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IRIN - Migration

Stories about refugees, migrants, asylum-seekers, people. 


The uncertain future of the Kurdish people

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:15:51 +0000

As Iraq’s Kurds gear up to vote in a pivotal independence referendum, this IRIN in-depth series explores the Kurdish people - past, present, and future: What binds them together? What still separates them? What does the prospect of a nation state mean for ordinary people and what risks does this bubbling undercurrent of nationalism pose for the powder keg region?  Click on the title boxes below to read each story. Your browser does not support the video tag. A country called Kurdistan? Is independence around the corner for Iraq's Kurds? Martyn Aim/IRIN The Kurdish struggle in northern Syria As Iraqi Kurds prepare for a historic independence referendum, whither their Syrian brethren? Andrea DiCenzo/IRIN What do Yazidis make of Kurdish independence? Next week's independence referendum has divided one of Iraqi Kurdistan's most persecuted groups Martyn Aim/IRIN         The uncertain future of the Kurdish people Kurdistan shop cropped Special Report Migration Conflict Politics and Economics IRIN Iran Middle East and North Africa Iraq Syria Turkey [...]

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 misapp[...]

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[...]

What do Yazidis make of Kurdish independence?

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 07:41:51 +0000

Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum hangs on tenterhooks, with Iraq’s prime minister promising military intervention should Monday’s vote lead to violence, the US, UK, and UN urging Kurdish leaders not to move forward, and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s parliament voting to do just that. With much of society apparently in two minds about the referendum, especially its timing, one group the authorities long believed they could count on for a “yes” vote was the Yazidis, a Kurdish minority singled out by so-called Islamic State for especially cruel treatment in a campaign the UN has deemed genocide. But Yazidis – displaced in different camps and mostly hailing from Sinjar, a contested area that could become a flashpoint for further conflict if the vote goes forward – are themselves divided on the independence question. D Nahr/UNHCR Many internally displaced Yazidis have taken shelter in camps or housing near Dohuk “It’s the same for us if we vote or if we don’t vote,” Hassan, a Yazidi father of four living in a sprawling camp near the city of Dohuk, told IRIN. “Everyone treats us badly. Both the Arabs and the Kurds have treated us very badly. Both sides look out for their own interests and, meanwhile, nobody helps us.”   He gestured around the small tent he and his family have called home for two years: “There are 6,000 Yazidis living like this here, in just this one camp, but no one is interested in helping us to rebuild our homes and return home.” Backing for Iraq’s other armed force   Hassan said many Yazidis have thrown their support behind the predominantly Shia Hashd al-Shaabi forces, also known as the Popular Mobilisation Units, or PMU. Formed in 2014 of pre-existing militias and new volunteers with the express purpose of fighting IS and now officially under the authority of the Iraqi government, the PMU played a major role in liberating parts of Sinjar from IS, arming Yazidis who were willing to join. According to PMU spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi, 2,000 Yazidis have joined the force and are stationed in positions around Sinjar, mostly in areas still classed as military zones. “It’s good that [Yazidi] people are joining the Hashd,” Hassan said, while older family members nodded sagely in agreement. “They are [a] good option and a better one for us than the Kurds.” A key PMU leader has recently come out against the referendum. Iran, which supports the PMU with weapons, ammunition, and training, is also opposed to the vote.  But a few kilometres down the road from Hassan and his scepticism, at a makeshift garage and petrol station, Yazidi mechanic Yusef, selling fuel from barrels, was brimming with enthusiasm. “This referendum is good for the Kurdish people and good for the Yazidis,” he said, beaming. “The Kurds are supported by the US and together they support us. I’ll absolutely be voting yes.” History of persecution Most of Iraq’s Yazidis hail from Sinjar, in Nineveh province. More than 275,000 people – including tens of thousands of Yazidis – were driven from their homes there in August 2014 as IS swept through, terrorising the Yazidi population, who they characterise as pagans.  Innocent civilians were killed, abducted, and forced to convert under torture. Women were taken into sexual slavery, and many are believed to be still captive. Many fled IS slaughter to the top of Mount Sinjar, where some were dramatically rescued. Yazidis who remained on the mountain split. Some joined forces with a militia that has ties to Turkish- and Syrian-based Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), while others are loyal to KRG President Masoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Tom Robinson/IRIN Some of the Yazidis who remained on Mount Sinjar joined up with various militias [...]

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 an[...]

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 Rohin[...]

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.   [...]

A country called Kurdistan?

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 08:44:01 +0000

In northern Iraq’s main city of Erbil, the green, white, and red striped flag of Kurdistan, with its cheerful yellow sun emblem, is everywhere. It hangs on food stalls, homes, public and government buildings; it even hangs from taxi rear-view mirrors. But nearly a century after early Kurdish nationalists introduced the tricolor at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, it still belongs to no state.   Kurdish leaders hope to change this on 25 September, when the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) puts independence to a vote in a referendum that could create the world’s 194th country (196 if you include Palestine and the Holy See).   Although a ‘yes’ is the expected outcome of the referendum, with most Iraqi Kurds in favour of the idea of independence, if not the timing of the vote, it remains contentious. Iraq, the United States, Iran, and Turkey have all come out against the referendum, and it is not clear how much popular support the idea of holding the poll this month has amongst ordinary Kurds.   For years following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan enjoyed a trade, business, and construction boom, but this is now a fading memory and disillusionment with local politicians has grown. Many may be ideologically pro-independence, but whether they trust a political elite accused of cronyism, nepotism, and corruption to carry out a fair vote or run a state is another matter entirely.   But nationalism is still strong here. There are ties that bind: The Kurds speak the same languages and have a shared history and culture. There is also a feeling among some that given the vital role Kurdish fighters (peshmerga) have played in vanquishing so-called Islamic State, they’ve earned the right to a nation.    But will nationalism be enough to pull all this off?   Statesman, skyscrapers, and shepherds   Not so long ago, Erbil’s expansive horizon of modern malls, office buildings, and designer apartment blocks saw Iraqi Kurdistan proudly dubbed the new Dubai.   Then came a shock fall in oil prices and deteriorating relations with Iraq’s central government. The budget went unpaid by Baghdad, leaving the KRG struggling to pay salaries, while business deals turned sour. Then came IS. Many international companies fled and construction projects were abandoned.    KRG officials hope to regain this golden decade of Iraqi Kurdistan via September’s referendum, and in the capital they are adamant independence is the only way forward. But what appears to be driving this as much as any growing desire for self-rule is the notion that proceeding as a unified Iraq is completely untenable. Your browser does not support the video tag. Sitting behind an enormous desk in Erbil, decorated with Kurdish memorabilia and awards, his uniform emblazoned with the Kurdish flag, Brigadier-General Halgwrd Hikmat, head of the peshmerga media ministry, told IRIN that Iraqi Kurds have given union a fair shot, without much in return.    “Before 2004, when Saddam was still in power, we had partial independence and little contact with Iraq. But after Saddam was finished, we decided to try to build a country [together] because Saddam was a dictator,” he said. “We’ve been working with the Baghdad government since then and, to be honest, we’ve got absolutely nothing.”    That nothing is political as well as financial: Hikmat complained that Kurdish votes in parliament have been ignored, and their proposals overlooked.   “We’ve been together with Iraq for a long time, but it’s reached the point when we can’t be with them anymore. We can’t work with them anymore,” he said. “We only want to be neighbours with them now.”    This sense of finality may be relatively new – KRG President Masoud Barzani, who leads the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), only announced the referendum and[...]

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 tha[...]

Burundi officials should be tried for “crimes against humanity”: UN commission

Mon, 04 Sep 2017 11:12:41 +0000

Burundians “at the highest level of the state” and in its security services should face trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, a UN panel investigating more than two years of human rights abuses in the central African state said today.   The three-member Commission of Enquiry said it had “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in Burundi since April 2015.”   The violent political crisis, sparked when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term in office, has been marked by a heavy-handed crackdown by security forces on street protests. It has all but extinguished hopes that Burundi will embrace a peaceful democratic transition in the wake of a civil war that cost some 300,000 lives between 1993 and 2006. “These crimes are taking place in a context of serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and enforced disappearances,” the commission, created by the Human Rights Council, said in a statement accompanying its final report.   The report said rights to association, freedom of movement, as well as an independent media had been stifled: Opposition parties could not meet or act freely, their members were under constant pressure, and a large number had been arrested tortured or killed.   The result of three months of investigations and 500 interviews, the report did not name names, but the commission has drawn up a confidential list of suspects.   Perpetrators   The abuses are attributed to the government’s army, the police and the security services, as well as the paramilitary youth wing of the ruling party, known as the Imbonerakure.   Burundi’s national intelligence service (SNR) and the Burundian National Police were cited in a large number of the witness statements as the principle perpetrators.   “[The SNR agents] accused me of being a rebel,” one witness said. “Behind me, an [SNR agent] was interrogating another detainee…. He received a bullet in the leg and was bleeding. The [SNR] agents beat him as if he was a snake while he was bleeding… [The SNR agent] who was interrogating me said: ‘You see, you do not have enough strength to resist that. You are going to die if you do not admit what you know.”   The commission also documented several cases of sexual violence, including rapes, sometimes of women in front of their loved ones. Men were also victims of rape; others tortured sexually.   Anonymous/Human Rights Watch A Burundian artist’s drawing of a fictional case of policemen and an intelligence agent torturing a detainee. “They beat me many times in the genitals,” one man said. “They told me to bend over, arms level with my knees, and kicked me in the genitals. Because of the blows inflicted, I haven’t been able to have sexual relations since… It’s like I’ve become impotent.”   The commission’s president, Fatsah Ouguergouz, said: “We were struck by the scale and the brutality of the violations. We also noted a lack of will on the part of the Burundian authorities to fight against impunity and guarantee the independence of the judiciary. As a result, there is a strong likelihood that the perpetrators of these crimes will remain unpunished.”   Role of the ICC   In April 2016, the ICC announced it had launched a “preliminary examination” of the situation in Burundi – at the time more than 430 people had reportedly been killed.  This ongoing step, which under ICC procedures determines whether a full investigation should take place, focuses on “killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other[...]