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By Kristy Siegfried  | 13 August, 2019


UNHCR urges Europe to end stand-off over hundreds stranded in Mediterranean. With more than 500 refugees and migrants in limbo in the Central Mediterranean, UNHCR today called on European governments to immediately provide a safe port for the two NGO ships that rescued them and to share responsibility for hosting them after they disembark. Between Friday and Monday, the Ocean Viking, a vessel launched recently by French charities Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Méditerranée, rescued 356 people from four boats in distress off the coast of Libya. Meanwhile, another 151 rescued refugees and migrants remain stuck aboard the Open Arms vessel operated by Spanish charity Proactiva. The ship picked up 39 more people on Saturday, after rescuing 123 people from the Mediterranean on 1 and 2 August. Nine people were evacuated from the ship to Malta on Monday for health reasons, but the rest remain on the Open Arms. UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, warned that storms are expected and conditions on board the two ships were likely to worsen. “To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering,” he said.

Civilian casualties mount amid fighting in Aden. Days of fighting have wracked the port city of Aden in Yemen, causing the deaths of at least 40 civilians since 8 August, according to preliminary UN reports. Médecins Sans Frontières said the city was “a battlefield” and that its hospital in Aden had been overwhelmed by people wounded by the fighting after being trapped in their homes and becoming victims of mortar fire or stray bullets. CNN reports that relative calm had returned to the city by Sunday, following days of street battles. Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said humanitarian organizations were on the ground and dispatching medical teams to rescue the injured. “We are also very worried by reports that civilians trapped in their homes are running out of food and water,” she said.


Aid groups urge Lebanon to halt demolition of Syrian refugee homes. A coalition of international NGOs on Friday called on the Lebanese army to end a campaign of dismantling Syrian refugee shelters. The joint statement followed reports that troops had partially demolished over 350 refugees’ homes in four settlements in the northern district of Akkar on Thursday. Further raids were carried out on Friday as part of a recent government order that all non-temporary refugee shelters be dismantled or face demolition. The NGOs appealed to the Lebanese government to extend its generosity towards Syrian refugees by ceasing the demolitions and working with landlords and municipalities to find a solution that would allow the refugees to live in safety and dignity.

Displaced Afghans struggle to celebrate Eid. Al Jazeera reports from a camp for internally displaced people in eastern Kabul, where residents had little to offer their families on the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. Afghanistan’s long-running conflict, combined with economic hardship and natural disasters, have forced nearly 2.6 million people from their homes, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Despite ongoing peace talks, in the first seven months of this year, more than 206,000 people were newly displaced, according to UN figures. Those forced to flee usually head for provincial IDP camps spread across the country, but Al Jazeera reports that conditions in the Kabul camp have been steadily deteriorating as NGO funding has dwindled. Meanwhile many of the camps, most of which are located on state land, are under pressure not to expand further.

Greece calls for EU solidarity amid increase in asylum-seeker arrivals. With the number of refugees and asylum-seekers on five Aegean islands now exceeding 20,000, Greece on Monday called on the EU for a fairer sharing of responsibility for asylum-seekers. Giorgos Koumoutsakos, alternative minister for citizen protection, who is responsible for migration policy in Greece’s new conservative government, told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that since 7 July, not a single day had passed without new arrivals. Lesvos alone has seen a 44 per cent increase compared to the same period last year, said Koumoutsakos, with 250 people arriving on six boats on 9 August alone. The minister said Greece had “exhausted its capacity on this issue (and) is looking forward to efficient cooperation with the European Commission and the member states”.

Guatemala’s next president wants to change “safe third country” deal with US. The winner of Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday, Alejandro Giammattei, told Reuters he hoped to make changes to the “safe third country” agreement the current administration signed in July, which would require people from El Salvador and Honduras to seek asylum in Guatemala before they can request asylum in the United States. Giammattei, who will not take office until January, said his country lacked the capacity to look after asylum-seekers. The Christian Science Monitor reports that many voters in struggling agricultural regions near the Mexican border were concerned about the agreement. According to US Customs and Border Protection, roughly 250,000 Guatemalans have been apprehended on the US border this fiscal year – more than any other nationality.


Mevan Babakar turned to Twitter on Monday in an effort to track down the aid worker who bought her a bike when she was a five-year-old refugee living at a camp in Zwolle, the Netherlands, in the early 1990s. “It was the kindest thing that happened to me at a difficult time. That’s why I want to thank him,” she said. “It taught me that kindness can exist everywhere.” Her post was retweeted more than 3,000 times, and today she tweeted that, not only had she found her benefactor, she had learned that his kindness had touched the lives of many other refugees.


Of 839 people who have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, 600 died or disappeared in the Central Mediterranean, even though that route represents only 13 per cent of sea arrivals to Europe.