(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Reporter’s View: Susan Schulman on the push and pull of migration in Sierra Leone

    What drives migrants to leave their homes and loved ones? What do they find when they return?

    These questions motivated reporter Susan Schulman to visit Sierra Leone, where she spoke with people who had returned home penniless after failed attempts to reach Europe only to find themselves ostracised by their families and former communities.

     

    Hear what drives Schulman, in the interview above, and read her full story, part of our Destination Europe series that explores the choices and challenges faced by hundreds of thousands of migrants who follow dreams of life in Europe.

    Reporter’s View: Susan Schulman on the push and pull of migration in Sierra Leone
    "They were rejected by families in part because of just shame."
  • Opinion | Ebola responders must learn language lessons from the 2014 epidemic

    August 2014 was a scary time in West Africa. Ebola was spreading rapidly and the international community was waking up to a disaster that ultimately killed more than 11,000 people.

    In the midst of the epidemic, UNICEF and Catholic Relief Services published ominous survey results: In Sierra Leone, one of the hardest-hit countries, 30 percent of respondents believed Ebola was transmitted by mosquitoes; another 30 percent believed it was an airborne disease. Moreover, four out of 10 respondents (42 percent) believed hot salt-water baths were an effective cure.

    Many reports evaluating how different agencies responded to the epidemic pointed to a lack of community engagement or understanding of local culture as key early failures. A big part of that failure was the inability of aid workers to converse in local languages.

    In the three most affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – people speak more than 90 languages. Literacy levels are low, especially in the official national languages (French and English), and yet Ebola-related materials were mostly in written form in those languages.

    This early shortage of information for non-literate people and speakers of minority languages left significant swathes of the population in deadly ignorance.

    ACAPS, a non-profit specialising in research and analysis of the humanitarian sector, found that in both Liberia and Sierra Leone women died in greater numbers than men at the beginning of the outbreak, in part because they had less access to information and communication channels.

    Four years on, we are again responding to Ebola outbreaks: this year there have been two in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world.

    In the area affected by the latest outbreak, Beni Territory, the predominant languages are Swahili, Nande, and Mbuba. There are barely any trained translators for Nande and Mbuba, languages not supported by Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, Facebook, or Amazon.

    Community engagement is now a priority activity for some agencies. They write guideline documents and blogs about it, discuss local communication preferences, and make it very clear they are trying to learn the lessons of the past. Maps showing what languages are spoken where have proved useful to organisations working to curb the spread of the virus.

    The organisation I work for has helped provide local health workers and at-risk populations with localised translations of critical information. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the World Health Organisation are coordinating closely with local organisations, national health service providers, and the DRC Red Cross to make sure people get timely information in a language and format they understand and trust.

    It’s heartening to see that, even in such a complex and difficult context, aid agencies can and are trying to communicate effectively.

    Still, some aid agencies rely on untrained and under-supported national staff or community leaders to interpret or translate for them. Our research in other contexts has found that even local aid workers don’t always understand what they are being asked to interpret. Comprehension rates among those carrying out field questionnaires, for example, are as low at 35 percent in some places.

    Too often responders use a national language or regional lingua franca (such as Swahili), assuming, sometimes incorrectly, that everyone will understand.

    Weak data on the languages people speak and understand means there is no evidence base for developing effective communication strategies. Language support is often absent from humanitarian budgets and programme plans, which leads to a lack of high-quality translation and interpreting services and an inability to mobilise such services early on in a response.

    Think of language as a factor of vulnerability: it intersects with everything we do. Meaningful two-way communication fulfils a vital function in an emergency response, as pivotal as providing food, water, or health services.

    To keep themselves and their families safe, people need critical information in a language they understand, such as, in the case of Ebola, how to best wash their hands or bury their loved ones. To be effective and accountable, responders need to be able to understand the needs and concerns of affected people.

    Opinion | Ebola responders must learn language lessons from the 2014 epidemic
  • Eritrean refugees, UN laggards, and disasters times three: The Cheat Sheet

    Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar:

     

    Flight risk

     

    In the viral humanitarian gesture of the week, Swedish student and activist Elin Errson refused to sit down on a flight from Gothenburg to Istanbul until a man being deported to Afghanistan was removed from the plane. Amnesty International has argued that nowhere in Afghanistan can be considered safe, but the Swedish Migration Agency says “the situation differs from region to region” and continues to deport asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected. If you weren’t present one of the 4.2 million times (that’s the count as we write this Cheat Sheet) Errson’s Facebook Live footage was viewed, the man was finally removed from the plane. But he’s likely back on another, or soon will be. The footage shows tension build as one passenger confronts Errson while others back her up. The 21-year-old social worker-in-training tears up but remains composed throughout her protest. As for the man who was removed from the plane, a spokesperson for the Swedish Prison and Probation Service told the Guardian he would be deported as soon as alternative transport was found (such deportations have been interrupted before). “You do it once or twice, and if it doesn’t work we rent a private plane to send them back to Afghanistan, or wherever,” explained a Swedish police spokesperson.

     

    Fruits of the olive branch

    Few leaders have brought about such dramatic change in so many areas so soon after coming to power as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The repercussions of his most astonishing diplomatic coup – finally mending fences with Eritrea 20 years after the neighbours fought a devastating border war – may be felt all the way to Europe. Here’s why: for two decades, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki used the threat of renewed conflict with Ethiopia to justify a system of prolonged conscription. The prospect of being stuck in the military with terrible working conditions and negligible pay has long been the key driver of Eritrea’s youth exodus, even though leaving the country exposes migrants to the well-known risks of kidnap-for-ransom, torture, detention in Libya, and drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Now that Abiy and Isaias are best buds, commentators and journalists are beginning to ask if that could all be about to change. Another war is surely unthinkable, and mass conscription, which often lasts for years, is therefore unjustifiable. Coupled with the economic boost that renewed bilateral trade could deliver, might staying at home suddenly be much more attractive?

     

    Ebola: Beaten but not defeated

    It took millions of dollars, hundreds of people, an experimental vaccine, a mass information campaign, and a few helicopters, but the UN’s World Health Organisation announced on Tuesday the end of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ninth Ebola outbreak – one that claimed 29 lives and experts feared could have developed into a major regional epidemic. It’s a much-needed success story for the WHO, and one that lies in stark contrast to the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which killed 11,000 people. “But unfortunately this isn't the end of the road for Ebola, as we know it is a disease that will continue to appear in future,” Josie Golding, head of epidemic preparedness and response at the Wellcome Trust told the BBC. Golding’s grim prediction was validated almost immediately: On Thursday, health officials in Sierra Leone said a new strain of the Ebola virus had been found in bats and could potentially be transmitted to humans. It is not yet clear whether this has already happened, or whether the new strain can even cause the deadly Ebola disease. We’ll keep you posted.

     

    Disasters can be either natural or man-made, right?

     

    Wrong, according to many experts and, now, a punctilious Twitter account. There's no such thing as a "natural disaster", according to many analysts, including a 2010 report commissioned by the World Bank. There are natural *hazards*, which may or may not cause a disaster, depending on what humans do about them. We hear that an international task force working on the Measuring Extreme Events and Disasters project has agreed to stop using the term "natural disasters" altogether (to signal the importance of preventative action and perhaps limit fatalistic attitudes). Now there's a Twitter account that politely nags users of the phrase: @NoNatDisasters. If that's not aggressive enough, you can install an extension to the Chrome browser that will automatically replace all instances of the phrase "natural disasters" on any web page. Even the UN's disaster preparedness body, the UNISDR (which, #awkward, emerged from the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction) says there's no such thing.

     

    But, readers, do you agree? Would it be (wait for it) disastrous to drop the phrase altogether?

     

    Disasters, design, and gender-based violence

     

    Speaking of disasters, with thousands displaced in Laos and disruptive flooding in parts of the Philippines, here’s a timely reminder from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: the risk of gender-based violence rises after disasters. In a report released this week, researchers surveyed 1,800 people previously hit by disasters in Laos, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Respondents in all three countries reported a jump in domestic violence and child marriage after disasters. Researchers say the risks of these and other problems, like trafficking, harassment, and child abuse, increase as basic services break down, and response plans and evacuation shelters often fail to account for the different needs of women, men, and children. So what can governments and aid groups do? The Red Cross says a good start would be to ensure evacuation centres have separate spaces for women and men, adequate lighting, and separate – and lockable – toilets.

     

    And one more, from Vanuatu

    Completing this week’s disaster trifecta – for the second time in less than a year, an erupting volcano has forced officials in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu to order the complete evacuation of tiny Ambae Island. Manaro Volcano on Ambae began spewing ash over parts of the island in March, posing a threat to water sources. This week, the local Red Cross released pictures showing how new ash fall had covered food gardens, plantations, roads, and water sources on parts of Ambae’s southern edge. At one point the ash blocked out the sun and forced 1,000 people to leave, according to Radio New Zealand. Government disaster officials say the accumulated ash and debris could actually alter the path of streams during a heavy rainfall, producing more dangerous floods and landslides. Residents on the island have been living with fear and uncertainty for months. In October, authorities also evacuated Ambae’s entire population when the volcano began erupting.

     

    In case you missed it, 23-27 July:

     

    • Syria/Jordan: Fearing punishment from advancing government forces, 422 members of Syria’s Civil Defence (known as the White Helmets) and their families were evacuated to Jordan via Israel last week, and it appears they will be quickly resettled in the UK, Canada, and Germany. More volunteers were not able to get out of southwest Syria, and President Bashar al-Assad says they can surrender or “be liquidated like any other terrorist.”
    • South Sudan: Demonstrators demanding jobs and accusing aid agencies of hiring mostly non-locals stormed and looted about 10 agency compounds in northwestern Maban County on 23 July. Medical charity MSF has suspended most of its activities in the area. On Thursday, the government and main rebel group signed a preliminary power-sharing deal aimed at ending a civil war now in its fifth year.
    • Laos: Questions mounted this week after part of a hydropower dam collapsed in southern Laos, sweeping away downstream villages, displacing more than 6,600 people, and killing at least 27 (with 131 others still missing). A few key ones: why did downstream communities get little or no warning? Are early warning systems in the Mekong region actually equipped to react? Will this disaster slow the rapid pace of dam construction in the region?
    • United Nations: In a rare "name-and-shame" move, the UN says it’s facing a severe cash crunch, and, to rattle the collection tin, it has listed all the countries behind on their dues. In a statement, the UN thanked 112 countries for paying up their 2018 membership fees. But it also provided a list of 81 states that are late, including some rich nations. While it is used to having to chase members for their contributions, the UN says "cash flow has never been this low" at this point in the year. It also stresses that it's not just a question of differing financial years. Chief amongst the laggards is the United States, which pays 22 percent of the UN's regular budget. In total, the UN says it's owed $809,990,043.53. Check out our handy map below for more:

     

     

     

    Our weekend read:

     

    Searching for Othman

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    Annie Slemrod/IRIN

    War. Displacement. Return. You won’t think about those words in the same way again after reading “Searching for Othman”, which traces the story of war, displacement, and return by following the life of one five-year-old Iraqi. Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod provides a unique window into the problems of displacement and sectarianism gripping Iraq as it tries to recover from years of war, most recently against so-called Islamic State. This spring, 18 months after encountering a silent toddler with shrapnel wounds when visiting a camp for displaced people in Western Iraq, Slemrod returned to Iraq to find him. Along the way, she finds a country recovering, slowly but unevenly. As she writes: “There were maps, graphs, and reports by aid agencies that documented who went where and when. … What was harder to discern, with the numbers showing people returning in waves, was what displaced people were now heading back to. The stats didn’t offer many clues about what had happened to the kids who had lost parents, missed years of school, and spent years away from home.” It’s a perfect read for a lazy summer afternoon.

     

    And finally:

     

    Ready-to-wear?

     

    An IRIN editor who shall remain unnamed recently perused Elle UK at an airport (yes, we have interests other than humanitarian catastrophes, thank you very much) and noticed a model in a jumper bearing what appeared to be the World Food Programme’s logo. A bit of Googling, and lo and behold, Balenciaga’s Autumn/Winter 2018 collection (unveiled in March, because that’s how high fashion does things) includes several WFP-branded items. Balenciaga’s website says it has already given a quarter million dollars to the UN agency, and will donate 10 percent of the sale price of WFP items (hats, t-shirts, and bum bags) sold between 25 August and 1 February. The fashion house’s items do not come cheap, so this sort of charity is not exactly for the masses, but somebody’s clearly buying: this neon yellow logo tee is already sold out at Saks, months before the October ship date.

    (TOP PHOTO: A man wades through a flooded road at a village in southern Laos. CREDIT: Nhac Nguyen/AFP)

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    Eritrean refugees, UN laggards, and disasters times three
  • Missing pages, more on that jacket, and inside the mind of the Taliban: The Cheat Sheet

    Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar:

    What they didn’t say about Eastern Ghouta

     

    If you’re looking for some grim reading this weekend, try the newly released 23-page report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria on the long (more than five years) siege of Eastern Ghouta. It includes intimate descriptions of a life forced underground by aerial and ground attacks: doctors moving between shelters to care for patients, furniture and plastic burned in stoves until food nearly ran out, and a few shared toilets. The way pro-government forces conducted the siege was a crime against humanity, the report states, and rebel forces are also accused of war crimes for indiscriminate shelling. As dark as all that is, the report could (and maybe should) have been darker. What’s missing from the report are seven pages – an earlier draft was leaked to the New York Times – that contained gruesome details about chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta and placed blame on the regime. A member of the commission said those bits were left out because they needed more corroboration. Perhaps, as the leak certainly suggests, there was dissension in the ranks?

     

     

    South Sudan: “A missed opportunity to save lives”

     

    Maybe you saw the photo: An awkward bear hug between South Sudan’s warring rivals as they met face-to-face in Ethiopia this week for the first time since 2016. But President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar made little tangible progress towards resolving a civil war that has devastated the world’s newest nation for almost five years. The warning issued by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as he coaxed the two leaders into that bear hug, that “each second and minute that passes with the business as usual is a missed opportunity to save lives,” seemed to fall on deaf ears. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan and more than three million have fled their homes since the conflict broke out. And more than seven million lack sufficient food to live healthy lives, with conflict hampering the delivery of emergency aid. There are fears that famine may return to some parts of the country, with the eastern Pibor county, where floods and pests have ravaged crops, at particular risk. We’ll have more on this soon.

     

    What the Taliban talk about when they talk about peace

     

    Dare we say it? A grassroots peace movement and an unprecedented (though temporary) Ramadan ceasefire have created rare space for, yes, cautious optimism in war-torn Afghanistan. The government has unilaterally extended a short-term ceasefire against the Taliban, and NATO forces say last week’s Eid al-Fitr truce – during which Taliban fighters and government soldiers posed for selfies – puts the country on the “edge of opportunity” for peace. So what’s the Taliban thinking around all this? A pair of studies released this week offer rare insight on the Taliban mindset. The United States Institute of Peace interviewed three dozen rank-and-file Taliban members, field commanders, and community members who support the Taliban cause to explore the group’s views on peace negotiations, trust (or lack of it), and what an acceptable peace deal might look like. Meanwhile, the Overseas Development Institute examined what life is like in areas under Taliban governance – and how Taliban influence on public services such as health and education can stretch to areas beyond its direct control. “Better understanding of how the Taliban govern, and what drives their policies, is essential for aid access, human rights advocacy and any future peace deal,” the report notes.

     

    US child migrant separation: Do u care?

     

    We were going to use this space to shout out the companies and employees who took a stand against the Trump administration’s policy of separating children and parents who enter the US southern border illegally, including several airlines that said they would not fly kids who had been split from their families. But here’s the thing: like half the internet (including the president), we’re having a hard time getting over what first lady Melania Trump wore on her way to a children’s shelter in Texas this week. The offending item was an army green jacket (Zara, if you must know) that said on the back “I really don’t care. Do u?” Her husband had already used an executive order to back off the policy when Melania made the ill-advised fashion choice, but critics point out his order doesn’t exactly amount to compassion. It appears that children may now be kept with their families in detention indefinitely. Hundreds of kids are still far from their families, and there’s no real system in place to reunite them. Which reminds us to remind you: next week is a big week for the International Organization for Migration, when the next director general will be elected here in Geneva. Before that happens next Friday, if you care about migration you might want to read our op-ed in which Jeremy Konyndyk asks whether a vote for Ken Isaacs – the White House nominee for the post, which is usually held by an American – is a vote of support for Trump’s migration policy.

     

    How to add to PNG’s earthquake troubles

     

    Add political unrest to Papua New Guinea’s quake-hit Southern Highlands Province, and the humanitarian crisis there only grows worse. The government recently declared a state of emergency there after protesters disputing a local election set fire to buildings in the provincial capital. The UN and aid groups have evacuated staff and suspended assistance in parts of the province, which was one of the hardest hit by a February earthquake. It’s the latest setback for response efforts to what the country’s ambassador to the UN this week called the “the most challenging humanitarian situation” in Papua New Guinea’s history. Aid groups say people displaced by the quake still need clean water, food, and shelter. But responders have struggled to reach remote communities across vast distances and difficult terrain. Read more? The surprise hotline helping quake survivors in Papua New Guinea

     

    It’s aid report season: here’s a round-up

     

    It's June, so it's raining humanitarian reports at the UN's annual humanitarian get-together, the Economic and Social Council's Humanitarian Affairs Segment. States, NGOs, agencies, and advocacy groups discussed policy and trends from finance to preventing sexual abuse. It wrapped up this week with a final communiqué.

     

    Here's a partial list of the set-piece reports put out alongside those New York meetings:

     

    The annual Global Humanitarian Assistance report tallied $27.3 billion in 2017 emergency flows, an increase of 3 percent on the year before. Only 0.4 percent went directly to local NGOs, a proportion that's barely budged despite calls for more aid to be "localised". Giving way to local groups is not just about money – some international NGOs also have committed to stop poaching staff, and set fairer terms for grant agreements, for example. An alliance of 34 international NGOs that have signed up to better localisation, Charter4Change, also issued its annual round-up.

     

    Publish What You Fund, an advocacy group, issued its annual ranking of the data availability and transparency of major development agencies. The Asian Development Bank tops the list for the first time, followed by the UN Development Programme and the UK's Department for International Development. At the other end of the scale, aid donors China, United Arab Emirates, and Japan got "very poor" red cards.

     

    Also this week, the UN put out a 40-page update on the global progress targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, with a chunky 127-page statistical annex.

     

    Last week we mentioned the independent review of the Grand Bargain emergency aid reforms and another one on transparency. The rest of the Grand Bargain documents are here.

    Our weekend read:

     

    Destination Europe: Homecoming

     

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    Susan Schulman/IRIN

    These numbers are familiar, especially after this week’s World Refugee Day, but it never hurts to be reminded of them: 68.5 million people around the globe have been forcibly displaced from their homes, including 25.4 million refugees, 40 million internally displaced people, and 3.1 million asylum seekers. The vast majority, some 85 percent, live in developing countries that receive little support.

     

    Against those stark stats, the Aquarius boat fiasco, which we highlighted on last week’s Cheat Sheet, was just the latest example of how Europe is trying to close its doors to migrants and asylum seekers amid a rise in support for populist, xenophobic policies.

     

    So, as EU leaders hold an emergency meeting in Brussels on Sunday to overhaul the EU's asylum system, this is the perfect weekend to start reading our two-month special series, “Destination Europe”, which gives the 360-degree view on how EU policies are impacting refugees and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa – putting a human face, as it were, on those start stats above. Susan Schulman gets the ball rolling by telling the stories of returnees to Sierra Leone who have given up on their dreams of Europe. They return penniless, often to families who no longer want them and see them as failures. In the coming instalments, Eric Reidy reports from Niger and France on the lucky few being evacuated from Libya and those stranded in the migrant hub of Agadez, and Tom Westcott provides the latest from inside the detention centres and coastal hubs of Libya where smuggling people to Europe is an ever-more desperate endeavour.

     

     What’s Rohingya for “chlorine tablets”?

     

    Working on a hygiene programme but stuck on how to translate “bathing cubicle”, “open defecation”, and “oral rehydration salt” between the five languages used in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps? There’s an app for that. Translators Without Borders have launched a glossary app for aid workers and interpreters working on water, sanitation, and hygiene programmes in the Rohingya camps. The glossary spells out 180 key terms across five languages: English, Bangla, Burmese, Chittagonian, and Rohingya. The nuances of language and communication continue to be an obstacle in the camps, and aid groups have been accused of not doing enough to listen to Rohingya refugees themselves. TWB says clear communication is especially important now during the monsoon season, when heavy rains will increase the risk of flooding and disease.

     

    And finally:

     

    G-O-A-L for Peace

     

    Heard of the #WorldCupofPeace? We hadn’t either, but Virgin Group founder Richard Branson (who admits he’s “never been much of a football fan”) is tweeting and doing interviews about a plan – backed by some major humanitarian organisations and, um, Peter Gabriel – for a truce in Syria to last the duration of the tournament. But we’re one week in, and while host country Russia (a belligerent in the war) is exceeding expectations on the pitch, there’s no ceasefire in sight.

     

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    Missing pages, more on that jacket, and inside the mind of the Taliban
  • Destination Europe: Homecoming

    As the EU sets new policies and makes deals with African nations to deter hundreds of thousands of migrants from seeking new lives on the continent, what does it mean for those following dreams northwards and the countries they transit through? From returnees in Sierra Leone and refugees resettled in France to smugglers in Niger and migrants in detention centres in Libya, IRIN explores their choices and challenges in this multi-part special report, Destination Europe.

    Read the other instalments: Homecoming, Evacuation, Frustration, Desperation, Deportation, Demoralised, Misery and misunderstanding part 1 and  part 2, and Libya's southern borders

    Mariam Sesay, 28, knew her family would be delighted if she were in Europe. The benefits of having someone there were obvious – better houses, children well dressed and never lacking school fees or food. Sons and daughters in Europe were the pride of their families. Everyone in Sierra Leone wanted someone in the family to be abroad.

    So when Mariam heard about the so-called “Italian Programme”, she decided she would go.  

     

    It was June 2017. Without telling anyone, she sold her father’s land, turned the $2,500 over to the “connection agent” organising her trip, and left her hometown of Magburaka in the east of Sierra Leone (on a series of buses via Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso) for Agadez in Niger, where she was told she would catch a flight to Europe.

     

    But in Niger, there was no flight, and the agent she had paid was unreachable.

    A year later, Mariam has no money, nowhere to live. She is back in Sierra Leone sleeping on the concrete floor of a house in Makeni, three hours east of the capital, Freetown. If her hosts don’t share their food with her, she doesn’t eat. The police are pursuing her for an unpaid debt. Everyone looks down on her. Even her family has disowned her.

     

    Mariam had been in nursing school before she left for Niger. She pulls a photo from her pocket, taken in the hospital ward before her departure. In it, she is wearing a nurse’s uniform and smiling broadly, a confident young woman on the brink of a professional future.

     

    Tears roll down her cheeks as she looks at the picture.

     

    It is a far cry from the woman she is today.

     

    Sitting behind a tree in the dusty yard where no one can hear her, Mariam confides that she is barely coping. “I am worried – about everything. I am worried about prison. I am lonely, stressed, depressed.”

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    Susan Schulman/IRIN
    Mariam Sesay: "I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but when I got back it was even worse.”

    The stigma, she says, is the least of her problems. She is haunted by what happened to her in Niger and Libya. “My secret has already become part of me,” she says, biting her lip. “It is hard to work it through.”

     

    The journey

     

    What Mariam is trying to work through began in Agadez, long the gateway for traders travelling from sub-Saharan Africa to the north. For centuries, caravans of camels carried salt, gold, ivory, and slaves across the desert sands. In recent years, convoys of pick-up trucks overflowing with people and contraband have plied the vast, difficult to govern route.

     

    The town once bustled with throngs of migrants, mostly looking for a way north to the coast and the chance to get to Europe. But in 2016, the Nigerien government began enforcing an EU-backed anti-smuggling law that drove the migration business underground.

     

    Still, it didn't take long for Mariam to join other stranded Sierra Leoneans shortly after she arrived in Agadez last year.

     

    “When we saw all the Gambians and Senegalese and Nigerians and Ghanaians, all heading across the desert, we decided to go, too,” she explains. Piling into a pick-up, the group headed off.

     

    Five months later, as Mariam left the Tripoli prison where she had been detained, again, after her second attempt to cross the Mediterranean failed, the better future she had dreamed of seemed further away than ever.

     

    This time, however, she would not try again. She decided to return home.

     

    Mariam had had enough. Along the way, she had been raped, starved, and beaten; bought and sold by captors who demanded money she didn’t have. Others phoned families back home who would go into debt cobbling funds together to free their loved ones. Not Mariam. “I didn’t have a phone, the money, or the guts to call back home,” she admits. “I would cry a lot and fear it was the end of my life, and all I could think of was how I would die here alone and no one would ever know.”

     

    On 21 November 2017, Mariam boarded the first repatriation flight organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) from Tripoli to Freetown. It was not to be a happy homecoming.

     

    A way back home

     

    In early 2017, both UNICEF and IOM published reports documenting the abuses, violence, and slavery that migrants were suffering en route to Europe through Libya. But it wasn’t until CNN’s secretly filmed footage of migrants being sold in slave auctions aired in mid-November 2017 that the world took notice and calls for action echoed around the globe.

     

    As governments focused efforts on their nationals in Libya, IOM scaled up its Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme – an initiative designed to help stranded migrants return home and reintegrate. Sierra Leone had not previously been part of the repatriation programme but quickly contacted IOM. Within weeks, two flights had brought 228 migrants home.  

     

    The repatriation programme is nominally voluntary – IOM will not force anyone to return – but these impossible choices are packed full of pressure.

     

    IOM contacts migrants in the prisons and ask if they want to stay, proceed, or return. Even for those who have suffered horrific treatment before ending up in the appalling conditions where IOM often finds them, it is an agonising decision. Often the IOM’s programme is the only way to leave prison without paying the sums demanded by extortionists for release.

     

    But returning home means giving up on the dream of Europe. And as many have borrowed or stolen money or property to finance the journey, they worry about the repercussions of returning empty-handed.  

     

    Of the 338 migrants registered for the two repatriation flights in November 2017, 110 failed to board. They slipped away from the airport, some having made arrangements with airport workers offering rooms to hide those awaiting passage across the Mediterranean.  

     

    ‘I can’t forgive her’

     

    The sale of the land and the money Mariam spent has left her father, Sheik Ali Conteh, 44, seeking assistance for the first time. Her failure has compromised her family’s position in the community.

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    Susan Schulman/IRIN
    Mariam's father, Sheik Ali Conteh: “Shame has impacted on us. I can’t forgive her.”

    “I didn’t know what my dad would say. I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but when I got back it was even worse,” Mariam says, wiping tears from her eyes. “My father and my whole family have disowned me.”

     

    Fifteen miles away from where his daughter now resides, in Makeni, Conteh pulls up a bench in front of the his modest two-room home. He looks over at his wife, resplendent in a yellow dress, ready for Friday prayers. She is silent, staring sadly.

     

    “Shame has impacted on us.” he confesses. “I can’t forgive her.”

     

    The response of Mariam’s family reflects the depth of desperation in a society stretched to breaking point by poverty.

     

    Fifteen years after war devastated the former British colony, Sierra Leone is ranked 212th out of 229 countries in terms of GDP. Poverty, unemployment, and corruption are rampant. Across the country, people struggle to put food on the table and send children to school.

     

    Lack of job opportunities has long encouraged Sierra Leoneans to seek work outside the country. Libya was the prime destination until its collapse in 2011 – a collapse, Isata Kabia pointed out during a conversation in February, (before she was replaced as Sierra Leone’s minister of social welfare) that has contributed to the flow of migrants setting out for Europe. “Prior to that, internal migration within Africa worked,” she added.

     

    The 2013-2016 Ebola crisis in West Africa further compounded the country’s problems, imposing an economic impact equivalent to $125 per person as businesses closed, tens of thousands were laid off, and agriculture went into decline.

     

    The push and the pull

     

    Given the difficulty of earning a decent living in Sierra Leone, having a family member in Europe or abroad can make all the difference.

     

    “Everyone wants to have someone in Europe. They live fine! Fine!” exclaims Chief of Women Kuma Mbayo, 70, in the eastern town of Koidu. “If I had someone there, I wouldn’t be sitting here in the dust!”

    2400_kuma_mbayo_70_chief_of_women_117.jpg

    Susan Schulman/IRIN
    Chief of Women Kuma Mbayo: “Everyone wants to have someone in Europe. They live fine! Fine!”

    The view of Europe from Sierra Leone is an alluring one and many migrants describe an unspoken pressure to go. “Those who left and made it to Europe are highly respected,” explains 25-year-old Sheku Kamara in Freetown. “Those that stay behind are seen as failures.”

     

    “My family was always optimistic about people travelling – they saw it as a success story – so even while I was gone, they were positive,” says Sheku, who stole $1,000 from his uncle to fund his journey. “They even organised a funeral for me when they heard I was dead,” he adds.

     

    Like Mariam, Sheku failed to reach Europe and his reception back in Sierra Leone has been similar. His stepfather Osman Kamara is far from happy to see him back again.

    Anywhere but home: Sheku Kamara’s story

    1 / 5

    Sheku Kamara spent two years trying to get to Europe.
    2 / 5

    His early attempts to cross via Morocco ended in hospital in Rabat, recovering from a near-lethal beating by security forces. After being discharged, he begged on the streets until he had enough money to make his way to Libya. But each time he tried to cross the Mediterranean he ended up in prison.
    3 / 5

    Reluctant to return home empty-handed, he tried to get sent anywhere other than Sierra Leone. “First I registered [with IOM] as Malian, then Senegalese, then Nigerian, but the Libyans took me away and when I came back the flights to those places had already gone,” he says.
    4 / 5

    ‘If I had made it – even if I didn’t send him his money, my uncle would have been able to boast and say it had been for a worthy cause and the family would have been proud someone had made it... But now, coming back after two years with nothing, my uncle sees me as a failure.’

    Still owing his uncle the money he stole, Sheku is now in hiding after his cousins threatened to stab him.
    5 / 5

    “If it were up to me,” says Sheku’s mother, Jenuba Kargbo,

    “I would have told him to continue his travelling and not come home.”

     
     
     
     
     

    “Others made it over, but he didn’t, so now I can’t accept him,” Osman rages. “He is a failure. Even if his intention was to help, he failed. We cannot accept Sheku now. He should live in the streets.”

     

    When parents discover children have stolen to make the trip, as they often have, they are initially furious, but this usually evolves into hope – hope that their debts will be repaid, hope that their loved one will reach Europe and send remittances back to help the whole family.

     

    “When my daughter left, I was so angry about her selling my land,” Mariam’s father Conteh admits. “But once I knew she had gone, I was hopeful.”

    Social media also plays a role in encouraging people to make the journey. Those who have made it post pictures of themselves on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, dressed smartly and living enviable lives, despite what their actual experience might be.

     

    “I want to believe poverty is the only problem,” says Masakama Kanamanka III, the 49-year-old Paramount Chief of Kholifa Rowalla in northern Sierra Leone. “But I also think they see greener pastures. They see people in Europe doing so well.”

    2400_paramount_chief_masakama_kanamanka_042.jpg

    Susan Schulman/IRIN
    Paramount Chief Masakama Kanamanka: "They see greener pastures. They see people in Europe doing so well."

    Horrors untold

     

    The rigours of the journey are downplayed too. Travel is kept secret, by both migrants and their families. With details never discussed, the facts about the journey are only discovered when it is too late.  

     

    Sheku Bangura, 31, was a teacher before he left for Europe. Now that he has failed and come back, the school won’t employ him anymore.

     

    “I know people who are in Italy, but they don’t explain how deep the problem [of travelling overland] is,” says Bangura. “They tell you to go to Niger and get a flight. But you get there, and there’s no flight. And then the smuggler disappears with all the money you’d already given them.”

    2400_sheku_bangura_chairing_meeting006.jpg

    Susan Schulman/IRIN
    Sheku Bangura: “When we paid out money to the agent to travel, he was so optimistic."

    Migrants describe having had no idea about the brutality and horror they invariably confront as gangs, police, rebels, and even other African migrants work the route, selling, exploiting, and extorting them – a route where beatings, starvation, kidnappings, and killings are routine, and on which women are seen as the most valuable “assets”.

     

    “We were raped day and night,” Mariam whispers, recounting her experience in Libya at the hands of people-smugglers and drivers. “If you refused, they’d beat you and shoot you. Even small boys had guns.”

     

    Many don’t survive.

     

    “Five people died in the desert as we were walking,” Hamzatu Kamara, a 12-year-old girl who travelled with her mother, Fatima, says blankly as she talks about her time in Libya. Drivers and smugglers “killed people right in front of me,” she adds, recalling how one man was beaten and then shot dead after refusing to eat the food he was offered.

    2400_re_fatima_kamara._daughter_hamzatu_068.jpg

    Susan Schulman/IRIN
    Hamzatu Kamara, 12: “Five people died in the desert as we were walking."

    Mariam relates how a friend died in her arms after being beaten, raped, and denied water.

     

    Seventeen-year-old Zainab says she was one of only seven out of a group of 23 migrants who survived their journey from Agadez into Libya. “Bodies were left where they died, not buried,” she says. “No one told their families.”

     

    Fanta Koroma, 18, and her siblings Fatmata, 15, and Osman, six, who were travelling in the same group as Mariam, were left alone after their mother died in the desert shortly after they crossed into Libya from Niger.

     

    “From Agadez is where we were suffering. People were dying as there was nothing to eat or drink,” explains Fanta. ”My mother started having chest pain. We only had a little water and we gave it to her, but she still had chest pain – and then she died.”

     

    The children who lost their mother: the Koroma siblings’ story

    1 / 2

    Fanta Koroma, 18, had just been promoted to the second year of junior high school when her mother, Kadijatu, told Fanta, sister Fatmata, 15, and brother Osman, six, they would be travelling to Europe from their home in Kona, the heart of Sierra Leone’s diamond mining industry. It was June 2017.
    1 / 11

    “I knew people who had gone and reached there. They are sending money back home and some are even building houses,” Fanta says. “People would always say a lot of good things about the people who made it over. So I felt it was a good thing, as, if we had made it over, things would have been much better.”
    2 / 11

    The family set out, travelling by bus to Guinea, then onwards to Mali, and, finally, to Agadez in Niger, where they piled into a pick-up truck and set off into the desert.
    3 / 11

    They had barely crossed the border into Libya when their mother, complaining of chest pains, lay down to rest. “When we saw her leaning on the sticks, resting, we thought she was sleeping. But when we tried to wake her, she didn’t wake up.”
    4 / 11

    Alone and distraught, the children had no choice but to continue on the journey. They described how fellow travellers died around them from lack of food and drink, while others were beaten and sold.

    Reaching the Libyan coast at Sabratha, armed men came and took them to the first of the three prison-like facilities where they were beaten, terrorised and starved. Six-year-old Osman was inconsolable with hunger and fear.
    5 / 11

    Eventually found and rescued by the UN, the three children boarded the IOM flight home on 24 November. The sisters gripped Osman’s hands tightly as the plane climbed and headed south over the desert where they had left their mother’s body.

    When she heard of her sister’s death, the children’s aunt, Fatmata Jalloh, 38, left her six children behind in Guinea and rushed to Sierra Leone to await the return of her nephew and nieces. “All of them were sick when they got back,” she recalls.
    6 / 11

    Osman spent a week in hospital getting blood transfusions. Ever since arriving back from Libya, Fanta has had a hacking cough and has been losing weight. She is sad she can no longer go to school – IOM will only allocate fees to those under 18. Her regret at not having reached Italy is becoming ever more acute.

    “I was hoping that getting over there would be worth the suffering,” she says. “But now we came back, and we came back with nothing, not even with our mother.”
    7 / 11

    As nothing else seemed to help Fanta, her aunt took her to traditional doctor Rugiatu Conteh. She leads Fanta into a small stall in the back of her house. Rubbing half a lime vigorously over the girl’s bare torso, Conteh turns it over and carefully examines it. Six tiny black seeds are lying on the desiccated flesh.
    8 / 11

    ‘‘My life is all derailed now,” Fanta murmurs.

    “She has been affected by witchcraft,” Conteh says, after examining the seeds.
    9 / 11

    Although back at school, 15-year-old Fatmata feels isolated and lonely. Haunted by nightmares, she misses her mother and tries to avoid the ridicule of classmates by refusing to tell anyone where she has been.
    10 / 11

    “It [the trip] changed me a little bit,” she explains. “Now, I feel sadder.”

    But it has also made her value her own country more and left her determined and ambitious for the future.

    “I want my country to be a better country,” she says, pausing before declaring proudly: ‘‘I want to be president.”
    11 / 11

    Her more immediate problem is becoming financially stable. “If not, then we won’t be able to continue our education,” she says, looking up. “And then it would be all over for us.”

     

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    In Tripoli, migrants are imprisoned after failed sea crossings. They can be apprehended when the houses they stay in are raided, or simply when walking on the street. They can also be imprisoned by smugglers and armed gangs as well as security forces.

     

    “The same people who captured us in boats were also the same ones who would push us out to sea and then just wait to capture us again,” says Sheku Bangura, referring to the smuggling gangs.

     

    He holds up a photo taken in one of seven prison-like facilities where he was jailed, showing dozens of semi-naked men crushed and piled on top each other. Pointing to himself in red shorts amongst the tangle of bodies, he sighs: “When we paid out money to the agent to travel, he was so optimistic.”

     

    Back, but broke

     

    The first time most Sierra Leonean families find out a relative is home is when they receive a call after the migrant has arrived back at Freetown’s Lungi airport.

     

    As part of the AVRR programme, IOM promised a reintegration allowance of €1,000 per person. Designed to kick-start new lives, the funds are given not in cash but as in-kind payments to suppliers, who then give their goods to returnees, according to pre-approved “business plans”. Many returnees – including Mariam – have found ways around this by finding suppliers who will submit false transactions to IOM and hand over the cash they receive in exchange for a cut.

     

    ☰ READ MORE: EU migration policies in brief

     

    1. Discrediting of Search & Rescue NGOs:

     

    In 2016, NGOs operating boats to rescue asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and Italy were celebrated as heroes. By the following summer, these same organisations were under attack from European politicians who levelled unsubstantiated claims that the NGOs created a pull factor for irregular migration and colluded with smugglers. In July last year, Italy introduced a ‘code of conduct’ aimed at curtailing the activities of search and rescue NGOs that caused a number of them to stop their activities. The new Italian government, which took office in June, has repeatedly blocked NGO boats carrying people rescued from the sea from docking at Italian ports, precipitating a new political crisis in Europe over migration.

     

    2. Training & Equipping the Libyan Coast Guard

     

    The EU and Italy began training and equipping the Libyan Coast Guard, despite it being linked to smuggling activities and implicated in human rights abuses. The goal of the programme was to increase the coast guard’s capacity to intercept migrant and refugee boats at sea and return their passengers to Libya. The programme has paid dividends this year as the rate of interception and return has increased dramatically and the Italians have favoured the Libyan Coast Guard over search and rescue NGOs while coordinating the response to distress calls at sea. People intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard are taken to detention centres in Libya where they are held indefinitely.

     

    3. Co-opting militias

     

    July 2017 was a turning point in the central Mediterranean. The number of people crossing from Libya to Italy was at an all time high, on pace to surpass 2016’s record of 181,000. Then, on 16 July, the number suddenly and dramatically dropped. In the following weeks, reports trickled out about the Italian government paying off militias involved in smuggling to switch their activities and begin policing the coast against departures. The Italian government denied the reports, but they have since been widely corroborated. As a result of this policy, and the increased activity of the Libyan Coast Guard, the arrival of asylum seekers and migrants to Italy has decreased by nearly 78 percent this year compared to last.

     

    4.  Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration

     

    European policies to curb migration led to a dramatic increase in the number of people being held in Libya’s overcrowded and nominally official detention centres. Irregular entry into Libya is criminalised and there are no courts set up in the country to handle migration related cases so people who are detained are held for indefinite periods of time. By October 2017, there were an estimated 20,000 people in migration detention in Libya. Since then, according to the latest data released in March, the UN’s migration body, the International Organization for Migration, has facilitated the return of just over 10,000 people to their countries of origin through an EU funded initiative called Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration, or AVRR for short. IOM emphasises the voluntary nature of the programme, but critics say it cannot be considered truly voluntary when the only choices are to remain in detention or return home. For more on this, read the first part of this series: “Homecoming”.

     

    5. UNHCR’s Emergency Evacuation Mechanism

     

    For refugees and asylum seekers stuck in Libya, returning to countries of origin where their lives could be in danger is not an option. At the end of September 2017, the EU announced it would fund a programme, organised by UNHCR, for the emergency evacuation and resettlement of people who fit into this category. So far, just under 1,600 refugees and asylum seekers have been evacuated from Libya to Niger, but in seven months only 174 people have been resettled to Europe.

     

    Migrants were told the process would take at least three weeks to implement after their return. But there was no provision to take care of the immediate problem of arriving back penniless – often traumatised, sick, or disabled by beatings, and to families who have rejected them.

     

    Making matters worse, the local media erroneously announced that the failed migrants had each been given $1,000 cash immediately upon return.  

     

    “The announcement set off a firestorm in the public,” Mohamed Sanusi, 28, head of youth programmes at Freetown’s Star Radio explains. “Everybody knew people had stolen things, sold property that wasn’t theirs, stolen cash – and they were clambering for their money. People were tracking the returnees.”

     

    Publicly exposed and relentlessly mocked, rejected by families and with nowhere to stay, some penniless returnees, like Sheku Kamara, have little option but to flee into hiding.

     

    What future?

     

    Shortly after Isata Kabia was appointed minister of social welfare in January 2018, she discovered there was no comprehensive programme for returnees. “I was confused. I thought – what – you just send people home? And you leave them just like that?”

    2400_minister_isata_kabia.jpg

    Susan Schulman/IRIN
    Former minister of social welfare, Isata Kabia: "You just send people home? And you leave them just like that?”

    She moved swiftly to set up a programme to deal with the most immediate needs, offering clothing, counselling, medical treatment, and a mediation service to help mend relations between returnees and families. Kabia ultimately wanted to establish a “safe” house at Lungi airport to accommodate returnees upon arrival, but she was replaced recently by the new administration before these plans came to fruition.

     

    The real solution, Paramount Chief Masakama Kanamanka III, political leader of the Kholifa Rowala Chiefdom in central Sierra Leone, believes, is to reduce the lure of Europe by creating opportunities at home.

     

    The government has turned its focus to stopping migration. Part deterrence and part development, its strategy includes a media campaign featuring returnees recounting their experiences, and a programme to create more job opportunities at home.  

     

    It is a welcome initiative, but one that comes too late to help the hundreds of struggling returnees. Five months after their return, the rejection by families and mockery by society is undiminished, while any means to reintegrate and move on seem out of reach.

     

    Few, if any, have been able to use the IOM money for its intended purpose to create a livelihood. Instead, the funds are often returnees’ only hope of beginning to repair relationships with families, to find accommodation, to eat, to avoid jail.   

     

    Depressed and worried, Sheku Kamara can’t sleep and barely leaves the room where he is hiding. He doesn’t see a future and is thinking of travelling again.

     

    “If I don’t find anything here, I will use IOM funds to go again,” he says. “Even if I end up going back and dying in Libya.”

     

    His family wouldn’t stop him.   

     

    “If it were up to me,” says Sheku’s mother, Jenuba Kargbo, quietly, her face etched with pain, “I would have told him to continue his travelling and not come home.”

     

     

     

    Next in Destination Europe: Evacuation

    The small village of Thal-Marmoutier in France seems like it belongs to a different world than the teeming migrant detention centers of Libya. The road to the village runs between gently rolling hills covered in grapevines and winds through small towns of half-timbered houses. A repurposed section of a Franciscan convent is home to 55 people: Thirty of them  arrived from Chad, where they had been long-time residents of refugee camps after fleeing Boko Haram violence or conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur. The other 25 – from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan – were the first migrants evacuated from Libya. They had the prize so many seek: Europe. They had reached France, but many felt as if their lives were on pause, isolated in the small village with little access to transportation. “I haven’t benefited from anything yet,” said Intissar, a 35-year-old woman. “Time is just running from my life.”

    Eric Reidy reports from Thal-Marmoutier, France and Niamey, Niger on an evacuation and resettlement programme that is perhaps the best face of European migration policy – a policy that otherwise centres on curbing clandestine migration. But unless European countries speed up the pace of resettlement and offer more spots for refugees, it is unclear if it will develop into a viable pathway to safety for more than a small handful who get the luck of the draw.

    Read the other instalments: Homecoming, Evacuation, Frustration, Desperation, Deportation, Demoralised, Misery and misunderstanding part 1 and  part 2, and Libya's southern borders

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    What happens when migrants end up back where they started
    Destination Europe: Homecoming
  • Afghanistan redux, mind your language, and Angola’s First Family

    President Joao Lourenco – can he escape “the family”?

    It’s no surprise, Angola’s next president is going to be Joao Lourenco. The big question is can the party loyalist and former general usher in any real change in Africa’s third largest economy after his electoral victory? Angola has a per capita GDP of $6,800. But, run as a “crony petro-state”, its social indicators are appalling and economy in free-fall. Lourenco has promised to crack down on corruption. Although not known for personally having sticky fingers, he is part of the system. He is the hand-picked successor to José Eduardo dos Santos who has ruled for close to four decades and will remain head of the ruling MPLA party. Dos Santos’s billionaire daughter Isabel heads Sonangol, the state oil company, and his son José Filomeno runs the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund. Lourenco is generally depicted as the candidate for continuity. Yet he will need resources to build his power base, and so the transition may have real impact on the dos Santos family's business interests. The Financial Times suggests the showdown could come with Isabel, whose job “puts her in control of much state revenue”. And the family could fight back. Rebecca Engebretsen writes in African Arguments that President Filipe Nyusi was elected in Mozambique also on an anti-corruption platform, but has since been troubled by leaks connecting him to prominent fraud cases during his time as a minister. What is clear is that change is unlikely to come overnight in Angola.

    Cameroon’s deepening language divide

    On a recent visit to Yaoundé, an IRIN journalist was rash enough, over lunch in a modest eatery, to raise Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis with the head of an NGO that works with the country’s youth. When the man suggested the main problem lay not between the restive Anglophone minority and French-speaking majority, but between the Anglophones and President Paul Biya, a women at a neighboring table, who turned out to work in Biya’s office, kicked up an almighty fuss and seemed set to have the man arrested. So sensitive is this 10-month-old crisis which has paralysed education, led to strikes in two English-speaking parts of the country, and seen dozens of activists and even bishops detained pending trial in military courts, that it cannot be discussed in public. Yet it continues to fester. At least six schools were set on fire over the past week, reportedly for failing to stick to a declared education strike. Earlier in the year, markets and government buildings were targeted. The government blames emerging separatist groups. Dialogue is moribund. According the International Crisis Group’s latest report on the issue, “ahead of presidential elections next year, the resurgence of the Anglophone problem could bring instability.” The report added that small secessionist groups that emerged this year are taking advantage of the situation to radicalise the population with support from part of the Anglophone diaspora. While the risk of partition of the country is low, the risk of a resurgence of the problem in the form of armed violence is high, as some groups are now advocating that approach.”

    A man. A plan. Afghanistan

    "It was 2 or 3 in the morning. I was woken up by gunfire. It was so loud. There were people screaming. My children were scared. My youngest was only a few months old. We all ran down to the basement. It was the safest place in the house. It was terrifying." So begins Doctor Marzia Salam Yaftali in this BBC Outlook feature linked to US President Donald Trump's announcement that American troops will remain in Afghanistan for the long haul. Doctor Yaftali is describing the situation the last time the Taliban tried to retake their northern former stronghold of Kunduz. It was 2015 and she was the gynaecologist in the city's last public hospital. Those weeks under siege were an extreme time, but the danger of a repeat and more is still real. Two years on the Taliban have made more gains in other parts of the country and half the country is now back under their control. Trump's new Afghan policy was criticised as more of the same and light on strategy and detail. But if it means Yaftali and her patients are safer, they won't complain, and Washington's renewed pressure on Pakistan is going down well in Kabul too.

    In Islamic State’s crosshairs

    So-called Islamic State’s loss of territory does not mean it has been defeated, but instead presents several new challenges, argues Megan Stewart in an article for Sustainable Security. When rebels control territory and civilians, they move from being roving bandits to stationary bandits, “incentivised to provide some form of governance”. The rise of IS was linked in part to the Iraqi state’s inability to deliver services. So without IS, “people’s needs might not only go underserved, triggering a humanitarian crisis,” says Stewart, but the governance vacuum could be filled by “equally ruthless and dangerous actors” such as al-Qaeda. She argues that civilians may also increasingly become targets, either as victims of deliberate acts of terror, or “collateral damage” as IS resorts to guerrilla tactics. “In sum, as IS transitions from controlling territory to a more clandestine network, civilians’ lives and livelihoods remain in the crosshairs. Weak rebel organisations and rebel organisations that lack territorial control are more likely to engage in terrorism and indiscriminate violence," she notes.

    Did you miss it?

    The death toll in Sierra Leone has risen to approximately 500 from recent mudslides. The event is tragic, but also characteristic – rapidly urbanising areas in West Africa and beyond all face similar vulnerabilities as Freetown. Equally characteristic has been the response, from sporadic relief to political tours of affected sites. How do we move beyond short-term intervention and mitigate everyday risks? What should the priorities be for reducing the effects of both small- and large-scale disasters? This week we explored the lessons to be learned for disaster risk reduction. Researchers from Urban Africa: Risk Knowledge have a few findings and suggestions for collaboration between governments, humanitarian actors, and the civil society.

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    TOP PHOTO: Isabel dos Santos - Africa's richest woman

    This week’s humanitarian cheat sheet
  • Freetown’s mudslides and the slippery slope of urban risk in Africa

    On Monday 14 August, the world awoke to reports of devastation caused by large-scale mudslides and localised flooding in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s rapidly urbanising capital.

     

    The death toll rose within a few days to approximately 500, with several hundred more people reported missing and thousands displaced. The full extent of this disaster and the exact losses are not immediately known and may never be fully investigated.

     

    As harrowing images drew in global sympathy, predictable post-disaster patterns ensued: sporadic inputs of disaster relief, political speeches and tours of affected sites, and a few days of “declared” national mourning.

     

    However, beyond this short-term intervention, the persistence of African urban risk and frequent disaster events raise issues that require urgent attention.

     

    Many other African towns and cities such as Accra, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Monrovia, and Dakar have recently also experienced small- and large-scale disasters including floods, large structural collapse, fire outbreaks, and disease epidemics, often following a repetitive seasonal or yearly cycle.

     

    Much can be learnt from the recent disaster in Freetown, which was caused by multiple interrelated factors: weak and fractious planning, inadequate governance and disaster preparedness, lack of affordable land leading to extensive land use change, deforestation, and land-grabbing in hazardous locations.

     

    This situation is characteristic of many rapidly urbanising contexts in West Africa and beyond marked by widespread poverty, weak local governments, and high levels of informality.

     

    Zooming in

     

    Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is one of the most rapidly urbanising regions in the world. By 2040, it is forecast that more people will live in urban areas than rural areas, amounting to approximately 854 million urban dwellers.

     

    In the context of widespread poverty, climate change, and limited capacity to plan and manage rapid urban growth, towns and cities across SSA are becoming increasingly vulnerable to and impacted by a wide range of hazards. These range from everyday perils (infectious and parasitic diseases, road traffic injuries), to small disasters (structural collapse and flash floods), to major disasters (tropical storms, earthquakes, and floods).

     

    Beyond catastrophic events, the impacts of everyday events can have a considerable and in some cases even higher aggregate impact on human health and wellbeing. This leads to cycles of risk accumulation that trap individuals and communities in conditions of vulnerability, which need to be better understood and properly addressed.

     

    The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, UNISDR, categorises large-scale disasters as high-intensity events associated with major hazards in which at least 30 persons are killed and/or at least 600 houses are destroyed. Small-scale disasters have impacts below these two thresholds.

     

    The idea of “everyday risks” speaks of systemic, characteristic, and high-frequency conditions and hazards that people and communities are continually exposed to, and could lead to losses that may not only be related to mortality or the destruction of property and may even become normalised phenomena. These include: protracted periods of illnesses from endemic infectious and parasitic diseases (not epidemics), motor accidents, isolated cases of domestic fires, persistent air pollution and poor waste management, and frequent flash flooding.

     

    It is small-scale disasters and everyday risks that are the cause of much premature death, injury, and impoverishment in urban Africa, and not always the media headlining large-scale events.

     

    Changing priorities

     

    With the shocking events and images from Freetown fresh in our minds, pressing questions arise as to what can be done to prevent recurrences and what step-change is required for effective and equitable disaster risk reduction and management in Freetown and other similar urbanising African centres.

    a_ruined_bedroom.jpg

    Olivia Acland/IRIN
    A ruined bedroom

    While the magnitude of the challenge can’t be underestimated or oversimplified, stakeholders at all levels are increasingly trying to tackle and understand the accumulation of risks with these critical considerations emerging:

     

    Risk as a spectrum: It’s important to see risk encompassing everyday, small, and large events. This helps forge a better understanding of interactions between multiple hazards and underlying drivers of risk linked to poverty, poorly planned and managed urban growth, and climate change. It also requires coordinated approaches involving urban planning and environmental management, public health, disaster management, and climate change adaptation.

     

    Addressing the most vulnerable and hazard-prone areas: People are affected differently by different risks, and are vulnerable if they’re more susceptible to being harmed or killed and/or to livelihood, income or asset loss, and if they have less capacity to cope and adapt to a hazard or disaster. Consequently, there’s a need to clearly identify which groups or areas in urban centres are most vulnerable. The most vulnerable are disproportionately impacted by disaster events and are often those living in informal and hazardous locations. 

     

    Support for local and urban action: The international and external support agencies that are very active in the aftermath of a disaster need to recognise the need to support sustained local action on the part of local governments, universities, research centres and civil society organisations – building technical and practical knowledge, raising capacity, and providing sustainable long-term support.

     

    Like many other African countries, Sierra Leone has adopted a framework that promotes a decentralised governance approach to disaster risk management. Empowering the lowest level of actors in communities helps to address a key operational deficiency in these elaborate structures.

     

    Although Freetown has recently witnessed promising cases of effective community-based disaster risk management committees set up through a circuit of NGO- and donor-funded projects, these remain very limited and fragmented.

     

    Collaboration between local governments and groups at risk is key to promote equitable dialogue and solutions. The urban poor have significant capacity to mobilise and mitigate everyday risks, but their efforts need to be acknowledged and their rights recognised.

    Filling data gaps: There’s a need for a better understanding of the nature and scale of urban risk, and greater knowledge about how urbanisation is influencing its social and spatial distribution.

    Major disaster databases such as the international emergency database ‘EM-DAT’ and the Global Disaster Identifier Number (GLIDE) tend to exclude smaller, everyday hazards – ranging from infectious diseases to road traffic injuries
and localised floods – despite the significant cumulative impacts they have on the lives and livelihoods of urban dwellers, particularly the urban poor.

    The availability of and access to detailed, systematic, and localised data on urban risks and impacts are fundamental for policymakers and development practitioners.

    Sendai’s priorities for action: The voluntary non-binding Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was adopted by UN Member States in 2015 in Sendai City, Japan. Its successful implementation will depend increasingly on risk management efforts in urban areas.

     

    The SFDRR recognises and guides the risk reduction potential and opportunities of urbanising cities and emphasises land-use planning and building standards, insurance, and the mainstreaming of Disaster Risk Reduction into planning systems.

     

    Beyond this, its priorities are positioned alongside the broader development approach of the Sustainable Development Goals – including Goal 11 of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – and UNHABITAT’s New Urban Agenda.

     

    Combined and co-ordinated action through these technical and developmental frameworks can support much-needed transformation in urban risk management to tackle the root causes of risk in social protection, land rights, environmental quality, economic opportunity, and urban governance, as well as the immediate needs of risk assessment, preparedness, response, and recovery.

     

    The adoption of the Sendai framework’s priority action targets by African urban planning and governance systems can help shift risk reduction toward development, supported by risk informed, integrated, coordinated, and programmatic approaches that recognise the centrality of breaking cycles of risk accumulation.

     

    To break these cycles and prevent or reduce the effects of disasters such as the recent mudslide in Freetown, a better understanding is needed of how knowledge of risk can lead to action. This requires collaboration between government, humanitarian actors, and civil sector organisations in partnership with local communities in both formal and informal areas.

     

    (TOP PHOTO: This man is still moving mud out of his house five days after the tragedy. Olivia Acland/IRIN)

    Freetown’s mudslides and the slippery slope of urban risk in Africa
    The authors are lead researchers on the Urban Africa: Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK) research and capacity building programme a research programme on urban risks in Africa. Research is based in cities in Senegal, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Niger to better understand the nature and scale of risks, especially for those in low-income areas. Their views are shaped by the research findings.
  • “People’s science”: How West African communities fought the Ebola epidemic and won

    Three years on from the start of the West African Ebola epidemic, lessons are still being learned. And the most surprising are not coming from the scientists, but from the affected communities themselves; about how, with hardly any help, they tackled the virus and won.

    One of the curious aspects of the epidemic, which shook Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, was the way in which the number of cases started dropping before the main international response was in place. In one area after another, the infection arrived, spread rapidly, and then – apparently spontaneously – began to decline.

    Ebola first crossed over from Guinea into Liberia's Lofa County in March 2014. A rapidly erected treatment centre at Foya, on the border, was soon full to overflowing. In September, it was treating more than 70 patients at a time. But by late October, the centre was empty.

    People’s science

    Paul Richards, a veteran British anthropologist, now teaching at Njala University in Sierra Leone, has been worrying away at this phenomenon. He is convinced the main driver of the reduction was what he calls “People's Science”; the fact that people in the affected areas used their experience and common sense to figure out what was happening, and began to change their behaviour accordingly.

    He told a recent meeting at London's Chatham House: “One of the pieces of evidence which makes me think that local response was significant is that the decline first occurred where the epidemic began, so that the longer the experience you had of the disease, the more likely you are to see tumbling numbers. So, someone was learning… People ask me, 'How long does it take to learn?'  And we don't know, but on the basis of this case study, it's about six weeks.”

    A lot of national and international effort was put into public health education, and the messages broadcast on radio were very widely heard. But initially they were not very helpful, with a lot of emphasis on the origin of the disease, and warnings not to handle dead animals or eat bushmeat. 

    In fact, it now seems likely that only the very first case came from a wild animal; all subsequent cases were caused by human-to-human transmission.  

    The villagers interviewed by Richards and his team were sceptical about the government’s warnings: “If eating bushmeat is dangerous, why did no one get ill before”, was a typical question raised.

    He found the conclusions they drew from their own observation and experience were much nearer the mark. 

    “We know our own people,” they told him. “So, we know that it’s socially obligatory to wash the bodies of dead people and to attend their funerals. We monitor very closely who's not doing that, who's not paying attention to their social duties.  

    “So, it very quickly dawned on us that the people who were attending funerals were the ones that were dying, the good people, the ones that do their social duty,” Richards recounted. “So, from that we knew that it was something to do with funerals and we started modifying our behaviour.”

    A healthcare worker stands next to a woman who had died of Ebola related symptoms. (Sep 2014)

    A healthcare worker stands next to a woman who had died of Ebola related symptoms. (Sep 2014)
    Kieran Kesner/IRIN
    A healthcare worker stands next to a woman overcome by Ebola

    Getting organised

    The areas where Richards was working in Sierra Leone had been badly affected by the civil war. But that period had taught them how to organise, and how to depend on their own resources. The Kamajor civil defence groups, which had protected villages from the notoriously brutal RUF rebels, were revived as taskforces to track cases, enforce quarantine, and bury bodies safely.

    Across the border in Liberia, the same thing was happening. Nyewolihun, a small village in the forest, not far from the original source of the outbreak, put itself into quarantine. 

    Matthew Ndorleh, the headmaster of the local school, told IRIN: “We didn't allow anyone to go and sleep in any other place, and we didn't allow anyone to come in. We set up a taskforce of young men to man checkpoints at all the entrances to the village, and everyone obeyed it.” 

    It was hard, and having to rely on its own resources meant the village ran short of rice, but although Ebola reached the nearby town of Kolahun, Nyewolihun stayed safe.

    It is clear that one of the missed opportunities in the outbreak was a failure to encourage these local initiatives and give local people the tools and techniques they needed to do the job. 

    Governments and aid agencies preferred to recruit and train official burial teams rather than teaching people how to bury their own dead safely. But there were numerous complaints about difficulties in contacting these teams, long delays, and disrespectful attitudes to the deceased. More isolated communities had no alternative but to take care of their own dead, whether they were trained and equipped or not.

    DIY response

    American anthropologists, who interviewed people in urban areas of Liberia during the outbreak, found a sense of frustration that the information campaigns told them about the origin of Ebola, how it was spread, but didn't give them practical advice on how to care for sick relatives, how to transport them safely to hospital, and what to do with corpses when the burial teams didn't arrive. 

    They wanted training, and they wanted access to protective equipment. “We have heard the messages,” said one interviewee, “but most people do not know how to practicalise them.”

    This was because Ebola is such a dangerous disease that home nursing, the transport of the sick, and do-it-yourself burials were being strongly discouraged. It took six months for Sierra Leone to finally produce a poster giving some advice on caring for the sick, and even then it was headlined, “Taking Care of Someone with Suspected Ebola: Be Safe While You Wait”. The clear message was that this was only a stopgap – professional care had to be the norm.

    And yet, in reality, people did have to take care of Ebola patients at home. The early stages of the disease are not obviously different from any other fever, and so would be nursed in the usual way. Once Ebola became obvious, patients were sometimes too sick to be safely moved, especially from off-road villages where the only form of patient transport was a hammock. 

    Richards met communities that had worked out the dangers of hammock transport for themselves, without it having been mentioned in official health messaging.

    Care in the community

    Some patients were kept at home because they and their families were terrified of the big Ebola treatment centres, where patients, once taken away, disappeared behind high fences and were often never seen again. 

    “They would transport you from your village to Freetown. You had never been to Freetown, never seen these town places,” explained Esther Mokuwa, who worked with Richards on his study. She was told by patients: “If you take me from my loved ones, even the discouragement would kill me.” 

    Mokuwa said the Community Care Centres that were eventually constructed in late 2014, although modest, were much more acceptable. 

    “People could go there; they had their colleagues working inside who could take messages; so they could relax. At the CCC, even though you were very safe, you could see them, and even stand talking. You could cook food and bring to them in the centre. Like pepper soup – pepper soup is very important in [West] Africa!”

    This was much more like normal care. People finally had a way to express their love and support, and do what they considered the proper thing for their loved ones. 

    The team investigating urban attitudes in Liberia met women who had planned in advance what they would do if anyone in their family became infected, and had worked out how they could nurse them as safely as possible. Many had seen the news reports of a student nurse who improvised protective kit from plastic bags and bin liners – and successfully nursed several family members without becoming sick herself – and were thinking how they might do the same. 

    With hindsight, it might have been wiser to acknowledge these powerful and understandable emotions, and the practical difficulties of providing professional Ebola services in remote areas, and to place more trust in the communities who wanted their own training and equipment. 

    But at the height of the epidemic there was no time to have a debate about community action and how best to harness it. The hope now is that the work being done can inform future policy, should another deadly epidemic emerge.

    eb/oa/ag

    TOP PHOTO: Community volunteers in Liberia. CREDIT: Morgana Wingard/UNDP

    MAP SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/IRIN

    Three years on, lessons are still being learned from West Africa's Ebola outbreak
  • Silence marks Ebola milestone, but scars remain

    It was an unusual day in Freetown, a West African city that loves to be loud. For three long minutes yesterday, it was eerily quiet.  

     

    At 11 o’clock at the Lumley roundabout, one of the busiest areas in town, taxis were stationary and vendors halted their hustling. Dollar boys stopped shouting their rates and, for once, the stereos blasting Nigerian Afrobeat music were switched off.

     

    The reason was a commemoration. A year ago, on 7 November, Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free. The virus had killed 3,580 people and terrorised the nation for 18 months. The three-minute silence was organised by the government to remember those who lost their lives.

     

    It had never been done before. Not even to mark the end of the brutal civil war against the hand-chopping RUF rebels that killed some 50,000 people.

     

    But Ebola is different. Despite the relatively small number of deaths, the trauma – the intimate impact of the virus on families – magnified the fear and the wrenching suffering.

     

    Remembering the dead

     

    For Ishmael Jalloh, who works as a driver for the UN Development Programme in Freetown, yesterday was a difficult day. In September 2014, he had received a devastating phone call: “Ishmael, your younger brother – Opoto – is not feeling well.”

     

    One year after the eradication of Ebola in Sierra Leone

    John Heine/IRIN
    One year after the eradication of Ebola in Sierra Leone

    Jalloh, who was not able to leave Freetown because of a national lockdown enforced by the government, asked what was wrong. Nobody knew. After three or four days, Opoto died.

     

    “They hid that information from my mother. She kept asking ‘where is my Opoto, you people?’. But by that time he was already dead.”

     

    His mother also fell ill but never spoke to anyone about her sickness. “After three days she was also gone. Then my uncle Abu fell sick. After a few days, he was gone.”

     

    Next followed his younger sister, several of his friends, and most of the family of his mother. Jalloh lost 18 family members in the early stages of the outbreak.

     

    Alaji Samura, a commercial ‘Okada’ motorbike rider from Bottom Mango Tree in Freetown, lost his wife, children, and sister to the disease. He still misses his wife terribly. “I don’t feel good, because since I grew up, that one took care of me. We were together since then. When I see the three of them (his surviving children), I really don’t feel good.”

     

    It was with people like Jalloh and Samura in mind that Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr – the head of the President's Delivery Team for Transition and Recovery – came up with the idea of organising a national ceremony. She felt it was important for the country to grieve in a formal way.

     

    “I was in church when someone was asked to pray about the Ebola outbreak. And this lady began to make reference to the death of her family members,” Aki-Sawyerr recalled. “She was really emotional about the fact that she had not been able to say goodbye; that they had not been able to remember the death with honour, with dignity.

     

    “It really struck a chord in me. All over the country there are people with the same situation. They have not had closure.”

     

    Organising a commemoration day

     

    When presidential approval was given, Aki-Sawyerr’s team only had a few days to organise a national ceremony.

    ebola_2.jpg

    Alaji Samura, a commercial ‘Okada’ motorbike rider
    John Heine/IRIN
    Alaji Samura

    It would be a challenge anywhere – but a much bigger challenge here in Sierra Leone. Newspaper readership is tiny, transport links are poor, and very few people have access to a television, so most information is spread either through local radio or word of mouth.

     

    “Everyone dropped what they were doing to get the word out there,” said Aki-Sawyerr.

     

    Mobile phone companies agreed to send out text messages, radio stations from Freetown to Makeni in the north aired radio jingles and government WhatsApp groups went into overdrive. Last weekend, both imams and pastors talked about the importance of the commemoration with their congregations.

     

    “It is not going to be perfect,” said Aki-Sawyerr, when IRIN spoke with her the night before the ceremony. “I live under no illusion.”

     

    Moses, a traffic warden stationed at Congo Cross saw little chance of success: “No way I will be able to stop the taxis if they don’t want to stop.”

     

    But against all expectations, Aki-Sawyerr’s team managed to pull it off. At 11am sharp, in the heart of Freetown and on the main beach road, people stopped whatever they were doing and the city fell silent.

     

    What was achieved?

     

    For Samura, the three-minute silence was a challenge on many levels. He doesn’t like to think about his loss, preferring to focus on the present. “I can’t stop running [my bike] at that time [of the silence],” he said, “it won’t help me.”

    Ebola burial teams in Sierra Leone are still performing hundreds of precautionary burials each week,

    Ebola burial teams in Sierra Leone are still performing hundreds of precautionary burials each week, even though there haven’t been any cases in a few weeks.
    Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/IRIN
    Sierra Leone has come a long way

    “I am an ‘Okada’ driver, and all I make on the streets is going to my children,” he explained. “I face a lot of constraints … Only God helps me.”

     

    He gets out the burial certificates of his wife and sister, given to him by the hospital. “Since that day, all the people abandon me. Even the toilet we use, they [shun it].”

     

    Jalloh was also slightly dismissive. “I thank God that all of us are going to reflect on Monday. But what will the three minutes do for me really? Nothing.”

     

    After the death of his family members, he was left to care for the children of those who passed away. “My problem is not sitting down and thinking about what happened, but how to take care of these children. It is what happens after the three minutes that worries me.”

     

    Some services, albeit limited, are available. Under the President’s Post-Ebola Recovery Priorities, the government is working to provide survivors with free healthcare, and other development agencies are providing cash transfers for Ebola survivors.

     

    But most of these services are focused on providing care for survivors of the disease, not for surviving family members, even if they are now looking after those that lost all.

     

    The living

     

    The obvious signs of the Ebola outbreak have disappeared. The buckets of chlorinated water used to disinfect hands have gone from the streets of Freetown; the emergency treatment centres have been dismantled.

     

    The National Ebola Recovery Strategy is trying to improve Sierra Leone’s health services by establishing new facilities, training personnel, and ensuring compliance with infection protection and control standards – although it is a long road to travel.

     

    Sierra Leone is moving on. Yesterday, Jalloh and Samura did observe the silence, but then went home to be with their families.

     

    “We called our people. We sat together. We asked God, ‘come eat’,” Jalloh told IRIN. “That’s the way we remember our people today.”

     

    Ig/oa/ag

    Sierra Leone commemorates the victims
    Silence marks Ebola milestone, but scars remain
  • WANTED: War criminals still at large

    Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić was today found guilty of genocide and war crimes and sentenced to 40 years in jail.

    The verdict ends Europe’s biggest war crimes trial since Nuremburg, and hopefully brings some solace to the families of the victims of the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica in 1995. Karadžić was the final case before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The tribunal is one of a series of international courts created to address the legacies of large-scale human rights violations, push back against impunity and hold individuals accountable. The list includes the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, hybrid courts like the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Special Tribunal for Cambodia, and the Hague-based International Criminal Court, with its universal jurisdiction. At times controversial, they mark a shift towards a global framework of international human rights norms.

    But first you must catch your killer. Below are three fugitives – charged with crimes of chilling proportions – that are yet to face justice.

    W A N T E D

    Joseph Kony

    Félicien Kabuga

    201011051154390753.jpg

    Joseph Kony, Lords Resistance Army
    Joram Jojo/Flickr
    Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army

    felicien-kabuga.jpg

    Félicien Kabuga
    Félicien Kabuga
    The leader of Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army may not be the world’s greatest mass murderer, but the sheer horror of his crimes means he tops our list. His rebel band is notorious for the massacres of civilians, the brutalisation and forced recruitment of children, sexual enslavement, mutilations and calculated terror. Kony grew out of the chaos of northern Uganda in the late 1980s. A self-styled messenger of God and spirit medium, he claimed to be fighting to turn the country into a theocracy, and in the process “purify” his own Acholi people.

    Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 on 21 counts of war crimes and 12 counts of crimes against humanity. Ever-elusive and a master of the bush, he is believed to keep on the move in a triangle of remote territory between South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic. He is being hunted by the Ugandan army, backed by a small team of US special forces.

    A Rwandan businessman, accused of bankrolling and participating in the Rwandan genocide. He was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1998. Kabuga was expelled from Switzerland in 1994, and spent some time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before sheltering in Kenya, where he is believed to be protected by senior figures in the former corrupt regime of President Daniel arap Moi. A reported attempt by US investigators to apprehend him in 2003 led to the murder of their Kenyan informant. In 2009 a Kenyan court froze his assets, and a legal appeal against the ruling bought by his wife was rejected in 2015.

    Kabuga, 81, bankrolled RTLMC, the radio station that spewed hate against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda. The broadcasts helped to prepare the ground for the genocide in which 800,000 people were killed. He was also one of the country’s main importer of machetes, with which much of the slaughter was carried out.

    Omar al-Bashir

    omar_al-bashir_12th_au_summit_090131-n-0506a-347.jpg

    Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir
    Jesse B. Awalt/via Wikimedia Commons
    Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

    The Sudanese president is the only sitting head of state with outstanding arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court. He was initially charged with seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2010, three counts of genocide were added. The accusations stem from the conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. Al-Bashir is accused of masterminding a campaign, waged by Sudanese forces and Janjaweed militia, “to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity”. An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 died in the government’s scorched-earth response to rebellion in Darfur by local groups challenging their marginalization.

    Some legal experts argue the ethnic cleansing charges will be hard to prove, and the ICC may have overreached. But that is moot, as Al-Bashir does not appear about to be detained anytime soon. The African Union, League of Arab States, Non-Aligned Movement, and the governments of Russia and China are backing Al-Bashir. His international travel plans are only occasionally inconvenienced – most recently when he was hustled out of South Africa last year by the government when a local court demanded his arrest.

     

     

    The ICC is still pursuing a number of indictments.  This interactive map shows ICC cases across the globe. Zoom in and out and click on each country for more details.

    Radovan Karadžić found guilty of genocide, but others still on the run
    The war criminals still at large

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