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By Kristy Siegfried | 30 January, 2020


Syrians in Idlib “increasingly under siege”. Briefing the Security Council on the “dire and deteriorating humanitarian situation” in north-west Syria on Wednesday, UN relief chief Mark Lowcock said fighting there was “more intense than anything we have seen in the last year”, particularly around Saraqeb, western Aleppo and the town of Maarat al-Numan – a key opposition stronghold, which government forces captured on Tuesday after weeks of heavy air strikes. The UN estimates that some 115,000 people have fled areas of southern Idlib in the past week. Lowcock said routes to the north and west of Saraqeb were “clogged with vehicles” as families tried to flee the bombing, often moving multiple times. “They arrive in a place thought to be safe, only for the bombs to follow, so they are forced to move again,” he said. Calling for an immediate stop to the “deplorable” violence, he said Syrians in Idlib feel traumatized and “totally abandoned by the world”. While cross-border aid deliveries have staved off a “humanitarian catastrophe”, Lowcock said aid workers are unable to meet the level of need and tensions are mounting because of the inadequate humanitarian response.

Colombia announces new work permits for Venezuelans. Hundreds of thousands more Venezuelans could soon have temporary legal status in Colombia, following an announcement by the government on Wednesday. In the next few days, a new work permit will be available to Venezuelans who have formal job offers. In addition, the government said it plans to renew special stay permits, known by the Spanish acronym PEP, for Venezuelans who entered the country before 29 November last year. The second measure could benefit some 200,000 Venezuelans, according to Colombia’s migration agency. Of about 1.6 million Venezuelans now living in Colombia, UNHCR estimates that just under half had a PEP or some other type of visa by the end of last year. The Colombian government wants to bring other Venezuelans into the legal economy in a bid to reduce budgetary pressures on overwhelmed social services.


Greece considers floating sea barrier to deter arrivals to islands. Greece plans to test a “floating protection system” in the Aegean Sea to deter refugees and migrants attempting to reach Greece from Turkey, government officials said on Thursday. Greece’s defence ministry has published a call for tenders for the installation of a 2.7-kilometre-long barrier or net that would rise 50 centimetres above sea level and have lights to make it visible at night. A defence ministry official told Reuters that the barrier will be installed to the north of the island of Lesvos. If effective, it would be extended and could reach up to 15 kilometres, he said. UNHCR said it had not seen details of the government’s plan, but pointed out that over 85 per cent of arrivals to Greece in 2019 had “refugee profiles” and that efforts to manage borders should allow people in need of protection to safely access asylum.

Dozens killed in latest attack in eastern DR Congo’s Beni region. At least 36 people were hacked to death in a suspected rebel attack on a village in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Beni region, a local official said on Wednesday. Similar attacks by armed groups have killed more than 260 people in the region in the past 12 weeks alone. The New Humanitarian reports that the insecurity has forced thousands of people to abandon their villages and flee to urban areas around Beni and nearby Oicha. Those who remained told TNH they lived in a state of near-constant fear and that few dared to leave their homes after sunset. The insecurity has also hampered the movement of humanitarian workers.

Environmental degradation fuelling violence against women, study finds. Climate breakdown and increasing environmental degradation are driving a rise in violence and exploitation of women and girls, according to a study published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Wednesday. The study, which took two years and involved more than 1,000 sources, documents extensive links between environmental pressures and gender-based violence, particularly where there are dwindling natural resources due to climate change. Cate Owren, a lead author of the report, said “the evidence shows that, where environmental pressures increase, gender-based violence increases” and called for more recognition of the links between the two issues.

New law tackling statelessness comes into effect in Tajikistan. A new law in Tajikistan that allows foreign nationals and stateless people to obtain residency permits and eventually apply for Tajik citizenship came into effect earlier this month. In a statement today, UNHCR welcomed the measure as an important step towards ending statelessness in the country. Authorities estimate the new law will benefit some 20,000 people, mainly former citizens of the Soviet Union. The new laws fulfils a pledge made by Tajikistan during a high-level meeting on statelessness in October.


Syrian-born artist and architect Mohamed Hafez and Iraqi writer Ahmed Badr used 10 suitcases and 10 refugee stories to create the multimedia installation UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage, on display at the University of Madison-Wisconsin next month. Badr collected and curated the stories of refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hafez then painstakingly recreated the rooms, homes and landscapes, often ravaged by war, that they left behind. Each suitcase installation is embedded with the voices of the refugees Badr interviewed.


In Syria’s Idlib province, at least 81 civilians were killed by air- and ground-based strikes during the week of 15 to 23 January. More than 1,500 civilian deaths have been recorded there since late April last year.