Top Picks: Damning reports, dodgy deals, and dangerous convoys

Welcome to IRIN's weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.

Inside the EU-Afghan deal to repatriate asylum seekers

At a major conference in Brussels this week, foreign governments agreed to provide Afghanistan with $15.2 billion in aid over the next four years – but not without some strings attached. The EU unveiled its migration agreement with Afghanistan, which effectively made aid contingent upon the return of Afghans who have fled war and economic ruin and made it to Europe but had their asylum applications denied. Unsurprisingly, the deal was not a popular one in Afghan political circles. In this article, the Afghanistan Analysts Network’s Jelena Bjelica explains what the agreement actually says, and gives us the inside view on the last-minute politicking in Kabul that made it possible.

Another damning report on UN peacekeepers in South Sudan

The Chinese and Ethiopian UN peacekeeping battalions disobeyed orders from the UN to intervene as South Sudanese government soldiers attacked a compound one kilometre away, killing a local journalist and beating and raping aid workers. That’s just one of the findings in this report from the Centre for Civilians in Conflict. It examines the role of peacekeepers in July, when fighting raged between government and opposition forces throughout the capital, Juba. While some peacekeepers helped civilians get to safety inside UN bases, the mission’s overall performance was abysmal. International troops stood by as women were raped outside their bases, some abandoned their posts, and almost none ventured outside the bases to protect civilians. But the report doesn’t lay all the blame on peacekeepers on the ground. Importantly, it notes: “many of [the mission’s] difficulties are compounded by the inadequate support it has received from the UN Security Council and UN leadership in New York”.

Beyond the Chilcot report

Sir John Chilcot’s damning report on how the British government went to war in Iraq based on a series of half-truths, distortions, and sometimes outright lies has been out since July. The executive summary alone is 150 pages long, and we'll wager a bet that very few people have read all 2.6 million words in the entire report. Fear not, Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the New York Review of Books has the answer – a short piece on the mistakes, poor preparations, and personalities that led to an invasion that left Iraq in a situation so desperate it’s anyone’s guess when the country will be able to crawl out. No, it’s not all Tony Blair’s fault in this account, but Wheatcroft does portray the former British PM as a mediocre politician who was out of his depth and made some seriously bad calls. Blair, however, seems to think he’s ready for a political revival, hinting in an interview with Esquire Magazine that he’s thinking of a return to frontline politics to save post-Brexit Britain.

Losing Libya’s money

Libya’s got plenty of chaos on the ground these days, but this piece from Bloomberg Businessweek takes you deep into the weird old days of the recent past; in 2008, when Muammar Gaddafi gave up his WMDs in exchange for sanctions relief, and his country began to once again do business with the West. This is also right around the time the leader famously pitched his tent on Donald Trump’s lawn. Libya put much of its oil money in the hands of Goldman Sachs, and it made some high risk investments that, when they didn’t pan out, post-Gaddafi officials claimed the Libyan bankers never really understood. The dispute is still in court, and this account takes you back into how it all went down, complete with two trips to the Lord of the Rings musical, plenty of sushi, and complex derivatives deals.

Early investment in refugee integration

During the height of the migration crisis in 2015, many European countries were operating in emergency mode – scrambling to provide new arrivals with shelter and other basic necessities. As the numbers have eased off in 2016, at least for northern Europe, attention has shifted to the thorny issue of integration, particularly on how to help refugees enter the job market. Most refugees are keen to starting supporting themselves as soon as possible, and countries like Germany, with ageing populations and skills shortages, can’t afford to miss out on their labour market potential. However, refugees have the greatest difficulty finding appropriate work compared to other types of migrants. This new report by the Migration Policy Institute makes the case for countries to invest earlier in labour market integration policies such as skills assessment and training, recognition of foreign qualifications, and supporting employers to hire refugees by offering incentives and cutting down on red tape.  

One from IRIN:

The problem with aid convoys

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Thursday, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura offered to personally escort rebel fighters out of eastern Aleppo if it meant it would help save an estimated 275,000 trapped civilians. This remark was more a symbolic political gesture than a realistic attempt to break through the deadlock. IRIN’s Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod and Head of Enterprise Projects Ben Parker took a look this week at another Syria issue cloaked in symbolism and politicisation: aid convoys. In the wake of the strike that killed at least 20 mostly Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers, they asked: “Are these convoys – carefully choreographed, breathlessly reported, and sometimes lifesaving – the best way to bring aid to a desperate population? A trawl through the data reveals that inter-agency convoys into hard-to-reach or besieged areas are less than 10 percent of aid shipped. Does this make convoys like the ill-fated Aleppo one largely symbolic? Are they, as one analyst put it, “feeding humanitarian blood, sweat and tears into the political machine”? Are there any viable alternatives? Discuss.

Coming up:

IRIN launch event – Geneva – Wednesday, 12 October

Next week, we will officially open the doors to our new headquarters in Geneva. After nearly 20 years as part of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, IRIN spun off in January 2015 to become an independent media organisation. In 2016, we were reborn as a Swiss-based association.

The event gathers ambassadors, senior UN and NGO representatives, IRIN’s newly established Board of Directors, and some of our journalists for a discussion of the role of the media in an era of unprecedented crises; a showcase of our newly launched investigative unit; and an exhibition of prints from our frontline photographers. Ambassador Valentin Zellweger, the Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations in Geneva; Olivier Coutau, the Delegate to International Geneva; and Yves Daccord, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, will be among the speakers. See the full programme and/or register for the webcast.

(TOP PHOTO: Afghans start their journey to Europe in trucks on this road in Afghanistan's Nimruz Province near the border of Iran. Credit: Jim Huylebroek/IRIN)

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