News Update – 6 January 2016

Our weekly news update on refugee issues around the world by Isobel Fraser.

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, focussed on the plight of refugees in his New Year’s Day message and urged people to show generosity to refugees in order to combat extremism. Addressing the British public Welby said: “In today’s world hospitality and love are our most formidable weapons against extremism”.
  • Over 1 million refugees and migrants fled to Europe by sea in 2015, UNHCR figures showed at the end of last year. The landmark figure, which was reached late on December 29, also indicated that 84 percent of those arriving in Europe came from the world’s top 10 refugee producing countries, strengthening UNHCR’s belief that most of the people arriving in Europe were fleeing war and persecution. Over 3,700 people died attempting the crossing, among them Alan Kurdi, the image of whom sparked a wave of global support for refugees.
  • The UK met its 2015 target of resettling 1,000 Syrian refugees before Christmas as part of its 20,000 refugee resettlement program. More than 50 local authorities have taken a share those who have already arrived. At Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron told the Commons that the government was providing funding so the refugees get access to housing, healthcare and education. The Refugee Council’s head of advocacy Lisa Doyle welcomed the news, and said the refugees would have their lives “transformed, if not saved” by the UK resettlement programme.
  • Documents obtained by a human rights activist have shown that a Somali asylum seeker allegedly raped on Nauru had not ruled out having an abortion when she was flown back from Australia to the facility. The documents suggest that the woman, known as Abyan, had been sent back to Nauru as the Australian Border Force had warned: “There is a risk that once in Australia [Abyan] will seek to join legal action which would prevent her return”.
  • Lawyers representing asylum seekers who were left stranded on a British military base in Cyprus after coming ashore last year have accused the British government of shirking their legal responsibilities to the group. Tessa Gregory of the law firm Leigh Day, speaking on behalf of many of the asylum seekers said there was a “clear breach” of obligations by British authorities and announced that she would be seeking a judicial review of the case.
  • In an open letter to David Cameron 27 organisations have identified the UK government’s response to the global refugee crisis as “clearly inadequate” and have called on Britain to take a “fair and proportionate” of refugees from Europe. Organisations including Oxfam, the Refugee Council and Amnesty International identified the government’s response to the crisis as “too slow, too low and too narrow” and also called for the opening of safe and legal routes to the UK for those seeking asylum.
  • Sweden introduced checks on those travelling across the country’s southern border with Denmark, requiring all travellers to produce identification in order to cross the border and prompting Denmark to mirror the moves. The Danish premier, Mr. Rasmussen, announced an increase in border controls and police presence along the country’s southern border with Germany in response to the moves by Sweden.
  • The International Development Committee, made up of MPs from across the House of Commons, has joined a Save the Children campaign calling for the UK to take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe on top of its current Syrian refugee resettlement plan. In a newly released report, the committee warns that ““We are very concerned about the plight of unaccompanied refugee children in Europe, particularly as reports suggest they are falling prey to people traffickers.”
  • France is to build its first refugee camp in over a decade, with space for 3,000 people. The camp, partly a response to the informal Jungle refugee camp in Calais, which the French government does not provide support for, has received criticism from some quarters in the UK, with one Conservative MP saying that he was concerned the camp will encourage more people to attempt to enter the UK.
  • A Sudanese man arrested in August after walking the length of the Channel tunnel has been granted asylum. Charged with obstructing a railway, Abdul Haroun had been in jail since his arrival in the UK and there are now calls for the charges against him to be dropped. Last year 79 percent of Sudanese asylum applications were granted refugee status in their initial decision.