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Nigeria’s ‘massacre’, migrant helpers on trial, and celebrating young humanitarians: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

(Louise O'Brien/TNH)

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

You can also watch the video version of The Cheat Sheet here.

On our radar

Nigerian army accused of #EndSARS ‘massacre’

A judicial panel of inquiry has found the Nigerian army killed at least 11 people when soldiers opened fire on unarmed protestors at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos just over a year ago – a politically seismic event that still reverberates. The panel’s report, submitted on 15 November to the Lagos state government, described the shootings as a “massacre”. The findings cast a shadow over repeated denials by the government and the army that any killings occurred – consistently labelling such reports “fake news”. The sit-in at the Lekki toll gate on 20 October 2020 was one of many across the country against police brutality, which initially focused on the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). But the #EndSARS protests (the hashtag became a slogan) transformed into a much broader social movement demanding political reform. Decentralised, and led by young people, it condemned all political parties equally. The government has continued to hound activists, claiming they are “anarchists”. Rights groups are demanding President Muhammadu Buhari act on the panel’s findings – including a recommendation that compensation be paid to victims and their families.

Bloody protests in Sudan

The Sudanese military shot dead at least 15 people on 17 November in the bloodiest confrontation yet with pro-democracy activists demonstrating against the 25 October coup. Grassroots neighbourhood committees, organising the civilian resistance to the military’s takeover, have vowed to continue the protests. "The day's massacre reinforces our slogans: no negotiations, no partnership, no compromise", said the Sudanese Professionals Association – a key member of the pro-democracy coalition. Demonstrations have centred on Khartoum, but protests also broke out this week in the eastern city of Port Sudan. At least 39 people have been killed since General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dissolved the military/civilian power-sharing transitional government. This week’s crackdown has drawn international condemnation: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the use of live ammunition by the security forces as “utterly shameful”. The EU said perpetrators “will be held accountable”. Al-Burhan appointed a new ruling council last week, but has struggled to name a new cabinet – exposing the difficulty the military faces in finding civilian governing partners.

‘Absurd’ trial of Lesvos migrant helpers begins… then it doesn’t

The Greek trial of 24 aid volunteers accused of people smuggling got off to a shambolic false start on 18 November. The defendants were members of Emergency Response Center International (ECRI), an NGO that performed rescue activities in the Aegean Sea and provided humanitarian assistance to people in Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos between 2016 and 2018. Human rights groups say the accusations are part of a broader trend of governments across Europe criminalising people providing humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and migrants. They have called on Greece to drop the charges, describing the case as “absurd”. The first trial hearing was halted soon after it started due to an apparent lack of English translation for defendants. When the proceedings resumed, the court ruled it did not have jurisdiction over the case – sending it to a higher court and delaying the start of the trial, likely by months. In 2019, we spoke to Sarah Mardini, a Syrian refugee and humanitarian volunteer who is one of the defendants in the case and spent 108 days in pre-trial detention. Read: Refugee, Volunteer, Prisoner: Sarah Mardini and Europe’s hardening line on migration

Martial law hasn’t stopped the killings in Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Senate has once again extended martial law in two of the country’s eastern provinces, despite increasing criticism of the measure, which has done nothing to stem decades of violence. Since May, civilian officials in North Kivu and Ituri provinces have been replaced by police and military figures. The head of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Congo has thrown her weight behind the measure, even as local rights groups have accused authorities of using new laws to curtail civil liberties. The non-civilians newly given positions of power have also received little funding and few clear objectives from Kinshasa, according to a recent parliamentary report. And attacks by armed groups have continued at the same rate as before, with at least 1,000 civilians killed since May, according to the Kivu Security Tracker, a conflict-mapping project. More than one million people have been internally displaced in eastern Congo so far this year.

What to make of the Glasgow climate summit?

COP26, despite its many flaws, did succeed in one vital goal: a final document. The possibility that Glasgow would not deliver an agreement on the rules needed to implement the Paris accords was unthinkable, but many feared it may not happen after COP25 in Madrid in 2019 exposed some glaring gaps. While the conference’s UK president, Alok Sharma, promptly proclaimed that the latest document “keeps 1.5C alive”, the watering down of vocabulary on coal production left many still in doubt, and some feeling that too many expedient compromises had been made. For those on the front lines of climate change, there were some big disappointments: lacklustre commitments on finance to help poorer countries adapt; and only “dialogue” on compensation payments known as “loss and damage”. Indigenous leaders, who had sought better representation at the summit as rainforests in Brazil’s Amazon continue to see record deforestation, left Glasgow fearing carbon market deals will open up their lands further to those seeking quick – possibly unscrupulous – offsetting solutions. For more, read our full round-up.

In case you missed it

AFGHAN AID: The Taliban has asked the US Congress to release $9.5 billion in Afghan assets frozen since its August takeover. “I request… so that doors for future relations are opened, assets of Afghanistan’s Central Bank are unfrozen and sanctions on our banks are lifted,” Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi wrote in an open letter, warning of dire humanitarian consequences otherwise. 

BURUNDI: The United States has lifted a sanctions programme targeting military and security officials in Burundi, citing reforms put in place since President Évariste Ndayishimiye assumed power last year. But rights groups say suspected government opponents have been arrested and tortured in increasing numbers in recent months.

CUBA: Four months after protests took Cuban authorities by surprise, the government thwarted any attempts for a repeat this week, surrounding the homes of dissidents, intimidating them, and cutting off phone and internet connections. Young activists had planned marches to ask for the release of protesters detained in earlier demonstrations and for a national dialogue to be initiated. In July, amid food and medicine shortages and rising COVID-19 cases, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in the country’s biggest anti-government demonstrations in decades.

EU/BELARUS: In a sign that tensions may be easing in a months-long crisis, a makeshift camp where hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants had been sleeping rough on the Belarusian side of the Poland-Belarus border was cleared by authorities on 18 November. Hundreds of Iraqis also flew home on the first repatriation flight organised by the Iraqi government from Belarus. Read our latest on how asylum seekers and migrants are being used as pawns in the dispute between the EU and Belarus: How politics caused a humanitarian crisis on the EU’s eastern border

FRANCE: The global sporting goods store Decathlon announced it has stopped selling canoes in northern France due to concerns that asylum seekers and migrants are risking their lives using the retailer’s products to try to reach the UK by crossing the English Channel. More than 23,000 people have made the crossing by boat from France so far this year, compared to around 8,400 last year. 

GLOBAL REMITTANCES: A World Bank report shows that migrants have stepped up their support to families back home this year, especially to countries affected by the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant. Remittance flows grew 7.3 percent from 2020 to $589 billion, and are expected to surpass foreign direct investment (FDI) and overseas development assistance (ODA). Growth was strongest in Latin America and the Caribbean, where an uptick in transit migration contributed strongly to the rise.

KENYA: President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed a new Refugee Bill into law that grants the roughly 500,000 refugees in the country access to education, livelihoods, and a more stable immigration status. Studies have long shown the economic benefit of integrating refugees, but until now Kenya has pursued a camp-based policy.

NAGORNO-KARABAKH: This week saw the deadliest fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces since a ceasefire a year ago ended a six-week war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh that claimed 6,500 lives. Under Russian pressure, a new ceasefire hastily came into force, but not before several fatalities were reported on both sides.

UGANDA: Police have killed five people and arrested dozens more following twin suicide bombings in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Authorities blamed the attacks on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The group has aligned itself to the so-called Islamic State in recent years, although exact links are uncertain.

YEMEN: Pro-government forces withdrew this week from Hodeidah, allowing the Houthi rebels to regain control of the strategic port city. The move prompted reports of fresh displacement, and fresh speculation about wider diplomatic efforts. There was no let-up, however, in fighting over the central Yemeni city and key government stronghold of Marib, with both sides reporting large rebel losses.

Weekend read

Interactive: The European approach to stopping Libya migration

When an MSF-run rescue ship came across a migrant vessel off the coast of Libya this week, it found 10 people dead from overcrowding, in addition to 99 survivors. Similar tragedies have replayed themselves countless times across the central Mediterranean in recent years. But many don’t have to happen. “These deaths are a clear sign of the failure of the migration policies of the European states and their unacceptable complicity with the Libyan Coast Guard to facilitate pushbacks,” MSF’s Juan Matías Gil told Al Jazeera. True, but how do you prove it? Our weekend read joins the dots to show exactly how EU policies have contributed – not only to deaths but also to returns to Libyan detention centres. Our interactive explainer takes you through the different scenarios at sea, so you can see for yourself how Europe’s political decisions have had deadly repercussions and trapped tens of thousands this year alone in a cycle of torture, extortion, and sexual abuse.

Give it a try.

What we’re watching

Decolonising film at IDFA

As the world's largest documentary film festival got underway this week in Amsterdam, the event’s Syrian artistic director Orwa Nyrabia told Dutch media outlet OneWorld that finding a good selection of movies of geographic diversity and documentaries that look beyond the Western world remains a challenge. This, he said, is still partly due to who gets the money and the attention to actually produce films. The International Documentary Film Festival, known as IDFA, actively selects half of its films from female directors. For those not able to attend, IDFA’s online archive provides access to over 1,000 international documentaries.

And finally…

The future is bright

Stacy Dina Adhiambo Owino, a 21-year-old Kenyan, developed an app to help prevent female genital cutting by letting girls alert authorities by clicking a distress button on their mobile phone. Lual Mayen, a 26-year-old former refugee from South Sudan, developed a video game that puts players in the role of a refugee and allows them to make in-app purchases that support NGOs working in refugee settings. They are just two of this year’s Youth Summit laureates – innovators from around the world recognised at a UN event in Geneva promoting young people who are finding solutions to problems they see in their communities.

Watch these interviews – conducted by Geneva Solutions and produced by The New Humanitarian – to hear from two more young activists about how they’re driving change and what’s most important to them: 23-year-old Louise Mabulo from the Philippines, whose work aids farmers in sustainable cacao production; and 22-year-old Titouan Bernicot, who is restoring coral reefs in his home country of French Polynesia.

UN Youth Summit voices

Geneva Solutions/The New Humanitarian
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