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By Kristy Siegfried | 21 January, 2022

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray cut off from food, water and medicines. UNHCR said its staff managed to reach two camps for Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region this week for the first time since an air strike hit one of the camps on 5 January, killing three people. They found refugees “scared and struggling to get enough to eat, lacking medicine and with little or no access to clean water”, said UNHCR spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov. Relief agencies have struggled to bring aid into the blockaded region for months, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noting on Thursday that humanitarian supplies had not reached Tigray since 14 December and that stocks of food aid and fuel were now “almost entirely exhausted”. Refugees at the two camps told UNHCR staff that more than 20 people had died over the past six weeks due to the worsening conditions and a lack of medicines. Without fuel for pumping or trucking water to the camps, the refugees have been forced to collect untreated water from streams that are rapidly drying out. UNHCR is calling for safe passage that would allow the 25,000 refugees to be relocated to a new site in neighbouring Amhara region as well as for access to allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.

Displaced Syrians at risk as severe winter storm hits region. Heavy snowfall and record low temperatures hit Syria, Lebanon and Jordan this week, worsening the plight of thousands of Syrians displaced in the region. In Lebanon, an economic crisis has left an increasing number of Syrian and Lebanese families unable to afford fuel to heat their homes and shelters this winter. In Arsal, a mountainous area in the northeast of the country, many Syrian refugees live in flimsy tents with only blankets to keep them warm. In north and north-west Syria, tents in camps for internally displaced people were blanketed with snow and roads were blocked. CNN reports that three children died – one after a tent collapsed due to the accumulation of snow, and two when a fire caused by a heater broke out in their tent. As of Thursday, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 362 tents had been damaged and that there was an urgent need to unblock roads so that aid workers can access camps.

Cyber-attack on ICRC exposes data of 515,000 vulnerable people. The International Committee of the Red Cross this week said a hacking attack on its data servers had compromised confidential information on more than half a million vulnerable people, “including those separated from their families due to conflict, migration and disaster”. The information came from at least 60 Red Cross and Red Crescent chapters around the world, while the breach targeted a contractor in Switzerland that stores data for the organization. There was no indication that the data had been publicly shared or leaked, or who might be behind the attack. ICRC’s director-general Robert Mardini appealed to the culprits to “do the right thing” and not “share, sell, leak or otherwise use this data”. The breach forced the organization to shut down its systems aimed at reuniting family members separated by conflict, disaster or migration.


STORIES TO WATCH

Two earthquakes strike Afghanistan. Two earthquakes struck a remote, mountainous area of western Afghanistan on Monday, killing at least 27 people and destroying hundreds of homes in Qadis district. Three days of heavy rainfall prior to the earthquake had left mud-brick houses vulnerable, said a spokesperson for the governor in Badghis Province, near the border with Turkmenistan. One resident told the New York Times that the death toll would likely rise, because many families were still buried under rubble. UNHCR said it was distributing tents, blankets and household items to affected households. Afghanistan is already in the grip of a humanitarian crisis with the economy in free fall and half the population facing acute hunger. A devastating drought has compounded the crisis with earthquake-hit Qadis one of the worst-affected areas.

UK judge rules age assessments of asylum seekers unlawful. A high court judge in the UK ruled on Wednesday that the Home Office’s process for assessing the age of young asylum seekers when they arrive in the UK was unlawful. The case involved two teenage asylum seekers who were placed in adult immigration removal centres after their ages were wrongly assessed by social workers. The judge ruled that the policy of detaining young people for an age assessment immediately upon arrival was unlawful. The Independent reports that since September 2020, hundreds of unaccompanied young people arriving on UK shores have been detained by the government in a facility called the Kent Intake Unit for the purposes of carrying out “short” age assessments. Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently going through parliament, the Home Office would be able to use methods such as x-ray or dental analysis for assessing age. The accuracy of such methods has been questioned by various medical bodies.

New EU asylum agency starts work. A new independent body, the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), started work on Wednesday with what it called “a reinforced mandate” to support Member States in implementing consistent asylum practises across the bloc. EUAA is replacing the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which has been operating since 2011 with a narrower mandate. Reception conditions, asylum procedures and rates of refugee recognition continue to vary widely across the EU, with countries struggling to agree on uniform practices and slow progress towards a Common European Asylum System. The new agency will have a Fundamental Rights Officer to safeguard the rights of asylum seekers, and a complaints mechanism. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs welcomed the establishment of the new agency that can work with the EU “to ensure fair and fast asylum procedures”.


GET INSPIRED

At a refugee camp in northern Cameroon, a group of Nigerian girls decided to form their own football team after boys in the camp refused to play with them. Last weekend, UNHCR bused the all-girl team to a stadium in Garoua, 200 kilometres away, to watch Nigeria compete in the Africa Cup of Nations. After cheering their national team to a win against Sudan, the girls were invited onto the pitch for a group photo.


DID YOU KNOW?

Nine of out of 10 Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live in extreme poverty, while half of the refugee population do not have enough food to eat.