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The Refugee Brief – 27 November 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 27 November, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Over 43,000 Ethiopian refugees cross into Sudan as Tigray conflict continues. More than 43,000 refugees have crossed into eastern Sudan since fighting started in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in early November, UNHCR said today. The agency has helped move nearly 10,000 of them to the Um Rakuba camp, 70 kilometres from the border, but the site is now operating at nearly double its capacity, Mohammed Rafik Nasri, a UNHCR field coordinator told Al Jazeera. Many of the new arrivals were separated from their loved ones as they fled fighting and are receiving help to reunite with family members. A plane carrying 32 tons of UNHCR emergency aid arrived in Khartoum this morning and three further airlifts are planned. Inside Ethiopia, concerns are growing for civilians affected by the conflict, particularly for the 500,000 people living in Tigray’s regional capital, Mekele. UNHCR also expressed concern for some 96,000 Eritrean refugees who will run out of food as soon as Monday if supplies do not reach them. Ethiopia’s government said a “humanitarian access route” would be opened up under the management of the country’s ministry of peace but provided no further details.

France to probe police operation to clear Paris migrant camp. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmain said he was launching an investigation into reports that French police used excessive force when clearing a square where migrants and asylum-seekers had pitched tents to protest their precarious living conditions. Police in riot gear moved in to disperse the protest on Monday night and were filmed tipping people out of tents and hitting them with batons. Darmain described the images as “shocking” and said those officers who had behaved unacceptably would be punished. The controversy comes a week after nearly 3,000 migrants and asylum-seekers were moved from makeshift shelters in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. While most were provided with temporary accommodation, NGOs said some 1,000 were left wandering the streets. UNHCR has called for more reception facilities throughout the country to provide sustainable solutions that will put an end to the vicious cycle of dismantling and reappearing settlements.

Second wave of COVID-19 driving further violence against refugee women. The rise in coronavirus infections in much of the world has unleased a renewed wave of violence against refugee and women and girls, UNHCR warned on Wednesday, at the start of the UN’s annual 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence (GBV) campaign. The agency attributed reported increases in GBV in at least 27 countries to “a lethal mix of confinement, deepening poverty and economic duress.” Lockdowns and other movement restrictions have also made it more difficult for survivors to report abuse and seek help. Since the start of the pandemic, UNHCR and its partner organizations have been adapting their GBV programmes so women can continue to access them safely. In many locations, this has involved a shift to online support groups and tele-counselling as well as a greater reliance on refugee volunteers and community workers.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Clarisse Ntampaka, a senior gender-based violence officer with UNHCR

How have UNHCR operations managed to maintain programmes for survivors of gender-based violence during COVID-19 lockdowns?

“I spent the first four months of the pandemic in Cameroon, where I was supporting the operation to set-up a gender-based violence programme. I was almost at the end of my mission there, having set up a programme which was mainly in-person services. But in the region where I was working, the security was deteriorating, and then COVID came, and we had no choice but to adapt.

“We mapped out the different areas where we could provide mobile services and, where it was impossible to go at the height of COVID-19, we used remote services. We had community-focal points in the areas where we were working – trained volunteers who are often displaced women themselves – and they were very, very helpful. We were always in contact with them and if they came across any survivors, their role was just to listen and refer the case to us.

“In Mali [where I’ve been based since July], we were also starting from scratch as UNHCR had no GBV programme. We set it up to be able to adapt to another lockdown so we’re already prepared and can switch to a full remote service if we need to.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Dozens of Venezuelans arrive in Trinidad after hours at sea. At least 29 Venezuelans, including 16 minors, returned to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday after being deported from the island over the weekend and spending hours at sea, according to relatives. Trinidadian authorities deported the group in two small boats on Sunday, but a judge later ordered their return to the island. Concern about their whereabouts grew on Monday when they did not arrive on Venezuelan shores as expected. Trinidad and Tobago’s national security minister said the Venezuelans had entered the country “illegally” and that the country’s borders were closed due to COVID-19. In a statement on Thursday, UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Liz Throssell expressed concern that the deportation had gone ahead at the same time as an application against their removal was being lodged. “Children should never be forcibly deported based on their, or their parents’, migration status,” she added.

Tensions rise over housing of migrants and asylum-seeks on Canary Islands. Over 19,000 migrants and asylum-seekers departing from the coast of West Africa have reached Spain’s Canary Islands by boat or been rescued at sea so far this year, up from 1,500 in the same period in 2019. AP reports on growing disagreement between local authorities and the Spanish government about where to house them. The mayor of Mogán, the most affected town on Gran Canaria island, on Thursday called for the removal of nearly 3,500 migrants from 10 local hotels by the year’s end, but Spain’s State Secretary for Migration called the hotels an adequate transitional solution. Thousands of new arrivals remain in tents on a pier in Arguineguín while authorities work on opening 7,000 additional beds outside of hotels. The Economist reports that while many of the new arrivals are Senegalese and Moroccan migrants hoping to find work in Europe, others are fleeing violence in Mali, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

Afghanistan conference draws donor pledges and calls for peace. International donors pledged billions of dollars in aid for Afghanistan at a virtual conference hosted from Geneva this week, but stressed that progress towards ending almost 20 years of war was needed. The Taliban and the Afghan government have been engaged in talks since September, even as attacks against Afghan forces and civilians throughout the country have increased. As the donor conference proceeded, two explosions rocked an outdoor market in the central city of Bamiyan, usually considered one of Afghanistan’s safer areas, killing at least 14 people. At the end of a five-day visit to Afghanistan on Monday, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said that the future of millions of Afghans depended both on a successful outcome to the peace talks and the international community’s continued support.


GET INSPIRED

Former refugee and New Zealand’s first African MP, Ibrahim Omer, gave a moving maiden speech to parliament on Wednesday in which he described his journey of “hope” from Eritrea to Sudan and finally to New Zealand. He acknowledged the millions of displaced people around the world and promised, “I will be by your side and fight alongside you.”


DID YOU KNOW?

In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, 42 per cent of Rohingya refugees surveyed said it had become more unsafe for women and girls “inside the house” since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

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The Refugee Brief – 13 November 2020

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