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By Kristy Siegfried | 11 September, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Thousands left homeless by fires at Greek island asylum centre. A fast-moving fire destroyed much of the Moria reception centre on the Greek island of Lesvos on Tuesday night while further fires on Wednesday and Thursday gutted most of what remained, leaving some 11,500 asylum-seekers homeless, including 4,000 children. The fires destroyed much of the camp’s formal infrastructure as well as a spill-over site in a nearby olive grove where other residents were staying in tents. Following the fire, thousands of asylum-seekers have been sleeping in the streets, fields and beaches, unsure where to go. Among them are very young children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with disabilities. UNHCR has been offering support to Greek authorities to help provide them with emergency assistance. In a statement today, UNHCR said the incidents at Moria demonstrated the long-standing need to take action to alleviate overcrowding and improve living conditions, security and access to services in all five reception centres on the Greek islands.

Hundreds of Rohingya refugees come ashore in Aceh after months at sea. Nearly 300 Rohingya refugees came ashore in Aceh, on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, on Monday morning after more than 200 days at sea during which at least 30 people died. Three more of the refugees died this week after arriving in Aceh. The group, who were mainly women and children, reportedly began their journey in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in February. Survivors told AFP that they endured hunger, thirst, and beatings at the hands of traffickers who tried to extort money from their friends and relatives. The refugees told UNHCR that they repeatedly tried to land in several different countries in the region without success. UNHCR’s Director for Asia and the Pacific, Indrika Ratwatte, said “the collective unwillingness of states to act for more than six months” had proved fatal. He noted that the Bali Process, which was created by countries in the region to prevent such tragedies, had failed to deliver coordinated action to rescue and disembark the refugees.

Record floods impact 500,000 people in Sudan. Torrential rains and flooding caused further destruction across Sudan this week, with more than half a million people in 17 out of the country’s 18 states now affected, prompting the transitional government to declare a three-month state of emergency on Monday. Rising floodwaters following weeks of record-breaking rainfall have destroyed or damaged more than 111,000 homes, left 102 people dead and forced thousands to flee, with Khartoum, North Darfur and Sennar the most affected states. Reuters reports that Sudanese authorities and UN agencies are rolling out aid to tens of thousands of people made homeless, but that many are still camping out on roadsides waiting for it reach them. In the capital, Khartoum, the Blue and White Niles have broken their banks, inundating parts of the city. In a statement last week, UNHCR said 125,000 refugees and internally displaced people had been affected by the floods.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Clarissa Dudenhoeffer, an information management officer with UNHCR’s Global Data Service, who helped compile these new maps, stats and facts on COVID-19 and refugee rights

When you were compiling the data on COVID-19 and its impacts on refugee rights, what were some of the most prominent issues that emerged?

“From the data that was available (and this is important, because sometimes information is difficult to come by!), one of the most striking issues was the impact that the ‘right to come and go’ – or lack thereof – can have. With borders being shut, the possibility to apply for asylum became quite restricted in some countries. Imagine fleeing from a conflict and a global pandemic without being able to find safety?

“Something else that may feel like a given to some of us is the ability to comply with COVID-19 containment measures. Sure, I can wash my hands all the time and work from home to lower my exposure, but this becomes a much bigger challenge to someone in an overcrowded camp with no water or soap. We are currently working on another story-telling product to draw attention to this and how it deeply affects both refugees and internally displaced people, so definitely stay tuned!”


STORIES TO WATCH

First COVID-19 cases confirmed at two Jordan camp for Syrian refugees. Jordan on Thursday confirmed the first three coronavirus cases in the country’s largest camp for Syrian refugees, a few days after discovering two cases in a smaller camp. Two of the cases at Za’atari camp were Jordanians who worked there while the third was a refugee. UNHCR said the refugee had been sent to an isolation area and their contacts were being traced. The agency confirmed two cases of COVID-19 among refugees at the smaller Azraq camp on Tuesday. According to government figures, a total of 2,739 people in the country have been infected with COVID-19 since early March, including several Syrian refugees living outside the camps, in urban areas.

More boats attempting to reach Cyprus from Lebanon. A total of five boats carrying Syrians and Lebanese attempted to reach Cyprus in the space of 48 hours on Sunday and Monday. While some were allowed to disembark, others were sent back to Lebanon in a boat chartered by Cypriot authorities. The Lebanese army reportedly prevented another group of Syrians and Lebanese from leaving the northern city of Tripoli on Tuesday. Cyprus and Lebanon, which are only 160 kilometres apart, have an agreement to prevent large numbers of small boats from reaching Cypriot waters. Cyprus said it would send a team to Lebanon to help authorities there stop more boats from heading for the Mediterranean island. A spokesperson for UNHCR in Cyprus told AFP that any person on a boat seeking asylum should be admitted, at least on a temporary basis, so their claim can be examined.

Migrants and refugees remain stranded on tanker over a month after rescue. Twenty-seven people remain trapped onboard a cargo ship more than a month after being rescued from the Central Mediterranean. The crew of the Maersk Etienne tanker rescued the group, who include a child and a pregnant woman, on 4 August following a request from Malta. Since then, no EU countries have granted permission for the ship to disembark those rescued and the situation on board has become increasingly desperate. Three of the migrants reportedly jumped off the ship on Sunday and had to be rescued by crew members. The International Chamber of Shipping, UNHCR and IOM issued a joint statement on Monday called for the group’s immediate disembarkation, noting that “a commercial vessel is not a safe environment for vulnerable people”.


GET INSPIRED

This video featuring Judah & the Lion’s cover of Tom Petty’s famous song, ‘Won’t Back Down’, is a shout out to all the refugees around the world who have been involved in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.


DID YOU KNOW?

Some 27,200 refugees and asylum-seekers are staying on the Greek Aegean islands. Nearly a third of them are children and 21 per cent are women.