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Libyan migrant “prisons”, climate change inequality, and evidence-based aid: The Cheat Sheet

(Alessio Romenzi/UNICEF)

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:


UN bracing for 40,000 Cameroonians fleeing to Nigeria


Thousands of Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria following mounting political violence in the anglophone west of the country, UNHCR warned this week. The UN refugee agency said so far 5,000 people had been registered or were awaiting registration, but added that it was working on a contingency plan of up to 40,000 people crossing into southeastern Nigeria. “Our fear, however, is that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue,” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch warned on Tuesday. Cameroon's anglophone regions have seen boycotts and demonstrations over the past year as tensions have mounted over what the country's English-speakers see as discrimination against them in favour of the majority French-speaking population. Some protesters are demanding greater autonomy under a federal system, while others want outright secession. The government has responded with an increasingly bloody crackdown. Last month, at least eight people were reportedly shot dead by soldiers. Check out IRIN’s timeline of the unfolding crisis.


What’s the score?


Which emergency aid programmes actually work? It's a reasonable question... with fewer straight answers than you might think. For example: "psychological first aid" for traumatised Rohingya refugees: it may sound like an appealing concept, but does it actually work? Is there any science behind it? (Spoiler alert: not much, as this video explains). From 6-12 November, a series of debates, lectures, launches, and training sessions are due to "promote a more evidence-based approach to humanitarian aid". Humanitarian Evidence Week is put on by UK-based NGO Evidence Aid and involves a range of some 20 institutions. A set of recent reviews by Oxfam and Tufts University have brought a new level of rigour to topics as diverse as food aid for pastoralists or water supply in epidemics, but there's still a long way to go. Swathes of humanitarian action are not well measured. According to a blog posted by Geneva-based Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection, the sector seems to some like a football team that doesn't keep score.


The inequality of climate displacement


Staying loosely with the subject of evidence, experts have long been aware of the links between climate change and migration, even if they’ve struggled to bring this crucial topic to the forefront of policy discussions. Establishing clear and quantitative causal links is tricky because although climate change is known to increase the frequency and severity of weather shocks over the long term, it’s not possible to attribute specific droughts, floods, and storms to climate change. Still, available data is worrying: since the 1970s, the amount of human displacement due to natural disasters has doubled. And, according to research published this week by Oxfam, the risks are spread extremely unequally and borne disproportionately by those least responsible for climate change: “between 2008 and 2016, people in low- and lower-middle-income countries were around five times more likely than people in high-income countries to be displaced by sudden-onset extreme weather disasters.” With world leaders poised to gather in Bonn for COP 23, Oxfam stressed that reductions in global climate emissions must be made far more rapidly and called on rich countries to step up their adaptation support for poorer ones.


… meanwhile, in North Korea


In the latest sign that international tensions and sanctions are putting the squeeze on aid groups trying to operate in North Korea, the Red Cross has slashed its budget for emergency response there, citing “inadequate funding”. Severe flooding in August 2016 killed 138 people and displaced tens of thousands more. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies had initially sketched out a plan to deliver aid and recovery to 330,000 people through the end of 2017. But on 1 November, the IFRC cut its plans in a revised appeal, dropping its food aid targets and shrinking its budget to about $5 million, down from the original $7.4 million. It now aims to reach about 110,000 people with assistance. In revising its appeal, the IFRC cited “limitations that have resulted from inadequate funding”. Aid groups operating in North Korea have long had to balance international sanctions and donor misgivings about working in the repressive country, where floods and drought are persistent and 18 million people – three quarters of the country – don’t get enough food. But the regime’s repeated missile tests and the resulting rounds of sanctions continue to complicate aid plans. Humanitarian aid is exempt from the sanctions regime, but banks are still reluctant to make financial transfers. In its most recent briefing on North Korea, the World Food Programme cited “funding constraints” as its most pressing challenge. “Any further decrease in funding due to the current political situation will significantly affect WFP’s ability to continue… lifesaving interventions,” the organisation stated, noting WFP-supplied food rations are already at the bare minimum required to have any nutritional impact.


Did you miss it?


The Libyan migrant “prisons” of Europe’s making


Some 20,000 refugees and migrants escaped last month from farms, houses, and warehouses in and around Sabratha where they were being held captive by smugglers, as rival militias battled for control of the Libyan city. It was a dramatic and shocking event, but you would be forgiven for not knowing about it as it barely caused a ripple of media attention. It did, however, catch the eye of regular IRIN contributor Eric Reidy as he embarked on a month-long reporting trip to explore Italian migration issues. Suddenly, he found himself distracted by the fact that the most disturbing impacts of Italy’s policies were unfolding across the Mediterranean. Gathering testimony form recently arrived migrants in Sicily and over the phone from Libya, he pieced together the chaotic aftermath of the Sabratha “escape”. Most of the escapees, including pregant women and children, were rounded up again, loaded onto lorries, and re-detained in supposedly official centres. But Reidy soon discovered these were more like abuse-ridden “prisons” run by smugglers and militiamen. The awful truth laid bare by this fascinating multimedia feature is that while EU and Italian policies have been very effective at preventing people leaving Libya by sea, this just means more and more people are now trapped in horrifying circumstances in Libya. How many tens of thousands is anyone’s guess.



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