Bogotá Trip with Women in IR

By: Simran Patel

With less than one week left in Bogotá, Women in IR have been making the most out of our trip! Yesterday, we interviewed Natalia Durán, Policy Manager of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) Colombia. A brief five-minute walk from our hotel, her office was situated on the eighth floor of a large corporate building with a scenic view of the sloping mountains. This was followed by a much-needed break, where we enjoyed shopping for fresh pastries and stuffed animals at Miniso. Finally, craving pasta, we grabbed dinner at Cacio e Pepe, a traditional Italian restaurant only a few blocks away. Early this morning, Ashley and I conducted a virtual interview with Mariana Sandoval and Ana Maria Ortiz of Fundación Santo Domingo to learn about access to healthcare and education for Venezuelan migrants. They also helped connect us to more humanitarian organizations to contact later in the week. To escape the heavy tropical rain, the group headed to Centro Comerical Andino in the afternoon for food court snacks and fun arcade games! We ended the night at a savory crepes and waffles restaurant and watched movies in our room. On Friday, we have another interview booked with Laura Lopez of Amnesty International. This weekend, we are hoping to explore the city and sightsee at a few potential places: a coffee farm, Salt Cathedral and Lake Guatavita, hiking Mount Monserrate, Museo Santa Clara, Museo del Oro, Jardín Botánico de Bogotá, Plaza de Bolívar, and more. In our final days, we plan to squeeze in a couple more interviews and meet with some Tufts alum for an IGL reunion and dinner celebration!

Signing off,

Sri Lankan Connections

By: Sabah Lockhandwala

This morning we had breakfast with the Chairman of a Sri Lankan think tank and a consultant in Sri Lanka as a group. Our meeting helped contextualize the economic situation in Sri Lanka and what historical events led to the economic crisis last year (and gave us another opportunity to have hoppers, a popular Sri Lankan breakfast food Selomi introduced us to). We also had the chance to learn more about social issues within Sri Lanka’s civil society and how tensions have
changed throughout recent decades. From our conversation, I found the dissonance between policy goals and implementation strategy in Sri Lanka intriguing, as well as how facets of culture impact how a policy actualizes within a nation.

I also had some interviews related to my research. My research topic is about gendered Islamophobia in Sri Lanka and highlights how Muslim women face marginalization amidst nationalism, ethnoreligious polarization, and global trends of anti-Muslim racism. I spoke with Shreen Saroor, a human rights activist who initiated programs with the United Nations for the status of women in Sri Lanka. Her current work deals with Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, a counterterrorism policy implemented during the Sri Lankan civil war often used to target Tamil minority communities. Today, the TPA targets Muslim communities and imprisons Muslim people without cause or substantiated suspicion. Saroor works with those incarcerated by the TPA and secures lawyers, bail funds, and reintegration programming. In our interview, Saroor spoke about the gendered aspect of her current work. When women’s husbands or fathers are taken away under the TPA, women are left with minimal financial and social support. Additionally, they face social stigmatization by their neighbors, leaving Muslim women bearing the brunt of anti-Muslim policies. Saroor also advocated for changes within the Muslim community. For her, investing in women’s education, financial autonomy, and marital rights from a community level is just as important as investment from an institutional level like the Sri Lankan government.

Another enriching interview this weekend was with Ferial Ismail Ashraff, Sri Lanka’s first Muslim woman parliamentarian. Her husband founded the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, a political party advocating for Muslim rights in Sri Lanka. In our interview, Ashraff spoke about her experiences entering government as a Sri Lankan Muslim and the discrimination she faced for veiling and being Muslim in a post-9/11 society. Ashraff also spoke about her fears after the Easter Bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019, relaying how Muslim communities felt more targeted after the event institutionally and socially. In conversation with Ashraff, I also learned more about the status of women in general in Sri Lanka. She advocated for more reforms to engage women in the economy and politics. I appreciated the opportunity to learn about the Sri Lankan government and the Muslim community’s unique history with Sri Lankan parliament.

After everyone else’s interviews with professors, researchers, policymakers, and individuals in the private sector, we took the evening to explore Colombo. We all spent some time walking around the city and enjoying the warm weather we never find in Somerville. Arnav and I stumbled upon some local art galleries, where Sri Lankan artists depicted their perceptions of the Sri Lankan civil war, ongoing economic crisis, and internal migration. At dinner, we continued trying Sri Lankan food, such as spicy prawn curry, kottu, string hoppers, and everyone’s personal favorite–mari biscuit pudding.

First Days in Colombia

By: Izzy Martinez

This is Izzy Martinez with Tufts Women in International Relations (WIIR). A little bit more about me: I am a rising senior majoring in International Relations with a concentration in globalization. For the next week and a half, I will be researching employment opportunities for female Venezuelan refugees here in Colombia. Here is a quick recap of our day since arriving yesterday evening!

Tufts WIIR landed safe and sound yesterday in Bogota, Colombia. We arrived at our hotel at around 7pm—just in time for dinner! We walked around the area—the neighborhood of El Chicó—and decided to have dinner at 930 Café Parque de la 93—a small cafe with great food and live music! We finished dinner quickly as we were desperately looking forward to finally resting after a full day of traveling.

This morning—May 21st— we woke up refreshed and ready to explore the area a little more. But first, we needed breakfast so we walked to the restaurant Crepes and Waffles for some delicious breakfast. After a filling breakfast and coffee, we walked around and explored different shops, restaurants, and a library. We then regrouped and decided it was time to get work done. We are currently as a local cafe working: prepping more questions for our interviews this week, reaching out to potential interviewees, organizing our calendars, and doing more research! We look forward to meeting everyone this week and can’t wait for the week ahead!

Colombia Connections

By: Liani Astacio

The morning was a day of a lot of prep. I continued to read articles and parts of books I brought on my topic to prepare myself to ask the right questions for my upcoming interview. My first interview of the trip was with someone from PBI international which provides accompaniment to human rights defenders in Colombia.

I met my contact through a Tufts alum and scheduled to meet him at their office. Once we got there, I was amazed by the structure of the office. It was a house with offices with in it. My contact later explained that since it’s an international organization, some of their volunteers will live upstairs in the house while they are in Colombia. The house/office served as an important base for their operations. We went to the courtyard for our interview. I learned about the concept pf international accompaniment, which is when international volunteers will serve as a deterrent against violence against human rights defenders because the amplified attention a violent attack would bring in a place with international witnesses who could bring the event to the attention of the international governments they are a citizen of.

My contact described to me the strict procedures and protocols the organization has in order to maintain trust amongst both the human rights defenders they work with but also with the military. They never denounce anything and are non participatory in order to maintain legitimacy amongst all potential parties. Some human rights defenders wish the organization would take more of a stance on things, but in order to maintain their relationships and not interfere they cannot do that.

I learned a lot about the organizations relationships with foreign governments which are one of the main sources of their funding, and how the Norwegian federal ministry had been one of their main Allies. This set the stage for understanding the organization of my next interview Witnesses for Peace, which has a similar but also fundamentally different model. At the end of the day, my contact gave me a book on the history of international accompaniment in Colombia through their organization.

The Invisible Refugees of Jordan

By: Esma Abib

Jordan has witnessed an influx of refugees and immigrant settlements from different African groups. According to the UNHCR, there are currently 3,000 Sudanese and 2,000 Somali refugees living in Jordan. However, compared to the nearly 700,000 Syrian refugees, and the 3 million Palestinian refugees, African refugees are often underrepresented and forgotten in conversations about marginalization in refugee groups.

Many Jordanians that I met so far are acquainted with the neighborhoods where African refugees mainly reside but are completely unaware of the larger systems of ethnic-based discrimination that differentiate their experiences from other Syrian, Iraqi, or Palestinian refugees. The passion I have for my topic stems from my proximity to refugee resettlement and immigration as a Somali immigrant in America. Initially pursuing this research topic, I faced many difficulties breaking through surface-level information and outdated statistics on African refugees in Jordan. As the international focus is on larger more immediate groups in Jordan, very few are invested in advocating for equal and progressive rights of all refugee groups. Sawiyan is one of these few organizations that advocate for marginalized African refugee groups.

Early this morning, I met the Co-founder of Sawiyan at a bookstore cafe, where she shared about her initial involvement with the African refugee community after having worked within the Syrian refugee community in the past, along with the growth of Sawiyan as a community rather than a non-profit organization. The Sawiyan team first came together to respond to a mass deportation of Sudanese refugees that happened on December 15, 2018. During this critical time, Sawiyan brought food, blankets, and clothes to the Sudanese community, who were too scared to leave their homes due to the looming threat of deportation. Sawiyan continues to integrate African refugees into the Jordanian community through social inclusion projects that break down stereotypes using dialogue between Jordanians and African refugee communities and provide specialized resources that they currently lack. Additionally, they conduct and support research projects that critically analyze the irrefutable realities faced by African communities, while also solidifying their validity in the NGO world and increasing awareness of their marginalization in Jordanian society.

Jordan has neither created sound national refugee laws nor asylum procedures, as they refused to sign the 1951 UN Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protection. They did sign, however, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with UNHCR in 1998 where they were given the responsibility of Refugee Status Determination (RSD) that contained the main principles of international refugee protection, and also states that the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan should eventually rise to the internationally accepted standard.

To better contextualize what this policy meant for the African refugee experience, I hope to engage with Sudanese and Somali community members during my stay in Jordan. Later this afternoon, I went to Manara Arts and Culture Center to meet with an Adolescent & Youth Development Specialist at UNICEF, who is a member of the Somali community. His family left Somalia over 10 years ago, spending a few years in Yemen and Syria, and settling in Jordan under refugee status, waiting for their final resettlement elsewhere. His story highlights the limited educational and work opportunities for refugees that are exacerbated by anti-Black discrimination. the African refugee experience can take different forms depending on how much the host country is willing to invest in these communities.

These two meetings today further ignited a passion in me to continue learning about the issues of the African refugee community in Jordan through engagement. I now have a clearer picture of Jordan as an overwhelmed state, burdened by the immense needs of its citizens and newly settled refugees. However, Jordan will continue accepting more refugees than it can take care of as long as they receive humanitarian aid from international organizations and donors. Through my research, I hope to highlight the systems that oppress the marginalized African refugee in Jordan and continue to be critical of the different privileges enjoyed by Jordan’s different refugee groups to create a holistic picture of the unique struggles of the African refugee community.

Jordan, Refugees, and inequality: Disparities between the treatment of Syrian and Palestinian refugees

By: Karim Al Haffar

I had the opportunity to travel to Jordan to conduct interviews with experts in the field of political science. One particular day stood out to me as we interviewed Professor Jalal Al Husseini, an expert on topics such as the Palestinian occupation and Jordanian identity.
Professor Al Husseini provided us with a comprehensive history of the Palestinian immigration to Jordan. He explained that Palestinians who arrived before 1955 are eligible for a passport and citizenship in Jordan. However, he also expressed Jordan’s fear that it could become a second state for Palestinians, leading to them forgetting their homeland. This was a significant concern for Jordan as it could potentially destabilize the country’s delicate balance.

The professor also spoke about the Syrian refugee crisis and how Jordan views them as temporary refugees. The country only continues to welcome them due to the aid received from the EU and the US. He talked about the schooling for Syrian refugees and how Jordan decided to implement double-shifting and other harsh rules, such as closing the bathrooms in schools, so that Syrian refugee children would not use them because they were deemed unclean.

According to Professor Al Husseini, the problem was initially Trans-Jordanians vs. Jordanian Palestinians. However, with the influx of Syrian refugees, it has become a problem of Jordanians vs. Syrians. He expressed concern that this could lead to further unrest in the country and destabilize the current situation.

After a long day of interviews, we decided to walk around the “Al Abdali” area, which was full of malls, banks, and government buildings such as the Ministry of Education. We also had the opportunity to chat with locals about their political opinions and culture, particularly the taxi drivers, who had some fascinating insights to share.

At the end of the day, we enjoyed eating Kunafah from Habiba, a family-owned dessert place in Wasat Al-Balad since 1948, when the family moved their shop from Occupied Palestine to Amman.