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An Ethiopian thaw, a Syrian flare-up, and an Afghan reprieve: The Cheat Sheet

Andrew Quilty/IRIN

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:

New year, more war in Syria

The new year has not been kind to civilians in northern Syria, where a spike in fighting between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces in parts of Idlib and Hama provinces has left scores of civilians either dead or injured in airstrikes and shelling, and displaced more than 60,000 people since the start of November. OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, noted this week the “dire” situation of newly displaced people as humanitarian organisations struggle to meet the increasing needs of those fleeing their homes. It’s worth remembering that more than half of the people in Idlib are already displaced from other parts of Syria, and that the uptick in violence comes (at least in part) in areas that are supposed to be “de-escalation zones”. Some Syrians are heading home or considering it, either within the country or across borders, but 2018 is looking like yet another bad year for Syria’s civilians. As the country is poised to enter its seventh year of war, on 15 March, news of the conflict and analysis about its humanitarian implications are beginning to drop off the front pages. They shouldn’t. Look out for IRIN’s upcoming guide on what to look out for regarding Syria over the year ahead.

A ticking clock for Afghans in Pakistan?

Time may be running out for Afghan refugees facing deportation in Pakistan, after Pakistani authorities reportedly extended a deadline to leave the country by only one month. Pakistan’s cabinet was earlier said to be debating extending the reprieve by a full year following the expiration of a previous extension at the end of 2017. The move foists further uncertainty on Afghans living in Pakistan, including more than 1.3 million registered refugees and an estimated 600,000 to one million others who are undocumented. Pakistan has ratcheted up the pressure on Afghans in recent years, with deportation threats and alleged police abuses that Human Rights Watch says amount to “mass forced return”. Over the last two years, more than 770,000 Afghans, both registered refugees and undocumented, crossed the border back to Afghanistan, according to figures from UN agencies. But with instability swirling and conflict-caused civilian casualties hovering near record highs in Afghanistan, critics say Afghans are being forced to return to a war zone. The large numbers of Afghans returning to conflict is a key crisis on our humanitarian radar this year. EU countries have also sought to send rejected Afghan asylum seekers back in droves. But as IRIN reported this week, countrywide bloodshed is continuing to push Afghans abroad even as increasingly hostile foreign governments make moves to send them back. Read more of IRIN’s reporting on this issue: Afghanistan’s deepening migration crisis.

Comings, goings, and paycuts

UNICEF has a new executive director: Henrietta Holsman Fore, who took over from Anthony Lake on 1 January. Fore, an American citizen whose career spans public service and corporate affairs, had previously worked in senior roles in USAID and the US State Department. Until her appointment she was CEO of a family firm and a director of several large corporations, including US-based Exxon Mobil, General Mills, and Theravance Biopharma. A UN spokesperson told IRIN that she would step down from her directorships to meet ethics rules, and to avoid conflicts of interest. The three positions above alone earned her a cool $851,000 in cash and shares in the most recent year available. Her remuneration at the UN will be a significant pay cut: a base gross salary of $192,000.

Meanwhile, in the NGO world, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, or ICVA, also has a new executive director, Ignacio Packer. The former secretary general of NGO Terre des Hommes, Packer takes over the Geneva-based alliance of over 100 humanitarian NGOs from the beginning of the year. He replaces Nan Buzard, who is now head of innovation at the International Committee of the Red Cross. A final piece of jobs news: Amnesty International has appointed South African Kumi Naidoo as the next secretary general of the global human rights organisation, to take over from India’s Salil Shetty in August 2018.

A turning point in Ethiopia?

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn dropped a veritable bombshell this week, when he announced that political prisoners would be released and that a detention centre in the capital that had become notorious for torture would be closed. What made this all the more surprising was that the government had never before even acknowledged the existence of political prisoners (when dissidents are jailed in Ethiopia, anti-terrorism legislation is generally used). Hailemariam cited a desire to “widen the democratic space for all” and “foster national reconciliation”. The past couple of years have seen waves of anti-government protests over perceived marginalisation, notably in the Amhara and Oromia regions. In April 2017, the state-affiliated Human Rights Commission said 669 people had died in the unrest, during which thousands of people were detained. In September, the unrest evolved into intercommunal violence in the Oromia and Somali regions, leading to the displacement of more than 200,000 people. Amnesty International gave a cautious welcome to Hailemariam’s announcement, saying it “could signal the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia” and that it should be implemented “as quickly as possible”. But if Ethiopia is really to turn a page it must also, Amnesty said, “repeal or substantially amend the repressive laws” under which the prisoners are detained, and investigate all allegations of torture while bringing those responsible to justice. The prime minister left some key questions unanswered regarding those set for release: who, when, and how many. Following widespread media reports that Hailemariam had announced that “all” political prisoners would be released, one of his aides quickly clarified that the prime minister had been mistranslated and that the measure would only see “some” people pardoned or the criminal cases against them “interrupted”.

Did you miss it?

Ten humanitarian crises to look out for in 2018

This depressing list is self-explanatory but by no means definitive. Many other crises could have been included, from Somalia to Ukraine, from Iraq to the Philippines. Just because they don’t feature on this listicle, it doesn’t mean that IRIN’s editors will neglect them. For example, some countries not mentioned here will be explored in our in-depth look at global food crises, slated for publication next week. Others will be the focus of later multimedia packages. The problem, as ever, is simply that there is so much to cover but only limited resources. Please support our work if you can and help us do more to provide early warning, raise awareness, and increase accountability of the vast aid sector in 2018. Otherwise, stay engaged, share our stories, and shout out any coverage ideas for the year ahead. We’re listening.

(TOP PHOTO: Early morning outside the UN’s intake centre between the Pakistan border and the city of Jalalabad, in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. CREDIT: Andrew Quilty/IRIN)


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