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By Kristy Siegfried | 6 August, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Civilians urged to leave besieged Afghan city. The Taliban continued its nationwide offensive with advances on several provincial capitals this week. The Afghan army urged residents of Lashkar Gah, capital of south-western Helmand province, to flee the city on Tuesday as Taliban fighters reached the city centre. People already displaced to Lashkar Gah from surrounding villages and rural areas were reportedly forced to gather in the few remaining safe areas of the city. Across the country, some 360,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes so far this year due to conflict. Meanwhile, more than 80 per cent of the country is suffering from drought that is causing severe food and water shortages, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The Guardian reports that the escalating violence is pushing more Afghans to undertake desperate journeys across Iran and into Turkey, a country that already hosts four million mostly Syrian refugees. This week, the United States said it would expand access to its refugee resettlement programme for Afghans with US links that could put them at risk from the Taliban but said they would have to find their own way to a third country. It could then take more than a year for their applications to be processed.

US keeps in place public health rule at southern border. The Biden administration on Monday renewed a public health order that allows US border agents to quickly expel migrants and asylum-seekers arriving at the country’s southern border. The New York Times reports that the administration had been working on plans to begin lifting the rule, known as Title 42, but that the recent spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus bolstered the argument for keeping it in place. The American Civil Liberties Union said it would move forward with a lawsuit to prevent the use of the order to expel families. The administration already exempts unaccompanied children and some families with small children but said that lifting Title 42 for all families would worsen overcrowding and unsafe conditions at border facilities. According to Reuters, the US began flying Central American and Mexican families to southern Mexico on Thursday under the Title 42 order. UNHCR has called for the order to be lifted and for access to asylum at the border to be fully restored.

Conflict in Tigray spreads to other parts of Ethiopia. The conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is spilling into the neighbouring Amhara region, where 200,000 people have been displaced, and into the Afar region, where another 54,000 have been forced to flee, according to the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, who visited Ethiopia this week. The UN says that nearly 400,000 people in Tigray are facing famine-like conditions and that more than 90 per cent of the population need life-saving aid. The UN currently has very limited access to Tigray, while two international aid groups recently had their operations in Tigray suspended. Meanwhile, at least 40 bodies washed up on riverbanks in eastern Sudan close to the border with Ethiopia in the past week, according to media reports. Doctors and Ethiopian refugees who helped bury some of the bodies said many had been mutilated and had their hands’ bound while some had been shot. Speaking to AP, UNHCR in Sudan confirmed seeing a body along with fresh graves and expressed deep concern about the latest developments.


STORIES TO WATCH

NGO rescue vessel calls for EU help to disembark 550 passengers. The NGO SOS Méditerranée, which operates the Ocean Viking, said a place to safety disembark 550 people rescued from the Central Mediterranean last weekend is urgently needed. While two women were evacuated from the ship for medical reasons on Thursday, the NGO said no solution was in sight for the remaining passengers, many of whom are battling seasickness and heat on the ship’s overcrowded deck. Another NGO vessel, the Sea Watch 3, tweeted on Friday morning that it was heading for Trapani, Sicily, where the Italian authorities have given it permission to disembark 257 rescued people. Italy is pressing other EU nations to open their ports to refugees and migrants rescued by NGO boats as the number reaching Italy’s shores so far this year reached around 30,000 this week.

Thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Colombian coastal city. CNN reports from Necoclí, on northern Colombia’s Caribbean coast, where thousands of migrants and refugees are waiting to cross the Gulf of Urabá to Panama so they can continue their journeys northwards. Over the last few weeks, up to 15,000 people have arrived in Necoclí, a town with a population of 22,000, where only one ferry company operates. The town’s mayor told media last week that health and other public services were overwhelmed. Many of those interviewed by CNN were originally from countries such as Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, Mali and Ghana. They had initially sought refuge or opportunities in other South American countries but lost informal jobs during COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions and were forced to move on. Local authorities are particularly concerned about those travelling with children. The next leg of their journey will involve trekking through the jungles of the Darien Gap.

As refugee convention turns 70, needed now more than ever. The 1951 Refugee Convention, which governs states’ obligations to people who flee their countries due fear of persecution, has just turned 70. The Economist reports that while it is needed now more than ever, nationalist politicians are reluctant to meet their obligations under the convention. Pushbacks at land and sea borders have become increasingly commonplace and asylum-seekers often encounter more suspicion than sympathy. The Global Compact on Refugees, affirmed by the UN in 2018, emphasizes responsibility-sharing between countries and investing in the economic development of refugees and their hosts. In practice, writes The Economist, richer countries have done relatively little to support developing countries hosting the vast majority of refugees, despite remaining unwilling to increase their own refugee resettlement numbers.


GET INSPIRED

Refugee weightlifter Cyrille Tchatchet has gone from homelessness and depression to helping carry the Olympic flag into the Tokyo stadium as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team. Wanting to give back to the community, and to the doctors and nurses who helped him during his darkest times waiting for his asylum application to be approved in the UK, he decided to study mental health nursing and recently graduated with a first-class degree.


DID YOU KNOW?

The number of people who have crossed the English Channel in small boats in 2021 reached 10,200 this week, surpassing last year’s annual total. By comparison, nearly 48,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in southern Europe so far this year via the Mediterranean.