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By Kristy Siegfried | 5 March, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Over three million refugees in eastern Africa hit by ration cuts. Funding shortages have forced the World Food Programme and UNHCR to cut food and cash support to over three million refugees living in eastern Africa by up to 60 per cent. A joint statement by the two agencies on Tuesday appealed for US$266 million to end the cuts, warning that their impacts would be all the more severe for refugee families already feeling the knock-on effects of COVID-19 restrictions. Lock downs and other measures have reduced their ability to supplement food rations with earnings from casual work and small businesses. The funding shortfall has forced WFP to slash its monthly assistance to refugees in Rwanda by 60 per cent and by 40 per cent in Uganda and Kenya. Assistance in South Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia has also had to be reduced. Peter Eliru, an assistant nutrition and food security officer with UNHCR in Uganda said refugees there were increasingly at risk of becoming malnourished, particularly pregnant women, children under five and the elderly. He noted that more refugees were crossing back and forth to South Sudan in search of food and livelihood opportunities to sustain their families. “These movements further increase the risk of violence and the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

Surging violence in north-west Nigeria drives refugees into Niger. More than 7,500 refugees have fled worsening violence in north-west Nigeria this year to Niger’s southern Maradi region, where violence is also on the rise, according to UNHCR. The new arrivals, most of them women and children who had fled attacks in Nigeria’s Sokoto state, bring the total number of displaced people in the Maradi region to nearly 100,000, including over 20,000 Niger citizens displaced within their own country. UNHCR voiced concerns that the insecurity in northern Nigeria is spilling over the border, with more casualties and serious incidents reported in Maradi in January and February than in the entire second half of 2020. Refugees staying in the region described gruesome murders, kidnappings for ransom, and looted villages. Separately, civilians and aid facilities came under attack in north-east Nigeria’s restive Borno state late on Monday. A hospital and offices belonging to several aid agencies were set ablaze in the town of Dikwa where some 75,000 people displaced by fighting in other parts of the region are living.

Growing number of unaccompanied children arriving at US border. The US administration is racing to find space for the growing number of families and unaccompanied children crossing the border from Mexico, reports CNN. US Customs and Border Protection took over 5,800 unaccompanied children and 7,500 families into custody in January, the month that President Joe Biden took office. The yet-to-be released figure for February is expected to be significantly higher. Under the previous administration, unaccompanied children, along with all other migrants and asylum-seekers, were returned to Mexico under a public health provision put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. The provision is still in place, but the new administration has decided not to refuse admission to asylum-seeking children and vulnerable families.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Richard Ewila, head of UNHCR’s field office in Huye, Rwanda

What impacts are you seeing on refugees affected by food ration cuts and reductions in cash assistance?

“We have about 30,000 Congolese refugees in two camps here. They normally receive a debit card with money on it that is equivalent to a monthly food ration. In February they received the full amount, but in March they’ll only receive 40 per cent. Households give their debit cards to traders in the camps so they can get groceries from them on credit, but the traders have learnt about the cuts so refugees are not getting the credit they usually get. Refugees also take out loans against that debit card, but the lenders have learned about the cuts and that the refugees won’t be able to pay them back this month. UNHCR cannot go and pay the debts of the refugees, but we’re very concerned this will create conflict.

“We’ve also started to see some refugees registering for repatriation. The problem is that as the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] is not yet secure, we can’t organize repatriations. So, they may spontaneously return even though some have lived in this country for over 20 years, and this may expose them to protection problems in the DRC.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Sea rescue charities charged in Italy with complicity in people smuggling. The Guardian reports that after a four-year investigation, Italian prosecutors have charged dozens of rescuers, from charities including Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières, with collaborating with smugglers from Libya during rescues in the Central Mediterranean. Prosecutors in Trapani, Sicily claim the rescuers arranged a direct handover of refugees and migrants from smugglers’ boats, returning the boats so they could be reused. Crew from the three rescue boats at the centre of the charges deny all the accusations, insisting that their operations were lawful and saved thousands of lives. Dozens of investigations have been launched against NGOS carrying out sea rescues by Italian prosecutors in recent years, the majority of them later dropped.

Dozens of refugees released by Australia after years in detention. This week Australia released more than 60 refugees from hotels and detention centres in Brisbane, Sydney and Darwin where they had been detained since being evacuated from Nauru and Manus Island for medical treatment. Some had spent as long as eight years on Nauru or Manus after attempting to reach Australia by boat. The releases came after several of the refugees took court action against the Australian government challenging the validity of their detention. Rights groups urged the government to release another 75 refugees still being held in Australia. Those released have been granted only temporary visas and the Department of Home Affairs reiterated the government’s policy that they would not be allowed to settle permanently in the country.

Denmark criticized for decision to withdraw protection for some Syrian refugees. Rights groups spoke out this week against rulings by Denmark’s refugee appeals board to uphold decisions not to renew residency permits for several refugees from Syria’s southern Rif Dimashq region. Denmark has considered the Syrian capital, Damascus safe for most refugees to return to since 2019, the only European country to make such a determination. Last year, the Danish Immigration Service withdrew or refused to extend residency permits for 94 Syrians who are now awaiting the outcome of appeals. Danish authorities have said they will reassess another 350 cases this year. Without residency permits, the refugees cannot work or study and rights groups fear they could remain in return centres for months or years as Denmark lacks an agreement with the Syrian government on returns.


GET INSPIRED

As the conflict in their home country approaches 10 years, these Syrians reflect on their hopes and fears for the future.


DID YOU KNOW?

Seventy-two per cent of 4.7 million refugees living in 11 countries in eastern Africa are facing food ration cuts on top of other cuts to UNHCR assistance and support affected by funding shortfalls.