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By Kristy Siegfried  | 9 August, 2019

Due to a UN holiday, there will be no newsletter on Monday. The Refugee Brief will be back on 13 August.


More than half a million Rohingya refugees get ID cards. More than 500,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have received identity cards, many of them for the first time in their lives, as part of a joint effort by the Bangladeshi authorities and UNHCR to register all refugees living in crowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar. The new cards indicate that Myanmar is their country of origin, which UNHCR described as “a critical element in establishing and safeguarding the right of Rohingya refugees to return to their homes in Myanmar, if and when they decide the time is right for them to do so”. The biometric data collected during the registrations has also allowed UNHCR to begin rolling out a new tool that uses fingerprints or iris scans to speed up distribution of aid. Spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said that more accurate date on the refugees would also allow national authorities and humanitarian agencies to better target assistance where it is needed most.

New wave of violence threatens millions in Syria’s Idlib. During a brief ceasefire in Syria’s north-western Idlib province that collapsed on Monday, many civilians returned to their homes and are now in areas where heavy attacks have resumed, putting them at great risk, warned Najat Rochdi, humanitarian advisor to the UN’s Syria Envoy on Thursday. More than 500 civilians have been killed since the escalation in fighting in the region began in late April, according to the latest UN estimates. During the same period, half a million movements of displaced people have been recorded, with many families forced to move multiple times. “These people don’t know where to go,” said Panos Moumtzis, the UN humanitarian chief for Syria, on Thursday. “A total panic has resumed again.”


States urged to provide protection to people fleeing Mali violence. Amid worsening violence in many parts of Mali, UNHCR said on Friday that it was issuing new guidelines urging States to keep their borders open to Malians fleeing conflict and to give them access to asylum procedures. The agency said that Malians most likely to need asylum were those fleeing inter-communal clashes and violence between armed groups in northern Mali, the central region and some parts of the southern region, as well as areas bordering Niger and Burkina Faso. Local populations, particularly in the central region, have reported summary executions, disappearances, torture and killings. Children have been particularly impacted by school closures and forcible recruitment to armed groups.

Syrian refugees face tighter controls in Turkey. CNN reports that the announcement last month that Syrians registered for temporary protection outside of Istanbul must leave the city by 20 August and return to their province of registration has raised fears among refugees in the city, particularly amid reports that authorities have rounded up and forcibly returned hundreds of Syrians to their country in recent weeks. Ankara has categorically denied that it has deported any Syrians and insisted that the returns are voluntary. However, both CNN and Politico report that some of those returned to Syria say they were coerced into signing voluntary return paperwork. Selin Ünal, a spokesperson for UNHCR in Turkey, told Politico that all exit interviews attended by the agency had been with voluntary returnees, but that UNHCR was unable to participate in all interviews, despite stepping up its efforts to increase coverage.

Cameroonian asylum-seekers lengthen border wait lists in Mexico. AP reports from the Mexican border city of Tijuana, where the arrival of increasing numbers of English-speaking Cameroonians has contributed to the lengthening waiting list to claim asylum at the San Diego border crossing – currently at 10,000, up from 4,800 three months ago. The number of asylum-seekers waiting in Tijuana and other border cities has also grown as a result of the United States returning more Central Americans to Mexico to wait for dates to appear before US immigration courts. In Tijuana, people now at the top of the list have been waiting for about three and a half months. Most of the Cameroonians flew to Ecuador and then travelled through several countries before reaching Tijuana.

Rohingya schoolteacher recounts his village’s destruction. This long-read for the New York Times Magazine is based on hours of interviews with one Rohingya man. Futhu grew up in a village in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State where most of his family and neighbours were illiterate. But Futhu was driven to learn Burmese and English so that he could write down the story of his village and the history of the Rohingya families living there which went back generations. Later, he set up a primary school in the village so other Rohingya children could learn to read and write. Futhu’s journals, his school and the entire village were destroyed in the 2017 violence and he and his family joined the mass exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh. Now confined to a refugee settlement there, he struggles to maintain his passion for writing and teaching.


Taekwondo helped Iranian refugee Amir Mohammad Hosseini restart his life after he arrived in Germany. He has gone from training in a car park to travelling across the country to compete, sometimes with the national team. Now his goal is to qualify for the Refugee Olympic Team that will compete in Tokyo next year and win an Olympic medal.


Nearly 140,000 Malians have already fled to neighbouring countries since 2013, while 3.4 million are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance.