Central America and Mexico are facing “unprecedented pressure” as the number of people seeking international protection rises and access to asylum and territory is being limited through troubling new border restrictions, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday.
Wrapping up a two-week mission to Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said she had seen “the tremendous strain the region is under because of the increasing flows of refugees and migrants.”
“Extraordinary efforts are being made by governments and civil society to address these challenges,” she said.
In conversations with internally displaced people, asylum seekers and refugees, Ms. Triggs heard stories of sexual violence, death threats and extortion in communities controlled by criminal gangs.
These stories were often coupled with economic hardship and the damaging effects of climate change, which have combined to force nearly a million people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to flee their homes.
In Guatemala, the Assistant High Commissioner helped launch a programme led by UNHCR and the Guatemalan government’s secretariat on sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking.
The new initiative features mobile units that will take information about rights and services to where people need them most, preventing these crimes in remote areas of the country.
In El Salvador, the senior UNHCR official learned about innovative approaches to prevent violence and empower youth in communities at risk. She also welcomed the country’s commitment to reform the way that the displaced have been profiled in the past.
“Creating the conditions that make people feel safe and protected in their homes is an essential step in addressing the root causes that drive people to flee in this region,” she said.
The UNHCR official also visited Mexico, which may top 100,000 new asylum claims this year, breaking a new record. In recent years, the country went from being predominantly a nation of transit to a country of destination, for thousands of asylum seekers.
UNHCR continues to support governments to strengthen asylum and protection systems. The agency also helps people integrate into their countries of asylum through employment, education and psycho-social aid. In Mexico more than 12,000 people have benefitted from these initiatives.
Ms.Triggs highlighted the need for states to provide protection to refugees, but also to offer regular migration pathways through education, labor mobility, family unification and other immigration processes. “Different needs require different responses,” she said.
She expressed deep concern over recent restrictive border practices in the region that risk returning vulnerable individuals and families to their countries of origin, citing often urgent protection needs.
For her, stories from families expelled into Guatemala were “especially troubling.”
“Without safeguards, these expulsions may breach the international prohibition on returns to violence and persecution,” she said.
Asylum as a right
UNHCR has appealed to the United States Government to end the Title 42 public health-related asylum restrictions under which these expulsions are occurring. The agency has also asked for the country to restore the right to claim asylum.
According to Ms. Triggs, “all countries have agreed to share the responsibility to provide protection for those fleeing danger and persecution, rather than shifting that duty.”
At the moment, six Central American countries and Mexico are working together with the private sector and civil society, with support from donor countries, under the Regional Framework for Protection and Solutions, known as MIRPS.
The goal of the initiative, currently under the leadership of Guatemala, is to address the causes and consequences of forced displacement in the region.
55 journalists killed in 2021, impunity ‘alarmingly widespread’
Fifty-five journalists and media professionals were killed last year, latest UN data showed on Thursday, with nearly nine in 10 killings since 2006 still unresolved.
Impunity is “alarmingly widespread”, said the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“Once again in 2021, far too many journalists paid the ultimate price to bring truth to light”, said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
“Right now, the world needs independent, factual information more than ever. We must do more to ensure that those who work tirelessly to provide this can do so without fear.”
Although the number of victims stands at its lowest for a decade, UNESCO underlined the many dangers that reporters face in trying to cover stories and expose wrongdoing.
In 2021, as in previous years, journalists faced high rates of imprisonment, physical attack, intimidation and harassment, including when reporting on protests.
Women journalists continue to be particularly at risk as they are subjected to “a shocking prevalence of harassment online”, UNESCO said, citing data which showed that nearly three-quarters of female media professionals surveyed had experienced online violence linked to their work.
According to the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists, two-thirds of victims in 2021 died in countries where there is no armed conflict.
This marks a complete reversal of the situation in 2013, when two-thirds of killings took place in countries experiencing conflict.
Most deaths in 2021 occurred in just two regions, Asia-Pacific – with 23 killings, and Latin America and the Caribbean – with 14.
On Wednesday, Ms. Azoulay condemned the killing of Myanmar journalist Sai Win Aung.
Mr. Aung – also known as A Sai K – died on 25 December while covering the plight of refugees in the southeastern state of Kayin.
During his assignment for the Federal News Journal, he was shot in an artillery attack by the Myanmar armed forces, UNESCO said citing reports, making him the second journalist to be killed in Myanmar last month.
UNESCO has a global mandate to ensure freedom of expression and the safety of journalists worldwide.
Every time a journalist or media professional is killed, the agency systematically urges authorities to conduct a full investigation.
The agency also coordinates the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which marks its 10-year anniversary in 2022.
UNESCO also provides training for journalists and judicial actors, works with Governments to develop supportive policies and laws and raises global awareness through events such as World Press Freedom Day, commemorated annually on 3 May.
Harsh winter fuels ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan
UN humanitarians warned on Tuesday that a harsh winter in Afghanistan is aggravating already severe conditions faced by millions across the country.
In the past 24 hours, heavy snowfall and rain have impacted a number of areas, disrupting flights to and from Kabul Airport, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Further snow and low temperatures are forecast in the coming days”, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told journalists at the daily briefing for correspondents in New York.
An already dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan worsened following the takeover by Taliban forces last August, and the subsequent suspension of aid, coupled with freezing of assets by many countries and international organisations.
Late last month, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution clearing the way for aid to reach Afghans in desperate need of basic support, while preventing funds from falling into the hands of the Taliban, a move welcomed by the head of OCHA as a “milestone” decision that will save lives.
Meanwhile, humanitarian partners are racing against time to deliver aid and supplies – in line with commitments to scale up operations.
“During December, our humanitarian partners have reached seven million people with relief food supplies across the country”, said Mr. Dujarric.
“Provision of winterization support, including cash and non-food items, is also under way in various parts of the country”.
In 2021, donors provided $1.5 billion for two humanitarian appeals, including $776 million of the $606 million required for the Flash Appeal launched in September by the Secretary-General, and $730 million of the $869 million sought in the Humanitarian Response Plan.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has expressed its continuing concern for the millions of internally-displaced in Afghanistan while the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is scaling up its response to disseminate timely winterization assistance – particularly to the most vulnerable of displaced families.
UNHCR said that it is providing ongoing multipurpose cash assistance to meet their immediate needs for warmth, and security.
“Sustained support is critical”, the agency tweeted.
At the same time, Ezatullah Noori, the national emergency coordinator for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Afghanistan, pointed out that this is the third season of drought in five years.
“If we don’t support the agricultural sector in time, we will lose an essential pillar of the Afghan economy”, he warned.
Aid in numbers
Since 1 September, humanitarian partners in Afghanistan have reached:
- 9M people with food assistanc.
- 201K children with treatment for acute malnutrition.
- 4M people with healthcare.
- 110K people with winterization assistance.
People of Myanmar face ‘unprecedented’ crisis in 2022
The people of Myanmar are facing an unprecedented political, socioeconomic, human rights and humanitarian crisis with needs escalating dramatically since the military takeover and a severe COVID-19 third wave.
According to a UN Humanitarian Needs Overview published on Friday by OCHA, the turmoil is projected to have driven almost half the population into poverty heading into 2022, wiping out the impressive gains made since 2005.
The situation has been worsening since the beginning of the year, when the military took over the country, ousting the democratically elected Government. It is now estimated that 14 out of 15 states and regions are within the critical threshold for acute malnutrition.
For the next year, the analysis projects that 14.4 million people will need aid in some form, approximately a quarter of the population. The number includes 6.9 million men, 7.5 million women, and five million children.
Price hikes, COVID-19 movement restrictions and ongoing insecurity have forced the most vulnerable people to emergency strategies to buy food and other basic supplies.
Prices for key household commodities have risen significantly, making some food items unaffordable. At the same time, farming incomes have been affected by lower prices for some crops, higher input prices, and limited access to credit.
Monsoon floods in July and August have also affected more than 120,000 people, resulting in crop losses and contributing to food insecurity.
For 2022, the humanitarian affairs office OCHA, says the outlook “remains dire”.
The political and security situation is “expected to remain volatile” and a fourth wave of COVID-19, due to relatively low vaccination rates and the emergence of new variants, is considered a rising risk.
Prices are only expected to decrease marginally, while farm gate prices will likely remain low. As a result, consumer prices are projected to be higher, with incomes continuing to decrease.
According to OCHA, the “unrelenting stress on communities is having an undeniable impact on the physical and mental health of the nation, particularly the psychological well-being of children and young people.”
The risk and incidence of human trafficking, already on the rise in 2021, is expected to further escalate.
In areas affected by conflict, entire communities, including children, are being displaced, increasing the risks for girls and boys to be killed, injured, trafficked, recruited and used in armed conflict.
In 2020 and 2021, learning was disrupted for almost 12 million children, nearly all the school-aged population, and even though schools had began to reopen, the prospect of a full return to classroom education remains slim for many.
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