STAND UK’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND UK Education Task Force.
This week’s update focuses on Syria, South Sudan, and Burma. In Syria, a recent twin bomb attack threatens to dismantle the ceasefire brokered by Russia, Iran, and Turkey. South Sudan has been listed as one of the four countries which has triggered the announcement by the UN of the “largest humanitarian crisis since 1945.” The government of Burma has responded to UN reports of crimes against humanity as an exaggeration and an “internal affair”.
Damascus continues to suffer as a result of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, with a recent twin bomb attack as recently as Saturday. Whilst the ceasefire brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey remains in place there is still sporadic violence. In the latest attack, 40 were killed and 120 wounded close to the Bab al-Saghir cemetery. The UK- based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says a roadside bomb blew up as a bus passed and a suicide bomber also detonated explosives. Former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham have claimed responsibility for the attack – they are a radical Islamist group mostly holding territory in the north-western regions and have been excluded from the recent peace talks in Kazakhstan.
This week, President Bashar al-Assad made comments to the Chinese news network ‘Phoenix TV’ that was also released by Syria’s state-news agency SANA where he branded increased US military activity in the north of the country as ‘invaders’. This came after significant numbers of US Marines have been deployed to support US-backed local forces with support in the form of heavy artillery – reports have suggested these forces have been gearing up for a final offensive on Raqqa, the self-declared capital of the so-called Islamic State.
Earlier this week, two key international players in the Syrian Civil War met for talks in Moscow and vowed cooperation. President Erdogan of Turkey and President Putin of Russia. Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the conflict, leaving a threat of proxy war. However, both statesmen claimed that the ceasefire brokered was being largely observed and that there had been a reduction in violence between rebels of government forces.
The key area of news concerns the statement released by the UN this week. The UN has declared we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. South Sudan was one of the four countries listed (alongside Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria). Between these four countries, more than 20 million people face starvation and famine. Stephen O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general declared “without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.”
In other news, international aid groups have criticised South Sudan’s decisions to sharply increase foreign worker visa fees. Aid groups have argued this move is to profit from humanitarian crisis. Yet, the irony is that by increasing the fees, it could aggravate an already desperate situation. The government recently announced it would charge $10,000 for foreigners working in a “professional” capacity, $2,000 for “blue collar” employees, and $1,000 for casual workers. A researcher with Amnesty declared “the government and the army have largely contributed to the humanitarian situation. And now, the want to create profit from the crisis they have created.”
Attacks on civilians continue after an airstrike on a market killing at least 16 people on 11th March. Yemeni officials have estimated the death toll to be between 18 and 22 deaths. The US resumed its strikes, following the controversial raid that took place in January of this year, resulting in the deaths of civilians and a Navy Seal. These raids have targeted al-Qaeda fighters, although it is unclear the number of casualties that have been caught up in the violence.
The UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien also attempted to raise international awareness of the crisis, through a statement made to the UN on Friday 10th March, stating that the world was facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, referring to four crises in the world. Yemen was regarded as the largest humanitarian crisis out of the four, with reference to 18.8 million people who are in need of aid, which is more than two-thirds of the overall population of the country. A conference for Yemen has been planned for 25th April in Geneva, in a hope to raise further aid to alleviate the poverty in the country, which is caused by the ongoing conflict. Restrictions to aid resources and limited international attention has meant that only 6% of the required aid for 2017 has reached Yemen so far. Moreover, in the past two months alone, more than 48 000 people have fled the country.
The conflict continues to impact civilians facing famine and starvation, which will have ramifications for generations to come.
The Government of Burma has labelled the UN’s claims that the security forces have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingyas as “exaggerated.” The United Nations gave a detailed report describing human rights abuses near the border of Bangladesh. Despite reports of government sanctioned killings, a spokesman for the Burmese government has called the reports propaganda and added that the issue was ‘an internal affair.’
Furthermore, according to United Nations reports, close to 140,000 people are now displaced. Many of those displaced belong to the Rohingya Muslim community, with almost 74,000 of these persons interned at refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Leo Laurence is part of the STAND UK’s Policy Taskforce and his area of expertise is Syria. He is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge studying Politics, International Relations and Sociology.
James Dane is part of the STAND UK’s Policy Taskforce and his area of expertise is South Sudan. He is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge where he studies Human, Social and Political Sciences with a focus on the fields of Politics and International Relations.
Jamila Phillips is part of the STAND UK’s Education Taskforce and her area of expertise is Yemen. She is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge.
Sophie Burke is part of the STAND UK’s Education Taskforce and her area of expertise is Burma. She is an undergraduate studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Cambridge and loves to travel.