By Kristy Siegfried | 6 May, 2022
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Efforts to evacuate Ukraine’s Mariupol continue. Some 100 civilians trapped for weeks in bunkers under a steelworks in the besieged city of Mariupol reached Ukrainian-held territory early this week. Evacuees from the Azovstal plant arrived to a processing centre in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia through a safe passage operation coordinated by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Hundreds more people were moved out of Mariupol and surrounding towns on Thursday and a third UN-led operation to evacuate the remaining civilians from the steelworks was due to get underway today. UNHCR is providing the new arrivals with basic relief items and support. An estimated 7.7 million Ukrainians are now displaced inside their country while more than 5.7 million have fled to neighbouring countries. UN independent human rights experts have highlighted the dire humanitarian situation for internally displaced people, the majority of them women and children, including shortages of food, water and medicines, and the threat of sexual violence. Describing the mounting civilian suffering at an international donor conference in Warsaw on Thursday, UN relief chief Martin Griffiths noted that the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and people with disabilities, are “simply stuck” and unable to seek shelter from bombs. The conference raised a reported US$6.5 billion.
Conflict drives record levels of food insecurity. The number of people without enough food to eat reached an all-time high last year and is poised to reach “appalling” new levels as the Ukraine war affects global food production, the UN said this week. Nearly 193 million people in 53 countries suffered from acute food insecurity in 2021, according to an annual report released by the Global Network Against Food Crises, an alliance that includes the UN, the EU and governmental and non-governmental agencies. The figure represents an increase of 40 million from already record numbers in 2020. The reports’ authors identified conflict as the main driver of the increase with countries experiencing protracted conflicts, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen having the most food-insecure populations. Weather extremes and economic shocks also played a role. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) noted that several countries already battling major food crises last year obtained almost all their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine and warned that the “outlook moving forward is not good”.
UK plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda hit by delays. The UK government’s plan to start sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda may take longer to be implemented as the policy faces legal challenges. Two legal letters, which could pave the way for formal legal action, question the lawfulness of the government’s plan and what criteria would be used for asylum-seekers to be removed to Rwanda. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi has also suggested that the policy would “run counter to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention”. The Border Force union ISU warned that smugglers are using the new policy to encourage asylum-seekers to risk dangerous Channel crossings before it goes into effect. Since the start of 2022, 7,240 people have reached the UK in small boats. Crossings continued this week as weather conditions improved.
STORIES TO WATCH
Turkey announces plan to increase voluntary returns of Syrians. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week announced a large-scale project to build homes for some 1 million returning Syrian refugees in areas of northern Syria secured by Turkish forces. Turkey is host to some 3.7 million registered Syrian refugees, but the New York Times reports that amidst a worsening economy, the government is under pressure to address growing hostility towards them. Turkey has already built more than 57,000 out of 77,000 planned homes in Syria’s northwest Idlib Province and plans to start a new project that will build homes in other parts of northern Syria, but it is unclear how many Syrians will volunteer to return. UNHCR said it had recorded 130,000 voluntary returns since 2016 but noted that not all returns had been recorded.
Niger faces refugee influx. More than 36,000 refugees arrived in Niger between January and mid-April after fleeing attacks by armed groups in neighbouring Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso. With an average of more than 2,500 new arrivals a week to a country already hosting 580,000 forcibly displaced people, including 360,000 refugees, UNHCR’s representative in Niger Emmanuel Gignac expressed concern on Wednesday that “As humanitarians, we are reaching our limits”. The refugees, mostly women and children, are settling in some of Niger’s driest areas where food prices have risen dramatically due to a poor farming season last year. During a visit to Niger this week, UN Secretary General António Guterres promised to be a “spokesperson” for the displaced and to demand more support to Niger from the international community.
New Zealand agrees to stop detaining asylum seekers. The New Zealand government has accepted the recommendations from an independent review into the country’s long-term detention of asylum seekers in prisons. UNHCR welcomed the recommendations and said it stood ready to work with the government to implement the changes. Under current law, asylum seekers can be held in prison if they arrive using false documents or are deemed a security risk. According to news reports, between 2015 and 2020, about 100 asylum seekers were imprisoned out of 2,500 who filed asylum claims. The review by Victoria Casey QC calls for a law change, noting that any form of detention should be a last resort and have a time limit.
Mostafa Azimitabar, a refugee held for eight years in Australia’s offshore asylum system, was named as a finalist in the country’s top art prize on Thursday for a self-portrait he painted with a toothbrush. He began experimenting with the technique soon after being sent to a detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. He was released in January 2021 and has since tried to rebuild a life in Australia, working for a charity. The Archibald Prize for portraiture is worth 100,000 Australian dollars (US$77,192).
DID YOU KNOW?
The number of unaccompanied minors who sought asylum in the European Union increased by 72 per cent in 2021 to 23,255. More than half (53 per cent) were from Afghanistan.