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Map exposes refugee pushbacks

28 October 20210 comments

A new interactive map that identifies the world’s eight refugee movement hot spots where borders are being slammed shut in the face of people seeking safety.

As desperate migrants face increasing and ever more dangerous ‘pushback’ efforts as they flee persecution and conflict, humanitarian groups are questioning the legality of returning people.

The vast majority of internationally displaced migrants, about 85 per cent, are in neighbouring countries but there has been a steady increase in the number of pushback from borders, especially in Europe, Central America and south-east Asia.

And the landscape is becoming more confused with the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR says refugees are now moving in tandem with economic migrants, presenting an extra challenge for international refugee protection systems.

The eight hot spots are:

Since August 2017, 895,515 Rohingya refugees, 51 per cent of them children, have fled to Bangladesh after a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

The UNHCR says the vast majority arrived in the first three months of the crisis, and an estimated 12,000 reached Bangladesh in the first half of 2018.

Thousands are living in temporary shelters in Cox’s Bazar, a town prone to monsoons. An estimated 2,500 shelters were damaged or destroyed and 21,000 refugees were displaced after nearly a foot of rain fell on camps in July.

It followed a huge blaze in March that killed at least 15 refugees in the camps. About 560 were injured and more than 400 went missing.  

Afghanistan – Pakistan
More than 120,000 people were evacuated by military aircraft from Kabul International Airport between August 13 and 30 this year. Led by the US, the operation also included the air forces of the UK, Australia, Germany, Canada, Korea, India and a host of European nations. Thousands more have tried to escape through Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan. Most have been blocked by closed borders or Taliban checkpoints.

Ethiopia- Sudan
Since war broke out in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region last November, thousands have died and more than two million people have been forced to flee.

UNHCR figures show 63,110 Ethiopians headed to neighbouring Sudan as of May this year where thousands remain in makeshift camps, 27 per cent of them children.

The UN warned of famine in the Tigray region following the Ethiopian government’s humanitarian aid blockade, calling it the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade.

Around 50 bodies were discovered in late July and early August in the Setit River bordering western Tigray and Sudan, which flows through the most troubled areas of the conflict between Tigray forces and the Ethiopian government.

The English Channel
More than 17,000 people have crossed so far this year, more than double last year’s total of 8,417. In August, a record 828 people crossed in one day. The UK government announced heavier prison sentences for migrants and people-smugglers in a bid to prevent “asylum shopping”.

The government is also considering using naval vessels to force migrant boats back to France.

Texas – Mexico
About 14,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, crossed the border and camped out in squalid conditions under a bridge in southern Texas last month.

The economic crisis caused by the pandemic coupled with the re-opening of borders over the past several months has seen some Haitians who found refuge in Latin America moving towards the US.

An estimated 8,000 were returned to Mexico, where officials have urged them to complete asylum applications.

More than 4,000 were sent back to Haiti, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), sparking criticism from humanitarian groups about returning them to a politically unstable country beset by violence and natural disasters.

The UNHCR said the pushback “may constitute refoulement”, whereby a person is sent back to a country where they face a threat to their life or freedom, a breach of international law.

Turkey – Greece
Greece has cracked down hard on migrants, and finished building a 40-kilometer fence along its border with Turkey in August, amid concerns the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan could trigger a migration crisis in Europe.

The so-called “eastern Mediterranean route” saw the continent’s biggest migratory wave since the Second World War in 2015, when 885,000 migrants used it to reach the EU.

Around 11,030 people have crossed the Turkish border to Greece so far this year, according to the European border and coastguard agency Frontex, about 25 per cent fewer than last year.

The majority travelled from Syria, Turkey and Afghanistan.

North Africa – Spain
In the western Mediterranean, 9,958 people from mainly Morocco and Algeria have entered Spain by land and sea. The region saw 16 per cent more crossings compared to last year, according to Frontex.

In May, troops were deployed to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Africa after 8,000 people swam or climbed over the border from Morocco in just two days.

A video emerged at the time allegedly showing Spanish authorities at the beach pushing desperate migrants into the water, as dozens clambered on to the rocky shore soaking wet.

Around two-thirds of the people who made it to Ceuta, including unaccompanied children, were expelled by Spanish authorities.

Belarus – Poland – Lithuania
About 5,318 have crossed the border from Belarus into Lithuania and Poland so far this year – 4,116 into Lithuania, according to Frontex.

The “eastern land borders route” has seen a sharp increase in migrants and refugees from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Amnesty International criticised Poland for the “unlawful pushback” of a group of Afghan asylum seekers who camped on its border with Belarus in late August.

“Forcing people back who are trying to claim asylum without an individual assessment of their protection needs is against European and international law,” Amnesty said.

In August, five people who attempted to cross the border died, some as a result of hypothermia.