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IRIN's Top Picks: City migration, trafficking ivory and cross-border disasters

Syrian children cross the Hungarian border András D Hajdú/IRIN
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is introducing an $81 million “winterization” plan to protect thousands of Syrians as they cross through Europe in the coming months. Will it work?
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:

The World Migration Report

Did you know that one in five migrants live in the world’s 20 largest cities? This year’s flagship report from the International Organization for Migration attempts to redraw the borders of the debate itself, moving away from the distinction between national and international to focus solely on the urban. It outlines how migration is increasingly transforming our cities, and reveals that more than three million people now move to them every week. Alongside this however, nearly nine million people also live in urban slums, up from 650,000 in 1990. The report concludes that for governments and communities seeing rising rates of migration, especially in developing countries, the challenge is now to deal with “super-diversity” and the greater competition for jobs and public services between different ethnic groups.

Disasters without borders

Half a million people in the Asia-Pacific have lost their lives to disasters over the past decade and nearly 1.4 billion people have been affected, making it the most disaster-prone region in the world, according to a new report compiled by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). So what can be done to help? Disasters are often cross-border in nature, as shown recently by the 7.5-magnitude earthquake that killed hundreds and injured thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, joined-up thinking and international cooperation are important, and governments must shift “from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention," the report says. This includes investing in long-term disaster risk reduction strategies, such as efficient early warning systems, as well as improving resources to cope with global climate change. As Shamshad Akhtar, head of the UN’s regional development arm for the Asia-Pacific region, warns: "Building resilience is not a choice or luxury for us, but a compulsion.”

Tusk wars

Joseph Kony’s Lord's Resistance Army may be down, but they’re not out, says watchdog group Enough Project in a new briefing. Extensive field research and interviews with LRA defectors reveal how the rebels continue to traffick ivory from the Democratic Republic of Congo's Garamba National Park, where the elephants are poached, to be traded with merchants in Kafia Kingi, a territory controlled by Sudan, in return for supplies. The report also warns that unless anti-poaching efforts against the group are bolstered, rangers believe the number of elephants in the country, reduced from around 20,000 in the 1980s to fewer than 1,000 this year, could soon disappear entirely. The LRA’s ranks are now diminished to just 120 fighters, scattered over three countries; but the hunt goes on for Kony himself, who for years has evaded capture by a joint African Union force backed by US special forces.

Winter is coming

With colder weather setting in, Foreign Policy exclusively reports that the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is introducing an $81 million “winterization” plan to protect thousands of Syrians as they cross through Europe in the coming months. António Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, tells Siobhan O’Grady in a wide-ranging interview that while rougher seas and cold weather may lead some to think twice about making the dangerous journey, conditions in welcome centres and other shelters in frontline states must be improved: “[T]he pressure will go on, eventually with a decrease in numbers because of the weather but not a decrease in the anxiety and desperation of the Syrian people.” Guterres also appears to pour cold water on the idea of a safe zone in Syria for refugees, saying “[t]he worst thing you can do is to have a false impression of safety in an area where so many actors of such different natures are operating.”

One to watch:

Genocide agenda

An explosive new documentary from Al Jazeera uncovers how former military leaders in Myanmar, who claimed to be ushering in a new era of democracy, may have been involved in triggering anti-Muslim riots, with “strong evidence” pointing towards an intentional and potentially genocidal campaign against the Rohingya minority. Using a cache of confidential documents, Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit, along with advocacy group Fortify Rights and various legal experts, reveal how Myanmar’s government has been using hate speech to stir anti-Muslim fears among the population, and has even enlisted the help of hardline Buddhist groups to take part in massacres in Rakhine State. "It wasn't communal violence," says professor Penny Green from the University of London. "It was planned violence. Express buses were organised" to bring in ethnic Rakhine from other areas to take part in the violence. Such an organised campaign could amount to systematic extermination, prompting former UN rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Quintana to conclude that President Thein Sein should be investigated for genocide.

One to look at:

The flow towards Europe

With Europe facing its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, how can we best visualise it? A stunning interactive map from Finnish website Lucify takes data from UNHCR to plot accurate migration patterns for refugees between 2012 and 2015. Each moving point on the map represents 25 people, or around one busload, as they traverse countries and make their way north. Hovering over each nation can also produce more specific views. Along with the map, the developers have included some comparisons for good measure: “The United Nations estimates that half a million Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Europe between April 2011 and September 2015. Standing very tightly together, they would fit on eight soccer fields.”

From IRIN:

#Refugeesnotwelcome in Germany?

“The logistical challenge of housing, feeding and registering... new arrivals is only the first hurdle for German authorities. The next stage is likely to be much harder and could take decades.” This year has already seen more than half a million asylum seekers pour into Germany. That is all well and good, but how smoothly is the integration going? Not very, according to this in-depth report. First there is the crowded makeshift housing for new arrivals. Then there is the lengthening delay for claims to be registered, let alone considered. From vocational schools that can't keep up with the demand for German classes to pilot job training schemes that only reach a fraction of those in need of work, our longread looks at the initiatives trying to help refugees adjust to a new life and a new culture. But while Chancellor Angela Merkel has been praised for welcoming refugees, support for her asylum policies is waning and researchers warn that unless it is “accompanied by parallel efforts to secure political buy-in from local communities,” anti-refugee sentiment in the country, stoked by right-wing and neo-Nazi groups, will only increase.


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