Record temperatures, refugee wishlists, and a grim anniversary for South Sudan: The cheat sheet

Antonio Faccilongo/MSF
A Rohingya patient is treated for injuries at an MSF clinic in Kutupalong, Bangladesh in September 2017

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:

War without end

Few anniversaries offer less cause for celebration than that marked today in South Sudan. On 15 December, 2013, a simmering power struggle between the country’s president and sacked vice-president erupted into gunfire that quickly degenerated into a full-scale civil war. As the conflict enters its fifth year, no peace in sight, the data associated with the humanitarian crisis is numbing:  7.6 million people in the country need assistance for their day-to-day survival; 2.1 million have fled to live as refugees in neighbouring states; 1.9 million are displaced within South Sudan; 4.8 million are estimated to be severely food insecure (a figure expected to rise in the coming months); and almost 1.1 million children under five are acutely malnourished. For those still inside South Sudan, “violence and human rights violations continue unchecked and have become a persistent reality for civilians,” the UN’s emergency aid coordination arm, OCHA, said, as it put the cost of addressing needs at $1.7 billion. Meanwhile, the economy is tanking and the cost of living soaring, especially in urban areas. In the capital, Juba, inflation topped 180 percent this year. A cholera epidemic of record duration – it began in June 2016 and is expected to continue into 2018 – is just one example of the country’s major health crisis. Here at IRIN we’ve been keeping a close watch on the conflict, highlighting, for example, its spread into previously peaceful regions such as Equatoria with multimedia reportage, examining the impact on neighbouring states of vast refugee flows, assessing the impact of hate speech from the diaspora, and critically analysing fruitless efforts to bring about peace.

What refugees really want

Efforts launched 15 months ago to improve international refugee response moved into higher gear recently. A series of five thematic discussions was held between July and November, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi this week gathered some 500 representatives to take stock of the consultations so far. Most absent perhaps: the opinions of refugees themselves. This timely report from the Norwegian Refugee Council remedies that. During two months of research in 10 city and camp locations in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, NRC researchers spoke to almost 300 refugees from nine countries, collecting their perspectives on gaps and challenges and trying to understand why so many moved to urban areas with little support or undertook risky migration journeys rather than accept the relative protection and assistance of camps. Strikingly, it is not material concerns such as food or even healthcare that dominate but more fundamental issues such as status and freedom and movement. What bothers the refugees most is the ability to secure refugee status in the first place, and then the freedom to move and work. Protection, basic assistance, and services are all rendered fairly meaningless without the ability to live and work in asylum countries. Major concerns cited include: government policies apparently designed to make it more difficult to claim asylum; delays in refugee determination procedures; and documentation problems that make it impossible to establish a legal identity and register births. The report called on the new Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, or CRRF, to look at efforts to secure status and documentation as a priority. It also highlighted frustrations over lack of freedom of movement and the inability to work, earn an income, and be self-reliant, noting how often the words ‘prison’ and ‘imprisonment’ were used. The report’s recommendations should be essential reading as the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, leads formal consultations on the new framework from February, ahead of its proposal to the General Assembly later in 2018. But it is the pull quotes at the side (the words of the refugees themselves) that leave the longest mark. As one Eritrean interviewee put it: “We are not living here, we are just breathing while dying inside.”

The allure of Yemen

The number of irregular migrants travelling from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and Saudi Arabia dwarfs the number migrating from the Horn towards Europe, says a new report by the Institute for Security Studies. Despite Yemen’s vicious war, the humanitarian crisis, a vigorous kidnapping and torture-for-ransom industry, and threats of deportation by Yemeni and Saudi authorities, migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia continue to travel to Yemen in the hope of reaching labour markets in the Gulf.  In 2016, a record 117,107 irregular arrivals were recorded in Yemen, 83 percent of which were Ethiopians, the rest Somalis. Based on the average payment to smugglers ($200–$500 from Ethiopia to Yemen via Djibouti), at a conservative estimate the smuggling networks earned $4.5 million in 2016. Revenues generated by migrant smuggling from Somalia to Yemen was in the range of $10 million. What’s hard to calculate are the earnings from smuggling people from Yemen and on to Saudi Arabia, the report noted. It points out that there are few incentives for governments in source countries to crack down on migration because of the remittances it generates. Similarly, transit countries also benefit economically from the smuggling business. And, for destination countries, there is a clear demand for cheap labour. The report, as now seems routine, calls for policies “that address the underlying drivers of migration” rather than simplistic and counter-productive law enforcement measures.

Building the case for human-caused disasters

Record global temperatures in 2016, including an extreme heatwave through large swathes of Asia, would have been impossible without the impacts of human-caused climate change, according to a recently released collection of peer-reviewed studies. The report by the American Meteorological Society analysed extreme weather in 2016. It underscored how human-caused climate change exacerbated the impacts or boosted the likelihood of extreme weather throughout the world, including drought recorded in Africa, extreme rain in China, and tinder-dry conditions that led to wildfires in North America and Australia. But the studies also found that multiple extreme weather events would have been impossible without human influence – a first for the annual report. These include extreme heatwaves, such as one in Southeast Asia that triggered record temperatures in Thailand. Drought that year impacted millions throughout the region, including two million people in Vietnam, where the worst drought in nearly a century forced the country to ask for international aid. The report adds to the growing body of research around “event attribution” science, which examines climate change as a cause of specific weather events. This research is particularly important for smaller vulnerable countries that have long called for a global system to compensate for destruction associated with climate change. During November’s climate change summit in Bonn, larger countries were accused of squashing progress toward a so-called “loss and damages” compensation scheme. But these discussions will carry on in 2018 as countries continue to thrash out how to implement climate commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Read IRIN’s recent reporting on attribution science and climate change here.

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Counting the dead

Barred from investigating claims of ethnic cleansing within Myanmar, rights groups, NGOs and UN officials have instead relied on the accounts of some of the 655,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh since late August. This week, a study from Médecins Sans Frontières attempted to quantify widespread claims of razed villages and mass killings in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. Using data from household surveys in Rohingya camps, MSF researchers estimated that between 6,700 and almost 9,900 people were killed violently in the weeks following a sweeping Myanmar army crackdown. The findings, MSF says, represent a staggering tally showing that killings peaked in the week immediately following 25 August, when a small group of Rohingya fighters attacked police and border posts in Rakhine. 

Myanmar has continued to stonewall the UN fact-finding mission tasked with investigating rights abuses in Rakhine and elsewhere in the country. Instead, investigators have turned their attention to other countries where people have sought refuge: the UN investigators recently interviewed Rohingya and other minority groups in Malaysia

(TOP PHOTO: A Rohingya patient is treated for injuries at an MSF clinic in Kutupalong, Bangladesh in September 2017. CREDIT: Antonio Faccilongo/MSF)


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