Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a roundup of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.
Abuse uncovered in Yemen
Yemen’s three years of war have been hell for civilians, and as we highlighted last month in these stunning photographs by Benedict Moran, that includes the African migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who continue to arrive on the country’s shores. This week, both Human Rights Watch and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, put a spotlight on the horrific conditions these men and women face. HRW reports that Yemeni government officials tortured, raped, and executed migrants and asylum seekers in a detention centre in Aden, possibly aided by UAE-backed forces. The increasing dangers for these migrants – laid bare in the testimonials of former detainees – are just one more reason Yemen so desperately needs peace. All eyes then on the new UN special envoy and what he needs to finally get negotiations going.
Another conflict in Myanmar
Far from the international spotlight and the reach of humanitarian aid, an escalating conflict in northern Myanmar continues to trap civilians. The latest clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army forced some 2,000 people to flee last week, after what the EU’s humanitarian aid arm called “indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas”. The civilians, including pregnant women and the elderly, have sought shelter in a remote forest and are unable to leave, according to the UN’s humanitarian coordinator. The conflict in Myanmar’s north has largely flared out of view, especially with international attention focused elsewhere on the Rohingya crisis. But as IRIN reported in January, new government restrictions have cut off access and squeezed aid to a trickle for the 100,000 displaced civilians in Kachin and northern Shan states. “While the whole world looks at the Rohingya crisis,” a local aid worker told IRIN, “our suffering gets overshadowed.”
Thinking beyond aid for the Rohingya crisis
With close to 900,000 Rohingya now living in Bangladesh and the prospects of returns to Myanmar dubious at best, the international community needs to think beyond traditional humanitarian aid. A new briefing from the Centre for Global Development suggests a way forward: a far-reaching agreement between Bangladesh’s government and donors that would support refugees while also focusing on longer-term development. Such a pact would encourage Bangladesh to reform policies so that Rohingya refugees could better support themselves and one day contribute to the local economy: more freedom of movement, legal access to jobs and the education system, for example. In return, the international community could expand trade preferences for Bangladesh, create new opportunities for Bangladeshi migrants, and fund new development that would benefit both Rohingya refugees and the local communities straining under the weight of new arrivals. The proposal mirrors broader discussions for a so-called global compact on refugees, aimed at finding new ways, beyond traditional short-term aid, for donors to share the burden, which mostly falls to the lower-income countries that host the vast majority of the world’s refugees.
Huge NGO fine for US counter-terror violations
In one of the largest cases yet of an NGO falling foul of counter-terror law, the United States has fined a European NGO $2.025 million for working with Iran and with "terrorist" Palestinian groups in Gaza. Like other US grantees, Norwegian People's Aid had declared annually that it did not support entities sanctioned by the United States over the last 10 years. However, it turns out it worked on mine clearance for an oil project in Iran from 2001 to 2008. According to the NGO, the work, contracted by a Norwegian company, was not humanitarian, but intended to deliver revenue for the organisation's charitable activities during a time of "problematic" finances. The United States has long designated Iran a state sponsor of terrorism. The other NPA infraction was to work on a training activity in Gaza from 2012 to 2016 that involved dealing with Hamas and two other Palestinian political groups on the US sanctions list. NPA said it disagreed with the fairness of the claim but “had accepted paying the settlement to reach closure".
In a statement, USAID said this was the second settlement of its kind: in 2017, the American University in Beirut had to pay $700,000 for including prohibited groups in media training, as well as just for listing another group on its website. According to US data, NPA received an average of $13 million per year from 2010-2016 from the State Department and USAID. US funds were not involved in either case. IRIN estimates that US funds represented 10-15% of NPA's income in 2016.
More #MeToo: Bad PR all round?
The chairperson of Save the Children International, Alan Parker, is resigning. The UK branch of the NGO and Parker, a partner at public relations group Brunswick, have come under fire for the handling of misconduct by former CEO Justin Forsyth and advocacy director Brendan Cox. Revelations from leaks and whistleblowers led to Forsyth quitting his job at UNICEF, while Cox left positions in charities linked to his late wife. On the 11th of April, the charity regulator for England and Wales announced an enquiry into how the trustees handled "misconduct and harassment of the charity’s staff".
Former senior USAID official Jeremy Konyndyk tweeted his approval of the move:
An encouraging development. Boards need to take much greater responsibility for overseeing, not just promoting, the NGOs they nominally govern. And when they fail to do that, there should be consequences. This is a good start. https://t.co/mlqGpdAYtI— Jeremy Konyndyk (@JeremyKonyndyk) April 19, 2018
Interestingly, the enquiry will also look into whether the board "made decisions around public handling and reputation management on the historic allegations appropriately". So, is the PR man's PR about bad PR also under review? Journalists reporting on the issues mentioned a flurry of legal letters from Save the Children demanding changes to news before and after publication. Perhaps the Charity Commission can get an answer to the question IRIN asked some time ago: who paid those expensive lawyers to hassle the press covering Save the Children? (Unsurprisingly, we received no response.)
Our weekend read
Where women in Mosul go for therapy
As we reported some time ago, the statistics on mental health provision in Iraq were stark even before the emergence of so-called Islamic State and the collective trauma that followed. Few were exposed to as much of that horror as the women of Mosul: freedom lost, religious police enforcing extremist rules as the tentacles of Da’esh spread through the country’s second city; then arrests, disappearances, public stonings, even of young girls. The liberation wasn’t swift either, nor painless: a year of airstrikes, mortar shells, and artillery taking civilian lives as well as those of the militants; IS snipers shooting those attempting to flee, others taken as human shields. This is the immediate historical backdrop to our weekend read, Mosul: Overcoming the trauma of IS rule, one haircut at a time.
For those who’ve already read everything on IRIN’s website, UK magazine New Internationalist has a full issue devoted to the state of humanitarianism. Entitled "Who Cares", the lead article says humanitarian principles are coming under siege from political and security interests so "it’s never been more important for citizens to join the dots". Analyst Alex de Waal argues for prosecutions for those who cause famine, Jamal Osman looks into Turkish influence in Somalia, and other articles include Ian Williams on the future of the UN. A piece on humanitarian technology includes one particularly memorable quote: "no innovation without representation".
(TOP PHOTO: A detention centre in Yemen. CREDIT: C. Martin-Chico/ICRC)