Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Sudan’s displacement crisis and aid challenge
A humanitarian ceasefire led to a slight reduction this week in fighting between Sudan’s rival generals, but battles still broke out and the civilian impact of the conflict worsened. There are no firm figures for how many people are on the move, but the bombardment of Khartoum and heavy clashes in other areas (notably Darfur) suggest it could be millions. So far, refugees have been documented crossing to Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and South Sudan. And significant numbers of internally displaced people – many unable to afford pricey bus tickets to neighbouring countries – have been reported too. Inside Sudan, it is local communities and civil society groups that are organising humanitarian relief as aid agencies focus on evacuations and relocations. Discussions are now beginning on how to reboot international aid efforts, as we reported, but there are many obstacles along the way, from where to set up operations (Khartoum is a non-starter) to getting staff and supplies into the country.
Burkina Faso’s lengthening list of atrocities
During their seven-year battle against jihadist groups, Burkina Faso’s security forces have frequently been accused of human rights violations. Back in 2019, we reported on the detention and execution of men the army accused – on flimsy grounds – of being militants. But extrajudicial killings have increased significantly since army captain Ibrahim Traoré took power in a September 2022 coup. The latest allegations concern the northern village of Karma, where at least 150 civilians were killed on 20 April. Karma residents say armed men wearing military uniforms and driving armoured pick-ups killed women with babies on their backs and hunted down the wounded. The alleged atrocities comes a month after the French newspaper Libération published an investigation into the execution of children at a military camp in the north. Civil society activists are also facing restrictions under the junta, which has failed to alleviate a worsening humanitarian crisis that’s left tens of thousands close to famine.
Dialogue raises hopes for peace in Ethiopia’s Oromia
Preliminary peace talks between Ethiopia’s federal government and the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) have begun on Tanzania’s semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar. The confidence-building discussions, mediated by Kenya and Norway, are aimed at paving the way for future negotiations to end the five-year conflict. There have been few details on the dialogue so far, but the OLA said it welcomed a peaceful resolution to the violence in Oromia, which has included civilian massacres and indiscriminate government crackdowns. The OLA, labelled a terrorist organisation by Addis Ababa, says it’s fighting for greater autonomy for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s biggest but historically marginalised ethnic group. Violence has surged in Oromia following a peace deal in November that ended the war in northern Tigray. The OLA is accused of targeting ethnic Amharas who live in Oromia, while militias from the Amhara region – which borders Oromia – have killed Oromo civilians. See The New Humanitarian’s report on the conflict.
Sex abuse victims take legal action against WHO personnel
Thirteen women are pursuing legal cases against World Health Organization personnel in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over sexual abuse and exploitation allegations during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak, Health Policy Watch reported. It’s unclear if the cases are criminal or civil, or if the accused still work for WHO. In September 2021, an independent commission found at least nine rape allegations linked to the scandal, which was first uncovered by The New Humanitarian. We returned to eastern Congo the following year and spoke to dozens more women alleging similar abuse, including 18 who said they were made pregnant by WHO workers. WHO says it has provided assistance to more than 100 victims, including legal advice, but dozens of women told The New Humanitarian the support was too little too late. While WHO said this week that investigations into the Ebola outbreak allegations are still ongoing, it confirmed that eight of its workers have been dismissed for separate sexual misconduct allegations in the past seven months. In an interview with The New Humanitarian earlier this month, Christian Saunders, the UN’s special adviser in tackling sexual abuse and exploitation, claimed some progress while acknowledging that SEA investigations should be done faster – and ideally not by the UN itself.
As gangs seek control of new neighbourhoods, Haitian citizens fight back
Gangs are increasingly moving into new parts of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, that had been considered relatively safe, but they’re not having it all their own way. On 24 April, when police stopped a minibus in Canapé-Vert containing 14 suspected gang members and arrested them, residents stormed the precinct, stoned the suspects, and burnt them to death. The men were reportedly gang reinforcements for ongoing attacks in the nearby areas of Debussy and Turgeau. André Paultre, a freelance contributor for The New Humanitarian in Haiti, confirmed fighting had reached those neighbourhoods, among others, and that citizens were resisting: blocking streets with trucks and trailers. Paultre estimated that 50 gang members had been killed by 26 April in clashes with civilians armed with sticks, machetes, and guns. “All Debussy is standing… [or] hiding under their bed,” one man told him. “The few friends I contacted have no precise information, only the sad impression that the area has been hijacked by armed groups.”
Preparing for El Niño’s humanitarian risks
El Niño conditions could return by June, fuelling extreme weather and food insecurity risks around the globe, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization warned in a new forecast. The effects of El Niño vary: It brings wetter conditions to some areas, and drier conditions elsewhere. This could mean some respite for drought-hit areas in the Horn of Africa, where consecutive failed rainy seasons have pushed some communities to the edge of famine. But it “may spell trouble” elsewhere, said the FAO, which warns that aid groups need to take steps now to prepare for the risks.
In case you missed it
BRAZIL: Alessandra Korap, an Indigenous activist from the Amazon, has won the 2023 Goldman Environmental Prize for her fight against illegal mining in the Munduruku territory. Leading other Indigenous women, she organised demonstrations and reached out to Brazil’s attorney general and the federal police to stop further environmental crimes, preventing Anglo-American and others from mining inside Indigenous territories in the process.
CUBA: Amid the ongoing economic crisis, gasoline shortages are now so critical that the authorities have started rationing, as events are cancelled and some universities switch back to online classes. The sale limit is 40 litres per vehicle, with priority being given to diplomatic and tourist transport.
GRAIN DEAL: Ukraine says Russia is blocking the movement of four ships from ports in Ukraine, one of which was chartered by the World Food Programme to deliver wheat to Ethiopia. Negotiators have been working to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was brokered in July by the UN and Türkiye. It was meant to allow the safe passage of grain exports through Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea. The deal was renewed for 60 days last month, but Russia wants restrictions on grain and fertiliser exports to be lifted in exchange for an extension.
LEBANON: Lebanon is cracking down on undocumented Syrian refugees, reportedly arresting at least 450 people over the past few weeks, and forcibly deporting dozens to Syria, in moves condemned by rights groups. Lebanon is home to around 2 million Syrian refugees, but it stopped allowing the UN to register new arrivals in 2015, leaving many without residency papers.
MEDITERRANEAN MIGRATION: At least 55 people are dead following a shipwreck off the coast of Libya on 25 April, and five others died following two separate shipwrecks off the coast of Tunisia earlier in the week. Meanwhile, more than 100 bodies have been recovered at sea or have washed ashore in Libya and Tunisia following a series of similar tragedies in recent weeks. More than 820 people have died or gone missing in the central Mediterranean already this year.
NIGERIA: Unprecedented numbers of malnourished children are being brought to therapeutic feeding centres run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Maiduguri, the main city in northeast Nigeria. In early April, around 150 children were being admitted every week with severe malnutrition – twice the rate for the same time last year.
PERU: The government declared a state of emergency in seven border regions to prevent migrants and asylum seekers – mostly Venezuelans, Haitians, and Colombians – from entering the country. The situation is particularly volatile in Tacna, at the Peruvian-Chilean border, where migrants protested and blocked the highway, leading Peruvian authorities to send in 200 police officers to restore control.
SOMALIA: Nearly 6.6 million people are facing severe hunger despite a relative improvement in rainfall and a drop in food prices, according to the IPC, a UN-backed food security classification service. Levels of food insecurity will remain high at least until June, although fears of drought-related famine have eased. For more on what extreme hunger can mean for desperate mothers, read our story.
TÜRKIYE: A new report from Amnesty International says that people with disabilities have been “neglected in the humanitarian response” to the February earthquakes in Türkiye. Those in displacement camps are often unable to access sanitation facilities or the specialist healthcare they need.
VENEZUELA: Representatives of 19 countries and the EU meeting at a summit hosted by Colombian President Gustavo Petro in Bogotá to discuss the political impasse and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela agreed on the need to establish a timeline for free elections and the lifting of sanctions, but critics said there has been no progress on rapprochement with the opposition.
A major US asylum restriction is ending. So why is the humanitarian crisis in northern Mexico getting worse?
‘The end of Title 42 is not going to change anything. The names of the policies will just change. If it’s not Title 42, it will be Title 8.’
Migration Editor Eric Reidy recently returned from two weeks criss-crossing the US-Mexico border to assess the situation ahead of the expiry on 11 May of Title 42 – a pandemic-era policy that has severely limited access to US asylum since March 2020. He found tens of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants stranded in the region by US policies, facing violence and exploitation from both the cartels and Mexican authorities. Shelters are overcrowded, and makeshift encampments have sprung up in some Mexican border cities with tents made from tree branches, blankets, and plastic garbage bags. Anticipating the end of Title 42, tens of thousands more people are heading towards the border. However, the Biden administration has proposed new measures that will likely keep some form of asylum restriction in place. And on 27 April, the administration revealed plans to speed up the deportation of people irregularly entering the United States, and to open migration processing centres in Colombia and Guatemala. Similar proposals by EU politicians have failed to materialise due to legal, humanitarian, and human rights stumbling blocks. Meanwhile, local aid workers at the US-Mexico border are left wondering why measures to deal with the impending humanitarian fallout from the end of Title 42 appear few and far between. “I’m not seeing any preparations,” said Dylan Corbett, from the HOPE Border Institute in El Paso, Texas.
Why South Africa doesn’t want to see Putin
President Cyril Ramaphosa caused an uproar this week when he announced that South Africa was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC). A few hours later, his office issued a clarification – he had misspoken, South Africa was still very much part of the controversial court. However, the episode was more than a simple slip of the tongue. It’s evidence of the diplomatic bind South Africa finds itself in following the ICC’s indictment of Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes in Ukraine. Putin is due to arrive in South Africa in August for a BRICS summit and, as things stand, South Africa would be under an obligation to arrest him. South Africa, like much of the rest of the world, has taken a non-aligned position over the Ukraine conflict – to the annoyance of Western governments. The United States has warned that South Africa’s preferential AGOA trade deal is at risk. To ease the dilemma, South Africa could rapidly pass legislation granting immunity to heads of state. But what would really help the government out would be if Putin decided to stay at home.