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By Kristy Siegfried | 23 October, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Donors promise US$600 million for Rohingya to meet aid shortfall. International donors pledged nearly US$600 million to support displaced Rohingya on Thursday, successfully closing a significant funding gap for assisting hundreds of thousands of refugees in Bangladesh. Ahead of Thursday’s virtual conference, which was co-hosted by the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and UNHCR, less than half of the more than US$1 billion needed to support Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh this year had been raised. The US announced nearly US$200 million in new funds while the EU pledged about US$113 million and UK about US$60 million. A number of other countries also contributed. The co-hosts urged the Myanmar government to address the root causes of the violence in Rakhine State that drove more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh in 2017, and to create conditions for their voluntary and safe return. Highlighting poor living conditions in the camps, which have worsened this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said growing numbers of Rohingya – some 2,400 this year alone – are risking sea journeys.

Civilians caught up in worsening violence in Afghanistan. Heavy fighting between the Taliban and government forces continued in southern Afghanistan this week, impacting thousands of people in several districts of Helmand Province. UNHCR called for protection and assistance for more than 5,000 families estimated to have fled since clashes broke out on 11 October. An initial assessment found that many displaced families were living in the open or in a vegetable market in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and were urgently in need of food, water, shelter and cash for rent and other basic needs. The World Health Organization estimated that 300 civilians had been wounded and that 12 health facilities had come under attack. Fighting also broke out in the northern province of Takhar this week where a Taliban attack in Baharak district, was followed by an air strike on a nearby religious school that left at least 12 people dead, according to local officials.

New allegations of violent pushbacks by Croatian police. The Guardian reports on testimonies collected by the Danish Refugee Council from 75 asylum-seekers who said they had experienced violence at the hands of Croatian police after attempting to cross the border from Velika Kladuša in Bosnia Herzegovina between 12 and 16 October. The DRC report notes that all those interviewed following reported pushbacks bore visible signs of beatings. The Guardian said it had obtained medical reports and photographs that supported the accounts, one of which described serious sexual abuse. Numerous human rights organizations and NGOs have documented ill-treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers attempting to cross into Croatia in recent years, including two UN special rapporteurs in June who said 60 per cent of recorded pushbacks between January and May had involved physical violence and degrading treatment. On Wednesday, the head of home affairs for the European Commission, Ylva Johansson, said she was taking the new allegations “very seriously” and that Croatian authorities had committed to investigate the reports.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Murray Wilson, senior WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) officer with UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

How is under-funding impacting the programmes your team is trying to implement in the Rohingya refugee camps?   

“It’s impacting in a very large way, especially this year with COVID-19 and other priorities emerging. We want to invest in infrastructure and systems now so that in the future, operational costs will be lower. But we’re only able to operate and maintain what we’ve got, which means in the longer term, operational costs will be higher.

“We need to be looking at the camps, which are home to close to a million people, as an urban management issue, not just as an emergency intervention. Let’s use water as an example. The main camp – Kutupalong – is supplied by about 160 small solar-powered drinking water networks, but no city in the world operates that way. The consequences are that quality control is a lot harder. We’re having regular breakdowns and then the refugees have to revert back to the original handpumps and boreholes, which means we can’t control the water quality. Three years into the crisis, only about 50 per cent of households in the camps are getting chlorinated water.”


STORIES TO WATCH

US$1.7 billion in aid pledged for Sahel response. International donors agreed this week to give US$1.7 billion in aid to help stem a rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis in the Central Sahel region of West Africa where some 650,000 people have been displaced by violence so far this year. Ahead of a virtual conference on Tuesday, the UN said it was US$850 million short of the US$1.4 billion needed to fund its humanitarian response plan this year and that a further US$1.56 billion was needed to assist the region’s most vulnerable people next year. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said a “Marshall Plan” was needed to avoid displacement in the region further accelerating and spreading. Ahead of the conference, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, told The Guardian that extreme weather events linked to climate change were impacting people in the region already affected by rising extremist violence and growing political instability. He described the Sahel as “a canary in the coalmine of our warming planet”.

Spain’s Canary Islands struggle to manage surge in boat arrivals. Over 1,000 people, including women and children, are staying in emergency tents set up by the Red Cross on a dock on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, according to AP. They were joined by another 300 people rescued at sea in the early hours of Wednesday morning. More than 9,200 migrants and asylum-seekers have made the dangerous Atlantic crossing from West Africa so far this year, according to UNHCR figures, a 700 per cent increase from the same period last year. Another 500 people have died or gone missing during the journey. AP reports that the government has blocked nearly all transfers of the new arrivals to the Spanish mainland due to coronavirus concerns and that local authorities lack the facilities to manage several hundred new arrivals a day.

US Supreme Court to review legality of asylum policy. The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to rule on the legality of a policy that has forced tens of thousands of asylum-seekers along the country’s southern border to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed. The justices will hear the administration’s appeal of a 2019 lower court ruling which found the policy likely violated federal immigration law. The Supreme Court put the lower court’s decision to block the policy on hold in March while the legal battle continues. Since the policy was put in place in January last year, more than 60,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico. The US Justice Department estimated in February that 25,000 people were still waiting in Mexico for hearings in US courts. Those hearings are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court justices will not hear the case until 2021.


GET INSPIRED

After learning yoga over the internet, Ugandan refugee Rita Brown now teaches classes to other refugees and aid workers at Kakuma camp in Kenya. The COVID-19 pandemic forced her to move her classes online where she now has participants as far afield as the United States. “Yoga really changed me,” she says, adding that it has helped her cope with the stresses of living in a refugee camp.


DID YOU KNOW?

Some 860,000 Rohingya refugees are living in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. Other countries in the region are hosting nearly 150,000 Rohingya refugees while an estimated 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine State where 140,000 of them are internally displaced.