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By Kristy Siegfried | 10 February, 2020


Pope calls for respect of humanitarian law in Syria’s Idlib. Amid an escalation of fighting in Syria’s north-west Idlib province that has displaced more than half a million people in two months, Pope Francis called on Sunday for the lives of civilians to be safeguarded and international humanitarian law respected. Addressing tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, he said the reports from Idlib were “painful…particularly regarding the conditions of women and children, of people forced to flee from a military escalation.” Speaking to the BBC World Service on Sunday, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Mark Cutts, said that those who have fled are trying to keep their children warm in sub-zero temperatures, often sleeping on the backs of trucks or in tents in the mud. “This is a massive displacement crisis,” he warned, “and it’s one that’s not over.”

A doctor’s account of life inside Greek island refugee centre. A doctor who recently spent three weeks volunteering at the Moria reception centre for asylum-seekers on the Greek island of Lesvos recounts for The Guardian her experiences of providing emergency medical care to a population of more than 18,000 people, many of whom are sleeping in makeshift tents in the cold after making treacherous journeys. She and the other volunteer doctors see 180 to 250 patients a day – young children with high fevers, adults suffering from panic attacks associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, and increasingly, young men with life-threatening stab wounds. With no reliable electricity at the facility for over two months, the dangers for women and children after dark are so high that many choose to wear nappies rather than risk leaving their tents at night. On Friday, UNHCR urged the Greek government to take emergency measures to address the conditions at Moria and at centres on four other Aegean islands.


Snow worsens conditions for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Al Jazeera reports from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where the arrival of heavy rain and snow over the weekend has made life harder for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees living there in makeshift tents. Lebanon is also going through an economic crisis that has affected Syrian refugees as well as locals, with high inflation making basic necessities increasingly unaffordable.

Libya talks end with no breakthrough on lasting ceasefire. A first round of peace talks between Libya’s two warring sides ended in Geneva on Saturday without a significant breakthrough. A statement by the UN Support Mission for Libya said both sides had agreed on the need to expedite the return of people displaced by the clashes to their homes, but added that they had not reached a full understanding on the best way to “restore normalcy”. The talks, which were mediated by UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame, reportedly did not include face-to-face meetings between the two sides. Separately, UNHCR reported on Friday that 1,040 refugees and migrants had been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard since the beginning of the year, a 121 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

Could Venezuela’s loss be Latin America’s gain? At a time when many countries are throwing up barriers to migrants and asylum-seekers, Latin American countries have largely opened their doors to those fleeing Venezuela, offering them access to basic education and health care, freedom of movement, and often a legal status that allows them to work. Studies now show that this welcoming stance is largely benefiting the economies of receiving countries but is also putting a strain on public services and generating fears of job competition. Several governments have responded by imposing more entry restrictions on Venezuelans in the past year. In this piece for Foreign Policy, Andrew Selee and Jessica Bolten of the Migration Policy Institute argue that more international support will be crucial in helping host countries deal with pressures on their services and infrastructure so they can maintain a degree of openness to fleeing Venezuelans.

A digital lifeline for refugees in Bulgaria and beyond. AFP reports on Humans in the Loop (HITL), a Bulgaria-based social enterprise that links refugees with work created by the booming machine learning and artificial intelligence industry. The work, which involves collecting, sorting and categorizing various types of images and data necessary to power algorithms essential to AI technology, requires only a computer, an internet connection and training that HITL provides. The company has provided work to about 100 refugees in Sofia and has now teamed up with two other organizations to train and employ Syrian refugees in Turkey and Iraq.


Growing up as an Afghan refugee in north-west Pakistan, bloodshed was never far from Sommia Tora’s life. Learning was an escape, but as refugees her family had limited rights and her access to schooling was tenuous, so she applied to study at a high school in the US state of New Mexico, run by the United World Colleges. Now she is about to become the first Rhodes Scholar to come from Afghanistan and will join 102 students in the 2020 class of the world’s oldest postgraduate programme.


Between 1 January and 5 February, at least 235 civilians were killed by the fighting in north-west Syria, including 84 children.