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By Kristy Siegfried | 15 January, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Central African refugee numbers soar as attacks intensify. A wave of violence linked to a disputed general election in the Central African Republic intensified this week, with the number of people forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries reaching nearly 60,000, a two-fold increase over the past seven days, according to UNHCR. Most have fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, across the Ubangui River. Some 10,000 Central Africans crossed the river on Wednesday alone and a total of 50,000 have arrived since 27 December, when the election was held. Another 9,000 have arrived in Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of the Congo and some 58,000 people are displaced inside the country. Armed groups in CAR have attacked several towns and on Wednesday launched a coordinated attack on the capital, Bangui, before being pushed back by UN peacekeepers and Central African forces. UNHCR said it was working with partner organizations to gather reports of abuses by the armed groups, including of sexual violence and pillaging. The post-election violence has reversed progress towards peace in recent years that had allowed some Central African refugees to return home.

UN Refugee Chief “very worried” for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement on Thursday that he was “very worried” about the safety and well-being of Eritrean refugees in two camps inside Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region that UNHCR and its partners have been unable to reach since fighting broke out there in early November. Grandi said he continued to receive reliable reports of human rights abuses, including killings, abductions and forced returns of refugees to Eritrea. He added that reports of additional military incursions into the camps over the past 10 days were consistent with satellite imagery showing fires burning and fresh destruction at the Shimelba and Hitsats camps. “These are concrete indications of major violations of international law,” Grandi said. He added that UNHCR teams had been unable to assist thousands of Eritrean refugees who continued to flee the camps and have been arriving in Shire town, “emaciated, begging for aid that is not available”. Grandi noted that UNHCR and partners had been able distribute food and restore the water supply at two other refugee camps in Tigray but reiterated a UN-wide call for full access and the protection of refugees from attacks and forced returns.

Refugees in Jordan begin receiving COVID-19 vaccine. Jordan became one of the first countries in the world to start providing COVID-19 vaccinations to refugees this week. An Iraqi refugee couple living in the northern city of Irbid were the first UNHCR-registered refugees in the country to receive the vaccine on Thursday. As part of Jordan’s national COVID-19 vaccination plan, anyone living in the country, including refugees and asylum-seekers, is eligible to receive the vaccine, with older people, those with chronic diseases and healthcare workers among those being prioritised. UNHCR has been advocating for the inclusion of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people in national COVID-19 vaccine programmes in line with the principles of COVAX, a global initiative to ensure equal availability of vaccines across the world.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Mike Woodman, a senior public health officer with UNCHR

What are the risks and consequences if refugees are not included in national vaccination plans?  

“Using public health reasoning, it is impossible to break or sustainably slow the transmission of the virus unless a minimum of 70 per cent of the population has acquired immunity.

“Ensuring that refugees are included in the vaccine rollout is key to ending the pandemic. Excluding refugees, other displaced people or non-nationals from vaccination plans carries the risk of ongoing transmission in these populations, with spillovers into the national population.

“There are tangible protection risks associated with excluding refugees, ranging from consequences for their health, access to services, work, education and livelihoods, freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Fire at Rohingya camp leaves thousands homeless. A fire that broke out in Nayapara Camp in southern Bangladesh in the early hours of Thursday destroyed more than 550 shelters – home to some 3,500 people – as well as shops and a community centre. Residents said huge flames quickly spread from one edge of the camp before enveloping an entire block. Firefighters reportedly took two hours to bring the blaze under control. Photographs and video shared on social media showed little remaining of the camp, which had been home to some of the refugees for decades. No serious injuries were reported, and the cause of the fire was not immediately known. UNHCR, in collaboration with partner organizations and authorities, is providing shelter materials, clothes, hot meals, and medical care to those left homeless by the blaze.

Fears for famine in Yemen grow following US blacklisting of Houthis. Three top UN officials called on the United States on Thursday to revoke its recent decision to designate Yemen’s Houthi militia a foreign terrorist organization, warning it would push the country into a large-scale famine and chill peace efforts. Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Peace, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock and UN food chief David Beasley issued their warnings during a Security Council meeting. Aid groups have said that the designation will hamstring their ability to respond to an already dire humanitarian situation, with 16 million Yemenis poised to go hungry this year. UNHCR’s Yemen representative, Jean-Nicolas Beuze, said the agency feared it would struggle to import critical items such as food, medicine and shelter materials. The designation is due to come into effect on 19 January.

Asylum-seekers on hunger strike over conditions at UK accommodation site. Hundreds of asylum-seekers being housed at a former army base near the town of Folkestone reportedly began a hunger strike on Monday in protest at a lack of information about their asylum claims and conditions at the site. About 400 men, most of whom arrived in the UK by boat from France, have been housed at the Napier barracks site since September. Many gathered at the gates of the site on Tuesday to demonstrate about crowded conditions and poor hygiene which they fear are putting them at risk of COVID-19 infection. While charities have described conditions at Napier Barracks, which is one of two Ministry of Defence sites being used to house asylum-seekers, as cramped and stressful, the Home Office said residents were “free to come and go”.


GET INSPIRED

Poet and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emi Mahmoud reminds us how unforgiving winter can be for those who lack proper shelter, warm clothes, or any source of heat.


DID YOU KNOW?

To date, out of 90 countries currently developing national COVID-19 vaccination programmes, 51 – or 57 per cent – have included refugees in their plans.