This Week in Restoring Family Links News 2/29/16 - 3/4/16

Photo credit: IFRC

Photo credit: IFRC

Idomeni: On February 23, the Macedonian government tightened its immigration restrictions on those entering the country from Greece by reclassifying those coming from Afghanistan as economic migrants rather than refugees, effectively banning them from applying for asylum within Macedonia. The move came after a similar decision by the Serbian government, and the immediate result was thousands of Afghans left stranded on the Greek side of the border with nowhere to go. This further congested the flow of refugees from other countries trying to cross from Greece.

Frustration erupted in a full-scale riot in the Greek border town of Idomeni on Friday, when Macedonia temporarily closed the border to all. Crowds of hopeful passers ran to the border and proceeded to push down a razor-wire fence on the Macedonian side, resulting in the use of violence and tear gas by Macedonian authorities. The Greek minister for migration, Ioannis Mouzalas, stated that the estimated number of people trapped in Greece "will be between 50,000 and 70,000" before the end of this month.

Since the tightening of the rules, large makeshift refugee camps have sprouted up along the border in Idomeni, creating a bottleneck on the "Balkan refugee route" through which thousands of refugees have been passing en route to their destinations in Europe. Those in the camps live in substandard conditions, with little access to food, heat, and medical supplies. Many have no way to cook food or charge their mobile devices, and the sudden congregation of thousands in unhygienic conditions has led to a boom of disease, for which there are barely any medical staff or supplies to treat. Yet, people are still flocking to the border with hope that they will eventually make their journey to the rest of Europe, but as Greek Minister Mouzalas put it, "as long as the border crossing is closed...these people will stay  in the country for some time". 

Not all responses to the recent congestion of migrants have been negative. Many of Greece's unemployed have empathized with the refugees' plight, and several have shown up to areas of Athens such as Victoria Square, where further makeshift settlements have sprung up, to give food, supplies and medicine. Many in Greece are appalled by the conditions of the migrants and are touched by their stories, so many Greeks have adopted a helping-hand approach in contrast to the attitudes held in other European countries. As one Athenian put it, "We also have people who are hungry and need help, but these people have a bigger need".

Ugandan troops are hunting for LRA commanders in the forests of CAR. Photo credit: AFP

Ugandan troops are hunting for LRA commanders in the forests of CAR. Photo credit: AFP

Central African Republic: Since January, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group and cult in Central Africa, has abducted 217 people in the Central African Republic (CAR). This figure includes 54 children.  It is feared that the abductees have probably been forced into becoming either soldiers or sex slaves. International resistance to and awareness of the LRA has led to a large reduction in its forces, and these recent abductions seem to be an attempt to revitalize their strength. The LRA is estimated to be responsible for more than 100,000 deaths and a similar number of abductions, and their leader Joseph Kony has an ongoing warrant from the International Criminal Court to stand trial for war crimes.

The CAR also saw several deaths this week In Bambari, where a large camp for displaced persons was accidentally burnt down. This follows a trend of accidental fires among the highly populated camps of the CAR filled with people waiting to return home, but are kept away by ongoing fighting and abductions. A vast majority of these displaced persons are living with limited resources, and congregate in dangerous conditions. It is estimated that there are about 435,000 displaced persons in the CAR living in this manner, and the country can expect to see figure rise as ongoing LRA abductions and other such issues affect the country. 

Refugees in the Olympics: This week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) identified 43 prospective refugees without a country to play for the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA) for the first time in Olympic history. IOC president Thomas Bach announced that out of these 43 candidates--all of whom will be judged by their sporting ability as well as UN-verified refugee status--a final team of five to ten will play in the games.

"By welcoming ROA to the Olympics in Rio, we want to send a message of hope to all the refugees of the world" said IOC president Bach. The team will reside in the athletes' village and will process right before the hosts, Brazil, during the opening ceremony. With the announcement, the IOC continued to assure the international community against the Zika virus, slow ticket sales, and proper facilities.