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The Refugee Brief – 27 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 27 February, 2020


Children pay heaviest price for violence in Syria’s Idlib. Children make up more than half of the nearly one million people forced from their homes by fighting in north-west Syria in the last three months. The Washington Post reports on the many ways in which young people are suffering as a result of the violence. Schools and homes have been hit by air strikes and artillery shells, killing scores of children and traumatizing many others. Parents told reporters their children had become withdrawn or aggressive. Meanwhile, at least nine young children have died from the cold in recent weeks as displaced families weather freezing conditions in tents or out in the open. The New York Times reports that, with much of the region under fire and roads jammed, aid organizations cannot reach many of those in need. Aid workers and volunteers are fleeing their own homes as they try to help others. This week, the UN launched a revised response plan for north-west Syria that aims to reach at least 1.1 million people with humanitarian assistance at a cost of US$500 million. For now, “needs on the ground continue to outstrip the humanitarian community’s capacity to respond”, said OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

NGO vessels disembark passengers in Italy and begin quarantine. The NGO vessel Sea-Watch 3 arrived at the Italian port of Messina this morning, where it had permission to disembark 194 people rescued in three separate operations off the coast of Libya over the last week. Italian authorities said those rescued as well as the crew would undergo a quarantine period as a precautionary measure in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Sea-Watch International, the German NGO that operates the ship, said the application of such measures only to NGO ships was “discriminatory”. Passengers who disembarked from another NGO ship, the Ocean Viking, at the port of Pozzallo on Sunday are also undergoing quarantine. All 274 of the passengers have tested negative for the virus.


South Sudan president urges refugees to return home. South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Wednesday called on South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries, and those displaced inside the country to return home. He said the government would ensure returnees were supported to resettle in their home areas. His comments came days after he and Riek Machar, leader of the main opposition group, agreed to form a unity government and Machar was sworn in as First Vice President. The civil war that broke out in South Sudan in 2013 forced a third of the population to flee their homes, including 2.2 million who crossed into neighbouring countries. In the wake of several previous failed efforts to achieve lasting peace in South Sudan, the majority of refugees have been cautious about their decision to return home.

LGBT asylum-seekers struggle to convince UK Home Office of their sexuality. The BBC reports on the difficulties many LGBT people face trying to convince the UK Home Office of their sexuality and risk of persecution if returned home. Between 2015 and 2018, the refusal rate for sexuality-based asylum claims in the UK increased from 61 per cent to 71 per cent. According to lawyers and immigration support groups, decision-makers often require applicants to describe their “emotional journey” through “colourful and moving” stories. The decision on whether to grant or refuse asylum depends on whether interviewers find those accounts authentic or believable. One woman told the BBC she had trouble recounting traumatic experiences and talking about something she had spent her whole life trying to hide.

Cities and towns on the frontlines of forcible displacement. The latest issue of Forced Migration Review focuses on the role of cities and towns in welcoming and protecting displaced people. In a foreword to the issue, Marvin Rees, mayor of the UK city of Bristol, notes that the majority of the world’s refugee population live in urban areas and that cities are also playing an increasing role in accommodating people displaced within their own countries. While national governments have often struggled to respond to the arrivals of displaced people, cities are finding innovative ways to integrate them. Cities have also committed to play a role in the implementation of the Global Compacts on Refugees and for Migration.

Who is responsible for rescues at sea? The BBC’s Reality Check team looks at the laws around helping refugees and migrants who get into difficulty at sea and how they are being applied in the Mediterranean. International maritime rules make clear that vessels have a duty to rescue those “in distress” at sea and there are legal frameworks for how different countries should coordinate rescue efforts between them. The Mediterranean is divided up into search-and-rescue zones, with each state responsible for managing rescue operations in its zone. But the issue of where to disembark people rescued at sea is less clear. States responsible for certain rescue areas are under no obligation to accept survivors on land, according to a maritime law expert. There have been calls for a new system for distributing rescued refugees and migrants across the EU, but so far no consensus from Member States.


Syrian refugee Salma Al Armarchi struggled to adapt to life and a new language when she first arrived in Germany in 2012. “But cooking is easy,” she says. “You can do it without a specific language.” Now she and her son, Fadi, run a successful catering business that has had bookings from tech giants like Facebook and Cisco, and even political leaders.


Between 1 January and 23 February, 2,345 refugees and migrants arrived by sea to Italy, compared to 262 during the same period last year, when Italian ports were largely closed to NGO rescue ships.

The Refugee Brief – 26 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 26 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Ten schools hit by shelling in one day in Idlib. At least 20 people, including nine children, were killed by strikes in north-west Syria’s Idlib province on Tuesday, according to a Syrian human rights...

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The Refugee Brief – 25 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 25 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Clashes break out on Greek islands over new reception centres. Residents on the islands of Lesvos and Chios tried to prevent the arrival early this morning of riot police and heavy machinery for the...

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The Refugee Brief – 24 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 24 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Reduction in violence deal offers hope to Afghans. A week-long “reduction in violence” period, to be observed by Taliban, Afghan and international forces, came into effect on Saturday. If maintained, it...

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The Refugee Brief – 21 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 21 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Increasing attacks in Burkina Faso displacing 4,000 people a day. Militant attacks on civilians and local authorities in Burkina Faso have been forcing an average of 4,000 people a day to flee their homes...

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The Refugee Brief – 20 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 20 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW UN refugee chief calls for Syrians trapped in Idlib to be allowed to move to safety. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi today appealed for urgent action to allow close to a million people...

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The Refugee Brief – 19 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 19 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine State escalating amid information blackout. The killing and displacement of civilians in north-west Myanmar due to fighting between the military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic...

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The Refugee Brief – 18 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 18 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW North-west Syria crisis reaches “horrifying new level” with 900,000 displaced. The number of people uprooted by violence in north-west Syria since December has now reached 900,000, the UN said on Monday –...

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The Refugee Brief – 17 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 17 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Afghan refugees call for peace and help to return home as international conference opens. An international conference marking 40 years of displacement for Afghan refugees opens in Islamabad today against...

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The Refugee Brief – 14 February 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 14 February, 2020 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Shelterless Syrians burn refuse for warmth as 140,000 more flee. Another 142,000 people have fled air strikes and advancing troops in Syria’s Idlib province this week, bringing the total number of those...

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