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Russia’s ‘four new regions’, hurricane havoc, and Tigray 2.0: The Cheat Sheet

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

On our radar

As Putin doubles down, some Russians head for the exit 

“There are four new regions of Russia,” Russian President Vladimir Putin announced during a ceremony on 30 September declaring the annexation of large swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces. The move follows sham referendums held in the occupied territories, which amount to around 18 percent of Ukraine’s landmass. Russia’s lower house of parliament will meet on 3 and 4 October to approve the annexation. Also on 30 September, a suspected Russian missile strike killed 25 people and injured dozens of others travelling in a humanitarian convoy in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia. Putin has doubled down on Russia’s faltering war effort after losing ground in northeastern Ukraine in recent weeks. On 21 September, Putin ordered a “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 Russian men with military experience to bolster depleted forces. The order has prompted an exodus of some 200,000 people from Russia and sparked protests across the country. Experts say proceeding with the annexation is a sign that Putin doesn’t intend to back down. UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the annexation as a “dangerous escalation”, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it “will mean that there is nothing to talk about with this president of Russia”.

Hurricane Ian and Typhoon Noru wreak havoc, cost lives

From Cuba to the United States, and from the Philippines to Vietnam, deadly storms this week delivered a powerful message: Be prepared. Hurricane Ian barrelled into western Cuba on 27 September, leaving 11 million people without power. The Cuban government evacuated some 50,000 people and set up more than 55 shelters ahead of the storm, which killed two people on the Caribbean island. Eighteen Cuban migrants were missing at sea after their boat capsized off the Florida coast. With winds of up to 250km/h (155mph), Ian then slammed into Florida, where millions of homes and businesses were left without power and coastal areas saw record flooding from storm surges. Around a dozen deaths in Florida were attributed to the storm. In Vietnam, meanwhile, Typhoon Noru made landfall near the beach resort city of Da Nang on 28 September, less than 36 hours after it left a trail of destruction in the Philippines (where it was known as Karding), killing at least eight people. The lack of casualties in Vietnam was reported to be down to the early evacuation of 800,000 people. Climate change is only expected to increase the number of major tropical cyclones worldwide, with rising sea levels and coastal development worsening their impact. The risks are nowhere more extreme than in the 14 low-lying Pacific Islands, where rising tides and worsening storms threaten their very existence. At a historic US-Pacific Islands summit this week, President Joe Biden’s administration announced some $810 million in aid and assistance, including $130 million earmarked for “climate challenges”.

A far-right government in Italy

A coalition of right-wing parties won Italy’s 25 September election. The far-right Brother’s of Italy party, which claimed the most votes, has its roots in Italy’s post-World War II neo-fascist movement. Its leader, Giorgia Meloni, is set to become the next prime minister. Her victory has raised concerns about the new government’s relationship with the EU, what policy it will pursue towards Russia, and the mainstreaming of the far-right in Western politics. The election outcome will also have significant consequences for asylum seekers and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Europe. During the campaign, Meloni’s coalition promised to set up a naval blockade to prevent their boats reaching Italian ports, and to seek ways to send asylum seekers outside Europe to have their claims processed – following in the footsteps of the UK and Denmark. These policies may be hard to implement, but “there are very clear signs of this new government's willingness to implement abusive policies,” Judith Sunderland, from Human Rights Watch, told us. For more, read our full analysis: What a far-right government in Italy means for asylum seekers and migrants

Rwanda genocide trial for former radio station owner

An 87-year-old accused of helping fund and promote the 1994 genocide in Rwanda has been put on trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Judges ruled the case would go forward at two hours a day, despite Félicien Kabuga – who is confined to a wheelchair – refusing to appear in person or via video link at the start of the trial on 29 September, citing a dispute regarding his lawyer. Kabuga, who was arrested near Paris in 2020 after being at large for years, has been charged with three counts of genocide and two counts of crimes against humanity, primarily for promoting hate speech through his broadcasting business, Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines. Kabuga is also accused of funding weapons for militias in Rwanda's Hutu majority who killed more than 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates during a 100-day period in 1994. Kabuga has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

How to improve a system that doesn’t listen

“We talk a lot. We listen less”: That’s one of the blunt takeaways from a new report warning that the emergency aid sector is failing to meet its promises to listen to, consult, and learn from the people who rely on it. The study by the CHS Alliance – set up to measure and improve accountability to people in crises – pulls from seven years of data and research, finding “a system that is not listening to or taking seriously people facing crises”. Basic measures – that aid is based on genuine participation and feedback, or that aid organisations simply welcome and address complaints – show the least progress. This is despite sector-wide commitments, including grand but dormant promises of a “participation revolution”. An unaccountable system can have dangerous consequences – such as allegations of aid worker sexual abuse that went unchecked for years in South Sudan, as recently documented in an investigation by The New Humanitarian and Al Jazeera. So what’s the way forward? Aid groups that showed the most progress shared a common trait, the CHS Alliance study found: They actually measured how they were doing on accountability.

Another coup in Burkina Faso?

As the Cheat Sheet went to press, the military leader of Burkina Faso, Lt-Col Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, was urging calm amid reports of either an attempted coup or a mutiny in the capital, Ouagadougou. Following reports of gunfire near the presidential palace, pictures from the AFP news agency showed soldiers guarding strategic sites in the city. Burkina Faso is facing an "internal crisis in the army", government spokesperson Lionel Bilgo told AFP, adding: "talks are continuing to try to reach a settlement without trouble." Damiba seized power in a coup himself in January after the elected president, Roch Kaboré, failed to stem the rising threat from Islamist militants. The latest events may also be related to the extremist threat. On 26 September, armed fighters attacked a 15-vehicle convoy resupplying a town in the northern Sahel region, killing at least 11 soldiers, according to the government, which said 50 civilians were also missing. Another suspected jihadist ambush on 5 September saw 35 civilians killed when a convoy hit an improvised explosive device on a main road.

In case you missed it

AFGHAN STUDENTS ATTACKED: An attack on an educational centre in Dasht-e-Barchi, a predominantly Hazara neighbourhood in Kabul, killed at least 19 students preparing for exams. Previously, militants affiliated with so-called Islamic State have claimed several attacks targeting minority Shiite Muslim civilians, including the mostly Shiite Hazara.

COLOMBIA-VENEZUELA BORDER REOPENS: Fulfilling a campaign promise, Colombia’s new leftist president, Gustavo Petro, reopened the border with Venezuela, saying it will benefit those risking rape and even murder to cross on dangerous smuggling routes. While the first trucks carrying essentials such as toilet paper and medicines crossed into Venezuela for the first time since 2019, one aid group told The New Humanitarian it feared the move would drive more Venezuelan migrants towards perilous routes further north such as the Darién Gap.

HAITI AID LOST: Some $6 million in food aid and relief supplies has been lost due to Haiti’s rampant gang violence and instability, according to UN special envoy Helen La Lime. “An economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis have converged into a humanitarian catastrophe,” La Lime said in a briefing to the UN Security Council. The violence has also contributed to an ongoing fuel crisis, which is threatening hospitals with closure.

IRAN STRIKES GROUP IN IRAQI KURDISTAN: Thirteen people have reportedly been killed in Iranian missile and drone strikes on the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. UNICEF said a pregnant woman was killed and two children were among those injured. Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps said it had struck Kurdish “separatist terrorists” who backed “riots”, referring to the anti-government protests that have swept the country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was in the custody of the “morality police”.

LEBANON CURRENCY: Lebanon announced that it will re-peg its currency to the US dollar, shifting the official exchange rate from 1,500 Lebanese lira (or pounds) to the dollar, to 15,000 pounds to the dollar. The Ministry of Finance called the change, which will come into effect in November, a “necessary corrective action”. The local currency has lost 90 percent of its value on the widely used black market since late 2019.

MYANMAR HATE SPEECH: A new report from rights group Amnesty International found that Facebook algorithms “proactively amplified” escalating violence against the Rohingya in 2017, and called for Meta to pay reparations. Starting in August 2017, Myanmar’s military carried out genocide against the stateless population. While activists repeatedly warned Facebook at the time of the platform’s role in promoting violence, the company failed to take action until long after the worst of the atrocities.

SYRIA CHOLERA: The official death toll in Syria’s cholera outbreak rose to 36, with nearly 6,000 suspected cases across the country. The outbreak had previously been confined to the northeast, but cases have now been confirmed in the rebel-held northwest, raising fears it will be extremely difficult to contain.

UGANDA EBOLA: Health officials are racing to contain an Ebola outbreak in Uganda. Some 50 people have been infected, according to the World Health Organization, which says the outbreak was detected quite late. Roughly 24 people are thought to have died from the Sudan strain of the virus in the Mubende, Kassanda, and Kyegegwa districts, east of the capital, Kampala. No cases have been reported in Kampala.

UNHCR: The push for someone with lived experience as a refugee to lead the UN’s refugee agency will have to wait: The UN General Assembly extended Filippo Grandi’s term as head of UNHCR until the end of 2025 (Grandi declared himself “humbled”). It’s his second extension since being appointed to a five-year term in 2016. 

US REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT: The Biden administration has set a ceiling of 125,000 refugees to be resettled through the US resettlement programme in fiscal year 2023, which starts on 1 October. The number is the same as last year. But only around 20,000 refugees were resettled to the US this year. The resettlement programme was gutted by the Trump administration and the process of rebuilding has been slow.

Weekend read

Is there a path to peace in the Tigray conflict?

Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict has returned and is escalating. A truce that began in March, and allowed humanitarian aid to reach Tigray’s population, has fallen apart. Fighting is now spreading, and the return of violence has worsened the region’s already dire humanitarian emergency. Millions are in need, and aid deliveries have halted. Freedom of expression has also suffered, with calls for peace being muzzled. The Tigray conflict first broke out in November 2020, but efforts to end the fighting have stalled. Read our in-depth analysis to better understand the conflict, its consequences, and where it could be heading.

And finally…

‘Three killed every week’

More than 1,700 land and environmental defenders have been killed over the last decade, according to a new report from Global Witness. “Around the world, three people are killed every week while trying to protect their land and environment from extractive forces,” Indian activist Dr Vandana Shiva says in the report’s foreword. Latin America is by far the deadliest region – 68 percent of the murders occurred across this continent – with Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Honduras recording the highest national totals. Many murders – like the recent high-profile cases of Berta Cáceres and Bruno Pereira – targeted Indigenous peoples or activists trying to prevent the exploitation of their lands. Activists, donors, and researchers have long called for coordinated measures to protect environmental campaigners worldwide. Experts say recent convictions, the entry into force last year of the Escazú treaty protecting environmental defenders in Latin America, and EU proposals to hold companies accountable for human rights abuses do offer some signs of optimism. “These are game-changing decisions that could make a real positive impact for environmental defenders,” Shruti Suresh, from Global Witness, told the BBC.

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