Category Archives: Europe

A slice of Rio in Scotland

UntitledBy Val Morgan, SCIAF (Caritas Scotland)

Scotland’s Rio is an event for the young people of Scotland to coincide with the World Youth Day being celebrated with Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro in July 2013. It will take place at Stirling University Campus from Thursday 25th – Sunday 28th July, 2013.       

We hope to give young people from across Scotland the opportunity to experience something of the celebration of the international World Youth Day.

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Filed under Brazil, Catholic Teaching, Europe, Latin America, United Kingdom

Hail to the chief!

Saw B C and Dolores Halpin-Bachmann

by Dolores Halpin-Bachmann, Humanitarian Co-ordinator, Caritas Denmark

Excitement high Friday morning, 28 June, at the COERR Social Services Centre, Ban Don Yang Refugee Camp, Thailand, as young voters queued to elect their ‘Prime Minister for Child and Youth Affairs’.

Five candidates, three girls and two boys, were standing for election.  Behind each candidate, there was strong party support.  To be nominated to stand for election, each candidate had to have the support of at least 10 eligible voters.

Each candidate had prepared and presented an election manifesto well in advance of Election Day.

Election posters with photos made by each of the candidates were visible in key areas of the camp as we arrived there on the big day.  I’m told election campaigning was vigorous and robust in the weeks and days leading up to polling day.

In all, 402 children from grades 7-12 were eligible to vote in this election according to the electoral register.  Voter turn-out was a high 81 percent – more than voter turn-out in general elections in many countries.  Prior to actual voting, the candidates were each given a few minutes to make a final campaign speech.

Then the voting started in what can only be described as an extremely well run, logistically impeccable, voting and election process – all overseen by an election commission composed inter alia of camp school teachers, with the COERR programme supervisor on hand to provide advice if needed, and with appropriate election monitoring by visiting COERR headquarter staff and the Caritas Denmark humanitarian co-ordinator.

The importance of this election was reflected by the presence of the Camp Committee Chairman, several members of the Camp Committee and numerous adult camp residents during proceedings which lasted just under an hour and a half.

As counting progressed, the votes were recorded and tallied on the large whiteboard on the stage.  Soon, it became clear that this would be a race between three of the five candidates.

In the end, Saw B C came out the winner with 37 percent of all votes cast.  Saw B C is 15 years old, a student in grade 10 middle school, and leader of the youth Peace Party which he founded.  He has lived as a refugee in Ban don Yang since he and his family fled Myanmar 10 years ago.  Today, his mum, dad and elder sibling can truly be proud of him.

Speaking with the newly elected prime minister after his election, I was impressed by his ability to articulate his prime ministerial agenda succinctly, eloquently and with stately confidence.

In his own words, he will be “a focal point in promoting healthy living, inclusion and unity, for and with all of the children and youth living in Ban don Yang camp”.

To illustrate his commitment to this agenda, his first prime ministerial decision was to invite the 4 losing candidates in the election and the leaders of the other youth parties to join him as ministers in his cabinet.

This election was not just a practical exercise in civic education, responsibility and democracy. The elected prime minister plays an important role in camp life and will during his term of office be the representative and spokesperson for all children and youth living in the camp.

Part of that role involves monthly meetings with the camp committee as well as presenting the achievements and concerns of camp youth at meetings with visiting dignitaries and officials.  A key prime ministerial responsibility, and one given very high importance, is representing camp children and youth on the camp child protection committee.

The prime minister also has overall responsibility for organising regular youth activities and mobilising the children and youth of the camp to understand and carry out their social and community responsibilities. The prime minister is supported in his duties by a cabinet of 8 ministers with portfolios covering education, environment, social affairs, health, agriculture, finance, music and sport.

For Caritas Denmark and COERR, this election is yet another successful milestone in the journey that Caritas Denmark and COERR embarked on 10 years ago with the setting up of what is still fondly known as the HoM component of our Thai-Burma Border Programme.

HoM, Healing of Memory, is the first phase in a Peace and Reconciliation process.  Initially, we could not use the word peace in the component’s title, as this could have been perceived as political by the Thai authorities and thus not received their approval for implementation in the refugee camps along the border.

Needless to say, the programme has moved on from this initial healing of memory phase since it was begun.  Today, this component of the programme is focused on promoting volunteerism and community outreach activities, developing and nurturing civic duty and youth leadership, and enhancing social cohesion and harmony among camp residents.

The election on 28 June was the continuation of an idea born, developed and brought to successful fruition by the Programme’s HoM Youth Group.  Three of the five candidates in the election, including the newly elected prime minister, are regular and active members of the HoM youth group in Ban don Yang.

Saw B C is the third Child Prime Minister at Ban don Yang and the first boy to be elected to the post – the previous two incumbents were girls.  With the success of the initiative in Ban don Yang, HoM youth groups in other refugee camps along the border are studying the lessons and learning from Ban don Yang and are eager to replicate the initiative in their own respective camps.

With young, confident, articulate, socially-caring and active girls and boys such as those we witnessed during Election Day, the future leadership of the refugee community in Ban don Yang will be in good hands.

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Filed under Asia, Conflicts and Disasters, Denmark, Europe, Myanmar, Peacebuilding

World Refugee Day: In their faces is the face of Christ

Caritas Burkina Faso helps new arrivals from the conflict in Mali. Photo by Simone Stefanelli/Mali

Caritas Burkina Faso helps new arrivals from the conflict in Mali. Photo by Simone Stefanelli/Mali

Today is World Refugee Day: honoring the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes. It is our chance to let the 45.2 million people forced from their homes around the world know that we walk with them.

Pope Francis called attention to refugee families “often forced to flee their homes and countries in a hurry and losing all their belongings and their security to escape violence, persecution or serious discrimination because of their religion, ethnic identity or political ideas.”

“We cannot be insensitive toward families and all our brothers and sisters who are refugees,” the pope said. “We are called to help them, opening ourselves to understanding them and offering hospitality.”

“In their faces is the face of Christ,” the pope said.

 3.8 million Colombians have been forced from their homes. Credit: Caritas Colombia

3.8 million Colombians have been forced from their homes. Credit: Caritas Colombia

In 2004, Caritas Venezuela started to work for refugees, most of the victims of the internal conflict in Colombia which has produced more than 3.8 million. internally displaced persons. In Venezuela there about 3000 refugees seeking protection, but there might be more who live under irregular conditions in the country. Those who do not speak to refugees do not know their suffering”, says Migdalia Carrasquel, a lawyer in charge of the refugee programme at Caritas Venezuela.

Catholic Relief Services  (a Caritas member based in the USA) began 70 years ago helping refugees in Europe during and after World War II. Today, CRS says the Church’s concern for the poorest and most vulnerable people compels them to continue that work wherever refugees and internally displaced people are at grave risk. Today, they bring comfort and aid to Syrian, Malian and Somali refugees in places like Niger, Kenya, Jordan, Lebanon and Burkina Faso, where natural or manmade disasters force people from their homes and homelands.

From the trauma of flight, to the anxiety about family that you have been separated from, to the depression of watching your homeland in chaos, to the stress of making ends meet in a foreign country, the psychological pressure but on refugees is immense. In Jordan, Caritas says one in five of the refugees its surveyed need some form of counselling. Providing that care is key to our work throughout the region with Syrian refugees.

While numbers are important in illustrating the extent and gravity of the situation, Caritas Australia says is easy to lose the true picture amongst statistics – the human faces involved in this tragedy. The reality is that these numbers are made up of individuals who have feelings, aspirations, and like every human being, fundamental human needs.

Gisèle, a refugee in Belgium, has been separated from her children for 3 years. Thanks to the support of Caritas Belgium, Gisèle’s youngest son was recently granted a visa to come to live with his mother.

Current family reunification procedures are diffcult, expensive and long. They are creating unnecessary human suffering for thousands of people separated from their loved ones. Caritas organisations in Europe are helping many of them to go through the procedures. Caritas Europa is calling on the EU and its member states to make the right to family a reality.

Please pray for those who have fled Syria, or been displaced by the conflict there. Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has prepared resources. And finally Caritas Ecuador asks us to dedicate 1 minute of our lives for refugee families. 

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Filed under Advocacy, Australia, Belgium, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Europe, Migration, New Zealand, Oceania, Refugees

Caritas Czech Republic gets top national prize

The Gratias Agit

The Gratias Agit

By Jitka Kozubková

The Czech government has awarded Caritas Czech Republic with the Gratias Agit for 20 years of international humanitarian and development work.

The Foreign Ministry awarded the prize, given traditionally for spreading the Czech Republic’s goodwill abroad.

Caritas Czech’s president Mons. Pavel Posád and director Lukáš Curylo accepted the prize from Karel Schwarzenberg, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Throughout its years of existence, Caritas Czech Republic has a great reputation on the international field, both with regard to what it does, its professionalism and the effort it puts into its work,” said the minister.

“We were given the prize thanks to our foreign activities, but we also think it’s as acknowledgement of the work of Caritas Czech as a whole,” said Caritas Czech director Lukáš Curylo.”We successfully transmit the experiences of providing social services such as home care services from our country to others. And vice-versa, we also apply the experiences from the countries stricken by natural disaster during the floods now in the Czech Republic.”

Director Curylo said that the prize is an encouragement for the following years.  Not just for after the floods, but also for the aid to Syrian refugees.

Apart from humanitarian aid, Caritas CR provides also development cooperation in many countries where it focuses especially on livelihoods, social work, heath care and education.

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Filed under Czech Republic, Europe

When ducks swim past your first floor window

By Juliane Hein

Flooding is not unusual in Passau, the eastern Bavarian town known as ‘three river city’. The town is located at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers. It’s accustomed to rising water levels. Homeowners keep sandbags on the doorstep of their house at all times. But what happened last Sunday and Monday was unprecedented.It was a scene that the town has not witnessed since the Middle Ages. The Danube rose to nearly 13 metres (42 feet) on Monday, whereas it usually rises to 4.50 metres at this time of the year. The river Inn reached its peak of nearly 10 metres. The waters have reached the second floor of some buildings and the affected areas have had no electricity and no drinking water for days.In Passau, the water is slowly receding and the true scale of the damage is gradually coming to light just now.

I went to university in Passau and am currently working at the General Secretariat of Caritas Internationalis in Rome. To see the images of the university buildings, the street I used to live in or the little bookshop round the corner has left me gaping. Everything is destroyed because the water came so suddenly no one had time to prepare. The bookshop’s treasured books are ruined.

In the lecture room where I took my last exam, the mud is more than a metre deep. How about my house? Well, I have always been asked what would have happened if the flooding had hit my house, and I usually replied that it would be end of the world. This is exactly how I felt when I saw the news and the newsreader  sitting in a boat broadcasting  in front of my house.

For locals in Passau it might have actually felt like the end of the world, but I think that even the worst disasters can also show the best in human nature. Hundreds of people are coming to town to try and help clean houses and streets.

But those people also need your help. A young student from the little bar called ‘Innleben’, which he inaugurated last autumn; the Caritas kindergarten, which was completely destroyed; the residential compound of Caritas for house for the homeless is underwater.

For information about Caritas work in Germany and to assist the flood victims got to : www.caritas.de

You can donate:

Sparkasse Passau

Bank Account: 1230

BLZ 740 500 00

SWIFT-Code: BYLADEM1PAS

Keyword:  Hochwasserhilfe 2013

Caritas house for the homeless credit/Caritas Passau

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Filed under Austria, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Europe, Germany

Caritas supports victims of flooding disaster in Austria

koessen3In the last few days, a mass of water hit the regions in Tyrol, Salzburg, Upper- and Lower Austria especially hard. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated, houses were destroyed, and basements are flooded.

Caritas offers support to the people in the regions affected by the flooding. “From this moment on the Caritas disaster relief fund is available for emergency aid. Additional to financial temporary measures, the people will also need human support and accompanying assistance during bureaucratic procedures,“ says Franz Küberl, Caritas Austria President.

People who have lost everything they had in the floods and families with socially weak background need to receive fast help.

“As soon as the water has hopefully regressed, it will be necessary to assist the people. They will long for comfort for all the things that have been destroyed and which cannot be repaired or bought back with money.” Küberl calls on the solidarity of the Austrian citizens.

Contact and drop-in centres: www.caritas.at

Caritas asks you for your donation for the victims of the flood via our donations account:
Erste Bank 012 34560 Sort Code 20111
PSK: 7.700.004 Sort Code 60.000
Keyword: „Katastrophenfonds Österreich“/“Disaster Relief Fund Austria“

For further inquiry please contact:
Margit Draxl, Press Officer
Caritas Austria, Albrechtskreithgasse 19 – 21, A-1160 Vienna
Tel: +43 1/48831-417, Email: margit.draxl@caritas-austria.at

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Filed under Austria, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Europe, Germany

Syria crisis: refugees in Turkey

CAFOD blog

Donate to our Syria Crisis appeal>>

CAFOD’s Catherine Cowley writes:

It feels strange to do humanitarian work in Turkey. When I first drove down the dual carriageway from the international airport, past large apartment blocks and miles and miles of green countryside, I couldn’t help but be struck by the contrast with other emergency programmes I’ve been involved with.

Two years ago, I joined CAFOD as a trainee humanitarian officer. Since then, I’ve been based in Haiti and Kenya, where most of my experience has been of bumping along rutted, dusty roads, working with people you could see were living in poverty even before their lives were turned upside down by natural disasters.

The small Turkish town I’ve been working in recently, near the border with Syria, could hardly be more of a contrast. Everything seems stable, calm and prosperous: the shops are bustling with customers; the roads are teeming…

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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Syria, Europe, Middle East & North Africa, Syria, Turkey