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Ebola spread, CAR attack, and the children of Islamic State: The Cheat Sheet

Herve Serefio/UN Photo

Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

Attack threatens CAR peace deal

More than 50 people were reportedly killed in an attack by militia on villages in the Central African Republic's volatile northwest, putting a peace deal signed by 14 armed groups in February in jeopardy. The group ‘Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation,’ or 3R, was blamed for the attack, and the government on Wednesday called on its leader, Sidiki Abass, to arrest and hand over those responsible to the authorities “in the next 72 hours or risk being held personally responsible”. The UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, said it was engaging in local-level dialogue "to ease tensions and prevent a retaliatory response by anti-balaka", a mostly Christian grouping of militia. In March the government named Abass and two other militia leaders as special military advisers to the prime minister’s office. All three are seen as responsible for widespread atrocities in recent years, including possible crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch has called for their prosecution. See TNH’s CAR coverage for more.

UNICEF slams detention of Islamic State children

Thousands of children born to so-called Islamic State militants are languishing in squalid camps or detention centres in what UNICEF says is a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Syria alone, there are an estimated 29,000 foreign children – 20,000 of them from Iraq, and the remainder from some 60 other countries. Another 1,000 are thought to be in Iraq. Citing security concerns, many countries have been reluctant to repatriate the children, or their mothers who married IS fighters. So far, fewer than 300 children have been returned to countries who sought UNICEF’s help. UNICEF is urging countries to provide the children with documents, support their safe return, help them reintegrate into society, and to apply juvenile justice and fair trial norms if they face criminal charges. The children should be treated as victims, not perpetrators, the UN agency says.

Sixth migrant child dies in US custody

On a different but related subject, it emerged late on Wednesday, after a report by CBS News, that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador with a history of congenital heart defects died more than seven months ago after being taken into custody in Texas. She is the sixth child known to have died after being detained by US border authorities in the past eight months. More than 300,000 people, mostly from Central America, were apprehended at the US-Mexico border between January and April, with numbers rising every month. The US Department of Homeland Security said on Monday that around 6,000 asylum seekers had been returned to Mexico during that period, while others are reportedly being told they must wait in Mexico for longer than a year before their case will be considered. Read our report on the building humanitarian crisis across the border, as migrant numbers and needs in violence-prone Mexican border cities grow.

Pandemics and passport privilege

The folks at Oxfam’s From Poverty to Power blog have a tale of passport privilege that many Cheat Sheet readers may find all too familiar. Last month, only one out of 25 invited people turned up to a workshop held around the London School of Economics’ Africa Summit. The reason? They were Africans who had been denied UK visas. Health researcher Esther Yei-Mokuwa from Sierra Leone, who was able to attend because she also has a Dutch passport, notes that the African researchers planned to attend the summit and other events to help prepare for future pandemics, including Ebola. “We all need protection from infectious diseases – even Britain,” she writes. LSE student Elizabeth Storer points out what’s lost when African researchers face difficulties trying to share their work at international symposiums: “Conversations about development… lack important perspectives and insights; European scholars evade important critique from citizens of the countries they study.”

Kenya-Somalia border tensions

Kenya-Somalia relations are going through a rough patch. Mogadishu says a series of recent moves by Kenya – a stopover of direct flights to Nairobi for “security checks” in the border town of Wajir, the withdrawal of visa-free travel privileges for government officials, and a squeeze on money transfer Hawala operators – “contravene the neighbourly bond”. At root is a maritime wrangle that analyst Rashid Abdi says “has plunged ties to worst levels in decades”. In February, Nairobi accused Mogadishu of auctioning oil exploration rights in a disputed part of the Indian Ocean. Somalia says blocks in the zone under contention have not been included. There has also been longstanding friction over Kenya’s influence in the border state of Jubaland, where Kenyan troops are deployed as part of the AU’s AMISOM peace enforcement operation. Somalia wants them out, and Nairobi says Mogadishu is negotiating with regional powers to usurp its “interests”.

Concerns grow over Ebola spread

Fair to say it has been another worrying week for the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While a relative lull in attacks against healthcare workers and facilities – 132 have been reported since the outbreak was declared in August – allowed operations to resume, data collected showed no let-up the second-deadliest epidemic in history. There are now 1,877 known cases; 1,248 people have died. And the virus may have spread outside Congo, with Ugandan authorities testing blood samples from two people who died in the western part of the country near the Congolese border. The UN appointed an Ebola ‘czar’ this week, David Gressly, to tackle a minefield of security and political issues that have been hampering the response. For a comprehensive look at the risks of regional spread, read the latest Ebola coverage from TNH.

In case you missed it

LIBYA: A top UN official warned the Security Council that Libya risked “civil war” and “permanent division” unless the fighting around the capital, Tripoli, stops. Weeks of clashes between the UN-backed Government of National Accord and forces loyal to rebel general Khalifa Haftar have left dozens of civilians dead and displaced some 75,000 people.

MOZAMBIQUE: An ex-Credit Suisse Group banker has become the first person to plead guilty in a $2 billion fraud and money-laundering scam tied to loans to Mozambique that were used to pay bribes and kickbacks. The deal, using an extortionate interest rate, severely damaged the Mozambican economy. See the TNH story.

SYRIA: An estimated 200,000 people have been displaced from southern Idlib and northern Hama in the first few weeks of May by what many see as the beginning of a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive. An assessment by the humanitarian research group REACH in the partly rebel-held provinces anticipates that figure will swell to 450,000 by the end of the month, with “long-term consequences for the region”.

VENEZUELA: The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said the majority of the 3.7 million Venezuelans who have fled the country since 2015 require international humanitarian protection and must not be forcibly sent home due to “the threats to their lives, security or freedom”.

YEMEN: The World Food Programme threatened to suspend food aid in parts of the country held by Houthi rebels. It says food aid is being diverted and efforts to reach people in need are being repeatedly blocked by local officials. Nearly 12 million people, or about 40 percent of Yemen’s population, are at risk of starvation in what the UN has labelled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Weekend read

In Colombia’s Tumaco, the war isn’t over, it’s just beginning

Three years ago this month the first agreements were announced in a carefully choreographed process that would lead to a landmark peace accord between the Colombian government and the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Praised around the world for making unpopular compromises to end the longest-running conflict in the western hemisphere, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October that year. In our weekend read, Mariana Palau takes you to troubled Tumaco, the FARC’s former cocaine-producing heartlands, and unearths a grim story of disappearances, violent clashes, and mass displacement. The FARC have gone in name only. Other illegal armed groups – the dissidents – have taken their place. Her reporting is a cautionary tale on the need to follow through after demobilisation with proper reintegration, including providing services and work opportunities. Check out this New York Times report for more on the broken promises on both sides.

And finally

How diverse are you?

Was that last cluster meeting a full-on manel? Just how diverse is the aid sector? Melbourne-based think tank Humanitarian Advisory Group is trying to find out. They’ve launched a survey soliciting perspectives on diversity and inclusion in humanitarian leadership positions. It’s part of continuing research aimed at examining what diverse leadership might actually mean: does it lead to better decisions and more inclusive and accountable aid responses? The starting point, researchers say, is figuring out where the aid sector stands today. You can take the survey here.

(TOP PHOTO: UN peacekeepers on patrol in the Central African Republic town of Bouar.)


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