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Protests erupt in Tunisia

Demonstrations in Tunisia began on Sunday January after the government announced an increase in value-added tax and social contributions, while also increasing prices of consumer goods to cut their budget deficit. The austerity measures were made in response to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s call to the Tunisian government to take “urgent action and decisive measures” to reduce its deficit late 2016. Tunisia is currently in a four year loan program with the IMF tied to economic and social reforms worth around $2.8 billion. Protesters have taken to the streets to rally in at least 10 different areas.

January 7th was also the seventh anniversary of the the ousting of autocratic President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, While the protests were started by the 2018 Finance Act, protesters argue that economic and social conditions since since Ben Ali’s deposition have not improved, prompting public discontent

The government accused demonstrators of sabotaging and setting fire to police cars, while other protesters tried to take over stores and blocked roads. Over 800 people had been arrested so far on suspicions of violence and vandalism, including young protesters aged 15 to 20Demonstrators accused police of a violent crackdown. While the Tunisian Interior Ministry mentioned that 97 members of security force members have been injured as of January 14th, the statement failed to include how many protesters had been hurt.

In response to the protests, the Tunisian government is to increase welfare payments and support for poor families by 170 million Tunisian dinars, or $87.3 million CAD. Mohamed Trabelsi, minister of social affairs told reporters, “this will concern about 250,000 families.”

Current President Beji Caid Essebsi visited the Tunis district of Ettadhamen , opening a youth centre in the area. Youth in Ettadhamen have been in clash with the police since the anti-austerity protests. Eddebsi’s speech promised to address youth unemployment, which stands at more than 35% according to the UN International Labour Organization. “We feel for you, these are our families,” he said. “Be modest, your country does not have a lot of means.”

However, meeting adequate living conditions remain a concern as prices of basic goods such as food products are rising by more than 10% annually.

Written with material from CNN news, Al Jazeera, Gulf news, and the Telegraph

Update on Myanmar

The violence that erupted over five months ago in the western Rakhine state of Myanmar, leading to the migration of over 650,000 ethnic Rohingya to Bangladesh, may finally have an end in sight as the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments have arranged for the return of these refugees to their homes.

Although the Rohingya have been heavily persecuted in Myanmar for decades, the current violence can be traced back to the state of emergency declared in Rakhine in 2012, which allowed military control in the province. Tensions between the military and the Rohingya resulted in Rohingya militants attacking government forces in August of 2017. In response, security forces launched an attack, described by the UN as ethnic cleansing, that killed over 6,000 in the first month alone. Many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in response to the violence. However, in an agreement on Tuesday, January 15, Myanmar and Bangladesh provided details regarding the repatriation deal signed in November 2017. The repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will begin as early as next week, and will be carried out over the next two years.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be assisting Bangladesh and Myanmar with the repatriation process, but urges the governments to ensure the voluntary return of the Rohingya minority to their homes. International aid organizations such as Amnesty International have raised concerns about the repatriation, claiming that the return of the Rohingya is “premature” due to the “years of entrenched discrimination and abuse.” The organization stressed the importance of international protection for the Rohingya in the process, “the Rohingya have an absolute right to return to and reside in Myanmar, but there must be no rush to return people to a system of apartheid. Any forcible returns would be a violation of international law.”

One of the major challenges to repatriation is the lack of accountability within the Myanmar government. The incumbent State Chancellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to condemn the violence against the Rohingya. Regarding the military-led ethnic cleansing, Suu Kyi has disputed the UN’s characterization of the violence.

In addition to the failure of the Myanmese leaders to address the persecution of the Rohingya people, the repatriation plan will result in them being transferred from refugee camps in Bangladesh to camps in Myanmar, as their homes were burned down when they were forced to flee. As a result, those who opt to return will effectively be living in a limbo state until the Myanmar government develops a concrete plan to relocate them.

At this critical juncture the government will have to develop additional social programs to integrate the Rohingya into Myanmese society to prevent the situation from deteriorating into violence once more.

Written with material from CNN news, Al Jazeera, Gulf news, and the Telegraph