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UNHCR stresses urgent need for States to end unlawful detention of refugees and asylum-seekers
by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
July 2020
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is calling today on States to urgently release refugees and asylum-seekers who are being unlawfully and arbitrarily held in detention. States must act to ensure their actions are in line with international law and that amidst the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, vulnerable refugees are not being placed at heightened, unnecessary risk.
“Refugees fleeing war and persecution should not be punished or criminalized simply for exercising their fundamental human right to seek asylum,” said Gillian Triggs, UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees for Protection. “Measures to tackle COVID19 do not justify arbitrarily detaining them on arrival, which not only worsens the misery of people who have already suffered, but also undermines efforts to limit the spread of the virus.”
As part of its role on the Executive Committee of the UN Network on Migration, and as co-lead for the Alternatives to Detention Working Group, UNHCR echoes the Network’s call ;on States to reaffirm their commitment to adopting a human rights-based approach to the detention of newly arriving refugees and migrants and to prioritize non-custodial alternatives.
UNHCR welcomes the positive efforts that have been made by a number of States, which have released refugees and asylum-seekers from detention during the pandemic. Such efforts prove the viability of community-based alternatives and provide a blueprint for developing new, long-term, rights-based approaches to receiving refugees and asylum-seekers.
Suitable approaches will vary depending on the context but may include, amongst others, the deposit or surrender of documentation; reasonable and proportionate reporting conditions; residence at a specific location; residence at open or semi-open asylum centres or community supervision arrangements.
However, some States are using the pandemic as justification to resort to increasingly regressive measures, including detaining refugees and asylum-seekers in greater numbers, for longer or arbitrary periods of time, or without access to due process.
UNHCR is concerned that many detained refugees and asylum-seekers are often forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions where they are unable to practice social and physical distancing measures and have limited or no access to adequate healthcare and clean water. In some detention centres, tensions are reaching boiling point as detainees’ anxieties rise about their health and welfare.
Under international law and in line with UNHCR guidance, detention of refugees and asylum-seekers for administrative purposes must be used as a last resort, in the absence of viable alternatives, and for a legitimate purpose, for example, to verify an individual’s identity, conduct a preliminary asylum interview, where there are significant security concerns or where there are strong grounds for believing an individual is likely to abscond.
Detention must be based on individual assessments, subject to procedural safeguards, and in accordance with and authorized by clearly defined laws and limits. Maximum periods of detention should be set and asylum-seekers must be immediately released once the justifications for their detention are no longer valid.
Children should never be held in immigration detention. This can never be considered to be in the child’s best interest, which must be a primary consideration under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Temporary measures by States for new arrivals, such as quarantines or restrictions on movement, owing to the COVID19 pandemic are understandable. However, restrictions on this basis should only last as long as strictly necessary for ensuring an individual’s health status.
UNHCR is calling on State to adopt the following immediate measures to help avert a catastrophic outbreak of COVID19 in a detention centre:
Immediately release all refugees and asylum-seekers who are being arbitrarily or unlawfully detained, including those in pre-removal detention where deportations have been suspended.
Scale up and implement community-based alternatives to detention, including in place of detention for newly-arriving refugees and asylum-seekers.
Improve conditions in places of detention while alternatives are being prepared, and ensure that UNHCR continues to have access to asylum seekers and refugees being held in these locations.
9 July 2020 (UN News)
Millions of refugees across Africa face even greater food insecurity because of aid disruption and rising food prices linked to the COVID-19 crisis, UN humanitarians warned on Thursday.
The alert from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), coincides with ongoing conflict and disasters on the continent, and severe underfunding for their work.
“While the situation continues to deteriorate for everyone, the disaster is magnified for refugees who have absolutely nothing to cushion their fall”, said WFP Executive Director, David Beasley. “In the best of times, refugees live in cramped conditions, struggle to meet their basic needs and often have no option but to rely on outside assistance for their survival. Now more than ever, they need our lifesaving support.”
More than 10 million refugees worldwide receive WFP assistance today; this includes the world’s largest refugee settlements, such as Bidibidi in Uganda, where food rations were cut by 30 per cent in April, owing to cash shortfalls.
Reduced rations
More than 3.2 million refugees across East Africa are already receiving reduced rations because of underfunding, including in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and Tanzania.
Significant funding shortfalls either threaten or have led to food cuts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
Without urgent action, levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia are expected to rise, the agencies warned, while also urging Governments to ensure that refugees and displaced populations are included in social safety nets and COVID-19 response plans - in line with the Global Compact on Refugees - to ensure they are able to access food and emergency cash assistance.
Ethiopia refugee children in crisis
In Ethiopia, more than six in 10 refugee children are already experiencing critical levels of anaemia, while UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi, warned that around one in two refugees are children “who may develop life-long difficulties if deprived of food at vital stages in their development”.
In Cameroon, WFP had to reduce its assistance to refugees from the Central African Republic by 50 per cent in May and June, because of funding gaps.
Cuts in rations are also expected for Nigerian refugees in the country, while across East Africa, congestion at borders linked to COVID-19 “have created congestion, delaying vital aid and trade flows”, the UN humanitarians said.
They added that in many parts of the continent, food prices are rising as a result, “posing a potentially devastating threat to millions of refugees, particularly those who were already living hand-to-mouth on daily wages”.
Food price shocks
In the Republic of Congo, the average price of a basic food basket has increased by 15 per cent, while in Rwanda, WFP reported that around refugee camps, found food prices were already on average 27 per cent higher in April compared to a year earlier, and 40 per cent higher than in 2018.
Because of these challenges, “many refugees are resorting to negative coping mechanisms, such as skipping meals or reducing meal portions”, the joint agency statement said.
Survival tactics
In South Sudan, more than 80 per cent of refugees are likely resorting to such measures and “in some cases, refugees are resorting to begging, transactional sex, or early or forced marriages to be able to afford food”.
Globally, WFP needs more than $1.2 billion to support refugees globally for the next six months, just over half is for operations in Africa. As part of the broader UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19, UNHCR requires $745 million for life-saving interventions, of which $227 million is for operations in Africa.

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World is facing an Education Emergency
by Save the Children, Education Cannot Wait, agencies
July 2020
Deep budget cuts to education and rising poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may force at least 9.7 million children out of school forever by the end of this year, with millions more falling behind in learning, Save the Children warns in a new report.
Girls are likely to be much worse affected than boys, with many forced into early marriage. As the impacts of the recession triggered by COVID-19 hits families, many children may be forced out of school and into labour markets.
In its report, Save the Children is calling for governments and donors to respond to this global education emergency by urgently investing in education as schools begin to reopen after months of lockdown.
The agency is also calling on commercial creditors to suspend debt repayments by low-income countries – a move that could free up $14bn for investment in education.
“It would be unconscionable to allow resources that are so desperately needed to keep alive the hope that comes with education to be diverted into debt repayments,” said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children.
The agency calls for governments to use their budgets to ensure children have access to distance learning whilst lockdown measures remain; and to support children who have fallen behind.
The Save Our Education report reveals the devastating effects the COVID-19 outbreak is set to have on learning. In a mid-range budget scenario, the agency estimates that the recession will leave a shortfall of $77 billion in education spending in some of the poorest countries in the world over the next 18 months.
In a worst-case scenario, under which governments shift resources from education to other COVID-19 response areas, that figure could climb to an astonishing $192 billion by the end of 2021.
The impending budget crunch comes after lockdown measures saw a peak of 1.6 billion children out of school, globally.
Ms Ashing said: “Around 10 million children may never return to school – this is an unprecedented education emergency and governments must urgently invest in learning. Instead we are at risk of unparalleled budget cuts which will see existing inequality explode between the rich and the poor, and between boys and girls. We know the poorest, most marginalised children who were already the furthest behind have suffered the greatest loss, with no access to distance learning - or any kind of education – for half an academic year.”
Before the outbreak, 258 million children and adolescents were already out of school. A Vulnerability Index in the report shows that in 12 countries, mainly in West and Central Africa but also including Yemen and Afghanistan, children are at extremely high risk of not returning to school after the lockdowns lift – especially girls.
In another 28 countries children are at moderate or high risk of not going back to school and of the longer-term effects of widening inequalities. In total, Save the Children estimates that some 9.7 million children could be forced out of school by the end of this year.
Currently, more than 1 billion children are out of school due to the global pandemic. Aisha*, 15, from Ethiopia is one of them:
“Three months ago, things were very good for me. I was enjoying school in grade six. When we were in school, we used to play with our friends and learn. The school also used to provide us with a meal every day. Now after this virus, I can’t go to school, and I can’t see my friends. I miss my school and my friends so much.
“It has been nearly three months since schools were closed and like many of the children here, I spend most of my time looking after the livestock and I sometimes help my mother with household chores like cleaning and cooking.”
Many of the top-12 countries in the report’s index already have high out of school rates and a sharp divide in school attendance along wealth and gender lines. These factors are likely to be exacerbated by school closures, with girls and children from poverty-stricken families being hardest hit.
Children in these countries are also caught in a vicious cycle of risk: they face greater risks of being forced into child labour and, adolescent girls are especially at risk of gender-based violence, child marriage and teenage pregnancy, which increases the longer they are out of school.
The same risks directly impact their ability to return to school at all. Combined with the sharp decrease of education spending, the COVID-19 outbreak could be a cruel blow for millions of children.
In many countries, Save the Children has provided distance learning materials such as books and home learning kits to support learners during lockdown, working closely with governments and teachers to provide lessons and support through radio, television, phone, social media and messaging apps.
Despite the efforts of governments and organisations, over 500 million children had no access to distance learning, and many of the poorest children may not have literate parents who can help them. Having lost out on months of learning, many children will struggle to catch up, raising the likelihood of drop out.
Save the Children warns that school closures have meant much more than education loss for many children – taking away safe places where children can play with friends, have meals and access health services, including services for their mental health. Teachers are often front-line responders and protectors for children who might suffer from abuse at home. With school closures, these safeguards fall away.
Inger Ashing continued:
“If we allow this education crisis to unfold, the impact on children’s futures will be long lasting. The promise the world has made to ensure all children have access to a quality education by 2030, will be set back by years.”
“Governments should be putting the interests of children before the claims of creditors. Whether they live in a refugee camp in Syria, a conflict zone in Yemen, a crammed urban area, or remote rural village: all children have a right to learn, to develop, to build a better future than their parents might have had. Education is the basis for that, and we can’t afford to let COVID-19 get in the way.”
Save the Children urges governments and donors to ensure that out-of-school children have access to distance learning, and to protection services. Those who return to school should be able to do so in a safe and inclusive way, with access to school meals and health services. Learning assessments and catch up classes must be adapted so that children can make up for their lost learning.
To ensure this happens, Save the Children is calling for an increased funding of education, with $35 billion to be made available by the World Bank. National governments must make education a priority by producing and implementing COVID-19 education responses and recovery plans to ensure the most marginalised children are able to continue learning.
July 2020
Saving Generation COVID, by Abiy Ahmed and Gordon Brown. (Education Cannot Wait)
The oft-repeated idea that COVID-19 is “the great equalizer” is a myth. There is no equality of suffering or equality of sacrifice during a pandemic that is disproportionately hurting the poorest and most vulnerable.
And while the health emergency has disproportionately harmed the elderly poor, the unprecedented education crisis caused by the pandemic is now hurting the poorest children hardest and creating a generation that will lose out on learning. Lockdowns and other social-distancing rules have forced schools all over the world to shut their doors, affecting a peak of nearly 1.6 billion children.
But while wealthier children have had access to alternatives, such as online learning, the poorest do not. The world’s least-advantaged children – for whom education offers the only escape route from poverty – have thus fallen further behind, placing the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030 even further out of reach.
Even before the pandemic, the world was falling short of this goal. Globally, nearly 260 million children were out of school, and 400 million dropped out after the age of 11. In some regions, such as rural Sub-Saharan Africa, few girls were completing secondary school, not least because of widespread child marriage.
Nearly 50 countries have no laws banning child marriage, and many more fail to enforce their bans. As a result, about 12 million school-age girls are forcibly married off each year.
When schools reopen, there is a good chance that many poor children will never return. Poverty is the biggest reason why children don’t attend school, and the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis will far outlast lockdowns, especially for the poorest people.
The likely result is that more children will be pushed into the ranks of the 152 million school-age children forced to work, as 14 countries still have not ratified the International Labor Organization’s minimum-age convention. And even more girls will be forced into early marriage.
When the West African Ebola epidemic that started in 2014 closed schools in Sierra Leone, the number of 15-19-year-old-girls who were pregnant or already mothers nearly doubled, rising from 30% to 65%. Most of these girls never returned to school.
With the right policies in place, economies will start to recover, jobs will slowly be restored, and social-protection policies will ease the poverty of the unemployed. But there is little protection against the effects of a foregone education, which can last a lifetime.
As it stands, more than half the world’s children – nearly 900 million boys and girls – are unable to read a simple text by age 10. That is 900 million children who do not receive the knowledge and skills needed to improve their economic lot as adults. If we do nothing to help “Generation COVID” make up for lost time, that figure could easily approach one billion or more. When schools in Kashmir closed for 14 weeks in the aftermath of the devastating 2005 earthquake, the most affected children lost the equivalent of 1.5 years of learning.
As the recently published UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report advises us, children who have fallen behind need the kind of catch-up programs that in Latin America have increased educational attainment by up to 18 months since the 1990s. But the needed support will cost money. Unless we bridge the gap in education funding, SDG4 will remain out of reach.
UNESCO estimates that before the COVID-19 crisis, 50 countries were failing to spend the recommended minimum of 4% of national income, or 15% of the public budget, on education. Inadequate funding from governments and donors has meant that many of the 30 million refugee and forcibly displaced children age out of education without ever setting foot in a classroom, despite the efforts of Education Cannot Wait and other groups.
Now, the pandemic is set to squeeze education budgets even further. As slower or negative growth undermines tax revenues, less money will be available for public services. When allocating limited funds, urgent lifesaving expenditure on health and social safety nets will take precedence, leaving education underfunded.
Likewise, intensifying fiscal pressure in developed countries will result in reductions in international development aid, including for education, which is already losing out to other priorities in the allocation of bilateral and multilateral aid. The World Bank now estimates that, over the next year, overall education spending in low- and middle-income countries could be $100-150 billion lower than previously planned.
This funding crisis will not resolve itself. The quickest way to free up resources for education is through debt relief. The 76 poorest countries must pay $106 billion in debt-service costs over the next two years. Creditors should forgive these payments, with a requirement that the money is reallocated to education, as well as health.
At the same time, multilateral financial institutions and regional development banks must increase their resources. The International Monetary Fund should issue $1.2 trillion in Special Drawing Rights (its global reserve asset), and channel these resources toward the countries that need them most.
The World Bank, for its part, should unlock more support by replenishing the International Development Association (or borrowing on the strength of it) for low-income countries, and by using guarantees and grants from willing aid donors, such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, which stand ready to unlock billions in extra finance for education in lower-middle-income countries through the International Finance Facility for Education.
In the next week, both NGOs and all international education organizations will begin “back to school” campaigns. Save Our Future, a new campaign launching in late July, advocates building back better, rather than restoring the pre-pandemic status quo. That means updating classrooms and transforming curricula, implementing effective technologies, and helping teachers offer personalized instruction.
Making schools safer (over 620 million children lack basic sanitation services at their schools, which particularly affects girls) and ensuring school meals (a lifeline for 370 million boys and girls) would also ease the effects of poverty and improve educational outcomes. Save the Children will add to this pressure with its own grassroots campaign focused on debt relief to pay for education.
But investing in schools is only part of the solution. In Sierra Leone, support networks for girls halved the dropout rate during the Ebola crisis. In Latin American, African, and Asian countries, conditional cash transfers have boosted school attendance. The latest Global Education Monitoring Report advocates implementing similar programs today.
Generation COVID has already suffered immensely. It is time for the international community to give children the opportunities they deserve. Even when faced with momentous challenges, we must remain committed to making ours the first generation in history in which every child is in school and learning. Both national governments and the international community must now step up collective efforts to achieve that goal.


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