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By Kristy Siegfried | 13 August, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Tens of thousands fleeing Taliban advance seek safety in Kabul. The Taliban captured Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities, Herat and Kandahar, on Thursday, putting them in control of 12 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals and some two-thirds of the country. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the past month, according to the UN, while some 400,000 people have been forced from their homes since the start of the year, nearly 250,000 of them since the end of May. Expressing alarm today at the “unfolding humanitarian crisis”, UNHCR noted that 80 per cent of those forced to flee in recent months have been women and children. Nearly 120,000 Afghans fleeing rural areas and provincial towns have arrived in Kabul, the capital, according to the governor’s office. UNHCR urged the international community to urgently step up its support to respond to the displacement crisis. The BBC reports from Kabul that many of the displaced are sleeping in abandoned warehouses, in the streets or in makeshift camps and are struggling to find food and other basic necessities. UNHCR also called on neighbouring countries to keep their borders open. While the vast majority of displacement has been internal, nearly 200 Afghans fled to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the first week of August. Several European countries announced this week that they would temporarily halt deportations to Afghanistan, a move welcomed by UNHCR.

Alarm over US ‘expulsion flights’ to southern Mexico. UNHCR raised concern on Wednesday about a new US practice of using a public health order linked to COVID-19 to expel some asylum-seekers and migrants to southern Mexico. The expulsion flights began last week in a bid to deter repeat border crossers. UNHCR’s representative in the United States, Matthew Reynolds, said they “constitute a troubling new dimension in enforcement of the COVID-related public health order known as Title 42”, which denies individuals access to protection screening and US asylum procedures. He warned of the risk of “chain refoulement” whereby vulnerable people could be pushed back by successive countries. The Washington Post reports that hundreds of Central Americans flown to southern Mexico have already been forced by Mexican authorities into a remote part of Guatemala, stranding them with no place to stay or any way to return to their home countries.

UNHCR regains access to Tigray refugee camps. The UN Refugee Agency said it had regained access to two camps housing 23,000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and restarted delivery of urgently needed assistance. Access remains limited by the security situation, however, and UNHCR is calling for safe passage so it can move the refugees to a new site some 135 kilometres away. The agency said it had also begun issuing identification documents to Eritrean refugees who fled to Addis Ababa from two camps in northern Tigray that were destroyed earlier this year. The three-year documents will allow them to access assistance, services and protection. Separately, a new report by Amnesty International accuses forces aligned to the Ethiopian government of targeting women and girls in Tigray for rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence. Amnesty interviewed 63 survivors, as well as medical professionals. The report adds to a growing body of evidence that rape is being used as a weapon of war in the region.


STORIES TO WATCH

Systemic sexual violence in DR Congo’s Tanganyika Province. UNHCR today expressed grave concern about widespread and systemic sexual violence against women and girls perpetrated by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Tanganyika Province where thousands of people have been displaced by violence this year. UNHCR’s partners in two health zones in the province have recorded 243 incidents of rape in just the past two weeks with the actual figure thought to be much higher due to low reporting. Armed groups vying for control of mining areas, and in retaliation against government-led military operations, have reportedly carried out mass rapes of women and girls as they attempt to flee their homes. UNHCR called on authorities to urgently scale up security to protect civilians, allow humanitarian access, and bring perpetrators to justice.

Bangladesh begins vaccinating Rohingya refugees. Over 4,000 Rohingya refugees received their first COVID-19 vaccine at camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on Tuesday as part of a national vaccination drive. Some 48,000 refugees over the age of 55 are being targeted as the first group to receive the vaccine. AP reports that there has been a recent uptick in COVID infections in the camps, as elsewhere in Bangladesh, due to the highly transmissible delta variant. The vaccination drive is being led by the Bangladeshi authorities with support from UNHCR and the World Health Organization and other humanitarian partners. The vaccinations follow weeks of devastating monsoon rains that have pummelled Cox’s Bazar, killing eight refugees and displacing almost 25,000 of them from their shelters.

Latvia pushes back migrants and asylum-seekers at Belarus border. Reuters reports that Latvian border guards turned back dozens of asylum-seekers into Belarus on Wednesday night and adopted a state of emergency on Thursday aimed at stemming an unusually large numbers of arrivals from Belarus in recent weeks. A spokesperson for UNHCR expressed deep concern about the reported pushbacks and said the agency was sending a mission to Latvia to discuss the situation. Meanwhile, on Tuesday night, Lithuania’s parliament approved the construction of a fence along the country’s 679 kilometre border with Belarus. Its interior ministry said 4,026 people had crossed into the country from Belarus so far this year, compared to 74 in all of 2020.


GET INSPIRED

Meet Little Amal, the giant puppet of a 9-year-old Syrian refugee girl who is walking 8,000 kilometres from Turkey to the UK to find her mother. This week she reached the Greek island of Chios. Her journey – The Walk – represents the stories of millions of young refugees, many of whom travel alone to reunite with their families. The 3.5 metre puppet was created by the Handspring Puppet Company to remind the world not to forget them.


DID YOU KNOW?

The latest displacement in Afghanistan brings the total number of internally displaced people in the country to 3.3 million.