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Erdogan wins, Burundi baffles, and the EU offshores: The Cheat Sheet

Political posters for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Synecdoche/Flickr)

Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.


On our radar:


Breaking bad in Burundi

Last month’s constitutional referendum was widely seen as a move to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to stay put for years to come. That the former rebel leader now seems willing to bow out gracefully in 2020 has raised hopes that Burundi might again be moving closer to stability and the rule of law – after 300,000 people died in a 1993-2005 civil war and recent years marked by political unrest and violent oppression. Maybe you were among the many who were pleasantly surprised. Get ready to be disappointed. The latest findings from UN investigators aren’t too hopeful. They found that “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, targeting those opposed to the proposed amendment of the constitution” had taken place this year. The overall security context, they warned, was likely to worsen and cast doubt on the sincerity of Nkurunziza’s announcement. For its part, Burundi dismissed the findings as the fruit of “geopolitical appetites”.

The slow road to ICC investigations in Myanmar

The push to levy some form of international judicial accountability for Myanmar’s anti-Rohingya purge nudged forward this week, months after a military campaign in northern Rakhine State ousted more than 700,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh. The European Union and Canada imposed sanctions against seven senior Myanmar military and security officials. An Amnesty International investigation named and accused 13 people of “crimes against humanity committed during the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population”. And a Reuters investigation detailed how two light infantry divisions led last year’s crackdown – drawing partly on social media posts from soldiers who took part. But those who wish to see accountability for last year’s violence – including Rohingya survivors themselves – are still faced with the same problem: the International Criminal Court can’t open an investigation in Myanmar without a referral from the UN Security Council. The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is exploring ways of bypassing this roadblock – with an unprecedented legal challenge we told you about earlier this month. ICC judges have asked Myanmar to respond by 27 July. Still, rights watchdogs warn that this is not enough to account for the scale of the violence. This week, Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur for rights in Myanmar, said the ICC should be probing “decades of crimes” in Myanmar, including violence elsewhere in the country such as the ongoing crackdowns in Kachin and northern Shan states.

Afghanistan: cash is king

There’s a growing trend in the aid sector for offering cash assistance in emergencies: it’s flexible, it’s spent locally, and it helps recipients make their own choices about what they need. For many Afghan refugees returning from neighbouring Pakistan, it’s also one of the only forms of official assistance they get to re-integrate. Is it working? A new case study offers mixed reviews of the repatriation cash grants given by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. People coming back to Afghanistan under a voluntary returns programme receive an average of $200. Afghans use the bulk of their cash grants on food, the case study found, although the cash also helps them to rent homes or buy land. But cash has its limits in Afghanistan, where jobs are increasingly scarce (a situation worsened by a severe drought) and land tenure and insecurity have made it difficult for many to rebuild their lives. “Cash alone has not helped beneficiaries to safely return to non-conflict affected areas; many have become [displaced] in a matter of weeks or months following return,” the study notes. It’s a key issue for the government, which has failed to establish any large-scale land programme for returnees. More than 1.6 million Afghans have returned from (or been pushed out of) Pakistan and Iran over the last two years.

What Erdogan’s victory means for Syrian refugees

Looks like Syrian refugees should be breathing a sigh of relief after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s re-election this week – after all, opposition parties did the most during the campaign to pander to growing intolerance among Turks of the more than 3.5 million Syrians who have sought refuge in their northern neighbour. But, come to think of it, Erdogan also vowed to send the refugees home, with his fair share of pandering. So, what will the now-emboldened president do? Erdogan wasn’t expected to barrel through this week’s elections with such force. He had a strong challenger in Muharram Ince – a former physics teacher and religious nominee of a secular party – and even one behind bars: jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas. But with 53 percent of the vote, the president managed to avoid a runoff and will now remain in power until at least 2023. Was the vote free and fair? Hard to say. The polls were held under the state of emergency that has been in place since 2016’s failed coup, and so many Turkish journalists are imprisoned that there’s not much of an independent media left. Erdogan clearly has plenty of support, including from the 30,000 naturalised Syrians eligible to vote. A few of his campaign promises: take over the country’s central bank, send Syrian refugees home, and bolster Turkey’s military campaign in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Plenty to keep an eye on then.


Our weekend read:

Destination Europe: Frustration


Ever hear of “disembarkation platforms”? They’re key to the opaque deal that came out of this week’s marathon EU talks on migration policy, a deal to more equitably share the responsibility for refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers – currently shouldered largely by Italy, Greece, and Spain. Hard facts on how this might work in practice are scarce. What is crystal clear is the push towards offshoring, increasing pressure on African countries (think Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Niger, and Tunisia) to set up asylum processing centres, known as — you guessed it – “disembarkation platforms”. Despite the carrot of millions of euros in development assistance, no country is rushing forward to sign up. Nor do critics find statements such as, "These platforms will not in any case be black holes or prisons or Guantanamos" (from European Commission spokeswoman Margaritis Schinas) reassuring. Boggled by what this all means to the human beings on the ground? We’re here to help with a cautionary tale on the longer-term effects of EU policy-making in one of those disembarkation platforms, er, transit countries, Niger. In the latest instalment of our special report “Destination Europe”, Eric Reidy visits the people-smuggling hub of Agadez and finds growing frustration as the migration business is driven underground, largely because of EU pressure, and the once-booming local economy nosedives. Fears of militancy are growing. “This law is going to push people to go to the rebellion again, because you have your kids, you have your family, you have many mouths you need to feed,” says Mousa Ahmed, a 51-year-old former driver and former rebel. “They came one day and said, ‘Stop this.’ And they didn’t give you anything to replace it. They’re pushing you to do something.”


One to listen to:


What’s another word for ‘immigrant’ ?


The US Supreme Court upheld Trump’s travel ban, 17 states sued the administration over its “zero-tolerance” border policy – and that’s just the half of what happened this week in the US debate over immigration. But anti-immigrant sentiment, and the rhetoric used to bolster it, isn’t really new. The latest episode of one of our own must-listens, NPR’s Code Switch podcast, looks into the language used to refer to immigrants and other races today and in the past – think invaders, animals, savages, aliens – and what hearing it means for our ability to see other people as subhuman. If you’re not already listening to Code Switch, this week is a great time to start.



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