By Kristy Siegfried | 10 July, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Refugees in Africa facing hunger as COVID-19 worsens food shortages. UNHCR and the World Food Programme warned on Thursday that millions of refugees across Africa are being pushed towards hunger by the impacts of COVID-19 on food prices, supply chains and loss of income. The cost of food is rising in many parts of the continent while restrictions at borders are squeezing supply chains. Meanwhile, many refugees previously able to support themselves have lost their livelihoods and become dependent on aid. The knock-on effects of the pandemic come on top of severe underfunding for humanitarian operations in Africa that have forced WFP to reduce food assistance to refugees in several countries including Uganda, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. In a joint statement, the two agencies said they were struggling to meet rising needs and that many refugees were already resorting to skipping meals and reducing meal portions. They urged the international community to provide further funding before levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia rise further.
Rescue ship disembarks passengers in Sicily. Some 180 migrants and refugees on board the Ocean Viking rescue ship disembarked in Sicily on Monday after being at sea for over a week awaiting permission to dock. SOS Méditerranée, the NGO that operates the ship, had declared a state of emergency on board as the situation became increasingly tense, with some of the passengers jumping overboard and reports of an attempted suicide. The passengers were transferred to a ferry to wait out a two-week quarantine period. Another group of 50 migrants and refugees rescued in the Central Mediterranean were allowed to disembark in Malta on Wednesday after several days staying in reportedly unsuitable conditions on board a merchant vessel usually used to transport animals. A small aircraft operated by Sea-Watch said on Thursday evening that it had spotted another boat in the Central Mediterranean with an estimated 250 people visible on the upper deck. The NGO requested the immediate launch of a rescue operation. A further 440 people in nine different boats reached the Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday night, most of them after departing from Tunisia. Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, this week called on his EU colleagues to agree on a better and more just solution for migrants and refugees rescued at sea while attempting to reach Europe. He said preventing deaths in the Mediterranean was Europe’s “shared goal”.
First coronavirus case in Syria’s north-west. The first coronavirus case was confirmed by local health authorities in opposition-controlled north-west Syria on Thursday, raising fears for a region where many hospitals lie in ruins and camps for displaced people are overflowing. Aid groups said the person infected was a doctor at a hospital in Idlib, near the Turkish border. The hospital has closed, and the doctor is in isolation. Aid workers have warned that an outbreak in Idlib’s crowded, makeshift settlements for the displaced could be disastrous. The news came a day ahead of a deadline to re-authorize a UN Security Council resolution on cross-border aid to Syria. Aid organizations have warned that failing to extend UN aid deliveries from Turkey would have dire consequences for millions of Syrians, particularly those displaced in the north-west.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Fri Adeline Tewidikum, a UN volunteer serving as a field assistant in Bertoua, eastern Cameroon
How are refugees in Cameroon coping with food ration cuts resulting from underfunding? What are some of the negative impacts you’re seeing?
“The situation has really worsened. There were already high rates of malnutrition among the refugees because we’ve had ration cuts since 2016. Now, the rations have been reduced by 50 per cent and the consequences are very worrying, especially during this pandemic. Right now, we’re seeing more children out of school and working, also early marriages, higher rates of crime, and malnutrition. The host communities are also feeling the impact of the pandemic so it’s affecting peaceful relations between them and the refugees.
“In the east region [of Cameroon], we have about 183,000 Central African Republic refugees and about 70 per cent of them live in host communities; the rest are in camps. The issue is funding because for the past four years, we’ve been facing reductions in funding.”
STORIES TO WATCH
Bangladesh rejects calls to move Rohingya refugees from island. Human Rights Watch this week called on Bangladesh to move more than 300 Rohingya refugees from Bhasan Char island, where they were taken in early May after being rescued at sea, to camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Bangladesh had said the 308 refugees were taken to the island as a precaution due to the coronavirus, but HRW questioned their treatment on the island and called for them to be reunited with their families in Cox’s Bazar. Mohammed Khorshed Alam Khan, an administrator for the district covering the island, told AFP on Thursday that the refugees would remain on the island until they were repatriated to Myanmar. He said they were well taken care of and had better facilities than in the camps in Cox’s Bazar.
US proposes denying asylum to people traveling from disease-stricken countries. A proposal unveiled by the US administration on Wednesday would give border authorities the power to deny asylum to people who come from or have passed through a country with a widespread communicable disease such as the coronavirus. If the rule becomes law after going through a 30-day public comment period, it could effectively replace a coronavirus-related public health order which has been in force at the US southern border since March and allows asylum-seekers to be quickly expelled. The new rule would apply to any disease the US government has designated a public-health emergency.
At least 180 civilians killed in Burkina Faso town, says rights group. The bodies of at least 180 men thought to have been killed by security forces have been found dumped by roadsides and under bridges in the town of Djibo in northern Burkina Faso over the past eight months, according to residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch. A report published by HRW on Thursday said most of those killed were members of the ethnic Fulani group, who have been targeted for recruitment by extremist groups, and for reprisals by government forces. The government said it would investigate the killings but said those responsible might have been extremists disguised in army uniforms. As of June, some 921,000 people in Burkina Faso have been forced from their homes by escalating violence, a 92 per cent rise over 2019 figures.
Actor, director and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett talks about a new series she co-created and produced which launched on Netflix this week after initially screening in Australia earlier this year. The drama, called “Stateless”, focuses on four strangers whose live collide at an immigration detention centre in the Australian desert.
DID YOU KNOW?
In South Sudan, more than 80 per cent of refugees are estimated to be reacting to food shortages by adopting negative coping mechanisms such as skipping meals or reducing food portions.