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By Kristy Siegfried | 14 May, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

More than 2,300 migrants and asylum-seekers arrive on Italian island. More than 2,300 people have reached the Italian island of Lampedusa since Sunday, overwhelming the capacity of the island’s reception centre. The Guardian reports that hundreds of the new arrivals slept on the dock while hundreds more were transferred to ferry boats to be quarantined until they could be tested for COVID-19. UNHCR officials said those arriving on Lampedusa on Sunday included Somali, Eritrean, Sudanese and Bangladeshi nationals. In Brussels, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson appealed to other EU Member States to show solidarity for Italy by taking in some of the migrants. Following talks with Johansson, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi echoed her call for relocations and urged the EU to agree on a “predictable mechanism” to respond to sea arrivals. Noting the large number of recent deaths in the Mediterranean, he said there was also a need for more State-led operations to rescue people at sea. In the latest such incident, authorities in Tunisia said 17 people had drowned and two were rescued on Thursday after their boat sank off the Tunisian coast two days after departing from Libya. Another two boats capsized off the coast of Libya on Sunday and Monday, leaving scores of bodies washed ashore and at least two dozen people presumed dead.

Queen announces UK asylum plans. The Queen’s speech in the House of Lords on Tuesday included proposals to overhaul the UK’s asylum system which have drawn criticism from dozens of refugee and rights groups. In an opinion published on Monday, UNHCR also expressed deep concerns about the proposed legislation, noting that it could have damaging effects on asylum-seekers, risked undermining global cooperation on refugees and might also breach international legal commitments. Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s representative in the UK, said new measures that offer different rights and benefits to asylum-seekers based on whether they arrived in the UK using unauthorized routes or legal routes, “threaten to create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system” that would undermine the 1951 Refugee Convention. “It’s not too late for a rethink,” she said, adding that the agency was ready to work with the government on alternatives. The plans include returning asylum-seekers who enter the UK irregularly to so-called “safe countries”, but The Guardian reports that no bilateral agreements have been reached with European countries to accept such individuals.

UNHCR calls for renewed support for Rohingya refugees. Ahead of a donor conference and the launch next week of an updated response plan for the Rohingya crisis, UNHCR on Friday called for renewed international commitment and support for Rohingya refugees. The 2021 Joint Response Plan aims to bring together the efforts of the Bangladeshi government and 134 UN agencies and NGOs to meet the needs of more than 880,000 Rohingya refugees sheltering in settlements in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, as well as 472,000 Bangladeshis living in surrounding areas. The UN is appealing for US$943 million to fund the plan, which will be presented at a virtual event on Tuesday. Last year’s US$1 billion appeal was only 59 per cent funded by the end of the year. With the refugee crisis now its fourth year, UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said the needs of Rohingya refugees go beyond subsistence and physical safety. “More must be done to ensure refugees have hope in Bangladesh, and of a future back home in Myanmar,” he said, adding that the current crisis in Myanmar added new layers of complexity to this challenge.


STORIES TO WATCH

Number of children crossing US southern border alone drops slightly. The number of families and unaccompanied children intercepted after crossing the United States’ southern border dropped slightly in April for the first time in nearly a year, according to government data released this week. US officials said the number of families and children crossing the border had levelled off, in part due to tighter enforcement by Mexican authorities. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Biden administration has made progress moving unaccompanied children out of cramped and unsanitary border facilities over the past month by expanding the network of shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. There are currently about 20,600 children in HHS custody as the government works to reunite them with family members or guardians in the US. The administration has continued to enforce a public health emergency order, known as Title 42, which allows border agents to turn back migrants and asylum-seekers, but has exempted unaccompanied minors and some families with children.

Myanmar journalists and activists face possible deportation after fleeing to Thailand. Rights groups urged Thai authorities not to deport three journalists and two activists who fled from Myanmar to Thailand and were arrested for illegally entering the country on Sunday. The journalists’ employer, independent news agency Democratic Voice of Burma, said their lives would be “in serious danger” if they were forced back to Myanmar, where the military took power in a coup on 1 February and later banned several media organizations, including DVB. Dozens of journalists have since been arrested in Myanmar. On Tuesday, a Chiang Mai court adjourned the case until 17 May so the five could seek legal representation. Thailand’s foreign ministry said authorities were “coordinating to find a humanitarian solution” to the case.

New law allows Australia to indefinitely detain refugees. The Guardian reports that an amendment to Australia’s migration laws was passed by parliament on Thursday, after debate was cut short on the floor of the Senate. The law allows the government to indefinitely detain individuals who cannot be sent back to their country due the risk of persecution or harm, but whose visas have been cancelled on the basis of character or security grounds. The legislation primarily targets 21 refugees already in immigration detention who have either been convicted of serious offences or flagged as security risks. However, refugee rights groups fear future application of the law could be broader.


GET INSPIRED

Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi, a Nigerian refugee who fled with his family to the United States in 2017, became a chess master on 1 May at the age of 10, making him the 28th youngest person to achieve the status, according to the US Chess Federation. Tani was living in a homeless shelter when he won the New York State chess championship for his age group at the age of 8, just a year after he started playing the game. A book Tani and his family wrote about their journey is set to be turned into a film.


DID YOU KNOW?

Last year, despite an uptick in asylum-seekers crossing from France to the UK by boat, the number of asylum applications filed in the UK actually fell to 29,456 from 35,700 in 2019.