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The Refugee Brief – 26 February, 2021

By Kristy Siegfried | 26 February, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Indian coast guard finds Rohingya survivors on drifting boat. India’s coast guard today said they had found 81 survivors and eight dead on a boat filled with Rohingya refugees adrift in the Andaman Sea. The refugees had set off from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh on 11 February, according to UNHCR, which raised the alarm on Monday after learning that the boat’s engine had failed and those on board had run out of food and water. The Indian coast guard answered the agency’s plea to search for the boat. Many of the survivors, 23 of whom were children, were ill and suffering from extreme dehydration by the time they were rescued. An Indian foreign ministry official told Reuters they would not be allowed to enter Indian territory and that the government was in discussions with Bangladesh to ensure their safe return. However, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry noted that the boat had been found 147 kilometres from India and called on other states to “fulfil their responsibility under international law and burden-sharing principles”. UNHCR is calling for the refugees to be disembarked immediately at the nearest place of safety.

Displaced Yemenis in Marib forced to flee again. As fighting in Yemen’s Marib governorate continues, with at least 8,600 people displaced in the last two weeks alone, UNHCR today called for safe passage for fleeing civilians. The latest clashes are just a few kilometres from Marib city where hundreds of thousands of people have sought safety from fighting in other parts of the country in recent years. UNHCR said the insecurity was hindering the delivery of aid with “dire consequences” for a population facing severe food shortages. Ahead of a virtual donor pledging conference for Yemen on 1 March, UNHCR warned that out of four million internally displaced people in Yemen, nearly 2.6 million are “just a step away from famine”. The UN is aiming to raise US$3.85 billion for humanitarian operations in Yemen in 2021. The UN’s coordinator for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock said this week that a big drop off in support for aid operations was cutting off relief to starving people all over the country. UNHCR is seeking US$221 million for its operations in Yemen, of which only six per cent has so far been received.

First asylum-seekers from Mexico’s Matamoros camp enter US. An initial group of 27 asylum-seekers who had been living at an informal camp on the banks of the Rio Grande in the Mexican border city of Matamoros entered the United States on Thursday. They were admitted under a new process that will gradually allow in thousands of asylum-seekers who have been waiting in Mexico for US asylum hearings. On Wednesday, UNHCR began in-person registration of nearly 700 asylum-seekers who have been living at the camp in Matamoros, some of them for more than a year. According to a statement from the US Department of Homeland Security, processing residents of the camp is a priority due to the difficult conditions there. UNHCR said more than 12,000 of an estimated 25,000 people with active cases under the Migrant Protection Protocols programme registered in the first three days after the agency launched a special website on 19 February. Others have registered via email and phone.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Sofia Cardona, a protection officer with UNHCR in northern Mexico

Among asylum-seekers at the border with cases in the Migrant Protection Protocols programme, what are some of the most severe needs and vulnerabilities you are seeing?

“There are a lot of single parents, single mothers, and many pregnant women that have had very little access to adequate care. There is also a great deal of mental distress. A lot of people have said that they have depression and that waiting for so long at the border, in difficult conditions, especially here at the camp in Matamoros, has been extremely challenging for them.

“Unfortunately, we know there’s a high prevalence of SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence) and, of course, it’s very difficult for people with diverse sexual orientations or gender identities. Transgender women especially have had a very, very hard time here.

“And there are many children in the camp who have not had regular access to education. It’s certainly set them back and made them not have the safe and adequate childhoods that they should have.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Malaysia deports Myanmar nationals, despite court order. Malaysia sent 1,086 Myanmar migrants back to their country on three ships sent by Myanmar’s navy on Tuesday, hours after a high court had ordered that the deportations be put on hold pending a judicial review. Malaysia’s immigration department said that no refugees or asylum-seekers were on board the ships and that all had agreed to return home “voluntarily”. UNHCR had previously stated that at least six people among 1,200 slated for repatriation were registered with it while rights groups who brought the lawsuit said 17 minors with at least one parent in Malaysia were also among the deportees. UNHCR had not been allowed access to those deported on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the court issued an order to delay the return of the remaining 114 people.

Thousands flee western Ethiopia fighting into Sudan. Some 7,000 people have fled escalating violence in Ethiopia’s western Benishangul Gumuz region into Sudan’s Blue Nile State over the last month, according to UNHCR. The agency said tensions had been high in the Metekel Zone of Benishangul Gumuz region since 2019, but that the situation had worsened rapidly over the past three months. The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency in the area last month. Many of those who have crossed into Sudan are in hard-to-reach areas, according to UNHCR, which said that so far, nearly 3,000 have been registered. The agency noted that the situation in Benishangul Gumuz is not directly related to the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which has pushed over 60,000 people to seek safety in eastern Sudan.

Refugee who set fire to her tent in Lesvos camp may face arson charges. Greek authorities are exploring potential arson charges against a pregnant Afghan woman who was severely injured after setting her tent on fire at a camp on the island of Lesvos. The 26-year-old woman reportedly set her tent alight on Sunday after her family’s planned relocation to Germany was postponed because of the advanced state of her pregnancy. The incident happened at a temporary site that was set up on Lesvos after fires destroyed the Moria reception facility last September. Built on a former military firing range, the facility is accommodating around 6,500 asylum-seekers in difficult conditions made worse in recent weeks by heavy rainfall and freezing temperatures. Rights groups have long warned of a growing mental health crisis among thousands of asylum-seekers living in crowded facilities on several Aegean islands.


GET INSPIRED

After his own experiences of the Syrian war left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, Imad Elabdala set up Hero2B, a Swedish-based charity that uses interactive storytelling to help refugee children overcome trauma and develop a positive outlook. After moving online in response to the pandemic, Hero2B was awarded UNHCR’s annual Innovation Award in December.


DID YOU KNOW?

Some 172,000 people were displaced by Yemen’s conflict in 2020, bringing the total number of internally displaced people in the country to at least four million.

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