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Mami Mizutori’s Speech: UCL-IRDR 11th Annual Conference, Part Two

Joshua Anthony1 December 2021

Why do warnings matter?

Earlier this year, the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR) and the Warning Research Centre hosted a one-day online event exploring this question. As part of the IRDR’s 11th Annual Conference we welcomed researchers, students, practitioners, policymakers, the media and the general public to celebrate the launch of the UCL Warning Research Centre. As part of this the attendees enjoyed a diverse program of activities aimed at getting to the root of warnings, why they matter, and how their role, design, use and evaluation can be optimised to prepare for the expected and unexpected.

Our previous article summarised the ideas generated from a panel of experts discussing the aspects of exceptional and expected events. This time, we present the keynote speech from Mami Mizutori, the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

This blog is part two of a series presenting the key findings from the conference proceedings. The rapporteurs whose notes form this material are Calum MacKay and Simone Phillips, who are both from the University of Glasgow on the MSc Earth Futures Programme. Any mistakes or misrepresentation of the participants’ words are the author’s own.


Part Two: Keynote Speech

Warnings and the Launch of the Warning Research Centre


Presenter: Mami Mizutori, UNDRR | Moderator: Prof Ilan Kelman, UCL

Mama Mizutori is the Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The following summary is based on the notes of event rapporteurs. The full presentation can be viewed on YouTube.

If warnings are placed right, they can serve as a gateway to risk reduction, opening the door to conversation between individuals, communities, and governments. We encounter risk constantly in our everyday lives and are surrounded by risk. Risks are systemic and complex, and it is human nature to procrastinate over things that are complex, but we need to be aware that no decision is risk-neutral. The decisions we make can increase risk and climate change is exacerbating this, already disrupting billions of lives.

EWS are therefore critical to saving lives and reducing risk. Setting up EWS is becoming more economic thanks to technological advances and with use of tech combined with more traditional ways of response.

There are also issues of proactive risk reduction vs reactive response. There is no such thing as a natural disaster, we know that, but those words are put together in the media. When natural hazards are combined with vulnerability and exposure, they create disaster. Good EWS are therefore based on extensive understanding of these three elements and can reach the last mile to reach most vulnerable populations and communities.

Warnings can tell us when something reaches dangerous levels, warning thresholds are useful for preparation in a world of cascading impacts. This means supporting early action to protect us from failure of many systems is vital. For EWS to be successful we need to connect warning to action. It’s essential that EWS are complemented by risk communication, but often we face the challenge where information existed but was not acted upon. We need to focus on preventing disaster rather than on reactive approaches when lives have already been lost.

Hazards we are exposed to are multiple so warnings must reflect this. Currently warnings focus on getting ahead of disaster and reactive measures, but we have further potential to consolidate data of risk information for early warning and action.

The UNDRR coordinate activities to create safer, more resilient communities as custodian agency for Sendai Framework and support all UN member states and stakeholders to implement this framework. Its overall goal is to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk through implementation of inclusivity. The Sendai Framework is a departure from previous ways of thinking about disaster and represents a paradigm shift from exposure to a people centered approach to DRR, while primary responsibility to implement it resides among the member states. It is a shared responsibility for all stakeholders to do this: an all-of-society approach. UNDRR also has work in early warning—Africa (AUC) as a whole and individual warnings like Malawi and Ethiopia.

Partnerships with academia and science is important for evidence-based risk reduction, and we need evidence to convince people to work on it. Need to understand risk around us, but many countries still face challenges in making this accessible and usable to decision makers. Many lack a risk assessment approach to understand systemic risk. The global risk assessment framework (GRAF) can be used as understanding the systemic nature of risk.

Take Away Message

Early warning systems are vital in order to effectively reduce risk to environmental hazards but they must reflect the unique context of each individual location and community. They must also account for the multiplicity of hazards to ensure a proactive rather than reactive approach to hazard and risk mitigation.

The presentation was then followed by an address to questions from the audience, which are summarised thus:

What Advice would you give to students entering the field?

It’s important to go into the field. It is important to go into the ones that are most at risk and vulnerable to combine your knowledge, your expertise with what you experience on the ground and then come back again to devise systems that bring all this together. We need to make sure that there is a clear pathway for students to get into the field as we are still not preventing enough. We are still not ready enough for disasters. We need to make it a reality for students to have clear career pathways, to be able to make a difference.

I understand that the Sendai Framework is not a legally binding treaty, is there any talk to make it so?

Not at this moment, it’s not a legal document either but does it make it any less because of it? I don’t think so. Sendai Framework is addressing the most pressing challenge that we are facing right now and it has to go hand in hand with the Paris agreement. If it doesn’t go hand in hand we cannot achieve the SDGS. But 2023 will be the midterm point of the Sendai framework and we will have a midterm review. We may make it legal if stakeholders and importantly member states feel that that is necessary.

Is part 2 of the UN report going ahead?

It is going ahead, we are creating a profile of each hazard in first report, that’s the main focus. If we don’t understand the nature of hazard then it is hard to have comprehensive responses. It will evolve.

The spread of misinformation is becoming widespread, why? What do we do about misinformation?

Look at 2019 and even before that around the climate emergency, we have been exposed to a lot of misinformation. So the UN started a campaign called “Verify” This means that when you receive information that you know that this is not true you can verify it and if it’s not true don’t pass it on. The evolved involvement of social media is great but then at the same time if you’re not careful when using social media you can just be a proliferator of misinformation yourself. My message is:  let’s stop doing it ourselves first, and the second thing is we need to really look into science and evidence and let’s make the findings, the evidence: accessible. Because of the difficulty in interpreting and assessing science we tend to go for easy solutions or easy answers even if they are false. Science and academia has a very important role here to make your findings accessible so that people understand clearly what is misinformation in this and what is not.

There is a Lack of entry level jobs that don’t require 10 year’s experience, where should we get this experience? There are also financial difficulties. What is the UN doing to help?

It’s all about honing skills and then your expertise on one aspect of this disaster reduction. I would say that you find your niche within the studies but never forget to connect it to all other aspects. Don’t make it a siloed research and in that way I’m sure that it will become a career. The private sector is looking at disaster reduction more than ever. I do believe that the private sector will be looking more and more for risk experts. There are also lots of internship opportunities with us at the UN in not only Geneva, but also Nairobi and Bangkok. There is Sponsorship for those who may need financial help. Also internships at FAO and WFP. We are trying to create more opportunities for students from the global south. We need to do more, we will try to do better.

How could international cooperation support regional early warning practice (global south)?

We are creating African continent-wide early warning system to establish an early warnings operation unit, so the system becomes a regional one. Disasters don’t respect borders if systems stop at borders they won’t be effective. Areas will have even more focused, donors are interested in supporting systems that are transboundary. Providing anticipatory aid, don’t wait until an extreme event happens, instead it’s based one early warning data and provides aid in advance to better prepare people and mitigate the impacts. Not enough money for all disasters anymore. The gap between what is needed and what is provided is growing. Anticipatory aid can help this.

What is the one key thing governments can take away?

To focus on the systemic nature of risk, because still many governments when looking at systemic nature, it actually worsens risk and the multi hazard aspect of hazard. This is something that we saw looking at the national strategies of governments after Covid outbreak. We found out that a lot of them are still quite single hazard orientated and most of them do not look at the systemic nature risk. As a result ,the agencies for disaster risk management agencies for public health are all siloed and they do not talk to each other. Therefore, the response to systemic risk is not systemic nor comprehensive. This is where we need to change; and early warning systems can also be a very important part of it by being a multi hazard early warning system. I think this is the most important lesson. Let’s take what we’ve learned from COVID-19, and I hope that they listen and their experience doesn’t go away.

Next up in this blog series will be In Conversation with Dr Oliver Morgan, of the WHO Health Emergencies Program and Dr Gail Carson of the Global Outbreak and Response Network.


Watch the full conference on youtube here!

Conference URL:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/events/2021/jun/ucl-irdr-11th-annual-conference-why-warnings-matter-and-ucl-warning-research-centre

Conference Rapporteurs: Simone Phillips and Calum Mackay

Conference Convener: Dr. Carina Fearnley


Please email us for any further information at IRDR-comms@ucl.ac.uk

Follow us on Twitter!

Or check out our website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/

Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), University College London (UCL)

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom (UK)

UCL IRDR 11th Annual Conference: Why Warnings Matter, and the UCL Warning Research Centre Launch, Part One

Joshua Anthony3 November 2021

Following a challenging year of managing natural hazards, including COVID-19, this one-day online event provided thought-provoking talks, interactive discussions and online networking opportunities on why warnings matter. In addition, the UCL Warning Research Centre as part of the Department of Science and Technology Studies was launched. The event explored the role, design, use, and evaluation of warnings for different hazards from different stakeholder perspectives to examine how effective people-centered warning systems can be developed and help to be prepared for both the expected and unexpected. The event was hosted by the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and the Warning Research Centre.

On the 23rd of June, the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction welcomed researchers, students, practitioners, policymakers, the media and the general public to a day of thought-provoking discussions on why warnings matter, and how we can do better at warnings both prior and during crises for all hazard types. Our in-house and guest experts presented a global perspective on the latest research and analysis through talks, interactive discussions and in conversation. We explored multi-dimensional aspects of warnings, considering their physical, social, economic, environmental, institutional, political, cultural and gendered dimensions, and the challenges involved in making warnings successful to mitigate against losses.

This blog is part one of a series presenting the key findings from the conference proceedings. The rapporteurs whose notes form this material are Calum MacKay and Simone Phillips who are both from the University of Glasgow on the MSc Earth Futures Programme.


Part One.

Panel Discussion 1: Warning Systems ‒ Exceptional versus expected events


 

The presenters for this session were Dr. Mickey Glantz, University of Colorado, Dr. Daniel Straub, Technical University of Munich, and Rebekah Yore, UCL. The session was moderated by Dr. Joanna Faure Walker, UCL.

Summaries of each presenters’ arguments are as follows:

Mickey Glantz

Not everyone considers a warning a warning. There are 5 key factors to warning hesitancy: complacency, convenience, confidence, low levels of trust, calculation of individual engagement. We don’t research the risks, collective responsibility is lacking as people focus on themselves. Emotional responses are common, not rational. There are also two types of people in hazard scenarios: risk averse people and risk takers.

Early warning systems are a chain. To make them more effective the lead time needs more attention. We need to create more lead time in order to get the warning to people earlier and through the system quicker.

Forecast hesitancy also plays a key role in effective early warning systems. We discount previous disasters we don’t learn from them, therefore we reinstate old vulnerabilities.

Readiness is also missing, society doesn’t have resources for long term preparedness.

Daniel Straub

Calculating the effectiveness of warning systems. If people think it’s a false alarm they won’t comply. This then creates a child who cries wolf scenario for future hazard warnings. We must find the right balance between detection rate and false alarm rate.

It is challenging and near impossible to quantify effectiveness but can still help the study of warning systems.

Rebekah Yore

It is important to identify the vulnerable population when deploying early warning systems. Failure in one element of the warning system can cause failure for the entire system.

Her research focuses on 3 case studies, all islands that are used to hazards: Japan 2011- Tsunami, Philippines 2013- typhoon and Dominica 2017- Hurricane. In all case studies not one warning system reached everyone, therefore these places need multiple types of warning. Some of the issues with the current warning systems were that interestingly modern smartphone warnings did not reach people. There was also mixed messaging from different agencies and government sources leading to room for interpretation from locals. Furthermore, issues such as poverty were not taken into account.

Finally, it must be noted that Individual and group risk perceptions are always changing and are dynamic.

This discussion was then followed by an address to questions from the audience, which are summarised thus:

How do we deal with both false alarms but also misinformation particularly in the context of social media or governments giving misinformation? How can we include groups who are not familiar with local warning systems like tourists or newcomers?

Mickey Glantz

Tourists have never seen a false alarm so unlikely to be affected in the same way in a real event by locals who have faced false alarms. Use of drills is helpful because one of the issues that comes up in the social sciences is that we all recognise that warnings need to be built into our everyday lives. We need to practice them as a way of living rather than just facing them when a hazard approaches. What has become practice then takes over and people are able to respond really quite calmly and really quite cohesively as Mickey thinks drills are a really good mechanism for embedding some key practices that help to familiarise through everyday life with some lifesaving rules.

What can we do to protect assets and livelihoods in the context of warnings?

Rebekah Yore

It is something that requires more research. Preparation mechanisms such as micro insurance for example are very important. So it may be that a mechanism that allows people to put things out and places structures in place before it occurs can help to protect some of those assets and livelihoods. Whether this means the ability to be able to pack things up and leave a location, or ability to be able to move, or an ability to be able to put certain protective measures in place. Maybe not save everything but save something or save enough.

Mickey Glantz

We don’t understand probabilities. We don’t understand nature. Many people don’t really understand the risks in their area. These perceptions become reality, if our perceptions are wrong the actions we take based on them have real consequences. So we tend to look at disasters as in many cases one and done.  But that’s not reality.

In one sentence what change do you think needs to occur to help with warning for exceptional events in an environment that does have expected events?

Daniel Straub

Understanding things through quantification is also to make use of all the data that we can now collect. The social sciences have a better understanding and also have models of factors that make a difference, and it would be useful for social science to do more with quantification in their research.

Rebekah Yore

Addressing structural inequality and addressing why people are disadvantaged and why other people aren’t. I think let’s just put our money where our mouth is; preparation is key.

Mickey Glantz

We have to put more emphasis on readiness and preparedness. People can get ready more easily than they can get prepared because they don’t have the resources. So, warnings are very important to them, I feel we have to push readiness as tactical responses to warnings and threats, as well as long term preparedness which seems to fall to governments and larger organisations. Readiness is for me and preparedness is for the community to deal with.

Next up in this blog series will be notes on “Warnings and the launch of the Warning Research Centre”, keynote speech from Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori.


Watch the full conference on youtube here!

Conference URL:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/events/2021/jun/ucl-irdr-11th-annual-conference-why-warnings-matter-and-ucl-warning-research-centre

Conference Rapporteurs: Simone Phillips and Calum Mackay

Conference Convener: Dr. Carina Fearnley


Please email us for any further information at IRDR-comms@ucl.ac.uk

Or check out our website: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/

Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), University College London (UCL)

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom (UK)

Are Rohingyas protected in countries that did not sign the 1951 refugee convention?

Bayes Ahmed5 October 2021

Rohingyas are a predominantly Muslim minority from the Rakhine State (former Arakan) of Myanmar (former Burma). Since they are not recognised as citizens by the Myanmar authority, Rohingyas have faced widespread discrimination forcing more than one million of them to flee their country since 1970. The United Nations (UN) labelled the Rohingyas as the “world’s most persecuted minority“. In August 2017, killings, rape, torture and other massive human rights violations resulted in ethnic cleansing, which forcibly displaced Rohingyas, mainly to South and Southeast Asian countries. The case is currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (The Gambia v. Myanmar on violations of the Convention against Genocide)

In September 2021, over 900,000 Rohingyas were registered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. There were also some Rohingyas living in Saudi Arabia, India and Malaysia. However, the exact numbers of displaced Rohingyas worldwide are uncertain since many are not registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Moreover, none of these host countries is signatories of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) nor have national asylum legislations. Consequently, the Rohingya – stateless people who enter these countries mostly undocumented – are classified as irregular migrants under their migration legislation. In this blog post, we discuss how Rohingyas are protected in these countries, considering the role of  UNHCR and new developments in the global asylum regime with the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Refugee Forum (GRF) framework. The military coup in Myanmar on February 01, 2021, may initiate a new influx of Rohingya (and other) refugees to these host countries and prevent future possibilities of their safe and voluntary return to Myanmar.

UNHCR and the protection of Rohingyas in national cases

Bangladesh is the country most affected by the latest Rohingya exodus. The country shelters Rohingya refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar in south-eastern Bangladesh. UNHCR, together with other UN agencies, international non-governmental organisations (NGO) and local organisations, have provided relief and services to this refugee population. While the Government of Bangladesh has recognised Rohingyas as prima facie refugees in previous influxes like 1991-1992, Rohingyas that entered the country after 2017 are classified as Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMN). Bangladesh is granting physical protection for Rohingyas. They have access to medical care, shelter, education, food and essential supplies. However, Rohingyas have no right to work and free movement inside Bangladesh. The right to higher education is also limited in the camps. The support to the Rohingya population is highly dependent on international aid, which makes the current situation in Bangladesh unsustainable in the long term. The ongoing pandemic could also affect the funding to the Rohingya response in Bangladesh. 

In Saudi Arabia, India, and Malaysia, UNHCR registers refugees and conducts refugee status determination following its mandate to identify people in need of international protection. UNHCR identification cards allow refugees to stay in these countries, which prevents the risk of refoulement. However, being recognised as refugees by UNHCR does not grant them access to fundamental rights available to nationals such as education, healthcare, work and free movement. UNHCR Help webpage of Saudi Arabia recalls that “Registering with UNHCR, even if recognised as a refugee, does not give the applicant any special status […] Registration with UNHCR does not mean the applicant will have the right to public healthcare, education, and employment“. In some countries, such as India, refugee children between 6 and 14 years old have access to education. All refugees have access to healthcare. In Malaysia, Rohingya children cannot access the local educational system because UNHCR refugee cards are not recognised as identification documents. Refugees pay higher fees than nationals to access healthcare but have a discount of 50% because of a partnership with UNHCR

UNHCR registered refugees have access to UNHCR services (e.g., learning centres in Malaysia) and partnerships. However, they are not legally allowed to work in any of these countries. Unlike the situation in Bangladesh, most Rohingya refugees are not in refugee camps and in receipt of aid to meet their basic needs in these countries. They have to work to survive, and they do so in the same way as irregular migrants. This situation puts them at risk of detention and even deportation. There were cases of detention of Rohingyas in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and India. 

Since these countries are not part of the 1951 Refugee Convention, they can adopt ad hoc approaches in recognising some groups of people based on their national interests. For example, Saudi Arabia granted residency to Rohingya refugees who arrived before 2011. However, those that arrived after that faced detention and are considered irregular migrants. This approach of providing protection and rights to some groups or nationalities put the Rohingyas in an unstable situation. Furthermore, agreements with the UNHCR and the current approach of protection may change at any time depending on the political will of the national governments, which may result in forced return and refoulement of Rohingyas to Myanmar.

These countries do not recognise local integration as a durable solution to the Rohingya refugees. Host governments fear that granting rights would allow refugees’ local integration and could attract more Rohingyas to their territories. Besides that, some of these host countries are categorised as least developed or developing countries facing internal struggles such as persistent poverty, illiteracy and inequality. Bangladesh – the country sheltering most Rohingya refugees globally (> 95%) – is the least-developed country facing environmental, economic and social challenges. Bangladesh does not have the means to guarantee local integration as a sustainable solution for hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas living in one of its poorest regions. Resettlement is an option only for Rohingyas registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

Nevertheless, the number of refugees worldwide and Rohingyas in need of protection in a third country is larger than the resettlement quotas of receiving countries. Consequently, the Rohingyas’ host countries advocate returning to Myanmar as the only possible solution for this population. While this is also the preferable solution for Rohingyas, they wish to return to a place where their safety and rights will be guaranteed. Rohingyas need to be recognised as citizens by the Myanmar government and have access to rights, safety and security. Perpetrators of crimes against Rohingyas need to be held accountable too. Other human right treaties (Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in the case of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the case of Bangladesh and India) forbid host governments to return Rohingyas to a place where they may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Protection of Rohingya refugees and new multilateral developments on Asylum

On December 17, 2018, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) was approved after a process of two years of consultations with different stakeholders (states, NGOs, individuals) coordinated by the UNHCR. As this organisation recalls, the GCR is a non-binding framework that does not substitute for the 1951 Refugee Convention and its protocol but builds on them to foster responsibility-sharing and international cooperation. Some Rohingya host countries like Bangladesh, India, and Saudi Arabia provided written contributions to draft this document. Although the GCR is not mandatory and does not mention specifically the situation of Rohingyas, it is an important protection tool for refugees in general with a clear mechanism of regular revisions that considers the situation of stateless people and discusses possibilities of international and regional cooperation to address forced displacement and durable solutions. 

Besides that, the GCR created the framework for the organisation of the Global Refugee Forum in 2019 when states, organisations, universities and individuals presented voluntary pledges and contributions regarding forced displacement worldwide. The pledges directed to the Rohingya situation involve: guaranteeing protection, safe childhoods and child-sensitive services with no discrimination (education, child protection, healthcare, and mental health and psychosocial support) for Rohingya children and host communities’ children; empowering refugee children through sports in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; providing funding to UNHCR to respond to the Rohingya crisis; creating a working group on education involving actors in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and Rakhine, Myanmar; expanding livelihood opportunities and empowerment for Rohingyas and host communities; improving the environment for Rohingyas including psychological support; granting funding to playful learning for refugee children; providing support to survivors of sexual violence; implementing a joint approach with the World Bank and the Government of Bangladesh to support refugees and host communities medical, nutritional and educational needs; advocating child-rights based solutions and the inclusion of refugees in national educational systems. 

Bangladesh presented one pledge to design innovative refugee solutions. India presented two pledges: committing to build capacities of states – including beyond neighbourhood (e.g., Africa) and reaffirming its commitment to building solutions together. Malaysia also submitted one pledge to promote the objectives of the GCR and the 2030 Agenda. Saudi Arabia pledged $1 million to implement the GCR on Yemen. Moreover, other States in the world did not present any specific pledges about Rohingya refugees to fulfil the GCR’ objectives of “easing the pressures on host countries” and “expanding access to third-country solutions”.

While these actions are essential for the immediate protection of Rohingya refugees, they do not guarantee the long-term protection of this population (against refoulement or forced return as previously discussed) or durable solutions. Besides that, the central host countries of the Rohingyas presented only broad pledges regarding the implementation of the GCR with no specific guarantee of rights or protection to Rohingya refugees. None of the host countries presented any pledges to become parts of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its protocol or create national asylum systems to protect refugees.

Recommendations 

Rohingya refugees are physically protected in non-signatory countries that are not currently returning them to Myanmar. Nevertheless, while Rohingyas may be recognised as refugees under the UNHCR mandate, they are treated as irregular migrants. At the same time, host countries perceive their return as the only possible solution, and their agreements with UNHCR may change according to their national interests, which put Rohingyas at risk of unsustainable repatriation. Besides that, while host countries were part of the Global Compact on Refugees, host countries did not present specific pledges on protecting the Rohingya population. Considering this, we propose two primary recommendations to protect the Rohingyas:

  1. The protection of Rohingya refugees is a responsibility of the international community and not only the host countries. The international community should pressure Myanmar to stop persecuting this minority and guarantee their safe and voluntary return as their preferable durable solution.
  2. If their safe and voluntary return is not possible (especially considering the February 2021 coup in Myanmar), the international community should follow the principle of responsibility sharing and implement other solutions to Rohingyas, such as the design of specific resettlement programs for this population and the adoption of complementary pathways for admission to third countries as described in the GCR including family reunification, humanitarian visas and corridors, educational opportunities and private and community-based sponsorship programmes.

Authors

Patrícia Nabuco Martuscelli, Social Science Research Fellow in Conflict and Migration, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (UCL).

* Bayes Ahmed, Lecturer in Risk and Disaster Science, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (UCL); Corresponding author: bayes.ahmed@ucl.ac.uk

Peter Sammonds, Director, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (UCL).

** The reflections are part of the “Resilient Futures for the Rohingya Refugees” and “Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours” projects developed at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London (UCL). We thank the funding of the Royal Society (Royal Society Award Reference: CHL\R1\180288) and the British Academy (British Academy Award Reference: SDP2\100094). 

Rohingya crisis anniversary: four years of genocide in Myanmar, four years of protection failures in India

Jessica Field26 August 2021


Yesterday – 25 August 2021 – marked four years since the start of a brutal military assault against the Rohingya population in Myanmar, which forced three quarters of a million Rohingyas to flee over the country’s borders. The deliberate, systematic, and extreme violence used by the Myanmar military to kill, sexually assault, and displace Rohingyas from their homelands and out of the country has rightly been documented as genocidal – i.e. violence ‘committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’. Though this date isn’t the start of the persecution faced by Rohingyas in Myanmar (which has been ongoing for several decades), it was certainly one of the largest and most systematic of the assaults against the community in recent years.

August 2017 also marks an anniversary date for the deliberate scaling back of humanitarian protections in many neighbouring countries.

Over a million Rohingya refugees are living in increasingly challenging conditions in countries across Southeast and South Asia – denied rights, denied mobility, marginalised and – in several high-profile cases – refouled back to Myanmar, or prevented from making a safe landing to seek refuge. I have spent the last five years researching the humanitarian context for Rohingya refugees in India, and those years have been marked by a drastic breakdown of protection and basic humanitarian assistance.

Prior to 2017, Rohingya refugees in India – who number in the low tens of thousands – were able to register with the UNHCR India, receive refugee cards and visas, and were able to try to make lives for themselves while awaiting the opportunity for safe return to Myanmar. Then, in early August 2017, just a few weeks before the Myanmar military launched its latest large-scale assault on the community in Rakhine state, the Indian government declared Rohingya refugees within its own territory to be “illegal migrants”. This marked the start of a rapid deterioration of protection.

Image: The charred remains of schoolbooks. An entire Rohingya refugee settlement in Delhi burnt to the ground in June 2021. Photo credit: ROHRIngya June 2021.

 

India’s failure to protect and attempts to deport

In a recent Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) briefing I co-wrote with Rohingya activist Maung Thein Shwe and ISI’s Natalie Brinham, we documented that, since the beginning of August 2017, Rohingyas in India have faced:

  • refusals to renew or issue immigration documentation
  • exclusion from national ID cards that are essential for accessing basic services like health, education, and banking
  • discrimination in schools and healthcare facilities
  • denial from Covid-19 relief packages and vaccine drives
  • arbitrary dismissal from work and the withholding of pay
  • sustained hate campaigns from vocal sections of the media
  • discriminatory and inflammatory anti-Rohingya language by prominent politicians
  • precarious living conditions, including fires that have destroyed entire settlements
  • and a significant spike in documentation “verification” exercises and arbitrary detentions.

Also in August 2017, the Indian Government issued an order to authorities to identify Rohingya refugees in the country, and ready for their rounding up and deportation to Myanmar. Then, in late 2018 and early 2019, the Indian government deported a total of 12 Rohingyas back to the country, all of whom were denied access to UNHCR. In March this year, authorities in Jammu rounded up at least 150 Rohingyas for “verification” and to initiate deportation procedures. Then, in April, the government made a failed attempt to deport an unaccompanied 14-year-old Rohingya girl across the border.

Forced deportation of refugees to a country where they are experiencing an ongoing threat of genocide is an egregious breach of human and humanitarian rights that flouts not just customary international law, but protections enshrined within the India’s own constitution. Moreover, Myanmar has got more, not less, dangerous over recent months. The country experienced a violent coup d’état on 1 February 2021, and is now headed by the very military that have committed repeated atrocities against Rohingyas in Rakhine state over decades.

Parallel legal proceedings

Cases have been filed against Myanmar for the crime of genocide – The Gambia v. Myanmar – in the International Court of Justice (ICJ); for atrocity crimes in Argentina (under “universal jurisdiction”); and the International Criminal Court has authorised full investigations into crimes committed against the Rohingya that fall within the Court’s jurisdiction (i.e. genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression).

Cases have also been filed in the Supreme Court of India to block the Indian government’s attempted refoulement of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. However, progress has been slow, with many worrying statements littering its progression. During a recent hearing, the then-Chief Justice of India stated that “possibly that is the fear that if they go back to Myanmar they will be slaughtered. But we cannot control all that”. This statement wilfully ignores the role that India’s deportations play in enabling atrocities.

Advocates working on behalf of the Rohingya community in India have also filed petitions to try and force the Indian authorities to provide the basics amenities that any human (let alone a refugee fleeing persecution) should be entitled to expect: e.g. access to running water, access to health and education services, basic public health facilities, and safe accommodation. Just as with The Gambia vs. Myanmar genocide case in the ICJ, these cases in the Indian Supreme Court are ongoing, and Rohingya safety and wellbeing in India continue to hang in the balance.

It is no coincidence that genocide in Myanmar and persecution and humanitarian failures in India are running in tandem. Amal de Chickera – co-founder and co-director of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion – remarked in a recent webinar that “this is a moment of impending crisis… the marginalisation of Rohingya is part of a deeper, longer term erosion of the democratic rule of law in India and elsewhere in the world”.

Rohingya refugees are being deliberately marginalised through hate speech and discrimination, and then that marginalisation is used to frame this refugee group as a security threat and justify repressive actions – eroding the rule of law in the process. Relatedly, humanitarian assistance and the provision of safe refuge are presented as “gifts” to be enjoyed by select communities on the basis of (often discriminatory) conditions, rather than as basic rights rooted in a shared humanity.

Recognising all aspects of violence

The 25 August 2017 commemoration date must serve as a marker for all aspects of the violence faced by Rohingyas. It must continue to draw international attention to the persecution and suffering of Rohingyas by the Myanmar state as well as the Rohingya community’s need for justice, for citizenship in Myanmar, and for safe living conditions in their own country. This anniversary must also draw international attention to the huge humanitarian and protection failures of refugee host countries like India, where state-supported marginalisation, intolerance and anti-Rohingya hate speech are creating punishing living conditions and risk further facilitating genocide.


This blog is an adapted version of Jessica Field’s presentation at the 4th Rohingya Genocide Anniversary Commemoration event, hosted by Restless Beings on 25th August 2021 in London. 

For further reading, see briefs published by the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion:

Climate Hazards in the Northern Bolivian Altiplano

Bayes Ahmed14 July 2021

Written by Dr. Ximena Flores-Palacios, a Bolivian independent researcher and practitioner in sustainable development.

Tuni Condoriri Glacier. Photo: Leny Chuquimia, Página Siete.

The Northern Bolivian Altiplano is one of the most affected areas to the impacts of climate change and disasters. Vulnerable groups such as indigenous communities are the ones most at risk from climate hazards and are, in many cases, marginalized from socioeconomic progress. In order to prevent climate change and disasters from having further devastating impacts, it is necessary to close the development gaps that leave communities at risk. Without urgent action, climate change and disasters may push people deeper into poverty.

This region is located to the West of the Department of La Paz and covers an area of approximately 20,000 km² with a population of 2.5 million people (including the cities of La Paz and El Alto). A large part of this region is influenced by the presence of Lake Titicaca and the glaciers of the Cordillera Real mountain range. The altitude of the region ranges from 3,000 metres above sea level in the inter-Andean valleys to almost 6,500 metres above sea level in the peaks of the Cordillera Real, which is home to most of Bolivia’s glaciers.

The Northern Altiplano is particularly vulnerable to climate variability and the adverse impacts of climate hazards that threaten communities and ecosystems. The region is already experiencing not only increases in temperatures but also changes in rainfall patterns and the water cycle. This, in turn, will have consequences for biodiversity and high-altitude wetlands. Besides, the region is exposed to different threats such as changes in the precipitation regime, frequent droughts, hailstorms, frosts, and snowfalls.

The most visible impact of climate change in high mountain regions is glacier retreat. The IPCC reports that Andean inter-tropical glaciers are very likely to disappear in the coming decades, which will negatively impact water availability in the region. In addition to global increases in temperature, the greater frequency of El Niño in recent decades has contributed to rapid glacial retreat.

Pressure on water resources in the region is already high, with an increasing demand for domestic consumption, agriculture, and dams. Therefore any future changes in the hydrological cycle will have significant implications in the region. This aspect is crucial as the cities of La Paz and El Alto draw on water from several surrounding glaciers, and together these cities form a fast-growing metropolitan area that is home to more than two million people.

Aymara people have adapted to climatic variability and changes in their environment over centuries. In the process, they have developed essential knowledge about the local climate and the environment, and they have domesticated numerous crops that are vital to ensure food security around the world. People have lived subsistence lifestyles for a long time, and for them, there is nothing new about adapting to harsh conditions. What is new, however, is the extent of the changes and the effect these changes are having on an increasing number of people. Even though families have had generations of experience in creating mechanisms to cope with such variability, the impacts of these climate hazards are affecting them disproportionally and threatening their culture.

Rural people in this region rely on natural resource-based livelihoods. They are engaged in high-altitude agriculture and livestock, and the communities around Lake Titicaca also partake in small-scale fishing. Families keep and store a part of their production for their own consumption and sell the rest. However, frequently and due to poverty-related causes, farmers have to sell their produce which in some cases affects their food security. Non-farming activities and migration are risk management strategies that also help to diversify income.  Human mobility due to climate change has been rising in the last decades, as some people move in anticipation or adaptation to environmental and climate impacts, and others are displaced due to extreme events. 

Rural livelihoods are highly vulnerable to climate change and disasters in terms of agriculture and food security, water supply, biological diversity, the environment, health, and infrastructure. This vulnerability is worsened by (i) very low levels of investment in climate-responsive agriculture, (ii) inequalities in land tenure, with the exacerbation of smallholdings as land continues to be divided resulting in the overexploitation of soils and vegetation, (iii) high dependence on climatic variables in agricultural production, with the majority of farmers without irrigation systems, who depend on rainfall, and are highly susceptible to hailstorms, frost and snowfalls; (iv) accelerated agro-ecosystem degradation processes, and (v) water pollution by mining, industry, and solid waste.

Despite the enormous challenges associated with poverty, environmental degradation, climate change, disasters, and now the effects of COVID-19, people in the region are making every effort to thrive in their own environment, and to build the resilience of their communities to climate and other shocks. For these people, resilience is rooted in traditional knowledge, as their capacity to adapt to climate change and disasters is based on an in-depth understanding of the environment, social organizations and networks, and cultural values and attitudes.

Rural people are responding to climate change and disasters in unique ways:

  • To cope with climatic variations, people change and adjust their livelihoods. They diversify productive activities and continue to improve plant varieties and animal breeds, which provide a buffer against risks in uncertain environments. The ability to access multiple resources and rely on different land-use patterns contribute to their capacities to manage climate change at the local level. However, farming practices may also be forced to change as a result of reductions in water availability due to less rainfall and melting glaciers.
  • Traditional weather and climate forecasting are still used by Andean communities to make decisions on the management of their farming system and climate change adaptation. However, the intensity, frequency, and extent of climate impacts are challenging people’s traditional knowledge. It is necessary to promote community disaster risk management and early warning systems to mitigate the negative effect of climate change.
  • Traditional systems of governance and social structures are in place, and strong community networks are crucial for community resilience to climate changeLocal organizations together with municipal governments are central actors in territorial development. Public policies must ensure that climate action is designed in a participatory manner that enables the participation of indigenous communities and other marginalized groups. 
  • People are using migration as an adaptation strategy. There are high levels of internal migration from rural to urban areas of the country and international migration, especially among men and youth. Rural areas are populated by women and older adults who face difficulties in terms of access to land, reduced productivity, fragmentation of land tenure, and the effects of climate change, further increasing vulnerability. Although migration is now a new phenomenon in the area, climate change seems likely to become a major force for future population movements, probably mostly through internal migration, but also to some extent through international migration.

Although Bolivia is making progress towards sustainable development, the impacts of climate change and disasters remain serious problems. In order to address these challenges, it is necessary to deepen understanding of climate change vulnerability, adaptation, and mitigation in the Northern Altiplano and to enhance the adaptive capacity of Andean communities.

Leveraging traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies is not only essential, but it is key to increasing the resilience of communities facing the impacts of natural hazards and environmental change.

In addition to health impacts, COVID-19 threatens to further affect the livelihoods of Andean communities dependent on agriculture. Investment in rural agriculture is needed to help people become more self-reliant, mitigate the impact of severe events and increase the resilience of communities.

Acknowledgement: This blog article is part of the project “Climate change and migration in times of COVID-19 in Bolivia” supported by UCL Global Engagement Funds 2020-21. Special thanks to Alejandro Mamani and Cloe Barbera, the research assistants of this study. 

Connected Learning Internship: Accessibility and Inclusivity in Disaster Studies | Opening up the Conversation

Joshua Anthony5 May 2021

Authors: Eleanor King and Fran Kurlansky

 

In a world where our lives are increasingly digitilised, and there is increased awareness about curating accessible spaces and ensuring optimum representation of all people, taking on an internship working on facilitating accessibility and inclusivity was very important. This is even more crucial in a year filled with challenges created by the pandemic. Covid-19 has challenged educational providers to further enhance online learning, making it imperative for content to accommodate all learners, regardless of their identity and additional requirements.

Image 1: Photo ‘Studying’ by rhodesj on Flickr, creative commons license

For two months across December-January, we reviewed the content of postgraduate modules taught at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR): the Conflict Humanitarianism and Disaster Risk Reduction module, and the Gender, Disaster and Conflict module. This was part of an Arena Centre Connected Learning internship supervised by Dr Jessica Field and Dr Virginie Le Masson in IRDR. We were equipped with the UCL Inclusive Curriculum Healthcheck and the Accessibility and the Internet document, both of which provided a solid foundation from which to scrutinise and assess the  content of our assigned modules.

Improving Accessibility: Definition and Challenges

An institution providing digital accessibility means ensuring that documents and online platforms can be accessed by all students regardless of additional learning requirements. Features that all documents and online platforms should have inbuilt—but unfortunately often do not—include: tags to allow users to navigate through text and images; alt-text, so that readers with visual impairments can use a screen-reader to have images conveyed to them in detail and in context; and resizing text and implementing the appropriate contrast ratio between text and background. From a technical point of view, conducting accessibility checks was a challenging aspect of the internship. Whilst utilising the resources, including advice from IRDR PhD students who had completed accessibility tasks on other modules, and becoming familiar with the functions of Adobe Acrobat, for instance, the process of making content accessible can vary between documents.

A prominent issue was creating image descriptions (alt-text), especially if the document was image-heavy. Some images, such as “word clouds”, graphs, and tables, are very detailed and contain a lot of written information, so condensing high quantities of information into captions proved to be virtually impossible. Another issue faced was knowing whether edits, colours, and some images were simply aesthetic and could be removed, or functional and so important to retain. Not being the original creator of module documents (such as PowerPoints) made these decisions difficult, as context is often needed. These elements can place pressure on someone carrying out accessibility checks, as we found, not being experts in the field of Disaster Studies.

These were important challenges to face, however, in generating discourse about why accessibility and inclusivity work is important. While we were essentially working backwards, trying to unpick major flaws in documents that were not designed to be accessed by someone with additional requirements, it made the need for educating staff on accessibility requirements even greater.

The Importance of Accessibility in an Academic Environment

Currently, information about accessibility is disseminated among staff. Yet a problem can arise when that information is not made a priority for all staff at all times. Awareness of not only how to implement checks and corrections, but why they are necessary, must be prioritised by departments and the university, and a better system of providing accessible digital education needs to be explored. This way, staff can make digital teaching materials accessible prior to a module beginning, thus, making a more accessible learning environment for students to enter into. A deeper understanding of the need for inclusivity and accessibility is imperative if there is going to be a culture shift which then provides a safer educational experience for all students.

Enhancing Inclusivity: Definition

Working within the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, it was also crucial to explore, using an intersectional framework, the inclusivity of the module content which we worked on. A term first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality provides a framework through which to understand how people’s different social characteristics—such as race, gender, or class—“intersect” to create complex oppressions. The framework is most commonly applied to feminist theory, highlighting that, for example, a middle-class white cisgender woman does not face the same oppression as a working-class Transgender Black woman, even though they both face misogyny.

Making Academia more Inclusive

In an IRDR teaching context, this requires an awareness of the effect of disasters on people of all races, genders, and classes, as well as ensuring the voices of those individuals are platformed. Rather than having a week on “women” or a week on “LGBTQIA+” within the module, a holistic approach to people’s complex identities and the way these impact their experience of disasters is not only a more inclusive approach, but it also provides a more thorough analysis.

Crucially, the UCL Inclusive Curriculum Healthcheck spotlights the ‘attainment gap’ (the discrepancy of achievement between students of different backgrounds). It notes how, through making a curriculum that greater encompasses the student body—that is, going further than celebrating diversity and actually creating modules that students can relate to—the gap can continue to reduce in size. There is a direct correlation between representation and achievement.

Image 2: UCL Curriculum Healthcheck cover & p.1.

Evaluating how both IRDR modules incorporated the stories of people from different cultures, ethnicities, genders and sexualities was imperative to ensuring that, as required in the Healthcheck, they captured a multitude of experiences, fostered inclusivity and ensured that content was reflective of the diversity of student experience.  In addition, checking that both modules facilitated the students’ sharing of their own stories and perspectives in a safe digital space would help to ensure that the students could voice issues in a supportive environment.

We were able to build on these analytical skills through conducting a critical appraisal of a guest lecture by Dr Virginie Le Masson on Gender-based Violence and Disasters. Utilising both the accessibility and the inclusivity elements of the internship, and working closely with Dr Le Masson, we delivered feedback from the perspective of students, and were able to draw on our own experiences as students navigating online learning to create further considerations for lecturers to take. For example, when presenting information about the experience of women in disaster situations, we advised it was also important to analyse the experience of trans men who felt they had also been victims of misogyny when coded by others as women.

Inclusivity was an important element of the internship, and this task exemplified this; we conversed with IRDR staff about how to deliver feedback in a constructive manner, how to cater to the diversity of the student body, and creating good support systems for both students and staff. It was a unique opportunity for a dialogue between students and lecturers, and meant that we were able to work in a collaborative way to create the best learning experience for all.

Learning from Experience: Holistic and Methodical Approaches

Having completed the internship, there are several things for us to consider in retrospect and to recommend for future practice. For the department and the university as a whole, we would advise that an important element of digital accessibility and inclusivity work is planning and time-management. For anyone assigned with making documents more accessible and inclusive, it is important to start working on these tasks sooner rather than later, experimenting with how much time you allocate a task and at what part of the day you work best until you find a rhythm that fits your individual work style. For example, the assignment may seem daunting in the beginning and could require some practice and further research. In this case, you may find that approaching it in twenty-minute slots to be more manageable. On the other hand, larger chunks of time may be more suitable if you find yourself wanting to complete a document’s alt-text in one session, for instance.

It is particularly imperative to work in a holistic manner. As accessibility and inclusivity work can be detail-orientated, the module leader or convener should keep the bigger picture in mind which helps to assess the content as a whole. This is particularly important in modules with lots of guest lecturers. Whilst each guest lecturer may include content written by women, it could be that each lecturer has predominantly platformed cisgender women, and the voices of trans women and genderqueer individuals are marginalized. Being methodical is key here, as is approaching the task sooner rather than later or retrospectively.

Working in a finite internship affected our experience of the work. 35 hours in two months is not a lot of time in relation to the tasks we were required to work on. What is most important in this internship are the skills we learned, understanding the root problems and what can be done to solve these—in this case: increasing provisions for technical literacy and a deeper understanding of what accessibility and inclusivity are, and why they need to be made more visible on a widespread scale.

 

Eleanor King is a postgraduate student at the Institute of Education, studying for her MA in Digital Media: Critical Studies. She is currently working on her dissertation on the dissemination of misinformation through social media. Email address: eleanor.king20@ucl.ac.uk.

Fran Kurlansky is a postgraduate student, studying for her MA in Jewish Studies. She is also working for UCL Human Resources as a Digital Accessibility Assistant. Email address: francesca.kurlansky.20@ucl.ac.uk.

Stop The Disaster! IRDR Spring Academy 2021

Joshua Anthony28 April 2021

This article is a summation of points and questions raised by members of the Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction at the 2021 Spring Academy.

The mid-afternoon sunshine passes through my east-facing window and strikes my laptop screen, where the faces of the Institute for Disaster for Risk Reduction shine back at me. It is not mid-afternoon for all: for some, they gather for the annual Spring Academy as the same sun straddles a different horizon. Due to coronavirus restrictions, we gather online, tuning in from around the globe, demonstrating the department’s widespread influence. Through activities organised by both the PhD students and research staff, we are here to engage with the diverse range of expertise in our department.

What can floods tell us about covid-19? Can the unsettling rise of water on the doorsteps of schools and hospitals inform the decisions we make during a pandemic? Using the UNDRR game, Stop the Disaster, as an illustrative tool, Qiushuang Shi and Rob Davis lead us through the process of emergency planning and management to answer these questions.

While some of us struggle to allocate funding for flood defences and deliberate over where to build the hospital in our virtual disaster village, one cannot help noticing the people that populate the little green boxes of grass next to the blue pixels of seawater. How would they respond to an early warning system, and would it work if it were a virus and not flood water knocking at their door?

A snapshot of the UNDRR game Stop the Disaster.

Once the unfortunate villagers are subject to the 8-bit flood water, Rob and Qiushuang move us on to discuss what we have learnt. There is a consensus between us that communication is vital to affect successful disaster risk reduction—across all hazards. No early warning system or public health advice it worth it if the information is not widespread and consistent and the risks properly conveyed; or if there are significant economic, cultural, political or societal conditions—such as gender structures—that inhibit this process or adherence to it. Prior knowledge and experience of a hazard within a society (or lack thereof) is likely to alter the perception of, trust, and response to the message, not to mention the political will to support and fund emergency resources and planning initiatives, which could be assisted by media initiatives.

The visceral threat of quick onset hazards may put the screws on emergency fund release at showtime, but what of slower hazards for which there is ample time to plan? For some in the world, climate change is a distant reality, while for others it is an immediate threat. Uncertainty plays a key role in the way we respond to hazards—in scientific calculations (such as for early warning systems) or in individual perceptions and acceptance of risk.

We can see that, though the propagation and imagery of flood water and coronavirus—or any hazard, for that matter—may differ, there is an unavoidable factor underlying the multitude of research topics across the Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction’s members: vulnerability. Indeed, the most contrarian of us posit that one could approach disaster risk reduction entirely from a vulnerability perspective. This notion hangs in the balance. We move on to the next stage of the session: multi- and cascading-hazard scenarios

There are places unfortunate enough to be subject to multi-hazard events. Even now, as we live through COVID-19, one member notes, the HIV and AIDs epidemic that gained notoriety in the 1980s still affects millions of people. As we have seen over the past year, floods, forest fires, earthquakes, disease outbreaks—you-name-it—do not rest for each other, and all the while the climate still changes. Mitigation, preparedness and response procedure efforts must consider multi-hazard scenarios, and not be subject to a “flavour-of-the-month” approach to disaster risk reduction. Critical infrastructure may be pliable up to a point and break beyond that threshold. Existing and dormant vulnerabilities may be triggered under cascading disaster scenarios—otherwise interpreted as cascading vulnerabilities—as seen in the infamous triple-front attack on Tohoku in 2011, which manifested in a combination of an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown. The complexities of multi- and cascading-hazard scenarios are vast; one must look for interconnected and parallel vulnerabilities that transect all hazards in order to tackle the challenges. The importance of transdisciplinary research and collaboration of individual expertise are highlighted further by these situations.

Even when two hazards do not strike in unison, emergency planners must consider the impacts of a prior hazard on material and human resources for the next one. Under a changing climate, goalposts shift; resource allocation and size may change, funding options may have to be reconsidered. An example of a way to make use of existing resources in a multi-hazard scenario is suggested in adapting training facilities for one type of hazard to accommodate multiple. As we consider the way planning and management needs are altered in response to multi-hazard and cascading scenarios, one asks a question that should follow all disasters: has the learning come through? In other words, are we more or less resilient now we have experienced the crisis? This is a question one can imagine asking as we optimistically search for a light at the end of the tunnel after over a year of COVID. The darkness associated with the proverbial tunnel is often oversimplified to a period of turmoil before the promise of the light, but one overlooks its poignancy in portraying the struggle that one experiences while operating within the shadow of uncertainty.

As we close the session, the faces of IRDR, hailing from a wide array of different disciplines, stare back expectedly at me for a summary of the session proceedings. Well, here they are. However, it’s made evident—as I scrabble to collate my mish-mash of notes—that one voice solely is not enough to tackle the challenges we attempt to understand here at the IRDR.

Happy (mostly) Faces of IRDR

“There is no other option” – The rationalisation of the local residents of Ukhia and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar

Bayes Ahmed7 December 2020

Written by Dr Md. Touhidul Islam and Tanzina Rahman, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The 2017 Rohingya exodus made Bangladesh a host of more than 850,000 new Rohingyas, becoming the fifth-largest forced displacement in the world.  They were forced to leave their homes at the Rakhine State in Myanmar and were also confronted with crimes against humanity, atrocities, and genocide. The host community in Bangladesh responded with compassion by welcoming and supporting them. The scale of the influx, however, has made a profound impact on the hosting communities, largely in the greater Cox’s Bazar area. The two Upazilas, i.e., sub-districts, of Cox’s Bazar – Ukhia and Teknaf – had to withstand supporting most of the weight of accommodating the Rohingyas. Now, the Rohingyas outnumber the local population in these two areas. So, the humanitarian impulse to help soon turned out to be a life-changing event for many residents living in these communities. The needs of the Rohingyas were officially addressed by the Government in Bangladesh, local and international NGOs, donors, and several UN agencies. However, the spill-over impacts, e.g., environmental degradation, price-hike, decreased wages and strain in the relationship between the host community and the Rohingyas just began to draw attention.

For the host communities in Ukhia and Teknaf, the results of this massive exodus can be described as a change in everyday’s lifestyle at best and a threat to survival at worst. They have dealt with an array of challenges in the economic, environmental, socio-cultural, and institutional spheres of their lives. Concurrently, they have dealt with the alterations in their own ways. They did not only try switching to the next best option available in addressing the changes in their lives but also rationalised their course of actions. What was the logic behind this rationalisation? The need to adjust had come from a mindset of lacking a better alternative.

We went on a field trip in 2019 to collect micro-narratives from the local residents of Ukhia and Teknaf. They vividly described the impacts of the 2017 Rohingya influx on their personal lives and how it affected their whole community. Some of their rationalisations are primarily centred on the notion of not having any other option than just to adjust – human life being equivalent to struggle and adaptation skills being a part of human nature. Having faith in one’s creator and surviving for the sake of one’s loved ones were other patterns of rationalisation that the residents described in their narratives. The notion of not having the availability of a better option and accommodate the situation can be an excruciating challenge for the residents, once their limit reaches the threshold.

Karim (a pseudonymous name), who is a 32-year-old driver and lives in Whykong, Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, shared his version of life before and after the Rohingya influx. Though there were Rohingyas from the previous inflows, he did not know much about them before 2017 as they made no significant impact on his daily life. Once the unexpected turns of events such as drug dealings, theft, and robbery began to occur, he began feeling insecure. The impacts such as social deterioration (e.g. extramarital affairs and sexual harassment of girls) and cultural change were appalling to him. How did he come to terms with it? Karim says that there is nothing that he could do about it.

“We are a victim of this situation. We had to accept everything because we were under pressure. We have accepted all these as a part of our everyday lives. As long as the Rohingyas will live here, the problems will remain. So, instead of ignoring it, we have decided to deal with it.”

Karim has no real solution for other challenges he faces in every different dimension of life. He complains about the weather changing, and he acknowledges the animals being extinct. In light of all these changes, he sees himself as an ordinary person who is only capable of somehow adjusting to the situation which has been thrown upon them. People like Karim have subjugated to the physical changes in the environment and the socio-economic aspects like the price-hike of essential daily commodities.

A positive thought that he mentioned is co-existence, i.e., the acknowledgment of the host community and the Rohingya community living side by side. But making it a habit to adjust is crucial when there is no better alternative for them. Karim says: 

“Where can we go if we leave our village? We do not have any options to go anywhere. We are bound to accept these problems as long as they are living here. …They will not find a place to live in other districts outside Cox’s Bazar. They have found a place to live in Cox’s Bazar. I do not think there are any other empty places where they can be accommodated. It would not have been a problem if this was an issue for a few days. But, they have been living here for 2-3 years. Many Rohingyas have been living here for 30-40 years. And we have learned to adjust. I think we have to adjust if we live together. So it has become a habit to adjust to things. There is no other option.”

Karim has no other places to go if he leaves his village. He, however, reassures himself by saying the best option is to adjust to whatever living conditions they are being subjected to – a dark cloud of thoughts for the future hovers over him. He acknowledges the fact that the situation is likely to worsen. He narrates his thoughts on the future by saying:

“The current situation makes us think that the future will be very difficult. In the manner the prices of water, fuel, travel fare, and others are increasing this will be likely to continue in the future. We have to spend less on things sometimes, and sometimes we can spend as much as we like. We will have to manage according to what situation Allah puts us in.”

Karim perhaps knows where he stands on adapting to life after the Rohingya influx of 2017. For assisting the Rohingyas, his view is that plenty has been done and now it needs to stop. The dark future that he envisions does not always stay on his mind. He goes about his life, believing the future is unpredictable and anything can happen. Karim narrates his thoughts:

“Let everything go on like it is. We will see what happens later on. We will adjust to it when it happens.”

Karim chooses to adjust because he cannot find an alternative option not to. One may wonder if he will realise the flaws in his survival strategy!

Authors’ Affiliations:

Acknowledgment: This work was funded by the British Academy as part of the project,Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” (Award Reference: SDP2\100094), supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

“Home is where the heart is!” – Rohingyas in camps and their idea of ‘Home’

Bayes Ahmed10 November 2020

Written by Dr Niloy Ranjan Biswas, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Email: niloy@du.ac.bd

The perilous journey of Rohingya people fleeing their ‘home’ to Bangladesh, escaping persecution and genocide by Myanmar’s security forces, was full of quandary and uncertainty. They endured severe sufferings and pain in this journey to find safety and a new home. The brutal crackdown in 2017 forced more than 700,000 Rohingyas to leave their homes and embark upon a hazardous journey to neighbouring Bangladesh. According to Human Rights Watch (2017) report, the journey to Bangladesh was met with hunger, exhaustion and death. Crossing rivers, walking up and down steep and slippery hills across dense vegetation during monsoon rains with sore hips and swollen legs made it extremely challenging to survive. Furthermore, the Myanmar soldiers sexually assaulted Rohingya women and on many occasions raped them while they were fleeing to Bangladesh. Many of them had to continue their journey through the jungle with swollen and torn genitals. Many of them even gave birth on the road without medical assistance or proper medications.

Rohingyas’ journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh took up seventeen days. The route included either crossing the Naf River or taking a boat in the Bay of Bengal along the coast from the Myanmar shores. The desperate journey to find safety did not end for Rohingyas once they crossed the border of Bangladesh as they were stranded in the rice fields and marshlands and continued their journey to refugee camps cordoned by the security forces. For Rohingyas, arriving in Bangladesh after leaving behind their homes in Myanmar was just one part of their long journey. Their journey to escape trauma and horror in Myanmar has been juxtaposed with the misery of searching for a new home. What are ‘home’ and ‘homeland’ for Rohingyas? ‘Home’ has multiple interpretations for them.

The author visited the camps in 2019 to conduct extensive fieldwork in order to collect stories of Rohingya men and women. Those micro-narratives identify multivariate patterns of violence and trends of protection experienced by the refugees. It suggests that there is strong evidence of structural violence inherent in the society of Myanmar. Some of these examples are restrictions on movement and no access to health and education in Myanmar. The idea of accountability and justice are completely non-existent in the discourse of Rohingyas in Myanmar, which may need to be highlighted further as an important source of violence.

Hasina (a pseudonymous name), a 25-year old Rohingya woman, lives in a camp, near Thaingkhali, Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar. She was revisiting memories of her home in Myanmar and sharing her narratives with the author. She remembers her home in childhood as a quiet peaceful place. They could move out and roam around freely. She remembered they lived peacefully with Rakhaines (Buddhist communities) as neighbours. They used to get justice from representatives of local government. Her brother’s friend was a local government chairman from the Rakhine community, whose younger brother stole fruits from Hasina’s backyard and destroyed the field. Hasina’s father protested and complained to the chairman. He warned his own brother and apologised on his behalf. This was her impression of home when she was asked to share her childhood memory. Hasina said, “Home was peaceful, and everyone was living in harmony”. What has changed now?

Hasina was submerged under vivid memories—how her homeland, her village and adjacent areas turned into mayhem. She says that she was not able to study in Myanmar and will never get a good job. They will always live like their older generations —uneducated and unemployed.

In my home, we had no rights but we loved our home as we were born in that place.

Home is arguably the house and its surroundings, which is shared by her family and neighbours—both Rohingyas and Rakhaines. Has the ‘country’ ever turned into a ‘homeland’ for Hasina? Rakhaines are the significant ‘others’, and they dishonoured Rohingyas. Hasina says that they had to pay to get what they are entitled to get as citizens of Myanmar. Authorities do not like a Rohingya, who disobeyed their instructions, s/he would have to pay a monetary fine, or get beaten by uniformed security forces, or at least they would take ducks, chickens, cows, and goats. Prayers, Azan, and Madrasa—religious practices were also closed. Those who worked were barred from doing their work and even from leaving the house. According to Hasina, the security forces would go from home to home and torture and oppress women. No one could protest. They gradually began to inflict too much torture. They oppressed them in front of everyone, took their babies, or injure them and even burn them.

Her recent memories are full of bloodshed and loss. In August 2017, Hasina’s cousin (Bilkis) was raped by Myanmar’s security forces. Her parents were tied up and seven people raped Bilkis. “They were laughing and making fun of us as we are not human”—Hasina shared her experience with the author. Later Bilkis was shot dead and her body was fed to dogs. The girl left a child. The attackers set Hasina’s younger brother on fire. Hasina says that although she was not physically tortured, her relatives were severely tortured. She says they came to Bangladesh after suffering a lot.

Home is an existence of hardship and plight for Hasina. They faced violence every day in Myanmar. Her husband primarily worked in agriculture. He was beaten many times by the security forces for no reason. Once they had changed the fence of their house without informing local authorities, the security forces raided their house, beat them and asked for money. They took away their chickens, cows, and goats. “Hundreds of women were tortured by the military, their fathers, brothers, husbands could do nothing and everyone remained silent. No one could protest. “The family members could not save anyone and had to witness this by their own eyes. In Myanmar, the lives of Rohingyas are like the “lives of ants and lives have no value to the state”.

Home is where one can sleep peacefully. Hasina says, now in camps in Ukhia, she can sleep at night without worry or fear. “There is no fear such in Myanmar and I do not experience nightmares here”, she says. They are very safe in the camps of Bangladesh. Her children can go to school and mosques for prayer. “We are no longer slaves in Bangladesh as we were in our homeland”, says Hasina.

Home is where security forces do not scare Hasina every day. In the initial days at the camp, Hasina was scared to see members of security forces. It reminded her of her own country’s security forces and their behaviour. Later she realised that Bangladeshi security forces were actually providing them with safety and security. Camps were more like homes when security providers are not violators of human rights. Hasina repeatedly mentioned that if the military of her homeland behaved well, they would not have to worry about their lives.

Can Hasina return to her ‘home’ in Buthidaung, Maungdaw? She says her heart breaks into pieces when she thinks about her home in Buthidaung. Home is where she can trust people around her. She lacks trusts in her neighbours and local authorities in Myanmar. She rather trusts the people of Bangladesh who have been providing support in refugee camps. Hasina cheerfully acknowledges that she is happy to see her children playing, studying and going to the mosques without risking their lives. Hasina says she feels very good in camp’s plastic house as she knows none is coming after their lives. For her, a home is where she is not afraid of oppression and torture.

Hasina knows Myanmar is her country, nevertheless, she doubts whether or not it has ever been her ‘homeland’. They will eventually return to find their homes in ashes, if and when repatriation takes place. A big question, however, which was reflected in her face—has it ever become a home for her and her family? It seems she has lost her belief in Myanmar—its administration and security forces. Unlike Pliny the Elder suggests “Home is where one is most emotionally attached”, Hasina observes: “I lost faith in my country. I do not know where is my home and what will we do in future?” Her emotions are tormented that she will never have the same ‘home’ back in her ‘homeland’.

Acknowledgement: This work was funded by the British Academy as part of the project, “Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” (Award Reference: SDP2\100094), supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

“Orphan Friendly Space” – The Rohingya Children in Refugee Camps

Bayes Ahmed1 November 2020

Written by Professor Amena Mohsin and Mohammad Atique Rahman, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), I am in a safe place now, I miss my parents but I have survived” – Mohammad Ismail (pseudonymous), a Rohingya child living in Camp-13, Thangkhali Refugee Camp, Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

It is an irony and a point of critical reflection for all of us as part of the so-called global society and humanity, as to why we need to create spaces designated as “orphan-friendly-space”, and children who have been orphaned [1] by state terrorism and genocidal acts in its quest for building a ‘nation’ find safety and security in those spaces and zones. The brutalities of our global and national systems have left little options for them. “Home sweet home,” a proverb that we grow up with, or the concept of “home” is lost for many children. Mohammad Ismail, a child who lives in a Ukhia Refugee Camp, spends most of his time in an orphan friendly space. He is one among the thousands of the ‘orphaned’ Rohingya children, who comes and plays with other orphan children in the Health Management Bangladesh (HMBD)’s, a local humanitarian NGO, “Orphan-Friendly-Space”. He was twelve years old in 2019. According to him, he spends most of his time there with other Rohingya children as he finds it a safe and secure space. 

Fear haunts him as he lost both of his parents during the August 2017 genocide, that was committed against his community in the Rakhine state. More than 712,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar during that period and took shelter in Bangladesh. Over half of them were children [2]. According to a report published by Save the Children, the speed and scale of violence that caused this mass exodus of the Rohingya were unprecedented since the Rwandan genocide in 1994 [3]. The report also mentioned that Rohingya children were the worst victim of this violence as they were targeted for brutal sexual violence, killed and maimed indiscriminately in Myanmar [5].  In the most severe cases, many of them witnessed brutal killings of their own parents.  

Ismail made friends in the orphan friendly space. Plastic toys and footballs scattered around the area that came as part of donations and relief for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. While playing in the area, he narrated his story. He was living with his parents in Udong village. They were five siblings. His father was a farmer. They had a farming land around 10 Kanis (a Bengali measurement of land, 1 Kani = 1,619 square feet). His father and elder brothers were also fishing in the Dariya (Naf river). They raised cattle and chose one to sacrifice on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha. According to Ismail, it was two days before the Eid festival, his family and the villagers were taking preparation for the Eid celebration. At that time, they heard rumours that the neighbouring village got attacked by the local Buddhist Mogh community and the Myanmar military/Tatmadaw. Rohingya villagers started to move in search of safe places. Ismail got scared hearing this conversation among the elders but his father assured him saying that “no worries, you are in a safe place, Ismail, I will protect you”. However, his father could not keep his promise. The Mogh along with the military stormed into his village with firearms and sharp weapons on the day before the Eid. They hurriedly separated elders and young males and took them to the military camp. Ismail’s father was also taken away. Since then, he has not seen him. He is believed to have been killed by the Myanmar military in 2017. On that day, Ismail was terrified. His father was forcibly taken away from their home. As narrated by him:

“The Moghs were dragging my father, they had big red eyes, it seemed like that they were going to chop us all. I was afraid of dying. My mother held me and my younger brother very tightly and said I am here, don’t be scared you will be safe.”

However, his safe place existed only for a half-day as by the evening the villagers realised that their village will be attacked again by the military to take away the women and girls. Ismail’s mother decided to move her family to a safe place and joined the group of villagers with his uncles’ family. They started moving up in the hilly areas as they thought there would be a safer place for them but at night bullets came from the military check post, that fired aimlessly here and there. Ismail’s group members also got bullet wounds on that night. His uncle and mother decided to walk straight up the hill, and reached a “Muslim County” in Bangladesh, he went on saying:   

“We kept walking for three days straight. We joined around 2 to 3 hundred thousand Rohingya who also wanted to reach Bangladesh. When we cooked, the Army could suspect and find us from afar. They came and searched our bags and belongings. They took away the money, the jewellery. And then they went away. When we were on our way, they did not beat us as they normally did. But those who spoke out against them talked back at them – they were beaten. After three days we reached the harbour. My mother and uncle planned to cross the river and reach Bangladesh. On the night of 29 August 2017 when we got into a boat, we heard the sound of firing at night. I barely saw anything but heard the cries of wounded people. Our villagers urged the boatman to help them in crossing the river. My mother got shot on that night and she drowned into the river while she was trying to protect us from the firing. We lost 10 villagers on that night. On the next morning, we stopped at Shyamlapur. We climbed through North Nangkhongchhari (Naikkhongchhari) to reach Bangladesh. We stayed in Shyamlapur for five days under the open sky. Then we moved to Ledamma. There we stayed for 1 month and 5 to 10 days. Our days were even harder in Ledamma. After one month and a half of reaching Bangladesh, we got our space in the camp. In Bangladesh, I started to feel safe, but I had lost my parents in Myanmar. I don’t think there was any Rohingya left in our village in Myanmar.”

In Bangladesh, the local people supported them and gave them clothes, food and shelter. They had no belongings when they came to the camp in Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar). According to Ismail, Mizan Sir, the HMBD programme coordinator, looked after them very well. They did not know anything about this new place, but the HMBD kept in touch with them and provided them with some medicines. Ismail added:

We had nothing to do the whole day in the beginning. I had no books, no toys and no friends. So I went to HMBD’s place to see what was happening there. There they gave me some toys to play with other children. I was so happy to find some friends. I also feel safe with my friends. The driver uncle (HMBD ambulance driver) gives us chocolate every day. I know some of my friends also lost their parents on the other side of the Dariya (Naf river). Here in this place, we play and also attend the class. Our teacher Solim who has also come with us from Myanmar is so kind to us. Arif Sir and Mizan Sir from HMBD, they were so kind. They built fences around this playground. I feel safe now.”

Similar to Ismail, many other children in the orphan-friendly-space built by HMBD in Ukhia lost either their parents or their family members. But somehow, they seemed to have accepted their reality though it is cruel and full of uncertainties. They feel safe about their lives, but there is constant uncertainty, fear and confusion. They fear to be sent back to Myanmar though they want to go back to their homes. They used to go to the local Maktab, a religious school, and play with their friends. In the camp area, they live in cramped rooms. It is difficult to stay together in a small makeshift shelter in the camp so Ismail and other children come to the HMBD place every day in search of open space. According to them, the camp area is very hot. There is hardly any ventilation.

Most of the camp’s shelter houses are built on the slopes of hills by clearing forests and trees. There is hardly any tree shed in the camp where one can take rest during the hot summer days. So, these children look forward to coming to the open space where they can rest, play, study and pass their time together. This space is open from 8 am to 4 pm. Fatima (pseudonymous name), another Rohingya child, mentioned that she eagerly waits for the next morning to come to this place and be with her friends for a day. She does not want to stay in the camp, but then she needs to help her aunt with whom she lives now in cooking and fetching drinking water.  She has been orphaned in the genocide. Ismail also desires to get a new bag, books and a pair of sandals as the ones provided to him in 2017 are getting old. 

Mr Mizan, the programme officer of HMBD, said that they were the first NGO to arrive in this camp to provide medical treatment to the Rohingya community. They were able to set up their office in the early stage, they had some open space after establishing their medical camps. They thought that this open space could be converted into a children playground who were already in a distressed state. Therefore, Mizan and his team, when they visited door-to-door shelters of the camp, asked the families to send their children to their playground. In the mid-2018, HMBD decided to build a small shed for these children where they could sit and read books. By December 2018, it appointed Mr Solim, a Rohingya teacher, to teach the children. He teaches them Math, English and Religion in Rohingya language. HMBD managed to obtain free books with contents developed in Rohingya language. Currently, it hosts around ninety Rohingya children. 

However, more initiatives to be undertaken to create spaces for children for their mental and physical wellness. It is notable that among the Rohingya refugees, 55% are children and 4% of the household are child-headed. Children who eagerly wait for their time in the orphan-friendly-space have fractured lives. They lost their parents and homes in Myanmar. The big red eyes that Ismail was talking about will perhaps haunt him all his life. One may wonder if the eyes were actually red, or Ismail imagined them to be so out of his fearful state. He also remembers that the Rohingyas wanted to reach the Muslim country, a sense of belonging or kinship or affinity was sought in the Muslimness or religious affinity. Ismail’s assertion that the Buddhist Moghs were with the military attacked their village also speaks volumes of religion being played out in Myanmar politics, and it is penetrating into young minds.

One can only hope that the world will stop creating refugees and orphans, where the space of orphan-friendly-space will become their most cherished space and perhaps in the mental domain the most treasured memory to hold on. This is one of the cruellest fate that a child deserves. Let us strive to move beyond this politics of power and dream of a world where a child will have a home, a sweet home!

Authors Affiliations

References

[1] According to the latest study from UNICEF (done by the end of 2018) [retrieved from UNICEF’s April 2020’s report],  there exists a total number of 13 million child refugees, approximately one million asylum-seeking children and an estimated 17 million IDP children displaced within their own country by violence and conflict, United Nations Children’s Fund, Child displacement, April 2020, https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-migration-and-displacement/displacement/, accessed 19 October 2020.

[2]  A total of 36,673 orphaned children are now living in the 12 Rohingya camps under Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas of Cox’s Bazar, according to a government survey, Tarek Mahmud, “36,673 orphaned children living in Rohingya camps”, Dhaka Tribune, 9 November 2017, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2017/11/09/36673-orphaned-children-living-rohingya-camps, accessed 19 October 2020.

[3] The Daily Star. Exodus greater than Rwanda genocide. https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/exodus-greater-rwanda-genocide-1702837; accessed 31 October 2020.

[4] One out of two Rohingya children who fled to Bangladesh without their parents were orphaned by brutal violence. There are currently more than 6,000 unaccompanied and separated Rohingya children living in Cox’s Bazar. (As per August 2018 data), Save the Children, Alarming Number of Rohingya Children Orphaned by Brutal Violence – Save the Children Study, https://www.savethechildren.org/us/about-us/media-and-news/2018-press-releases/alarming-number-rohingya-children-orphaned-brutal-violence, accessed 19 October 2020.

Acknowledgement: This work was funded by the British Academy as part of the project, “Rohingya Journeys of Violence and Resilience in Bangladesh and its Neighbours: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” (Award Reference: SDP2\100094), supported under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).