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By Kristy Siegfried | 20 December, 2019

Please note that this will be final issue of The Refugee Brief this year. It will be back in your inbox on 6 January. Happy Holidays!


Pope calls for closure of detention centres in Libya. Pope Francis on Thursday called for facilities detaining refugees and migrants in Libya to be closed, saying they were rife with torture and slavery. He made his comments before a group of 33 asylum-seekers brought to Italy by the Vatican from the Greek island of Lesvos. Echoing calls made by the UN, the Pope said a “serious commitment” was needed to empty out the detention centres. He added that the problem would not be resolved by blocking people attempting to flee by sea. Some 4,200 refugees and migrants are being held in Libyan detention centres, many of them in or near areas where rival groups are fighting for control of Tripoli, the capital. Separately, the Germany charity Sea-Watch announced on Thursday that its rescue ship would return as soon as possible to the area north of the Libyan coast after winning a legal battle in Italy. Its vessel had been impounded at the Sicilian port of Licata since late June, when it entered Italian waters without permission after more than two weeks at sea with 42 rescued refugees and migrants.

Life for many Syrians “worse than when the year began”. The humanitarian situation facing civilians in many parts of Syria is worse than at the start of the year, the UN’s deputy emergency relief coordinator told the Security Council on Thursday. Ursula Mueller said the situation in opposition-held north-west Syria “remains alarming”, with shelling and air strikes forcing up to 60,000 people from their homes in Idlib province in recent weeks. “Rain, cold and winter conditions have compounded hardships for many displaced families and their host communities,” she said, adding that a fuel shortage had left families resorting to burning tires and other household items to stay warm. The Guardian reports that over 90 people have been killed and 12,000 have fled the town of Maaret al-Numan in southern Idlib as a result of heavy bombing over the last week. Hospitals and aid groups have also been affected by the fuel shortage, with aid workers saying they have had to cut back support for internally displaced people in the region and with hospitals turning off heaters on wards to save fuel for ambulances and generators powering medical devices.


Clashes break out at refugee facility on Greek island of Samos. Between 200 and 300 asylum-seekers rallied outside the Vathy reception centre on the island of Samos on Thursday, protesting conditions at the overcrowded facility and demanding to be allowed to leave the island. There were brief clashes between the police and protesters, with the police firing tear gas and stun grenades. Designed to house 648 people, Vathy is over 11 times its official capacity, with 7,497 people now registered as living in and around the facility. The Greek government has vowed to move 20,000 people from the islands to facilities on the mainland by early 2020, but new arrivals continue to outpace transfers.

New Brexit bill weakens commitments to child refugees. An amended withdrawal agreement bill, which sets out plans for the UK’s exit from the EU, has removed a previous commitment to secure protections for refugee and asylum-seeking children in Europe wanting to reunite with family members in the UK. The obligation has been replaced by a requirement to make a policy statement on the matter to parliament in the Spring. MPs will vote on the bill this afternoon. The government said it still intends to strike an agreement that would continue to allow child asylum-seekers to reunite with family members in the UK, but Lord Alf Dubs, who led the campaign to protect child refugees rights post-Brexit, told The Independent it was a “retrograde step” that could leave hundreds of children with relatives in the UK stranded alone in Europe.

UN targets electrifying all of world’s refugee camps. The UN set a goal this week of bringing electric power to all refugee camps by 2030. The target is ambitious given that 90 per cent of refugees living in camps currently have little or no access to electricity. Lack of power poses a challenge for cooking, keeping warm, studying and staying safe. It also means more pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as people resort to burning firewood or charcoal and using diesel-guzzling generators. Andrew Harper, UNHCR’s first special advisor on climate action, acknowledged the target is ambitious, but said “I don’t think we have a choice” given the threat of climate change. AFP highlights some of the projects already underway to deliver green, reliable power to refugee camps, while VOA looks at the need to partner with the private sector on clean energy solutions.


On a recent morning, Maya Ghazal climbed into the cockpit of a tiny plane at an airfield west of London and made her first solo flight. It was a major milestone in her dream of becoming the first-ever female Syrian refugee pilot and was made possible by her determination to realize her right to an education. As well as studying aviation engineering at university and training to be a pilot, she speaks out on the importance of other refugees accessing education and was a co-sponsor at this week’s Global Refugee Forum.


Between January and mid-December, 2,256 refugees and asylum-seekers were evacuated out of Libya. During the same period, the Libyan Coast Guard returned nearly 9,000 people who were intercepted sea.