Remember “Day Zero”? That was the moment earlier this year when the drought-stricken South African city of Cape Town was predicted to become the globe’s first developed city to run out of water.

Sharp reductions in household and agricultural use averted a crisis. (To see how that played out, read our cover story from April.) But the threat is ongoing. And one way to ease it may be as straightforward as pulling up trees.

That might seem counterintuitive. But what The Nature Conservancy is asking in its new study is to take a fresh look at solutions to water security. The trees are invasive species. In the Cape Town region, where 69 percent of catchments have been “invaded,” eucalyptus, acacia, and pine guzzle 20 percent more water per hectare (about 2.5 acres) than native vegetation. Annually, that eats up some 55 billion liters of water – two full months of supply.

The Nature Conservancy says clearing them could make available 55.6 billion liters in six years and 100 billion liters – one-third of Cape Town’s current supply – in 30. It has launched a Water Fund, one of more than 30 such urban public-private partnerships, to focus on “green infrastructure” over far more costly, and less productive, concrete “gray infrastructure” such as treatment plants. And government officials and large corporations alike are getting behind the idea of removing barriers to letting nature do its work.

Now to our five stories, including two special reports: one from western China on the embattled Uyghur minority there and one from a town bordering the Sahara in Niger that is trying to pivot away from the people-smuggling business – with some help from the European Union.

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1. ‘There are no people’: China’s crackdown in the Uyghur heartland

Ann Scott Tyson found reporting especially challenging in the western region of Xinjiang, where she went to witness the impact of China’s forced ‘reeducation’ of its Uyghur minority. But that work produced a rare and nuanced look at the project’s effect.

Uyghur men talk at a teahouse in the old town of Kashgar in China’s frontier region of Xinjiang. China’s ruling Communist Party since 2016 has intensified a “strike hard operation” against what it views as religious extremism, terrorism, and separatist tendencies among Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups.

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As many as 1 million ethnic Uyghurs, a Muslim minority, have been detained by the Chinese government in “reeducation” camps, according to human rights groups, which condemn the arbitrary detentions as illegal under Chinese and international law. Chinese officials have claimed the camps are vocational training centers to counter religious extremism and terrorism and rejected calls to reveal how many people have been held against their will, for how long, and why. But for Uyghur villagers here at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, there is no denying the reality. The dates that loved ones were taken away – for offenses such as wearing a beard or attending prayers – are seared in their minds. The shortage of hands is causing many families to struggle. Children are not only deprived of their parents but receive indoctrination suggesting their father or mother did something wrong. And teams of Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in China, are dispatched to live in Uyghur homes to monitor and instruct residents, further tearing at the social fabric of village life. Yet despite the pressure, some Uyghurs still pray in private, residents say. And whenever elderly Uyghurs hear the universal Muslim greeting As-salaamu alaykum (peace be upon you), their faces light up, and they respond without hesitation: Wa alaykumu as-salaam (and peace be upon you).


‘There are no people’: China’s crackdown in the Uyghur heartland

Winter is coming, and farmers in this Uyghur village are busy cutting branches pruned from walnut trees for firewood. The wood is fuel for small metal stoves that heat their mud-and-brick homes.

Other villagers are washing the coarse wool rugs they use to cover their floors and hang on walls as insulation against the cold. Much work remains to be done. There are red dates to harvest, and maize to dry and store. But as chilly winds sweep this dusty village of some 400 households on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, a noticeable shortage of hands is causing many families to struggle. 

“My older brother is in training prison,” one villager says, watching her toddler play under a grape trellis in the courtyard of her traditional Uyghur home. “My sister is in a training prison, too,” she adds quietly, as sheep bleat in the adjacent manger. 

“It is very difficult for us,” she says. With her older siblings gone, her elderly father took a job as a security guard at a local factory to support the remaining eight family members, including her disabled mother, with an income of about 1,500 yuan ($216) a month.

The family’s situation is disturbingly common. An informal survey of two dozen families in the village reveals a chilling fact: Half of them are missing a family member – usually the head of household – who has been detained, indefinitely, in what the villagers here refer to as “training prison,” or simply “training.”

A policeman checks the identity card of a man in Kashgar, a predominantly Uyghur city in Xinjiang.

The high ratio of detentions uncovered in the village, while only one data point, offers further firsthand confirmation that China’s program of mass incarceration of ethnic Uyghurs in political education camps in Xinjiang has swept up vast numbers of people in recent years. Experts and human rights groups estimate that as many as 1 million of the total Uyghur population of 11 million have been forced to undergo “reeducation” in the most serious assault by Chinese authorities on Muslim minorities since the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

China’s ruling Communist Party since 2016 has intensified a “strike hard operation” against what it views as religious extremism, terrorism, and separatist tendencies among Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic groups in Xinjiang, a strategic frontier with Central Asia. Sporadic violence has erupted between Uyghurs and ethnic Han Chinese in Xinjiang, and some Uyghurs want greater autonomy or even independence from Beijing. But experts view the root cause of unrest as China’s decades of repression and discriminatory treatment of Uyghurs.

The government’s arbitrary confinement of Uyghurs – taking parents away from their children and able-bodied workers away from their families – is tearing at the fabric of rural life in southern Xinjiang, where the Uyghur population is concentrated. Authorities are also waging a highly invasive campaign to monitor and indoctrinate family members who remain at home, conversations with dozens of villagers over several days reveal.

In this village on the outskirts of the ancient oasis town of Hotan, the detention of an estimated 200 of the village’s 1,500 people closely matches findings in villages around Kashgar and other parts of southern Xinjiang by human rights groups, which condemn the detentions as illegal under Chinese and international law. 

Streets here appear desolate, even on the traditional Sunday market day. Many adults seem subdued and wary. The large, engraved wooden doors on several houses are padlocked, and some have been recently sealed with white strips of paper by cadres from the village Communist Party branch – a sign that the inhabitant was accused of wrongdoing.

Local Communist Party cadres have sealed some doors of Uyghur homes with white strips of paper in villages in Xinjiang – a sign that the inhabitant was accused of wrongdoing.

In the nearby market area, several shops are closed. One woman, a farmer, stands looking at wood stoves for sale, wondering how she will make ends meet because her husband, too, is “in training.” (The names and other identifying details of all Hotan residents described or quoted in this article are being withheld for their protection.)

Outside one family-run fabric shop, a gray-haired worker, his hands rough and his coat worn, fumbles with threads to form tassels on a garment. Asked how his trade is faring, the shopkeeper frowns and shakes his head. 

“Business is bad, worse than before,” he says. Asked why, his answer is stark: “There are no people.”


After darkness falls on the village, the rhythmic clacking of wooden silk looms sounds late into the night. One village weaver, her arms and back tired from the work, has little choice but to toil long hours.

“My husband is in the training prison, and I am the only one supporting my family now,” says the weaver, who makes about 1,000 yuan ($145) a month. “I don’t know when he will get out,” she says with a despondent look.

China’s government until recently denied the widespread detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang camps. But with evidence and international pressure mounting – a United Nations panel in August voiced concern that China had turned Xinjiang into a “massive internment camp” – it changed course in October, saying the facilities were part of a program to “get rid of extremism.” Under the program, authorities say, Xinjiang residents “suspected” of minor offenses and “mistakes” in connection with religious extremism are sent to “vocational training institutions” and “boarding schools.” There, they are rehabilitated and “saved,” said Shohrat Zakir, the chairman of Xinjiang’s regional government, in an interview with the official Xinhua News Service. 

Uyghurs make scarves in a village near the oasis town of Hotan, Xinjiang. Local shops have felt the impact of the government’s mass detention of Uyghurs.

The government’s goal, Mr. Zakir said, is to “eliminate the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism,” especially in southern Xinjiang, where he said residents’ lack of Chinese language ability, job skills, and legal knowledge make them “vulnerable to the instigation and coercion of extremism.” Trainees must engage in “deep self-examination of their mistakes” and meet “required standards” to complete their training, he said, indicating the time frame is indefinite.

In November, Chinese officials again vigorously defended the program as terrorism prevention at a UN Human Rights Council review of China’s record in Geneva, rejecting calls from several countries to end the illegal detentions and reveal how many people have been held against their will, for how long, and why. “We cannot wait until they have become terrorists,” said Le Yucheng, China’s delegation head. Another delegation member, Ürümqi Mayor Yasim Sadiq, claimed “attendees” of the “training centers” welcomed the chance to purge themselves of extremist views, adding, “they never thought life could be so colorful.”

But for Uyghur villagers here who have seared in their minds the dates authorities took away their loved ones – months ago, a year ago, or even longer – such official statements cannot dispel the reality of the “training prison.” Uyghur residents in Hotan say people can be arbitrarily detained or questioned by police for even hints of Islamic faith – such as wearing a beard or covering the face with a scarf, observing Muslim restrictions on smoking and drinking alcohol, or attending a religious service.

“Anyone who practices Islam is being detained,” says one Uyghur man. “They are all gone,” he says, holding his arms out straight with his wrists touching as if in handcuffs. Family members of those deemed “untrustworthy” are often detained as well, in a form of collective punishment, human rights advocates say.

Inside the camps, detainees are required to learn Chinese, sing patriotic songs and Communist Party paeans, and study anti-extremism and anti-terrorism rules. They have also been subjected to torture, solitary confinement, and other forms of physical and psychological mistreatment, according to interviews by human rights groups with former detainees. 

The camps are often located in former schools or factories that have been fortified with barbed wire and guard towers, according to researchers who have used satellite imagery and procurement records to track the development and expansion of the incarceration system. While dozens of camps have been identified throughout Xinjiang, they are concentrated in the four southwestern prefectures of Kashgar, Hotan, Kizilsu, and Aksu, where the majority of the Uyghur population lives.

A prison sprawls across the landscape in Hotan, a predominantly Uyghur prefecture in southern Xinjiang. Xinjiang’s total spending on domestic security, including prisons and detention centers, doubled in 2017.

Some villagers say they are allowed to visit their detained relatives once a month, while others have not seen them at all, even after more than a year’s absence. Some of the detained villagers are being held as far away as the cities of Aksu or Ürümqi, Xinjiang’s capital, several hours away, while others are nearby in Hotan. International criticism of the camps is rising, and in mid-November 15 Western envoys in Beijing asked to meet Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo for an explanation of the alleged rights abuses.

Yet no end is in sight for the crackdown on the Uyghur heartland, statements by Xinjiang authorities suggest. Xinjiang leader Zakir said some “trainees” may return home at the end of this year, but he stressed that “cleaning up the evil legacy of terrorism and religious extremism in southern Xinjiang is still a very formidable task.”

Down the road from the village is one camp identified by online researchers – a tall, sand-colored building surrounded by barbed wire near the banks of the Yurungkash River. Two blocks away is a huge, six-lane police checkpoint where passengers and vehicles from Uyghur villages are searched before crossing a bridge into downtown Hotan. 

Police wielding anti-personnel spears with dagger-like tips, riot shotguns, and long clubs spiked with four-inch nails man the checkpoint, one of hundreds built as part of a population-control grid imposed on Hotan. They scan government-issued IDs and question and photograph Uyghur travelers inside a station equipped with two large detention cells.

One day recently, a middle-aged Uyghur man wearing a four-cornered skullcap, or doppa, stands inside one of the holding cells. His hands grasp the metal bars as he looks out with a plaintive expression. All the travelers at the station are at the mercy of the police, so no one can do anything but make eye contact and nod in his direction. 


At a village stand piled with local melons, grapes, and other fruits and vegetables, a young Han Chinese woman rides up on a scooter and buys some oranges. She says she arrived about a month ago from Gansu province, and moved into the village kindergarten, where she teaches Uyghur children Chinese.

Even as Uyghur families have watched their relatives taken away, they have had to accept a large and intrusive influx of Han Chinese, some born in Xinjiang and others from what is referred to locally as neidi, the overwhelmingly Han “inland,” or China proper. Teams composed mainly of Hans are dispatched by the government to live in Uyghur homes for days, weeks, or longer to monitor and instruct them.

“A lot of Han cadres are here living in the farmers’ homes. One cadre may be assigned to three Uyghur families, so he rotates and spends one night in each of the homes,” says a Han resident of Hotan who is familiar with the program.

“They are here to change the Uyghurs’ thinking,” he says.

The human engineering project is just one example of the intrusive government controls on the daily lives of Uyghurs who are not in detention – controls that strongly parallel the treatment of Uyghurs inside the camps.

Under the mandatory Xinjiang program, initiated in 2014 but expanded dramatically in 2017, some 1 million mainly Han officials have been sent into Uyghur households for homestays, focusing on families of Uyghurs who have been detained. During the stays, they monitor Uyghurs for any signs of observing Islam, contacts with foreigners or outsiders, the number of household knives, among other things – and report their findings to authorities. Suspicious activity reported by the Han visitors can lead to more detentions. 

Meanwhile, they teach the families Chinese language and culture, and spread Communist Party propaganda such as President Xi Jinping’s vision for China.

Chinese socialist art, such as this set of statues in Hotan, is intended to depict progress and unity among ethnic groups.

Several Uyghur villagers described having Hans living with them, observing their daily life, requiring them to speak Chinese, and – in some cases – giving them health checkups. It was not clear whether the health checks involved taking blood samples, part of a reported government plan to collect residents’ DNA.

Villagers say they are also expected to attend nightly political study sessions at the village Communist Party branch office, which they call the dadui, an old term from the Maoist era meaning commune production brigade. There, they say, they study more Chinese and sometimes sing patriotic songs. 

Underlying the program is the idea, voiced by several Hans encountered in the village and in Hotan, that Uyghurs are “backward,” “ignorant,” and lack ambition, and so are susceptible to religious extremism. Chinese civilization will cure this, they suggest. “Uyghurs just live for the day,” says one Han in Hotan.

On a dusty backstreet of the village, an aspiring Communist Party member from Ürümqi speaks energetically about the success that the civilian teams are having transforming the mind-sets of the Uyghur villagers.  

“This is a very backward area, and the religious beliefs here are very strong. That is why this area was chaotic,” says the young man, currently a member of the Communist Youth League – a pathway to party membership – who attends university in Ürümqi. He says he is living in Uyghur homes and teaching villagers Chinese, while also focusing on their beliefs.

“People here are ignorant, so they believe in religion. We are having a good impact on changing their beliefs,” he says. Although Uyghur himself, he speaks flawless Mandarin. He stresses that he’s spent the entirety of his young life in Chinese-language schools, and doesn’t believe in God. Soon, he says, he will apply for Communist Party membership.

The village party branch has organized a team of five people, led by the local party chief, with the mission of curtailing religious influence in the village, he says. While the government has long imposed religious restrictions on Uyghurs and other Muslim populations in Xinjiang, today’s controls – including the threat of detention – have all but outlawed the practice of Islam in the region.

North of the village, at the end of a dirt road, a path lined with poplar trees leads to a shrine, the mazar of Imam Asim, a Sufi holy man said to have led the Islamic conquest of Hotan in about 1000 AD. Until two years ago, it was a destination for thousands of Muslim pilgrims. Now the site is barred and stripped of religious symbols. A nearby street with shops that once sold food, tea kettles, and other goods is abandoned.

The village mosque has been torn down, as have many in Hotan, residents say. Parents are prohibited from allowing children to participate in any religious activities. “No one dares to practice Islam openly,” says one resident.

Yet despite the pressure, some Uyghurs still pray in private and fast during Ramadan, residents say. And whenever elderly Uyghurs hear the universal Muslim greeting As-salaamu alaykum (peace be upon you), their faces light up and they respond without hesitation: Wa alaykumu as-salaam (and peace be upon you).


In a red date orchard on the outskirts of the village, an elderly Uyghur farmer hoists a brittle pile of pruned branches and leaves over his head and tosses it onto a smoldering fire, sending flames leaping skyward.

The annual pruning work is time consuming but needed to ensure maximum production of the dates, or jujube, a major crop in this region. The reddish-brown fruit still hangs on the branches, growing sweeter as it wrinkles in the desert air. Soon the farmer will pick them, but the crop does not belong to him.

The several hundred date trees – a large orchard by village standards – are owned by a Han Chinese migrant from the inland province of Henan who moved here 10 years ago and leased the land from the government. He hires Uyghur villagers as laborers – a common practice in the area, where Han farmers manage lucrative fruit and nut orchards. Uyghurs tend to practice subsistence farming of wheat and maize while also raising sheep, cows, chickens, and pigeons.

Ethnic Uyghur children joke as they taunt a local police officer in the old town section of Kashgar, a city in western Xinjiang. Some 11 million Uyghurs, many of whom are Muslims, live in Xinjiang, the crossroads linking China to the rest of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

The underlying inequality between Hans and Uyghurs in Xinjiang has caused tension as Uyghurs have felt marginalized, experts say. China’s government has for decades worked to assimilate and control Xinjiang by both mandating and encouraging Han Chinese migration to the frontier region, in part by offering jobs, land, and other incentives to new arrivals. 

The Han population of Xinjiang grew from 7 percent in 1949, the year of China’s communist takeover, to 37 percent in 2015, while the Uyghur population has declined from 75 percent to 48 percent over the same time period. Hans tend to dominate higher-income manufacturing jobs in the urban areas, particularly in the north, as well as the oil and gas industries, while Uyghurs mainly hold lower-paid agricultural jobs and live in the countryside.

As part of the Han migration, starting in 1954 demobilized Chinese troops set up vast production corps known as bingtuan, carving out large tracts of Xinjiang territory to build farms and factories. The semiautonomous bingtuan have their own police and militia and are often strategically positioned between and around Uyghur settlements. They continue to expand, now comprising some 2.7 million residents, about 90 percent of them Han Chinese.

SOURCE: Weidmann, Nils B., Jan Ketil Rød and Lars-Erik Cederman (2010). "Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset." Journal of Peace Research
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Today, a large bingtuan built in 2004 in the desert 40 miles from Hotan boasts some of the biggest orchards for red dates and other fruits in the region, and employs Uyghur seasonal laborers to harvest them. A group of Uyghur women sit in the sun, sorting a mound of dates from large to small as their children sleep nearby in portable wooden cribs. “I earn 80 yuan ($11.50) a day,” says one woman, who has harvested dates for six years.

Uyghur farmers from Hotan are being forced to work harvesting cotton and other crops, residents say. Such practices have fueled some resentment among Uyghurs, who feel unfairly treated by the government and disadvantaged by the Han Chinese arrivals. 

Back at the red date orchard, as the Han farmer oversees the pruning, two older Uyghur men approach him with a request. Can they allow their sheep to graze in the orchard and eat the date leaves after the harvest? “For 2,000 yuan ($288),” the Han says. 

The Uyghurs seem taken aback – that is more than they earn in one month. One Uyghur wearing a black wool cap offers 500 yuan ($72) and tries to put the bills in the farmer’s hand. But the farmer refuses and backs away. They haggle some more, but the Han won’t budge. 

Finally, the Uyghurs trudge off. “You are crazy!” one shouts over his shoulder.


Life in the village goes on, with all its complex undercurrents. On an outdoor table covered with a red cloth, a village woman, her hair tied back in a scarf, shapes bread dough over a large stone and presses it onto the wall of a hot brick oven. One after another, she forms and bakes the flatbread, or nang, a staple of the Uyghurs, using a metal poker to retrieve them from the blistering oven.

She is noticeably sullen. Asked about their family, her school-aged daughter, who is playing nearby with friends, replies. 

“My father is in training prison,” she says, reciting the exact date he was taken away last year.

“My father is in training prison, too,” her friend chimes in, also naming the date.

A third girl announces that both her parents are still at home – as if bragging about something special. 

The mother, formerly a seamstress, started the bakery a month ago to try to make up for her husband’s lost income. Her daughter wonders when she will see her father again. “It’s already been more than a year and a half,” she says.

For Uyghurs, the splitting apart of families is one of the most painful aspects of the government repression in Xinjiang. Not only are children deprived of parents, they are receiving indoctrination suggesting their father or mother – or both – did something wrong, undermining them as a trusted role model. In some cases, family members have been forced or felt compelled by authorities to denounce one another, according to human rights reports. 

Each night at 7:30 the daughter, a red kerchief tied around her neck, heads down the narrow village road to the dadui, or party branch, to study Chinese and sing songs praising the Communist Party and “motherland.” 

This night, she makes a wish for her father.

“I hope he will study hard,” she says, “so I will see him soon.”

SOURCE: Weidmann, Nils B., Jan Ketil Rød and Lars-Erik Cederman (2010). "Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset." Journal of Peace Research
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

2. Why cease-fire with Hamas has formed cracks in Israeli coalition

How responsive should government leaders be to citizens’ passions? Israel’s cease-fire with Hamas almost brought down the government, showing that the prudent course can be politically perilous.


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The Israel-Gaza border, scene of costly wars and deadly skirmishes in recent years, has been heating up for months. Even as both sides worked to reduce tensions, they teetered on the edge of a new war last week, with hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes pulverizing Hamas targets. But when a truce was in the end reached, many Israeli residents of the border region did not welcome the news, feeling their security needs were being neglected. “I thought it was a joke,” says Moran-Hila Madmoni, a resident of Sderot who spent a night in a shelter as the rockets flew overhead. “We feel like we are alone.” Such sentiments, widely shared in the area, translated almost immediately into a government crisis, and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s seemingly invincible “Mr. Security,” came close to falling. Says Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem: “I think Netanyahu understands there is no total solution” to the conflict with Hamas, “so he is looking instead for some kind of equilibrium ... where things are better both for us and for them because the longer the quiet can last, the better.”


Why cease-fire with Hamas has formed cracks in Israeli coalition

In a room of her home that doubles as a bomb shelter, Moran-Hila Madmoni spent a night last week on a crowded fold-out sofa bed with her husband, two young sons, and a family of stuffed animals.

Above them, a barrage of rockets reeled through the air toward Sderot, their town on Israel’s southern border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

They awoke the next morning to news that almost 500 rockets had been fired from Gaza and others were continuing to fall – but that plans for a truce were being squeezed out between the Israeli government and Hamas to stop this most recent burst of cross-border fighting.

The news did not bring relief.

“I thought it was a joke,” says Ms. Madmoni of her immediate reaction. “It’s the hardest thing in the world, we feel like we are alone.”

That sense of despair, widely shared in the region of southern Israel adjacent to Gaza, led to a sudden and powerful challenge to the security-minded leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who for several days has teetered on the edge of being forced into early elections but who claimed Monday that he still had the backing to govern.

“We in the southern border area have always supported Bibi,” Madmoni says, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname. “And we feel like he betrayed us, he has betrayed our security and the security of our children.”

The residents’ anger had been brewing for months before the rocket barrage, as violence intensified along the Gaza border. More than 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, some in mass demonstrations organized by Hamas to protest Israel’s economic blockade of the overcrowded coastal strip. Thousands of acres of Israeli land have burned, set afire by Palestinian incendiary balloons.

A political opening

Following news of the truce, which they saw as the government’s capitulation to terrorism, several hundred residents of the south who for years have suffered the brunt of Hamas rocket attacks gathered in central Tel Aviv Thursday near the Defense Ministry to demand a harsher and “definitive” military response to Hamas

Their cause translated almost immediately into a government crisis as right-wing and even centrist coalition members, sensing a political opening, seized on the perceived sense of weakness that Netanyahu, Israel’s seemingly invincible “Mr. Security,” had given off by agreeing to the truce.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, furious his objection to the cease-fire and call for another massive military operation against Hamas had been overruled, resigned. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has repeatedly sought to outflank Netanyahu from the right, demanded the defense portfolio in order to keep his party in the coalition.

Yet a head-spinning week that began with Israel teetering on the edge of war with Gaza and flirting with the likelihood of early elections ended with Netanyahu still in power. The elephant in the room, however, remains: Israel’s on and off war with Hamas – unwinnable, analysts say, without Israel paying a high price in soldiers’ lives.

“It's similar to Vietnam in some ways as it feels like a quagmire, a place Israelis don’t want to be involved with, but don’t know how to get out of,” says Dahlia Scheindlin, a public opinion analyst and pollster. “But I don’t subscribe to the Israeli government position that Gaza can be treated in isolation from the West Bank. They are both part of the Palestinian national consciousness and the only way to address the issue is to reach a long-term political arrangement, remote as that possibility seems right now.”

In a moment of unusual candor, Tzachi Hanegbi, a government minister and member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio last week that an all-out confrontation with Hamas in Gaza would lead to the deaths of at least 500 Israeli soldiers.

And if there is one thing the Israeli public is most sensitive to, it is the specter of those young soldiers coming home in coffins.

Even Israeli military officials have made clear the futility of a purely military response. The Israeli security services themselves were reportedly unanimous in recommending the truce with Hamas, a reminder that the prudent course is often politically perilous.

‘No magic solution’

And Netanyahu, for all of his own reputation for being a hard-liner and his army service in a special forces unit, which he recounted in detail in a statement broadcast nationally Sunday night as he tried to stave off the brewing political rebellion, has tried to avoid large-scale military confrontations.

“The general feeling we have to deal with is there is a terror group that is hurting people in the south, a phenomenon of almost 20 years, and there is no solution. And that is extremely difficult to deal with,” says Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“I think Netanyahu understands there is no total solution,” he says, “so he is looking instead for some kind of equilibrium ... where things are better both for us and for them because the longer the quiet can last, the better.”

Ben Caspit, a longtime columnist, was more critical of Netanyahu in an article in the daily Maariv: “The problem with our prime minister is that he cannot look directly at reality and admit it: to tell the truth to the public.… There is no magic solution to Gaza, and we have no one to give it to. So let’s swallow our pride and move on.”

Netanyahu, who has served 12 years as prime minister, is on the verge of overtaking Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion as the nation’s longest-serving prime minister. Even amid this most recent political storm, polls show his ruling Likud party easily winning enough seats to keep his office secure.

Netanyahu’s approach has been to manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than trying to solve it. In turn, some argue, there is a declining belief among Israelis that there is a political solution.

Ms. Scheindlin, the pollster and analyst, explains it this way: “All they (Israelis) see is the problem of Gaza and Hamas. They don’t see a political policy problem. They see Hamas as terrorists who must be met with force.… They don’t connect the dots that Gaza is a mess because of Israeli and Palestinian political mess-ups.”

Optics of asymmetry

Israel has what is considered the strongest army in the Middle East, while Hamas, despite its own growing firepower, remains a militarily and economically inferior opponent. But it is precisely that asymmetry in fighting power that has continually damaged Israel’s international image. And it has added to a sense of humiliation and frustration for Israelis looking for a definitive end to the rocket attacks that upend their lives, even if the injury and death toll is vastly lower than that inflicted on Palestinians, most of them civilians, every time Israeli warplanes thunder across the border.

Mix those considerations in with the ongoing border fence protests and violence, and observers say it’s easy to understand why Netanyahu accepted a recent Egypt-brokered deal in which Israel agreed to ease its blockade and also permitted Qatar to transfer millions of dollars in aid to Hamas.

But despite Netanyahu’s characteristic caution, this most recent political crisis appeared to take him by surprise and may make him more likely to shoot first the next time tensions turn violent with Hamas.

For Madmoni, the situation has become untenable, and she says she and other southern residents will only crank up the pressure.

“We feel like we are soldiers in civilian uniform,” she says. “I want our politicians to finally wake up.”


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3. Mass shootings as America’s ‘new normal’? ‘That is a myth.’

It's a question many of us ask: Are Americans becoming numb to mass shootings? The message many sent with their votes in the midterm elections suggests they’re not. 


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The shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., last week that left 12 people dead occurred less than two weeks after a gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa. George Bonanno, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, sees signs that Americans are less fatalistic about gun violence than the fleeting media coverage of mass shootings might convey. “The way human beings react to extreme stress is that we compartmentalize. We try to stop thinking about things,” says Professor Bonanno, who heads the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab. “But that doesn’t mean we forget about them entirely. We can decide to take action and vow to change something without dwelling on it to the point that it becomes debilitating.” Advocates of gun control say that the results of last week’s midterm election suggest a growing number of Americans share that sentiment. Democrats in congressional races defeated more than a dozen Republicans who hold an “A” rating from the NRA, and 6 in 10 voters who headed to the polls favor strengthening gun laws. “There’s a popular assumption that these horrible shootings happen and then nothing changes,” says Kristin Goss, coauthor of “The Gun Debate.” “That is a myth.”


Mass shootings as America’s ‘new normal’? ‘That is a myth.’

The satirical online publication The Onion has posted the same short piece in the aftermath of several of the country’s worst mass shootings since 2014. The story includes details about the latest spasm of gun violence – where it occurred, the number of victims – followed by a quote from a fictional Midwestern resident.

“This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” the quote reads in each version of the story. “It’s a shame, but what can we do?”

The item ran again last week after a gunman killed a dozen people and wounded 18 at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif. — the second time it appeared in less than two weeks. The Onion had last posted the piece after a man shot and killed 11 people and wounded seven Oct. 27 at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The story’s repeated publication and dark humor capture at once the alarming frequency of mass shootings nationwide and the sense of futility that can afflict Americans when the stark headlines and troubling images again flood the news cycle. Yet if in that moment readers and viewers feel trapped in a new, intractable normal, the results of last week’s midterm election suggest that a growing number of voters want to confront rather than retreat from the gun violence epidemic.

Democrats in congressional races defeated more than a dozen Republicans who hold an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), including longtime Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado and Pete Sessions of Texas. In Georgia, Democratic candidate Lucy McBath, a prominent gun-control activist who lost her son in a fatal shooting in 2012, ousted Rep. Karen Handel, the Republican incumbent. A ballot measure to dramatically tighten Washington State’s gun policies passed by a wide margin, and across the country, 60 percent of voters who headed to the polls favor strengthening gun laws.

“There’s a popular assumption that these horrible shootings happen and then nothing changes. That is a myth,” says Kristin Goss, a professor of public policy at Duke University and co-author of “The Gun Debate,” a 2014 book that examines gun violence and its potential prevention.

Damian Dovarganes/AP
A bouquet of flowers left by mourners lays near the site of a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Nov. 9, 2018. Investigators continue to work to figure out why an ex-Marine opened fire inside a Southern California country music bar, killing multiple people.

The push for gun reform has gained velocity as disparate blocs of advocates – high school students, parents, trauma surgeons – join the crusade. For Garen Wintemute, an emergency room physician and director of the Firearm Violence Research Center at the University of California, Davis, the midterms offered evidence of a shift in strategy to break the inertia in Congress on gun reform.

“We need to give up thinking we can change policy with policymakers who were elected with support of the NRA,” Dr. Wintemute says. “What we need to do is get different policymakers.”

Gun violence prevention groups advanced that cause in this year’s election. Candidates endorsed by Everytown for Gun Safety, founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, won 46 of 57 congressional races. Everytown and Giffords – a group founded by former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was gravely wounded in a 2011 mass shooting – spent a combined $11.8 million on the 2018 campaign, or $2.4 million more than the NRA.

Changes at the state level

The success of candidates who back gun control would appear to contradict The Onion’s portrayal of a numbed nation. George Bonanno, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, regards the surging support for reform as a signal that Americans are less fatalistic about gun violence than the fleeting media coverage of mass shootings might convey.

“The way human beings react to extreme stress is that we compartmentalize. We try to stop thinking about things,” says Professor Bonanno, who heads the university’s Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab, where researchers study how people cope with extreme life events. “But that doesn’t mean we forget about them entirely. We can decide to take action and vow to change something without dwelling on it to the point that it becomes debilitating.”

A litany of mass shootings in recent years has yielded a grim shorthand in which the names of cities conjure memories of gun violence: Aurora, Colo.; Newtown, Conn.; Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, Texas; Orlando and Parkland, Fla.

Two days after the Thousand Oaks massacre, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, following a decade of decline, the national rate of gun-related homicides had reached its highest level since 2006.

Nearly 27,400 homicides involving firearms occurred in 2015-16, the latest period studied, a rate of 4.4 per 100,000 people and an increase of almost 4,600 deaths over 2012-13. During the same span, suicides by gun climbed by more than 3,100 to nearly 45,000.

The report’s authors describe firearm homicides and suicides as “a continuing public health concern in the United States.” The day-to-day toll of gun violence, brought into painful focus by mass shootings, has created momentum for states to fortify gun laws as federal legislation stalls in Congress year after year.

So far this year, there have been 11 mass shootings in which three or more people died, according to a Mother Jones database. (A more commonly cited statistic of more than 300 is attributed to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as four or more people killed or wounded.)

In March, Florida lawmakers approved the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, one month after a former student gunned down 17 people at the school in Parkland. The initiative raised the legal age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21 and created waiting periods and background checks for gun purchases. The bill passed in a state where Republicans control both legislative chambers and where Republican Gov. Rick Scott held an “A+” rating from the NRA until he signed the measure. (The gun rights group then knocked him down to a “C.”)

Before the Parkland shooting, five states had enacted so-called red flag laws that enable a judge to order temporary removal of firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. In the ensuing months, Florida and seven other states passed similar legislation.

Dr. Goss has researched gun violence in America since two students killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. She considers the Washington ballot measure and the actions of Florida legislators – who responded, in part, to pressure from Parkland student activists – hopeful signs that policy reforms will continue to take root by other means if efforts wither in Congress.

“It’s a big country with multiple levels of government,” she says. “If one is locked down, you can work on other levels.”

The $9.4 million that the NRA contributed to campaigns this year marked a drop of almost two-thirds from its spending in the 2014 midterms.

In election post-mortems, the group has emphasized its impact in Senate races, touting the victories of gun rights activist Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee and Republican Josh Hawley in Missouri. Those results “were key to growing the pro-Second Amendment majority in the Senate, which will ensure the confirmation of federal judicial appointees who respect the Second Amendment,” an NRA spokeswoman told The New York Times.

'Stay in your lane'

The group further dispelled perceptions that it would pull back from the clash over firearms when it attacked doctors who advocate for treating gun violence as a public health problem. Responding to a position paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by the American College of Physicians, the NRA posted a tweet that read: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.”

The comment drew furious replies from physicians across the country under the hashtags #ThisIsMyLane and #ThisIsOurLane. They posted photos that showed the aftermath of operating on gunshot victims — blood-stained emergency room floors and surgical scrubs  — and shared details about some of those patients, including children as young as 6 months old.

The public rejoinder from doctors and the ascendance of gun control candidates in the midterms provide at least two potential answers to the question – “It’s a shame, but what can we do?” – posed by The Onion’s fictional Midwesterner. Wintemute, the emergency room doctor, asserts that changing the culture will require collective resolve.

“What happened in Thousand Oaks was another ‘It can’t happen here’ tragedy like Newtown, like Aurora, like so many others,” he says. “Everyone has to understand that this could happen to them, to their children, to their grandchildren. And then everyone has to ask, ‘What am I willing to do to keep it from happening again?’ ”


On the move

The faces, places, and politics of migration

4. Europe shifts effort to curb migration to one of its sources: Niger

It’s a bold experiment: The European Union is going directly to migrants to try to dissuade them from leaving their homes. Here's how that's playing out in one country with a long-standing connection to the migrant trade. (And here’s a writer’s backstory on what it took to tell the tale.) 

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Armed soldiers of the Niger National Guard protect a convoy crossing the Sahara to Libya Oct. 8 in Agadez, Niger. The force patrols search for armed Islamists in this Sahel region, which is half the size of Texas.

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Agadez, Niger, has always been a crossroads town, travelers’ last stop before the vast emptiness of the Sahara. Its prosperity was built on the passage of merchandise and people – in recent years, migrants bound for Europe. But today, as divisive politics around migration continue to rise in Europe, governments there are making their broadest-ever bid to choke off the flow close to its source, in places like Agadez. “Africa’s security and development is our security and development. Migration is part of that,” says the European ambassador to Niger, Denisa-Elena Ionete. The European Union is spending $270 million on migration-related projects in Niger, including programs meant to boost economic alternatives to transporting migrants. In 2016, Niger implemented Law 36, which effectively criminalized the transport of foreigners north of Agadez, and arrested scores of men. There’s little doubt the new policies have helped cut the number of migrants headed north. But for those who do head into the desert, the journey is now more dangerous. And EU plans to offset the economic losses are slow to materialize, locals say. “I’ve had the whole of Europe come to visit me – ministers, members of parliament, auditors, you name it,” laughs the mayor, Rhissa Feltou. “All we’ve got to show for it is photographs.”


Europe shifts effort to curb migration to one of its sources: Niger

Mahmane Elhadji, his arms dusted with flour to the elbow, does not look like an advertisement for the European Union. But as he supervises a team kneading dough and cutting it into rolls in his cramped backstreet bakery, Mr. Elhadji finds himself a flag carrier on the front line of Europe’s drive to stifle illegal migration from Africa.

Mr. Elhadji was once a “coaxer.” When disoriented migrants arrived at the bus station here in Agadez, a sweltering adobe-walled town in the southern reaches of the Sahara, his job was to steer them to the people-smuggler for whom he worked. Today, with help from a small EU grant, he runs “Eat Today, Eat Tomorrow,” the name he has chosen for his new business.

“It wasn’t much money and it took a long time to come,” Elhadji says. “But without it I would have gone back to coaxing.”

As divisive political tensions around migrants rise in Europe, governments there are making their broadest-ever bid to choke off the flow close to its source. Elhadji’s story, and those of his neighbors who have gone back to smuggling, illustrate the progress and the pitfalls of the EU’s effort to tempt local people away from the migrant trade.

Elhadji’s cash came from a $270 million “Emergency Trust Fund” that the EU is spending on migration-related projects in Niger, including everything from migrant counseling to job training. The country has become “a centerpiece of EU policy” in northwest Africa, says the European ambassador to Niger, Denisa-Elena Ionete.

“Africa is 14 kilometers from our coast,” she points out. “Africa’s security and development is our security and development. Migration is a part of that.”

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Mahmane Elhadji, a former migrant "coaxer" from Niger (left), slices dough to make bread rolls at a backstreet bakery he runs called "Eat Today, Eat Tomorrow," a project funded in part by a small EU grant to provide jobs for former organizers of migrant routes to Europe, on Oct. 8, 2018 in Agadez, Niger.

Thinning traffic

Which shines the spotlight on Agadez, a historic crossroads town that is today a sprawling sun-baked outpost of scruffy shops, adobe compounds, and sand streets, the last stop before the vast emptiness of the Sahara desert.

Agadez’s prosperity has long been built on the passage of merchandise and people on the move. Once, the migrants were heading to oil-and-job-rich Algeria and Libya; hundreds of thousands of people passed through Agadez quite legally, lining the pockets of the town’s travel agents, drivers, and lodging-house owners.

After Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s overthrow by Western-backed forces in 2011, most travelers set their sights farther north. And at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, as more than a million people a year flooded into the continent, the EU turned to Niger for help.

In early 2016 the government suddenly implemented Law 36, which effectively criminalized the transport of foreigners north of Agadez. Overnight the police seized the white Toyota pickups that the migrants had traveled in (102 of them can be seen today, baking in the sun, behind the regional military headquarters), arrested scores of men involved in the migration business, and sentenced 90 of them to jail time, according to the local prosecutor.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
One hundred and two pickup trucks are parked behind regional military headquarters in Agadez, Niger on Oct. 9, 2018. The trucks were confiscated in 2016 from men transporting migrants and others across the Sahara Desert. Some still hold passengers' belongings.

“Europe has long been an important partner of ours,” explains Nigerien Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum in an interview. “Being helpful to the EU is somehow giving them something back”  in return for their longstanding aid.

There is little doubt that the new policy has helped cut the number of illegal migrants heading north very substantially. The International Organization for Migration counted 334,000 of them passing through Niger in 2016 and fewer than 50,000 so far this year. A foreign aid worker estimates that there are likely no more than 300 migrants at any one time hiding in houses in Agadez now, compared to at least 2,000 before the law came into effect.

“The law has had an impact,” says Harouna Aggalher, a field officer in Agadez for the International Rescue Committee, a New York based non-profit. “Smugglers are more afraid of getting caught.”

'The desert is vast'

That doesn’t mean that they have all got out of the business. Smugglers are taking new and rarely used routes, or simply trusting their GPS and satellite phones and heading into uncharted desert.

“They’ve changed their strategies and systems,” says Bashir Amma, a former smuggler. He now uses the sandy compound where he once housed migrants as the office of an association seeking more economic assistance for men, like him, who have abandoned the migration business.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Former migrant smuggler Bashir Amma, head of a group which he founded called “The Struggle Against Clandestine Migration,” which helps former smugglers apply for European Union aid to create new jobs, gives an interview on Oct. 6, 2018 in Niamey, Niger.

Col. Abdoulaye Garba Ango, spick-and-span at military headquarters in his newly pressed camouflage uniform, sends out regular long-range desert patrols to search for vehicles carrying migrants, as well as armed Islamists. But with just a handful of EU-funded Land Cruisers and some new communications gear, he finds it hard to keep an eye on a military region half the size of Texas.

“The desert is vast,” he sighs. “It’s natural that the smugglers should avoid us. We come across some, but others get past.”

How many, nobody knows. But pickups that abandon the established routes, marked by occasional concrete posts, are putting their migrant passengers in great danger, veterans of the migration business warn.

“They are taking a huge risk now,” says a smuggler calling himself Ibidangaz (not his real name), his face half hidden behind the Tuareg turban wrapped around his head.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
An African migrant smuggler, who gave the pseudonym Ibidangaz and says he still "plays hide-and-seek" with police, is photographed while giving an interview on Oct. 6, 2018 in Agadez, Niger.

Ibidangaz himself has stopped driving. But sitting outside his family compound on the very edge of town, where the desert sand drifts against the walls, he says he still “plays hide-and-seek” with the police to connect migrants with drivers. “Until you get that call from Libya saying they’ve arrived, there’s no guarantee at all that they are alive,” he says.

“People die by the hundreds in the desert,” says Ahmadou Bossi, commander of the Agadez National Guard contingent, whose patrols have come across three abandoned truckloads of migrants by chance this year.

That makes Johannes Claes, the local representative of Doctors of the World, a Belgian NGO that helps migrants, wonder about European policy. “If you see the problem as just one of stopping migrant flows, it is a success,” he says. “But if you are causing human suffering and migrants to die, you should consider whether your policy is working.”

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
A man receives medicine as a group of mostly Nigeriens arrive at dusk on Oct. 7, 2018 in Agadez, Niger after a journey by truck across the Sahara Desert from Algeria. They were forcibly repatriated by the Algerian police, and receive basic resettlement support such as buckets and ground sheets from the International Rescue Committee and UN's International Organization for Migration.

Cautionary tales

The drop in migrant numbers is partly due to Law 36, but only partly, says Mr. Bazoum, the Interior Minister. He attributes the fall also to Europe’s increasingly cold shoulder and to “the centers of suffering” in Libya, the militia-run prisons where many migrants end up as slaves or hostages. Even those who make it across the Sahara face brutal treatment in Libya, and that news seems to be deterring other would-be migrants.

Ikena, an athletic-looking 25-year-old from Nigeria who had dreams of playing soccer in Europe, knows all about that.

Today he is back in Agadez: dodging the police, broke, unsure what to do next, and “just praying for help.” But he is better off than he was two months ago: detained by gunmen as soon as he had been dropped off by his smuggler in southern Libya, he was stripped of his belongings and put in a prison, he says.

“Then they kicked me and beat me and flogged me and made a video of it, and sent it to my mother to make her pay,” he recalls. “She sold her land to send them the money so they let me go.”

Back in Agadez he met Moses, a Liberian who had been planning to travel through Libya to Italy. But now he has decided to turn around. “Ikena told me that Libya is no good and that I shouldn’t take the risk,” Moses says. “I’ve definitely changed my mind.”

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Migrant Ikena from Nigeria (right) tells of being imprisoned in Libya, during an interview on Oct. 7, 2018 in Agadez, Niger. Videos of his beatings were sent to his family to blackmail them for cash to secure his release. Ikena's saga convinced his friend Moses from Liberia (left) to give up on traveling to Italy through Libya.

Problems in the pipeline

Meanwhile, Law 36 “has caused this region a lot of damage,” says Mohamed Anako, president of the Agadez regional council, because it has collapsed the two pillars of the local economy – tourism and transport.

The EU is trying to offset this damage with a $9 million Rapid Economic Impact Action Plan for Agadez and tens of millions of dollars’ worth of other projects, such as a solar-powered electricity generating plant.

But they are mostly still in the pipeline. So far, says city mayor Rhissa Feltou, all the town has to show for the ambitious plans is a project employing 1,000 men and women to sweep the trash-filled sandy streets, a small road-building scheme, and a workshop training masons to repair the adobe buildings in Agadez, a UNESCO heritage site whose 16th century minaret is the tallest mudbrick building in the world.

“There’s a lot of talk about European funds, and I’ve had the whole of Europe come to visit me – ministers, members of parliament, auditors, you name it,” laughs Mr. Feltou, tipping his chair back against the wall of his compound. “All we’ve got to show for it is photographs. The EU is a long way from making up the losses we’ve suffered because of the law.”

Even the project aimed at “actors in the migration field,” as the EU puts it, the one that helped Elhadji set up as a baker, is surrounded by question marks.

Of 2,345 requests for a grant under the program, only 294 were approved before the EU money ran out. The grants were rarely enough by themselves to set up a business, and Elhadji, for example, had to wait a full year after he filed his request before he got his money.

Nor is it clear that the EU money really all went to former smugglers. It was local mayors who were asked to identify eligible candidates; many of them simply listed their friends and relatives, say people familiar with the program.

“We hear dissatisfaction,” acknowledges EU Ambassador Ionete, “but we stand by the project.”

Meanwhile, some disappointed former smugglers are going back to their old trade (and some never left it). “I stopped everything and stayed home for a year, looking after my camels and my livestock, but I got nothing” by way of compensation, says Ibidangaz. “I’ve got seven children; we have to eat. ...I make just enough for the cooking pot these days.”

High stakes

Ninety local men involved in the transport of migrants were jailed under Law 36, which sets penalties ranging from 5 to 10 years, the prosecutor says. None are in Agadez prison anymore, though, according to prison governor Capt. Yacouba Seyni.

All appear to have been given light sentences and then paroled early, in a gesture that local residents say may have something to do with the region’s predilection for rebellion: twice in the past 30 years the Tuaregs of northern Niger have risen up against the central government.

“Migration is a political issue,” points out Souleymane Mohamed, a lawyer working with the International Rescue Committee in Agadez. “When the law shut it down, there was an uproar that led the politicians to go easy.”

Mr. Anako, who was a leader of the 1990 rebellion, says he is worried that if the outside world does not create jobs for young men, increasing numbers will resort to the risky but lucrative smuggling trade.

They may not find many migrants to transport anymore, but they would be well placed to carry other cargo.

“If they lose hope they will go into trafficking, and not just of people but of guns,” Anako warns, echoing a fear Bazoum voices too. With armed Islamist groups fighting the governments of neighboring Mali to the west and Nigeria to the south, and Islamic State and al Qaeda fighters roaming Niger’s northern border with Libya, “an economic crisis here could feed a security crisis,” Anako predicts.

The EU ambassador to Niger, Ms. Ionete, says that the European authorities’ “purpose is to go to the core of the nexus between security and development and migration.” She appears to have her hands full.

For migrants abused in Libya, Europe extends a thin lifeline

Critics say it is just a hypocritical exercise to salve Europe’s conscience. But for Alessandra Morelli, the local head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an unusual international effort to rescue refugees from Libya and give them new homes “brings people back to life.”

Mohammed (not his real name), a lanky, corkscrew-haired young man, is one of them. A pro soccer player, he fled his home in Somalia three days after Islamist gunmen threatened to kill him if he played another game for his government-supported team.

His yearlong journey on the migrant trail toward Europe wound through Yemen and Sudan, and ended in a Libyan detention camp, where he was beaten and tortured. But today he is safe here in Niamey, the capital of Niger, patiently answering questions about his family put to him by a young woman from the French refugee settlement agency. 

Mohammed is within touching distance of a new life in France. He is in a distinct minority: nearly 56,000 asylum seekers have registered with the UNHCR in Libya, but by the beginning of October it had been able to airlift only some 1,850 – those in greatest danger. More than 1,500 of them were sent to the Nigerien capital for processing. 

The Emergency Transit Mechanism, as the airlift program is called, is a fledgling system to get asylum seekers out of militia-run jails in Libya. It puts them in touch with European refugee agencies which cannot work in Libya because of the risks, but which can send teams to somewhere like Niger.

“This way, refugees can avoid making the terrible journeys across the Mediterranean” that often end in death, explains Pascal Brice, head of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless People, which has sent five missions to Niamey.

Six European governments have sent officials to interview asylum seekers pre-vetted by the UNHCR; so far they have resettled 494 of them and approved another 397, and they have pledged to offer new homes to a total of 2,680, according to Ms. Morelli.

This is a drop in the ocean of asylum seekers, and the procedures are agonizingly slow; many of the refugees from Libya have been in Niamey for close to a year. But even when there are no doubts about a refugee’s right to asylum, and when he or she has been raped, enslaved, or tortured by Libyan captors, “migration is political,” Morelli points out. “Governments have to build agreements at home” to accept refugees, and in the current climate in Europe, few have so far shown the political will to join even this emergency effort.

Some EU politicians have proposed offshoring their countries’ asylum application process to African cities as a way to stem the flow of migrants onto European soil. But Morelli and everyone else involved in the Emergency Transit Mechanism are quick to insist that it is designed to meet a separate need.

“Keeping refugees out of sight and out of mind like that would be a nightmare,” says Mr. Brice. “We have to do what we can to avoid people trying to cross the sea, but what we are doing in Niamey is on top of our duties to those who do arrive in Europe, not instead of them.”

Nigerien Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum is equally emphatic. Setting up a European asylum center in Niamey “is an impertinent idea that makes no sense,” he says. “It would attract everyone in Africa to come here with his story of persecution and try to win the resettlement lottery. Our country will not be used that way.”

- Peter Ford, Global correspondent


Holiday readiness

5. Ten cookbooks that will up your kitchen game for the holidays

From an olive oil-drenched alternative to ratatouille to a way-better-than-it-sounds slab pie, the dishes in these cookbooks are (mostly) about speed and ease. (And here’s a related bonus read on the new wave of quick-take food videos that now own the web.) 


Ten cookbooks that will up your kitchen game for the holidays

Like fashion, cookbooks ride on waves of cultural trends. One year, kale is the rage, another it’s kimchi. Right now, cauliflower is king: roasted whole, riced, curried, creamed, smothered in cheese, and carved into meaty “steaks” for searing and saucing. Whatever the reigning ingredients, all cookbooks aim to inspire your inner chef. But the holy grail these days is speed and ease – maximum flavor, satisfaction, and healthfulness in minimal time, all increasingly important if home cooking hopes to compete with takeout and meal kits. 

My favorite new cookbook of the year is Cathy Barrow’s Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies, even though I’m someone who would choose cookies over pie any day, including Thanksgiving. But these aren’t the gooey fruit oozers I associate with the American classic – in fact, half the recipes are savory, and many of the “Sweetie Pies” don’t even involve fruit. 

None are round, so put away your pie dishes and pull out a baking sheet instead: These are slab pies, an unappealing word for an appealing way to feed a crowd or brighten a buffet.  

Barrow’s clear instructions for more than a dozen kinds of crusts are a big selling point, but so is her Pan-Roasted Mushroom and Kale Slab Pie, which would make a great hors d’oeuvre or lunch entrée. Of course, Barrow hasn’t forgotten the holidays, with a slab pie recipe for leftover turkey and another that repurposes your cranberry sauce. And yes, there’s an Easy-as-Pie apple option, plus a modern variation with a cheddar cheese crust. 

If cooking for a crowd isn’t your thing, check out Anita Lo’s Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One – whose recipes can be easily doubled. What she shares with Judith Jones’s “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” is a firm conviction that cooking for just yourself can be sophisticated and deeply satisfying.

Lo’s focus is less on classics and elaborate productions than on special ingredients, like her Duck Breast with Hoisin and Grapes. Recipes don’t get much simpler than her Kale Salad with Dates and Tahini Dressing: “Mix everything together. That’s it. Then eat it.”

Novelist Ann Hood’s Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food is a cozy collection of food-centric personal essays accompanied by recipes in the tradition of Laurie Colwin. Hood writes charmingly about what she ate during her Italian-American childhood in Rhode Island – lots of red “gravy,” some of it on her mother’s meatballs. Go-to comfort foods in times of sorrow often involve American cheese, but what she really sells you on is her Spaghetti Carbonara – “I am begging you, please do not put cream in your carbonara sauce!” – and her favorite custardy peach pie. 

Dorie Greenspan, the prolific, Francophile “kitchen elf,” also shares some of her personal favorites in Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook. Her gorgeous leprechaun-green Lettuce Soup, made with ingredients you’re likely to have on hand, is a keeper, as is her Summer Vegetable Tian, an easy, olive oil-drenched baked alternative to ratatouille. And Ellen Silverman’s accompanying photographs are so vibrantly real you want to take a fork to them. 

Christopher Kimball knows that weeknight dinners are a race against the clock, so Milk Street: Tuesday Nights offers recipes grouped by speed of preparation, from Fast (under an hour) to Faster (45 minutes or less) to Fastest (25 minutes or less). There’s plenty to tempt even tired cooks, including a rich, flavorful Sausage and Mushroom Ragu with Pappardelle (45 minutes), lots of twists on no-fuss roasted chicken thighs requiring minimal active cooking time, and a bunch of satisfying dinner salads like Ginger Beef with Rice Noodles (40 minutes). Be warned, though, that recipes may take first-timers longer than he suggests.

Kimball’s former stomping ground, America’s Test Kitchen, celebrates 25 years with some of its all-time hits in Cook’s Illustrated Revolutionary Recipes. Their extensive experimentation spares home cooks common culinary disasters. Who knew that the best method for producing easy-to-peel hard-cooked eggs is to steam them? Or that you can avoid the wateriness that often afflicts vegetable lasagna by starting with pre-cooked veggies and substituting cottage cheese for ricotta to avoid graininess? This is a great book for novices and a helpful corrective for the rest of us. 

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “Jerusalem” unleashed a floodgate of Middle Eastern cookbooks. One of the latest is Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook’s Israeli Soul. Their swoon-
worthy hummus toppings, from charred zucchini with mint to ground beef with Turkish coffee, may just convince us that this “dip” can be the basis for a one-bowl meal.

Similarly, in Dosa Kitchen, Nash Patel and Leda Scheintaub make a convincing case for the versatility of another popular street food, South Indian dosas. These gluten-free rice and lentil pancakes – or crepes or wraps, depending on how thick you make them – are the perfect vehicle for curries, sprout salads, and their spicy chaat masala twist on hummus.

Meanwhile, Ottolenghi is back with another mouthwatering collection, Ottolenghi Simple. Just when I was wondering whether we really need another Ottolenghi cookbook, I came across his intriguing recipe for whole roasted celery root with coriander seed oil. So I guess the answer is yes. But note that simple doesn’t mean fast: The root needs to roast for three hours.

On the other end of the ease spectrum is this year’s culinary curiosity, The Noma Guide to Fermentation, by René Redzepi and David Zilber, from the world-famous Danish restaurant. This meticulously detailed guide to one of the oldest methods of food preservation is like an edible chemistry experiment that takes you step by step through the mechanics of building a fermentation chamber out of a plastic foam cooler, and the role of hydrogen in producing your own miso or dead-or-alive grasshopper garum (a funky, umami-rich relative of fish sauce). It adds up to fascinating reading for armchair cooks – or a novel challenge for intrepid culinary adventurers.


The Monitor's View

A grace-full Thanksgiving

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This Thursday’s holiday in the United States, Thanksgiving, comes just in time to turn away from contentious political wrangling to find where thoughts of gratitude might lead. In this way, Thanksgiving can become more than just lip service. The holiday can be a time to ponder what unites, not divides, Americans. Being grateful every day of the year not only benefits others but oneself. Thanksgiving is often a time, too, for remembering those in need and rededicating oneself to aiding them. Participating in the act of giving, no matter how modest the amount, becomes a virtuous habit. A Thanksgiving that inspires not only an “attitude of gratitude” but deeds of kindness and charity is truly a holiday worth celebrating.


A grace-full Thanksgiving

Around the United States this Thursday families and friends will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. At many tables people will “say grace,” giving thanks for not only the meal but for all the good in their lives. 

The holiday can be a time to ponder what unites, not divides, Americans. With the word “toxic” recently being named “word of the year” by the Oxford Dictionaries, Thanksgiving comes just in time to turn away from toxic and contentious political wrangling to find where thoughts of gratitude might lead. In this way, Thanksgiving can become more than just lip service.

“If you do away with ... the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,” counsels the writer of Isaiah (as translated in the New International Version of the Bible), “then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” 

Today’s self-help gurus have caught on to age-old religious teachings: Being grateful every day of the year not only benefits others but oneself. Gratitude now is seen as promoting more resilience to life’s challenges, better social relationships, greater patience, beneficial weight loss, sounder sleep, in sum better physical and mental health. Some advocate writing down things you are grateful for every day and reviewing the list regularly.

Thanksgiving is often a time, too, for remembering those in need and rededicating oneself to aiding them. It marks the beginning of the end-of-the-year season of charitable giving. This year changes in tax laws mean that most Americans will receive a standard deduction for charitable giving ($12,000 for singles and $24,000 for joint filers) that will far exceed the amount they actually give. That could depress giving from small donors.

Large donors who give more than those amounts, of course, will see an additional tax benefit. But some in the philanthropic community worry that as charities begin to rely more on a few big donors they will become beholden to those donors when determining programs and priorities.

A study at Indiana University found that in a recent 15-year period (2000 to 2014) the percentage of Americans who donated at least $25 to charity dropped from 65 percent to 56 percent. The decline was mostly among low- and moderate-income givers.

Giving should always be first from the heart, not based on calculations on a tax form. But the new tax deductions law may send an unintended signal by offering a deduction whether or not any actual giving occurred. If deductions were instead tied more closely to each dollar given, it might more clearly suggest that society values charitable giving as part of good citizenship.

Participating in the act of giving, no matter how modest the amount, becomes a virtuous habit. As charitable groups often point out, today’s young person who gives a $25 contribution may become a large donor later on.

“Are we really grateful for the good already received?” the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, once asked, adding, “Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech.”

A Thanksgiving that inspires not only an “attitude of gratitude” but deeds of kindness and charity is truly a holiday worth celebrating.


A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Thinking differently about Brexit

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As turmoil seems to characterize the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union, today’s contributor has been encouraged by the idea that God is an unending source of wisdom and inspiration.


Thinking differently about Brexit

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As I’ve listened to the BBC’s reports about Brexit – the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the European Union – I’ve found myself praying for an outcome that will bless all sides. The political issues are huge, of course, making this appear impossible. But one thing that can guide everyone through even the trickiest of waters is wisdom. As the Bible says beautifully, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7).

To me, this wise understanding isn’t primarily about working out the seemingly endless details of the UK’s exit from the EU, as important as those efforts are. Rather, it’s seeking and gaining a higher understanding of each other, and of God as the one and only divine Mind of all. The scene around us often presents us as having many different minds with political agendas motivated by fear, confusion, and animosity. It can seem that the only possible outcome is dismay and dysfunction.

But Christian Science presents a different and, I’ve found, more constructive view of the situations we find ourselves in. Understanding that God is the one true Mind and governs all has many times inspired my prayers for myself, my community, and the world, bringing confidence that there really are viable solutions. A Christian Scientist in the UK found this out when dealing with a threatened strike of thousands of workers.

This was at a period when such strikes were more common and often endured for a long period, causing severe financial loss on both sides. As the manager directly responsible for negotiating with the union, he felt his first duty was to listen for direction from Mind. He was convinced that could lead to a practical solution acceptable to all. As he prayed, the idea that came to him was that everyone on the union’s side was a child of God that deserved his love and respect.

As he earnestly embraced that idea, another one came to him about a possible solution to the standoff. It was different from either side’s bargaining positions, but when he put it forward in a proposal, it was quickly accepted by all. The dispute was settled before a single day’s work had been lost.

In her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes, “In a world of sin and sensuality hastening to a greater development of power, it is wise earnestly to consider whether it is the human mind or the divine Mind which is influencing one” (pp. 82-83). Willingness to listen for the wisdom of the divine Mind helps us step back from personal opinions, prejudices, and worries that can block forward progress or keep us from considering important issues thoughtfully.

The Bible presents many such examples of people and nations being blessed by turning to God in this way and relying on divine guidance. Consider the Israelites’ 40-year journey in the wilderness after escaping slavery in Egypt. They had no GPS, four-lane highways, snack shops, or other modern tools to help them. Yet whenever they turned to God for guidance and protection, they found a way forward.

While the world seems very different now, the same loving, wise God is here to guide each of us in our own lives and inspire our prayers for the world. The vital point is that no one can be excluded from the blessing of God’s love for all. Christ Jesus invited, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This is a promise for all people at all times, not just for one person or one country, or for any special group of people in some past period of history. Each of us can welcome the Christ, the divine manifestation of God that Jesus brought to light, which strengthens and heals. And we can affirm in our prayers the universality of God’s guidance and love that lifts the burden of great decisions.

Given the diversity of opinions, there’s no way in which the final Brexit outcome can look the way everyone thinks that they want it to look. But the decisionmaking process can be an opportunity for people and nations to gain a greater understanding of how to work together, express more love toward one another, and evidence the continuity of God’s love for all.



Finding comfort

Noah Berger/Reuters
A counselor at the First Christian Church of Chico in Chico, Calif., comforts Dorothy Carini during a Nov. 18 vigil for those lost to the region’s devastating Camp fire. Many from the town of Paradise have made their way to shelters here.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( November 20th, 2018 )

Thanks for starting your week with us today. I hope you'll come back tomorrow as Jess Mendoza introduces us all to some of the new members of the incoming freshman class of Congress.

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 19, 2018
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