Fleeing Turkish bombs, protesting in Iraq, and ignoring sexual abuse allegations: The Cheat Sheet

Syrian women carry their belongings over their heads as civilians flee amid Turkish bombardment of northeastern Syria.
Syrian women carry their belongings over their heads as civilians flee amid Turkish bombardment of northeastern Syria. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

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

On our radar

Thousands flee Turkish invasion in Syria

Turkey launched its air and ground invasion of northeast Syria on Wednesday. Within the first 72 hours, tens of thousands of civilians had likely already fled their homes. Exactly how many people have piled their belongings onto cars, motorbikes, or trucks – or fled on foot – is not yet clear, given the chaos. Médecins Sans Frontières said on Thursday that most of the border town of Tel Abyad had cleared out, plus another 2,000 people from another border post, further east, in Ras al-Ayn. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 70,000 people had left their homes, while the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said “tens of thousands of civilians are on the move to escape the fighting and seek safety”. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, responded to criticism of the incursion – and the labelling of it as an “occupation” – by threatening to “open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees” towards Europe. For more on what’s at stake for civilians in the northeast, read our recent briefing, published just before the offensive began.

Iraq protest toll climbs above 100

Protests in Baghdad and Iraq’s southern cities continued for the second week, with many people defying curfews, internet shutdowns, and what Human Rights Watch called “excessive and unnecessary lethal force” from security forces, who have killed at least 105 demonstrators (by some counts 150) and injured more than 4,000 since unrest began at the start of October. Protesters have been decrying government corruption, unemployment, and a lack of social services. In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has proposed a package that focuses on housing and social subsidies. He also pulled the military out of Sadr City, a Baghdad neighbourhood and protest hub where the army said “excessive force” had been used against those taking to the streets. On Wednesday, Abdul Mahdi declared three days of national mourning for those killed. It’s unclear if these moves will appease angry Iraqis. Stay tuned to TNH for reporting from Baghdad next week.

Mercy Corps CEO resigns over handling of child abuse allegations

The co-founder and a long-serving senior figure in international NGO Mercy Corps reportedly sexually abused his young daughter over many years, and the organisation twice refused to act when informed by her as an adult. Damning evidence and testimony about Tania Culver Humphrey’s allegations were published in a detailed investigation by The Oregonian newspaper this week. The $500 million-a-year organisation's CEO, Neal Keny-Guyer, its top legal officer, and a board member, have all resigned. Even after the organisation was informed of the allegations in the early 1990s, Ellsworth Culver continued to act as director and represent it, including visiting projects overseas. He died in 2005. The NGO acknowledged "problems" and Humphrey’s "sacrifice" in a letter responding to her complaints in 1994 but did not take decisive action. What's more shocking, according to aid workers and former staff commenting online, is that the NGO declined to review the handling of the case when asked in the #MeToo era of 2018. It has now announced an independent review.

Old foes face off in Mozambique election

Mozambicans will pick a new president, parliament, and provincial governors next Tuesday, following a campaign period sullied by the killing of a prominent election observer, restrictions on assembly, and the arrest of opposition candidates. Zenaida Machado, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said the polls are “on track to be the most violent the country has ever had”. The ruling Frelimo party – in power since 1975 – is expected to retain the presidency, but the opposition Renamo party is likely to pick up several provincial governors. The election comes just two months after the signing of a landmark peace accord between Frelimo and Renamo, bitter rivals who have waged war on and off since the late 1970s. Mozambique analysts worry that if Renamo performs poorly and deems the electoral process unfair – as is common in the country – the accord could quickly unravel. Voters in the northern province of Cabo Delgado – where suspected Islamist insurgents have taken root – will face a particular challenge getting out to the polls, while an armed Renamo splinter group that rejected the August peace deal has threatened to disrupt the vote.

Mental health: Out of sight but not out of mind

Beyond the bullets and bombs, scars from mental illness can linger long after conflicts are over, says Dutch Foreign Trade and Development Minister Sigrid Kaag. To mark World Mental Health week, Kaag announced that the Dutch government would be working with other donors and organisations to tackle mental health issues in crisis situations. About one in five of those living in conflict-affected areas suffer from mental health disorders, according to the World Health Organisation. Evidence has also shown that trauma can have a lasting impact on post-conflict societies. “Not addressing these problems will be more costly in the future,” Peter Maurer, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told TNH at a mental health conference in Amsterdam. “It’s about making the invisible visible.”

Nobel but no let-up for Ethiopian PM

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for restarting peace talks with neighbouring Eritrea, ending a 20-year stalemate between the two countries. Abiy has also been busy on the regional mediation front: he stepped in to ease a maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia, and was instrumental in negotiating a peaceful transition in Sudan between its military rulers and pro-democracy opponents. He has also improved Ethiopia’s human rights record, and significantly increased “the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Nobel Committee (full text here). However, reforms have come at a price. Communal violence has flared in parts of Ethiopia, driving nearly one million from their homes. And, as Ethiopia’s youth struggle to find work, there are repeated fears of a backlash against Abiy from former leaders in the Tigray region. Meanwhile, the much-vaunted peace deal appears to have delivered little real change in Eritrea.

In case you missed it

BURKINA FASO: Some 267,000 people have been uprooted by conflict in just the past three months, according to UNHCR, which said almost 500,000 have fled their homes in total. Jihadist groups have dramatically inceased their presence in Burkina Faso in recent years, while ethnic militias and security forces are also causing chaos.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: A measles outbreak has now taken 4,096 lives this year – far more than the deadly Ebola epidemic ravaging the country’s eastern provinces. Children under five account for 90 percent of the fatalities, according to UNICEF, which said it is rushing medical kits to health centres and scaling up vaccination efforts.

HEALTH: Donors pledged more than $14 billion to fight epidemics over the next three years. The promises were part of a pledging conference held by the Global Fund, the donor agency financing much of the world’s treatment for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Earlier, MSF warned that funding shortfalls were threatening responses in badly affected countries.

JAPAN: Typhoon Hagibis is expected to make landfall near Tokyo on 12 October, bringing record-breaking rains, winds, and damaging storm surges. Japanese officials are comparing the storm to 1958’s Typhoon Ida, which killed hundreds.

STATELESSNESS: Lawyer Azizbek Ashurov was presented this year’s Nansen Award in a Geneva ceremony. The annual accolade, given to people who help refugees, honours Ashurov’s work helping thousands of people who had fallen through bureaucratic cracks in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan to get passports. UNHCR is half way through a 10-year campaign to reduce statelessness.

YEMEN: The United Arab Emirates reportedly pulled some of its forces out of Yemen’s southern city of Aden this week, as part of a possible deal between UAE-backed southern separatists and the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who are on the same side of a broader anti-Houthi rebel coalition but have been in their own standoff since August.

Weekend read

Ten donors and 10 crises dominate humanitarian spending

Expecting the data on emergency aid spending to show big changes or major trends? With the exception of cash assistance – growing 10 percent year-on-year to $4.7 billion – you may be disappointed. On the back of the Global Humanitarian Assistance report, prepared by UK research NGO Development Initiatives, TNH’s Ben Parker sifted through the stats on spending in 2018 and found the landscape largely unchanged. Overall, the usual suspects were the biggest donors and, unsurprisingly, Yemen and Syria got the lion’s share of the assistance. Trailing the data back to 2000, Parker shows how different states have fared over time, but perhaps the biggest takeaway is the lack of change, especially for localisation: funding to local and national NGOs for 2018 stood at just 0.4 percent of the total. As the analyst behind the GHA report said: “the transformation so desperately needed in crisis financing is not yet happening.”

And finally…

The two faces of ‘Girl child’ day

Today is Abiy’s turn to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but five years ago Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, at 17, became the youngest ever recipient in recognition for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swede, addressed world leaders last month in New York at the UN Climate Action Summit after re-energising a global movement and sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to set an example on air travel. On today’s International Day of the Girl Child, the efforts of young women around the world leading the fight for the planet and for social justice are being rightly applauded. But it’s also important to note the oversized impact that conflict and humanitarian emergencies have on women and girls. For a more uplifting take, look back at this 2016 TNH film and meet Millie Wonder, a rape survivor who teaches self-defence to schoolgirls in a Nairobi slum.

(TOP PHOTO: Syrian women carry their belongings over their heads as civilians flee amid Turkish bombardment of northeastern Syria.)

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