Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Mass abuse in Nigeria’s Islamic schools
More than 1,000 young men and boys have been freed in less than a month from private Islamic schools in northern Nigeria, where many have been chained, beaten, and sexually abused. In the latest case in Katsina, 500 students were released by the police. Injuries to some were so serious they needed help walking. Islamic schools, called almajiris in Nigeria, are common in the north of the country and attract students from across the Sahel. Parents enrol their children for several years for religious instruction, but the tradition is open to abuse, with children often encouraged to beg on the streets to support themselves and their koranic teachers. Almajiris were banned by the government in June. Past efforts to reform the system have failed. The latest cases are seen as a personal blow to President Muhammadu Buhari, as Katsina is his hometown.
Land seizures compound drought dangers in Angola
More than two million Angolans are threatened by drought in the south of the country, UNICEF has warned, with failed rains decimating pastoralists’ herds in the province of Huila. According to Amnesty International, livelihoods have been further undermined by the illegal occupation of large tracts of communal grazing land. The rights group says the fertile areas have been seized “without due process” by politically well-connected commercial cattle farmers, who have denied pastoralists access. The situation has been made worse by the arrival of herders from the neighbouring provinces of Namibe and Cunene in search of pasture. Look out for TNH’s upcoming reporting from southern Angola.
A Turkish pause
After more than a week of mass displacement, fear, and uncertainty following a Turkish offensive in northeast Syria, US Vice President Mike Pence announced, from Ankara, a five-day ceasefire that would allow Kurdish fighters to leave a “safe zone” Turkey wants to control on its border with Syria, which he said would then be followed by a long-term ceasefire. But the future of the region is still far from clear: Turkey’s interior minister described the break in fighting as a “pause for our operation”, and there are questions about the feasibility of the deal, given that most of the main powers in the northeast – namely the Syrian government, their Russian allies, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces – were apparently not part of the negotiations. The UN estimates that 2.2 million people live in the northeast, and 160,000 – including some 70,000 children – have been forced to flee their homes since Turkish troops crossed the border last Wednesday.
Slow headway on sexual exploitation and abuse
So, British parliamentarians haven’t just been obsessing over Brexit. On Thursday, they issued a scathing assessment of progress to tackle sexual abuse and exploitation in the humanitarian sector, two years after the Oxfam scandal. Measures “aimed at providing better reporting and complaints mechanisms for victims and survivors seem to place significant weight on developing the theory and substantially less on ensuring changes in practice,” the International Development Select Committee concluded. Urging faster implementation of safeguarding measures and greater support for whistleblowers, MPs also called for an end to “voluntary self-regulation” and the introduction of an independent ombudsman – an idea being floated by the Dutch government. Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, the UK network for NGOs, accused the panel of overlooking “months of hard work from the NGO sector to up its game”. But such issues are again in the spotlight after the resignation of the Mercy Corps CEO over a sexual abuse scandal and a damning external review of workplace practices at the UN’s World Food Programme. Here’s a roundup of TNH’s recent reporting on sexual exploitation and abuse.
One to listen to:
How a forgotten tsunami helped Israel prepare for disaster today
Israel has tsunami evacuation drills and outreach programmes, but this wasn’t always the case. For years, archaeologist Beverly Goodman looked for clues to how part of the ancient Roman city of Caesarea ended up under water. The search for evidence had her sifting through layers of buried sediment, and even cross-referencing timelines with passages in the Talmud, the ancient Jewish text. Her answer: a tsunami in 115 AD crashed into Caesarea and buried its harbour. Nearly two millennia later, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami jolted the world into an awareness of tsunami threats, Israeli disaster management officials turned to one of the few people who had studied the issue in Israel: Goodman. For the full story, check out this National Geographic podcast episode: Digging up Disaster.
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: Civilian conflict casualties continue to soar and are at near record-high levels, according to quarterly statistics released by the UN this week. July saw more than 1,589 casualties – the highest single-month total in a decade. The UN recorded more than 450 casualties from violence targeting the September presidential elections. The results of those polls are likely to be delayed past the planned 19 October release date.
GUINEA: At least four people have been killed this week by security forces in demonstrations protesting a possible change to the constitution to allow President Alpha Condé to run for a third term next year. The opposition, which has vowed to continue to protest, has called for a “clear, firm, and irrevocable declaration” from Condé renouncing a third term.
HAITI: After 15 years, UN peacekeepers have wrapped up their mission in Haiti. The departure comes amid violent protests that have crippled the country for more than a month. Protesters are calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who has so far refused to step down. He and others are accused of embezzling funds earmarked for infrastructure improvements and social programmes.
YEMEN: Saudi Arabian troops took control of key points in Yemen’s southern city of Aden this week as part of a deal, still to be signed, that is expected to end a standoff over the city between Yemen’s government and United Arab Emirates-backed southern separatists.
The humanitarian principle of non-refoulement, forbidding the return of refugees to countries where they're likely to come into harm’s way, is again to the fore, this time in Tanzania. As TNH's Philip Kleinfeld explains in our weekend read, some 200,000 Burundians are under increasing pressure to head home – thousands have already done so. Countering assertions from the Tanzanian and Burundian governments, who signed a deal to begin weekly repatriations from 1 October, the UN’s refugee agency says conditions are still not conducive for returns. The potential threat for perceived opponents of President Pierre Nkurunziza – ahead of looming 2020 elections – throws the issue into sharp relief. While Burundi insists all is calm, a UN Commission of Inquiry reported last month that this is an “illusion” created by a climate of fear. For more on why it's even more important that returns are truly voluntary in such a context, read this TNH op-ed.
Caring is sharing
Say what you like about President Donald Trump, but the United States is the world’s most giving nation. That’s according to the UK’s Charities Aid Foundation’s index, which, more surprisingly perhaps, has three developing countries – Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia – in its philanthropic top 10. The most generous African country, Kenya, gets 11th place. The index surveyed three types of giving behaviour – helping a stranger, donating money, and volunteering – across 125 countries. Last placed, because we’re not generous of spirit, was China, followed by Greece.
(TOP PHOTO: Kurdish Syrian civilians flee the town of Kobane on the Turkish border on 16 October 2019.)