Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Calls for ‘humanitarian pauses’ and ceasefire as Israel pummels Gaza
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pushed Israel to implement “humanitarian pauses” in its bombardment of Gaza to allow aid into the besieged territory, falling short of calls by the UN and others – including some Jewish activist groups – for an immediate ceasefire. Four weeks of Israeli airstrikes have killed over 9,200 Palestinians and left more than 32,000 wounded, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas. Amid growing concern over the high number of civilian casualties in the enclave, the UN’s human rights office said a 31 October missile attack on densely populated Jabalia refugee camp may amount to a war crime. Meanwhile, little independent information is known about an Israeli ground invasion launched on 27 October. International journalists are not being allowed to enter Gaza, and working conditions for Palestinian journalists in the enclave are extremely dangerous – at least 31 have been killed since the Hamas raid on Israel on 7 October that killed 1,400 people, including many civilians, according to Israeli officials. Since the Rafah border crossing with Egypt opened to allow aid into Gaza on 21 October, only 374 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies have entered – insufficient to cover basic needs, according to the UN, which estimates 1.5 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now displaced. Israel, which has cut off Gaza’s power supply, has not allowed fuel to be included in these deliveries. Hospitals, water desalination plants, and other crucial services are running on back-up generators, and some have ceased working as fuel supplies have run out.
Civilians killed in Ethiopia’s new insurgency
Alleged war crimes aren’t, of course, restricted to just Israel and Gaza. According to the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, dozens of civilians were extrajudicially killed last month by federal forces in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. It said soldiers shot people accused of supporting anti-government Fano militias during house-to-house searches, and during street arrests. More than 3,000 people have been displaced, homes and shops have been looted and burned, and crops destroyed. Since August, a state of emergency has been imposed across Amhara to contain a spreading insurgency. It has resulted in mass detentions and internet and telecommunications blackouts – increasing the risk of “atrocity crimes”, according to the UN Human Rights Council. The violence in Amhara – Ethiopia’s newest zone of unrest – was triggered by a government decision in April to dismantle and integrate regional forces. This was resisted by Amhara leaders, who argued they would be defenceless against threats from the rival Tigray and Oromia regions. On 29 October, the EU joined the African Union in calling for a ceasefire and dialogue to end the fighting and rights abuses.
Fears of another sham election in DR Congo
Opposition candidates for next month’s presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo say urgent measures are required to “save” the integrity of the vote. Candidates for the 20 December polls have warned of fraud and requested lists of voters and polling stations from the national electoral commission, which is seen as biased towards President Félix Tshisekedi, who is seeking re-election. Rights groups have accused authorities of restricting the liberty of opposition candidates, and the UN has documented violence against civil society actors and journalists. Tensions are highest in the east, where fighting (much of it linked to the M23 insurgency) has left over a million people without voter cards, and may disrupt voting for those who do have documents. Tshisekedi is considered the frontrunner despite widespread criticism of his handling of a protracted security crisis that has now left a record seven million people internally displaced. He took office in 2018 after a contested election that evidence suggests was actually won by Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive who will be trying his luck again in December.
Aid needs to be agile. Earmarked money isn’t helping…
It’s hard to be nimble when your hands are tied, and IOM’s knots are tighter than most. Some 97% of funding to the UN’s migration agency is earmarked, according to a recent audit of the agency’s performance. This means the donor funding that powers IOM and other aid groups is largely tied to specific programmes or locations – and difficult to pivot as emergencies erupt. “IOM has little capacity to back up its operations with technical advice, or wiggle room to respond to new crises or support action before crises hit,” said Suzanne Steensen, head of the secretariat of MOPAN, a country-funded network that evaluates multilateral organisations, from UN agencies to development banks. IOM’s budget has more than doubled to nearly $3 billion in a few years. But the heavy earmarking can leave it chasing short-term projects, and steer its priorities to what funders want, MOPAN says. It also handcuffs IOM’s ability to prepare for and anticipate crises, which much of the aid sector believes is critical for a cash-strapped and climate-addled future. Aid insiders say donor earmarking is on the rise across the sector, which also slows reforms.
A working loss and damage fund would be a fitting legacy
As last-ditch talks to negotiate the mechanisms of a loss and damage fund before this year’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai get underway in Abu Dhabi, campaigners are pushing for the new body to be named after veteran climate scientist Saleemul Huq, who died on 28 October. The Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCAD), of which Huq, a Bangladeshi, was the director, has launched a petition for the fund to recognise his “tireless effort in advancing our understanding” of loss and damage, and his “profound impact on vulnerable countries and communities worldwide”. Huq’s efforts were credited as instrumental in helping secure agreement on a dedicated fund at COP27 in Egypt last year. In June, he wrote that his “one agenda” as adviser to COP28 was to get the fund up and running, amid sluggish talks. Negotiations have become bogged down by disagreements over funding – who should pay in, and who should receive – and accusations that too much power is being ceded to Global North countries. This weekend’s meeting will be decisive in determining the chances of the loss and damage fund being agreed upon at COP28. For more on the talks, and on why they’re important, read our coverage.
Visa-free Africa? Some steps forward on a longer journey
Both Rwanda and Kenya have announced plans to scrap visas for African citizens – moves aimed at opening up trade and travel within the continent. Despite visa-free travel being long-touted by the African Union, only four out of 54 African countries allow unrestricted entry. The reality for most African travellers is of costly and time-consuming visa requirements (as well as high air fares) that have frustrated intra-African trade and the movement of people. On average, African citizens require visas to visit 60% of African countries, complicating the already slow progress of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Equally galling is an apparent visa double standard. While African immigration officials tend to frown on passports from the continent, a warmer welcome is extended to visitors from the rest of the world. South Africa is a case in point: Citizens of only 30 African nations are visa exempt, but it’s a benefit that’s extended to holders of 42 different European passports.
In case you missed it
AID WORKER DEATHS: As of 1 November, at least 72 staff at the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, had been killed since 7 October as Israel’s bombardment of Gaza continues. The UN says it’s the most ever UN workers killed in conflict in such a short period.
FORCED DISPLACEMENT: More than 114 million people are likely forcibly displaced by war, persecution, violence, and human rights around the world, according to a new report from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. That number is up from 108.4 million at the end of 2022. The period covered by the report does not include Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza.
MEXICO: After growing frustrated with slow immigration procedures and squalid living conditions, a group of around 5,000 predominantly Central and South America asylum seekers and migrants set out from the southern Mexican city of Tapachula on 30 October aiming to reach the US-Mexico border. The caravan has since grown to around 7,000 people.
MYANMAR: A collection of ethnic armed organisations known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance launched a major offensive against the Myanmar military on 27 October, seizing more than 80 bases and a key town on the border with China. The three powerful groups had previously avoided publicly committing to the Spring Revolution against the military junta. Their open collaboration with pro-democracy militias has fuelled analysis that the conflict favours the resistance more than previously thought.
PAKISTAN/AFGHANISTAN: The 1st of November marked the official deadline Pakistan’s caretaker government set for all “illegal” people to leave the country or face detention and eventual expulsion. The order was widely seen as directed towards the more than one million undocumented Afghans in the country. According to NGOs on the ground, recent weeks have seen up to 10,000 Afghans returning each day. Read our report for more.
SOMALIA: At least four people have died and more than 278,000 people have been affected by flooding and torrential rains over the past three weeks in Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Jubaland, and South West states. The UN has warned of the risk of further flooding along the Juba and Shabelle rivers.
SPAIN/SENEGAL: As the number of asylum seekers and migrants reaching the Spanish Canary Islands off of Africa’s West Coast approaches record levels, Spain has sent six new drones to Senegal in its latest effort to try to boost the country’s efforts to spot boat departures. More than 30,000 people have arrived to the Canary Islands after departing from West Africa. The migration route is considered to be one of the deadliest in the world.
THAILAND: Thailand’s indefinite detention of nearly 50 Uyghur asylum seekers from China constitutes a human rights violation, the National Human Rights Commission announced on 26 October – a rare intervention by a government agency on behalf of the group who have been held incommunicado for a decade. The commission also called for “concrete measures” by the Thai government and UN agencies to resettle the group in a safe country.
VENEZUELA: The supreme court has put the brakes on María Corina Machado’s presidential challenge to Nicolás Maduro – at least for now. The court, which is packed with Maduro allies, suspended the primary results that allowed Machado to run against Maduro in next year’s expected elections. The court said the elections were under investigation for financial crimes and conspiracy. Its ruling may backfire, however. The US recently lifted sanctions on Venezuela in exchange for the government pledging to hold fair elections.
YEMEN: Save the Children is investigating the circumstances that led to the death of Hisham Al-Hakimi, the NGO’s safety and security director who died after being detained by Houthi authorities on 9 September. Al-Hakimi, 44, had worked for Save the Children since 2006. The NGO said one staff member has been dismissed “as part of a number of ongoing investigations including an internal review into the adherence to our policies on staff safety” but it was unclear whether the dismissal was linked to Al-Hakimi.
Many stories about the horrible violence visited on Palestinian and Israeli civilians in recent weeks are hard to read, let alone watch. But this one from inside a Gaza hospital by Mohamed Souleimane, a freelance journalist based in the bombarded and besieged enclave, is essential reading if you want to know what doctors and medical staff are currently going through. For radiologist Mohamed Abu Mousa, it’s more than anyone can endure. He was on duty when an Israeli airstrike hit his family’s home. Not knowing the fate of his seven-year-old son, Youssef, Abu Mousa rushes through the hospital searching for an answer until the worst news is delivered: Youssef’s body is in the morgue, along with that of one of his young nephews. In addition to the terrible toll on children, what is hard for doctors and nurses to bear is the lack of resources, the feeling of being unable to help, of having to choose who to save. There is exhaustion, and there is fear. “But as you respond, there is no room for emotions,” says Noureddein al-Khateeb, a 38-year-old resident doctor in the emergency department. “It’s when the madness briefly quietens, and you’re alone, that the details and images come back to haunt you.”
Colonial apologies: Tanzania sort of gets one, but Kenya? Not so much…
King Charles III’s visit to Kenya, his maiden trip to a Commonwealth country as sovereign, failed to hit all the right notes. As Kenyans marked the country’s 60th anniversary of independence from British rule, they petitioned for an apology from the king for atrocities committed during the colonial era, and for reparations to be paid to victims and their families. In the 60 years of British rule, over 100,000 Kenyans were killed or tortured, vast tracts of land (some still owned by British corporations and individuals) were expropriated, and the remains of some of those murdered and brought to Britain are yet to be returned. In his speech at a banquet in what was once the official residence of the British Governor of Kenya, the King did say: “The wrongdoings of the past are a cause of the greatest sorrow and the deepest regret.” But the word sorry wasn’t uttered; neither was reparations. While Kenyans didn’t get anything like the apology they had hoped for, neighbouring Tanzania fared slightly better, as German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked for “forgiveness” and expressed “shame” over the murder of up to 300,000 Indigenous Tanzanians by German soldiers during the colonial era.