Elections in wartime � Afghanistan sets a date
Afghanistan's election commission has announced parliamentary and district council polls for 7 July. Past elections have seen increased attacks on civilians as polling day approaches. There's no reason to expect anything different this time around, especially with the Taliban and al-Qaeda/so-called Islamic State elements in the ascendancy in several parts of the country. The last election, in 2014, almost triggered civil conflict as Abdullah Abdullah refused to recognise Ashraf Ghani as president. Fraud was so widespread the UN refused to release its audit of the vote � US secretary of state John Kerry had to fly to Kabul to broker a compromise. Afghanistan has been locked in a political crisis ever since, with various factions working against each other and stalling much-needed reforms. Will the upcoming elections resolve or exacerbate those tensions? We'll soon find out.
Globally, 34,200 Venezuelans sought asylum in 2016 and Venezuelans now outnumber any other nationality of asylum seeker in the United States, while the figure for those seeking asylum in the European Union in the first quarter of 2017 was five times higher than over the same period the preceding year. Many others have migrated on business and tourist visas. Before April, most were fleeing their country's severe economic crisis rather than political persecution, and are therefore unlikely to qualify for refugee status. But since then, a wave of anti-government protests has been brutally repressed. President Nicolas Maduro's increasingly authoritarian rule means more Venezuelans may qualify for international protection over the coming year. This article by the Migration Policy Institute examines the roots of the crisis and considers opportunities for engaging with the estimated two million Venezuelans now living abroad. It draws from a study that used Skype and social media to survey the diaspora about their reasons for emigrating, their interest in returning, and their willingness to participate in a reconstruction process. In another new report, the International Crisis Group highlights systematic looting as Venezuelans face chronic shortages of food, medicines and other basic goods. It urges the regional Organization of American States bloc to urgently push for negotiations with a strict timetable for a credible plan to restore peaceful democracy. At least 76 people have now been killed in two months of protests � the latest being a teenage boy on Monday and a 22-year-old man on Thursday.
Niger: In the eye of the storm
Niger is poor, loosely governed, and vulnerable. Although there is no home-born militant group, the conflicts in neighbouring Mali, Nigeria, and Libya have spilled into Niger and compromised internal security, as have global jihadi terrorism and kidnapping, notes Vanda Felbab-Brown of Brookings in this timely blog. As a key channel for migrants to the Sahara and to Europe, Niger is also rife with smuggling in assorted contraband, she adds. As IRIN reported earlier this year, the EU-funded crackdown on migration through Niger has been effective, but at a cost. It has badly hit the local economy, and has led to the use of more dangerous, circuitous smuggling routes. Gold mining had provided some alternative employment for young Nigeriens (and people from further afield), but in response to the lawlessness, the government has now cracked down on that opportunity as well. And in the south there is Boko Haram � more a response by the youth to the marginalisation of the Diffa region than any real ideological commitment to the jihadists. But despite a strong military presence, the Boko Haram threat persists. The latest attack � which was repulsed � was on a border post on 16 June near the Nigerian towns of Kanema and Gaidam. Look out for IRIN's upcoming coverage of violent extremism in Diffa and the government's struggling amnesty programme for ex-combatants.
Eritrea: In from the cold?
What do Donald Trump's accession to power, the war in Yemen, Europe's migration crisis, a Red Sea property boom, and a UN prison inspection have in common? According to this fascinating article in Foreign Policy, they're all factors in Eritrea's apparent emergence from years of international isolation. Several hundred Eritrean troops are said to be fighting in the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, which has sparked a rush on Eritrean coastal real estate by Gulf states looking to base their troops there, FP reports. To try to stem the flow of migrants to its shores, the European Union approved in 2015 a 200-million-euro aid package for Eritrea, the biggest single source of refugees to Europe between 2014 and 2016. The EU has also promised support to train judges and security services in Eritrea, while Britain plans to open an international development office in Asmara. Recently, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was even allowed to tour a prison in Eritrea. And, after decades of being almost totally closed off to the international media, some 50 foreign journalists were allowed to visit in the year up to May 2016. Support for the sanctions imposed on Eritrea in the wake of its devastating 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia is gradually eroding, not least, according to FP, because there is no evidence that Eritrea is still supporting al-Shabab militants in Somalia. All this, the article says, has left Eritrea's arch-foe, Ethiopia, in a quandary, fearful that President Isaias Afwerki will use his growing financial resources to step up support for armed opposition in Ethiopia.
Did you miss it?
Black sites are back
Reporting, tweeting, and talking about Yemen can feel a bit like shouting into the wind. The cholera outbreak, which has to date killed more than 1,205 people in two months and infected 179,500, received a bit of mainstream press and, as IRIN reported Monday, one million doses of a vaccine should soon be on their way to the country. But an exhaustive investigation by the Associated Press really broke through the noise this week (you know at least some corners of the internet are paying attention when Edward Snowden tweets): The AP revealed a secret network of prisons in south Yemen, run by the United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces, used to interrogate and torture men in the hunt for al-Qaeda suspects. Oh, and the United States reportedly questions detainees there too. So, black sites are back, in Yemen at least, and the US is involved. Hundreds of men have disappeared and many tortured in a horrific fashion. The abusers are important parties to Yemen's long war � Human Rights Watch provides more detail in this report. Are you paying attention now?
To stay and deliver, five years on
In an effort to bridge gaps in delivering assistance during armed conflicts, the UN's emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, published a landmark report in 2011 � To Stay and Deliver: Good Practice for Humanitarians in Complex Security Environments. Five years later, this new study, produced for the Norwegian Refugee Council, assesses what's changed. More specifically, it analyses shifts in the threats and risks faced by humanitarian workers; overviews institutional, operational, and cultural changes within humanitarian organisations; considers the extent to which the recommendations of the OCHA study have been adopted; and sets out ideas about how the aims of that study could be further met. The NRC report is based on field research in Afghanistan and Central African Republic and desk research on Syria and Yemen. It notes three key developments since 1991: a growing financing gap; a greater emphasis on security by international humanitarian organisations; and a greater sense of risk and vulnerability among international aid workers even though the number of incidents affecting them have seen a proportional decrease. While progress has been made in some areas, the humanitarian community continues to grapple with how to stay and deliver effectively and responsibly in highly insecure environments and, it concludes, not enough has changed, particularly at the field level, since 2011.