COVID-19 Devastates Children in Sub-Saharan Africa

The U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF) says COVID-19 is having devastating consequences on millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa, as many become orphaned, making them vulnerable to many social ills.

The region is in the throes of a full-blown third wave of COVID-19. Children are often not directly affected by the deadly disease, but they are losing their parents to the pandemic.

Traditionally, when children become orphaned, the burden of looking after them falls on the grandparents. However, UNICEF spokesman James Elder, said older people are among the main victims of COVID-19. As a result, children are often shoveled off to another relative, who likely is living in dire, impoverished circumstances. The added strain and stress puts children at risk of abuse and child labor.

“We have seen the reporting of children reporting on help lines violence against them and the need for support,” said Elder. “Those things come again when children have lost the support mechanism that they previously had, which often comes from being orphaned or an economic situation where a parent simply had to leave to go elsewhere because economic opportunities have dried up due to the pandemic.”

Children who do not go to school are unprotected and open to exploitation, and Elder said COVID-19 has dealt a devastating blow to education. For example, he noted an estimated 9 million children in eastern and southern Africa haven’t returned to schools since they started re-opening

He also said many children are not getting enough to eat because of growing poverty due to pandemic-related lockdowns, and poor nutrition leads to worsening health.

“We know that routine immunization rates and things like malaria access have been slashed, as I say some by 20 percent,” Elder said. “We know that pregnant women have a great deal more difficulty getting to antenatal services. We know pregnant women have died because of that, because of things like lockdown and because health care systems are absolutely stretched…Yes, there have been unnecessary deaths of children.”

UNICEF says governments must prioritize keeping schools open and safe and is urging them to keep children in school while supplying water and sanitation to schools across the continent.

The U.N. children’s agency says it is increasing cash transfers to the most vulnerable and providing psychological support for children and their families. It says it also is working to prevent family separation and to strengthen family and community-based care during this challenging time.

Source: Voice of America

Ugandan Traders Strive to Stay Afloat Amid New COVID Lockdown

Uganda’s reinstatement of a coronavirus lockdown through the end of July is squeezing the ability of many people to earn a living. Street market traders are forced to bicycle, walk long distances or just sleep in the market.

With coronavirus infections soaring and hospitals overwhelmed, Uganda has reimposed a lockdown on transportation through the end of July.

Buses have been shut down, driving requires a permit, and only essential workers are allowed into Kampala.

While the aim is to save lives, making a living is once again a struggle for traders like Saudha Namaga, one of many forced to sleep in the market.

She wants Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to ease the restrictions.

“We are selling rotten produce. All the bananas, as you can see, we don’t have buyers,” said Namaga. “So, we are asking the president, and those who talk to him should tell him, to relax the orders. Those who are able to walk to town should be allowed to come and buy.”

The situation is even worse for shops not selling food, which Ugandan authorities ordered closed.

Ugandan police are being deployed to enforce the commands.

Area chairman Bashir Muwonge says without help, many shops won’t survive.

“If you keep imposing a lockdown, what do you think is going to happen? This means the country’s economy is falling because there is no work being done,” said Muwonge. “We have been appealing to the president to help by suspending rent payments. The economy is crashing because people can no longer maintain their businesses, even when you reopen.”

Ugandans living in the countryside are forced to walk for hours to get to town.

Lydia Nambogo walked more than five kilometers to withdraw money from her savings to feed her family, but the bank office was closed.

“I’ve been selling takeaway food, and I’ve been earning little money to take care of my family,” said Nambogo. “But we’ve been locked down, and we don’t know what’s coming next. The government isn’t going to give us food again. They should at least give us some of our little savings.”

With Uganda’s first lockdown in March 2020, the government gave flour and beans to the urban poor, which many hope will be repeated.

Ugandan Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja says they are going to identify the vulnerable.

“We are going to use a simple, some simple means of delivering support to you,” said Nabbanja. “And the vulnerable people are known.”

Meanwhile, many Ugandans can only wait for this latest wave of COVID-19 infections to recede while doing their best to keep their heads above water.

Source: Voice of America

WHO: Africa Facing Rapidly Spreading Third COVID Wave

The World Health Organization said Africa is facing a third wave of COVID-19.

WHO said cases have risen for five consecutive weeks, with 474,000 new cases since June 20. The increase indicates a more rapid spread than the continent’s second wave, which started at the beginning of the year, the organization said.

WHO blames “weak observance of public health measures, increased social interaction and movement, as well as the spread of variants” for the new wave. The so-called delta variant, first detected in India, has been reported in 14 countries, WHO said.

A lack of vaccines is also driving the wave. WHO said 18 countries have already exhausted nearly 80% of their supplies, while eight have completely run out.

Only 1% of the African population has been fully vaccinated, WHO said.

“The third wave has come with severity that most countries were not prepared for. So, the third wave is extremely brutal,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said during a weekly online briefing, according to Reuters.

He reiterated the need for rapid access to more vaccines.

Source: Voice of America

Health Officials: Blast Kills Dozens in Tigray Market

A bomb blast killed dozens of people Tuesday at a market in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as new fighting flared up in areas outside the regional capital, Mekelle.

The bomb went off in the town of Togoga west of Mekelle at about 1 p.m. local time. There were conflicting reports on whether the blast was the result of a plane dropping a bomb or artillery shells hitting the market.

Local medical officials that at least 43 people were killed, with dozens of others wounded.

Berhan Ghebrehiwet, who sells coffee for a living, said her hand was wounded during the attack.

“First they bombed the market and later they continue bombing the houses. My hand was injured from the bombing. I am suffering a lot and it is causing me great pain,” she told a reporter for VOA’s Horn of Africa Service at Hyder Hospital in Mekelle.

Health workers said Ethiopian soldiers blocked ambulances from reaching the scene of the attack.

Negasi Berhane, a Mekelle resident who suffered leg injuries in the attack, said he saw three people die in front of him, with many others left to suffer.

Ambulance driver Kahsu Tsegay told VOA he unsuccessfully tried five times to transport injured civilians to the hospital. The driver said he was barred from transporting wounded people on the grounds they had tried to help Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters.

Reuters news agency says an Ethiopian military spokesman, Colonel Getnet Adane, denied the military was blocking ambulances.

Later Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it helped the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and other parties evacuate wounded people from Togoga and transport them to a hospital in Mekelle.

“We cannot stress enough how vital it is for the medical mission to be respected and protected at all times,” ICRC official Nicolas von Arx said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department released a statement Wednesday, saying, “We strongly condemn this reprehensible act.” It said it was “gravely concerned” by the reports of the airstrike on the market.

State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Ethiopian authorities to “ensure full and unhindered medical access to the victims immediately.”

Ethiopian defense forces commander General Berhanu Jula denied the military attacked the market. The general said the attack was targeting an armed group, not civilians.

Asked if he saw armed people during the bombing, Mekelle resident Negasi said he only saw civilians.

On Tuesday, residents said new fighting had erupted elsewhere in Tigray. Residents said TPLF fighters had entered towns north of the capital, only to withdraw within hours.

Tigray has been embroiled in conflict since November, when the Ethiopian military launched an offensive to oust the ruling TPLF. Eritrea’s military has been helping Ethiopian troops battle the TPLF in the ongoing dispute.

Thousands of people have been killed and some 2 million others have fled their homes to escape the violence since fighting erupted.

Source: Voice of America

After Cameroon Government Ban from Western Regions, MSF Says Thousands Lack Healthcare

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says tens of thousands of people in Cameroon’s western regions have been deprived of lifesaving healthcare since December, when authorities stopped their services. Cameroon accused the aid group of being too close to anglophone separatists, which the group denies.

Doctors Without Borders says over 1.4 million people in Cameroon’s restive western regions need humanitarian support, with access to healthcare extremely limited.

The coordinator for the group’s operations in Central Africa, Emmanuel Lampaert, said that’s due to insecurity, lockdowns, and the targeting of health facilities.

He said mortality among vulnerable groups, such as women and children, has increased, and the government’s suspension of their support since December has made the situation even worse.

“Humanitarian and health needs have surges due to the armed violence and notably for the population and several hundreds of thousands of them who have to flee their houses, and who have barriers to access health care. Concretely speaking, this means suffering from malaria or diarrhea for children in the bush, women in labor who are unable to reach health facilities, people suffering from acute respiratory infections, women victims of sexual violence and so on,” said Lampaert.

Cameroon’s government in 2020 accused Doctors Without Borders of being too close to separatists who are fighting to create an independent English-speaking state in the majority French speaking country.

Lampaert denied the accusation and said their only goal is to save lives.

“Responding to urgent health needs is our mere and only concern. Viruses, bullets, and infections do not care which side of the crisis one is on and neither do the Doctors Without Borders. That is our DNA and that is the DNA of principled humanitarian medical action,” he said.

When contacted by a reporter, Cameroon officials would not say when the aid group, known by its French initials MSF, might be allowed to resume work in the western regions.

Cameroon’s health ministry last week reported about 30 percent of hospitals in the regions are no longer functioning due to separatist attacks.

The health ministry said several hundred health care workers have fled the separatist conflict areas in the past month alone.

Philip Ambe is a government health worker who fled flighting in the northwest town of Bafut last Sunday.

Speaking from the town of Dschang, he said MSF’s work was professional and authorities should allow them to resume saving lives.

“The government does not need to stay mute on this issue [over asking MSF to resume work] again. The situation is very pathetic. People can no longer live in the comfort of their bedrooms. People were kidnapped. Some are in the bush. It is moving from bad to worse. The only way out is dialogue so that things should come back to normal.”

MSF was one of the few groups offering free emergency care to Cameroon’s northwest and southwest populations since 2018.

MSF says community health workers it supported last year conducted over to 150,000 consultations for communities in both regions.

And a free ambulance service it initiated transported over a thousand women in labor to hospitals.

Violence erupted in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in 2017 when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority.

The military reacted with a crackdown and separatist groups took up arms, claiming that they were protecting civilians.

The U.N. says 3,000 people have since been killed and more than 750,000 displaced both internally and to neighboring Nigeria.

Source: Voice of America

Cameroon Widows Accuse Women of Enforcing Harmful Traditional Rituals

Several hundred Cameroonian widows gathered in the capital, Yaounde, to observe International Widows Day by protesting traditional practices that wives are expected to undergo when they lose their husbands.

Cameroon’s minister of women’s empowerment and the family, Marie Therese Abena Ondoua, says traditional practices that violate the rights of widows are still practiced in parts of the country.

Fifty-eight-year-old Njoukou Yebom is from Noun, a western administrative unit in Cameroon. Yebom says he regrets that he attempted to force his late younger brother’s 15-year-old wife marry him.

Yebom says that in 2018, elders in the town of Foumban where Noun is located asked him to marry his 30-year-old late brother’s wife. He was told that if he refused to marry the woman, a stranger to their family would inherit his younger brother’s property and leave with his only son. Yebom says he threatened to kill her if she refused.

Yebom’s sister-in-law reported him to the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment. He says he was arrested by the police and held in custody for attempting to steal property and threatening the girl’s life.

Other rites include forcing women to sleep with the corpses of their late husbands and to drink water used in bathing the bodies as a sign they did not kill their spouses.

Amy Banda, chair of Target Peace, an NGO that protects rights of widows, says her group wants women to stop enforcing harsh widowhood rites on peers who have lost their husbands.

“An older widow who had shared her very painful experience with us and we were feeling very sorry for her, was inflicting the same pain on her late son’s wife,” Banda said. “You do not feel better when you inflict pain on another person because you suffered from that pain. It does not make you feel much better.”

Francisca Moto, an officer in charge of the promotion and protection of the family at the women’s empowerment ministry, says harmful widowhood rites still persist in Cameroon because of illiteracy and the influence of men.

“Those repugnant practices are attached to witchcraft and so people are afraid to part from them, that they may lose their children and that is why action has to continue,” Moto said. “The first thing in case of distress is psychosocial assistance. You need to talk with her so that she can regain her strength to face life. And then one of the most important things that the ministry does is to empower widows economically because most of them are poor.”

The United Nations says it observes June 23 as International Widows Day, to draw attention to the voices and experiences of widows and to galvanize the unique support that they need.

The U.N. says the loss of a partner is devastating and magnified by a long-term struggle for basic needs, human rights and dignity.

Source: Voice of America

World Bank, African Union Partner to Buy, Distribute 400 Million COVID-19 Shots

The World Bank announced a partnership with the African Union Tuesday to finance the acquisition and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine for 400 million people in Africa.

In a remote news conference via Zoom, World Bank Managing Operations Director Axel van Trotsenburg said the World Bank is providing $12 billion to not only acquire but deploy 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — a single dose shot — in support of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative.

The announcement comes a day after African finance ministers and the World Bank Group met to fast-track vaccine acquisition on the continent and avoid a third wave of COVID-19.

Van Trotsenburg said the bank is making the financing available in an effort to address the imbalance in vaccine access between the world’s wealthy and not-so-wealthy nations.

He said, “Less than one percent of the African population has been vaccinated. Africa has been marginalized in this global effort to get a vaccine. We have to correct this unfairness; and given that this is a global pandemic, we need global solutions and global solidarity.”

The project will be a big step toward helping the African Union meet its goal to vaccinate 60% of the continent’s population by 2022.

Van Trotsenburg said the regional effort complements the work of the World Health Organization-managed COVAX vaccine cooperative and comes at a time of rising COVID-19 cases in the region.

The World Bank has already approved operations to support vaccine roll outs in 36 countries. By the end of June, the World Bank expects to be supporting vaccination efforts in 50 countries, two thirds of which are in Africa.

Source: Voice of America

New UN Report Accuses Eritrea of Committing Heinous Crimes in Ethiopia

A report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council accuses the Eritrean government of involvement in Ethiopia’s conflict in the Tigray region and of committing serious human rights violations against Eritreans who have sought asylum in Tigray.

The special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, is new to the job, although in 2017 he was part of a U.N. monitoring team whose findings resulted in the imposition of sanctions on the country.

In this, his first report since he started his mandate in November, he pulled no punches. He presented a grim picture of a government that perpetrates gross human rights violations with impunity both at home and abroad.

“There are no tangible signs of progress or concrete evidence of improvement in the internal human rights situation in Eritrea. In addition, Eritrea extended its human rights violations extra-territorially or beyond its borders during this mandate and committed heinous human rights violations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia,” he said.

Babiker said he has received allegations that Eritrean troops in Tigray carried out deliberate attacks against civilians, summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence.

He said they also allegedly took part in the abduction and disappearance of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers.

Babiker expressed particular concern about the reported destruction by Eritrean troops of two refugee camps in Hitsats and Shimelba in northern Tigray, which hosted more than 25,000 Eritrean refugees. The refugee camps are located near the two countries’ borders.

“I call on the Eritrean authorities to withdraw their forces from Tigray, to provide information about the whereabouts of the missing Eritrean refugees and to release any Eritrean refugees held in detention,” he said.

Turning to the situation inside Eritrea, Babiker said the only positive news he has to report is of the release of more than 100 Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses who were detained without charges and trial, some for over 20 years.

He urged the government to release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who have been held incommunicado for indefinite periods under inhumane conditions.

In his response to Babiker, Ambassador Tesfamicael Gerahtu of Eritrea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made no reference to an Eritrean troop presence in Ethiopia. He rejected the report, calling it politicized. He also called into question the legitimacy of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and told the Council it should be abolished.

Source: Voice of America

World Bank Says Zimbabwe’s Economy on Recovery Path

In a report this month, the World Bank predicts Zimbabwe’s economy will grow 3.9% this year even as the country sees an alarming rise in poverty levels, especially in urban areas. The report says a record 7.9 million Zimbabweans are “extremely” poor, earning less than 30 U.S. dollars a month.

Forty-one-year-old Richard Luzani is one of many unemployed Zimbabweans hoping the economy will recover and that the coronavirus pandemic will end soon.

Each day he pushes a cart full of water buckets while selling the scarce precious liquid in Hatcliffe — one of the poorest suburbs of Harare. He works with his 58-year-old father, Weluzani.

“I wish I could a get any formal job,” Luzani said. “I am just barely making a living from this hustle of selling water so that my family can survive. But so far everything is down.”

He said on a good day they go home with $5 each — but other days, nothing.

That is not case with 40-year-old Tafadzwa Gamanya in Goromonzi, a rural area about 50 kilometers east of Harare.

A World Bank report says Zimbabweans living in rural areas are doing better than their counterparts in the urban areas thanks to subsistence farming. So is Gamanya.

“This year is much better for us here. We had good rains. We have enough water to irrigate our crops until the next rain season,” Gamanya said. “I have maize and sweet potatoes; my peas are at flowering stage. I sell my vegetables to get money for sugar, for tea which we have with sweet potatoes. Our maize is enough for this year. We have nothing more to ask or cry for.”

Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government said the number of food insecure Zimbabweans has drastically fallen because of the good rains the country has enjoyed during the 2020/2021 agriculture season.

Mukami Kariuki, who heads the World Bank in Zimbabwe, says the economy could recover faster depending on how the pandemic and regional economy perform.

“Zimbabwe’s economy is expected to grow faster than its neighbors, rising from 3.9% in 2021 to 5.1% in 2022,” Kariuki said. “By comparison, the average growth rate for sub-Saharan Africa in 2021 is 2.8%. So overall, we note that the recovery of the country is on a positive trend and if sustained, this momentum will impact positively on the lives and livelihoods of people of Zimbabwe.”

An upward swing would be welcome news for Richard Luzani and millions of Zimbabweans like him. The World Bank reports 49% of the country’s population now live in poverty due to both the pandemic and ailing economy.

Source: Voice of America

UN Refugee Chief Encouraged by Changes in US Resettlement Program

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says the asylum system in the United States has become “unmanageable” and that his agency supports “a gradual improvement towards a more effective and humane migration system.”

In an interview with VOA, Grandi said such reform is a complex operation that will take years to achieve, but that he is encouraged by what he has seen from the Biden administration after a big cut in resettlements during the Trump administration.

“We support that because that is the indispensable piece in a broader exercise to handle human mobility in Central America, which includes the movement of people that are refugees because they flee from violence, from persecution, from discrimination,” he said. “That work has to be done at every level, has to be done in the countries of origin — mostly Honduras, El Salvador, to an extent Guatemala — has to be done in the countries of transit, including Guatemala itself and Mexico, and has to be done at the border.”

The maximum number of refugees allowed into the United States fell from 85,000 in 2016 to 18,000 in 2020. The Biden administration has boosted the cap to 62,500 refugee admissions this year, with plans to boost it further to 125,000.

Grandi said in addition to the decline in U.S. capacity, the coronavirus pandemic also helped to drastically affect refugee resettlement throughout the world during 2020. He said the total number of resettlements fell from about 100,000 in 2019 to 34,000 last year.

“We had to suspend resettlement travel simply because there were no more flights,” he told VOA. “We couldn’t use the routes because they were not operating. These are realities that are now being slowly overcome, but it will take some time.”

Grandi said the coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that countries “can’t cope alone” and that governments sometimes need help explaining to their citizens the value of programs to help refugees.

“They need international support, especially when they embark on policies that may be difficult, even controversial, for their own domestic audiences,” Grandi said. “International support helps explain to their populations the importance of these very good policies.”

He highlighted progress in Colombia, which in February announced 10-year protective status for 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans.

“Already more than one million Venezuelans have entered the first phase of the registration. This is amazing,” Grandi said. “And also, in a situation in which Colombia itself has difficult challenges — the pandemic, the social and political unrest, residual displacement from the conflict, the peace process. So, in the middle of all this, I think that for Colombia to embrace a very forward-looking inclusive refugee and migration policy is very important.”

However, Grandi said Colombia’s action represents “one of the bright spots in this very negative picture.”

He cited the continuing challenge of spike in the number of people being forced to leave their homes, a number that rose by 3 million people last year to reach 82.4 million at the end of 2020, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency UNHCR.

“It means that wars, discrimination, bad governance, often combined with other factors like climate change, inequality and poverty, demographic imbalances, all of this has not stopped human mobility, especially the forced aspects of human mobility,” Grandi said. “The secretary general issued many calls for a global cease-fire. Frankly, it was not really heeded.”

Despite the ongoing challenges, when asked what message he has for refugees, Grandi said, “Don’t lose courage.”

“We draw ourselves encouragement from your resilience. Don’t give up and we will be there with you to help you move on,” he said.

Source: Voice of America

Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan, Syria Among Most Dangerous for Children in Conflict

Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan and Syria top the list of the most dangerous conflict zones for children, the United Nations said Monday, accounting for nearly 60% of all violations among the entries on its annual blacklist of countries where children suffer grave abuses.

“Children can no longer be the last priority of the international agenda nor the least protected group of individuals on the planet,” Virginia Gamba, U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict, told reporters Monday at the report’s launch. “We need to give children an alternative to violence and abuse. We need peace, respect for children’s rights, and democracy.”

Gamba said the most widespread violations in 2020 were the recruitment and use of children by security forces and armed groups and the killing and maiming of children.

“We are extremely alarmed at the increase in the abduction of children by 90% compared to previous years, as well as the increase in rape and other forms of sexual violence, registering an increase of 70% compared to previous years,” she added.

More than 3,200 children were confirmed abducted in conflict situations in 2020, and at least 1,268 were victims of sexual violence, the report said.

Of the worst offenders, Gamba said Somalia had the “most violations by far,” primarily perpetrated by al-Shabab terrorists. In Afghanistan, she said the Taliban was responsible for two-thirds of violations, and the government and pro-government militias the rest.

Myanmar also ranked high on the list of grave violations, including for the highest numbers of children recruited and used, while Yemen has among the highest figures for children killed or maimed.

Attacks on schools and hospitals remained high last year at 856, mostly in Afghanistan, Congo, Syria and Burkina Faso.

“Education against girls was particularly targeted,” Gamba said.

As with everything else in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic only complicated matters.

The report found, for example, that the use of schools by militaries rose last year. Many schools were closed temporarily because of the pandemic, making them easy targets for military occupation and use.

New to the list are Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the Lake Chad Basin region.

The report contained some good news. Due to advocacy efforts, armed groups and security forces released 12,643 children. And the number of actors engaging with Gamba’s office, signing on to action plans and making new commitments toward children is growing.

However, human rights groups have criticized the report over the years, saying that double standards apply to the creation of the blacklist and that some countries escape accountability.

“We strongly urge the (U.N.) Secretary-General to reconsider his decision and hold parties to conflict all over the world to the same standard,” Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said in a statement.

“Secretary-General (Antonio) Guterres is letting warring parties implicated in the deaths and maiming of children off the hook by leaving Israel, the Saudi-led coalition (in Yemen) and other violators off his ‘list of shame,'” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “His repeated failure to base his list on the U.N.’s own evidence betrays children and fuels impunity.”

Responding to the criticism, Gamba said that regarding Israel, violations carried out during the recent fighting in Gaza would be examined in next year’s report.

She added that she did not experience any political pressure from parties in terms of who would be listed.

Source: Voice of America

UN Agency Says Cameroon Home to Half a Million Refugees

Marking World Refugee Day, June 20, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, is calling on host communities to show more sympathy and love for those fleeing crises in their home country and who are now threatened by COVID-19. The UNHCR says Cameroon is home to close to half a million refugees, mostly from Nigeria and the Central African Republic.

Portraits of famous refugees adorn the walls of the annex building of the United Nations Refugee Agency in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. Among the most famous is Somali-American supermodel Iman, who became a refugee in 1972, Jamaican singer Bob Marley and Hong Kong-born film actor Jackie Chan.

UNHCR says the exhibition is designed to encourage refugees who have given up hope. The U.N. agency says people displaced from their countries by conflict can succeed in life if they work hard.

The refugee agency says Cameroon, with a population of around 25 million, is now home for close to 2 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced Cameroonians seeking refuge.

Among the 2 million are about half a million refugees, 322,000 of whom are fleeing violence in the neighboring Central African Republic and 117,000 are Nigerians escaping Boko Haram terrorism. Others are from Niger and Chad.

Olivier Guillaume Beer is the UNHCR representative in Cameroon. He said his agency is encouraging Cameroon and the refugees to live in peace.

“This is a day where we would like to have people understand that behind these figures, you have women, you have children. Each of them with his or her own story of violence, of persecution. People lost everything. Children lost their school, they lost their friends, parents lost their jobs and they need to restart a new life in a very difficult context. On World Refugee Day, we show empathy, solidarity to these people,” said Beer.

Beer said when Cameroon reported its first cases of COVID-19 in March of last year, the UNHCR made protecting refugees a priority. He spoke on Cameroon state radio, CRTV, on World Refugee Day.

“In remote centers where they [refugees] are, we did not have isolation centers, we did not have tents, we did not have masks. So, the first thing that the UNHCR did was to support the government, support the regional health directorate to make sure that if refugees and host communities are tested positive, they can find a way to be treated,” he said.

Cameroon said it deployed mobile health workers to test the refugees for COVID-19 in remote areas.

Lawrence Diyen Jam is the highest-ranking Cameroonian government official in Garoua Boulay, an administrative unit on Cameroon’s border with the C.A.R. He said his office receives many reports of confrontations between host communities and refugees.

He said last week, many people were wounded in conflicts between Cameroonian farmers and ranchers who fled the C.A.R. with their cattle. He said Cameroonians are not happy when cattle from the C.A.R. destroy their crops, causing hunger in local communities. He said there is regular fighting between refugees and their host communities over water resources.

Twenty-seven-year-old Yussuf Abdoulaye is a C.A.R. refugee. He said in spite of the challenges, Cameroon is still more peaceful than his country. He said he is not thinking of returning to the C.A.R. soon.

Abdoulaye said he and 16 other civilians fleeing post-election violence in the C.A.R. were warmly received by Cameroonian authorities and the UNHCR in Cameroon’s eastern town of Garoua Boulay. He said the community freely offered farmland to grow corn and beans. He said he is very happy because there is peace in Cameroon. He said he is encouraging refugees to respect the country’s laws.

Ten years ago, Cameroon had fewer than 250,000 refugees.

This year, Cameroon said it offered food and mattresses to C.A.R. refugees on its eastern border and Nigerian refugees in the Minawao camp on its northern border.

UNHCR Cameroon says it has received only 23% of the $100 million it needs to take care of the growing needs of refugees in the central African state. This year’s Refugee Day theme is together we heal, learn and shine.

Source: Voice of America

Tigray Families Displaced by War, Economic and Social Crisis

Hundreds of displaced families trampled down the stairs carrying stained mattresses, logs and kindling for cooking and sacks of clothing and food.

The families, more than 5,000 people in all, had fled battles in the northern Tigray region to Shire, a historical commercial center. Now they were being forced to move again.

When they arrived in Shire after the war broke out last November, schools and universities were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic so it made sense to use the buildings as temporary shelters. But now, the government wants students back in school, and one week ago, Axum University was evacuated.

“Authorities told us a month ago we had to leave,” said Kidan Weldemariam, a 47-year-old mother of eight on the day of the evacuation. “Since then, they have come every few days. The only difference is — now they are using force.”

As families packed, officials from the United Nations also briefly visited the camp. Scores of people crowded around as one official spoke to a soldier in uniform. She said that the new camp is not ready and the move is unjust. But when reminded her office helped coordinate this move, the official quickly conceded and told people to follow the soldiers’ orders.

Outside the building, three-wheeled vehicles known as “Bejajes” in Ethiopia lined up to transport the families to a location where the new camp was being set up. It is the cheapest way to travel in this part of Tigray and young men tied mattresses to the roofs of the blue cabs.

As droves of people continued to hustle up and down the stairs, Haben Tariq, 12, watched the action. “What do I do?” he asked.

Families were leaving as units, but he was alone. Like thousands of other children, he and his parents were separated as they fled the war last year.

“How can I find my mother?” he said. “Maybe if I tell my story she will find me?”

Refugee day

Worldwide, more than 80 million people are living outside their homes, forced to flee war or persecution, according to United Nations statistics. Nearly 60% remain in their home countries, sometimes forced to flee the same conflict over and over.

On June 20, the U.N. recognizes World Refugee Day, but there is not much to celebrate. In the past 10 years, the global population of forcibly displaced people has more than doubled.

In Tigray, many displaced families were split up in the chaos, with about 2 million people fleeing within Ethiopia and more than 60,000 others crossing the border to take refuge in Sudan.

At another camp in Shire, families crowd into tents propped up in the dirt surrounding classrooms, where as many as 35 people sleep in a room. With a newborn baby strapped to her back, Alem Belay, 26, said she hadn’t spoken to many of her family members since the war began last November.

Her family fled to Sudan, but she was pregnant at the time, so she couldn’t go with them. Alem fled to the nearest “safe” town, where her farm animals were confiscated and her husband was arrested.

“They said to him, ‘We know you are a fighter; where is your gun?’” Alem said. “He didn’t have a gun, but they took him, and our cattle.”

Long crisis

War in Tigray first broke out last November after months of heightened tensions.

Then, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front attacked northern federal bases and the Ethiopian National Defense Force swept through the region. Eritrean forces are now fighting alongside the federal government and both the Eritrean and Ethiopian sides have associated militias.

Civilians in Tigray have reported widespread looting, beatings and mass killings. Hundreds of women and girls have reported being raped by soldiers and many more assaults are believed to have gone unreported. The U.N. warns famine is occurring in some places.

And on top of these horrors, the economy has been crushed. Cities are packed with displaced families, while farms go untended and food is not grown.

“I was a farmer with good lands and I grew sorghum,” said Belay Abera, 67, as he packed his few things to move out of an Axum University dorm room. “But I was displaced just before the harvest and arrived here with nothing.”

Source: Voice of America

Violators to Come Under Scrutiny at UN Human Rights Council

Countries accused of abusing their peoples’ human rights will come under the lens of the U.N. Human Rights Council over the next three weeks. Dozens of thematic issues and country reports on topics including the COVID-19 pandemic will be addressed during the session, which begins Monday.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, will present an oral update on the human rights crisis unfolding in Myanmar since the military coup there on February 1. Her report is likely to reflect condemnation of the military leaders’ violent crackdown on the civilian population and, what she sees as a looming threat of civil war in the country.

The council also will hear updates on the human rights situation in other countries, including Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, South Sudan, and Syria. Separately, observers view events in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region as one of the most serious human rights issues around.

The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, says reports of imminent famine, summary executions, rape and other atrocities perpetrated in Tigray warrant action by the Human Rights Council. He is calling for the adoption of a resolution condemning these practices at this session.

“A resolution should clearly name the governments,” he said. “We know that Ethiopian government forces have been major perpetrators of these crimes along with, as you mentioned, the Eritrean forces. It is important to recognize the Eritrean forces did not invade Tigray. They were invited in by the Ethiopian government.”

Violence erupted in Tigray in November when forces of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation front attacked federal military bases in the region. The Ethiopian government responded with the use of military force.

High Commissioner Bachelet also will present a report on police violence and systemic racism against people of African descent. The death of African American George Floyd while in police custody in the United States last year triggered a special council session one year ago.

Roth says he believes the report should have a strong focus on the United States. He adds, however, that systemic racism is a global problem and should be treated as such.

“Our concern is really that the council creates some kind of mechanism to continue this. It is not just a one-off report, but there is a more systematic effort to address root causes and to push for accountability…I do not say that at all to try to minimize the situation in the U.S. The U.S. should be a critical focus of those efforts,” he said.

The council’s last session in February focused on efforts to combat COVID-19-related violations. Bachelet will present a report on how states are responding to the pandemic. COVID-19 also will feature as a sub-theme into reports and panel discussions this session.

Source: Voice of America

Millions of Refugees Face Hunger as Donor Support Withers

GENEVA – Ahead of World Refugee Day, the World Food Program is appealing for international support for millions of destitute refugees, many of whom are facing hunger because money to feed them has dried up.

The World Food Program assists more than 115 million people in 80 countries. Currently, it has received just 55 percent of the $15.3 billion it needs to implement its life-saving operations this year.

To make ends meet, it has been forced to make draconian cuts in food rations for millions of refugees across eastern and southern Africa, as well as the Middle East. WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri says in eastern Africa alone, nearly three-quarters of refugees have had their food rations cut by half.

“In Southern Africa, refugees in Tanzania who depend entirely on WFP assistance have had their rations cut by almost one-third,” said Phiri. “Significant funding shortages for the Syria Regional Refugee Response mean 242,000 refugees in Jordan may be cut off from assistance at the end of August unless more funding is received.”

Phiri says the WFP urgently requires $4.5 billion over the coming six months to restore those benefits.

“If we do not get money, we may be forced to prioritize further or even to suspend activities. This will affect vulnerable groups depending on WFP support, particularly malnourished children,” said Phiri. “You have other vulnerable groups or other populations of concern. Pregnant and expecting mothers, nursing mothers. They are all parts lumped together in that category that we refer to as refugees.”

The U.N. refugee agency says a record number of more than 80 million refugees and internally displaced people have been forced to flee their homes because of war, violence, and persecution. It says most of those forcibly displaced live precariously on the margins of society, with little hope of returning home any time soon.

As nations prepare to commemorate World Refugee Day, the World Food Program is urging donors not to turn their back on the most vulnerable people when they need their support more than ever.

Source: Voice of America