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By Kristy Siegfried | 28 January, 2022

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Burkina Faso coup prompts fears of further instability. Army officers demanding more support for their fight against armed groups announced on Monday that they had ousted Burkina Faso’s democratically-elected president, Roch Kaboré. While the military takeover prompted widespread international condemnation, it was greeted with significant support inside Burkina Faso, where civilians have been the primary victims of violence by armed groups and more than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict. The coup is the fourth in a string of recent military takeovers in West and Central Africa, which could unleash further instability and insecurity in the region, according to analysts. AFP reports from Côte d’Ivoire, where thousands of people who fled across the border from southern Burkina Faso in recent months are living in a state of limbo that remains unresolved following the coup. Authorities estimate that more than 6,000 people abandoned their homes and fields in Burkina Faso after armed men arrived in their villages. Many of the refugees have relatives in Côte d’Ivoire, with families often living on both sides of the border. Although relations are good, host families are struggling to feed the new arrivals as more arrive every week.

Shipwreck highlights rising numbers risking perilous sea routes to the US. A sole survivor was found clinging to an overturned vessel off Florida’s Atlantic coast on Tuesday. He told authorities he was one of 40 people who had set off from the Bahamas’ Bimini islands on Saturday night. By Thursday, when the US Coast Guard called off its search, five bodies had been recovered. The incident occurred as the Coast Guard and other authorities warned of a rising number of migrants and asylum seekers from countries including Haiti and Cuba making risky sea voyages to reach the United States. Experts told the New York Times that the increase was related to tougher border enforcement measures at the US-Mexico land border as well as political and economic instability, violence, and natural disasters in the Latin American and Caribbean countries where most of the people are coming from. In the 2021 fiscal year, around 3,200 people were apprehended trying to reach the US by sea, with 1,968 apprehensions on the Southern California coast, and the rest along the Florida coast. Smugglers typically overload small vessels and do not provide life jackets to people making the perilous voyage across the Florida Straits from the Bahamas.

Afghanistan ‘hanging by a thread’ says UN chief. UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged nations on Wednesday to significantly boost humanitarian aid for millions of Afghans living in a “frozen hell”. He also urged countries to suspend rules and conditions that, since the Taliban took control last August, have frozen nearly US$9 billion in central bank assets and starved both the Afghan economy and lifesaving humanitarian operations of much-needed funds. AP reports that bitter winter cold is devastating the most vulnerable while aid organizations are scrambling to help people who lack either food or fuel. Roads in parts of the country are now deep in snow and passage for hundreds of trucks transporting food aid is slow going and difficult. Sky News reports that Afghans are resorting to desperate measures to feed themselves, including selling their kidneys and their children. Guterres warned that allowing the Afghan economy to completely collapse “could lead to a massive exodus of people fleeing the country”.


STORIES TO WATCH

Poland starts building metal wall at border with Belarus. Construction began this week on a 5.5-metre-high metal wall topped with barbed wire, and equipped with motion detectors and thermal cameras, that will run more than 180 kilometres along Poland’s border with Belarus, cutting through a protected forest. It is due to be completed in June at a cost of US$394 million. Thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers, many of them from Iraq, have attempted to cross from Belarus into Poland since last summer, with hundreds being pushed back by Polish border guards. At least 21 people have died or gone missing in the forested border area, according to IOM figures. Aid workers and rights groups worry that the wall will prevent people fleeing conflicts and persecution from being able to apply for asylum. Last year, Lithuania started building a wall on its frontier with Belarus.

Drought threatens to displace over 1 million in Somalia. An intensifying drought in Somalia could displace as many as 1.4 million people over the next six months, IOM warned this week. Nearly 245,000 people have already abandoned their homes in search of food, water and pasture, mainly in the central and southern regions of the country. Voice of America reports that thousands have flocked to cities, particularly to the capital, Mogadishu, where they are living in makeshift shelters in cramped conditions with little or no assistance. Some have reportedly crossed into neighbouring Ethiopia. Extreme weather events like floods and drought have combined with a decades-long internal conflict to leave an estimated 2.9 million Somalis internally displaced. Drought conditions tend to create tensions over grazing areas and water sources that increase conflict and the number of people forced to move.

Rights group accuses Egypt of forcibly returning Eritrean asylum seekers. Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Egyptian authorities had deported 24 Eritrean asylum seekers, including children, on 24 December, without assessing their asylum claims or allowing them to register with UNHCR. UN human rights experts previously condemned the forced return of 15 Eritreans from Egypt in October and November last year, noting that Eritreans who fled their country were often detained after being returned, and then “tortured, held in extremely punitive conditions and disappeared”. HRW said it had documented the arbitrary detention of nine Eritrean asylum seekers in Egypt, without access to UNHCR or official asylum procedures, before they were deported with the group of 24 in late December. Others reportedly remain in detention. Some 21,000 Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees are registered with UNHCR in Egypt while there is no data on the number of unregistered Eritreans in the country.


GET INSPIRED

Meet three sisters who are part of an all-girl basketball team at Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda. A Sport for Protection programme at the camp is supporting young people to fulfil their potential both in sports and in the classroom. “I play basketball because it can help me to make my dreams come true,” says one of the sisters.


DID YOU KNOW?

At sites for internally displaced people in north-west Syria, heavy snowfall in the past week has destroyed over 500 tents and damaged 9,200 more.