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By Kristy Siegfried | 18 February, 2020


North-west Syria crisis reaches “horrifying new level” with 900,000 displaced. The number of people uprooted by violence in north-west Syria since December has now reached 900,000, the UN said on Monday – 100,000 more than the figure reported four days earlier. Mark Lowcock, the UN’s head of humanitarian affairs, said the crisis had reached “a horrifying new level” as displaced and traumatized people, the vast majority of them women and children, were “forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full”. He said mothers were burning plastic to keep their children warm and that babies were dying from the cold. He added that a huge cross-border relief operation is “overwhelmed” and that settlements for displaced people are now being hit. The UN Human Rights Office said a ground-based strike on a makeshift camp near the town of Sarmada wounded three people on Friday. A strike on another camp the following day killed a man and wounded six others. “No shelter is now safe,” said UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet. “They simply have nowhere to go.” CNN reports on the gruelling journeys that some families are making to escape bombardment – walking in freezing conditions for hours with older children carrying the younger ones.

At least 20 killed in stampede during refugee aid distribution in Niger. Fifteen women and five children were trampled to death on Monday as Nigerian refugees and locals rushed to receive food and cash being handed out at a youth and culture centre in the town of Diffa in south-east Niger. The Diffa region is host to nearly 263,000 people displaced by violence, including 120,000 Nigerian refugees. A municipal worker told AFP that thousands of people had gathered in the courtyard of the culture centre to receive aid donated by the governor of north-east Nigeria’s Borno state. When the door was opened, people started pushing and the weaker ones fell to the ground. Expressing shock and sadness at the deaths, which included four refugees, UNHCR appealed for aid distributions to be carried out in coordination with local authorities and humanitarian agencies.


Greece pauses plans for new closed facilities for asylum-seekers on islands. Greece on Monday delayed plans to build closed facilities for asylum-seekers on five Aegean islands amid mounting opposition from local communities. Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said regional authorities would have a week to propose alternative locations for the new centres which would replace the current open and severely crowded reception centres. The government has faced protests, roadblocks and threats of legal action since announcing last week that it would sequester land to expedite construction of the closed facilities. Meanwhile, AFP reports that several mainland communities are resisting plans to house asylum-seekers transferred from the islands.

EU ministers agree on new Libya naval mission. EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to launch a new operation with naval ships, planes and satellites to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya and to replace Operation Sophia – launched in 2015 to combat human trafficking but suspended last March under pressure from Italy. The agreement takes into account concerns among some Member States that the presence of European ships in the Mediterranean could act as a “pull factor” for migrants and refugees seeking to reach the EU. Studies have shown that a concentration of navy and charity rescue boats in the Central Mediterranean did not create a pull factor. Ships under the new mission will patrol an area of the Mediterranean which is where most arms smuggling to Libya takes place but is away from the routes most refugees and migrants take to try to reach Europe.

Court grants order against refugees camped outside Cape Town church. A South African court on Monday granted an interim order allowing Cape Town authorities to enforce bylaws which it said hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers living outside the Central Methodist Church in the city’s Greenmarket Square were breaching. The court order means the refugees are prohibited from sleeping, cooking, making fires or washing in the street outside the church where hundreds of them have been staying since December. Another group of refugees have been staying inside the church since being evicted from a sit-in protest outside UNHCR’s office in the city last October. The order is due to come into effect in seven days.

Aid agencies warn of increasing civilian casualties in Yemen. Eleven aid agencies working in Yemen reacted on Monday to the high number of civilian casualties resulting from a recent escalation in the country’s five-year conflict. Airstrikes killed 31 people and injured 12 others in the mountainous Al Jawf governorate in northern Yemen on Saturday. The incident followed an attack on a hospital in Marib on 7 February which cut off health services to some 15,000 people. Since mid-January, heavy fighting in Al Jawf, Marib and Nihm governorates has displaced 28,000 people who are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The aid agencies said the current violence threatens to tilt the country towards “a major escalation”, potentially reversing efforts to bring the conflict to an end. They called for a nationwide ceasefire and for warring parties to restart peace talks.


Business is booming for Mohamed Azeem, an Afghan refugee who sells spices from a market stall in southern Pakistan. He used to have to rely on friends to cash cheques and keep his money safe, but new laws introduced last year have allowed him to open a bank account. A summit in Islamabad this week aims to galvanize more international support for Afghan refugees after four decades of displacement.


Since the 1 January, 298 civilian deaths have been recorded as a result of the violence in Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo provinces.