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By Kristy Siegfried | 14 January, 2022

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

UN seeks US$5 billion to prevent ‘catastrophe’ in Afghanistan. The UN on Tuesday asked international donors to provide more than US$5 billion in funding to stave off “a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe” in Afghanistan this year – its largest appeal ever for a single country. Five months after the Taliban took power, half the population are facing acute hunger, over 9 million people are displaced, and the economy is in free fall. If funded, the UN and partner organizations will deliver life-saving aid to 22 million people inside Afghanistan and support 5.7 million displaced Afghans and local communities in five neighbouring countries. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi underscored the risk of further displacement both within the country and throughout the region if the international community fails to step up support. The appeal will be followed by a pledging conference in mid-March, but several countries announced new funding this week, including an additional US$308 million from the United States. On Thursday, UN Secretary General António Guterres appealed for a suspension of rules preventing the use of money in Afghanistan to save lives, and for a path to the conditional release of frozen Afghan foreign currency reserves.

Air strikes in Ethiopia’s Tigray intensify. Drone strikes in several locations in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region killed dozens of civilians over the past week. One strike reportedly killed 56 people in a centre for recently displaced people in north-western Tigray, near the Eritrean border. In another strike on Monday in the southern town of Mai Tsebri, 17 people working at a flour mill were killed, according to humanitarian workers who spoke to witnesses. The UN said it could not confirm casualty figures because access to Tigray is restricted and it remains under a communications blackout, but last week, UNHCR confirmed that three refugees were killed in an air strike on a refugee camp in northern Tigray. The attacks forced aid agencies to temporarily suspend their operations in the north-west, while fighting has rendered the main supply route into the region unusable since mid-December. A World Food Programme spokesperson warned that fuel and food supplies in Tigray are now “perilously low”, forcing the agency to scale down food distributions in a region where hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine-like conditions.

Decade of Sahel conflict leaves 2.5 million displaced. UNHCR today called for “concerted international action” to end armed conflict in Africa’s Central Sahel region, which has forced more than 2.5 million people from their homes over the past decade. Internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, from 217,000 to 2.1 million by late 2021, while the region is host to 410,000 refugees. Violent attacks surged last year in all three Central Sahelian countries – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – displacing nearly 500,000 people by November. The insecurity, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic and the worsening effects of the climate crisis, have led to a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the region, according to UNHCR, which noted that host communities and government authorities with scant resources are buckling under the pressure of welcoming displaced families. Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies face mounting challenges to deliver assistance, including road attacks and insufficient funding. Last year, a third of UNHCR’s funding needs for the Central Sahel were unmet. The agency said it requires US$307 million to mount an effective response in 2022.


STORIES TO WATCH

Libyan security forces arrest hundreds of protesting migrants and refugees. Aid agencies estimate that some 600 migrants and refugees were arrested by Libyan authorities outside a former UNHCR-run community day centre and the agency’s main office in Tripoli early Monday. While some left as police arrived, others who refused to leave were moved to a detention centre. Those arrested had been camping outside the buildings seeking help and evacuation out of Libya, following a security operation in October that led to the arrest of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers and the demolition of many of their makeshift shelters. Protest leaders claimed the police had used excessive force during the arrests and Médecins Sans Frontières said its teams had treated patients taken afterwards to Ain Zara detention centre for stab wounds, beatings and trauma. UNHCR expressed concern about those held in detention and called for their immediate release.

Fire tears through Rohingya refugee camp. A fire swept through a Rohingya refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh on Sunday, destroying hundreds of homes. The blaze was the second in a week after a fire on 2 January severely damaged a COVID-19 treatment centre in another camp in Cox’s Bazar. Aid agencies said Sunday’s fire had burnt down 350 shelters, affecting nearly 2,000 people. Two learning centres for refugee children were also damaged, but there were no reports of casualties. A devastating fire last March killed at least 15 refugees and burned down more than 10,000 shelters. Fires are a continual hazard in the camps, where more than one million people live in extremely crowded conditions and shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulin are packed closely together. Sunday’s incident led to renewed calls for fencing that surrounds the camps to be removed.

At least 200 killed in bandit attacks in northwest Nigeria. An estimated 200 people were killed and 10,000 displaced in attacks by armed bandits in the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara last week. The Guardian reports that following airstrikes by the Nigerian army on their hideouts, gunmen attacked villages in the Anka area for several days, firing on residents and burning homes. Those who fled sought safety in Anka town. Northwest Nigeria has seen a sharp rise in attacks on villages and schools and abductions since late 2020 as the government has struggled to maintain law and order. The bandit groups have emerged from a historical conflict between largely Fulani pastoralists and farmers of varying ethnic groups over access to water and land. Last week, the Nigerian government officially labelled them terrorists to bring tougher sanctions against those convicted, as well as their informants and supporters.


GET INSPIRED

The Darrouba family from Syria made their way to Canada in 2016 via a resettlement programme. They told Calgary’s City News that now they want to return the support they received from Canadians by helping Afghan refugees arriving in the country. The “From Syria to Afghanistan” programme, launched by the Syrian Canadian Foundation, is linking Afghan refugees with 100 Syrians who will help them integrate into their new communities.


DID YOU KNOW?

Over half of the Central Sahel region’s internally displaced people (IDPs) are from Burkina Faso where the total number of IDPs reached more than 1.5 million by the end of 2021.