(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Non, merci! Why refugees avoid France

    While Germany expects to receive up to one million asylum seekers by the end of 2015, France is preparing for only 65,000, the same number it received last year. Just a few years ago, France had among the highest number of claims in Europe, but its lack of accommodation and support for asylum seekers as well as long wait times for applications to be processed have make it a less attractive option for many refugees. 


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    Non, merci! Why refugees avoid France
  • Europe doesn't have a migrant crisis; it has a Syrian crisis

    Imagine Syria didn't exist - that the war never happened. Suddenly Europe’s migration crisis doesn't look so bad.

    The two EU countries that receive the vast majority of arrivals by boat are Italy and Greece.

    In Italy, the number of sea arrivals (mostly from Libya) has changed little since last year. From January to the end of August, there were 114,000, up from 112,000 over the same period in 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration. This is still higher than Europe would want, but not a number that a rich economic bloc of more than 500 million inhabitants shouldn’t be able to accommodate.

    The big change has been the huge influx into the Greek islands. By the end of August this year, sea arrivals to Greece had reached 239,000. In the whole of 2014, there were just 45,000. By the end of the year, we could be looking at a ten-fold increase, with at least half of these arrivals Syrians.*

    Europe’s current migration crisis is essentially the arrival of the Syrian crisis onto European shores.

    Listening to the debate in the West, you could be forgiven for forgetting that Syria exists. A few weeks ago, Matt Hancock, a UK government minister, appeared on the country’s flagship political radio debate show. Using the word “migrant” rather than “refugee” for obvious reasons, he talked about how the world needed to encourage countries like Sudan and Somalia to develop so people didn’t feel the need to migrate.

    He avoided mentioning Syria or Afghanistan, the two countries that have produced the largest number of refugees globally. 

    Hancock's omission, wilful or not, is merely a symptom of a wider trend. In a way, the world has been imagining Syria didn't exist for years. A middle-income country not far from Europe’s borders has been allowed to descend into an atrocious civil war. Whole cities have been destroyed, around half the population have fled their homes, four million Syrians are now registered refugees. The peace process, for want of a better phrase, has been virtually non-existent. US Secretary of State John Kerry has spent more time searching for a Palestinian-Israeli deal that was never going to work than on a Syrian solution.

    By trying to keep the Syrian refugee crisis at arms' length, hoping that refugees will stay put in neighbouring countries, the West has only made the crisis worse. 

    Western policy seems to be to contain as many Syrian refugees as possible in neighbouring countries and hope the problem stays far away. While Turkey is accommodating 1.9 million Syrians, the United States is taking in only between 1,000 and 2,000 this year – around 0.0005 percent of the total – and Britain has managed to relocate just 216.

    The three D's

    Over the past few years, as the crisis in their homeland has deepened, I have watched many Syrians go through several layers of anguish before taking the painful decision to leave and try to reach Europe.

    The first stage was denial. Syrians are incredibly proud of their country and none that I know wanted to leave. Initially, they often refused to accept the magnitude of the crisis, moving around internally inside Syria if they had to.

    The second phase was determination. When they eventually fled to neighbouring countries, all were desperate to make it work so they could return home as soon as possible. In 2012 and even into 2013, the refugees I spoke to overwhelmingly believed it would only be a matter of time – they just needed to survive the coming few months.

    Finally, came desperation. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees have recently been banned from working. In Jordan, they have never been allowed to do so. Turkey has done more than any other nation, but it too is starting to limit refugees’ freedom of movement. The humanitarian response – only ever a sticking plaster on a gaping wound – has been ravaged by funding shortages. Four-and-a-half years after the conflict erupted, hopes of returning have been extinguished for most Syrian refugees. Even if the war ended tomorrow, millions have no homes to return to. As a grim future in neighbouring countries reveals itself, more and more Syrian refugees opt to take the risk of leaving for Europe, for the best chance of a proper life.

    Noha and Omar 

    Many, like single mother Noha**, wanted to wait and go legally. Several times she was told by various Western embassies that a decision on her resettlement application was “imminent”. Several times the decision never came. On Monday, she took a flight from Lebanon to Turkey with her two small children. From there, like thousands before her, she will take a smuggler’s boat to Greece and then make the long overland journey into northern Europe through Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary.

    Lebanon, a country of little more than four million citizens, is hosting more than a million refugees. Until March this year – the most up-to-date period the United Nations has statistics for – only 7,620 of those have been accepted for resettlement by other countries.

    This is the real issue driving Europe's crisis. For while Noha cannot get an embassy to give her a visa or refugee status, she knows that if she can make it to Europe’s doorstep, international law gives her the right to apply for asylum there. Syrians have an almost 100 percent refugee status approval rate across Europe – as long as they can get there first.

    This is not only illogical but deeply flawed as asylum is meant to be granted to the most needy first.

    Take Omar. The 10-year-old is the oldest of four brothers forced to survive by begging on the streets of Turkey’s largest city Istanbul. At night, as the iconic boats that crisscross the Bosphorus rest for the night, he rushes back to the port. As the shutters close, he and his siblings scuttle onto a boat and bed down on the hard boards. Omar will never be able to raise enough money to take the boat to Europe - his future is on the streets.

    If the West was more open to accepting more Syrians through formal channels, such as refugee resettlement, family reunion and humanitarian visas, then perhaps we wouldn't be seeing so many desperate families forced to rely on smugglers to reach Europe.

    By trying to keep the Syrian refugee crisis at arms' length, hoping that refugees will stay put in neighbouring countries, the West has only made the crisis worse.  Without a properly managed response, the crisis in Syria will continue to wash up on Europe's shores.

    * IOM does not yet have nationality figures for July, so estimates are based on the figures until the end of June when over 55 percent of arrivals were Syrian.

    ** Names changed to protect their identities

    Joe Dyke was IRIN’s Middle East editor until 2015. He lived in Lebanon from 2011, the year the Syrian war began, until 2015.



    Europe doesn't have a migrant crisis
  • Playing the EU asylum lottery

    Asylum seekers have not truly made it until their applications are approved, giving them the right to remain as refugees or under some other form of protection. A refusal can mean removal back to the country they fled, or a life living in the shadows as an “illegal” migrant. As the map below shows, percentage rates of asylum approval across the European Union in 2014 varied dramatically.

    Mouse over a country for details. Source: Eurostat

    In theory, all EU states are bound by the Common European Asylum System. And yet, more than a decade after the agreement was made, countries still have drastically different systems and standards for judging who deserves asylum and who doesn’t.

    The EU’s average approval rate for asylum applications in 2014 was 45 percent, but Sweden approved 77 percent of applications and Hungary just 9 percent. Greece only recognised 15 percent of applicants while Bulgaria recognised 94 percent (but offers little opportunity to make a living). See the approval rates for all member states below.

    No surprise then that few asylum seekers want to remain in Hungary or Greece and risk being finger-printed before they reach their preferred destination (once finger-printed, under Europe’s Dublin Regulation, they run the risk of being returned to the member state where they first arrived).

    Member states also have very different ideas about which nationalities are more deserving of protection. 

    With the exception of Hungary, Greece and Italy, most countries approve nearly all applications from Syrians, as the chart above shows.

    The same isn't true for Afghans, who registered the second largest number of asylum applications in Europe in 2014 behind Syrians. While in Italy and France they have a very high chance of being allowed to stay, in Romania and Bulgaria around four out of five are refused.

    Eritreans also fare quite well in most member states but they should avoid France where only 15 percent of their applications were approved in 2014. No wonder so many Eritreans are in Calais trying to stow away on trucks and ferries bound for the UK, where 92 percent of Eritrean applications were approved in 2014.

    If you're Eritrean, forget about going to France


    The numbers highlight the extent that asylum in Europe has become a lottery - if you're Eritrean, forget about going to France; if you're from Afghanistan, Italy is your best option; and even Syrians would do well to give Hungary a wide berth.

    Data from Eurostat and UNHCR


    EU refugee recognition rates in 2014
    Fleeing war or persecution for the safety of Europe? Choose your country wisely.
  • What drives anti-immigration attitudes?

    Results released last week from an international survey by UK-based research company, Ipsos MORI, found widely divergent levels of concern about immigration in the 19 countries surveyed.

    In the UK, 43 percent of people identified immigration control as one of their country’s top three issues of concern, compared to 32 percent in Australia (the next highest), 15 percent in Sweden and one percent in Poland and Brazil.

    The degree to which immigration has become a focus in the UK seems to have little to do with the size of its immigrant population, estimated at about 7 percent. In Spain, non-nationals make up about 11 percent of the population but only 6 percent of respondents in the Ipsos MORI survey identified immigration control as a major concern.

    The largest number of non-nationals living in the European Union by January 2012, were found in Germany (7.4 million), where about 22 percent of people expressed concern about immigration in the Ipsos MORI survey. The next highest is Spain (5.5 million), followed by Italy (4.8 million), the UK (4.8 million), and France 3.8 million), according to statistics from the European Commission's Eurostat database. As a share of the national population, however, Luxembourg tops the charts with 43 percent of its population made up of non-nationals. Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Cyprus and Latvia also have high proportions of non-nationals.

    A number of researchers have tried to discover why attitudes toward immigration vary so widely from one country or region to the next, but have found no simple or definitive answers.

    An analysis by the Ipsos MORI researchers found that the surge in concern in the UK has accompanied a steep increase in immigration, starting around 1999. In 2011, the UK reported receiving the largest influx of immigrants of all EU countries (566,000), followed by Germany, Spain and Italy.

    Concerns driven by perceptions

    While there has been a significant increase, people in the UK tend to significantly over-estimate the percentage of the population that are foreign born, with the average guess coming in at 31 percent. They also over-estimate the proportion of the immigrant population that are asylum seekers and refugees - the least common immigrant type - and overlook foreign students, who made up the largest category of migrants to the UK in 2011.

    Concerns about immigration are often driven by the perception that immigrants put too much pressure on public services, and unfairly access welfare benefits. The recent negative reaction in the UK to the lifting of travel restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians, allowing them to seek work in other EU countries from 1 January 2014, appears to be less about concerns that they will compete with Britons for jobs and more about the belief that they will come to the country to take advantage of its social services, in what has become known as "benefit tourism".

    It is unclear why other countries in northern Europe appear less concerned about this potential influx. However, in comparing immigration attitudes, the Ipsos MORI survey reveals a greater generation gap between Britons and other European nationalities. An article in the Economist suggested this could be the result of differing life experiences.

    Before the mid-1970s, the UK was mostly homogenous compared to continental Europe. The baby boomer generation therefore grew up "Eurosceptic and dubious about diversity", but for later generations, "mass immigration, European integration and multiculturalism are part of the furniture".

    The Migration Observatory at Oxford University, which analyses migration data, notes that opposition to migration in the UK is "more common among older, UK-born, white, and less educated groups."

    Is it the economy?

    Three basic theories as to why this is so have been extensively researched. The first - contact theory - suggests that sustained positive contact with people from other ethnic or national groups produces more positive attitudes towards that group. The second - group conflict theory - posits that those who think migrants pose a threat to their interests, identities or status are most likely to be opposed to immigration. Finally, economic competition theory suggests that opposition to migration is rooted in native workers having to compete with migrants with similar skill sets, and the perception that migrants represent a financial burden on native tax-payers.

    The Migration Observatory says "evidence is quite strong for the first two theories, and mixed for the various economic explanations".

    Europe's financial crisis and the rise in anti-immigration attitudes that appears to have accompanied it may have given undue credence to economic competition theory in recent years. "Economic conditions are not as powerful a determinant of attitudes as many people would assume," Scott Blinder, the Migration Observatory's acting director, wrote in an email to IRIN. 

    Findings from an examination of the determinants of anti-immigration attitudes in European countries, by Yvonni Markaki and Simonetta Longhi of the University of Essex, also provide little support for economic explanations.

    The study did find a correlation between higher anti-immigration attitudes and regions with large percentages of immigrants, but found that most of these attitudes were driven by higher percentages of non-EU immigrants.

    More counter-intuitively, the study found that higher levels of unemployment among natives were associated with more positive attitudes, while an increase in the unemployment rate of immigrants was linked to an increase in anti-immigration attitudes. "What we found is that [anti-immigration attitudes] are not so much related to characteristics of the native population as characteristics of the immigrant population," said lead author Yvonni Markaki. She and Longhi note that a "threat to cultural values seems to drive more opposition to immigration than economic threat".

    Media to blame?

    The media is often blamed for contributing to anti-immigration attitudes, but the extent to which media coverage drives or caters to public opinions about immigration is very difficult to prove. Certainly, the British tabloid press have devoted an inordinate amount of space to issues such as "benefit tourism", but UK Prime Minister David Cameron has also used the term on numerous occasions and is pushing for legislation that would make it more difficult for immigrants to access social benefits.

    "I suspect that media coverage and political rhetoric and position-taking in domestic politics also play an important role in cross-country differences [to immigration attitudes]," wrote Blinder, adding that this has yet to be demonstrated by researchers.

    Markaki suggested that policies and leadership on immigration issues played an important role in driving public attitudes. "The lowest anti-immigration attitudes tend to be in Scandinavia... It has to do with institutions and more liberal asylum seeker systems," she said.

    In countries where politicians have seized on popular discontent about immigration and used it to push popular anti-immigration policies that discontent has tended to multiply.



    What drives anti-immigration attitudes?
  • Briefing on roles of USA, France

    IRIN has produced a series of briefings exploring the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire triggered by contested elections in November 2010.

    With both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara laying claim to the presidency, the bitter political divisions in the country have led to worsening violence. While regional and international bodies have repeatedly called on Gbagbo to step down, neither sanctions nor mediation initiatives have come close to breaking the deadlock. Gbagbo and Ouattara head rival administrations, both trying to maximize their resources and isolate the other party. IRIN’s series of revised briefings takes a look at the handling of the crisis by the UN, regional bodies the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), western governments, and the European Union (EU), while also looking at the economic, human rights and humanitarian consequences of the breakdown.

    USA - only a back-seat role?

    US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice was among the first senior diplomats to advocate endorsement of Ouattara’s victory. Since then, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and several other figures in the administration have spoken out. The message has been consistent: Gbagbo must give way to Ouattara, with increasingly strong hints that the longer Gbagbo refuses the advice, the more severe the penalties will be. While pushing the case for a political solution to the crisis, the USA has also warned against negotiations where Gbagbo tries to set preconditions or looks to reopen discussions on the elections. Suggestions that Gbagbo might offer the vice-presidency to Ouattara while staying on as head of state have not found favour in Washington, with the Obama administration making it clear the election results are internationally certified and must be allowed to stand.

    There is concern, too, that Gbagbo, now adopting increasingly desperate measures to stay afloat and loath to see his financial activities scrutinized by a hostile government, is looking for apologists in the media and elsewhere to put his case. The US stands firmly behind the AU and ECOWAS on mediation initiatives but is concerned about a loss of momentum and cohesion within the two African bodies as the crisis continues and it becomes more difficult to maintain a consensus. There have been accompanying warnings about the deteriorating human right situation, with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton among those to speak out.

    Faith in African diplomacy

    The USA has recognized a new, Ouattara-named ambassador, Daouda Diabaté, to replace Gbagbo’s envoy, Charles Yao Koffi. While Gbagbo has demanded the expulsion of the UN and the ambassadors of France, Canada and the UK, there have been no requests yet for Washington to close its embassy. But Ambassador Phillip Carter has faced virulent criticism in the pro-Gbagbo press, which has repeatedly pointed to an American-French conspiracy to install Ouattara. Carter recently came under attack from government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello for “serious and inadmissible” interference in Ivoirian affairs, a direct response to a press briefing given by Carter in Washington on 4 February.

    Carter explicitly played down Washington’s role in resolving the conflict, emphasizing the importance of Africa’s lead. “How it’s going to work out is that basically this is an Ivoirian thing, it’s an African thing, and the Africans are looking at their resources and their means by which to allow for this political transition to occur as peacefully as possible.”

    Carter stressed the legitimacy of the elections, and came out clearly in favour of the position by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), which gave victory to Ouattara in December, and against the Constitutional Court, which designated Gbagbo as victor. “We stand with President Ouattara”, Carter emphasized. “Trying to set that election aside would be a major step back for democracy in sub-Saharan Africa.”

    Looking at Côte d’Ivoire after the elections, Carter said: “The situation is such that the country is in a sense of stasis. It’s frozen.” He pointed to a deteriorating human rights situation and accused Gbagbo of hijacking the state media, “turning it into a propaganda machine that has been spewing out basically invidious information.” Echoing earlier warnings from Obama and Clinton, Carter said that the worsening violence raised important questions of accountability.

    While acknowledging that Ouattara’s government was effectively “sequestered” for now, Carter said that time was on Ouattara’s side and that his attempts to gain control of key financial institutions, notably the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), along with the imposition of international sanctions, would steadily squeeze Gbagbo. “How long that will take, it’s unclear”, Carter acknowledged.

    In a televised interview with American broadcaster George Curry in January, Gbagbo described Carter as “discredited” and blamed his reported failure to take phone calls from the White House on his own lack of trust in Carter. Gbagbo’s relations with Carter’s predecessor, Wanda Nesbitt, were also reported to be strained, in contrast with the cordial relationship between Gbagbo and former Ambassador Aubrey Hooks.

    Other administration representatives have echoed Carter’s caution. Asked by French TV chain France 24 if the US would back the use of force against Gbagbo, State Department West Africa Bureau Director Mary Beth Leonard said “no option should be ruled out”, but repeatedly emphasized the importance of the ECOWAS and AU diplomatic approach.

    An ECOWAS delegation, headed by Sierra Leonean President Ernest Koroma and including Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumgobia, visited Washington on 26 January, meeting National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and US Assistant Secretary of State Johnny Carson. The White House said discussions had focused on finding a peaceful solution in Côte d’Ivoire and ensuring Gbagbo’s departure, with all parties noting "the importance of maintaining international unity on this point”.

    US military cooperation with ECOWAS

    The US military has developed strong partnerships with a number of armies in West Africa. The head of the United States Army Africa (USARAF), Maj-Gen David Hogg, visited military commands in Ghana, Togo and Benin 10-14 January.

    The deputy to the commander for Civil-Military Activity, US Africa Command (Africom), Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, a former US ambassador in Burkina Faso, visited Nigeria in late January. US assistance to the Nigerian military has includes refurbishing five C-130 Hercules aircraft, a task taken on at the Nigerians’ request to help support peacekeeping operations in Africa.

    In February, Africom hosted an annual Senior Leaders Conference at USARAF’s headquarters in Vicenza, Italy. The conference’s main theme was “Delivering Capabilities to a Joint Information Environment”, and was attended by AU and ECOWAS military personnel. The US Mission to the AU in Addis Ababa includes an important military component, working closely with the AU’s Peace and Security Commission on issues like conflict mitigation through mediation and peacekeeping and support for the African Standby Force (ASF).

    ''Everyone says this man is an evil thug who needs to go. That’s not true. He’s a Christian, he’s a nice person and he’s run a fairly clean operation in the Ivory Coast''

    The US, in common with the EU, the AU and ECOWAS remains adamant that military intervention should be a last choice. Senior officials acknowledge that the US has taken part “in very initial planning” with ECOWAS on the kind of scenarios that might be envisioned if diplomacy fails. Should an ECOWAS response force be assembled using armies that the US has partnerships with, US support would likely extend to pre-deployment training and the provision of small amounts of equipment.

    Speaking for Gbagbo

    Prominent American supporters of Gbagbo have been rare, but tele-evangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has challenged the international community’s position on Côte d’Ivoire, presenting the Ouattara-Gbagbo rift as a Christian versus Muslim split, with Robertson himself strongly defending Gbagbo. Robertson told viewers: “Everyone says this man is an evil thug who needs to go. That’s not true. He’s a Christian, he’s a nice person and he’s run a fairly clean operation in the Ivory Coast.”

    Civil rights leader and businessman Charles Steele Jr, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), once led by Martin Luther King, visited Abidjan in January, met Gbagbo and pledged to establish a Peace and Conflict Reconciliation Center. Gbagbo, who has referred to Luther King as one of his heroes, said he supported the initiative.

    France - strong declarations and embassy altercations

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy firmly endorsed Ouattara’s election victory and has issued a series of statements since, opposing Gbagbo’s attempts to stay in power, notably with an ultimatum on 17 December ordering Gbagbo to leave “by the end of the week” or face sanctions. “The president of Côte d’Ivoire’s name is Alassane Ouattara”, Sarkozy has emphasized, warning that Côte d’Ivoire is a critical example for African democracy. In retaliation, Simone Gbagbo has referred to Sarkozy as “the devil”.

    But Sarkozy has also remained opposed to French military intervention. Both he and Defence Minister Alain Juppé remain adamant that the 900-strong Force Licorne is in Côte d’Ivoire to complement the UNOCI force and defend French nationals. The same view was conveyed by French Minister of Cooperation Henri de Raincourt during a visit to Ouagadougou, where he emphasized: “France is not calling for and has never called for a resort to armed force.” After meeting with Ban Ki-moon in New York on 7 February, French Defence Minister Juppé said economic sanctions were the best tactic that could be deployed against Gbagbo. “I think we should apply them with a lot of determination.”

    In his keynote speech to the AU in Addis Ababa on 30 January, Sarkozy made fleeting but pointed reference to the Ivoirian crisis, describing Côte d’Ivoire as a country “where the will freely expressed by an entire people in an election meant to seal the return to peace is being treated with disdain,” adding that “France resolutely supports the efforts of the African Union, ECOWAS and the UN Secretary-General.”

    Gbagbo and his supporters remain deeply wary of French intentions. Gbagbo’s spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, announced on 22 January that the accreditation of French Ambassador Jean-Marc Simon had been revoked and that Simon should now be considered “jobless, an ordinary French citizen who is for us no longer an interlocutor”. The French government rapidly ruled this move illegal and insisted that Simon would stay on. A government statement said: “France considers positions and statements supposedly made on behalf of Côte d’Ivoire by those who have not accepted the consequences of the presidential election results to be illegal and illegitimate.”

    The Simon affair carries echoes of an earlier episode in 2002, when Gbagbo pushed for the replacement of then Ambassador Renaud Vignal, who left Côte d’Ivoire in October 2002, protesting at being badly misrepresented in the Ivoirian state media.

    The move against Ambassador Simon appeared to be in response to the Sarkozy government’s recognition of Ouattara’s designated ambassador in Paris, former journalist Ali Coulibaly, and demand for the withdrawal of the Gbagbo-appointed academic Pierre Kipré. Having been denied access, Coulibaly and supporters staged a forced entrance to the embassy on 25 January and Coulibaly has been formally accredited by the French authorities.

    According to the French press, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs helped persuade a delegation of MPs from Sarkozy’s own party, the Union pour la majorité présidentielle (UMP) to call off a mission to Côte d’Ivoire. According to details of the itinerary released in Abidjan, the MPs were due to meet several members of the Gbagbo administration, which is not recognized by France. Senior figures in the UMP were critical of the mission, hinting that it had been organized without the knowledge of the party hierarchy and that the MPs’ scheduled meetings with Gbagbo might be used for Gbagbo’s own propaganda.

    Gbagbo retains the support of some long-time allies in the French Parti Socialiste (PS) notably Guy Labertit, often described as the PS’s “Mr Africa”, who attended Gbagbo’s inauguration and accused the UN of “usurping power”, trying to install Ouattara in the face of strong evidence of electoral fraud.

    While Gbagbo’s FPI remains a member of the Socialist International, analysts in Abidjan and Paris point out that Gbagbo’s alliances go across the French political spectrum. Paris-based lawyer Marcel Ceccaldi, whose previous clients include leader of the French Front National (FN) and Guinean military leader Dadis Camara, has fiercely criticized Ban Ki-moon for his role in certifying elections, arguing that the UN outstripped its mandate and rode roughshod over Ivoirian constitutional procedures.

    Briefing on roles of USA, France
  • French aid strategy “better late than never”

    French NGOs welcome the government’s decision to launch a strategy to aid developing countries but say the government needs to go much further if it is to live up to its pledge of making aid more transparent and predictable.

    Under the new strategy 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa – most former French colonies – will receive 60 percent of France’s total development aid focusing on five sectors: health, education, climate change, agriculture and economic growth.

    The government has reiterated promises made in 2004 to devote 0.7 percent of the national budget to humanitarian and development aid by 2015, up from the current 0.34 percent, Didier Le Bret, head of French government development cooperation, told IRIN.

    An inter-ministerial committee for international cooperation and development (CICID) announced the strategy on 5 June; it was the first time the committee has assembled since President Jacques Chirac left office in 2007.

    “French development aid has until now lacked transparency and predictability,” Luc Lamprière, director-general of NGO Oxfam France-Agir, said in a communiqué. “If the decisions taken by the French government are put in place, French aid could become more effective and more predictable for recipient countries.”

    “The decision to target 60 percent of aid to sub-Saharan Africa and to concentrate on five sectors is good news, which will put France in line with commitments it has already signed up to,” he added.

    Le Bret told IRIN: “This is the first time we have concentrated on a limited number of countries so we can really target our support by helping boost agriculture [and] economic growth and helping economies adapt to climate change all at the same time….This is particularly important given the impact of the global economic crisis on so many sub-Saharan African countries.”

    Aid recipients targeted by France as of 2010


    Burkina Faso

    Central African Republic



    Democratic Republic of Congo









    Unanswered questions

    But aid campaigners say many questions remain unanswered. “The news is better late than never,” Oxfam France-Agir’s head of advocacy Sébastien Fourmy told IRIN. “But…the government is not being clear on what kind of aid it is giving, how much of it is going where, and what is behind its decision-making.”

    Le Bret says the support will come through a mixture of loans, debt relief and grants. But Oxfam France-Agir is calling for more detail, including the full amount of the aid package and how much of the aid will be targeted to debt relief, to refugees living in France, and foreigners studying in France, all of which are included under French aid declarations.

    “We need to know what is in the overall [aid] envelope. Sixty percent of what will go to sub-Saharan Africa?” Asked Fourmy. “How much of this aid will be spent directly on sub-Saharan Africa?”

    While the strategy will outline increased aid targets for the region, NGO health coalition Action for Global Health says France has a long way to go: French spending on health in developing countries in 2007 was outstripped by the amount it spent on foreign students studying in France. 

    Le Bret says the government will start producing annual reports outlining aid targets and actual goals reached in a bid to be more transparent.

    “We understand we have an obligation to be open with our aid commitments and explicit about our results so outsiders can evaluate what we are doing,” he told IRIN.

    France has joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative, launched in the Ghana capital Accra in 2008 to improve donor information-sharing about aid commitments.

    In 2008 France was the world’s fourth-largest development aid donor after the United States, Germany and Great Britain.


    French aid strategy “better late than never”
  • Climate change may drown cities

    People in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, prefer to commute in three-wheeled autorickshaws, taxis and buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), in their bid to slow down global warming.

    CNG produces a lower level of greenhouse gases and is an environmentally cleaner alternative to petrol. Dhaka's residents are among the most vulnerable to global warming and don't want to become "climate terrorists".

    The city is among more than 3,000 identified by the UN-Habitat's State of the World's Cities 2008/09 as facing the prospect of sea level rise and surge-induced flooding. The report warns policymakers, planners and the world at large that few coastal cities will be spared the effects of global warming.

    Asia accounts for more than half the most vulnerable cities, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (27 percent) and Africa (15 percent); two-thirds of the cities are in Europe, and almost one-fifth of all cities in North America are in Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ).

    During the 1900s, sea levels rose by an estimated 17cm; global mean projections for sea level rise between 1990 and 2080 range from 22cm to 34cm, according to the UN-Habitat researchers.

    The report points out that by 2070, urban populations in river delta cities, such as Dhaka, Kolkata (India), Yangon (Myanmar), and Hai Phong (on the coast near Hanoi in Vietnam), which already experience a high risk of flooding, will join the group of populations most exposed to this danger. Port cities in Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and India will have joined the ranks of cities whose assets are most at risk.

    African coastal cities that could be severely be affected by rising sea levels include Abidjan (Cote d'Ivoire), Accra (Ghana), Alexandria (Egypt), Algiers (Algeria), Cape Town (South Africa), Casablanca (Morocco), Dakar (Senegal), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Djibouti (Djibouti), Durban (South Africa), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Lagos (Nigeria), Libreville (Gabon), Lome (Togo), Luanda (Angola), Maputo (Mozambique), Mombasa (Kenya), Port Louis (Mauritius), and Tunis (Tunisia).

    Dhaka is wedged between huge rivers like the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, with hundreds of tributaries swollen with increasing glacial melt from the Himalayan ranges as a result of soaring global temperatures.

    "The elevation in Dhaka ranges between two and 13 metres above sea level, which means that even a slight rise in sea level is likely to engulf large parts of the city. Moreover, high urban growth rates and high urban densities have already made Dhaka more susceptible to human-induced environmental disasters," said the UN-Habitat report.

    ''The sheer number of people living in the city means that the negative consequences of climate change are likely to be felt by a large number of people, especially the urban poor who live in flood-prone and water-logged areas''

    "With an urban growth rate of more than four percent annually, Dhaka, which already hosts more than 13 million people, is one of the fastest growing cities in Southern Asia, and is projected to accommodate more than 20 million by 2025.

    "The sheer number of people living in the city means that the negative consequences of climate change are likely to be felt by a large number of people, especially the urban poor who live in flood-prone and water-logged areas."

    A total 634 million people in the world live in LECZ that lie at or below 10 metres above sea level, according to a recent report, Planet Prepare, by World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation. Although LECZ constitute only two percent of the earth's landmass, they contain 10 percent of its population and have a higher rate of urbanisation than the rest of the world.

    Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, notes his concern about the prospect of large-scale devastation in his foreword to the UN-Habitat report, saying: "Cities embody some of society's most pressing challenges, from pollution and disease to unemployment and lack of adequate shelter. But cities are also venues where rapid, dramatic change is not just possible but expected."

    Dhaka is preparing for flood protection. The government, prompted by frequent flooding in the 1980s, has already completed embankments, reinforced concrete walls and pumping stations in the most densely populated part of the city.

    The UN report cautioned that Dhaka's solutions should also take into consideration unresolved development problems, such as the growing slum population, which has doubled in the last decade and shows no signs of abating.

    The World Vision report pointed out that other urban centres not physically challenged by global warming would also face tremendous challenges, with the possible influx of "environmental refugees" from affected cities.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has urged global greenhouse gas emission reductions of 50 percent to 85 percent by 2050, based on 2000 emissions, to avoid a 2°Celsius increase in global mean temperature.

    Such an increase is expected to destroy 30 percent to 40 percent of all known species, generate bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and more intense weather events like floods and cyclones.

    The IPCC and activists have called on the global community to focus on preventing global warming from crossing the perilous 2°C threshold, which requires keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations below 350ppm (parts per million).

    "The problem is, they [concentrations] already stand at 385ppm (2008), rising by 2ppm annually," said the World Vision report. "Since there are no rewind buttons for running down emitted greenhouse gas stocks, implicational reasoning suggests immediate and stringent emissions cuts."

    Eminent scientists, such as James E. Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, are warning that even the 2-degree threshold may likely not be safe enough to avoid "global disaster".


    Climate change may drown cities
  • Climate change's threat to water needs more study

    Models to predict the impact of climate change on potable water and the management of wastewater are needed to deal with the expected increase in water-related illnesses as result of global warming, says a new policy brief by the United Nations University (UNU).

    "We need greater investment in the development of models to aid decision-making, reduce uncertainty and augment costly monitoring programmes," said Corinne Wallace, a leading water health researcher at UNU's International Network on Water, Environment and Health, and one of the authors of a new policy brief.

    "Combining these efforts with a vulnerability map for water-associated diseases can form the basis for evidence-based policy development," she said. "Validated models need to be developed that will predict the impact of climate change on water and wastewater infrastructure, water availability, water quality and waterborne/water-associated diseases."

    The results could be used for policy development, intervention, adaptation and mitigation purposes, as well as determining the effects on achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and global migration patterns.

    Climate change is expected to bring more frequent and intense rain to many places, leading to floods and shallow subsurface water flow, which can mobilise pathogens and other contaminants, the brief noted. 

    Higher temperatures could also change the rates of reproduction, survival and infectivity of various pathogens. "Even if not directly linked to health, these threats can have a devastating effect on the ecosystem, indirectly threatening water supplies."

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that global warming will affect not only the function of water infrastructure, but operation and management practices as well, according to the UNU brief.

    ''Sea-level rise will affect groundwater aquifers in coastal areas and flood low-lying areas, reducing freshwater availability. It is estimated that by 2030 the risk of diarrhoea will be up to 10 percent higher in some countries due to climate change''

    "Generally, water treatment plants and distribution systems are built to withstand weather events of a given return period or probability (e.g. the 100-year flood). Under changing climate conditions, these return periods are likely to alter, increasing the likelihood of and frequency at which drinking- and wastewater-infrastructure systems will be overwhelmed."

    Water and sanitation services need to be scaled up to address the impact of climate change, the authors of the brief said. Flooding can also affect chemical storage and sewage facilities, compromising water supply quality. 

    Sea-level rise will affect groundwater aquifers in coastal areas and flood low-lying areas, reducing freshwater availability. It is estimated that by 2030 the risk of diarrhoea will be up to 10 percent higher in some countries due to climate change.

    Greater migration as a result of water stress or increased food insecurity means that diseases will be transported to other regions, where they may or may not be able to survive, potentially exposing host communities to new diseases. "Policies at various levels and their implementation, however, do not reflect this principle," the authors noted.

    "Improved access to clean water can reduce diarrhoea and waterborne diseases by at least 25 percent; improved sanitation is accompanied by more than a 30 percent reduction in child mortality. This urgent global challenge is pragmatically achievable, politically feasible and ethically important."


    Climate change's threat to water needs more study
  • "Hot topic" - special journal issue on climate and migration reviewed

    The October issue of the Forced Migration Review (FMR), a journal published three times a year by Oxford University's Refugee Studies Centre, is a 38-article buffet on climate change and displacement, a “hot topic” according to Jean-Francois Durieux, a lecturer at the centre.

    The latest FMR issue provides snapshots of current debates on people displaced by environmental factors and climate change.

    The environmental and migration disciplines have been wrangling over the real numbers of people fleeing natural disasters as the impact of climate change intensifies; how to define a person displaced by environmental factors; what kind of protection can be afforded to such persons; whether those affected should be relocated; whether they should rather be helped to adapt to their changed environment, among various other issues.

    Several articles in the journal underline the need for more research to understand and respond to the crisis, which could affect least 50 million people by 2010.

    Since the 1970s, experts have debated the extent to which climate change can drive migration. Some predict waves of "environmental refugees" while others are more sceptical, researchers Olivia Dun and François Gemenne said in an article in the journal.

    "Generally speaking, the former, who tend to isolate environmental factors as a major driving force of migration, can be described as 'alarmists' and the latter, who tend to insist on the complexity of the migration process, as 'sceptics'.

    "Interestingly, alarmists usually come from disciplines such as environmental, disaster and conflict studies, while sceptics belong almost exclusively to the field of forced migration and refugee studies. Unsurprisingly, reports linking climate change with security issues usually side with alarmists," they commented.

    "Just as most classical theories on migration tend to ignore the environment as a driver of migration, most theories on environmental governance ignore migration flows. Bridging this gap should be the first priority of a research agenda in this field."

    It’s not all policy. In some of the articles, real human stories and quotes bring the issues to life. "If the water comes I am not afraid. I can swim, my sister can swim and we have a boat; but the rice can't swim, and my father's house can't swim either," said Manuel Modena, 12, who lives near the Río Coco River in northern Nicaragua.

    About 70,000 people live along the Río Coco's 700km length. When the rains come and the water level starts rising, the people upriver sometimes have only two hours to warn those living downstream. The community has now set up a chain of 40 radio stations to keep everyone informed about the daily amount of rain and the water level in the river.

    There are other positive stories about adapting to climate change. People in flood-prone southwest Bangladesh have developed ingenious floating rafts with a bamboo base, on which water hyacinth is piled and then covered by other plant material or coconut husk to form a seed bed ready for planting, writes James Pender, development and natural resources advisor for the social development programme of the Anglican/Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh.

    These then become floating gardens (called ‘baira’), Pender explains, cultivated in the rainy season and immune to flood.

    Other interesting facts abound – just one example: some semi-nomadic ethnic groups in Iran are unable to migrate to summer grounds as mist and fog that once nourished pastures have not appeared for several years.

    Leading academics, researchers and activists, some affiliated to policy think-tanks, non-governmental organisations and United Nations agencies, have contributed the 38 articles in the journal, which can be accessed at: www.fmreview.org


    "Hot topic" - special journal issue on climate and migration reviewed

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