We’ve scanned the humanitarian horizon and curated a reading list for the week ahead on the hot topics below:
Clock starts for Relief Chief Lowcock
He's done his homework and now it's show-time: After “listening sessions” with 200 staff, comparing notes with five predecessors, getting advice from dozens more, Mark Lowcock is taking over the UN's emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, today. In an email, Lowcock said he would lay out his vision to an all-staff meeting on 5 September, after which he would make some initial visits to field operations. Lowcock's email, obtained by IRIN, indicated that he would not significantly alter the internal changes currently underway. “I do not envisage re-opening them,” he wrote. But OCHA staff don't yet know exactly what those changes are. They do know there will be spending cuts of about $20 million, but how that will be achieved is yet to be announced. Lowcock confirmed the budget for 2018 would be $240 million, down from a request of $260 million in 2017. However, “many details” still have to be worked out, he wrote. He said he and his deputy would aim to provide “greater clarity”, and to “move faster” on key reform decisions. In his farewell letter to staff, Lowcock's predecessor Stephen O'Brien wrote: “the humanitarian eco-system is more challenged and in demand than ever”. He noted that humanitarian needs were a third larger than when he started in 2015, with 142 million people now in need. O'Brien's letter also said: “OCHA will now need to implement its own changes and fast.” Lowcock's clock has started.
Migrant stat is bittersweet
The International Organization for Migration announced this week that no migrants have drowned in the past 20 days while attempting to cross from Libya to Europe. That’s a good thing, right? Not so fast. The news comes hot on the heels of a report that Italy is paying militias involved in human trafficking to stop migrants from making it to the Mediterranean, potentially enriching and empowering traffickers and armed groups (often one and the same). The Italian Foreign Ministry has since denied the claims, saying: “Italy does not deal with traffickers”. But Libyan forces, including some on the coast, are keeping migrants in overcrowded detention centres in conditions Médecins Sans Frontières on Friday described as “neither humane nor dignified”. The EU’s Operation Sophia has been knocked for failing to get a handle on Libya’s migrant crisis. So what is the best policy solution? Stay tuned for a closer look from IRIN at what might, in all honesty, be a bunch of bad options.
Eight months into his administration, President Donald Trump still doesn’t have an assistant secretary for African affairs. To be fair, the administration had planned to nominate J. Peter Pham, an academic. But that got nobbled by Republican Senator James Inhofe over his pet issue: Western Sahara. Even if the senator backed off today, Pham could only be in place by Thanksgiving, at the earliest. The point this podcast from Foreign Policy makes is that, the issue of counter-terrorism aside, the continent gets no consideration by this White House. That means Trump is ceding decades of bi-partisan engagement, ignoring the strategic (including mercantile) importance of Africa’s youth bulge, and throwing away its soft power – eagerly picked up by China. There has been no articulation of a US policy by Trump. But in deeds we’re seeing an administration quibbling over peacekeeping, opposed to the Paris climate change treaty, and spouting a boorish mantra of America First that downplays issues of human rights and justice – music to the ears of Africa’s more repressive leaders. Another way to look at it is that Washington’s neglect is benign – or at least fortunate. After all, according to the reports, it was only the realisation of Afghanistan’s mining potential that got Trump to focus and make his long-awaited decision to stay. That’s the kind of engagement Africa does not need.
Are Islamist militants in the Philippines recruiting children?
As clashes between the Philippine army and Islamist militants in the city of Marawi stretch into a fourth consecutive month, aid groups fear the conflict could make children more vulnerable to becoming radicalised. Some 57 percent of the roughly 360,000 people displaced from Marawi are children or teenagers, according to UNICEF. “Children – especially adolescents – who suffer from profound stress may become more susceptible to recruitment and radicalisation by non-state armed groups,” the organisation stated in a recent report on the conflict. Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF’s representative in the Philippines, earlier expressed “deep concern” about the possible involvement of children in the conflict, “either as combatants, camp accessories, informants or as human shields against government forces”. The army claims that half of the remaining combatants in Marawi are children, according to media in the Philippines, while former militants have told reporters they were recruited as children. The army has said it will try to avoid harming child combatants. “But in the event that they are armed and are involved in the fighting, there’s nothing much that we can do,” an army spokesman told reporters in July. The siege began 23 May when Philippine armed forces launched a strike aimed at capturing Isnilon Hapilon, a member of the militant group Abu Sayyaf who the government believes is affiliated with the so-called Islamic State. During reporting for an upcoming article, Philippine army officials told IRIN they expect the city to return to normal in “September or October”; however, previous target dates have come and gone.
Harvey’s hidden deportation risk
“In terms of immediate life-saving, no individual human being should worry about their immigration status unless they've committed a crime.” So said the US Homeland Security advisor after several media outlets stated that immigration checkpoints would remain open during Hurricane Harvey evacuations and that shelters and recovery centres would be monitored by immigration agents, leaving undocumented immigrants to weigh safety from the floods against possible deportation. Such reassurances may have fallen on deaf ears, coming as they do as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency reportedly seeks permission to destroy records of its human rights abuses. That said, there have been some promising legal signs for those fighting to protect the right of immigrants in the United States. The federal court has just struck down measures to punish so-called sanctuary cities with law SB4, while those banned from entry early on in the Trump administration will now be allowed to reapply after a landmark legal settlement on Thursday. Keep an eye out next week for our look at the unprecedented mobilisation of pro bono immigration lawyers since that first executive order, as the battle against “Muslim ban 2.0” intensifies.