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By Kristy Siegfried | 6 January, 2020


Nearly 300,000 Syrians displaced from Idlib since mid-December. Air and land attacks reportedly continued over the weekend in Syria’s opposition-held north-west. Nearly 300,000 people have been displaced from southern Idlib province since mid-December, according to the latest UN estimates. The city of Ma-arrat An-Numan and its surrounding areas are reportedly now almost empty of civilians, with most families having fled north. The newly displaced add to over 400,000 people forced to flee violence that took place between the end of April and early December last year. Following a UN Security Council briefing on Friday that took place behind closed doors, UN Deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters that winter conditions were “exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation”, with families fleeing in torrential rain and temperatures at night close to freezing. In an appeal for a ceasefire in the north-west, UNICEF reported that five children were among 10 civilians killed on New Year’s Day, when shelling hit a street where a primary school was located in Sarmin.

Violence in Sudan’s West Darfur forces 40,000 people to flee. Since late December, clashes between Arab and African ethnic groups in el Geneina, West Darfur’s state capital, have left at least 54 people dead and an estimated 40,000 people displaced, including 32,000 living in three camps for the internally displaced. Humanitarian groups have reported attacks on IDP camps and the burning of villages. According to the UN humanitarian affairs coordination office (OCHA), those forced to flee have taken refuge in schools and government buildings in and around el Geneina. UN chief António Guterres on Friday condemned the clashes and called on the authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable and redouble their efforts to restore peace and security in the region.


Greece publishes list of “safe countries” for return of asylum-seekers. The Greek government on Friday published a list of 12 countries that it considers safe for the return of asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected. The countries include Ghana, the Gambia, Algeria, Ukraine and India. Under a new asylum law passed late last year, asylum applications from countries considered safe can be fast-tracked. Separately, more than 100 members of the European Parliament have signed a letter calling on the Justice and Home Affairs Council and EU interior ministers to take immediate action to end the ongoing humanitarian crisis on the Greek islands, where more than 40,000 refugees and migrants are now living in what they described as miserable and unsafe conditions.

South Africa introduces new legislation and regulations for refugees and asylum-seekers. Under the new Refugee Amendment Act and related regulations that came into effect on 1 January, refugees who participate in political activities or who seek assistance from their country of origin, such as by accessing consular services, can have their refugee status revoked and be subject to deportation. The new legislation and regulations also state that asylum-seekers will be assessed for their ability to support themselves before being given the right to work. They make provision for a list of sectors to be published in which asylum-seekers cannot be employed.

Concern for civilians and asylum-seekers as fighting escalates in Tripoli. An increase in aerial attacks and shelling in the Libyan capital has killed at least 11 civilians since early December, while the bombing of a military academy on Saturday left at least 30 people dead, most of them cadets. Following news that three mortars had fallen close to the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli on Thursday, UNHCR’s Chief of Mission for Libya, Jean-Paul Cavalieri, said the refugee agency was “deeply concerned” for the safety of close to 1,000 refugees and asylum-seekers staying at the facility. Cavalieri urged all sides of the conflict in Libya to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

US expands programme to return asylum-seekers to Mexico. The US government on Thursday began sending asylum-seekers back to Mexico via a port of entry south of Tucson, Arizona. Previously, a programme that requires those seeking asylum in the US to await immigration court hearings in Mexico has only been implemented at ports of entry in Texas and California. Over the past year, more than 56,000 asylum-seekers have been sent back to Mexico under the programme, the majority of them Central Americans. Meanwhile, Mexico’s asylum agency, COMAR, said that it had received 66,915 applications for asylum in 2019 – up nearly 126 per cent from the previous year. The agency has struggled process the rise in applications with limited resources.


When conflict forced Salem al-Azouq and his family to flee Syria and move to Lebanon as refugees in 2012, Salem brought with him hundreds of seeds from the farm in Damascus where he and his father cultivated roses. Using his grafting skills, he used just 35 seedlings to produce thousands of bushes which he planted in a rented field behind the family’s shelter in the Bekaa Valley. His wife, Nahla, turns the pink petals into rose syrups, jams and rose water.


Of nearly 300,000 Syrians displaced from southern areas of Idlib province in December, 80 per cent are estimated to be women and children.