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By Kristy Siegfried | 17 December, 2021

Please note that this will be the final issue of The Refugee Brief this year. The first issue of 2022 will land in your in-box on 7 January.


Displacement from water clashes in northern Cameroon reaches over 100,000. Clashes that erupted in Cameroon’s Far North region two weeks ago over dwindling water resources have now driven at least 100,000 people from their homes, triple the figure reported just a week ago, according to UNHCR. More than 85,000 people have fled into neighbouring Chad while another 15,000 have been displaced inside Cameroon. Deaths from the fighting have also doubled in the last week to 44, while 112 villages have been burned down. The root cause of the violent confrontations between herders and fisherman and farmers, according to UNHCR, is competition over increasingly scarce water resources exacerbated by the climate crisis. Over half the new arrivals to Chad have found refuge in or near the capital, N’Djamena, while others are scattered along the banks of the Logone River which marks the border. The new arrivals, most of them women and children, have put pressure on a country already hosting about one million refugees and internally displaced people. In a statement on Wednesday, Chad’s president, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno referred to a “worrying situation” and called on the international community to “provide urgent assistance to these new refugees”.

Rights groups report new wave of atrocities in Ethiopia’s Tigray. According to a joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, security forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have stepped up mass detentions, forced expulsions and killings of ethnic Tigrayans in western Tigray. The report, which came out ahead of today’s UN special session on abuses committed during the year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia, is the latest in a series of accounts detailing atrocities against civilians committed by all parties in the conflict. The report alleges that Tigrayans have been expelled from several towns in western Tigray, where some 1.2 million people have been displaced since the conflict began, according to the UN. Others have been detained in what the two rights groups described as “life-threatening conditions”. According to the testimony of 31 people who spoke to Amnesty and HRW by phone, Tigrayans attempting to flee were attacked, and an unknown number killed. Fighting has displaced more than 2 million people across northern Ethiopia and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.

Afghans face challenges seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. While Pakistan and Iran have hosted the vast majority of Afghan refugees for decades, The Wall Street Journal reports that many more recent arrivals to Iran have been deported, including those attempting to claim asylum. Afghans without passports or visas usually enter Iran via desert smuggling routes in the province of Nimroz, but between August and December, nearly a half a million Afghans who entered Iran irregularly, later returned, about 360,000 after being deported. The LA Times reports that undocumented Afghans living in Iran for years are fearful of being caught up in a growing crackdown by Iranian authorities. Afghanistan’s borders with Pakistan and Iran are currently open only to those with passports and visas, and a small number of medical cases. The land borders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are completely closed to Afghans. Earlier this month, UNHCR expressed concern about the escalating risks faced by Afghans seeking to flee into neighbouring countries as the situation within the country continues to deteriorate.


US commits to its first definition of statelessness. The United States this week pledged to adopt a formal definition for statelessness and to develop an official process for identifying and protecting people without a nationality living in the country. It said that the adoption of a standardized definition would ensure it can recognize the “unique barriers” encountered by stateless people. The Center for Migration Studies estimates that up to 218,000 US residents are potentially stateless or at risk of statelessness. UNHCR welcomed the commitment, which it said offers “real hope both in the United States and globally to stateless people who have been forced to live in the shadows and place their lives on hold simply because they have been deprived of a nationality.” Around the world, statelessness blights the lives of millions of people, who are frequently unable to travel, vote, access education and healthcare.

Families of drowned refugees and migrants bid farewell at ceremony in France. French authorities this week said they had identified all 27 of the people who died trying to cross the English Channel by boat last month in the worst such disaster on record in the narrow seaway separating the two countries. Most of the victims were from Iraq, while others were from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Iran. They included seven women, a teenager and 7-year-old child. On Thursday, family members bade farewell to four Afghan men who died in the accident at a ceremony in the northern French city of Lille. Despite the sinking and winter weather conditions, migrants and refugees have continued to attempt the journey to the UK, including around 100 people who arrived to England’s south coast this morning.

EU proposes new internal border controls. Under new rules proposed by the European Commission on Tuesday, Member States could introduce border checks within the Schengen travel zone during emergencies, initially for six months but potentially for up to two years. The New York Times reports that they would also be able to suspend some protections for asylum seekers if neighbouring countries orchestrate migratory flows to the bloc’s borders, as Belarus has been accused of doing in recent months. The proposed changes still need to be approved by national governments and the European Parliament. Critics said the new rules risked eroding fundamental rights, including the right to seek asylum.


Afro-Ecuadorians and Afro-Colombian refugees are using traditional arrullo rhythms and song to open a conversation about gender-based violence in the community of Calderón, in Ecuador. Olaise Cortéz and other members of Tía Gachita use music to reach out to people and raise awareness of women’s rights. “Sometimes, if you don’t know any different, you don’t change,” says Olaise. “But … we’ve learned about our rights. We pass this knowledge on to our neighbours, our brothers, to our children.”


Afghans constitute one of the world’s largest refugee populations. Some three-quarters of them – more than 2.2 million – are registered in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.