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The Refugee Brief – 5 June 2020

By Kristy Siegfried | 5 June, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Yemen pledges fall short, leaving millions in peril. The UN warned on Wednesday that its programmes to fight the coronavirus and respond to hunger and displacement in Yemen will be severely cut or stopped altogether by the end of the month without an urgent injection of cash from donor countries. The warning came one day after a pledging conference for Yemen fell a billion dollars short of the US$2.41 billion requested by aid agencies to fund essential programmes until the end of the year. The US$1.35 billion pledged was about half the amount raised at last year’s donor conference. The virus is thought to be spreading rapidly in the country, despite only a few hundred cases of COVID-19 being officially recorded. On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres cited reports that mortality rates from COVID-19 in the southern city of Aden are among the highest in the world. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that migrants and refugees from Ethiopia and Somalia continue to cross the Red Sea to Yemen in the hope of reaching the Gulf States and finding employment. UNHCR’s representative in Yemen, Jean Nicholas Beuze, told The Guardian that the funding shortfall will force the agency to stop cash payments to some of these vulnerable refugees as well as to Yemenis displaced by conflict.

Refugees in Greece move out of accommodation without safety net. Starting on Monday, some 9,000 recognized refugees began leaving accommodation in camps, apartments and hotels to make way for asylum-seekers currently living in overcrowded conditions on the Greek islands. This followed the passing of a new law in March 2020 that reduced the grace period for newly recognized refugees to move out of organized accommodation from six months to 30 days. Refugees are entitled to social benefits and are encouraged to look for work, but in reality face many barriers to accessing jobs and assistance. UNHCR on Tuesday urged the authorities to adopt a “phased approach” that would carry a lower risk of pushing many into poverty and homelessness. “Shifting a problem from the islands to the mainland is not a solution,” the agency said in a statement. AFP spoke to several refugee families in Athens who said they would struggle to find alternative accommodation and feared ending up on the streets.

Gunmen attack refugee site in Niger. Several thousand people have fled a settlement in western Niger after it came under attack by over 50 armed men on motorbikes on Sunday. They targeted and killed two Malian refugee leaders and a local host community leader. They also torched food supplies and destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water supply station for the camp and local community. Intikane settlement in Niger’s Tahoua region, near the border with Mali, hosts some 20,000 Malian refugees as well as 15,000 displaced Nigeriens. By Thursday, some 3,000 people who fled had arrived in the town of Telemces, some 27 kilometres away, according to UNHCR’s deputy representative in Niger. He told AFP the agency was trying to get the water supply to Intikane flowing again. Recent months have seen a sharp increase in attacks in the region where Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso share borders.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Andrew Harper, Special Advisor to the High Commissioner on Climate Action

On World Environment Day, can you explain what UNHCR is doing to reduce the environmental impact of refugee crises?

“UNHCR has engaged in many projects to make our operations more environmentally friendly. We have improved access to renewable energy, with solar plants providing electricity to camps, solar streetlights and rechargeable relief items. We have also provided alternative cooking fuel, planted millions of trees and mitigated the degradation of land and water resources around refugee settlements.

“However, we have to do much more and recognize that in order to better protect the world’s displaced, we must also protect the environment. It is no longer sufficient to provide short-term, ad hoc responses when we live in a climate emergency. UNHCR will soon launch its Strategic Framework on Climate Action, which will seek to connect the dots between protection, operational delivery and our carbon footprint. Refugees are often the best advocates for the environment as they well appreciate that what was once taken for granted can easily be lost.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Conflict hampers fight to contain coronavirus in Afghanistan. According to official figures, Afghanistan now has more than 18,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but Deutsche Welle reports that a lack of testing and a health system decimated by decades of war means the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher. A UN update on Thursday noted that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on women, children and those with special needs, including displaced people, many of whom live in crowded, unhygienic settlements with little access to health care. The New Humanitarian reports that stalled peace talks between the government and the Taliban have jeopardized coordinated efforts to contain the virus. Active conflict has also made it difficult to deliver health services in contested areas, or to track suspected patients.

First Rohingya refugee dies from COVID-19 in Bangladesh. A 71-year-old man became the first Rohingya refugee living in one of the sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar District to die from the coronavirus, a health official said on Tuesday. The man was among 29 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Rohingya refugee camps. The health official said he had died in an isolation centre in Kutupalong camp. Some 16,000 refugees are in quarantine zones within the camps. A UNHCR spokesperson said staff were “working round the clock” to ensure testing is available to refugees. She said the agency was also making sure there were adequate facilities to care for patients, as well as contact tracing and isolation of those who may have been exposed.

Europe rights body urges Malta to stop keeping rescued refugees and migrants offshore. Europe’s leading human rights body urged Malta on Thursday to immediately disembark more than 400 people who are being kept on four former tourist cruise vessels just outside the island’s territorial waters. Although women and children have been allowed to disembark on humanitarian grounds, some men have been held on the boats for more than a month after being rescued at sea. Malta has insisted that they cannot be brought ashore because it has closed its ports as a precaution against the coronavirus, emphasizing also the need for more EU solidarity when it comes to relocation. Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, described the situation as “unsustainable” and called on other EU Member States to quickly decide on a system to share responsibility for refugees and migrants rescued at sea.


GET INSPIRED

In the week that UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched a policy brief on the impacts of COVID-19 on refugees and other people on the move, he also had a video call with Dr Heval Kelli – a former refugee and cardiologist. Dr Kelli has been volunteering his time to help respond to the COVID-19 crisis in the US city of Atlanta, where he lives. “We need refugees to be part of the fight,” he told the Secretary-General. “In our resilience, and what we’ve been though, we could actually be a supporting arm for a lot of the native countries that accept us.”


DID YOU KNOW?

More than 150 countries have imposed border restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus. At least 99 states make no exception for people seeking asylum.

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