(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Destination Europe: Evacuation

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

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


    Four years of uncontrolled migration starting in 2014 saw more than 600,000 people cross from Libya to Italy, contributing to a populist backlash that is threatening the foundations of the EU. Stopping clandestine migration has become one of Europe’s main foreign policy goals, and last July the number of refugees and migrants crossing the central Mediterranean dropped dramatically. The EU celebrated the reduced numbers as “good progress”.


    But, as critics pointed out, that was only half the story: the decline, resulting from a series of moves by the EU and Italy, meant that tens of thousands of people were stuck in Libya with no way out. They faced horrific abuse, and NGOs and human rights organisations accused the EU of complicity in the violations taking place.


    Abdu is one who got stuck. A tall, lanky teenager, he spent nearly two years in smugglers’ warehouses and official Libyan detention centres. But he’s also one of the lucky ones. In February, he boarded a flight to Niger run (with EU support) by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, to help some of those stranded in Libya reach Europe. Nearly 1,600 people have been evacuated on similiar flights, but, seven months on, only 174 have been resettled to Europe.


    Eric Reidy/IRIN
    Abdu, an Eritrean teenager, spent nearly two years in smugglers’ warehouses and official Libyan detention centres.

    The evacuation programme is part of a €500-million ($620-million) effort to resettle 50,000 refugees over the next two years to the EU, which has a population of more than 500 million people. The target is an increase from previous European resettlement goals, but still only represents a tiny fraction of the need – those chosen can be Syrians in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon as well as refugees in Libya, Egypt, Niger, Chad, Sudan, and Ethiopia – countries that combined host more than 6.5 million refugees.


    The EU is now teetering on the edge of a fresh political crisis, with boats carrying people rescued from the sea being denied ports of disembarkation, no consensus on how to share responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees within the continent, and increasing talk of further outsourcing the management of migration to African countries.


    Against this backdrop, the evacuation and resettlement programme from Libya is perhaps the best face of European policy in the Mediterranean. But, unless EU countries offer more spots for refugees, it is a pathway to safety for no more than a small handful who get the luck of the draw. As the first evacuees adjust to their new lives in Europe, the overwhelming majority are left behind.


    ☰ READ MORE: EU migration policies in brief


    1. Discrediting of Search & Rescue NGOs:


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


    2. Training & Equipping the Libyan Coast Guard


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


    3. Co-opting militias


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


    4.  Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration


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


    5. UNHCR’s Emergency Evacuation Mechanism


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


    Four months after arriving in Niger, Abdu is still waiting to find out if and when he will be resettled to Europe. He’s still in the same state of limbo he was in at the end of March when IRIN met him in Niamey, the capital of Niger. At the time, he’d been out of the detention centre in Libya for less than a month and his arms were skeletally thin.


    “I thought to go to Europe [and] failed. Now, I came to Niger…. What am I doing here? What will happen from here? I don’t know,” he said, sitting in the shade of a canopy in the courtyard of a UNHCR facility. “I don’t know what I will be planning for the future because everything collapsed; everything finished.”


    Abdu’s story 


    Born in Eritrea – one of the most repressive countries in the world – Abdu’s mother sent him to live in neighbouring Sudan when he was only seven. She wanted him to grow up away from the political persecution and shadow of indefinite military service that stifled normal life in his homeland.


    But Sudan, where he was raised by his uncle, wasn’t much better. As an Eritrean refugee, he faced discrimination and lived in a precarious legal limbo. Abdu saw no future there. “So I decided to go,” he said.


    Like so many other young Africans fleeing conflict, political repression, and economic hardship in recent years, he wanted to try to make it to Europe. But first he had to pass through Libya.


    After crossing the border from Sudan in July 2016, Abdu, then 16 years old, was taken captive and held for 18 months. The smugglers asked for a ransom of $5,500, tortured him while his relatives were forced to listen on the phone, and rented him out for work like a piece of equipment.


    Abdu tried to escape, but only found himself under the control of another smuggler who did the same thing. He was kept in overflowing warehouses, sequestered from the sunlight with around 250 other people. The food was not enough and often spoiled; disease was rampant; people died from malaria and hunger; one woman died after giving birth; the guards drank, carried guns, and smoked hashish, and, at the smallest provocation, spun into a sadistic fury. Abdu’s skin started crawling with scabies, his cheeks sank in, and his long limbs withered to skin and bones.


    One day, the smuggler told him that, if he didn’t find a way to pay, it looked like he would soon die. As a courtesy – or to try to squeeze some money out of him instead of having to deal with a corpse – the smuggler reduced the ransom to $1,500.


    Finally, Abdu’s relatives were able to purchase his freedom and passage to Europe. It was December 2017. As he finally stood on the seashore before dawn in the freezing cold, Abdu remembered thinking: “We are going to arrive in Europe [and] get protection [and] get rights.”


    But he never made it. After nearly 24 hours at sea, the rubber dinghy he was on with around 150 other people was intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, which, since October 2016, has been trained and equipped by the EU and Italy.


    Abdu was brought back to the country he had just escaped and put in another detention centre.


    This one was official – run by the Libyan Directorate for Combating Irregular Migration. But it wasn’t much different from the smuggler-controlled warehouses he’d been in before. Again, it was overcrowded and dirty. People were falling sick. There was no torture or extortion, but the guards could be just as brutal. If someone tried to talk to them about the poor conditions “[they are] going to beat you until you are streaming blood,” Abdu said.


    Still, he wasn’t about to try his luck on his own again in Libya. The detention centre wasn’t suitable for human inhabitants, Abdu recalled thinking, but it was safer than anywhere he’d been in over a year. That’s where UNHCR found him and secured his release.

    The circuitous routes Eritrean and Ethiopian evacuees took to Europe


    The lucky few


    The small village of Thal-Marmoutier in France seems like it belongs to a different world than the teeming detention centres of Libya.


    The road to the village runs between gently rolling hills covered in grapevines and winds through small towns of half-timbered houses. About 40 minutes north of Strasbourg, the largest city in the region of Alsace, bordering Germany, it reaches a valley of hamlets that disrupt the green countryside with their red, high-peaked roofs. It’s an unassuming setting, but it’s the type of place Abdu might end up if and when he is finally resettled.


    In mid-March, when IRIN visited, the town of 800 people was hosting the first group of refugees evacuated from Libya.


    It was unseasonably cold, and the 55 people housed in a repurposed section of a Franciscan convent were bundled in winter jackets, scarves, and hats. Thirty of them had arrived from Chad, where they had been long-time residents of refugee camps after fleeing Boko Haram violence or conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur. The remaining 25 – from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan – were the first evacuees from Libya. Before reaching France, they, like Abdu, had been flown to Niamey.


    The extra stop is necessary because most countries require refugees to be interviewed in person before offering them a resettlement spot. The process is facilitated by embassies and consulates, but, because of security concerns, only one European country (Italy) has a diplomatic presence in Libya.


    To resettle refugees stuck in detention centres, UNHCR needed to find a third country willing to host people temporarily, one where European resettlement agencies could carry out their procedures. Niger was the first – and so far only – country to volunteer.


    “For us, it is an obligation to participate,” Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s influential interior minister, said when interviewed by IRIN in Niamey. Niger, the gateway between West Africa and Libya on the migration trail to Europe, is the top recipient of funds from the EU Trust Fund for Africa, an initiative launched in 2015 to “address the root causes of irregular migration”.


    “It costs us nothing to help,” Bazoum added, referring to the evacuation programme. “But we gain a sense of humanity in doing so.”


    Eric Reidy/IRIN
    Farida, a 24-year-old aspiring runner from Ethiopia, was waiting in March to move into her own apartment in France.

    ‘Time is just running from my life’


    The first evacuees landed in Niamey on 12 November. A little over a month later, on 19 December, they were on their way to France.


    By March, they had been in Thal-Marmoutier for three months and were preparing to move from the reception centre in the convent to individual apartments in different cities.


    Among them, several families with children had been living in Libya for a long time. But most of the evacuees were young women who had been imprisoned by smugglers and militias, held in official detention centres, or often both.


    “In Libya, it was difficult for me,” said Farida, a 24-year-old aspiring runner from Ethiopia. She fled her home in 2016 because of the conflict between the government and the Oromo people, an ethnic group.


    After a brief stay in Cairo, she and her husband decided to go to Libya because they heard a rumour that UNHCR was providing more support there to refugees. Shortly after crossing the border, Farida and her husband were captured by a militia and placed in a detention centre.


    “People from the other government (Libya has two rival governments) came and killed the militiamen, and some of the people in the prison also died, but we got out and were taken to another prison,” she said. “When they put me in prison, I was pregnant, and they beat me and killed the child in my belly.”


    Teyba, a 20-year-old woman also from Ethiopia, shared a similar story: “A militia put us in prison and tortured us a lot,” she said. “We stayed in prison for a little bit more than a month, and then the fighting started…. Some people died, some people escaped, and some people, I don’t know what happened to them.”


    Three months at the reception centre in Thal-Marmoutier had done little to ease the trauma of those experiences. “I haven’t seen anything that made me laugh or that made me happy,” Farida said. “Up to now, life has not been good, even after coming to France.”


    The French government placed the refugees in the reception centre to expedite their asylum procedures, and so they could begin to learn French.


    Everyone in the group had already received 10-year residency permits – something refugees who are placed directly in individual apartments or houses usually wait at least six months to receive. But many of them said they felt like their lives had been put on pause in Thal-Marmoutier. They were isolated in the small village with little access to transportation and said they had not been well prepared to begin new lives on their own in just a few weeks time.


    “I haven’t benefited from anything yet. Time is just running from my life,” said Intissar, a 35-year-old woman from Sudan.


    Eric Reidy/IRIN
    Intissar, a 35-year-old from Sudan, spent several months in Thal-Marmoutier earlier this year completing the asylum process.

    A stop-start process


    Despite their frustrations with the integration process in France, and the still present psychological wounds from Libya, the people in Thal-Marmoutier were fortunate to reach Europe.


    By early March, more than 1,000 people had been airlifted from Libya to Niger. But since the first group in December, no one else had left for Europe. Frustrated with the pace of resettlement, the Nigerien government told UNHCR that the programme had to be put on hold.


    “We want the flow to be balanced,” Bazoum, the interior minister, explained. “If people arrive, then we want others to leave. We don’t want people to be here on a permanent basis.”


    Since then, an additional 148 people have been resettled to France, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands, and other departures are in the works. “The situation is improving,” said Louise Donovan, a UNHCR communications officer in Niger. “We need to speed up our processes as much as possible, and so do the resettlement countries.”


    A further 312 people were evacuated directly to Italy. Still, the total number resettled by the programme remains small. “What is problematic right now is the fact that European governments are not offering enough places for resettlement, despite continued requests from UNHCR,” said Matteo de Bellis, a researcher with Amnesty International.


    Less than 1 percent


    Globally, less than one percent of refugees are resettled each year, and resettlement is on a downward spiral at the moment, dropping by more than 50 percent between 2016 and 2017. The number of refugees needing resettlement is expected to reach 1.4 million next year, 17 percent higher than in 2018, while global resettlement places dropped to just 75,000 in 2017, UNHCR said on Monday.


    The Trump administration’s slashing of the US refugee admissions programme – historically the world’s leader – means this trend will likely continue.


    Due to the limited capacity, resettlement is usually reserved for people who are considered to be the most vulnerable. 


    In Libya alone, there are around 19,000 refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan registered with UNHCR – a number increasing each month – as well as 430,000 migrants and potential asylum seekers from throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Many have been subjected to torture, sexual violence, and other abuses. And, because they are in Libya irregularly, resettlement is often the only legal solution to indefinite detention.


    In the unlikely scenario that all the sub-Saharan refugees in Libya were to be resettled, they would account for more than one third of the EU’s quota for the next two years. And that’s not taking into account people in Libya who may have legitimate grounds to claim asylum but are not on the official radar. Other solutions are clearly needed, but given the lack of will in the international community, it is unclear what those might be.


    “The Niger mechanism is a patch, a useful one under the circumstance, but still a patch,” de Bellis, the Amnesty researcher, said. “There are refugees… who cannot get out of the detention centres because there are no resettlement places available to them.”


    It is also uncertain what will happen to any refugees evacuated to Niger that aren’t offered a resettlement spot by European countries.


    UNHCR says it is considering all options, including the possibility of integration in Niger or return to their countries of origin – if they are deemed to be safe and people agree to go. But resettlement is the main focus. In April, the pace of people departing for Europe picked up, and evacuations from Libya resumed at the beginning of May – ironically, the same week the Nigerien government broke new and dangerous ground by deporting 132 Sudanese asylum seekers who had crossed the border on their own back to Libya.


    For the evacuees in Niger awaiting resettlement, there are still many unanswered questions.


    As Abdu was biding his time back in March, something other than the uncertainty about his own future weighed on him: the people still stuck in the detention centres in Libya.


    He had started his travels with his best friend. They had been together when they were first kidnapped and held for ransom. But Abdu’s friend was shot in the leg by a guard who accused him of stealing a cigarette. When Abdu tried to escape, he left his friend behind and hasn't spoken to him or heard anything about him since.


    “UNHCR is saying they are going to find a solution for me; they are going to help me,” Abdu said. “It’s okay. But what about the others?”



    Next in Destination Europe: Deportation

    The arrival in Agadez of the Sudanese – most driven from their homes in the conflict-ridden region of Darfur more than a decade ago – signalled something new: it was the first time a group of refugees and asylum seekers had travelled south from Libya in search of protection instead of north towards Europe. Once the first group arrived, more kept coming – until there were around 2,000. European policies have led to a nearly 78 percent drop in the number of people crossing the sea from Libya to Italy since July last year, but the fact that the Sudanese were compelled to head back to Agadez and that their tense reception ultimately resulted in the deportation of 132 people back to Libya speaks to a broader truth: the international refugee protection system is failing.

    Read the previous instalments in this special report:

    Destination Europe: Homecoming

    Destination Europe: Frustration

    Destination Europe: Desperation

    The EU has started resettling refugees from Libya, but only 174 have made it to Europe in seven months
    Destination Europe: Evacuation
  • Missing pages, more on that jacket, and inside the mind of the Taliban: The Cheat Sheet

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

    On our radar:

    What they didn’t say about Eastern Ghouta


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



    South Sudan: “A missed opportunity to save lives”


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


    What the Taliban talk about when they talk about peace


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


    US child migrant separation: Do u care?


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


    How to add to PNG’s earthquake troubles


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

    Our weekend read:


    Destination Europe: Homecoming



    Susan Schulman/IRIN

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


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


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


     What’s Rohingya for “chlorine tablets”?


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


    And finally:


    G-O-A-L for Peace


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



    Missing pages, more on that jacket, and inside the mind of the Taliban
  • Disaster labels, hate speech, and hypocrisy on equality: The Cheat Sheet

    Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors curates a reading list of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.

    UN blinks first in Congo conference showdown


    Next week the UN is scheduled to assemble donors in Geneva to seek $1.7 billion to fund humanitarian operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But on 23 March the Kinshasa government suddenly announced it wouldn't attend. Cue dismay, confusion, and, some now say, capitulation.


    Wooing new investors and shoring up its political reputation, the government of President Joseph Kabila objected to being lumped in by the UN with the likes of Yemen and Syria as a state with skyrocketing emergency needs. Following this threat to skip its own pledging event, which doesn't help prospects for donor largesse, the UN will now upgrade Congo’s humanitarian status.


    Later this month, Congo will no longer be classified as a "level three" situation: a demarcation of the worst crises in the world. A senior NGO official close to the process said the decision was rushed through in 12 hours and was "very rash", as it sets a bad precedent. "If we can't stand up to the government of DRC... good luck with [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad", the official said, adding that the UN had skipped consultations with other aid groups that collectively agreed the designation last October.


    However, Mark Lowcock, the UN aid chief who heads the Inter-Agency Standing Committee that decides on "L3s", stated in a 4 April announcement that benchmarks had largely been met, and the six-month designation would not need to be renewed. An L3 designation can be agreed by the IASC to signal the urgency and priority of the most serious situations, and thereby unlock extra resources to mobilise a bigger and better response. Several  NGO staffers said Congo wouldn't be the first country to shake off the L3 designation and that Nigeria was among several countries that had successfully lobbied behind the scenes to avoid the label altogether.


    Congo is on a tense path to delayed elections while trying to ram through changes to taxes that have irked mining firms. It also has multiple conflicts, widespread hunger, and huge numbers of displaced people (numbers now disputed by Kinshasa). Whether lifting the "L3" status operationally makes much difference now, the NGO staffers weren't sure. But they all agreed that the timing looked unhelpfully like a UN climbdown. "With the government contesting the numbers and saying the L3 was not justified... it just looks very publicly like they are giving in to the pressure," said one aid worker in Goma.

    Mirror, mirror: gender and pay


    This year, for the first time, new government regulations required UK charities and  companies with over 250 employees to report on female and male staff members’ relative pay scales and seniority — an effort to document the so-called “gender pay gap.”  The results, released on 4 April, make for uncomfortable reading. British NGOs that promote gender equality abroad need to take a good hard look in the mirror: the UK's largest international charities, like most British companies, all pay their men more than their women on average, according to the new government dataset. However, eight of 13 in IRIN's sample do have more women than men in the top jobs. Among the NGOs listed are Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision, and the British Red Cross. Commenting on the findings, Tamsyn Barton, chief executive of UK NGO alliance BOND, said: "As a sector that works to tackle gender inequality... in the Global South, it’s time we do the same at home." The reporting does not analyse equal work for equal pay: rather it shows the overall spread of men and women across all pay bands.


    World Vision has the largest gender pay gap of major NGOs in IRIN's sample of non-profits with a significant international footprint (see table): there, women's hourly rate of pay is on average 24 percent less than men's. In its formal report, the Christian NGO stated that it is "not complacent" and would strengthen management tools to tackle the issue. Its average is brought down by the fact that women make up 84 percent of the staff in the lowest pay band. In senior management, UNICEF UK and Islamic Relief (IR) are opposites: UNICEF's leadership is 80 percent women; at Birmingham-based IR it is 79.5 percent men. In a statement, IR said it was working on its career advancement, training, and flexible working arrangements to narrow the gap. UNICEF in a statement said "it would strive to make improvements."


    Many NGOs say their work improves the lives of women and girls around the globe, but "I don't see how they can seriously do that" without a "proper exploration" of their internal gender imbalance, said Alexia Pepper de Caires, co-leader of the Women's Equality Party in the London borough of Hackney. Pepper de Caires, an ex-aid worker involved in exposing harassment and abuse at Save the Children, said NGOs appear to be confident about "what happens in other places", but are unable to see "what happens here... it's a double standard."


    Facebook and hate speech in Myanmar


    Already dealing with a scandal over the misuse of user’s data, social media giant Facebook this week faced renewed questions over how it handles hate speech in volatile countries like Myanmar. Multiple media reports shed light on how hardline nationalists in Myanmar used the platform to spread incendiary messages during last year’s Rohingya crisis – and how Facebook is failing to address the problem. An analysis published in the Guardian shows that Facebook posts from influential anti-Rohingya nationalists escalated dramatically last year leading up to 25 August, when Rohingya militants attacked border areas in northern Rakhine State. The spike in anti-Rohingya posts continued as Myanmar security forces launched a violent crackdown that drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya out of the country. In a separate report, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is focused on the problem in Myanmar. But in an open letter to Zuckerberg, civil society groups in Myanmar that previously warned Facebook of the threat of hate speech said the company had failed to react quickly to incendiary messages and appears not to have a system to address the problem. “Our community continues to be exposed to virulent hate speech and vicious rumours,” the groups stated. UN investigators barred from entering Myanmar recently warned that hate speech is running rampant and largely unchecked on Facebook.


    Watching: Ethiopia and Eritrea

    When Ethiopia and Eritrea went back to war in 1998 – after the latter seceded from the former in the wake of a protracted struggle for independence – the trench warfare conflict, in which tens of thousands of troops on both sides died, was fatuously described as “two bald men fighting over a comb”. The war, ostensibly stemming from a border dispute, only lasted two years, but relations have never recovered, cementing a stand-off that threatens regional security and development. Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, proffered an olive branch earlier this week, saying “we are fully committed to reconcile with our Eritrean brothers and sisters.” We too, came the swift response from Asmara, as long as you finally honour your peace treaty obligations. The big question now is whether Abiy will pull Ethiopian troops from land around the frontier town of Badme, which an international commission in 2003 determined belonged to Eritrea. Such a concession would be a risky move public relations-wise for a man facing a raft of monumental challenges, but it could also mend one of the most combustible fences in Africa. One to keep an eye on.


    Did you miss it?


    New Ideas Needed: Aid and armed conflict


    Despite better funding, greater professionalism, and improved early warning mechanisms, the humanitarian system continues to fall short when meeting the most urgent needs of people caught up in the early stages of armed conflict. That’s the conclusion of the Emergency Gap Project, conducted over the past two years by Médecins Sans Frontières, an agency known as much for its aloofness towards other key players in the humanitarian world and their coordination mechanisms as it is for the intrepidness of its frontline aid workers. In the 75 pages of Bridging the Gap, the last in a series of reports on the project, MSF unpacks the factors behind the “inadequate levels of response” and, at a time when the boundaries of what “humanitarianism” is are becoming more porous, calls on donors, the UN, and NGOs to keep a much more focused eye on the specific needs arising from acute crises. “This cannot be done by tweaking the existing system,” MSF insists.

    Scenes from a week with civilians displaced by the battle for the Syrian-Kurdish enclave

    In case you took a holiday or had an especially busy week, be sure to spend some time this weekend with our latest photo essay, After Afrin: No Safe Haven. Photojournalist Afshin Ismaeli chronicles life for civilians displaced from the Syrian-Kurdish enclave who are now finding shelter in the remains of 12 villages that until recently were nearly ghost towns.

    (TOP PHOTO: Joseph Kabila Kabange, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly at a previous session in 2017. CREDIT: Cia Pak/UN Photo)



    Disaster labels, hate speech, and hypocrisy on equality
  • Crossroads Djibouti: The African migrants who defy Yemen's war

    Over the past three years, around 200,000 Yemenis have fled their country, displaced by a continuing conflict that has led to more than 6,100 civilian deaths and left 22.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance or protection.


    Yet for tens of thousands of migrants escaping economic or political distress in Somalia and Ethiopia, Yemen remains a destination of choice, or at least a key transit point en route to the Gulf states.

    Whether fleeing to or from Yemen via the Horn of Africa – more than 37,000 Yemenis travelled to Djibouti in 2017 – Yemenis and African migrants make similar treks. The Africans, though, rely on a smuggling network that takes them across some of the harshest terrain on the planet.

    Journalist and photographer Benedict Moran visited Djibouti in February, meeting migrants travelling to Yemen – and often beyond – via the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Aden.

    “This route is particularly dangerous; migrants on this route face human rights abuses (including sexual and physical abuse), and a high risk of being trafficked, kidnapped, and sent for ransom,”  Danielle Botti of the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat told IRIN by email.

    From Ethiopia, many cross into Djibouti via the border town of Galafi, then walk for days across lava fields and arid zones where temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius.

    Once they reach Obock, migrants make a last push north across the desert to a series of beaches located just south of Khôr ‘Angar, a small town that hosts a coast guard station and tourist bungalows.  


    Under cover of night, the migrants wait for motorised boats that take them about 30 kilometres to various landing points across the Bab al-Mandab Strait. On a busy night, hundreds of people make the journey, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

    In a cycle of migration, deportation, and migration once again, many are deported en route or once in Saudi Arabia, only to repeat the journey after they get home or back in Djibouti.

    Here is a photographic snapshot of the journeys they take:


    NEAR TADJOURA, DJIBOUTI – Tens of thousands of migrants travel across Djibouti to Yemen every year, through arid landscapes like these. The journey from the Horn of Africa to or through Yemen can take as little as a couple weeks or as long as two months. Many who make it take years to raise the necessary funds – $130-$1,500, depending on the length of the trip.



    OBOCK, DJIBOUTI – After walking for two months, these men arrived in Obock from Ethiopia in late February.

    Many Ethiopians travelling to Yemen and Saudi Arabia through Djibouti come from the Oromia region, site of frequent clashes between anti-government protesters and the police.




    OBOCK, DJIBOUTI – Ibrahim Mohamad Abdulaye, 18, walked for 20 days to reach Obock from his village outside of Harar, Ethiopia. "Our shoes ripped and we continued seven days without shoes," he said. "The ground was hot, so around noon we had to stop and wait until the sun went down a bit before we continued." Only after he arrived did he realise that the Red Sea divided Djibouti from Yemen. Exhausted by his overland trek, he decided not to risk the  dangerous sea voyage. He planned to return to Ethiopia with the assistance of IOM. 



    FANTAHERO, DJIBOUTI – Fantahero, a hamlet just outside of the port town of Obock, is a gathering point for many migrants, a place of rest before the gruelling journey to the Red Sea coast and onwards to Yemen. An average of 800 migrants per day wait there in the shade of sparse acacia trees, according to NGOs that track migrant movements.



    FANTAHERO, DJIBOUTI – The vast majority of economic migrants travelling between Ethiopia and the Gulf are men. But a handful of women also make the journey every day. Alam Haile, 20, was trying to return to Saudi Arabia, where she had cleaned houses for two years before she was deported back to Ethiopia. The long journey doesn't scare her, although some 39 percent of male and 23 percent of female respondents reported being kidnapped or held against their will along the migration corridor. “We are like males. We can’t be afraid," she said. For this photo, she couldn't stop giggling.



    FANTAHERO, DJIBOUTI – In a back-and-forth cycle of deportation and migration, many migrants journey through the Horn of Africa to Yemen and beyond over and over again. Alafom Gebre Sadik, 30, reached Saudi Arabia several times and found work there as a labourer. Each time, he was deported back to Ethiopia after two years. In February, he was attempting his fourth crossing into Yemen, with plans to continue to Saudi Arabia.



    FANTAHERO, DJIBOUTI – Deste Berhe, 25, says he saw a car explode after it was hit by an aerial bomb shortly after arriving in Mokha, the coastal town in Yemen that he first travelled to in 2015. "I was very scared," he said. So why is he returning again to Yemen, and onwards to Saudi Arabia? "Because in my country, there are no jobs."



    APP. 20 KILOMETRES FROM OBOCK, DJIBOUTI – An aerial view of the road from Obock to Gahere beach, where migrants depart for Yemen. Obock marks the beginning of the last leg of the trip, to various beaches about 40 kilometres north of the town.



    NEAR GAHERRE BEACH, DJIBOUTI – The look back at the route from Obock towards the Red Sea coast, where migrants then travel by boat to Yemen and, often, onward to Saudi Arabia in search of work.





    NEAR GAHERE BEACH, DJIBOUTI – On the left, tyre tracks left from vehicles that carry migrants who have enough money to pay for the nearly two-hour drive. On the right, footprints marking the path that migrants took on the approximately 40-km walk from Obock to the Red Sea departure point.


    GAHERE BEACH, DJIBOUTI – This area where migrants board boats is crowded with an eclectic range of abandoned items: flip-flops, plastic bottles, bras, wallets, belts, backpacks, rotted yellow jerry cans, empty medicine packets, and more.




    TIIR BEACH, DJIBOUTI – This wallet was left behind at Tiir, another beach approximately 10 kilometres south of Gaherre from which migrants depart on the sea-crossing to Yemen. The area has historically been used for military exercises.



    APP. 15 KMS FROM OBOCK, DJIBOUTI – Many economic migrants cannot afford to pay for the two-hour drive from Fantahero to Gahere Beach. Instead, they walk. Here, an unmarked grave remains on the site where a migrant perished of thirst while making the journey in 2015, according to a local driver, who wished to remain anonymous. The driver added that a government crackdown on smugglers has made the trip even more dangerous. Until five years ago “there were no difficulties," the driver said. "Now they have to make the journey at midnight, secretly."



    APP. 30 KMS NORTH OF OBOCK, DJIBOUTI – Hundreds of migrants have walked across these dry desert plains from Obock to Gahere Beach. Here, a trail of footprints indicates where migrants passed through in the middle of the night.



    MARKAZI REFUGEE CAMP, DJIBOUTI – Ali Aman, 65, has been waiting for nearly three years with the hope of being resettled elsewhere. An urban planner and architect, he fled Yemen after his house and car were bombed. “I lost my job, I lost my car, I lost my house: that’s all I had," he said, displaying photos of his life in Aden long before the war.



    MARKAZI REFUGEE CAMP,  DJIBOUTI – For Yemenis who reach Djibouti (recent arrivals in February said they had paid $200 each for the trip), the Markazi refugee camp is often home. It now houses 1,300 people but is preparing for a possible influx of many thousands more if the humanitarian situation in Yemen deteriorates further. The King Solomon Foundation of Saudi Arabia recently donated 300 of these prefabricated shelters, all outfitted with air conditioning. In late February, the shelters had not yet been connected to electricity and remained unoccupied.



    OBOCK, DJIBOUTI – Zaro Hailyu, 28, walked for 15 days from his home in eastern Ethiopia to Obock, with plans to cross into Yemen and then enter Saudi Arabia, where he hoped to find work as a labourer. He paid about 4000 biir (approximately $150) for the trip to Obock but then ran out of money. While some assistance is available in Obock to those who decide to turn back, as well as to those who end up stranded in Yemen, most migrants receive little help on their journey through Djibouti. Realising that he couldn't pay for the trip across the Red Sea, Hailyu decided to return home, again by foot.



    Braving harsh terrain, kidnapping threats and a months’ long journey
    Crossroads Djibouti: The African migrants who defy Yemen's war
  • Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal: 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:


    Spotlight falls on sexual abuse in the aid sector


    By 26 February, government-funded NGOs have to report to British aid minister Penny Mordaunt on their policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse (letter here). They also have to ensure sub-grantees have equivalent measures. Oxfam remains under investigation by the regulator and has announced tougher and more extensive provisions for its staff.


    While Oxfam squirms, the fallout is spreading: the Norwegian Refugee Council has suspended a staff member connected to the scandal; Sweden has suspended funding to Oxfam and is checking whether it too failed to act on a 2008 warning; in France, questions remain for Action contre la Faim about how it recruited Roland van Hauwermeiren even after he had been thrown out of Oxfam Haiti.  


    Speaking from Belgium, van Hauwermeiren has denied most of the allegations. But former and current Oxfam staff members have revealed further cases, celebrity backers have walked away, and one researcher's collection of news and commentary frenzy has over 60 linksOxfam's supporters admit it has to face the music but say it would be wrong for it to be treated as an exception while other aid agencies avoid the spotlight by sheer chance. It would be perverse to penalise Oxfam for successfully unearthing abusers in its ranks, they argue. On Wednesday, MSF joined a growing list of agencies in releasing figures on investigations, complaints, and dismissals. On the same day, Dutch politician Ruud Lubbers died. This former head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, was likely the most senior UN official ever to step down over sexual harassment. Meanwhile, lurid allegations of 60,000 rape cases committed by the UN have been slapped down by lobby group Code Blue as "irresponsible fearmongering".


    Iraq’s long road ahead


    This week, donors, politicians, aid agencies, and investors met in Kuwait to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq after three years of war against so-called Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said it’ll take $88 billion. Only $30 billion was pledged this week. Although some news reports focused on the shortfall, Iraq never anticipated (or really asked) for the full sum: most of the money is expected to come from the government itself and private investment. Rebuilding isn’t the only game in town seeking open pockets though. The UN's soon-to-be-released Humanitarian Response Plan is expected to ask for $569 million to provide aid in 2018, and its newly launched Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme – focusing on reconciliation and supporting survivors – asks for another $482 million this year, plus an additional $568 million “to help stabilise high-risk areas”. It all sounds like a lot of money. But as we reported from Mosul’s Old City this week, in the rubble of where the city’s final battle against IS was fought, the most vulnerable Iraqis need a lot of help. The discussions in Kuwait, and even the pledges – well intentioned as they may be – are pretty abstract concepts for those who right now have no choice but to scavenge for scrap metal on top of collapsed homes and still-rotting corpses.


    In Afghanistan, a year of “appalling human suffering”


    More than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan as a result of armed conflict in 2017, according to figures released this week by the UN mission there. It's a drop from 2016's total, but part of a rising trend in casualties over the last nine years. In 2009, when the mission began releasing this data, there were fewer than 6,000 recorded casualties. 

    The new statistics underscore an alarming trend: more than one quarter of civilian casualties last year came in attacks that explicitly targeted civilians, mostly through suicide bombings and other forms of violence. There were almost 2,300 casualties from such attacks – a nine-year high. Many of these came on a single day, 31 May, when a truck bomb exploded near the German embassy in the heart of Kabul. 

    The new figures also show the growing impact of the group known as Islamic State Khorasan Province – an offshoot of the so-called Islamic State group. Its recent emergence has added a new layer of violence to Afghanistan’s conflict. In 2015, the UN attributed 82 casualties to the group; two years later, it accounted for almost 10 percent of casualties nationwide, the majority in suicide attacks. Anti-government groups including the Taliban were responsible for two thirds of all casualties last year, the UN says. According to data from the US military, the use of airstrikes is soaring. More than 631 civilians were killed or injured in aerial attacks in Afghanistan in 2017 – a year in which the US Air Force recorded a six-year high for airstrikes. Compare airstrike data with the UN’s casualty figures:

    Afghanistan’s pattern of violence has continued into 2018. January saw a string of high-profile attacks on civilians, including the 24 January assault on the Jalalabad office of the NGO Save the Children, and a massive Taliban-claimed blast that killed more than 100 people in Kabul.


    Read IRIN’s recent reporting on how the growing insecurity has pushed aid groups to make tough decisions: Afghan attacks force aid rethink, leave local NGOs more exposed


    Africa’s week of high political drama


    It began with the resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma: suspenseful, but hardly surprising following the election of reformist Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC leader. But real reform, beyond just getting the ANC elected in 2019, will be a harder road. South Africa is saddled with multiple crises of poverty, inequality, and corruption, topped off by factionalism within the ANC. Zuma’s misgovernance was a symptom of “much deeper problems inherent to contemporary capitalist development and the contradictions of state-building in the Global South” – which might make no sense, until you read the analysis by Alex Beresford.


    In neighbouring Zimbabwe, it was sadder news: the death of opposition stalwart Morgan Tsvangirai. A man of immense personal courage, he has left the political stage at a critical time. The opposition is divided, the government militarised, and elections are due later this year, for the first time without the name of Robert Mugabe on the ballot paper. The tragedy is that Mugabe has nevertheless succeeded in outliving Tsvangirai, his main rival.


    And then there was the surprise resignation of Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn. He said he was stepping down to end more than two years of unrest over demands for reform. A state of emergency has not quelled the protest, and the release of political prisoners only triggered more demonstrations this week calling for the freeing of all detainees. Who replaces Hailemariam is now the crucial decision for the ruling EPRDF. It has the opportunity to choose a leader from the majority Oromo region, where the reform protests began in 2015. But there is also the fear of a potential backlash from the Tigrayan political and military class. Although they are ethnically in the minority, they have pulled the strings in Ethiopia since 1991. Real victory for reformers or simply an expedient adjustment? On that may hang the future of the EPRDF itself. Whatever the answer, uncertain times lie ahead for Ethiopia. Just as this was published, the state broadcaster announced a state of emergency following fresh anti-government protests.


    Did you miss it?


    Urban displacement in the 21st Century


    The increasingly long-term nature of displacement means camp settings aren’t a sustainable option, but we have only limited insights about the impact of displacement on urban systems. This new thematic series by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre seeks to fill the gap. The first report is on Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri, swollen by people fleeing the Boko Haram insurgency. Employment is clearly a key need. But the report also finds that despite the challenges, there are actions the government, UN agencies, and NGOs can take to help IDPs re-establish their lives and livelihoods. They include: coordinating programming across sectors to facilitate integration into the local economy; expanding access to financing to enable the purchase of agricultural inputs; and promoting women’s livelihoods by helping female agricultural labourers receive fair and equitable pay for their work.


    For more, read IRIN’s in-depth series on urban reform.

    (TOP PHOTO: Hundreds of homes in Mosul's Old City have been reduced to rubble. CREDIT: Tom Westcott/IRIN)


    Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal
  • Ethiopian Oromo refugees face bribes, harassment in Kenya

    Ethiopian Oromo refugees fleeing to Kenya to escape persecution say they are finding life on the streets of Nairobi no better than the insecurity they left behind, as they are targeted by bribes and harassment and forced into vast camps with few prospects or protections.

    The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but have long complained of political and economic marginalisation at the hands of the country’s ruling party, which is dominated by a minority ethnic group, the Tigrayans.

    Following 2016 protests demanding political reform, which resulted in a state of emergency and the deaths of more than 600 in the security crackdown, thousands of Oromo made their way to neighbouring Kenya seeking asylum and refuge.

    But they did not escape the Ethiopian authorities. Human Rights Watch has reported “numerous cases of harassment and threats” against Oromo asylum seekers in Kenya by Ethiopian government officials.

    The rights group has also documented “confessions” by Kenyan police officers in which they admit to being offered bribes by the Ethiopian embassy to detain and intimidate Oromo refugees.

    “When I came to Kenya I thought that I would be protected and would be able to start a new life,” said former Oromo politician “Tolessa”, who requested his identity be protected.

    “[But] what I’m facing here is no different from what I was facing at home,” he told IRIN. “My future here isn’t very bright.”

    Full of “spies”

    Oromo refugees also reported attempts by Ethiopian officials to recruit them as informants in Nairobi’s Oromo community, promising land, protection, money, and even resettlement to the United States or elsewhere, Human Rights Watch noted.

    “There are a lot of Ethiopian spies here in Nairobi,” one refugee, a former Ethiopian intelligence officer, alias “Demiksa”, told IRIN.

    Now a senior dissident, “Demiksa” related what had happened to him back in Ethiopia.

    He said that after refusing orders to torture prisoners held in Addis Ababa’s infamous Maekelawi prison, he was accused of being an opposition collaborator, detained, and then tortured himself.

    “They tied my hands up and hung me up on the wall with nails and beat me with electric cables around my ankles and on my back,” he told IRIN, fighting tears. “I couldn't walk for three months,” he added.

    “Demiksa” said he was spared capital punishment on one condition: kill or be killed. Handed photographs of two prominent Oromo activists, he was given a loaded gun and told to get into a car.

    He accepted the mission – “I had no choice,” he told IRIN – but was able to escape en route to the hit, and then fled Ethiopia.

    When he arrived in Nairobi, “Demiksa” was told to register at the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya like all other Ethiopian exiles.

    The long arm of Ethiopian security

    But Oromo who fear being stalked by Ethiopian intelligence believe even Kakuma is not safe.

    “Threats from Ethiopian security officials – working together with local [Kenyan] police – also extend to the refugee camps [in Kenya],” Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne told IRIN.

    Horne said Oromo activists who have come from cities in Ethiopia fear camp life because of the lack of employment opportunities, the heat, and Kakuma’s physical proximity to Ethiopia.

    But they have darker fears too.

    Oromo refugees have reportedly been kidnapped from Kenya and taken back to Ethiopia, and there have been similar reports from Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda, and Somaliland.

    “This is not unique to Kenya,” Horne said. “The patterns of pervasive Ethiopian security presence utilising local security officials is similar in other countries where Ethiopians flee to.”

    Tariku Debela, a political refugee living in Kampala who fled Kenya in April 2016, still remains a target for Ethiopian security forces. He told IRIN that his scars bear witness both to the torture he received in Ethiopia and an attempt on his life in Uganda.

    “Some people came to my hotel room, drugged me, and then beat me up,” he explained to IRIN over the phone. “People living nearby heard what was happening and came to my rescue. One of [the attackers] was arrested.”

    A Ugandan police investigation revealed “that the men who attacked me were sent from Ethiopia to kill me,” he added.

    After imploring the UN refugee agency several times to offer him protection, Debela now stays in a UNHCR safe house, but doesn’t get much else in the way of assistance.

    “UNHCR haven't even tried to help me process my case for resettlement,” he told IRIN. “Since I am a political refugee, I shouldn't have to stay here for the rest of my life.”

    UNHCR has a mandate to provide protection to refugees, including political figures like “Demiksa” and Debela.

    “The documentation issued to them by the government and UNHCR gives them the right to reside legally in Kenya and protects them from deportation to their country of origin or expulsion from Kenya,” Yvonne Ndege, senior communications officer at UNHCR, told IRIN.

    “There are some high-profile cases, such as the Oromo; sometimes their cases are expedited through the registration process,” she added.

    But some say this policy exists only in theory.

    “In practice, there is very little protection afforded to Oromo refugees,” Horne told IRIN.  “Individuals with serious security issues – some of whom are high-profile individuals – often receive no practical protection whatsoever from these agencies.”

    Bribes, harassment, and detention

    Kenya has an encampment policy – refugees are supposed to stay in one of two vast refugee camps that house 489,000 people: Dadaab and Kakuma. That means those found in urban centres without proper documentation are vulnerable to extortion and intimidation by the police.

    Refugees IRIN spoke to in Nairobi mentioned regularly having to pay bribes to avoid harassment. The going rate is up to $200 for a permit to avoid being sent to Kakuma.

    Life for those who can’t afford to pay is bleak. "Because I don't have my papers I stay at home so that I can be safe from police,” teenager Fozia told IRIN.

    Fozia fled Ethiopia following a brutal crackdown on students in her hometown in Oromia. After student protesters dispersed, she says police followed her home, then raped and beat her. She decided to flee.

    Despite coming to Kenya as an unaccompanied minor, Fozia hasn’t been helped by the authorities. Without the ability to bribe registration officers at Nairobi’s government-run refugee registration centre, Shauri Moyo, she can’t officially register with UNHCR for refugee status determination.

    “I was given a movement pass to Kakuma, but I feared going there, especially as a young girl,” she explained.

    Neither can Fozia afford to bribe officials to gain an all-important exemption permit that would allow her to legally avoid going to Kakuma.

    “Without that, I’m told by UNHCR to either go to Kakuma or register for exemption at Shauri Moyo,” she said.

    Many other refugees face the same hurdles.

    “I still haven’t received exemption,” another former Oromo politician and victim of torture in Maekelawi who preferred to remain anonymous, told IRIN.

    “I’ve been ordered to bribe officers with $200 to gain exemption from camp,” the former politician said. “I don’t have that sort of money. I also stay indoors to avoid having to pay police officers that harass me.”

    Following registration with Shauri Moyo, refugees can then apply for a government of Kenya “alien card” for asylum recognition. But several refugees told IRIN that this process also entails under the table payments – ranging from $300 to $485.

    Such allegations of corruption and extortion are denied by Kenya’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat, known as RAS.

    UNHCR “concerned”

    Once refugees are able to access asylum, their cases are referred to UNHCR for refugee status determination, which is necessary for official recognition as a refugee.

    But many refugees are having to wait years to even get an interview.

    “I was supposed to have an appointment in March this year,” one woman complained. “You just turn up to their office [UNHCR], stand in line, and wait for your turn. Then they tell you that they can’t see you that day.”

    She went on to explain how they typically just give you another appointment letter with a different date and year and tell you to wait.

    “They didn’t even give me another appointment date last time – they just told me that they would call me,” she said. “I still haven’t heard anything yet [since her March appointment].”

    Recognising these concerns, the UN refugee agency insisted it is committed to improving the registration system.

    “UNHCR is concerned about the time being taken for asylum seekers and refugees to receive proper documentation,” UNHCR’s Ndege told IRIN, adding that it was working to streamline its registration processes.

    But Horne from Human Rights Watch said neither UNHCR nor RAS are doing enough right now to protect vulnerable Oromo.

    “Country guidelines on Ethiopia that officers use to assess asylum claims should be updated as they are over 10 years old and do not remotely reflect the current situation in Ethiopia,” he said.

    Oromo opposition to rulers in Addis Ababa stretches back centuries. The current ruling party, the EPRDF, has used federalism to dilute that dissent, but it has persisted.


    Charlie Ensor/IRIN
    An Oromo activist in Nairobi, crosses his arms in an Oromo symbol of solidarity

    In the unrest in 2016 and 2017, the Oromo were joined by the second largest ethnic group, the Amharas, in the demand for political reform – posing a significant challenge to the government.

    Reform at last?


    In a surprise announcement at the beginning of the month, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that his government would close Maekelawi prison and release political prisoners in a move he said would advance political dialogue with opposition groups.


    “The regime realises that the political landscape is shifting rapidly and that they have to find a way forward to deal with ethnic tension and communal violence,” Ahmed Soliman, associate researcher at Chatham House, told IRIN.

    But this all depends on how sincere the government is on reforming and its willingness to admit the violations it has committed – including in neighbouring countries.

    As Amnesty International researcher Fisseha Tekele put it after Desalegn’s announcement: “A new chapter for human rights will only be possible if all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are effectively investigated and those responsible brought to justice.”

    (TOP PHOTO: Eastleigh, Nairobi. Home to Nairobi’s refugees. CREDIT: Charlie Ensor/IRIN)


    Ethiopian Oromo refugees face bribes, harassment in Kenya
  • An Ethiopian thaw, a Syrian flare-up, and an Afghan reprieve: 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:


    New year, more war in Syria


    The new year has not been kind to civilians in northern Syria, where a spike in fighting between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces in parts of Idlib and Hama provinces has left scores of civilians either dead or injured in airstrikes and shelling, and displaced more than 60,000 people since the start of November. OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, noted this week the “dire” situation of newly displaced people as humanitarian organisations struggle to meet the increasing needs of those fleeing their homes. It’s worth remembering that more than half of the people in Idlib are already displaced from other parts of Syria, and that the uptick in violence comes (at least in part) in areas that are supposed to be “de-escalation zones”. Some Syrians are heading home or considering it, either within the country or across borders, but 2018 is looking like yet another bad year for Syria’s civilians. As the country is poised to enter its seventh year of war, on 15 March, news of the conflict and analysis about its humanitarian implications are beginning to drop off the front pages. They shouldn’t. Look out for IRIN’s upcoming guide on what to look out for regarding Syria over the year ahead.



    A ticking clock for Afghans in Pakistan?


    Time may be running out for Afghan refugees facing deportation in Pakistan, after Pakistani authorities reportedly extended a deadline to leave the country by only one month. Pakistan’s cabinet was earlier said to be debating extending the reprieve by a full year following the expiration of a previous extension at the end of 2017. The move foists further uncertainty on Afghans living in Pakistan, including more than 1.3 million registered refugees and an estimated 600,000 to one million others who are undocumented. Pakistan has ratcheted up the pressure on Afghans in recent years, with deportation threats and alleged police abuses that Human Rights Watch says amount to “mass forced return”. Over the last two years, more than 770,000 Afghans, both registered refugees and undocumented, crossed the border back to Afghanistan, according to figures from UN agencies. But with instability swirling and conflict-caused civilian casualties hovering near record highs in Afghanistan, critics say Afghans are being forced to return to a war zone. The large numbers of Afghans returning to conflict is a key crisis on our humanitarian radar this year. EU countries have also sought to send rejected Afghan asylum seekers back in droves. But as IRIN reported this week, countrywide bloodshed is continuing to push Afghans abroad even as increasingly hostile foreign governments make moves to send them back. Read more of IRIN’s reporting on this issue: Afghanistan’s deepening migration crisis.


    Comings, goings, and paycuts


    UNICEF has a new executive director: Henrietta Holsman Fore, who took over from Anthony Lake on 1 January. Fore, an American citizen whose career spans public service and corporate affairs, had previously worked in senior roles in USAID and the US State Department. Until her appointment she was CEO of a family firm and a director of several large corporations, including US-based Exxon Mobil, General Mills, and Theravance Biopharma. A UN spokesperson told IRIN that she would step down from her directorships to meet ethics rules, and to avoid conflicts of interest. The three positions above alone earned her a cool $851,000 in cash and shares in the most recent year available. Her remuneration at the UN will be a significant pay cut: a base gross salary of $192,000.


    Meanwhile, in the NGO world, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, or ICVA, also has a new executive director, Ignacio Packer. The former secretary general of NGO Terre des Hommes, Packer takes over the Geneva-based alliance of over 100 humanitarian NGOs from the beginning of the year. He replaces Nan Buzard, who is now head of innovation at the International Committee of the Red Cross. A final piece of jobs news: Amnesty International has appointed South African Kumi Naidoo as the next secretary general of the global human rights organisation, to take over from India’s Salil Shetty in August 2018.


    A turning point in Ethiopia?

    Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn dropped a veritable bombshell this week, when he announced that political prisoners would be released and that a detention centre in the capital that had become notorious for torture would be closed. What made this all the more surprising was that the government had never before even acknowledged the existence of political prisoners (when dissidents are jailed in Ethiopia, anti-terrorism legislation is generally used). Hailemariam cited a desire to “widen the democratic space for all” and “foster national reconciliation”. The past couple of years have seen waves of anti-government protests over perceived marginalisation, notably in the Amhara and Oromia regions. In April 2017, the state-affiliated Human Rights Commission said 669 people had died in the unrest, during which thousands of people were detained. In September, the unrest evolved into intercommunal violence in the Oromia and Somali regions, leading to the displacement of more than 200,000 people. Amnesty International gave a cautious welcome to Hailemariam’s announcement, saying it “could signal the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia” and that it should be implemented “as quickly as possible”. But if Ethiopia is really to turn a page it must also, Amnesty said, “repeal or substantially amend the repressive laws” under which the prisoners are detained, and investigate all allegations of torture while bringing those responsible to justice. The prime minister left some key questions unanswered regarding those set for release: who, when, and how many. Following widespread media reports that Hailemariam had announced that “all” political prisoners would be released, one of his aides quickly clarified that the prime minister had been mistranslated and that the measure would only see “some” people pardoned or the criminal cases against them “interrupted”.

    Did you miss it?


    Ten humanitarian crises to look out for in 2018


    This depressing list is self-explanatory but by no means definitive. Many other crises could have been included, from Somalia to Ukraine, from Iraq to the Philippines. Just because they don’t feature on this listicle, it doesn’t mean that IRIN’s editors will neglect them. For example, some countries not mentioned here will be explored in our in-depth look at global food crises, slated for publication next week. Others will be the focus of later multimedia packages. The problem, as ever, is simply that there is so much to cover but only limited resources. Please support our work if you can and help us do more to provide early warning, raise awareness, and increase accountability of the vast aid sector in 2018. Otherwise, stay engaged, share our stories, and shout out any coverage ideas for the year ahead. We’re listening.

    (TOP PHOTO: Early morning outside the UN’s intake centre between the Pakistan border and the city of Jalalabad, in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. CREDIT: Andrew Quilty/IRIN)


    An Ethiopian thaw, a Syrian flare-up, and an Afghan reprieve
  • Ethnic violence displaces hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians

    Lifting her robe the young woman revealed undulating scar tissue blanketing her breasts, stomach, and extending up her neck and along her arms.

    “They poured petrol over me then lit it,” said 28-year-old Husaida Mohammed. “They were Somali boys.”

    When IRIN met Mohammed she was in a camp of about 3,500 displaced Oromo people on the outskirts of Harar, the ancient walled city in Ethiopia’s Harari Region.

    It had taken her over a month to make the 100-kilometre journey to safety from Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s far eastern Somali Region. For weeks she lay hidden in an empty Oromo-owned house tended to by friends as she recovered from her injuries.

    Next to her in the large warehouse being used to shelter the displaced was a woman in a striking pink robe. She had no visible injuries but didn’t utter a word.

    “She was throttled so badly they damaged her vocal chords,” a doctor explained. “She can’t eat anything, only drink fluids.”

    Tit-for-tat ethnic violence in Ethiopia’s two largest regions of Oromia and Somali began in September and has forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Local media have reported upwards of 200,000 displaced, humanitarian workers at the camps talk of 400,000. 


    The unrest began when two Oromo officials were reportedly killed on the border between the two territories, allegedly by Somali Region police. 

    On 12 September, protests by Oromo in the town of Aweday, between Harar and the city of Dire Dawa, led to rioting that left 18 dead. The majority were Somali khat traders, a mildly narcotic leaf widely chewed. Somalis who fled Aweday said the number of dead was closer to 40.

    In response to Aweday, the Somali Regional government began evicting Oromo from Jigjiga and the region. Officials say this was for the Oromo’s own safety, and that no Oromo died as a result of ethnic violence in the region – a claim disputed by those displaced.

    In addition to the camps around Harar and Dire Dawa – cities viewed as neutral safe havens – they have popped up elsewhere along the contentious regional border.

    In these camps Oromo and Somali tell equally convincing stories of ethnic violence. They accuse the regional special police – in the Somali Region known as the Liyu, and the Oromia version, referred to by Somalis as Liyu Hail – of being behind many of the attacks*.

    Both regional governments deny their police forces were involved.

    The federal government faces fierce accusations ranging from not doing enough, to deliberately turning a blind eye to the violence.

    The Oromo see this as punishment after their year of protests against the ruling party that led to a state of emergency.

    There has also been a legacy of distrust of the Somali Region in Addis Ababa. The perception is that among the population there is revanchist sympathy for the idea of a Greater Somalia.

    Another possibility is that the government simply has not had the capacity to effectively respond, so widespread has been the violence.

    Oromia and Somali share a 1,400-kilometre long border. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, numbering about 35 million, a factor Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups remain deeply conscious of – especially its 6.5 million Somalis.


    Ethiopia man burnt
    James Jeffrey/IRIN
    Victim of the violence

    History of strife and harmony

    Ethnic conflict along the common border and in the rural hinterland has long existed – with Oromo migration a particular source of friction.

    The ongoing drought, which has put pressure on pasture and resources, could be another.

    “As you move west of the regional border the land becomes higher with more water and pasture,” said the head of a humanitarian organisation who spoke on condition of anonymity over the sensitivity of the issues.

    “Where the regional border runs is very contentious – you’ll find different maps giving a different border,” he added.

    In 2004, a referendum to decide the fate of more than 420 kebeles around the border—Ethiopia’s smallest administrative unit—gave 80 percent of them to the Oromia Region. This led to thousands of Somalis leaving areas for fear of repercussions.*

    The referendum still hasn’t been fully resolved, which some say could be another factor behind the current conflict.

    At the same time, many of the displaced spoke of their shock at how the violence broke out in formerly close-knit communities that had integrated peacefully, often for centuries, and in which intermarriage between Oromo and Somali was the norm.

    Some of the history and scale of this violence can be found 80 kilometres east of Dire Dawa, just over the regional border in the Somali Region, where two giant camps for displaced Somalis are co-located in the lee of the Kolechi Mountains.

    In the older camp are 5,300 Somali households displaced by a mixture of drought and ethnic violence since 2015. In the newer camp are 3,850 households – roughly six to 10 people each – all made homeless by the recent trouble.

    One Somali man who arrived nine months ago, before the current surge of unrest, recounted his experience at the hands of Oromia’s Liyu Hail in Oromo’s Bale zone, hundreds of kilometres to the southwest.

    He said a violent mob of Oromo militia had come to his village so he and a group of about 40 men went to the regional police to request protection.

    “But the man in charge ordered his men to fire at us,” the Somali man said. “Everyone fell – I wasn’t hit but I was covered in so much blood from the others the police thought I was dead, and I escaped.”

    He claims 200 people in total were killed and 893 houses were burned: “Everything was looted, all livestock taken – it was unimaginable.”

    The people in both camps pull back clothing to reveal old bullet wounds, scars, and lesions from burns, and broken bones that never healed.

    A number of displaced Somalis say they survived thanks to the intervention of soldiers from the Ethiopian Defence Force during the recent violence. But it wasn’t enough to persuade them to remain, or to return.

    “If the federal government sends forces to keep the peace, they stay for a week or a month, and then after they leave it happens again,” said one Somali man. “We can’t risk staying.”

    What next?

    The violence has also crossed borders with reports of Oromo leaving ethnically Somali Djibouti and Somaliland, where two Ethiopians were reportedly killed in the capital, Hargeisa. It’s believed this could have been the revenge of relatives of some of the traders that died in Aweday.

    For the Oromo and Somali displaced from their homes, the next step is to find a long-term solution.

    But Ethiopia’s federal system devolves quite a bit of power to ethnic regional states. With sectarian anger still running high, this leaves the government in a quandary over how to respond to the crisis, some commentators have pointed out.

    “[Those displaced] could be integrated in the communities where they are now, resettled elsewhere, or returned to their original communities,” said one official in an international organisation who asked for anonymity.

    “The government [is] committed to everyone being able to return home, as is their constitutional right to live where they want, but for most [of them] we are not sure whether this is possible.”


    TOP PHOTO: This Oromo woman lost her husband during evictions from the Somali Region and has no idea of his condition or whereabouts

    * CORRECTION: This version of the story clarifies the use of the term Liyu Hail and adds a paragraph on the 2004 census

    Ethnic violence displaces hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians
  • Why can’t booming Ethiopia handle this year’s drought?

    Ethiopia can’t seem to escape the blight of drought, no matter how hard it tries. Despite impressive economic growth and decades of capacity building, it faces another humanitarian crisis as one of the worst droughts in living memory scorches the Horn of Africa.

    At the beginning of the year, 5.6 million Ethiopians were in need of food aid, primarily in the south and southeast of the country. That number recently jumped to 8.5 million.

    An additional headache is that this year’s response by the government and international partners is proving less decisive than last year’s effort. In 2016, more than 10 million people were reached, food aid poured in, and the government spent hundreds of millions of its own money averting a major humanitarian catastrophe.

    Why are the numbers in need increasing?

    The January estimate of 5.6 million came from the government’s Humanitarian Requirements Document, an annual assessment in collaboration with international partners detailing Ethiopia’s humanitarian needs. The revised figure followed spring rains in April that petered out too soon, taking any hopes of revival with them.

    “The situation is unprecedented,” said Sam Wood, Save the Children’s humanitarian director in Ethiopia. “That was the third failed rainy season in a row, so it’s a cumulative effect of failed rains hitting vulnerable communities.

    “Ethiopia has made lots of progress, but when you have a problem of this sort of scale, duration and scope, any system is going to be overwhelmed.”

    Adding to concerns is the chance the Hagaya/Deyr short rains (October to December), accounting for up to 35 percent of annual rainfall in the southeast, could prove a dud too due to the continuing El Niño effect.  

    The current humanitarian bill is $1.26 billion. So far only $334 million has been received.

    Why the cash shortfall?

    At the beginning of the year, the UN warned that 20 million people were at risk of starvation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and northeast Nigeria.

    “Aid budgets from donor countries have already committed most of their funding responding to other conflicts or disasters for this year, and this resulted in less funding for drought-affected people in Ethiopia,” said Geno Teofilo with the Norwegian Refugee Council.

    “There is also donor fatigue regarding droughts in East Africa,” he added.

    Others note how droughts don’t seize the public imagination to the same extent as disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, meaning there’s less motivation to delve into one’s pockets.

    This year, the Ethiopian government has committed $147 million compared to last year’s unprecedented $700 million.

    “The government has many development demands,” Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia’s state minister of agriculture and commissioner for its National Disaster Risk Management Commission, told IRIN.

    “If we divert too many funds to humanitarian needs, it will be difficult to continue growth, so we have to request support from the international community.’’

    What are the consequences on the ground?

    Pastoralists in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, bearing the brunt of this drought, have lost hundreds of thousands of sheep, goats, and camels. Often whole flocks have died, representing a family’s entire livelihood, leaving people no choice but to retreat to makeshift settlements, surviving on aid from the government and international agencies.

    A survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration between May and June 2017 identified 264 of these sites containing around 577,711 internally displaced persons, or IDPs.

    Overwhelmed by numbers and additionally challenged by diminishing funds, aid agencies began cutting food rations and faced running out of money entirely this July, until last minute donations from Britain, the EU, and the United States guaranteed food shipments through to the end of the year.

    At the same time, the World Food Programme was able to increase its humanitarian support from 1.7 million people to 3.3 million in the Somali region.

    For now, deaths on a large scale have been limited to animals, though infant malnutrition rates are increasing to dangerous levels, accompanied by reports of cholera outbreaks.

    How is the Ethiopian government handling the situation?

    The government has faced accusations it played down the severity of the crisis to keep the country from looking bad internationally. It was too conscious, critics say, of protecting the narrative of Ethiopia’s remarkable economic renaissance over the last decade – one that has enticed foreign investors.

    “Since 2015, we have been working with international aid agencies, making assessments together and disclosing the numbers of beneficiaries,” Kassa, the agriculture minister, hit back. “So, nothing can be hidden. The government has recognised how serious the situation is.”

    Some aid workers in the Somali Region, however, have spoken about animosity between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the semi-autonomous regional government, resulting in a disconnect that has increased the risks faced by the vulnerable.

    But even if national and regional governments were in perfect harmony, the logistical challenges would remain huge. The Somali Region is hot and arid, with few good roads and infrastructure, and has a significant nomadic population. That makes it harder for local and international aid agencies to conduct accurate assessments to ensure effective action.

    What else is having an impact on the response?

    Earlier this year, inter-community conflict broke out between ethnic Somali and Oromo in the Somali Region, resulting in dozens of deaths and more than 50,000 people displaced. It became unsafe for smaller aid agencies to move around.

    On top of all this, Ethiopia hosts more than 838,000 refugees from Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and other crisis-ridden countries.

    Meanwhile, although the Ethiopian government felt confident enough to end a state of emergency earlier this year, following more than a year of political protests and bloodshed, discontent hasn’t disappeared. Grievances over land reallocation and ethnic federalism ­– both factors during recent clashes in the Somali Region – as well as government corruption, the lack of jobs, freedom of expression, and political transparency, all heave beneath the surface.

    While both the United States and Britain  – two of the biggest donors – have continued supporting Ethiopia’s humanitarian needs so far, both their governments face continuing pressure to reduce overseas aid. US President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint promises to slash American contributions to international aid institutions, including the WFP.

    Is climate change the real bogeyman?

    Pastoralists in their seventies and eighties who have lived with frequent droughts say this one is the worst in their lifetimes – and they aren’t the only ones to notice.

    “While working in Central America, East Africa, and the Middle East, I’ve always talked to elder people, especially those in agriculture, and the message from them is consistent,” Wood said. “Weather patterns are becoming less predictable and when rain comes it is too much or too little.”

    When natural disasters strike, the situation of vulnerable populations can quickly deteriorate into a food and nutrition crisis.

    What needs to be done?

    The people leading the main aid organisations say the public must be kept aware of the drought, to try to keep money rolling in.

    “A humanitarian need is a humanitarian need even if it is not as dramatic as other disasters,” said Wood. “If we don’t scale up and sustain the response, then everything that came before comes to naught.”

    Yet even if resources can be found to cover this drought and its fallout, building capacity and livelihood security for the future is another matter entirely.

    It can take pastoralists who have lost more than 40 percent of their animals more than seven years to rebuild flocks. As a result, international agencies and the government face having to restock flocks or provide pastoralists with new livelihoods – further stretching budgets.     

    Due to the increasing frequency of droughts, both the Ethiopian government and UN agencies are increasingly focusing on investing in strengthening people’s resilience.

    In Ethiopia’s northern drought-prone Tigray Region, irrigation schemes, fruit nurseries, and health centres are boosting productivity, increasing incomes and improving nutrition so that rural people can better withstand natural disasters.    

    “The government’s goal is to create climate resilience within the context of sustainable development,” said Kassa. “Then, one day, we will be able to deal with drought without any appeals.”


    TOP PHOTO: Caught in a dust storm outside an IDP camp near Gode

    Why can’t booming Ethiopia handle this year’s drought?
  • 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
    Cholera treatment at al-Sabeen Hospital in Sana'a, Yemen.
    “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.


    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.



    The "New Way of Working": Bridging aid's funding divide

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