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An Afghan “execution”, fish smuggling, and landslide watchers: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 07/12/2019 - 08:41

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

On our radar Afghan forces kill NGO health workers, rights group says

Afghan special forces “executed” four civilians, including at least two NGO workers, in a nighttime raid on a health clinic in Wardak Province on 8 July, Human Rights Watch says. The NGO that runs the clinic, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, called it a “shocking violation against international humanitarian law”. The NGO’s director said security forces killed one person accompanying a patient before shooting three others, including two SCA employees. SCA said the clinic is funded by the Afghan government. Humanitarian groups frequently work in both government-controlled areas as well as insurgent territory, and local health workers say they face threats from both sides, especially in contested zones. The UN says 77 aid workers have been killed, injured, or abducted this year in Afghanistan – already eclipsing last year’s total of 76. Pro-government and international military forces have killed more civilians than the Taliban and other insurgents combined in 2019, according to the UN.

The economics of terrorism in the lake Chad basin

The Boko Haram splinter group, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), is helping fishing communities in the Lake Chad region circumvent a trading ban imposed by the Nigerian military, and in doing so is cementing its influence in the region. The military’s ban is a heavy-handed attempt to deny ISWAP profits from the multi-million dollar dried fish business. But the impact has been to impoverish the local community, stoking resentment against the government – especially as elements within the Nigerian military are alleged to be engaged in the trade themselves. The Institute for Security Studies notes that ISWAP has secured alternative routes through Cameroon and back into Nigeria to avoid the embargo – “endearing itself to the locals and boosting its revenues.” Look out for our upcoming report on ISWAP and the proto-state it is building in the Lake Chad basin.

West Africa’s crisis of inequality

Inequality in West Africa is “at crisis levels” says Oxfam. A clear majority of the region’s citizens are denied “the most essential elements of a dignified life” – access to quality education, healthcare and decent work. Inequality is exacerbated by government underfunding of social services and the agricultural sector while at the same time under-taxing corporations and the wealthy, and failing to clamp down on tax evasion, tax avoidance and corruption – with illicit financial flows from Africa to the West alone worth more than $50 billion. The best performing countries on Oxfam’s Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index are Cape Verde and Mauritania, with Sierra Leone and Nigeria at the bottom. Nigeria is home to the continent’s richest men but globally has the highest number of people living in poverty.

Bombed detention centre is evacuated

More details have emerged about last week’s airstrike on a migrant detention centre in the Libyan capital that killed more than 50 people, including six children. A New York Times investigation, which includes harrowing security footage from inside the Tripoli building, shows that Tajoura, which housed more than 600 migrants and refugees, was less than 90 metres from a militia weapons depot. The air raid first hit the weapons cache, leading some people to flee the centre (despite reported shooting by guards). Eleven minutes later, Tajoura itself was hit. Not everyone was immediately evacuated from the centre and Tajoura was only finally closed on Wednesday, the UN said. Survivors who are not in hospital have been moved to another facility, which it called “badly overcrowded”.

Citizen data shapes landslide predictions

Researchers with NASA, the US space agency, are relying on citizen scientists to learn more about a decidedly terrestrial problem: global landslide risk. Over the last year, citizen scientists supplied information on 162 previously-undetected landslides in 37 countries. NASA says the collaboration, detailed this month in the journal PLOS ONE, will “immensely improve” its global landslide prediction model. Most of NASA’s landslide info comes from English-language news reports, which tend to focus on headline-grabbing disasters while other landslides go unrecorded. Why does it matter? This model currently helps scientists anticipate rain-triggered landslide threats around the world every 30 minutes. Landslides kill thousands of people each year, and the majority happen in Asia during monsoon seasons. In Bangladesh, where the monsoon began in June, the Rohingya refugee camps are on high alert (thousands have already been displaced), as are the nearby hill tract districts, where once-rare landslide casualties are becoming increasingly common.

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SUDAN: Sudan’s ruling military council says it foiled an attempted coup on Thursday night. The announcement came as the military and pro-democracy movement were working on a power-sharing deal. Meanwhile, the lifting of an internet ban has allowed the circulation of cellphone clips from the military’s bloody crackdown on civilian activists on 3 June. The BBC has pieced together some of the disturbing footage.

KASHMIR: India and Pakistan have done little to curb rights abuses in disputed Kashmir, the UN’s human rights office warned in a report this week. Local rights groups in Indian-administered Kashmir say civilian deaths are at a 10-year high, and this year threatens to surpass the last.

YEMEN PULLOUT: The United Arab Emirates, which along with Saudi Arabia leads a coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, is withdrawing most of its troops from the country. The UAE led an advance towards the port city of Hodeidah before a ceasefire agreement last December, but has already pulled most of its soldiers and weapons from the strategic area.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has reportedly established a new team to investigate and assign responsibility for nine alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. In late 2017, Russia vetoed a resolution to continue the work of a joint UN-OPCW body that had the job of determining who had been using the banned agents.

HEALTHCARE UNDER ATTACK: Two hospitals, a healthcare centre, and an ambulance facility in northwestern Syria were hit by airstrikes or shelling on Wednesday, according to medical aid groups that work in the area. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) said six civilians who lived near the ambulance facility in Jisr al-Shughour were killed. Five staffers were injured.

SEXUAL ABUSE: Peter Dalglish, 62, a former aid worker, was sentenced to nine years in prison for sexually abusing two boys aged 11 and 14 in Nepal. The Canadian co-founded the NGO Street Kids International. He had also worked for UN Habitat in Afghanistan, and for the UN in Liberia. His lawyer is reported as saying Dalglish is protesting his innocence and the prosecution case was flawed.

MALWARE: A UK charity was hit by a ransomware attack in one of the first public cases of its kind to affect a nonprofit. First aid group St John's Ambulance announced that it resolved the issue quickly without payment or loss of data. Ransomware is a virus that locks up a system until an anonymous payment is made (usually in bitcoin) and is a growing cyber security threat.

Weekend read In Peru, tougher rules set to push Venezuelan migration underground

Nine thousand Venezuelans arrived in Peru on a single day in June, just before Lima’s new immigration rules came into force. Until 15 June, Venezuelans fleeing economic collapse and authoritarian government at home could live and work freely in Peru, with temporary residence permits that were renewable annually. But that laissez-faire policy has come to an end. Now Peru (which has a backlog of 240,000 asylum applications) insists on would-be arrivals applying for a “humanitarian visa”. But that requires a valid passport and evidence of a clean criminal record – both of which can be expensive and difficult for Venezuelans to secure. Analysts say the measure will drive migrants into the informal employment sector, increasing the risk of worker exploitation.

And finally... Indonesia’s disaster spokesman dies

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who helped his country weather a year of calamity as spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster management agency, died this week from lung cancer. He was 49. Sutopo was frequently in the news last year through a string of disasters, including earthquakes that hit the island of Lombok, volcano threats in Bali and Sumatra, and the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Central Sulawesi in September, killing more than 4,000 people. In one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, Sutopo became a popular public figure who used social media to shoot down internet hoaxes, spread disaster awareness tips, and even critique his own country’s preparedness systems. His popular Twitter missives, occasionally written from a hospital bed, also poked fun at his own predicament. “Life isn’t determined by how long we live,” he told the Guardian last year, “but how useful we are to other people.”

(TOP PHOTO: Displaced people and locals in Lake Chad area prepare to go fishing.)


An Afghan “execution”, fish smuggling, and landslide watchers News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN West Africa Sudan Venezuela Afghanistan India Indonesia Pakistan United Kingdom Global Peru Libya Syria Yemen Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

Syria deconfliction, Myanmar mobiles, and slow local aid reform: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 06/28/2019 - 10:25

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

On our radar Warnings over Syrian ‘powder keg’

This week saw more death and destruction in Syria’s northwest, along with more warnings: UN relief chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Tuesday that 32 civilians were reportedly killed and injured by airstrikes and shelling last weekend, and Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said the situation in and around Idlib province is “a potential powder keg of regional escalation”. The UN has scaled back its support for the “deconfliction” system that shares the coordinates of health facilities with Russia and Syria after several listed clinics and hospitals in opposition territory were hit. In a new report on Friday, Human Rights Watch argues that aid projects, in particular reconstruction, should avoid being manipulated by the government and becoming complicit in rights abuses. However, its proposed measures, including “independent and full needs assessments; maintaining confidentiality of beneficiary lists; and insisting on full, unimpeded and regular access to all areas,” have so far proved impossible to set up. 

Myanmar’s internet blackout

A government-ordered mobile internet shutdown in Rakhine State could risk lives and make it even harder for humanitarian aid to reach people trapped by conflict, rights groups warn. On 21 June, Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered operators to shut down mobile internet in nine Rakhine and Chin state townships – where the military is battling the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed group. The UN says clashes have displaced some 30,000 people this year, and humanitarian access and freedom of movement are severely restricted. Rights monitors and journalists frequently communicate with affected civilians using online messaging apps. Rights watchdogs say the military could use the internet blackout as a cover for human rights violations. “I fear for all civilians there, cut off and without the necessary means to communicate with people inside and outside the area,” said Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur for Myanmar. Amnesty International has warned of a looming food insecurity crisis in Rakhine. Rights groups say Myanmar’s military tactics against the Arakan Army follow patterns of previous abuses, including its long-running campaign against armed groups in the north, and the 2017 purge of more than 700,000 Rohingya, also from Rakhine State, into Bangladesh.

‘Grand Bargain’ gains limited traction

In 2016, donor countries agreed to channel 25 percent of emergency aid to operators based in the countries affected. "Localisation", it was hoped, would foster more legitimacy, relevance, efficiency, and self-reliance. New figures released this week suggest only 3.1 percent went directly to local bodies in 2018. But it depends how you count. Knowing there would be a range of habitual and administrative barriers (as well as a chicken-and-egg problem of finding enough established local NGOs), the 25 percent target had a key proviso: the increased cash could flow via intermediaries (typically UN agencies and international NGOs). A new analysis of Grand Bargain signatories by Local2Global Protection found the target a long way off, with about 14 percent reaching local actors by any route. A third study, the annual progress report on the Grand Bargain, states that few signatories have embraced the "radical changes in policy and operations that localisation requires”.

A man, a plan, Manama

This week, a White House-led workshop in Bahrain saw the launch of the economic part of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s “deal of the century” for Israel-Palestine peace. Kushner has said his $50 billion investment plan for the occupied Palestinian territories will boost development and reduce dependency on foreign aid, but the proposal has been roundly knocked as unworkable without a peace deal. The White House says the political component of its plan will be released in the future, but no date has been announced. Kushner said the Manama conference demonstrated that the long-running conflict “actually is a solvable problem, economically”, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said investment in the territories was “going to be like a hot I.P.O”, but most influential members of the Palestinian business community declined to attend. Other key players for any future peace were also notably absent: the Palestinian authority boycotted, there was no official Israeli representation, and Hamas, which rules Gaza, was not invited. 

The US abortion effect

Abortion rates in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 40 percent in countries most reliant on US aid in the wake of anti-abortion measures put into effect under US administrations, according to a new study from The Lancet Global Health. The study examined changes that have occurred between 1995 and 2014, and found that countries that perform or provide counselling on abortion are also key in providing other methods of family planning. The US government policy – backed by the Trump administration and often referred to as the Mexico City policy or the Global Gag Rule – restricts funding to organisations that perform or support abortions. This week, the United States tried to insert anti-abortion language into an annual UN resolution on addressing humanitarian needs, including access to healthcare. US negotiators suggested that countries should offer “voluntary and informed family planning, and other options to avoid abortion… as components of humanitarian response.” The suggestion was rejected, with a vote of 30 to two, and nine abstentions. Only Jamaica voted with the US.


In case you missed it

INDIA: An outbreak of acute encephalitis has killed more than 150 children in the northeast Indian state of Bihar, but health officials and Indian authorities aren’t sure what’s causing it or even what to call it. Researchers have previously tied the illness to a chemical in lychees, which are prevalent in the area. 

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: At least 11,000 people were evacuated after PNG’s Ulawun volcano erupted this week, shooting ash plumes 20,000 metres into the air. The Friday eruption of a separate volcano on Manam Island, to the north of PNG’s mainland, has also sparked concern.

SAFETY: The risk imbalance between local and international aid workers continues to widen, according to new data from the Aid Worker Security Database. The vast majority of aid workers killed are local, but the per capita rate at which they are killed is also higher – and growing – compared to international staff. Researchers say it’s one clear sign of how international groups are transferring risk to their local counterparts in dangerous areas.

UNICEF: Chief Henrietta Fore has announced 12 initial steps to repair UNICEF’s unhealthy work culture, including “matrix management” and more investigators. This came in response to an independent study that found ”unchecked favouritism”, “fiefdoms”, and a “broken complaints system”.

US/MEXICO: Under pressure after a photo went viral of a drowned father and daughter, the US Congress passed a bipartisan $4.59 billion humanitarian aid bill to alleviate the crisis on the southern border. Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly won private assurances over notification of child deaths in custody within 24 hours, and a 90-day limit for keeping children in temporary facilities.

Weekend read Ebola response in Congo leaves locals at greatest risk

In early May, the World Health Organisation’s panel of experts published new guidelines for the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Amid a spike in cases following suspensions of operations due to attacks on healthcare workers and clinics, the guidelines amounted to a strategic overhaul. Part of it involved vaccinating a lot more people, and, to save limited stocks of vaccines, reducing doses – a recommendation the WHO began rolling out last week. But another recommendation was to double down on the deployment of local responders to combat distrust. In our weekend read, Vittoria Elliott finds that local responders face the lion’s share of risk but receive little protection or recompense. The reality is that local workers often have to return to their own fearful Ebola-stricken villages at night. Transferring responsibility to them is fraught with danger.

And finally... NGOs, vaccines, and trust

Rwandans overwhelmingly trust NGOs. At the other end of the scale, among developing countries, Colombia has the least trust in non-profit organisations. Overall, a large opinion poll commissioned from Gallup by the UK's Wellcome Trust found that 52 percent of people had confidence in charitable organisations and NGOs in their countries. Nearly a third in the 140-nation survey, however, said they had no such confidence. The results come as part of a wider review of attitudes to science. On immunisation, Bangladesh and Rwanda have the strongest confidence in vaccines. The country with the least trust that vaccines are safe? France. The full dataset is available for download

(TOP PHOTO: A woman salvages items from a destroyed building in the town of Kafranbel in the rebel-held part of the Syrian Idlib province.)


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Categories: Gender Parity

European activists fight back against ‘criminalisation’ of aid for migrants and refugees

IRIN Gender - Thu, 06/20/2019 - 07:23

More and more people are being arrested across Europe for helping migrants and refugees. Now, civil society groups are fighting back against the 17-year-old EU policy they say lies at the root of what activists and NGOs have dubbed the “criminalisation of solidarity”.



The 2002 policy directive and framework, known as the the “Facilitators’ Package”, establishes the parameters of European policy when it comes to tackling illegal immigration.


The package leaves it up to individual member states to decide whether people providing humanitarian assistance should be exempt from prosecution for helping undocumented migrants enter or cross through EU states. It does not include a requirement that profit be a motive for a charge of human smuggling, nor is there an automatic exemption for humanitarians.


Activists say the policy is too vague, and gives states too wide a berth to bring charges against NGOs performing search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, volunteers in Greece and elsewhere, and people who have provided transportation, food, and shelter to asylum seekers.


“People [are] being prosecuted just for sort of simple acts of decency,” Liz Fekete, director of the Institute of Race Relations in Britain, which has monitored the arrests, told The New Humanitarian.


Read more → Refugee, volunteer, prisoner: Sarah Mardini and Europe’s hardening line on migration


These cases have not only impacted the individuals put on trial.


Maria Serrano, senior campaigner on migration at Amnesty International, says they have damaged the reputation and perceived legitimacy of the organisations and people providing humanitarian aid and support to refugees and migrants. “The atmosphere… is very hostile for anyone that is trying to help,” she said.


Uphill battle


In the past, activists across the continent have responded locally to a wave of arrests and prosecutions they see as part of a broader crackdown on undocumented migration, including attempts to keep people from reaching Europe’s shores, increased border control, and, recently, the alleged denial of food to asylum seekers trying to reach Hungary from Serbia.


But now a man arrested for his volunteer work is challenging the “criminalisation of solidarity” at the European Court of Human Rights, and a coalition of civil society groups is upping the pressure to amend or replace the Facilitators’ Package.


The push includes a new report, timed to correspond with 20 June – World Refugee Day – showing that despite a drop in arrivals to Europe, at least 104 people were investigated or formally prosecuted for providing humanitarian assistance in 2018; double the number of cases from the year before.


The report comes from a pan-European network of groups called the Research Social Platform on Migration and Asylum (ReSOMA), which argues that the uptick in criminalisation violates fundamental European rights and values.


In 2016, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, looked into whether or not the directive was still fit for purpose. Their evaluation found that while organisations working with migrants were concerned about the issue of criminalisation of humanitarian assistance, there was not yet enough data about the criminal justice response to migrant smuggling in the EU to warrant any conclusions on the need for revision.


The outcome was a frustrating blow to groups lobbying for reform.

Read more → The creeping criminalisation of humanitarian aid

“The [European] Commission keeps saying that there is no evidence because there are no convictions,” Stephanie Smialowski, a researcher at CEPS, a think tank involved in the ReSOMA project, told TNH. “The problem is that the number of prosecutions is increasing [but not necessarily the number of convictions], and this makes the work of NGOs and volunteers a lot harder.”


Following the evaluation, the EU Commission committed to engaging in a dialogue with civil society to gather more evidence on cases. “We [are] always open to civil society organisations sharing with us any relevant information,” an EU Commission source told TNH.


Given the political climate on migration in Europe, where several states now routinely refuse ships with rescued migrants the right to dock and people denied asylum are sent back to countries marred by violent conflict, the effort to end the criminalisation may be an uphill battle.


“It’s something that we’ve all be working on for a number of years,” Michele LeVoy, director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), an organisation involved in ReSOMA, told TNH. “And I don’t know how successful we will be.”


“The context on migration is one in which return, increased detention, including of children and families, is increasingly accepted. So to try to get some positive result on… changing this directive is aspirational,” said LeVoy.


The legal challenge


Salam Aldeen, a Danish citizen and founding member of the NGO Team Humanity, was one of the first people to be arrested for conducting search-and-rescue activities. He is also the first to challenge the Facilitators’ Package in court.


Early on the morning of 14 January 2016, he and four other volunteers set off from the Greek island of Lesvos to look for a sinking boat carrying migrants and asylum seekers that had departed from the Turkish coast.


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The volunteers, who had been performing rescues in coordination with Greek authorities for months, were intercepted by the Greek coast guard and brought back to Lesvos, where they were charged with attempted people smuggling.


Aldeen and the other volunteers were acquitted last May, in a case that dragged on for more than two years. Aldeen has now submitted a case against Greece to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The court is not an EU body, but hears cases and delivers legally binding judgements related to the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty that all 28 EU member states have signed.


“It’s absolutely inexplicable how the Greek authorities dared… to crack down on [Team Humanity] the way they did,” said Violeta Moreno Lax, legal advisor to the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), an international team of lawyers that brought the case on Aldeen’s behalf.


“The organisation has been released of every charge possible on the domestic level, but [only]… after being put through an ordeal that lasted for more than [two] years and having endured a number of human rights violations [along] the way.”


GLAN is seeking restitution for the moral and material damages that Aldeen suffered during the course of the criminal proceedings in Greece.


“Greece destroyed my life,” Aldeen told TNH in a recent phone call. “I was stuck here for almost two years. I was fighting every day to survive here because I didn’t have [a] job… I lost everything I had. All my money, I lost it because of the case. I gave it to the lawyers, to the court, to my stay, to my food… I think somebody should be [held] responsible for that.”

“It could be really an unprecedented occasion for the European Court of Human Rights to clarify that humanitarian assistance is not a crime.”

The case also has another aim: GLAN argues that the ambiguity of the Facilitators’ Package enabled Greek prosecutors to charge the members of Team Humanity, and the group is hoping to set a legal precedent that would pressure the EU to reevaluate the law and discourage other EU countries from prosecuting humanitarians.


“It could be really an unprecedented occasion for the European Court of Human Rights to clarify that humanitarian assistance is not a crime,” said Carmine Conte, a legal policy advisor at the Migration Policy Group (MPG), a Brussels-based think tank involved in the ReSOMA advocacy effort. “The impact of that judgement could be huge.”


But the European Court of Human Rights moves slowly. “We are looking at a horizon of four, five years from now [before there is a judgement],” Moreno Lax added.


The data collection


As ReSOMA works towards the reform or replacement of the Facilitators’ Package it is trying to address the 2016 EU Commission's evaluation that there isn’t enough data.


Its new report includes what it calls the “most in-depth list of cases of criminalisation of solidarity to date”, showing that at least 158 people were investigated or formally prosecuted for offering humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees in 11 European countries between 2015 and 2019. Most cases were in France, Greece, and Italy.


A statement accompanying the report highlights that “despite a drop in migrant arrivals, more Europeans are being criminalised for their solidarity”.

“Civil society is a threat to this very, very harsh border management policy.”

MPG’s Conte said the overall goal of the database is to provide evidence that these cases are not just related to individual country’s policies, but are “also related to the European law framework, so the European Commission should… draft guidelines to clarify that humanitarian assistance cannot be criminalised.”


“I think this is the beginning of a process... between commissioners and civil society to change things,” Conte added.


Other members of civil society are more sceptical about the possibility of progress.


“I believe this refusal… to change the facilitation directive… is deliberate [on the part of the European Commission],” said Fekete, of the Institute on Race Relations. “I think they want to leave it there. It’s almost like this is a tap… for the member states to turn on and off because civil society is a threat to this very, very harsh border management policy that we’re seeing.”

(TOP PHOTO: Life jackets left behind by migrants at a dump on the Greek Island of Lesvos.)


‘The atmosphere is very hostile for anyone that is trying to help.’ European activists fight back against ‘criminalisation’ of aid for migrants and refugees Eric Reidy News feature Migration Human Rights ISTANBUL IRIN Europe European Union Migration
Categories: Gender Parity

#AidToo: After Oxfam, what to watch

IRIN Gender - Tue, 06/11/2019 - 09:59

Oxfam was given an official warning by a British charity regulator on Tuesday, after a major investigation found the NGO had mismanaged sexual misconduct by its staff.

The 13-month enquiry was sparked by media reports of sexual exploitation by Oxfam staff in Haiti. Those spiralled into a wider series of revelations and renewed concern about sexual abuse and exploitation across the humaniatrian sector.


According to a summary statement from the Charity Commission, Oxfam missed warnings, didn’t investigate thoroughly enough, and let likely perpetrators off too lightly. Despite prominent commitments to safeguarding (preventing abuse), Oxfam’s actual performance was patchy and under-resourced.

The report also found that Oxfam didn’t come clean as it should have. Its “approach to disclosure and reporting was marked, at times, by a desire to protect the charity’s reputation and donor relationships,” it said. The full report was released 11 June and consists of over 200 pages, including an independent review.

As Oxfam looks to implement the changes requested – it has already taken a range of measures to improve and must submit an action plan by the end of the month to address the enquiry’s findings – here’s a collection of our recent coverage on #AidToo issues.


Last year we asked what progress had been made: including boards that are “too chummy” to crack the whip, tracking systems that need to be set up, the chances of legal prosecutions, and what’s it going to cost to improve things. The to-do list is long.

MeToo, AidToo: The next steps header.jpg

Watch a wide-ranging discussion that was held in Geneva, including Oxfam’s former safeguarding staff, a whistleblower and other non-profit practitioners and analysts:

EVENT: The humanitarian #MeToo moment - where do we go from here? dsc00322.jpg

Hairdressers and sports coaches have certificates to show they’re qualified. Why not aid workers? One group runs something similar for aid agencies which might work.

#MeToo sex scandals spur interest in standards for the aid sector 8551140286_b8b0816d5b_k.jpg

How are complaints of sexual assault dealt with in practice? For camp residents in northern Nigeria, It depends who’s being accused. If it’s an aid agency staffer, there probably are some reporting systems in place. But if it’s a soldier? Not so much.

First Person: Two nearly identical cases of sex abuse; two very different responses 43591214190_0dabd901f4_k.jpg

How could aid agencies pool their recruitment files and stop offenders being re-hired? One proposal is called “Soteria”. It didn’t get off to the best start at a conference headlined by the UK aid minister.

Schemes to stop sex abuse in the aid sector off to a shaky start Justin_Forsyth_UNICEF_Bangladesh_tumblr_inline_p3fpspbjue1titlx1_1280.jpg

Another report is expected from the same England and Wales Charity Commission on issues of sexual harassment at Save the Children. Here’s what we heard about the management culture inside the British NGO form those who allege bullying and misconduct:

Former Save the Children staffers speak out on abusive culture under Justin Forsyth MerlinLiberia6992941438_cb21a43259_o.jpg

After the London Times exposed the name of an Oxfam staffer accused of misconduct in Haiti, a whistleblower contacted The New Humanitarian and said she had warned Oxfam about his earlier misconduct way before he was posted to Haiti.

EXCLUSIVE: Oxfam sexual exploiter in Haiti caught seven years earlier in Liberia Phone

Analyst Dorothea Hillhorst argues that the aid agencies can’t be trusted, and calls for an independent ombudsman: “NGOs have an organisational reflex of banning outsiders from their kitchen, and keeping their potentially dangerous secrets hidden.”

Aid agencies can’t police themselves. It’s time for a change

(TOP PHOTO: A mural in a temporary camp in Haiti where Oxfam helps residents with health and hygiene issues.)

#AidToo: After Oxfam, what to watch News Aid and Policy Human Rights GENEVA IRIN Liberia Haiti United Kingdom Global Aid and Policy
Categories: Gender Parity

Biometrics: The new frontier of EU migration policy in Niger

IRIN Gender - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 07:07

The EU’s strategy for controlling irregular West African migration is not just about asking partner countries to help stop the flow of people crossing the Mediterranean – it also includes sharing data on who is trying to make the trip and identifying to which countries they can be returned.


Take Niger, a key transit country for migrants arriving in Europe via Libya.

European money and technical assistance have flowed into Niger for several years, funding beefed-up border security and supporting controversial legislation that criminalises “migrant trafficking” and has led to a sharp fall in the registered number of people travelling through the country to reach Libya – down from 298,000 in 2016 to 50,000 in 2018.

Read more → Destination Europe: Frustration

Such cooperation is justified by the “moral duty to tackle the loss of lives in the desert and in the Mediterranean”, according to the EU’s head of foreign policy, Federica Mogherini. It was also a response to the surge in arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants to European shores in 2015-16, encouraging the outsourcing of control to African governments in return for development aid.

In April, as a further deterrent to fresh arrivals, the European Parliament passed a tougher “Regulation” for Frontex – the EU border guard agency – authorising stepped-up returns of migrants without proper documentation to their countries of origin.

The regulation is expected to come into force by early December after its formal adoption by the European Council.

17_baf2883_1920.jpg Francesco Bellina/TNH A border police agent sits at the desk of one of the newly established biometric control stations, inside the border post of Makalondi, at the Niger-Burkina Faso border.

The proposed tougher mandate will rely in part on biometric information stored on linked databases in Africa and Europe. It is a step rights campaigners say not only jeopardises the civil liberties of asylum seekers and others in need of protection, but one that may also fall foul of EU data privacy legislation.

In reply to a request for comment, Frontex told The New Humanitarian it was “not in the position to discuss details of the draft regulation as it is an ongoing process.”

Niger on the frontline

Niger is a key country for Europe’s twin strategic goals of migration control and counter-terrorism – with better data increasingly playing a part in both objectives.

The Makalondi police station-cum-immigration post on Niger’s southern border with Burkina Faso is on the front line of this approach – one link in the ever-expanding chain that is the EU’s information-driven response to border management and security.

When TNH visited in December 2018, the hot Sunday afternoon torpor evaporated when three international buses pulled up and disgorged dozens of travellers into the parking area.

“In Niger, we are the pioneers.”

They were mostly Burkinabès and Nigeriens who travelled abroad for work and, as thousands of their fellow citizens do every week, took the 12-hour drive from the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou, to the Niger capital, Niamey.

As policemen searched their bags, the passengers waited to be registered with the new biometric Migration Information and Data Analysis System, or MIDAS, which captures fingerprints and facial images for transmission to a central database in Niamey.

MIDAS has been developed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) as a rugged, low-cost solution to monitor migration flows.

“In Niger, we are the pioneers,” said Ismael Soumana, the police commissioner of Makalondi. A thin, smiling man, Soumana proudly showed off the eight new machines installed since September at the entry and exit desks of a one-storey prefabricated building. Each workstation was equipped with fingerprint and documents scanners, a small camera, and a PC.

Data sharing

The data from Makalondi is stored on the servers of the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DTS), Niger’s border police. After Makalondi and Gaya, on the Benin-Niger border, IOM has ambitious plans to instal MIDAS in at least eight more border posts by mid-2020 – although deteriorating security conditions due to jihadist-linked attacks could interrupt the rollout.

Read more → Niger, part 1: At the centre of a brewing militant storm

IOM provides MIDAS free of charge to at least 20 countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Its introduction in Niger was funded by Japan, while the EU paid for an initial assessment study and the electrical units that support the system. In addition to the border posts, two mobile MIDAS-equipped trucks, financed by Canada, will be deployed along the desert trails to Libya or Algeria in the remote north.

MIDAS is owned by the Nigerien government, which will be “the only one able to access the data,” IOM told TNH. But it is up to Niamey with whom they share that information.

MIDAS is already linked to PISCES (Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System), a biometric registration arm of the US Department of State installed at Niamey international airport and connected to INTERPOL’s alert lists.

Niger hosts the first of eight planned “Risk Analysis Cells” in Africa set up by Frontex and based inside its border police directorate. The unit collects data on cross-border crime and security threats and, as such, will rely on systems such as PISCES and MIDAS – although Frontex insists no “personal data” is collected and used in generating its crime statistics.

A new office is being built for the Niger border police directorate by the United States to house both systems.

The West African Police Information System, a huge criminal database covering 16 West African countries, funded by the EU and implemented by INTERPOL, could be another digital library of fingerprints linking to MIDAS.

5_bef8495_1920.jpg Francesco Bellina/TNH Migrants identified by IOM after being deported from Algeria.

Frontex programmes intersect with other data initiatives, such as the Free Movement of Persons and Migration in West Africa, an EU-funded project run by the IOM in all 15-member Economic Community of West African States. One of the aims of the scheme is to introduce biometric identity cards for West African citizens.

Frontex’s potential interest is clear. “If a European country has a migrant suspected to be Ivorian, they can ask the local government to match in their system the biometric data they have. In this way, they should be able to identify people,” IOM programme coordinator Frantz Celestine told TNH.

The push for returns

Only 37 percent of non-EU citizens ordered to leave the bloc in 2017 actually did so. In his 2018 State of the Union address, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged a “stronger and more effective European return policy” – although some migration analysts argue what is needed are more channels for legal migration.

Part of the problem has been that implementing a returns policy is notoriously hard – due in part to the costs of deportation and the lack of cooperation by countries of origin to identify their citizens. Europe has had difficulty in finalising formal accords with so-called third countries unwilling to lose remittances from those abroad.

The Commission is shifting to “informal arrangements [that] keep readmission deals largely out of sight” – serving to ease the domestic pressure on governments who cooperate on returns, according to European law researcher, Jonathan Slagter.

The new Frontex regulation provides a much broader mandate for border surveillance, returns, and cooperation with third countries.

It contains provisions to “significantly step up the effective and sustainable return of irregular migrants”. Among the mechanisms is the “operation and maintenance of a platform for the exchange of data”, as a tool to reinforce the return system “in cooperation with the authorities of the relevant third countries”. That includes access to MIDAS and PISCES.

19_baf8705_copy_1920.jpg Francesco Bellina/TNH Malian migrant Sibry smokes a cigarette in an Agadez, Niger ghetto.

Under the new Frontex policy, in order to better identify those to be deported, the agency will be able “to restrict certain rights of data subjects”, specifically related to the protection and access to personal data granted by EU legislation.

That, for example, will allow the “transfer of personal data of returnees to third countries” - even in cases where readmission agreements for deportees do not exist.

Not enough data protection

The concern is that the expanded mandate on returns is not accompanied by appropriate safeguards on data protection. The European Data Protection Supervisor – the EU’s independent data protection authority – has faulted the new regulation for not conducting an initial impact study, and has called for its provisions to be reassessed “to ensure consistency with the currently applicable EU legislation”.

“Given the extent of data sharing, the regulation does not put in place the necessary human rights safeguards."

Mariana Gkliati, a researcher at the University of Leiden working on Frontex human rights accountability, argues that data on the proposed centralised return management platform – shared with third countries – could prove detrimental for the safety of people seeking protection.

“Given the extent of data sharing, the regulation does not put in place the necessary human rights safeguards and could be perceived as giving a green light for a blanket sharing with the third country of all information that may be considered relevant for returns,” she told TNH.

“Frontex is turning into an information hub,” Gkliati added. “Its new powers on data processing and sharing can have a major impact on the rights of persons, beyond the protection of personal data.”

For prospective migrants at the Makalondi border post, their data is likely to travel a lot more freely than they can.

(TOP PHOTO: A border police agent sits at the desk of one of the newly established biometric control stations, inside the border post of Makalondi, at the Niger-Burkina Faso border.)



(The reporting for this story was supported by the Otto Brenner Foundation and an Investigative Journalism for Europe grant (IJ4EU).)

Biometrics: The new frontier of EU migration policy in Niger Giacomo Zandonini News feature Migration Human Rights NIAMEY IRIN Africa West Africa Niger Migration
Categories: Gender Parity

Ebola spread, CAR attack, and the children of Islamic State: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 05/24/2019 - 11:43

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


On our radar


Attack threatens CAR peace deal


More than 50 people were reportedly killed in an attack by militia on villages in the Central African Republic's volatile northwest, putting a peace deal signed by 14 armed groups in February in jeopardy. The group ‘Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation,’ or 3R, was blamed for the attack, and the government on Wednesday called on its leader, Sidiki Abass, to arrest and hand over those responsible to the authorities “in the next 72 hours or risk being held personally responsible”. The UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, said it was engaging in local-level dialogue "to ease tensions and prevent a retaliatory response by anti-balaka", a mostly Christian grouping of militia. In March the government named Abass and two other militia leaders as special military advisers to the prime minister’s office. All three are seen as responsible for widespread atrocities in recent years, including possible crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch has called for their prosecution. See TNH’s CAR coverage for more.


UNICEF slams detention of Islamic State children


Thousands of children born to so-called Islamic State militants are languishing in squalid camps or detention centres in what UNICEF says is a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Syria alone, there are an estimated 29,000 foreign children – 20,000 of them from Iraq, and the remainder from some 60 other countries. Another 1,000 are thought to be in Iraq. Citing security concerns, many countries have been reluctant to repatriate the children, or their mothers who married IS fighters. So far, fewer than 300 children have been returned to countries who sought UNICEF’s help. UNICEF is urging countries to provide the children with documents, support their safe return, help them reintegrate into society, and to apply juvenile justice and fair trial norms if they face criminal charges. The children should be treated as victims, not perpetrators, the UN agency says.

Sixth migrant child dies in US custody

On a different but related subject, it emerged late on Wednesday, after a report by CBS News, that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador with a history of congenital heart defects died more than seven months ago after being taken into custody in Texas. She is the sixth child known to have died after being detained by US border authorities in the past eight months. More than 300,000 people, mostly from Central America, were apprehended at the US-Mexico border between January and April, with numbers rising every month. The US Department of Homeland Security said on Monday that around 6,000 asylum seekers had been returned to Mexico during that period, while others are reportedly being told they must wait in Mexico for longer than a year before their case will be considered. Read our report on the building humanitarian crisis across the border, as migrant numbers and needs in violence-prone Mexican border cities grow.


Pandemics and passport privilege


The folks at Oxfam’s From Poverty to Power blog have a tale of passport privilege that many Cheat Sheet readers may find all too familiar. Last month, only one out of 25 invited people turned up to a workshop held around the London School of Economics’ Africa Summit. The reason? They were Africans who had been denied UK visas. Health researcher Esther Yei-Mokuwa from Sierra Leone, who was able to attend because she also has a Dutch passport, notes that the African researchers planned to attend the summit and other events to help prepare for future pandemics, including Ebola. “We all need protection from infectious diseases – even Britain,” she writes. LSE student Elizabeth Storer points out what’s lost when African researchers face difficulties trying to share their work at international symposiums: “Conversations about development… lack important perspectives and insights; European scholars evade important critique from citizens of the countries they study.”


Kenya-Somalia border tensions


Kenya-Somalia relations are going through a rough patch. Mogadishu says a series of recent moves by Kenya – a stopover of direct flights to Nairobi for “security checks” in the border town of Wajir, the withdrawal of visa-free travel privileges for government officials, and a squeeze on money transfer Hawala operators – “contravene the neighbourly bond”. At root is a maritime wrangle that analyst Rashid Abdi says “has plunged ties to worst levels in decades”. In February, Nairobi accused Mogadishu of auctioning oil exploration rights in a disputed part of the Indian Ocean. Somalia says blocks in the zone under contention have not been included. There has also been longstanding friction over Kenya’s influence in the border state of Jubaland, where Kenyan troops are deployed as part of the AU’s AMISOM peace enforcement operation. Somalia wants them out, and Nairobi says Mogadishu is negotiating with regional powers to usurp its “interests”.


Concerns grow over Ebola spread


Fair to say it has been another worrying week for the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While a relative lull in attacks against healthcare workers and facilities – 132 have been reported since the outbreak was declared in August – allowed operations to resume, data collected showed no let-up the second-deadliest epidemic in history. There are now 1,877 known cases; 1,248 people have died. And the virus may have spread outside Congo, with Ugandan authorities testing blood samples from two people who died in the western part of the country near the Congolese border. The UN appointed an Ebola ‘czar’ this week, David Gressly, to tackle a minefield of security and political issues that have been hampering the response. For a comprehensive look at the risks of regional spread, read the latest Ebola coverage from TNH.


In case you missed it


LIBYA: A top UN official warned the Security Council that Libya risked “civil war” and “permanent division” unless the fighting around the capital, Tripoli, stops. Weeks of clashes between the UN-backed Government of National Accord and forces loyal to rebel general Khalifa Haftar have left dozens of civilians dead and displaced some 75,000 people.


MOZAMBIQUE: An ex-Credit Suisse Group banker has become the first person to plead guilty in a $2 billion fraud and money-laundering scam tied to loans to Mozambique that were used to pay bribes and kickbacks. The deal, using an extortionate interest rate, severely damaged the Mozambican economy. See the TNH story.


SYRIA: An estimated 200,000 people have been displaced from southern Idlib and northern Hama in the first few weeks of May by what many see as the beginning of a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive. An assessment by the humanitarian research group REACH in the partly rebel-held provinces anticipates that figure will swell to 450,000 by the end of the month, with “long-term consequences for the region”.


VENEZUELA: The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said the majority of the 3.7 million Venezuelans who have fled the country since 2015 require international humanitarian protection and must not be forcibly sent home due to “the threats to their lives, security or freedom”.


YEMEN: The World Food Programme threatened to suspend food aid in parts of the country held by Houthi rebels. It says food aid is being diverted and efforts to reach people in need are being repeatedly blocked by local officials. Nearly 12 million people, or about 40 percent of Yemen’s population, are at risk of starvation in what the UN has labelled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Weekend read


In Colombia’s Tumaco, the war isn’t over, it’s just beginning


Three years ago this month the first agreements were announced in a carefully choreographed process that would lead to a landmark peace accord between the Colombian government and the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Praised around the world for making unpopular compromises to end the longest-running conflict in the western hemisphere, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October that year. In our weekend read, Mariana Palau takes you to troubled Tumaco, the FARC’s former cocaine-producing heartlands, and unearths a grim story of disappearances, violent clashes, and mass displacement. The FARC have gone in name only. Other illegal armed groups – the dissidents – have taken their place. Her reporting is a cautionary tale on the need to follow through after demobilisation with proper reintegration, including providing services and work opportunities. Check out this New York Times report for more on the broken promises on both sides.


And finally


How diverse are you?


Was that last cluster meeting a full-on manel? Just how diverse is the aid sector? Melbourne-based think tank Humanitarian Advisory Group is trying to find out. They’ve launched a survey soliciting perspectives on diversity and inclusion in humanitarian leadership positions. It’s part of continuing research aimed at examining what diverse leadership might actually mean: does it lead to better decisions and more inclusive and accountable aid responses? The starting point, researchers say, is figuring out where the aid sector stands today. You can take the survey here.

(TOP PHOTO: UN peacekeepers on patrol in the Central African Republic town of Bouar.)


Ebola spread, CAR attack, and the children of Islamic State News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Food Health Human Rights Child soldiers GENEVA IRIN Mozambique DRC Somalia Kenya United States Venezuela Colombia Mexico El Salvador Libya Syria Yemen Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

As migrant numbers swell on the US-Mexico border, so do unmet needs

IRIN Gender - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 09:50

A short walk over the bridge that connects the United States to Mexico, a group of 14 Guatemalans, the youngest a three-year-old girl, wait in the already hot early morning sun on the Mexican side of the San Ysidro crossing between Tijuana and San Diego.

The group, who had to pay off drug cartels for safety during the journey to Tijuana, slept rough on the roadside the past four nights. They are running low on money and need food and water. Fed up, losing hope, and scared, they are thinking about giving up and taking the long trip back to Guatemala – but that will only be possible if they receive money from a relative.

A Honduran couple with young children wait for their number to come up on the metering system at the El Chaparral processing centre in Tijuana. This moment can take weeks to arrive and only allows them into the United States to begin an asylum process that can itself take several weeks or months and often ends in failure and deportation. Their children slept on a cardboard box the night before.

The father breaks down in tears as he recounts how they fled the cartels fearing for their lives following the murder of a close relative. They decided their best option was to seek asylum in the United States, but he says he hasn’t been able to find any advice or support. They are uncertain how the process works and unsure what it entails.

These stories reflect the worsening situation in northern Mexico, where new measures enforced by President Donald Trump’s administration – migrants need to present themselves at one of the few designated ports of entry; only a limited number can apply each day; and application fees have now been ordered – have seen a build-up of thousands waiting to cross.

In San Diego, up to 80 asylum seekers are processed each day, but the waiting list in Tijuana is 4,800 people, according to the Associated Press. More people arrive daily – not just from Central America, but from as far away as Cameroon – a separatist insurgency is raging in western anglophone regions – and Cuba, along with migrants deported from the United States seeking to return.


Tijuana and other border cities from Mexicali to Ciudad Juárez are increasingly under strain. A recent International Rescue Committee assessment stated that “shelters designed to host 100 people for a maximum of three days are now hosting 300 people for well over a month.”

Father Pat Murphy, director of Tijuana's Casa del Migrante shelter, which houses 120 migrants and refugees, says many families have to rely on overstretched shelters run by overstretched volunteers and aren’t “sure where their next meal will be coming from”.

The scale of need on the border is growing and already far outweighs the efforts of a few NGOs and volunteers. “It is a humanitarian crisis, but we don’t see any humanitarian response to it,” says Father Murphy.

‘Trust the Jaguar’

Medical services in Mexico are available for all, including migrants. There are 28 shelters in Tijuana – some of which are run by volunteers. Services include mental health support, food, help finding jobs, and information about the asylum process. Some migrants live in rented accomodation or hostels, but return to the shelters for meals.

But Father Murphy, who recently visited several shelters, says the reality is that services in Tijuana are overwhelmed. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and a smattering of NGOs are attempting to fill the void, with the assistance of some Mexican government departments.

Médecins Sans Frontières provided emergency medical and mental healthcare in the aftermath of the first large “caravans” arriving last year. It is not currently operating in Tijuana, but still has services in Tenosique, Coatzacoalcos, Reynosa, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Mexicali, and the capital, Mexico City.

The UN’s migration agency, IOM, conducted a survey in Tijuana in January to understand emerging needs. More than two thirds of the Central American migrants surveyed were still looking for alternative ways to enter the United States, while 22 percent were searching for a job in Mexico and only four percent wanted to return to their country of origin.

vito_di_stefano_5-17-19-10.jpg Vito Di Stefano/TNH Mexican officials check out paperwork of migrants seeking asylum in the United States at the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico.

Incoming refugees and migrants in Tijuana told The New Humanitarian that one of the biggest gaps is the lack of information available about what to do and where to seek help after they arrive in the city.

Of particular concern are those who have been sexually assaulted or abused in other ways, often violently, during either their travel to the border or the events that forced them to flee their homes.

“To help ensure people who need international protection are adequately informed, we work with a network of NGO legal aid partners, COMAR (Mexico’s refugee commission), and the National Migration Institute (INM),” said a UNHCR spokesperson.

To enable asylum seekers to obtain accurate information and communicate with one another, they have created a Facebook page and hotline under the name “Confiar en el Jaguar”, or “Trust the Jaguar” in English.

But the problems don’t stop with a lack of information.

For example, a Honduran who arrived in Tijuana late last year – who requested to speak anonymously due to fears over his personal security – told TNH about his legal troubles and the asylum process.

Scheduled to have a court hearing on his asylum application a few hours later across the border in San Diego, he had yet to find a lawyer to represent him. Not wanting to miss the potentially life-changing appointment, he attempted the San Ysidro crossing, only to be refused entry. After trying unsuccessfully to cross a number of times in the following days, his paperwork was confiscated, leaving him an irregular migrant at the back of the queue again.

Some Mexican-based legal organisations such as Al Otro Lado and Casa Cornelia work pro bono to help with claims, with others providing support from San Diego, but many asylum seekers say they feel under-represented, or fail to have their personal stories fully and accurately conveyed.

Frustrated by what they see as an unfair system and giving up hope of a fair hearing, many attempt to cross the border illegally by themselves or seek money from family members in the United States to pay for people-smugglers, called coyotes, to help them cross.

The number of Central American families apprehended trying to cross the US southern border was 58,474 in April – the highest since Customs and Border Protection began collating figures in 2012. The spike in illegal crossings has even seen armed US militia detaining immigrants across the border.

“The price to cross illegally – which includes food, transport, and somewhere to stay – is $12,000-$14,000 for one person to cross through the port of entry at San Ysidro,” Victor Clark-Alfaro, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana, told TNH. If you are willing to try to cross further along the border, often via more dangerous and remote routes, the price is $6,000-10,000 per person.

A dangerous limbo

Waiting in Tijuana poses its own risks.

Tijuana is one of the most dangerous cities in the world: 2,502 people were killed here last year – a rate of 126 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.

In early December, two young Honduran asylum seekers were murdered in the city by drug-dealers. And Father Murphy recounts the recent story of an asylum seeker attacked in a Tijuana shelter with a hammer – the victim said his attackers were from the same drug cartel that caused him to flee his home in the first place.

In a country where experts estimate that 500,000 people work in some capacity within the drug trade, the pressure from the cartels and the lure of making some “easy” money can be difficult to resist for some asylum seekers. The other fear, particularly in Tijuana, is that vulnerable new arrivals will become part of a drug-taking epidemic that has seen anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of the city’s 1.3 million population become addicts.

For some, the prospects of a lengthy wait are just too grim, so they undertake journeys that carry huge risks for them and their family members.

Father Murphy mentions one asylum seeker “who wanted to leave his child on the [Mexican side of the] border” to better his chances of crossing into the United States. Eventually, he gave his child to another migrant he had only met that day and who was seeking to cross the border elsewhere. Father Murphy didn’t know their eventual fate.

On 20 May, a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died at a border patrol station after entering the US without his parents the week before. He is the fifth Guatemalan minor to die at the border since December.

Under pressure from President Trump to crack down on refugees and migrants illegally crossing into the United States, the Mexican government recently reversed its welcoming policy and began intercepting new “caravans” prior to them reaching the US border.

But despite all the delays and the dangers in northern Mexico, the number of arrivals is only expected to rise, as poverty, displacement, and gang-related violence in Central America show no sign of abating.

(TOP PHOTO: People enter the queue to cross the Mexico/US border at the El Chapparal border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico. )


‘It is a humanitarian crisis, but we don’t see any humanitarian response to it’ As migrant numbers swell on the US-Mexico border, so do unmet needs James Blake News feature Migration Human Rights TIJUANA MEXICO IRIN Americas United States Mexico Migration
Categories: Gender Parity

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.)


‘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.




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.)


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.


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.)


‘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. )


‘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.



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.)


Sicilian volunteers help African LGBTI migrants hit by new Italian Law Stefania D’Ignoti News feature Migration Human Rights PALERMO ITALY IRIN Europe Italy European Union Migration
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.


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.)


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”.




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.)


Syria cash aid freeze, Somali biometrics, and poverty porn News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN Africa South Africa DRC Sudan Somalia Americas Venezuela Afghanistan Sri Lanka Pakistan Europe Spain Global Libya Syria Aid and Policy
Categories: Gender Parity