By Kristy Siegfried | 19 November, 2021
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Belarus clears border encampment as repatriation flights leave for Iraq. Belarusian authorities said on Thursday most of the occupants of a makeshift camp at the border with Poland had been moved “on a voluntary basis” into a nearby warehouse that has been converted into a reception centre. Media reports showed hundreds of people, including young children, resting on mattresses. Earlier this week, Polish forces used tear gas and water cannon to repel migrants and refugees who were attempting to cross the border. In a separate development on Thursday, Iraq began the voluntary repatriation of its citizens from Belarus with an initial flight taking around 400 people from Minsk to Erbil and Baghdad, according to Al Jazeera. Meanwhile, the European Commission and Germany rejected a proposal by Belarus that EU countries take in 2,000 migrants and refugees on its territory. Minsk has said it will return another 5,000 to their home countries. But in a sign that an unknown number of people remain stranded in freezing conditions at the border, a Syrian couple, both injured, told the Polish Centre for International Aid, a local NGO, that their one-year-old child had died in the forest where they had been living for 1.5 months. UN agencies have not been able to confirm the death. Earlier this week, funerals were held for two Syrian men who died near the border.
Ten die in overcrowded boat off Libya. Ten people were found dead in the lower deck of a severely overcrowded wooden boat that was taking on water off the coast of Libya on Tuesday, Médecins Sans Frontières reported. According to survivors, who were rescued by MSF’s rescue vessel, Geo Barents, those who died suffocated after 13 hours crammed into the bottom of the boat, where there was a strong smell of fuel. The rescue was the third in less than 24 hours by the Geo Barents, which recorded a total of 186 people on board, including 61 minors. Both MSF and Alarm Phone, a volunteer-run hotline for migrants and refugees which relayed a distress call from the boat to European authorities hours before it was rescued, said the incident highlighted the urgent need for state-run search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean. An estimated 1,235 people have died or gone missing while attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean so far this year. Another 29,000 have been intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya.
Malnutrition soars in northern Ethiopia. AFP reports on a survey of 14 hospitals in Ethiopia’s Tigray region by local doctors and researchers which found that nearly 200 children under five had died from severe acute malnutrition between late June and late October. The figures are not considered comprehensive as most health facilities in Tigray are not functioning and health workers were only able to reach about half of the region’s districts, according to Dr Hagos Godefay, head of the health bureau in Tigray’s pre-war government. Trucks carrying humanitarian supplies have struggled to reach Tigray in recent months, with none arriving since 18 October, according to the latest update from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which described the nutrition situation in Tigray as “precarious”. OCHA also recorded “alarming” rates of severe acute malnutrition in neighbouring Afar region. Separately, thousands of people have been detained in Ethiopia’s capital and elsewhere since the government earlier this month declared a state of emergency over the country’s intensifying conflict, according to the government-affiliated, but independent Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC said large numbers of the detainees were of Tigrayan background.
STORIES TO WATCH
Greece suspends trial of aid workers involved in sea rescues. The trial in Greece of 24 aid workers involved in search-and-rescue efforts began on Thursday but was immediately adjourned after the judge ruled that the local court on the island of Lesvos was not competent to hear the case. The defendants, who include 17 foreign nationals, were all affiliated with the Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), a non-profit group that operated from Lesvos between 2016 and 2018 when large numbers of asylum-seekers were arriving daily to the island’s shores and volunteers and grassroots organizations were providing life-saving search-and-rescue support and assistance. They are facing up to 25 years in prison on charges of spying and disclosing state secrets, which they have denied, as well as separate charges, still being investigated, of people-smuggling, belonging to a criminal group and money-laundering. Rights groups criticized the trial as “politically motivated” and urged Greek authorities to drop the charges.
‘Perfect storm’ brewing in Somalia amid worsening drought. A joint statement by the Government of Somalia and the humanitarian community on Thursday warned of a rapidly worsening drought in the country, which is on the verge of a fourth consecutive failed rainy season. Nearly 100,000 people have already abandoned their homes, mainly in central and southern areas, in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock. The movements risk exposing families to conflict over dwindling resources. The number of people in need of assistance is expected to rise by 30 per cent to about 7.7 million by 2022. “A perfect storm is brewing in Somalia,” said the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula. He called for action to prevent a slide towards the famine conditions experienced in previous years. Somalia is on the frontline of climate change, with the frequency and severity of floods and droughts increasing in frequency and severity.
New report charts progress towards Global Compact on Refugees’ goals. A new report released by UNHCR this week takes stock of how far the international community has come since it called for the development of a new international framework to share responsibility for refugee situations in 2016. The GCR Indicator Report shows progress has been made in increasing support to low-income countries hosting the majority of refugees and in expanding refugees’ access to work and education but warns that much more remains to be done, particularly given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies. Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, described the picture as “mixed” and called for efforts towards greater responsibility sharing between countries to be stepped up.
Liverpool striker Mo Salah gave children at Al Farooq Omar school in Cairo a day to remember when he paid a surprise virtual visit to share his views on the benefits of digital learning. Salah is an Ambassador for Instant Network Schools, an initiative by the Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR that works in some of the most marginalized communities in Africa to give young refugees, local communities and teachers access to digital learning content and the internet.
DID YOU KNOW?
Three out of four refugees can legally work in their host countries, but in practice, a far smaller proportion of refugees have access to employment and two-thirds are living in poverty.