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Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 17:30:17 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Spotlight falls on sexual abuse in the aid sector   By 26 February, government-funded NGOs have to report to British aid minister Penny Mordaunt on their policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse (letter here). They also have to ensure sub-grantees have equivalent measures. Oxfam remains under investigation by the regulator and has announced tougher and more extensive provisions for its staff.   While Oxfam squirms, the fallout is spreading: the Norwegian Refugee Council has suspended a staff member connected to the scandal; Sweden has suspended funding to Oxfam and is checking whether it too failed to act on a 2008 warning; in France, questions remain for Action contre la Faim about how it recruited Roland van Hauwermeiren even after he had been thrown out of Oxfam Haiti.     Speaking from Belgium, van Hauwermeiren has denied most of the allegations. But former and current Oxfam staff members have revealed further cases, celebrity backers have walked away, and one researcher's collection of news and commentary frenzy has over 60 links. Oxfam's supporters admit it has to face the music but say it would be wrong for it to be treated as an exception while other aid agencies avoid the spotlight by sheer chance. It would be perverse to penalise Oxfam for successfully unearthing abusers in its ranks, they argue. On Wednesday, MSF joined a growing list of agencies in releasing figures on investigations, complaints, and dismissals. On the same day, Dutch politician Ruud Lubbers died. This former head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, was likely the most senior UN official ever to step down over sexual harassment. Meanwhile, lurid allegations of 60,000 rape cases committed by the UN have been slapped down by lobby group Code Blue as "irresponsible fearmongering".   Iraq’s long road ahead   This week, donors, politicians, aid agencies, and investors met in Kuwait to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq after three years of war against so-called Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said it’ll take $88 billion. Only $30 billion was pledged this week. Although some news reports focused on the shortfall, Iraq never anticipated (or really asked) for the full sum: most of the money is expected to come from the government itself and private investment. Rebuilding isn’t the only game in town seeking open pockets though. The UN's soon-to-be-released Humanitarian Response Plan is expected to ask for $569 million to provide aid in 2018, and its newly launched Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme – focusing on reconciliation and supporting survivors – asks for another $482 million this year, plus an additional $568 million “to help stabilise high-risk areas”. It all sounds like a lot of money. But as we reported from Mosul’s Old City this week, in the rubble of where the city’s final battle against IS was fought, the most vulnerable Iraqis need a lot of help. The discussions in Kuwait, and even the pledges – well intentioned as they may be – are pretty abstract concepts for those who right now have no choice but to scavenge for scrap metal on top of collapsed homes and still-rotting corpses.   In Afghanistan, a year of “appalling human suffering”   More than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan as a result of armed conflict in 2017, according to figures released this week by the UN mission there. It's a drop from 2016's total, but part of a rising trend in casualties over the last nine years. In 2009, when the mission began releasing this data, there were fewer than 6,000 recorded casualties.  allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="450" id="datawrapper-chart-zX0CZ" scrolling="no" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/zX0CZ/3/" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;"> Afghanistan’s pattern of violence has continued into 2018. January saw a string of high-profi[...]



Ethiopian Oromo refugees face bribes, harassment in Kenya

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 10:41:51 +0000

Ethiopian Oromo refugees fleeing to Kenya to escape persecution say they are finding life on the streets of Nairobi no better than the insecurity they left behind, as they are targeted by bribes and harassment and forced into vast camps with few prospects or protections. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but have long complained of political and economic marginalisation at the hands of the country’s ruling party, which is dominated by a minority ethnic group, the Tigrayans. Following 2016 protests demanding political reform, which resulted in a state of emergency and the deaths of more than 600 in the security crackdown, thousands of Oromo made their way to neighbouring Kenya seeking asylum and refuge. But they did not escape the Ethiopian authorities. Human Rights Watch has reported “numerous cases of harassment and threats” against Oromo asylum seekers in Kenya by Ethiopian government officials. The rights group has also documented “confessions” by Kenyan police officers in which they admit to being offered bribes by the Ethiopian embassy to detain and intimidate Oromo refugees. “When I came to Kenya I thought that I would be protected and would be able to start a new life,” said former Oromo politician “Tolessa”, who requested his identity be protected. “[But] what I’m facing here is no different from what I was facing at home,” he told IRIN. “My future here isn’t very bright.” Full of “spies” Oromo refugees also reported attempts by Ethiopian officials to recruit them as informants in Nairobi’s Oromo community, promising land, protection, money, and even resettlement to the United States or elsewhere, Human Rights Watch noted. “There are a lot of Ethiopian spies here in Nairobi,” one refugee, a former Ethiopian intelligence officer, alias “Demiksa”, told IRIN. Now a senior dissident, “Demiksa” related what had happened to him back in Ethiopia. He said that after refusing orders to torture prisoners held in Addis Ababa’s infamous Maekelawi prison, he was accused of being an opposition collaborator, detained, and then tortured himself. “They tied my hands up and hung me up on the wall with nails and beat me with electric cables around my ankles and on my back,” he told IRIN, fighting tears. “I couldn't walk for three months,” he added. “Demiksa” said he was spared capital punishment on one condition: kill or be killed. Handed photographs of two prominent Oromo activists, he was given a loaded gun and told to get into a car. He accepted the mission – “I had no choice,” he told IRIN – but was able to escape en route to the hit, and then fled Ethiopia. When he arrived in Nairobi, “Demiksa” was told to register at the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya like all other Ethiopian exiles. The long arm of Ethiopian security But Oromo who fear being stalked by Ethiopian intelligence believe even Kakuma is not safe. “Threats from Ethiopian security officials – working together with local [Kenyan] police – also extend to the refugee camps [in Kenya],” Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne told IRIN. Horne said Oromo activists who have come from cities in Ethiopia fear camp life because of the lack of employment opportunities, the heat, and Kakuma’s physical proximity to Ethiopia. But they have darker fears too. Oromo refugees have reportedly been kidnapped from Kenya and taken back to Ethiopia, and there have been similar reports from Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda, and Somaliland. “This is not unique to Kenya,” Horne said. “The patterns of pervasive Ethiopian security presence utilising local security officials is similar in other countries where Ethiopians flee to.” Tariku Debela, a political refugee living in Kampala who fled Kenya in April 2016, still remains a target for Ethiopian security forces. He told IRIN that his scars bear witness both to the torture he received in Ethiopia and an attempt on his life in Uganda. “Some people came to my hotel room, drugged me, and then beat me up,”[...]



An Ethiopian thaw, a Syrian flare-up, and an Afghan reprieve: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 15:54:31 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   New year, more war in Syria   The new year has not been kind to civilians in northern Syria, where a spike in fighting between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces in parts of Idlib and Hama provinces has left scores of civilians either dead or injured in airstrikes and shelling, and displaced more than 60,000 people since the start of November. OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, noted this week the “dire” situation of newly displaced people as humanitarian organisations struggle to meet the increasing needs of those fleeing their homes. It’s worth remembering that more than half of the people in Idlib are already displaced from other parts of Syria, and that the uptick in violence comes (at least in part) in areas that are supposed to be “de-escalation zones”. Some Syrians are heading home or considering it, either within the country or across borders, but 2018 is looking like yet another bad year for Syria’s civilians. As the country is poised to enter its seventh year of war, on 15 March, news of the conflict and analysis about its humanitarian implications are beginning to drop off the front pages. They shouldn’t. Look out for IRIN’s upcoming guide on what to look out for regarding Syria over the year ahead.     A ticking clock for Afghans in Pakistan?   Time may be running out for Afghan refugees facing deportation in Pakistan, after Pakistani authorities reportedly extended a deadline to leave the country by only one month. Pakistan’s cabinet was earlier said to be debating extending the reprieve by a full year following the expiration of a previous extension at the end of 2017. The move foists further uncertainty on Afghans living in Pakistan, including more than 1.3 million registered refugees and an estimated 600,000 to one million others who are undocumented. Pakistan has ratcheted up the pressure on Afghans in recent years, with deportation threats and alleged police abuses that Human Rights Watch says amount to “mass forced return”. Over the last two years, more than 770,000 Afghans, both registered refugees and undocumented, crossed the border back to Afghanistan, according to figures from UN agencies. But with instability swirling and conflict-caused civilian casualties hovering near record highs in Afghanistan, critics say Afghans are being forced to return to a war zone. The large numbers of Afghans returning to conflict is a key crisis on our humanitarian radar this year. EU countries have also sought to send rejected Afghan asylum seekers back in droves. But as IRIN reported this week, countrywide bloodshed is continuing to push Afghans abroad even as increasingly hostile foreign governments make moves to send them back. Read more of IRIN’s reporting on this issue: Afghanistan’s deepening migration crisis.   Comings, goings, and paycuts   UNICEF has a new executive director: Henrietta Holsman Fore, who took over from Anthony Lake on 1 January. Fore, an American citizen whose career spans public service and corporate affairs, had previously worked in senior roles in USAID and the US State Department. Until her appointment she was CEO of a family firm and a director of several large corporations, including US-based Exxon Mobil, General Mills, and Theravance Biopharma. A UN spokesperson told IRIN that she would step down from her directorships to meet ethics rules, and to avoid conflicts of interest. The three positions above alone earned her a cool $851,000 in cash and shares in the most recent year available. Her remuneration at the UN will be a significant pay cut: a base gross salary of $192,000.   Meanwhile, in the NGO world, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, or ICVA, also has a new executive director, Ignacio Packer. The former secretary general of NGO Terre des Ho[...]



Ethnic violence displaces hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 11:16:32 +0000

Lifting her robe the young woman revealed undulating scar tissue blanketing her breasts, stomach, and extending up her neck and along her arms. “They poured petrol over me then lit it,” said 28-year-old Husaida Mohammed. “They were Somali boys.” When IRIN met Mohammed she was in a camp of about 3,500 displaced Oromo people on the outskirts of Harar, the ancient walled city in Ethiopia’s Harari Region. It had taken her over a month to make the 100-kilometre journey to safety from Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s far eastern Somali Region. For weeks she lay hidden in an empty Oromo-owned house tended to by friends as she recovered from her injuries. Next to her in the large warehouse being used to shelter the displaced was a woman in a striking pink robe. She had no visible injuries but didn’t utter a word. “She was throttled so badly they damaged her vocal chords,” a doctor explained. “She can’t eat anything, only drink fluids.” Tit-for-tat ethnic violence in Ethiopia’s two largest regions of Oromia and Somali began in September and has forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Local media have reported upwards of 200,000 displaced, humanitarian workers at the camps talk of 400,000.  Chronology  The unrest began when two Oromo officials were reportedly killed on the border between the two territories, allegedly by Somali Region police.  On 12 September, protests by Oromo in the town of Aweday, between Harar and the city of Dire Dawa, led to rioting that left 18 dead. The majority were Somali khat traders, a mildly narcotic leaf widely chewed. Somalis who fled Aweday said the number of dead was closer to 40. In response to Aweday, the Somali Regional government began evicting Oromo from Jigjiga and the region. Officials say this was for the Oromo’s own safety, and that no Oromo died as a result of ethnic violence in the region – a claim disputed by those displaced. In addition to the camps around Harar and Dire Dawa – cities viewed as neutral safe havens – they have popped up elsewhere along the contentious regional border. In these camps Oromo and Somali tell equally convincing stories of ethnic violence. They accuse the regional special police – in the Somali Region known as the Liyu, and the Oromia version, referred to by Somalis as Liyu Hail – of being behind many of the attacks*. Both regional governments deny their police forces were involved. The federal government faces fierce accusations ranging from not doing enough, to deliberately turning a blind eye to the violence. The Oromo see this as punishment after their year of protests against the ruling party that led to a state of emergency. There has also been a legacy of distrust of the Somali Region in Addis Ababa. The perception is that among the population there is revanchist sympathy for the idea of a Greater Somalia. Another possibility is that the government simply has not had the capacity to effectively respond, so widespread has been the violence. Oromia and Somali share a 1,400-kilometre long border. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, numbering about 35 million, a factor Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups remain deeply conscious of – especially its 6.5 million Somalis. James Jeffrey/IRIN Victim of the violence History of strife and harmony Ethnic conflict along the common border and in the rural hinterland has long existed – with Oromo migration a particular source of friction. The ongoing drought, which has put pressure on pasture and resources, could be another. “As you move west of the regional border the land becomes higher with more water and pasture,” said the head of a humanitarian organisation who spoke on condition of anonymity over the sensitivity of the issues. “Where the regional border runs is very contentious – you’ll find different maps giving a different border,” he added. In 2004, a referendum to decide the f[...]



Why can’t booming Ethiopia handle this year’s drought?

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 09:59:30 +0000

Ethiopia can’t seem to escape the blight of drought, no matter how hard it tries. Despite impressive economic growth and decades of capacity building, it faces another humanitarian crisis as one of the worst droughts in living memory scorches the Horn of Africa. At the beginning of the year, 5.6 million Ethiopians were in need of food aid, primarily in the south and southeast of the country. That number recently jumped to 8.5 million. An additional headache is that this year’s response by the government and international partners is proving less decisive than last year’s effort. In 2016, more than 10 million people were reached, food aid poured in, and the government spent hundreds of millions of its own money averting a major humanitarian catastrophe. Why are the numbers in need increasing? The January estimate of 5.6 million came from the government’s Humanitarian Requirements Document, an annual assessment in collaboration with international partners detailing Ethiopia’s humanitarian needs. The revised figure followed spring rains in April that petered out too soon, taking any hopes of revival with them. “The situation is unprecedented,” said Sam Wood, Save the Children’s humanitarian director in Ethiopia. “That was the third failed rainy season in a row, so it’s a cumulative effect of failed rains hitting vulnerable communities. “Ethiopia has made lots of progress, but when you have a problem of this sort of scale, duration and scope, any system is going to be overwhelmed.” Adding to concerns is the chance the Hagaya/Deyr short rains (October to December), accounting for up to 35 percent of annual rainfall in the southeast, could prove a dud too due to the continuing El Niño effect.   The current humanitarian bill is $1.26 billion. So far only $334 million has been received. Why the cash shortfall? At the beginning of the year, the UN warned that 20 million people were at risk of starvation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and northeast Nigeria. “Aid budgets from donor countries have already committed most of their funding responding to other conflicts or disasters for this year, and this resulted in less funding for drought-affected people in Ethiopia,” said Geno Teofilo with the Norwegian Refugee Council. “There is also donor fatigue regarding droughts in East Africa,” he added. Others note how droughts don’t seize the public imagination to the same extent as disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, meaning there’s less motivation to delve into one’s pockets. This year, the Ethiopian government has committed $147 million compared to last year’s unprecedented $700 million. “The government has many development demands,” Mitiku Kassa, Ethiopia’s state minister of agriculture and commissioner for its National Disaster Risk Management Commission, told IRIN. “If we divert too many funds to humanitarian needs, it will be difficult to continue growth, so we have to request support from the international community.’’ What are the consequences on the ground? Pastoralists in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, bearing the brunt of this drought, have lost hundreds of thousands of sheep, goats, and camels. Often whole flocks have died, representing a family’s entire livelihood, leaving people no choice but to retreat to makeshift settlements, surviving on aid from the government and international agencies. A survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration between May and June 2017 identified 264 of these sites containing around 577,711 internally displaced persons, or IDPs. Overwhelmed by numbers and additionally challenged by diminishing funds, aid agencies began cutting food rations and faced running out of money entirely this July, until last minute donations from Britain, the EU, and the United States guaranteed food shipments through to the end of the year. At the same time, the World Food Programme was able to increase its humanitarian suppo[...]



The "New Way of Working": Bridging aid's funding divide

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 12:21:51 +0000

A new UN-led reform policy aims to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development actors. Heard this tune before? Perhaps. But the so-called New Way of Working (NWOW) has, according to its champions, the potential to radically improve how emergency relief programmes are designed and delivered.   Proponents see it as a way to unlock new sources of funding for humanitarian response from multilateral sources who have previously stayed out of crisis settings, for example the World Bank. It is also being tied to new ways of supporting Syrian refugees and host countries, such as the “compacts” designed for Lebanon and Jordan.   Early pilots are underway or planned in several countries, including Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. But even as the policy is being rolled out, many questions remain. There are concerns a shotgun marriage between emergency and development aid could lead to the blurring of institutional mandates, misplaced priorities, and the violation of humanitarian principles. Others question whether risk-averse donors will be prepared to change how and with whom they fund aid.   What is the New Way of Working?   In his “One Humanity, Shared Responsibility” report, published in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit last year, then-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urged the international aid system “to commit to working in a new paradigm”.    Building on the holistic “Leave no-one behind” approach of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ban called for the setting aside of artificial institutional labels such as “development” and “humanitarian”, and urged agencies to “move beyond the comfort of traditional silos, mandates and institutional boundaries.”   The heads of the leading UN agencies responded by signing the “Commitment to Action”, in which they undertook to “implement a new way of working that meets people’s immediate humanitarian needs while at the same time reducing risk and vulnerability”.   Signatories of the Grand Bargain, the landmark agreement to reform emergency aid, likewise committed to “enhanced engagement between humanitarian and development actors”. Izumi Nakamitsu, then head of the Crisis Response Unit at the United Nations Development Programme, told IRIN in an interview in March: “We are trying to have a paradigm shift in looking at the phenomenon of crises, both humanitarian but also protracted crises, which therefore become a development challenge as well.”   “It’s not just about tweaking or changing here and there a little bit, with business as usual. It is going to be a huge change, both for humanitarians and development people and also the donor governments.”   Erm, sounds great, but what is the New Way of Working?   Policy chiefs have been keen to avoid fixed definitions because they say it has to be “context-specific”.   According to Nakamitsu, “there is no one-size-fits-all [approach]… It’s all very contextualised and we are learning as we go,” she said, while stressing an emphasis on field-led initiatives rather than top-down policy directives.   Essentially though, the NWOW is about closer collaboration between humanitarian and development response through the pillars of: “collective outcomes”, “comparative advantage”, and “multi-year timeframes”.   In March, more than 100 delegates from a range of UN agencies, NGOs, donor countries, and multilateral institutions gathered in Copenhagen for a high-level workshop to discuss the policy. They agreed:   -- Instead of just delivering aid to meet need, set collective targets around reducing that need, such as cutting food insecurity rates or cholera infections in a specific geography over a set period of time   -- Decide who is best placed to respond to the crisis, in terms of skills, funding, and capacity, rather than who applies to help [...]



A way of life under threat in Kenya as Lake Turkana shrinks

Tue, 23 May 2017 10:29:07 +0000

The last native speaker of the Elmolo language reportedly died sometime in the 1970s. By then, only a few hundred Elmolo remained, eking out a living on Kenya’s southern waters of Lake Turkana as they always had, drinking its brackish waters and fishing for catfish, tilapia, and Nile perch. Thanks to intermarriage with other tribes and adopting the Samburu language, the number of Elmolo has today increased to a few thousand. But their long-term survival remains far from certain, thanks to a new threat. Lake Turkana is the largest desert lake in the world and has existed in some form for nearly four million years. Ancient hominids, like the contemporaries of Turkana Boy – the nearly complete skeleton of homo erectus discovered in nearby Nariokotome – fished and lived along its shores. Now, the lake itself, along with the populations that depend on it, are increasingly vulnerable. Nearly 90 percent of its freshwater inflow comes from the Omo River across the border in Ethiopia. Last year, the government in Addis Ababa unveiled Africa’s tallest hydroelectric dam and announced plans to build a series of water-hungry plantations along the Omo. Nearly 30,000 hectares have already been cleared in the Lower Omo for sugar plantation. Those projects threaten to strangle Turkana’s water supply, and have the potential to devastate the livelihoods of nearly 300,000 people in Kenya who rely on the lake for food. Because of this – and the largely manmade nature of the potential crisis – Lake Turkana is now being referred to as an East African Aral Sea. Communities like the Elmolo are already experiencing changes. Since 2015, Lake Turkana’s waters have dropped by 1.5 meters, according to satellite data collected by the US Department of Agriculture and published this year by Human Rights Watch. A recent study by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) showed declining catches, both due to changes in water levels and overfishing. For the Elmolo and others who depend on these waters, that means less fish to bring home to their families. “Sometimes you get one perch, and after two or three months, you get another,” said Lpindirah Lengutuk, a 32-year-old Elmolo fisherman who spent most of his life on the lake’s jade waters. “The fish have moved. We don’t know what has taken the fish.” The situation is only expected to get worse. Lpindirah Lengutuk, Fisherman | Lake Turkana, Kenya width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EMImJEjv5g0?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Benedict Moran//IRIN "If there is no lake, people die" - fisherman Lpindirah Lengutuk   Grounded fleets and brewing violence Should water inflow of Lake Turkana reduce to below that lost by evaporation, its sensitive ecosystem could be changed permanently, scientists say. In the worst-case scenario, the lake could be divided into two lakes, with a smaller section breaking off and eventually becoming a lifeless, salty pool of algae. “The salinity of the lake would likely increase to the level that it cannot support freshwater organisms that live in the lake,” said John Malala, a senior research officer at KMFRI. “Many productive areas will definitely be lost.” Shifting rainfall patterns due to climate change and cyclical drought are making the situation even worse. This year, much of Kenya, including the areas that straddle Lake Turkana, is experiencing a devastating drought, prompting the national government to declare a national disaster. In Turkana County, more than 60 percent of wells are dry, according to the country’s National Disaster Management Authority. Thousands of dead livestock litter roadsides. In such extreme periods, many pa[...]



Slave labour? Death rate doubles for migrant domestic workers in Lebanon

Mon, 15 May 2017 15:31:52 +0000

A woman with a pink cloth wrapped around her head climbs out of a window on the fourth floor of a residential building. She peers at the ground far below, clutching onto the window ledge as voices in the background yell at her to come inside. Instead, she jumps, her scream lingering for four seconds before she hits the ground.   The video was broadcast on Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV in March, with a voiceover explaining that the woman was an Ethiopian domestic worker in Khalde, an area south of Beirut.   According to statistics obtained by IRIN from General Security, Lebanon’s intelligence agency, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are dying at a rate of two per week. Many of the deaths are suicides or botched escape attempts in which migrant women choose to jump off buildings rather than continue working in abusive and exploitative situations.   Human Rights Watch reported on the situation of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon in a 2008 report that put the death rate at one per week. Since then, heightened activism and advocacy on the issue seems to have had little impact. The bodies of 138 migrant domestic workers were repatriated between January 2016 and April this year.   Rights groups have been advocating for better protections of migrant workers in Lebanon for years and in 2014 domestic workers managed to found their own union – the first of its kind in the region. Yet little has changed. Women coming from Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Kenya, and other developing countries are still bound by the kefala (sponsorship) system, which gives employers total control over their lives.   Beaten and sexually abused   Rahwa*, a 37-year-old from Eritrea, escaped after five years as a domestic worker for a wealthy family in Tripoli. She received no salary, no days off, and slept on the kitchen floor. She suffered beatings from her "madam" and sexual harassment from the woman's husband. “It was hell,” said Rahwa, who was not allowed to contact her family in Eritrea. Now she’s a registered refugee and is informally leading a migrant workers’ church in Beirut. She told IRIN that many of the women who come to her church feel trapped by the conditions of live-in domestic work. “Many are going crazy. Even when they run away, they live in rooms with six or seven people stuck together. That makes you crazy too,” Rahwa said.   The increase in migrant workers’ deaths coincides with a decrease in public reporting and enquiry. The only NGO actively tallying migrant domestic workers’ deaths is KAFA, a Lebanese women’s rights group, which relies on local news reports to map cases. They have found only 10 to 12 cases a year on average since 2010, and hadn’t detected the recent increase.   At a migrant community centre in Beirut, 37-year-old Ethiopian Rahel Zegeye, a volunteer with the pro-migrant rights Anti-Racism Movement, said that suicides are difficult to document because many women who die never left their employers’ homes. Zegeye has tried to follow up on several suicide cases but said: “I don’t have power to ask the government anything here.” She swiped through photos of injured Ethiopian domestic workers on her phone: some unconscious and bruised, others pregnant, sick, or bleeding on the floor – all of them women, many of whom Zegeye said had since died.   A hidden crisis   Ethiopia has banned labour migration to the Middle East, but migrant women continue to arrive illegally from there every day. Unseen and unrecorded, they are locked into work situations that often end in abuse, imprisonment, deportation or even death.   “So many Ethiopians come here… Why doesn’t the Lebanese government stop them?” said Zegeye. “Our young generation is dying here.”   KAFA communications coordinator Maya Ammar said her organisation had tried to gather more information about migra[...]



Displaced and neglected: Ethiopia's desperate drought victims

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:53:42 +0000

Dead camels rot on the outskirts of informal settlements in Ethiopia’s rain-starved Somali region as their owners, once proudly self-sufficient pastoralists, turn to government aid to stay alive. Ethiopia is facing a drought so terrible that nomadic herders, the hardiest of survivors, have been pushed to the brink. The lucky ones receive supplies of food and brackish water, but the majority, who have settled in spontaneous camps in the remotest reaches, must look after themselves. “We call this drought sima,” said 82-year-old Abdu Karim. “It means ‘everyone is affected’. Even when I was a child, no one spoke of a drought like this one.” Across the Horn of Africa, people are struggling after three successive years of failed rains. In Somalia and Yemen, there is real fear of famine. While Ethiopia’s remote southern region has been spared the warfare that has deepened the crisis confronting its neighbours, the drought has been no less brutal. “Having lost most of their livestock, they have also spent out the money they had in reserve to try to keep their last few animals alive,” said Charlie Mason, humanitarian director at Save the Children. “For those who have lost everything, all they can now do is go to a government assistance site for food and water.” Livestock are the backbone of the region’s economy. Pastoralists here are estimated to have lost in excess of $200 million-worth of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels. That is not only a blow to their wealth, but also deprives them of the meat and milk that is the mainstay of the pastoralist life-support system. Last year, more than 10 million people were affected by an El Niño-induced drought. The government spent an unprecedented $700 million, while the international community made up the rest of the $1.8 billion needed to meet their needs. This year, the appeal is for $948 million to help 5.6 million drought-affected people, mainly in the southern and eastern parts of the country. So far, only $23.7 million has been received. “Last year’s response by the government was pretty remarkable,” said World Vision’s Ethiopia director, Edward Brown. “We dodged a bullet. But now the funding gaps are larger on both sides. The UN’s ability is constrained as it looks for big donors – you’ve already got the US talking of slashing foreign aid.” Under strain The government has a well-established safety net programme managed by the World Bank that supports the chronically food insecure, typically with cash-for-work projects. But it doesn’t pick up those affected by sudden shocks like the current drought. They fall under a new and separate programme, which is struggling to register all those in need. There are 58 settlements for the internally displaced in the Somali region currently receiving government aid. But that’s only a fraction of the 222 sites containing nearly 400,000 displaced people identified in a survey by the International Organization for Migration. Forty-four percent of these camps reported no access to food, and only 31 percent had a water source within a 20-minute walk. "People were surviving from what they could forage to eat or sell but now there is nothing left,” said one senior aid worker who visited a settlement 70 kilometres east of the southern town of Dolo Ado, where 650 displaced pastoralist families weren’t receiving any aid at all. The only livestock left alive in the camp was one skinny cow, its rib cage undulating through its skin, and her new-born calf. In some shelters people were reported as too weak to move.  James Jeffrey/IRIN IDPs are falling through the cracks Informal settlements have sprung up wherever the exhausted pastoralists have stopped. The further away from the regional capital, Jijiga, the less likely[...]



Ethiopia extends emergency as old antagonisms fester

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 15:37:49 +0000

The Ethiopian government has extended a nationwide state of emergency for four months, hailing it as successful in restoring stability after almost a year of popular protests and crackdowns that cost hundreds of lives. But while parts of Amhara, one of the hotbeds of the recent unrest, may be calm on the surface, IRIN found that major grievances remain unaddressed and discontent appears to be festering: There are even widespread reports that farmers in the northern region are engaged in a new, armed rebellion. Human rights organisations and others have voiced concern at months of draconian government measures – some 20,000 people have reportedly been detained under the state of emergency, which also led to curfews, bans on public assembly, and media and internet restrictions. “The regime has imprisoned, tortured and abused 20,000-plus young people and killed hundreds more in order to restore a semblance of order,” said Alemante Selassie, emeritus law professor at the College of William & Mary in the US state of Virginia. “Repression is the least effective means of creating real order in any society where there is a fundamental breach of trust between people and their rulers.” The government line is far rosier. “There’s been no negative effects,” Zadig Abrha, Ethiopia’s state minister for government communication affairs, told IRIN shortly before the measures were extended by four months, on 30 March. “The state of emergency enabled us to focus on repairing the economic situation, compensating investors, and further democratising the nation… [and] allowed us to normalise the situation to how it was before, by enabling us to better coordinate security and increase its effectiveness.” Clamping down On 7 August 2016, in the wake of protests in the neighbouring Oromia region, tens of thousands of people gathered in the centre of Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara. They had come to express their frustration at perceived marginalisation and the annexation of part of their territory by Tigray – the region from which the dominant force in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition is drawn. Accounts vary as to what prompted security forces to open fire on the demonstration – some say a protestor tried to replace a federal flag outside a government building with its now-banned precursor – but by the end of the day, 27 people were dead. That toll climbed to 52 by the end of the week. In all, some 227 civilians died during weeks of unrest in the Amhara region, according to the government. Others claim the real figure is much higher. A six-month state of emergency was declared nationally on 9 October. Military personnel, under the coordination of a new entity known as the “Command Post”, flooded into cities across the country. “Someone will come and say they are with the Command Post and just tell you to go with them – you have no option but to obey,” explained Dawit, who works in the tourism industry in the Amhara city of Gondar. “No one has any insurance of life.” James Jeffrey/IRIN Tourists on a boat on Lake Tana set off from Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region in Ethiopia Local people told IRIN that the Command Post also took control of the city’s courts and did away with due process. Everyday life ground to a halt as traders closed shops and businesses in a gesture of passive resistance. In Bahir Dar and Gondar, both popular historical stop-offs, tourism, an economic mainstay, tanked. “In 2015, Ethiopia was voted by the likes of The New York Times and National Geographic as one of the best destinations,” said Stefanos, another Gondar resident who works in the tourism sector. “Then this happened and everything collapsed.” Lingering resentment Before it was rene[...]