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By Kristy Siegfried | 25 June, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Scores killed by air strike in Ethiopia’s Tigray. The air strike on Tuesday hit a busy market in the village of Togoga, in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, killing as many as 64 people and injuring scores more, according to local health workers and eyewitnesses. The UN called on Ethiopian authorities to urgently investigate the air strike as well as allegations that ambulances attempting to reach victims were blocked by armed forces. The attack came amid heavy fighting in several areas of Tigray this week as ballots were being counted from a general election held on Monday. Media reports described the fighting as the fiercest since the conflict began last November. Earlier this month, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,000 people in Tigray are at risk of famine as parts of the region remain blocked to aid agencies.

US to give asylum-seekers whose cases were closed a chance to re-apply. The Department of Homeland Security said that starting Wednesday it would allow asylum-seekers whose cases were closed under the previous administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy to return to the United States to restart proceedings. The change could affect tens of thousands of people who were unable to get back to the US for hearings after being sent back to Mexico, and whose cases were closed. The development will not affect asylum-seekers still being sent back to Mexico from the southern border under Title 42, a public health rule that has been in place since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. A report released this week by Human Rights First documented nearly 3,300 cases of migrants and asylum-seekers stranded in Mexico due to the policy being kidnapped, raped, trafficked or assaulted since the start of this year. Drug cartels, street gangs and human-trafficking networks are active in some areas of northern Mexico near the US border. UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi last month appealed to the US government to lift the Title 42 order and restore access to asylum at the border.

Rights group says pushbacks have become ‘de facto’ Greece border policy. Human rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday that the use of pushbacks by Greek authorities has become “de facto” policy. In a new report describing 21 incidents involving around 1,000 people being picked up and summarily returned to Turkey, Amnesty also documented one case involving a registered asylum-seeker and another involving a refugee. The pushbacks sometimes involved people being apprehended as far as 700 kilometres inside Greek territory, according to Amnesty. Most of those interviewed described being subjected to violence and humiliation by both uniformed Greek officials and men in civilian clothing. Last month, UNHCR said it had documented about 300 cases of incidents of reported pushbacks in the Aegean Sea and in the Evros area between January 2020 and March 2021 and urged Greek authorities to investigate. Greece has consistently denied forcibly returning asylum-seekers.


STORIES TO WATCH

Aid agencies appeal for extension of cross-border operations into Syria. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned the UN Security Council on Wednesday that failure to extend authorization for humanitarian convoys to deliver aid from Turkey into north-west Syria would have “devastating consequences”. More than 70 per cent of the population in north-west Syria are dependent on humanitarian aid, and nearly 3 million are displaced. A resolution authorizing cross-border relief operations through the Bab al-Hawa border is set to expire on 10 July. The crossing is the only remaining border post in use for the delivery of humanitarian supplies. Without it, aid would need to be delivered through the capital, Damascus. An open letter by 20 NGO leaders on Monday called not only for reauthorization of assistance via Bab al-Hawa, but also for reinstating another crossing into the north-west that was closed last year, as well as a third into the country’s north-east. Without a large-scale cross-border response, they argued, “lives will be lost”.

Barriers to accessing COVID vaccines persist for refugees. UNHCR this week called on States to remove barriers that are limiting access to vaccines for refugees and asylum-seekers in some countries. Some States require identify documents that refugees often do not have. Language barriers, lack of internet access and misinformation leading to vaccine hesitancy can compound the situation. In several countries, vaccination sites are located far from where refugees live. UNHCR said this was particularly the case in sub-Saharan Africa, which is currently seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 infections and low rates of vaccination. A shortage of vaccines has hampered efforts by the UN-backed COVAX facility to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. A target set by COVAX aims to ensure at least 20 per cent of refugees are vaccinated by the end of 2021.

EU leaders back further funding for Syrian refugees in Turkey. At a summit in Brussels on Thursday, European Union leaders agreed in principle on a continuation of financing for Turkey for hosting refugees. The funding is part of a larger regional refugee support plan that includes funding for Jordan and Lebanon. Turkey hosts nearly 3.7 million Syrian refugees, while Lebanon has 855,000 and Jordan nearly 667,000. In terms of responding to asylum and migration, EU leaders agreed that “mutually beneficial partnerships and cooperation with countries of origin and transit will be intensified”.


GET INSPIRED

After years of documenting displacement crises, award-winning photographer Robin Hammond decided to hand the camera to refugees and let them tell their own stories. The project “One Thousand Dreams” so far consists of some 700 curated stories and photographic portraits of refugees living in Europe, by refugees. The aim is to get to 1,000. Hammond and Witness Change, the non-profit organization he founded, trained and mentored 40 refugee storytellers to produce the portraits and interviews that make up the project.


DID YOU KNOW?

Refugees and asylum-seekers have started receiving COVID-19 vaccines in 91 out of 162 countries that UNHCR monitors.