(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

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  • Hospital refuge, urban crisis, and laser detection: The Cheat Sheet

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

     

    On our radar

     

    A 'horror scene' in CAR

     

    More than 5,000 civilians are seeking refuge in a hospital in Batangafo in northern Central African Republic after clashes displaced some 25,000 people from their homes. "It was like a horror scene. We saw hundreds of households in flames,” says the MSF field coordinator in the town, Helena Cardellach. "Batangafo is a ghost town. In the morning when there is a lull, people come out of their refuge in the hospital to try to live their lives, and then they go back to the hospital at night." Many lost everything in the fires that ravaged their homes while others are hiding in the bush with little access to food or water. Meanwhile, across CAR, nearly 643,000 people remain internally displaced, while another 575,000 live as refugees in neighbouring countries. For more on the situation in the country, read our three-part special report on peacekeeping, aid access, and sexual abuse.

     

    Reanimating the peace process in Yemen

     

    After 10 days of fierce clashes around Yemen’s Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, the Saudi Arabia- and UAE-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in the area has reportedly ordered a pause in the offensive. While this move appears to be a reaction to growing international pressure ahead of possible UN-led peace talks, there is no official ceasefire, and some skirmishes continue. The uptick in airstrikes, shelling, and gunfire made it difficult to deliver humanitarian assistance in some parts of the city, and the UN counts 34 civilian deaths in the first week of November – although the real number is likely to be higher. There are other signs Yemen’s long-stalled peace process may be about to get an injection of energy, including an announcement from the UK’s foreign office that the coalition would allow the evacuation of some injured Houthi fighters by plane. We’ll have more for you soon on the negotiations to end Yemen’s long war.

     

    African cities on the front line of climate change

     

    Will urban centres be the future sites of global conflict and humanitarian crisis? In a world of rising temperatures, growing populations, and dwindling natural resources, cities – especially those in Africa – face huge threats over the next 30 years. According to the 2018 Climate Vulnerability Index, 84 of the world's 100 fastest-growing cities are at "extreme risk" from the effects of climate change, and 79 of these are in Africa. Verisk Maplecroft, the risk consultancy group responsible for the study, warns that the poorest will pay the highest price, saying: “The highest risk cities already lack adequate healthcare services and disaster mitigation systems.” Among major potential threats: disease outbreaks; an increase in crime and civil unrest; drought; crop failure; and instability leading to cross-border and rural migration. The list of highest risk cities includes dozens of the continent’s capitals and commercial hubs, among them Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lagos in Nigeria, and Luanda in Angola. For more, read our in-depth series last year on the challenge of urbanisation in Africa.

     

    Polio progress stalls

     

    Global progress on stopping polio transmission has “stalled and may well have reversed”. In a report this month, the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative blamed insecurity in polio hotspots for the rise in the number of wild poliovirus cases detected this year – 25 as of October – more than in all of 2017. “Access limitations due to insecurity continue to represent the biggest threat to polio eradication,” the board said in its report, citing a year-on-year doubling of cases in Afghanistan, and a black hole of information in areas of Nigeria controlled by Boko Haram. Insecurity is not the only factor: In Afghanistan, large numbers of children miss repeated rounds of polio vaccination due to misinformation and outright refusal by sceptical parents (we took a firsthand look at some of the problems earlier this year). Recent research published by UNICEF delves into this issue, asking, “Why do some Afghan parents say ‘no’ to polio drops?”

     

    US votes against new deal for refugees

     

    Two years of international negotiations have drawn up a new package of support for 25 million refugees, and the countries hosting them. The global compact for refugees, according to the UN’s refugee agency, aims for a "stronger, fairer response to global refugee movements”, to help refugees become self-reliant, and to ease pressure on hosting countries. The agreement is due to be adopted by the UN General Assembly after passing committee stage this week. The United States was the only vote against the refugee compact taken on 13 November, and had pulled out of a sister compact on migration last year. A US representative told a UN committee the text is "inconsistent with United States immigration policy". Three other countries abstained on the non-binding agreement: Eritrea, Liberia, and Libya.

    In case you missed it:

     

    AFGHANISTAN: Escalating clashes this month between the Taliban and pro-government forces have displaced thousands and left districts in Uruzgan and Ghazni provinces in a state of “siege” with no access to healthcare, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination arm. The UN says the violence, which has engulfed previously peaceful areas, reflects “increasing inter-communal tensions”.

     

    ERITREA: International sanctions imposed against Eritrea nearly a decade ago were lifted by the UN Security Council this week, months after the country signed an historic peace agreement with Ethiopia in July. After two decades of tensions, Addis Ababa and Asmara are working towards peace, also reopening their border in September. While communities in both countries welcomed the move, our report from the border this week reveals how the diplomatic thaw has also led to a new surge of Eritrean refugees into heavily burdened Ethiopia.

     

    LIBYA: Italy hosted a two-day summit on Libya this week, but a chance for the country’s competing leaders to discuss key economic, security, and political issues was overshadowed by one general’s late arrival and a Turkish walk-out. The UN got no binding agreement to its timetable for elections, but its envoy for Libya nonetheless said the conference was a “first step in the right direction”.

     

    MYANMAR: Authorities in Myanmar say they have detained more than 100 Rohingya found on board a boat near the commercial capital of Yangon on Friday. Bangladesh authorities earlier intercepted a boat carrying 33 Rohingya, raising fears of a repeat of 2015’s regional boat crisis, which saw thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants stranded when traffickers abandoned their human cargo on the open waters.

     

    PALESTINE: An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire appears to be holding in Gaza after a major flare-up in violence at the start of this week prompted by a Sunday night botched Israeli raid in the Palestinian enclave. For now, Israeli airstrikes have stopped, as have mortar and rockets from Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

     

    Weekend read

     

    Rakhine peace efforts, amid concerns over forced returns

     

    Plans to begin returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar on Thursday were met with protests in Bangladesh’s refugee camps. Authorities said they were ready to begin repatriations but couldn’t find any Rohingya refugees willing to go. The situation remains volatile: rights groups say Bangladesh authorities have been pressuring hundreds of refugees to return, while aid workers in the camps told IRIN some Rohingya had gone into hiding. The UN and others say it’s not yet safe for Rohingya to return to their former homes in Myanmar’s impoverished Rakhine State. Rohingya there face enforced segregation, heavy restrictions, and animosity from the ethnic Rakhine community. But not everyone in Rakhine shuns the Rohingya. For our weekend read, reporter Verena Hölzl profiles the Rakhine peacebuilders working to bridge the deep rifts. They’re often forced to work in the shadows, facing threats from sceptical hardliners and increasing government restrictions. Read more on the uphill battle to forge peace in Rakhine.

     

    And finally…

     

    A fair trade trade fair?

     

    Tents, Land Cruisers, and *checks notes* a sarin gas detector were among the goods on view in a cavernous exhibition hall on the outskirts of Brussels this week. Nearly 200 exhibitors set up stands at AidEx, whose organisers claim it's the largest trade show for the international development community. Although there are billions of dollars in supply contracts every year, ranging from food to blankets, it's a tricky market to sell to, several vendors told IRIN. Dealing with the purchasing bureaucracies of the big aid agencies "drives me insane", one said. Another stallholder thought the sector was "clubby" and hard to break into. A third bemoaned a gaggle of buyers who "all want to run their own race". Malmo University academic Tobias Denskus, attending the event as part of his research into communications in the development sector, said he was struck by how the "outdoorsy" and "yurts and glamping" markets overlap with the relief sector. IRIN too found plenty of "dual-use" suppliers – water purification systems, survival equipment, life jackets – who said they often have more lucrative outdoor and military customers but keep plugging away at the nonprofit sector anyway. Swedish firm Serstech was showing a battery-operated laser device that can detect and identify illegal drugs, commercial pharmaceuticals, and toxins in a matter of seconds. CEO Stefan Sandor said he had talked with health organisations about detecting poisons in floodwaters, or air pollution. He said the device was already in use to verify usage of chemical weapons in Syria. See this Twitter thread from IRIN’s Ben Parker for more products at the show.

     

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    Hospital refuge, urban crisis, and laser detection
  • The uphill battle to forge peace in Myanmar's Rakhine State

    Kyaw Hsan is trying to bridge the deep rift between his own ethnic Rakhine community and the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State, where 700,000 Rohingya were driven out last year in a purge the UN says could amount to genocide.

     

    But he faces a monumental task countering generations of hatred and distrust that culminated in last year’s humanitarian crisis. Kyaw Hsan and other local peacebuilders here in Rakhine State are often forced to work in the shadows, facing threats from sceptical hardliners and increasing government restrictions.

     

    "The communities are now even more polarised than before,” he said.

     

    Yet the civil society group he runs, PDI Kintha, and other local groups are determined to try to change the deeply entrenched attitudes that led to ongoing ethnic violence, starting with young people in both the Rohingya and Rakhine communities.

     

    They hold social studies classes, mixing in English lessons and job skills training with broader discussions about violence. But even using the term “human rights” in their workshops is out of the question – seen by many here as analogous to promoting rights for the Rohingya.

    “In the end, change for the Rohingya will not come without the attitude change on the ground that only these local peacebuilders can drive.”

    Generations of Rohingya have been excluded from citizenship in Myanmar under the country’s race-based citizenship laws. Many in Myanmar see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – particularly in Rakhine State, one of the country’s poorest regions.

     

    In 2012, riots erupted in Rakhine and spread to other parts of the country after rumours emerged that a Buddhist woman had been raped and killed by a group of Muslims. People from both communities attacked each other. Roughly 200 people died. Here in central Rakhine, some 120,000 Muslims – most of them Rohingya – were forced into barricaded camps, where they have become almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid to survive. Rohingya throughout the state face apartheid-like segregation and restrictions on their movement.

     

    Kyaw Hsan’s workshops don’t address these tensions directly. Instead, he spurs discussions about participants’ own experiences with violence, letting the topic of ethnic conflict emerge organically.

     

    By sharing their feelings, participants learn how to deal with their anger, he said: "People here don't know how to communicate non-violently.”

     

    “Only local peacebuilders can drive change”

     

    Kyaw Hsan started his organisation six years ago when Myanmar’s former military junta rulers were beginning to loosen their control of the country. At first, he wanted PDI Kintha to support the fledgling democratisation process. But after the bloodshed in 2012, he quickly realised he needed to focus on healing the fissures among ethnic communities in his home state.

    myanmar-peacebuilders-2.jpg

    Verena Hölzl/IRIN
    A group of ethnic Rakhine people attend a storytelling workshop in Sittwe run by PDI Kintha, a local peacebuilding organisation.

    At a recent class in the provincial capital, Sittwe, Soe Sandar Oo sat in a circle with eight other participants. Like her, they are ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and, like her, they grew up with prejudices against their Muslim Rohingya neighbours.

     

    As a child, Soe Sandar Oo was taught to fear the Rohingya. Her ethnic Rakhine parents would warn her that the “kalar” – a derogatory term for Muslims in majority-Buddhist Myanmar – would come for her if she refused to do her homework.

     

    Now, the 21-year-old wants to learn how to build bridges between the bitterly divided communities.

     

    “People have to start to listen to each other, or we will never have peace in Rakhine State,” she told IRIN.

     

    For now, Soe Sandar Oo’s class is made up entirely of other ethnic Rakhine. If all goes well, they’ll later merge with Rohingya participants.

     

    There’s no quick fix for the generations of hatred that led to the riots here in 2012, or to last year’s Rohingya exodus from northern Rakhine. Myanmar has resisted international pressure over its treatment of the Rohingya, insisting that it is building “inter-communal cohesion” on its own terms. Rights groups have called for Myanmar’s top military generals to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

     

    Over the long term, however, any lasting change will come from the local peacebuilding efforts already on the ground, said Anthony Ware, a researcher at Deakin University in Melbourne who specialises in community development in Rakhine. Within Myanmar, international criticism is easily dismissed as naivety or an attack on the country’s sovereignty.

     

    “International pressure alone won’t solve this crisis,” Ware said. “In the end, change for the Rohingya will not come without the attitude change on the ground that only these local peacebuilders can drive.”

     

    ☰ Read more: Trust and context in local peacebuilding

     

    While media coverage has frequently focused on ample examples of visceral hate speech against the Rohingya in Myanmar, there are also more progressive views to be found. But international donors looking to invest in peacebuilding initiatives have also stumbled trying to find the right voices.

     

    This year, Internews, a US-based media development NGO, collaborated on a reporting project with a local newspaper in Sittwe, the Development News Journal.

     

    Aung Marm Oo, the paper’s editor-in-chief, told IRIN that Internews was not happy with his paper’s reporting. He believed it was because his newspaper referred to Rohingya as “Bengali” – commonly used in Myanmar to imply that the Rohingya come from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than Rakhine State.

     

    Peacebuilding is one of his paper’s main missions, he says, but using the name “Rohingya” is impossible.

     

    If he did, he says, he would likely be shut down by government authorities – or worse.

     

    “Even if we don't receive any donor funding for this reason, we definitely can't use the term," he said, adding: “Sometimes our life is more important than anything.”

     

    In a statement, an Internews representative said the concern was more focused on the quality of the paper’s reporting.

     

    Internews asked the newspaper to improve the “tone and conflict sensitivity” of its reporting: “There was some progress, although challenges remain,” said Michael Pan, country director for Internews in Myanmar. He added that “conflict-sensitive” journalism can contribute to peacebuilding.

     

    The work of grassroots groups like PDI Kintha is funded by grants from a range of international donors.

     

    But in general, finding the right local partner is a common pitfall for international agencies looking to support peacebuilding programmes in divided Myanmar, according to a representative from a US-based donor that works on hate speech.

     

    "They know what we want to hear. But if they really believe in it, is another question,” said the representative, who asked not to be identified because the issue was considered sensitive.

     

    David Mathieson, a Myanmar-based conflict analyst, believes the difficult work of building social cohesion in Rakhine State is a long-term process that must be powered by locals themselves.

     

    “There’s a lot more localised peacebuilding going on that foreign eyes don’t always discern,” Mathieson said.

     

    “These issues won’t mend in the short-term project cycles of international donors. It will take generations and the problem needs to be understood in local contexts, too.”

     

    But the tense work of building peace has become even more precarious since last August’s military crackdown.

     

    Kyaw Hsan says security is tighter and he finds it harder to get permission to run his workshops from local authorities here in central Rakhine as well as in northern Rakhine, the flashpoint of last year’s violence. At the same time, Rakhine parents are increasingly wary of sending their children to classes with Rohingya, while young Rohingya hoping to attend are often shackled by restrictions on their movements.

     

    Taking risks for peace

     

    Some local peacebuilders say they face threats and public opposition to their work.

     

    Htoo Htoo, a consultant from Yangon who ran peacebuilding workshops for an international organisation in Rakhine, quit his job this year when he was threatened by both Buddhist and Muslim residents in one village. Both groups were upset that he was working with the other side, he says.

    "If people know too much about what we are doing, we might be isolated, if not attacked.”

    Htoo Htoo left his job, frustrated and afraid for his life. "Peacebuilding is really risky," he said. He asked that his real name not be used.

     

    Other local civil society leaders also prefer to work away from the spotlight.

     

    "If people know too much about what we are doing, we might be isolated, if not attacked,” said Ye Linn Aung, who runs a separate organisation that works with young Rakhine and Rohingya. He asked that his organisation not be identified and for his real name not to be used.

     

    People to People, a Sittwe-based peacebuilding organisation, also holds workshops for young people from both communities. Like other groups, the organisation doesn't advertise its classes as teaching “human rights”.

     

    Instead, they’re often disguised as education measures, aimed at engaging on more palatable subjects like English classes and skills training, rather than addressing ethnic tensions head on.

     

    "Here, when you say human rights, the people think you advocate citizenship for the Muslims," said Nyi Nyi Zaw, a 25-year-old instructor with the organisation.

    myanmar-peacebuilders-4.jpg

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

    He recalls criticism from hardline Rakhine nationalists after the group attended a meeting with interfaith activists a couple of years ago. The organisation was forced to make a public apology before a well-respected monk.

    "People accused us of working with the Muslims and betraying Rakhine State," he said.

     

    From hatred to understanding

     

    Nyi Nyi Zaw, an ethnic Rakhine, understands the roots of his community’s hatred and fear: he once felt the same way about the Rohingya.

     

    During the 2012 violence, he saw photos on the internet that purportedly showed local Rohingya killing Rakhine civilians. Later, when he attended classes run by the same organisation he now works for, he learned the photos were fake – taken from another country’s conflict.

     

    "I used to be blinded just like the people who come to our trainings," he said.

     

    While reversing generations of distrust won’t happen overnight, local peacebuilders here believe creating opportunities for young people to share their feelings is essential to fostering long-term understanding. While the UN says Myanmar’s military was responsible for the worst of last year’s anti-Rohingya violence, Rakhine civilians also took part.

     

    "If you address social cohesion, then this type of violence will at least be less likely to happen," said Kyaw Hsan, the PDI Kintha founder.

     

    Ye Linn Aung believes people in Rakhine need an “attitude change” – that’s the long-term goal of his organisation’s workshops. For now, he’s planning a new topic for an upcoming social studies class: a lesson on the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

     

    Bluntly addressing last year’s Rohingya purge in northern Rakhine State may be off limits, for now. “But if all goes well, the students will connect the dots,” he said.

    (TOP PHOTO: A police post has been erected inside the grounds of an empty mosque in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe. CREDIT: Verena Hölzl/IRIN)

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    “People have to start to listen to each other, or we will never have peace”
    The uphill battle to forge peace in Myanmar's Rakhine State
  • African debt, Afghan voter violence, and post-Brexit Britain: The Cheat Sheet

    Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar

     

    Debt distress deepens

    Eight African countries – including several with humanitarian emergencies such as Chad, Sudan, and South Sudan – are in “debt distress” and a further 18 are at high risk, according to an October report by UK think tank Overseas Development Institute. More than half of the external debt in sub-Saharan Africa is from commercial lenders, governments, and bond markets, not concessional lenders like the World Bank. Average interest payments, now approaching one percent of Gross National Income, are creeping up to levels not seen for a decade. An international mechanism that helped resolve earlier debt crises, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), is “not able to respond”, according to an ODI commentary, so there is no international mechanism that can tackle the risks to low-income countries of the latest debt landscape. One complication is that important sovereign lenders like China are not part of the debt management grouping, the Paris Club. Some low-income countries’ leaders have taken on debt “under opaque circumstances”, according to campaign group ONE. Also, if a country does default, ONE argues, “vulture funds” are on the lookout to buy questionable debts at a discount then then aggressively seek repayment. Governments around the world have racked up $63 trillion in local and external debt, according to an analysis at the World Economic Forum. A recent speech by IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned that trust, which underpins creditworthiness, “arrives on foot, but leaves on horseback.”

     

    Violence, voter turnout, and Afghan elections

     

    Afghanistan’s October parliamentary elections were the country’s most violent vote in years, according to the UN mission, which released statistics this week tallying 435 civilian casualties, including 56 deaths, over three days of polling. The UN says the bloodshed, mainly blamed on the Taliban, was part of a “pattern of attacks, threats and intimidation” directly aimed at discouraging Afghan civilians from voting. Taliban threats and violence leading up to the vote appear to have had an impact on turnout: the Independent Election Commission says less than half of registered voters cast a ballot (though there were also numerous reports of lengthy queues outside shuttered polling stations). Other election observers noted “acute violence” and low voter turnout in places like Kunduz Province. “The question remains as to whether a larger number of people will take part in the presidential election scheduled for April 2019, if the security situation does not significantly improve,” noted Obaid Ali of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

     

    Meanwhile, the number of Afghans who have returned (or been deported) from Iran this year now tops 650,000, according to the UN’s migration agency, IOM. Read our recent report exploring why returnee numbers are soaring.

     

    Mixed messages on FGM

     

    Female Genital Mutilation, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is a ritual in many societies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. It can lead to chronic pain, menstrual problems, cysts and some potentially life-threatening infections, among other complications. FGM rates among African children have shown “huge and significant decline” over the last two decades, a study by BMJ Global Health announced this week. East Africa has seen the biggest drop, from 71 percent in 1995 to eight percent in 2016. In North Africa, prevalence fell from nearly 60 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2015, and in West Africa rates dropped from 74 percent in 1996 to about 25 percent in 2017. But while campaigners welcomed the news, some advised caution saying FGM also affects teenagers and women not analysed in the study, meaning the overall numbers could still be far higher. And In February, the UN warned that the number of women predicted to be mutilated each year could rise from here to 4.6 million by 2030.

     

    Peace in Yemen? Not so fast

     

    This time last week, we at Cheat Sheet noted a possible jump-start in Yemen’s stalled peace process. Things have changed, to say the least. The UN’s envoy for Yemen has pushed back the proposed start date for talks from the end of the month to the end of the year, and the battle for Yemen’s Red Sea port city of Hodeidah has intensified. Thousands of civilians are unable to escape airstrikes and shelling, and some have reportedly been used as human shields with Houthi rebel fighters taking up positions on a hospital roof. Médecins Sans Frontières has seen an influx of war-wounded civilians at its facilities, and aid agencies are warning that their ability to deliver aid to those in need is hampered. For a raw and absorbing view from the ground, we recommend reading this piece by one Yemeni aid worker who lives and works under fire in Hodeidah.

     

    Dark tales in Iraq’s mass graves

     

    The UN documented more than 200 mass graves in Iraq in a report released this week, mostly filled with people killed by so-called Islamic State. UN estimates range from 6,000 bodies to more than 12,000, with thousands in the infamous Khasfa sinkhole south of Mosul alone. Dhia Kareem, head of Iraq’s Mass Graves Directorate, told the New York Times “the number of the victims of the mass graves is much bigger than the numbers in the report.” The UN says the evidence in the sites could help identify victims and prove crucial for future war crimes prosecutions. They also shed some light on a dark time for many Iraqis. Ján Kubiš, the UN’s representative in Iraq, said the graves “are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty.”

    In case you missed it:

     

    DRC: In just two weeks, 61 new cases of Ebola have emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Whitney Elmer, deputy country director for Mercy Corps, said the aid group is “increasingly alarmed" by gaps in the response. "We cannot overstate the risks of this virus moving to Goma or neighbouring Uganda.” This week the WHO said 308 cases have been detected, resulting in 189 deaths. Uganda also started administering Ebola vaccinations to protect frontline health workers near the border.

     

    IRAQ: It has been three years since Sinjar was retaken from so-called Islamic State, but most Yazidis have still not returned. Here’s the Norwegian Refugee Council’s take on the lack of reconstruction, some of our recent reporting, and a small sign of progress from MSF.

     

    SYRIA: Last weekend, after several false starts, the first UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy reached the deprived desert camp of Rukban, near Syria’s border with Jordan, delivering food, medicine, and sanitary goods. Rukban has become increasingly cut off from aid and other trade, and is hemmed in against the Jordanian border by the Syrian army, rebels, and the US military. The future of the camp of about 45,000 remains uncertain: Jordan and Russia continue talks on how it can be dispersed.

     

    US: President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Friday morning to disqualify those who enter the country illegally from being granted asylum. But not all Americans feel that way. To learn more about efforts in Arizona to help those escaping violence and poverty in Central America and Mexico, read Eric Reidy’s series on the humanitarian situation at the US-Mexico border.

     

    Weekend read

     

    Pushed back: Rohingya repatriation and Congo’s Kasaï

     

    For your weekend unwind, we’d like to offer you two very different IRIN briefings linked by a common theme. First, Asia Editor Irwin Loy unpicks the thorny issue of Rohingya repatriation. It appears the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments didn’t deign to consult refugees properly before devising a plan to send them home, starting as early as next week. No one seems to know who is on a list of 2,200 initial would-be returnees or what they would be returning to. Denied citizenship and made to live in apartheid-like conditions for decades before fleeing a military crackdown labelled genocide by UN investigators, many Rohingya are fearful of being pushed back too soon. Will they say yes? A continent away, another large group of people has no choice. More than 300,000 Congolese – mostly migrant workers – have already been driven back home, allegedly violently, from Angola, ostensibly as part of a clamp down on illegal diamond mining. But the worst of it, as Africa Editor Sumayya Ismail explains, is that they’re crossing into the Kasaï region, which is trying to recover from a brutal conflict that has claimed 5,000 lives and displaced more than 1.4 million. Check out Ismail’s briefing to find out what the risks and needs are, and how the influx is already impacting humanitarian operations.

     

    And finally...

     

    A post-Brexit humanitarian ‘what if’

     

    What if a catastrophic Brexit led to civil war, economic collapse, and humanitarian crisis? And what if a divided population of displaced Britons needed aid from other, more stable parts of the world: say, for example, Kenya? A new British play, Aid Memoir, skewers some stereotypes about refugees and Western media coverage. Author Glenda Cooper told IRIN she wanted to provoke a fresh look at the issues of refugee representation in the media by “flipping the usual way we see asylum, migration, and refugees portrayed.” In the piece, a British teenager is sized up for a role in a fundraising appeal for Kenyan TV. To meet the hackneyed expectations of the TV producer, she has to fit in with their assumptions: including finding some ethnically-authentic fish and chips. Cooper wants to use satire to open up thinking about how representation matters in the media beyond a circle of journalists, aid workers, and academics. Her day job at London’s City University includes an as-yet-unpublished research project on migration coverage in the British media in 2017. Its findings: authority figures and NGOs were far more likely than actual migrants to be heard; and migrant or refugee women were only 11 percent of the named people in the coverage.

     

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    African debt, Afghan voter violence, and post-Brexit Britain
  • Fear and mistrust surround latest plan to return Rohingya

    Rights groups say a plan to return Rohingya to Myanmar from Bangladesh as early as next week is dangerously premature, while the refugees have been kept in the dark about their own immediate future.

    Roughly 730,000 Rohingya surged into Bangladesh starting in August 2017, fleeing a military purge that a UN rights investigation says amounts to genocide.

    Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to restart stalled repatriation for Rohingya refugees on 15 November. The plan, announced after high-level meetings between the two countries last week, would see an initial 2,260 Rohingya sent back to Myanmar. But it’s unclear who will be sent home, or what the authorities in Bangladesh will do if Rohingya refugees refuse to go. An original January start date came and went with no movement, but it raised fear and confusion in Bangladesh’s packed refugee settlements.

    Rights groups are calling on Bangladesh to shelve the latest plan, saying returns now are “dangerous” and still “highly premature”. Generations of Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar, and apartheid-like restrictions and hostility toward Rohingya have not dissipated in the last year.

    Rohingya refugees themselves say they haven’t been consulted on returns; many say they won’t go back until their safety and rights can be guaranteed.

    Here’s what we know:

    Who will return?

    Bangladesh and Myanmar say their plan calls for Rohingya refugees to be returned in groups of 150. Both countries have repeatedly said that returns will be “safe and voluntary”. They have compiled lists of several thousand refugees currently living in Bangladesh, but Human Rights Watch says authorities in Bangladesh “culled the names at random”.

    "Bangladesh does not have any policy of local integration and the Rohingya must return to their own country to secure their own future"

    "The names on the list we prepared were not chosen because they particularly wanted to go back,” Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told the rights group in May.

    The UN’s special rapporteur for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said on Tuesday that Rohingya in Bangladesh’s camps are in deep fear” that their names could be on the list.

    Where will they return to?

    Myanmar authorities say refugees will be transferred to a “transit camp” built in a village tract called Hla Poe Kaung, north of the town of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State.

    An analysis of satellite images for IRIN earlier this year suggests the camp has been built over the bulldozed remnants of at least four former Rohingya villages, including land that was torched and razed during last year’s military purge. More than 100 new buildings and two helicopter pads were under construction over a 240-hectare swathe of cleared land.

    (Swipe the image to compare: The image on the left shows a view of the repatriation camp near Hla Poe Kaung village on 9 January. The image on the right shows construction at the same site on 27 February. Image credits: ©2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. Satellite imagery analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT)

    Myanmar authorities continue to place heavy restrictions on humanitarian groups and media in northern Rakhine. Following an assessment of 23 villages in the area in September, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said Rohingya who remain in northern Rakhine aren’t allowed to move freely and have difficulty accessing healthcare and schools. UNHCR said all groups in the area, including Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities, live with a prevailing “fear and mistrust” of each other.

    What are Rohingya saying?

    Rohingya say they have not been consulted about return plans – or much of what affects them in day-to-day life in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.

    The Free Rohingya Coalition, led by activists based outside the country, said it was “extremely disturbed” by the latest plan, noting that previous repatriations following refugee influxes in the late 1970s and early 1990s only resulted in further violence when refugees returned to Myanmar.

    Rohingya have “widespread and well-founded fear that their lives, families, and communities will once again face further attacks once they are back in their homeland,” the group said in a statement.

    Ongoing research in Bangladesh’s camps shows confusion and fear among Rohingya refugees. A March survey by Internews, BBC Media Action, and Translators Without Borders found some Rohingya were keen to return to Myanmar but were worried about their legal status, further violence, and how they would survive with their former homes and villages demolished. Others were too afraid to even consider going back. Many said they lacked clear information about how the return process would work, or if they would be forced to return.

    “The key finding from the data is that the Rohingya community, while not united in their opinions… appear to agree on one thing: a great desire for more information,” the research concluded.

    What is the international community saying?

    Rights groups have largely condemned the latest return plan, labelling it premature and dangerous. The UN’s Lee and Human Rights Watch called on Bangladesh to abort its repatriation scheme.

    Many have warned that returning Rohingya will be at grave risk of further violence.

    Rohingya “have been slaughtered, persecuted, and driven out”, Susannah Sirkin of the New York-based Physicians for Human Rights said in a statement. “One cannot bring survivors back to Rakhine State without having guarantees for their safety.”

    UNHCR, which had previously signed a controversial agreement with Myanmar laying the groundwork for a future repatriation, said it is not involved with the latest return plan and that it is not yet safe for Rohingya to return.

    What are Bangladesh and Myanmar saying?

    Bangladesh has been ambivalent to incoming Rohingya over successive governments and multiple refugee influxes. The current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has been more receptive to the refugees and allowed humanitarian groups to work in the expanding camps. But she and other officials have repeatedly said that the Rohingya must one day return home.

    "Public sympathy for the Rohingya will not last forever, and the current situation is likely to evolve in unpredictable ways"

    “Bangladesh does not have any policy of local integration and the Rohingya must return to their own country to secure their own future,” the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in a September press release.

    Myanmar authorities have denied almost all allegations of violence against the Rohingya, instead saying the country’s military was justified in responding to attacks on border areas by a small group of Rohingya fighters. Médecins Sans Frontières says at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed. Civilian leaders have barred rights investigators from entering the country, and pushed back against attempts to probe or prosecute alleged crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

    Might political considerations come into play?

    During previous returns in the late 1970s and early 1990s, rights groups accused Bangladesh of forcing Rohingya out, and UNHCR was criticised for participating in and effectively encouraging returns when it couldn’t ensure the safety of Rohingya in Rakhine State.

    Circumstances are different today, but some have warned that the situation is volatile. Bangladesh is heading towards parliamentary elections slated for December and Human Rights Watch says the government appears anxious” to begin repatriations by then.

    In a June analysis, Liam Mahony, a former consultant for UN agencies in Myanmar, warned that political pressures or a destructive natural disaster could suddenly change how Rohingya are viewed in Bangladesh.

    “Public sympathy for the Rohingya will not last forever, and the current situation is likely to evolve in unpredictable ways,” he said.

    (TOP PHOTO: Rohingya refugees collect water at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh announced that Rohingya refugees could begin returning to Myanmar in mid-November. Chandan Khanna/AFP)

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    Fear and mistrust surround latest plan to return Rohingya
  • Refugees post-Pittsburgh, Rohingya trauma, and Pacific island storms: The Cheat Sheet

    Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar:

     

    Peace overtures on Yemen

     

    Yemen’s peace process, which has been going nowhere fast for quite some time, may have received a jump-start this week. First, US defence secretary James Mattis told an audience in Washington, DC that the warring sides were ready to come to the UN table and that he expected a ceasefire and talks to begin within 30 days. Then, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed suit with a statement on ending the war and starting talks (with wording that has been parsed again and again). UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed support; the UN’s envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he’s committed to getting negotiations going within a month. Then, seemingly every aid agency issued a statement of its own. Why now? Might it have something to do with talk of famine in Yemen, or perhaps the scandal enveloping Saudi Arabia around the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Check back with us for more.

     

    Humanitarian makeover

     

    "Traditional humanitarian response remains plagued by deep power imbalances, needless rivalries between organisations, and perverse institutional incentives" – not a big revelation to regular IRIN readers, perhaps, but a blunt report card anyway. It comes from think tank Centre for Global Development (CGD), which is starting a new research project, running until 2020, analysing why reforms to the international humanitarian system have fallen short and what might work better. Initial lines of enquiry, according to a posting by Jeremy Konyndyk, a former US donor official and now a senior fellow at CGD, include: more clarity on how donors make decisions, delinking the UN's role in policy-setting from operational response, and looking again at a way to better define needs and response based more on local perspectives. The project is looking at three broad areas: business models, governance, and field practice. Earlier this year, we heard from another research project along similar lines, this time from the UK-based think tank Overseas Development Institute. The lead researcher wrote at the time that they had identified strong opportunities for a better system, but: "Change is elusive. It’s not fully within our power; it’s political, and we have little influence..."

     

    The starting point fits with the message of this year's World Disasters Report, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It cautions that the "system" that claims to be the international humanitarian apparatus is selective, partial. The report, "Leaving No One Behind", argues that too many situations and people are falling through the cracks. For more, check out the IFRC secretary general’s commentary for IRIN.

     

    Rohingya mental health: culture and context

     

    Nearly one million Rohingya refugees swell the refugee camps of southern Bangladesh, and more than 100 aid groups are trying to help them. But there’s little information on how the refugees conceive of and process trauma, which makes it challenging for NGOs and Bangladesh’s government to offer effective mental health and psychosocial support. A new report by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, compiles existing research on Rohingya culture and concepts of mental health conditions. The guidelines caution that Rohingya interpretations of trauma are not always equivalent to the psychological concepts of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety. Understanding these “sociocultural aspects” of mental health, the guidelines advise, is crucial to “providing effective culturally informed services to the Rohingya”. We explored this issue in a recent story looking at what mental health professionals might learn from the network of traditional and religious healers in the Rohingya camps.

     

    US synagogue shooter also hated refugees

     

    The man accused of killing 11 people during services at a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday appears to have had a fixation with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (better known as HIAS), posting rants on social media like: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” Founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, these days HIAS helps resettle refugees of all religions, in partnership with the US government. Donations to the aid agency have reportedly poured in since the shooting, and HIAS says it is determined to continue its work. But staff in Philadelphia, who have helped 100 refugees start new lives in the US this year from places like Myanmar, Syria, and Iraq, say many new arrivals are shaken, both by the attack and the rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the country. As HIAS’s executive director in Pennsylvania, Cathryn Miller-Wilson, put it: “Our clients are hysterical, nervous, scared, and upset.”

     

    The gulf between Somalia and Côte d’Ivoire

     

    This week Somalia found its way to the bottom of the 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, an annual report ranking the best and worst functioning countries on the continent. It was preceded by South Sudan, then Libya. These three "worst-governed countries”, plagued by high levels of insecurity, civil strife, and lack of rule of law, are also humanitarian hot spots on the continent with, between them, more than 13 million people in need of humanitarian aid. On the flipside, Côte d’Ivoire, recovering from two civil wars in the last 15 years, showed the “greatest improvement” and was the only country to improve in all categories, placing it third behind only Mauritius and the Seychelles. Overall, however, the report noted that the number of internally displaced people across Africa rose from 10.2 million in 2009 to 14 million in 2017, while the number of refugees rose from 2.7 million in 2008 to 7.3 million in 2017. "The lost opportunity of the past decade is deeply concerning,” said the foundation’s chairman, Mo Ibrahim. "Africa has a huge challenge ahead.”

    Attack highlights acute unemployment in Tunisia

     

    A suicide bomber injured nine people in Tunis on Monday, and the attacker – a 30-year-old female college graduate who had been jobless for three years – was not known to have extremist ties. The attack was a reminder that despite several years of relative peace, politically polarised Tunisia still faces security threats, but it has also put the spotlight on the country’s flagging economy – a third of graduates are unemployed. While many migrants and asylum seekers pass through Tunisia on their way to Europe or stay to look for work, an increasing number of Tunisian nationals are also chancing it on the Mediterranean: Tunisians are now the number one nationality arriving on Italy’s shores; 22 percent of the total. They are also dying at sea: a 23-year-old Tunisian man drowned in a shipwreck on 7 October, one of 1,783 people documented to have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.

    In case you missed it:

     

    CAMEROON: Security forces and separatist fighters have each blamed the other for the death of Charles Wesco, a US missionary killed in crossfire in the restive anglophone region this week. Hundreds of unarmed civilians have died and tens of thousands more have been forced from their homes since the conflict erupted in 2016. Read our two-part special report from inside the separatist ranks.

     

    MARIANA ISLANDS: The damage is still being tallied from Typhoon Yutu, which destroyed hundreds of homes in the Northern Mariana Islands last week and caused at least 15 deaths when it barged across the northern Philippines this week.

     

    SOUTH SUDAN: Two years after fleeing South Sudan, rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba on Wednesday to celebrate a peace deal with President Salva Kiir. But some have questioned whether last month’s agreement is holding, with the World Food Programme saying that violence in some areas is blocking food aid.

     

    SYRIA: Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen has been officially named as the UN’s next envoy for Syria. Check out Aron Lund’s rundown of what Pedersen will be up against when he starts the job early next month.

     

    TONGA: Still recovering from February’s Cyclone Gita, the Pacific Island nation of Tonga is warning residents to expect at least one severe cyclone during the peak November-to-April storm season, due to “climate variability brought about by global warming”.

     

    Weekend read:

     

    US policy ‘wall’ for Latin American asylum seekers

     

    Central Americans and Mexicans are continuing to flee gang violence, repression, and poverty by heading north, but many are finding they can’t cross the border into the United States to claim asylum. Read Eric Reidy’s first instalment from the US-Mexico border, where he outlines “legally dubious practices” by US border officials. The US asylum system is being stretched to a “crisis point”, as the registration process is slowing down even as large numbers continue to arrive. The result is heavy build-up on the Mexican side, where hundreds of asylum seekers need basic services. US President Donald Trump has promised to greet thousands of northern-bound Central American migrants and asylum seekers with twice as many troops on the border. And while Trump’s move garners headlines around the globe, some 300,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo forced out of Angola back to their conflict-riven home region of Kasai receive a fraction of the coverage. They too fled violence at home and find themselves in a similar predicament. UNICEF expressed its concern for the children caught up in both crises, some 80,000 in DRC and an estimated 2,300 now making their way to the US border on foot.

     

    And finally:

     

    All Puerto Rico wants for Christmas ...

     

    Tropical storms unleash destruction in moments, but recovery takes months and years. Last September, Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the Caribbean, causing dozens of deaths and extensive damage. More than a year later, places like Dominica are still rebuilding “from zero”. In Puerto Rico (where the death toll from Maria is widely disputed), residents of the US territory spent nearly a year in the dark – that’s how long it took for the shattered electricity system to be reconnected everywhere on the island. This week, the design podcast 99% Invisible dives into the story of a Puerto Rican utility worker, Jorge Bracero, who used social media to feed info to residents starving for news amid the blackout, and became something of a local folk hero in the process. Listen to the 33-minute episode to learn more about a one-man news outlet, why Puerto Rico may not be building back better, and a catchy Mariah Carey cover tune.

     

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    Refugees post-Pittsburgh, Rohingya trauma, and Pacific island storms
  • Tripoli clashes, dying with dignity, and AI for good: The Cheat Sheet

    Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

    On our radar:

    The (ending) age of Aquarius

    MSF’s Mediterranean rescue ship, Aquarius, has been at the centre of a series of diplomatic standoffs this summer as European governments refused to let it dock and disembark migrants and asylum seekers pulled from the waters off the coast of Libya. But its rescuing days could now be over after it had its flag revoked this week by Panama. The pressure appeared to come from Italy, whose populist government argues that such vessels only encourage migrants to attempt the dangerous crossing from North Africa, but which is also keen to stem arrivals after taking in more than 700,000 people since 2013. Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister, denied pressuring Panama (in a Tweet, he claimed he didn’t know the dialling code), but a statement from the Panama Maritime Authority suggested otherwise. “The main complaint comes from the Italian authorities,” it said. The boat, jointly operated with SOS Méditerranée, is the only NGO rescue boat still operating in the Mediterranean. Currently at sea carrying rescued migrants it faces “deflagging” when it next reaches port. Panama’s ship register says the Aquarius refuses to return people to their place of origin. But according to the UN, that would be against refugee law. Given worsening conditions in Libya, UNHCR has updated its legal position on bringing people back to Libya: it’s not “a place of safety for the purpose of disembarkation following rescue at sea.”

    Tripoli unravels

    Sticking with Libya; yet another ceasefire appears to be in place in the capital, Tripoli, where fighting between rival militias this week killed 117 people and injured 581. This round of violence erupted 20 days after a previous UN-brokered truce agreement came into force, so forgive us for fearing it might not last. The impact on civilians extends beyond deaths and injuries: 1,700 families fled their homes to stay with relatives or sheltered in schools in just a few days, and others were trapped and unable to escape the violence. With power and water temporarily cut, migrants and refugees in the city’s detention centres had reportedly resorted to drinking toilet water. Sceptics say the UN-backed Government of National Accord, which sits in Tripoli, has no real control over the city’s armed groups.

    A flood of AI announcements

    “AI for good” announcements came thick and fast last week: Microsoft committed $40 million over five years to an “AI for Humanitarian Action” project. Examples of applications include damage assessment, an educational chatbot, and medical research. Google announced an AI-powered flood warning system, now in pilot mode in Patna state, India. The tech giants joined Amazon in a major new effort to better predict and prevent famine. The World Bank-UN-Red Cross-Silicon Valley coalition has broad ambitions, and getting clearer signals from a wealth of data using AI is part of it. Gimmick or gamechanger? You’ll be hearing more from us on this Famine Action Mechanism, FAM. If you have views, please get in touch.

    Palliative care: a “moral necessity”

    Palliative care is focused on preventing and relieving suffering from life-limiting illnesses. But health advocates say it is frequently overlooked or ignored during humanitarian crises, when resources are stretched and large numbers of people are suddenly in need of basic aid like food and shelter. The World Health Organisation this month released its first guidelines on including palliative care in humanitarian responses. Integrating palliative care and pain relief into humanitarian response is a “medical and moral necessity”, according to the WHO. “The principles of humanitarianism and impartiality require that all patients receive care and should never be abandoned for any reason, even if they are dying,” the guidelines state. What might this actually look like on the ground, in the middle of an evolving emergency? Read our story about a local NGO bringing palliative care to the Rohingya refugee camps of southern Bangladesh.

    Some reprieve for Uighurs

    In a change of policy, Sweden will not deport Muslim minority Uighurs back to China. Germany announced the same in August. Sweden’s migration agency published a report describing repression in the largely Uighur Xinjiang region on 12 September. That followed a UN report alleging mass human rights abuse, including claims of a million Uighur people detained by the Chinese government, which it denies. Three quarters of about 5,500 Chinese asylum applications in Europe in 2017 were denied, according to EU statistics.

    One to watch:

    A masterclass in open source accountability

    Uniformed men in Cameroon executed two women and their two children, apparently accused of involvement with the extremist Boko Haram group. Somehow, a video of the crime surfaced online. This compelling Twitter thread from BBC explains the forensic research by a network of journalists and NGOs, [including Emmanuel Freudenthal]. Using only open source tools, satellite imagery and online research, the team found the place, time and likely names of the culprits, who now face prosecution. Cameroon’s government had initially denied involvement.

    One to look at:

    The 1883 eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatau volcano was one of the deadliest eruptions in modern history – and the volcano is rumbling again. There have been ongoing eruptions at Anak Krakatau since June. But the volcano has had sporadic activity for decades and local authorities say there’s currently no immediate danger. NASA has released images showing unobstructed views of the volcano spewing volcanic ash and steam.

    In case you missed it:

     

    DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: The response to Congo’s latest outbreak has been “severely limited by security and other constraints,” according to the WHO, which has warned of a looming “perfect storm”. Last weekend, 18 people died in an attack on the emerging Ebola hotspot city of Beni. The current outbreak has killed at least 100 people, and there are now about 10 new infections a week, as local resistance to vaccination persists. One case has been confirmed on Congo’s border with Uganda.

     

    GAZA: The World Bank is warning that the Gaza economy is in “free fall,” with foreign aid no longer enough to counteract the deterioration. A new report from the bank says every second person in the Palestinian territory lives beneath the poverty line, with unemployment at 53 percent, 70 percent for youth (15-24), and 78 percent for young women.

     

    INDONESIA: Houses have reportedly been swept away and families are missing after a tsunami sent two-metre high waves crashing into the city of Palu on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi following a series of earthquakes, the strongest with a magnitude of 7.5.

     

    IRAQ: Protests over a lack of public services and jobs are still going strong in Iraq’s southern city of Basra, where the main water source is polluted and there is no effective water treatment system. A new desalination plant is being built but workers had to leave because of the demonstrations, and the shooting death this week of human rights activist Suad al-Ali is only likely to add fan the flames.

     

    JAPAN: Typhoon Trami is barrelling toward Japan – three weeks after Jebi, the strongest storm to hit the country in decades. Trami has slowed after clocking 260-kilometre per hour wind speeds earlier this week, but authorities in Japan are still warning the storm will be “very strong”. It’s expected to make landfall over the weekend.

     

    SOUTH SUDAN: Fatalities since civil war broke out in 2013 have long been guesstimated at a vague “tens of thousands”. This week a statistical analysis by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine concluded that the conflict had in fact led to almost 400,000 deaths, half of them directly due to violence. But South Sudan watchers, including IRIN contributor Jason Patinkin, were quick to add a few caveats.

     

    Our weekend read:

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

    Humanitarian responses in the most complex and hostile operating environments on the planet – think Somalia, Syria, Yemen – involve working with some fairly sketchy groups. Take Syria’s Idlib, for example. As much as 60 percent of the province is controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked extremist group Tahrir al-Sham. Inevitably, especially when working through a chain of local sub-contractors, some aid is going to go astray, or bribes will have to be paid and checkpoints bunged. But how much diversion is too much when civilian lives are at stake? This question is central to our weekend read, which reviews worries in the aid sector about an increasingly tought US stance on counter-terror compliance. This analysis follows a string of reports from IRIN Senior Editor Ben Parker exclusively highlighting NGO project suspensions and closures in Syria, recent prosecutions in US courts, and new strings attached to USAID funding. Adding fuel to the fire, a new report this week by USAID’s inspector general sets the scene for a much harder line on UN funding, which is largely exempt from the most stringent oversight.

    And finally:

    A tweet vs. the French nation

    This week, a French court convicted a humanitarian worker of criminal defamation for a tweet. Yes, you read that right. Loan Torondel, who volunteered and then worked for two years with L’Auberge des Migrants, a group that assists migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, tweeted a picture of two police officers standing over a man who looks to be a migrant, sitting on his sleeping bag. The man protests that the policeman wants to confiscate his sleeping bag in the cold, and in the text of Torondel’s tweet he ironically has one officer reply: “Maybe, but we are the French nation, sir.” The French nation bit refers to a comment President Emmanuel Macron made last year that was memed ad infinitum. For his own memeing Torondel (who is still on Twitter) received a suspended fine and was ordered to pay court costs. He is appealing, and rights defenders say his conviction sets a dangerous precedent and is a worrying escalation in harassment of aid workers by state officials.

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    Tripoli clashes, dying with dignity, and AI for good
  • UN challenges, Myanmar crimes, and banker bonuses: The Cheat Sheet

    Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar:

    Dim hopes for progress at the UNGA

     

    As the UN General Assembly kicks off on Monday, we’re watching keenly, but not expectantly, for anything other than the usual soundbites. Our UN correspondent tells us that following the publication of a damning UN investigation into alleged atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine State last year there’s hope that a strong and unified message of condemnation might help efforts to pave the way toward justice. (For why the UN might want to be careful what it wishes for, see below). Otherwise, he says, there appears to be a sense of resignation in the air in New York: on climate change, human rights, and long-running conflicts. An eleventh-hour truce did stave off an offensive on the Syrian rebels’ final stronghold of Idlib, and for three million people in the northwestern province a demilitarised buffer zone agreed this week by Turkey and Russia offers some respite. Yet world leaders appear largely powerless to intervene in the longer term. Same goes for Yemen, where thousands of civilian lives are again at risk as a siege resumes (see below) on the Houthi rebel-held port of Hodeidah. The sombre mood is perhaps why there’s been little fanfare ahead of the gathering from Secretary-General António Guterres: only vague calls for greater “urgency” and commitment to a “rules-based global order”. Multilateralism has taken a battering from Washington in the last two years, with the US withdrawing first from the Paris climate accord and then from the Iran nuclear deal. On Thursday, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley previewed US President Donald Trump's completely unsurprising theme for this year: sovereignty – a favourite, coincidentally, of Russia and China. “We want to continue to build a relationship with those that do share those values,” said Haley. One concrete endeavour will see UN member states vote on the final draft of the new global compact on refugees. Completely non-binding and derided by some as a rich countries’ deal, it is still one of the most significant international agreements on refugees in decades. Look out for more on that next week along with our picks on humanitarian trends to watch at this year’s UNGA.

     

    IRIN’s Director Heba Aly is among those converging on New York. On Thursday, she chaired a discussion at the launch of a new initiative to help refugees become more self-reliant: watch the video here and check the initiative’s 10-point challenge to policymakers and donors. Next week, she’ll be exploring issues as diverse (and lofty!) as “How to Save Democracy” and how to address fragility as a driver of extreme poverty, mass migration, and violent extremism. Both discussions will be live-streamed, so feel free to tune in.

     

    Who’s accountable in Myanmar?

     

    Looming large at the UNGA will be the atrocities committed by Myanmar’s security forces. After calling for top military commanders to be investigated for genocide, the UN-mandated rights probe this week presented its final report before the Human Rights Council. The 444-page tome presents the investigation’s evidence of violations stretching from Myanmar’s northern borderlands to Rakhine State in the west, where some 725,000 minority Rohingya were driven from the country last year. But investigators believe the military isn’t the only party that should be held accountable: in a 10-page section on “responsibility”, the report devotes nearly two pages to the international community – in particular, the UN itself. The investigators say UN officials in the country failed to hold the government to account for years of rights violations building up to last year’s exodus, and also sidelined people within the UN who wished to a push a more rights-focused approach. Investigators are renewing their calls for an inquiry into UN actions in Myanmar, but they say there has been shockingly little appetite for introspection within the system. Despite last year’s catastrophe, there has been no internal review looking at how to improve the UN approach, and investigators say a number of UN staffers in the country didn’t cooperate with the rights probe. They “appeared to view it as a threat, rather than a means to address the most deep-rooted human rights challenges facing Myanmar,” the report noted.

     

    ICC examination: moving beyond deportation

     

    Speaking of accountability, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, this week announced she would open a preliminary examination into the Rohingya purge. Even though Myanmar is not a member of the war crimes court, Bensouda had earlier convinced ICC judges that the court could still investigate anti-Rohingya violence, since part of one particular alleged crime – deportation – occurred in Bangladesh, which is a member of the court. Rights groups and Rohingya refugees themselves have argued that investigating deportation alone isn’t enough to account for the scale of last year’s violence. But in her announcement this week, Bensouda also said her examination would consider other crimes against humanity. Read more on Bensouda’s unorthodox legal challenge here.

     

    Aid donors face annual report card

     

    An annual survey out this week from the Center for Global Development checks whether richer countries are making a serious contribution to the betterment of other nations. The Commitment to Development Index doesn’t just look at aid, but ranks efforts in migration, trade, investment, security (including the arms trade), technology, and the environment. The Nordics come out well, Germany is ranked equal third, and, well, let’s just say the United States has dropped a few places since last year.

     

     

    In case you missed it:

     

    HODEIDAH, Yemen: After another round of UN-mediated peace talks failed to take off in Geneva, the battle for the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah has resumed. Aid groups are once again warning that the battle will be disastrous, with water already in short supply and famine still a threat. Here’s a helpful briefing from International Crisis Group on the politics at play and the likely fallout.

     

    ISLAMABAD: The future of some 2.4 million refugees and undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan remains volatile. This week, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, pledged to grant citizenship to Afghan refugees – only to backtrack on his promise two days later after a political backlash. Pakistan has long been a refuge for Afghans, but that welcome has worn thin. Hundreds of thousands are pushed out of the country in deportation drives each year. Those numbers have fallen this year, yet the government has set multiple deadlines for Afghans to leave. The most recent deadline is fast approaching: 30 September.

     

    LAKE VICTORIA: At least 136 people have drowned and dozens more are missing and feared dead after a ferry overturned near the largest island in Lake Victoria, east Africa. Tanzanian officials say the aging, overcrowded MV Nyerere capsized on Thursday afternoon, the latest in a string of similar incidents going back to 1996, when some 800 people died.

     

    SOUTH SUDAN: An Amnesty International report out this week accuses the South Sudanese government and allied militias of carrying out "war crimes" of "staggering brutality" during an offensive earlier this year. The report slams the government for continuing to give the perpetrators free rein to commit fresh atrocities in Leer and Mayendit counties.

     

    One to listen to:

    No nos compete

     

    Here’s a treat for our Spanish-speaking (and -listening) readers: an episode from the NPR podcast Radio Ambulante, focusing on the aftermath of the earthquake that hit central Mexico last September, killing more than 360 people and forcing more than 100,000 to flee their homes (other impact estimates are significantly higher). The episode – “No nos compete” (It’s not our problem) – focuses on the efforts to rebuild schools. Originally, the government said the quake left 13,000 schools with some sort of damage, including 577 totally destroyed. They estimated rebuilding would cost $680 million. Later, those figures were confusingly revised to 20,000 damaged, 210 destroyed, and $1 billion for reconstruction. The Radio Ambulante team unpacks a confusing, bureaucratic process, and finds some students returning to their studies this year in tents. And for English-speakers, here’s a translation.

    Our weekend read:

    Reporter’s Diary: Back to Lesvos

     

    The Moria detention centre on the otherwise idyllic Greek island of Lesvos houses some 9,000 people in a facility built for one third of that number. No surprise then that it’s a complete mess, with raw sewage running out of its main entrance and the regional government threatening to close it down unless the Greek government improves conditions fast. Well, it hasn’t done that, but it has belatedly begun to ease the pressure, this very morning transferring a first group of 100 asylum seekers to the mainland amid promises to relocate 2,000 by the end of the month. In our weekend read, regular IRIN contributor Eric Reidy gives his reflections on returning to Moria two years after he first reported from Lesvos, during the height of the mass exodus across the Aegean in 2016. The first in an ongoing series from our correspondents in the field, his reporter’s diary offers a telling personal perspective on issues not just ignored but “amplified by time and neglect” and allowed to “break people down”.

    And finally:

    Codepink funk on Fink

    Giant investment manager BlackRock has decided to place a big bet: on sustainability. In a January letter to company CEOs, the firm’s boss, Larry Fink, wrote that every company must “show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” His views carry some clout: BlackRock controls $6 trillion. On 1 November, the NGO International Rescue Committee plans to give him its John C. Whitehead Humanitarian Award – which “honors the value of civic engagement” – at a fundraising dinner. In 2016, the IRC, led by Briton David Miliband, gave the award to the family of a banker, John Mack, and appointed him as a director. Activists Codepink are campaigning against Fink’s award, pointing out that BlackRock has holdings in (and profits from) arms companies that cause suffering.

    bp-as-il/ag

    UN challenges, Myanmar crimes, and banker bonuses
  • Local aid groups want more of a say in the Rohingya refugee response

    Rohingya children play under a half-mangled roof of twisted tin sheets as the rain beats down on the Bangladeshi refugee camp that has become their home. Their sodden playground was a fully functioning health clinic before a monsoon landslide forced staff and patients to abandon it in June. Its replacement – a simple tent – is a fraction of the size, humid, and has no electricity.

     

    Gonoshasthaya Kendra, the local NGO that runs the clinic, doesn’t have the money to repair it so it is seeking help from a large international aid agency that does. But the two organisations can’t strike a deal on the upgrade. For now, it sits in disrepair, while in the tent nearby frustrated medics listen to Rohingya patients perched on plastic chairs in the 35-degree heat.

     

    "This situation's sad for me. It's sad for all of us,” says Papi, the clinic’s doctor, pointing to the damaged, empty clinic. "We're not getting enough support.”

     

    This feeling of not being supported is representative of a larger friction between the local and international aid groups that work in the packed Rohingya refugee camps of southern Bangladesh.

     

    Local aid groups and volunteers were the first to respond last August as a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State drove more than 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. Today, however, locals are dwarfed by dozens of international aid agencies – who dominate donor funding and the response itself.

     

    ☰ Read more: The Rohingya crisis at a glance

     

     

    • In August 2017, a Myanmar military crackdown in Rakhine State pushed more than 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh

     

    • Nearly one million Rohingya now live in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, including previous generations of refugees

     

    • In August 2018, a UN rights probe said top Myanmar military commanders should be investigated and prosecuted for genocide

     

    • Myanmar has denied almost all allegations of violence against the Rohingya

     

    • Aid groups say funding shortages are hampering humanitarian efforts in Bangladesh’s crowded refugee camps. As of September 2018, the aid sector’s nearly $1 billion appeal was one-third funded

     

    Prominent Bangladeshi NGOs say they lack the resources that could sustain and grow local aid expertise, their staff are often poached by big international aid groups, and they’ve been excluded from decision-making in an emergency unfolding on their own soil.

     

    However, as the Rohingya refugee crisis moves into its second year, local aid groups believe that international attention – and donor funding – will wane, and that the plethora of international organisations and staff that now dominate the response will inevitably shrink.

     

    “In the course of time, some day, there will be no aid, or reduced aid,” said Rezaul Chowdhury, the head of COAST, an NGO from Cox’s Bazar that has spearheaded efforts to even out a donor system it sees as lopsided in favour of the larger, international players.

     

    “The Rohingya will [still] be there. So why don't we take the responsibility for Rohingya from now on?"

    myanbang_closeup_duo.jpg

    Map of Myanmar and Bangladesh including Rohingya camps, the Rakhine state, as well as satellite damage zone per UNOSAT
    A military crackdown in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State pushed more than 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh after 25 August 2017. Satellite imagery shows suspected damage to Rohingya villages in Myanmar, and expanding refugee camps in Bangladesh.

    An unequal partnership

     

    Nearly 100 NGOs and UN agencies now operate in the camps – more than two thirds of them are international groups, such as the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, or its migration arm, IOM, the two lead aid agencies for the Rohingya response.

     

    Local aid officials here speak of a power imbalance in relationships with their international counterparts.

     

    ☰ Read more: Why the aid sector wants to go local

     

     

    The global humanitarian system is overstretched. In 2017, the UN asked for a record $22.2 billion to cover emergencies in 33 countries. But the funding gap continues to widen as the price tag soars.

     

    What is local aid?

     

    The global aid sector has broadly committed to an agenda to “localise” aid – putting more power in the hands of locals working on the ground where emergencies hit.

     

    Why local aid?

     

    The aim of of the “localisation” agenda is to improve humanitarian response by making it faster, less costly, and more in tune with the needs of the tens of millions of people who receive humanitarian aid each year. Local aid workers are closer to the ground, they have local knowledge and skills that international staff often lack, and they know the needs of their own communities.

     

    Who are local aid workers?

     

    Local humanitarian aid includes a broad spectrum of potential on-the-ground responders to crises and disasters: local NGOs, civil society groups and community leaders, indigenous peoples, local governments, as well as people who are themselves affected by crises, including refugees, host communities, and everyday volunteers.

     

    Sultan Mahmud, who leads Gonoshasthaya Kendra’s Rohingya programmes, says his group’s destroyed health clinic is a prime example.

     

    UNHCR is happy to help, in principle, but it wants Gonoshasthaya Kendra to also expand the clinic's services. Mahmud says his staff may not have the resources to do this, and the most immediate concern is maintaining the clinic so that it at least stays open.

     

    "They say there is partnership, but it is not equal partnership," Mahmud said.

     

    Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid funds have been pledged to help the refugees. But local aid organisations like Gonoshasthaya Kendra see only a trickle of this funding, which is largely filtered from international donors down through UN agencies and big international NGOs.

     

    Bangladeshi organisations have valuable local knowledge, but this imbalanced relationship has limited their contributions, says Smruti Patel, co-founder of the Global Mentoring Initiative, an organisation that studies the role local organisations play in humanitarian crises.

     

    She described the partnership between international and local NGOs as a “subcontracting” relationship – a characterisation commonly voiced by both Bangladeshi and foreign aid workers here.

     

    “[Local NGOs’] value is that they have access to communities, they are really connected, they know what the issues are,” she said. “But we don't value that.”

    “Everything is being decided for them, but nothing with them.”

    And just as Bangladeshi organisations are demanding a greater say over a crisis in their own country, the Rohingya refugees themselves are largely unable to participate in decisions that affect them – whether that’s humanitarian aid in the camps or the controversial prospect of eventual returns to Myanmar.

     

    Patel says Rohingya perspectives are sorely missing from the discussions.

     

    “There are so many issues where they should have a voice but they don’t and the Rohingya are not even present,” said Patel. “Everything is being decided for them, but nothing with them.”

     

    ☰ Read more: Who do Rohingya refugees prefer?

     

    August surveys with refugees by Ground Truth Solutions, a Vienna-based organisation that conducts research on people affected by crises, asked Rohingya refugees who they preferred to receive aid from. Few chose local aid groups; about 32 percent of respondents preferred international organisations, while 38 percent chose the Bangladeshi army – a ubiquitous presence throughout the camps. Roughly 12 percent said they preferred to receive aid from a combination of local and international groups.

     

    The question was part of broader research looking at how well humanitarian programmes are responding to refugee needs. The survey did not explore the reasons behind aid delivery preferences; researchers told IRIN the results suggest further study is needed.

     

    Making aid local

     

    Criticism of international dominance in the aid sector is not new. But last year’s Rohingya refugee crisis erupted a little over a year after dozens of the world’s largest donors and aid groups pledged to reform the aid sector, in part by putting more power in the hands of local aid workers, organisations, and governments to play a leading role in crises around the world.

     

    In Bangladesh, local aid leaders believed the Rohingya emergency would be an opportunity to implement these changes. A year later, they’re still waiting.

    rohingya-localaid-kaamilahmed-4.jpg

    Kaamil Ahmed/IRIN
    Rohingya women wait to be seen by a doctor at a clinic for pregnant women run by COAST, a local NGO.

    "We're still hoping for the best, but, truly speaking, it is not happening," said COAST’s Chowdhury, one of the most outspoken proponents of aid reform in Cox’s Bazar.

     

    A December 2017 briefing by the Humanitarian Advisory Group estimated that local NGOs had seen only four percent of total aid funds directed toward the crisis – far short of the aid sector’s global commitments to boost local funding to 25 percent.

     

    At the same time, only one local group has a leadership role in coordinating the various humanitarian sectors in the camps; out of 21 coordination positions, just one is held by a local NGO – Mukti, a Cox’s Bazar-based group that co-leads the food security sector.

     

    Luc Soenen, who coordinates water, sanitation, and shelter efforts in Asia for ECHO, the European Commission’s aid arm, says the humanitarian response during the Rohingya crisis has been “Western-led and oriented”.

     

    “It’s a shame,” he said. “All or most of the management of the response is by us. Local implementers… aren’t involved enough.”

     

    Major international donors direct the bulk of aid funds through UN agencies or big international groups – and ECHO is no exception. EU rules mean that ECHO is only allowed to directly contract organisations based in Europe, which rules out most local aid groups from the start.

     

    "It seems like when the money comes from abroad, we give ourselves the right to manage it, to decide about it," he said.

     

    ☰ Read more: Building local skills

     

     

    Building up local skills and expertise is a key part of the humanitarian sector’s broad push for reforms, but both foreign and local aid workers told IRIN the government has put up bureaucratic roadblocks.

     

    Aid groups say the government has unofficially advised NGOs to remove anything not directly related to the direct distribution of aid from their permit applications – including capacity building. This could have long-term impacts, the groups warned.

     

    “Without capacity-building investments through partnerships with local civil society, the quality of care provided and local leadership for a sustainable response is jeopardised,” the aid groups said in an advocacy paper last year.

     

    A July report by Refugees International said government restrictions on the work of NGOs – including onerous permit requirements – were endangering lives. The group said donors need to help build critical local skills as the crisis moves forward.

     

    Neither Bangladesh’s Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, which is in charge of the government’s Rohingya response, nor the foreign ministry responded to interview requests.

     

    At the same time, Bangladeshi NGOs have lost some of their best personnel, trained over years, because international agencies can pay high salaries that local groups can’t afford, according to Rezaul Chowdhury, director of the Cox’s Bazar-based NGO, COAST.

     

    "We recruit staff; this is a cost. We train staff; this is a cost. At the end, when the staff have been trained, the result is they are going to the INGOs or a UN organisation," said Chowdhury. "It is hampering the sustainable capacity of local organisations."

     

    Some in the aid community say progress has been made in redressing the imbalance, but argue that the intense pressure created by the scale of last year’s Rohingya influx means that helping local groups build up skills and take on more responsibilities has taken a back seat.

     

    Manuel Marques Pereira, the IOM’s emergency coordinator in Cox’s Bazar, said the organisation has helped train local groups on reducing disaster risks and upgrading shelters.

     

    “IOM believes that this empowerment process is vital, but it is a slow process,” Pereira said, adding that the IOM had directed more than $4.5 million towards other aid groups, mostly Bangladeshi NGOs, over the past year.

     

    A decades-long crisis

     

    Today, Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps are covered with the logos of donors and humanitarian groups: plastered onto the sides of clinics, makeshift schools, stockpiles of aid items, and boldly coloured signposts announcing donor-funded projects often miles away.

     

    But in the early days of last year’s Rohingya exodus, only a handful of international agencies were working in the camps. As thousands, then tens of thousands of refugees surged into Bangladesh, it was local responders – volunteers from nearby communities, local NGOs and civil society groups, and Bangladeshi authorities – who first rushed to help in large numbers.

    rohingya-localaid-kaamilahmed-1.jpg

    Kaamil Ahmed/IRIN
    Rohingya children wait out the monsoon rain in an abandoned medical clinic run by Bangladeshi health NGO Gonoshasthaya Kendra. The clinic was destroyed by a landslide in June.

    And for Bangladeshis here, the refugee inflow is not viewed as a temporary crisis, but as a long-term emergency that has played out over decades.

     

    "We're not only helping this time; we've helped since 1978," said Syed Saliheen, a local interpreter at a clinic for pregnant Rohingya women run by COAST, referring to a previous military crackdown in Myanmar that sent an estimated 200,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.

     

    "If we have only a little land and some tarpaulin, we give it to them for shelter,” he said. “Whatever we have, we give them. If we don't have it, we try to raise money. Whenever something happens to them, it’s us who have to help.”

     

    Locals like Saliheen still form the backbone of the response today. They are doctors, healthcare workers, teachers, social workers, interpreters – the local Chittagonian dialect spoken here is similar to the language spoken by the Rohingya.

     

    They view themselves as the common thread throughout multiple refugee influxes, and expect to remain linked to the Rohingya long after staff at international aid agencies have moved on.

     

    With the monsoon rain beating down on the roof, a Bangladeshi doctor in the clinic tries to communicate with a Rohingya patient. Unable to explain the medical terms, she turns to Saliheen.

     

    When he first started interpreting, Saliheen says he struggled with some of the terminology used in the clinic. The Rohingya word for pregnancy, hamil, came from Arabic rather than the Bengali dialect used in Cox's Bazar.

     

    "So I write the words down and talk to old Rohingya who know a bit of Bengali,” he says.

     

    The clinic had earlier been staffed by foreign doctors, but COAST soon hired its own staff – a situation made possible because of its local field workers and their language skills.

     

    "At the beginning, it was difficult for us, but now it's OK,” Saliheen says. “We've learned.”

     

    ka/il/ag

    In Bangladesh, grassroots groups feel overshadowed despite being the backbone of the massive aid effort
    Local aid groups want more of a say in the Rohingya refugee response
  • Stemming conflict, staying happy, and storms times two: The Cheat Sheet

    Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers our take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar:

     

    A dubious distinction

     

    Quick quiz question: In which country were the most people internally displaced in the first half of this year? Syria? Yemen? Congo? Wrong, wrong, wrong. The answer is Ethiopia, where less high-profile conflicts have been raging far from the media spotlight. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s mid-year report, 1.4 million Ethiopians were newly displaced between January and June. So what’s going on? Well, the two main areas of displacement are both in the south – one around the central zones of Gedeo and West Guji, the other farther east, where the country’s Somali and Oromia regions have been locked in a long border dispute. In both cases, inter-communal tensions are driven by competition over food, farmland, and other resources. But it’s not just about conflict, says IDMC Director Alexandra Bilak. As in other East African displacement hotspots like Somalia and Kenya, droughts and flooding linked to climate change also play their part, even if the science can get complicated.

     

    Don’t worry, be Paraguayan

     

    People in Paraguay and Colombia are the most upbeat, a new survey of citizens in 145 countries claims. Polling firm Gallup’s annual Global Emotions Report scores positive and negative feelings. The firm asked 154,000* people about laughter, respect, rest, and mental stimulation on one end of the spectrum, and about their stress, anger, sadness, physical pain, and worry on the other. The Central African Republic broke a depressing record: it scored the most negative feelings of any country in 10 years of surveys, while in 2017 Afghanistan won another unhappy medal: the least positive feelings. Three “meh” countries – in which a significant proportion didn’t report strong feelings one way or another – include a surprising entry: Yemen, along with Belarus and Azerbaijan. A note of caution: the Gallup poll doesn’t include some countries facing profound political and humanitarian problems, including Burundi, North Korea, Somalia, and Sudan.

     

    International justice in the spotlight

    A UN-mandated rights probe made waves last month when it accused senior Myanmar military commanders of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in last year’s violent purge of Rohingya civilians in Rakhine State. On Tuesday, 18 Sept., the UN Human Rights Council is scheduled to discuss the investigation’s final report. The rights probe is calling for Myanmar’s top generals to be investigated and prosecuted at the International Criminal Court – or by an independent tribunal. Separately this week, the United States threatened sanctions against the war crimes court if it proceeds with investigations involving citizens of the US or its allies – a direct response to the prospects of an ICC investigation of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, which could include examining actions taken by US forces. Like many foreign governments, the US has condemned violence against the Rohingya, and most rights groups see the ICC as the only avenue to international justice. Yet the US is now taking aim at the ICC for its actions on an unrelated issue. Could this affect the broader push for ICC investigations in Myanmar? Notably, the UN’s new human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, this week called for a separate “international mechanism” to preserve and analyse evidence of possible atrocity crimes in Myanmar, which would complement any future ICC investigation.

     

    Rebuilding Afghanistan

     

    The failure of US reconstruction efforts after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan is a big factor behind the country’s present-day instability. This week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US Congress-mandated watchdog, issued a scathing assessment of a $216-million USAID programme promoting gender equity in the country. Among its findings: only 55 women have benefitted from a key component meant to prepare women for jobs with the Afghan government. Read the report here. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is scheduled to present his quarterly update on Afghanistan before the Security Council on Monday, 17 Sept. The key humanitarian problems have made frequent appearances here on the Cheat Sheet. Guterres’s report will be the last before parliamentary elections scheduled for 20 Oct. Already this year dozens of election-related attacks have caused hundreds of civilian casualties.

    Storm watch:

    hurricane_florence_wide-angle.jpg

    A. Gerst/ESA/NASA
    Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station.

    Hurricane Florence weakened to a Category-1 storm as it made landfall in North and South Carolina on Friday, but lesser wind speeds don’t necessarily mean lesser damage. The storm itself is moving slowly, meaning it could crawl through the area and unleash heavy extended rainfall, as did last year’s destructive Hurricane Harvey. A study published this year in the science journal Nature found evidence that tropical storm “translation speeds” have slowed by 10 percent since 1949 – meaning they linger longer when they strike land.

     

    Typhoon Mangkhut is expected to hit the northern Philippine island of Luzon early on Saturday, 15 Sept., before veering on a path toward southern China and northern Vietnam. It’s the strongest storm to strike the Philippines this year; millions lie in its direct path and officials are bracing for heavy damages. Is it fair to compare media coverage of two separate disasters looming on either side of the globe? We attempted a tally of coverage on Hurricane Harvey and the South Asian floods last year.

     

    In case you missed it:

     

    GENEVA: A new report on food and nutrition says 672 million people (one in eight adults) are obese. About five percent of under fives are also overweight, says “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018”, a UN publication released last week. Of 821 million hungry people, 62 percent are in Asia. After years of steady decline, the number of hungry people is on the rise since 2014, both in terms of percentage and absolute numbers. This, the study says, is due to instability, “adverse climate events”, and economic slowdowns.

     

    KABUL: It’s not just war that uproots families in Afghanistan. This year, more people have been displaced by drought than conflict, according to UN tallies released this week. More than 275,000 Afghans have left their homes due to drought, compared to 220,000 pushed out by conflict. It’s indicative of Afghanistan’s complex displacement crisis, where IDPs, returned refugees, and victims of disaster all have overlapping humanitarian needs. Case in point: Our story this week from Iran, which threads a link between Iran’s plummeting economy, soaring deportations, and Afghanistan’s drought.

     

    LONDON: Dhananjayan (Danny) Sriskandarajah will be the new chief of Oxfam’s GB unit, replacing Mark Goldring later this year. He takes the helm as the veteran development agency navigates its recovery from sex abuse and safeguarding scandals that have rocked public trust in Oxfam and the sector as a whole. The Sri Lankan-born Briton was formerly based in South Africa as the head of CIVICUS, an international alliance of civil society organisations.

     

    PORT MORESBY: The polio outbreak in Papua New Guinea has reached the country’s capital, health officials have confirmed. We highlighted earlier transmissions last week. There have now been 12 confirmed polio cases this year. The World Health Organisation says the spread of polio to urban Port Moresby is “very worrisome”. PNG health authorities are planning emergency vaccinations in the capital beginning 24 Sept. The country was declared polio-free in 2000.

     

    The weekend read:

     

    US bans aid workers in Turkey-Syria scam

     

    Don’t skim off the world’s most needy and think you can get away with it. That’s certainly one of the morals of this story. Our weekend read reveals the scale of procurement fraud involving cross-border aid from Turkey intended for Syrian refugees, as exposed by a USAID probe that named 20 firms and individuals. As IRIN’s Ben Parker reports, the corruption ring appears to have involved several Turkish companies and staff at several international NGOs. The Irish NGO GOAL has taken a big hit over the scandal, which led to the resignations of several senior staff and major donor diffidence. A former logistics officer at the Irish charity comes in for the biggest censure: a 10-year ban from doing business with the US government. The former Turkey country director of another NGO, the International Rescue Committee, is one of nine individuals debarred for five years. And a wider probe is ongoing.

     

    And finally:

     

    See above. An amazing-looking segment on The Weather Channel is going viral (and making other TV stations envious). As Hurricane Florence hits the US, the “Immersive Mixed Reality” video effect shows what a nine-foot storm surge is like projected alongside a live presenter. The channel is working with a partner, The Future Group, to develop eye-popping special effects. The productions are based on technology platform Unreal Engine, used in movie production and video games such as Fortnite.

    (*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number polled as 145,000)

    bp-iw/ag

    Stemming conflict, staying happy, and storms times two
  • Iraq’s new blues, Lake Chad’s daily perils, and that G-word: The Cheat Sheet

    Every Friday, IRIN’s editorial team offers our take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

     

    On our radar:

     

    Iraq’s Basra blues

     

    A year ago Iraqi forces took back the country’s second city, Mosul, from so-called Islamic State. National elections in May passed off peacefully (even if turnout was low), and attacks and bombings have been punctuating daily life less frequently. In Baghdad, the proliferation of cafés, clubs, and bars is encouraging talk of a rebirth, even of the capital getting its groove back. So, is Iraq’s endless cycle of violence finally ending? It doesn’t look that way down south, in Basra. On Saturday the Iraqi parliament will meet in emergency session after imposing a curfew on the city to control protests in which nine demonstrators were killed since Tuesday – raising the toll since July to 26. Amnesty International has called for an investigation into an allegedly heavy-handed crackdown by the security forces. At issue is the delivery of basic public services – 30,000 people have been hospitalised after drinking polluted water – but a wider narrative is at play, too. Now that the “war” is over, the political class is under fire from angry citizens wondering when some of the billions of dollars of foreign investment promised to the oil-rich country might trickle down to them. Four months after the elections, efforts to forge a new government are beset by in-fighting and allegations of interference from Iran and the United States. So it’s 15 and a half years after the US-led invasion, and Iraq is still a long way from peace. The country, it seems, has a long road to recovery, as this longread from Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod suggests: Searching for Othman.

     

    Lake Chad’s protection gap

     

    Ever struggle to get to grips with the somewhat ambiguous humanitarian term, “protection”? The crisis in Africa’s Lake Chad region – propelled by armed conflict, climate change, and poverty – puts it in sharp focus. “One day they told me it was my turn to make a suicide attack,” Halima, a young Chadian woman whose husband had forced her to join the Boko Haram insurgency, said in a short film played to delegates at a donor conference in Berlin earlier this week. “When I asked them when, they said, ‘today’.” Halima survived the blast but lost both her legs. Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told conference attendees that insecurity, abductions, the forced use of children as human bombs, and gender-based violence were part of daily life in the region, which encompasses parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria and where more than 10 million people need life-saving assistance every day. “At the heart of this crisis, it is a crisis of protection,” he said. More than $2 billion was pledged at the conference towards humanitarian needs and long-term resilience, more than th $1.5 billion sought and three times the disappointing haul last year.

     

    Yemen consultations on hold

     

    They aren’t negotiations, and they’re not off to a brilliant start. A fresh phase of UN-brokered “consultations” between two key blocs in Yemen’s war was planned for mid-week in Geneva but haven’t got underway. On Wednesday afternoon, UN peace envoy Martin Griffiths told reporters he hoped the consultations, the first in two years, could offer a “flickering signal of hope” to Yemenis after years of war that have “driven so many Yemenis to despair”. The first steps, he said, could be “confidence-building” agreements – for example, agreeing to facilitate vaccinations or release prisoners. The talks were to feature the internationally recognised Gulf-backed government and the Houthi Ansarullah group. A non-partisan group of Yemeni women were to act as a “technical advisory group”, Griffiths said. On Friday, a spokesperson said Griffiths is “still working on getting the Ansarullah delegation to Geneva” – some reports say the group’s demand to evacuate wounded colleagues on the same flight was a sticking point.

     

    ICC Rohingya ruling hurdles jurisdiction roadblock

     

    It’s an unprecedented ruling that could have far-reaching implications for international justice. This week, the International Criminal Court ruled the court has jurisdiction to examine the alleged deportation of Rohingya civilians from Myanmar to Bangladesh. After months of inaction, the ruling opens a possible legal pathway to international accountability for violence committed during last year’s Rohingya refugee exodus. Our June deep dive on this issue is worth another read to explore why the case is so unusual (and what it may mean for international crimes elsewhere). Myanmar’s top generals are accused of genocide, but the ICC prosecutor’s legal examination hinges on a specific alleged crime: deportation. That may be a narrow focus given the scale of accusations, but the ICC ruling leaves the door open to examining other crimes – as long as some part of those crimes took place in Bangladesh, which is the basis of the deportation ruling.

     

     

    About the G-word

     

    “Crimes against humanity”, “war crimes”, or “genocide”? How to categorise the extreme violence enacted on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority has been a long-running debate. Last week a UN rights investigation trotted out the G-word, calling for Myanmar’s military commanders to be investigated for the crime of genocide – which, unlike the evocative term “ethnic cleansing”, is a specific crime under the Rome Statute. But time spent debating what to call the violence may further delay legal action. That’s the argument from Charles Petrie, a former UN official critical of the UN’s actions (or lack of) at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. Petrie writes in an op-ed this week in the Guardian: “However we refer to them, immense crimes have been and are being committed in Myanmar. It is time for the world to stop debating how to categorise them.”

     

     

    In case you missed it:

     

    North Korea: Severe flooding has killed 76 people and left just as many missing in the provinces of North and South Hwanghae. The Red Cross says recent heavy rainfall led to widespread floods and landslides that destroyed 800 homes and left thousands homeless.

     

    Papua New Guinea: Health authorities this week confirmed there have been nine cases of vaccine-derived polio so far this year – although the country was declared free of the virus in 2000. The World Health Organisation has said it is investigating at least 65 cases and warned that the risk in the country is “high”. The government has launched a nationwide immunisation campaign, but the country’s remote terrain and poor weather have posed a challenge.

     

    Burundi: Crimes against humanity may have taken place in Burundi, where abuses by state security forces continue, a UN panel reported this week. Their report, available only in French so far, says the judiciary lacks independence and raises particular alarm at the “regimentation” enforced by Imbonerakure militia, affiliated with the ruling party. The report includes first-person testimonies of torture and beatings.

     

    Japan: It has been a summer of disasters. This week, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck the northern island of Hokkaido, killing at least 16, and Typhoon Jebi, the strongest storm to hit the country in 25 years, caused widespread flooding. In July, hundreds died as extreme rainfall and a severe regional heatwave hit parts of the country.

     

     

    Weekend read:

    dana_amassagou_hunters_in_the_village_of_walia_edit.jpg

    Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN
    Convinced the state cannot protect them traditional Dogon hunters have decided to fill the void themselves, forming a new self-defence militia they call Dana Amassagou.

    “I have lost everything”: In central Mali, rising extremism stirs inter-communal conflict

     

    This Tuesday, Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, was sworn in for a second term after winning more than two thirds of the vote in the August run-off election. In a low-key ceremony, Keita promised to address the country’s deteriorating security. He will find this hard. Since 2012, the country’s north has been dominated by Tuareg rebels and loosely allied Islamist groups. Now, extremists linked to al-Qaeda have been recruiting Fulani herders in central Mali, sparking clashes between rival ethnic groups and presenting a fresh challenge to the stalled implementation of a 2015 peace accord. As attacks on polling day showed, the Mopti region is fast becoming the epicentre of this new unrest. Regular IRIN contributor Philip Kleinfeld travelled there to take a look. He discovered that dozens of villages have been burned down in recent months as Fulani pastoralists clash with largely sedentary Dogon, Bambara, and Songhai farming communities. In our weekend read, Kleinfeld chronicles this emerging crisis in central Mali, the part Islamist groups are playing, and the extent to which self-defence militias are fuelling broader conflict.

     

    And finally:

     

    Wealth vs. physical activity

     

    Exercise can help prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and some cancers, but 1.4 billion people aren’t getting enough, WHO researchers say. Those who get off the couch the least? Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. The most active? The less wealthy countries, led by Uganda and Mozambique. Men are more physically active than women in 95 percent of the countries surveyed. Read more at The Lancet.

     

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    Iraq’s new blues, Lake Chad’s daily perils, and that G-word

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