Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Notes from U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres

The following are notes from U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, briefing with NGO members of InterAction and Refugee Council USA on Wednesday, October 28, 2015:

The High Commissioner spoke candidly and openly on his perspective of the Syria situation, refugee flows to Europe, U.S. resettlement, changes to the humanitarian system.


 The High Commissioner began by expressing regret for the difficulty that UNHCR has had in dealing with the
increased number of refugees globally and segued into its presently tight fiscal situation. He highlighted how the organization has had to decrease its budget by 10% through internal shuffling, while trying not to compromise protection and services to refugees. He said that by the end of the year, the UNHCR will have fewer dollars than they did at the end of 2015 and yet are required to provide for growing numbers of those in need. For example, last week he authorized the building of 17 new refugee camps in Africa, an endeavor there is no earmarked funding for.

 He stated that the most vulnerable among the Syrian refugees in Europe were not those who were currently coming from Syria –because these people have the means and the health to do so. He said that the most vulnerable were those we were still inside Syria and in the surrounding countries within the region. If this were an organized resettlement operation, he said that these people (those arriving to Europe) would not be the first priority.

 The High Commissioner cited increased violence in Syria, worsening conditions in neighboring countries, and the cut to the World Food Program as causes for the increased flow of refugees. Couple this with social media giving individuals information about pathways to Europe, he said, and it created a moment where a lot of people had hope to get to Germany.

 The High Commissioner described Europe as a divided continent with a spectrum of opinions towards refugees. The spectrum ranges from Germany to the Netherlands to Hungary. At the center of this division is Greece, a country with complicated relations with the rest of Europe. The High Commissioner frankly stated that Greeks have said they will resettle 500000 refugees but have asked for the help of the UN since they do not trust their government to do so.

 The High Commissioner not surprised that refugees were moving on from EU’s border countries as there “is nothing there”: There is no capacity to protect, no reception for people, and no information being provided by governments to neighboring states so that they, in turn, may better prepare for those coming their way, e.g. Greece is not providing any data on asylum seeker movements to to Macedonia.

 He said that it was the smugglers who are the ones who have taken command of the refugee flow into Europe.

 The HC commented on the partisan nature of refugee resettlement in the U.S. He noted the “Jihad pipeline” rhetoric of right wing politicians at the moment and joked that if the thousands of Syrians coming to the EU every day are terrorists than they must be really bad at it, because no bombs are going off!

Going forward

 The HC stated that for the first time there is a total awareness of the crisis, which he said has been picked up by Populists and certain media outlets to create an environment of fear and to trigger rejection. He stated that it was imperative for politicians to find a solution to these problems by forming a coalition to coordinate an offensive position. He said that those with a humanitarian perspective, “the good side”, are less effective at propaganda than our opposition.

He called for the humanitarian community to organize and mobilize itself better in order to rein in the current chaotic situation. Otherwise, he said, we may see a closure of asylum space.

 He called for a true system to be put in place to facilitate refugee movement this winter. If this doesn’t happen, less people will move over the winter, resulting in a truly overwhelming “explosion” next year in terms of numbers. This can be done by allowing people to work and go to school in the countries of first asylum (which will disincentive movement), partnering with Turkey to manage the flow, and establishing legal avenues (e.g. family reunion, resettlement, and private sponsorship).

Friday, September 11, 2015

Visitors from the Land of the Dragon

Take a moment to enjoy this amazing poem written by local poet Burgess Needle.  He was inspired to write after Iskashitaa came to harvest citrus from his property.  The original poem can be found published here.

  • Visitors from the
  • Land of the Dragon
  • A salute to the volunteers of Second Harvest
  • Burgess Needle
My citrus trees bowed with fruit,
double clusters of tangelos and lemons
beyond my capacity to eat,
juice or freeze, crying for a harvest.
Driven to my home by a smiling
blond woman, three delicate young men
dressed in jeans and frayed jackets
seemed unequal to the task.
Namaste, each of the three said, giving
me a slight nod of the head with hands
clasped. We are from Druk Yul, then laughed
as if sharing a secret. Yes, we are from
Land of Dragon
, another explained.
Will you need a ladder? I asked.
They’re from Bhutan, the blond said.
And, no, they don’t need any implements.
Folding their jackets on a nearby table
the three silently merged within a
circumference of greenery allowing
a bare scratching of leather on bark
to hint at their progress until a steady
rain of fruit began to fall. A pause.
Then three flattened peels floated
down. Very delicious, said a voice.
After the bushel baskets filled
the leaves shivered and three lithe
figures descended, retrieved their
jackets and once more, Namaste.
Three strangers from the Land of Dragon
took my fruit leaving me wondering
why they were here in Tucson
so far from the ice of the Himalayas.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Goodbye Note ~Da Eun, summer PR intern

Can’t believe how fast time flies. And how cruel having to say goodbye to one of the most caring, awesome people I’ve met in my life is! For the last 6 very short weeks, I have been Iskashitaa’s summer PR intern specializing in managing social media. I tried to document as many moments as I could, and although I would love to stay a few more weeks, I have collected so much good memory, interesting stories, and lots of love. 
I’m going to miss everyone—Barbara, Melissa, Sherrelle, Stephanie, Chloe, William, Elijah, Ethan, Tula, Pachi, Catchua, and mischievous Nugget. Please say hi to all of the lovely refugees I’ve met throughout the last 6 weeks—Marim, Mary, Asha 1, Asha 2, Faeza, Nas, Alaa, Jasoda, Celestine, Adam, and many more. You all have been the best teachers of life, with so much wisdom to learn from.
I want to share this conversation between me and one of the refugees Iskashitaa helped. Her words are beautiful, and more importantly, they express exactly what I feel about Iskashitaa.

Thank you so much for everything. I promise I come back to Tucson!

Da Eun

~Da Eun, summer PR intern 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015

Food Literacy

What is Food Literacy?
People refer to Food Literacy as having a good knowledge about healthy, local food. A lot of the "Food Literacy" projects or organizations would define Food Literacy as "the ability to organize one's everyday nutrition in a self-determined, responsible, and enjoyable way" (http://www.food-literacy.org/en/welcome) or "understanding of food from ground up" (http://www.dining.harvard.edu/flp/index.html). It is usually the word "literacy" that limits the definition of Food Literacy to the knowledge about food, but Iskashitaa is aiming to expand that definition to having access to nutritious local food.

While it takes toll to have people learn proper knowledge of food, guaranteeing that they have access to the good food is a whole different issue. Even if people know what food is healthy and locally grown, some of them can't afford it in the market or don't know where they can find it. That is the case with most of the refugees Iskashitaa is working with; as a result, we have come up with new definition of Food Literacy and are planning to actively advocate people's right to have access to nutritious local food.

So, with that in mind, here's how Iskashitaa defines Food Literacy: Using alternative food sources and agricultural connections to help families and individuals gain meaningful entry into a new society. Through various food-based programs, Iskashitaa makes sure that the refugees are informed not only of healthy food knowledge, but also of how to identify, harvest, process local food and where to find nutritious food on a reasonable price. As of now, Iskashitaa has 6 programs that help refugees to build up Food Literacy--Harvesting and Gleaning, Food Preservation Workshops, Farm visits, Farmer's Markets, Gardens, and Produce on Wheels.

Iskashitaa's Food Literacy Program
1. Harvesting and Gleaning: Through the harvesting program, refugees learn how to identify, access, harvest, use and store locally grown produce mostly from edible trees. In addition, refugees gain valuable experience navigating the city, meeting Tucsonans, building a US work history, practicing English, and gaining job readiness training geared towards maintenance and landscaping. 

2. Food Preservation Workshops: Food workshops provide valuable training in food safety, processing, and handling protocols in order to prepare refugees for jobs in the restaurant and food service industry. As a follow up to the harvesting program, food workshops teach refugees how to cook and preserve with new, gleaned food, hence, bringing the local food system full circle.

3. Farm visits: Visits to local farms and orchards in Pima and surrounding counties introduce refugees to alternative, cutting-edge agricultural practices, as well as teaching best practices for harvesting, cultivation and farming techniques.

4. Farmers’ Markets: Refugees will have the opportunity to visit and work at various farmers’ markets in Tucson, such as to Rillito farmer's market, Community Food Bank Santa Cruz markets, and to St. Phillip's market. Through the farmer's market visits, refugees will have more access to local, fresh produce and an incentive to shop at farmers’ markets.

5. Gardens: The community garden plots can provide refugees who are experienced agriculturalists with a space to cultivate unique crops and the opportunity to sell their harvested produce at farmers’ markets through Iskashitaa consignment tables.

6. Produce on Wheels and other rescued produce entering through Mexico: Trips to Produce on Wheels introduce refugees to alternate avenues for food security, nutrition and new food resources.

We still have a long way to go; slowly but surely, however, we are getting there. Iskashitaa aims to have all the refugees in our community to have access to nutritious, affordable local food. For the food sustainability and food autonomy of the refugees, we hope to continue our journey of linking people to good food.