Armenian exodus, Haiti intervention, and returning to Cabo Delgado: The Cheat Sheet
Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
As government disbands, refugee exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh grows
The separatist government of Nagorno-Karabakh, which controlled the disputed territory for more than three decades, said on 28 September that it will disband by the end of the year. Azerbaijan took full control of Nagorno-Karabakh following a swift military offensive last week. The region, an enclave within the borders of Azerbaijan, is home to around 120,000 ethnic Armenians who have considered it a de facto independent state, the Republic of Artsakh, since 1991. Most of that population – almost 90,000 people – has fled to neighbouring Armenia in the past week due to fears of persecution and ethnic cleansing by the Azerbaijani forces that are now in control. At least 170 people died in a massive fuel depot explosion amid the scramble to leave. Authorities in Armenia are struggling to register and provide for the needs of the tens of thousands of people arriving from Nagorno-Karabakh, and concerns are growing about a nascent humanitarian crisis. We spoke to Astrig Agopian, a freelance journalist reporting from the Armenian city of Vayk, to find out more about how the aid response is taking shape. Watch the short clip below for more:
Warlord control complicates aid response in Libya
As we noted in last week’s Cheat Sheet, heavy restrictions on journalists have made it difficult to get accurate information out of Derna, the city hardest hit by the floods that tore through northeastern Libya earlier this month. The UN says more than 40,000 people are still displaced by the disaster, including 16,000 children. The aid effort is complicated by the fact that Libya has two governments and because powerful forces – notably militias loyal to Khalifa Haftar – control most of the areas where people need help. Some believe such disasters are likely to become more frequent as countries at war or without functioning governments and services struggle to build infrastructure or homes that can withstand the ravages of climate change. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres put it earlier this month: In Libya, “many of the world’s challenges coalesced in an awful hellscape.” But Libyans are also coming together to unite in the face of the awful tragedy. Watch this video for a view of life in Derna, through the lens of a photographer who lives in the city:
Will a Kenya-led armed force be the answer to Haiti’s gang problem?
A Kenya-led armed force may be in Haiti as soon as early next year to tackle the gangs that have increasingly been terrorising the population since president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021. The UN Security Council still needs to authorise such a force, but Kenya has already pledged 1,000 police officers and offered to play the leading role. During the UN General Assembly, US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said 10-12 countries had come up with “concrete offers” to support the mission. The UN event also gave Kenya the chance to close a defence deal with the United States, including resources to support security deployments. It’s unclear how long a force would stay in the Caribbean country, but Kenya’s Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua told the BBC his country wants to go beyond tackling the gangs, helping to strengthen Haiti’s infrastructure and restore democracy. Elections have been repeatedly postponed due to the gang violence. Many have voiced scepticism about the deployment of the force, asking how it will work if Kenyan police don’t speak French or Kreyol, and questioning the wisdom of sending personnel from a force criticised at home for human rights abuses. Previous armed interventions – including UN peacekeeping missions – have also done little to improve things in Haiti, which has been hamstrung by the monumental debt France forced it to pay in exchange for its independence. For more, read our Q&A with leading Haitian human rights defender Pierre Espérance.
US leans on Mexico to increase deportations as border crossings spike
Mexico will step up efforts to deport asylum seekers and migrants to their countries of origin in order to “depressurise” northern cities bordering the United States, the country’s National Migration Institute announced on 22 September following a meeting with US officials. The number of people crossing the US-Mexico has spiked again in recent weeks after a lull that followed the end of pandemic-era asylum restrictions and the introduction of new deterrence policies in May. It is unclear when the deportations will begin because Mexico will first have to negotiate with Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Cuba to make sure they accept their nationals. US cities, such as El Paso and Eagle Pass in Texas, have been scrambling to find shelter space as thousands of people have crossed the border on a daily basis in recent weeks, overwhelming reception capacity. Thousands are also still choosing to wait in northern Mexico while trying to make appointments using a government cell phone application to enter the United States and lodge asylum claims. Mexico also dispersed thousands of asylum seekers and migrants from the southern city of Tapachula, close to the Guatemala border, where many first enter the country.
Should conflict-displaced be returning home in Cabo Delgado?
Since last year, nearly 600,000 displaced people have returned to their homes in Mozambique’s northernmost Cabo Delgado province, where jihadists have waged a six-year insurgency. Improved security following foreign troop deployments has helped facilitate the returns, but the poor conditions facing displaced people is a major push factor. The World Food Programme has cut rations for the displaced, the government offers few social services, and income opportunities are scant. Displacement sites are overcrowded, and host families accommodating the majority of those uprooted are overstretched too. Aid groups have been caught out by the returns and say people are heading back to places where public infrastructure isn’t functioning. The jihadists also pose a continuing threat despite being dislodged from key bases and the army killing their leader. Nearly 700,000 people remain displaced, and the conflict’s root causes aren’t being addressed by army operations. Take a look at our recent reporting for more.
The food security fallout from US politics
What’s that saying about having all your eggs in one basket? Aid groups are eyeing the volatile US political process on multiple fronts, as a looming government shutdown, a domestic agriculture bill, and a proposed act to prioritise American farmers could all have global repercussions. The US government is the world’s biggest humanitarian donor, and by far its biggest contributor to emergency food aid. The potential shutdown is the most immediate concern, if lawmakers aren’t able to strike a deal by midnight on 1 October. On top of the domestic impacts, the move could potentially delay significant amounts of foreign aid dollars from getting out the door – which could stall some aid programmes. Separately, it looks like lawmakers won’t meet a 30 September deadline to renew the so-called farm bill, which authorises major US food aid programmes on top of farming subsidies and other domestic support (observers say a short-term extension is likely). Then there’s the contentious American Farmers Feed the World Act, which would overhaul aid under the decades-old Food for Peace programme by mandating that half its funding be spent on homegrown crops – and shrinking what can be spent more flexibly. “In essence, it’s going to mean more US commodity in the pipeline, but less ability for us as NGOs to actually distribute that food,” said Barrett Alexander, director of US policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps.
In case you missed it
COSTA RICA: President Rodrigo Chaves has ordered a state of emergency due to the surge of people migrating through his country towards the United States. Since January, more than 386,000 migrants have crossed the Panamanian-Costa Rican border, most through the deadly jungle corridor known as the Darién Gap.
DENGUE: Medics in Bangladesh say 928 people have died of dengue fever this year, with a further 180,000 hospitalised – the highest number of reported cases in decades. Bangladesh isn’t the only country seeing high dengue numbers. Sudan has recorded “hundreds of deaths”, medics say, amid fears that “catastrophic spreads” could overwhelm the war-torn country’s decimated healthcare system.
DIEGO GARCIA: The commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory has reversed a decision to deport to Sri Lanka dozens of Tamil asylum seekers who have been held in a fenced compound on the island of Diego Garcia for nearly two years. Lawyers for the asylum seekers argued that the removal order was based on an “unfair” and “unlawful” interview process.
DROUGHT: One of the hottest winters on record has left more than half of Bolivia gripped by drought, with over 200,000 families particularly vulnerable. Some 500,000 people in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, meanwhile, will face severe drought by the end of the year. The unusually warm winters and lack of water are being attributed to El Niño.
ETHIOPIA: A household survey has found that hunger is the main cause of death in northern Tigray. The study verified 1,329 hunger deaths since a November ceasefire ended the region’s two-year war. A contributing factor has been a six-month food aid freeze imposed by relief agencies after they discovered the mass diversion of supplies.
INDIA: Parts of the northeast Indian state of Manipur have once again been placed under curfew. Officials say the moves in Imphal West and Imphal East are due to ongoing protests over the abduction and killing of two teenagers two months ago. Manipur has been plagued by conflict since a controversial court decision in May sparked violence between two of the main ethnicities. For more, read our recent briefing.
LATIN AMERICA: The Organized Crime Global Index 2023 shows that three Latin American countries – Colombia, Mexico, and Paraguay – are among the five nations with the worst criminality ranking. Myanmar topped the list. Within Latin America, Ecuador –not long ago a bastion of peace in the region – was fourth (and 11th overall). Read our recent report, part of our Gangs out of control series, for more.
NIGERIA: More than 450 people, mostly children, have died in an outbreak of diphtheria in Nigeria that UNICEF calls one of the most severe in recent global history, with over 11,500 suspected cases. The outbreak has been spreading mostly across the country’s northern states since last year.
SAHEL: The junta in Burkina Faso said it foiled an attempted coup this week, almost a year after it seized power from another military regime. Meanwhile, the junta in neighbouring Mali has postponed presidential elections scheduled for next year. Both countries are facing destabilising jihadist insurgencies.
VIETNAM: A Vietnamese climate activist has been sentenced to three years in prison on tax evasion charges. Rights advocates say Hoang Thi Minh Hong is the fifth climate activist to be jailed in as many years. At least two remain in prison. When Biden visited the country last month, activists were dismayed that the US president didn’t bring up the plight of climate defenders, despite their calls for him to do so.
The first thing to stress is that Afghanistan’s healthcare system was no bed of roses when the Islamic Republic was propped up by Western powers and war was raging between NATO-led forces and the Taliban. But more than two years back into Taliban rule, even though conflict casualties are much reduced, Afghan’s healthcare system is confronted by one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, driven by drought, poverty, and an economic collapse. The vast majority of the funding for medical and health services used to come from international aid, but, as Asia Editor Ali Latifi reports in our weekend read, that is now being cut even while foreign sanctions and the withholding of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves continues to cripple the economy. Speaking to doctors and aid officials, Latifi’s reporting reveals a healthcare system teetering on the brink, where some programmes and services are already being pared back, and where women and girls are likely to pay the steepest price.
Award-winning Polish migration film becomes a target
When acclaimed Polish film director Agnieszka Holland decided to tackle Poland’s response to the refugee crisis that emerged on the country’s border with Belarus in 2021 in her new film Green Border, she knew it would be controversial. But she probably didn’t suspect that leading members of Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party – including the country’s justice minister – would be comparing her work to Nazi propaganda. Agnieszka’s film is a work of fiction but closely follows real events, depicting how asylum seekers and migrants have been brutally pushed back and forth by Polish and Belarussian security forces on the border between the countries since 2021, causing them to get stuck in dense forests and swampland and leading to dozens of deaths. Film critics have called the movie, which won an award at the Venice film festival last month, a “damning portrait of the right-wing, anti-migrant Polish government’s response to the refugee crisis”. Holland, fearing the vitriolic rhetoric from the government may spark violence, has hired a security detail, and a Warsaw court ordered the justice minister to stop comparing the film to Nazi propaganda. Meanwhile, the movie premiered in Polish theatres last weekend to the largest opening weekend audience numbers of any Polish film so far this year.