By Kristy Siegfried | 9 April, 2021
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Crisis deepens in northern Mozambique following attacks. Over 16,000 people have fled the coastal town of Palma since it came under attack two weeks ago, but many more are reported to still be on the move, searching for safety and assistance, according to the UN. Earlier in the week, UNHCR said it was working around the clock to help those arriving in Pemba and other towns in Cabo Delgado province in the aftermath of the attack. UNHCR said its teams in Pemba were following up on reports that over 1,000 people fleeing the violence had been prevented from crossing the nearby border with Tanzania. The agency called on Mozambique’s neighbours to provide access to asylum for those seeking safety and protection. The majority of those displaced are women and children with few belongings. UNHCR said most were severely traumatized by atrocities they had witnessed and worried about relatives they were forced to leave behind. The World Food Programme described the situation as “a humanitarian catastrophe” and warned that hunger was rising in Palma. Mozambique’s military reported that it had regained control of the town this week, but UN agencies are still struggling to reach the area with food assistance. Severe underfunding is also hampering the response with the humanitarian appeal for the crisis currently only one per cent funded.
Kenyan court suspends closure of refugee camps. Kenya’s high court on Thursday temporarily blocked government plans to close two refugee camps housing more than 400,000 people. On 24 March, Kenya’s interior ministry gave UNHCR two weeks to come up with a plan for closing the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, citing national security concerns and adding that there was no room for further talks on the issue. Thursday’s ruling stayed the closure for 30 days. In a statement today, UNHCR said it had shared a set of measures with the Kenyan government aimed at identifying solutions for refugees living in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps. The plan includes stepping up voluntary repatriations, resettling a small number of refugees unable to return home to other countries, and helping more refugees to become self-reliant and contribute to the local economy. UNHCR’s representative in Kenya, Fathiaa Abdalla, called for any measures put in place to “respect refugee rights and lead to sustainable solutions”.
UNHCR calls for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for refugees. On World Health Day on Tuesday, UNHCR issued a call for “international action and solidarity” to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccinations, including for refugees and other forcibly displaced people. The agency commended 153 countries that have so far adopted vaccination plans that include refugees, but noted that implementation remains a challenge, largely due to the unequal availability of vaccines and the capacity of health systems. To date, some 20 countries are known to have started vaccinating refugees as part of national COVID vaccination campaigns. Refugee authorities in Berlin announced this week that they hope to start vaccinating residents of asylum-seeker centres this month. Those living in such centres are considered a high priority group in Germany’s vaccine rollout.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Daniel Ruiz, a senior protection officer with UNHCR in Senegal
How are refugees benefiting from Senegal’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign?
“Senegal hosts about 16,000 refugees and asylum-seekers of more than 16 different nationalities, mostly from Mauritania. The country has a long tradition of being open and welcoming to different ethnicities, nationalities, and religions.
“On 25 March, Senegal opened its [COVID-19] vaccination campaign to all eligible individuals, including refugees. The news spread quickly among refugees, mostly via word of mouth and social media. They almost immediately started approaching vaccination centres and getting their first jab. Refugees were already benefitting from the vaccination for people over the age of 60 years, but now they can be vaccinated on the same footing as Senegalese adult citizens of all ages.
“What is particularly important is that the vaccination campaign is available not only in big cities, such as Dakar, but also in smaller villages in border areas where the majority of refugees live, such as the [Senegal] River Valley.”
STORIES TO WATCH
India’s top court rejects plea to stop Rohingya deportations to Myanmar. India’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a plea to stop the government from deporting 150 Rohingya refugees detained last month by police in the northern region of Jammu and Kashmir. Two refugees had petitioned the Court for their release and to block the deportations, but the judge ruled the deportations could go ahead, as long as officials followed due process. A Rohingya community leader in New Delhi told Reuters the ruling had triggered panic among refugees in the country, particularly given “the horrifying situation in Myanmar”, where hundreds of people have been killed since the army seized power on 1 February. UNHCR last week called on countries across the region to offer refuge and protection to those fleeing Myanmar. The agency has stressed that refugee returns must be voluntary, safe and sustainable – in line with international standards.
Clashes in Sudan’s Darfur leave scores dead and thousands displaced. The Sudanese government declared a state of emergency in West Darfur state on Monday after intercommunal violence beginning on Saturday in the state capital, El Geneina, left scores dead. The fighting continued during the week, taking the death toll to 87 and displacing about 4,800 people from several neighbourhoods, according to the UN. Many of those affected had already been displaced by previous violence. Conflict between two communities in El Geneina also occurred in mid-January, resulting in the displacement of some 110,000 people, including several thousand who crossed into neighbouring Chad. The latest clashes reportedly grew out of a shooting on Saturday that killed two people in a camp for displaced people. The UN said the security situation had forced it to suspend all humanitarian operations in El Geneina, which is a regional hub for aid delivery.
Croatian border police accused of sexually assaulting female asylum-seeker. A female asylum-seeker from Afghanistan said she was sexually assaulted, held at knife point and forced to strip naked by a Croatian border police officer after crossing from Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to a dossier compiled by the Danish Refugee Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the woman and three other Afghan asylum-seekers were stopped by the police officer on the night of 15 February shortly after crossing the border. The abuse allegedly occurred while she was searched and before the group were forced to walk back across the border. Croatian police said on Wednesday they were investigating the allegation, along with other reports of violent pushbacks collected by the DRC, which said that of 547 people reporting pushbacks in January and February, 35 per cent experienced abusive or degrading treatment.
This video dramatizes the epic journey refugee athletes and para-athletes have taken to vie for a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The film was made in collaboration with two refugee athletes who are among 60 training for the chance to compete this summer. One of them, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, a South Sudanese refugee and runner, carried the flag for the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
DID YOU KNOW?
Before the latest attack in Palma, escalating violence in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province had already displaced nearly 700,000 people to other parts of Cabo Delgado, as well as Niassa and Nampula provinces.