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By Kristy Siegfried | 19 March, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

UK considers sending asylum-seekers abroad for processing. The UK Home Office is considering sending asylum-seekers to processing centres in other countries, according to a report by the Times. Priti Patel, the home secretary, is expected to release details next week of a plan to send those who arrive in the UK via irregular routes, such as crossing the Channel in small boats, to a third country where their asylum claim would be dealt with. Similar plans for offshore processing of asylum-seekers were floated by the UK government last year but were later dismissed as unrealistic. Answering questions about the proposal on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted they were humane and would deter people from making perilous journeys with the help of smugglers. However, it is not yet clear which foreign government would agree to take in UK asylum-seekers. UNHCR’s UK representative, Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, said the organization was “extremely concerned” by the reports and had not been consulted on the plans. “We urge the UK (and other countries) to refrain from these practices,” she said, adding that “externalization arrangements … risk a gradual erosion of the international protection system”. She called instead for a better-designed and better-resourced UK asylum system that would result in fairer and faster procedures and lower overall costs.

Attacks in north-east DR Congo kill hundreds, displace 40,000. Attacks on civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces have killed nearly 200 people and displaced some 40,000 since the start of the year, according to UNHCR. The attacks have been blamed on the armed group, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which has allegedly raided 25 villages in retaliation for military operations and accusations that communities shared information on ADF positions. The latest attack occurred late on Sunday, when men armed with knives and other weapons raided a village east of the city of Beni, killing at least a dozen people, according to media reports. UNHCR said those displaced by the recent violence were living in dire conditions in towns in Beni Territory. Funding shortages are hampering the agency’s ability to provide them with desperately needed shelter and other essential items. Currently, the US$33 million UNHCR requires to respond to needs in eastern DRC is just 5.5 per cent funded.

A decade of death, destruction and displacement for Syrians. Monday marked 10 years since the start of Syria’s conflict in March 2011. Media outlets and humanitarian agencies observed the grim milestone with updates on the situation both inside Syria and for more than 5.5 million Syrian refugees living in the region. The war has left its mark on virtually every town and village in the country and displaced half the population. Over the past year, the situation has been compounded by a severe economic crisis. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the world had failed Syrians and that “a toxic mix of waning aid and a COVID-19 induced economic downturn” was driving Syrian refugees to “unseen levels of desperation”. In Lebanon, nine out of 10 Syrians are now living in extreme poverty. Ahead of a donor pledging conference in Brussels at the end of March, Grandi called on the international community to “significantly step up its support to host countries”.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Ayaki Ito, UNHCR’s representative in Lebanon

In what ways has the situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon become more difficult over the past 10 years?

“When Syrians first fled to Lebanon in search of protection, they had just left their families, their homes, their schools or work behind. Some had even brought some savings. But as the years went by, they quickly depleted any savings they initially had, and instead started accumulating debts.

“Ten years on, life for refugee children, women and men has gotten more and more difficult. Refugees’ abilities to survive have been stretched past the breaking point. The current reality is taking a very big toll on Syrian refugees’ mental health. Last year, there was a sharp increase in the number of calls made by refugees to our nationwide call centres, where refugees told my colleagues that they don’t know how to manage anymore, how to survive.

“This is what a protracted situation of refuge can lead you to, if you don’t have the ability to continue your education, develop your professional skills, live a life as close to normal as possible, and prepare for life back home after returning.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Violence escalates in Sahel’s ‘tri-border zone’. Gunmen on motorcycles attacked a group of civilians returning from a livestock market in Niger’s Tillabéri region on Monday, leaving at least 58 people dead. Tillabéri is in the so-called tri-border or Liptako-Gourma region, where the borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge. The region has seen the most intense fighting in a worsening conflict in the Sahel that has displaced over 1.7 million people in those three countries. Monday’s attack echoed a January attack on two villages in Tillabéri that killed 100 people and forced 10,000 to flee. Also on Monday, 33 Malian soldiers were killed during an attack on a military post in the Gao region near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso and Niger. Meanwhile, AFP reports on the return of Malian refugees to a camp in Burkina Faso a year after attacks and threats forced residents to flee. Security and support in the camp have since been beefed up.

Father facing charges for son’s death on journey to Greece shares story. The Afghan father who is facing charges for child endangerment after his five-year-old son died at sea during an attempt to reach Greece has shared his story with AP. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison. The man told AP that his asylum application in Turkey had been rejected twice and that he wanted his son to attend school and have a better life in Europe. But their boat capsized after hitting rocks off the island of Samos last November, and the boy and his father were separated. The boy’s body was found hours later. The case is the first time a parent has faced prosecution for their child’s death while trying to reach Europe. Greece’s Migration Minister said it did not indicate any change in Greek policy. Meanwhile, the father is preparing to sue the Greek coast guard for failing to provide assistance. UNHCR has urged Greek authorities to investigate credible allegations of pushbacks off its coast and to ensure the right to asylum.

UN team visits Bangladesh island where Rohingya refugees were relocated. A delegation of experts from several UN agencies began a three-day visit to the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday. Bangladesh has moved more than 13,000 Rohingya refugees to the island from Cox’s Bazar since December 2020. The island has accommodation for up to 100,000 refugees. The UN had previously called for permission to visit the island to conduct technical and safety assessments before refugees began being transferred there. UNHCR said this initial visit would be used to “look at the current situation and facilities on Bhasan Char, appraise the needs of the Rohingya refugees relocated there” and to hold discussions with refugees, authorities and those working there.


GET INSPIRED

Tousin “Tusse” Chiza, a 19-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will represent Sweden at this year’s Eurovision song contest. He received a record number of votes from the Swedish public last weekend for his performance of the song Voices.


DID YOU KNOW?

A record 8,420 people reached the UK in small boats last year. However, total asylum claims dropped by 18 per cent during the same period.