(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

IRIN's Top Picks: Integrating refugees, auditing Afghanistan, and Zika

In April 2015, four year-old son Saif and his mother Muntaher finally came home to Husseini, in the northern Diyala region of Iraq, after being displaced. The home was largely destroyed
Chloe Cornish/IRIN

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.


Four to read:

How to integrate refugees

In 2015, Europe was in crisis mode as more than one million migrants and refugees arrived in Italy and Greece. Most made their way to northern Europe, hoping to find not just safety from war and persecution, but a place to call home and begin new lives. With many more arrivals expected this year, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration are urging European countries to start rapidly scaling up their integration programmes.

How helpful then that the OECD, which groups advanced economies around the world, has just published a report detailing best practice. “Making Integration Work” is divided into 10 lessons or instructions for policymakers: from helping refugees enter the labour market, to ensuring access to language programmes and adapting initiatives to reflect their diverse needs and skills. It does make it all sound a bit easy. It won’t be.

The crushing of civil society

No need to read all 659 pages of Human Rights Watch’s annual review to get the picture. 2015 was a difficult year for efforts to defend the rights of people around the world. Thanks to a handy online browser, you can zoom in to your country of choice instead of wading through the endless litany of abuse.

In an introductory essay, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth hits on two themes that concern him most: the “Politics of Fear” and the “Crushing of Civil Society”.

“In Europe and the United States, a polarising us-versus-them rhetoric has moved from the political fringe to the mainstream,” he warns. “Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonising of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance.”

Roth’s second trend is less visible but potentially just as worrisome: authoritarian governments increasing their choke-hold on civil society. By depriving groups of funding from abroad and restricting their actions through internal regulation, regimes – from China and Russia to Burundi and Venezuela – are countering social media and finding new ways to monopolise power.

For those who can get to Amsterdam, Roth will be reflecting on the findings of the report on Saturday, as part of a Human Rights Weekend, with film screenings and master classes on everything from fragile states to the refugee crisis, all open to the public.

The civilian toll in Iraq

We hear an awful lot about the war in Syria, or the Syria peace talks, less so about Iraq. This UN report is therefore very timely. In 35 grim pages, it systematically catalogues the multitude of ways Iraq’s conflict has impacted civilians. “The violence against civilians remains staggering,” it concludes, and the types of incidents Iraqis have been forced to endure is disturbing: displacement, killings and abductions, sexual violence, and destruction of property are just some of the categories included. The so-called Islamic State is singled out for committing acts that the UN says may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide, but Iraqi government forces and its allies aren’t spared either. Last year, between 1 May and 31 October alone, the UN recorded 18,802 civilian deaths as a result of the conflict. But – another sign of the scale of the violence – it believes the real number of casualties is far higher than they’ve been able to count.

Auditing Afghanistan

The United States has invested more than $100 billion in Afghanistan
since its invasion at the end of 2001. Yes, you read that right: it’s
actually $109.7 billion to be precise. That’s more than the US spent on
the Marshall Pan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War. Yet,
Afghanistan after 14 years of aid looks nothing like reconstructed West
Germany in 1963. So, where did all that money go? Was it wasted? Could
some of it possibly have been stolen? That’s what the Special Inspector
General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is trying to figure out. SIGAR
has been auditing US aid progammes and uncovering some shocking results.
Its latest quarterly report to Congress was released today and contains
an insightful essay on Afghanistan’s economy, which as you may have
guessed, is a bit of a mess. Growth rates have shrunk from 14.4 percent
in 2012 to 1.3 percent in 2014. This, despite billions poured into
programmes aimed specifically at economic development.

Two on Burundi (one to listen to, then one to read):

AU not ready to deploy troops to Burundi

Africa is playing a much more assertive role in settling its own disputes, but resolving the crisis in Burundi at this precise moment may be one step too far. African heads of state have gathered in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for the 26th annual African Union summit. The sending of 5,000 peacekeepers to end the political violence in Burundi is on the agenda. The AU’s Peace and Security Council authorised the deployment last month. But seeing as the Burundian government has opposed it, likening it to an “invasion”, two-thirds of AU members need to authorise the intervention. It would also require a final green light from the UN Security Council. Neither of those scenarios are likely, and Jakkie Cilliers of the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies explains why.

Stopping the spiral in Burundi

Much has been written about the threat of genocidal violence in Burundi. In this thoughtful analysis, Paul Nantulya provides a useful overview on the escalation of the tit-for-tat killings between the government and an armed opposition. He makes the important point that so far Burundians have rejected ethnic-based incitement (despite chilling comments by government officials). But, he is concerned that the rate of killings may “overwhelm community resiliencies”. That’s why a mediator with more vim and commitment than Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is urgently needed to thrash out a political settlement, which could then be supported by peacekeepers. Nantulya argues that the African Union’s conflict resolution capacity is also under examination in this crisis.

One from IRIN:

Should airdrops be tried to save starving Syrians?

Since Madaya forced the plight of the anywhere between 400,000 and two million Syrians living under siege onto the international stage, voices calling for airdrops to save starving civilians have only become louder. Governments and UN agencies say it can't be done effectively. But is it that simple? IRIN’s Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod examines the pros and cons, the possibilities and the impossibilities. If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is running aid planes to his loyalists, and the Russians are airdropping supplies to a besieged city, why can’t the Americans, or the French, or the British?

One to listen to:

The coming Zika crisis

We know the Zika virus is spreading rapidly throughout Latin America. Twenty-three countries have already recorded infections and the World Health Organization has warned that outbreaks are likely in every country where the mosquito that carries the virus is present. But there is still much that we don’t know about this mysterious tropical disease and the public health implications – if it is proven beyond a doubt that pregnant women who become infected with the virus are more likely to give birth to children with serious birth defects. Global Dispatches has recorded a podcast of an interview with one of the leading experts in tropical disease – Doctor Peter Hotez of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He outlines its dramatic spread in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent months, noting that its arrival in poverty-stricken countries like Haiti, where a small number of cases have already been reported, could be particularly catastrophic. While we will not know to what extent the Zika virus causes congenital conditions like microcephaly for another nine months, he recommends learning the lessons of the Ebola virus and immediately implementing public health preparedness measures.

One to look at:

Reimagining design after disasters

Natural disasters are by their very nature, well, disastrous. But can they also provide an opportunity to improve the way we live? An exhibition that opened this week at the Institute of British Architects in London, called Creation from catastrophe: How architecture rebuilds communities, looks at the history of post-disaster reconstruction from the 17th century to the present. It incorporates photographs, architectural drawings and scale models to showcase innovative buildings being used in countries today, like floating schools in Nigeria and “half-built homes” in Chile.

Coming next:

Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week
, Geneva, 1-4 February

With countless networking events in the humanitarian world, we can’t blame you for thinking: what will yet another conference accomplish? But HNPW is unique in that it brings together specific technical networks, like INSARAG (which sets standards for urban search and rescue), UNDAC (which coordinates rapid response teams in the first phase of a disaster), GDACS (which collates and distributes maps, satellite imagery and other real-time information tools to analyze disasters) and UN-CMCOORD (a platform where humanitarians and militaries can coordinate their responses to a disaster). This year, a new network is being introduced that we’re particularly interested in. The concept of H2H (humanitarian to humanitarian) was born in a blog post late last year and is picking up steam. H2H emulates B2B in the private sector: humanitarian organisations that provide services to other humanitarian organisations rather than directly to those affected by crises (IRIN considers itself one of them). “The good news is that we actually already have a vibrant innovative ecosystem of [H2H] actors who are re-engineering the way the system works,” writes Lars Peter Nissen, director of ACAPS, another H2H organisation. “Unfortunately, this ecosystem is all but invisible in mainstream humanitarian dialogue.” An HNPW session on 3 February seeks to change that. Our Managing Editor Heba Aly will also be speaking on Day 2 about how humanitarian responders can better engage with communities affected by crises. See the full programme here.


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