By Kristy Siegfried | 3 September, 2021
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. As the international evacuations from Kabul Airport ended this week, humanitarian agencies urged the world not to forget the millions of Afghans in need of help who remain inside the country. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi noted that most of the more than 600,000 displaced by conflict this year have no regular channels through which to seek safety and are dependant on a humanitarian response that is desperately underfunded. Stocks of food aid could run out as soon as next month, the World Food Programme warned, amid a severe drought that has ruined some 40 per cent of wheat crops and caused food prices to spike. UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged countries to provide emergency funding to stave off a looming “humanitarian catastrophe”. With Kabul Airport now closed, increasing numbers of Afghans arriving in Pakistan said they intended to seek asylum. Authorities have only been admitting those travelling for medical treatment or with proof of residence, but people smugglers have reportedly been helping some families get over the border. UNHCR called for borders to be kept open to those in need of international protection, and for the international community to bolster support to Pakistan and Iran, which have hosted the majority of Afghan refugees for over four decades.
Migrants and asylum-seekers blocked from heading north through Mexico. Mexican immigration authorities and security forces stepped up efforts this week to halt the progress of hundreds of mainly Central American and Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers trying to move towards Mexico City from the south of the country. A large group departed the city of Tapachula near Mexico’s border with Guatemala on Saturday after days of protests demanding that their asylum cases be expedited so they could relocate to other parts of the country without risking deportation. Mexico’s National Migration Institute later condemned the use of violence by some of their agents in stopping the asylum-seekers moving along a highway. Following a visit to the region this week, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Gillian Triggs, said Central America and Mexico were facing unprecedented pressure from increasing flows of refugees and migrants. Mexico is facing record numbers of new asylum claims, with up to 100,000 expected by the end of this year.
US effort to take in Afghan evacuees face hurdles. CBS News reports that thousands of at-risk Afghans are arriving in the United States without approved visas, placing them in a legal limbo and rendering them ineligible for some federal social programmes available to those admitted as refugees. Some evacuees who aided US forces are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas but others with no pending visa applications are being admitted temporarily on humanitarian grounds. The sharp increase in admissions of Afghan evacuees in recent days has also strained the resources of the nine US refugee resettlement agencies which are working to recruit volunteers and solicit donations. Since mid-August, the US has admitted approximately 24,000 Afghans evacuated from Kabul Airport. Another roughly 40,000 evacuees remain at military bases in Europe and the Middle East, where they will undergo immigration processing and security screening. CNN reports from Ramstein US Air Base in Germany, where nearly 15,000 evacuees are currently being housed, including over 6,000 children.
STORIES TO WATCH
Ethiopians in Tigray cut off from aid, says UN. The lives of millions of Ethiopians in the north of the country are under threat as aid agencies struggle to reach the region with humanitarian relief supplies. Grant Leaity, the UN’s action humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, said on Thursday that stocks of relief aid, cash and fuel were running “very low or are completely depleted” while food stocks ran out on 20 August. He said the conflict-hit Tigray region was under a “de-facto humanitarian aid blockade” with no trucks carrying aid able to enter the region since 22 August. A 10-month long conflict in Tigray, which has spilled over into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, has left millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance. “We need to reach them immediately and without obstruction to avert famine and significant levels of mortality,” said Leaity.
Crackdown in Nicaragua prompts growing exodus. Reuters reports that ahead of presidential elections in November, the government of President Daniel Ortega has been arresting opponents, journalists and activists, prompting increasing numbers of Nicaraguans to flee the country. Some 33,000 Nicaraguans have been apprehended at US borders so far this year, according to Reuters, over twice as many as in all of 2019. Meanwhile Costa Rica is struggling to process 11,000 asylum applications from Nicaraguans received in July and August, the highest number since a previous influx in 2018. The country’s asylum system is reportedly dealing with a backlog of 52,000 cases. Most Nicaraguans enter Costa Rica through informal points along the border with Nicaragua for fear of being detained by the Nicaraguan military.
Five-fold increase in weather-related disasters over 50 years. Climate change and increasingly extreme weather events have caused a surge in natural disasters over the past 50 years that have disproportionately impacted poorer countries, according to a new “atlas” of such events published by the World Meteorological Organization on Wednesday. More than 91 per cent of deaths related to natural disasters occurred in developing countries, but, thanks to improved early warning systems and disaster management, the number of deaths fell sharply between 1970 and 2019. The biggest killers were droughts, responsible for 650,000 deaths, followed by storms and floods. Mami Mizutori, UN Special Representative and head of the Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that “more international cooperation is needed to tackle the chronic problem of large numbers of people being displaced each year by floods, storms and drought”.
A project based in Glasgow, Scotland, is bringing together refugee and asylum-seeker musicians and providing them with instruments and a way of connecting with one another. Musicians in Exile released their first song this summer as part of the Refugee Festival Scotland. Written during lockdown, “Always on the Move” describes their flight from danger and their hopes of settling in a new home. Two of the musicians spoke to The Big Issue about what the project means to them.
DID YOU KNOW?
Of 39 million Afghans who remain in Afghanistan, at least half are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance.