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Climate alarm, migration as a weapon, and aid under the Taliban: The Cheat Sheet

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

On our radar

Fires, floods, and all-bad climate scenarios

Parts of the world saw record temperatures this week, while deadly wildfires ripped through Algeria, Greece, Siberia, and Turkey – a dramatic backdrop for the UN’s climate change report release. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report paints an ominous picture, especially for low-income countries already grappling with rising humanitarian needs and disasters linked to climate change. For the first time, the IPCC report offered several scenarios based on changes in surface temperatures, ocean warming, and sea levels. The conclusion? All scenarios point to temperatures continuing to increase until at least the mid-century, and global warming of between 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius will be exceeded unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are made in the coming decades. Mid-latitude and semi-arid countries, as well as those in the South American monsoon region, were projected to see the highest temperature increases. Continued warming would also likely mean a greater intensity of rain, cyclones, and flooding in some regions, and worsening drought conditions in others. Meanwhile, organisations representing 90 countries warned recently that disasters linked to climate change have already outpaced their plans to mitigate damage and loss. “Our existing plans are not enough to protect our people,” said Sonam Wangdi, chair of the UN’s Least Developed Countries Group on Climate Change.

Weaponised migration, and EU pushbacks

Belarus is accused of helping thousands of Iraqi migrants and asylum seekers to fly to its capital, Minsk, and ushering them into Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland – all EU member states. In an interview with the Washington Post, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda says Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko has weaponised migration in a desperate “attack on the democratic world”. There can be little doubt Lukashenko is using migration to retaliate against the EU for imposing sanctions on his autocratic government. But Latvia and Lithuania are now resorting to tactics deemed troubling by human rights groups to try to stop migrants and asylum seekers from entering their territory. After apprehending nearly 300 people since 6 August, Latvia declared a state of emergency, allowing guards to use physical force to remove people without allowing them to apply for asylum. Lithuania, which has seen more than 4,000 asylum seekers and migrants – mostly Iraqis – enter from Belarus this year, compared to only 81 in 2020, has also started pushing people back, and is mulling the construction of a 500-kilometre razor wire fence. The response is reminiscent of Greece’s much-criticised actions after Turkey opened its borders last year to put pressure on the EU.

Aid dilemmas in Afghanistan as Taliban tighten control

The Taliban’s rapid gains in Afghanistan have stunned many, including aid groups now mulling how to restart emergency operations as the country’s crises spiral. In the space of a week, the Taliban captured about a third of Afghanistan’s major towns. But the seizure of two of the largest cities late in the week – Herat and Kandahar – reset aid agencies’ calculus almost overnight. “None of us expected this to happen this quickly,” one aid worker told The New Humanitarian. Some agencies are now planning to evacuate international staff, after considering only small reductions days earlier. As usual, the greatest pressure is on frontline Afghan staff. Aid officials say humanitarian groups will “stay and deliver”. Programmes are on hold in many areas that have recently changed hands. In some cases, Taliban officials have asked international NGOs to continue operations, but with potentially problematic restrictions, aid officials said. For now, the ample new humanitarian worries include the crowded capital, Kabul, where tens of thousands of Afghans have sought shelter. Look out for more from The New Humanitarian on this fast-evolving situation in the coming days.

A new Syrian revolt?

For the past month and a half, violence has been ramping up in the southern Syrian province of Daraa – often referred to as the “cradle” of the 2011 revolution. One of the first parts of Syria to revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Daraa had to submit to a “reconciliation” agreement with the government in 2018. But many rebels were allowed to remain in the area and exercise some control, albeit under the supervision of al-Assad-allied Russian forces. Fighting erupted again around the end of June, and government forces have laid siege to a part of Daraa city that is home to between 40,000 and 55,000 people. Some 24,000 have been forced to flee their homes and are staying with neighbours or in schools. Aid groups have some access to the population, but supplies are running short, tensions are high, de-escalation negotiations are ongoing, and residents are scared of what’s to come

Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: Shifting alliances and mass recruitment

Short of friends during the course of the nine-month conflict, Tigray’s rebels are now striking alliances. In the Afar and Amhara regions – where they are also conducting offensives – the rebels have reportedly built support among certain groups, though face stiff opposition from others. They have also confirmed a pact with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel outfit fighting its own insurgency in Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia. The OLA said the “grand coalition” – which doesn’t yet involve side-by-side fighting – aims to overthrow the regime of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has called on civilians across the country to join the army or government-supporting militias and help defeat the rebels “once and for all”. The recruitment drive comes two months after federal forces – supported by Amhara militia and Eritrean troops – withdrew from Tigray amid heavy battlefield losses. The forces left behind a trail of abuses, including the rape of hundreds of women and girls, according to a newly published Amnesty International report. Read our latest on the conflict for more.

Rwanda records quick win in Mozambique

Rwandan and Mozambican troops retook the port city of Mocímboa da Praia on 9 August from Islamist militants – their last stronghold in northern Cabo Delgado province. The 1,000 Rwandan troops, who arrived in the country last month to help the government battle a four-year insurgency, have proved their effectiveness in a series of skirmishes. They are also being joined by units from regional neighbours Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. But analysts are warning that the insurgents – known colloquially as al-Shabab (see list of alternative names) – are choosing not to stand their ground, preferring to retreat into the countryside. Military force doesn’t address the drivers of the conflict, nor does it prevent ill-disciplined Mozambican troops – who often struggle to distinguish between insurgent and civilian – from stoking further tensions. “My biggest fear is that we make military gains, but then don’t try to understand the underlying grievances and just suppress them,” one human rights worker in the country told The New Humanitarian. More than 3,000 people have been killed and 820,000 displaced by the conflict.

In case you missed it

BANGLADESH: Rohingya in Bangladesh’s camps received their first COVID-19 vaccines on 10 August – nearly five months after the government postponed rollouts for refugees. It comes as the Delta variant continues its surge in Bangladesh and beyond. The Rohingya camps have recorded more than 2,500 cases, but test-positivity rates are higher in the surrounding Cox’s Bazar district, and nationwide.

CARIBBEAN: The Pan American Health Organization reported that some Caribbean Island countries, including Cuba and Haiti are experiencing new spikes in COVID-19 cases. France asked volunteer health workers to travel to Martinique and Guadeloupe – where hospitals have become overwhelmed and one in four PCR tests are coming up positive. PAHO’s director, Carissa Etienne, from the Caribbean island of Dominica, announced a new programme to help the region procure vaccines, while expressing frustration with vaccine hesitancy and misinformation among her “fellow Caribbean persons” regarding the jabs.

CHAD: Interim President Mahamat Idriss Déby has invited rebel groups to participate in a national dialogue, having previously ruled out such negotiations. The dialogue follows the death of Déby’s father – long-time ruler Idriss Déby, who was killed earlier this year while visiting troops combating an insurgency in northern Chad.

EU/AFGHANISTAN: With fear in Europe growing that a brewing Afghan refugee crisis will reach the bloc’s borders, six member states wrote to the EU’s executive branch on 5 August arguing for the continued deportation of rejected Afghan asylum seekers. “Stopping returns… is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU,” their letter read. Several days later, two of the countries – Germany and the Netherlands – reversed course, temporarily pausing deportations due Taliban advances. Non-EU member state Switzerland followed suit

GUINEA: Some 155 people have been asked to quarantine by Guinean health authorities after a first case of Marburg virus was detected in West Africa. The World Health Organization said the virus – a severe haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola – must be “stopped in its tracks”.

LEBANON: Lebanon’s central bank said on 11 August that it would end an unofficial subsidy on imported fuel, prompting fears of further price rises and shortages. Authorities had already been phasing out support for basics including fuel and medication, and there has been no announcement on what, if anything, will be done to offset the impacts of the changes. For more, read our full story.

NIGERIA: More than 1,000 Boko Haram fighters and their families have surrendered in the northeast in recent weeks, and hundreds more have defected across the border in Cameroon. But rather than a military victory, this marks the culmination of a power struggle within the jihadist movement, and the start of a new and more dangerous phase in the 12-year war, analysts warn. Read The New Humanitarian’s story here, and look out for a deeper dive soon.

US/MEXICO: The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has condemned US flights to southern Mexico for Central American asylum seekers and migrants expelled from its own southern border. Mexico said those expelled would be given the option to apply for asylum, but instead they are reportedly being put on buses to Guatemala.

ZAMBIA: Vote-counting has begun after a high-turnout 12 August election pitting President Edgar Lungu against his main rival Hakainde Hichilema. An internet blackout, political violence, and the deployment of the army on the streets are increasing tensions in a tight race. Concerns over voter fraud – with the selective introduction of biometric voter verification in key constituencies – has also raised the political temperature.

Weekend read

Searching for peace in post-war Armenia

The latest bloody chapter in the 30-year conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh ended more than nine months ago, on 9 November 2020. But deadly exchanges continue to occur, aid access remains limited, and frontline communities still live in fear of the next major flare-up. So what of real peace? Young researcher Antonios Tashejian begins his compelling first person account in a military cemetery in Yerevan. While he grieved for the 5,000 Armenians, many younger than his 24 years, killed in last year’s fighting, he later reveals his “unspeakable sin”: Despite being a descendant of Armenian genocide survivors, he grieved there too for the Azerbaijani soldiers lost. Although he hears the word khaghaghouchioun – peace – uttered often during his travels in his ancestral homeland, he finds little cause for optimism. For more, check out Part 1 in this series: a short film exploring the return to class in two frontline schools.

And finally…

Aid as reparation? 

Since George Floyd Jr. was killed by US police, calls have been growing for former colonial powers to pay slave trade reparations. Haiti, the world’s first Black republic that won independence in 1804, has long demanded reparations from France, which forced the Caribbean country to compensate its colonial slave owners – an amount now estimated to be $28 billion. Jamaica, which has joined 13 other Caribbean countries seeking reparations, recently demanded more than $7 billion from the UK – roughly the same amount paid as compensation to former slave owners (Britain only finished paying interest on that loan in 2015). “UK development aid to the Caribbean is still presented in altruistic terms, when it could arguably be cast within the framework of restitution,” Zeinab Badawi, a former chair of the Royal African Society, pointed out recently in London’s Financial Times. The debate is only likely to expand, with several Indigenous groups around the world also seeking reparations. Australia recently agreed to pay about $280 million to Indigenous survivors who were forcibly removed from their families. 

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