Top Picks: Brexit, Blue Nile, and a bogus app

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.

Five to read:

Brexit and aid to Africa

It’s not that Brookings was exceptionally quick on the Brexit bandwagon: this blog, looking at the potential implications for Africa, was written earlier in the week. It suggests that the main impact will be the end of “British outwardness” - the country’s “concern with and responsiveness to global development issues”. That reached its peak in 2005 with the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, where leaders agreed to double aid to Africa and eliminate outstanding debts of the poorest countries. In “independence day” Britain, ”Brexit may not be good news for aid recipients,” blog authors Mariama Sow and Amadou Sy forecast.

The UK is one of the biggest contributors to the European Development Fund, the EU’s development assistance arm, which provides funds to developing countries and regions. It currently contributes $585 million – making up 15 percent of contributions to the fund. Assuming current levels are maintained, direct disbursement of UK aid to recipient countries might now have a more narrow geographical reach than aid funnelled through the EDF. But the counter-argument from Brexiteers is that aid delivered by the EDF is inefficient, and would be better directly allocated by DFID, the UK government's foreign aid and development arm.

Brexit could also weaken trade ties between the UK and African nations. “The renegotiation of trade agreements can be a lengthy process, which could cause a decrease in trade volumes between the UK and Africa. Indeed, a Brexit would prompt the United Kingdom to renegotiate over 100 trade agreements,” write Sow and Sy. Within the European Union, the UK is one of Africa’s largest trade partners. But the share of UK trade in bilateral trade between the EU and Africa has recently declined. Brexit, followed by the annulment of trade agreements, could accentuate that decline. 


The migrant life-saving app that wasn’t

Hey, did you hear about that great app that sends satellite images of the Mediterranean to smartphone users so they can scour the waters for migrant vessels in trouble and save lives. Brilliant, eh? And what a catchy name: “I Sea”.

Sadly, as this damning exposé from Gawker’s Peter Yeo reveals, it was nothing more than an elaborate and morally bankrupt publicity stunt by Singapore-based Grey Digital. The advertising firm went to the trouble of cooperating with the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), even of employing technology that could feasibly have worked. But, instead of doing something useful, it chose to send those volunteering their time to help others a generic, carefully conjured image, and then demanding their personal details if they spotted something and wanted to flag it. What a shitty thing to do. Apple has belatedly removed the “award-winning” app from its store, and MOAS has issued a statement discontinuing its relationship with Grey Digital.

Identifying the migrant dead

This makes the previous entry even worse. In 2015, more than 3,770 refugees and migrants died at sea trying to reach Europe. Another 2,861 have already died in 2016. The majority of them have not been identified, leaving their families in a state of ambiguous loss, unable to fully grieve for their loved ones. A joint project by the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, the International Organization for Migration, and City University, London aims to shed light on the policy vacuum at EU and national levels on the issue. This briefing note summarises its initial findings based on research on the Greek island of Lesvos and in Sicily – both the sites of numerous deadly shipwrecks in recent years – and on interviews with relatives of missing migrants in Tunisia and among families from Syria and Iraq. The researchers found poor data management, a lack of coordination between different authorities, and a failure to carry out basic investigations that could aid identification. The few positive developments were mainly the result of civil society initiatives or the actions of individual public servants.

Syria’s shadow doctors

Occasionally hospital bombings in Syria make the headlines – more often they don’t – and as we’ve lamented at IRIN, there’s no mechanism or court to hold the perpetrators to account. Ben Taub’s account of medical workers gone underground in Syria, and the British surgeon who helps train them, is in the New Yorker this week and it's harrowing. Daring doctors do surgical consultations with colleagues abroad via text message. Skype is the medium of lessons for medical students dealing with wounds far beyond their training. Taub’s story tells of resilience (a hospital under siege running on fuel from animal waste) and unimaginable devastation. There are unflinching descriptions of what barrel bombs do to bodies – and the limits of medicine in the sort of conflict where a doctor is forced to say of a patient: “All you can hope is that they die quickly.”

Predicting and preventing war

Wars in Syria and the Ukraine, increased tensions and arms buildup in the South China Sea, painfully slow reactions to emergencies in South Sudan and Central African Republic: these are just some of the crises that have overwhelmed the international system. Caught up in responding to the symptoms – mass displacement and transnational terrorism – policymakers are failing to take steps to head off the next wave of conflicts. This report by the International Crisis Group urges global leaders to revive “preventative diplomacy”, and it provides a “strategic framework” to do just that. The authors argue: “If politicians, diplomats and international officials invest in key dimensions of early warning and early action – analysing conflict dynamics closely, building sensitive political relationships in troubled countries and undertaking complex ‘framework diplomacy’ with other powers to create political space for crisis management – they still have a chance to avert or mitigate looming conflicts and ease existing wars.”

One from IRIN:

Forgotten Conflicts: Blue Nile

There wasn’t much contest for what to flag this week. A team of journalists – Amanda Sperber, Ashley Hamer, Alex Pritz, Will Miller, and Ross Martin – produced an astonishing and important piece of journalism for IRIN, shedding light on one of the world’s most neglected crises: Blue Nile State in Sudan. The bare facts and statistics are shocking: 4,000 bombs in five years but no functioning medical clinics; most of the population choosing to live across the border in the throes of South Sudan’s civil war; 10 failed peace deals and no sign of any fresh talks. What really hit home, however, are the haunting images and harrowing personal accounts. While immersing yourself in this multimedia experience, which encompasses video footage, infographics, timelines, sketches, and interviews with rebel military and political commanders, look out in particular for the film of a man digging for roots to survive: that one will stay with you.

Coming up:

Urban refugees and education

Tuesday, 28 June – American University of Beirut

Go and join in the discussion as Elizabeth Buckner, affiliated scholar at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute, reveals the preliminary findings from her study into “Urban Refugee Access to Quality Education in Lebanon and Around the World”.

See here for more details.