Raqqa, Trump’s big decision, and the death of a Dadaab icon: The cheat sheet

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors looks ahead at what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

Au revoir Paris: Will he, won’t he?

Fresh from a first legislative victory (after the House of Representatives passed “Trumpcare”), US President Donald Trump has a potentially even more momentous and far-reaching decision to make: Should he honour his campaign promise to pull out of the Paris climate accord? The White House is split, but a final decision is expected as early as next week. While most of humankind, from global leaders to the world’s largest oil company, have urged him to stay in, it’s not quite that simple. As keen observers point out, Trump’s decision could hinge on whether staying in allows him to renege on most US commitments regardless. By this token, remaining could be as bad exiting, perhaps worse. Keep your eyes peeled for IRIN’s deeper dive into how this might play out.

Onwards to Raqqa?

Early this week, the US-backed Syrian Defense Forces – a coalition of mostly Kurdish fighters – said they’d taken the old quarter of Tabqa from so-called Islamic State. It’s a key win for the militia, who need to take the Syrian town (located on a strategic dam) before they head to Raqqa, the last major remaining stronghold IS has in Syria. But, as Aron Lund highlights in this piece for IRIN, Turkey’s ramped-up military involvement in northern Syria – targeted at Kurdish groups it considers terrorists (including the SDF and its main constituent, the YPG) – may throw a wrench in the long-planned campaign. It’s not yet clear when the battle for Raqqa proper will kick off, but civilians are already finding themselves uprooted in its wake. Nearly 56,000 people have been displaced from around Tabqa since the start of April, and last week UN relief chief Stephen O’Brien said four out of five people in the camps outside Raqqa city lack appropriate shelter. There are also reports of children dying due to a lack of medical care. Meanwhile, as IS loses territory it is lashing out elsewhere, killing a reported 38 at a checkpoint and refugee camp in northeast Syria on Tuesday. And while there has been some tentative progress at negotiations in Astana, IS is not part of the agreement. When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Trump mid-May, Raqqa will surely be high on the agenda.

Aid workers under attack in CAR

Violence continues unabated in Central African Republic. Now, four international aid agencies have suspended operations in the north due to attacks by armed groups. Reuters is reporting that Solidarités International, Intersos, Danish Church Aid, and Person in Need Relief Mission are withdrawing staff to Bangui. There have been 16 attacks on aid workers since March, most of them in the northern prefecture of Ouham, according to the UN emergency aid coordination office, OCHA. In the central prefecture of Ouaka, reprisal killings between two factions of the predominantly Muslim Séléka armed group have left at least 45 people dead and 11,000 displaced, according to Human Rights Watch. For more on one of the world’s most neglected humanitarian crises, read this powerful IRIN report.

Dangerous distractions in the Med

This week, representatives from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) charity appeared before an Italian parliamentary hearing investigating claims they and several other search-and-rescue NGOs have been “colluding” with smugglers in Libya. With summer fast approaching (peak season for migrant crossings), indications that conditions in Libya are worsening and that more migrants are risking their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean are being overshadowed by the scandal. In February, the director of EU border agency Frontex suggested search-and-rescue NGOs are a pull factor for migrants and aren’t cooperating sufficiently with law enforcement agencies. Last month, chief prosecutor of the Sicilian port of Catania Carmelo Zuccaro told La Stampa he had evidence NGOs, including MOAS, were in “direct contact” with smugglers. Zuccaro’s office has been investigating since February, but speaking before the parliamentary committee on Wednesday, he admitted he had no proof of phone calls between the aid groups and smugglers. Amnesty International has described such allegations as a distraction from EU policies aimed at intercepting migrants and refugees before they leave Libyan waters. The Italian government has been training and equipping the Libyan coast guard to patrol the coast and return migrants to detention centres in Libya, where conditions have been described by numerous observers as inhumane and rife with abuse. Between 1 January and the end of April, 37,000 migrants had been rescued and taken to Italy after setting off in smugglers’ boats from Libya, up from 27,000 during the same period last year. Despite the efforts of groups like MOAS, more than 1,000 have died trying, also up from last year.

Did you miss it?

Boko Haram: Is Nigeria winning the battle but losing the war?

Nigeria’s spectacularly grisly Boko Haram conflict now seems to be coming to an end. The momentum is finally with the military, and for the first time a post-war future is beginning to be imagined. Key to peace is what happens to the Boko Haram fighters now surrendering. The government wants to return “deradicalised” ex-combatants back to their communities. The problem is those communities don’t want them. In the first of a series of in-depth reports on violent extremism in West Africa, a partnership with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Africa editor Obi Anyadike travels to northeast Nigeria to explore issues of forgiveness and reconciliation. He finds a fractured and deeply traumatised society that has little trust in the government, with people prepared to kill to prevent the reintegration of ex-Boko Haram.

Hope must survive Somali minister’s slaying

On Wednesday evening, Somalia’s minister for reconstruction and public works, Abbas Abdullahi Sheikh Siraji, was shot dead near the presidential palace in Mogadishu by bodyguards of the auditor general. Aged just 31, he was the youngest government minister in the country’s history. The killing – it’s not yet clear whether it was a targeted assassination or an accident – prompted one of Siraji’s close friends, Moulid Hujale, to write a moving tribute in the Guardian in which he described Siraji as a “beacon of hope”. The two men grew up together in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex, from where Hujale, who now lives in London, cut his teeth as a journalist with first-hand reports for IRIN about the challenges of camp life and prolonged exile.

In remarks to IRIN, Hujale said Abbas “was an icon for Dadaab refugees, whom the world seems to have forgotten”, and noted that the Kenyan government wants to close the complex. “The fact that Abbas was killed by government soldiers makes it hard for Dadaab refugees to trust the Somali government, which had been persuading them to return to their home country, and that they will guarantee their protection,” said Hujale, who divides his time between a post-graduate journalism course and advocating for refugees. “As much as I am disappointed about his passing, I am sure my friend would never want me to stop and give up. I have to work hard and help revive the hope of the Somali youth by achieving what he stood for. He was our ambassador. I will not allow myself to be silenced by those who want to kill our future.”

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(TOP PHOTO: A displaced woman at Evalache camp in Central African Republic. Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN)

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