By Kristy Siegfried | 11 March, 2020
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
UN appeals for funds to protect refugees from coronavirus. UNHCR launched an appeal on Tuesday for an initial US$33 million to help it protect vulnerable refugees and displaced people from the COVID-19 coronavirus. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that “to date and based on available evidence, there have been no reports of COVID-19 infections among refugees and asylum-seekers.” Ensuring the most marginalized members of communities have full access to health services was “the best way to protect us all”, he added. In an op-ed for The Telegraph, Grandi and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned against scapegoating minorities, including refugees, noting that “the coronavirus itself does not discriminate”. They added that any tightening of border controls in response to the outbreak must not prevent people fleeing war or persecution from accessing safety and protection. Of over 100 countries reporting local transmissions of COVID-19, 34 have significant refugee populations. UNHCR said it was working with Ministries of Health to ensure refugees are included in national response plans and following World Health Organization guidelines as it puts in place contingency plans. Special measures already being implemented include strengthening communications with refugees on hygiene and sanitation and increasing distributions of hygiene supplies and training health workers.
Greece accused of detaining refugees and migrants in secret facility. The New York Times reports that Greek border guards have been taking refugees and migrants caught crossing the border with Turkey to a “secret” facility before returning them to Turkey without due process. The Times interviewed several people, including a Syrian man, who described being captured by Greek border guards and taken to the site near the border village of Poros, where their phones were confiscated and their requests to claim asylum were ignored. After a night without food and drink, the Syrian man said he and dozens of others were ferried back across the Evros River to Turkey. Expelling individuals without having given them access to asylum procedures amounts to refoulement, which is barred by international and EU refugee laws. The Times also reports on video footage captured by Turkish officials earlier this month showing a Greek Coast Guard ship violently repelling an inflatable dinghy packed with people as well as the alleged shooting of a Syrian man as he approached the border in Evros.
WHAT’S ON OUR RADAR
Syrian crisis moves into tenth year. As the conflict in Syria enters its tenth year this week, UN agencies catalogued the devastating impact that nine years of war have had on Syrian people. More than 5.5 million Syrians are now living as refugees in the region, and 6.1 million others are internally displaced, including almost a million people forced to flee fighting in north-west Syria in the last three months. UNHCR said the crisis had left a mark across the entire region as neighbouring countries have opened up their schools, hospitals and homes to Syrian refugees. The refugee agency urged the international community to maintain and expand support to host communities, noting that last year’s response plan was only 58 per cent funded. “The gap between actual needs and available resources is widening by the day,” said UNHCR in a statement. Meanwhile, more than 11 million people inside Syria need humanitarian assistance.
Internet ban isolates Rohingya refugees from outside world. Since last September, the Bangladesh government has banned the sale of mobile phone SIM cards to Rohingya refugees living in camps in Cox’s Bazar and ordered telecom companies to severely restrict mobile internet service. The New Humanitarian reports on how the ban is impacting refugees, who now struggle to stay in touch with loved ones – both within the camps and abroad – and feel isolated from the world outside the camps. It’s especially hard to contact family members in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the government has also imposed an internet blackout in many areas. The internet shutdown has also disrupted communications between and with aid workers and has frustrated Bangladeshis living in the surrounding communities.
Displaced Iraqis and returnees at growing risk, warn aid agencies. Fading international attention, coupled with increasing political instability inside Iraq, is putting 1.5 million displaced families and four million returnees in increasing danger and risks tipping the country back into crisis, according to a report released on Monday. The Global Protection Cluster – a network of aid agencies involved in protection work, led by UNHCR – said immediate action was needed to address the urgent needs of vulnerable Iraqis. While about four million people who fled the conflict with ISIL have returned home since 2017, some were coerced to return following the rushed closure of camps and are now living in precarious conditions, according to the report. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of displaced people have been blocked from returning home, usually because of pending security concerns.
Manus Island refugees recount attacks by locals in Port Moresby. Refugees who have been moved from Manus Island to the Papua New Guinea capital of Port Moresby told Guardian Australia that armed locals had surrounded the compound where 17 of them are staying twice in less than a month. The first attack, at the end of February, reportedly left one refugee with a broken leg. The second attack, on Saturday night, resulted in a security guard being hospitalized. The refugees said attempts to contact their service provider, a company contracted by the Australian government to help former Manus detainees settle in Port Moresby, were unsuccessful and it was unclear what the police were doing to address the issue. Over 400 refugees and asylum-seekers remain in Australia’s offshore processing system, including about 180 in Papua New Guinea.
Naamat is 11 years old, but feels like she’s 100. A refugee from Syria now living in Jordan, she has been forced to take on responsibilities well beyond her years, including caring for her three younger brothers while her mother is at work. Despite her household duties, Naamat is excelling at school. “I lost part of my childhood, but I find what remains in education, and in building a future for myself,” she said. This week marks nine years since the start of the conflict in Syria.
DID YOU KNOW?
Every second Syrian has been forcibly displaced since the start of the conflict in their country in March 2011.