We were in the Petra camp, where 1,200 Yazidi asylum-seekers are living in truly shocking conditions. It was set up by the Greek government in April on the site of an old psychiatric hospital.
During the annual May to October monsoon season, Myanmar experiences low-level flooding, which creates favourable conditions for rice cultivation, Myanmar’s leading crop. However, in July 2015, heavier than normal downpours combined with the arrival of Cyclone Komen created unprecedented flash floods, general flooding, and landslides, a national disaster that affected 12 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions. An estimated 1.6 million people were displaced and more than 20 percent of Myanmar’s cultivated land was damaged.
In September, Refugees International returned to some of the hardest hit areas in Rakhine State, Sagaing Region, and Chin State to see how communities were recovering a year after the flooding.
More than one hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar in recent years. In May 2015, thousands were abandoned on boats on the Andaman Sea, after the discovery of mass graves in human trafficking camps along the Thailand-Malaysia border led to a crackdown on human traffickers. The primary desired destination for the Rohingya refugees has been Malaysia, where tens of thousands live unrecognized as refugees at risk of exploitation and in constant fear of detention. Their lives are generally better than in the home country they fled, but still far too vulnerable.
While anticipation of the Mosul offensive continues to build – along with concern about the consequent displacement that could overwhelm nearby areas – the reality is that Mosul’s military offensive and displacement crisis started some time ago. In the past several months, more than 100,000 people have fled the areas around Qayyara and Shirqat, two towns taken by Iraqi fighting forces as part of the military approach to Mosul itself.
At its height in mid-2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) controlled more than 40 percent of Iraq. Now, a counter-offensive by the Iraqi Army, pro-government militias, and allied nations has pushed ISIS out of many areas it once held. This has given a glimmer of hope to Iraq’s 3.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs): after years of exile, they have a chance to return home. Refugees International visited a town in Anbar province where returning families spoke about the challenges of rebuilding their homes, their lives, and their community.
Refugees International (RI) was just on the ground in Malaysia exploring conditions for several Rohingya communities who are among the tens of thousands who have fled persecution in Myanmar in recent years. Their journeys were often more horrific than the conditions from which they fled and their lives in Malaysia are only better in relative terms. The truth of this reality is starkly illuminated in the story of two sisters, Amina and Khadija.*
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, has never been an easy place to live. Stretching for miles and across arid land in Kenya’s underdeveloped northeast region, Dadaab is home to several hundred thousand refugees, primarily from Somalia, who are seeking refuge from war and hunger in their home country. Dadaab’s residents subside on monthly food rations, struggle to find work among limited opportunities, and face restrictive Kenyan policies that prevent the establishment of anything resembling permanent infrastructure.
Kisimayo, the capital of the southern-most province of Somalia, was recovered from the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization in 2012 by Kenyan and Somali troops. With the change of control, the local government is now actively trying to set up a functioning administration. Yet a mere 10 to 15 km from the city, areas are still under control of the same terrorist group from which many refugees fled in the past decade. My colleague Mark Yarnell and I recently visited Kisimayo to see how the Somali refugees returning from Kenya’s Dadaab camp are faring.
On May 6th, the Kenyan government announced plans to close the Dadaab refugee camp, home to several hundred thousand Somali refugees, by the end of this year. Since December 2014, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), supported by donor governments, has facilitated the return of 28,000 refugees from Dadaab to Somalia. However, with Kenya’s push to close Dadaab, the voluntary nature of the returns has been called into question.
On August 24, the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) came to a peace agreement after negotiations that lasted nearly five years. It is hoped that the peace deal will mark an end to some of the bloodshed from battles between the government, paramilitaries, and FARC guerrillas.
As President Obama welcomes Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to the United States this week and celebrates her country’s democratic reforms, Refugees International will be traveling to Southeast Asia to meet with a population that is not welcome in her country: the Rohingya.
In recent weeks, the crisis facing the people of South Sudan has only worsened. Throughout the county, 1.61 million people are internally displaced, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and another 751,000 people have escaped into neighboring countries, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, since conflict broke out in 2013.
Many are heralding this as an historic moment for the South American nation, host to more than seven million of its own displaced citizens, making it the second-largest internal displacement crisis in the world after Syria. If and when the Colombian people vote “yes” on peace, Colombia’s humanitarian stakeholders should not let their enthusiasm obscure the continued challenges the country will face – challenges that could imperil the peace agreement’s viability at any time.
The tragedy at the Terrain compound in Juba, as recently reported by the Associated Press, has shocked the humanitarian community and all those who care for the people of South Sudan. Over the course of more than four hours, armed men broke into the residential complex, killed a South Sudanese journalist employed by an aid organization, and beat and gang raped multiple foreign aid workers. Victims reportedly made multiple appeals for protection to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the US Embassy, but the peacekeepers failed to respond.
Driving across the parched landscape of Matabeleland North in western Zimbabwe, it’s hard to imagine that this country was once the breadbasket of Southern Africa. The annual rainy season ended in March, and this is supposed to be the most food secure time of the year, when granaries and stomachs are full. But Zimbabwe is in the grips of a second year of drought, exacerbated by El Niño, which has left an estimated 4.5 million people – nearly half of the rural population – without sufficient food.
Ongoing emergency evacuations of foreign citizens from South Sudan and President Obama’s decision to deploy 47 U.S. troops to protect the U.S. Embassy and staff are stark reminders of the potential for further escalation of violence in this conflict-ridden country. A fragile ceasefire has opened a window that the UN and other international actors must utilize to address the immediate fallout, act to protect civilians, and deliver much needed humanitarian aid.