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By Kristy Siegfried | 29 May, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Shooting at smuggling warehouse in Libya kills 30 migrants. Libya’s interior ministry reports that 30 trafficked migrants were killed in a shooting at a smugglers’ warehouse in the desert town of Mezda, southwest of Tripoli, on Wednesday. The government statement said the migrants had allegedly killed a local trafficker, prompting his family to take revenge. The killings underscore the dangers facing refugees and migrants in Libya, including those intercepted at sea and returned to detention centres where the risk of human rights abuses is high. Libya’s coast guard intercepted and returned around 600 people who were attempting to reach Europe by boat in the past week alone and transferred them to detention centres. Another 98 people were picked up by a commercial vessel and returned to Libya on Wednesday. UNHCR has repeatedly said that Libya is not safe place for disembarkation and that migrants and refugees rescued at sea should not be returned there. Meanwhile, European countries have largely halted search-and-rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean and NGO boats face increasing restrictions. This BBC video documents the fate of a boat carrying 91 people that went missing in the Mediterranean in February after their requests for assistance went unanswered.

Donors pledge US$2.79 billion in aid for Venezuelan refugees and migrants. A virtual donor conference on Tuesday raised US$653 million in donations to support Venezuelan refugees and migrants who have sought safety and jobs in other countries in the region in recent years. Including loans, a total of US$2.79 billion was raised at the conference, which was jointly organized by the EU and Spain. UNHCR-IOM Joint Special Representative Eduardo Stein said the contributions would make a real difference to Venezuelan refugees and migrants, who have been “extremely hard-hit” by the coronavirus pandemic. Latin America emerged this week as the new epicentre of the pandemic, and the World Food Programme warned that the economic impacts of efforts to contain the virus could leave around 14 million people in the region facing hunger this year, up by 10 million from last year. WFP predicted that the number of Venezuelans in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru who are experiencing severe food insecurity could nearly double from 540,000 to over one million. Before the pledging conference, an inter-agency plan to respond to the needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants was only 10 per cent funded.

Funding shortfall threatens aid programmes in Yemen as COVID-19 spreads. UN agencies warned on Thursday that a funding shortage may force them to close many crucial programmes in Yemen over the next few weeks, just as the coronavirus is spreading “fast and wide” across the country. Officially, only 253 COVID-19 cases have been recorded, but local health officials are reporting dozens of deaths every day from unspecified causes. People with high fever and breathing difficulties are being turned away from overwhelmed health facilities and are “suffering and dying at home”, said the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock. Yemen’s 3.6 million internally displaced people are particularly vulnerable to the virus, with many families living in unsanitary and crowded conditions where physical distancing and regular handwashing are impossible. UNHCR said it had nearly exhausted its resources to provide assistance to such families and urgently needs more funding. A pledging conference on 2 June will aim to stave off the closure of more than 30 UN programmes in Yemen. Agencies are seeking a total of US$2.4 billion to continue the world’s largest aid operation from June until the end of the year.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean

How can States comply with their obligations under international law to disembark people rescued at sea while also addressing public health concerns?

“During the current health crisis, several countries in Southern Europe and North Africa have found ways to manage their land or sea borders effectively, while continuing to allow access to their territories for people seeking asylum. Medical screenings at borders, health certification or temporary quarantine in designated reception areas or on boats are some of the measures put in place by States that can be used more consistently to safely manage disembarkation in ports around the Mediterranean Sea. Such options are, however, not available in Libya, which cannot be regarded today as a safe place for refugees.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Lebanon confirms at least 15 COVID-19 cases among Syrian refugees. At least 15 Syrian refugees living in the same building in a village in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon have tested positive for COVID-19, according to UNHCR. Previously, only one Syrian refugee in Lebanon had tested positive for the virus, while at least six cases were detected among Palestinian refugees in a camp in the Bekaa Valley last month. The new cases in the village of Majdal Anjar are now in self-isolation and receiving food and disinfection kits from UNHCR, which said it was working with the health ministry to begin testing thousands of refugees living in informal settlements and shelters. Aid groups have expressed concern that overcrowding in such settlements could make refugees especially vulnerable to the virus.

Camp fire in eastern Nigeria kills two, leaves thousands without shelter. A large fire that swept through a camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, in eastern Nigeria’s Borno State, left two people dead and hundreds of families without shelter, according to UNHCR. The fire broke out last weekend, on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr, after sparks from a cooking fire spread through the makeshift camp, which is home to some 40,000 people. In recent months, several fires have occurred in congested IDP camps across northeast Nigeria. Nearly 300,000 people live in such camps in and around Maiduguri after fleeing violence by Boko Haram and other armed groups. UNHCR said it was working with the authorities and other aid agencies to provide shelter, food and clothing to those affected by the fire.

Asylum-seekers report abuses by Croatian border police. Asylum-seekers interviewed by The Guardian reported being robbed, beaten, and spray-painted with red crosses on their heads by Croatian police officers after they attempted to cross the border from Bosnia and Herzegovia earlier this month. EU parliamentarians are now pushing for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations. The Danish Refugee Council, one of the NGOs that provides healthcare to asylum-seekers and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovia, said they had also collected testimonies from groups of migrants who been spray-painted by Croatian police officers before they were forced back across the border. UNHCR said it was “deeply concerned about the reported violence” and had previously shared with the authorities and urged them to investigate reports from people who said they were unlawfully returned from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovia.


GET INSPIRED

More than 50 musicians from around the world joined violin virtuoso and conductor Shlomo Mintz on Thursday for a virtual performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins to raise funds for UNHCR’s COVID-19 response. You can watch the full 18-minute concert on YouTube.


DID YOU KNOW?

The ongoing conflict in Yemen has forced close to 100,000 people to flee their homes since the beginning of the year.