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By Kristy Siegfried | 24 July, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Yemen’s hunger crisis accelerating under COVID-19. Conflict, locusts, flooding, an economic crisis and now COVID-19 are combining in Yemen to create what UN agencies this week described as “a perfect storm” that could reverse hard-earned gains in food security. An analysis carried out in southern Yemen forecast an “alarming” increase in the number of people facing levels of acute food insecurity by the end of the year. Reuters met a malnourished boy called Hassan who, at the age of 10, weighed just 9 kilograms. Displaced five times by war, his family now live in rural Hajjah and have no income. A survey by the Norwegian Refugee Council released this week found that one in four vulnerable and displaced families have lost all their income since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Yemen in April. Almost half of respondents said they had lost at least half their income, just as prices of food and water have gone up. The hunger crisis comes as the world’s largest aid response has been forced to scale back due to insufficient funding. Nutrition services for 2.5 million children could cease by the end of August and the World Food Programme has already halved food aid to alternate months in north Yemen.

Malaysia high court rules against caning of Rohingya refugees. An appeals court in Malaysia on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling last month sentencing 27 Rohingya men to be caned for entering the country without a visa. The men were among 40 Rohingya refugees who arrived by boat to the island of Langkawi in March. In his ruling, the judge said the sentence was “inhumane” and would only add to the refugees’ suffering. The men, who also received seven-month prison terms, will be released to UNHCR on Monday. They include six Rohingya teenagers who were convicted as adults. Earlier, human rights groups had called on the Malaysian court to drop the sentence and address the situation of under-age refugees. The Guardian reports that a recent rise in hate speech and hundreds of arrests by immigration police have shocked refugees and migrants who had viewed Malaysia as a welcoming country, despite not being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Refugees and aid workers say detention centres are cramped and unsanitary. Noting that it has not had access to detention facilities since last August, UNHCR expressed concern that it has not been able to identify those in need of international protection.

Canadian court finds asylum agreement with US unconstitutional. Canada’s federal court ruled on Wednesday that a 16-year-old asylum agreement with the United States – the Safe Third Country Agreement – was invalid because it violated Canadian constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security. Under the agreement, asylum-seekers who use official crossings to enter Canada from the US – and vice versa – can be returned there. Human rights advocates have long argued that the pact has encouraged tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to use unofficial crossing points. The case brought forward by several refugee advocate groups and individual asylum-seekers argued that returning people to the US exposed them to risks, including detention and deportation to countries where they could face harm. The Canadian government has six months to respond to the ruling before it comes into effect.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Saidul Karim, a Rohingya refugee and volunteer Community Health Worker in Kutupalong refugee settlement, Bangladesh

How has your work changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

“Nowadays, it has become challenging work, but we are still trying our best to ensure the best service as always. We are afraid, but still trying to do our best for the community. We are maintaining physical distance, wearing masks and focusing on the importance of our services so that we keep doing our job properly.

“People tell us that they are scared. They have heard how dangerous the disease is and also that many people are dying because of the disease. We explain to people that if you have symptoms and you are afraid and do not treat it on time, it can affect your whole family as well as the people in your surroundings.

“Before, we used to visit one block every two weeks, but now we are visiting every house on the block at least once a week.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Fresh violence in South Sudan increases hunger threat. Worsening violence in eastern regions of South Sudan has displaced more than 60,000 people in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, halting farming at the height of the main planting season and preventing livestock keepers from grazing their animals. In a joint statement on Thursday, the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said the violence was crippling the food security and livelihoods of growing numbers of people, with harvests likely to suffer for the rest of the year. Fighting in the area has also prevented the delivery of food aid. In a separate statement on Thursday, the UN Mission in South Sudan said armed groups had targeted a village outside Pibor on Wednesday causing a sudden influx of 6,000 people to a nearby UN base.

Poland improperly rejected asylum-seekers, European court rules. Polish border guards violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by repeatedly sending asylum-seekers back to Belarus in 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday. The 13 applicants in the case, who were all Russian nationals of Chechen origin, said they were denied entry to Poland several times, despite having no access to an adequate asylum procedure in Belarus and facing harm if they were returned to Russia. The court ruled that each applicant was eligible for €34,000 in compensation. In a statement today, taking note of the court’s ruling, UNHCR said it stood ready to assist Polish authorities in meeting their EU and international obligations and called on the Government of Poland to ensure access for asylum-seekers.

Modelling climate migration. This long-read by the New York Times Magazine and ProPublica is the first in a series on global climate migration, funded by the Pulitzer Center. The authors used modelling from eight leading scientists to understand how climate change might lead to population shifts in Central America and Mexico, including how people may move across borders between these countries and to the United States. As the piece documents, hundreds of thousands of Central Americans have already lost their ability to grow food due to reduced rainfall. Many initially move to cities where they often fall deeper into poverty and face the additional threat of gangs. In what researchers called “stepwise migration”, some will eventually attempt to cross borders. The modelling shows how governments’ responses to both climate change and climate migration can lead to drastically different outcomes.


GET INSPIRED

Photographer and writer Giles Duley met eight women who decided to do something about the loneliness and isolation they felt after fleeing their homes in South Sudan and arriving in one of the world’s largest refugee settlements – Bidibidi in northern Uganda. They set up a hair salon that has provided them with an income as well as a place where they can support each other and other single mothers.


DID YOU KNOW?

In southern Yemen, the number of people facing acute food insecurity is expected to increase from 2 million to 3.2 million over the next six months.