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The Refugee Brief – 3 July 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 3 July, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Uganda opens borders to thousands fleeing DR Congo violence. Uganda temporarily opened two of its border crossings with the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Wednesday to allow in thousands of refugees who had been stuck in a no-man’s land between the two countries since late May. Uganda closed its borders in March to control the spread of coronavirus but agreed to admit the refugees on humanitarian grounds. UNHCR said the new arrivals were part of a larger group of some 45,000 people who fled deadly militia attacks on civilians in DRC’s north-eastern Ituri province in May. Some were able to return home while thousands remained close to the border. Earlier this week, UNHCR said it was seeing increasing attacks on displacement sites and villages in Ituri and South Kivu provinces, where more than 1 million people have been displaced in the last six months. Those who crossed into Uganda this week will undergo 14 days of quarantine at a new isolation centre near the border before being transferred to refugee settlements. The border was due to close again today.

Donors pledge US$7.7 billion at Syria aid conference. Ahead of a donor conference in Brussels on Tuesday, UN officials urged the international community to redouble their support to Syrians and neighbouring countries hosting them over nearly a decade of conflict. Conditions inside Syria and for refugees have become harder as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on already ailing economies. “We cannot afford to let refugees, and their hosts, slip deeper into poverty and despair, with consequences that will reverberate, that are reverberating already, across the region and beyond,” said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, speaking by video link to the Brussels conference. The virtual meeting generated pledges of US$5.5 billion for 2020 and another $2.2 billion for 2021. The UN had been seeking nearly $10 billion, including $3.8 billion for aid inside Syria, plus another $6 billion to aid countries in the region hosting Syrian refugees. The UN’s relief chief, Mark Lowcock, described the amount pledged on Tuesday as “not a bad outcome”.

Thousands flee Myanmar army operations in Rakhine. The UN’s human rights chief said on Tuesday that as many as 10,000 people had fled their homes in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state after what she described as heavy fighting between government troops and fighters with the Arakan Army, an ethnic rebel group. UNHCR and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) later said at least 2,800 people had been displaced according to early estimates, but that numbers were “difficult to verify”. People began fleeing after the army announced a planned “clearance operation” on 25 June. The order was revoked a day later but was followed by shelling and shooting in several villages, according to UNHCR and OCHA, which noted that information was hard to verify due to government-imposed restrictions on humanitarian access. Since fighting between the army and the Arakan Army began in late 2018, more than 77,000 have been displaced and dozens killed.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Ahida Al Mouzakzak, Senior Protection Assistant with UNHCR in northern Lebanon

What impacts are you seeing on Syrian refugees in Lebanon in the wake of COVID-19 and the economic crisis?  

“The impact of the economic crisis coupled with the COVID-19 situation is catastrophic. I hear of refugees struggling to find daily jobs to secure their basic needs, falling further into debt, and going days on end without food. More children are working, more older people are searching for food in the trash, while others are begging on the streets. Some also report buying expired food and withered produce which are sold at lower prices. Mothers give their children sugar and water because they cannot afford milk.

“The despair and uncertainty with no near end in sight are frustrating. Yet, we have also seen solidarity like never before. Refugees and Lebanese people are supporting each other by sharing a loaf of bread and planting crops together. Some landlords have reduced their rental fees as well.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Germany seeks reform of EU asylum. As Germany took over the EU’s rotating presidency this week, Deutsche Welle reports on its plans to tackle long-stalled reform of EU asylum rules. Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has called for setting up asylum centres at the EU’s external borders to screen asylum-seekers before they are allowed to enter Europe. Germany also wants a fairer distribution of asylum-seekers across EU Member States but is likely to face resistance to any mandatory distribution mechanism. UNHCR this week called on Germany to keep refugee protection high on its agenda during its six-month EU presidency. The Agency stressed that protecting refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic was possible and urged the EU to take steps to better protect forcibly displaced people in Europe and abroad. UNHCR is also calling for a “predictable mechanism” to disembark and relocate people rescued at sea.

Mental health crisis among South Sudanese refugees. Therapy is helping some of the hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have have fled to Uganda to cope with trauma and anxiety, but funding shortfalls mean that resources for mental health services are becoming scarcer. According to UNHCR, rates of attempted and actual suicide among refugees living in settlements in north-east Uganda have increased significantly over the past three years, but mental health services are struggling to meet demand. Coronavirus has brought additional psychological pressures while a ban on gatherings has suspended group therapy sessions. The Guardian reports that self-help tools using audio recordings and illustrated books have had some success, but are unlikely to match the impact of long-term therapy.


GET INSPIRED

Four young Syrians share some of the hard lessons they learned growing up through nine years of conflict and exile. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, they remain hopeful.


DID YOU KNOW?

After nearly a decade of conflict, half of Syria’s pre-war population – more than 13.2 million people – remain displaced inside and outside of the country.

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