HEADLINES: Refugees

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Earlier this week, John Mpaliza passed through Geneva during his walk throughout Europe to raise awareness on the plight of his native DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), where “continuing violence and suffering” has led to “hundreds of thousands of people being displaced almost a decade after the civil war officially ended.”  Mpaliza fled the Congo twenty years ago at the age of 22 and now lives in Italy.  Over the course of his journey, which runs from his home in northern Italy all the way to Brussels, he has met with the UNHCR in Geneva, and plans to meet with the leaders of major European institutions in Brussels to discuss his work.  He also hopes to build awareness and attention on the grassroots level as he travels throughout rural Europe.  His journey has been very successful so far, and there is even a documentary that is being produced about his work.  Several people have spontaneously joined him and his avid supporters, several of whom also have personal connections to the Congo. [UNHCR]

Despite Australia’s recent passage of legislation allowing greater access to legal immigration for asylum seekers, as many as 100 people are dead or missing in a shipwreck outside of Java.  Thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia board suspect boats every year in desperate attempts to cross over into Australia to look for work.  Prime Minister Julia Gillard lamented, “It’s a big ocean; it’s a dangerous ocean.  We’ve seen too many people lose their lives trying to make the journey to Australia.”  This shipwreck will be the biggest loss of life in an accident of its kind in recent years.  The Sidney Morning Herald ran a heartwrenching story of a ten year-old Afghani boy, Omed, who was the lone survivor from his family.  The refugees, “told traumatic stories of watching relatives die in the ocean after the “old and broken” fishing boat they were using sank.”  The asylum seekers said that, “as they clung to debris and lifejackets, watching their friends drown around them, five ships passed them but refused their pleas to stop and help.”  Only 54 of the original 160 asylum seekers survived the wreck. [Sydney morning Herald] [Nytimes]

Violence in Mali continues to escalate as hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced internally, fleeing the Northern regions where Islamic extremists have gained increasing influence.  As of this week, 430,000 people have fled the north, effectively depopulating some towns and cities, in addition to the many hundreds of thousands of refugees that are already living in camps in neighboring Mauritania.  BBC journalist Mike Thomson interviewed one family who had been forced to flee from the Northern town of Gao.  The mother is quoted as saying, “we knew we couldn’t last much longer and the violence was getting worse.”  She goes on to tell of how she could no longer go to the market in her hometown because of the violence.  She recounts one instance where an acquaintance was shot in the leg after she refused a man’s advances.  The violence and discrimination seems unlikely to abate, however, and more and more refugees will be forced to flee from their homes and seek safety elsewhere. [BBC]

August was the worst month yet for Syria’s growing refugee crisis, as more than 100,000 people fled Syria into its neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.  Additionally, more than 4000 people were killed this month, including 380 in one day, August 25th.  That puts the total death toll at roughly 20,000 people.  This influx of refugees has left Syria’s neighboring countries scrambling to meet the need, leaving refugee camps often times lacking the infrastructure and support they need. The international community, however, has continued to remain hesitant to commit to any intervention in the Syrian crisis.  [Economist] [BBC]

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