Letter from the Director, Dr. Jennifer Leaning

Dear colleagues,

In the two years since our last report, the major issues that drive our work have become more prominent and more exiguous. As of 2018, one of every 110 people on earth is either an asylum seeker, refugee, or internally displaced. The calamitous wars in Syria and Yemen, the ferocity of the Myanmar regime against its Rohingya citizens, extreme environmental volatility brought about by climate change, increasing political polarity and austerity in many countries, and a host of other sociopolitical issues have overwhelmed national and international systems created to ensure stability and protection for the world’s people.

In these years, the François-Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University (Harvard FXB) has sought to leverage its research and policy efforts to address three core program priorities: Child Protection, Distress Migration, and War and Crisis Studies.Within these areas we have pursued and published research and promoted pedagogy to explore and respond to the pressures now pushing millions of people into intensifying zones of inequity and insecurity.

In the last two years we have seen the systematic expulsion and ethnic targeting of the Rohingya in Myanmar; the murder of innocent civilians and healthcare workers and the burden of a now seven-year war in Syria; widespread livelihoods destruction caused by extreme weather uprooting millions across the Americas and Asia. We have investigated the sexual exploitation of refugee children in Greece and the holes in the protection framework for vulnerable civilians who are fleeing war and moving throughout the Mediterranean basin and across Europe. We have promoted dignity and equity for those, like the Roma people and others, who are oppressed by stigma or poverty across the world. With issues so diverse and massive, we have aimed to be more nimble in our ability to address the ever-changing human rights landscape by bolstering our use of data science. In this information-rich era, early detection, early understanding, and early decision are pivotal in efforts to prevent or mitigate major crises, including outbreaks of mass atrocity.

In 2018, we have begun work on a number of important projects across the spectrum of our center’s research areas. With a team of collaborators, we investigated the effects of the devastation of Hurricane Maria on the island of Puerto Rico. In partnership  with The Lancet and the American University of Beirut, we are investigating the burden of the ongoing war in Syria and the related refugee issues among neighboring countries. Projects are underway to examine the health and needs of refugees and host populations in Bangladesh, Lebanon, Greece, Ecuador, and elsewhere.

As we look toward the next phase for Harvard FXB, we find ourselves poised to be key leaders and collaborators in the rigorous investigation of the most serious threats to health and wellbeing globally. We celebrate the partnership with all of our colleagues across Harvard and the world and we thank the donors and supporters who have made our urgent work possible.

Jennifer Leaning, MD, SMH

Read the FXB Biennial Report 2016-2018, from which this letter is drawn.

*The second sentence of this letter was updated to reflect the figures in the latest UNHCR report on displaced persons, released on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2018.