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By Kristy Siegfried | 1 April, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Thousands flee deadly attack on northern Mozambique town. A prolonged attack on the northern Mozambique town of Palma last week has left dozens dead and forced thousands more to flee. By Tuesday, sporadic fighting in Palma was still being reported and aid agencies warned that many of those who had fled the town were believed to still be hiding in the bush, trying to make their way by foot to safer areas, or to reach the provincial capital, Pemba, by boat. There were also reports of some people trying to cross the border into Tanzania. UNHCR said over a hundred people arrived by boat to Pemba on Sunday, while some 40 others were evacuated there on UN planes. They recounted details of extreme brutality at the hands of the insurgent group that carried out the attack, including seeing family members killed. Prior to the attack, more than 43,000 people displaced by violence had sought shelter in the Palma area. In total, some 670,000 people have been displaced in the Cabo Delgado province, as well as in neighbouring Nampula and Niassa provinces, since 2017.

As Myanmar violence escalates, refugees cross into Thailand and India. As violence in Myanmar escalated last weekend, some 2,500 ethnic Karen people from south-eastern Kayin state fled across the border into Thailand, where Reuters reports that some of them received medical treatment. Rights groups accused Thailand of sending the majority of those seeking safety back across the border, but Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said they had returned of their own accord. People from Myanmar have also been crossing into India. Most have arrived in the north-eastern state of Mizoram, where the local government and civil society groups have supported them. Another border state, Manipur, this week withdrew an order to refuse food and shelter to people fleeing Myanmar after the measure drew fierce public criticism. In a statement on Wednesday, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, called on countries in the region to offer refuge and protection to those fleeing the violence in Myanmar. She expressed shock at the “indiscriminate violence” against civilians across the country and at the renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups in border areas.

Unaccompanied children strain US border facilities. The US administration on Tuesday allowed a limited pool of journalists inside a temporary Customs and Border Protection facility in Donna, Texas, where some 4,100 migrants and asylum-seekers were being held, the majority of them unaccompanied children. CNN reports that, as of Sunday, there were 5,767 children in CBP custody. A public health order in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic means most adults are being turned away at the border, but the Biden administration has been allowing unaccompanied children to enter the US while their asylum claims are processed. A US border patrol official said many of the children had endured long and harrowing journeys on their own. Their growing numbers have overwhelmed the administration’s resources, resulting in crowded conditions and children spending prolonged periods in Border Patrol custody before they can be placed in shelters overseen by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said federal officials were “working around the clock” to quickly move children out of packed border facilities.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Margarida Loureiro, UNHCR’s head of office in Pemba, Mozambique

As people continue to flee the violence in Palma, what are your main concerns for the humanitarian response in Pemba?

“With the fighting being reported in Palma, people are arriving by the thousands, and the more people arrive, the more needs rise. Many, including families, are arriving in dire conditions. They are traumatized, many are injured and need medical attention as well as protection services. Many people are also reporting sexual violence.

“To meet the rapidly raising needs, the humanitarian response needs additional resources immediately. The humanitarian appeal for Cabo Delgado is only 1 per cent funded. The international community should speak about this tragic situation, but they should also help.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Donor pledges for Syrians fall short as needs soar. International donors pledged US$6.4 billion in aid for Syrians displaced by a decade of civil war on Tuesday, falling far short of a UN target for 2021 of US$10 billion for the humanitarian response inside Syria, and for refugees and their hosts in the region. Ahead of a two-day virtual pledging conference, the UN said at least 24 million Syrians need aid today – a rise of four million over the past year and the highest number since the start of the conflict in 2011. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned that civilians in Syria were facing increasing hunger and poverty, as well as continued displacement and attacks, while UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said the hardships facing Syrian refugees living in neighbouring countries had been compounded by “the crushing impact of the pandemic”. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the reopening of crossings on the Syria-Turkey border to allow greater humanitarian access.

EU announces funding for five new reception centres on Greek islands. During a visit to the Greek islands on Monday, Ylva Johansson, the European Union’s home affairs commissioner, said the EU would provide €276 million for five new structures to house asylum-seekers on Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros. About 14,000 asylum-seekers are currently staying on the five Aegean islands, down from about 42,000 in 2019, but there is strong opposition to the construction of new facilities from islanders. Humanitarian groups, including Médecins Sans Frontières, were also critical of the announcement and called for “dignified alternatives to camps”. During her visit to Greece, Johansson also called on the country to “do more” to investigate allegations that its coastguard has been pushing asylum-seekers back to neighbouring Turkey. UNHCR has flagged a growing number of reports in recent months that suggest asylum-seekers may have been pushed back at sea or immediately after reaching Greek soil. Greek officials have consistently rejected the reports.

Six years into war, Yemen “just a step away from famine”. Six years into a war that has left more than 20,000 civilians dead or injured and displaced more than 4 million people from their homes, Yemen faces rising rates of hunger and pockets of famine that aid groups warn are likely to grow. The New York Times reports that the threat of famine is greater now than it was in 2018, when it was averted by a large influx of foreign aid. A pledging conference earlier this month raised less than half the US$3.85 billion UN agencies said they needed to help a population facing severe food shortages. Displaced families are four times more likely than other Yemenis to suffer from food insecurity, and according to assessments some 2.6 million displaced people in the country are “just a step away from famine”, writes Jean-Nicolas Beuze, UNHCR’s representative in the country. Aid groups warn that spreading hunger is contributing to health problems that Yemen is not equipped to deal with, especially among children.


GET INSPIRED

Nhial Deng’s dream is to become a journalist, but as a refugee living in Kenya’s Kakuma camp for the past decade, the odds were stacked against him. After years of study, this week he learned that he has been accepted to study journalism at the University of Berkeley in the United States.


DID YOU KNOW?

Nearly half of Yemen’s population are struggling to get enough food, and cases of acute malnutrition among children under five are at their highest level ever recorded.