IRIN's Top Picks: Deadly journeys, the drone papers and ethical aid dilemmas

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

Four to read:

Yes, rape is an issue for refugees in Europe

“This is a story that I think is absolutely not being told.” The constant threat of rape, sexual assault, harassment or exploitation means women refugees are facing a crisis within a crisis as they move through Europe. Yet this Buzzfeed investigation by Jina Moore finds that aid agencies are overwhelmingly failing to address this issue: “No organisation on the front lines… had deployed a single gender or women’s protection officer.” After interviews with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, the Red Cross, and other responders on the ground, as well as gathering testimony from victims and trafficking experts, Moore discovers there has been no real attempt to assess the scale of the problem – and more depressingly, many still refuse to acknowledge the gender risks inherent in the refugee journey at all.

Facing the fear factor


Aid workers were more afraid of going to Ebola-hit countries last year than into warzones, so how did the global humanitarian system deal with the deadliest ever outbreak of the virus? Not very well, according to this briefing from the Humanitarian Policy Group, which says crippling fear delayed the response of communities, governments and NGOs with serious long-term repercussions. Weak health services, poor infrastructure and a lack of disease surveillance systems in West Africa only exacerbated the problem, and meant everything from undertaking safe burials to the day-to-day running of Ebola treatment centres became critical challenges. “Fear itself is not the problem,” the authors say. “The problem is that aid organisations do not yet treat it as a pressing issue when planning and carrying out health responses.”

Deadly journeys

“The daily physical abuse faced by Rohingya who were trapped on boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea is almost too horrific to put into words.” Over the summer, multiple refugee crises unfolded across the world, and the plight of the Muslim Rohingya, a persecuted religious and ethnic minority from Myanmar, was finally brought to light. Now, as monsoon season in Southeast Asia ends, it’s feared many more will once again take to the boats. Amnesty International interviewed more than 100 refugees who reached Indonesia. We hear how those who never made it may have been killed or sold into forced labour, as well as about the survivors who were kept in hellish condition by human traffickers. The UN estimates that nearly 400 Rohingya lost their lives in the first months of this year. Amnesty insists the real figure is likely to be much higher.

The drone papers

“Drones are a tool, not a policy. The policy is assassination.” In a groundbreaking eight-part feature, The Intercept uses a series of secret documents, leaked to them by an unidentified source dubbed “the new Snowden,” to provide a comprehensive and critical look into the US administration’s secret drone programme across the Middle East and Africa. The cache reveals how American counterterrorism operations since 9/11 have taken an increasingly sinister turn. One bombshell: for every authorised target killed in a strike ordered by the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command, around six other people are also killed, deemed ”collateral damage”. By also labelling such deaths “enemy killed in action”, the US is able to obscure civilian casualties. As their source writes: "It's a very slick, efficient way to conduct the [drone] war, without having to have the massive ground invasion mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

One to listen to:

Africa’s new missionaries?

In a recent Global Thinkers podcast from Foreign Policy, host Seyward Darby is joined by visual artist Sam Hopkins and FP columnist Michela Wrong to discuss their experiences of working in the “NGO-ville” of Nairobi, Kenya, as well as the aid industry’s enduring, distorted perceptions of East Africa. Interested in the way humanitarians represent themselves, Hopkins talks of an ideology governing aid organisations that still “trade[s] off a stereotypical view of... Africa as a place of need” and how artists like him seek to expose this in order to produce a counternarrative. Wrong touches upon Eritrea’s rejection of aid and believes that in some instances, this has benefitted the country despite other ongoing civil rights problems: “They are in charge of their own destiny. They are running famine relief, they’re very efficient on the health front, on primary education…. and it’s just really refreshing when you see a government that isn’t playing this game.”

Coming up:

What does it take to be an ethical humanitarian?

Aid workers face tough ethical dilemmas every day while in the field. For example, when does working with an immoral regime or an armed group on the ground move from practical cooperation to being complicit in human rights violations? The launch of Humanitarian Ethics: A Guide to the Morality of Aid in War and Disaster by Hugo Slim, head of policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross, along with a panel discussion hosted by ALNAP, will explore the moral questions faced by humanitarians as they attempt to stay impartial while delivering relief to the most vulnerable populations. You can follow the discussion online via the live stream or on Twitter (#hum_ethics).

From IRIN:

Survival on Mount Sinjar

More than a year has passed since the world was transfixed by the flight of the Yazidi Kurds to Mount Sinjar to escape the clutches of so-called Islamic State. What has happened to them now? After being granted rare access to the 8,750 Yazidis who remain in the area, Sofia Barbarini produced this exlusive photo feature for IRIN that shows a bedraggled community struggling to get by in tattered tents as the cold season approaches. As the battle between IS, various militias, and coalition forces rages on in Sinjar City at the foot of the mountain, the Yazidis here seem focused only one thing: making it through the winter.

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