By Kristy Siegfried | 11 December, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Ethiopians fleeing Tigray struggle to reach safety in Sudan. While nearly 50,000 Ethiopian refugees have now crossed into eastern Sudan, daily arrivals have been decreasing with some telling UNHCR staff they had to evade armed groups to reach the border. Spokesperson Babar Baloch said refugees were arriving weak and exhausted after spending up to two weeks on the run inside Ethiopia. Some reported being stopped by armed groups and robbed of their possessions. Baloch said UNHCR also remained “very worried” about the safety and condition of Eritrean refugees caught up in the conflict in Tigray who have been cut off from services and supplies for more than a month. UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced on Wednesday that the UN and Ethiopia’s government had reached agreement on joint missions to assess humanitarian needs in Tigray. So far, an agreement on aid access has proved impossible to implement. UN staff were shot at and briefly detained by Ethiopian forces on Sunday as they tried to assess roads in Tigray – a key step before large aid convoys can go in.
Number of forcibly displaced people globally tops 80 million. Despite calls for ceasefires and compassion amid the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict and persecution continued in 2020, forcing more people from their homes and pushing the global number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people to over 80 million by the middle of the year, according to UNHCR. Violence in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Somalia, Yemen and the Sahel region drove much of the new displacement, according to the agency’s Mid-Year Trends report released on Wednesday. “With forced displacement doubling in the last decade, the international community is failing to safeguard peace,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 made it harder for some to reach safety, with many countries fully or partially closing their borders during the first wave of the pandemic, even to people seeking asylum. At the same time, the number of refugees able to return home or be resettled also dropped due to COVID-19 restrictions.
More support urgently needed for newly arriving Venezuelan refugees and migrants. UNHCR warned today that between 500 and 700 Venezuelans are leaving their country every day, despite borders across the region remaining closed. Forced to use informal routes where armed groups and trafficking networks are active, they are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Conditions inside Venezuela have deteriorated during the pandemic and many are arriving weak and poorly nourished to host communities in Colombia that have also been hard-hit by COVID-19. UNHCR and IOM, jointly with another 157 organizations, released a US$1.44 billion plan on Thursday to respond to the growing needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants hosted in 17 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021. Many have experienced loss of jobs and evictions during lockdowns and are more dependent than ever on humanitarian assistance. UNHCR reports that, in desperation, more than 122,000 Venezuelans crossed back into Venezuela during the pandemic, only to find conditions there so difficult that some are now attempting to leave again, often on foot with young children.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Rafael Zavala, Head of UNHCR’s Sub-Office in Cucuta, on Colombia’s border with Venezuela
How have the needs of Venezuelans crossing into Colombia changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“COVID-19 is a threat for everyone; however vulnerability is a crucial factor regarding the degree to which people are affected, and the majority of the Venezuelans crossing into Colombia are highly vulnerable.
“In the border area, we have been addressing an unpredictable flow. The lockdown started in the middle of March in Colombia. We have observed thousands of Venezuelans being evicted and having to stay on the streets due to lack of livelihoods. In response, we have been working with partners and local authorities to provide shelter, food, healthcare, and psychosocial support. However, over 100,000 people had no option but to return to Venezuela, even though the security and socio-economic situation in the country remains very challenging.
“Since August, after Colombia ended its quarantine measures, the number of Venezuelans entering, and re-entering Colombia has increased sharply. We have been strengthening our response to provide them with protection.”
STORIES TO WATCH
Displaced Yemenis face looming famine threat. The UN has warned that the window for preventing famine in Yemen is closing, with new figures showing that pockets of famine-like conditions have already returned to the country for the first time in two years. Food insecurity is most prevalent in areas affected by conflict where half of Yemen’s four million internally displaced people live. According to the latest UN food security survey, nearly 40 per cent of vulnerable displaced families said they had no income and 37 per cent reported eating less. UNHCR said it was particularly concerned about the one in four displaced families headed by a woman or a girl. They have less opportunities to provide for their families and report feeling excluded from humanitarian aid. Many displaced families are selling off belongings, pulling children out of school or eating just one daily meal of rice or bread.
UK to deny asylum to people passing through “safe” third country. Changes to immigration rules mean that from 1 January, claims of asylum from people who have reached the UK after travelling through a “safe” third country will be treated as inadmissible. The changes will allow the UK government to remove asylum-seekers either to the safe third country they travelled through, or to any safe third country that agrees to receive them, an explanatory memo states. However, the individual would first have to be accepted for readmission by the third country, a significant hurdle according to immigration law experts who told The Guardian the UK lacks return agreements. The Home Office said the changes were part of efforts to tackle “the unacceptable rise in small boat crossings” from France.
Increase in unaccompanied minors arriving at US southern border. The number of unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children arriving at the US-Mexico border has nearly doubled in recent weeks, according to US Customs and Border protection data. A senior Border Patrol official told USA Today that agents had been apprehending an average of 153 young migrants a day at the border since October, up from about 80 a day earlier this year. Most worrying he said, were the large numbers of children 12 and younger travelling alone. During one six-day period in November, about 1,000 children were taken into custody, according to a recent federal court filing. Up until last month, agents were quickly returning young asylum-seekers to their countries of origin over COVID-19 concerns, but a federal judge in November ordered the government to cease rapid expulsions.
Ahlan Simsim – “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic – is a Sesame Workshop shop that has been bringing early learning to kids across the Middle East, and helping them to learn and have fun at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. It features a puppet called Jad who is new to the neighbourhood. The puppeteer behind Jad is Nowar, a Syrian refugee who fled to Jordan in 2016.
DID YOU KNOW?
There was a 33 per cent drop in the number of asylum applications lodged in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, primarily due to COVID-19 restrictions.