The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has said that there are about 218,000 Nigeria refugees in Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.
Addressing a news conference in Abuja on Wednesday, the UNHCR country representative, Mr Anthonio Canhandula, urged the Federal Government to create conditions that would facilitate the return of the refugees to the country.
Mr Canhandula added that Nigeria is currently housing 46,000 refugees from Cameroon, which is spread across Benue, Cross River and Taraba States.
He also noted that only 1.2 million of the 1.8 million accessible Internally Displaced Persons are receiving assistance – a situation which he believes requires urgent attention.
About 133 Nigerian refugees comprising mostly women and children who fled Nigeria for Cameroon in the wake of the Boko Haram insurgence in the northeast have returned to the country.
The returnees touched down at the Yola International Airport aboard the Nigerian Air Force C130 at about 5:00 pm on Thursday.
They were accompanied by officials of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, UNHCR, IOM, NAPTIP, security agencies and other humanitarian organisations.
Upon their arrival, they were taken to a facility within the Yola International Airport where food was provided for them before going through a screening process.
According to the UNHCR Representative, Roger Volo, the exercise is a voluntary repatriation because the refugees voluntarily signed to return to their ancestral homes.
Also speaking on the repatriation, the newly sworn in Minister for Humanitarian Services, Disaster Management and Internally Displaced Persons, Sadiya Faruk who was on ground to receive the refugees, assured them that government will take care of their welfare.
There are about 97,000 Nigerians taking refuge in Cameroon out of which 8,000 are from Adamawa state while the rest are indigenes of Borno and Yobe State.
According to the Minister, the evacuation of the refugees will continue until all those who are willing to return are brought back home.
Narrating her ordeal, one of the returnees, Amina Saidu, lamented that while in Cameroon, she and her family had to endure so much hardship.
“We were in Cameroon for five years but I left my husband there because he wanted to harvest his farm before returning home in the next batch.
“While in Cameroon we suffered, we didn’t have water and we suffered a lot to fetch fire wood for our cooking. Whenever they give us food, we eat half of it while we sell the other half to meet our other needs. We were not given other condiments except salt, so we need money to buy other food items.
“We are very happy to be back home. We thank God and also the government for bringing us back home,” she said.
The Adamawa State Governor who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Basir Ahmed, said he was delighted about their return.
Some 3,500 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have been cleared to return home to Myanmar beginning this week, a top official said Monday, nearly two years after a military crackdown sparked their exodus.
Some 740,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in August 2017 from a military offensive in Myanmar – joining 200,000 already there – but virtually none have volunteered to return despite the countries signing a repatriation deal.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam, however, said he was “optimistic” about a new repatriation process scheduled to start on Thursday.
A previous attempt in November 2018 to return 2,260 Rohingya failed after they refused to leave the camp without guarantees for their safety.
“Everything is ready… the land transit point has been prepared,” Kalam told reporters after a meeting with Myanmar officials in Cox’s Bazar, southeast Bangladesh, where the refugees live in vast camps.
“Nobody will be forced to return unless they volunteer,” he said.
Bangladesh and Myanmar officials plan to repatriate 300 Rohingya each day, with some 3,500 refugees cleared to make the journey home, Kalam said.
The new push follows a visit last month to the camps by high-ranking officials from Myanmar led by Permanent Foreign Secretary Myint Thu.
Sunday will mark the second anniversary of the crackdown that sparked the mass exodus to the Bangladesh camps.
Kalam said Myanmar and United Nations officials were meeting with selected refugees on Tuesday to encourage them to return to Rakhine State.
The Rohingya, who are mostly Muslim, are not recognised as an official minority by the Myanmar government which considers them Bengali interlopers despite many families having lived in Rakhine for generations.
The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) has called for additional efforts from states and the Federal Government to alleviate the sufferings of Nigerian refugees in neighbouring countries as well as Internally Displaced Persons living in camps across Nigeria.
Speaking at a news conference ahead of the 2019 International Day for Refugees in Abuja, the country’s representative for the UN agency, Antonio Canhandula, noted that recent crisis in Zamfara and Sokoto States have swelled the numbers of Nigerian refugees in Niger and Cameroon.
According to him, there is an urgent need to improve the quality of response to the IDPs.
He also maintained that its time for countries that are a signatory to the Kampala Convention to domesticate the terms of 2009 agreement, which seeks to protect the rights of refugees and IDPs.
Migrants and refugees have been shot and wounded in a detention centre south of Tripoli as Libyan fighters battle for control of the capital, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Friday.
Clashes between Libya’s Tripoli-based unity government forces and fighters of military commander Khalifa Haftar have raged since April 4, when the strongman launched an assault to seize the capital.
The UN and international NGOs have warned that thousands of migrants and refugees who fled violence at home and are now trapped in Libyan detention centres are facing enormous dangers and must be evacuated.
On Wednesday the UN refugee agency UNHCR said it had evacuated 325 asylum seekers from the Qasr Bin Ghashir detention centre a day after an attack against refugees and migrants. It was not clear who carried out the assault.
“While there were no bullet wounds, 12 refugees endured physical attacks that required hospital treatment,” a statement said.
But on Friday MSF said, “an analysis of existing photographic and video evidence by MSF medical doctors concluded that injuries shown are consistent with gunshot wounds”.
“These observations are further supported by numerous accounts from refugees and migrants who witnessed the event and reported on being brutally and indiscriminately attacked with the use of firearms,” it said.
MSF published video footage showing several people bleeding from what appeared to be bullet holes in limbs and other parts of their bodies.
“To say we were outraged is an understatement,” MSF head of emergency programmes Karline Kleijer was quoted as saying in the statement.
“Mere condemnation of the violence against migrants and refugees is meaningless unless immediate action is taken by the international community to evacuate the remaining thousands.”
MSF said that over 700 unarmed men, women and children were trapped in the Qasr Bin Ghashir detention centre.
The watchdog said residents of the centre have been moved to another detention camp west of Tripoli on Wednesday and Thursday.
“While they are no longer in the direct vicinity of fighting, people are still subjected to dangerous and degrading conditions and rapidly changing conflict dynamics that continue to pose a threat to all those locked up in detention centres in and around Tripoli,” it warned.
Human Rights Watch has also sounded the alarm.
It quoted two migrants from a detention centre in an eastern suburb of Tripoli and a third one who was detained in the centre of the capital as saying armed men have forced them to work for them.
In one instance two detainees said they were ordered to repair military vehicles and “to load, unload, and clean weapons”, including machine guns, HRW said.
Libya, long a major transit route for migrants desperate to reach Europe, is home to around 6,000 migrants who are held in official detention centres, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Hundreds more are held by armed groups elsewhere in the war-hit country.
Bangladeshi police have arrested 10 Rohingya refugees as they were about to board a boat to travel to Malaysia, an officer said Friday.
Southeast Bangladesh is home to around a million Rohingya, most of whom fled Myanmar last year following a military crackdown and are now in vast camps.
There are fears that with the current calmer weather, many may try to reach other more prosperous countries by boat by paying often unscrupulous traffickers.
The elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) said it stopped the six young women and four men at Shah Porir Dwip, a coastal station, on Thursday night before they could board a boat on the Naf river estuary dividing Bangladesh and Myanmar.
“They were about to head to Malaysia through the Bay of Bengal. The girls won’t be aged more than 22 years. They were tempted that they can get married with well-off persons in Malaysia,” RAB Cox’s Bazar chief Mahedi Hasan told AFP.
People smugglers in recent years have taken tens of thousands of Rohingya to Malaysia before Bangladesh launched a crackdown in 2015 after Thai authorities discovered mass graves and overcrowded boats drifting at sea.
Hasan said the women paid $100 each to traffickers and the men paid nearly $250. “Each of them was supposed to pay another 200,000 takas (nearly $2,500) once the boat crosses Thai waters,” he said.
A Bangladeshi trafficker was also arrested, he added.
RAB said two of those who were arrested came to Bangladesh from Myanmar in 2000-2001. The rest were part of an exodus of around 720,000 last year.
Early this month the Bangladeshi coastguard intercepted a boat in the Bay of Bengal carrying 33 Rohingya to Malaysia.
The sea tends to stay calm between November and March. During this time of year, even small boats can travel long distances via the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
Six people were killed early Friday after a blaze tore through an overcrowded Rohingya camp for the persecuted minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the local fire service said.
Global attention has focused on the 720,000 Rohingya Muslims forced from the state’s north into Bangladesh last year by a brutal military crackdown.
The UN Human Rights Council has accused top Myanmar generals of genocide over the bloody campaign, allegations the country strongly denies.
But less visible are the 129,000 Rohingya confined to squalid camps further south near the capital Sittwe following an earlier bout of violence in 2012.
Hundreds were killed that year in riots between Rakhine Buddhists and the stateless minority, who were corralled into destitute camps away from their former neighbours.
The conflagration in Ohndaw Chay camp, which houses some 4,000 Rohingya and lies 15 miles (24 kilometres) from Sittwe, started just before midnight and lasted several hours, fire department official Han Soe told AFP.
“Six people, one man and five women were killed,” he said, adding that 15 communal longhouses were also destroyed in the blaze thought to have been started in a kitchen accident.
“We were able to bring the fire under control about 1:10 am this morning and had put it out completely by around 3 am,” he said.
A total of 822 people were left without shelter, local media reported.
Conditions in the camps are dire and Rohingya trapped there have virtually no access to healthcare, education and work, relying on food handouts from aid agencies to survive.
Access into the camps is also tightly controlled, effectively cutting their inhabitants off from the outside world and leaving their plight largely forgotten.
Fires in the camps are common because of “severe” overcrowding, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Many camp residents have built makeshift extensions to their shelters to create more space for their families. So when a fire breaks out, it is more likely to spread quickly,” said OCHA spokesman Pierre Peron.
Hla Win, a Rohingya man from a nearby camp, told AFP that fire trucks were slow to arrive along the dilapidated roads from Sittwe and the lack of water also hampered efforts to extinguish the blaze.
“We have no ponds near the camps,” he said. “That’s why the fire destroyed so much.”
Myanmar has vowed to close nearly 20 of the camps around Sittwe in the coming months.
Rights groups say the move will achieve little without ending movement restrictions or granting Rohingya a pathway to citizenship.
Spain’s Supreme Court has ordered Madrid to take in more refugees after ruling it had not honoured its EU commitment to accept least 16,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, it announced Wednesday.
“More than six months after the deadline expired, a report by (Spain’s) Office for asylum and refugees recognises that the current track record with respect to its final obligations is below 13 percent,” the court said in a ruling dated July 9 but released on Wednesday.
As a result, Spain must “continue the procedure” to take in refugees, the court added, but stopped short of fining the government.
In September 2015, at the height of the migrant crisis in Europe, EU member states reached a deal to share out 160,000 asylum-seekers who had arrived in Italy and Greece within two years, to ease the pressure on both countries.
Spain had pledged to take in at least 16,000 migrants.
Like Spain, most countries have not met their commitment and many migrants have left Italy and Greece of their own volition rather than wait to be transferred.
Since then, more and more migrants crossing the Mediterranean have chosen to head for Spain rather than Italy or Greece.
With 15,426 arrivals so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, Spain has already overtaken Greece and is set to catch up with Italy.
France is to double the number of French lessons it offers to refugees to 400 hours in order to help them integrate, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, announced Tuesday.
The extra lessons are part of immigration reforms under President Emmanuel Macron intended to balance swifter deportation of rejected asylum seekers with better support for those allowed to stay.
The lessons will rise to 600 hours for new arrivals who are particularly struggling to learn the language, Philippe said after the first meeting of an inter-ministerial committee set up to work on the integration question.
Philippe said French efforts to integrate migrants had until now “lacked ambition”, adding that the country needed a policy “worthy of our republic for all those to whom we give the right to stay in France”.
He did not say how much the scheme would cost.
Extra language lessons were proposed as part of dozens of measures in a report by Aurelien Tache, a lawmaker from Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party, which he estimated would cost a total 607 million euros ($710 million).
France will also double to 24 hours the “civic training” courses given to refugees, designed to explain French values as well as practicalities such as how to obtain work, healthcare and housing.
Many recent arrivals find the barrage of information in the current 12-hour course overwhelming, but Philippe said an understanding of fundamental French values such as liberty, fraternity and equality was “not an option but an obligation”.
Immigrant parents will also be offered free childcare during their French lessons, while those turning 18 will have access to a new 500-euro “culture pass” for young people to spend on museum trips and other cultural activities.
Philippe said the measures, which will also include better help for immigrants in finding jobs, were an investment in France’s “national and social cohesion”.
France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year and offered refugee status to around 30,000 people while deporting 14,900.
Though the notorious “Jungle” camp in Calais was cleared in 2016, increasing numbers of migrants have been camping along the canals in Paris in recent months, many from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan.
On Monday police began evacuating around 1,000 migrants from two makeshift camps, five days after another 1,000 were taken to temporary lodgings.
International aid groups on Monday warned countries hosting Syrian refugees in the Middle East and the West against forcing them to return or discussing measures to that effect.
A report by several leading humanitarian organisations — including the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International — spoke of an alarming trend advocating for deportations.
“Hundreds of thousands of refugees are at risk of being pushed to return to Syria in 2018, despite ongoing violence, bombing and shelling that are endangering the lives of civilians,” it said.
The report, entitled “Dangerous Ground”, observed that measures to send refugees back to their homes in Syria were increasingly prominent on the agenda of host countries.
“As the military situation changed in Syria, and against a backdrop of increased anti-refugee rhetoric and policies across the world, governments began in 2017 to openly contemplate the return of refugees to the country,” it said.
The number of refugees who returned to Syria — which has been racked by a conflict that killed at least 340,000 people since 2011 — rose to 721,000 in 2017, from 560,000 the previous year.
But the report warned that three times as many Syrians were displaced last year and that a further 1.5 million people were expected to be forced from their homes in 2018.
“Now, return would neither be safe nor voluntary for the vast majority who fled the war and the violence,” NRC Secretary-General Jan Egeland said.
“Currently, even in certain so-called de-escalation areas, we’ve seen bloodshed, targeting of hospitals and schools, and death,” he said of regions that were selected last year for truces meant to pave the way for an end to the war.
The report expressed concern over measures being discussed in Europe, including in Denmark and Germany, that could lead to forced returns.
Only three percent of vulnerable Syrian refugees so far have been resettled in wealthy countries. Most remain in countries bordering Syria, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, but rhetoric on refugee return has also picked up there.
“In Syria’s neighbouring countries, the push to return refugees has manifested itself in closed borders, deportations and forced or involuntary returns,” the report said.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the head of the Save the Children aid group that also co-authored the report, warned that many children risked being sent straight into harm’s way.
“No child should have to return home before it is safe. Right now, many parts of Syria are unsafe for children. Bombs are still falling and basic services like schools and hospitals lie in ruins,” she said.
Action Against Hunger and Danish Refugee Council also contributed to the report.
The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned Wednesday it faced its worst funding crisis ever after the White House froze tens of millions of dollars in contributions, a move Palestinian leaders decried as cruel and blatantly biased.
The agency provides Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East with services including schools and medical care, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long accused it of hostility toward Israel and called for its closure.
Some five million Palestinians are eligible for its services.
On Tuesday, the United States held back $65 million that had been destined for the agency, two weeks after President Donald Trump threatened future payments.
The United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).
“The US has announced it will contribute $60 million to the programme budget. There is for the moment no other indication of possible funding,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told AFP.
“This dramatically reduced contribution results in the most severe funding crisis in the history of the agency.”
He added that “stability in the Middle East is what we are talking about and the potential impact of UNRWA being destabilised is very likely to be widespread, profound, unpredictable and catastrophic.”
Senior Palestinian officials reacted with outrage to what they see as another move against them by Trump’s White House following his declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the freeze amounted to “cruelty” toward a “vulnerable population”.
The Palestinian envoy to Washington, Husam Zomlot, said: “Palestinian refugees and children’s access to basic humanitarian services, such as food, healthcare and education, is not a bargaining chip but a US and international obligation.”
Palestinian officials also accused Trump of chipping away at issues long considered up for negotiation as part of a comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem and the plight of refugees.
Around 500 people protested in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday against the freeze.
“Of course this decision will have negative effects and the reduction of the aid will impact our health, our education,” Ibtisam al-Sisi, in her 50s, said at the protest.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the court ruling. “Our message is clear: whoever attacks IDF (Israeli army) soldiers will pay a heavy price,” he tweeted.
France meanwhile said it “regrets” the US move and was in contact with Washington about it.
‘Why should we?’
The funding freeze comes with relations between the Palestinians and Washington already on the brink.
On Sunday, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas denounced Trump’s peace efforts as the “slap of the century,” while Palestinian leaders have threatened to suspend their recognition of Israel.
US State Department officials insisted the decision to freeze the funding was taken not to pressure Palestinian leaders but to encourage other countries to help pay for and reform UNRWA.
But the call came after a behind-the-scenes tussle between hawks who want to cut all aid to Palestinians and officials concerned about the humanitarian and diplomatic fallout.
The State Department said $60 million of what had been a planned $125 million package would go through to keep the agency running, but the rest will be withheld for now.
UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl expressed alarm and immediately called on other UN members to contribute.
Krahenbuhl said the $60 million would keep schools and hospitals open for now, but noted that it was dramatically less than the $350 million Washington paid during 2017.
The State Department’s position raised scepticism in the light of tweets sent by Trump on January 2, at the time when the $125 million contribution had been due to be paid.
“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump said.
“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel,” he protested, adding: “Why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Following Trump’s outburst, it was reported that his ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had been pushing for a complete end to US support for UNRWA.
But the United States is the biggest single source of funding for the agency, and other US officials opposed an immediate and total suspension.
Israel welcomed the freeze as a victory.
Its UN envoy Danny Danon alleged the agency misuses aid and “supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate.”
Netanyahu said during a trip to India that “this is the first time that UNRWA is being challenged,” Israeli media reported.
“For 70 years, this organisation has been perpetuating the situation of Palestinian refugees and the narrative of the abolition of Zionism.”
But many analysts, including Israelis, warn closing or crippling the agency without an effective replacement could lead to further poverty and perhaps violence.
Netanyahu said “there is always a certain amount of risk” with such decisions.
UNRWA has provided health care, emergency aid and schooling to Palestinians since 1950.
It was formed in the wake of Israel’s creation in 1948 and the war surrounding it, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either forced from their homes or fled.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “very concerned” by reports of the freeze.
“UNRWA is not a Palestinian institution, but a UN institution,” he said.
Up to 10,000 people stranded in refugee camps and detention centres in Libya could be relocated to Europe in 2018, the Italian government said on Sunday.
The initiative would be part of an attempt by EU countries to address the deteriorating conditions in Libya, where thousands of people are held captive in inhumane conditions.
“In 2018, up to 10,000 refugees will be able to come to Europe without risk, through humanitarian corridors,” Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said in an interview with the newspaper La Repubblica.
The announcement comes after a group of 162 “vulnerable” people, from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen, were evacuated from Libya and arrived by military plane in Rome on Friday.
The group included single mothers, unaccompanied children and handicapped people, and was the first time refugees and migrants had been relocated directly to Europe by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR).
About 400,000 migrants are in Libya, including roughly 36,000 children, the UN children’s agency UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said earlier this month.
In 2018, the IOM aims to repatriate 30,000 migrants to their home countries as part of a voluntary return programme.
Around 15,000 have been sent back this year.
“In accordance with the objectives of the International Organization for Migration, 30,000 migrants without right to asylum will be able to be repatriated to their countries on a voluntary basis,” in 2018, Minniti said.
“With the help of the Libyan authorities, we have constructed a new management model on the other side of the Mediterranean.”
Libya has long been a transit hub for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, but people smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business since the chaos following the 2011 revolution.
Last month, US television network CNN broadcast video footage appearing to show migrants being sold as slaves near the Libyan capital Tripoli, sparking international outrage.
International organisations are now able to “visit reception centres and improve their living conditions,” Minniti said, adding that the conditions were currently “unacceptable”.
Italy also needs to take “credible” measures to work with the Libyan coastguard to better control the “illegal” influx of migrants arriving by sea, he said.
Sea arrivals to Italy are down a third this year, from almost 180,000 people in 2016 to just under 119,000 in 2017, which includes nearly 15,000 unaccompanied children, according to UNICEF and IOM.
Hundreds of people also drowned trying to make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.