By Kristy Siegfried | 8 May, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Bangladesh quarantines hundreds of rescued Rohingya on island. A boat carrying around 280 Rohingya was spotted in the Bay of Bengal by the Bangladesh navy early on Thursday and towed to Bhasan Char island, where they will be quarantined as a precaution against the coronavirus, reports Reuters. A navy official said the passengers were starving and had been given food and water. They will join 29 Rohingya refugees who were taken to the island last weekend after being found on another vessel adrift at sea. Hundreds more mainly Rohingya refugees are believed to be stranded at sea. In a joint statement on Wednesday, UNHCR, IOM and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) urged regional authorities to expand their search-and-rescue efforts and allow boats to come ashore. Rights groups and aid agencies have raised concerns about the transfer of new arrivals to Bhasan Char, which experts have warned may not be fit for habitation. UNHCR said that comprehensive assessments were needed before anyone was moved to the island and that any refugees arriving by boat could be safely quarantined in Cox’s Bazar. Another group of some 400 refugees who were disembarked over three weeks ago completed their quarantine period in Cox’s Bazar and have returned to their families within the camps.
UN appeals for $6.7 billion to fight virus in fragile countries. The UN on Thursday appealed for US$6.7 billion to fund an updated plan for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in 63 of world’s most fragile countries. While the virus has now reached nearly every corner of the globe, infections in the world’s poorest countries are not expected to peak until some point over the next three to six months. However, the impacts of the pandemic are already causing incomes to plummet, food prices to soar and children to miss out on vaccinations and meals. The UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, said action was needed now to prepare for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty. “If we do not support the poorest people – especially women and girls and other vulnerable groups – as they battle the pandemic and impacts of the global recession, we will all be dealing with the spillover effects for many years to come,” he said. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said that for people fleeing wars and persecution, the impact of the pandemic on their mostly hand-to-mouth existence has been “devastating”. The plan brings together appeals from the WHO, other UN agencies and NGOs and updates an initial $2 billion plan launched on 25 March that has so far raised $1 billion in funding.
Surge in violence uproots 200,000 in eastern Congo. Violence is peaking again in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern Ituri province, where more than 1.2 million people have already been displaced by conflict. Armed groups have responded to a government-led military operation launched in December 2019 with a spate of counter-attacks that have forced more than 200,000 people from their homes since mid-March, according to UNHCR. The agency and its partners said they had recorded an average of 50 attacks a day against the local population in Ituri’s Djugu Territory, resulting in at least 274 civilian deaths. The New Humanitarian reports that efforts to disarm fighters have failed and that thousands of the displaced are now arriving at already overcrowded camps. UNHCR said humanitarian access to the region was heavily restricted with the main roads connecting the province’s capital Bunia with Djugu Territory closed for almost three weeks in April. Aid agencies, including UNHCR, are also reporting significant funding gaps to assist those newly displaced.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Vicente Escribano, head of UNHCR’s Supply Management Service
What are some of the challenges to delivering aid during the COVID-19 crisis?
“It’s extremely challenging. The global supply chain collapsed… Prices have skyrocketed. Available stocks are offered now, but not tomorrow. Advanced payment is required in many cases and lead-times are not guaranteed. Moreover, the transportation system has grown chaotic… Some governments have locked down imports and exports, inhibiting suppliers. In addition, the UN is competing with governments for limited supplies.
“To manage this uncertainty, we have expanded the number of global suppliers, from four to 13, and developed more than 70 local suppliers. We have also simplified and streamlined procurement measures. Contracts are handled on a fast-track basis and we work with other UN agencies for procurement and transportation.”
STORIES TO WATCH
Efforts to ease overcrowding on Greek islands come up against protests. Greek police said about 150 protesters in Greece’s northern Pella region prevented buses carrying 57 asylum-seekers brought from the island of Lesvos from reaching new accommodation and set fire to a hotel where they were supposed to be housed on Tuesday night. The group were eventually driven to the northern city of Thessaloniki. Smaller protests also occurred in the northern region of Kilkis, where 250 asylum-seekers from Lesvos were taken. Relocations to the mainland and a sharp decrease in arrivals from neighbouring Turkey saw the number of asylum-seekers on the Aegean islands fall for the first time since January 2019 to 38,291 in April, according to UNHCR, which noted that conditions at reception centres remained overcrowded.
Conflict and flooding displace tens of thousands of Somalis amid COVID-19 threat. Heavy flooding in South and Central Somalia has displaced an estimated 90,000 people in addition to the 137,000 already displaced by conflict since of the start of the year, according to UNHCR, which warned today that the country was facing “multiple, compounding emergencies” that could lead to “devastating consequences” without a strong, coordinated response from the international community. Swarms of desert locusts are threatening to cause widespread food shortages while Somalia’s health infrastructure is in a precarious position to respond if COVID-19 begins spreading rapidly. UNHCR said conditions were ripe for widespread transmission in in overcrowded settlements where most of the country’s 2.6 million internally displaced people live.
Virus unleashes “tsunami of hate” across world, says UN chief. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said today that the coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a “tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering” and appealed for an all-out effort “to end hate speech globally.” He said that anti-foreigner sentiment had surged online and on the streets, and that migrants and refugees “have been vilified as a source of the virus – and denied access to medical treatment”. Guterres called on political leaders to show solidarity with all people, urged educational institutions to focus on “digital literacy” and appealed to the media, especially social media platforms, to “remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content”.
Syrian refugees at an innovation lab inside Za’atari camp in Jordan used LEGO to make a robot that automatically dispenses sanitiser.
DID YOU KNOW?
Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo triggered 1.6 million new displacements in 2019, the second highest level of new conflict-related displacement after Syria.