Looming cuts to refugee health benefits are inhumane, unethical and won’t save the government money, say some Ottawa doctors. A program providing temporary health insurance to refugee applicants who aren’t eligible for provincial or territorial coverage will be pared back starting June 30, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney announced last month. The Interim Federal Health Program will no longer include vision, dental or supplemental health benefits for current and future asylum seekers. Most pharmaceutical benefits will also dry up. Some claimants will still have access to hospital services, doctors and nurses, ambulances and medications or vaccines in urgent or essential situations. Others, including those whose claims have been rejected, will have access to services only to “prevent or treat a disease posing a risk to the public health or a condition of public safety concern.” Dr. Mark Tyndall, head of infectious diseases at The Ottawa Hospital, said the changes create a serious threat to public health. “If we are only allowed to offer care to someone when they are spitting up blood in the emergency room, they will most certainly have already infected others (with tuberculosis),” Tyndall said Monday at a news conference held by the Canadian Health Coalition. [National Post]

The two Sudans appear to be complying with a U.N. ceasefire ultimatum, which came into force on Friday — ending weeks of bitter border fighting over oil. But there remains a separate conflict in the Nuba Mountains region of Sudan that has forced thousands to flee bombardment and hunger for newly independent neighbor South Sudan. Those refugees are streaming into the Yida camp in South Sudan, across the border from the Nuba Mountains in the South Kordofan area, Sudan’s last remaining oil-producing state. Communities there fought alongside the South during the long civil war. They say they are being punished for their loyalties and chased out by Sudanese government troops. Sudan claims pro-South rebels operate in the region. Human rights campaigners warn of ethnic cleansing by Sudan. [NPR]

Protesters in Syria are still being intimidated and murdered by government forces.  The status of thousands of detainees remains unclear.  And it is estimated that one million civilians are still in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.  Of that number the UN estimates that 300,000 are internally displaced.  Sixty-six thousand displaced Syrians are in neighboring countries.  In addition, inside Syria, 500,000 Palestinian refugees and a hundred thousand Iraqi refugees are feeling the effects of the violence. The United States has dedicated some $33 million to support the important work being done to assist and protect those in need in Syria and neighboring countries.  By working through international and nongovernmental organizations, U.S. government contributions tap into the infrastructure these organizations already had in place in Syria before the conflict started. [Voice of America]


Thousands of people trying to return to South Sudan from Sudan have been stranded for months at the Kosti way station and are running out of “means of support,” a United Nations official said Tuesday. The concern for their plight comes amid reports of military attacks along Sudan’s hotly contested border with South Sudan. Between 12,000 and 15,000 South Sudanese are at the Kosti way station, “many of whom have been waiting with their entire house holdings for months for transport to South Sudan,” a U.N. statement said. South Sudan split from Sudan last year as part of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of war in Africa’s largest nation. The war left 2 million people dead and ended with the peace agreement that included an independence referendum for the south. [CNN]

The number of Congolese nationals fleeing to Rwanda escaping violence, following resumption of clashes between DR Congo army and militia groups has surged to an estimated 1100, officials said yesterday. According to the Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDMAR), Marcel Gatsinzi, the number has in one day increased from about 300 on Sunday to over 1050. Presently, there are thousands of Congolese refugees in Rwanda in three camps of Gihembe in Gicumbi District, Kiziba Camp in Karongi District, and Nyabiheke camp in Gatsibo. They total over 55, 000 and have been living in these camps for over 15 years. Reports indicate that Congolese citizens are fleeing possible reprisal attacks by terrorist groups; the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel outfit. [AllAfrica]

A conference on Afghan refugees opened with a call by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres for the international community to throw its full weight behind a new “solutions strategy” drawn up between Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR. The strategy, which is being presented at the two-day conference for endorsement, aims both at preserving asylum space for Afghan refugees in neighboring countries over the coming three years and beyond, and at supporting sustainable reintegration for those Afghans who return home. Afghan refugees constitute the largest and longest-standing refugee situation in UNHCR’s history. Despite the return of some 5.7 million Afghans to their homeland since 2002, there are still around 2 million Afghans in Pakistan and close to 1 million in Iran. And in recent years, return rates have slowed. In 2011, about 70,000 Afghan refugees returned home. [UNHCR]



President Barack Obama authorized as much as $26 million to help provide humanitarian assistance to 140,000 refugees who have fled parts of Sudan’s southern states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. The U.S. money will come from the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund and will support the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, according to an e-mailed statement from National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor. The aid is in response “to the unexpected and urgent needs resulting from the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states of Sudan,” Vietor said. Fighting between Sudanese government forces and the rebels has intensified in the two border states since South Sudan seceded in July, assuming control of three-quarters of the former unified nation’s oil production of 490,000 barrels a day. The U.S. is “gravely concerned” about the situation in the two states and continues to call upon Sudan and South Sudan to reach a “negotiated settlement to the outstanding issues between them,” Vietor said. [Bloomberg]

Over 8,000 displaced Syrians have streamed into north Lebanon since the beginning of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown of Sunni rebels. While the violence in Syria continues unabated, Syrian refugees who managed to escape Assad’s forces paint a gruesome picture of abuses and killing of civilians and military-aged men that some have compared to Srebrenica. What is surprising, however, is that despite the rapid influx of Syrians into northern Lebanon —more than 3,000 last month alone — there are no major refugee camps in northern Lebanon. Instead, displaced Syrians are being “absorbed” into predominantly Sunni northern Lebanese villages.  According to the UNHCR, the majority of the refugees reside with “host families” rather than in camps — a welcome development, since refugee camps are often characterized by overcrowding and permanent slum-like conditions. [Huffington Post]

The United Nations refugee agency voiced deep concern about the deteriorating political and security situation in Mali, where thousands of people continue to flee their homes due to fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels in the country’s north. “The north of the country is becoming more and more dangerous due to the proliferation of armed groups in the region,” a spokesperson for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, told reporters in Geneva. Renewed fighting in northern Mali has uprooted more than 200,000 people since January, with the majority seeking safety in neighboring countries and some 93,000 believed to be internally displaced. The country is also dealing with a coup by rebel Malian soldiers who took control of the country some 10 days ago and announced the dissolution of the Government led by President Amadou Toumani Toure. Ms. Fleming reported that more than 2,000 people have fled to Burkina Faso and Mauritania over the past five days because of the insecurity and the political instability stemming from the military coup. The majority of the refugees are Tuaregs, but there are also ethnic Peuls, Arabs and Bambara. Refugees pouring into neighboring countries are reporting the presence of armed militiamen and home guards units set up by local communities to defend themselves, she said. [UN News Centre]


More than 350,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes in three states in Sudan and South Sudan, according to the UNHCR. In Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan, 100,000 people each have been forced out of their homes. Jonglei, in South Sudan, remains the worst affected, with inter-tribal violence having driven 150,000 from their homes. UNHCR says that the issues facing the three states are ultimately political ones – about borders, oil, and citizenship status after the formation of South Sudan last summer. [Aljazeera]

The United States has nearly halted the processing of visas for Iraqi refugees in Syria, leaving thousands of people who fled a war in their homeland marooned in a country in the grip of an increasingly violent insurrection, with little hope of leaving anytime soon. The American government has indefinitely postponed sending officials from the Department of Homeland Security to Damascus, the Syrian capital, to conduct required interviews with refugees, judging the security situation there too volatile even though the Syrian government has made entry visas available. Others, including Canada, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, have continued to administer cases in Syria. The United States has also declined to take up makeshift measures suggested by refugee advocates, including conducting the interviews by video conference. An estimated 10,000 Iraqis in Syria are awaiting interviews. [NYTimes]

In an effort to maintain operations despite prevailing insecurity and reduced humanitarian access at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps, UNHCR has been exploring ways to ensure uninterrupted assistance and services in the world’s largest refugee settlement. The new measures include stronger and deeper involvement of the refugee communities in the day-to-day running of the camps, by reaching out to different groups within the refugee population, such as elders, the business community, and youth. Complementing this, UNHCR is organizing additional training, mentoring and capacity building for refugee workers and volunteers. Dadaab refugee complex presently shelters more than 460,000 refugees. A third of this refugee population arrived in 2011 alone, fleeing the conflict, drought, famine and human rights abuses in Somalia. [UNHCR]


More Iraqi refugees returned to their homeland in 2011 than any year since 2004, UN figures showed on Tuesday, with the largest number coming from Syria, which has been rocked by months of protests. According to data published by the UNHCR, 62,340 people returned to Iraq between December 2010 and November 2011. That compared to a total of 460,106 who came back from 2003 — when a US-led coalition ousted dictator Saddam Hussein — to 2010. The figure of annual returns in 2011 was the highest for a single year since 2004’s 193,997. [AFP]

The UNHCR warns of growing insecurity in camps sheltering hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa.  The UNHCR says the situation is particularly worrisome in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex, the largest refugee settlement in the world. Nearly one-half million refugees, most of them Somalis, are living in Dadaab. It says the camp’s inhabitants have been under threat from improvised explosive devices, kidnappings, vehicle hijackings and banditry over the past few months. [Voice of America]

The UNHCR reports that 33 unaccompanied children, mostly from East Africa, have left Tunisia’s Shousha refugee camp for resettlement in Norway. The children are among 90 who arrived unaccompanied from Libya during the conflict in 2011. UNHCR says some of the children were already without their parents when they arrived in Libya. Others lost their parents or became separated from them at a later stage. Most of the children are from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, or Eritrea. The agency says the 33 unaccompanied children who left Tunisia for Norway on Sunday is the largest group, so far, to be resettled. UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said prospects for finding countries of resettlement for 51 other unaccompanied children in Tunisia’s Shousha refugee camp are good. [Voice of America]

The United States and Sudan traded accusations over the humanitarian situation in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, embattled since the north and south of Sudan split into two nations last summer. About 500,000 displaced people face famine if substantial international aid does not begin to flow by March, said Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador, calling an aid blockade imposed by Sudan “unconscionable and unacceptable.” Sudan’s United Nations envoy, Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, said the situation for most civilians in the area was “fantastic,” denying any blockade except in “pockets” where rebels took shelter. [NYTimes]


Israel threatened illegal immigrants with unlimited detention on Tuesday as it tightened legislation to stop an increasing number of people crossing its porous Sinai Desert border from Egypt. The move, which raised the maximum detention from 60 days, drew sharp criticism from refugee groups and activists, who said the “immoral” decision would hit refugees fleeing conflict. The issue of immigration raises fierce emotions in Israel, many of whose citizens themselves arrived as refugees after World War Two’s Nazi Holocaust. [Reuters]

According to the UNHCR, South Sudan is facing a “huge humanitarian crisis” that requires support from the international community. Nearly 80,000 refugees have entered the nation from neighboring Sudan, where fighting has flared in the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Last weekend, some 6,000 armed men from the Lou Nuer tribe marched on an area of South Sudan’s Jonglei state, which is home to the rival Murle tribe, attacking the town of Pibor. Although the Lou Nuer fighters have left, following negotiations with U.N. peacekeepers and the South Sudan authorities, help is urgently needed for those who fled. Beyond ethnic tensions, deficient health and education systems and a lack of infrastructure are significant obstacles for the nascent nation, UNHCR representatives explained. [CNN]

A small number of 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who fled to the sub-continent to escape fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have returned home after spending years as refugees in one of 100 camps in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The UNHCR has assisted more than 4,500 refugees to voluntarily return to their homeland. Those who return cite family unification, conditions inside the camps, or concerns over property left behind, as driving their decision. The UNHCR provides each returnee with a modest transport grant of about US$30 per person, in addition to a reintegration grant of between $65 and $88 (per child and adult). Five UNHCR offices in the north and east stock kits of basic household supplies for the returnees. In addition, the agency carries out regular monitoring to ensure returnees receive mine-risk education, are included on the food ration lists and are considered for the many government, UN and other projects in place to re-establish the lives of Sri Lankans in the north and east of the country. [IRIN]

The asylum seekers who head to Australia in rickety fishing boats are just a trickle in the global flow of refugees. Only one in five refugees reach Australian shores by boat. Most apply for asylum overseas and land in scheduled flights. But the several thousand people who short-circuit the process by arriving illegally in boats have become a hot button issue that challenges Australia’s egalitarian ethos of “a fair go” for all and provides an outlet for xenophobia and resentment over urban overcrowding. The issue has taken on exaggerated importance in Australia, partly because of a sense of vulnerability over a sparsely populated coast and partly because political parties cater to a minority of hard-line, often-xenophobic voters in poorer urban “swing seat” districts that often decide national races. Despite the hostility, Australia is the world’s most generous country in opening its doors to refugees. A population of almost 23 million plans to resettle 13,750 refugees this year, which on a per capita basis betters the United States and Canada, which both welcome large numbers of refugees. [Washington Post]




The UNHCR has launched a massive airlift of relief supplies from Kenya to neighboring South Sudan where an estimated 50,000 Sudanese refugees are in need of assistance after fleeing conflict in their country. The first of 18 flights using C-130 Hercules transport planes left the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, carrying 12 tons of supplies, including plastic sheets and rolls, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, buckets, jerry cans and kitchen sets, according to the UNHCR. [UN News Centre]

According to Amnesty International, the United Nations must accelerate efforts to help more than 100,000 people return to their homes in Abyei, a region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan. A 4,200-member United Nations mission hasn’t fully deployed in Abyei since the Security Council approved it on June 27. Sudan agreed to withdraw its soldiers from the area once the full UN contingent arrived and an interim administration is in place. Sudan’s army seized the main town in Abyei on May 21 after accusing the south’s army of attacking its troops. Abyei is one of several disputes threatening to spark conflict between Sudan and its newly independent southern neighbor. Fighting between President Umar al-Bashir’s government in Khartoum and rebels it says South Sudan backs has intensified in border states since the south seceded on July 9. [Bloomburg Business Week]

According to a UNHCR statement, aid distributions have been temporarily suspended at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex, near the border with Somalia, following a series of bomb attacks. Monday’s explosion went off close to a food distribution point as rations were being given out. Refugees said the police have been harassing them as they sought information about the perpetrators of the attacks. Dadaab has witnessed a series of attacks in recent months, leading humanitarian agencies to evacuate staff. Medecins Sans Frontieres-Spain pulled out of the camp following the kidnapping of two of its staff from the camp in October. [Reuters]

Myanmar will take back some of its refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh, an official said Tuesday, adding that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingyas will not be covered by the deal. The agreement to repatriate Myanmar refugees was reached at a meeting earlier this month between President Thein Sein and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities on earth, the Rohingya have no legal right to own land in Myanmar and are banned from marrying or travelling without permission. Some 28,000 Rohingya are recognised as registered refugees and live and receive aid at an official UN camp in Bangladesh. This figure is a fraction of the 200,000 to 300,000 unofficial refugees, according to government estimates. [AFP]


South Sudanese officials have condemned Sudan after an aerial bombardment of a refugee camp in their territory. Local official Miabek Lang said at least 12 people had been killed and 20 wounded. The Sudanese military, which has been fighting rebels in areas near South Sudan, has denied the claims.  [BBC]

The Australian government is planning the first forcible deportation of an Afghan asylum-seeker, according to the Refugee Action Coalition. Ismail Mirzajan, a 27-year-old Hazara Afghan currently being held in Villawood had received a notice of removal for this Saturday. It would be the first time Australia has acted on a memorandum of understanding it signed with the Afghan government to return asylum-seekers. “We are hoping that the Afghan government will again rule out forced removals when they understand what the Australian government intends to do,” a Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson said. [The Australian]

Thousands of Syrian refugees who fled the unrest in Syria are now facing dire conditions at refugee centers in north Lebanon, with little access to medical care, schooling or even blankets in some cases. The most difficult living conditions are found perhaps at schools that have been transformed into refugee centers, housing between 150 and 200 refugees, in the towns of Wadi Khaled and Mashta Hammoud. Mahmoud Hisyan, a Syrian refugee at one of the schools, compares living in the centers to being in a prison. “We are not allowed to move around except in the center’s surrounding area and our living situation has deteriorated to a level that can no longer be tolerated,” Hisyan said, adding that the refugees use space heaters to cook meals of lentils and hummus. [The Daily Star Lebanon]

According to the U.N., cholera has broken out in the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, home to nearly 500,000 Somali refugees. Insecurity also continues to hamper aid efforts following the kidnapping of Western aid workers from the sprawling Dadaab complex of five camps, where 100 additional Kenyan police have been deployed in the past month. The UNHCR and other aid agencies have set up cholera treatment centres in the camp for severe cases and are promoting safe hygiene practices. [Reuters]


UNHCR and partner agencies are launching a formal appeal for funds to help refugees fleeing into western Ethiopia from Sudan’s Blue Nile State. The joint appeal by UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the International Organization for Migration amounts to some US$18.3 million and is intended to help up to 35,000 refugees. Since 3 September, when the influx started, an estimated 25,000 refugees have found refuge in Ethiopia. [UNHCR]

South Sudanese refugees who fled north from the past civil war are now trying to return home to the new state of South Sudan, but many are finding the going hard.  Those wishing to travel back south have been given until Spring to move or to establish residency in the north and obtain work permits.In the meantime, many simply have to wait, at ports, railway stations and major roads. [Reuters]

Afghan officials say an ambitious program is being planned to attempt to bring back millions of Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan. The program, which will be discussed at an international conference on Afghanistan to be held in Tokyo next year, envisions the repatriation of more than 3 million Afghan refugees living mainly in the border regions of neighboring Iran and Pakistan. [RFE/RL]

Humanitarian Crisis in East Africa Grows More Dire: U.S. Leadership Needed

The humanitarian crisis in East Africa is growing more dire by the day. The eastern African region, known as the Horn of Africa, is experiencing the worst drought the region has experienced since the 1950s causing widespread famine and suffering across the region. Earlier this month, the United Nation’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis warned that as many as 750,000 Somalis face imminent starvation in coming months unless they receive immediate assistance. According to testimony at a recent Congressional hearing, nearly 60% of the children in Southern Sudan are suffering from acute malnutrition. At present, more than 12 million people are at risk.

Thousands have fled their homes in search of relief, and many make their way to Dadaab; the largest refugee camp in the world. Those fleeing their homes in search of relief from famine join the scores of refugees who have fled persecution in this already grossly overcrowded camp. Each day 1,500 more people arrive in search of relief.

Although this crisis is reaching a tipping point, Congress is currently proposing deep cuts funds for disaster response, refugee, and food aid, even though these programs account for just .1% of the federal budget. The United Nation’s estimates that an additional $1.2 billion is needed to address the needs of the famine stricken region.

To ensure that Congress properly funds U.S. refugee and humanitarian assistance, visit the LIRS Action Center. The United States of America must step up to help those in dire need.

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