By Kristy Siegfried | 27 May, 2022
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Number of forcibly displaced tops 100 million. The number of people forced to flee violence, conflict, human rights violations and persecution has crossed the milestone of 100 million for the first time on record, propelled by the war in Ukraine and other conflicts, UNHCR said this week. “It’s a record that should never have been set,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.” The number of forcibly displaced reached 90 million at the end of 2021, propelled by conflicts in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and elsewhere. This year, the war in Ukraine has displaced 8 million people within their country while 6 million refugee movements have been registered from Ukraine. The 100 million figure includes refugees, asylum seekers and those displaced by conflict or violence inside their own countries. UNHCR will release its full set of global data on forced displacement for 2021 on 16 June in its annual Global Trends Report.
Heavy fighting in eastern DR Congo displaces thousands. At least 72,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu Province have been displaced in recent days by fighting between government forces and militia claiming to be part of the M23 armed group. According to UNHCR, over the past week alone some 7,000 of those forced to flee have crossed into neighbouring Uganda, a country already hosting more than 1.5 million refugees. The clashes this week were concentrated around 25 kilometres north of Goma, the provincial capital. UNHCR said those on the move were exposed to constant violence, including rape and physical threats. Some are sheltering in sites established for people who fled the Nyiragongo volcanic eruption in May 2021, but UNHCR said needs heavily outweighed the available assistance due to underfunding of the response and the difficulty of accessing areas affected by the violence. The fighting comes as communities previously displaced by insecurity in the region had tentatively begun to return home to re-establish their lives.
Dozens missing after boat sinks off Tunisian coast. Seventy-five people were missing and presumed dead after their boat, which departed from Libya, sank off the coast of Tunisia on Tuesday. The boat was reportedly carrying about 100 people when it left the Libyan port city of Zuwara, but the Tunisian Coast Guard was only able to rescue 24 while one body was recovered. In a separate incident late on Tuesday, the Spanish NGO Open Arms, which operates search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, found another boat in trouble in Tunisian waters. The overloaded boat capsized as the organization was calling for help to Italy and Malta. Although Open Arms rescued people from the water, a spokesperson said it was night and they could not be sure if they had rescued everyone. Prior to this week’s incident, 574 people had died or gone missing in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to UNHCR. The agency said it was the start of the season when calmer waters usually lead to increased numbers of boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
STORIES TO WATCH
Protests along US-Mexico border after judge blocks lifting of Title 42. Migrants across northern Mexico voiced frustration and desperation this week after the US government did not lift a pandemic-era policy that has prevented many of them from seeking asylum in the United States for over two years. A ruling by a federal judge in Louisiana on Friday meant the policy known as Title 42 could not end on Monday as planned. The Biden administration said it would appeal the decision. In the meantime, Reuters reports that it is moving ahead with other changes at the border aimed at better managing new arrivals and speeding up processing of asylum claims. They include allowing US asylum officers to adjudicate claims directly instead of sending them to back-logged immigration courts, and court-ordered screenings to determine whether certain asylum-seeking families should be exempted from Title 42.
Somalia’s worsening drought claims lives. Reuters reports from the Somali town of Dollow, where families displaced by the worst drought in 40 years are arriving so weak from hunger that some young children are dying. A camp that sprang up in the town in January is now housing 13,000 people but there is only enough aid to help about half of them. As of May, over 6 million people have been affected by the drought, of whom 771,400 have been forced to abandon their homes to search for water, food and pasture. While six areas of the country are now facing the risk of famine, according to the UN, a plan to provide emergency aid is only 15 per cent funded. In its latest update, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it expected the emergency to worsen with the next rainy season projected to be below average.
Boat carrying 842 Haitians abandoned at sea. UNHCR today expressed concern about the rising number of people from the Caribbean region, particularly from Haiti, risking dangerous journeys by sea. The worrying trend was highlighted this week by the arrival of a vessel carrying over 800 Haitians in Cuba. Some of the boat’s passengers told AP they had paid smugglers thousands of dollars to reach the United States before being ushered onto a dilapidated boat which was later abandoned by its captain and left to drift at sea for several days before being rescued by Cuban authorities. A spike in gang-related violence, political instability and high unemployment has prompted thousands of Haitians to flee their country in the past year. Describing the humanitarian and security conditions in Haiti as “dire”, UNHCR warned against pushbacks and forced returns and said it was working with governments in the region to strengthen reception and asylum systems.
Tirej Brimo fled Syria to the United Kingdom in 2013 just before completing his final year of medical school. Now an emergency doctor at a hospital in Cambridge, he used his annual leave to volunteer as part of a medical team treating Ukrainians arriving to the western city of Lviv after fleeing fighting in the east of the country. He told Newsweek that as a student in Syria, he felt helpless. “In Ukraine, I chose a different destiny. I chose to be there and stand up for what I believe in.”
DID YOU KNOW?
The 100 million people now forcibly displaced amounts to over 1 per cent of the global population and is equivalent to the 14th most populous country in the world.