The United Nations has reported that thousands of Yazidis are being held captive by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, where many are used for sexual slavery or forced to fight for the group. The report comes on the second anniversary of what investigators have termed a genocide.
A UN-appointed commission of independent war crimes investigators disclosed in June that IS was committing genocide against the Yazidis, which is a religious community comprising of 400,000 people in northern Iraq. It noted that the genocide began with an attack on their city of Sinjar on 3 August 2014. The UN further disclosed that most of the captives have been taken to neighbouring Syria, “where Yazidi women and girls continued to be sexually enslaved and Yazidi boys indoctrinated, trained and used in hostilities.” The UN has reported that around 3,200 Yazidi women and girls are being held captive and that thousands of men and boys remain missing.
The designation of genocide, rare under international law, would effectively mark the first recognized genocide carried out by non-state actors, rather than a state or paramilitaries acting on its behalf.
The United Nations reported on 20 June that the number of refugees and others fleeing their homes worldwide has hit a new record, spiking to 65.3 million people by the end of 2015.
According to the latest figures released by the UN, the number of people displaced globally rose by 5.8 million through 2015. The UN has indicated that counting Earth’s population at 7.349 billion, one out of every 113 people on the planet is now either internally displaced or a refugee. The agency has disclosed that they now number more than the populations of Britain or France, adding that it is “a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent.”
While displacement figures have been rising since the mid 1990s, the rate of increase has jumped since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Of the planet’s 65.3 million displaced, 40.8 million remain within their own country while 21.3 million have fled across the borders and are now refuges. Palestinians are the largest group of refugees at more than five million. This includes those who fled at the creation of Israel in 1948 and their descendants. Syria is next on the list, with 4.9 million, followed by Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million).
While Europe’s high-profile migrant crisis is the worst since World War II, it is just one part of a growing tide of human misery led by Palestinians, Syrians and Afghans. Globally, approaching one percent of humanity has been forced to flee. The UN refugee agency has disclosed that “this is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.”
The figures, which were released on World Refugee Day, underscore twin pressures that are fuelling an unprecedented global displacement crisis. According to UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, as conflict and persecution force growing numbers of people to flee, anti-migrant political sentiment has strained the will to resettle refugees, adding that “the willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today.”
A mixture of a number of factors have led to rising displacement and narrowing space for refugee settlement. The agency has disclosed that “situations that cause large refugee outflows are lasting longer,” including more than thirty years of unrest in both Somalia and Afghanistan. The UNHCR also indicated that news and intense conflicts as well as dormant crises that have been “reignited” are further fuelling the crisis, pointing to South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, and the Central African Republic, side form Syria. The UNHCR also indicated that beyond the refugee hotspots in the Middle East and in Africa, there were also worrying signs in Central America, where growing numbers of people fleeing gang violence led to a 17 percent rise in those leaving their homes through 2015.
We assess that the situation in Yemen has gone beyond the scope of aid. Yemen is facing the catastrophic reality of famine unless people can return to the fields, imports resume enabling markets to trade at normal prices. The United Nations estimates 9,000 casualties, including over 3,000 civilian deaths in the Yemeni conflict from March 2015 to 2016. The Houthis, a rebel group composed of Shiite Muslims, feel marginalized in the majority Sunni country and have loyalties to an ex-president of Yemen. The situation led to one of the world’s deadliest yet least reported conflicts.
One third of fighters in Yemen are children, many of whom have been captured and are now subject to an agreement between the warring sides. It is unclear how many child prisoners are being held. According to Yemeni political sources Houthis, the government submitted a list of almost 7,000 prisoners they say are held by the other side. Children can be seen manning check points in many cities in Yemen, recruited by the warring parties in the conflict. The UN’s child agency UNICEF counted 738 minors were recruited with children as young as ten taking up arms. It marks a five-fold increase from 2014. However, they admitted this was a conservative estimate and there were likely many more.
A Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against Houthi militias, who are aligned with Iran. The airstrikes have been condemned by the U.N. human rights chief for killing civilians. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon publicly acknowledged on Thursday that he removed the Saudi-led coalition currently bombing Yemen from a blacklist of child killers (72 hours after it was published) due to a financial threat to defund United Nations programs. Saudi Arabia denies the threats. The U.N.’s 2015 “Children and Armed Conflict” report originally listed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen under “parties that kill or maim children” and “parties that engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals.” The report, which was based on the work of U.N. researchers in Yemen, attributed 60 percent of the 785 children killed and 1,168 injured to the bombing coalition.
Children growing up in Yemen face multiple threats. If they escape recruitment by one of the warring factions, they may be one of the victims of the fighting or the deepening humanitarian crisis. Children are disproportionately the victims of the war. Civilian infrastructures are not safe from attacks with schools and hospitals finding themselves in the firing line. In 2015 alone, 900 children were killed and 1,300 wounded. The UN calculates that six children have been killed or maimed every day since March. Yemen is in the throes of an acute humanitarian crisis. According to UNICEF 178,600 children under 5 were treated for severe acute malnutrition and another 10,000 Yemeni children died from preventable diseases in 2015, due to what the UN called ‘the total collapse of the health system’.
Since the Arab Spring in 2011, Yemen has fallen off the media’s radar but it has a strong democratic movement which is being hampered by third world conditions. Already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East before the fighting began in March 2015, Yemen has always relied heavily on imports. Around 90% of its food comes from abroad, including 85% of its staple grain crops. Airports, ports and land routes have now been forced to close, either due to damage or blockades. A food crisis seems to be pushing almost a quarter of the population to starvation. Of its 24 million people, over 80% are in need of assistance in order to survive. Yemen, once known as “Happy Arabia” it is heading towards poverty, malnutrition in one of the biggest crises of our time. The security to citizens, visitors, organizations and infrastructures cannot be guaranteed. Yemen is currently the poorest country within the Arab world. As well as the lack of supplies coming into the country, Taiz, one of its biggest cities, has been sealed off since September 2015. This has resulted in the loss of livelihoods for tens of thousands of families. Production has declined and mass internal displacement has severely disrupted an already limited agriculture. The overall scenario caused prices of basic commodities to sky-rocket. The cost of a minimum staple food basket for an average family has doubled since the crisis began. The number of people begging on the street has increased, while food prices are through the roof. Even when other essential goods are available, people are being forced to travel long distances to get them. Families are travelling up to 30km on foot, along treacherous mountain routes, just to reach the nearest affordable market. For those not able to make the trip, the only hope is to count on the good nature of neighbors, skip meals, beg or starve.
On 13 May, the United Nations Security Council disclosed that it is alarmed by Boko Haram’s ties to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, adding that it is throwing its support behind a Nigerian-led regional summit to confront the threat.
In a statement, the 15-member Council disclosed that it welcomed President Muhammadu Buhari’s “crucial initiative” to hold the Summit on 14 May, which will be attended by regional leaders as well as French President Francois Hollande. It adds that the summit should help develop “a comprehensive strategy to address the governance, security, development, socio-economic and humanitarian dimensions of the crisis.” The Council also expressed “alarm at Boko Haram’s linkages with the Islamic State” and voiced “deep concern that the activities of Boko Haram continue to undermine the peace and stability of the West and Central African region.” Last year, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to IS and Nigerians have ben reportedly fighting in lawless Libya. The group also has ties with al-Qaeda-linked groups that operate in the wider Sahel region. The Council also renewed its call for regional countries Cameroon, Chad and Niger in a multinational joint task force to “further enhance regional military cooperation and coordination” to root out Boko Haram. It also demanded that Boko Haram “immediately and unequivocally cease all violence and all abuses of human rights” and “release all those abducted” including the 219 schoolgirls who were kidnapped in Chibok, Nigeria in April 2014.
The Council statement was drafted by the United States as a show of support for President Buhari on the eve of the meeting.
On 14 May, regional and western powers gathered in Nigeria to attend talks on quelling the threat from Boko Haram.
Speaking to reporters shortly after meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, French President Francois Hollande stated that “impressive” gains has been made against the Islamists by greater cooperation, warning however that “this terrorist group nevertheless remains a threat.” The Nigerian leader has invited leaders from Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, whose troops will make up a new regional force against Boko Haram, which has been pushed to northeastern Nigeria’s borders around Lake Chad. The 8,500-member force, which has African Union (AU) backing and which is based in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena under a Nigerian general, was supposed to have deployed July 2015. Plugging gaps and improving coordination between the armies that are currently operating largely independently is seen as vital in the remote region where borders are known to be porous. Saturday’s summit, which comes two years after a first such high-level gathering in Paris, also comes as Nigeria’s military pushes deep into Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest stronghold after recapturing swathes of territory. While President Buhari has vowed to defeat Boko Haram before the end of his first year in office later this month, and the army portraying the Islamists as being in disarray, there have been warnings against any premature declaration of victory. Deputy US Secretary of State Anthony Blinking disclosed in Washington, which is flying surveillance drones over northeastern Nigeria from a base in northern Cameroon, that he did not see Boko Haram as defeated. However he conceded that “they have been degraded,” adding that the US was “extremely vigilant” about the connections, amidst reports of Boko Haram rebels fighting in lawless Libya and the group’s ties to al-Qaeda affiliates in the wider Sahel region. Speaking to reporters on Friday, he disclosed that “this is against something we are looking at very, very carefully because we want to cut it off.” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has also warned about Boko Haram’s ties to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, stating that progress was being made against the group with help from London, Paris and Washington. He added in his statement that “…we must maintain the momentum to win the war, and build the right conditions for post-conflict stability in the region.” With Boko Haram now on the back foot, attention has increasingly started to turn towards the plight of those that have been displaced by the ongoing insurgency. Two million Nigerians have been internally displaced and are now living in host communities or camps. The government of Borno State, which has been the worst-hit by the violence, has stated that the displaced face a “food crisis” and US $5.9 billion was needed to rebuild shattered infrastructure. United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who visited northeastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon last month, has indicated that 9.2 million people in the wider region were affected by the conflict.
The final communiqué disclosed that a “global approach” was required, comprising of hard and soft power in order to end the threat. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond characterized the fight against extremist ideology as “a generational struggle against an evil that will destroy us if we do not destroy it.” He further told the gathering that “we must sustain this fight until evil is defeated and good prevails,” and called for countries affected to win the “hears and minds of those terrorized by Boko Haram.” US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also disclosed that respect for human rights was essential, after repeated accusations of military abuses against civilians and Bok Haram suspects. He further warned that not addressing the drivers of extremism – poverty, deprivation, lack of opportunity and education, would create “Bok Haram 2.0” even if the group were defeated militarily.