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The United Nations said today it is working with Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania to relocate refugees fleeing renewed fighting in Mali to safer locations away from the border areas, as thousands continue to arrive on a daily basis. The recent outbreak of conflict in northern Mali between government forces and Tuareg rebels has sent thousands of civilians fleeing to neighboring countries, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) having received reports of “significant” new arrivals over the weekend in northern Niger. UNHCR said that over 13,000 people have arrived in the past two weeks – an average of 1,000 a day – in Mauritania. The health situation is relatively stable but there are incidences of malaria, eye infection, diarrhea and respiratory infection. UNHCR health experts are working with Niger’s health authorities and medical agencies on the ground to coordinate the response. [UN News Centre]

Afghan refugee camps, populated largely with refugees who fled the fighting in areas like Helmand Province in the south, are experiencing the region’s worst winter in nearly 20 years. The Charahi Qambar site is one of the camps where shortages of food and fuel have led to young children dying of the cold during severe weather over the past month. News coverage of the deaths has galvanized the aid community and the government here, as well as donors abroad. There are 40 camps in Kabul housing repatriated refugees and other displaced Afghans where the aid response has been chaotic and disorganized, with some camps receiving little aid and others being deluged with duplicated aid. Much of the disorganization is a result of many new agencies joining the effort that had not worked in the camps before, said Aidan O’Leary, the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In all, The New York Times has confirmed the deaths of 28 children in the camps since mid-January. [NYTimes]

A top representative of the U.S. State Department was in Tennessee this week to discuss a law dealing with the state’s refugee resettlement program. The Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, which originated from the desk of State Sen. Jim Tracy, became law last July. It’s the first bill of its kind. It requires the state’s refugee program agency, Catholic Charities, to meet four times a year with local governments to plan and coordinate “the appropriate placement of refugees in advance of the refugees’ arrival.” The law also allows local communities to apply for a “moratorium” on refugee resettlement if those agencies overload local resources, and so far, Tennessee is the only state that has passed this type of legislation. [Shelbyville Times-Gazette]


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