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By Kristy Siegfried | 7 May, 2021

THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Mounting refugee and migrant deaths in Central Mediterranean. UNHCR this week warned of a sharp rise in the number of refugees and migrants dying during attempts to cross the Central Mediterranean and reach Europe. So far this year, at least 500 people have lost their lives during the dangerous sea crossing, up from 150 during the same period last year. UNHCR said the increase underscored the need for State-coordinated search-and-rescue operations to be re-established. An estimated 130 people died in a single shipwreck off the Libyan coast last month, reportedly after several distress calls failed to result in a rescue operation. Between Saturday and Tuesday, some 1,500 people were rescued from flimsy vessels by the Italian Coast Guard and NGO rescue ships and taken to Italy, bringing the total number of sea arrivals to Italy this year to over 10,400. UNHCR said several of the new arrivals had fled conflicts and persecution in the Sahel, Eritrea and North Africa and had been abused, trafficked and “sold like commodities” during their journeys. Many among them are unaccompanied minors. The agency commended Italy for keeping its ports open during the pandemic and called for solidarity from other EU States, warning that the deteriorating situation in Libya would continue to force people to resort to desperate measures to reach safety.

Biden raises refugee admissions cap to 62,500. President Joe Biden on Monday formally raised the United States’ cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 for the current fiscal year. The announcement followed weeks of pressure to uphold a February pledge to raise the number of refugees admitted to the country from the 15,000 ceiling set earlier by former President Trump. Biden said that the historically low cap “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees”. He acknowledged, however, that the US would not meet the 62,500 cap by 30 September, the end of the fiscal year, given the pandemic and the need to rebuild the capacity of resettlement agencies. The higher cap is expected to help pave the way for higher admissions in the 2022 fiscal year, which Biden has already committed to raise to 125,000. UNHCR welcomed the decision, saying it would save lives and encourage other countries to maintain or expand their own refugee resettlement programmes. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said it came at a time when global refugee resettlement has plummeted to unprecedented levels, with fewer than 23,000 refugees resettled globally last year.

Attacks force thousands to flee in Burkina Faso. A series of attacks in three separate regions of Burkina Faso over the past 10 days have killed 45 people and forced more than 17,500 from their homes, according to UNHCR. In the East Region, near the border with Niger, gunmen killed at least 30 people during an attack on Kodyel village. They also burned down houses and ransacked health centres and shops. More than 4,400 villagers fled to the towns of Foutouri and Tankoualou. In the North Region, violence pushed another 10,200 people towards Ouahigouya. Several thousand more were displaced in the Sahel Region. UNHCR said its teams were seeing an increasing trend of people fleeing towards larger towns where they feel more secure. Most arrive with few or no belongings and in urgent need of food, shelter, clean water and health care.


ONE QUESTION FOR…

Xavier Creach, UNHCR’s coordinator for the Sahel region

What is behind the increase in migrants and refugees on the move from West Africa and the Sahel?

“The reasons they are leaving are multiple and inter-connected. The armed conflict in the Sahel is expanding and becoming more complex, with an increasing number of armed actors involved. Civilian casualties, human rights violations, gender-based violence, and destruction of basic services like education and health are constantly on the rise. As a result, millions are becoming forcibly displaced. And this is in a region already impacted by extreme poverty, climate change, natural disasters, economic crises and the disastrous impacts of the COVID pandemic on livelihoods. There is very little hope and opportunities for the youth, who make up 65 per cent of the population in West Africa.

“Of course, some of them may be heading to North Africa and Europe, but most of the people fleeing find protection within the region, in the Central Sahel but also in other countries of West and Central Africa. Host communities have demonstrated remarkable hospitality and generosity, but national and local capacities are overwhelmed.”


STORIES TO WATCH

Thousands of Afghans flee Taliban offensive. Thousands of Afghans fled fierce fighting between government forces and the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand this week, reports AFP. The region’s director for refugees said about 1,000 families had fled their homes to escape fighting on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, and some other parts of the province. Médecins Sans Frontières said its staff were treating people fleeing the fighting for injuries caused by bullets and shrapnel. Fighting was also reported in several other provinces following a 1 May deadline for the US military to begin formally withdrawing its remaining troops from the country.

Displayed Tigrayans in Ethiopia face worsening hunger. AP reports from a secondary school in Mekele in Ethiopia’s Tigray region where 7,000 people displaced by the last six months of conflict are sheltering in crowded and grim conditions. It’s unclear how many Tigrayans have fled their homes since November, but the UN estimates there are 1.7 million internally displaced people across the region. Fighting continues in some areas, complicating efforts to reach displaced people and those in rural areas with aid. At the makeshift camp in Mekele, food is in short supply and there are fears that food shortages will worsen in the coming months if farmers are unable to prepare their land during the coming planting season. Last month, the UN warned of already alarming levels of malnutrition in Tigray.

Malawi orders refugees to return to camp. The Malawian government has ordered some 2,000 refugees – many of whom have lived in the country for years – to return to the country’s only refugee camp. About 40 kilometres north of the capital, Lilongwe, Dzaleka camp had an initial capacity of around 14,000, but now houses nearly 50,000 people with several hundred more arriving every month, according to UNHCR. The government argues that those living outside the camp could pose a threat to national security. The deadline for refugees to return to the camp was 28 April, but a last-minute court injunction has provided a brief respite. Speaking to AFP, refugees affected by the directive said it would disrupt their children’s education and their businesses. UNHCR has called on the government to reconsider, warning of “serious human rights implications” and further congestion in the camp.


GET INSPIRED

Berthin Kambale and Bata Ngolo are among 20,000 refugees living in Scotland who had the opportunity to vote for the first time in elections held on Thursday. Scotland’s parliament passed a law last year that extended voting rights to refugees. “It means we are considered part of the community,” said Berthin.


DID YOU KNOW?

Violence in Burkina Faso has forced more than 1.1 million people to flee their homes in search of safety in just over two years.