A ominous development’ is threatening the already precarious situation of the world’s refugees, warns a new report by the Minority Rights Group - ‘and the future outlook appears to be a cumulative nightmare
The report notes that the rapid growth in the number of refugees has slowed considerably from the boom years of 1974-82. But it points to a new trend: the build-up of semi-permanent concentrations of refugees in parts of Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.
‘Africa alone now contains some four million refugees, largely forgotten by the world’s public consciousness’, notes the report. Although since the report was written worldwide attention has been given to the Ethiopian famine and the consequent upheaval of hundreds of thousands of people, the point remains valid: who remembers the 96,000 refugees in Angola, or the 50,000 in Rwanda?
Most governments and relief agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to provide adequate assistance to existing refugee populations, and their difficulties are compounded when new influxes of displaced people pour in.
In the industrialised countries of the West the economic slump has made governments less receptive to refugees, and more choosy: the countries of Western Europe, for example, will rarely accept the sick, the old and the unskilled. For them, the ‘ideal’ refugee is a Russian ballerina; the most unacceptable an illiterate Malian peasant. There was, for instance, considerable support for the contingency plans drawn up by the Red Cross in 1978 for the resettling of 100,000 white Rhodesians; it proved much harder to find homes for the Vietnamese ‘boat people’.
It is sensible, however, to ensure that refugees have a good chance of integrating with whatever community they end up in. For that to happen, a greater effort must be made to see refugees as assets rather than as problems - they often make important contributions to their country of asylum. In addition international agencies need to pay more attention to the difficulties experienced by host governments such as Sudan and Pakistan, where huge numbers of refugees have adversely affected the local economy and environment and produced conflicts between newcomers and the indigenous population.
The second international conference on assistance to refugees in Africa, held in Geneva last July, showed the way. It marked out a new system under which the immediate relief needs of refugees would be taken care of but more funds would be committed to improving the social and economic infrastructure of host nations.
Daniel Nelson, Gemini
MANY doctors still recommend cholera vaccinations. The bad news for those who take their advice and suffer the often painful side-effects is that the jabs are virtually useless.
The International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (ICDDR) in Bangladesh also points out that, especially in developing countries, the vaccinations often spread hepatitis, which can cause fatal liver damage. According to Dr William Greenough, director of the ICDDR, ‘the only adequate current means of dealing with cholera are the two types of re-hydration therapy, as well as antibiotics to curtail the spread of epidemics. The current injected vaccine is not only useless but harmful and wasteful of money in countries which can ill afford such a loss.’
Although many countries have dropped their former insistence on vaccination for entry, the cholera vaccines are still used around the world. But while the rest of the world has still to catch up with the new knowledge, ICDDR is moving ahead to increase its understanding of why the vaccine does not work.
One explanation for the failure of the current vaccine to offer protection is that it acts in the bloodstream, while the cholera infection is acquired through the intestine when germs are ingested along with unclean food and drink.
An oral vaccine, like that used to combat polio, would reach the intestine directly and the Dhaka team is now testing one on 30,000 Bangladeshis - the vaccine has already been tested on volunteers in the US. The next cholera epidemic should prove the effectiveness or otherwise of the new technique.
The Dhaka vaccine has an added advantage in that it does not require sterilisers and syringes; it can thus be administered by health workers other than doctors and nurses. Furthermore, it maybe possible to store the new vaccine at room temperature, cutting out the need for refrigeration.
If all goes well and the field trials prove successful, ‘shots’ to protect people against cholera could soon be a thing of the past - saving lives, money and many painful arms.
Dr Chitra Wijesinha, Gemini
AUSTRALIA’S decision to increase the fees charged to overseas students, most of whom come from Asian countries. has sharpened the debate about the value of aid through education which concerns development activists the world over.
Two factors were involved in the decision: one, the cost of overseas students’ education. estimated at $70 million above the total entry fees they now pay; the other the pressure for places at university for Australian students, more of whom seek tertiary education because of increasing youth unemployment.
Defenders of Asian students point out that each student spends about $5,000 in Australia on goods and services. This balances their educational costs. It has also been estimated that the monetary value to Australia of post-graduate research by Asians is between $10 million and $25 million a year.
In circles in Australia concerned with development issues there has long been a debate about educational aid. On one side it is argued that there are important benefits in cross-cultural understanding in having students come to Australia (a sizeable proportion of the Malaysian elite was educated here): on the other that training in the Australian environment does not meet the needs of developing countries where the technology is simpler and there should be concentration on people to work at the grass roots.
In its submission to a Government inquiry on the issue, the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) --peak body of the aid organisations - said there was a threat of irrelevancy as well as brain drain if students studied here.
ACFOA recommended the retention of a significant scholarship and training program as a way of assisting the transfer of knowledge and appropriate technology to developing countries. But it said that a greater and increasing proportion of the program should be allocated to in-country training and for training in appropriate institutions in other developing countries.
THERE is perhaps a lesson for Western countries its the deepening economic crisis of General Pinochet’s Chile, which has been following strict monetarist policies for the last decade.
No longer do you get the smell of frying meat around the shanty towns which used to be common on Saturday nights a few years ago,’ said a foreign priest working in Santiago. ‘Now the poor can only afford to buy meat once or twice a year.’
The comment graphically described the extent of Chile’s economic crisis. Even though the numerous shanty towns surrounding the capital manage to hide their poverty, many social workers describe the
situation of the people as desperate. An average of three families live in each of the small wooden shacks - the Pinochet dictatorship does not allow new shanty towns to be founded, thus closing off the safety valve which in other Latin American countries allows the poor a plot of land on which to build their homes.
This overcrowding is compounded by unprecedentedly high levels of unemployment. The official figure at the end of last year was 15 per cent but even the Central Bank uses statistics from the University of Chile which put the real unemployment rate nearer 30 per cent.
Even the US. which under President Reagan had effectively turned a blind eye to the regime’s tactics, has now begun to call for a return to democracy. As long as US economic aid was arriving, many opposition leaders here viewed such calls with scepticism. But Washington now finds itself under increasing pressure from members of Congress to distance itself from Pinochet and bring about some democratic opening. Otherwise, it is feared, the US may in time be faced with what the State Department calls ‘anew Nicaragua’ - namely, the radicalisation of the opposition. Already the new broad-based guerilla movement, the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, is gaining substantial popular support, especially in the shanty towns.
US abstention in a recent vote on an aid grant for Chile in the Interamerican Development Bank indicates that Washington is now willing to lend some economic weight to its stated opposition. With Chile’s economy showing no signs of real recovery. General Pinochet is seeing the disappearance of his last basis of support outside the armed forces.
Peadar Kirby, Gemini
ANTI-RACISM doesn’t just mean fighting institutional discrimination - it also involves combatting the negative images of black people which pervade Western culture. One such long-standing image is that of the golliwog and a new booklet produced by London’s Greenwich Council sets out the case against it.
The golliwog was created by Florence Upton in her 1895 book Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg. which was such a success that a further 13 books featuring the character followed. But the image had deeper roots. The golly was modelled on the American minstrels who blacked up their faces to present a happy-go-lucky caricature of black people. But this in turn was based on the belief in the superiority of the white race which underpinned racism and colonialism.
Not surprisingly, black people find the continued use of the golliwog image offensive and humiliating. Pressure is mounting in Britain, for instance, on the jam merchants Robertsons who use it as their trademark and produce all the cuddly toy gollies. Robertsons refuse even to countenance a change. stating that ’The Golly is deeply embedded in this country’s cultural heritage’ - anti-racist campaigners would not disagree with them but would wish for a change in the country’s racist culture as well.
The socialist Greater London Council has taken the initiative by refusing to place contracts with companies that use the symbol - this was in response to complaints from the public. Since Robertsons claim that only a tiny minority object to their use of the golliwog it is clearly worth registering your protest. Their address is James Robertson & Sons, P0 Box 4. Manchester M35 6DR, UK. The anti-golly booklet is available from Community Affairs Section, London Borough of Greenwich, Riverside House, Beresford Street. London SE18 6PW, UK at 5Op + 22p p&p. (53p p&p outside UK).
ELECTRICITY is expensive - and if developing countries are to benefit from it fully they will have to find ways of generating it that don’t depend on imports of heavy fuel.
The tiny African island of Mauritius, for instance, currently spends at least one third of its currency reserves on fuel - but it is leading the way in finding alternatives. Not only is it likely to become the first African country to generate electricity from the sea. but it has also become the focus of international attention thanks to its plan to produce cheap electricity from sugar cane.
The sea power will work on much the same principle as conventional hydroelectric power - waves will crash over a specially constructed wall to form a reservoir eight to ten feet above sea level. A pilot scheme costing nine million dollars is going ahead with European Economic Community (EEC) support.
But the use of sugar cane as a power source is more novel. It could, moreover. have enormous implications for the many developing countries that are dependent on sugar cane, and thus are prey to the vagaries of sugar prices in the world market. World prices have recently been depressed by the EEC’s offloading of its surplus sugar beet crop.
The system, which involves compressing the cane into bagasse pellets, was developed in Hawaii by two Mauritian engineers -- hence Mauritius’ selection as the site of the pilot project designed for sugar-producing countries. It is hoped that sugar cane will eventually provide 85 to 90 per cent of the island’s power needs. The results are being awaited with baited breath.