UN dating app sting, Afghan snowmelt, and how to spend (or not) $1.6 trillion: The Cheat Sheet

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors curates a reading list of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.

Counting wars and arms deals

To the lawyers, there’s more than one kind of “war. Important why, you ask? Because different categories carry particular obligations and legal implications. The Geneva Academy’s 2017 War Report lays out these distinctions for the 55 situations of armed violence it says amounted to armed conflicts last year. A country-against-country war is an IAC � an international armed conflict. In 2017, there were six IACs. Some (the one between Israel and Syria, for example) flare up and finish quickly. Others, the report says, can run for decades (think India and Pakistan). It also describes 11 “belligerent occupations” and 38 non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). In a novel development, the conflict in Mexico between the state and two criminal cartels is described as a NIAC � the same category as the Iraqi government’s fight against so-called Islamic State. Nine of the 55 conflicts involved Syria.

All these wars don’t arm themselves. The latest trade figures from think tank SIPRI show that arms imports to the Middle East have doubled in the last 10 years. Africa and the Americas are buying less however, on a five-year trend line. SIPRI’s data doesn’t provide dollar figures, instead using its own methods to show volume and trends. But in 2015, it estimated the value of the trade at $91.3 billion. And it’s gone up since then. Total military expenditure, on the other hand, was $1.6 trillion in 2016, according to SIPRI. Global humanitarian funding last year was just 1.3 percent of that, according to the UN’s Financial Tracking Service.

Swipe right for blackmail in Nairobi

UN staff have been lured into armed robberies and blackmailed by criminals stalking dating apps in Kenya, according to UN security officials. After meetings in public places and some preliminary rapport-building, victims are lured to “an unknown apartment” where they are “locked in, held at gunpoint and robbed of their money, phone, credit cards and other valuables by an organised criminal group”, a UN warning to senior management stated.

That internal advisory message, obtained by IRIN, said staff or their family members seeking same-sex meet-ups are particularly being targeted. In some cases, threats of “exposure” accompany demands for payments (made with mobile money) even after the initial robbery.

The message, sent to members of the UN’s in-country security management team, stated: “online dating opens the doors to certain vulnerabilities.” Nairobi hosts the UN’s largest presence in the developing world and is a key hub for humanitarian efforts in the East Africa region. Sodomy in Kenya is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and human rights groups say harassment and homophobia are rife. These laws are being challenged on constitutional grounds by activists, including the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Contacted by phone, an officer with the Nairobi diplomatic police told IRIN he was not aware of the UN warning.

Turkey’s mixed message to Syrians

This week, we brought you a story from Istanbul on the shifting attitudes and political rhetoric towards the millions of Syrians who have sought safe haven in Turkey over the past seven years. But even as Turkey has welcomed many refugees and advocated an open-door policy for its neighbours fleeing war, it has also � according to this new Human Rights Watch report � shot asylum seekers attempting to cross its borders and intercepted and deported thousands back to Syria. Turkey says it continues to accept refugees and does not use violence, but IRIN reported on the shootings and closures back in March 2016, and HRW has been meticulously documenting these incidents for years. Next week, we’ll bring you up to speed on efforts to integrate Syrian students into Turkish schools, a move complicated by the fact that a good number of Turks are increasingly frustrated with the idea that many refugees may end up sticking around for good.

After Afghanistan’s mild winter, fears of food shortages and migration surges

An unusually mild winter in Afghanistan is stoking fears of water shortages for the upcoming growing season. Snowpack levels recorded in February were the lowest Afghanistan has seen for any month since 2001, according to NASA. Water from snowmelt is crucial for irrigating downstream crops, and this year’s near-record low levels point to a heightened risk of food insecurity, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. This volatility could have far-reaching impacts in a country struggling with multiple insurgencies, mass displacement, and the reintegration of hundreds of thousands of Afghans returning from abroad. A weak harvest would mean fewer jobs in the local agriculture sector, and fewer opportunities will likely push unemployed youth to look for work in neighbouring countries � just one of the many factors driving migration from Afghanistan. Yet Afghans are at the same time returning in droves from Pakistan, Iran, and European countries. This continuing influx means more people competing for fewer opportunities and shrinking wages, pushing more young Afghans to look elsewhere for work again. Not to mention that conflict is spreading and last year killed or injured more than 10,000 civilians.

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Beyond ethnic violence in Congo’s Ituri

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-troubled Ituri Province, where recent attacks have caused hundreds of civilian deaths (including many infants) and led around 100,000 people to flee their homes, made it to the UK’s flagship news programme this week. Kudos to BBC Africa Editor Fergal Keane for seeing beyond the reductive cliche of ethnic conflict � even though members of one community are meting out unspeakable brutality against those of another. Keane’s report pointed to hidden hands behind the killings, possibly with a view to keeping President Joseph Kabila in power far longer than many people want. Keane had only five minutes to put Ituri on the map, so it’s understandable he only scratched the surface of what’s really behind the horror. IRIN reporters in Congo and Uganda � now hosting more than 40,000 refugees from Ituri � have delved deeper. Politics does appear to be part of the story, but so does oil, as well as aborted reconciliation efforts after previous clashes. We’ll publish their reporting and analysis next week.

A policy that knowingly and unrelentingly harms children for political ends

More strong words against Australia’s offshore detention programme for asylum seekers, this time from a senior UNHCR official who had just visited Nauru, the Pacific Island nation where some 300 refugees and asylum seekers are still detained. In an op-ed published in The Guardian this week, Indrika Ratwatte, the UN refugee agency’s director for Asia and the Pacific, called Australia’s policy an abomination. Since 2013, Australia has forced asylum seekers arriving by boat to have their refugee claims processed on Nauru or on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The Australian government says it won’t ever allow people known as ‘boat arrivals’ to settle in Australia even if refugee status is granted � which has been the case for the large majority. Last year, authorities shut down the detention centre on Manus Island. Several hundred remaining refugees and asylum seekers await a slow resettlement process to the United States; some asylum seekers face looming deportations, while others whose refugee applications were rejected are stuck in legal limbo, forbidden to be deported but equally forbidden to settle permanently in PNG.

Source: IRIN