Category Archives: Humanitarian Sector

Tackling the Complexity of the Yemeni Crisis

Learn more at our upcoming event at Fordham University.

New York City, April 10, 2017 – Two years after the onset of conflict in Yemen, the country is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. Despite the two million Yemenis internally displaced, seven million at risk of famine and 18.8 million in need of humanitarian aid, less than 10 percent of the United Nations two billion dollar humanitarian appeal has been met by donor nations and nations party to the conflict have done little to cease hostilities.

Giulio Coppi, Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Innovation Fellow, recently embarked on a fact-finding mission to Oman and Djibouti to study the impact of the crisis and subsequent forced migration in the region. He sat down with the IIHA Communications Officer, Angela Wells, to recount his findings.

What was the goal of your recent research trip on the Yemeni crisis?

This recent research trip led me to study the regional impact of the Yemeni crisis, with a special focus on migration and health. I traveled through Oman and Djibouti, meeting local actors and visiting refugee and migrant communities. I also tried – unsuccessfully – to enter Yemen to meet people and local organizations. I really focused on understanding what lies beneath the surface of the most banal crises in the current media landscape.

 

How would you explain the Yemeni crisis to someone unfamiliar with what lies beneath the surface of the crisis?

To an outsider with little background, Yemen could look like just another case of civil war due to bad governance and political instability, or maybe another country engulfed in sectarian and religious violence. The truth is much more complicated than that: Yemen is being intentionally strangled economically, militarily and politically by internal and international actors involved in a conflict with profound historical and geopolitical roots.

Yemen was recently listed as one of four of the most serious humanitarian crises of our time. Can you explain the situation provoking people to flee the country and the complexities humanitarian workers are dealing with within Yemen?

The inclusion of Yemen as one of four of the most serious humanitarian crises of our time comes right after its definition as a forgotten crisis. The country passed from oblivion to full spotlight in a matter of days. This is mostly due to the adoption by some organizations and UN agencies of the keyword “famine”, that immediately made it to the headlines.

Unfortunately, this leads to yet another oversimplification. It generates the false impression that all is needed is to fund agencies that deliver food. This action alone would be shortsighted and ineffective, as the situation requires a much bolder response. Humanitarians are faced with a daunting task: replacing the whole public and private sector that has been wiped away by sanctions, embargoes, violence, and corruption. Overstretched and exposed, humanitarians increase their risk of being perceived as non-neutral, or partial, and becoming a target for further violence.

We know that mixed migration flows to and from Yemen are very complex with migrants from the Horn of Africa fleeing to Yemen and Yemenis fleeing to the Horn. Can you explain this in more detail?

Due to its strategic position, Yemen has always been a crossroad of nations and people. The escalation of the conflict in 2015 resulted in a temporary suspension of the migratory movements of people from the Horn of Africa, most notably Ethiopia and Somalia, towards the Arab Gulf countries.

It is counterintuitive, but with the conflict, these figures have actually increased. Some migrants do not know about the conflict, but others actually hope the collapse of internal governance could facilitate their journey. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Saudi Arabia and Oman have sealed and militarized their borders, and militias control most areas of Yemen, who kidnap for ransom and often abuse migrants.

On the other side, Yemenis fleeing to the Horn of Africa has actually dwindled. I found that Yemenis prefer to seek asylum in countries more culturally similar and with more economic opportunities. Most of the refugees who sought safe haven in Djibouti tried to move on as quickly as possible, once they realized the hardship of living as a migrant in the country.

What is the reality for Yemenis fleeing to nearby countries like Djibouti and Oman?

 For most Yemenis arriving in Djibouti, one of the poorest countries in the world, they are really shocked at the conditions in the camps. Markazi camp, where they are hosted, is a camp in the middle of a desolate desert. The closest city, Obock, is a provincial town without markets or livelihood opportunities. Food and other goods arrive from the capital city from time to time, while many items are still being brought in from Yemen. In summer, the camp is swept by the khamsin (dust storms with wind speeds as high as forty miles an hour), and temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Refugees endure these conditions in tents, huts or in containers with no electricity and really meager food provisions.

In Oman and Saudi Arabia, conditions are much better for those who manage to enter and stay. In contrast to Djibouti, which grants all Yemenis prima facie refugee status, Arab Gulf States are not parties to refugee treaties and only grant standard visas. While initially they made a display of generosity towards their neighbors, that attitude quickly changed as it became clear the conflict would not be a short one. Today, those under official visas – like medical or study visas – are granted the same services as local nationals. Those who are not so lucky face exclusion from any assistance, and a constant risk of deportation.

Where else are Yemenis seeking refuge and what are they experiencing in these reception countries?

Today, the majority of Yemenis are not hosted by their next door neighbors, but have rather continued on their journey to seek asylum in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, while some have been able to make their way to Europe or the United States. Yemen has a vast diaspora, and very often families have at least one member with a foreign citizenship allowing some refugees a chance of reunification with their community abroad, be it in Djibouti, Oman, Lebanon or Germany. Those who are able to join their communities abroad have a better chance for smooth integration and acceptance by local populations. However, coexistence isn’t always easy, especially when their expanded presence puts a strain on limited land and resources, which can destabilize local demographics and add further strain to existing public services.

Recently, a boat of Somali migrants was bombed 30 miles off the coast of Yemen by Saudi-backed forces. Do you see this as a worrying trend for the future or an isolated incident and why?

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and I do not think it will be the last. The Bab-el-Mandeb strait, a vital commercial route, was already heavily militarized before the conflict and even more so today. Furthermore, this attack is representative of a worrying trend on the access of safe routes for forced migrants globally. We see around the world how increasingly innocent civilians trying to escape the perils of war are being directly and purposefully attacked in systemic and horrifying ways. This is not only in violation of international laws, but is a deeply worrying indication that humanitarian channels and national values for unfettered humanitarian access is more compromised than every before.

 Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In these times when all the attention is focused on Syria and the horrible tragedy in Syria, it is also important to remind everyone of the words of Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “Yemen after five months looked like Syria after five years.”

The level and extent of the destruction in Yemen is unparalleled for intensity and impact. What is worse, very little efforts have been made by the UN Security Council to call for safe humanitarian access, cross-border protection, or cessation of hostilities in Yemen. It is about time the UN Security Council, and involved parties to the conflict, adopt a more proactive role to end this conflict, before Yemen and its population reach the point of no return.

Non-Fordham guests must register in advance for the upcoming event Tackling the Complexity of the Yemeni Crisis.

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Featured Resources (WBG): Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Contexts

Upon request of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Principals, the World Bank agreed to coordinate a process of reviewing key issues and options for significantly scaling up the use of multipurpose cash transfers (MPCTs; including digital cash and vouchers) in the humanitarian space. The Strategic Note document, “Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Contexts,” lays out the main findings and options emerging from the process. The main text is complemented by a set of seven appendixes, detailing the process and feedback received, as well as presenting a thorough review of the evidence and evidence gaps in the comparative effectiveness of cash and in-kind programs across humanitarian objectives. This note synthesizes main issues and findings from the process, including defining overarching issues (section 2), setting out the overall context in which a wider use of cash should be considered (section 3), and identifying the specific areas to help unleash a wider use of cash transfers when and where appropriate (section 4).  

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IIHA Executive Director Looks Ahead toHumanitarian Issues in 2016

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Brendan Cahill

Brendan Cahill (IDHA 9, IIHA Executive Director) recently provided insight on the Escalating Humanitarian Crises for Fordham’s 2016: Which Way are We Headed?

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Room for Debate: WHS & MSF

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS)

The WHS will take place May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey. Organized by the UN, the summit is a call to action with three main goals:

  1. To re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles.
  2. To initiate a set of concrete actions and commitments aimed at enabling countries and communities to better prepare for and respond to crises, and be resilient to shocks.
  3. To share best practices which can help save lives around the world, put affected people at the center of humanitarian action, and alleviate suffering.

The core responsibilities of the summit are:

  1. Prevent and end conflict
  2. Respect rules of war
  3. Leave no one behind
  4. Working differently to end need
  5. Invest in humanity

With approximately 5,000 people expected to attend, the summit will produce a “Commitments to Action” document which will support the Agenda for Humanity. The document, which is not legally binding, will be a demonstration of goodwill by UN member states and other stakeholders including NGOs.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

On May 5, just a little over two weeks before the main event, MSF announced its withdrawal from participating in the WHS. According to the statement released by MSF, the organization no longer believes the summit “will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations.”

The organization stated, “the summit neglects to reinforce the obligations of states to uphold and implement the humanitarian and refugee laws which they have signed up to.” The organization believes that not enough pressure has been put on member states to uphold the laws of war and it is unfair and unrealistic to ask NGOs like MSF to fill this gap.  IRIN News spoke with a former MSF senior staffer who put MSF’s decision in perspective: “You can ask firefighters to put out a fire. Don’t ask them to build affordable housing.” However, the UN Tribune reports that the UN sees humanitarian aid and development work coming closer together, working in tandem.

Reuters commented that because of MSF’s strong global influence, the WHS may not be as effective without the NGO. Another blog, Humanicontrarian argued WHS’ agenda has been flawed from the beginning, and has little to do with humanitarian aid. At least one person has advocated that MSF pulling out of the summit will help illuminate the gaps in the agenda, and encourage other participating NGOs to demand the summit address them.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General commented on MSF’s withdrawal; “I’d say it’s disappointing, because I think the summit was going to deal with a lot of issues that are vital to MSF and which MSF traditionally presents a strong and influential voice.” He went on to state that the summit is continuing “full speed ahead” and the UN expects over 6,000 attendees. Howard Mollett, a Senior Policy Advisor at CARE International UK pointed out that the WHS “has been a messy, sprawling affair and will inevitably fall far short of what is required to address the vast and deeply political challenges facing humanitarian action.” However, he goes on to argue that “we cannot avoid the fact that the governments, civil society groups and businesses invited are either already engaged on the ground or have an influence on today’s major crises.” The hope is that these already engaged groups attend and commit to acting on “challenges, gaps and weaknesses that MSF, but also Ban Ki Moon, have identified.”

Debate

  • Are MSF’s claims that the WHS will not effectively address governmental responsibility and the weaknesses of humanitarian action valid?
  • Is there another way that MSF could have called attention to its concerns while still participating in the WHS?
  • Will the legitimacy and effectiveness of the WHS be called into question given the lack of participation of MSF?

Please feel free to comment below, or share with your colleagues and networks to start a conversation!

 

 

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UNHCR Resource Update: Training Package on the Protection of LGBTI Persons in Forced Displacement

The comprehensive training package on the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in forced displacement, developed jointly with International Organization for Migration IOM, covers a wide variety of topics, including terminology, international law, communication, operational protection, conducting interviews, durable solutions, health, and refugee status determination, all with a focus on practical guidance for UNHCR and partner organizations. Through a series of field tests undertaken in 2015, UNHCR staff from around the world have helped to refine these materials to ensure that they are operationally relevant globally. All modules include a facilitation guide, participant workbook, and presentation, which can be downloaded. In addition to the main modules, short versions of the foundation topics, including a webinar that allows staff members to do basic self-study, are part of the training package. The training package includes general and module-specific guidance for facilitators, as well as other training aides, to promote the use of these materials in the field.

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UNHCR Resource Update: The Global Report “Protecting Persons with Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities”

This is the UNHCR’s first global overview of progress made in protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and inter-sex (LGBTI) asylum-seekers, refugees, and others of concern. The report is a significant contribution to UNHCR’s efforts to fill the information gap about the situation of LGBTI persons of concern to the Office, and it offers a blueprint for UNHCR to bolster LGBTI-inclusive protection programming. The key findings presented in the report are derived from an extensive review of protection activities undertaken by 106 UNHCR operations around the world, covering the following thematic areas: legal, cultural, and social context; identification and outreach activities; asylum and displacement conditions; refugee status determination and durable solutions; training on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity; and, operational guidelines and advocacy efforts. The report identifies strengths and gaps in the protection of LGBTI persons of concern to UNHCR and concludes by proposing a way forward, which may be of broad interest to a diverse group of stakeholders, including UNHCR staff, other agencies of the United Nations, and governmental and non-governmental partners. Among the conclusions of the report, the following emerge as particularly critical areas for future attention both by UNHCR staff and other relevant stakeholders:

a. Train UNHCR and partner staff on sexual orientation and gender identity and the particular protection risks that displaced LGBTI people face, and specific means to address them.
b. Promote the creation of “safe spaces”, where persons of concern feel supported to express their sexual orientation and gender identity.
c. Develop partnerships with national and international LGBTI organisations and networks and with LGBTI people from refugee and host communities.
d. Explore possibilities for systematic data collection on asylum claims on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
e. Establish systems for identifying LGBTI refugees in need of resettlement, and ensure that LGBTI refugees are included in discussions with resettlement countries.

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UNHCR Resource Update: Community-based Protection Online Community

The community-based protection online community of practice facilitates peer learning and the exchange of experience between humanitarian and protection actors around the world. The community of practice brings together resources from UNHCR and other community-based protection actors, including tools, guidelines, videos, training material and examples of successful field practices. Specific thematic areas include age, gender and diversity, accountability to affected populations, and persons with specific needs. On the community of practice you will also find the first two issues of the new “Community-Based Protection in Action” series of thematic briefs, which aim to support the operationalization of community-based protection. The first two briefs cover the following topics: community centres and community-based outreach outside of camps. The community of practice is public and its resources are available to anyone interested in community-based protection. However, to truly make this a vibrant platform for peer learning and information sharing, the platform has been made available for anyone to upload material, share experiences, leave comments, and interact with other members. To do so, the sign up is possible here.

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IIHA Event Series Featured Resources & Articles

In line with IIHA’s Spring Event Series “Challenges & Opportunities: Global Migration in the 21st Century”, below are some articles for further reading regarding the ongoing migration crisis.

Devex | Calais: A humanitarian ‘no man’s land’?

Many of the aid organizations that specialize in setting up and running refugee camps can’t go to Calais. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) lack the mandate to work in France. In their place, volunteer organizations and a smattering of international aid groups have set up shop amidst the endless tarpaulin and scrap metal shelters. Current active organizations include MSF, ACTED, Medecins du Monde, Care 4 Calais, and L’auberge des Migrants.

Devex spent two days in the camp shadowing aid workers and volunteers, asking what the Calais jungle means for the global humanitarian system, watch the video on their website.

Fordham Political Review | Compassion, Crossings, and Refugees

Fordham Political Review Editor, Katherine Labonte spoke with IIHA Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow, Alexander van Tulleken, M.D. about his recent documentary and his thoughts and opinions of the ongoing migration crisis. Read the interview in the Fordham Political Review.

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IIHA Event: Christophe Lobry-Boulanger of the IFRC on Humanitarian Response to Migrant Crisis

For the next event in IIHA’s spring 2016 event series, Challenges & Opportunities: Global Migration in the 21st Century, Christophe Lobry-Boulanger from the International Federation of the Red Cross will discuss the humanitarian response to the ongoing migrant crisis. Mr. Lobry-Boulanger will give a status of the refugee crisis in Europe as well as the response from the International Red Cross perspective.

Christophe Lobry-Boulanger has over 15 years of service with the International Red Cross and American Red Cross. After serving at the UN Department of Political Affairs, he developed the International Services Department at the Greater New York Chapter of the American Red Cross,with a strong focus on International Humanitarian Law. As a volunteer with the GNY Red Cross and an International Delegate, he has been deployed to Haiti, Pakistan, the Philippines and Kenya to help provide humanitarian aid and assistance. For the past four years, he has served as an advisor at the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies Delegation to the United Nations, where he was responsible for the health file, among others. He has recently come back from West Africa where he was the Deputy Head of Regional Ebola Response for the Red Cross Movement, and various refugees related missions in Europe.

  • Date & Time: Thursday, March 31st at 12:30pm
  • Location: Fordham University | Room 1021 | Lowenstein Building | 113 W. 60th Street, New York, NY 10023
  • Chick here to RSVP
  • Lunch will be served

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Featured Report: World Disasters Report 2015

“Other crises where local people have taken the lead include the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the Nepal earthquakes this year, IFRC Secretary General Elhadj As Sy (IDHA Honoris Causa Recipient) wrote in a foreword to the annual report.”

Local responders are effective not just because they are there when a disaster hits, but because they know how things work and can identify the causes of problems, he added.

“They are uniquely placed to find solutions that reduce underlying risks because of their understanding of local contexts – of weather patterns, of community leaders, of vulnerabilities and of sources of strength,” he wrote.

“That expertise can be harnessed to make communities more resilient to future threats, ” he said.

For more information, view the World Disasters Report 2015 (IFRC).

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