Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
The US preps for an uptick in asylum seekers …
In a bid to circumvent badly backlogged immigration courts, the US has introduced a new rule aimed at speeding up the processing of asylum claims by having asylum officers issue rapid decisions. But human rights groups worry the rule will sacrifice fair asylum hearings for faster processing times. The move may also be in preparation for a potentially large uptick in the number of people trying to cross the US-Mexico border once Title 42 is repealed. That pandemic-related policy has severely restricted access to asylum at the US-Mexico border since March 2020, by allowing people who enter the US irregularly to be rapidly expelled without being able to claim asylum. The Biden administration is reportedly planning to bring an end to Title 42 by the end of May. More than 1.6 million expulsions have been carried out under the order. Epidemiologists have long argued that Title 42 cannot be justified by public health concerns, and human rights groups say it violates both international and US law. The Biden administration has been facing pressure from Democratic lawmakers to end the policy.
… while ‘life-threatening’ returns to Haiti continue
Human Rights Watch has criticised the United States for continuing to deport or expel Haitians despite the volatile security situation in the Caribbean country, calling the acts “life-threatening”. Most of those returns took place under Title 42. Gang violence has reached unprecedented levels in Haiti, making it even harder to tackle the country’s many competing humanitarian crises, including the August 2021 earthquake that killed 2,200 people. The precarious security situation has also prevented the country from holding new elections since the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Still, from 1 January 2021 to 26 February 2022, some 25,765 Haitians were expelled or deported, according to data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Of those, the US returned 79 percent – 20,309 people – while The Bahamas, Cuba, Turks and Caicos Islands, Mexico, and other countries returned the rest.
Warnings of war in South Sudan
South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar has warned the country is heading “back to war” following attacks on his opposition SPLM/A-IO group by government forces under President Salva Kiir. The warring parties signed a 2018 peace agreement that led to a unity government two years later. But key parts of the deal have not been implemented, and violence – some triggered by the accord – has flared in the countryside. Machar’s party suspended its participation in peace deal monitoring mechanisms last week, while the opposition leader claimed his house had been surrounded by government forces on 27 March. As tensions build, humanitarian needs are deepening: More than 70 percent of South Sudan’s population will face extreme hunger this year, though funding constraints and attacks on aid convoys will likely complicate relief efforts.
Donors baulk at Afghanistan aid appeal
The United Nations appeal for $4.4 billion in “unconditional” humanitarian aid for Afghanistan missed its mark by about half, as donors promised $2.44 billion in a 31 March pledging conference. The UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, described the funding ask as “an all-time high figure,” adding “we all wish it were not so.” Aid officials have warned of a starvation and malnutrition crisis – which is already having a profound impact on women and girls. Humanitarian needs, never good after 40 years of war, have tripled since the Taliban swept to power in August. Donors responded by halting development support and freezing $9 billion in the country’s overseas assets, driving the economy close to collapse. Roughly 23 million people – over half the population – are experiencing acute hunger, 95 percent of Afghans are not eating enough, and a bankrupt government is unable to pay bills and salaries. Donors are trying to distinguish between the Taliban in charge and everyday Afghans. Just last week, Taliban officials backtracked on their promise to allow girls to return to secondary school, a move that some officials feared might lead to a donor backlash. For a by-the-numbers look at the food, healthcare, economy, migration, and funding situations in Afghanistan, check out our recent report.
Train attack reveals extent of Nigeria’s crisis
There’s no objective reason for Nigerians to be as shocked as they are by this week’s bandit attack on a train travelling between Abuja and the northern city of Kaduna. After all, it’s not the first time the line has been targeted. And at seven dead, the toll wasn’t especially high by Nigeria’s gory standards. It’s also not that the gunmen abducted an unknown number of passengers, and have been phoning families demanding ransoms – kidnapping has long been a growth industry. It was jaw-dropping that as she was dying, a young doctor asked people on social media to pray for her, and was mocked by pro-government trolls. But that just tells us how toxic the country’s divisions have become. It was perhaps not so amazing that the Nigerian football team, in their World Cup qualification game the next day, was prevented from wearing black armbands to avoid embarrassing the president, who was watching. The shock is about all of the above, and more besides. That Nigerians feel under siege, that nowhere is safe. That the authorities have no workable plan, no fresh ideas to arrest the chaos. “We have no government,” human rights lawyer Chidi Odinkalu told a solemn and angry meeting on Twitter Spaces.
In Yemen, Ramadan begins with a ceasefire
The Saudi-led coalition supporting the Yemeni government against the Houthi rebels announced a ceasefire this week, following a UN call for a truce during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan – which begins this weekend. The Saudi move follows an earlier declaration of a cessation of cross-border attacks and ground offensives in Yemen by the Houthis. The UN has been trying to secure a peace deal between the Saudi military alliance and the Houthis, which would allow it to better respond to Yemen’s dire humanitarian crisis. The UN plan reportedly calls for a temporary ceasefire in the seven-year war to allow fuel ships to dock at Houthi-held Hodeidah port, and for a small number of commercial flights to operate from Sana’a airport. More than 17 million Yemenis are in desperate need of aid – over half of the population. The UN was looking to raise $4.2 billion at a donor pledging conference last month but received only $1.3 billion.
M23 rebels bounce back in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Thousands of Congolese have been displaced after fighting broke out this week between M23 rebels and the army. A UN helicopter was shot down (for which both sides blamed each-other) and the fighting sparked regional tensions as Kinshasa accused Rwanda of supporting the rebels (a charge Kigali denied). M23 was responsible for the last major rebellion in eastern DRC, seizing large chunks of territory in 2012 and 2013 before a UN-government offensive forced its fighters into Uganda and Rwanda. Efforts to demobilise the group stalled and a cluster of combatants resettled in DRC in late 2016. Fresh skirmishes were reported in November, though the strength of the group remains unclear as are its objectives. M23’s connection to past insurgencies means its activities are closely scrutinised, but it is one of over 100 armed groups active in eastern DRC.
In case you missed it
COLOMBIA/VENEZUELA: Violence and abuses by armed groups along the Colombia-Venezuela border have escalated since the beginning of this year, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. In some cases, Venezuelan troops have been operating alongside Colombian rebels; civilians have been killed, abducted, and displaced.
EL SALVADOR: Gangs killed more than 80 people in just three days during an unprecedented killing spree that prompted the Central American country to declare a 30-day state of emergency. Leaders in several Latin America and Caribbean countries have been struggling to quell such violence, which has undermined aid operations and strained security.
LIBYA: Grave human rights abuses are being carried out against refugees and migrants in secret Libyan detention centres, according to a new UN report. The EU has long faced criticism for supporting the cycle of abuse in Libya by backing the Libyan Coast Guard, but this week, Germany became the first EU country to say it will stop training the force.
MALI: Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed after several weeks of fighting between a regional franchise of the so-called Islamic State – Islamic State in the Greater Sahara – and non-jihadist armed groups. The fighting comes as France’s counter-jihadist mission, Operation Barkhane, prepares to exit Mali, and while Wagner Group mercenaries are stepping up operations with the Malian army. See our recent briefing for more.
NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Azeri troops moved into a region patrolled by Russian peacekeepers, Russia reported on 26 March – although Azerbaijan refuted the claim. A Moscow-brokered ceasefire deal ended a six-week war in 2020 between Armenia and Azerbaijan, during which ethnic Armenians were pushed out of parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territory.
SOMALIA: The UN Security Council has endorsed the African Union’s (AU) new transitional mission in Somalia, which plans to conduct a phased handover of security responsibilities to the government. The African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) replaces the AU’s peace enforcement operation, known as AMISOM, which has battled the jihadist group al-Shabab for 15 years. Despite the name change, there will be little practical difference between the two missions – at least in the short term.
TUNISIA: An executive decree by President Kaïs Saïed dissolving Tunisia’s parliament on 30 March has deepened the country’s ongoing political crisis. Parliament has been suspended since last July, when Saïed seized near total power following mass protests over economic stagnation, political corruption, and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Even if I tell them ‘I’m tired’ and ask them to go back home, what home? There is war there.’
Almost five years into a violent jihadist insurgency in northern Cabo Delgado, more than 780,000 people have fled their homes. And while the government has constructed relocation camps, more than two-thirds of those displaced have found shelter with family or friends. In the second instalment of a two-part series on the conflict in Cabo Delgado and its humanitarian impact, reporters Obi Anyadike and Tavares Cebola describe the human toll of the violent insurgency. They speak to people like Gracinda Arde, who is hosting 45 of her relatives in her three-room home in the provincial capital of Pemba. Arde registered her family for food aid but says they haven’t received any from a system fraught with delays, scandals, and corruption. They also speak to Abudo Akimo, who fled his home in the town of Palma after it was taken by jihadist militants last year. Now he lives with three other displaced families, without the documents or clothes he would need to find a job. As Laura Tomm-Bonde, the chief of mission of the International Organization for Migration, says: “This is still a significant emergency. It’s not going away and will only get worse.”
Happiness and the kindness of strangers
Scrolling through the recently released 10th World Happiness Report (WHR), past the Nordic countries that have kept their long-held top spots – Finland at number one, followed by Denmark and Iceland – there may not be many surprises. Which, unhappily, is sobering. At the bottom of the ranking – which is based on measurements of GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom, generosity, corruption, and a comparison to a hypothetical dystopia – is Zimbabwe, Lebanon, and, lastly, Afghanistan. (For an idea of what the world’s so-called least happy country looks like, see our Afghanistan item, above.) Lebanon’s second-to-last ranking is especially notable. Only four years ago, the country was towards the middle of the pack, ranking 88th out of 156 states. But since the onset of the country’s financial crisis in 2019, Lebanese survey respondents have evaluated their lives lower and lower on the 0-10 scale used for the report. But cheer up: There’s an upwards global trend in benevolent acts, this year’s report found, with such acts now almost 25% higher than before the pandemic. Help from strangers, donations, and volunteering all increased dramatically in 2021, in what the WHR called a “pandemic of benevolence”.