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Sinai slaughter, Manus refugee “coercion”, and “unthinkable” Rohingya returns: The Cheat Sheet

Vlad Sokhin/UNHCR
An asylum-seeker enters the ‘Regional Processing Centre’ on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

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:

What next for Manus refugees?

Authorities in Papua New Guinea have forcibly removed asylum seekers and refugees from an Australian-backed offshore detention facility on Manus Island, with officers reportedly beating detainees with metal poles in footage the UN’s refugee agency called “shocking and inexcusable”. It’s more unwelcome attention for Australia’s controversial policies, which force asylum seekers who arrive by boat to have their refugee claims processed in other jurisdictions – and sever all possibility of resettlement in Australia. But the situation is far from resolved. Most of the remaining Manus detainees were transferred to unfinished and inadequate facilities elsewhere in Lorengau township, where local residents are reportedly angry about the arrangement. A large majority of asylum applicants on Manus Island and Nauru – where some 345 people are held in another offshore centre – have had their refugee applications approved. But with Australia off the table and a resettlement deal to the United States proceeding slowly, options are slim. UNHCR says recognised refugees are being offered “enticements” to return to countries with shoddy and worsening human rights records: “Severely inadequate services and conditions may now further coerce refugees with a well-founded fear of persecution to nevertheless return to their countries of origin,” the UN refugee agency said.

“Unthinkable” Rohingya returns

Bangladesh and Myanmar say they have struck a deal that could send hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar. But what happens if those refugees refuse to return? There are few details on how the two countries would go about repatriating almost one million Rohingya stuck in Bangladesh, including more than 623,000 pushed out of Myanmar’s Rakhine State over the last three months. For years, Rohingya have lived amid strict segregation and repressive policies that amount to “apartheid”, Amnesty International said this week, and animosity toward the Rohingya continues to simmer back in Rakhine. Rights groups fear the blueprint for repatriation will be found in the Rohingya crises of decades past. In the late 1970s, Bangladeshi authorities cut food rations to some 200,000 Rohingya refugees, effectively starving people back to Myanmar. More than 10,000 Rohingya starved to death in the process. The cycle continued 20 years later for a new round of refugees: the two countries agreed to a bilateral repatriation deal and tens of thousands were sent back “involuntarily”, according to Human Rights Watch, which also criticised the role of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in the repatriation process. The intense international focus on this year’s exodus will mean even greater scrutiny on aid groups, who have been accused of unintentionally entrenching segregation and rights abuses in Rakhine. But aid groups were sidelined this week as Bangladesh and Myanmar put together their roadmap for returns. This doesn’t bode well for the prospects of truly voluntary returns, according to Amnesty’s director for refugee and migrant rights, Charmain Mohamed. “Returns in the current climate are simply unthinkable,” she said.

Israel offer asylum seekers jail or deportation

The existence of some 40,000 African asylum seekers in Israel, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, has always been precarious. Even though Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has only granted a handful of Africans asylum. In the last few years many have been held during the nights in a desert detention facility for men called Holot. Israel has been pressuring and paying asylum seekers to leave – $3,500 plus airfare – sending them to countries like Rwanda and Uganda, where their future is uncertain and often dangerous. Now, Israeli politicians plan to give asylum seekers a stark choice: jail or deportation to Rwanda in the next three months. President Paul Kagame’s government will reportedly receive $5,000 a head to take them in. Israel took over refugee status determination from the UN years ago, and UNHCR said it is “seriously concerned” about the government’s proposals and has been unable to follow up on asylum seekers who’ve left Israel because of the government’s secrecy. Ministers have now voted to close Holot as they will presumably have no need for it once the asylum seekers are gone or imprisoned. The last time the government turned men out of the facility with little notice they at least found temporary refuge with sympathetic Israelis. If the government’s plans come to pass, they will now likely be headed somewhere much worse.

Sufi slaughter in Sinai

At least 230 people have been killed in a bomb and gun attack on a mosque in Egypt's northern Sinai, which took place shortly after Friday prayers. The attack in al-Rawda village, west of el-Arish, is in a region where Egyptian forces have been battling a jihadist insurgency linked to so-called Islamic State for years. The mosque was reportedly used by Sufi followers, a mystical expression of Islam condemned by hardline Salafists as heretical. The jihadists have mostly targeted security forces in their attacks in the neglected Sinai region. These have escalated since 2013 when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, then the armed forces commander, overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi. In May this year militants extended their reach into central Egypt, attacking a bus carrying Coptic Christians, killing 26 people. See IRIN’s past coverage on the region’s marginalisation and the rise of Sinai extremism, and look out for more ahead.

Did you miss it?


IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod conjured this hashtag before it was even official that Saudi Arabia was easing its aid blockade of Yemen. It may not have gone viral (at least not yet) but the point of her piece has hopefully hit home in certain quarters as international awareness grows about an unfolding catastrophe. Some 4.5 million Yemenis were already “severely food insecure” before the war, before an unprecedented cholera epidemic, before the recent aid blockade. The UN says more than 70 percent of the now 19 million Yemenis that require assistance are in rebel-controlled areas, which rely almost entirely on food imports through Hodeidah to survive. And if trade isn’t allowed to resume through the key port soon, experts say famine will be the “likely” result. Time is running out, so let’s keep the hashtag going!

Zimbabwe coup shines light on opaque arms transfers

The Chinese armoured vehicles on the streets of Harare last week were the first sign something unusual was underway in Zimbabwe. But on closer inspection by the security publication Jane’s, they revealed something else: There’s no record of the Chinese-made Type 89 armoured vehicles being delivered to Zimbabwe, neither on the UN Register of Conventional Arms nor the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) database. How can that be? Well, a lack of transparency is not unusual in arms transfers. The UN register is only a voluntary system aimed at promoting international security – not everyone abides by it. China only signed up in 2007 and hasn’t made any declarations since 2015, Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told IRIN. Zimbabwe, along with a number of other countries, never admits what they’ve added to their arsenals. Wezemen said this opacity includes several European countries and added that the United States regularly gets caught fibbing about the transfer information it provides.

Missing diamonds

In related news, there has been much chatter over a possible Chinese connection in the downfall of President Robert Mugabe. After all, Zimbabwe’s head of defence forces, General Constantino Chiwenga, was in China just before the coup/no-coup intervention. But the China-Africa Research Initiative blog points out that any Chinese role is very unlikely as it would fly in the face of Beijing’s general non-interference policy. Chinese investments in Zimbabwe are actually quite small, and the country has almost zero strategic interest for Beijing. However, there is a cozy relationship between the Zimbabwean military and leaders in China’s Anhui Province, which has culminated in a joint-venture diamond mining operation between the Zimbabwean company Anjin and the Chinese government-owned Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Anhui company. Mining in eastern Zimbabwe is highly controversial. A new report by Global Witness sheds more light on some $13 billion of diamond sales that have reportedly gone missing

(TOP PHOTO: An asylum-seeker enters the ‘Regional Processing Centre’ on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.)


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