“When I was at university, I volunteered as a mentor to Adam. Adam was a young asylum seeker from Darfur who had applied to remain in the UK. It didn’t take long for me to notice the problems that his lack of mobility caused so when my brother gave me an old bike, I refurbished it and gave it to him,” said Jem Stein, the young founder and creator of The Bike Project.
“It made such a huge difference to his life that when I graduated, I started collecting bikes, doing them up in my spare time and giving them away to other refugees and asylum seekers.”
The idea became so successful that four years ago, Jem transformed it into a full-time social initiative, operating out of a workshop in South East London.
“Asylum-seekers come to this country with nothing and many have faced persecution and torture in their country of origin. When they arrive, they are prevented from finding employment and are given a tiny stipend to live on.
London is a city that is so rich in opportunities but finding them can be challenging and this is where a bike can make all the difference - enabling people to access charities that provide food, lawyers that can help with asylum applications, Home Office appointments, healthcare, education and so much more.
Refugee women, in particular often have little experience of cycling as it may not be encouraged in their home country. So we also run a women-only project, where they can learn to ride in a warm, supportive environment.”
But it is not just bikes that The Bike Project provides (although they donated around 1,000 of them last year), but a sense of confidence and independence. “What’s nice is that a lot of people who come to the Project for a free bike end up making new friends and then returning to volunteer. It’s great to be in the workshop on Thursday evenings when it’s buzzing with conversation, as people from Eritrea, Afghanistan, London and Guinea-Bissau get acquainted over grease and a toolbox!”
UNESCO’s work with youth across all sectors aims to empower young women and men, like Jem, with the skills they need as actors and leaders of social initiatives in their communities.
“When I started The Bike Project, I had no idea quite how much it would dominate my life,” said Jem. “But I’ve grown a huge amount in terms of confidence and skills in every way and more importantly, the Project continues to go from strength to strength.”
UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, together with David Malone, Rector of the United Nations University and 2017 Chair of the Global Migration Group (GMG), opened the conference on “The Human Face of Migration: Historical Perspectives, Testimonies and Policy Considerations” at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 15 June 2017.
In her opening statement, Irina Bokova highlighted the centrality of human mobility in the political debate, and warned against the hatred of “Others” and the fear of diversity in societies. Through stigmatization, men and women are no longer seen as individuals but perceived as part of a destabilizing ‘flow’. Behind the face of every migrant and refugee, there is an individual story, in many cases stories of tragedy and distress, which should be transformed into stories of hope.
“By leaving their countries of origin, many migrants and refugees have left their rights as national citizens in abeyance -- but they have not left behind their rights as human beings, their inherent dignity. This is why the current migrant and refugee crisis must be seen as an opportunity to strengthen the humanity we all share and the dignity to which we all aspire,” she said.
David Malone underscored the importance of strengthening the evidence base on migration as a sine qua non condition for a solid global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration and reiterated the role of the GMG in filling that gap. He noted that UNESCO has a unique role to play in fostering values education and thanked Ms Bokova for her leadership in that respect.
Ambassador Daniel Rondeau, representative of the United Nations University (UNU) to UNESCO, and H.E. Eleonara Mitrofanova, Ambassador at large of the Russian Federation, both stated the importance of creating an appropriate space for open reflection and dialogue, bringing together all concerned actors - policymakers, activists, humanitarian workers and artists. State policies need to be revamped drawing on accurate migration data and governance frameworks reinforced if we are to unlock the potential of migration.
Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, emphasised the importance of cities and local institutions managing diversity and developing policies and programmes capable of upholding the rights of refugees and migrants. She presented the joint initiative undertaken with UNESCO entitled Welcoming Cities for Refugees and Migrants. Susan Asche, Head of Cultural Affairs in the City of Karlsruhe (member of the UNESCO European Coalition of Cities against Racism) shared successful practices of employing culture and the arts (for instance through visits to museums, libraries, and other cultural events) to foster inclusion and mutual understanding.
The significant lessons to be drawn from a more accurate analysis of the history of migration throughout the centuries was the key message in the interventions of Dr David Abulafia, professor at Cambridge University, and Gilles Pecout, Rector of Paris.
This analysis was enriched by testimonies of Father Najeeb Michael, a refugee himself, engaged in humanitarian work in Northern Iraq, Doctor Pietro Bartolo, medical doctor and humanitarian worker in Lampedusa, and Ms Albina du Boisrouvray, founder of the Association François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB), currently present in 13 countries around the world.
The meeting was closed with a pressing call for action by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, photographer, filmmaker and President of the GoodPlanet Foundation, reinforced by a moving clip of his latest film, Human.
It is in this spirit of cooperation and solidarity that UNESCO, the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation and the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR) – one of seven regional and national coalitions of UNESCO’s International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR platform - have joined hands in partnership for the initiative Welcoming Cities for Refugees: Promoting Inclusion and Protecting Rights.
This initiative was launched at UNESCO Headquarters in 2016. A UNESCO publication entitled Cities Welcoming Refugees and Migrants is the first tangible output of the partnership.
Contact: Konstantinos Tararas, SHS.inclusion-rights(at)unesco.org
The 29th session of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme came to a close on15 June 2017 in Paris, France, with the adoption of a Process of excellence and enhancement of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, to ensure that they serve as models for the implementation of the 2030 agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Since 2013, at the request of Member States at the MAB Council, further focus has been placed on raising the excellence of the Network and helping Member States set the required standards for their Biosphere Reserve to become fully functional and to comply with the criteria defined in 1995 under the Statutory Framework. Biosphere reserves constitute a unique Network that reconciles the social, environmental and economic aspects of development for sustainability, touching the lives of 206 million people. They have three interconnected functions of conservation, development and logistic support. The voluntary engagement of the local community is key to fully function as a biosphere reserve and find truly sustainable solutions for people and to create a sustainable livelihood.
The efforts deployed over the past 4 years have yielded encouraging results, leading to large number of Biosphere Reserves improving the zonation, governance and management aspects. Workshops and technical missions were organized to build capacity and improve the level of engagement of the sites. The objective was to help sites identify and address challenges, and to ensure that all of the sites included in the network are contributing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Initially, 270 sites in 75 countries did not meet the current criteria. More than two-thirds of these are now fully functional.
The situation of the Biosphere Reserves varies greatly. Some, located in conflict zones, are unable to report; transboundary sites face and additional layer of complexity and require more time for reporting; others may need further technical assistance to meet the criteria. However the vast majority of Biosphere Reserves concerned were nominated before 1995, before the current criteria and functions of Biosphere Reserves were defined by the Statutory Framework. When they joined the Network, they focused mainly on conservation. The development of the other Biosphere Reserve functions entails a shift towards voluntary engagement, involving local communities, with impacts on management practices. This transition takes time, but is essential to ensure the quality of the Network.
The ‘Process of excellence and enhancement of the WNBR as well as quality improvement of all members of the World Network’ adopted today defines a path towards improvement for the 85 biosphere reserves that still do not meet the criteria, or have not provided comprehensive information to enable the Council to assess and monitor their progress. The Process takes into consideration the varying situations of the sites concerned, and defines paths to resolve outstanding issues over the next two years, one for each type of situation. All biosphere reserves have until 2019 at the latest to become fully functional and report to the Council if they wish to remain in the Network. An exception is made for Biosphere Reserves in conflict zones.
The session was also the occasion to welcome new sites into the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, and to approve extensions and renaming to existing Biosphere Reserves. Young Scientists awards were granted to seven young researchers to encourage them to undertake work on ecosystems, natural resources and biodiversity, and Vladimira Fabriciusova, coordinator of the Polana Biosphere Reserve in Slovakia, received the Michel Batisse Award for her case study “Biosphere Reserve: an opportunity for humans and nature”.
“This community library is different from other libraries, where you just go to read and borrow books,” says Zaid, a volunteer at Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Community Library in Hebron. “It is a knowledge centre that mobilizes the community, raises awareness on student’s rights and needs and teaches you how to speak up and develop a dialogue.”
Students like Zaid and Mohammad from Hebron or Salsabil from Tulkarem spend a lot of their time in the community libraries. They come mostly to do research, attend the various activities, provide trainings and even support other students with their research.
UNESCO Ramallah Office started the implementation of this programme entitled “Support program for Palestinian University students Under Conditions of Severe Poverty” in 2014 by the establishment of 12 Community Libraries in the West Bank and Gaza. Funded by the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Palestinian People, these libraries provide support to more than 24,000 vulnerable higher education students through the provision of trainings, scientific research support, textbooks and photocopying services.
“After being a volunteer in this library for more than a year, I feel more confident than before,” says Adil, a volunteer at Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Community Library in Tulkarem. “As a university graduate, I am learning from this experience, which will give me more opportunity to find employment in the community”.
The 12 librarians spread all over the West Bank and Gaza are trained to give the best support to students. “The students like how we treat them here: they feel at home and anything they need, we can give them and help to provide them with support,” says Imtinaan, a librarian at the Nablus Community Library. “We are proud when we see our students flourish and excel in what they do.”
Since the establishment of the programme, the community libraries have become a useful academic and social network. They have taken a central role in the lives of people and have become a second home and a support system for many vulnerable students in Palestine.