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IRIN - Afghanistan


Afghanistan redux, mind your language, and Angola’s First Family

Fri, 25 Aug 2017 12:53:59 +0000

President Joao Lourenco – can he escape “the family”? It’s no surprise, Angola’s next president is going to be Joao Lourenco. The big question is can the party loyalist and former general usher in any real change in Africa’s third largest economy after his electoral victory? Angola has a per capita GDP of $6,800. But, run as a “crony petro-state”, its social indicators are appalling and economy in free-fall. Lourenco has promised to crack down on corruption. Although not known for personally having sticky fingers, he is part of the system. He is the hand-picked successor to José Eduardo dos Santos who has ruled for close to four decades and will remain head of the ruling MPLA party. Dos Santos’s billionaire daughter Isabel heads Sonangol, the state oil company, and his son José Filomeno runs the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund. Lourenco is generally depicted as the candidate for continuity. Yet he will need resources to build his power base, and so the transition may have real impact on the dos Santos family's business interests. The Financial Times suggests the showdown could come with Isabel, whose job “puts her in control of much state revenue”. And the family could fight back. Rebecca Engebretsen writes in African Arguments that President Filipe Nyusi was elected in Mozambique also on an anti-corruption platform, but has since been troubled by leaks connecting him to prominent fraud cases during his time as a minister. What is clear is that change is unlikely to come overnight in Angola. Cameroon’s deepening language divide On a recent visit to Yaoundé, an IRIN journalist was rash enough, over lunch in a modest eatery, to raise Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis with the head of an NGO that works with the country’s youth. When the man suggested the main problem lay not between the restive Anglophone minority and French-speaking majority, but between the Anglophones and President Paul Biya, a women at a neighboring table, who turned out to work in Biya’s office, kicked up an almighty fuss and seemed set to have the man arrested. So sensitive is this 10-month-old crisis which has paralysed education, led to strikes in two English-speaking parts of the country, and seen dozens of activists and even bishops detained pending trial in military courts, that it cannot be discussed in public. Yet it continues to fester. At least six schools were set on fire over the past week, reportedly for failing to stick to a declared education strike. Earlier in the year, markets and government buildings were targeted. The government blames emerging separatist groups. Dialogue is moribund. According the International Crisis Group’s latest report on the issue, “ahead of presidential elections next year, the resurgence of the Anglophone problem could bring instability.” The report added that small secessionist groups that emerged this year are taking advantage of the situation to radicalise the population with support from part of the Anglophone diaspora. While the risk of partition of the country is low, the risk of a resurgence of the problem in the form of armed violence is high, as some groups are now advocating that approach.” A man. A plan. Afghanistan "It was 2 or 3 in the morning. I was woken up by gunfire. It was so loud. There were people screaming. My children were scared. My youngest was only a few months old. We all ran down to the basement. It was the safest place in the house. It was terrifying." So begins Doctor Marzia Salam Yaftali in this BBC Outlook feature linked to US President Donald Trump's announcement that American troops will remain in Afghanistan for the long haul. Doctor Yaftali is describing the situation the last time the Taliban tried to retake their northern former stronghold of Kunduz. It was 2015 and she was the gynaecologist in the city's last public hospital. Those weeks under siege were an extreme time, but the danger of a repeat and more is still real. Two years on the Taliban have made more gains in other parts of the country and half the cou[...]

Aid workers at risk on World Humanitarian Day

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 15:11:42 +0000

Ahead of World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, take a look at some highlights of our recent coverage related to this year’s #NotATarget theme, which aims to bring attention to the thousands of aid workers and millions of civilians caught in the crossfire of conflict. Red Cross killings in Afghanistan reveal the limits of aid access In February 2017, six staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were killed in Jawzjan, Afghanistan. The attack echoed an earlier incident in 1996 that led aid agencies and NGOs to get more serious about security risks and staff protection. Dangers remain however, especially for those working in crises where they can be labelled as proxies for the enemy or foreign forces. The Jawzjan murders were deeply demoralising because the ICRC, of all humanitarian organisations, dedicates significant resources to access, outreach, and ensuring acceptance by all sides in any conflict. In this instructive commentary, security analyst Abby Stoddard argues that while it’s important for NGOs to secure their own staff and operations, it’s vital they do so without simply transferring those risks onto local partners.   Time to confront sexual abuse and harassment in the aid sector As we reflect on the dangers facing aid workers this World Humanitarian Day, harassment and abuse cannot be overlooked. Women in the sector are too often subjected to sexual harassment from colleagues and superiors. They may also fear professional repercussions if they come forward, lacking trust in the system and options for accountability. The Humanitarian Women’s Network conducted a survey of more than 1,000 female aid workers and found that 69 percent of respondents had experienced discrimination, harassment, or abuse and did not report it. Additionally, the study suggested that female foreign aid workers are subjected to increased risk in the communities where they work, as seen with the aid workers raped in South Sudan. When working in troubled countries and precarious situations, local law enforcement is sometimes not a safe or realistic option to report to, and so accountability is difficult. As aid work continues to professionalise, policies and protections around sexual abuse and harassment remain critical, both in the wider community and within organisations themselves. Unfortunately, Report the Abuse, one of the few organisations dedicated solely to exposing and improving sexual violence crimes against humanitarians, is set to close shop for a lack of funding (certainly, not a lack of need).   Local aid workers on the front line of South Sudan’s civil war Worldwide, about 80 percent of aid personnel killed, kidnapped, and seriously wounded are locals working for organisations within their own country. South Sudan is no exception and, since the start of its civil war in 2013, has ranked as one of the deadliest countries for humanitarian workers. This feature from regular IRIN contributor Sofia Barbarani exposes how in a civil war drawn largely on ethnic lines, local humanitarians are never entirely safe from being accused of allegiance to their own ethnicity. National NGOs also find donors are reluctant to give to them directly and can face accusations from both sides of bias and/or affiliation. International NGOs don’t have it easy by any means, but they are better placed to evacuate and protect their employees. Local NGOs can never leave. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" id="datawrapper-chart-wwVo3" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> aid_worker_2.jpg Feature Aid and Policy Aid workers at risk on World Humanitarian Day IRIN GENEVA South Sudan Afghanistan Myanmar Global Iraq Syria [...]

Afghan refugees in Greek camp: “If you kept animals in this situation, they would die”

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 07:19:40 +0000

At its peak in the summer of 2016, the former Athens airport terminal at Elliniko was home to more than 3,000 refugees. A makeshift camp set up during Europe's refugee “crisis” the summer before, it is now home to fewer than 700 people, nearly all of them from Afghanistan. Over the last few weeks, the Greek government has been trying to persuade them to leave by removing vital services. On 20 May, the NGOs providing medical care, clothing, legal advice, translation, and cleaning were withdrawn. In the days that followed, WiFi, electricity, and water services were cut off and residents were told to accept transfers elsewhere or lose support. Most people agree Elliniko is unfit for human habitation, including Masood Qahar, a 40-year-old refugee from Kabul who has been living there since early 2016. Journalists are no longer allowed inside the camp, but Qahar showed IRIN photographs of people sleeping in the airport terminal corridors in tents or under sheets strung from the ceiling. When it rains, Qahar said, the water comes through the ceiling. He played a video of residents trying to sweep water away from their tents. Masood Qahar Inside the former airport terminal turned refugee camp, people sleep in tents divided by sheets Men, women, and children live together at Elliniko with little privacy. Human rights organisations including Amnesty International have repeatedly warned that women are at risk of sexual assault. “It’s not safe,” Qahar said. “I’ve been attacked three times with knives. Once, someone brought a gun into the camp.” So why stay? Despite this, Qahar and many of the remaining refugees are reluctant to leave on the uncertain terms they have been offered. When officials announced the closure earlier this month, they told the refugees they would be sent to a new, purpose-built camp at Thiva (Thebes), in central Greece. But the ministry of migration has not issued a formal plan for the transfer, and Qahar, for one, is suspicious. “It’s a small jail,” he said, showing photographs he had taken during a visit to Thiva. They show rows of shipping containers surrounded by a security fence on an industrial estate outside the town. The camp is to be managed by the International Organization for Migration, but the government has not yet specified what services will be provided. Masood Qahar The new camp at Thiva consists of rows of shipping containers surrounded by a security fence Kyriakos Giaglis, country director for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Greece, which had been providing support services at Elliniko until it was asked to leave, told IRIN that his organisation is concerned about the apparent lack of consultation with the refugees. “Movement has to be well-informed, principled, and voluntary. This plan has not been properly communicated by the Greek authorities, despite our continuous requests.” Giaglis said it was unclear whether the camp at Thiva would be able to accommodate all the remaining residents at Elliniko or if adequate legal services would be provided to help refugees with their asylum claims in Greece or family reunion elsewhere in Europe. The DRC is asking that vulnerable people be moved to some of the 20,000 apartments in Athens provided by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. But demand is high and there aren’t enough apartments to accommodate all the Elliniko refugees. According to UNHCR, around 100 people have been moved to apartments in recent weeks. Filling the information gap are rumours. Some refugees fear forced transfer to Thiva at short notice; others are concerned by the presence of IOM at the new camp because of the agency’s well-known voluntary return programmes for migrants. “They are trying to pressure people to go home,” said Qahar. There is no evidence to confirm such suspicions, and in a recent statement the Greek migration ministry blamed the r[...]

Pushed out of Pakistan into war-torn Afghanistan, refugees are told to be ‘patient’

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 10:14:04 +0000

Afghan refugees pressured by Pakistan to return to their volatile homeland where they face hunger and homelessness should be “patient”, according to an official who said his government plans to eventually offer more support.   The UN says more than 600,000 Afghans returned last year from Pakistan, where rights groups documented a campaign of harassment by the authorities. Pakistan suspended its repatriation plan in December, but resumed it on 3 April and returnees and advocates say the harassment has begun again.   A similar influx of returnees this year would further strain the capacity of the Afghan government, which is already unable to deal with those who came back in 2016. In addition, the UN says a record 400,000 people were displaced by war inside Afghanistan last year.   A recent UN survey found that 46 percent of returnees around the capital, Kabul, were severely food insecure. The figure was 30 percent in Nangarhar, a province bordering Pakistan. Of those surveyed in both locations, 63 percent listed employment as a “priority need”.    Another primary concern is that many returnees have no home to return to. Land would not only give them somewhere to build a house; it would also allow them to farm, which would cut down on hunger and unemployment.    Hafiz Ahmad Miakhel, a spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, said the government is working on a land distribution programme. But he said it was a slow process due to factors including the need for various ministries to coordinate, and the time it takes to register all returnees and determine whether it’s safe for them to return to their homes districts.   “People have to be patient,” he told IRIN.   Little support   Patience is in short supply among those who are struggling to survive with little help.   “The government of Afghanistan keeps saying for people to come, but does nothing to support them,” said Amanullah, 19, who was deported from Pakistan in November and has been selling soup on the street since then in the town of Daronta, in Nangarhar.   The government gives each returnee $50, while the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, provides registered refugees with another $200.    That money disappears quickly, returnees said. Most have to rent houses at a cost of $75 to $100 a month.   “I wish we could say we spent it on a luxury, but it all went to rent and to feed our families,” said Akbar Khan, who has been unable to return to his home in Paktika Province because the security situation is so poor.   Humanitarian groups like the Norwegian Refugee Council [NRC] provide support to some returnees, including building shelters, but most receive little help. The $200 cash grant provided by UNHCR is half of what it was last year.   The government and humanitarian agencies asked for $550 million to fund programmes in 2017, of which only 21 percent has been committed or delivered so far.    “As aid agencies there is only so much we can do with the budgets and resources we’re given,” said Mohammad Nader Farhad, a spokesman for UNHCR. “There are some institutional matters that different ministries of the Afghan government will have to work on as well.”    The inability of ministries to coordinate and provide long-term solutions, such as land distribution, has bedeviled the government for years.   A year ago, Amnesty International reported that the government had failed to implement a national policy to provide basic living conditions for displaced people. Amnesty found many were living “on the brink of survival”.   SEE: Afghanistan’s failed promises to help people displaced by war   That situation is worse now, since 2016 saw record numbers of both returning refugees and people displaced by fighting. And it could get even more desperate as Pakistan ramps up its repatriation efforts, even as the war in Afghanistan intensifies.   Harassment again   There are still more than two million Afghan refuge[...]

Attacks on Afghan hospitals hit children the hardest

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 13:09:20 +0000

An Afghan father recently described how his 15-year-old son lost both feet after stepping on a mine. He couldn’t get proper care in Kunduz City – the only trauma centre there had been destroyed – so he took a taxi more than 200 miles to Kabul. By the time his son received treatment, it was too late.  “Both of his legs had to be cut off from just below the waist, because the bones were ruined and he had a serious infection,” the boy’s father said. "For one week, he was ok, but then, from the infection, he went into a coma. Ten days later, he died in the hospital." This is one of the many brutal stories I heard during a trip to Afghanistan, where I travelled in November to research the impact that targeted attacks on medical facilities have on children’s health. Children and their parents, health workers and humanitarian staff repeatedly told my colleagues and I how these attacks have compromised access to critical healthcare and devastated children’s lives. In a country already among the world’s most dangerous for aid workers, clinics have become battlegrounds and medical professionals are on the front lines of the conflict. New report Over the last two years, the Taliban, Afghan government forces and other groups have committed more than 240 attacks on medical facilities. These violate humanitarian laws and erode an already extremely fragile health system. In a report released today, we show how these unlawful attacks have damaged or destroyed clinics and hospitals, and killed or injured many health professionals. Others have been forced to leave their jobs or flee, and many patients have been afraid to seek care. Children have suffered greatly: casualties have increased, along with rates of malnutrition, diarrhoeal disease and vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and polio. Instead of places of healing, clinics and hospitals have become targets in Afghanistan’s escalating conflict. Attacks have been so frequent that one health director told us that many go unreported. Attacks have taken place in at least 20 of the country’s 34 provinces, making it difficult, if not impossible, to access healthcare in many areas. In one case, a 15-year-old girl suffering from meningitis took a week to reach a hospital. She died shortly after getting treatment. RELATED STORIES: Medical care cut off as Taliban assaults key Afghan city Prosecute those who bomb hospitals, or it will keep happening NATO probes raid on Afghan clinic, speaks to few, finds out little Will probe of “executions" at Afghan clinic bring justice? Can obscure commission bring justice for Kunduz? Hospitals and war crimes: a patchy record Warring parties have also closed medical facilities, and stolen medical supplies and ambulances. They have threatened, detained and killed medical personnel. A health vaccinator told us that when the Taliban caught him administering polio vaccines, they warned him they would kill him if he continued. He felt threatened again when fighters with the so-called Islamic State entered the area, and he later left his job. “I have seen with my own eyes, in an area of 100 metres there are three kinds of leaders: Taliban, IS and government,” he said. “Our clinic was in the middle of the conflict, so even though it is my job, I had to stop, otherwise I thought either the IS or Taliban would kill me.” Such cases of threats and extortions are far from unique. In February 2015, a group of unidentified men shot and killed a social mobiliser for a polio programme run by UNICEF. In August 2016, Taliban fighters abducted a staffer of a NGO overseeing a polio vaccination programme. Impact The impact of these systematic assaults on the healthcare system and health professionals has been profound. The World Health Organization reported 169 measles outbreaks in 2015 – a staggering 141 percent increase from 2014. More than one million of Afghanistan’s children now suffer from acute malnutrition,[...]

UN under fire even as Pakistan lifts Afghan deportation order

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 10:24:39 +0000

Pakistan has backed off threats to deport more than two million Afghans starting next month, but the refugees are still under intense pressure to leave and the UN is accused of complicity in alleged plans to coerce them back across the border into a war zone.   Last week, Pakistan announced it would allow Afghans to stay in the country until the end of the year. Insiders say the decision by the administration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came after lobbying from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, as well as two allied political parties and the Afghan government. Sharif’s cabinet was also warned that such a move could push Afghanistan closer to Pakistan’s archrival, India.   But the decision will not alleviate the fear and uncertainty that Afghans live with in Pakistan. In fact, the situation is now similar to last year when about 600,000 Afghans crossed the border under intense pressure from the government, including an initial end-of-year deportation deadline (which was later delayed until the end of March 2017).   “Giving refugees short-term status and threatening deportation is a very effective way to get people to leave,” said Gerry Simpson, author of a report released today by Human Rights Watch.   The report accuses Pakistan of violating international law by committing refoulement: forcibly returning refugees to a country where they face persecution, torture or a risk to their lives. The report says UNHCR is complicit because it has failed to condemn government measures intended to coerce Afghans to leave and has assisted the government by providing cash grants to returnees.   “It’s clearly high time for UNHCR to speak in plain, simple English and call it what it is, which is forced return,” Simpson told IRIN.   SEE: Will the UN become complicit in Pakistan’s illegal return of Afghan refugees?   Freedom to choose?   The refugee agency rejected HRW’s accusations.   “The return of Afghan refugees in 2016 from Pakistan was categorically not refoulement,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, a spokeswoman for UNHCR in Pakistan.   She told IRIN that the agency does not promote returning to Afghanistan, but offered the cash grant to those who decided on their own accord to leave Pakistan.   “We acknowledge that conditions for return are less than ideal,” said Khan. “UNHCR facilitates voluntary repatriation upon the request and fully informed decision of refugees.”   Simpson argued that conditions were not only “less than ideal”, but became so difficult for Afghans in Pakistan last year that repatriation became less of a decision than a necessity.   Halfway through 2016, the government launched a public information campaign warning Afghans that they needed to leave the country or face deportation. After that, refugees began reporting increasing animosity from members of Pakistan’s host communities and they often suddenly found their rents were increased, their children were not allowed to attend school, and employment dried up. The government has denied ordering security forces to harass refugees, but HRW collected evidence that such harassment dramatically increased after the government announced the plan.   SEE: Families torn apart as Pakistan forces Afghan refugees over the border   Harassment by security forces appeared to have dropped off late last year when the government extended the deportation deadline to March. It’s not yet clear whether refugees will be facing the same pressures in 2017, but Simpson warned of that possibility.   Those who decide to return to Afghanistan will be going home to a war that shows no signs of abating and has only become more dangerous for civilians. The UN Mission in Afghanistan recorded 11,418 civilians killed or injured last year, the highest number since UNAMA began documenting civilian casualties in 2009.   The Afghan government is struggling with a record number of displaced people, includi[...]

The cheat sheet: Somalia famine, Trump orders, and chemical weapons in Syria

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 18:12:02 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors takes a look at what lies ahead on the humanitarian agenda and curates a selection of some of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed: What’s coming up? Somalia – lessons learnt from 2011 famine? At some point this month, famine may again be declared in Somalia. Whether or not the “f” word is actually invoked, the country is facing disaster. Five million people, roughly 40 percent of the population, do not have enough to eat because of four consecutive years of drought, exacerbated by fighting between the jihadist group al-Shabab and the Western-backed government. The emergency has all the hallmarks of the 2011 famine in pockets of Somalia that killed 260,000 people. Have lessons been learnt? We now know that early warning is not enough. Incentives for early action are needed. “There is consensus that the humanitarian response to the famine [in 2011] was mostly late and insufficient, and that limited access to most of the affected population, resulting from widespread insecurity and operating restrictions imposed on several relief agencies, was a major constraint,” said an FAO and FEWSNET study. The 2011 crisis was politicised by both al-Shabab and donor governments. The various agendas of donors, regional powers, and the warring authorities within Somalia were incompatible with the prevention of famine and hindered the ability of the UN-led cluster system to operate independently and effectively. The bright spots? Market-based interventions (cash and vouchers in particular) worked reasonably well, and non-traditional donors contributed at unprecedented speed and volume, according to a desk review by the Feinstein International Center. The fate of Trump’s ban The Trump administration’s efforts to restrict US admissions of refugees and visa-holders from certain Muslim-majority countries were dealt a blow on Thursday when an appeals court upheld an earlier ruling that the travel ban was unconstitutional. Although most coverage has focused on the impact on people from the seven countries affected, the legal wrangling also has major implications for the US refugee resettlement programme, which had been suspended for four months by Trump’s executive order but is now running normally again. A spokesman from the International Rescue Committee, one of nine NGOs contracted to manage resettlement in the United States, told IRIN his organisation had received 350 refugees this week and was expecting 350 more next week. That could change if the Trump administration successfully appeals the ruling at the Supreme Court. With one seat still vacant though, and four Democrat and four Republican appointees, there’s a high chance no majority decision will be reached. To conflict-free or not to conflict-free? If you haven’t been reading a lot about the Democratic Republic of Congo and conflict minerals, you better start now. There are reports of another imminent Trump executive order, this time rolling back a rule aimed at reducing violence and promoting “conflict-free” minerals in Congo. The rule in question sits inside section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the law that overhauled financial regulation in the wake of the 2007-2009 global meltdown. The draft executive order, obtained by The Guardian and Intercept, claims to be acting out of concern over “mounting evidence” that instead of preventing minerals from fuelling conflict, the law is actually causing harm and contributing to instability in the region. International aid and activist groups, including Global Witness, are in uproar, claiming Trump’s move will embolden criminality and corruption. But many experts beg to differ and suggest the president may actually have a point. Stay tuned. Next week, we'll be publishing a months-long IRIN investigation into this issue. Good timing indeed! Syria’s new “red line” Next week's also [...]

The humanitarian cheat sheet: Trouble in CAR and WhatsApp for crises

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 17:45:26 +0000

Every week, IRIN's team of editors curates a selection of some of the best humanitarian reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed and looks ahead to give you the inside scoop on hot topics coming up: Did you miss it? The nearly man The death of opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi this week has deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo of a unique political figure who was at the forefront of the fight for democracy for over three decades. Arguably, his voice is needed now more than ever. His death plays into the hands of President Joseph Kabila’s supporters, who have consistently sought to delay elections, threatening a New Year’s Eve accord with the opposition in which Kabila agreed to step down this year and not run for a third term. As African Arguments points out, “his departure robs the opposition of a leader able to combine genuine street-level popularity with an ability to squeeze out political deals. As popular anger mounts, the opposition will have to work hard to rebuild a credible leadership.” Branding the Taliban The Taliban cared little about their image when they conquered Afghanistan in the 1990s, and that didn’t change after they were overthrown in late 2001 and began a long and ongoing insurgency. But the group seems to have “woken up to the importance of organisational symbols and their political meaning”, according to this report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network. Perhaps the Taliban are inspired by their newest enemy, the so-called Islamic State, which has launched a barrage of propaganda since moving into the region, as we reported this week. This AAN report is part of a series focusing on changes the Taliban are undergoing, and it focuses on their use of a white flag inscribed with an “Islamic statement of faith” and sometimes their official name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Unlike the group’s previous iterations, the flag is now constantly on display. Among other reasons for this is to “demonstrate to the population that they, not the government, are the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan”, says AAN. Getting the message Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Viber are already being used by more than 2.5 billion people around the world, but humanitarian organisations have yet to get to grips with these new communications technologies and figure out how they can best be used to improve their work, while avoiding potential pitfalls. This report from the International Committee of the Red Cross considers unresolved questions that have held back the use of messaging apps in humanitarian crises, particularly in conflict settings, such as concerns about data protection and security, which messaging app to use, and patchy network connectivity. It looks at how some humanitarian organisations are already using messaging apps to reduce communication costs, coordinate with other staff, and to maintain contact with people in transit, such as refugees, or in conflict or post-disaster situations where other communication methods are unavailable. The report also flags up risks and challenges and provides a handy comparison of privacy-friendly features on various apps.  One from IRIN: EU strategy stems migrant flow from Niger, but at what cost? In researching this story on the EU-funded and EU-inspired crackdown on migrants and smugglers in Niger, IRIN Migration Editor Kristy Siegfried unearthed an unexpected news nugget. The EU had been boasting about the effectiveness of its policy of partnering with African countries by using the incorrect main stat that only 1,525 migrants headed northwards from Niger during November. This represented a stunning 88% drop on the previous month’s figure of 12,654 and a staggering 98% decline since a summer high of 71,904. Okay, the figure was taken from International Organization for Migration reports, which were later amended, but why[...]

Radio wars: Islamic State takes over the Afghan airwaves

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 04:51:34 +0000

It’s a chilly winter evening in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. Several men with blankets draped over their shoulders are playing cards under a solar-powered streetlight when someone turns on the radio. It’s time for Voice of the Caliphate, a programme broadcast by the so-called Islamic State on its pirate station.   “God loves those mujahideen who fight in the way of Allah,” says the presenter, who urges young men to join IS. “There will be an Islamic state, a pure Sharia regime all over the world.”   The men quieten down as the broadcast rules the cold, windy air for the next hour.    Just a couple of years ago, 90.7 was occupied by Qalam FM, which broadcasted songs, religious talkshows and social programmes that focused on topics ranging from agriculture and health to elections and good governance. Then IS blew up the radio station and took over the frequency.   The broadcast is part of an IS propaganda assault that has accompanied its efforts over the past couple of years to spread from the Middle East into South and Central Asia. So far, IS has only been able to take over a relatively small area of Nangarhar Province, as it battles the Taliban for territory and fights off assaults from Afghan and American forces.    But the militant group’s influence stretches much further afield, in part due to its extensive use of various media. Radio is especially important, as it is by far the most important medium in Afghanistan due to high illiteracy rates.   IS “has put far greater effort into its media activities than would normally be expected from a nascent group of its size”, said the Afghanistan Analysts Network in a report last month that examined its reach on social and traditional media, as well as the content. The militants are “already outmatching” the Taliban, noted AAN.    ‘Baffled’ by recruitment   Nangarhar residents told IRIN that they often tune in to the evening radio programme, but not to show support IS. Instead, they hope to learn what’s happening on the battlefield and how close the fighting is. However, people have been won over, including some surprising recruits.   The first half of the nightly broadcast is mainly filled with bulletins about IS victories in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The second half is hosted by Firdoas Bahar, a former professor of Pashto literature, who fills his programme with rhetoric attacking the Taliban and the government. The entire hour is interspersed with jihadi music, messages from IS members in Syria and Iraq, and interviews with captives in Afghanistan who say they regret fighting IS.   Bahar, who joined IS recently along with nine members of his family, tells listeners that the militant group represents true Islam and peppers his presentation with quotes from the Quran. His decision to join IS came as a surprise to his friends and professors at Kabul University, where he was pursuing a graduate degree.    “He was very smart and there was hardly any reason to suspect him,” one of his professors told IRIN on condition of anonymity. “I suspect he was recruited by a secret cell in Kabul University.”   Another IS recruitment that has baffled many people is that of Sultan Aziz Azam, a journalist and poet who was popular in Jalalabad, Nangarhar’s provincial capital. “Now, he calls and threatens his former friends about IS beheading reporters,” said a local journalist, who asked to remain anonymous.   Ahmad Ali Hazrat, chief of Nangarhar’s provincial council, pointed to a mix of motivations for people to join IS. They include hatred of the Taliban, which may have killed their friends and relatives, as well as poverty and unemployment.    SEE: Islamic State ramps up recruitment in Pakistan   Social networks   In addition to radio, IS makes extensive use of social media, said a seni[...]

Islamic State ramps up recruitment in Pakistan

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 12:08:52 +0000

Obaid Khan was planning to join Pakistan’s public school system as a teacher after finishing his undergraduate degree in May this year. Instead, he dropped out of university to join the so-called Islamic State, and he’s now fighting in Afghanistan.   Obaid’s life-plan began to change when a man identifying himself as Qari Abid contacted him via Facebook last August. As their correspondence deepened, Khan became more and more convinced that he needed to join the “jihad against infidels”, according to his elder brother, Hanifullah, whom Abid attempted to recruit as well.   “He used to get promotional Islamic State material and sermons about jihad every second day in his Facebook inbox,” said Hanifullah about his brother.    Then, at the end of October, Obaid suddenly left the family home in Bajaur Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the frontier with Afghanistan. Last month, he called Hanifullah and told him he had finished training with IS and was now fighting in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, where Afghan government and US forces have been battling the militants.   “He was a religious-minded person, but we never thought he would one day join a militant group like the IS,” said Hanifullah in a telephone interview.   Military assaults have squeezed IS out of some of the territory it took control of in Iraq and Syria, and the group has recently expanded its presence in South Asia.    In January 2015, IS declared its intention to establish “Khorasan”, in reference to a historical region that once covered much of modern day Afghanistan as well as parts of Iran and Central Asia. Nangarhar remains its main base of operations, but its tentacles extend across the border into Pakistan too.   SEE: Afghanistan now a ‘continual emergency’, as war drives record numbers from their homes   Officially, Pakistan’s government says that IS, or Daesh as it is referred to here, is not active in the country. But a senior security official has told IRIN that the group represents a serious threat to the country as it coordinates with other militant groups, and ramps up recruitment using social media. The official and Pakistani relatives of IS fighters have shared information on how the recruitment process works.   Government denials   “There is no organised presence, I repeat, no organised presence of Daesh in Pakistan,” Mohammed Nafees Zakaria, a foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters on 15 December. “The pronouncement of one or two random individuals of having affiliation to Daesh does not form the basis for claiming organised presence for this entity in Pakistan.”   However, a senior counter-terrorism official told IRIN that 14 Pakistanis joined IS in October alone, while hundreds more are also believed to be in touch with the recruiters through social media.   “The IS recruiters contact young, educated Pakistani men and women through Facebook, telegram, and other social media platforms and convince them to join the IS in Syria and Afghanistan,” said the official, who requested his name be withheld due to the sensitive nature of the subject.   He said he believed the presence of IS could pose a more dangerous threat to Pakistan than the Taliban and other militants, because “it has penetrated in urban educated youth through social media and has enough resources too to lure them to Syria and Afghanistan in the name of jihad”.   The resources include cash payments to families of new recruits, according to the official as well as the brother of another young Pakistani man who has joined IS and is now in Afghanistan for training.   The man told IRIN that his family is receiving a monthly stipend of 30,000 rupees ($286) and that leading IS figures in the region had also promised to sponsor the education of his brot[...]