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By Kristy Siegfried | 1 May, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Yemen reports first coronavirus deaths amid aid shortfall and flooding. Yemen reported five new coronavirus cases and two deaths linked to the virus in the southern city of Aden on Wednesday. A day earlier, aid agencies warned that an outbreak could have dire consequences for a country devastated by years of conflict and facing a severe funding shortfall. Nearly a million displaced people and refugees are at risk of losing their shelter and vital cash assistance unless additional funding is found in the coming weeks to keep aid programmes running, UNHCR said on Tuesday. Already considered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, Yemen is now faced with the coronavirus threat as well as the impact of recent flooding which has impacted more than 100,000 people in several parts of the country, including displaced people sheltering in camps. Yemen’s only other confirmed COVID-19 case was reported on 10 April, but the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Lise Grande, said on Tuesday that there was a “very real probability” that more cases were circulating undetected by the country’s shattered health system.

Refugees and displaced people hard hit by economic impacts of pandemic. Evidence of the severe economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugees and internally displaced people is growing, with UNHCR reporting today that similar patterns of hardship are playing out around the world. Across the Middle East and North Africa, the agency said it had received over 350,000 calls for refugees and IDPs since lockdowns and other public health measures came into force asking for urgent financial assistance. In Lebanon, over half of refugees surveyed in late April had lost their livelihoods and 70 per cent reported skipping meals. Afghan refugees in Iran are among some two million people who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19. One in four reported that they had been forced to take children out of school. In Latin America, refugees and asylum-seekers working in the informal sector have also lost their income and many are now at risk of homelessness or have already been evicted. In desperation, thousands of Venezuelans have attempted to return to their country in recent weeks.

Conflicts push internal displacement to record high. The number of people fleeing conflict or violence who remain within their own countries has reached an all-time high of 45.7 million, according to report released this week by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). The report reveals that 8.5 million new displacements resulting from conflict or violence were recorded in 2019, with Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Afghanistan accounting for the largest numbers. Another 25 million new displacements were triggered by disasters such as cyclones and hurricanes. Alexandra Bilak, IDMC’s director, said internally displaced people living in cramped conditions in countries with already strained health systems such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen could be hard hit by the coronavirus. The pandemic may also shift attention away from efforts to address internal displacement, an issue that had been gaining momentum with more governments implementing policies and mobilizing resources and a UN High Level Panel on Internal Displacement launching recently.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Jean-Nicolas Beuze, UNHCR Representative in Yemen

What will be the consequences for internally displaced Yemenis and refugees if more funding is not found to keep aid programmes running?

“Rarely have I witnessed so many odds against refugees and IDPs than now in Yemen. The fighting is unrelenting and keeps forcing Yemenis out of their homes. With the beginning of the rainy season came unprecedented flash floods that destroyed makeshifts shelters. Cholera and famine are once again looming and now the threat of COVID-19 looks like an irreversible catastrophe in the making, with preventative measures like physical distancing and handwashing out of reach for most Yemenis.

“The current lack of funding means that UNHCR will stop disbursing cash that is a lifeline for roughly 280,000 refugees and 655,000 displaced Yemenis. Those fleeing the conflict will be left in the open without our emergency shelter kits, which provide much needed safety for women, older people and people with disabilities in particular.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Rohingya refugees face growing hostility in Malaysia amid coronavirus fears. Following news that a boat carrying some 200 Rohingya refugees was prevented from docking in Malaysia on 16 April, rights groups have reported an uptick in xenophobia directed at Rohingya refugees living in the country. Anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have eroded sympathy for the Rohingya, who have long considered Malaysia a safe haven where they were able to find work in the informal sector, even if they were not officially recognized as refugees. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that several boats filled with Rohingya refugees remain at sea, although rights groups that had been trying to track them by satellite have lost sight of them. The Bangladeshi government has also said it will not accept them. UNHCR’s representative in Bangladesh, Steven Corliss, acknowledged that Bangladesh has shouldered “very heavy responsibilities” for Rohingya refugees but said, “turning desperate people away cannot be the answer”.

First internally displaced person tests positive for COVID-19 in Somalia. Six weeks after registering its first coronavirus case, Somalia reported 528 confirmed cases on Tuesday evening, including an internally displaced person. UNHCR said an outbreak of COVID-19 in the country’s settlements for IDPs would be “catastrophic”. Over 2.6 million IDPs live in over 2,100 overcrowded settlements. Al Jazeera reports on fears that the actual number of people with the virus could be much higher because of the country’s lack of capacity to carry out testing. Meanwhile, Somalia is one of the countries likely to be hard hit by a second generation of desert locusts that are forming swarms over East Africa just as a new crop season gets underway. The New Humanitarian reports that efforts to combat the locusts have been hampered by COVID-19 related travel restrictions.

Myanmar military “targeting civilians” in Rakhine, says UN envoy. The UN’s human rights expert on Myanmar on Wednesday called for a new investigation into allegations of ongoing “war crimes” during recent fighting in the country’s Rakhine and Chin states. Yanghee Lee said that while the world was occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military had escalated its operations in Rakhine, where it is battling the Arakan Army, an ethnic rebel group, “inflicting immense suffering” on the civilian population. More than 157,000 people have been displaced and hundreds of people killed since December 2018 when the conflict between the military and the Arakan Army began. UNHCR warned in late March about mounting civilian casualties and that people in areas ravaged by the conflict were especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.


GET INSPIRED

Football stars Alphonso Davies of FC Bayern Munich and Asmir Begović of AC Milan, both former refugees, went head to head in a livestreamed online tournament last weekend to raise funds for UNHCR’s COVID-19 response. They played a series of online matches, first representing their countries of birth (Ghana vs Bosnia and Herzegovina), followed by the countries where they currently live (Germany vs Italy), and finally between their current clubs.


DID YOU KNOW?

More than 3.6 million people in Yemen have been forced to flee their homes since 2015, including nearly 400,000 people in 2019 alone.