Journalism from the heart of crises

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  • Six months after US sanctions lifted, promised aid access in Sudan remains limited

    With the lifting of US sanctions last October, aid organisations hoped the Sudanese government would ease restrictions on aid operations and allow access to parts of the country long kept off limits.

     

    But six months after this major shift in strategy in dealing with President Omar al-Bashir, aid workers and rights advocates doubt the bureaucratic changes they’ve seen in Khartoum will translate into more people receiving humanitarian assistance over the long term.

     

    They also worry that any new cooperation might be rolled back as Sudan normalises relations with the international community, especially if it is soon removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, opening the way to debt relief and foreign investment.

     

    “The way we all see it here is that [access improvements] are a temporary measure to appease Western governments – there’s not been a core change in the government’s behaviour,” said an aid worker based in South Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains, for decades the target of oppression, alleged ethnic cleansing, and brutal counter-insurgency operations by Sudanese government forces and allied militias. “Once they get what they want, it’s going to go back to what it was.”

    A February UN humanitarian appeal called for $1 billion in aid for 4.3 million people who need assistance – about 10 percent of Sudan’s total population. Donors have so far pledged only three percent of that total. And even if more urgently needed funds materialise, whether help reaches all those who need it is another matter.

    The Sudanese government has a long history of blocking aid. Easing these restrictions was a condition for the United States – still the largest donor of aid to Sudan – to lift 19 years of economic sanctions. But the benchmarks for assessing progress remain vague, while rebel-held areas are still inaccessible, and the government is already starting to dial back earlier commitments to simplify access.

     

    Greater access for aid workers and humanitarian supplies also seems to be falling lower on the list of priorities for the international community, as the EU focuses on stemming onward migration from Sudan and, like the United States, emphasises counter-terrorism efforts.

     

    Small steps

     

    Aid groups say they have seen some gains post-sanctions, including less government red tape for travel and launching new projects. The government has also opened humanitarian aid corridors to South Sudan, where a civil war has raged since late 2013 – Sudan hosts some 455,000 South Sudanese refugees, with more arriving daily.

     

    “There have been some limited improvements in humanitarian access, in terms of humanitarian actors facing fewer bureaucratic impediments to conducting assessments and delivering humanitarian assistance to people in need,” said Noah Gottschalk, senior manager and policy adviser at Oxfam, one of the major international aid groups operating in Sudan.

     

    Directives issued by the government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission In December 2016 – supposedly to allow aid workers to travel more easily and give aid agencies more control over hiring staff – fuelled US and UN hopes that Sudan was set to facilitate humanitarian access. But observers say Khartoum failed to deliver convincingly on the increased flexibility outlined in the directives when it issued an “implementation note” in February 2017.

     

    "That was the first bad sign – that the implementation note isn’t in the spirit of the original agreement,” said a Sudan analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous given their ongoing work in the country. “I think there have been a couple of points over the past year where progress happened, due to US pressure at the right moments. But there have been backslides in between these moments."

     

    Travel outside of Khartoum still requires government permission, and the paperwork can take days or even weeks. The government is also heavily involved in the recruitment, screening, and staff selection at international organisations and tightly controls Sudanese humanitarian and civil society groups.

     

    Aid organisations and workers in Sudan do not generally speak on the record for fear of Sudanese government repercussions. In 2009, after the International Criminal Court issued an indictment against al-Bashir for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in Darfur, the president ordered 13 international humanitarian organisations out of the country.

    In 2015, the Sudanese government bombed a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in the Nuba Mountains, prompting one of MSF’s sections to close its programmes. At the end of that year, the government raided the offices of Tearfund, a Christian charity that had been working across Darfur, confiscating the organisation’s cash and computers and expelling it in January 2016.

     

    Blue Nile and South Kordofan: still cut off

     

    Behind October’s US decision to lift sanctions was an understanding that Khartoum had stepped up its cooperation on counter-terrorism and would stop meddling in South Sudan. But the Sudanese government also pledged to do more to end its internal conflicts, while allowing humanitarian aid to more easily reach the civilian populations caught up in them.

     

    This refers not only to long-running unrest in the western Darfur region, but also to less well-known conflicts simmering in the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where some territory is controlled by factions of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a group that has been fighting the Sudanese government since 2011.

     

    According to the UN, an estimated 545,000 people are displaced in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. In parts of South Kordofan, chronic malnutrition exceeds emergency levels, and in Blue Nile, almost 40 percent of households are severely food insecure, meaning they face a serious risk of hunger.

     

    The government has banned international aid workers from travelling to rebel-held areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile since the beginning of the conflict. Aid access has been a sticking point in the peace negotiations, the most recent of which occurred in Addis Ababa in February. Both sides have been unable to find a compromise to allow aid in.

     

    The Sudanese government insists all aid must come directly from Khartoum to prevent any trafficking in other goods, such as weapons. The SPLM-N says it wants at least some to come through Kenya, Ethiopia, or South Sudan – countries it views as allies.

     

    "Sudan is cooperative with the international community to solve the problem,” said Mekki Elmograbi, the media representative of the Sudanese embassy in Washington. “The SPLM/N is stuck in the position of refusing initiatives on humanitarian aid to [South Kordofan and Blue Nile].”

     

    Those proposed initiatives include one from the UN, the African Union, and the League of Arab States, to set up a humanitarian oversight committee with representatives from both sides to oversee aid delivery, and an offer from the US government to deliver medical aid from Khartoum.

    However, some observers consider it unsurprising that the rebels won’t shift their position.

     

    “If people hear that aid is coming from Khartoum, they don’t believe it,” said the aid worker based in the Nuba Mountains. “They think the food will be tainted. People here don’t trust the Khartoum government at all – and they have reason not to trust them.”  

     

    Changes ahead in Darfur

     

    In Darfur, protracted displacement stemming from the war that ignited in 2003 has left 1.6 million people living in some 60 camps. While security has improved, rebel groups and the Sudanese government still haven’t reached a peace agreement.

     

    The Sudanese government wants displaced Darfuris to leave the camps. But many Darfuris, some of whom have lived in the camps for over two decades, say return is impossible because their former homes and land have been resettled by pro-government militias and communities. A few weeks ago, a group of 400 Darfuris trying to return to East Darfur reported being assaulted.

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    Children are looking at the camera and jumping on the handle to a water pump
    Fred Noy/UN Photo

    Since 2007, the UN has operated in Darfur under the protection of the joint African Union/UN hybrid operation, UNAMID, created to shield civilians and facilitate aid access after the war. UNAMID’s presence – which at its height included some 20,000 officers – has been wracked with controversy, including reports that troops failed to stop violence against displaced Darfuris or report human rights violations.

     

    Last June, the UN restructured UNAMID and began scaling back its operations, closing 10 sites in Darfur, handing over two community policing centres to the Sudanese government, and reducing its military and police personnel. At the same time, it is trying to open a base in the mountainous Jebel Marra, where conflict persists between rebel groups and the Sudanese government.

     

    Information on how UNAMID’s downsizing affects security and aid operations remains scarce. It could limit access for UN agencies, whose security rules mandate that all personnel travel in Darfur under UNAMID armed escort. “UN security rules in Darfur are restricting UN access,” said one Darfur-based aid worker, who preferred to remain anonymous.

     

    “There’s almost no one on the ground to monitor developments,” said Maddy Crowther, co-executive director at Waging Peace, an NGO that focuses on human rights. “Changes are happening in the dark. For example, UNAMID has closed down various team sites, but instead of these being handed over to civilian bodies, there are reports that they’ve been taken over by the [government’s paramilitary] Rapid Support Forces in some cases.”

    Some organisations in Darfur are less restricted. In 2017, MSF opened two projects in West and East Darfur states, one of which assists South Sudanese refugees. The International Committee of the Red Cross also recently announced an expansion there.

     

    Political priorities  

    In addition to the United States, the EU and several member states, such as Norway, have traditionally been key advocates in pushing for humanitarian access. The EU is a main funder of humanitarian aid in Sudan, providing €46 million in 2017, the majority focused on food assistance.

     

    But in response to the thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan passing through Khartoum on their way to Libya or Egypt and then Europe, Brussels has been steadily intensifying pressure on Sudan to control migration, allocating some 200 million euros to migration-related initiatives.

     

    “Although humanitarian access remains a key demand of the EU, it has taken a back seat in recent years to other priorities, chiefly migration,” said Crowther.  

     

    Sudan is now pushing the United States to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, a change that would pave the way for debt relief and foreign investment. Britain and other countries have rushed to explore economic opportunities there.

     

    But Sudan is also in the midst of an economic crisis. In January, protests rocked Khartoum in response to government austerity measures that led to the price of bread doubling. The government responded to the protests with a violent crackdown that left at least three dead, arresting students, protesters, and journalists. The worsening economy could leave even more people in need of food, medical and other assistance.

     

    Rights advocates warn that constant vigilance is needed, not only to expose human rights violations but also to ensure that the Sudanese government lives up to its promises on aid access.

     

    “We need to put the brakes on the rush to normalise relations with Sudan before there is substantial reform,” said Crowther. “Individual member states have a responsibility to balance their own internal priorities – for instance Britain’s need to find new post-Brexit partners – against those of Sudan’s people, who deserve to be governed without the use or threat of coercion.”

     

    “Now that the US is dangling the carrot of removing Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, humanitarian access and human rights benchmarks should take centre stage.”

      

    Caitlin L. Chandler reported from Sudan with a fellowship from the International Reporting Project (IRP)

     

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    One in 10 people need assistance, while wrangling with rebels over access continues
    Six months after US sanctions lifted, promised aid access in Sudan remains limited
  • 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 trapped, living in a perpetual state of fear and exploitation in this key transit country.

     

    In interviews with over 25 Eritrean and Ethiopian asylum seekers in Khartoum and the eastern city of Kassala, as well as local journalists, and lawyers working on behalf of refugees, IRIN has documented allegations of endemic police abuse, including extortion, violence, and sexual assault.

     

    The pattern of corruption and rights violations uncovered feeds into broader concerns over whether the EU’s migration policies are making a difficult situation worse.

     

    Across Sudan's capital, Khartoum, some 30,000 Eritrean, Ethiopian, and other African refugees are crammed into decrepit, non-descript houses, waiting for their chance to escape the country and make it to Europe.

     

    Sudan’s previously porous northern border with Libya has become increasingly dangerous to cross after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir deployed the former Janjaweed – a paramilitary group implicated in war crimes during the Darfur conflict – in 2015 as border guards. 

     

    This militia, re-named the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and integrated into Sudan’s army in January 2017, arrests asylum seekers and hands them over to the police, who detain, fine, and deport them for illegal entry – regardless of whether returning them to their countries will result in torture or imprisonment. 

     

     

    Tortured for money

     

    The Shagarab refugee camp appears out of nowhere, a sprawling, dusty settlement in eastern Sudan near the Eritrean border, two hours by road from the main town of Kassala, through a series of tightly controlled checkpoints that require police permission to pass.

     

    Some 40,000 refugees, primarily Eritreans, are registered at Shagarab, but it feels deserted. For many Eritreans, the camp is only a temporary stop for two or three months before the next stages of their journey, on to Khartoum, and then on to Libya or Egypt, before the final goal of Europe.

     

    Inside Shagarab’s centre for unaccompanied minors, teenagers watch TV and stay glued to their mobile phones, eager to be in contact with the outside world. But some have experienced awful abuse at the hands of traffickers as they escaped from Eritrea – one of the world’s most oppressive states – and into Sudan.

     

    Dawit*, 17, fled Eritrea to escape military conscription – in a country where unpaid army service can last for years – travelling first to Ethiopia and then hiring smugglers to take him into Sudan.

     

    He couldn’t pay the smugglers up front, and so once inside Sudan was trafficked and held for ransom in Hajer, a town almost all Eritrean refugees interviewed by IRIN mentioned as a place to avoid.

     

    “Sudanese smugglers tortured us for the payment,” said Dawit. “They stripped us naked and beat us with whips while our families were on the [telephone] line. New arrivals had two-three days after arrival to pay before being beaten.

     

    “Those who had been there longer were beaten every day. The women fared even worse – men would come, pick them out, and take them away. When they returned, they were bleeding and crying.”

     

    Dawit said that after being held for five days, the smugglers got a call warning them that there was about to be a police raid, and they all escaped.

     

    The tip-off is entirely in keeping with numerous accounts of the involvement of Sudanese officials in the trafficking industry.

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    Migrant Sudan
    John Power/IRIN

     

    A history of migration

     

    Sudan has long been a transit country for Eritreans and others on the move, as well as a country people flee from.

     

    Sudan’s increasing criminalisation of refugees and migrants, as well as conditions in Libya, where the EU backs the Libyan coastguard to capture refugees at sea and return them to detention centres, have contributed to a steep drop in the number of people arriving in Italy.

     

    In 2016, 40,773 refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa arrived in Italy; in 2017, only 8,688 people made it.

     

    Yet young Eritrean men and women in Khartoum and Kassala told IRIN they had no intention of remaining in Sudan, despite being aware of the risks of using smugglers to take them through Libya and Egypt, where they can experience torture and death.

     

    Some said they would wait for new, safer routes to open, while others were working as maids and daily labourers to raise enough money to start the journey as soon as possible.

     

    “When I came from Eritrea, I was kidnapped for two weeks. I didn’t know where I was, and I was raped many times. So, nothing [worse] will happen to me. All of us left our families behind,” said a young Eritrean woman in Khartoum. “We’ll take the risk of going to Europe.”

     

    Over the past two years, the EU has allocated more than $200 million in migration-related funds to Sudan, part of its broader strategy to outsource migration control to third countries.

     

    EU financing for border management includes training and equipment for border police, capacity building for the judiciary, and legal reforms to encourage increased arrests and prosecution of traffickers and smugglers.

     

    This support is despite the fact that the Sudanese government has for years been condemned for its human rights record – al-Bashir has an outstanding arrest warrant for crimes against humanity issued by the International Criminal Court.

     

    The EU sidesteps accusations it is working with Sudan’s repressive security apparatus by arguing that it doesn’t fund the government directly, rather it funnels its aid through international organisations, including UN agencies.

     

    But these EU partners are willing to work with controversial arms of the Sudanese government.

     

    For example, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, confirmed to IRIN it has provided motorbikes in Kassala to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) – a spy service responsible for the arrest, torture, and detention of human rights activists and the government’s political opponents.

     

    Extortion and abuse

     

    In densely populated Khartoum neighbourhoods like al-Geraif and al-Daim, groups of 10 to 15 Eritrean refugees live in sub-divided shanty houses. Rooms are occupied by entire families or as many as eight single young men and women at a time.

     

    Many rely on donations from family members abroad to afford food, children’s school fees, and other basic expenses. Those without family support are destitute, eating only one meal a day, without access to proper sanitation or medical care.

     

    Filmon, 21, arrived in Sudan in November 2016 from Ginda, Eritrea. He shares a dirty, cramped room with five other young men. Until recently, it lacked a latrine.

     

    “Life in Khartoum is very hard. I don’t get enough money or good work and it’s not a safe area,” he told IRIN. “I’ve been asked [by the police] about my cards, my refugee card, regularly. I think about going to Europe through Libya – I have no choice,” he said.

     

    Although Sudan has a policy that refugees must live in camps, the majority of Eritreans either stop in them just long enough to claim asylum status and collect an identification card, or head directly for Khartoum. Many have travelled with smugglers, and some have experienced trafficking, violence, and sexual assault crossing into Sudan or once inside.

     

    In Khartoum, they find a prison of a different kind. Refugees report being terrorised by the police, who enter their neighbourhoods – sometimes in the middle of the night – and extort and detain people for not having ID cards. Cash and valuables are routinely stolen.

     

    Sara is a bubbly young Eritrean woman who attends henna training classes. She told IRIN how she was arrested on the street for not having her refugee card, and at the police station was offered a choice: “If you want to be free, you will have sex with us.”

     

    Sara, who was 17 at the time, narrowly avoided being raped because her 19-year-old female companion went with the policemen instead.

    Feeding corruption

     

    Each month, police funnel hundreds of refugees and migrants through courts in Khartoum, where they are charged with violating Sudan’s Passport and Immigration Act and fined the equivalent of $360.

     

    If they do not pay the fines, they are deported to their home country, usually without having the opportunity to consult a lawyer or claim asylum, even though some may have experienced violence, torture, and other acts in Sudan or in their home countries that could qualify them.

     

    Hundreds of Eritreans have been extradited over the past two years, including some who were registered as refugees. Deporting an asylum seeker back to the country they fled from and where they face persecution is known as refoulement, and it is a violation of the UN Refugee Convention.

     

    Lawyers working to represent refugees in court before they are extradited describe a justice system that is just as corrupt as the police force.

     

    “In many cases the traffickers are let go because they have police officers as [defence] witnesses,” said Khalid, a lawyer working in Khartoum. “There are trials where 250 refugees are arrested, and each one is fined. It happens so fast – the process of being arrested, the trial and the conviction – and the judge and the police force responsible get a cut of the money. These judges are the same ones who were trained by the British embassy.”

     

    The Khartoum Process

     

    Europe’s focus on curbing migration from Sudan began in November 2014, with the launch of the Khartoum Process – a dialogue between the EU and Horn of Africa countries to combat trafficking and smuggling. It initially emphasised protection and human rights, but in operation its focus has been a law enforcement response to migration.

     

    In 2015, Brussels created a special pot of money – the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa – to assist the Khartoum Process in addressing the root causes of migration and fighting trafficking and smuggling.

     

    An Oxfam analysis found that of the €400 million allocated through the fund, only three percent went towards developing safe and regular routes for migration. The bulk was spent on migration control.

     

    Police Lieutenant General Awad al-Neel Dahiya, head of the Ministry of Interior Passports and Civil Registry Authority and a key interlocutor for the EU’s migration efforts, believes the focus is justified.

     

    “As a matter of fact, we have very long borders – 7,000 kilometres plus,” he told IRIN. “Compared to our resources, it is very difficult to control – maybe we can be assisted by technology, so we can control the influx, as well as those going out – whether its Sudanese [people or people from] other countries passing through Sudan.”

    migrants_kassala.jpg

    Eritrean migrants Kassala
    Ahmad Mahmoud/IRIN

    But Sudanese specialists say the EU is operating on the flawed assumption that the government is sincere in wanting to end the lucrative trafficking business.

     

    “There is a lack of political will from the Sudanese government to fight trafficking,” Rifat Makawi, another lawyer in Khartoum, explained. “Creating new policies and drafting laws is just done by the government to please Western countries. On the ground, nothing changes.”

     

    A recent report from the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat noted that despite the flurry of anti-smuggling and trafficking efforts, new smuggling routes continue to open across the Horn, with Eritrean and Sudanese smuggling networks gaining influence.

     

    One estimate puts the profits of the smuggling business on the northwestern route from the Horn of Africa to Europe at approximately $203 million in 2016.

     

    An uncomfortable alliance

     

    The US State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report concludes that Sudan “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”

     

    Human Rights Watch has accused the security forces, including the RSF, of colluding with human traffickers and smugglers rather than investigating them.

     

    The EU’s interest in managing migration has precipitated a sharp shift in how member countries engage with Khartoum. For years, European governments avoided dealing with al-Bashir because of the ICC arrest warrant and his rights record, but there has been something of a sea change.

     

    The UK is now engaged in a biannual “strategic dialogue” focused on migration, trade, and counter-terrorism. Italy has signed a policing agreement on trafficking, irregular immigration and terrorism; and Norway is discussing an agreement to facilitate easier deportation of Sudanese asylum seekers. Belgium recently allowed Sudanese security officials to vet asylum-seekers; those who were then deported back to Sudan were detained, interrogated and tortured.

     

    Michael Aron, the UK ambassador to Sudan, said the EU can influence police behaviour through dialogue. “There are people we talk to in the police who are definitely trying to do the right thing,” he explained. “We should be helping the good guys so they can increase their influence over decision-making and gradually get the situation more under control.”

     

     

     

    Meanwhile, over the past three years, the Sudanese government has made it clear it expects the EU to provide funds and equipment for its migration control efforts. 

     

    The head of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan, regularly boasts about the RSF’s role in assisting the EU. He recently told Al Jazeera: “[The EU] lose[s] millions in fighting migration, that's why [it has] to support us."

     

    The EU ambassador to the Sudan, Jean-Michel Dumond, rejects criticism of Europe’s relationship with Khartoum. “We have been accused of all the sins of the world, and it’s quite clear we have never cooperated with the RSF – we have no link,” he told IRIN. “[EU] aid is given [under] very clear conditions.”

     

    Meanwhile, former border control officials from European countries are arriving in Khartoum as consultants, replacing development experts in some international agencies. One of the latest EU-funded projects is a Regional Command Center in Khartoum (ROCK), to be run by Civipol out of the Sudanese police training compound.

     

    “The migration issue is becoming like the Darfur crisis, it’s a business,” said Fatima, a Sudanese journalist covering migration who also pointed to the creation of numerous new government charities that have started turning up at migration-related meetings. “Everyone wants a piece of the pie,” she added.

     

    “Where to keep them?”

     

    Yusef, an Eritrean refugee, tried to head to Europe in 2014 via Libya, but was returned to the Sudanese border by a militia in Libya. There, he was arrested, along with hundreds of other refugees.

     

    The Sudanese border guards brought Yusef to the northern town of Dongola that now serves as an informal detention facility for refugees captured at the border.

     

    On the three-day journey, Yusef alleges that over 50 people died from lack of food, water, and medical care. Their pleas for help went unanswered. “We told them our friends are dying, are thirsty, hungry, suffering. They don’t protect you,” he told IRIN.

     

    In Dongola, Yusef was kept in a large compound along with hundreds of other people. Eight Bangladeshi men in the facility paid and were immediately released, along with a number of Somalis and Sudanese. But the Eritreans and Ethiopians were detained for a month.

     

    Yusef said he counted nine people who died due to lack of medical care. Representatives of the UN visited – a team of four foreigners with an Eritrean translator – and told the inmates that if they had a refugee card they could go back to the Shagarab refugee camp in eastern Sudan, or else they would be deported.

     

    Yusef had a refugee card but did not trust the UN or the Sudanese government to protect him. To avoid being sent back to Eritrea, where he could likely face torture and imprisonment, Yusef claimed to be Ethiopian. He was deported to Ethiopia, and crossed back into Sudan a few weeks later.

     

    Monitoring from afar

    The EU is now planning to work in Dongola through its flagship Better Migration Management project, a $46 million regional programme run by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), in partnership with the International Organization on Migration (IOM), Italian police and Civipol, a consulting wing of the French ministry of interior, among other organisations.

     

    “The proposal came from us, because we have nowhere to keep people,” said Dahiya, the head of Sudan’s Ministry of Interior Passports and Civil Registry Authority. “Every month we have to intercept almost 100 or sometimes 500 irregular migrants; we have to process their return and their protection – it gives us real challenges – where to keep them?”

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    Eritrean migrant in Khartoum
    John Power/IRIN

     

    According to the UK ambassador, BMM will set-up a centre in Dongola to help receive the arrested refugees and migrants. But it’s not clear how human rights abuses will be monitored, especially somewhere where there are no international NGOs or observers at present.

     

    Martin Weiss, the BMM project head in Germany, insists the programme aims to protect migrants.

     

    “BMM is not about border surveillance, but about protecting refugees, facilitating migration, and improving conditions for people who are fleeing their homes,” he wrote in an email. “At present, many refugees are vulnerable to violence, slavery or rape. We want to provide an effective response to the problem.”

     

    But the EU and its partners don’t appear to have a viable strategy to mitigate human rights abuses. In the case of the BMM project, the EU and GIZ claim that its steering committee – composed of the European Commission, Germany, UK, France, Italy, and the Netherlands – oversees human rights risks remotely from Brussels.

     

    “The steering committee has a clear view of what is possible and what is not possible,” said Dumond, “and we don’t think there is a big risk [of human rights violations as a result of EU funding].”

     

    He added that EU officials frequently go on mission in Sudan to assess conditions first-hand.

     

    But such visits are tightly controlled by the government and the security services. When IRIN visited Shagarab, for example, police and NISS officers followed, transcribing every interview.

     

    The EU and GIZ also declined to show country specific budgets for Sudan for the BMM programme. That opacity is a way to escape “accountability and scrutiny”, explained Giulia Laganà, a migration specialist at the Open Society European Policy Institute, via email.

     

    Rethink needed

     

    The situation Yusef faced in Eritrea forced him to leave. Stricter border controls did not deter him in striving for a better life, and neither did the rights abuses he encountered. Yet there is no indication the EU is open to adjusting its migration management strategy in the face of mounting criticism that its approach in Sudan is not only ineffective but also causing harm.

     

    “The real root causes of migration are very complex,” said Dumond. “You cannot hope to address all these problems and have quick solutions in a few months.”

     

    But a new report from the International Refugee Rights Initiative, The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), and The Centre for Human Rights Law at SOAS, University of London, argues that a re-think is urgently needed.

     

    “As barriers are created without sufficient alternatives being offered, people are taking greater and greater risks and journeys are becoming increasingly dangerous,” the study found. “The only people benefitting … are the smugglers and traffickers.”

     

    Caitlin L. Chandler reported from Sudan with a fellowship from the International Reporting Project (IRP)

     

    *To protect their identities, sources referred to by a first name only have had their names changed.

    Without addressing the root causes of migration, only corrupt government officials and traffickers are benefiting from criminalising migrants
    Inside the EU’s flawed $200 million migration deal with Sudan
    The EU has allocated over $200 million to help Sudan stem migration since 2015
    Asylum seekers allege Sudanese officials are complicit in abuse, extortion
    Traffickers said to hold people for weeks, beat and torture them for money
    Arrivals in Italy from Horn of Africa fell to a fraction in 2017, but new routes are opening up
    Crackdown has seen asylum seekers rountinely rounded up, taken to Khartoum to pay fines or be deported
    The EU insists strict conditions govern the use of its money and it is monitoring for abuses
  • Bread protests, coconut coding, and a volcanic tsunami: The Cheat Sheet

    Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:

     

    Sudan’s widening bread price protests

     

    Despite a government crackdown, Sudan’s cost-of-living protests are unlikely to end soon. Hundreds of people came out on the streets of Khartoum and Omdurman on Tuesday and Wednesday in growing unrest after bread prices more than doubled earlier this month following a jump in the cost of flour. Riot police fired teargas and made a number of arrests, including the detention of opposition politicians. One eyewitness in Khartoum told IRIN he believes “the government is in trouble” as there is real anger on the streets towards an administration viewed as abusive and corrupt. “People are sick of the violence of the authorities; [the protesters] have been non-violent, but I see them taking a different step and starting to defend themselves,” he said. The government has done away with subsidies on bread and fuel and devalued the currency to close a yawning budget gap. But Sudan’s economy could be in worse shape than the authorities are admitting, with a real inflation rate potentially as high as 50 percent. In 2013 the security forces killed dozens of people in similar cost-of-living protests. Look out for IRIN’s exclusive report next week on the corruption and abuse at the heart of the EU migration policy as implemented by Khartoum.

     

    Coconuts, bananas, and AI

     

    We've heard a lot about Artificial Intelligence recently. Or is it Machine Learning? Anyway, humans are evidently getting better at training computers. The World Bank has teamed up with drone and photography NGOs WeRobotics and OpenAerialMap to see if computers can automatically identify tree species (taking jobs, again?). Geeks can compete to make the best code to automatically distinguish trees from overhead photographs. Imagery can then be compared before and after disasters to see how much local agriculture might be affected. The test is tuned for Pacific islands set with aerial photos of Tonga. To win, the AI code should know the difference between coconut, banana, papaya, and mango trees 80 percent of the time, and not mix them up with electricity poles or random objects. Human collaborators have classified 13,000 objects by eye, and the computers have to figure out how to do it themselves. May the best bot win.

    (In the photo below, red dots indicate coconut trees while yellow means banana trees)

    Yemen in economic freefall

     

    We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: while the violence of Yemen’s war has been deadly, the economic collapse it has caused has also had disastrous consequences for civilians. In the past week or so, Yemen’s currency, the rial, sunk to new lows, further damaging the purchasing power of Yemenis already struggling to buy food. Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, allied with internationally recognised (but deposed) President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, appealed for help from his allies in Saudi Arabia, saying “saving the riyal means saving Yemenis from inevitable hunger”. The Saudis stepped in fairly quickly, saying they would deposit $2 billion in Yemen’s central bank. Hadi’s government officially moved the central bank to Aden in 2016, but a branch still operates in Houthi rebel-controlled Sana’a. So while this move will hopefully give the currency the boost it needs (to some extent it already has), some worry that the infusion will merely allow Hadi’s allies to pay civil servants who have long gone without their salaries, while workers in Houthi-controlled territories are ignored. Others have warned that the injection of funds is a short-term fix and say the central bank needs to follow up with responsible fiscal practice. Money for food, fuel for conflict, or a strategic deposit? This one might just be all three.

     

    Tsunami warnings in Papua New Guinea

     

    It sounds made up, but there are fears a volatile volcano in Papua New Guinea could send a now-deserted island plunging into the ocean, triggering a tsunami that would threaten towns and villages hundreds of kilometres away. Earlier this month, a series of earthquakes caused a volcanic eruption on tiny Kadovar Island, off the country’s northern coast, forcing authorities to evacuate its entire population: some 691 people. Landslides sent 15 homes tumbling into the sea, while volcanic ash destroyed 80 percent of the island, according to provincial officials. But authorities fear an escalation in volcanic activity could cause even greater damage, according to an assessment by disaster management officials and NGOs Oxfam and Save the Children. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill this week issued a stark warning about the seriousness of the threat. The population of Kadovar Island has taken refuge on neighbouring Ruprup Island, where aid groups say there is overcrowding and dwindling food supplies. But the tsunami threat means Kadovar Islanders, as well as their hosts on Ruprup and another island, may all have to be evacuated to the mainland – a daunting task when boats and fuel are in short supply. It’s not the only volcano causing humanitarian problems in the region. Last week, Mayon Volcano in the Philippines erupted, spilling rocks and lava along a two-kilometre path and forcing more than 26,000 people to evacuate. And people in Bali, Indonesia continue to grapple with the uncertainty of Mount Agung, which rumbled in late 2017; some 46,000 people are still living in evacuation centres on the island. 

     

    Did you miss it?

     

    Artisanal mines have the edge

     

    Artisanal mining has a reputation for danger, environmental destruction, and minimal returns – basically a lottery for losers. But the evidence suggests that miners and the community are striking it luckier than assumed. A World Bank study has found that households that live around artisanal mines in Burkina Faso profit far more from increases in gold prices than those around industrial mines. Not only do industrial gold mines fail to pass on the profits, but the benefits of artisanal mining are “economically significant”. It’s something we can assume the 40 million-odd small-scale miners around the world have known for a while.

     

    EVENTS:

     

    Join IRIN at Davos – Wednesday, 24 January

     

    The Swiss Alpine town of Davos is gearing up for next week’s World Economic Forum. While some humanitarians have been sceptical of what started out as a relatively exclusive gathering of business leaders (even if one special guest this year seems to have abandoned his proclaimed dislike for the global elite), this year’s programme features sessions on a day in the life of a refugee, innovative humanitarian financing, global pandemics, and a host of peace and security issues (watch select sessions here). Attendees range from Bill Gates to the Iraqi prime minister to the heads of UN agencies and NGOs, as the public and private sectors strive for closer collaboration in addressing global challenges. Fresh from the publication of our forecast of the crises that will shape 2018, IRIN will be co-hosting a Global Humanitarian Outlook (event details here). Tune in to watch the live webstream at 21:30 CET (2030 GMT) on Wednesday.

     

    Data protection and humanitarian action

     

    On Friday, 26 January, IRIN Senior Editor Ben Parker will join the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), and Privacy International on a panel about Data Protection Challenges in Humanitarian Action. The event is organised by the Brussels Privacy Hub as part of a major conference in Belgium on "Computers, Privacy and Data Protection". Parker has form on this important but poorly understood issue, as shown by his recent stream of reporting.

    (TOP PHOTO: A baker puts dough into an oven to make bread in his bakery in El Fasher, North Darfur. CREDIT: Albert González Farran/UNAMID)

    bp-ha-il-oa-as/ag

    Bread protests, coconut coding, and a volcanic tsunami
  • Purgatory on the Riviera

    Ventimiglia is idyllic. It sits just across the Italian border from the French Riviera. The piercingly blue waters of the Mediterranean churn against its rocky beaches, and its buildings, painted in earthy pastels, back up against the foothills of the Alps. On Fridays, the normally quiet streets are bustling with French tourists who cross the border by car, train, and bicycle to shop in its famous markets where artisans and farmers sell clothes, leather items, fresh produce, truffles, cheeses and decadent pastries. Families with young children and elderly couples stroll along the streets and sit at sidewalk cafes or eat in one of the many restaurants along the shore.

     

    But just a short walk from the town centre, another set of visitors inhabits what seems like an entirely different world. These people are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety, economic opportunity, or both. For them, Ventimiglia is a bottleneck – one of many points where people get stuck along the long and brutal migration trail stretching from east and west Africa into northern Europe.

    Their Ventimiglia consists of rows of blanket-laden mattresses under a bridge; a crowded, volunteer-run information point where they can charge their phones and use the internet; a secluded riverbank where they wash their clothes; long lines at a local charity where they wait in turn to shower and receive their morning meal; and a parking lot where they whittle away time playing football, sitting, watching, and waiting to try to cross the border to France.

    This Ventimiglia is a purgatory. On the dividing line between two of the founding member states of the EU, it is a distillation of the neglect and trauma asylum seekers experience at each step of the desperate journey towards Europe, and a place where their dreams of a better life begin to crumble.  

    Forced to cross illegally

     

    Home to 24,000 people, Ventimiglia is just five miles (eight kilometres) from the French-Italian border. Its railway station is the last stop in Italy before the tracks crossover into France. The economy is reliant on the free movement of people and goods across the border, a benefit of the Schengen Agreement, which abolished passport controls within the EU. But in June 2015, as an unprecedented number of asylum seekers were crossing the Mediterranean for the second year in a row, France reintroduced border checks in an attempt to stop refugees and migrants from entering its territory.

     

    Ventimiglia was already one of the major transit points for thousands of people who landed in Italy but who wanted to move on to northern European countries with better social services and stronger economies. At the time, Italy was not fully enforcing the Dublin Regulation, which requires asylum seekers to apply for protection in the first EU country they enter, and there was already a growing wave of Islamophobia and anti-migrant sentiment across the continent that was prompting governments to try to keep the crisis at bay.

     

    The reinstated border controls did not prevent asylum seekers from crossing into France; they only made it more difficult. Instead of simply taking the train across the border, asylum seekers are now forced to pay smugglers, or to take riskier routes along railroad tracks or dark and winding roads at night or even over dangerous mountain passes that take two or three days to cross. Since September last year, at least eight people have died attempting these routes. “That people should be dying to cross from Italy to France in 2017; that’s just disgraceful,” said Judith Sunderland, Human Rights Watch’s associate director for Europe and Central Asia.

     

    Even when asylum seekers do make it across, a 1997 agreement between Italy and France allows French police to push them back if they are found within certain areas close to the border. As a result, people often have to try multiple times before they can cross successfully. Those who are sent back end up staying in Ventimiglia until they try again.

     

    At any given time, there are between 300 and 900 asylum seekers in the small town. The majority of people when I visited at the end of October were from Sudan, and there were also people from Chad, Eritrea, and other sub-Saharan countries. A recent spike in arrivals to Italy from Tunisia and Algeria also led to an increase in the numbers of North Africans trying to cross the border to France. Most people stay at a camp set up by the Red Cross a several-mile walk outside town or sleep rough under a bridge closer to the few services that exist in the town centre.

     

    On a warm afternoon in late October, a young man carrying two backpacks wandered into the parking lot next to the bridge. Wearing a heavy coat and a winter hat emblazoned with a British flag, he put his bags down, unzipped his jacket and, without missing a beat, raised his hand to join the football game being played on the asphalt in front of him. A murmur went around that he must have tried to cross the border earlier that day and had been sent back.

     

    The two-hour walk from the border back to the parking lot was well known by many of the people gathered there. Regardless of how asylum seekers try to cross, if they are caught in French territory they are taken to a police station on a road overlooking the coast and then sent walking up the hill, across the border, to the Italian police station on the other side. The Italians register their arrival and sometimes put people on buses that take them to Taranto, 750 miles away in the heel of Italy’s boot. If they aren’t sent to the south, the police let people go and they continue the walk back to Ventimiglia.

    But the difficulties often start well before the border.

     

    Train checks

     

    The most obvious way to get to France from Ventimiglia is by train, and most asylum seekers try their luck this way at least once, even though the odds of making it are long. Late one Sunday morning, I boarded the train at the station in Ventimiglia and found Hussein, 16, and Jawahir, 18, sitting in one of the cars. Both of them were from Sudan and had arrived in Italy recently from Libya, where they had faced torture and abuse. “[The smugglers] took plastic bags, held a lighter to them and let them drip on my foot while they made me talk on the phone to my family,” Jawahir was saying. But his story was interrupted when Italian police officers boarded the train and began checking the carriages and bathrooms. Hussein and Jawahir scrambled from the train and had already disappeared from sight by the time I followed them out onto the platform.

    I boarded the train again and it rolled out of the station, gliding past the shimmering waters of the Mediterranean and then plunging into dark tunnels as it headed along the jagged coastline towards the border. There were a couple dozen tourists scattered throughout the cars, and the ride lasted no longer than 20 minutes before we pulled into Menton-Garavan station, the first stop in France.

     

    When the train doors opened, a handful of French police boarded wearing black rubber gloves and did a sweep of the cars while several officers stood by outside making sure no one snuck off before the sweep was complete. When I exited, one man from North Africa, who had evidently evaded the police on the Italian side, was standing against the wall of the station pleading with the officers in French. Two police vans idled in the parking lot waiting to take whoever was caught that day back to the border.

     

    Special rules for children

     

    Outside the station, holidaymakers strolled leisurely along the corniche and through a pop-up market next to the sea. The sun was out, and some people were lounging on the beach and splashing in the water even though it was the end of October. In the centre of town, the restaurants were full of people enjoying platters of seafood for their Sunday lunch, and there was a man playing Spanish guitar in the middle of a historic square with a woman dancing along beside him.

     

    There was no hint of the asylum seekers camped out under the bridge six miles away, trying with stubborn tenacity to reach this place – until I returned to the train station. The afternoon sun had slid behind hazy clouds, and the breeze now carried an autumnal chill. About 10 minutes before the train back to Italy was due to arrive, French police brought a group of asylum seekers to the platform. There was a family with three young children – two of them barely toddlers – and a young man who sat against a wall as police officers hovered nearby.

     

    Families, women, and unaccompanied minors are often sent back on the train instead of being taken to the border. The pushback of unaccompanied minors is particularly problematic. According to the Dublin Regulation, they are supposed to be afforded a 24-hour waiting period before being returned. During this time, authorities are obligated to establish if the minor has family connections in the country where they were found, which would take precedence over sending them back to the country where they first arrived. The European Court of Justice also ruled that, unlike adults, children should not be required to apply for asylum in the country they first entered the EU. So, pushing them back across the border without informing them of their rights, trying to establish if they have family members in the country, and giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum is against France’s legal obligations.

     

    Unaccompanied minors make up a big percentage of the people who are trying to cross the border and who are being sent back. In 2016, the charity Caritas, which runs a shelter in Ventimiglia for children and other particularly vulnerable people, hosted 3,000 unaccompanied minors. And those are just the ones who were counted. Alessandro Verona, a doctor working with the Italian NGO INTERSOS, estimates that up to 35 percent of the people sleeping under the bridge in Ventimiglia are also children and, since many of them never enter the shelter, they are uncounted in the statistics. “The ‘French Dream’ or the ‘English Dream’ is very strong on these youngsters,” Verona said.

     

    The young man being sent back from the station in Menton was from Sudan. His name was Hamed, and he was 15 years old. The officers escorted him on board the train and stood guard outside the doors waiting for it to leave. Later, he showed me the refusal of entry form he was given by the French police. Most of the sections were not filled out, but it clearly stated his date of birth as 1 January, 2002.

    pushback_smaller.jpg

    Two figures walk down a sidewalk amidst greenery and flowers
    Eric Reidy/IRIN

    Hamed had been in Italy for less than a month and arrived in Ventimiglia only four days before. He had already tried to cross the mountains into France, but was sent back that time as well. When the train reached Ventimiglia, he walked onto the platform and out of the station like any other passenger and made his way back to the bridge.

     

    Why not stay in Italy?

     

    On a cold night, I sat in the parking lot next to the bridge speaking with Adam, a 30-year-old asylum seeker from Sudan. The football matches had ended after the sun went down, and now around 300 other people were in the parking lot waiting for volunteers to arrive and serve dinner. Adam was tall and had a warm smile and a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. He had been sleeping under the bridge for close to two weeks and had already tried to cross the border three times.

     

    “The first time we tried, we went by train and were sent back,” Adam said. “Another time we tried in the mountain pass. We saw so much danger and so many difficulties. We saw death. We walked in the mountains for two days before we arrived to an area on the French border. We arrived and they sent us back again. Three days in the mountains. On the third day they sent us back.”

     

    Another time, he tried walking along a road. After eight hours, the police caught him and sent him back. Now, he had paid a smuggler and was waiting to try to pass again. “We’re still sleeping under the bridge in the cold,” Adam said. “There’s no safe place. It’s difficult. There’s food and other things, but it’s not enough. Hopefully, it will only be for a period of time and then it will be over.”  

     

    I asked him why he didn’t want to stay in Italy. “We heard from people who came here before us that they had housing for a period of time and then they were kicked out,” he said. “That’s a problem. There’s no housing and not much money.”

     

    Adam wanted to go to England “because of the language”, he said, switching from Arabic into English and flashing his smile. “I have little English.” His wife and five children were in Saudi Arabia, where Adam had worked as a migrant labourer. He left and came to Europe because his family did not have documents in Saudi Arabia, which made it difficult for his children to get an education or access resources like medical care. And going back to Sudan wasn’t an option because he was worried about conflict and instability. He wanted to bring his family to Europe so they could be somewhere safe and stable, and where his children could get an education. “You want to live like a human,” he said.

     

    His stay in Ventimiglia had been frustrating and demoralising, but he was still determined. Every time I left the parking lot at night Adam would say: “I hope you don’t find me here tomorrow.” It seemed to him like the French were making people suffer unnecessarily by making it difficult to cross the border. “They know that anyone who is trying to enter France, we will try and try, again and again. Why put these difficulties and make the way risky?” he asked. “We know that we will enter. There’s no other solution. Why put these punishments?”

     

    Life in limbo

     

    A recent report by the Refugee Data Project documented a lack of access to sanitation, clean drinking water, food and medical care for asylum seekers in Ventimiglia. Out of 150 people surveyed, 42 percent knew someone who had died trying to cross the border, and over 40 percent said they had experienced violence from both French and Italian police, including verbal abuse, physical assault, and being tear-gassed. Sixty-one percent of people said that they had been taken by Italian police and deposited in Taranto. “There are some guys who went to Taranto four or five times. It is something that destroys you physically and mentally,” a volunteer named Sara, who asked me not to use her last name out of fear of police harassment, told me.

    For the time that people are stranded here, life takes on a soul-crushing routine. They arrive after their long journeys and find a place to sleep in the Red Cross camp or under the bridge. They wait in line for food and toilets or simply go to the bathroom by the river. They wait in line to charge their phones and use the internet; wait in line to pick up warm clothing to guard against the cold at night. They sit by the parking lot watching the afternoon football matches until the sun goes down, and then they wake up the next morning and do it all over again. The municipality and local residents are hostile to their presence because they are afraid the asylum seekers will scare away the tourists that the town’s economy is dependent on. And then there are the attempts to cross the border, and being sent back over and over again. And all of this after people have already been through so much to make it this far.

     

    The endless journey

     

    On my last afternoon in Ventimiglia, I bumped into Hashem, a 22-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker I’d met a couple of weeks earlier in Rome. He was walking towards the sea with a friend and asked if I wanted to come along. As we meandered towards the rocky beach, he said he didn’t know the streets – he had only arrived the night before, and Ventimiglia was foreign to him. He came to Europe because he wanted a better life. “I was a refugee in my own country. The village where I was born in Darfur was burned to the ground,” he said. The people he grew up with are scattered. Some are in other countries in Africa and others made it to Europe, Canada, and the United States. “I wanted to do what you do,” Hashem told me, asking what he should study to become a journalist. He hadn’t graduated from high school in Sudan, but picked up newspapers and read whenever he could.

     

    “The things I experienced in Libya were very hard,” he said. His disappointment with Europe was evident. “After what we experienced, we deserve better than this.” But on some level he understood. So many people like him had come before and it’s hard for European countries to house them all, support them financially, and help them find work. But what other choice did he have? “The future I want is impossible in Africa,” he said. “Good schools are only for the wealthy and there is no freedom.”

     

    We knelt on the rocky beach for a minute listening to the soothing rush as the waves crashed and then pulled back out to sea. The sun was starting to set in the western horizon, turning the jagged coast of France, only five miles away, into a hazy silhouette. Hashem’s plan was to try to cross to France and then Germany and apply for asylum. He wanted to pretend to be a minor. That way, he hoped he wouldn’t have an issue with the Dublin Regulation. “I’m so skinny because of what I’ve been through. People will think I’m younger,” he said with a sad laugh.

     

    He asked me about whether it would be possible for him to finish his studies and go to university. He was smart and determined, but also tired and obviously scarred by his experiences. He had plans for his future. But what he’d been through already was so difficult. Would he be able to continue on – especially now that he felt so unwanted, unwelcome, and unsupported where he was?

     

    I thought about a conversation I’d had the night before with Alessandro, the doctor from INTERSOS. He had described the journey from people’s home countries to Italy as a rush. “Your shadows will not catch you,” he said of the traumas people are escaping and experience along the way. But when they get stuck in Ventimiglia, that changes. “You stop yourself under a place that is full of these shadows – full of these nightmares – with all these people with the same problem, and you stop because you don’t know what to do anymore… All of the thoughts are coming back, and then you lose your strength. The resilience is gone.”

     

    When people finally cross into France, it is still not over. There are more borders that are closed and more bridges in other cities where asylum seekers sleep rough at night. And then, when someone finally reaches their destination and applies for asylum, “most of the time… Dublin will make them come back,” Alessandro said. “You find yourself back in Gorizia, back in Bolzano, back in Ventimiglia, back in Torino,” he added, repeating the names of places along the migration trail through Italy. Even once they’ve arrived, the long and brutal journey doesn’t end.

     

    er/ag

     
    Purgatory on the Riviera
    Final in a four-part special <a href="#more">series</a> exploring the impact of Italy’s migration, integration, and settlement policies
  • US ends 20 years of sanctions on Sudan

    The United States has lifted decades-old economic sanctions against Sudan even though it still considers the country a state sponsor of terrorism and despite the fact Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir still faces arrest on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

    In July, Washington said a decision on whether to do away with the sanctions, which Barack Obama had suspended shortly before leaving the White House, would be delayed for three months.

    Khartoum’s recent move to end its support for North Korea seems to have tipped the balance in its favour and Donald Trump’s administration said there was now enough evidence of progress to justify the move.

    The sanctions were imposed in 1997 when then-president Bill Clinton issued an executive order citing Sudan’s “continued support for international terrorism, ongoing efforts to destabilise neighbouring governments, and the prevalence of human rights violations.”

    Including a comprehensive trade embargo and blocking the assets of Sudan’s government, they were expanded in 2006 to target individuals involved in the conflict in Darfur. The ICC’s charges against Bashir relate to acts, including murder, rape, and torture, committed by Sudanese troops in Darfur between 2003 and 2008.

    Obama stipulated that the sanctions would only be ended if Sudan made progress in five areas: co-operation on counter-terrorism; resolution of the conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur; improving access to humanitarian aid; ending support to armed opposition groups in South Sudan; and addressing the threat of the Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

    On Wednesday, Sudan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hamed Momtaz told the Reuters news agency that his country had “fulfilled all the necessary conditions relating to the roadmap and the US administration is a witness to that and therefore we expect the sanctions to be lifted.”

    Khartoum had already won significant international support for this claim, with Israel and Saudi and Arabia busy lobbying on its behalf. And back in July, the UN Country Team in Sudan, which includes all United Nations development and humanitarian agencies working there, called for Washington to take a “positive decision” on the sanctions, saying there had been a “marked improvement in humanitarian access over the past six months” in areas from where aid agencies had previously been restricted.

    Some key figures in the UN, however, paint a less rosy picture. Civilians in Darfur still face "violence and criminality", the UN's then-head of peacekeeping told the Security Council in January. Hervé Ladsous pointed in particular to the "widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of law and justice institutions" as well as inter-communal violence over land, water, and other resources.

    Human rights activists have warned that lifting the sanctions will embolden Sudan and other states to continue committing atrocities.

    On Thurday, Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Jehanne Henry tweeted: “recent attacks on Darfur IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] and new political arrests. Has Sudan made ‘progress’ on human rights? @potus”

    Henry’s tweet linked to a May position statement by HRW that criticised Obama’s 11th-hour suspension of sanctions for its failure to “identify clear benchmarks for progress or explicitly require improvements to the human rights situation before making the suspension permanent.”

    Twenty years after the sanctions were first imposed on Sudan, “the human rights situation has not improved,” according to HRW.

    “Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and aligned forces, notably the newly created Rapid Support Forces, have continued to attack civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile with utter impunity. National security agents engage in entrenched patterns of repression, targeting civil society leaders, human rights activists, and students for harassment, arbitrary detentions, and torture; restricting civil society organisations and independent media; and using lethal force to disperse protesters, killing hundreds in broad daylight,” the May statement said.

    And as researcher Jerome Tubiana pointed out in an opinion piece for IRIN in August, accurately measuring progress in human rights in theatres of conflict is almost impossible.

    “Arguably, less is now known about what’s happening in Darfur than at any time since 2004, because access for international observers, aid workers, researchers, and journalists is constantly squeezed and is more difficult than ever. Those who do manage to get in are so afraid of being kicked out that they often prefer, consciously or not, to under-report, not to report, or even to deny the extent of the violence,” Tubiana wrote.

    He also noted that “the wars in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile have not ended, and humanitarian access is far from what it was in Darfur in 2004, when the conflict there was at its peak.

    “The international narrative that the wars in Sudan are now ‘low-intensity conflicts’, with sufficient security on the ground to implement early recovery and development programmes, is a dangerous fiction.”

    Editor’s take – It’s not about human rights

    The lifting of US sanctions against Sudan 20 years after they were imposed marks a long-fought victory for Khartoum, in particular al-Bashir and his inner circle. A trade embargo and a freeze on Sudanese government assets essentially isolated Sudan from the global financial system and prevented any US citizen or entity doing business with it. By contributing to the freefall of Sudan’s economy, the sanctions made it harder for al-Bashir to maintain his grip on the country. Yet neither the sanctions, nor an ICC indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity made the Sudanese president a pariah among his African peers; indeed several African countries have blithely ignored their Rome Statue obligation to arrest al-Bashir during his visits to their territory.



    When he imposed the sanctions in 1997, Bill Clinton cited Sudan’s rampant violations of human rights as the main justification. But there is little evidence of a major improvement in the country’s human rights record, even though this is one of five areas of progress cited by Washington in justifying the lifting of the sanctions. In its latest report on human rights across the world, the US State Department cited “aerial bombardments of civilian areas by military forces and attacks on civilians by government and other armed groups in conflict zones” as well as abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape, all committed with impunity by intelligence agents. Reducing internal wars was another US benchmark, but armed conflict continues to simmer in the regions of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan, where humanitarian access remains very restricted. It seems the US decision to lift sanctions is more closely linked to Khartoum’s role in global counter-terrorism and its recent cutting of ties with Pyongyang.

    am/ag

    US ends 20 years of sanctions on Sudan
  • The dangerous fiction of Darfur’s peace

    In May of this year, Darfuri rebels based in Libya barrelled across the border in some 160 vehicles, breaking through Sudanese defence lines and giving the lie to the widely touted notion that conflict in Sudan’s vast western region was finally over.

    The Sudanese Armed Forces and their allied militia, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), managed to exact some losses on the Mini Minawi faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-MM). But the rebels, after two years spent mostly in Libya and South Sudan reconsolidating their forces, managed to achieve what the RSF had thwarted in 2015: place a significant number of troops back in Darfur.

    While the attack may have been only of modest strategic significance in Darfur itself, it was a good time for the SLA-MM to leave Libya. There, Darfuri rebels were growing tired of fighting as mercenaries in a foreign country, one where they might easily find themselves taking on their compatriots enlisted by other parties to Libya’s multifaceted conflict.

    The chaos of Libya had also given the rebels an opportunity to re-arm sufficiently to attempt another incursion.

    The timing was also propitious because of major political developments further afield. Sudan’s diplomatic situation has been weakened by the row between two of its main allies: Qatar and Saudi Arabia (who are also at odds in Libya). The attack took place shortly ahead of a scheduled US decision on whether to fully lift, after a six months’ easing, its economic sanctions on Sudan, and just as the hybrid UN/African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) announced a 25 percent reduction of its contingent, amounting to 5,000 personnel.

    The attack neatly laid bare the fragility of the narrative put forward recently by the US and by elements within the UN – and by Khartoum long before – namely that rebels no longer operate in Darfur and that peace has been restored there.

    Still, the messages emanating from the UN are mixed. On 10 July, the UN Country Team in Sudan, which includes UN agencies working on development, emergency, recovery, and transition, called for a “positive decision” on sanctions relief, citing a “marked improvement in humanitarian access”.

    Continuing violence

    Yet civilians in Darfur still face "violence and criminality", the UN's then head of peacekeeping told the Security Council in January. Hervé Ladsous pointed in particular to the "widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of law and justice institutions" as well as inter-communal violence over land, water, and other resources. This violence and tension prevents the return home of some 2.1 million internally displaced people, according to an April overview from the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

    A growing number of Darfuris consequently are making their way to Europe through risky crossings of the Sahara and the Mediterranean.

    UNAMID is well aware of this continuing violence and of who is behind it: the RSF, which are no less abusive than the infamous janjawid used to be in 2003-2004. Two years ago, Human Rights Watch accused UNAMID of failing to report the magnitude of RSF's crimes in Darfur.

    Given the fiction of improved security, “the only reason” UNAMID is downsizing, according to one UN official, “is that donors have no more appetite for it”.

    What happens with the 20-year-old US sanctions is less certain. President Barack Obama eased them days before leaving office in January, reviving a long-running debate over Sudan policy between fans of carrots and those of sticks. It’s worth noting that both camps have co-existed within various US administrations: the publicly bipartisan nature of Sudanese issues has long hidden significant divisions, especially under Obama.

    These divisions, coupled with a lack of experienced personnel at the State Department, may explain why the decision on a permanent lifting of the sanctions was postponed at the 11th hour earlier this month.

    Sanctions ineffective?

    Those in favour of ending the sanctions – the carrot camp – argue that the measures have been largely ineffective in today’s multilateral world, one where Sudan has been able to find other partners. They also say that sanctions, in general, tend to hurt civilians more than the regimes they target.

    Champions of the stick counter that far more harm has been meted out to people in Sudan’s peripheral regions by Khartoum’s counter-insurgency operations, which often target entire communities, than by the economic effects of the sanctions. They back their argument by pointing to the fact that, in the midst of an economic crisis, Sudan spends 75 percent of its budget on defence and security.

    In theory at least, the US conditions the permanent lifting of its sanctions on five benchmarks: Khartoum's co-operation on counter-terrorism; resolution of the conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur; improving access to humanitarian aid; ending support to armed opposition groups in South Sudan; and addressing the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

    Khartoum says it has met these conditions, and Obama cited progress on some of them to justify the six-month easing.

    The claims of progress merit scrutiny. For example, the much-weakened LRA hardly poses the same degree of threat to civilians as conflicts in Sudan’s peripheral regions, which would require a complete change of thinking in Khartoum to conclusively end.

    Questionable yardsticks

    One also wonders how cooperation against terrorism can be deemed successful when information that could allow us to evaluate this is for the most part secret. And, in at least one instance, available evidence suggests such cooperation may involve further abuses: In 2011, Chadian former Guantánamo detainee Mohammed el-Gorani, whose release a US judge had ordered for lack of evidence of terrorist activity, and who was subsequently repatriated to Chad, went to Sudan for health treatment and was quickly arrested by the Sudanese intelligence services, in the name of their cooperation with the CIA. He somehow managed to escape.

    As for South Sudan, it is clear that Khartoum is interfering there to a lesser degree than it was before and around the time of secession in 2011. Yet, since the beginning of the new civil war in December 2013, weapons experts have found evidence of repeated and substantial supplies of arms and ammunition from Sudan to South Sudan.

    sudanese_bombs.jpg

    A box of mortar bombs
    Conflict Armament Research

    More importantly, the wars in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile have not ended, and humanitarian access is far from what it was in Darfur in 2004, when the conflict there was at its peak. The international narrative that the wars in Sudan are now “low-intensity conflicts”, with sufficient security on the ground to implement early recovery and development programmes, is a dangerous fiction.

    Paltry targets

    Also deserving of scepticism is another argument used by some of those favouring lifting sanctions on Sudan – that doing so would leave in place the stick of some “targeted sanctions”. But those are merely sanctions the US is compelled to enforce on four individuals listed for travel bans and asset freezes by the UN Security Council since 2006. Not only have the travel bans been repeatedly violated and no assets frozen, but the measures are also unlikely to represent any kind of pressure for Sudan, since the individuals (two rebel commanders, one of whom has died, a retired army general, and the janjawid leader Musa Hilal who has been at odds with the government for a few years) do not really matter to Khartoum, to say the least.

    Meanwhile, the Security Council is unable to reach consensus on designating a Sudanese government official for any new targeted sanctions because China and Russia would only agree if rebel leaders were also the subject of such measures.

    Advocates of the Darfur cause in the United States were at times rightly criticised for their simplistic views of the situation. Now, a similar myopia seems to affect many UN and US officials.

    Arguably, less is now known about what’s happening in Darfur than at any time since 2004, because access for international observers, aid workers, researchers, and journalists is constantly squeezed and is more difficult than ever. Those who do manage to get in are so afraid of being kicked out that they often prefer, consciously or not, to under-report, not to report, or even to deny the extent of the violence. For instance, UNAMID has repeatedly attributed attacks by government militias to “unidentified”, “unknown” or “other armed groups”, or “bandits”.

    There are however still ways to discover what’s really happening in Darfur, through credible media outlets such as the Sudan Tribune, social media, and the increasing number of Darfuri refugees who manage to reach Europe. One can also visit border areas in South Sudan and Chad and talk with refugees and nomads, whose stories generally differ significantly from what is reported by the government or UNAMID.

    Darfur fatigue

    But the problem the West has now with Sudan is not only lack of information: mention the word “Darfur” to a Western diplomat and you’ll be met with fatigue, and hostility towards those rebels who kept refusing to sign a deal with the government. International players now have other priorities, including Libya and South Sudan. And Darfuri rebels active in those countries will be generally described as spoilers.

    These are the limits of an analysis that is not truly regional. If Darfuri combatants recently operated in several neighbouring countries, it is precisely because opportunities for serious peace talks have remained elusive and because many of those who did make peace with Khartoum, notably in Qatar in 2011, became disillusioned, and are now among those Sudanese operating as "mercenaries" and “bandits” in Libya. Many other Darfuri combatants are also members of government militias who move back and forth between Sudan and Libya as if there was no border, returning intermittently to their RSF jobs in Sudan.

    Members of pro-government paramilitary forces and rebels who joined the government are, in principle, under the responsibility of the Sudanese government, but have become a broader problem as the Darfur conflict metastasizes into the wider Sahel region. It risks spreading further if Khartoum and the international community fail to change the way they deal with Darfur.

    (Top photo: Thousands of people, mostly women and children, take refuge at a safe zone adjacent to UNAMID's base in Um Baru, North Darfur, in January 2015. Hamid Abdulsalam/UNAMID)

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    The dangerous fiction of Darfur’s peace
  • The "New Way of Working": Bridging aid's funding divide

    A new UN-led reform policy aims to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development actors. Heard this tune before? Perhaps. But the so-called New Way of Working (NWOW) has, according to its champions, the potential to radically improve how emergency relief programmes are designed and delivered.

     

    Proponents see it as a way to unlock new sources of funding for humanitarian response from multilateral sources who have previously stayed out of crisis settings, for example the World Bank. It is also being tied to new ways of supporting Syrian refugees and host countries, such as the “compacts” designed for Lebanon and Jordan.

     

    Early pilots are underway or planned in several countries, including Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

    But even as the policy is being rolled out, many questions remain.

    There are concerns a shotgun marriage between emergency and development aid could lead to the blurring of institutional mandates, misplaced priorities, and the violation of humanitarian principles. Others question whether risk-averse donors will be prepared to change how and with whom they fund aid.

     

    What is the New Way of Working?

     

    In his “One Humanity, Shared Responsibility” report, published in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit last year, then-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urged the international aid system “to commit to working in a new paradigm”. 

     

    Building on the holistic Leave no-one behind” approach of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ban called for the setting aside of artificial institutional labels such as “development” and “humanitarian”, and urged agencies to “move beyond the comfort of traditional silos, mandates and institutional boundaries.”

     

    The heads of the leading UN agencies responded by signing the “Commitment to Action”, in which they undertook to “implement a new way of working that meets people’s immediate humanitarian needs while at the same time reducing risk and vulnerability”.

     

    Signatories of the Grand Bargain, the landmark agreement to reform emergency aid, likewise committed to “enhanced engagement between humanitarian and development actors”. Izumi Nakamitsu, then head of the Crisis Response Unit at the United Nations Development Programme, told IRIN in an interview in March: “We are trying to have a paradigm shift in looking at the phenomenon of crises, both humanitarian but also protracted crises, which therefore become a development challenge as well.”

     

    “It’s not just about tweaking or changing here and there a little bit, with business as usual. It is going to be a huge change, both for humanitarians and development people and also the donor governments.”

     

    Erm, sounds great, but what is the New Way of Working?

     

    Policy chiefs have been keen to avoid fixed definitions because they say it has to be “context-specific”.

     

    According to Nakamitsu, “there is no one-size-fits-all [approach]… It’s all very contextualised and we are learning as we go,” she said, while stressing an emphasis on field-led initiatives rather than top-down policy directives.

     

    Essentially though, the NWOW is about closer collaboration between humanitarian and development response through the pillars of: “collective outcomes”, “comparative advantage”, and “multi-year timeframes”.

     

    In March, more than 100 delegates from a range of UN agencies, NGOs, donor countries, and multilateral institutions gathered in Copenhagen for a high-level workshop to discuss the policy. They agreed:

     

    -- Instead of just delivering aid to meet need, set collective targets around reducing that need, such as cutting food insecurity rates or cholera infections in a specific geography over a set period of time

     

    -- Decide who is best placed to respond to the crisis, in terms of skills, funding, and capacity, rather than who applies to help out first or who did it last time

     

    -- Secure funding and capacity to support response over a longer timeframe to enable agencies to deliver meaningful change (shaped around targets identified by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)) rather than short-lived quick fixes

     

    So what will it all look like in the field?

     

    A practical example of a collective outcome would be a target to reduce cholera infections in a specific geography over a certain period of time, or to cut levels of food insecurity or cases of malnutrition in children.

     

    These targets would be set for multiple agencies to work towards together.

    In Ethiopia, for example, aid agencies have been leveraging established developmental projects and funding to meet humanitarian needs arising from the current drought.

    Instead of setting up a separate emergency response programme to treat Severe Acute Malnutrition, for example, the existing national health system has been bolstered to respond with training and resources.

     

    Yemen cholera 3

    Mohammed Hamoud/IRIN
    “We saw the opportunity for both emergency and development activities to occur in tandem to reduce a humanitarian need,” said Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, the UN’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Ethiopia, speaking during a recent webinar about the NWOW.

     

     

    “Rather than set up a parallel response mechanism for the emergency response, the national system was reinforced through training and resourcing,” explained Eziakonwa-Onochie. “So they were the first responders and that actually meant the response was effective.”

     

    Where do actors like the World Bank come in?

     

    In Yemen, the World Bank is funding a series of programmes administered by UN agencies and local organisations to pay health workers’ salaries as well as provide fuel supplies for hospitals and emergency nutrition support.

     

    To date, the country has been allocated a $500-million grant from the bank’s International Development Association (IDA), which offers financing for development challenges in the world’s poorest countries.

     

    A second phase – due to be signed off this year – is worth an additional $250 million and will include a cash transfer scheme to help vulnerable households, and agricultural grants to support local food production.

     

    It is the first time the bank has allocated IDA money to an ongoing conflict situation, and the cash is particularly welcome in Yemen, where the 2017 humanitarian appeal is barely 20 percent funded despite a recent donors’ conference in Geneva.

     

    Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s resident coordinator in Yemen, described the World Bank-funded programmes as “humanitarian-plus”.

     

    “We are investing in communities and structures so they don’t completely shatter and fall apart,” he explained. “A hospital that closes is very difficult to [re]open, but a hospital that is still functioning, even minimally, can be built up quite quickly.”

     

    Fouzia Shafique, chief of health and nutrition for UNICEF in Yemen, noted that World Bank funding is being used, not only to keep health facilities functioning, but also to strengthen them with an expanded network of healthcare workers.

     

    “Humanitarian response would not train up new healthcare workers or set up a network of community health workers,” she said.

     

    So it’s getting development actors to pitch in with crisis response?

     

    In essence, yes, although policy chiefs insist it’s not simply about “development actors doing humanitarian work”, but rather about protecting development gains and supporting systems that can continue to deliver services.

     

    This was already happening even before the NWOW became formal policy.

     

    For instance, the UNDP, traditionally a development organisation focused first on the Millennium Development Goals and now the SDGs, is joining the World Bank and coming into crisis settings much earlier than in the past.

     

    An example of this new type of intervention is the UN agency’s Funding Facility for Stabilization in Iraq. During 2016, the programme bankrolled more than 350 projects, valued in total at over $300 million.

     

    Their scope included repairing infrastructure, rebuilding public services, and stimulating the local economy, all with a view to enabling displaced Iraqis to return home.

     

    In northeastern Nigeria, the agency credits the “New Way of Working” for its ability to scale up humanitarian response for those displaced and destitute due to the Boko Haram insurgency.

    unicef_nigeria.jpg

    Nigerian nternally displaced children waiting for ready-to-use therapeutic food
    UNICEF/Andrew Esiebo

    These interventions, like the World Bank’s engagement in Yemen, bring important new funding and capacity to humanitarian crises. But they can also carry significant risk due to the perilous nature of the security situations in the countries in question.

     

    “There is a risk that premature development intervention can be undone quite quickly,” cautioned Nadine Walicki, a senior strategic advisor at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva. “There have been cases of new housing provided for returnees, for instance, literally being burnt to the ground.”

     

    Is there also a risk that these development-style interventions, which involve government engagement, could inflame a crisis setting?

     

    That is the worry. In order to deliver aid within Yemen, for instance, aid agencies must liaise with both the authorities in the largely Houthi-held north (including the capital, Sana’a) and the coalition force, which is led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from Aden in the south.

     

    Humanitarians, guided by their core principles of humanity, independence, neutrality, and impartiality, are used to these sorts of negotiations. But when money is coming from an entity like the World Bank, the rules of engagement naturally change, as the Yemen example illustrates.

     

    “There are concerns on both sides (the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition) about World Bank aid and perceptions about what it means,” admitted Shafique from UNICEF. “But there is also a recognition from both sides that in the circumstances (it was) the only way that aid could come to the country, given that one side is not considered legitimate, and the other side controls a limited geographic area.”

    And what about the risk of violating humanitarian principles?

     

    NWOW advocates insist all programmes are carefully shaped to avoid this.

     

    “Humanitarian principles… must of course be protected,” Nakamitsu said. “We do not want to interfere with the delivery of aid or be misunderstood to be partial to one side in a conflict.”

     

    Similarly, OCHA noted in its March 2017 report, “New Way of Working”: “nothing should undermine the commitment to principled humanitarian action, especially in situations of armed conflict.”

     

    But it goes on to say: “There is, at the same time, a shared moral imperative of preventing crises and sustainably reducing people’s levels of humanitarian need, a task that requires the pursuit of collective outcomes across silos.”

     

    Marc DuBois, an independent aid consultant and former executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières in the UK, told IRIN he supports calls to break down “calcified institutional and funding divides” and end the turf battles between humanitarian and development actors.

     

    But he expressed concerns about the potential for further politicisation of aid under the NWOW.

     

    “Making humanitarian aid coherent with the broader goals of development, peacebuilding, and security, sounds like a great idea to politicians, but it carries a high risk of undermining humanitarian principles,” he said.

     

    Hugo Slim, head of policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross, welcomed the NWOW’s efforts to bridge the divide between the humanitarian and development sectors, of the UN in particular.

     

    But he said: “There is a risk that the NWOW could under-emphasise the importance of principled humanitarian action in armed conflict.

     

    “For instance, state-centric development models could risk over-investment in government-controlled areas or might over-emphasise the role of governments and local actors in order to deliver development goals.”

     

    DuBois, likewise, did not support the emphasis on linking humanitarian aid delivery to the SDGs.

     

    “There is a picture emerging of humanitarian action becoming a subsidiary for the sustainable development goals and to be at the service of development, and this is unsettling,” he told IRIN. “We need to find a middle ground.”

     

    Jamie Munn, head of humanitarian policy at the Norwegian Refugee Council, agreed that SDGs should not become a focus for humanitarians, who were there to serve immediate need.

     

    Giving the example of Colombia, he said: “development actors were supporting government structures towards achieving SDGs, to the neglect of the humanitarian needs of a large part of the population”.

     

    Policy wrangles aside, what about getting funding for the NWOW?

     

    On the one hand, the growing roles of development actors like the World Bank and the UNDP in crisis situations will mean more money is available to be spent in emergency settings.

     

    However, it remains to be seen whether donor governments will make good on their commitments in the Grand Bargain to provide more flexible funding, which will be required to fund the NWOW approach.

     

    “Until financing, along with planning and risk tolerance, changes, we are going to be stuck in a system where mandates will remain rigid and competition continues to dominate,” Munn told IRIN.

     

    Lesley Bourns, chief of policy analysis and innovation at UN OCHA in New York, also acknowledged the challenges. “It’s not a matter of flipping a switch to make that change. It will be complicated. The resource flows are entrenched for a lot of good reasons,” she said.

     

    “There has been a lot of talk about interest in doing this from donors. Denmark for instance is already trying to align its humanitarian and development financing in fragile settings”. But she said while many donors were talking about new funding models, “more concrete action” was needed.

     

    What are the next steps?

     

    At the Copenhagen meeting in March, delegates committed to a series of follow-up workshops to discuss how to apply the NWOW in crisis settings.

     

    The UN in Burkina Faso, for example, announced the formation of collective outcome targets towards achieving SDG 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture), and said it would examine capacities to deliver the strategy.

     

    Several donors also said they would look at their funding and response structures: the UK’s Department for International Development said it was planning a review of its response to protracted crises; Germany pledged to explore how it could contribute to the NWOW through its support for refugees; and Norway announced a white paper looking at a new strategy for engagement in fragile settings.

     

    In his address to the Copenhagen meeting, Stephen O’Brien, the outgoing UN emergency relief coordinator, referred to the NWOW as the “accepted norm” and said it was time to “transform our systems and processes to operationalise it”.

     

    Despite receiving far less attention than the now infamous 25 percent localisation pledge, insiders suggest the New Way of Working may be one of the most influential and lasting outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit. But the reality is: it’s too soon to say if it is, well, working.

     

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    The "New Way of Working": Bridging aid's funding divide
  • Turkey expels Syrians working for Danish NGO

    Turkey has expelled four Syrians working for a Danish aid agency, a new move in a crackdown on international NGOs, IRIN can now report. Their destination: Khartoum, Sudan, 3,000 kilometres away. No aid agency has previously confirmed deportations of Syrian staff from Turkey. The destination of Sudan was chosen to avoid a dangerous return to Syria, the NGO told IRIN.

     

    In a statement, DanChurchAid (DCA) said the staffers’ lives “would have been in imminent danger” had they been deported to Syria. The staff, one woman and three men, had been detained for two months. The DCA operation was shut down by Turkish authorities after failing to get formal registration. It’s one of several NGOs using Turkey as a base for operations in Syria that have also been closed and their staff laid off.

     

    The Danish NGO reported that “the four Syrians were released on the condition that they leave Turkey”. Another five DCA non-Syrian staff had already been expelled to their home countries, while another Syrian was able to travel to Germany on an existing visa.

     

    Lisa Henry, humanitarian director of DCA, told IRIN the Sudan option was not Turkey’s decision. It emerged from a limited range of choices, she said, but added: “anything is better than detention or being sent back to Syria.”

     

    Henry said DCA was fulfilling its duty of care as an employer with the provision of legal representation on behalf of the staff, payment of salaries until the end of June, and offers of counselling if requested. The NGO would be open to re-employing the staff in other countries, Henry said. However, DanChurchAid does not have an office in Sudan.

    See also: Turkey steps up crackdown on humanitarian aid groups

    Safe haven?

     

    Sudan may seem an unlikely safe haven. Its own internal conflicts have created some four million displaced people, and the regime is accused of widespread human rights violations and led by President Omar al-Bashir, a man wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

     

    Nevertheless, according to the Khartoum authorities, by October 2016 at least 100,000 Syrians were living in Sudan. Key to its popularity: Sudan is almost unique in not requiring a visa for Syrian nationals. As previously reported by IRIN, most Syrians in Sudan are not treated as refugees and can generally study and work legally.

     

    Turkey hosts up to three million Syrian refugees, more than any other country. For much of the war, it kept its borders open to Syrians fleeing the conflict. It has provided protection to Syrians, and spent billions of dollars on their support. But it has also expelled some Syrians – according to Amnesty International, at a rate of 100 per day. However, until now, no expulsions of Syrian aid workers had been publicly reported and was rare. An official with US-based Mercy Corps, for example, one of the largest NGOs to be shut down, told IRIN none of its staff had been expelled.

     

    The deportation of these four Syrian aid workers sets  a “dangerous precedent” for other Syrians, according to a humanitarian analyst familiar with the issues. Turkey has expelled non-Syrian aid workers before, but as they could return safely to their home countries, while unfortunate, it wasn't “such a big deal”, the analyst said.

     

    Following the rules

     

    While DCA had made efforts to comply with Turkey’s regulatory regime, the organisation, like others, effectively operated in a “grey space”, the analyst said. Several international NGOs have been caught up in this year’s crackdown, and hundreds of Syrian staff have been laid off.

     

    Berk Baran, deputy permanent representative at the Turkish mission to the UN in Geneva, had earlier blamed the expulsions on NGOs not following the proper procedures. “If the channels are open and you are being told what you have to do, then it is very simple,” Baran said. “A government expects you to abide by its regulations.”

    DCA’s Henry said it had been “extremely frustrating” trying to get legally registered in Turkey – “we want to follow the rules” – and then to deal with the arrest of staff, the sealing of its office in Gaziantep, and the subsequent legal tussle.

     

    The $5 million DCA humanitarian operation in Syria, which includes education programmes about the risk of landmines and other unexploded weaponry as well as cash distributions to address immediate needs, will continue, Henry said, but managed from elsewhere.

     

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    Turkey expels Syrians working for Danish NGO
  • Why there’s no need to panic on UN peacekeeping cuts

    Fears are growing that the UN will be forced to drastically cut peacekeeping missions at President Donald Trump’s behest. Fortunately, it's a lot more complicated than that. First, Trump has to get his proposed budget through the US Congress and then, even if he does, where and when to cut the presence of blue helmets around the globe relies on tricky diplomatic manoeuvring and careful navigation of the UN's bureaucratic roadblocks. 

    The current UN peacekeeping budget, for the year ending 30 June, 2017, is $7.78 billion. The US provides 28.57 percent of this budget, followed by China and Japan at around 10 percent, then Germany, France, and the UK.

    The budget officially proposed by the Trump administration would significantly reduce financing to the State Department, international aid, and the financing of international organisations, including the UN. The so-called “skinny” budget contains only a few lines that directly reference peacekeeping. Namely, the US “would not contribute more than 25 percent for UN peacekeeping costs”.

    However, the US Congress already caps American’s peacekeeping assessment level at 25 percent. To meet its marginally higher existing obligations, that cap must be waived every year. “Trump is not creating this – it exists already,” pointed out Paul D. Williams, associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University.

    Recent reports suggest that the Trump administration wants to cut far deeper than the 25 percent ceiling, ripping as much as 40 percent from the $2.2 billion annual US contribution. A decrease from 28.57 percent to under 25 percent amounts to around $280 million. Incidentally, this is almost precisely the figure a 2014/15 UN Board of Auditors’ report identified as the total amount funded but not being spent by missions. A 40 percent cut would take roughly $1 billion from the UN's peacekeeping budget and reduce the US share, at existing levels, to more like 17-18 percent.

    The UN has often faced threats from American politicians, but this time the White House has telegraphed a clear intent to follow through on its promises: “We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to various foreign aid programmes,” said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director.

    “We should look at all 16 of them,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said at her confirmation hearing, referring to the number of blue-helmet missions around the world (14 are funded through the assessed peacekeeping budget). Haley will chair a 6 April meeting at the UN Security Council about the future of those peacekeeping missions. A letter she sent to Council members asks: "are current missions still 'fit for purpose?'"

    "Council members are encouraged to review missions and identify areas where mandates no longer match political realities and propose alternatives or paths towards restructuring to bring missions more in line with achievable outcomes," wrote the US mission. The letter, obtained by IRIN, asks many of the same questions already being posed by Council members – what to do "where there is no political process to support"; how to guard against mission creep; or whether it is "advisable, or even possible, to operate a mision without the strategic consent of the host government".

    Even if a far larger proposed cut does emerge when Trump’s more detailed budget is released in May, the reality is that it is Congress that ultimately decides the budget, not the White House. Many Republicans already balked at the proposed cuts, especially at the State Department, and the president is already locked in a major congressional battle over healthcare reform.

    "I do not anticipate that Congress will approve the UN-related provisions in the president’s budget without major revisions,” Peter Yeo of the UN Foundation told IRIN. "There are many congressional champions who appreciate peacekeeping, and want to ensure full-funding."

    Experts reserve their deepest concern for reductions in US financing to other UN programming, including UNICEF. “I think the proposed cuts to the UN’s humanitarian, climate and human rights work will have a far more negative impact,” said Cedric de Coning, senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

    No one knows exactly how things will play out at this stage. For one, the White House has yet to even brief Congress on its budget proposals for the State Department. 

    “Depending on how all this shakes out, the cuts could end up being quite enormous across the various agencies and the UN itself,” Bathsheba Crocker, assistant secretary of international organisation affairs at the State Department during President Barack Obama’s administration, told IRIN. “I think we all need to be girding ourselves for that possibility.”

    But when it comes to peacekeeping, the US cannot pick and choose which missions it wants to fund.

    What each member state owes as a portion of the peacekeeping budget is determined every three years. The US share, like that of other countries, won’t be renegotiated until late 2018. That means that if the US cuts funding to 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget – regardless of what the total budget is – it will be in arrears for the first time in nearly a decade, according to the UN Foundation.

    America’s own federal budget won’t be passed for nearly a year. The UN’s peacekeeping budget, meanwhile, will be renewed at the beginning of July. “This cycle is rarely aligned with the Security Council mandate” of each peacekeeping mission, the UN’s website notes.

    "This is an attack on an institution based on prejudice and ignorance."

    All of these built in lags – at times criticised as roadblocks to simplifying UN bureaucracy – could now serve as buffers. New UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already committed himself to deep reforms and will look to carefully decide how and where best to trim.

    Some Security Council diplomats say there is room to make missions work better, and that could mean some cuts in funding – though such efforts may now be associated with the White House, where top officials have shown contempt for the UN as an institution. "There is an opportunity to have a tougher approach with the UN on where they spend their money, using money as an incentive for reform,” insisted one non-American Security Council diplomat. If the US approves deep funding cuts without a parallel re-assessment at the UN, diplomats may be less sympathetic. 

    US reviews of peacekeeping missions, noted de Coning, “will probably prompt the UN Secretariat to also do its own internal reviews, and other member states, especially those in the Security Council, will also need to form their own opinions, and have a basis for doing so.”

    “This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is always good to be under pressure to review your goals, objectives, effectiveness, and efficiencies,” he added. “The proposed cut to 25 percent will be politically symbolically important for the US, but the real reduction in costs would come from pressure to bring down the overall $8 billion budget.”

    Others point to the fact that peacekeeping is hugely cost effective for countries like the US. As one recent analysis points out, the US pays $2.1 million every year for each servicemember deployed in a war zone; the equivalent figure for a deployed UN peacekeeper is $24,500.

    “I think this budget proposal reveals this administration’s slash-and-burn approach to the UN is ideological,” said Williams. “It is not the product of a thoughtful review process carried out and then implemented to find sensible reforms. This is an attack on an institution based on prejudice and ignorance.”

    “Such cuts would mean the UN Security Council would not be able to achieve a range of objectives it authorised in the name of maintaining international peace and security,” he added.

    But several missions were already in the process of shutting down or transitioning to a smaller footprint, so efficiencies can also be made, even if they don’t make the kind of dent in spending that the White House appears intent on achieving.

    “There are actually quite a lot of straightforward ways to shrink the peacekeeping budget by reasonably high amounts in the next several years,” said Richard Gowan, an associate fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who focuses on the UN.

    IRIN took a look at the options, mission by mission:

    Cutting and shrinking

    MINUSTAH – Haiti

    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has recommended that the mission in Haiti be drawn down and replaced with a smaller UN presence by October of this year. That move is complicated both by disagreements over what the new presence would entail – or if there should be one at all – and the UN’s ongoing response to a cholera epidemic that its own peacekeepers introduced in 2011. A trust fund set up to finance the UN’s $400 million cholera response strategy currently contains just $2 million. MINUSTAH’s current mandate will expire in less than one month – on 15 April.

    Currently, there are nearly 5,000 uniformed personnel deployed, including 2,370 military and 2,601 police. An additional 1,245 civilian personnel are in the country, according to the Department of Peacekeeping. The mission’s budget is currently $345.9 million.

    UNOCI – Cote D’Ivoire

    In April 2016, the UN Security Council voted to close down UNOCI by June of this year, and lifted an arms embargo on the country, and travel bans. By 30 April, all uniformed and civilian personnel are to leave the country. The mission’s budget for the fiscal year ending June 2017 is $153 million.

    UNMIL – Liberia

    After more than 13 years, the UN’s mission in Liberia will close at the end of March. Its approved budget through this year was $187 million.

    Maximum overall savings: $685.9 million

    The Big Missions

    The UN’s five most expensive missions are MONUSCO, deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; UNMISS, deployed in South Sudan; UNAMID, deployed in Darfur, Sudan; MINUSMA, deployed in Mali; and MINUSCA, deployed in the Central African Republic. Together, the five missions soak up more than $5.2 billion, or two-thirds of the entire peacekeeping budget.

    In order for significant cuts to be made, “you have to see some major changes to existing missions like CAR or Mali or DR Congo,” said Peter Yeo of the UN Foundation. “If you want to get serious numbers,” said Crocker, “it’s very hard to do without these big missions taking some hits.”

    MONUSCO – The Democratic Republic of Congo

    The UN’s mission in the DRC is its most expensive peacekeeping operation, with an approved budget of $1.23 billion. Nearly 19,000 peacekeepers are deployed in the country, and Guterres recently requested that the Security Council send 320 additional police to handle election-related unrest. The Council meets in March to consider mandate renewal. It could be a first sign of how Haley’s US mission plans to throw its weight around. But it may also be too soon to gauge, with the ink on the White House budget barely dry, and little sense of how Congress will proceed. Recent violence and the disappearance of two UN experts and their teams have ratcheted concerns.

    At the Security Council, France has circulated a draft resolution to renew the mandate. Last week, France’s UN ambassador Francoise Delattre said he was open to “negotiations aimed at reforming MONUSCO,” as long as they remained focused on protection of civilians and preparing for elections. “We should not be playing with fire when it comes to such high stakes,” he added.

    "What commitments should the Council expect of countries hosting UN peace operations where the UN is helping the government to establish its authority throughout its territory," asked the US note, specifically referring to MONUSCO, as well as missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Somalia. 

    “Negotiations around MONUSCO are going to be the first evidence of how these battles play out,” said Akshaya Kumar, deputy UN director at Human Rights Watch. “In many ways you need MONUSCO to do more, not less, in the coming year. Slimming down the mission at the same time as the country is gearing up for elections could be really problematic.”

    “My guess is that the DRC mission will stay in some capacity, although the government pretty much wants it to leave,” assessed David Curran, a peacekeeping research fellow at Coventry University.

    UNMISS – South Sudan

    Authorised on 8 July, 2011 – one day before South Sudan became independent – the mission’s task changed drastically following the outbreak of civil war in December 2013. Today, the mission protects a quarter of a million displaced South Sudanese civilians at its bases, including more than 120,000 just in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. The mission has been censured for previous failures to intervene in violence against civilians and aid workers.

    It would be hard to rationalise shutting down a mission in a country where UN officials have repeatedly highlighted the threat of genocide, and where famine has been declared in some areas. But UNMISS may find its funding at risk simply because of the need to find ways of overall tightening.

    With an approved budget of $1.08 billion, UNMISS is the second most expensive UN mission. According to State Department figures, the US financed the mission in 2016 to the tune of $315.47 million. The UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) reports that 12,923 uniformed personnel are currently deployed, along with 1,973 civilians. In December 2016, the mission’s mandate was renewed and the Security Council reaffirmed the authorisation of a 4,000-member “Regional Protection Force”. That force has yet to be allowed into the country, underscoring the impasse.

    UNAMID – Darfur, Sudan

    UNAMID is the UN’s *third costliest mission, and its first hybrid deployment. 2017 marks the 10-year anniversary of the joint UN-African Union enterprise, and at an annual price tag of $1.03 billion, it has been one of the “most expensive endeavours ever conducted” by the organisation. Beset by scandals and an inability – some say unwillingness – to operate freely, the mission has long been under pressure. UN officials say it is not always easy to quantify the return on investment for UNAMID – a metric the US now appears bent on amplifying. In a region historically vulnerable to genocide, it acts as a deterrent (a weak one, critics say) and provides leverage against the government in Khartoum. Several Security Council diplomats told IRIN that UNAMID needs at the very least to be reformed.

    The 16,000-strong mission is currently mandated through June 2017. “It may be the case that the calls for UNAMID to leave are more open now than ever before,” said David Curran, a peacekeeping research fellow at Coventry University.

    “It is a very troubled mission for sure; it is also a very troubled part of the world,” offered Crocker. The Security Council, she said, “should make sure that any decisions that are made about downsizing the mission are made on a realistic strategic assessment of the needs on the ground.”

    Several diplomats suggested that the US may negotiate hard on UNAMID, potentially raising the threat – perhaps feigned – of vetoing its renewal.

    “I would imagine Darfur (UNAMID) may receive the most attention as the protection situation there is perhaps less acute than in DRC and South Sudan,” said de Coning.

    MINUSMA – Mali

    The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali is one of its most expensive – and also one of the deadliest. More than 70 peacekeepers have been killed since MINUSMA’s deployment in July 2013, following French intervention against extremists and rebel groups. Blue helmets are targeted by and involved in fights with regional al-Qaeda affiliates and other extremists. Currently, more than 13,000 peacekeepers are deployed.

    Because of the mission’s counter-terrorism role, some diplomats consider it better safeguarded from cuts than other deployments. It is also relatively new by UN standards. In February, Canada reportedly delayed deployment of its peacekeepers to the country because it was wary of US plans across all missions. “The overall security situation remains worrying,” UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous said last week during a visit.

    MINUSMA will cost $933 million in the fiscal year ending June 2017.

    MINUSCA – Central African Republic

    A mission notorious for rampant sexual abuse among its peacekeepers, some diplomats consider MINUSCA too recently created for large scale retrenchment. Deployed in April 2014, there are currently more than 12,000 peacekeepers in the country. MINUSCA will cost roughly $920 million this year.

    On 16 March, Haley met with Faustin-Archange Touadéra, president of the Central African Republic. According to a readout, she expressed America’s “commitment” to both MINUSCA and “how to make it as efficient and effective as possible.” In a speech before the Security Council on the same day, deputy US representative Michele Sison also largely endorsed the mission; repeating that America wanted to make “MINUSCA an even more efficient and more effective peacekeeping mission”. She did note the sexual exploitation and abuse tied to the mission, but did not criticise its staffing.

    The current mandate expires in November 2017.

    unmiss_1.jpg

    Annemieke Vanderploeg/UNMISS
     

    Other Missions

    UNIFIL – Lebanon

    The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been deployed in the country since 1978. Its mandate has changed several times, most recently after the 2006 Lebanon War involving Israel. UNIFIL was subsequently expanded by the Security Council. Rarely mentioned in the press, its presence and price tag are not small: 11,425 UN personnel, including 10,577 troops, are currently deployed. The mission currently has an approved budget of $488 million.

    When UNIFIL’s mandate was last renewed, in June 2016, the Security Council requested that the secretary-general conduct a strategic review. Delivered on 9 March, it recommended reductions in the number of maritime crew personnel deployed by the mission, from 1,200 to 900, and that helicopters be flown less. Larger cuts were not outlined, although the review reiterated that “UNIFIL should continue to optimise its staffing complement and resources to support the effective and cost-efficient implementation of its mandate.”

    UNISFA – Abyei

    The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei was deployed in June 2011. Set up as an interim force, the current mission costs a sizeable $268.5 million. More than 5,300 military personnel are deployed. The current mandate runs through May of 2017. Much of the Security Council’s attention has been drawn to the other more expensive missions in the Sudans – UNAMID and UNMISS.

    UNMIK – Kosovo

    The UN’s mission in Kosovo, deployed since 1999, costs $36 million per year. In a February report, Guterres supported the continued resourcing of the mission, which he said “in it’s current configuration, is well suited to respond to challenges on the ground.” But the US representative told the Security Council in February: “we believe UNMIK is over-resourced and overstaffed in comparison with its limited responsibilities.”

    UNFICYP – Cyprus

    Amid negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriot representatives, the UN in January approved a six-month extension of the mission there. One of the UN’s oldest missions, UNFICYP costs a modest $55 million per year.

    UNMOGIP - India/Pakistan

    The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan is one of the smallest peacekeeping operations. Only 111 total personnel are deployed; the budget through 2017 is $21 million.

    UNTSO – Middle East

    The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) is the UN’s oldest current peacekeeping mission. Founded in 1948, today it assists other deployments in the region. Its budget for the fiscal year ending in 2017 is $68 million.

    MINURSO – Western Sahara

    The UN’s mission in Western Sahara was created in 1991. Last year, it was the center of controversy when then secretary-general Ban Ki-moon referred to the Moroccan “occupation” of the territory. Today, the mission is involved in ceasefire monitoring and supporting local families. Current strength is around 480 personnel, including 241 peacekeepers. Its budget through mid-2017 is $56 million.

    UNDOF - Golan Heights

    UNDOF was mandated in 1974 to supervise disengagement between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights. Since 2013, fighting inside Syria has forced most of its peacekeepers into Israeli-controlled territory. The mission currently deploys around 830 peacekeepers, at a cost of $47 million per year. Its mandate was renewed in December until 30 June, 2017.

    (*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that UNAMID was the second most expensive UN peacekeeping mission)

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    A look at the options, mission by mission
    Why there’s no need to panic on UN peacekeeping cuts
  • Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains

    It’s the dry season: a time when the Sudanese government usually renews its offensive against the rebels holed up in the Nuba Mountains.

    This season though, despite sporadic clashes, a ceasefire seems to be holding.

    For Khartoum, there is an incentive to keeping the peace. The outgoing US administration of Barack Obama lifted economic sanctions in January, and a key condition of the six-month probation period until their permanent removal is a cessation of hostilities.

    The rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) also have a point to make. They are keen to demonstrate to the international community their commitment to talks, and to the clearing of obstacles to aid access to the impoverished South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

    Peace can’t come soon enough for the people of the Nuba Mountains. The conflict has disrupted farming in rebel-held areas, and, along with poor rains, has resulted in sharply reduced harvests. Food prices are sky-rocketing, and the crisis is forcing more and more people from their homes in search of aid.

    Besieged: Nuba 360º
    Journalists and NGOs are banned from the Nuba Mountains. This rare film was captured by local community groups with guidance from international media. The narration is scripted directly from interviews with more than a dozen Nuba civilians.
    The origins of conflict
    A Nuban woman hides in a cave

    The people of the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan live on the fault line between Sudan’s largely Arab north and its predominantly black African south.

    Political and economic power in Sudan has historically been in the hands of a northern, Arabised elite. Since independence, the country’s marginalised communities have tried to resist that domination. The Nuba, numbering around 1.5 million, are a group of majority Muslim peoples, proud of their “African-ness”. They have faced long-standing discrimination as a consequence.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    When the Second Sudanese Civil War erupted in 1983, the alternative message of equality and inclusion of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and its charismatic commander-in-chief John Garang resonated with Nuba leaders. By 1987, an alliance had formed. Garang took the fight north through South Kordofan. The Nuba Mountains became a key rebel stronghold, and the government responded with a scorched-earth strategy that bore hallmarks of genocide. Jihad was declared, and a fatwa made it clear that Nuba Muslims were not to be spared either.

    A fragile peace took shape between the north and the south in 2005, which led to a referendum and independence for South Sudan in 2011. But the contested areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan were left under Khartoum’s control. Promised consultations on greater autonomy failed to materialise. As the world applauded South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, bombs were once again falling on the people of the Nuba Mountains. The conflict that still grips South Kordofan today was well under way.

     

     

     

     

     

    WATCH THE FILM

    About the project

    This 360º film project was a collaboration between local Nuban organisations and foreign media. 

    Directed and produced by London-based production company TFMdigital with support from Pax Christi, the film gives voice to the lived experience of people besieged in the Nuba Mountains.

    The narration of Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains is composed of interview excerpts from more than a dozen civilians. You can download the full transcripts here.

    The narration was recorded by the South Sudan Theatre Organization in Juba, South Sudan involving Sudanese and South Sudanese actors.

    The scenes themselves are of real civilians in real situations and were filmed on location by Transformedia near the front lines of the conflict in the Nuba Mountains.

    Virtual Reality at the Highest Level

    Footage from the film Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains was used to provide high-level officials around the world the opportunity to take a "Virtual Reality Human Rights Mission to Sudan".

    More than 600 officials took this Virtual Mission at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in New York, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva (UNHRC), the African Union Commission on Human and People’s Rights (AUHPR) in Banjul, and in parliaments around the world. This work was partially funded by Amnesty International.

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    Transformedia/IRIN

    WATCH THE FILM

    How to watch in VR and 360
    People watch a VR film using a headset

    360º video allows you to be immersed in a scene, almost as if you were there.

    You can watch 360º videos in three ways: by simply altering the position of your phone or tablet or by using your mouse to drag around the scene on your computer. To really bring the content to life, you can use a virtual reality headset.

    You can experience Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains by using the YouTube app on headsets such as Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear. You can also use Google Cardboard.

    How to watch on your phone

    without a VR headset

    1. Open the YouTube app on your smartphone and search for the IRIN News channel.
    2. Once you’ve selected the IRIN 360º video you would like to watch, turn your phone horizontally so it becomes full screen.
    3. Select the three vertical dots in the top right corner of the screen, then select ‘Quality’. Choose the maximum resolution for the best viewing experience.
    4. Now you can physically move your phone around or use your fingers to shift the perspective of the camera.

    How to watch on your desktop

    1. Open YouTube on your internet browser and search for the IRIN News channel.
    2. Once you’ve selected the IRIN 360º video you would like to watch, select the ‘Settings’ icon in the bottom right corner, click ‘Quality’ and choose the highest resolution.
    3. Select the ‘Full Screen’ icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
    4. Now use your mouse or trackpad to shift the perspective of the camera by clicking and dragging.



    How to watch on your VR headset

    1. Open the YouTube app on your smartphone and search for the IRIN News channel.
    2. Once you’ve chosen the IRIN 360º video you would like to watch, select the ‘Settings’ icon in the bottom right-hand corner, click ‘Quality’ and choose the highest resolution.
    3. Click on the three vertical dots in the top right corner of the screen and select the 'Cardboard' icon. You’ll see the layout of the screen split into two circles.
    4. Turn your phone horizontal and place it into your headset.

     

    WATCH THE FILM

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