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Top Picks: What Syrians want, Africa's declining conflicts, and refugee deterrence policies

Destroyed apartment buildings Tom Westcott/IRIN

Welcome to IRIN's weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.

Six to read:

What Syrians want

Public opinion polling in Syria, a country where the president regularly takes upwards of 90 percent of the vote, has never been easy. And, after five years of war, it’s the loudest voices we often pay attention to. A survey of 2,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, summarised in Foreign Affairs by Columbia University's Daniel Corstange, offers a rare scientific alternative, certainly as a sample of the approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

A few key takeaways: just over half the refugees support the opposition, but a substantial portion (40 percent) backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Opposition supporters who back Islamist factions are barely more religious than those who prefer nationalist rebels.  As has been long thought, opposition supporters are found to be poorer and more poorly educated than those who side with the regime, but there is not an overwhelming demand for a religious state. Finally, those who back nationalist opposition groups are 50 percent more politically engaged than their peers who back al-Assad. There's a lot of useful information packed into this short piece, so best to check out the numbers for yourself.

Get in while you can

You read it first here of course, but in this blog LSE alumnus Charles Mulingi explores the migratory flow of Ethiopians along the southern route to South Africa and finds it’s a far higher number than those attempting the journey to Europe. The majority of those who choose the southern route (and not the westward alternative through Sudan and Libya to Europe) do so due to cost, convenience, safety, and the presence of relatives and friends in transit countries and South Africa. But proposed new measures contained in South Africa’s Green Paper on International Migration will make life much harder for migrants and asylum seekers.

They include a “safe third country” principle that will deny asylum to those who have transited through one or more countries considered to be “safe”. The proposed measures also seek to introduce asylum processing centers near the borders where all migrants will stay pending the determination of their claims. During this period, migrants will be denied automatic right to work or study. South Africa seems to be modelling its response on the European model. It’s likely to be a domestic vote-winner for the government.

The ‘ripple effect’ of refugee deterrence policies

When Australia began pursuing its policy of deterring refugees from reaching its shores by turning back boats and transferring asylum seekers to offshore processing centres, it weathered criticism from the international community but no real sanctions. Instead, some European countries began viewing ‘the Australian model’ as something perhaps to be emulated, particularly in the context of the unprecedented movement of asylum seekers to the EU in 2015. Over the last year, we’ve seen more and more EU member states taking measures to deter asylum seekers. We’ve also seen the extent that both Australia and the EU are willing to pay origin and transit countries to make sure asylum seekers don’t reach their borders. This new working paper and policy brief from the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group warns that when rich countries implement deterrence policies, they create ‘ripple effects’ in lower-income countries. Using Indonesia, Kenya, and Jordan as case studies, the authors find evidence of increasing restrictions for refugees in numerous lower- and middle-income countries. While such policies are often the result of domestic pressures, the interviews also make clear the extent that developed countries set an ‘example’ to the rest of the world. The result: “a clear trend in the erosion of refugee protection on a global scale”. Ending on a slightly more upbeat note, the authors argue that the trend is not irreversible.

The coming peace – Africa’s declining conflicts

The idea of Africa as a war-ravaged continent is outdated. In the 21st century, the amount of warfare in Africa has declined dramatically, and today most Africans are more secure than ever. Troubled areas remain, but the larger picture of receding conflict “has implications for how we think about African security needs”, notes this article for Sustainable Security.

For a start it means support to the African Union to improve peacekeeping and conflict resolution capabilities. Arms embargoes against combatants and trade restrictions in conflict minerals would also help, as well as, presumably, greater control of the related financial flows. And, most importantly of all, the world should “try not to create new ground for conflict”, such as in Libya.

Where it’s not working so well

Peace talks between the Sudanese government and the umbrella opposition group, Sudan Call, were supposed to commence this month, but are looking extremely shaky. On the Blue Nile conflict, the stumbling block is access points for humanitarian aid to war-affected areas, says Nuba Reports. Khartoum has refused any relief emanating from outside the country. Conversely the rebel SPLM-N has opposed all aid originating from Sudan, fearing the government would manipulate aid deliveries. On the Darfur conflict it’s more complicated, made worse by the rebel groups distrusting African Union mediator and former South African president Thabo Mbeki. Making peace stick is hard work.

The struggle to talk peace in southern Thailand

In the wake of bombings in seven tourist towns in southern Thailand, compounded by an ambush today that killed three police officers, the International Crisis Group offers this briefing on one of the world’s least understood insurgencies. The first point ICG makes is that the bombings show a change of tactics: they took place outside the “customary conflict zones in the deep south”, which indicates “the government’s approach of containing the insurgency is not working”. Thailand’s previous government, which was overthrown by the coup leaders who now run the country, set up the beginnings of peace talks with the insurgents, who are fighting for a separate state for ethnic Malay Muslims. The Malays form a majority in the south but make up a small minority overall in the predominantly Buddhist country. The ruling junta has continued the process but made moves that undermine it at the same time, while talks “are also hindered by the militants’ disunity and parochialism”. ICG suggests that a “decentralised political system could help resolve the conflict by giving respect to Malay-Muslim identity and aspirations while preserving the unitary state”. It’s a worthy goal, but one that seems out of reach at the moment.

For more on the conflict, see IRIN’s special report.

One from IRIN:

Syrian evacuations break the will to resist

The conflict in Syria appears to have reached a tipping point. As the latest attempt by the United States to hold together a fragile ceasefire collapses in recriminations, error and chaos, more bombs than ever are falling on the ruined city of Aleppo and the calculus of President Bashar al-Assad and his allies is clear: win and maintain power at any cost. IRIN contributor Tom Rollins took a hard look this week at the brutal tactics that are turning the tide in this war. Besiege the town, starve the rebels, evacuate it once they surrender: this was the chain of events in Daraya and the concern is that Assad’s forces are now looking to roll out this template across the country – next door in Moadamiyeh, in Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, in Homs, one day even in Aleppo. “It’s sectarian cleansing in the sense of re-engineering,” Syria expert and University of Edinburgh senior lecturer Thomas Pierret tells Rollins. “It’s basically the Syrian regime deciding that certain communities should live in certain places because they are now more easily controllable when they live there… a strategy of concentration.” Taking it a stage further, the issue becomes: is this a breach of international humanitarian law, are war crimes being perpetrated here? Perhaps we’ll look at that next.


Coming up:

“A Missing Link? Diaspora’s Place in an Enhanced International Humanitarian System” – Monday, 3 October – Copenhagen

There is very little information about the role of the diaspora in humanitarian response – beyond the flow of remittances. A research project called DEMAC, the Diaspora Emergency Action and Coordination, aims to change that. Case studies by Afford, the Danish Refugee Council, and the Berghof Foundation focused on the Sierra Leonean diaspora’s response to the Ebola crisis, the Somali response to the crisis in Somalia, and the response of Syrians in Germany, Turkey, and Lebanon to the five-year civil war in their home country. In addition to examining the diaspora’s role, the researchers assessed perceptions among the aid community of diaspora efforts. Their final report tries to dispel misperceptions that such efforts are small-scale, and often inefficient or badly targeted. Often, diaspora humanitarianism goes beyond family ties and targets the most vulnerable communities, regardless of ethnicity or religion, and focuses on educational efforts as well as providing medical support, food security and advocacy. These findings, opening opportunities for humanitarian collaboration and coordination, will be disseminated at a conference in Copenhagen on 3 October, where IRIN Director Heba Aly will moderate a panel discussion.

For more information and to register for the conference, click here.


(TOP PHOTO: Most Syrians left in Aleppo are too poor to leave and live in the carcasses of apartment blocks. Tom Westcott/IRIN)

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