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By Kristy Siegfried | 12 February, 2020

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Winter storm deepens humanitarian crisis in north-west Syria. Snow, rain and sub-zero temperatures brought by Storm Ciara are deepening the hardships of hundreds of thousands of Syrians recently displaced by intense fighting in the north-west of the country. Footage and photographs posted on social media since Tuesday show tents covered in snow in western Idlib. UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said the weather was exacerbating already dire humanitarian conditions and was expected to continue throughout the week. The Washington Post reports that Iraq also received its first snow in more than a decade, bringing delight to children but misery to Iraqis still living in tents and makeshift shelters since being displaced by the fight against the Islamic State. Meanwhile, Syrian refugees living in the Lebanese town of Arsal were reportedly struggling to keep snow out of their tents.

Two-thirds of people fleeing Central American region had family taken or killed. More than two-thirds of people fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras experienced the murder, disappearance or kidnapping of a relative before their departure, according to a new study by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The study, which is based on interviews with refugees and migrants at MSF facilities in Central America and Mexico, found that for 46 per cent of respondents, “exposure to violent situations” was the key reason for leaving their home countries. Of those fleeing across borders to escape violence, more than a third had already been internally displaced in their countries. The report also found that violence against refugees and migrants in Mexico was common with 57 per cent of interviewees exposed to some type of violence. On a visit to El Salvador this week, UNHCR’s deputy chief, Kelly Clements, highlighted the vulnerability of young people who, faced with the stark choice between joining a gang or risking death, often have little choice but to flee.


WHAT’S ON OUR RADAR

Tens of thousands of displaced in Burkina Faso cut off from aid. CGTN Africa reports from the town of Barsalogho in northern Burkina Faso, where close to 79,000 people have sought refuge from attacks by armed extremists in the last four months. Another 35,000 people have reportedly been blocked from reaching the town for the past four months. The mayor of Barsalogho, Abdoulaye Pafadnam, told CGTN that the road has been cut off by landmines and armed groups and that for more than two months, aid agencies have not been able to reach the displaced. Many of those forced to flee have turned to relatives for shelter. CGTN spoke to one man who has been struggling to feed and house some 40 displaced relatives since last week. Of some 600,000 now internally displaced in Burkina Faso, half fled in the last four months alone, according to UNHCR.

International conference to renew focus on Afghan refugees. A two-day conference taking place in Islamabad next week aims to remind the world about the fate of millions of Afghans living as refugees after more than four decades of unrest in their home country. Jointly convened by the government of Pakistan and UNHCR, the conference will highlight the generosity of major host countries and provide an opportunity for international solidarity and responsibility sharing. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will deliver a keynote address. Pakistan has been hosting refugees from Afghanistan since 1979 and is still host to some 1.4 million registered refugees. Another 1 million Afghan refugees are registered in Iran. In a worrying trend, Afghans now make up the largest group of asylum-seekers currently arriving in Europe, according to UNHCR.

Volunteers take to skies over Mediterranean to spot boats in distress. The Irish Times reports from the Moonbird – a four-man, one-engine plane that has been patrolling the skies above the Central Mediterranean since 2017, looking for boats in distress. It’s operated by Sea Watch, a German charity that also operates a rescue ship. Many of its volunteer pilots have witnessed tragedies unfold as boats capsize and people drown before anyone arrives to rescue them. As well as searching for boats, the Moonbird’s crew also monitor interceptions of boats by the Libyan coast guard. AP reports that Libyan authorities apprehended 81 migrants and refugees off the coast of Libya on Monday and returned them to Tripoli, where fighting continues.

How to grow food in a refugee camp in the desert. The BBC reports on a project that has brought together a team of scientists from the University of Sheffield in the UK and Syrian refugees at Za’atari camp in Jordan to create an innovative way of growing fresh food in a desert environment where the soil is too poor and dry for any agriculture. The solution was to use the foam from old mattresses that had piled up in the camp. The foam works as a substitute for soil through a system called hydroponics that requires only small amounts of water. Refugees at the camp, many of whom used to farm in Syria, received training and starter kits and many are now growing their own food at home.


GET INSPIRED

After struggling to find full-time work in Ireland, despite speaking English, Syrian refugee Ghada Feddawi decided to return to college and study refugee integration at Dublin University. As part of her master’s thesis, she designed a website that links up refugees and asylum-seekers looking for work with employers willing to hire them.


DID YOU KNOW?

Nearly 700,000 people have been displaced in Syria’s Idlib over the past 10 weeks – the largest number of people displaced in such a short time since conflict erupted in Syria nearly nine years ago.