Tag Archives: Refugees


Starving for awareness

By Francisco Toro

Like most right-thinking people, I had decided to devote 1 July to football. After Argentina’s grinding, 1-0 defeat of Switzerland, I was getting ready to enjoy the USA-Belgium match, when a link on Twitter caught my eye. “As food shortages hit 800,000 African refugees,” warned the press release, “UNHCR and WFP issue urgent appeal.”

The story is entirely garish: the kind of too-awful-to-be-true story we’ve all gotten so adept at seeing-and-not-seeing. Due a budget shortfall, UN agencies had to cut food rations for refugees throughout Africa. In some cases, people are getting as much as 60% less to eat. The new rations, The Guardian warned, come to scarcely 850 calories a day.

We’re all supposed to be grown ups, able to read-but-not-read a story like that, right? And yet, this time, I couldn’t. As I tried to concentrate on the USMNT’s valiant-but-doomed stand against the tactically superior Belgians, my mind kept drifting back.

“850 calories. How can you even live on that?”

One day's rations
One day’s rations – 150g sorghum, 30g lentils, 25g oil, 5g salt, 5g sugar

I think most people who go into advocacy have a moment like that, when a story not so different from the ones you’re used to just passing over stays with you, tugs at you, worms its way into your every thought, becomes unignorable. That night, I found myself up at 3am, turning it over on my mind, re-reading the UNHCR story, looking for extra information (of which there wasn’t any).

I guess I’m pretty green on these issues, because I really thought over the next few days I’d start to see this story crop up other places. I mean, this is a famine brewing inside UN facilities, affecting people living under the international community’s protection. Surely the story had legs.

The days went by, and I found myself first confused, then dismayed, and finally shocked to be disabused of this hope. The story about the food crisis inside UNHCR refugee camps was going absolutely nowhere. It came, it blipped, it disappeared into the digital oblivion of a public sphere saturated with football and Hobby Lobby and downed Malaysia Airlines jets.

“These Africans sure picked a lousy weak for the UN to run out of money to feed them,” I mused darkly and tried to move on. But I couldn’t move on. I was stuck.

“How would you like it if you had to live on…” I found myself ranting at my wife. And at that moment, the idea came to me.

By the end of that week, a first draft of 850 Calories was online, and I was frantically trying to figure out how to get people to join me. I bet if people experienced for themselves what it’s like to live for even one day on African refugee rations, they wouldn’t be comfortable to know this is happening to 800,000 people whose only “crime” is fleeing from conflicts that threatened their lives.

So there’s indignation, of course, at the wellspring of the campaign, but there’s also analysis. There’s a reason UNHCR and WFP face the kind of funding gap that’s left them no choice but to drastically cut back on African refugees’ food rations. And it comes back to that complete information gap I saw in the days following their joint appeal. Nobody’s heard this story, so nobody cares to tell this story, so nobody writes this story – with some very few, fantastically brave exceptions.

Refugees in Central Africa are suspended in a vicious cycle of Western disengagement and international neglect, the cost of which is measured in stunted children, anemic mothers, child brides and community breakdown. The Western politicians who ultimately control the purse-strings find it eminently easy to ignore the agencies’ pleas for money, because none of their constituents have ever heard this story, and they’re thus under no pressure whatsoever to act.

This, I think, is why 850 Calories is different from things like One Day without Shoes or the infamous Kony2012 campaign. Those are cases where the fact of Western awareness, of it “being a thing,” didn’t necessarily do anything to solve the problem. Shoelessness is an intractable problem, and Boko Haram is a war machine the West would struggle to face down even if it made military commitments many orders of magnitude larger than what hastagtivism can accomplish.

But the food crisis inside UNHCR’s camps is different. Here’s a situation where, in fact, just making it “a thing” would produce pressure for Western politicians to solve the problem. If people start to take the 850 challenge, post about it, tweet about it, get their friends doing it and get them posting and thinking about it, the problem could go from total invisibility to cultural ubiquity a lot quicker than folks realize. That would create the kind of environment in which politicians have strong reasons to fund the UNHCR-WFP appeal, and the funding is all that’s missing now. After all, the camps are already there, the refugees are already registered, the logistics are already in place, the only thing missing is the money. Well, the money, and the will.

850 Calories is just starting, and I have no idea if it’ll ever have its “viral” moment. Experts tell me that, with its absence of a clearly identifiably bad guy and its focus on a largely unheard-of crisis, it may not.

It may be that we just let refugees in Central Africa starve to death slowly under our “protection.” That’s the crude reality – the least we can do is face it squarely.

I’m just one guy with a keyboard in Montreal. It may be that there isn’t really anything I can do to stop that. But Thomas Friedman’s been boring us to death for years now about how we’re all “hyper-empowered” thanks to the net and, personally, I’d much rather give it a shot and fail than never try at all.

Francisco Toro is a Montreal-based journalist, blogger and activist. He blogs at Boring Development, and you can follow him on Twitter.


Tony Abbott’s business proposal for an Indonesian fisherman

On the 23rd August 2013, Australian Prime Minister-in-waiting Tony Abbott announced a new policy of regional deterrence for asylum seekers hoping to settle in Australia. The policy included the ability to buy un-seaworthy boats from Indonesian fishermen. (Otherwise known as the boat-buy back scheme.) This policy would ensure that the boats did not end up in the hands of people smugglers, and be responsible for the drownings of asylum seekers at sea.

In an exclusive for WhyDev, I managed to dig up the original email that Abbott sent to Indonesian fishermen. It is clearly inspired by the Nigerian bank scams that anyone with an email address is sure to be familiar with. This exclusive correspondence is below:


Dear Respected Indonesian Fisherman,


Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business relationship with you. I got your contact from the International web site directory. I prayed over it and selected your name among other names due to it’s esteeming nature and the recommendations given to me as a reputable and trust worthy person I can do business with and by the recommendations I must not hesitate to confide in you for this simple and sincere business.

I am Anthony John Abbott, the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Henry Abbott. My father was English-born and I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. However, my father moved our family in 1960 to Australia by boat and we settled in northern Sydney. Although I attended a Catholic seminary, I am now an elected representative of the Australian people. Recently, with the death of the Australian Labor Party, the Treasury secretly told me that they have a sum of $20.000.000 (Twenty Million Dollars) for a policy of the regional deterrence of people smuggling left in a suspense account in the Treasury in Canberra.

It was also explained to me that because of the extraordinary number of boats and asylum seekers making their way to Australia, that I should seek for a God fearing foreign partner in a country of my choice where I will transfer this money and use it for buying back their fishing boats. Sir, we are honourably seeking your assistance in the following ways.

  1. To provide a Bank account where this money will be transferred to.
  2. Handing over of your fishing boat vessel upon receipt of Bank transfer.

Moreover, we are willing to offer you a bounty payment for specific information that leads to the arrest of people smugglers in your village.  Please feel free to contact me via this email address:


Anticipating to hear from you soon.

Thanks and God Bless

Best Regards

The Honourable Anthony John Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia





Refugee policy debate needs Joan of Arc

Marianne Jago-Bassingthwaighte is an international development professional, zen student, writer, mentor and aid heretic. Her new blog “Inside Out Development” launches next week, where she will publish a longer version of this article. For more info email her at mariannejago@yahoo.com.au and she will excitedly add you to her blog list. 

In Australia we are in caretaker period, the lull before the federal election storm. The hysteria over where to send “illegal refugees” who arrive in Australia, or who die trying, has reached fever pitch. It’s all ending in tears. It’s time for me for me to dry mine, buckle up my boots, and wade into the policy arena.

This epidemic of nastiness toward refugees took on a new strain in August 2013. The incumbent government, trailing in the polls, outdid itself by promising to send Australian-bound “boat people” to neighbouring Papua New Guinea, a highly underdeveloped country largely unable to care for its own population, for processing and yes, resettlement. To me this seems remarkably like a f*** off refugees policy.

It is worth noting that that under the current system, almost 90% of asylum seekers’ claims to refugee status  have been ultimately accepted under Australian migration law, meaning they have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their home country.

These people include the Hazaras, a case demonstrating one small piece of DoubleThink that I can’t get past. Many “boat people” are Hazaras fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, where oddly enough our own troops and aid workers, are standing up to the Taliban because they randomly persecute people (like Hazaras).

Do forgive me but I can’t make out the logic here. We endanger our soldiers and aid workers to protect the lives of Hazaras in Afghanistan and we would also send Hazara boat people to Papua New Guinea because they are “illegal queue jumpers” and because “we will decide” who comes to Australia.


How did Hazaras go from being worthy of protection to being worthy of demonization and abandonment? Might it be because they fled the country in which they were being persecuted and had the gall to seek asylum in Australia?  I’m pretty sure that’s what I’d be doing if I were Hazara.

There is plenty of information in the public domain to refute the slogans that the major parties are propagating in their demonization of refugees, such as the fact that all refugees were asylum seekers at some point, and that it isn’t illegal to seek asylum.

There has also been some serious policy work done which points to the need for a bi-partisan, regional solution that isn’t just about buying off the neighbouring country that can least refuse.

But this isn’t going to excite the voting public, at least not in the way a great piece of self-aggrandising bastardry does. To be frank: I’m holding out for a hero from among the major parties and all I’m getting are lies lies and not even any damn statistics to back them up.

Soon, one of the main two political parties will be in power, and neither has a credible refugee policy. I am fairly resigned now to this, and am flirting with the idea of a donkey vote, or even abstaining altogether.  But try as I might, I just can’t seem to disengage.

In an effort to be the change I want to see in the world, last week I wrote an impassioned letter telling our Dear Leader that sending refugees to Papua New Guinea is not only craven but is also in breach of our international legal obligations. I didn’t mention the stash of cash taken from the aid budget ostensibly to fund periods of prolonged detention offshore for asylum seekers.

Here is the letter’s high point, if I may say:

Finally, please could you provide me with the costing estimates of this “PNG solution”, in particular the fees being earned by the private security company to whom you have entrusted responsibility for the success of this policy. Please note I plan to withhold from further tax payments my portion of funds that would fund your PNG asylum seeker policy.

Striving for politeness and decorum, I signed the letter Sincerely. I took some deep breaths to calm myself down having worked myself up in service of humanity. I followed Amnesty International’s campaign instructions and sent  it to both the PM’s office and to the office of the Minister for Immigration. I have sought Divine Guidance – specifically from Joan of Arc – and now rise, phoenix-like from these policy ashes.

Here are the responses I received (Amnesty take note):

From the PM’s proxy people:

“If you wish to contact Prime Minister Rudd during this (caretaker) period, please direct your enquiries through the Labor Party website.”

There is nowhere on the website to submit letters.

From Tony Burke MP’s proxy people:

“Please note that this is Tony’s email address for electorate…matters. If you are writing to Tony in his capacity as (Immigration) Minister…please email minister@immi.gov.au”.

It’s true. I wrote to the Minister and he said I had to write to the Minister.

How is one to make meaning of all this? I’ve heard it said that good and evil oppose each other, contain each other, and this is the nature of things. Perhaps we in Australia are given this refugee rejection business as an opportunity to show our better selves: our tolerance, our irreverence for authority, our love of the underdog.

I am not hopeful that this election will produce a fair outcome for refugees but something good has come of it for me. I have connected with a community of practitioners using its considerable skills and integrity to help refugees seeking asylum in Australia. They are fearless and determined, and I feel only admiration and relief when I hear of their efforts.

Perhaps its time I joined them.

Learn more about the work of the Refugee Council of Australia.


We are not refugees

On 19 July, the Australian Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, spelled the beginning of the end for the Refugee Convention. For at least the next 12 months, all asylum seekers arriving by boat will be transferred to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. In addition, those asylum seekers who are determined to be refugees will be resettled, not in Australia, but in Papua New Guinea. I put together a reader’s digest of media from far more well-informed writers who look at this agreement from every which angle. My intention with this post is slightly different than the commentary to date.

Photo credit: Joel Gibson

Owing to the sense of justice and compassion many of my friends on Facebook and Twitter have, the latest policy development was greeted with barely concealed rage. Many reflexively stated, “I am ashamed to be Australian”. I did not. I am not ashamed, but not because I do not feel a deep sense of injustice. It is because I am not a refugee. I probably never will be. I think my friends are ashamed because its got them questioning like the Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the love?” They are ashamed because they empathise with these asylum seekers: who they are, what they have been through, and what the future holds. But, we don’t know. We can’t empathise. We are not refugees (yes, inspiration here). I am not a refugee.

I am a white male, 29 years old with a great education and financial security. I have never been in conflict. I have always lived in peaceful countries. I can move across borders with ease. I have multiple forms of proof of identity. Yes, I have worked with refugees and they have shared their stories with me, a stranger. But, I will not have to live with the direct consequences of this new policy. I know ‘seeking asylum is a human right’ as a legal concept, but cannot begin to fathom what it feels like to seek asylum. I have not experienced persecution, witnessed the massacre of family and friends or feared for my life every day. Nor am I the person, the voter, this policy and advertisement above is designed to appeal to for the upcoming Australian federal election.

I am not a HR manager in Australia from Rwanda who grew up in a refugee camp in Tanzania and has no sympathy for boat arrivals because I see them as wealthy people able to purchase a seat from people smugglers. I am not a nurse on a temporary work visa from Goa, India, who has to pay for public health and education services until I become a permanent resident. I do not have a husband, who has to work two jobs, both at minimum wage, to pay for my children’s education and see every boat arrival as another 100 people who will push my chance at permanent residency further down the queue.

I am not a refugee. I am not a migrant. I am in no-man’s land. Seemingly powerless, yet all powerful.

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. How do I empathise with the trauma, stress and fear of asylum seekers and refugees? When I was a history teacher, I would design empathy activities for my students studying trench warfare in WWI. We would read primary sources, examine photographs and read about the effects of mustard gas. The students would then have to write a letter, as a soldier, to a loved-one describing how they felt, their environment, their day-to-day existence. I did similar exercises when I was a student. We would read poems like Wilfred Owen’s horrifying Dulce Et Decorum Est, which still shocks me:

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Many refugees are displaced by conflict, and those from Syria may well have experienced the “misty panes and thick green light” of a gas attack. I cannot empathise with an Australian solider in WWI who suffered a mustard gas attack at Flanders nor a Syrian refugee in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan who suffered a sarin gas attack in Homs.

The notion of ‘identifiable victim bias’ is often evoked when talking about empathy; that by and large people will identify more with Hannah, a girl of five, who is missing in Sydney, than with a boat of 120 nameless and faceless asylum seekers from Sri Lanka off the coast of western Australia. And it is from such a bias that we make moral judgements in the politics of empathy. Paul Bloom, in a recent New Yorker article argues that “Too often, our concern for specific individuals today means neglecting crises that will harm countless people in the future.”

He goes onto state that the act of making moral judgements, of empathy, is more than putting oneself in another’s shoes. As is the case with the Rwandan HR manager and the Indian nurse, empathy for others does not often extend beyond the tribe, beyond the family. Empathy begins at home. Paraphrasing Jeremy Rifkin and others, Bloom argues that the best hope is not to get others to think of all of humanity as family, that is impossible, but to appreciate “the fact that, even if we don’t empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value as the lives of those we love.”

I am not a refugee. I cannot empathise with a Hazara refugee girl living in limbo in Indonesia waiting for UNHCR to determine her refugee status. Nor will I be ashamed to be an Australian, and let the Australian Government be the arbiter of my moral judgements. I will make my own moral judgements, which is to place the same value on the life of an asylum seeker and refugee as I would on the life of my mother, my father and my brother.

Credit: Joel Gibson. Notice the lack of asylum seekers on the boat (photoshop) and that fact that a 1300 number cannot be called from overseas.

Australia’s PNG solution to refugees: A digest

This is a digest of news, opinions, comments and announcements concerning the recent agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) to process asylum seekers and refugees. The so-called ‘PNG Solution’ will see all asylum seekers and refugees, who are travelling to Australia by boat, transferred to Manus Island for processing. Those determined to be refugees will be resettled not in Australia, but in PNG. The agreement is valid for 12 months.

Pre-19th July: Rumours & preparation

Australia, PNG ‘mindful’ of UN criticism on refugees – AFP, GlobalPost

‘Rudd said Australia and PNG were working together against “our common enemy — people smugglers”.’

Explainer: Australia’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention – Azadeh Dastyari, The Conversation

“It is important to note that the term “asylum seeker” does not exist under the convention but is a politically expedient label given to people who are seeking recognition of their refugee status. Many asylum seekers (90% of those who have come to Australia in recent years by boat) are in fact refugees and have rights under the convention, regardless of whether or not Australia has processed their claim or recognised their refugee status.”

Boats ‘our problem’ not the world’s: Tony Abbott – Judith Ireland, The Age

”’I say to Mr Rudd: stop making excuses, stop trying to say this is the world’s problem, it’s not. It’s our problem and we need to take the appropriate action in this country, by this country, for this country to stop the boats and we need to do it now,” Mr Abbott said.’

Labor to lean on Papua New Guinea for help – Paul Maley & Dennis Shanahan, The Australian

“It is understood Australia hopes to transfer failed Iranian asylum-seekers, considered by the government to be economic migrants, to PNG, creating an incentive for them to voluntarily return home.”

You’ve been misled on boat people: Here are the facts – Julian Burnside, The Age

19th July: Announcement

Mr Rudd goes to Moresby – Karl Claxton, The Strategist

“And he went to Moresby prepared to offer major concessions to O’Neill’s three priorities for the relationship: re-establishing an AFP presence in key centres; focusing AusAID support even more on Moresby’s four priority ‘pillars’ of health, education, infrastructure, and law and justice; and introducing symbolic measures to reduce irritation with our stringent visa requirements.”

Rudd announces deal to send all asylum boat arrivals to Papua New GuineaGuardian

“All asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement and none will be allowed to stay in the country, the prime minister has announced, as he sent out a draconian pre-election message that Australia’s borders are closed to refugees.”

Immigration department launches ad campaign to back asylum policy – Guardian

Credit: Joel Gibson. Notice the lack of asylum seekers on the boat (photoshop) and that fact that a 1300 number cannot be called from overseas.
Credit: Joel Gibson. Notice the lack of asylum seekers on the boat (photoshop) and that fact that a 1300 number cannot be called from overseas.

Christine Milne laments ‘Australia’s day of shame’ on asylum – Oliver Laughland, Guardian

‘Milne looked visibly moved as she continued: “The agreement that the prime minister has signed with the prime minister of PNG is ruthless and repugnant. It is in complete contravention with our moral obligations under the refugee convention.”’

Rudd’s masterstroke. All boat people now to go to PNG – Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun

“Kevin Rudd’s deal with PNG is undeniably impressive – even if the costs are yet to be explained. It neutralises Tony Abbott’s stop-the-boats attack.”

UNHCR statement on new asylum agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea – UNHCR

“UNHCR has not been involved in this agreement, and we are at present seeking further detail from the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea of its content.”

PNG move proves Australia is not special – Frank Brennan, Eureka Street

20th July: Indignation & prep for the Monday rush

Impotence – Jason Wilson, Detritus

“What it is not is a sign of a politicised racism among the Australian people. This specific policy is an artefact of political strategy, no more and no less.”

Does the PM really want refugees to love PNG? – Tom Iggulden, The Drum

Asylum seekers: Australia’s day of shame – Christine Milne, Guardian

“Far from “boundless plains to share”, Australia has sent a message to the world that we are a closed community willing to pay off anyone to get rid of an electoral problem. It’s Labor to the rotten core. It shames us all, because we are better than that.”

PNG deal – regional solution or co-dependency – Gerhard Hoffstaedter, Anthropolitics

“This creates a co-dependency that is based on substantial Australian financial aid (to be largely carried by the aid budget) for the acceptance of our refugees. This sets worrying precedents for how our aid budget is spent (already Australia is the third biggest recipient of Australian foreign aid after PNG and Indonesia) and how dependent we will be in regards to our refugee treaty obligations that will be effectively serviced by PNG.”

The PNG Solution and the ‘perspective of those who suffer’ – Jeff Sparrow, Overland

“Indeed, Rudd’s announcement draws attention to a topic about which liberal Australia scarcely likes to think: namely, Australia’s role as an imperial power in the Pacific, behaving in the region much as the US does throughout the world.”

Refugees one of PNG’s many problems – David Flitton, The Border Mail

“The murder rate in PNG is 13 times that in Australia – and closer to strife-torn Sierra Leone, according to most recent World Health Organisation figures.”

7 reasons K Rudd PNG “Plan” is Illegal - Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

21st July: One less detention centre

Nauru riot: 125 asylum seekers arrested – AP Canberra, Guardian

“The remaining 420 asylum seekers had been transferred to tents at a second detention camp under construction on another part of the tiny atoll, which is home to fewer than 10,000 people, the spokeswoman said.”

Media Release: JRS calls on the Australian government to reveal true cost of PNG policy and to strengthen safe pathways – Oliver White, JRS Australia

22nd July: The analysis begins

Rudd’s boat people deal does not say what Rudd promises – Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun

The PNG solution: as harsh as it is unprecedented – Maria O’Sullivan, The Age

“Of major concern is that Papua New Guinea is in fact a producer of refugee applicants. It is therefore puzzling that Australia would seek to transfer asylum seekers there for processing and protection. The Australian Refugee Review Tribunal has granted refugee status to people fleeing persecution from PNG in recent years, many of whom are women.”

PNG Cannot Afford This Policy – Kristian Lasslett New Matilda

“Did anyone in government consider the practicalities of resettling refugees in PNG? Approximately 85 per cent of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas. Their access to land – which is essential to livelihoods – is assured through a customary system of tenure that is organised along kinship lines. Land ownership in rural areas will thus be barred to refugees, because they have no connection with indigenous clans and lineages so vital to rural life in PNG.”

Rudd’s hard-line approach will be disastrous – Victoria Stead, The Age

“Rudd may or may not realise how ill thought out it is. With an election on the horizon, and with this smacking every bit of a cynical move to garner votes, he may or may not care.”

Asylum seekers to receive hostile reception in PNG: local governor – ABC News

‘The governor of Oro province, Gary Zuffa, has told 702 ABC Sydney the decision to settle refugees in Papua New Guinea could be very divisive. “Who’s going to finance that re-settlement? I’m assuming that Australia is,” he said. “If Australia is going to finance that re-settlement, then that’s going to create a bit of hostility from the local population because these people will be given funds to start a new business, start a new life.’

Papua New Guinea villagers the new refugee victims – Peter Michael, The Telegraph

“His shanty town, opposite the airport in Port Moresby, has been identified as a potential new site where genuine asylum seekers would be resettled in Papua New Guinea under the deal.”

Kevin Rudd’s boat plan starts to leak as rejected refugees left in limbo – David Crowe & Michael McKenna, The Australian

“With the Nauru centre destroyed and the Manus Island facility still a fraction of its planned capacity of 3000 people, the Rudd government must find more locations for people who are not considered genuine refugees.”

Boats, aid and the art of the possible – Gary Hogan, The Interpreter

“A cargo cult mentality is alive and well in PNG and this afforded the necessary levers for the Australian prime minister to pull so deftly in his game-changing policy statement, which will almost certainly stem boat arrivals in the near term, until people smugglers and Australian activists are able to find paths around the absolutist decree that even legitimate asylum-seekers will now not find sanctuary in Australia.”

Burke admits failed asylum seekers could be detained indefinitely in PNG – Lenore Taylor, Guardian

‘He said failed asylum seekers would have three options. “One, they remain in detention. Two, they return to their home country. Three, they get settled in another country where they have a right of residence.’

Captain Rudd steers Australia into new depths of shame – David Marr, Guardian

“That it’s brilliant politics is a mark of how debased the politics of the boats has become.”

Regional Settlement Arrangement with PNG – The Drum

“Below is a verbatim reproduction of the text signed by prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Peter O’Neill on Friday, July 19, 2013.”

First group of asylum seekers transferred to PNG under new government policy - Department of Immigration of Citizenship

Source: https://twitter.com/s_bridges/status/359157991997591552/photo/1
Source: https://twitter.com/s_bridges/status/359157991997591552/photo/1

Rudd’s PNG solution will work, but it isn’t right – Khalid Koser, The Interpreter

“Nevertheless, from a political and policy perspective, Mr Rudd has done things right. But has he done the right thing? I don’t think so.”

Australia’s deal with Papua New Guinea is vulture capitalism at its worst – Antony Loewenstein, Guardian

“The problem has never been that Australia gives too much aid; it’s that we’re throwing huge amounts of money to avoid a failed state on our doorstep by backing rapacious mining interests and overpaid consultants”.

Attentiveness and indifference – Klaus Neumann, Inside Story

“Two cases from Europe show that there are other ways of understanding irregular migrants”.

Blogger says Australia has neocolonial attitude to PNG – Radio Australia

23rd July: On closer inspection

Sydney Morning Herald cartoon. Source: https://twitter.com/cathywilcox1/status/359445452602613761/photo/1
Sydney Morning Herald cartoon. Source: https://twitter.com/cathywilcox1/status/359445452602613761/photo/1

Rampaging soldiers at the Moresby medical school: implications for Rudd’s PNG solution – Stephen Howes, Devpolicy

“But, whatever the legislative problems, the real weakness in PNG is implementation: getting things done.”

What would a truly regional asylum arrangement look like? – Maria O’Sullivan, The Conversation

“The EU asylum system shows it is possible for signatories to the refugee convention to transfer asylum seekers between one another. However, and it is a big “however”, certain regional standards and mechanisms must be in place for this to occur.”

What will happen to gay asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea? – Senthorun Raj, Guardian

“However, little has yet been said about another important question: how will lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) asylum seekers fare in a place where their identity is a cause for criminal sanction?”

Unapologetic Rudd anticipates legal challenge to new policy – Bianca Hall, The Age

“It comes as a legal expert described the policy as ”much more extreme” than the ill-fated Malaysia solution, which was thrown out by the High Court in 2011.”

The PNG Solution Won’t Stop Deaths At Sea – Ben Eltham, New Matilda

“Concentrate, just for a moment, on the overriding reason this Labor Government is advancing for Australia’s draconian new asylum seeker regime: deaths at sea.”

O’Neill brags of closer grip on aid after refugee deal – Rory Callinan & Daniel Flitton, Sydney Morning Herald

“Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, boasted on Monday that he had achieved a ”realignment” of the country’s aid program from Australia as part of the recently negotiated agreement.”

Kevin Rudd, you’re not a good friend of PNG – Martyn Namorong, The Interpreter

“It is not unusual for the tribe in Papua New Guinea to protect and assist a tribesman even though such decisions could have negative consequences. And Kevin Rudd is no ordinary member of the tribe, he is a Big Man – the Prime Minister of Australia.”

ACFID Statement on Asylum Deal with PNG – Australian Council for International Development

‘We are unconvinced of the ability of Australia to support adequate, expanded asylum claims processing managed in PNG,”

What life can a resettled refugee expect in PNG? – Andrea Babon, The Conversation

“But even skilled, experienced Papua New Guineans can’t find jobs, and most university graduates cannot find employment. PNG has a tiny formal economy – meaning that there are not that many formal, paid jobs such as being an accountant, hairdresser or bus driver.”

Source: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=36875#.Ue4irGQ-Jyx
Source: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=36875#.Ue4irGQ-Jyx


Source: http://www.kudelka.com.au/2013/07/boundless-plains-to-share/
Source: http://www.kudelka.com.au/2013/07/boundless-plains-to-share/


Source: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/photogallery/federal-politics/cartoons/david-pope-20120214-1t3j0.html
Source: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/photogallery/federal-politics/cartoons/david-pope-20120214-1t3j0.html


24th July – More details emerge

Rape and torture on Manus Island detention centre: whistleblower – SBS

‘A whistleblower who worked at the Manus Island refugee detention centre in Papua New Guinea has spoken out, condemning it as not even fit to “serve as a dog kennel”.’

PNG deal may be expanded to other countries – Mark Kenny, The Age

“Immigration Minister Tony Burke has revealed the PNG asylum seeker deal could be replicated for other South Pacific countries heavily reliant on Australian aid money.”

Tony Burke to inspect Manus after whistleblower’s ‘horrific’ rape and torture claims – ABC News

“Mr Burke says the allegations are appalling, but says the Government still intends to massively expand the Manus Island facility.”

RUDD’S BLUFF USES THE PACIFIC AGAIN – Ben Bohane, Pacific Institute of Public Policy

“The decision to send all boat people for processing and resettlement in PNG is a huge bluff – Rudd is calculating that asylum seekers will no longer want to come to Australia now, if they know that there is no hope for resettlement and instead they will wind up permanently in PNG.”

What has Australia done to Nauru? – Nic Maclellan, Guardian

“Most reporting on Nauru ignores Australia’s historic role as the administering power before independence in 1968.”

Asylum deal a nightmare for PNG and Australia – Deni ToKunai, The Interpreter

“Prime Minister O’Neill has made it no secret since his election in 2012 that he wanted to see a total re-alignment of the Australia’s half-a billion dollar a year aid program to support his government’s priorities.”

What is a persecuted Iranian to do? – Mary Crock and Daniel Ghezelbash, The Drum

25th July – It gets worse

Rudd plan in tatters as camps labelled ‘gulags’ – Bianca Hall & Michael Gordon, SMH

“Mr Fraser branded the camps on Manus Island and Nauru ”Australian gulags”, with conditions as bad as at the worst forced-labour camps of the Soviet Union. His comments came as an inquest in Perth heard criticism of searchers over the loss at sea of more than 100 asylum seekers last year.”

Sinking survivors say they will try again – Adrian Lowe, David Wroe and Daniel Hurst, The Age

”’But for me any country in the world is better than going back to Sri Lanka. I can’t go back to Sri Lanka,” the 28-year-old said, adding that he did not think the Australian government’s new policy would change anything.’

Colonialism, sovereignty and aid: what refugees mean for PNG – Jonathan Ritchie, The Conversation

Operation Sovereign Borders – Tony Abbott

“A Coalition government will establish a military-led response to combat people smuggling and to protect our borders – Operation Sovereign Borders.”

Source: http://newmatilda.com/2013/07/24/top-work-labor
Source: http://newmatilda.com/2013/07/24/top-work-labor


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Please post any articles you think should be added to the comments below.


Dining with a difference: training young refugees for work in the hospitality industry

Scarf is a Melbourne-based, not-for-profit (NFP) social enterprise that is adding a little flavour and heart into the hospitality industry. Scarf provides hands-on training, mentoring and employment to marginalised youth, including refugees and asylum seekers, who may not otherwise have the opportunity. Rachel Kurzyp had a coffee with co-founder Hannah Colman to learn more about the hardships faced by asylum seekers looking for work and to understand what makes Scarf’s program successful.

Since you founded Scarf in 2010 with Jess Moran it’s been a huge success. How did you both meet and what made you decide to start Scarf?

Thanks! Jess and I met whilst volunteering at the Social Studio. There, we met a lot of young refugees who were keen to get work in the hospitality industry but were getting knocked back due to their lack of experience and connections. We knew that there were plenty of opportunities in hospitality but also realised that without a foot in the door, it is really hard to get work.

You mention that young refugees face challenges in obtaining work due to lack of experience and connections. Do you mind elaborating and sharing some examples?

The challenges seem to relate to lack of social and professional connections. Lack of experience is a factor; however it’s still possible to get a job without much experience so long as you know someone in the industry.  A lot of young people who present to us not only don’t know anyone working in the industry, but don’t realise how varied the employment opportunities in hospitality are. We strive to connect the trainees to lots of people who are in different areas of the industry so that upon completing the program they not only have networks but a better understanding of what jobs are out there, which helps them figure out where they want to work.


Did you have any previous business or NFP experience?

Jess and I had both worked in hospitality for about ten years so we had a firm idea of how hospitality businesses run. We’d also volunteered with community organisations so had seen what worked well and what hadn’t. In 2010 Jess was accepted into The School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE). Through the SSE we got a lot of guidance on how to set ourselves up, legally, financially, etc.

Do you have any advice for others wanting to launch their business in the NFP industry?

I think from the beginning you need to be clear about the need you’re addressing. Because we come from hospitality backgrounds we know how the industry works and we’re very aware of the staff shortages. We had also been volunteering with young people for some time, so we were well versed in the barriers that these individuals were facing when it came to training and work. Our relationships with our sponsors are crucial to Scarf’s operation. I would say nurturing the relationships with those who support you is really important and being open and transparent in your communications with all your supporters.

I really like that the trainees owned the floor during the service but they had their mentors on hand if needed. Am I correct in saying that Scarf has a unique hands-on hospitality training and mentoring program?

I think so. From the beginning we always set out to have a big focus on mentoring. We knew that industry professionals would be the best people to work alongside the trainees during dinners. Our mentors help to ensure the trainees are putting their newly learned skills into practice in the most effective way, they provide support when needed but are encouraged to step back so that the trainees get a real sense of the fast-paced work environment and prioritising their time. And just as importantly, the mentors provide a real connection to the hospitality industry. Our mentors come from all different workplaces (bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels) and so as the trainees work with different mentors they get a sense of what the industry is like as a whole.

When we designed our pilot program, we looked at all the major elements of front-of-house hospitality as well as focusing on resume writing and practice interviews specific to hospitality. We fashioned training sessions with industry professionals on Mondays and also had Jenny Polack, “The Winewhitch”, get on board with a four week wine course. Following that, the dinner services provided the trainees with real work experience, which helped them put their new skills to the test and improve their confidence in customer service whilst being supported by their mentors.

The training was formed based on what would be a good introduction to front-of-house hospitality. We believed that by undertaking these sessions, in conjunction with work practice during the Monday Night Dinners, trainees would be ready to step into a job. But we also recognise that our trainees all have their own individual learning needs and styles, and we are receptive to that and can be flexible when needed.

During and after the pilot program we held quizzes and got a lot of feedback from the trainees and the mentors who had been involved in the program. Based on this feedback, we tweaked the program and continue to do so based on what we see as being the most effective approaches.

I was happily surprised when I was given a feedback form at the end of the dinner. How important are the diners like me to the program?

Diners are very important to the training process – I can’t stress that enough. We have created a program that is very hands-on and we want our trainees to get as much real world practice at Scarf as possible. Our mentors and trainees sit together at the end of the dinner and go through the feedback and it helps the trainees to set goals throughout the program. It’s great when there are positive things said, as this is very encouraging, but it’s really good to have constructive criticism too as it helps to iron out service issues which may have been missed by mentors. Also at this stage we get very little funding so our diners really fund the program!


What is the ultimate goal of the program?

To provide marginalised young people with the skills, confidence and connections to go out and find meaningful work in the hospitality industry. 85% of Scarf graduates find work after completing the program, and 60% are working in hospitality. We have had a handful of trainees find that hospitality is not actually for them, and gone on to work in other industries, and we see this as a positive result of course. We also have volunteer Employment Mentors who work with the trainees throughout the program to assist with resume writing, looking for work and applying for jobs. This support continues after the program if needed.

On your website you include this; “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” – Article 23 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Do you mind sharing what this means to you and how it relates to the work you’re doing with Scarf?

Something that became very clear to me when I began volunteering with refugee and new migrant communities a few years ago was how lucky I am in regards to work. When I finished school I got a hospitality job straightaway, and since then I have never been without work. I’ve worked in many cafes and restaurants and have found they are great places to learn, to make friends, to eat great food, enjoy great drinks… and of course to earn money so that I can keep a roof over my head.

It just seems so incredibly unfair that many people don’t have this opportunity. The flow-on effect of unemployment – low self-esteem, poor mental health and homelessness – is heartbreaking. On the contrary, allowing people the opportunity to work allows a greater sense of belonging in their communities, and the ability to feel valued, not to mention being able to support themselves rather than being reliant on charities or welfare. This is what the Right to Work campaign is trying to highlight, and we were proud to put Scarf’s name to the campaign.

Many young people who have trained and worked at Scarf come from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds. They are incredibly resilient, hard-working and generous people who want to contribute to their communities. Robbing them of the opportunity to do this does not make sense to me.

How can WhyDev readers get involved?

WhyDev readers based in Melbourne can come for dinner! When you attend a Scarf Dinner, you are the catalyst for the trainees to practice their new skills and increase their confidence, and you get to enjoy yummy food and drinks – everybody wins. The next dinners will be held on the 8th and the 15th of July in Richmond, Melbourne. For more information, see the Scarf website.

under the carpet

Attention all disadvantaged asylum seekers: No advantage for you

Submitted anonymously by Jane (not real name), who is an experienced worker in the Australian refugee sector.

The Australian Government’s idea that there is a deterrent effect to being tough on boat arrivals only really makes sense if those trying to leave are not “real” (in fear of their lives) refugees.no advantage

Having met and worked with hundreds of asylum seekers, the most common story I am told is that asylum seekers don’t choose Australia. An agent (asylum seekers and refugees do not call them people smugglers) organises everything for them and they flee, very often without time for goodbyes, an ability to inform family members (for fear of reprisal), preparation or research. They just leave in fear of their lives hoping to reach a safe place.

In order to live, they flee their country without time to watch the Australian Government’s Youtube video telling them that entry via the ocean is the ‘wrong way’ and to ‘go back’. And, as the Australian Government attempts to spread their ‘No Advantage’ message to remote areas of the world, believe it or not there are still many isolated villages of the world without WiFi to access this message.

In fact, a number of asylum seekers I have met said they only realised they were going to Australia as their boat left Indonesia. They didn’t have an opportunity to request a final destination, as this is usually decided by the agent. Some thought they were going to the UK, Canada or Europe, and most people wouldn’t mind being placed in any safe country, so long as they are protected and given rights to participate in society and become active members of their new nation.

The Australian Government’s ‘No Advantage’ slogan from their latest policy on immigration is out of touch with reality on numerous levels. The policy is supposed to neutralise the ‘waiting period’ between those asylum seekers who have arrived to Australian territories or the mainland since August 13th 2012 and those who live in places like Jakarta, seeking out protection and relocation to a third country.

I have been told by asylum seekers living in Indonesia that resettlement via UNHCR in Jakarta takes approximately 12-18 months and resettlement via Kuala Lumpur takes approximately 24 months. So, why is the government threatening asylum seekers in Manus and Nauru Island that they will be living in Regional Processing Centres for up to five years?

Some regional host countries, and many host countries around the world (Kenya, Pakistan) do not have the capacity, finance, human resources or lack of corruption and commitment to transparency to fairly process refugees, which are real challenges that contribute to longer processing times. They may also have a lot of their own national social concerns that they are struggling to deal with and hosting and processing refugees is not their priority. Australia, on the other hand, has the organisational capacity to process asylum seeker claims in a timely manner, but chooses not too. Why? To be tough. To deter.

Which brings us back to the original point of frustration; deterrence only works if those who are fleeing danger are not refugees. If Australia kept finding out that those who they processed as asylum seekers were not refugees, the policy may have some logic behind it in the eyes of policy makers. However, the fact that around 90% of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are found to be refugees proves that people are fleeing their homelands because of a well-founded fear of persecution.

Despite regurgitated messages from tabloid media that we are being flooded by so called evil illegal economic migrants, we simply are not. Why should we deter refugees who have suffered fear, persecution, kidnapping, bombings, murders of family members and other horrific human rights violations? When somebody tells you that the Taliban have kidnapped their family members and threatened to kill them and they fear for their life and they are fighting for their life and freedom, on what grounds does Australia stand to tell asylum seekers to go back to where they came from? Maybe when Australia wants to turn the boats back they could provide each asylum seeker a shovel to dig their own graves? Is Australia really that compassionless? By the current state of refugee issues, unfortunately, I fear so.

no one chooses...

The principals of ‘No Advantage’ should be based on fairness and equity. Why then is the Australian Government sending handfuls of people to languish in remote offshore detention facilities, while other people that arrived on the same boat as these asylum seekers from a similar background and story are granted bridging visas, living in the Australian community?

Where is the transparency and explanation about why particular people are being sent to Nauru and Manus islands while others are not?

“The Pacific Solution” and the “Regional Frameworks” for dealing with refugee issues are empty policies. They are not solutions or genuine multilateral approaches that are working together in the region. If the government genuinely wanted to produce a fair and equitable approach to dealing with refugees and asylum seekers in the Asia Pacific region then they should be providing more support in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, India and other regional hubs with high numbers of asylum seekers living in limbo; not dumping asylum seekers in remote areas of the Pacific.

under the carpet

The Australian Government could use its political influence to persuade these regions to make life more tolerable for those who have escaped their countries by allowing work rights, education for their children and greater access to health services. They could even finance this type of support by stopping outlandishly expensive remote detention facilities.

Finally, Australia, it’s time to get a life and think about the globe that we live in as humankind together. Just because we are geographically isolated from most of the planet doesn’t mean that our attitudes need to be as well. We don’t live in a rosy, harmonious war-free world. There are so many injustices, conflicts and awful atrocities that affect innocent people. People who like you and me, have families, dreams, aspirations, love stories and a desire to live in peace and maybe one day even buy a house and grow a garden. Australia, your current policies are absolutely awful and non-humanitarian. They are destroying people’s lives.


A regional approach to asylum: what is ethically desirable and politically possible

The tragic discovery of 13 bodies 125 km from the coast of Christmas Island last week, with more than 50 people still unaccounted for, is a harsh reminder that government policies aiming to deter asylum seekers from taking dangerous boat journeys to Australia are failing.

Many asylum seekers and refugees in Central and Southeast Asia are in transit from their conflict-ridden home countries, such as Afghanistan, Burma, and Sri Lanka, to resettlement countries such as Australia.

People are forced to flee persecution with few options of escape without assistance from people smugglers, who can facilitate their journey and accompany them to safety.

The existence of people smugglers is a political reality states have a genuine interest in eradicating, as exploitative practices preying on desperate people cannot be accepted in a law-abiding society. But is punishing smugglers – who often assist asylum seekers and are their only way to safety – more important than protecting the asylum seekers and refugees themselves?

States throughout the region, including Australia, have increasingly sought to seal their borders by stemming what they believe to be ‘pull factors’ – forces that draw people to a new location – by resorting to punitive measures such as offshore processing, detention, and bureaucracies that makes it increasingly difficult to file asylum claims.

Australia’s current suite of policies, including offshore processing, mandatory detention, and the excision of all Australian territory from the migration zone, is designed to deter asylum seekers from arriving by boat. But the problem lies not with the insecurity of Australian borders, but in the lack of durable solutions for refugees elsewhere in the region.

The so-called ‘push factors’ (forces driving people from their homes) are stronger than ‘pull factors.’ Curbing ‘pull factors’ therefore only leads to greater human rights violations and despair.

The Opposition in Canberra ignores this inconvenient truth and claims changes to asylum policy made by the Rudd Government in 2008, such as the abandonment of offshore processing and Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) has led to the resurgence in boat arrivals. The Labor party now seem to agree.

But a growing body of research in Europe on the extent to which asylum seekers are able to exercise choice when it comes to their destination country, and their reasons for choosing certain countries over others, shows that “asylum seekers generally have limited options available to them, and choices are made within a very narrow field of possibilities.”

Generally, asylum seekers are not well informed on specific policies and procedures, and their decisions are limited by other factors such as “a lack of protection in the country of first asylum, geography, finances, available travel routes, visa options, and the networks and routes used by people smugglers,” according to Harriet Spinks, a researcher on Australia and migration policy.

A member of the government’s Expert Panel, Paris Aristotle, has called for an end to the political wrangling that has led to the current impasse in establishing a humane plan to manage the movement of asylum seekers through the region.

It is highly unlikely that a bipartisan deal will be struck this close to the election, with the incumbent Labor government insisting that the roadblock lies with the Opposition’s unwillingness to support the Malaysia Solution, where asylum seekers’ applications would have been processed in Malaysia, and the Liberals insisting that the only way to “stop the boats” is to tow them back to Indonesia.

No single measure will stop boat arrivals in Australia, and in fact ‘stopping the boats’ should not be the core objective of what is needed: a regional approach to managing the movements of people that places the protection of asylum seekers ahead of national politics and border protection.

A regional approach

As one of the most developed countries in the region, Australia offers the best capacity to protect refugees and take the lead in establishing a regional approach to asylum. But perceived national security interests and domestic politics have undermined its ability to lead by example. The current political impasse must be overcome and both sides of politics need to form a bipartisan approach before meaningful collaboration with other states can occur.

A regional approach to asylum must address the protection of refugees as a result of their onward movement, and it must be acknowledged that often the reason refugees continue to move onwards is the lack of protection in transit countries.

In Thailand, for example, refugees, including women and children, can be arrested and imprisoned at any time. Without the right to work, or any government institutions to assist them, refugees wait in limbo for years without any means of survival or the ability to legally become self-sufficient.

Cooperation, consistency, and subscribing to universally accepted standards of protection are the only way forward to ensure more equitable responsibility sharing for states and enhance protection for refugees transiting through the Asia Pacific region.

However, the root causes of displacement must be recognised and addressed too.

Standardising procedures means refugees would face the same treatment, no matter where they went. Increasing protection in transit countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, will reduce the need for onward movement.

Asylum seekers and refugees need to be recognised as distinct from other migrants. They should be issued with temporary documents to avoid being detained under immigration laws, and be given temporary work permits and access to public utilities, including schools and hospitals.

Resettlement countries such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia should consider increasing their quotas for humanitarian visas, and work towards decreasing the waiting time for resettlement in transit countries.

The UNHCR must reduce and harmonise the waiting period for asylum seekers and refugees to be recognised, as well as ensuring that decisions are transparent and fair in accordance with UNHCR’s own procedural standards.

With increased funding for the provision of vital services such as healthcare, psychosocial support, legal assistance, and education, civil society can also play a vital role in strengthening refugee protection in the region.

A regional approach is possible if the political will can be found.


Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit: love in a time of crises, spreadsheets & refugees

Aid work is interesting. And frustrating. And at times monotonous. Have you ever wondered what other people might think of your day to day work? Ever wanted to have a 2nd pair of eyes recording your every movement, without the indignity of looking (as Cynan Houghton so aptly puts it), like you have a Segway on your face?

Our new favourite Tumblr: http://whitemenwearinggoogleglass.tumblr.com/

Well, now you can share exactly that. In his second work of humanitarian fiction, J. (of Tales from the Hood and Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like fame) details exactly what aid work is like. And it doesn’t always make for pretty reading.

Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit is a warts-and-all insight into the life of a humanitarian worker in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia. It follows the central character, Mary-Anne, who works for the fictional NGO named World Aid Corps. Through her work, she meets a character by the name of Jonathon Langstrom – an older and more experienced aid worker who works with Oxfam America.

Although Mary-Anne has a partner of her own, the incredibly French Jean-Philippe, she finds herself drawn to Langstrom, as she tries to make sense of the haphazard world that is humanitarian relief. Langstrom is her sounding board, in her incredibly tedious and frustrating life.

Meanwhile, she is also torn between another set of choices – whether or not she takes a promising and comfortable job in HQ or remains working in the refugee camp.

If you are an aid worker and much of this sounds familiar, don’t be surprised. Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit (or MMMM for short) details many dilemmas that you are familiar with in your daily life. After all, it is written by someone writing from his own experiences, and has much to say about it – J.

When reading this book, we couldn’t help but wonder which character J. saw himself in. After much speculation, we came to the conclusion that J. was a mixture of the two central characters – Langstrom and Mary-Anne. Langstrom is present day J. In fact, as the book goes on, you will be subject to more and more of J.’s long rants and words of wisdom into the realities of aid and development. The only difference is, it’s not J.’s name attached to them, it is Jonathon’s.

Most would-be humanitarians, like their prime-time and/or celebrity inspiration, planned to spend their days becoming one with The Bottom Billion, delivering babies by candlelight in the dead of night in a tent out on the border between Nowhere and Off The Grid, braving crocodiles and hippos to get hygiene kits into the hands of adolescent girls, or enduring days without a proper toilet for the sake of ensuring the provision of a gravity-fed water system which (if properly installed by foreigners) will enable the grateful yet simultaneously empowered villagers to break the cycle of poverty for sustainable perpetuity. That’s what she’d envisioned before the reality of a real aid job had taken hold.

Like a familiar uncle, you will roll your eyes at some of these long spiels, but you will also quietly nod and realise that some truth is being spoken. Some. Not all though despite J.’s/Langstrom’s claim to universal truth. In one particular scene between Langstrom and Mary-Anne, he blesses her and the reader with the Truth:

“I don’t think this is cynicism. And besides, cynicism is just truth that someone doesn’t want to hear. And that’s what this is: The truth. You move outside of the project space—the space where it is your job to interact with the end-users on a regular basis and where the substance of your interaction shapes what you do daily—you move outside of that space, and your job is no longer about doing, but becomes about enabling those who do the doing.

“It is important to understand this because everyone wants to claim that what they do in their cubicles or coordination meetings ‘makes a difference’ or some other self-gratifying descriptor. And hopefully it all does make a difference. But the bald reality is that unless you are one of a miniscule and proportionally shrinking privileged few in the aid world who daily interact with beneficiaries as a provider of humanitarian project activities, the truth is that you are an enabler.”

What we imagine the final cover will look like.

Mary-Anne, we imagine, is a younger version of J. More naive, more lost and navigating her way through the messy world of humanitarian aid. A central theme of the book is an older J. (in the form of Langstrom) mentoring and instructing the younger J. (in the form of Mary-Anne). The fact that there is some romantic interest between the two suggests that perhaps older J. would like to sleep with his younger self? We’ll leave that one alone.

And yet, there was something inexplicably magnetic about him. Three weeks ago she would never have thought it, let alone admitted it, but right then Mary-Anne knew in her heart that in the hypothetical absence of the aforementioned complicating factors she could picture herself with Jon Langstrom.

Who exactly then is the target audience of this book? Who are the stakeholders and beneficiaries? It is hard to tell.

There are so many acronyms and buzzwords and technical references used throughout the book that we think it would be difficult for a non-aid worker to pick it up and understand much of it. Yet for the aid workers out there, the book felt like it was repeating a lot of what you already experience on a day to day basis. We felt like we were going home just to relive much of our work day again.

This is not to say that there is not any value in reading it, of course. It is entertaining and if you enjoy J.’s online rants then you will no doubt enjoy reading the book. If you are new to the world of aid and development and want to get an insight into what it is really like, then this is the book for you. It also honestly deals with many unspoken issues that are left alone in university courses and job descriptions. In particular, relationships. Mary-Anne’s is not a Eat, Pray, Love journey (thankfully), but J. quietly explores what it is like to maintain relationships with one’s significant other. It’s bloody hard.

It is not the most well-written book either from a literary perspective. The need to list every single NGO or aid agency that is present at every single meeting is monotonous. The use of adjectives and descriptions lack imagination. All Somali refugees are ‘too thin’, the nurse Aster is always ‘willowy, doe-eyed’. There is not enough depth of character that is subtly explored, exposed and slowly revealed. No real psychological insights into the human condition, or at least, the aid worker condition.

It is clear J. understands the inner workings of the aid world. The reader is thrown in the deep end with the minutiae of everyday aid life, and smacked in the face with the Truth and the ridiculousness of it all. This world is not built for the reader with texture, nuance and time. It already exists, and you are just here to bear witness.

However, J. must be congratulated on pursuing what must have been a long and arduous pursuit. How many of us out there think that we have a novel in us? How many of us follow our creative passions? As this concert pianist advocates, how many of us “find what we love and let it kill us“?

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.


A picture is worth 1000 words: what does aid/development mean to you?

Weh Yeoh’s recent post about aid work, ego and selfies, which generated a lot of head nodding and fist shaking, taps into something very personal. It challenges self perceptions around who we think we are, not only as aid workers, but as people. For me, the actions described by Weh of selfies, #humblebrags and feet pics are not created in an effort to communicate with family and friends; to keep those close to us updated and involved in our life no matter where we are. They are taken, written and posted in an effort to collect likes and be likeable; to generate reinforcing comments and seek attention. Ultimately, to remind family, friends and the other 95% of Facebook Friends, who are not actually your friends, that you exist.

These actions are not about aid/development work, and aid/development work is not about you. But, you cannot take yourself completely out of your work. For many, their professional life defines them (for better or worse). However, you can change, and collectively, we can change, how we communicate about ourselves and what we do. Indeed, it is important to acknowledge what your work means to you. This is in no way similar to making your work about you.

We asked the participants in our Peer Coaching Pilot to respond to the following question with an image: What does aid/development mean to you?

We have six submissions so far, and want to open this call to action to you. Send your image that best describes what aid/development means to you.

You can send your images to submissions@whydev.org. Please include a short description of the image and why you chose it.


most encouraging email

“Aid, to me, is all about encouragement. I may not always be able to give money to the people seeking grants, but that doesn’t mean I can’t treat them with respect and give their email a thoughtful response. Replies like the one shown in my photo are the ones that keep me going. If I was the most encouraging person he had interact with in 6 years, then I must be doing something right. Also, for me, aid/development work IS computer/email work!” – Tanya Cothran


“I like this picture because to me, international development is working for the people to get them the tools to work for their own development. In this picture, the teacher is Haitian and she is teaching Haitians. She was educated in this school. What I also like in this picture, is that it is a woman teaching mechanics to men mostly in a professional school.” – Johanne Veilleux

A common thing we heard was _why should the refugees have a high standard of living, when many Indians don't even enjoy one__

“This photo was taken in Delhi, India, next to a conference room where a group of us were working with refugees from Burma, Afghanistan and Somalia. Sitting in this room, we were discussing the situation that they faced in Delhi and how their problems might be addressed. Although, at times, the discussion seemed quite theoretical and disconnected from reality, it only took one look outside the room to see the incredible poverty that surrounded us. These two men were sorting through an enormous pile of rubbish by hand, looking for whatever they could find, which would be of value for sale. This scene reminds me that no matter at what level you work at, and how disconnected from reality you get, it is always important to keep some links with what people are facing on a day to day basis.” – Weh Yeoh


“This photograph was not taken by me, but by Rahamatu, a 15-year old Fulani girl in northern Ghana. She agreed to take part in a participatory research project I facilitated , which included a photography component. Children participated in the research process by exploring literacy in their homes and communities. She was out-of-school, but enrolled in an accelerated literacy and numeracy program. Rahamatu is bright, charismatic, motivated and a natural photographer. But, she is also a girl, belongs to an ethnic minority, lives in a remote community in northern Ghana and dropped out of school after Grade 1. In other words, the most likely to be excluded from full participation in education and suffer the consequences of such exclusion. Development means supporting the aspirations of girls like Rahamatu and having high expectations of them. Development means ensuring their right to education and laying a foundation for change that will run through the future generations of her family.” – Brendan Rigby


“Development to me is about people and relationships. It is about trust, understanding, friendship and shared learning’s. This photo is of a grandmother I met in Malawi. Her granddaughter attended a school I visited. The girl brought me back to her village to show me where she lived and introduce me to her family. At first the grandmother was reluctant to have me in the village and questioned who I was and my intentions. After I explained who I was,  just a dirty, sweaty traveler and not a government official or NGO worker, she relaxed and allowed me to stay a while and play with her granddaughter. As I was leaving she gestured for me to take her picture so that I had something to remember her by. This interaction reminded me that sometimes as development workers we forget that our beneficiaries are people first, and a story, case study or statistic second.” – Rachel Kurzyp

Flood Dist copy

“Cambodia, November 2011 – travelling from Kampong Thom to Phnom Penh after a week distributing supplies to those affected by the devastating floods. Myself and four colleagues (in the 5 seater car there were actually 9 people). Development often means getting ‘close’ to people and coming to terms with things not happening quite like they do back home.” – Jacqui Collis

Update! Three new submissions


“I agree with a previous post that aid and development is about people and relationships. I also think it is about empowerment. This photo is of a maize farmer from Northern Ghana and even though he is in his mid-seventies, he possessed an enviable enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge that was only eclipsed by his sense of humour. He was always willing to offer his time and energy to our programs. This photo was taken shortly after interviewing him on camera. He was articulate, demonstrative and passionate and said the reason he participates in aid and development programs is to learn new skills that can help his family and that he can teach the rest of his community. He said ‘These programs help me to learn, because I always want to try and do things better.’ I later attended a conference where he travelled 12 hours by bus each way to take part in a one day practical workshop.” – Lee Davelaar


“This photo was taken in dec 2012 with Jan Khan (14yrs old) in Lunda village, Charsadda, Khyber Punkhtoonkhawa, Pakistan. Jan dreams is to become a film maker. For a day, I trained him and allowed him to ‘play’ with my camera! Her sister Khatija was born during floods 2012 and I have been following her life since her birth. Based on my experience working with donors, volunteers and the beneficiaries, I understand aid/development to be a partnership with all stakeholders: donors, volunteers and beneficiaries. A partnership based on respect, trust and confidence in each other. I believe our role as aid workers should be of support: knowledge, relevant training, providing the right guidance, tools and equipment and most importantly smiles to all involved. Our job as aid workers should be seen as a servant, serving donors, volunteers and beneficiaries. With this attitude, donors will donate more, volunteers will give more time and their energy and beneficiaries will lead and rise i.e. will be empowered and communities will achieve resilience.” – Habib Malik


“This picture is taken in Fort National – one of the most challenging and depressed neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It is an area characterized by violence, absence of economic activities and significant destruction after the earthquake. The women in the picture live in this neighborhood and have been involved in the project to remove the debris generated in January 2010. This has been done by hand because machines couldn’t reach the destroyed houses. Aid is for me creating the conditions for people to move on with their lives again, especially in the years following a disaster or violent conflict when the humanitarian emergency workers have left. It is for me about facilitating a process where opportunities can bear fruit and people start to experience that ‘hope’ is not an empty word. Aid is for me also about  listening and questioning the common logic. For example – it was assumed that manual debris removal would not be an appropriate activity for women because of its physical character. However, the women themselves told us loud and clear to be involved. For example, the women in this picture have been the most effective workers to get the job done. They have invested their revenue into the household and/or the community while the majority of the men were occupied with other less pressing priorities. Therefore, ensuring that women are at the center of any kind of aid project is of the highest essence. Finally, the debris removal and recycling programme in Haiti has been a deeply humbling experience.” – Afke Bootsman


“To me, development is about many things. It’s about sharing knowledge, from complex, technical expertise on mobile health platforms to something as simple as the ABCs. It’s about people – listening to them, working with them, and involving them every step of the way. It’s about getting your hands dirty. But most of all, it’s about striving every day to create peace and stability in the world.” – Jen Foth


“Development (and the will to develop) is a natural, inborn process. In whichever state we may encounter communities or organizations, they have been developing long before facilitators came into their lives and will continue to do so long after. We cannot deliver development – it is already happening. We need to read, respect and work with this. Photo of Chingwenya Support Group of the Namwera, Malawi by http://jooprubens.com/“. – Jennifer Lentfer

What aid means to Mandy Lee-2

“I feel that aid is about the vibrant, voiceless individuals who often fade into the background of development projects. Three years ago, I visited Kenya on a high-school exchange trip organized by my Kenyan biology teacher. It was my first encounter with the developing world, and it quickly shattered my notions about how I thought I should help others. Pictured here is a Masai girl with her infant sister, shyly watching our group tour her village. The women and girls were silent, overpowered by their male counterparts, who made sure to encourage us to purchase beaded bracelets and other handicrafts to “support the village.” In the end, one small girl told us that the women received none of the profits from their handiwork, which sustained their families and were often squandered by the men on alcohol and entertainment. These quiet struggles of key community members must be the focus of aid projects. As I pursue global public service, I will never forget that I can make a great difference by simply listening to the people I serve and acting as their instrument to create positive change.” – Mandy Lee


What is your favourite and why?