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By Kristy Siegfried | 31 October, 2019


Council of Europe calls for urgent transfer of asylum-seekers from Greek islands. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights today said urgent measures were needed to address the “desperate conditions” in which thousands of refugees and migrants were living on Greece’s Aegean islands. At the end of a five-day visit to Greece, Dunja Mijatović described the situation at “vastly overcrowded” camps on the islands as “explosive”. A spike in the number of people crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey in recent months has seen the population of refugees and migrants on islands reach some 34,000 by last week. As well as urging the Greek government to speed up transfers of asylum-seekers to the mainland, Mijatović called for the improvement of conditions in reception facilities where life for asylum-seekers has become “a struggle for survival”. The New Humanitarian looks at some of the factors that may be driving the recent rise in arrivals to Greece of Afghans and Syrians – the two main nationalities of the new arrivals.

South African police disperse refugee sit-in. Around 100 people were arrested on Wednesday as part of an operation to disperse a group of about 300 refugees and asylum-seekers who had been staging a prolonged sit-in outside the offices of the UN refugee agency in central Cape Town. The police said they were acting on a court order requested by the landlord of the building and that all those arrested had since been released. The refugees began their sit-in three weeks ago to protest violence against foreigners in South Africa that took place in some urban areas in August and September. They asked for help to be resettled to other countries. A similar protest is taking place outside UNHCR’s offices in Pretoria, the capital. In a statement on Wednesday, UNHCR said it had engaged with the refugees since the start of the protest to try to find a peaceful resolution to the situation. Responding to their demands for resettlement, UNHCR said it was reserved for a very limited number of vulnerable people and was not a realistic option for refugees in South Africa.


Talks on new Syrian constitution begin in Geneva. Work on drafting a new constitution for Syria began at the UN in Geneva on Wednesday as 150 representatives from the Syrian government, opposition and civil society met to discuss the future of the country for the first time in the nearly nine-year conflict. The UN said the talks will be “Syrian-owned and Syrian-led” and could pave the way for reforms and, eventually, peace negotiations. The talks are being held against the backdrop of fresh fighting in north-east Syria with clashes taking place in the town of Ras al-Ayn near the Turkish border on Wednesday. Initial face-to-face discussions are expected to start today, after which a 45-strong “drafting group” drawn from the three delegations will be tasked with writing any new constitution.

UN condemns killing of three aid workers in South Sudan. Three volunteers working for the UN migration agency (IOM) were killed on Sunday after being caught in crossfire between armed groups in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria region. Two other volunteers were wounded and one was abducted along with the four-year-old son of one of the aid workers who was killed. The volunteers were working at Ebola screening points in border areas between South Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. IOM Director General António Vitorino expressed his “great pain and revulsion” at the attacks and said the agency had suspended its Ebola screenings at five border points until the safety of its personnel could be guaranteed.

Migrants endure rape and torture on route through Yemen. AP reports from the coastal town of Ras al-Ara in Yemen where boatloads of mainly Ethiopian migrants are routinely intercepted by traffickers and trucked to desert compounds where they are imprisoned and tortured until their families pay ransom money. By the end of September, some 107,000 people had landed in Yemen. Most aim to reach Saudi Arabia and find work as servants or labourers, but many reportedly end up in Ras al-Ara where they are subjected to daily beatings, rape and starvation. AP spoke to some survivors who said they had witnessed deaths in the traffickers’ compounds.


training programme in Ethiopia is giving refugees and locals the same opportunities to learn new skills such as cooking, woodwork and mechanics. The main aim is to improve employment prospects for refugees and Ethiopians alike, but friendships between the two groups have also been forged.


At least 115 aid workers have been killed since the start of the conflict in South Sudan in December 2013. Most have been South Sudanese nationals.