More than 235,000 people have fled from their homes in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province over the past days, as the Assad regime and Russia escalate their campaign of aerial bombardment. A report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that Ma'arrat An Nu'man and other towns in the province are now "almost empty," while internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the extreme northwest of the province are rapidly swelling. "Displacement during winter is further exacerbating the vulnerability of those affected," the report states. Perversely, the renewed offensive comes days after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended cross-border aid convoys into Idlib from Turkey for another year—essentially condemning many of those not directly killed by the bombs to death by starvation and exposure. (BBC News, Al Jazeera, The New Humanitarian, France24)
In Episode 45 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with alarm the rapid consolidation of a global detention state, extending across borders and rival power blocs. In the United States, Trump moves toward indefinite detention of undocumented migrants, with horrific rights abuses widespread in the fast-expanding camp system. In China, up to a million Uighurs have been detained in "re-education camps," and are facing such abuses as forced sterilization. As India hypocritically protests China's treatment of the Uighurs, it is also preparing mass detention of its own Muslim population. Russia's Vladimir Putin is similarly preparing mass detention of the Crimean Tatars. In Syria, the Bashar Assad regime has detained hundreds of thousands, and is carrying out a mass extermination of prisoners, almost certainly amounting to genocide. In Libya, countless thousands of desperate migrants have been detained, often by completely unaccountable militias, and an actual slave trade in captured Black African migrants has emerged. Yet Trump exploits the mass internment of the Uighurs to score propaganda points against imperial rival China—and some "leftists" (sic) in the US are so confused as to actually defend China's detention state. International solidarity is urgently needed at this desperate moment to repudiate such divide-and-rule stratagems. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
India's northeastern state of Assam has exploded into protest over the Dec. 11 passage of a new national citizenship law. The army has been deployed, a curfew imposed in state capital Guwahati, and internet access cut off. At least five people have been killed as security forces fired on demonstrators. The new law allows religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to apply for Indian citizenship. This means it effectively excludes Muslims, and mostly apples to Hindus and Sikhs. Critics of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say it therefore violates India's founding secular principles. But while secularists and Muslims are protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act on this basis elsewhere in India, the biggest protests have been in Assam—motivated by fear that the state will be overrun by an influx from Bangladesh, threatening its cultural and linguistic identity.
The UN says it is unable to help most residents of an overcrowded refugee center in the Libyan capital it once touted as a safe haven. To encourage people to go, it is offering money and aid—and even telling them they won't be able to register as refugees to leave the war-torn country if they remain. Originally intended as a temporary residence for a small fraction of refugees—just those already vetted by the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) and scheduled for evacuation or permanent residency in other countries—the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) now has some 1,150 residents, well over its stated capacity. Most arrived over the last eight months of clashes in Tripoli, including 900 who UNHCR says entered "informally"; some even bribed their way in. As the fighting has intensified, numbers in the center have risen and many of the people inside are hoping for—or demanding—a way out of the country, even though the UN says it can't offer that to everyone.
The UN's holding facility for undocumented migrants in Libya was unveiled last year as an "alternative to detention," but critics say it is coming to mirror the notoriously harsh detention centers it was supposed to replace. The Tripoli facility is overcrowded with nearly 1,200 migrants—about twice the number it was built for—including hundreds who fled from abuse at other detention centers in hopes of sanctuary. Conditions inside are deteriorating fast, and there are accusations that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is planning to force migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to leave by cutting off food (a claim the agency denies). The people inside are among an estimated 600,000 migrants in Libya, including more than 45,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers. Some have come in search of work, others are hoping to make the incredibly dangerous trip to Europe. Those who risk it are often "rescued" by the Libyan coast guard and returned to land, and end up in the country's oppressive detention centers—which is among the reasons a recent French plan to give the Libyan coast guard more boats met with strong opposition. (The New Humanitarian, AP, Dec. 6)
Amid moves toward mass detention of Muslims in Kashmir and Assam, a growing atmosphere of terror, and persecution of government critics, India's arch-reactionary Prime Minister Narendra Modi cynically places an op-ed in the New York Times extolling Mohandas Gandhi on his 150th birthday. In Episode 40 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg calls this out as Orwellian propaganda, and documents the historical reality: Modi is not the inheritor of the tradition of Gandhi, but that of his assassin. Those who assert that Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has fascist roots are factually correct. Progressives in recent years have been rethinking the sanctification of Gandhi, and that is one thing. But Modi should not be allowed to get away with wrapping himself in the legacy of a man who was the antithesis of everything he represents. And US political figures like Tulsi Gabbard who pretend to be progressive while embracing the fascistic Modi must be exposed and repudiated. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Rights groups say there's a "climate of intense fear" in the Bangladesh refugee camps for Rohingya who have fled Burma, following the killings of six refugees by police officers. Police officials say the men were involved in the murder of a local Bangladeshi man and killed in "crossfires"; critics say such language is often used to cover up extrajudicial killings. Tensions with the host community in southern Bangladesh have risen over the last two years as the refugee emergency evolves into a long-term crisis. This week, six UN rights watchdogs warned of escalating restrictions in the refugee camps following the Bangladeshi man's murder, a failed attempt to kickstart refugee returns to Burma, and a large protest marking two years since more than 700,000 Rohingya were forced out of Burma. What the watchdogs call a "sudden crackdown" includes a ban on mobile phone services, suspensions of some NGOs working in the camps, and renewed discussions on surrounding the massive camps with barbed-wire fences. Most Rohingya say they want to return to Burma if their safety and citizenship are guaranteed. But a UN rights probe released this week noted that little has changed in the Rohingya homeland of Rakhine State: "If anything, the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar [Burma] is worse," investigators reported.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Sept. 19 that the Nigerian military has been arbitrarily detaining thousands of children, some as young as five years old, for suspected involvement with the Islamist armed group Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram. According to HRW, the military often detains children based on little or no actual evidence of involvement with Boko Haram. UN investigators found that between January 2013 and March 2019, Nigerian security forces detained more than 3,600 children, including 1,617 girls. Most were detained at Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri. Some 2,200 children were released without charge last year, but a further 418 were detained. There is no report on the number of children that are being currently detained.