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The ‘other’ climate migrants, stalled vaccines, and development boosters: The Cheat Sheet

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(Louise O'Brien/TNH)

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

On our radar

As Haiti’s political drama continues, migrants arrive at US border

Haiti’s top prosecutor sought charges this week against Prime Minister Ariel Henry in the 7 July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude says telephone records show that Henry had phone conversations with one of the key suspects hours after Moïse was killed. The suspect – a former justice official – allegedly gave the order for a group of gunmen to kill Moïse. The latest political drama comes in the wake of the 14 August 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people in Haiti’s southern peninsula. The Caribbean country is also grappling with rampant gang violence, which has thwarted aid delivery. The instability, which has amplified Haiti’s vast humanitarian needs in recent years, has also spurred some Haitians to leave. US border officials said that nearly 10,000 migrants – mostly Haitian – recently crossed the border into south Texas. More than 29,000 Haitians have arrived at the US border in the past 11 months, according to US Customs and Border Protection numbers. 

COVAX’s Africa pipeline runs dry 

Vaccination rates have stalled in Africa, just as countries face a fourth wave of COVID-19. Less than 4 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. The COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative had aimed to reach 40 percent of Africans by the end of the year, but the target’s unlikely to be met until March 2022 due to a current 470 million shortfall in vaccine doses. India’s halt to vaccine exports has particularly affected the COVAX pipeline. There have also been delivery delays in bilateral deals, even when governments made payment upfront. “Export bans and vaccine hoarding have a chokehold on vaccine supplies to Africa”, the World Health Organization warned this week. “As long as rich countries lock COVAX out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals.” Meanwhile, the pandemic’s economic cost continues to ripple through the continent. Every month of lockdowns costs $29 billion in lost production, according to the Economic Commission for Africa – with a looming problem over debt servicing.

An Afghan aid ‘turning point’, or more of the same?

One aid official calls it a “turning point” for the country’s spiralling crises. Donors have pledged a purported $1.2 billion in funding for Afghanistan. Aid flights are restarting. The Taliban is promising to protect humanitarian workers (though guarantees for female staff are less than clear). Afghans who have experience working with donors, however, have words of warning. The aid pledges are a “huge amount of money”, but it’s not clear how it will be spent, tweeted Samira Hamidi, a campaigner with Amnesty International. “Right now, we need an inclusive structure, we need governance, we need Afghan experts back to their [government] jobs,” she said. Since the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s international donors have pulled funding from development aid and diverted some of it to emergency relief. The funding freezes from the World Bank and others have essentially put many Afghan government professionals out of work – including doctors and nurses. Pashtana Durrani, who heads an Afghan education NGO, pointed out the contradictions in a BBC interview: “You make the humanitarian crisis, and then you want to address it.” 

South Sudan’s fighting, flooding, and food aid suspension

Close to 80,000 people have been displaced in Tambura County in Western Equatoria as a result of fighting between government forces and the opposition SPLA-IO – even though both sides are supposed to be forming a new unified army. A delay to security sector reform continues to set back implementation of a 2018 peace agreement. The Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies has warned that South Sudan’s “militarised political culture” could see tensions “boiling over” – threatening the national unity government. Faction fighting within SPLA-IO has added to the insecurity. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme is suspending aid to more than 100,000 displaced people in Wau, Juba, and Bor beginning in October – part of a three-month “prioritisation exercise” driven by a finance crunch. The fall in funding is despite the country experiencing the highest rate of food insecurity since independence in 2011, with more than 60 percent of South Sudanese going hungry. Months of flooding has added to that toll.

Shifting the frame on climate migration 

A lot of attention is paid to the possible impacts of the climate crisis on international migration – particularly the potential movement of people from the Global South to the Global North. Now, a new report from the World Bank says that climate change could force 216 million people to migrate within their countries by 2050. People living in under-developed regions – such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa – are the most likely to be forced to move. Immediate and concerted effort to reduce carbon emissions could reduce the scale of climate migration by as much as 80 percent, however. The report is a reminder of what gets overlooked in the focus on South-North migration: There are currently 48 million internally displaced people compared to 20.7 million refugees. Of those refugees, 80 percent live in countries neighbouring their country of origin, and only 16 percent live in countries in the Global North. 

Reconciliation at risk in Gambia

Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC) is due to publish its findings later this month. But could a controversial electoral alliance between President Adama Barrow and the party of exiled former dictator Yahya Jammeh put the process at risk? Jammeh fled Gambia in January 2017 after a regional military intervention forced him to accept his electoral defeat to Barrow. The TRRC was soon launched to investigate crimes committed during Jammeh’s 22 years in power. Testimonies in public hearings implicated the former president in the murder and torture of political opponents, and the rape and sexual abuse of women brought to him. But ahead of December presidential polls, members of Jammeh’s party believe the deal struck with Barrow could pave the way for their leader’s return. The head of the TRRC, meanwhile, said the pact could undermine recommendations for prosecution issued to Barrow by the commission. The NGO Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations called the deal “the worst betrayal of public trust”.

In case you missed it

GUINEA: West African states have imposed sanctions on the country’s new military government. Meeting in an emergency session, the regional grouping known as ECOWAS also demanded the release of President Alpha Condé from detention and that elections be held within six months. It’s the toughest response yet by ECOWAS to a rash of military takeovers in the region. 

MALI: France has criticised plans that could see Russian mercenaries brought to Mali, where jihadist groups operate in large parts of the country. Reports suggest that Mali’s transitional government is considering a deal with the Wagner Group, which has close links to Vladimir Putin and is also active in Central African Republic. The CMA, a coalition of mostly Arab and Tuareg rebel groups that signed a peace deal with Bamako in 2015, also warned against an agreement.

THE PHILIPPINES: The International Criminal Court (ICC) this week authorised a full investigation into the war on drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte, which is believed to have killed thousands or more since 2016. Lawyers for Duterte said ICC investigators would be denied entry.

TURKEY: Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the country is working with UNHCR to repatriate refugees to Syria. The statement is at odds with UNHCR’s official position that it is not safe for refugees to return to Syria – although Turkey and UNHCR have discussed the voluntary repatriation of Syrians. Anti-refugee sentiment has been increasing in Turkey – which hosts the world’s largest refugee population – with the anticipation of an uptick in the number of Afghans crossing the border from Iran.

VENEZUELA: A new report by a UN fact-finding team blamed the lack of independence by judges and prosecutors on ongoing human rights abuses of real and alleged opponents to the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Members of the mission said arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances, as well as torture and sexual violence were not investigated, and high-level officials, including the president himself, exerted undue influence on the judicial process.

Weekend read

Reporter’s Diary: Finding forgiveness in Burundi’s mass graves

After many years in Rwanda’s shadow, neighbouring Burundi’s long-hidden truths about the history of political violence are slowly coming to light. Since early 2020, citizens have been locating and exhuming mass graves as part of a campaign by a national truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) set up in 2014. In our weekend read, Burundian journalist and atrocity survivor Désiré Nimubona shares stories that are as much his as they are other survivors’, offering a very personal account from a year of reporting. The gravedigging is laying bare just how violent past conflicts were, causing concern about reopening old wounds. Yet it’s also proving cathartic – some who lost loved ones are just relieved to finally know what happened to their family members. “I feel sorrow for the death of my father, but joy at finally seeing his remains,” one woman told Nimubona. The campaign is also revealing how many people risked their own lives to save supposed enemies. “I believe all Burundians must do our bit to forgive each other,” Nimubona says, reflecting on his country’s past – you can hear him speak about his work on the audio clips accompanying the story, which is illustrated by Burundian artist Evelyne Cynthia Shaka Kabushemeye. Post-war Burundi is tense and still not making global headlines, and some don’t trust the TRC. And with the TRC unable to prosecute, it’s anyone’s guess what happens next. But one thing is sure: There’s still a lot of forgiving to do.

And finally…

Ups and downs in boosting lower income countries

For the third year in a row, Sweden has taken top spot when it comes to its policies and practices that support lower income countries. The annual Commitment to Development Index (CDI), released this week, ranks 40 high-income countries on their development “spillovers” – actions that affect people living in poorer states. The index measures behaviour in eight broad areas including migration, environment, development finance, and health – a category added this year. Sweden’s ranking is largely due to both its low carbon emissions and its stance on migration. Other top performers this year were France, coming in second for its strong performance in the environment, and Norway, which took third place. The US fell four spots overall to 22nd place, a drop cited as being tied to Trump-era policies. The UK slipped a rank, taking 5th place overall; while it scored strongly in development finance and trade, the ranking was made prior to its recent cuts in aid. China was 36th place overall, scoring in the bottom five on migration and security policies.

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