Altruism Today

Athletes Crowdfunding Success in Rio

August 12th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Mother Jones

More than 550 American athletes are competing in this summer’s Olympic Games. Another 250 will compete in the Paralympic Games in September. For many, particularly those competing in lesser-known sports, the battle to fund training and travel to the Games almost overshadows the competition itself.

Gregory Brigman’s passion for soccer began as a child. He suffered from cerebral palsy, and after years of wearing a leg brace, surgery, and physical therapy, he eventually played for UNC Charlotte. After graduating, he worked as an engineer at a local civil engineering firm. In March of this past year, he became a member of the U.S. Paralympic team. Realizing he could not successfully train and work, he left his job and began training full-time.

Fortunately, the U.S. Soccer Federation funds the majority of his expenses, but he quickly realized that a small amount of living expenses for himself and his family were not covered. He turned to GoFundMe in late July. He’s asking for $6,000, and is nearly halfway to his goal after one month.

Gregory is part of a growing list of athletes turning to crowdfunding sites for help in funding their training and travel to Rio. GoFundMe is the most popular and has catered to Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The site has a single landing page for athletes’ campaigns, and by the month before the games, it had connected almost 4,000 donors to ninety campaigns, raising more than $400,000.

Among the other crowdfunding sites supporting Olympic and Paralympic athletes,RallyMe serves as the official campaign site for the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Cycling, and U.S. Bobsled teams. RallyMe donors often receive a small thank-you gift, such as a mention on the team’s social media, in exchange for their participation in the rally or fundraising campaign.

American athletes are creating these crowdfunding campaigns because, unlike many other countries, the U.S. Olympic team is not government-supported. The U.S. Olympic Committee is a nonprofit organization and solely represents athletes competing in the Olympic and Paralympic games. It depends on the generosity of individuals and corporations to support team facilities, send athletes to competitions, and compensate its staff. American athletes are not the only ones not supported by government funding;Australian athletes are also heavily dependent on crowdfunding.

Successful crowdfunding campaigns share elements of other successful fundraising campaigns. Athletes need a compelling story. Strong relationships with fans, including a large number following active social media campaigns, are also essential. These efforts cannot be turned on every four years but take years to build and considerable efforts to maintain.

What Are the Social Costs of the Flint Water Crisis?

August 10th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

Never mind the infrastructure investments: The damage done to Flint’s kids could be much worse.

We already know that replacing the lead pipes in Flint, Michigan, is going to cost a lot of money. Early on in the crisis, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver calculated the cost to be $55 million; a more recent estimate suggests it could come to four times that. But if that sounds like a staggering figure, consider this: The social costs could reach close to $400 million.

The water problems in Flint began in April 2014, when the city stopped getting its water from Lake Huron via Detroit, opting instead to build its own pipeline to the lake. In the meantime, the city switched to the Flint River for water, but failed to treat that water to prevent corrosion. That decision ended up flooding residents’ taps with lead, a metal that causesdevelopmental delays and learning difficulties.

“The lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan … has created a new awareness of a public health crisis that has never left us because the in- vestment needed to remove lead from pipes in high-risk areas was never made,” Peter Muennig, an associate professor of public health at Columbia University, writes in Health Affairs. “But what is the cost of inaction?”

The answer: a lot. In a 2009 paper, Muennig considered several important social consequences of lead poisoning—lower educational attainment, reduced lifetime earnings, increased crime, higher health costs, and so on—and compared a scenario in which policymakers took no action to one where the managed to reduce children’s blood levels to less than 10 micrograms of lead per liter. Compared to inaction, Muennig argues, the latter scenario could save an average of about $50,000 per child over the course of their lifetimes.

Based on one estimate, as many as 8,000 kids in the greater Flint area may have been affected by lead-poisoned water as a result of the crisis, so simple arithmetic implies the long-term social costs of Flint’s lead-laden water will total around $400 million—much, much more than the $5 million in savings Flint supposedly got from switching its water supply to the Flint River.

Think Tanks and their Corporate Funders: Who’s Selling What?

August 9th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; New York Times

A devastating article last weekend by Eric Lipton and Brooke Williams, part of a series running in the New York Times, last weekend raised big questions about the independence of the think tanks that specifically trade on that independence, issuing research reports and generally acting as research based-arbiters of a wide variety of issues in the media and the highest levels of government. Perhaps think tanks have gone for the same short-term-return-above-all-else strategy that has caused such havoc in our general economy, a strategy inadvertently aimed at destroying what is most valued in the organization.

The behavior of think tanks vis-à-vis the issues that their corporate funders are invested in has been raised repeatedly by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who has termed the practice “thinly disguised lobbying.” NPQ has covered a number of reports about theirfunding in general, by foreign governments, and the corporate funding of right-wing think tanks on issues like education.

“This is about giant corporations,” Warren said, “who figured out that by spending, hey, a few tens of millions of dollars, if they can influence outcomes here in Washington, they can make billions of dollars.”

Indeed, a group of state attorneys general is investigating whether ExxonMobil worked with think tanks to produce reports that would obscure the impact of fossil fuels on climate change.

Are these institutions that function with government subsidies so they might act in the best interests of the public guarding their ability to do so, or are their business models carelessly but specifically courting a lack of integrity and credibility?

The annual budget of the Brookings Institution has doubled in the past decade to $100,000,000, so whatever it is doing seems to be working financially—at least in the short term. But stories like the one below may begin to erode its necessary reputational capital.

Brookings is featured front-and-center in the Times for its close “strategic partnership” with Lennar Corporation, one of the largest homebuilders in the United States and now central to a controversial $8 billion redevelopment plan in San Francisco. (Before we go any further, we want to provide a link to a very brief refutation made by Brookingsyesterday in response to the article.) Brookings received $400,000 from various divisions of the corporation and Brookings began an aggressive promotion of San Francisco project, offering among other things to “engage with national media to develop stories that highlight Lennar’s innovative approach.” It also named Lennar Executive Kofi Bonner as a senior fellow at Brookings. Bonner is in charge of the San Francisco project. An internal Brookings memo suggested he would be a “trusted adviser” even as a $100,000 donation was being solicited from Lennar.

The New York Times and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed documentation indicating that other corporations like K.K.R., Hitachi, and JPMorgan Chase (which donated more than $15.5 million to the nonprofit— for which they received, among other things, a lot of profile nurturing) were often promised that Brookings would provide “donation benefits” like events on the topics of interest that would mix donating corporate executives with government officials, presumably helping to brand the corporation as a credible policy player.

The article concedes that much of Brookings’ work appears unconnected, at least on the surface, to corporate interests. Still, as Bill Goodfellow, the executive director of the Center for International Policy, another think tank, said, “People think of think tanks as do-gooders, uncompromised and not bought like others in the political class.  But it’s absurd to suggest that donors don’t have influence. The danger is we in the think tank world are being corrupted in the same way as the political world. And all of us should be worried about it.”

This story of lost Syrian refugees in a Canadian train station is going viral.

August 4th, 2016  |  Source: Upworthy

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, 4.8 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere since 2011. 6.5 million people are still displaced in Syria. And Canada has resettled over 29,000 of those refugees since November 2015.

One such Syrian family was traveling in Ontario recently, on their way to stay with family members. The family of seven arrived at Toronto's Union Station with their five children — two of whom require strollers — many heavy bags and a plastic bag of cash that they hoped would get them through their journey.

Next began a series of interactions with around 50 Canadian good Samaritans.

Valerie Taylor, a psychiatrist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, saw the family at Union Station, and a young woman was helping them with directions. They were lost. 

Taylor recounted her adventure in chaotic Canadian kindness in a Facebook post that's been shared over 28,000 times:

 As Taylor recounted to the CBC, she approached the group and asked, "Are you new here?"

One of the five kids, an 11-year-old boy who spoke English, said yes. It was through him that Taylor found out the family was from Syria and was trying to reach family in London, Ontario. 

Taylor said they helped the family purchase train tickets for what they thought was the right train.

Other people started to notice their large group too, according to Taylor's post. Folks stepped in to help the family carry bags. They helped find them seats on their new train. 

Basically, strangers offered this family some good old-fashioned human kindness. 

“No one had to be asked to help, no one had to think about the right thing to do. This is what you do.” 

Taylor said they helped the family purchase train tickets for what they thought was the right train.

Other people started to notice their large group too, according to Taylor's post. Folks stepped in to help the family carry bags. They helped find them seats on their new train. 

Basically, strangers offered this family some good old-fashioned human kindness. 

“No one had to be asked to help, no one had to think about the right thing to do. This is what you do.” 

Lawyers exploit foreclosure ‘rescue’ fee loophole

August 2nd, 2016  |  Source:

Government decision enriches attorneys, stings homeowners

In 2011, three attorneys set up a firm called The Mortgage Law Group that took advantage of a federal program aimed at helping people threatened with foreclosure to stay in their homes.

Business boomed. In just over two years the Chicago firm signed up more than 5,200 clients who paid more than $18 million in advance fees for legal services they hoped would either reduce the size of their mortgage payments or hold off foreclosure.

But federal regulators say the firm was little more than a sophisticated telemarketing scam that masqueraded as a law practice and cheated thousands of financially vulnerable people.

Most Mortgage Law Group clients received little for their money, according to federal officials, who in a lawsuit filed in 2014 accused the firm of employing misleading and deceptive sales tactics to lure in customers.

One telemarketer deposed in the federal court case described the high-pressure atmosphere on the sales floor in the firm’s Chicago offices as straight out of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Wolf of Wall Street. He said some sales agents even posed as lawyers to close deals.

Attorney-affiliated firms that aggressively market mortgage reduction plans have mushroomed in the past few years because of a loophole in a government program called “loan modification.” Created in 2009, the program was designed to help struggling homeowners facing foreclosure brought on by the recession. But a government decision to exempt lawyers from a ban on charging advance fees for modification services has led to scams that have cheated thousands of homeowners.

Many homeowners who were supposed to benefit instead lost millions of dollars to firms that promised them loan modifications and other foreclosure-relief services that they failed to deliver, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

Since 2010, these practices have drawn tens of thousands of consumer complaints to federal and state authorities, sparked multiple legal and ethical concerns over what constitutes the legitimate practice of law, and raised questions about how aggressively states have monitored the conduct of lawyers who profit from the schemes, the Center’s investigation found.

The Center identified more than 1,000 attorneys — more than one-third of them in California and Florida — who participated in loan-modification and foreclosure-prevention schemes that resulted in either law enforcement actions or disciplinary reviews by state legal authorities.

Little Free Libraries Are Fruitful and Multiply

August 1st, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

The Little Free Library phenomenon, at 40,000 tiny structures, has grown into something of a movement. The idea is, of course, that you create a structure to hold books and then invite neighbors to bring and take from the organic collection. Establishing a Little Library is an act of community, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also bring more personal benefit.

For instance, in the Charleston area, Ed Reynolds built one such structure for his mother, a lifelong avid reader who was suffering from dementia.  He and a neighbor constructed and registered “May’s Little Library” in the subdivision where they lived and it helped extend her love of reading in a new way until she died a few years later.

“My mom often would sit on the front porch and watch people come up to the library and pick out books,” said Reynolds.

Of course, the libraries are not immune to local issues. One steward reports having to keep away palmetto bugs, and others have actually seen their installations stolen or vandalized, but that has not stopped their proliferation.

Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, created the nonprofit that registers the libraries and provides kits to build them if desired to promote literacy and the love of reading. The 40,000 registered libraries contain an estimated 16 million books and exist across 70 countries. California, by itself, has 2,100 registered little free libraries. The first of 15 planned for Armenia was just installed last week in Yerevan.

“Little Free Libraries have struck a chord internationally, because they celebrate reading, community and creativity. It’s truly become a global movement that welcomes everyone to be a part of it, whether you have a Little Free Library of your own or frequent one in your neighborhood,” says Margaret Aldrich, of the Little Free Library.

The nonprofit’s website encourages people to build their own libraries using reclaimed materials. Many do so, getting creative, but the site also provides a do-it-yourself kit for up to $500. The registration fee is $42.45 and includes a charter sign, steward’s guide, and a listing online.

Many Sanders Delegates Protest DNC Platform's Lack of Support for Palestinians

July 29th, 2016  |  Source: Reason

A big part of the reason Bernie Sanders stuck around in the primary process for as long as he did was to ensure the inclusion of a number progressive issues into the Democratic Party platform that otherwise stood no chance of being included. His stubborn (and often wrongheaded) longevity paid off in a number of ways—he got Hillary Clinton to embrace a $15 minimum wage, for example. But one plank his supporters could not get adopted to the platform was a call for "an end to [Israeli] occupations and illegal settlements" in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Though the five Sanders supporters on the platform drafting committee were able to get the language included in the draft, it was defeated 73-95 at a DNC conference earlier this month, and a substantial number of Sanders delegates have been sporting "I Support Palestinian Human Rights" signs, buttons, and stickers at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to express their dissatisfaction with the party's current policy. 

One of these Sanders supporting delegates, Ayman Eldarwish of Virginia (who described himself as an American-born of Arab descent) told Reason, "We are disappointed that it did not enter the platform of the Democratic Party. We understand the dynamics of our country (but) the justice scale has to find its resting place correctly." Eldarwish added, "Our unlimited support for Israel is very unreasonable and it distorts the understanding of the reality on the ground. There are people without a land and freedom. They have to find their place on Earth, just like the Israelis want." 

Walter Conklin from Rhode Island said he thought the U.S.' position regarding Israel and the Palestinians was "absurd," and that despite the violence perpetrated by both sides, there needs to better recognition of the fact that Palestinians "are people."

Wife and husband delegates Aila Amany and Iyad Afalqa of California—both supporters of the democratic socialist from Vermont—were decked out in Robin Hood hats (get it?)—and told Reason of their disappointment with their party's platform. 

The Jerusalem-born Afalqa says, "Bernie Sanders was the only presidential candidate who acknowledged the human rights of Palestinians. At the same time, he acknowledged Israel's right to exist, and as a Jewish man that was a big deal." He added that he believes the U.S. has a responsibility to be an "honest broker" in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and that some of his fellow delegates were considering leaving the party because they see no hope that a Hillary Clinton administration will be that "honest broker."

Clinton, Afalqa says, will not be a "peace president, she will be a war president," adding that under her husband Bill's administration, "we were not at peace." He cited the sanctions on Iraq as a form of "collective punishment" on civilians and said he would not commit to voting for Clinton in the general election. Afalqa's wife, the Iranian-born Amany, says one reason she supported Sanders in the first place was because he refused to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech before Congress opposing the Iran nuclear deal.

The American political relationship with Israel is currently in a rockier state than it has been in decades, which can be seen not only in the pronounced personal tensions between President Obama and Netanyahu—which could very well have lasting implications for the once-intractable alliance between the two countries—but also because young American liberals are increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian plight and no longer on board with U.S. support for Israel as a default position. 

At this year's American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Clinton went toe-to-toe with the many Republican presidential contenders in attendance in competition for who could be the most vocal supporter of Israel. In contrast, Sanders skipped the event entirely and gave a fairly measured but still controversial speech which condemned Hamas' attacks on civilians and its opposition to Israel's right to exist, but also condemned Israel's bombing campaigns which disproportionately harmed civilians.

Issues relating to the U.S.' handling of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are unlikely going to be a dealbreaker for most Sanders supporters come Election Day, but the Palestinian cause has become increasingly important to the Democratic base, and if the unsatisfactory-to-all status quo continues, the issue could end up affecting future Democratic contests.

Here’s How to Get the IRS Ready for a Tax War on Poverty

July 28th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

A new paper offers suggestions for helping the IRS better administer social benefit programs.

Approximately 50 million Americans receive government benefits through the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Child Tax Credit (CTC) every year. In fact, the EITC is now the largest cash transfer program for low-income families with children; it’s also one of only a few social programs to enjoy broad bipartisan support. But, as I wrote earlier this year, it’s not clear that the Internal Revenue Service is ready for a modern-day “tax war on poverty.”

On Monday, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative D.C. think tank, held a panel on how to improve the IRS’s administration of benefit programs like the EITC. Steve Holt, an AEI scholar and the author of a new paper on the topic, opened the discussion by highlighting four problems with the IRS’s administration of the EITC:

·       The IRS wasn’t designed for such a role. It’s not service-oriented and lacks the apparatus (as well as the funding) to respond to the questions and concerns of EITC recipients. In a 2015 paper, Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, concluded that “[c]urrent IRS EITC processes are stacked against taxpayers as they attempt to interact with the agency and be heard. ... The correspondence audit process is singularly ill-designed for obtaining the correct answer in EITC cases.”

·       Distributing the EITC as a tax refund creates a “timing mismatch.” Recipients have to wait to receive their benefits (in one lump sum, which is also not ideal) until the following year, as opposed to receiving them at the time of greatest need.

·       It shifts the administrative costs of the program onto the recipients, most of whom pay a for-profit tax preparer to file their taxes. Many of these preparers are expensive, some are predatory, and some are actively engaged in fraudulent behaviors that leave the recipient holding the bag for any improper claims.

·       It results in “compliance problems,” although policy makers debate how many of these errors are willful (people intentionally filing incorrectly to collect a larger EITC benefit) or accidental (people filing incorrectly because they’re confused by the program’s complicated rules). Commercial tax preparers also play a large role here — Holt reports that the “highest rate of EITC overclaim returns is among unregulated preparers (who constitute the majority of preparers), some of whom hide their identity by writing ‘self-prepared’ on the return or leave the preparer signature block blank.”

So what’s to be done? Despite the IRS’ failings, most experts (including the panelists at AEI) agree that there’s no better-suited agency for the task — both for practical and philosophical reasons. Surveys of EITC recipients repeatedly find that the program lacks the stigma associated with other government welfare programs.

“Households claiming the credit see themselves as workers and, even more importantly, as rightful participants in American society,” Holt writes in his recent paper. “They are part of the mainstream. After all, in any given year about one in five taxpayers receive the credit, and almost half of taxpayers with a child claim the EITC at least once over 18 years.”

In an interview earlier this year, Susannah Camic Tahk, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, made a somewhat related point about the advantages of administering this benefit through the IRS.

“The processes around applying and fighting over welfare and food stamps are so demeaning,” Tahk said. “But when you have someone resolving a dispute with the IRS, at least they’re using processes that are designed for all taxpayers — businesses, rich folks, poor folks. The IRS isn’t trying to make these processes humiliating — it’s going to be a similar process for someone who’s high-income or low-income.”

So, in the absence of a better option, can the IRS transform itself into an efficient administrator of social benefit programs? Holt, along with the other AEI panelists, believes it can. But there need to be some changes. For starters, the IRS needs more funding so it can better respond to EITC payment and compliance issues. Holt also recommends a shift toward real-time income data and online taxpayer accounts, alternative EITC disbursement options (quarterly payments, deferral to savings accounts, etc.), the formalization and regulation of commercial tax preparers, and a simplification of the rules on EITC eligibility.

The EITC isn’t going anywhere—nor should it, given all it does for low-income working families. Really, it’s one of the few social welfare programs that has a chance of being expanded in the next few years. It’s time, Holt argues, to give the IRS the resources it needs to effectively administer the program.

A Blueprint for Restructuring Philanthropy

July 27th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; The Nation

Building on the Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker’s concept of a “new gospel of wealth,”The Nation recently invited eight philanthropic leaders to consider how philanthropy as a field can respond to growing inequality. As a cross-section of some new approaches to giving, the piece is a forceful reminder of the major challenges that exist in the world today and the diverse ways that organizations and individuals are using philanthropy to provide solutions.

In their introduction to the piece, Leah Hunt-Hendrix of Solidaire and Jee Kim of the Ford Foundation argue that, in a reflection of the Gilded Age 100 years ago, “Our current Gilded Age [is] marked by the accumulation of vast fortunes and a new generation of donors who occupy increasingly significant positions in civil society. It’s no coincidence that the big questions of philanthropy’s appropriate role are being rekindled.”

The authors cite the Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker’s response last fall to Andrew Carnegie’s 1889 “The Gospel of Wealth” with his own essay, “Toward a New Gospel of Wealth,” in which he posits:

Yet while inequality certainly merits attention and effort, some have fairly pointed out a tension—if not a contradiction—between philanthropic efforts to address inequality and the structural economic realities that make it possible for foundations to exist at all.

From this starting point, the authors call on eight philanthropic leaders for recommendations. The responses span a range of ideas, with some fairly straightforward and others more aspirational. As one of the more straightforward proposals, Steve Phillips, co-founder of PowerPAC, argues that Carnegie ignored that “inequality in America—especially profound inequality between racial groups—is a direct result of public policy decisions.”

He adds, “From a leverage standpoint, far more money can be moved by changing policies than by making individual grants.” As part of what he describes as a “public policy revolution,” Phillips recommends that philanthropists take a leadership role in supporting a wealth tax, a stronger advocacy role for nonprofits and legislation to make the voting population more reflective of the actual demographics of the country.

Jessie Spector, executive director of Resource Generation, is worthy of bearing the title the piece carries: “The Game Changer.” Spector opens her essay with the rallying cry, “I dream of a world in which philanthropy is not only unnecessary, but remembered as a bizarre and unfortunate creation of societies past.” She continues, “In this future world, accumulating resources in the hands of the few—whether for alleged social good or private benefit—will be recognized as fundamentally unequal, unfair and unjust.” Highlighting NCRP’s statistic that a mere 14 percent of annual foundation funding goes to social justice organizations, she calls for a radical shift. “Our long-term goal should be to put ourselves out of business,” she asserts.

As strategies to redistribute the resources of foundations, she recommends higher taxes on financial transactions, raising the minimum wage, raising the 5% foundation payout rate, and requiring that foundation boards include non-wealthy people. Although the Atlantic Philanthropies have provided an extremely valuable model through the “Giving While Living” program, this is not a strategy that will necessarily fit as well for other organizations.

Daniel Lurie, CEO and founder of Tipping Point Community, explains that his organization operates on an “intentionally hungry model.” The foundation has no endowment—as he puts it, “We start from zero every year.” The organization’s website explains that the board annually covers the organization’s fundraising and operations, so that programs can be at the forefront. An amazing model, but how replicable is it?

Leah Hunt-Hendrix, co-founder and executive director of Solidaire, states that her organization’s approach to philanthropy “doesn’t mean finding or funding this or that solution ourselves.”

Rather, it means being led by the social movements of our time, and working in partnership with those who are experiencing the burdens of an inequitable society, and who are trying to change the deep social structures that perpetuate this inequality and injustice.

As a historical precedent for her organization’s approach, Hunt-Hendrix highlights the work of a few family foundations that collectively funded trainings in the ’50s and ’60s “and anchored organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the NAACP.” In place of altruism, Hunt-Hendrix explains that her organization aims for “philanthropy of solidarity…which emphasizes real relationships.”

Neva Goodwin of Tufts University and Rosemary Corbett of the Center for Constitutional Rights, both members of the Rockefeller family, are committed to “ a new economic paradigm in which all resources are distributed more equitably.” They, like others in this group, share the view that foundation boards need to be more diverse and that foundations as a whole should be more responsive to the work of community organizations working with under-represented populations.

A member of the San Francisco’s elite tech community, Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, speaks for the value of individual involvement, affirming, “You don’t have to make a killing to make a difference.” As a straightforward reminder for philanthropists and elevator passengers everywhere, Newmark suggests, “If you are lucky enough to do well, keep sending the elevator down.”

Finally, Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation, appropriately described as “The Advocate” for his own role as catalyst for renewed discussions of inequality, explains that his organization is currently investigating “how we might make our endowment strategy align with our program strategy.”

In light of these interesting ideas, it would be interesting to see a follow-up forum of some sort involving these authors that looks in depth at implementation.

The Politics of Closing the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

July 22nd, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

In May, NPQ reported on the Kenyan government’s decision to close the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. Managed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Dadaab Refugee Complex is the largest refugee camp in the world and home to over 340,000 refugees, 95 percent of who are from Somalia.Covering an area of 50 kilometers, Dadaab was originally a group of three camps established in 1991 to house 90,000 people, mostly Somalis fleeing civil war. The camp’s enormous population makes it the third largest “city” in Kenya, after Nairobi and Mombasa.

The Kenyan government’s plan to close Dadaab was cited, in part, as a response to the security threat posed by the Somali militant group al-Shabaab. The government has accused the group of using the camp to launch terrorist attacks, including the 2013 Westgate Mall attack where at least 67 died and the April 2015 attack at Garissa University College that killed 148 students and staff. (Newsweek reports that the “UN has noted that ‘clear information’ is not available on the presence of terrorist elements inside Dadaab.”)

Kenya’s decision to close the camp was met with grave concern by numerous international humanitarian organizations, who, in a joint statement, urged the Kenyan government to reconsider its decision, while acknowledging its contributions over the years: “Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) providing assistance to refugees in Kenya acknowledge the hospitality and responsibility that the Government of Kenya has borne over decades.” As of April 2016, Kenya hosted around 600,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi.

Dadaab’s closing is yet another example of the huge challenges facing refugees and host countries worldwide. In a report released on June 20, UNHCR stated that over 65 million people in the world are currently refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs)—more than the entire population of the United Kingdom and surpassing even the amount of refugees caused by World War II.

The Kenyan government has assured Western governments, UNHCR, and international NGOs that repatriation to Somalia would be “voluntary, safe and dignified,” but is nonetheless facing widespread criticism over the closing of Dadaab, as the international community worries that sending Somali refugees home would both endanger their lives and empower al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups.

Before his departure in 2015, Somalia’s top UN official at the time, Nicholas Kay, declared the nation a “recovering fragile country” rather than a “failed state.” However, after decades of civil war, famine, collapsed government, and now, widespread Islamic terrorism and insurgencies, Somalia will take years to rebuild. Sending these refugees back to their still violent and unstable homeland is without a doubt fraught with risk and danger.

Should the international community condemn the Kenyan government for choosing security over their international obligations? Is this a case of scapegoating refugees, a legitimate national security concern, a holdover from the fact that next year Kenya holds national elections—or some combination of all three?

The problem is that U.S. and European governments pressure poor countries to take in refugees when they themselves are unwilling to do the same. An Oxfam report published this week states that the “six wealthiest nations host less than nine percent of the world’s refugees while poorer countries shoulder most of the responsibility.” This echoes the UNHCR report, which notes, “Developing regions hosted 86 percent of the world’s refugees under UNHCR’s mandate,” the highest figure in more than two decades. Of the world’s six richest countries, Germany is the host of 736,000 refugees. Kenya, as noted above, is currently hosting 600,000. According to the UN’s 2014 figures, Germany hadthe fourth largest GDP of all countries in the world; Kenya was 73rd.

In January of this year, NPQ reported that the Danish parliament was trying to make itself as unattractive as possible to refugees by passing a bill that allowed for the seizure of refugee assets upon their arrival in the country. For the international community to criticize Kenya for closing Dadaab 25 years after it was opened is an example of the hypocrisy and inequity that colors even the question of who bears the responsibility for taking care of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

In the government’s official statement on the closing of Dadaab, Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary, Joseph Nkaissery, mentions that European countries, with regard to refugees, have made their countries’ economic and national security interests paramount:

Kenya appreciates the national security interests that are informing how other countries are dealing with the challenge of refugee inflows. We are also seeking to anchor our humanitarian character, which is recognized all over the world, in considerations that put the security of our country first. We will not be the first to do so; this is the standard practice worldwide. For example in Europe, rich, prosperous, and democratic countries are turning away refugees from Syria, one of the worst war zones since World War Two.

At the end of his statement, Nkaissery puts it simply: “Refugees are a responsibility of the international community.” He is right. Perhaps the 145 countries who are party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention have forgotten what they signed.

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