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Hurricane Irma inequality, Rohingya aid strain, and a Kurdish state? The Cheat Sheet

Our weekly round-up of hot humanitarian topics

(Evangelos Petratos/ECHO)

IRIN editors have scanned the humanitarian horizon and curated this list of hot topics for your perusal:


270,000 and climbing: Rohingya refugee influx strains aid providers


An estimated 270,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the space of two weeks, aid groups have confirmed, leaving existing refugee camps bursting at the seams. It represents the largest single exodus of Rohingya refugees in decades. This latest surge, which began 25 August, has seen massive numbers pouring into Bangladesh, fleeing a violent military crackdown on a small Rohingya insurgent group. The influx has overwhelmed what assistance there is in Cox’s Bazar, where an estimated 400,000 Rohingya – refugees from previous waves of violence – were already living in ramshackle camps. Aid groups say they are quickly running out of space to house all the new arrivals – some 50,000 Rohingya are squatting on slivers of free land, including roadsides, while others have crammed into existing camps or local communities. Dwindling food stocks are mostly limited to rice, while healthcare and other vital services are stretched thin. The number of new arrivals is expected to climb. Many Rohingya are still waiting along the border area to board small boats to Bangladesh. At least 300 boats arrived in coastal Shamlapur on 6 September, but this is a dangerous journey – vessels have reportedly capsized, with bodies washing onto the shore. The UN has released $7 million in emergency funds, but aid groups fear that more will be needed. Rohingya in Myanmar have long looked to Bangladesh as a safe haven from communal and state violence in Rakhine. In 1977 and 1978, an estimated 200,000 people fled there; some 250,000 Rohingya made the same journey in 1991. 


Journey to extremism in Africa


It was two years in the making, based on interviews with more than 500 former members of extremist groups (mainly in Somalia, Nigeria, and Kenya), so what does UNDP’s landmark report say? The journey starts with location: typically peripheral, marginalised areas. A perceived lack of parental involvement in a child’s life correlates with future extremism, as does low education levels. Religion was cited as a motivating factor for joining by 51 percent of respondents (which means for 49 percent it wasn’t), but 57 percent of the sample admitted to limited or no understanding of religious texts. Religious education can actually inoculate against extremism. Poverty is clearly a factor in recruitment. The report says employment was the single most frequently cited “immediate need” faced at the time of joining. Disaffection with the authorities is also marked – 78 percent had little trust in the police, politicians, and military. But the research gets really interesting on the recruitment “tipping point”. A striking 71 percent indicated “government action”, including the killing/arrest of a family member or friend, as the incident that prompted them to join. Forty-eight percent joined in less than a month from first contact with the extremist group. More surprising still, just under half of those who joined were aware of PVE (Prevention of Violent Extremism) initiatives, but identified distrust of those delivering the programmes as one of the primary reasons for not taking part – underscoring that it’s the messenger as much as the message that’s important. While not excusing violent extremism, this all points to the impact of a tragic failure of governance.


Kurdistan: To be or not to be


Iraq’s Kurds are set to hold an independence referendum at the end of this month, and while it seems like an auspicious moment – their peshmerga have been a key ally in fighting off so-called Islamic State in Iraq – the run-up to the vote has not been smooth sailing. This week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi reiterated his opposition, saying the “unconstitutional” referendum would lead the whole of Iraq “into a dark tunnel”. Other regional powers, notably Iran and Turkey have (perhaps unsurprisingly) come out against the vote, as has the United States. There’s internal opposition too. But Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani insisted again this week that the vote is going ahead as scheduled, calling it a “sacred objective”. Campaigning has begun – vote yes banners are turning up in the streets – as has online registration for diaspora Kurds. But what do average Kurds think of all of this? And what would a yes vote really mean for a region in turmoil? Look out for our upcoming in-depth series on the future of the Kurdish people, which answers these questions and more.

Burundi in the spotlight

Since President Pierre Nkurunziza threw his county into turmoil in April 2015 by announcing he would run for a constitutionally dodgy third term in office, violence in Burundi has claimed hundreds of lives and prompted hundreds of thousands to flee the country. “Extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and enforced disappearances” continue to take place in the central African state, according to the final report of a UN Commission of Enquiry, which said these acts mostly likely amounted to crimes against humanity. The report said government soldiers, police, intelligence agents, and the youth wing of the ruling party were behind most of the abuses. Burundi refused to cooperate with the commission or to let it into the country, even though it is itself a member of the body that established it, the UN’s Human Rights Council. The council opens one of its thrice-yearly regular sessions in Geneva on Monday, where the Burundi report will be discussed. The commission called for the International Criminal Court to escalate its role in Burundi from a “preliminary examination” to an actual investigation, which could open the door to prosecutions. Will the UN Security Council take up commission president Fatsah Ouguergouz’s suggestion that it make that happen with a formal referral of the Burundi case to the ICC? Or will other countries apply the principle of universal jurisdiction to hold perpetrators in Burundi to account? Watch this space…


Did you miss it?


Hurricane Irma highlights the great divide

If a hurricane takes aim at Florida, residents can normally watch the drama unfold from afar as it barrels in from the Atlantic along a string of Caribbean islands. Then, when the time is right, and the correct amount of plywood has been applied to the windows, they can head inland for sanctuary, taking loved ones, pets, and valuables with them. And when disaster strikes, a massive response effort swings into action with all the capacity you would expect from the richest country on Earth. Spare a thought for the poor people of Saint-Martin or Barbuda: They didn’t know exactly what to expect as Irma approached, there was nowhere that safe to go, there wasn’t much they could do to protect their vulnerable homes, and help might not even reach them before the next massive storm hits. This is not to have a go at Floridians, or to underplay the anxious days and journeys they’ve endured. It is simply a statement of the obvious. But, as regular IRIN contributor Philippa Garson explores in this timely take, the distinction is an important one. With such storms apparently becoming more violent and more frequent, such disaster inequality is only likely to get worse. What can be done to close the gap? Can lessons be learnt from the kind of cooperation seen between Pacific island nations? How much of a role is climate change playing and what responsibility therefore lies with the world’s biggest polluters? All good questions.


TOP PHOTO: Rohingya face a humanitarian crisis. CREDIT: Evangelos Petratos/ECHO

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