Top Picks: Art, barrel bombs, and coffee

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.

Four to read:

Weapons of the Syrian war

Defense One’s roundup of the weapons used in Syria’s war is exhaustive and terrifying. It explains when and where different types of arms (kalashnikovs, chlorine gas, you name it) were first used, and to what effect. This isn’t merely technical jargon. When the Syrian Air Force began using barrel bombs in 2012, “they proved fearsome weapons: a single barrel bomb has been known to bring down several buildings at once”. This report also covers UN resolutions (mostly drafted and rejected) that would have banned the weaponry at play. An editor’s note at the start perhaps says it best: the Syrian conflict is “a ghastly proving ground for what 21st-century militaries and militant groups can bring to war”.

Europe’s last chance to fix its refugee policy

Analysis of Europe’s so-called refugee crisis has tended to focus on how European leaders have mishandled the issue while offering little in the way of solutions. Philanthropist and activist George Soros, writing for Foreign Policy, points out that the refugee crisis was not a one-off event, but augurs “a period of higher migratory pressures for the foreseeable future” that demands a comprehensive policy rather than the current “piecemeal” response. Outlining what such an approach might look like, Soros argues for a commitment to resettle at least 300,000 refugees each year. It should not include deals with origin and transit countries that trade refugee rights for financial and political favours, he says, but it should involve real investments towards development in Africa and in improving conditions in frontline countries like Greece and Italy. In the longer term, says Soros, the EU will need a significantly bigger budget to build effective border and asylum agencies, improve reception conditions, and ensure fair asylum procedures and more opportunities for refugees to integrate.

Preparing for Mosul

After more than 80,000 people fled Fallujah in May and June, we attempted to get to the bottom of what proved to be a woefully inadequate humanitarian response. The Norwegian Refugee Council was one of the first NGOs to speak out about aid failures, and, in this report with the International Rescue Committee, it looks forward to the planned operation against so-called Islamic State in Mosul, where ten times more people are expected to flee. The groups discuss the need for safe routes out of conflict zones (this proved especially difficult to secure in Fallujah) and recommend that the UN and other agencies up their preparedness by pre-positioning the supplies that the displaced are sure to need. They should consider staffing up, too. This is an opportunity to learn the lessons of Fallujah and minimise the risks civilians face. This time around, the aid community must be ready.

Myanmar and China’s on-again-off-again relationship

In the latter days of Myanmar’s military junta, China was one of the few friends the ruling generals had. But it was a somewhat dysfunctional relationship. China once supported communist rebels that fought the Myanmar military, and ties to ethnic armed groups groups remain to this day. After mending fences, Myanmar became increasingly dependent on its overbearing neighbour, especially as Western countries imposed sanctions. In fact, Myanmar’s overdependence on China is believed to be one of the main reasons the ruling generals decided to open up the country and transition away from military rule. This report from the Transnational Institute examines the changing relationship between the two countries, and it contains some advice for China as it seeks to deepen economic ties with the new Myanmar: “Good projects that will benefit the local population will be welcomed: bad projects that ignore their priorities and vision for development will not.”

One to listen to:

Flipping the script

This week, NPR’s Invisibilia visits a Danish town that has been tackling radicalisation in a novel way. Instead of tossing young Danish men back from Syria (who may have just as easily fought with so-called Islamic State as volunteered in a refugee camp) in jail, they offer them coffee...and then mentors, then job help – whatever they need. The Aarhus model has been dubbed the “hug a terrorist” programme, but the two Danish police officers who started it all believe it is simply a practical solution for the problem their town had – young Muslims disappearing off to Syria. All of the young Danes who returned took the police up on the coffee offer, and so have hundreds more who were thinking of leaving. The police aren’t completely sure why the programme works, but it does. Psychologists reckon reacting warmly to hostility – what they call non-complementary behavior – brings about the unexpected.

One from IRIN:

One man’s terrorist is another man’s carpenter

What does a terrorist look like? IRIN Africa Editor Obi Anyadike asks this provocative question to open this fascinating look at disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration efforts in Somalia. There is no identikit formula of course, and that's why this is a complicated business. But as Anyadike peals back the layers, the real motivations of former al-Shabab members Mohammed Abdi and Mohammed Farah begin to reveal themselves. What becomes clear is that these aren’t starry-eyed fanatics, not any more. Both joined the Islamist extremist group believing to some extent in the ideology only to become seriously disillusioned, and, in Farah’s case, to end up fearing and fleeing for his life as a suspected spy. Could the key to defeating al-Shabab lie in exposing the hypocrisy that caused their disillusionment, in re-educating, retraining, and rehabilitating former fighters? It certainly wouldn’t hurt to try a little harder.

Coming up:

Using art to wage peace

Thursday 28 July – United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC

As illustrated by our recent story from Yemen, which featured Murad Subay and his mural “The Saw”, street art can be used to make an important political, cultural, or even economic point. Groups such as Afghanistan-based ArtLords and Awareness and Prevention Through Art, which works in the Middle East, aim to do exactly that. By turning blast walls into provocative murals, they are not only reclaiming the public space but also promoting discussion about the drivers of conflict. Street artists gathering at this event in Washington DC will discuss how such efforts can further promote peace. Click here to know more or to go along and join in the discussion.

(TOP PHOTO: Murad Subay's "The Saw" in Sana'a. Murad Subay/IRIN)

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