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The Refugee Brief, 17 September 2021

By Kristy Siegfried | 17 September, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

UN refugee chief calls for urgent international support for Afghans. Donors on Monday pledged more than US$1 billion in emergency aid to help avert an immediate humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The UN had requested $606 million ahead of a pledging conference on Monday, while acknowledging that money alone would not be enough to address the current crisis. Speaking at the end of a three-day visit to Afghanistan on Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the international community must balance political considerations with the need to keep Afghanistan stable. “If public services and economy collapse, we will see even greater suffering, instability and displacement both within and outside the country,” he warned. Grandi said members of the interim Afghan government he met with in Kabul had promised to provide security and humanitarian access throughout the country. UNHCR is rapidly scaling up its operations to help people displaced inside the country ahead of the winter. AP reports that delivering humanitarian aid presents an enormous logistics challenge in a country that currently lacks a working banking system and where 3.5 million people have been displaced by conflict.

Eritrean refugees targeted in Ethiopia’s Tigray, says rights group. A new report by Human Rights Watch details attacks on Eritrean refugees living in and around two camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Over a period of seven weeks starting in November 2020, the report alleges that Eritrean government forces and then Tigray militias occupied the Hitsats and Shimelba camps, which housed 20,000 refugees, and committed numerous abuses, including killings, rapes, lootings and forced returns to Eritrea. UNHCR said it was “appalled” at the reports of “immense suffering” in the camps, which it was unable to access from November to March. The agency said the report had provided additional and detailed information about the abuses faced by Eritrean refugees and civilians since the start of the conflict and reiterated its call for “all responsible authorities” to launch formal investigations into the allegations. The agency estimates that more than 7,600 of the refugees living in the Hitsats and Shimelba camps are still missing as of late August. Some of the refugees fled south to two other camps, Adi Harush and Mai Aini, which were taken over by Tigrayan forces in June. UNHCR told Reuters that it was “extremely worried” about the situation for refugees in the two camps, where there were severe food and water shortages and a lack of healthcare.

US judge blocks expulsions of asylum-seeking families under public health rule. A federal judge on Thursday directed the Biden administration to stop using a public health law known as Title 42 to expel families with children caught crossing the US-Mexico border. The order, invoking Title 42, was put in place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s ruling, which takes effect in 14 days, found that Title 42 does not authorize the expulsion of people seeking asylum. The judge’s order, made in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, only applies to families. The Biden administration has been exempting unaccompanied children and some families from Title 42, but 16,200 families were expelled in August alone, according to government reports cited by The Independent. The ruling comes amid reports that thousands of mainly Haitian migrants have gathered under the Del Rio International Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico, overwhelming border authorities and city officials.


STORIES TO WATCH

COVID-19 tops list of UNHCR’s most underfunded crises in 2021. A UNHCR report listing the most underfunded emergencies in 2021 reveals that the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has received just a third of the funds needed for this year. The US$617 million shortfall leaves a huge gap in global efforts to shield forcibly displaced people from the health and socio-economic impacts of the virus. Ann Burton, UNHCR’s public health chief, told a news briefing in Geneva today that the pandemic was hurting refugees in ways that reached far beyond the health risks posed by the virus itself. “The failure to adequately fund the response only deepens their plight,” she said. According to the report, funding to support Iraqi and Syrian refugees, returnees and internally displaced people is also critically low, particularly as the harsh winter season looms. Other underfunded situations include South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.

Climate change could see millions move by 2050. Climate change could force 216 million people to move within their countries over the next three decades and create internal migration “hotspots” unless urgent action is taken to reduce global emissions and support “green” development, according to a World Bank report released this week. The Groundswell report outlines three different scenarios with the movement of 216 million people being part of the most pessimistic scenario. In the most optimistic one, with low levels of emissions and inclusive, sustainable development, the world could still see 44 million people forced from their homes by water scarcity, decreasing crop productivity and rising sea levels. Separately, this week the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that intensifying environmental threats “will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights in our era” and are already impacting those countries and people with the least capacity to respond.

Rights groups appeal to EU to step up help for Afghan refugees. A joint statement on Thursday by 24 charities and human rights groups appealed to the European Union to put protection at the centre of its response to Afghan refugees. They called on EU states to expand safe pathways for people in need of protection, including through an additional resettlement programme for Afghan refugees and to avoid “alarmist rhetoric”. The vast majority of Afghan refugees seek safety in neighbouring countries. The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johannson, told NPR that some Member States had “dramatized” migration from Afghanistan and elsewhere and described the challenges as manageable.


GET INSPIRED

UNHCR’s new seven-part podcast series “Forced to Flee” revisits some of the major emergencies that have forced millions of people to flee over the past 70 years. Narrated by broadcaster, author and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Anita Rani, the first episode, Escape, considers the difficult moment when people are forced to leave their homes and the risks they must often take to reach safety. A former journalist from Viet Nam describes her terrifying sea journey in 1979, while an Eritrean refugee recalls her ordeal at the hands of people traffickers in Sudan.


DID YOU KNOW?

Immediate and concerted action to reduce global emissions and support development could reduce the number of people forced to move by climate change by as much as 80 per cent.

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