Meet Your New High Commissioner for Refugees

Monday was the first day on the job for the Italian UN diplomat. “Filippo Grandi, a UN official who has worked in refugee and political affairs in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, began his five-year term as UN High Commissioner for Refugees on January 1, succeeding António Guterres whose more than 10 years in office ended last week. High Commissioner Grandi, who arrived at UNHCR’s headquarters office in Geneva earlier on Monday (January 4), takes up the position at a time of unprecedented displacement challenges. Record numbers of people globally are forced to flee war and persecution, including more than one million refugees and migrants who crossed the Mediterranean to Europe during the past year. Other challenges include critical shortfalls in humanitarian funding, fewer voluntary returns than at any time in more than three decades, people staying in exile for longer periods of time and the increased politicization of refugee issues in many countries.” (UNHCR

Congressman Jim McDermott is Retiring…The longtime US Representative from Washington State was a champion of foreign aid, global health and international development. He was one of the architects of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. He announced today that he will not seek re-election to a 15th term.  (Seattle PI )

Sweden Cracks Down on Commuters…Sweden on Monday imposed controls on travellers arriving from Denmark in a bid to curb an unprecedented influx of refugees, prompting knock-on measures from Denmark that triggered fresh concern for Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone. Hours after the Swedish controls on a major bridge-and-tunnel link with Denmark went into effect, the Danish government, which fears being saddled with large numbers of migrants, announced it would implement spot checks on its border with Germany.(AFP

El Nino stat of the day: Insurers paid out around $27 billion for natural disaster claims last year with weather causing 94 percent of incidents, underscoring the challenge posed by climate change, data from reinsurer Munich Re showed. (Reuters


Twenty out of the 30 candidates vying to be president of the Central African Republic have demanded the election be scrapped after what they said was a tainted first round of voting. (AFP

A Sudan opposition leader said her party will honor an African Union invitation to hold talks in Ethiopia with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government to discuss a national dialogue intended to resolve the country’s problems. (VOA

Zambia’s new constitution on Monday set Aug. 11 as the date for five-yearly presidential and parliamentary elections, previously set by the president, lining up another close vote after last year’s neck-and-neck race. (Reuters

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, elected on a pledge to tackle corruption, holds talks with the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday as the country seeks to spend its way out of an economic crisis fuelled by plunging oil prices. (Reuters

Ugandan police said Monday they were investigating reports nearly $4 million worth of cocaine seized by customs officers at its main airport had disappeared from secure stores. (AFP

A university in northeastern Kenya where at least 148 people were killed in an attack by Islamist gunmen last April, was officially reopened Monday with students due to return next week. (AFP

The former mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed Nur, says making people feel safe and protected is key to boosting government support against extremists. (Guardian

Many South Africans reacted furiously on Monday to what they described as the racist remarks of a white woman who criticized black beachgoers in a Facebook post. (AP



Saudi Arabia widened its rift with Iran on Monday, saying it would end air traffic and trade links with the Islamic republic and demanding that Tehran must “act like a normal country” before it would restore severed diplomatic relations. (Reuters

Syrian insurgent group Jaysh al Islam on Monday welcomed Saudi Arabia’s rupture of ties with Iran, saying Tehran’s backing of Shi’ite militias was destabilizing the Middle East and stoking sectarian tensions in Syria. (Reuters

Yemen’s internationally recognized government has declared a nighttime curfew, starting Monday, in the key southern port city of Aden in a bid to push back against recent incursions by al-Qaida and other Islamic militant groups, the city’s governor said. (AP

A U.N. expert on the human rights of Palestinians has submitted his resignation, complaining that Israel didn’t grant him access to the Palestinian territories. (AP


A strong earthquake damaged buildings, killed at least eight people and injured more than 100 in India’s remote northeast region early Monday. (AP

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi said on Monday the country’s peace process will be the first priority of her new government that will take power later this year, following a landslide victory in a November election. (Reuters

Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said on Monday there was no indication so far outside agents were involved in the disappearance of five booksellers specializing in publications critical of China, but that it would be “unacceptable” if any were. (Reuters

A Pakistani minister says counter terrorism officials in the country’s eastern Punjab province have arrested 42 militant suspects with alleged links to the Islamic State group. (AP

A rapprochement effort between India and Pakistan appeared to be in jeopardy on Monday, as Indian security forces battled for the third day to clear out militants who attacked one of its air bases and killed seven soldiers. (Reuters

The Americas

The governor of the southern Mexican state of Morelos said Monday that a drug gang killed a newly inaugurated mayor to convince other officials to reject state police control of local cops and allow cartels to co-opt low-paid local police. (AP

Hundreds of thousands of women and men in Peru – many poor and indigenous – were forcibly sterilised under the presidency of Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. Many continue to suffer emotional and physical pain from the operations, which were often botched. (Guardian

The FBI on Monday sought a peaceful end to the occupation by armed anti-government militia members at a US federal wildlife reserve in rural Oregon, as the standoff entered its third day. (AFP

Some 184,000 people, mostly of Haitian descent, were able to secure legal Dominican residency papers this year under an initiative that has been fraught with controversy and heartache. (AP

…and the rest

Stocks fell around the globe on the first trading day of 2016 as investors dumped shares on new fears of a Chinese economic slowdown and more turmoil in the Middle East. The Dow Jones industrial average sank 2 percent, following even sharper declines in Asia and Europe. (AP

A tuberculosis drug specifically designed for children – combining sweet flavours and the correct dosage in a dissolvable tablet – is expected to hit markets early this year, according to the TB Alliance. (SciDevNet

Several shots were fired early Monday at a home for asylum seekers in western Germany and one resident was lightly injured, police said. (AP

There’s a strong consensus among climate economics experts that we should put a price on carbon pollution to curb the expensive costs of climate change. (Guardian

Officials in Poland say that over 40 people have died of hypothermia or fallen to their deaths in the mountains in sub-freezing temperatures. (AP


Global Dispatches Podcast: How former Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross came tantalizingly close to negotiating an Arab Israeli peace deal.

‘I challenge boys in Brazil to see girls as equals’ (Guardian

Global Health Forecast For 2016: Which Diseases Will Rise … Or Fall? (Goats and Soda

The Best, Worst, Weirdest, Funniest, and Most Frustrating of 2015 – Plus a Surprise for to 2016! (Justice in Conflict

Briefing: What next for the Burundi peace process? (IRIN

What Does 2016 Hold for the Global Economy? (Al Jazeera

Ebola: toilet cleaners, gravediggers and survivors tell their story – in pictures (Guardian

A different sort of aid for Syria? (IRIN

A look at the troubled relations between Saudi Arabia, Iran (AP

Was the Arab Spring Worth Dying For? (Al Jazeera

The #BringBackOurGirls of 2016: what will dominate Africa’s Twittersphere this year? (Guardian