Preserving Yemen's lifeline, tracking illicit arms flows, and how to fix the refugee system: The cheat sheet

(Marco Frattini/WFP)

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors looks ahead at what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

All eyes on Yemen’s port

Late last month, we took you inside four extreme hunger crises, including the one facing Yemen.  One of the biggest challenges facing humanitarians there is the impact that airstrikes have had on Hodeida port, the entry point for 70 percent of the country’s imports. Amidst reports that the US is considering increasing its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which is planning an operation to push Houthis from the area, aid agencies are now speaking out about the growing threat of an escalation in fighting and further airstrikes on the crucial port. The UN’s Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said he is “extremely concerned” about the possibility of military action at Hodeida while the International Rescue Committee said that “any disruption of these port facilities would have a catastrophic impact on the people of Yemen”. On Tuesday, the UN Country Team in Yemen released its own statement, noting that there is “no viable substitute” for Hodeida as a lifeline for humanitarian imports. Contingency plans are already being drawn up in case the port is bombed, but none of them are terribly promising. The only way into Yemen for humanitarian convoys may be via Oman. There’s plenty of behind the scenes wrangling to stop an offensive or strike in its tracks, but nothing’s certain. If you care about Yemen, keep your eyes on Hodeida.

Join the dots on illicit arms flows

It’s widely recognized now that illicit weapons flows are a key driver of modern armed conflict that undermine security and development. Sustainable Development Goal 16, which focuses on promoting peaceful societies, calls for a significant reduction in illicit arms flows by 2030. But by their very nature, weapons and ammunition that move around the world outside of legal channels are difficult to quantify and if it’s hard to know how many there are out there, it will be a challenge to establish that any reduction has taken place 13 years from now. Not impossible though, as the first in a series of podcasts by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey explains. According to the experts featured, plenty of important data can be gleaned from weapons collected from battlefields, while field research by sanctions-monitoring groups is also very valuable. But while it’s easy enough to identify where a weapon was made, it’s more difficult to determine exactly how particular weapons reached their end users.  One shortcoming of current monitoring schemes – by peacekeeping missions, for example, is their narrow focus. “If you want to understand what is happening with weapons flows into say Cote d’Ivoire or Mali, you can’t just focus on Cote d’Ivoire and Mali because there are weapons and ammunition going in from Libya, from Sudan… You really need a regional approach,” says James Bevan of Conflict Armament Research. Future podcasts in the series will examine illicit arms in non-conflict situations and discuss the component of SDG 16 that sets out how the reduction of illicit arms flows can be measured.

Understanding climate change and migration 

If you’re in the UK and interested in the “complex relationship between climate change and migration”, this one-day course may be for you. Organised by the Climate and Migration Coalition, the course will look at issues including: the science of climate change and the types of displacement it may cause, the evidence for any link between climate change and conflict, and controversies about how to respond to the crisis. The organisers promise to provide the latest data, as well as legal analysis, with an eye to predicting “who might move and where”. As IRIN recently reported, the nexus of climate change, displacement and security will only become clearer in the coming decades.  

A crimes against humanity investigation that Myanmar doesn’t want

On 24 March, the UN Human Rights Council approved a “fact finding mission” to look into abuses allegedly committed by Myanmar’s military against Rohingya civilians, including rapes and murders. Myanmar’s military chief and its civilian leader, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, immediately went on the offensive, rejecting the investigation. In a rare interview this week, Aung San Suu Kyi told the BBC there is no ethnic cleansing – a claim that seems to fly in the face of all evidence. Given such public statements, it’s highly unlikely that Myanmar will allow UN investigators into alleged crime scenes inside the country. But, as IRIN reported this week, the UN is going ahead with putting together a team anyway. The question now is: what exactly will the team do if its members are barred from performing investigations in Myanmar? In the next couple weeks, we are likely to see some diplomatic manoeuvring as the UN and some member states negotiate the fine line between respecting Myanmar’s sovereignty while being seen to be doing something in response to serious allegations that its forces have committed crimes against humanity.

Fixing the refugee system

If the so-called refugee crisis that reached Europe’s shores in 2015 taught us one thing, it’s that the system set up to provide protection to refugees in the wake of the Second World War is broken and those forced to take increasingly risky journeys in search of safety are paying the price. But debates about how that system might be fixed have become increasingly politicised and polarised. Into the fray, comes a new book, by two Oxford professors, Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, which sets out the problems and boldly offers solutions. One of the basic premises of Refuge: Transforming a broken refugee system, is that the best way to help refugees is to massively increase development aid to the developing countries where most of them are being hosted. Not only is it cheaper to look after refugees in these countries, argue Betts and Collier, but aid can be used as leverage to convince host countries to stop warehousing refugees in camps and allow them to enter the labour market. But many of the book’s suggestions are being challenged by others in the refugee sector. Heaven Crawley of Coventry University argues in Nature magazine that they are not grounded in the complex political and economic realities that host countries and refugees face. In particular she takes issue with the book’s idea that special economic zones, like those set up in Jordan and bank-rolled by the EU and the World Bank to create jobs for Syrian refugees, represent part of the solution. A recent IRIN article found that, so far, SEZs have provided very few jobs for refugees in Jordan, while Crawley argues that refugees are not only looking for employment, but also for security and access to health care and education.

Did you miss it?

Unintended consequences of advocacy campaigns

A 2010 law requiring US companies to ensure that minerals bought from the Democratic Republic weren’t indirectly financing armed groups seemed like a simple enough solution for cutting off funding for the country’s deadly conflicts. Advocacy groups that had been highlighting links between mining riches and atrocities carried out by warring parties welcomed the law. But as Emmanuel Freudenthal points out in this article for IRIN, those same groups were less keen to report on the law’s devastating impact on artisanal miners in North and South Kivu Provinces who lost their livelihoods more or less overnight. With no way of ensuring that minerals they bought from the area weren’t funding conflict, many US companies simply stopped buying from the Congo. Freudenthal interviewed former employees with Amnesty International, Global Witness and the Enough Project, some of whom admitted to glossing over some of the unintended consequences of Section 1502 in the Dodd-Frank Act. Now President Donald Trump who has signalled his intention to suspend the law, citing the detrimental impact on Congolese livelihoods as part of his justification. 

(TOP PHOTO: Yemeni children share a meal. Marco Frattini/WFP)



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