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By Kristy Siegfried | 12 March, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

US reinstates programme for Central American minors and offers temporary refuge to Venezuelans. The week began with an announcement by the Biden administration that Venezuelans living in the United States will qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The decision will allow Venezuelans to stay in the country and work legally for 18 months. The move comes a month after Colombia offered temporary protection for up to 10 years to up to two million Venezuelan asylum-seekers and migrants living in the country. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it would restart the Central American Minors Programme, which allows children facing threats to their lives in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to join parents already living in the United States. Between 2014 and 2017, before the programme was halted by the previous administration, it allowed nearly 5,000 children to unite with their parents without having to make the dangerous overland journey north. Matthew Reynolds, UNHCR’s representative in the US, welcomed the resumption of the programme, saying it would “save young lives”. The announcement came after reports that arrivals of unaccompanied minors to the US’s southern border rose by 60 per cent between January and February to more than 9,400, forcing the government to look for new places to hold them temporarily.

Rights groups urge India to halt plans to deport Rohingya refugees. The detention of some 220 Rohingya refugees in the northern Indian city of Jammu over the past week, followed by a police statement that they would be deported to Myanmar, has alarmed Rohingya living in Jammu and elsewhere in India. The refugees were summoned by police as part of a “verification” exercise but were then taken to a “holding centre”. According to media reports, several of the Rohingya hold cards showing they are registered with UNHCR, but the refugee agency has yet to be given access to verify their status. Separately, more than a dozen Myanmar police and army officers have sought refuge in India in the wake of the coup in their country, after reportedly refusing orders to shoot at protesters. Authorities in Myanmar have asked India to return the individuals, but the Indian government has yet to announce any decision on their fate.

Rwanda vaccinates refugees against COVID-19. Nearly one year since Rwanda’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, and as part of the country’s national vaccination drive, 416 refugees received COVID-19 vaccinations this week. The country, which hosts nearly 138,000 refugees, is one of the first in Africa to include refugees in its vaccination rollout. Those who received the jab are staying at the Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Gashora or working on the frontlines of the pandemic as community health workers, cleaners and security guards at health clinics in refugee settlements. UNHCR welcomed the move and reiterated that refugees, internally displaced and stateless people should be included on an equal footing with citizens in all national responses to the pandemic, including vaccinations. Of 151 countries currently developing national COVID-19 vaccination strategies, 106 have included refugees and asylum-seekers in their plans and 33 are in the process of doing so, according to UNHCR.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Diana Morales, a field assistant with UNHCR in Esmeraldas, near Ecuador’s border with Colombia

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted refugee women living in Ecuador?

“COVID-19 has severely impacted refugee women living in Esmeraldas. I have answered calls at the protection hotline from women and LGBTI+ persons asking for legal guidance because they are suffering gender-based violence. Many transgender refugee women have been unable to access HIV screening services because health services are full. The pandemic has also hampered access to maternal health services and family planning. Many refugee women have resorted to negative coping mechanisms because the pandemic has affected their access to basic necessities, including food.

“It is also worrying that media channels and other information tools do not reach many women of the Epera and Awá indigenous nationalities (many of them refugees). The digitalization of our daily lives is still alien to these remote communities.

“In sum, I can say that the pandemic has affected in a profound way refugee women’s local integration, their mental health and their access to economic, social, and cultural rights.”


STORIES TO WATCH

COVID-19 pandemic threatening lives and rights of refugee women. As the world marked International Women’s Day on Monday, UNHCR warned that socio-economic pressures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are worsening gender inequalities for refugee women and girls. “We are seeing extremely worrying increases in reports of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, forced marriages, child labour and adolescent pregnancies,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. As well as the mounting risks of violence, abuse and exploitation, the pandemic is also proving catastrophic for refugee girls’ education. Humanitarian groups estimate that an additional 13 million girls are now at risk of forced marriages as a result of pandemic-related poverty and the closure of schools during lockdowns.

Fears of further violence in Central African Republic ahead of elections. A second round of parliamentary elections will take place in the Central African Republic on Sunday under high security after a surge in violence surrounding December’s polls. Some 114,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries since December, while another 132,000 have been displaced inside the country. Nearly 1.4 million Central Africans are now displaced, amounting to nearly a third of the population. Reuters reports that government forces, aided by UN peacekeepers, have driven armed groups out of a number of cities and that government officials are optimistic the vote will be peaceful. The UN human rights office expressed concern earlier this week about the ongoing volatility and human rights abuses by armed groups and security forces since December.

Latest shipwrecks off Tunisia claim 39 lives. Two boats capsized off the coast of Tunisia on Tuesday. At least 39 people drowned in the first shipwreck, while 134 survivors, most of them from Côte d’Ivoire, were brought to shore by Tunisia’s coast guard. Another 70 people were rescued from a second shipwreck. The two incidents were the latest in a string of recent shipwrecks off Tunisia’s coast, with Tunisian authorities carrying out 21 rescue operations at sea so far this year. Some 190 people have died attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean in 2021, while nearly 5,700 have arrived in Italy from Tunisia and Libya, up from around 2,550 during the same period last year. In a joint statement on Wednesday, UNHCR and IOM said the latest tragedy underscored the need for proactive search-and-rescue efforts.


GET INSPIRED

When former choir director Ana Marvez arrived in Chile from Venezuela five years ago and secured a job as a secretary with an arts school, she was soon flooded with the CVs of other displaced Venezuelan musicians desperately seeking work. Rather than seeing their talents go to waste, she decided to start an orchestra.


DID YOU KNOW?

After 10 years, half of the Syrian population has been forced to flee their homes. More than 5.5 million are living as refugees in the region, with hundreds of thousands more scattered across 130 countries. Another 6.7 million are displaced inside Syria.