In this June 2017 issue
- An Evening with Senator Sanders –Livestream from Berlin
- DAA Talks: Melissa Fleming on the Plight of Refugees
- Young Dems Pub Night Summer Edition
- It ’s just Absolutely Fabulous! Join us June 17th for Vienna 's Pride Parade
- Solidarity Sundays Vienna #5
- Save the Date - Fourth of July party on the SECOND of July!
Issues and Actions
- An Interview with Melissa Fleming
- June is LGBT Pride Month
- U.S. Special Elections in 2017
- Print, Pose, and Post –Participate in DA ’s Virtual Tax March
- Taking It To the Streets: Protest in the Time of Trump
- Democratic Party Committee Abroad 2017 Global Meeting
- Making Resistance Easier
- Thanks to the Republikanischer Club: Menschlich, Realistisch, Fair
1. An Evening with Senator Sanders –Livestream from Berlin
Please join Democrats Abroad Austria for an early evening with Senator Bernie Sanders via livestream from the Freie Universit ät Berlin on Wednesday, 31 May! The Senator will discuss social renewal in the U.S. and globally in front of a live audience with Christoph Amend, Chief Editor of DIE ZEIT Magazin.
The livestream begins at 18.00. (All are invited to arrive early to purchase food and beverage.)
WHEN: Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 12:00 PM - 03:00 PM
WHERE: Beaver Brewing Company
CONTACT: Bruce Murray · email@example.com
2. DAA Talks: Melissa Fleming on the Plight of Refugees
- You must RSVP by May 19th for you and your guests to be on the guest list!
- Seating is limited and we expect this event to be fully booked. Don ’t wait to reserve your spot!
- Join us beforehand for light refreshments at 18:30. The talk will begin at 19:00.
- Donations from U.S. citizens will be accepted.
We are pleased to announce that Melissa Fleming, Head of Communication and Chief Spokesperson at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), currently working as Senior Advisor to the UN Secretary General, and author of A HOPE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE SEA will address DAA members and friends.
At the UNHCR, Melissa has led a media team to bring the news and stories of the world 's sixty million refugees and displaced people to the public. Her discussion will highlight the stories of human suffering and resilience she has witnessed on a daily basis and bring to life the story of Doaa al Zamel, a young Syrian woman who was one of the few survivors, together with the baby she saved, of a boating disaster that killed over five hundred men, women and children who were attempting to reach the safety and promise of Europe.
Melissa has recently written a book, A HOPE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE SEA, published by Flatiron, which details Doaa 's journey from her war-ravaged country of Syria to her exile in Egypt to her nightmare on the Mediterranean Sea and finally to her new home in Sweden. The refugee crisis is one of the most pertinent topics for discussion right now. We thank Melissa for agreeing to speak with us.
Here is a recent review of Melissa 's book from The New Yorker: Written by an official in the U.N.’s refugee agency, this deeply affecting book recounts the story of a young Syrian, Doaa al Zamel. In 2011, as a shy, stubborn fifteen-year-old, she demonstrated against the regime; after fleeing to Egypt, she stitched bags in a burlap factory, hoping to get to Europe. In September, 2014, she was pulled from the Mediterranean, parched and delirious, with two small children clasped to her chest. She ’d been afloat for four days, after a boat smuggling her to Europe sank, killing five hundred other passengers, including her fianc é. Fleming brings a moral urgency to the narrative. Doaa is now safe in Sweden, but Fleming pointedly asks, “Why is there no massive resettlement program for Syrians —the victims of the worst war of our times?”
Please join us for an evening that focuses on one of the human tragedies of our day …when we become better and more personally informed, we are also perhaps better prepared to help! Go to Melissa Fleming 's Linked in page for further biographical information on Melissa Fleming.
WHEN: Thursday, June 08, 2017 at 06:30 PM - 08:30 PM
WHERE: Republikanischer Club
CONTACT : Jennifer Rakow-Stepper · firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Young Dems Pub Night Summer Edition
Summer is finally here, and we can finally return to our favorite summer spot along the Donau Canal. We 're starting a little later since it 's a Friday night. If you can 't find us, ask for the table reserved under Democrats Abroad.
WHEN: Friday, June 09, 2017 at 07:30 PM - 11:30 PM
WHERE: Strandbar Hermann
Ashley Arreola · email@example.com ·+436503749481
4. It ’s just Absolutely Fabulous! Join us for Vienna 's Pride Parade
DANCING IN THE STREETS, FEATHERS, BEADS &MASKS WHAT MORE DO WE NEED TO HAVE A BLAST AT THIS YEAR ’S VIENNA 'S PRIDE PARADE!
Join Democrats Abroad Austria as we march and dance at this year ’s Vienna Pride Parade. Although the Pride Parade begins at 14:00 on Saturday June 17th, participants planning to join the Democrats Abroad Austria contingent in the parade should meet in Rathausplatz at 1:00 p.m. (exact line-up location is TBD). Participants may simply join the group at the beginning of the parade route, but RSVPs are strongly encouraged.
Our parade group is open to all. We urge participants to bring signs —the more colorful and creative the better —and we encourage participants to wear colorful costumes (feathers, beads, masks, fairy tale character, glitter).
You can RSVP for this event using one of the methods below:
- The Democrats Abroad Austria Event page
- Email Juan
- Use Facebook (For current Democrats Abroad Austria Facebook Group members)
WHEN: Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM
CONTACT: Juan Cerda · firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Solidarity Sundays Vienna #5
ENVIRONMENT WITHOUT PROTECTION:
Does the earth stand a chance?
How to live without the EPA, climate protocols, and nuclear disarmament?
Democrats Abroad members Faith Hall Herbold and Andreas Beckmann will lead us through some answers to these questions.
One answer will be to take action, pick up your phone and get your representatives and fellow voters to take action!
Learn about the issues, LEARN TO PHONE BANK. It 's easier to brave the phone banking system when you have a Democrat friend and potato chips at hand. Let 's go! Bring your laptop!
WHEN: Sunday, June 25, 2017 at 04:00 PM - 06:00 PM
CONTACT: Antje Lewis · email@example.com
6. Fourth of July on the Second of July in the Prater!
We 're celebrating the Fourth of July once again with Americans in International Organizations in Vienna (AIOV) on Sunday, July 2nd. We look forward to coming together to celebrate this all-American Holiday. Please join us on from 11:00 until dusk at the Cantina at the Prater park, located at the end of the number 1 tram line, Prater Hauptallee station, near the ASKO softball fields.
There will be American style hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and hotdogs, French fries, beer, wine and soft drinks, games, softball (to watch and to play), and live music with ‘Just the Troubles ’. Come ready to dance and bring an American picnic side dish and dessert to share, and any outdoor games you ’d like to play (Frisbee, football, bocci ball, etc.).
Payment: The food and drinks will be purchased from the Cantina; prices will be announced. There is no charge for this event, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the AIOV and DAA.
WHEN: Sunday, July 02, 2017 at 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM
CONTACT: Ashley Arreola · firstname.lastname@example.org ·+436503749481
Issues and Actions1. An Interview with Melissa Fleming
by Ellen Lewis, Democrats Abroad Executive Committee Member
The number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world has topped 65 million . Just this week, more than 30 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as hundreds fell from a migrant boat off the coast of Libya. Some 60,000 refugees are currently stranded in Greece. In South Sudan, political conflict, drought, and famine have created a dire situation, with tens of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries.
I sat down with Melissa Fleming, Head of Communications and Chief Spokesperson for the UNHCR, who will be speaking on June 8 th to DAA members and friends on the plight of refugees. Melissa has written a book, A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, recounting one Syrian woman ’s perilous and dramatic journey to reach safety and a new home in Europe.
The statistics are mind-boggling and the individual stories heart-wrenching. Melissa ’s work is informed by both and during our conversation it became clear that in her position as spokesperson for the UNHCR, she is personally driven by a compassion for and dedication to helping refugees throughout the world.
EL: You ’ve worked with the UNHCR since 2008. How would you compare the refugee crisis today with what was happening when you started at the organization?
MF: It ’s much much bigger, and I think that it has been going up about 10 million a year; I have to look at the exact figure from 10 years ago, but it has just consistently gone up. The Syria conflict is a [major factor], but every year we keep announcing the new figures and it ’s always the [largest] number since WWII. We also still have large numbers of Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, refugees from South Sudan, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo as well. There are now 65 million people who are forcibly displaced; these are record numbers; the organization has continued to grow to meet the demands, the budget has increased fourfold …
2. June is LGBT Pride Month
June is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month) and is currently celebrated each year to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. In 1969, the solicitation of homosexual relations was illegal. Gay bars were the only places of refuge where lesbians and gays could socialize without public harassment. However, gay bars were subject to frequent police harassment. On June 28, 1969, the police entered the Stonewall Inn bar, arrested employees, roughed up patrons, arrested anyone who was not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing. This time the patrons fought back and rioted against the police brutality. This act of defiance, the Stonewall riots, are now considered to be the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Now, each year, pride is celebrated throughout the international community to pay tribute to diversity, lgbt rights, and individuality.
As a community, we have come a long way from the Stonewall riots and, yes, we may have marriage equality in the United States; nevertheless,LGBT rights are still under siege by the Republican statehouses. In Texas, the State Senate and Assembly passed two anti-lgbt bills: one bill is HB3859, which allows counselors as well as adoption and foster care agencies the ability to refuse services based on religious beliefs. The second bill, SB2078, targets transgender students in schools. Both bills are now making their way to the Governor ’s desk. We need you. Please send a message to the Governor, asking him to veto HB 3859 and SB 2078.
Internationally, LGBT members are being persecuted and sentenced to concentration camps. Authorities in Chechnya - a Russian republic - have rounded up at least 100 gay men and placed them in concentration camps where they are tortured, starved, and often killed. The Chechen ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, plans to " eliminate "all of Chechnya 's LGBT community by the beginning of Ramadan, which begins on May 26. In the face of media inquiries, Chechen spokespeople have claimed that gay men simply " do not exist. "Despite international outrage, Putin and Trump have remained silent. But we can do something: through All Out , we can each donate to support the efforts of the Russian LGBT Network to get LGBT people out of Chechnya as soon as possible.
Closer to home in Vienna, you can also help by supporting and learning more about Queer Base , a program which helps and supports LGBTIQ refugees who have sought refuge in Austria. You can also participate in this year ’s Vienna Pride Parade and show your support: see the event section of this newsletter for more information.
4. U.S. Special Elections in 2017
On Tuesday, May 23, Democrats had their first Trump era special election wins in the New Hampshire and New York State Legislatures and turned two traditionally safe red states blue. This is great news and illustrates how often-forgotten Special Elections can really matter. Below is a shortened version listing the spring and summer deadlines from an article that noted all of the special elections that will take place in 2017, which was
posted on democratsabroad.org website by DA GOTV committee member, Eileen Weinberg, on February 11, 2017.
We ’ll list the fall Special Election deadlines in September. Make sure to register, vote, and spread the word to friends and family back home to help get out the vote! Please click here for the entire piece; to keep up-to-date about the most recent races, make sure to check out flippable .
As overseas citizens, we need to make sure that we go through the process of completing the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to register and request a ballot for the handful of states that will be holding special elections for federal offices this year. We want to encourage all overseas citizens to participate in all special elections, as well as in statewide and local elections occurring in 2017.
If you are a resident from any of the states and voting districts listed below, please register and request an absentee ballot today at VoteFromAbroad.org . You must complete, print out, sign and send the FPCA to your election office to ensure you will receive a ballot for the election. Please mail your voting materials early enough to account for mail delivery times .
California —U.S. House, 34th Congressional District
Special Election on June 6
Seat vacated by the resignation of Xavier Becerra (D) when he was confirmed as Attorney General of California —concerns voters in Los Angeles County (downtown and northeast).
Results of the Special Primary Election on April 4 mean that Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D) and former L.A. city planning commissioner Robert Lee Ahn (D) are set to advance to the runoff election on June 6.
- JUN 6 Voted ballot return by fax or mail (postmarked AND received by June 9)
Georgia —U.S. House, 6th Congressional District
Special Election Runoff on June 20
Seat vacated by the resignation of Tom Price (R) when he was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services —concerns voters in Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton Counties. Ballots will be sent beginning March 4 for those who have requested them.
Democrat Jon Ossoff received 48% of the votes cast for the congressional race between 18 candidates. He will face Karen Handel (R) —the closest contender with 20% —in the June runoff.
A federal judge has ordered Georgia to reopen voter registration for the runoff election, extending the deadline to May 21, 2017.
- JUN 16 Ballot request by email, fax or mail by 5pm
- JUN 20 Voted ballot return by mail (postmarked AND received by June 21)
South Carolina —U.S. House, 5th Congressional District
Special Election on June 20
Seat vacated by the resignation of Mick Mulvaney (R) when he was confirmed as Director of the OMB —concerns voters in Cherokee, Chester, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lancaster, Lee, Newberry, Spartanburg, Sumter, Union and York Counties.
Democrat Archie Parnell won the party 's nomination in the Primary Election on May 2 by a decisive margin, while top two GOP candidates will runoff in mid-May.
- JUN 20 Ballot request by email, fax or mail by 7pm
- JUN 20 Voted ballot return by email, fax by 7pm or mail (AND received by June 22 by 5pm)
Utah —U.S. House, 3rd Congressional District
Special Primary Election on August 14 | Special Election on November 7
Seat vacated by the resignation of Jason Chaffetz (R) —concerns voters in Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan, and Wasatch counties as well as portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties.
- JUL 17 Voter registration by email, fax or mail OR
- Back-up ballot (FWAB) can be used to register to vote if received by August 5
- AUG 10 Ballot request by email, fax or mail
- AUG 14 Voted ballot return by mail (postmarked AND received by August 27) OR
- AUG 15 by email or fax by 8pm in Utah local time
GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS IN 2017
New Jersey —Governor
State Primary Election on June 6
Incumbent Governor, Republican Chris Christie is term-limited and not eligible to run for re-election. Six Democrats are in the race for the party 's nomination to run for the November election -- community activist Bill Brennan, former U.S. treasury official Jim Johnson, State Senator (Union County) Raymond Lesniak, former U.S. ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy, State Assemblyman (Middlesex County) John Wisniewski, and Borough Council President (Tenafly) Mark Zinna
- JUN 2 Voter registration/Ballot request for primary by email or fax by 8pm
- JUN 6 Voted ballot return for primary by email, fax, and mail by 8pm
- State General Election on November 7
State Primary Election on June 13
Incumbent Governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe is term-limited and not eligible to run for re-election. The Democratic primary will decide if Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam or former U.S. Representative Tom Perriello will receive the party 's nomination for the November election.
- JUN 6 Ballot request for primary by email, fax or mail by 5pm
- JUN 13 Voted ballot return for primary by mail by 7pm
- Gubernatorial Election on November 7
5. Print, Pose, and Post –Participatein DA ’s Virtual Tax March
June 15, 2017 is the automatic IRS filing extension deadline for Americans overseas. In order to draw attention to our taxation issues, as well as to underscore that President Trump has yet to release his tax returns to the US public, DA ’s Global Action Team is launching a social media campaign that will run throughout the month of June. All you need to do is print, pose, and post to participate!
So, print out the A4 poster , find somewhere iconic, symbolic, or downright mundane to pose for your photo, and post it before June 15 to:
email@example.com , where it will be queued for the campaign 's launch via DA social media channels on the 15th.
D on 't forget to use the hashtags #virtualtaxmarch and #DAresists so that we can find and amplify your photos throughout the month as well!
1. Taking It To the Streets: Protest in the Time of Trumpby Tanya Lolonis, DA Grassroots Member
Black Lives Matter, the long-running and recently dismantled Dakota Access oil pipeline protest, the Women ’s March and the March for Science, protests against transgender discrimination bills —over the past year, and accelerating since the election, Americans are taking to the streets to oppose GOP policies. We ’ve racked up some successes: the travel ban was blocked by judges after protests delayed its implementation and citizens speaking up at town halls killed the first Obamacare repeal and are endangering Senate passage.
And Republicans are pushing back. While we follow national political developments, a flood of bills targeting protest tactics and enhancing penalties for civil disobedience are working their way through state legislatures. Bills designed to discourage the exercise of the right to assemble peacefully are being considered in over 20 states. These “represent an unprecedented level of hostility towards protesters in the 21st century ”(ACLU). Last month, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights wrote the State Department that this legislative activity is “incompatible with U.S. obligations under international human rights law.”
A sample: a North Dakota bill to shift liability from drivers who unintentionally hit protesters to protesters themselves did not survive public scrutiny —but a similar bill has been introduced in Tennessee and bills to jail protestors who block traffic are being drafted in Minnesota and Iowa. Wearing masks and hoodies and heckling politicians in North Carolina are specific targets and in Portland there is an attempt to reclassify demonstrations as “riots.”
Our first amendment assures the right of access to sidewalks, public spaces and streets, and protects the right to heckle, too. While the ACLU is fighting back in courts at home, we still enjoy the right to protest in Austria. Attending the Pride Parade is more celebration than protest, but its social and political messages are strong, clear —and protected. We invite you to join Democrats Abroad on June 17th as we march to demonstrate our support of LGBTQI rights and freedom.
DPCA Election Results
Democratic Party Committee Abroad 2017 Global Meeting
by Keith Jacomine, Vice Chair
Democrats Abroad country committees from around the world met physically and virtually in Washington DC from May 12-17 to conduct the business of the DPCA, elect new international officers, and hold meetings on Capitol Hill, advocating for issues important to Americans living overseas.
The International Officers who have been elected to serve two year terms are: Julia Bryan (DA-Czech Republic) International Chair, Alex Montgomery (DA-Hong Kong) International Vice-Chair, Lissette Wright (DA-Canada) International Treasurer, Jeffrey Cheng (DA-Sweden) International Secretary and Tom Schmid (DA-Japan) International Counsel.
In addition to the election, a variety of resolutions and amendments to the bylaws were voted on, and China was admitted as our newest country committee.
Over the course of four days, attendees heard from speakers including NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, MD Congressman Jamie Raskin, a DA France alumnus, and Congresswoman Holmes-Norton of Washington DC. Among others, Larry Cohen of the DNC Unity Reform Commission and Chairman of Our Revolution spoke about the importance of unions and progressive values, which kicked off the formation of the Democrats Abroad Progressive Caucus. Michael Blake, the newly elected DNC Vice-Chair, spoke about the changes taking place under the new leadership of Chairman Perez and Deputy Chairman Ellison.
You 'll be hearing more from our new Chair in the coming months on the DPCA 's plans for continuing to advance issues important to us: keep up the resistance to the current administration and prepare for the 2018 midterms.
Member ’s Corner
1. Making Resistance Easier
by Marcy R. Fowler, Treasurer
Resisting the destructive Trump agenda can be exhausting! Keeping up with the news from back home and taking the time to contact your elected officials can feel like a full-time job. Thankfully, there are many resources and tools emerging that will keep you informed and let you communicate your views from the comfort of your smart phone. Here are a couple of my current favorites:
Resistbot is my new favorite way to resist during my daily commute. To start, simply text “RESIST ”to 50409 (note: this is a US number, so using standard SMS from Austria is not recommended) or message Resistbot using Facebook messenger . The bot asks you some basic questions and then sends your letters to your elected officials via fax. The beauty of the program is its simplicity. With Resistbot, you can quickly prepare a letter and have it nicely formatted and sent automatically. As you get more experienced with the bot, additional options become available; for example, you can add your signature to the letters for a personal touch. Check out the Resistbot website for more information.
To stay up-to-date, on my way home from work I listen to The Daily podcast by Michael Barbaro of the New York Times, which features discussion of the major news items of the day with the journalists who are breaking the stories. The coverage of the recent White House scandals has been exceptional (the 24 April episode on then-FBI director Comey was particularly absorbing), with insight into just how these incredible stories are uncovered, how the news fits into the broader context, and what it all means. You can listen to The Daily free on the NYT website or through your favorite podcast app.
If you have any tips on other tools or sources that may be of interest to Dems Abroad, please email me at RationalResistanceAustria @ Gmail.com.
2. Thanks Republikanischer Club
DA Austria Executive Committee would like to thank the Republikanischer Club for generously allowing us to use their rooms for our first DAA Talks event with Melissa Fleming on Thursday, June 8th. The day before our event, the Republikanischer Club will be hosting an event focusing on the theme of Austria ’s migration policies. Perhaps some of our German-speaking members would like to attend. Below is the information from their website .
–Jennifer Rakow-Stepper, Chair
Mittwoch, 7. Juni 2017, 18 Uhr, im Republikanischer Club:
Menschlich, Realistisch, Fair –M ögliche Eckpunkte einer (Österreichischen) Migrationspolitik?
Ein Freundeskreis engagierter B ürgerinnen (Anton Dobart, Helmut Bachmann, Christine Stromberger, Gottfried Wagner, u.a.) und der RC laden zu einer Podiumsdiskussion.
- Max Koch (Vorsitzender SOS-Mitmensch)
- Alev Korun (Nationalratsabgeordnete, Die Gr ünen, Sprecherin u.a. f ür Migration und Integration)
- Josef Lentsch (Direktor NEOS Lab)
- Mehrdokht Tesar (Sektion 8 )
- Moderation: Martina Handler (Politikwissenschaftlerin, Mediatorin und Beteiligungsexpertin)
Sind fortschrittliche Allianzen in der Politik Österreichs (der EU) denkbar f ür eine bessere, humane und realistische Migrationspolitik? 'Ideale 'Politik gibt es nicht, einfache Antworten auch nicht. Wie kann ein wirksamer politischer Dialog zwischen politischen Parteien, mit NGOs und den B ürgerinnen und B ürgern gelingen? Gibt es mehrheitsf ähige Schnittmengen, um einen Paradigmenwechsel einzuleiten? …
by Ellen Lewis,
Democrats Abroad Executive Committee Member
The number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world has topped 65 million. Just this week, more than 30 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as hundreds fell from a migrant boat off the coast of Libya. Some 60,000 refugees are currently stranded in Greece. In South Sudan, political conflict, drought, and famine have created a dire situation, with tens of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries.
I sat down with Melissa Fleming, Head of Communications and Chief Spokesperson for the UNHCR, who will be speaking on June 8th to DAA members and friends on the plight of refugees. Melissa has written a book, A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, recounting one Syrian woman’s perilous and dramatic journey to reach safety and a new home in Europe.
The statistics are mind-boggling and the individual stories heart-wrenching. Melissa’s work is informed by both and during our conversation it became clear that in her position as spokesperson for the UNHCR, she is personally driven by a compassion for and dedication to helping refugees throughout the world.
EL: You’ve worked with the UNHCR since 2008. How would you compare the refugee crisis today with what was happening when you started at the organization?
MF: It’s much much bigger, and I think that it has been going up about 10 million a year; I have to look at the exact figure from 10 years ago, but it has just consistently gone up. The Syria conflict is a [major factor], but every year we keep announcing the new figures and it’s always the [largest] number since WWII. We also still have large numbers of Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, refugees from South Sudan, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo as well. There are now 65 million people who are forcibly displaced; these are record numbers; the organization has continued to grow to meet the demands, the budget has increased fourfold…
EL: Given the disproportionate number of Syrian refugees taken in by neighboring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, what can the UNHCR do to get the wealthier nations of Europe to show more compassion and take in their ‘fair share’?
MF: 86% of refugees are [taken in by] developing countries…for example, Lebanon, with a population of 4 million, has 1 million refugees; we’re saying, “Please, this tiny [country of] Lebanon can’t do this alone. Provide funding but, in addition, take some of these refugees to your countries.”
EL: Is this also the case in parts of Africa, as with Jordan and Lebanon, in which the neighboring countries end up taking in the majority of refugees?
MF: Yes, and of course they’re struggling themselves with their own issues and often they allow the refugees to come in [to the country], but they relegate them to a camp where they have to live in tents and they can’t work, so we really try to advocate for them.
EL: So you go into the camps?
MF: Oh, we run them - that’s where we’re really operational, but we also operate in towns and cities and villages. Most refugees are in towns and cities and villages and we operate everywhere. For example, in Lebanon there are no refugee camps. They refuse to allow the establishment of refugee camps for Syrians. In Lebanon, you have what are called ‘camps’ in sections of Beirut. What they don’t want are official camps, like in Jordan and Turkey – [in Lebanon] they’re basically rented pieces of land where they can pitch a tent…we supply the tents but the government wants the whole thing to be temporary. That’s why I’m always saying it’s so political. When you have so many people coming into your country, it is a hot potato political issue. The UNHCR is in the middle trying to advocate for them, not just to have a place to be sheltered but also so that their kids can go to the local school, that they have the ability to access health care and work; we don’t always succeed. Local governments, elected leaders, are responsible for their own population and they see the refugees as guests so they want to make sure that they don’t present liabilities…
EL: On behalf of Democrats Abroad Austria, I wanted to ask you to talk a bit about the present U.S. government’s stance on refugees and the implications of the U.S. President’s policy, which does not champion the cause of refugees and which sought to order a ban on specific groups.
MF: The U.S. is one of the leaders in taking refugees, over decades, with huge bipartisan support. When the Trump Administration came into office, one of its measures related to refugees was to cut that program in half – to 50,000. The second measure was to put a hold on refugees coming from certain countries, which includes Somalis, for example, many of whom were already screened and ready to come…so many of them are kind of waiting in limbo – Syrians [as well]. We’re hoping that the ban will be...
EL: Is this related to the ban?
MF: Well, they’re reviewing the resettlement screening procedures to see whether they’re vigorous enough. We’ve said there’s probably no more vetted human being coming into the United States than a refugee. It’s a two year process of vetting. It’s done partly by UNHCR but mostly by the United States and the different arms of the government, so fine if they want to review that – it’s their security – and we’re hoping that maybe they’ll [only] introduce a couple more steps but this is…
EL: Who does the reviewing actually?
MF: You name the arm of the U.S. government and they’re involved, from the State Dept. to the FBI to the Homeland Security (laughs) to all of the different…
EL: And while they’re reviewing it, it’s on hold?
MF: It is. UNHCR identifies the refugees for resettlement and they send our criteria; this means that these are vulnerable people who are not doing well in the refugee environment where they are living because they are, for example, victims of torture, women who’ve been raped, single mothers with children living in a very difficult refugee environment, kids with a terrible medical condition…
EL: Does the UNHCR develop the criteria? They write up the criteria?
MF: We’ve had these criteria for decades; it has been ‘our’ criteria. And the countries accepted it. I remember there’s this one child in Lebanon who had a condition where he couldn’t grow and in Lebanon he couldn’t be treated. In Syria, he was actually being treated but there was one medication he needed and he was resettled to Finland where he’s getting all the health care he needs and he’s growing again. So just sometimes that kind of simple help… it’s transformative for the refugees. For the United States it has also been… refugees form the fabric of the United States. For example, the Vietnamese are the largest refugee population, the Vietnamese boat people - those were massive resettlements and they’ve become a part of U.S. society.
EL: Does an organization like yours, when facing an agenda like President Trump’s, feel somewhat powerless or is there some sort of mechanism that can either compensate or fight this kind of…?
MF: Well, we look to other countries, we look to the private sector to compensate…we don’t know if the funding will be cut, we hope not, so we’re working with – we’re reaching out to the Trump Administration, we’re trying to demonstrate the importance of what we’re doing and why it’s in the U.S. interest to fund it.
EL: Do you work a lot with NGOs?
MF: Oh yes, we have a lot to do with NGOs, operationally - we have so many [operations], we would not survive without NGOs as what we call our implementing partners…
EL: So does the UNHCR have political influence, does it have the ability to…?
MF: Yes, at the national level and at the international level; we have offices in over 140 countries and we have huge operations. In Syria we have over 400 staff but in places like Jordan we have many more than that. We have [major] operations - we’re basically caring for hundreds of thousands of people. In countries like Austria we don’t have an operational role, we have more of an advocacy role, working with the government – when they introduce new laws, we see the drafts, basically to keep governments who signed up for the International Refugee Convention, to keep them in line.
EL: Well, actually, that links to another question about the EU decision in March 2016. You’ve made the statement that the EU needs the “political will” to step up to the demands of the refugee crisis. How do you and your agency view the EU’s controversial March 2016 decision to block refugees from moving into Europe?
MF: Well, we believe that refugees have the right to seek asylum, this is international law; however, the influx into Greece was not managed well by the EU. That resulted in large numbers of refugees going to countries like Austria and Germany and Sweden because they heard here they could get protection, they could get the chance to start over. What should have happened would have been a managed arrival of the refugees: registration centers, screening, distribution...We believe fundamentally that this is an international responsibility, refugees are an international responsibility. If you as powerful governments are unable to stop the wars, then you should be taking responsibility for the victims, and that does not only mean paying them to stay away but also being willing to take in your share. Refugees won’t also feel compelled to take these illegal routes with smugglers who are not only notorious for risking people’s lives and not caring at all but just profit-oriented…you’re basically looking at a huge crime network that is actually evil. We would prefer that governments invest in the refugees where they are and the government's support them and take their share via resettlement or student visas. For example, there are so many university students who [sadly] had to break off their university [studies], who broke off their high school studies – they’re sitting in a refugee camp having to do labor and they see no future. They can’t go back home because the war is still going on. These scholarship programs – and there are some – are transforming young people’s lives and are also investing in the future of their country.
EL: So actually, you’re saying the ideal scenario is resettlement in the sense that you take people from where they start so that they don’t have to make these dangerous journeys and risk their lives…
MF: Yes,there are two reasons that were cited by refugees for coming to Europe. Some of them would not have been resettlement cases. People who wanted to work or who said I want to put my kids in school. Only half the Syrian refugee children are in school and when you get to the secondary level, it’s only one in four and when you get to the university level it’s only one percent, so when they don’t see any chance of returning to Syria because the war is not being solved and they’re sitting in a place that does not provide school for their children, all of a sudden, they see Europe which…maybe there’s a dangerous journey, but once I get there…
EL: But they wouldn’t be considered resettlement potential?
MF: Not if they’re not considered [or classified as] ‘vulnerable’.
EL: Vulnerable in the sense…?
MF: Of course they’re vulnerable but not all 5 million people – there are 5 million refugees, many of whom are in a situation which is poor [but do not meet] our vulnerable criteria.
EL: But they’ve also lost their homeland…
MF: Yes, well in that sense, everyone is vulnerable but, realistically-speaking, we believe that 10% of all refugees should be resettled because they are vulnerable in the extreme sense.
EL: so 90%...
MF: But actually not even 10% get resettled; only about 1% get resettled because that’s the number of places that are available.
EL: Wow, only 1%? And these are the vulnerable?
MF: What you call vulnerable. And you’re right to say aren’t all refugees vulnerable but what we’re talking about are the extreme vulnerable, people who will not survive well in those neighboring countries…
EL: Right, but in the long term, what that says is that while the war carries on and they have no home to go back to, that 90% or, more practically-speaking, 99%, are supposed to just be supported by neighboring countries ad hoc…?
MF: Yep. It’s just that geography dictates…
EL: Realistically, it will naturally follow that a large portion of these ‘non-vulnerable’ people will set out in dangerous circumstances…
MF: Of course, unless you invest more – this is what we’ve always been saying: the UNHCR only gets half of the budget that we say is needed. So what gets cut? Education for the kids, decent living conditions, etc. So, if you were to invest more in these neighboring countries plus increase the level of tolerance – if the neighboring countries of say, Lebanon and Jordan, were to see that the international community says thank you Lebanon, thank you Jordan - we’re going to be doing infrastructure projects in your towns and cities, we’re going to start a new economic zone so that we can help your people plus the refugees in coming up with ways to stimulate the economy, start new businesses and we’re going to build schools that will benefit your children and the refugee children, then you would not have as many people saying I can’t deal with this, this is not a life.
EL: What if a neighboring country took the same stance that many European countries take, which is that these are not our people so we won’t take them; if the neighboring countries didn’t have them, then where would they go?
MF: And that’s one of UNHCR’s biggest roles is to advocate for borders to be open. Now those countries because of years of lack of help, years of lack of investment, they’ve pretty much closed their borders so Syrians who need to get out now have a really hard time. There’s almost nowhere to go so that’s why you have so many people displaced inside Syria.
EL: It’s tragic. But wasn’t that forseeable on the part of the EU? There is a lack of political will. Given the Turkey Agreement and the decision about keeping the refugees in Greece or sending them back to Turkey – wasn’t it ultimately that the EU didn’t step in ahead of time to help?
MF: Yes, if there had been systems in place for regular processing of people, nobody would have really noticed that this was a crisis. Europe is huge.
EL: So it really is that Europe did not…
MF: know how to handle it.
EL: take responsibility? Also, it wasn’t spread around. Mostly Germany and Austria – other European countries weren’t taking their share…
MF: Well, but people weren’t coming to those countries. The mechanism was not in place. What they did in retrospect was not working very well because public opinion has turned and large numbers of people, about 50,000 refugees are stuck in Greece and they’re supposed to be relocated now under a quota system to other European countries.
EL: Is this agreed to by the EU?
MF: Yes, but it came into place too late. There’s a registration system now, there’s an asylum system, there’s a relocation system but there are many countries now who are not participating – the Eastern European countries aren’t taking any.
EL: I wanted to ask you about the situation in the Mediterranean Sea and the Malta Summit - what was the UNHCR’s reaction to the decisions of the EU about refugees crossing from Libya?
MF: We basically said that the conditions in Libya are not [acceptable] for them to handle it.
EL: The loss of lives in the Mediterranean sea of African refugees and migrants is tragic and yet the EU wants to outsource border control to the Libyan coastguard who, again this week, has been shooting at the refugee boats. How does the UNHCR handle this situation?
MF: Our High Commissioner just went to Libya and met with the government, visited detention centers, increased our staff there and has said to the EU that it’s not the time to establish anything; we have a hard time because of the lack of security there so it’s really hard to provide [safe] conditions for people. I mean we agree with the UN when they say let’s address the root causes more as to why people are fleeing, increase information because they’re being sold a complete pack of lies. They have no clue what the journey is like, but they also think that when they reach Europe, it is this dreamland for people leaving for economic reasons. So information needs to be put out there…many say if they had known this or that…
EL: And the rescue operations, is the UNHCR involved in any of that?
MF: No, we don’t do rescue but we’re involved in Italy in all of the ports of arrival, but it’s the Italian Navy and the NGOs.
EL: Do you officially keep track of the…casualties?
MF: Yes, we do it together with IOM.
EL: Through your work, do you often have personal contact with the refugees themselves?
MF: I make a point of speaking to refugees because my job is to communicate on their behalf and people are numbed by statistics, so I find it extremely important to my advocacy communications work to meet with refugees wherever I am, to listen to their stories, and to use their stories to convey their messages to a wider public. That’s why I wrote this book.
EL: Actually, in your book A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, you tell the story of a young Syrian woman’s journey as a refugee from Syria. What difference does it make to tell personal stories?
MF: It really makes an enormous difference…the only way you can create a bridge of empathy to others is through stories. Individual stories, in particular, of one person – it’s proven in Sociology and Behavioral Sciences – really affect people the most; they allow people to really delve into the story and to start understanding the situation but to also feel sympathy.
EL: Actually, is it difficult sometimes to think of the number of people who are out there whose stories somehow don’t reach your organization? How do you get to them?
MF: I do think there is helplessness. Our organization pretty much knows about all [refugees] because we do the registration of most refugees in the world.
EL: Does the UNHCR intervene if refugees [are threatened]? For example, in Greece there were stories that on some of the islands of – when they were being held there because of the decision not to send them on, they were being mistreated by locals…
MF: Oh, absolutely.
EL: So, the UNHCR is present in those situations?
MF: Yeah, I mean, we were reluctant to get involved in Greece because we thought it was an EU responsibility and this is a rich continent, but when it was clear that it wasn’t happening, we now have a team of 150 staff in Greece so we’re quite operational there. I mean the frustration is when we don’t have the means to help the people who need it. We’re constantly restrained by budget and not enough countries willing to resettle.
EL: Does the UNHCR or do you think they can affect that…is there some way to get more active in changing the political will and the decisions of countries around the world?
MF: Yes, well, it depends…we really analyze how governments react and if some would be completely allergic to a public campaign… most countries feel very proud and a lot of countries welcome refugees but then they don’t have the means to take care of them and things turn really difficult, so it’s very delicate. You have to be careful about how you approach it.
EL: It’s interesting though because none of that seems to enter the realm of human rights violations by countries, of abandoning their responsibility.
MF: Well, if it’s at a border, then it is against international refugee regulations – if you push people back into a war zone, it is against the International Refugee Convention.
EL: How important is the role of communications in making a difference to the refugee crisis?
MF: I think it’s hugely important because, first of all, it’s a population of 65 million, most of them don’t have their own voice and they are without their country, without their language, they’ve often lost the most important things in their lives, so they really need people to speak for them…and with [xenophobia on the rise], communications plays a huge role in building empathy and trying to change the narrative.
EL: On a positive note, just this month the world’s first solar farm in a refugee camp has switched on, providing renewable energy to 20,000 refugees living in northern Jordan. Can you tell us more about the project and others like it? How did this partnership between the Ikea Foundation and the Agency come about?
MF: We’ve been trying to use ecological ways and sustainable ways of housing refugees and electricity costs at a refugee camp in the desert are enormous – we knew this from other camps. We live kind of hand-to-mouth with our budgets so it’s often – we get the money we spend and an investment like this needs a company or a foundation like the Ikea Foundation to help us finance the infrastructure.
EL: You’ve been there?
MF: Yes, I’ve been there and it’s hot during the day, it gets pitch dark at night and when it’s hot, you want to turn on a fan, you want to drink a cold drink…and now they’re able to do that and at night the kids can study by light and now people are out and they have little restaurants, so it really makes an enormous difference. The costs – the upfront costs – were a lot, but the cost of running the camp now and the electricity grid in the camp is so much less than in the other camp in Jordan. [Ideally], we don’t like refugee camps. We prefer refugees to be integrated into the cities, to go to local schools…it’s undignified [to remain in a camp]. Refugee camps should be used for emergencies and be temporary. You’re separate from the population, you’re living in an isolated situation, there’s no economy. We reluctantly build refugee camps, but we rely very much on the government, what the government is willing to do.
EL: Just personally, how hard is it for you emotionally and personally – obviously you have the happy ending stories but there’s just plenty of the news that you have to keep putting out there that is so tragic. Do you take it in much?
MF: I think we all have mechanisms but it does affect me a lot. In particular with Doaa’s story because the more I unraveled it, the more tragic it became and I kind of took in her…it’s almost like a secondary trauma that you go through. There’s always a sense that you wake up in the morning or you go to bed at night and you’ve never done enough because the problem is so massive.
ENVIRONMENT WITHOUT PROTECTION:
Does the earth stand a chance? How to live without an EPA or U.S. participation in a global climate agreement?
Democrats Abroad members Faith Hall Herbold and Andreas Beckmann will lead us through some answers to these questions.
At Solidarity Sunday we'll write postcards calling on our governors and mayors to SUPPORT THE PARIS AGREEMENT.
We will also LEARN TO PHONE BANK for issues and for getting out the Democratic vote. It's easier to do when you have a Democrat friend and potato chips at hand. Let's go!
Bring your laptop!
We're celebrating the Fourth of July once again with Americans in International Organizations in Vienna (AIOV) on Sunday, July 2nd. We look forward to coming together to celebrate this all-American Holiday. Please join us on from 11:00 until dusk at the Cantina at the Prater park, located at the end of the number 1 tram line, Prater Hauptallee station, near the ASKO softball fields.
There will be American style hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and hotdogs, French fries, beer, wine and soft drinks, games, softball (to watch and to play), and live music with ‘Just the Troubles’. Come ready to dance and bring an American picnic side dish and dessert to share, and any outdoor games you’d like to play (Frisbee, football, bocci ball, etc.).
Payment: The food and drinks will be purchased from the Cantina; prices will be announced. There is no charge for this event, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the AIOV and DAA.
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