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IRIN - Kyrgyzstan


COP21: How glacial melt and toxic waste could spell disaster in Kyrgyzstan

Wed, 02 Dec 2015 20:00:01 +0000

High in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan Mountains, the twin effects of climate change and gold mining have combined to pose a potential environmental and human health disaster. A melting glacier is feeding a rapidly expanding lake, which experts fear could burst its banks and overrun a mine tailings pond, releasing toxic waste into the region’s water system. World delegates are now in Paris thrashing out details of a deal to cut emissions to mitigate global warming, which has caused glaciers throughout the world to melt for the past 50 years. Melting icecaps in the poles are causing sea levels to rise, and retreating glaciers in other regions are causing localised flooding in areas along glacier-fed rivers. A Glacial Lake Outburst Flood can bring more immediate and extreme risks. That’s when rising water in a lake fed by glacial melt breaks through the natural moraine dam, which is made of soil, rock and ice. The frequency of GLOFs has been increasing over the past half century in the Himalayan region, causing the loss of lives and infrastructure. Due to mining, the prospect of a GLOF at Kyrgyzstan’s Petrov Lake is graver still. Canada’s Centerra Gold, which is partly owned by the Kyrgyzstan government through a company called Kyrgyzaltyn, runs the biggest open pit gold mine in Central Asia. Centerra does not mine in the Petrov glacier, but it operates on at least two other nearby glaciers at 4,000 meters above sea level. The mine’s tailings pond sits five kilometers below Petrov Lake, which has been expanding rapidly. A GLOF would wipe out at least part of the tailings pond, spilling cyanide and other chemicals into the Kumtor River, which flows into a water system that millions of people depend on for irrigation, fishing and household use. William Colgan, a researcher at Toronto’s York University, said Petrov Lake had doubled in size since 1977. As it continues to grow, the moraine dam is coming under increasing water pressure, while melting permafrost within the dam is simultaneously reducing its strength. “As a tailings pond is located immediately downstream from Petrov Lake, ensuring real-time monitoring… of its stability would be prudent, as would be developing a contingency plan in the event of a partial or full outburst,” Colgan told IRIN. Warnings ignored? Kyrgyzaltyn, the state company that owns 33 percent of Centerra, commissioned a British environmental and engineering consulting firm, AMEC Earth and Environmental UK Ltd, to assess the risk and make recommendations. In its 2013 audit, AMEC recommended that Centerra hire an engineering company to suggest and implement options to lower the water level of the glacial lake. In a follow-up 2014 report that is not publicly available but was obtained by IRIN, AMEC said: “to date, no engineering firm willing to take on the responsibility for the level-lowering works has been found in the country.” Centerra, which is headquartered in Toronto, said it is taking measures to lower the water level and make sure the lake’s moraine dam does not burst. “Kumtor is lowering the lake level by pumping and is continually monitoring both the lake level and the state of the natural moraine dam,” John Pearson, vice president for investor relations, told IRIN. However, Kumtor has been pumping water from the lake for years to use in its ore processing operation, but AMEC did not find that to be an adequate measure to mitigate the risk. “AMEC recommends continuing the search for an experienced engineering firm to prepare the design to lower the level of Lake Petrov,” it said in its 2014 report. Impact on glaciers Experts say mining activities including Centerra’s practice of dumping waste rock on two other glaciers is causing them to melt at an accelerated rate. The company says it has stopped such dumping, and denies that it contributed to the melting glaciers. “Kumtor’s impacts on glaciers is immaterial when compared to climate change impacts in the region and across the country,” Centerra said in a 2013 statement. But experts disa[...]

Grief not justice for Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan

Mon, 25 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Zahira doesn’t like to return to the site, a concrete slab which covers the entrance to the cellar where her twin brother Hassan hid. “Most of us women and children went to camps at the border [with Uzbekistan], but the men stayed behind to protect our homes,” said Zahira*. Hassan was among them. “I called him around noon and he said they were hiding in the cellar. I called again at 5pm and no one answered.” Zahira returned the next evening to check the house. It had been burnt to the ground with Hassan and his four children still inside. They were all dead. Next month it will be five years since that day – the peak of the 2010 ethnic riots in southern Kyrgyzstan known locally as “the war.” Mobs of Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths clashed for days. The bulk of the damage was done to the Uzbek community, which accounts for only 15 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s national population but represents a near majority in southern cities like Osh and Jalalabad. At least 418 people died, two-thirds of them Uzbeks, an ethnic group that has straddled the border of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for more than 500 years. Another 400,000 Uzbeks were displaced by the fighting, many of them seeking refuge in Uzbekistan. Five years on, human rights inquiries have been quashed, those responsible enjoy impunity, while the Uzbek minority is still victimised. There is growing fear that the widening ethnic gap in southern Kyrgyzstan, along with a rise in Kyrgyz nationalism, could fuel another bout of clashes. Painful memories During the violence, more than 1,500 homes were burnt down in Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city of Osh. The middle-class Cheremushki neighbourhood, a leafy warren of narrow alleys and traditional single-storey Uzbek homes with courtyards, was one of the hardest hit. “We wrote 'SOS' on the roofs and made roadblocks,” recalled Medina, a 35-year-old mother-of-three whose home was somehow spared. “The government didn't do anything. Some soldiers came with tanks and helped the Kyrgyz break down doors and enter homes, to kill people.” Most homes have now been rebuilt with international aid, covered in fresh plaster and paint. Their shiny new aluminium roofs contrast with the old ones that still have “SOS” emblazoned on them in letters large enough to be seen from the air. The violence came two months after a popular uprising in Bishkek ended in the overthrow of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, an ethnic Kyrgyz. Photo: Human Rights Watch Despite most of the deaths being ethnic Uzbeks, they have also made up the majority of those charged Seizing the opportunity to try to address decades of marginalisation, Uzbek political leaders called on the new government to recognise cultural rights and teach the Uzbek language in schools. These calls, in turn, stirred up Kyrgyz nationalist sentiment and allowed accusations that the Uzbeks wanted power only in order to secede to fester. Isolated scuffles between rival Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths boiled over into open clashes, as each side mobilised supporters. The violence quickly became one-sided, with mobs of Kyrgyz youths marching on Uzbek neighbourhoods. “We had never seen these attackers before. Many wore masks. They were like animals,” said 70-year-old Adina Khan, whose husband and daughter-in-law were killed by men in front of her family. “We have Kyrgyz neighbours. We still get along well with them. This was done by outsiders.” According to several inquiries, thousands of Kyrgyz were brought into Osh in convoys, waived through security checkpoints meant to keep the clashes from spreading. Mobs that converged on eight military bases in the south found little resistance and walked away with automatic weapons, ammunition, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and armoured personnel carriers. Mihra Rittmann, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who has studied the clashes and their aftermath, told IRIN that while the government did take steps to try to contain the violence – declaring an emergency in southern Kyrgyzstan and sending in reinforcements to ci[...]

Hope and fear: Kyrgyz migrants in Russia

Thu, 23 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

At a government-run centre for migrant labourers in the Kyrgyzstani city of Osh, 23-year-old Nurbek waits patiently for advice on how to return to Moscow. “My family has lived in Russia for more than 10 years, I want to go back to them,” he said. “I was deported 10 days ago after police said I’m on a blacklist. Now I’m hoping to be removed from the list.”  Nurbek is one of around 1.5 million Kyrgyz – a fifth of the population – working in Russia. The migrants have long been targets of labour exploitation and sexual abuse, and now, in a Russia increasingly tense about terrorism, xenophobic attacks are on the rise. It will be all change in May as Kyrgyzstan is set to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), meaning migrants in Russia will no longer need to obtain special work permits. But workers like Nurbek are uncertain how things will play out. Around 33 percent of Kyrgyzstan's GDP is attributed to remittances from migrant workers in Russia, reflecting a regional dependence on Moscow that has only increased since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) puts the number of documented Kyrgyz workers at around half a million, but experts believe at least another million work there without proper permits, mostly in the construction or service industries. Twenty-year-old Bekmirza works seven months a year as an undocumented security guard at a shopping centre in Surgut, a city at the western edge of Siberia that has seen a boom from local oil and gas production. Like many migrant workers, he returns home every winter to visit family. “I make 31,000 rubles ($579) a month, where a Russian would make 45,000 rubles ($840) for the same job,” he told IRIN.  Tighter laws and more deportations Laws regulating migrant workers in Russia have become increasingly restrictive in recent years. In January, new rules made it more difficult to obtain work permits and easier for the authorities to find and deport undocumented workers.  “Every month, the police come to our work to check people,” said Bekmirza. “If you are caught with no permit, you are deported. Once, I was stopped in the street by police and taken to jail, but at the time I had the proper documents and was eventually freed.” New arrivals have 30 days to register their residence, obtain a certification of their skills for their desired industry, translate their passport into Russian, find medical insurance, pass a medical examination, and pass an exam on Russia’s language, history and laws.  It's a daunting process, and even if you get all your paperwork in order, Russian administration is often unable to cope with the backlog. On 7 April, a migrant worker from Tajikistan died at a processing centre in Moscow after spending two days in line with nearly 5,000 other applicants. Violators are added to a blacklist, a database of migrants set up in January 2013 for those found to be breaking administrative rules in Russia and subject to deportation. Around 60,000 Kyrgyzstan nationals are currently on the list.  “The law has changed quickly, and many more people are being deported than before,” Salima Ismailova, who manages the migrant workers centre in Osh, told IRIN. In January and February, more than 1,000 migrants came to the centre for consultation on how to return to Russia after being deported, more than double the number during the same period in 2014. Fears over terrorism and the falling ruble Anti-immigrant feeling among ethnic Russians, spurred in part by concerns over Islamist militancy in the Caucuses and the Middle East, has put a spotlight on Muslim migrants from across the region. Around 88 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population is Muslim. Falling oil prices and international sanctions over the war in Ukraine have taken a heavy toll on the Russian economy. The ruble lost 68 percent of its value against the US dollar in 2014, occasionally trading at less than the Kyrgyzstani som. The official number of Kyrgyz migrants has remained rou[...]

Killing us softly

Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000

A recent public outcry in China, sparked by a damning documentary about air pollution, was based on well-founded fear: Of the 100 million people who viewed the film on the first day of its online release, 172,000 are likely to die each year from air pollution-related diseases, according to regional trends.*  Worldwide, pollution kills twice as many people each year as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,** but aid policy has consistently neglected it as a health risk, donors and experts say.  Air pollution alone killed seven million people in 2012, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures released last year, most of them in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) in the Asia Pacific region.***  In a self-critical report released late last month the World Bank acknowledged that it had treated air pollution as an afterthought, resulting in a dearth of analysis of the problem and spending on solutions.  “We now need to step up our game and adopt a more comprehensive approach to fixing air quality,” the authors wrote in Clean Air and Healthy Lungs. “If left unaddressed, these problems are expected to grow worse over time, as the world continues to urbanise at an unprecedented and challenging speed.” A second report released last month by several organisations – including the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, an international consortium of UN organisations, governments, development banks, NGOs and academics – also called for more funding towards reducing pollution.  “Rich countries, multilateral agencies and organisations have forgotten the crippling impacts of pollution and fail to make it a priority in their foreign assistance,” the authors wrote.  Housebound in China  A dense haze obstructs visibility more often than not across China’s northern Hua Bei plain and two of its major river deltas. Less than one percent of the 500 largest cities in China meet WHO’s air quality guidelines. Anger over air pollution is a hot topic among China’s increasingly outspoken citizenry.   “Half of the days in 2014, I had to confine my daughter to my home like a prisoner because the air quality in Beijing was so poor,” China’s well-known journalist Chai Jing said in Under the Dome, the independent documentary she released last month, which investigated the causes of China’s air pollution. The film was shared on the Chinese social media portal Weibo more than 580,000 times before officials ordered websites to delete it.  Beyond the silo Traditionally left to environmental experts to tackle, the fight against pollution is increasingly recognised as requiring attention from health and development specialists too.  “Air pollution is the top environmental health risk and among the top modifiable health risks in the world,” said Professor Michael Brauer, a public health expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada and a member of the scientific advisory panel for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a consortium of governments and the UN Environment Programme. “Air pollution has been under-funded and its health impacts under-appreciated.” Pollution – especially outdoor or “ambient” air pollution – is also a major drag on economic performance and limits the opportunities of the poor, according to Ilmi Granoff, an environmental policy expert at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank. It causes premature death, illness, lost earnings and medical costs – all of which take their toll on both individual and national productivity. “Donors need to get out of the siloed thinking of pollution as an environmental problem distinct from economic development and poverty reduction,” Granoff said.  Pollution cleanup is indeed underfunded, he added, but pollution prevention is even more poorly prioritised: “It’s underfunded in much of the developed world, in aid, and in developing country priorities, so this isn’t just an aid problem.” [...]

Scale of Vanuatu cyclone disaster complicates aid response

Mon, 16 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000

The scale of Vanuatu’s cyclone disaster is matched only by the complexity of the required humanitarian response, according to both the government and aid workers arriving on the battered Pacific islands. “The problem is absolutely massive,” Alice Clements, spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Vanuatu, told IRIN. “We have simultaneous emergencies in 65 islands, with no telecoms, accessible only by boat or helicopter, in an archipelago stretching 1,300 km.” Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale was reported by the BBC as saying the 13 March storm had "wiped out" all recent development and the country would have to rebuild "everything". Half the population - 132,000 people - are estimated to have been affected by cyclone Pam, including 60,000 children, according to UNICEF. Initial assessments indicate 90 percent of houses have been damaged in the capital, Port Vila, with destruction on the southern island of Tanna “significantly worse”, Care Australia reported. Twitter accounts to follow Hanna Butler - Red Cross @hannarosebutler OCHA - Asia Pacific             @OCHAAsiaPac Tom Perry - CARE Australia     @thomasmperry UNICEF - Australia       @unicefaustralia Liam Fox - ABC News       @liamfoxabc Radio Australia Pacific Beat     @RAPacificBeat Tess Newton Cain             @CainTess More than 3,300 people are sheltering in 37 evacuation centres on the islands of Torba and Penama, and the main island of Efate. But the National Disaster Management Office will need help if people remain displaced for a prolonged period.  The humanitarian response “is almost going to be like applying a medical triage, to work out which is the most urgent”, said Clements. Aerial assessments have been carried out so far by military aircraft from Australia, New Zealand and France, with more flights scheduled for Tuesday. Commercial flights have resumed to Port Vila despite damage to the airport. “There is need for logistics experts and light reconnaissance planes/helicopters, pilots, and fuel to deliver supplies and conduct assessments. There is also a need for sea shipping to transport food, water and rebuilding materials,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported. The main hospital in Port Vila is badly damaged, patients have been transferred to a newer part of the building, “but there is an urgent need for medical supplies” and “the morgue is unserviceable”. Twenty-four people are confirmed dead so far, but the toll is expected to rise as assessment teams reach the more remote islands. Providing clean water for survivors is a priority. There is a risk of waterborne diseases, especially dangerous for pregnant mothers and young children, and food is also likely to be a problem in the coming days with fruit trees uprooted, root crops inundated, and animal pens destroyed by the 270 km/h winds and flooding. “Eighty percent of Vanuatu’s population engage in subsistence agriculture as a primary economic activity. It is anticipated that emergency food relief could be needed for up to a month, plus longer term recovery support,” OCHA noted. Vanuatu has “3,000 years of experience dealing with an incredible mind-boggling range of disasters, from earthquakes to volcanos. People have great coping mechanisms, but this was a category 5 storm," Clements said. oa/rh 101239 Vanuatu aftermath of Cyclone Pam, 13 March 2015 News Migration Environment and Disasters Scale of cyclone Pam disaster staggering IRIN NAIROBI Bangladesh Indonesia Iran Kyrgyzstan Cambodia Kazakhstan Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Sri Lanka Myanmar Papua New Guinea Philippines Pakistan Thailand Tajikistan Timor-Leste Uzbekistan Vietnam Vanuatu [...]

Vanuatu reeling from impact of cyclone Pam

Sat, 14 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000

The closure of the main airport in Vanuatu is hampering the humanitarian response to cyclone Pam, which tore through the Pacific island archipelago yesterday, causing colossal damage. The airport in the capital, Port Vila, is still flooded and trees are blocking the runway, Vincent Omuga, deputy head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Regional Office for the Pacific, said on Saturday. “There are lots of plans to provide regional humanitarian support, but the challenge is that the airport is not open at the moment. There are indications the government will open the airport to military flights: Australia and New Zealand have plans to move in, and UNDAC [UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination] have a nine-member team on standby, but all flights are currently suspended,” Omuga told IRIN. Reports describe the tropical cyclone packing winds of up to 270 km/h as “devastating” and potentially one of the worst weather disasters in the region. There are unconfirmed reports of casualties, but aid agencies are warning it will take several days before there is a full picture of the storm’s impact. Omuga said the government’s priorities are to open the airport, repair damage to hospitals, and clear the roads closed by the category 5 cyclone. It is expected to declare a state of emergency to facilitate the humanitarian response. “Power lines are still down, there is lots of damage to infrastructure and lots of houses have been destroyed. Many provinces are flooded and inaccessible, and the islands on the eastern side [of the archipelago] were especially affected,” Omuga said. Photo: Alice Clements/UNICEF Winds gusted at over 270 km/h Even a temporary damage assessment in Port Vila is constrained by the extent of the flooding and the trees and debris blocking the roads. Aid workers on the ground “have not gone out of the capital, and not even all of the capital [has been surveyed]. What they are reporting is what they can see from leaving their vehicles and walking around,” said Omuga. oa/rh 101235 Port Vila, Vanuatu, aftermath of cyclone Pam, 14 March 2015 News Environment and Disasters Aid and Policy Vanuatu reeling from cyclone Pam IRIN NAIROBI Bangladesh Indonesia Iran Kyrgyzstan Cambodia Kazakhstan Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Sri Lanka Myanmar Papua New Guinea Philippines Pakistan Thailand Tajikistan Timor-Leste Uzbekistan Vietnam Vanuatu [...]

Cyclone Pam batters Vanuatu

Fri, 13 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000

As cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm, makes landfall today on the pacific islandsof Vanuatu, humanitarian workers there say the urban poor are especially at risk. High winds and rains are lashing the islands, and news agencies reported that even solid hotel buildings in the capital, Port Vila, were being shaken by the cyclone, which meteorologists say could unleash gusts of up to 280 km/h. “Thousands of families are living in makeshift, flimsy houses which will not withstand the immense winds and rain we're expecting,” Save the Children's Vanuatu director,Tom Skirrow, was quoted as saying. “Families need to urgently evacuate to safe buildings or the results could be catastrophic.” Aid agencies and the National Disaster Management Office had pre-positioned relief supplies in Port Vila, and “we were fairly confident we had enough to cope”, deputy head of the regional Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Vincent Umuga, told IRIN by phone from Fiji.  But on Friday cyclone Pam’s track turned west, directly for the capital, which “could mean our ability to respond is heavily compromised,” he said. The southern Pacific island nation has a population of 260,000. Regional aid partners in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand have been alerted to the potential need “to increase supplies” said Umuga. But if the airport is damaged by the storm, “that would be the worst-case scenario”. All flights are currently suspended. Vanuatu is an archipelago of over 80 islands with 1,300 kms between the two most distant points of the chain. A cyclone in 1987 killed over 30 people. oa/rh 101233 201503131515410760.jpg News Environment and Disasters Aid and Policy Cyclone Pam batters Vanuatu IRIN NAIROBI Bangladesh Indonesia Iran Kyrgyzstan Cambodia Kazakhstan Lao Peoples Democratic Republic Sri Lanka Myanmar Papua New Guinea Philippines Pakistan Thailand Tajikistan Timor-Leste Uzbekistan Vietnam Vanuatu [...]

Who celebrity advocates are really targeting. And it’s not you.

Fri, 13 Feb 2015 00:00:00 +0000

This week was a fanfare for celebrity humanitarians: Forest Whitaker appealed for peace in South Sudan alongside UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos; Angelina Jolie opened an academic centre on sexual violence in conflict with British Member of Parliament William Hague; and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham launched an initiative for children.  In recent years, aid agencies have increasingly used celebrity advocates to raise awareness and money for their causes. There’s just one snag:  It doesn’t actually work. At least not as much or in the ways we think.  According to research by Dan Brockington, a professor at the University of Manchester, public responses to celebrity activism are surprisingly muted. His work is the first quantitative research on the subject.  “Using celebrities for broader outreach, for reaching mass publics and attracting media attention is absolutely not the silver bullet it appears to be,” he told IRIN on the sidelines of a 6-8 February conference at the University of Sussex, where he presented research recently published in the book Celebrity Advocacy and International Development.   Photo: A. McConnell/UNHCR Refugee Rockstar: UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie meets displaced Iraqis   In a survey he conducted with 2,000 British people, 95 percent of respondents recognized five or more of 12 charities listed to them, including the British Red Cross, Save the Children UK and Oxfam UK. But two-thirds of the respondents did not know a single “high-profile” advocate of any of the NGOs (In this case, music executive Simon Cowell and singers Victoria Beckham and Elton John respectively, among many others).  The realpolitik might not be that pleasant. But you'll achieve your goals.  Focus groups and interviews with more than 100 “celebrity liaison officers” and other media staff at NGOs further reinforced his findings.  What’s more, Brockington says, those who pay attention to celebrities do not necessarily know which causes they support.  “People who follow celebrities often do so because they are not political,” he said during the interview. “They are fun, light. You want to live their lives…[People] don’t engage with [celebrities] for the more worthy things.”   Celebrity stardom flat-lining  Despite the rise in the use of celebrity advocates (which, by the way, dates back to at least Victorian times), the mention of charities in broadsheet and tabloid articles about celebrities only increased ever so slightly between 1985 and 2010, according to a separate study by Brockington. “There has also been a decline in the proportion of newspaper articles mentioning development and humanitarian NGOs at all,” the study found.  The perception that celebrities engage the public in the first place may itself be overstated.  After a steady rise in coverage of celebrities in the British press over two decades, the percentage of articles mentioning the word celebrity (only a fraction of total articles about celebrities) stopped increasing around 2006 and is now hovering at about four percent of all articles studied, the research found, validating the findings of earlier studies on the same subject (The study looked at The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun).  The magazine industry’s own statistics show a tapering off of readership in recent years after steady growth.                 Photo: Northern & Shell Media Group Statistics from Northern & Shell Media Group show a steady rise in celebrity magazine readership until about 2006 Celebrities can be successful in engaging the public – Miley Cyrus made waves last year when she sent a homeless man to pick up her MTV Video Music Awards; Bob Geldof’s charity single on Ebola quickly rose to the[...]

An ambitious plan to end statelessness

Fri, 07 Nov 2014 00:00:00 +0000

It is now 60 years since stateless people received recognition in international law, and the UN has two conventions (1954 and 1961) dedicated to their protection and the regularization of their situation. Yet an estimated 10 million people worldwide still suffer the problems and indignities of having no nationality. “It may be a bit of understatement to say that these are the two least loved multilateral human rights treaties,” said Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) statelessness unit. “For many years they were pretty much forgotten and that was in large part because they had no UN agency promoting them.”  Manly has responsibility for the issue of statelessness, even though most stateless people neither are, nor have ever been, refugees, and this week UNHCR launched an ambitious plan to try to end statelessness over the next 10 years.  The plan breaks down the issue into 10 action points, addressing the main reasons why people end up stateless. Sometimes it's because children were not registered at birth, or because discriminatory laws prevent their mothers from passing on their own nationality. Some are the victims of ethnic discrimination by countries which refuse to recognize members of their community as citizens; others, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have fallen down the cracks between countries, as it were, after boundaries were redrawn and states divided.  In some of the world's major situations of statelessness UNHCR is already involved. In 1989 tens of thousands of Black African Mauritanians fled to Senegal to get away from murderous ethnic persecution. A large number of the refugees who came scrambling across the river border had no papers. Their Mauritanian identity cards had been confiscated or torn up by members of the security forces or by their fellow citizens, who told them, “Tu n'est pas Maure; alors tu n'est pas Mauritanian” (You are not a Moor, an Arab, so you are not a Mauritanian). Senegalese nationality law is generous, and allows them to apply for citizenship after five years' residence, but many have preferred to go home to Mauritania, assisted by UNHCR which supplied them with travel documents under an agreement governing their return. But large numbers are now finding themselves effectively stateless. Manly told IRIN: “What that agreement says, if I remember correctly, is that the nationality of the refugees is 'presumed' - they are presumed to be Mauritanian. However, many people have faced real problems in getting the documentation to prove that they really are Mauritanian, so there is clearly an issue.”  “Some 24,000 have returned,” adds Bronwen Manby, a consultant who has worked on this issue. “But the Mauritanian organizations are telling us that only about a third have got their documents. It's the standard sort of situation,” she told IRIN, “where in principle, of course - but then documents were destroyed, and then they find that the name is Mohamed with one 'm' instead of Mohammed with two 'm's, and then it's in French and not in Arabic - there needs to be more pressure on the Mauritanian government to sort out the situation.” Laws discriminating against women In the Middle East a lot of statelessness is the result of laws discriminating against women, which only allow nationality to be passed through the father - a problem if the father is not there to register his child or is himself stateless. Laura van Waas, who runs the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University, says it can have a devastating effect on all members of a family.  “It's not just the stateless child who is affected by this. It's the mother, who has nationality, who feels guilty for whom she has chosen to marry. Her children are suffering and she sees that as the result of her life choices. And it's the young men wh[...]

Asia's first IDP policy - from theory to practice

Sun, 19 Oct 2014 23:00:00 +0000

"Why does it allow them to stay?" the man asked incredulously. "They should be going back to their homes." Afghanistan's internally displaced persons (IDP) policy - finally passed earlier this year after a long delay, but not yet implemented - is a landmark document. Heavily inspired by the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the policy is thought to be the first of its kind in Asia. It grants a whole swathe of rights to those forced from their homes by conflict or disaster, but who have not crossed an international border. Under the policy many IDPs, who often face poor services and limited access to clean water, will be given new rights, including long-term security of tenure. Crucially, it declares that IDPs have three routes to ending their displacement - returning to their former territories, moving to a third site or, controversially, settling where they are, including on private land. Previously they had been encouraged to return to their former areas, despite over 75 percent wanting to remain permanently in their newly adopted homes. Now the challenge is to turn policy into reality. Currently, few IDPs appear to be aware of the new policy and efforts to publicize it are just beginning. At the first ever implementation workshop in the eastern city of Jalalabad last week, a mix of government officials, NGOs, IDPs and local residents debated the topic for two days. On both sides, emotions run high: Many in Afghan society object to those of different backgrounds making homes in their areas, while the IDPs often accuse the government and the UN of neglect. Among them was the middle-aged man, a resident of Jalalabad, who used the question and answer session to demand the policy be rewritten to force the displaced to go back to where they came from. "All parts of the Afghan government have agreed to this," responded Sarah Khan, a representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The man looked little appeased. Afghanistan, rocked by 35 years of war and regular natural disasters, has around 700,000 IDPs, according to UNHCR. While some are recently homeless due to shelling by the Pakistani army on the border, others have been displaced for decades - making new lives but with no guarantees they will not be made homeless again. Obedallah, who gave his first name only, fled violence in the capital Kabul over 20 years ago, eventually ending up in Jalalabad, capital of Nangahar Province. Since then they have been based at the "Kabul Camp" on the outskirts of Jalalabad where they have made new lives. Yet two decades on they face the prospect of eviction as the local government seeks to develop the land for police housing. The new land they have been allocated is next to a mountain, where Obedallah says the facilities are "awful". He hopes the policy will allow them to stay in their homes. "I am very optimistic. If it is implemented, all our rights will be written on paper," he said. The newly displaced, too, are looking to the policy for hope. Amanullah, a 32-year-old father of four, who also preferred not to give his last name, fled his home on the border with Pakistan four months ago, along with 77 other families. They initially fled to one town but were thrown off the land by the owner. Ending up in Jalalabad, they complain that they have had almost no support. Sleeping huddled under tarpaulin, the families fear for the cold season. "Last night it was raining, so nobody slept. The kids were crying throughout the night," Amanullah said. The government and UNHCR give differing reasons for the relative holdups in support. Jawed Snanikza, head of Emergency Response at the Directorate of Refugees and Repatriations in Nangahar, said the case has been referred six times to the UN, while Mahir Safarli, UNHCR's head of office in the region, said government reluctance to set[...]