Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.
On our radar:
Fate of Yemen port in the balance
In an attempt to slow down the battle for the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Martin Griffiths, the UN’s envoy to Yemen, has certainly been busy of late, meeting with various parties to Yemen’s war and, most recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Griffiths has had some success in staving off a full-scale military press while he tries to restart negotiations, but civilians in the city and wider province are in a dangerous limbo, with 33,000 fleeing since the start of June and many more risking it all to stay put and protect homes and livelihoods. As it can often seem like just the voices of foreigners talking about the importance of Hodeidah, here’s a just-published open letter from a group of Yemeni experts on the risks of further military escalation in the province. Check back with us soon for a view from the ground in a country where the UN estimates more than 11 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance to survive.
“Collective punishment” in Gaza?
Last Monday, in response to a series of incendiary kites and balloons sent from Gaza over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was closing Israel’s border with the Palestinian enclave to almost all goods: only supplies Israel classifies as humanitarian are allowed in; no exports can leave; and the area Palestinian fishermen can use has been reduced. The move was condemned by human rights groups as collective punishment, while the EU said it “expects Israel to reverse these decisions”, and a UN expert said the restrictions would worsen Gaza’s already “dire humanitarian crisis.” This week, UN humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick visited Gaza and said he was especially concerned about the impact of fuel shortfalls on health, water, and sanitation services, warning: “we are steps away from a disastrous deterioration”.
War and peace in Afghanistan
Civilian deaths the highest in a decade, casualties from suicide attacks soaring, schools increasingly under attack: these are all alarming trends from the UN’s latest tally of conflict casualties in Afghanistan, released this week. The mission recorded 1,692 deaths through the first half of the year – the most since the UN began tracking and releasing civilian casualty figures in 2009 (when it recorded 1,052 deaths from conflict). It’s hard to imagine a positive takeaway from such disconcerting stats, but here’s one attempt: for three short days in June, when the government and the Taliban both agreed to put aside their weapons for an end-of-Ramadan ceasefire, the UN recorded almost no civilian casualties caused by either side (fighters aligned with the so-called Islamic State, who were not part of the ceasefire, claimed two suicide attacks that killed dozens). A few more cautiously promising signs: Taliban officials have reportedly ordered a stop to suicide bombings in civilian areas, while the White House is also reportedly mulling talks with the Taliban, which has insisted any potential peace plan must include direct negotiations with the United States. As the International Crisis Group notes in a briefing looking at how to build on the June ceasefire: “The US speaking directly to the Taliban is the best bet for… kickstarting a long-overdue peace process.”
One to listen to:
Speaking of the US in Afghanistan…
It’s no secret that a long history of missteps in Afghanistan’s post-war reconstruction have contributed to today’s humanitarian crisis, but this “lessons learned” report on 15 years of US “stabilisation” efforts makes for a sobering read. The new season of NPR’s Rough Translation – a podcast favourite among a few IRIN editors – takes a deep dive into one short-lived US military programme that immersed a handful of US soldiers in Afghan culture and languages. Take a listen to learn more about the controversy of stopping for pizza in Kabul, how to turn a cooking show into an anti-corruption metaphor, and a heartbreaking twist – which, like this Cheat Sheet, nevertheless includes a flicker of hope.
Handle with care
Countries shouldn't have to be in full-blown meltdown to merit aid and attention. And if the international system concentrates only on "fire-fighting" crises that have already broken out, it risks storing up trouble for later, missing opportunities for preventing countries from slipping off the edge. Don’t believe us, believe this new survey from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which says some 2.3 billion people now live in "fragile contexts". It's not just about war: corruption, climate change, organised crime, and chronic poverty are just some of the ingredients in an OECD methodology that combines dozens of indicators to come up with a ranking of 58 fragile contexts – 15 of them extremely fragile. In the highs and lows, Cambodia and Lesotho no longer count as fragile, but circumstances in Djibouti, Iran, and Nepal worsened and led to their inclusion in this year's report. It's a whopper: 281 pages and some extra statistics on code-sharing website GitHub – plenty to get your teeth into.
Our weekend read:
In this high summer season for migrants crossing the central Mediterranean – and consequently for deaths at sea – there’s plenty of media coverage about EU in-fighting and “burden-sharing”. Critics cry foul that hastily cobbled EU compromises are building a “Fortress Europe” and amount to an offshoring of asylum processing that cuts against human rights law. There is certainly plenty of blame to go around: the EU condemns NGO rescue vessels for acting as a pull factor; they in turn accuse the Italian government and the Libyan Coast Guard of leaving stricken women and children to die. But what of as many as one million migrants and refugees stuck in Libya wrestling with whether to go for it, stay put, or seek resettlement or repatriation? In May, regular IRIN contributor Tom Westcott gained rare access to detention centres in Libya and interviewed dozens of migrants and asylum seekers who had an array of frustrations, dreams, and stories to tell. This latest instalment of our “Destination Europe” series is a two-parter profiling the people at the heart of the exodus and highlighting their confusion as they try to work out what EU and UN initiatives – with their complex eligibility procedures – can do for them. Given the poor conditions in Libya, the endless wait, and the lure of a possible new life in a Western democracy, many are still deciding to risk it and get on a smuggler’s boat.
What happened to sexual abuse victims in CAR?
In April 2015, long before the days of #MeToo and #AidToo, a sexual abuse scandal erupted in the Central African Republic. It made headlines around the world and profoundly damaged trust between Central Africans and the UN peacekeeping mission there. The first testimonies were from young children who claimed to have been raped and sodomised by French soldiers at a camp for internally displaced people in 2013 and 2014. Then, during a four-month investigation in 2016, more than 150 women came forward as potential victims and 41 peacekeepers from Gabon and Burundi were identified as suspects. Anger over alleged cover-ups and slow responses gave way to investigations, independent reviews, and promises victims would be looked after. But what happened next? We can’t give much away now, but look out next week for the third and final part of Philip Kleinfeld’s special report from CAR in which he follows up on all of the above, with shocking and sad results.
Kleinfeld spent five weeks in CAR meeting peacekeepers, warlords, aid workers, and civilians whose lives intersect in a country rich in resources but impoverished by coups, mutinies, and civil war. To get up to speed, check out his first two stories below, or, for more, including a revealing interview with Kleinfeld himself, click on this series link:
(TOP PHOTO: A displaced family fleeing Hodeidah on 18 July 2018. CREDIT: NRC)