TKR’s Holiday Guide to Talking International Politics

If you stuff your mouth full of food at all times, you won’t have to talk to anyone!

The upcoming holiday season means family time, and thus plenty of opportunities for giant fights to break out around the dinner table.  Or perhaps your family is more civilized than ours (and by some happy coincidence, share the same opinion on everything) and can discuss the world’s on-going events without someone leaving the dinner table and storming out the door.  Or maybe you’re sharing the holidays this year with your spouse/best friend/partner/college roommate’s family and they are brave enough to discuss global politics.

In the event that you’re not quite up to speed on why the NSA is pissing off the world, the U.S.’ current relationship with Iran, what’s going on in Syria, or other goings on in the international community, The Korbel Report is here to help you successfully navigate your way through the holidays.

 To start, let’s determine if you need this article. You don’t need this article if:

  • Your Dad can name more than 5 heads of state;
  • Your uncles can explain the intricacies if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict accurately;
  • Your grandma understands that less than 1% of the U.S. budget is allocated to foreign assistance;
  • Your sister dismantled chemical weapons factories in Syria; or
  • Those at the table who have studied abroad outnumber those who haven’t.

You do need this article if:

  • Your aunts think Africa is a country, not a continent;
  • Your cousins mistook Chechnya for the Czech Republic;
  • Anyone at the table thinks that the Fukushima disaster had anything to do with Pearl Harbor;
  • You have a cousin who just finished his/her first semester of college and took one political science class and is suddenly an expert on Israel and Palestine;
  • Your brother in law thinks Benghazi is still worth impeaching Obama; or
  • You’ve fallen down a job-specific rabbit hole, and aren’t sure what’s going on in all parts of the world.

We’ve broken down some of the most pressing, headline-catching international stories that might come up around the holiday punch bowl in the hopes that you can drop some knowledge on your relatives, impress your in-laws, or at minimum, give you a little ammo against the ill-informed. 

SYRIA
What’s going on there:
It hasn’t grabbed U.S. headlines since President Obama’s threat to intervene, but the conflict in Syria continues to rage on.  On August 21, Government forces in Syria used the nerve agent sarin to attack the town of Ghouta near Damascus.  A UN team of chemical weapons investigators later confirmed the attack.  In the wake of the chemical weapons attack, President Obama warned Syrian President Asad that it would face American military intervention if there were signs that its chemical weapons arsenal was used.  After President Obama’s threat, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Syria to allow weapons inspectors into the country and take control of their stockpile, resulting in a deal in Geneva in September.  Since then, Syria has handed over control of their chemical weapons (prompting the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to go to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), and the Syrian Army and its allies have launched offensives near Damascus and Aleppo.  As winter approaches the nearly 2.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, food, water, shelter, medicine are still scarce, coupled with freezing temperatures.  Many (especially children, who comprise of half of Syrian refugees) lack food, fuel, shoes, blankets, for decent shelters that are necessary to live in what is expected to be one of the harshest winters in years.  According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, approximately $4.4 billion is needed to support refugees for the upcoming winter, and only half of that amount has been raised.  Finally, in the most recent news regarding Syria, a report was released this weekend that concluded that over 11,000 children in Syria have been killed during the conflict, and are being targeted intentionally, by snipers, as well as being summarily executed and tortured.  

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Mark my words, the Syrians will have nuclear weapons next.”
“Those people are barbarians.  We should just stay out, because they just all want to kill each other.”
“You know who’s the real winner in all of this?  RUSSIA.”
“Why don’t we just bomb them?”

How to respond:
Option A) You can get into a debate over intervention vs. non-intervention, even though the possibility of military intervention by the U.S. seems non-existent at this point in time.  Of course, this could lead to a real dark place in which you and your relatives get into a deep discussion about previous U.S. military and humanitarian operations (Somalia, Vietnam, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo), which then in turn, may lead to a discussion about American exceptionalism and the U.S.’ place in the world.  However, this could also lead to accusations about one’s level of patriotism and result in someone leaving the table.  Proceed with caution.
Option B)  Casually mention with a hint of snark that you play Call of Duty and you think you can figure out how to end the conflict based off of your video game experiences.
Option C) Make an impassioned plea to your family to donate to organizations like Oxfam, the Red Cross, the UNHCR, and other credible organizations to help Syrian refugees this winter.

THE NSA & EDWARD SNOWDEN
What’s up with that?
In early June the world found out something shocking: all this information we are transmitting to each other via email, phone, Skype, and snapchat (ok, maybe not snapchat…that’s secure) is being recorded—and guess what? The government wants to look at it! And they do look at it. Edward Snowden, a private contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton worked for the National Security Agency, broke ranks and leaked massive amounts of information to the London newspaper, The Guardian, about the NSA and the extent of its spying on everyone from US citizens to world leaders, all in the name of keeping ‘Murica secure. Snowden reveals his identity days after the first leaks, and then pisses off his girlfriend by running away to Moscow from Hong Kong, where he had gone to escape U.S. law enforcement. In a turn of events that anyone who has had to travel via Miami International can empathize with, he then realizes the transit area of Moscow area is far more punishing than any U.S. jail and starts to seek asylum elsewhere.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Snowden is a hero/Benedict Arnold.”
“I’m with France/Germany/Britain/Canada on this one. Spying on your own people is just wrong!”
“This whole thing is just made up. There’s no way the wizard in the computer box could do all that. I can’t even set up my own email.”
“What’s that? Well, of course it snowed in Russia.”
“I don’t want Obama listening to my conversations with grandpa!”
“Why don’t we just bomb him?”

How to respond:
Option A) Point out that as Snowden remains in Russia with temporary asylum, his revelations have sparked a much needed debate about how we balance information privacy against national security in an age where all of us so willingly hand over the most intimate details about our lives via the Internet. Whether you consider Snowden a patriot, a dissident, a traitor or a vain-glorious celebrity-seeker, what is undeniable is that his actions have sparked a contentious but necessary discussion about what governments do in the name of our own protection, about the reach of corporations, and the relationship between the two.
Option B) Go more direct, and suggest that it is utterly contrary to any notion of democracy for a government that we elect to steal our personal information without our consent, whether in the name of our own good, or not. Just ask me first, okay?
Option C) Deflect: Because at the end of the day, why was Auntie Sheila Googling “octopus porn”?
Option D) Write an exasperated Facebook status update about how backward “the other side” of your family is. When your cousin reads it out over dessert, self-righteously accuse him/her of spying on you NSA-style, once you’ve had a few more seasonal libations.

THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
What’s going on with that:
This Labor Day, Business Insider gave a great overview of the global marketplace, touching on a few key themes. The United States has experienced better than expected growth. The EU is making a steady comeback, putting the Euro back on stable footing. Amid concerns that the Chinese government was going to crash–hard–the Chinese economy is still growing at a pretty steady rate. But even amid positive growth, many are still concerned about the number of jobs at home, and how an increasingly globalized world impacts the national economy.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Why don’t we just sell more bombs? That’d make up some room in the budget!”
“This is all Obama’s/Bush’s/Wall Street’s/ high taxes’/China’s/Europe’s/the foreign aid budget’s/the military budget’s/etc. fault.”They took our jobs!

How to respond:
Option A) Ugh, getting into the technicalities of the global economy and its impact at the local level (say, on your poor uncle who just got laid off) is truly challenging. Heck, most economists don’t even agree on exactly what’s going on in the economy most of the time! If you’re reading this because most members of your family don’t know the difference between a fixed and floating exchange rate, this might be a good time to give ’em one of these:

Option B) The economy, by-and-large is getting better in the United States, the EU, and China. The real concern is that many developing economies (Brazil, India, etc.) that were on the rise before the 2008 recession were hit hard, and haven’t recovered well. This not only hurts those countries and the people in them, but it weakens the overall global economy.

U.S. – IRAN RELATIONSHIP
What’s going on there:
The US and Iran have been at odds with one another for over three decades, and many believe now is the time to act. Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani assumed office in August and many believe a rapprochement is now possible. Serious talks have been taking place between Iran and the P5+1 countries (comprised of the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, plus Germany) on reaching a compromise on Iran’s nuclear program. Major improvements were made during the Geneva talks at the beginning of November, but a deal was not formally made due to hesitations by France (not by Iran or the US). While President Obama has stated many times that military action is not off the table, many see a diplomatic resolution as the only viable solution. Given the American public’s wariness of another war in the Middle East, Iran’s threats of an all-out regional war and the blockage of the Strait of Hormuz if Israel or the US were to strike, and the innumerable logistical issues with striking a country as vast as Iran, military action would be both naive and dangerous. As for Prime Minister Netanyahu, over twenty years ago, he solemnly swore that if action were not taken, Iran would have nuclear weapons within five years. And this same rhetoric has been used nearly every year since. It is becoming very clear that Israel’s uncompromising stance is becoming more and more unpopular as both Iran and the US seek common ground.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Israel is going to attack Iran if the US doesn’t take a more firm stance. They seem really serious this time.” (Try not to spit mashed potatoes on great-aunt Janet when you try to stifle your scoff after hearing this one.)
“Why don’t we just bomb them?”
anigif_enhanced-buzz-14447-1385051049-19

How to respond:
Option A) Discuss how great it is that last weekend, the U.S., Iran, and 5 other non-important world powers signed an agreement that would temporarily halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions on the country.  Because, hey, global compromises on nuclear programs are something to be thankful for!
Option B) Sit back and roll your eyes while your family calls Obama weak and powerless while discussing how much this hurts Israel.
Option C) Mention to your family you can look up on the internet how to build a nuclear weapon.  However, proceed with caution on this one, since the NSA is probably watching.

CHINA
What’s going on there:
China is at a crucial point in its planned development. The model that has caused its economy to grow at stupendous rates for the last couple of decades appears to be starting to falter, and the Communist Party is currently deliberating on which reforms to introduce in order to increase the sustainability of its growth and eventually overtake the US as the world’s leading economy, which has been a goal since the Mao era. The Chinese military is also rapidly modernizing and expanding its power projection capabilities, particularly in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea. This past weekend, China demarcated an “air-defense identification zone” over an area in the East China Sea, which covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.” Japan has protested this escalation in setting up such an airspace.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“The Chinese are going to try to compete with us militarily! I’m telling you, it’s going to be another Cold War if we’re lucky or another hot war if we’re not.”
“We owe so much money to the Chinese that it’s inevitable that at some point they’re going to come calling, looking to repossess – Sarah Palin said so.”
“Just look at what Communism does: hundreds of millions of people suffering from human rights abuses, toxic air and water, and a completely corrupt government that values money over human life.”
“We should all just start speaking Chinese now.” “We should stop them now, when they’re still weak.”
“You know, we have the Chinese to thank for Pacific Rim’s making enough money to warrant a sequel. I say, let them keep developing.”

How to respond:
Option A) Explain that China has mostly been an aggravation to its neighbors, and its economic ties to the US make future conflict between the two very unlikely. In discussing US-China relations, it is important to note that diplomacy is not a zero sum game, and in the future, there will be more that the US and China can accomplish together, rather than apart. For your McCarthy family members, it can be appeasing to note that the US still remains in a very integral and relevant role in the international community. Our soft power – encompassing our values, culture, and convening abilities – continues to outpace China. The US capacity for foreign aid is still the largest in the world, and it continues to be the largest donor to international, multilateral efforts.
Option B) Stare are your family as they eat Chinese food and complain about immigrants and just. say. nothing. 
Option C) Pick this to be the perfect moment to announce that you’ve recently acquired a Chinese girlfriend/boyfriend. If you want, say that things are getting really serious, so your parents should get ready to not only accept your new partner, but potentially half-Asian grandbabies!

THE UNITED NATIONS’ RELEVANCE
What’s going on:
Despite a recent bi-partiasan Gallup poll demonstrating that most Americans have a positive view of the UN, it’s certainly not uncommon to hear people screaming about how the UN is undermining U.S. sovereignty.  In 2012, Texas voters and voter fraud groups criticized the deployment of UN-backed election monitors for the 2012 Presidential Election.  There are a million and a half examples of how citizens, Members of Congress, and conspiracy theorists think the UN is destroying America and the rest of the world, but we don’t have time to get into all of them.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“Why don’t they just use bombs?”
“The UN is destroying America!  All that good for nothing organization does is support terrorists trying to destroy this country/take our money/undermine our ability to do what we want!”

How to respond:
Option A) Acknowledge that yes, we all know the UN has a less than perfect record (ok, a downright awful record) when it comes to peacekeeping, addressing climate change, Syria, and a whole host of other issues.  However, the UN isn’t a crazy, independent organization run by aliens, it’s run by Member States (plot twist: The UN is the U.S. brain-child, created after the failure of the League of Nations), and if the world wanted the UN to work, it would.  If Members wanted to address climate change, they would.  If they wanted peacekeeping operations to work, they would.  You’ll recall the UN said no to George W. Bush when he wanted to invade Iraq; it didn’t seem to stop him when the UN said no.
Option B) Ignore the comment and pour more wine.

CUTTING U.S. FOREIGN AID TO FIX THE BUDGET
What’s going on with this:
American opinion towards foreign assistance has been polled since 1995. And the result? Americans have consistently overestimated the percentage of federal funding allocated to international aid. The overall median estimate is that the government spends 20% of its budget on assistance. Some more recent polls, perhaps reflecting our engagements in the Middle East, show that figure rising to 25%.

The same individuals were also asked to state what they believe a more appropriate level of funding is. Their response? 10% of our budget, which is 10 times greater than actual spending. Secretary Kerry would leap for joy if his funding could reach the levels that Americans believe to be appropriate (and for the sake of job security, we’d love it too). Though public estimates grow in accuracy with education level, those who have completed a college education or higher still estimate spending to be around 15%. It is extraordinary that these levels of overestimation are so persistent, though perhaps it is because there are no strong domestic constituencies calling for their Congressmen to send money abroad. But in this increasingly globalized world, what happens elsewhere impacts the factories and farmlands of America. And the Department of State and USAID contribute to the health and security of individual Americans, and their local economies, all while having less staff than all the members of military bands combined. So this holiday season, do your part to educate your loved ones, and spread some foreign policy cheer for the growth of American soft power abroad.

What you may hear at the dinner table:
“These morons in Washington, all they do is spend, spend, spend!  We’ve got $17 trillion in debt, and we’re still giving money to countries that hate us?  I know how to solve the debt crisis – just stop giving terrorists like Pakistan money!”

How to respond:
This one is rather simple.  Politely point out that, give or take, 1% of the total U.S. budget is spent on Official Development Assistance (ODA), and wouldn’t have much of an effect on the U.S. budget.  If you’re feeling bold, you can always point out that in 2011, the U.S. spent 20% of its federal budget on the military and steer the conversation towards reducing military spending (which is currently happening).  However, if you’ve got a few Hawks in your family, this could be problematic.

Also, on a related note, please feel free to spread this graph, which shows that Obama has been keeping his pursestrings tighter than any of his recent predecessors, including both Bushes and Reagan.

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Ron-Swanson-Re-Think-That-Move-Son-Parks-and-Recreation

On the whole, Americans know more about domestic affairs than foreign affairs (or they at least think they do). Most people are more likely to care or know about the things that are impacting themselves and their family: education, the economy—things like that. It’s much more personal than talking about what’s going on “over there.” There’s a lot that could come up here, but regardless of the partisan stripes found at your family’s table, misinformation is bound to rear its head.

What could potentially come up:
Immigration reform, the recent government shutdown, the debt ceiling, filibuster reform, the Tea Party, the American Care Act (ACA) aka “Obamacare,” the miserable ACA website rollout, new Common Core curriculum, weird conspiracy theories involving the Kenyan government, Ted Cruz, America is “morally corrupt” (please, someone, tell me what that even means!), Sarah Palin, gun control, abortion, the JFK assassination, Area 51…the list is almost endless.

How to respond:

Option A) Don’t walk—RUN. Remember that part where these issues are really personal to all the people sitting at your table? Remember how no one can even agree on how to roast the turkey? Yeah. Unless you have one of those families who miraculously agrees on all political issues, or who can—perhaps more miraculously—calmly and rationally discuss their differences, stay far, far away from discussing things like healthcare, the Government Shutdown, abortion, gun control, or comparisons of Obama or Ted Cruz to Hitler.  It will only end in head-banging frustration as one or more of your relatives angrily flips over a table full of poultry and stuffing.
Option B) Go for it. Either you’re from one of those miracle families, you’re very brave and on a “but I can teach them” kick, or you’ve got some metaphorical kerosene and match ready to burn up those familial bridges. We’ll leave it up to you to represent the point of view you find most pertinent on the issues of the day. Just try to remember that you’re probably going to have to see all of these people again.
Option C) Enjoy yourself, and devil’s advocate the heck out of everyone. “Troll” your family, as the kids say. If you make everyone’s politics into a big laugh fest, maybe you’ll steer the conversation back to something more tame and make it through dessert with everyone still on good terms.

You are now ready for a battle royale with your family.  We hope that we were able to help prepare you for your upcoming holiday obligations.  Eat, drink, passionately argue, and be merry!

Taylor Gibson worked as lead author on this post, with input from several TKR staff: Alexander Bowe, Morgan Day, Maryam Kar, Alison Lowe, and Xian Zhang, with input from guest writer Michael Briggs.

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The Korbel Report’s Weekly Link Roundup

Happy Monday! The staff of The Korbel Report spends its fair share of time on the internet staying up-to-date on a wide range of international news and trends. Here’s a list of the articles, blog posts, and resources we found interesting, enlightening, or infuriating from November 19-25:

  • “Chinese Doctors Given Kung Fu Training to Block Patient Attacks” by Lu Chen at Epoch Times
    Following Alexander Bowe’s article on the troubles facing the Chinese healthcare system, this article covers Shanghai hospitals’ solution to the patient-on-doctor violence seen throughout China–kung fu training.
  • “Erik Prince: Blackwater Founder on the ‘Business of War'” by Kai Ryssdal at Marketplace
    A fascinating interview with the founder of private security corporation Blackwater, now known as ACADEMI, as he releases a new .
  • “Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa by Jane Rogoyska — Review” by Sean O’Hagan at The Guardian
    Gerda Taro was the first female photojournalist to die in battle. This review of the new biography by Jane Rogovska give insight into her life, with a specific emphasis on her professional and romantic relationship with Robert Capa.
  • “Lenku Now Orders All Refugee Camps Closed” by Zadock Angira at Daily Nation
    “In a tripartite agreement signed between the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the UN refugee agencies two weeks ago, it was agreed that the return of the refugees would be on a voluntary basis.” 
    Now the Kenyan government appears to be changing its tune on how to deal with the estimated 500,000 Somali refugees currently in Kenyan refugee camps, and doesn’t take into account that many of the refugees in those camps are not Somali.
  • “Nuclear Accord with Iran Opens Diplomatic Doors in the Mideast” by Mark Landler at The New York Times
    “…the mere fact that after 34 years of estrangement, the United States and Iran have signed a diplomatic accord — even if it is a tactical, transitory one — opens the door to a range of geopolitical possibilities available to no American leader since Jimmy Carter.”

Did we miss your favorite link from this week?  Let us know in the comments, on our Facebook page, or Twitter @korbelreport

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The Korbel Report’s Weekly Link Roundup

Happy Monday! The staff of The Korbel Report spends its fair share of time on the internet staying up-to-date on a wide range of international news and trends. Here’s a list of the articles, blog posts, and resources we found interesting, enlightening, or infuriating from last week:

Did we miss your favorite link from this week?  Let us know in the comments, on our Facebook page, or Twitter @korbelreport

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Last Call for a Resolution

MARYAM KAR

Last Thursday, a new round of talks began in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries. The P5+1 countries are comprised of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France, plus Germany. Observers of the talks seemed quite optimistic given the understanding stance of both the United States and Iran in recent talks.

There is certainly reason for this optimism as a rapprochement between the United States and Iran is seen as more viable now than ever before. During the UN General Assembly in September, there was a historic phone call between President Obama and the newly-elected moderate, President Rouhani. Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, are spearheading the current negotiations. This is the highest-level face-to-face interaction between American and Iranian government officials in decades. The involvement of such high-level officials clearly indicates seriousness on the part of both countries in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically.

The Geneva talks were expected to bring a resolution to Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which it claims is solely for nuclear energy, medical treatments and research. Other countries, specifically Israel, the US and some Western European allies, are of the opinion that Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons and is deceiving the IAEA and the world. And some countries were not shy to express their honest opinions about a resolution. Secretary of State Kerry arrived at the talks after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu was very open about his dissatisfaction of a possible resolution. “This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people”.

Israel seems to have attempted to do everything it needs to stop an agreement, as the talks took an unexpected turn for the worse, when many believed a resolution was near. As Western and Iranian negotiations were putting the finishing touches on a resolution, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined in the talks last minute and the negotiations unraveled. Shortly thereafter, the talks ended with plans to resume again on November 20th. France has become one of the most important allies to Israel after the US, and it seems this triggered the unraveling of the negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu was not ready to accept a resolution that would allow Iran to maintain its nuclear capabilities and possibly reduce certain sanctions in return for transparency.  Netanyahu, along with neo-conservatives on Capitol Hill, are very much of the belief that the sanctions are working, and should be increased to mount pressure on Iran. Prime Minister Fabius was in agreement with Netanyahu on this point and refused to accept the resolution in its current format.

While the Obama Administration is pushing for a diplomatic solution as a means to protect the US, Israel and its interests in the Middle East, a rift is quickly growing between the US and Israel on its strategy towards Iran. After Netanyahu’s disapproval of a deal before the Geneva talks began, Secretary of State Kerry publically asked certain countries to not jump to conclusions before knowing details of the proposed deal. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest also dismissed criticism from Israel over a deal as “premature”.  Israel’s uncompromising stance, while praised by certain neo-conservative lawmakers back in Washington DC, is becoming more and more unpopular. This window of opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue will not be open forever, and Iran and the US are aware of this.

If a better compromise is reached in the coming weeks, then France and Israel are not judged as harshly. However, if talks do fail, “France may have effectively scuttled any option of ending Iran’s nuclear program without using military force, something no country — including Israel — wants to do.”

This delay in the talks till November 20th could be detrimental if proponents of war and additional sanctions build momentum in Congress. This has put the White House on defense in vocally calling for Congress to approve of a diplomatic solution and an alleviation of sanctions. As Congress debates increasing sanctions, Secretary of State Kerry has stated that he believes it would be a “mistake” and suggested a temporary pause. He was also expected to brief members of the Senate Banking Committee at a closed-door session later in the week on this issue.

Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council says that it is clear that the US Administration and others want a deal signed before a debate on sanctions heats up in Congress again. “Part of the reason why the talks continued until 2 a.m. in the morning on what was in reality the fourth day when they were supposed to be two days is precisely because of the awareness on all sides, except for the French, that if they don’t get something now, it’s going to be more difficult.” Momentum is currently very high to reach an agreement. On November 20th, Iran and the P5+1 countries need to remember that the security of an entire region is at stake. If all parties do not make compromises, everyone will come out a loser in the end.

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The Plight of Domestic Workers as a Concern for Anti-Human Trafficking Activists

KRASI SHAPKAROVA

On November 6, 2013, the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the John Hopkins University hosted the Protection Project Eighth Annual Symposium on the issue of trafficking in persons. The focus of this year’s symposium was the plight of domestic workers. In the course of four panel discussions, a plethora of experts shared basic statistics to illustrate the scope of the problem, highlighted particular aspects that place domestic workers in vulnerable situations, debated with whom the responsibility for addressing the problem lies, and offered suggestions and recommendations on what needs to be done.

Many would argue that human trafficking has in recent years, for better or worse, certainly become the issue du jour. News reports on the problem are now an everyday occurrence and the number of books, films, or TV shows addressing it have proliferated at a lightning speed. The common denominator in nearly all instances of attention, however, is the inevitable focus on sex trafficking. Although an estimated 53 million people are employed as domestic workers—over 80% of whom are women and young girls—trafficking of persons for the purpose of labour, specifically domestic work, rarely grabs the attention of the general public and therefore, as Tiffany Williams, an LGSW Campaign Coordinator at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, emphasized, the issue has for too long been ignored equally by media, students, activists, NGOs, and law enforcement agencies.

There are several reasons the often horrific situation of domestic workers has remained largely unnoticed and difficult to address.

  • Domestic workers live and work in private homes, behind closed doors, and any great harm done to them remains invisible. It is important to note that even without the issue of trafficking, the situation of domestic workers needs to be addressed as the particularities of their no ordinary work place increase their vulnerability to abuse and suffering.
  • Domestic workers are isolated. They are never off duty and therefore often have no social life. By becoming housecleaners and care takers in foreign lands, many women and young girls seemingly manage to contribute to those they left behind. At the same time, however, the same jobs that provide for their families also separate them from the ones they care most about. Feeling the pressure from home and being aware of their lack of rights, they quietly endure conditions far from ideal.
  • Domestic work has historically been used as a form of social subordination, of women in general and minority women in particular. As Neha Misra, a Senior Specialist on Migration and Human Trafficking at the Solidarity Center, emphasized, migrant workers have historically deliberately been excluded from labour laws, but the case of domestic workers is particularly ignored because the problems are hidden. Consequently, domestic workers are kept as non-actors, as people with no political power who could do little to incur change.
  • Domestic work has been and still is considered women’s work and as a result falls in the informal sector and is viewed as an industry of lesser respect. For example, Neha Misra indicated that 1 in 3 women in the Middle East and 1 in 4 women in Latin America are domestic workers. Domestic workers are regarded as non-persons who could easily become both sex and labour slaves.

Although at the symposium there seemed to be an agreement on the vulnerable position of domestic workers, a debate ensued when the aspect of responsibility was mentioned. Should origin or receiving countries bear the task of improving the situation of domestic workers?

Many of the panelists at the symposium exposed cultural aspects of certain receiving countries to depict the complexity of the issue. Indeed, the Middle East and the North African regions are with the highest demand for domestic workers and many of the states in those geographical areas are characterized as adhering to the kefala system. The kefala system reflects a form of sponsorship (guardianship) that requires domestic workers to become dependent on employers who are responsible for the workers’ visas and legal status. Such dependency places migrant labourers in vulnerable positions as employers often keep their passports and leave them with no option but to tolerate any abuse that accompanies their everyday existence.

While the states of the Persian Gulf are often attacked for the aforementioned kefala system that locks domestic workers in the control of employers, Neha Misra was quick to emphasize that the United States is not far behind with a similar system of work visas that tie workers to their employers even if the conditions are horrific. Tiffany Williams of the National Domestic Workers Alliance confirmed Ms. Misra’s statement and outlined employer-controlled visas (specifically in the United States) as an added layer of vulnerability for domestic workers.

Mr. Osama bin Abdullah Al-Absi, Chief Executive Officer of the Labour Market Regulatory Authority in the Kingdom of Bahrain, stressed that though the receiving countries are often charged with the responsibility to address and solve the problem, the problem does not really start when the domestic worker enters the destination country. He highlighted that often both the receiving family and the domestic worker endure irreversible damage when provided false information about each other by the middle men—the recruiting agencies in both receiving and origin countries. In response to an audience question, however, he pointed out that while the irreversible damage should certainly not be seen as equal, activists must not ignore one side of the equation.

The discussion on responsibility certainly highlighted that in order to comprehensively address the situation of domestic workers, instead of playing the blame game, both origin and destination countries must examine existing systems that repress domestic workers and implement changes that ensure domestic workers enjoy the same rights as other labourers.

An international attempt to recognize and address the plight of domestic workers is the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention (No 189). It was adopted in 2011 and entered into force on 5 September 2013.  The goal of the convention is to ensure decent work for domestic workers. The convention is historic because it is the first international framework that addresses domestic work and exposes the social and economic contributions of domestic workers. At the least, the convention outlines basic standards for working conditions of domestic laborers and offers provisions for private employment agencies.

C-189 has so far been ratified by ten countries: Bolivia, Germany, Guyana, Italy, Mauritus, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, and Uruguay. It is important to note that even countries that have not ratified the convention have began to implement amendments to national legislature to address and incorporate the established international standards for domestic workers. For example, the United States has not ratified the convention and as one of the panelists bluntly indicated, “there is no chance in hell” that it will do so, but there have been promising actions by individual states, such as California, New York, and Hawaii, that have focused on establishing a domestic workers Bill of Rights.

ILO Convention 189, as well as the efforts at national and state levels, indicates that the plight of domestic workers will no longer be ignored. However, there is still much to be done in order for the problem to be properly addressed. At the international level, for example, a future goal would be to encourage more countries to ratify the convention and to make sure adequate institutions are put in place to implement the standards as outlined in C-189. The ultimate goal is to have the basic rights of domestic workers protected regardless of their origin or destination country. As Neha Misra argued, while existing bilateral agreements between origin and destination countries seem to address the issue, they ultimately do not work because the countries of origin are in a weak bargaining position and the receiving countries, if pressed, would simply move to another country of origin with less stricter laws.

At the state level Amy Mahoney of the International Organization for Migration emphasized the importance of focusing on reintegration efforts as well. Attempts to address the problem should not be concerned solely with what could be done before workers leave but also with what needs to be done when they come back. On that note, Tiffany Williams challenged the notion of victimhood, spoke about moving beyond survival, and underlined the value of survivors themselves “breaking the chain” and speaking for the millions of workers in the United States. I agree. Regarding domestic workers as victims implies that they are powerless, dependant, and unable to make it without support. We should instead see them as survivors—survivors who could adapt to the most inhospitable and dangerous environments, who could manage to grasp the value of life even when it is uncertain and painful, or maybe because it is uncertain and painful, and who are content to be alive. Worker-led mobilization efforts and survivor-led empowerment should therefore be integral to any state attempt to address the problem.

Lastly, at an individual level, the general population needs to realize that domestic work is work, often hazardous and undervalued, and the people who make sure the work is done deserve safe conditions, proper treatment, and most of all recognition. After all, the truth is that it is not the job itself that should be viewed as degrading; what reduces the status of domestic workers is the loss of independence and responsibility that has traditionally accompanied the work. To properly address the problem, therefore, the larger population needs to realize the importance and value of domestic workers who do “the work that makes all other work possible”.

Krasi Shapkarova is a recent graduate of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, with an MA in International Human Rights and concentration in forced labour and human trafficking. She is now based in the Washington D.C. area.

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Billionaire Boom?

JESS HARIG

There are 55 billionaires on the continent of Africa.

That was the big news from Ventures magazine just about one month ago, when Ventures Africa reported a list of the richest people in Africa. The total number of billionaires, much higher than reported by Forbes in previous years, combined to a total worth of nearly $144 billion. The billionaires themselves live in just 10 of Africa’s 55 independent countries. This “news” was reported across various media outlets, in essence cheering on the new development and focusing on personal stories of the individual entrepreneurs who made the list.

My gut reaction to the news was strong. In essence it was: “Why the *&%$ does this matter?” Of all the economic news both good and bad, the personal stories of triumph or despair that could possibly come from this vast continent, why should I care about the existence of a few incredibly wealthy individuals? What does this mean for the other billion or so people living on the continent? Most of the reporting, thanks to due diligence, did make mention of the numbers of people living in poverty on the continent, and referenced the debate over growing income inequalities in many African countries. But when the World Bank reports that the number of people living in extreme poverty on the continent of Africa rose from 205 million to 414 million over the past three decades, is just a mention of the debate on inequality enough? To me, absolutely not.  But clearly, others would disagree with me. Many would see the existence of billionaires to be extremely positive, as evidence of strengthening capital markets, and the promotion of regulatory systems that allow for entrepreneurship. While these trends may be true, I believe what should matter when discussing things related to economic development is the plight of an everyday person, not a rich outlier.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not rejecting the notion that the ability of 55 people to become billionaires represents some positive economic trends.  I am also not complaining about this news because the reporting portrays Africa in a positive light. What I am rejecting is the dichotomous portrayal of Africa (in this instance, in the media) as either “Africa on the rise” – a place of youth, hope, opportunity – or “Africa: the Dark Continent” – a place of death, poverty and despair. In this case, clearly the media chose the former face of Africa.

The problem with either side of this coin is that it misses the nuance that is so important to understanding what is happening economically and socially in the diverse countries that comprise Africa. Reporting of this story hopes to portray Africa in a positive light, and seems to stay away from the more complicated, countervailing themes of income inequality and poverty. Journalists conveniently ignore problems or trends that cannot and should not be ignored.

One of the first trends I noticed in the reporting on the billionaires was a focus on the presence of several women on the list. As a feminist and women’s advocate, I am certainly pleased to see women doing well for themselves economically in Africa, independent of men. Reporters seemed to have fun with the female aspect of the list, with fun tag lines like “move over Oprah”, referencing the wealthy and powerful American who, according to this list, is no longer the wealthiest black female in the world. She has been replaced by Folorunsho Alakija, a Nigerian fashion designer and oil tycoon whose estimated worth is over $7 billion. But again, my thoughts go back to “why does this matter?”. It brings up questions that I struggled with throughout gender-focused courses in grad school. Does the presence of a few female billionaires mean empowerment for everyday women? Two other women heavily referenced in this context are Isabel Dos Santos, an investor and the daughter of Angolan President, Eduardo Dos Santos, and Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the widow of Kenya’s first President. While I would like to assume that these women are billionaires based improving economic conditions in Africa, I am fully aware of the nepotism and cronyism that plague industry and politics alike in Africa, I’m not so certain their inclusion on this list is a sign of improved gender equality or women’s empowerment. The articles reacting to these seemed to think these women were bucking the trend of “big men” ruling Africa, but at least two seem to have their wealth simply because of their connections to “big men”.

Another thing the reporting basically ignored, or chose not to delve in to, is the geographic disparity of where the billionaires are from.  Of the total 55 billionaires, 20 are Nigerian, nine are South African and eight are Egyptian. The fact that 20 of the 55 billionaires are from Nigeria is interesting. It’s no secret that many of Africa’s nations are plagued by corruption in politics and business. And Nigeria in particular is notorious for this, ranked the 37th most corrupt nation in the world. This known fact combined with the country’s disproportionate share of billionaires should raise some red flags. And furthermore, South Africa and to an extent Egypt are known economic outliers in Africa, with GDPs that far outpace most of their African neighbors.

The last aspect I’ll touch upon that I believe was underreported is the industries in which the billionaires on the list made their money. It’s no surprise that oil and gas industries are heavily represented on this list, particularly out of Nigeria. It’s also no surprise, at least to those of us interested in the environment or West Africa or both, that Nigeria has a dismal track record when it comes to oil and gas exploration. Their environmental practices are ruining the Niger delta, workplace safety is almost nonexistent, and corruption within the industry and government relations remains abundant. Not to mention the incredibly detrimental impacts of these trends on Nigerian communities who rely on the oil and gas industry for jobs. Obviously oil and gas was not the only industry on the list. Fields like telecoms, manufacturing, financial services and construction are also represented on the list, which I believe does evidence a changing and improving economic situation in Africa, as these are not extractive industries that have the potential to create long-term, skilled employment for Africans. However, based on what I gathered from the list, these industries are mostly gaining strength in South Africa and they may not yet be viable industries in all African countries.

So there you have it. My long-winded reaction to a very small piece of news that was both over-reported in terms of coverage, and underreported in terms of content and context. But where does it leave us? I can only speak for myself, but it leaves me with hope and a sense of challenge. It leaves me with hope because, yes, it is positive that entrepreneurship is taking hold in Africa on a larger scale than previously experienced. But the challenge is what I sense more – the challenge to change the way we view economic development. To dig deeper beyond the surface level “billionaires exist” to the more complex, and certainly more worthwhile ideas of who does this benefit? How did those billionaires come to be? And perhaps most importantly – what does this mean for the life of the everyday individual struggling to provide for their family? In essence, I’ll care more about these billionaires, these outliers, when I hear how they use their economic power to change the industries that made them wealthy – from industries that allow a few to capitalize, to industries that offer viable and safe livelihoods for the communities and families and everyday people who live in the African countries that they too call home.

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ALEXANDER BOWE

"Protect Medical Workers' Safety." Courtesy of Caixun.

“Protect Medical Workers’ Safety.” Courtesy of Caixun.

In the fall of 2009, I interned in the traumatology ward of Hangzhou Chinese Medicine Hospital in order to study sports medicine as part of my martial arts practice. I had hoped to see bone-setters at work, but the overwhelming majority of the patients were simply elderly people with bone spurs or degrading artificial hips that were giving them trouble. Unfortunately, the only thing that could be done for most of those patients was to give them herbal poultices and/or modern painkillers; I was told by the doctor whom I shadowed that back in the seventies and eighties – when the country was first beginning to develop – doctors saw a lot of car accidents and other industrial injuries. These days, however, all they got was old people with disintegrating bodies – great for China, but not so great for my ambitions of studying traditional bone-setting. Then, one day, a woman was rushed into our ER. She had been bitten by a poisonous snake while laboring in a field; she was still dressed in her work clothes and her hand had swollen up to twice its normal size. She had been driven into the city from her hometown, several hours away from our hospital. I asked why she hadn’t just gone to a more local facility and was told, “No one trusts rural clinics. They all think that you have to go to a big one in the city to get any kind of decent help.”

Many Chinese are extremely dissatisfied with the state of China’s healthcare system. The world has seen in the last couple of weeks just how frustrated some in China are over its healthcare situation, which causes many people to act under the same assumptions as the anecdotal snake-bitten farmer. China’s urban hospitals are constantly overwhelmed by patients who have traveled great distances, resulting in an even higher strain on the already insufficient system. The too-few doctors are being spread far too thin to be effective: according to the Wall Street Journal, in 2010 there were only 1.4 doctors per 1,000 Chinese, meaning that average appointments only last a few minutes. Chinese doctors are even notorious among expatriates for making shoddy diagnoses with potentially severe ramifications. China’s medical system has been broken for quite some time, in fact. Rising costs and under-trained professionals are just the tip of the iceberg.

During the Cultural Revolution, rural China relied on so-called “barefoot doctors” (chijiao yisheng), minimally trained medical workers whose expertise mostly covered basic hygiene, preventive healthcare, and family planning, since professionally trained doctors were rarely willing to work in remote areas. This system was highly effective in many areas but ceased in 1981 as part of China’s larger shift away from collective-based management. As a result of the shift from healthcare provided by collectives to privately managed healthcare, coverage in rural China dropped from 90% in 1981 to just 7% of all counties by 1999. Since 2002, government-funded rural health insurance in the form of collective medical schemes (CMS) that mimic the old barefoot doctor system in some ways has significantly increased rural coverage: by 2009, 94% of rural counties offered coverage under CMS. The amount of coverage provided under these schemes, however, is still relatively low: current premium subsidies are about ¥80 (roughly $13) per capita. The legacy of poor coverage since collectivism effectively ended and the current low coverage levels are some of the factors that drive rural Chinese to ignore their rural providers and travel to cities instead, which results in the overwhelming of urban infrastructure.

The rising costs of healthcare in China remain a huge obstacle even where coverage is available. By 2020, total healthcare expenditure is expected to hit $1 tn as China continues to modernize its infrastructure. A great part of this cost is due to the increasing ubiquity of Western medicines. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which relies mostly on formulas composed of plants, animals, and minerals, all of which are collectively referred to as “herbs,” is still common and is generally less expensive than allopathic medicine since it does not rely on costly chemical processing and manufacturing. However, the use of allopathic drugs has shot up over the last couple of decades while the prevalence of traditionally trained TCM doctors has declined: as of 2007, there were only 270,000, half as many as in 1949, while the number of Western-trained doctors had increased by a factor of twenty to approximately 1.7 million. Currently, as much of 40% of China’s healthcare expenditure goes to medicine, compared to 10-12% for most Western countries. Part of this abnormally high cost, as has been revealed in the wake of the ongoing GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical scandal, is due to corruption and bribery aimed at increasing profits. Public hospitals are often encouraged to over-zealously prescribe medications to patients in order to gain more revenue; this, combined with the high prices, amounts to an extraordinarily high overall expenditure on medicine.

The high cost of medicine and lack of sufficient coverage, however, are only two of the problems confronting China’s healthcare. The recent hostility toward medical workers has exacerbated doctors’ resentment of the poor working conditions that the overcrowded hospitals have created. In addition to the widely-publicized fatal stabbing in eastern Zhejiang on Friday, October 25, there has been a rash of attacks at Chinese hospitals over the last few years: in 2010, there were more than 17,000 attacks spread across 70% of China’s hospitals.According to a 2013 survey of doctors by the Chinese Medical Doctor Association, 80% of the respondents said that they would not want their children to enter the medical industry, up from a 2009 survey in which 62.5% of respondents gave the same answer. The number of responding doctors which expressed this opinion has consistently increased each time the survey has been administered since 2002. Most of the doctors who responded also indicated that their salaries “didn’t match how much work they put into their jobs, and that tense doctor-patient relationships and enormous amounts of pressure at work are creating a negative attitude toward their jobs.”

Clearly, both patients and medical staff are extremely dissatisfied with the current state of China’s healthcare infrastructure. It will be absolutely necessary to continue to modernize and ramp up government spending in order to both make care more affordable and to decrease the individual workloads of doctors. This will be especially crucial in the coming years as China gets older and thus becomes more susceptible to chronic degenerative diseases. In addition to the rising risk of cancer and heart disease, which are now China’s top killersaccording to a new study, half of all adult Chinese may be pre-diabetic, meaning that many Chinese will likely depend even more heavily on the medical infrastructure in the near future than they do now. At its current levels of coverage and quality, the system just won’t cut it. It is often said of China that its main problem is “getting old before it gets rich”; getting sick before it gets rich may be more than the system can handle, and it may once again become the “Sick Man of Asia” but in a more literal sense than ever before.

Alexander Bowe has an MA in International Studies from the Korbel School and is currently a doctoral candidate in Political Science at Tsinghua University.

Preexisting Conditions: A Brief History of the Modern Chinese Healthcare System

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Note for the Cross-Cultural Communicator: Bridging Languages and Cultures

LAURA JAGLA

Mozambician Wedding

Mozambician Wedding

As development professionals, diplomats, and citizens in the U.S. and abroad, what are some efficient communication strategies that we can use for reaching audiences and building understanding among people with values and cultural norms different from our own? Majo Aldana in her TKR October 9th post “Meet me where I’m at” provided excellent food for thought for how to share pertinent health information with people through using communication strategies that meet people “where they’re at” through considering their socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Aldana emphasized that it is not enough to communicate with people in their first or native language; it is as important to integrate cultural context in interactions with people to achieve development objectives. As a person who has had to communicate in several foreign languages to reach common understanding, I wanted to share my recent experiences in the challenges of reaching people where they are at across language and cultural barriers.

1. Finding Common Ground
Last year, during a visit to a youth rehabilitation camp in Rwanda, I was reminded that cross-cultural communication requires taking into account cultural cues and context for eliciting open responses and achieving objectives. Our team visited this camp to get a better understanding of the situation of displaced youth in the country (youth who were typically living on the streets for various reasons) and see how these camps were equipping the youth with skills and support to reintegrate them into their communities. When we arrived at the camp, we conversed with the camp’s staff in French, one of Rwanda’s three official languages (French, English, and Kinyarwanda). However, I noticed that one of the staff members at the camp was a bit more reserved. He had once been a displaced youth, and I was curious about his perspective on the camp. So, I decided to change my approach when talking to him. Instead of sticking strictly to business, I switched from French to Kinyarwanda to ask him how his day had been. An instant smile came to his face. “You speak Kinyarwanda,” he said. I explained to him how I picked up a few expressions while visiting a friend’s village and I described my visit there. We then had an excellent conversation on his experience at the camp and the possibilities for youth in Rwanda.

2. Building Trust
In the past months, I had a similar experience in modifying my approach to language and culture to increase understanding and meet new friends at a Mozambican wedding. A friend invited me to partake in her family’s cheugiani celebration; the last part of a traditional Mozambican wedding, which involves traditional Mozambican outfits, dance, song, and presents at the groom’s house. I was the first American to ever visit her family’s house, and her family initially spoke to me in a more distant, formal manner in Portuguese. However, after I sat in the shade of a mango tree cleaning kale leaves with the women for a traditional Mozambique wedding dish and tempted to learn words in Changana (local Bantu dialect), those at the wedding were surprised with my knowledge of Mozambican food and culture. Laughter and stories ensued. Over time, I built trust with the women through sharing in their everyday activities. The women taught me about cultural norms for women in Mozambique, opportunities for youth, and perceptions about health and development.

In Rwanda and Mozambique, through sharing my experiences, incorporating local dialects in my speech, and keeping in mind cultural norms, I have found that people have been more open to sharing their experiences with me. Communicating with people in their first language is not enough for fostering understanding. Through building trust over time and finding common ground, it becomes easier communicate with people in spite of language differences and cultural norms.

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Rebalancing Act, Part Two – On the Extremity of China’s Investment-led Development Model

DANIEL ROARTY

The recently released data on China’s 3rd quarter growth seems optimistic on the surface – while many analysts have been predicting a gradual slowdown in the Chinese economy, 3rd quarter figures show it accelerating from 7.5% growth in the previous quarter to 7.8% this quarter. However, rapidly expanded credit enacted earlier this year is mainly responsible for this acceleration – industrial output, energy output, and exports all slumped in the same period. Conversely, investments in transportation infrastructure and sewage systems skyrocketed. These figures lead to the conclusion that China is still heavily dependent on investment for economic growth and that it has yet to begin a long-awaited rebalance away from investment-led growth to consumption-led growth.

This post will investigate China’s rebalancing from a historical perspective, comparing China’s consumption to GDP ratio to that of other countries using data from the World Bank, and will end with some conclusions that can be derived from this comparative historical analysis. Continue reading

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Refuge from Climate Change

MARYAM KAR

Kiribati

Kiribati

In 1988, two United Nations organizations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The scientific intergovernmental organization was later endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 43/53. The role of the IPCC is to “assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in recent years demonstrate a near consensus on climate change and the role that human activity plays in its development. Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time, given its worldwide scope and capacity to change the face of the planet forever. From Hurricane Katrina, dubbed the most destructive hurricane to strike the US, to the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami that resulted in more than 18,000 deaths, it is clear that erratic weather patterns and major shifts in our climate can have immense effects on our everyday lives.

Last week, a New Zealand court heard the appeal of a very novel type of asylum seeker: a climate change refugee. The individual, who cannot be named due to New Zealand immigration law, is seeking refuge in the country for himself and his family, due to rising sea levels in his home country of Kiribati. “Kiribati, an impoverished string of 33 coral atolls about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, has about 103,000 people and has been identified by scientists as one of the nations that is most vulnerable to climate change. The country’s atolls have an average height above sea level of just 6.5 feet.” According to this individual, his family had to seek higher ground as so-called king tides have become a norm in Kiribati, killing crops, flooding homes and sickening people.

The world’s oceans have been rising at an annual rate of 0.1 inches since 1970, and this poses a great risk for low-lying island countries, such as those in the South Pacific. Countries such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands are at great risk due to rising ocean levels. Earlier this month, an international panel of climate scientists issued a report saying that it was “extremely likely” that human activity was causing global warming, and predicted that oceans could rise by as much as 3.3 feet by the end of the century. If that were to happen, much of Kiribati would simply disappear.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.” While this definition is very thorough and constructive – given the causes of migration in the past – it does not fully encompass all acceptable causes of migration. In today’s world, people are not only harmed and persecuted by war or violence, but also suffer greatly due to drastic weather patterns in places they call home. While estimates vary on the rate and speed at which our oceans are rising and our climate is changing, there is much concern about vulnerable populations in certain countries. If climate change does continue its course with no fundamental obstacles placed in its place, entire populations of South Pacific island countries should be considered possible future climate change refugees. And this is not taking into consideration other consequences of climate change that include droughts, deforestation and flooding.

According to Renaud et al, there are three types of environmentally driven refugees or migrants. Environmental emergency migrants are people that are displaced due to sudden events, especially disasters. These migrants flee to save their lives due to events such as floods, hurricanes, tsunami waves, and volcanic eruptions. There is also a high chance that these migrants will eventually return to their homes once they no longer in immediate danger. Environmentally forced migrants are people who have to abandon their homes in connection with worsening environmental condition. These migrants are forced to leave because of gradual and often irreversible degradation of the environment, with limited opportunity to return to their homes. The causes of such displacements include: droughts, coastal deterioration, and deforestation. Finally, there are environmentally motivated migrants, who decide to migrate from a deteriorating area anticipating negative environmental changes in the future. This migration is a response to environmental degradation, but it is not an emergency action. Environmental emergency migrants are quite common, given the frequency with which certain countries are hit with earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis. The theory for the future, however, is that we will be seeing a higher number of environmentally forced migrants, as certain regions will become entirely uninhabitable.

Norman Myers, a British environmentalist, has written extensively on the subject of environmental migrants. In his paper, Environmental Exodus, Myers put the number of climate change refugees at 200 million by 2050. Various NGOs and both the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and the president of the UN General Assembly in 2008 have mentioned this number. While Myers does point out that this number is in the upper limit, many have questioned the methodology and accuracy of his estimate. Irrespective of whether this estimate is entirely accurate, it is a fact that ocean levels are rising, and many low-lying countries are at risk. It is a fact that droughts, deforestation, tsunamis and massive earthquakes are making certain areas of the world highly volatile places to live. And it is a fact that we need to start paying attention to the consequences of climate change, one being mass migrations around the globe.

Legal experts believe that the appeal of the individual from Kiribati seeking asylum in New Zealand will be denied, given an earlier tribunal decision, which rejected his claim on the grounds that his life wasn’t in jeopardy and many others on Kiribati faced similar problems. The legal principle at the moment, according to Bill Hodge, a constitutional law expert at the University of Auckland, only recognizes the individual risk and not the collective risk. If the man’s appeal is rejected, he will be deported with his wife and three New Zealand-born children, the youngest less than a year old. While this individual is likely to be deported along with his family, he has raised a very important issue which governments must sooner than later make a priority. Climate change is a social problem, and its consequences can be dire for millions in vulnerable locations.

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