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By Kristy Siegfried | 14 February, 2020


Shelterless Syrians burn refuse for warmth as 140,000 more flee. Another 142,000 people have fled air strikes and advancing troops in Syria’s Idlib province this week, bringing the total number of those uprooted since 1 December to over 800,000, the UN said on Thursday. At least 60 per cent of those displaced are estimated to be children. Reuters reports that fleeing families are sleeping rough in streets and olive groves and burning toxic bundles of rubbish to stay warm in bitterly cold winter weather. Relief workers said several children had died in the last week alone due to the freezing temperatures. In one camp in northern Idlib, a family of four died of suffocation on Tuesday after inhaling fumes from a fire they had made with old clothing, shoes and cardboard. Many local aid workers have themselves been displaced, making it difficult for them to respond to humanitarian needs that are “increasing exponentially”. Ahmed Mahmoud, Syria country director for Islamic Relief, writes that 90 per cent of his staff in the region have been forced to flee their homes and are battling to provide food and shelter to thousands of other displaced people.

European court backs Spain’s pushbacks in Melilla. The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that Spain acted lawfully when it rapidly deported two men who entered its north African enclave of Melilla by scaling a border fence from Morocco. The men, who are from Mali and Ivory Coast, were among hundreds who climbed the fence on 13 August 2014. They were caught by Spanish police and immediately handed over to Moroccan authorities. The judgement said the men had placed themselves in an “unlawful situation” by not seeking refuge through the correct channels. It follows an appeal by Spain, to which Italy, Belgium and France joined, and reverses an initial ruling that Spain’s rapid return of the men had violated the European Convention on Human Rights. UNHCR, which intervened in the case as a third-party, stressed that pushbacks of people who may be in need of international protection contravene international refugee and human rights law. Rights groups described the ruling as a “blow for refugee and migrant rights” that could set a precedent for push backs elsewhere in the EU.


New influx of Cameroonian refugees to Nigeria. Almost 8,000 Cameroonian refugees have fled to eastern and southern Nigeria over the past two weeks, UNHCR said on Thursday. The latest influx began ahead of elections that took place in Cameroon last weekend and brings the total number of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria to nearly 60,000 with more arrivals expected, according to the refugee agency. Rights groups reported a spike in violence committed by armed separatists and government forces in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions in the period before the elections while UNHCR said some of the recent arrivals to Nigeria had crossed the border with gunshot wounds. In addition to the cross-border exodus, the conflict between separatists and the army has displaced nearly 680,000 people within Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions.

Donors and aid agencies discuss how to maintain assistance in Yemen as obstructions to work increase. Senior officials, UN leaders and humanitarian organizations met at the European Commission in Brussels on Thursday to discuss measures to address “the deteriorating operating environment and working conditions of humanitarian organizations” in Yemen. Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told AFP that “the biggest lifeline on earth is at stake”. The meeting, hosted by the EU and Sweden, follows months of rising tensions over humanitarian access in Yemen, including a demand by Huthi authorities in northern Yemen for a two per cent levy on aid shipments. Aid groups have refused to agree to the demand, which Egeland described as a “red line”.

EU-funded initiative to create more jobs for refugees in Latin America. The European Union is donating €4 million to help refugees and asylum-seekers in Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras find living-wage jobs and better integrate into society through a project that will be jointly implemented by UNHCR and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Just over 70,300 people applied for asylum in Mexico last year, up from around 29,600 in 2018. UNHCR has been working with Mexican authorities to transfer refugees and asylum-seekers from border areas to central and norther Mexican cities where there are more jobs. Asylum-seekers contributed US$2.1 million to the Mexican economy last year, according to the EU. In Costa Rica, nearly 60,000 people applied for asylum last year, most of them after fleeing political violence in Nicaragua.

Nigeria’s military accused of displacing hundreds in fight against Boko Haram. Amnesty International today accused Nigeria’s military of forcibly displacing entire villages in north-eastern Nigeria in response to a recent escalation in attacks by the armed group, Boko Haram. The rights group said soldiers razed three villages last month after forcing residents to leave their homes and board trucks which took them to a camp for internally displaced people in the regional capital, Maiduguri. Twelve witnesses interviewed by Amnesty said they saw their village burning as they were loaded into the trucks. Satellite imagery of the three villages shows that almost every structure was razed. The allegations come during a surge in Boko Haram attacks in the area, including a 10 February attack that killed 30 motorists outside the town of Auno.


Syrian refugees Rania, 13, and her sister Raghad, 15, are among a group of teenagers learning robotics at a new Innovation Lab in Jordan’s Za’atari refguee camp.


On the night of 10 February, as thousands of fleeing Syrian families were forced to sleep in the open, the temperature in north-west Syria dropped to minus 7 degrees Celsius.