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By Kristy Siegfried | 27 August, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Kabul Airport attacks deepen humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The two suicide bombings near Kabul Airport on Thursday killed over 100 Afghans and 13 US soldiers and wounded many others, plunging the country into further chaos. The attacks came as US and other Western countries raced to evacuate their citizens and Afghan allies ahead of a 31 August deadline. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the airport in the past two weeks, but airlift operations are set to wind down in the next few days and other options for Afghans hoping to flee the country are limited. UNHCR continued to appeal to all countries neighbouring Afghanistan to keep their borders open to those seeking to escape the intensifying crisis. The agency today launched a Regional Refugee Preparedness and Response Plan which envisages a worst-case scenario of 500,000 Afghan refugees arriving in neighbouring countries by the end of the year. UNHCR is seeking a total of US$299 million to allow it and other UN agencies and partners to preposition aid and to prepare for large outflows of refugees. UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner Kelly Clements emphasized that significant movements across borders are not yet taking place and that the greatest needs remain inside the country, where the impacts of the conflict have been compounded by a severe drought and the COVID-19 pandemic. With a third of the population already facing food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme, needs are expected to increase going into winter.

Catastrophe unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, says UN chief. UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Thursday that “a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes” in Ethiopia, where a military confrontation that started 10 months in the northern Tigray region is spreading to other regions. More than 2 million people have been displaced and millions more are in immediate need of food, water, shelter and health care, said the Secretary-General, adding that the humanitarian response has been “severely” constrained by insecurity and restrictions on the work of aid agencies. No trucks carrying aid have managed to enter Tigray since 20 August. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission reports that 210 people were killed during several days of ethnic violence in Ethiopia’s western Oromia region last week.

US Supreme Court requires reinstatement of ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. The US Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to block last week’s ruling from a federal judge in Texas requiring the government to reinstate a policy forcing asylum-seekers arriving at the southern border to await immigration hearings in Mexico. President Biden suspended and then ended the programme formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), but the court said the administration had not followed due legal process in doing so. Critics of the MPP programme have argued that it subjects asylum-seekers, mainly from Central America, to dangerous conditions in Mexican border cities. The Department of Homeland Security said it would continue to “vigorously challenge” the court ruling but would comply with the order “in good faith” and has begun discussions with Mexico while the appeals process continues.


STORIES TO WATCH

Aid trickles into remote areas of Haiti hit by earthquake. NPR reports that nearly two weeks after a catastrophic earthquake hit southern Haiti, killing more than 2,200 people and damaging or destroying some 130,000 homes, humanitarian groups are starting to reach some of the region’s most remote communities with aid. Haiti’s mountainous southern peninsula is full of small communities only accessible by dirt roads that are now blocked by mudslides and rocks. US military helicopters are distributing food aid, but residents are still in need of shelter and medical care. Al Jazeera reports that aid trucks are now able to use a key road from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince that was controlled by a gang thanks to a truce with its leader. The UN estimates that more than 824,000 people affected by the earthquake, of which over 650,000 need emergency assistance. It launched a flash appeal on Wednesday aimed at raising US$187 million in order to target 500,000 of the most vulnerable people with aid.

Uptick in violence in Syria causes new displacement. An uptick in fighting throughout the country has led to some of the largest civilian displacements in a year, according to the UN. An increase in air strikes and shelling in the north-west of the country killed 53 civilians in June and July and displaced over 20,000 people, while shelling in the north-east reportedly displaced another 8,000, and violence in Daraa province in the south-west has displaced more than 38,000 people over the past month. Geir Pedersen, the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, told a meeting of the Security Council that “these developments remind us that the conflict in Syria is far from over”. Separately, 13 aid groups this week warned that more than 5 million people in Syria, and another 7 million in Iraq, are facing a severe water crisis as record low levels of rainfall threaten food and electricity production. Communities in northern Syria, including displaced people in camps, are reportedly experiencing a rise in outbreaks of water-borne diseases due to the lack of water.

Thousands of uprooted Yemenis living in ‘deplorable’ conditions in Marib. As fighting in Yemen’s Marib governorate forces more people to flee, UNHCR this week warned of “deplorable” conditions in many of the informal settlements where some 190,000 displaced people have sought safety. They include many of the close to 24,000 people uprooted by armed clashes since the beginning of the year. A recent UNHCR assessment found that the settlements were overcrowded and lacking basic necessities such as clean water, latrines, electricity and health facilities. Already inadequate shelters have been further damaged by recent flooding and fires, and only 21 per cent of residents are reached by aid organizations because of their proximity to active frontlines. UNHCR is calling on warring parties to ensure humanitarian access to the settlements.


GET INSPIRED

Afghan refugee, swimmer and UNHCR high-profile supporter Abbas Karimi is one of six athletes who make up the Refugee Paralympic Team competing in the Tokyo Paralympics this week. Born without arms, Abbas began swimming at the age of 13 and never looked back. He swam his fastest time ever on Friday to qualify for the finals of the Men’s 50-metre Butterfly race. Although he didn’t win a medal, he will have another chance on Monday when he takes part in the Men’s 50-metre Backstroke event.


DID YOU KNOW?

Between them, Pakistan and Iran already host some 90 per cent of Afghan refugees, with more than 2.2 million registered in the two countries.