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Nigeria’s child detainees, Myanmar’s ‘out of control’ military, and a ‘safe zone’ in Syria: The Cheat Sheet

A girl who was kidnapped by Boko Haram but escaped looks out the window of a camp room in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
A girl who was kidnapped by Boko Haram but escaped looks out the window of a camp room in Maiduguri, Nigeria. (Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo)

Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

Nigeria’s child detention camp

The Nigerian military stands accused of arbitrarily detaining thousands of children in inhuman conditions for suspected involvement with the jihadist group Boko Haram in the country’s northeast. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the children are held in Giwa barracks in Maiduguri – on little or no evidence – in overcrowded cells, where they are subjected to beatings, frequent hunger, and neglect. None of the children interviewed said they were taken before a judge or appeared in court. None were aware of any charges against them. Between January 2013 and March 2019, the armed forces detained more than 3,600 children, including 1,617 girls, in Giwa, according to UN reports. They had typically been arrested during screening procedures outside camps for the displaced or on military operations – in several cases detained as they tried to escape Boko Haram, as TNH has reported. Amnesty International has called for the closure of Giwa and the public release of the government’s presidential panel report into detentions. There has so far been no official response to the HRW report.

Myanmar military ‘out of control’, UN probe says

Two years after more than 700,000 Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a military purge, things have only become worse for the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities remaining in Myanmar, according to a UN-appointed rights probe. Investigators are scheduled to present their final report before the Human Rights Council on 16 and 17 September after more than two years of hurdles (including being blocked from setting foot in Myanmar). In their report, available online already, investigators say there’s new evidence supporting claims that Myanmar’s military is responsible for genocide, including “egregious acts of violence” and other ongoing abuses against Rohingya remaining in Rakhine State. The mission also warns that the military is carrying out abuses against other ethnic minorities as part of both newer and long-running conflicts. With little movement on international accountability over the last two years, the investigators are urging the UN Security Council or the General Assembly to create an ad hoc criminal tribunal. “Accountability remains elusive,” the investigators conclude. “The military is out of control.”

Safety or resettlement in new Syria zone?

Last week saw tough talk from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who threatened to “open the gates” of migration to Europe if he didn’t get backing for his plan to set up a “safe zone” in northeastern Syria. This week, Turkey and the US conducted their first joint patrol of the area, although neither its boundaries nor even what it is called are clear – the US uses the term “security mechanism” to refer to the strip of territory that is, at least for now, holding off a Turkish offensive on Kurdish forces inside Syria. Erdogan has long insisted that his troops should control the border area, but now he also says Turkey plans to send a million Syrian refugees to settle there. It’s not clear how many of Turkey’s 3.6 million Syrians would actually choose to go to this part of the country – or if they would be given a choice – but the comments come at a time of rising pressure on the population to go back home.

Dialogue faux pas in Cameroon?

In a rare public speech on Tuesday, Cameroonian President Paul Biya called for a “national dialogue” to end hostilities in the country’s English-speaking regions. Critics questioned why the 30-minute speech was read entirely in French. The 86-year-old Biya, in power since 1982, said the “dialogue will rally all the sons and daughters of our beloved and beautiful country”, though he failed to clarify whether separatist leaders – some of whom received life-long prison sentences last month – would be invited to participate. Fighting between Cameroon’s security forces and the separatists – who are demanding independence from the majority French-speaking country – has displaced more than 500,000 people, according to the UN. Check out our coverage of the violence and the fallout for civilians.

Migrants in Libya offered a ticket to Rwanda

Some 500 refugees, migrants, or asylum seekers – a first batch of some 4,700 held in what the UN describes as "dire" conditions in detention centres in Libya – will get the option to fly to Rwanda in the coming days. The UN refugee agency says the agreement signed between the UN, the African Union, and the Rwandan government offers a "transit mechanism". This means there are no guarantees regarding refugee status or permanent residence; some may eventually have to return to their home countries. The African Union is committed to provide "political support" and help secure resources. In response to questions from The New Humanitarian about finance, the UN spokesperson, Babar Baloch, said "the European Union is one of the funders", although it was unclear if monies have yet been transferred. Baloch did not say what financial compensation Rwanda is expected to receive for accommodating the migrants.

Sahel displacement: Higher than ever

Rising violence in West Africa’s Sahel region displaced more than 350,000 people in the first half of 2019, according to a mid-year report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. 140,000 new displacements were recorded in Mali, a higher figure than in all of 2018, while 173,000 people were uprooted in Burkina Faso, the “highest figure ever reported” in the country. Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo – most notably in the northeastern province of Ituri – and ethnic tensions in Ethiopia caused the second and third highest displacements in the world from January to June, according to the report. Syria had the highest, with Yemen fourth.

In case you missed it

ETHIOPIA: Two aid workers with the US-based charity Action Against Hunger were killed last week in an ambush on their vehicle by gunmen near the Nguenyyiel Refugee Camp in Gambela, western Ethiopia. The aid group suspended full operations in response. Gambela has suffered cross-border raids by bandits from South Sudan in the past.

THE PHILIPPINES: Dengue has killed more than 1,000 people (including 400 children) in the Philippines this year in what Save the Children says is the country’s worst outbreak since 2012. Dengue cases are more than double last year’s total, according to the UN, and rising elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific.

SOUTHEAST ASIA: Floods have displaced more than 40,000 people in southern Laos, according to the regional disaster management agency AHA. Areas in northeast Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam are also inundated, while water gauges are at “alarm stage” along parts of the Mekong River in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

SOUTH SUDAN: President Salva Kiir and exiled opposition leader Riek Machar have committed to form a transitional unity government by mid-November, following talks this week in Juba. The two rivals signed a peace deal in September 2018, with Machar supposed to take over as vice president in May, but the agreement was delayed by six months.

US-MEXICO: The US Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the Trump administration could enforce new rules that bar asylum applications from people who have passed through other countries on their way to the US without seeking protection there first. The move will primarily affect Central Americans, but could also affect Africans, many of whom arrive at the US-Mexico border after passing through South and Central America.

Weekend read

In Yemen, one nurse’s fight against hunger

July to September is harvest time in much of Yemen, but 53 months into a conflict that has led to what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, there has been precious little to harvest this year. This is especially the case in places like Hajjah province, home to five of the 11 districts in Yemen designated as food security emergencies by the US-funded famine monitor FEWS NET. Our weekend read, reported from one of those five districts, Aslam, offers a hard on-the-ground look at a fact the nurse in our photo feature, Makiah al-Aslami, must confront every day: people are starving right now. ‘Unfortunately, some of them will die in the villages I can’t reach,” she says.

And finally…

Dead even before the real journey begins

More than 7,400 people have died on migration routes through Africa in the past five years before even attempting to cross the sea to Europe, the Arabian peninsula, or elsewhere, according to the International Organization of Migration’s Missing Migrants Project. The death toll, however, is likely much higher. Only reported deaths based on hundreds of eyewitness accounts were added to the tally. Witnesses reported that people died of starvation, dehydration, weather, vehicle accidents, and violence at the hands of smugglers.

(TOP PHOTO: A girl who was kidnapped by Boko Haram but escaped looks out the window of a camp room in Maiduguri, Nigeria.)


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