By Kristy Siegfried | 3 December, 2021
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Millions of Afghans on the brink of famine. Nearly 23 million Afghans – over half the population – are facing extreme levels of hunger, and 8.7 million are at risk of famine, the UN World Food Programme warned on Thursday, as it urged the international community to put politics aside and step up support to avert a catastrophe. Afghanistan is being hit by multiple worsening crises including economic collapse, widespread displacement resulting from the country’s long-running conflict, as well as a drought and other climate-related emergencies. Briefing reporters on Friday, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said some 3.5 million forcibly displaced Afghans, including nearly 700,000 displaced this year, urgently need more support as winter sets in. Many lack proper shelter, warm clothes, fuel for heating or adequate food. AP reports that at Kabul’s Ataturk Children’s Hospital, the malnutrition ward is filled to capacity with acutely malnourished children and that many health facilities around the country have been forced to close due to the suspension of foreign aid since the Taliban took power in August. Earlier this week, UNHCR expressed concern about the escalating risks faced by Afghans attempting to flee into neighbouring countries as the situation at home deteriorates. With borders closed to the vast majority of Afghans, many are resorting to smugglers. Meanwhile, deportations of Afghans from Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan have increased.
US to restart programme requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico. The Biden administration will restart a programme, begun by the previous administration, that requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for US immigration hearings, US and Mexican officials said on Thursday. President Joe Biden suspended the policy soon after his inauguration in January, but a federal judge ordered in August that it be reinstated. The administration said it had to wait for Mexico’s agreement before the policy could restart, including making “humanitarian improvements“. The US has agreed to conclude cases within six months of an individual’s return to Mexico and to improve access to legal assistance. Particularly vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those at risk of persecution in Mexico, will be excluded from the policy, which is due to restart next week. UNHCR said the announced adjustments to the programme do not address fundamental concerns over its impact on asylum seekers’ safety and right to due process. Its reinstatement comes as a public health order, known as Title 42, which allows border authorities to rapidly return asylum seekers, remains in use.
EU proposes emergency measures at Belarus borders. The European Commission on Wednesday proposed an emergency asylum procedure that would allow authorities in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia more time to register and consider claims for asylum by migrants and refugees arriving from Belarus. Increasing numbers of people have been attempting to cross into the three countries from Belarus in recent months. If approved by the European Council, the amended rules would allow authorities up to 16 weeks to consider asylum requests, up from the standard four weeks. During that time, asylum seekers could be detained in closed centres. The emergency measures, which also include increasing the deadline for registering new asylum seekers from three days to four weeks, would last for a maximum of six months. UNHCR said any measures implemented under the proposal would need to meet international standards, including access to quality asylum procedures and legal assistance, and limiting the use of detention.
STORIES TO WATCH
‘Bandit’ attacks force thousands of Nigerians to flee to Niger. Repeated attacks by criminal armed groups locally known as “bandits” forced more than 11,500 people in Nigeria’s Northwest to cross into neighbouring Niger last month, according to UNHCR. At least 43 people were killed during one attack by bandits on a town in Nigeria’s Sokoto State on 14 November, according to state government figures. UNHCR said the violence comes against a backdrop of intercommunal clashes between farmers and herders aggravated by the climate crisis, as competition increases for dwindling resources. Most of the November arrivals have taken shelter with local communities in 26 villages across Bangui in Niger’s Tahoua region, which was already hosting 3,500 Nigerian refugees. They shared stories of murder, kidnaping for ransom, arson and looting.
Aid needs expected to surge in 2022 amid conflict, climate change and COVID. The UN warned on Thursday that the need for humanitarian aid was skyrocketing worldwide, as the coronavirus pandemic continues, and conflict and climate change push more people into poverty, displacement and food insecurity. An estimated 274 million people worldwide will need some form of humanitarian assistance next year, up from 235 million this year, which was already the highest figure in decades. The UN is appealing for a record US$41 billion to assist 183 million of the most vulnerable people in 63 countries, double the amount requested just four years ago. Its “Global Humanitarian Overview” for 2022 highlights soaring needs brought on by worsening instability in countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Myanmar, and protracted conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Pope Francis to highlight plight of refugees in Cyprus and Greece. The Pope arrived in Cyprus on Thursday at the start of a five-day trip that will also bring him to Greece, and the island of Lesvos, which he last visited in 2016. Cyprus has seen a rise in boat arrivals in recent years, with over 10,800 arrivals in the first 10 months of 2021, according to government figures. Francis will meet with refugees and migrants during his visit there and has reportedly arranged for 50 asylum seekers to be resettled from Cyprus to Italy. The New York Times reports that the Pontiff’s trip to Cyprus and Greece is expected to highlight issues such as the shutting of borders to asylum-seekers, particularly during the current phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the recent deaths of migrants and refugees in the Channel and the Mediterranean, which Francis described as a “huge cemetery” in a video message ahead of his trip.
Magartu Dedefi lost her sight when she was a toddler and fled Ethiopia to Kenya when she was just eight, but growing up with a disability in a refugee camp has not stopped her from working towards her goal of becoming a lawyer. After transferring from to a mainstream school in sixth grade, she is now among the top students in her class at age 16, and among the top learners with a disability in the country.
DID YOU KNOW?
Some 45 million people in 43 countries are currently at risk of famine.