More migrant disasters, less help for Yemenis, and Cameroon’s brewing war

Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.

On our radar:

Migration: Boat disasters, offshoring, UN sanctions and more

No shortage of news on the migration beat. In Tunisia – which, if you haven’t noticed, is fast-becoming the latest North African hotspot for migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach Europe – the interior minister was sacked after a boat carrying an estimated 180 people capsized off the coast. At least 112 people are dead or missing in what is now the deadliest shipwreck this year in the Mediterranean. Off the Horn of Africa, another migrant boat disaster, this time on the perilous route to Yemen and the Gulf states from Somalia (covered in our recent photo feature on Djibouti), cost at least 60 lives. These tragedies hit the headlines (well, some headlines) as news emerged that EU countries, including Austria, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, are in advanced talks about setting up “holding camps” in a country that is “not particularly attractive” to migrants – think Albania and Macedonia – to process asylum seekers. Such outsourcing or offshoring of EU migration policy has been floated before. French President Emmanuel Macron backtracked last year after suggesting Libya was a safe country for returns and that processing camps should be set up there, as well as in Niger and Chad. Speaking of Libya, the UN Security Council slapped unprecedented sanctions this week on six human traffickers, including the head of a regional coast guard unit. We could continue. And we will, next week in fact, when we begin to roll out a two-month series that offers a 360-degree view of the effects that European policies (and deals with African countries) have on the lives of migrants.

It just got harder to help desperate Yemenis

It’s also been a rough week for people requiring assistance in Yemen. On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced it had pulled 71 of its staffers out of the country, saying in a strongly worded statement that its employees “are being intimidated by parties to the conflict”, and its work has been “blocked, threatened, and directly targeted in recent weeks.” The Norwegian Refugee Council, meanwhile, says one of its buildings in Sana’a was bombed on Tuesday, despite the aid group having provided the Saudi Arabian-led coalition with its coordinates to avoid just this sort of thing. Oh, and a World Food Programme ship was attacked last weekend after dropping off its cargo at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, where aid agencies continue to warn that a looming battle will have “catastrophic humanitarian impact”. Whodunnit? So far we’ve seen a fair bit of finger pointing, but not much clarity.

Blasts and ballots in Iraq

At least 18 people were killed and 90 wounded in a Baghdad explosion on Wednesday night, although government sources differ on what caused the blast, which has been chalked up to both the detonation of an arms cache and terrorism. Either way, the deaths happened in the mostly Shia neighbourhood of Sadr City, a stronghold of nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose parliamentary bloc won elections last month. About that vote… On Wednesday, parliament, citing allegations of widespread fraud, ordered a manual recount of all 11 million ballots and banned members of the country’s electoral commission from travelling abroad without permission. Stay tuned for Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod’s upcoming coverage from Iraq, where all is not what it seems.

First look: life inside the fight for independence in Cameroon

Two Cheat Sheets ago we highlighted an urgent plea for France to get involved and help avert a full-scale civil war in Cameroon. Since then, the conflict between government forces and anglophone separatists has intensified. Dozens of armed men who claimed to be separatists were reportedly killed by the Cameroonian armed forces at the end of May after they were surrounded in their makeshift headquarters in a hotel in Menka, a small town in the troubled Northwest Region. IRIN contributor Emmanuel Freudenthal recently became the first journalist to gain access to the separatists, spending a week with them at their secret camps deep in the bush. Next week, we’ll bring you his exclusive first-hand account, offering the first proper look from inside their struggle for independence – at the fighters, their motivations, and the impact on the lives of civilians.

Our weekend read:

Peace deal on the line in pivotal Colombia vote

On 17 June, Colombians head back to the polls for a presidential run-off that is shaping up as a referendum on the country’s divisive peace deal. Voters will choose between a former leftist guerrilla and a right-wing populist promising to overhaul a 2016 peace accord that ended to a half-century conflict between the state and FARC guerrillas. Frequent IRIN contributors Magnus Boding Hansen and Tomás Ayuso have been reporting from Colombia as election day nears. Their dispatch from Bogota, our weekend read, explores how the current favourite, Iván Duque of the right-wing Democratic Centre party, has tapped into frustrations with the 2016 peace deal. Former President Juan Manuel Santos rammed through the accord (with a few tweaks) even after it was shot down in an earlier referendum. “We want peace, but not without justice,” said one Duque supporter. The winner of the upcoming vote will take leadership of a country with pressing humanitarian concerns: more than 6.5 million people are displaced within Colombia’s borders, while hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have also surged in, fleeing an economy in meltdown.

That outflow of Venezuelans extends far beyond Colombia, by the way. The number of Venezuelans applying for asylum in the European Union has spiked: more than 2,300 people lodged asylum claims in EU countries in April, according to recent statistics – there were only 150 applicants in February 2016. It’s the first time Venezuela has appeared among the top five countries of origin for asylum applications in the EU, joining applicants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

And finally…

Emergency basics: Food, shelter, and education

Putting a child in front of a teacher might just save her life, just as much as food, water, or healthcare. But less than five percent of tracked emergency funding goes to education, and about two thirds of UN-led appeals for educational aid in emergencies go unfunded. That was the message this week from advocates arguing for more attention to education in emergency settings. Being in school can make a child better able to cope with stresses and risks today and make better choices in the future, according to a briefing paper issued for the donor-focused event in Geneva. While school might not be as literally “life-saving” as food or medicine, the argument for education as a category of “humanitarian” spending appears to have been won, but resources are slow to appear.

The EC’s humanitarian arm, ECHO is ramping up its spending (from 1 percent in 2015 to 8 percent in 2018), while Norway and Switzerland are leading advocates for the issue, too. The two donors called the event, along with UNICEF and Save the Children, on behalf of groups working together as the education “cluster”. There’s work to be done: in northeastern Nigeria, over 2,300 classrooms need to be built or fixed due to damage by Boko Haram extremists who are anti-“Western” education, according to local education administrator Shettima Bukar Kullima. The northeastern Nigerian state of Borno spends 26 percent of its budget on education, but Kullima said more help was needed — for things like training 21,000 teachers how to deal with psychosocial strains among pupils. Appeals for emergency education in West Africa are particularly poorly funded, at just 22 percent, even though education in the region is a “battle zone for ideology.”

(TOP PHOTO: IOM Yemen staff assist a migrant who survived drowning. CREDIT: IOM)

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