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By Kristy Siegfried | 22 October, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Standoff at Belarus-EU border leaves asylum-seekers stranded. A group of 32 Afghan asylum-seekers, including women and children, are among several groups of people stranded in border areas between Belarus and Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. Some have spent weeks in increasingly dire and freezing conditions in border regions, being repeatedly pushed back when they attempt to cross borders and prevented from applying for asylum. UNHCR warned today that their situation will further deteriorate as winter approaches. Polish divers on Wednesday afternoon recovered the body of a 19-year-old Syrian man from the River Bug near the Belarus border, bringing the number of deaths at the border to eight in the past month. UNHCR’s regional director for Europe, Pascale Moreau said the lives of others were “precariously hanging in the balance … held hostage by a political stalemate, which needs to be solved now”. The agency urged the countries concerned to abide by their international legal obligations to provide access to asylum for those seeking it at their borders.

South Sudan hit by third year of extreme flooding. The worst flooding that parts of South Sudan have seen in 60 years has impacted over 700,000 people across the country, according to UNHCR. After weeks of heavy rains, the floods have swept away homes and inundated farmland, forcing families and livestock to flee to higher ground and neighbouring towns. Others are marooned on islands surrounded by water, unable to cross to safety. UNHCR’s representative in South Sudan, Arafat Jamal said the country was “on the frontline of the climate emergency, where the people are the collateral damage of a battle they did not pick”. Many of those affected were still struggling to recover from two previous years of flooding. With rains expected to continue for the remainder of the year, UNHCR warned that increasing numbers of people will need humanitarian assistance, particularly following the loss of crops and livestock.

Thousands flee Myanmar for India. The New York Times reports that increasing numbers of people in northwest Myanmar are fleeing clashes between the military and armed groups by crossing the border into neighbouring India. Since the army seized control in Myanmar eight months ago, roughly 15,000 people have crossed into India, according to UNHCR, including 5,000 who fled recent clashes. The new arrivals said they had fled attacks on their villages and slept in the forest for days before crossing the Tiau River that marks the border. Much of the recent exodus has been from Chin State, which borders the Indian state of Mizoram. Locals in Mizoram, many of whom are ethnic Chin, have been unofficially helping those fleeing Myanmar. Separately, The New Humanitarian reports that poverty and insecurity are soaring in Myanmar’s Dry Zone and Ayeyarwady Delta regions as costs of farming inputs rise and crop prices fall. A shrinking economy is reportedly worsening food insecurity across the country.


STORIES TO WATCH

UN sets up fund to provide cash directly to Afghans. The UN said on Thursday it had set up a special trust fund to provide urgently needed cash directly to Afghans through a system that would tap into donor funds frozen since the Taliban took control of the country in August. The UN Development Fund (UNDP) said the aim was to inject cash into the “imploding” economy to help Afghan households get through the winter and remain in their country. Germany was the first to contribute to the fund with a pledge of €50 million. Some 97 per cent of Afghan households could be living below the poverty line by mid-2022, according to UNDP. The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday that Afghanistan’s economy is set to contract by up to 30 per cent this year and that this could fuel further displacement across borders.

Kidnappings in Haiti underscore deteriorating security situation. The abduction of 17 missionaries in Port-au-Prince on Saturday highlighted a growing wave of kidnappings for ransom carried out by Haiti’s increasingly powerful gangs. Nearly 800 such incidents have been reported so far this year, according to the Haitian NGO Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights. Haitians mounted a nationwide strike on Monday to protest the kidnappings. The country’s already precarious security situation has deteriorated significantly since the assassination of President Jovenal Moïse in July, with rival gangs fighting to gain control. The rise in violence, combined with a dire economic situation, and a string of natural disasters in recent years have led to growing numbers of Haitians fleeing the country.

Shelling kills at least 11 people in Syria’s Idlib. At least 11 people, including several children on their way to school, were killed Wednesday by shelling of a market and surrounding areas in the city of Ariha in Idlib province. The bombardment took place shortly after a roadside bombing in Damascus killed at least 14 military personnel and is considered one of the deadliest to hit Idlib since a truce deal was reached in March 2020. UNICEF confirmed that four children and a teacher were among the dead. Separately, PBS Newshour reports on a severe wave of COVID-19 that is overwhelming hospitals in Idlib. The delta variant of the virus is hospitalizing young children already weakened by malnutrition while aid groups are struggling to deliver sufficient oxygen to displaced people sickened by the virus living in camps. Less than 1 per cent of people in Idlib are fully vaccinated.


GET INSPIRED

Zohra was just 11 when she arrived in Ecuador with her family after fleeing Afghanistan. Adapting to a new culture and language was difficult until she discovered a way to express through her love of art. Through an after-school programme she paints murals on buildings in Quito that depict the refugee experience.


DID YOU KNOW?

Of just over half a million internally displaced people in Myanmar, nearly half (219,000) have been displaced by conflict and unrest since 1 February this year.