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Neglected northern Uganda mustn’t be ignored any longer

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 10:12:46 +0000

Uganda received its one millionth refugee from South Sudan on 17 August. This influx of people, many of whom have fled terrible violence to seek sanctuary in northern Uganda, has put a significant financial strain on the country and in particular its northern region. The Ugandan government has looked to external actors for assistance. It hosted a conference in June where international donors pledged support to the tune of $352 million: a significant sum, but still a long way short of the $2 billion that Kampala and the United Nations had hoped to raise. UN Secretary-General António Guterres lauded the open-door approach of the Ugandan government towards refugees, while the Economist chose to describe it as “a model”. Others remain more sceptical. Stephen Oola, founder of the Amani Institute Uganda, a Gulu-based think tank, is adamant that “historically refugees have been used by the current regime for dirty political manoeuvres” and that the current situation is “no different”. In this instance, hosting refugees gives the government leverage to resist international pressure on domestic issues such as the disputed 2016 elections and the campaign to amend constitutional age limits. But with so much of the focus on the plight of refugees – who are undoubtedly in need of food, shelter, and basic support services – citizens of northern Uganda are once again being sidelined and ignored by their government: an approach that has characterised three decades of political dominance by the ruling National Resistance Movement.    Widening gap President Yoweri Museveni’s time in power has been marked by a widening disparity between residents of northern and, to a lesser extent, eastern Uganda and those that live in central and western parts of the country; areas from which Museveni draws the bulk of his political support. While significant strides have been made in reducing those living in poverty – between 1993 and 2013 the percentage of Ugandans living below the poverty lined dropped from almost 60 percent to 19 percent – in that same period the distribution has changed significantly. From a fairly equal spread across the four main regions in the early 1990s, in 2013 almost half of those in poverty lived in the north, with west and central areas comprising less than 20 percent of the total. Rising levels of individual inequality are being replicated between regions. Unquestionably the development of the northern region was stymied by conflict. Fighting between Ugandan forces and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army spanned almost two decades (1987-2006). At its peak more than one million Ugandans were displaced in what was described as the “most neglected crisis in the world”. But the conflict itself, and its aftermath, produced tensions and divisions between citizens in the north and the government, whose forces were accused of carrying out abuses against civilians when they were supposed to be protecting them. These accusations have not been investigated by the International Criminal Court (which has focused instead on the LRA) or national courts. In the decade since the end of the conflict, efforts to rebuild infrastructure, improve basic services, and to encourage reconciliation have been outlined in a series of Peace, Recovery and Development Plans. Now into its third iteration, progress made on improving physical infrastructure is visible but question marks remain over the government’s ability to deliver the “soft” components: schools and hospitals often lack the staff and equipment to function effectively and the “peacebuilding” element has been underfunded and gradually pushed aside. Lack of engagement Critics point to the lack of citizen engagement in the design of the plans as a problem. “We saw what was done but not our will was done” was a sentiment captured by a Refugee Law Project report in 2013. Corruption has also hampered the success of rehabilitation efforts. In 2012, Uganda’s auditor general discovered $12.7 million had been misappropriated by staff in the of[...]



Internment fears as Myanmar plans new camps for scattered Rohingya

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 09:04:15 +0000

Myanmar plans to open new displacement camps for Rohingya in violence-ridden Rakhine State, sparking fears that members of the Muslim minority not already driven out of the country will instead be forcibly interned. More than 420,000 Rohingya – around two thirds of the ethnic minority’s estimated population in northern Rakhine State – have fled to Bangladesh this past month amid a military crackdown prompted by a Rohingya militant group’s coordinated attacks on 25 August. Refugee witnesses say security forces killed fleeing civilians before razing villages to the ground in what rights groups are calling a “scorched-earth campaign”. The UN has said it bears the hallmarks of “ethnic cleansing”.  Besieged by international condemnation for the humanitarian emergency it has unleashed on Bangladesh, Myanmar has announced it will open seven new displacement camps in northern Rakhine as a remedial solution. “The temporary camps are for Bengalis,” Zaw Htay, the government’s spokesperson told IRIN, using the state’s preferred terminology for Rohingya, which implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.  “The local indigenous people can go back to their villages.” The Muslim Rohingya population formerly made up the majority of the three northern Rakhine State townships. Last week, the government announced that 176 out of 471 Muslim villages have been fully deserted, and 7,000 homes, mostly in Rohingya villages, have burned down. Just four non-Rohingya villages have completely emptied. The government says that more than 4,000 ethnic Rakhine, out of around 30,000 Rakhine and other non-Rohingya who were also displaced in the violence, have been escorted back to their villages. Aid groups estimate more than 100,000 Rohingya are still trapped in northern Rakhine, struggling to cross land-mine riddled borders or the Naf River to join the swelling tent cities in Bangladesh. Zaw Htay said the seven new camps would be a temporary solution for Rohingya still in Rakhine – as well as a place to house any refugees who return from Bangladesh.  In her first public address on the unfolding crisis, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged on Tuesday that “hordes of refugees” have fled northern Rakhine. She condemned all violence, but stopped short of censuring the military crackdown, saying only that there have been many “allegations and counter-allegations”. Eli Meixler People hold up signs supporting Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally in Yangon on 19 September, when Aung San Suu Kyi made her first public address about the ongoing Rohingya crisis. “There has been a call for repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh,” Aung San Suu Kyi said during her speech, which was given in English and broadcast on a large screen in downtown Yangon. “We are prepared to start the verification process at any time… those who are verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without a problem.” However, this is likely to prove difficult. Rohingya have routinely been denied citizenship in Myanmar and systematically stripped of documentation, even though many say their families have lived in the area since before the borders of colonial Burma, as the country was then called, were drawn. The government’s planned IDP camps would see Rohingya return on top of the charred remains of their former villages. Satellite imagery analysed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, along with reports of fires tabulated by Arakan Project, a monitoring group, revealed that at least five of the seven new IDP camps would be located around former Rohingya hamlets that have recently been razed. Villagers from Taung Pyo Let Yar, in Rakhine’s Maungdaw township, watched from a hill in Bangladesh as their homes were engulfed in flames on 13 September, according to Human Rights Watch. Days earlier, Myanmar announced on a government Facebook page and in state media that it would build an IDP camp at[...]



Six major humanitarian challenges confronting the UN General Assembly

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:15:00 +0000

Hype over what President Donald Trump may or may not say dominated the media build-up to this week’s UN General Assembly. However, US funding cuts and the apparent absence of American authority on key global issues weigh more heavily over world leaders beset by a host of daunting humanitarian challenges.   It’s the first UNGA since Trump was elected president. He’ll make his debut on Monday in hosting a meeting on UN reform, ahead of his maiden speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. It’s also the first year at the helm for UN Secretary-General António Guterres. His speech opening high-level week on Tuesday will be closely watched, as will his handling of Trump’s US administration.   The US decision on the eve of the General Assembly to halve its diplomatic presence in New York doesn’t augur well for those concerned that US cuts and retreats from international agreements are creating a dangerous vacuum at a time when the General Assembly has so many global crises to address.   Here’s our guide to the major humanitarian issues:   Climate Change   The UNGA is always a vital forum for the world’s developing countries, particularly those facing down climate change. The new General Assembly president, Miroslav Lajcak of Slovenia, identified grappling with it a priority for the UN’s 72nd session. Catastrophic flooding in South Asia and two record-setting hurricanes that recently hit the Caribbean and the southern United States will lend added gravity to sessions this week.   A high-level meeting convened by Lajcak and Guterres on Monday will focus on Hurricane Irma, which ploughed through the Caribbean and into Florida earlier this month. The UN’s regional response plan for the Caribbean calls for $27 million to help up to 265,000 people affected. For the first time in 300 years, no one is left living on Barbuda, according to Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US.   Notably absent from the expected speakers list are any Americans. Trump this year announced he would pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, angering world leaders and giving an opening to countries like China to take more of a lead on the issue. After word leaked that the US might be changing its position once more, the White House confirmed on the eve of the UNGA that it still plans to renege unless drastic changes are made. On Tuesday, heads of state will meet for a roundtable on climate change. By then, a new hurricane, Maria, will be running over some of the same Caribbean islands hit by Irma, possibly reaching Hispaniola by the end of the week. NGOs hope that attention will rub off on the sustainable development goals more broadly, with warnings that countries are falling behind.   Famine   More than 20 million people in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and northeastern Nigeria are still at risk of famine, and their lot will be the focus of aid agencies and diplomats. The UN’s just-released State of Food Security report warns that “the long-term declining trend in undernourishment seems to have come to a halt and may have reversed.”   Shortfalls in funding persist across the board, and the aid community will be applying further pressure on donors to follow through on their promises. The week’s main event on famine response and prevention is on Thursday. It will provide an opportunity for some new faces – recently appointed World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley and Mark Lowcock, the new top UN relief official – to set out their stall.   Yemen’s long humanitarian crisis, deepened by years of war, is now considered the world’s most dire: more than 20 million people are in need of assistance; seven million are severely food insecure; two million children are acutely malnourished; the worst cholera outbreak in memory has infected more than 660,000 people and claimed 2,100 lives. There’s no sign the warring parties are any closer to ending the civil war. On Monday, UN, EU and Gulf Cooperation Council representatives will host a [...]



Trouble in CAR, trapped in Raqqa, and Trump at the UNGA: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 15:48:02 +0000

IRIN editors have scanned the humanitarian horizon to get you up to speed with this forward-looking weekly digest:   CAR risks return to civil war   Central African Republic is on the brink and without a safety net. Amnesty International says (in a report detailing terrible cruelty) that civilians are the direct targets of a wave of violence by sectarian militia, forcing those that can to flee. More than 1.1 million people have been displaced, the “highest level ever”, notes UNHCR. The violence has been particularly acute in the centre, northwest, east, and southeast. The insecurity is blocking humanitarian access to those in need, with Médecins Sans Frontières announcing this week it had been forced to pull out of the town of Zemio as a result of recent attacks. Behind the violence is the largely Muslim UPC (see earlier IRIN coverage) and rival primarily Christian anti-balaka and assorted armed “self-defence” groups. Their victims are civilians on either side of the religious divide. Amnesty is scathing (as are most people in the country) over the ineffectiveness of the UN peacekeeping force. “MINUSCA has failed to prevent these abuses,” the rights group says. “Amnesty International is calling for a review of MINUSCA’s capacity to carry out its mandate, covering factors such as training, equipment, coordination and the number of uniformed and civilian personnel.”   Do they ever learn?   MINUSCA was part of a sex abuse scandal (see IRIN’s exclusive interview with Anders Kompass) in 2014, and now there are fresh allegations over the mishandling of additional cases. The US-based Code Blue Campaign says it has received 14 internal UN reports that demonstrate how investigations were a botched and “manifestly sham process”. According to the accountability NGO, the leaked files reveal the hidden scope of sex abuse by UN peacekeepers. A new report by the NGO Redress, ahead of a high-level-meeting on Monday at UN headquarters, says the world body must do much more to enable victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers to “access reparation, support and assistance”. Something’s got to give.   Trump at the UNGA   Next week’s UN General Assembly is the first of President Donald Trump’s presidency. After hosting world leaders to discuss UN reform on Monday, he’ll be one of the first debate speakers on Tuesday and, given his past UN negativity and penchant for sharp cuts in US funding, diplomats are wary about what he might say. There’s also a lot to get on with. Catastrophic flooding in South Asia and record-setting Atlantic hurricanes will lend urgency to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ climate change roundtable on Monday and a high-level meeting later in the week. NGOs hope that attention will rub off on the sustainable development goals more broadly, with warnings that countries are falling behind.   It will also be the first UNGA for the World Food Programme’s David Beasley and new OCHA chief Mark Lowcock. With more than 20 million people in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria at risk of famine, perennial funding issues will once again be to the fore. Last year, huge migration into Europe was a hot topic; next week it’ll be the exodus from Myanmar. Guterres has said the Rohingya Muslims are experiencing “ethnic cleansing” and Aung San Suu Kyi has cancelled her inaugural trip to the forum in the midst of a growing international storm. After years of warnings about the situation, the UN is facing mounting pressure to take action.   When will aid return to Rakhine State?   While aid groups struggle with a massive influx of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh, there’s also rising concern for vulnerable people back in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Humanitarian agencies have been shut out of northern Rakhine for the past three weeks, after attacks on border posts triggered a military crackdown that has pushed 400,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. The violence has forced aid groups[...]



The Kurdish struggle in northern Syria

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000

While Iraq’s Kurds may vote to become independent in 10 days time, officials in the neighbouring Kurdish-run Democratic Federation of Northern Syria promise they have no intention to secede, even if they could.                                                                Change is nonetheless afoot. The expanding Kurdish enclave, controlled mainly by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has been operating for some time as an autonomous quasi-state in the middle of a country at war.   The PYD is inspired by the writings of Abdullah “Apo” Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been fighting for greater autonomy and/or a Kurdish state in Turkey for almost four decades. Andrea DiCenzo/IRIN Families and fighters gather in Kobani to honour Syrian Arabs and Kurds who died fighting IS   The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the PYD’s multi-ethnic military umbrella organisation – which includes the mainly Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) – are moving deeper into Arab-majority areas of Syria, not to mention launching an assault on so-called Islamic State-controlled Raqqa with US support.    But Kurds in northern Syria are not only at odds with Turkey, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, and much of the Syrian opposition: They themselves are divided.   The roots of division   Northern Syria (known as “Rojava” by Kurdish nationalists) declared a federal system in 2016 in three cantons – Afrin and Kobani in northern Aleppo province, and Jazira in Hassakeh.   Decision-making is largely in the hands of the PYD leadership, which enjoys a huge grassroots following. Many anti-PYD dissidents have been arrested or forced to leave the country – particularly members of the Kurdish National Council (ENKS), a collection of Kurdish political parties that oppose the PYD.   “PYD is imprisoning politicians, burning offices of opposition parties, assaulting journalists, and preventing civil society organisations from working freely,” Şiyar Îsa, a political scientist working in the area, told IRIN.   Parliamentarians have been appointed, not elected, while local elections were announced at such short notice that any serious contestation of PYD rule would have been impossible, especially given an ENKS boycott. A new round of elections for both local councils and seats in the highest law-making bodies are scheduled for the next few months.   The enmity between the two rivals has deepened over time, partly because of PYD conflicts with ENKS’s main allies, namely the Syrian opposition, KRG President Masoud Barzani, and his Kurdistan Democratic Party.   Brain drain Rather than striving for utopia in the economic sphere as PYD ideology dictates, the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria has a struggle on its hand just to survive.   The lack of jobs, as well as forced conscription into local self-defence forces, has prompted many Kurds to flee the country, particularly young men and those with a higher education.   “Most of the young people, including myself, left Rojava for several reasons. One of these reasons was to avoid belonging to any military faction fighting on Syrian soil,” Xandî Cengo, a university graduate in his mid twenties from Qamishli near Syria’s northern border with Turkey, told IRIN.   Cengo made his way to the KRG last year, but has since followed the refugee trail to Europe.   Christians are also leaving en masse, in part because Muslims have been purchasing property from anyone leaving, turning previously all-Christian neighbourhoods into mixed ones.   There has also been an influx of people from other parts of Syria, and even Iraq. While some have come by choice, the majority are rural poor displaced by conflict who add to the region’s economic burden. Andrea DiCenzo/IRIN [...]



Rohingya refugees overwhelm aid groups in Bangladesh

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 01:01:43 +0000

There are two lines on the edges of the Naf River: on one side, refugees in ragged clothing, waiting to cross and leave Myanmar behind; on the other, Bangladeshis ready to welcome them with water bottles, apples and biscuits. Two men step away from the river, balancing a bamboo pole on their shoulders. An elderly woman slouches in a chair suspended from the pole. As they approach, the Bangladeshis gathered on one side reach into their pockets to capture the scene on smartphones.   “I didn’t expect to see such bad things here,” says Babul, a local who came to help.   Almost 400,000 Rohingya refugees have surged into Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine State over the last three weeks. They come on foot, plodding for days through underbrush and dirt trails; they arrive by boat, risking the monsoon season waves along the coast, or the currents of the Naf River, which divides the two countries along Bangladesh’s southern edge.   Verena Hölzl/IRIN Men line up for aid distribution in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.   Aid groups say the influx has exhausted relief supplies and pushed existing refugee camps – filled by earlier waves of Rohingya refugees – to the breaking point. With no space left in the camps, refugees are spreading out on roadsides, or spontaneously forming new settlements in open spaces.   “It’s beyond overcrowded,” says Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. “A few days ago, we thought it was at saturation point. Since then, more people have arrived. And they’re still coming.”   For mile after mile, refugees line the roads around the overflowing camps. Some sit on old rice bags, filled with what belongings they managed to bring with them. Luckier ones carry a solar panel, or a chicken. Others carry their elderly relatives on their backs. For now, the Rohingya are safe in Bangladesh – but they have nowhere to go.   Driven out Rohingya have been rendered stateless in Myanmar, where they are seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, particularly by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the western Myanmar state. The tension has triggered violent clashes in the past, but the most recent surge is the largest exodus of Rohingya refugees in decades.   On 25 August, a little-known group of Rohingya fighters, calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, attacked police and border posts in Rakhine State.   The ensuing crackdown by Myanmar’s military has been ferocious. Refugees reaching Bangladesh tell stories of mobs torching homes, soldiers cutting down unarmed civilians, and entire villages expelled.   The UN Security Council has called for “immediate steps” to end the violence. The UN’s top rights official says it could amount to a “textbook” case of ethnic cleansing.   Amnesty International says there is mounting evidence of a “mass-scale scorched-earth campaign” across northern Rakhine. The rights group matched satellite imagery, photographs, and video with dates and locations told by new arrivals to pinpoint burnt villages and what it says is irrefutable evidence of a deliberate campaign to push Rohingya out of Rakhine.   Myanmar denies targeting civilians. The government says the military is responding to “brutal acts of terrorism”.   Dire needs In a bare field near an overflowing refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, 30-year-old Anuara Begum sits under a makeshift tent – scant protection against the pouring rain.    "There is killing and beating in my village,” she tells IRIN. “How will I ever be able to go back home again?“   Anuara is cradling a newborn baby in her arms. She gave birth to the girl, she says, while crouched among the trees, hiding from soldiers in a forest near her village in Rakhine. Anuara holds her newborn in the air; there is a swollen abscess on her daughter’s back.   Verena Hölzl/IRIN [...]



Rohingya exodus puts pressure back on UN rights probe

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 02:55:53 +0000

An unfolding humanitarian emergency along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border is intensifying pressure on the UN to take action, with fears that an unprecedented exodus of Rohingya refugees fleeing a military clampdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State could amount to ethnic cleansing. A long-delayed UN fact-finding mission to Myanmar is renewing attempts to investigate allegations of serious rights violations, while the UN Security Council is set to hold a meeting on the crisis today after a request from Britain.   Since 25 August, more than 370,000 Rohingya refugees have surged over the conflict-torn Myanmar border into crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, bringing stories of razed villages, executions, and forced expulsions.   The violence has underscored the urgency of the UN probe. The fact-finding mission was mandated in March by the Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of severe rights violations, particularly in Rakhine State, where the Buddhist majority has badly strained relations with international agencies and aid groups.   “We are working day and night to send a team as soon as it is practically possible to establish the facts,” Marzuki Darusman, an Indonesian lawyer who chairs the three-member team, told IRIN in a statement. "The fact-finding mission is very concerned about the reports coming out on recent developments.”   Calling on the Security Council to hold a “formal discussion” on the issue, Matthew Rycroft, the UK’s UN ambassador, told reporters: “I think it’s a sign of the significant worry that Security Council members have that the situation is continuing to deteriorate for many Rohingya.”   ‘Textbook example of ethnic cleansing' The most recent wave of violence in Rakhine state was sparked after a group of fighters, calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, attacked police and border posts in Rakhine State on 25 August. It is also accused of killing civilians and blocking Rohingya males from fleeing.   Rights groups say the response from Myanmar’s military has been severely disproportionate; security forces have attacked unarmed civilians, burned down homes, and forced out entire villages, they say.   Myanmar authorities deny committing abuses, claiming instead that Rohingya militants and villagers torched their own homes.   But with Myanmar blocking access to affected parts of Rakhine, allegations of human rights violations – and the government’s own explanations – are difficult to verify.    “Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed,” the UN’s top rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a statement before the Human Rights Council in Geneva. “But the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”   "If you have two sides in a conflict and one feels you are supporting only the other, then you run into problems"   Until now, Myanmar’s government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has stonewalled UN monitors, refusing to grant visas to individual members of the fact-finding mission. With the military riding a wave of populist nationalism and elements of the government stoking anti-international resentment, it is unclear whether Myanmar will throw open its doors to a UN inspection.    “The international community can best help by supporting the Myanmar government in its efforts to bring stability, peace, and development in Rakhine State,” the country’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.   The UN’s fact-finding mission has renewed its request for access and cooperation following the recent violence, but has yet to receive a reply, said its chairman.   “We retain hope that cooperation will be possible," Darusman said.    A source within the UN previously told IRIN that the mission could try to reach witnesses in Bangladesh, even if access is barred in Myanmar.   [...]



Libya's migration crisis is about more than just security

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 14:53:36 +0000

There’s no shortage of news on Libya’s migration crisis, but there is a serious dearth of policy solutions.   Late last month, the International Organization for Migration announced what passes for good news at the moment: no deaths on the Mediterranean for 20 days. This followed reports, later denied, that Italy had been paying militias to prevent people from leaving Libya’s shores.   But the risk of drowning is far from the only danger facing migrants attempting the central Mediterranean route into Europe. Migrants are subject to arbitrary detention, arrest, harassment, bonded labour, slavery, and sexual exploitation.   And even as drowning numbers are down, IOM says there has been an increase in trafficking rather than smuggling on the central Mediterranean route – the former distinguished by the coercion and extortion that continues after arrival at the destination. This trend is partly because fewer Syrians (and migrants in general) are making the journey, so those plying the route are seeking ways to keep profits up – sub-Saharan African women appear to be paying a horrible price in this shift, finding themselves forced into the sex industry in greater numbers.   Human rights groups, humanitarians, and governments are naturally concerned, but some rights advocates feel the anti-trafficking policies of the European Union and others are more aimed at stopping migration entirely.   “The war on traffickers has been something that – time and time again – when politicians find themselves with the backs to the wall, they reach to,” Mark Micallef, a specialist researcher on the subject at the Global Initiative Against Transnational and Organized Crime, told IRIN.   Fighting trafficking or fighting migration?   The EU’s Operation Sophia, which aims to disrupt the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks, in part by taking apart the boats themselves, has come under fire for muddling the fight on traffickers and smugglers with stopping migration altogether.   “Trying to stop slavery at the point of destroying boats in the middle of the Mediterranean doesn’t actually help people,” Claire Seaward, humanitarian campaign and advocacy manager at Oxfam, told IRIN. “As we are seeing, migrants will just use different types of boats. They used to be on large wooden boats and now they are on inflatable dinghies."   Tim Eaton, a research fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, believes one of Operation Sophia’s major flaws is looking at migration – and migrants – through a one-dimensional lens, when it’s really about so much more, like economics and hope. “On a policy level, the problem comes when you look at this solely as a security problem,” Eaton told IRIN. Disposable Africans - migration and its consequences Securing borders and clamping down on criminals including traffickers may be useful in some respects, but it won’t stop desperate migrants from coming, nor does it take into account the dangers they face while inside Libya.   Limited options   But there don’t seem to be a whole lot of viable alternatives, especially when many parts of Libya are so dangerous it’s impractical to put aid workers on the ground.   Where NGOs can help is in assisting suspected trafficking victims and training law enforcement officers and emergency responders. Annemarie Loof, operations manager at Médecins Sans Frontières, said the charity gives “[migrants in Libya] a telephone number they can call anywhere from Europe. We talk to them about trafficking and the sex industry. We flag it to the [Italian] authorities.”   Izabella Cooper, spokeswoman for EU border agency Frontex, said it has trained staff to recognise signs of people-trafficking on the ships it deploys as part of Operation Triton, the EU naval mission that backstops Italy’s own r[...]



Colombia’s female FARC fighters wage a new war, for gender parity

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 12:41:57 +0000

When Angie Rios, 27, left to join communist rebels as a teenager, she told her mother never to change her phone number.   Nine years later, Rios is a seasoned guerrilla and sports a pierced eyebrow, a bandana, and gumboots, tempered by feminine flourishes – rhinestones dangle from her earlobes and throat; her fingernails are painted pink.   When the peace deal was finally signed in November between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as FARC, and the government, Rios made a phone call.   “Hi mom, it’s me.”   For thousands of FARC women, who make up more than 40 percent of the armed group, homecoming is fraught. Right now, they’re reconnecting with family members who they’d left years, if not decades, ago.   Female guerrillas, many from remote corners of the country, told IRIN they never really looked back when they joined FARC.   They say they were fleeing the drudgery of domestic rural life. Among the communist rebels, they found the easy camaraderie and gender equity, at least the veneer of it, that they longed for.   Now, after laying down their arms as part of a historic peace deal, they face a unique stigma. Whereas men are viewed as macho for having fought in the war, women are seen as “loose” for having slept with male guerrillas, and tainted for having undergone abortions. Even the rebels themselves, one researcher says, reject their former lovers.   A government reintegration programme, previously accused of pigeon-holing female ex-fighters into home economics style workshops, is now bracing for the gargantuan task of assimilating them into communities that can be unforgiving to women who shirk traditional gender roles.     Female guerrillas say they’re determined to fight back – this time for gender parity. The stakes are high: Reintegrating these women into society is essential for Colombia to move past war and truly end the longest-running conflict in the Americas.   When IRIN spoke to her, on a rain-battered day in June, Rios stood in the kitchen of one of the 26 rural camps holding FARC rebels, frying beef and pork in a vat of bubbling oil, pinching the crisp meat with a pair of tongs.   Rios said her mother didn’t recognise her voice at first when she called: “She thought I was dead”. When she did realise it was her daughter, she broke down and cried. Her father, an evangelical Christian, began to thank God.   “At first, they didn’t like what I did with my life, but they now support me,” said Rios. “I don’t judge them and they don’t judge me.”   Rios now calls her parents every day. They talk about what they’re doing, how they’re going to meet up very soon. They don’t speak about religion. “My mother calls me ‘my little girl’,” Rios said.   The oil spluttered as she dropped in more meat. How does she feel cooking for her comrades — the same task that from the age of 13, working in a low-paying kitchen to support her six siblings, finally stirred her to leave home in Meta province and join FARC?   “It’s not something I do all day,” Rios responded, adding that she used to keep guard and is now also pursuing a course at the camp to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a dentist. “I want everyone to have a nice smile,” she explained.   There are other dreams too. Rios wants to have children with her partner, a FARC commander. She feels a sense of relief that she won’t have to worry anymore about him dying every time he steps out on a mission. She wants to help the FARC fight for its cause in its new incarnation as a political party. Sruthi Gottipati/IRIN No gender utopia   Rios’s mountainside camp in the municipality of Icononzo holds 300 people, of which 125 are women, in keeping with the gender ratio of FARC as a whole.   “For us, women h[...]



Crackdown: Prison conditions worsen in post-coup Turkey

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 09:00:00 +0000

Turkey has been packing its jails with political offenders since a failed coup nearly 14 months ago, and prisoners’ families, lawyers, and activists have told IRIN of an increase in overcrowding, poor medical care, solitary confinement, and mistreatment. Some 50,000 people have been jailed for suspected ties to the attempted takeover last July, including elected officials, academics, human rights workers, and journalists. In total, monitors estimate that at least 220,000 people are currently imprisoned in Turkey and have documented deteriorating prison conditions that are corroborated by accounts given to IRIN. Groups like Amnesty International say conditions are unlikely to improve in the near future, as alleged violations continue to pile up without state oversight or verifiable repercussions. “It’s clear there’s a systematic attempt to silence dissent and this has gone a long way in creating a climate of fear within civil society, but it’s also clear this process hasn’t been completed,” Andrew Gardner, a Turkey-based researcher for Amnesty International, an organisation with two senior officials currently in detention, told IRIN. “All signals are showing that problems are continuing and deepening.” The Turkish government accuses a movement tied to US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the failed coup, and defends the scale of arrests as necessary to maintain order in the country. Protesters in overcrowded prisons To make space for the growing number of political prisoners, state officials released more than 38,000 non-political criminals last August, including some guilty of violent offenses, even murder. Some of those convicted of crimes against the state have no direct links to the coup attempt, but were jailed instead for protesting or expressing criticism of the increasingly authoritarian governing style of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. IRIN A prison vehicle used to transfer inmates outside Sincan Prison, outside Ankara. Sevgul*, a young mother convicted of spreading terrorist propaganda after taking part in a protest, was given a multi-year sentence even though her six-month-old was still breastfeeding. As Turkish law allows children as old as six to stay with their mothers in prison, she opted to serve her sentence with her child in tow. Sent to a prison in the eastern province on Elazig, Sevgul found herself and her infant crammed with 23 other women into a cell built for eight. The crackdown on alleged opponents of the state has given rise to hunger strikes by inmates across the country as penal institutions have become increasingly overcrowded. Sevgul has struggled to care for her newborn, who cries through the nights and has developed a skin infection, according to Sevgul’s sister Ayten*. Since the conviction, Ayten has taken Sevgul’s husband and older daughter into her apartment. Ayten visits her sister regularly and, in an interview with IRIN, described her sister’s difficulties in procuring baby food and supplies while in jail, as well as the wider human rights abuses that have become commonplace in Turkey’s post-coup prison system. Ayten said Sevgul has been beaten at least once, when guards dragged her down a stairway by the hair for refusing orders to give a military salute. The impacts of Sevgul’s detention have been felt through the entire family. “Her older daughter cries sometimes when we are home and asks for her mother,” Ayten said. “She’s old enough to know what is going on now. I can see that she is as imprisoned as her mother and her little sister.” Officials from Turkey’s Ministry of Justice and the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses did not respond to requests for comment before the publication of th[...]