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IRIN - Syria


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 [...]

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 In March this year, fierce fighting broke out between the groups, sending yet more civilians into flight. The split in the fighters – many of the first group have s[...]

Six major humanitarian challenges confronting the UN General Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

The Kurdish struggle in northern Syria

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

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

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 its date in June – but the rumblings of discontent h[...]

Pivotal point in eastern Syria as Assad breaks key Islamic State siege

Mon, 04 Sep 2017 17:10:34 +0000

For more than two years, the city of Deir Ezzor has been under a choking siege by so-called Islamic State, with nearly 100,000 civilians largely living off UN air drops. After Russian-brokered truces gave the Syrian government a chance to scale down operations in western Syria, its forces are now about to break that siege, relieving the city of Deir Ezzor and tipping the scales of power in eastern Syria.   Straddling the Euphrates river, Deir Ezzor is the largest city of eastern Syria and the capital of the eponymous province that stretches to the border of Iraq. Since 2014, most of eastern Syria has been controlled by IS, although the government of President Bashar al-Assad still holds a part of the provincial capital itself. Fighting has been fierce, with atrocities committed on both sides and much of the city devastated by regime bombardment.   In spring 2015, IS cut the last, insecure land routes to the city by seizing the desert towns of Sukhna and Palmyra. In September that year the jihadists began shelling Deir Ezzor’s airport, severing the air bridge that had supplied the city with food and other goods.   In response to the spiralling humanitarian crisis, the UN’s World Food Programme began to air drop food and emergency supplies into Deir Ezzor. Funded mostly by Western governments, the WFP recently completed its 300th mission, having parachuted nearly 6,000 metric tonnes of aid to an estimated 93,500 people inside the besieged enclave.   Despite the humanitarian deliveries and a separate Syrian government air bridge that provides military supplies, the enclave has slowly shrunk over the past couple of years.   Last January, the city’s situation appeared desperate, after IS fighters broke through army lines and cut the government-held area into two parts. In the ensuing chaos, even the WFP air drops were briefly interrupted. But with air support from the Russian government, the city’s small garrison – some 5,000 or 10,000 troops under the command of Brigadier-General Essam Zahreddine – managed to turn the battle around once again, allowing the enclave to cling to life.   Now, the siege is being broken.   Assad pivots east   Since late 2016, several developments have contributed to the winding-down of the war in western Syria, where most of al-Assad’s army has been pinned down by a mix of American-, Turkish-, and Arab-backed insurgent factions and jihadist groups.   In November 2016, the election of Donald Trump as US president deflated opposition hopes that American air power would somehow end al-Assad’s reign. The following month, Syrian government forces retook the hotly contested eastern half of Aleppo, freeing up thousands of troops for use elsewhere. Then, Russian-orchestrated peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana dampened the violence and culminated in a 4 May declaration of ceasefires in western Syria, which finally gave al-Assad the breathing space he needed to go after his other enemy in the east: IS.   After a long and lethal ping-pong battle over Palmyra, the Syrian government retook the city for the second time in March 2017. Having thus set the stage for its eastward thrust, regime forces waited until the Astana peace process had locked down their gains in the west before making their move.   In late May, Damascus launched a three-pronged offensive in the eastern deserts, which seemed partly designed to forestall any attempt by US-backed groups to seize IS-held areas of eastern Syria first. Pro-government troops first rushed to stake out their claims in the north, where they are in competition with a US-backed Kurdish coalition, and in the south, where a separate set of US-backed Arab rebels had sought to expand their foothold on the Iraqi border.   The central front then roared into action in July, when the government moved from Palmyra to retake Sukhna. IS put up a hard fight, but once regime f[...]

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

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

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

No food, #NotATarget, and what next in Zimbabwe: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:07:51 +0000

Which humanitarian topics are on IRIN’s radar and should be on yours? Check out our curation of upcoming events, topical reports, opinion, and quality journalism:   The “depressing equilibrium” of aid worker attacks   We mark World Humanitarian Day (#NotATarget) with a selection of articles about the risks aid workers face, and share some highlights from publications and data released to for the day – click here for more. Statistics on aid worker safety show a stable but depressing equilibrium: 288 aid workers were victims of incidents tracked by the Aid Worker Security Database in 2016, just one more than the year before. There has been one telling change however: most aid worker fatalities in 2016 were caused by states, not rebels or other armed groups (mainly due to airstrikes and killings by the state in South Sudan). The annual report from the database's keeper, Humanitarian Outcomes, covers more than just the numbers (a book from the MSF think-tank CRASH last year warned against a purely quantitative approach). It looks, for example, at the motivations and attitudes towards aid groups of the Taliban and al-Shabab. The fraught relationship between aid agencies and armed groups is explored: "We also want resources and they are among the few available resources," says an al-Shabab interviewee. As well as looking at violent incidents, Insecurity Insight, a Geneva-based NGO, monitors legal and administrative curbs on development, human rights, and humanitarian work. It has published a list of 77 restriction-related events in 2016, available as a download on the Humanitarian Data Exchange site.    Zimbabwe – No country for old men   At some stage, an ever-frailer President Robert Mugabe, 93, is going to die. That’s not a wish, just a pretty certain prediction. What happens next is setting nerves jangling. Mugabe is not universally loved, but he commands respect. The fear is that with his passing, not only will the edifice of the ruling party come crashing down, but the country may burn as well. That’s because he’s lining up his wife, Grace, to succeed him. She commands neither love nor respect. Her behaviour in South Africa at the weekend, where she allegedly assaulted a young woman, is seen as personifying her character. Standing in the way of Grace is Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a feared former spy chief. But his influence is on the wane. He was taken ill and rushed to South Africa last week, in what was reported to have been a poisoning attempt. Despite Grace enlisting the support of former defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, the army is badly split. The senior generals fear for their jobs. And that is the direction from where the real trouble is likely to spring from. In the meantime, ordinary Zimbabweans are voting with their feet. According to a new Afrobarometer survey, almost half of the population has considered emigrating. Look out for an upcoming IRIN report on the succession issue.   Shame falls both ways in Yemen   The UN’s annual “list of shame” of governments and armed groups that commit grave violations against children in armed conflicts is back, and Saudi Arabia is once again in the spotlight. A leaked draft of the report says the Saudi-led coalition is on the hook for an “unacceptably high” 51 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, plus three quarters of attacks on schools and hospitals. Saudi Arabia was removed from the 2016 list days after it was published, after the kingdom reportedly threatened to withdraw financial support from the UN and its aid agencies. It remains to be seen if the Saudis will make it to this year’s final draft – it is subject to approval by UN Secretary-General Antiono Gutteres – but it’s worth nothing that Houthi rebels and affiliated forces are also named as responsible for a third of [...]

Aid workers at risk on World Humanitarian Day

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

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