By Kristy Siegfried | 20 May, 2022
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Nearly 60 million people internally displaced worldwide by end of 2021. Conflicts and natural disasters pushed tens of millions to flee within their own countries last year, taking the total number of internally displaced people to a record high of 59.1 million (53.2 million due to conflict and 5.9 million due to disasters), according to an annual report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) released on Thursday. Around 38 million new internal displacement movements were reported between January and December 2021, with conflict and violence triggering 14.4 million movements, a 50 per cent increase on the year before. More than 5 million of the displacements were in Ethiopia, as the country grappled with the ongoing conflict in Tigray, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Myanmar also saw unprecedented levels of conflict-related displacement. Extreme weather such as cyclones, floods and droughts accounted for 94 per cent of the 23.7 million internal displacements caused by disasters. Increasingly, conflict and disasters are colliding, forcing people to flee several times. Figures are expected to grow further this year, driven by the war in Ukraine where 8 million people have already been displaced within the country. “2022 is looking bleak,” IDMC director Alexandra Bilak told reporters.
UK, Rwanda defend asylum seeker deal to UN agencies. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta met with top officials from UNHCR and the UN human rights agency in Geneva on Thursday about controversial plans to send some asylum seekers from the UK to the African country. Ahead of the meetings, Biruta told AP that the discussion aimed “to bring them on board” to work with the two countries, but after meeting with the two ministers, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi reiterated the agency’s concerns about the plan. “Shifting asylum responsibilities is not the solution,” he tweeted, adding that UNHCR would “continue proposing concrete alternatives that respect international refugee law”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last weekend that a first group of 50 asylum seekers had been told they would be sent to Rwanda within two weeks, but the government on Thursday said it had been forced to delay the flights until next month due to legal challenges by several charities and a union representing Home Office staff. One Sudanese asylum seeker who received a “notice of intent” told The Guardian he had fled a massacre in his village and spent three years trying to reach the UK before crossing the Channel in a kayak. He said the prospect of being sent to Rwanda had triggered flashbacks.
Conflict brings world to “brink of mass hunger”, says UN chief. “When war is waged, people go hungry,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Thursday during a debate on conflict and food security. He noted that 60 per cent of the world’s undernourished people live in areas affected by conflict. “No country is immune,” he added, noting that Ukraine was a major exporter of food before the war and is now a recipient of food aid. The combination of armed conflict, the climate crisis and economic insecurity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have reversed decades of progress on averting hunger, said the UN chief. He expressed particular concern about acute food insecurity in both the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, where millions of people are expected to face famine within months. The war in Ukraine has worsened global hunger by triggering price increases in countries across Africa and the Middle East. The cost of food assistance has also increased, forcing humanitarian agencies to scale back support in some places. Guterres called for an end to the war in Ukraine and for donors to fully fund appeals. Currently, Global Humanitarian Response Plans for 2022 are only 8 per cent funded.
STORIES TO WATCH
US authorities say they are prepared for border restrictions to end. During a tour of the US-Mexico border on Tuesday, US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said authorities are prepared for an anticipated increase in migrants and asylum seekers crossing the border when a public health order that has been in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 is lifted. The order, known as Title 42, has been used more than 1.8 million times to turn away migrants at the border, including those seeking asylum. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that Title 42 was no longer needed for health reasons and would end on 23 May, but a federal judge is expected rule in the coming days over whether to block its termination following a lawsuit brought by a coalition of more than 20 states.
UNHCR calls on States to lift remaining COVID-related asylum restrictions. More than two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 20 countries across the world are still denying access to asylum as part of public health measures. At the height of the pandemic, 100 countries restricted access to asylum seekers. While the latest figure represents an improvement, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi on Friday appealed to those States maintaining restrictions “to lift them urgently” so that people fleeing wars and persecution were not denied their right to seek asylum. UNHCR has provided guidance and technical advice on how countries can address public health risks while upholding their obligations to asylum seekers under international law. “I am worried that measures enacted on the pretext of responding to COVID-19 are being used as cover to exclude and deny asylum to people fleeing violence and persecution,” said Grandi.
Fighting intensifies in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Ukrainian officials said residential districts in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region were coming under heavy bombardment on Friday, destroying houses and killing an unknown number of civilians. Meanwhile, the UN said humanitarian needs are growing in southern Khersonska oblast where medicines, food and cash are in short supply and volunteers with humanitarian aid are not being allowed access. As the war neared its three-month mark, almost a third of Ukraine’s people have fled their homes, including million who have fled the country. The US Senate approved nearly US$40 billion in new aid for Ukraine this week, the largest US aid package for Ukraine to date.
Nga Vu’o’ng-Sandoval fled Viȇt Nam with her family when she was 3 years old and was able to build a new life in the United States thanks to legislation that granted Vietnamese refugees special status to resettle in the country. Today, she is a leading refugee advocate, serving on various boards and advisory committees that work on immigrant and refugee issues. “I wanted to show that being a refugee is not a badge of shame, but a badge of honour,” she told the Bold Women Change History Summit in Denver, Colorado recently.
DID YOU KNOW?
Ethiopia had the highest number (5.1 million) of internal displacements caused by conflict and violence in 2021.