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By Kristy Siegfried | 7 August, 2020

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Aid and support for Lebanon follow massive blast in Beirut. A massive explosion at the city’s port on Tuesday left at least 135 people dead and 5,000 injured while hundreds more are still missing. The blast caused widespread destruction, displacing some 300,000 people according to UN estimates. UNHCR said some of the severely affected areas included neighbourhoods that hosted refugees and that it had received unconfirmed reports of several refugee deaths. Many of Beirut’s intensive care units were already near capacity with COVID-19 patients before the blast put three hospitals out of use and damaged two others. UNHCR said it would expedite its efforts to expand hospital bed and ICU capacity. The agency is also making its in-country stocks of shelter kits, plastic sheets, and other relief items available for immediate distribution and opening its reception centres across the country for critical cases. The explosion came at a time when Lebanon was already in the midst of a severe economic crisis that had pushed many Lebanese and refugees deeper into poverty. The port where the blast occurred was the main entry point to the country for many essential supplies as well as food aid for the region. The World Food Programme said the damage was likely to exacerbate the country’s already grim economic and food security outlook.

Floods drive over 650,000 Somalis from their homes in 2020. More than 150,000 Somalis have been forced to flee their homes since late June, according to UNHCR, including some 23,000 in the last week alone due to flash flooding in the country’s southern regions. Extreme flooding this year has displaced over 650,000 people across the country with communities in Hirshabelle and South West States the worst hit. UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley said many of the newly displaced families are now living in overcrowded, makeshift shelters with little protection from the harsh weather. Meanwhile a lack of security leaves them vulnerable to crimes including robbery and rape. Food is in short supply and malnutrition among children is on the rise. Sanitary conditions are poor and access to medical care scarce. While there has been no reported COVID-19 outbreak, testing is limited and the risk of widespread transmission is high, said Yaxley. According to the latest flood advisory report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Shabelle River’s water levels are expected to continue to rising due to heavy rains and more displacement is likely. UNHCR has so far received only a third of the US$154.4 million funding needed for its response in Somalia this year.

Attack on IDP camp in Cameroon leaves at least 18 dead. The attack on a site hosting 800 internally displaced people near the village of Nguetchewe, in Cameroon’s Far North region near the border with Nigeria took place in the early hours of 2 August when militants threw an explosive device, thought to be a grenade, into the makeshift camp while people were sleeping. At least 18 people were killed and some 1,500, including terrified residents of the village, fled to the nearby town of Mozogo. Following an emergency mission to the area on Wednesday, UNHCR’s representative in Cameroon, Olivier Guillaume Beer, told Voice of America that those who fled were traumatized and fearful of another attack by the suspected Boko Haram fighters. Cameroonian officials said more troops had been deployed to protect civilians and humanitarian groups. UNHCR said there had been a significant rise in violent incidents in Cameroon’s Far North region in July, including looting and kidnappings by Boko Haram and other armed groups.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Nurta Mohamed Adan, Deputy Shelter Cluster Coordinator with UNHCR in Somalia

What are the greatest needs now for families who have been displaced by flash flooding in South Central Somalia?

“These families were forced to leave everything behind. We’re trying our best to provide them with basic necessities like emergency shelter kits, but they need food, toilets and clothing, and the funding isn’t enough to cover all those things.

“We are in a country that has been fragile for a long time. On top of the flooding, you have the recurrent inter-clan conflict and so many other issues. The majority of the displaced are women and children, so they’re particularly vulnerable, both before they reach their destination and in the camps, which are remote and aren’t properly fenced or lighted. There are no separate toilets for women and if they become sick, there are no proper health facilities.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Crowd-funding campaign helps launch new rescue vessel in Central Mediterranean. A former oceanographic research vessel renamed Sea-Watch 4 will depart from Spain for the Central Mediterranean in the next few days thanks to an initiative called United4Rescue that was started by the Protestant Church in Germany in December 2019 and backed by more than 500 other organizations. Donations from a crowd-funding campaign helped purchase the ship which will be operated by the NGO, Sea-Watch, with a medical team onboard from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). In a joint statement on Thursday, Sea-Watch and MSF said the ship was urgently needed as EU Member States had used the COVID-19 pandemic to justify curtailing search-and-rescue activities. UNHCR has also called for increased search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, including NGO vessels.

Calls for investigation into violent death of transgender asylum-seeker in Guatemala. The body of a transgender asylum-seeker was found in her home in Guatemala City on 1 August. She had fled gender-based violence and persecution by gangs in her native El Salvador and applied for asylum in Guatemala in 2018. UNHCR has called on the authorities to investigate her death thoroughly and urged all States to bring to justice those responsible for crimes against people on the basis of their gender or sexuality. Last week, three police officers in El Salvador were sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2019 murder of a transgender woman. It was the first conviction in El Salvador for the homicide of a transgender person. LGBTI people in El Salvador and other parts of Central America are often forcibly displaced within their own country before eventually seeking asylum in other countries.

Europe’s undocumented young people speak out. A series of articles published by The Guardian this week examine the struggles of five young people who are among millions across Europe who lack a legal status and are now trapped in a state of limbo, often with the threat of detention or deportation hanging over them. Many of Europe’s “Dreamers” (the US term for undocumented or “alien” minors) are the children of migrants and refugees who arrived in Europe when they were very young or were even born there but have been unable to regularize their stay or get on a path to citizenship. Others travelled alone to Europe as unaccompanied minors but had their asylum claims rejected and then became vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Campaigners insist that undocumented children should have a route to legal status that is independent of their parents.


GET INSPIRED

In the chaos of the world’s largest refugee camp, Kamal Hussein is a beacon of hope. Armed only with a microphone, he works to reunite children who have been separated from their families. The full 20-minute film about Kamal, “Lost and Found” by Grain Media, is available here.


DID YOU KNOW?

Lebanon is currently home to 892,000 registered Syrian refugees and has the highest per capita population of refugees in the world.