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By Kristy Siegfried | 15 October, 2019


Aid agencies scramble to respond to civilian exodus in north-east Syria. With tens of thousands of people fleeing an air and ground offensive in northeast Syria that started last week, aid workers are rushing to provide food, water and medical assistance. UNHCR said today that it had distributed blankets and other relief items to some 31,800 people who have fled to the towns of Al-Hassekeh and Tal Tamer. Many people reportedly fled without documents or other belongings and some families have been separated in the chaos. Some 460 people have crossed into neighbouring Iraq since Sunday while another 2,000 people are estimated to have fled to areas close to the Iraqi border. UNHCR said that as of today, aid workers could no longer safely access Ain Issa camp near the border town of Tell Abiad where 13,000 people were staying. Hundreds of women and children reportedly fled shelling that hit the camp on Sunday.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers affected by large fire on Greek island. The fire broke out on Monday evening outside the Vathy reception centre on the Greek island of Samos, which is housing more than 5,500 asylum-seekers in facilities designed for 660. Police said it was unclear how it started but several hundred people are thought to have lost their shelters and possessions. Earlier on the same day, at least three people were reportedly injured during clashes between groups of Syrian and Afghan asylum-seekers. Last month, an asylum-seeker died when a fire broke out at Moria reception centre on the island of Lesvos. In a report released on Monday, UNHCR warned that conditions at overcrowded centres on the islands are dire with thousands of refugees and migrants exposed to risks, including poor sanitary conditions, fire hazards, and mounting tensions. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that a rubber boat sank off the coast of western Turkey on Monday, leaving one child dead and another missing. The Turkish coastguard rescued 33 of 35 people who were attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece.


EU sees spike in arrivals of Afghan asylum-seekers. Reuters reports that so far this year, Afghans have made up the largest number of asylum-seekers arriving to the European Union, outnumbering Syrians. According to EU and Iranian officials, many of the new arrivals from Afghanistan were living in Iran before crossing through Turkey into Europe. Nearly 14,000 Afghans arrived to Europe between January and September this year, according to UNHCR figures. Most have come via Greece where they now account for 37 per cent of some 32,000 refugees and migrants residing on the islands.

Zambia to pilot “qualifications passport” for refugees. A document attesting to a refugees’ higher education qualifications, work experience and language proficiency known as a “Qualifications Passport” will be launched in Zambia this month before being rolled out more widely. Based on a similar initiative launched by the European Council in 2017, UNESCO, UNHCR, the Zambian qualifications authority and the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education are now testing whether a similar concept can be applied outside Europe. Lack of documents is one of the biggest obstacles to refuges accessing university education and jobs, according to UNHCR.

Addressing root causes of displacement. The Forced Migration Review today published a “mini-feature” containing seven articles on the topic of understanding and addressing root causes of displacement. The special feature includes an article on preventing displacement by UNHCR’s former Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, and pieces on addressing root causes in Central America, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The feature aims to inform discussions on protection and solutions at the Global Refugee Forum in December which will review progress on the Global Compact on Refugees.


Lual Mayen grew up in a refugee camp in northern Uganda after fleeing Sudan with his family. Now he is leading his own Washington DC-based company developing video games aimed at peace-building and conflict resolution. In his latest game, called Salaam, players adopt the role of a refugee as they journey from a war-torn country to a peaceful existence. Funds from the game benefit refugees through the company’s partnerships with various NGOs.


At least 160,000 people have been displaced since fighting in northeast Syria escalated nearly a week ago.