Neo-Jihadism brief: Libya, Syria and Trump

Neo-Jihadism Brief no.II

The Effects of Donald Trump’s Victory in Libya

The shock election victory of Republican candidate Donald Trump has many in the intentional relations community questioning what this could mean for American foreign policy in the Middle East region. Regarding foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular, Donald Trump, as the new president-elect of the United States, would arguably stand out as representing one of the most unpredictable men to have held this position since America started sending troops overseas as part of its new imperial policy in the late 19th century.

Throughout his campaign, and his somewhat limited career as a politician (to say the least), Trump has led a campaign full of contradictions and confusing messages. He has changed his stance on key issues on several occasions –think Obamacare. However, looking at a few key themes of his campaigns, themes that he has consistently reiterated over the past year or so, this paper will attempt to predict how a Donald Trump presidency may affect the Middle East, and Libya in particular.

Firstly, one of the most glaring developments of the Trump campaign has been his seemingly positive relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many commentators have said that a Trump Presidency will signal a new era and new policy of collaboration with Russia, which many fear will be based upon America accommodation of Russia’s interests. For the Middle East, this would mean accepting Russian support of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and supporting their airstrike campaign. More worryingly for Libya however, this could mean supporting Russia’s push to be a more involved actor in the region, including its joint military partnership with Libya’s neighbour, Egypt.

Secondly, Trump will inaugurate a new policy against so-called ‘Islamic extremist terrorism’. These 3 words were used a lot throughout his campaign both by Trump himself, and by some of his strongest supporters such as former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani. One of Trumps most infamous policies includes the banning of all Muslims from entering the United States in an attempt, according to Trump-logic (if such a thing exists), to curb the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism.

Reports on the ground from Reuters suggest that allies of Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, the dominant figure in the divided country’s East, have already welcomed Donald Trump’s victory in the US election. After the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya splintered into rival political and armed groupings. More than 5 years on, the country remains deeply divided between factions based in the East and West that support rival governments and parliaments –the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in the West and the Libyan National Army (LNA) in the East.

In the East, Haftar and the LNA have been fighting a two-year military campaign against Islamists, and ISIS-affiliated groups, and other opponents in Benghazi and elsewhere. With the victory of Trump, these individuals are arguably hoping to receive more support for their anti-Islamist stance. If this does indeed take place, the result could boost pro-Haftar factions with strong ties to Egypt (and increasingly, Russia), while diluting Western support for a UN-backed government in Tripoli that Haftar and his allies have long been in opposition to.

In March 2016, the leaders of the UN-backed GNA arrived in Tripoli but have since failed to either fully displace the previous administration in Tripoli, or win the support of powerful individuals and militias in the East, who accuse the GNA of being beholden to Islamist-leaning non-state forces.

Haftar meanwhile is aligned with the Eastern parliament and government, both of which were quick to congratulate President Trump on his win. Tarek al-Jaroushi, a member of the parliament whose father commands Haftar’s air force, stated that he “strongly support[s] Trump because of his and the Republicans’ resolute and decisive attitudes.” He also claimed “The Republican Party, which understands the truth about Daesh (Islamic State) and the positions and the victories of the Libyan army, will support us.” A statement from Haftars parliament to Trump said: “We hope for your support … and we call for the lifting of the arms embargo on the Libyan army which is waging a war against terrorism.”

With his propensity to favour ‘strong men’ (think Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan), Trump will likely show more support for General Haftar and the LNA than his predecessor, Obama. What this will mean for Libya is still unknown, what is clear however is that a Trump presidency will likely mean more support for General Haftar and the Libyan National Army, thus further entrenching the deep divisions that exist between them and the UN-backed Government of National Accord. In other words, no peace or stability for Libya in the near future.

Trump, Putin & Aleppo: Consensus Building?

The government’s stranglehold on Aleppo is tightening. The western areas of the city, occupied by rebel groups and 250,000 stricken civilians, are cut off from their supply lines and unable to gain any forward momentum. With Russian air strikes occurring regularly and indiscriminately, conditions in Aleppo are dire. Without food, water and medical supplies, the civilians caught in the crossfire have nowhere to turn.

Bashar al-Assad has had his hand strengthened significantly by support from the Kremlin. This places the Damascus regime at further odds with the West, whose tenuous alliances seem to be causing tensions across the region. The relocation of Russia’s only aircraft carrier into the Mediterranean caused a stir as NATO nations refused to refuel it in its passage. Russia is seen widely as a positive force in Syria, propping up the ailing regime and ruthless in its use of air power. The strengthening of Assad has even forced concessions from the Turkish government, one of the most vehemently anti-Assad regimes in the region, who are now open to Assad being part of some form of transitional government at the end of the civil war. Moscow’s clear strategy and willingness to bend the rules of the game has made it highly effective in securing its strategic aims.

In contrast, US support of Syrian Kurds has led to a major issue with the Turkish government. Kurdish forces, made up largely of YPG members (a terrorist group, as declared by the Turkish government), were supported in their conquest of Manbij earlier this year. This pushed Kurdish influence further west along the Turkish border – an unacceptable situation for Turkey, whose importance to NATO and the EU cannot be overstated. This was of course the precursor for the largest military intervention conducted by Turkey in decades as they rolled into Syria.

And of course, recent developments in American domestic politics could lead to ongoing uncertainty. It is absolutely clear that President-elect Trump has little understanding of the complexities of the conflict in Syria. His vocal admiration for the style and actions of Vladimir Putin’s forces could serve to undermine the progress made so far by US backed forces. The line to date has been that Assad must be removed from power, and democratic elections must take place. Mr Trump has made reference to allying with the Syrian government, Russia and Iran to defeat ISIS, which would represent a fundamental U-turn on what has been US policy since long before the civil war began. The campaign promise to defeat ISIS seems to have taken precedence over considerations of democratic reform and human rights. The extent to which these were the guiding principles of American action is not entirely clear, but to renege on them would be at the very least a significant rhetorical departure from the Obama administration.

This is not to say, of course, that the Obama administration’s strategy has been perfect, or even very good. The lack of coordination among US backed rebel groups has led to a messy understanding of who they are and what they are aiming for.  A personally warm relationship may prove beneficial between Mr Trump and President Putin in ending the conflict in Syria and defeating ISIS. However, an accommodation of Russian interests has to signal a retreat of US power. The US has been the predominant power in the Middle East for nearly two decades. Engaging Russia may well be a positive step towards consensus based regional politics, but the risk must surely be that Western liberal values will be at stake in allowing Russia the freedom of a more permissive atmosphere. Is Trump’s ‘plan’ to beat ISIS worth sacrificing the principles upon which the initial intervention was ostensibly based? Is the potential consensus a desirable one? We must wait to see how much freedom President Trump will have in changing the direction of his nation.

This brief is a monthly paper, part of our ‘neo-Jihadism programme‘.




Trump and Islam

The election of Donald Trump to the President of the United States will have a severe impact on Muslim strategic affairs around the globe. Of course, domestically, the effect of his election will be phenomenal, with many expecting racist and Islamophobic attacks to become more frequent as racist segments of American society feel vindicated by the shock outcome. Sadly, this has been witnessed in Britain in the wake of the Brexit referendum, and there is no reason to think that the American right wing will show more restraint nor that Trump’s campaign has been less divisive or inflammatory.

Indeed, Trump’s nativist populism has been driven by rural America’s hatred of minorities, including women and Latinos, but it is perhaps Muslims which have been hit hardest. Certainly, in proportion to the average American’s exposure to Islam or Muslims, Trump’s campaign made them the biggest scapegoat of all. His divisive rhetoric advocated mosque surveillance and torture as a core components of homeland security, and proposed a total ban on Muslims entering the United States. He positioned American Muslims as “outsiders” by fabricating first-hand accounts of Islamic euphoria in New York on 9/11, and congratulated himself on his policy of mistrusting all Muslims when it was supposedly justified by a lone-wolf shooting incident in Orlando. In short, he has done his utmost to stoke Islamophobia in the US, and rode its crest to the White House. Add to this is the list of his appointees to his administration which so far ranges from far right white supremacists to outright Islamophobes.

However, as hard as a Trump presidency is going to be for Muslims in the US, it is in his position as Commander-in-Chief of American forces and his setting of American foreign policy that his victory will have the most profound impact on the global Ummah. From boosting Israeli, Russian and Chinese agendas of regional dominance to demonstrating his foreign policy naivety in the quagmire of Syria, the anticipation of President Trump’s supremacy is unsettling Muslims around the world.

This is because Trump’s foreign policy is characterised by a nativist isolationism and American exceptionalism which runs counter to 60 years of onshore protection. In other words, he feels America is too involved in global affairs and ought to be more restrained in its interventionism. He has promised to withdraw troops from US military bases around the world, and put more pressure on US allies to defend themselves.

The first direct result of this scaling back of overseas operations is the likely emboldening of regional hegemons, such as Russia and China. For the past eight years, the Obama administration has conducted a policy of increasing the strength of US friendships and footprints in the Asia-Pacific and Eastern European regions, with the express purpose of counterbalancing Russia and China as regional hegemons. Trump’s promise to undo this activity is unsettling the millions of Muslims in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, who may be faced with increased Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and beyond.

This looks ever more likely in the face of the second direct impact of Trump’s isolationism; the dismantling of US alliances and mutual protection agreements. Trump has been vocal in his lamentation that America bears the brunt of the cost in blood and treasure for maintaining the security of other nations. He has already considered demanding half of Kuwait’s oil as reimbursement for its liberation from Iraq in 1991, and his repeated frustration with the inability of many NATO members to meet their financial commitment to the alliance has jeopardised the future of the NATO bloc. On the campaign trail, Trump rejected the tenet of mutual defence, intimating that he would withdraw US protection from any NATO member which does not spend 2% of its GDP on defence.

Simultaneously, Trump has made increasing overtures to Russia, praising Putin for his leadership and promising a new age of Washington-Moscow relations during his term. These anti-NATO diatribes and pro-Russian posturing are sure to embolden Russian aggression in the Balkans and Caucasus, potentially impacting on the significant numbers of Muslims across Bosnia, Albania and Azerbaijan. This policy also directly affects the only Islamic member of NATO, Turkey, which is currently struggling with the Syrian civil war on its border. However, given Turkey’s relatively strong relations with the major NATO antagonist, Russia, and its fulfilment of NATO’s financial conditions (spending 2.1% of GDP on the military in 2015), Turkey is not at significant risk of NATO abandonment.

Outside of NATO, Trump’s isolationism is scaring long-term recipients of American military assistance, such as Afghanistan and Kenya, and even those to whom America has been historically sycophantic, such as Israel. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump pandered to Israel in an unprecedented manner, promising to support its claim to Jerusalem as the country’s capital city, yet many Israeli politicians are worried by the anticipated withdrawal of foreign military assistance. The US has been Israel’s largest military partner in terms of defence sales and defence spending for over 30 years. A sudden cessation of financing would be cataclysmic for the IDF, particularly in the context of the Syrian war turbulence and increasing unrest in the West Bank.

However, perhaps the greatest threat would be a newly-outcast Iran. Trump has repeatedly described the 2015 JCPoA as Obama’s worst mistake, and has promised to take every step necessary to ensure Iran’s nuclear programme is destroyed. He is bringing Russia in from the cold and pushing Iran back outside. This will inevitably damage the long-worked-for trust and dialogue between the US and Tehran, and any reneging on the JCPoA from Washington will almost inevitably restart Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities. In the context of Israeli military degradation and the ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, this could be a major mistake and contribute to heightened insecurity in an already fractious region.

Finally, beyond withdrawing troops from strategic positions, abandoning allies and undoing peace agreements, Trump’s direct control of the American military is a dangerous prospect, when connected to his anti-Muslim agenda and simple-mindedness. Indeed, President Trump is possibly the most abject politician America has ever elected for the task of tackling the intricacies of foreign policy and diplomacy. When pressed on the campaign trail, his nuanced approach to the threat of ISIS consisted of (possibly nuclear) bombing the region and seizing its oil, while struggling to differentiate between the Kurds and al-Quds forces. His deep mistrust of Arabs, and their reciprocity, is likely to automatically exclude any Trump administration representative from peace-making negotiations, leaving it up to increasingly nativist and domestically-beleaguered European leaders to counter Russia’s Assad solution. This is not a mix which will lead to a cessation of hostilities any time soon.

To conclude, a President Trump is a terrible proposition for Muslims across the globe and for world security in general. He is the archetypal Islamophobic representative for jihadists everywhere to exhibit as proof that the West is opposed to Islam. His isolationism is likely to leave power vacuums for Russia and China to fill with their own expansionist agendas, and his skewed black and white view of the world will prohibit the compromises and understanding of nuanced foreign policy necessary to engender peace. The next four years are going to be very bumpy.

By Sam Eastoe.

Sam Eastoe is the ‘Resurgence Russia and China’ programme leader at IISA


Situation Analysis: US election results and impacts on the Islamic world: ‘The end of history and the last man crawling’

Donal J Trump has done it! Despite his hate speeches, his treatment of women and his view on others faiths and colour of skins etc., He is the new leader of the ‘free world’. He won by a significant lead, reflecting how majority of American people think today!

His selection to the presidency is not a new or shocking development in the western world. We have just gone through the Brexit shock. We have also witnessed the rise of right and far right parties across Europe. We have also witnessed a far right, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim behaviour in the mainstream political arena in the west i.e. France, UK, Hungary and Poland etc.

These events are connected to each other and represent a bigger change in the west: the ideals west hold dear are falling on its head. On the eve of the end of cold war, Fukuyama claimed ‘this is the end of history and its last man standing’ referring to western led democracy as the end of historical process. Well he could not have been more wrong. The right wing, anti-democratic spirited, Islamophobic and Xenophobic west is ‘the end of history (for west) and its last man crawling’. The west has become a prisoner of its own ideology. It promotes rule of international law, but stand silence when international law is broken by itself and by others. Its ideal always give way to its interest but it is even unable to secure its current or long term strategic interest in the world. Other global forces, be they state or non-state are filling in.

It is important to note that the west was already there when Trump got elected. Trump presidency will increase the process of western self-demise and will accelerate the process of the deterioration of western rule over the global system.

Whatever we know so far of Trump’s foreign policy, excluding the vote gathering stunts like the ‘beautiful wall’: Trump is essentially an isolationist. He believes that US needs to look inward as it makes more business sense. These do not seem just empty rhetoric but firm beliefs built on historical realities such as US catastrophic engagement in long ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Trump may not do some of things that he said he will; there are a certain list of ‘dos’. Isolationism is one of them. ‘To make America great again’, Trump and his supporters believed that domestic issues should be given more priority. It is a common business sense for him. He also believes that US foreign policy has been held hostage by ‘naïve academics and diplomats’. In other words he does not appreciate a bigger picture or strategic overview of the things which seasoned diplomats and astute academics could bring on foreign and global policies.

Stopping refugees from entering US is again in line with this isolationism. Just like Brexit and its leaders, Trump would rather compromise economic interests and economic benefits of migrations rather in favour of stopping people entering. The current UK administration is built on that belief, refugee issue over single market. Trump is not far behind.

He has also stated his intention to reducing US role in NATO. That goes in line with his isolationist/inwards beliefs. And although he would like to stay away from the establishment and its belief he is certainly not alone in promoting and establishing the view that ‘America does not do nation building’. He wants NATO to focus on terrorism rather than on bigger strategic threats i.e. Russian expansion. With Russia he wants to have a good relationship. Because he believes on ‘strongman politics’. Putin is a strongman with a strong army and physical presence and upper hand in the Middle East. Therefore Trump wants a NATO that does not threaten Russia. He wants Russia to finish off the threat of the Islamic State (IS). And since he likes ‘strongman politics’ he does not see Assad as a bigger threat.

Trump is not a great military leader. Like his predecessor Obama he has already outlined his military vision. Trump’s US will not seek confrontation with Russia in order to avoid WWIII. This is on the similar line of Obama’s policy ‘we will not put boots on the ground’. When a state outlines its own redlines the others are only too eager to cross them, just as we saw in Syria i.e. the Russian intervention.

Trump also supports Israel and does not see Iranian deal favourably. The US Iran deal was a crucial piece of strategic jigsaw. The US wanted to move out of the Islamic world (particularly from Middle East) to focus on Asia Pacific, the act known as ‘balancing’. US Iranian deal ensure that this happened smoothly. Trump will like to see support for Israel and reversal of deal with Iran but he fails to realise the ongoing dynamics of the Russian-Iranian relationship. If he wants a good relationship with Russia, he will need to have good relationship with Russian allies.

In short, an inward looking, military and NATO weary Trump, will accelerate the dynamics of US foreign policy which was already set on course towards noninterventionism and more towards isolationism. This would mean that the gap created by Obama administration in the Middle East will widen. These gaps will be quickly contested over by state and non-state actors. Russian and Iran will be the major beneficiaries. Non state actors will also use it to their advantage. And without NATO to check its movement, Russia will seek a longer military and political role in the Middle East. It will also increase its military presence and assistance in other theatres such as Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Trump’s administration will lack a strategic vision for the US, in a time where the west seriously lack a stronger and wider vision. He will install people in his administration with more business acumen than those with strategic foresight. This will speed the process of a decline of the US as a major global power, because global power, even in today’s world requires a mixture of both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power. His administration lacks both. A less involved US in the world affairs means a less involved west. For the past few years, Europe has completely given free reigns to the US to shape policies in key regions of the world such as Middle East. Europe is now more divided than ever and will not fill in the vacuum as quickly as it will be needed.

The west which rules for now will no longer do so on its own terms. The Islamic world and its regions will face a serious ideological, structural and political vacuum. Since the end of WWII, many of the Muslim countries have become a client state to the US or the west. There has not been any significant organic development. When there has been any development i.e. the Arab revolution it has had the unintended, reverse effects.

The irony is that while the west and its last man crawls through the history, so will the Islamic world. Its region will soon have to face with new emerging powers of whom there is very little known about. Muslim countries do not know much about China or can only second guess Russian intentions. There has hardly been any working relationship. Lack of real knowledge in the policy making circle will create uncertainly which will impact socially, politically and economically. Further uprising and revolutions can be expected. Ideologies will mutate or take rebirth.

One thing Trump’s ascent to power proves is that few things in the world which should not work, actually do. Terrorism and espionage.  9/11 has a direct result of where the US is today. The refugee crisis is not an isolated result of the Syrian crisis but it is an end result of US Iraqi invasion, failure of state building in Iraq and Afghanistan, ability of non-state actors to cash in that power vacuum and create their own quasi states of systems such as IS or Taliban, and the consequent power struggle with unpopular government (such as the IS take over and Taliban offensive), which led to the refugee crisis that we see today. The Xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe and the US is a direct result of that process. Espionage: because Russia (and to some extent China) have been able to create desirable political outcomes in the west (both in US and Europe).

Knowing something works is much more dangerous than not knowing. Once it is established or realised that terrorism and espionage pay off, as suggested above, more of it should be expected, not less.

To conclude this brief report, Trump’s victory should not be seen as a victory against the ‘establishment’ as the conventional wisdom denotes but as an end process of western policy and strategic failure and the triumph of forces described above.

There is a neo-classical theory on empires which can be summarised in two words: ‘they end’. At the beginning of this end, Islamic world will see further major upheavals and uncertainly for a foreseeable future.


2,500 refugees are crossing from South Sudan into Uganda every day

South Sudan’s conflict represents one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises.  Recently, the number of South Sudanese refugees has passed the one million mark.  An estimated number of 2,500 refugees are crossing from South Sudan into Uganda every day. Most of the are accommodated in settlement camps, lacking proper resources. At least 200,000 South Sudanese refugees have come to Uganda since the fighting intensified in Juba on 8th July between supporters of President Salva Kiir and Reik Machar, then-vice president.

By way of Uganda’s self-sufficiency approach to refugees, each South Sudanese family is offered a plot of land to grow its own food. In reality, refugees say that the land isn’t sufficient for everyone, a fact that makes them rely on food aid from the UN.  However, severe underfunding is restringing UN’s efforts on the ground.

The new settlement, Bidibidi, which opened in August, has become one of the largest refugee-hosting areas in the world. Currently, it is the home of 170,000 South Sudanese refugees. Food and water supply are major challenges in Bidibidi, where the needs are constantly growing.  Most refugees come from the Equatoria regions of South Sudan. They reported civilian harassing, killings and torture of people suspected of supporting opposing factions and sexual assaults of women and girls in the region. At present, providing basic facilities for South Sudanese refugees is an imperious priority.  


Redefining Refugees: Updating the “Refugee” Definition (Part 1)

By Daniyal Shajar
Programme Leader, Refugee & Border Control

This paper is the first of two instalments in the ‘Redefining Refugees’ series, with the first instalment delivering policy recommendations on the “refugee” definition, and the second instalment conducting in-depth analysis on the implications of “refugee” definition on asylum procedures.

“Refugee”, “migrant”, “economic migrant”, “forced migrant”, “asylum seeker”, “illegal immigrant”, “émigré”, “person on the move”, “internally displaced person (IDP)”, “displaced person”, “stateless person” are just some of the terms used – sometimes interchangeably – when discussing forced displacement. The issue is not entirely the terminology itself, but rather how terminology is applied by countries in border and asylum procedures. There is no doubt that many countries have adopted closed borders – particularly in Europe. There is also no doubt that closed borders have failed to prevent or solve the refugee crisis in Europe, and have served only to force Greece and Italy to handle all arriving persons. The solution is not to have closed borders, but to have effective borders.

This paper addresses: (A) the role of “transit countries” and politicisation of asylum in modern refugee crises, and how the ambiguity in forced displacement terminology has been manipulated by countries to ban arrivals based on nationality; and (B) the need to facilitate movement of persons by modernising the 1951 Convention[1]1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, available at: definition of “refugee”.  

(A) “Transit Countries” & Politicisation of Asylum

Anti-refugee sentiment has been the defining characteristic of Europe’s refugee crisis. Discriminatory asylum procedures and anti-refugee “transit countries” have led to humanitarian concerns of refugees being completely disregarded, and instead self-interested myopia has led to a crusade for ‘secure’ borders. “Transit country” refers to a temporary host country, where formal asylum is not sought or desired by the refugee.  To exemplify anti-refugee policy of transit countries; Austria and the Visegrad Four bloc (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) have resisted European Union (EU) refugee relocation scheme quotas, erected border fences, deemed “refugees” in Europe to be predominantly “economic migrants”, and have actively rejected asylum applications from Muslims, while promoting protection for Christian refugees.

Discriminatory rejection or acceptance in asylum violates refugee law, as under international law ‘granting asylum is a humanitarian and apolitical act’[2]Refugee Protection: A Guide to Refuge Law; available at: – discrimination based on nationality clearly deviates from ‘apolitical’. Discriminatory asylum is not restricted to transit countries, however, and is also prevalent in “destination countries”; for example the German focus on Syrian refugees and comparative rejection of Afghan refugees[3] [4] . Discrimination is applied predominantly through use of the “economic migrant” classification, and also through the European Dublin Regulation[5]Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013, available at: concepts of ‘safe third country’[6]Ibid. Art.3(3) and point of ‘irregular border entry’[7]Ibid. Art.13(1) .

  • “Economic Migrant”

‘Unlike migrants, refugees do not choose to leave their countries; they are forced to do so. Economic migrants are persons who leave their countries of origin purely for economic reasons, to seek material improvements in their lives. The key difference between economic migrants and refugees is that economic migrants enjoy the protection of their home countries; refugees do not. Economic migrants do not fall within the criteria for refugee status and are therefore not entitled to benefit from international protection as refugees.’

–“Refugee Protection: A Guide to Refugee Law” Chapter 3: Recognizing Refugees, UNHCR

The ‘purely economic reasons, to seek material improvements in their lives’ rationale used by the Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appears to disregard the dangers, risks and desperation of persons travelling over many weeks and months in search of refuge. Though the UNHCR has evolved from only recognising “persecution” as a cause of displacement in the 1951 Convention – and now, albeit selectively, recognises conflict as a direct cause of displacement – economic consequences of conflict continue to be ignored as a cause of displacement. The justification used by UNHCR of economic migrants being able to ‘enjoy the protection of their home countries’ does not take into account potential inability of post-conflict governments to offer the adequate ‘protection’ referred to.

An example of prevalent use of the “economic migrant” classification can be seen in the German response to Afghan refugees. German Ambassador to Afghanistan, Markus Potzel, commented ‘more than 50 percent of Afghan asylum seekers in Germany were “economic migrants” who failed to prove that “their lives were in danger” and had therefore been rejected asylum’[8] . German dismissal of Afghan refugees indicates disregard to the lengthy journey taken by refugees to reach destination countries, and to the dangers and vulnerability endured. To suggest the cause of displacement, despite extreme measures taken by persons to seek refuge, does not justify a genuine need for asylum due to a perceived ‘purely economic reason’ conveys an insular and unjust approach to asylum claims.

Further, the economic migrant classification has been misused by countries in order to discriminate against persons based on nationality, with the aim of politically securing borders and with disregard to humanitarian concerns. In late 2015, the Balkan borders were progressively restricted with initial blanket bans on nationals of all countries but Syria and Afghanistan, and then allowed passage only to Syrians.[9]Fortress Europe: Buying a Way Out of the Refugee Crisis, IISA, available at:

Host countries must be made to consider not just the cause of displacement, but also the consequences of displacement from the country of origin. If denial of asylum and subsequent return would cause the person to suffer any detriment to the conditions which caused their displacement (for example, if the person had spent their life savings), it should be prevented – parallel to the ideology of non-refoulement. Also, conflict-based economic causes of displacement should be recognised and not disqualify persons from achieving refugee status. Including conflict-based economic causes to the “refugee” definition will also serve to eliminate the economic migrant classification being used as method to apply discriminatory, political blanket bans on persons based on their country of origin.

(B) Modernising the Convention Definition to Facilitate Free Movement

As acknowledged above, the current climate of closed borders must be taken into account when proposing significant changes to refugee law. A new definition of “refugee” must be realistic and achievable globally. Taking precedent from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement[10] , existing treaty and customary elements of international law can be codified to better clarify duties owed to refugees without developing a new convention. Refugee law could be codified and expressed as a modification of the Convention definition to reflect modern obligations and expectations.

  • Proposed Definition of “Refugee”

‘A “refugee” is a person who:

(a) is outside the country of their nationality, or has been displaced from the property of their habitual residence,

(b) due to any of the following:

(i) an internationally recognised fear of being persecuted for reasons of: race; religion; nationality; membership of a particular social group or political opinion,

(ii) an internationally recognised threat to their lives, safety, freedom or livelihood by: national and/or international conflicts; conflict-based economic causes; generalized violence; or massive violation of human rights,

(c) and:

(i) is unable or unwilling, owing to causes outlined in (b), to avail themselves of the protection of the country of their nationality,


(ii) who, not having a nationality, and being outside the country or displaced from the property of their former habitual residence, as a result of causes outlined in (b), is unable or unwilling to return to it,

(d) in cases of uncertainty as to fulfilment of causes outlined in (b):

(i) all persons forming part of a large-scale influx are to be regarded as refugees on a prima facie basis through group determination,


(ii) if the denial of refugee status and subsequent deportation would further detriment the threat to life or freedom which caused displacement, and the country of origin in question has internationally recognised instances of causes outlined in (b), the cause of displacement is to be accepted as legitimate.”

The definition uses the Convention definition as a foundation, while incorporating modern practices of the application of the “refugee” definition – directly clarifying the principle of non-refoulement [see proposed definition section (d)(ii)] and including updated “refugee” definitions from international agreements [see proposed definition section(b)(ii)] such as the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees[11]Available at: .

  • Acknowledge “Transitionary” Phase of Displacement

Following the aforementioned importance of transit countries, there is profound need for the creation of legal pathways for the movement of persons across borders. By developing an understanding of “refugee” status not directly forcing a host country to provide complete asylum – through encouraging complementary and temporary protection to refugees – systems such as humanitarian visa schemes can then be implemented to prevent humanitarian crises at borders.

The broadening of the “refugee” definition, and multiple legal pathways available for host countries to provide for refugees, will help solve the current stalemate at borders – as alternative, less onerous legal pathways will encourage the reopening of closed borders. Eliminating ambiguous, political terminology such as “economic migrant”, and pursuing a practical and effective “refugee” definition will provide solutions to both the overwhelmed borders and humanitarian crises faced by refugees.

References   [ + ]

Winning In Aleppo? At What Cost?


Winning In Aleppo? At What Cost?

Russian aggression in Syria requires fresh thinking from those opposed to an Assad future

Sam Eastoe

Despite being the largest city in a violently ruptured Syria, Aleppo escaped the onset of the Syrian Civil War by approximately 16 months, until rebel fighters swarmed into the city in July 2012. Since that day, the city and its hinterlands have seen nothing of peace as Assad’s government, the Free Syrian Army, and other militant groups wrestle for control of its population and resources.

In June 2016, in an effort to settle the future of Aleppo decisively, the Syrian Army launched a major campaign to the north, seeking to cut supply lines to rebels ensconced in the city. Between this offensive and subsequent counter-offensives, the peculiarities of battle conspired to leave eastern Aleppo held by a mixture of rebel forces (including al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) but completely surrounded by government-held territory. Thus Assad’s allies tightened a strangulating siege around the residents of eastern Aleppo.

The allies on the ground largely consist of Iranian and Hizb’ullah militias, but more importantly Assad has the backing of Russia, which has contributed extensive support and resources to maintaining the Syrian Army’s beleaguered troops in the wider conflict.  In particular, Russia is supporting and delivering a high frequency bombing campaign of the encircled area, with the intent to degrade the rebels’ operational capability and allow for Assad’s forces to regain territory.

The Russian raids are ostensibly targeting Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and other militants in the area, but they have demonstrably destroyed civic infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools, and killed hundreds of aid workers and civilians over a matter of days. This brutal and indiscriminate bombing campaign across eastern Aleppo has prompted many to claim that the country is violating several principles of international humanitarian law governing the practice of armed conflict.

Specifically, the rules of International Humanitarian Law demand that warfare be conducted with a distinction between civilians and combatants, a prohibition on the infliction of unnecessary suffering and with a view to the principle of proportionality. While the latter two of these conditions are open to interpretation, there is strong evidence that Russia has given scant regard for them, if not deliberately contravened them. The mere existence of such a high proportion of civilian casualties is evidence enough to prove a disproportionate response to the threat, while the targeting of hospitals and schools is clear disregard for the separation of civilian and combative infrastructure.

Numerous spokesmen for national governments, including those of France, the UK and USA, have condemned the bombing campaign and called for Russia to face a tribunal for war crimes, while the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon has ‘ask[d] and urge[d]’ the security council to establish an inquiry into possible war crimes in Aleppo and to bring the matter to the International Criminal Court.

Despite international condemnation, Russia has refused to accept that its practices are contravening any principle of humanitarian warfare. Instead, it insists that the raids have been lawful and proportionate, and only targeted at militant extremists. It has gone so far as to use its veto powers as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to block a measure which would have led to immediate cessation of air strikes. It has rejected ceasefire agreements and pushed for greater latitude to target militant rebels across the country.

While Russia maintains that its violence is necessary to eradicate so-called Islamic State and like-minded extremists, some western observers have ulterior explanations for Russia’s barbarism. These hold that Putin knows that indiscriminate raids are more likely to push rebels and civilians into the arms of extremists, eroding their legitimacy and improving Assad’s claim to represent a moderate political solution.

With this in mind, there is little likelihood that Russia will respond to international calls for a drawback of hostilities with obeisance. The country is aware that it has numerous antagonists on the international stage and threats of becoming a “global pariah” hold little fear, particularly while it remains the 14th largest economy in the world. Russia also holds numerous international allies and friends, particularly in Asia and the former Soviet Union, meaning that further western condemnation is not biting. Finally, Russia has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This is significant, as it means that the highest court in the world for investigating and punishing war crimes, such as those said to be committed in Aleppo, has no jurisdiction over Russian officials or military activities.

Instead, the challenge now is for the international community to respond to Russian aggression with like-minded strategic nous. While West-backed pershmergas and airstrikes have degraded the territorial ambitions of Islamic State, the quagmire of the Syrian conflict is no closer to being solved, and there is a real danger that Russia will cement Assad into whatever political settlement may be proffered. The key objective, then, for those intent on subjugating Russia’s plans, is to identify a more favourable political leader and put all resources behind him. At the moment, the West is spreading its eggs across a number of competing groups and factions, in the hope that they will have a chair when the music stops. Instead it should be ploughing its considerable resources into a preferred option. This is a high-risk strategy, but it seems to be working for Russia.

“The views expressed in this articles are those of author’s alone and do not reflect that of IISA”


Hurricane Matthew’s impact on Haiti rekindles debate on environmental refugees

Hurricane Mathew smashed through Haiti leaving a trail of destruction. Every new count points to a growth in the number of victims, with the most recent non-official reports indicating more than 800 deaths. It was the first Category 4 storm to hit Haiti in more than a half century. The storm flattened homes, destroyed bridges, submerged villages, uprooted trees and devastated crops.

Beyond the structural damage and destruction caused by the hurricane, with more than 20,000 houses were damaged; the disaster has also created an environment conducive to the spread of diseases such as cholera, related to lack of access to minimum standards of hygiene.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and has a long history of destruction caused by natural disasters. In 2008, four heavy storms left more than 800 dead. In 2010, an earthquake killed at least 100,000 people and also contributed to the spread of a cholera epidemic, which affected a large portion of the population, with more than 10,000 victims.

Despite the chaotic scenario caused by natural disaster and events related to climate change, current international conventions and agreements do not recognise immigrants fleeing environmental destruction and devastation as refugees. The definition is crucial to ensure various rights in the destination country, which cannot be guaranteed if an individual is not recognised as a refugee and is solely categorised as an illegal immigrant.


Source: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters – 07.10.2016


EU-Afghanistan agreement to return Afghans denied asylum in Europe

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees in Europe, Pakistan and Iran are being forced to return to their country of origin by the European Union (EU), UN agencies and governments in the region. The flow of returning refugees from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan is estimated by the United Nations to number more than half a million. Between 1st July and 15th October, 370,000 refugees returned to Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, the EU reached an agreement with the Afghan government to speed the return of Afghan refugees who have been denied asylum in Europe.  However, the situation and dangers which caused displacement of refugees from Afghanistan have not improved in any way; as 1.1 million Afghans remain internally displaced by existing conflict with the Taliban. The EU is likely to accept many Syrian refugees as it considers Syria a war zone; however, it does not have the same consideration for Afghanistan.

According to the UN, many refugees have experienced harassment by Pakistani authorities as relations with Afghanistan have deteriorated. Both countries accuse each other of harbouring hostile militant groups, and Pakistan has blamed Afghan refugees for taking part in acts of terrorism.

Returned Afghan refugees are likely to experience great difficulties in the severe winter months approaching Afghanistan. Under Winter conditions, essential supplies are harder to obtain; as Kabul’s efforts to defend major cities and pay for army upkeep leave it unable to also provide necessary resources to help refugees.


Neo-Jihadism Brief: Turkey & Lebanon

By Gabi Howell


The Mosul Operation’s coalition forces are being pestered by the new dispute between Iraq and Turkey. The mounting tension originated from the Turkish decision to continue to leave troops stationed in Iraq until the threat of ISIS has been completely destroyed. In turn the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi declared Turkey should not only leave Iraq but also play no role in the Mosul offensive as it violates their sovereignty. Threats continue to be launched between Abadi and Erdogan in regards to the role of Turkish troops in Mosul.

The leading role of the Unites States in the Mosul Operation tends to see them oppose Turkeys attempt to have influence particularly due to the growing sore point between US and Turkish relations in regards to the Kurdish troops in Syria. The US sees the YPG as one of their greatest allies in the region, who have made significant gains in their battles with ISIS. However the YPG’s links to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, have left Erdogan ever more determined to remove the group, classed as a terrorist organisation, in Turkey and the surrounding region.

On the 21st October Secretary of Defence Ash Carter claimed Turkey now understand that the United States believes it is important for Erdogan to respect Iraqi sovereignty, but will not push the Turkish parliament to remove all forces from Iraq. In response Ankara, in principle, has agreed to negotiate with Baghdad on the Mosul Operation issues. Since Operation Mosul is already underway, with the coalition already having recaptured 100 square kilometres of territory it is unknown if the discussion between Erdogan and Abadi will be completed in time to see Turkish troops involved in the fighting. However, the mounting tensions over the past month have opened up questions of Turkish foreign relations leaning towards support from Saudi Arabia and Russia respectively.


On the 17th October EU foreign ministers agreed a new way forward in regards to creating new areas of peace and stability in Syria and the surrounding region. A partnership with Lebanon, beginning in 2016 and ending in 2020, and Jordan (2016-2018) has been created. The incorporation of these two nations in the agreement will further create a safe environment for refugees and displaced persons from the Syrian conflict. The mutual commitments of the involved nations calls on “Supporting Syria and the Region Conference” and has been in the making since February 2016.

The commitment from EU nations comes at a much needed time for Lebanon which is struggling under the burden of housing one million Syrian refugees in a population which barely exceeds five million. Lebanon has the highest number of displaced persons and refugees both per capita and per square kilometre. The new arrangement seeks to strengthen economic reliance’s of the two host nations, while creating economic opportunities for Syrian refugees by enabling them to access employment and education. The partnership is assumed to be approved by the EU-Lebanon Association council and the Jordanian counterpart in the coming weeks. The partnership priorities for the EU-Lebanon relations seeks to include security and countering terrorism, fostering growth and opportunities by gaining financial support and assistance from the EU in a number of policy areas.

The agreement however could face serious obstacles in Lebanon as tensions arise within the political sphere. Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament accused General Michel Aoun (founder of the Free Patriotic Movement) and the former Prime Minister Saad Hariri of ‘seeing to topple political shiism’ in Lebanon. His warnings ended with the threat of a new civil war. This was followed by Hariri endorsing Aoun (a leading Christian politician and strong ally of Hezbollah) to be the next President of Lebanon after a 24 month deadlock.

Though news outlets around the world mock the inability of Lebanon to elect a President, even joking that Brazil elected a Lebanese President before Lebanon manged too, the real power in Lebanese politics remains in the hands of Speaker of Parliament, Berri, and then the Prime Minister. However the election of a President could worsen the situation in Lebanon which has been managing well without a president due to the position being elected by Parliament, which have illegally been extending their time in office since 2013 due to ‘security concerns’. Aoun, if elected president also raises serious doubts in regards to relations with the west, and in particular this new agreement with the UN. Aoun openly takes a pro-Assad stance in regards to Syria and calls the refugee crisis a “threat to Lebanon’s identity”.

The new partnership with the EU promises to offer help to a nation struggling with the influx of refugees from neighbouring Syria. However due to the political turmoil in the country the safety of these refugees could be questioned is a Pro-Assad President is elected. Furthermore the questions raised by the lack of a President appear to actually have no impact since the position currently seems futile. Instead the problem of the presidency appears to offer a distraction for Lebanese citizens who otherwise would begin questioning and challenging the archaic system in regards to voting laws, the illegal extensions parliament are pulling, Berri’s ability to hold speaker of the house since 1992 and social issues through the nation which are not enshrined in law, but rest of religious institutions interpretations.


Afghanistan’s Changing Relationship with ‘Terrorists’

By Jessica Harn
Resident Researcher, Neo-Jihadism & Transitional Challenges

In the beginning of October, Kabul signed a historic peace agreement with the controversial Hezb-i-Islami group, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hezb-i-Islami was founded in 1975, claiming to be the Islamic representation in Afghanistan in the fight against the Communist government during the Cold War. Its early membership was drawn primarily from ethnic Pashtuns, and took much of its ideology from the popular ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time. Hezb-i-Islami claimed to be a mujahedeen organization, and controversially is thought to have been the base for many of the terrorists who later joined either Al Qaeda or the Taliban because of its support for a unified Islamic state or caliphate.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was one of the main players in the Afghan civil war in the early 1990s, and was given the infamous title of the “butcher of Kabul” because of his active role in the massacres that took place in and around Kabul. Hekmatyar is said to have worked closely with Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s, and is accused of being a warlord guilty of war crimes. Despite these accusations, Hekmatyar was promoted to become Prime Minister from 1993 to 1994 but later fled the country to Iran when the Taliban took over Kabul in 1995-1996. From controversial roots both Hekmatyar and Hezb-i-Islami have been a thorn in the side of Kabul politics for over forty decades now, and the peace agreement signed between them and Kabul has surprised the international community.

The peace agreement has been controversial both because Afghan President Ghani is accused of softening his stance with questionable armed groups such as Hezb-i-Islami, and because Hekmatyar is being allowed to come back to power despite him being accused of committing war crimes. With Afghanistan’s long history of terrorist activity after the Cold War, many are pointing to the fact that it is high time for Kabul to join in peace talks, even if it is with a former opposition with questionable activities and connections. Ghani’s attempt at first coming to a consensus with Hezb-i-Islami may also have been a prelude to his attempt at peace agreements with the Taliban and other more serious terrorist-leaning organizations. Despite what may be labeled as a positive attempt from Afghanistan to change its attitude towards armed militias and terrorist groups, Hekmatyar is causing concern already because of his calls for the Taliban to join peace talks, and for the Afghan government to release Taliban prisoners and agree to some of their demands in what he considers a reconciliation process. Hekmatyar’s immediate response to have the Taliban join in peace agreements seems rather quick and pre-planned, which plays into the most recent development from Kabul: secret peace agreement talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

Only a month after the historic peace agreement with Hekmatyar, numerous reports have surfaced that secret talks have begun in Qatar between leaders from the Afghan Taliban and official representatives from the Afghan government for a possible peace agreement. There have also been reports that the Taliban have demanded both recognition as a formal opposition movement and the release of their prisoners by the Afghan government for the peace talks to begin. This is curiously similar to what Hekmatyar originally called for when he first spoke of a possible peace agreement between Kabul and the Taliban. Kabul however, has not addressed these demands yet, and the Taliban have denied they are negotiating a peace agreement with the Afghan government. There are new reports that the peace talks will now continue in Saudi Arabia.

These secret and surprising talks with the Taliban however highlight the changing attitude of Kabul towards groups such as Hezb-i-Islami or the Taliban. Kabul is seemingly more willing to discuss the option of dialogue and peace agreements, instead of the non-negotiation policy many countries take towards terrorists or other non-state militant actors. What this may mean for Afghanistan is a drawn out and long-term reconciliation process, in a country where groups such as the Taliban are now deeply rooted in tribal allegiances and ethnic loyalties. If a reconciliation process is what Kabul is aiming for with its recent peace agreement talks with both Hezb-i-Islami and the Taliban, it must be understood that there will be opposition before there is agreement. It has already begun, with the Taliban increasing its opposition and activity against the government after Hekmatyar and Ghani agreed to a peace agreement and called upon the Taliban to follow suite. Roadside bombings and suicide attacks have seen an increase in the month of October compared to September, and the most blatant opposition to the government by the Taliban was its attempt to take control of the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Thousands of residents have been forced to flee Kunduz, and General Dostum, who is leading the operation against Taliban forces in the area, has already been attacked once and had numerous security guards killed because of the attack. Afghanistan will most likely experience a continued attempt by those in the Taliban who refuse any agreement with Kabul to orchestrate violence and resistance, until an official and public peace agreement can take place with those within the Taliban who believe they can be strengthened through dialogue and negotiation.

The Taliban will continue to try to keep their tribal and ethnic support through a competition of strength and intimidation with Kabul, and will use violence as a form of strength while they are limited with the supplies and legitimacy the government has in abundance. The increase in violence by the Taliban is a sign of desperation and stubbornness in the growing pressure to join in peace agreements with Kabul. The secret talks held in Qatar are only a first step, and although it has paved the way for a new relationship with non-state actors, the Afghan government will need to brace itself for upcoming attacks as the internal debate of whether to join in peace agreements intensifies within the Taliban.