(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Briefing: Nigerians seek safety in Cameroon as Boko Haram crisis escalates

    A wave of increasingly sophisticated militant attacks in northeastern Nigeria has forced almost 60,000 people to flee since November, the largest number for more than two years, raising fears from the UN and aid groups of a renewed Boko Haram crisis.

     

    More than half of those who fled escaped a series of Boko Haram attacks in the remote town of Rann, near the border with Cameroon, in January. The violence – which killed dozens of people – sparked two large waves of displacement across the border. Thousands of the Nigerian refugees were forcibly returned by the Cameroonian authorities.

     

    Since Boko Haram’s insurgency began in 2009, at least 35,000 people have been killed. Attacks across the wider Lake Chad region – which encompasses parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria – have seen some 2.5 million people displaced, including 1.9 million internally in Nigeria and some 250,000 Nigerian refugees.

     

    Although the Nigerian government has regularly made claims that the jihadist threat has been minimised, evidence on the ground suggests otherwise, and there are concerns that Nigeria’s general elections on 16 February may make the situation worse.

     

    What happened in Rann?

     

    Boko Haram launched a 14 January attack that reportedly killed 14 people in Rann. Homes and buildings were destroyed, including Médecins Sans Frontières and UNICEF clinics, as well as compounds belonging to the International Organisation for Migration, the World Health Organisation, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

     

    Regional troops fighting Boko Haram worked to secure the town, but when they withdrew more than 9,000 people fled, on foot, towards Bodo in Cameroon. About 1,800 of them – mostly women and children – managed to remain with host families in villages near Makary and Fotokol, according to David Manan, Cameroon director for the Norwegian Refugee Council. But the majority were forced out of Cameroon, with little choice but to return to Rann.

     

    About a week later, another 35,000 people fled Rann for Cameroon, fearing another militant attack. Most now reside in a makeshift settlement in the Cameroonian village of Goura, UN News reported, saying the refugees are safe and haven’t – for now – been asked to leave.

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    Zara Abicho/MSF
    Fearing further attacks, more than 35,000 of Rann's residents have sought refuge across the border in Cameroon.

    On 28 January, Rann residents’ worst fears were confirmed when at least 60 people were killed in the deadliest attack yet on the town by Boko Haram, who also destroyed hundreds of shelters for displaced people.

     

    Is Cameroon forcibly returning refugees?

     

    Cameroon, which hosts more than 370,000 refugees – 100,000 from Nigeria – turned back the first wave of refugees from Rann, in a move reminiscent of previous actions that saw tens of thousands of Nigerians forcibly returned between 2015 and 2017.

     

    The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, expressed immediate alarm, saying it was “gravely concerned” about the safety and living conditions of people who were returned last month. “This action was totally unexpected and puts lives of thousands of refugees at risk,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

     

    Speaking to IRIN in Cameroon last week, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk was more diplomatic. “When a country receives 35,000 people just in a couple of days, you would have a big crisis in the country,” he said. “Sometimes the situations are very difficult, but it is very important for us to find the bridge between the true security interests of a country and the protection of civilians.”

     

    Cameroon fears infiltration by Boko Haram, who have mounted scores of attacks since 2014 in the country’s Far North Region – typically suicide bombings. Cameroon’s military has recently reported a resurgence in Boko Haram activity along its border with Nigeria and said there were five attacks in the region in January alone.

     

    After the second wave of 35,000 people fled Rann, aid groups, including the NRC, urged Cameroon to keep its borders open, emphasising the need to assist those fleeing. So far it appears that the Cameroonian authorities have kept the border open and no more forcible returns have been reported.

    Isa Sadiq Bwala/MSF
    A burnt market in Rann, Nigeria.

     

    “The situation in the northeast [of Nigeria] remains volatile and forced return is exposing these people to harm,” said Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development, a policy and advocacy think-tank covering West Africa.

     

    What are the humanitarian needs?

     

    Across Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State and in neighbouring countries, existing camp facilities are overstretched. Having thousands flock to the same locations leaves people in dire need of shelter, food, and water, and can lead to unsanitary conditions and greater risk of disease outbreaks, Hassan told IRIN.

     

    Because of the “spike in attacks” and displacements in Borno State since November, NRC expressed concern about the resulting humanitarian crisis.

    "More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee, many for the second time," Eric Batonon, Nigeria director for NRC, said in a statement. “By denying assistance and protection to those fleeing, needs are exacerbated.”

     

    In Cameroon’s Bodo, MSF said it was assisting new arrivals with food, water, and medical care. In Goura, the UN and its partners responded to the sudden influx by providing basic services, including shelter and protection, in the makeshift settlement.

     

    UNHCR’s Türk said the priority was to “save the life of everybody who was able to escape”.

     

    “I have personally met Nigerian refugees in Cameroon,” he said. “Those people are traumatised. Things are happening in a very complex security context. So what we are trying to do is to marry the protection of people whose lives need to be saved... and identification of security needs that are legitimate.”

     

    Türk said while immediate emergency assistance is the main focus, it’s also essential to support vulnerable host communities and refugees who have been in camps for a long time – assisting them with access to education, health facilities, and social protection.

     

    How much of a threat is Boko Haram?

     

    Many of the attacks in recent months have been attributed to fighters from Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, a faction of Boko Haram that broke off in 2016.

     

    “Generally, there has been an upsurge in direct military confrontations since mid-2018, around the same time there was a leadership change within ISWAP,” explained Omar S. Mahmood, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, or ISS. “Since then, the group has been on the offensive, pushing back military units across much of northern Borno.”

     

    The Nigerian government is quick to downplay the potency of the militants, but renewed attacks on military outposts, aid workers, and civilians suggest they have grown more aggressive, and possibly also in number and strength. At least 100 soldiers have been killed since late December, according to a report seen by Reuters. IOM also noted the “increased sophistication” of the attackers.

     

    Matthew T. Page, a former US State Department official and associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank, said Nigeria’s political and security leaders were unable or unwilling to devise a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. “Their piecemeal approach is not commensurate with the seriousness and complexity of the threat,” he said.

     

    In a war where cooperation between neighbouring countries is essential, the forced return of refugees could also hinder the battle to stave off threats from jihadists. “Many times we only see the military activity and issues of insecurity,” Türk said. “We should never forget that civilians are directly affected as they are caught in the crossfire, caught between the rock and the hard place when it comes to fighting and violence.”

     

    What next?

     

    International aid organisations are stepping up their response. A new $135 million humanitarian appeal was launched last week to assist Nigerian refugees and host communities in the three other Lake Chad countries, but last year only 42 percent of a similar appeal for $157 million was funded.

     

    UNHCR, which is coordinating the response plan, says recent violence has pushed people into “crowded camps or in towns in Borno State where they are surviving in tough living conditions”.

     

    But the threat of new attacks remains. And there are additional security concerns in light of the upcoming elections. Boko Haram ramped up attacks in the weeks leading up to the 2015 elections and may be doing likewise this time. Meanwhile, insecurity across northeastern Nigeria means the possibility of everyone voting in affected towns remains slim.

     

    Mahmood from the ISS think tank said a lot would depend on the outcome of the Nigerian elections and how seriously any new administration is about tackling the Boko Haram threat.

     

    “When President Muhammadu Buhari was first elected in 2015, he prioritised the Boko Haram conflict and made substantial gains,” he said. “Some of those have elapsed now, especially as the political season has taken over.”

     

    Central to stemming any recent losses would be coordination with neighbours like Cameroon, Mahmood said, adding: “The insecurity clearly has regional implications and does not adhere to political boundaries.”

     

    (Additional reporting by Mbom Sixtus in Yaoundé, Cameroon)

    (TOP PHOTO: After Boko Haram attacked Rann on 14 January, more than 9,000 people fled towards Bodo in Cameroon. Most were turned back by Cameroonian authorities. CREDIT: Silas Adamou/MSF)

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    Briefing: Nigerians seek safety in Cameroon as Boko Haram crisis escalates
  • Mediterranean death rates, networking in a rush, and a shaky ceasefire in Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar

    Yemen deal in the balance

    So what about that ceasefire deal for Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, the one agreed in late December, the same one Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the country told IRIN was key to moving the peace process? It has still not been implemented. A UN-led committee to redeploy (i.e. withdraw) fighters from the city and province has only met twice so far, and each side has accused the other of multiple violations. The two sides swapped a small number of prisoners this week, but nowhere near the scale of a larger swap agreement the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is still waiting to carry out (the sticking point appears to involve lists of names). UN envoy Martin Griffiths says the Hodeidah ceasefire is “generally holding”, despite the extension of deadlines on key elements of the deal: “The initial timelines were rather ambitious,” he said this week. “We are dealing with a complex situation on the ground.”

    Mediterranean more dangerous for migrants

    The figures are in and EU leaders, through their migration policies, are “complicit in the tragedy”, according to a letter signed by dozens of NGOs. Arrivals to Europe across the Mediterranean and the overall number of deaths both fell sharply in 2018, but deaths per arrival went the other way: one in 269 in 2015 became one in 51 in 2018 (one in 14 from Libya) – and the number of deaths across the Western Mediterranean to Spain quadrupled last year. Two years since the EU-backed Italy-Libya deal sought to stem the flow by supporting the Libyan coastguard while Tripoli cracked down on smuggling operations, anger is growing as EU nations prevent rescue operations and refuse to allow migrant-carrying vessels to dock. The NGO letter sent on Wednesday to the EU contained three main demands: support search and rescue operations; adopt timely and predictable disembarkation arrangements; end returns to Libya. Renewing its criticism in a statement on Friday, Oxfam said "people are now in even more danger at sea and are being taken back by the Libyan coastguard to face human rights abuses in Libya". A double migrant boat disaster off the coast of Djibouti this week – more than 100 people dead or missing – was a reminder that this is not just a problem in the Mediterranean.

     

    For more on EU policies and how they affect migrants and refugees in Africa, read our “Destination Europe” series.

    “Speed-networking” at mass humanitarian hook-up

    A big-tent gathering of the humanitarian community kicks off Monday. The Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW) offers a sprawling programme of 100 sessions across five days and 19 rooms in a Geneva conference centre. Over 2,100 relief professionals, diplomats, company representatives, NGO officials, and students have registered for the free event, backed by the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, and the Swiss government. Organiser Jesper Lund told IRIN the aim is the “acceleration of collaboration”. In its fifth year, HNPW prides itself on being an open forum, allowing parallel sessions of like-minded networks, and tries to avoid predictable formats. This year there will be speed-networking sessions to match up interested parties for one-on-one contacts. (The IRIN team will be around, and we’re always up for some speed-tipoffs, obvs). The range of topics for the week covers everything from airport readiness for disasters to (oh look!) humanitarian journalism (that's on Friday).

    Talking peace, losing ground

    The Afghan government’s control of its own territory continues to shrink. The government now has control or influence in about 54 percent of its districts, according to numbers released this week by SIGAR – the US-government mandated watchdog tracking reconstruction in Afghanistan. Afghan control is at its lowest since SIGAR began reporting the data in 2015 (other metrics suggest the government’s grip is even more tenuous, and that the insurgent Taliban need not directly control territory to wield influence). It’s another sign of the rocky road ahead in Afghanistan, despite recent talks of Taliban peace negotiations. In the aid sector, there’s plenty of concern about what a bargained Taliban peace might mean, particularly for the rights of women and minorities. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Jan Egeland says “dialogue for humanitarian access and protection have been pushed off the table”. For now, Afghanistan remains mired in crisis: hundreds of thousands displaced by war and an ongoing severe drought, refugees and migrants returning to instability, and rising civilian casualties.

    Opposition arrests in Cameroon

    Cameroonian opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who maintains he won last year's presidential election, was among some 200 people arrested this week after new protests took place against the re-election of veteran leader Paul Biya. Further marches, planned for this weekend and into next week, were also banned by the government. The October vote was marred by violence, especially in the Northwest and Southwest anglophone regions, which are in the midst of a separatist rebellion against the francophone government. Last year, IRIN embedded with Cameroon’s separatist forces to get an inside look at the fledgling armed struggle.

    In case you missed it

     

    Democratic Republic of Congo: More than 50 mass graves have been found by a UN fact-finding mission near the western town of Yumbi, where a spate of inter-communal violence last December left almost 900 people dead in just three days.

     

    Indonesia: Dengue killed more than 100 people across the country in January. The mosquito-borne illness is endemic in parts of Indonesia, but health authorities are reporting a surge in cases during the current rainy season.

     

    Nigeria: Some 30,000 people fled the northeastern town of Rann last weekend for neighbouring Cameroon, about a week after 9,000 refugees were reported to have been forcibly returned by the Cameroonian authorities. Further violence has sent another 6,000 Nigerians fleeing into Chad.

     

    Syria: The UN says 23,000 people, including 10,000 in the past week, have fled so-called Islamic State’s last territory in Syria since December, most of them to al-Hol camp in Hassakeh province. The World Health Organisation says the camp is overwhelmed, with thousands of people sleeping in the open without so much as blankets. In the past eight weeks at least 29 children are reported to have died, mostly from hypothermia, on the way to the camp or just after arrival.

     

    USAID: The US government is reshuffling its aid portfolio, bringing the Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and Food for Peace under a single humanitarian department. The new arrangement should reduce unnecessary fragmentation, according to a Twitter thread by former OFDA chief Jeremy Konyndyk.

     

    Weekend read

    The choices they made: Hondurans at the US-Mexico border

    As US President Donald Trump orders “several thousand” more US troops to the Mexican border, what about those on the other side? Take some time this weekend to delve into this feature from award-winning photojournalist Tomás Ayuso. A Honduran native, Ayuso wanted to better understand the motivations of countrymen and countrywomen who continue to make the long march north, even as the welcome they can expect looks increasingly hostile. What he found was not a uniform answer. From the man left for dead after being “executed” for refusing to become a drug dealer, to the woman whose husband died suddenly and felt compelled to find a better life for her and her son, the choices people made were all different. At the US border, there are choices too. One man has had enough and is heading home. The woman and son mentioned above also had enough of waiting. They headed across the border with smugglers shortly after Ayuso interviewed them and haven’t been heard from since.

    IRIN Event

    The future of the UN agency for Palestine refugees

    On Wednesday, IRIN Director Heba Aly sat down for a public conversation in Geneva with Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees. They talked about the agency’s funding ask for this year (it’s $1.2 billion), how UNRWA was only meant to be a temporary stop-gap but still exists 70 years on, and why it is frequently broke (Krähenbühl says those last two are related). The commissioner-general also addressed the Trump administration’s decision to cut funding from UNRWA, which serves some 5.4 million registered refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). Speaking of East Jerusalem, the commissioner-general said he’d had “no indication” from the Israeli government that the schools UNRWA runs there would be shut down, despite multiple statements to the contrary from the local municipality.

    And finally...

    “Australia’s loss”

    Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani is making a name for himself in Australia – but he’s not allowed to set foot in the country. Boochani is an unwitting resident of Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, where he was sent in 2013 after trying to seek asylum in Australia. This week, Boochani’s book, “No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison”, cleaned up at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, an annual contest in Australia. Judges called Boochani’s book, composed on a mobile phone, “a literary triumph, devastating and transcendent”, awarding it the non-fiction prize as well as the top honour – a haul worth 125,000 Australian dollars (more than 90,000 US dollars) . There are still about 1,200 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and another island, Nauru – part of Australia’s criticised asylum policy, which saw boat arrivals pushed to offshore detention camps and barred from ever entering Australia. In an opinion piece published this week, the US official who signed a deal to take in hundreds of people stuck on Nauru or Manus says resettled refugees are putting down roots in their new American homes. Anne Richard, a former assistant secretary of state, writes about meeting the former detainees, now working in restaurants, attending evening classes, or sending their own kids to school. “Australia’s loss,” she writes, “is America’s gain”.

    (TOP PHOTO: Abdulrahman Mohammed Jahia (33) and his family heard a loud explosion outside their house in Sana'a, Yemen. Their neighbouring building was hit by airstrikes. CREDIT: Becky Bakr Abdulla/NRC)

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    Mediterranean death rates, networking in a rush, and a shaky ceasefire in Yemen
  • Venezuela on the brink, WhatsApping hate, and a Davos bright spot: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar

    What next in Venezuela?

     

    The crisis in Venezuela has bubbled away for months, demanding media attention only when protests flare or the sheer number of people fleeing the freefalling economy and increasingly authoritarian state becomes difficult to ignore. Not now. Since President Nicolás Maduro was sworn in two weeks ago for a new six-year term, things have escalated quickly. No sooner was a revolt by members of the National Guard quelled than protesters took to the streets demanding he step down. Opposition challenger Juan Guaidó on Wednesday declared himself leader and has since been recognised as such by the United States and a clutch of regional powers. No one knows what will happen next. Talk of a US military intervention seems to be just that for now, but there’s no sign either that Maduro – still backed by Venezuela’s armed forces – is prepared to accept any offer of amnesty and leave quietly. If he does go, it won’t cure Venezuela’s ills overnight, but it would provide the change in government some argue is the only long-term solution to a humanitarian crisis Maduro has long denied – one that has left his people desperate, hungry, and sick. A study published in The Lancet Global Health Journal this week indicates that infant mortality rates have risen back to 1990s levels.

     

    “If you’re bitten by a snake, you’ll be afraid of a millipede”

     

    Around 9,000 Nigerians who say they fled armed clashes involving Boko Haram are “shuttling” back and forth in the Cameroon border area, a UN official said in Geneva. The group was pushed back after trying to take refuge in the neighbouring country, with Cameroonian officials admitting that insecurity forced the government to take exceptional measures, despite its supposed "open doors" policy. UN humanitarian coordinator for Cameroon Allegra Baiocchi told a press conference "the right of asylum is being tested". She said many of the group were women and children. Cameroon’s director of civil protection Yap Mariatou told IRIN that a recent attack on the border town of Achigashia by an armed group had put the authorities on edge. “If you’re bitten by a snake, you’ll be afraid of a millipede,” she said. The UN is appealing for $299 million to help 2.3 million people in Cameroon, including about 100,000 refugees from Nigeria and more than 400,000 internally displaced by an ongoing separatist rebellion.

     

    Mediterranean crossing just got even more dangerous

     

    The EU’s troubled naval mission against people smuggling in the Mediterranean faced yet another setback this week as Germany announced it was suspending participation, a decision MPs said was the result of Italy’s consistent refusal to allow rescued migrants entry at its ports. The removal of Germany’s ship leaves the mission, Operation Sophia, with only two vessels. Meanwhile, migrants continue to drown in the Mediterranean – 201 so far this year – including in two recent shipwrecks, one off the coast of Libya, the second between Morocco and Spain. Many of those rescued are being brought to Libya, and Médecins Sans Frontières says it has seen a “sharp increase” in the number of people held in crowded detention centres there – conditions are dire, with shortages of clean water and food. Human Rights Watch said EU policies, including the decision to enable the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return people, are contributing to a “cycle of extreme abuse” against migrants in the country. For a forensic examination of one Mediterranean incident in 2017 in which at least 20 migrants died, check out this film, “How Europe Outsources Migrant Suffering at Sea”, from Times Insider.

     

    Forwarding hate

     

    There’s increasing scrutiny on the real-world impacts of the spread of misinformation and hate speech on social media. This week, messaging app WhatsApp announced a five-recipient limit for message forwarding. WhatsApp messages – which can be rapidly distributed through group and broadcast features – have been linked to a spate of lynchings in India and a pre-election flood of false news in Brazil. Sri Lanka also temporarily shut down Facebook, WhatsApp, and others after anti-Muslim violence last March. WhatsApp recipient limits were recommended in a “human rights impact assessment” commissioned by Facebook, which owns WhatsApp. That report focused on Facebook usage in Myanmar, where UN investigators say the company was ”slow and ineffective” in stemming hate speech on its platform amid the violent 2017 purge of more than 700,000 Rohingya. But hate speech on WhatsApp could prove even tougher to contain: the company may enforce “community standards” on Facebook, but WhatsApp messages are encrypted.

     

    Overheard in Davos

     

    Sure, the mood at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this week was generally sombre, but there was a bright spot for some: the increasing spotlight on social issues, including humanitarian response. Humanitarian topics included sessions on private sector investment in fragile states and the use of artificial intelligence in crises. The WEF, the World Bank, and the International Committee of the Red Cross launched an initiative to promote so-called humanitarian investing – the private sector working to boost economies in crisis-affected areas in order to help people get back on their feet and avoid becoming dependent on aid. The IKEA Foundation pledged 6.8 million euros to help create livelihoods for refugees in Jordan. Still, investors were honest about the constraints of putting capital into fragile states at scale. On the tech side, AI was front and centre with discussions on its use in crisis zones. It has huge potential – from predicting famines to chatbots that help refugees further their education to facial recognition for identifying family members separated by war. But what happens when AI-aggregated data falls into the wrong hands? Or when machines reinforce political or human biases in the data? Many agencies, one observer noted, are pushing ahead with pilot projects and thinking about due diligence later. For more from Davos, see our roundup on IRIN’s event, “Meet the new humanitarians changing the face of aid.”

    In case you missed it:

     

    Central African Republic: Talks aimed at ending CAR’s long-running conflict began in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, this week. Brokered by the African Union, the negotiations involve representatives of the government and 14 armed groups. Aid officials say a successful peace accord is critical to ensuring the ongoing humanitarian crisis doesn’t deepen.

     

    Indonesia: Dozens of people were killed after heavy rains battered Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province this week, leading to floods and landslides. Local authorities say the rains caused rivers to burst their banks, inundating homes and forcing more than 3,000 people to evacuate.

     

    Philippines: A majority voted to ratify a long-awaited peace deal in the conflict-torn Mindanao region, according to unofficial results from the first stage of a referendum held this week. A vote in favour will expand autonomy for Mindanao’s Muslim community.

     

    Yemen: After just a month on the job, the retired Dutch general overseeing the not-yet-implemented ceasefire for the port city of Hodeidah is reportedly about to step down. It’s not clear why. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen thinks the deal is make-or-break for peace negotiations: read our interview with him to find out why.

     

    Zimbabwe: Half-a-million government workers have gone on strike across the country, adding to uncertainty after fuel protests and a violent crackdown by security forces left several people dead and hundreds arrested. Accusations that protesters were raped by members of the military have been accompanied by warnings that social unrest and instability are spiralling out of control. Look out for our full briefing next week.

     

    Weekend read

     

    Fleeing the last days of Islamic State in Syria

     

    No, as we flagged in our 10 crises to watch in 2019, the war in Syria is not over. The focus towards the end of last year was on the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe if President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed forces moved in to retake Idlib. While this risk hasn’t gone away, especially as al-Qaeda-linked fighters cement control over parts of the northwestern province, our weekend read takes us elsewhere. In the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, a US-backed Kurdish-led alliance of militias called the Syrian Democratic Forces is trying to snuff out the last pockets of so-called Islamic State in Syria. This photo feature takes us inside their operations as they intercept a convoy of people escaping what remains of the militant group’s territory. But with IS members disguising themselves as civilians to make last-gasp attacks, how do you tell who is who? Those fleeing – nearly 5,000 in just two days this week – are hungry and exhausted. Some say there’s no food at all in areas under IS control.

     

    And finally…

     

    Top Libyan photographer dies in crossfire

     

    Libyan freelance journalist – and occasional IRIN contributor – Mohamed Ben Khalifa was killed last Saturday while covering militia clashes in the capital city of Tripoli, prompting demonstrations by his colleagues denouncing violence against journalists. Ben Khalifa was 35, and is survived by his wife and young daughter. A well-respected photographer who covered the often violent instability that has plagued Libya since the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, Ben Khalifa was known for his sensitive portrayals of the migrants whose bodies washed up on Libya’s shores, including this 2015 IRIN piece. His death “is a reminder of the utter lack of protection for journalists in Libya, as well as the dangers of photojournalists in the battlefield,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists. The week of fighting in Tripoli left 16 people dead (including Khalifa) and 65 injured, and rival militias have since agreed to a new ceasefire deal.

     

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    Venezuela on the brink, WhatsApping hate, and a Davos bright spot
  • Our 10 most popular stories of 2018

    Investigations, exclusives, and special reports dominate our most-read stories this year, but there’s room for some timely analysis and the odd news feature. Find out which IRIN articles created the most buzz in 2018 (by unique pageviews, most-viewed first). And once you’re on top of the news, why not test yourself with our year-end quiz?

    Cameroon’s anglophone war, part 1 and part 2

    Emmanuel Freudenthal became the first journalist to spend time with an anglophone armed group, trekking for a week with them in the sun and rain, across rivers and up steep hills, through dark rainforests and fields of giant grass. In this two-part series, he explored the make-up and motivation of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, and how the civil war brewing in Cameroon was changing the lives of fighters, civilians, and refugees.

    A gun in the foreground as soldiers stand in file in mismatched clothing

     

    EXCLUSIVE: Oxfam sexual exploiter in Haiti caught seven years earlier in Liberia

    IRIN found that the man at the centre of Oxfam sexual exploitation scandal was dismissed by another British NGO seven years earlier for similar misconduct. A former colleague revealed that Roland van Hauwermeiren was sent home from Liberia in 2004 after her complaints prompted an investigation into sex parties there with young local women.

    People walk in the distances abstractly

     

    Understanding Eastern Ghouta in Syria

    In February, the UN said nearly 400,000 civilians were trapped in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, the latest battleground in a series of bloody rebel defeats in Syria’s cities. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and his Russian allies seemed poised for a major ground offensive on the besieged insurgent enclave. Syria analyst Aron Lund unpicked what we knew, and what we didn’t.

    A dust cloud from an explosion on a city

     

    Audit finds UN refugee agency critically mismanaged donor funds in Uganda

    This damning internal probe by the UN into waste and corruption in refugee operations in Uganda in 2017 went unnoticed by many. Ben Parker read the fine print and exposed the extent of mismanagement by the UN’s refugee agency, including a $7.9 million contract for road repairs awarded to a contractor with no experience in road construction.

    Two girls in a refugee camp one with her arm on the other

     

    Eritrea-Ethiopia peace leads to a refugee surge

    Inter-ethnic conflict over scarce resources saw more people internally displaced in Ethiopia in the first half of 2018 than in any other country. In the second half of the year, peace and an open border with Eritrea saw a sudden spike in Eritrean refugees. Addis Ababa-based reporter James Jeffrey travelled to the border regions to speak to new arrivals.

    Closeup of two Eritrean men looking away from the camera

     

    Inside the EU’s flawed $200 million migration deal with Sudan

    As millions of dollars in EU funds flow into Sudan to stem African migration, asylum seekers say they are increasingly afraid and living in fear of exploitation. In interviews with dozens of Eritreans and Ethiopians, as well as local journalists and lawyers, reporter Caitlin Chandler documented allegations of endemic police abuse, including extortion, violence, and sexual assault.

    An obscured portrait of a man's face behind purple and white drapes

     

    Former Save the Children staffers speak out on abusive culture under Justin Forsyth

    2018 was a year in which #AidToo scandals tarnished the image of the sector. In February, Justin Forsyth resigned from UNICEF, becoming the highest-profile departure in the widening scandal sparked by the Oxfam sexual exploitation case. Former colleagues of Forsyth told IRIN of their disappointment at what they saw as a half-hearted apology that failed to properly acknowledge his past misconduct.

    A man with a notebook sits on the floor with two people facing away from the camera

     

    EXCLUSIVE: Audit exposes UN food agency’s poor data-handling

    The year that brought us GDPR disclaimers also brought some belated realisation in the aid sector about the importance of data protection. In January, after an internal audit slammed failings across its systems, the World Food Programme told IRIN’s Ben Parker it was “working to get ahead of the curve” on data-handling, would address weaknesses, and spend more on systems.

    Two cards like credit cards that read: Humanitarian Assistance

     

    EXCLUSIVE: Refugees in Sudan allege chronic corruption in UN resettlement process

    Sudan, again. This time allegations of corruption within the UN’s refugee resettlement operations in Khartoum. Investigating the programme over a 10-month period, journalist Sally Hayden uncovered a bribery scheme that prompted it to be shut down while the UN refugee agency mounted an investigation. Her follow-up in July found further problems as potential witnesses expressed fears of retaliation and concerns over a lack of protection.

    Outside of an office with barbed wire

     

    Yemen PR wars: Saudi Arabia employs UK/US firms to push multi-billion dollar aid plan

    In a year in which Yemen was described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the aid largesse of Saudi Arabia came under the microscope. IRIN revealed the extent of Riyadh’s PR offensive as critics suggested its multi-billion dollar aid plan amounted to propaganda and could reduce imports of vital goods into a key port held by the Houthi rebels, Saudi Arabia’s opponents in the three-year war.

    Men in camo, one with a camera, offload aid on a pallet

    (TOP PHOTO: Refugees from anglophone areas of Cameroon in camps across the border in Nigeria. CREDIT: Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN)

     

    From #AidToo and UN mismanagement to Cameroon and a siege in Syria
    Our 10 most popular stories of 2018
  • Trump pullouts, aid from mining firms, and that Amnesty ad: The Cheat Sheet

    IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar

     

    Trouble at the top

     

    The overall coordination body for humanitarian aid lacks a vision, mission, strategy, and sound funding, according to a UN audit. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, or IASC, formed in 1991, brings together the UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, and NGOs in a humanitarian über-cabinet. It is chaired by the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock. His office says he has been working to sort out the group since the period of the audit (2016 to mid-2017). A well-placed senior aid official, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivities, said the committee was making progress on a few issues, such as preventing sexual abuse. The audit revealed problems found in confidential reviews in 2003 and 2014 persisted, notably “insufficient commitment to collective leadership”. The official said there is a “fundamental problem”: if members don’t have stronger incentives to cooperate, further attention to the IASC’s structure "is going to be tinkering at the edges".

     

    Strange bedfellows: mining firms and humanitarians?

     

    In February, a magnitude-7.5 earthquake rattled Papua New Guinea’s remote highlands region, toppling villages, killing dozens, and leaving some 270,000 in need of help. Aid groups requested $62 million to respond. International donors have pitched in, but the largest contribution – equivalent to nearly two thirds of the appeal – came from the private sector, including the mining, oil, and gas industries. A briefing released this week by the Melbourne-based Humanitarian Advisory Group explores how extractives companies responded. It’s a polarising issue for many in the aid sector: some organisations, researchers note, refuse to work with or accept money from extractives companies, which have been accused of causing environmental damage and “serious human rights problems” in the past. The HAG briefing notes that extractives companies often responded faster than aid groups after this year’s earthquake, and used their logistics resources to access remote areas blocked by the damage. But they also lacked formal training on humanitarian practices and principles: some aid workers thought companies were targeting only communities in their business areas, for example; others said companies dumped supplies without monitoring to ensure they actually reached their intended targets. Despite the problems, the researchers conclude there is “enormous potential” for engaging extractives companies in disaster response in the Pacific.

     

    Concerns around aid operations in South Sudan

     

    Médecins Sans Frontières is concerned its operations in South Sudan may be at risk due to revelations it made about mass rapes in the town of Bentiu in November. This week officials from the medical NGO said the report that at least 125 women and girls were raped by armed men – some in military uniform – had caused friction. “The government of South Sudan is not happy,” an MSF official was anonymously quoted as saying by Kenyan newspaper The East African. “So who knows, maybe our massive operations in Bentiu will come to a close and place at a risk thousands of lives.” The UN condemned the attacks, sent a team of human rights investigators to Bentiu, and called for the culprits to face justice. Human Rights Watch also called for an urgent investigation into the violence. Under pressure, the South Sudanese government sent an investigation team to Bentiu, but this week it claimed there was a “lack of evidence” to substantiate the rape allegations.

     

    Amnesty backs down over “offensive” online campaign

     

    Human rights group Amnesty International was forced to pull an online campaign about refugees in Greece after a cover photo was accused of being “fetishised and eroticised”. The picture, in an online magazine produced at its Dutch branch, showed a model apparently naked except for life jackets, intended as a parody of a fashion shoot. After protests on social media, Amnesty Netherlands apologised for “any offence caused” and for the “error of judgement”, but replaced the picture with a model with barbed wire over her eyes. Later, the parent organisation, Amnesty International, also apologised and took the whole project offline.

     

    Healthcare boost for Yazidis in Iraq’s Sinjar

     

    Some good news for a change. You may recall a series of three stories we did back in March and April on the Yazidis in Iraq’s Sinjar province, where the religious minority fled massacres and enslavement by so-called Islamic State in 2014. Reporter Tom Westcott found that tens of thousands of families had been returning to towns and villages once ruled by IS, only to face a healthcare crisis. In the bullet-ridden hospital of Sinjar town itself, one doctor with no ambulance was struggling to meet the needs of the many returnees. Today, the situation is greatly improved, Westcott reports. The hospital has moved to new and better premises, has several ambulances, and is being assisted by NGOs. In a visit on 15 December, Nadia Murad said she planned to use her $1 million Nobel Peace Prize money to build another hospital in Sinjar, her hometown.

    In case you missed it:

     

    AFGHANISTAN/SYRIA: President Donald Trump ordered a full US withdrawal from Syria and the drawdown of about half the 14,000 remaining American troops in Afghanistan. Critics rounded on both decisions as premature, with particular concern raised over the possibility of a new humanitarian disaster if the situation unravels in northern Syria. US Defence Secretary James Mattis announced his resignation on the back of the moves.

     

    THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Elections to replace President Joseph Kabila were postponed yet again this week, following a previous delay of more than two years. The country is on the cusp of its first ever democratic transfer of power, but a host of humanitarian crises – from Ebola to protracted conflicts – awaits the next leader.

     

    MADAGASCAR: The leading candidates in Madagascar’s election – both former presidents – have each claimed victory in this week’s polls. Marc Ravalomanana, who came to power in 2002, is up against Andry Rajoelina, who ousted him in a military coup in 2009. Rajoelina then ruled for five years until he was forced out in protests led by Ravalomanana. Official results are due next week. Nine in 10 of Madagascar’s 25 million population live on less than $2 a day, and the island faces huge health and malnutrition problems, made worse by drought and devastating El Niños.

     

    MYANMAR: Clashes between Myanmar soldiers and the Arakan Army, an armed group that advocates for the ethnic Rakhine community, have displaced hundreds of civilians this month in western Myanmar.

     

    Weekend read

     

    A generation of unschooled Cameroonians, another generation of conflict?

     

    Latest UN estimates put the number of people forced from their homes by conflict between Cameroon’s anglophone minority and the francophone-majority state at 437,500. Many have taken to hiding in the bush, including tens of thousands of school-age children. An untold number are missing out on an education as the insurgency escalates, school attacks and kidnappings spike, and separatist fighters demand schools stay closed. Our weekend read includes interviews with parents, officials, and kidnapped children, and explores how education was the starting point for this crisis, and how a generation of children now risks being recruited by armed groups and perpetuating the conflict.

    For more on the origins of the conflict and the motivations of the separatists, read our two-part special report, the first from inside rebel ranks.

    And finally…

     

    A vaccine with wings

     

    This week in a remote corner of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, a commercial drone buzzed 40 kilometres above rocky terrain to deliver an important payload: vaccines to immunise 18 people, including a one-month-old child. It could be an early step toward Vanuatu’s health ministry integrating drone technology into its immunisation programme, which is challenged by scattered communities and inaccessible terrain. According to UNICEF, only one third of Vanuatu’s populated islands have airfields or roads, and one in five children in remote areas don’t have access to vaccines. Aid groups and health agencies have been testing humanitarian uses for drones for years. A US company uses drones to deliver medical supplies in Rwanda; humanitarians have explored using drones for post-disaster mapping; a non-profit in Fiji is trialling drones to unleash a swarm of dengue-fighting mosquitoes. In Vanuatu, proponents of the ongoing vaccine delivery trials say this week’s successful handoff is a ”big leap for global health”.

     

    To our readers: This is the last Cheat Sheet of 2018. We’ll be back on 11 January, but watch for special Friday coverage during the next two weeks. Best wishes for a brighter 2019.

     

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    Trump pullouts, aid from mining firms, and that Amnesty ad
  • A generation of unschooled Cameroonians, another generation of conflict?

    “As we trekked, they kept on telling us that they don’t want us to go to school again,” says 15-year-old Martha Lum, four weeks after being released by the armed gunmen who kidnapped her along with 78 other children and staff members in Cameroon.

     

    Lum’s story is becoming common across the country’s Northwest and Southwest regions, where the conflict between anglophone separatists and francophone armed forces that’s claimed hundreds of lives has made schools a battlefield.

     

    Since the anglophone conflict escalated in late 2017, more than 430,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. In May, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, said approximately 42,500 children were out of school. However, local rights groups estimate that number has now increased fourfold following frequent abductions.

     

     

    Some 20,000 school-age children now live in the bush. With no learning materials or trained teachers, they have no access to a formal education. Parents and local officials worry that the children could be driven to take up arms, becoming a lost generation that perpetuates the conflict and the humanitarian crisis.

     

    “Imagine that these children miss school for five or 10 years because of the fighting, hearing the sound of guns every day, and seeing people being killed; what will become of them?” says 45-year-old mother of four *Elizabeth Tamufor.

     

    “We have been hiding in the bush for more than a year,” she tells IRIN. “I am sure the children have forgotten what they were taught in school. You think in five years they will still be hiding here? They will probably pick up guns and start fighting.”

     

    The fear of schoolchildren and young students joining the armed separatists is already a reality for some. *Michael, 20, used to be a student before the conflict started. He joined the separatists when his friend was killed by government forces.

     

    “I replaced books with the gun since then. But I will return to school immediately we achieve our independence,” he says.

     

    Right from the start

     

    The roots of Cameroon’s anglophone conflict can be traced back to education. The separatists fighting for independence from French-majority Cameroon say the current school system symbolises the marginalisation of the English language and culture.

     

    After years of discontent, in November 2016, anglophone teachers began an indefinite strike to protest what they said amounted to systematic discrimination against English-speaking teachers and students. In response, government security forces clamped down on protests, arresting hundreds of demonstrators, including children, killing at least four people and wounding many more.

     

    This caused widespread anger across the Southwest and Northwest regions, which a year later led to the rise of the armed separatist groups now fighting for independence and a new English-speaking nation called “Ambazonia”.

    ☰ Read more: How classrooms became a battlefield​

     

    The anglophone minority of francophone-majority Cameroon – one sixth of the population – has felt marginalised since two former colonies of France and Britain reunited in 1961 to form one country.  

     

    French and English are both official languages, and the country’s 1998 Orientation of Education law says its two “sub-systems” of education are “independent and autonomous”.

     

    But according to Sylvester Ngan from the Teachers Association of Cameroon (TAC), which defends the rights of English-speaking teachers, the francophone-majority government has been trying to wipe out the English system.

    “When the two countries decided to reunite in a federation, they agreed to maintain their different systems of education, but [a] few years after reunification every element of the anglophone educational system was slowly absorbed into the francophone Cameroon culture,” says Ngan.

     

    Originally, children in anglophone Cameroon were taught in English by English-language teachers. But after the country reunited, the central government began posting French teachers to the anglophone regions to teach children in English.

     

    They were also expected to teach the children using the anglophone sub-system of education, which has a different syllabus and different methods of evaluation and certification from the francophone sub-system.

     

    TAC also complains that competitive exams for the most prestigious public universities and colleges are set in French only; and qualified English speakers are often excluded in admissions into state schools, even in the anglophone regions.

     

    Explaining the practical challenges for schools in the anglophone regions, Dr. Valentine Banfegha Ngalim, a senior lecturer at the University of Bamenda, said: “For example, in the English sub-system, history and geography are two distinct subjects to be studied. On the contrary, in the francophone sub-system, the two subjects are combined and popularly described as ‘Histoire-geo.”

     

    Other challenges include: single subject certification under the English system and group certification under the French one; different course lengths; and different numbers of exams with different timetables of study.

     

    As a measure to erase these differences, the Cameroonian government launched plans to harmonise them. But this met with stiff resistance, mostly from anglophones who argued that it was just another way to systematically suppress their culture.

     

    “This completely undermined the original intentions of the founders of the nation to build a bicultural nation, respecting the specificity of francophone and anglophone Cameroonians,” says Ngan.

     

     

    Although the majority of teacher trade unions called off their strike in February 2017, separatists continue to impose curfews and abduct people as a means to push the local population to refrain from sending children back to school.

     

    As a result, tens of thousands of children haven’t attended school since 2016. Local media is awash with stories of kidnappings of children and teachers who do not comply with the boycott, while rights groups say the disruption of education puts children at risk of exploitation, child labour, recruitment by armed groups, and early marriage.

     

    “Schools have become targets,” a July 2018 Human Rights Watch report notes. “Either because of these threats, or as a show of solidarity by parents and teachers with the separatist cause, or both, school enrollment levels have dropped precipitously during the crisis.”

     

    In June, Amnesty International said at least 42 schools had been attacked since February last year. While latest statistics are not available, it is believed that at least 100 separate incidents of school kidnapping have taken place since the separatist movement turned violent in 2017. More than 100 schools have also been torched and at least a dozen teachers killed or wounded, according to Issa Tchiroma, Cameroon’s minister of communication.

     

    The separatist view

     

    Speaking to IRIN last month in Bali, a town neighbouring Bamenda – the capital of Northwest region – armed separatist leader *Justin says his group is enforcing the school boycott started by the teacher trade unions.

     

    “They (teachers) started a strike action to resist the ‘francophonisation’ of the anglophone system of education, and the evil francophone regime arrested and detained their colleagues, shot dead schoolchildren, and you expect us to sit down and watch them killing our people?”

     

    “We don’t want the schoolchildren of Ambazonia to be part of the corrupt francophone system of education,” he said. “We have designed a new school programme for them which will start as soon as we achieve our independence.“

     

    *Laba, who controls another group of armed separatists, is more categorical. “When we say no school, we mean no school,” he says emphatically. “We have never and will never kill a student or teacher. We just want them to stay home until we get our independence and begin implementing our own system of education.”

     

    There are about 20 armed separatist groups across the two English-speaking regions. They operate independently, and separatists have publicly disagreed on the various methods of imposing the school boycott.

     

    Both Justin and Laba accuse the government of staging “some” of the school abductions in order “to discredit the image of the separatists internationally”. But they also admit that some armed separatist groups are guilty of kidnapping and killing children and teachers.

     

    “We don’t kidnap schoolchildren,” Justin says. “We just impose curfews to force them to stay home.”

     

    But for many parents and schoolchildren, staying at home for this long is already having devastating consequences.

    school_children_returning_from_school_in_buea_one_of_the_few_places_in_the_english-speaking_regions_where_some_schools_still_function._2_1920.jpg

    School children in uniforms walk on the street toward camera
    Arison Tamfu/IRIN
    Schoolchildren returning from school in Buea, one of the few places in the English-speaking regions where some schools still function.

    ‘Everything is different’

     

    Parents who can afford it have enrolled their children in schools in the French-speaking part of the country – mostly Douala and Yaoundé. But the influx has caused fees to rise in the francophone zones. Tuition fees that normally cost $150 annually have now more than doubled to $350.

     

    Beyond the costs, parents also need to transport their children from the troubled regions, along a very insecure highway, to apply for enrollment.

     

    When they get there, success is far from guaranteed. A lot of the francophone schools are now at full capacity and have stopped accepting students from anglophone regions, meaning many children will likely have to stay home for yet another year.

     

    Those studying in a new environment can also take quite a while to adapt.

     

    George Muluh, 16, had been at a school in the Southwest region before the conflict but is now attending Government Bilingual High School Deido in Douala.

     

    “Everything is just different,” he says. “I don’t understand French. The classrooms are overcrowded. The teaching method is different. I am getting more and more confused every day. I just want the conflict to end so I can go back to the Southwest to continue my studies.”

     

    It might be a long while before George has that opportunity. To the Cameroonian government, the teachers’ grievances have already been solved.

     

    “The government has employed 1,000 bilingual teachers, allocated two billion CFA ($4 million) to support private education, transferred teachers who could not speak French and redeployed them to French zones. These were the demands of the teachers. What do they want again?” asks Tchiroma, the minister of communication.

     

    But Sylvester Ngan, from the Teachers Association of Cameroon (TAC), which defends the rights of English-speaking teachers in the country, says most of these measures are cosmetic and don’t solve key issues related to French-only exams and francophone teachers in English schools.

     

    Leave the children alone

     

    While the government and teachers’ unions argue about who is right and what education system to implement, the war is ongoing, people are dying, and tens of thousands of children are not in school.

     

    “No reason can be advanced to justify the unwarranted attacks on children in general and pupils who are seeking to acquire knowledge and skills,” says Jacques Boyer, UNICEF representative in Cameroon. “All children in the regions must be able to go to school in peace.”

     

    President Paul Biya, 85, who just won another seven-year term after 36 years in power, has ignored calls for an inclusive dialogue to end the conflict. The first related measure he undertook after the October election was the creation of a commission to disarm and reintegrate former armed separatists.

     

    Cameroonian political analyst Michael Mbah describes the move as “a joke”, saying that a ceasefire and dialogue must precede any serious attempt at disarmament and reintegration.

     

    Meanwhile, the next year looks bleak for children like Lum whose futures are being decided by a war beyond their control. “I have always wanted to become a medical doctor,” Lum tells IRIN, but she now fears her dream will be shattered by the persistent conflict.

     

    "Leave the children alone,” says *Raymond, a father of four whose offspring haven’t been able to study for close to two years now.

     

    “We, parents, cannot afford to raise a generation of illiterates,” he says. “The future of the children is being sacrificed, just like that."  

     

    *Names changed at the request of the interviewees for security reasons.

     

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    A generation of unschooled Cameroonians, another generation of conflict?
  • UN appeals for record $4 billion to help the people of Yemen

    The UN appealed Tuesday for $4 billion to cover humanitarian needs in Yemen in 2019 – its largest country appeal ever – and announced its first appeal related to Venezuela, calling for $738 million to help those who have fled the country’s economic meltdown and health crisis.

     

    The UN appeal to help some 2.2 million Venezuelans living in neighbouring South American countries was one of 31 humanitarian response plans released for 2019 by the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, in an overall $21.9 billion donor funding request.

     

    The total price tag is swollen by Yemen, where the UN’s call to help 15 million people is the largest country appeal in the UN’s history. The equivalent appeal for aid within Syria was $3.64 billion in 2018, while costs for Syrian refugees across multiple countries was an additional $5.6 billion.

     

    Intensifying conflict and displacement, hunger, irregular imports, and a macro-economic crunch have driven 24 million people – nearly 80 percent of Yemen’s population – into need, and half of those may require food assistance in the months ahead, according to the UN.

     

    UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said “the extreme edge could get taken off the suffering” in Yemen if peace talks and the military outlook improve, but the UN planning is looking at “what the situation will actually be, rather than wishful thinking”.

     

    Vittorio Infante, humanitarian advocacy advisor for the NGO Islamic Relief, said that given the scale of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, especially in the province of Hodeidah where recent fighting has made conditions worse, the UN’s record ask was merited.

     

    “$4 billion is a lot of money, but this pales in comparison to the dire need in Yemen, where [the majority] of the population are relying on humanitarian aid to survive,” Infante told IRIN.

     

    “Our staff in Hodeidah are helping people with literally nothing left because they have sold all their belongings just to make sure that their families are fed. However, as long as this conflict continues, this amount will merely be a plaster on a fragile humanitarian situation.”

     

    The Venezuelan appeal, meanwhile, is set to help Colombia and other host countries, but it does not cover needs inside Venezuela, where the government resists any labelling of events as a humanitarian crisis.

     

    A UN-managed emergency fund released $9.2 million to UN agencies to step up humanitarian-related responses within Venezuela in November.

     

    “People describe what’s going on in different ways,” Lowcock told IRIN, referring to Venezuela’s reluctance to term it a humanitarian crisis, adding that inside the country the UN is only “trying to scale up our support” and expand its “normal activity”.

     

    Mixed picture

    In Geneva to launch the package, dubbed the Global Humanitarian Overview, Lowcock said the UN and its NGO and governmental partners had drawn up plans to help 93.6 million people in 2019 – about one in 70 of the world population. The number of people in need and the value of total appeals would be about the same as in 2018, reaching a price tag of around $25 billion once Syria’s plan was completed, he said.

     

    Syria’s response plan is as yet uncosted. Lowcock said finishing it was delayed until February while the UN attempts to gather fresh data on needs inside the country. The update will require Syrian government flexibility on in-country surveys and access to boost the credibility and data behind funding requests – a measure demanded by donors on which Lowcock has been seeking Damascus’ cooperation.

     

    According to OCHA, a number of situations around the world have eased this year, including in Burundi, Iraq, and Somalia. Others have improved and no longer require emergency plans: Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Senegal.

     

    But some situations have worsened. in Cameroon, the number of people in need has jumped 77 percent thanks to a brewing civil war, while Afghanistan’s appeal, due in part to conflict and drought, is 41 percent higher.

     

    A third category contains countries where the situation remains serious but relatively unchanged: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Sudan.

     

     

    UN-coordinated humanitarian response plans are a compendium of projects from UN agencies and NGOs on the assistance they will provide, such as supplying food, running clinics, providing clean water, and setting up shelter.

     

    Even though they are presented as meeting only the highest priority needs, the plans are, on average, only 56 percent funded in 2018. Some emergencies struggle to capture donor interest (Haiti got only 11.2 percent of the requested funding), while others, like Afghanistan and Iraq, which command greater international attention, tend to do better.

     

    Separately on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced its 2019 emergency appeal, for 2.1 billion Swiss Francs, for which Syria, South Sudan, and Iraq are the largest country operations.

    (TOP PHOTO: Displaced families from Hodeidah receive UNHCR assistance in Bajil district, Hodeidah province, Yemen. CREDIT: Haitham al-Akhali/UNHCR)

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    UN appeals for record $4 billion to help the people of Yemen
    Cameroon's conflict and Venezuela’s exodus also highlighted by 2019 fundraising drive
  • IRIN Roundtable: Countering militancy in the Sahel

    The YouTube images are ubiquitous: angry young men brandishing guns, promising violence in the name of religion. What is so often unseen, obscured in the rush to condemn, is an understanding of what drives these (mainly) men to join militant movements – and of what may convince them to disengage from conflicts that have claimed tens of thousands of lives and left close to 11 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

    Over the past year, IRIN explored those issues as part of our reporting on the humanitarian impact of the interrelated jihadist conflicts in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Mali – and the possible paths to peace.

    Earlier this month we brought together three people who have had front-row seats on the rise of violent extremism in the region to discuss our recent reporting and next steps in slowing the rise of militancy and restoring stability to the region.

    Read more: Countering militancy in the Sahel

     

    To counter violent extremism, understanding its causes is key. “Structural factors” – poverty and government neglect – are often cited as laying the ground for jihadism to flourish.

    Read more: Why some Malians join armed groups

    What is often omitted, though, is the power an ideology has when a cause is framed as “sacred”. In northeastern Nigeria, the Salafist-jihad movement Boko Haram, draws on culture and history to portray its resistance to a “corrupt” government as a religious duty for all Muslims, in a region that has been a centre of Islamic learning for centuries.

    Boko Haram’s propaganda promotes an Islamic piety that is readily understood in the rural villages. As a result, they “are winning hearts and minds”, noted Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development. The challenge for the government is to prove the benefits of democracy and constitutional rule.

    Read more:  Taking the fight against Boko Haram to the airwaves

    The panelists identified an overly militaristic response as likely to further fuel violent extremism. “The whole issue with a lot of these kinds of terrorism strategies is that they are treating the symptoms as opposed to the causes of radicalisation and extremism,” Ryan Cummings, a South Africa-based risk analyst who is co-authoring a book on so-called Islamic State, pointed out.

    A security-driven approach tends to overlook the complexities of the conflict, removes other options from the table, and serves to internationalise the fight, the panelists said.

    In Mali, for example, there are troops from France, Germany, Italy, and the United States, as well as a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, a five-nation regional intervention known as G-5, and an EU military training mission.

    Read more: A dozen shades of khaki: counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel

    And yet Mali is as deadly now as in 2012, when the spillover from the Libyan crisis bolstered a Tuareg rebellion, which in turn facilitated the growth of jihadist movements.

    Read more:  New violence eclipses Mali’s plans for peace

    How to move forward? There are growing calls to bring the insurgent groups to the negotiating table as part of a political process. But such initiatives are fraught with complications over finding the right channels to reach the jihadist leadership, and developing trust and the domestic conditions to enable talks.

    Read more:  Negotiations with jihadists? A radical idea gains currency in Mali

     

    Mali, Niger, and Nigeria have all launched amnesty programmes to peel away militants looking to surrender. But it is unclear whether these initiatives are not just another form of counter-insurgency rather than part of a genuine attempt at political settlement, the panelists suggested. Moreover, such programmes provide impunity for fighters who have carried out acts of violence, while their victims are ignored – receiving neither justice nor financial support to rebuild their lives.

    Read more:  Peace in northeastern Nigeria requires justice for military crimes not just Boko Haram atrocities

    And the panelists emphasised that local communities must be included in any peace and reintegration processes. More on that – and those cupcakes – below.

    Highlights of the conversation, edited for clarity and length, follow.

    The panelists

    • Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development, a policy and advocacy think tank covering West Africa.
    • Ryan Cummings, a director at the South African risk mitigation firm Signal Risk, and co-author of a book on the so-called Islamic State.
    • Chika Oduah, a multimedia journalist who has spent the last several years covering the conflict in northeastern Nigeria.  

    Moderator: Obi Anyadike, IRIN editor-at-large and a research fellow on violent extremism with Open Society Foundations.

     

    On the root causes

     

    Ryan Cummings: “The important aspect of it is – whether the violence is driven by ideology or a sense of marginalisation – there is a disconnect in the social contract between the communities affected [by radicalisation] and the state, and even within the communities themselves.”

    Idayat Hassan: “I think the al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram is the future of the insurgency. In this sect you have very young people who are well trained and have a [firm] set of beliefs … They do not target people [preferring to focus on the military] and when they enter communities they are well received. Their emphasis is on winning hearts and minds, on making themselves a bulwark against the ‘wicked’ Nigerian government.”

    Read more:  The danger of a better-behaved Boko Haram

    On the mistake of militarisation

    Cummings: “You have communities that are being victimised by extremist groups but are also perceived as being sympathetic towards them, and so are also victimised by these counter-terrorism initiatives – carried out by foreign forces for the most part. [Military strategies need to be balanced] by a softer approach, with a focus on greater democratisation, building state capacity and focusing on development.”

     

    Hassan: “I think the biggest challenge we have is the militaristic approach, and this simplistic belief that most of these groups are not ideologically oriented; that they are mere criminal groups, or that most of the challenges are as a result of the underdevelopment in the Sahel [and are not political].”

    On the humanitarian toll

    Chika Oduah: “I think in Nigeria, this is probably the hugest humanitarian crisis seen since the 1967 civil war. What we're seeing is really of epic proportions, and it's way too much for the local government to handle; it's too much for the federal government to handle. And I think also perhaps the international community's becoming overwhelmed, because there are other crises competing for resources.”

    Read more:  In Nigeria, healing the scars of war might curtail its spread

    On paths to peace

    Cummings: “It’s a very difficult process, because ultimately there are certain conditions that need to be met for these groups to enter into dialogue. And within these groups themselves, you might find factions that are conducive to dialogue whereas others are completely resistant to it. [But] the minute that you do open a dialogue channel you are ultimately listening, as opposed to increasing the potential for radicalisation.”

    “To achieve a binding peace and that degree of social cohesion which is conducive to a binding peace… you do need to have a process that focuses on addressing the ideology behind the radicalised mindset, to create a position for those voices to be heard. But you must also moderate them to the extent where leveraging violence is no longer considered an option.”

     

    Hassan: “When you are focusing on a military approach, you are not dealing with the vital issue of accountability. You are not making governance work for the poor by delivering public goods and services. You are not building trust. It then becomes impossible to defeat the insurgency.  

     

    Read more:  How jobs can help Niger win the war against Boko Haram

    On reintegrating ex-jihadists

    Hassan: “There are no explicit frameworks in terms of carrying out these deradicalisation, rehabilitation, and reintegration programmes. And this raises challenges both in terms of international law [the terms under which the fighters are detained prior to release] and in moving forward to their reintegration.”

    “In the community, people do not have food, people do not have clothing, people do not have shelter. Yet the government is attempting to bring back ex-militants who have committed war crimes but have been treated better than the communities to which they are returning – they’ve even had vocational training.”

     

    “People in the community want to understand how a 16-week programme will actually deradicalise insurgents – some of them known to the community because they've actually bombed their house, killed their families, or maimed them.”

     

    Read more:  Boko Haram: Nigeria winning the battle but losing the war?

    On “conflict-preneurs”

    Oduah: “Unfortunately, there are many people in northeastern Nigeria who have profited from the Boko Haram insurgency – from the people at the top all the way down to the woman on the street who's selling groundnuts. They're benefiting from ‘foreigners’, like myself, who are coming to do reporting, they're benefiting from the aid workers who are there. There are accusations that soldiers are also benefiting. There are stories of them controlling some of the trade routes, especially the [lucrative] fish market in the Lake Chad region.”

    Hassan: “The humanitarians are also accused of benefiting. The locals say, 'Look, you guys should go, because, one way or the other, you are the ones that are profiting from this conflict – so you can have opportunities, so that you can do your research, so that you can bring food.’  So just for instance… you're talking in terms of vocational training for people, but in one IDP programme they are training them on how to bake cupcakes – cupcakes! For what? Here, people do not [have money to] eat. They definitely do not have money to buy cupcakes.”

    Read more:  Fighting violent extremism – humanitarians beware

    On gender

    Hassan: “I think it's very important to point out that women are not powerless, particularly in their involvement with Boko Haram. There's been so much focus on showcasing women as victims rather than actors in this whole insurgency. But there is another side. I have personally met women who were involved in the insurgency [who are now IDPs], and they want to go back to the bush and believe fervently in the doctrine.

    “So they are not helpless. They are not necessarily victims. Some are happy participants, and some of these women are even the ones who are building the next generation of Boko Haram.”

    Read more:  Coerced or committed? Boko Haram’s female suicide bombers

    On vigilante groups

    Oduah: “Vigilantes are filling the gap left by the security forces [but they have committed excesses]. I know of some vigilantes who have engaged in criminal activity alongside Boko Haram, and they're not being stopped. Many of the vigilante [leaders] are making a lot of money, and they're building huge houses across northeastern Nigeria, and they're looking for political positions as well.

    “It's something that we see often in Nigeria, where people who are supposed to protect the community become the terrorists. Right now there are no talks to find a way to engage these young people who have risked their lives. Many of them are literally sitting on the sidewalk smoking, getting high. So as long as they're out of school and unengaged, they're [a danger].”

    Read more:  Nigeria wakes up to its growing vigilante problem

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    One size doesn’t fit all. What works? What doesn’t?
    IRIN Roundtable: Countering militancy in the Sahel
  • Refugees post-Pittsburgh, Rohingya trauma, and Pacific island storms: The Cheat Sheet

    Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar:

     

    Peace overtures on Yemen

     

    Yemen’s peace process, which has been going nowhere fast for quite some time, may have received a jump-start this week. First, US defence secretary James Mattis told an audience in Washington, DC that the warring sides were ready to come to the UN table and that he expected a ceasefire and talks to begin within 30 days. Then, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed suit with a statement on ending the war and starting talks (with wording that has been parsed again and again). UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed support; the UN’s envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he’s committed to getting negotiations going within a month. Then, seemingly every aid agency issued a statement of its own. Why now? Might it have something to do with talk of famine in Yemen, or perhaps the scandal enveloping Saudi Arabia around the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Check back with us for more.

     

    Humanitarian makeover

     

    "Traditional humanitarian response remains plagued by deep power imbalances, needless rivalries between organisations, and perverse institutional incentives" – not a big revelation to regular IRIN readers, perhaps, but a blunt report card anyway. It comes from think tank Centre for Global Development (CGD), which is starting a new research project, running until 2020, analysing why reforms to the international humanitarian system have fallen short and what might work better. Initial lines of enquiry, according to a posting by Jeremy Konyndyk, a former US donor official and now a senior fellow at CGD, include: more clarity on how donors make decisions, delinking the UN's role in policy-setting from operational response, and looking again at a way to better define needs and response based more on local perspectives. The project is looking at three broad areas: business models, governance, and field practice. Earlier this year, we heard from another research project along similar lines, this time from the UK-based think tank Overseas Development Institute. The lead researcher wrote at the time that they had identified strong opportunities for a better system, but: "Change is elusive. It’s not fully within our power; it’s political, and we have little influence..."

     

    The starting point fits with the message of this year's World Disasters Report, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It cautions that the "system" that claims to be the international humanitarian apparatus is selective, partial. The report, "Leaving No One Behind", argues that too many situations and people are falling through the cracks. For more, check out the IFRC secretary general’s commentary for IRIN.

     

    Rohingya mental health: culture and context

     

    Nearly one million Rohingya refugees swell the refugee camps of southern Bangladesh, and more than 100 aid groups are trying to help them. But there’s little information on how the refugees conceive of and process trauma, which makes it challenging for NGOs and Bangladesh’s government to offer effective mental health and psychosocial support. A new report by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, compiles existing research on Rohingya culture and concepts of mental health conditions. The guidelines caution that Rohingya interpretations of trauma are not always equivalent to the psychological concepts of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety. Understanding these “sociocultural aspects” of mental health, the guidelines advise, is crucial to “providing effective culturally informed services to the Rohingya”. We explored this issue in a recent story looking at what mental health professionals might learn from the network of traditional and religious healers in the Rohingya camps.

     

    US synagogue shooter also hated refugees

     

    The man accused of killing 11 people during services at a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday appears to have had a fixation with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (better known as HIAS), posting rants on social media like: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” Founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, these days HIAS helps resettle refugees of all religions, in partnership with the US government. Donations to the aid agency have reportedly poured in since the shooting, and HIAS says it is determined to continue its work. But staff in Philadelphia, who have helped 100 refugees start new lives in the US this year from places like Myanmar, Syria, and Iraq, say many new arrivals are shaken, both by the attack and the rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the country. As HIAS’s executive director in Pennsylvania, Cathryn Miller-Wilson, put it: “Our clients are hysterical, nervous, scared, and upset.”

     

    The gulf between Somalia and Côte d’Ivoire

     

    This week Somalia found its way to the bottom of the 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, an annual report ranking the best and worst functioning countries on the continent. It was preceded by South Sudan, then Libya. These three "worst-governed countries”, plagued by high levels of insecurity, civil strife, and lack of rule of law, are also humanitarian hot spots on the continent with, between them, more than 13 million people in need of humanitarian aid. On the flipside, Côte d’Ivoire, recovering from two civil wars in the last 15 years, showed the “greatest improvement” and was the only country to improve in all categories, placing it third behind only Mauritius and the Seychelles. Overall, however, the report noted that the number of internally displaced people across Africa rose from 10.2 million in 2009 to 14 million in 2017, while the number of refugees rose from 2.7 million in 2008 to 7.3 million in 2017. "The lost opportunity of the past decade is deeply concerning,” said the foundation’s chairman, Mo Ibrahim. "Africa has a huge challenge ahead.”

    Attack highlights acute unemployment in Tunisia

     

    A suicide bomber injured nine people in Tunis on Monday, and the attacker – a 30-year-old female college graduate who had been jobless for three years – was not known to have extremist ties. The attack was a reminder that despite several years of relative peace, politically polarised Tunisia still faces security threats, but it has also put the spotlight on the country’s flagging economy – a third of graduates are unemployed. While many migrants and asylum seekers pass through Tunisia on their way to Europe or stay to look for work, an increasing number of Tunisian nationals are also chancing it on the Mediterranean: Tunisians are now the number one nationality arriving on Italy’s shores; 22 percent of the total. They are also dying at sea: a 23-year-old Tunisian man drowned in a shipwreck on 7 October, one of 1,783 people documented to have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.

    In case you missed it:

     

    CAMEROON: Security forces and separatist fighters have each blamed the other for the death of Charles Wesco, a US missionary killed in crossfire in the restive anglophone region this week. Hundreds of unarmed civilians have died and tens of thousands more have been forced from their homes since the conflict erupted in 2016. Read our two-part special report from inside the separatist ranks.

     

    MARIANA ISLANDS: The damage is still being tallied from Typhoon Yutu, which destroyed hundreds of homes in the Northern Mariana Islands last week and caused at least 15 deaths when it barged across the northern Philippines this week.

     

    SOUTH SUDAN: Two years after fleeing South Sudan, rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba on Wednesday to celebrate a peace deal with President Salva Kiir. But some have questioned whether last month’s agreement is holding, with the World Food Programme saying that violence in some areas is blocking food aid.

     

    SYRIA: Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen has been officially named as the UN’s next envoy for Syria. Check out Aron Lund’s rundown of what Pedersen will be up against when he starts the job early next month.

     

    TONGA: Still recovering from February’s Cyclone Gita, the Pacific Island nation of Tonga is warning residents to expect at least one severe cyclone during the peak November-to-April storm season, due to “climate variability brought about by global warming”.

     

    Weekend read:

     

    US policy ‘wall’ for Latin American asylum seekers

     

    Central Americans and Mexicans are continuing to flee gang violence, repression, and poverty by heading north, but many are finding they can’t cross the border into the United States to claim asylum. Read Eric Reidy’s first instalment from the US-Mexico border, where he outlines “legally dubious practices” by US border officials. The US asylum system is being stretched to a “crisis point”, as the registration process is slowing down even as large numbers continue to arrive. The result is heavy build-up on the Mexican side, where hundreds of asylum seekers need basic services. US President Donald Trump has promised to greet thousands of northern-bound Central American migrants and asylum seekers with twice as many troops on the border. And while Trump’s move garners headlines around the globe, some 300,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo forced out of Angola back to their conflict-riven home region of Kasai receive a fraction of the coverage. They too fled violence at home and find themselves in a similar predicament. UNICEF expressed its concern for the children caught up in both crises, some 80,000 in DRC and an estimated 2,300 now making their way to the US border on foot.

     

    And finally:

     

    All Puerto Rico wants for Christmas ...

     

    Tropical storms unleash destruction in moments, but recovery takes months and years. Last September, Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the Caribbean, causing dozens of deaths and extensive damage. More than a year later, places like Dominica are still rebuilding “from zero”. In Puerto Rico (where the death toll from Maria is widely disputed), residents of the US territory spent nearly a year in the dark – that’s how long it took for the shattered electricity system to be reconnected everywhere on the island. This week, the design podcast 99% Invisible dives into the story of a Puerto Rican utility worker, Jorge Bracero, who used social media to feed info to residents starving for news amid the blackout, and became something of a local folk hero in the process. Listen to the 33-minute episode to learn more about a one-man news outlet, why Puerto Rico may not be building back better, and a catchy Mariah Carey cover tune.

     

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    Refugees post-Pittsburgh, Rohingya trauma, and Pacific island storms
  • Typhoon Yutu, refugee investment, and climate dragons: The Cheat Sheet

    Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar

     

    Typhoon Yutu holds the record — for now

    The strongest storm recorded anywhere on the planet this year has caused “catastrophic” damage on the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the northern Pacific Ocean, northeast of Guam. Super Typhoon Yutu reached speeds of up to 255 km/h before it slammed into the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota on Thursday. Local officials reported 133 injuries, downed power lines, and more than 100 homes flattened. US President Donald Trump authorised emergency aid for the islands. Yutu is heading west and weakening, but the danger isn’t over: over the weekend or early next week, the storm is expected to threaten 1.8 million people in the northern Philippines, where it has been given the name Rosita. If it feels like we’ve been reporting on an unusual number of powerful storms lately, there’s a reason for that. Yutu is the 10th storm this year to reach category-5 – indicating wind speeds topping 252 km/h. According to NASA, that’s the second-highest number ever recorded in a single year (there were 12 such storms recorded in 1997).

     

    The F-word in Yemen

    As you may have noticed, there has been some buzz of late about the F-word in Yemen: famine, that is. This week, UN humanitarian relief chief Mark Lowcock warned of “a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing” the country, a few days after Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland said the only way to reverse the “fatal trend” towards famine was to bring about a political solution to Yemen’s war. Médecins Sans Frontières has since weighed in, saying that while it had witnessed an increase in severe acute malnutrition in some areas, so much of Yemen is inaccessible that it’s impossible for humanitarians to get a full picture of malnutrition across the country. “There is no quality data available to declare that a famine is imminent,” a MSF statement noted. It’s true that a declaration of famine is based on surpassing precise numerical thresholds, but there are political concerns at play here too. Catch up on Yemen’s hunger crisis – which is impacting millions, official famine or not, with our briefing.

    Ebola + conflict zone = peril for aid workers

    Two health workers responding to the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were killed last weekend when rebels opened fire just outside the city of Butembo in the northeast of the country. The pair were members of a Congolese military medical unit stationed in "dangerous zones" to assist national border health officials, the country’s health ministry said. It added that health teams in crisis-affected areas are coming under attack an average of three or four times per week, a level of violence not seen in any of the country’s previous nine Ebola outbreaks. The current one has killed more than 90 people, mostly in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which have been plagued by armed rebellions and inter-communal killings since two civil wars in the late 1990s. The weekend attack appeared to be the first time Ebola health workers were killed. Due to the worsening security situation, the World Health Organization last month revised its risk assessment of the outbreak, from “high” to “very high”. It has highlighted the perils of dealing with Ebola in “an active conflict zone” and warned that security incidents could severely impact response activities in the region. And that, of course, means the risk that the virus will continue to spread may rise.

     

    Water worries in Basra schools

    It’s the start of the academic year in Iraq, and with Basra’s main river still contaminated and water and sanitation facilities having collapsed, the Norwegian Refugee Council is warning that 277,000 children in the southern city are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases such as cholera while at school. Unemployment and shortages of public services, including water, caused months of protests in the city. In a recently released survey by PAX, and NGO, 81 percent of respondents in Basra said “poverty or lack of livelihood opportunities” was one of the two main factors likely to cause local conflict in the coming year. Twenty-two percent cited a lack of basic services, which remains a problem for Basra’s children and adults alike. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reports that 110,000 people have been poisoned in some way by the bad water. That includes the EU’s ambassador to Iraq, Ramon Blecua, who tweeted earlier this month that water pollution had made him sick, too.

     

    Indonesian tsunami, one month later

    Aid groups responding to the 28 September earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province are warning of new risks emerging in the coming weeks. Early assessments estimate that at least 211,000 people are displaced, staying in about 250 damaged villages or nearly 1,000 campsites. Many are living in makeshift shelters made of “little more than flimsy plastic, bamboo, cloth, and grain sacks”, according to the Indonesian Red Cross. World Vision and its local partner, Wahana Visi, say at least 110,000 survivors are children now living in evacuation centres. Aid groups say the looming rainy season adds to the health threats, with warnings of diarrhoea, malaria, dengue, and respiratory infections. The Salvation Army says there is a crucial need for mental health care and trauma counselling, while UNAIDS says a reduction in stocks of antiretroviral drugs poses a risk for people living with HIV. The official government death toll from the disaster still stands at about 2,100, though it’s believed the actual total could be much higher.

     

    Banking on refugees

    Refugees are a good credit risk. Data from micro-lender Kiva shows that refugees' loans in Jordan have a perfect 100 percent repayment rate (slightly higher than their hosts). NGO International Rescue Committee reports that refugees in the US pay off car loans at a higher than average rate. As traditional aid groans under the weight of high numbers of displaced people and refugees, can't for-profit finance plug some gaps? A recent report from the new Refugee Investment Network defines what ought to qualify as a "refugee investment" – in terms of ownership, impact, or management. RIN describes itself as a groundbreaking "impact investing and blended finance collaborative". It’s study gets ahead of controversial clichés like "entrepreneurial" refugees (no sewing machines are mentioned) to analyse what a range of market players deem "investable" and what type of "connective tissue" is needed to stimulate deal flow and an investment "ecosystem".

     

    In case you missed it

     

    Afghanistan: Afghanistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in the southern province of Kandahar on 27 October. A planned nationwide vote was postponed in Kandahar last week following a Taliban attack that killed a prominent police chief. There’s no word yet on when elections will reach the province of Ghazni, which briefly fell to the Taliban in August.

     

    Australia: The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, this week urged Australia to “immediately evacuate” all refugees and asylum seekers still held on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and the Pacific island of Nauru. In a statement, the agency said there’s a growing recognition that “lives are at immediate and critical risk”. Australia’s controversial asylum policies forced some 3,000 asylum seekers arriving by boat to have their refugee claims processed offshore. UNHCR estimates roughly half this number remains. This month, Nauru’s government forced Médecins Sans Frontières to leave.

     

    Bosnia-Croatia border: Six people were injured this week as Croatian police and migrants clashed on the border with Bosnia. Hundreds of migrants and refugees blocked the main road into Croatia, a European Union member, after receiving false information that Croatia would let them enter, according to Balkan Insight. Another 90 migrants and refugees leaving northern Bosnia by train this week were not allowed to disembark in Sarajevo and were returned to the Bosnian border town of Bihac. Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees are trying to leave Bosnia, just one of the many stops on the so-called Balkan route. Watch for our report on the situation at the Bosnia-Croatia border next week.

     

    Cameroon: Cameroon’s Paul Biya, 85, Africa’s oldest leader, won a seventh term in office in a presidential election held on 7 October, according to results announced this week. Nationally, turnout was 53 percent, but in some English-speaking northwestern and southwestern regions affected by a separatist rebellion that has displaced some 240,000 people, it was as low as five percent, according to the International Crisis Group. Some would-be voters in these regions were reportedly intimidated not to cast ballots.

     

    Honduras: The US is expected to send 800 or more troops to its southern border in anticipation of the arrival of thousands of people, mostly from Honduras, who are walking to the US in the hopes of seeking asylum. The migrant caravan has garnered plenty of publicity and a fair bit of misinformation, too – check out this New York Times debunker of viral images of the walk and stay tuned for our own coverage of what’s happening at the border.

     

    South Sudan: Hundreds of civilians were abducted by South Sudanese rebels and government forces between April and August this year, with many still held in captivity, the UN Mission in South Sudan reported, saying the abductions might amount to war crimes. The army denied the accusations; a rebel spokesman said they would be investigated.

     

    Tanzania: Police have arrested 104 suspected militants, charging them with planning to establish bases in neighbouring Mozambique, where a growing insurgency has killed at least 50 people this year. Since October 2017, Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province has seen periodic attacks by suspected Islamists reportedly seeking to impose Sharia law in the Muslim majority province. Last week,Tanzanian police inspector general Simon Sirro said security forces had launched operations over the last few months against “criminals” in areas bordering Cabo Delgado, but that some suspects had managed to flee. Earlier this month, Mozambique put more than 180 suspected militants on trial over this year's attacks.

     

    The weekend read

    What economic meltdown looks like in Venezuela

    Save some time this weekend for the first of our reports from inside Venezuela. Journalist Susan Schulman has chronicled the humanitarian impacts of the country’s economic collapse, which has seen more than 1.6 million people flee the country in the last three years. That’s roughly five percent of its total population. Venezuela’s government says there is no humanitarian crisis, but the stories of worried families and frustrated medical personnel navigating a crumbling health system suggest otherwise.  Venezuelans now rely on dozens of tiny local medical foundations for life-saving drugs, yet these provide a mere band-aid over an imploding health system. And Schulman’s photo essay from inside a hospital depicts a debilitated health system: shortages or a complete dearth of antibiotics and other medicine, run-down equipment, dirty facilities, and often no running water. For more on those fleeing Venezuela, see IRIN’s earlier coverage on border crossings into Colombia and on local aid for asylum seekers in Trinidad and Tobago.

     

    And finally

     

    1.5 dragons or two?

    It’s an unsettling fairy tale with an ambiguous ending – not your typical childhood bedtime story, perhaps, but that’s what you get when a climate scientist writes an allegory for a world facing a changing climate. Scientist Kate Marvel published her fairy tale, “Slaying the Climate Dragon”, in the Scientific American this month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning that “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes” would be required to stave off climate change’s most severe impacts. The world’s leaders have pledged to try to limit global temperature rise to “well below 2°C”, but smaller nations in particular say a target of 1.5°C is essential to avoid the worst impacts – a point made clear in the IPCC report. Marvel told NPR that she wrote her fairy tale “because it’s really hard to relate to things that we can’t tell stories about”. When it comes to climate change, she said, “there are no heroes and we are kind of all the villains”. So how does this tale end? Is it even possible to slay half a dragon? Read it here.

     

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    Typhoon Yutu, refugee investment, and climate dragons

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