Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
New truce offers some hope in Yemen
It went down to the wire, but the UN announced on 2 June that Yemen’s main warring parties have agreed to extend a two-month truce – set to expire the same night – for two more months. Aid groups, who said they had seen “positive humanitarian impacts of the truce”, had been pushing hard for a renewal, but negotiations went long, with major differences between the sides proving hard to resolve. A key sticking point has been how to end a Houthi rebel siege around most of the city of Taiz, which has had little relief from fighting during more than seven years of war. Despite violations, however, the ceasefire has largely been a success. The number of civilians killed and injured reportedly dropped by 50 percent, while civilian flights have been taking off from Sana’a airport for the first time in years, and some fuel ships were allowed to dock at the port city of Hodeidah. Not everyone has felt the impact in their daily lives, though, with many people still worried about inflation, unpaid salaries, and food they cannot afford. Check out our short film for more.
Regional spat draws attention to a neglected crisis in eastern Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo agreed this week to release two detained Rwandan soldiers as a step towards easing tensions between the two neighbours. At the heart of the dispute is Kinshasa’s accusation that Kigali is supporting resurgent M23 rebels in Congo’s volatile east, while Rwanda alleges the Congolese army is collaborating with anti-Rwandan FDLR rebels. On 31 May, after accusing Congo of a cross-border rocket strike, Kigali warned that it would retaliate against any further attacks. The day before, hundreds of people had turned up outside Rwanda’s embassy in Kinshasa to protest against alleged Rwandan military “meddling” in Congo’s eastern province of North Kivu. As the M23 launches its biggest offensive in a decade, which has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, a senior UN official told the Security Council it was imperative it lends “its full weight to ongoing regional efforts to defuse the situation and bring an end to the M23 insurgency, once and for all”. Angola is leading a regional initiative to mediate between Congo and Rwanda. In a new report published on 1 June, the Norwegian Refugee Council flagged Congo as the world’s most neglected displacement crisis.
Atrocities continue in Myanmar as displacement passes 1 million
The number of internally displaced people in Myanmar has now topped 1 million, the UN reported this week. Since the junta took power in a February 2021 coup, security forces have violently quashed all forms of civilian protest across the country. The Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, has also doubled down on a decades-long civil war with ethnic minority groups. A new investigation by Amnesty International found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kayin and Kayah states, where soldiers have been “systematically committing widespread atrocities in recent months, including unlawfully killing, arbitrarily detaining and forcibly displacing civilians”. More than 150,000 people have been displaced, and hundreds of citizens killed, during assaults by soldiers who have razed and looted entire villages. The “collective punishment” tactic, notes Amnesty, has been embraced by the Tatmadaw in its suppression of ethnic minority groups. As Myanmar nears a year-and-a-half under junta rule, unrest has continued outside longstanding conflict zones. A bomb exploded in Yangon on 31 May, injuring nine and killing one. The military blamed the bombing on the armed wing of the opposition government, which denied the allegations and – in turn – fingered the junta. A report by Frontier Myanmar published on 2 June noted that a deadly, pro-military vigilante group accused of murdering opposition members and supporters has begun publicising its violence on social media platforms.
Is Erdoğan readying another Syria incursion?
Over the past week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been ramping up threats to invade northern Syria, saying on 1 June that he plans to “clean up [the Kurdish cities] of Tal Rifat and Manbij of terrorists”, as he seeks to establish a “security zone” inside Turkey’s border with Syria. The region is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organisation because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK – a Turkey-based Kurdish separatist organisation. It’s not clear if Erdoğan will really go ahead with an incursion right now, but some wonder if Western states (like the US, which has backed the SDF) may be willing to turn a blind eye to an offensive if Turkey backs off its own objections to adding Sweden and Finland to NATO. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were forced to flee the last Turkish offensive in northeast Syria in late 2019, and a reported 44,000 to 60,000 people have still not been able to go back home.
Taking stock of African takeovers
The African Union has condemned the new wave of coups and attempted putsches across the continent. Four countries have been suspended by the AU for unconstitutional changes of government since 2019 – an unprecedented number in such a short time. Leaders meeting in Equatorial Guinea last weekend to discuss coups and terrorism were vague over what may be driving the takeovers – and sidestepped firm recommendations on better governance. What is clear is that the new military juntas in West Africa are no better at combatting terrorism than their civilian predecessors. In Mali and Burkina Faso, attacks by jihadist groups have increased since the soldiers took over. In Mali, there has also been an “exponential rise” in the number of civilians killed by the army, according to the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA. The number of people killed in the first quarter of 2022 by all parties – jihadists, militias, self-defence groups, and security forces – quadrupled over the last three months of 2021, rising from 128 to 543. A total of 248 civilian deaths were attributable to the defence and security forces, MINUSMA said. Read more on the military abuses here.
100 days of war in Ukraine
The 3 June marks 100 days since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. In that time, over one third of the country’s pre-war population has been displaced – including almost two out of every three children – and nearly seven million people have fled to neighbouring countries. Fighting in Ukraine is now concentrated in the east and south of the country, after Russia’s initial attempt to topple the government became bogged down outside the capital, Kyiv. The UN has recorded more than 9,000 civilian casualties, including over 4,000 deaths. However, the true toll is likely significantly higher: As many as 20,000 people were potentially killed in the southeastern port city of Mariupol alone, before it fell to Russian troops last month, and local and international investigators are probing thousands of allegations of alleged war crimes. Ukrainian civil society and volunteers have mobilised to respond to the staggering humanitarian needs caused by the invasion as the international aid effort has started to get off the ground. But the international response has also raised pressing questions about why some crises receive more attention (and funding) than others, and why some refugees are welcomed with open arms while others are violently turned away.
In case you missed it
BRAZIL: Extreme weather has left at least 127 people dead in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, more than five months after deadly flooding and landslides in the neighbouring state of Bahia. Other major flooding events in January and February – in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro – killed hundreds more.
COLOMBIA: In the first round of presidential elections, voters chose two non-traditional candidates to face each other in the run-off. The 19 June showdown will be between Gustavo Petro, a former rebel leader and Colombia’s first leftist presidential contender, and Rodolfo Hernández, a former mayor and self-styled “King of TikTok”. Whoever wins, their humanitarian in-tray will be full. Colombia, which hosts the largest population of Venezuelan migrants, faces high levels of unemployment and growing food insecurity, while ongoing conflict continues to drive forced displacements and confinement.
MEDITERRANEAN: Up to 600 people died during the first three months of this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia and Libya to Europe – the highest figure since 2014 – according to the UN’s migration agency, IOM. IOM’s chief of mission in Libya also said that EU countries are “silent” on abuses being committed against asylum seekers and migrants in the country. The EU-backed Libyan coast guard has intercepted more than 7,000 people so far this year, returning them to a cycle of detention and abuse.
MEXICO: A rare category 2 hurricane, named Agatha, hit the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, the strongest Pacific storm to make landfall in May since records began in 1949. At least nine people died and four others are missing after heavy rains caused flooding and landslides in coastal villages and mountainside Indigenous communities.
SOMALIA: Millions of people are already going hungry following a fourth consecutive drought that is likely to trigger localised famines. But now there is a “concrete risk” that Somalia’s October to December rains will also fail – deepening the disaster. See The New Humanitarian’s regional drought guide for more.
SUDAN: A state of emergency – imposed following last year’s coup – was lifted on 29 May. Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said it was to prepare “the atmosphere for a fruitful and meaningful dialogue that achieves stability for the transitional period”. Pro-democracy activists, detained for demanding the end to military rule, were also freed.
UK: The first flight carrying asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda under a controversial deal signed in April has been announced for 14 June. It’s unclear how many people will be on board, but those who have been informed include both Syrians and Afghans. Legal challenges may prevent the flight from taking place, but the looming prospect of deportation to Rwanda has prompted hunger strikes and acts of self-harm among those slated for removal.
Abala, a town on the border of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray and Afar regions, had a pre-war population of almost 5,000. The streets of what was once a bustling mixed Afar and Tigrayan community now lie empty – there’s almost no one left. In December, the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fought their way into the town, holding it until April. What happened during that period has been disputed. Tigrayan activists have reported a massacre of Tigrayans by the Afar security forces, while both communities blame each other for the looting and destruction that gutted the town. Fred Harter visited Abala last week, the first journalist from an international media outlet to do so since the TPLF pulled out. He talked to residents from both communities and has pieced together a compelling account of what happened to a key town on the front lines of Ethiopia’s deeply ethnicised conflict. What took place in Abala has implications for the shaky truce, which both sides agreed in March, offering a glimmer of hope that this brutal 19-month war could be coming to an end.
Health disparities, redux
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed vast inequities in global health – from vaccine queue-jumping and hoarding among wealthier nations, to lopsided health access between and within countries. The still-evolving monkeypox outbreak is already another example. The monkeypox virus has been known for decades; it’s considered endemic in at least nine countries in west and central Africa. But the sudden emergence of monkeypox in “non-endemic countries” has seized the global spotlight, prompted swift vaccinations in some countries, and triggered a two-day experts’ summit. At a 1 June briefing attended by Health Policy Watch, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, Mike Ryan, wondered aloud whether countries will share resources and show the same resolve to eradicate monkeypox – no matter where it’s found. “There are thousands and thousands of cases of monkeypox every year in Africa, and there are deaths every year,” he said. “And now, we have a concern about this disease spreading in Europe, but I certainly haven’t heard that same level of concern over the last 5 or 10 years.”
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