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By Kristy Siegfried | 18 September, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Thousands of asylum-seekers on Lesvos move into new emergency camp. Greek police on the island of Lesvos launched an operation on Thursday to rehouse thousands of asylum-seekers who have been sleeping rough at roadsides and in supermarket carparks since fires destroyed the Moria reception centre last week. By this morning, some 5,000 people had moved into a new emergency facility in Kara Tepe which has capacity for up to 8,000 people. More asylum-seekers are expected to arrive at the new site today. Before entering the facility, all new residents are undergoing rapid COVID-19 testing. By Friday morning, some 150 people were isolating in a quarantine area after testing positive for the virus. In a statement today, UNHCR said it supported the use of the new facility as a temporary, emergency solution but said it was not appropriate for longer-term use and that it stood ready to support discussions on long-term solutions, including transfers to the mainland and EU-supported relocations. Germany said on Tuesday that it would take in more than 1,500 refugees from Greece in addition to 150 unaccompanied minors who had been staying at Moria. Berlin is trying to rally a concerted European response in the wake of the fires. Meanwhile, Greece’s civil protection minister Michalis Chrysochoidis told The Guardian that he expected all of the roughly 12,000 refugees and asylum-seekers on Lesvos to be transferred to the mainland by next Easter.

Uganda probes killing of 10 refugees following dispute with locals. Uganda is investigating the deaths of 10 South Sudanese refugees and a local teenager in a dispute that began over a shared water point in the northwest of the country. The disagreement over a borehole in Rhino refugee settlement quickly escalated, according to UNHCR, which said that in addition to the deaths and injuries, 15 refugee homes were burnt to the ground, others looted and vandalized, and 10 refugees remain missing. In a statement on Monday, UNHCR called on authorities to search for the missing immediately. UNHCR’s representative in Uganda, Joel Boutroue, said the “disproportionate violent reaction” by the host community signalled a threat to peaceful co-existence. He added that scarce resources had increased hardships for both host and refugee communities. Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs told Reuters that a lack of donor funding to support refugees in Uganda meant that 400 families were sharing water points built for just 200. He added that the situation was now calm and the incident was being investigated.

Refugees feeling impact of “massive under-funding”, warns UNHCR. The UN Refugee Agency warned today that millions of displaced people are feeling the impact of massive underfunding, even as the COVID-19 crisis continues to increase humanitarian needs globally. A new UNHCR report on the consequences of under-funding describes the COVID-19 crisis as a “force multiplier” that has exacerbated humanitarian needs and complicated UNHCR’s efforts to respond. Meanwhile, the agency’s global operations are only 49 per cent funded for this year, a gap that is already having an impact on the lives of refugees and displaced people in countries from Afghanistan to Syria. The report highlights 10 situations that have been particularly affected by funding shortfalls and where programmes to provide shelter, health, education, water and sanitation have already been forced to a halt or are on the brink of being suspended or scaled back. As well as additional funding, UNHCR said it was calling for donor flexibility so that resources can be targeted to where needs are greatest.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Erasmia Roumana, a Senior Protection Associate with UNHCR, currently based on Lesvos

What challenges are you and your colleagues facing trying to assist asylum-seekers who were made homeless after the fires in Moria? 

“When I first saw the situation in Moria, it was shocking to see the level of destruction. The fire had ruined almost everything. People are really traumatized. I spoke with many families who were once again forced to flee for their lives. They were not trusting to go back into a camp. They feared a new fire, new security incidents or that they would have to stay there for more months until the finalization of their asylum procedure. You could see they didn’t know what to do and whom to believe.

“We had to rebuild trust with them to be credible. We didn’t make any promises but presented the facts as they are and let them take an informed decision about their lives. With strength and resilience, more refugees are now entering the new emergency site.

“I was looking at them, moving again with their few belongings, and I could see that they just wanted to find peace and a place to rest. People are tired and they don’t want to be waiting in uncertainty anymore. They want to be given a chance to rebuild their lives. They don’t want another Moria.”


STORIES TO WATCH

EU set to unveil new asylum and migration plan. The European Commission will present its plan to overhaul EU migration and asylum policy on 23 September, a week earlier than previously announced, in part because of the fires that destroyed the Moria reception centre in Greece. In her State of the Union address to the European Parliament on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the new strategy would take a “human and humane approach” and that “saving lives at sea is not optional”. She also stressed the importance of “solidarity” and the need for “a closer link between asylum and return” that distinguished between “those who have the right stay and those who do not”.

“Spectre of famine” returns to Yemen. The UN humanitarian chief warned on Tuesday that “the spectre of famine” has returned to Yemen two years after it was averted by donors swiftly allocating funds for humanitarian efforts. By contrast, this year’s UN appeal is only 30 per cent funded, leaving 9 million Yemenis to cope with deepening cuts to aid programmes including food, water and health care. Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council that the worst hunger in Yemen was in conflict-affected areas. In recent weeks, conflict has escalated, particularly in Marib governorate, in central Yemen. According to the UN, more civilians were killed across the country in August than any other month this year. In addition, COVID-19 is having a devastating impact with experts estimating that up to one million Yemenis may have been affected by the virus.

Bangladesh urged to move Rohingya refugees from remote islet. Two human rights groups this week called for 306 Rohingya refugees kept on the remote island of Bhasan Char since they were rescued from a boat three months ago to be returned to their families staying in camps in Cox’s Bazar. Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed 20 Rohingya refugees who were part of a government-arranged “go and see visit” to Bhasan Char earlier this month. They said some of the refugees detained on the island had wanted to return with them and that others complained about the quality of medical services and the lack of livelihood opportunities. Bangladesh has constructed facilities to accommodate 100,000 Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char but UN experts have yet to be allowed to conduct an independent assessment to determine the island’s safety and feasibility.


GET INSPIRED

Video game designer and South Sudanese refugee Lual Mayen was selected as one of CNN’s Champions for Change this week in a series that spotlighted innovators who are challenging the status quo. In this clip, he explains how his immersive game, “Salaam”, puts players in the shoes of refugees trying to reach a peaceful country. In-app purchases, such as for water, allow players to fund relief for actual refugees.


DID YOU KNOW?

Currently, the three most under-funded situations where UNHCR works are: Iraq (33 per cent funded), South Sudan (33 per cent funded) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (35 per cent funded).