Ghettoization, Insecurity & Destabilization: the Refugee Crisis in Southeast Europe & South Caucasus

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This paper is the product of IISA research and HOLDS Foundation fieldwork in refugee camps/sites.

By exploring both the causes of the refugee crisis — particularly post-Communist history of the Balkans and Southern Caucasus regions — and effects the crisis has had on host countries, the paper displays examples of how short-term migration policy with little long-term consideration can cause serious domestic and international destablization.


REPORT: Dynamics of Russo-Iranian Collaboration in Syria

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The Syrian Civil War has been raging for more than half a decade, and has attracted the interventions of numerous external actors from across the globe. Whether interested in promoting peace or ensuring that their preferred faction increases influence, these external actors are as important to delineating the longevity and prospects of the conflict as the internal Syrian militias themselves.

As such, this paper seeks to understand the relationship between two critical outside powers with involvement in Syria, their objectives and the strategic importance of their goals, and the extent to which their current collaboration is a product of temporarily aligned interests in the Syrian conflict or the sharing of a wider global worldview. Namely, these nations are the Russian Federation (Russia) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran). Both of these countries have thrown their diplomatic heft and resources behind the forces of former Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, but for slightly differing purposes. This paper will assess the utility and durability of the current tactical alignment in Syria, and examine the wider relationship between Russia and Iran to predict how it will evolve over the coming years.

The methodology of this paper has largely been a qualitative study of secondary sources from reputable international affairs journals and news articles, although the authors are indebted to our correspondents and Middle East analysts, especially Ali Afshari and Mahan Abedin for their contributions.

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‘Netherlands: Ours Again’

The defeat of Geert Wilders — leader of the Dutch Partij Voor de Vrijheid (PVV) “Party for Freedom” — in the March general elections of the Netherlands was hailed as a triumph by European politicians. German Chancellor Angela Merkel commented the result ‘was a good day for democracy’, and French President François Hollande expressed the defeat of the PVV as a ‘clear victory over extremism’. While this sentiment of relief among European politicians is understandable in the jittery post-Brexit climate — it is clear that these politicians have missed the true nature of the Dutch elections. Not only did the PVV — champion of anti-refugee politics in the Netherlands — gain enough seats in parliament to become the second largest party in the country, but its xenophobic message permeated through to other parties and their public stances. Dutch Prime Minister Rutte’s infamous ‘be normal, or be gone’ message to asylum seekers is indicative of the anti-refugee shift in Dutch politics caused by the PVV. In truth, the Dutch election result is a victory for the politics of PVV — anti-refugee views have been normalised and legitimised.

The Netherlands has maintained a relatively active response to the refugee crisis, and certainly made efforts to develop comprehensive reception and asylum processes to handle the influx of displaced persons in 2015. However, even before the election, Dutch asylum procedures have been one of the harshest in Europe. According to EU investigation, only 35% of refugee requests in the Netherlands are honoured — and for failed asylum-seekers, Dutch policy is absolutely unrealistic and dismissive of failed asylum-seekers’ circumstances. The Dutch response to failed asylum-seekers has been heavily criticised by human rights groups and advocates, both domestically and internationally. The European Committee of Social Rights issued two firm decisions against the Dutch state in 2015, after which the Netherlands established the Bed, Bath & Bread scheme to better provide social assistance and supplies for refugees. Though the scheme was paralysed by political disagreement on refugee policy throughout, and eventually failed in late 2016, it seems to have served its purpose to quell European detractors of Dutch policy — with the European Court of Human Rights finding no fault in the Dutch refugee response in the case of Hunde in 2016. In essence, it appears the Netherlands has been given full liberty to continue its harsh policies on asylum-seekers.

Returning to the Dutch elections — support for the PVV narrative on refugees stems from the rapid influx and its perception by local communities. Some locals expressed concern that cities like Rotterdam now ‘feel like abroad’ and full of ‘foreigners’. Some draw a distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ asylum-seekers, and public protest being directed at the ‘undeserving’ who are seen to be abusing Dutch generosity. In a climate of public unease and rising xenophobic politics in response to the refugee crisis, refugee rights must be actively upheld, and local communities must be reassured. There must an active effort to share the stories and experiences of asylum-seekers — both those accepted and those rejected by the Dutch state — in order for the public to empathise and understand why these persons cannot return home, and the ways the State exploits nuances to reject persons who clearly deserve protection. While there are difficulties with integration of refugees into host societies which mean asylum should not be an automatic award — these concerns should be voiced with sympathy, and not used to fuel xenophobic politics.

Mosul: The Day After; Understanding the Strategic and Humanitarian Consequences of Defeating IS in Iraq

Understanding the Strategic and Humanitarian Consequences of Defeating IS in Iraq

Editor: Peter Mitchell

Senior Advisor:  Dr. Muhanad Seloom

Researchers: Erkan Gursel & Tim Hulse

 A joint report by the Neo-Jihadism and Refugee/Border Policy Programmes at the Institute of Islamic Strategic Affairs

Executive Summary:

> Islamic State (IS) may lose Mosul but will remain as a potent Jihadist force in Mosul and Iraq. IS would eventually regroup in desert areas and will continue to receive manpower due the level of sectarianism. Our sources told us that many Sunnis in Mosul still prefer IS over Iraqi government and its Shi’a militias allies, which is seen as extension of Shia forces in Iraq. Former governor of Mosul Atheel al Nujafi told IISA ‘I don’t think losing cities will end IS’, ‘it is versatile, it will adapt’.

> The sectarian nature of Iraqi politics will continue. Shi’a militias have committed multiple atrocities in previous areas liberated by the Iraqi forces i.e. Ramadi, Tikrit, and Falluja. And although the Iraqi government and Kurdish regional government (KRG) state that Shi’a militias will not be involved, there is a strong evidence to the contrary. Involvement of Shi’a militias will create both political and humanitarian crisis deepen and will also fuel Sunni resentment and help in facilitating IS regrouping.

> Over a million civilians are expected to be directly impacted by the offensives. The UN and Iraqi government estimates that few hundred thousand will be displaced. Our sources indicated that people will likely to stay in Mosul, instead of flee to other areas (given previous case studies where Sunnis were badly treated or the facilities were next to nothing). Another expectation regarding the direction of civilian flight is toward KRG. However, we disagree with both expectations and analysis due to the following main reasons:

  • The analysis carried out by the UN is not thorough and independent enough. The UN did not have access to many areas where the IDPs are expected to arrive. UN relied on secondary sources and resources i.e. other organisations, private security companies and Iraqi government.
  • There’s no guarantee that Shi’a militias will not enter Mosul or will not participate. Our sources indicate otherwise. Mosul’s population is deeply worried about Shi’a militias. If and when they enter Mosul, it will trigger huge wave of refugees.
  • Areas where IDPs are likely to head to are not prepared or already overstretched with the refugee population from previous battles. There is very little structure or preparation in place to receive large number such as 300,000 expected in Salahedin province.

> Iraqi government, global governance agencies and international organisations are not ready to deal with the refugee and IDP crisis emanating from the ‘mother of all battles’. The refugee and IDP crisis after Mosul will put Iraqi government into further difficulties on economic, political and governance levels. It will increase alienation, radicalisation and insurgency.

> In essence, there is no effective ‘Day after plan’ and as a consequence Iraq as a state and the region will not enjoy security in the aftermath of Mosul offensives.  Instead further insecurity, chaos and violence should be expected.

Full report:

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trump nethanyahu

Palestine Under Trump

There is no doubt that Trump’s incoming administration is going to drastically alter the relationship between Israel and the United States, with seemingly dire effects for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Obama, to his credit, worked hard to highlight Israel’s illegal activity in the treatment of its Occupied Territories, culminating in an historic UN Resolution denouncing the building of settlements on private Palestinian land. However, he failed to match this with any semblance of dialogue initiatives or diplomatic pressure to reach an accord, exposing a significant lacuna in his Middle East policy. Detrimentally, the Obama administration’s policy of denunciation has increased the strength of right-wing factions in Israel who thrive on international marginalisation and antagonism to support their claims of victimhood. Simultaneously, these actions have alienated the US in the eyes of the Israeli right, making them a less suitable partner for facilitating an agreement. In this light, Obama’s last ditch attempts to underline support for a two-state solution and to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza in his final month as President smack of desperation.

Unfortunately, this was prescient, as indeed times look desperate for Israeli-Palestinian relations. Less than two weeks into Donald Trump’s presidential administration and there are ominous signs that he intends to adhere to many of his more divisive campaign policies. Along with removing financial support for charities which teach about abortion and signing permission for the construction of his wall along the southern border within two days, he used his first interview as President to reaffirm his belief in the utility of torture and his intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act. There is, consequently, no reason to believe that he will not adhere to his campaign promise to practically support Israel without question in its efforts to subdue and expand into its Occupied Territories. Indeed, his Administration has recently broken with decades of US policy on Israel by making the outrageous claim that “settlements are no obstacle to peace”.

Even prior to this remark Israel pre-empted Trump’s support, ordering a settlement expansion of 2500 homes in East Jerusalem mere days prior to the inauguration. The concern for Netanyahu now is that he no longer has the diplomatic pressure of the US to restrain his internal hard-line settlement building factions. He will consequently face more pressure from within to allow Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories, which will exacerbate tensions and increase international support for the besieged Palestinians. This will subsequently embolden militant groups such as Hamas and possibly lead to increased levels of violence between the IDF and Palestinian activists.

There are also widespread murmurs that Trump may be seeking to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is highly contentious, as Jerusalem is claimed in its entirety as the capital city of both Israel and Palestine. The refusal of either party to drop this claim has been a major sticking point in negotiations to date, and Trump’s transplant of the US Embassy to Jerusalem would indicate his belief that the city belongs to Israel. This would irrevocably preclude the US from managing any further mediation efforts, and would undoubtedly further inflame Palestinian grievances.

In short, Trump’s declared stance appears disastrous for the possibility of a negotiated settlement. There is an expectation that Trump’s presidency will further weight the struggle between Israel and the Occupied Territories in the favour of the Jewish State, leading to increasingly poor living standards for Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza and a worsening humanitarian crisis. Even a best-case scenario for Palestine would be US disengagement from the region under Trump’s “America First” foreign and military policy. This could include a decrease in military funding for Israel, which could inspire Netanyahu to seek more diplomatic means of solving Israel’s security crisis. However, it could equally frighten Israel into ramping up their domestic military capabilities and give them free rein to use them as they see fit.

It is slightly ironic that Trump’s Israel policy is likely to worsen Israel-Palestine relation, as he has intimated that he is keen to restart the negotiation process. However, it is highly likely that this was simply the off-hand comment of a braggadocious self-described dealmaker, and not a firm policy commitment. In any case, there is little to suggest that Trump has the nuance or the ability to make an attempt at solving such a complex issue. In all likelihood, his efforts will make it far worse.


Refugee Education: A Big Challenge

When a child is forced to flee their country, their educational process is interrupted and rarely continued. In September 2016, UNHCR launched “Missing out: Refugee Education in Crisis”, a report that indicates the decline in learning opportunities when children are forced to flee their homes. The majority of the world’s refugees – 86% – are sheltered by developing countries, with over a quarter of them hosted by the world’s least developed countries.  More than a half of the refugee children who do not attend school are located in just seven countries: Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey.  They live in areas where governments can barely afford to educate their own children.

Refugee education is financed to a large extent, by emergency funds, thus impeding the articulation of long-term solutions. In general, refugee education is not a constituent part of the national development plans. Therefore, the needs and achievements of refugee children and youth remain highly neglected.

Refugees have skills, ideas and dreams. Given the proper resources, they can reach high standard performance; a fact proved by the inspiring achievements of the Refugee Olympic Team.  Investing in their education has long-term benefits. Education provides children with a safe place for development. It reduces child marriage and child labour as well as exploitative and dangerous work. Failing to provide education for over six million refugees of school-going age can have serious repercussions for themselves and for the society as a whole, perpetuating cycles of conflict. Investing in education for refugee children is necessary for peaceful and sustainable development around the world.


New Vacancies in 2017


Neo Jihadism programme (Vacancies focusing on the Middle East and North Africa regions)

Refugees & border control programme (Focusing on Refugee crisis in Middle East and Europe)

West & Horn of Africa programme (Focus on militancy, organised crimes and resources etc.)

Social Media Coordination Intern (promoting and monitoring IISA’s work on social media)

Business Development Intern: (Developing IISA’s brand and its business)

These positions are designed to provide early career researchers and students with practical experience with an up-and-coming think tank. These position are most suited to candidates with a minimum bachelor degree (from an internationally recognised university) in political sciences, International Relations, War and Security studies, Conflict resolution studies or similar.

Please email info@iisa.org.uk with your full CV, a writing sample and a cover letter.

The War in Syria and the Kurdish Media Narrative

By Zenobia S. Homan, with Sophie Henderson and Marija Sajekaite

IISA Resurgence of Russia & China Programme

Photo by REUTERS/Caren Firouz, taken from http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/home.html


This paper discusses how the Northern Kurdistan (Bakurê Kurdistanê) media portray the war in Syria; not just the campaign against Islamic State, but the wider civil war, and human rights. Many researchers will run into the outsider-looking-in problem: they write from outside the region, do not share the culture and do not speak the language. However, this does not mean that their research is automatically without value. Here, we will explore a few methods of acquiring information, the problems encountered, and the results that can be achieved.

While Bakur has a unique and valuable perspective of the situation on its borders, there is a notable absence of consistent and coherent information from this region, which would be accessible elsewhere. To investigate this problem, several case studies have been selected for comparison: messages from Kurdish papers, television, blogs, social media and individuals will be contrasted with the image portrayed by Western media. This is challenging, as it is nearly impossible to access independent and unbiased journalism.

Although some studies have already been conducted on Bakur journalism during the 20th century, the July 2016 coup attempt has had a massive impact on media in this region. The effects of the coup attempt are not yet completely known and will surely be analysed for years to come. IISA hopes to create a comprehensive overview of the situation as a basis for further research. Particularly, because questions are all too often pointed in the direction of the Turkish government and the PKK, while other events receive less attention in the West. The Syrian civil war has been having, and is sure to further have, a huge impact on Kurdish culture and identity. The way in which this conflict is portrayed by the Bakur Kurdish themselves is a story which cannot be buried underneath internal media problems.

History of Bakur Kurdish media

Media can mean anything, from television to online networks, facilitating mass communication. To illustrate the facilitation of mass communication in Northern, or Bakur, Kurdistan, the genesis of the newspaper makes for a good example. Although early newspapers could be found already in 17th century Europe, the first newspaper printed in the Ottoman Empire was not released until the mid-19th century. The first Kurdish newsletters do not appear until the beginning of the 20th century – and mostly ceased publication during the First World War. Nearly all early publications were short-lived and there was no daily Kurdish newspaper until the 1958 Revolution. In the 1960s and 1970s several legal and underground Bakur Kurdish groups attempted to start new regular publications, but many were suspended or shut down by the Turkish government. The situation is similar today, with very few Bakur newspapers surviving past a decade and papers in the process of being set up face the same fate. Bakur media have traditionally focussed on publishing about literature and politics, which remain sensitive topics to many parties involved.

The July 15 coup attempt

On July 15, 2016, a faction in the Turkish army commandeered several tanks, helicopters and fighter jets. Amongst other things, they occupied important bridges in Istanbul and attacked major state institutions. They then seized the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, where a news anchor was made to read a coup declaration on live television. The attempt was short-lived and as dawn broke it became clear that the Turkish government was reasserting control.

The failed coup resulted in a number of grave consequences, of which the aftermath in the media is the focus of this paper. Turkey declared a state of emergency and by the end of July the authorities had closed over a hundred media organisations (television, radio, papers, magazines and publishing houses). Many of these were allegedly linked to Fethullah Gülen or the PKK. By September the closures were expanded to television channels airing Kurdish-language children’s shows. As a result of these actions, Turkey’s rank in the press-freedom index of Reporters sans Frontières has plummeted to 151st place (last checked October 2016). Regardless of blame, affiliation or participation the fact is that today there are over 150 fewer media outlets than there were three months ago. Many of these were Kurdish, significantly changing the Bakur Kurdish media landscape.

Post-coup Kurdish media’s reflections on the Syrian crisis: a literary analysis

Major Kurdish media include, or included, Kurdistan24 (K24), which supports the KDP, broadcasting in Sorani, Kurmanji, English and Turkish; NRT News (NRTV), which covers the PDK/KDP narrative, with headquarters in Sulaymaniyah and offices in London; Azadiya Welat, a weekly Kurdish newspaper with headquarters in Diyarbakir, shut down in late-August 2016; Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper shut down mid-August 2016; Yeni Ozgur Politika, a pro-PKK newspaper based in Germany, which, amongst other news, provides a daily analysis of Syrian conflict from a Kurdish perspective. Ozgurlukcu Demokrasi, a Turkish-language daily newspaper based in Istanbul for Kurdish readership; Dicle News Agency (DIHA), a pro-Kurdish news agency linked to the HDP; Firat News Agency, linked to the PKK with offices in Amsterdam (sites reportedly blocked by the Turkish government); Ronahi TV, based in Brussels, which provides news on Syria from a Kurdish perspective; Rudaw Media Network, based in Erbil, reporting in English and Kurdish and associated with the KDP; E-Kurd Daily, which claims to be unaffiliated; Nasname, which is anti-PKK and advocates independence and democracy; Nerina Azad, which is also anti-PKK and pro-independence; Rojnameya NewRoz, which advocates freedom and socialism; Gazete Kurd, which says to advocate Kurdish unity, freedom and dignity; Denge Kurdistan, which is affiliated with HAK-PAR; and Zer News.

Other sources for news include Rojname, a Kurdish search engine that publishes primarily Kurdish news-feeds, and international institutes such as the Kurdish Institute of Brussels. In fact, the main source for news is often quoted to be social media such as Facebook, followed by blogs. Examples include http://cptikurdistan.blogspot.lt, http://kurdishstruggle. tumblr.com and https://www.facebook.com/kurdishblogger/.

People we have interviewed have said that Kurdish media have always been more or less party affiliated, involved in “a battle for political and ideological control in general”. Media may propagate conspiracy theories, particularly in relation to Turkey and whether it is involved in supporting IS. Since the Siege of Kobanî 2014-2015, Kurdish media and Turkish media have differed drastically in their portrayal of the war. In particular, Kurdish media have pushed the narrative that Kobanî was a heroic struggle for the Kurdish people and that Turkey is aiding IS. Much of such content is blocked on Turkish internet connections and the Turkish government removes content it disapproves of. In addition, when inside Bakur Kurdistan, it is difficult to find information because many people feel like they could be monitored and potentially arrested.

Whereas access is challenging, interviewees have praised the role of Bakur Kurdish media in the Syrian conflict. Syrian Kurds were relatively pacified prior to the war and there was no large media presence. However, when people were prohibited to broadcast, this encouraged activism. The Bakur Kurdish media played a big role in this, recording what was happening in Rojava and reporting the day-by-day events. According to the narrative written by the media, the main aim is democracy, and the main concerns are safety and control. Interviewees do not however describe Kurdish people as politicised by the media: rather, they say that the media reflects what the Kurds think.


Figure 1. Statistical reflection of popular topics in Bakur Kurdish media.

To build our narrative of the war in Syria through Kurdish media, we compiled our own literature analysis. Sources included in the initial analysis were written in either English, Kurdish or Turkish and published by biased as well as unbiased authors. Articles used to compose Figure 1 came from online publications by Nerina Azad, Rudaw, E-Kurd, Kurdistan24, Dicle Haber, Rojnameya Newroz, Özgürlükcü Demokrasi, Denge Amerika, Ara News, ZER News, ANF, Gazete Kurd and the Kurdish Institute in Brussels. The only key-word used was “Syria”. We collected 100 articles, dated between July 15 (the coup attempt in Turkey) and October 15 (the time of writing). Of these articles, 15-20% were opinion pieces. The most popular topics covered developments in key cities, such as Mosul and Aleppo, nationalism, as well as women’s rights, humanitarian affairs and possible solutions for the conflict. By some distance, the primary topic was foreign involvement, of which almost three quarters concerned with Turkey. Articles categorised as “other” included involvement by countries such as France, reports on cities such as Al-Hasakah, Manbij, Hama, Homs and Idlib, and attacks by IS on countries such as Afghanistan.

Unbiased sources reported on movements on the ground, such as the placement of explosives in Mosul and bombings in Aleppo. They provide aerial views of the destruction, and overviews of recent clashes. Opinion pieces reflected that the Mosul operation was being launched prematurely, and that foreign support may be desired; but on the other hand, some authors insisted that foreign forces, particularly Turkish troops, would not be necessary. Many journalists voiced that stability for Mosul requires a political solution, including comments on the Sunni population and the operations of the Peshmerga. Media have cited Aleppo as the “epicentre” of the Syrian conflict, with Assad using it as an example of his strength. Reports on foreign involvement such as that of Britain are concerned primarily with military support, with one source specifically suggesting that this support is pro-Russian.

Western media and the Syrian conflict

For comparison we also searched “Syria” at the five largest UK newspapers (The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Mirror) and the five largest German newspapers (Bild, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, Die Welt, and Handelsblatt).

The British place most emphasis on developments in Mosul and Aleppo, migration issues, Russian and Turkish involvement, humanitarian aid and at the moment also the possible effects of the outcome of the U.S. elections. However, the coverage of such outlets as the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph differs tremendously from narratives presented by tabloid newspapers (the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Mirror). The former are most concerned with political developments, while the latter offer highly graphic overviews of atrocities committed by IS. They focus on events such as violent episodes caused by individual refugees in their host countries and violence towards children, linking to shocking images and videos.

A search for ‘Rojava’ resulted in 2 hits on thesun.co.uk: both articles announcing that a British volunteer died fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Manbij at the beginning of August 2016. On mirror.co.uk the search resulted in 19 hits, dated between October 2016 and November 23, 2014. Main themes were British citizens who were killed fighting for IS, violence, brutality, weapons and sex slavery. Three out of five papers did not have easily searchable online archives, which is a notable fact in its own respect. A search on theguardian.com yielded 64 hits, with regular dates spread between October 2016 and May 2015. It looks likely the Guardian online archive simply does not extend back beyond this. Articles address, amongst other things, human rights, Syria’s future and conflict development regarding Rojava. The telegraph.co.uk does not have a search engine, but combining the name of the paper with the search term on Google resulted in 3 hits, dated between May 2016 and July 2015. The dailymail.co.uk does not have a search function either. A Google search likewise resulted in 3 hits, between August 2016 and January 2015, primarily about Australians and Americans fighting alongside Kurds.

The only paper with any hits for ‘Bakur’ was the Guardian. Whereas the Mirror search included expected sensationalist articles, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph apparently do not use terms such as ‘Rojava’ and ‘Bakur’ in general, reflecting on the expected knowledge and interests of the audience.

When searching “Syrien” in Germany, the most prominent topics are also foreign involvement, with heavy emphasis on Russia and Putin in this case, the threat of IS, the refugee crisis, with strong criticism of the EU, the situation in Aleppo, and humanitarian aid. Kurdistan received little to no mention in these articles. A search for ‘Rojava’ at bild.de resulted in 9 hits, dated between August 24, 2016 and October 14, 2014. Many of those articles were concerned with events in Germany (such as a pro-Kurdish protest). At sueddeutsche.de there were 11 hits, dated between August 24, 2016 and March 28, 2014. The majority of these articles addressed the (im)possibility of an independent Kurdish state. At faz.net there were 19 hits, dating between August 3, 2016 and September 9, 2013, with particular emphasis on Kobanî. At welt.de there were 34 hits, between September 21, 2016 and April 28, 2014. These articles were more varied and included interviews with and stories about Kurds. At handelsblatt.com there were 2 hits, dated March 17, 2016 and July 20, 2015. The first concerned with Putin and military action, the second an overview of the history of Kurdistan. Only sueddeutsche.de and handelsblatt.com showed any results when “Bakur” was entered as a search term. The first had 4 hits, addressing a newly released documentary; the second had 3 hits, all concerned with Turkey and Erdoğan.

It is especially noticeable that between July 15 and October 15 of this year (online) articles concerned with the Kurdish narrative of the war in Syria, Rojava in particular, were extremely limited and mostly published during August. It is also worth observing that most papers did not begin to report on the situation of the Kurdish population of Syria until it proposed autonomy in 2013, or, in fact, over a year later. The more general German narrative of the war in Syria seems to focus on internal politics and international relations, especially with Russia. There are regular and factual reports on bombings and attacks, but topics such as human rights, culture, religion, health and education are – while not absent – less prominent.


While this was a brief survey of select sources, it is evident that British and German media rarely turn to Bakur Kurdistan as a source for information. As a result the narrative of the war in Syria differs strongly between Bakur and the West. Media in Bakur as well as the UK and Germany are very interested in foreign involvement in the conflict in Syria. Whereas Germany primarily worries about Russia, Bakur’s main concerns lie with Turkey. Both of these perspectives are understandable, from a historical geo-political point of view. Excluding tabloids, the main difference in the narratives is European focus on refugees versus Kurdish interest in nationalism. European sources tend to summarise the situation in Syria as one in which many different factions are fighting one another, that this is chaotic and that it is difficult to predict where it might go.

While this is true, sources from Bakur report more often on specific events and people, with a particular interest in the Kurdish fight for autonomy. These are stories which provide a socio-cultural background to the Syrian conflict, encouraging insight and understanding. European sources also tend to focus on IS and Assad, providing few details on other parties involved. Essentially this simplifies the narrative to the point of misinforming the audience. Bakur Kurdish media do not highlight the effects of the Syrian war on Europe or the rest of the world, but present how the war affects the region and its inhabitants itself.



Closure of Dadaab poses serious concerns for refugees

Dadaab, the largest refugee base in the world, is set to close by May 2017. Set up in 1991 to accommodate refugees fleeing from the Somali civil war, Dadaab has been hosting refugees for over 25 years.  The complex holds around 280,000 refugees, of which 260,000 are Somali. Plans to close the camp by the end of November were recently pushed back a further six months due to appeals from the UN and aid groups on the basis of humanitarian grounds.

Following Al-Shabaab attacks on Westgate and Garissa University, the Kenyan government has labelled Dadaab a threat to national security claiming that militant extremists have infiltrated the camp and are using it as a recruitment ground. In April, Kenya silently revoked prima facie status for Somalis. This means that group determination is no longer an option for those fleeing Somalia and that individuals seeking refuge in Kenya will now have to apply for asylum on a case-by-case basis.

The Tripartite Agreement, signed in November 2013 by the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the UNHCR, was a pledge to facilitate the voluntary return of Somali refugees to designated areas. However, in light of continuous instability and poor economic prospects, repatriation has been slower than anticipated. So far, only 29,000 refugees returned to Somalia from Dadaab in 2016.

Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the return of refugees due to political instability and insecurity in Somalia. It has also been questioned to what extent this repatriation is occurring voluntarily.  Amnesty reported that a number of individuals residing in the camp feel they have no choice but to return back to Somalia due to increasing pressure from Kenyan officials and fear that they may not be able to access their $400 financial support package.

Despite concerns that people will be returning to a violent country experiencing food insecurity, the Government of Kenya is committed to speeding up the process and closing the camp as soon as possible. Speaking at a news conference, Kenyan interior minister, Joseph Ole Nkaissery, stated that “the government has accepted the request to extend the deadline for the completion of repatriation of Somali refugees, and this is essential to the closure of the Dadaab refugee complex, [in] six months. However, the on-going voluntary repatriation will continue uninterrupted”.


Featured Image by Oxfam East Africa – Hundreds of families are arriving in Dadaab camp every day, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16001860

Afghan refugees  returning from Iran stop in a transit camp set up by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on the edge of Kabul, Afghanistan where they recieve medical and monetary assistance   before they return home  August 10, 2002. Children were being vaccinated for measels and adults were given $10 to complete their long journey home. (photo by Ami Vitale)

Over 1 Million Afghan Refugees Returned to Afghanistan

Over 1 million Afghan refugees have returned to their country of origin. This is the largest influx of refugees returning to Afghanistan since the Taliban regime fell in 2011. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), one-fifth of refugees returned involuntarily from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

As security deteriorated last year, more than 200,000 Afghans left their country and headed for Europe, thus leading to the largest post-Taliban mass emigration.  While many Afghans continue to leave their country, the number of those returning home has increased significantly. Moreover, the fighting between the Taliban and the government has already internally displaced more than 1 million Afghans.

“[The influx] makes a very large figure for a country which is in a volatile situation when it comes to security and also in terms of economic opportunities for those to be reabsorbed in a very short time.”

– Laurence Hart, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Kabul

After four decades of conflict, Afghanistan remains one of the main sources of refugees in the world. Approximately 5 million Afghan refugees are living in Iran and Pakistan.  IOM data show that Iran has deported 174,000 Afghans this year, while 22,000 were displaced from Pakistan. Moreover, almost 600,000 Afghan refugees in Pakistan are expected to return to their country of origin by March 2017. Pakistan’s justification has primarily been in economic terms; however, there is also political motivation, as tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have grown in the wake of the May killing of the Taliban leader in Pakistan.

The returnees, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, will settle in provinces where fighting has been prevalent – from Helmand to Nangarhar.  The uncertain situation and inability of the Afghan government to provide necessary recourses for the returnees are clear signs of a growing humanitarian crisis.