Slideshow Banner4 WHAT we do

Last week the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) team continued its assessment of ‎protection‬ concerns facing ‎asylum‬ seekers and ‎migrants‬ on their way to Europe. In Athens‬, the team interviewed refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Among those whom NP interviewed was Aatifa*, an elderly woman from Kabul, Afghanistan, who arrived in Athens, Greece, this week. She and her husband left Afghanistan several years ago due to insecurity, in hopes that their three teenage sons could have a better life in Iran.

However, the family was denied asylum and faced discrimination and threats from local authorities. After her husband succumbed to cancer, she and her sons decided to risk the journey for a better life in Europe. Traveling for over two weeks through snowy mountains across Iran, between the hands of smugglers in Turkey, and across the cold waters of the Aegean in an overcrowded raft, they eventually reached Greece.

When NP met them, Aatifa and her boys had little idea of what to expect for the journey ahead. "We don't know if it's safe or not, but we must go," said the mother, grasping the hand of her youngest son.

Stay tuned for the next update and experiences from Lesvos, Greece in a couple days.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the asylum seekers.

At the end of January, a Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) team arrived in Athens, Greece, to start an exploratory mission into areas along refugee migration routes in Europe. Stay tuned for weekly updates from staff as they move around Greece and share their findings of the current situation there.

Here, NP Middle East team director Tiffany Easthom explains the mission’s aims and the photo:
“The mission will assess the protection concerns refugees and migrants face as they travel into and across Europe and the Balkans, and explore ways NP’s approach could help reduce violence and protect the most vulnerable in this context.

Pictured here is Victoria Square, a frequent stop for many refugees transiting through Athens on their way to other locations in Europe. Several times a day, buses leave from near the square to Idomeni, a village in northern Greece. From there, refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan cross the border into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), while refugees and migrants from other countries are turned away, leaving many vulnerable to abuse and exploitation."

More information on Nonviolent Peaceforce Middle East coming soon!

Despite commitments by the warring parties in South Sudan to implement the peace agreement signed in August 2015, violent conflict continues. After over two years of war, the country’s infrastructure has been left devastated and the people of South Sudan continue to face a humanitarian crisis. The impact of the war on South Sudanese women and girls has been particularly horrific. Amidst the extraordinary rates of forced displacement, pervasive violence and breakdown of rule of law in many location, an estimated 32,000 South Sudanese women and girls are exposed to the risk of sexual violence.

There is a clear correlation between food insecurity, fuel and resource needs and gender-based violence (GBV) in South Sudan (See: South Sudan GBV Cluster, (2014) ‘Between a Rock and a hard place: Why we need to invest in GBV in food crisis? The Link between Food Security and Conflict Related Sexual Violence in South Sudan’). There are consistent and widespread reports of women and girls being raped, abducted and murdered as they leave the relative safety of camps, in order to access water, food, firewood or shelter materials (Alison Giffin et al. “Will they Protect US for the Next 10 Years: Challenges Faced by the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan,” Stimson Center, November 2014 p. 22).

Read more: Women Peacekeeping Teams working to end gender-based violence

Hosted by NGO Islamic Relief, the United Nations (UNWRA), Lebanese Red Cross, and the MENA regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) I recently spent a month in Lebanon - from mid December to mid January. It was most instructive to travel around this country right up to the Syrian border, getting to within just half an hour of starving Madaya that is currently in the media. I spent most of my time studying the conditions under which the recently arrived Syrian refugees live as well as the Palestinian refugees - who have been there for nearly 70 years. At least a third of the 4.5 million population of Lebanon is composed of refugees. Lebanon itself is slowly getting over its own earlier lengthy civil war and invasions from neighbours and remains unstable although as you drive along the Mediterranean coastline and see the booming shopping malls in Beirut, you would wonder what all the fuss was about.

Read more: Board Vice Chair Mukesh Kapila Visits NP in Lebanon

Nonviolent Peaceforce’s work in Myanmar is at a crucial juncture because of a recent landmark election with Aung San Suu Kyi nominated as defacto leader of the country and the signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement. A historical transfer of power takes place as a civilian led government will take over the current military led government. In October, the nationwide ceasefire agreement was signed by eight ethnic groups and the government. Though not all ethnic groups in conflict with the government signed, it is a hopeful step towards ending a civil war that has lasted more than 60 years.

Read more: NP's Role During Historical Transition in Myanmar

By Maria Mutauta, Intern for Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines

 

Maria is a recent graduate of the University of Nairobi in Kenya where she studied law and worked with an NGO that addressed health and sanitation issues in low-income urban areas. Following the political situation in Burundi that resulted in displacement and insecurity for civilians, Maria decided to focus on conflict transformation and improving security for civilians on a non-partisan platform. Maria's internship with Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines is the next step in this goal. It is also an opportunity to gain an understanding of the theory and practical application of unarmed civilian protection. Maria's experience with Nonviolent Peaceforce is a gateway for her future studies and career in conflict transformation and civilian protection.

Many of you reading this are likely well versed in Nonviolent Peaceforce’s mandate and the different projects conducted in NP’s country programs. However, perhaps you are not fully tuned-in to the dynamic entity that is the NP field team. As the newest addition to NP Philippines, I want to share my revelations about daily life and work in the field with the South Central Mindanao Team (SCMT).

I arrived at the SCMT field site in Datu Piang, Mindanao, not knowing what to expect. My knowledge of Mindanao prior to arriving was limited, but I knew the area is prone to tensions and outbreaks of violence ̶ related to protracted conflict in the region. I’d already experienced the hospitality of the Filipino people, but anxiety got the best of me during my orientation. Needless to say my worries quickly proved unfounded. The members of my team accepted me as one of their own from day one and gave me great advice on how to handle culture shock. I also received a warm welcome from the many communities I visited with the team. In fact, after only a couple of weeks, the armed actors I had initially deemed unapproachable no longer intimidated me.

Read more: Working Together: NP's Many Collaborators in the Field

borftr2edited“I never thought I would see my children ever again, neither did I think my children were still alive. I am the happiest man in the world and thank you humanitarians for making this possible. I will forever be grateful” – Father in South Sudan.

On 15 December 2013, conflict engulfed South Sudan and the country was split along ethnic lines. In Bor, there were extremely violent clashes in which both Dinka and Nuer civilians were targeted and killed. Large areas of Bor were destroyed and nearly the entire population displaced. A large population of predominately displaced Nuer civilians sought protection in the United Nations base – known now as a Protection of Civilian site (PoC). Since the beginning of the year, Bor Town has witnessed the slow return of displaced Dinka civilians; however, the Nuer population has remained fearful of moving outside the protection site.

Since the conflict began, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) has registered a large number of separated and unaccompanied children in the Bor protection site. Many of these children have been separated from their families and caregivers since the start of the civil war. NP works continuously to reunify these unaccompanied children with their families.

Recently, NP successfully reunified 18 separated and unaccompanied children from the Bor protection site with their parents in Akobo, Jonglei State. This can be a treacherous journey as it requires moving the children through both government and opposition-controlled territories. However, we were able to ensure the reunification ran smoothly, by working closely and coordinating with local authorities, UNICEF, and Save the Children.

Read more: 18 Children Safely Returned to Parents in South Sudan

It has been six years and five months since I joined the Nonviolent Peaceforce family. It all started in Sri Lanka way back in May of 2009, just after my voluntary assignments in Pakistan and Nigeria with Volunteer Service Overseas as a Human Rights and Policy Advocacy Advisor. In the beginning, it was a great challenge adjusting to my responsibilities at NP, which were very different from what I was doing before. My work now consisted of: accompanying vulnerable people to travel safely from place to place, providing proactive presence 24/7 for injured patients being threatened by tribal violence in the hospital, foot patrol, and Family Tracing and Reunification. Although this was a new experience for me, as a member of NP I had to fulfill my assigned duties  ̶  regardless of personal internal fears or doubts. Thankfully, with the support of community members and NP staff, I have been able to overcome my fears and excel as a member of the NP family. As I always say to my colleagues in both Sri Lanka and South Sudan, “life is simple... it is just we who make it complicated...” Meaning if you define your goals, stay focused, and most importantly put your heart into your work, everything will be fine.

Read more: Diary from the Field: Reflections by Vincente Pacis

In September 2015, Nonviolent Peaceforce South Sudan conducted a Capacities and Vulnerabilities Assessment (CVA) in Wau Shilluk, Malakal County, Upper Nile State. This assessment is an important first step to identify the site’s security so Nonviolent Peaceforce can effectively design a new targeted protection program to maximize positive impact for local populations.

The mission led by Nonviolent Peaceforce's Britt Sloan (Area Program Coordinator, Border Region) and Yannick Creoff (Protection Officer) was conducted as a protection assessment in advance of proposed NP programming on the west bank of the Nile. NP had previously visited Wau Shilluk in May 2015. The CVA aimed to further investigate changes in the local context of the village, deepen understanding of community dynamics, and update NP information regarding protection threats, vulnerabilities, and capacities of the local community.

With the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war at the end of 2013, Malakal and the surrounding areas of Upper Nile State witnessed massive fighting, displacing tens of thousands of civilians across the Nile River to villages along the west bank. Wau Shilluk, previously a small Shilluk community of some 4,000 residents approximately 12 kilometers north of Malakal, became the main Shilluk internally displaced persons (IDP) settlement. As of May 2015, the community had reached an estimated population of 40,000 individuals.

Read more: Exploration to Open a New Site in South Sudan