Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network
By Diana Beck
Disaster strikes. Whether it is natural or man-made, citizens can no longer live safely in their
homes. Fearing for their life due to the rubble around them, or fearing persecution because of their
race, religion, political views, or social ties, families must flee their homes. If they leave the country,
they become refugees. Others stay within their countries, in camps. The questions arise: where do we
go? Will we be protected? Addressing questions similar to the aforementioned, the Jesuit Universities
Humanitarian Action Network (JUHAN), worked together at Fordham University in order to educate
undergraduate students on refugees, internally displaced people, and the necessary means to alleviate
disaster situations. Within the three days of June 20th to June 22nd, knowledge spread like wildfire
causing students to abandon old ways of thinking and take refuge in a new, action-based attitude
toward making a difference in the world. The goal of the conference holds the hope that students
integrate action plans toward refugee relief into Jesuit Universities around the United States.
Beginning with World Refugee Day on June 20, 2008, the conference consisted of a welcome
address, followed by a presentation by Gonzalo Vargas-Llosa, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and
Susan Martin, PhD, of Georgetown University, on Disaster Management: Challenges for the 21st Century.
Next students were broken into groups focusing on Regional Complexities and Sectoral Issues. The
following day, June 21, 2008, the opening speaker Larry Hollingworth, Humanitarian Programs Director
for the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC), gave insight on Organizing an
Effective Response. The break out sessions honed in on Cross-Cutting and Skill Development. On the
final day, June 22, 2008, each school formulated an action plan to bring back to their universities.
Before teaching the details of Humanitarian Action, the presenters stressed the definition of a
refugee; therefore, I will briefly explain the definition first, prior to the details of each day. In order to
obtain refugee status, one must suffer from a natural disaster or persecution (or the fear of) as a result
of his or her religion, race, political opinion, or social memberships. To be a refugee, he or she must also
cross the border into another country. Under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, rights and protection
allow refugees to seek safety in a country other than their own. According to Father Richard Ryscavage
of Fairfield University, there are three durable solutions when dealing with refugees: 1) Integration
(citizenship), 2) Repatriation (sent home), or 3) Permanent Resettlement in another country. Each
solution depends on individual cases of the refugees. Now, a more detailed description of the
conference will be given.
Friday, 20 June 2008
As mentioned before, Gonzalo Vargas-Llosa and Susan Martin shared the challenges
Humanitarian Actors face with disaster management in the 21st century. Vargas-Llosa explained that
there are 11 million refugees and 26 million internally displaced people in the world. Of the 11 million, 2
million are Iraqi refugees and 2.4 million are displaced within Iraq. In Jordan and Syria there are
approximately 2 million refugees; while in Darfur, 2 million people are internally displaced. An
interesting statistic showed that Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced people in the
world rising to around 3 million. According to Vargas-Llosa, most in the world do not know the problem
in Colombia exists or that Colombian citizens experienced cruelty for 60 years and continue to suffer
within their own country.
In addition to statistics, Vargas-Llosa provided examples of the UNHCR’s responsibilities for
refugees. First, the UN offers legal protection for refugees by monitoring how states are dealing with
the 1951 Convention and making sure they have better services. Services such as NGO’s set up in
developing countries because the majority of refugees flee to these countries because they are closest
to the victims’ homes. Next, the UN gives material supplies, as well as sets up camps for displaced
people and refugees. Lastly, the UN tries to look for durable solutions, such as moving refugees from
temporary safety to a more permanent location. Because many cannot work and usually must stay in
camps, refugees endure limited rights; causing psychological, emotional, and sometimes even physical
Following examples of the UNHCR’s responsibilities, Vargas-Llosa presented the greatest
challenges for disaster management. The first challenge concerns preserving space for asylum seekers.
Currently, many developed countries such as the United States are extremely politically sensitive to
migration. Due to September 11, 2001, policies for allowing migrants into the United States tightened;
thus, making migration more difficult. The majority of migrants come to countries like the U.S. for
economic reasons; usually around 19 of 20 people relocating to a new country do so because of money.
However, 1 of those 20 seeks safety in a country other than their own. Because the country controls the
barriers more harshly, those looking for a protected place to live cannot find one as easily.
Along with controlling borders and the post 9/11 policies, the requirements for allowing
refugees into the United States broadened in order to prevent terrorist activities. Vargas-Llosa
expressed that protecting the country is valid; but, due to the broadened descriptions of a terrorist,
many refugees cannot enter the Unites States. For example, if one is involved with any type of terrorist
activity (even paying ransom to a terrorist in order to save one’s family), he or she presents a threat to
the security of our country. Efforts to lighten the policies are being made within the UN.
The last major challenge Vargas-Llosa expressed involves restoring the UN’s perception of
neutrality. Several countries believe the UN no longer maintains a neutral position in certain aspects of
conflict. An example given included Baghdad. Sending help after bombings, the UN itself became a
target because groups viewed the UN as pro-US. As a result, UN buildings in Baghdad were bombed.
After Vargas-Llosa’s presentation, Susan Martin PhD, of Georgetown University spoke of several
major issues that arise in disaster situations. Her main focuses included sovereignty, developing
domestically and internationally, finding adequate resources, funding due to visibility, security, and
moving beyond better band-aids. Each concern shows the importance of Humanitarian Action and
governmental pressure to protect refugees and internally displaced people.
Starting with the first major concern, Martin found sovereignty an obstacle for humanitarian
workers trying to reach affected communities. Because the governments express full authority, access
for humanitarian assistance limits relief in all disasters, human-made and natural. For example, the
Burmese government declined international relief efforts when the cyclone hit. Similarly, Darfur’s
conflict keeps Humanitarian Action from taking place within the country. According to Martin, the issue
here takes away protection from internally displaced people; therefore, the responsibility to protect falls
into the hands of the sovereign states and not the international community. If the sovereign states fail
to protect, whose responsibility is it to step into the situation?
Furthering this point, Martin discussed developing domestically and internationally. She stated
that refugees are the best protected. Her main concern involved internally displaced people (IDPs).
Reasons for displacement range from civil war to hurricanes. As a result of these disasters, citizens lose
their homes, forcing them to relocate. Martin used the example of Katrina victims losing their homes.
The help they received was not adequate for the disaster southern residents experienced. Because the
victims remain within the country they are not as protected as refugees because there is “no national or
conventional treaty holding governments responsible for Humanitarian Aid” (Martin). Each country’s
responsibility resides within their government. Unfortunately, most often internally displaced people
become overlooked (or purposely oppressed due to political issues).
Another issue Martin addressed takes a look at adequate resources and funding. A large portion
of funding comes from private sectors. When the Tsunami hit in 2004, over four billion dollars came
from private sectors; while one billion dollars came from governments. The challenge is to make sure
the money received is used properly. Martin believed that instead of focusing on relief, prevention
should be a priority as well. Restoration and recovery should look to prevent future disasters. Funding
also depends on the visibility of the crises. If the media exposes issues more, extra funding occurs;
however, invisible issues still remain, like Colombia. As a result, the invisible conflicts do not receive aid.
A further challenge Martin mentioned focused on security surrounding refugee and
displacement camps. Throughout refugee/IDP camps a safe feeling seldom occurs because living
conditions demoralize the occupants of the camps, militaries around the camps cause fear, sometimes
the camps remain isolated from other communities, attacks occur on Humanitarian workers as well as
residents , and sometimes the camps are surrounded by barbed-wire to keep people out (or to keep
others in). Some ways Martin suggested to address security were to reduce radicalization, demilitarize,
ensure civilians are treated as humans, and ensure that Humanitarian Actors do not make conditions
worse. She mentioned that some HA’s in the past sexually exploited women and children in the camps.
Most times, in a case of a natural disaster, 75-80% of the displaced people are women and children.
One important aspect to Martin’s presentation comprised of finding better, sustainable
solutions to refugee and IDP treatment. Recognizing that politics play a major role in the world,
Humanitarians cannot alleviate situations without keeping political agendas on their radar. Martin
recommended that we lobby to the governments, recognize human rights, and find solutions through
working with politicians, not against them. Martin also expressed that having limitations without the
government causes many frustrations among Humanitarian Actors because they can only alleviate so
Once Gonzalo Vargas-Llosa and Susan Martin finished speaking, we then dispersed into small,
predetermined groups. Through smaller classroom sessions, students had the opportunity to explore
important matters that apply to refugees and internally displaced people more closely. The sessions I
attended focused on Latin America, Displacements, Shelter and Camp Management, Accountability and
Ethics, and Working with the Media. Each of these sessions will be briefly discussed to give an idea of
what we learned.
The first session, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), focused on many issues, specifically
marketable resources, middle income, demographic diversity, and “dirty wars.” Patricia Fagen, Ph. D.,
Senior Associate of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, gave
insight to the aforementioned issues among Latin American countries. As she described marketable
resources, Fagen informed us that there are several things that could be said about the resources in
Latin American countries. Because of the amount of well-educated people, the plethora of natural
resources, and other contributors to economy, Latin America should be prospering.
In addition, due to the amount of extremely wealthy individuals versus the lower-income
people, several countries in Latin America fall into the world category of “Middle Income.” Imports and
Exports (GNP) determines whether or not Latin American countries qualify as Middle Income. Labeling
them as Middle Income creates a problem because it masks the reality of the economic situations in
Latin American countries. According to Fagen, the poor only control 3% of resources; thus, leaving 97%
of control to middle class (which is quite small) and the wealthy. The poor make up a much larger
percentage than the wealthy, but because the wealthy control so much of the resources, countries do
not receive assistance from the international community.
Fagen also addressed the demographic diversity in Latin America. Because of the Spanish
conquest, Spanish became the main language of several Latin American countries. Despite the primary
Spanish language, there is actually a wide range of language, religion, race, culture, etc. throughout
these countries. Dr. Fagen did not go into detail about the eclectic demographics. She gave us an
understanding that Latin American countries are not the same as many assume.
Next we learned about the “Dirty Wars” involving four main countries, Argentina, Uruguay,
Brazil, and Chile. These conflicts took place between he 1960s and 1980s. According to Fagen there
were popular uprisings, armed struggles, dictatorships, repressions, disappearances, murders, and major
censorship. Argentineans suffered a series of child abductions. Military and political officials then
adopted the abducted children. In addition, police and military brutality took place causing the rights of
citizens to crumble.
Fortunately, after the fall of the Southern Cone, a Universal Declaration of Human Rights began
to form. Being one of the largest movements toward Human Rights, the Church could express their
concern without getting into politics. Through religious groups, universal human rights became a major
focus with people resisting through carrying banners and other “non-political” tactics. Conflicts and
violation of human rights still exist; however, the brutality and fear citizens suffered during the “Dirty
Wars” alleviated after the collapse.
Subsequent to the “Dirty Wars,” Fagen shifted to Central America, specifically the Central
American armed struggles from the 1970s to the 1990s. Her main focus on the conflict narrowed to
“Left vs. Right” in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Due to the struggles, refugees fled to
surrounding countries such as Honduras. Refugees in Honduras received different treatment depending
on which country they escaped. If refugees were from the “Right” they experienced one way of
treatment, while those from the “Left” experienced another.
Because political conflicts similar to the ones mentioned above occur throughout the world,
serious consequences result. Fagen included some examples: genocide (Guatemala) and massacres (El
Salvador), refugees and IDPs, economic destruction, political realignments, and environmental
degradation. Some positive solutions for us to work toward comprised of: making and building peace in
Central America, using the UN as peacemakers, and donors to reconstruct nations. Leaving us with
some inspiration, Fagen believed we are the next generation of Humanitarians. She stated, “My
generation became Humanitarians almost by accident, your generation has the opportunity to
voluntarily choose this path.”
With the Latin American session ending, I traveled to the next segment, Sectoral Issues:
Displacements with Richard Ryscavage, S.J. of Fairfield University. Much of the information Father
Ryscavage gave reiterated what Gonzalo Vargas-Llosa presented earlier in the day; however, he did give
some more statistical information about refugees and displaced people. Going into more details about
refugees, he provided insight on treatment of Asylum Seekers. Later in his lecture, he explained the
difference between a camp refugee and an urban refugee. Additionally, trafficking became a topic of
To begin with, the most refugees in the world are Palestinians, reaching 4.6 million. Palestinians
lived in refugee status for over 50 years. They are still refugees. Pakistan hosts the most refugees at 4
million. Last year the United States allowed 48,000 refugees into our country, with a goal of bringing in
50,000. Learning this information astounded me because Pakistan is a much smaller country than the
US, yet they host 4 million, while the US hosts 48,000 refugees. In the past 20 years, the United States
admittance of refugees has fallen from 125,000 a year to 48,000 people.
Continuing with the United States admittance of refugees, Ryscavage enlightened us about
Asylum Seekers. Those who wish to seek asylum in the US or in other countries mostly arrive in airports
and ask for a safe haven. In the US, the Asylum Seekers reside in detention centers until their case is
judged. Sometimes the judgments take three to five years. After judgment, the asylum seekers obtain
refugee status; thus, giving them complete access to the benefits of a refugee.
Focusing on the detention centers, when placed in them, seekers receive a garment similar to
those in prisons. Actually, according to Ryscavage, the detention centers are connected to jails and
prisons, if not actually within them. Often, families seeking asylum experience separation from each
other because men and women usually do not reside in the same detention centers. Because detention
centers mainly house men, officials place female asylum seekers into woman’s prison among criminals.
The reasoning behind these detention centers results from lack of space for those looking for safety.
As I soaked in the knowledge given to me, I began to think of Loyola’s Center for the Human
Rights of Children. What happens to the children when their families separate? Not only do they
experience traumatic experiences in their home countries, when they arrive in new country for safety,
someone separates their families. Do the children go into detention centers as well? Are they placed
into foster care until their parents or guardians obtain refugee status?
Moving to other countries housing refugees, Ryscavage shared the difference between a camp
refugee and an urban refugee. First, he explained camps and why countries use them frequently. The
following list includes the reasons: less expensive, security reasons, ensures refugees will leave
eventually, easier to feed and give medical care, and the numbers are easier to count for big donors.
Most camps benefit officials in higher positions rather than the occupants because, as mentioned
earlier, many of the camps are similar to concentration camps. Living conditions are inhumane, and the
majority of camps remain isolated from villages.
Due to the poor conditions in camps, refugees escape the camps into urban areas. Fleeing the
camps, the refugees gain free choice, the ability to make a living, and can live a more humane life.
Although refugees benefit after leaving the camps, they live under the radar. As a result, urban refugees
experience neglect from other resources such as education and health care. Overall, refugees tend to
prefer living in cities as opposed to camps because they feel like a human, not an animal.
The last topic Ryscavage addressed involved trafficking. After learning a little more about
trafficked people, I thought of children again. Trafficked people “are moved by deception or coercion
for purposes of sexual and labor exploitation” (Ryscavage). A large amount cannot leave because
someone has physical control over them, they owe debt, or their captivators threaten death of the
victims or their families. Being an underground movement, tracking trafficked individuals becomes
difficult and most remain unfound. Since trafficking has become such a large issue, the U.S. Department
of State tracks leads pointing to potential trafficking incidents and traders.
Ending the first day, the last speaker I attended focused on Shelter and Camp Management.
Anthony Land, Program Officer at the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC), offered
ways to alleviate disaster situations through shelter. Land supplied us with the tools on how to properly
scope shelter potentials in various circumstances. Taking a practical approach, Land established the
basic human needs a shelter must meet, shelter in local dispersion, shelter in mass dispersion, camp site
selection, camp site planning, shelter in camps, and local construction for camps or return.
According to Land, there are six basic human needs in a crises situation: 1) Protection from
elements, 2) Security-Physical, Psychological, and for Property, 3) Privacy and a space for family life, 4)
Possibility of access to water and sanitation, 5) A sense of being a home, 6) The minimum standard for
living space should be 3.5sq.m/person and 21sq. m/family of 6. Land stated that if families have the
ability to stay in their homes, then enough repairs are done in order to allow the family to stay. If
families remain in their homes displacement status does not apply. Sometimes host families take in
another family if the displaced family cannot reside in their own home.
During the presentation, Land showed a video of a family with a unique form of housing
resulting from local dispersion. The young lady from Azerbaijan spoke of her “temporary” home of ten
years, a train car. Her family originally planned on living in the train car for one year; however, because
of the turmoil in her country, she resides there still. Having dreams to be a teacher, the girl told the
interviewer that she one day will have a better life and she lives on with a hope to live in a home similar
to the neighborhood across the street from the railcars.
If home repairs and local dispersion do not suffice, mass dispersion takes place. Mass dispersion
happens in disasters like Katrina. Commonly sports halls, warehouses, farm buildings, hotels, schools,
and old barracks. Ideal for temporary relief, too often these forms of shelters linger for much longer
than planned. One example used showed a picture of people on cots in a warehouse. They lived there
for two years.
Both forms of mass dispersion (open and divided) have advantages and disadvantages. Some
advantages comprise of quick implementation, availability of water and sanitation, heating in structures,
protection from the elements, and permanent structures. The disadvantages consist of overcrowding,
no privacy, inability to use the building for original purposes (i.e. schools), “wet feeding” (cooked meals),
and rapid deterioration. Looking at the advantages and disadvantages, relief efforts can determine
which type of shelters to use in disaster situations.
However, sometimes the number of displaced people exceeds all the previous options; thus,
forcing HA’s to construct camps. Land spent a large portion of the lecture on finding a proper camp site
and properly building a camp. According to his description, camp construction tends to be the last
resort; but, happens repeatedly. While planning camps, keeping the following criteria in mind is
essential: water on land—“too much or too little”, space, security and protection, accessibility,
topography, environmental health risks, and local population (how will they react?).
Along with site planning criteria, Land also emphasized the importance of sanitation, health
care, education, water supply, meeting places, cemeteries, shelters, and nutrition. He went into detail
about the facility per person in each camp and the standards for those sites. Moreover, Land displayed
the different forms of shelter from tents to local structures with walls. Throughout the conference, an
emphasis on the disadvantages of tents and finding a new solution to shelters repeatedly arose.
Saturday, 21 June 2008
Transitioning into the second day, the review in this section will be shorter because several
issues mentioned in Friday’s recollection were reiterated by the majority of the speakers. Great
information relayed important matters to the conference members the second day despite the
repetition. On June 21, 2008 the morning speaker, Larry Hollingworth, Humanitarian Programs Director
for the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC), gave a compelling and entertaining
example of the Shelter and Camp Management taught the day before. When we broke into small groups
after the presentation, I attended Accountability and Ethics and Working with the Media.
Before addressing the two breakout sessions, first some points in Larry Hollingworth’s
presentation, Organizing an Effective Response, are important. In order to organize an effective
response, coordination with the government of a country is essential for a smooth operation. The
example Hollingworth used concerned the earthquake in Cashmere, a small town in the Himalayan
foothills. When he headed the aid commission for the victims, he and his team worked with the
government who had the area assessed in 48 hours. Using their military, Pakistan’s government formed
a Federal Relief Commission.
Following assessment, 86 international NGO’s sent members to help with the disaster, while 115
national NGO’s joined the international. Twenty countries donated money and NATO provided health
care and engineers. Although international and national help alleviated some of the initial issues,
specific obstacles arose. A major obstacle included the approaching winter, which would jeopardize
240,000 people above the 5000 foot snowline, while 800,000 below the snowline needed help as well.
Needing 800,000 tents and 6.1 million blankets added another obstacle to the crises.
After tackling the necessary basic items (which they achieved), Hollingworth exemplified the
concerns Land brought up the day before: health issues, food and nutrition, water and sanitation,
education, protection, assessment and monitoring, and heating and fire safety. Each subject is equally
important; however, my main interest gravitated toward the education portion of his presentation.
Hollingworth expressed the extreme importance to continue education in war torn and naturally
destroyed areas. Having a place for education in camps and among the rubble of destroyed areas is
important for the mental well being of children because it occupies children, keeps them safe, and takes
their mind off some of the trauma they endured. Even if the education is not as adequate as other
countries, at least the children have somewhere to go and learn. As I listened to this portion of his
speech, I thought of ways in which the Center might be able to participate in a study on the difference
between refugee children who attend school and those who do not.
Shortly after hearing Hollingworth, we dispersed once again into our small sessions.
Accountability and Ethics summoned me to hear David Hollenbach, S.J. of Boston College. Instead of
lecturing, he gave used the information we learned already and started a lively discussion, specifically on
responsibility. Whose responsibility is it to take care of IDPs when their governments abuse or neglect
them? The discussion allowed us to see the difficult decisions Humanitarian Actors must make when
committing to send help.
A particular case Hollenbach challenged us with surrounded the Rwandan genocide in the early
1990s. Several Hutu people fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo after the genocide. Numerous
Hutu’s massacred Tutsi members during the genocide; however, crossing into the DRC, Hutus became
refugees in need. More than a few were severely injured, children were hungry, and most were
Two major relief agencies, The Red Cross and Doctors without Borders, faced a complicated
choice, help the very people who eliminated thousands so they can hurt more, or leave them to die?
Because The Red Cross’ constitution promotes impartiality and neutrality, they stayed and aided the
Hutus. Doctors without Borders’ constitution states members maintain neutrality; however, they also
“bear witness to the suffering seen” (taken from the Charter). Hence, DWB felt that serving the Hutus
would refuel the genocide once they recuperate, so Doctors Without Borders left.
During the discussion, a number of us felt torn between which decision should be made.
Hollenbach achieved his point; looking into the ethics of a situation completely changes how to deal
with crises situations. Similar to Susan Martin’s point earlier in the conference, Hollenbach reiterated
advocacy for victims and lobbying to politicians in order to change policies. Peacemaking represents the
ultimate goal. A way to awaken the world’s consciousness is through the media, which leads to the next
session I attended.
Iain Guest, founder of the Advocacy Project, mainly focused on advocacy through the media.
His prime example involved his own project toward empowerment. Amplifying the voices of several co-
ops and union groups throughout the world, the Advocacy Project focuses on the following: seeing
people as survivors, not victims, providing opportunities instead of just giving, placing the power in their
hands, supporting them, and helping them know their rights.
With those goals in mind, Guest spoke of the “fellows” who travel in the summertime and
document places in turmoil. They brainstorm with local communities in countries to find sustainable life
improvements. Asking us for some input, he wanted us to brainstorm ways to advocate for groups his
fellows found throughout the world. A few potential projects included children in Nepal who are forced
to pick tobacco, Children in Delhi picking garbage for livelihood (like the Brazilian girl), and land mine
survivors in Africa. His website is www.advocacynet.org. Internally, I became excited to further discuss
Iain Guest’s presentation is the last I attended because Loyola had an early flight on Sunday;
thus preventing us from participating in the team building/action plan portion of the conference.
Having the action plan sessions allowed each school to formulate ways to bring the knowledge gained
back to their universities. Creating contacts and networks among the different Jesuit Universities could
build a strong foundation for future Humanitarian Actors. Hoping to inspire us toward involvement, the
Jesuit Refugee Services sent a representative to give a program overview. Along with the program
overview, every presenter mentioned our generation as the group who will make a difference in the
Although Loyola University Chicago’s group did not work together toward an action plan,
questions directed toward refugee children stirred within me as I listened to the speakers. For example,
what rights do children have within displacement camps? Are many of them orphaned? Does abuse go
on within the camps? If so, what types? How can different forms of abuse be prevented? Additional
questions could be presented. Are children properly nourished within the camps? Are they receiving
proper health care? How does living in a camp effect a child’s psychological growth? How can we as a
Center advocate for these children? Are there ways for the Center to get involved? The list of questions
grows as my familiarity with refugees and internally displaced people expands.
Overall, the conference ignited something within my heart; a realization that I have much more
to learn in my life. Being exposed to refugee issues, I feel motivated to continue with my education
outside the classroom. Increasing my awareness on various issues fuels the small flame within me into a
spreading wild fire in my soul. In the end, I became the student who abandoned her old ways of
thinking and took refuge in a stronger, action-based attitude toward making a difference in the world.