(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • WATCH LIVE: The future of the UN's agency for Palestine refugees

    Join us at the Graduate Institute in Geneva or through a livestream via the link below on Tuesday, 29 January at 18.30 CET.

    IRIN Director Heba Aly will be in discussion with Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).

    Watch on YouTube

    WATCH LIVE: The future of the UN's agency for Palestine refugees
  • No way back: New law adds pressure on asylum seekers in Italy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

    No way back: New law adds pressure on asylum seekers in Italy
  • Reporter’s View: Stefanie Glinski on covering South Sudan’s civil war

    As the conflict in South Sudan approaches the five-year mark, what it’s like for the journalists covering it? What is an average day like, and what are the complexities that make it so hard to understand?

    Stefanie Glinski spent a year-and-a-half living in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, reporting on the conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions.


    “What’s fascinating about [reporting on] neglected conflicts is that you get a unique insight into people’s lives,” she tells IRIN’s Whitney Patterson. “As a journalist, for me, it’s important to step into these contexts and kind of give these people a voice and make sure their stories get heard, because they might not be able to tell those stories again."


    In this video Q&A, Stefanie tells us about the dangerous situations she has faced as a journalist in South Sudan, the remarkable stories that will stay with her, and the one thing she hopes people take from her reporting.


    Read more of her work for IRIN.


    Reporter’s View is an occasional series featuring tales and tidbits from correspondents’ on-the-ground reporting.


    Reporter’s View: Stefanie Glinski on covering South Sudan’s civil war
    “We always say that South Sudan is okay, until it’s not”
  • Meet India’s frontline local responders: the fishermen of Kerala

    The worst flooding in nearly a century swept across India’s Kerala State in August, killing more than 500 people and uprooting 1.8 million. Had it not been for hundreds of local fishermen, who drove their boats inland to rescue residents besieged by floods, the death toll would likely have spiked higher, government officials say.


    It makes sense for local communities to be on the front lines of local disaster response, several of those fishermen tell photojournalist Shawn Sebastian in this video, “Kerala’s Rescue Fishermen”. Sebastian spent time with them after documenting the devastation caused by the August floods: nearly 24,000 damaged homes, extensive contamination of water sources and destroyed croplands, and a recovery process that could take months or even years.


    Disaster management experts say residents such as the fishermen are key to boosting local preparedness for the next disaster. Kerala, like other coastal parts of India, is at risk of tropical cyclones and flooding, and climate change will make extreme weather more commonplace and unpredictable.


    ☰ 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 33 emergencies around the world. 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, they can often access areas that international aid groups can’t reach, 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 leaders, indigenous peoples, local governments, faith groups, as well as people who are themselves affected by crises. The global aid sector is also beginning to recognise the importance of so-called “informal” humanitarians, including the everyday volunteers that are the first to respond to emergencies in their own communities.


    The government has drafted guidelines on how to place local communities at the heart of disaster response, though Santosh Kumar, a professor at the National Institute of Disaster Management in New Delhi, says such plans are not yet in place in most states, including Kerala. The guidelines outline roles in disaster response for everyone from fishermen to religious groups, rural child care centres, and even veterinarians.


    During the August floods, Kerala’s fishermen were able to complement official rescue efforts because they knew the lay of the land and the local language, Kumar says. They pushed into isolated areas, dove into submerged homes, and transported stranded residents to higher ground.


    “We can deal with any situation at sea,” one fisherman tells Sebastian. Even so, the floods were especially tricky: “We had never seen currents as strong as this.”


    Hear more from them on the August rescue missions and why they believe they can play a greater role in preparing for the next emergency:


    Meet India’s frontline local responders: the fishermen of Kerala
  • Reporter’s View: Susan Schulman on the push and pull of migration in Sierra Leone

    What drives migrants to leave their homes and loved ones? What do they find when they return?

    These questions motivated reporter Susan Schulman to visit Sierra Leone, where she spoke with people who had returned home penniless after failed attempts to reach Europe only to find themselves ostracised by their families and former communities.


    Hear what drives Schulman, in the interview above, and read her full story, part of our Destination Europe series that explores the choices and challenges faced by hundreds of thousands of migrants who follow dreams of life in Europe.

    Reporter’s View: Susan Schulman on the push and pull of migration in Sierra Leone
    "They were rejected by families in part because of just shame."
  • Reporter’s View: Philip Kleinfeld on the urgency of covering the Central African Republic

    What compelled freelance journalist Philip Kleinfeld to spend five weeks reporting for IRIN on the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, embedding on dangerous operations? What drives him to seek out conflicts overlooked by many media organisations and to report stories few others bother to cover?


    IRIN’s Whitney Patterson grabbed Kleinfeld in London after he returned from CAR for a quick video Q&A to get answers to those questions, and others: Why does he feel the tough stories like those in his series from CAR (he’s also reported for IRIN from various regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Congo-Brazzaville) are his responsibility? And why is being shot at like singing the national anthem?


    Read his series from CAR, which looks at UN operations in one of the world’s least understood conflicts, how the splintering of armed groups is hobbling humanitarian efforts, and the rape victims left to fend for themselves long after initial revelations of their abuse by peacekeepers has faded.

    Reporter’s View is an occasional series featuring tales and tidbits from correspondents’ on-the-ground reporting.

    Reporter’s View: Philip Kleinfeld on the “urgency” of covering the Central African Republic
    “It may be their only chance to talk to a journalist”
  • Films from the climate change front line

    Seven in 10 of Kenya’s rural population makes a living from agriculture, mostly on small plots. In a good year, subsistence farmers harvest enough to feed themselves and their families, with perhaps a little surplus to sell at market.

    But like farmers across Africa, those in Kenya are particularly vulnerable to climate change. This is largely because almost all of them depend on rainfall to water their crops, and rainy seasons are becoming shorter and less regular. Rains were especially sparse towards the end of 2016 and in early 2017, leading to a prolonged drought this year. The number of people classed as food insecure, meaning they no longer have constant, reliable access to the right kind of food needed to live a healthy life, has doubled.

    Faced with forces beyond their control, those working the soil to make a living have had no choice but to change the way they farm.

    These four films show the different ways Kenyan farmers are adapting to the realities of climate change.


    Turning the sun from foe to friend

    One major effect of climate change is rising temperatures. Too much heat can be damaging to crops, especially when water is scarce and rainfall becomes less predictable. And when a harvest is all farmers have to make ends meet, a low yield can spell disaster, literally taking food off the family dinner table. As Lucia Ngao in Machakos County discovered, poor national infrastructure can make the most obvious solutions impracticable. But, with a little ingenuity and a modest investment, fortunes can be turned around by making a friend of what was once a foe: the scorching sun.

    Information to the rescue

    Unpredictable weather not only makes it harder to know when to sow seeds, but it can also complicate post-harvest processing, particularly when this involves drying crops. When the difference between profit and loss depends on sunshine, an accurate forecast is essential. In Kenya, which boasts one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates on the continent, it is easy as Rahema Madaga explains in this film, to access such valuable information with the touch of a handset.

    Seeds of success

    As Frederic Ondayo discovered on his farm in the western county of Siaya, extremely dry weather can wipe out entire crops if one plants seeds that can’t handle the harsh weather. In Ondayo’s case, a whole field of tomatoes wilted under the scorching sun. He has since made a few simple changes to increase his chances of turning a profit, and suggests several ways farmers across the country could be helped to cope with the burdens of climate change.

    The many blessing of trees

    Planting trees together with agricultural crops – a practice known as agroforestry ­­– offers many benefits to farmers who adopt it, especially in zones affected by decreasing rainfall. Trees provide shade, improve the water retention of soil, and deliver a range of sellable products such as fruit, nuts, and firewood. What’s more, since trees absorb CO2, they help to mitigate global warming. Despite all these advantages, and the rampant deforestation all around them, farmers on the edge of the Mau Forest in Bomet County took some persuading before agreeing to take action.


    How Kenyan farmers are adapting
    Films from the climate change front line
    Part of a special project that explores the impact of climate change on the food security and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe
  • Unwelcome stranger: An African asylum seeker in Israel

    This short documentary tells the story of Anwar, a Sudanese anti-government activist who fled his home in Darfur in 2003.

    As many as 300,000 people have fallen victim there to government-led ethnic cleansing and violence by rebel groups. Anwar survived and eventually sought haven in Israel, but it's not been an easy journey. His experiences, especially of detention and injustice, are telling and this film offers a rare window into the difficult and uncertain lives many African asylum seekers face today in Israel.


    African asylum seekers began crossing Israel's border with the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula more than a decade ago, many having survived human smugglers and harsh desert conditions.

    At first, some of the arrivals – who now number around 40,000 and are mostly from Sudan and Eritrea – were granted temporary residency. But even though Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention (and once took in several hundred Vietnamese “boat people” in the late 1970s), it has only ever granted refugee status to nine Africans.

    As the numbers of asylum seekers have grown, so tensions have heated up in South Tel Aviv, where many Africans live side-by-side with Israelis.

    In 2013, the Israeli government passed a law that deemed the Africans “infiltrators” and allowed them to be imprisoned in a desert detention facility, where they were first kept indefinitely, then for a 20-month maximum, and now for up to a year at a time.

    It has also attempted to send asylum seekers to African countries that are not their homes, including Rwanda and Uganda. Some who were shipped back have reportedly been pressured to leave those countries, and fled to Europe. A few were killed by so-called Islamic State or drowned in the Mediterranean.

    The asylum seekers have their supporters inside Israel. It’s not lost on some Israelis that many of the country's first citizens were survivors of genocide in World War II. Of course, the creation of Israel also kicked off the Palestinians' own refugee crisis – and politicians often refer to the "demographic threat" the Palestinians, both citizens of Israel and those in the occupied territories, pose to the country that defines itself as a Jewish state. Like the Palestinians, many of the African asylum seekers are Muslim.

    Recently, Israel said it would grant 200 people from Darfur a status that would allow them to work and give them other rights. But it’s not clear how these people were selected out of the approximately 8,000 people who fled Sudan for Israel.

    The years of limbo have taken their toll on Anwar. The political activist has had short-term visas, spent time in detention, and pleaded his case in court. He's made friends in Israel, even speaks the language, but still hasn't found stability or the protections the word refugee is supposed to afford.


    Unwelcome stranger: An African asylum seeker in Israel
  • Damned if you fish, damned if you don’t: No good choices on Lake Victoria

    Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, has been affected by years of mismanagement, environmental changes, and a burgeoning population. Desperate families use illegal nets and poison to catch fish, piracy is on the rise, and alcoholism is rife. As fish stocks dwindle, more and more families struggle to make ends meet.

    Some fishermen still venture out onto the overfished waters. Among them is Juma Otieno, a Kenyan with no land to farm. In order to make a living, he travels in search of Nile perch to the island of Migingo, ownership of which is contested by Kenya and Uganda. Over the seven years he’s been working there, he’s become increasingly worried he’ll soon have no means of making an income.

    On the other side of the lake, on Uganda’s Ssese Island, Joseph Kibelu has long given up fishing and is now producing palm oil. His trees produce good fruit, he harvests and sells regularly, and he’s now able to educate his children. However, the destruction of the island’s natural forests to make way for palms has altered weather patterns and the seasons have become less predictable. Compounding this is the poor soil that demands a lot of fertiliser; something he knows can have a direct and fatal effect on the fish-breeding grounds that surround the islands.

    Threats to communities that traditionally depend on fishing are also explored in this multimedia story about Kenya's Lake Turkana. 

    No good choices on Lake Victoria

    Benj Binks
    Fishing on Lake Victoria
    No good choices on Lake Victoria
  • Welcome to refugee purgatory on the Hungary border

    Thousands of migrants and refugees trying to reach northern Europe have become trapped in Serbia since neighbouring countries sealed their borders in early 2016. After months of living in squalid conditions in abandoned buildings or overcrowded reception centres, many attempt to cross into Hungary. Few succeed.

    Filmmaker Jaime Alekos spent two months earlier this year interviewing dozens of migrants, many of them unaccompanied minors, who described being caught near the border by Hungarian police, beaten brutally, and forced back into Serbia. Their accounts are consistent with reports from Médecins Sans Frontières teams working in Serbia who regularly treat migrants for injuries inflicted by Hungarian border patrols. The abuse and pushbacks appear to be systematic and ongoing. This atmospheric film captures the migrants’ testimonies as well as their grim living conditions in Serbia.

    Welcome to refugee purgatory on the Hungary border

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