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Afghanistan’s bloody peace talks, Dorian’s damage, and Bangladesh’s push to silence Rohingya phones: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 09/06/2019 - 10:03
On our radar Double vision in Afghanistan: Peace or ‘total civil war’

US and Taliban negotiators say they’re on the verge of a peace deal, but civilian casualties continue to soar in Afghanistan. On Thursday, a Taliban-claimed car bomb killed at least 10 people in Kabul, days after a separate attack killed 30 and wounded dozens more. That came shortly after Taliban strikes on the northern cities of Kunduz and Pul-e-Khumri – and before a raid by Afghan intelligence forces killed four civilians, provoking a public outcry. So where does this leave the peace deal? The top US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, has said the agreement calls for the withdrawal of 5,400 soldiers in the coming months. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani – thus far sidelined from direct negotiations – has been less than enthusiastic after a bloody week, calling peace with the Taliban “meaningless”. He’s not the only one with doubts: this week, nine former US ambassadors warned that Afghanistan risks plunging into “total civil war” if troop pull-outs are rushed.

Hurricane Dorian leaves Bahamas with $7 billion in damages

A full picture is starting to emerge of the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. At least 30 people died in the powerful storm, and thousands are still missing. Nearly half or more of the homes on Abaco and Grand Bahamas are thought to be destroyed or severely damaged. The islands were the hardest hit on the archipelago with an estimated $7 billion of damage. Relief efforts are finally ramping up, meanwhile, after rescue crews and supply routes were blocked by severe damage to the main airport. The UN estimates that some 76,000 people are in immediate need of food, water and shelter. Some islands in the Caribbean and Atlantic are still recovering from the 2017 hurricane season, one of the deadliest and most costly on record. Dorian, which has made landfall on the coast of North Carolina, is expected to crawl up the eastern US coast in the coming days.

Attacks in South Africa spark anger among pop stars, football teams, diplomats

Ten people have died following a new wave of attacks targeting African immigrants living in South Africa this week. Rioters in and around Johannesburg torched buildings and looted shops thought to be owned by foreign nationals, though police minister Bheki Cele blamed "criminality rather than xenophobia” for the unrest. The violence has raised diplomatic tensions with Nigeria, which recalled its high commissioner to South Africa and withdrew from a World Economic Forum summit being held in Cape Town. Pop stars announced plans to boycott the country, while Madagascar joined Zambia in cancelling upcoming football matches. Attacks against foreigners aren’t new in South Africa: similar violence in 2008 left 62 dead and forced tens of thousands of foreigners into shelters around the country. Immigrants are often accused of taking jobs and homes from South Africans, though there is little evidence to support this claim. Read our piece from 2015 on the misconceptions fuelling the violence.

Rohingya refugees face communications blackout

Bangladesh has threatened to cut mobile phone access for Rohingya refugees within days, potentially severing a vital line of communication in and out of the crowded camps. Police officials said the move is responding to a spate of crime in the city-sized settlements. But the announcement came days after large crowds turned up to protests marking two years since the violent Myanmar military ouster of more than 700,000 Rohingya – and after thousands of refugees refused Bangladesh’s latest attempt to send them home. If the ban is enforced, Bangladesh will join a growing list of countries employing internet or phone shutdowns. Indonesia recently cut internet services to stem pro-independence protests in Papua and West Papua provinces; India has blocked internet and phone services in Kashmir; and Myanmar ordered an internet blackout – since partially lifted – in several Rakhine State townships in June. Watchdog group Access Now says there were 196 internet shutdowns in 2018 – and the numbers are rising each year. How do Rohingya use their phones? Meet a few entrepreneurial refugees eking out a living in Bangladesh’s camps.

Yemen re-cap: civilians are suffering

This was a week of reports and bombings in Yemen that demonstrated what loyal readers of Cheat Sheet already know: The war in Yemen has been going on for nearly four-and-a-half years, civilians are suffering, and no one has been held to account. On Sunday, a Saudi Arabia- and UAE-led coalition airstrike on a Houthi rebel-run detention centre in the country’s southwest killed more than 100 people; as of Tuesday, 93 bodies had been recovered but more are believed to be trapped under the rubble. On Monday, the open-source investigative website Bellingcat released an in-depth look at 20 coalition bombings on markets, prisons, weddings, and funerals, finding that attacks on civilians are continuing with impunity. And on Wednesday, the UN’s Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen put out its latest report, detailing “a host of possible war crimes” committed by pretty much every group fighting in the war, including, but most definitely not limited to, the denial of humanitarian aid.


In case you missed it

BURUNDI: Serious human rights violations are taking place in Burundi ahead of next year's presidential elections, according to a report published this week by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. Security forces and members of the government’s youth wing are creating “a climate of fear” among opponents of the ruling party, the report stated.

DRC: Violence against women and girls in the Ebola outbreak zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo has spiked, according to the UN’s Population Fund. In the first half of the year, some 17,000 women and girls received support for gender-based violence in Ituri, South Kivu and North Kivu provinces. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by Ebola and ongoing conflict. More than half of the some 2,052 deaths in the latest Ebola outbreak have also been women and girls.

LIBYA: Five months of fighting in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli has now left 100 civilians dead, 300 injured, and forced 120,000 to flee their homes, the UN’s envoy to Libya told the Security Council on Wednesday. More than 100 people have also been killed in ongoing fighting in the southern town of Murzuq.

MOZAMBIQUE: Pope Francis arrived in Mozambique this week, a month after the signing of a landmark peace deal between the country’s ruling Frelimo party and rebel-turned-opposition movement, Renamo. Upcoming elections and splits in the opposition are set to test the fragile agreement.

VENEZUELA: President Nicolás Maduro ordered his armed forces to be on alert for a potential attack by Colombia and announced border military exercises. Colombia called the exercises a threat to regional stability. For a unique glimpse inside the political and economic crisis unfolding in Venezuela, from where more than four million people have fled (the most to Colombia), read this Reporter’s Diary by Magnus Boding Hansen.

Weekend read Male rape survivors go uncounted in Rohingya camps

Sexual and gender-based violence has become a hot topic in humanitarian circles, but is enough attention being paid to male survivors? This is the underlying question in our weekend read, as journalist Verena Hölzl reports from the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. “There’s a striking division between aid workers and the refugees,” says Sarah Chynoweth, a researcher who has studied male survivors of sexual violence in emergencies around the world, including the Rohingya camps. “Many aid workers say we haven’t heard about it, but the refugees are well aware of it.”

And finally... Robert Mugabe: Freedom fighter to political pariah

From freedom fighter to political pariah, Robert Mugabe died on Friday at the age of 95 after leading Zimbabwe to independence and remaining the country’s only leader for 37 years until he was ousted from power in a 2017 coup. President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced the death of the country’s “founding father,” while the Mail & Guardian called Mugabe’s life a “tragedy in three acts.” For the first decade after independence in 1980, Zimbabwe contributed 5 percent of Africa’s maize production. Its economy also grew at 4.3 percent a year, and public spending on education and health led to increased school enrollment and longer life expectancies. By 2004, after a series of land reform programmes and an economic slow-down, the World Food Programme was feeding some 4.4 million people. Today, a third of Zimbabwe’s rural residents struggle to meet basic food needs, and international aid groups continue to fill gaps amid soaring inflation.

(TOP PHOTO: Smoke rises from the site of an attack in Kabul this week.)


A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues. Afghanistan’s bloody peace talks, Dorian’s damage, and Bangladesh’s push to silence Rohingya phones News Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN Mozambique Zimbabwe South Africa DRC Burundi Americas Venezuela Bangladesh Afghanistan Myanmar Bahamas Libya Yemen Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

For Rohingya women, refugee elections bring new opportunities – and new problems

IRIN Gender - Mon, 08/26/2019 - 07:02

Romida Begum sat on a chair in her tent home. Nearby, her older male assistant eyed her with a sideways glance. Romida – 27, a woman, and a refugee – couldn’t help but smirk: for once in her life, she was in charge.


Last June, Romida and other refugees headed to the polls in Shalbagan camp, one corner of the massive Rohingya settlements in Bangladesh that are home to more than 900,000 people. That’s how Romida found herself thrust into the position of camp leader, representing her community before Bangladesh’s government, the army, and aid groups.

However, interviews with Romida by The New Humanitarian over the past year show how attempts to make camp leadership more democratic have met resistance from an entrenched male-dominated system. And her experiences also signal the difficulties women face in their new leadership roles, even as aid groups make plans for further elections.

Months after fleeing a military purge in Myanmar, the refugees in Shalbagan were asked to choose leaders to represent their part of the camps. Stripped of rights and citizenship in Myanmar, most were voting for the first time in their lives.

Suddenly, Romida had more responsibilities as a refugee in Bangladesh than she ever had back home in Myanmar’s Rakhine State – where generations of Rohingya were disenfranchised by apartheid-like government policies, and where women in conservative Rohingya communities are largely expected to stay home.

“Finally there is something positive about us fleeing from home,” Romida said, beaming, when TNH first met her shortly after her election victory.

But not everyone believes Romida, or other women, are up to the task of leading.

Most of the camps are now headed by unelected Rohingya known as majhis, who Bangladesh’s army installed as a stopgap measure after a Myanmar military purge pushed 700,000 people across the border in August 2017 – multiplying the existing refugee population in a few short weeks.

rohingya-elections-1.jpg Verena Hölzl/TNH A man walks through Shalbagan, part of Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps now home to nearly one million people.

Ayob, a majhi in another part of the camps, was appointed after the influx.

He spoke in a gravelly voice – he had a sore throat, he said, from mitigating a quarrel over money between two refugees the night before.

“These two men would have never listened to a woman,” he said, grumbling.

The vote that elected Romida was part of a “community governance” pilot scheme – led by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR – that intends to replace the majhi system and bring more representative leadership to Bangladesh’s camps. So far, polls have been held in four of the 34 crowded camps.

Read more →

Why aid groups want Rohingya refugees to vote

Rights groups say the existing majhi system is especially unrepresentative for women and girls – the majhis are almost exclusively middle-aged men. They hold inordinate power: as both representatives of and arbiters for their communities, and also as gatekeepers for some of the vital humanitarian assistance on which most refugees depend.

Refugees and rights groups accuse majhis of corruption – in conversations with TNH, many Rohingya referred to them as “bloodsuckers”. One recent survey found one in three Rohingya had “little or no” trust in the majhis.

Learning to lead

Each of the 34 camps are subdivided into smaller sections. Romida’s job is to represent 16,000 refugees in three camp blocks. Rather than political leadership, she helps facilitate the work of humanitarian groups, alerting NGOs and the Bangladeshi authorities when there are infrastructure problems like broken bridges or overflowing latrines.

When Romida was first elected last year, she worried she might not be knowledgeable enough for her new job. But after receiving training on camp management and conflict resolution, she began to settle in.

Colourful cloths decorated the ceiling and walls of her bamboo shelter, which she had partially converted into a community space. A woman in the camp had brought her husband: she wanted Romida to sort out a dispute.

The woman, Ambiya Khatun, sat on the floor with an icy stare. Her husband regularly disappeared, she said, forcing her to beg for food from her neighbours.

Sitting on a plastic chair next to Romida, Mohammed Rafique, the husband, said he didn’t want to work as a rickshaw driver or any of the other unofficial jobs available – he’s a painter, he said. But nobody needs a painter in the camps.

After listening patiently, Romida appealed to Rafique's conscience. “We live in a refugee camp now and we need to adapt to our new circumstances,” she said, calmly.

In her role as camp leader, Romida tries to settle disputes like this almost every day. Some of her neighbours appreciate her ability to listen.

“We females like to discuss things with another woman,” said Shahina Begum, one of Romida’s constituents. In the election, the 23-year-old voted for “rose” – the symbol Romida had chosen to identify herself on the ballot paper.

rohingya-elections-4.jpg Verena Hölzl/TNH Shahina Begum voted for Romida in the camp elections. Almost all Rohingya were barred from voting or running for office during Myanmar’s last national elections in 2015.

Romida spends her days with her hands wrapped around her phone – she needs to be reachable. “I did not imagine all of these tasks,” she said, when TNH first spoke with her in July 2018.

Being useful to her community is meaningful after a lifetime of hardship in Myanmar and now Bangladesh: “It makes me feel good,” she said.

And as a camp leader and “chairman” of her three blocks, she has the opportunity to explore the world around her, even if it’s only the short walk from her shelter to the office of the government representative.

“Before being a chairman, I never left the house,” Romida said. “Now I go out a lot.”

Resistance to new leaders

But while Romida has learned to work with humanitarian groups and enjoys helping out her community, she has also faced resistance, even threats, from men reluctant to have a woman as their representative – including the unelected majhis. And she has grown frustrated trying to balance her newfound responsibilities with the realities of being a refugee.

The election rules have quotas ensuring that women have a voice: both men and women are represented on camp committees, and either the camp leader or the deputy must be a woman.

But female leadership represents a stark change in conservative Rohingya society. UN Women, which works on gender issues in the camps, has questioned whether the community as a whole is ready. The group was not involved in planning the election process but offers leadership training to the newly elected women.

Read more →

Why some say overhauling Rohingya leadership shouldn't be rushed

Romida’s detractors contend that she doesn’t have the experience to be in charge.

“If she's still learning, she should be a student not a teacher,” said Nuru Salam, a majhi in Romida’s camp, sipping his tea in a bamboo hut that had been turned into a cafe.

Back in Myanmar, Nuru was chairman in his Rohingya village. In Bangladesh, the army appointed him a majhi. The idea of being replaced by a woman doesn’t go over well with him.

“She can't even tell the community what the officials say because she doesn't understand,” he said.

Nuru ran in the same election as Romida; he didn’t win, but he still has influence as a majhi. The other refugees still call him “okata”, or chairman, he said.

UNHCR officials have said they expect change to be slow: many refugees that look to the majhis for leadership won’t necessarily turn to newly elected leaders like Romida overnight.

Read more: Crime in the camps

Security has long been a concern in Bangladesh’s overcrowded camps, but the rapid expansion of the refugee settlements after August 2017 has made the issue more pressing.

Refugees and civil society leaders speak of receiving threats because of their work.

In an April report, the International Crisis Group warned of a need to improve law and order in the now city-sized camps. The report said there was a struggle for control among many different sides, including criminal gangs, informal leaders, and militants with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) – blamed for attacking Myanmar border areas in 2017, which directly preceded the military onslaught on civilians.

Rights group Fortify Rights has accused ARSA of abducting and threatening camp residents, including Rohingya women who worked with aid agencies, or others seen as being “informants” for authorities in Bangladesh or Myanmar. The group has denied the claims on social media.

In a June survey, Ground Truth Solutions, which researches people affected by crises, said “theft, attacks, fights, and violence have emerged more clearly as key concerns” among Rohingya refugees.

But the past year has been difficult for Romida, who feels like she doesn’t wield much actual power despite her elected position.

“I am not sure if my voice really matters,” Romida said when TNH met her again early this year, after she had spent months as camp leader.

rohingya-elections-7.jpg Verena Hölzl/TNH Romida Begum has grown frustrated after a year in office as an elected camp leader. She said she has faced resistance and threats from majhis and others opposed to her leadership.

Her tent home – doubling as her office and community hall – was adorned with posters bearing drawings and human rights slogans. Her fingers still latched tightly around her phone, but she was beginning to question her role.

She said dealing with the majhis in her community has been taxing.

Some majhis are connected with “powerful gangs”, she said, declining to go into details for fear of reprisals: “If I report, it is dangerous for me. As a woman, I am scared.”

It’s not just the threats or resistance from majhis: the job of camp leader itself is unpaid. When she applies for short-term work with NGO programmes, she’s often rejected and told she already has a job. “I need to somehow support my family,” she said.

When TNH spoke with her again last month, Romida had been in office for more than a year, and aid groups were still planning further elections. After her initial excitement at being elected, Romida decided that she’d had enough.

“For the next elections,” she said, “I won’t run again.”

(TOP PHOTO: Romida Begum covers a smile as she meets with TNH after winning the job of camp leader in an election held in June 2018. Polls have taken place in four of the 34 Rohingya refugee camps.)


‘I am not sure if my voice really matters.’ For Rohingya women, refugee elections bring new opportunities – and new problems Verena Hölzl News feature Migration Human Rights Politics and Economics COX’S BAZAR/Bangladesh IRIN Politics and Economics
Categories: Gender Parity

Zimbabwe heats up, Yemen donors fail to pay up, and how women’s savings groups add up: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 07:59

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

On our radar Zimbabwe’s government digs in

Zimbabwe’s season of discontent is reaching a critical point. Police banned and broke up an opposition demonstration in Harare last Friday, and then this week prohibited protest gatherings in Bulawayo and Gweru. The main opposition party, the MDC, described the bans as “a crude form of political asphyxiation.” When the government came to power in 2018, it pledged to fix the economy, but has failed. Driving the protests are the hardships and shortages, from bread to petrol. With the country teetering on the brink of hyperinflation, the government has banned the release of economic data. No international friends are coming to the rescue: Western donors turned their backs when it became clear that the post-Mugabe government was not reform minded, and Chinese creditors are signaling a similar frustration. As one well-regarded blogger pointed out: “The Titanic is sinking and there is no lifeboat in sight. People see this and they want change.” But the military, the power behind the government, is not yet ready to acquiesce. See our latest coverage of the crisis here.

Flight and fallout from Idlib offensive

Rebel fighters appeared to withdraw from the flashpoint town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s northwest Idlib province this week, as Syrian government forces closed in on the strategic area. Khan Sheikhoun, which rebels have held for the past five years, lies on the M5, a north-south road that is an important supply route for rebels and has been one of the main focuses of a sustained Syrian and Russian bombing campaign. That campaign has killed more than 500 civilians since early May, forced 590,000 people into flight, and destroyed hospitals, schools, and homes. Earlier in the week, a Turkish military convoy in Idlib was hit by an airstrike, amping up tensions in the province that, along with nearby areas, is believed to be home to as many as three million people. Syria said the trucks were carrying weapons to Khan Sheikhoun. While rebels backed by Turkey said they had left the town, hardline Islamist rebel group Tahrir al-Shams said it was not giving up, portraying its own move as a “redeployment.”

Celebrating (cautiously) Africa’s polio success

In 2012, about half the world's polio cases were in Nigeria. Vaccine hesitancy, insecurity, and mistrust had allowed the disease to stage a comeback. Doubts about the vaccine arose from political, religious, and historical roots. But no cases of wild polio have appeared in Nigeria, or anywhere else in Africa, for the last three years. The World Health Organization, marking Africa’s provisional three year polio-free milestone, said celebrations should be “buttressed with caution” due to gaps in immunisation coverage. And while wild polio might be vanquished, children can still be paralysed by live polio, which mutates from the oral vaccine. That risk is avoided by a switch from oral to injectable polio vaccine once a country is free of the wild virus. Worldwide this year, there have been 66 cases of wild polio (in Afghanistan and Pakistan) and 53 cases of circulating vaccine-derived polio.

Two years and counting for Myanmar’s Rohingya

More than 700,000 Rohingya were violently driven from their homes in Myanmar in August 2017. Two years later, the refugee crisis is firmly entrenched as a long-term emergency, with nearly one million refugees stuck in limbo in Bangladesh. The two countries tried to kickstart voluntary returns this week. No one volunteered. The crisis has left a massive footprint on both sides of the border, from the razed Rohingya villages in Myanmar to Bangladesh’s crowded camps (see a bird’s eye view of the striking changes here). In Myanmar’s Rakhine State, hatred and distrust linger, and local groups trying to heal the divisions must do it quietly. In Bangladesh, refugees look to another difficult year in the camps, and women in particular face added threats of violence and struggles reaching healthcare. We’ll have more reporting on the crisis in the coming days, including a look at the opportunities – and the problems – facing emerging women leaders.

Listen up, Yemen donors

The UN is warning, not for the first time, that it will have to suspend more aid programmes in Yemen if donors do not make good on their pledges to a humanitarian response plan intended to help 20 million people. In a record-breaking pledge towards a historic ask, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – which lead an increasingly fractured and violently infighting alliance on one side of the war in Yemen – in February committed $1 billion to help Yemen. But as we reported in July, the money still has not made its way to OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body. And that is despite multiple meetings between aid officials and leaders of both countries. On Wednesday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen Lise Grande said in a statement that less than half of the $2.6 billion promised by all donors in February had been delivered. She did not name names, but said “we are desperate for the funds that were promised… when money doesn’t come, people die.”

Tussling for control of Somalia’s Jubaland

Jubaland, a small region in southern Somalia, is the centre of a regional power struggle over an election won yesterday by the state’s incumbent President Ahmed Madobe. Mogadishu has warned it will not accept the result. Regional neighbours Kenya and Ethiopia – which both have troops in Somalia – have picked opposing sides in the stand-off. At its core, the crisis is over the nature of the Somali state. The federal government in Mogadishu wants more control over the regions (from security to aid delivery) and supported a rival to Madobe. Kenya and Ethiopia have been long-standing partners in Somalia, and the Jubaland buffer state was a joint initiative in the shared battle against al-Shabab, a conflict that has displaced millions. But Ethiopia has recently aligned with Somali President Mohamed “Farmajo” Mohamed’s centralisation project, which now has Jubaland in its sights. See our Somalia coverage here.


In case you missed it...

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Two people have now died of Ebola in Congo’s South Kivu province, a conflict-ridden region that shares a border with Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania. The deadly virus was previously contained to the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.

KASHMIR: Five UN rights officials called on India to end a near-total communications blackout in Kashmir, saying an ongoing crackdown would exacerbate tensions in the volatile region. Indian-administered Kashmir has been on lockdown since early August, when India abolished special status for Jammu and Kashmir state – a move critics say could lead to radical demographic changes in the Muslim-majority state.

SUDAN: A former UN economist, Abdalla Hamdok, was sworn in as Sudan’s new prime minister this week, as the country transitions to civilian rule more than four months after the overthrow of its longtime president, Omar al-Bashir. The announcement follows the signing of a landmark power-sharing deal between the civilian opposition and military junta last Saturday.

US/MEXICO: The US will be able to indefinitely detain families who cross the US-Mexico border instead of abiding by the current 20-day limit if a new rule proposed this week by President Donald Trump’s administration is put in place. The policy must be approved by a federal judge, and officials expect court challenges to any approval.

VENEZUELA: The Trump administration has been in secret talks for months with representatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to find a way to ensure his departure and allow free and fair elections, Venezuela confirmed this week. Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country’s political and economic breakdown in recent years, creating both an internal and a regional crisis.

Weekend read Burundi’s humanitarian crisis: An inconvenient truth for the ruling party

Ten months before elections in Burundi, there’s trouble on the horizon. It’s unclear how President Pierre Nkurunziza might seek to use last year’s constitutional referendum to extend his tenure, but every sign suggests that the ruling party has no intention of relinquishing power. Sam Mednick is one of the very few foreign journalists to have gained access to the country recently, and her analysis raises a host of concerns – increasing repression, yes, but also malaria and a drought-induced food crisis. One in two Burundians has had malaria over the past year and yet the government won’t declare an epidemic. The government is also yet to endorse the findings of a UN report that said 291,000 people need emergency food assistance. As one mother struggling to feed her 12 children told Mednick: “When a government ignores the issues, it’s frustrating.”

And finally… A win-win-win for women in humanitarian crises

Can women’s economic empowerment be achieved in humanitarian emergencies? Yes it can. Moreover, it can help build resilience to deal with crises and contribute to safeguarding against gender-based violence. A CARE community-led women’s savings group project in Niger found that women’s economic empowerment is not a luxury – a common perception in some humanitarian responses. The savings groups provide loans to women to set up small business ventures or to cope with personal emergencies. The research, based on a CARE programme known as “Mata Masu Dubara”, or Ingenious Women, showed that a combination of earning, growing self-confidence, and changing attitudes contributed to better protection against GBV. Once crises subside, savings groups also pave the way to more gender equitable recovery. “The success of Mata Masu Dubara shows that what begins as a gender-sensitive humanitarian response can evolve into a gender transformative movement,” the study concluded. See our Niger coverage here.

(TOP PHOTO: Zimbabwe anti-riot police guards stand at the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) headquarters in Harare on 16 August 2019.)

Zimbabwe heats up, Yemen donors fail to pay up, and how women’s savings groups add up News Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN Niger Nigeria Zimbabwe DRC Burundi Sudan Somalia United States Venezuela Mexico Bangladesh India Myanmar Pakistan Syria Yemen Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

Roundup: The Rohingya refugee crisis, two years on

IRIN Gender - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 06:07

Two years after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were violently driven from their homes in Myanmar, the crisis has deepened into a long-term refugee emergency: Nearly one million people now face an uncertain future in the crowded camps of Bangladesh.

Prospects of a swift return home are slim. This week, Bangladesh and Myanmar tried to kickstart repatriationsno one volunteered. 

The Rohingya have faced generations of marginalisation and disenfranchisement in Myanmar. Most say they won’t return home until their rights are guaranteed, but Myanmar does not recognise the community as one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups.

In August 2017, a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State forced out more than 700,000 people. Rights groups estimate that at least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in the chaotic exodus. UN investigators this week said Myanmar soldiers had systematically raped women and girls. An earlier UN investigation has charged that the mass purge amounts to genocide; Myanmar authorities have said they were responding to attacks on border areas by a group of Rohingya fighters.

Today, the cramped refugee settlements of Bangladesh – stretched over disaster-prone hills and lowlands – have the population of a city but little of the infrastructure. 

There are mud and bamboo shelters for homes, but they’re threatened by monsoon rains and cyclones.

There are hospitals, but not everyone can reach them, especially women. 

There are makeshift classrooms, but strict limits on formal education.

There are a smattering of jobs, but few of them are legal

Most Rohingya are almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, but they have little say in how it’s delivered.

The crisis has etched a massive footprint on both sides of the border. Back in Rakhine State, rights groups say authorities have systematically demolished and erased former Rohingya villages. Hatred and distrust linger, though some local groups are quietly taking risks to heal the divisions.

A roundup of our reporting explores the origins and ongoing impacts of the Rohingya crisis in both Bangladesh and Myanmar:

*/ myanmar_1.jpg Bribes and bureaucracy: Myanmar’s chaotic citizenship system

The roots of today’s anti-Rohingya violence begin and end with a simple question: Who has the right to be a citizen of Myanmar?

pawktaw_rohingya_camp_1.jpg Inside the ‘glaringly dysfunctional’ UN mission in Myanmar

Rights groups say the UN in Myanmar is complicit in today’s anti-Rohingya violence. Here’s our investigation exploring why.

bangladesh-rohingya-2.jpg Opinion: Irresponsible data? The risks of registering the Rohingya

ID cards have brought little but pain to the Rohingya. And this time they’re biometric.

rohingya-id-1.jpg Identity and belonging in a card: How tattered Rohingya IDs trace a trail toward statelessness

After fleeing Myanmar, refugees cling to old documents as proof they belong to a country that now rejects them.

a_rohingya_refugee_child_watches_an_aircraft_fly_overhead_in_balukhali_refugee_camp_in_bangladesh_in_late_april_2018.jpg A lost generation: No education, no dreams for Rohingya refugee children

Aid groups have set up makeshift ‘learning centres’ in Bangladesh’s camps, but Rohingya parents say proper schools are needed.

*/ Stay informed before, during, and after crises myanmar-bamboovillage-3.jpg In a Myanmar village, a bamboo fence separates Rohingya and Rakhine neighbours

‘It's better we don't live together’: Rohingya families live with apartheid-like restrictions, but economic ties still bind divided communities together.

afp_myanmar_dont_use_crop.jpg Q&A: How a legal challenge on Rohingya deportation could redefine the bounds of international justice

With international accountability efforts stalled, a war crimes prosecutor uses a legal loophole to investigate anti-Rohingya violence.

rohingya-trauma-1_edit.jpg In Rohingya camps, traditional healers fill a gap in helping refugees overcome trauma

Why aid groups want to better understand how Rohingya refugees deal with mental suffering.

afp_dont_use_bangladesh-rohingyalocalaid.jpg In Bangladesh, a Rohingya strike highlights growing refugee activism

From child refugees to advocates: After years of marginalisation, a civil society is beginning to emerge in Bangladesh’s crowded camps.

new-img_4857_1920.jpg Why Rohingya women risk dangerous home births in Bangladesh’s refugee camps

Aid groups warn of ‘avoidable deaths’ as inaccessible clinics, conservative beliefs, and misinformation push pregnant women to forgo healthcare.

afp_000_1fx4wq_1280.jpg Start-up: The Rohingya entrepreneurs eking out a living in refugee camps

While job and education restrictions could leave a generation of Rohingya dependent on aid, some are finding creative ways to earn money.

un0235140_1920.jpg A novel approach to reach Rohingya refugees: Speak Rohingya

Facing high illiteracy rates and myriad languages in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, aid groups have often stumbled trying to communicate with the Rohingya. A UN investigations body tries a new tactic: Actually speaking Rohingya. 

Read more: Explore our in-depth reporting on the Rohingya crisis

(TOP PHOTO: In this file picture taken on 9 November 2017, Rohingya who entered Bangladesh by boat walk toward refugee camps after landing in Teknaf district. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Myanmar into Bangladesh two years ago.)

Roundup: The Rohingya refugee crisis, two years on News Migration Conflict Human Rights BANGKOK IRIN Asia Bangladesh Myanmar Migration
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Tensions flare as Bangladesh tries to send Rohingya home

IRIN Gender - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 10:47

Protests erupted in parts of Bangladesh’s Rohingya camps on Wednesday as authorities attempted to restart controversial plans to begin sending refugees back to Myanmar.

The two countries announced last week that repatriations could start on 22 August, beginning with 3,450 Rohingya drawn from refugee registration lists.

Officials say any returns will be voluntary, but most Rohingya – as well as rights groups and UN agencies – say it’s too dangerous to go back to their homes in Rakhine State, two years after a military crackdown sent more than 700,000 fleeing to Bangladesh.

As the latest deadline loomed this week, Bangladeshi authorities and officials with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, were only just beginning to interview prospective returnees to see if they want to return. Several Rohingya families told The New Humanitarian they would refuse.

“If I go back to Myanmar, I'll end up in a mass grave,” said Zafar Alam, a 32-year-old originally from Maungdaw township in northern Rakhine, the flashpoint of the August 2017 military purge.

He said his wife and five children were on the list, along with six other families in the neighbourhood. “No one has agreed to return,” he said. “Either they send all of us back in one go, or no one goes. We are not safe there.”

”There will be no repatriation without talking to us first.”

It was unclear how many of the refugees might volunteer, but news of the slated returns sent some Rohingya men into hiding, fearful they could be forced back to Myanmar.

“When the UNHCR officials came, my husband left,” said Rashida, a woman in another part of the camps.

Groups of Rohingya staged protests on the eve of the latest return date. Community leaders are demanding full rights and citizenship before they return – Myanmar has stripped most Rohingya of citizenship over generations, and refuses to acknowledge the community as one of the country’s 135 officially recognised ethnic groups.

On Wednesday, hundreds of residents signed or marked with thumbprints a statement denouncing the planned returns.

”There will be no repatriation without talking to us first,” the statement read.

The UNHCR is screening potential returnees in interviews this week, though the agency also says that all returns must be voluntary.

“Those who express a wish to return will be invited for a second interview to ensure the voluntariness of their decision,” said UNHCR spokesperson Louise Donovan. “They will be asked to complete a voluntary repatriation form.”

Bangladeshi authorities also say no Rohingya will be forced to go back to Myanmar. On Wednesday, officials in the camps told TNH that 235 families had undergone initial interviews, though this did not mean they would return.

“This is a voluntary process and the interviews are being done to make sure there is no fear or pressure on the families,” said Abul Kalam, the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, who heads a government body that oversees the camps.

Third time lucky?

This is Bangladesh and Myanmar’s third attempt at repatriation since the August 2017 military crackdown. Previous tries in January and November last year sparked fear, protests, and confusion over how would-be returnee lists were gathered.

Shamimul Huq Pavel, an official in Kalam’s office, said the latest list was drawn straight from refugee registration rolls in one part of the camps.

“When we started the process of registering the arriving refugees, it began from these camps,” he said. “When we handed the list to Myanmar officials, these names were on the top.”

The latest attempt at repatriation comes as Rohingya refugees were planning to mark the second anniversary of the military crackdown that forced them from their homes, which began on 25 August 2017. Médecins Sans Frontières estimates at least 9,000 Rohingya died in the onslaught. UN rights investigators accuse Myanmar’s military of committing genocide.

Human rights groups have called on Bangladesh and Myanmar to suspend repatriation plans.

“Myanmar has yet to address the systematic persecution and violence against the Rohingya, so refugees have every reason to fear for their safety if they return,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said on Wednesday.

And violence continues to flare in parts of Rakhine, even as authorities plan returns.

Since 21 June, Myanmar’s government has imposed a sweeping internet shutdown in parts of the state where clashes between the military and the Arakan Army – an ethnic Rakhine armed group – have displaced at least 30,000 people this year. Rights watchdogs fear the information blackout could be providing cover for further abuses.

(TOP PHOTO: Rohingya men wait at a place where officials of UN and Bangladesh refugee commission interviewed Rohingya families at a refugee camp in Teknaf on 21 August 2019.)


‘Either they send all of us back in one go, or no one goes.’ Tensions flare as Bangladesh tries to send Rohingya home Vidya Krishnan News Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics COX’S BAZAR/Bangladesh IRIN Asia Bangladesh Myanmar Migration
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Briefing: Hundreds of landmine deaths and injuries each year despite ban

IRIN Gender - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 09:31

Angola announced this week that it has cleared landmines from more than 100,000 kilometres of road since the civil war ended in 2002. Even so, there have been 156 landmine-related deaths in the past two years – most of them children – and some 88,000 people are living with disabilities as a result of landmine injuries.


Angola is hardly alone. Although a global landmine ban went into effect in 1999, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor recorded more than 120,000 landmine deaths or injuries between then and 2017. The real number is likely higher as gathering reliable data is difficult in countries like Syria where conflict is ongoing.

Although some countries have managed to clear the deadly munitions from their land, others are struggling to remove them.

Thirty-two countries, including the United States, have yet to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, while Myanmar reportedly laid landmines as recently as 2018.

Read more → Landmines fuel exodus in Myanmar’s north

According to Myanmar’s Mine Risk Working Group, there were 276 deaths and injuries from landmines or other explosives last year – more than double the 112 recorded in 2015. Three police were killed and three others injured in a landmine blast just this week in the country’s Rakhine State.

How did we get here?

Landmines in their current form were invented during the American Civil War, and have been a common weapon in many of the conflicts that have followed. Designed to kill and maim enemies, they often kill or injure civilians, often long after they are laid and the conflict is officially over.

By 1997, when the Ottawa Convention – informally known as the “Mine Ban Treaty” – was opened for signatures, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated there were as many as 110 million landmines scattered across some 70 countries.

The treaty went into effect in 1999 and required that all signatories stop producing, buying, and selling landmines. It also called on countries to destroy stockpiles within four years and to fully de-mine within 10 years of becoming signatories.

Twenty-five countries have fully de-mined since the Ottawa Convention, according to the US-based Arms Control Association, and there are now 164 state parties to the treaty.

If they are banned, why are landmines still an issue?

Many countries still have mines left over from conflicts that took place before the Mine Ban Treaty went into effect. These remaining mines are part of a broader category of weapons known as explosive remnants of war (ERWs).

In Zimbabwe, for instance, more than 61 million square metres of land is still contaminated with landmines 40 years after the colonial government laid them during the struggle for independence.

Landmines not only pose a threat to people, but also to local and national economies. Livestock are also vulnerable to mines, and contaminated land cannot be used for farming.

Which countries are still affected by landmines?

As of last year, 58 countries were still contaminated with landmines, according to the Mine Action Review.

Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Iraq have the heaviest mine contamination. In Cambodia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, most of the mine contamination is due to ERWs. Colombia, too, is heavily contaminated.

Although Iraq and Afghanistan have ERW contamination, they also face contamination from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left by non-state actors like the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State.

In Afghanistan, IEDs now pose a greater threat than explosive remnants from previous conflicts.

What about IEDs?

While landmines may be outlawed, IEDs continue to be used in conflict – often by non-state actors in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen.

In 2017, the most recent year for which full data is available, IEDs caused the most casualties of any mine type. Afghanistan saw more than 1,000 deaths or injuries from IEDs – the highest toll in the world that year. The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor found that 88 percent of those killed or maimed by IEDs were civilians.

For organisations trying to keep track of landmines, IEDs can be particularly tricky. Reliable data can be hard to gather from active conflict zones, and IED incidents often go unrecorded.

Which countries are still producing and laying mines?

Four countries – India, Pakistan, Myanmar, and South Korea – are believed to still be actively producing landmines, according to the Landmine Cluster and Munition Monitor.

However, according to The Monitor, 11 countries – China, Cuba, India, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam – maintain the right to produce landmines.

In addition to Myanmar, governmental use of landmines has also been recorded in recent years in Libya and Syria.

In 2014, president Barack Obama’s administration announced that the United States would not use landmines – apart from on the Korean peninsula – and would destroy some of its stockpile.

In 2018, following a slight reduction in tensions between North and South Korea, the two countries began removing some landmines in the demilitarised zone. Seoul and Pyongyang combined have laid somewhere between 1.8 and 2.2 million landmines.

So what is being done?

Global demining efforts are ongoing. In 2014, the signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty agreed to complete their mine clearance by 2025.

Progress is being made. Funding for demining efforts has been steady since 8,600 landmine-related deaths or injuries were recorded in 2016.

The UN Mine Action Service, which has been operational since 1997, also supported 18 programmes around the world in 2018 that cleared some 144 square kilometres of land.

Although 25 countries have already successfully demined, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines says only four countries are likely to make their demining deadlines.

Sixty-five percent of funding in 2017 went to just five countries – Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Laos, and Syria. Earlier this summer, Angola announced that it needed more than $300 million to stay on track to demine by its 2025 deadline.

In many countries, mine casualties are falling. Colombia, the most heavily mined country in the western hemisphere, recorded only 50 deaths and injuries in 2017, down from more than 1,200 in 2006. Still, it is not on track to meet its own 2021 deadline.

Demining efforts are still heavily reliant on people to find and remove landmines (however, a robot developed by a young Canadian engineer might soon enter the fray). Organisations like the HALO Trust train, equip, and pay local people to demine safely. In Angola, for example, HALO runs a project to train women how to demine.

Still, the nature of the work is slow going, and a mine-free world is still a long way off despite the international deadlines.

(TOP PHOTO: Sudarana, a 20 year-old Sri Lankan woman trained as de-mining technician by the UK charity HALO Trust at work in a paddy field near Thunukkai, northern Sri Lanka.)


Briefing: Hundreds of landmine deaths and injuries each year despite ban Vittoria Elliott News Conflict Human Rights NEW YORK IRIN Angola United States Myanmar Global Conflict
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Stranded Syrians, democracy in Africa, and women humanitarians: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 08/16/2019 - 09:26

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

On our radar Rukban’s last stand?

Syrians stranded in the Rukban camp would rather risk their lives in “catastrophic” conditions than put themselves at the mercy of Syrian authorities. A new UN/Red Crescent mission is offering one more chance to the remaining population at Rukban to get out. Somewhere between 11,000 and 24,000 people are estimated to be stranded close to the border with Jordan – some will be persuaded to go, others not. For those who stay, despite (or because of) US and Russian strategic interest in the area, there is little prospect of relief or safe passage. Their desert encampment is neither under Syrian government control, nor under a single armed group. It gets no aid, due to Syrian and Jordanian restrictions; smugglers supply a trickle of basic goods. Sexual abuse and criminality are common, and childbirth is dangerous. About half the population, estimated to be 41,000 in February, have since gone back to their home areas. Some able-bodied men have managed to slip away on smugglers' motorbikes.

Game-changing Ebola drugs in DRC

More than a year into the Democratic Republic of Congo’s deadly Ebola outbreak, some good news finally emerged this week. Two new antibody-based treatments being trialled in the DRC have proved so effective that some scientists believe Ebola can no longer be considered incurable. The drugs – REGN-EB3 and mAb-114 – increase survival rates to between 89 and 94 percent and will now be rolled out across Ebola clinics in affected areas. An experimental vaccine produced by the American pharmaceutical company Merck has also proven effective, delivering roughly 97 percent protection for those inoculated. It is hoped the new drugs will significantly reduce the fear that surrounds the virus and encourage more people to seek treatment, though health experts have warned that building trust between local communities and Ebola responders will also be crucial in combating the outbreak – now the second-deadliest on record.

Social media and democracy in Africa

Since the beginning of 2019, at least 10 African countries have suffered government-ordered internet shutdowns. Chad so far holds the record, with a 16-month blackout that finally ended in July. Social media is increasingly framed as a threat by authoritarian leaders. But it’s complicated. Social media can provide the public with greater access to information and is a tool for hashtag-driven political mobilisation. It also allows an urban elite to dominate the conversation to the exclusion of all others; serves as a testing ground for election manipulation algorithms; or indeed threaten the state, as in the case of al-Shabab, whose social media game is streaks ahead of the Somali government’s. Nigeria’s 2019 election was an example of how WhatsApp was used to both spread disinformation and counter it. Social media alone cannot (yet?) win an election in Africa. So while WhatsApp and other social media have transformed the electoral environment, they have not revolutionised it.

Malaria reaches ‘epidemic levels’ in Burundi

A six-year-old Burundian YouTube star, Darcy Irakoze, died of malaria this week, putting the spotlight on what the UN has described as an “epidemic” in the small East African country. 1,800 people have died of the mosquito-borne disease since January and almost six million people – roughly half of Burundi’s population – have been infected. Health experts blame climatic changes and a lack of preventative measures like mosquito nets, but Burundi’s government has downplayed the numbers and refused to declare a national emergency. The country’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza – who was controversially re-elected for a third term in 2015 – is likely keen to avoid criticism ahead of presidential elections next year. Look out for our upcoming report on the humanitarian needs that Burundi’s government would rather you didn’t see, and check out our story this week on the challenges of combating malaria in Kenya.

Too much freedom?

How do African citizens perceive and interpret the state of political and civil liberties? The independent research outfit Afrobarometer uncovered some disturbing trends in a 34- country survey. The results reveal a decline in popular demand for hard-won freedoms, in particular the right to associate freely. There is also “considerable willingness” to accept the imposition of restrictions in the name of protecting public security – especially in Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Cameroon, and Niger – all countries that have experienced political violence (see our Sahel coverage here). In contrast, there were low levels of support for restrictions on freedoms in Cabo Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Morocco, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. As the researchers write, the survey’s findings suggest that fear of insecurity may be leading citizens to conclude that “freedoms come with costs as well as benefits, and that there may be such a thing as too much freedom”.

A day honouring women humanitarians

Monday, 19 August marks World Humanitarian Day, a concept created ten years ago by the UN to highlight relief work and contributions of aid workers. Events will be held in at least 16 countries. This year the UN's relief coordination wing, OCHA, has made “women humanitarians” its theme, and will release a special video profiling 24 individuals in a day-in-the-life video presentation for the occasion. The UK-based think tank ODI will have a Twitter chat panel discussion about the “risks and rewards” for women working in the sector; the hashtags are #WomenHumanitarians or #WHD2019. Profiles and multimedia packages have been published by many aid groups, including Islamic Relief and World Vision. Not to be left out, we’ll issue a selection of coverage from The New Humanitarian to mark the occasion.


In case you missed it…

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: 1,900 civilians were killed by armed groups operating in Congo’s eastern Kivu provinces between June 2017 and June 2019, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch and the New York University-based Congo Research Group. More than 3,300 people were abducted during the same period.

MALI: Seven years of conflict in Mali are taking a toll on children, according to UNICEF. More than 150 children have been killed this year, with 75 others injured in violent attacks. A spike in intercommunal violence and armed groups has also led to a doubling of the number of child soldiers compared to the same period last year. More than 900 schools also remain closed.

UNAIDS: The UN's organisation for HIV/AIDS will be led by Ugandan Winnie Byanyima, replacing Michel Sidibé, whose leadership was slammed by an independent panel. Sidibé’s departure followed a sexual harassment case involving a senior UNAIDS official. No stranger to dealing with bad publicity, Byanyima led Oxfam International during the fallout from revelations about sexual exploitation and abuse by the NGO’s staff in Haiti.

YEMEN: A large rally in Yemen’s southern city of Aden passed off peacefully on Thursday as tens of thousands gathered to celebrate the political aspirations of southern Yemen and the recent seizure of control of the local administration by forces led by the armed group Southern Transitional Council (STC). With the north under Houthi control and Aden under STC, Yemen’s political fragmentation continues.

Weekend read Mystery militia sows fear – and confusion – in Congo’s long-suffering Ituri

Six weeks ago, we explored how several emergencies in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo risk being overlooked because of the Ebola outbreak. Our editors’ choice this weekend is an in-depth look at one of them: conflict in Ituri. Since June, 360 people have been killed, 300,000 displaced, by a wave of gruesome attacks tearing the region – also afflicted by Ebola – apart. Journalist Philip Kleinfeld travelled to Ituri to get to the bottom of what is going on. He found villages deserted, women and children with gunshots and arrow wounds lying untreated in a solitary hospital, but few answers to who was behind the attacks. Motives of the militiamen, referred to locally as simply “les assailants” (“the attackers”), remain largely a mystery. “Even if there is peace, I have lost my hope,” says the mother of three murdered children.

And finally … An Italian doctor’s newest patient: EU migration policies

He was known as the “Doctor of Lampedusa” for his work in treating migrants who landed on the Italian island. Now, Pietro Bartolo is serving as a member of the European parliament and wants to help reform EU migration policies. Those are policies whose impact Bartolo has seen first-hand – some of which critics say encourage the “criminalisation” of humanitarian work. Recently, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini banned the Proactiva Open Arms rescue ship from entering territorial waters. An Italian court then blocked Salvini’s orders, and six EU countries offered to help the ship’s passengers, but the ship remains near Lampedusa without a port to go to and nearly 150 people aboard. “It's our duty to save lives,” Bartolo told the BBC recently, “but today it's becoming a crime?”

(TOP PHOTO: Displaced families living in Rukban.)


Stranded Syrians, democracy in Africa, and women humanitarians News Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN Africa Mali DRC Burundi Italy Libya Syria Yemen Conflict
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Roundup: The civilian toll of decades of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir

IRIN Gender - Fri, 08/16/2019 - 07:52

The UN Security Council is holding a rare closed-door meeting Friday following the Indian Parliament’s vote last week to strip the special statehood status of Jammu and Kashmir – a move that could pave the way for non-Kashmiris to buy land and settle in the area, and one that could ultimately alter the religious landscape in the Muslim-majority territory.

Some 400 Kashmiri politicians, political aides, and separatist leaders have been arrested, and a communication blackout was put into place following the 5 August vote.

Rising tensions also helped trigger renewed bloodshed between India and Pakistan — both claim the contested Kashmir region, where border flare-ups are common. Pakistan said on Thursday at least three of its soldiers and two civilians were killed, while five Indian soldiers allegedly died – a claim India denied.

Last year was Kashmir’s deadliest in a decade, with at least 586 people killed, and the bloodshed has continued, with 271 deaths through the first half of 2019, according to local rights monitors.

Kashmir has been the subject of two wars between nuclear armed India and Pakistan. A May 2016 survey by Médecins Sans Frontières found that 45 percent of the population in the Kashmir valley were under “significant mental distress” and nearly one in five Kashmiris showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Strikes, protests, and resulting curfews have also shut down schools for long stretches.

A roundup of our reporting spanning nearly two decades, from both the Pakistan and India sides of the Kashmir border, offers a look at how the ongoing conflict has impacted the lives of communities across the region.

*/ afp-photo-kashmir-funeral-al-qaeda-000_1gu5x9.jpg Kashmir’s decade-high death toll a ‘warning sign’

Residents fear a cycle of rights abuses, protests, and crackdowns will bring a new era of increased militancy.

kashmir_1.jpg Pellet guns out in deadly force in Kashmir, after court refuses ban

After almost three months of violence, there are no plans for peace negotiations while Indian security forces continue firing pellet guns on protestors and the toll rises.

edit_kashmir_schools_are_burning.00_01_27_16.still003.jpg Community schools spring up in Kashmir, where education is under attack

Schools have been shuttered and burned during the past five months of civil unrest.

201502251027260232.jpg India-Pakistan: The new victims of an old border dispute

India and Pakistan’s dormant conflict is still alive and present for the thousands on the border between the two countries.

200511129.jpg Growing unease in Kashmir over prospect of war

In the wake of terrorist bombings in Mumbai, tensions in Kashmir rising.

205272.jpg Border conflict causes thousands to flee

While the world waits for the ongoing Kashmir border conflict between India and Pakistan to turn into war, for the thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire it is already, and has been for many years, a bloody reality.

(TOP PHOTO: Security personnel stand guard during a lockdown in Srinagar on 14 August, after the Indian government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy.)

UN Security Council meets on India's vote to strip special status of contested Kashmir region Roundup: The civilian toll of decades of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir News Migration Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics IRIN Asia India Pakistan Conflict
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Italy’s newest migration clampdown, a US aid clawback, and worries in Kashmir: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 08/09/2019 - 12:08

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

On our radar €1m Italian fine for migrant rescue ships

In yet another step towards what critics refer to as the “criminalisation of humanitarian aid” – and another win for Italian Interior Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) Matteo Salvini – Italy’s parliament on Monday voted in favour of a bill that drastically hikes the punishments for NGO boats that rescue migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean. The new law boosts the possible fine for vessels operating in Italian waters without permission from 50,000 to one million euros, threatens to arrest their captains, and allows for the boats to be impounded. It’s the latest in a series of moves by Salvini and his far-right League party to crack down on migration and the NGOs that help people at sea. That effort has included attempts to bring charges against Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Mediterranée, who together restarted search and rescue operations off the coast of Libya this week and almost immediately faced problems, as Malta refused to allow their ship to refuel in its harbour.

Trump eyes unspent aid funds

President Donald Trump’s administration is attempting to claw back billions of dollars in unspent international aid funds. The Office of Management and Budget requested that the US government’s international development arm, USAID, and the State Department freeze new spending across a range of programmes and tally unspent funds at the end of the financial year, on 30 September. Under US budgeting rules, "unobligated resources" can be cancelled if not spent by the deadline. The Trump White House proposed a similar move, known as rescission, last year to claim back about $3.5 billion, but dropped it after resistance from Congress. This year the amount would be similar, and some Democratic lawmakers have again vowed to block the move. Sam Worthington, CEO of US-based NGO alliance InterAction, said the move, first reported by The Washington Post, “threatens the effectiveness of US assistance and puts America’s global leadership at risk”. Some 90 NGOs have added their objections in a joint statement. The earmarked funds included amounts for peacekeeping, the UN, and international health efforts. The combined budget of USAID and State is around $40 billion, of which $19.2 billion is aid spent through USAID.

Kashmir on lockdown

It has been a week of heightened tensions and uncertainty after India’s government abolished special status for Indian-administered Kashmir. The move could strip autonomy from Jammu and Kashmir state and split it into two separate territories. Authorities have shut down internet and phone services, closed schools, banned public gatherings, increased troop levels, and put prominent Kashmir politicians under house arrest. Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in the Hindu-majority country. Critics say India’s actions could usher in radical demographic changes – and escalate tensions in a disputed region where authorities are already accused of rampant rights abuses. Kashmir is home to a decades-long insurgency, but local groups say crackdowns are driving young Kashmiris toward militancy. Last year was Kashmir’s deadliest in a decade, with at least 586 people killed, and the bloodshed has continued, with 271 deaths through the first half of 2019, according to local rights monitors. India and Pakistan both claim the contested Kashmir region, and border flare-ups are common.

Ebola vaccination trial rolled out in Uganda

Efforts to combat Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo have so far centred on an experimental vaccine produced by American pharmaceutical company Merck, but there are concerns about stocks of the vaccine as the outbreak – the second deadliest ever – has entered its second year. Last week neighbouring Uganda launched a two-year trial of a second vaccine, inoculating some 800 health workers and others who would be more likely to come into contact with the disease. The vaccine regime, which requires two doses 56 days apart – unlike the Merck vaccine, which only requires a one-off dose – has already been tested on some 6,000 people in Europe, the United States, and Africa. The vaccine is manufactured by Janssen Vaccines & Prevention B.V., part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson. The Congolese government has been reluctant to use the Janssen vaccine, despite a May recommendation to do so by the World Health Organisation’s panel of experts. In addition to providing longer-lasting and stronger immunity, experts say the Janssen vaccine, unlike the Merck one, has the potential to protect people against several different strains of Ebola. The current outbreak has killed more than 1,850 people, including a five-year-old boy in Uganda who had travelled to an affected area in eastern Congo.


In case you missed it…

AFGHANISTAN: A Taliban-claimed suicide attack killed 14 people and injured more than 140 people in Kabul this week. It follows a July in which conflict casualties jumped to 1,500 civilians – the highest monthly total in more than two years, according to the UN.

BURUNDI: More than 1,800 people have died from malaria this year in Burundi, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency. Nationwide, some 5.7 million cases have been recorded since the beginning of the year, a figure that represents roughly half of Burundi’s population.

DATA: After agreements with Houthi officials, the UN World Food Programme plans to add biometric records of nine million people in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen to its databases. The agency already has records of 37 million people and the fingerprints of more than seven million in 32 countries, according to a statement. Meanwhile, the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, has collected records of 500,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, about half the total.

LIBYA: Several days of clashes in the southern city of Murzuq have reportedly killed at least 75 people since last Saturday. One airstrike alone killed at least 43 people on Sunday, and the fighting between tribes in the area continues.

YEMEN: Deepening tensions in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen led to an outbreak of violence in the southern city of Aden this week, reportedly killing at least one person and injuring several others.

Weekend read Reporter’s Diary: Boko Haram and the Battle of Ideas

What happens when an insurgent group serves a community better than the government? It’s a question that seemed apt to ask now, 10 years after the jihadist group Boko Haram appeared on the scene in northeast Nigeria, sparking an ongoing war that has left more than two million people displaced and 35,000 dead. No one seems to be winning – which is a terrible indictment of the Nigerian government and its counter-insurgency campaign, TNH editor Obi Anyadike writes in a reporter’s notebook. Spend some time with him this weekend, as he reflects on the town of Baga and why Nigeria’s jihadists still pose an ideological challenge. Baga is now controlled by an offshoot of Boko Haram, and many residents are not complaining. A commander with the jihadists explains why: “We have introduced a new regime of services to the local populace,” he boasted to Anyadike in a WhatsApp interview. “It would seem that the military, even at the height of their control over these territories, did not present themselves as a value proposition to the villagers, [meting out only] injustice.” Meet some of the residents of Baga, who, as Anyadike reveals, are not looking for an ideology but for a peaceful existence that, so far, their government has failed to provide.

And finally... US accused of deepening Venezuela crisis

A decision this week by the Trump administration to freeze all Venezuelan government assets with only a few exceptions for transactions related to certain items of food, clothing, and medicine drew condemnation from the UN rights chief. “I am deeply worried about the potentially severe impact on the human rights of the people of Venezuela of the new set of unilateral sanctions imposed by the US this week,” the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in a statement on Thursday. The measures, intended to up the pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to cede power, are “likely to significantly exacerbate the crisis for millions of ordinary Venezuelans”, Bachelet said. Following the move, Maduro pulled his delegation out of mediation talks with the opposition, scheduled for Thursday in Barbados, citing “grave and brutal aggression” by the Trump administration. Some 3.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country’s economic and political meltdown since the end of 2015, sparking a region-wide humanitarian crisis.

(TOP PHOTO: Crew members of the 'Ocean Viking' rescue ship, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Mediterranée, stand ready on board of an inflatable dinghy, as they approach an inflatable boat carrying some 85 migrants on 9 August 2019.)

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Deconfliction, data difficulties, and a deadly day in Yemen: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 08/02/2019 - 12:13

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

On our radar Bad to worse in Yemen

Two attacks in Yemen’s southern city of Aden made for one of the war’s deadliest day in years on Thursday: at least 40 people were killed when a Houthi missile hit a military parade, and a suicide bomber drove a truck into a police station into the city, killing at least 11. No one has claimed responsibility for the second bombing. Most of the troops hit in the missile attack, including a senior commander, belong to a force loyal to (and paid by) the United Arab Emirates, which along with Saudi Arabia runs a coalition that supports the internationally recognised, but largely exiled, Yemeni government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Last month, the UAE announced it was pulling most of its troops and weaponry out of Yemen, and has increasingly called for a political solution to Yemen’s more than four-year war, in yet another sign of how divided apparent allies on both sides of the conflict often are. Earlier in the week, both Houthi rebels and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition blamed the other party for an attack on a market in the northern province of Saada that killed a reported 14 civilians.

Funding for Palestinian refugees frozen

Donor countries Switzerland and the Netherlands have suspended funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees until an investigation into allegations of misconduct is resolved. The UN's internal watchdog has not finished its probe into UNRWA, but details were published of a dossier of allegations compiled by the agency’s ethics office. According to the document obtained by Al Jazeera, an inner circle at the top of the organisation was guilty of "misconduct, nepotism, retaliation... and other abuses of authority". According to Al Jazeera, the document suggests the commissioner general, Pierre Krähenbühl, had a personal relationship with a direct subordinate. UNRWA has faced financial crisis since President Donald Trump’s administration slashed US funding to zero. Briton Christian Saunders was named as acting deputy commissioner from 1 August, replacing one of the figures named in the complaint. In a statement, UNRWA said it could not comment on allegations while the investigation was underway.

Futile coordinate-sharing

After three months of escalating deaths, displacement, and hits on hospitals in and around Syria’s Idlib province, the UN appears to be coming to the conclusion that the coordinate-sharing system it uses to stop aid clinics, schools, and other civilian targets from being bombed is not working. Its “deconfliction” mechanism allows NGOs to share their locations with OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, which in turn hands them over to the warring parties with air power. The idea is to keep the sites safe, but on Tuesday OCHA head Mark Lowcock warned, not for the first time, that “in the current environment deconfliction is not proving effective in helping to protect those who utilise the system”. And on Thursday a UN spokesperson announced that UN Secretary-General António Guterres was setting up an inquiry into “destruction of, or damage to facilities on the deconfliction list and UN-supported facilities in the area”. At least one aid group working in Syria already says the probe is too little too late. Click here for background on humanitarian deconfliction and how it works, and click here to get up to date on what’s happening in northwest Syria.

Rohingya registration data mystery

This week, a delegation from the government of Myanmar met with Rohingya refugees and government officials in Bangladesh’s cramped camps to discuss possible repatriation. Human Rights Watch called it a “bizarre charm offensive”. Local news confirmed that 25,000 names representing more than 5,000 Rohingya families, validated by Bangladesh’s government, were handed over to Myanmar. Later, an official with the disaster coordination arm of the regional body ASEAN, posted a photo showing a box of the printouts. They appear to show the details of refugees and possibly – it’s hard to see – fingerprints. Bangladesh and Myanmar have previously shared lists of refugees as part of preparations for returns – though no official repatriations have happened and most Rohingya say they won’t return until their safety and citizenship in Myanmar is guaranteed. Myanmar insists that returnees accept provisional National Verification Cards, which do not guarantee citizenship. Given Myanmar’s denial of full citizenship for the Rohingya, data protection advocates have warned that digital biometric registration could be as useful for rejecting Rohingya rights as protecting them. The last attempt at a homecoming flopped in November 2018, when 2,260 pre-selected people refused to return. Many refugees have undergone multiple government-mandated registrations in Bangladesh’s camps. The current effort to register the Rohingya is the most high-tech: since June 2018, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and the Bangladeshi government have registered 430,000 people (less than half of the Rohingya refugees) and collected related biometric data: fingerprints and iris scans. It’s not yet clear if this latest round of biometric data is what filled the box in the photo. A UNHCR official told TNH the organisation is “seeking clarification” from Bangladesh.

What happens when 700,000 farmers and fishers flee their homes?

While haphazard return plans and Rohingya ID are scrutinised once again, there’s new information about conditions in the homeland that refugees fled: the razed fields and villages of northern Rakhine state. In April and May last year, Myanmar’s government allowed a UN team to conduct a rare analysis of agricultural production and food security in a state where humanitarian access is severely restricted. The mission found vast tracts of abandoned rice fields, decimated livestock, and severe harvest losses. It’s not a surprise considering 700,000 Rohingya – many farming families among them – were forced to leave their land months earlier. But the numbers are striking: less than one quarter of the season’s planted paddy rice was harvested, and many fields weren’t sown. This caused market food prices to spike by between 26 and 44 percent, and the majority of farmers had already run out of food months before the usual lean season. How are things today? Nearly 100,000 people in the north depend on emergency food aid, and food insecurity is spreading elsewhere in Rakhine, where the military has been battling the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army. Local farmers report fields have been left idle, and rights groups warn of a mounting food crisis.


In case you missed it

THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: The wife and daughter of a man who died of Ebola this week in the eastern city of Goma have tested positive for the disease, as has the nurse who treated him. Health authorities are trying to trace all possible contacts of the family in Goma, a densely populated city on the Rwandan border. The dead man’s sister, who had fled to South Kivu – a province that hasn’t had any Ebola cases – has been found and will be monitored. For all the latest, read our report from Goma.

PAKISTAN: More than three million people in Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces could face crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity through October, according to new early warning analyses. Sindh and Balochistan have suffered through years of drought and underdevelopment, and ongoing monsoon flooding is making matters worse.

SUDAN: Pro-democracy leaders say they have resolved major sticking points regarding a power-sharing agreement with the country’s military rulers. A stumbling block was the opposition’s refusal to accept blanket immunity for the members of the transitional government for past crimes. It comes as the African Union demanded the prosecution of the soldiers responsible for the killing of protesters in el-Obeid, and more deaths in Omdurman this week.

YEMEN: For the second time this year, desert locusts have swarmed through Yemen, providing a welcome food source in a country facing famine but also threatening future agricultural production. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that while Yemen is not the only country with the influx, the war has impeded efforts to control the insects.

Weekend read US-Mexico border crisis: Contradictions and conundrums from the front line

US President Donald Trump has been busy changing laws in recent weeks both at home and abroad to dissuade large numbers of people from immigrating to the United States. In our weekend read James Jeffrey looks at the effects of the new measures. What he finds at the US-Mexico border knocks holes in the more simplistic narratives being woven around the crisis: a Texas nun working on the response feels by and large that US border guards are just doing their jobs; Trump’s measures also appear to be working, at least in terms of deterrence. But the human fallout is real too, especially on the Mexican side of the border. As Jeffrey highlights, many would-be immigrants are families of asylum seekers from Central America fleeing crime and persecution rather than single men from Mexico who used to make up the bulk of immigrants. For more on how the search for safety just got harder, watch this TNH film about a lesbian couple from El Salvador stuck in dangerous limbo in crime-ridden Ciudad Juárez.

And finally... Vocabulary time: Digilantism and technocolonialism

Two articles analysing the politics around international aid have expanded our vocabulary this week. One features Barbie Savior, Humanitarians of Tinder on Tumblr, and Radi-Aid. These satirical accounts are a crafted form of digilantism, authors Kaylan C. Schwarz and Lisa Ann Richey argue. They describe how disrespectful or exploitative depictions of poverty, especially by comfortable Western voluntourists, are mocked by a watchful online community. A second article introduces another portmanteau term, technocolonialism, to describe the role of digital innovation and data in humanitarian practice. Mirca Madianou’s July 2019 paper (touching on refugee and feedback apps and Rohingya biometrics) argues that the way digital data is being used revives patterns of coloniality, stating: “refugees and other humanitarian subjects are disproportionately affected by the convergence of digital developments, capitalism, and colonial legacies”.

(TOP PHOTO: Yemeni security forces at the scene of a missile attack in Aden on 1 August 2019.)


Deconfliction, data difficulties, and a deadly day in Yemen News Migration Conflict Food Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN DRC Sudan United States Mexico Bangladesh Myanmar Pakistan Palestine Syria Yemen Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

Waiting in Juárez: Women and LGBTI asylum seekers stuck in a dangerous limbo

IRIN Gender - Wed, 07/31/2019 - 12:01

Teresa and Maria* are seeking asylum in the United States. More than that, they are seeking safety from gang violence and a reprieve from discrimination for simply being a lesbian couple. They want stability and a safe home.


They are from El Salvador, which has the highest rate of femicide in all of Latin America, and the highest rate of homicide in the world.

Under a controversial metering system – used consistently for the first time by President Donald Trump’s administration – asylum seekers must pick up a number and wait for weeks or months to cross and request asylum, before being granted a preliminary interview.

This wait has been compounded since the administration began implementing a “Remain in Mexico” policy on 25 January. This measure forces many asylum seekers whose number has come up to go back to Mexico for several more months, until their immigration court date comes around. As of 24 June, the Mexican government said more than 15,000 people had been returned to cities in Mexico, including Ciudad Juárez.

Read more → Contradictions and conundrums from the front line of the US-Mexico border crisis

Notorious in the early 2000s for its high rate of femicide, Juárez is a dangerous city to wait in, especially for migrants and women, not to mention LGBTI migrant women. Violence has surged again in recent years. In 2017, there were 772 homicides. Last year, there were 1,247 – a threefold increase since 2014 – according to state officials.

Several members of the LGBTI population that spoke to TNH in Juárez said they did not feel safe or welcome in the city’s main shelter for asylum seekers. Given the lack of resources and options, many end up sleeping rough or staying in unsafe spaces. Most had no idea before coming how long they might have to stay in Juárez.

Teresa and Maria faced violence where they came from. They now face violence where they are stuck, and crossing the US border by other means is dangerous. Filmmaker and journalist Cady Voge and researcher Julia Zulver met them in Juárez as they sought to move beyond the violence of their past and their present.

Waiting in Juarez: Women and LGBTI asylum seekers stuck in a dangerous limbo

(*The names of the two women have been changed for their protection.)

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice in the Americas.​


Waiting in Juárez: Women and LGBTI asylum seekers stuck in a dangerous limbo Cady Voge Julia Zulver Video Migration Human Rights Politics and Economics Ciudad Juárez MEXICO IRIN Americas United States Mexico El Salvador Migration
Categories: Gender Parity

Deadly days in Idlib and on the Mediterranean, and a decade of Boko Haram: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 09:25

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

On our radar Syria’s Idlib: Trending downward

After three months of extreme violence in Syria’s northwest, marked by hits on hospitals, water facilities, and schools, this week may have seen the deadliest day for civilians since the fragile ceasefire in and around Idlib province began to unravel in April. On Monday, at least 60 people were killed and 100 injured – many of them critically – in a series of airstrikes, including one on a market in the city of Ma’arat al-Nu’man. The UN said the death toll of 39 from that attack, which includes five children, is likely to rise as more bodies are discovered. In total, at least 400 civilians have been confirmed dead since the end of April, and 440,000 have been forced into flight. Some people, the UN reports, have been displaced five or 10 times in Syria’s more than eight-year war and, with camps in the region overcrowded, many are sleeping in the open air. Syria may not be making the headlines like it used to, but there are few signs things won’t get worse before they get better.

Another deadliest day in the Mediterranean

Between 100 and 150 people are missing and feared drowned after a Thursday shipwreck off the coast of Libya, believed to be the deadliest migrant disaster on the Mediterranean Sea this year. Another 150 people were reportedly rescued by fishermen and returned to the country by the Libyan Coast Guard. The UN’s migration agency, IOM, said 84 were taken to Tajoura, the migrant detention centre in Tripoli where at least 53 people were killed by an airstrike earlier this month. The survivors of that attack were allowed to leave but, as we reported, Tajoura is already filling back up again. Before this week’s deaths at sea, Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Mediterranée announced they were restarting their search-and-rescue mission at the end of July; 14 EU countries agreed “in principle” to a plan to allow refugees to disembark in European ports and be relocated in the continent; and Italy’s government, which did not attend the EU talks, won a confidence vote over new measures to crack down even harder on NGO rescue ships that enter Italian waters.

Ten years of Boko Haram violence

Boko Haram launched its war against the Nigerian state a decade ago. The conflict has raged across the northeast and into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. It has displaced millions, triggered a famine, deposed a president, and claimed tens of thousands of lives – a level of violence that has made Boko Haram one of the world’s deadliest insurgent movements. The group confirmed its global jihadist credentials when it swore allegiance to so-called Islamic State, but then split in 2016. The breakaway faction, recognised by IS and known as ISWAP, has entrenched itself in the Lake Chad basin region, where it is building a proto-state. Its rival, led by Abubakar Shekau, responsible for the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, is largely confined to territory in the Sambisa Forest and the border with Cameroon, but remains dangerous. For more, check out a short selection of our coverage marking 10 years of war here; our Boko Haram in-depth here; and broader reporting on violent extremism in the Sahel here.

Dual threats for NGO straddling Taliban territory

A volatile month for the NGO Swedish Committee for Afghanistan shows the dangers local health workers face in Afghanistan’ s conflict. Early in July, Afghan security forces stormed an SCA-run clinic in Wardak province and allegedly “executed” at least four people, including two health workers. The Taliban swiftly ordered SCA to close 42 health facilities across the province. Then it reversed the decision only days later. What gives? The Taliban has influence in large parts of Wardak, and SCA is one of the few international NGOs trying to boost its presence in both government and insurgent areas. That means balancing demands and distrust from both Taliban and Afghan security forces. After the clinic was first raided, the Taliban accused SCA of not condemning the attack – the Taliban claims ample civilian casualties caused by government and US security forces are often downplayed. SCA did in fact denounce the original attack. And this week, for good measure, it held a press conference and did it again.

Minding money

The amount of cash used as humanitarian aid continues to grow, according to this fact sheet from Development Initiatives, teasing the NGO’s Global Humanitarian Assistance Report in September. The international aid community is fond of a thematic division of labour (“we do children, you do food”). No-strings-attached cash (let people spend how they choose) is a threat to the relevance of single-issue aid agencies. But what if people aren’t getting enough food, or children aren’t being looked after? A “Grand Bargain” working group on cash has tried to square this circle with new suggestions on monitoring the impact of cash. Another factor is targeting: how do cash transfer systems make sure they catch the most needy? A new evaluation of the largest refugee cash aid project finds that 23 percent of applicants were rejected as ineligible.

India’s Dalits: Ignored even in disasters

Disasters don’t discriminate, but humans do. When Cyclone Fani hit India’s Odisha State in early May, some Dalits – shunned in India’s banned caste system – were refused entry into storm shelters. Instead, the families were “forced to take refuge only under a tarpaulin put over a tree bent by the cyclone”, according to Shivani Rana, emergencies programme officer with Christian Aid. In an article posted this week, the NGO explores the issue of marginalisation in disaster preparedness. Another example: most Dalit and indigenous communities in Kerala didn’t receive any early warning during last year’s floods in Kerala state. Christian Aid says these groups are frequently ignored in humanitarian responses, by both local governments and the international aid system. Addressing this exclusion is tough, especially when the communities aren’t included in decision-making.


In case you missed it

EAST AFRICA: More than 15 million people are in need of drought assistance in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. The lessons are that early action can reduce the severity of disasters, but Oxfam says the international aid effort is just over a third funded. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation is warning of a locust outbreak threatening farmers in parts of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen over the next three months.

EBOLA: The World Bank is contributing another $300 million to fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo – an outbreak that has killed more than 1,750 people. The money adds to the $100 million it allocated after the outbreak was declared last August.

MEKONG DROUGHT: Southeast Asian countries dependent on the Mekong River are reporting intense drought and record-low water levels in the middle of the region’s monsoon season. Researchers say it’s exacerbated by China’s vast network of mega-dams upstream. Thailand is in the middle of a decade-worst drought; water levels in Laos (which is also damming the Mekong) are lower than one metre; and Vietnam is expecting drought through August.

OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Israeli forces began demolishing Palestinian residential buildings in East Jerusalem on 22 July. Rights watchdogs and UN officials said the demolitions were a violation of international humanitarian law and could pave the way for similar moves on land that falls under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority.

SOUTH ASIA: Monsoon flooding in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Nepal have killed more than 600 people this month as the region faces extreme (and continuing) rainfall, according to a UN tally. More than 700,000 have also been displaced, though many have also returned home as waters recede.

Weekend read


For many Iraqis, post-war life remains a struggle

In the more than 16 years since a US-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein, Iraq has endured cycles of sectarian and extremist violence. The latest chapter reached a bloody climax two years ago this month when so-called Islamic State were driven from their Mosul stronghold. It was in this northern Iraqi city that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new “caliphate” in mid-2014. In our weekend read, Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod weighs up what progress has been made since the conflict ended. Unfortunately, for large segments of the Iraqi population – including 300,000 people displaced by the violence in and around Mosul and still unable to return to their homes – the answer is not much. Some 1.6 million Iraqis remain displaced overall, and pressure is building on the government to deliver on basic services. This briefing begins a series of TNH reports on Iraq’s post-war problems, from Basra in the south to Erbil in the north. Look out for the first piece next week, on the mental health crisis facing minority Yazidis in Sinjar.

And finally... One Day, I Will

010_1diw_iraq_0k6a8968_1.jpg Vincent Tremeau/OCHA “I’ve never seen the sea, and I don’t know how to swim, but it looks so peaceful in photos. I like to imagine myself sitting on a boat in the middle of nothing, surrounded by blue.”

This upcoming exhibition by award-winning photographer Vincent Tremeau features 30 girls in nine humanitarian crisis countries showing what they want to be when they grow up. The UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, will launch the exhibition – which aims to highlight how girls are affected by conflict and displacement and why education is so critical – on Monday, 29th July at the UN headquarters in New York as part of World Humanitarian Day. The 2019 campaign honours women humanitarians around the world. Look out for the #womenhumanitarians hashtag.

(TOP PHOTO: Smoke billows above buildings in Syria's Idlib province on 19 July 2019.)


Deadly days in Idlib and on the Mediterranean, and a decade of Boko Haram News Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Food Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN Nigeria East Africa DRC Asia Bangladesh Afghanistan India Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Thailand Vietnam Myanmar Nepal Europe Palestine Israel Iraq Syria Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

Ebola emergency, Ethiopian democracy, and Pakistan’s polio problem: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 09:39

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

On our radar UN declares Ebola emergency, looks to boost response funds

Escalating the threat level of the latest Ebola outbreak may shake loose funding the World Health Organisation says has been lagging. After a first case in the major city of Goma, near the Rwandan border, the WHO this week declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, or “PHEIC”. Despite receiving only $44 million of the $98 million needed for the response, WHO Director-General Tedros Adranom Ghebreyesus said the measure wasn’t enacted to boost funds. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said a new operations budget “would be in excess of $233 million”. Pledging an additional $63 million, Rory Stewart, the UK’s secretary of state for international development, has urged francophone countries to contribute more. More than 1,650 people have died over the past year in what is now the second deadliest outbreak ever. Conflict and targeted attacks on the response have thwarted containment efforts, with two more Ebola workers killed last week.

Ethiopia’s perilous road to democracy

The Ethiopian government has sidestepped a fresh challenge from its restive regions. Sidama activists had announced they would unilaterally declare a new regional state in the south of the country on Thursday. A potentially bloody confrontation was avoided when activists accepted a last-minute offer from the government to hold a referendum within five months. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s promise of wide-ranging reforms has emboldened minorities, and Ethiopia has been rocked by ethnic conflicts. A new report argues that the road to democracy requires security and a strong state, alongside an opening of political space under the guidance of a reformed ruling party. “Control needs to be reasserted in the face of contending ethnopolitical forces,” it says, calling for a radical re-organisation of the ruling party (itself being pulled apart by contending ethnic constituencies) to achieve internal agreement on a new democratic vision. See our Ethiopian coverage here.

Data discrepancies undermine polio effort in Pakistan

It has been a tough year for anti-polio efforts in Pakistan: cases are rising, vaccinators have been shot and killed, and a nationwide round of vaccinations was suspended. This week, health authorities confirmed 45 polio cases in 2019, after recording 12 all of last year. While incendiary rumours and vaccine refusals are often blamed, there’s also mounting scrutiny of Pakistan’s anti-polio efforts. This month, a top polio official acknowledged that vaccination data – the country’s polio eradication programme claimed 99 percent coverage – was essentially false. In some cases, vaccination teams allowed sceptical parents to falsely claim their children had been vaccinated instead of reporting the refusals, which would have triggered police action. “Polio eradication drives had been misreporting their own effectiveness,” Babar Atta, a political appointee on polio eradication, wrote in an opinion piece in Dawn, a national newspaper. Atta said the programme will step up efforts to counter community mistrust. An October report by the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative offered a stark assessment: “The Pakistan Polio Programme is fooling itself into thinking that it has made any progress at all”.

Turkish sign language... and Syria returns

Officials have begun taking down Arabic-language shop signs in parts of Istanbul, to comply with countrywide regulations that require 75 percent of the writing on signs in Turkey be in Turkish. Signs have also been removed in Kilis, a city near the Syrian border that has a large Syrian refugee population. Politicians from various parties have been ramping up the pressure on Turkey’s 3.6 million Syrian refugees to return home, and there are inter-communal tensions too. Late last month, several Syrian-owned businesses in Istanbul were ransacked, reportedly after a false rumour spread on social media that a Syrian man had sexually assaulted a minor. Despite all this, and a border that is closed to refugees, Syrians with no place else to go are still trying to flee the escalating violence in and around the northwest province of Idlib by crossing over a heavily guarded fence into Turkey.

Localisation demands in Bangladesh

Foreign NGOs should be limited to "monitoring and technical assistance instead of direct operation", according to a convention of grassroots organisations in Bangladesh. A gathering of about 700 local NGOs and civil society organisations made the call for international aid agencies to be curbed at a 6 July "national convention". The event also released a "Charter of Expectations" based on a series of nationwide consultations. The local organisations say the government, foreign donor countries, UN agencies, and INGOs could and should rely more on local competence. The group also committed to a "Charter of Accountability", covering financial disclosure and transparency as well as the inclusion of the affected communities in programme decision-making. Bangladeshi NGOs have been campaigning to play a bigger role in operations to support Rohingya refugees. A recent study found that discussions about "localisation" were characterised by "highly polarised positions – often based on organisational rather than humanitarian interests".

The GBV attacks we know about

Sexual violence against female humanitarian workers occurred in eight percent of violent attacks last year, according to a new report from Humanitarian Outcomes. But the number of reported incidents – just 21 since 1997 – suggests that both victims and organisations may be vastly under-reporting the problem. Last year was one of the worst on record, with 399 aid workers affected by violent attacks: 126 were killed, 143 wounded, and 130 kidnapped. South Sudan, where a group of female aid workers were raped in 2016, continues to be one of the most dangerous places for humanitarian workers, along with Syria.

*/ In case you missed it

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan refugees who returned home tended to be worse off financially than refugees who stayed behind in Pakistan, according to new research from the World Bank and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants return to Afghanistan each year, but there are few jobs available and little help to reintegrate.

MYANMAR: Floods caused by torrential rains have uprooted more than 9,500 people in Rakhine State, including thousands previously displaced by clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed group. Displaced people in multiple camps told The Irrawaddy newspaper they had received no aid. The government has shut down mobile internet in eight Rakhine townships, adding to already strict limits on humanitarian access.

SUDAN: The military and pro-democracy movement have signed a power-sharing deal after months of confrontation. But analyst Rashid Abdi points out that, faced with a repressive military, the opposition had little option but to agree to a deal that puts the army in charge for most of a three-year transition. “We should be under no illusions, 21 months is a long time and there is a lot of fear that the military will use this period to eviscerate the opposition and further consolidate power,” he notes.

SYRIA: Human Rights Watch says the Syrian government is freezing or seizing the assets of entire families of people it accuses of being terrorists, in an expansion of the country’s anti-terrorism laws that amounts to collective punishment. People affected by the law told HRW the government had taken their businesses, homes, and other property.

UNITED STATES: According to a report in Politico, President Donald Trump’s administration is considering reducing the number of refugee admissions to fewer than 10,000 next year, perhaps even zero. Any future move would come on top of existing cuts in 2018 and 2019.

Weekend read Head to Head: Biometrics and Aid

With the World Food Programme halting certain aid deliveries recently in the Yemeni capital over the use – or not, in this case – of biometrics, we decided to put the issue in the spotlight this week. The impasse in Yemen centres on the WFP seeking to use biometrics to register aid recipients to counter the diversion of supplies, allegedly by local officials aligned to the Houthi rebels. The Houthis have refused to accept the WFP’s proposals, saying it is illegal for the UN to control the data. The question of who should be allowed access to recipients’ data is one of six we put to two experts on biometrics with experience in humanitarian settings. Their responses, in a head-to-head format, provide different perspectives on many of the complexities at play in this tricky and pressing conundrum for the sector. Oh, and quickly back to Yemen: WFP Executive Director David Beasley told the UN Security Council on Thursday that while the WFP and the Houthis now had an “agreement in principle” no deal had yet been signed to restart assistance in Sana’a.

And finally... Weighing the evidence

A malnourished person isn't always skinny – being too heavy is also counted as malnourishment, and it's on the rise, worldwide. Four million deaths and $2 trillion in losses, as well as a range of other health problems, stem from rising numbers of adults and children who are classified as overweight or obese. Some 38.9 percent of adults are overweight, and 13.2 percent obese, according to an annual UN report on food and nutrition. The same report estimates that 10.8 percent of the world is undernourished. Overall, there are about three billion overweight people compared to some 820 million undernourished people.

(TOP PHOTO: Residents of a ward in Kanungu district, Uganda attend a meeting on dangers and prevention of Ebola.)



Ebola emergency, Ethiopian democracy, and Pakistan’s polio problem News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Health Human Rights Politics and Economics GENEVA IRIN DRC Ethiopia Sudan United States Bangladesh Afghanistan Myanmar Pakistan Global Syria Conflict
Categories: Gender Parity

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.

*/ In case you missed it

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
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