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By Kristy Siegfried | 4 March, 2022

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Over 1 million refugees flee Ukraine in a week. Barely one week after the military conflict in Ukraine began, some 1.2 million people have fled the country in what UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi described as one of the most rapid movements of refugees he had seen in four decades. UNHCR has warned that the number of refugees could reach 4 million or more in the coming months, making it Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century. Most have fled to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, where they have been widely welcomed by governments and local communities. EU Interior Ministers agreed on Thursday to trigger the Temporary Protection Directive. Once implemented, it will provide Ukrainians and third country nationals with refugee or permanent residence status with immediate protection and access to housing and other benefits in the EU for up to one year, without needing to go through individual asylum procedures. If the conflict continues, or refugees cannot return safely, the status could be extended for up to three years. UNHCR welcomed the decision and called for its swift and broad application.

Russia, Ukraine agree to set up humanitarian corridors. Russia and Ukraine agreed on Thursday on the need for humanitarian corridors to deliver aid to besieged Ukrainian cities, and to help civilians escape. They did not indicate when the safe corridors may be established. The two sides also agreed on the need to deliver medicines and food to places where the fiercest fighting is taking place. A growing number of people are being displaced inside the country while others are trapped in cities that are the target of relentless shelling and where supplies of food and medicine are becoming increasingly scarce. UNHCR welcomed news of the humanitarian corridors, noting that “millions of people now need safe passage and urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance”.

UN climate change report warns of mounting harms to people and planet. UN scientists on Monday delivered a stark warning about the “grave and mounting threat” of climate change to both nature and humanity. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides the most detailed look yet at the threats posed by a warming climate and concludes that nations are not doing enough to protect people from hazards such as flooding and droughts, let alone from the “dangerous and widespread disruptions” expected over the next two decades. UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the report as “an atlas of human suffering”, noting that “nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now”. The IPCC’s scientists found that climate and weather extremes are already contributing to humanitarian crises and driving displacement of people in all regions of the world. More people will be forced to flee as weather extremes intensify. The 4,000-page report identifies ways to adapt to climate change but warns that options for adaptation will become “increasingly limited” unless nations act quickly to slash fossil fuel emissions and halt global warming.


STORIES TO WATCH

Key clauses of UK’s immigration bill voted down by House of Lords. Policy proposals central to the UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill were voted down in the House of Lords this week, removing clauses that would penalize and criminalize asylum seekers who arrive in the UK through an irregular route, such as by a small boat across the Channel. UNHCR has warned that the policy would create a two-tiered approach to asylum that would undermine international refugee protection rules. Other changes made by peers this week included the removal of a clause giving ministers the power to strip British citizenship without notice, a restriction on the ability of the UK to authorize push-backs at sea, and the removal of asylum “offshoring” powers that would have allowed asylum seekers to be transferred to a third country for processing. The Bill concludes its scrutiny in the House of Lords in the coming weeks, before returning to the House of Commons, where MPs must vote on whether to accept the changes or challenge them.

World Bank approves US$1 billion to fund urgent needs in Afghanistan. The executive board of the World Bank on Tuesday approved a plan to use more than US$1 billion from a frozen Afghanistan trust fund to finance urgently needed education, agriculture and health programmes. The money, to be disbursed through UN agencies and international aid groups, will provide a boost to efforts to ease the country’s humanitarian and economic crises. The Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund has been frozen since August when the Taliban took control. Addressing the UN Security Council on Wednesday, the UN’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, said aid efforts may have averted widespread hunger over the winter, but that urgent steps were needed to address restrictions on international payments and constraints on the central bank before Afghanistan’s economic collapse reached “a point of irreversibility”.

Many refugees yet to receive COVID-19 vaccine. While on paper refugees in 162 states are now included in national COVID-19 vaccination plans, many refugees have yet to receive their first dose, according to new data from UNHCR. Although there has been significant progress on refugee inclusion, many refugees are hosted in developing countries where vaccine shortages and weak health systems have kept overall vaccination rates low. Refugees often face additional hurdles to getting vaccinated, including lack of identity documents and access to online registration systems. UNHCR noted that, where vaccines are being administered, rates are lower on average for refugees than for nationals. The agency called for more support to host countries to help them overcome access barriers and for states to address specific obstacles still faced by refugees.


GET INSPIRED

As thousands of refugees from Ukraine cross the border into Poland every day, volunteers like Joanna have come out in force to help them, working alongside national authorities and humanitarian agencies in reception centres. Local residents have been dropping off donations of food, water, clothes, sleeping bags, shoes and nappies. “In the future, if I would need help like these people, I would like to also be remembered and get help,” said Joanna.


DID YOU KNOW?

Of 1.2 million people who have fled Ukraine since 24 February, 54 per cent (650,000) have arrived in Poland.