Refugees post-Pittsburgh, Rohingya trauma, and Pacific island storms: The Cheat Sheet

Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar:

Peace overtures on Yemen

Yemen’s peace process, which has been going nowhere fast for quite some time, may have received a jump-start this week. First, US defence secretary James Mattis told an audience in Washington, DC that the warring sides were ready to come to the UN table and that he expected a ceasefire and talks to begin within 30 days. Then, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed suit with a statement on ending the war and starting talks (with wording that has been parsed again and again). UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed support; the UN’s envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he’s committed to getting negotiations going within a month. Then, seemingly every aid agency issued a statement of its own. Why now? Might it have something to do with talk of famine in Yemen, or perhaps the scandal enveloping Saudi Arabia around the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Check back with us for more.

Humanitarian makeover

"Traditional humanitarian response remains plagued by deep power imbalances, needless rivalries between organisations, and perverse institutional incentives" – not a big revelation to regular IRIN readers, perhaps, but a blunt report card anyway. It comes from think tank Centre for Global Development (CGD), which is starting a new research project, running until 2020, analysing why reforms to the international humanitarian system have fallen short and what might work better. Initial lines of enquiry, according to a posting by Jeremy Konyndyk, a former US donor official and now a senior fellow at CGD, include: more clarity on how donors make decisions, delinking the UN's role in policy-setting from operational response, and looking again at a way to better define needs and response based more on local perspectives. The project is looking at three broad areas: business models, governance, and field practice. Earlier this year, we heard from another research project along similar lines, this time from the UK-based think tank Overseas Development Institute. The lead researcher wrote at the time that they had identified strong opportunities for a better system, but: "Change is elusive. It’s not fully within our power; it’s political, and we have little influence..."

The starting point fits with the message of this year's World Disasters Report, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It cautions that the "system" that claims to be the international humanitarian apparatus, is selective, partial. The report, "Leaving No One Behind" argues that too many situations and people are falling through the cracks. For more, check out the IFRC secretary general’s commentary for IRIN.

Rohingya mental health: culture and context

Nearly one million Rohingya refugees swell the refugee camps of southern Bangladesh, and more than 100 aid groups are trying to help them. But there’s little information on how the refugees conceive of and process trauma, which makes it challenging for NGOs and Bangladesh’s government to offer effective mental health and psychosocial support. A new report by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, compiles existing research on Rohingya culture and concepts of mental health conditions. The guidelines caution that Rohingya interpretations of trauma are not always equivalent to the psychological concepts of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety. Understanding these “sociocultural aspects” of mental health, the guidelines advise, is crucial to “providing effective culturally informed services to the Rohingya”. We explored this issue in a recent story looking at what mental health professionals might learn from the network of traditional and religious healers in the Rohingya camps.

US synagogue shooter also hated refugees

The man accused of killing 11 people during services at a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday appears to have had a fixation with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (better known as HIAS), posting rants on social media like: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” Founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, these days HIAS helps resettle refugees of all religions, in partnership with the US government. Donations to the aid agency have reportedly poured in since the shooting, and HIAS says it is determined to continue its work. But staff in Philadelphia, who have helped 100 refugees start new lives in the US this year from places like Myanmar, Syria, and Iraq, say many new arrivals are shaken, both by the attack and the rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the country. As HIAS’s executive director in Pennsylvania, Cathryn Miller-Wilson, put it: “Our clients are hysterical, nervous, scared, and upset.”

The gulf between Somalia and Côte d’Ivoire

This week Somalia found its way to the bottom of the 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, an annual report ranking the best and worst functioning countries on the continent. It was preceded by South Sudan, then Libya. These three "worst-governed countries”, plagued by high levels of insecurity, civil strife, and lack of rule of law, are also humanitarian hot spots on the continent with, between them, more than 13 million people in need of humanitarian aid. On the flipside, Côte d’Ivoire, recovering from two civil wars in the last 15 years, showed the “greatest improvement” and was the only country to improve in all categories, placing it third behind only Mauritius and the Seychelles. Overall, however, the report noted that the number of internally displaced people across Africa rose from 10.2 million in 2009 to 14 million in 2017, while the number of refugees rose from 2.7 million in 2008 to 7.3 million in 2017. "The lost opportunity of the past decade is deeply concerning,” said the foundation’s chairman, Mo Ibrahim.

"Africa has a huge challenge ahead.”

Attack highlights acute unemployment in Tunisia

A suicide bomber injured nine people in Tunis on Monday, and the attacker – a 30-year-old female college graduate who had been jobless for three years – was not known to have extremist ties. The attack was a reminder that despite several years of relative peace, politically polarised Tunisia still faces security threats, but it has also put the spotlight on the country’s flagging economy – a third of graduates are unemployed. While many migrants and asylum seekers pass through Tunisia on their way to Europe or stay to look for work, an increasing number of Tunisian nationals are also chancing it on the Mediterranean: Tunisians are now the number one nationality arriving on Italy’s shores; 22 percent of the total. They are also dying at sea: a 23-year-old Tunisian man drowned in a shipwreck on 7 October, one of 1,783 people documented to have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.

In case you missed it:

CAMEROON: Security forces and separatist fighters have each blamed the other for the death of Charles Wesco, a US missionary killed in crossfire in the restive anglophone region this week. Hundreds of unarmed civilians have died and tens of thousands more have been forced from their homes since the conflict erupted in 2016. Read our two-part special report from inside the separatist ranks.

MARIANA ISLANDS: The damage is still being tallied from Typhoon Yutu, which destroyed hundreds of homes in the Northern Mariana Islands last week and caused at least 15 deaths when it barged across the northern Philippines this week.

SOUTH SUDAN: Two years after fleeing South Sudan, rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba on Wednesday to celebrate a peace deal with President Salva Kiir. But some have questioned whether last month’s agreement is holding, with the World Food Programme saying that violence in some areas is blocking food aid.

SYRIA: Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen has been officially named as the UN’s next envoy for Syria. Check out Aron Lund’s rundown of what Pedersen will be up against when he starts the job early next month.

TONGA: Still recovering from February’s Cyclone Gita, the Pacific Island nation of Tonga is warning residents to expect at least one severe cyclone during the peak November-to-April storm season, due to “climate variability brought about by global warming”.

Weekend read:

US policy ‘wall’ for Latin American asylum seekers

Central Americans and Mexicans are continuing to flee gang violence, repression, and poverty by heading north, but many are finding they can’t cross the border into the United States to claim asylum. Read Eric Reidy’s first instalment from the US-Mexico border, where he outlines “legally dubious practices” by US border officials. The US asylum system is being stretched to a “crisis point”, as the registration process is slowing down even as large numbers continue to arrive. The result is heavy build-up on the Mexican side, where hundreds of asylum seekers need basic services. US President Donald Trump has promised to greet thousands of northern-bound Central American migrants and asylum seekers with twice as many troops on the border. And while Trump’s move garners headlines around the globe, some 300,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo forced out of Angola back to their conflict-riven home region of Kasai receive a fraction of the coverage. They too fled violence at home and find themselves in a similar predicament. UNICEF expressed its concern for the children caught up in both crises, some 80,000 in DRC and an estimated 2,300 now making their way to the US border on foot.

And finally:

All Puerto Rico wants for Christmas ...

Tropical storms unleash destruction in moments, but recovery takes months and years. Last September, Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the Caribbean, causing dozens of deaths and extensive damage. More than a year later, places like Dominica are still rebuilding “from zero”. In Puerto Rico (where the death toll from Maria is widely disputed), residents of the US territory spent nearly a year in the dark – that’s how long it took for the shattered electricity system to be reconnected everywhere on the island. This week, the design podcast 99% Invisible dives into the story of a Puerto Rican utility worker, Jorge Bracero, who used social media to feed info to residents starving for news amid the blackout, and became something of a local folk hero in the process. Listen to the 33-minute episode to learn more about a one-man news outlet, why Puerto Rico may not be building back better, and a catchy Mariah Carey cover tune.

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