(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • 2018 in Review: Migration

    This series

    In this week-long series, IRIN’s editors highlight five themes from across our reporting that will continue to inform our coverage of the humanitarian sector in the new year: local aid; women and girls; returns and rebuilding; policy and practice; and migration. Are there untold stories we should be covering in 2019 on these or other themes? Let us know: tweet us @irinnews or get in touch here. Happy reading.

    By-products of so many of the conflicts and natural disasters IRIN covers are thousands of families forced from their homes. But countless more people are driven from their villages, cities, or homelands by persecution, slow-burning crises, or economic necessity and want.


    More people are on the move than ever before. International migrants numbered more than 250 million in 2018, a year in which terms like refugee, asylum seeker, and economic migrant again failed to speak to complex, multi-layered issues around migration – experiences that often involve several rounds of displacement and life-threatening journeys.


    US President Donald Trump made headlines with his “travel ban” and family separations, but 85 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted in developing nations like Turkey and Uganda, and 40 million of the 68.5 million people forcibly displaced are still in their home countries.


    In 2018, we sought to give voice to migrants and refugees wherever the road took them, especially on emerging routes and in situations where their choices became desperate, whether because of conflict, people traffickers, or foreign governments pursuing a harder line on immigration.


    Below are highlights from our reporting:


    Heading into war

    Crossroads Djibouti: The African migrants who defy Yemen’s war

    How desperate do you have to be to flee to a country at war? The International Organisation for Migration said up to 150,000 East African migrants will have reached Yemen by the year’s end, crossing deserts, lava fields, and the Gulf of Aden on their way to Gulf states.

    Men walk should to shoulder on a barren road


    Lost identity

    How tattered Rohingya IDs trace a trail towards statelessness

    For Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps, ID documents aren’t just reminders of what’s left behind, clung to with the distant hope they might permit a return to Myanmar, they’re also a record of the systematic stripping of their citizenship, belonging, and their very identity.

    A man holds up his ID card


    War and peace

    Eritrea-Ethiopia peace leads to a refugee surge

    More people were internally displaced in Ethiopia than in any other country in the first half of 2018, mostly due to ethnic conflict driven by scarce resources. By the second half of the year, peace and an open border with Eritrea were encouraging a new wave of Eritrean refugees.

    Portraits of two Eritreans closeup but looking away


    Economic collapse

    As Colombia tightens its border, more Venezuelan migrants brave clandestine routes

    In November, UN agencies put the number of Venezuelans to have fled the country since 2015 at three million. As Colombia, by far the biggest recipient, announced stricter enforcement at official border crossings, migrants and refugees found new, illegal routes out.

    A guard in camo with a rifle against the sky


    US border deaths

    Water in the desert

    At least 6,700 bodies have been found since 2000 on the Mexico-US border, a third of them in the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona. For 12 years, a little-known humanitarian effort has been underway to try to save migrant lives, starting with water stations on the likeliest routes.

    A cross on a small hill



    Greece’s resurgent river border with Turkey

    Before 2012, and before millions of people began crossing the Mediterranean, the Evros river was the main transit point for those hoping to make it into Europe via Greece. This March, it suddenly became popular again. The region was not prepared.

    A shoe stuck in thick barbed wire


    Rights lost

    New Italian law adds to unofficial clampdown on asylum seekers

    Tens of thousands of asylum seekers in Italy have been stripped of “humanitarian protection”, losing their right to work and to free language and skills training. But an IRIN investigation found that thousands had already seen their services cut or curtailed over the past two years.

    The back of a head in the foreground with a runway and planes in the background
    Highlights from our coverage
    2018 in Review: Migration
  • Are you a humanitarian newshound? Take this quiz to find out


    Our ‘Ten humanitarian crises to watch’ list for 2018 was sadly prescient. Next week, we’ll be publishing our 2019 list. Before we do, take this quiz to check you’re up to speed.

    There’s a question related to each item on our 2018 list, plus a couple of bonus questions at the end to keep you on your toes. Share your score on Twitter or Facebook.




    Are you a humanitarian newshound? Take this quiz to find out
  • 2018 in Review: Humanitarian policy and practice

    This series

    In this week-long series, IRIN’s editors highlight five themes from across our reporting that will continue to inform our coverage of the humanitarian sector in the new year: local aid; women and girls; returns and rebuilding; policy and practice; and migration. Are there untold stories we should be covering in 2019 on these or other themes? Let us know: tweet us @irinnews or get in touch here. Happy reading.

    The world of humanitarian aid in some ways is predictable and hasn’t changed much for years: donations flow from governments and individuals to aid groups that help those in need with food, healthcare, shelter, or clean water.


    Simple, right? Not quite. Raising the cash, controlling the purse strings, protecting data, and stopping fraud and sexual abuse are all hot-button issues that demanded the attention of the humanitarian enterprise this year.


    Here are some of the events and issues that shaped policy and practice in 2018:


    Counter-terror compliance

    Shutdowns, suspensions, and legal threats put relief in world’s troublespots at risk


    Militants, governments, and local officials may try to steal aid. Aid agencies aren’t expected to prevent every single such incident. But when they involve sanctioned and terrorist groups, US enforcement can come down hard, as major aid agencies found this year. Deliveries to some of the most vulnerable in Syria have been cancelled and aid agencies pulled out as a result.

    Aid workers offload supplies


    US funding

    Three charts on US funding cuts for Palestinian refugees


    By cutting US funding for the UN Palestine refugee agency almost to nil, the Trump administration gave a funding headache to the UN and other nations. Judging by administrative manoeuvres and the political climate, it could be a harbinger of more to come. In the case of UNRWA, the United States was paying about 28 percent of the bill – roughly proportionate to its share of global income. Some aid organisations, including the UN’s food and refugee agencies, are more dependent on the US taxpayer – up to 40 percent.

    Black and white photo of an old bearded man with his head on a burlap sack with a young girl holding it and looking into the distance


    Heads in the cloud?

    “Do no digital harm”


    An “accident waiting to happen” – that’s what a data protection analyst said of shortcomings in a cloud-based UN database of millions. Keen to beat cheats and wow donors, aid agencies have dived into digital record-keeping and biometric registration. Home-grown humanitarian IT systems hold “toxic assets” and need to be more secure and limit the risk of personal data abuse. A discussion in October offered rare candour on “doing no digital harm”, with a range of views from a blockchain startup, a data-specialist consultant, as well as officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN.

    Closeup of a digital fingerprint being taken


    Unfriendly fire

    What is humanitarian deconfliction?


    Hospital bombings have become common in the Syrian war. Many analysts (but not all), say there has been a pattern of deliberate targeting, to demoralise and crush any resistance. Perhaps surprisingly, aid groups are now voluntarily giving the coordinates of their hospitals to those doing the bombing. In the worst case, they’re handing over a list of targets. But they do it because if a declared site is then bombed, the criminal intent of the bomber will be plain for all to see. “Deconfliction” may, for some at least, be a gut-wrenching gamble, but it’s becoming more and more routine.

    A map of Yemen with many red dots


    Keeping up standards

    #MeToo sex scandals spur interest in standards for the aid sector


    Aid agencies are loosely governed: their tax privileges may be tightly defined in their home countries, but their far-flung field operations have less regulatory scrutiny. How to detect bad apples? How to know if an agency meets minimum standards? Borrowing from international best practice in other business sectors, a Geneva-based independent audit scheme is working to make quality standards transparent in the humanitarian sector.

    Closeup of a document reading This is to certify


    Plug and play

    3D printing offers new hope for war-wounded


    Clunky, heavy, and ugly, a replacement arm for an amputee is too often left on a shelf, unused. A better, lighter (and maybe cheaper) alternative may be possible using 3D printing. This pilot scheme is trying out the technology for war-wounded and disabled patients in Jordan. Hype about humanitarian innovation may be in decline, but this is an experiment worth watching.

    A man on crutches and a doctor in physical therapy
    Highlights from our coverage
    2018 in Review: Humanitarian policy and practice
  • 2018 in Review: Women and girls

    This series

    In this week-long series, IRIN’s editors highlight five themes from across our reporting that will continue to inform our coverage of the humanitarian sector in the new year: local aid; women and girls; returns and rebuilding; policy and practice; and migration. Are there untold stories we should be covering in 2019 on these or other themes? Let us know: tweet us @irinnews or get in touch here. Happy reading.

    Rape used as a weapon of war, the effects of climate change, the economic impact of conflict: women face greater risks during and after disasters.

    When it comes to humanitarian response, women are still often overlooked despite sector-wide commitments to better recognise their needs and include them in relief efforts.

    Meanwhile, abuse and harassment inside the very industry tasked with providing aid sometimes worsen the situation. Women and girls who are aid recipients can be doubly affected as they become victims, and some female aid workers have also been victimised – their relative positions of power unable to protect them.

    In 2018, as IRIN continued to highlight the challenges faced by some of the world’s most vulnerable women and girls, we also turned the spotlight on the inner workings of the aid sector, at a time when #AidToo tarnished the image of the industry.

    Below are highlights from our reporting.

    Aid’s MeToo Moment

    #MeToo, #AidToo, Exploitation and Abuse

    In revelations that shook the aid industry this year, NGOs including Oxfam, Save the Children, and the Red Cross along with a few UN agencies were implicated in sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation scandals. Our coverage identified failures in the system and helped to ask critical questions about the way forward.

    closeup of a woman's hands with fingers interlaced and blue sleeves

    UN victims

    Central African Republic: ‘I have no power to complain’

    Years after sexual abuse allegations were made against UN peacekeepers deployed in Central African Republic, IRIN’s Philip Kleinfeld visited CAR and spoke with women to reveal stark gaps in support and justice for victims, as well as new allegations from women who had not previously come forward.

    women walking across a road one stares into camera from a distance


    Rape as a weapon

    Nine months on, a race against time to find pregnant Rohingya rape survivors

    In 2017, Myanmar’s military was accused of widespread sexual violence in its crackdown on Rohingya communities. Nine months later, aid groups in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps prepared to identify and assist the women and girls who were made pregnant by rape.


    Climate and gender

    Opinion | What to do about climate change? Ask women – they have the most to lose


    Climate change affects everyone, but poor people who already live in the ecological margins are hit hardest – especially women, many of whom collect the firewood, fetch the water, and grow the food. So women must also be on the front lines of finding solutions. The struggle for climate justice and gender justice must go hand in hand.

    A woman walks in front of a temporary shelter with a water jug

    Displacement’s toll

    Rebuilding lives while awaiting peace in South Sudan

    In South Sudan, a country where 80 percent of those displaced are women and children, and where seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, it’s not easy for women to reclaim their livelihoods. But local initiatives are offering basic skills training to help some rebuild their futures.

    a woman at a sewing machine


    Community support

    Mosul: Overcoming the trauma of IS rule, one haircut at a time

    Post-war Mosul, a city freed from the grip of the so-called Islamic State, is still struggling to recover. In the absence of much in the way of mental health services, one place is now an unofficial group therapy session: the salon, where Iraqi women can gather among themselves to process the collective trauma of three years of terror.

    A woman walks into a hair salon at night


    Routine and risk

    First Person: Want to thwart human traffickers? Just add water


    Getting clean water is a huge challenge for displaced people in northeast Nigeria’s Borno State. With 75 percent of infrastructure destroyed due to conflict and insufficient supplies in displacement camps, many are forced to leave in search of boreholes. But for women and girls, this presents an additional threat – the risk of being trafficked.

    A group of people around a water spot
    Highlights from our coverage
    2018 in Review: Women and girls
    In this week-long series, IRIN’s editors highlight five themes from across our reporting that will continue to inform our coverage of the humanitarian sector in the new year: local aid; women and girls; returns and rebuilding; policy and practice; and migration. Are there untold stories we should be covering in 2019 on these or other themes? Let us know: tweet us @irinnews or get in touch here. Happy reading.
  • Trump pullouts, aid from mining firms, and that Amnesty ad: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar


    Trouble at the top


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


    Strange bedfellows: mining firms and humanitarians?


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


    Concerns around aid operations in South Sudan


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


    Amnesty backs down over “offensive” online campaign


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


    Healthcare boost for Yazidis in Iraq’s Sinjar


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

    In case you missed it:


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


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


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


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


    Weekend read


    A generation of unschooled Cameroonians, another generation of conflict?


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

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

    And finally…


    A vaccine with wings


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


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



    Trump pullouts, aid from mining firms, and that Amnesty ad
  • Briefing: The new global refugee pact

    The United States and Hungary alone opposed the adoption on Monday in New York of a new global compact to strengthen international cooperation on large movements of refugees, help them thrive in exile, and ease the strain on major – often relatively poor – host countries.

    The background:

    This month sees the adoption of two historic agreements to share responsibility for refugees and cooperate on migration.

    The compacts were mandated by the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a landmark September 2016 agreement. But, more than two years later, the resulting Global Compact on Refugees and the parallel but separate Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration are being born into a different and more hostile political environment.

    We explain what the compacts are, parse the heated political rhetoric, and speak to experts about how the agreements might improve the lives of millions of vulnerable people around the world.


    More than 180 UN member states voted in favor of the deal to help the more than 25 million refugees who have crossed an international border in search of safety from war, persecution, or violence. The Dominican Republic, Eritrea, and Libya abstained.


    Describing the agreement as “historic”, Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, tweeted: “It is the biggest effort to broadly share refugee responsibilities that I have witnessed in 34 years of work with refugees.”


    Its adoption came with far less fanfare – and less opposition – than the landmark migration deal agreed a week earlier by 164 nations at a gathering in Marrakech, Morocco. Like the migration compact, the refugee deal is not legally binding, and it is up to member states to decide how and whether to implement it.


    What is the refugee compact?


    The Global Compact on Refugees begins with the premise that “the predicament of refugees is a common concern of humankind”, and says it “intends to provide a predictable and equitable burden- and responsibility-sharing” in response to both new and protracted situations of human displacement.


    The agreement has four main objectives: easing pressure on refugee-hosting countries; enhancing refugees’ self-reliance; expanding refugees’ access to so-called “third countries” through formal resettlement and other legal avenues; and supporting conditions in refugees’ countries of origin to ensure safe repatriation.

    It consists of two parts: a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) that is meant to “operationalise” the compact at the ground level based on best practices; and a Programme of Action that sets guidelines for the international community more broadly.


    Several CRRF “pilot projects” have been underway for more than 18 months in refugee contexts from Central America to Somalia, from Afghanistan to Uganda. The goal is to take a “whole of society” approach to refugee response that gets refugees out of camps and integrated into host communities.


    The compact is meant to garner more investment from host and donor governments, as well as the private sector, and to encourage a more development-oriented approach from the onset of any new refugee crisis, as opposed to shorter-term humanitarian response.


    Why is it necessary and how will it work?


    As UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk explained earlier this year, the 1951 Refugee Convention focuses on the rights of refugees and the obligations of states but it doesn’t offer any guidance on international cooperation.

    It "does not specify how you share the burden and responsibility, and that's what the global compact does,” he said. “It responds to one of the major gaps we have faced for decades."

    Nine in 10 refugees worldwide shelter in developing countries that struggle to provide key services like healthcare and education – for example in Turkey, the world’s biggest host country with some 3.5 million refugees, most of whom are Syrian.


    25 million refugees have crossed an international border in search of safety from war, persecution, or violence.

    The compact aims to bring together a broader range of stakeholders to assist refugees: states and international aid organisations, of course, but also international and local civil society groups, development actors, the private sector, and – for the first time – financial institutions.


    The World Bank, for example, has created a $2 billion fund to address the socioeconomic impact of refugee flows into low-income countries. Refugee aid has been moving in this direction for years, but the compact gives these partnerships more structure.


    The compact also outlines how host countries can now “mobilise financial, material, and technical assistance” through a new Support Platform at the onset of a new crisis, to ensure cooperation between donors and host countries happens far earlier than up until now. It is to be activated or deactivated by UNHCR, with the support of donor and host states.


    Will it make a difference?


    The jury is still out on whether the compact will change much on the ground.


    Countries and regions that have signed on to implement the CRRF – in effect a modus operandi of exemplary approaches – are making some progress. For example, Ethiopia has pledged to close all 27 refugee camps in its territory over the next 10 years and integrate residents into local communities. Chad, another CRRF roll-out country, has begun the process of nationalising its refugee-only schools, while Djibouti is helping refugees open bank accounts.


    The first real assessment of whether the compact is working will come next year, when countries meet again for the first Global Refugee Forum. After that, they are to meet every four years, with midway meetings of senior officials every two years.

    At each four-year meeting, compact signatories are expected to share their progress and make new pledges on financial assistance, resettlement, and other actions in support of the compact.


    In a statement Monday, five international NGOs – the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the Danish Refugee Council – said the compact has the “potential to provide better protection and care for refugees, and development benefits to hosting communities” so long as states hold themselves and each other accountable.


    At the very least, the accord has created a blueprint for cooperation among stakeholders that previously worked together ad hoc.


    How was it developed?


    The compact came about in two phases over 18 months.


    Last year was devoted to five broad thematic discussions on topics such as: examples of burden-sharing; how best to support host countries; and improving access to “solutions” such as resettlement or voluntary return.


    From February to July of this year, six formal consultations were held in Geneva to improve a draft developed by UNHCR. The UN’s refugee agency oversaw the consultations, which involved UN member states, international organisations, civil society, the private sector, and refugees themselves.


    Experts and refugee advocates say that while the compact is indeed historic, it falls short of what was envisioned in the 2016 New York Declaration even as the number of people forcibly displaced hit a new record high this year of 68.5 million.


    Nine in 10 refugees worldwide shelter in developing countries.

    “It was conceived as an opportunity to advance responsibility-sharing and access to services and increased resettlement opportunities,” said Mark Yarnell, a senior advocate and UN liaison at the non-profit Refugees International. “But then, given the political climate and global trend toward xenophobia, it’s more about, ‘Let’s short up what we already have, and let’s prevent further backsliding’.”


    The compact’s development has come in fast-changing times.


    Indeed, two years ago, all 193 UN member states signed on to the New York Declaration, which was championed by then-US-president Barack Obama. By comparison, the United States under President Donald Trump became the first nation to oppose the refugee compact. The Trump administration has also taken several steps to keep out refugees, such as cutting annual refugee admissions to just 30,000, compared to Obama’s 110,000.


    The result “is a very conservative document,” said Kathleen Newland, cofounder of the Migration Policy Institute. “UNHCR’s primary objective was to do no harm and not erode the protections that exist for refugees under the 1951 Convention.”


    Why the stronger reaction to the migration compact?


    Unlike the migration agreement, which has been caught in a political firestorm, reactions to the refugee compact have been relatively tame. That’s because this deal builds on the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and other international legal instruments covering refugee and humanitarian law.


    Many of those agreements have been around for decades, and signatories must already offer certain legal protections to refugees. They didn’t have the same existing obligations toward migrants, meaning that deal was essentially breaking more new ground.


    Unlike the migration compact – an intergovernmental negotiation overseen by the International Organization for Migration and UN Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour – the refugee compact’s development was led mainly by one agency, UNHCR.


    And given the trend of governments pulling out of the migration deal, the UN’s messaging in the lead-up to the adoption of the refugee compact also sought to distance it from its more controversial sister agreement and emphasise the differences between the two.


    What are the criticisms?


    Because the compact is non-binding, its successful implementation depends on “mobilisation of political will” – which the text explicitly calls for. That may be a tall order at a time when nations are militarising their borders, building walls, increasing detention, and forcing them back home prematurely.


    “Governments have learned that they can ignore with impunity their obligations to refugees, with the UNHCR unable to hold them to account as a result of its dependence on states for funding and for its ability to operate in the field,” writes Jeffrey Crisp, UNHCR’s former policy chief.


    Among the main criticisms are that the compact reinforces the unequal division of labour in worldwide refugee protection: richer countries give humanitarian and development aid and may agree to resettle a tiny percentage of forcibly displaced people, but poorer countries must still act as hosts for the bulk of them.


    Others argue that it is a rich countries’ agreement still intended primarily to protect their borders from unwanted refugees by buying off their responsibility with humanitarian aid.  


    “It’s not perfect. It’s a big compromise. There’s still a lot to improve and validate, both in terms of implementation and the text itself. But it’s relatively satisfactory compared to worries that were raised throughout the process,” said Jerome Elie, senior policy officer on forced displacement for the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), which coordinated more than 100 NGOs’ contributions to the compact’s development.


    There are several omissions that humanitarian groups like ICVA pushed for.


    For example, the compact makes little mention of those displaced within their own countries (internally displaced people, or IDPs) – well over half of the world’s forcibly displaced people.


    It also fails to offer any special protections for those displaced by climate change (though the migration compact does). And refugee women’s rights advocates have noted its lack of special protections for women and girls, such as emphasis on sexual and reproductive health while in transit or exile.


    Elie said the omissions were due to politics.


    “Part of the reason for that is that the refugee compact is built on and is linked to a widely accepted treaty and is trying to operationalise it,” he said. “Many states didn’t want to go beyond that, and that’s why UNHCR did not add climate change or IDPs.”


    Curiously, the refugee compact makes no mention of the migration compact, despite their shared history and areas of overlap. Groups like Refugee International have called for greater complementarity between the two agreements to avoid “protection gaps” and “so no one is left behind.”  


    Although major host countries have broadly welcomed the refugee agreement, both Turkey and Bangladesh were outspoken during the development process that financial commitments – for the Syria and Rohingya crises respectively – must be fulfilled more quickly.

    (TOP PHOTO: A community worker carries a child to the Kutupalong-Balukhali camp in Bangladesh. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNICEF)


    “A common concern for humankind”
    Briefing: The new global refugee pact
  • What to do about climate change? Ask women – they have the most to lose

    Climate change has always been a political issue. At its root are huge imbalances of power and inequality, which were on display at the recent UN climate talks in Poland. Those imbalances define who is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, whose lives and livelihoods will be or already are upended. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the gender divide: the struggle for climate justice and gender justice must go hand in hand.


    Climate change affects women in a profoundly different way than men. Culture and tradition in many places puts the role of caring for families on women. It is women, for example, who are responsible for collecting firewood, fetching water, and growing food to feed hungry mouths. So as the impacts of climate change take grip, it is women who must be on the front lines of adapting and finding solutions: new sources of water; new ways to feed their families; new crops to grow and new ways to grow them; new ways to cook.


    In my country – Uganda – women already walk up to six hours a day to fetch water. As dry seasons become longer, women will be forced to walk further still. As I told the (mainly male) leaders of the G7 on behalf of the Gender Advisory Council earlier this year – anyone who doubts the science of climate change should try debating it with women walking further each year to collect water.


    Rich nations were put to shame at the climate talks for their failure to recognise the urgency to limit the impacts of climate change. While climate-vulnerable countries called for an emergency response, a handful of wealthy and largely oil exporting countries – including Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States – denied the science behind those calls for urgent action.


    Climate change affects everyone, but poor people who already live in the ecological margins are hit hardest. They often rely on rain to grow crops, live in poorly built structures, and lack savings or insurance to fall back on when disaster hits.


    It would take my aunt – a farmer in rural Uganda – 175 years to produce the same emissions as one of the 1%.

    When disaster strikes, like the hunger crisis in the Sahel right now, it is girls who are being pulled out of school to help struggling families make ends meet. It is women who go without when there is not enough food to go around. Women have fewer assets to fall back on – and they are largely absent from decision-making, compounding their vulnerability.


    How vulnerable you are to start with – what your status is in our unequal society – has a huge influence on how you will be impacted by climate change. For women, already vulnerable, climate change exacerbates their existing burdens of care.


    Few disagree that women are hit hardest by climate change – but there is little agreement on what to do about it. It was a long struggle to elevate the importance of gender in the climate talks. Last year a Gender Action Plan was agreed after a decade of pressure from dedicated activists. Yet, the idea that the international community must pay attention to gender dynamics as it develops and implement climate change policies remains highly sensitive. Repeated efforts in the first week of negotiations in Poland to address the disproportionate impact of forced migration on women failed, blocked by a negotiator from the Arab Group of countries. It seems the mention of human rights, particularly women’s rights, is too much for some countries to stomach: the topic was struck out of the agreement.


    If we are to stop climate change from trampling on the rights of women and the most vulnerable, then we need to fight for more equal societies. This means questioning unequal gender roles, sharing work more evenly between men and women, and increasing women’s participation in decision-making.  

    It also means we need to look at our economies, which do not value women’s contributions. Our economies ignore the invisible, unpaid care work of billions of women around the world.

    There is a striking parallel with how our economy overlooks the cost of runaway climate change – failing to make the polluters pay. These are both consequences of a broken economy. It’s an economy that counts the wrong things, pursuing GDP growth at any cost.


    The people in the boardrooms and governments who make the decisions that fuel climate disaster and inequality are mostly wealthy, white men. Billionaires are rewarded at the expense of poverty wages for the many, and at the expense of a habitable planet.


    Remember, eight out of every 10 billionaires are men; the majority of the world’s poor are women. It is boom time for billionaires and their disproportionate share of emissions! It would take my aunt – a farmer in rural Uganda – 175 years to produce the same emissions as one of the 1%.


    At Oxfam, and in the wider humanitarian sector, we believe in a world free from the injustice of poverty, a struggle that cannot be isolated from the fight for climate justice and gender equality. To get there, we need far-reaching changes to our dominant economic model, and to the way we conduct politics. We need to recognise the burdens and inequities placed on women in the home, in crisis situations, and in our economic structure and begin to address gender when addressing the impacts of climate change. And with the scientific community telling us we have just 12 years to prevent global temperatures soaring out of control, we need change fast.


    In the months ahead, governments must follow the lead of the world’s most vulnerable nations and immediately begin strengthening their commitments to take action, including adding women's voices in the process.


    Byanyima was one of the all-women champions for the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s recent virtual climate summit. The CVF led efforts to inject greater urgency and ambition into the UN Climate Talks in Poland.

    What to do about climate change? Ask women – they have the most to lose
    A fight for climate justice is a fight for gender justice
  • Climate disasters, Congo elections, and charitable countries: The Cheat Sheet

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


    On our radar


    Respite for Yemen’s Hodeidah


    It’s been a busy week for Yemen, at least in the realms of diplomacy and foreign politics. After a week of peace talks in Sweden, on Thursday the UN announced the warring sides had agreed to a ceasefire in the key port city of Hodeidah and the wider province of the same name. Their fighters are to withdraw the city within 21 days, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the “UN will play a leading role in the port”. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this deal and what it means for civilians; you can read the fine print here. Later on Thursday, the US Senate voted to withdraw support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen. It was a rebuke to President Donald Trump’s backing for the kingdom’s crown prince despite mounting evidence of his involvement in the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist, but a largely symbolic one, as Trump has vowed to veto the measure if it passes the House of Representatives and reaches his desk.


    Challenges as Congo prepares to replace Kabila


    The Democratic Republic of Congo's long-delayed presidential election is now just over a week away. But it's still far from smooth sailing, as thousands of voting machines were destroyed in a warehouse fire in the capital, Kinshasa, this week. Officials said the blaze seemed to be criminal in nature, but gave assurances it would not affect the poll. Use of the machines, a first in Congo, have raised opposition concerns of possible voter manipulation in favour of ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who was chosen by President Joseph Kabila as his preferred successor. Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, won’t stand for re-election on 23 December, but said he may contest the 2023 poll. The EU meanwhile renewed sanctions on leading Congolese politicians, including Shadary, saying they were open to reviewing the decision after the election. Kabila, however, has refused to accredit EU election observers, calling the sanctions “politically motivated” and promising to retaliate. One to watch.


    Linking climate change and extreme weather


    Heatwaves in China and the Mediterranean; drought in East Africa and the United States, heavy flooding from parts of Asia to South America: all of these weather extremes that struck across the globe in 2017 would have been “virtually impossible” without the impacts of climate change, according to new research released this week. The study, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is part of the growing body of “attribution science”, which explores the links between climate change and extreme weather events. The AMS says 70 percent of its research on the topic has found a “substantial link” between extreme events and climate change. There’s a growing push among vulnerable nations to be compensated for loss and damages from climate-linked disasters, but it’s among the more sensitive topics in global climate negotiations – including the COP24 summit set to conclude 14 December in Poland. While countries debate a path forward, communities on the front lines of climate change are already struggling to adjust. Read more on what coping with climate change means for people already living with its impacts.


    Gas guzzlers put on notice


    Humanitarian organisations are large-scale polluters, don't have renewable energy strategies and waste $517 million a year on fuel costs. Those are some of the blunt messages of a new report published by think tank Chatham House. It finds that although it  makes up about five percent of spending, fuel use is not closely tracked and there are few incentives to be more efficient. The study surveyed 21 aid operations in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Jordan. In Kenya, partly because of heavy generator usage in remote locations, seven agencies were found to spend $6.7 million a year on fuel and related maintenance. There are some exceptions: solar systems for refugee camps in Jordan save $7.5 million a year; adding solar and wind power at a single WFP store in Afghanistan should save $60,000 a year. Donors could push for higher standards by demanding data on emissions, efficiency, and usage, the report argues.

    In case you missed it


    Ebola: Frontline health workers in South Sudan will begin receiving vaccinations for Ebola next week, the WHO said, as the country faces “very high risk” from an outbreak that's killed more than 300 people in neighbouring Congo. Ebola has not spread beyond Congo, but as a precaution, vaccinations also began in Uganda last month.


    International Humanitarian Law: The latest multinational effort to shore up respect for the laws of war has failed. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed "strong disappointment" that states could not agree on a “safe space” concept to consider war crimes.


    Papua New Guinea: Powerful volcanic eruptions on Manam Island, off Papua New Guinea’s northern coast, have triggered lava flows and ash fall and displaced multiple villages. A previous eruption in August destroyed two villages, while eruptions in 2004 forced the entire island to evacuate.


    The Philippines: The Philippine Congress this week extended martial law on the southern island of Mindanao through December 2019 – drawing criticism from rights groups. Parts of the island are preparing for a January plebiscite that could create a new autonomous region comprising majority-Muslim areas.


    Syria: UNICEF said that two sick babies died in the past week at Rukban, an isolated camp where 45,000 Syrians are trapped between the Jordanian border and Syrian government front lines. A convoy delivered supplies to the area in November. Before that civilians had gone with almost no aid since January. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council extended authorisation for cross-border aid deliveries elsewhere.


    Weekend read


    South Sudan: The humanitarian toll of a half decade of war


    The statistics speak for themselves: an estimated 400,000 dead, 4.5 million displaced, seven million said to be in need of aid. As South Sudan marks five years of war on 15 December, there is no question that the conflict has exacted an enormous human cost. Our weekend read curates our recent coverage along with a new slideshow and updated timeline of the conflict. As the war enters its sixth year on Sunday only the most optimistic of observers is voicing much hope that the revitalised peace agreement, signed in September by President Salva Kiir and his former rival and soon-to-be vice president (again) Riek Machar, will hold for very long. Regardless, it hasn’t brought an end to the violence, the hunger, and the need for broad-based reconciliation. Look out too for South Sudan analyst Alan Boswell’s stark assessment of where things stand heading into 2019.


    And finally...


    The axis of helpful

    Indonesia, take a bow. A new survey, The World’s Most Generous Countries Report, finds that Indonesians are the most charitable nationality. 153,000 interviewees in 146 countries were asked by pollster Gallup if they a) donated money, b) volunteered their time, or c) helped a stranger. Extrapolating the numbers, Gallup suggests 2.2 billion people helped a stranger in 2017 (about 43 percent of the world's adults). Glass half full: good neighbourliness is alive and well. Glass half empty: what is wrong with the other half? Gallup combines the results into a score per country. Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United States make up the rest of the top four. The bottom scorers for "civic engagement" are China, Greece, and Yemen. Does that seem fair?

    (TOP PHOTO: A woman who fled fighting in Hodeidah arrives at an informal shelter in Aden, Yemen. CREDIT: Ammar Bamatraf/UNHCR)


    Climate disasters, Congo elections, and charitable countries
  • “Nowhere to go” on the front lines of climate change

    In a report released this week during the UN climate change summit in Poland, the UN Environment Programme warned of a widening gap between the cost of adaptation in developing countries – as much as $500 billion annually by 2050 – and what wealthier nations have promised.


    But while global leaders negotiate a path forward, communities on the front lines of climate change are already struggling to adjust to the impacts of extreme weather, shifting seasons, and volatile temperatures.


    IRIN reporters met with people coping with staggering changes to their ways of life. For some, the shifts have been life-altering: a family forced to flee their land for a city slum; a fisherman trying to farm because the seas are no longer productive; a drought-stricken herder who abandoned his livelihood only to see his new one threatened.


    Their stories, presented below, are a snapshot of everyday efforts to cope – and a sign of the enormity of adapting to climate change for those already living with its impacts.


    Lower-income countries say previous global commitments of $100 billion a year in climate financing for vulnerable nations are already short of what’s needed, and fail to account for the spiralling costs of disaster-inflicted loss and damages.


    “There are limits to the extent to which human and natural systems can adapt,” a bloc of 47 least-developed countries warned. “People are already suffering from the devastation that climate change brings.”

    “Nowhere to go” on the front lines of climate change
    “I have nowhere else to turn”
    From land to lake, drought threatens livelihoods in Kenya’s Turkana
    Fishermen with fish on the shore of Lake Turkana

    Severe drought forced lifelong pastoralist Eperit Naporon to abandon his goat herd to become a fisherman on northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana. But climate change is again threatening his livelihood.


    When 200 of his goats died during a drought last year, Naporon decided he had to find another way to feed his family and survive. For decades he had fished the waters of Lake Turkana – the world’s largest desert lake – not as a job, but to supplement the family’s diet. Now, the former herder is a full-time fisherman, supplying his catch to small-scale traders along the shore.


    But already, fish in the water have dwindled. “We used to get big and many fish very close to the shores. Now we have to go deeper in conflicted areas with our neighbours as that’s the only way to get a catch,” said the 43-year-old father of nine.


    “And what you bring home is much smaller fish compared to what we caught years ago.”


    Turkana County has long experienced periods of recurrent drought. However, increasing temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are expected to increase the rates of evaporation at Lake Turkana. Government meteorological data show temperatures in Turkana County increased between two and three degrees Celsius (3.5 and 5.5°F) between 1967 and 2012.


    Naporon says the droughts have become longer, more frequent, and more economically damaging: “Nowadays, it dries almost annually. And when it hits, we lose everything... the cows, the goats; it's frustrating.”


    Now his second source of hope, the desert lake, is also under threat – not only from high levels of evaporation due to increased temperatures, but also from human interference.


    Hydroelectric and irrigation projects constructed along the Omo River will dramatically reduce freshwater input from the river into Lake Turkana, increasing its salinity levels and reducing fish-breeding areas and mature fish populations. The Omo River provides 90 percent of the water in Lake Turkana.


    As world leaders deliberate how to implement climate commitments aimed at limiting global temperature rise, the best Naporon can do is hope that the source of his current livelihood holds.


    “This is my only hope! I have nowhere else to turn,” he said. “Yes, I still keep a few goats, but with them dying in huge numbers nearly annually, it is no longer possible. So, this lake has to yield.”

    “When the river erodes, it takes away everything”
    Displaced by erosion, climate migrants cause Bangladesh’s slums to swell
    Portrait of a woman close up

    Raima Begum has little idea about global warming, but she’s living proof of the toll climate change is already exacting on the coastal communities of low-lying Bangladesh.


    In 2009, the Meghna River swallowed up her entire home and land on Bhola, an island perched near the mouth of the river on the Bay of Bengal. Bhola has gradually been shrinking over decades due to soil erosion exacerbated by rising sea levels and frequent flooding.


    “When the river erodes, it takes away everything,” Begum said.


    With her land and possessions gone, the 30-year-old mother of two made the lengthy upriver journey here to Kallyanpur Pora Bastee, a slum community on the margins of Bangladesh’s crowded capital, Dhaka. She wasn’t alone: residents say 80 percent of the people here are migrants from Bhola.


    Begum’s journey is part of a familiar rural exodus in Bangladesh, where some 300,000 to 400,000 new migrants head to urban centres like Dhaka each year. Reasons for migration are often complex, but wrapped in the economic motivations are environmental pressures – like drought, floods, and disappearing land – that force people like Begum to leave.


    Research by the World Bank warns there could be more than 40 million “internal climate migrants” in South Asia by 2050 – one third of them in Bangladesh.


    Today, river erosion claims about 10,000 hectares of land each year. Climate change accelerates this damage by increasing the risk and magnitude of extreme disasters such as Bangladesh’s worsening annual floods. A 2013 study on climate change’s impacts suggested that erosion along Bangladesh’s three major rivers could increase by 13 percent by 2050. Researchers say this rising loss of land could swell the ranks of Bangladesh’s climate migrants, like Begum and her family.


    The Begums lived off the land back on Bhola. But in the slums of Dhaka, they struggle to make ends meet. Her husband earns less than $100 a month, which is mostly taken up by rent and medicine for her ill son. She blames her family’s problems on the erosion that robbed them of their home, and drove them to the unfamiliar capital.


    “Isn’t erosion doing harm to us? Isn’t it our loss?” she said. “We’re now suffering in a foreign land.”

    “When there is no rain, you can’t grow anything”
    In Madagascar, “no rain” pushes farmers to the city
    Woman and child in front of a food market stall

    In a quiet corner of a market in Morondava, a city on Madagascar’s west coast, Alatsoa is tidying her stall: she sells spices and pulses, neatly displayed in their wholesale sacks.


    But this wasn’t always her life. Alatsoa, her husband, and their two sons arrived in the city in 2013 after drought in their home region of Androy in southern Madagascar made it impossible to continue working as farmers.


    “We grew maize and yam and sold it in local markets,” she said. “But when there is no rain, you can’t grow anything.”

    “No rain” has become an increasingly common concern in Androy as a result of climate change. The region has been in the grips of unprecedented drought since 2013, accentuated by an El Niño phenomenon that brought prolonged rain shortages. This has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with more than a million people now facing food shortages and malnutrition.


    This may be a sign of worse to come: forecasts agree that temperatures in the southernmost region will increase, drought will become more common, and rainfall more variable. With farming dependent almost entirely on rainfall, and very little in the way of formal irrigation or modern farming practices in Androy, drought has a disproportionate impact on this poor, underdeveloped region.

    “There is famine there, there is no water. Our future would have been very bleak if we had stayed,” said Alatsoa. “We would have managed to survive, but not live.”


    Climate change exacerbates internal migration flows in Madagascar, according to the UN. This trend is clear in Morondava’s market, where dozens of traders from Androy sell produce including bananas, mangoes, and poultry.

    Accompanying Alatsoa at the market, her youngest child Riantsoa, who was born in Morondava, is now three and looks small for her age. But she is likely in better health than many children back in Androy: the World Food Programme estimates that nearly half the children under the age of five in Madagascar suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunting, and the south is the worst-affected region.


    “Life here is good,” Alatsoa said. “We eat well and we are healthy. That’s the most important thing.”


    But she hopes that one day things will improve enough for the family to return to Androy. “When you’re old, you must go back to your homeland,” she said.

    “It’s all gone”
    Rising sea levels uproot coastal communities in Liberia
    A family in front of a broken building

    Before the sea removed a large chunk of his home in August, 30-year-old Lawrence Saweh sold dry goods at the market.


    “The sea damaged what I used to do for work,” he said. “I’m not doing anything now. It’s all gone.”


    Over the space of a weekend, his five-room house in the Funday quarter of Monrovia’s New Kru Town district was reduced to two. The sea tore through the concrete structure, demolishing the external walls and claiming what was inside, including his stock of goods to sell and his mother’s bed.


    Anything spared by the water was taken by looters who arrived once the sea had receded. “They even stole the zinc roofing,” he said, looking up at the sunlight streaming in from large holes through the remains of his home.


    In this coastal suburb, which sits on Bushrod Island, a portion of the capital that lies between the Saint Paul River and the Atlantic Ocean, many homes consist of a hotchpotch of corrugated iron sheets stuck into the sand.


    But Saweh’s home wasn’t always a beachside district.


    Since the 1970s, coastal erosion has reduced the size of Monrovia’s beachside communities by between two and seven metres annually and the densely populated New Kru Town, which is situated less than a metre above sea level, is among the worst-hit areas. Today, fishing boats nudge against the exposed foundations of Saweh’s home; 30 years ago, the neighbourhood extended more than 200 metres further out.


    Rising sea levels caused by climate change are expected to continue causing destruction to Monrovia’s coastal communities. A defence barrier is being built nearby, but this comes as small consolation to Saweh, whose home remains vulnerable and unprotected. “The sea is still finding a way,” he said, watching the saltwater washing into a channel behind his house.


    Saweh’s options are limited in the likely event of further destruction. “Where will I go?” he asked. “There’s nowhere to go; no money. That’s why we’re still here.”

    “I can’t predict it anymore”
    Warming oceans, erratic storms disrupt Indonesian fishing villages
    A fisherman in front of a boat and the sea

    Tuna fisherman Salsabila Makatika no longer trusts the ocean that has sustained his community for generations.


    Salsabila depends on tuna to support his family of 11 in Asilulu village, a small fishing community on Ambon Island near Indonesia’s eastern edges. But fish that used to be plentiful at the start of the traditional fishing season in early March now appear weeks later. And the storm season that once set in toward the end of the year begins weeks earlier, effectively shrinking his window to make a living.


    “I can’t predict it anymore,” said Salsabila, 51. “With the sudden wind changes, I can’t operate. I’ve gone many times out to the ocean but come back with nothing.”


    Climate researchers say ocean warming – one consequence of climate change – has already had a “profound” effect on global fisheries, shrinking fish catches in some regions and increasing them elsewhere. Climate change is expected to drive tuna stock here in the western Pacific further eastward and to higher latitudes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that Indonesia will be among the hardest hit in Asia by this ongoing “redistribution” of fisheries.


    The volatility is already having an impact here in northern Ambon, where 90 percent of the families depend on fisheries. The tuna is sold to Indonesian companies, who ship it around the country and further abroad.


    Salsabila said he used to regularly return with seven large tuna in his boat’s icebox; these days, he catches two at most.


    This new reality has pushed some fishing families here to try and diversify their income: catching other types of fish, or balancing their fishing with farming. But other varieties of fish fetch far lower prices, and the amount of land suitable for farming on Ambon is relatively small, said Subair Abdullah, a professor at Ambon Islamic State University who has researched how Asilulu fishers are adapting to climate change.


    Subair believes the changing climate is putting the fishing community here at risk of a “food crisis” for which they are not prepared.


    “The fishermen impacted aren’t yet aware that what they’re experiencing is climate change,” Subair said. “It makes it hard to adapt.”

    This story was reported by Sophie Mbugua in Kenya, AZM Anas in Bangladesh, Emilie Filou in Madagascar, Lucinda Rouse in Liberia, and Ian Morse in Indonesia.

    (TOP PHOTO: Fishermen in Madagascar, threatened by the effects of global warming. CREDIT: Marco Longari/AFP)

  • Briefing: The new global migration pact

    After a lead-up marred by vocal opposition and withdrawals of support, a landmark UN-led agreement aimed at forging cooperation to manage the estimated quarter of a billion people migrating around the globe has been adopted by 164 countries at a summit in Morocco.

    The background:

    This month sees the adoption of two historic agreements to share responsibility for refugees and cooperate on migration.

    The compacts were mandated by the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a landmark September 2016 agreement. But, more than two years later, the resulting Global Compact on Refugees and the parallel but separate Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration are being born into a different and more hostile political environment.

    We explain what the compacts are, parse the heated political rhetoric, and speak to experts about how the agreements might improve the lives of millions of vulnerable people around the world.

    At least a dozen countries pulled out of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which was adopted on Monday and Tuesday in Marrakech after 18 months of intergovernmental negotiations. Several others didn’t attend the conference, even though a final draft was agreed by all UN member states – except the United States – in July.

    The compact’s critics, many of them European nations dominated by right-wing or populist parties (Hungary and Italy are among its loudest opponents), say it threatens their sovereignty and forces them to legalise illegal immigration.


    But its supporters say those criticisms reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the compact’s non-binding and voluntary nature, and accuse opponents of playing to domestic audiences at a time when migration is a hot-button issue.


    So what is the migration compact?


    The 34-page compact is a “collective commitment” to cooperate on “all aspects of international migration”. Conceived as Europe struggled to cope with the influx of more than a million refugees and migrants in 2015 and early 2016, the agreement is rooted in international human rights instruments and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It covers some 258 million migrants worldwide, according to the UN.

    In many ways, it’s a milestone: many observers say it’s more groundbreaking than the refugee compact in that it’s the first time countries have cooperated on migration at this level. Unlike the refugee compact, which builds on the 1951 Refugee Convention, there is no comparable international framework on migration. That it was negotiated at all in the current political climate is, some say, a victory in itself.

    Its 23 objectives are comprehensive and wide-ranging, addressing labour rights, use of migration detention, human trafficking, access to social services, xenophobia, recognition of skills and professional qualifications, remittances, repatriation, and climate change as a driver of displacement.

    But the compact doesn’t actually do much. It’s basically a framework for future cooperation on migration, whatever legal form that may take: bilateral, multilateral, regional, or otherwise. Indeed, the compact commits to “ensuring that the words in this document translate into concrete actions for the benefit of millions of people in every region of the world.”


    Its non-binding nature means states may decide which parts to implement – or whether to implement it at all.


    What were the negotiations like?

    In a word: tricky. The process has been led by Louise Arbour, UN special representative of the secretary-general for international migration, along with the International Organization for Migration. Two countries, Mexico and Switzerland, have served as co-facilitators.

    “Nobody got everything they wanted, but everybody got something they wanted,” said Kathleen Newland, co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

    During the negotiations, blocs of countries lobbied together for specific provisions. For example, African nations successfully got the addition of Objective 23 on strengthening international cooperation, which “underscor[es] the specific challenges faced in particular by African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, Small Island Developing States, and middle-income countries.”

    Many trade-offs centered around specific legal terms and obligations. For example, the European contingent lobbied for the promise that origin countries would readmit their own nationals who are being returned. That sparked a discussion on whether to explicitly tie the issue of non-refoulement — the legal principle of not returning people to countries where they might be persecuted — to migrants in the compact.

    A compromise appears in Objective 21, which does not use the word non-refoulement but promises to uphold “the prohibition of collective expulsion and of returning migrants when there is a real and foreseeable risk of death, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, or other irreparable harm.”

    “The compromise was that we don’t mention the term, but we speak to the context that the term includes,” explained Pia Oberoi, the advisor on migration and human rights at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “There’s a lot of careful language in the compact that’s not too maximalist or too minimalist. It’s a delicate balance between the protection of the rights of migrants and the very strong voice of governments to retain control over their sovereign territory.”

    What are the criticisms?

    The primary concerns relate to sovereignty. The far-right Alternative for Germany party – whose website even featured a countdown to the adoption date of what it called the “illegal” compact – claims it is a “hidden resettlement plan for economic migrants” initiated by “institutions without democratic legitimacy, such as the UN and non-governmental organisations.” Germany’s parliament ultimately voted to support the compact, but officials in Hungary and Italy said essentially the same thing. Other critics said it would lead to a “human right to migration”.


    Hungary, whose prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has made migration his signature issue, quit the compact earlier this year. But it was Austria that set off a domino effect of pull-outs across Europe when it denounced the compact in October. By the time of the Marrakech conference, Italy, Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Poland and Latvia had all followed. Slovakia’s foreign minister, Miroslav Lajcak, resigned in protest after his country’s government declined to support it (though on Friday he withdrew his resignation). Belgium’s government lost its majority over the prime minister’s support of the compact. The Netherlands said it will support it, but only with an “explanation of position” attached to “prevent unintended legal consequences” – though legal experts have insisted that such measures are unnecessary as the compact is not legally binding anyway. Other nations that quit include Australia, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Israel.


    The European criticisms echo what the United States said when it quit the compact last year, a move that surprised migrants’ right advocates at the time.

    “It sent some shockwaves through the community,” recalled Marta Foresti, who directs the Overseas Development Institute’s Human Mobility Initiative and served as a technical adviser on migration and development during the negotiations. “But in a strange way, it ended up being a blessing in disguise that the toughest negotiator was no longer at the table. We ended up with a stronger document.”

    Supporters of the compact argue that concerns about sovereignty are overblown and point to the language of the document itself where it says it “fosters international cooperation among all relevant actors on migration, acknowledging that no State can address migration alone, and upholds the sovereignty of States and their obligations under international law.”

    At a press conference in Geneva last month, Arbour said she was disappointed that countries were reneging on their support after participating in lengthy negotiations.

    “Frankly, I am not all that concerned about what it does to the compact itself and the process,” she said. “I am a little more worried about what it does to the credibility of those who, having agreed to something, and… having extracted concessions from their partners in the negotiations in that process, are now taking a different position.”

    What are its strengths and weaknesses?

    Ironically, despite a meltdown across Europe over sovereignty threats, experts were mainly concerned about its toothlessness. The final version significantly watered the goals laid out in the New York Declaration, its founding document.


    The Economist wrote last week: “As has become depressingly routine in Europe, the row over the UN compact has little to do with its ostensible target and everything to do with the smouldering embers of a culture war that the drastic reduction in illegal immigration since the surge of 2015 has failed to extinguish.”


    Given that political backdrop, Foresti called it a “triumph of diplomacy”.

    Its greatest strength is that it paints migrants as “human beings rather than profiteers,” says Stephane Jacquemet, director of policy for the International Catholic Migration Commission, which helped coordinate civil society groups’ input and advocacy throughout the intergovernmental negotiations.

    “It’s the first time you have a document from the international community to portray migration as posing, indeed challenges, but also opportunities,” he said. “It’s the first time you don’t have anti-migration voices controlling everything and the rest of the world just reacting. There are nuances, compared to the anti-migration narrative we’ve seen. And for me that’s the most powerful message of the global compact.”

    Who will it help?

    At its core, the compact is meant to help UN member states manage migration, although the migrants themselves should clearly benefit from that, and experts say their human rights are protected.


    Various constituencies can use the compact to their advantage.


    “I think in some regions of the world – in Africa, the Middle East, Central and South America – we’ll start to see more bilateral cooperation or regional cooperation on matters of cross-border migration,” Foresti says. “And I think we can use the compact to push progress on particular aspects of migration. For example, campaigners who work on children’s rights or migrant detention can use it as a platform to continue to hold states to account.”


    Stakeholders at the local level may also use the compact to create a welcoming environment for migrants even when national politics sway toward xenophobia, Foresti continued, citing last weekend’s launch of the Mayors Migration Council on the sidelines of Marrakech. Businesses that have an interest in easing labour mobility might use the compact the same way.


    Finally, it was the first time climate change was recognised as a driver of migration in an international forum.


    “It’s a big deal,” says Alice Thomas, manager of the climate displacement programme at Refugees International. This opens the door for legal protections for some 140 million people the World Bank estimates will migrate due to climate change by 2050.


    What happened in Marrakech?


    Nations spent the first day announcing their support and their commitments to implement the compact. Tuesday was reserved for discussions on how local authorities, civil society, the public and private sector, and other stakeholders can get involved in implementation. There was also an entire week of side events.


    In a speech on Monday, which prompted a standing ovation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said illegal migration “has caused great fears in our countries…  And these fears are being used by the opponents of this pact.”


    The UN, Merkel continued, was founded after Germany’s Nazi regime brought “incredible suffering on humankind” in the Second World War, and the compact is about “nothing less than the foundation of our international cooperation.”


    Besides Merkel, notable attendees included the leaders of Belgium, Spain, and Denmark –  and former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who tweeted a photo of the empty US chair.


    What happens next?


    The biggest test of the compact’s success is implementation. It is designed to encourage cooperation at the bilateral and regional levels, and it is up to member states to make that happen.


    Because fulfilling the compact’s promise will cost money, it establishes a “capacity-building mechanism” whereby the UN, member states, or private donors “contribute technical, financial and human resources on a voluntary basis in order to strengthen capacities and foster multi-partner cooperation.”


    Then comes the follow-up stage. The compact calls for an International Migration Review Forum for member states to discuss their implementation progress at the local, national, regional, and global levels. That forum will replace the existing High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development that takes place every fourth UN General Assembly. The compact also encourages member states to develop their own, national-level reviews.


    Finally, the compact calls for the creation of a UN network on migration to be coordinated by the IOM to oversee both capacity-building and follow-up.


    “The compact is a floor, not a ceiling,” Thomas of Refugees International said. “If you don’t implement words on a paper, they’re just words on a paper. Marrakech is a first step.”


    (TOP PHOTO: An art installation on the grounds of the conference on Global Compact for Migration in Marrakech, Morocco. CREDIT: Fadel Senna/AFP)


    Briefing: The new global migration pact

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