Falling Aleppo, finding Bana, and losing lakes: IRIN’s Top Picks

Every week, IRIN's team of editors curates a selection of humanitarian reports and opinion you may have missed, from in-depth analyses and features to academic studies and podcasts:

Finding Bana

It took death, destruction, and a fair bit of politicking to finally reach a deal that allowed for the evacuation of civilians and fighters from the last pocket of rebel-held Aleppo. It’s been incredibly difficult to verify what’s really going on inside the siege, and when a seven-year-old girl called Bana Alabed emerged on Twitter, talking about life under the bombs (in English) and quickly amassing 284,000 followers, many doubted her existence. Investigative specialists Bellingcat decided to dig into the evidence – photos, geolocations, internet access in eastern Aleppo. The open source data points to an account telling Bana’s story run by her mother, Fatemah (pretty much what Fatemah said all along). Authors Nick Waters and Timmi Allen sum it up best: “Putting aside political affiliations and partisan politics, it is impossible to reject the truth that there is a small girl called Bana suffering under the fear of death because of the conflict in Aleppo, an existence shared by many other children on all sides across this conflict.”

Europe’s not-really-deterrence policy

To coincide with this week’s European Council meeting, the EU released a video highlighting its achievements and claiming it had “regained control of illegal migration flows”. But data released this week by Eurostat tells a different story. While sea arrivals dropped to about 358,000 this year (with two weeks still to go) compared to just over one million in 2015, there were 950,000 new asylum seeker claims in EU member states, just between January and September. Back in September, a report by the Overseas Development Institute predicted the cost of deterring migrants from using well-known sea routes to Europe would be a steep increase in the number of migrants using covert routes we know little about. This recent update from ODI, drawing on the latest data, estimates that just under half a million people will have used covert routes to reach Europe by the end of 2016. It also notes that 2016 is on track to be the deadliest on record for those who have attempted to cross the Mediterranean. One in 47 people who boarded smugglers’ boats in Libya did not survive the journey to Italy. The bottom line, as ODI spells out, is that Europe’s restrictive policies have not deterred migrants and refugees, but pushed them to use different and often more dangerous routes.

Christians oppressed in Buddhist Myanmar

There are a few things in this report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom that may come as a surprise to some. For starters, people in Europe and North America are often under the impression that Buddhism is a more peaceful religion than most others – but they’ve probably never been to Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism is alive and well and has often fuelled violence against other religious minorities. Those who are aware of that dynamic may have read news stories about attacks by nationalist Buddhist mobs on Myanmar’s Muslim minority, but this report focuses instead on the plight of Christians – a religion not often associated with this overwhelmingly Buddhist country. Laws in Myanmar have entrenched Buddhism as the de facto state religion, and that has led to discrimination and even attacks against Christians who are mostly members of ethnic minority groups. Abuses include: “the forced relocation and destruction of Christian cemeteries, violent attacks on places of worship, and an ongoing campaign of coerced conversion to Buddhism”.  

The world’s disappearing lakes

In order to get a really visual and quite scary appreciation of how climate change and human activity are affecting our planet, look no further than this remarkable Guardian photo essay, which shows the dramatic shrinking of some of the most iconic water bodies. For more on the first one on their list, Lake Poopó, have a read of this week’s interesting feature on the drought in Bolivia by IRIN contributor Amy Booth.

One from IRIN:

The Fall of Aleppo

As 2016 comes to a close, a horrible year that featured far too many bombs, far too much hunger, and far too much suffering, the conflict in Syria again steals the headlines. While pro-Assad loyalists cheered what they called the “liberation” of eastern Aleppo, Western cable news relayed reports of extermination amid hasty comparisons to some of the worst human acts in history: Srebrenica, Rwanda, even the Holocaust. In this forensic report and analysis, IRIN contributor Aron Lund picks his way through the moral and political morass with expertise. He sees the pain on all sides, but finds it too early to play judge and jury: “With no outside monitoring of the situation or of the conduct of [President Bashar] al-Assad’s forces, there are great and legitimate concerns about the mistreatment of prisoners and vulnerable civilian populations. This gruesome chapter in Syria’s history is still being written.” When the dust has settled, justice, as IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod explored this week, will be hard to come by.

Coming up:

Calling all humanitarian managers

23 January – online

More and more people in need, but a growing funding gap: the crisis-ridden world of 2017 could badly do with the very best humanitarian managers. This online course, from the Open University and the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, aims to give in-country responders the management skills and humanitarian expertise they’ll need to be as effective as possible in frontline emergencies. Just four hours a week, for three weeks, and, best of all, it’s free: what’s to lose?

For more info or to sign up, click here.

(TOP PHOTO: Abdon Choque Flores looks out on what remains of the Desaguadero River​. Amy Booth/IRIN)

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