By Kristy Siegfried | 20 November, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Humanitarian crisis unfolding on Ethiopia-Sudan border. Refugees fleeing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region have been crossing the border into Sudan at a rate of 4,000 per day, according to UNHCR, which said today that 33,000 people had arrived in less than two weeks. Refugees told staff that the fighting had caught them by surprise, and many had fled with no belongings and walked for days to seek safety in Sudan. The pace of new arrivals has overwhelmed the capacity of aid groups, but UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said today that more assistance is now reaching the remote border area, which can only be accessed via a river ferry with capacity for just four vehicles, or a three-hour detour by road. Within Ethiopia itself, the number of people displaced by the fighting is growing by the day. Displaced civilians and 100,000 Eritrean refugees in four camps in Tigray remain cut off from humanitarian assistance. With phone and internet connections cut in Tigray, Baloch said UNHCR had not heard from its own staff in the region since Monday. “We are very worried,” he said.
Greece urged to improve immigration detention conditions and stop pushbacks. A report released on Thursday by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture urged Greek authorities to change their approach to immigration detention and voiced concern about alleged pushbacks to Turkey. The report is based on a March visit to Greece and is particularly critical of conditions in detention facilities in the Evros region near the border and on the island of Samos. The Committee acknowledged the challenges facing Greek authorities but said it did not absolve them from their human rights obligations. The report cited “consistent and credible allegations” of migrants and asylum-seekers being pushed back after crossing the border with Turkey and while attempting to cross the Aegean in boats. Ahead of the CPT report’s release, Greece’s migration minister announced that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will no longer be held in police custody.
Refugee resettlement at two decade-low, warns UNHCR. The number of refugees resettled in safe countries during 2020 is on course to be the lowest in almost two decades, according to UNHCR. Between January and September, only 15,425 refugees were resettled, compared to over 50,000 during the same period last year. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, said a “disappointingly low resettlement ceiling” of less than 50,000 for the entire year had combined with the impacts of COVID-19 to delay departures and deal “a blow for refugee protection.” Spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh told The Telegraph that the situation was especially worrying for refugees who are in limbo after preparing to depart before the pandemic. The agency is urging states to restart programmes and resettle as many refugees as possible before the end of the year.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Changki Byun, a policy officer with UNHCR based in Sudan
What are the most urgent needs for Ethiopian refugees arriving in Sudan right now?
“There are many challenges as the Hamdayet border reception centre [where the largest number of refugees are arriving] can only accommodate some 300 individuals while the daily average of arrivals is over 2,000. People in the local village have been very generous and welcoming; they were coming with wheelbarrows of food and clothes for the new arrivals despite the scarce resources they have.
“When we talked to refugees, the most urgent needs they were requesting were food, water and shelter. Even our staff members were sleeping out in the open the first couple of days because there was literally nothing there. Together with partners, we are ramping up our response.
“There’s a high need to identify additional sites to relocate the refugees. As of yesterday, we had relocated about 5,300 people to Um Rakuba camp. It’s an old refugee camp where Ethiopians were staying decades ago. Some of the refugees coming now had stayed there when they were children. But it’s about 12 hours by bus to get there. We need additional sites to facilitate the most efficient delivery of aid.”
STORIES TO WATCH
Evacuations of asylum-seekers from Libya to Rwanda resume. A group of 79 asylum-seekers were flown from Libya to Rwanda on Thursday evening, the first such evacuation flight in nearly a year due to COVID-19-related border closures. The group included men, women and children from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia. Most had been living in Tripoli, the capital, but many had previously been held in detention, some for several years. On arrival in Rwanda, they were taken to a transit facility in Gashora, south of Kigali, where they will stay until solutions are found for them. UNHCR said it welcomed the resumption of evacuation flights for those trapped inside Libya, but that there was a need for more countries to take part and offer places for the most vulnerable refugees. While a total of 581 refugees and asylum-seekers have been taken out of the Libya this year, nearly 670 remain in government-held detention centres.
Hurricane Iota brings more destruction to Central America. More than 40 people lost their lives and hundreds are still missing after the strongest Atlantic hurricane of the year ripped through several Central American countries that were still recovering from Hurricane Eta two weeks ago. Hundreds of thousands of people have moved into shelters. The Guardian reports from Honduras where Iota has destroyed many areas largely spared by Eta and increased flood damage in already stricken areas. The COVID-19 pandemic had already plunged Honduras into recession and left many people unemployed. Reuters reports predictions by experts that this year’s unprecedented hurricane season will compound hardships in the region, and fuel increased displacement. In a statement, Giovanni Bassau, UNHCR’s regional representative for Central America, said increased movements across borders were now more likely, including of people fleeing violence and persecution.
Wealthy nations urged to commit portion of COVID-19 vaccines to “humanitarian buffer”. The Guardian reports that public health groups are lobbying developed countries to donate a portion of their COVID-19 vaccine supplies to a “humanitarian buffer” that would be used to inoculate people living in conflict zones and refugee camps. The stockpile was announced by the World Health Organisation but details of its size and how it would operate have not been released. The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said last month it had begun buying and pre-positioning half a billion syringes for administering COVID-19 vaccines. Last month, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi called for States to continue including refugees in their health responses to the pandemic, including once a vaccine is available.
The latest episode of the award-winning Awake at Night podcast series features an interview with UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi discussing his 36 years of working with refugees. He told host, Melissa Fleming, that what keeps him awake at night is wondering whether he has done everything humanly possible to help the people UNHCR works with and for.
DID YOU KNOW?
Of the 15,425 refugees who have been resettled so far this year, 41 per cent were Syrians while 16 per cent were Congolese. Others were from 47 different countries of origin.