By Marco Perini*
When we mention the name “Ashti1" in Erbil, everybody knows what we are talking about. “It’s the camp for displaced people, the most ramshackle one, the one next to the “fancy” area,” says somebody, being immediately interrupted by another person with a totally different point of view. When we live in a constant state of emergency, contradictions are part of our daily routine: in the same city, in the same neighborhood, in a single strip of land that hosts thousands of those displaced by the war in Iraq, there are refugees who live better than others.
The previous discussions about Ashti1 took place in an area located to the north of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan that only three years ago planned to become the Dubai of Iraq and today is facing a dramatic economic crisis due to the plunging price of a barrel of oil. There are dozens of abandoned construction sites and we can only see the skeletons of those buildings that were supposed to be luxury high rises.While 1,5 million government employees - out of a total of 4 million people - have been receiving only half of their salary for the last eight months, 1.5 million displaced Iraqis have arrived in Erbil, fleeing from Daesh Islamic State violence.
Ashti1 was created in this world of contradictions. In August 2014, 1,000 refugees arrived in Erbil fleeing from Mosul and Qaraqosh. In the Iraqi city, they found two huge tents (at that time only good enough to raise chickens) and a big field. Slowly, patiently and using a few savings they were able to bring, they built a few new houses. After a while, and with the help of a few Catholic communities, they also installed containers where they could sleep, eat, live. The containers are very small: seven and sometimes even ten people have to fit in an area of 200 square feet. The temperature, outside and inside the tents, is unbearable, but at least the floor is made of cement.
Father Jamal also arrived in August 2014 and since then he has acted as the group manager, creating daily “miracles” of survival. “Soon, they will free our cities from the Islamic State and we will be able to go back home,” says Father Jamal while walking through the camp. He talks with the refugees, each of them with very specific needs: medicines, which are few and expensive; water that never gets to the camp; toilets to be fixed. A good shepherd, Jamal cannot abandon his flock.
In March 2015, seven months after the first group of refugees arrived, 5,000 more came to live on the same piece of land. In a short time, thanks to the humanitarian aid which, in the meantime, had begun to operate at full speed, they built a well equipped refugee camp: they also use containers, but those have a water supply, sewer system, electricity, and external protection. In short, they have everything that is missing in Ashti1, whose inhabitants arrived too early, without making too much noise. For these reasons, even if it doesn’t make any sense, they are destined to remain for a long time in this “second division camp”.
It’s a strange sensation meet Jamella, who is six years old and has a lot of energy to play soccer, and at the same time Father Jamal, who is tired of too many battles. They are both refugees, but for “unknown” reasons, their destinies are totally different.
* Marco Perini is AVSI representative in the Middle East. In Ashti1, AVSI has been working on building new toilets, installing air-conditioning system and giving refugees better living conditions.
By AVSI Brazil staff
Photos by Antonello Veneri
“I used to lead a gang in my neighborhood. I joined the criminality and I suffered the consequences in traditional prisons in an inhuman way that cannot be described. I went to prison many times and each time I left, I became worse. Everything changed when I had the chance to go to the prison unit created by APAC. There, everybody treated me as a human being and I realized I still had a chance to become a better person. Today I work as a methodology inspector in FBAC and I will be eternally grateful to each person who helped me and believed in me,” says Daniel Luiz da Silva, former prisoner at the Sao João Del Rei APAC (Minas Gerais).
To recover more lives, just like Daniel’s, the project “Superando Fronteiras (Overcoming Borders)” was created aiming to strengthen the experience of APAC (Association for the Protection and Assistance of Convicted Persons) in Minas Gerais and to promote the method’s expansion to other five states in Brazil: Ceará, Espírito Santo, Maranhão, Paraná and Rondônia.
The event that officially launched the project “Overcoming Borders” took place last April in the auditorium of the Minas Gerais Magistrates Association (AMAGIS) in Belo Horizonte.
Present at the ceremony, European Union representatives and contributors that develop the initiative: AVSI Brasil, FBAC and Instituto Minas pela Paz (Institute Minas for Peace).
"It's very rewarding to work to strengthen the APAC methodology, promote human rights in Brazil and see the lives of families being changed by the actions of APAC," said Jacopo Sabatiello, vice-president of AVSI Brazil, at the event's opening session.
In addition to the collaborators, present at the ceremony were government officials of Minas Gerais, representatives of the concerned states, as well as members of civil society and the private sector involved with the theme of convicts resocialization.
Overcoming Borders – The Project
"By sending people to traditional prisons we are often subjecting them to inhuman punishments, and in consequence, they leave prisons worse than when they arrived and commit even more serious crimes. After so many years working on the application of criminal law, the APAC method appeared to me, as a solution to all the problems we face in the prison system in Brazil. It is a hope for the convicts resocialization”, affirmed Eiko Araki, State Prosecutor of Rondônia. “It was very difficult to make the government management of my state accept the APAC method, but sometimes it takes a little craziness to go against what everyone thinks is normal, to bet on a totally unthinkable method," she added.
Eiko also said that in Ji-Parana, the second most populous city of Rondônia, with more than 150,000 inhabitants, the judicial authorities were resistant about the APAC method. After a detailed presentation by AVSI Brasil and FBAC in a seminary in Rondônia, sponsored by the Public Prosecutor of Rondônia, the concept has progressed and the methodology is being recognized as a good alternative for these authorities.
According to FBAC’s executive director, Valdeci Ferreira "the funds provide by this project will allow a series of actions to take a leap in quality, especially in states that seek to improve its interventions for better rehabilitation rates and reduction of criminal recurrence.”
The expectation is that the results generated in the project will enable the expansion of the experience and APAC methodology as a public policy in Brazil, strengthening human rights and political participation and the involvement of civil society.
The prison units called APAC are alternative prisons with a unique method that aims at the promotion of human dignity. This proposal consists in implementing a path of resocialization to convicted people and insert them back into society with abilities to find a job and not get back into the crime scene.
These units are characterized by the absence of police and weapons, with the presence of civil servants and volunteers from the society to carry out the activities. Another difference is the cost of maintenance. According to the prosecution, one APAC holds one third of the resource required to maintain a traditional prison.
The number of inmates in APAC does not reach 2% of the prison population of Brazil, and its expansion will enable the achievement of a higher number of convicts serving sentences in these units, strengthening human rights.
by CARLO CIAVONI - photos by MARCO PALOMBI
translated by Victoria and Gianpiero Anelli
MARJAYOUN (Southern Lebanon) – Here, where eight centuries ago the Christians escaping from southern Syria landed, in 2006 the Israelis arrived for the war that lasted 34 days, an answer to Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets and to the abduction of two soldiers from Tzahal, the Israeli military forces. Now, in this area, there is a kind of coexistence under the vigilant eye of the Spanish military contingent of the UNIFIL UN mission. There is a cathedral at Marjayoun, the cathedral of Saint Peter, which has stood there for centuries, in the same spot where it was built. Like the rest of Lebanon, it lives side by side with Muslim places, a mixture of domes and minarets, that brings us back to distant times, when the nearby Beauford fortress, nestled in the mountains, witnessed the bloody battles in 1,100 between Saladin, the tireless Sunni opponent of European crusades, and those Christians who were seeking shelter while fleeing from Syria.
Lebanon, among Christians in the “unofficial” camps of war survivors
The dilapidated shapes of the shantytown: Today, in this large town located a couple of hundred miles from Beirut, and set on a hill 750 meters above sea level, the real novelty is that the Muslim-Shiite population is increasing before one’s very eyes, while the Christian population is diminishing. In spite of this fact, the face of this town, at least in its appearance, remains unchanged. Just a few kilometers from here, just before Israel’s extreme northern border, when it seems one could touch the rooves of the houses of Metulla, (the last village where the flag with the Star of David flies), one can make out the multicolored stains and the dilapidated shapes of the shantytowns populated by Syrians who continue to arrive from the southern border of their country.
All that is left is to make do: A few kilometers from the small Lebanese city along a beautiful road, between valleys and wide open green spaces, one comes close to the Israeli border, patrolled by members of UNIFIL in white armored vehicles. At the end of a downhill stretch, suddenly appear the tent cities of Syrian refugees: that of Marj El Kohkh and that of Ouazzani. Unofficial estimates speak of close to two million people who have gained entrance into Lebanon, with a population of four million, in an area as large as Abruzzo (1/2 of New Jersey) and more or less invisible on the “radar” of the international humanitarian system of reception. In one of the “unofficial” refuges from the most devastating wars of the last thirty years, the Syrians make do as they can, in part with what they have left, in part with aid, but also by working here and there, helped by Lebanese families of the area, who are the guarantors of their stay.
The seed of abuse: Some of the shop keepers extend credit to them. Some even give them free cooked meals, while still others find various ways of offering spontaneous, free support. “We are Christians,” says one robust deli owner, who proudly shows off a large cross tattooed on his arm. “Are we or are we not all brothers and sisters?” The question put to him is, if the tables were turned, would he expect the same help from his Muslim fellow countrymen? His obviously insincere answer is, “Yes, of course. That’s the way things are done in Lebanon.” It is clear, then, that the Syrians are benefitting from a form of help that contains the seed of abuse. This becomes evident from the stories told by some who live in the camps. Many end up in dramatic and painful situations because some unscrupulous Lebanese take advantage of their “unofficial” status and make them slaves, threatening to withdraw their guarantee, which is the only life line that keeps them from returning to survive under the bombing.
Marj El Kohkh and Ouazzani: These are just two more places of refuge, identical to so many others. There is really no need to describe them: the heavy air that takes your breath away under the tents when it’s hot and the paralyzing chill when it is cold; the dust or mud, the crying of the youngest children, the playful shouts of the older kids as they play soccer, the glances of rage, people’s exhaustion, their eyes lowered in shame and resignation. In some way, they try to defend themselves from a sense of powerlessness, which is perceived by breathing in the strong odors that waft from the shacks made of plastic and pieces of wood, by imagining these people who no longer measure time, as if in a mobile movie set that travels from Sabra and Shatila to Beirut, to the Goudebou camp in Burkina Faso, on the border with Mali, or to Dadaab, in Kenya on the border with Somalia, or yet again to Dakhla, in the southwest of Algeria, in the nothingness of the Sahara desert. It helps to think of them this way because it’s as if they played a part in a tragic film, the true victims of a world order, so many who have understood this, but few who have wanted to make change. It’s true that time is no longer measured, but it still passes and leaves its mark.
By Andrea Bianchessi
Photos by Brett Morton
The face, marked by age, betrays all her 55 years. But the smile and the eyes of Daphrose shine joyously through the deep lines. The three terrible months of genocide in Rwanda, approximately 100 days between April 7 and mid-July 1994, when more than one million people were massacred in her country, have marked her life forever. During that time, she lost her house and saw friends, family, and neighbors brutally assassinated, while she and her 5 children had to flee far from the capital.
Today, some twenty years later, Daphrose has become president of a cooperative that produces and sells coffee in the capital, Kigali. It’s a group of 140 women of all ages, both Hutu and Tutsi, the two ethnicities that faced each other during the genocide. Also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, the Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. Now, they help one another overcome life’s small challenges. When one of the mothers needs to pay a medical bill for her child, or to repair the roof of her home, Daphrose’s cooperative find ways to cover the costs.
“We’ve been working together for ten years now,” recalls Daphrose, “We harvest the coffee, oversee the first drying process of the seeds, and then we sell them - at an honest price. We no longer sell to the first merchant that offers to buy it, often at prices lower than market rate.”
Daphrose’s cooperative is not an isolated case in Rwanda. Her example has been followed by the Urubohero, a group of 90 women who, together, make artisanal products and, never miss the opportunity to welcome visitors with songs and dancing. They produce agaseke, traditional Rwandan colored baskets, as well as bags, soaps, and natural products. They also export their handcrafts abroad, thanks to a collaboration with the local Ministry of Commerce.
The project was an unhoped-for success until 10 years ago, when the Urubohero adventure began with the launch of a self-managed nursery: the mothers would take turns in caring for the children, allowing the others to work to support their families.
Born from the necessity to respond to the great daily challenges that this small country in Sub-Saharan Africa presents them, these little experiences have become examples of success. Thanks also to the work of Lorette Birara, herself a Rwandan forced to flee to Belgium during the genocide, who then returned to contribute to the rebirth of Rwanda. Today, Lorette is the AVSI Foundation Manager in Rwanda. She is in charge of the projects that AVSI, an Italian organization, has been carrying out since 1994, and looks with pride at the fruits of the work of this cooperative that she has helped to support.
“A few years ago, it wasn’t even possible to imagine a peaceful meeting between even ten of these women” Loretta explains. “Now, more than one hundred are working together. A community has been reborn.”
LEBANON: BORN ON MARCH 15, 2011, THE VERY DAY THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR BROKE OUT IN HER COUNTRY, EVENTUALLY LEADING TO THE DEATH OF AT LEAST 250,000 PEOPLE, INAAM HAS KNOWN NOTHING EXCEPT A LIFE SHAPED BY CONFLICT
Dark curly hair. Sweet and piercing eyes. The ability to engage her interlocutor with innocence and, at the same time, ancient wisdom. Inaam is a child of war. During her short but extremely intense lifetime, she has known little but violence, deprivation, and uncertainty. Inaam was born on March 15, 2011, the very day the Syrian Civil War broke out in her country, eventually leading to the death of at least 250,000 people. Since her birth, she has known nothing except a life shaped by conflict. The only place she has learned to call home is the tent where she currently lives with her sisters Shaima and Isram in dusty Marj el Kok, a refugee camp outside Marjayoun, Lebanon. The camp is home to 1,200 Syrian refugees.
“This is her dad,” says Turky Hassam, Inaam's grandmother. “He had many debts back in Syria, so when we fled to Lebanon, he couldn’t join us. He bought a car to support his family, but he wasn’t a good driver, so one day while he was learning how to drive with his cousin, a group of armed man took the car and killed them both.”
“Daddy,” screams the little five-year-old joining the conversation and holding a small and ripped picture of her father.
“I keep showing her the picture, so she can remember him,” explains Turky. “I keep telling her: this is your father. He was a good man.”
As she grows older, every time Inaam sees the picture, she has more questions. Why did they have to leave their house? Why couldn’t her father come with them to Lebanon? Why are they living in a refugee camp? These are questions that haunt not only this five-year-old, but every Syrian child under the age of five. UNICEF estimates that there are 2.9 million children inside Syria and at least 811,000 in neighboring countries who were born since March 2011. In addition, UNICEF reports that since onset of the war, 15,525 unaccompanied and separated minors have crossed Syria’s borders, and an estimated 306,000 Syrian children have been born as refugees.
“It’s the war,” simply answers Turky every time Inaam has a question.
Inaam’s mother remarried a few years ago and moved to Beeka with her new husband. Since then, she rarely visits the girls. Sometimes she calls, but in the last two years she came to visit only once. Turky now takes care of the three sisters with the help of AVSI, an international humanitarian NGO which has been working with Syrian refugees in Marj El Kok since 2011.
“Inaam is a child of war. She has spent her short life running from one village to another, and for the last three years she has been living here in the refugee camp,” tells AVSI’s Lebanon communication officer, Jihane Rahal. “We make sure that these children have access to education, because we believe it is a fundamental tool against violence. We teach them Arabic but also English.”
In Inaam’s camp, like in the others where AVSI works, the priority is formal and non-formal education. Moreover, thanks to a partnership with UNICEF, AVSI has been able to offer Child Protection and GBV (Gender Based Violence) awareness sessions to refugee women. Soon, the NGO will also provide vocational training (sewing, carpets making, etc) to Syrian youth and women inside and outside the camps.
“Since 2011, we have been providing drinking water in the water tanks that the international NGO has placed in most of the camps and we have been distributing food and non-food item kits,” says Marco Perini, AVSI Country Representative in Lebanon. “Last year, we also helped Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqis vulnerable men through a program called Cash for Work. Instead of simply hand them cash, we paid men who live in the camp for their work.”
While the war destroys her country, living in a refugee camp is a hard, but safe choice. When she is not studying, Inaam likes to play with her dolls and run around with her sisters and the other children. Like any other five-year-old child.
“Sometimes, though, I look at them and I notice that they are different from the other children living in the camp…but it’s normal…they don’t have a father…or a mother,” Turky explains. “To make them feel better I keep promising them that soon we will be back home. If God wants, soon we will all be back home. Soon…”
Read, watch, listen and share news and stories of our work, initiatives and more