By Kristy Siegfried | 4 June, 2021
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Denmark passes legislation allowing asylum-seekers to be sent to third countries. Denmark’s parliament passed amendments on Thursday that will enable the country to send asylum-seekers arriving on its soil to third countries to have their cases processed. Lawmakers voted 70-24 to approve amendments to Denmark’s Aliens Act, but they will only come into effect if the government secures a formal agreement with a third country. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the forcible transfer of asylum-seekers would represent an “abdication of Denmark’s responsibility for the asylum process and for protecting vulnerable refugees”. He added that UNHCR had repeatedly raised its concerns and objections to the proposal and all efforts “to externalize or outsource asylum and international protection obligations to other countries”. The Danish government has yet to reach an agreement with any partner countries, but said it was in talks with five to 10. Denmark has declared a goal of receiving zero asylum-seekers and recently made headlines for being the first European country to make the decision to return Syrian refugees.
Thousands of displaced people flee brutal attacks in eastern DR Congo. Attacks by the armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern Ituri Province left 57 people dead on Monday and forced nearly 6,000 to flee. The attacks targeted villages and sites for people already displaced by violence, near the towns of Boga and Tchabi. Shelters and stores were burned, civilians were shot and attacked with machetes, and 25 people were abducted. The ADF is believed to have killed more than 850 people in 2020, often in reprisal attacks on civilians after the army began operations against it the year before. UNHCR is calling for an urgent scaling up of security in the region to protect the lives of civilians, many of whom have been forced to flee multiple times. The attacks came as the situation for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in neighbouring North Kivu Province on 22 May became increasingly desperate this week. UNHCR estimated that 350,000 people were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food and water. Authorities said on Thursday they were looking at a “progressive return” of inhabitants to the city of Goma, which was evacuated last week over fears of a second eruption.
Rohingya refugees protest living conditions on Bangladeshi island. Several thousand Rohingya refugees living on the island of Bhasan Char off the coast of Bangladesh protested living conditions there on Monday. Since December, some 18,000 people have been moved to the island from densely-populated camps in Cox’s Bazar District that host around 840,000 Rohingya refugees. The Bangladesh government says relocation to the island is voluntary, but police told AFP that at least 49 Rohingya have been arrested in recent weeks after trying to return to Cox’s Bazar. The protest coincided with a visit to Bhasan Char by UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioners for Protection and for Operations, Gillian Triggs and Raouf Mazou. In a statement at the end of their visit to Bangladesh, the Assistant High Commissioners expressed concern about those injured on the day of their visit, as well as the reported arrests and the lack of access to livelihoods, education and health services on Bhasan Char. They also called for any relocations there to be voluntary, and for those relocated to have freedom of movement and the possibility to return to Cox’s Bazar. They also highlighted the reduced humanitarian presence in the camps in Cox’s Bazar due to the COVID-19 pandemic and called for more protection services for the most vulnerable, including women and children. Triggs and Mazou called on the international community to step up support to Bangladesh, which is hosting nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees.
STORIES TO WATCH
Greece starts roll out of COVID vaccines in island camps. Starting on Thursday, COVID-19 vaccinations began being offered to asylum-seekers staying at reception sites on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos. Those staying on two other Aegean islands and on the mainland will be offered shots from next week. Officials said they were hoping to overcome widespread vaccine hesitancy among asylum-seekers, only about 15 per cent of whom have expressed interest in receiving the vaccine. UNHCR said its teams on the islands were supporting efforts to inform asylum-seekers about vaccinations. Greece started relaxing strict lockdown restrictions last month, but reception sites have remained under lockdown. Greece has faced criticism from rights groups for not including refugees and migrants earlier in its vaccination strategy.
US formally ends policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico. The Biden administration on Tuesday formally ended a policy that forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in US immigration courts. The “Migration Protection Protocols” returned about 70,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico from January 2019 until it was halted on President Joe Biden’s first day in office two years later. Since then, more than 11,200 asylum-seekers with active cases in the programme have been allowed to return to the United States to await rulings. In a 2 February executive order, Biden had called for US agencies to review the MPP and consider whether to terminate it. A memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday said the programme had not enhanced border management and was “not consistent with this Administration’s vision and values”.
Colombia reopens border with Venezuela after 14 months. Colombia on Wednesday began what its government described as a gradual reopening of its border with Venezuela after a 14-month closure aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Venezuela, however, rejected what it described as Colombia’s unilateral decision to reopen borders. Colombia is host to some 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans and has been the chief destination for Venezuelans fleeing their country. While official border crossings have been closed, Venezuelans have continued to arrive in Colombia using informal routes known as trochas that are often controlled by armed groups. According to UNHCR, some report experiencing theft, extortion, violence and abuse during such journeys. In recent months, the border has also been the site of clashes between the Venezuelan army and armed groups, displacing some 6,000 Venezuelans from the border state of Apure into Colombia.
Eldric Sella Rodríguez has dreamed of going to the Olympics since he fell in love with boxing at the age of nine. He was a national champion in his home country of Venezuela but had to put his Olympic dreams on hold when he claimed asylum in Trinidad and Tobago. That changed when he was awarded a scholarship from the International Olympic Committee that has supported him to train. Now he’s waiting to find out if he has earned a spot on the Refugee Olympic team heading to Tokyo this summer.
DID YOU KNOW?
More than 5 million people have been uprooted by insecurity and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Ituri Province alone, 1.7 million people are displaced.