By Kristy Siegfried | 12 November, 2021
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Crisis deepens at Poland-Belarus border. A large group of some 2,000 migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, including women and children, gathered in sub-zero temperatures on the border between Belarus and Poland this week, hoping to cross into the European Union. According to media reports, many more migrants and refugees are gathered in areas near the frontier, including nearby forests. Aid workers and journalists have been blocked from reaching them by an exclusion zone put in place by Poland after it declared a state of emergency recently. Several people are reported to have died near the border in recent weeks. Some migrants told the BBC how Belarusian authorities had seized their phones and pushed them towards the border fence. In a joint statement with IOM on Tuesday, UNHCR said it was alarmed by the reports from the Belarus-Poland border and deplored “the instrumentalization of migrants and refugees to achieve political ends”. The two agencies gained access to the group at the Belarusian side of the border on Thursday and delivered some emergency aid, including food, to prevent further loss of life. Noting that the makeshift border camp lacks adequate shelter, food, water and medical care, they called for the authorities to move people to safe locations where they can be provided with adequate assistance and counselling.
World leaders urged to turn COP26 words into action for forcibly displaced people. As COP26 drew to a close today and negotiators from nearly 200 participating countries worked to reach an agreement on key outcomes, UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Change, Andrew Harper, welcomed pledges to mitigate emissions, increase financing and support for adaptation, and address loss and damage. However, he expressed concern that the conference had not yielded more concrete actions to realize those commitments, which he noted were essential for protecting vulnerable communities around the world, including millions of refugees, displaced and stateless people living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Earlier this week, UNHCR called on States to urgently step up efforts to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse effects of climate change. From the Sahel to Central America, extreme weather linked to climate change is a factor driving people from their homes. In Cameroon, fishermen and herders who have peacefully co-existed for decades are now clashing over dwindling water sources while in Honduras, people displaced by back-to-back hurricanes last November have become more vulnerable to criminal gangs, and are being forced to flee again.
Warnings of humanitarian crisis engulfing Afghanistan. The World Food Programme warned this week that 23 million Afghans, in a country of 38 million, are now facing acute hunger. Of those, 8.7 million are in a state of emergency and more than 3 million children are malnourished. Speaking to the BBC’s John Simpson, the WFP’s executive director David Beasley said the situation was about to become “the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth”. Around US$10 billion of Afghan foreign reserves have remained frozen since the Taliban took power while foreign subsidies that funded almost 70 per cent of the government budget in the past have ended. Along with shortages of food and essential supplies, the healthcare system is under acute strain, with malnutrition adding to the caseload for hard-pressed staff. This week, the UN development agency, UNDP, and the Global Fund paid nearly $8 million in salaries to 23,500 health workers across the country. Another $7 million went to buying basic medical equipment, essential drugs and supplies.
STORIES TO WATCH
Fighting in eastern DR Congo forces 11,000 to flee to Uganda. An upsurge of fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on Sunday night caused some 11,000 people to flee across the border into Uganda – the largest refugee influx into the country in a single day for more than a year. The fighting between militia groups and the DRC’s armed forces took place in North Kivu’s Rutshuru Territory. The new arrivals told UNHCR staff at transit centres that fighting was taking place in several villages. Uganda’s borders are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the government applied a humanitarian exception to admit those fleeing the fighting, most of whom were women and children. Military officials from the DRC’s armed forces told AFP on Tuesday that they had driven out militia fighters from five villages in the area they had captured and that many of those who fled to Uganda had returned.
Conflict in Myanmar creating growing humanitarian needs, says UN. The UN Security Council on Wednesday expressed its “deep concern” about the unrest in Myanmar and called for an “immediate cessation of violence” as well as efforts to ensure civilians are not harmed. Ahead of the meeting, the UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned that the humanitarian situation in the country is deteriorating with more 3 million people now in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance due to growing conflict and insecurity, COVID-19 and a failing economy. He said that without an end to the violence “this number will only rise”. Since the February takeover, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes by fighting, including 37,000 in northwest Chin State in recent weeks. Some 223,000 people in the country are now internally displaced.
US borders reopen, but not for asylum-seekers. The United States on Monday re-opened its borders to visitors vaccinated against COVID-19, but Reuters reports that the Biden administration has kept in place the use of a public health law that allows officials at the border with Mexico to immediately expel migrants and asylum-seekers. The administration has said that the law, known as Title 42, remains necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as asylum-seekers are processed in crowded settings at the border. Last month, more than 1,300 medical professionals signed letters urging an end to Title 42, which has been in effect since March 2020, saying it lacked epidemiological evidence to justify it and put migrants stuck in Mexico at risk. UNHCR has also called on the US to lift the restrictions, in line with its international legal and human rights obligations.
Poet and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emtithal (Emi) Mahmoud performed her latest poem at COP26 in Glasgow this week. A plea from Mother Earth to humanity to repair all the damage inflicted on her and spare future generations from climate chaos, she wrote it after talking to refugees living on the frontlines of climate change in Bangladesh, Cameroon and Jordan. Several of them are involved in efforts to adapt to the effects of climate change. They told Emi they need more support and resources to continue that work.
DID YOU KNOW?
The upward trend in forced displacement continued in the first six months of 2021, with global numbers now exceeding 84 million – up from 82.4 million at the end of 2020.