Empowering Rohingya Women:  Confronting Sexual Violence in Humanitarian Settings

During the second half of 2017, an estimated 671,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar due to systemic violence perpetrated against the ethnic group, including killings, rape, and torture. Much of this violence, allegedly committed by Myanmar’s armed forces, specifically targeted women and girls. Pramila Patten, United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, stated that the organized gang rape of Rohingya women was “a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group.” Adding to the trauma of this campaign of sexual violence, many Rohingya women continue to experience sexual exploitation and violence after reaching the refugee camps in Bangladesh. To date, little has been done to address the unique needs of these women or to prevent a recurrence of the systemic violence they fled from.

A Muslim minority group living in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the Rohingya have faced government persecution for decades. Among the many discriminatory policies they face, the Rohingya are not recognized as one of the country’s official ethnic groups and have been denied the right to claim citizenship in Myanmar. In August 2017, violent clashes erupted when a Rohingya militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked military stations throughout Rakhine State. After the ARSA claimed responsibility for the attacks, the resulting military crackdown forced thousands of Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

Sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) often escalates during crises like these, when large populations are displaced and a state’s protection systems for women collapse. Rape is often used as a tactic to dehumanize and humiliate “other” populations within sectarian conflicts and during the military’s clearance operations, Myanmar soldiers allegedly raped Rohingya women and girls. When the women attempted to report the violations to authorities, they were forced to undergo invasive medical examinations. The government of Myanmar has denied that its armed forces have committed any acts of sexual violence, even suggesting that Rohingya women are not attractive enough to merit such attention. Yet, in every case of sexual violence reported to Human Rights Watch, the perpetrators were described as uniformed members of Myanmar’s security forces.

Even after reaching Cox Bazar, Bangladesh, where sprawling refugee camps have been set up to accommodate an ever-growing refugee population, Rohingya women continue to live in fear of SGBV in what should be a safe haven. This is in part due to frustration with life in the camps, as well as an extreme lack of privacy, especially near latrines. Latrines are not separated by gender, which compounds the discomfort of women survivors of sexual violence. Reports of violence near sanitation facilities have led to instances where women and girls refuse to eat in order to avoid using the toilets, dreading the violence that comes with it. Some women even resort to sharing burkas to feel they can move safely about the camp without fear of being assaulted.

In addition to the risk of sexual violence, aid agencies have also reported an increase in sex trafficking in and around Rohingya refugee camps, with girls as young as 13 years old being abducted and sold as sex slaves. Many of the smugglers come from outside the camps, falsely promising families they will provide work opportunities for the girls, who are then smuggled out of the camps and sold in Thailand, India, and Malaysia.

Although a repatriation deal has been reached, the United Nations Refugee Agency assesses that conditions in Myanmar are not ready for the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya refugees. The first and most important step toward this goal, is to acknowledge and address the sexual violence perpetrated against Rohingya women. It is paramount that humanitarian organizations uphold and protect the safety of all refugees within the camps and especially for women and girls, who are the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Second, organizations working within the camps should immediately expand services to meet the unique needs of Rohingya women survivors. These services should include pre- and post-natal care for Rohingya women, some of whom became pregnant during the violent military crackdown. Since August 2017, aid agencies have provided services to 2,756 survivors of SGBV in refugee camps. But renowned human rights journalist and Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman noted after a visit to Cox Bazar that less than 20% of Rohingya women have had access to post-rape care. This is completely unacceptable.  In a more positive development, the first Multi-Purpose Women Center built by UN Women in the Bhalukhai refugee camp creates a safe space for Rohingya women, as well as provides sexual violence recovery services and counseling. This model should be replicated in other Rohingya refugee camps, as well as around the world.

Third, humanitarian organizations and civil society groups should educate the entire Rohingya refugee community about sexual violence. According to Human Rights Watch, two-thirds of Rohingya survivors interviewed did not report their rape to the appropriate authorities due to a deep-rooted stigma surrounding SGBV. Diminishing the stigma of SGBV will not only encourage more women survivors to come forward and report the violence they have experienced, but also help them receive proper recovery services and improve SGBV prevention.

For many women refugees, the risk of SGBV doesn’t disappear after they leave the location of their crimes, even when they reach places of presumed safety. The humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis must be revamped to meet the particular needs of women and girl refugees, especially their protection and recovery from systemic SGBV within refugee camps. Acknowledging and addressing the plight of Rohingya women, especially within humanitarian settings where they should expect a certain level of security, is essential to putting these women on the path to recovery and breaking the cycle of violence.

By Renee Coulouris

Photo: Flickr

Imagining 2030: Post-ISIS Middle East

Photo by Mstyslav Chernov – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia

By Linda Schlegel. Linda is currently pursuing an MA in Terrorism, Security, and Society at King’s College London.

While the ideological appeal of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) remains high as exemplified by the recent attacks throughout the United Kingdom, the group’s territorial base is constantly shrinking. It is too early to proclaim the end of the caliphate or the defeat of ISIS. After all, Al-Qaeda was believed to have vanished into nothing more than a ghost of the past, yet it continues to operate, albeit with changed organizational character. ISIS, just like Al-Qaeda, will not just vanish even if all territory held by the group was liberated. One does not simply defeat terrorism by physical force. ISIS as an idea and an ideal will continue to live on far beyond its physical manifestation.

Nevertheless, governments and civil society actors can and should prepare for the possibility of a Middle East with a much weaker presence from ISIS, and develop long-term solutions beyond the immediate military defeat of the group. The challenges in the region are manifold and the interests of powerful states such as the US, China and Russia make negotiations often conflictual rather than cordial. Many issues beyond ISIS will remain, such as the conflict between Israel and Palestine, Iran’s influence in the region or the post-war troubles in both Afghanistan and Iraq. One problem all parties will be facing equally, however, is the reintegration of those, who lived and fought under ISIS.

At its peak, ISIS controlled territory with over 10 million inhabitants. Current numbers are hard to estimate as territorial boundaries are constantly changing and the situation in Syria makes it impossible for the United Nations and other organizations to adequately assess the population size and the number of victims. Whatever the current numbers may be, it is clear that millions of people, who lived under ISIS rule will have to be re-integrated into their societies after the decline of the group. Returning foreign fighters are a problem by themselves with regards to re-integration in their home societies, but the problem will be even more pronounced in the Middle East and exacerbated by returning refugees. It is not feasible to incarcerate all those, who were forced to fight for ISIS and much less those, who perpetrated unlawful acts to simply survive under the extremist group. But how can one re-build a country where returning refugees live next to someone, who was part of an ISIS fighter group? How can the international community assist the people in Syria and Iraq to adequately deal with this situation? There are many different issues to be taken into consideration, but two possible measures are discussed below: a truth commission and de-radicalization.

The first question on the path to re-integration is whom to integrate and whom to imprison. ISIS territories, however, are currently unmonitored and it will be extremely difficult to trace crimes and violent acts to their specific perpetrators in retrospect. Therefore, a possible first step ought to be, the establishment of a truth commission. The international community has experience with this endeavour, for example in the case of South Africa after apartheid or Rwanda after the genocide. While high-ranking leaders of ISIS are likely to be tried in tribunals for crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations, low-level members of the organization are unlikely to be tried in this setting. A truth commission is a useful way of dealing with the foot soldiers before re-integrating them. It is useful for different reasons.

Firstly, it establishes an account of what happened, which is necessary in order to map-out atrocities committed. In chaotic situations such as under the rule of a terrorist organization, truth cannot be established, but in the aftermath actions can be traced back by a commission. Secondly, truth commissions are reconciliatory in nature. Rather than exercising a punishment, truth commissions place an emphasis on establishing an account of what happened and thereby aiding the process of closure for victims. They are also aimed at bringing victims and perpetrators together and to carefully re-establish relations, which is especially important considering that people of both groups need to be able to live together in order to re-build the country.

The second step needs to be some form of de-radicalization program for those, who were exposed to ISIS propaganda and may have come to accept some of it as their own world view. While Islamist groups will come and go, the long-term goal of the international community should be to counter the extremist ideology these groups spread. This may be especially relevant for children, who lived under ISIS rule and have been exposed to a high degree of ideological material and indoctrination. In many areas controlled by ISIS, TVs and other entertainment equipment were destroyed and substituted with public preaching and even military training for children of all ages. These children do not only need a de-radicalization program, but are likely to need counselling as well in order to put their experiences with ISIS in perspective and to help them overcome what they have been taught. While it is important to focus on the future and ensure that the children of Aleppo and other Syrian cities do not become a ‘lost generation’ by adequately caring for their psychological needs post their experience with extremism, it is just as important for a reconstruction of a society to de-radicalize adults.

As a first step, behavioural de-radicalization should be the goal; that is, giving up violent behaviour and the willingness to use violence to advance a political or religious agenda. This is the most important aspect to starting re-integration and the ideological component, the cognitive de-radicalization, can then be achieved in a long-term process through culture specific de-radicalization programs. Culture-specific, traditional measures to tackle local issues in the aftermath of conflict have proven to be successful, for example in the Gacaca trials in Rwanda. Many countries have experience with de-radicalization programs, for example in prisons, and this knowledge should be utilized to support Syrians in the restructuring of society.

ISIS cannot be proclaimed dead and perhaps never will be, but it is declining and therefore measures to re-stabilize the region post-ISIS can and should be discussed. There are many issues to be negotiated, economically, politically and socially, but developing an account of what happened as well as establishing some form of re-integrative program for local ISIS members are necessary steps towards a free and peaceful future for Syria. If the international community fails to support these steps, the countries affected will remain the cradle of terrorism and conflict regardless of whether ISIS will continue to exist or not.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

An Unconventional Superpower

First edition of Abraham Ortelius‘ map of Asia (1572), displaying a vast network of waterways across East Asia, advocating his belief that a shipping route existed through China to the Northern Sea and thence, by way of the Northeast Passage, to Europe.


By Tim Abington. Tim is a 6th form student applying to study International Relations at the University of Birmingham in September.

Despite what would appear to be voters’ best attempts to say otherwise, there is still a case for multilateralism. Why? Because time and time again the physical world proves it can quickly overwhelm the human one when single states are simply not able to cope with a geography that ignores the human notions of sovereignty or national borders.

When talking about geography it’s hard not to use a map. Maps should be used more – they illustrate points in a direct manner that is hard to ignore.

So now, turning to your nearest atlas, flick to the relief map of the Middle East and glance at the contours. They show that anti-immigration arguments of misled compassion are missing a major point. Syrian refugees enter Europe partly because geography leaves little alternative. To the East are the Zagros and Elburz mountain ranges; to the South, the Syrian desert; neither are particularly hospitable or inviting to humans. To the West, the European plains, a flat relief, easily navigable and a moderate climate. It is ironic that one of the geographical factors that helped Europe conquer the world is now pushing it into a retreat.

Another geographical factor, climate change, goes well beyond that cliché image of a lonesome polar bear. It causes floods across Northern India whilst turning Southern Spain into a desert. Consequently, agriculture – always sensitive to its environment – is facing its biggest test in decades.

The Earth is getting warmer and crops are feeling its effects. Just as the English lawn turns yellow in summer, maize will wilt and die. Temperature rises will reduce growing seasons, increase heat stress and increase the range of various pests and disease vectors. There is no doubt that the ‘everyday staples’ will be affected by climate change. Last year, orange juice concentrate prices rose 21% as poor weather wreaked havoc with Brazilian harvests. Conditions are not going to get any more favourable, as the globe warms and air masses heat up, they hold a larger quantity of water vapour, resulting in greater precipitation. Quite simply, it rains more.

Across Northern Bangladesh the most common form of cultivated crop is Boro Rice, ideally suited to growing in shallow water. Yet all too easily, the entire crop is washed away by a rainfall that is just too much for paddy capacity. Rice forms the staple diet in South East Asia, so the issue is not limited in scope to just Bangladesh.

Staying in the region, South Asia is actually a perfect example of how international cooperation is required to overcome geographical barriers. The region is covered in rivers, wide and vast bodies of water, they ignore borders and flow as geography allows. The river sources are generally located in the Himalayan highlands of Nepal whilst the mouth flows out across the deltas of India. Any decisions made by Nepal, whether they be the building of dams or reservoirs, will have consequences all along the river basin, leaving rice paddies destroyed and populations displaced. Nepal imports $204 million of rice from India; it is in its interest to cooperate and minimise disruption to rice yields, humanitarian moralism aside, its own population needs feeding.

In September 2013 an article appeared in the ‘Financial Times’, “First Chinese cargo ship nears end of Northeast Passage transit”. 40 years beforehand, such a headline would only have been found in a science fiction novel. Yet a Chinese vessel, sailing from a port of Cold War enemy South Korea to the Netherlands – NATO and EU member – successfully completed a passage through Russian and Norwegian waters. The City saw it a testament to commercial enterprise and a sign of possible profits to come; multilateralists as proof of a need for international cooperation. International cooperation is required at all times, even more so than the current ‘hot spots’ of Suez and Panama, as ice, lack of infrastructure and a lack of civilisation in general make this a high risk (but arguably, a high reward) shipping route.

To maintain its pride of place as ‘the cheapest option’, container shipping operates to a ‘just-in-time principle’ – there is no place for petty disputes when it comes to arctic shipping. Information is needed and if that means cooperating with other less-desirable nations, then so be it.

These examples are but a tiny proportion of the multiplicity of cases where multilateral action is needed to respond to geographical hazards. The common theme across these responses is that it is in many nations’ best interests to act in concert, not so much due to ‘ideologies of cooperation’. Instead, multilateralism is required to counter geographical circumstances that overwhelm single nation states. Geography poses challenges, be it extreme weather, physical landforms or climate change. At the same time, international cooperation allows states to maintain their independence whilst overcoming these difficulties.

Geography remains a factor that will continue to determine domestic and foreign policy and any attempt to ignore it will, for the moment, remain futile.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

The problem with outsourcing Europe’s migrant crisis


by Catherine Tilke. Catherine edits the PS21 website and can be reached at editor@projects21.org.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)- the government body responsible for the Britain’s  overseas aid budget  and major backer of development organisations including VSO and Tearfund- recently announced its plan to back a proposal to fund the creation of an industrial centre in Ethiopia which aims to create 100 000 jobs, some of will go to asylum seekers, in order to create incentives for people to stay in Ethiopia and stem the flow of migrants watering Europe’s ‘crisis’. 

Ethiopia currently hosts the highest number of refugees on the African continent, due to a combination of its unfortunate and unstable neighbours, its open-door asylum policy and it being an ideal stopover point for people migrating northwards to Europe from Eastern and Central Africa.

In Ethiopia, the majority of refugees are supposedly confined to camps and have no legal right to work in the country. At present, there are 23 such camps scattered across the country, the vast majority of which are situated in Ethiopia’s most deprived rural provinces. According to key proponents of the industrial centre- which was proposed by the Eastern African giant’s ruling party the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) and is supported by major financial institutions including the World Bank and European Investment Bank- by granting employment rights to a number of refugees, opportunity will improve, adversity will decrease and asylum seekers will remain in Ethiopia until it is safe for them to return home. 

However, there are a number of obstacles to the plan’s objective which don’t appear to be accounted for. The project is designed to create 100, 000 new job vacancies through the building of the industrial hub, some of which will presumably be filled  by asylum seekers, given that the EPRDF has agreed to also grant employment rights to 30 000 Somali, Eritrean & South Sudanese refugees in the country.

While on the surface this appears to be a sensible step in the right direction, the project fails to acknowledge that Ethiopia is dealing with its own unemployment problems (conservative figures for unemployment rates in town and cities among the working-age population were around 17% last year). 100 000 new jobs are needed if the country is to continue its promising economic growth.

While still outstripping many Sub-Saharan neighbours- whose collective growth rate is forecast to slip to the lowest level in two decades this year, according to World Bank forecast- Ethiopia’s booming economy of recent years has seen something of a cooling-off. This is mirrored in unemployment figures, which despite having improved as a whole over the last 20 years, have been creeping over the last few years up in certain social groups, namely amongst women and under-25’s.

As such, the success of the plan comes down to ensuring that 1/3 of these jobs actually go to asylum seekers, and also how EPRDF manage to pull off the project as a piece of PR to avoid local perceptions viewing the plan as favouring refugees over Ethiopians- particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, where the majority of refugees are living at present.

On the global institutions’ part (i.e. the World Bank, DFID, and European Investment Bank), the issue is that while this kind of foresight is preferable to collectively burying heads in the sand over the so-called migration crisis, this particular brand of future-proofing doesn’t actually do very much to help the root cause of the problem and arguably just outsources it to somebody else.

This isn’t entirely surprising. So far, many of the policies that major world institutions have managed to agree on involve re-settlement of refugee populations to “emerging” countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe. This is not an entirely bad idea, but without taking more decisive responsibility in the UK & Western Europe, it looks a lot like passing the buck. 

In addition to this, although the project is marketed as a philanthropic developmental scheme, it is undeniably beneficial to the donor states who are able to use their collective financial clout to both shrug off responsibility for settling more migrants on home turf and simultaneously stipulate quotas of manufactured goods to be imported to the EU (if we are to assume that the Ethiopian plan will follow the Jordanian model of a similar plan implemented earlier this year). The centre piece to all of this is that the plan ultimately deepens Ethiopia’s aid dependency and economic inequality with developed nations, which is one of the country’s most difficult obstacles to long-term development. 

In principle, the project could be defended if there were any evidence that development actually reduced migration. However, as people become wealthier they are inclined to travel more, not less. Industry and trade in emerging economies should complement migration, but will not prevent it. Equally, a short-lived abundance of low-paid factory jobs on the outskirts of Addis will not change the demands for skilled and unskilled labour in Europe, nor quell the labour demands of its looming demographic crisis.

Besides this, Ethiopia (although stable) is politically implicated in some of the key source countries’ conflicts, which makes it a questionable choice for the industrial hub. If it is accepted that little that can be done to stem economic migration, then efforts should be focused on reducing “push factors”, such as armed conflict.  Given that the EPDRF has been accused of arming refugees on the Sudanese border and prolonging clan scuffles in the Somali region, it is debatable whether supporting the government lends itself to peace-building in the region.A serious attempt by the UK government or global financial institutions to reduce growing number of asylum seekers would involve more decisive efforts to combat high-level international corruption and reduce the number of arms flowing into affected regions. 

 Instead, the project in Ethiopia looks more like an attempt by Europe to outsource responsibilities a country that is no more impartial, and certainly no better equipped, than most European states. By offloading these responsibilities Europe also shies away from action to improve local tensions between its longstanding citizens and 100 000s of new arrivals. Without acting on broader social concerns such as a shortage of stable employment and affordable housing, countries like the UK will only see these tensions will continue to grow, with or without their involvement in Ethiopia’s industrial projects.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Friendship & Cooperation? – India’s African Strategy


William Farmer is a recent graduate from King’s College London, specializing in Postcolonial Africa and political risk.

In its relations with the African continent, the Indian state claims that historical and cultural commonalities between the two naturally engender unique and mutually-beneficial foreign relations. The main tenets of such solidarity are a shared colonial past, helped by the large Indian diaspora in Africa, and the history of the Non-Aligned Movement, of which India, and many African nations were members. This sentiment was also evident at the UN in 2010; India’s representative to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, remarked that ‘India’s own links with Africa go back a long way. They are anchored in a history of civilizational contact and friendship across the Indian Ocean. Our friendship and cooperation has been further strengthened through a common journey of anti-colonial struggle and post-colonial nation-building.’[1] This narrative attempts to set India apart from other foreign actors in Africa, such as China or Western nations, whose policies in Africa are often branded as “neo-colonial” and exploitative.


The cultural commonality of India and Africa is used by the Indian state to supplement a narrative of benevolent policy towards Africa. Specifically, the Indian state has argued that their colonial and Non-Aligned past engenders an aptitude for capacity building projects; in other words, it is the ideal nation to “develop” Africa. This can be seen with initiatives such as the Pan-African e-Network, which has been running since February 2009. It is a project that shares Indian skills (namely education and healthcare expertise) with African audiences, connecting ‘53 African countries into one network through satellite, fiber optics and wireless links to provide tele-education, tele-medicine and voice and video conference facilities’.[2] The blueprint of the Pan African e-Network is supposedly ‘within the framework of South-South cooperation.’[3] Even the name of the project evokes notions of the Non-Aligned Movement, with prominent Pan-Africanists such as Nkrumah professing staunch support for the Non-Aligned Movement.


Nevertheless, the relevance and provenance regarding this narrative of cultural and historical commonality is dubious at best. When examining Indian policy in Africa more broadly, it becomes apparent that it is not particularly unique nor benevolent; rather, Indian policy more closely resembles that of China, or Western nations. This is ironic, as India expressly defines its own policies in Africa against that of these competitors. Despite the lengths the Indian state goes to, to differentiate their relationship with Africa from China’s, India has been seen to follow China’s lead. This can be seen in a number of different ways, but primarily through its investment in raw materials. The Indian Department of External Affairs has made this clear, stating that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ‘is very rich in natural resources’ and that ‘there is tremendous possibility of enhanced bilateral cooperation.’[4] India, much like China, traded in Africa largely to gain natural resources to service infrastructure advancements in their respective home nations. In 2010, 91 per cent of India’s imports from Africa were primary commodities – this meant that India bought very few processed materials or products from Africa.[5] It is plain to see that India is, in fact, extracting natural resources from Africa in a manner strikingly similar to China, and that the Indian narrative of cultural similarity and cooperation is, in this context, nothing more than a pretext for the extraction of natural resources.


The provenance of India’s narrative of a shared colonial and non-aligned past is equally suspect. Rather than India’s colonial past engendering a relationship across the Indian Ocean that benefits Africa, it can be seen to imbue an unequal and prejudiced relationship. Under the British Empire, Indians were seen as more “civilised” than Africans. With the break-up of Germany’s colonies after the First World War, members of the Indian diaspora in East Africa, with a clear belief in the Indian “civilising mission” in East Africa, lobbied to annex German Tanganyika to British India, as recompense for India’s contribution to the war effort.[6] This thinking has persisted: the experiences of African students in India provides a clear example. In 2013, Jalandhar in the Punjab experienced a series of racially-motivated attacks. Twenty-one Congolese exchange students were arrested and Indian state officials stated that the Congolese ‘stole the bag of the [Indian] victim’, but the Congolese students claimed that this was not the case, and that one student was ‘beaten with a cricket bat in what appeared to be a racist attack.’[7] The Congolese students in question, as well as the president of the Association of African Students in India (AASI) argued that racism against Africans was a big issue in India, particularly in the Punjab. Christophe Okito, AASI president, claimed that ‘many of them [Indians] believe that black people are cursed by the gods, destined to be slaves, whereas white people here are seen as intrinsically successful.’[8] This negative attitude towards Africans, with specific reference to slavery, implies that Africans in India are aware of the colonial roots of this racism.


The mere fact that India positions itself to be a nation fit to take part in “developing” Africa articulates an assumed hierarchical and neo-colonial relationship. Arturo Escobar’s theory of development discourse likens the practice of “development” to colonialism, as the “development” of one people by another presumes the “developer” to be more civilised than their recipients of “development” efforts.[9] This theory helps to explain the racially-hierarchical nature of India’s work in Africa.


This article is not aimed to vilify foreign actors in Africa. Rather, deconstructing foreign policy narratives – such as India’s – aims to provide a case study of the problems presented by the utilisation of cultural or historical commonality for political and economic ends. This article is also a call to those in foreign policy, arguing that they should be equally as critical when considering the role of culture and history in foreign relations. First of all, such narratives can be largely irrelevant to the true practices of states, as shown by the nature of Indian investment in Africa. Secondly, cultural and historical narratives are often used to ingrain a false sense of cooperation and solidarity between nations. The failure of both Indian and African states to accept the real nuance in their relationship – including the hangover of a colonial, racial hierarchy between Indians and Africans – shows that simplified and reductive notions of non-aligned and post-colonial solidarity do not reflect the true nature of India-Africa relations.



Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, nongovernmental, nonpartisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.


[1] India’s Foreign Relations – 2010 Documents, ed., Avtar Singh Bhasin, (Geetika Publishers), page 2283.

[2] Ibid, page 2284.

[3] Ibid.

[4] ‘India-DR Congo Relations’, Embassy of India, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, accessed 20/3/16, http://eoi.gov.in/kinshasa/?0810?000.

[5] Standard Chartered, ‘Africa-India Trade and Investment: Playing to Strengths’, Standard Chartered, On the Ground, Global Research, (08/08/2012), page 5.

[6] Dhruba Gupta, ‘Indian Perceptions of Africa’, South Asia Research, 11:2, (1991), page 163.

[7]  ‘DR Congo shop attacks over arrests in India’, BBC News, 19/06/2013, accessed 23/05/2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22973235.

[8] Christophe Okito, quoted in http://www.africareview.com/News/DRC-students-arrested-in-India-expected-to-be-released/-/979180/1889666/-/1599xfp/-/index.html, accessed 14/4/2016.

[9] Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, (Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1995), page 9.

Why America Should Take Mideast Refugees


Kate West Moran is a writer and commentator on Middle East affairs.

Baghdad, March 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. troops have entered the country to “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” More than a decade later the rumors of WMDs have been long debunked and Saddam Hussein is dead, but terrorism thrives in Iraq, and the Iraqi people are by no means free.

With the deposing of Saddam Hussein and the dismantling of the national army in the beginning of the 21st century, the existing governmental structures in Iraq were fractured and weak. The resultant manifestation of security and governance vacuums, combined with the country’s fragile social fabric largely due to a long-simmering conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, took on an even greater fragility. Groups began vying for power and a civil war erupted. Ultimately it was within the resulting power vacuum that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) came to prominence, and reached its operational peak in 2007. The group then expanded in 2011 to become the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). As a result, there has been a mass exodus of citizens fleeing the Middle East due to violence and persecution over the last five years.

Why is it that despite a robust military campaign in Iraq and billions of dollars in aid money allocated to grassroots NGOs, that our efforts to root out terrorism have failed? How is it that Iraq became the head of the snake that ultimately morphed into the Islamic State? And why is it that despite hindsight being 20/20, we cannot seem to understand that we helped create the group that is now the region’s most dangerous and powerful non-state actor? Ultimately, how is this history tied to the question of refugees, and the extent to which they represent a threat to U.S. national security?

Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, the facts are definitive. We were party to the creation  of the power vacuum that enabled militant groups in the Middle East to come to power, and that have displaced millions in the years since the start of the Syrian civil war. Thus, it is our responsibility to seek a just and sustainable resolution to the refugee crisis.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, many American politicians have denounced the Obama administration’s policy of pursuing ISIS directly in Syria rather than focusing on terrorist threats closer to home and subsequently sought to curb the flow of Iraqis and Syrians into the United States. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted, by a margin of 289-137, in favor of the “SAFE Act,” a bill that will tighten restrictions on resettlement of refugees from the Middle East. The fear is that the Islamic State could seek to use refugees in a Trojan horse scenario; infiltrating the refugee community and using  them as a front to enter the country. They could then proceed to carry out mass attacks in major population centers like D.C. and New York.

There are several issues with this theory. First, none of the Paris attackers were refugees, nor were any of them Syrian. The passport belonging to a refugee and found near the body of the one of the attackers who was killed by Paris police, was proven to be a forged document; another individual was apprehended in the Balkans for carrying the same passport. Secondly, it would be far easier (and more expedient) for Islamic State militants to radicalize an American-born citizen, or to send a European national on a plane to carry out attacks in the U.S., than it would be for them to take the time and effort to navigate the red tape involved in refugee resettlement.

The current vetting process for refugees and asylum-seekers is upwards of 18 months; in many cases, it can take as long as two years. In those two years, the risk of radicalization in a refugee camp is fairly substantial; by drawing out the process unnecessarily, we are increasing the opportunity for Daesh to increase its capacity by recruiting new fighters for its ranks, and alienating them from the West. The vetting and resettlement process for refugees is far more stringent than for any other individual seeking to come to the United States. The increased attention on this community vis-à-vis preventing a “9/11 2.0” is illogical at best and damaging at worst.

The rejection of Middle Eastern refugees—who are fleeing the region due to violence and terror carried out by these militant groups—is American hypocrisy at its finest. Accepting these vulnerable individuals is not just the “right” thing to do; it is also the smart thing. While no vetting process is 100% guaranteed there is substantial evidence to suggest that our continued marginalization of refugees and discrimination against Muslims in general will fuel radicalization and strengthen Daesh’s appeal. Fearmongering campaigns, Islamophobia, ignorance and ultimately rejecting refugees inadvertently positions ISIS as a potential alternative for individuals who feel isolated from their communities. We are essentially forcing them to seek an identity elsewhere by denying refugees, and Muslims in general, the title of legitimate Americans. They will seek to find an identity and belonging  elsewhere, and in some cases, this identity lies with the Islamic State’s ideology. When we reject Muslims, they too will reject us. When we shun refugees, they too will shun us.

We cannot exact collective punishment on an entire community, simply because of the actions of a few. We cannot fall into accepting Islamophobia as the norm, nor of treating refugees and Muslim Americans like a scourge on our nation. We must welcome them, not just because America is a country founded by immigrants, but because how we choose to act in the coming months and years will determine our legacy—not just in the Middle East, but on an international scale.

We can choose to lead with moral courage and compassion, and conduct our national security in an informed manner, or we can choose to close our borders, shut out refugees, and send them running into the arms of our shared enemy. Our reaction to refugees will help determine if Daesh can prosper, or will be defeated by our defiance of their expectations. By welcoming refugees, embracing Muslims as valued citizens, and promoting a truly multicultural society, we transcend their narratives of hate and enmity. That is the America we must be, if we are to see Daesh defeated and forge for ourselves the legacy we so desperately seek.

For a printer-friendly version, please click here.

Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, nongovernmental, nonpartisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Australia: sending refugees to Kyrgyzstan?

Christmas_Island_Immigration_Detention_Centre_(5424313602)Printer-friendly version here.

Cecilia Diemont is a recent graduate of King’s College London (MA ‘International Peace & Security’, War Studies/Dickson Poon School of Law). She tweets @ceciliadiemont

Yes, Kyrgyzstan, the country bordering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China and Tajikistan, and no, this is not a joke.

Apparently intent not to backtrack on its 2012 promise that asylum seekers attempting to get to Australia by sea would ‘never make Australia home’, the Australian government has reached new heights of desperation/creativity.

Asylum seekers found to be refugees in the Australian-run detention centres on the Pacific Island state of Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) need to be resettled, and Australia seems to be running out of options of where to send them.

While reports the government is considering Kyrgyzstan as a so-called ‘third country’ resettlement option have not been officially confirmed, it would not be the first time countries with no logical connection to Australia have been considered. A controversial $55 million deal in 2014 gave refugees the voluntary option of resettling in Cambodia. To date it has been taken up by only four individuals, one of which has since opted to return to his countries of origin (i.e., the very place from which he was fleeing persecution in the first place).

In October the government confirmed that they were in dialogue with the Philippines about possibilities of resettling asylum seekers found to be refugees on Nauru or Manus there. Despite the economic incentive offered by Australia ($150 million spread over five years), the Philippines rejected the proposal a few weeks later, saying it was ‘challenged to meet the needs of its own people’ without having to permanently resettle Australia’s refugees.

The Pacific states of Nauru and PNG, on which Australia currently hosts two offshore immigration detention centres, have both been reluctant in agreeing to provide permanent resettlement. While Nauru has made clear it does not want to resettle refugees permanently, PNG recently announced that it would resettle ‘a selected number’ over the coming years. Given the past threats and bleak prospects of integrating into the community and building a safe and prosperous life on the island, it remains unlikely that many will take up the offer. While Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton promoted PNG as a ‘dynamic nation with a growing economy’, his own government’s travel advice warns Australians to exercise ‘a high degree of caution’, to be aware of ethnic disputes that may ‘quickly escalate into violent clashes’, and of opportunistic sexual crimes that take place across the country in an ‘atmosphere of lawlessness.’ A promotional video shown to refugees now held on PNG promises that refugees who take up the offer will live safe and successful lives in a country with ‘great opportunities.’

Resettlement in third countries has been justified as part of a regional burden sharing mechanism. While it was already a far stretch to claim that Cambodia, PNG or Nauru should bare any responsibility for Australia-bound refugees, sound arguments for Kyrgyzstan or the Philippines are nonexistent, and sustained efforts to outsource Australia’s responsibility to refugees surely will have a lasting impact on the country’s reputation as a friendly, human rights respecting nation. If Australia is to prove itself worthy of a seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council, it must radically change its immigration policies for asylum seekers who arrive by sea. Until it does so, one may wonder whether Australia is ready for a leadership role in advancing human rights protection.

Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

A ‘Culture of Migration’

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Oct. 17, 2013) Distressed persons are transferred from the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) to Armed Forces of Malta offshore patrol vessel P52. San Antonio provided food, water, medical attention, and temporary shelter to the rescued. San Antonio rescued 128 men adrift in an inflatable raft after responding to a call by the Maltese Government. (U.S. Navy photo/Released) 131017-N-ZZ999-009 Join the conversation http://www.navy.mil/viewGallery.asp http://www.facebook.com/USNavy http://www.twitter.com/USNavy http://navylive.dodlive.mil http://pinterest.com https://plus.google.com

Caitlin Vito currently works at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and has also held positions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Her research focuses on migration flows from the Horn of Africa.

The images are stark. Groups of people looking exhausted, anxious and moving with resolve towards the EU’s border thousands of miles away from their countries of origin in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Many of them are Syrians fleeing the four and a half year civil war: the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) estimates that Syrian refugees make up approximately 39 percent of those arriving to Europe. The plight of Syrian refugees dominates public discourse at the moment and is undoubtedly a critical component of the current migration situation; however, our focus here is on another group of migrants: economic migrants who take illegal and often highly dangerous migration routes. They migrate for a complex variety of reasons, facing their own hardships, but they are not considered refugees as defined by the Refugee Convention.

On the surface, it is relatively well known why economic migrants take such risks. They flee poverty and deteriorating security in countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Pakistan, among others. However, this betrays precious little about the everyday worlds from which they come – their communities, villages and families. To understand why they migrate to places such as Europe – the most dangerous destination for irregular migration in the world according to the IOM – it is exactly to their home communities where one must look. An important motivating factor found at the local level is what some describe as the ‘culture of migration’ that exists within some communities in sending countries. Understanding this culture of migration and its role and influence in motivating irregular economic migration should be a part of any durable approach to the influx of people to the European Union.

This ‘culture of migration’ denotes an environment, both cultural and physical, in which migration is viewed as a highly favourable (if not the only) means out of unfavourable circumstances, such as unemployment and poverty. This environment has a high degree of influence and, over time, migration can become the norm, especially among youth. Critically, migration is often seen as an effective household or even community strategy to improve their situation. Frequently, those from the community who have successfully migrated are expected to support those back home by sending some of their income back.

This means that the act of migration reaches beyond the individual migrant. Families, and sometimes even whole communities, invest in the journey of those migrating with the hopes that a successful migration will lead to the improvement of their own conditions. This important element was highlighted by an Ethiopian villager discussing the local situation with the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), an organisation focusing on mixed migration in the Horn of Africa and Yemen sub-region. The interviewee noted that “migration might be driven by the decision of the youth but it is mostly a parental venture involving selling of crops, cattle and leasing land by parents. Parents participate in the decision by raising money as well as by establishing communication links with the brokers”.

In certain instances, migration is so deeply rooted that young people expect to live and work abroad. Migrating allows them to live up to expectations and even to establish their social position within the local community. Of the potential migrants who were surveyed in the RMMS study, 87 percent of respondents reported that the ‘sense of responsibility’ was a leading migration driver for them. This sense of community expectation, family duty and social standing are all powerful driving factors. As pointed out in a study examining the cultures of migration in regions of Turkey, people do not  migrate because of “abstract concepts such as demographic transitions, declining fertility, ageing, population density, environmental degradation or factor productivity” but rather if they perceive better opportunities elsewhere and have the capabilities to move”. These perceptions, and the means with which to make the journey, are directly affected by families, communities and the environment from which they come.

Moreover, the same RMMS study highlighted the importance that potential migrants place on relatives and friends, including those already in transit and destination countries, as reliable sources for information about the migration process. This runs contrary to the belief that brokers and smugglers are the main sources of information at the local level. Although the so-called ‘misinformation campaigns’ by smugglers and brokers are a factor for some migrants, for many the real influence is exerted by those closest to them.

Just as migration goes beyond individual gain, reaching deep into home and community networks, an unsuccessful migration attempt is often accompanied by a sense of shame and failure. This was demonstrated in the case of a migrant who had returned home from Saudi Arabia after being expelled from the country. To pay for her journey, her family had borrowed money, despite their extreme poverty. After seven months, the migrant returned to home, having suffered abuse while abroad. However, the girl explained that she was afraid to see her family, asking how she could face her father after he had invested the family’s resources in her migration with the belief that she would support them.

This story is not unique. Of those returnees surveyed by the RMMS, 98% stated that they felt they were failures. In such a culture of migration, even choosing not to migrate can be associated with failure, especially when others in the immediate community are benefiting from having friends and family who have migrated and are sending back financial support. This pressure, while not easily quantifiable, should not be underestimated as a motivating factor driving migration and remigration.

This is a powerful factor driving migration, and one which the EU simply cannot afford to overlook as it grapples with an influx of migrants. The response of some Member-States – to look inwards, to build walls and to view the issue as one of national security – is misguided. History has demonstrated that walls do not work in the long term, especially when faced with immense human will motivated by a sense of duty and an entrenched belief that migration is the only way forward for them and their family. It is critical that the EU’s response look beyond the securitization of its borders and towards the local motivating factors, including the cultures of migration which exist.

In terms of action, one step would be to intensify the EU’s current efforts to promote awareness-raising programs at the grassroots level highlighting the dangers and misconceptions surrounding migration. However, this will bring its own challenges as potential migrants place greater trust on the information provided by those close to them, rather than external campaigns. Therefore, any such efforts must work closely with community members. Equally important would be to review the experiences of migrants who have returned to their countries of origin, and to find where gaps exist in supporting their reintegration.

With careful planning and action, this could help to limit the desire for remigration. These efforts must be long-term; countering the prevailing social norms in which migration is considered a good and necessary act is no easy task. Ultimately, however, such efforts to address the culture of migration must be part of a multi-pronged approach. It is critical that it be implemented in tandem with the opening of more legal channels for migration. This can help to limit the sense that irregular – and highly dangerous – routes are the only option.

However, cultures of migration are not relegated only to developing countries outside the EU. It is important to keep in mind that cultures of migration can be found within the European Union, as seen with the flows of people from east to west within the Union. Historically as well, a culture of migration has ebbed and flowed within Europe as people have faced times of critical hardship. As with all communities, a culture of migration can play a decisive role in the decision to migrate, with the sense of personal success, familial and community obligations, as well as the fear of failure all tied into the act of migration. This is a unique and powerful motivating factor. Any long-term and durable strategy to address irregular economic migration would do well to take into account this culture of migration and to start to develop an approach to address it at the local level.

PS21 is a nonpartisan, nonideological organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Roundup: Our top five posts on the migration crisis


The recent influx of refugees into Europe–the worst refugee crisis it has faced since World War II–has left the continent reeling and other countries either scrambling to find a solution or secure their own borders. What, exactly, is the EU doing about it, and what should they be doing? You can find out the following articles. For more, check out the live recording from our event on the topic last week here.

Assessing the EU and Britain’s Response to the Migrant Crisis: Time for a Foresight Approach?: Edward Wanyonyi looks at the EU and UK’s reactions to the refugee crisis and suggests an alternate approach.

While the British society is quick to celebrate the achievements of Mo Farah, a citizen of migrant heritage, the current Tory leadership has not been shy to assert and defend its disdain of immigrants irrespective of the reasons- poverty or conflict. To them, Britain’s ‘way of life’ is threatened by the ‘swarm of immigrants’ as David Cameron recently remarked while in a tour of Vietnam in response to the Calais crisis. More recent pronouncements have presented the position that ‘migrants think Britain is lined with gold’ and therefore Her Majesty’s welfare system is a strong incentive. Such a position has often served to legitimise the current militarised response to the crisis that is flawed on two conceptual errors. First, the EU and Britain have nothing to do with the ongoing conflicts and state of deprivation, poverty in source countries and second, throwing money- in this case, the use of aid to establish micro enterprises will provide a stronger incentive for potential migrants to stay in their countries. Nothing could be further from the truth and here is why.

The Migration Puzzle: In this article, PS21 fellow Jack Goldstone explores the conundrum that Europe faces in responding to the migration crisis as well as possible solutions, noting that this is not a new problem and will not let up any time in the near future.

The experience gained now in screening, settling, and integrating migrants will pay off in the future. Someday the wars in Libya and Syria will end. Yet the population of Africa is set to grow from just over one billion today to almost three billion people by 2060; the populations of the Middle East and Central and South Asia, from Iraq to Afghanistan, will similarly grow by hundreds of millions during this period. Given the poor quality of government in these regions, and likely future wars and climate disasters, Europe will continue to see millions seeking to enter its relative security and prosperity every decade in the years to come.

EU’s Response to Migration Crisis is Too Little, Too Late: Similarly, Katie Rashid explains why the EU’s response to the crisis isn’t good enough, and presents an option that has worked well in the past.

The question we are left with is why the EU has been so late to take action. With more than 430,000 asylum applications filed back in 2013 and the same conflicts raging that have brought in a steady stream of refugees for years, the European Union should have seen this coming. That the EU is only now scrambling to find an approach to this situation with no agreement in sight is just one more disturbing reality of the migration crisis.

Meanwhile, in Australia: The Other Migration Crisis: Australia has also seen a huge influx of refugees in the past year and–like the EU–is not handling it very well. Cecilia Diemont sheds light on this important but underappreciated topic.

Whereas European media is inundated with new policy developments and opinions concerning the recent influx of asylum seekers arriving at Europe’s borders, you rarely read about the controversial immigration policies of Europe’s ally down under. While Australia may be known more for its beaches, barbecues and backpackers, what is happening to asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat should not escape the debate.

Asylum seekers who embark on the ocean journey to Australia, often setting out from Sri Lanka or Indonesia but in some cases coming from as far as Syria, Iran and Afghanistan face one of three fates. None of these three fates involve asylum seekers reaching Australian shores. Instead they are met at sea, often still in international waters, by an Australian naval or customs ship that forcibly intercepts them.

I Don’t Know You, I Don’t Like You: The Rise of Anti-Immigrant Movements in Europe: Finally, for a little context into what refugees face upon actually reaching Europe, check out this article by Sandy Schumann.

Both UKIP and Pegida are supported by the general public for its anti-immigrant policies.  What is surprising though is that these supporters are primarily living in regions where there are very few migrants or foreigners. UKIP (Image 1) received most endorsement in constituencies with a low proportion of immigrants. And in Saxony, the German State where the Pegida movement started, only 2.2% of the population are foreigners.

PS21 Report: Lessons from recent humanitarian disasters

2015-09-10 04.28.00

    • The 2015 Nepal Earthquake was not the earthquake that authorities and aid agencies were preparing for
    • Increased urbanisation in developing states is posing new challenges to humanitarian organisations generally, but the extremely rural Nepalese villages and difficult terrain posed the biggest challenge to relief efforts
    • The influx of foreign aid workers in the immediate aftermath of a disaster can be counterproductive to relief efforts
    • Political alliances and rivalries continue to play out in disaster response actions
    • Aid agencies each carry their own agenda, which can get in the way of efficiency
    • Cash distribution is becoming a preferred form of relief and development

    On September 10, 2015, Project for the Study of the 21st Century, in conjunction with the European Interagency Security Forum, held a panel discussion on lessons from recent humanitarian disasters.

    Please feel free to quote from the report below citing PS21. Contact PS21Central@gmail.com if you wish to reach any of the participants

    Chair: Tom Beazley: PS21 Company Secretary

    David Sanderson: Professor, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

    Dan Cooke: Operations Director, Serve On

    Kate Gray: Senior Programme Manager, Options Consultancy Service

    Barnaby Willitts-King: Research Fellow, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute

    The last earthquake in Nepal was outside living memory for most of the population, which hindered earthquake preparedness.

    Sanderson: This is a place where there is a lot of preparedness, a lot of clever people have worked for a long time and at the same time this earthquake took people by surprise.

    Gray: I think part of the reason Nepal hadn’t got the housing stock that it should have and the buildings weren’t in the state they should have been despite risks is exactly because of the gap in time from the last massive earthquake to this one, that’s more than a lifetime’s and past living memory, so the fear is abstract.

    Chile, for example, has been very effective and has very forcefully policed implementation of laws around housing and construction, and as a result it’s much better prepared than Nepal was… [The] frequency of earthquakes in Chile has meant that fear, imperative, and pressure from civil society remains quite high, whereas in Nepal actually you had an entire generation of people who never experienced a big earthquake so the social pressure doesn’t build up to force action in the same way.

    Willetts-King:  I lived over there for a few years and (an earthquake) was what they were planning for and preparing for. And yet, despite that, the initial response was chaotic, uncoordinated.

    You have to look at the institutions that you have, the building codes, and more importantly the culture around that in terms of people realising it’s important, and that’s partly enforcement and partly changing the way people are educated, and that’s to do with getting people into schools.

    The difficult terrain posed one of the biggest problems to relief efforts. The impact on rural communities was unexpected, as most preparations were based on the assumption that an earthquake would hit Kathmandu.

    Cooke: It became apparent quite early that it wasn’t as bad as the terrible one that unfortunately we were expecting – the structure was slightly different.

    So it’s an extremely complex place to work because the roads have all slipped off the side of the mountain and there weren’t helicopters early enough and I’d say that more than any other place we’ve been we were expecting chaos but it could have been worse.

    Sanderson: This earthquake happened in Gorkha districts in the North West about 80km, something like that, throughout the valley, so this was not a disaster than anybody was getting ready for.

    What’s apparent is that the earthquake’s damage is particularly visible in rural areas, and of course many of those are far flung, they’re hard to get to, it may take days hiking to find many of these places. And not yet all have been reached by aid agencies. So there’s a complexity of the terrain, a difficulty in terms of access, the monsoon season is upon us and winter is coming and other climate issues of course with snow, so there’s a real need right now to address and to look at those issues.

    In Nepal it’s been really hard because of the terrain, you double the costs of material just by trying to get it somewhere, with transportation you just double that cost.

    The huge influx of foreign aid workers can pose issues for relief efforts. The differing agendas of each group create competition between relief organisations that can be counterproductive. This was identified as a central issue in most disaster response efforts.

    Cooke: We were about the fourth team to formerly arrive. Obviously everyone thinks that British and American forces are the first to respond, but also Indian troops were right in there, China, and by the time our team had returned from the rural areas that we went to, there wasn’t a country that didn’t seem to have a team there and a set of aeroplanes lined up and all sorts of things filling the space.

    Teams were queuing up to try and find jobs. The best way to describe is these people want to help, they want to make a difference, they’ve got a big team, there’s a big hotel there, lots of cameras and that’s why we do our things.

    There are a lot of egos, there’s a lot of people in fighting, there’s a lot of people who need to justify either representing their country, or their sponsor organisation, or whatever.

    Willitts-King: The way the system works is very much stuff gets sent and so you do end up with lots of really great motivated hard working people who want to help but it doesn’t necessarily add up to what you would design if you started from scratch and you end up with lots of people and inflated rents because you’ve got so many foreigners coming, you end up with the airport being rammed full. I think the key to it goes back to being better prepared and the government and local authorities being in charge.

    Sanderson: There is a tension for agencies on the one hand, and there is a need for branding and marketing and that’s understood, that’s part of the media age we’re in where we can take photographs and stream movies and that’s understood, and of course at the same time there’s the collective effort of the coordination.

    Gray: The donor response, like the NGO and relief agency response, was very immediate.  Each donor government brings its own agenda and desire to help in a particular way; its own modus operandi.

    There is a lot of competition between agencies to work in some areas. To take one particular example from the health sector,  a huge amount of damage was done to health infrastructure. Building a hospital or a health facility is a visually very impactful thing to do, and it’s very important as well.  As a result construction work is quite an attractive are of work for lots of agencies and organisations and there is competition to provide this supprot.

    International organisations need to learn to recognise and accept when they are not needed, or when they are interfering with the recovery process rather than assisting.

    Willitts-King I think that Nepal had the same experience as Haiyan and the Philippines and countries affected by the tsunami in 2004 where coordinating the international response was as overwhelming as the actual natural disaster. Certainly, if you look at the Philippines, the typhoon that happened a year after Haiyan, the government of the Philippines said “actually we don’t want any international help because you’re distracting us from the response because we’re having to manage all of you.” That’s a pretty bad indictment.

    Gray: So in some cases I think that withdrawal is what’s needed, by doing jobs that people can do themselves you’re not actually helping things in the long term.  However, there does need to be that sudden influx of support in very particular areas. I welcome that move out after that initial phase of emergency relief is complete.

    Cooke:  If a government has got a UN coordination system and has said no more of these please, a responsible organisation should be able to do it, whereas the amount of diplomatic twisting and turning and the reasons why we couldn’t carry on for a little bit, with people still arriving 24, 48 hours after it happened – exactly what was asked not to happen – is a bit unfair and selfish.

    While the Nepalese Government’s response has been widely criticised, it is nonetheless crucial to relief and rebuilding efforts.

    Gray: I think the government has come under a fair amount of criticism following the earthquake and the talk of an earthquake has always been there, that’s been a constant background to the country’s and government’s thinking as a whole so I think there was a conference on earthquake preparedness two weeks before the earthquake hit and the findings were not so prepared, was the conclusion, and I think that’s more enactive in their experience in the following months.

    Sanderson: The Nepalese government enacted NEOC (National Emergency Operation Centre) within 4 hours of the disaster. There’s an awful lot of preparedness on that level and it “worked” in terms of immediacy of getting together and organising and starting to do things.

    The government is in the driving seat, certainly in the early stages, it’s very clearly on the record that the government made some decisions then reversed those decisions and changed some decisions. And so agencies seeking to work in that context were dealt an extra level of complexity when it relates to how to work in those areas.

    The actions of local governments and local organisations in affected areas are essential to the response.

    Gray: The local governments in individual affected districts, those coordinating groups, are essential as well as the centrally managed government.  That is the level at which the reality of coordination is realised.

    Willetts-King: The role of local organisations is very important. Communities are the first responders, local organisations, there’s been a real change in Nepal in terms of the solidarity between communities which has been really notable but again how do you get all these different moving parts, the local, the national, the regional, the international, together?

    I think the role of the international community is to share best practice and customise it to the local situation and fund it. I think with Nepal there was a lot of work with institutional change, funding things, but it could only go so far because of the politics of the country.

    The post-war context of Nepal has also distracted from earthquake preparedness. The lack of constitution and weak political structures prevent the implementation of proactive policies.

    Willetts-King:  It’s really important to remember where Nepal has come from in terms of having had 10 years of civil war, there’s still a very weak government, very contested politics, no constitution, which just had all these ramifications and structures which we take for granted in more stable countries in terms of the ability to deal with preparedness as a community level because the bodies to do this really aren’t in place as a result of the constitution.

    When you’ve got a country that’s emerging from civil war it’s still very conflicts politics, [which makes it difficult] to get politicians to really focus on something that is a far off abstract concept.

    Humanitarian disasters are not immune to international political rivalries. However, states are generally able to put aside political differences for humanitarian reasons.

    Willetts King: The humanitarian landscape is getting more complicated. China is particularly as an enabler but is taking a really big new role in India, and a hugely important one in Nepal.

    Those bilateral relationships are really important and an interesting comparison with Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, where China was really heavily criticised for pledging half a million dollars for that response in the region. And came under a lot of criticism for playing politics because of the political disputes they were having in the region with the Philippines. I think what you see in Nepal, and there’s been different takes on it, but the rivalry between India and China plays out in Nepal in all sorts of different ways in terms of vying for influence.

    Cooke: I’d say though in terms of teams talking to each other and being civil and productive and helpful was better than any other disasters that I’ve been in that situation and I did see China, Russia, USA, India, Israeli Defence Force, the Gulf states, Polish Turkish all around the big table and all in a big meeting almost as easy as this is at the moment.

    Willetts-King: Natural disasters are, for governments wanting to show support and solidarity, are a very straightforward way to demonstrate support, at a human level, but also politically. And so compared to engaging in Syria or the complex politics of conflict, responding to natural disasters is politically more straightforward.

    Increased urbanisation in developing countries is changing the function of aid agencies. However, in Nepal, the mix of urban centres and extremely remote villages poses a unique challenge to recovery and rebuilding systems design.

    Sanderson: Cities are growing around the world by a million people a week, and it’s almost unbelievable. If the UN habitats are right it’s around 180,000 people a day and it’s a throw of the dice actually whether you think that’s good or bad.

    There are thousands [of cities], tens of thousands probably, at risk of climate and flood, earthquake, and there will be more cities growing a week and we need to rethink how we do this and take it seriously.

    Aid agencies talk about “field work”… but it’s not field work, its neighbourhood work, and that’s the difference and the shift. It’s learning about new tools and especially since the Haiti earthquake that was a big wakeup call. It is a new landscape, it’s the cityscape.

    Gray: Urbanisation does require a big shift in the way that services are delivered.  Often primary healthcare is structured around the idea that you have these clinics that people travel to from afar and there’s only one and you make sure that it can provide one service. When working in an urban environment actually you’ve got a mix of public providers, public providers, the competition is a lot more real and it requires very different systems, delivery, design and approach.

    In Nepal I think there’s a very particular balance whereby there’s urbanisation to a huge extent, but you’ve also at the same time got incredibly remote communities, remote in a way that remote communities aren’t remote in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa or Asia, they’re up a mountain, four days walk over Everest, somewhere else.

    The process of rebuilding has improved dramatically through lessons from previous disasters and technological developments.

    Gray: The transition phase now is about “building back better”.  That is the government’s catchphrase – which captures how they’re trying to ensure so that the humanitarian response, and the reconstruction isn’t just about replacing what was there before or a quick cut to what’s needed in the immediate aftermath, but to actually ensuring that what is returning is better than what was there in the first place.

    Sanderson: There’s been less transitional shelter and more a delivery of goods, especially CGI (corrugated iron) and that’s good and bad. It’s good because it’s cheap and durable, you can deliver it stacked up and distribute it and that’s the bulk response. The problem is its hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and it rusts, and doesn’t last very long, but then people are clever to reuse it.

    Mobile smart phones are a powerful thing, the use of smart phone technology for assessments where we could quickly send information back very quickly that’s very powerful.

    Cash transfers are increasingly becoming the preferred method of post-disaster development.

    Sanderson: The real game changer was cash. Giving people money, cash transfers, it sounds obvious, give people money. It’s very powerful because the transaction costs are super low, you can be super-efficient, you can give people more autonomy to do things… I bet in five years’ time will be the one where cash was even more mainstream and even higher.

    You know Typhoon Haiyan, the World Food Programme was number one way of doing this now – donating people food, donating people cash, that’s the way things are done now. Cash is as important as food and water.

    Disasters such as the 2015 Nepal Earthquake should be grasped as opportunities for building policies as well as rebuilding physical structures.

    Sanderson: There’s no Natural Disaster Management Act that’s been discussed since 2007. So there is an opportunity there, given these terrible events that have happened, to actually come out with a world class Disasters Management Act. Why shouldn’t that be an outcome of this terrible event?

    Report by Claire Connellan. Transcript by Fiona Slater.

Meanwhile, in Australia: The Other Migration Crisis

Sydney, Australia
Sydney, Australia

Cecilia Diemont is a recent graduate of King’s College London (MA ‘International Peace & Security’, War Studies/Dickson Poon School of Law).

Whereas European media is inundated with new policy developments and opinions concerning the recent influx of asylum seekers arriving at Europe’s borders, you rarely read about the controversial immigration policies of Europe’s ally down under. While Australia may be known more for its beaches, barbecues and backpackers, what is happening to asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat should not escape the debate.

Asylum seekers who embark on the ocean journey to Australia, often setting out from Sri Lanka or Indonesia but in some cases coming from as far as Syria, Iran and Afghanistan face one of three fates. None of these three fates involve asylum seekers reaching Australian shores. Instead they are met at sea, often still in international waters, by an Australian naval or customs ship that forcibly intercepts them.

Those onboard, having been at sea for days without adequate food, water or shelter, may be asked a few rudimentary questions about where they came from and why they were heading to Australia- a process referred to as ‘enhanced screening’. They will not be told of their international right to seek asylum, and they will not be given legal assistance unless they know to ask for it specifically. While the government refuses to comment on operations at sea for alleged issues of national security, there have been claims of violence and abuse of asylum seekers at the hands of Australian officials.

In most instances their vessel will be forcibly turned back, and either handed over directly to Sri Lankan, Vietnamese or Indonesian authorities at sea, or removed from Australia’s territorial waters and left on the edge of Indonesia’s waters. If boats become unseaworthy during this process, asylum seekers are transferred onto custom-made boats and told they have just enough fuel to reach Indonesian shores.
Statistics show that the vast majority of those who attempt to reach Australia by boat with asylum claims qualify as refugees (an average of 90.6% between 2009 and 2013). Sending refugees back to countries where their right to protection is not recognized can amount to a violation of the legal principle of non-refoulement, to which Australia is bound by international customary and human rights law. Rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have documented the abuses refugees have suffered directly at the hands of Indonesian, Sri Lankan and Vietnamese authorities. In Sri Lanka ‘failed’ refugees have been thrown into jail after being handed over by Australian authorities. None of these countries have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, which recognizes the responsibility of governments to provide refugees with adequate protection.

Those who are not handed over or left on the edges of Indonesian territorial waters are taken to one of Australia’s immigration detention centres in the Pacific states of Papua New Guinea (PNG) or Nauru, also known as ‘offshore-processing’ centres. In 2015 the UN found the conditions in these camps to amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Asylum seekers are locked up in punitive facilities without adequate access to healthcare. There have been allegations of sexual abuse by guards, including rape. Two local Papua New Guinean men are on trial for allegedly killing an Iranian asylum seeker during riots in the centre last year. Constant delays in the processing of their asylum applications and uncertainty about their future have caused many to become depressed or suffer from other mental illnesses.

Children are kept in the same unhygienic and overcrowded facilities alongside sometimes suicidal adults and do not always have access to education. For those who do attend classes, some have fainted from the heat as temperatures rise to 50 degrees inside the school tents. In March 2015 the Australian Human Rights Commission found that children lacked access to education, basic healthcare and appropriate clothing, the conditions causing ‘extreme levels of physical emotional, psychological and developmental distress’. There have been numerous cases of self-harm, including lip sewing and an attempted hanging. Some children referred to themselves as a number instead of with their name, a reflection of how they were spoken to by guards. Australia’s arbitrary detention of children violates numerous articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As of August 31 2015 there were 1589 asylum seekers being held in offshore detention, of which 93 were children.

On the 25th of September the UN’s Special Rappoteur François Crépeau cancelled his visit to Nauru and PNG when he found out that Australia’s recent Border Force Act threatens welfare and healthcare employees who work in the offshore centres with up to two years of imprisonment for speaking up about their experiences. Crépeau stated that ‘The threat of reprisals with persons who would want to cooperate with me on the occasion of this official visit is unacceptable’.

In line with its chosen strategy of deterrence, in 2012 Australia declared that any asylum seekers found to be refugees in Nauru or Papua New Guinea would never ‘make Australia home’. Instead, they can choose between resettlement in Papua New Guinea, infinite detention, voluntarily return home (aka back to the country they were fleeing from) or resettlement in Cambodia. Cambodia does not boast a good track record of respecting the rights of refugees, and Australia may well be guilty of chain-refoulement by sending refugees there. Controversially, Australia continues to encourage asylum seekers to return to Syria, often alerting the Syrian government of their imminent return. The International Organisation for Migration refuses to aid Australia with these returns.

The Refugee Convention, which Australia helped draft and voluntarily signed up to, binds the country to provide protection to refugees. Australia’s current policies violate international human rights and refugee law in various ways. The idea of regional burden sharing, involving poor island states taking on the task of processing and resettling asylum seekers in return for economic incentives, is a clear Australian attempt to skirt its own responsibilities to asylum seekers.

Australia’s voluntary relatively large intake of refugees directly from refugee camps via UNHCR channels should not be conflated with Australia’s responsibilities to those who claim asylum within its territory, and a recently pledged intake of 12 000 Syrian refugees does not excuse Australia’s abysmal treatment of refugees, including Syrians, who arrive by sea.

Just days before the Australian High Court will hear a legal challenge to the offshore centres, the government of Nauru announced on the 4th of October that it would start allowing asylum seekers to move freely on the island instead of being locked up in detention. While this gain in freedom is a positive step, their fate and safety remains uncertain. After just four refugees chose to be resettled in Cambodia a year after an expensive AUD $55 million deal, Australian Minister for Immigration said Australia was in talks with the Philippines to see if refugees from Manus Island could possibly be resettled there as part of a ‘regional arrangement’ on the 9th of October. The coming months shall show whether Australia’s new Prime Minister will be willing to turn around the country’s poor track record on immigration asylum.

As a developed and usually law-abiding country now campaigning for a seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council, Australia would be wise to close down its offshore processing centres, provide asylum seekers with adequate processing and refugees with adequate protection and resettlement options in line with its international obligations. Let Australia be a country that takes not only its fair share of backpackers, but also of refugees fleeing conflict and persecution.

Assessing the EU and Britain’s Response to The Immigration Challenge: Time for a Foresight Approach?


Printer-friendly version here.

Edward Wanyonyi is a Security, Leadership and Society Fellow at University of London-Kings College. He can be reached on edward.walekhwa@kcl.ac.uk 

The recent pronouncements by British Home Secretary Theresa May and France minister for interior Bernard Cazeneuve in Calais distancing the EU from the unfolding immigration crisis and placing it on external factors- fragile and stateless societies in Africa and Asia has sparked fresh debate on whether the neglected approach of foresight can be more suitable.

The meeting comes at a time when Calais is the scene of unprecedented numbers of immigrants seemingly overwhelming border police and assorted deterrence barriers while the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called for an extraordinary summit in September for global heads of states to deliberate on appropriate responses to the 50 fold increase of deaths of migrants attempting to get to EU.

While the British society is quick to celebrate the achievements of Mo Farah, a citizen of migrant heritage, the current Tory leadership has not been shy to assert and defend its disdain of immigrants irrespective of the reasons- poverty or conflict. To them, Britain’s ‘way of life’ is threatened by the ‘swarm of immigrants’ as David Cameron recently remarked while in a tour of Vietnam in response to the Calais crisis. More recent pronouncements have presented the position that ‘migrants think Britain is lined with gold’ and therefore Her Majesty’s welfare system is a strong incentive. Such a position has often served to legitimise the current militarised response to the crisis that is flawed on two conceptual errors. First, the EU and Britain have nothing to do with the ongoing conflicts and state of deprivation, poverty in source countries and second, throwing money- in this case, the use of aid to establish micro enterprises will provide a stronger incentive for potential migrants to stay in their countries. Nothing could be further from the truth and here is why.

On the first response, the EU and Britain specifically, occupy an important place in the global architecture of power- hard, soft and smart as renowned political scientist Joseph Nye has reminded us. The combined gravitas in the UN Security Council by Britain and France for example means that both countries have sweeping powers over decisions of early intervention in countries at the cusp of conflict before borders of neighbouring states start swelling and transnational smuggling rings set shop. A vote for early intervention in countries that are clearly on the verge has a greater multiplier effect than increasing border police in Calais and definitely, reduced presence of humanitarian agencies operating in the Italian coast of Lampedusa and Sicily. However, the Britain and France have showed an uncharacteristic aversion for early intervention akin to the cold war period when the UN Security Council was the stage for super power interests assertion and defence. It is not a surprise that most countries that are descending in war or mired in post conflict insurgency lack UN led stabilisation operations. While the excuse has been the need to respect local ownership of post conflict reconstruction, the obvious lack of a centralised authority and growing public security gap in countries like Libya, Egypt, Mali, Niger, Tunisia and Syria clearly shows a security council that is selectively aiding and abetting the immigration crisis. Moreover, countries that have authoritarian regimes further in the South such as Eritrea, Sudan, Morocco have security and defence pacts with EU countries especially Britain and France and therefore, this doctrine of authoritarianism and the tools thereof are not just home grown. It is therefore crucial to appreciate that the EU and Britain are part and parcel of the crisis and not just victims.

Second, the announced set of proposals by Theresa May in Calais that present a raft of monetary allocations to support micro enterprises in source countries fails to acknowledge that in most of these countries, autocratic regimes have a far and wide reaching means to divert the allocated funds in order to maintain the status quo. Also, which criteria will be used to identify a potential migrant? Will all young people be subject to the allocations of ‘soft loans’ in order to launch their entrepreneurial ideas? What about the other mitigating factors such as security, climate change, reliability of power which affect the scalability and sustainability of entrepreneurship? It therefore seems that this proposal partly inspired by the Department of International Development, takes the neoliberal approach of reforming economic development in countries at risk or emerging from conflict. However, the neoliberal approach has been the subject of criticism as it fails to acknowledge the everyday realities of these societies that although unstructured from a Western perspective are actually highly structured with social networks that straddle across ethnic and religious lines producing unique economic, political and social systems and processes.

Perhaps, it is high time that the EU and Britain considers a scenario planning approach. The former approaches borders as defences, citizenship as pristine and multi culturalism as a threat to ‘our way of life’. The latter frames the crisis as a set of challenges that can be turned into opportunities when the response is brought to a shared understanding of the transitions in source countries and the drivers of transnational organised crime. Scenario planning uses foresight techniques to remind decision makers that intractable problems are not solved by distance but by a careful analysis of possible scenarios.

Therefore, any solution to the ongoing immigration crisis must not only be bold in terms of the financing muscle but it must It undertake a major scoping exercise of the current ‘jobs as a conflict deterrence’ intervention with a view of identifying possible black swans. Only then can the EU and Britain develop possible scenarios based on extensive conversations and not just representatives of DFID funded NGOs and opinion shapers in academia or political spaces.

PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.