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By Kristy Siegfried | 21 May, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

UNHCR urges US to end asylum restrictions on border. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Thursday called on the United States to lift pandemic-related restrictions on people seeking asylum that have been in place since March 2020. The so-called Title 42 public health order allows border officials to expel migrants and asylum-seekers and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being rapidly returned to Mexico or their countries of origin after crossing the US southern border. Grandi noted that “guaranteed access to safe territory and the prohibition of pushbacks of asylum-seekers are core precepts of the 1951 Refugee Convention” and that the expulsions have had “serious humanitarian consequences in northern Mexico”. The Biden administration has exempted unaccompanied children and some families from the policy put in place by the previous administration but has continued to expel most adults. In response to mounting criticism and litigation over the use of Title 42, the government this week agreed to begin admitting 250 vulnerable asylum-seekers a day. But Grandi said allowing in only a small number of asylum-seekers daily was “not an adequate response” and called for “further steps to provide access at ports of entry which remain closed to most asylum-seekers”. He added that many countries have put in place protocols such as screening and testing that protect both public health and the right to asylum.

Thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers swim to Spain’s Ceuta enclave. More than 8,000 people, including some 1,500 children (many of them unaccompanied), entered Ceuta from Morocco on Monday and Tuesday, mostly after swimming around a breakwater that extends into the Mediterranean Sea. More people arrived on Wednesday, although in far lower numbers, after both countries moved to stem the crossings. Spanish authorities said around 6,000 of the new arrivals had already been sent back to Morocco by Thursday, but that unaccompanied minors were not being returned. Human rights groups warned against the use of excessive force and collective expulsions, arguing that such rapid returns made it impossible to identify vulnerable people and asylum-seekers. Al Jazeera reports that among the arrivals were sub-Saharan Africans who had fled poverty or violence at home, including a woman from Mali who swam across the border with her baby. Ceuta’s reception facilities and social services have reportedly been overwhelmed by the unprecedented scale of arrivals this week. The government is appealing to Spain’s mainland regions to relieve pressure on reception centres for unaccompanied minors in Ceuta by accepting 200 of those who had reached the enclave prior to this week.

Conflict and disasters trigger record levels of internal displacement. Weather-related disasters triggered three times more displacements last year than conflicts, pushing the number of people internally displaced worldwide to a record 55 million, according to figures released on Thursday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Storms, floods, wildfires and other weather-related events caused 30 million displacements while conflict and violence accounted for 9.8 million. Escalating violence in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Burkina Faso fuelled some of the world’s fastest growing displacement crises, while long-running conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to force large numbers of people to flee. Meanwhile, intense cyclone seasons in the Americas and Asia and extended rainy seasons across the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa uprooted millions of people. Ninety-five per cent of new displacements triggered by conflict occurred in countries vulnerable to climate change impacts. The report notes that the convergence of conflict and disasters led to many people being displaced for a second or even third time. Many of those who fled flooding in Yemen, for example, had already been uprooted at least once by the country’s conflict.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Sumbul Rizvi, UNHCR’s Principal Advisor on Internal Displacement

There’s a perception that there was less movement over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but figures from the IDMC report tell a different story. What are some of the factors driving these record levels of internal displacement?

“Disasters and climate change impact people in visible and not-so-visible ways, causing new and multiple displacements. They can also amplify existing tensions or conflicts – we see this in many countries where we work. This in turn exacerbates the vulnerabilities of refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and their communities.

“Mobility restrictions resulting from the pandemic have further limited the ability of people to access safety across international borders, forcing them into internal displacement. Environmental challenges also affect the potential for the forcibly displaced to return home.

“Our country offices have intensified their support for IDPs by closely engaging with local communities and authorities. We also partner with other UN agencies, development partners and NGOs. Our work with IDPs includes preparedness, emergency response and searching for solutions.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Up to 70,000 displaced by fighting in Myanmar. This week, thousands of residents of the town of Mindat in northwest Myanmar’s Chin State fled fighting between the army and a local ethnic armed group. Reuters reports that the exodus threatens to push more people over the nearby border with India, where between 4,000 and 6,000 people have already sought refuge in Mizoram and Manipur states since Myanmar’s military coup on 1 February. According to figures released by UNHCR this week, some 12,000 refugees from Myanmar have crossed into India and Thailand since 1 February, while another 61,000 people have been internally displaced by fighting in Chin, Kayin, Kachin and northern Shan states. Those displaced by the fighting in Mindat told Reuters they lacked shelter and food while the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said insecurity in the area was hampering humanitarian access.

Mozambicans fleeing violence pushed back from Tanzania. Several thousand Mozambicans fleeing violence in their country’s volatile Cabo Delgado province have been pushed back from Tanzania since last year, including over 1,500 who were returned this month alone, according to UNHCR. Many of those who had hoped to find refuge in Tanzania were fleeing deadly attacks by armed groups on the town of Palma in March. They told UNHCR staff that after trekking for days to reach the border, and crossing by boat to reach Tanzania, they were returned by the authorities, often after being detained and interrogated by officials. Many of those returned remained at a remote border point in northern Mozambique where UNHCR said conditions were “dire”. UNHCR appealed for Mozambicans fleeing violence and conflict to be allowed to cross into Tanzania and seek asylum.

EU looks for ways to ease pressure on Italy’s asylum system. Deutsche Welle reports that the European Commission is seeking an agreement on the voluntary redistribution of migrants from Italy to other EU Member States over the summer months. Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson also visited Tunisia on Thursday, along with Italy’s interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese. She tweeted that “The EU must work with partner countries to reduce irregular departures” and manage migration. So far this year, some 13,300 migrants and asylum-seekers have landed in Italy, most of them after setting off from Libya. Earlier this week, more than 50 people were feared to have drowned after their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia several days after departing from Libya.


GET INSPIRED

A decade after being granted asylum in Sweden, Tousin “Tusse” Chiza will represent his adopted country at the Eurovision Song contest Grand Final in Rotterdam on Saturday night with his song, “Voices”. “It’s a huge honour,” he told the BBC. “It’s like the biggest thank you I can give.” He’s one of three performers with refugee backgrounds participating in this year’s contest.


DID YOU KNOW?

Last year, the countries with the largest number of new displacements from conflict and violence were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2.2 million), Syria (1.8 million) and Ethiopia (1.7 million).