© Melissa Martinelli
Melissa Martinelli - April 18, 2017

This guest blog comes to us from Melissa Martinelli, an Immigration Attorney based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Melissa has represented hundreds of asylum seekers in the United States, and has volunteered in Texas and New Mexico representing women and children detained in “family” detention centers. She recently returned from Thessaloniki, Greece, where she volunteered for two weeks with Advocates Abroad, a non-profit organization representing asylum seekers in their registration, protection, reunification and relocation processes.

Omar is 21 years old. He arrived in Greece in late February 2016. A series of shellings had destroyed his neighborhood in Damascus, forcing him to flee. After several months of uncertainty and misinformation, he was finally able to register with the Greek Asylum Service (“GAS”) in July, and was more...

Steve Wilkinson - April 7, 2017

April 7 marks World Health Day and this year the World Health Organisation is using the day to draw attention to global mental health concerns, including the devastating impact of the Syria conflict. Such an important moment should facilitate greater reflection by the humanitarian community in terms of preventing, limiting and responding to mental health impacts during war, and this conversation should also include legal assessments and applications. 


“… many children are living in an almost constant state of fear, terrified by shelling, airstrikes and ongoing violence, with devastating psychological consequences”, was just one of the central findings of a recent report undertaken on Syrian refugees by Save the Children.

Beyond physical harm, armed conflict causes considerable mental health more...

Wikimedia Commons
Julia Brooks - March 7, 2017

On 6 March 2017, the Trump administration signed a revised executive order banning entry into the U.S. by nationals of six Muslim-majority countries – Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – for 90 days, suspending refugee resettlement for 120 days, and lowering the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. from 110,000 to 50,000 in fiscal year 2017. Promulgated in the name of national security and protecting the U.S. from foreign terrorist threats, this revised order is a step back from the more sweeping original ban issued on January 27th, which prompted nation-wide protests and was suspended by U.S. federal courts in February. Nonetheless, at its core the policy remains cruel and misguided. It continues to betray humanitarian (and American) norms while doing little to keep Americans safe.

Suspending refugee admissions more...

Steve Wilkinson - February 6, 2017

Humanitarians are increasingly exasperated with the lack of respect for international humanitarian law in a number of contemporary conflicts. Many are regularly calling for  those violating the basic tenets of the law of war to be held accountable and in this context, it is worth examining the potential role these same actors can play in relation to such accountability mechanisms.

When frontline humanitarians witness horrific acts, what activities can and should such actors undertake to promote accountability for violations of international law? Is it possible for humanitarian actors to have their operational space respected, if at the same time they seek to address some of the root causes of the conflict, and promote and/or contribute to holding violators of the law to account? What activities would be considered more...

Megan Nobert - January 25, 2017

This guest blog comes to us from Megan Nobert, a Canadian legal professional and academic specialised in international criminal law and human rights. She is also a humanitarian, having worked in in the Gaza Strip, Jordan and South Sudan on issues of humanitarian law, protection and gender-based violence. Megan is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland, as Founder and Director of Report the Abuse.

The nature of operating in conflict and disaster zones means that there are inherent dangers to humanitarian work. Whether due to riots, gunshots, bombings or other threats, organisations take precautions to ensure that attacks can be anticipated and prevented, including through trainings, policies, security procedures and/or risk matrixes. One critical risk that is not often discussed, however, is that of sexual violence. This is more...

B. Diab / UNHCR
Julia Brooks - January 19, 2017

“Flouting the most basic rules governing the conduct of war has become contagious,” wrote U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his report for the World Humanitarian Summit last year. “The brutality of today’s armed conflicts and the utter lack of respect for the fundamental rules of international humanitarian law on care for the wounded and sick, humane treatment and the distinction between civilians and combatants threaten to unravel 150 years of achievements and cause a regression to an era of war without limits.”

Many of these violations have been committed with impunity in recent conflicts, spawning widespread frustration with international mechanisms for accountability and justice.  The unraveling of international norms that Secretary-General Ban speaks of has been witnessed most acutely in Syria, where systematic more...

Aid from the United Arab Emirates to Syria is loaded in Dubai © UNHCR
Abby Stoddard - December 20, 2016

This guest blog comes from Abby Stoddard. Abby is a Partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, an international research consultancy providing analysis and policy advice for humanitarian agencies and donor governments.

In 2014, Afghanistan’s Helmand province had over twice as many people in need of aid as there were in Samangan province, yet Samangan had a larger presence of aid agencies and more than double the number of aid projects running. Similarly, the far less needy northern regions of Somalia have for years hosted a far greater aid presence than the South Central regions that exist in an almost continuous hunger crisis. For most of the first year of the conflict in South Sudan, a large majority of aid agencies confined their work to the UN protection of civilian sites, even though these represented only 10 per cent of South more...

Steve Wilkinson - October 4, 2016

On the 21st of September, CNN reported that ISIS was suspected of firing a shell containing mustard gas at an airbase in Iraq used by United States and Iraqi troops. This is by no means the first reported use of chemical weapons in recent months and years. In fact just one month earlier, on the 25th of August, a United Nations Security Council mandated investigation team (OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM)) concluded that both the Assad regime and ISIS had undertaken chemical attacks in Syria in 2014 and 2015. This is the first time that the UN had made an authoritative assertion of attribution and responsibility in relation to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict. These findings came barely a few weeks after it was widely reported that chlorine gas had been used in Aleppo and Saraqeb.

The alleged use of more...

Julia Brooks - September 14, 2016

As the conflict in Yemen continues, civilian casualties are reaching alarming levels. At least 10,000 people have been killed and thousands wounded since March 2015, at a rate of thirteen civilian casualties per day. According to the UN, Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for two-thirds of the civilian casualties, including in indiscriminate or targeted attacks on civilian areas, hospitals, schools, markets and civilian industries. Airstrikes have also had a devastating impact on humanitarian action in the country: citing “[i]ndiscriminate bombings and unreliable reassurances from Saudi-led coalition,” for instance, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) decided last month to evacuate its staff from facilities in northern Yemen after the fourth and deadliest attack on one of its hospitals killed 19 and injured 24 people. Such more...

Vincenzo Bollettino - August 29, 2016

With the world focused on terrorism, conflict in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, it is easy to forget about the threat posed by natural disasters. Natural disasters pose as great a threat as conflict does to the well being of millions of people across the globe and undermine livelihoods by wreaking havoc on property and natural resources. Current and anticipated sea level rise and changing patterns in and increasing severity of weather-related events pose significant threats to populations globally. These large disasters impact lives and property alike, and at times, are too much for affected states to manage on their own.

When disaster-affected states are unable to cope with the response and recovery to disasters on their own, they often turn to other states and the international humanitarian community to help manage the disaster more...

© World Food Program (WFP)
Jean-Martin Bauer & Brittany Card & Alice Clough - August 26, 2016

This guest blog comes to us from Jean-Martin Bauer, Brittany Card, and Alice Clough with the World Food Program (WFP) food security analysis unit.

Obtaining real-time and actionable information on the needs of affected populations has long been a priority for humanitarians; so keeping up with new technologies that could improve existing data collection systems is also a necessity. Innovations such as mobile phones and the Internet have already profoundly changed the nature of humanitarian work. They are proving to be faster and cheaper than legacy information systems, increasing the amount of information that decision makers have, and ultimately enabling them to save more lives.

However, what is truly transformative is their potential to reach previously ‘invisible’ populations. An estimated 3.2 billion people now have more...

Médecins Sans Frontières, 2014
Julia Brooks - August 4, 2016

ISIS is committing genocide and other international crimes against the Yazidi minority in Iraq and Syria, as determined by the latest report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. According to the Commission, at least 3,200 Yazidi women and children remain in the hands of ISIS, and thousands of Yazidi men and boys are missing, meaning that “[t]he genocide of the Yazidis is ongoing.” The Commission’s report also underscores an important realization – that the logic, nature, and commission of genocide is highly gendered – and that legal, policy and humanitarian responses must take account of this reality.

First they kill the men, then they take the women

With its attack on the Sinjar region of northern Iraq on 3 August 2014 - two years ago this week - ISIS set in motion a more...

Nicola Zolin/IRIN
Julia Brooks - July 11, 2016

“We do not face a refugee crisis, but a reception crisis,” is a common refrain heard in Greece these days, though it’s arguably applicable to Europe as a whole. For one, while the number of refugees arriving in Europe has been unprecedented, it remains a fairly small proportion of the total number of displaced persons around the globe.  UNHCR now reports this figure to be 65.3 million, most of whom flee to neighboring low- and middle-income countries. Moreover, as the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece via the Aegean Sea continues to decline in 2016 – due in part to the closure of borders along the Western Balkan Route and conclusion of the EU-Turkey deal to deter crossings from Turkey – a new reality is setting in as Greece transitions, albeit reluctantly,  from a country of refugee transit to reception, more...

Private security guards oversee Zimbabwean asylum seekers applying for documentation in Musina, South Africa, Guy Oliver/IRIN
Birthe Anders - July 4, 2016

This guest blog comes from Birthe Anders. Birthe is a Fritz Thyssen Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. Her research focuses on Private Military and Security Companies, NGO security and civil-military relations. Birthe holds a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London. Before coming to Harvard she taught on the War Studies and Conflict, Security and Development Programmes in the War Studies Department, King’s College London, where she co-founded the Private Military and Security Research Group.

Attacks on aid workers – meaning incidents in which they are seriously injured, kidnapped or killed – have risen in recent years, causing serious concerns within the humanitarian community as to how to best enable humanitarian operations in insecure environments. According to the Aid Worker more...

© Saudi Press Agency
Steve Wilkinson - June 27, 2016

Médicines Sans Frontièrs (MSF) announced on the 17th of June that it would no longer be taking funds from the European Union and member states “in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies and intensifying attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores.”  This move came in the same week that two other funding and ethics issues were in the spotlight.

First, Saudi Arabia was removed from the UN ‘blacklist’ concerning child rights violators. As the justification for this decision, Ban Ki-moon candidly cited the threat of Saudi Arabia withdrawing its funding for the UN and its consequential impact on child protection. Second, Save the Children received criticism for accepting a donation of $29 million dollars from a foundation set up by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwalee, a close ally of the Saudi more...


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