Francisca Vigaud-Walsh

Portfolio: Explosive economy of Venezuela causes refugee crisis

On a rainy Wednesday before Easter, hundreds of Venezuelan immigrants shuffled into the brick-walled patio of the Casa de Paso Divina Providencia in the Colombian border town of Villa del Rosario, sat at long wooden tables and waited patiently for to have lunch. A priest promulgated mass before dozens of church volunteers served steaming fountains of rice, lentils and sausages. The immigrants settled.


Many wore ragged clothes. His sunken cheeks and thin limbs suggested that this was his first decent meal in days. The children were barefoot. A man came in on his crutches, his right leg amputated below the knee. Another came pushing an old woman in a wheelchair.

(Read: Europe, Asia, Latin America and the United States will persecute corrupt Venezuelans)

These are the victims, often desperate, of the worst migration crisis in the recent history of Latin America. Some had arrived from Venezuela that morning, escaping from food shortages, hyperinflation, the collapse of the economy, diseases and violence.

Others had been in Colombia for days or weeks, looking for work, looking for food, sleeping in the streets and avoiding being deported.

While the eyes of the world have focused on the crisis of the Syrian refugees and the exodus of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, the humanitarian disaster in Venezuela has gone relatively unnoticed. But the large number of people who are now fleeing the country is changing that. The UNHCR says that 5,000 migrants leave every day; At that rate, 1.8 million people, more than 5% of the population of Venezuela, will leave this year.

It was not always like that. For decades, Venezuela was a net importer of people, attracting Europeans with lucrative oil jobs. A generation ago, it was the richest country in Latin America.

When Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, launching the socialist 'Bolivarian Revolution', some wealthy Venezuelans left, fearing Cuban-style communism. But the vast majority of Venezuelans stayed and many enjoyed the benefits of Chávez's oil-funded social programs. Only recently there has been a massive migration of Venezuelans driven by the collapse of the economy and the deterioration of the revolution, under the leadership of Maduro.

Many go west to Colombia, which, coming out of a long civil conflict of its own, is ill-equipped to receive them. Today there are more than 600,000 Venezuelans in Colombia, twice as many as a year ago.

While Colombia has been the country most affected by the Venezuelan exodus, it is far from being the only country that faces this challenge.

UNHCR says that 40,000 Venezuelan immigrants arrived in Peru in the first two months of this year. Thousands more have emigrated to Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, EE. UU and beyond. Boats carrying Venezuelan immigrants have docked on Caribbean islands. In January, one turned up in front of Curaçao, where at least four people died.

The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum abroad has skyrocketed by 2,000% since 2014. Brazil is another country that has received a large influx. In total, authorities and international organizations estimate that some 70,000 Venezuelans have fled south to Brazil.

The collapse of the Venezuelan health system has caused a resurgence of previously controlled diseases. The government no longer provides reliable medical data: when the health minister revealed last year that the number of cases of malaria had increased by 76% in one year, deaths related to pregnancy had increased by 66% and infant mortality had Uploaded 30%, was fired immediately.

A recent survey conducted by the opposition suggested that 79% of Venezuelan hospitals have little or no running water.

The British Medical Journal recently reported on an acute contraceptive shortage "that contributes to peaks in unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal and infant mortality and sexually transmitted diseases." HIV and AIDS rates have risen in Venezuela to levels not seen since the 1980s. Measles, eradicated in much of Latin America, have returned. Of the 730 cases confirmed in the region last year, all but three were in Venezuela. As people flee, they take the disease with them. In the first months of this year, there were 14 confirmed cases in Brazil and one in Colombia. The 15 victims were Venezuelan immigrants.

"People are running away because if they stay, they die," says Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution in Washington. "They are dying because they do not get enough food to eat; because they contract malaria and can not receive treatment

Financial Times: Venezuela’s imploding economy sparks refugee crisis

On a rainy Wednesday before Easter, hundreds of Venezuelan migrants shuffled into the brick-walled courtyard of the Divine Providence Shelter in the Colombian border town of Villa del Rosario, sat down at long, low wooden tables and waited patiently for lunch. A priest led mass before scores of church volunteers served up steaming bowls of rice, lentils and sausages. The migrants tucked in.

Many wore threadbare clothes. Their sunken cheeks and wiry limbs suggested this was the first decent meal in days. Children were barefoot. One man hobbled in on crutches, his right leg amputated below the knee. Another pushed an elderly woman in a wheelchair.

These are the weary, often desperate victims of the worst migration crisis in recent Latin American history. Some had arrived from Venezuela that morning, escaping food shortages, hyperinflation, a collapsing economy, disease and violence. Others had been in Colombia for days or weeks, looking for work, scavenging for food, sleeping in the streets and avoiding deportation.

While the eyes of the world have been on the Syrian refugee crisis and the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Venezuela’s humanitarian disaster has gone relatively unnoticed.

But the sheer number of people now fleeing the country is changing that. The UNHCR says 5,000 migrants are leaving every day: at that rate, 1.8m people, more than 5 per cent of Venezuela’s population, will depart this year. Venezuelans at a church-run dining facility in Cúcuta, Colombia

The Red Cross and the UN launched appeals last month and the US Agency for International Development made a first donation to what is likely to become a larger relief fund. The implosion of Venezuela, which has been building for some time, is becoming an international disaster.

“This crisis in Venezuela, which is now spilling into the broader region, is man-made,” says Mark Green, head of USAID. He blamed the “delusional and inhumane policies” of the leftwing government of President Nicolás Maduro, which “exacerbated an avoidable humanitarian crisis”.

It was not always like this. For decades, Venezuela was a net importer of people, luring Europeans with lucrative oil jobs. A generation ago, it was the wealthiest country in Latin America.

Refugees flee from Venezuela crisis When Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, launching the socialist “Bolivarian revolution”, some wealthy Venezuelans left, fearing Cuban-style communism. But the vast majority stayed and many enjoyed the benefits of Mr Chávez’s oil-financed social programmes. It is only recently, with Mr Maduro at the helm, the economy collapsing and the revolution unravelling, that Venezuelans have departed en masse.

“We are potentially facing the biggest refugee crisis in our hemisphere in modern history” says Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin America at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The crisis in numbers People queue outside a Caracas supermarket in November last year © AFP 13,000% Predicted rate of inflation in Venezuela this year, according to the IMF. The economy is expected to contract once again 66% Rise in pregnancy-related deaths in a year, according to the health minister Antonieta Caporole. Infant mortality also rose 30%. Ms Caporole was sacked after making this statement 79% Percentage of Venezuelan hospitals that have little or no running water, according to opposition-led research.

Many are heading west to Colombia which, emerging from a long civil conflict of its own, is ill-equipped to receive them. There are now more than 600,000 Venezuelans in Colombia, twice as many as a year ago. Thousands have poured over the footbridge that separates the Venezuelan town of San Antonio from the Colombian city of Cúcuta. Walk the streets of Cúcuta and you find Venezuelans everywhere, selling cigarettes at the traffic lights, working as prostitutes, sleeping rough. Recommended Analysis Reshaping geopolitics 2017 Venezuela debt: US, Russia and China play for high stakes “I spent my first week in Cúcuta selling arepas on the streets, then empanadas, then bottles of water — anything to make a bit of money,” says 27-year-old Yamileth Medina, who left Venezuela in July.

When her husband Alejandro and their four-year-old son followed her, they were robbed at gunpoint on their way to the frontier. Alejandro’s passport was stolen and he made it to Colombia only by pleading with border guards. The family is seeking refugee status and is waiting to hear if they will be deported back to Venezuela. “I can’t stand the idea of going back,” Ms Medina says. “I hate the idea of my son growing up in that environment.”

While Colombia has borne the brunt of the Venezuelan exodus it is far from alone. The UNHCR says 40,000 Venezuelan migrants arrived in Peru in the first two months of this year. Thousands more have emigrated to Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, the US and beyond. Boats carrying Venezuelan migrants have landed on islands in the Caribbean. In January, one capsized off Curaçao, killing at least four people. Venezuela map

The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum abroad has rocketed by 2,000 per cent since 2014. Brazil is another of the countries to have received a huge influx. In all, authorities and international organisations estimate some 70,000 Venezuelans have fled southwards to Brazil. “We are dying of hunger,” says Purificación Rivero, a 52-year-old woman from the Warao tribe who travelled 700km to Boa Vista in Brazil. “Three members of my family — a grandson, a son and an aunt — have already died of hunger. I blame the Venezuelan government, which is letting the poor die.” Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is expected to remain in power after the country's election on May 20.

The collapse of the Venezuelan health system has prompted a resurgence of long-vanquished diseases. The government no longer provides reliable medical data and when the health minister revealed last year that the number of malaria cases had jumped 76 per cent in a year, pregnancy-related deaths had risen 66 per cent and infant mortality had climbed 30 per cent, she was promptly sacked. A recent opposition-led survey suggested 79 per cent of Venezuelan hospitals have little or no running water. The days when the Chávez government prided itself on decent medical care for the poor are long gone.

The British Medical Journal recently reported an acute shortage of contraceptives, “contributing to spikes in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal and infant mortality and sexually transmitted diseases”. HIV and Aids rates have risen in Venezuela to levels not seen since the 1980s. Measles, eradicated in much of Latin America, has returned. Of the 730 confirmed cases in the region last year, all but three were in Venezuela. As people flee, they are taking the disease with them. In the first months of this year, there were 14 confirmed cases in Brazil and one in Colombia. All 15 victims were Venezuelan migrants. “The infant mortality rate is on a par with Pakistan and the poverty rate of 85 per cent in on a par with Haiti and sub-Saharan Africa,” says Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution in Washington. “People are fleeing because if they stay, they die. They die because they don’t get enough food to eat, they die because they get malaria and can’t get treatment, they die because they need dialysis and can’t get it.”

Those who survive and get out face formidable challenges once they cross the border. In Colombia, half the migrants are pouring into Norte de Santander, one of the country’s more lawless departments. While the Marxist guerrilla group, the Farc, has disarmed as part of the country’s historic peace process, two smaller groups, the ELN and the EPL, are fighting to the north of Cúcuta, and two criminal gangs, the Rastrojos and Urabeños, are tussling for control of smuggling routes to and from Venezuela.

Non-governmental organisations in Cúcuta say that out of desperation, many Venezuelan migrants are drifting into organised crime and Colombia’s cocaine trade. The irony of mass migration from Venezuela to Colombia is not lost on local residents. For decades, it was the other way around. During Colombia’s civil conflict, up to 4m people fled to then-stable-and-prosperous Venezuela. Now, many are coming back. José Domingo Sequeda left Colombia in 1979. Now 63 and living in the Venezuelan city of Valencia, he is considering selling up and returning to Colombia. “He doesn’t want to, because Venezuela has given him everything he has,” says his daughter Yurelys, who left Venezuela in January and now lives in Cúcuta.

“But the situation there has become unbearable.” Venezuela health As the number of migrants soars, tension with local populations are rising, particularly in northern Brazil where the border towns are too small to absorb large numbers of new arrivals. There are now an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans in Boa Vista, Roraima’s state capital — 10 per cent of the city’s population. “This is the first time we have such a flux of people at the border caused by a political crisis in a neighbouring country,” says Doriedson Silva, co-ordinator of civil defence for the state of Roraima. In Caracas, where the military oversees food distribution, people queue to buy meat © AFP In the nearby town of Mucajaí, two Venezuelans killed a Brazilian during a bar brawl last month, officials say, prompting local residents to burn down a building housing migrants. “Some say we’re a plague, nothing but dirty pigs,” says Richard Gil, a 51-year-old Venezuelan who arrived in Brazil a month ago. “But we’re decent families and we’re all paying the price.” In Colombia too, animosity towards Venezuelans is growing and in February the government tightened border controls. But the frontier is 2,200km long — the distance from London to Athens — and is almost impossible to police properly. “The tightening of the border won’t keep people in Venezuela,” says Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, a senior advocate at Refugees International in Washington. “It will just drive up criminality, smuggling and trafficking, including sex trafficking.” It is difficult to see what might change in Venezuela to stem the exodus.

The economy has contracted 40 per cent in five years and is forecast to shrink further still. The IMF expects inflation to hit 13,000 per cent this year. There is a presidential election on May 20 but there seems little doubt that Mr Maduro will ensure he wins. He refuses to allow humanitarian aid into the country, meaning its citizens will keep leaving. Venezuelan asylum seekers Faced with that reality, international aid organisations are focusing their efforts outside Venezuela. USAID pledged $18.5m to help migrants in Colombia and the UNHCR has appealed for an initial $46m.

The Red Cross has called for SFr2.2m ($2.3m) to help 120,000 Venezuelans in Colombia. But such figures are minuscule set against the scale of the problem. Brookings estimates the cost of caring for Venezuela’s migrants at between $2.8bn and $5.2bn — money which has yet to be raised. In the meantime, the job is falling to local charities, NGOs and the Catholic Church.

At the Divine Providence Shelter, the bishop of Cúcuta, Víctor Manuel Ochoa, glides around the courtyard in his white soutane and scarlet zucchetto, comforting hungry migrants. The situation is much worse than a year ago when the lunches started. “Firstly, the number of people arriving has jumped, secondly they’re travelling further and further to get here from the Venezuelan interior and thirdly their needs are greater. They’re more desperate. “We give them what we can, with love and affection, but we simply can’t feed everyone.”

This originally appeared here

Financial Times: Venezuela’s imploding economy sparks refugee crisis

On a rainy Wednesday before Easter, hundreds of Venezuelan migrants shuffled into the brick-walled courtyard of the Divine Providence Shelter in the Colombian border town of Villa del Rosario, sat down at long, low wooden tables and waited patiently for lunch. A priest led mass before scores of church volunteers served up steaming bowls of rice, lentils and sausages. The migrants tucked in.

Many wore threadbare clothes. Their sunken cheeks and wiry limbs suggested this was the first decent meal in days. Children were barefoot. One man hobbled in on crutches, his right leg amputated below the knee. Another pushed an elderly woman in a wheelchair.

These are the weary, often desperate victims of the worst migration crisis in recent Latin American history. Some had arrived from Venezuela that morning, escaping food shortages, hyperinflation, a collapsing economy, disease and violence. Others had been in Colombia for days or weeks, looking for work, scavenging for food, sleeping in the streets and avoiding deportation.

While the eyes of the world have been on the Syrian refugee crisis and the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Venezuela’s humanitarian disaster has gone relatively unnoticed.

But the sheer number of people now fleeing the country is changing that. The UNHCR says 5,000 migrants are leaving every day: at that rate, 1.8m people, more than 5 per cent of Venezuela’s population, will depart this year.

The Red Cross and the UN launched appeals last month and the US Agency for International Development made a first donation to what is likely to become a larger relief fund. The implosion of Venezuela, which has been building for some time, is becoming an international disaster.

“This crisis in Venezuela, which is now spilling into the broader region, is man-made,” says Mark Green, head of USAID. He blamed the “delusional and inhumane policies” of the leftwing government of President Nicolás Maduro, which “exacerbated an avoidable humanitarian crisis”.

It was not always like this. For decades, Venezuela was a net importer of people, luring Europeans with lucrative oil jobs. A generation ago, it was the wealthiest country in Latin America.

When Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, launching the socialist “Bolivarian revolution”, some wealthy Venezuelans left, fearing Cuban-style communism. But the vast majority stayed and many enjoyed the benefits of Mr Chávez’s oil-financed social programmes. It is only recently, with Mr Maduro at the helm, the economy collapsing and the revolution unravelling, that Venezuelans have departed en masse.

“We are potentially facing the biggest refugee crisis in our hemisphere in modern history” says Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin America at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Many are heading west to Colombia which, emerging from a long civil conflict of its own, is ill-equipped to receive them. There are now more than 600,000 Venezuelans in Colombia, twice as many as a year ago. Thousands have poured over the footbridge that separates the Venezuelan town of San Antonio from the Colombian city of Cúcuta. Walk the streets of Cúcuta and you find Venezuelans everywhere, selling cigarettes at the traffic lights, working as prostitutes, sleeping rough.

“I spent my first week in Cúcuta selling arepas on the streets, then empanadas, then bottles of water — anything to make a bit of money,” says 27-year-old Yamileth Medina, who left Venezuela in July. When her husband Alejandro and their four-year-old son followed her, they were robbed at gunpoint on their way to the frontier. Alejandro’s passport was stolen and he made it to Colombia only by pleading with border guards. The family is seeking refugee status and is waiting to hear if they will be deported back to Venezuela. “I can’t stand the idea of going back,” Ms Medina says. “I hate the idea of my son growing up in that environment.”

While Colombia has borne the brunt of the Venezuelan exodus it is far from alone. The UNHCR says 40,000 Venezuelan migrants arrived in Peru in the first two months of this year. Thousands more have emigrated to Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, the US and beyond. Boats carrying Venezuelan migrants have landed on islands in the Caribbean. In January, one capsized off Curaçao, killing at least four people. 

The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum abroad has rocketed by 2,000 per cent since 2014. Brazil is another of the countries to have received a huge influx. In all, authorities and international organisations estimate some 70,000 Venezuelans have fled southwards to Brazil.

“We are dying of hunger,” says Purificación Rivero, a 52-year-old woman from the Warao tribe who travelled 700km to Boa Vista in Brazil. “Three members of my family — a grandson, a son and an aunt — have already died of hunger. I blame the Venezuelan government, which is letting the poor die.”

The collapse of the Venezuelan health system has prompted a resurgence of long-vanquished diseases. The government no longer provides reliable medical data and when the health minister revealed last year that the number of malaria cases had jumped 76 per cent in a year, pregnancy-related deaths had risen 66 per cent and infant mortality had climbed 30 per cent, she was promptly sacked. A recent opposition-led survey suggested 79 per cent of Venezuelan hospitals have little or no running water. The days when the Chávez government prided itself on decent medical care for the poor are long gone.

The British Medical Journal recently reported an acute shortage of contraceptives, “contributing to spikes in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal and infant mortality and sexually transmitted diseases”. HIV and Aids rates have risen in Venezuela to levels not seen since the 1980s.

Measles, eradicated in much of Latin America, has returned. Of the 730 confirmed cases in the region last year, all but three were in Venezuela. As people flee, they are taking the disease with them. In the first months of this year, there were 14 confirmed cases in Brazil and one in Colombia. All 15 victims were Venezuelan migrants.

“The infant mortality rate is on a par with Pakistan and the poverty rate of 85 per cent in on a par with Haiti and sub-Saharan Africa,” says Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution in Washington. “People are fleeing because if they stay, they die. They die because they don’t get enough food to eat, they die because they get malaria and can’t get treatment, they die because they need dialysis and can’t get it.”

Those who survive and get out face formidable challenges once they cross the border. In Colombia, half the migrants are pouring into Norte de Santander, one of the country’s more lawless departments. While the Marxist guerrilla group, the Farc, has disarmed as part of the country’s historic peace process, two smaller groups, the ELN and the EPL, are fighting to the north of Cúcuta, and two criminal gangs, the Rastrojos and Urabeños, are tussling for control of smuggling routes to and from Venezuela. Non-governmental organisations in Cúcuta say that out of desperation, many Venezuelan migrants are drifting into organised crime and Colombia’s cocaine trade.


The irony of mass migration from Venezuela to Colombia is not lost on local residents. For decades, it was the other way around. During Colombia’s civil conflict, up to 4m people fled to then-stable-and-prosperous Venezuela. Now, many are coming back. José Domingo Sequeda left Colombia in 1979. Now 63 and living in the Venezuelan city of Valencia, he is considering selling up and returning to Colombia. “He doesn’t want to, because Venezuela has given him everything he has,” says his daughter Yurelys, who left Venezuela in January and now lives in Cúcuta. “But the situation there has become unbearable.”

As the number of migrants soars, tension with local populations are rising, particularly in northern Brazil where the border towns are too small to absorb large numbers of new arrivals. There are now an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans in Boa Vista, Roraima’s state capital — 10 per cent of the city’s population. “This is the first time we have such a flux of people at the border caused by a political crisis in a neighbouring country,” says Doriedson Silva, co-ordinator of civil defence for the state of Roraima.

In the nearby town of Mucajaí, two Venezuelans killed a Brazilian during a bar brawl last month, officials say, prompting local residents to burn down a building housing migrants. “Some say we’re a plague, nothing but dirty pigs,” says Richard Gil, a 51-year-old Venezuelan who arrived in Brazil a month ago. “But we’re decent families and we’re all paying the price.”

In Colombia too, animosity towards Venezuelans is growing and in February the government tightened border controls. But the frontier is 2,200km long — the distance from London to Athens — and is almost impossible to police properly. “The tightening of the border won’t keep people in Venezuela,” says Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, a senior advocate at Refugees International in Washington. “It will just drive up criminality, smuggling and trafficking, including sex trafficking.”

It is difficult to see what might change in Venezuela to stem the exodus. The economy has contracted 40 per cent in five years and is forecast to shrink further still. The IMF expects inflation to hit 13,000 per cent this year. There is a presidential election on May 20 but there seems little doubt that Mr Maduro will ensure he wins. He refuses to allow humanitarian aid into the country, meaning its citizens will keep leaving.

Faced with that reality, international aid organisations are focusing their efforts outside Venezuela. USAID pledged $18.5m to help migrants in Colombia and the UNHCR has appealed for an initial $46m. The Red Cross has called for SFr2.2m ($2.3m) to help 120,000 Venezuelans in Colombia. But such figures are minuscule set against the scale of the problem. Brookings estimates the cost of caring for Venezuela’s migrants at between $2.8bn and $5.2bn — money which has yet to be raised.

In the meantime, the job is falling to local charities, NGOs and the Catholic Church. At the Divine Providence Shelter, the bishop of Cúcuta, Víctor Manuel Ochoa, glides around the courtyard in his white soutane and scarlet zucchetto, comforting hungry migrants. The situation is much worse than a year ago when the lunches started. “Firstly, the number of people arriving has jumped, secondly they’re travelling further and further to get here from the Venezuelan interior and thirdly their needs are greater. They’re more desperate.

“We give them what we can, with love and affection, but we simply can’t feed everyone.”

This piece originally appeared here

The Dialogue: Venezuela’s Migration Crisis

On April 2, the Inter-American Dialogue in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) hosted an event titled “Venezuela’s Migration Crisis.” This discussion, which was moderated by Michael Camilleri, featured panelists Shannon O’Neil from CFR, Francisca Vigaud-Walsh from Refugees International, and Dany Bahar from the Brookings Institution. This conversation explored the current status of the migration crisis, the US and international community’s response, and the challenges going forward.

As presented in various news reports, Venezuela’s economic, social, and democratic deterioration is producing a massive outflow of migrants leaving the country. The problem has become regional as receiving countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador are trying to figure out how to respond. Many experts have argued that the regional response has been piecemeal and fragmented with little international support, no mechanisms for burden sharing, and limited resources to cope overall.

The United States has few tools to change the course of Maduro’s regime, according to O’Neil. The government has been imposing sanctions on the government’s assets and allies with other countries following the lead. But, she argues, sanctions are only effective when asking for a change in behavior not a change in regime – the Trump administration has made clear that it wants the latter. “Sanctions are a blunt tool that takes a long time to take any effect. The international community should focus on more effective ways to tackle the humanitarian crisis.”

To further complicate the matter, both O’Neil and Vigaud-Walsh argued that the international community is not giving the crisis the attention it deserves. Unlike previous refugee crises, Venezuela’s is not happening under the context of a war. But the humanitarian crisis is so dire that it demands an international response. Even when the international community has responded, it has been slow, weak, and atypical in comparison to other cases. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) has mostly engaged the crisis through internal advocacy and fundraising with global partners. According to Vigaud-Walsh, “UNHCR estimates that an additional 1.7 million Venezuelans will become refugees in 2018. The international community has provided $46 million in aid with only $2.5 million coming from the United States.” This, coupled with the fact that most governments in the region have tight budgets for humanitarian aid, leaves a very protracted, uncoordinated response.

Besides the limited resources for a regional response, the panelists were concerned about the leadership vacuum in the region due to the resignation of Peruvian president Pablo Kuczynski, who congregated the Lima Group, and the upcoming elections in various Latin American countries. There is uncertainty about whether incoming leadership in key countries such as Mexico, Colombia, or Brazil will speak up about the humanitarian crisis.

Bahar highlighted some of the costs of the refugee crisis. Based on his estimates, the costs of hosting refugees ranges from $2.8 to $5.2 billion. This is based on the cost of hosting one refugee per year based on Germany and France’s estimates for Syrian refugees.

There are a few challenges that should be acknowledged. First, the Maduro regime has made it extremely difficult for humanitarian aid and assistance to reach its intended recipients. Bahar and other experts have argued that aid is being used as a political tool. Second, refugees that fled to Venezuela during the Colombian civil war remain in regions outside government control. Third, countries experiencing refugee inflows could see their politics impacted, especially in the midst of a region-wide electoral season. The ongoing developments may dictate whether foreign policy gains a space in the regional dialogue. 

Looking ahead, the panelists agreed that host countries must recognize the expertise and capabilities of UN refugee agencies and NGOs to coordinate and manage the crisis. The lack of a coordinated regional response may be perpetuating the current situation. Looking forward, the European refugee crisis may serve as a case study on how Venezuela’s neighbors should react.

This piece originally appeared here

Council on Foreign Relations: Venezuela’s Migration Crisis

Yesterday I joined Dany Bahar, David M. Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, Senior Advocate for Women and Girls at Refugees International, at the Inter-American Dialogue for an event co-sponsored with CFR's Center for Preventive Action on Venezuela's migration crisis. You can watch our discussion of the increasingly dire situation and potential roles the United States, regional governments, other donor countries, and multilateral bodies can and should take here

This piece originally appeared here

IRIN: For victims of the Ituri conflict’s sexual violence, aid is scarce*

Around 8pm one January night, the bullets started flying through the village of Blukwa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Province. It was just one incident in a wave of violence that has flared up in the region in recent months, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee.

As with conflicts elsewhere in Congo, rape and other forms of sexual violence feature prominently in the Ituri attacks, in which hundreds of people have been killed.

But for many women and girls who have fled to Uganda, care for their physical and psychological wounds is hard to come by – even when they are willing to seek it out, overlooking the stigma often attached to victims of sexual violence.

Support includes identifying survivors; providing access to psychosocial, medical, and legal services; training health workers in clinical management of rape; and supplying post-rape kits to health facilities.

As Dismas Nkunda, the executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, noted, Uganda is known for its “robust” refugee regime, one that now accommodates around 1.4 million people who have fled neighbouring countries.

“Providing appropriate support for survivors of rape is mandatory for any refugee protection regime anywhere in the world, so there should be no excuse whatsoever for failure to support these victims,” he said.

Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International, said the reasons for the unmet needs are clear. “It is unsurprising that there is a limited number of services for rape survivors arriving from Ituri into Uganda,” she said. “The humanitarian response in Uganda is woefully underfunded, and limited resources are now being diverted to the cholera response,” she said.

Rape: One survivor’s story

Speaking recently from Kyangwali, a sprawling Ugandan settlement for refugees, one  former resident of Blukwa recalled the January night she fled. The woman, who did not want to use her name, said she and her husband heard shooting and he went to investigate. “We should run to save our lives,” he told her as he returned to the house. “He grabbed our son and ran with him,” she recalled. “I tried to follow, but I lost touch. It was dark.

“I couldn’t call them, so I decided to go my separate way to hide. While I was in the bush, I heard and saw two people coming towards my direction. They had guns; I knew I was dead.

“I tried to plead with them to spare me. They couldn’t listen. They undressed and raped me. One covered my mouth while the other raped me. After he finished, his colleague came and did the same. They raped me without any mercy. They threatened to kill me if I ever shouted.

“After raping me, they left. I remained in the bush with a lot of pain. When I returned back home in the morning I thought I would find my husband and son… They were no more. They had been killed the same night I was terribly raped.”

Exhausted and hungry, she said she managed the two-day walk to the shores of Lake Albert and boarded a boat to Uganda, where some 50,000 people from Ituri have sought refuge this year.

According to an official at a Ugandan reception centre cited by the aid agency CARE last month, nine out of every 10 women arriving  arriving from Congo – most of whom had travelled from North Kivu Province, with some coming from adjacent Ituri had been raped, sometimes more than once, and sometimes by gangs – both inside Congo and as they fled to Uganda.

“All these women who make it here were victims of rape and other forms of gender based violence,” said the unnamed official.

Addressing the gap in aid for victims of sexual violence, Vigaud-Walsh said: “In part, Uganda and its humanitarian partners simply cannot keep up with the unrelenting number of refugees that continue to stream in from the DRC and South Sudan, not to mention Burundians that have fled persecution into Uganda. The OPM (Office of the Prime Minister) scandal, with regards to refugee registration and exploitation, has not been helpful either – it has shaken the will and trust of international donors.”

“Nonetheless, international donors must recognise that joint [UN refugee agency] – OPM efforts are underway to redress these failures,” she added. “The reduction in humanitarian dollars to Uganda will only serve to punish refugees. More financing is needed, in particular to allow for services for rape survivors to be prioritised for women and girls arriving from Ituri, DRC, as [for] those who continue to arrive from South Sudan.”

The stigma of survival

Alain Sibenaler, the Uganda country representative of the UN Population Fund, which works in partnership with CARE in assisting survivors of sexual violence in Kyangwali, said: “It is not easy estimating the magnitude of the problem because the majority of the cases go unreported, given the shame associated with rape.”

The suffering of survivors extends beyond the crime itself, noted CARE Country Director Delphine Pinault. “Despite the prevalence of rape and other forms of sexual violence, at the community level stigma surrounding being a survivor still persists, including being ridiculed, rejected, and isolated as a result of the shame,” she said.

CARE is setting up centres in Kyangwali to provide counselling and group activities to survivors of gender-based violence.

“Through a set of activities that brings women together in a rather relaxed fashion, they will be supported to tell their stories and process the past,” Pinault said.

Under-resourced response

She added that there were too few professional counsellors and specialists for traumatised children to allow survivors to speak in their own language.

As previously reported by IRIN, a cholera outbreak among new arrivals in Uganda has reduced the funding and resources needed to respond to cases of gender-based violence.

And as a 17-year-old from the Ituri village of Lewi explained, individual needs are great.

“I am traumatised,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “I am physically, emotionally, and psychologically affected. I can’t forget the terrible experience. Why did they have to rape me like that? It was so painful and terrifying.”

Primary healthcare facilities in the 17 villages that make up Kyangwali are very few in number and poorly supplied. The nearest referral hospital is 80 kilometres away. At the national level, Uganda languishes near the bottom of global healthcare league tables.

These shortcomings are all too evident for the survivor from Blukwa, who lost her husband and son. She says she is now incontinent, suffers pains in her abdomen, and that a whitish liquid is secreted from her genital area.

“I was referred to the health facility for checkups and treatment,” she said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get proper medical treatment. I was given some drugs that didn’t help.”

“I am alone and traumatised. How can I live without my husband and son? It could have been better if I was killed with them,” she said.

*This story was amended on 27 April to clarify that the Ugandan official at a reception centre was referring to Congolese women who had arrived from other parts of Congo, for the most part North Kivu Province, and not only Ituri, when he said that nine out of ten of them had been raped during their journeys.

This piece originally appeared here

 

IRIN: For victims of the Ituri conflict’s sexual violence, aid is scarce

Around 8pm one January night, the bullets started flying through the village of Blukwa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Province. It was just one incident in a wave of violence that has flared up in the region in recent months, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee.

As with conflicts elsewhere in Congo, rape and other forms of sexual violence feature prominently in the Ituri attacks, in which hundreds of people have been killed.

But for many women and girls who have fled to Uganda, care for their physical and psychological wounds is hard to come by – even when they are willing to seek it out, overlooking the stigma often attached to victims of sexual violence.

Support includes identifying survivors; providing access to psychosocial, medical, and legal services; training health workers in clinical management of rape; and supplying post-rape kits to health facilities.

As Dismas Nkunda, the executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, noted, Uganda is known for its “robust” refugee regime, one that now accommodates around 1.4 million people who have fled neighbouring countries.

“Providing appropriate support for survivors of rape is mandatory for any refugee protection regime anywhere in the world, so there should be no excuse whatsoever for failure to support these victims,” he said.

Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International, said the reasons for the unmet needs are clear. “It is unsurprising that there is a limited number of services for rape survivors arriving from Ituri into Uganda,” she said. “The humanitarian response in Uganda is woefully underfunded, and limited resources are now being diverted to the cholera response,” she said.

"When I returned back home in the morning I thought I would find my husband and son… They were no more. They had been killed the same night I was terribly raped.”


Rape: One survivor’s story

Speaking recently from Kyangwali, a sprawling Ugandan settlement for refugees, one  former resident of Blukwa recalled the January night she fled. The woman, who did not want to use her name, said she and her husband heard shooting and he went to investigate. “We should run to save our lives,” he told her as he returned to the house. “He grabbed our son and ran with him,” she recalled. “I tried to follow, but I lost touch. It was dark.

“I couldn’t call them, so I decided to go my separate way to hide. While I was in the bush, I heard and saw two people coming towards my direction. They had guns; I knew I was dead.

“I tried to plead with them to spare me. They couldn’t listen. They undressed and raped me. One covered my mouth while the other raped me. After he finished, his colleague came and did the same. They raped me without any mercy. They threatened to kill me if I ever shouted.

“After raping me, they left. I remained in the bush with a lot of pain. When I returned back home in the morning I thought I would find my husband and son… They were no more. They had been killed the same night I was terribly raped.”

Exhausted and hungry, she said she managed the two-day walk to the shores of Lake Albert and boarded a boat to Uganda, where some 50,000 people from Ituri have sought refuge this year.

According to an official at a Ugandan reception centre cited by the aid agency CARElast month, nine out of every 10 women arriving  arriving from Congo – most of whom had travelled from North Kivu Province, with some coming from adjacent Ituri had been raped, sometimes more than once, and sometimes by gangs – both inside Congo and as they fled to Uganda.

“All these women who make it here were victims of rape and other forms of gender based violence,” said the unnamed official.

Addressing the gap in aid for victims of sexual violence, Vigaud-Walsh said: “In part, Uganda and its humanitarian partners simply cannot keep up with the unrelenting number of refugees that continue to stream in from the DRC and South Sudan, not to mention Burundians that have fled persecution into Uganda. The OPM (Office of the Prime Minister) scandal, with regards to refugee registration and exploitation, has not been helpful either – it has shaken the will and trust of international donors.”

“Nonetheless, international donors must recognise that joint [UN refugee agency] – OPM efforts are underway to redress these failures,” she added. “The reduction in humanitarian dollars to Uganda will only serve to punish refugees. More financing is needed, in particular to allow for services for rape survivors to be prioritised for women and girls arriving from Ituri, DRC, as [for] those who continue to arrive from South Sudan.”
 

The stigma of survival

Alain Sibenaler, the Uganda country representative of the UN Population Fund, which works in partnership with CARE in assisting survivors of sexual violence in Kyangwali, said: “It is not easy estimating the magnitude of the problem because the majority of the cases go unreported, given the shame associated with rape.”

The suffering of survivors extends beyond the crime itself, noted CARE Country Director Delphine Pinault. “Despite the prevalence of rape and other forms of sexual violence, at the community level stigma surrounding being a survivor still persists, including being ridiculed, rejected, and isolated as a result of the shame,” she said.

CARE is setting up centres in Kyangwali to provide counselling and group activities to survivors of gender-based violence.

“Through a set of activities that brings women together in a rather relaxed fashion, they will be supported to tell their stories and process the past,” Pinault said.
 

Under-resourced response

She added that there were too few professional counsellors and specialists for traumatised children to allow survivors to speak in their own language.

As previously reported by IRIN, a cholera outbreak among new arrivals in Uganda has reduced the funding and resources needed to respond to cases of gender-based violence.

“I am alone and traumatised. How can I live without my husband and son? It could have been better if I was killed with them.”

And as a 17-year-old from the Ituri village of Lewi explained, individual needs are great.

“I am traumatised,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “I am physically, emotionally, and psychologically affected. I can’t forget the terrible experience. Why did they have to rape me like that? It was so painful and terrifying.”

Primary healthcare facilities in the 17 villages that make up Kyangwali are very few in number and poorly supplied. The nearest referral hospital is 80 kilometres away. At the national level, Uganda languishes near the bottom of global healthcare league tables.

These shortcomings are all too evident for the survivor from Blukwa, who lost her husband and son. She says she is now incontinent, suffers pains in her abdomen, and that a whitish liquid is secreted from her genital area.

“I was referred to the health facility for checkups and treatment,” she said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get proper medical treatment. I was given some drugs that didn’t help.”

“I am alone and traumatised. How can I live without my husband and son? It could have been better if I was killed with them,” she said.

*This story was amended on 27 April to clarify that the Ugandan official at a reception centre was referring to Congolese women who had arrived from other parts of Congo, for the most part North Kivu Province, and not only Ituri, when he said that nine out of ten of them had been raped during their journeys.

For the full article, click here

All Africa: Five Migration Trends to Watch in 2018

2017 saw a host of new and quickly deepening humanitarian crises from Southeast Asia to Africa. But behind this rising tide of forced displacement was an isolationist and xenophobic political backdrop that could render 2018 even worse, especially given the lack of diplomatic leverage and leadership required to resolve intractable conflicts.

In the United States, President Donald Trump spent his first year erecting bureaucratic walls to keep out immigrants and refugees, while calling for a physical wall along the southern US border. In Europe, far-right candidates threatened to upset a host of elections. And, as North Africa acted as a holding cell, conflicts in both the continent's east and centre escalated while humanitarian budgets shrank, driving up the numbers of internally displaced and urgent protection needs.

"What distinguishes conflicts of today is that they're unending," Demetrios Papademetriou, co-founder and president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, told IRIN. "None of the conflicts we see today are anywhere near being resolved, because the resolutions are extremely complex. They involve religion, power, control of resources. No refugee-producing conflict today will be resolved in the near future."

UN member states are hammering out the details of two global compacts - one on refugees and one on migration - to be adopted at this year's General Assembly in September. But few are optimistic that they will be game-changers for better global refugee and migration governance in the years to come.

So, while this year promises to be even more difficult, here are five key questions on migration policy the answers to which will shape how 2018 really plays out for some of the world's most vulnerable people:

A dramatic decline in sea crossings from Libya to Europe in 2017 sounds on the surface like a success. But this year is likely to expose the kinds of human rights abuses the EU is willing to tolerate to keep externalising its migration responsibilities.

Like the 2016 EU-Turkey accord - which choked off the Aegean Sea route but led to more than 10,000 asylum seekers being detained on Greek islands and returns to unsafe countries - Italy's deals with Libyan groups have come with a human cost: abuse for up to one million migrants languishing in detention centres, often with ties to militias. Despite an international outcry, mainly due to CNN footage of what appeared to be slave auctions, little is likely to change before Italy's general election in March.

Towards the end of 2017, the EU and the African Union put together a repatriation plan to send migrants back to their countries of origin or other transit countries, such as Niger, with the help of the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration.

"The bigger question is what happens to people when they're back in Niger," Minos Mouzourakis, policy researcher at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles in Brussels, told IRIN. "The EU is talking about resettlement as an option, but that doesn't mean the same people being evacuated to Niger will have access to durable solutions. What is the actual objective? Are we just returning people to another transit country and calling it an evacuation, or are we giving them avenues to other legal options like resettlement?"

Migrant returns are paid for through programmes like a 3.3 billion-euro "emergency trust fund" originally billed as development aid for North Africa.

In late December, 162 refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen were brought to Italy from Libya under the EU-AU plan. But if the troubled inter-EU relocation programme is any indication, infighting may prevent the bloc from implementing a meaningful plan for resettlement from Africa.

Last year, Trump all but ended resettlement to the United States, which has taken two thirds of the world's resettled refugees annually for the past decade. His executive order last January banned refugees and travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, prompting months of legal battles and indefinitely barring tens of thousands who had cleared the years-long vetting process. Though courts have saved the programme, the president sets the ceiling for refugee admissions, and in September he set it at 45,000 for fiscal year 2018, the lowest level since its inception in 1980. So far, admissions have slowed to a trickle. Many advocates predict the United States won't even come close to Trump's number.

Domestically, this threatens the entire American resettlement regime, since resettlement agencies' federal funding is tied to the number of refugees they assist. Several agencies are already closing offices and laying off personnel.

Other countries are stepping in with increased resettlement pledges, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. But those slots won't be enough to fill the hole left by the United States.

"At a time when the international community is trying to come together to promote more equitable responsibility-sharing on refugees, when the US cuts the number of refugees it'll resettle, it sends a very negative signal to the rest of the world," Mark Yarnell, senior advocate and UN liaison for Refugees International in Washington, DC, told IRIN. "And even though resettlement is so rare relative to the number of people who are refugees, it's still the solution many refugees hope for - and when they see it diminishing, they're more likely to take more hazardous paths to safety."

To view full article, click here

VOA Afrique: NGO denounces recruitment of Burundian refugees in Rwanda by armed groups

The NGO Refugees International denounces the recruitment by "armed groups" of Burundian refugees in the Mahama camp in Rwanda, including children, and calls for sanctions.

Burundian refugees in Rwanda are recruited by "armed groups" in violation of international law, denounces the NGO Refugees International (RI) which calls, in a report released Monday, December 14, the international community to "punish" those responsible.

However, the Burundian government had already criticized Rwanda for hosting Burundian opponents and tolerating the recruitment of opponents in these camps. But Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, along with her colleague in charge of refugees, Seraphine Mukantabana, had already formally denied the allegations.

In this report titled "Right of asylum undermined: recruitment of Burundian refugees in Rwanda", RI points to the "recruitment of Burundian refugees inside the Mahama refugee camp (in south-east Rwanda) by non-state armed groups, including the recruitment of children ".

The American NGO said to have based in particular on testimonies collected in Rwanda in September and October 2015.

More than 70,000 Burundians, according to the UN, have fled to Rwanda since the start of violence in their country.

"Threat to peace"

"The arming of Burundian refugees in Rwanda would not only represent a serious violation of international law, but also a serious threat to peace in Burundi and the region as a whole," said Michael Boyce, one of the report's drafters.

The NGO calls on Rwanda, accused by Burundi to support an embryonic rebellion, to ensure that "any recruitment of refugees ceases immediately". It also urges the African Union (AU) and the UN "to punish the actors - whether Burundian or Rwandan - violating the civilian and humanitarian nature of the right of asylum."

Some refugees say they were "dragged inside Rwanda ... by people who speak Kinyarwanda (national language of Rwanda, ed) and wearing military uniforms," I details.

Recruiters pressure

According to the NGO, which campaigns for the protection of displaced persons, there are reports of "verbal and written threats, harassment, intimidation and physical attacks against refugees who refuse to be enlisted".

The pressure is such that some are forced to "sleep in the showers or latrines" camp to escape their recruiters, according to RI.

According to the report, some Burundian refugees claim to have been threatened with arrest by Rwandan officials after complaining of attempts to force them to be drafted.

Since the beginning of unrest in late April in Burundi, hundreds of people have been killed in severely repressed demonstrations, then clashes between police and protesters, and more than 200,000 people have left the country, according to the report. 'UN.

On Friday alone, 87 people were killed in coordinated attacks on three military camps, the most serious violence incident since a failed military coup in May.

This piece originally appeared here

The Guardian: Tensions in Uganda after funding delays lead to reduced food rations for refugees

The flood of people fleeing South Sudan, coupled with delays and constraints on funding, has led to a shortfall in food rations to refugees.

According to agencies working on the ground in Uganda, where most of the refugees have been arriving from the conflict across the border, food supply lines are being shut down and distribution of aid is becoming increasing irregular.

The UN’s World Food Programme said it had been forced to cut the amount of grain handed out due to delayed funding, with cash transfers offered to refugees to make up the shortfall.

“When the funding comes late it takes a bit longer to secure the cereals. It means that you have to go to the markets to procure, transport, store and distribute,” said El Khidir Daloum, WFP director for Uganda.

In the past fortnight, South Sudanese refugees at Nyumanzi settlement in Adjumani, which hosts about 20,000 people, protested in front of officials from the prime minister’s office.

Titus Jogo, refugee desk officer in Adjumani, said that they had to calm people down and explain that, while the WFP did not have enough cereal stocks this month, money would be provided instead so that people could buy food at the local market.

Andie Lambe, executive director at International Refugee Rights Initiative, said: “Our understanding is that the ration cuts this month were as a result of a break in the food pipeline within WFP and that these cuts are both temporary and that the gap was substituted with a cash equivalent of the missing ration. In addition, WFP assured us that this would not be applied to recent arrivals and vulnerable households.

“The refugees are dependent on handouts due to the lack of alternatives for them to support themselves. When rumours of rations being permanently cut or stopped altogether are combined with actual cuts and without clear explanation being given for this, tensions will increase and it is not unreasonable for refugees to voice their disquiet.”

The sheer scale of the disaster, in which more than 86% of refugees are women and children, means that strains have been put on already scarce resources.

“Uganda is dealing with a refugee crisis of historic proportions and the country and its humanitarian partners have not been able to meet the needs of one million South Sudanese who have sought protection from violence in a relatively short amount of time,” said Francisca Vigaud-Walsh of Refugees International.

“Uganda has an exemplary refugee policy and has done what it can to provide safe harbour and land to refugees, but the needs of refugees outstrip the capacity of humanitarian responders, given that the funding simply isn’t there,” she said.

In May this year, WFP was forced to cut food rations to refugees in the east African nation by 50% due to severe funding shortages. The agency need an estimated $167m (£126m) to provide aid through to the end of the year, but donors contributed only $30m as of September.

“Every month we need $20m to feed the refugees in Uganda. For the next six months we have a shortage of $62m to $85m for refugees,” said Daloum. “We know what it takes to secure those resources, but at the same time, this is a life-saving issue.”

The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, and the UN secretary general, António Guterres, hosted a summit in June in Kampala to call for action for South Sudanese refugees, with $674m needed to support them in 2017. However by August, only 21% of that sum had been raised.

This piece originally appeared here

IRIN: What's next for Colombia?

Read the original article here.

By Erika Piñeros

Days after Colombia voted ‘no’ to the terms of a peace deal between the government and the FARC rebel group, the country is still struggling to come to terms with the unexpected result and what it means for the nation’s long and elusive search for peace.

A ‘yes’ vote would have paved the way for an end to more than half a century of fighting between the government and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The conflict with the FARC and other armed groups has claimed more than 260,000 lives, the majority of them civilians, and displaced nearly seven million people.

But just over half (50.21 percent) of those who cast their ballots on Sunday voted ‘no’ to the question: “Do you support the final accord to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace?”

In the hours following the announcement of the result, both the government and the FARC issued statements calling for calm and emphasising that a June ceasefire would remain in place.

But on Monday, FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, aka Timoleon or "Timochenko", insisted that the peace agreement signed on 26 September was legally binding, irrespective of the referendum result.

Then, on Tuesday night, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the ceasefire would end on 31 October.

Londoño responded on Twitter: "And after that, the war continues?”

That indeed is the question that now hangs over a country that had become increasingly polarised in the run-up to the plebiscite.

Dual role

The sense of division was not helped by conflicting messages around what Colombians were being asked to vote on. While President Santos campaigned for “Yes to peace”, the opposition’s slogan was “No to the accord”.

Legally, the government was responsible for educating the public about the contents of the 297-page peace accord. And yet, Santos’s government was also behind the ‘yes’ campaign.

“It wasn’t clear to voters what was instructive and what was the ‘yes’ campaign,” said Pedro Vaca, director for the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP).

“It was very dirty. What we had was a political campaign, not an information campaign,” commented Rafael Batista, a local journalist.

And yet, the government’s attempts both to educate the public and promote the ‘yes’ campaign, failed to reach the entire country.

Deaf ears

Refugees International conducted a fact-finding mission among people displaced by the civil war and found “large numbers of displaced people who at best were uninformed or, at worst, had fundamental misgivings on the accord’s provisions,” said Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, a senior advocate with the organisation.

In Norte de Santander – a province that saw an overwhelming vote against the accord – Vigaud-Walsh noted that, “Nearly all Colombians we interviewed said that the peace deal would not improve their lives.

“Peace agreement or not, they are currently experiencing increased threats from the ELN guerrilla group.”

The National Liberation Party (ELN) was not a party to the peace deal.  

Enthusiasm to get out and vote was low too. Historically, Colombia has a low voter turnout rate, but only 38 percent of registered voters participated in Sunday’s referendum. That’s the lowest turnout rate since 1994.

In addition, despite the simple Yes/No option on the ballot, more than 250,000 votes were left blank or found to be invalid, the highest rate in over half a century.

Part of the problem may have been the short timeframe that was allowed for new voters to register – just five weeks between the announcement of the plebiscite and voting day.

In a country with one of the world’s highest displacement rates, an unknown number of those most affected by the conflict were left unable to cast their votes.

Vigaud-Walsh of Refugees International said that many displaced people would have had to return to their places of origin in order to vote.

“[That’s] a costly option for the vast majority, both in financial and security terms,” she told IRIN. “Their inability to vote may have been a factor in the outcome of the plebiscite.”

The devil was in the detail

‘No’ voters have been keen to make clear that they did not reject peace, but the terms of the accord which many felt gave too much away to the FARC in terms of amnesty for confessed war crimes and political power, among other issues.

“I voted ‘no’,” said Ana, a 42-year-old nurse from Colombia’s northwestern Uraba region. “We all want peace, but not like this. Those accords were not transparent or fair,” she added, referring to the secretive nature of the initial peace talks between the government and the FARC, and the fact that the deal does not extend to all armed groups.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in June, President Santos warned that, should Colombians reject the peace deal, “we have ample information that the FARC are ready to go back to war, an urban war which would be even more destructive than the rural war.”

Whether Santos was using scare tactics or genuinely feared a return to war is unclear.

The leader of the opposition and the ‘no’ campaign, former president Alvaro Uribe, was due to meet with Santos on Wednesday to present his party’s demands for a renegotiated peace deal.

“Our standards of justice, reparation, attention to victims and truth have to be higher,” said opposition spokesman and former vice-president Francisco Santos. “We will work with the government to be able to redirect this accord.”

But the FARC may be unwilling to compromise on major sticking points for the Uribe camp, such as prison time for its leaders, payment of compensation to victims and those found guilty of crimes being barred from public office.

An anonymous source, who is in regular contact with the FARC high command, told IRIN, “It’s clear [the FARC] are looking for other things. There’s a lot of economic interest there.

“Colombians are too divided now, and the ones who will decide everything are the ones at the top, as always.”

ep/ks/ag

 

AFP: Second Chibok girl found as Nigerian president meets first rescued student

Read the original article here.

A second Chibok schoolgirl has been rescued, Nigeria's army said Thursday, after President Muhammadu Buhari met the first student to be found and voiced fresh hope for the recovery of the more than 200 others still being held.

Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said the student was found by troops and civilian vigilantes at about 11:00 am (1000 GMT) on Thursday in the Damboa area of Borno state, northeast Nigeria, during military operations.

"Her name is Miss Serah Luka," he added in a statement, saying she was believed to be a Christian pastor's daughter and originally from Madagali, in neighbouring Adamawa state.

A photograph released by the military showed a young woman in a long, dark blue hijab common in the region and seen on abducted girls in previous videos from the Boko Haram Islamist militant group.

Boko Haram's shadowy leader, Abubakar Shekau, has previously claimed all the girls had converted to Islam.

The first student to be found, Amina Ali, flew with her mother to meet the president at his official Aso Rock residence in the capital, Abuja.

Buhari said he was "delighted" at her release and the government was doing "all it can to rescue the remaining Chibok girls", who were abducted from the remote town in northeast Nigeria on April 14, 2014.

"Amina's rescue gives us new hope, and offers a unique opportunity for vital information," he said.

A total of 276 girls were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School. Fifty-seven escaped in the hours that followed.

The abduction provoked global outrage and brought worldwide attention to the conflict but until Amina and the latest student were found, there were few indications about their possible release.

- Reunion -

Community leaders said Amina told her relatives at a brief reunion at the family home in Mbalala, near Chibok, that most of the girls were still in the Sambisa Forest area of Borno state but six had died.

Nigeria's military has been conducting operations in the former game reserve for weeks in the hope of flushing out militants and destroying Islamist camps in the sprawling semi-desert scrubland.

Borno state governor Kashim Shettima said on Thursday soldiers were "already moving into the forest aggressively".

"I am an eternal optimist. I believe that in the coming days and weeks more recoveries will be made," he told reporters.

The abducted girls have long been thought to have been taken to the forest. Satellite imagery provided by the United States and Britain reportedly identified the location of some of the students.

But Nigeria's military failed to act on the intelligence, Britain's former ambassador to Nigeria has claimed.

Former president Goodluck Jonathan's delayed response to the abduction and overall handling of the insurgency was seen as a major factor in his election defeat to Buhari last year.

- Medical treatment -

Amina was brought to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, with her four-month-old baby girl named Safiya and a man she said was her husband.

Her purported husband, identified by the army as "suspected Boko Haram terrorist" Mohammed Hayatu, was shown in one photograph cradling the infant on a hospital bed.

The army said he was "undergoing further investigation at (the) Joint Intelligence Centre" and was being "well-treated".

Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war in the conflict, which has killed at least 20,000 people, forced 2.6 million from their homes and devastated the northeast since 2009.

Young women and girls have been forced to marry rebel fighters, becoming sex slaves and even suicide bombers in the group's campaign for a hardline Islamic state.

Men and boys have also been seized and forcibly conscripted.

- Victim support -

Boko Haram is thought to have kidnapped several thousand women and young girls and there have been calls for Nigeria to do more to support former hostages.

Buhari said Amina would receive "the best care the Nigerian government can afford" and disclosed she had undergone medical tests for about five hours and met trauma experts.

The resumption of her education would be "a priority", he added. "Every girl has the right to an education and a life choice," he said.

Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, from Refugees International (RI) said such specialised care was not available to most former hostages.

"On the contrary there is a seemingly arbitrary and haphazard approach to dealing with these women and girls," she said.

RI and other agencies have highlighted in particular the lack of facilities for victims of sexual violence and psychological services.

Northern Nigeria, which is largely Muslim, is deeply conservative and kidnap victims have reportedly been shunned on their return home.

AP: 1st Chibok girl to escape Boko Haram is feted in Nigeria

Read the original article here.

By Michelle Faul | AP May 19

LAGOS, Nigeria — Aid workers and parents of the girls who were kidnapped from a school in 2014 lashed out at the Nigerian government and military Thursday for their handling of the first of the so-called Chibok girls to escape the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

Tuesday’s escape brought joy and renewed hope but also increased pressure for the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to rescue 200-plus other students who were seized in the mass abduction that outraged the world.

On Thursday, Amina Ali Nkeki, who was found nursing her 4-month-old baby on the fringes of Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest stronghold, was flown to Abuja to meet with the president.

A second girl believed to be among the Chibok abductees was rescued Thursday evening, army spokesman Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman said in a late-night statement.

The information could not be independently confirmed, and Yakubu Nkeki, chairman of the Chibok Parents Association and uncle of Ali, said he had heard the report but had no information about it.

Ali, 19, was shielded from journalists when she arrived at the presidential villa, her mother carrying her baby. She was shown into Buhari’s office for a private hour-long meeting. Television cameras and photographers were allowed in briefly afterward.

A presidential statement said Buhari’s feelings were “tinged with deep sadness at the horrors the young girl has had to go through at such an early stage in her life.”

On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram stormed and firebombed the Government Girls Secondary School at the remote northeastern town of Chibok after a handful of soldiers ran out of ammunition and ran away from about 200 extremists. They seized 276 girls preparing for science exams. Dozens managed to escape in the first hours. Until Tuesday, 219 remained captive.

Ali revealed to her mother that a few of the girls died in captivity, but most remain under heavy guard in the forest, according to family doctor Idriss Danladi.

“Bring back our girls — now and alive!” about 40 men and women chanted Thursday evening at a rally of the movement, which has inspired a worldwide social media campaign using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. They have met faithfully every week at Abuja’s Unity Fountain.

“No more excuses. And no failure is acceptable,” Oby Ezekwesili, a founder of the movement, told the gathering. “We can rescue our Chibok girls. What happened with one can happen with 218.”

A former World Bank vice president and Nigerian education minister, she helped start the group after former President Goodluck Jonathan initially denied there had ever been a mass kidnapping. His wife claimed it was a ruse to make her husband look bad.

Jonathan lost elections last year in part because he was seen as not caring about the Chibok girls and not committed to rescuing them.

Ezekwesili criticized Buhari for admitting he has not seen a proof-of-life video that Boko Haram sent to the government months ago in a bid to open negotiations to exchange the Chibok girls for detained Boko Haram leaders. It was the first indication in two years that some of the girls are alive.

“We urged our government to take the proof-of-life video seriously,” she told the rally. “But you know that our president did not watch that video.”

Still, she said, “God is very good. He gave us a miracle, a young woman who was in the enclave of the terrorists with the best bed of information that anybody can have.”

She called for Buhari to mobilize countries such as the United States, France and Britain in a reinvigorated effort to find the girls. Those countries sent drones, hostage negotiators, intelligence officers and others after the kidnapping, to no avail.

Chibok parents were outraged that the military had “paraded” the young woman beside the Boko Haram commander who took her as his wife, Ezekwesili said.

Ali has told her mother that the man, Mohammed Hayatu, rescued her, deserting Boko Haram and leading her out of the forest because the camp had run out of food and they feared their baby would starve to death, according to Danladi. The military said Hayatu is detained for interrogation.

Buhari’s government also was lambasted by Washington-based Refugees International, which said Ali should be getting immediate care for rape and psychological counseling, instead of making public appearances.

“It is an outrage!” said Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, women and girls’ advocate at Refugees International, saying the escapee’s case should not be politicized.

Buhari’s statement said medical personnel and trauma experts had examined Ali on Wednesday for five hours. The president promised that she would get the best medical care and education available.

The Associated Press does not normally identify suspected victims of sexual assault, but Ali appeared publicly alongside the president and was seen widely on television. Buhari’s statement identified her by name.

In it, Buhari repeated promises his administration will do all it can to bring the girls home.

Nigerian hunters found Ali wandering on the fringes of the remote northeastern Sambisa Forest and reunited her with her mother, Danladi said after speaking with the mother.

Nigeria’s military claimed it had rescued the young woman, though its initial statement identified the escapee as another Chibok girl who is still missing.

Authorities will be asking her where her classmates are being held. If Boko Haram tries to move large groups of girls because of her escape, those movements can be captured by satellites and air reconnaissance.

Aid groups also alleged that thousands of other rescued or escaped Boko Haram hostages have been further abused by the military, which detains many.

Amnesty International this month called the military’s Giwa barracks in Maiduguri “a place of death” where babies and children are among scores of detainees dying from disease, hunger, dehydration and gunshot wounds.

Nigeria’s military denied the allegations and insisted that Amnesty officials have seen the facilities and “made recommendations that were implemented.”

Amnesty said the military’s statement was “completely false” and that the rights organization has never been allowed into Giwa.

The fresh charges of military abuses come as the U.S. considers a Nigerian request to buy 12 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to fight Boko Haram.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the proposal last week. Attempts by the Jonathan administration to buy American helicopter gunships were blocked, in part because of alleged Nigerian military abuses.

Newsweek: Freed Female Boko Haram Captives Reliant on 'Survival Sex' for Food: Report

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FREED FEMALE BOKO HARAM CAPTIVES RELIANT ON 'SURVIVAL SEX’ FOR FOOD: REPORT

BY CONOR GAFFEY ON 4/21/16 AT 10:23 AM

Nigerian women freed from Boko Haram captivity are prostituting themselves for food and overdosing on cough syrup due to inadequate provisions in government-run camps, according to a report.

Boko Haram’s armed insurgency in northeast Nigeria, which began in 2009, has killed thousands and displaced more than 2 million people. The militant group has targeted women and children for abduction, with Amnesty International estimating in April 2015 that the group had kidnapped at least 2,000 women and girls since the start of 2014. In March 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

A report by U.S.-based humanitarian group Refugees International (RI) released on Wednesday claims that the Nigerian government—in cooperation with the international community and humanitarian agencies—was failing to meet the needs of women who had suffered gender-based violence (GBV) at the hands of Boko Haram. Around 8 percent of the 2.2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in northeast Nigeria live in camps run by government agencies, with the rest living in host communities, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The RI report, based on a mission to the Borno state capital Maiduguri—where the majority of IDPs are based—found that rehabilitory assistance for victims of GBV was completely lacking. The report states that “zero percent of GBV survivors received specialized care or integrated services,” such as psychosocial counselling.

Women subjected to sexual violence by Boko Haram are often stigmatized by host communities, particularly if they have been impregnated by their captors. The lack of mental health support has forced women and girls to turn to alternative means of easing their pain—the report found that the price of cough syrup in the camps had more than doubled from 60 naira ($0.30) to up to 200 naira ($1) due to the demand by people drinking bottles of the medicine in order to fall asleep.

Female IDPs are also turning to “survival sex” in order to gain access to food, which is in short supply in the government run camps, according to the report. In one camp, there were three cooking points for a population of 6,000 IDPs. This food shortage forces women, according to the report, to sell their bodies in order to get food or money to buy food. The issue has previously been highlighted by Borno state governor Kashim Shettima, who vowed in September 2015 to sack any government officials found to be diverting foodstuffs meant for the IDPs.

The Borno State government has reportedly claimed to spend at least 600 million naira ($3 million) on feeding IDPs each month. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pledged in December 2015 that thereturn of displaced persons to their home communities would begin in 2016, imploring the international community for additional assistance in addressing the issue. The United States recently pledged to give $40 million in humanitarian assistance to help people affected by Boko Haram in Nigeria and other countries bordering Lake Chad.

ThinkProgress: The Huge Refugee Crisis That’s Already Displaced 220,000 People

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BY ESTHER YU-HSI LEE  MAR 17, 2016 8:00 AM

The portrayal of the refugee crisis that has garnered significant international attention is often of a Syrian holding onto a dinghy for dear life, heading to Europe to escape the violence and turmoil back home in the Middle East.

But the reality is that Europe isn’t alone in this issue. African countries are experiencing a similar exodus. Many people in the East African region have been on the run since April 2015.

And just like in Europe, this crisis shows no signs of relenting.

More than 220,00 refugees in the East African nation of Burundi have fled after a failed coup attempt and extra-judicial killings following incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement last year that he would seek an unconstitutional third term. After Nkurunziza won, his country descended into political unrest as opposition members and party defectors took to the streets to protest.

Within Burundi, more than 46,000 people are internally displaced and hundreds have been killed. And hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring countries: Rwanda is hosting75,000 Burundians, while Tanzania has 130,000, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has 18,000, and Uganda has 21,000, according to figures from Al Jazeera America.

Burundian refugees in neighboring countries face dire conditions in camps, while young people face the additional hardship of forced recruitment by Burundian opposition groups and non-state armed militias to topple the incumbency.

A December 2015 Refugees International report found some evidence that teen refugees between 15 and 17 fled to Rwanda only to be recruited to join a non-state armed group whose aim was to overthrow President Nkurunziza. Once recruited, the teens were transported to a training camp inside Rwanda to learn how to use weapons, first aid, camouflague, and other military skills.

“The objective after that was that they would remain in the DRC for a certain amount of time until it would be possible for them to reenter Burundi and to undertake some kind of a military operation back home,” Michael Boyce, advocate at the research advocacy organization Refugees International and author of the report, told ThinkProgress. “These are not the only cases of child recruitment, but only direct testimony.”

Though six teens were apprehended in the DRC and provided information of recruitment to international officials, it’s possible that many more teen refugees were likely being trained in at least one training camp with the capacity to hold 500 soldiers. Women and girls were also present at the training site, suggesting that “the problem is larger than just six individuals who got caught up in this enterprise,” Boyce noted.

Boyce’s observation has been corroborated by some of the on-the-ground witness testimony that also found “Rwandan police officers watched as recruits who agreed to join military training boarded shuttles out of Mahama and that Rwandan military vehicles were used in some cases,” Al Jazeera previously reported. And in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes of Africa spoke with at least three Burundian former child soldiers in the DRC who explained that they had been recruited in Rwandan refugee camps to later fight in Burundi.

There could still be more teenagers susceptible to recruitment. There are various reasons why teens may be drawn to fight — including extreme poverty and the lack of opportunity for them to continue their education. They may decide the payment from the opposition groups is worth the risk.

But one international agency has stepped in to stem the flow of activities that allow for the abuse, exploitation, and neglect of children. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Rwanda has been identifying and managing cases of vulnerable children — kids who might be unaccompanied without their parents or guardians, kids who are taking care of their younger siblings alone, or kids who are engaged in child labor.

“There was a very high number of such children in this particular refugee influx,” Martina Pomeroy, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Rwanda, told ThinkProgress. She explained that there’s a team of protection staff on the ground “who are in the camp every day speaking to refugees and community groups” to identify these kids and monitor how they’re doing.

The group has also engaged in activities to empower parents to protect their children from exploitation or recruitment. Pomeroy said they help provide access to education for all refugee children and have trained “para-social workers” from among the refugee community, who help to raise awareness on child protection and the rights of children.

Still, the issue of teen refugee recruitment may spiral into a more troubling situation as the Burundian government has been increasingly shutting its borders as a justification to keep out those recruits. For example, two months after Nkurunziza took office last year, the government closed off exit points at the borders with Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to “protect the image of the country,” sources told the International Business Times at the time.

At least with Nkurunziza still in power, the refugee crisis won’t go away any time soon. But it remains to be seen if international actors will react in the same way that they have to the crisis in Europe.

“It’s a slow burn — there’s not as much of an impetus for the rest of the community to be involved,” Boyce said. “Just because it’s a slow burn doesn’t mean it can’t explode at some point in the near future. With Burundian armed groups active in neighboring countries, the risk for a regional conflagration is very real and I think the risk grows every day that we don’t achieve a political solution in Burundi that puts in the path on sustainable peace.”

TIME: Women Say They Are Being Raped as Part of the President of Burundi’s Fight to Keep Power

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Julia Steers / Bujumbura @JCSteers
Jan. 14, 2016

Tension in the country is at its highest since the 1994 Rwanda genocide

Douce, 22, was standing with 4 other women when the men – dressed in police and military uniforms, armed with rifles and pistols – burst into their compound. They forced the women inside, firing into the air and demanding the women undress. “If you don’t take off your clothes, we’re going to kill you,” Douce recalls being told, describing the gang rape that occurred during a military and police search in late December, in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.

They were seven men, some in the uniforms of Burundian authorities and several in civilian dress – members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerkure – according to the women present. The men raped all five women, who ranged in age from 22 to 50. “They were saying, ‘We’ll finish you all. Do you think when we’re done with your husbands and your brothers, you’ll remain? We have to eradicate you.’”

Douce lives in one of Bujumbura’s opposition quarters, neighborhoods that have suffered mass arrests and extrajudicial killings as Burundian authorities continue a months-long, brutal campaign that started in May to quell street demonstrations against current President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term.

The population of Burundi, like that of its neighbor Rwanda, is divided between Hutu and Tutsi tribes who have vied for dominance since colonial times. In Rwanda in 1994, the rivalry descended into the killing of as many as million Tutsi and Hutu moderates by Hutu extremists.

Nkurunziza is a former Hutu rebel who became president 2005 after Burundi’s last civil war and has ruled ever since. Last year, there was a failed coup d’etat, which has driven the President to persecute political opponents. Around 250,000 of the country’s 10 million population have since fled.

Young men suspected of participating in the anti-third term protests have been the primary targets for systematic arrest, killings, and harassment by authorities in the capital. But in recent months, testimonies from local health workers, victims, and eyewitnesses point to a growing trend of rape and sexual assault of women in Bujumbura.

Local health workers in Bujumbura believe there has been a surge in sexual assaults in November and December as the cadence of military and police operations in opposition neighborhoods has increased. And like Douce, victims and witnesses in Bujumbura told TIME the perpetrators were a combination of men in the uniforms of police, military, special police, or known members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure.

In their recently released report, Refugees International recorded 651 reported incidents of sexual assault by Burundian refugees who had escaped to Tanzania. Of these, 48% were rape survivors requiring medical care.

These numbers are “an indicator that rape is a facet of this crisis,” says Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, a senior advocate at Refugees International and author of the report. She notes that as men are disappeared or flee Bujumbura for their own safety, women in the opposition neighborhoods become “vulnerable in so many ways.”

Rape survivors at the Tanzania camp also listed the perpetrators as “security agents, Imbonerakure, police or military, or unknown,” according to Francisca Vigaud-Walsh.

“The nature of the crisis right now in Burundi is such that you’re either with us or against us, “ adds Vigaud-Walsh. “The fact that you might have a partner that has fled automatically makes you a target. You are potentially an enemy.”

Audrey, 25, described the evening of Dec. 11, when she says “police and Imbonerakure” forced her and her friend Emelyne inside her home, beat and undressed them, and stole their phones. “They made us sit on the ground. They started slapping us all over our bodies. They said, ‘Why are you fighting the president?’” she recalled. “He removed my clothes, my underwear. I felt like I was dying. But I couldn’t say anything because he was going to shoot me. He was holding his gun.”

Emelyne said: “One said, ‘you’ll show me where you’re keeping your weapons, ‘If you shout anything, I kill you like we did to the others outside.’”

Tucked in a back corner of a Bujumbura café, Jeanette was still too traumatized to speak about the incident but wrote down her account for TIME, explaining that as a police officer stood guard outside members of the Imbonerakure knocked down the door and entered the home. “The Imbonerakure came with the police to the home. They arrested the men and raped the women,” Jeanette wrote in French. “They kill the Tutsi men and rape the Tutsi women.”

The opposition neighborhoods in the capital are considered historically Tutsi areas of the city, in a country where ethnic divisions between Hutus and Tutsis have fueled past wars. Until recently, though, the civil unrest in Burundi has been defined as strictly political – and not ethnic – in nature.

In the last month, there are growing reports of ethnically-charged language used by Burundian authorities during operations in Bujumbura. TIME spoke to more than 20 witnesses who experienced anti-Tutsi rhetoric in offices, schools, while in prison, or in their homes during neighborhood raids. Nine women who were raped or sexually assaulted in various neighborhoods of the city repeat strikingly similar rhetoric used by their perpetrators.

Several victims said that their perpetrators left after undressing and robbing them, denying a rape took place. One woman claimed “God intervened” at the moment before the rape would have likely occurred.

Sources at a local women’s health center say often, even when rape victims here do seek treatment, they do not verbally admit to being raped, because of shame and stigma.

Sources at a U.N. agency that funds community health centers say for every one rape reported recently, they believe the actual instances are much higher. “From our work here we know that when you have one case in the center, you have 20 in the neighborhood,” the source said. “And among the actors, we have members of police. We know this. In addition to police, we have the Imbonerakure doing this.

“Near the health centers, there are these youth militia members demanding bribes, asking, ‘Why are you coming here?’ The women don’t want it known they are rape victims.”

The government says they have opened an inquiry into the recent allegations of rape by security forces but insist the reports are “baseless and absolutely wrong,” according to deputy presidential spokesman Jean-Claude Karerwa.

When presented with victim accounts, Karerwa dismisses them “a media hype against Burundi to get the international community to feel there is a need of military intervention in Burundi.

“If some women have been raped, I can tell you it has not been done by our defense and security forces, because that kind of behavior is not condoned by the government of Burundi.”

Newsweek: Burundi on the brink of civil war as peace talks collapse

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By Conor Gaffey

Burundi is close to civil war, with genocide a real possibility, after the government refused to participate in peace talks with the opposition, according to experts.

President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government rejected an invitation to take part in talks scheduled for Wednesday in Tanzania, saying it objected to the inclusion of opposition figures whom it holds responsible for the violence gripping the country, The East African reported. The United Nations (U.N.) estimates that more than 400 people have been killed in Burundi since Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, a move opponents criticized as unconstitutional.

The Burundi government’s absence on Wednesday leaves the Ugandan-sponsored peace talks in tatters and risks escalating the crisis in the country, according to Chris McKeon, Africa analyst at political risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. “The longer these talks drag on without an agreement, the more days of violence Burundi will experience,” says McKeon.

Explaining the decision to pull out of the talks, Joseph Bangurambona, permanent secretary in Burundi’s ministry of foreign affairs, told Reuters on Tuesday that the government was opposed to negotiating with “those who are supporting violence” in opposition parties. Bangurambona said that dialogue would resume “on condition that the mediators iron out the irregularities” but declined to propose a new date.

“It is difficult to see a clear path to peace,” says McKeon. “By refusing to engage with the opposition, the government has effectively ruled out a negotiated solution to the crisis.”

The government in the capital Bujumbura has also rejected plans for a 5,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force to be deployed in the country, with Nkurunziza saying that such an intervention would be interpreted as an attack on Burundi and the country would be forced to defend itself. “The country will have been attacked and it will respond,” he said in a state radio broadcast on December 30.

Nkurunziza’s defiant stance and the lack of dialogue with opposition parties means that a descent into civil war and even genocide remains a possibility, says David Simon, co-director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University. U.N. officials have previously warned that the conflict in Burundi is taking on an increasingly ethnic tone, reminiscent of the situation in Rwanda ahead of the 1994 genocide. In Rwanda, some 800,000 members of the Tutsi minority, as well as moderate members of the Hutu majority, were killed by Hutu extremists.

“The embattled [Burundi] government may be turning to ethnic—as in Hutu vs. Tutsi—mobilization as a last-ditch means of bolstering its own legitimacy,” says Simon. “This is what happened in Rwanda. It can still happen in Burundi, even if the basic conception of ethnicity is generally different between the two countries.”

The ongoing conflict in Burundi has forced more than 230,000 people to flee to neighboring countries, including Tanzania and Rwanda. Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, recently rejected accusations by U.S.-based advocacy group Refugees International that Burundian refugees in Rwandan camps were being recruited by non-state armed militias.

 

Newsweek: Rwanda's Kagame rejects claims of Burundian refugee recruitment

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By Conor Gaffey

Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, has rejected accusations that Burundian refugees are being recruited into non-state armed groups on Rwandan soil, Reuters reported.

Burundi has seen sporadic outbreaks of violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his decision to run for a third term in office in April. The ongoing conflict in the East African country has created more than 220,000 refugees with 70,000 flowing into neighboring Rwanda, according to the United Nations (U.N.) refugee agency. The biggest refugee camp in Rwanda, the Mahama camp, had a population of more than 44,000 as of October, with most of the refugees coming from Burundi, according to the Rwandan government.

U.S.-based advocacy group Refugees International (RI) released a report earlier in December on the potential recruitment of Burundian refugees by armed Rwandan groups not affiliated to Kagame’s government. Citing accounts from Burundian refugees in Mahama and from international and humanitarian officials working with them, the RI report found at least 80 alleged cases of recruitment, with some refugees claiming that the rebels were looking to establish an army of around 5,000.

Recruitment was said to be for an armed group referred to as the Imbogoraburundi, which translates as “those who will bring Burundi upright/back.” Burundian refugees also claimed they were told they would be fighting on behalf of opposition parties in their country, including the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) and the National Forces of Liberation (FNL), though these claims were not verified by the parties.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Kagame—who has been president of Rwanda since 2000—rejected such allegations as “childish” and also refuted accusations by Burundian government officials that Rwanda was seeking to destabilize its neighbor. “They talk about Rwanda giving them guns to go and fight in Burundi. I haven’t seen any evidence, not the tiniest evidence to prove that,” said Kagame, without referencing the RI report directly.

Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, senior advocate at RI and the report’s co-author, says that the recent histories of violence in both Burundi and Rwanda means that “a new rebel group is a very dangerous possibility, and the possibility of Rwanda being involved would clearly lead to regional conflagration.”

Burundi suffered a 12-year civil war between 1993 and 2005, which was fought along ethnic lines between the Tutsi army and Hutu rebels. Around 300,000 people died in the war, which ended with Nkurunziza becoming president under a peace agreement.

In Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic makeup to Burundi, a three-month genocide in 1994 resulted in the deaths of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the hands of Hutu extremists. The RI report’s findings are “disconcerting given the history in the region and the history of proxy support by different governments for rebel groups,” says Vigaud-Walsh.

Mahama is run by the Rwandan government in coordination with the U.N., and Vigaud-Walsh says that the report allegation that Rwandan officials are “at a minimum, turning a blind eye to recruitment and may even be facilitating it” was very concerning. The report called on the government in Kigali to maintain the humanitarian nature of asylum in Rwanda and called for the U.N. refugee agency to immediately deploy additional staff to Rwanda to monitor the situation.

Frederic Ntawukuriryayo, a spokesman for the Rwandan Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, told Newsweek that the ministry rejected the findings of the RI report. “These are baseless rumours,” says Ntawukuriryayo.

A spokesman for President Nkurunziza, Willy Nyamitwe, told Newsweek that the Burundian government had evidence for the recruitment of Burundian refugees in Rwanda and the transfer of arms into Burundi from its neighbor. “We need, first of all, for them [the Rwandan government] to recognize [and] acknowledge their defeat in all attempts to destabilize the peace in Burundi,” says Nyamitwe, adding that Rwandan authorities should “focus on their own problems.”

Outbreaks of violence in Burundi are ongoing. Nearly 90 people died on December 11 after gunmen attacked three military sites in the capital Bujumbura, and the U.S. has told its citizens in Burundi to get out of the country. U.N. officials said in November that the violence in Burundi was at risk of escalating and taking on an ethnic nature, raising fears that the country could be on the brink of a genocide similar to that which occurred in Rwanda.

 

Buzzfeed: Aid community blasted for failing female refugees in East Africa

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By Jina Moore

NAIROBI — A Washington-based refugee advocacy organization released a report today blasting the humanitarian community, especially the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), of failing to responsibly handle sexual violence reports in a Tanzanian refugee camp. The camp houses roughly 100,000 people who have fled their homes in Burundi due to the violence that began in April, in response to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s push for a third term.

That violence has left more than 400 people dead in Burundi and pushed another 220,000, half of them women and girls, outside the country as refugees.

“Essentially what we found is as early as June, agencies were reporting high levels of sexual violence that women and girls were reporting upon arrival in Tanzania. Despite that, the humanitarian community didn’t ramp up,” said Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, the senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International.

The report lays much of the blame on UNHCR, which has taken the lead in coordinating the refugee response.

“Multiple sources [said] that those leading the response did not seem to have a firm grasp of the importance of minimum standards to reduce the risk of GBV [gender-based violence], or know how to implement them,” the report says.

But Vigaud-Walsh also found that UNHCR directly interfered with a feedback mechanism other agencies built in order to field complaints from women about unsafe conditions in the camp.

The report says: “A hotline was established and complaint boxes were installed throughout the camp. UNHCR, however, demanded that the process be halted, and the boxes remained closed and the complaints unviewed. UNCHR, as the emergency response lead, determined that it should be at the helm of organizing such an effort.”

The agency also refused to receive or respond to anonymous complaints, despite several best practices that require anonymity to protect victim confidentiality, including a 2013 inter-agency protocol, developed in consultation with UNHCR and focused on protecting refugees from sexual violence.

Joyce Mends-Cole, the UNHCR representative in Tanzania, said that this criticism is a misunderstanding. “I think what we’re saying is anonymous complaints are
very difficult to deal with, not that people can’t report anonymously,” she told BuzzFeed News by telephone.

Mends-Cole said the agency has improved reception at the border, including referrals for sexual violence victims; has reached out to local communities to reduce fears about resource scarcity or competition, hoping that this will reduce crimes committed against refugees seeking firewood; and engaged with Tanzanian security authorities on issues like security patrols during firewood collection or police response to gender-based violence.

Mends-Cole also said the sheer number of refugees was a challenge to the agency. “It was difficult to manage totally in a circumstance where you had a continuing
emergency and a continuing influx,” she said.

“I’m not going to defend us where we can’t be defended,” Mends-Cole said, acknowledging errors in shelter protocols while noting that she had not seen the Refugees International report. “But I am going to put up a robust defense when we are maligned for the wrong reasons.”

The risks for women who live at Nyarugusu are multi-layered: Many have experienced sexual violence before they arrived in Tanzania; others experience violence when moving around outside the camp; and still others report incidents of and vulnerability to violence inside the camp itself.

Between May and June, agencies documented an average of 30 cases each month — nearly one every day — of sexual violence in or around Nyarugusu camp, the report says.

Women and men both told Vigaud-Walsh that women are vulnerable when they leave the camp to look for firewood, a journey that gets longer as supplies diminish.

But women who spoke to Vigaud-Walsh also told her they don’t feel safe even inside the camp, in basic places like bathrooms, showers, or even their own shelters.

That’s partly because UNHCR didn’t follow basic protocols in building or maintaining camp structures, she said.

“I’m talking about no [gender] segregation of latrines; no wooden doors on latrines, just a plastic flap. Forget about a key,” she told BuzzFeed News by phone from Washington. “It’s two to three families to one shelter, families that did not know each other.”

Vigaud-Walsh, a veteran of humanitarian emergency response missions, said she had never seen such blatantly problematic conditions so many months into a crisis. “I was appalled,” she said.

The Sphere Minimum Standards for humanitarian emergency response, established in 1997, call for gender-segregated toilets with lockable doors, in order to best protect women.

Sources told Vigaud-Walsh that some latrines originally had lockable wooden doors, but that refugees in need of cooking fuel dismantled the doors. When UNHCR protection staff were asked why those doors and locks had not been replaced, the answer was: “We cannot do everything for the refugees. They must contribute
with something,” according to the report.

Mends-Cole acknowledged that UNHCR erred on this issue.

“In terms of the number of showers and latrines that were not properly done, I simply want to say, it was done wrong,” she said.

Women also said that basic services like food distribution exposed them to risks of sexual and gender-based violence.

“I repeatedly got complaints that food distribution starts so late [that] they end at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, there is no lighting in the camp, and we know we have a problem of sexual violence [in the camp],” Vigaud-Walsh said. “Women and girls told me they were terrified of walking home at that time.”

“It’s a real problem that basic facilities and services are viewed as places of danger, rather than safe spaces,” she said.

The UN agency has since sent a technical expert on gender-based violence to work in Nyarugusu, and Vigaud-Walsh said some things are improving. But so much damage had already been done, she said.

“These women already suffered tremendously in Burundi and during their flight to Tanzania. They are supposed to feel safe in a refugee camp,” she said. “But the response was never designed in a way that took their needs into account. The Nyarugusu camp conditions increased their risk of gender-based violence.”

 

 

Washington Post: There are signs of renewed ethnic violence in Burundi

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By Cara E. Jones

Beginning late Thursday night, an armed insurgency attacked three Burundian army bases – one in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, and two rural outposts. As a result of these attacks, 87 people are reported dead and some estimate the casualty count is even higher.

This was the worst spate of violence since April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid for a controversial third term, sparking protests, a failed coup and ongoing violence. The current political impasse has claimed over 600 lives since the beginning of the year, and forced over 220,000 Burundians to flee their homes.

For Burundi specialists and those interested in the causes of political violence and civil war, the violence has led to debate over its nature: is it ethnic, and thus potentially genocide? This label matters mostly because it will influence how the international community responds.

Determining whether violence is ethnic is not a straightforward process: there is both a definitional issue, of what constitutes “ethnicity,” and a practical one: what is the relationship between different forms of conflict and ethnicity? In Burundi, ethnic differences between Hutu and Tutsi, much as in the case of neighboring Rwanda, existed prior to colonial rule but were solidified by colonial and post-colonial politics. The fight for control of the Burundian state has long been a place where conflict becomes ethnic.

A primer on ethnicity in Burundi

Approximately 80 percent of Burundians are Hutu, 19 percent are Tutsi, and 1 percent are Twa. Among Burundians, ethnicity is not a taboo subject. People discuss their identities openly and freely, many even joking and laughing about stereotypes, such as the common refrain that Hutu are better at football than Tutsi, and that Tutsi are better at math.

In Bujumbura especially, ethnicity and opportunities often move together and manifest in political competition. The advantages accorded Tutsi during the previous Tutsi-led regime (1965-2001) remain, even after more than a decade of Hutu control of government. Many businesses are owned by Tutsi and high positions in foreign companies are held by Tutsi. These advantages bring a higher quality of life, including greater education opportunities and travel abroad. Acting as one of the few checks on the current, predominantly Hutu government is Burundi’s civil society, whose most prominent voices tend to be Tutsi.

The Burundian constitution divides government according to ethnic identity groups using a quota system that protects representation of minority groups with an aim to sharing power. But can post-conflict institutions provide enough stability to keep ethnic conflict from resurfacing? In the case of Burundi, the ethnic integration of the armed forces is intended to be the bulwark against a new civil war breaking out.

Burundi’s history of ethnic violence precedes its civil war (1993-2005), which began after elements of the Tutsi-dominated army assassinated the Hutu president, kicking off ethnic massacres by both groups. One haunting example is the 1972 genocide committed against Hutu elites, schoolboys, army personnel and politicians.

Historically, Burundi’s army chose sides under the old Tutsi-dominated government, but now is regulated by ethnic quotas that prevent domination by one group or the other. At least on its face, ethnic integration and redesign has kept the army from picking sides, although cracks in this facade are beginning to show with the latest attack, suspected of having support from elements of the army sympathetic to the anti-Nkurunziza crowd.

The current context

Since the outbreak of protests against Nkurunziza’s third term, both government and opposition have used ethnicized rhetoric. For example, the government and pro-government forces claim that the protests are a purely ‘urban’ phenomenon, with ‘urban’ used as an implicit cue indicating Tutsi ethnicity. Increases in ethnically charged speech prompted U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and others to call for an immediate cessation of inflammatory dialogue in November.

Why would the government and opposition engage in ethnicized rhetoric? The government uses ethnic rhetoric presumably to signal to the opposition the potential violence that could come their way and incite citizens to participate in violence. The opposition uses ethnicized rhetoric to push for international intervention, which has the potential of changing the makeup of government.

Men carry away a dead body in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, a day after the government said an unidentified group carried out coordinated attacks on three military installations. (AP Photo)

More concerning than the rhetoric, however, are the ethnic patterns of violence that appear to be emerging. There are reports, for example, that security forces have targeted protesters in Tutsi minority-heavy districts of Bujumbura. These individuals have been arrested, tortured and subjected to other forms of violence. Weekend violence resulted in at least 87 deaths, and witness statements and information on victims’ ethnicity strongly suggest that many of the victims were disproportionately Tutsi. The body count has not yet been verified, as victims have yet to be returned to their families, but Human Rights Watch and others have called for an official, independent inquiry.

Burundi’s ethnic quotas designed to protect against a return to violence have fallen short. The police and the intelligence services are exempt from ethnic quotas, are dominated by the ruling party, and they are believed to be the perpetrators of much of the extrajudicial violence that has plagued the country since protests began.
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Why labeling conflict “ethnic violence” matters

The politics of calling what is currently happening in Burundi “ethnic violence” are complicated. Doing so could slow or stop meaningful progress from the international community as well as Burundi’s government. International intervention and potential peacekeeping operations could be stymied by actors on all sides using loaded terms like ‘genocide’ to push political agendas. Labeling a conflict as “ethnic” could harden government positions and prevent further mediation.

There would also be regional consequences – as ethnic kinship spills over colonial borders. Burundi’s neighbors, including Uganda and Rwanda, have voiced willingness to intervene militarily should genocidal violence break out. The porousness of borders and ease of moving weapons across them could mean that ethnic kin separated by colonial boundaries might turn into supporters if civil war breaks out, as happened previously in wars in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (1996-2006).

A new report from Refugees International suggests that regional entanglements are already happening. If Rwanda is actively encouraging and supporting insurgency against the Burundian state, it is very likely to engulf Eastern Congo in more violence. It will also harden regional fault lines — Uganda and its support of Nkurunziza on one side, and Rwanda and the anti-Nkurunziza faction on the other. Furthermore, if Rwanda is supporting a nascent Burundian rebellion, it adds fuel to the ethnic argument pushed by the Burundian regime: that the government of Rwanda (assumed by Bujumbura to be Tutsi-dominated) is seeking a return to pre-2005, Tutsi-dominated politics in Burundi.

Labeling a conflict “non-ethnic” may also miss important dynamics at play and ignore the “stickiness” of ethnic identities in Burundi. Although Burundians may joke about which ethnic group is better at football, they could also use ethnicity as a political shortcut. Elites on both sides may be using ethnic cues for political goals, but without the everyday reinforcement of ethnicity in Burundian culture, society, and by its people, mobilizing people along ethnic lines would be impossible.

The events over this past weekend should raise concern. All signs point to Burundi heading toward a civil war, with a real insurgency that increasingly appears to be drawn along ethnopolitical lines.