By Kristy Siegfried | 3 April, 2020
Please note that this will be the last daily edition of The Refugee Brief. A new weekly version will land in your inboxes next Friday, 10 April.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Coronavirus brings new threats to war-torn Libya. Tomorrow marks one year since the launch of a military offensive in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, that has killed more than 300 civilians and displaced 150,000 others. Despite tentative agreement on a humanitarian truce to address the coronavirus threat, fighting has escalated significantly in the past week. Meanwhile, the authorities have now confirmed 10 cases of COVID-19 and one death. UNHCR warned today that the ongoing conflict has severely impacted the country’s health system, with many hospitals damaged or closed and shortages of basic equipment and medicines. Officials told The Independent that the country’s divisions would make it difficult to launch a coordinated response to the pandemic. Meanwhile, daily life is becoming increasingly difficult for displaced Libyans, refugees and asylum-seekers as rental, food and fuel prices continue to rise, forcing many people to crowd into unfinished buildings and garages. Al Jazeera reports on the plight of displaced Libyans living in schools and abandoned buildings who are now confined indoors because of lockdown measures in response to the pandemic. UNHCR said it continued to operate in Libya, but that the delivery of assistance has been severely hampered by strict security protocols and the curfews in place.
Bangladesh urged to lift internet ban on Rohingya settlements. A group of 50 humanitarian and advocacy organizations sent an open letter on Thursday appealing to Bangladesh’s government to lift telecommunications restrictions on Rohingya refugee settlements put in place last September. “These measures threaten the safety and well-being of the refugees as well as Bangladesh host communities and aid workers, in light of the growing COVID-19 pandemic,” said the letter, which described access to information via mobile and internet communications as crucial for slowing transmission of the virus. UNHCR has also urged the government to lift the ban. AP reports that community health workers and refugee volunteers are relying on radio spots, posters and leaflets to spread awareness about the virus while foreigners have banned from visiting the settlements unless “absolutely necessary”. A 100-bed isolation ward has been built inside one of the settlements and UNHCR said about 1,200 additional beds were being readied in nearby Ukhiya and Teknaf.
WHAT’S ON OUR RADAR
Burkina Faso violence forces thousands of Malian refugees to abandon camps. Thousands of Malian refugees living in remote camps in Burkina Faso near the border with Mali have fled militant attacks in the area and returned home, despite facing insecurity there as well, according to UNHCR. The Goudoubo refugee camp, which was home to 9,000 refugees, is now virtually empty. About half the residents have returned to Mali, while the other half have moved to other locations inside Burkina Faso, including the town of Dori, which is already hosting thousands of displaced Burkinabès. Violence that has spread across the Sahel region has displaced more than 838,000 people in Burkina Faso since January 2019. In a briefing today, UNHCR said it was struggling to access more than 6,000 refugees in a camp near the town of Djibo, where living conditions are worsening.
Rights group accuses Lebanon of discriminating against refugees in virus response. At least 21 Lebanese municipalities have implemented restrictions that apply only to Syrian refugees as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus, according to Human Rights Watch. They include curfews restricting the movements of refugees that began in early March before a nationwide curfew was announced late last month. Authorities have reportedly threatened Syrians with legal action and the confiscation of their documents if they violate curfews. As of Thursday, Lebanon had recorded 494 COVID-19 cases. Of those, 93 per cent were among Lebanese patients with only three Syrians testing positive. UNHCR has been conducting awareness campaigns and distributing hygiene materials. The agency has also said it will cover the costs of COVID-19 testing and treatment for Syrian refugees in the country.
Quarantine measures increase hardships along Eastern Ukraine’s contact line. Responding to the coronavirus threat, movement across the contact line between government-controlled areas (GCA) and the non-government-controlled areas (NGCA) of Donetsk and Luhansk was shut down on 22 March. Dozens of isolated settlements along the contact line, where a large proportion of the residents are elderly and vulnerable, are now cut off from public transport and unable to reach medical services and food shops, according to UNHCR. Residents are now dependent on deliveries of food and medicines by an NGO that partners with UNHCR. Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that dozens of people had also been stranded at a crossing point between GCA and NGCA in Luhansk Oblast when authorities closed the border last weekend at short notice.
Fears for Nigeria’s displaced if coronavirus reaches camps. Aid agencies are urgently installing makeshift hygiene facilities at sites in north-east Nigeria housing some of the 1.8 million people displaced by the decade-long Boko Haram insurgency. The region has yet to register any confirmed COVID-19 infections, but aid workers told AFP that overcrowding, poor sanitation and a lack of running water would make it difficult to contain an outbreak. In addition, roughly half of the 700 health facilities in Borno state have been damaged by the years of fighting. The UN on Tuesday announced it was taking emergency measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the region’s IDP camps, but there are concerns that stringent travel restrictions could affect the ability of aid groups to reach some of those in need of assistance.
A chain of hamburger restaurants in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, has launched a “Solidarity Menu” to help feed the rising number of people going hungry during the country’s coronavirus lockdown, including many Venezuelan refugees and migrants. Emiliano Moscoso, who owns the restaurant chain, told AP he was appealing to more well-off Colombians to order Solidarity Menus for those in need. Restaurant employees then deliver the food to families in poor neighbourhoods.
DID YOU KNOW?
Forecasts indicate that chronic insecurity and displacement in Burkina Faso will see food insecurity more than triple to over 2.1 million people by June, up from 680,000 at the same time last year.