Myanmar denials, making peace in Yemen, and 2017: IRIN 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:

Making peace in Yemen

This week, at long last, Saudi Arabia admitted it had used British-made cluster bombs in Yemen and said it would stop doing so. British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was finally forced to cop up to it too. Their use wasn’t much of a surprise, nor is the fact that Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has reached catastrophic levels – we’ve been saying it ad infinitum.

Part of the reason Yemen is comparatively neglected is the complexity of the conflict – it’s not just Saudis v Houthis. Adam Baron at the European Council on Foreign Relations has a useful briefing on the state of play. He also has suggestions for the EU and its member states, including engaging with key actors on the ground that are currently excluded from the UN-led peace process. A bit of this is going on, with some efforts by European diplomats to understand the different dimensions of the conflict and reach out to key figures in the Southern Movement. Yes, peace feels far away in Yemen. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying for, and as Baron says, and we’ve long argued: “’One size fits all’ attempts to resolve Yemen’s myriad conflicts, particularly peace processes that only involve elites and are Sana’a-centric, are doomed to fail.”

Is Pakistan punishing refugees for Afghanistan’s friendship with India?

Pakistan has historically been a refuge for millions of Afghans who fled war over the past few decades. But the government pushed more than 500,000 refugees back over the border during the second half of 2016. This happened just as Afghanistan was forging closer relations with India, Pakistan’s archenemy. Coincidence? The author of this report from the Afghanistan Analysts Network thinks not. “Unhappiness at the flourishing India-Afghanistan friendship has translated into open hostility towards Afghan refugees,” it says. Pakistan has eased off its pressure on refugees for the time being, but it plans to start mass deportations in March if they don’t all leave by then. This is happening at the same time as Iran is also pushing Afghans back, while increasing conflict has displaced record numbers of people internally. For more on Afghanistan’s migration crisis, see our in-depth page.

How many mothers? How many others?

News on Thursday that 100 more people had drowned trying to cross a stormy Mediterranean in rubber dinghies brought the total number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean this year to 5,000 – the highest annual death toll ever recorded. But behind the grim figures are individuals with families back home who may not learn about the fate of their loved ones for weeks or months. Some will never know. In early 2015, journalist Eric Reidy was introduced to one such man, an Eritrean refugee called Yafet whose wife and young daughter had gone missing seven months earlier when the smuggler’s boat they boarded in Libya vanished without a trace somewhere in the Central Mediterranean. The Ghost Boat, as Reidy dubbed it, had 243 people on board, most of them Eritreans fleeing their country’s repressive government. Over the next 18 months, Reidy enlisted the help of thousands of readers to try to find out what had happened to the Ghost Boat’s passengers. They scoured satellite photos taken at the time of the boat’s departure, talked to smugglers, and visited mass graves where the bodies of unidentified migrants are buried. In this final instalment of the 10-part series, Reidy meets Yafet in Khartoum and has to break the news that the investigation has yielded no clear explanation of what happened to his wife and daughter.

One to listen to:

Is South Sudan on the brink of genocide?

The UN may be worried that it is. But it’s not doing anything about it. This NPR story features soundbites of Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, making a strong and graphic case this week as she tried to convince the Security Council to take action immediately. The UN says armed groups are mobilising as ethnic hate speech spreads, and more than 400,000 people have fled across the border into Uganda since July. “History is going to show what each of us did, where each of us stood when the sirens were blaring,” says Power. But it may be too late for proposed sanctions and an arms embargo to have any effect, Alan Boswell, an IRIN contributor who’s writing a book on South Sudan, tells NPR, adding: “There’s a lot of face-saving going on.” A new report by International Crisis Group does offer some suggestions. There is a window of relative stability at the moment; regional and international powers should pressure government and military forces to negotiate a political solution – before it’s too late.

One from IRIN:

In denial: Myanmar military abuse dossier grows

There are at least two sides to every tale, but the government’s version of military events in Myanmar’s Rakhine State beggars belief. The difficulty with disproving it is that access to journalists has been denied since armed clashes began in Maungdaw Township in October between militants and government security forces. So-called “clearance operations” began soon after, ostensibly a search for those involved in 9 October attacks on border police outposts. Unable to get into Maungdaw, IRIN Asia Editor Jared Ferrie did the next best thing: he travelled to the other side of the border in Bangladesh where tens of thousands of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims have fled. The stories elderly Rohingya, women, and children told Ferrie, of rape, shootings, and abuse are horrific. Added to a raft of evidence collected by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, the dossier of abuse becomes damning. Ferrie beseeched Aung San Suu Kyi’s government for a straight answer, but foreign ministry spokeswoman Aye Aye Soe insisted operations had been conducted “with very much restraint”. What about rape, ethnic cleansing? “Completely false”, apparently.

Coming up:

2017

Had enough of 2016 yet? To round off the last Top Picks of this most turbulent of years, we cast our gaze forward to explore what 2017 might bring. January will of course see one momentous change: the arrival of President Donald Trump in the White House. Further ahead, crucial elections in France and Germany may decide the future course of a Europe already reeling from Brexit. In the humanitarian sphere, conflict in South Sudan and Iraq’s Mosul loom large, while the growing food crisis in northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region, and the forced returns of more than half a million refugees to Afghanistan remain largely neglected and under the media radar. New and escalating unrest and insecurity will mean more displacement, even as the developed world seeks to deter refugees and outsource migration policies to the developing world. A Trump administration may also mean less funding to respond, although some are predicting that America’s foreign aid budget might not shrink even if US priorities do change. Meanwhile, we’re reading Trumpian talk of nuclear weapons and an arms’ race. Happy New Year everyone!

(TOP PHOTO: Is South Sudan on the brink of genocide? CREDIT: Albert González Farran/IRIN)

as-jf-ks/ag