A recent news release from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) highlights the success of their recent Olympics campaign, Giving is Winning. According to the UN refugee agency and the International Olympics Committee, “more than 82,000 items of sports clothing” have been collected for refugees.  While I applaud the good intentions of the two agencies working together to assist the humanitarian needs of refugee populations throughout the world, there are two important things I would like to point out:


Individual athletes and National Olympic Committees – particularly those from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and host China – donated 30,000 items during the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics…

The items collected before the Olympics opened were distributed to refugees in Rwanda, Tanzania, Chad, Moldova, Georgia and Panama. The latest 30,000 donations will be distributed in Asia.

China being the host nation for the Olympic games and one of the leading countries to donate new clothes for refugees under the Giving is Winning campaign has gone several years without recognizing the plight of North Korean refugees. Currently, China classifies North Korean refugees seeking asylum, many mainly hiding in the Northern provinces, as “economic labors” and not as “refugees.” North Korean refugees fleeing the brutal regime of Kim Jong Il are repatriated if their identities are discovered by Chinese authorities. North Koreans returned to their country after fleeing to China often face persecution, often times being imprisoned or sentence to death. Earlier this year, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants‘ annual World Refugee Survey, classified China as one of ten places designated as worst places for refugees. If the latest 30,000 donations collected by the Giving is Winning campaign are to be distributed to refugees in Asia, does that include North Korean refugees?… Probably not.

One particular paragraph from the UNHCR news release that left a sour taste in my mouth was:


Athletes proved they didn’t have to come from medal powerhouses to be winners for refugees. Donations came in from competitors from Andorra, Armenia, Bermuda, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mauritius and Turkmenistan, as well as much larger countrie.

By referring to donations not coming from “medal powerhouses” is UNHCR attempting to imply that you don’t have to be from a “developed” country in order to donate?  That even the poor have a moral conscience? While their words were chosen carefully, the message that even undeveloped countries (who often aren’t medal powerhouses) also care about refugees, even though they may not have have a lot, it extremely inappropriate in my opinion. All individuals have goodness within them to do the right thing regardless of nationality or economic class.

So, I take back the idea that China doesn’t care about refugees in my August 26 post about the Olympics.  They care about refugees with these donations it seems, just not North Korean refugees and IDPs in Darfur.


Daisy Dube, a drag queen who fled Zimbabwe to South Africa in 2001, was shot last June outside of a nightclub. Her murderer shouted, “shoot the lesbians!” Her death received little coverage as is often the case with hate crimes in most countries. As a result, some debates have taken place over the issue of GLBT individuals seeking asylum in more “gay friendly” countries like South Africa; putting international human rights and refugee laws into question. An article today highlighted the current situation:

Gays and lesbians are entitled to apply for refugee status as they are classified as being part of a “social group”. But the process of applying for asylum, like for so many other refugee applicants, can be long and difficult.

Beyond the process being long and difficult, there are several cases where many gay refugees are not granted asylum on the basis of “sexual orientation.” Refugees must produce documentation or proof of persecution from their home country before they are given refugee status. This begs the question, how do you prove that you are a member of the GLBT community? Unlike the traditional concept of refugees, where people are forced to flee because of war and conflict, gay refugees are challenging international law to recognize that gay rights is a human right and thus also part of refugee rights and the international community must recognize their plea for asylum.

South Africa is one of only seven countries in the world that grants refugee status on the basis of sexual orientation. But people seeking that relief are battling as much as other refugees in the country.

A GLBT refugee’s plea for protection from persecution is at the mercy of the immigration/refugee policies of the country he/she is seeking asylum in. Only a select few countries (many of them “Western” nations) have established guidelines relating to the intersection of gender-based violence and forced migration. According to the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of Law, in order for a gay refugee to be granted asylum in another country, that host country must recognize “sexual orientation” as a social group.

Sudanese troops have opened fire inside a Darfur refugee camp, leaving 27 people dead, a rebel group has said.

Some 100 government trucks surrounded the Kalma camp, home to some 90,000 people who have fled their homes in Darfur, a rebel spokesman told the BBC

Nothing has changed. Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics began, there was a lot of speculation about human rights organizations protesting the Chinese government’s role in the genocide in Darfur. Activist coined the term “genocide games” and athletes formed Team Darfur to pressure China to intervene in stopping the Sudanese government from killing internally displaced persons in Darfur. Two weeks went by, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, and the world (I mean, Americans) seemed more outraged by the injustice over the age of the Chinese women’s gymnastics team, than they were about the 300,000 that have been killed and the two million displaced during the five years of fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Some human rights activist thought the Olympic games would be a time to showcase China’s human rights abuses but in reality, it came and went. We’re back to square one.