Top Picks: Bad brothers, brilliant drawings, and broken healthcare

An illustration of Syrian refugees in a barbers shop Olivier Kugler/MSF
Syrian refugees drawn by artist Olivier Kugler

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:

Returning to Syria for healthcare?

There are nearly 640,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, and the country says that’s all it can take. That leaves 47,550 asylum seekers and counting stuck at the border. Inside the country, as this report from Amnesty International explains, accessing healthcare has become a struggle. Why? It’s complicated. Despite the popular perception of refugees in tents, 80 percent of Syrians in Jordan live in urban areas. To see a doctor they need a series of documents, and this costs money. Some aren’t even eligible for the papers. Syrians outside the camps who make it through the bureaucratic hurdles pay the same amount for medical care as uninsured Jordanians. But those who can't navigate the maze of foreign officialdom, pay up to 60 percent more. That's cost prohibitive for many, and can mean no treatment at all. Amnesty gives Jordan a hat tip for allowing some entry of war-wounded and emergency medical cases, but says its simply not enough – people are dying at the border or returning to war-torn parts of Syria to seek help.

“Living in hell”

Indonesia’s mental health system is seriously sick. That’s the verdict from Human Rights Watch, which reports that people with psychosocial disabilities often spend years chained up, despite a 1977 ban on the practice. Shackling is just one form of abuse. Patients in institutions are also subjected to forced contraception, involuntary electric shock treatments, and physical and sexual assault. “Imagine living in hell, it’s like that here,” a patient at a religious healing centre told HRW. And abuses don’t just take place in institutions. One woman’s family locked her up for 15 years in a tiny room where she was forced to eat, urinate, defecate and sleep on rubble. One problem is that there simply aren’t enough services. There are only about 700 psychiatrists in a country of 250 million people, and 90 percent of those who want to access mental health services are unable to do so. HRW urges the government to amend the Mental Health Act to grant people with psychosocial disabilities the same rights as other Indonesians, and to invest more in mental health.

I Love the U.N., but It Is Failing

“Sour grapes” is how several aid workers described Anthony Banbury’s Op-Ed in the New York Times last Sunday. In it, Banbury – until very recently an assistant secretary-general at the UN – argues that he resigned from the organisation after nearly three decades because of “colossal mismanagement”. While most of his peers agree with what he wrote, some have questioned his motivations for writing it (rumours range from the suggestion that he’s angry at his former boss to his desire for a job with the next US administration). One long-time humanitarian described him as “arrogant and infantile, like most senior UN officials”; another characterised the piece as “displaced dissent”. Mostly, equally frustrated aid workers have asked why he didn’t speak up when he was in a position of power and influence, and whether he wasn’t also part of the problem (he led the UN’s response to the Ebola outbreak, widely considered a failure; though he appears to have spoken up, internally at least, against the deployment of Congolese soldiers to the peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, and cried when he announced the resulting sexual abuse scandal to reporters). His critiques are not new – as the satirical website The Pillar has pointed out, twice – so why, his critics ask, did he wait until he was sitting on a fat pension to make them? Not that he needs it anyway: he’s off to work with billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen.

Brother’s keeper

Why do so many terrorists turn out to be brothers? Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, the Brussels suicide bombers, join a long list of siblings involved in recent terror attacks. Nearly every major attack on Western soil has involved siblings – with three sets of Saudi brothers among the 19 hijackers who carried out September 11, the New York Times reports.

Salah and Ibrahim Abdeslam are believed to be involved in the Paris assault in November that killed 130 people; the Kouachi brothers gunned down 12 people in the Charlie Hebdo attack; the Tsarnaev brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan, carried out the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon… the list goes on.

“For terror groups, brothers can be ideal recruits. They radicalise each other while reinforcing a sense of purpose and ideological calling. They keep watch on each other to ensure an attack is carried out. One new study suggests that up to 30 percent of members of terrorist groups share family ties,” says the NYT.

One to listen to:

Fraud at polls: can journalists and statisticians check? The Mozambican experience

The ruling FRELIMO party has won every Mozambican election. But did they really, and how can we weigh the inevitable fraud complaints by their opponents? In this podcast, veteran Mozambican watcher Joseph Hanlon discusses how teams of up to 150 journalists covered the elections across the country and reported that fraud and misconduct did occur. This is a first report on a unique project to put the journalists and statisticians together –and test the official outcome of five presidential elections.

One to look at:

Refugees illustrated

We love German artist Olivier Kugler’s reportage-style illustrations of Syrian refugees. He has traced their route from the Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq to the Greek island of Kos and finally to Switzerland. He uses the personal testimonies of the refugees he meets and interviews to draw his illustrations on location or from his own reference photos. The result is a powerful combination of the emotional and the factual that includes revealing details about the refugees’ surroundings and personal circumstances.

His illustrations from Kos were featured in the February issue of Harper’s Magazine (only viewable with a subscription). You can also see them at the International Comix Festival in Switzerland from 16 – 24 April where Médecins Sans Frontières will be showcasing his work.

One from IRIN:

Life gets crowded on the bottom rung in Yemen

The civil war in Yemen began in earnest a year ago this  week. The anniversary went largely unnoticed by the international media despite significant recent developments. The UN special envoy has announced that a ceasefire will take hold on 10 April, ahead of a new round of peace talks between the warring parties, beginning on 18 April in Kuwait. As faint hopes resurface of an end to the conflict, Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod and Yemen contributor Nasser al-Sakkaf use the plight of the Muhamasheen, the poorest outcasts, as a way to explore how the war has upended Yemeni society. They are no longer alone on the bottom rung; many other groups have lost so much as the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen takes little notice of colour or tribe. What kind of new order might emerge and how can those on the margins be protected?

Coming up:

Remembering UN staffers detained or missing

Not so much coming up as happening right now. Today, the UN holds an international day of solidarity for staff members detained or missing around the globe. A total of 33 UN and associated personnel are held in 15 different countries.  One staff member is missing and two contractors are still in the hands of their abductees. "On this International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff, I urge intensified efforts to bring all perpetrators of such heinous crimes to justice, and to end impunity,” said UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

For a more detailed look at attacks on aid workers between 2000 and 2015, see our interactive map.


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