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After Sri Lanka attacks, anti-Muslim backlash points to new divisions

IRIN Gender - Wed, 05/15/2019 - 17:17

Rights groups are warning of an escalation in inter-communal violence in Sri Lanka as Muslim minorities – and hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers perceived to be Muslims – face a growing backlash following April’s Easter Sunday suicide blasts that killed more than 250 people.

 

Sri Lanka’s government declared successive days of overnight curfews this week after mobs attacked Muslim-owned businesses, mosques, and homes in towns north of the capital, Colombo. One man was reportedly killed. Rights groups say the violence was fuelled in part by viral social media posts inciting violence against Muslims.

 

More than 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers seeking safety in Sri Lanka have also fled their homes since the 21 April suicide blasts. The refugees and asylum seekers were evicted from their rented homes following pressure on local landlords; the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says more than 1,060 people have been sheltering in mosques or crammed into police stations and community spaces mainly in parts of Colombo and nearby Negombo.

 

UNHCR is calling on the government to act faster to get the situation under control, ensuring that refugees are safe and re-housed.

 

“Families with small children are living without proper shelter, sanitation and access to health care,” the agency said in a statement. “Quick responses are needed.”

“If not adequately dealt with, the recent violence has the potential to escalate even further.”

The Easter Sunday suicide blasts struck six churches and hotels in different parts of the country. The government blames the attacks on little-known local Islamist groups, while so-called Islamic State has also claimed responsibility.

 

The violence points to a new layer of tensions simmering in multicultural Sri Lanka following the April blasts. Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war ended a decade ago, but reconciliation between the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the predominantly Hindu Tamils has been notoriously slow and divisive. The country’s Tamil-speaking Muslim minority was largely caught in the middle of the conflict.

 

While the civil war battlegrounds aren’t directly tied to today’s violence, rights groups say a failure to investigate wartime abuses has enabled tensions to spread easily along other fault lines. Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists have previously targeted Muslim communities with little pushback, including attacks on Muslim homes and businesses in the city of Kandy last March.

 

The Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based civil society group, said inaction or unwillingness “to prosecute any person for inciting racial and religious hatred have exacerbated a culture of impunity and must not be taken lightly”.

sri_lanka-backlash-02.jpg Aaquib Khan/TNH People pray outside St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, which was one of several churches and hotels attacked in a series of suicide blasts in April.

The UN’s special advisors on the prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect called on the government to investigate the mob violence and hold perpetrators accountable.

 

“The country is trying to move forward from a traumatic period of inter-ethnic armed conflict, but these attacks are pushing Sri Lanka backwards,” they said. “If not adequately dealt with, the recent violence has the potential to escalate even further.”

 

Fleeing persecution

 

The post-bombing backlash is keenly felt in seaside Negombo, where the deadliest explosion killed dozens at St. Sebastian’s Church in the city centre. Negombo is majority Catholic and also home to hundreds of the 1,700 refugees and asylum seekers living in Sri Lanka.

 

Asylum seekers in Negombo say landlords started forcing them from their rented homes days after the blasts.

 

“I was sleeping when I heard loud shouting outside our house, and then all of sudden someone was kicking our door,” said David, a Pakistani Christian who asked that his full name not be used.

 

He arrived in Sri Lanka in 2017 fleeing allegations of blasphemy – rights groups say Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws are used to persecute minorities; dozens have reportedly been killed in mob lynchings after being accused of the crime.

 

Last Sunday in Negombo, a traffic accident erupted into mob violence that saw several Muslim homes attacked. David and his wife, Shaista, have now left the city and are staying with a friend in Colombo. But the threats have revived old fears for both of them.

 

“We have forgotten the horrors of what has happened in Pakistan to us for such a long time,” said Shaista, a Muslim who also requested her full name not be used. “But after this incident we feel like we are again in Pakistan.”

 

Other evicted refugees and asylum seekers have sought shelter in Negombo’s main police station, where dozens of women, men, and children are crowded into a small parking garage. Infants and the elderly lie on thin mats and plastic sheets; the garage is open on three sides and there are limited toilet facilities.

sri_lanka-backlash-04.jpg Aaquib Khan/TNH Dozens of refugees and asylum seekers are staying at a police station in Negombo after they were evicted from their homes. New fault lines

 

The majority of the nearly 1,700 refugees and asylum seekers in Sri Lanka are from Pakistan and Afghanistan. They include Ahmadi Muslims and Hazara from Afghanistan, who face persecution in their own countries.

 

Ruki Fernando, a Colombo-based rights activist who also works with asylum seekers, said refugees have been caught up in a backlash that has exposed new divisions between Negombo’s Muslim and Christian communities – both religious minorities in wider Sri Lankan society.

“They don’t know how to separate terrorist from Muslims.”

“Historically, Christian and Muslims have been coexisting very peacefully. There have been no serious tensions,” Fernando said.

 

Since the April bomb blasts, he added, “that hostility against Muslims has been visible. And that is rather sad.”

 

Sister Rasika Pieris, a Catholic nun in Negombo, said there is now a palpable sense of “hatred” toward Muslims among some Christians in the city.

 

“They don’t know how to separate terrorist from Muslims,” she said. “For them, all are Muslims; that’s how they think. So they have a kind of hatred feelings towards Muslims.”

 

Others see troubling signs for the future in the recent violence. In a statement Tuesday, M. A. Sumanthiran, a Tamil politician and spokesman for the Tamil National Alliance, which includes political parties from the Tamil minority, drew a link between the mob attacks and Sri Lanka’s civil war history.

 

“If people do not think that the government and the security forces are able or willing to protect them, they will be forced to defend themselves,” he said. “We appeal to the government: do not let yet another community in Sri Lanka feel that in order to survive in this country, it must fight for itself.”

(TOP PHOTO: A man points out damage in a shop after a mob attack in Minuwangoda on 14 May 2019, north of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.)

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‘These attacks are pushing Sri Lanka backwards’ After Sri Lanka attacks, anti-Muslim backlash points to new divisions Aaquib Khan News Conflict Human Rights NEGOMBO/Sri Lanka IRIN Asia Sri Lanka Human Rights
Categories: Gender Parity

Idlib warnings, dementia questions, and an uprising in Juba? The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 05/10/2019 - 10:48

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

 

On our radar:

 

Call for a Juba uprising

 

A social media campaign – “South Sudanese for Change” – is calling on young people to rise up and take to the streets of Juba on 16 May in emulation of events in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. The spark is the apparent murder of two kidnapped activists, Dong Samuel Luak, a human rights lawyer, and opposition politician Aggrey Izbon Idri. The planned showdown will challenge a government widely seen as brutal, corrupt, and incompetent, and that has failed to deliver peace. Spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth has taken it seriously enough to warn: “The government will deal with anybody who protests.” In truth, “South Sudanese for Change” appears to be a largely diaspora-driven movement. However fed up people may be with President Salva Kiir, taking to the highly militarised streets of Juba is not for the faint-hearted. The government is not known to have large stocks of teargas, but it does have a lot of bullets. Look out for our upcoming briefing on the stalled peace process.

 

No Pulitzer, no freedom for Myanmar journalists

 

Myanmar this week freed two Pulitzer-winning reporters after more than 500 days in jail, but other journalists still face charges for their reporting in troubled Rakhine State. The country’s powerful military is pursuing charges against editors at the Irrawaddy, Radio Free Asia, and Development Media Group, a Sittwe-based outlet that has been reporting on a military crackdown on the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine rebel group. “We remain terribly concerned about the state of media freedom and the democratic space in Myanmar,” two UN rights experts said. Last year The New Humanitarian interviewed DMG editor Aung Marm Oo, who spoke of the competing pressures he faces, especially when it comes to Rohingya issues. “Sometimes our life is more important than anything,” he told reporter Verena Hölzl, explaining why his newspaper wouldn’t use the term “Rohingya” to describe the minority group, which is denied citizenship in Myanmar.

 

Migrants held in Yemen

 

An estimated 3,000 migrants – mostly from Ethiopia – are still being detained by Yemeni authorities in the southern provinces of Aden and Abyan. This is despite at least 14 deaths from treatable illnesses, a shooting that left a teenage boy paralysed, and reportedly “inhumane conditions”. Authorities allied with President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi began rounding up migrants around 21 April, holding them in sports stadiums and a military camp. Since then, the UN’s migration agency says some 1,400 people were released, but more have also been arrested and many of the detainees are now fasting during the day for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Despite Yemen’s four years of war, thousands of people – mostly from sub-Saharan Africa – have continued to cross from Djibouti and Somaliland to Yemen in the hope of making it to Saudi Arabia for work. It was always an arduous and risky trek. Now, even more so. Read more about the journey here.

  

Displaced in the city

 

The figures have become almost too easy to ignore, such is their scale: at least 28 million new internal displacements from conflict, violence, and disaster in 2018. Alarmingly, this is par for the course for a past decade that has seen an inexorable rise in the global stock of internally displaced people as conflicts become more protracted and climate shocks proliferate. It will be little surprise to regular Cheat Sheet readers to see Ethiopia top the chart (see below), but the annual report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre highlights another trend: urban IDPs. This, it warns, is driving "fast and unplanned urbanisation, further aggravating inequalities, and generating further risk of displacement and instability". The report urges far more investment at city level and to help national governments to deploy the technological tools needed to fill vast gaps in gathering and analysing data and formulating cohesive responses.

 

 

The flood risk from Trump’s wall

 

The number of people apprehended at the US-Mexico border topped 100,000 for the second straight month, US customs officials said this week. The more than 109,000 people taken into custody or ruled inadmissible in April is the highest monthly total since 2007. US President Donald Trump continues to push for a contentious border wall – a plan that could trigger unintended consequences for communities on both sides of the frontier. This week, the Texas Observer examines what a wall would mean on a stretch of the Rio Grande separating the Texan town of Roma from the Mexican municipality Miguel Alemán. There, US and Mexican officials had blocked previous plans for a border wall when engineering reports revealed a barrier could magnify flooding. A 2010 hurricane saw floodwaters surge more than four metres in one stretch. Current plans would see a border wall erected along some 100 kilometres of two adjoining counties – much of it cutting through the Rio Grande floodplain. Read (or listen to) the story here.

 

 

Dementia: Asking the right questions

 

"Humanitarian actors are not deliberately overlooking the needs of people living with dementia, but they do need support to understand what those needs are." A new report says that with the use of suitable techniques, a range of "hidden disabilities" can be better recognised. There is a large deficit in humanitarian services tailored for people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, it finds. The report, "Forgotten in a Crisis", recounts an experiment in Syrian refugee family interviews in Lebanon where asking different questions revealed 28 percent of the cases had disabilities. But without using a specialised questionnaire devised by a statistical alliance, the Washington Group, only two percent were estimated to live with disabilities. The Global Alzheimer’s and Dementia Action Alliance, Alzheimer’s Disease International, and Alzheimer’s Pakistan published the 56-page study, which argues that "humanitarian actors are unaware of, and not looking for, this at-risk population". More than half of 50 million people living with dementia worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

 

AFGHANISTAN: Three employees of the NGO CARE were among five people killed in Wednesday’s Taliban-claimed attack on the Kabul offices of Counterpart International, an organisation that implements mainly USAID-funded development projects. “This attack reflects the increasing dangers of humanitarian work in conflict-affected countries,” CARE said in a statement.

 

THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Ebola response operations have been shut down repeatedly after attacks against treatment centres – violence that’s making the numbers of cases soar. An attack on Butembo on Wednesday ended with at least eight militiamen being killed and operations on hold again. More than 1,600 cases of Ebola have been reported, and more than 1,070 people have died from the disease. Some 30 percent of the cases involve children.

 

GAZA: A ceasefire in Gaza appears to be holding after last weekend’s violence killed a reported 25 Palestinians and four Israelis. While the terms of the truce have not been announced, reports suggest that Israel may have agreed to lift restrictions on the imports of some “dual-use” goods – items that could be used for both civilian and military purposes. Late last month, the World Bank said Israel’s application of the dual-use system is obstructing growth in the already ailing Palestinian economy.

 

SUDAN: The military is still in charge after the ousting of president Omar al-Bashir, and demonstrators are still on the streets in protest. The Inquiry podcast takes a look at what might happen next. It points out the military (including the various co-opted militia) is deeply fractured thanks to al-Bashir’s divide and rule tactics. The podcast suggests three scenarios: the protestors win and democracy is restored (unlikely as the military then lose economic power); the generals agree to consolidate around another autocratic ruler; or (the nightmare scenario) the military falls apart, with violent rivals backed by different Gulf and regional paymasters.

 

Weekend read

 

150,000 flee as Syria ‘buffer zone’ collapses

 

Clashes, airstrikes, shelling and, yes, more than 150,000 people forced to flee in one week alone, doubling the number of newly displaced in northwestern Syria since February to more than 300,000: if this is a truce, who needs war? Our weekend read offers our now-regular reminder: no, the war in Syria is not over. In fact, as Tom Rollins reports, there are warnings of a further escalation in Idlib and surrounding areas, potentially of a full-on offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and his Russian allies to rid the territory of Islamist extremists and other rebel groups. A ground offensive now seems to have started. This eventuality, not to mention the humanitarian catastrophe predicted by aid agencies if it came to pass, was supposed to have been averted by last September’s deal between Russia and Turkey. This deal is now looking a lot more shaky. Eighty civilians were killed between 28 April and 6 May. More than a dozen medical facilities were hit by airstrikes over a similar period, at least two on a UN “no-strike” list. Some aid operations are being suspended. Worse is probably to come.

 

And finally

 

EVENT: Local and indigenous approaches to humanitarian aid and disaster risk reduction

 

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction meets next week in Geneva in a forum that will help measure governments’ progress on targets aimed at lowering disaster risk – think of it as the SDGs for DRR. In addition to testing how many acronyms we can jam into a sentence, The New Humanitarian will be hosting a sideline event along with the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding. We’ll be discussing local and indigenous approaches to humanitarian aid and disaster risk reduction. We’ll share key takeaways from our ongoing coverage of locally led humanitarian action – from micro-NGOs in Venezuela to Rohingya activists in refugee camps in Bangladesh. We’ll also hear about new research on indigenous approaches to reducing disaster risk, as well as local organisations building resilience in their own communities. It happens on Monday 13 May at 18:30 local time. Tune in to the livestream (or register to attend if you’re in Geneva) here.

(TOP PHOTO: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir attends a signing ceremony in Juba.)

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Idlib warnings, dementia questions, and an uprising in Juba? News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN DRC Sudan South Sudan United States Mexico Asia Afghanistan Myanmar Global Middle East and North Africa Palestine Israel Syria Yemen Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

Hungary condemned for using ‘starvation tactics’ to deter asylum seekers

IRIN Gender - Wed, 05/08/2019 - 11:02

Hungary is facing renewed calls to end anti-immigration measures that critics say amount to starvation tactics, after the United Nations Human Rights Office expressed alarm last week over reports the country is denying food to detained asylum seekers on the Serbian border.

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The border between non-EU member state Serbia and EU member state Hungary has become a bottleneck for thousands of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach northern and western Europe.

In amending its asylum laws in July 2018, Hungary effectively ruled inadmissible all asylum applications made on the Serbian border and imposed separate “alien policing procedures” that in some cases include the denial of food – a practice that Human Rights Watch and others say appears to be a calculated effort to compel asylum seekers to abandon their claims and leave.

After sometimes waiting years for the opportunity, those who cross into Hungary to seek asylum end up detained by the authorities in transit zones.

After receiving an inadmissibility decision and expulsion order, some choose to stay rather than lose their chance to appeal what they regard as an unfair decision. Some have also run out of funds and consider remaining in the transit zone a better option than returning to Serbia – where they would be breaking the law by illegally returning – or taking a smuggler’s route elsewhere.

“Pending the enforcement of the expulsion, adults – with the sole exception of pregnant or nursing women – are deliberately deprived of food, which can lead to malnutrition and is both detrimental to their health and inherently inhumane,” UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said on Friday.

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“The deliberate deprivation of food is prohibited under the Mandela Rules, and violates the rights to food and to health, as well as the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a non-governmental organisation advocating for human rights in Hungary, has documented at least 13 such cases, involving 21 people, since August 2018, including the parents of an Iraqi family of five who were denied food for five days. Each incident has required the HHC to apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on a time-consuming, case-by-case basis to compel Hungary to provide food.

The HHC’s Andras Lederer believes Hungary is clearly trying to encourage asylum seekers – who are not allowed to leave detention or the transit zones to buy their own provisions – to abandon their claims.

“In order to avoid having to look at the merits of an asylum application, if you don’t give food to these people they will give up and walk out voluntarily to Serbia, and then the story is over,” Lederer told The New Humanitarian. “The main point here is that these people are under the custody of the Hungarian authorities, they are responsible for them. I think it is unimaginable in 2019, in the developed Western world, that authorities systematically deprive people of food in detention.”

hungaryborder.jpg Closing the door

The Hungarian government, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of the far-right Fidesz party, has taken an increasingly tough stance on immigration.

At the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, the central European state deployed military personnel and erected barbed wire fences along its southern borders with Serbia and Croatia in a bid to choke the flow of migration through its territory.

Closed facilities with restricted access – the so-called transit zones – were set up at two border crossings, Röszke and Tompa, and an opaque and informal waiting list system was arranged between Hungarian authorities and migrants and asylum seekers in Serbia.

Currently, one person is allowed into both transit zones every weekday for vetting – or one family per week. Röszke has a capacity of 450 and Tompa 250.

Asylum seekers in these transit zones stay in metal shipping containers with rudimentary facilities.

“We take the position that Hungary is not responsible for those who have not requested asylum.”

The new amendments to the asylum law introduced in July 2018 stipulate that any application made by someone who arrived through a country where the subject was not in danger and could have claimed asylum can be dismissed as inadmissible. As the only way to reach the two Hungarian transit zones are from the land border with Serbia, which Budapest deems a safe third country, claims there are in effect automatically void.

TNH asked the Hungarian Immigration and Asylum Office how many positive asylum decisions had been granted for transit zone detainees since July 2018, but received no reply by the time of publication. In 2018, out of 960 asylum decisions, 590 were negative. In November, Hungary gave asylum to a fugitive former prime minister of Macedonia, wanted on corruption charges.

In a statement, Orban’s spokesman Zoltan Kovacs dismissed the claims as a “line that’s being aggressively pushed by the Soros-funded Human Rights Watch and Hungarian Helsinki Committee’”, referring to the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros who has been made the subject of a government-sponsored hate campaign in the last year.

“We take the position that Hungary is not responsible for those who have not requested asylum, nor for those whose requests have been denied,” Kovacs continued. “The government of Hungary accepts the necessary responsibility for those who have properly submitted an asylum request and are complying with the legal process.”

‘It looks like a prison, it feels like a prison’

Independent Hungarian MP Bernadett Szel, who visited the transit zones in April, told TNH the arrangements were inhumane.

“It looks like a prison, it feels like a prison, and most of the people there when I visited were children [with their families],” Szel said. “The government propaganda says that the transit zone is not closed because they can go back to Serbia any time. It’s very cruel this situation; they just want to close the whole country. The international community should tell the Hungarian government that there is a certain minimum. This is not about sovereignty, it’s about preserving minimum standards.”

Lederer, from the HHC, said there were also instances of family members being denied food and undue pressure being put on minors.

“Imagine you were a kid and you had to decide whether to give your mother some food, or as a parent to ask your kid. I would say it’s bordering on torture.”

“Last year we had cases where the children were made to eat separately from the parents, who were denied food, and the guards waited until they had finished and ensured they were not bringing back any leftovers for mum and dad,” Lederer said. “Imagine you were a kid and you had to decide whether to give your mother some food, or as a parent to ask your kid. I would say it’s bordering on torture.”

In addition to the withdrawal of food, rights groups are increasingly concerned that migrants deemed inadmissible to enter Hungary face the threat of deportation to their home countries before their asylum claim has been properly vetted.

On Tuesday, Hungary attempted to deport three families back to Afghanistan who claimed to have been denied food and medicine in the transit zone. One family was pushed back to Serbia, the mother of the second family was taken to hospital, and the rest remain in the transit zone after the European Court of Human Rights granted a temporary injunction preventing their deportation.

(TOP PHOTO: Migrants approaching the Hungarian border from Serbia, 2km from Röszke.)

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‘It’s very cruel this situation; they just want to close the whole country’ Hungary condemned for using ‘starvation tactics’ to deter asylum seekers Andrew Connelly News Migration Health Human Rights Politics and Economics IRIN Europe Hungary Serbia and Montenegro European Union Migration
Categories: Gender Parity

One year after deportations, Sudanese left in Niger see no way out

IRIN Gender - Tue, 05/07/2019 - 07:44

On 7 May 2018, Niger deported 135 Sudanese from the migration hub of Agadez back across the border to Libya in a move denounced by critics as a violation of international law.

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A year on, 10 of those sent back are reported to have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, the fates of the others are unknown, while 1,500 Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers remaining in Niger are living in a desert camp with no clear view of their future.

 

At the time of the deportation – the first of its kind from Agadez – Niger said the Sudanese it returned were “criminals” who had been fighting with militias in southern Libya. They were among 1,900 Sudanese in Agadez who said they had travelled to Niger to escape enslavement, torture, extortion, and violence in Libya.

 

Read more → Destination Europe: Deportation

 

But they received a cold reception due to suspicion from their Nigerien hosts and fear that their arrival was the first sign of an impending exodus of vulnerable people from Libya.

 

Now, as conflict worsens in Libya there are fresh concerns that more people will spill over the border, creating further problems for a country that has seen an uptick in militant attacks and tens of thousands of its own people forced to flee their homes by violence in the last year.

 

Rights groups decried last year’s deportation as a violation of non-refoulement – the international law that prohibits states from sending refugees and asylum seekers back to countries where they may be unsafe. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has flown more than 2,780 people in the opposite direction – from Libya to Niger – to get them out of harm’s way since 2017.

 

According to several Sudanese still in Agadez and Jérôme Tubiana, a migration adviser with Médecins Sans Frontières, at least 10 of the deportees died in a January migrant shipwreck off the coast of Libya in January, although UNHCR said it has not been able to confirm this account.

 

Some 1,500 Sudanese now remain in Agadez. Since the deportation, several hundred left of their own accord, 31 were transferred to Italy as part of a humanitarian evacuation, and the government of Niger has decided to allow those still in the city to apply for asylum.

 

But so far only six unaccompanied Sudanese children have been granted refugee status in Niger. According to UNHCR, the slow pace of the process is due to time-consuming security screenings and the high level of displacement from militant activity along Niger’s borders with Mali and Nigeria.

 

Asylum seekers say the long wait in austere conditions, uncertainty about the future, and effects of past traumas – many have been through multiple countries and dangerous journeys  – have led to severe psychological strain, with UNHCR confirming that at least three people in the desert camp have attempted suicide since last September.

 

“A year and a half we’ve been waiting,” said Adam, a 33-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker in Agadez whose name has been changed because he did not want to harm his application. “This situation isn’t humane.”

rf2115578_img_8884_1920.jpg Louise Donovan/UNHCR Located in central Niger, Agadez has long been a staging point for migrants and refugees traveling within Africa and onwards to Europe. Caught off-guard

 

Sudanese initially began trickling into Agadez in late 2017. Their unexpected arrival marked the first time since the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 that people were moving south from Libya in search of protection, instead of north to cross the sea to Europe.

 

Caught off guard, UNHCR initially didn’t have enough resources to accommodate them or a plan in place about how to manage the situation. When housing in the city centre filled up, asylum seekers began sleeping in the streets.

 

Tensions arose with locals who accused the Sudanese of committing petty crimes, polluting the streets, and intimidating local women. The Nigerien government also accused the asylum seekers of belonging to armed groups from Darfur and viewed them as a security threat.

 

“We know that these people are fighters,” Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s minister of interior, said last year.

 

However, the Sudanese themselves say they are asylum seekers who were displaced years ago by the conflict in Darfur. They say have been forced to travel far and wide in search of safety and economic opportunity, as conditions in camps for internally displaced people in Darfur remain unstable and aid has dried up in neighbouring countries.

 

After ending up in Niger, they found their path across the Mediterranean largely closed off by European efforts to curb migration – including deals to prevent departures from the Libyan coast. Many complained of abuse and discrimination in Libya and said conflict in the country had made their stay there increasingly dangerous.

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As for the Nigerien government’s claims that they are fighters, Tubiana said these are baseless: “These people came to Niger as civilians without weapons.”

 

The situation in Agadez came to a head on 2 May last year with the arrest of around 160 asylum seekers. Five days later, 135 were deported.

 

The long wait for asylum

 

After the deportation, UNHCR worked to prevent anyone else from being sent back across the border to Libya, launching a project to defuse tensions with the local population and opening a camp in the desert 15 kilometres from Agadez that it called a “humanitarian centre”, where most of the Sudanese now live. It also persuaded the Nigerien government to start accepting asylum requests from the Sudanese, starting last July.

 

But despite these changes, the vast majority of Sudanese asylum seekers in Niger have seen no progress in their asylum processes and are uncertain what the future holds.

 

People living in the humanitarian centre described it as a collection of prefabricated buildings in the sand with little protection from the harsh environment, and complained of a lack of adequate medical care, poor food quality, and no opportunity to work.

“Yesterday one of the refugees tried to commit suicide.”

Following the three suicide attempts, Sudanese in the camp said they urgently needed mental healthcare.

 

Mohammad, a 37-year-old asylum seeker, wrote in February that “the situation in the camp is not good. Many of the young men became sick with various mental illnesses.”

 

“Yesterday one of the refugees tried to commit suicide… One of the [other Sudanese] young men saved him,” he added a week later.

 

UNHCR said it is setting up programmes through two non-governmental organisations to address the psychological needs of asylum seekers in Agadez.

 

No good option

 

While they wait for their asylum requests to be processed, hundreds of Sudanese have opted to leave the country on their own. But Niger’s neighbours offer few good options: Algeria has deported more than 25,000 sub-Saharan Africans to Niger in the past year; many of the Sudanese already have first-hand experience of hardship in Libya, where migrants and asylum seekers have been severely affected by the latest flare-up of conflict; and it is still unsafe for Darfurian refugees to return to Sudan.

 

“A lot of the people are very stressed out because they aren’t getting refugee status,” Hassan, a 31-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, said over the phone, preferring to only give his first name. “That’s why people are deciding to leave… The young men are leaving this place – this hell we’re living in.”  

“The fear of a ‘pull factor’ triggering massive flows should definitely not be the alpha and omega of all refugee and asylum policies in the region.”

According to MSF’s Tubiana, the absence of a long-term solution for the Sudanese is a deliberate strategy on the part of Nigerien authorities and UNHCR to avoid attracting more people to Agadez.

 

“The fear of a ‘pull factor’ triggering massive flows should definitely not be the alpha and omega of all refugee and asylum policies in the region,” Tubiana said. “Playing time in the hope discouraged people would leave by themselves should not be an option.”

 

In response to this claim, a UNHCR spokesperson said that Niger is “accepting asylum claims from all asylum seekers, and has consistently maintained open borders to those fleeing conflict,” adding that, given mass internal displacement, evacuations from Libya, and violence in Mali and Nigeria, “the processing of asylum seekers can take time”.

 

(TOP PHOTO: Sudanese refugees at a reception centre on 21 June 2018 in Agadez, central Niger. )

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‘The young men are leaving this place – this hell we’re living in.’ One year after deportations, Sudanese left in Niger see no way out Eric Reidy News Migration Human Rights IRIN Africa Niger Sudan Middle East and North Africa Libya Migration
Categories: Gender Parity

Sicilian volunteers help African LGBTI migrants hit by new Italian Law

IRIN Gender - Mon, 05/06/2019 - 05:27

The future of most asylum seekers in Italy has become more uncertain with the passage of a new law, but for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people fleeing persecution in their homelands it creates a special jeopardy.

 

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Championed by far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the law abolished humanitarian protection for those not directly affected by conflicts or natural disasters –  not just newcomers but also longer-term asylum seekers. This ended their right to two-year residence permits and cut government funding for job training, legal counsel, and language lessons.

 

Dubbed Salvini’s Decree, it was passed in November even though arrivals to Italy by the perilous Mediterranean sea route from North Africa had already tumbled – from more than 180,000 in 2016 to 23,000 in 2018, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

 

Most land in Sicily where a local aid group, La Migration, has become a beacon of hope.

 

Michael Fuwobiri’s story echoes that of many LGBTI asylum seekers.

 

“My family didn’t accept me, and treated me like a stranger in my own house,” says the 23-year-old from Nigeria, where LGBTI people often are arrested and punished.

 

“When neighbours found out about my homosexuality, they put my picture all over social media,” Fuwobiri says. “The police were chasing me. I had to leave quickly or I’d end up in jail.”

 

Fuwobiri paid a trafficker to smuggle him to Europe, crossing the Sahara Desert through Niger and Algeria before boarding a boat that carried him to Italy.

 

Read more: Destination Europe – Desperation

 

Still, his trials did not end. Fellow African migrants in Sicily harassed him because of his homosexuality.

 

La Migration provided a much-needed reprieve.

 

The importance of keeping safe spaces open

 

“LGBTI migrants tend to hang around fellow countrymen at help centres as soon as they land,” says Rafaela Pascoal, a cultural mediator at La Migration originally from Portugal. “But that doesn’t help them integrating; they just confront the same kind of discrimination they encountered in their home countries.

 

“That’s why they need specific desks, so they can begin their new lives leaving threats and harassment behind.”

sd-003.jpeg Stefania D'Ignoti/TNH Rafaela Pascoal stands on La Migration’s balcony overlooking the old city centre in Palermo.

La Migration offers free legal, psychological, and cultural integration services from six volunteers, including longtime migrants with personal experience navigating the complex EU asylum system.

 

They direct new arrivals who come into ports scattered all over Sicily to their centre in the provincial capital, Palermo – a safe space where they meet others with similar problems and receive tailor-made assistance.

 

Interpreters and cultural mediators are on hand and on call 24/7.

 

La Migration was founded in 2011 to satisfy the growing needs of the LGBT migrant community, explains co-founder Ana Maria Vasile. “Requests for help intensified especially between 2013-2015, when the refugee crisis peaked,” she says.

 

Since its opening, volunteers have helped around 120 mostly young, gay Muslim men from West Africa. So far, 56 have had their protection requests approved, including Fuwobiri, who now works as a hotel receptionist in Sicily.

 

“I love my freedom and opportunity to live my life here,” he says. But he’s concerned that the country that saved him is growing less likely to proffer that good fortune to others.

 

Vasile says La Migration plans to extend its outreach since Italy’s six largest refugee reception centres are set to be shut down this year, including Europe’s largest one in Mineo, eastern Sicily.

 

Institutional legal support has been reduced from 10 hours to six a week for groups of 50, and individual cultural counselling from three hours a month to 50 minutes.

 

Burden of proof deepens

 

This, coupled with prioritising conflict survivors, increases the burden of proof for those seeking refuge because of their sexual orientation.

 

EU law dictates that people fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation are entitled to refugee status and potentially asylum, but many European governments fail to follow it.

 

Read more: EU fails to identify and protect gay, lesbian, and transgender asylum seekers

 

“It has already been hard to prove someone’s homosexuality as a reason for asylum protection. This law will be a negative game-changer,” says Vasile, who is from Romania and president of the local chapter of Arcigay, the national Italian LGBTI association that helps fund La Migration.

 

Vasile spends countless hours working with asylum seekers on their story timelines to make sure there are no gaps when cases go to court.

 

Gaetano Pasqualino, an immigration lawyer who defends LGBTI migrants in Sicilian courts, explains the difficulty: “Italian policemen put migrants under pressure when asking the reason for asylum… and, ashamed, they lie on their first application, raising doubts about the truth at later stages.”

 

Hence the importance the Palermo team gives to keeping open desks specifically for gay migrants, especially with the approach of summer, the season for migration across the typically calmer waters of the Mediterranean.

 

“We have the chance of knowing them personally, for a long period of time,” says Pascoal, the cultural mediator. “We trust the credibility of their stories and their feelings of fear. That [level of trust and comfort] can only happen when small but efficient groups work for the wellbeing of the newcomers in their local areas.”

 

The new law can only worsen the situation in a country where “there are still widespread feelings of prejudice, ignorance, and irrelevance regarding gender topics,” according to the immigration lawyer, Pasqualino.

 

‘They have more love to offer’

 

Vasile is more positive, saying La Migration’s work challenges popular views portraying Sicily as backward about gay rights: "People tend to wrongly assume that Sicily is a socially conservative island because it's very religious and attached to traditions. But in terms of gay rights it's surprisingly open-minded, shown by the fact that we have a very active LGBTI community here."

 

It’s impossible to say how many LGBTI people are among asylum seekers in Italy, since most fear discussing their sexual orientation with officials.

“Often authorities are not educated enough about gender persecution, or how to speak to asylum-seeking victims of homophobia.”

Pascoal finds LGBTI asylum seekers “tend to have more trust in the host country than regular migrants.” They are “more open to integration efforts because they have more love to offer, as a reaction to the lack of affection they encountered back home.”

 

Kennedy Omokhegbe, a Nigerian refugee and activist from AfricArcigay, understands the need for spaces where gay migrants can feel protected, and no longer lonely.

 

“These centres are a crucial part of the healing process,” says Omokhegbe, who landed in Sicily in 2015 and now lives in northern Italy. “They fill a gap where institutions fail, as often authorities are not educated enough about gender persecution, or how to speak to asylum-seeking victims of homophobia.”

 

The long wait ahead

 

At La Migration’s centre, a young woman in football training gear rushes in just before closing time.

 

“I can’t express my feelings of fear... because if I revealed who I really am I could go to jail [in my home country] for 14 years. Can you imagine?” asks Sandra, a 19-year-old Nigerian student who didn’t want to share her last name for fear of reprisals.

 

“Back in Nigeria, my father was the only one who knew I was lesbian and accepted me, but after he passed away everything changed for me,” she says; relatives harangued her, telling her it wasn’t right to love women, making her feel odd and unwanted.

 

Motivated by her passion for Italian football and quest for sexual freedom, Sandra took the migrant trail and reached Sicily in 2017, hoping to heal the wounds from years of psychological violence.

 

But she is still waiting for her refugee status to be approved.

 

In the months since Italy began implementing the new law, refugee status rejections have reached a record 82 percent, compared to 52 percent in 2017, according to the ISMU Foundation, which publishes studies on multi-ethnicity.

 

Following the Salvini Decree, the Institute of International Political Studies, or ISPI, estimates that less than three percent of asylum seekers still receive humanitarian protection. As a result, up to 140,000 people may become irregular migrants by 2020, the institute warns.

(TOP PHOTO: The disembarkation point for many refugees and migrants rescued at sea by the Italian coast guard is the Sicilian port of Augusta.)

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Categories: Gender Parity

Syrian strikes, Sri Lankan backlash, and silencing journalists: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 05/03/2019 - 11:42

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

 

On our radar

 

No, the Syrian war is not over

 

While a Russia-Turkey deal to hold off a Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held northwest is technically still in place, there’s been an uptick in bombing in and around Idlib province, and civilians are dying. A UN spokesman said Thursday that at least nine people were reported to have been killed in Idlib and Hama in the past 48 hours, and more than 300 civilians are believed to have met the same fate in the past three months in the northwest. A group of doctors that works in Syria said Wednesday that four medical facilities in the region had been hit in the past 72 hours; the World Health Organisation put the number at three. Civilians are fleeing in the hundreds of thousands – an estimated 323,000 people have been displaced in the northwest since last September. If the violence continues, they may have no place safe to go.

 

Refugee backlash after Sri Lanka attacks

 

Refugees and asylum seekers taking shelter in Sri Lanka have been threatened and attacked in the aftermath of the 21 April suicide blasts that killed more than 250 people, rights groups say. Landlords have evicted several hundred refugees and asylum seekers since the Easter Sunday attacks, which authorities blame on a little-known Islamist extremist group. The mainly Pakistani and Afghan asylum seekers include Christians and Ahmadi Muslims who fled persecution in their own countries. It’s not the first time anti-Muslim sentiment has reached asylum seekers in Sri Lanka – Buddhist hardliners have previously threatened Rohingya refugees. Rights groups are urging the government to ensure safety for all communities in multicultural Sri Lanka as the attacks’ political and societal fallout unfolds. This week, President Maithripala Sirisena announced a ban on “covering one’s face”.

 

World Press Freedom Day? No one told Museveni

 

When it comes to repression, like good comedy, it’s all about timing. On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, Uganda’s communications commission announced it had ordered 13 radio and TV stations to suspend their news editors, producers, and heads of programming for “misrepresenting information”. More than 30 journalists are believed to be affected. The punishment was for the live coverage of the dramatic arrest – yet again – of Bobi Wine, opposition politician and major thorn in the side of President Yoweri Museveni. Wine’s arrest (he’s now out on bail) follows his protest over a social media tax introduced last year – seen as a government attack on free speech. In an ongoing media crackdown, three radio stations were also switched off last month for hosting opposition leader Kizza Besigye. Just as a reminder, the theme for this year’s press freedom day is Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.

 

Legal headaches at Start Network ‘birthday’

 

Regulatory, governance, and financial details have made setting up a UK-based humanitarian alliance “a difficult journey”, according to its director. On 1 May, the Start Network announced its “independence”, spinning off from its previous status under Save the Children UK. Director Sean Lowrie said the lengthy process required “elaborate” and “sophisticated” procedures to manage risk and satisfy regulators. The alliance of about 40 NGOs has distributed over £50 million since 2014 though its flagship quick-response Start Fund. Among the issues that surrounded its separate legal status were counter-terrorism rules – who’s to blame if aid inadvertently reaches terrorist groups has become difficult. The Norwegian Refugee Council has been negotiating the issue with the network and so far declined to sign up. NRC Geneva Director James Munn said the new Start Network funding agreement contains a counter-terrorism clause that allows for “vague interpretation” and reflects an “increasingly worrying environment” where donors transfer as much risk as possible "downstream" to NGO grantees. Lowrie said he understood, but found the decision "regrettable" and stressed that the network was complying with demands from its donors, including the UK.

 

Weighing earthquake risks in Nepal

 

Thousands were killed when two major earthquakes struck near Nepal’s Kathmandu valley in April and May 2015. People are still rebuilding their homes four years later. Post-disaster risk-reduction efforts have often focused on making the Kathmandu area better prepared. But new research suggests that concentrating on the capital overlooks greater earthquake risks elsewhere. The study, published in the journal PNAS, used new earthquake modelling techniques to map out vulnerability. It found the most at-risk districts, home to some 9.5 million people, are mainly in western Nepal – not Kathmandu. Researchers believe the findings can be used to help Nepal better target its limited disaster preparedness funds. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says the findings have “raised alarm bells” about risk in western Nepal, which has reportedly not seen a major earthquake in the last 500 years.

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In case you missed it

 

India: One of the most powerful storms India has seen in 20 years made landfall on India’s eastern coastline in Odisha State on Friday. Authorities said one million people were evacuated, but aid groups warn that Cyclone Fani may cause longer-term damage to crops and livelihoods. Heavy rainfall, floods, and storm surges posed new risks as the storm pushed northeast towards Bangladesh. After the initial impact, officials in Odisha put the death toll at seven.

 

Mozambique: A cholera outbreak has been declared in the northern province of Cabo Delgado following flooding caused by Cyclone Kenneth. At least 14 cholera cases have been detected, and 200,000 people need medical assistance. The storm, which claimed 41 lives in Mozambique and seven others in the Comoros Islands, came six weeks after Cyclone Idai battered the region, killing at least 1,000 people.

 

North Korea: Hit by a year of floods and heatwaves, food production in North Korea is at its lowest level in a decade and more than 10 million people may need food aid, according to a UN food security assessment released on Friday.

 

Syria: Thousands of people are fleeing Rukban – a remote Syrian camp in rebel-held territory on the border with Jordan – as food runs out and aid is not on the way. Read this for more on what’s happening to those who have left and on what will become of the tens of thousands still in the “desperate” outpost.

 

Timor-Leste: Heavy rains through a long monsoon season have fuelled a surge in dengue cases in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, and the government may need significant help to contain the outbreak, the country’s Red Cross agency says.

 

Uganda: The World Food Programme has halted worldwide distribution of a fortified cereal from one of its suppliers. Three people died and nearly 300 became ill in Uganda between March and April. Test results to determine what went wrong have been inconclusive. WFP is separately investigating why another ‘Super Cereal” batch elsewhere was found to be low in protein in fat. The product is typically given to nursing mothers and malnourished children in humanitarian hotspots.

 

United States: President Donald Trump gave US officials 90 days to implement new regulations to charge application fees to asylum seekers and deny work permits to those who enter the country illegally – the latest in a raft of Trump measures to counter what he has termed a “crisis” of Central American migrants at the Mexican border.

 

Weekend read

 

Ebola responders in Congo confront fake news and social media chatter

 

In mid-February, the response was going well. The government in the Democratic Republic of Congo declared Ebola to be “under control” in and around the city of Beni. It seemed only a matter of time before enough contacts were traced and vaccinated to bring the virus to heal in epicentre areas Butembo and Katwa. Not so now. Since February, case numbers have almost doubled, deaths too – almost certain to pass the 1,000 mark in the coming days. What happened? In two words: insecurity and distrust. And driving the latter is social media. Our weekend read this week is a timely look from TNH’s Vittoria Elliott at the battle to win the information war, with fake news and conspiracy theories creating a new contagion thanks to platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. Experts worry the longer the outbreak goes on, the greater chance it could spread to a major city, like Goma, or to a neighbouring country, like South Sudan.

 

And finally

 

Disability and armed conflict

 

War is hard enough for the able-bodied. Conflict presents extra risks for anyone with a physical or mental disability. On 9 May researchers based at the Geneva Academy will sum up three years of study into how international law could do better for the disabled. The publication includes case studies from Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, Ukraine, and Vietnam. To accompany it, an exhibition of 60 photos will be opened on the Geneva lakefront. The installation highlights work by photographer Giles Duley, himself severely injured while working in Afghanistan.

(TOP PHOTO: A man stares at a building damaged during reported shelling by government and allied forces, in the town of Hbeit in the southern countryside of the rebel-held Idlib province on 3 May 2019.)

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Syrian strikes, Sri Lankan backlash, and silencing journalists News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN Mozambique Uganda DRC United States India Timor-Leste Sri Lanka Nepal North Korea Global Syria Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

Syria cash aid freeze, Somali biometrics, and poverty porn: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 04/26/2019 - 10:49

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

 

On our radar

 

UK pauses cash aid in northeastern Syria

 

Syrians in a camp held up a sign on Wednesday saying: "Where are my human rights?". Residents of the Areesha displaced persons’ camp say they aren’t getting the supplies they need and an abrupt decision to stop cash allowances has made things worse. British aid ministry DFID told NGOs earlier this month to stop UK-funded humanitarian cash handouts, which top up other basic aid packages. A DFID spokesperson said: “This is a precautionary measure due to the risks associated with the dispersal of Daesh (so-called Islamic State) members.” The move has upset Syrians in camps and war-damaged cities, and thrown aid plans into disarray. NGO officials say it will hurt the vulnerable, and they can’t switch in other types of aid or other donors immediately. The area covered by the suspension includes some 70,000 mainly women and children at al-Hol camp who emerged from IS territory. Protesters say they need the cash to make ends meet, not least to pay back loans with shopkeepers. One NGO analyst said some camps were like "debt prisons". DFID says cash is a “very minor” part of its efforts in the area. Several NGO workers say the move is politically driven and due to fear of negative media coverage about any conceivable misuse of cash. UK officials, one said, were worrying: "how could the Daily Mail spin it?"

 

Fingerprinting Somalia

 

Somalia's ability to make social and economic progress potential is held back by the lack of a national ID system, according to the World Bank, but a new report finds that a patchwork of aid databases may already cover more than 60 percent of the population. The report, on  “beneficiary registration and data management”, also says the UN is experimenting with fingerprinting infants. The World Food Programme study found that 5.7 million Somalis are already registered in systems maintained for relief purposes, most recorded – with fingerprint scans – in WFP's SCOPE platform. Since some systems only record family heads, the report estimates that 9.5 million adults and children are covered by the databases. Data-sharing rules, registration, and de-duplication are inconsistent across the board, the report found. Data storage, cyber security, and privacy measures are of varied maturity and effectiveness. Also, Somali "names are often very similar", further complicating the problem of identifying duplicates. The report concludes that "a biometrics-backed single registry would seem to make sense in Somalia". In a footnote, it says a WFP study has found that biometric registration is "feasible even for infants", while “standard practice is to collect fingerprint images only from children over five”.

 

Refugees evacuated after Tripoli detention centre attack

After weeks of violence in the Libyan capital and warnings about the plight of migrants and refugees trapped near front lines, conflicting reports have emerged of a Tuesday militia attack on a Tripoli detention centre. One account said two people were shot and as many as 20 injured, while UNHCR, the UN’s agency for refugees, said there were no bullet wounds but 12 refugees required treatment after “physical attacks”. UNHCR said it evacuated 325 migrants and refugees from the centre after the incident, but 3,000 people are still in migrant detention centres in and around the city. While it couldn’t confirm all the details of the attack, Médecins Sans Frontières said that its doctors had concluded – from photographic and video evidence – that “the injuries shown are consistent with gunshot wounds”. Karline Kleijer, MSF's head of emergency programmes, said the failure to get migrants and refugees out of Libya means “the international community can only be blamed for its complete and utter inaction”.

 

Sudanese protesters demand civilian rule

 

The number of protesters in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, is swelling again as demands grow for the transitional military council to hand over power. After president Omar al-Bashir was ousted on 11 April, the council stepped in and promised elections within two years. Three close allies of al-Bashir – Omar Zain al-Abdin, Jalaluddin Al-Sheikh, and Al-Tayieb Babikir – have resigned from the council as the calls for civilian rule have intensified. Demonstrations began last December amid price hikes on bread and fuel shortages, with some 60 people being killed in clashes. Al-Bashir, who is being held in prison, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly ordering his forces to commit crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of genocide between 2003 and 2008 in Darfur. The African Union has given the military council three months to implement democratic reforms. As our recent briefing highlighted, humanitarian needs remain high. The country hosts more than 800,000 refugees from South Sudan, while some 13 percent of the population (5.76 million people) are in “crisis” or “emergency” levels of hunger, and conflict lingers in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei.

 

The problem with Sri Lanka’s social media ban

 

Hours after suicide bombers struck Sri Lankan churches and hotels on Sunday, the government turned to a now-familiar tactic: it shut down social media, citing fears that misinformation would spread. Some commentators saw this as a logical step; after all, social networks like Facebook have frequently come under fire for allowing hate speech and false news to flare, including during anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka last year. But others warn that banning social media is troublesome – especially in a country like Sri Lanka, which frequently scores low on various press freedom indexes and where media outlets are controlled by a small number of politically connected owners. Online-only outlets like civic media group Groundviews use social media to quash misinformation – including inaccurate reporting in traditional media. Sri Lanka’s complex divisions, this Buzzfeed article points out, “are problems that far predate social media”.

 

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In case you missed it

 

Afghanistan: More civilians were killed by Afghan and international military forces than by the Taliban or other insurgents over the first three months of the year, according to UN figures released this week.

 

Ebola: Health workers are threatening to strike unless security improves at Ebola clinics in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A doctor from Cameroon was killed last week. Workers say the attacks are thwarting their attempts to contain the latest outbreak.

 

Food: Conflict and extreme weather are driving rising levels of severe food insecurity, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said in its quarterly global crops outlook, which found that 41 countries are in need of food aid. This number has steadily risen: there were 33 countries in need five years ago, and 29 in 2011.

 

Pakistan: Gunmen shot and killed a polio vaccinator in the city of Chaman near the Afghan border, The New York Times reported – the third killing of a vaccinator this week as Pakistan ramps up an anti-polio vaccine drive. Along with Nigeria and neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio is endemic.

 

South Africa: The toll from flooding in the coastal city of Durban is expected to rise above 67. Torrential rains triggered floods and mudslides last week, wiping away houses and destroying roads. Some 13 people were killed when a church roof collapsed.

 

Syria: Amnesty International and Airwars released an investigation this week that they say shows the US-led coalition killed more than 1,600 civilians during its air and artillery campaign against so-called Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa. The coalition says 180 civilians were killed during the fight, which ended in October 2017. For more on Syria, check out our latest reports – on the outcry over UN plans to consolidate aid operations in Damascus, and concerns over the humanitarian impact of sanctions.

 

Venezuela: At least 21 Venezuelans are missing and feared drowned after their vessel, “Jhonnaly Jose”, capsized in the early hours of Wednesday en route to Trinidad and Tobago from Venezuela. Between three and four million Venezuelans have fled their country’s economic collapse since 2015, including tens of thousands to islands in the Caribbean.

 

Weekend read

 

What’s behind talk of a ‘migratory crisis’ in Spain?

 

The rise of Vox in December’s regional elections – the first time a far-right party has gained a foothold in Spanish politics since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 – followed a summer surge of migrant crossings to the southern region of Andalusia (where the party won 12 seats). Vox, which has vowed to deport legal immigrants who commit crimes and build a wall around Spain’s enclaves in North Africa, could gain further ground in Sunday’s general election. Time then for a hard look at its claims that a “migratory crisis” exists. Yes, the figures for 2018 show a spike in arrivals, but there’s no crisis, according to the left-of-centre government, the UN, and Salvamento Maritimo, Spain’s civilian sea rescue service. Of greater concern: government plans to overhaul and curtail Salvamento Maritimo’s operations – plans rescuers warn could soon cost lives.

 

And finally...

 

Experiential marketing and/or poverty porn?

 

A $50-million-a-year UK Christian charity has been accused of running a "poverty zoo". Their "Compassion Experience" mobile exhibit, on tour in the UK, claims to offer glimpses of poverty in Ethiopia and Uganda, with mockups of children's meagre homes and classrooms (complete with Bibles). It encourages the public to donate to “sponsor” disadvantaged children. Critics came out in force on social media. The charity rejected criticism, saying the exhibit "challenges visitors over 20 minutes to hear and see the real-life stories". Similar exhibits have toured the United States since 2012, which helped the US sister charity, Compassion International, raise $890 million in 2017.

 

(TOP PHOTO: Residents of the Areesha displaced persons’ camp.)

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Categories: Gender Parity

The trouble with plans to send 116,000 Burundian refugees home

IRIN Gender - Tue, 03/05/2019 - 05:19

Under pressure to go home, Burundian refugees in Tanzania face two bad options: return to face social and economic hardship and possible rights violations; or remain in chronically under-resourced camps that restrict their opportunities.

 

With both governments confirming plans to return 116,000 Burundians by the end of 2019, it’s crunch time for the international community if it wants to ensure returns are truly voluntary and offer returnees the level of support they will need to reintegrate properly back in Burundi.

 

More than 400,000 people fled Burundi, most into neighbouring Tanzania, following violent unrest and repression that accompanied 2015 elections, which saw former rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza returned to power for a controversial third presidential term.

 

Limited repatriations began in 2017, but funding shortages mean the process has so far been little more than an offer of free transport back across the border, with a return package of food, non-food items, and cash that doesn’t even last the three months it’s expected to cover.

 

Given that many who fled were already amongst the most vulnerable, the daily struggle to feed their families had only increased since they returned.

Despite this, some 62,000 Burundians have already chosen to go back home. But returnees interviewed by the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) said their decisions were driven by dire camp conditions coupled with the risk of abuse if they ventured outside.

 

Back in Burundi, the lack of support to reintegrate refugees threatens to hinder their chances of getting food on the table and starting their lives afresh. If past failures are any indication, a botched repatriation on this scale could fuel new conflict and further waves of displacement.

 

With elections due to take place next year, some of those interviewed by IRRI were fearful that political tensions will start building again and that renewed violence will erupt.

 

Burundi appears to be calm for now, but this shouldn’t hide the fact that the government has restricted political space and refuses to engage in a regional dialogue with opposition parties. Ensuring a properly supported return process has never been more important.

 

Problems back home

A new report, based on 75 interviews IRRI conducted with Burundian returnees, their neighbours and local authorities in August and November last year, finds that many are stuck in a highly precarious situation.

 

Several people told us they found the repatriation process slow. Others felt there was insufficient information to guide them through it, despite several systems put in place by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Tanzania to inform refugees about the procedure.

After the rations and money in the return package ran out, people told us support was limited. Given that many who fled were already amongst the most vulnerable, the daily struggle to feed their families had only increased since they returned.  

 

Some were relying on the help of their neighbours or local authorities. But there were occasional tensions too as some who didn’t go into exile resented the fact that returnees received support – however insufficient.

 

Returnees said they had been accused of being opposition supporters and some reported being threatened – even physical abused – by the ruling party’s notorious Imbonerakure youth wing militia.

 

Another core issue was access to land. Previously unresolved land disputes from prior repatriations continued to cast a shadow over the return process.

 

Many of those interviewed were landless and dependent on the meagre return package to secure a place to live. Ensuring equitable access to land is critical, not only to give people access to livelihoods, but also to a wider sense of belonging.

 

More and longer support needed

 

Effective reintegration of refugees and internally displaced people is a big challenge for countries recovering from conflict.

 

In Burundi, the 2015 exodus reversed a repatriation process between 2002 and 2010 in which approximately half a million refugees returned following a number of peace agreements, including the Arusha Accord, which ended the country’s civil war.

But while the returns made it look like Burundi had found peace, stability only went skin deep. The much harder and time-consuming work of genuine reintegration of returnees didn’t fit well with the short attention spans, or at least budgets, of the government and UN agencies.

 

Something similar seems to be taking place now. While most refugees don’t want to return to Burundi because they know they’ll be returning to a volatile political situation and economic hardship, many feel they have no better choice.

 

While the returns made it look like Burundi had found peace, stability only went skin deep.

As the IRRI report demonstrates more fully, the situation faced by Burundian refugees in Tanzania is dire – many are abused when leaving the camps to look for firewood or menial jobs to supplement the insufficient humanitarian assistance.

 

Burundi and Tanzania both want the refugees to return. Tanzania is tired of hosting them, fed up with aid that is sporadic and unreliable, while Burundi’s government wants to portray an image of a peaceful country. UNHCR and international donors, however, have been more reluctant to support returns, leading to friction.

 

The repatriation process, already painfully slow, was completely halted in November when Burundi suspended international NGOs that refused to adopt ethnic quotas. Some NGOs have been able to reopen since, but others have left the country. Those refugees who were eventually assisted by UNHCR had to lower their expectations.

 

Repatriation is a complex, long-term process that must be adequately supported.

 

It must take into consideration the humanitarian and development needs of both returnees and the communities to which they are returning, and it needs to grapple with the underlying tensions that created the context for displacement in the first place.  

 

But there seems to be lack of recognition – or, at least, of action – by the Burundian government and international actors in this regard.

 

In a context in which displacement has had terrible consequences for the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people, recognising repatriation as a long-term endeavour is key to breaking the cycles of conflict and displacement that have plagued Burundi’s recent history.

 

Globally, repatriation is being pushed as the most desirable and “durable solution” to end displacement. It is therefore vital that the international community ensures that Burundians return voluntarily and are sufficiently supported and funded to reintegrate effectively.

 

(TOP PHOTO: A camp in Tanzania for Burundian refugees. CREDIT: Anouk Delafortrie/ECHO)

Opinion Migration Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics The trouble with plans to send 116,000 Burundian refugees home Lucy Hovil and Thijs Van Laer IRIN Africa East Africa Burundi Tanzania
Categories: Gender Parity

The trouble with plans to send 116,000 Burundian refugees home

IRIN Gender - Tue, 03/05/2019 - 05:19

Under pressure to go home, Burundian refugees in Tanzania face two bad options: return to face social and economic hardship and possible rights violations; or remain in chronically under-resourced camps that restrict their opportunities.

 

With both governments confirming plans to return 116,000 Burundians by the end of 2019, it’s crunch time for the international community if it wants to ensure returns are truly voluntary and offer returnees the level of support they will need to reintegrate properly back in Burundi.

 

More than 400,000 people fled Burundi, most into neighbouring Tanzania, following violent unrest and repression that accompanied 2015 elections, which saw former rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza returned to power for a controversial third presidential term.

 

Limited repatriations began in 2017, but funding shortages mean the process has so far been little more than an offer of free transport back across the border, with a return package of food, non-food items, and cash that doesn’t even last the three months it’s expected to cover.

 

Given that many who fled were already amongst the most vulnerable, the daily struggle to feed their families had only increased since they returned.

Despite this, some 62,000 Burundians have already chosen to go back home. But returnees interviewed by the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) said their decisions were driven by dire camp conditions coupled with the risk of abuse if they ventured outside.

 

Back in Burundi, the lack of support to reintegrate refugees threatens to hinder their chances of getting food on the table and starting their lives afresh. If past failures are any indication, a botched repatriation on this scale could fuel new conflict and further waves of displacement.

 

With elections due to take place next year, some of those interviewed by IRRI were fearful that political tensions will start building again and that renewed violence will erupt.

 

Burundi appears to be calm for now, but this shouldn’t hide the fact that the government has restricted political space and refuses to engage in a regional dialogue with opposition parties. Ensuring a properly supported return process has never been more important.

 

Problems back home

A new report, based on 75 interviews IRRI conducted with Burundian returnees, their neighbours and local authorities in August and November last year, finds that many are stuck in a highly precarious situation.

 

Several people told us they found the repatriation process slow. Others felt there was insufficient information to guide them through it, despite several systems put in place by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Tanzania to inform refugees about the procedure.

After the rations and money in the return package ran out, people told us support was limited. Given that many who fled were already amongst the most vulnerable, the daily struggle to feed their families had only increased since they returned.  

 

Some were relying on the help of their neighbours or local authorities. But there were occasional tensions too as some who didn’t go into exile resented the fact that returnees received support – however insufficient.

 

Returnees said they had been accused of being opposition supporters and some reported being threatened – even physical abused – by the ruling party’s notorious Imbonerakure youth wing militia.

 

Another core issue was access to land. Previously unresolved land disputes from prior repatriations continued to cast a shadow over the return process.

 

Many of those interviewed were landless and dependent on the meagre return package to secure a place to live. Ensuring equitable access to land is critical, not only to give people access to livelihoods, but also to a wider sense of belonging.

 

More and longer support needed

 

Effective reintegration of refugees and internally displaced people is a big challenge for countries recovering from conflict.

 

In Burundi, the 2015 exodus reversed a repatriation process between 2002 and 2010 in which approximately half a million refugees returned following a number of peace agreements, including the Arusha Accord, which ended the country’s civil war.

But while the returns made it look like Burundi had found peace, stability only went skin deep. The much harder and time-consuming work of genuine reintegration of returnees didn’t fit well with the short attention spans, or at least budgets, of the government and UN agencies.

 

Something similar seems to be taking place now. While most refugees don’t want to return to Burundi because they know they’ll be returning to a volatile political situation and economic hardship, many feel they have no better choice.

 

While the returns made it look like Burundi had found peace, stability only went skin deep.

As the IRRI report demonstrates more fully, the situation faced by Burundian refugees in Tanzania is dire – many are abused when leaving the camps to look for firewood or menial jobs to supplement the insufficient humanitarian assistance.

 

Burundi and Tanzania both want the refugees to return. Tanzania is tired of hosting them, fed up with aid that is sporadic and unreliable, while Burundi’s government wants to portray an image of a peaceful country. UNHCR and international donors, however, have been more reluctant to support returns, leading to friction.

 

The repatriation process, already painfully slow, was completely halted in November when Burundi suspended international NGOs that refused to adopt ethnic quotas. Some NGOs have been able to reopen since, but others have left the country. Those refugees who were eventually assisted by UNHCR had to lower their expectations.

 

Repatriation is a complex, long-term process that must be adequately supported.

 

It must take into consideration the humanitarian and development needs of both returnees and the communities to which they are returning, and it needs to grapple with the underlying tensions that created the context for displacement in the first place.  

 

But there seems to be lack of recognition – or, at least, of action – by the Burundian government and international actors in this regard.

 

In a context in which displacement has had terrible consequences for the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people, recognising repatriation as a long-term endeavour is key to breaking the cycles of conflict and displacement that have plagued Burundi’s recent history.

 

Globally, repatriation is being pushed as the most desirable and “durable solution” to end displacement. It is therefore vital that the international community ensures that Burundians return voluntarily and are sufficiently supported and funded to reintegrate effectively.

 

(TOP PHOTO: A camp in Tanzania for Burundian refugees. CREDIT: Anouk Delafortrie/ECHO)

29919473581_e804107120_o_1920.jpg Opinion Migration Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics The trouble with plans to send 116,000 Burundian refugees home Lucy Hovil and Thijs Van Laer IRIN Africa East Africa Burundi Tanzania
Categories: Gender Parity

Nigerian challenges, cash aid headaches, and making mental health matter: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 03/01/2019 - 10:47

IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

 

New term, old problems for Nigeria’s Buhari

 

Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, who won a second presidential term this week, faces a variety of security challenges: a decade-long and resurgent Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast; endemic insecurity in the oil-producing Niger Delta south, and – less reported but often the most deadly – spiralling violence between pastoralist Fulani herders and local farmers in the northwest. Despite Buhari's 2015 claim that Boko Haram was "technically defeated", jihadists continue gaining ground across Lake Chad and West Africa, where the humanitarian fallout is, if anything, worsening. For a comprehensive look at the causes and the consequences of militancy in the Sahel region, check out this curation of our long-term reporting. And for a personal and graphic account of covering Boko Haram over the course of several years, this reporter’s diary from Chika Oduah is a must-read.

 

Headaches in the ‘cash revolution’?

 

Humanitarian cash aid programmes in Kenya’s drought-prone northeast are plagued with problems, according to this recent article by Kenyan journalist Anthony Langat published by Devex. Beneficiaries describe them as confusing, unreliable, and wide open to corruption. Families report not receiving what they think they’re due and/or not knowing what they ought to get, and they say there’s no effective system to address complaints. Local leaders are accused of manipulating lists of entitled families, and money transfer agents allegedly skim off unauthorised transfer fees. The Kenyan government and the UN’s World Food Programme – who run different cash initiatives in the area – say some problems are simply clerical, such as wrongly registered mobile phone numbers or ID cards. Earlier research from NGO Ground Truth Solutions showed that 62 percent of a sample of Kenyans enrolled in cash aid projects said they were satisfied with the service. However, 88 percent “did not know “how aid agencies decide who gets cash support”.

 

UN peers into a dark Myanmar mirror

 

The UN is launching an inquiry into its actions in Myanmar, where critics accuse it of inaction and “complicity” in the face of widespread rights abuses that led to the violent exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya. The UN this week confirmed the appointment of Gert Rosenthal, a Guatemalan diplomat, to lead an internal review of UN operations in Myanmar. The news, first reported by The Guardian, follows a Human Rights Council resolution urging a probe into whether the UN did “everything possible to prevent or mitigate the unfolding crises”, including the military’s Rohingya purge and abuses against minorities elsewhere in the country. Critics say the UN mission in Myanmar was “glaringly dysfunctional”, marred by infighting over how to engage with the government. A UN-mandated fact-finding mission has warned that problems continue and said that some UN entities refused to cooperate with its own investigation. In a statement, UN spokesman in Myanmar Stanislav Saling said the review will look at how the UN “works on the ground and possible lessons learned for the future”. It’s unclear whether Rosenthal’s findings will be made public.

 

Growing recognition for mental health

 

In humanitarian terms, psycho-social support is often treated as the poor cousin to aid like food and shelter, with few mental health services available in crisis settings, as we recently reported from South Sudan. But just as the economic cost and importance of mental health is increasingly being recognised in society at large, so the issue is picking up steam in humanitarian contexts too. On the sidelines of this week’s UN pledging conference for Yemen, Dutch Development Cooperation Minister Sigrid Kaag urged humanitarian donors to invest more in mental health (“second line” healthcare, which includes mental health, makes up only $72 million of the $4.2 billion appeal for Yemen). The Netherlands is funding the development of tools to help aid agencies integrate mental health services into their work and will host a conference later this year to mobilise commitments from others. Psychiatrists argue that mental health support is not just a human right; it also strengthens people’s ability to benefit from other aid, such as education or livelihood programmes.  

 

Bond-holders in pandemic finance scheme untouched by Ebola outbreak

 

On Thursday, the World Bank announced it was to provide up to $80 million of new funding to combat Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of that sum, $20 million is from its Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, or PEF, set up after the 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. PEF is a leading example of harnessing private capital and donor resources in humanitarian response. Private investors in PEF bonds can lose their investment if a major epidemic happens. Otherwise they get interest (paid by conventional donors) at a rate described last month as “chunky” by the Financial Times. The catch? PEF investors haven’t paid out a penny in Congo. That’s because the outbreak hasn’t spread to a second country, one of the conditions for a payout. IRIN asked a disaster insurance expert about PEF last year; he said it was “quite expensive”.

  

*/ In case you missed it:

 

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Médecins Sans Frontières has suspended work at two Ebola treatment centres after the facilities in Butembo and Katwa were partially destroyed in two separate attacks in the space of four days this week. The caretaker of one patient was reported to have died trying to flee. The motivation of the unidentified assailants remains unclear. The outbreak, which began seven months ago, continues, with 555 deaths and counting.

 

Gaza: A UN commission of inquiry said in a report released Thursday that Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity in shooting unarmed civilians during mass Palestinian protests at the Gaza border last year.

 

Indonesia: The country has recorded its first polio case since 2006. The World Health Organisation says a strain of vaccine-derived polio was confirmed this month in a child in a remote village of Papua province, one of Indonesia’s poorest regions. The WHO says the case is not linked to a polio outbreak in neighbouring Papua New Guinea.

 

Iraq: Human Rights Watch says authorities in Mosul and other parts of the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh are harassing, threatening, and arresting aid workers, sometimes accusing them of ties to so-called Islamic State in an effort to change lists of people eligible for humanitarian assistance.

 

Pakistan: Shortages of nutritional food and safe water could be leading to “alarmingly high” rates of disease and malnutrition in drought-hit Pakistan, especially for women and children, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

 

Somalia: Al-Shabab militants set off two deadly blasts outside a hotel in Mogadishu on Thursday, before seizing a nearby building. Soldiers battled through the night to try to dislodge them. As conflict and insecurity continue across the country, a new report revealed that 320,000 Somalis fled their homes in 2018 – a 58 percent rise on 2017. Some 2.6 million Somalis are now internally displaced.

 

Weekend read

 

UN probes substandard food aid for mothers and children

The difficulty with this story, to steal from Donald Rumsfeld, are the known unknowns. The World Food Programme purchased 50,000 tonnes of porridge mix for mothers and malnourished children, and a proportion of it was lacking key nutrition-enhancing ingredients. It was sent to crisis zones around the world. It likely came from one of two producers who have a duopoly over the market. The deficiencies should have been picked up by third-party inspectors before the food aid was dispatched. But let’s look at what we don’t know – not for a lack of digging by IRIN’s Ben Parker or contributor Lorenzo D’Agostino in Rome. Where exactly did the faulty food aid go? What effect did the lack of protein and fat have on breastfeeding mothers, babies, and children? Which company produced the substandard porridge mix and why? How come the inspectors failed to find fault with the product? Who was told what, and when? Is operational error, negligence, or fraud, or a combination to blame? We await the findings of the investigation with interest.

 

And finally...

ambaeeruption_viirs_2018208_lrg_1920.jpg NASA Life resumes on Vanuatu’s volcanic Ambae Island

 

The most explosive volcanic eruption anywhere in the world last year came courtesy of Manaro Voui on Ambae Island, part of the Pacific nation of Vanuatu. The volcano spewed more than 540,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the air, according to NASA. Volcanologists may be fascinated by Manaro Voui’s rumblings, but for 11,000 Ambae residents, the eruptions have been life-changing. They covered parts of the island with volcanic ash, which destroyed crops and homes and polluted drinking water. Residents have repeatedly been forced to evacuate, and at one point the government declared the entire island uninhabitable. For now, the volcano continues to be a in a state of “major unrest”, but some residents are moving back, and the government is preparing to begin a new school term for some returning students.

(TOP PHOTO: Destroyed cars by the side of the road after a suicide bomber detonated their vest in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, in 2017. CREDIT: Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo)

bp-il-as-si-ha/ag

News Aid and Policy Environment and Disasters Conflict Food Health Human Rights Politics and Economics Nigerian challenges, cash aid headaches, and making mental health matter IRIN Nigeria DRC Somalia Kenya Indonesia Vanuatu Myanmar Pakistan Palestine Iraq
Categories: Gender Parity

Nigerian challenges, cash aid headaches, and making mental health matter: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 03/01/2019 - 10:47

IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar

 

New term, old problems for Nigeria’s Buhari

 

Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, who won a second presidential term this week, faces a variety of security challenges: a decade-long and resurgent Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast; endemic insecurity in the oil-producing Niger Delta south, and – less reported but often the most deadly – spiralling violence between pastoralist Fulani herders and local farmers in the northwest. Despite Buhari's 2015 claim that Boko Haram was "technically defeated", jihadists continue gaining ground across Lake Chad and West Africa, where the humanitarian fallout is, if anything, worsening. For a comprehensive look at the causes and the consequences of militancy in the Sahel region, check out this curation of our long-term reporting. And for a personal and graphic account of covering Boko Haram over the course of several years, this reporter’s diary from Chika Oduah is a must-read.

 

Headaches in the ‘cash revolution’?

 

Humanitarian cash aid programmes in Kenya’s drought-prone northeast are plagued with problems, according to this recent article by Kenyan journalist Anthony Langat published by Devex. Beneficiaries describe them as confusing, unreliable, and wide open to corruption. Families report not receiving what they think they’re due and/or not knowing what they ought to get, and they say there’s no effective system to address complaints. Local leaders are accused of manipulating lists of entitled families, and money transfer agents allegedly skim off unauthorised transfer fees. The Kenyan government and the UN’s World Food Programme – who run different cash initiatives in the area – say some problems are simply clerical, such as wrongly registered mobile phone numbers or ID cards. Earlier research from NGO Ground Truth Solutions showed that 62 percent of a sample of Kenyans enrolled in cash aid projects said they were satisfied with the service. However, 88 percent “did not know “how aid agencies decide who gets cash support”.

 

UN peers into a dark Myanmar mirror

 

The UN is launching an inquiry into its actions in Myanmar, where critics accuse it of inaction and “complicity” in the face of widespread rights abuses that led to the violent exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya. The UN this week confirmed the appointment of Gert Rosenthal, a Guatemalan diplomat, to lead an internal review of UN operations in Myanmar. The news, first reported by The Guardian, follows a Human Rights Council resolution urging a probe into whether the UN did “everything possible to prevent or mitigate the unfolding crises”, including the military’s Rohingya purge and abuses against minorities elsewhere in the country. Critics say the UN mission in Myanmar was “glaringly dysfunctional”, marred by infighting over how to engage with the government. A UN-mandated fact-finding mission has warned that problems continue and said that some UN entities refused to cooperate with its own investigation. In a statement, UN spokesman in Myanmar Stanislav Saling said the review will look at how the UN “works on the ground and possible lessons learned for the future”. It’s unclear whether Rosenthal’s findings will be made public.

 

Growing recognition for mental health

 

In humanitarian terms, psycho-social support is often treated as the poor cousin to aid like food and shelter, with few mental health services available in crisis settings, as we recently reported from South Sudan. But just as the economic cost and importance of mental health is increasingly being recognised in society at large, so the issue is picking up steam in humanitarian contexts too. On the sidelines of this week’s UN pledging conference for Yemen, Dutch Development Cooperation Minister Sigrid Kaag urged humanitarian donors to invest more in mental health (“second line” healthcare, which includes mental health, makes up only $72 million of the $4.2 billion appeal for Yemen). The Netherlands is funding the development of tools to help aid agencies integrate mental health services into their work and will host a conference later this year to mobilise commitments from others. Psychiatrists argue that mental health support is not just a human right; it also strengthens people’s ability to benefit from other aid, such as education or livelihood programmes.  

 

Bond-holders in pandemic finance scheme untouched by Ebola outbreak

 

On Thursday, the World Bank announced it was to provide up to $80 million of new funding to combat Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of that sum, $20 million is from its Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, or PEF, set up after the 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. PEF is a leading example of harnessing private capital and donor resources in humanitarian response. Private investors in PEF bonds can lose their investment if a major epidemic happens. Otherwise they get interest (paid by conventional donors) at a rate described last month as “chunky” by the Financial Times. The catch? PEF investors haven’t paid out a penny in Congo. That’s because the outbreak hasn’t spread to a second country, one of the conditions for a payout. IRIN asked a disaster insurance expert about PEF last year; he said it was “quite expensive”.

  

*/ In case you missed it:

 

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Médecins Sans Frontières has suspended work at two Ebola treatment centres after the facilities in Butembo and Katwa were partially destroyed in two separate attacks in the space of four days this week. The caretaker of one patient was reported to have died trying to flee. The motivation of the unidentified assailants remains unclear. The outbreak, which began seven months ago, continues, with 555 deaths and counting.

 

Gaza: A UN commission of inquiry said in a report released Thursday that Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity in shooting unarmed civilians during mass Palestinian protests at the Gaza border last year.

 

Indonesia: The country has recorded its first polio case since 2006. The World Health Organisation says a strain of vaccine-derived polio was confirmed this month in a child in a remote village of Papua province, one of Indonesia’s poorest regions. The WHO says the case is not linked to a polio outbreak in neighbouring Papua New Guinea.

 

Iraq: Human Rights Watch says authorities in Mosul and other parts of the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh are harassing, threatening, and arresting aid workers, sometimes accusing them of ties to so-called Islamic State in an effort to change lists of people eligible for humanitarian assistance.

 

Pakistan: Shortages of nutritional food and safe water could be leading to “alarmingly high” rates of disease and malnutrition in drought-hit Pakistan, especially for women and children, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

 

Somalia: Al-Shabab militants set off two deadly blasts outside a hotel in Mogadishu on Thursday, before seizing a nearby building. Soldiers battled through the night to try to dislodge them. As conflict and insecurity continue across the country, a new report revealed that 320,000 Somalis fled their homes in 2018 – a 58 percent rise on 2017. Some 2.6 million Somalis are now internally displaced.

 

Weekend read

 

UN probes substandard food aid for mothers and children

The difficulty with this story, to steal from Donald Rumsfeld, are the known unknowns. The World Food Programme purchased 50,000 tonnes of porridge mix for mothers and malnourished children, and a proportion of it was lacking key nutrition-enhancing ingredients. It was sent to crisis zones around the world. It likely came from one of two producers who have a duopoly over the market. The deficiencies should have been picked up by third-party inspectors before the food aid was dispatched. But let’s look at what we don’t know – not for a lack of digging by IRIN’s Ben Parker or contributor Lorenzo D’Agostino in Rome. Where exactly did the faulty food aid go? What effect did the lack of protein and fat have on breastfeeding mothers, babies, and children? Which company produced the substandard porridge mix and why? How come the inspectors failed to find fault with the product? Who was told what, and when? Is operational error, negligence, or fraud, or a combination to blame? We await the findings of the investigation with interest.

 

And finally...

NASA Life resumes on Vanuatu’s volcanic Ambae Island

 

The most explosive volcanic eruption anywhere in the world last year came courtesy of Manaro Voui on Ambae Island, part of the Pacific nation of Vanuatu. The volcano spewed more than 540,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the air, according to NASA. Volcanologists may be fascinated by Manaro Voui’s rumblings, but for 11,000 Ambae residents, the eruptions have been life-changing. They covered parts of the island with volcanic ash, which destroyed crops and homes and polluted drinking water. Residents have repeatedly been forced to evacuate, and at one point the government declared the entire island uninhabitable. For now, the volcano continues to be a in a state of “major unrest”, but some residents are moving back, and the government is preparing to begin a new school term for some returning students.

(TOP PHOTO: Destroyed cars by the side of the road after a suicide bomber detonated their vest in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, in 2017. CREDIT: Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo)

bp-il-as-si-ha/ag

un058606.jpg News Aid and Policy Environment and Disasters Conflict Food Health Human Rights Politics and Economics Nigerian challenges, cash aid headaches, and making mental health matter IRIN Nigeria DRC Somalia Kenya Indonesia Vanuatu Myanmar Pakistan Palestine Iraq
Categories: Gender Parity

Ethiopia’s neglected crisis: No easy way home for doubly displaced Gedeos

IRIN Gender - Thu, 02/28/2019 - 11:23

When the men came with their guns and their knives, Meret Sisay’s mother stopped them at the door to their home in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, while the 18-year-old slipped out the back and fled for her life.

 

It was the second time in less than a year that Meret – like thousands of others from the Gedeo community who have lived in Oromia’s West Guji zone for decades – had been chased from her village because of her ethnicity.

 

A merry-go-round of forced evictions by groups of armed young men and government-pressured returns has left tens of thousands of ethnic Gedeos trapped in dire conditions in makeshift shelters across this part of southern Ethiopia.

 

Now in the village of Gotiti, in the Gedeo district of the Southern region that borders Oromia, Meret is one of an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 internally displaced people living in overcrowded shelters without roofs and sanitation as the rainy season approaches.

 

ethiopia_locator.jpg

The Ethiopian government has not formally acknowledged Gotiti's inhabitants as IDPs eligible for humanitarian aid.

Aid workers say food assistance for IDPs in several areas near the border with West Guji, including Gotiti, has been blocked in order to encourage inhabitants to return to Oromia. They also say they’re worried about the spread of infectious diseases.

 

When IRIN visited in February, families of up to 10 individuals were living in wooden shelters well below UN standards for camp shelter space. Many children had swollen bellies – a sign of malnutrition – as well as scabies, diarrhoea, and other indications of unhygienic living conditions.

 

Meret was one of almost one million Ethiopians uprooted between April and June by ethnic violence in this part of the country, after Gedeos were accused by their Oromo neighbours of trying to annex land and resources.

 

In December, after she and her seven siblings had followed government orders and returned home, she became one of around 15,000 who fled Oromia once again for the safety of Gedeo district.

 

Those that arrived in Gedeo reported tales of castration, the cutting off of limbs, and gang rape by local youth and armed rebels, as well as general intimidation and extortion.

meret_sisay_an_18_year_old_gedeo_idp_in_gotiti_1920.jpg Tom Gardner/IRIN Meret Sisay, 18, was forced to flee her home in West Guji twice last year. Now in the village of Gotiti, she lives in a makeshift shelter like thousands of other Gedeos.

Meret had been back in her village for only two days before armed groups of young men began harassing her and her family. “When we arrived back we started building houses,” she told IRIN. “But [the men] took everything the government had given us... They sent us back empty-handed.”

 

‘At night they come in mobs’

 

In total, more than 1.4 million Ethiopians were forced from their homes in the first half of last year – the largest internal displacement anywhere in the world in 2018 – as ethnic and land-fuelled conflicts exploded across the country following the appointment of reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the end of authoritarianism, which for decades had kept a lid on such tensions.

 

The policy of the federal government is that displaced households should be safely returned to the communities from which they were evicted, though in some cases resettlement may be possible for those who do not wish to go back.

 

A new ‘Action Plan’ drawn up in February by the National Disaster Risk Management Commission, or NDRMC, aims to resettle or return all IDPs within 60 days. A survey will determine which ones are expected to return to their original homes and which will be resettled elsewhere.

 

The NDRMC’s commissioner, Mitiku Kassa, said the tight deadline was because of the approaching rains and the need for farmers to prepare their lands in time to plant crops. “Otherwise they will be dependent on food aid next year as well,” he said.

 

Mitiku told IRIN he expected displaced Gedeos to return to their original homes. “We don’t have any plan to resettle Gedeos,” he said.

 

Aid workers, as well as the IDPs themselves, expressed concern about the timeline for returns, which according to UN guidelines should be safe, voluntary, sustainable, and dignified.

 

Several previous attempts to send Gedeos back to Oromia – sometimes by simply putting them on trucks and buses – have backfired. For example, mass displacement occurred in June last year shortly after the return of many of those evicted two months earlier.

 

A survey conducted by the government and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, at the end of last year found that at least 90 percent of IDPs in Gedeo did not want to return yet.

 

“The government is saying we have to go back,” said Bekele Worasa, 45, a coffee farmer currently living in Gotiti. “But how can we do that when there are people dying there still?”

 

“During the day it seems peaceful,” said Tegeno Tiba, 86, now living in an orphanage in the Gedeo town of Chelelektu. “But at night they come in mobs, singing and dancing. You can hear gunshots, and they throw stones. They harass and intimidate us.”

 

*/ 1 / 3

Berhanu Seid, 36, is from West Guji, where he lived with his family of eight. Now displaced in the town of Chelelektu, Gedeo, he stays with extended family and receives food aid from World Vision International. 2 / 3

Tegeno Tiba, 86, spent his whole life in West Guji, until nine months ago when he was displaced to Chelelektu in Gedeo. He now lives in an orphanage and survives on food aid. He has not returned home since. 3 / 3

Bekele Worasa, 45, is a coffee farmer and IDP committee leader. Since December, he has lived in a shelter around the Mekane Yesus Church in Gotiti, together with his wife and 11 children.

 

      slides.length) {slideIndex = 1} if (n < 1) {slideIndex = slides.length} for (i = 0; i < slides.length; i++) { slides[i].style.display = "none"; } for (i = 0; i < dotsz.length; i++) { dotsz[i].className = dotsz[i].className.replace(" active2", ""); } slides[slideIndex-1].style.display = "block"; dotsz[slideIndex-1].className += " active2"; } //--> Changing demographics

 

Aid workers worry that the deadline could be connected to the upcoming national census, which is due to start in April and may further complicate the situation in West Guji, where tensions between the ethnic groups have been exacerbated by anxieties about their respective population sizes.

 

The 2007 census found that 14 percent of the wider West Guji zone were Gedeo, and 79 percent Oromo.

 

Berhanu Fekele of World Vision International explained how Oromos in Kercha, West Guji’s most unstable district, believed Gedeos had become the most populous ethnic group. This, he said, is what prompted the claims that Gedeos planned to annex it from Oromia and sparked the conflict.

 

“You want to reverse-move people before a census and hope it doesn’t kick off?” one aid worker asked, concerned there would be further violence once the census begins in April. “That is what really keeps me up at night.”

In places like Kercha, returning Gedeos are now sheltering in makeshift “collection centres” around the main town like coffee marketplaces or churches because they fear it is too dangerous to return to their villages. Many say their properties have been stolen or destroyed.

 

inhabitants_of_a_makeshift_church_shelter_in_gotiti_1920.jpg Tom Gardner/IRIN Leaders of the IDP committee in Gedeo say several thousand people live in a makeshift shelter near the Mekane Yesus Church in Gotiti village.

Moreover, since August, NGOs working in West Guji have repeatedly expressed concern that returning Gedeos were being excluded from the lists of those in need of humanitarian assistance drawn up by local authorities.

Ethiopia’s government tightly controls the process of determining those in need. Under its system of ethnically organised federalism that power is in the hands of low-level officials who may, according to aid workers, show bias towards those of their own ethnicity.

 

Agencies operating in West Guji have reported that in some places the majority of those listed in need of assistance in recent months have not been IDPs. They have also reported that some households have been deliberately allocated food rations insufficient for their size.

 

These reports are what are driving concerns that local authorities are trying to rid the zone of Gedeos. It is only in the past month that humanitarian agencies have been allowed to carry out formal verification checks before carrying out aid distributions.

 

“We’re talking about systematic breaches of humanitarian principles – it’s tragic, actually, and it keeps on going,” the head of one international NGO working in the area told IRIN on condition of anonymity, due to concerns his group could lose access if it was openly critical.

 

Food aid blocked

 

In Gedeo, food distribution in Gotiti and certain other sites near the border with West Guji has been blocked since August in order to encourage IDPs to return to Oromia, aid workers and officials working with international organisations told IRIN, also on condition of anonymity.

 

It is unclear whether this policy comes from the higher levels of the federal government. However, according to aid workers, a federal official from the newly formed Ministry of Peace visited Gedeo in December and instructed agencies not to give assistance at these sites.

“This is an enormous problem for the government, but what is tragic is they are not accepting the support we are offering. They are forbidding us from operating.”

The Ministry of Peace has since said that more than a million people displaced due to conflicts around the country – over 90 percent of the total – have now returned to their villages, a claim that many aid workers said they doubted.

 

“This is an enormous problem for the government,” said a senior official with an international organisation working in the area. “But what is tragic is they are not accepting the support we are offering. They are forbidding us from operating.”

 

According to Ayyale Maaro Bokko, head of the local administration of Gedeb, where Gotiti is located, all displaced Gedeos will receive humanitarian assistance in West Guji should they return.

 

“We encourage them to go back and get the necessary support there. The government is fully supporting those who are in West Guji now,” he said, adding that any insecurity in the region would soon be resolved.

 

According to the African Union’s Kampala Convention on IDPs – which Ethiopia has signed but still not ratified – displaced persons are entitled to freedom of movement and to adequate humanitarian assistance wherever they need it.

 

But in the past month aid workers have reported that local authorities in West Guji have told them they cannot give assistance to IDPs who refuse to return to their original villages.

 

In Gedeo, Abraham Dube, the leader of a committee of IDPs in Gotiti, said he had tried returning to Oromia as many as four times since April. He now lives with four families – 30 people in total – in a single four-square-metre tent.

 

He said six people had died from malnutrition in his camp (known as ‘Spring Site’) and that he had not had any contact with government officials for the duration of his time there. He and all other IDPs in Gedeo – including those in other parts of the district who have been receiving humanitarian assistance – told IRIN they didn’t believe it was safe to return to Oromia.

 

“We have nothing here,” said Abraham. “We grew up there and our land is there. But unless the government brings peace, we will die here.”

(TOP PHOTO: Some 20,000-30,000 displaced people now live in makeshift shelters like these in the village of Gotiti. CREDIT: Tom Gardner/IRIN)

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“Unless the government brings peace, we will die here” Ethiopia’s neglected crisis: No easy way home for doubly displaced Gedeos Tom Gardner News feature Migration Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics GEDEO/Ethiopia IRIN Africa East Africa Ethiopia HORN OF AFRICA
Categories: Gender Parity

Ethiopia’s neglected crisis: No easy way home for doubly displaced Gedeos

IRIN Gender - Thu, 02/28/2019 - 11:23

When the men came with their guns and their knives, Meret Sisay’s mother stopped them at the door to their home in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, while the 18-year-old slipped out the back and fled for her life.

 

It was the second time in less than a year that Meret – like thousands of others from the Gedeo community who have lived in Oromia’s West Guji zone for decades – had been chased from her village because of her ethnicity.

 

A merry-go-round of forced evictions by groups of armed young men and government-pressured returns has left tens of thousands of ethnic Gedeos trapped in dire conditions in makeshift shelters across this part of southern Ethiopia.

 

Now in the village of Gotiti, in the Gedeo district of the Southern region that borders Oromia, Meret is one of an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 internally displaced people living in overcrowded shelters without roofs and sanitation as the rainy season approaches.

 

The Ethiopian government has not formally acknowledged Gotiti's inhabitants as IDPs eligible for humanitarian aid.

Aid workers say food assistance for IDPs in several areas near the border with West Guji, including Gotiti, has been blocked in order to encourage inhabitants to return to Oromia. They also say they’re worried about the spread of infectious diseases.

 

When IRIN visited in February, families of up to 10 individuals were living in wooden shelters well below UN standards for camp shelter space. Many children had swollen bellies – a sign of malnutrition – as well as scabies, diarrhoea, and other indications of unhygienic living conditions.

 

Meret was one of almost one million Ethiopians uprooted between April and June by ethnic violence in this part of the country, after Gedeos were accused by their Oromo neighbours of trying to annex land and resources.

 

In December, after she and her seven siblings had followed government orders and returned home, she became one of around 15,000 who fled Oromia once again for the safety of Gedeo district.

 

Those that arrived in Gedeo reported tales of castration, the cutting off of limbs, and gang rape by local youth and armed rebels, as well as general intimidation and extortion.

Tom Gardner/IRIN Meret Sisay, 18, was forced to flee her home in West Guji twice last year. Now in the village of Gotiti, she lives in a makeshift shelter like thousands of other Gedeos.

Meret had been back in her village for only two days before armed groups of young men began harassing her and her family. “When we arrived back we started building houses,” she told IRIN. “But [the men] took everything the government had given us... They sent us back empty-handed.”

 

‘At night they come in mobs’

 

In total, more than 1.4 million Ethiopians were forced from their homes in the first half of last year – the largest internal displacement anywhere in the world in 2018 – as ethnic and land-fuelled conflicts exploded across the country following the appointment of reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the end of authoritarianism, which for decades had kept a lid on such tensions.

 

The policy of the federal government is that displaced households should be safely returned to the communities from which they were evicted, though in some cases resettlement may be possible for those who do not wish to go back.

 

A new ‘Action Plan’ drawn up in February by the National Disaster Risk Management Commission, or NDRMC, aims to resettle or return all IDPs within 60 days. A survey will determine which ones are expected to return to their original homes and which will be resettled elsewhere.

 

The NDRMC’s commissioner, Mitiku Kassa, said the tight deadline was because of the approaching rains and the need for farmers to prepare their lands in time to plant crops. “Otherwise they will be dependent on food aid next year as well,” he said.

 

Mitiku told IRIN he expected displaced Gedeos to return to their original homes. “We don’t have any plan to resettle Gedeos,” he said.

 

Aid workers, as well as the IDPs themselves, expressed concern about the timeline for returns, which according to UN guidelines should be safe, voluntary, sustainable, and dignified.

 

Several previous attempts to send Gedeos back to Oromia – sometimes by simply putting them on trucks and buses – have backfired. For example, mass displacement occurred in June last year shortly after the return of many of those evicted two months earlier.

 

A survey conducted by the government and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, at the end of last year found that at least 90 percent of IDPs in Gedeo did not want to return yet.

 

“The government is saying we have to go back,” said Bekele Worasa, 45, a coffee farmer currently living in Gotiti. “But how can we do that when there are people dying there still?”

 

“During the day it seems peaceful,” said Tegeno Tiba, 86, now living in an orphanage in the Gedeo town of Chelelektu. “But at night they come in mobs, singing and dancing. You can hear gunshots, and they throw stones. They harass and intimidate us.”

 

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Berhanu Seid, 36, is from West Guji, where he lived with his family of eight. Now displaced in the town of Chelelektu, Gedeo, he stays with extended family and receives food aid from World Vision International. 2 / 3

Tegeno Tiba, 86, spent his whole life in West Guji, until nine months ago when he was displaced to Chelelektu in Gedeo. He now lives in an orphanage and survives on food aid. He has not returned home since. 3 / 3

Bekele Worasa, 45, is a coffee farmer and IDP committee leader. Since December, he has lived in a shelter around the Mekane Yesus Church in Gotiti, together with his wife and 11 children.

 

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Aid workers worry that the deadline could be connected to the upcoming national census, which is due to start in April and may further complicate the situation in West Guji, where tensions between the ethnic groups have been exacerbated by anxieties about their respective population sizes.

 

The 2007 census found that 14 percent of the wider West Guji zone were Gedeo, and 79 percent Oromo.

 

Berhanu Fekele of World Vision International explained how Oromos in Kercha, West Guji’s most unstable district, believed Gedeos had become the most populous ethnic group. This, he said, is what prompted the claims that Gedeos planned to annex it from Oromia and sparked the conflict.

 

“You want to reverse-move people before a census and hope it doesn’t kick off?” one aid worker asked, concerned there would be further violence once the census begins in April. “That is what really keeps me up at night.”

In places like Kercha, returning Gedeos are now sheltering in makeshift “collection centres” around the main town like coffee marketplaces or churches because they fear it is too dangerous to return to their villages. Many say their properties have been stolen or destroyed.

 

Tom Gardner/IRIN Leaders of the IDP committee in Gedeo say several thousand people live in a makeshift shelter near the Mekane Yesus Church in Gotiti village.

Moreover, since August, NGOs working in West Guji have repeatedly expressed concern that returning Gedeos were being excluded from the lists of those in need of humanitarian assistance drawn up by local authorities.

Ethiopia’s government tightly controls the process of determining those in need. Under its system of ethnically organised federalism that power is in the hands of low-level officials who may, according to aid workers, show bias towards those of their own ethnicity.

 

Agencies operating in West Guji have reported that in some places the majority of those listed in need of assistance in recent months have not been IDPs. They have also reported that some households have been deliberately allocated food rations insufficient for their size.

 

These reports are what are driving concerns that local authorities are trying to rid the zone of Gedeos. It is only in the past month that humanitarian agencies have been allowed to carry out formal verification checks before carrying out aid distributions.

 

“We’re talking about systematic breaches of humanitarian principles – it’s tragic, actually, and it keeps on going,” the head of one international NGO working in the area told IRIN on condition of anonymity, due to concerns his group could lose access if it was openly critical.

 

Food aid blocked

 

In Gedeo, food distribution in Gotiti and certain other sites near the border with West Guji has been blocked since August in order to encourage IDPs to return to Oromia, aid workers and officials working with international organisations told IRIN, also on condition of anonymity.

 

It is unclear whether this policy comes from the higher levels of the federal government. However, according to aid workers, a federal official from the newly formed Ministry of Peace visited Gedeo in December and instructed agencies not to give assistance at these sites.

“This is an enormous problem for the government, but what is tragic is they are not accepting the support we are offering. They are forbidding us from operating.”

The Ministry of Peace has since said that more than a million people displaced due to conflicts around the country – over 90 percent of the total – have now returned to their villages, a claim that many aid workers said they doubted.

 

“This is an enormous problem for the government,” said a senior official with an international organisation working in the area. “But what is tragic is they are not accepting the support we are offering. They are forbidding us from operating.”

 

According to Ayyale Maaro Bokko, head of the local administration of Gedeb, where Gotiti is located, all displaced Gedeos will receive humanitarian assistance in West Guji should they return.

 

“We encourage them to go back and get the necessary support there. The government is fully supporting those who are in West Guji now,” he said, adding that any insecurity in the region would soon be resolved.

 

According to the African Union’s Kampala Convention on IDPs – which Ethiopia has signed but still not ratified – displaced persons are entitled to freedom of movement and to adequate humanitarian assistance wherever they need it.

 

But in the past month aid workers have reported that local authorities in West Guji have told them they cannot give assistance to IDPs who refuse to return to their original villages.

 

In Gedeo, Abraham Dube, the leader of a committee of IDPs in Gotiti, said he had tried returning to Oromia as many as four times since April. He now lives with four families – 30 people in total – in a single four-square-metre tent.

 

He said six people had died from malnutrition in his camp (known as ‘Spring Site’) and that he had not had any contact with government officials for the duration of his time there. He and all other IDPs in Gedeo – including those in other parts of the district who have been receiving humanitarian assistance – told IRIN they didn’t believe it was safe to return to Oromia.

 

“We have nothing here,” said Abraham. “We grew up there and our land is there. But unless the government brings peace, we will die here.”

(TOP PHOTO: Some 20,000-30,000 displaced people now live in makeshift shelters like these in the village of Gotiti. CREDIT: Tom Gardner/IRIN)

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“Unless the government brings peace, we will die here” Ethiopia’s neglected crisis: No easy way home for doubly displaced Gedeos gotiti_1920.jpg Tom Gardner News feature Migration Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics GEDEO/Ethiopia IRIN Africa East Africa Ethiopia HORN OF AFRICA
Categories: Gender Parity

Why Venezuelan migrants need to be regarded as refugees

IRIN Gender - Wed, 02/27/2019 - 06:36

How we treat Venezuelans in exile will shape the future trajectory of their country and the wider region.

Some 3.4 million Venezuelans have now fled economic and political collapse. More than 1.1 million of them are in Colombia. And yet the Colombian government has recognised that displaced Venezuelans don’t have to be a burden; they can contribute economically, provided the right policies are adopted and there is adequate international support.

Colombia is allowing Venezuelans who regularise their migration status to work and access public services, even at great cost to the state. And although over half a million Venezuelans are still in an irregular situation because they require a passport from Venezuela in order to regularise their status, there are signs even this may change.

Read more: Venezuela: Millions at risk, at home and abroad

The Colombian government is trying to adapt its public employment service to support integration. In that sense, it follows in the footsteps of countries like Uganda and Turkey, which, despite receiving more than a million refugees, have viewed socio-economic integration, rather than encampment, as both the appropriate policy response and an opportunity for national development.

But the international community is slow to follow.

Most UN agencies and donors remain focused on providing humanitarian assistance at the borders. This contrasts with the global zeitgeist, and the Global Compact on Refugees’ focus on development-based approaches to displacement. The World Bank is among the few organisations to make the leap, making Colombia eligible for funding on the basis of facing a mass influx situation.

Part of the reason for the absence of development-based support is that Colombia and its neighbours are middle-income countries. But a major part of it is also how Venezuelans are labelled. Describing them as ‘refugees’ would draw in a governance apparatus that today includes development actors. But the Venezuelans are being labelled as ‘migrants’ and that is shaping the governance response and the degree of engagement by UNHCR and others.

The Venezuelan crisis parallels the Zimbabwean exodus of the early 2000s. Between 2003 and 2010, some two million Zimbabweans fled across to South Africa and other neighbouring states. Like Venezuelans, most were fleeing the economic consequences of the underlying political situations, rather than political persecution per se. Basic services were no longer available; poor governance and hyperinflation had ravaged the economy. Most were not recognised as refugees; they were ‘survival migrants’, fleeing fragile and failed states but not recognised as refugees.

Legally, it is incontrovertible that most Venezuelans fit the 1984 Cartagena Declaration definition of a refugee; they are clearly fleeing ‘massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order’. But, as with Zimbabweans in the early 2000s, there are strong interests in not invoking the ‘refugee’ label. And there is the valid question of what value the ‘refugee’ label would actually add given that Colombia already has a backlog of over 2,000 people in its asylum system – registering Venezuelans for refugee status determination would be slow and cumbersome, and few Venezuelans are actively seeking international protection.

Development assistance must be unlocked

The risk of being at the margins of global refugee governance, as the Venezuelan exodus is, is that host countries are not receiving the support and guidance that befits the world’s biggest current displacement crisis.

The IOM-UNHCR joint platform helps coordinate humanitarian aid and their joint special envoy, Eduardo Stein, offers valuable advocacy. But, today, the relevant governance innovations that bring support for the socio-economic inclusion of displaced populations come through the global refugee regime. UNHCR’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), for example, would be highly relevant to Colombia and other neighbouring states, if it were applied. It offers a mechanism for engaging development actors and the private sector in supporting opportunities for Venezuelans and citizens alike. But it is simply not on the table.

Even if Venezuelans are seen as survival migrants rather than refugees, the most relevant policy responses can still be derived from historical responses to refugees. The Mexico City Plan of Action of 2004, for example, elaborated two concepts for refuge in Latin America: ‘Cities of Solidarity’ (Ciudades Solidarias) and ‘Borders of Solidarity’ (Fronteras Solidarias).

Even if we don’t call it a ‘refugee’ crisis, the best solutions are likely to be those that have worked for refugees.

For host cities and border zones, development plans are needed that offer new employment opportunities for both Venezuelans and receiving country citizens. In Colombia, initial research by UNHCR suggests that Venezuelans might fill important gaps in the fast food sector or the seasonal flower industry, for example. In the border zones, there may be different types of opportunity. In La Guajira, for example, the ecotourism industry has potential. In Norte de Santander, textiles or agriculture might offer employment.

A number of other countries have already used the mass influx of refugees as an opportunity for regional development in remote border areas. Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for instance benefited immensely from the local integration of Guatemalan refugees during the 1990s. Uganda has attracted development assistance to remote border areas in both the South-West and Nile Valley regions of the country, for example. In Colombia, relations between the central and local governments are often strained, but new resources may offer the chance to build a new relationship between central government and the border areas.

Arguably the most successful precedent of channelling development assistance to support refugees comes from the region. The International Conference on Refugees in Central America (CIREFCA) of 1989 outlined a range of development programmes to support refugees’ economic integration. It attracted around half a billion dollars of investment, mainly from European donors and the United States.

Crucially, the conference was not a one-off pledging conference but a multi-year process that built trust and credibility, and included concrete follow-up mechanisms. It involved leadership by an inter-agency secretariat. Of particular relevance, CIREFCA focused not just on ‘refugees’, but also ‘externally displaced persons’ and ‘internally displaced persons’.

Might a similar ‘International Conference on Venezuelan Migrants’, for example, serve as a catalyst for a development-based approach? Such ‘solidarity conferences’ are a key part of the Global Compact on Refugees, and the Venezuelan context might offer opportunity for one of the first such events. It could serve the host countries of the entire region, including Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Chile under the ethos of ‘Venezuelan migration as an opportunity for development’.

Regardless of whether there is consensus for such a process, international engagement for both humanitarian and development is urgently needed. And irrespective of how we label the crisis and the affected population, Latin America’s own history offers a litany of relevant practices.

Even if we don’t call it a ‘refugee’ crisis, the best solutions are likely to be those that have worked for refugees. What is at stake is not only the needs of millions of Venezuelans but also the future stability and prosperity of the region.

(TOP PHOTO: Venezuelan migrants climb on a truck on the road from Cúcuta to Pamplona, Colombia, on 10 February 2019. CREDIT: Raul Arboleda/AFP)

afpdontreuse_000_1da5os_1280.jpg Opinion Migration Human Rights Politics and Economics Why Venezuelan migrants need to be regarded as refugees Alexander Betts IRIN OXFORD UK Americas Venezuela Colombia
Categories: Gender Parity

South Sudan clashes, local aid partners, and a €500 million grant: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 02/15/2019 - 07:23

IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar Thousands flee renewed violence in South Sudan

Last week, UN envoy for South Sudan David Shearer said fighting had “diminished greatly” since a September peace agreement. He may have spoken too soon. It has since emerged that clashes in the Equatoria region have displaced about 8,000 people internally and sent 5,000 more fleeing across the border into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which is in the midst of an Ebola outbreak. Most of the refugees and IDPs are women, children, and the elderly – many traumatised after they “witnessed violent incidents, including armed men reportedly murdering and raping civilians and looting villages," according to Babar Baloch, spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. The clashes began last month between the army and the National Salvation Front, or NAS, one of more than 70 armed groups in South Sudan – and one that didn’t sign last year's accord. Five years of civil war have left 1.9 million South Sudanese internally displaced and 2.4 million living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

Overhead costs in focus for world’s largest aid grant

The World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are among those competing with the UN's World Food Programme for a €500 million European Commission grant. The project supports 1.5 million refugees with cash allowances in Turkey. It’s the largest single humanitarian grant in the world, accounting for about 31 percent of the EC’s emergency aid budget. One of the issues will be indirect costs. A recent EC audit questioned the seven percent overhead fee paid to WFP (to be reduced to 6.5%), which ran the first phase of the project. WFP told IRIN it is following the financial rules set by its board, which includes EU member states. The Emergency Social Safety Net project is largely implemented by the Turkish Red Crescent. Its chief, Kerem Kinik, in a statement to IRIN, declined to back a bidder, saying his organisation "remains in promotion of an impactful and cost-efficient programme design".

Yemen heading towards ‘catastrophe’: UN experts

The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen released its annual report to the public this week. It makes for grim reading on 2018, a period during which the country “continued its slide towards humanitarian and economic catastrophe”. In 224 pages, the group details “widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by the various parties involved in the conflict”. Tip: For the group’s look at humanitarian assistance – including the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s obstruction of civilian flights out of Sana’a, and the Houthi rebels’ arrest of aid workers and interference in the selection of aid beneficiaries – skip to page 56. In other Yemen news, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would end the country’s support for the war. It still has to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and President Donald Trump’s pen. If you’re confused, yes, last year a similar resolution failed in the House and passed in the Senate, but members have come and gone since then, and the resolution has changed too.

Counting the cost of internal displacement

People displaced within their own borders could be costing the global economy nearly $13 billion a year, according to new research by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Researchers assessed costs for eight countries experiencing conflicts or disasters, including Central African Republic, Libya, the Philippines, South Sudan, and Yemen. CAR was found to have the highest financial impact for each displaced person – about $230 million, or 11 percent of the country's GDP, per year. The research found that the highest burdens come from lost income, support for housing, and healthcare. People in low-income countries were also impacted worse than those in lower-middle or upper-middle income countries. Internal displacement "places a heavy burden on the economy," said Alexandra Bilak, director of the IDMC, "generating specific needs that must be paid for by those affected, their hosts, governments or aid providers". For more on how IDPs need greater protection, read this opinion we published earlier in the week.

Examining aid partnerships

Major donors and aid groups have made broad promises to “localise” aid – putting more power and funding in the hands of locals when crises hit. But change has been slow on the ground, to the frustration of many local NGOs, as we’ve documented in our continuing reporting on locally driven aid. So how can local and international groups make this all work? New research examines aid partnerships in four countries – Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Sudan – to look at what kinds of practices might contribute to “localising” aid. There are the positives (locals participating in project design and budgeting), and the negatives (internationals taking credit for local work). But, unsurprisingly, most of the local humanitarians interviewed in the studies said existing partnerships between international and local organisations are not equitable – closer to the subcontracting that characterises many aid relationships. Yet genuine, long-term partnerships are seen as the most likely to accelerate “localisation” reforms. The ongoing research, which you can read here, comes from a consortium of NGOs including Action Aid, CAFOD, CARE, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and Tearfund.

‘I am free from the conflict, but I do not feel free’

The number of child soldiers around the world has more than doubled since 2012, according to Child Soldiers International’s analysis of six years of UN reports on children and armed conflict. The latest report verified 8,185 cases of child recruitment in 15 countries – a 159 percent rise on the 3,159 cases verified in 2012.

Co-produced by a former child soldier, a new project brings to life the voices of 27 children who were recruited into conflict in northern Uganda. There’s a taster below, but you can view the full comic here.

© YOLRED and courtesy of Jassi Sandhar (University of Bristol)

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In case you missed it

Germany: The German authorities have arrested two former officers of Bashar al-Assad’s secret service alleged to have tortured critics of the Syrian president. A third man is reported to have been arrested in France. Germany accepts the principle of universal jurisdiction, allowing its courts to try individuals accused of international crimes committed elsewhere – including war crimes, crimes against humanity, even genocide.

Haiti: After more than a week of protests over corruption amid soaring prices and inflation, President Jovenel Moïse finally broke his silence on Thursday, refusing to step down and urging patience. At least seven people have been killed during demonstrations sparked by anger at the government and the business elite over a $2 billion development aid scandal. More protests and street gunfire was reported in the capital, Port-au-Prince, after Moïse’s speech.

Kashmir: The deadliest militant attack to hit Indian-administered Kashmir in three decades killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary troops this week, raising tensions in a disputed region that has seen frequent civilian demonstrations against military abuses. The bomb blast was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e Mohammad, a banned Islamist group.

Myanmar: The military is shelling villages and blocking humanitarian access in Rakhine State, according to Amnesty International. Rights groups say some of the same army divisions involved in the violent 2017 ouster of 700,000 Rohingya – labelled as a likely genocide by UN investigators – are now being deployed in a crackdown on the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army.

Sudan: Sudanese government forces have used "extreme violence and shocking abuses" against largely peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said, urging the UN to conduct an independent investigation into the violations. Activists estimate that more than 50 people have died since anti-government demonstrations began in mid-December, while at least 79 journalists have reportedly been arrested.

  Weekend read International politics and humanitarian aid collide in Venezuela

The new D-Day for Venezuela is 23 February. This is when opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó has said humanitarian aid will enter the country to alleviate the suffering of Venezuelans gripped by widespread shortages of food and medicine. Guaidó has urged the armed forces, who remain loyal to President Nicolás Maduro, to allow the aid in. But there’s no indication Maduro, whose presidency Guaidó denounces as illegitimate, intends to do any such thing. In our weekend read, journalist Paula Dupraz-Dobias unpicks the different strands of what has become an international aid stand-off, with aid agencies caught in the middle and uncertain what to do next. This briefing is essential reading as the showdown continues to obscure a humanitarian crisis that may be denied by Maduro, but shows no sign of letting up.

And finally

We recommend you check out this entry to the New York Times’ Lens blog, which features the work of photographer Wesaam al-Badry. Al-Badry and his family fled Iraq just before the Gulf War for Nebraska, and his photos beautifully document their life in the United States, warts and all. There are weddings, a prison release ankle monitor, and an Arabic-language American newspaper. “My family are not one dimensional characters in a refugee story,” al-Badry says. “They have multiple layers, they have their own personalities, their own agency and ways of manoeuvring through life.”

(TOP PHOTO: A child holds up a map in the Protection of Civilians site in Bor, South Sudan. CREDIT: JC McIlwaine​/UN Photo)

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jc_mcilwaine_un_photo.jpg News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics South Sudan clashes, local aid partners, and a €500 million grant IRIN Geneva Uganda Sudan South Sudan Americas Venezuela Haiti India Myanmar Germany Global Iraq Yemen
Categories: Gender Parity

Madagascar measles, Venezuela aid, and a dodgy data deal: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 02/08/2019 - 10:46

IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar MSF rejects claims it didn’t follow plans to avoid Yemen bombing

An investigation into the bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières cholera treatment centre in Yemen in June 2018 has “dismayed” the NGO. A panel appointed by the Saudi Arabia-led alliance found that the new and still-empty building had been bombed by the coalition in “an unintended error”. The investigators, however, disputed details of how the location’s coordinates were supplied to Riyadh and whether there were markings on the roof of the building identifying it as a humanitarian site. At a Riyadh press conference in mid-January, the official spokesman for the investigators said the coalition was acting on intelligence the building was used for arms and ammunition storage. MSF said the findings were “unacceptable and contradictory”, noting that under international law, “It is the sole responsibility of armed parties to the conflict to proactively take all necessary measures to ensure that protected facilities are not attacked.” For more on notifications and coordinates, read our IRIN explainer on “deconfliction”.

Measles kills more than 300 in Madagascar

Madagascar is suffering its worst measles outbreak in decades. More than 50,000 people have been infected and at least 300 killed, most of them children, according to health officials. Cases have been reported in all major towns and cities, as well as in rural areas. Supported by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, the government has initiated fresh vaccination campaigns. Deaths from measles are avoidable if such campaigns are thorough enough. The virus gained ground in Madagascar as immunisation rates fell below 50 percent (from the recommended 90 percent), mostly due to access difficulties. This IRIN story from the archives is evidence that this is not a new problem: health experts were expressing concerns about falling rates (then from 81 percent to 64 percent) as far back as 2011. Although worst hit, Madagascar is not alone in having to tackle the virus. Measles has also struck parts of the United States and Europe, where cases tripled last year. Health authorities in the Philippines are also urging immunisations following an outbreak in Manila and nearby regions that has left 1,500 people infected and caused at least 25 deaths.

Atrocities feared amid rising militancy in Burkina Faso

Attacks and counter-attacks between militants and security forces in Burkina Faso are taking a heavy toll on civilians. This week, jihadists attacked the northern village of Kain near the Malian border, killing 14 people. Security forces retaliated, launching ground and air assaults that left 146 militants dead. Soon after, another attack in Oursi in the Sahel Region left 21 militants and five gendarmes dead. Human Rights Watch has called out atrocities on both sides, saying the army "executed" some suspected militants in front of their own families. The UN says persistent armed attacks and violence displaced 36,000 people in January alone, as insecurity risks impeded access to aid. For three years, Burkina Faso has been battling an escalating wave of attacks, while regional Sahel neighbours Mali and Niger face similar threats. Rising militancy across Africa is a trend we’re  watching in 2019.

Aid stuck on Venezuela border

As a former Venezuelan diplomat now working with the opposition as a go-between with international aid groups in Geneva told IRIN  this week, the current situation is “something that doesn’t make any sense”. The Venezuelan people are desperately short of food and medicine, some three to four million people have fled the country since 2015, and their president, Nicolás Maduro, is refusing to allow humanitarian aid in. That’s not to say the offers of assistance, from the United States in particular, might not be something of a Trojan Horse. Maduro says, “no one will enter, not one invading soldier”, and the United States has a chequered past of military intervention and regime change in Latin America. For now, the aid arriving in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta is going nowhere. Maduro’s forces have blocked the bridge into Venezuela and seem to have no intention of allowing it in. Opposition leader and self-declared president-in-waiting Juan Guaidó has suggested stockpiling it in three locations at the border in the hope this will change. More from on this unfolding story next week.

Mixed picture in South Sudan as refugees return

Political violence has “dropped dramatically" since the signing of September's peace deal, David Shearer, the UN envoy in South Sudan, said in the same week that nine people were killed in clashes between rebel factions in the Western Equatoria region. More than 20,000 South Sudanese refugees have so far voluntarily returned from neighbouring Uganda, according to Joel Boutroue, the UN refugee agency's representative in Uganda. However, in December, UNHCR said that despite reduced violence in some areas, South Sudan was not yet "conducive” for the safe return of refugees. Although Shearer praised some of the "positive" developments in recent months, including rebel leader Riek Machar's plan to return to Juba in May, he also flagged concerns about ongoing conflict and a loss of momentum in the peace process, with recent meetings reportedly lacking substance or real outcomes.

One to listen to:

In this week’s story on Yemen’s shaky ceasefire deal, we mentioned that Yemeni rights watchdog Mwatana for Human Rights had documented 624 civilian cases of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture in 2018. Here’s your chance to find out more about where that number came from: Radya al-Mutawakel, the organisation’s co-founder, is interviewed at length on the latest episode of the International Rescue Committee’s podcast, “Displaced”. She talks about the challenges of independently verifying information on human rights violations in the midst of a divisive war, including airstrikes, torture, disappearances, and detention, and explains why she thinks it is important to build what she calls a “human rights memory” in Yemen. Al-Mutawakel and Mwatana’s latest challenge? Figuring out how to document starvation as a  violation, as the link between victim and perpetrator is not always clear cut.

*/ In case you missed it

Ethiopia: In 2009, Ethiopia banned local NGOs from raising more than 10 percent of income from abroad. The provision in the law governing civil society was criticised as a means to stifle dissent. Local media report that new rules lifting the limit have passed the Ethiopian parliament this week, part of wide-ranging reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

 

Syria: A joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy arrived on Thursday at Rukban, an informal camp located in a no man’s land near the Syria-Jordan border. The last delivery of aid to more than 40,000 people sheltering in the area known as “the berm” was in November.

 

Tonga: Authorities in the Pacific Island nation are warning of gale-force winds, floods, and damaging waves as a tropical depression brushes past the country over the weekend. Last year, Cyclone Gita landed a direct hit on parts of Tonga, including its main island, Tongatapu.

 

Yemen: This week’s Amman talks on a Yemen prisoner swap have not yet resulted in agreement on the lists of names to be exchanged, but a UN spokesman said separate talks on a UN boat had yielded a “preliminary compromise” on withdrawing forces from Hodeidah. For background, read this.

  Weekend read New UN deal with data mining firm Palantir raises protection concerns

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ll be aware of our weekend read: CIA-funded data-mining company Palantir signs a $45 million five-year deal to help the UN’s World Food Programme pool its data and find cost-saving efficiencies. To say data privacy and protection activists are unamused is an understatement: this is a company that provided software to US customs officials to help them deport migrants. “The recipients of WFP aid are already in extremely vulnerable situations; they should not be put at additional risk of harm or exploitation,” Privacy International told IRIN’s Ben Parker. But WFP insists there will be no “data-sharing”, and hit back with a statement outlining its thinking and the safeguards it feels are in place. This wasn’t enough, however, to assuage critics, who penned an open letter to WFP urging them to reconsider the agreement and be more transparent. As Centre for Innovation protection experts suggest here, this isn’t a new conundrum, and the Palantir furore might jolt the humanitarian sector into some belated engagement on data privacy and protection concerns.

 

And finally... Hot in here

The last four years have been the four warmest years on record, according to separate analyses released this week by organisations including NASA and the WMO, the UN’s meteorological agency. Analysts say it’s a “clear sign” of long-term climate change, along with “extreme and high-impact weather” that affected millions. The WMO says the average global temperature in 2018 was 1.0° Celsius above pre-industrial levels – climate scientists say temperature rise must be limited to less than 2.0° to stave off the worst impacts.

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Categories: Gender Parity

“No indication” Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem will close

IRIN Gender - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 09:57

The UN’s agency for Palestine refugees has had “no indication” its schools in East Jerusalem will be closed, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said Tuesday.

 

The Jerusalem municipality has since October said it would seek to close or challenge UNRWA’s presence in East Jerusalem. But, attending a public event moderated by IRIN in Geneva, Krähenbühl said the Israeli government hadn’t notified the UN of any such plans.

 

“Our framework and the cooperation between UNRWA and Israel is regulated by an agreement that goes back to the ‘60s, and there has been no indication by the [Israeli] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of any change,” he said. “The position is clear.”

 

According to information published on UNRWA’s website, some 3,100 Palestinian students attend seven UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem, which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians. The UN considers the territory to be occupied by Israel.

 

“At this stage it is clear all schools of UNRWA, all health centres, and other installations in East Jerusalem are open and operating,” Krähenbühl said. “We will of course follow how that develops.”

 

The UNRWA chief was in Geneva to appeal for $1.2 billion, the amount the agency says it needs to raise in 2019 to keep services for some 5.4 million registered Palestine refugees consistent with last year.

 

In 2018, the United States – until then UNRWA’s largest donor – cut $300 million in funding for the agency, which supports Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza with healthcare, schooling, food, and other aid.

 

Krähenbühl said 40 countries increased their donations to fill the gap left by the United States, but 2019 “will remain a rough year to get the same level [of funding] as last year”.

 

While the US cuts were a serious hit, 2018 is not the first time UNRWA – short for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – has been in dire financial straits.

 

Krähenbühl blamed UNRWA’s recurring financial crises on the fact that the agency, which began operations in 1950, was meant to be a short-term stop-gap until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved.

 

“One of the reasons why historically the funding was not stable or sustainable was that the very concept of UNRWA was not supposed to be sustainable or stable,” he said.

 

“The international community has a huge responsibility to shift the emphasis from what we have seen over the past 70 years – collective fascination with conflict management – and you get 70 years of UNRWA – when in fact one should be focusing on conflict resolution, which is of course much more difficult.”

 

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Categories: Gender Parity