Greater Middle East
Yemen

US slaps ‘terror’ label on Yemen’s Houthi rebels

The United States has announced it will designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, a move aid groups and diplomats have long warned will make getting assistance to people trapped in the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” even harder. In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was officially notifying the US Congress of his intent to designate Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthis, a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” The change is go into force on Jan. 19, and three Houthi leaders will also be blacklisted. NGOs have lobbied heavily against the designation, saying it will seriously hamper efforts to bring aid to the estimated 80% of Yemen’s 30 million people who live in parts of the country controlled by the Houthis. It’s already hard to deliver aid in Yemen, in part because of obstacles put up by the Houthis themselves. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Syria
syria refugees

Hunger ’emergency’ in Syria’s Idlib

Nearly a year after the height of a devastating regime offensive that forced a million people from their homes in Syria’s rebel-held northwest, aid workers warn that the region’s civilians, especially young children, face a new threat: rising hunger. In Idlib province, the situation is worsened by mass displacement and a population already in dire need after years in the crosshairs of conflict—putting an estimated four million people, including 1.5 million in camps, at particular risk of hunger and malnourishment. (Photo: UNICEF via UN News)

North America
travel ban protest

Cameroonian asylum-seekers ‘tortured’ by ICE

A group of Cameroonian asylum-seekers has alleged that officers from US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) tortured them into signing deportation orders. The men say they were choked, beaten, and pepper-sprayed into fingerprinting or signing removal papers in a Mississippi detention center. The migrants had refused to sign, fearing death at the hands of Cameroonian government forces, and because they had asylum hearings pending. Lawyers and activists told The Guardian that efforts to speed up US deportations have “accelerated” in the run-up to the presidential election, which could bring new leadership to ICE and a potential change of policy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Africa
Central African Republic

Franco-Russian game in Central African Republic?

French and Russian military networks are backing rival forces to influence upcoming elections in Central African Republic according to a new report by The Sentry, a Washington-based NGO co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney. France used to call the shots in CAR, its former colony, but President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has allied himself to Russia and availed himself of the Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary organization linked to Vladimir Putin. The Sentry claims France now supports a rebel coalition that opposes Touadéra—who is standing for a second term in December—though the French foreign ministry denies the accusation. All of this spells bad news for ordinary Central Africans, who have suffered under rebel groups for years. More than one in four are currently internally displaced or living as refugees in neighboring countries. (Map via Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

North Africa

Libya: will ceasefire really be ‘permanent’?

Libya’s warring factions signed a “permanent ceasefire” agreement, raising hopes of progress toward ending the conflict and chaos that has gripped the country since Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and killed during a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and eastern forces led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar have been fighting for control of Libya since April 2019—each backed by a bevy of militias in a war that has seen international powers join the fray and an arms embargoroutinely violated. While violence has subsided in the capital city of Tripoli in recent months, countrywide peace efforts have until now gone nowhere. Acting UN head of mission Stephanie Williams hailed the agreement, hammered out during talks in Geneva, as “an important turning point,” but some have expressed doubts that it can be implemented on the ground. Under its terms, all foreign fighters must leave within three months, and a new joint police force will aim to secure the peace. The ceasefire is to start immediately. (Map: CIA)

South Asia
rohingya camp

Bangladesh rings Rohingya camps with barbed wire

Authorities in Bangladesh are surrounding the Rohingya refugee camps with barbed-wire fencing and watchtowers, turning them into what refugees and rights groups liken to a “prison.” Southeast Asia-based NGO Fortify Rights says construction on some 28 kilometers of fencing is nearly complete around the camps, which are home to some 900,000 Rohingya pushed out of Burma. Humanitarian workers fear the fencing could hamper aid delivery and block access to medical clinics. Bangladeshi officials say the fencing is a response to growing concerns about crime and gang violence; humanitarian groups say any security measures must be proportionate. “The civilian and humanitarian character of the camps must be maintained,” the UN Refugee Agency warned. (Photo: Dhaka Tribune)

Syria
Rukban

Jordan forcibly deports Syrian refugees

Over the past months, dozens of Syrian refugees have been deported by the Jordanian government to Rukban, a desolate camp across the Syria-Jordan border. Authorities say those targeted for deportation have “security” issues, but returnees to the camp deny having had any problems with law enforcement in Jordan. Amnesty International said  that at least 16 refugees have been “forcibly transferred” to Rukban over the past month alone. Watchdog groups say the deportations are a violation of asylum-seekers’ rights, and that sending a refugee back to likely harm—known as refoulement—is prohibited under international law. While Jordan has been quietly deporting asylum-seekers for several years, this is the first time it has been accused of forcible transfers to the desert no-man’s-land, which experiences scalding temperatures and is largely cut off from food and medicine supplies. “It’s still a human rights violation regardless of what [the refugees] are accused of,” said Sara Kayyali, Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These deportations have happened with no fair trial or due process.” (Photo: Omar al-Homsi/TNH)

Africa
Sudan

Moment of truth for Sudan peace process

Sudan’s power-sharing government signed a peace deal with an alliance of rebel groups this week, sparking hopes of an end to decades of conflict in the country. The agreement will see rebels given government posts, power devolved to local regions, and displaced people offered a chance to return home. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok dedicated the deal—one of his main priorities following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir 14 months ago—to children born in refugee camps, while the UN commended an “historic achievement.” But there are reasons to be cautious. Two of Sudan’s main armed groups in Darfur and the southern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan refused to sign. Abdul Wahid, leader of a faction of the holdout Sudan Liberation Movement, said the deal was “business as usual” and unlikely to address root causes of conflict. With Sudan’s economy in freefall, it’s also unclear how the transitional government will be able to afford the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to make it workable. Previous agreements in 2006 and 2011 came to little. However, with al-Bashir now out of the picture—perhaps soon facing the ICC—things could be different this time around. With violence rising in Darfur and in other parts of the country, there’s a lot riding on it.. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

Africa
South Sudan flood

Flooding, fighting threaten South Sudan ‘catastrophe’

President Salva Kiir declared a state of emergency in South Sudan’s central Jonglei and Pibor regions following flooding and communal violence. More than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes as water levels rose by 1.5 meters after heavy rains. The government has called on humanitarian agencies to provide immediate aid, but inter-communal unrest will complicate operations. The conflict between Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic militias has displaced 100,000 since the beginning of the year. They will miss the current planting season—deepening food insecurity. The Famine Early Warning System Network is anticipating an imminent “catastrophe” in Jonglei. (Photo: Elizabeth Stuart/UNHCR)

Greater Middle East
Bierut blast

What Beirut blast could mean for battered Lebanon

As rescue workers continue to look for survivors amid the rubble of a massive explosion that killed a reported 130 people in Beirut’s port, the implications of the blast for Lebanon appear grim. Lebanon’s economy has been in freefall for months, unemployment is rising, and the foreign minister Nassif Hitti resigned one day before the blast, warning that the country risks becoming a “failed state.” Now hundreds of thousands more have been left homeless, critical port facilities are destroyed, and local hospitals are overwhelmed. Lebanon was already battling COVID-19 before the blast, and last week it instituted a new lockdown to try to control a spike in new infections. (Photo via Beirut.com)

Europe
SOS Mediterranee

Italy detains another migrant rescue ship

Italian authorities detained another NGO-operated search-and-rescue vessel—the fourth to have fallen foul of “technical irregularities” since the beginning of the pandemic. The move fits a pattern of authorities using administrative procedures to block the work of search-and-rescue NGOs in the central Mediterranean, according to human rights groups. At the end of June, the Ocean Viking, operated by NGO Onboard SOS Mediterranee, rescued 180 asylum-seekers and migrants who had departed from Libya. Authorities in Italy and Malta refused to assign the ship a safe harbor for eight days, leading to a severe deterioration in the mental health conditions of those on board, manifesting in suicide attempts and fights. After the rescued people finally disembarked in Sicily, the Ocean Viking observed a 14-day quarantine before it was inspected and impounded. (Photo: Onboard SOS Mediterranee)

The Amazon
yanomami

Amazon indigenous concerns grow over COVID-19

Four months after COVID-19 was first suspected of spreading to indigenous communities in the Amazon Basin, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghereyesus, said at a press conference that the WHO is “deeply concerned” by the pandemic’s impact on native populations. He singled out the recently contacted Nahua people in Peru, six of whom have caught the virus. The OAS has also called on Brazil to protect the Yanomami people, who may have been infected by government health workers. Poverty, malnutrition, and the prevalence of communicable diseases put indigenous people at greater risk from coronavirus. (Photo: Mongabay)