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Rafah and El Fasher assault fears, and UK Rwanda round-ups: The Cheat Sheet

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

On our radar

Between a ceasefire and a Rafah invasion

Despite much talk of both a temporary ceasefire agreement and of an imminent Israeli invasion of Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, neither is yet to happen (at least at time of publication). Several indicators suggesting Israel is poised to invade Rafah – where some 1.5 million Palestinians (about 65% of Gaza’s population) are sheltering – are blinking red. Israeli military units have been moved around in preparation, and Israel has opened the Erez border crossing in northern Gaza for humanitarian aid deliveries. An invasion will likely stop aid from entering through the two main border crossings that have been used so far, both in Rafah. Aid officials say the opening of Erez – while allowing for the continued movement of some aid – will not mitigate the catastrophic humanitarian consequence an invasion of Rafah will have. If a ceasefire deal is reached, it may only end up delaying the offensive: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the invasion will go ahead with or without a deal. Israel’s nearly seven-month military campaign has already set development in Gaza back by 40 years, according to estimates by UNDP. Presuming there is an end to the war, in the best-case scenario, it will take until 2040 to rebuild all the homes already damaged or destroyed in Gaza. If reconstruction happens at the same pace it did following wars in 2014 and 2021, it would take 80 years, according to UN projections. Meanwhile, the US maritime aid route to Gaza – a costly, logistically complicated, and politically charged project of questionable utility – is supposed to start operating any day now. For more, read: EXCLUSIVE: Israeli military demolished homes to make way for US Gaza aid pier.

Battle warnings ring loud over Darfur city

A key battle is looming between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) for the city of El Fasher in northern Darfur, home to two million people. The RSF has encircled the city, the last urban centre held by the army in Darfur, and have choked off water, and food and fuel supplies. The UN has warned that a full assault would have “devastating consequences for civilians” in a region that is already on the brink of famine. At risk are also those in El Fasher’s displacement camps, home to hundreds of thousands of survivors of the genocide in the 2000s perpetrated by the Janjaweed militia that later formed the core of the RSF. Both the army and RSF have been accused of atrocities in recent fighting. The battle for El Fasher could mark either the beginning of the end of the RSF, or the country’s effective dismemberment and birth of a new RSF-controlled state in Darfur.

UK rounding up asylum seekers for Rwanda deportation

The UK has begun detaining asylum seekers to send to Rwanda. The move comes a week after the UK parliament passed a controversial law paving the way for people arriving by boat to seek protection to be deported to Rwanda. The UN and human rights groups have slammed the new policy, raising concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record and the impact of the UK sending asylum seekers to a third country on the global refugee protection system. The UK government plans to start deportation in 10 to 12 weeks and is aiming to send around 5,700 people to Rwanda this year. The number of people arriving in the UK by small boat peaked in 2022 at around 45,000 – equivalent to 0.00067% of the population of the UK, the sixth wealthiest country in the world by GDP. The labour union representing UK civil servants has launched a legal challenge to the UK’s Rwanda policy, fearing that implementing it will force civil servants to breach international law. Other legal challenges are expected. Since 2014, at least 240 migrants and asylum seekers have died or gone missing trying to cross the English Channel from France, according to the UN’s IOM migration agency.

Burkina Faso junta suspends media after atrocity report

Burkina Faso’s military junta has suspended access to 22 international news outlets over their coverage of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report detailing an alleged massacre of civilians by the army. Among the first to be suspended -- with access to their websites blocked -- were the BBC and Voice of America, followed by the Guardian, the French outlets Le Monde and TV5Monde, and the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The HRW report accused the security forces of summarily executing more than 223 civilians, including at least 56 children, in the northern villages of Nondin and Soro in February. “The media campaign orchestrated around these accusations fully shows the unavowed intention… to discredit our fighting forces,” the government said in a statement.

Haiti transition gets off to a rocky start

Last week, acting prime minister Ariel Henry officially resigned and the transitional presidential council that is supposed to calm the political waters in Haiti and take the Caribbean nation safely through to long-delayed elections by February 2026 was sworn in. This week, it got down to business, but it was far from an auspicious start. A majority of four on the council (two of its nine members have no voting rights) initially announced the appointment of former sports minister Fritz Bélizaire as the new prime minister but appeared to then back-track amid accusations that their choice was being forced through on the sly. The regional CARICOM body is reportedly trying to patch things up and garner more consensus around the cabinet positions, but all signs point to a fracturing of the body already. There was also a renewed outbreak of violence, with gangs laying siege to several neighbourhoods in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The fate of a controversial UN-backed security assistance mission, due to be led by Kenya and deployed as early as this month, also remains uncertain. For more background, read: A transition beset by challenges and uncertainty.

So far, so good for new loss and damage fund

Extreme weather in Abu Dhabi forced the first board meeting of the loss and damage fund to conclude online on 2 May, but the three-day event was met with a broadly positive reaction. The thorniest policy issues facing the board – like how to raise more money and how it will be disbursed – will be discussed another time. However, there was agreement on some key procedural issues, including establishing a fund secretariat, and on the need for disaster-affected communities to access the fund directly. A key issue now revolves around whether the World Bank, which was asked to temporarily host the fund’s secretariat, will meet the conditions being demanded of it. It is due to give an answer next month. The involvement of the Bank has concerned climate activists, who worry it could be used as a tool of US influence – the world’s biggest historical polluter historically opposed a loss and damage fund. For more context and background, read: New loss and damage fund means many things to many people

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In case you missed it

EU/EGYPT/LEBANON: Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are preparing to sue the European Commission over the 7.4-billion-euro aid package extended to Egypt in March aimed at stopping migration. The deal – similar to others the EU has pursued in recent years – has been criticised for ignoring human rights concerns. “Throwing money at dictators is not migration policy,” one MEP said. On 2 May, the EU announced a 1-billion-euro aid package for Lebanon, also aimed at stemming migration.

FOSSIL FUEL TAX: A cumulative Climate Damages Tax on fossil fuel extraction could raise $720 billion for the loss and damage fund by 2030, a new paper has suggested. A further $180 billion could be used to fund the green transition in wealthier countries, according to authors Sindra Sharma-Khushal and David Hillman. 

INDIA: India’s two-month-long general election has officially kicked off, with more than 969 million people eligible to vote. Running for a rare third term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still highly popular but has been strongly criticised for his party’s treatment of minorities, particularly Muslims. Ballots will be counted on 4 June after three rounds of voting in what is the world’s largest election process.

IRAQ: Iraq’s parliament has passed a law criminalising same-sex relations, with a punishment of 10 to 15 years in prison. An earlier draft of the law had proposed the death penalty as punishment. The new law also includes prison terms for people who “promote homesexuality” or prostitution, and for those who “intentionally” act “effeminate”.

IRAQ: A judge has declared a mistrial in a civil case against US military contractors accused of contributing to abuse at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison some 20 years ago. Jurors were not able to agree on the accusations that the Virginia-based contractors were complicit in the abuse. The case is the first time a US jury heard directly from survivors of torture at Abu Ghraib.

KENYA: At least 188 people have been killed and another 90 are missing in Kenya, where severe flooding and landslides have forced evacuations from at-risk areas and delayed the reopening of schools. Tropical Cyclone Hidaya is threatening the coast but expected to make landfall further south in Tanzania. The disaster has been partly blamed on the effects of climate change, but the country is also paying the price of poorly regulated land use and a lack of preparation.

LEBANON: Attacks along the Israel-Lebanon border have forced more than 92,000 people to flee their homes. Action Against Hunger said olive trees, farmlands, and farm animals have been destroyed, driving up prices and making food unaffordable for many.

MYANMAR: Myanmar’s ruling junta has stopped granting permission for conscription-age men to work abroad. In February, the nation’s military leaders announced a conscription plan to help them take on armed opposition groups that have been gaining territory. More than 100,000 military-aged men have since applied to work abroad.

RUSSIA/SYRIA: Victims of a 2019 hospital bombing in northwest Syria have accused Russia of deliberately attacking the healthcare facility, in a violation of international humanitarian law. The complaint, filed at the UN Human Rights Committee, accuses the Russian air force of killing two civilians and endangering the lives of others who were working at or using the Idlib hospital.

SPAIN: At least 51 people died in a shipwreck while attempting to reach the Spanish Canary Islands by boat from West Africa. Nine survivors were rescued by helicopter. Last year, a record 40,000 people reached the Canary Islands by boat. The migration route is one of the most dangerous in the world, with 170 people recorded dead or missing already this year – although the true number is undoubtedly higher. 

US: An estimated 1,300 students and faculty have been arrested in the past two weeks while protesting their universities’ investments in companies accused of supporting Israel’s alleged war crimes in Gaza. Students have set up encampments on more than 80 campuses.

Weekend read

INVESTIGATION: UN declined offers to assist Uyghur asylum seekers detained in Thailand

‘UNHCR baulked because they feared Beijing would get angry and reduce cooperation or donations to the agency.’

After Thai authorities asked UNHCR to find a solution to the Uyghurs’ detention in 2019, the agency decided against “taking pro-active steps”.

And finally…

The UN’s temporary workforce

The UN pushes for decent work for all, but does it follow its own guidance? Roughly 43% of UN workers are “non-staff personnel” – many of whom perform core jobs on short-term contracts with little security and benefits, as we reported. Some people have worked for the same UN agency for more than 15 years on a string of temporary contracts. It is, UN inspectors warned in a recent report, “tantamount to unfair labour practices”. Unpredictable donor funding, costs, and flexibility are often given as reasons for using short-term contracts. Humanitarian work is also time-limited (in theory) and largely funded by voluntary emergency appeals. But who has the lowest share of “non-staff personnel” at 1.24%? It’s UNRWA, the beleaguered agency for Palestinian refugees that faces constant funding troubles

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