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Syrian Crisis

Sensitizing development challenges through virtual reality

Bassam Sebti's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية | Español


There is a round metal tray surrounded by four children and their parents. In it, there are plates filled with instant noodles, hummus, lebne, olives and pickled eggplant. I look left and there is a silver tea pot. I look right and my eyes catch a plastic bag of pita bread.
 
The tray is put on an unfinished concrete floor covered with a bunch of heavy winter blankets. The brick walls are partially covered with bedding sheets, while heavy winter clothes are hanging on a water pipe.
 
I lift my head up. I see a light bulb hanging from an unfinished cement ceiling. When I look back down, I see a toddler approaching me trying to poke my eyes, until I realize that I am not actually there and she is only trying to poke the 360 camera!

From a rubber boat in the sea to swimming in Rio: A story of resilience

Bassam Sebti's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français


On a chilly October day in 2015, 24-year-old Rami Anis boarded a rubber boat in the Aegean Sea in Turkey. His destination was Europe and his goal was a better life away from war and hardship.

Looking at the people around him on the boat, he was horrified. They were children, men, and women. The fact that they might not make it never escaped his mind, even though he is a professional swimmer.

“Because with the sea, you can’t joke,” said the Syrian refugee.

But on Aug. 11, Rami will not be worried about swimming in the sea. He, instead, will be swimming at the Olympics. He made it safely to Belgium after days of heart-wrenching journey, from Istanbul to Izmir to Greece before setting off a trek through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and eventually Belgium.

Rami will be competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team — the first of its kind — and march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at the opening ceremony. 

Researching violence against Syrian refugee women

Bassam Sebti's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français | Español

He often used a stick or an iron wire to beat her. Her body was covered in bruises, sometimes in all kinds of colors. Hamada's husband, frustrated with losing his son and his job in warring Syria, directed his anger and depression towards the mother of his children.

It is a fact: War is one of many forms of violence to which women are subjected, and for some Syrian refugee women it is a prolongation of what has been happening already in their war-torn country.

They have been beaten, forced into having sex and asked to never talk about it or else get killed — by their own husbands.

For the helpless women, most of whom are mothers, the abuse has been taking physical, emotional and sexual forms.

So how do you address and understand the reasons behind this major, often undermined, issue that adds to the misery of the already miserable women refugees?
 

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A team of researchers working with the Women and Health Alliance International non-profit organization is working on formative research to prevent intimate partner violence among Syrian refugees in Izmir, Turkey.

"Often, from a worldwide perspective, when we think about conflict, we think about the forms of violence that are highlighted in the media," said team member Jennifer Scott, a physician and researcher at Harvard Medical School.

"But what we are not talking about is what is happening in the household, and the types of violence that are related to stress, cultural norms, or social and gender norms," she added. 

To address this issue, Scott and her team talk with men, women, community leaders, policymakers and religious leaders. They ask questions about what is happening in the household, what sorts of violence women and girls experience, and how has this changed as a result of conflict and displacement.

The goal, she said, is to understand that this kind of violence does not have one dimension.

"It's really multiple layers that we need to understand," Scott said. "In our experience as researchers, when we offer women and men the opportunity to speak, they want to talk about it because it's a very important issue."  

The research project, set to start in June 2016, will take place at a community center in Izmir that offers services not only to Syrian refugees but also other refugees currently living in Izmir. The project will conduct focus group discussions and interviews among community and religious leaders to examine some of the factors that lead to intimate partner violence, and explore possible solutions.

The research data will inform the development of a future program to prevent intimate partner violence among displaced populations.

The World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative recently awarded this project and eight other teams from around the world a total of $1.2 million in recognition of their innovations to prevent gender-based violence.
 

4 smartphone tools Syrian refugees use to arrive in Europe safely

Bassam Sebti's picture
Also available in: Español | العربية | Français
Syrian refugee Yusuf holds his smartphone, which he describes as “the most important thing.” With this, he said, he is able to call his father in Syria. © B. Sokol/UNHCR


If you look inside the bag of any refugee on a life-threatening boat trip to Europe, you see a few possessions that vary from one refugee to another. However, there is one thing they all carry with them: a smartphone.

Those refugees have been criticized for owning smartphones, but what critics do not understand is that refugees consider these expensive devices as their main lifeline to the wider world, helping them flee wars and persecution. They are also the tools through which they tell the world their stories and narrate what is described as the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

The refugees’ escape to Europe is the first of its kind in a fully digital age. It has changed how the exodus is unfolding. Technology used by the refugees is not just making the voyage safer, but also challenging stereotypes held against them. Many Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, and other refugees fleeing to Europe have shown through their use of smartphones that not all refugees are poor. They flee because they fear for their lives.

Here are a few of many stories on how refugees are using smartphones to survive and tell their stories to the world: