By Kristy Siegfried | 4 December, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Bangladesh begins moving Rohingya refugees to remote island. Reuters reports that more than 1,600 Rohingya refugees sailed from Bangladesh’s southern port of Chittagong for Bhasan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal on Friday, amid concerns about its safety and a lack of consent from the refugees. Humanitarian and human rights groups had urged a halt to the relocation process, noting that the island is flood-prone and that UN officials had yet to be allowed to carry out safety and protection assessments. Bangladesh’s foreign minister said no one would be forcibly taken to the island, but two of the refugees being relocated told Reuters their names had appeared on lists compiled by government-appointed local leaders without their consent. A UN statement on Wednesday said it had “limited information” about the relocations and had not been involved in preparations or the identification of refugees, who it said “must be able to make a free and informed decision based upon consultations and full information regarding the conditions of life on the island and the rights and services that refugees will be able to access”. More than 300 refugees were brought to Bhasan Char earlier this year after being rescued at sea. They have complained of human rights violations and being held there against their will.
Aid deliveries poised to resume in Ethiopia’s Tigray. Aid agencies in Ethiopia are preparing to begin delivering aid to the northern Tigray region following an agreement between the Ethiopian government and the UN to allow aid workers “unimpeded” access to government-controlled areas. A month of fighting has sent some 47,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan and uprooted many more within Tigray. The deal will allow the first aid to reach the region of six million people amid reports of food, medicines and other supplies running out. UNHCR said it was discussing logistical arrangements, and the need to assess the security situation with the federal government’s refugee agency. UNHCR staff in the town of Shire have already distributed aid to an estimated 5,000 internally displaced people, but the agency said it still lacked information about some 96,000 Eritrean refugees, the majority of whom live in four camps in the Tigray region. Spokesperson Babar Baloch said that a small number of Eritrean refugees had arrived in Sudan in recent days and there were reports that many others had fled the camps seeking safety.
COVID crisis offers lessons on climate response for refugees. In a week in which the World Meteorological Organization said 2020 was on course to be one of the three warmest on record, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs urged the world to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and act with urgency to fight climate change. In a virtual meeting hosted by UNHCR on Wednesday, participants discussed the effects of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable people, including those forced to flee their homes, and called for them to be involved in finding solutions. The agency is increasing its focus on the links between climate change, vulnerability, and displacement with the aim of identifying at-risk populations before a displacement crisis occurs. In an address to mark the beginning of a month of UN-led climate action, Secretary-General António Guterres said climate action must be the “top priority” of the 21st century. He added that recovery from the coronavirus pandemic offered the opportunity for a reset to save the planet.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Andrew Harper, UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action
Why should UNHCR be involved in responding to displacement in the context of climate change?
“As a refugee protection agency, we are obviously concerned with people who have been displaced by conflict or persecution across international borders. While it may be challenging to make that direct link between climate change and people crossing an international border, we can see that climate change is a risk multiplier, or a threat multiplier, for other drivers of displacement.
“Climate change does not in itself lead to conflict, but it does increase food insecurity. It increases challenges to access livelihoods, and it puts pressure on education and health services. This is often compounded with pressures on governance and access to overall resources, and when you have challenges in relation to socio-political and religious grievances, or community structures, the combination of factors could be the spark to set everything off.
“We need to make the linkage between climate change, vulnerability, and displacement in order to anticipate at risk populations well in advance. By using anticipatory approaches we can become a less reactive agency that is better prepared to provide protection and address the most urgent challenges now and in the future.”
STORIES TO WATCH
COVID-19 drives 40 per cent increase in people needing humanitarian aid, says UN. A record 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2021, according to the UN, up from 168 million people this year. The 40 per cent increase was “almost entirely from COVID-19”, said UN emergency relief chief Mark Lowcock at the launch of an appeal for US$35 billion to reach the neediest 160 million people in 2021. The pandemic has pushed millions of people into poverty, sending humanitarian needs skyrocketing and causing a near doubling of the number of people at risk of starvation, according to the UN. Reuters reports from Burkina Faso, one of four countries, including Yemen, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria, where a combination of conflict, economic decline, climate extremes and COVID-19 are driving people towards the brink of famine, according to a recent report by the World Food Programme.
Report alleges forced disappearances and torture of Burundian refugees in Tanzania. A new report by Human Rights Watch alleges that at least 18 Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers have been forcibly disappeared from refugee camps in Tanzania over the past year. Many were reportedly tortured at a police station in Kibondo and seven remain missing while eight were handed over to authorities in Burundi and imprisoned without due process. Three others were released in Tanzania, reportedly after their relatives made payments to the police. UNHCR told Human Rights Watch it has repeatedly expressed concern to Tanzanian authorities over the disappearances, and that the government said a “high-level investigation was underway”. No results have yet been shared with the agency. More than 150,000 Burundian refugees live in camps in Tanzania, many of whom fled political violence in 2015.
First snow brings more hardship for migrants and asylum-seekers in Bosnia. As the first snow of the season fell in Bosnia and Herzegovina this week, migrants and asylum-seekers staying in makeshift tent settlements in the northwest of the country have been struggling to stay warm and dry, reports AP. Between 1,200 and 3,000 migrants and asylum-seekers are currently sleeping rough in abandoned buildings and makeshift camps, mainly in the north-western canton of Una-Sana which borders Croatia. At the end of September, local authorities closed an IOM-run centre in Bihać, the area’s main city, leaving hundreds homeless. Meanwhile, a tent camp housing some 1,400 people may become unliveable during the winter. The New Humanitarian reports that the coronavirus pandemic has hardened attitudes towards asylum-seekers and humanitarian volunteers.
Born blind, Sudanese refugee Adut Idris Adut did not get the opportunity to attend school until he was 17 and living in a refugee camp in South Sudan. He struggled at first, but after joining a programme for students with disabilities, graduated from primary school at the top of his class.
DID YOU KNOW?
Without ambitious climate action and disaster risk reduction, the number of people needing humanitarian assistance due to climate-related disasters could double to over 200 million annually by 2050.