60 Million Reasons

Dear Friends of RET,

Having just gone through one of the most intense years in my humanitarian career, I wish to introduce this first newsletter of 2016 with a number that has made a profound impression: 60 million. This is the estimated number of persons forcibly displaced due to conflicts, persecutions and disasters at the end of last year. It is by all accounts a massive number, and is actually the highest since the Second World War. What it highlights is that the consequences of such mass migration flows are not likely to fade away quickly. Generations are affected and we face a long decade ahead of us to somewhat ameliorate the tragedies of this past year.

The Syrian Crisis, because of its magnitude, is of course extremely present in the media, but this massive number of 60 million is the result of multiple crises that have been building. It is evermore clear that crises can often last decades. UNHCR announced in its “Global Trends” that the average duration of refugee situations is 20 years. Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, Iraq, Syria and so many more are not crises succeeding each other, rather they overlap concurrently and some, sadly, become “forgotten”.

It has also been obvious for some time now that focusing solely on basic protection needs such as water, hygiene and sanitation is not a viable solution for populations who will remain in fragile environments for years or decades. Past a certain amount of time, protection takes on a broader meaning. Humans are not machines and after a few months, a roof, basic health and food remain necessary, but are no longer sufficient. Neighbouring countries that manage to provide only this basic protection will not remain safe environments if the crisis lasts.

When crises become protracted and protection is not extended to include services such as “survival” education, people will inevitably have to move again. Failing to do so would lead to worse consequences, such as sex and human trafficking, recruitment into armed groups and radicalisation, or simply being “sold” by their families into even earlier marriages than culturally practiced.

The Syrian Crisis, which only really reached European shores in 2015 (almost 5 years after the conflict began), is a clear example of this. A large proportion of Syrians (but also Afghans, Somalis and others) who reach Greece and Italy have gone through or lived in multiple countries first. The UNHCR reports that 34% of Syrians arriving in Greece have lived for 6 months or more in another country before deciding to undertake the journey. Europe is very often not the first choice, but a default option, after many other doors have been closed or the capacities and generosity of nearby host communities have been overwhelmed. Turkey, where 2.7 million Syrians are registered, is a clear example.

Many of the refugees having gone through these extensive ordeals are young people. For example, 29% of Syrians entering the EU are between 15 and 24 years old. At RET, we therefore think that young people are a key population to take into account when working in these complex fragile environments. Our experience working with young people for over 15 years has led us to understand that they represent an essential link to bridge the gaps between humanitarian relief and development aid.

Lately, the international community has been discussing bridging this great divide intensely. The upcoming World Humanitarian Summit will be focussed on this, this week’s World Bank Forum on Fragility, Conflict and Violence has been focussed on this, and of late, the Global Forum on Migration and Development, where I recently spoke, was also focussed on this. Today, more than ever, this bridge between the “humanitarian” and “development” silos and government budgets MUST be built URGENTLY!!!

Though our work with young people, RET has been “bridging these gaps” for over fifteen years. Young people are a key group to do this, as they are already potential actors during an emergency, while also representing the future of their communities. They have important roles in both the present and the future. We also firmly believe that education is the tool which will help them overcome their vulnerabilities. Education is what will allow them to remain in neighbouring host countries, integrate positively into further host countries or be able to go back home an rebuild more stable, prosperous and peaceful communities once the conflict recedes.

The three different regions that we chose to outline in this newsletter represent different stages and characteristics of long lasting crises and showcase the distinctive solutions RET offers. They all, however, focus on a broader view of crises and the central role that young people can play if provided with the necessary tools to confront the risks that conflicts, persecutions or disasters have laid upon them.

The first article, on Turkey, explains our choice of focussing on language skills and vulnerable young women. It also shows that close and respectful collaboration and partnerships with local and national authorities, as well as the international community, are the key to successful implementation.

After Turkey, we bring you some news from our work in Latin America and the Caribbean through an article, as well as, a video. They both highlight the fantastic work of young people who have participated in our projects and who now have become incredibly active and positive leaders of their communities.

Finally, we will go to Eastern Chad, where we have been working for over 12 years, to shine a light on a crisis that has dropped out of the headlines. We also propose a short video on these young refugees in Chad some of whom have just obtained their Bachelor’s degree through tertiary education scholarships managed by RET. Yes! It is also essential to talk about what works and we are happy to end the newsletter on such a positive note. Congratulations to the recent graduates!

I hope you will enjoy the news we have prepared for you, may it be in English, French, Spanish or Turkish, as all these articles are translated and the videos contain subtitles in all 4 languages.

It is a pleasure to have you as Friends of the RET, and I really encourage that, given the severity of the current crises our world faces, we all become “Advocates” of RET’s causes and mandates. Let us take steps together to solve the problems faced by vulnerable young people and see them build a path to their future and ours.

Warmest regards,