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By Kristy Siegfried | 10 September, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

France rejects UK plan to turn back boats carrying migrants and asylum-seekers. The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved plans for small boats carrying migrants and asylum-seekers across the English Channel to be turned back towards France, according to reports by British newspapers. A Home Office statement said Border Force staff were being trained to employ “turn-around” tactics at sea that would be deployed from the end of this month when it was deemed safe to do so. The news triggered alarm in France, where Interior Minister Gérard Darmanin said turning back boats would violate international maritime law, which requires ships to assist boats in distress. So-called “pushbacks” have been widely condemned as unsafe and illegal when used elsewhere in Europe, and in a statement earlier this year UNHCR called for States to halt such practices. The Home Office said 785 people crossed the Channel in small boats on Monday, bringing the total number so far this year to 13,500, around 6,000 more than the whole of 2020. Authorities on both sides of the Channel have clamped down on other routes, such as hiding in the back of lorries crossing from French ports. Overall, the UK received 31,115 asylum applications between July 2020 and June 2021, 4 per cent fewer than the previous year.

Afghanistan at risk of ‘total breakdown’ as aid runs out, says UN. The UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, told the Security Council on Thursday that a way needed to be found to get money quickly flowing to the country “to prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order”. Millions of dollars in Afghan assets have been frozen amid concerns about the new Taliban government, but Lyons said the country was facing multiple crises, including a plunging currency, rises in prices of food and fuel, and no funding to pay public worker salaries. The UN this week launched an appeal for more than US$600 million in emergency funding to support 11 million people across the country until the end of this year and is planning a pledging conference on Monday. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the challenges faced by aid workers who have remained in Afghanistan to deliver urgently needed assistance. The Taliban have reportedly asked humanitarian organizations to continue their work and even offered to provide security, but Lyons told the Security Council on Thursday that Afghan staff were increasingly being subjected to harassment and intimidation. She also raised the alarm about crackdowns on women’s freedoms and noted that no women or minority representatives were included in an interim government announced by the Taliban on Tuesday.

Over a million newly displaced people in eastern DR Congo in urgent need of aid. Armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are carrying out increasingly brutal attacks on civilians, repeatedly driving people from their homes and causing 1,200 civilian deaths in the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, UNHCR said today. Of 25,000 human rights abuses recorded this year, more than half were carried out against displaced people who had attempted to return home due to harsh living conditions and lack of food. More than a million people have been internally displaced in the east of the country in 2021. Under a “state of siege” declared by Congolese authorities in May, security forces have ramped up their operations against armed groups, but UNHCR said some groups were countering those operations with reprisals against villages and individuals, including the use of sexual violence, extortion and looting. On 3 September, armed men identified as members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) raided a village in Irumu Territory and killed 15 civilians. UNHCR called for urgent measures to protect civilians and more funding to support those in need. The agency has only received 51 per cent of the funding it needs to operate in the DRC this year.


STORIES TO WATCH

Myanmar urged to avoid violence after opponents of military rule call for uprising. Southeast Asian and Western countries have urged all sides in Myanmar to refrain from violence and allow in humanitarian aid, after a shadow government, formed by opponents of military rule, declared a nationwide uprising on Tuesday. The National Unity Government (NUG) issued the call for a “people’s defensive war” against the country’s military on Tuesday, prompting a flare-up in fighting in conflict-affected areas, according to media reports. Several ethnic armed organizations that have been fighting the military expressed support for the call to arms. Since February, some 181,000 people remain internally displaced by violence, while another 15,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and hundreds of protesters have been killed.

NGOs decry conditions in Greek island reception centres a year after Moria fire. Thursday marked one year since devastating fires destroyed the Moria reception centre on the Greek island of Lesvos and left nearly 12,000 asylum-seekers homeless. Aid agencies said Greek and European officials had not kept promises to improve reception conditions in the wake of the fires but had instead focused on the construction of closed camps in remote locations on the Aegean islands. One such facility is due to open on Samos this month. Plans for a similar centre have been delayed on Lesvos, where a temporary facility to house those made homeless by the fire has been decongested but is still being used to shelter 3,338 people. UNHCR’s representative in Greece, Mireille Girard, said the site, where a number of families were still housed in tents, was “not a lasting solution”. In the past year, Greece has also increased patrols along its land and sea borders and toughened legislation on asylum.

Critical gaps in refugee education, says UNHCR. Two-thirds of refugee children may never get to secondary school, UNHCR warned this week, as it released its 2021 Education Report. The report highlights the stories of young refugees around the world as they try to keep learning through the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data gathered by UNHCR in 40 countries, the enrolment rate for refugees at secondary level stood at only 34 per cent between 2019 and 2020, trailing that of host community children in almost every country. The pandemic threatens recent progress on refugee school enrolment, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who called for a “massive, coordinated effort” to ensure refugees are part of national education systems and planning.


GET INSPIRED

Saber spent 19 years of his life in a refugee camp and used to walk 16 kilometres a day to reach school. Now he’s studying international development at university in Milan thanks to his hard work and a scholarship from the University Corridors for Refugees programme. His goal now is to improve life for children in the camp. Only 5 per cent of refugees are enrolled in higher education.


DID YOU KNOW?

Over 5.2 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are internally displaced. In 2020, 2.2 million displacements linked to conflict and violence were recorded in the DRC, more than any other country.