April 22, 2024No Comments

Prof. Ilan Kelman on Climate Change & Conflict: Case Studies of Syria & Sudan

Professor Ilan Kelman is a Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England and Professor II at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway.

This interview is divided into two parts. In the first episode, Davide Gobbicchi and Réka Szabó interview Professor Ilan Kelman about the impact of climate change on small island countries, with a specific focus on the Maldives. The interview touches upon the case of Bangladesh as well, since the country is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels. Professor Kelman sheds light on the complexity and unpredictability of climate change. He also emphasizes the agency of the impacted countries in managing the consequences of climate change related to human security such as forced migration or conflict.

Interviewer: Réka Szabó and Davide Gobbicchi - Human Security Team

The second episode dives into the complex relationship between climate change and conflict. Professor Ilan Kelman analyzes evidence and deconstructs historical narratives surrounding climate change as a direct cause of conflict.  Following a broad overview, the discussion delves into case studies of Syria and Sudan, exploring the UN's role in addressing these intricate dynamics.

Interviewer: Kelly Mikelatou and Davide Gobbicchi - Human Security Team

March 25, 2024No Comments

Prof. Thijs van Dooremalen on Climate Crisis and Strategies of Western Nations

In this session, Professor Thijs van Dooremalen delves into the strategies of the European Union and Western nations. We dissect how each region tackles the climate crisis through policy frameworks, focusing on how they communicate the urgency and navigate political challenges. While also exploring the human cost of climate change and how extreme weather events impact human security.

Thijs van Dooremalen is an Assistant Professor within the Governance of Crises research group at Universiteit Leiden. He researches how and why events can cause transformations within national public spheres (media, politics, and policy-making). In his PhD thesis, he analyzed this for the case of 9/11 in the United States, France, and the Netherlands. He is currently particularly interested in the impact of extreme weather events on climate crisis politics.

Interviewer: Kelly Mikelatou - Human Security Team

March 4, 2024No Comments

The current war in Sudan as an aftermath of inaction for the Human Crisis in Darfur                                                                           

Author: Esther Brito - Human Security Team

Darfur is once again experiencing a terrible crisis that, according to many international experts and organisations, has all the characteristics to be considered as genocide - or perhaps, it has always been. 

The country of Sudan has faced multiple severe episodes of war and what can be classified as genocide in its recent history; including the First Sudanese Civil War (1955 to 1972), the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 to 2005), the 1990’s genocide in the Nuba Mountains, and the 2000’s escalation risk of genocide in Darfur – which has, arguably, seen a continuation at a lower intensity over the last two decades. More recently, in April 2023, violence erupted in the capital, Khartoum, and soon expanded throughout the country as the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) clashed with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group.

The current escalation of violence can be directly traced to the impacts of the Second Sudanese Civil War and the subsequent non-resolution of the Darfur genocide. During the second civil war, while the central government in Khartoum was engaged in armed conflict with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – a clash which would give way to the creation of the world’s newest state – a combined breakdown of fundamental aspects of human security and the cumulative displeasure with structural inequality would precipitate the war in Darfur. Mainly, the onset of violence in Darfur was triggered by: 1) disputes regarding land and resource use that became identified with ethnicity, further exacerbated by climate change; 2) perceptions of unequal political power and preferential access, and 3) the uncertainties driven by the nation’s ongoing civil war. 

The Genocide in Darfur 

As noted, the social cleavages affecting the conflict in Darfur are related to a complex opposition based on decaying access to vital resources and unequal power representation in the state. Indeed, tensions rose in tandem with national policies seen as supporting Arab dominance in the region, at the cost of agency and representation for black Africans. With the presence of Chadian rebels in Darfur throughout the 1970s and 1980s facilitating access to weapons for both local Arab and African groups, and the embracing of these rebels of Arab supremacist ideology, perceptions of mutual risk increased progressively. This social suspicion was both often the result of and reinforced by local resource competition and tensions derived from scarcity. In fact, Darfur has been referred to as the “first climate change conflict”.

These points of contention exploded in 2003, when two Darfuri rebel groups – the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – accused the central government of the marginalization and dispossession of non-Arab groups in Darfur; launching an attack against a government post in the region. Contending with the threat of a massive territorial secession in the South and fearing similar claims in the West, the Sudanese government funded and armed Arab local militia groups, known as the Janjaweed, as proxy forces to push back against the rebels and deter any further social support through the targeting of African groups in mass atrocities – including mass killings, torture, sexual violence, and mass displacement – as part of a scorched earth campaign. Estimates suggest that between 140,000 and 400,000 people were killed as a result. This instance would lead the International Criminal Court to sign an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir in 2009 for crimes including genocide – a controversial response at the time as the first indictment of a sitting president. 

Past the genocide’s peak, the dynamics and actors built up during the initial war in Darfur have served to drive significant political developments in Sudan – such as the 2019 coup that deposed al-Bashir, the 2021 coup that ended civilian governance, and notably the renewed violence in 2023. This situates both the 2003 and 2023 conflicts as inherently interrelated, demanding aligned analysis and responses.

Source: Wikimedia Commons - https://www.securityoutlines.cz/wp-content/uploads/cHJpdmF0ZS9sci9pbWFnZXMvd2Vic2l0ZS8yMDIyLTA0L2ZsODA0OTk3MTUxNi1pbWFnZS1rcHFvaDZuby5qcGc.jpg-1.webp

The role of non-resolution and what might follow

While the intensity of the violence in Darfur lessened under international pressure in 2005 and with the entry of UNMIS until 2011, the genocide did not truly end – with continued forms of both direct and structural targeting, and the maintenance of a situation of ethnically defined mass displacement for two decades. This semi-permanent mass displacement not only endures today, but has continued to worsen as a result of the recent escalation. 

It is the lack of comprehensive accountability for the genocide, as well as the non-transformation of power structures and drivers of conflict, that has led directly into the current war. In fact, the RSF formally emerged in 2013 from the consolidation and reorganization of Janjaweed militias, for the purpose of more effectively continuing repression operations and mass violence in Darfur. The 2023 eruption of violence in the capital was triggered due to disagreements between the SAF and the RSF, which had priorly been aligned in their operations in Darfur, and further orchestrated both the 2019 and 2021 coups. As such, the actors, power relationships, and immunity that defined the genocide in Darfur have become the core triggers of the current war, which has not only affected the capital and its surrounding areas, but heightened the intensity of genocide in Darfur as well.

At the moment, a number of potential scenarios can lead to the further escalation of the Sudanese conflict. Among them, perhaps the most prominent are the following: 1) the entry of international backers into the conflict, either directly or indirectly; 2) the establishment of only partial negotiations with a focus on Khartoum – thus excluding Darfur –; and 3) the further regression of international aid and attention, favoring further atrocities or another iteration of unresolved stalemates – which leave those displaced in a state of extreme vulnerability, enabling further cycles of communal violence. Given that Sudan shares borders with South Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the potential for spillover risks exacerbating or even precipitating a number of regional conflicts cannot be overstated.

However, there are also windows of opportunity for conflict mitigation. The death of RSF leader Mohamad Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo could lead to an organizational breakdown within the group, making it more likely to put down its weapons in favor of amnesty and a renewed integration process into the SAF. Another possible avenue can come from the involvement of regional institutions, such as the African Union (AU). While AU engagement has not traditionally been well received by the government of Sudan, there is a potential for entry in helping to manage the growing refugee crisis that can then be expanded into a role in negotiation and DDR across the country. This is of course dependent on a significant level of international aid and institutional commitment from the AU, as well as a change in positioning from the SAF, which would need to be motivated by the inability of the government to navigate the mass displacement that has followed the violence both nationally and in Darfur. Given that this latest episode has led 3.8 million people to flee, with around 7.1 million people now being internally displaced, this may be a necessary concession from the SAF – particularly as humanitarian needs continue to rise exponentially, with 24.7 million people currently in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection. However, this will not be an easy endeavor, as there has been a cessation of relief operations in parts of the country – including areas in West Darfur – as a result of targeted attacks on humanitarian aid workers and property.  

The cost of avoidance

The current conflict in Sudan is a result in great part of the lack of attention and resolution afforded to the war and genocide in Darfur. The RSF is a direct consequence of the Janjaweed’s impunity, and as the situation deteriorates, we are at risk of once again seeing the international community settle for only a cosmetic resolution of the hostilities in Khartoum and a continuation of the attritional genocide in Darfur.  The genocide convention explicitly notes that in the absence of prevention and prosecution of genocidal violence, further war will follow. What we see in Sudan is the physical manifestation of that warning; where international response waned as atrocities became more low-intensity and institutionalized in nature, failing to address the continued targeting of Darfuri civilians and the parallel strengthening of the RSF into what it is now. Currently, as atrocities increase in intensity again – to a scale comparable to the beginnings of the last-high intensity campaign in Darfur – it is important that patterns of conflict resolution follow a different trajectory. 

The views and opinions expressed are exclusively those of the author or authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the association.

February 28, 2023No Comments

Anisa Abeytia on the Human Security implications of Colonial Antecedents in Migration

Ms Abeytia explores the impact of colonial antecedents on migration and asylum policy, the implications of limitations in policy formulation, and the next steps in advancing toward human-security based migration frameworks.

Anisa Abeytia is the Think Tank Coordinator of the Global Research Network and a migration researcher and policy professional specializing in digital bordering, active social inclusion, and colonial antecedents in integration policy. A leader in the field, she has worked with the United States Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, and the US State Department to shape US–Syria policy, with a focus on immigration and humanitarian advocacy. Her research has been published internationally, including with the University of Cambridge, UNESCO, and The Hill, among others. 

Interviewer: Esther Brito, Human Security Team

June 2, 2022No Comments

Tracey German on the Human Security implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Dr. Tracey German is a Professor in Conflict and Security at King's College London, focused on Russian foreign and security policies, particularly Russia’s use of force in the post-Soviet space.

In this podcast interview, Dr. Tracey German explores the human security dynamics and implications of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Interviewing Team: Esther Brito and Réka Szabó.

April 25, 2022No Comments

The missing nexus of human security: Gaps in queer protections in conflicts

Authors: Esther Brito, Réka Szabó

Cover Image. Source: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/gay-rights-in-northern-ireland-a-war-by-other-means/

Efforts to improve human security in situations of violence have increasingly recognized the differential experiences and vulnerabilities of specific communities – like women or the elderly. In this line, advances have also been made in exploring the intersectionality of these contexts – that is, the fact that those belonging to multiple marginalized groups endure compounded risks. We are now at a point where we explore identity in conflict with more nuance than ever before. Yet, one collective still often remains excluded from our analysis – the LGBTQI+ or Queer community.

Despite efforts at inclusion and nuance in international security, like the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, we still implicitly marginalize or exclude the queer community from policy or alleviation measures, offering little differential protection or recognition. As such, in the words of Academic Jamie Hagen, “those vulnerable to insecurity and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity remain largely neglected by the international peace and security community”.  

Queer human security and protection in conflict: where we fall short

From Chechen leaders, to Zimbabwe’s President or Turkey’s Erdogan, world leaders often don’t only decline to offer protections to LGBTQI+ people – they actively deny their existence. Be it within their borders or entirely, the majority of world leaders still deny basic recognition and rights to the queer community, paving the way for discrimination, abuses, and killings.

As a result, LGBTQI+ experiences are often implicitly or explicitly excluded from policy, research, and services addressing identity-based violence and mass atrocity. A recent paper by Protection Approaches has explored the multiple ways queer experiences of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide remain under-explored and unaddressed.

As we have stated, this is often due to pervasive political, legal, and social discrimination. However, another prominent effect is that, due to the community’s exclusion from research and debate, there is a stark lack of data pertaining to the lives of queer populations. Even when attempts at inclusion are made, we have little experience in how to ethically and effectively gather data on the community. Firstly, as violence is often viewed through a dichotomous lens with regard to gender, there is little space or recognition for communities that do not conform to this binary.  Secondly, even if research focuses on LGBTQI+ minorities, challenges remain when attempting to ethically explore identity outside primarily western categorizations of gender and sexuality – which need to be adapted to different cultural realities – as well as in deciding which collectives to include and how to do so without putting them in danger.  Lastly, researchers face the potential lack of availability of basic data on abuses – as many people do not report violence due to the fear of stigmatization or reprisals. As a result of these converging dynamics, queer populations suffer a double attack: victimization and erasure.

Being Queer in war: lived experiences of LGBTQI+ populations in modern conflict

The reality is that LGBTQI+ persons suffer disproportionate violence during armed conflict. The continued abuse and discrimination the community is subject to in peacetime only aggravates within this context, with the worsening of social chaos and the erosion of the rule of law. Indeed, the violence extends beyond self-identification, as even those being only suspected of belonging to the community face reprisals. While progress has indeed been made in terms of the recognition of LGBTQ+ populations under human rights law and existing abuses are increasingly being documented by media, human rights bodies, and civil society, queer populations remain among the least protected of all communities in armed conflict.

I was on my way home [from work] when five or six men (…) stopped me. They kicked and punched and slapped me all over my head and body. They (…) threw me in a garbage bin. I lay down (…) and they pulled out a razor blade and a screwdriver and poked and cut me all over (…). They sliced me up and poured around five liters of gasoline all over my body and face and set me alight…. The neighbors rescued me”.

  • Khadija, 31-year-old Iraqi transgender woman (August 5, 2021).

Beyond this, queer populations often contend with a severe lack of accountability and a sense of impunity, with states and armed groups tending to be involved in their abuses. Unlike other collectives, queer individuals not only have little or no recourse in law, they often can’t even find social or NGO support.

With discriminatory targeting driven by gender and sexuality worsening in much of the world, some scholars have come to consider these persecutions as amounting to crimes against humanity– as they are systematic, planned, and exercised against primarily civilian populations.


Source: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/29/sexual-violence-against-men-trans-women-syria-conflict

Notable examples of systematic abuses to LGBTQI+ populations continue to arise. Queer Afghans have been targets of increasingly severe attacks since 2021, in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. While same-sex relations were criminalized even before the Taliban took control, the situation has notably worsened.  According to a report by Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International, LGBT Afghans have been threatened, sexually assaulted, attacked, and often been forced to flee as refugees. In some cases, family members themselves that support the Taliban have become threats to their safety. Nevertheless, obtaining testimonies remains complicated and there is no accurate estimate of the scale of attacks currently targeting LGBT people in the country.

While Afghanistan may be one of the cases that has received the most coverage, similar abuses have been reported in Iraq, Syria, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. In Syria, the Assad regime has continued to progressively exacerbate its persecution and abuse of LGBTQI+ persons, or those considered to be so. This has been exemplified by reports of sexual violence – including rape, forced stripping, and cavity examinations – threats, severe assault, extortion, kidnapping, and killings by both the state and rebel militias. Even localized conflicts may severely affect the attitude of entire states toward the queer community – in Ukraine, Russian-influenced anti-homosexuality policies and attitudes proliferated since 2014, with the advent of conflict in the Donbas, and negatively affected the lives of LGBTQI+ persons in Kyiv​. In this line, we need to consider not only wars, but other severe conflicts as sources of victimization. For example, LGBTQI+ persons – especially trans women – have been recognized as more vulnerable to violence both by armed militias and organized crime across Central America. As such, queer populations stand at the intersection of exacerbated vulnerability and reduced social or institutional support, especially in situations of conflict or protracted human security crises.


While LGBTQI+ people are not the only collective facing increased risks to their human security, the lack of attention paid to their protection, as well as their exclusion from most policy and research efforts on international security, have led their needs and vulnerabilities to be marginalized in humanitarian responses and social assistance during violent conflict.

There is an urgency to recognize the dire situation of queer populations in modern conflict and develop a policy architecture that is able to ensure their protection at an international level. As it stands, the recognition of LGBTQI+ experiences is often absent from even from the most seismic of security crises, and unless that changes we will continue to fail in efforts to holistically protect human rights.

February 28, 20221 Comment

The Civilian Impacts of the Conflicts in Eastern Ukraine

Authors: Esther Brito Ruiz, Ludovica Brambilla, Reka Szabo

Note: due to the rapidly developing situation in Ukraine, we clarify that the information included in this article is actualized up until the date of the 23rd of February, and primarily covers the human security scenario prior to the evolving Russian invasion.

Image Source: https://www.vox.com/22917719/russia-ukraine-invasion-border-crisis-nato-explained

The escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, triggered in the spring of 2021 with the beginning of a progressive massing of thousands of Russian military and equipment near the border with Ukraine, marked the early months of 2022. As of the last few days, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine has triggered a geopolitical crisis dividing major international players and raising concerns for the security balance of Eastern Europe. 

These developments raise questions on the impact of the conflict's dynamics on civilians, who have been suffering the consequences of instability for years. This article will set aside political and military analysis to disclose how the crisis has been playing out at the local level in Eastern Ukraine, particularly, its effect on the civilian populations of the non-government-controlled areas (NGCA) of Donetsk and Luhansk prior to the invasion. A comprehensive review is beyond the scope of this piece, but we present some core human security dynamics sometimes excluded from mainstream coverage,  many of which were further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Civilian casualties and threats to fundamental rights

Since 2014, civilians in the Donbas have been directly affected by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and have often been victims of war crimesby both Russian-backed separatist armed groups and Ukrainian forces. The region is characterized by one of the highest concentrations of armed actors in the world - as such, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosive remnants of war (ERW) are as much a cause of civilian casualties as active hostilities. Between 2014 and 2019 for example, “over 1,000 individuals were known to be killed by land mines or other explosives”. Estimates of the conflict in July 2021 already registered at least 3,393 deaths within civilian populations and more than 7,000 injured.

Moreover, arms fire and shelling have also caused serious damage to civilian housing and infrastructure, endangering the population by limiting access to water, food, schools, and health services. The Covid-19 pandemic further deteriorated the situation and intensified the need for humanitarian in the region. In fact, even before the escalation of the conflict in 2022, it was calculated that at least 3,4 million people needed humanitarian aid in Eastern Ukraine as the result of the six years of conflict, coupled with the effects of the health crisis. These individuals and families suffer from physical and mental issues related to violence and from the indirect effects of the conflict and pandemic on the economy and their living standards.

The situation regarding political rights and civil liberties is well depicted by the 2020 and 2021 Freedom House reports. The 2021 report on government-controlled Ukraine explores how attempts to maintain democracy are hindered by resistance to crucial reforms, endemic corruption and limited freedom of expression due to an increasing number of attacks against activists and journalists.

The situation drastically worsens in the Eastern Donbas, where authority is in the hands of the People’s Republic of Donestk and Luhansk. These administrations rose to power in 2018 through what are considered to have been deeply fraudulent elections. Associational rights are severely compromised, even organizations politically allied to the ruling leadership are banned. The control over the population’s right to freedom of thought is implemented through a complex system of influence by Russia and adomination of public local institutions and media by people close to the separatist leadership.  Furthermore, it has been noted that pro-Ukrainian advocates face non-transparent trials and long prison sentences. In this line, detainees often appear to face torture and psychological abuse.  Members of minorities are effectively victims of unpunished persecutions and the justice system seems to lack any mechanism to prevent and punish the crimes reported during the conflicts.

Displacement, travel restrictions & forced migration

Covid-19 has complicated a situation already dramatic for internally displaced persons (IDP).  Since 2014, a “contact line” separates areas controlled by the Ukrainian government and those under Russian influence, dividing families and communities that have been dangerously crossing the border. These people often reside in poor settlements close by, where Ukraine’s social services struggle to provide assistance. As of 2020, the conflict had caused around 734,000 IDPs

In the last two years, arbitrary pandemic-related travel restrictions have been severely limiting access to healthcare, basic services, and income -  further separating families. The closing of crossing points in March 2020 affected thousands of civilians that would usually cross the line to receive their pensions and humanitarian assistance.

The ongoing invasion is likely to cause unprecedented, forced displacement, and since only two entry points are currently open along the contact line, it is likely that IDPs will seek refuge in neighboring countries. In their forecast on this matter at the beginning of February, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) picks up the Ukrainian Minister of Defense’s prognosis of 3 to five million possible refugees in case of a Russian invasion and notes that: “though it’s unclear where these figures were derived from, his prediction that a major war in Ukraine would plunge the whole of Europe into crisis seems entirely plausible”.

Image Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-60220422

Threats to education and students

The toll of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine on children has been extremely high in the last years. Hundreds of schools were damaged during the fights, which made proper education impossible. In Russian-controlled territories, not only physical threats are present. The identities of Ukrainian children are endangered as well. In the Donbas region, children do not have Ukrainian classes anymore and the language can be learnt solely as a subject for an hour per week. Textbooks in Russian were transported to the schools by the Russian ‘humanitarian’ convoys, and teachers have to use the Russian grading system

History also has to be taught in a way favoring the Russian side and depicting the occupation of Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as a legitimate move by Russia. Because of the linguistic differences, Ukrainian students have difficulties when it comes to admissions in any higher education systems, either in Russia or in Ukraine. In the latter case, the different way of learning history also makes it more challenging for Ukrainians from the occupied territories to perform well in state tests. Furthermore, border crossing, in order to be able to participate in such tests or enroll at universities in the Ukrainian territory, can be restricted and dangerous

The progression of gendered violence and discrimination against the LGBT+ community (H2) 

Since the beginning of 2021, Ukrainian civil society groups have denounced a noted increase in attacks against LGBT+ and women’s rights activists. Attacks and threats have mainly been carried out by far-right groups, but opposition from religious organizations has also been on the rise. This is part of a broader regression of LGBT+ and women’s rights across Eastern Europe but has been tied in Ukraine to nationalization discourse in line with Russian political ideas. 

On one hand, domestic violence in Ukraine has remained “widespread, under-reported, and ineffectively addressed”, and has been worsening as the conflict in eastern Ukraine advances. Systemic flaws in protection mechanisms have been exacerbated by political and social tensions, and Amnesty International event referred to it as an epidemic of domestic and sexual violence against women. There is a potential for increased gender-based violence to derive from the mobilization of military personnel in the area and few protections in place to mitigate the rising abuse. 

On the other hand, the LGBT+ community in Ukraine - especially nearing the Russian and Bielorussian borders - has been in high alert. Attacks against young transgender individuals have been reported with noted violence. These crimes tend to recieve little support from police, and perpetrators face few or no charges. At a broader level, draft laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity elements more firmly in hate crime law have been pushed back against. 

Activists fear that continued Russian aggressions and the progression of the invasion will lead the situation to further deteriorate, with LGBT+ and women’s rights regressing further. 


As the situation in Ukraine continues to escalate, we can expect worsening conditions for human security across the country. Continued mass displacements, evolving conditions of gender and homophobic violence, and the interruption of basic freedoms and education will undoubtedly have severe impacts on the lives and future of the Ukrainian people. 

February 4, 2022No Comments

The Perils of Movement in 2022: Understanding the Factors conditioning the Human Security of Migrants

By: Arslan Sheikh, Esther Brito Ruiz and Reka Szabo.

Image Source: https://www.growthinktank.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Photo-by-Sandor-Csudai-is-licensed-under-licence-CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0.jpeg

Human security is conditioned by a variety of external factors - like war or famine - and personal characteristics - such as gender, ethnic identity, or sexuality. These intersecting realities lead to rapidly evolving patterns of threats to human dignity across the globe. Indeed, humanitarian crises or large scale natural disasters serve to reconfigure the lives of those affected and exacerbate already existing social vulnerabilities. In this line, it becomes important to explore how recent political and social developments have notably worsened the conditions of one particular collective of people: migrants. 

Recent estimates suggest that over 281 million people are migrants - amounting to about 3.6 % of the global  population. Yet in spite of the significant increases in people flows across national boundaries, migrant groups continue to be politically, socially, and economically targeted and discriminated against. Migrant communities routinely face difficulties in accessing basic services and often see their identities become instrumentalized for political propaganda. As those seeking refuge, fleeing violence, or attempting to find a better future are confronted with rising political polarisation, stricter border control, and worsening social protections. We must reflect on the barriers to movement that affect this collective and the trends that have come to act as drivers of migration flows. Only then can we understand the severity of the conditions migrants face today. 


Economic trends are significant drivers of migration today. Economic divergence has been growing between countries, highly impacted by the global recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Available instruments of developing economies aiming at tackling such challenges are much more limited than the ones of advanced economies, which leads to a bifurcated economic recovery. Another longer lasting global challenge to be faced is climate change. Similarly to the pandemic, it impacts countries unevenly: some are going to be more resilient thanks to their more fortunate economic situation and/or geographical location than others. 

Adaptation to climate-related changes are going to have socio-economic consequences for individuals. Unskilled workers, for instance, are going to be vulnerable to industrial transformations — for instance, in carbon-intensive, heavy industries—, and may decide to migrate to countries in which their skills can still be used, in the hope of opportunities of economic advancement.

Climate change and countries’ various responses to it can cause not solely voluntary economic migration in the future, but also large-scale involuntary migration. This falls into the category of societal global risk, influencing numerous countries and industries negatively. Climate action failure is one of the potentially damaging risks that are going to contribute to involuntary migration on a global scale. Extreme weather, biodiversity loss, livelihood crises, and social cohesion erosion are also listed by the latest Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum. Climate action failure and extreme weather are the most influential factors. 

Climate change contributes to natural disasters, too. Because of such disasters, internal and cross-border displacement is going to occur. Interestingly, it is not necessarily the direct effects of such disasters that are going to affect migration, but the worsening economic conditions they will cause. This means that links between migration and disasters caused by the accelerating climate change are rather indirect, manifesting in migration caused by decreasing incomes, worsening livelihood opportunities, and changes in food security.

Violence, conflict and persecution are still going to play a role in the future when it comes to migration or displacement, however, data on recent trends indicate that disaster related internal displacement is more common, and, at the same time, more volatile than internal displacement related to the previously mentioned factors.

Another factor to take into account when observing voluntary or involuntary migration, is the lack of possibility to migrate, caused by environmental change. People without assets to move can be trapped in certain areas, which can lead to more defenselessness against environmental change. Meanwhile, these trends are further creating many barriers to migration which need to be addressed simultaneously. 

Image Source: https://cdn.britannica.com/80/187480-050-824606F2/refugees-line-officials-Middle-East-Slovenia-Iraq-October-25-2015.jpg

Contemporary barriers to Migration

The barriers to migration are very complex, interlinked, and multifold. The recent Global Risks Report 2022 by World Economic Forum has identified several contemporary barriers to migration which include national level barriers, such as the movement restrictions related to the COVID-19, financial pressures in advanced economies, and greater focus on domestic priorities. The report has also identified three potential barriers to the cross-border migration; which include post-pandemic effects on international mobility, future employment trends, and increased national interest postures of several countries.

Movement restrictions because of the COVID-19 have interrupted several migration flows. These restrictions are temporary, but as the post-pandemic economic rebound demands more labour, creating further opportunities for  migrants, Western policymakers need to be prepared to address a new influx of migrants and be able to explain to their residents why welcoming this labour force would not diminish their employment opportunities, as well as why certain post-pandemic employment opportunities would need a migrant labour force to fulfil them. Failure to do so may cause further rise in anti-immigrant sentiments in resident populations.

National interest postures are increasingly becoming a world-wide phenomena where nations are actively reframing their migration policies to exclude migrants from basic financial and healthcare services, as Chile and Peru have done recently. Another such example are the restrictive policies of the  United Kingdom and USA, which originally were implemented because of  public health concerns, but have sustained and are causing a decline in the issuance of visas to  migrants.  

Apart from these issues, the nature of public discourse and disinformation campaigns are making the migration issue worse. Migration has increasingly become a controversial issue in Western countries, generating right-wing and nationalist reactions. The media has played a very important role in this by ‘normalizing discriminatory labels used to describe migrants’, whereas  disinformation campaigns against migrants portray them as a threat to  public health, security, and the economy of host countries are fuelling hate speech and violence against them. These two issues make a crucial impact on the voting behaviours of host countries and the governments they choose to elect, who usually have an anti-migrant stance when framing and implementing the migration policies in their respective countries.


The worsening socio-economic conditions and global trends we have explored have served to notably increase the risks migrants face. Whether it be to emergency displacements, worsening social retribution, or economic push and pull factors, migration is not only becoming a more pronounced phenomenon, but one subject to expanding threats to human dignity. 

As the world reopens its borders and struggles to manage the after-effects of a global pandemic, policy and assistance efforts need to look towards the plight migrants face and provide the resources, social networks, and institutional support necessary to protect the human security of one of the world's most politicised collectives. 

December 3, 2021No Comments

The legacy of Canadian Residential Schools: the Indigenous Rights Movement and its current Challenges

By: Esther Brito Ruiz, Ludovica Brambilla, Arslan Sheikh and Reka Szabo. 

Image Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/ashamed-my-faith-catholics-battling-religion-discovery-1.6081426

Recently, unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children were discovered in various locations in Western Canada, in the territory of residential schools. These schools operated between the end of the 19th century until 1996,  and were mostly run by the Catholic Church. The official number of Indigenous children who died in these schools because of mistreatment is 4120, but it is claimed that the actual number could be much larger

Evidence from various studies prove that approximately 150,000 indigenous children were subject to forceful assimilation in these institutions, after having been separated from their families. Physical, psychological, and sexual abuse were among the practicesused in these schools. The high death rate of Indigenous students can be connected to the extremely bad conditions of the schools— such as poor nutrition, the lack of nurses or the inadequate construction or use of the buildings — and to the lack of proper medical treatment provided to indigenous children, among other inhuman practices. The leading cause of death was tuberculosis, easily caught by malnourished children.

The practices of the residential schools have been described as a genocide by several scholars. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after having examined testimonies from thousands of survivors, also announced that these acts are to be classified as cultural genocide against Indigenous people. 

After the discovery of the graves, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau guaranteed financial aid and support to the Indigenous communities in Canada. Furthermore, an initiative of the Survivors of the Mohawk Institute at Six Nations of the Grand River — a large reserve in Canada —  aimed at uncovering more details about the dark legacy of the schools’ past with a death and criminal investigation. Questions still remain about the responsibility, the accountability, and the compensation, regarding the Canadian state and the Catholic Church. 

However, the discrimination of indigenous communties in Canadais not solely a past phenomenon  - according to some studies ongendered violence and on the unequal treatment of indigenous people in Canada, Indigenous minorities still face a very different set of circumstances compared to the majority society. We must also consider that the controversy surrounding the Canadian case is not a localized issue, but the latest in a global movement of recognition and redress led by indigenous communities.

The Global Context for Indigenous Rights

Currently, there are 370 million Indigenous people around the world, spanning over 90 countries, 5,000 communities, and 4,000 languages. As such, the struggle of the indigenous movement is not an ancient issue, but a current and contemporary human security challenge. While there has been progress – most notably marked by the 2007 United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (ratified by 143 countries) – indigenous abuses are still erased and forgotten, as we have mentioned in the  case of Canadian residential schools.

The legacy of indigenous communities has been marked by a rich history and vital contributions to our culture and environment (for example, in safeguarding 80% of global biodiversity) – however, it has also been defined by horrific atrocities. Well-known is the case of Native American communities, numbering over 10 million before European colonization, and decimated to under 300.000 by the 1900s. Indigenous peoples continue to face continuous and pervasive human rights abuses – ranging from assimilation policies, to land dispossession, the criminalization of protest, or abuses by armed forces. These abuses extend globally – having worsened in recent years and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – and most severely affect communities defending their rights and lands. This has led to intergenerational trauma in many indigenous communities. Today, the most prominent topic in discussions and advocacy within indigenous communities remains the issue of land rights and the resources they harbor. 

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mobili/32358569142

Indigenous Peoples and Natural Resources

Indigenous Peoples have a special relationship with natural resources. But from the times of colonisation to the present day, theirrights over these resources have been continuously violated. Even though they make up five-percent of the world’s population, they account for about fifteen-percent of the extreme poor. The major cause of this discrepancy owes to the history of colonisation, subjugation, and oppression. They regularly lack formal recognition over their lands and other natural resources, and are often last to get public investments, access to justice, political participation, and face various obstacles to partake in the formal economy.

Around a quarter of all land outside Antarctica belongs to Indigenous Peoples. But much of this land occupied by them is undercustomary ownership, and most of the governments all over the world acknowledge only a small percentage of this land as lawfully belonging to Indigenous Peoples. The unstable land tenancy is a cause of conflict, environmental degradation, and inadequate economic and social development. This endangers Indigenous Peoples’ culture and knowledge systems both of which have an extremely valuable contribution in maintaining ecological integrity and conserving nature and biodiversity.

As per World Bank, ‘’Improving security of land tenure, strengthening governance, promoting public investments in quality and culturally appropriate service provision, and supporting indigenous systems for resilience livelihoods are critical to reducing the multidimensional aspects of poverty while contributing to the SDGs.’’

The crucial role of social movements

It appears that legal frameworks for the protection of Indigenous People’s rights have been established, but land rights are not yet addressed by state actors and international organizations. Often, aboriginal communities lament a pattern of broken promises and a series of failures within development projects that have been promoted by such actors. This is due in part to the difficulty in questioning the power relations within the structure in which they operate. What is also elided by the mainstream narrative, are the continuities between the colonial past and the present. A postcolonial perspective on the matter has been proposed by many indigenous scholars that investigate colonial legacies to explain the nowadays imbalances between indigenous people and the broader society. Inequities are evident in regard to the land and resources issues but encompass almost every aspect of society, most notably healthcare. A postcolonial approach has been put into practice by many social movements, activists, and advocates for Indigenous People’s rights. Protests and movements, like Idle No More in Canada, emerge from the aboriginal communities and amplify their voices in the many arenas in which decisions are made. They represent the opportunity to contrast the structural violence they face, through ‘grassroots’ discourses around their conditions and demands and cooperations with governments and international actors. In response to the recent discovery of yet another atrocity committed in the residential ‘schools’, Idle No More has asked to cancel Canada Day to ultimately acknowledge the legacy of settler colonialism and violence in Canada’s history; Fifty municipalities have accepted the proposal out of respect and justice.

The Canadian case serves to illustrate what remains an evolving redress and human rights struggle for indigenous communities around the world. Indigenous human security continues to be precarious in most states, and despite the increasing recognition of these transnational advocacy movements, much remains to be done. As states seek to fulfil their obligations to ensure the wellbeing of their communities, a renewed focus must be placed on the recognition of indigenous peoples and their voices as rightful custodians of their land, resources, and culture. If the promises of a post-colonial global order are to be realized, it is indigenous communities that will define and lead the way to achieving it. 

October 8, 2021No Comments

The great contemporary human security crises of South Asia: Kashmir and Afghanistan

Authors: Esther Brito Ruiz, Arslan Sheikh and Ludovica Brambilla

Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/C-17_carrying_passengers_out_of_Afghanistan.jpg

The last two years have been the site of unexpected human security crises -  ranging from a global pandemic to the collapse of states. South Asia particularly has been subjected to important crises that have echoed across the region and had global consequences. Maybe the two most significant of these crises have been the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the enduring crises in Kashmir. Both these situations have seen human security determine the broader trajectory of national security, and can serve as examples of why to promote any kind of stability, the wellbeing of the people must come first. 

Afghanistan: the consequences of setting human security aside

​​The Afghanistan crisis clearly represents the consequence of failing to centralize and protect human security. In the wake of the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, which was originally deployed under the justification of anti-terrorist efforts – seeking the capture of Bin Laden and the countering of Al Qaeda – little good has remained after the end to two decades of occupation and trillions of dollars of investment. With the Taliban back in power and a looming humanitarian catastrophe – in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres – this crisis is one of the most severe threats to human security today.

But the real impact we can expect on the lives of Afghans remains multifaceted. Firstly, we have seen the weeks since the US withdrawal marked by a resurgence of terrorism in the state - as evidenced by the Daesh-K August 26 attack on the Kabul airport. Secondly, as a result of the war and widespread violence, the country now has over four million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), contending not only with overcrowded camps and a lack of access to basic services - like clean water - but also with the increase of COVID-19 cases. Afghans are facing a possible famine, collapsing health services, and a paralyzed economy in the wake of the seizing of most of the country’s reserves. In fact, the country’s Central Bank has been expelled from the international banking system and refused access to both the states’ foreign reserves and any international credit and assets assistance – including that which it had been previously granted to combat the rise of COVID. As a result of this economic paralysis, prices of food and essential goods have experienced an exponential rise and most financial services and banks have been left unable to operate or provide money to residents. This compromises the survival of local populations – especially those already most vulnerable. As this situation worsens, over 40% of the Afghan population faces acute food insecurity. Beyond these circumstances, the behaviour itself from Taliban authorities  is a core threat to the rights and security of its citizens – especially for women and minorities. Massacres of ethnic and religious minorities – specifically of Hazara men in recent weeks – and retribution killings to collaborators of the US army set a worrying precedent to what opposition groups will experience in coming months, as the Taliban secure their rule and repress revolts. Indeed,  Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), has affirmed that “the lives of millions of Afghans will depend on how the Taliban choose to govern”. With little response from recent UN Human Rights Council sessions and assistance on the ground from United Nations agencies and aid organizations being scaled back due to security concerns, prospects are not positive.

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) await a flight at Al Udeied Air Base, Qatar August 17. Marines are assisting the Department of State with an orderly drawdown of designated personnel in Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Mark Andries). Source: US Military

The severe human crisis in Afghanistan we see today is a consequence of an erroneous and militaristic view of what national security and peace requires. Peace begins with the security not of broad governments or the promotion of abstract values, but with the security of the people – established and maintained through access to the basic tenants of a dignified life; including education, food, healthcare, and jobs. By choosing not to center human security, the US acted more as an empire than as an ally for the Afghan people - and in their retreat, little care has been given to the wellbeing of locals and the crises left behind for them to endure. We can wonder what the situation would be today if the focus of the international community’s involvement in this state was for its communities to thrive – rather than the imposition of strategic goals for external parties. In the words of Ibrahim Al Marashi, “America’s failure to address human security ended up harming its national security”. 

With the world facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of the last decades, Afghanistan’s people have been left to contend with the human crisis of a pandemic and a state collapse simultaneously. While proposals to extend the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have been put forth, the likelihood of this engagement in the long term is minimal. Afghanistan now faces a human security crisis in almost every of its expressions - combining a political and economic crisis, a compromised food and healthcare system, and personal and communal threats to life. The way this crisis develops over the next few months will profoundly impact not only Afghans and their future, but the trajectory of all of South Asia. 

Kashmir: the forgotten crisis of water security

Water Security is sometimes considered the most important component of human security - since the very basic survival of life is dependent on it. Additionally, water insecurity effectively compromises all other expressions of human security; thus putting the very continued existence of human communities at grave risk. Despite this, it has often become sidelined in conversations regarding international security and humanitarian crises. Specifically, the water-security nexus over transboundary river basins among riparian countries is a growing concern, which will need to be dealt with increased urgency in the wake of the escalating consequences of climate change.

Among such various transboundary river basins, the Indus River Basin (IRB) in South Asia represents a peculiar case. The IRB flows through the erstwhile princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, which is now divided through a Line-of-Control - a de facto border between India and Pakistan. While this area has a relatively successful water management framework - in the form of Indus Water Treaty - there is no institutional and legal framework which addresses the effects of climate change on water availability in the IRB. This is a delicate situation, as the IRB has become the second ‘most overstressed aquifer’ in the world because of the area’s growing population and the development pressures of both shoreline countries. 

The issue of water security in the region is a potential future source of state conflict and a prime human security issue. The territorial conflict over the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir has led India and Pakistan into three conventional wars in 1947, 1965 and 1999 respectively. Both these countries have built major dam infrastructures on the IRB for irrigation and hydroelectricity. In India, it is one of the two main river systems supporting the country’s water deficient areas of the north-west. In fact, according to NITI Aayog, a public policy think-tank of the Government of India, “India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, with around six-hundred million people facing high to extreme water stress and about two-hundred thousand people dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water’’. However, even this report mentions no data on water management and composition of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir - still a delicately trodden political issue. In turn, Pakistan is exclusively dependent on IRB for irrigation and hydropower. Thus, this basin represents a vital source for their national food, water, and energy security. This dependency is worsened by the severe water shortages and declining water per capita availability that Pakistan has been facing in recent years. As such, hydro-politics over the IRB have put the growing population of both countries at an extreme risk - both in terms of human security and with regards to broader state conflict. With the perennial tensions between India and Pakistan, and the frequent indication of IRB being used as a geopolitical weapon, the water security of South Asia’s most populated region remains an imminent threat.


Both the cases presented evidence a simple truth - security, at any level, lays its foundations on the wellbeing of the people. In the absence of this, there can be no sense of stability or continuity. Afghanistan and Kashmir serve to remind us that even with vested national security interests, state and military involvement, and capital investment, those endeavours  that forgo human security will eventually face violence, conflict,  and possible internal collapse.