Spanish artists help fight malnutrition among African refugees

News Stories, 26 January 2009

© UNHCR/R.Otero
Artist Victor Ochoa guides a visitor through the art exhibition in Madrid.

MADRID, Spain, January 26 (UNHCR) A close partner of the UN refugee agency has persuaded some of Spain's top artists to support an exhibition and online auction to raise money to tackle malnutrition among young refugees in four African countries.

The Spanish Committee for UNHCR, with the emceeing skills of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Jesús Vázquez, launched "Refugi@rte" in Madrid last Tuesday. Almost 50 works of art went on display at the BBVA exhibition hall, including pieces by artists such as Miquel Barceló, Eduardo Chillida, Joan Genovés, Cristina Iglesias, Antonio Saura, Antoni Tàpies and Manolo Valdés.

The art was donated by the artists and various art galleries art lovers can bid for them online until Friday morning. There are a wide range of different styles, including paintings, etchings, lithographs and ceramics.

Some of the images have refugee themes. "A Kite for UNHCR," an acrylic painting on canvas by Genovés, has black brushstrokes symbolizing people fleeing. A hand in the foreground reaches out to help someone. A work donated by the great Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado portrays the tremendous dignity conveyed by an Ethiopian refugee woman.

"I would really like to see 'Refugi@rte' become a yearly meeting point between refugees and art," said Vázquez, one of Spain's most popular TV presenters. He noted that those buying the art would be helping to save the lives of people forced to flee their homes.

The funds raised from the online auction will be used to fund UNHCR projects to prevent malnutrition among young refugees in Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. More than 4 million children die each year from malnutrition around the world.

"We artists live in our own world, and our sensitivity is as short-lived as a television news programme," artist Víctor Ochoa said at the exhibition opening. "Organizations like UNHCR help us keep the humanitarian spirit alive and allow our work to transcend the purely artistic level."

By María Jesús Vega in Madrid, Spain

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Refugees contribute to the culture of their host community. Some are well-known artists, painters, poets or novelists. Dante Alighieri created the major part of his work during his exile. Playwright Bertold Brecht, authors Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, poets Pablo Neruda and Jorge Semprun, musician Miguel Angel Estrellas, painters Lucian Freud and Remedios Varo - all suffered periods of exile which, in some cases, deeply colored their work. The theme of exile can be studied in literature, the history of music and art.


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Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

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In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

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A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

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