Subscribe: IRIN - Eritrea
http://www.irinnews.org/RSS/Eritrea.xml
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
Tags:
africa  asylum  drought  eritrea  eritrean  eritreans  irin  migrants  people  sudan  told irin  year  years     
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: IRIN - Eritrea

IRIN - Eritrea





 



Unwelcome stranger: An African asylum seeker in Israel

Mon, 31 Jul 2017 06:48:00 +0000

This short documentary tells the story of Anwar, a Sudanese anti-government activist who fled his home in Darfur in 2003. As many as 300,000 people have fallen victim there to government-led ethnic cleansing and violence by rebel groups. Anwar survived and eventually sought haven in Israel, but it's not been an easy journey. His experiences, especially of detention and injustice, are telling and this film offers a rare window into the difficult and uncertain lives many African asylum seekers face today in Israel. Unwelcome Stranger: An African asylum seeker in Israel width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OY9PomBUBBg?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="">   African asylum seekers began crossing Israel's border with the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula more than a decade ago, many having survived human smugglers and harsh desert conditions. At first, some of the arrivals – who now number around 40,000 and are mostly from Sudan and Eritrea – were granted temporary residency. But even though Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention (and once took in several hundred Vietnamese “boat people” in the late 1970s), it has only ever granted refugee status to nine Africans. As the numbers of asylum seekers have grown, so tensions have heated up in South Tel Aviv, where many Africans live side-by-side with Israelis. In 2013, the Israeli government passed a law that deemed the Africans “infiltrators” and allowed them to be imprisoned in a desert detention facility, where they were first kept indefinitely, then for a 20-month maximum, and now for up to a year at a time. It has also attempted to send asylum seekers to African countries that are not their homes, including Rwanda and Uganda. Some who were shipped back have reportedly been pressured to leave those countries, and fled to Europe. A few were killed by so-called Islamic State or drowned in the Mediterranean. The asylum seekers have their supporters inside Israel. It’s not lost on some Israelis that many of the country's first citizens were survivors of genocide in World War II. Of course, the creation of Israel also kicked off the Palestinians' own refugee crisis – and politicians often refer to the "demographic threat" the Palestinians, both citizens of Israel and those in the occupied territories, pose to the country that defines itself as a Jewish state. Like the Palestinians, many of the African asylum seekers are Muslim. Recently, Israel said it would grant 200 people from Darfur a status that would allow them to work and give them other rights. But it’s not clear how these people were selected out of the approximately 8,000 people who fled Sudan for Israel. The years of limbo have taken their toll on Anwar. The political activist has had short-term visas, spent time in detention, and pleaded his case in court. He's made friends in Israel, even speaks the language, but still hasn't found stability or the protections the word refugee is supposed to afford. rg-as/ag Unwelcome stranger: An African asylum seeker in Israel anwar.jpg Roopa Gogineni Video Migration IRIN Africa Eritrea South Sudan Middle East and North Africa Israel [...]



The Eritrean children who cross borders and deserts alone

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 09:06:08 +0000

Yobieli is 12 years old. He sits on a small leather stool and fumbles with his hands, interlocking his fingers and pulling them apart. There’s a dark shadow of soft peach fuzz on his upper lip, and his cheeks are childishly smooth. But, his eyes look older. They take in the world around him with the measured calculation of an adult, not the innocent wonder of a child. “I didn’t discuss leaving with my family. I only talked about it with my friends,” he tells me. “Because of the difficulties I was facing in my house, I decided to go alone.” Yobieli is Eritrean. In August 2016 he fled his home, crossing borders and the desert on foot, unaccompanied by any adult relative or caretaker, only to arrive here: a neon-lit apartment in the rundown outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. He is one of thousands of children to have undertaken similar journeys in recent years as part of what the UN has called the largest refugee crisis in history. Last year alone, 25,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Italy. Eritreans were the single largest nationality. But only the ones who make it are counted. An untold number of others disappear and die along the way or, like Yobieli, end up stuck somewhere they never intended to stay. Young, alone and vulnerable, they have been exploited and abused and continue to face a dangerous and uncertain future. Leaving home “The main reason I left was poverty,” Yobieli says. But in Eritrea, poverty and politics are deeply intertwined. “My family was poor because my father was a soldier. He was taken to the army.” Like all Eritrean adults, Yobieli’s father was conscripted into the country’s national service. On paper, conscription is supposed to last for 18 months. In reality, it stretches on indefinitely, essentially acting as a system of forced labour for recruits who receive next-to-no pay. "I wanted to go anywhere I could feel safe" National service is the primary reason why nearly 400,000 people – almost nine percent of Eritrea’s population – have fled in recent years, including a large number of unaccompanied children. With Yobieli’s father gone, his mother was forced to work as a maid in other people’s homes. But the money was never enough. “I stopped going to school in grade four because of the difficulties with my family,” Yobieli says. Instead of attending classes, he tried to find work to help support his family as their situation continued to deteriorate. But even at such a young age, he knew that not all children faced the same struggles. “I saw young people like me on TV going to school and having a good life, enjoying life. So I asked myself and my friends, ‘Why don’t we have the same life? Why are we living these difficulties?’” Yobieli says. “We deserve to also have a good life like them. We want to go to school. We want to have a normal life… The only solution was to take a decision [to leave].” Once the decision was made, the first step was fairly easy. Yobieli’s village is close to Eritrea’s border with Sudan, and he was able to sneak across without the help of a smuggler. On the other side he faced a choice. Most migrants and refugees go to Libya where the chaos of civil war has allowed clandestine migration to flourish. But Libya is also notoriously dangerous. Extortion, kidnapping, rapes, beatings, and detention of migrants and refugees are all commonplace. Last year, more and more Eritreans were opting to come to Egypt to avoid these abuses. “I heard that the situation in Libya is very difficult because of IS [so-called Islamic State] and the other armed groups and gangs,” says Yobieli. “For the sake of my safety, I decided to come to Egypt.” The trip across the Sahara requires a smuggler and costs somewhere between $500 and $900. “I didn’t have any money,” Yobieli says. But, he was able to tag along with a group headed to Egypt. Some of the people he was travelling with convinced the smuggler to let him come for free because of his age. “The trip was difficult,” Yobieli says. “We w[...]



Face to face with the Eritrean exodus into Ethiopia

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 15:20:49 +0000

Under the early morning sun in the most northern region of Ethiopia a motley group of Eritrean men, women and children arrive dusty and tired at the end of a journey – and at the start of another.  After crossing the border under cover of darkness (leaving Eritrea without authorisation is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail), they are found by Ethiopian soldiers and taken to Adinbried – a compound of modest buildings at one of the 12 so-called “entry points” dotted along this barren 910-kilometre border. This is where their long asylum process will begin. “It took us four days travelling from Asmara,” a 31-year-old man tells IRIN of his trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80 kilometres north of the border. “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.” With him are another three men, three women, six girls and four small boys. The smuggler who guided them charged $2,500 each. “He was good,” the man says. “He showed us the safe paths, and helped carry the children on his shoulders. He didn’t ask for more money like some do.” He says they carried very little because of the distance and because they didn’t want to betray their intentions to Eritrean soldiers. Asylum pipeline From the 12 entry points, Eritreans are taken to a screening centre for registration in the town of Endabaguna, 60 kilometres west of the popular tourist destination of Aksum. Then, they are assigned to one of four refugee camps in the Tigray region, bordering Eritrea. In February 2017, 3,367 Eritreans arrived in Ethiopia, according to Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs. There are around 165,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia, according to the UN refugee agency. Thousands more Eritreans live in the country outside the asylum system. “Sometimes we get more than 120 people a day,” says Luel Abera, the reception coordinator at Adinbried. “The stories I hear are very sad: pregnant women delivering on the way, people shot at or wounded, hungry and hurt children.” Luel fought with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front when it was a rebel group (it is now the largest party in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition), which, alongside the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, toppled Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship in 1991. In May of that year, the EPLF marched into Asmara, reinstating Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia. “The Eritrean people are good,” Luel says. “They fought for independence for 30 years. But from day one, [Eritrean President] Isaias [Afwerki] has ruled the country without caring about his people’s interests.” Push factors Among those dropped off at Adinbried when IRIN visits are three Eritrean soldiers – or deserters. Escaping poorly paid and protracted national service is one of the most common reasons cited by Eritrean migrants for fleeing their country. “Living conditions in Eritrea are more dangerous than crossing the border,” says one of them, a 39-year-old who served 20 years in the military. He explains that the three of them were farmers from the same village who, when drafted into national service, were posted to different locations along the Ethiopian border. They decided to cross as it was getting harder to leave their duty stations for the month they needed to be on their farms for harvest time, and because the government recently introduced a new tax on each head of livestock. The three soldiers weren’t allowed mobile phones, so, in planning their escape, they communicated by word of mouth and through letters using colleagues they trusted. Each left a wife and child behind. “The wives didn’t want us to go and were too scared to come,” the 39-year-old says. “But they’re not angry with us. Whether we are in national service or Ethiopia, they still can’t see us.” It’s just over 24 hours since they crossed the border and both groups have moved to the screening centre in Endabaguna. The place is jammed with migrants[...]



Lake Chad money, Oxfam-GOAL merger, and serial Syria talks: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 15:10:25 +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? Finding $1.5 billion for Lake Chad The borders of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad meet at Lake Chad. The region is now one of the most critical humanitarian hotspots in the world, with a food security ranking teetering on the edge of full-blown famine in some areas. The UN says it can help about eight million of those in need if it is sufficiently funded.  Attacks by the extremist Boko Haram and counter-insurgency operations against them have uprooted millions and disrupted social services, trade, and agriculture.  Strained relations between Nigerian authorities and the international aid community have also played a part, while formidable logistics and security challenges hamper operations in neighbouring countries.  With South Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria all clamouring for media clicks and donor dollars, the "Lake Chad Basin" humanitarian situation has to fight for attention even while its capacity to respond faces setbacks. Last night, fresh attacks and clashes were reported in Maiduguri, the forward base for a still-fragile humanitarian operation in northeastern Nigeria.  A conference in Norway on 24 February aims to stimulate donor contributions and diplomatic attention. Thematic sessions will be held on food, protection, access, and education. The one-day event co-hosted by Nigeria, Norway, and the UN, will include ministers from the affected nations and the most important donor countries, leaders of relevant regional organisations, development finance institutions, and UN bodies. And the pledgers better pledge: the UN-led response plans are costed at $1.5 billion. Own GOAL? The Irish NGO GOAL, reeling from a corruption scandal, has started merger talks with Oxfam Ireland, the two agencies announced. Regular IRIN readers will need no reminding of GOAL's problems. A procurement fraud in Turkey lifted the lid on a shocking web of conflicts of interest that has taken the scalp of the CEO and the COO already, and triggered an investigation by the US government that is still ongoing. GOAL's donors got spooked and its income has collapsed. The latest news confirms that the chances of GOAL surviving in its current form are receding by the day. Is it game over for GOAL? Lost in Syria peace talks One round of Syria peace talks is delayed but under way in the capital of Kazakhstan this week and yet another is due to start the following week in Geneva. The Russia- and Turkey-brokered Astana talks began a day late thanks to disagreements over the agenda, and the UN-sponsored negotiations are on shaky ground too: A key Syrian opposition body has said it wants to talk transition with Damascus, which for its part has no interest in engineering President Bashar al-Assad’s exit from power. Nobody knows exactly who will show up in Geneva, or when, or if they’ll actually do much talking at all. But it’s probably safe to bet that Syria’s long-winded UN rep Bashar al-Jaafari will make an appearance, and that there will be further splits among the opposition delegation, which has presented itself as unified. If all this sounds like déjà vu all over again, you’ve clearly been paying attention for the past six years. With talk now of Pentagon plans for US troops on the ground, tune in next week for our update from Aron Lund on the post-Astana pre-Geneva lay of the land, and what it means for the future of Syria. The big Munich meet-up Conferences often mean strange bedfellows, and the Munich Security Conference that kicks off today is no exception. Participants include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, US Vice-President Mike Pence and, um, Bono, obviously. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be in attendance too, as will NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. But the weirdest [...]



Tackling drought with emergency aid is not the answer

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 19:09:04 +0000

For those forced to live through them, droughts are less an unusual event than a way of life that constantly tests your resilience and resourcefulness. To be a farmer, or make a living from livestock in Ethiopia, where my organisation, Mercy Corps, has been working for many years, you need to be innovative in the face of ever-changing weather patterns.  And yet the 2015 El Niño drought cycle – the worst in 50 years by some measures – tested even this population. One seasoned pastoralist reported recently to our staff that he’d “never seen anything like this drought”. Though it has driven an estimated 10 million people into food insecurity, the drought was not particularly surprising – weather-related crises have increased in frequency in this part of the world over the last decade.  Facing these extreme climate patterns, many development organisations have recognised what former USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah stated: that “segregated humanitarian support activities and development activities” no longer work in these contexts.  Time for a change What is needed are carefully sequenced, layered, and integrated interventions that work together to build household and community capacity to learn, cope, adapt, and transform in the face of shocks and stresses, rather than a reliance on costly direct emergency assistance after the fact.  To this end, instead of the traditional humanitarian assistance method of direct delivery of resources like food, medicine, or other equipment, Mercy Corps has adopted a new approach designed with resilience as a central feature. Our aim is to ensure that wellbeing like food security, economic status, and health are maintained or improved despite recurrent shocks. RELATED: How much worse are African droughts because of man-made climate change? Putting this into practice requires longer-term strategies that take into account the many factors that influence resilience and vulnerability at different levels of society – from household to community to region. One example of our resilience-building is the USAID-funded Pastoralist Areas Resilience Improvement through Market Expansion project in Ethiopia, which relies largely on strengthening the market systems in which households participate. The PRIME programme does this in part through strategic subsidies aimed at supporting individuals and local businesses to expand their livelihood options – including support to develop and adopt new technologies, skills training, and improved access to natural resources.  Simultaneously, linkages are created between producers and consumers, potential employers and employees, suppliers and retailers, and communities and government institutions. By then providing support through ongoing research, demonstration, and training, these individuals and communities are given the help they need to access the global market and to sustain their gains.  Promising insights This kind of resilience-focused programming sounds like a good idea – but does it actually work? Until recently, little evidence existed to address this question. But new Mercy Corps research offers some promising observations about the effectiveness of a resilience approach. While such work has been evaluated before, no one to our knowledge has rigorously evaluated a programme‘s impact in real time in the context of a major shock. By conducting this study during a major drought cycle, we were able to leverage a rare opportunity.  Since PRIME began in 2012, we were already well established in the drought-affected regions. The unique circumstances in Ethiopia allowed us to match households targeted by the PRIME project with a statistically similar group of other households not targeted by PRIME – giving us insight into whether this major investment in drought resilience actually worked as intended. The study showed that interventions enabled families to maintain their wellbeing in the face of the worst drought in [...]



For Eritreans, Egypt is the new route to Europe

Mon, 06 Jun 2016 16:27:37 +0000

Like much of Cairo, the sprawling low-income neighbourhood of Ard el-Lewa comes alive in the evening, once the sun has gone down. On warm summer nights, children chase cats along streets too narrow for cars. Tuk-tuks weave between the shisha smokers and newspaper readers spilling onto the road as the cafés fill up. But it’s not just Egyptians out enjoying themselves. Large numbers of young Eritrean men also cluster on street corners, or gather outside the newly opened Eritrean restaurant in one of the concrete tenements, exchanging news in their Tigrinya language. “There are so many new Eritreans now in Ard el-Lewa,” Filmon*, an Eritrean community activist, told IRIN. “It all changed at the end of last summer. So many started arriving that now there is a shortage of flats to rent and the landlords have increased the prices.” Cairo has long been home to a small community of Eritrean refugees fleeing war, oppression and traffickers, but local activists say the number of new arrivals has soared over the last year.   In the past, most Eritreans who came to Egypt registered asylum claims with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and waited years for a shot at resettlement to Europe or the United States. But these recent arrivals don’t intend on staying that long. Filmon said most have come to Egypt with the intention of finding a boat to Europe as soon as possible from ports near Alexandria. “They are all just waiting for the smugglers to tell them their boat is ready,” he said. “Ard el-Lewa has become a big waiting room.” ‘Good smugglers and bad smugglers’ The newcomers are part of a surge of refugees fleeing Eritrea that began in 2014. UNHCR recorded a sharp increase in Eritreans seeking asylum in the EU that year. In 2015, the numbers increased again, with more Eritreans arriving in Italy via the Mediterranean than any other national group.  The refugees are fleeing a notoriously repressive state where political opposition is banned; freedom of movement, expression and religion are curtailed; and young people are forced to perform open-ended military service, which can last for decades. Tekle, a 27-year-old Pentecostal Christian from Asmara, said he fled because he faced religious persecution. “We have to pray in secret,” he said. “The risk of jail, especially for the prayer leaders, is very great. Hundreds of Pentecostals are in prison due to their beliefs.” Tekle arrived in Egypt last autumn, guided by a series of smugglers across the Eritrean border into eastern Sudan, then by jeep to Khartoum, across the desert to Aswan, and by train to Cairo. He is now awaiting a call from a local simsar, or broker, who connects migrants in Ard el-Lewa with smugglers on the coast. “I am waiting for my turn,” he told IRIN. “I don’t know where I will leave from. They will call me when they know the way is safe, and then we will go to the north coast to wait for the boat.” Tekle is aware of the risks, but trusts his agent. “I know the good simsars. I only paid $2,000 for my trip – although some others pay much more – and I know he will find me a good boat.” As Tekle hinted, the journey for many others is much harder. Rahwa, a skinny 16-year-old, travelled alone from her small village in the Eritrean highlands and is still suffering from the effects of a lingering parasitic infection picked up from drinking the dirty water given to her by her smugglers. Sarah, an older Eritrean woman who is caring for her, says Rahwa was sexually abused by her smugglers during the journey. “Ninety percent of the ladies who have come this route suffer wounds in their hearts,” said Sarah. “The way is so dangerous… you don’t know if you can even trust the people beside you.” Filmon agrees that the journey is hardest for women. “There are good smugglers and there are bad smugglers. If you know who to choose and you are with a man, you can be safe. But trav[...]



Sudan and Eritrea crackdown on migrants amid reports of EU incentives

Wed, 25 May 2016 16:32:28 +0000

Authorities in Sudan have launched a crackdown on Eritrean migrants - arresting those living in the capital, Khartoum, and intercepting hundreds travelling north through the country towards Libya, the launching point for smugglers’ boats heading for Europe. Reports that 900 Eritreans were rounded up in Khartoum on Monday and that a further 400 arrested en route to Libya have been deported to Eritrea, come amid recent revelations in the British and German media that the EU is planning to deepen its cooperation with a number of African countries, including Sudan and Eritrea, to stem migration towards Europe. Kibrom*, a 16-year-old Eritrean refugee who used the route through Sudan and Libya to reach Europe in 2015, told IRIN that his twin sister was among a group of 130 Eritreans captured by Sudanese soldiers in the town of Dongola, about halfway between Khartoum and the Libyan border, earlier this month. “I passed the same way. When we were travelling, we had to bribe the police. My sister used the same smuggler, but when he tried to bribe the police, it didn’t work,” he said. Kibrom’s sister, along with the rest of the group, were taken to a prison in Khartoum where they spent three days. Kibron said he tried to alert the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, but failed to make contact. “Only the Eritrean Embassy was informed. They took them in an open truck at night time to the Eritrean border,” he said. “From there they were taken to a prison located in my city – Teseney.” Leaving Eritrea without permission is a criminal offense and Kibrom is extremely concerned about his sister, who was trying to evade military conscription, as well as his mother and two younger brothers who are still living in Teseney. “My mother can’t even try to see my sister or she will be arrested as well,” he told IRIN over the phone from Sweden where he has applied for asylum. “I’m so worried what’s going to happen to them.” A spokesperson with UNHCR’s office in Khartoum confirmed that a number of migrants, including Eritreans, had been intercepted in northern Sudan heading towards the Libyan border. Of those being held at the Aliens Detention Centre in Khartoum, UNHCR had only identified six individuals who had previously sought asylum and been recognized as refugees. None of those six had been deported and the spokesperson did not comment on the other deportations but said: “If an individual does not apply for asylum through the channels provided and subsequently does not express a wish to seek asylum, Sudan may be within its legal right to pursue deportation of irregular migrants from its territory. “For UNHCR, the principle prohibiting forcible returns or non-refoulement only takes centre stage when the affected individuals are persons of concern to UNHCR, which does not appear to be the case in this particular instance.” It is unclear whether UNHCR had access to all of the Eritreans detained in Khartoum prior to their deportation. Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean activist based in Sweden who has been in touch with the relatives of some of the deportees, told IRIN that another group of around 300 Eritreans arrested while making their way to Libya were deported last Friday. Sudan has a prior record of deporting Eritreans without allowing them access to asylum procedures, a practice that UNHCR has condemned in the past as amounting to refoulement. Increased border controls In addition to the arrests of migrants in Sudan, Estefanos said there has also been a noticeable increase in controls on the Eritrean side of the Sudan-Eritrea border in the last two months. “Leaving Eritrea to Sudan is becoming hard now,” she told IRIN. “People are being intercepted and sent back.” Last year, a UN inquiry found evidence that Eritrea is a totalitarian state responsible for “systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations” including a system of [...]



An unwanted guest: El Niño and Africa in 2016

Wed, 23 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0000

El Niño is the largely unwanted Christmas gift – a warming of the tropical Pacific causing drought and floods that will peak at the end of this month, but will impact weather systems around the globe into 2016. This year’s El Niño has been steadily gaining strength since March. It’s likely to be one of the most extreme events of this nature yet seen, with the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, warning that “millions will be impacted”. El Niño’s links with drought in southern Africa and the Horn, and with heavy rains in East Africa, are well-established. Across the rest of the continent the climate connection is less clear. Other factors come into play, such as temperatures in the North Atlantic for West Africa’s weather, according to Richard Choularton, the World Food Programme’s chief of climate resilience for food. What makes El Niño particularly bad news in 2016 is that it will be a second tough year in a row for farmers and pastoralists in Southern Africa and the Horn – and to a lesser extent East Africa. Eighty percent of their populations are dependent on agriculture. Their ability to cope with adversity has been stretched. Now they will be facing potentially an even sterner test.   So what does that really mean for these vulnerable regions in the coming year? With the perils of weather forecasting acknowledged, here’s a snapshot. Southern Africa: More than 30 million people are already “food insecure” – lacking access to enough food to lead healthy lives as result of a poor harvest earlier this year. South Africa’s maize production has traditionally been the hedge against regional shortfalls. But this year drought was declared in five provinces and output dropped by 30 percent. The fear is that the region will experience another El Niño-induced poor harvest, “possibly a disastrous one”, according to OCHA. Emergency maize stocks are depleted, and maize prices are climbing. Governments hard hit by the global fall in commodity prices, on which their economies depend, will need to find the money to buy maize on the international market. South Africa alone is expecting to import 750,000 tonnes to meet its needs. Despite Southern Africa being a largely middle-income region, its rural populations historically have some of the world’s worst poverty indicators. Even in economic powerhouse South Africa, almost a quarter of all children under five are stunted. That level of deprivation limits people’s ability to bounce back after a shock.  See: Southern Africa’s food crisis – from bad to worse The worst-affected countries in 2016 will be Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. “Everyone is preparing for drought,” said Choularton. WFP, for example, is putting money and programmes in place in Zimbabwe, in anticipation of worse trouble to come, part of its new FoodSECuRE policy approach. Further north, in the Horn and East Africa, which have more complicated climate and agricultural systems, the El Niño picture is less clear. The Horn: Poor rains have hit parts of Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia – but international media coverage has tended to focus on Ethiopia. In part that’s because a lazy connection gets drawn with the 1984 famine, but also because the numbers in need are so large.  See: How bad is the drought in Ethiopia? With the failure of both the Belg rains and the usually reliable Kiremt summer rains, “the worst drought in Ethiopia for 50 years is happening right now,” Save the Children said in a statement. The hardest-hit regions are in the north and east of the country. The UN believes 15 million people will face food shortages in 2016, with the next harvest not expected until June. Ethiopia has a population of close to 100 million.  See: Ready or not – drought tests Ethiopia Nearly eight million peop[...]



Africa’s meningitis A vaccine: how partnership replaced ‘Big Pharma’

Tue, 17 Nov 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Four years after it was first used in a mass vaccination campaign, the MenAfriVac vaccine has achieved an extraordinary outcome; cases of meningitis A have dropped to almost zero in the epidemic belt across Africa. But if it hadn’t been for an experimental partnership between the World Health Organization and the not-for-profit health organisation, PATH – working without the involvement of multinational pharmaceutical companies – the vaccine might never even have been developed. Outbreak season in the so-called meningitis belt across the Sahel starts annually in late December. Every 10 or 15 years, conditions come together to set off a major epidemic. In 1996-7, there were more than 250,000 reported cases; more than 25,000 people died, and many more were left with permanent disabilities. After that epidemic, African governments came together and demanded that something be done. More specifically they wanted an effective, affordable vaccine that could be rolled out across the region. The problem: there wasn’t one. The only vaccines available were tailored to the strains common in Europe and North America, not to Meningitis A, which caused the epidemics in West Africa. They were also far too expensive for a mass campaign in the region. As ever, the problem was money. Meningitis A affected poor people in the poorest regions of some of the poorest countries in the world. For global health specialists, this is a sadly familiar problem. Mogha Kamal-Yanni, senior health advisor at Oxfam, says the situation is typical. “Clearly the current model of research and development is not working,” she told IRIN. “It's a broken model, failing public health. It's not producing what we need, or else it's unaffordable.” The unwillingness of pharmaceutical companies to invest in a disease that affects the poor has been widely blamed for the lack of a vaccine against Ebola, which seriously hampered the response to the recent outbreak in West Africa. But this time, in response to the appeal from African governments, the WHO and PATH set up the Meningitis Vaccine Project with the objective of getting a vaccine approved and into production. With $70 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to oil the wheels, they began by approaching the big pharmaceutical companies. “That was the accepted approach at that time,” says the project manager, Kathleen Tiffay. “And that was what people expected.” Negotiations, however, soon stalled. Two big companies were interested, but finally, after 18 months of negotiations, they said they couldn't bring the price down below $2 a dose; the project's target was 'under 50 cents'. Discussions with another company, which owned technology needed to produce the vaccine, also collapsed, again over pricing. “There was just too big a gap,” says Tiffay. That – she told IRIN – was the low point. “We had hoped we could have it set up and ready to go in a year or a year and half. Everything was taking much longer than our estimates.” Finally, those behind the Meningitis Vaccine Project decided to go ahead and do it themselves. “And to be realistic,” says Tiffay, “we weren't any slower than Big Pharma; in fact we were probably faster.” They describe what they did as setting up a kind of virtual pharmaceutical company. While the big established companies could have done everything in-house, they had to put together a series of partnerships – to supply the ingredients, license the technology, do the clinical trials and get all necessary approvals, and to manufacture the vaccine. Some partners, like the manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India Ltd (SIIL), were commercial companies. Others were public bodies. The US Food and Drug Administration licensed a conjugation method at negligible cost and supported transfer of the technology to the Indian compa[...]



The new boom aid job: cultural mediator

Thu, 15 Oct 2015 23:00:00 +0000

A by-product of the dramatic rise in the number of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe is soaring demand for a relatively new kind of humanitarian professional: the cultural mediator.  As the first point of contact the refugees have on arrival, cultural mediators play a crucial role: translating, informing and generally acting as go-betweens with the local authorities. They advise migrants about their rights and the services available in their new country. They also explain the cultural differences they need to be aware of as they navigate life in a foreign land, all the while relaying vital information back to aid workers. In Italy, in particular, there is increasing demand from humanitarian organisations for people who can act as these “bridges” with migrants and refugees. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, recently advertised positions in Sicily, and universities in southern Italy have started offering Masters degrees in the field. The University of Catania describes its one-year course as “a training of experts in counselling and advising in the domains of civil rights, migration and language-cultural mediation”.  Speaking the right language Of the nearly 600,000 migrants and refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean by boat this year, 137,000 have landed in Italy – making it the second major point of arrival after Greece.  One of the first major obstacles Italian authorities face in receiving the new arrivals is language. “This is the biggest problem today in Italy regarding hosting refugees: the lack of communication,” Senegalese cultural mediator Moussa Mbaye told IRIN. Since 2011, Mbaye has worked as a cultural mediator at the biggest centre for asylum seekers in Italy – CARA Mineo in Sicily. The centre hosts around 3,000 asylum seekers, some of whom have been waiting for more than a year for their claims to be determined. In the meantime, their movements are restricted, they cannot work, and they receive a modest daily allowance of 2.50 euros to buy food and other basics in Mineo – a town of 5,000 residents 60 kilometres from Catania. After 16 months in Mineo, Salomon, a 25-year-old Nigerian, had just received a negative response to his asylum request.   “How come they expect young men not to work or to be able to meet friends outside in the night for one year? Nobody speaks English, only the cultural mediators,” he told IRIN. Helping people integrate Mbaye often acts as the go-between, translating and explaining the asylum seekers’ concerns to the authorities and vice versa. “It was easier to gain the trust of Italians working there than of the West Africans, because most of them don’t know what cultural mediators do or tend to be more suspicious,” he said. For him, the role of cultural mediation is a vital one for facilitating migrants’ integration into Italian society, particularly as they try to access crucial public services like healthcare. “The right to health is assured in the Italian Constitution to everybody on Italian soil, but it is hard to find public hospital doctors able to speak English or French here,” said Andrea Bellardinelli, Italy coordinator for the medical NGO Emergency. To tackle the problem, the organisation has been lobbying the Italian health ministry and other government departments responsible for the welfare of refugees and migrants to hire more translators and cultural mediators.  “Cultural mediators are crucial,” Bellardinelli told IRIN. “They are a vital link between patients and doctors. There are different approaches to medicine and health treatment in the West and in the East. What we consider the heart, other cultures believe is the stomach.” frameborder="0" height="252" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4X73Q0y6MnU" width="448"> Since July, the NGO has offered [...]