By Kristy Siegfried | 27 March, 2020
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Yemen’s warring parties back UN call for ceasefire to address coronavirus threat. Yemen’s warring parties have welcomed a UN call for an immediate truce as the country enters its sixth year of a conflict that has unleashed a humanitarian crisis and put it at “uniquely high risk” of a coronavirus outbreak, according to the WHO. The Financial Times reports that the rebel Houthi movement and the Government on Yemen agreed late on Wednesday to a call from the UN Secretary-General for an immediate end to hostilities. Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen, said he was calling the parties to an urgent meeting “to discuss how to translate their stated commitments to the Yemeni people into practice”. The move towards de-escalation follows an intensification of fighting in northern Yemen’s Al Jawf, Marib and Sana’a governorates that has displaced more than 40,000 people since January, according to IOM figures. In a briefing today, UNHCR said that thousands of those forced to flee continued to stream into Marib city and nearby areas and that public services were struggling to cope. Marib is now hosting 750,000 displaced people, outnumbering the city’s original population of 500,000. Many displaced families are now living in overcrowded, makeshift sites with poor access to clean water and sanitation, putting them at heightened risk to a COVID-19 outbreak. UNHCR said it was distributing hygiene kits and cash assistance, but that only a peaceful resolution to the five-year conflict could halt further suffering and stem humanitarian needs.
Worsening violence in Myanmar causing mounting casualties and displacement. At least 21 civilians have lost their lives as fighting between the Myanmar Armed Forces and a separatist group, the Arakan Army, reached villages along the border between Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states earlier this month, according to UNHCR. The UN refugee agency today urged all sides of the conflict to protect civilians and support the bigger battle against of the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Myanmar authorities estimate that more than 61,000 people have been newly displaced in Rakhine State as of 16 March, adding to the more than 130,000 people, most of them Rohingya, who have been displaced since 2012. Families forced to flee have sought shelter when possible in neighbouring villages, while those in remote areas have built makeshift shelters in paddy fields. They are cut off their livelihoods and struggling to access healthcare and education. UNHCR said it had provided emergency assistance to close to 57,000 displaced people across Rakhine and southern Chin states since last April.
WHAT’S ON OUR RADAR
In Burkina Faso, over 700,000 displaced people exposed to coronavirus threat. The coronavirus poses a new kind of threat to a country wracked by violence that has displaced more than 700,000 people in the last year. Most of those forced to flee are living in host communities where multiple families are sheltering under one roof and there is not enough food, shelter or medical care. The Intercept reports that with 146 confirmed COVID-19 cases, Burkina Faso is already the worst-affected country in West Africa. The government recently adopted a response plan that takes internally displaced people and refugees into account, but 135 health centres in the country have closed due to violence and 140 have reduced their services. Meanwhile, the burden on remaining medical facilities continues to grow as attacks make access more difficult and concentrate IDPs in already overburdened towns.
Bosnia orders transfer of migrants and refugees to new tent camp “to halt COVID-19 spread”. The Guardian reports that authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have ordered the transfer of at least 2,000 migrants and refugees staying in abandoned buildings and disused train stations in the country’s north-western Una-Sana Canton to a new tent camp in Lipa, a village about 25 kilometres from the border with Croatia. The Bihać city civil defence headquarters reportedly asked that the move be carried out “to prevent the onset of the disease caused by COVID-19”. Meanwhile, those staying at reception centres have been restricted from moving outside. The construction of the tent camp started a few days ago. Late last year, Bosnian authorities moved hundreds of migrants and refugees from a tent camp outside Bihać in response to international pressure and concerns about inhumane conditions.
EU to launch new Libya sea patrols in April. EU ambassadors on Thursday agreed to deploy a new naval mission in the Central Mediterranean to police the UN arms embargo on Libya. The new Irini mission is to replace Operation Sophia. Agreement on the new mission was reportedly delayed by concerns among EU Member States that re-instating naval patrols would encourage more migrants and refugees to attempt the sea crossing to Europe from Libya. Another sticking point was where to disembark those rescued at sea. Politico reports that to help broker a deal, Greece offered to allow disembarkation at its ports. Other member countries will offer relocation on a voluntary basis. Under the new mission, ships will patrol off the eastern part of the Libyan coast where they are less likely to encounter boats carrying migrants and refugees.
Prevention and inclusion key to protecting refugees from COVID-19. In this Q&A, Ann Burton, who heads UNHCR’s public health section, outlines the dangers the new coronavirus poses to refugees and internally displaced people and how the agency is working to slow its spread and reduce its impact. “Preventing or delaying outbreaks, particularly among the most vulnerable, is the most important action we can take right now,” she said, noting that even a small number of acute COVID-19 cases would strain fragile health-care services in the developing countries where the majority of refugees and IDPs are hosted. Ensuring that all refugees can access health services without facing discrimination was also key to avoid cases going undetected and untreated. Burton said the agency’s experience dealing with previous outbreaks such as Ebola provided key lessons, including the need to draw up extensive preparedness plans that can be integrated into national plans.
A group of Syrian refugees in Switzerland are helping elderly and unwell people in their neighbourhoods to stay home and protect themselves from the coronavirus by doing their shopping for them. “We live, and are still living, a crisis as refugees,” said Shadi Shhadeh, who enlisted his Syrian friends to set up the network. “That makes us probably in a better position to understand that there is a crisis and how to help.”
DID YOU KNOW?
During five years of conflict in Yemen, more than 3.6 million people have been uprooted from their homes and over 24 million are in need of assistance.