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By Kristy Siegfried | 7 January, 2022

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Three refugees killed by air strike in Ethiopia’s Tigray. Three Eritrean refugees, including two children, were killed by an air strike that hit a refugee camp in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, UNHCR said on Thursday. The strike on Wednesday hit Mai Aini camp and left four other refugees injured. While UNHCR is still trying to gather further information on the incident, aid agencies have noted an upsurge in air strikes since October which have killed at least 143 people in the Tigray region. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi called on parties to the conflict that started in northern Ethiopia 14 months ago to respect the rights of all civilians, including refugees. “Refugees are not, and should never be a target,” he said. Fighting between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Army in the north has left millions in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Doctors in Tigray this week said patients were needlessly dying because of a de-facto blockade preventing medicines and other life-saving supplies from reaching hospitals.

Harsh winter weather worsens humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Heavy snowfall and rain affected many areas of Afghanistan on Tuesday, blocking roads and causing avalanches and flooding in 30 out of 34 provinces, according to aid agencies. The UN warned that the harsh winter conditions are further aggravating the already severe conditions faced by many Afghans, particularly millions of internally displaced people. Speaking to NPR, Shelley Thakral, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme, said more than half the population are now facing extreme levels of hunger and malnutrition is soaring. She described a “new urban class of hungry people” who have lost their jobs and lack money for food or fuel to keep warm. UNHCR and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will jointly launch a humanitarian response plan for inside Afghanistan in 2022 and a refugee response plan covering Afghan refugees and host communities in five neighbouring countries on 11 January.

Mexico asylum applications surge in 2021. The number of people applying for asylum in Mexico nearly doubled between 2019 and 2021, reaching a record high of over 130,000 last year, according to the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR). The main nationalities were Haitians and Hondurans, while the majority of claims were filed in the southern city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border. UNHCR has urged the government to consider granting legal migration pathways to ease pressure on overwhelmed COMAR officials in Tapachula where asylum-seekers have complained about long waits for their applications to be processed. Separately, the United States this week began returning asylum-seekers to the Mexican border city of Tijuana as part of its reinstatement of the Migrant Protection Protocols programme first put in place by President Trump. President Biden was winding down the programme until a US federal court order forced his administration to restart it late last year.


STORIES TO WATCH

Tennis star’s detention in Australia throws light on treatment of refugees. While Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic awaits a court hearing on whether his coronavirus vaccination status prevents him from staying in Australia to compete in the Australian Open, he is being held in Melbourne’s Park Hotel – a facility used by the Australian Border Force to detain asylum-seekers and refugees. According to media reports, about 50 refugees are being held there currently, in conditions that have been denounced by human rights groups. The Guardian interviewed an Iranian refugee who has spent the past nine years in Australian immigration detention and is currently being held at the Park Hotel while he awaits resettlement to the United States.

Attack on Syria’s Idlib leaves over 200,000 people without water. The start of the year saw an escalation of violence in the north-west of Syria that left two children dead and another four injured, according to UNICEF. An attack on Sunday damaged a UNICEF-supported water station, cutting off water supply to over 241,000 people in Idlib, many of whom are internally displaced. Reuters reports that makeshift camps housing thousands of displaced families near Jisr al Shuqhur, west of Idlib city had also been hit during a series of attacks at the weekend. The UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator, Mark Cutts, noted that Syria is already facing a water crisis and called on attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure to stop.

Medics leave Poland-Belarus border without reaching migrants and refugees. International humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced on Thursday that its emergency response team had left Poland after being blocked from accessing groups of migrants and refugees staying in a forested area near the border with Belarus. MSF said it had spent three months seeking permission to access the restricted area and provide medical and humanitarian assistance to people surviving in sub-zero temperatures, but without success. While hundreds of migrants and refugees are being sheltered in a logistics centre on the Belarus side of the border, a number of people are reported to still be living in harsh conditions along the border. Poland has imposed a state of emergency along its border with Belarus that prohibits all non-residents, including aid groups, from entering the area.


GET INSPIRED

Afghan refugee and elite para swimmer Abbas Karimi has lived and trained in Fort Lauderdale, Florida since 2020. He told the South Florida Sun Sentinel how his coach, Marty Hendrick, made room for him in his own home during a COVID-related lockdown. Karimi has devised ways to swim the backstroke, breaststroke and his favourite – the butterfly. “That’s the hardest,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “That’s why I chose it … I like to do hard things. If it’s easy, I leave it for someone else.”


DID YOU KNOW?

In the first 11 months of 2021, more than 2,500 people died or went missing attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean or northwest African maritime routes. Another 31 people died in the Aegean Sea in three separate shipwrecks between 21 and 24 December.