By Kristy Siegfried | 13 May, 2022
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
At least 11 dead after boat capsizes off Puerto Rico. At least 11 people died and 31 others were rescued on Thursday after a boat carrying migrants and asylum seekers capsized off Puerto Rico’s Desecheo Island. The US Coast Guard said it was not known how many people had been on the boat when it set off from the Dominican Republic and that rescue efforts were still underway on Thursday night. According to reports, most of those on board were from Haiti, which is struggling with a surge in gang-related violence in its capital, Port-au-Prince, that has killed dozens of people and displaced more than 19,000 since June 2021. Last week, the UN expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation, including a sharp increase in kidnappings for ransom. The capsizing on Thursday was the latest in a string of such incidents across the region as people from Haiti and the Dominican Republic attempt to reach the United States in overloaded and often unseaworthy boats. Responding to the tragedy, UNHCR applauded the rescue efforts and said it was “also imperative to ensure that any individuals who may be in need of international protection are identified and can have their asylum claims assessed”.
As refugee movements out of Ukraine top 6 million, some risk return. As of Wednesday, more than 6 million refugee movements out of Ukraine had been recorded since the start of war, according to UNHCR. At the same time, authorities have reported some 1.5 million movements back into the country, despite the situation remaining highly volatile and unpredictable. AFP reports from the capital, Kyiv, where Mayor Vitali Klitschko claims nearly two-thirds of the city’s 3.5 million inhabitants have returned. While some continue to leave – fearful of fighting, shelling and strikes – others are crossing to reunite with or visit family in western Ukraine and Kyiv where the situation has somewhat improved. Across the country, some 8 million people have been internally displaced and 13 million are estimated to be trapped by fighting and unable to meet their basic needs for food, water and medicines. UNHCR said the delivery of life-saving aid remained “challenging”. Separately, the UN Human Rights Council voted on Thursday to investigate possible war crimes in several regions that were temporarily held by Russian troops. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet cited a mounting number of reports and testimonies pointing to possible war crimes, including the discovery of 1,000 civilian bodies in the Kyiv region alone. She said some had been killed in hostilities, but others appear to have been summarily executed.
Donors pledge US$6.7 billion in aid for Syrians. International donors on Tuesday pledged US$6.7 billion to support Syrians in need of aid inside their country, those living as refugees and their hosting countries in the region. Ahead of the annual pledging conference in Brussels, UN chiefs noted that humanitarian needs inside Syria were at their most acute since the crisis began over 11 years ago, with 14.6 million people in Syria now relying on aid – 1.2 million more than last year. Aid agencies warn that the hit to global agricultural supplies from the war in Ukraine could further worsen food insecurity both inside Syria, and in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees. Donors pledged US$4.3 billion for this year and $2.4 billion “for 2023 and beyond” – similar to amounts pledged last year, despite increased needs. The UN had sought $10.5 billion for 2022 to cover its Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria and the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan.
STORIES TO WATCH
Aid agencies warn of growing hunger crisis in Sahel. International aid organizations on Thursday said climate change, drought and insecurity are contributing to a rapidly worsening hunger crisis in Africa’s Central Sahel region. About 4 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of acute malnutrition in the coming weeks, according to Save the Children. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimated that 10.5 million people in total were likely to go hungry during the coming “lean season” between harvests. A severe drought has reduced food production while conflict and insecurity, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, has compounded the problem – forcing people to abandon their homes and crops. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) this week published a report revealing that the number and duration of droughts have risen by nearly 30 per cent since 2000.
An asylum seeker’s dangerous odyssey through the Americas. This interactive report by The New Humanitarian follows one Cuban asylum seeker’s journey over eight months as he travels towards the US border. Through maps, WhatsApp voice recordings and text, the report traces his route from the entrance to the Darien Gap – a jungle corridor between Colombia and Panama controlled by armed groups and smugglers – through Central America and Mexico. The 40-year-old encounters risks at every stage of his journey from trekking through treacherous terrain in the Darien Gap to being robbed in Costa Rica, narrowly escaping detention in Nicaragua and dodging cartels in Mexico. “It is one of the most dangerous migration routes in the world,” William Spindler, UNHCR’s Latin America spokesperson told The New Humanitarian. “But we only hear about it at bottlenecks or when tragedies happen.”
Conflict and climate shocks worsen crisis in northern Mozambique. Five tropical storms and cyclones have battered Mozambique’s northern coastal areas since the start of the year. In March, Tropical Cyclone Gombe alone affected more than 736,000 people, including refugees and internally displaced people. UNHCR warned this week that the growing impact of the climate crisis is “amplifying vulnerability, driving displacement and making life harder for refugees, the internally displaced, and host communities” in Mozambique. Meanwhile, the violence in northern Cabo Delgado province continues to cause new displacement, and to prevent aid agencies from reaching people in need. UNHCR has been responding in some of the areas affected by Gombe and other storms, but said the response was significantly underfunded.
Over 90 refugees from all over the world, now living in Switzerland, came together last Sunday for the second Swiss Refugee Parliament. The participants were divided into working groups to prepare proposals on issues affecting them, which were then presented and voted on in a plenary. For some participants, like 34-year-old Eritrean refugee Slahadin Romodan, it was their first ever experience of voting. “It was a good feeling,” he said.
DID YOU KNOW?
In Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, the number of Syrian refugees and host community members needing humanitarian assistance has nearly doubled from 10.4 million in 2021 to 20 million in 2022.