Archive by Author

How to Build a Perfect Refugee Camp

16 Feb

How to Build a Perfect Refugee Camp

The headline for this NYT article is sure to be a HREC attention-grabber.

It focuses on Kilis, a camp for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Compared to many other camps, and certainly compared to the picture of refugee camps that lingers in many imaginations, Kilis is a model facility. What is it doing differently? A few explanations are suggested. One that stands out is this:

“Kilis is not run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Rather, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD, asked the U.N.H.C.R. for its camp guidelines — minimum distance between tents, and so on — and then designed its own. It staffed the camps with Turkish government employees, allowing in few NGOs and giving those only supporting roles.”

The article also give some attention to the problems of running ‘nice’ facilities. From a political (in the ‘politicians who want successful careers’ sense) point of view, being ‘too nice’ to refugees is dangerous ground.

Still, reading this on the same day as an article about a break-out from one of Australia’s offshore detention centres – Australia having adopted the policy of advertising how poorly it will treat any ‘asylum seekers’ – I’m pretty sure I know which country is going to come out of this looking good. In places like Kilis, Turkey is setting itself up in the international community as a progressive, humane leader in refugee management.



Liberia students all fail university admission exam

26 Aug

Liberia students all fail university admission exam

I don’t have any substantive commentary to add to this headline: it is so bizarre as to be worth a repost, and it allows me to actually mention education (for once), but beyond that, I really have no idea what to make of this. Usually I’d associate absolute numbers like this with the sort of brazenly doctored statistics of authoritarianism – zero crime, perfect literacy, entire electorates, etc. – but I can’t see why anyone would contrive this. If anything, this seems a moment ripe for a little less transparency: surely someone could have bribed or flattered their way to a passing grade?


Shameless self-promotion: The press arrives at Nauru

18 Jul

Shameless self-promotion: ‘The press arrives at Nauru’

Publication is the last desperate refuge of the underemployed.

There are the beginnings of a decent little debate in the comments section. Would love to hear from more people, either in the comments section of the article, or here.


Shameless self-promotion: ‘History is repeating itself at Guantánamo Bay’

3 Jul

Shameless self-promotion: ‘History is repeating itself at Guantánamo Bay’

This is even more shameless than the last piece of self-promotion. I scribbled out the first draft of this piece. The final version is a vastly improved thing thanks to co-contributor and real writer Garry Pierre-Pierre. Reading his revised draft was a sharp reminder of just how much power and feeling can be packed into very few words.

From Nauru to NYU: Picks of the Week(s)

24 Jun

Will new Nauru asylum centre deliver Pacific Solution?

The BBC recently became the first media org to gain access to the detention centre set up (or commissioned) by Australia in Nauru. This could be viewed as an important step towards transparency, and certainly the journalist is plenty critical of the whole Australian refugee policy, but I find the whole ‘opening up’ of the centre to be deeply suspicious. The reason that the media is being let in is to try to shift debate, and to cast Australian policy as a merciful and humanitarian, even as it imprisons refugees indefinitely.

Today Marks 20 Year Anniversary of Order that Closed “H.I.V. Prison Camp” at Guantánamo

This one is kind of cheating: I work with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, and for the past week we’ve been focusing on an oft-forgotten chapter in the history of Guantánamo Bay.

In 1991 the U.S. Govt. began detaining Haitian asylum seekers at Guantánamo. The parallels between the plight of these detainees, and the current detainees at GTMO is striking. The parallels between the case of the Haitians and asylum seekers detained at Nauru by the Australian Govt. are equally so.

Objects of the Journey

Vela hosts work by a bunch of fantastic writers, but it is the power of images rather than words that made this article stand out to me. Undocumented immigrants face a whole host of troubles before they even make it to the U.S., and the way they are preyed upon remains for me one of the most terrible aspects of the Drug War as it has recently been fought in Mexico and Central America. This photo essay documents the undocumented, and does so in a concerned, compassionate way.

Yale, NYU sacrifice academic freedom

I love me some NYU bashing, and I couldn’t agree more that NYU is expanding globally so fast that it really has no idea at what cost (lack of academic integrity and quality of education seem obvious possibilities). However, I’m mostly including this link because I take issue with the sanctimonious tone of the article. Separating the world into free and unfree nations, and denying the possibility of freedoms being won in ‘unfree’ nations seems incredibly simplistic. The idea that the U.S. is a bastion of freedom and virtue rings pretty false, given recent revelations about surveillance, and the House’s decision to allow indefinite detention of citizens.

Web art by Josh Begley

I first learned of Begley’s work through his site that documented every single drone strike by the U.S., but have found his other projects equally compelling. The satirical edge to his activist art is really refreshing, as is the scope of his documentary projects (such as documenting the entire history of the race question on the U.S. census).


Shameless self-promotion: ‘Indefinite Detention shouldn’t be Definitive’

23 May

Shameless self-promotion: ‘Indefinite Detention Shouldn’t be Definitive’

I done wrote something. Then someone done published it.

It was Australia’s treatment of refugees that first got me interested in/concerned about Guantánamo. Now it’s going back the other way: the more I learn about Guantánamo, the more I’m concerned that Australia is borrowing its methods.

Changing the world one tweet at a time

19 May


A couple of weeks ago I whored out my social media feeds in the name of free concert tickets.

I am usually a jealous curator of my social media accounts, but last year a few do-gooding tweets on behalf of ‘Global Citizen’ had been enough to gain two tickets to a great festival in Central Park.

So this year when Global Citizen emailed me to say that through a little more clicktivism, I’d be able to earn tickets to a whole bunch of shows by a whole bunch of great artists, I immediately leapt into action. My Twitter feed began to fill with uplifting bites and links about ending poverty.

The tweet storm did not last very long. As I clicked around the Global Citizen site, it became clear to me that the odds of getting concert tickets were infinitely smaller than last year. The decision to stop tweeting had absolutely nothing to do with any sense of global citizenship, poverty alleviation or other do-goodery: it was entirely a question of the rapidly diminishing odds of scoring tickets to Grizzly Bear, coupled with a vague sense that endorsing Global Citizen just made me seem naïve.

Why would I be so squeamish about promoting good causes on a social media account that is otherwise largely dedicated to sarcasm and snark? Simply put, I don’t think the Global Citizen project works.

I don’t have any stats or figures to back this up. I don’t know how far Global Citizen has advanced the cause of polio eradication. Then again, it seems that Global Citizen doesn’t know either, or if they do, they’re not being forthcoming with info. The site mentions only that its members/supporters contributed an unidentified amount to a global pool of funds to combat the disease

In any case, my scepticism isn’t based on numbers. Rather it’s based on the set of assumptions that underpin the sort of activism promoted by Global Citizen.

Specifically, it’s the comfortableness of this mode of activism that I think is the problem. It is the idea that to reduce poverty and eradicate disease, all we have to do is more of what we’re already doing. Like concerts? Go to more concerts and help beat poverty. Like Twitter? Tweet harder and promote gender equality. Beneath such assumptions is the notion that the current political order, the models of consumption and distribution, and the balances of power, are all fine just the way they are. They just need people to believe in them, to do them more vigorously, and we’ll have a better world.

It’s the same sort of mentality that says you can buy boutique footwear and improve the lives of children in Africa, or that through carbon offsetting you can fly as often as you want, and do so secure in the knowledge that your lifestyle has no negative environmental impact.

What’s missing is any idea of renunciation: that we might all have to give something up in order for others to gain anything. That the systems that benefit us may cause detriment to others, and that we might have to break a few things that we like – whether habits or big old transnational systems – in order to affect any real change.

I’d love to believe in armchair activism – I’m a fan of concerts and twitter and gas-guzzling international flights – and if Global Citizen ever does offer tickets to a Grizzly Bear show in New York, I’ll be sure to whore out my twitter feed once again. But I won’t pretend I’m really changing anything. If there were some stats or figures that said otherwise, I’d be very happy and would dedicate even more of my time to changing the world one tweet at a time. I suspect, however, that any really activism or change will have to come from a far deeper and less comfortable place.