By Kristy Siegfried | 20 August, 2021
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Don’t forget humanitarian needs inside Afghanistan, says UNHCR. Five days after the Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, and took control of the country, the situation on the ground remains extremely uncertain, with many Afghans anxious about what the future holds. While media reports focused on scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as desperate Afghans attempted to join those being airlifted out of the country, UNHCR warned today that the humanitarian needs of Afghans inside the country must not be forgotten. “The vast majority of Afghans are not able to leave the country through regular channels,” said spokesperson Shabia Mantoo, at a briefing in Geneva. “Bolstered support for the humanitarian response inside Afghanistan itself is urgently needed to deliver assistance to the Afghan people, including some half a million internally displaced this year alone.” In the past week, several countries announced resettlement programmes for Afghan refugees, but UNHCR noted that individuals will have to reach another country before they can apply for asylum and be considered for resettlement. The agency urged neighbouring countries to keep their borders open and issued a “non-return advisory”, calling for a bar on deportations of Afghans, including those whose asylum claims have been rejected.
Haiti devastated by two natural disasters in three days. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday morning, killing some 2,200 people, according to the latest official death toll which is expected to keep rising as many people remain missing. Thousands more were injured and displaced as preliminary government assessments estimated that more than 60,700 homes had been destroyed and another 76,100 damaged. Two days later, a severe tropical storm lashed the Caribbean nation with rain, bringing flash floods and hampering humanitarian efforts in the worst-affected southwest of the country. As fresh tremors shook buildings in the southern city of Les Cayes on Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that frustration was growing about the slow arrival of relief to hard-hit areas, especially those in remote areas where roads have been damaged. The two disasters could not have come at a worse time for Haiti, which was still reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July and escalating gang violence which has resulted in the internal displacement of around 19,000 people.
US moves to speed up asylum processing at southern border. The Biden administration on Wednesday published a proposed rule that would authorize asylum officers to adjudicate claims for international protection at the border, bypassing backlogged US immigration courts where cases can take years to be resolved by judges. Under current policy, asylum officers only interview new arrivals to determine if they have a credible fear of persecution before either referring them to the Justice Department for a court hearing or deporting them. Reuters reports that the administration plans to hire an additional 1,000 asylum officers, more than doubling the current number. The proposed rule could take months to finalize and will not immediately replace a current policy of expelling most asylum-seekers under a public health order enacted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic known as Title 42. In a separate development this week, the administration said it would appeal a federal judge’s order last Friday to reinstate the Migration Protection Protocols border policy, put in place by the previous administration, which returned non-Mexican asylum-seekers to Mexico to await court hearings in the US. President Biden halted the policy in February and has since allowed about 13,000 asylum-seekers to enter the United States to pursue their cases.
STORIES TO WATCH
Thousands of Cameroonians flee violence to Chad. Around 11,000 people fleeing clashes between herders and fishermen in northern Cameroon arrived in neighbouring Chad at the weekend. A further 7,300 were displaced in Cameroon’s Far North region following fighting that broke out on 10 August. The herders were reportedly angry because their livestock were falling into holes dug by the fishermen to capture fish in receding floodwaters. The violence has killed at least 32 people this month, while 19 villages have been torched, according to UNHCR which said many of the refugees in Chad were sleeping under trees and were in urgent need of shelter. The governor of Chari Baguirmi province in north-western Chad where the refugees have arrived told Reuters they had come with almost nothing and that some were wounded and in need of immediate medical care. UNHCR said it had distributed basic necessities, but urgently needed more food and water.
More than 90 people feared dead after two incidents on Canary Islands route. The first boat was found by the Mauritanian coast guard on Monday with only seven survivors on board after having set off from North Africa’s Atlantic coast for Spain’s Canary Islands on 3 August carrying 54 people. After two days at sea, engine failure left the passengers stranded without food or water for nearly a fortnight. In a second incident on Thursday, a woman was reportedly found clinging to an overturned dinghy off the Canary Islands next to two bodies. She told rescue workers that around 53 passengers had been aboard the boat when it departed from Morocco. The latest tragedies come less than two weeks after another 40 people lost their lives along the same route. More than 400 people have died since the start of the year trying to reach Spain from the North and West African coasts. UNHCR and IOM on Wednesday called for strengthened search-and-rescue capacity off the coast of Mauritania and alternatives to detention for those rescued at sea.
2020 ‘deadliest’ year ever for Rohingya sea journeys. A new UNHCR report released on Thursday revealed that 2020 saw the highest rate of deaths ever recorded among refugees attempting to cross the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. The route is favoured by Rohingya refugees attempting to reach other countries in Southeast Asia from Rakhine State in Myanmar and refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Of 2,413 people known to have attempted the sea crossings in 2020, 218 died or went missing, making the journey eight times deadlier than in 2019. Unlike in previous years, when most of those travelling were men, some two-thirds of passengers last year were women and children. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many countries in the region to tighten their borders, leaving many refugees stranded at sea for months.
After enduring loss, injury and violence at a young age in his native Burundi, Parfait Hakizimana is poised to take the world stage in Tokyo next week as a member of the Refugee Paralympic Team. Members of the taekwondo club he started in Rwanda’s Mahama refugee camp will be cheering him on.
DID YOU KNOW?
Since the end of May, the number of Afghans internally displaced because of conflict and in need of immediate humanitarian aid has more than doubled, reaching 550,000.