HEADLINES: Refugees

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The U.N. declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia amid drought and conflict that have left 3.7 million people, almost half the country’s population, in need of humanitarian assistance. The food- security crisis in the Horn of Africa nation is the worst since a famine in 1992, when 300,000 people died, according to Action Against Hunger, a New York-based humanitarian organization. At least $300 million is needed to address the famine. [Bloomberg and AFP]

A Burmese exile group says thousands of people are in urgent need of international assistance in northern Burma, where ethnic Kachin rebels have been under attack by government forces since early last month. The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand said Wednesday that more than 16,000 refugees are sheltering in makeshift camps near the Chinese border. It said villagers suspected of supporting the rebels have been killed and tortured and that it has documented 32 cases of systematic rape. [Voice of America]

Australia’s Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the government’s refugee swap deal with Malaysia has helped cut the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters. However, Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said there were 407 detainees on Christmas Island who had turned up in boats since the Malaysian solution was flagged as imminent three months ago. Under the deal, Australia will transfer 800 people to Malaysia while taking 4000 people who have been mandated by the UNHCR in Malaysia and waiting for resettlement. [Herald Sun]

Obama administration officials defended policies for admitting Iraqi refugees into the U.S. at a Senate hearing on preventing terrorists from entering the country. About 58,000 Iraqi refugees have come to the U.S. since 2007, with about 30,000 still in Iraq who have been approved for resettlement. The State Department has been working with Department of Homeland Security officials for the last six months to improve the security screening process for visa program and have increased efforts after the May arrests in Kentucky of two Iraqis who had entered the U.S. through the resettlement program and were charged with conspiring to provide weapons, money and other support to al- Qaeda in Iraq. [Bloomberg]

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