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IRIN - Migration

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


Aid access, aid propaganda, and AidToo: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 14:30:12 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors curates a reading list of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.   Fact Check: A Saudi prince on Yemen aid   Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS, to those in the know) has been on a charm offensive in the United States this week, meeting with the president, business leaders, and sitting for an interview with network news stalwart 60 Minutes. We think a quick fact check is in order: Just before correspondent Norah O’Donnell put a question to the 32-year-old architect of the Saudi-led coalition’s three-year war in Yemen, she said in a voiceover that a blockade of Yemen’s port had been lifted. That’s not quite right. It’s true that some aid and commercial goods are allowed into the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, but only thanks to Saudi-granted 30-day extensions. Humanitarians say not enough aid is getting in, and the uncertainty is bad for private shipping. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is so bad that next month the UN will ask donors to pony up $2.96 billion at a Geneva conference; last year’s ask was $2.1 billion. MBS’ response to O’Donnell? Houthi rebels are “using the humanitarian situation to their advantage in order to draw sympathy from the international community,” he said. “They block humanitarian aid in order to create famine and a humanitarian crisis.”     Access denied   Aid groups face all sorts of headaches trying to get their jobs done. Many are physical, like bad roads or extreme weather. Others are security-related: Will armies, bandits, and rebels leave them alone? Some are administrative: Will authorities harass them with demands for permits and fees? Overall, this combination of factors amounts to "humanitarian access" – how hard is it to deliver help? A recent study of 37 countries shows that only in one, Congo-Brazzaville, did access improve since last August, thanks to fewer clashes in the Pool region. In Cameroon, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Turkey things are worse. The report, by Geneva-based analysis group ACAPS, points to deregistration of NGOs in Pakistan, movement restrictions in Myanmar, and attacks on aid workers in Mali. Some places, like Eritrea and North Korea, were already bad for access, and have stayed that way.       How best to help Venezuela, and the region   A stark situation report on Venezuela can be made by simply writing two lists. First, what’s gone: oil riches, economic control, the rule of law, press freedoms, credible health statistics, medications, food stocks, four million people. Second, what’s arrived in their place: repression, political prisoners, hyperinflation, 6,000% price rises, childhood malnutrition, eradicated diseases such as measles and diphtheria, violent crime, corruption, regional uncertainty. No one knows how bad this is going to get. Less than two months out from a presidential election the opposition already claims is rigged and plans to boycott, the country sits on the edge of a foreign debt default that could further plunge the economy down the tubes. What can be done? This International Crisis Group report contains a bunch of sensible-sounding recommendations, including more UN help, tougher sanctions, greater support for migrants from Venezuela’s neighbours etc. It is also premised, though, on President Nicolás Maduro allowing international humanitarian organisations into his country to alleviate suffering. Not everyone would agree that this is a good move. In his commentary for IRIN last month, leading observer Francisco Toro argued that relieving Maduro of such responsibilities without first forcing political change could amount to sticking a small plaster on a gaping wound. Venezuela’s neighbours however, as the ICG report rightly notes, can and should be helped right now; even as they tighten their borders, the sense that Venezuela’s situation has developed into a regional crisis is frighteningly real.   “A crime of solidarity”   You could be forgiven for not clocking this bizarre and dramat[...]

How Afrin became Syria’s latest humanitarian disaster

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 18:18:36 +0000

An estimated 150,000 people are in flight following Turkey’s capture of the northern Syrian city of Afrin, part of a wider Kurdish enclave of the same name. It is unclear if or when they will be able to go back home. For the past two months, Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels have been fighting the YPG – a Syrian Kurdish offshoot of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – for control of the Afrin enclave. Violence had already displaced tens of thousands in the enclave, but when YPG troops finally permitted people to leave as they pulled out of the city over the weekend, a new wave of civilians flooded out towards areas still held by the YPG or controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “We are really witnessing a humanitarian crisis with the ongoing influx of thousands of people fleeing the fighting who are sometimes forced to sleep in the open with no shelter, no food, no water, and no access to medical care,” Ingy Sedky, a Damascus-based spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told IRIN on Sunday. The Kurds and the Kremlin For much of Syria’s seven-year war, the YPG, which stands for People's Protection Units, have battled Arab insurgents for control over Kurdish parts of northern Syria, while in an uneasy, on-off truce with al-Assad's forces. Since 2014, the group played a major role in defeating the so-called Islamic State in and around Raqqa, with backing from the United States. Turkey considers the PKK, which has been fighting a guerrilla war against the state for decades, to be a terrorist organisation. Keen to break up a PKK-linked Kurdish powerhouse near its borders, on 20 January it sent special forces across the border to assist a collection of Syrian rebels taking on the YPG. Though the fighting itself was a brute force contest in which Turkey proved superior to lightly armed Kurdish guerrillas, the intervention was also tied up in a complex set of political deals. Russia’s role was pivotal. While the YPG is a US ally in northeastern Syria, it has worked with Russia in Afrin – last year, Moscow stationed a symbolic monitoring force there to prevent Turkish incursions. But an under-the-table deal between Ankara and Moscow appears to have ensured that the Russians would not get in the way of the Turkish intervention: monitors were moved aside; the Kurds cried foul, to no avail. Despite his troubled relationship with the YPG, al-Assad sees Turkey as a far more capable and dangerous enemy. To ward off the Turks, the Syrian president reportedly asked that the YPG should place Afrin under his control, calculating that this would force Turkey to confront not just him but also his Russian ally. Al-Assad also appears to have sent anti-tank missiles to Afrin and helped the YPG resupply via government-held Aleppo. But the YPG reportedly refused to relinquish its control over Afrin, and, more importantly, Russia refused to back al-Assad against Turkey in Afrin, forcing the Syrian president to scale down his ambitions. Instead of dispatching a formal Syrian Arab Army detachment, al-Assad merely green-lighted the arrival on 21 February of local militias from two nearby pro-government towns, Nubul and Zahra. The towns had previously been rescued by the YPG when under siege by Turkish- and US-backed Sunni rebels, and militia leaders now wanted to repay the favor. Saleh Muslim, a Syrian Kurdish leader who is allied with the YPG, told IRIN in a 6 March interview that Russia’s role was paramount. Asked as the fighting was ongoing what could keep Afrin from falling into Turkish hands, he replied: “Put pressure on Russia. They are the only force that can stop this.” The other thing that could have saved Afrin, Saleh Muslim said, was if the YPG was provided with anti-aircraft missiles. “Then we’ll stop them in one minute,” he said, acknowledging with a wry smile that it would never happen. In the end, Russia faced little pressure and never changed its position. A 24 February ceasefire decreed by the UN Security Cou[...]

As Colombia tightens its border, more Venezuelan migrants brave clandestine routes

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 13:23:38 +0000

It’s about the distance of a drive from Berlin to Athens. The 2,219-kilometre long Colombian-Venezuelan border has long been porous and difficult to manage. There are seven official crossings, but nearly 300 clandestine trails, called trochas, are fought over for control by various illegal armed groups, used by smugglers and crossed daily by thousands of migrants, often at great risk. Analysts and officials say traffic on those trails has increased in the weeks since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced stricter enforcement at official border crossings, an effort to stem migration from Venezuela. Colombia doesn’t recognise the Venezuelan migrants as refugees, but the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, stated on Monday that a significant number should be considered as such. It is also urging receiving states to allow the Venezuelans access to their territory and to adopt more pragmatic protective measures. A game of numbers “The problem of the Venezuelan migrants has been growing. It’s a complex problem; a problem that we are not used to,” Santos said during a visit to the border town of Cúcuta on 8 February, the day he announced the new border regulations. Since then, only holders of valid visas or migratory cards (which only permit short-term visits and are no longer issued) may enter Colombia. Willington Muñoz, coordinator of a refugee centre run by the Catholic Church in Cúcuta, says the new measures can be interpreted as a “diplomatic closure of the border”, because many Venezuelans lack the documents needed to obtain passports and officials may request unaffordable bribes or lack the materials to process them.   Bram Ebus/IRIN An official crossing in Cucuta Colombia’s migration office boasted that the influx at official Venezuelan crossings dropped by 30 percent in the two weeks following the new regulations. But such statistics can be a game of numbers. Venezuelans desperate to escape economic and political crisis are not easily stopped. Officials in the Colombian border department Norte de Santander, of which Cúcuta is the capital, have logged 78 trochas. They say they have recently seen more smugglers and undocumented migrants using those trails. More than 550,000 documented Venezuelans currently reside in Colombia, but many more have entered without documentation, straining border cities like Cúcuta. ‘They will kill you’ Smugglers, too, rely on the trochas. “If you make a mistake and take the wrong trocha, they will kill you,” a 23-year-old from Caracas, who requested that his name not be used out of fear for his safety, says of the various groups that ply the trails. He arrived in Colombia last November, and says he was recruited as a smuggler while sleeping in Cúcuta’s bus station. He says he stopped smuggling contraband goods a few weeks ago, fearing for his life. He earned well, relying on the trochas for his work,  “but life is worth more”, he explains. A four-kilometre walk across the border via a trocha is a costly venture, he says. Paramilitaries and guerrillas who have long fought in Colombia’s half-century civil conflict crowd the routes. ELN and EPL guerrillas are present, as are the Rastrojos and Urabeños – paramilitary groups that vie for control over the most lucrative trochas. All demand payment from people using the routes. A single trocha sometimes includes seven or more checkpoints controlled by different groups, including the Venezuelan National Guard. An increasing number of Venezuelan migrants, as well as the maleteros, the smugglers who use the trochas, are falling prey to extortion at the many checkpoints. The total cost of one-way passage averages at least $80-$100, paid out to different groups at different checkpoints, according to analysts and people who have used the routes. Higher fees are demanded for transporting goods. “If you do not pay they will kill you,” the former smuggler says. Polic[...]

Myanmar levels former Rohingya villages to build camp for returnees

Mon, 12 Mar 2018 12:15:28 +0000

Myanmar has bulldozed entire Rohingya villages to make way for a massive camp at the centre of a stalled plan to house returning refugees, an analysis of new satellite imagery shows. One rights group describes the imagery as evidence of an escalating push to demolish former Rohingya land and militarise vast swathes of northern Rakhine State – the flashpoint for violence that last year drove out more than 671,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh. An analysis of satellite images done for IRIN by UNOSAT, a United Nations programme that produces humanitarian mapping, shows extensive land clearance and new construction near Hla Poe Kaung village in Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township. Myanmar authorities have identified the area as the site of a planned camp that would house returning Rohingya refugees. The imagery shows that over seven weeks, from early January to late February, at least four villages in the area were almost completely levelled, leaving little trace of the Rohingya homes that once stood there. At least 110 new buildings and what appear to be two helicopter landing pads were constructed in that time, according to the analysis, which estimated that at least 240 hectares of land had been cleared.   (Swipe the image to compare: The image on the left shows a view of the repatriation camp near Hla Poe Kaung village on 9 January. The image on the right shows construction at the same site on 27 February. Image credits: ©2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. Satellite imagery analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT) The activity near Hla Poe Kaung mirrors extensive clearance and reconstruction across northern Rakhine – part of what rights groups say is an attempt to dramatically reshape the landscape in the aftermath of last year’s Rohingya exodus. Amnesty International on Monday released satellite images it said showed large-scale bulldozing and new infrastructure – including at least three new military bases – being built around the northern townships. It also showed roads and buildings emerging over Rohingya land and villages that were torched and emptied last year. “Burnt Rohingya homes and markets are being bulldozed, and surrounding trees and farmland cleared away,” Matt Wells, Amnesty’s senior crisis advisor, told IRIN. “Where Rohingya villages stood months earlier, the Myanmar authorities are constructing new security force bases, roads, and other infrastructure.” DigitalGlobe / UNITAR-UNOSAT According to an analysis of satellite imagery, new construction near Hla Poe Kaung includes at least 110 new buildings and two possible helicopter landing pads. Rights groups say Myanmar has built up excessive security infrastructure in northern Rakhine. Human Rights Watch says that Myanmar authorities have cleared more than 55 former Rohingya villages across the state in recent weeks. Authorities in Myanmar have framed reconstruction as part of a broader scheme to develop the impoverished northern Rakhine region. The new camp emerging at Hla Poe Kaung is a central part of a controversial repatriation plan for Rohingya refugees, which has languished for weeks after a late January start date fizzled. Myanmar authorities have said returnees will be housed temporarily in Hla Poe Kaung. See: UN, aid groups debate Myanmar internment plan for Rohingya refugees But the satellite images show parts of the Hla Poe Kaung camp are built directly over the remnants of Rohingya villages that were damaged or destroyed during last year’s violence. Rights groups and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh say Myanmar’s military and neighbouring ethnic Rakhine villagers torched homes and killed civilians, emptying the state’s northern townships of most of its former Rohingya inhabitants. Myanmar authorities say the military was responding to attacks on border outposts by a group of Rohingya fighters frameborder="0" height="550" scrolling="no" src="[...]

Satellites and slavery, useless ceasefires and emotional apps: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 09 Mar 2018 17:53:27 +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:   Papua New Guinea earthquake: the risks to women   The damage caused by a powerful earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea in late February could take “months and years” to fix, according to the country’s prime minister. But advocates also warn of the effects the disaster could have on women. The country has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the world, and natural disasters can amplify problems women already face. Aid groups reported an increase in domestic violence and sexual assault, for example, during a drought in 2015 and 2016. After sudden disasters like earthquakes, women face greater risks. For instance, emergency shelters often aren’t built with women in mind, said Priyanka Bhalla, an advisor on gender-based violence with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “There are no separate spaces for men and women, there are no safe spaces, there are no separate toilets, the toilets don’t have any lights,” Bhalla told IRIN. Two weeks after the earthquake, officials in Papua New Guinea are still tallying the damage, with rescue teams struggling to reach remote highland villages cut off by landslides. Authorities reported at least 100 fatalities caused by the earthquake or its powerful aftershocks.     Spotting ‘slavery’ from space   Can you track rights abuses from space? Researchers at the University of Nottingham have been using satellite imagery to trace the proliferation of brick kilns — which labour and rights groups say are a widespread source of abuse and exploitation — over a swathe of South Asia. In findings released this month, the researchers estimated that more than 55,000 brick kilns exist over a vast “brick belt” spanning parts of Pakistan, Nepal and northern India. The figure is “the first rigorous estimate” of brick kilns in the area, researchers say, and a key step to providing missing data that can be used to confront labour abuse. They add that their work is  another example of how remote sensing can be used in the humanitarian sector, calling the technology “ripe for exploration”. Rights groups say debt bondage and child labour are rampant in South Asia’s brick kilns, which make heavy use of migrant workers. A September report from Anti-Slavery International claimed India’s brick-making industry was rife with “endemic levels of debt-bondage and the worst forms of child labour”, particularly among migrant workers. frameborder="0" height="350" scrolling="no" src="" width="100%"> Trapped in Eastern Ghouta   Humanitarian corridors – safe zones that are meant to allow aid in or people out of a dangerous situation – are nothing new, neither in Syria’s seven years of violence nor in war at large. We’ve seen them go horribly wrong in Srebrenica, and they failed to do much in east Aleppo. But here we are again, in Eastern Ghouta, with Russia claiming it has set up passages that allow civilians to leave the battered enclave and assistance to enter it during a  five-hour window each day. The plan was immediately knocked as a “joke” by the US. Russia has said opposition groups are shelling the corridors, and the International Crisis Group points out that the routes may even serve as cover for further military escalation. What’s clear is that the fighting continues, civilians are not getting out, and very little aid has made it in. Does anyone even remember that Security Council-ordered ceasefire?   Augmenting Sympathy   Aid agencies worry that public sympathy is in short supply. As public fatigue with long and apparently intractable wars mounts and news coverage drops away, popular pressure for action and donations tends to dry up. So aid o[...]

Tales of terror from Congo’s Ituri province

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 13:12:23 +0000

Tens of thousands of people have fled clashes in Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeast Ituri Province over recent weeks, travelling by boat to reach Uganda.   Dozens are reported to have been killed in the violence, in which members of the Lendu community have reportedly targeted Hema and Bagagere citizens. More than 48,000 refugees have arrived since January, and more than 100,000 people remain displaced in the DRC.     It is unclear what triggered this latest unrest in a region that has been relatively calm since 2007. This blog from the Congo Research Group offers some possible causes. Between 1999 and 2003, Ituri was the theatre of a fierce conflict involving Lendu and Hema militias.   What is certain, based on the testimony of refugees gathered by IRIN in Kagoma, the Ugandan town where new arrivals are registered, is that the violence is spreading terror across several parts of Ituri.   Here are some of their stories: Photo by Samuel Okiror/IRIN Madroo Loch, 36, from Tchomia  (an area 60 km east of Bunia, the provincial capital)   We have been peaceful and calm [in Ituri] for some years. However, in December 2017 the fighting started again. In February it escalated. We couldn’t do anything. The Lendu were cutting and killing people. The fighting forced us to flee into Uganda for safety.   I had to pay for my wife and two children to board a boat to cross into Uganda. The journey was risky. The winds were strong. It was a six-hour journey. It was all about prayers to cross safely. I saw a woman and a child drowned. I couldn’t help.   We are lucky we arrived safe. Life is hard. It’s difficult to cope. We left everything behind. I don’t have anything to provide to the children.   But at least we are safe here. We shall struggle and gamble. I can’t go back to Congo with my family. We are tired of the violence, fighting and wars. We need peace in Ituri. We want a peaceful country, Congo. God help us. Photo by Samuel Okiror/IRIN Mariane Arobo, from Toregesi The situation back home is terrible. It’s all about fighting and killings. The Lendu tribesmen armed with pangas, arrows, spears, axes and machetes kept attacking our villages and killing people.   I fled here last week. The fighting escalated. I am feeling tired. I had to walk and hide in the bush with the baby for two days. There was no food or water. The baby was crying of hunger. But I couldn’t breastfeed. I didn’t have milk.   I think my husband remained behind. At the time when the violence broke out my husband had gone for his business. I am sure he is alive, but we haven’t communicated. I am sure he will come and be reunited with us.   I have nothing. There was no time to even pick the baby’s clothes, or mine. I had to abandon everything and run to save our lives. I wonder how to start a new life here.   The child is sick. The baby has been crying for the last three days. But I haven’t got her treatment. It’s hard to get treatment from the health facility. It’s crowded and congested.   I don’t have money to buy medicine. I don’t have enough milk in my breasts. I wish my husband was around. Maybe he could have helped out. Refugees fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrive in Sebagoro, Uganda where they will be taken by bus to Kyangwali refugee settlement. Michele Sibiloni/UNHCR   Mohammed Wikpa, 26, from Tchomia I am a commercial motorcycle rider. I was still at home planning to go to work when the fighting broke out. I heard bullets and gunshots. I took off without my family members.   I saw so many people on the way running away because of the attacks and killings by the Lendu. I saw bodies of dead people. The Lendu cut and killed them.   It was a struggle and fight to board a canoe to cross Lake Albert into Uganda. I had to abandon my motorcycle that I treasured so much. There was no way of crossing with it, as the canoe was small.   As f[...]

Half a million and counting: Venezuelan exodus puts new strains on Colombian border town

Wed, 07 Mar 2018 13:39:55 +0000

The sun is burning at the Colombian border town of Cúcuta. Red Cross workers attend to people with dehydration and fatigue as hundreds of Venezuelans line up to have their passports stamped, covering their heads with clothing and cardboard to fashion what shade they can.   These are just the latest arrivals. By January, at least 550,000 Venezuelans were officially residing in Colombia, with nearly half arriving last year alone, according to Colombian officials. Most are fleeing  their country’s economic meltdown – one of the world’s largest migrations unassociated with conflict. The pace picked up in the last six months of 2017, with a 62 percent increase in the number of Venezuelans living in Colombia in the second half of that year compared to the first. And they keep coming.   Cúcuta’s city centre is full of migrants sleeping on the streets. Most of them have no money. Beggars are everywhere. Underage girls prostitute themselves alongside the roads. Armed gangs, ELN guerrillas, and paramilitaries are said to be widely recruiting desperate Venezuelan youngsters.   Colombia isn’t used to this. For more than half a century, the human tide went the other way – more than five million Colombians migrated to Venezuela to escape conflict among government forces, paramilitaries, crime syndicates, and guerrilla groups. Now, the tide has turned.   Jozef Merkx, country representative for UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, worries that Colombia’s hospitality is already at breaking point. He doesn’t know what will happen if similar numbers of Venezuelans arrive over the next six months – a distinct possibility, especially as tensions may rise around Venezuela’s 20 May presidential elections.   Colombian officials say that legal migration from Venezuela declined in February, after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that a valid passport or migratory card — which permits short-term visits to the border area and which Colombia has temporarily stopped issuing — are needed to cross the border, tightening what had been an often lax review of documents. Entries at seven migration checkpoints fell from 48,000 to 35,000 per day, officials say, although those numbers include people who buy goods and return to Venezuela as well as those who transit through Colombia. But analysts and observers say more migrants are now crossing at informal border points, or trochas, often controlled by illegal armed groups. “Colombia is not prepared for what is happening now with Venezuela, and they have never gone through this,” says Merkx. “Colombia is a refugee-producing country. Now, for the first time, it’s a receiving country, and they are not ready.”   The Colombian government has been drawing up emergency plans to cope with the influx of migrants, but concrete measures are still hard to identify. NGOs and charities as well as the UN and a few other international organizations provide assistance. The pace of arrivals is so great, though, that most Venezuelans fend largely for themselves, as a visit to Cúcuta in late February reveals.   A constant influx   On the Puente Internacional Simón Bolívar, the short bridge that is the main crossing point for Venezuelans into Colombia, the influx is continuous. Families dragging suitcases and pushing grandmothers in wheelchairs have an exhausted but relieved look on their faces as they cross.   José Luis has tears in his eyes. “I leave my wife and three children behind”, says the 44-year-old carpenter, who declines to give his surname. Like many, he hopes that the last of his savings can take him somewhere he can find a job, turn his fortunes around, and start sending money back home.   Others are in worse shape. “We haven’t eaten for 24 hours so we can save some money”, says a 27-year-old former teacher who asked to remain anonymous because she fears retaliation on family [...]

UN whistleblowing, Rohingya voice recorders, and Yemen cholera fears: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 02 Mar 2018 17:26:03 +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:   Yemen cholera warning   It has been on the decline for more than 20 weeks now, after hitting more than one million suspected cases and 2,259 deaths, but the World Health Organisation warned this week that Yemen’s cholera epidemic may see a resurgence as rains are expected in April and August. That’s a terrifying prospect for many Yemenis, whose healthcare system is still in tatters. A well-placed source explained to IRIN that while it’s difficult to make solid weather predictions more than a few weeks out, we do know that the second wave of an outbreak is usually less severe than the first (immunity helps), and that it tends to strike worst in the same areas that were hardest hit before. Displacement – a common theme in Yemen’s war – is a large part of the problem, as civilians fleeing violence often end up in camps with poor sanitation, increasing their risk of contracting a disease that should be easy to treat.   UN thaws out its Afghan refugee programme   After a three-month winter break, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is restarting a programme that helps Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan. But it comes as Pakistan’s latest deadline to oust Afghan refugees – the end of March – quickly approaches. Pakistan has long been home to Afghans fleeing war and violence in their homeland. But the Pakistani government has repeatedly warned that time is running out for the more than 1.3 million registered refugees still in the country – and at least 600,000 other undocumented Afghans. The potential for more mass returns is a major fear for the humanitarian sector in Afghanistan: more than half a million people have been displaced by conflict since last January, while the violence has also made it harder for aid groups to access people in need. More than 120,000 of last year’s displaced now live in a single province, Nangarhar, where civilians have been caught in the crossfire among a plethora of combatants, including fighters linked to the so-called Islamic State group, Taliban militants, the Afghan government and US forces. Any mass refugee returns from Pakistan will add to an already dire situation on the ground. UNHCR data shows that Nangarhar is the second-most likely destination among Afghan returnees after the capital, Kabul. But while the aid sector waits to see whether Pakistan will again extend its refugee deadline, large numbers of Afghans are already returning home from elsewhere: the IOM says 88,000 undocumented Afghans have already returned from Iran this year alone.   Read more: Afghanistan’s deepening migration crisis   Blowing in the wind   More than half of UN core staff wouldn’t feel safe blowing the whistle on misconduct, according to a new internal survey. Despite high levels of pride in the institution, over a third also think the organisation doesn’t hold staff accountable for their actions. Results of the questionnaire, in which 39 percent of staff (more than 14,000 people) participated, were circulated on 1 March and obtained by IRIN.   In a covering email to all staff, UN chief António Guterres said the findings on ethical conduct and accountability required “closer scrutiny”. Explicit protection for whistleblowers at the UN has been policy for over a decade, and a 2005 rule was reinforced last year. Given the recent wave of abuse and exploitation cases emerging across the aid sector, the finding might not instill confidence in misconduct being exposed. However, no benchmark was given to compare the result with other employers. Overall, 27 percent said they weren’t “confident that staff will be protected from retaliation for reporting misconduct or cooperating with audit or inve[...]

Identity and belonging in a card: How tattered Rohingya IDs trace a trail toward statelessness

Thu, 01 Mar 2018 16:48:36 +0000

The pale green identity card in Nurul Hoque’s hands is torn and brittle. Time has faded the image of his grandfather, taken years before, to a ghostly outline. The worn document is his grandfather’s decades-old identity card from Myanmar. It’s proof, Nurul says, that he and his family are rightful citizens of a country that now rejects them. “It’s all we have left,” Nurul says, placing the faded card on a thin sleeping mat in his family’s new home: a flimsy tent perched on a hilltop in southern Bangladesh’s sprawling Rohingya refugee camps. The document and those held by other families in the camps are reminders of lives left behind, clung to with the distant hope that they might one day permit a return to Myanmar. But they’re also a record of the bureaucratic and often convoluted ways in which Rohingya in Myanmar have been systematically stripped of citizenship, belonging, and their very identity. The question of citizenship in Myanmar strikes at the core of successive policies and actions that have disenfranchised, trapped, and now evicted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. The Muslim Rohingya may be the best-known example of statelessness in Myanmar, but several other ethnic minorities fall foul of its haphazard and selectively enforced citizenship laws. Created in 1982 by Myanmar’s then-ruling military junta, the law favours the majority Bamar community and others judged to be among the country’s “national races” and excludes others from full citizenship. The government continues to build its stalled citizenship plans on the 1982 law, which stipulates that only members of ethnic groups that settled within Myanmar before the British conquest in 1824 are automatically eligible for full citizenship. But rights groups and the Rohingya themselves see the law more starkly: an attempt to make an unwanted population stateless. "The Rohingya were made stateless in order to justify excluding them,” says Chris Lewa from  The Arakan Project, a Southeast Asia-based rights monitoring group. More cards, fewer rights Myanmar’s military launched a violent crackdown across northern Rakhine State last August, after a group of Rohingya fighters staged attacks on police and border posts. Nurul and his family joined more than 670,000 people who swept across the border into Bangladesh. Most Rohingya lost nearly everything in the exodus, escaping on foot with whatever they could carry. One survey in Bangladesh’s refugee camps estimated that 94 percent of the new arrivals had no identification whatsoever. But some Rohingya families like Nurul’s rushed to save their now-scarce identity cards. A dizzying array of official identity documents circulate among some Rohingya refugees: worn registration papers like the green card belonging to Nurul’s grandfather, frayed and yellowing temporary cards that replaced them, even crumpled up pieces of paper that served as receipts when the last official documents were stripped away. Over decades in Myanmar, each form of ID was declared invalid or taken from the Rohingya; each replacement carried fewer rights and more restrictions. The faded green card belonging to Nurul’s grandfather, officially called a national registration card, was given to non-foreign male residents of Myanmar, then known as Burma, after 1951. Female residents received a pink equivalent. Verena Hölzl/IRIN Nurul Hoque sealed his family’s ID cards and old photos in plastic after arriving in Bangladesh. He keeps them under his pillow when he sleeps. In 1982, however, Myanmar’s then-ruling junta enacted its new ethnicity-based citizenship laws. Authorities collected the green and pink registration cards from the Rohingya, later replacing them with “white cards” — temporary documents that left a ge[...]

School for Syrians, France’s Indian Ocean border and British NGOs say sorry: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 19:46:50 +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:   This just in   Whatever the Security Council decides, this is everything you need to know about Syria’s Eastern Ghouta: a new briefing from contributor Aron Lund.   Syria and Turkey   The vast majority of Turkey’s 3.7 million refugees do not live in camps, and as a report from the International Crisis Group points out, hostility towards Syrians in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir is growing. At least 35 people died in violence between refugees and locals last year. One tried and tested (elsewhere, at least) avenue towards coexistence is education. Turkey plans to phase out refugee-only schools where students study in Arabic by the end of 2018 and shift them  to the Turkish curriculum in the Turkish language. How and if this will work is not yet clear – watch this space for an update soon.   Meanwhile, Turkish troops and their Syrian allies are working together in a very different sort of way, fighting US-backed Kurdish troops in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin. So far this has meant loss of life and mass displacement, but this week a key advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan added a new dimension, saying he expects tens of thousands of Syrians to return to Afrin after the military operation is complete. Given current violence (not to mention the sentiments of the Kurdish residents of Afrin) this does seem a stretch, but might it provide a window into Turkish strategic thinking?   America’s endless war   The death of four US special forces soldiers in Niger last year continues to resonate in the US media. In a reconstruction of the soldiers’ final hours, The New York Times this week also told a broader story of the sprawl of US military intervention around the globe. Initially based on a narrow mandate after 9/11, US special forces are now engaged in an almost unlimited war. Previously unremarkable Niger is now the Department of Defence’s second largest deployment in Africa outside Djibouti. And that footprint will be larger still once a giant drone base in Agadez is completed. Joe Penny of the Intercept does a comprehensive dive into the issues, from the constitutional legality of the base, to the political economy of Agadez and, vividly, local opposition to the US presence. Also noting the potential for destabilisation, War on the Rocks warns that “terrorism is not a useful lens for understanding violence in the Sahel, nor is counterterrorism a proper policy response”. Indeed. And a new Rand report  sifts through historical data from around the world and concludes that US military assistance is “associated with increased state repression and incidence of civil war” rather than stability. If you need to know where to avoid, see IRIN’s map on foreign military bases in Africa.   Disaster insurance: dull but fast   Days after powerful Cyclone Gita barged across Tonga’s main island last week, a new disaster insurance scheme paid out more than $3.5 million to help the Pacific Island country’s recovery. The World Bank says it’s the first payment made by the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Insurance Company, which was set up in 2016 to support select countries in the disaster-prone Pacific Islands. Proponents say disaster insurance is an innovative solution for quickly dispatching funding where it’s needed, even if the concept itself may sound rather dull — as an IRIN op-ed pointed out during last year’s destructive Caribbean hurricane season.   Funding for disaster preparedness and response is a big issue in many Pacific Island countries, where resources are scarce and aid is often slowly filtered through the labyrinthine international system. But while disast[...]