Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Israel tells Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza, but to where?
On 13 October, Israel ordered 1.1 million people living in the north of the Gaza Strip to evacuate to the south of the enclave within 24 hours, ahead of an expected ground invasion. The order came after gunmen from Hamas, the political and militant group that governs Gaza, carried out an unprecedented incursion into Israel on 7 October, killing more than 1,300 people, including many civilians, and taking between 100 and 150 hostages. The UN called on Israel to rescind its evacuation order, with a spokesperson saying it is “impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences”. Since the Hamas incursion, Israel has imposed a complete siege on Gaza, which has a population of about 2.1 million people – almost half under the age of 18. Israel has cut off electricity and water and is blocking the entry of food and fuel. It has dropped more than 6,000 bombs on the enclave, killing more than 1,500 people – a third of them children – and wounding more than 6,600. Israel’s evacuation order has created fear and confusion, as residents of northern Gaza flee south, with little idea of where they will find shelter or how their basic needs will be met. All the borders of the enclave are now closed to civilians trying to flee. In his latest filing from Gaza, Palestinian journalist Mohammed Zaanoun sent the video below of people heading south.
Disinformation finds fertile ground
Following the Hamas attack, lurid allegations quickly emerged of the widespread and systematic rape of Israeli women, and of the killing of at least 40 babies in one kibbutz, including beheadings. Before these claims were walked back and debunked, they were repeated by established outlets and journalists, with some of it even making it into the mouth of US President Joe Biden. The Wall Street Journal initially accused Iran of having helped Hamas plot the attack, before later acknowledging that Tehran was actually surprised by its timing and scale. Unsurprisingly, social media has also become a hotbed of disinformation, with the EU warning X (formerly Twitter), Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram), and TikTok about “illegal content and disinformation”. From spurious claims by Hamas that its fighters did not target Israeli civilians (many civilians, including women and children, were killed in its attack), to specious characterisations of the brutal Israeli response as “self-defence” (again, its strikes have killed many civilians, including women and children), to the double standards employed by the EU, truth has certainly become a casualty of this war.
Concern grows over new flare-up in northern Syria
While the media’s eyes are elsewhere, a serious escalation of violence in rebel-held northwest Syria has reportedly forced more than 70,000 people to flee their homes. Shelling and airstrikes by the Syrian government and its allies have killed dozens of civilians, hit hospitals, as well as displacement camps and mosques. Aid groups are particularly worried about this new wave of flight given the onset of winter and the fact that over half of the region’s more than four million residents have already been displaced at least once. Médecins Sans Frontières says that around 19 hospitals in the region are only able to provide emergency care, and even that is difficult to do. A statement from Siham Hajaj, MSF’s head of mission for northwest Syria, called specifically for “urgent action” to improve trauma and surgical capabilities in Idlib, which are already limited.
Please go quickly, DR Congo tells peacekeepers
The Congolese government has said a regional peacekeeping mission will have to leave the country by 8 December due to poor performance. The force was deployed by the East African Community (EAC) bloc last year amid an insurgency by the M23 rebel group, which is backed by Rwanda. Kinshasa wanted the force to militarily engage the M23, but that proved tricky given that Rwanda is an EAC member state. Fighting between the M23 and pro-government militias has intensified since the beginning of this month, rupturing a shaky ceasefire. More than 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes by the renewed fighting, with many seeking protection at a UN peacekeeping base. The UN force has been present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for over two decades but has lost local legitimacy as conflict has become entrenched. Kinshasa has asked the mission – which is also facing new allegations of sexual exploitation and violence – to speed up its withdrawal process.
Will a Loss and Damage Fund be ready by COP28?
Troubled negotiations to decide on the modalities of a climate-related Loss and Damage Fund enter their fourth and final meeting on 17 October, with campaigners warning that the talks are “back at square one”. Securing agreement to get the fund up and running is viewed as essential to the success of the COP28 climate summit, which begins on 30 November in the United Arab Emirates. Despite the historic agreement to create a fund at last year’s COP27 in Egypt, divisions between Global North and Global South nations persist over who should pay into the fund and how – grants, loans, or new levies – and who should receive money. Global North countries are mostly advocating for only the “most vulnerable” countries to receive funds, but there are demands for wider eligibility. Negotiators are also grappling with several more technical – but important – disagreements.
France begins Niger withdrawal
French troops have begun withdrawing from Niger, heading by road to neighbouring Chad, and hopes of a warmer welcome. The pullout of the 1,400-strong contingent was demanded by the military junta that seized power in July. Following Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger is now the third former French Sahelian colony to boot out French forces, accusing them of not trying hard enough to stem jihadist insurgencies. Meanwhile, the junta has also shown the door to the UN’s top official in the country, angered over Niger’s exclusion from last month’s UN gathering of world leaders in New York. Regional diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to Niger’s constitutional quandary have faltered. This week, the United States finally labelled the July takeover a coup – triggering the automatic suspension of aid. Yet Washington still sees Niger as key to its anti-jihadist fight in the Sahel, and its military presence – centred on a giant airbase in the north of the country – will remain unchanged.
In case you missed it
ABUSE: MSF saw 695 complaints for abuse and inappropriate behaviour by its staff last year – a 24% rise it attributes to better awareness. Investigations confirmed a third of the cases, the organisation said. It received relatively few complaints from local staff (who comprise most of the workforce) and from patients. “This is a clear indicator that more needs to be done to advise patients of their rights and ensure access to reporting mechanisms,” MSF said.
ECUADOR: Six Colombians suspected of assassinating presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio last August have been found dead in “El Litoral”, the country's biggest prison. Amid a skyrocketing murder rate blamed on an explosion of gang violence, President Guillermo Lasso has overhauled police leadership. For more, read our report here.
ETHIOPIA: The World Food Programme has resumed distribution of food to 900,000 refugees, but a four-month countrywide freeze on aid to 20 million Ethiopians – triggered by the discovery of widespread food theft – remains in place, despite the growing toll of hunger-related deaths. The UN agency is also running into funding headwinds. For more on that, read our report.
GENEVA: The UN Human Rights Committee is, for the first time in nine years, to review US compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Rights groups say it has violated the treaty through its programme of extrajudicial killings and detentions at Guantanamo Bay.
GUATEMALA: Thousands of Guatemalans have been protesting against interference in the presidential election victory of anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arévalo. His party was suspended shortly after his landslide win, and protesters have paralysed the country since, blocking highways and causing fuel and food shortages. Watch this video for five key facts about Arévalo´s election win in August.
HAITI: A Kenyan court has blocked the government from deploying police officers to Haiti as part of a planned multinational security force to help rein in rampant gang violence. The order will be valid until 24 October, but experts say it is unlikely to block the deployment. Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of Haiti has started recruiting more personnel to bolster its ranks.
MEXICO: President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on 10 October that he had rejected a request from the United States to set up migration transit centres in Mexico where asylum seekers and migrants would be able to apply for US work and refugee visas. López Obrador said he would rather see the centres, which are a major part of US plans to address migration in the Americas, located in the countries asylum seekers and migrants are coming from.
RIGHTS: Russia fell short in a bid to win a seat at the Human Rights Council, in what rights groups called a “brazen attempt to undermine the international human rights system”. During a 10 October vote, member states at the UN General Assembly elected 15 members for three-year terms. These included China and Burundi, who ran in uncontested races.
SUDAN: The UN Human Rights Council has voted to set up an independent fact-finding mission to investigate abuses committed during the war in Sudan. As of October, more than 9,000 fatalities had been recorded by the conflict monitoring group ACLED, and an estimated 5.6 million people have been displaced.
TUNISIA: Security forces expelled more than 100 asylum seekers and migrants across Tunisia’s border with Algeria between 18 and 20 September after they were intercepted at sea by the Tunisian coast guard, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. Meanwhile, an agreement signed between the EU and Tunisia in July, aimed at reducing migration departures from the country, appears to be on shaky ground, as Tunisia sent 60 million euros disbursed under the deal back to the EU.
Media attention on what the UN has called the world’s largest humanitarian crisis – in Afghanistan – was waning even before this week’s horrific events in Israel and Gaza began dominating the headlines. The situation has been made worse by a series of large earthquakes in the west of the country. The Afghan authorities have revised the death toll sharply downwards, from more than 2,400 to around 1,000, but with international sanctions and aid cuts already crippling the economy and the health sector, the latest disaster will only compound the country’s massive needs. For our weekend read, Asia Editor Ali Latifi reports on the fears of those sleeping outside in worst-hit Herat province, and on the fledgling efforts of Afghans around the country to support thousands of displaced people. Ali, who has since travelled to Herat to interview survivors and document gaps in the response, says the quakes have left both a physical and a mental toll on the people of Herat. Entire villages in some of the province’s most underdeveloped and impoverished areas have been levelled. In Herat city, families are still afraid to sleep in their homes. Sidewalks and parks have been turned into tent cities as they camp out in the streets, some with just simple blankets to cover them.
Small up yuhself, English. Activists want Patois to have equal status in Jamaica
After becoming one of the first Caribbean countries to distance itself from the British monarchy and its colonial past, momentum is building to make Patois one of Jamaica’s official languages. Patois – also called Patwah, Creole, or Jamaican – has its own grammar, with influences from several European and West African languages, as well as from the Taino, an Indigenous people who lived in a number of Caribbean countries. The push comes as Jamaica prepares for a constitutional referendum that could further dilute ties to Britain, which held Jamaica as a colony for more than 300 years. King Charles III is still Jamaica’s head of state, and the London-based privy council is its highest court of appeal. Patois activists say the move would allow Jamaicans to conduct business such as tax and legal matters in the language they use most often. “We are teaching children to read in a foreign language,” Grace Baston, a former school principal, told the New York Times. “No one is trying to dethrone English. This is about preparing students to thrive in both languages.” While Patois pervades most aspects of life in Jamaica – listen to some muzik in Patois here – di fight far from ova: Prime Minister Andrew Holness has stopped short of supporting Patois as an official language, while others say the shift could be costly and scare away investment.