, a heartbreak. Amira had a normal life in Syria not that long ago; she was happily married with six children before the Syrian Civil War came and tore apart her country and her family.

When a rocket exploded outside her family’s apartment in Aleppo, Amira’s husband went to help the injured. A second rocket exploded, killing her beloved husband and father of her children.

The next year Amira’s son died during a missile attack where people were waiting for water. To add sorrow to sorrow, soon another son would die, leaving behind his wife and four orphan children.

The following year the husband of Amira’s newly-married daughter was killed, leaving behind another orphan, a daughter who has meningitis.

2016 brought an intensified bombing campaign of eastern Aleppo, and with it untold pain, suffering and misery. The UN’s humanitarian chief warned that eastern Aleppo was being turned into “one giant graveyard” as the rebel-held area was being overrun. During this nightmare, Amira’s grandchild, the fourth child of her widowed daughter, was injured when a bomb blast threw her against a wall, smashing her skull.

So Amira left Aleppo through an established safe corridor to Idlib, hoping to recover from the horrors she has lived through. But in September and October of 2017, the hospitals where she had been taking her grandchildren for treatment were bombed. In early 2018, the fighting in Idlib and Afrin displaced thousands more and she decided to join the thousands of Syrians willing to risk their lives to reach Turkey.

Amira arrived in our city on the first of February with her family of 12: herself, a daughter with an injured child; her disabled son, his wife, and their daughter with meningitis; her youngest son, aged 13; and her widowed daughter-in-law with four kids, the youngest with a damaged skull. She moved in temporarily with her sister in a clean but over-crowded abode in a crime-infested slum area.

We met brave Amira one week after her arrival. Her brother lives here in Turkey; an injured man in immense pain with part of his head badly damaged. Amira just wants to find a safe haven for her remaining family, far from the sounds of war. You see the deep insecurity in her children, having fled Aleppo in 2016, and now, a year or so later, having to run for their lives again from Idlib. It is hard to imagine what these children must be going through, living in war zones for most of their lives and having to move twice already while still so young.

It seemed beyond our totally volunteer team’s capability to adopt a new refugee family, with our limited resources and so many other families to assist. Yet how could we not help them and try to take them under our wings?

An angel from abroad sent us $1000 to secure housing for Amira. A friend from the UK gave a generous gift for the mothers to purchase new clothes. We returned the next day with clothes for all the children, courtesy of a local Foreign Woman’s Club. Other friends went on a crusade to gather as many household items as they could.

Fast forward three weeks. They now have a new house in a better part of town, with a green area nearby where the children can play. Recently we did our second delivery of household items. The Foreign Women’s Club delivered two carloads and a truck of aid and we gave a nice bed and mattress from our former home.

We were also able to register them all to get their ID cards –in a single day! For those who work with refugees, you know that this process can take weeks and at times even months. The authorities bent over backwards to help us do this. We are in regular communication with the police here about our work with the refugees. We often enter neighborhoods that even the police usually do not enter. Our good relations with the authorities have paid off as they have been a big help to us.

Seeing Amira and her family’s utter joy as we delivered the different donations was such a reward. In a matter of three weeks I personally went from feeling overwhelmed to an overwhelming happiness in seeing how our donors in the West have once again risen up to the occasion to help others.