Thousands of Senegalese have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in The Gambia, after clashes broke out earlier this year, in parts of Senegal occupied by separatists. The UN is providing psychological support for many of those displaced, who are coping with the fact that a return home is an uncertain prospect.
When conflict broke out in Kaddy’s Senegalese village in early April, she was forced to leave her belongings behind to save her family. “We lost everything. When we left, we could not take anything with us. Our animals, our food; everything was destroyed in the fighting.”
Together with her husband and seven children, Kaddy fled north to The Gambia, eventually finding her way to a small village in Janack district, in an area popularly known as ‘Foni’.
Having left with nothing, Kaddy and her family had to rely on the hospitality of the local community for food and shelter. “We feel like a burden to the other communities helping us,” Kaddy laments. “We feel ashamed to be ‘taken care of’, but we have no choice.”
Kaddy is among thousands of Senegalese forced to flee to The Gambia, according to the country’s National Disaster Management Agency, after fighting broke out along the Gambian-Senegalese border, in territory occupied by the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC).
An additional 6,200 Gambians have been internally displaced, with another 8,500 affected in host communities – according to The Gambia’s National Disaster Management Agency – by the conflict, which dates back four decades.
Raising awareness of post-traumatic stress
Recognizing the significant impact of the conflict on the well-being of displaced persons, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) mobilized its expertise in providing mental health and psychosocial support. In collaboration with the Supportive Activists Foundation, IOM deployed a mobile psychosocial team – consisting of a psychologist, two social workers, an educator, and a community mobilizer – to provide direct services to the affected populations.
One key approach being employed by the mobile team is psychoeducation, where volunteers meet with and engage communities to discuss mental health issues and possible signs and symptoms of stress. “The purpose is to raise awareness about the experiences of individuals who have gone through post-traumatic stress or have been negatively affected due to the change of environment brought by the crisis,” said Solomon Correa, Supportive Activists Foundation Managing Director.
These sessions, conducted in groups, leverage traditional sociocultural activities, such as regular attaya (tea) sessions, to facilitate discussions.
“We are able to teach them coping mechanisms during the discussions,” says Amie, a volunteer psychologist. “After we orient them on the possible signs and symptoms of mental health problems, they are often very interested to talk with us in private.”
Through the psychoeducation sessions, the mobile team is able to identify people with specific mental health needs that require further attention and conduct follow-up visits or referrals, as needed.
‘This is one of the things helping me the most in my daily life’
Fatou is one of many who have benefited from dedicated, one-on-one counselling sessions.
A Gambian previously living in Casamance with her Senegalese husband, her whole family fled when the conflict broke out. Fatou left her home abruptly and had no time to gather any belongings, as she was preoccupied with safely evacuating her 10 children, one of whom is physically disabled. For over two months, she has been living in her uncle’s compound in Janack.
Fatou has resorted to small, day-to-day jobs, including offering labour on farms during harvesting to sell the produce on behalf of the farmers to make ends meet. However, the stress of providing for her family in a new environment, along with painful memories resurfaced from the shootings she witnessed, has had a negative impact on her mental well-being.
“To date, this is one of the things helping me the most in my daily life,” Fatou says of the psychosocial support she has received. “I am really happy to talk to them [the mobile team] and share my feelings and problems without hesitation.” Fatou’s sessions with the mobile team have helped give her a sense of mutual solidarity with others who have been displaced: “It helps me to know we are not alone in this.”
No end in sight
Months after the outbreak of conflict, there seems to be no end in sight. “We are not sure whether it is okay for us to go back or not. Right now, we have no clue,” Fatou remarks.
The psychosocial support is helping the most affected cope with the drastic changes in their lives and pick up the pieces left behind. As Kaddy shares, “Just being able to talk to someone alone about our problems in this crisis really encourages us. It helps us to feel a little more comfortable even though there is no certainty about the future.”
“Since participating in these sessions, I have been less worried,” agrees Fatou.
In a world where mental health is often put in the back seat, the work of the six-person mobile psychosocial team demonstrates the benefits of prioritizing mental health needs.
Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia
Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.
The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.
“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.
“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.”
Women and children in crosshairs
Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.
“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.
“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.
They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.
“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.
They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.
The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.
35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue
A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.
The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.
Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg).
Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:
- Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
- Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
- Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.
The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.
Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent
More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.
“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.
The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.
These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.
The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.
‘Barometer for success’
The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.
It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”
“The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.
“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”
Higher death rates
Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.
“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.
It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).
While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.
Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.
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