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By Matthew Mpoke Bigg | 21 August, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

UNHCR mobilizes aid for Beirut in wake of deadly blast. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is directing emergency assistance to those worst-affected in the explosion that killed at least 178 people, regardless of whether they are refugees or Lebanese. Thousands of people were injured in the August 4 explosion that also destroyed or damaged the homes of at least 300,000 residents. There are 13 confirmed refugee victims, 69 remain unaccounted for and 224 refugees were among the injured. “We as humanitarian organizations and the whole aid community must stand alongside the people of Beirut in their hour of need,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during a visit to Lebanon this week. “I have pledged UNHCR’s full support to those whose lives were upended in the explosion, whether Lebanese, refugees or migrants.” Among those who have already received assistance are 73-year-old Odette Bassil and her husband, a Lebanese couple who live alone in the Geitawi neighbourhood of the city, also close to the blast area. With all the windows in their home blown out by the explosion, they were given emergency supplies of wood and plastic sheeting to offer some much-needed respite from the elements. “Just yesterday I needed to cover the windows because it rained,” Odette said. “It rained heavily – disaster on top of a disaster.”

Rohingya crisis needs lasting solutions, says UNHCR. UNHCR is calling for renewed support and solutions for displaced and stateless Rohingya communities both within and outside Myanmar. Three years on from the latest exodus of Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar and sought sanctuary in Bangladesh challenges persist and evolve. UNHCR and the Government of Bangladesh have individually registered over 860,000 Rohingya refugees in the refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar. “We all miss home but we cannot go back to the same fear,” said Nur Ayna, 18, who sought safety in Bangladesh and now works as a Burmese language instructor at a learning centre in Kutupalong refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazar district. UNHCR said the international community must not only maintain support for refugees and their host communities, but adapt to critical needs and expand the search for solutions.

Mounting violence forces one million to flee homes in Burkina Faso. The number uprooted by armed groups includes 453,000 people driven from their homes since the start of the year, according to figures published by national authorities. The total represents five per cent of the country’s population. Burkina Faso is now the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian and protection crisis. Most of the displaced fled northern and eastern regions and the Centre Nord and Sahel regions host some 76 per cent of all internally displaced people. Host populations are at a breaking point and the COVID-19 pandemic has had an additional impact.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Buti Kale, UNHCR Representative in Mali

What challenges does UNHCR and refugees face in Mali given the current upheaval?

“Even prior to the most recent events in Mali, humanitarian access was challenged by insecurity and violence in the north and centre of the country compounded by climate-related factors.
But when humanitarian workers are compelled to stay at home, which is currently the case, this provokes anxiety and fear in people who depend almost entirely on third party assistance, international assistance.
“It is UNHCR’s hope that the restrictions in place, that is the closure of land borders and airports by the current authorities imposed since 19 August, will not cause undue hardship to people in need. And we hope exceptions will be made for the transportation of humanitarian workers and cargo both within and from outside the country.
The upside of COVID-19 is that the pandemic has forced us to be creative and resort to solutions such as to cash transfers that work even better.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Dozens of migrants die in shipwreck off Libya. At least 45 migrants and refugees, including five children, have died in the deadliest shipwreck off Libya this year. They were among more than 80 people on board a vessel whose engine exploded off the coast of Zwara, UNHCR said. The deaths were reported by some 37 survivors rescued by local fishermen. UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration are calling for a review of the approaches to the situation by States and say there is an urgent need to strengthen the search and rescue capacity to respond to distress calls.

More progress on statelessness in Central Asia as Turkmenistan champions universal birth registration. Turkmenistan passed a law in July that will help ensure that all children born in the country will have their births registered, becoming the latest nation in Central Asia to do so. The Law on Civil Status Acts will help prevent new cases of statelessness arising for children born to people who are undocumented or whose nationality is undetermined. It is the latest step towards ending statelessness in the Central Asia region. Last year, the Kyrgyz Republic became the first country in the world to end all known cases of statelessness on its territory, Kazakhstan also amended its legislation to ensure universal birth registration and Tajikistan enacted a special time-bound Amnesty Law for stateless people and foreign citizens so they can regularize their status. In April this year, Uzbekistan also enacted a new citizenship law which will help confer citizenship for some 50,000 stateless people.

UNHCR applauds Canada’s commitment to grant permanent residency to asylum-seekers working on COVID-19 frontlines. UNHCR understands the decision will benefit asylum-seekers across the country who meet eligibility requirements and who have been playing a crucial role in healthcare institutions during the pandemic. “This is an exemplary act of solidarity which recognizes the service and dedication of some of the most marginalized and vulnerable members in society. It is a reminder of the exceptional contributions refugees and asylum-seekers make to the communities that welcome them,” said Rema Jamous Imseis, UNHCR’s Representative in Canada.

Body of asylum-seeker who tried to cross the sea to the UK found on French beach. The asylum-seeker from Sudan who disappeared at sea has been found dead on a French beach in Calais. French politicians believe he went missing while attempting to cross the English Channel in a small boat, reportedly using shovels for oars. UNHCR and IOM reiterate their call to governments in Europe and elsewhere to increase search and rescue efforts and combat human smuggling and trafficking rings.


GET INSPIRED

Maya Ghazal gets pilot’s licence. At 15, Maya Ghazal fled the war in Syria and came to the UK with her family. She learned English, worked hard and was eventually accepted into a flight engineering degree course. Her dream? To be Syria’s first ever female refugee pilot. This month, she got her pilot’s licence.


DID YOU KNOW?

In all, there are 3,415,989 people in the Sahel region who are refugees, asylum-seekers, refugee returnees, internally displaced people and IDP returnees. The region comprises Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania and the figure is reported either by national authorities or UNHCR.