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By Kristy Siegfried | 30 October, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Shipwrecks in Atlantic claim more than 200 lives. At least 140 people drowned after their boat caught fire and then sank off the Senegalese coast at the weekend. The wooden vessel, which was carrying around 200 people, was reportedly headed for Spain’s Canary Islands when a fire that began in the engine spread to barrels of fuel which then exploded. Two navy vessels as well as local people in wooden vessels rescued 59 survivors, according to the Senegal defence ministry. IOM described the incident as the deadliest shipwreck recorded this year. In a separate incident, dozens of people reportedly died over the course of two weeks when their cayuco – a wooden canoe boat – broke down after leaving Senegal and was left adrift in the Atlantic. Mauritanian coastguards rescued 29 survivors and took them ashore on Thursday. The number of boats departing from West Africa for the Canary Islands has increased significantly in recent weeks. More than 11,200 migrants and asylum-seekers have made the crossing so far this year, according to UNHCR figures. The latest shipwrecks bring the estimated number of people who have died or gone missing during the journey to over 700.

Channel deaths spark renewed calls for safe, legal routes to UK. The death of four members of one family, including two children, in the Channel on Tuesday has prompted renewed calls for safe and legal routes to be opened up for asylum-seekers trying to reach the UK. The family, who were from Iran, reportedly paid a smuggler thousands of euros to take them on a boat after two failed attempts to reach the UK by train. The boat overturned in rough waters off the coast of northern France with the family trapped in the cabin, according to the Times. Another member of the family – a 15-month-old boy – is missing, feared drowned while 15 survivors were rescued and taken to hospital. More than 7,400 people have arrived to the UK from France in small boats this year, nearly four times as many as in 2019, while seven have died attempting the crossing. Speaking to The Guardian, UNHCR’s UK representative, Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, said the government should urgently restart its resettlement scheme, which is supposed to bring about 5,000 refugees a year to the UK, but has been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Reopening and expanding legal pathways for more refugees to come to the UK in safety is one tangible way that this country can help,” she said.

Cameroon school attack puts spotlight on neglected conflict. Attackers armed with guns and machetes stormed a bilingual school in Cameroon’s Southwest Region at the weekend, killing eight children and injuring 13 others. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place in a region where separatist armed groups have been fighting government forces for almost four years. Human rights groups have accused both sides of killing civilians and the crisis has forced more than 700,000 Cameroonians to flee their homes, with almost 60,000 crossing the border into Nigeria. AFP reports that schools have been used as “weapons of war” in the conflict, resulting in the closure of most state-run schools. A researcher with the International Crisis Group said many of those schools had reopened at the start of the new school year on 5 October, but that the attack is likely to derail efforts get more children back in classrooms.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Paolo Artini, UNHCR’s representative in France

Why do you think the number of asylum-seekers risking dangerous sea crossings to England has increased in recent months?  

“We have seen in recent months an increase in crossings to the UK by sea, but also an increase in people arriving in the areas of Calais and Grande-Synthe [in northern France]. The new arrivals followed the re-opening of the borders after the COVID-19 lockdown but are also due to a decrease in possibilities for going to the UK through legal pathways. We have seen a correlation between the decrease of family reunion possibilities and an increase in the number of unaccompanied children in the area without proper care.

“People are mostly coming from the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, including single men but also an increasing number of families and unaccompanied children. They’re living in tents and under trees. There is a need for a system to identify the most vulnerable, provide access to information and referrals to shelter facilities.

“Why are people crossing the sea? Because of stricter controls on other ways of crossing such as by road or train.”


STORIES TO WATCH

EU border agency investigates “pushback” claims. Europe’s border security agency, Frontex, announced on Tuesday that it has launched an internal inquiry into allegations that have surfaced in several recent media reports that its officers had been involved in illegal “pushbacks” of asylum-seekers. In a statement, Frontex said that so far, they had found no evidence to substantiate the claims that its officials were implicated in pushbacks in the Aegean Sea carried out by Greek border guards or that they had done nothing to prevent boats in Greek waters from being returned to Turkey. The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, tweeted on Thursday that the European Commission will convene a meeting with Frontex on 10 November to discuss the allegations. UNHCR has urged Greece to investigate multiple claims of pushbacks taking place at its land and sea borders, but the government has denied the reports.

Rising hunger threatens children in Syria’s Idlib. The New Humanitarian reported rising levels of malnutrition affecting children in Syria’s north-west Idlib province, nearly a year since a government offensive in the region forced a million people from their homes. Rising food prices across the country, alongside the economic impacts of COVID-19 and the devaluation of the Syrian pound have been compounded by mass displacement in the opposition-held north-west. A recent report by OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, notes increases in chronic and acute malnutrition rates among children over the last four months raising concerns about stunting. Families living in camps with little or no income struggle to afford baby formula.

Canadians increasingly open to welcoming migrants and refugees, finds study. Canadians’ attitudes towards migrants and refugees have become increasingly positive, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people out of work and the country facing grim economic prospects. According to a new study from the polling firm Environics Institute, a large majority of Canadians continue to see migrants as critical to the economy and don’t feel they take jobs away from other Canadians. The percentage of Canadians saying that too many asylum-seekers were not “real” refugees has fallen to one third, down from 79 per cent in 1987. The shifting attitudes were found not just in diverse cities like Toronto, but also in rural areas.


GET INSPIRED

In 2017, Syrian refugees Hani and Amneh Arnouts and their two children left behind a tent in Jordan for a new life in the small town of Ottery St Mary in south-west England. They are among about 450 refugees who have been embraced by local community groups up and down the UK under the government’s community sponsorship scheme. The Arnouts’ story forms part of a new UNHCR series launched today chronicling the lives of five resettled refugee families and their community supporters.


DID YOU KNOW?

Of some 25,000 migrants and refugees who have arrived by sea to Spain so far this year, nearly half (11,234) have arrived via the Canary Islands.