By Kristy Siegfried | 2 October, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
UK government discusses off-shoring asylum-seekers. The UK government confirmed this week that it is examining plans to create an off-shore processing centre for asylum-seekers attempting to reach the country. The news followed a Financial Times report that home secretary Priti Patel had asked officials to explore the construction of an asylum centre on Ascension Island, an overseas territory in the Atlantic, 4,000 miles from the UK. Another proposal reportedly being considered was to hold newly-arrived asylum-seekers on disused ferries. A spokesperson for the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said the UK was looking at systems which have been used elsewhere in the world. The Home Office has described an increase in the number of asylum-seekers crossing the Channel in small boats this year as “unacceptable”, but Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s Representative in the UK, pointed out that the total number of asylum claims in the UK had fallen so far in 2020 as other routes into the country were less used. Speaking to the UK Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday, Pagliuchi-Lor said the proposal to off-shore asylum-seekers on a remote Island was “extremely inappropriate” in terms of the UK’s commitments to human rights and asylum, and would be at odds with the UK’s long-standing tradition of welcoming refugees.
Migrants and refugees evicted from camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian authorities this week began emptying temporary reception centres for migrants and refugees, moving hundreds of people to a crowded, remote facility that is ill-equipped for winter conditions. On Wednesday, police in the north-western Una Sana Canton (USC) bused several hundred people from the Bira centre in the town of Bihac to a tent camp in Lipa which IOM said was already full and only suitable for summer weather conditions. In the next few days, the USC authorities are expected to empty a second centre in the town of Velika Kladusa of its 700 residents. Local authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are increasingly reluctant to host large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers and at least one in four are estimated to be living outside of organized facilities in woods, abandoned buildings and along roadsides near the border with Croatia that many hope to cross.
US proposes cutting refugee admissions to new low. The US administration has proposed admitting a maximum of 15,000 refugees for resettlement in fiscal year 2021, 3,000 fewer than the ceiling of 18,000 set by the administration for the 2020 fiscal year, which expired at midnight on Wednesday. The programme was largely suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic for five months and restarted in August. By Wednesday, some 11,800 refugees had been admitted over the past 12 months. The 2021 proposal will be reviewed by Congress before the annual figure is finalized by the White House. Reuters reports that it includes specific allocations for refugees fleeing religious persecution as well as those from Iraq who helped the United States, and refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Cuba and Venezuela. UNHCR estimates that in 2021, over 1.4 million refugees will need resettlement.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Seid Husagić, a senior field associate with UNHCR working in Bihać, in north-western Bosnia and Herzegovina
What are your biggest concerns regarding refugees and migrants who are staying outside reception centres in Bosnia?
“When [coronavirus travel] restrictions were relaxed in July, we immediately saw a spike in arrivals and at that time, the reception centres were already full. There are now between 2,500 and 4,500 people staying outside of centres in Una Sana Canton alone. They are dispersed in micro-settlements in forests, squats and inaccessible areas where they are just fending for themselves. People head to this region because it’s the most favourable place to cross the border [into Croatia], but also because other accommodation options across the country are full.
“The biggest concern is for the health of those people not being accommodated. While some outreach services are available, thanks to the local Red Cross and EU-supported NGOs, without a proper solution, and a fast solution, many people will remain outside, exposed to all sorts of risks. The current situation is also extremely difficult for those who would like to seek asylum as avenues to register with the authorities are limited in Una Sana Canton.”
STORIES TO WATCH
Greece steps up asylum-seeker transfers from congested islands. Greek authorities moved more than 1,000 asylum-seekers from the eastern Aegean islands to the mainland this week as part of efforts to improve conditions in over-crowded island reception centres. Most of the transfers were from a temporary facility on Lesvos that was built in a few days to accommodate people left homeless after the Moria reception centre was destroyed by fires three weeks ago. Others came from centres on Kos, Samos, Chios and Leros. The country’s Migration Minister said transfers of people from the islands would continue over the coming weeks and months. Separately, this week UN agencies said a total of 1,066 asylum-seekers had been relocated from Greece to other EU States so far this year, including 139 who arrived in Germany on Wednesday.
Nicaraguan asylum-seekers face hunger in Costa Rica or dangerous returns. The New Humanitarian reports that the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has seen work dry up for thousands of Nicaraguan asylum-seekers living in Costa Rica. Many are now considering returning home, but a closed border means that would-be returnees must choose between taking dangerous, clandestine routes back or remaining in Costa Rica with little support. Meanwhile, Nicaraguans trying to flee the other way are finding limited crossing points where Costa Rican officials are accepting asylum claims. A July-August survey by UNHCR found that more than three-quarters of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum-seekers in Costa Rica were going hungry, with 14 per cent eating only one meal a day.
Conflict erupts between Armenia and Azerbaijan over disputed territory. Renewed fighting between the two former Soviet Union republics over the Nagorno-Karabakh region began on Sunday and continued on Thursday, despite calls for an immediate ceasefire by the leaders of France, Russia and the United States, representing the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group set up in 1992 to spearhead efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The two countries fought a war over the territory from 1988 to 1994 which left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than a million people from their homes. As of yet, there are no confirmed incidences of large-scale displacement, although there have been reports of people moving away from the fighting area.
UNHCR announced on Thursday that this year’s laureate of the Nansen Refugee Award is Mayerlín Vergara Pérez, a Colombian child rights defender who has spent more than 20 years rescuing children and teens, many of them refugees, from sexual violence and exploitation. Through her work for the Colombian NGO Fundación Renacer, she has helped hundreds of child survivors of trafficking and exploitation through the long process of recovery. A virtual awards ceremony will take place on 5 October.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 2019, the UK received 35,566 asylum applications. In the same year, Germany received 142,400 applications while France received 119,900 and Spain received 115,200.