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By Kristy Siegfried | 7 February, 2020

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Hungary closes Serbian border crossing to protesting asylum-seekers. Police in Hungary temporarily closed a border crossing with Serbia late on Thursday as several hundred asylum-seekers held a peaceful sit-in protest on the Serbian side demanding to be allowed to cross. The group, which included families with children from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq, had walked about 10 kilometres from the northern Serbian city of Subotica holding handwritten banners reading, “we are refugees, not criminals” and “we are running from war, not hunger”. Serbian authorities later bussed the asylum-seekers back to several government-run reception centres and the border was re-opened this morning. Hungarian police have reported a sharp rise in attempts to cross the country’s southern border since December. Last week, about 70 people tried to cross in the night but were driven back by police firing warning shots.

Cameroon’s conflict intensifies ahead of elections. The New Humanitarian reports that armed separatist rebels and government forces have stepped up arrests, abductions and deadly attacks in Cameroon’s north-west and south-west regions ahead of parliamentary and municipal elections on Sunday. Aid workers, residents and experts warn that the conflict risks entering a new and more dangerous phase, and that civilians are increasingly caught in the crossfire. The UN has recorded a significant increase in incidents against civilians since December, including killings and burnings of houses and villages. In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International also documented a surge in violence and new displacement. Separatists have threatened further violence and death to anyone, including aid workers, who does not observe a six day “lockdown” in the two regions that begins today. Meanwhile, military raids carried out since the new year have reportedly resulted in dozens of deaths and thousands of people fleeing into the bush.


WHAT’S ON OUR RADAR

Worsening violence in northern Mozambique forces thousands to flee. A dramatic increase in attacks by armed groups in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province has sent civilians fleeing in many directions, including to small islands where they lack shelter and clean water, UNHCR said today. Since the incidents began in October 2017, at least 100,000 people have been displaced throughout the province. Recent weeks have been particularly volatile, with 28 attacks carried out since the beginning of the year in nine out of 16 districts. Many of the areas affected by the attacks were still recovering from the devastation caused by Cyclone Kenneth in April 2019 and by recent flooding. Those fleeing report killings, torture, abductions, burnt houses and destroyed crops. UNHCR said is was stepping up its response to meet the growing needs of the displaced.

UNHCR urges action to end “alarming” conditions on Greek islands. The UN refugee agency today called on Greece to use emergency measures to address alarming overcrowding and precarious conditions for asylum-seekers and migrants staying on five Aegean islands where more than 36,000 people are now staying at facilities designed for 5,400 people. The dire conditions and long waits for asylum-seekers to be transferred to the mainland led to protests on Lesvos earlier this week. Local communities have also protested and demanded action to alleviate pressure on the islands in recent weeks. The New York Times reports on the situation on Samos, where over 6,700 people are staying in and around a centre designed for a tenth of that number and where asylum-seekers and locals are all bearing the shared brunt of forces beyond their control.

“Massive waves of displacement” continue in Syria’s north-west. Continuing air and ground strikes in Syria’s north-western Idlib region are causing “massive waves of civilian displacement” and loss of life, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told the Security Council on Thursday as government troops entered the strategic town of Saraqeb, 15 kilometres east of Idlib city, the regional capital. Pedersen said there were already reports of civilians fleeing or preparing to flee Idlib City. The UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, said the number of people displaced in the last two months had now reached 586,000 and that most were moving north and west into the ever-smaller and more overcrowded enclave still controlled by non-government groups. He announced the release of a further US$30 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, but said needs were outpacing aid efforts. “What we have been warning you about is happening,” he said.

One woman takes on task of burying Venezuelan refugees and migrants. PRI reports on the work of Sonia Bermúdez, who began burying unidentified victims of Colombia’s conflict in a cemetery she set up in Colombia’s border region of La Guajira 20 years ago. These days, she mostly buries refugees and migrants from neighbouring Venezuela who are unclaimed or whose families cannot afford the cost of a burial. She receives funding from the local authority and from doctors at the local hospital who call her when Venezuelan patients die. She has also received support from UNHCR as a “provider of last resort” so that Venezuelans have access to a decent burial. Colombia is hosting 1.6 million Venezuelans and the influx has put pressure on public services, including services for the dead.


GET INSPIRED

Recently, UNHCR invited seven towns across Ireland to host events that would give recently resettled refugees the chance to share their culinary heritage with their new neighbours. The Refugee Food Fair saw communities from Buncrana and Tullamore open up their doors to refugee cooks.


DID YOU KNOW?

By the end of 2019, nearly 670,000 people had been internally displaced by the conflict in Cameroon’s north-west and south-west regions. Another 51,000 people had fled across the border into neighbouring Nigeria.