By Kristy Siegfried | 30 July, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Thousands of refugees and migrants dying on journey to Libya. An estimated 72 people die each month on treacherous land routes to Libya from East and West Africa before they even attempt to cross the Mediterranean – one of the deadliest journeys in the world, according to a report released on Wednesday by UNHCR and the Danish Refugee Council’s Mixed Migration Centre (MMC). The report found that at least 1,750 people died, and many others were subjected to extreme violence at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, militias and State officials while attempting the journey to Libya in 2018 and 2019. Around 28 per cent of those deaths happened during attempts to cross the Sahara Desert. Other hotspots included southern Libya, Agadez in Niger and the Malian capital of Bamako. Nearly a third of respondents interviewed by the MMC had witnessed or survived sexual violence. In North and East Africa, it was most often at the hands of smugglers while in West Africa, the main perpetrators were security forces and police officials. Once inside Libya, where an ongoing conflict has weakened the rule of law, refugees and migrants risk further abuses. On Wednesday, three Sudanese migrants died in a shooting incident after their boat was intercepted and returned by the Libya Coast Guard. They were reportedly shot at after attempting to escape from the disembarkation point in Al Khums, east of Tripoli. UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation, Vincent Cochetel, said the incident “underlines starkly that Libya is not a safe port for disembarkation”.
Dozens killed in renewed violence in Sudan’s Darfur. In the latest in a series of violent incidents in recent weeks, 60 people were killed when armed men attacked the village of Masteri in West Darfur province on Saturday. Houses and the local market were also looted and burned. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the attack was causing people to flee their homes in Masteri and in surrounding villages. By Wednesday, about 10,000 people had gone to El Geneina Town where they were sheltering in government buildings and with host families. Another attack on a village in South Darfur on 23 July left at least 19 people dead. They were among nearly 4,000 internally displaced people who had recently returned to their home area to farm their land. The renewed violence threatens to derail Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy. The attacks also come in the middle of the agricultural season and are expected to increase humanitarian needs in the region.
LGBT survivors of sexual violence in Syria struggle to get help in Lebanon. Gay, bisexual and transgender Syrian refugees who survived sexual violence during the conflict, are struggling to get medical and mental health care, according to a report by Human Rights Watch released on Wednesday. More than 40 LGBT+ survivors now living in Lebanon told HRW they had experienced increased violence at the hands of Syrian state and non-state actors due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Interviewees described being subjected to rape, genital violence, forced nudity and sexual harassment which had left them with long-lasting physical and psychological trauma. Existing services for sexual violence survivors in Lebanon tend to focus on women and girls and are often poorly funded. A 2017 study by UNHCR found that sexual violence and torture of men and boys in the Syria crisis was far more widespread than previously understood.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Marzia Vigliaroni, UNHCR Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Officer based in Niamey, Niger
How are you helping refugees and migrants evacuated from Libya who are traumatized by abuses they suffered there or elsewhere on their journeys?
“Refugees evacuated from Libya are among the most vulnerable and traumatized persons of concern that UNHCR takes under its protection. Once they arrive to Niger, every refugee is registered and assessed to understand their personal situation. The MHPSS team provides immediate medical screening, psychological support and counseling sessions.
“Concerning their psychological situation, most of the refugees arrive severely traumatized by torture, violence, rape and other indescribable experiences. They need urgent support to rebuild their trust and hope for a better future.
“As well as continued counselling and psychological support, these refugees have the opportunity to do educational, recreational and vocational activities to build new skills that will help them once relocated.”
STORIES TO WATCH
Landmines and IEDs pose growing threat to displaced in Sahel and Lake Chad. UNHCR on Tuesday called for stronger efforts to limit the risks to refugees and internally displaced people posed by landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Africa’s conflict-ridden Sahel and Lake Chad basin regions. The agency said there had been a growing number of fatal incidents involving forcibly displaced people since the beginning of 2020. Chad and Nigeria were the top most affected countries in the Lake Chad Basin with one recent incident in a refugee camp in eastern Chad resulting in the deaths of four refugee children who picked up an unexploded device and tried to open it. In Niger, five incidents have killed at least five refugees and displaced people and injured many others since the start of the year.
Caught between climate crisis and armed violence in Burkina Faso. This long-read by Al Jazeera looks at how climate change and increasing violence by armed groups and local defense forces in Burkina Faso have combined to push families, who once made a good living from farming, into displacement and poverty. The country is experiencing increased droughts, rain, heat waves, strong winds and dust storms and more than a third of land is now degraded, impoverishing farmers and herdsmen. Armed groups have exploited existing grievances over land, resources and ethnicity. More than 2 million people in Burkina Faso are now severely food insecure – up from 680,000 this time last year. AP reports that restrictions to combat the coronavirus are pushing already hungry communities in countries such as Burkina Faso over the edge and are already causing an increase in child deaths due to malnutrition.
EU relocates vulnerable asylum-seekers from Greece and Cyprus. Nearly 100 vulnerable asylum-seekers, including minors, have been relocated from Greece and Cyprus to Germany and Finland, the EU’s asylum coordination agency (EASO) said on Wednesday. The first relocation of 83 people from Greece to Germany, which included families with seriously ill children, took place on 24 July and was part of an ongoing EU scheme to relocate 1,600 minors to various European countries. Separately from the EU initiative, 16 asylum-seekers from single-parent families were relocated from Cyprus to Finland on 27 July. All were tested for COVID-19 before leaving, EASO said. As of early July, there were almost 4,700 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece. Many of them are living in over-crowded reception centres on the Aegean islands which have been under lockdown due to COVID-19 since March.
Growing up in a farming family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Wandaka Musongera knew how to grow onions and sweet potatoes by the age of five. Now the former refugee is the manager of a farm in Texas that is making weekly deliveries of fresh vegetables to nearly 100 local families who are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
DID YOU KNOW?
More than 6,200 refugees and migrants have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya so far in 2020 compared to 9,035 during the whole of 2019.