(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Venezuela on the brink, WhatsApping hate, and a Davos bright spot: The Cheat Sheet

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

     

    On our radar

    What next in Venezuela?

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Mediterranean crossing just got even more dangerous

     

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

     

    Forwarding hate

     

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

     

    Overheard in Davos

     

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

    In case you missed it:

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Weekend read

     

    Fleeing the last days of Islamic State in Syria

     

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

     

    And finally…

     

    Top Libyan photographer dies in crossfire

     

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

     

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    Venezuela on the brink, WhatsApping hate, and a Davos bright spot
  • In eastern Burkina Faso, local grievances help militancy take root

    It is part of one of the most important nature reserves in West Africa, home to endangered lions, cheetahs, and elephants, attracting tourists from around the world. But in the forests of eastern Burkina Faso – a landlocked former French colony of roughly 17 million people – a new type of visitor can now be found: Islamist militants.

     

    The militants, whose affiliation remains unclear, are gaining ground by tapping into long-standing social grievances linked to poverty, poor social services, and the conservation of protected parks, local analysts and officials say.

     

    Since early last year, they have launched a string of deadly attacks on government officials, soldiers, and residents, turning the sparsely populated eastern region into the latest front of Burkina Faso’s three-year struggle against violent extremists.

     

    These attacks mark a significant geographical shift for militants operating in Burkina Faso, who were until recently limited to the country’s arid north, close to the border with Mali. This has left states that border the eastern region – Togo, Benin and Ghana, all on West Africa’s coastline – fearing they might be the next targets of a similar militant insurgency.

     

    With two battlefronts now open, the number of violent attacks in Burkina Faso is rising fast. Earlier this month ethnic clashes triggered by militant incursions in the north left at least 46 dead, while an ambush on government forces in late December killed 10 gendarmerie and injured three others, according to Burkina Faso’s security ministry. Last week, authorities extended the state of emergency imposed after the attack for another six months.

     

    In just 12 months, the number of people fleeing their homes – mostly in the north – has risen from 9,000 to more than 50,000. As medical workers abandon their posts, around 100,000 people have been left without access to healthcare facilities, while 96,000 children lack formal education following threats and attacks on schools.

     

    In 2019 the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, estimates that 1.2 million people will be in need of emergency assistance.

     

    “The country has never experienced what it is going through now,” said Metsi Makhetha, the top UN official in Burkina Faso.

     

    Local grievances

     

    Much of the eastern area falls within the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) ecological complex, a series of protected parks spanning Burkina Faso, Benin, and Niger, parts of which are listed by international agencies and conventions including UNESCO and Ramsar.

    “They offer people dignity, economic opportunity, and land. They offer them back what the state has taken.”

    The protection of these spaces has led to conflicts over public access to land and mining sites, while new boundaries for pastoral zones for grazing animals has resulted in some residents being forcibly evicted from their villages. These are the kinds of grievances the militants have been quick to seize upon.

     

    “They offer people dignity, economic opportunity, and land,” said independent Burkinabe researcher Mahamoudou Savadogo. “They offer them back what the state has taken.”

     

    Mining sites, hunting concessions, tourism, and cotton production contribute substantial amounts to the national economy, but locals rarely benefit, Savadogo said.

     

    “It is a rich region, but people are very poor.”

     

    The militants also feed into wider national and regional dynamics. Burkina Faso is among a number of countries in the Sahel, including Mali and Niger, that are witnessing an alarming increase in violent extremism that is destabilising the region.

     

    In Burkina Faso, the extremists have found a country with a security apparatus weakened by the fall of Blaise Compaoré, who ruled the country for 27 years before a popular revolution sent him packing in 2014. It has been weakened further by the dissolution of Compaoré’s elite army unit, the Regiment of Presidential Security, or RSP.

     

    Hundreds of attacks have since been recorded, including major assaults on the capital, Ouagadougou, while a homegrown Burkinabe Islamist group known as Ansaroul Islam – which has close links to militants in Mali – has emerged in the country’s northern Soum province.

     

    Ansaroul Islam are now among the groups thought to be involved in the violence in the east, as are Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), armed bandits, and young local men radicalised while studying at Islamic schools in Mali. In hushed voices some government officials even suspect the long arm of Compaoré and his dissolved, disgruntled RSP troops.

     

    “All analyses are plausible,” said Ousmane Traoré, the governor of the eastern region.

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    A man sits at a desk
    Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
    Ousmane Traoré, the governor of Burkina Faso’s eastern region, where locals say they feel left out of new economic initiatives.

    Civilians targeted

     

    While the militants have found common interests with some local residents in the east, the cost has been high for many others. In recent months dozens of troops have died in roadside bombs and ambushes, while a growing number of civilians are also being targeted.

     

    “They take root, then they show their true colours,” said a local official from one of the east’s most conflict-affected towns, who like many people interviewed by IRIN did not want to be named for fear of reprisals.

     

    School teachers, in particular, are in the firing line. Just 150 kilometres to the east of Fada N’gourma, in the commune of Kantchari, schools are closed and students are idle.

     

    In late November, militants forced the administrator of the largest primary school in town to round up the French language textbooks and set them on fire. A classroom and office burnt down in the blaze; the nearby schools closed down in fear.

    “Every day I am afraid of what might happen to my parents.”

    Only a fortunate few students have been able to relocate to safer areas like Fada N’gourma. But even in safety, life is challenging. A rail-thin 15-year-old girl with a deep cough said she is living alone in Fada N’gourma with her younger sister – only the generosity of her teachers ensuring she is properly fed.

     

    She was recently moved down a school year because there was no space left in her own age group and spends her days paralysed by fear of what is going on back in her village. “Every day I am afraid of what might happen to my parents,” said the girl.

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    A young boy on a bike makes a serious face at the camera
    Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
    A growing number of civilians are being targeted by militants on roads out of Fada N'gourma.

    As state officials flee the east, the government’s already limited capacity to help those in need is dwindling. In September, a landslide at a militant-controlled gold mine in the eastern town of Kabonga left between 50 to 100 people dead. Nobody knows the precise number because the state was unable to launch a rescue mission.

     

    A 35-year-old farmer on his first ever trip to the mine “had hoped to be blessed by God and find gold”, according to his younger cousin. Instead, he was buried alive – “immediately and brutally” – leaving behind a young wife and two small children with little means of support.

     

    “It is heartbreaking,” the cousin said.

     

    ‘They have hurt us so much’

     

    While the humanitarian toll of the violence in the east remains relatively low level, signs of what might come can be found in the Soum province of northern Burkina Faso, where clashes between militants and the army have caused tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in the past few months.

     

    It is here that Ansaroul Islam first set up base in late 2016 using a similar strategy of tapping into social grievances, and it is here where they continue to gain strength despite recent military operations against them.

     

    A 59-year-old farmer from Belede, a small village in Soum, said Ansaroul Islam militants spent two years harassing his neighbours for money and information on the whereabouts of local authority figures. When the villagers finally stopped cooperating, the militants grew angry. One day, three months ago, they rounded up locals at the market and told them to leave.

     

    “They said: ‘if we come back and find you here, you won't escape’,” the farmer recalled from a flyblown cafe in Kongoussi, 90 kilometres south of Soum. “When somebody tells you this, you do what they say.”

     

    Among the displaced are many who have fled abuses by the Burkinabe armed forces. They have engaged in killings and arbitrary detention during counterterrorism operations, according to Human Rights Watch.

     

    Most at risk are members of Soum’s majority Fulani ethnic group, who are targeted for recruitment by the militants and are stigmatised by security forces. One Fulani teacher who shares his surname – Dicko – with the founder of Ansaroul Islam, said four members of his family (all Dickos) were loaded onto the back of a military pickup truck near the village of Damba roughly a year ago, driven into the bush, and executed.

     

    “If you are a Fulani and a Dicko you are in trouble,” said the teacher.

     

    For months, humanitarians said the displaced in Soum did not want to register for aid because they were so afraid the militants would accuse them of speaking with “outsiders”. But as healthcare centres and schools closed and agricultural activities became harder to perform, many are left with few options.

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    Students in a classroom with a chalkboard
    Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
    Teachers are in the firing line, and 96,000 children are out of school because of ongoing militant attacks.

    The farmer from Belede said 18 members of his family now share a small rented house in Djibo, the provincial capital of Soum, one mattress and one mosquito net between them. As his savings dwindle, evening meals have become increasingly rare.

     

    “We need to act,” said Makhetha, the UN official, “and act urgently”.

     

    Military operations

     

    In the east, as in the north, the government's response has been to launch military operations. They have been supported by French troops from a 3,000-strong counterterrorism force in the Sahel called Operation Barkhane, on its first mission in Burkina Faso.

     

    But analysts say military force is unlikely to address the local grievances militants in the east are tapping into. Instead, they fear it will create a cycle of killings, distrust, and displacement – a cycle some feel has already begun.

     

    In December, a young homeless boy was found strangled to death outside the house of a local preacher in Namoungou, a village close to Fada N'gourma. Many say he was killed by militants after startling them with the light of a torch during an early morning operation. Others say he was killed by the army who mistook him for a militant.

     

    Whatever the truth, one local teacher said the sound of an approaching motorbike – the militants’ preferred mode of transport – is now enough to make the few students still in class freeze in terror.

     

    “Shocked,” said the teacher. “Everybody here is shocked.”

     

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    “The country has never experienced what it is going through now”
    In eastern Burkina Faso, local grievances help militancy take root
  • Where there’s political will, there’s a way to protect civilians

    2018 was a disastrous year for civilians caught in conflict.

     

    In most conflict zones around the world, the majority of those killed were civilians. Those who survived suffered myriad physical, emotional, and economic hardships.

     

    In the Middle East, three permanent members of the UN Security Council – the body charged with maintaining global peace and security – conducted or supported military campaigns that massacred civilians.

     

    In Syria, Russia participated in the offensive on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, which killed more than 1,000 civilians, some through the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

     

    In Yemen, the US and the UK continued to support the Saudi-led coalition, despite mounting evidence that airstrikes there have hit hospitals, markets, and school buses, and that the on-off blockade it imposed has worsened an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis in which nearly 16 million Yemenis – more than half of the population – are on the brink of starvation.

    We have repeatedly seen that when political will to protect civilians is mustered, tangible progress is possible.

    In Afghanistan, insurgent groups increasingly targeted civilians, and the number of civilian deaths and injuries climbed steadily over 2018, reaching at least 8,050 by the end of September, according to the latest UN figures.

     

    In Africa, UN peacekeeping missions continued to fall short of their mandates to protect civilians. In the Central African Republic, for example, at least 70 civilians were killed in an attack on a displaced persons’ camp metres away from a UN base. In South Sudan, reports emerged of at least 125 women being raped as they made the multi-day journey to a food distribution site. In the Beni area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN has failed to contain the killings of civilians, which some estimates put at 1,000 since 2014.

     

    Despite these discouraging examples, we at CIVIC have hope for 2019. Why? Because we have repeatedly seen that when political will to protect civilians is mustered, tangible progress is possible.

     

    In Yemen, the October murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi spurred a renewed push to end external actors’ involvement in the war – one factor in December talks that declared a desperately needed (if not yet implemented) ceasefire for the port of Hodeidah. In Syria, it appears that a political deal has prevented – at least for the time being – a military assault on the province of Idlib, which would undoubtedly have catastrophic consequences for civilians.

     

    The three-day Eid holiday ceasefire in Afghanistan last June offered a glimpse of what peace could look like, as Taliban fighters, Afghan military, and civilians mingled without fighting, despite two bombings in Nangarhar province, one claimed by the so-called Islamic State.

     

    At the international level, last May the UN General Assembly dedicated an entire week to discussing tangible ways to further the protection of civilians, and Secretary-General António Guterres called for all UN member states to adopt national policy frameworks on the issue.

     

    Just as we supported the Afghan government in its groundbreaking 2017 adoption of a civilian protection policy, we at CIVIC will continue to help governments around the world – from Iraq to Nigeria to Ukraine – looking to do the same: identifying potential improvements to their policies and laws; providing workshops to equip military and security forces to see their mission with a protection mindset; helping them to understand their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to account for civilian lives in their day-to-day operations.

     

    In South Sudan last January, UNMISS opened a base in Yei – an area devastated by violence in 2017 – to enable the UN mission to better protect civilians in the region. UNMISS is committed to using inter-communal dialogues across the country to prevent deadly conflicts between semi-nomadic cattle farmers and agricultural groups.

     

    In Congo’s Ituri province, the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO responded to escalating violence against civilians in the first half of the year by rapidly launching mobile troop deployments to high-threat areas and initiating peace dialogues between communities. This move was possible thanks to collaboration between officials, community leaders, and UN mission leadership – and most actors in the region agree that the peacekeepers’ quick action halted ongoing violence and likely prevented an escalation in fighting.

     

    These two peacekeeping wins are particularly encouraging as we approach the 20th anniversary of the first specifically mandated UN mission to protect civilians: the formation of UNAMSIL in 1999 was in part a response to global outrage following the massacre of civilians in Sierra Leone.

     

    We’re also hopeful for 2019 because even when political will wavers, the will of civilians themselves does not. We’ve seen repeatedly how meaningfully engaging communities about their own protection yields tangible advances. In Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, for example, community elders in two districts convinced the Taliban, at least temporarily, to remove and stop planting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

     

    In northeastern Nigeria, when community protection committees in Bama notified the military that local militia were sexually exploiting women near an informal displaced persons’ camp, the military banned all militia members who did not have family members at the site from entering. These same committees also obtained regular military escorts for civilians leaving the site, allowing 3,500 people to farm and collect firewood without fear of being attacked.

     

    This sort of determination is encouraging, but it cannot stand alone. Ensuring the protection of civilians in conflict requires consistent, committed, and courageous support from leaders at all levels.

     

    With strong leadership at the international level, true commitment and political will by key states involved in conflicts, and meaningful engagement of affected communities, protection is possible.

     

    We call on leaders to muster the political will to make the possible a reality in 2019.

     

    Civilians trapped in conflict zones don’t have another year to spare.

     

    (TOP PHOTO: A displaced South Sudanese woman in a Protection of Civilians site adjacent to the UNMISS base in Wau, South Sudan. CREDIT: Phil Hatcher-Moore/UNICEF)

    Where there’s political will, there’s a way to protect civilians
  • Nigerian militancy, refugee winters, and a drone in Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar

    Militant attacks spike in Nigeria

    More than 30,000 people have fled fighting in northeastern Nigeria's Borno State, most from Baga on the shores of Lake Chad, as attacks by Boko Haram and its Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) offshoot increased in recent weeks. The UN has expressed concern about the flood of newly displaced people into the state capital, Maiduguri. The impact of the fighting has been "devastating and has created a humanitarian tragedy,” said Edward Kallon, head of UN operations in Nigeria. Meanwhile, the Nigerian army said it had cleared jihadists from several towns, including Baga. The government has previously made claims that Boko Haram was "technically defeated". In reality, the insurgency, which began in 2009, has fragmented but continues – with an uptick in violence in some areas and jihadists targeting other countries in the region. Read more of IRIN's in-depth coverage on countering militancy in the Sahel.

    Winter has come

    Snow and flooding may affect 70,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon this week, according to the UN refugee agency. Storm Norma, bringing rain, high wind, and snow at higher altitudes, will have already passed through Lebanon by Sunday but rain is forecast for next week, adding to flood risks. So far 361 refugee sites have been affected, and one eight-year-old girl died in floodwaters. Flimsy plastic and tarpaulin structures are no match for the heaviest snowfall – one informal settlement near Arsal is said to have been “buried”. Affected refugees have had to find alternatives and aid groups are working to provide shelter, clothing, and heating. The storm follows flooding of displacement camps within Syria: more than 20,000 people in 108 camps were affected in northwestern Idlib by early January, according to Save the Children.

    Congo election result challenged

    After 18 years of Joseph Kabila’s rule, this week saw Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the largest opposition party in the Democratic Republic of Congo, declared the provisional victor of long-delayed presidential elections. But another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, called the result an "electoral coup" and said he would file a court challenge against it this weekend. Since independence in 1960 from Belgium, Congo has never seen a peaceful transfer of political power. It is struggling to move on from decades of conflict and political unrest and still faces a host of humanitarian challenges, including its largest ever Ebola outbreak. There are fears these new tensions may lead to a fresh eruption of political violence across the country. Initial unrest has already included one demonstration by Fayulu’s supporters that reportedly left five civilians dead and 17 police officers injured in the southwestern city of Kikwit. Fayulu believes he won 61 percent of the vote, citing election observers from the Catholic Church, which also cast doubt on the result. Fayulu claims Tshisekedi only won because he made a backdoor power-sharing deal with Kabila's chosen successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

    Deal or no deal? Yemen ceasefire falling apart

    The shaky ceasefire deal in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah racked up another obstacle on Thursday when a Houthi drone attacked a military parade at a base that belongs to the Yemeni army and its allies in the Saudi-led coalition. Six soldiers were reportedly killed, and the government of internationally recognised (but exiled) President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi said the attack shows the rebels are “not ready for peace”. Efforts to implement the Hodeidah agreement – reached at talks last month in Stockholm – have been hampered by differing interpretations of the text, which Oxfam this week called too vague, not to mention what a UN spokesperson described as a “lack of trust between the parties”. Watch this space for more on the ongoing diplomatic efforts not just to sort out Hodeidah – a key entry point for aid and commercial goods – but to finally end Yemen’s war.

    Exploring peace amid fresh violence in Thailand’s deep south

    The long-running Malay Muslim separatist insurgency in Thailand’s troubled south is back in the spotlight early in the new year. January has seen renewed attempts at peace talks – as well as fresh bouts of violence. Thai peace negotiators and Malaysian intermediaries want leaders of the separatist Barisan Revolusi Nasional to join peace talks, though it’s unclear if insurgents affiliated with the group are prepared to do so. These peace overtures come amid continuing violence in the south, including a school car bomb (blamed on the BRN), which injured a 12-year-old student, and the killing of four defence volunteers at a school. Rights groups say such attacks on civilian targets are war crimes, but they also accuse Thai security forces of abuses, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. More than 6,000 people have been killed in violence in Thailand’s southern provinces since 2004, including more than 200 people last year, according to monitoring group Deep South Watch.

    One to listen to

    Keeping local staff safe

    Local staff continue to bear the brunt of violence targeting humanitarian groups. A guard working for an NGO in the Central African Republic was killed on 5 January, while a Syrian staff member of an international NGO was abducted and killed in Idlib. The most recent episode of the Humanitarian Incidents podcast tackles the issue of safety for local staff (including humanitarians working for subcontracted local partners). Nour Qoussaibany, security lead for the International Rescue Committee in Lebanon, speaks about local perceptions that international NGOs pay more attention to the safety of international staff, and explores what can be done to prioritise security for local aid workers. Hint to donors: boosting funding to build local security capacity would be a good start. Listen to the interview here.

    In case you missed it:

    BURUNDI: Disability NGO Handicap International (aka Humanity and Inclusion) is leaving Burundi, citing regulatory demands. In a re-registration process, the government now requires NGOs to apply a quota for the ethnicity of their Burundian staff, a measure the NGO called discriminatory and unconstitutional. [Your tips and views are welcome.]

    NEW VIRUS: A fruit bat has been found to host a previously unknown filovirus (the family that includes Ebola). In the laboratory, it can infect human cells, but the risk of transmission is unknown. According to Nature, researchers have called it Měnglà, after the area where the bat was captured in China.

    THE PHILIPPINES: At least 140 people have been killed in the Philippines since late December, when heavy rains from Tropical Depression Usman unleashed landslides and flooding in parts of southern Luzon and eastern Visayas. Philippine authorities say more than 56,000 people sought refuge in evacuation centres.

    SUDAN: Violence against protesters and medics must end, Human Rights Watch said, after a “particularly bloody” Wednesday in the Sudanese city of Omdurman. At least three people died after government forces opened fire and used tear gas against demonstrators demanding the downfall of President Omar al-Bashir. Officials say 22 people have died since protests started last month; HRW put the toll at around 40.

    WORLD BANK: World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is quitting for a role in private investment fund Global Infrastructure Partners. All previous Bank presidents have also been US citizens. As well as speculating on the backstory, observers are asking if the tradition of Washingon D.C. handpicking the candidate should continue.

    Weekend read

    Women, girls, and gender preparedness in aid

    It’s no secret that understanding how crises affect women and girls differently from men and boys is one of the keys to an effective humanitarian response. But Suzy Madigan, senior advisor for gender and protection for CARE International, says: “The talk is there, but to really put talk into action there needs to be concrete actions put behind it.” Get up to speed on gender issues in aid this weekend, not just with Madigan’s Q&A, which calls for more local women to be included in emergency response, but also with two stories from the ground that show why extra care and planning is needed. Discover how girls forced into conflict in South Sudan are finding it particularly tough to reintegrate into their communities in peacetime, and how the healthcare gap for returnees to Syria’s Raqqa affects vulnerable women.

    And finally...

    Brexit and the US shutdown

    It’s reaching crunch time for two massive news stories with humanitarian ramifications: Brexit, and the US government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s Mexico border wall. On the former, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to see her “only deal on the table” with the EU defeated in a vote on Tuesday. What’s next is anyone’s guess: she could resign, there could be a new general election, possibly another referendum, perhaps all of the above. As a rush of migrant vessels has made it across the Channel from France in recent weeks, we’ll be exploring whether the British government, in its response, has tried to manufacture a migration “crisis” to harden attitudes on immigration at this crucial juncture. On the latter, we’ve already reported on the real humanitarian crisis on the US-Mexico border, but look out for more on the possible impacts of a prolonged shutdown on humanitarian programmes.

    (TOP PHOTO: People carry the body of one of the attack victims during their burial ceremony at the Sajeri village on the outskirts of the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, on 8 January 2019. CREDIT: Audu Marte/AFP)

    il-as-bp-si/ns/ag

    Nigerian militancy, refugee winters, and a drone in Yemen
  • Further reading on militancy

    The following is a guide to must-read articles, reports and research papers on militancy in the Sahel. It’s an ever-expanding library, but this is a useful resource to get you started – from overviews on extremism to country-specific analysis.

    Understanding extremism

    Journey to Extremism in Africa

    Valuable data by UNDP based on interviews with 500 ex-jihadists in five African countries trying to understand their backgrounds and “tipping points” that led them to join extremist groups

     

     

    Alt-Right or Jihad?

    Unleashed by globalisation’s dark side and the collapse of communities, radical Islam and the alt-Right share a common cause

     

    Women, Gender and Daesh Radicalisation

    An exploration of the role of gender in IS recruitment. It challenges the narrative of women as “innately peaceful”, or as actors coerced into joining.

     

    Not all Young People in Jihadist Groups are 'Radicalised Youth'

    The importance of micro-local contexts in preventing and countering recruitment by violent extremist groups

     

    The Art of Making a Jihadist

    Interview with militancy doyen Thomas Hegghammer on the hidden culture of poetry, music and storytelling that sustains jihadis

     

    War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Evolutionary Underpinnings of the Moral Imperative to Extreme Group Violence

    Why do people decide to sacrifice their own lives in acts of extreme violence against others?

    What Motivates ISIS Fighters – and Those who Fight Against Them

    Accessible CNN report on the three crucial factors motivating extremists: a deep commitment to sacred values, the readiness to forsake family for those values, and the perceived spiritual strength of the group or community that the fighter represents.

    Membership Matters: Coerced Recruits and Rebel Allegiance

    Why press-ganged rebels fight on rather than surrendering at every opportunity

     

    Sahel Blog

    Weekly blog covering politics and religion in the Sahel by Alex Thurston

     

    On combating extremism

     

    Countering Violent Extremism

    Excellent overview on what we know about Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism

     

    Here’s What the Social Science Says About Countering Violent Extremism

    Unless we understand the powerful cultural forces behind the turn to violent extremism, we will fail to address the threat

     

    Shouldn’t YOU be Countering Violent Extremism?

    Excellent overview of the inherent weaknesses of CVE – like does it work?

     

    Making CVE Work

    What it says on the tin – a stab at making CVE fit for purpose

     

    Transforming violent extremism: A peacebuilder’s guide

    Search for Common Ground draws on three decades of experience in transforming violent conflict in communities plagued by many of the same dynamics underlying violent extremism

     

    “Defeating IS Ideology” Sounds Good, But What Does It Really Mean?

    The West’s obsessive focus on combatting ideology has produced no quantifiably positive results

     

    DDR in the Context of Offensive Military Operations, Counterterrorism, CVE and Non-Permissive Environments: Key Questions, Challenges, and Considerations

    Ignore the crazy title – useful article on the challenge of DDR in the context of counter-insurgency

     

    A way home for jihadis: Denmark's radical approach to Islamic extremism

    A readable look at the Aarhus model for deradicalising extremists

     

    The Sahel/Lake Chad region

     

    Responses to Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Region: Policies, Cooperation and Livelihoods

    No single factor explains the emergence and rise of Boko Haram in the region, but understanding the overall context is important to understanding the movement itself

     

    Lake Chad: The World’s Most Complex Humanitarian Disaster

    A deep multimedia dive exploring the inter-connected crisis

     

    Crisis and Development: The Lake Chad Area and Boko Haram

    Even before the Boko Haram crisis, the Lake Chad region was one of the poorest in the world

     

    Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram

    The rise of vigilante groups, and the potential for problems in the future

     

    Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force

    The G5 is an experiment in a region crowded by sometimes-competing military initiatives

     

     

    The Niger-Mali Border: Subordinating Military Action to a Political Strategy

    The Nigerien government and its allies’ use of military force and non-state armed proxies to curtail jihadist groups along the Niger-Mali border is stoking intercommunal conflict.

     

    The New Jihadist Strategy in the Sahel

    Beyond Islamic ideology, AQIM and related movements have framed their message as one of fighting a neo-colonial enemy, and tailored their narratives to fit their local contexts

     

    Nigeria

     

    Boko Haram Beyond the Headlines: Analyses of Africa’s Enduring Insurgency

    Most up to date analysis by some of the best researchers

     

    ‘Year of the Debacle’: How Nigeria Lost Its Way in the War Against Boko Haram

    An up-close account of the Nigerian army’s failure to come to grips with the insurgency

     

    Factional Dynamics within Boko Haram

    ISWAP’s attempts to redefine its relations with the civilian population could make it a long-term threat to regional stability

     

    Boko Haram’s New Tactics Imperil Nigeria’s Countryside

    The future of the war turns on whether the military can definitively claim control of the countryside

     

    ‘The Disease is Unbelief’: Boko Haram’s Religious and Political Worldview

    The combination of exclusivism and grievance has provided the ideological framework for Boko Haram’s violence

     

    Gifts and Graft: How Boko Haram Uses Financial Services for Recruitment and Support

    Crucial study by Mercy Corps into what motivated young people to join Boko Haram

     

    Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth

    Mercy Corps second ground-breaking study on Boko Haram

     

    “If You See it You Will Cry”: Life and Death in Giwa Barracks

    Hundreds of people, including children, have died following their detention in horrendous conditions at Giwa barracks military detention centre, Maiduguri.

     

    Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict

    The first serious study of Boko Haram from way back in 2010, and it’s still relevant

     

    'Bad Blood'

    Perceptions of children born of conflict-related sexual violence and women and girls associated with Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria

     

    Nigeria: Women and the Boko Haram Insurgency

    Women have suffered violence and abuse by Boko Haram, but they are not only victims. Their experiences should inform policies to tackle the insurgency and build peace

     

    ‘They betrayed us’: Women who survived Biko Haram raped, starved and detained in Nigeria

    The Nigerian military has recaptured vast swathes of territory controlled by Boko Haram. But instead of “freeing” people who had been trapped in these areas, the military has carried out systematic abuse.

     

    Ideational Dimensions of the Boko Haram Phenomenon

    How Boko Haram frames its struggle and the appeal of its message

     

     

    Mali

     

    Going Beyond the Complexity of Mali’s Conflict

    A useful multi-layered analysis of the Malian conflict

     

    Mali is Becoming a Failed State and it is Not the Jihadists’ Fault

    A focus on regional security masks the root cause of the Malian crisis

     

    What Can Save Mali?

    Good overview of the crisis, which argues that dialogue is part of the answer

     

    Mali: New Study on Local Security Perceptions

    How Malians experience and understand security, and the impact of the perceived ‘absence of the state'

     

    Central Mali: An Uprising in the Making?

    How rebellion spread from northern Mali and erupted in the country’s central region

     

    Mali's young 'jihadists': Fueled by faith or circumstance?

    Interviews with 63 youths formerly engaged in 'jihadist' groups challenge preconceived ideas about violent extremism in Mali

     

    The Politics of Islam in Mali: Separating Myth from Reality

    The government should work toward a partnership with religious authorities to enable them to play a stabilising role, argues the ICG

     

    Niger

    Niger and Boko Haram: Beyond Counter-insurgency

    The struggle against Boko Haram in south-eastern Niger is increasingly sharpening local conflicts over access to resources

     

    Understanding Trajectories of Radicalisation in Agadez

    Interesting look at people’s perceptions of extremism and democracy

     

    Cameroon

     

    Cameroon’s Far North: A New Chapter in the Fight Against Boko Haram

    As fighting between government forces and Boko Haram diminishes, a lasting peace depends on how the government deals with former members of the jihadist movement

     

    Cameroon’s Far North: Reconstruction amid Ongoing Conflict

    The government and international partners should embrace development policies that take into account the local population’s resilience strategies, says ICG

     

    Chad

     

    Fighting Boko Haram in Chad: Beyond Military Measures

    The government needs to relaunch trade, improve public services and reintegrate demobilised militants.

    Further reading on militancy
  • No way back: New law adds pressure on asylum seekers in Italy

    Over the last five years, some two million migrants and refugees have made it from the north coast of Africa by sea to the perceived promise and safety of Europe. Almost 650,000 people have survived the longest, most dangerous crossing via the central Mediterranean to Italy.

    Lamin Saidykhan, a 21-year-old Gambian, is one of them.

    Saidykhan fled difficult conditions in his home country in 2016, hoping to find a better life in Italy. But things have not been easy. The recent repeal of two-year “humanitarian protection” status for a broad class of asylum seekers leaves people like him even more vulnerable.

     

    From 2015 to 2017, almost 26,000 Gambians sought asylum in Italy. Under the old law, those who didn’t immediately qualify for asylum could still stay in Italy for a certain period and receive some social benefits. But the rules were tightened late last year to include only victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other very specific criteria.

    Read more: New Italian law adds to unofficial clampdown on aid to asylum seekers

    Prominent Italians, including the mayors of Milan and Naples, have publicly opposed the new measures on ethical grounds, while the governors of Tuscany and Piedmont have said they will challenge them in court.

    But dozens of migrants and asylum seekers have already been evicted from state-organised housing, and thousands more remain concerned. Unwilling to return home and unable to build a future in Italy, they fear they may end up on the street with no access to services or support.

     

    *The production of this film was supported by a Migration Media Award

    No way back: New law adds pressure on asylum seekers in Italy
  • Editors’ picks: Why you need to read these 2018 stories

    Our top 10 most popular stories are those you clicked on most in 2018, but we also had our own favourites.

     

    Over the past 12 months, IRIN reporters spanned out across the globe to examine under-reported crises, long-running conflicts, extremism, sudden disasters, slow-burning emergencies, and the humanitarian consequences of migration.

     

    Here are some of the stories we wish more people had read, and why they’ll matter in 2019. If you haven’t read them yet, there’s still time.

     

    Evidence unearthed

    burnt-out_vehicle_on_the_road_from_brazzavile_to_kinkala.jpg

    Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
    Burnt-out vehicle on the road from Brazzavile to Kinkala

    Congo-Brazzaville’s hidden war

     

    Unlike better-known conflicts in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, unrest in Congo-Brazzaville after disputed elections in 2016 occurred with little international attention or outside scrutiny. At the end of 2017, Philip Kleinfeld gained rare access to the Pool region, where he documented the toll of two years of conflict. In the government’s crackdown on former militias, villages were bombed from the air while others were pillaged by ground troops. Entire areas were left empty and, despite huge suffering, the government refused to recognise the existence of the crisis for more than a year. Our two-part series took an exclusive look at the lives upended in this brutal hidden war. Satellite images obtained by Emmanuel Freudenthal months after Kleinfeld’s story was published in January 2018 allowed us to update it in June with more evidence of the scale of the government’s scorched-earth campaign.

    Why it matters in 2019:

    A year on, the ceasefire the government announced with rebels in Pool is still holding, while the political space has opened with the release of several political prisoners. The accord paves the way for tens of thousands of displaced civilians to return, but humanitarian needs remain high, especially as the region was largely sealed off from aid organisations at the height of the crisis. Activists remain concerned by the absence of justice, and fear the conflict will flare up again if its root causes are not addressed. The information gathered by Kleinfeld and Freudenthal is meanwhile being used by Congolese lawyers hoping to bring a case before the International Criminal Court.

     


     

    Counter-terror compliance gets harder

    usaid.png

    USAID

    Shutdowns, suspensions, and legal threats put relief at risk

     

    Tougher donor restrictions on relief operations in areas controlled by extremist groups are “out of control”, impeding life-saving work, and could lead aid groups to pull out of the most challenging responses, senior humanitarian officials and rights experts warned. IRIN reporting revealed that aid to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in northwestern Syria had been quietly halted on counter-terrorism grounds. And, in a parallel development, a Norwegian NGO paid $2.05 million to settle a case brought by the US government regarding its relations with Iran and Palestinian group Hamas.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    Millions of vulnerable people in Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere live under the sway of “terrorist” groups they don't necessarily support. How will they receive aid if humanitarian agencies can’t comply with new counter-terrorism regulation? New US court cases and USAID investigations appear likely in 2019.

     

     


     

    Afghan drought solutions

    afghanistan-droughtsolutions-1.jpg

    Two men in Afghanistan in a farm field.
    Stefanie Glinski/IRIN
    In drought-hit Abkamari District in western Afghanistan’s Badghis Province, farmers work on a plot of land that is irrigated by a new solar-powered water system.

    Oasis amid the drought: Local water systems give Afghans a reason to stay home

     

    Afghanistan is in the middle of a severe drought that has destroyed crops, killed livestock, and in 2018 uprooted nearly as many people as conflict. We’ve tracked the issue early and often on our weekly Cheat Sheet, as well as in stories examining ongoing impacts such as displacement and child marriage. Conflict has made access difficult for humanitarian groups, and some NGOs fear concentrating aid in the comparatively accessible urban centres of western Afghanistan may be pulling people from their homes in search of help. Is there a better solution? In one parched district, reporter Stefanie Glinski examined how simple water systems are convincing hundreds of families to stay home, even though they have lost their livelihoods to the drought. Many people in need of help live in these remote districts, but not all aid groups are prepared to manage the risks of working there.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    Analysts are projecting that food security will worsen in the coming months, with more than 10 million Afghans in a “crisis” or “emergency” situation by February 2019. Yet humanitarian budgets are overstretched and conflict is worsening.

     

     


     

    Iraq’s future

    img_3275.jpg

    Annie Slemrod/IRIN

    Searching for Othman

     

    War. Displacement. Return. What do these words mean to the lives of people on the ground? Join Middle East editor Annie Slemrod in Iraq as she searches for one boy whose name she did not know in a country of 37 million people. She not only finds out his name, but that these words, so common in press releases and news articles, don’t even begin to express how the last few years and the fight against so-called Islamic State have changed the lives of many Iraqis – including one young boy whose life continues to be shaped by that struggle.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    Iraq is making a rebound of sorts: it has mostly defeated IS, and millions of displaced people have gone home. But nearly two million more have not. Some of the grievances that allowed IS to flourish have not been addressed, and large-scale protests over shortages of electricity, water, and jobs erupted in 2018 in parts of the country. Othman’s story highlights how hard it will be in 2019, and in the coming years, for many in the country to break a long cycle of violence and build any semblance of a future.

     

     


     

    Migrant journeys

    migrant_shelter_in_sonoyta_mexico_4.jpg

    Migrant shelter in Sonoyta, Mexico.
    Eric Reidy/IRIN
    Migrant shelter in Sonoyta, Mexico.

    By sand or by sea

    Are the journeys of Central Americans through Mexico to the US border really a world apart from those of sub-Saharan Africans through Niger and Libya to the Mediterranean Sea? No, journalist Eric Reidy, who has covered both over the past four years, suggests in this reporter’s notebook. He points to “the raw desperation and danger of the journey; the political backlash in Europe and the United States fuelling the rise of the far right; the attempts to stop people from crossing borders that have empowered criminals and increased suffering and abuse.” And, most glaring of all, the “basic inhumanity” of an official response based on prevention rather than legal alternatives. Some things about the two situations are starkly different, of course, so a clear ‘yes/no’ answer isn’t really possible. As he notes, 1.8 million people crossed the sea to Europe in the few years since 2014, compared to the reduction of the undocumented population in the United States over the past decade. And international aid workers have been omnipresent in the Mediterranean crisis but are conspicuous by their absence at the US-Mexico border.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    The trend for migration globally is upward, and the political mood in both Europe and the United States heading into the new year only appears to be hardening.

     

     


     

    Hunger and healthcare

    tukuko523.jpg

    Susan Schulman/IRIN

    Venezuela: A humanitarian crisis denied

    By October the number of Venezuelans estimated to have fled their country since the economy began to implode in 2015 hit three million. Given the rate of departures, it won’t be long before that figure reaches four million. Much media attention in 2018 focused on the exodus, on desperate mothers and children fleeing to places like Colombia and Brazil. But what of the many more millions left behind? Susan Schulman spent two weeks in August and September travelling across the country. She found pervasive hunger, resurgent disease, and babies dying because of an absence of standard medicines – an acute humanitarian crisis denied by Venezuela’s own government.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    There are signs President Nicolás Maduro is beginning to accept the need for outside help, but next year is likely to see the situation deteriorate further. The International Monetary Fund has warned that inflation could reach 10 million percent, while the UN expects the exodus to swell to 5.3 million.

     

     


     

    Sahel climate crisis

    How climate change is plunging Senegal’s herders into poverty

    Climate change is about more than just data and science. It’s about the everyday changes that impact the lives of millions – especially those who are poor and vulnerable. In sub-Saharan Africa’s Sahel region, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, drought, floods, and land degradation are threatening the future of livestock herders and crop growers, some of whom have already lost half their income because of depleted harvests and severe food shortages this year. And if the current climatic patterns continue, as they likely will, it may get worse still. Reporter Lucinda Rouse followed life in the herding communities of the Sahel over a six-month period this year. In this series, she meets people barely getting by due to the climate crisis, delves into the political and economic factors making their lives more difficult, and learns about a green solution that local communities believe may help.

    Why it matters in 2019:

    In October, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that time was rapidly running out to reverse the devastating effects of climate change, and rising Islamist militancy now threatens to deepen the crisis for many in the Sahel region.

     

     


     

    Peace in Myanmar

    myanmar-peacebuilders-4.jpg

    Verena Hölzl/IRIN
    Nyi Nyi Zaw, an ethnic Rakhine teacher with the peacebuilding organisation People to People, says he was formerly prejudiced against his Rohingya neighbours: ”I used to be blinded just like the people who come to our trainings.”

    The uphill battle to forge peace in Myanmar's Rakhine State

    Generations of Rohingya have been denied citizenship, segregated, and pushed from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Animosity towards the Rohingya runs deep, but there are also more nuanced views – even in deeply divided Rakhine. Reporter Verena Hölzl met with ethnic Rakhine activists trying to build peace in their troubled state. These local peacebuilders face government restrictions and threats from sceptical hardliners.

     

    Why it matters in 2019:

    There are no overnight solutions to a crisis that has simmered over decades of mistrust and marginalisation. But these local efforts may be a small yet important step to building trust among Myanmar’s ethnic communities: “People have to start to listen to each other,” said one Rakhine student, “or we will never have peace”.

     

    Editors’ picks: Why you need to read these 2018 stories
  • Our 10 most popular stories of 2018

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

    Cameroon’s anglophone war, part 1 and part 2

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

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

     

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

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

    People walk in the distances abstractly

     

    Understanding Eastern Ghouta in Syria

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

    A dust cloud from an explosion on a city

     

    Audit finds UN refugee agency critically mismanaged donor funds in Uganda

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

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

     

    Eritrea-Ethiopia peace leads to a refugee surge

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

    Closeup of two Eritrean men looking away from the camera

     

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

     

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

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

    Two cards like credit cards that read: Humanitarian Assistance

     

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

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

    Outside of an office with barbed wire

     

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

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

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

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

     

    From #AidToo and UN mismanagement to Cameroon and a siege in Syria
    Our 10 most popular stories of 2018
  • 2018 in Review: Local aid

    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 aid sector has made broad commitments to “localise” aid by shifting more power and funding to humanitarians on the ground where crises hit. But change has been slow, and the costs of delivering aid in emergencies continue to soar.

     

    In sprawling refugee camps and ravaged disaster zones, however, local aid workers are already on the front lines of the world’s most pressing crises, as our 2018 reporting on local aid in emergencies demonstrated.

     

    Below are highlights from our reporting, which will continue to explore how these local humanitarians – from grassroots NGOs and community leaders to local governments and everyday citizens – step in to respond, and to examine how this shift impacts the wider aid sector.

     

    Aid sector imbalances

    From evacuee to humanitarian: aid goes local in conflict-torn Marawi

     

    Local humanitarians rushed to respond when fierce urban warfare and martial law turned the Philippine city of Marawi into a no-go zone for most international aid groups last year. But they also put themselves at immense risk, foregoing basic protections that international staff would demand – exposing imbalances in the aid sector.

    A woman with an umbrella stands on rubble as light breaks through

     

    Stepping in

    In the Caribbean, local aid helps tackle a surge in Venezuelan asylum seekers

     

    Venezuelans continue to flee their country, and the region is struggling to absorb the influx. In small Caribbean nations like Trinidad and Tobago – home to an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans – local aid groups are some of the only agencies helping the growing number of asylum seekers.

    closeup of a people in jeans as they sit waiting

     

    Agile response

    In Burkina Faso, a local drive to educate children fleeing extremist violence

    In 2018, jihadist attacks forced hundreds of schools to close in Burkina Faso’s north. One school in the capital, Ouagadougou, adapted to the emergency by taking in and providing psychological support to children displaced by the violence.

    Twins look directly at the camera in front of a chalkboard

     

    ‘Informal humanitarians’

    Behind Indonesia’s tsunami response, a patchwork army of volunteers

     

    Everyday volunteers are playing a crucial role in the ongoing response to the earthquakes and tsunami that hit Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province in 2018. These “informal humanitarians” were first on the ground, while official aid was hampered by damaged infrastructure and red tape. However, the effort was also “spontaneous and disorganised”, as one volunteer told IRIN.

    A woman with a headscarf and sunglasses on a boat carrying a box of aid on her lap

     

    Aid at home

    First person: Bringing aid to my neighbours in Hodeidah just got harder

     

    “The days are long, the dangers many, and the obstacles to aid workers’ jobs in Hodeidah never seem to end,” a local aid worker wrote in his on-the-ground account of the mounting challenges in Yemen’s Red Sea port.

    A family sits on the floor inside and looks up at the camera

     

    Slow-going reforms

    In Bangladesh, a Rohingya strike highlights growing refugee activism

     

    For proponents of the “localisation” agenda, the response to the Rohingya refugee emergency in Bangladesh is evidence of just how slow reforms have been: local aid groups say they’ve been pushed aside while dozens of big international agencies have flooded into the camps. But the voices of Rohingya refugees themselves have also been conspicuously absent.

    Three adult men in a white have a discussion inside a temporary structure

     


     

    Read more of our local aid coverage here. In 2019 we’ll deepen our reporting on local aid, spotlighting the new humanitarians on the front lines of crises around the globe, tracking progress toward “localisation” and examining the implications of this continuing shift. Any stories we should be covering? Let us know: tweet us @irinnews or get in touch here.

    Highlights from our coverage
    2018 in Review: Local aid
  • 2018 in Review: Returns and rebuilding

    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.

    While it’s the death and destruction of wars and natural disasters that tend to grab headlines, civilians continue to suffer long after the television crews have packed up their cameras.

     

    Whether the cause is violence or an earthquake, civilians often return from a crisis to find their homes destroyed and the infrastructure – think water, healthcare, and schools – they once relied on decimated.

     

    The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes is growing: the UN says it rose from 59.5 million in 2014 to 68.5 million in 2017. IRIN has stayed on the story as these people, as well as refugees and migrants, go back home and try to rebuild their lives and communities.

     

    Here are some of the ways we covered rebuilding and returns in 2018:

     

    No way home

    In Iraq, families linked to so-called Islamic State suffer for their relatives’ sins

    Among the nearly two million Iraqis still displaced by the fight against IS are those with real or perceived ties to the militant group. Their communities don’t want them, their country doesn’t know what to do with them, and many are stuck in Iraq’s camps for the foreseeable future.

    closeup of a woman's hands with small markings as she sits on the floor

     

    Returning to nothing

    Razed villages and empty fields await Congo-Brazzaville’s displaced

     

    A December 2017 peace agreement sent some of the 108,000 people who fled fighting in the previous two years back home to Congo-Brazzaville, but our reporters found many homes had been burned to the ground, there was not enough food for returnees, and schools had been shuttered.

    A group of people in Republic of Congo sit outside their temporary shelter in various positions some smiling

     

    Slow and steady

    In Nepal, rushed earthquake rebuild leads to a mountain of debt

    Faster reconstruction isn’t always better. More than three years after a series of earthquakes and aftershocks in Nepal killed 9,000 people and turned parts of the country into rubble, a rush to meet deadlines for government help means people are taking on extra loans they can’t afford, and building new homes that are unlikely to withstand future earthquakes.

    A Nepalese man in a red coat repairs a roof with mountains in the background

     

    Turning the tide

    Returning from Libyan detention, young Gambians try to change the migration exodus mindset

    Among the thousands of Gambians who tried to make it to Europe only to be flown back from Libya’s squalid migrant detention centres is a group of young people now taking to the airwaves, streets, and social media to discourage others from making the same journey.

    A group of young men in a radio studio at mics

     

    A city destroyed

    First person: In Raqqa, you can’t go home again

    Raqqa is the former "capital" of so-called Islamic State, but for Syrian citizen journalist Mazen Hassoun it will always be his hometown. Now living in Europe, Hassoun describes what it’s like to hear from his friends and family about the destruction of the streets he once played in, as they try to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.

    people working in rubble
    Highlights from our coverage
    2018 in Review: Returns and rebuilding

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