National security wrap

The beat

Modern slavery

A UK anti-slavery helpline identified nearly 5,000 potential victims in its first year of operation. The helpline received 3,710 calls from both the public and victims, and referred 1,450 cases to the police and anti-slavery groups. The UK government estimates that there are at least 13,000 victims of ‘forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude’ across the country. The Guardian has an excellent piece exploring how modern slavery has seeped into our lives.

Suppression of the press

Maxim Borodin, a Russian investigative journalist who investigated the deaths of Russian mercenaries in Syria, has died in suspicious circumstances after falling from his fifth-floor apartment in Yekaterinburg. Borodin’s mysterious death may be the latest in a series of attacks on the press. In October, Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb. She had been investigating her country’s links to the Panama Papers and was a constant critic of corruption on both sides of Maltese politics. In response to her murder, 45 journalists from 15 different countries have been working in secret to complete and publish her stories as part of the Forbidden Stories initiative. Forbidden Stories is an organisation determined to ensure that whenever journalists are imprisoned or killed, their stories survive.

Future fingerprints

Police in Wales have arrested three alleged drug dealers after the police used fingerprints seen in a photo of the dealers’ hands on WhatsApp to match them to the crime. This isn’t the first time that fingerprints in a picture have been used to identify an offender. In 2015 a pedophile was convicted after images of his fingerprints appeared in the child porn he was producing. The arrests highlight just how revealing online posts can inadvertently be. To help prevent that, researchers are developing AI systems that will warn users whenever they’re about to share potentially compromising information online.

CT scan

Locate and capture

German security services captured Mohammed Haydar Zammer, a German citizen thought to be an Islamic State leader, earlier this week. He was part of the Hamburg Cell that produced Mohammad Atta, one of the men directly involved in 9/11. Yesterday another IS fighter was captured—Australian Tarek Khayet, suspected of plotting to blow up an Etihad airliner bound from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in July 2017. With the caliphate’s collapse, many IS fighters are fleeing to their home countries, but could still be maintaining their links with the organisation.

Hidden costs

A report revealed that the US uses more than 5,500 contractors in its campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq. Most are involved in logistical support, but about 400 are involved in ‘security’. Since 2009 the ratio of US-employed contractors to US troops has increased from approximately 1:1 to almost 3:1. Contractors occasionally face intense scrutiny—recall the killing of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater employees—but often their roles are concealed from public scrutiny.

No time to withdraw

Al-Shabaab reportedly captured a town in Qoqani, 70 kilometres from the Somalia–Kenya border, from African Union forces. The Al-Shaabab fighters were heavily armed and caused heavy losses. The attack highlights the improbability that the AU’s longest-running peacekeeping mission will end anytime soon.


Blurry lines between repatriation and refoulement

Claims by Myanmar’s government to have undertaken the first repatriation of Rohingya refugees—a single family—met with immense scepticism. According to UNHCR, ‘conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified and sustainable’, while the Bangladeshi government denied any involvement in the repatriation. The Myanmar government’s statement refers to the family as ‘Muslims’, in line with its view that the Rohingya aren’t a legitimate ethnic group. Without first recognising the Rohingya, further ‘repatriations’ could infringe on the principle of non-refoulement, the idea that no one should be returned to their home country if they fear persecution there.

Windrush worries

Members of the UK’s ‘Windrush generation’ find themselves threatened with deportation after being incorrectly identified as illegal immigrants. The immigrants arrived in the UK from Caribbean Commonwealth member states between 1948 and 1971. In 1971, all Commonwealth citizens living in the UK were granted leave to stay—but the government didn’t keep records, and many of the immigrants didn’t get official papers specifying their status. Now some of these long-term residents have been told they need documents to continue working, access the NHS and stay in the country. Some have been deported. Theresa May apologised to the 12 Caribbean heads of government for what she called an isolated ‘mix-up’. Cabinet Office minister David Lidington denied claims that a systemic ‘hostile environment’ approach contributed to the crisis.

A deceptively porous border

Significant footage has emerged from the Chinese border with North Korea this week. As many as 300,000 Chinese troops have been deployed to reinforce China’s frontier following claims last year that China is preparing for a large-scale influx of North Korean refugees. Yet this video documents a deceptively porous border, suggesting that movement is easier than it first appears.

First responder

When life gives you lemons …

As the number of refugees and forcibly displaced persons continues to soar, it’s often difficult to know how best to respond to such a crisis. Social enterprises around the world are providing one solution. Dutch enterprise Makers Unite has created a six-week training program to help refugees start new careers by making and selling bags made out of lifejackets worn by refugees. In the US, Talent Beyond Borders identifies qualified refugees and assists them with employment recruitment processes.

Venezuelan refugee crisis

The UNHCR is calling on Latin American states to uphold minimum standards in response to the continuing Venezuelan refugee crisis. UNHCR released a guidance note on the outflow of Venezuelans in March saying that responses by neighbouring countries must be ‘protection-orientated’, must incorporate legal and accessible avenues to apply for asylum, must allow access to basic rights and must guarantee that Venezuelans aren’t forced to return to Venezuela.

Empowerment through drought

Livestock herders, or pastoralists, in West Africa’s Sahel are known for their seasonal migration to find pastures and water. However, climate change, erratic rain patterns and a continuing drought in Mauritania are causing male herders to begin their migrations even earlier. In the Demba village in Mauritania, women are taking charge of the village and herding while the men are away. This economic empowerment is translating into political empowerment, with the creation of an-female council to lobby the government.