Anderson spoke with Pulitzer Prize winning author Sonia Nazrio about her reporting on the violence that's driving the flood of young immigrants to the U.S. border. She calls for taking a 'humane and practical' approach to the crisis by setting up refugee camps.
Click here to read Sonia Nazario's latest article.
Special to AC360°
World Refugee Day is the one-day of the year created to draw the world’s attention to the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people – refugees. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) 2009 Global Trend Report, there are approximately 15.2 million people classified as refugees around the world. This number only represents a portion of the displaced. According to the report, 2009 marked the highest volume of forcibly displaced people – approximately 43.3 million people fled their homes due to violence or persecution. Refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) bare the brunt of dysfunctional governments and the backlash of geopolitical conflicts. “No one ever plans to be a refugee. Any of us could be forced from our homes at anytime,” said Jesse Bernstein, senior associate at Human Rights First. The challenges facing refugees have grown over the past years, political and economic crises have made it increasingly difficult for refugees and IDPs.
Security and Economic Issues
Since 2001, refugees contend with global fears about terrorism. “Many refugees have actually been victims of terrorist groups or other armed actors,” Bernstein said. According to the global trends report the highest volume of refugees in 2009 fled from Afghanistan and Iraq respectively. Following September 11, the U.S. drastically altered its refugee policy. New systems were set-up to screen for potential terrorists. While this made sense given the violent attack, increased security concerns has made it difficult for some refugees to be cleared by Homeland Security. In some instances individuals have said they were turned away because of an affiliation with certain political parties or others said they were declined because the U.S. Office of Migration (IOM) notes inconsistencies in their account of prosecution.
Special to CNN
Editor's note: Kathleen Newland is co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute and directs MPI's refugee protection program. She serves on the Board of the International Rescue Committee and is a former chair of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan think tank in Washington that analyzes U.S. and global immigration policies and trends.
(CNN) - In just the past week, another 100,000 people have joined the rolls of the world's refugees; they were forced to flee violence in Kyrgyzstan across the border into Uzbekistan.
It is an inauspicious prelude to the observance of World Refugee Day on Sunday. But it is a timely reminder that more than 15 million refugees are looking to the world for help - first to survive and be safe, and then to find a resolution to their plight.
The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes reached 43 million by the end of 2009, the U.N. Refugee Agency reported this week. That's the highest number since the mid-1990s. About two-thirds are displaced inside their own countries, like the 300,000 Kyrgyz who fled this week but did not manage to cross the border into Uzbekistan.
HOLIDAY GIFTS FROM THE LAND OF A THOUSAND HILLS
CNN Senior Executive Producer
I love receiving holiday gifts.
Especially when they’re gifts of knowledge.
I feel like I received at least five gifts of knowledge when I met Janet Nkubana on a recent night.
I hope you’ll let me share them with you one at a time.
Gift #1: A Basket of Security
Janet Nkubana had travelled from her home in the country they call The Land of a Thousand Hills to The Land of a Thousand Malls.
She was here, at Macy’s, to sell her company’s traditional Rwandan baskets.
It’s unusual to have a conversation at a department store that begins with the phrase "When I was growing up in the camp..."
Janet's camp was a refugee camp in Uganda, across a border from her homeland.
In that camp where she grew up "the population was very concentrated. It was easy for a child to get lost."
And so, as Janet describes it, the mothers would do their best to keep their children close to them. One way they did that was to have the children gather nearby grasses that their mothers could use to weave baskets. Not just baskets. Woven mats too. There were no mattresses. So everyone slept on mats.
The mothers were always weaving mats so "the children didn't have a wet sleep."
CNN Senior Executive Producer
When Rwanda's master basket weaver Janet Nkubana walked me through the symbolism of her basket's designs, the image you see here left a big impression.
I asked her how long it took a weaver to get from the center knot at the bottom of that basket to the spot she's pointing to. A couple of inches of weaving.
"It may take a whole day to get from here to here," she said.
Janet is the master in charge of the masters. Her company employs 32-hundred women to weave baskets. Women who would otherwise have no way to support themselves and whatever family members might have survived the genocide in 1994.
How many of those women are master weavers?"
300 masters out of more than 3-thousand weavers. Only one out of ten. Judging from the selection of baskets, the other nine weavers are just really good.
I've been to Rwanda before. But I was never invited into a backyard. Now I know why.
Janet Nkubana, Rwanda's master basket weaver, tells me the backyard is where the women of Rwanda gather. It's where they talk. It's where they share their secrets.
No men allowed.
As a journalist, it was my responsibility to convince Janet that it would be a good thing to reveal just a few secrets from the backyard.
I don't have a very large audience, I told Janet. Your secrets will be safe with me and these readers.
Janet ignored my plea, picked up a basket, and walked me through the symbolism of the design.
"In Rwandan culture," Janet explains, "women are not allowed to sit with the men and talk. They are normally in the backyard cooking. But inside the backyard, should other women come to visit, you sit there and talk a lot of secrets.”
I picked out a basket at Macy's and read the name of the artist to Rwanda's master weaver, Janet Nkubana.
The weaver's name was sewn to the inside of the basket.
Who is the woman who wove this, I asked?
Janet looked at the name and laughed.
The weaver of this basket was not a woman. It's a man.
"We had men who had no jobs,” she tells me. “A few men said can we join the women?" This weaver, this man, said: "I don't mind. I'm a very poor person. I want to be a part of your group."
I liked the man’s basket. The weaver was not a master weaver. BUT …
“We do have one man who's a master weaver," said Janet. One out of 300.
To repair a country after a genocide, in a nation like Rwanda, where the killers and the survivors still live in the same neighborhoods, takes a lot of time, to say the least.
It takes longer than the hundred days that it took the men with machetes to kill at least 800-thousand people in the spring of 1994.
Remember what Janet told us about master basket weaving. It takes time too.
"Through weaving,” says Janet, “we've brought back our culture. We've restored talking. Families are forgiving each other."
I was skeptical that weaving could foster such reconciliation.
“It was difficult at the beginning, to have both aisles of the genocide under one roof. At first," says Janet, "some were not talking to each other."
Janet recalls moving to Rwanda after the genocide and visiting the town her parents came from. One of her former neighbors remembered how Janet's mother used to invite her in for milk. That woman's brothers are now in prison for their role in the genocide.
Hana Al Badree, not her real name, a 57-year-old Iraqi refugee living in Amman, Jordan, had just received a message from Iraq when I called to check on her. Al Badree’s 12-year-old nephew had just died.
He jumped over a fence attempting to retrieve a ball in his Baghdad neighborhood when he fell on his head. Her last surviving brother, his father, then went into cardiac arrest due to the shock of his son’s death.
Al Badree’s life has spanned two wars. She has lost nearly a dozen family members to violence. She said this was her “fate.” This was not the first time Al Badree had said this. Now, her gravelly voice struggled to conceal the onslaught of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her.
One week earlier, I had served her hummus and black tea garnished with mint at my apartment in downtown Amman. She had been working with me as an interpreter for five weeks while I interviewed dozens of families for a documentary. She translated my questions and lent her credibility with the community to the project. Families, who otherwise might have been less open, welcomed me and shared their stories and pain. Now it was time to interview Al Badree about what had driven her into asylum.
Because of threats of violence, we agreed to change the names of the family members for the purpose of this report.
Marium and Hassan Al Wata* are stalked by their shared past. They are haunted by memories of death threats and murder. In 2006 they fled the violence in Baghdad in search of a safe haven. They settled in Amman, Jordan but their security quickly turned to imprisonment.
They say their modest apartment in the city’s Heshami Shamali neighborhood feels like a cage. Their days and nights are spent within the confines of sheet rock, sweat and anxiety. “We never leave the house during the day,” Marium said, “At night we’ll go on the balcony and talk about how we’re feeling.”
During the escalation of sectarian violence between 2005 and 2007, thousands of Iraqis fled to Jordan and other neighboring countries. According to a Fafo Research Foundation report, commissioned by the Jordanian government, there are between 450,000 and 500,000 Iraqis living in Jordan. But many of these people find themselves isolated in their new homes, fearful of deportation and waiting in limbo. The United Nations now recognizes the situation as the largest urban refugee crisis in history.
After their arrival three years ago, the Al Watas discovered layers of bureaucracy that made their life in Jordan difficult. Jordan did not sign the 1951 Convention on refugees and while it has been historically welcoming to displaced people, Iraqis are not officially recognized as refugees and therefore cannot work legally. The large influx of Iraqis was a shock to Jordan’s infrastructure and the country quickly changed its immigration policies and began requiring visas for Iraqis. The visa requirement - and the inability to work legally - has made it nearly impossible for an Iraqi to live some semblance of a normal life in Jordan.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with AC361°