By Kristy Siegfried | 2 March, 2020
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Greece suspends asylum applications for a month as thousands gather at Turkish border. Greece announced a raft of measures on Sunday as increasing numbers of refugees and migrants arrived at its border with Turkey over the weekend following Turkey’s decision to ease border controls. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country would stop accepting asylum applications for a month and turn back those who attempted to cross the border. In a statement today, UNHCR noted that neither international nor EU refugee law allow for the suspension of the right to seek asylum. Greece has stepped up police and military deployments to the border, where authorities said they stopped about 10,000 crossing attempts on Saturday and another 5,500 on Sunday. UNHCR called for calm and an “easing of tensions on the border” and said it was working with partners to provide assistance to those in need, including families with children. Meanwhile, some 1,200 refugees and migrants have reached Greece’s eastern Aegean islands since Sunday morning. The Greek coast guard said a child had died when a boat capsized off the island of Lesvos this morning. Forty-six other people were rescued.
US-Taliban deal brings hope of end to Afghan war. The US and the Taliban signed a landmark peace agreement in Doha on Saturday after nearly 20 years of war. The deal could result in US troops leaving Afghanistan within 14 months and paves the way for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The agreement comes after a week of “violence reduction” in Afghanistan that resulted in a rare period of relative calm. UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed “the importance of sustaining the nationwide reduction in violence, for the benefit of all Afghans”. Around the country, the agreement was met with a mixture of cynicism and enthusiasm, reports The Guardian. Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are slated to begin around mid-March in Oslo. Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said on Sunday he would not release thousands of Taliban prisoners ahead of the talks, as laid out in the US-Taliban agreement.
WHAT’S ON OUR RADAR
Aid groups describe “impossible task” helping displaced in Idlib. Al Jazeera reports that since December, more than 200 camps for displaced people have been set up in Idlib, along the Turkish border, to accommodate nearly one million people forced from their homes by a rapidly advancing government offensive. Aid workers said they were working around the clock to assist the displaced, but that it was “an impossible task” to help so many, particularly amid ongoing aerial bombardment. The new camps lack infrastructure for basic needs such as water, sanitation and electricity. David Swanson, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said international aid agencies were reliant on more than 15,000 Syrian aid workers to assist vulnerable people, but that many of those workers had themselves been displaced.
Confusion at US-Mexico border as court halts asylum policy, then reinstates it. A US policy that requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through US courts was blocked by a federal appeals court on Friday, but then reinstated in a matter of hours, creating confusion at border crossings and courtrooms, reports AP. A three-judge panel in San Francisco upheld an injunction blocking the policy, which has sent nearly 60,000 asylum-seekers back to Mexico since its introduction last January. The court stayed its ruling, however, in order to allow the government time to appeal. Before the ruling was stayed, asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico began gathering at several international bridges, reports the New York Times.
South African police evict refugees camped outside Cape Town church. South African police on Sunday began removing belongings and ushering refugees and asylum-seekers who had been living outside the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town’s Greenmarket Square out of the area. The eviction followed a court order two weeks ago that gave city authorities the go-ahead to enforce bylaws it said the refugees were breaching. Local media report that most people left calmly, and no arrests were made as police tore down makeshift shelters. Hundreds of refugees have been staying inside and outside the church since being evicted from a sit-in protest outside UNHCR’s office in the city last October. The City said it was not in a position to provide them with emergency shelter “given the great need that exists among South Africans”.
Nicaraguan refugee farmers carve out a living in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica’s rural north, several hundred Nicaraguan refugees who moved onto a rented plot of jungle-covered farmland last October are now growing their own food, reports AP. They represent a fraction of the approximately 75,000 Nicaraguans who have sought asylum in Costa Rica after fleeing a political crisis in their country that began in April 2018. Most of the refugees were farmers in southern Nicaragua who had connections to a movement that supported university students protesting against the government. The government has streamlined the process to get their children enrolled in school, and UNHCR has donated seeds and tools, but surviving while they wait for their harvests to come in has been difficult.
Yonas Kinde became the first ever refugee to complete the Tokyo Marathon in the elite division of the race on Sunday. He finished the race in 2 hours 24 minutes despite being slowed down by a stomach cramp. He said hearing his name being called by the cheering crowd gave him strength to continue. “I dreamed about running in Tokyo since I was a child,” he said. “It is one of the greatest road races in the world.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Nearly 25 per cent of Afghanistan’s population are former refugees who have returned home in the last 18 years, while some 4.6 million Afghans still live outside the country, including 2.7 million registered as refugees.