This article was written by D. Braam and P. Molnar and is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, wars and conflicts have not stopped. While some countries have successfully grappled with the virus, in refugee camps the situation remains fraught.
Researching the social epidemiology of zoonotic disease risks in displacement and international human rights law, we have seen firsthand the intersection between health and human rights. Susceptibility to zoonoses — diseases transmitted between animals and humans — is influenced by complex biological, environmental, socio-economical, political and technological processes. For the sake of global health, it is therefore important to ensure that people made marginalized have access to robust services, including health care.
Conflict and disease transmission are often linked. For example, research has found that the collapse of health systems and disease control in Syria led to an increase in leishmaniasis, rabies and tuberculosis, including in refugee populations. When polio re-emerged due to a decline in vaccination rates, neighbouring countries rapidly responded.
A few months ago, one of us returned from fieldwork in Jordan, studying the risks of zoonotic disease transmission among Syrian refugees, just before the country closed its borders. These concerns have become increasingly pressing as COVID-19 pushed humanitarian workers to mitigate the potentially devastating effects of the pandemic on refugees and migrants in incredibly challenging conditions.
The risk of infection in refugee camps
The risk posed by infectious diseases among vulnerable populations depends on a range of factors with political and socio-economic factors playing an important role. Poverty and inequality both influence the occurrence and severity of the disease. In refugee settings, these risks are exacerbated by overcrowding and unhygienic living conditions, while interpersonal relations within households and communities further impact risks of infection.
Besides facing overpopulation, refugees often tend to have lower immunity levels due to limited quantities and quality of food, water, medical provisions and pre-existing conditions such as respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.
Unfortunately, the most effective responses to COVID-19 such as testing, social distancing and quarantine are nearly impossible to implement in many displaced populations due to overpopulation of camps and shelters and inadequate access to resources. In refugee camps, where families often share washing and sanitation facilities, disease control is difficult.
Lockdowns and reduced access of health-care workers to regions with widespread poverty, in combination with a scarcity of essential supplies, are likely to exacerbate poor health. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) warned of the challenges the organization faces in getting supplies to refugees from their network of regional stockpiled warehouses due to a lack of transportation.
Worsening living conditions amid a pandemic
In early April, the first cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in a Greek refugee camp on Lesbos, which has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees since the start of the war in Syria.
In early 2020, Lesbos saw an increase of hundreds of refugee arrivals a day. The refugees who remain stranded on the Greek island have strained relations with local residents, resulting in violence targeted at sites planned for new or expanded facilities and the departure of NGOs that provided essential food and medical services. These worsening living conditions in the camps and informal tented settlements greatly increase the risk of this population to COVID-19 infection.
As the number of refugees increases, their protection against disease can only be safeguarded through resettlement into better living conditions and robust asylum procedures that protect human rights. However, the two UN agencies mandated to resettle refugees and migrants, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, stopped all resettlement travel indefinitely. Such measures are in direct contravention of the UNHCR’s own international standards. Furthermore, there is limited evidence of the effectiveness of travel bans in pandemic disease control.
Thousands of refugees will die if they remain in camps with no means of accessing vital health care.
Political choices and people made vulnerable
Migration and the global response are always political exercises. People on the move have long been seen as harbingers of disease that must be stopped at all costs. Xenophobia and racism is already rampant as the world looks for scapegoats for the current outbreak.
While local initiatives such as homemade masks and COVID-19 helplines are stopgaps, we need a coordinated global response that strengthens universal access to health care including for people crossing borders and claiming asylum.
Refugee camps are full of contradictions: they hold so much pain, yet also showcase the resiliency and complexity of the human spirit. By their very nature, they are a bridge between belonging and uncertainty, locking people in time and space.
The conditions in camps make people vulnerable and exacerbate global health emergencies like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Our response to the intersection between migration, the coronavirus and systemic barriers to health will determine how and when we get a grip of this disease, a decision which will eventually affect all of us.
Coronavirus lockdowns force the world's poorest into deadly trade-offs between their health and livelihoods
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.
Abu Bakr’s family had packed up their improvised tents in Sindh, south-east Pakistan, by mid-October 2019. Three months earlier, they had lost their houses and fields due to uncharacteristically heavy monsoon rains. Now they were returning to their village near the settlement of Mirpur Sakro to rebuild their homes. But any hope that the family could return to normality might turn out to be short-lived.
The family lives off what it grows, selling any excess produce and the occasional buffalo at the market to obtain cash for supplies or healthcare. Except that by mid-March, many of Sindh’s markets were closed because of COVID-19.
I met Abu Bakr during my ongoing research into the risks and vulnerabilities of displaced populations to zoonoses – diseases transmittable between animals and humans. In Pakistan, internally displaced populations such as Abu Bakr’s family often depend on movement to keep safe during the monsoon, for livestock grazing and the occasional seasonal work.
As they share their living, cooking and washing spaces with their livestock, zoonoses are a real concern. Even if it’s rare for these diseases such as COVID-19 to move from animals to humans, endemic zoonotic and other infectious diseases are common among displaced populations. If people are displaced from their homes, they may become more vulnerable because of their changing environment, the limited availability of services such as healthcare, and the inadequate supply of food or its poor preparation.
Displaced people are also more at risk of COVID-19, since prevention measures such as physical distancing are less effective in crowded relief camps where large households live in small shelters. Regular hand washing is often impossible without a sufficient supply of clean water.
The lockdowns are disproportionally affecting the world’s poor and displaced populations in other places too. In Karachi, Afghan refugees have been unable to access work due to movement restrictions imposed by a curfew. The effect on their livelihood is increasingly becoming a risk to their health.
In Jordan, host to one of the world’s largest refugee populations, the government closed its borders early in the pandemic. It also imposed strict curfews, restricting access to refugee camps from outside visitors, which affected how much aid was available to its inhabitants.
Some humanitarian agencies shut down non-essential programmes as a result of the pandemic. For example, nutritional programmes targeted at refugees and displaced people – essential to people’s immune response – were affected.
Syrian refugees in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan are struggling to meet basic needs as they can no longer leave the camp to work. Their poor nutrition will inadvertently increase their vulnerability to disease. It doesn’t help that livestock are often not allowed in formal relief camps, since they could contribute to people’s livelihoods and food, improving nutrition.
In late March, the UN launched a US$2 billion (£0.9 billion) COVID-19 humanitarian response plan urging donors not to neglect funding to ongoing emergencies – including refugee and displacement crises. It stressed that providing basic healthcare and preventing overlapping health conditions are essential in limiting the severity of disease.
But health programmes are already being affected by the crisis. In April, the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation advised countries to suspend mass vaccination campaigns. Early reports suggest that polio cases in Sindh have increased, a situation bound to worsen due to the lack of vaccinations. This could have far-reaching and long-term negative effects in the region.
Other efforts to control disease will be affected by COVID-19 too, as healthcare systems get overwhelmed, limiting access to health clinics and the supply of medicines. In Jordan, humanitarian health support provided through urban health clinics to the refugees, most of them Syrian, living outside the camps, has been suspended.
Abu Bakr’s family suffers from seasonal malaria outbreaks – important when one remembers that reduced access to anti-malarial health services and mosquito nets in west Africa during the Ebola outbreak caused more deaths than the virus itself.
Look to the long term
Indiscriminately implementing standard prevention measures against COVID-19 or other zoonotic disease in countries with limited resources, complex emergencies or high levels of displacement has life-threatening consequences. Government policies and humanitarian responses need to address immediate health needs, as well as long-term livelihoods and food supply.
It’s long been an ambition of humanitarian and development agencies to include migrants, refugees and displaced people in the delivery and design of aid operations. Today’s restrictions on international and local movement reiterate the importance of shifting responsibility of humanitarian responses to local groups. In Sindh, local leaders are already actively increasing COVID-19 awareness among communities.
Soon Abu Bakr will have to decide how to safely protect his family and their livestock from the monsoon floods as well as COVID-19. Trade-offs between health risks and livelihoods need to be carefully negotiated. One way to do this would be to use data on levels of poverty and coping mechanisms to contribute to models of how diseases spread. Wherever possible, researchers developing such models and responses to zoonotic diseases should get displaced populations to participate as much as possible. The weakest populations need to be supported to protect the global health of all of us.
This post was published earlier on 12 May 2020 under the same title on the Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement blog: https://centreghum.com/2020/05/12/covid-19-in-displaced-populations
While walking through the mud among the improvised tented shelters of an informal camp housing Syrian refugees in Jordan, I was approached by a desperate mother and her young disabled son. Amina showed me a hand-written prescription of the medication she needed but had been unable to obtain, after losing access to medical assistance. As the war in Syria drags on, humanitarian actors have shifted from emergency response towards longer term development aid, affecting the assistance available to people living outside formal refugee camps.
The recent measures, that have been implemented to reduce the impact of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic have further restricted the availability of aid. Lockdowns and movement restrictions have severely disrupted the supply of medical and food items available to refugees in- and outside camps. ‘Worldwide COVID-19 policy and health responses have so far mainly relied on uncontextualized ‘science-based’ risk assessments, which risk exacerbating local socio-economic and health inequalities.
Interconnected and compound hazards
COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, with its pathogen – in this case a virus – originating in animals. While over 60 percent of diseases infectious to humans are believed to be of animal origin, few evolve from an interspecies (animal to human) to intraspecies (human to human) pathogen such as the novel coronavirus. There are many known zoonoses, like Bovine Tuberculosis and Brucellosis, although most are ‘endemic’: constantly circulating through animal populations and causing significant economic and health losses among people dependent on livestock for their livelihoods and nutrition.
Zoonoses show us the interconnectedness of organisms. In response to the artificial barrier which historically existed between sectors, the ‘One Health’ approach was developed to combine human, animal and environmental health research and responses. While this approach has been effective in integrating cross-sector responses by addressing issues such as wildlife trafficking, environmental degradation and food supply, the societal impacts of the recent pandemic have demonstrated the need to further improve interdisciplinary approaches to address zoonotic health risks.
The risk of disease infection and transmission depends on complex interactions of not only biological but also environmental, socio-economic and political factors, which may exacerbate or mitigate one another. In the UK, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are generally considered most vulnerable to COVID-19; however, in countries with limited resources that face complex emergencies, high levels of unemployment and poverty, and a limited availability and capacity of healthcare, many more people are at risk. The pandemic is certainly not the ‘great equalizer’ as Madonna mused early on. Interpersonal relations within households and communities further determine risk of infection. While COVID-19 seems to affect men more severely, in many low-income settings women are traditionally in charge of caring for sick household members, putting them at increased risk for disease infection.
There is growing evidence that persistent socio-economic and health inequalities related to political and economic processes adversely affect the disease risks of resource-poor communities. COVID-19 has rendered this inequality visible even in the UK, where COVID-19 related deaths were twice as high in the poorest areas such as Newham in London. While prevention and treatment are key in mitigating infectious disease outcomes (Hammer et al, 2018), resource-poor countries often lack the resources for comprehensive health systems, thereby exacerbating socio-economic vulnerabilities.
While lockdowns have grounded global and national movements to a halt, curfews are a measure of luxury, worsening social inequality, especially in countries where many people are dependent on daily wages and labor migration. For example, the sudden imposition of curfew, then lockdown, followed by the suspension of train and bus services has led to the loss of livelihoods, massive internal migration and even death in India. In Pakistan, pastoralists are no longer able to move their herds to seasonal water and food sources, risking the loss of thousands of livestock in the Thar desert, as well as their main source of nutrition and income. Imposing blanket movement restrictions can thereby risk exacerbating people’s ill health.
Increased vulnerability of displaced
Meanwhile, displacement itself can be considered a risk to population health. Displaced populations are among the most vulnerable people to disease, as they tend to be poorer, stigmatized, stressed and subject to structural violence (Singer et al, 2017). Displaced populations may inhabit unregulated areas in informal settings, lacking official status and coping mechanisms. Many internally displaced and refugees depend on humanitarian assistance, which is now heavily affected by the restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The lack of resilience among displaced communities due to the loss of assets and fragmented social infrastructure influences available coping mechanisms to deal with ill health and disease.
The pandemic is expected to increase the mortality rate of other diseases across regions as healthcare systems get overwhelmed and health professionals fall ill. Resources to develop vaccines and treatment, ventilators and protective gear will be less available in low-income settings, especially to non-indigenous populations. Standard responses to COVID-19 such as physical distancing and improved hygiene are difficult to implement in areas where people live closely together and share sanitation facilities. Refugees and internal displaced populations often lack access to basic healthcare, especially when living outside formal relief camps. COVID-19 therefore not only has significant health impacts, but also both the disease and the responses to it risk increasing poverty and displacement. The shift to remote operations by humanitarian agencies further increases the risk of highlighting any pre-existing inequalities, by those with least access to humanitarian assistance now potentially losing out altogether.
To prevent zoonotic disease transmission, livestock is often prevented from accessing formal relief and refugee camps, even though losing this important source of nutrition may negatively impact people’s immunity and overall health status. In response, refugees may choose to live in informal tented settlements as they consider official camps unsafe or unsuitable to their livelihood. Livestock owners living outside formal camps often have limited access to humanitarian assistance. Informal tented settlements, which have grown organically without planning, often have limited water and sanitation facilities, the lack of hygiene posing further risks to the residents’ health.
COVID-19 will have a significant impact on refugee and other displaced populations worldwide beyond health. If policies and responses are not carefully contextualized, these risk increasing people’s vulnerabilities, not only to disease but to (further) displacement. Socio-economic and health inequalities need to be addressed to prevent negative coping mechanisms to zoonoses such as environmental degradation and conflict, which may in turn cause more displacement and health risks.
The range of trajectories in COVID-19 outbreaks across countries and communities show us the importance of studying socio-economic and political decisions and interactions. More research is needed to determine how policies impact displaced people’s decisions, and the effect on their vulnerability to disease. Responses need to primarily be based on local people’s knowledge, experiences and traditional community responses to infectious diseases.
As COVID-19 spreads through this interconnected world, we must also improve interconnectivity of sectoral responses, ensuring an interdisciplinary approach to public health. Addressing underlying causes of health inequality is just one of the issues which needs to be resolved, to ensure Amina can get the medication her son needs.
 Not her real name.
 Narrod et al (2012). A One Health Framework for Estimating the Economic Costs of Zoonotic Diseases on Society. 9 (2) 150-162.
 Hammer, C. et al (2018). Risk factors and risk factor cascades for communicable disease outbreaks in complex humanitarian emergencies: a qualitative systematic review. BMJ Global Health 3(4).
 Singer, M. et al (2017). Syndemics and the biosocial conception of health. Lancet 4;389 941-950.
It’s another beautiful winter’s day in Athens, home to around 660,000 Greeks and thousands of refugees - either in camps, disused buildings, or on the streets. While overcrowded conditions and limited resources in refugee camps on the islands are drawing attention to people suffering through yet another winter, refugees elsewhere in Greece nowadays receive a lot less attention.
No questions are asked when one enters the Skaramagas refugee camp, situated in an idyllic bay on a former navy base about an hour’s drive from the city center (see picture). Since refugees are no longer allowed to register, Greek camp officials have left and there is only minimal security, consisting of a handful of navy officers. While the Hellenic Red Cross takes on most visible refugee support roles, including health and laundry facilities, containers displaying the organizational signs of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) show who is ultimately responsible for overall management.
In front of a colorful wooden building, a small group of volunteers are waiting for their coordinators. While the latter often spend more than three months in the camp, identifying priorities and dividing tasks, many volunteers join for two or three weeks, making use of their limited annual leave and holidays. Often unqualified and with limited experience abroad, they provide assistance where organizations have moved out due to increasing restrictions. While voluntourism is a recognized issue in developing countries, in this case the refugees would have no access to supporting services at all, had the volunteers had not decided to travel to Greece to assist. Besides managing a sewing room, mother-and-baby, and women’s space, refugees have the option to join sports, kids’ activities or language classes; most afternoons either English and/or German are taught.
With many European borders firmly shut, and limited funding possibilities for the UN and NGOs to work with refugees in Greece, organizations founded and run by volunteers are becoming more professional. To improve sustainability, it will be necessary to take on (semi-) permanent paid staff, provide long-term volunteers with accommodation and transport, or start fundraising in the same pool as humanitarian agencies. Having argued in our previous blogpost for the need for an inclusive coordination mechanism, these trends should be enough reason for agencies to reach out and support formalizing volunteering in Greece.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
A significant number of ad-hoc volunteer organizations, assisted by hundreds of volunteers, are engaged in the humanitarian refugee response across Greece. These organizations often specialize in one sector or location, conducting activities such as rescuing refugees at sea, providing emergency supplies, safe spaces for women and children, and psycho-social support. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is the official partner working and coordinating with the Greek government on the refugee response. Formal coordination mechanisms include UN agencies and established international and national non-governmental organizations. Ad-hoc volunteer organizations which have not registered with the authorities, and volunteers not affiliated with a specific NGO, risk being left out of these coordination mechanisms and related information sharing.
Stakeholders have recognized the problem of a lack of coordination between established and ad-hoc actors since the start of the response, not in the least because of the multitude of partners. Excluding ad-hoc volunteer organizations and unaffiliated volunteers from the regular coordination mechanisms ignores the existing gaps in the response. Many ad-hoc volunteer organizations work in geographical areas where no formal organizations are present (yet), including informal camps and islands where refugees keep arriving. Other organizations may focus on a particular type of activity which is not addressed by the authorities, and/or implement activities for which there is little funding available by traditional donors.
More restrictive EU regulations and increased border interdictions at land and sea challenge the work of NGOs by diminishing protective space. Access to refugees is increasingly restricted as new arrivals are accommodated in formal refugee and detention camps usually closed to unaffiliated volunteers. This has had its effect on established organizations as well: following the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016, Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) declined to accept further funding from EU Member States and institutions. While perceived as problematic by some ad-hoc organizations, the official registration of NGOs by the Greek authorities might in fact benefit the refugee response if this means they are included in formal coordination mechanisms as well.
Cooperation between organizations, based on increased coordination, would further benefit both. Where ad-hoc volunteer organizations may be able to respond faster, filling gaps in the overall humanitarian response, established partners could train and develop these organizations, including by sharing accountability protocols. Meanwhile, lessons learned from the alternative infrastructure and human resources set up by ad-hoc volunteer agencies could innovate and improve humanitarian assistance. A quick search on Facebook shows that volunteer organizations are extremely effective in adopting social media, with thousands of followers. While traditional humanitarian and development actors are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of social media, some ad-hoc volunteer organizations, and hundreds of non-affiliated volunteers, rely on quick data sharing and response rates, getting people in the right place at the right time.
Effective coordination is a major component of the humanitarian reform agenda, and largely based on data collection and information sharing. To reduce gaps, increase effectiveness and benefit from the availability of skills of both established and ad-hoc volunteer organizations, coordination mechanisms should include all stakeholders involved in the response. Furthermore, cooperation between established and ad-hoc organizations should be encouraged. The innovative and effective use of social media is just one example of how transferred knowledge and experience might benefit all, increased accountability of ad-hoc volunteer organizations through the formalization of coordination another.
Live Science - 14 February 2017: Endangered Antelopes Face 'Catastrophic' Die-Off - over 2500 critically endangered Mongolian Saiga antelopes have been killed during an outbreak of the livestock virus Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR). While hunting has reduced the Saiga tatarica population from over one million to 10-50,000 within forty years, the virus - with up to 90% mortality rates in naïve populations - may wipe out the species altogether. This will indirectly impact on other species negatively, including the endangered snow leopard, one of the Saiga tatarica's predators.
PPR - also called sheep and goat plague - affects small ruminants, and was first described in 1942 in Côte d'Ivoire. Since then, it has spread across 70 African and Asian countries, with the latest outbreaks reported to the OIE - World Organisation for Animal Health, by Israel and Mongolia in early 2017. The high morbidity and mortality rates of the virus result in significant socio-economic losses, while reducing food security and destroying livelihoods of rural households. PPR losses disproportionally affect women, as they tend to be responsible for small livestock rearing and product marketing. As people start looking for alternative livelihoods, the affects of the disease indirectly causes migration and conflict over resources. Annual global economic losses are estimated between US$1.4 and US$2.1 billion.
The PPR Global Control and Eradication Strategy, developed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and OIE, was endorsed by high-level authorities and Chief Veterinary Officers from 70 countries in 2015. The strategy - which aims to eradicate the disease by 2030 - builds on the specific characteristics of the PPR virus, which makes it a viable disease for eradication: the disease is caused by only one serotype, there is no carrier nor sustainable reservoir outside domestic small ruminants; a single dose vaccine for life-long immunity is available and inexpensive to produce; effective diagnostic assays for serological monitoring of virus circulation and vaccination programmes are available. Previous diseases eradicated with comparable characteristics are Rinderpest - cattle plague, a disease affecting cloven- hoofed animals (declared eradicated in 2011), and the human virus smallpox (1980).
In 2016 FAO and OIE, which established the Joint PPR Global Secretariat, presented the first five year plan for the PPR Global Eradication Programme (2017-2021), based on four stages: assessment, control, eradication and maintenance of PPR-free status of non-affected countries. Considering the transboundary nature of animal diseases, nine PPR regional roadmaps were developed. In the first five years of the eradication campaign, focus will be on reinforcing veterinary capacities, supporting diagnostic and surveillance systems, supporting vaccination and control measures, and enhancing coordination and management at all levels.
While control and eradication efforts have been implemented for over a decade as part of regional pastoral support programmes in West Africa, resilience support in the Horn of Africa, and PPR control programmes in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, the virus persists throughout Africa and Asia, in particular in areas where no, or limited, control activities have been implemented so far. In 2016 alone, Algeria, Georgia, the Maldives, Mongolia and Tunisia reported outbreaks. The PPR strategy and its planned activities can only move forward with the required support and buy-in from governments, veterinary services and rural communities. Regional and cross-border cooperation and coordination is key, in particular when implementing vaccination programmes.
While there is limited financial aid available for (global) livestock disease control, particularly with so many other current pressing humanitarian and development issues competing for funding, diseases such as PPR have wider implications to poverty, security and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The importance of support for the eradication programme should not be underestimated, as prevalence rates and early PRR eradication results show. It is high time to move protecting livestock and wildlife alike against the devastating impacts of PPR up the agenda.
This post was published earlier on 20 October 2015 under the same title on the TransRe website: http://transre.org/en/blog/resilience-against-cop21-disappointment.
In November, the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Paris. Throughout 2015, informal consultations have taken place with the aim to reach a legally binding agreement on limiting global warming. Achieving this agreement is an important step in protecting populations against the impacts of climate change.
Critics of the COP process have pointed out that richer countries with larger delegations to the annual meeting are better positioned to advocate to their benefit (sometimes with the influence of large corporations), while smaller or poorer countries struggle to keep up with the official meeting schedule, let alone all the informal consultations. Looking at the parties’ national commitments in reducing their CO2 omissions, skeptics doubt that the UN will achieve its target of limiting temperature increase by 2 degrees. Without such a limit, the risk of extreme sea level rise and related coastal displacement increases.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has long warned that low-income countries will be the worst affected by climate change. Between 2008 and 2013, South Asia ranked second in the number of people displaced by disasters in both absolute and relative terms, mainly caused by floods, storms, and earthquakes. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, India had the second highest levels of disaster-induced displacement in absolute terms between 2008 and 2014. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka are also among the top 20 worst affected countries in terms of the numbers of people displaced. The increased occurrence of natural disasters due to climate change destroys homes and livelihoods, thereby disintegrating social support networks. Once displaced, communities face heightened protection risks, such as family separation, child protection challenges, and gender-based violence.
Our recent study, Community Resilience and Disaster-Related Displacement in South Asia, commissioned by the Norwegian Refugee Council for the Nansen Initiative, examined the resilience of communities in South Asia in the face of disasters and the displacement they may trigger. It considered the risk landscape and resilience capacity in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It included novel case studies and data from fieldwork conducted in Afghanistan and the West Bengal Sundarbans in India. The study found that a resilient community is one that can prepare for, adapt to, and absorb shocks while retaining its basic assets, structure and functions. The building blocks of resilience differ from place to place, depending on geography, climate, economy, politics, people and so on. The specifics of each community must be considered; for example, Afghan returnees face obstacles to land ownership that decreases their resilience to disasters and displacement, while in the Indian Sundarban, delta displaced are allocated new – less fertile - plots by the government, and labor migration by one household member becomes a method of increasing resilience to displacement of the family.
Resilience Building Framework
The 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action, makes disaster risk reduction (DRR) a public policy priority, aimed at preventing livelihoods losses and displacement. Better disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation can prevent, or at least reduce, displacement. When natural disasters do cause communities to become displaced, the impact is largely determined by communities’ underlying vulnerability to shocks or stresses. More resilient communities are able to reduce the associated risks because they are more efficient in restoring their essential structures and functions.
Our study offered recommendations towards a resilience building framework, spotlighting the need to integrate DRR, climate change adaptation, and poverty reduction in program design. As humanitarian and development practitioners, we must begin to recognize that although displacement is a disaster response, migration can be an adaptive strategy. Measures to strengthen community resilience against displacement must secure the community’s existing asset base and help them to diversify it. We must understand the community’s perceptions of risk and any trade-offs they are willing to make. In order to change encourage more resilient behavior, we must build on traditional resources, knowledge, and resources. In order to make the benefits of climate change adaptation more vivid, we must show (not just tell) the way to adaptation through demonstrations, pilots, and other experiential learning opportunities. Moreover, communities need risk and cost-sharing mechanisms, so that the burden of climate change adaptation and DRR is more equitable shouldered. Information sharing mechanisms must be developed between meteorological and disaster management institutions, as well as communities that share natural resources and environmental risks.
Most importantly, our study reinforces the need to work “across silos” to strengthen communities’ resilience to prevent and reduce the risk of displacement. Innovative funds from COP21 members, including through public-private partnerships, that combine humanitarian and development aid in less developed countries can give stakeholders implementing programs with the flexibility to move between DRR, climate change adaptation, and poverty reduction. The boundaries between these interventions need to be more flexible and negotiated in the specific context of community in order to optimize the programmatic interventions.
The resilience building framework proposed by our report should not only be relevant to the Nansen Initiative’s consultative process, but also to a wider array of humanitarian, development, and protection practitioners. The study hopes to influence civil society, UN, and non-profit organizations as well as to inspire COP21 parties and donor countries to work together in finding and optimizing a holistic approach to community resilience against climate change, and which helps to prevent displacement and find durable solutions.
October 2014 - Alibaba Group signed a strategic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC to address illegal wildlife trade online. In addition, nine leading online retailers in China agreed not to provide opportunities for illegal wildlife product trade on their websites.
Internet usage and wildlife trade
Internet usage is continuously increasing worldwide, providing an efficient way of communicating as well as facilitating new methods of business and trade. While increasing international opportunities, countries have to find new ways of controlling international illicit trade, while at the same time supporting economic growth: legal frameworks and regulations to monitor online trade are essential to ensure legitimacy of traded goods. Internet facilitates new communication methods between traffickers, retailers and buyers in the illegal wildlife trade by cutting out the middle man, offering easy order, buy and sell opportunities of wildlife products. Current national and international wildlife trade rules and legislation have difficulty dealing with this growing method of trafficking.
The internet is increasingly used for trade in illegal wildlife resources, not only because through the internet a wider clientele can be reached, but also because laws and authorities can be evaded more easily. Online advertisements on public websites are accessible from remote locations, while internet offers anonymity for the seller, providing quick and untraceable sales. IFAW Asia recognizes that inadequate legislation on online companies offers businesses to conduct these sales through the internet. Each country has its own laws to deal with wildlife trafficking and online trade and there is a need for more specific, worldwide legislation and wildlife trafficking laws and regulations focused on the usage of the internet for the trade in wildlife products and live animals.
A number of international organizations scrutinizing the wildlife trade have been demanding for bans on the sales of wildlife products through the internet. There is some progress in their fight against the illegal online wildlife trade: in 2008, eBay banned all cross‐border ivory trade from its websites, partly under pressure from international CITES agreements. International, worldwide internet trading companies and marketplaces are able to stop a significant amount of the illegal wildlife trade by imposing bans like these, however research shows that it is often not the international, but the domestic markets that drive wildlife poaching in Africa and Asia. What is needed is a comprehensive strategy in intergovernmental laws and agreements to deal with this relatively new, and growing aspect of illegal wildlife trafficking.
Focus on illegal wildlife trade through the internet is not new, but it has increased in the last decennium. In 2008 a workshop was held in China organized by the China CITES Management Authority and Internet Information Security Monitoring Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security. By then it had become clear that illegal ivory trading had become a major issue in China, and government officials as well as representatives of the main internet trading companies were eager to engage in training and collaboration.
In Asia monitoring systems have been implemented to monitor websites advertising the sale of species listed by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and there have been successes in removing such items from online auction sites. In addition some countries reported successful prosecutions of illegal online wildlife trade. Development of national codes of conduct for internet is encouraged, as well as increasing institutional and public awareness.
Current legislation and law enforcement mechanisms
Many websites dealing in wildlife products have only limited rules and regulations, and no connection to national or international wildlife trading laws. In addition to the wide variety of regulation implemented by different websites, countries also have different laws in place. National laws are not equipped to deal with wildlife trafficking in general, creating many loopholes and not specifically targeted at illegal online trade in wildlife. Implementing effective legislation requires close cooperation with internet companies, website providers, police forces and border control to ensure successful implementation of the laws.
Although a number of countries have existing laws to deal with illegal wildlife trafficking, traders ignore these rules: therefore corporate regulations and bans are an important aspect of the fight against illegal wildlife trade. Online marketplaces sporadically impose their own restrictions on the sales of wildlife and wildlife products, which are usually difficult to enforce; most marketplace and auction websites only require the seller to tick a box, verifying the item for sale is legal and complies with website policies. Documentation provided online is difficult to verify without the original. Some websites have regulations on international trade of wildlife products, however this is hard to enforce. Sellers can advertise their products in foreign countries, as internet protocol (IP) addresses are easily hidden. One of the more creative evasion methods is to use wrong spelling for wildlife products, fooling search engines of marketplaces.
The lack of uniform, comprehensive international laws and regulations facilitates illegal wildlife trade. Current national and international laws dealing with wildlife trade are not able to deal with internet trade. CITES, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna is the bases for international legislation and global wildlife trade law, and has recognized the lack of comprehensive legislation to deal with internet illegal wildlife trade.
Online wildlife trade is an area which has to be dealt with internationally. International law enforcement organizations have structures in place to deal with illegal trafficking in contraband goods and with their training and mandates; they could be a welcome assistance to governments in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking on the internet. Coalition against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT) for instance is an international coalition of governments and nongovernmental organizations, aiming to reduce the demand for wildlife and ‐products. A number of partners have joined CAWT in the fight against illegal trafficking.
To enforce legislation and conventions, there is a need for more enhanced cooperation with international policing organizations. Early 2006, Interpol appointed a fulltime desk‐officer to manage the wildlife crimes programme, as part of its Environmental Crime Committee. The Wildlife Crime Working Group coordinates information gathered by member countries and facilitates the information exchange with other member countries, as well as supporting domestic law enforcement. International crime prevention organizations, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Asian Crime Prevention Foundation, have structures in place to analyze international trafficking of illegal products and could therefore be a strong partner in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking. This is even more important since wildlife traffickers often use the same routes and networks as drug smugglers or human traffickers, exchange of knowledge and information between organizations and governments is therefore essential.
Governments and law enforcement agencies need to develop new strategies in dealing with wildlife trafficking through the internet. National as well as international laws considering wildlife trade through the internet need to be better enforced. Policing online markets requires a whole different set of law enforcement and criminal justice tools than traditional wildlife trafficking. Policing and investigating capacity should be enhanced, through providing resources and training. Regulations regarding required paperwork and certificates must be strictly enforced, while interaction between countries of origin and destination must be enhanced.
More research is required to establish the scale of the problem, in particular on trends and high-risk regions. Online tools should be used for both law enforcement organizations as well as the general public to be able to register and monitor data such as worldwide seizures and illegal advertisements. With this information, authorities can design evidence based policies on the illegal trade in wildlife and identify priorities. Eventually it is the buyer that creates demand, therefore most importantly, awareness campaigns can make potential buyers aware of the legal consequences of illegal wildlife trade, but most importantly the threat wildlife trafficking poses to worldwide wildlife conservation.
Based on: Combating Illegal Wildlife Trafficking, Internet: A New Threat to the Conservation of Wildlife. Unpublished Paper, D Braam
Book Review: Matthew Carr, Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent (New Press / Hurst, 2012)
Posted by: MZ
* A version of this review is published in Crossings: Journal of Migration & Culture (2013), 4(2), pp 201-3.
In 1957, the European Economic Community (EEC) was established with the six founding members – Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, West Germany and the Netherlands. The Treaty of Rome left the door open to other ‘European’ countries that wished to become members to apply (Article 237). Exactly what constituted European in this context was ambiguous, subsequently defined more through practice than principle: countries tested out the boundaries of Europe through applying to be recognised as a part of it. Greece joined in 1981, Portugal and Spain in 1986. Malta applied in 1990 and joined only in 2004. Turkey applied for membership in 1987, but had to wait until 2005 to even begin accession negotiations and has yet to join. This question of ‘what it means to be European’ undergirds Matthew Carr’s exploration of the human costs of Europe’s measures to guard the latest incarnation of its territorial borders.
Since the implementation of the Schengen Agreement in March 1995, the European pursuit of a borderless internal space, even as it incorporated new member states and expanded its own political territory towards the Middle East, has been one of its defining features. The Schengen area now includes 4 countries that are not member states of the EU (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), yet not all EU members are a part of the regime (UK and Ireland). The territorial entity that requires protection, this ‘Europe’, is thus a legal political space that is always under construction. The erosion of border control within this version of Europe, as Carr writes, depends ‘on a persistent hardening of Europe’s “external” frontiers’, a symbiotic relationship that he traces with historical awareness. As an investigative journalist, Carr travels to the frontiers of Europe to witness the impact of Europe’s contemporary interdiction measures. He interviews migrants and law enforcement agents on the edges of the expanded EU—at the borders of Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine; in the precariously situated Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa; and at the maritime frontiers of Malta and Italy. In two chapters primarily drawing on the UK as a case study, Carr also investigates a border internal to the EU: a second line of defence around an island member state. He details the extensive and intimidating efforts of countries to detect and deport irregular migrants, as well as to discourage and impoverish asylum seekers. The exploration of the ‘internalization’ of the border into everyday spaces of work and life poignantly depicts the claustrophobia and bleakness of the migrants’ plight.
At the heart of Carr’s work is a paradox: the idealism of the EU’s foundation on values such as ‘human dignity, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights’, and the ‘remorseless and often pitiless’ consequences of its attempts to secure and protect its borders, which in turn constitute its territorial identity. Many horrors are chronicled: would-be migrants shot as they attempt to scale the (literal) walls erected to keep them out and Europe pure; migrants left to die in the desert or the sea as Europe looks on; the brutal and sometimes lethal deportations with migrants restrained and gagged; failed asylum seekers with almost-unspeakable experiences of violence and persecution that are deemed ‘unpleasant’ but insufficient; individuals who have put down roots while they are slowly churned through the immigration machine, only to be uprooted abruptly. It is a credit to Carr that he presents these tales of tremendous tragedy with a measured, matter-of-fact tone. The unembellished accounts are a powerful yet understated critique of the all-too-real consequences of the EU’s policies.
As with many regimes of control and repression, there is resistance and subversion. Despite the EU’s considerable efforts and resources, determined, hopeful and sometimes naive, migrants have tried and succeeded to penetrate the fortress. In Part II, Carr takes a thematic approach, moving away from border interdiction practices to a broader examination of European responses to migration. There is more reason for hope here, as migrants are shown as not mere victims but political agents who have protested against their conditions and resisted a system that renders them abject. There are also stories of Europeans who risk fines, and even jail, in order to demonstrate solidarity with the unwanted migrants, helping them to survive and elude law enforcement agents.
But it is here that Carr’s argument is weakest: the complex and entangled issues of criminalisation and migration, the problems of trafficking and smuggling of people and goods, are hastily surveyed. Sections of the chapter entitled ‘Traffic’ seem anomalous in an otherwise focused and cogent study. Mixed migration flows of goods and people, the contradictory desire to lower transnational borders for some goods and people, while increasing vigilance against others is a necessary point. However, the nexus between transnational crime and immigration cannot be raised so cursorily. While Carr critiques the language of Frontex that treats irregular migration as a ‘security threat’, he fails to propose an alternative discourse that can both address the human rights of irregular migrants and the need to regulate migration across borders. Carr treads dangerously when he suggests that people smugglers provide a service to migrants who had ‘clearly made their own choices’.
Despite this quibble, Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent is a timely and important addition to the immigration debate. As the Syrian refugee crisis worsens, Carr's chief contribution lies in making flesh and blood the individuals who linger in the borderlands. Migrants and asylum seekers are creatures of the political, economic and legal shadowlands, squeezed between the increasingly high-tech interdiction methods funded generously by governments in a post-9/11 world and the painful global economic inequalities that breed aspirations but not opportunities. Vitally, Carr brings them to light.