Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Iran protest crackdown turns deadlier still
The UN Human Rights Council is set to hold a special session imminently on Iran. It comes as state violence against protesters reaches new levels, with Iranians holding protests across the country to mark the third anniversary of the “bloody November” demonstrations. More than a dozen people have been killed in the most recent crackdown, including two children. Video footage showed police opening fire at a crowded metro station and beating fleeing women with batons. Iranians have been holding protests since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody in September after being arrested by so-called morality police. Three days of recent action included protests and strikes to commemorate the November 2019 demonstrations in which as many as 1,000 protesters were killed and thousands arrested while decrying rising fuel prices and calling for the government to step down. Human rights NGOs say almost 350 people have been killed by the Iranian security forces since the crackdown began two months ago, while the first death sentence linked to the protests has been reported by Iranian state media.
DR Congo’s M23 rebels make new gains
Fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group has flared again in the eastern province of North Kivu. The rebels reportedly made gains around the villages of Tonga and Kibumba, forcing the military to engage fighter planes and tanks. Reports suggest the group is now moving westwards towards Masisi territory, though there are fears they may also push south towards Goma – the largest town in the east – which is now just 20 kilometres from the front line. On 16 November, the head of the recently created East African military force in DR Congo vowed to protect Goma, which was briefly seized by the M23 during a prior rebellion in 2012. Still, more than 262,000 people have been displaced since the conflict escalated in March and regional tensions are rising between DR Congo and neighbouring Rwanda, which is accused of backing the rebels. See our recent reporting for more, and check out our weekend read below on efforts to demobilise rebel groups in DR Congo – which now number more than 120.
Calls for Türkiye to lose ‘safe country’ refugee status
Türkiye has deported nearly 60,000 Afghans this year despite Afghanistan facing overlapping economic and humanitarian crises, and concerns that some of those sent back could face persecution from the Taliban government, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW). Türkiye has also pushed back tens of thousands of Afghans from its border with Iran since the Taliban returned to power in Kabul last year. The situation for refugees and asylum seekers in Türkiye has deteriorated ahead of elections next year amid rising anti-refugee sentiment in the country. Hundreds of Syrians – including those with legal residency documents – have been deported to northern Syria, according to a separate HRW report. Türkiye hosts the largest refugee population in the world, including some 3.7 million Syrians. The EU’s designation of Türkiye as a “safe third country” for refugees and asylum seekers has been a cornerstone of its migration policy since the 2016 signing of the EU-Türkiye deal, credited with curbing the number of people crossing the Aegean Sea to Europe following the 2015 European refugee crisis. However, some are calling for that designation to be revoked given Türkiye’s violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits refugees and asylum seekers from being returned to countries where their lives might be threatened.
Fresh banknotes arrive in Kabul
When the Taliban returned to power, Afghanistan was immediately put on sanctions. This had a major impact on Afghans, who faced great difficulties accessing their own money from banks. They also had to reuse old, damaged notes for more than a year, until the government was given permission to order new bank notes from Europe, where they are printed.
Watch: The New Humanitarian Kabul-based contributor Ali Latifi explains what the arrival of new notes means for Afghans, who have seen the economic imploision compound existing humanitarian challenges.
Thousands hospitalised as cholera grips Haiti
Nearly 200 Haitians have died of cholera, which is quickly spreading across the Caribbean country. The waterborne illness had not been seen in years, but several overlapping crises – gang violence, fuel shortages, currency shortages, hunger, and a dysfunctional government – have allowed it to flourish. More than 6,300 people have been hospitalised, and there is a shortage of medicine to treat those who may be infected. Other countries are also grappling with cholera cases, but the unrest in Haiti – and the dizzying number of competing problems – has made it difficult to tackle the disease. The last cholera outbreak which killed some 10,000 people was in 2010, was linked back to UN peacekeepers. It’s also likely the cholera crisis is worse than what the headlines say – unrest has led to chronic underreporting, according to the Pan American Health Organization. The same underreporting has happened with rapes and other gender-based violence, according to an investigation by The New Humanitarian.
Tuvalu seeks a digital vault for the climate crisis
It’s a desperate idea with some not-so-subtle subtext: Tuvalu, the island nation beset by rising seas and other extremes, used the COP27 climate summit to announce that it will move to the metaverse. “As our land submerges, we have no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation,” Simon Kofe, Tuvalu’s foreign affairs minister, said in a pre-recorded address from TeAfualiku islet – likely one of the first places in Tuvalu to sink in the coming years. “Piece by piece, we’ll preserve our country, provide solace to our people, and remind our children and our grandchildren what our home once was,” Kofe said. Tuvalu has indeed taken early steps to explore its digital survival under worst-case scenarios. But the overarching message is clear as world leaders emerge from another summit with still-gaping questions on climate action: “Only concerted global effort can ensure that Tuvalu does not move permanently online, and disappear from the physical plane,” Kofe said.
UK sends Tamil asylum seekers to Rwanda for medical treatment
Lawyers representing dozens of Sri Lankan asylum seekers stranded on the remote Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia have asked the UK government “what arrangements have been made with the Rwandan government” after authorities sent three asylum seekers to the east African country on 15 November. “With very little notice, three of our clients have been sent to Rwanda for medical treatment. We have been provided with no information about the medical facilities and whether they are adequate, and we have not yet been able to speak with our clients,” lawyer Tessa Gregory from the London firm Leigh Day told The New Humanitarian. A broader government plan to send asylum seekers from the mainland UK to Rwanda for processing has been stalled for months due to human rights concerns. Most of the more than 100 Tamil asylum seekers on Diego Garcia have been stranded there and confined to a fenced encampment for more than a year. Officials recently told them none would be allowed to claim asylum in the UK.
In case you missed it
$7 BILLION: Amid warnings that the war in Ukraine and climate shocks are disrupting food systems in Africa, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $7 billion in new funding to help countries address hunger, disease, gender inequality, and poverty.
CHINA: Residents in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district broke through lockdown barriers on 14 November and spilled into the streets, in a rare public protest against China’s restrictive COVID response. Though the videos were immediately scrubbed from the internet by Chinese censors, an analysis by Freedom House found there have been dozens of protests related to COVID policies in recent months.
ETHIOPIA: Humanitarian groups delivered food aid into the northern Tigray region for the first time since a ceasefire agreement earlier this month. A convoy of 15 trucks travelled through neighbouring Amhara on a route off limits to aid agencies since mid-2021. Millions of Tigrayans have been living in famine conditions due to a government-enforced blockade.
MYANMAR: The military junta announced it would be releasing nearly 6,000 political prisoners as part of a “humanitarian” amnesty. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 16,000 people have been detained on political grounds since the junta took control in a February 2021 coup.
NIGERIA BANDITRY: A top militia leader was killed on 13 November during a shootout with the army in northwestern Kaduna State. The authorities said Kachalla Gudau was among scores of gunmen killed when they attacked a military facility. Gudau was linked to kidnappings, killings, and cattle rustling in the northwest.
SYRIA: The US is reportedly funding the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria to upgrade detention centres that hold thousands of suspected and convicted members of the so-called Islamic State. In January, IS fighters launched an attack on a prison in Hassakeh, raising fears of a militant resurgence but also revealing that hundreds of minors were being detained in what Human Rights Watch called “deeply degrading and often inhuman conditions”.
UGANDA EBOLA: Three Ebola candidate vaccines are expected to undergo clinical trials in Uganda in the coming days. The vaccines – developed by the University of Oxford and Serum Institute of India, Sabin Vaccine Institute, and Merck – are designed to tackle the Sudan strain of the virus circulating in Uganda. As of 17 November, there had been 141 confirmed cases and 55 deaths.
UKRAINE: As Kyiv saw its first snowfall of the year, about 10 million people in Ukraine are without power following another round of widespread Russian airstrikes targeting the country’s electrical infrastructure, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Meanwhile, an Australian business tycoon has launched an investment fund that he hopes will be worth $25 billion to help rebuild Ukraine following the war focusing on green technology and digital infrastructure.
US: On 16 November, a federal judge struck down Title 42, a pandemic-era public health policy that has paved the way for the US border patrol to carry out more than 2.4 million expulsions of asylum seekers and migrants at the US-Mexico border since March 2020. The policy had long been criticised for severely limiting access to protection on specious public health grounds. The Biden administration had initially moved to end Title 42, but decided to keep it in place as the number of people crossing the US-Mexico border increased to record levels in the past two years.
‘People will restart fighting because they need a means to live.’
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been encouraged to accelerate the rollout of a programme to demobilise rebel combatants as fighting escalates with the M23 armed group and other militias. However, there are many hurdles, including limited funds for the initiative and scepticism among fighters who have seen three prior demobilisation schemes fail since the early 2000s. Experts say past programmes struggled because money was misappropriated and the assistance given to rebels was scant and poorly tailored. The new initiative promises to correct some of those failings – communities will be put front and centre, and decision-making will be decentralised. However, controversial appointments and a slow rollout have also already undermined trust. For more, check out our weekend read by journalists Sam Mednick and Claude Sengenya.
Vanuatu’s legal climate push nears the starting line
What began as a lofty idea from law students in the Pacific Islands could soon reach the halls of the UN General Assembly. Vanuatu used the COP27 stage to announce that the country and its allies have nearly finalised a resolution calling for the world’s top court, the International Court of Justice, to weigh in on climate change. The UNGA is one of the only bodies able to make such requests. Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s minister for climate change, said he expects a vote on the issue in mid-December. The push has the backing of 18 nations including Vanuatu, and the in-principle support of 86 other countries, Regenvanu said. “What we have seen this week is that negotiations are not working for the most vulnerable, largely because it is not clear what our obligations to each other and to our people are,” he said. Read this recent Q&A with Ni-Vanuatu diplomat Georges Maniuri for more on what Vanuatu is hoping to achieve, and the behind-the-scenes work that goes into building consensus.