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By Kristy Siegfried | 3 February, 2020


Children bear brunt of military escalation in north-west Syria. Violence in north-west Syria over the past week has uprooted 6,500 children every day, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Saturday. UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said more than 300,000 children had been displaced since early December, creating “a child protection crisis of unprecedented scale”. More than 790,000 people have been displaced since April, with more than half of those people fleeing their homes since December, according to the latest UN figures. Trucks packed with families, along with their belongings, were seen moving out of towns across much of Idlib and western Aleppo over the past week. Turkey’s defence ministry said on Monday that Turkish forces had retaliated against shelling that killed six of its soldiers in Idlib by destroying targets in the region. Calling for an immediate end to the fighting on Saturday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated there was no military solution to the conflict.

Mediterranean deaths drop but risks remain, say experts. In the first month of 2020, some 70 people drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean while attempting the perilous journey to Europe. The figure is the lowest for the month of January since 2014, but experts told Al Jazeera that the number should not be interpreted as a positive development. Amnesty International’s senior campaigner on migration, Maria Serrano, pointed out that thousands of migrants and refugees remain “trapped” in detention centres in Libya and that those who do make it onto boats are often intercepted and returned by the Libyan coastguard. NGO rescue boats have also been more active in the Central Mediterranean than in January 2019, when several of them were blocked in ports by judicial or administrative proceedings. Almost all of those who died in January lost their lives on the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece. Rights groups have warned that the Greek government’s recently announced plan to erect floating barriers in the Aegean to deter sea arrivals from Turkey would increase the dangers faced by asylum-seekers attempting the crossing.


Somalia declares national emergency over locust swarms. Somalia has become the first country in the Horn of Africa to declare a locust infestation sweeping the region as a national emergency. The country’s Ministry of Agriculture on Sunday said the desert locust surge “poses a major threat to Somalia’s fragile food security situation”. The ministry said it was critical to contain the locust swarms before the harvest begins in April. The BBC reports that Somalia’s unstable security situation means that planes cannot be used to spray insecticide from the air. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says the swarms in Somalia and Ethiopia are the largest in 25 years and could lead to further suffering and displacement in the region.

Children at Mexican border need protection, says UN. Some 700 children are among an estimated 2,200 migrants and asylum-seekers in the Mexican border city of Matamoros waiting for US asylum hearings, according to the UN children’s agency, which on Saturday urged Mexican authorities to implement its own Protocol for the Protection of Migrant Children. Developed by the government, the Protocol establishes the interventions local institutions should provide to guarantee the rights of children on the move. UNICEF said it was expanding its own services to children and families in Matamoros, some of whom have been camped out near a bridge at the border crossing with the United States for months.

Hunger in Central Sahel rising as conflict intensifies. A recent UN assessment found that 3.3 million people in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are going hungry, an increase of nearly 1 million since last year. The World Food Programme warned that the situation is expected to worsen as the lean season gets underway and people flee increasing attacks by armed groups. The displacement of nearly a million people by conflict has had a devastating effect on agriculture and rural economies. WFP is appealing for more funding to scale up its operations and reach 2 million people across the three countries. UN High Commissioner Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who has been visiting the region in recent days, said “insecurity, terrorism, climate factors, poverty and the education gap are creating a huge humanitarian emergency” in the three countries.


Mohamed recently spoke to his mother for the first time in two years. Once at risk as a student activist, he had fled Sudan’s Darfur region with the hope of reaching Europe via the Mediterranean, but ended up in a Libyan detention centre. He finally spoke to his mother from the safety of a Rwandan transit centre for refugees and asylum-seekers evacuated from Libya.


While 71 people died attempting to cross by sea from Turkey to Greece in all of 2019, 63 people died on the same route in January alone.