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By Kristy Siegfried | 15 October, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Crisis deepens in Afghanistan as temperatures drop. Aid agencies delivered food, blankets and cash to thousands of displaced families in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan this week as humanitarians warned that the country is facing potentially catastrophic levels of hunger this winter. Increasingly cold weather underlined the urgency of getting assistance to thousands of displaced people who fled to the capital from other parts of the country in recent months and have been sleeping in tents or in the open in public parks. Those lining up for assistance outside a UN compound told Reuters they were desperate for more help. UNHCR said that only 35 per cent of the funds needed to support operations over the next two months had been received. Ahead of a G20 meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on the international community to inject cash into Afghanistan’s crumbling economy to prevent its collapse. The European Union opened the talks by pledging US$1.2 billion for international organizations to address urgent humanitarian needs in Afghanistan and to assist neighbouring countries hosting Afghan refugees. Separately on Friday, UNHCR urged states to facilitate and speed up procedures for Afghans who have fled the country to be reunited with family members left behind or displaced across the region.

Poland passes legislation allowing pushbacks at border. Poland’s parliament on Thursday passed a legal amendment which allows migrants to be pushed back at its border and for asylum claims made by those who enter irregularly to be ignored. Lawmakers also gave the green light to a government plan to build a wall at Poland’s border with Belarus. Thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers have attempted to cross into Poland, Latvia and Lithuania from Belarus in recent months. Rights groups have criticized both Poland and Belarus for pushing asylum-seekers back and forth between the two countries without due process and in freezing conditions. Seven people have been found dead near the border in the past month. Under the newly amended law, those who cross the Polish border irregularly will be obliged to leave Polish territory and face a temporary ban from the country for between six months and three years. Polish authorities will also have the right to disregard asylum applications filed by individuals intercepted after crossing the border. UNHCR has shared its view with Polish authorities that the new law contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention, EU law and national regulations by undermining the fundamental right to seek asylum.

No safe place for asylum-seekers in Libyan capital. Migrants and asylum-seekers caught up in a security crackdown that started in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, earlier this month, are struggling to find safety and assistance. Thousands have been arrested and are being detained in crowded and unsanitary conditions. This week, the UN human rights office demanded an inquiry into Libyan forces use of “unnecessary and disproportionate” force during the arrests and in the shooting and killing of several people who attempted to escape from two detention centres. Many of those who have evaded arrest or escaped from detention lost their homes and possessions when their unfinished or makeshift homes were demolished by security forces. Others have been unable to return to work due to fear of being arrested at multiple checkpoints in the city. UNHCR is providing assistance at several locations in Tripoli and is calling for the release of those being arbitrarily detained.


STORIES TO WATCH

UN, Bangladesh sign agreement to aid Rohingya relocated to island. The UN and the Bangladesh government signed an agreement last weekend to work together to assist Rohingya refugees who have moved to an island in the Bay of Bengal from crowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar District. More than 19,000 Rohingya refugees have relocated to Bhasan Char since December 2020. UNHCR, which signed the agreement on behalf of UN agencies working on the Rohingya response, said it would allow for close cooperation on “services and activities to the benefit of the increasing numbers of Rohingya refugees living on the island”. The UN said it had discussions with refugees living on the island, as well as in Cox’s Bazar, before signing the agreement to understand their needs and views. UNHCR’s representative in Bangladesh, Johannes Van der Klaauw, said relocations to the island would be on an informed and voluntary basis and that under the agreement, refugees would receive support to engage in education, livelihoods and training activities.

New offensive fuels worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia. A new ground and air offensive by government troops in northern Ethiopia this week raised fears that it could further destabilize the country and worsen a humanitarian crisis that has already pushed 400,000 people in the worst-affected Tigray region into famine-like conditions. Much needed medical supplies have not reached Tigray since July leading to what the UN described as “an alarming deterioration of the health situation”. The latest fighting may further jeopardize the already inadequate flow of aid into northern Ethiopia. In an update on Thursday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that since July, only about 14 per cent of trucks carrying needed supplies have been able to enter Tigray where the humanitarian situation is “increasingly dire”.

UK government seeks legal immunity for border officers over deaths at sea. The Guardian reports that UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is seeking to introduce a provision in new immigration legislation – the Nationality and Borders Bill – that would give officials legal protection in the event an asylum-seeker drowns. UNHCR has cited numerous concerns about the Bill, including that it would create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system and be in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The Home Office said last month it was training Border Force guards to push back small boats attempting to cross the English Channel from France. Under existing laws, officers could face prosecution if a migrant were put in danger or drowned during such operations. Immigration barrister Colin Yeo said the provision would not protect staff from prosecution under international maritime law which requires rescue of people in distress at sea.


GET INSPIRED

From early 2019, newcomers started appearing in Bollé, a community on the outskirts of Kaya in Burkina Faso. They were fleeing attacks by armed groups and they desperately needed help and shelter. Community leader Diambendi Madiega opened his large backyard to the newcomers. When that and his nearby field were full, he set about convincing others in his community to take people in. Madiega is one of two regional winners for Africa of this year’s UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.


DID YOU KNOW?

In Afghanistan, just 5 per cent of households have enough food to eat and half of all children under 5 are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition.