I’m a huge radio nerd and Kate Adie fan, so was really delighted to have a couple of pieces on the BBC’s flagship show From Our Own Correspondent this year. The programme airs on Radio 4 and the World Service.
The first piece, which aired in October, tells the story of Ali (not his real name), a survivor of what has been dubbed Pakistan’s biggest sexual abuse scandal. He was one of hundreds of victims of a child abuse ring in the city of Kasur, in Punjab. But despite widespread media coverage of their case, justice has been elusive, and Ali and other survivors are facing social exclusion.
The second story, which also aired first in October, looks at the many internally displaced people in Iraq who are living in half-built construction sites in Erbil. Many of these buildings were abandoned by property developers when the conflict with ISIS began, and they have been repurposed as homes for the million people who lost their homes.
In the years after Britain withdrew from Iraq, allegations of misconduct by British troops were coming thick and fast. In 2010, the government established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat). This was an investigative body that was supposed to bring together all the allegations and deal with them quickly. Perhaps predictably, that was not what happened. The investigation spiralled out of control and closed in disgrace in 2017. In the process, the entire field of human rights law had been called into disrepute, while stories abounded of soldiers whose lives had been put on hold during protracted investigations.
For my latest report for the Guardian’s Long Read section, I spent months interviewing people involved at all stages of the process to piece together how it went so wrong. As Britain faces the possibility of investigation by the International Criminal Court, this could have far-reaching consequences.
The collapse of Ihat seems likely to mark the end of serious attempts to investigate alleged crimes by British soldiers in Iraq, leaving questions about the scale of abuses and accountability unanswered. After such a public failure, what politician would want to reopen the issue? Yet, behind the headlines of corrupt lawyers and incompetent investigators, the true story of Ihat is more complicated. Both military advocates and human rights defenders agree that the scandal around Ihat was at the very least, politically convenient for the Ministry of Defence. With human rights lawyers cast as the villains, the MoD could avoid uncomfortable questions about its own role in training soldiers in procedures that breached the Geneva conventions. “At times, the MoD has been tempted to throw the uniform under the bus,” says Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP who was instrumental in Ihat’s closure.
You can read the full article over at the Guardian’s website and the clipping is below.
The last few pieces drawn from the reporting I did in the Middle East late last year are now out.
For the Spring issue of the World Policy Journal, I wrote about how Syrian women in Jordan are adjusting to life without men.
Studies show that at least a third of Syrian refugee households in Jordan are headed by women – meaning that, as in Sara’s case, there is no male provider. This is not unusual in war-time, given that men tend to enlist or be drafted. The number of female-headed households was thought to be even higher among displaced Iraqis during the first Gulf War . . .
Many of these women, hailing from traditional societies where men are the primary household earners, must work for the first time, even as they care for their children. As they deal with tough economic realities, many are also navigating bereavement, trauma, and loss.
The piece is no longer available for free online, but can be accessed here, and the first few pages of the clipping are below.
In the Spring issue of the New Humanist, I wrote a piece about the persecution of minorities in Iraq, and how their cause is being taken up by the far right in the west.
Dalu’s anger stems, in part, from a feeling that people overseas are not paying attention to the suffering of his community. But the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq has been exploited by international actors for many years, in ways that often exacerbate the problem. This raises serious ethical questions not just about assisting marginalised groups, but about the way these issues are discussed. In an era of increasing divisions and a worldwide narrative of a “clash of civilisations”, the situation of minorities in Iraq has been used to feed a dangerous discourse that does no favours to people like Dalu. How can outsiders support these groups without worsening the situation?
You can read the rest over at the New Humanist website.
I was absolutely delighted to be selected as a media fellow for a programme run by Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference. The programme, titled Religion and the Global Reframing of Gender Violence, aims to question dominant narratives about gender based violence, with a particular focus on the Middle East and South Asia. Along with two other media fellows, I attended an academic conference in Jordan (a book containing all the papers should be out at some point this year), and then went on to do several weeks of reporting in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. My focus was on gender-specific issues in the refugee crisis; I’ve had a few pieces already out based on the reporting I did, with some longer articles in the works.
Yazidis in Iraq: ‘The genocide is ongoing’ (Al Jazeera)
ISIS’s crimes against the Yazidi community were an international sensation – but despite this attention, many in northern Iraq do not feel they are getting the support they desperately need. I interviewed Yazidis who are taking action to help their community.
Iraq after ISIL: ‘It was like a ghost town’ (Al Jazeera)
Telskof is a Christian village in Iraq’s Niniveh plain. It was occupied by ISIS – but now the militant group has been cleared out, and residents are moving back. I interviewed people there about the struggles of starting over.
The Refugee Whose Husband Sold Her Into Sex Slavery (Broadly)
Syrian refugee women are incredibly vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to their precarious economic position and uncertain immigration status. In Lebanon, I met one particularly brave woman, who has escaped forced prostitution and is now working to help others in the same situation.
Hairdressing, sewing, cooking – is this really how we’re going to empower women? (The Guardian)
Women’s empowerment has long been a development buzzword, but a narrow focus on getting women into low-paid work may be marginalising them further. I drew on material from Jordan and Iraq to examine the occasional failings of empowerment programmes.