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By Kristy Siegfried | 18 December, 2020

Please note that this is the final issue of The Refugee Brief this year. We will be back in your inbox on 8 January. Happy Holidays!


More than half a million people on the run in Mozambique’s conflict-torn north. Attacks by armed groups in northern Mozambique have increased in recent days pushing the number of civilians forced to flee to over 500,000 in Cabo Delgado, Nampula, Zambezia and Niassa provinces, UNHCR said today. With many people displaced multiple times, conditions for those affected by the conflict are worsening rapidly. UNHCR described the situation as a “protection crisis” that could spread beyond the country’s borders. Most of the displaced have sought refuge in the safer southern districts of Cabo Delgado. AFP reports from the provincial capital, Pemba, where boatloads of people fleeing attacks on their villages have arrived in recent months, swelling the local population by more than 130,000. Pemba’s mayor told AFP that local authorities are now struggling to provide basic social services. The UN and partner organizations today launched an appeal for US$254 million to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by the violence in 2021.

At least 28 refugees and migrants drown in shipwreck off Venezuela coast. The bodies of 28 refugees and migrants who were travelling by boat from Venezuela to the nearby Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago were recovered between Friday and Thursday, according to media reports. Thirty people were thought to be on the boat before it capsized. The number of Venezuelans leaving their country has increased in recent weeks as lockdown measures across the region ease. With land and maritime borders still closed, they are risking more dangerous informal options such as boarding over-loaded smugglers’ boats. “Urgent efforts are needed to stop smugglers and traffickers from sending people on these perilous journeys,” said Eduardo Stein, Joint Special Representative of UNHCR and IOM for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants. He added that regular pathways were needed so refugees and migrants could reach safety without risking their lives.

Camp closures force Iraqi families back to shattered homes. The Associated Press reports on a push by the government in Iraq to close all camps for internally displaced people by the end of the year. Aid groups warn that the rapid closures could leave tens of thousands of people homeless during the winter months, causing informal settlements to mushroom amid the coronavirus pandemic. So far, at least 34,000 people have been affected by the closure or consolidation of 11 camps since mid-October. Another 26,000 people are in three camps in federal Iraq that are slated for closure. It is not clear when camps housing 180,000 people in the Kurdish-run northern region of the country would face closure. Some former camp residents have erected tents next to homes destroyed during the conflict with the Islamic State group. In a statement in November, UNHCR said it was concerned about the large-scale closures and was boosting support to those returning to their towns and villages.


Toby Harward, UNHCR’s head of office in Mosul, Iraq

What are the biggest needs of internally displaced Iraqis affected by camp closures? 

“Displaced Iraqis returning home are faced with a lack of shelter, and the lack of basic services including education, water, electricity, livelihoods and healthcare.

“Another obstacle facing displaced people who wish to return to their areas of origin is the lack of civil documentation such as civil IDs and residency certificates. UNHCR has a partnership with the Ministry of the Interior. We are working to rehabilitate many of the offices of the Civil Affairs Directorate in Nineveh. They in turn are sending mobile teams to the camps. They meet with the displaced, collect all their information, and one week later they are able to receive their civil documents.

“In other areas, UNHCR is bringing materials like wires, poles, and transformers from decommissioned camps to villages, to provide them with some electricity. Caravans and tents are being brought to help families with shelter, and partners are trucking water to some remote villages.”


Limited aid begins to reach Ethiopia’s Tigray. Humanitarian convoys began to reach Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region this week after the area was cut off in early November by a government military offensive. A World Food Programme convoy carrying 570 metric tonnes of food headed for refugee camps hosting mainly Eritreans, but the UN continued to express frustration at a lack of full humanitarian access to people displaced by the conflict. Aid agencies fear hardships in Tigray could last long after the fighting is over with many farmers forced to abandon crops that were about to be harvested. More than 50,000 people have fled across the border into Sudan where they are desperately in need of food, shelter, clean water, and health care. The UN released US$36.6 million in emergency funding on Thursday to aid both those displaced within Tigray and refugees in Sudan.

Mental health toll on asylum-seekers stranded on Greek islands. Research released on Thursday by the International Rescue Committee reveals a worsening mental health crisis among asylum-seekers living at reception centres on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios. Citing data collected from 904 asylum-seekers supported by its mental health programmes, the IRC said one in three reported suicidal thoughts, while one in five reported having made attempts to take their lives. Although the number of asylum-seekers living on the islands has more than halved from over 38,000 at the start of the year, conditions remain extremely difficult, with limited access to water, sanitation and healthcare. On Lesvos, after the Moria reception centre burned to the ground in September, some 7,000 people were moved to a temporary site where flooding has been a problem and, according to the IRC, many people are experiencing an even deeper sense of exhaustion and frustration.

COVID-19 pushes more Syrian refugees into ‘severe’ poverty. The coronavirus pandemic has had a “severe and profound” impact on poverty levels among Syrian refugees and their host communities in Lebanon, Jordan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, according to a new joint study by the World Bank and UNHCR released on Thursday. Poverty rates among refugees in Jordan increased by 18 percentage points, in Lebanon by 56 percentage points, and in Iraq’s Kurdistan by 21 percentage points. Poverty levels in host communities have also increased, particularly in Lebanon, which had been suffering from an economic crisis even before the pandemic. Cash assistance programmes by UNHCR and other organizations have helped many refugee families who have lost income during lockdowns, but such programmes need more support from the international community to continue in 2021, according to the study.


Fourteen refugees living in Canada have contributed their favourite recipes from home and their personal stories to an e-cookbook, “Tastes from Home”, released by UNHCR this week to mark its 70th anniversary. For every copy of the cookbook downloaded, an anonymous supporter has agreed to donate money to UNHCR to help feed refugee communities around the world.


Nearly three-quarters of refugees report being able to meet only half or less of their basic needs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.