By Kristy Siegfried | 9 October, 2020
THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Over 170,000 flee fighting in eastern DR Congo. UNHCR said today that it was rushing support to tens of thousands of people recently displaced by brutal attacks and fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces. In North Kivu alone, more than 50,000 have fled, including an “overwhelming” number of unaccompanied children. An attack blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group killed at least 13 people at a site for internally displaced people in Beni Territory on 21 September. Many others fled from nearby fields where they were working, leaving everything behind, according to UNHCR. The following day, the same armed group burnt down a health clinic. For many, it is the second time this year that they have had to flee and find shelter in Mangina town. Some are staying with families or in an overcrowded church while others lack proper shelter and are sleeping in the open. Meanwhile, a sharp increase in violence in the Southern Territory of Irumu in Ituri province has displaced 120,000 people since July. The new displacements add to the over 3.4 million people already internally displaced in North Kivu and Ituri.
Conditions worsening for asylum-seekers on Lesvos. Four weeks after the fires that destroyed the Moria reception centre on the Greek island of Lesvos, UNHCR has called for urgent action to improve living conditions for 7,800 refugees and asylum-seekers staying at an emergency site. The agency identified critical gaps in drainage, water, sanitation, hygiene and health services that need to be addressed before the onset of winter brings further hardships for people staying at the site, which is located next to the sea and exposed to the elements. Heavy rains this week have already flooded some tents. UNHCR said it was delivering tarpaulins, insulation kits and flooring, but described such interventions as short-term and called on the authorities to provide better shelter solutions and to scale up transfers to the mainland. UNHCR also expressed concern about government plans to close the Kara Tepe and PIKPA facilities which have sheltered thousands of vulnerable asylum-seekers on Lesvos in recent years. The Guardian reports that Kara Tepe, which has capacity for 1,000 people, is due to close by the end of the year while PIKPA, a self-organized solidarity space, faces closure next week.
Bangladesh sends troops into Rohingya camps to combat gang violence. More troops have been sent into camps housing Rohingya refugees in south-east Bangladesh after fighting between rival gangs left at least seven people dead this week. The deputy police chief for Cox’s Bazar district told AFP that hundreds of military and armed police have been deployed since fighting began on 2 October, but that numbers were further scaled up after clashes on Tuesday killed four people. UNHCR said several hundred families were forced to flee their shelters on Tuesday night and that some had lost their homes and belongings. Humanitarian agencies had to temporarily withdraw from the camps on Wednesday due to the violence which has been attributed to rival gangs vying for control of criminal activities in the camps. UNHCR’s spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, Louise Donovan, told The Guardian that the clashes were also a product of the lack of progress on durable solutions for the refugees which has increased uncertainty and hopelessness in the camps.
ONE QUESTION FOR…
Pieter Ventevogel, UNHCR’s Senior Mental Health Officer
Ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, can you explain how UNHCR has adapted its mental health programmes to support refugees during the current pandemic?
“One priority is to provide guidance on how to cope with the stress around COVID. So, we are teaching breathing exercises and problem-solving techniques. We are also training staff working with people in distress. It could be literally anyone. It could be a protection officer, it could also be someone working in shelter or in cash disbursement in an urban setting, because they have to deal with refugees who are increasingly frustrated, angry and anxious.
“Some people clearly do need specialist person-to-person counselling. During COVID we have tried to scale it up, but also to change the delivery mode from face-to-face contact to contact over the telephone. We have learned that a lot of the barriers we thought were there are solvable. It’s possible to do good quality psychotherapy over the phone, even if it’s not ideal. It works best when people already know each other, because that relationship is already there. But the possibilities of doing things online are much bigger than I thought.”
STORIES TO WATCH
Attackers kill 25 internally displaced people in Burkina Faso. A convoy carrying 46 internally displaced people hoping to return to their homes in central-northern Burkina Faso was ambushed by armed attackers on Sunday night. According to survivors, the armed group separated the men from the group and killed 25 of them. The women and children were later released and managed to reach the town of Pissila, nine kilometres away where they are now receiving psychological support from a UNHCR partner. In a statement on Wednesday, UNCHR’s representative in Burkina Faso, Ioli Kimyaci, denounced the attack as “brutal and callous” and said that innocent civilians seeking safety were being killed with alarming frequency. Hundreds of people have been killed in Burkina Faso this year in dozens of attacks on civilians. The country now has the fastest growing displacement crisis in the world with over one million people forced from their homes by surging violence.
EU begins negotiations on new migration and asylum pact. EU governments began talks on Thursday on proposed changes to migration and asylum rules released by the European Commission last month. Germany, which is chairing the discussions, expressed optimism that agreement on the main elements of the “New Pact on Migration and Asylum” could be reached by the end of the year. AP reports that EU interior ministers agreed the new proposals should form the basis for negotiations on new policies to manage arrivals of migrants and asylum-seekers to Europe. However, ministers reportedly sought clarification on many aspects of the pact, particularly on plans to remove people not permitted to stay. The interior ministers will meet again in Brussels next month to continue the discussions. The proposals must be endorsed by all Member States and the European Parliament before they can be implemented.
Australia cuts refugee intake. The Australian government cut its humanitarian intake of refugees by 5,000 a year in a new federal budget announced on Tuesday. The new annual cap will be set at 13,750 places a year for the next four years, down from the current annual cap of 18,750. Almost US$715 million is expected to be saved through the budget measure. The new budget also significantly reduces support for asylum-seekers and refugees. Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the cut reflected the global impacts of coronavirus. Refugee groups said increased spending on offshore detention of asylum-seekers would negate any savings made.
Rohingya refugee children are learning to support one another through a mental health programme set up by UNHCR and three partner organizations at camps in Bangladesh. Groups of children are led by young refugees like 13-year-old Myshara. They discuss their feelings and ways to cope with the stress of everyday life in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
DID YOU KNOW?
There are currently 5.5 million people internally displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the largest displaced populations globally and the largest in Africa.