Top Picks: Race, sexuality, and earthquakes

A displaced mother walked for hours with her son to get food relief and a blanket in the village of Kharanitar in Nepal's Nuwakot district. Supplies are often dropped far away from remote villages Naresh Newar/IRIN

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:

No lost generation

Why are so many people risking their lives to escape to Europe? War, yes. But even for those who have escaped danger, life is increasingly difficult in many parts of the Middle East. Take it from them: the Norweigian Refugee Council spoke to young people aged 15 to 24 in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraqi Kurdistan; both refugees and members of local host communities. They told the charity of their concerns and experiences with lack of documentation, gender-based violence (including forced and early marriage), and overall insecurity. It’s hard to find work, and many young refugees who do are exploited and paid low wages. Their non-refugee counterparts feel the influx of Syrians has made it harder to get hired. But this doesn’t have to be a lost generation. The voices in this report are of young people who want to study, work, and contribute to society. The concerns and needs of young people can get lost in the mix of humanitarian crises, but they ought to be at the centre of policy.

More than just luck: Innovation in humanitarian action

While innovation has been a real buzzword in the humanitarian sector in recent years, aid agencies have struggled to innovate systematically and to scale. The result of one year of research, this report by the learning and accountability network, ALNAP, and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund draws lessons on innovation from 15 case studies: from OpenStreetMap for humanitarians, to more durable and lightweight wheelchairs for disabled people in emergency settings. The authors offer a step-by-step guide and identify several factors for successful innovation, such as having the right evidence before you get started, including end users in your innovation process, and identifying sustainable models for scaling. (For more, see IRIN’s analysis on taking innovation from hype to reality: Do bright ideas in aid need checks and balances?)

Too many earthquakes

Earthquakes are a hot topic in the humanitarian community right now. Major temblors hit Japan and Ecuador last weekend, while 25 April will see the one-year anniversary of the massive Nepal quake that killed more than 8,000 people. The Japan and Ecuador quakes struck just hours apart, prompting speculation they were somehow related. Not so, said the New York Times. But the quakes did provide an opportunity to compare the damage relative to each country’s preparedness and response level, as this IRIN animation illustrates. Likewise, the Nepal quake anniversary has prompted a flurry of statements assessing reconstruction efforts so far. Plan International pointed out that the government is preventing schools from being rebuilt, while the Red Cross said that four million people remain homeless. Earlier this month, IRIN reported that $4 billion pledged for reconstruction remains largely unspent due to government mismanagement. These problems seem to have escaped the UN’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, however. He applauded the Nepalese government for being “determined not to revert to business as usual” by writing new building codes for quake-proof construction. That’s a laudable initiative. Of course it is. But did the government really need to take so long to put the new codes in place?

Pop up ads to combat racism

German YouTube users who try to search for videos by far-right anti-immigration group Pegida, or type in search terms such as “Refugees out” are being confronted instead with clips of refugees challenging their prejudices. Like those infuriating ads that pop up regularly before YouTube videos, the clips made by nine refugees as part of a campaign called “Search racism. Find truth” cannot be skipped. So someone trying to watch a video of Lutz Bachman, the founder of Pegida, will first have to listen to Arif, a 31-year-old from Syria. “Lutz Bachman’s going to tell you that all refugees are criminals. I’ve never been to prison, but Lutz Bachman has,” he says, before going on to list the crimes that Bachman has been sentenced for. Among the other refugees participating in the campaign is Syrian film-maker Firas al-Shater, who has become a YouTube sensation in Germany in his own right, using his comedic talents to dispel suspicion of refugees.   

The “Search racism. Find truth” campaign was launched on Wednesday by the German organisation Refugees Welcome, which is better known for pairing willing hosts with refugees in need of a place to stay.

One to watch:


If you only watch one gay turtle video this week, it should be this one. In a softly lit Turkish shop, a hidden camera observes patrons who are reptile shopping. A friendly employee informs them that the particular turtle they’re interested in is gay. One couple is fine with it; they’ll be giving it away as a present anyway. “Is it contagious?” one woman asks. Another guy just wants “a normal, non-gay, standard turtle.” Absurd, clever, and even a bit funny, this campaign from Amnesty International Turkey ends on a somber note: homophobia has been the root of hundreds of hate crimes and 41 hate murders in the past five years in Turkey. “Love is love. Hate is a choice,” it finishes, with a catchy hashtag. The campaign is simple and effective, and has more than a million views for good reason. #GayTurtle.

One from IRIN:

Where are they hiding?

An unknown number of Syrian war criminals made it to Europe amid last year’s influx of refugees.

Mohamed Abdullah posts a photograph on Facebook after his arrival in Sweden. But activists and other refugees are circulating ugly images from his past. In one, Abdullah is standing with his boot on the corpse of a man in civilian clothing surrounded by other corpses. He is looking directly into the camera, a grim half-smile on his face. Eventually, Abdullah is found and accused of war crimes committed between 2012 and 2015. However, the case is eventually dismissed due to a lack of corroborating witnesses. The Swedish authorities released Abdullah last month. His current whereabouts are unknown.

This fascinating report by IRIN Contributor Tom Rollins takes us into a hidden world of special investigative units, regime defectors and anonymous tip-offs. Up to 2,000 Syrian war criminals could be hiding in Europe, according to one source. But prosecuting them will be extremely difficult. Access to crimes scenes in Syria is nigh on impossible and tracking down corroborating witnesses is even harder than finding the suspects.

Coming up:

Are you listening now?

Thursday 5th May 2016, 2pm @ City University London

It’s no secret. Shout it from the rooftops. The need to communicate – and the idea that information is a form of assistance in its own right – is increasingly acknowledged as a fundamental, urgent and neglected part of disaster response. This event at London’s City University aims to explore how humanitarian organisations can better communicate with those affected by disaster and to offer a critique of media development work in Nepal since the 2015 earthquake. Featuring speakers from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Internews, BBC Media Action, and the CDAC Network, the panel discussion is chaired by City’s Humanitarian News Research Network. IRIN has background reading on the topic, both generally and with a focus on Nepal.

To register or find out more, see here.


Staying with Nepal – as the anniversary of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake looms, you may be interested in checking out this photograph book project by Spanish photojournalist Omar Havana. The images are a stunning and graphic reminder of the human stories that lie behind the simple statistics.


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