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International Women's Day 2016

Photo Source: Rex Features

Today we celebrate International Women's day, a day filled with recognizing social, economic, cultural and political achievements made by women around the world. With that in mind, a volunteer from our marketing team would like to share a personal message.

My name is Margo Klimowicz and I was born in Poland. In 1989, our family friends sponsored my family and I to start a new life in Canada. We landed at the Edmonton International Airport on October 31st – Halloween!

Luckily, I was born with a great sense of adventure, so at the tender age of 8, I was a girl with not a care in the world and no idea of the sacrifice leaving Europe would mean. I reflect on those times quite differently as a 34-year-old woman and see my mother’s courage amidst certain strife. My mother’s work ethic and sacrifice has been key to the person I am today—a professional photographer. On this International Women’s Day, I honour my mother and all of the brave women who are coming to North America from Syria and all around the globe.

In the 1980s, Poland was under communist rule, and the economic situation was so poor that my parents had to wait in line for hours at the grocery store for a loaf of bread. These are the realities of a country under strife. Listening to my parents’ and grandparents’ stories about those times makes me wonder at the brave decision they made to leave our home country. 

And although we were welcomed in Canada, there is a sense of community that we left behind. My name is Margo now—but my birth name is Malgorzata and nicknames include Malgosia and Gosia. My family and closest friends affectionately call me by these names, and since they are from my mother tongue, I have a sense of belonging whenever I hear them. There are many things I miss about Poland and I don’t get to visit as often as I’d like. I wonder if the refugees fleeing Syria wonder whether they’ll see their motherland again.

As we welcome new families into Canada, I hope we are aware of the challenges they will be facing, from basic to more trivial difficulties including language barriers, education equivalency, lack of income, house security, and acceptance. The amount of work that new immigrants have to face is emotionally exhausting. Immigration puts a monumental strain on even the strongest families.

No matter what our struggles were, I know my parents moved us to Canada for better opportunities, and out of gratitude, I choose to give back to others that are facing the same challenges.

On this International Women’s Day I honour my mother. As I volunteer with Peace Geeks going forward I am proud to know that I can help new families during their transition. After all, that’s a big part of what life is about – helping each other and caring for those we love.

Mar 8, 2016
Category: Thematic Issues

After Paris: Canada's Continued Commitment to Refugees from Syria and the World

There are an estimated 60 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world today.

An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the onset of civil war in the country in 2011. Most remain internally displaced with the UN estimating there are 12.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid within the wartorn country.

A further 4 million have fled to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Turkey alone hosts more than 2 million refugees.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees are making their way into Europe; Germany has resettled close to 700,000 so far in 2015.

The numbers are overwhelming. The statistics sometimes drown out the stories, rendering the crisis impersonal, distant and foreign. It is hard for the average citizen in a peaceful, prosperous country to empathize with each victim of war, natural disaster, and famine.

And yet, it is the human stories of the Syrian crisis, the faces and names, that have struck the deepest chords. The body of little Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, galvanized the global media and started a long overdue conversation about the fate of Syrian refugees and the responsibilities of Western nations.

The attacks in Paris initially threatened to derail that conversation, triggering xenophobic backlash in many places. Fortunately, the tragedy has also served up examples of compassion, tolerance and humanity. President Hollande of France recently announced that his country will be increasing the number of refugees it accepts this year from 24,000 to 30,000 - an increase of 25%.

And while the Syrian refugee crisis currently holds the Western world’s attention,  it is important to realize that Syrians are not the only refugees in the world nor are they the only ones that Canada receives. In 2014, Canada admitted 2,890 Iraqi refugees. When listed by the number of refugees admitted to Canada in 2014, Syria was actually sixth. Canada admitted 1,290 refugees from Syria, compared to 1,725 from Eritrea and 1,340 from the Congo.

When we consider the role that Canada plays in addressing the global refugee crisis, we have to look beyond the numbers. Canadians are often unaware of the reality refugees face on arriving here. And that's after they undergo an intense and time consuming process.

Government assisted refugees in Canada have to pay their own refugee application fee, airfare and any costs related to mandatory medical examinations. Those who are not able to do so may receive loans from the Citizenship and Immigration Canada. These must be paid back with interest; some refugees end up with rates as high as 9%. For a group with unemployment rates twice as high as the national average, this can be extremely difficult.

Canada is known as a welcoming country for immigrants, often attracting the most immigrants per capita of the G8 countries.  And yet, Canadians are remarkably intolerant of illegal immigration, with two-thirds of Canadians favouring deportation for illegal immigrants, compared to only one quarter of Americans.

With our secure southern border, the Arctic to the north and ocean to the east and west, Canada is in a position of privilege when it comes to being selective about who we allow within our borders. This begs the question - how much of our open-door policy is predicated on geography?

Prime Minister Trudeau has vowed to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year’s end. He is facing opposition on multiple fronts, from premiers to petitions from citizens asking that refugees not be resettled in their areas. But there are reasons for hope. Expressions of solidarity and compassion shine out from the racism and fear. Here in Vancouver, a local real estate developer is refurbishing and furnishing a property he owns to provide temporary accommodation for refugees. Many Canadian media outlets have stepped up to remind us that we are a nation of immigrants and refugees, an important fact to remember in the face of the current refugee crisis. In the face of concern about extremist terrorists entering Canada via the refugee process, the Globe and Mail offered this:

Canada’s best defences against radicalization are its inherent decency, its generosity and its acceptance of all cultures. Our values, and our expression of them, have never been more important than now.

Written by Jasmine Sealy and Shannon Waters

Nov 22, 2015

New Paths: How Social Media & Technology are Changing Refugee Journeys

For many, the words ‘social media’ conjure images of cat videos, photos of acquaintance’s dinner plates and hashtags on Twitter. But social media’s potential as a tool for information dissemination and individual empowerment is vast and only beginning to be recognized. Social media and communication technologies present an opportunity for individuals and institutions to challenge powerful political actors and enhance the efforts of an organized public sphere. Social media provides additional strategies for digital refugees to flee dangerous situations. It eases access to information, facilitates group coordination and supports free public speech. It helps organized groups share knowledge and mobilize members efficiently.

Social media empowers any user of an internet-connected device to quickly and independently publish information. It can be an effective tool to help displaced citizens assume control over available communications systems and regain the power to control information flow, maintain a sense of social stability, protect the vulnerable and address the public sphere.
Social media has become an essential tool for Syrian refugees and the organizations trying to support them. Mobile phone use is the predominant method of communication among Syrians and 49% of citizens in the Middle East have internet access (^). There are approximately 87 registered phones per 100 residents in the region.

Not all refugees have access to social media. In Africa, only 27% of the population has access to the internet and certain areas, like Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, have access rates of less than 25%. In places like these, social media is less effective as a strategy for refugees.

Syrian refugees make use of technology to communicate with aid actors and with each other. They use sites like Google Maps to navigate politically and geographically complex routes to sanctuary. First-hand stories told in images and sound bites also help bring refugee experiences directly to the global community in a vivid way. That community can then use social media to share posts and links; volunteers and refugees can share firsthand content to makes appeals for aid and document abuses.

Twitter categorizes shared posts and links, making it easier for many-to-many conversations and opinion sharing to occur. Currently, the top three refugee-related hashtags are #syria, #humanrights and #refugee.

For more in-depth conversations and engagement, Facebook is the user’s choice. Individuals can post content and have one-on-one conversations within organized groups; they can share relevant posts and participate in multi-layered conversations. 

Zaatari Camp Coordination is a Facebook page that functions as a media outlet for the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which currently accommodates more than 80, 000 refugees. The Facebook translate feature gives non-Arabic speakers access to the events and conditions in the busy camp. The UN High Commission on Refugees says that Facebook use by ground level coordinators is an efficient distribution method and better for information that requires trust than Twitter; however, information published on FB does not elicit the degree of trust that face-to-face conversation does. The reliability of the information source is crucial, especially when bad information can  mean the worst outcome.

Social media and communication technology can make it easier for refugees to make their way to a new life but not all refugees have access to these tools. Those with low incomes may not be able to afford the necessary devices. Some refugees originate from areas where there is little access to the internet. The challenge is to reflect on internet penetration statistics as a rough measure of power in the public sphere and to provide connectivity to all.  Internet and social media is increasingly seen as an important human right. Accessibility and evenness of distribution is integral to the role of social media and communication technology as a global, humanitarian asset.

Communication technology can facilitate groundbreaking social change  in situations where the infrastructure and integrity of traditional media has been compromised. Social media places the power of storytelling in the hands of any individual with a capable device and an internet connection. It creates the potential for a well-rounded public sphere and provides an excellent wayfinding system for refugees in transit - but only if Internet and social media are accessible and uncensored.

Nov 9, 2015

Services Advisor Continues Helping Refugees in Jordan

We’ve seen them on our TV screens and the covers of newspapers. They’ve been called migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, displaced people. Their situation has been described as desperate, a crisis, a diaspora the likes of which has not been seen since World War II.

As of June 2015, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reported that over 61 million people worldwide were displaced due to conflict, discrimination and disaster - the highest the largest single year over year increase ever. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It supports host countries through refugee intake and the coordination of relief services.

For the 20 million refugees who cross into host countries, finding information on the specific support they need to get settled can be a significant challenge. In some cases, the issue is not lack of services but lack of awareness about where to find information on available services. In addition, while many refugees are aware of the existence of essential services such as food, cash assistance and shelter, many remain unaware of other services such a legal advice, support for survivors of domestic violence and psychosocial support. In a study conducted by UN Women in Jordan, 83% of women and girls surveyed had no knowledge of any services in support of victims of gender-based violence.

For example, Jordan hosts more than 650,000 refugees, mostly Syrians fleeing civil war. More than 60 organizations have provided services in hundreds of locations across Jordan, yet until recently, there was no single accessible tool where refugees and service providers could search on up-to-date information about these services.

To address this issue, PeaceGeeks and the UNHCR launched Services Advisor in the fall of 2014. Designed to connect refugees to information on the services they most need, this application enables users to search a map and directory of humanitarian services based on key filters such as service category, organization, proximity and GPS coordinates.

In April 2015, PeaceGeeks and UNHCR Jordan hosted a workshop with Syrian refugees in Jordan to collect feedback on the current prototype, assess the value of this tool to refugees and UNHCR Jordan, and solicit input on how to improve the app. While we learned that there is indeed a strong and persistent need for a tool like Services Advisor, the workshop also revealed several key areas for improvement. These include performance, user experience and analytics, which have been built into the Services Advisor 1.0 application version, which launched in September 2015.

Its impact is getting noticed. In the video, Skynews Arabia speaks with a representative of the UNHCR in Jordan. They discuss the UNHCR’s efforts to open communications with refugees and help them find the services they need when they first arrive in unfamiliar surroundings.

PeaceGeeks is committed to including refugee voices towards improving the Services Advisor Application. We look forward  to continuing to expand the capabilities of Services Advisor in partnership with UNHCR Jordan, in order to better serve the refugees who rely on humanitarian services to launch new lives free from of conflict.

Oct 14, 2015


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