A Special Message And A Happy New Year
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
It is with a heart brimming with gratitude for the outgoing year, and optimism for the coming year, that I bring you season’s greetings this Yuletide on behalf of Refuge Network International.
Significantly, this is our 5th anniversary as an organised charity. Prior to this, we had operated for many years as a social enterprise. This festive anniversary season gives us concrete justification to not only roll out the celebratory drums for the little strides we have made, but to also report on our activities, to thank the volunteers and friends who have supported us through the years, and to invite you to share in our vision for the future.
The Journey So Far
Refuge Network International (RNI) is a non-profit humanitarian organisation that was set up to fight social injustice, empower the marginalised and alleviate human suffering principally through the promotion of Economic and Social Rights (ESR) in pragmatic and innovative ways. We work with refugees, victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery, individuals living in abject poverty, and other marginalised groups. RNI has made modest contributions in all of these core areas.
We are Promoting Economic and Social Rights Through Academic Research
RNI is helping to create awareness, stimulate social transformation, and enhance human rights through our scholarly contributions to legal research in the field of international human rights law. Our legal research, though minute and insignificant, have been accessed by those in academia, and referenced alongside major media publications by high level international legal advocacy organisations such as the UK-based Global Legal Action Network which parades legal practitioners and academics from some of the best law schools in the world, such as Harvard, Yale and Kings College London. Though we do not have a strong social media presence, our online content has been cited by strategic change-makers including one of Africa’s richest philanthropists, Tony Elumelu. RNI has also been in the news in Morocco, Gambia, Cameroon, Ghana, and one or two other countries, all serving to promote the rights of poor marginalised people.
Our poverty alleviation activities have been largely focused on Africa. The reason for this is simple. Africa has a chronic and pervasive poverty problem. Economic and Social Rights infrastructure is grossly inadequate in the majority of African nations with governments failing woefully to deliver basic socio-economic dividends to their impoverished populations. Between 40-50% of sub-Saharan Africans are living below the poverty line. The continent has about 11% of the world’s population but carries almost a quarter of the global disease burden. It has below 1% of global health expenditure and a meager 3% of global health workers, while accounting for almost 50% of the planet’s deaths of children under five, and the highest maternal mortality rate with almost two-thirds of the global maternal deaths in a year. Less than 20% of African women have access to education, and 2 in five adults in the region are illiterate.
To address these colossal challenges, Africa needs urgent sustainable economic growth which could be facilitated by international trade. However, the continent’s share of global trade is a humiliating 2%. This imposes serious obligations on governments and all stake- holders to work towards promoting not just the export of raw materials ( which has so far characterised Africa’s foreign trade) but manufactured goods and services from Africa to the rest of the world. We can all work together to make this happen. RNI is committed to this vision. In the last few years, we have supported a number of small businesses in Africa. We have provided business mentoring, small handouts, and micro-credit facilities, some of which we had to write off due to the challenging situation of the recipients concerned. RNI is also actively working with artisans and small businesses to facilitate the direct export of local products from the continent to the West. Though this is still at the incubation stage, we see this as a vital aspect of our work.
Supporting Refugees, Victims of Modern Day Slavery and Marginalised People
We have assisted hundreds of refugees, migrants, and trafficked victims of modern-day slavery, providing food, clothing, basic supplies and counselling to those in desperate situations. Our work in Morocco has directly impacted refugees in Nador, Fez, Tangier, Casablanca, and Oujda. Refuge Network has also visited the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Thousands of migrants, including children, are stranded around and within this small island. We are reaching out to support the more vulnerable ones.
Helping Disadvantaged Kids and Homeless Individuals
We have supported street children and homeless people in Africa and recently started working with homeless individuals in Europe.
We Wish We Could Do More
Everyone deserves a fair chance. Lamentably, we live in a very unequal world. A privileged minority are extremely wealthy and powerful, while the majority are struggling to live a decent life. A few have too much to eat, while many have too little to survive on. In the West, we suffer from an epidemic of obesity, elsewhere millions are dying of hunger and malnutrition. While some of us are moaning about inadequate space to store our excess fashion, gadgets and toys, millions are homeless, hungry and hopeless. This state of affairs is not right and must not be allowed to continue. There is enough on the planet for everyone. We must all help to facilitate the equitable redistribution of global wealth. This is a text message I received a few days ago:
‘Nous voulons une aide financier par ce que nous avons des projet. Nous dormons dans les rue on mange une foi dans la journe. Je suis malade.’ (‘We want financial aid because we have issues. We sleep on the streets, eating only once a day. I am sick').
I get messages like this from time to time. I have had to make some difficult choices. For instance, how do you decide on whether to assist a friend in Africa who is living a normal average life but is complaining that things are hard and wants you to send money? Or whether to help a man who has no roof over his head, scavenges for food from bins, and is not sure where the next meal is coming from? Why should we give more food to someone who has had 3 meals when there are many waiting to be served their first meal of the day?
For me the choice is obvious, but it is a painful dilemma I continually grapple with.
The work we do at Refuge is solely funded by us 100%. We deactivated the donation buttons on our website from day one.Our new website does not have one. At the risk of sounding immodest, I must confess that we have done all of RNI's projects on our own with our own lean private funds. We are not rich by any stretch of the imagination. Apart from the luxury of sleeping on a nice hotel bed from time to time during my travels, we have had to make many sacrifices to keep on helping. For me, the philosophy has revolved around living on a tight personal budget so as to save funds to help those that are most vulnerable. That has meant shelving the idea of buying my own home and of acquiring some of the material comforts that many take for granted in the West. It has been pure joy doing this, and we would gladly do it all again. I am fortunate to be blessed with a wife and kids who understand the need for a fairer and more equal world.
After a series of recent events, including a major personal health scare; conclusions from research findings; and gut-wrenching encounters with individuals in extreme misery; it has become imperative to intensify our activities. We realise we have only been scratching on the surface. There is so much pain and suffering out there. The situation in sub-Saharan Africa is particularly disturbing. From Cape Verde to Cape Town, the region is groaning under the oppressive weight of poverty. According to Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Service Reform, over 108 million Nigerians are technically homeless. With almost 90 million people living in extreme poverty, Nigeria has overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world.
OXFAM reports that ‘the wealthiest 10% of Ghanaians now account for 32% of the country’s total consumption. This is more than the consumption of the bottom 60% of the population combined, while the very poorest 10% of Ghanaians consume only 2%.’ Nearly half of Senegal’s 15 million population are living in poverty.
Looking Southward, in spite of the end of white minority rule, post-apartheid South Africa is now the most unequal nation on the planet. Recent research by economist Anna Orthofer highlights the staggering scale of this inequality suggesting that the richest 1% possesses 67% of the nation’s wealth; the wealthiest 10% possesses 93%; leaving the rest 90% of South Africans with a miserly 7% of the nation’s wealth! Eastward, East African nations like Somalia, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Burundi consistently jostle for primacy at the bottom of the world’s poorest nations. At the centre, the war-ravaged Central African Republic (CAR) remains one of the least developed nations on earth with approximately 71% of its population living below the poverty line.
If current trends continue, within the next 10 years, 9 out of 10 people living in extreme poverty on the planet, would be located in sub-Saharan Africa. Based on Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, 19 of the poorest 20 countries in the world are in Africa. The continent is bleeding!
However, these conditions are not uniquely African. Poverty is a universal problem. Having lived on 3 continents, and after visiting nearly 30 nations across the world, I can conclude without fear of contradiction that poverty is endemic. Many years ago, I was almost homeless in Belgium but for the kindness of a Good Samaritan who took me in for a couple of days. I also narrowly escaped spending some rough nights on the bitterly cold streets of Paris due to the challenges I faced when I first arrived France 2 decades ago. Today, there is still a high rate of homelessness in France affecting not only refugees and migrants but also French citizens with over 140,000 people suffering different forms of homelessness. The situation is no different in the UK where the number is an alarming 320,000 homeless, with over 5000 sleeping rough on the streets of London in any given night. And the US is even worse, as it has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the developed world with over half a million individuals classed as homeless. New York alone, accounts for roughly 70,000 men, women, and children in that number.
The implication of this is that there is need everywhere. While the need in Africa is obviously more serious, we must face the painful fact that these statistics represent real breathing humans. Poverty does not respect race, colour or creed. We must do our best to support the most vulnerable irrespective of where they are.
Going forward, we want to reach those who are hurting the most. We want to reach those who are about to give up. We want to reach those who are unable to help themselves. They are all around us hoping for darkness to give way to light. There are thousands of sub-Saharan refugees and migrants stranded on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, we want to support them. There are tens of thousands of African girls living in appalling conditions as sex slaves in a number of West and North African nations, we want to reach them.
There are millions of African children on the streets with no education, inadequate food, inadequate clothing, and limited opportunities, we want to help some. There are millions living in absolute hopelessness, many trapped in a vicious cycle of generational poverty, we want to give hope. No single individual, organisation, or nation can change the world. However, by working together and doing the best that we can each do, we can collectively transform many lives.
At Refuge Network, We have stretched ourselves to our elastic limits. The needs of the marginalised groups we are reaching remain huge and intimidating. We cannot afford to give up on them. We will not. The attached videos and photographs from our recent outreaches to Sofia, Casablanca, and Central London will give you an idea of how dismal the outlook is for some. There is immense potential to reach more people, to effect greater change, and to radically scale up the tiny impact we are currently making.
In the light of this, we are launching a new No Poverty initiative in the new year. We want to team up with like-minds so as to wage a stronger collective war against poverty and support the most vulnerable around us. Refugees, homeless people, slum dwellers, marginalised people, and all those living in extreme poverty. We see the need to invite our friends, family and acquaintances to share in this deeply enriching and largely satisfying part of our life.
So, as we contemplate the new year, we are inviting you to take a front-row seat with us at our little charity. Join us to fight against poverty. Join us to fight against homelessness. Join us to fight against hunger. Join us to fight against illiteracy. Join us to promote equality. Join us to give hope. Join us to change lives. Join us to make our world a better place. Many of you are Medical doctors and health professionals, you can volunteer with us to promote the right to health. Some of you are teachers and educationists, you can support our initiatives to promote literacy and the right to education. Some of you are corporate executives and business entrepreneurs, you can use your clout to support the cause. Some of you are diasporans; you can volunteer to travel with us on some of our short foreign outreach programmes. Whatever your profession, position, or place in life, you can help to make a difference. Everyone has a talent to share, everyone can bring something to the table. On our own we can do very little, with you we can do very much. Together, let us catalyse the change we want to see. I look forward to welcoming you in 2020. Get in touch, let’s roll together!
Wishing you a prosperous New Year,
Head of Operations
Refuge Network International
Please read this and kindly help us to share with all your contacts on social media. This is the best gift you can give to us and to the anti-poverty cause this festive season.