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By Charlie Dunmore | 18 March, 2022

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

UNHCR warns of rising needs in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. Humanitarian needs in Ukraine and neighbouring countries hosting millions of refugees are rising exponentially, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, warned on Friday. The latest figures show that more than 3.2 million refugees have fled the conflict, while millions more are displaced within Ukraine. A total of 13 million people in areas of the country worst affected by the war require assistance, with residents of Sumy, Mariupol and eastern regions facing potentially fatal shortages of water, food and medicines. UNHCR is working with local authorities and humanitarian agencies inside Ukraine to support the establishment of reception centres providing emergency accommodation and relief items. On Thursday, the agency began enrolling internally displaced people in Lviv in a cash assistance programme to cover basic needs such as rent and food. The scheme will be progressively expanded to other cities and regions. In countries hosting people fleeing Ukraine – 90 per cent of whom are women and children – UNHCR warned of an increased risk of trafficking and exploitation. The agency has deployed experts in gender, child protection, and the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse to Poland, Moldova, Hungary and Romania. Together with UNICEF, it will also establish “Blue Dot” centres in these countries and Czech Republic and Slovakia, providing safe spaces and essential services for children, families and others with specific needs. Meanwhile, local authorities and civil society groups in Poland – where the majority of refugees have fled – warned on Friday that cities are quickly running out of space and resources to deal with the influx.

UNHCR’s Grandi says world must not forget Afghanistan crisis. While global attention is focussed on the conflict and resulting refugee crisis in Ukraine, the international community cannot afford to ignore the “very grave” situation in Afghanistan. That was the message from UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Thursday, following a four-day visit to the country. Grandi met acting ministers in the interim government and reiterated the agency’s commitment to stay and deliver aid to some five million Afghans it aims to assist this year. Overall, UN agencies are jointly planning to support 22 million vulnerable Afghans in 2022. Grandi said he held frank discussions with the authorities on the issue of girls’ education and the rights of women and minorities. He urged world governments to remain engaged with the Taliban to ensure that “good intentions” are turned into action. During the visit, the High Commissioner travelled to Kandahar and Jalalabad, where he met with some of the 3.4 million Afghans displaced from their homes by conflict, as well as with recent returnees. He warned that the combined impact of health care shortages, the economic crisis and rising global food and energy costs were having a “devastating effect” on displaced populations. Earlier this week, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan warned that the country was facing a food crisis of “unparalleled proportions”, with 95 per cent of the population not getting enough to eat. UN agencies are requesting US$4.4 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 2022 ahead of a donor pledging conference later this month.

Donor countries pledge US$1.3 billion for humanitarian response in Yemen. Donors representing 36 governments pledged nearly US$1.3 billion on Wednesday to address the rising humanitarian needs of Yemenis affected by conflict. Seven years since the onset of one the world’s worst humanitarian crises, some 4.2 million people remain displaced from their homes in the country and more than 23 million Yemenis require humanitarian assistance. Speaking to donors at the start of the pledging event, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie – who visited the country earlier in March – urged governments to “address this desperate human emergency and … seek an urgent end to the conflict.” She described meeting displaced families with no food or income, children with no access to education, and mothers unable to afford medicine who had lost children to preventable diseases. “This is the reality of an aid appeal that is drastically under-funded, amid a conflict that has gone on for so many years without political solutions,” Jolie said. Following the announcement of pledges –which fell well short of the US$4.27 billion requested –UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths expressed disappointment with the outcome. “Let us be under no illusions: we hoped for more. And it is a disappointment that we weren’t able, as yet, to get pledges from some we thought we might hear from,” he said. A coalition of NGOs went further, warning that the funding shortfall will have “an immediate and critical impact on the lives of millions of civilians in Yemen.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Displaced Syrians face mounting challenges after 11 years of crisis. More than 13 million displaced Syrians face deepening poverty and rising humanitarian needs, 11 years since the onset of what remains the world’s biggest displacement crisis. A majority of the 5.6 million Syrian refugees living in the region have fallen below the poverty line, as countries feel the pressure of economic crises and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Inside Syria, more than 6.9 million people remain displaced from their homes, while a total of 14.6 million people require humanitarian aid and other forms of assistance. Last year, three quarters of all households in the country said they could no longer meet their basic needs amid spiralling costs for food and other essentials. “Political solutions are desperately needed to end 11 years of suffering,” UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov said during a briefing in Geneva on Monday.

UNHCR and partners seek US$1.2 billion to address South Sudan refugee crisis. UNHCR and more than 100 humanitarian and development partners on Friday appealed for US$1.2 billion to assist 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees and their hosts in DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. The funding is urgently needed to support refugees and help host countries provide food, shelter, and access to essential services including education and health care. With two thirds of South Sudanese refugees aged under 18, funds will also be used for child protection initiatives including birth registration and family reunification. The South Sudan refugee response was one of the world’s least funded in 2021, receiving only 21 per cent of the total requested funds.

Syrian asylum seeker sues EU border agency. A Syrian asylum seeker who says he was illegally pushed back into Turkey from Greece is suing the European Union border agency Frontex for its alleged complicity, Al Jazeera reports. Lawyers for Alaa Hamoudi lodged a case with the European Court of Justice on 10 March. They allege that between 28 and 29 April 2020, after arriving on the Greek island of Samos, Hamoudi and around 20 other asylum seekers were loaded onto an inflatable dinghy by Greek authorities and set adrift while a Frontex plane overhead observed the situation and did not act. Last month, UNHCR voiced its concern at increasing incidents of pushbacks and other human rights violations at Europe’s borders, including “recurrent and consistent” reports of informal returns at Greece’s land and sea borders with Turkey.


GET INSPIRED

A group of young Haitians living in a refugee shelter in northern Mexico who turned to basketball as a distraction from their situation have taken the local league by storm. The team has won four games with only one loss, and includes the league’s current leading player. “At the beginning, when other teams in the league saw the team was made up of people from different countries, they were surprised. But as soon as they saw them play, they gained respect,” the director of the shelter where the team is staying, Samuel Isaí Reyna Ruiz, said.


DID YOU KNOW?

With a total of 2.3 million refugees from the country, South Sudan remains the largest refugee crisis on the African continent.