Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Ethnically-targeted violence in Darfur spreads amid Sudan’s conflict
There is growing alarm at a campaign of ethnically-targeted violence being carried out in West Darfur State by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, which is also locked in a wider conflict with the Sudanese Army. The RSF and allied militias draw fighters from Darfuri Arab communities and have been targeting West Darfur's non-Arab Masalit group, according to survivors, journalists, and the UN. More than a thousand civilians are thought to have been killed, tens of thousands have fled to neighbouring Chad, and parts of West Darfur’s capital, El Geneina, have been razed. The Masalit governor of West Darfur, Khamis Abdullah Abbakar, was killed on 14 June, with the UN citing eyewitness accounts that the RSF and Arab militias were responsible. Shortly before his death, Abbakar had given a TV interview criticising the RSF and describing an unfolding “genocide”. The RSF grew out of the Janjaweed militias armed by Khartoum to crush a revolt in the early 2000s by Darfur’s non-Arab rebel groups. The counter-insurgency campaign led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and accusations of genocide. For background context, read The New Humanitarian’s 2021 series from the ground: Darfur’s tipping point.
Deadly Mediterranean shipwreck puts spotlight on EU border policies
Hundreds of people have likely drowned following one of the deadliest migration shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in recent years, prompting criticism of Greek and EU border policies. The boat – which capsized on 14 June near the town of Pylos, Greece – was carrying as many as 750 people. Around 104 people – mostly from Syria, Egypt, and Pakistan – were rescued, and 78 bodies were recovered. The rest of the passengers were missing and presumed drowned as Greek authorities wound up rescue operations on 16 June. The severely overcrowded boat had set out from the city of Tobruk in eastern Libya. Greek, Italian, and Maltese authorities were alerted to its presence by activists on the morning of 14 June, but no rescue operation was launched. EU countries have increasingly tried to avoid responsibility for rescuing asylum seekers and migrants at sea in recent years. And Greece has been documented pushing boats of asylum seekers and migrants out of the area of the Mediterranean Sea where it is responsible for coordinating rescues. Nearly 3,800 people died on migration routes from the Middle East and North Africa toward Europe last year – the highest number since 2017. For more, read our interactive explainer: The European approach to stopping Libya migration.
Aid access in Rakhine curtailed, one month after devastating cyclone
One month after Cyclone Mocha made landfall in Myanmar, destroying 1,000 buildings and reportedly killing at least 400 people, authorities have suspended humanitarian access to the hard-hit Rakhine State, according to the UN. Rakhine is home to the persecuted Rohingya minority. Between 140,000 and 600,000 Rohingya are confined to internment camps in Rakhine, which suffered especially devastating impacts from the storm. With limited aid access, the true toll could be much higher, potentially making Mocha the worst storm to hit Myanmar in 15 years. The head of one relief agency told CNN that there has been “a large-scale loss of life in the camps”, where Rohingya were relocated starting in 2012. There were media reports that a small number of Rohingya elderly, pregnant women, and children were evacuated by the government before the cyclone made landfall, but those numbers were far short of the mass evacuations the government had promised.
Starvation in Tigray following Ethiopia food aid suspension
The halting of food aid deliveries in Ethiopia by two major relief organisations is having a devastating impact in northern Tigray – a region struggling to recover from two years of war. The New Humanitarian this week visited the rural town of Samre, 60 kilometres southwest of the regional capital, Mekelle, and met starving families who had received no food aid since April. The local government administrator said 10 children had died this month, and expected more deaths. “Our children are falling like leaves. We have nothing to offer them,” he said. The World Food Programme and US Agency for International Development announced a suspension of aid to Tigray in May over allegations of food diversions (the freeze reportedly began at the end of March). This month, both agencies extended the suspension to all of Ethiopia pending the completion of investigations into claims of "widespread and coordinated" food theft. More than 20 million Ethiopians are dependent on food relief. “This is devastating – not just for Tigray,” an aid worker told The New Humanitarian. “Even before the freeze, aid was sporadic and insufficient.” Look out for The New Humanitarian’s upcoming reporting from Tigray.
EU donor conference for Syria falls short of needs
Donors and diplomats met for the seventh straight year in Brussels this week to discuss and raise money for Syria’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. They pledged a total of 5.6 billion euros ($6.1 billion) for “2023 and beyond”, including 4.6 billion Euros ($1 billion) for this year. The money will be used to support people inside Syria and in neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees. Aid groups have said the amount isn’t enough given growing needs inside Syria and for Syrian refugees, many of whom are facing increasing pressure to go back to a country still at war. The UN has so far received 11.6% of the $5.41 billion it says it needs for aid to Syrians in 2023, and that doesn’t include assistance for refugees. Low funding levels have led to cuts in various forms of assistance, including food rations in a place where millions are struggling to get by. For more, read: Hunger crisis in northwest Syria compounded by quakes, inflation, and aid cuts.
Geneva’s insider week of humanitarian policy chatter
Heavy-hitters from the global aid sector converge in Geneva for a week of various meetings starting on 19 June, which means the city is set to overflow with thematic workstreams, obscure terminology, and – of course – panel discussions. Signatories to the Grand Bargain package of aid reforms will discuss next steps for the seven-year-old commitments. Later, the annual UN-staged “humanitarian affairs segment” will see different corners of the aid world try to thrash out solutions to emergency aid’s biggest problems (that’s the idea, at least). And representatives of a bloc of major donors are also in town for informal meetings. Geneva is never short on summits, gabfests, and nominally crucial aid meetings. For some, the coming week is still significant in that it puts government policymakers alongside the usual cast of aid actors – offering a more constructive stage to nudge issues forward. Still, for aid workers outside Geneva circles – not to mention people who use aid – high-level policy discussions often feel rather distant. “It feels pretty remote to us most of the time,” the head of one aid network told The New Humanitarian.
In case you missed it
BENIN: Recruitment is underway for 5,000 new soldiers to be deployed to Benin’s northern borders in response to a perceived growing jihadist threat. Its tiny military – currently numbering only 12,000 personnel – has faced a series of security incidents along its borders with Burkina Faso and Niger, two countries struggling with al-Qaeda and so-called Islamic State insurgencies.
BRAZIL: Researchers at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil developed the world’s first vaccine against schistosomiasis, a tropical disease that infects 200 million people yearly, mostly in the poorest regions of the world. Brazil has 95% of Latin America’s cases, El País reported. Researchers are waiting for the World Health Organization to approve the treatment.
COLOMBIA: After a series of setbacks in his peace plans, President Gustavo Petro registered a victory this month by striking a six-month ceasefire deal with Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). The agreement, reached during talks in Havana, establishes that the ceasefire will take effect in August and calls for the creation of a national committee to discuss the path toward a lasting peace.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Rwanda-based M23 rebels in eastern DRC executed scores of people in the village of Kishishe and buried them in more than a dozen mass graves, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The executions occurred between November and April and targeted villagers and rival militia fighters.
DISPLACEMENT: Last year saw the largest-ever increase in forcibly displaced people, with the global displaced population reaching 108.4 million, according to new data from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. The global refugee population grew to 35.3 million, up from 27.1, driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and new data on the number of Afghan refugees living in Iran. Overall, the number of displaced people around the world has more than doubled in the past decade.
IRAQ/SYRIA: Iraq has called for the closure of northeast Syria’s al-Hol camp, which is home to tens of thousands of people who have real or perceived ties with the so-called Islamic State. Iraq is increasingly repatriating its own citizens from the camp, although its efforts to reintegrate returnees into Iraqi society have reportedly had questionable results.
NORTH KOREA: Food shortages in North Korea are the worst they’ve been since the 1990s, according to three people inside the isolated country who spoke to the BBC and Daily NK, a Seoul-based media outlet. The interviewees suggested that the shortages are the result of the North Korean government closing its borders in 2020, preventing imports of grain and fertiliser from China. Two of the interviewees said they knew people who had starved to death. An estimated 3 million people died due to famine in North Korea in the 1990s.
OXFAM: Danny Sriskandarajah will step down as head of Oxfam GB at the end of the year, the organisation announced. He will join the New Economics Foundation, a UK-based social justice think tank. Sriskandarajah has helmed Oxfam over a rocky five-year period that saw the charity absorb the brunt of criticism over sexual misconduct in the aid sector – particularly in the UK, where the government temporarily suspended Oxfam’s right to bid for funding in 2021.
THE PHILIPPINES: Two leaders of the Islamist militant group DI-Maute were killed by Philippine security forces in a 14 June raid on two apartments in the southern city of Marawi. Abu Zacharia was the group’s leader, and Abu Morsid was its logistics chief, according to the Philippine military. DI-Maute pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State in 2015 and took control of Marawi in 2017, leading to a five-month siege in which 1,200 civilians were killed and more than 300,000 displaced before the insurgents were rooted out.
UKRAINE: African leaders arrived in Ukraine on a peace mission as a counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces in the south and east of the country is officially underway, aiming to reclaim territory occupied by Russia. The African leaders are pushing for a negotiated solution to the war, the fallout of which has had a devastating impact on cost of living crises in countries across the Global South.
VENEZUELA: The Clooney Foundation for Justice filed a lawsuit accusing Venezuelan security forces of committing crimes against humanity against opponents of President Nicolás Maduro’s regime. The lawsuit was filed in Argentina, where the legal principle of universal jurisdiction allows for the prosecution of war crimes and other international crimes in any court in the world.
WORLD BANK-CLIMATE: A new report has cast doubt on the World Bank’s effectiveness when it comes to climate financing. The Center for Global Development (CGD) found that the World Bank’s climate portfolio of some 2,500 projects skewed heavily toward mitigation or reducing emissions – even in countries with low emissions and where adaptation efforts are more needed. The CGD said its analysis also showed that hundreds of financed projects appear to have little to do with reducing emissions or helping countries cope.
Around 200,000 people – mostly women, children, and the elderly – are stranded with little access to food or shelter in the countryside surrounding the northern Somali city of Las Anod. Another 100,000 people have fled into neighbouring Ethiopia, where aid agencies describe their condition as “dire”, with many children and pregnant and nursing mothers suffering malnutrition. Heavy fighting in Las Anod broke out in February between the security forces of breakaway Somaliland, which have occupied Las Anod since 2007, and local clans demanding separation and direct administration by Somalia’s federal government in Mogadishu. A UN plea for an additional $116 million from donors to help cover the needs of both groups only brought in 2% of the funding. The World Food Programme is helping more than 70,000 conflict-affected people with immediate food assistance for three months, but displaced people who spoke to The New Humanitarian said they have not received any aid. “We have not gotten much assistance here, but we found water,” one grandmother told The New Humanitarian. “We have yet to receive any food or money.”
The slow-motion race to regulate AI
Should the UN play a role in setting global guardrails around rapidly evolving artificial intelligence technology? Secretary-General António Guterres thinks so. Warning of “the weaponisation of AI”, Guterres is floating proposals to create an advisory body that would drum up options for the international governance of AI. Speaking with reporters while re-launching his pitch to form such a body by the end of the year, Guterres compared the role of a global agency on AI to today’s International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN organisation created in the 1950s amid fears over how nuclear technology would be used. Separately, the European Union is moving forward with plans to negotiate rules on the use of AI – likely a global first. But Guterres says national and regional approaches alone aren’t enough. Generative AI tech like ChatGPT has swept into the mainstream in recent months, and some humanitarians worry the emergency aid sector has been caught flat-footed. Read more in this recent opinion piece: Generative AI may be the next AK-47.