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At least 70 dead in latest ‘tragic’ shipwreck, off Syria coast: UN agencies

In a joint news release issued late on Thursday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and UN relief agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said the boat had reportedly set off towards Europe on Tuesday from the port of Miniyeh, near Tripoli, Lebanon, carrying between 120 and 170 passengers.

The refugees and migrants were mostly Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians. Passengers included women, children, men and elderly people.

Search and rescue operations have confirmed that at least 70 people died in Syrian waters.

At least 20 hospitalized

“Early reports indicate that 20 people were transferred to the hospital in the city of Tartous, some in a serious condition”, said the statement.

News reports said that boat was believed to be en route to Europe, but it is unclear what led to the sinking.

In Lebanon, the three agencies are following up with the relevant authorities and will offer support to bereaved families, the reported. UNHCR in Syria is also providing some material support to the survivors who are recovering from their ordeal in Tartous. 

“This is yet another heart-wrenching tragedy and we extend our deepest condolences to all those impacted,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Solidarity call

“We call for full solidarity from the international community to help improve the conditions of forcibly displaced people and host communities in the Middle East, particularly in countries neighbouring Syria. Too many people are being pushed to the brink.”

António Vitorino, IOM Director General, declared that those simply looking for safety “should not be compelled to take such perilous and often deadly migration journeys”.

“We must work together to increase safe and legal pathways to regular migration to help reduce loss of life and protect vulnerable people on the move.

Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file)

© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson
Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file)

‘Nobody gets in these boats lightly’

“This is just tragic. No one gets on these death boats lightly. People are taking these perilous decisions, risking their lives in search of dignity”, said UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini.

“We must do more to offer a better future and address a sense of hopelessness in Lebanon and across the region, including among Palestine refugees”.

In response to increased sea departures from the region over the past months, IOM, UNHCR, and UNRWA are calling on coastal States “to increase efforts to build their capacity to provide search and rescue services and to work to ensure predictability in identifying safe places of disembarkation.”

Address root causes

However, the agencies argue that it’s even more critical, that action be taken to address the root causes of these movements and for the international community, in line with the principle of sharing responsibility, to strengthen access to safer, alternative pathways.

“Much more humanitarian and development support must also go to those displaced and host communities throughout the region to help stem their suffering and improve their living conditions and opportunities.

“Failing this, refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, and internally displaced people will continue to take dangerous journeys in search of safety, protection, and a better life.

‘Harsh reminder’: UNICEF

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said in a statement issued later on Thursday, that the tragedy, “and those that have come before it, are harsh reminders that collective action is urgently needed to stop families dying at sea.”

The agency reported that another boat carrying some 55 migrants, had also sunk off the Greek coast, with three children reported missing. Lebanon with it’s spiralling crises, has witnessed a rise in “desperate attempts” to flee the country in recent months, “that have left many dead”, UNICEF noted. 

“Each and every death of a child at sea underscores the need to protect and support children where they are and expand options for children and families to move safely, without having to risk their lives.”

The agency said it was standing by to provide help to the children and families affected, and remains committed to working with Lebanon and other countries in the region, “to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing at all time.”

Ukraine refugees: Eager to work but need greater support

Lives on Hold: Intentions and Perspectives of Refugees from Ukraine, is based on 4,800 responses from people who have fled the brutal war in their homeland and are now living in countries in Europe and beyond. 

The survey was conducted between August and September. 

Staying put for now 

Seven months after the start of the conflict, Ukrainian refugees remain grateful for the warm reception that they have received across Europe, and most plan to stay put for now, said Matthew Saltmarsh, a UNHCR Spokesperson in Geneva. 

The majority, 81 per cent, intend to return home to reunite with their families, but only 13 per cent plan to do so in the next three months. 

“Large parts of Ukraine remain devastated, with towns and livelihoods destroyed in many areas. The onset of winter and spiralling energy prices – or the lack of power – make return home at the moment difficult for many of the displaced,” he said. 

Keen to contribute 

Many refugees surveyed mentioned positive factors in their host countries, such as their links to family or friends, security and stability, the availability of medical services, access to education, and the overall economic situation. 

Most are highly educated, willing to work and want to contribute.  Some 70 per cent possess higher education qualifications, and two-thirds were previously working in Ukraine.  

“Refugees are eager to reenter the labour market, which would lessen their reliance on welfare, but currently, less than one-third are employed or self-employed,” said Mr. Saltmarsh. 

They want to play a more active role in their new communities, he added, but need support such as language classes, formal recognition of skills, and, importantly, assistance with childcare services so they can work outside the home. 

Struggling to survive 

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they intended to send their children to local schools, while 18 per cent preferred remote learning using the Ukrainian curriculum. 

Without work, many are struggling to make ends meet and find adequate housing. Nearly half, 41 per cent, are staying with host families, and 20 per cent are living in collective sites or hotels.  A quarter are renting.  

“Many are deeply concerned about finding alternative sustainable solutions ahead of winter,” said Mr. Saltmarsh. 

Meanwhile, psychological support and specialized help for children with disabilities and older people, are among their remaining pressing needs.  

The majority of the refugees, 87 per cent, are women and children, and almost a third have a family member with at least one disability. 

Support at home and beyond 

With more than 7.4 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, UNHCR is urging continued support from host countries to ensure they have access to adequate assistance, as well as socio-economic inclusion. 

The agency also continues operations in Ukraine, where nearly seven million people have been uprooted. 

As winter approaches, staff are conducting repairs and insulation on homes for vulnerable families. 

More than 815,000 have received food and non-food items, including winter clothes, while more than 31,000 have received emergency shelter materials.  

UNHCR aims to distribute emergency shelter kits for over 100,000 people by the end of the year. 

Hypothermia, dehydration, and 5,000 km on foot: Venezuelan migrants risk their lives for a better future

Jhonny, 26, along with his pregnant wife, Cribsel, 19, sits with their two children at a migrant reception centre in Chile. The 3,700-meter-high altitude and freezing climatic conditions have noticeably taken their toll on this young family of four. They are sunburned and gasping for breath.

The family trekked for five hours from Bolivia to Chile, but this was just the last stage of a two-month odyssey, taking in some 5,000 kilometres on foot, five border crossings, whilst evading dangerous criminal groups.

“It was the first time we experienced cold weather. This part has been the toughest,” Jhonny says, with split lips and cracked feet. “We were not prepared with winter coats or blankets.”

In Venezuala, he had been a construction worker, but he lost his job and covering basic necessities for his family became impossible. They decided to leave their hometown of Aragua with just $450 and a backpack of essentials, to venture upon the long walk across the Andean highlands, first crossing into Colombia, and later Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, sleeping rough on the streets throughout most of their journey.

Braving desert conditions and sub-zero temperatures

Their story is far from an isolated case. Often in small groups, exhausted people are on the move along one of the most extensive migration routes in the world, mainly embarking on foot with periodic intervals by bus, taxi, and other forms of transport.

For Venezuelans travelling to Chile, the last hurdle is the gruelling Atacama Desert, the driest and highest plateau in the world at nearly 4,000 meters above sea level and with temperatures dropping below minus 10 degrees Celsius.
Many migrants and refugees travel irregularly across these routes, confronting dangers such as robbery and the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse by criminal groups. Seven people have reportedly died since the beginning of 2022, either due to exposure to extreme conditions or due to health complications stemming from pre-existing medical conditions exacerbated by the inhospitable terrain of the Atacama Desert.

Venezuelan migrants Jhonny, Crisbel and their two children arrive at an IOM shelter in Chile.

IOM/ Gema Cortes
Venezuelan migrants Jhonny, Crisbel and their two children arrive at an IOM shelter in Chile.

‘Our goal is to work and do something constructive ‘

Near the Chilean town of Colchane, and upon crossing the shared border with Bolivia at dawn, Jhonny’s family, alongside other migrants, are relieved to find much-needed life-saving humanitarian assistance. They arrive hungry, and suffering from hypothermia, dehydration, and altitude sickness.

As of July, approximately 127,000 migrants had entered Chile in 2022 through irregular crossing, according to estimates by Chilean authorities. Many pass through Colchane, a small village of less than 500 residents, of whom 85 per cent are indigenous. They are often driven by the desire to reunify with their family members, and contribute to host communities.

“Our goal is to work and do something constructive. I want people to think of me as a Venezuelan who has something positive to give. This will help change the perception they have about us,” Jhonny adds.

Francisco, a Venezuelan migrant, and his family, at an IOM shelter.

IOM/ Gema Cortes
Francisco, a Venezuelan migrant, and his family, at an IOM shelter.

‘We were sleeping under a blanket covered with ice’

After several trying months since first arriving in Chile, Francisco and his family have had to grapple with low-temperature conditions living on the streets of the City of Iquique, a drastic difference from the tropical conditions in their hometown. The family of five now finds refuge at a temporary shelter financed and managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“We were sleeping under a blanket covered in ice, embracing each other for warmth. We had to use our bags as pillows to prevent robbery during the night.”

Maria, 18, has finally achieved a degree of stability after giving birth to a healthy baby boy in Chile.

She now has a place to live in Iquique and is among hundreds receiving humanitarian assistance from IOM in the form of cash vouchers, hundreds of which have been distributed to vulnerable families to provide them with means to buy food, hygiene products, and warm clothing.

Janibeth, a Venezuelan migrant, at an IOM camp in Chile.

IOM/Gema Cortés
Janibeth, a Venezuelan migrant, at an IOM camp in Chile.

Dreaming to one day return home

Janeth Perez, 36, never thought she would one day have to leave her beloved home. Back in her native Venezuela, she was a Math and Physics high school teacher, but the financial situation forced her to leave her life and profession behind. She began the long road to Chile, alone, and with the hopes of finding a new beginning.

Following an arduous 11-day journey by bus, she recently arrived in Chile and is determined to get to the port city of Valparaiso, approximately 2,000 kilometers south of the Bolivian-Chilean border, in order to reunite with her sister and start a new life working at a supermarket.

Despite all these challenges, Janeth and many others are grateful for the opportunity to be able to work and support their families, both in Chile and back home in Venezuela. She dreams of regularizing her status, validating her university diploma and working as a teacher, her passion.

“The future I imagine is one where I can once again teach in order to earn enough money to buy a house and go back home with my son and mother to live together in peace.”

IOM in Chile

  • Across Chile, IOM has stepped up its presence and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to respond to the direct needs of migrants and refugees arriving to the country.
  • Furthermore, IOM has deployed a medical team to carry out first-aid care, an intervention that benefits migrants and host communities.
  • Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, IOM in Chile has had field staff stationed in Colchane, to allow for the rapid coordination and implementation of humanitarian assistance.
  • Working closely with authorities and civil society organizations, IOM has put in place the necessary infrastructure to temporarily house the migrant population in transit, and attend to their pressing humanitarian needs.
  • Since 2014, more than 6.8 million Venezuelans have left their country; around 450,000 live in Chile.

‘My children ask me, what is Syria?’ Za’atari refugee camp enters second decade

Adil Tughan, a Syrian Refugee in Al Zaatari Camp.
Adil Tughan, a Syrian Refugee in Al Zaatari Camp., by Adil Tughan

Adil Toukan came to Za’atari camp in April 2013, from the city of al-Sanamayn in the Daraa governorate in southern Syria, along with his wife and two young children.

Since then, he and his wife have had three more children, who know nothing about their home country. 

“My family and I went through a great deal of suffering when we left Syria. We crossed more than one security checkpoint and more than one country. 

Life is stable, in terms of the living conditions, security, and infrastructure. The educational situation is excellent [There are 32 schools in the camp, 58 community centres, and eight clinics in the camp].

Electricity is available for eight hours per day. There is a sewage network and a water network. There are asphalt roads and an internal transportation network.

We want our children to have a better life than us, in terms of education, study and work.”

‘No one came here willingly’

Ghasim Al-Lubbad, a Syrian Refugee from Zaatari Camp.
Ghasim Al-Lubbad, a Syrian Refugee from Zaatari Camp., by Adil Tughan

Qassim Lubbad, from Daraa governorate, came to the camp in May 2013. He is not optimistic about the situation in Syria. 

“Surely no one came here willingly. I came from Syria with five children and had three children here in the camp.

Everyone came because they were forced to seek safety and security. There was suffering. Families took different routes. We spent more than 72 hours moving from one village to another until we reached the border and entered Jordan. 

When I talk to my children about Syria, and tell them that we have family there, they ask me: What is Syria? I explain that a war broke out, and we came to the camp. I tell them that staying here in the camp is not our choice: when things calm down and the security situation improved, we will return to Syria.

They ask me about their future here and whether they will complete their studies and then marry and own homes here. I answer them that this matter is not in our hands, but in the hands of God, and that just as we came without prior planning, we can also return to Syria without prior planning”.

I hope that the situation will change for the better. I miss everything in Syria: the air and water, childhood, memories, parents and relatives”.

‘I want to become a policewoman to serve my people’

Ghena Adil Tughan, a Syrian Refugee from Zaatari Camp in Jordan.
Ghena Adil Tughan, a Syrian Refugee from Zaatari Camp in Jordan., by Adil Tughan

More than 20,000 births have been registered in Za’atari since it opened a decade ago. An entire generation of children has grown up there, and the camp has become their world. 

Ten-year-old Ghina was born in Syria and came with her family to Za’atari camp when she was only 6 months old.

“I study in the third grade. I love school here. I like mathematics and English, but my favourite subject is Arabic. My dream is to become a policewoman when I grow up, because I want to serve my people.

I miss my grandparents very much. They are still in Syria. I talk to them every day, and they show me pictures of our house and tell me about the past. I am so excited to see them.”

‘The situation in Syria is not good’

Mohammed Gasim Al-Lubbad, a young refugee from the Zaatari camp in Jordan.
Mohammed Gasim Al-Lubbad, a young refugee from the Zaatari camp in Jordan., by Adil Tughan

Fourteen-year-old Muhammad came to the camp when he was only four. He says he remembers coming to the camp.

I knew that we had come to the camp in search of safety and security. I do not want to return to Syria because the situation is not good. 

I want to be a doctor in the future, because medicine is a beautiful profession and a good career.”
 

Za’atari refugee camp: some facts

  • Half of the camp’s population are children and many of them have never been beyond the camp perimeter. From health care to community centres, all services that children need are provided inside the camp including schools, which are run by the Jordanian Ministry of Education.
  • The entrepreneurship of refugees in Za’atari has been featured in news reports across the world. Trading relations with local Jordanian businesses and suppliers in the nearby town of Mafraq mean there is a constant stream of delivery trucks going to and from the camp.
  • Operated by a range of international and local organizations, primary health clinics are dotted around the camp to treat everybody from emergency patients delivered by the camp’s ambulance service to refugees who walk in off the street.
  • The solar power plant in Zaatari opened in 2017 to provide green energy and electricity to refugee families. The power plant transformed life in the camp, with the market able to operate at night and walking the streets made safer after dark.
  • Survey data shows that the majority of the camp’s residents still want to return to Syria in the future. While most believe it is still not safe at present, longing for their country remains strong – even among the younger generation who have never seen their home.

A successful return home to Sudan

After her husband left her, 49-year-old Fatima became the main breadwinner for her four daughters. Motivated by the desire to secure a better future for them, she migrated to Egypt in 2017, taking the two youngest children with her.

“I took one step at a time, but I always had the mindset of trying to succeed for my daughters,” she says. “Leaving my eldest daughters behind was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make.”

Once in Egypt, Fatima barely managed to survive on short-term jobs as most employers would not hire her because of her age. “They told me I was too old and unfit, and when my daughter, who was 17 at the time, applied for jobs, they told her she was too young,” says Fatima.

Before the onset of COVID-19, migrants in Egypt and elsewhere were already vulnerable. This worsened after the pandemic, and Fatima and her daughters struggled to make ends meet. “We suffered even more and there was no one to help us,” Fatima recalls.

Khartoum, Sudan.

UN News/Abdelmonem Makki
Khartoum, Sudan.

UN-provided reintegration assistance

Through the Sudanese community in Egypt, Fatima learned about the UN migration agency’s (IOM) Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme, and realized that a return to Sudan was a viable option.

In June 2021, IOM arranged for Fatima and other Sudanese nationals stranded in Egypt to return. After arriving in Sudan, Fatima was among those who received reintegration assistance in cash, which allowed her to cover her needs across the economic and social dimensions of reintegration.

Sudan continues to face several overlapping challenges, including internal population displacement triggered by conflict, climate and socio-cultural conditions, leading to elevated levels of food insecurity. The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 worsened the already rising prices of basic food, medicine and other commodities, rising unemployment and falling exports.

A successful entrepreneur

Nevertheless, with the assistance she received from, Fatima was able to set up a micro-business. IOM also helped her to register for national health insurance, which covered her and her two daughters, both of whom received support to pursue their education through the programme.

Cash assistance provided by IOM Sudan proved to be a fast, flexible way to help her reintegrate. This method of support allows her, and others in her situation, to choose which business they wanted to start.

Fatima had set her sights on selling utensils. “It took less than a month for me to receive assistance, which made me even more determined to start a business of my own,” she says. She bought some household utensils from a wholesale market to sell to the women in her community, who soon became her customers.

To further expand the business, Fatima also started selling cooked meals to the health-care facility in her neighbourhood, which was lacking a cafeteria for patients and visitors. “My businesses are going well,” she says, “and I can now provide for my daughters. Returning to Sudan was the best thing I could have done.”

UN reintegration support in Sudan

  • In 2021, more than 3,800 returnees in Sudan have received reintegration assistance under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.
  • Worldwide, IOM supported close to 1.9 million aid recipients with cash-based interventions across 119 countries.
  • IOM Sudan provides reintegration assistance for voluntary humanitarian return recipients and stranded migrants, which include the provision of economic reintegration assistance in the form of mobile money.
  • This is complemented by business training to equip returnees with skills to set up and manage their own business as they restart their lives.

    More information can be found on IOM Cash-Based Interventions in the IOM CBI Annual Report and Case Studies 2021.

Dealing with the trauma of displacement in The Gambia

When conflict broke out in Kaddy’s Senegalese village in early April, she was forced to leave her belongings behind to save her family. “We lost everything. When we left, we could not take anything with us. Our animals, our food; everything was destroyed in the fighting.”

Together with her husband and seven children, Kaddy fled north to The Gambia, eventually finding her way to a small village in Janack district, in an area popularly known as ‘Foni’.

Having left with nothing, Kaddy and her family had to rely on the hospitality of the local community for food and shelter. “We feel like a burden to the other communities helping us,” Kaddy laments. “We feel ashamed to be ‘taken care of’, but we have no choice.”

Kaddy is among thousands of Senegalese forced to flee to The Gambia, according to the country’s National Disaster Management Agency, after fighting broke out along the Gambian-Senegalese border, in territory occupied by the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC).

An additional 6,200 Gambians have been internally displaced, with another 8,500 affected in host communities – according to The Gambia’s National Disaster Management Agency – by the conflict, which dates back four decades.

Many Gambians living in Senegal have also been affected. Fatou left her home behind with nothing but her family and the clothes on her back.

IOM/Robert Kovacs
Many Gambians living in Senegal have also been affected. Fatou left her home behind with nothing but her family and the clothes on her back.

Raising awareness of post-traumatic stress

Recognizing the significant impact of the conflict on the well-being of displaced persons, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) mobilized its expertise in providing mental health and psychosocial support. In collaboration with the Supportive Activists Foundation, IOM deployed a mobile psychosocial team – consisting of a psychologist, two social workers, an educator, and a community mobilizer – to provide direct services to the affected populations.

One key approach being employed by the mobile team is psychoeducation, where volunteers meet with and engage communities to discuss mental health issues and possible signs and symptoms of stress. “The purpose is to raise awareness about the experiences of individuals who have gone through post-traumatic stress or have been negatively affected due to the change of environment brought by the crisis,” said Solomon Correa, Supportive Activists Foundation Managing Director.

These sessions, conducted in groups, leverage traditional sociocultural activities, such as regular attaya (tea) sessions, to facilitate discussions.

“We are able to teach them coping mechanisms during the discussions,” says Amie, a volunteer psychologist. “After we orient them on the possible signs and symptoms of mental health problems, they are often very interested to talk with us in private.”

Through the psychoeducation sessions, the mobile team is able to identify people with specific mental health needs that require further attention and conduct follow-up visits or referrals, as needed.

An IOM officer listens to the concerns of a community leader in a Gambian village.

IOM/Robert Kovacs
An IOM officer listens to the concerns of a community leader in a Gambian village.

‘This is one of the things helping me the most in my daily life’

Fatou is one of many who have benefited from dedicated, one-on-one counselling sessions.

A Gambian previously living in Casamance with her Senegalese husband, her whole family fled when the conflict broke out. Fatou left her home abruptly and had no time to gather any belongings, as she was preoccupied with safely evacuating her 10 children, one of whom is physically disabled. For over two months, she has been living in her uncle’s compound in Janack.

Fatou has resorted to small, day-to-day jobs, including offering labour on farms during harvesting to sell the produce on behalf of the farmers to make ends meet. However, the stress of providing for her family in a new environment, along with painful memories resurfaced from the shootings she witnessed, has had a negative impact on her mental well-being.

“To date, this is one of the things helping me the most in my daily life,” Fatou says of the psychosocial support she has received. “I am really happy to talk to them [the mobile team] and share my feelings and problems without hesitation.” Fatou’s sessions with the mobile team have helped give her a sense of mutual solidarity with others who have been displaced: “It helps me to know we are not alone in this.”

No end in sight

Months after the outbreak of conflict, there seems to be no end in sight. “We are not sure whether it is okay for us to go back or not. Right now, we have no clue,” Fatou remarks.

The psychosocial support is helping the most affected cope with the drastic changes in their lives and pick up the pieces left behind. As Kaddy shares, “Just being able to talk to someone alone about our problems in this crisis really encourages us. It helps us to feel a little more comfortable even though there is no certainty about the future.”

“Since participating in these sessions, I have been less worried,” agrees Fatou.

In a world where mental health is often put in the back seat, the work of the six-person mobile psychosocial team demonstrates the benefits of prioritizing mental health needs.
 

‘Comprehensive’ solution needed to end mass displacement of Rohingya

Some one million refugees remain in the vast camps of Cox’s Bazar, without any immediate prospect of being able to return home, which more than 150,000 mostly-Muslim Rohingya are still “confined in camps” in their native Rakhine state, said a statement issued on behalf of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

And following the military coup of February 2021, the humanitarian, human rights and security situation in Myanmar itself, has rapidly deteriorated, making conditions even less conducive to refugees’ return.

Participation crucial

“The Secretary-General notes the unflagging aspirations for an inclusive future among the country’s many ethnic, and religious groups and underlines that the full and effective participation of the Rohingya people is an inherent part of a Myanmar-led solution to the crisis”, the statement said.

“Greater humanitarian and development access for the United Nations and its partners to affected areas is crucial.  Perpetrators of all international crimes committed in Myanmar should be held accountable. Justice for victims will contribute to a sustainable and inclusive political future for the country and its people.”

Intensifying crisis

Speaking in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Michelle Bachelet, said that Myanmar’s Tatmadaw forces had maintained and even escalated operations against civilians in residential areas in southeast, northwest and central regions, 18 months since they overthrew the democratically-elected overnment.

The use of air power and artillery against villages and residential areas has “intensified”, the UN human rights chief said, while also warning that recent spikes of violence in Rakhine – the historic former home of ethnic Rohingya – could upset the relative calm in the region, and that the last fairly stable area of the country may not avoid a resurgence of armed conflict.

Rohingya communities have frequently been caught between the Tatmadaw and rebel Arakan Army fighters or have been targeted directly in operations. Over 14 million need humanitarian assistance.

Noeleen Heyzer, UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, visits a learning centre in a Bangladesh refugee camp.

Office of the Special Envoy on Myanmar
Noeleen Heyzer, UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, visits a learning centre in a Bangladesh refugee camp.

Generosity of Bangladesh

UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, said during her four-day mission to Bangladesh to highlight the poignant anniversary, that “we cannot let this become a forgotten crisis”.

In what were described as “productive discussions”, she thanked Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her leadership and expressed the UN’s deep appreciation to the people and Government of Bangladesh for their immense contribution.

“The generosity of Bangladesh and host communities towards Rohingya refugees in their time of need conveys a critical need for greater international and regional commitment to burden share and ensure that the Rohingya do not become forgotten,” Special Envoy Heyzer said.

“I will continue to advocate for greater leadership of countries in the region in supporting Bangladesh and leveraging their influence with Myanmar to create conducive conditions for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees.”

She stressed that Rohingya people continue to undertake perilous land and sea journeys that expose them to criminal exploitation including human trafficking and gender-based violence, and emphasized that it was ultimately Myanmar’s responsibility to establish conducive conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return to Myanmar of all refugees and those forcibly displaced.

Stand in solidarity

The UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramilla Patten, also urged greater international action, and for countries to stand in solidarity with the Rohingya survivors of grave international crimes to ensure access to justice and redress, which is foundational for recovery and peace.”

“In 2017 and 2018 during my visits to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, I had witnessed firsthand the visible scars on women and girls from the sexual violence they endured. All of the women I spoke with said they wanted to see the perpetrators punished. They all – without exception – demanded justice”, she added.

Since 2010, the annual reports of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence have documented patterns of sexual violence crimes perpetrated against the Rohingya, and in 2019 the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIMM) concluded that “rape and sexual violence are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorize or punish a civilian population, and are used as a tactic of war” – one of the hallmarks of the military operations conducted by the Tatmadaw.

Growing recognition

She said momentum was growing in Myanmar for leaders to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic nationality, entitled to citizenship and other collective and individual rights, and to ensure accountability and reparations. This encouraging shift means no more that the people of Myanmar are confronting history and are willing to work towards lasting solutions to build peace and reconciliation.

We must heed the call of the people of Myanmar and work collectively towards ensuring justice which has been delayed for far too long. I reiterate my call for enhanced efforts by the international community to continue supporting the dignity and well-being of the Rohingya community and to ensure that perpetrators will be held accountable and that survivors will have effective access to reparations and redress. I call for the collective search of lasting solutions for one of the most persecuted people on earth.”, the Special Representative concluded.

Braving mines and missiles to bring aid to Ukraine’s displaced population

Before dawn on 24 February, Kharkiv took a fierce hit. Within 24 hours, Russian troops had reached the northern suburbs, just 30 kilometres from the Ukraine-Russia border. Despite outnumbering the Ukrainian forces, the invading army was unable to enter the city.

Tania fled Kharkiv after two months of the full-scale war.
Tania fled Kharkiv after two months of the full-scale war., by IOMRoman Shalamov

“I am from Kharkiv, from the largest residential area in Ukraine – Saltivka, where about 400,000 people lived before the war,” says 21-year-old Tania, who has found a temporary home in Ivano-Frankivsk Region and participated in a Summer school run by the UN migration agency (IOM), for young leaders among displaced persons and members of hosted communities. 

“For two weeks, my family and I did not leave the underground metro station, even for a minute. The metro became the main bomb shelter for the locals. I did not want to leave the city, because my grandparents remained behind.  But when they came to us in Kharkiv, I decided to flee from the war.” 

According to a recent IOM survey, around 28 per cent of the estimated 6.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine fled from the Kharkiv Region. The humanitarian needs of those who chose to stay, or were unable to flee, are immense.

NGOs delivers IOM’s assistance not only to communities, but also directly to especially vulnerable people.

Source of Revival NGO
NGOs delivers IOM’s assistance not only to communities, but also directly to especially vulnerable people.

In May, the city received the first humanitarian convoy from IOM with much-needed items for people staying in shelters and hospitals, as well as hard-to-reach communities in areas under Ukrainian control.

“Locals need solar lamps as there is no light, mattresses and blankets as it is damp and cold in shelters, tools for minor repairs for their damaged houses, and hygiene kits,” explains Serhii, the head of Source of Revival, one of the biggest non-governmental organizations in the region and IOM’s implementing partner in the Kharkiv Region.

In the first months of the war, the Source of Revival team’s working day began at 6am and ended at 3pm, when a curfew was set and any movement around the city was forbidden. The location of the warehouses had to be changed several times due to heavy shelling, missiles, and air strikes. 

Not all drivers agreed to go to this dangerous area. The situation has since escalated, the number of casualties is growing, but no one in the team has left Kharkiv. They put on bulletproof vests and protective helmets to deliver IOM’s assistance to those in dire need.

Nadia (r) found out that she was pregnant during the heavy shelling of Kharkiv oblast, eastern Ukraine.

Source of Revival NGO
Nadia (r) found out that she was pregnant during the heavy shelling of Kharkiv oblast, eastern Ukraine.

‘There is nothing left alive’

Nadia, who is currently living on the outskirts of Kharkiv, fled her home in the city of Derhachi due to heavy shelling shortly after discovering she was pregnant in March.

“Now, there is nothing left alive in Derhachi,” she recalls. “There is also shelling here, but not as fierce as in my hometown; then, when a missile hit a nearby school, we moved once again.” 

Source of Revival brought tailored humanitarian aid from IOM directly to her temporary home as it was especially challenging for a pregnant woman to move around the unsafe city.

The hardest part of the team’s work is delivering aid to communities that survived the Russian occupation. Although it takes time to de-mine the area after Ukrainian forces recovered it, NGOs endeavour to reach people in critical need as quickly as possible. 

“Some settlements were razed to the ground. There are many local Irpins and Buchas in our region”, a Source of Revival staff says, referring to two cities in Kyiv oblast occupied by Russia at the start of the war where evidence points to significant human rights abuses being committed against the civilians. Exploitation, kidnapping for ransom, robbery, bullying, torture, rape, and sexual abuse of women, children, the elderly, and men.

IOM assistance is reaching affected communities across Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine.

Source of Revival NGO
IOM assistance is reaching affected communities across Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine.

‘Everything has changed’

Humanitarian workers are helping local residents and identifying victims of conflict-related violence. All of them can go to the IOM centre for physical and psychosocial rehabilitation.

Lately, Kharkiv has been receiving increasing numbers of displaced persons fleeing neighbouring Donetsk and Luhansk regions. And, despite the security situation, even Kharkiv residents are returning to their homes with high hopes.

“They want to rebuild this place, but everything has changed”, says Serhii, whose house was damaged by shelling. “The infrastructure is damaged, houses are destroyed, there is no work, and part of the region is still occupied. Russian troops are trying to move closer to the city, so the threat remains, and chaotic shelling continues.” 

According to authorities, over 1,000 civilians in Kharkiv Region were killed in the last 181 days, including 50 children, and this figure may rise. Calm is deceptive here, and the situation can change in the blink of an eye.

In one single night, on 18 August, 21 civilians died, and 44 were injured as a result of a missile attack on a residential area. Nevertheless, as was the case 79 years ago, locals believe in their land and justice, revealing the same strength and character as their ancestors.

“I draw power from my team. I understand that most of them could leave Kharkiv, but they stayed. They are the first to put on vests, helmets and go to help others,” says Serhii.

Kharkiv oblast, eastern Ukraine, is still suffering from chaotic shelling.

Source of Revival NGO
Kharkiv oblast, eastern Ukraine, is still suffering from chaotic shelling.

IOM partners in Ukraine

  • Over 13 million people have been forced to flee their homes, seeking safety elsewhere in the country or protection abroad. Entire cities and villages have been razed, and over 5,500 civilians have lost their lives, according to the UN. 
  • Since May, Source of Revival has distributed more than 16,000 solar lamps, 7,000 blankets, 3,000 hygiene kits, 5,000 mattresses, 18,000 towels, 10,000 jerry cans, and other non-food assistance from IOM in Kharkiv Region.
  • Deliveries are ongoing with funding from EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid, European Union in Ukraine, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), as well as governments of Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Denmark, Kuwait, South Korea, Sweden, and Slovakia.

Myanmar: 5 years since Rohingya mass exodus, UNHCR urges solutions 

The latest exodus from Myanmar is now officially defined as being a protracted situation,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.

Stepped up assistance

Since the onset of the humanitarian crisis, the Bangladesh Government, local communities and aid agencies have been quick to assist refugees arriving in what is now the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.  

Many Rohingya there continue to tell UNHCR that they wish to return home to Myanmar – so long as conditions for safe, dignified and sustainable returns are met and they can enjoy freedom of movement, access to documentation and a pathway to citizenship.

They also underscore the importance of accessing services and income-generating activities.

Dependent on aid

For the almost one million Stateless Rohingya refugees, conditions in Bangladesh are extremely overcrowded, and they remain fully reliant on humanitarian assistance for survival.

“With decreased funding, they face many challenges in their daily lives,” said Ms. Mantoo, citing multiple humanitarian assessment surveys that found proper nutrition, shelter materials, sanitation facilities and livelihood opportunities to be among the most commonly unmet needs include.

Some have resorted to dangerous boat journeys to seek a better future”.

The UNHCR spokesperson also pointed out that violent incidents, especially for women, children and people with disabilities, are often under-reported.

Violence against children and women, especially gender-based violence, is “shrouded in stigma” that can render survivors voiceless, often unable to access legal, medical, psycho-social or other forms of support, she said.

Education needs

Support must be “stepped up” for education, skills development, and livelihood opportunities, Ms. Mantoo continued, reminding that these will not only prepare refugees for eventual return but also help them remain safe and productive during their stay in Bangladesh.

While some 10,000 Rohingya children in Bangladesh are already enrolled in the Myanmar curriculum, taught in the Myanmar language, support for sustained and expanded access to the curriculum is needed.

“This is a milestone towards a more formal education and helps close the gap for older children who previously had no learning opportunities,” said the UNHCR spokesperson.

Skills development

UNHCR is also appealing for further investment to ensure refugees can benefit from skills development, including vocational training and other forms of capacity-building for adolescent and adult refugees.

In addition to allowing the refugees to support their communities and live with dignity in Bangladesh, it will prepare them for rebuilding their lives when they can voluntarily and safely return to Myanmar, which is currently living under brutal military rule following the coup last year.

Rohingya children play after the rain in Nayapara refugee camp in Teknaf, eastern Bangladesh.

© UNHCR/Amos Halder
Rohingya children play after the rain in Nayapara refugee camp in Teknaf, eastern Bangladesh.

Crucial support

While international support has been and is crucial in delivering lifesaving protection and assistance services for Rohingya refugees, funding is well short of needs. 

The 2022 response plan, which seeks over $881 million for more than 1.4 million people, including Rohingya refugees and more than half a million most affected host communities, is only 49 per cent funded, with $426.2 million received, according to UNHCR. 

“The international community must do more to ensure that the Rohingya do not continue to languish in displacement,” stressed Ms. Mantoo, asking that efforts be “redoubled” for increased political dialogue and diplomatic engagement to create conditions for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return.

A light in the darkness for Ukrainians under fire

In a dark, overcrowded cellar in Kharkiv, Ukraine, 40-year-old Natalia is hiding from almost constant air raids nearby. Together with her son, niece, uncle and mother, she lives in one of the most dangerous areas of the city. Sleeping on a cold floor alongside dozens of others, sometimes she does not see the sky for several days.

“We were under very fierce shelling. We had nowhere to run, so we went down to the shelter,” she explains. “We have experienced a lot of things here – births, caring for pregnant women, children, and a person suffering a heart attack.”

The second largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv remains under attack by the Russian Federation. As the death and injury toll in this region increases daily, assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is being delivered to help those living in shelters that were not initially designed to accommodate people.

Beyond the necessities like food and medicine, they are desperate for news from their families. Solar lamps provided by IOM are helping displaced Ukrainians charge their mobile phones, enabling them to hear their loved ones’ voices once again.

Heavily damaged villa in Kharkiv region.

Roman Shalamov/ Source of Revival NGO
Heavily damaged villa in Kharkiv region.

Delivering aid to a besieged city

In Chernihiv, the country’s northernmost regional capital, 70 per cent of the city lacked electricity due to infrastructure damage caused by heavy shelling from late February to early April. Almost half of the city’s 300,000 population left and hundreds of civilians were killed, according to local authorities. Even now, chaotic shelling puts the lives of people in the region at risk. 

“It was very scary to live in the darkness, but the worst thing was the lack of communication with relatives. People turned on their phones just for a while and rationed the charge as their treasure,” explains Olga, a staffer of the IOM partner NGO “Ukrainian Prism” that has been delivering the solar lamps and other aid to the most affected areas.

“We transported the first batch of solar lamps from IOM in rubber boats across the frosty Desna River, along with the most important cargo for the residents of Chernihiv, when the city was still besieged,” recalls Olga.

IOM’s assistance is reaching people in shelters in Ukraine

Source of Revival NGO
IOM’s assistance is reaching people in shelters in Ukraine

An unprecedented operation

From the onset of the war, IOM has been delivering much-needed assistance to affected areas of Ukraine, including mattresses, blankets, kitchen and hygiene sets, containers, and tools for minor repairs. Such items are provided through the humanitarian supply chain that ensures continued delivery of necessary goods like food, shelter, blankets, medicines, and others during a disaster.

When the war broke out in February, a massive supply chain operation, unprecedented in its size and scale, was set up by IOM, establishing a complex cross-border operation to bring life-saving items to the most conflict-affected regions of Ukraine. These items have been tailored to meet the urgent needs of people and correspond to the environment in which war-affected communities are living.

IOM’s local partner, the charitable foundation “Source of Revival” is doing everything possible to help people who remain in Kharkiv as well as those staying in hard-to-reach cities and villages of the region. Because of the shelling, they often travel to deliver humanitarian aid in bulletproof vests and protective helmets.

Solar lamps have become one of the most sought-after items. “The lamps are a real help for us – we can charge phones and use them for lighting,” says Kateryna, a mother of two.

Over time, humanitarian aid began to reach locals, supporting them on their way to recovery, but trauma is still fresh in their minds. “The village suffered a lot”, recalls Kateryna. “Airstrikes, tanks, shelling… We survived the most terrible moments: executions of civilians, violence, and death.”

Chernihiv Region resident next to the ruins of his destroyed house.

Ukrainian Prism NGO
Chernihiv Region resident next to the ruins of his destroyed house.

IOM in Ukraine

  • IOM and its growing network of implementing partners have been delivering the lamps and other core-relief aid to some of the most vulnerable and affected residents, medical and ambulance staff, as well as emergency teams who provide life-saving support services in the most affected regions of Ukraine.
  • Since 24 February, with the help of the Ukraine Supply Chain, IOM has delivered more than 71,000 solar lamps to affected communities in 10 regions of Ukraine.
  • Solar lamps are part of a broad delivery of non-food assistance. More than 700,000 items have been distributed to 24 different regions with the support of a growing network of implementing partners and various donors.

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