Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
The repercussions of Uganda’s anti-gay law
On 26 May, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the latest version of the country’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposes severe penalties – including death and life imprisonment – for consensual homosexual acts. The new law, which has already been challenged in court, reprises elements of a so-called “Kill the Gays Bill” first introduced to parliament in 2009 and struck down as unconstitutional on procedural grounds in 2014. Having already elicited condemnation and threats of withdrawal of aid from Uganda’s bilateral and multilateral development partners, the latest law – as well as donor reaction to it – will impact not just Ugandans but also the many from across the region who have sought safety there. Uganda is the fourth largest refugee-hosting country in the world, and the largest in Africa, and has been widely praised for the way it treats those refugees. However, LGBTQ+ people fleeing there have historically experienced the same levels of discrimination and violence meted out to the local LGBTQ+ community – a legacy of the country’s colonial past. Increasing intolerance, and any consequent aid cuts, would only worsen their lot.
Constitutional wranglings in CAR
Central African Republic will hold a constitutional referendum next month that could allow President Faustin-Archange Touadéra to seek a controversial third term. Touadéra’s allies have been angling to remove term limits since last year – claiming neighbouring countries face no such constraints – but the process hasn’t been easy. Presidential decrees that established a committee to draft a new constitution were annulled by the constitutional court last year. Touadéra then had the court’s top judge removed, while his government prevented opposition groups from protesting the proposed amendments. Touadéra won a second term in 2020 but his rule has become increasingly authoritarian. He faces renewed rebel activity in the countryside, and a high level of humanitarian need with 3.4 million people (56% of the population) requiring aid this year. The Russian mercenary Wagner Group is present in the country and extracting minerals. US officials are pushing Touadéra to end the partnership, but the mercenaries were bolstered by Western policy failings and enjoy some popular support thanks to their tough approach to armed groups.
Fuel crisis in Nigeria as new leader cuts subsidy
Within hours of Nigeria’s new President Bola Tinubu announcing in his inaugural address that the country’s annual $10 billion fuel subsidy was “gone”, petrol prices tripled, causing chaos and shortages amid panic-buying. The knock-on effect will be further cost-of-living hikes for inflation-battered Nigerians. The subsidy scheme was certainly a corrupt mess, but most Nigerians viewed cheap fuel as one of the few benefits provided by government. A World Bank $800 million credit to cushion the subsidy removal will do little to protect the 133 million Nigerians already living in extreme poverty. Tinubu, a savvy pro-business political baron, won disputed elections in February (his rivals are appealing the result). He inherits sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, but one that’s been in the doldrums for years, with a $102 billion foreign debt, anaemic GDP growth, and youth unemployment at 53%. Tinubu’s promised reforms will involve (hopefully) short-term pain. They include a market-driven exchange rate (pushing up inflation) and aggressive revenue collection. He aims to not only reboot the economy, but also tackle Nigeria’s rampant insecurity. Aged 71, and seemingly in frail health, he will have his work cut out.
No good options for refugees in Türkiye election
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected as Türkiye’s president on 28 May, extending his 20-year rule. The election, which saw Erdoğan and his AKP party face off against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu from the rival CHP, was notable for the scapegoating of vulnerable communities by both sides. AKP supporters filled social media with videos and images of what they labelled as the "secular oppression" of Muslims, especially women who chose to wear the hijab in public. Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, aimed much of his vitriol toward the 3.7 million Syrian refugees said to be living in Türkiye since the 2011 uprisings against Bashar al-Assad, and to a lesser extent refugees from Afghanistan. At one campaign rally in Anatolia, he vowed to deport all Syrians within two years if he was to emerge victorious. Though Kılıçdaroğlu ultimately ended up losing, with just under 48% of the vote, Erdoğan's third decade in public office doesn’t mean refugees are now safe. Since 2017, the AKP has proudly trumpeted the deportations of hundreds of Afghan refugees each week. Additionally, Erdoğan himself has also announced a plan to deport one million Syrians to an undisclosed region of northern Syria, where Ankara maintains a strong presence. For more on the worrying humanitarian situation in Türkiye, read our election curtain-raiser.
As Germany promises more migration controls, NGOs worry about illegal returns
Germany plans to increase the number of checks and controls carried out at its border with Poland to try to reduce irregular migration. Both countries are members of the Schengen Area – a bloc of 27 European countries where passport and border controls have been abolished, at least on paper. Since 2015, however, a number of Schengen countries – including Germany – have used emergency measures to reintroduce border controls, largely aimed at clamping down on asylum seekers and migrants. A coalition of NGOs is alleging that these controls at Germany’s borders have been used to illegally turn away thousands of asylum seekers in the past year. The announcement about increasing controls at the German-Polish border comes as the number of people entering the EU from Belarus has increased again recently – although the numbers are still low. A group of around 30 asylum seekers and migrants – including children – was stuck at the border between Belarus and Poland this week, with Poland refusing to let them enter and Belarus not allowing them to turn back. For more on the controversial reintroduction of border controls between Schengen countries, read: How racial profiling within the EU's free travel zone harms asylum seekers and migrants
Kenyan poet Shailja Patel on colonisation and coverage of humanitarian crises
Queer Kenyan poet and activist Shailja Patel has penned a moving and thought-provoking poem for The New Humanitarian reflecting on coverage of the flooding that has wreaked havoc in Somalia and in Somalia’s former coloniser, Italy. In May, at least 22 people died and over a quarter of a million were forced from their homes in the Beledweyne region of central Somalia, while another 15 people were killed and 20,000 displaced in Italy’s worst flooding and landslides in a century. However, the disparity in international media coverage reflects the differing value attached to lives depending on which part of the world they come from. Patel, who is currently a fellow at the Civitella Ranieri residency programme in Italy, spoke to The New Humanitarian’s Senior Editor for Inclusive Storytelling Patrick Gathara about the inspiration for the poem and what can be done to change how we see humanitarian crises in different parts of the globe. Watch an excerpt of the interview on the clip below:
This was the first ever poem to be published by The New Humanitarian. We would love to do more, so please email any lyrical pitches to Patrick Gathara here.
In case you missed it
AI: Meta and YouTube are using AI to automatically remove graphic videos that would otherwise be helpful in prosecuting human rights abuses. BBC journalists tested this system by attempting to upload videos of civilian casualties in Ukraine, which were promptly deleted. Human rights campaigners are calling for a formal system to gather and archive deleted content. For more on the possible humanitarian risks posed by generative AI, check out this illuminating opinion from aid-tech expert Sarah Spencer.
BURKINA FASO: Prime Minister Apollinaire Joachim Kyelem de Tambela has ruled out negotiations with jihadist fighters, instead promising to bolster pro-government militias. Previous administrations in Burkina Faso have engaged in discussions with militants and supported local dialogue efforts, but the current military junta is pushing an "all-military" strategy.
EL SALVADOR: A report by local NGO Cristosal shed new light on human rights violations under President Nayib Bukele’s ongoing “State of Exception” to crack down on gangs. The investigation – based on interviews with former inmates, relatives of the victims, and police and forensic reports – revealed that more than 150 people had died in custody since the end of March 2022, with bodies showing evidence of torture, beating, and strangulation. Cristosal also reported problems related to malnutrition and the overall lack of healthcare in prisons.
ETHIOPIA: Amhara security forces and local authorities have continued to carry out an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tigrayan population of Western Tigray, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The abuses happened despite a November peace deal between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front. Read our recent dispatch from Tigray for more on the region’s enduring instability.
HEALTH ATTACKS: Incidents involving violence against health workers or obstructing healthcare increased by 45% in 32 countries and territories in 2022 compared to 2021, according to a new report from the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition (SHCC). The group documented 1,989 incidents, with 782 occurring in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, and 271 incidents in Myanmar following the February 2021 coup.
KENYA: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that a cholera outbreak in the overcrowded and unsanitary Dadaab refugee camps could become a “health catastrophe”. Cholera has so far affected 2,786 people, with an “imminent risk” of an outbreak of other gastro-intestinal diseases. MSF said almost half of the 300,000 refugees in the camps have no access to functional latrines.
MALTA/LIBYA: Around 500 asylum seekers and migrants – including children and pregnant women – whose boat was in distress in the Mediterranean Sea last week were illegally returned to Libya and imprisoned in an operation coordinated by EU member state Malta, according to a group of NGOs. The boat contacted the NGOs from an area of the Mediterranean where Malta is responsible for conducting rescues but then disappeared. The NGOs later heard from relatives of those on board that they were in a detention centre in Libya. Read more: The European approach to stopping Libya migration
NAGORNO-KARABAKH: The International Crisis Group has warned of the risk of a new escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a Caucasus region disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan where 7,000 people died over six weeks in 2020 in the last major flare-up. For more on how the latest tensions centre on a new checkpoint on the Lachin corridor, a strategic highway into Armenian-populated areas of Nagorno-Karabakh, watch our explainer below:
PERU: Peru is gripped by one of its worst ever outbreaks of dengue, registering more than 104,000 cases, 1,500 hospitalisations, and 131 deaths so far. Experts attribute the scale of the epidemic, which is overwhelming hospitals and medical services in poorer regions in the north – to heavy rains worsened by climate change, and insufficient access to potable water.
SERBIA/KOSOVO: NATO has deployed 700 additional troops to Kosovo after dozens of its peacekeepers were injured in clashes with ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. Clashes erupted after Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership sent security forces into towns with high Serbian populations to install Kosovan mayors. Tensions have been building since April, when Serbs largely boycotted the elections in which the Kosovan mayors were elected. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence, and Kosovo has reneged on a 2013 agreement to grant self-rule to Serbs in its territory.
SUDAN AID: The World Food Programme has completed its first distributions in Khartoum amid a humanitarian truce between the warring parties. But the Sudanese army has since withdrawn from ceasefire talks and WFP’s warehouse in El Obeid, the capital of North Kordofan, has been looted. Aid groups say they are trying to ramp up relief efforts, but are being hindered by security issues and bureaucratic impediments. A Sudanese medic has, meanwhile, been arrested for accusing the army of diverting medical aid.
YEMEN: The UN says a salvage vessel has arrived off the Red Sea coast of Yemen, the first step in a long-delayed operation to remove oil from a decaying supertanker. Political disagreements and funding shortages have slowed the process of removing the oil. Experts and aid groups spillage from the FSO Safer would create a humanitarian and environmental disaster.
The consequences of Sudan’s vicious power struggle are increasing day by day, and nowhere more so than in the western region of Darfur. On top of clashes between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the region has seen deadly attacks by RSF-aligned Arab militias on members of non-Arab groups. The worst violence has centred on West Darfur state, where hundreds of civilians have been killed and tens of thousands have been displaced, many to neighbouring Chad. In our weekend read – reported from a Chadian border town – refugees described how fighting has cut off power and water supplies, and resulted in markets, hospitals, government buildings, and humanitarian offices being looted. Camps for internally displaced people from non-Arab groups in West Darfur have also been incinerated by militias. The refugees lack financial means, and medical staff along the border are warning of looming malnutrition. Darfur was the scene of a major armed conflict in the early 2000s and has suffered a slow-burn humanitarian crisis ever since. Aid groups say millions were in need of assistance in the region even before the current conflict began.
‘We have given everything. You are still taking.’
The celebrated Ghanaian author and playwright Ama Ata Aidoo died on 31 May. Her works were known for their anti-colonial messages and feminist values, with underlying themes of justice and equality that continue to be relevant today. Ato Aidoo is referenced as an influence by many, from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche to Afrobeats superstar Burna Boy, who featured an excerpt from a 1987 interview with the literary giant in a song about colonial injustices: “Since we met your people five hundred years ago. Look at us, we have given everything. You are still taking. In exchange for that, we have got nothing. Nothing. And you know it.” Ato Aidoo, who was also an activist and academic, was the first woman to publish a play in Africa in 1965. Her plays and novels centred on the lives and experiences of women in Africa. She was 81 years old, and passed away following a short illness.