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Trapped in Tunisia, Syrian aid squabbles, and salty water in Uruguay: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

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

On our radar

The EU and Tunisia’s migration entanglement 

More than 100 Black African asylum seekers and migrants are still trapped in no man’s land between Tunisia and Libya after being expelled by Tunisian authorities following an outburst of xenophobic violence in the coastal city of Sfax. More than 600 have reportedly been brought to shelters by the Tunisian Red Crescent after being stranded in the border region for nearly a week. The New Humanitarian visited Sfax shortly before long-simmering tensions boiled over after a Tunisian man was killed on 3 July during a clash with asylum seekers and migrants. As the number of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Tunisia to Europe has increased this year, the country has become a focal point of EU efforts to curb migration, with the European Commission offering Tunisia more than one billion euros in support. Members of the European Parliament have strongly criticised the yet-to-be signed deal, saying it ignores human rights concerns and the country’s democratic backsliding. In a recent op-ed, Ahlam Chemlali, a PhD fellow at the Danish Institute for International Studies, argued that the EU’s approach to Tunisia is actually contributing to the factors fueling migration, rather than stopping it. 


The reality behind Syria’s new aid offer

For the past few years, Security Council debates and votes about the resolution that allows the UN to deliver aid from Türkiye into rebel-held northwest Syria without government permission have been complex but fairly predictable (even though there is always a lot going on behind the scenes): Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has argued for fewer border crossings and shorter mandates, as it tries to put more of a focus on aid delivered from Syrian government-controlled territories to rebel-held ones. Other countries, including Britain, France, and the United States have tended to push for longer renewals. They’ve usually met somewhere in the middle. This week, diplomats failed to get a deal, letting the current resolution that allows UN aid through one key crossing, Bab al-Hawa, expire. On 13 July, al-Assad’s ambassador to the UN said Syria will allow UN aid into the northwest via Bab al-Hawa for six months, if it is done “in full cooperation and coordination with the government”. But this is not likely to go down well with many Syrian and international aid groups, given that the current system was created back in 2014 largely because of the Syrian government’s obstruction of aid. Not many people foresaw the latest developments, so we won’t try to make predictions, but stay tuned for more on a subject that affects millions of people facing an increasingly dire situation in northwest Syria.


External mediation on Sudan falls flat

There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity around Sudan’s conflict, but prospects for a breakthrough in the fighting still seem slim. Egypt hosted a summit of countries neighbouring Sudan which resulted in a statement calling for a ceasefire. But the conflict parties – the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – weren’t present at the talks. East African nations also held meetings in Addis Ababa and proposed the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force. But the initiative was snubbed by the army, which views Kenya, the main sponsor, as biased towards the RSF. The United States and Saudi Arabia have succeeded at bringing the warring parties together, but their forum has been suspended for several weeks due to ceasefire breaches. Some observers fear external powers are competing to lead mediation efforts, while others say talks won’t succeed until one of the two sides has a clear military advantage. Peace efforts also risk entrenching armed actors at the expense of Sudanese citizens, recycling the same peacemaking formula that led to war in the first place.


Where more is spent on debt than social services

How can communities stay resilient to shocks when their governments spend more on paying down debt than on social services? A new briefing adds more numbers to a global debt problem that has grown so clear that even humanitarians are warning about it. The governments of 25 countries spent at least a fifth of their revenue on servicing external debt, according to a briefing published by the UN Development Programme. This includes a broad range of countries from Bangladesh and Pakistan to Costa Rica, Egypt, Kenya, and Nigeria. Low-income countries spend more than twice as much on interest payments as they do on social assistance, and more than 1.4 times more than on healthcare. The analysts behind the briefing are calling for a “debt-poverty pause” that reroutes debt payments toward social protection programmes. A debt pause is one thing; a complete overhaul to the global financial system is another. Listen to our podcast on Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s reform plans, then read about the humanitarian links on our yearly list of trends driving crises.


More attacks – and a peacekeeper pullout – in northeastern Mali

Attacks by jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State have cost hundreds of civilian lives in northeastern Mali this year, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the Ménaka and Gao regions as the two groups battle for influence and control over supply routes. The decision last month by Mali’s military junta to boot out the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission could make matters worse, according to the report. MINUSMA facilitates aid access to conflict-affected areas in the northeast, and its troops also hold positions in major towns, which jihadists may seek control over when the blue helmets complete their six-month drawdown. Violence in the northeast has been rising since early 2022, when IS fighters committed several mass atrocities. For more on the situation, read our recent story: In northern Mali, Islamic State attacks cause ‘tragedies beyond comprehension’


Surging temperatures fuel a water crisis in Uruguay

With the return of El Niño, rising temperatures are leading to a surge of life-threatening weather patterns across the globe. While Europe is expected to experience new record temperatures in the coming weeks, in Latin America drought is affecting countries in unprecedented ways. In Uruguay, the lack of rain has emptied one of the capital’s main reservoirs, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency in Montevideo and to add salty water to public drinking water supplies, provoking protests from citizens angry over the significant decline of water quality. While the country faces its worst drought in the past 74 years, critics accuse the government of prioritising water use by transnationals and agribusinesses over human consumption. News of a plan to build a Google data centre that would require 3.8 million litres of water a day further infuriated Uruguayans. On 13 July, UN experts called on the Uruguayan authorities to take action to protect citizens’ access to clean drinking water.

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In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN/US: The body set up to monitor US aid in Afghanistan has admitted that Washington’s aid policies over the 20-year Western occupation ended up doing more harm than good. “We were actually giving more money than the gross domestic product of Afghanistan for so many years,” John Sopko, the head of the watchdog group, told a London conference, adding: “We did not really understand Afghanistan or how it worked as a country.” 


GRAIN DEAL: Will Russia agree to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative? The deal, which Türkiye and the UN brokered last summer to ease a global food crisis, is about to expire. Russia wants restrictions lifted on its agricultural exports. If an extension isn’t granted, there could be further declines in grain exports, which have gone from 4.2 million metric tons in October to 2 million in June. The World Food Programme (WFP) relies on such food products to supply aid in countries at risk of famine, including Somalia, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan.


GREECE: A digital investigation into the causes of a shipwreck off the west coast of Greece at the end of June suggests the boat likely capsized due to an attempt by the Greek Coast Guard to tow it toward Italy. As many as 650 people died in the shipwreck. The investigation strongly contradicts Greek authorities’ narrative of the event. Survivors say that the statements they gave to the coast guard were tampered with and that their phones, with videos of the incident, were confiscated. 


HUNGER: Global hunger remains well above pre-pandemic levels, according to UN agencies’ yearly State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report. Since 2019, some 122 million more people face hunger, in a trend driven by conflict, extreme weather shocks, COVID-19, and economic turbulence. Roughly 29.6% of the world’s population don’t have constant access to food, the report found. Explore our series: Emerging hunger hotspots.


LIBYA: A court in eastern Libya has handed down prison sentences to 38 people for charges related to people smuggling, including five people who were sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of 11 asylum seekers and migrants on a boat attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, search and rescue NGO SOS Mediterranée said a patrol vessel from the EU-backed Libyan Coast Guard opened fire at two of its boats during a rescue operation.


PERU: Still struggling to respond to a large dengue outbreak, Peru’s embattled healthcare system is facing a surge of other diseases. The government has now had to declare a health emergency due to the unusual increase of Guillain-Barré syndrome cases across the country. Meanwhile, in the north, the spread of an undiagnosed diarrhoeal disease that has already killed five people is also worrying local authorities. 


UGANDA: President Yoweri Museveni and his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba are among nine top Ugandan officials accused of torture, killings, and abusing critics in testimonies submitted to the International Criminal Court. The alleged abuses took place in the months before and after Uganda’s 2021 general elections. It is unclear if the overstretched Hague-based court will take on the case.


Weekend read

Sexual violence plagues women displaced by DR Congo’s M23 conflict

DRC has long topped lists of neglected humanitarian crises, but the lack of funding for people affected by the current M23 conflict is having especially grave consequences. Up to 2.3 million people have been displaced since the Rwanda-backed rebels escalated their insurgency last year in the eastern province of North Kivu. Many are living in crowded and unsanitary camps that receive insufficient amounts of food aid. The dire conditions have forced displaced women – especially the heads of households – to venture outside of the sites in search of supplies and work. But this is exposing many to attacks by predatory men, according to several women who spoke to reporter Sophie Neiman in our weekend read. One woman said she was raped at a farm near her camp after stealing bananas earlier this year. Another woman said she was assaulted by men in military uniforms after leaving her camp in search of food. Local volunteers are present in the sites looking after survivors of sexual violence, but international protection programmes are grossly underfunded. “I expect that this thing can just happen again,” a third woman, who was raped outside her camp in April, told Neiman. “I am afraid of going to the field to look for food.”


And finally…

Against all odds: Haitian soccer team to square off against England in World Cup

Haiti’s female soccer team will play England in the World Cup on 22 July in Australia – the first time the Caribbean country has made it to the finals since 1974. The team, ranked 53 out of 188 countries in the latest rankings, has no sponsors and has had to train in the neighbouring Dominican Republic because of the gang violence that has paralysed most of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, exacerbating humanitarian needs. Most of the team’s equipment and uniforms have also been donated. “We just put our head down and worked and tried not to worry about all the outside factors,” midfielder Milan Pierre-Jérôme told the Miami Herald. “Yes it’s been more difficult for us compared to teams in other countries, but knowing that no matter the circumstances, no matter what challenges we face, we still have 11 players on the field, one soccer ball and we all play with cleats. That’s what held us together.”

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