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IRIN's Top Picks: Homophobia in Kenya, helping refugees and humanitarian hotlines

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

Four to read:

Homophobia on the rise in Kenya

“For many LGBT people... safety is a daily concern.” In a country that has yet to fully decriminalise same-sex relationships, mob attacks against sexual minorities living on the coast in Kenya have become frighteningly more common, says a new report from Human Rights Watch. Based on interviews with more than 60 gay and bisexual men, lesbians, transgender women, government officials, activists and more, their findings expose Kenya’s poor track record in protecting the LGBT community against flares of violence. It also draws attention to the ambiguous role of the police, who have in some cases shielded victims from abuse, and yet do not do enough to then bring perpetrators to justice.

Exiled once, exiled forever?

Did you know that once a refugee is displaced for six months, they are likely to stay that way for at least three years? An in-depth briefing from the Humanitarian Policy Group says this phenomenon of protracted displacement is not new, yet solutions to help the exiled return to any semblance of a normal life are few and far between. With comprehensive data crunching on global displacement figures, it attempts to unpick the traditional aid-centric approach to helping refugees and analyses how IDPs can achieve sustainable livelihoods: for example, by encouraging their access to work permits or freedom of movement. Providing essential opportunity for the displaced isn’t just a “human rights issue,” the briefing says, “but also offers practical economic and social returns to host states.”

The SDGs should stand for Senseless, Dreamy, Garbled

Following the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or what one writer recently labelled “a high school wishlist on how to save the world,” William Easterly gives an acerbic takedown of the agenda’s aims. Writing for Foreign Policy, Easterly first lambasts the “unactionable, unquantifiable” and simply “unattainable” targets for the SDGs, which are too wide-ranging (“ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions,” “universal health coverage”), and therefore so “encyclopedic that everything is top priority, which means nothing is a priority.” One point near the end sums up the crux of the issue: “Sustainable” is so overused in so many different contexts that it means very little — we might as well call them the “Some-such Development Goals.”

Do humanitarian hotlines help?

Who do people call in a crisis? Not helplines, according to this intriguing blogpost by Nick van Praag, director of Ground Truth Solutions. Hotlines set up around the word by humanitarian agencies to help civilians are failing to attract vulnerable people with problems. For example, according to a 2008 study of a call center in Gaza, many believed seeking help from outside their communities was “an admission of weakness, failure, or dependence.” In Haiti and Kenya, the majority of calls to helplines were simply general enquiries. Nepal’s hotline reportedly logged just 700 of the 35,000 calls it received in its first week and eventually collapsed. The only hotline van Praag cited that did seem to work well, a small one in a camp in Haiti, got just three calls a day. Van Praag’s most telling conclusion was so simple it should be self-evident but apparently isn’t. “The ability to act quickly on phoned-in queries and concerns is crucial.”

One to listen to:

Doing good isn’t always good

“I’m now struggling to see what the good ways of helping are. Wealthy nations continue to cause disaster, poverty in Haiti. And the path to understanding is looking at how we contribute to that destruction.” These are strong words from Marylynn Steckley, a PhD graduate who contributes to the latest episode of CBC’s Ideas from the Trenches. Hosted by producers Tom Howell and Nicola Luksic, this devastating examination of foreign aid shows how modern day attempts at economic development in the country carry echoes of history – land is stolen from farmers to make way for factories where bosses demand long hours for wages that barely allow workers to survive. Whatever the solution to Haiti’s problems, the policy analysts and professors featured here suggest outside interventions should no longer be part of it.

Coming up:

The Humanitarian Congress, Berlin, 9-10th October

Next week heralds the 17th Humanitarian Congress in the German capital, an annual conference bringing together international experts from the aid sector as well as from the political, academic and medical fields to discuss the future of global humanitarian action. The two-day event will feature keynote speeches from John Nduna, general secretary at the ACT Alliance and Germán Velásquez, special adviser for health and development at the South Centre. It also includes debates on how to provide better access to healthcare in crisis-affected states and about what can be done to solve the situation in Ukraine, as well as workshops on understanding humanitarian law, creating sustainable approaches to fight malnutrition, and much, much more.

From IRIN:

Humans of Syria

A paediatrician who dreams of becoming a neurological surgeon. A lawyer who helps women divorce runaway husbands. An English teacher who speaks four other languages. A 17-year-old with five years’ experience as a barber. What do they have in common? They’re all refugees who have arrived on the shores of the Greek island of Lesvos. Our photo feature profiles the lives of nine Syrians who escaped the conflict back home and now wish to make use of their professional skills in Europe. One thing is crystal clear: rather than being objects of pity, they, like many of us, are simply seeking the best future possible for themselves and their families.

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