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Rohingya refugees face immense health needs; UN scales up support ahead of monsoon season

INTERNATIONAL, 20 February 2018 - Critical health services must be scaled up for nearly 1.3 million people – Rohingyas and their surrounding host communities – in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, where vulnerable populations in crowded settlements and ‘mega camps’ are at risk of a host of waterborne diseases, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) warned Tuesday.

“Commendable efforts have been made by the Government of Bangladesh and partner agencies to provide health services; prevent diseases such as cholera; and rapidly control outbreaks of measles and diphtheria. However, the challenges are huge, multiple and evolving,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for (WHO) South-East Asia.

“The magnitude of the crisis requires continued efforts and generous contributions by all partners to scale up health services for the vulnerable population,” she added.

One of the largest population movements in the shortest time span began 25 August when an estimated 688,000 Rohingyas crossed from Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar – joining nearly 212,500 others who had arrived in earlier waves.

Health needs continue to be immense, particularly surrounding reproductive care. Some 60,000 children are expected to be born in the camps over the next year. Besides mothers, newborns and children, the elderly need basic health services, including for trauma and various non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and psychosocial support.

“Water and sanitation, and shelter continues to be far from optimum, increasing the risk of rapid spread of several communicable and water borne diseases,” the Regional Director said, stressing the need to accelerate efforts to address the key determinants of health on a priority.

The upcoming rainy season increases the vulnerability to waterborne diseases, such as diarrhea and hepatitis, and vector borne diseases, including malaria, dengue and chikungunya.

When the crisis first began, WHO established the Early Warning and Response System (EWARS) for rapid detection and response to disease outbreaks to minimize death and disease, which along with risk assessments, prompted Bangladesh to carry out large scale vaccination campaigns for cholera, measles and rubella, polio and diphtheria.

“The health sector is grossly under-funded and grappling to meet the needs of the affected population,” Dr. Khetrapal Singh said, appealing to international community to contribute generously and commit to support what clearly is set to be a protracted emergency.

UNHCR/Caroline Gluck
Rohingya refugees at Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Cox'z Bazar, Bangladesh, preparing for monsoon season., by UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

Living in ‘no man’s land’

At the same time, Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned on “the situation of several thousand Rohingya who have been living in a so-called ‘no man’s land’ near the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh” since end-August.

“We estimate there are some 1,300 families, approximately 5,300 men, women, boys and girls living in the area near Tombru canal,” he stated, noting that some feared returning home and wished to seek safety in Bangladesh.

He reiterated that everyone has the right to seek asylum, just as they also have the right to return home when they deem the time and circumstances right.

“People who have fled violence in their country must be guaranteed safety and protection, and must be consulted on their future,” he underscored.

Meanwhile, ahead of the monsoon season, UNHCR and partners continue to step up preparations to protect refugees, including encouraging those most at risk of floods and landslides to relocate to other areas. 

“UNHCR staff are facilitating community engagement in preparedness efforts, in particular on appropriate messaging to communities likely to be affected by landslides, floods or cyclones, and analyzing community coping mechanisms and preparedness plans,” he concluded.


South-eastern DR Congo at risk of humanitarian disaster of ‘extraordinary proportions,’ warns UN refugee agency

INTERNATIONAL, 20 February 2018 - Cautioning that the Tanganyika region in south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo could be engulfed by a humanitarian disaster of “extraordinary proportions,” the United Nations refugee agency on Tuesday urged the Government to ensure protection of civilians.

“The violence spreading across Tanganyika, which is three times the size of Switzerland with a population of some three million, has now internally displaced over 630,000 people,” Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said at the regular news briefing in Geneva, adding that this number is almost double the 370,000 who were displaced within Tanganyika in December 2016.

“People fleeing for their lives near the provincial capital Kalemie have shared stories of horrific violence during attacks against their villages, including killings, abductions and rape.”

According to UNHCR, fierce clashes between the Congolese armed forces and militias have continued since the end of January. At the same time, insecurity has increased due to violence by new armed groups and entrenched intercommunal conflict, fuelling mass displacement.

In the first two weeks of February alone, the UN agency’s partners have documented some 800 protection incidents.

Last year, more than 12,000 reports of human rights violations in Tanganyika and the nearby area of Pweto in the Haut Katanga province were documented, including violations to property rights, physical abuse, torture, murders, arbitrary arrests, forced labour, rape and forced marriages.

“Overall, already vulnerable displaced populations most often fell victim to the latest atrocities,” added the UNHCR spokesperson, noting that such acts were not only committed in the context of the ethnic conflict, but also by the soldiers deployed to fight the renegade militias and armed groups.

Less than $1 per person in need received in 2017 – UNHCR

The UN agency together with its partners are responding to the crisis. But given the scale of the calamity, is appealing for increased assistance to help the population cope.

Last year, the agency received less than $1 per person in need in donor contributions for its programmes for the internally displaced in the country. This severe lack of funding left many Tanganyika receiving hardly any humanitarian aid.

“For 2018, [we are] appealing for $368.7 million for the Congolese situation,” said Mr. Mahecic, noting that $80 million is required to support the internally displaced populations inside the country.

“[We also] call on the Congolese authorities to ensure the protection of the civilian population, to effectively follow-up any reports of crimes attributed to the armed forces and to put an end to the perception of impunity related to human rights abuses,” he added.


Targeted support, reconstruction needed as displaced Iraqis return and rebuild their lives, urges UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 20 February 2018 - Iraqi civilians, driven from their homes in fear by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, Da’esh), are now starting to make their way back home after the terrorist group has been uprooted from its bastions in the country, the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported.

According to data as of 31 January, more than 3.3 million Iraqis have returned to their areas of origin, with most coming back to their homes in the governorates of Ninewa, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and Anbar. In all, some six million Iraqis were displaced due to ISIL and the subsequent military operation to drive the group away.

“As Iraq enters the recovery phase after three years of conflict, we should remember that real reconstruction of the country will not only be based on rebuilding infrastructure,” said the head of the IOM operations in the country, Gerard Waite, in a news release Tuesday.

“Provision of specialized support to all who survived the conflict is also needed, alongside reconstruction of infrastructure.”

At the recent Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, the UN system launched a two-year Recovery and Resilience Programme, as part of which IOM will assist the Government of Iraq in addressing the multiple needs for rebuilding and reconstruction in the country.

The UN migration agency is also working on assistance efforts in areas of return, specific programmes include mobile community information centres, light infrastructure projects, housing rehabilitation, strengthening health facilities, relief kit distribution and livelihood support.

As of the some 2.5 million Iraqis yet to return to their origins, about half (51 per cent) are reportedly living in private settings – such as with families or friends – and about a quarter (26 per cent) in camps.


‘There is no plan B,’ says Guterres, reiterating UN’s commitment to two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

INTERNATIONAL, 20 February 2018 - After over a century of hostilities including 50 years of continued military occupation, Israelis and Palestinians are still no closer to peace, a United Nations special envoy said on Tuesday, warning that even as many in the region have lost hope for positive change, the enemies of peace are growing more confident by the day.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process Nikolay Mladenov delivered his latest monthly briefing to the Security Council, noting that he was doing so at a time when “regional tensions are taking an increasingly perilous turn.” 

His comments echoed remarks by UN Secretary-General António Guterres who opened the meeting by underscoring his commitment to achieving two democratic States living side-by-side in peace.

Mr. Guterres emphasized the Organization’s long-held support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressing: “There is no Plan B.

“This is a time for dialogue, for reconciliation, for reason,” the UN chief said, expressing concern that global consensus on the issue may be eroding.

Warning that “obstacles on the ground have the potential to create an irreversible one-state reality,” Mr. Guterres underscored however that: “It is simply impossible to square the circle of a one-state reality with the legitimate national, historic and democratic aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

“At this moment of grave consequence, I appeal for effective concerted action by all parties.  It is more important than ever.”

Mr. Mladenov reported on developments such as the need to maintain support for the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees across the region, UNRWA, as it faces a substantial funding shortfall.

He also spoke of the violence affecting both sides, including the killing of seven Palestinians by the Israeli security forces and the stabbing death of an Israeli civilian by a Palestinian in the West Bank.

Mr. Mladenov also said it was time to “break the cycle” in Gaza, which has been under the control of Hamas for a decade and which currently is facing what he described as a “humanitarian, economic and ecological calamity.” 

He called for Gaza to be returned to the control of the Palestinian Authority, adding that “there can be no Palestinian state without Palestinian unity.”

Mr. Mladenov also urged the international community to continue advocating for “substantial” Israeli policy changes related to the West Bank, including halting settlement construction there: something the UN considers illegal under international law.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefs the Security Council.

“In this chamber, we have often spoken of the need for leadership on both sides to reach a deal, a compromise, through negotiations that would allow Israelis and Palestinians to separate and be master of their own fate. But these negotiations would not be negotiations between equals,” he said.

“For one side is under military occupation. Its leadership has committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict through negotiation. I urge, in closing, the international community not to give up on support for the moderate Palestinian leadership or on building up the institutions that will increase the chances of success. Our window of opportunity is closing and, if we do not seize it quickly, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict will be engulfed in the whirlwind of religious radicalization that remains present in the region.”

Also addressing the Council, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed concerns surrounding the status of Jerusalem, considered holy by both Jews and Muslims as well as Christians.

He recalled the decision announced last December by United States President Donald Trump to recognize the city as Israel’s capital.

“It did so ignoring that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territory. It is occupied since 1967. And it is our capital open to all the faithful of the three monotheistic religions,” he said.

Mr. Abbas described the situation of the Palestinian people as “no longer bearable,” and he called for an international peace conference to be convened this year as a means to find a solution to the stalemate.

Israel’s representative to the United Nations Danny Danon also touched on the issue of Jerusalem, observing that the Palestinian leader had left the room prior to his presentation.

“Let me be clear: for thousands of years, Jerusalem has been the heart and soul of our people. Jerusalem has been our capital since the days of King David and Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel forever,” he said.

“We will always insist on Israeli sovereignty but even fair-minded observers would agree that under any possible agreement, Jerusalem would be recognized internationally as our capital.”

Prior to the start of Tuesday’s meeting, ambassadors observed a moment of silence in honour of one of their former colleagues, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation, who died a year ago that day.


World is failing newborns; UNICEF says global mortality rates remain ‘alarmingly high’

INTERNATIONAL, 20 February 2018 - Newborns are dying at “alarmingly high” rates in countries that are poor, conflict-ridden or have weak institutions, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Tuesday in a new report, which reveals that babies born in these places are 50 times more likely to die in the first month of life than those born in some wealthier nations. 

“Every year, 2.6 million newborns around the world do not survive their first month of life. One million of them die the day they are born,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and every newborn. Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives,” she added.

Newborn twin babies at Myanmar Refugee Camp in Bangladesh, born to their mother nine days ago after she fled her home in Myanmar.
Newborn twin babies at Myanmar Refugee Camp in Bangladesh, born to their mother nine days ago after she fled her home in Myanmar.
Newborn twin babies at Myanmar Refugee Camp in Bangladesh, born to their mother nine days ago after she fled her home in Myanmar., by UNHCR

According to the report, babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival, while newborns in Pakistan, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds.

In Japan, one in 1,111 newborn babies die in the first month of life while in Pakistan, the ratio is one in 22.

Globally, in low-income countries, the average newborn mortality rate is 27 deaths per 1,000 births, the report says. In high-income countries, that rate is 3 deaths per 1,000. 

The report also notes that 8 of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are in sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance during delivery due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions. If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average by 2030, 16 million lives could be saved.

More than 80 per cent of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, the report says.

“Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies,” Ms. Fore said.

These deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition. 

However, a shortage of well-trained health workers and midwives means that thousands don’t receive the life-saving support they need to survive. For example, while in Norway there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people, that ratio is one per 10,000 in Somalia.

This month, UNICEF is launching Every Child ALIVE, a global campaign to demand and deliver solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns. 


Civilian situation in Syria’s east Ghouta ‘spiraling out of control,’ warns UN aid official

INTERNATIONAL, 20 February 2018 - The humanitarian situation of civilians in Syria’s east Ghouta is spiraling out of control, a senior United Nation aid official has warned in the wake of escalating conflict which resulted in more than 40 civilian deaths on Monday alone.   

“I am deeply alarmed by the extreme escalation in hostilities in east Ghouta,” Panos Moumtzis, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, said in a statement issued following clashes that killed over 40 civilians and injured more than 150 injuries in the besieged enclave.

Hundreds of civilians, many of them women and children, have lost their lives or been injured in airstrikes and shelling since November. There have been daily reports about civilians being killed and others being severely wounded, in addition to warehouses, hospitals and schools being damaged or destroyed.

The recent escalation of violence compounds an already precarious humanitarian situation for the 393,000 residents of east Ghouta, many of them internally displaced, and which account for 94 per cent of all Syrians living under besiegement today.

“The humanitarian situation of civilians in east Ghouta is spiraling out of control,” Mr. Moumtzis warned, noting that the lack of access to besieged areas has led to severe food shortages and a sharp rise in food prices, malnutrition rates have now reached unprecedented levels, and the number of people requiring medical evacuations continues to surge.

“We continue to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to close to 3 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach locations across Syria, including east Ghouta, and urge all parties to the conflict to strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to protect civilians from harm,” he said.


Hailing regional efforts, senior UN official urges Latin America and the Caribbean to continue to protect people on the move

CARIBBEAN, 19 February 2018 - Recognizing Latin American and Caribbean countries as “pioneers” in the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees urged the region to bolster its standards even further given the global increase in number of people being driven from their homes.

“I encourage those States who have not yet done so, to accede to the refugee and statelessness instruments, and to move forward with extending pragmatic protection responses to those in need,” said High Commissioner Filippo Grandi, speaking at a regional consultation on the Global Compact for Refugees, in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

In his remarks, Mr. Grandi drew attention to the gaps in the international refugee protection regime and how these could be overcome. He also highlighted the need to support the displaced both at the places of origin and reception.

Further, Mr. Grandi also noted the “innovative practices” in the region to address challenges facing people on the move, such as complementary mechanisms, humanitarian visas, and national and regional migration arrangements.

Arthur Max/FM. Ministério das Relações Exteriores
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi addressing the regional consultation in Brasilia, Brazil.

“I ask you to continue doing so, especially now, when the numbers of refugees are increasing,” he added, noting that the region has more “success stories” on the inclusion of refugees and local communities than anywhere else in the world.

According to estimates, the Latin America and the Caribbean region represents about 16 per cent of the 65 million people who have been forced to leave their homes due to wars, conflicts and persecutions.

Being held on 19 and 20 February, the consultation (more information, in Portuguese) will see officials from 36 countries and territories in the region as well as civil society and other stakeholders discuss and consolidate the region’s contributions to the Global Compact on Refugees that will be adopted by the General Assembly later this year.


Ahead of Social Justice Day, UN agency calls for fair labour migration governance

INTERNATIONAL, 19 February 2018 - Many migrant workers end up trapped in low-pay, unsafe and unhealthy jobs, the head of the United Nations labour agency warned Monday, calling for the adoption of fair labour migration governance frameworks at the global, regional and national levels.

“Most migration today is linked, directly or indirectly, to the search for decent work opportunities,” said UN International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder in his message for World Day of Social Justice, which is annually observed on 20 February. 

“But many migrant workers end up trapped in jobs with low pay and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, often in the informal economy, without respect for their labour and other human rights. They often have to pay high recruitment fees to get a job, on average over a year’s wages – this makes them highly vulnerable to forced labour and child labour,” he added.

Marked this year with the theme ‘Workers on the Move: the Quest for Social Justice,’ the Day focuses on the world’s 150 million migrant workers, many of whom face exploitation, discrimination and violence and lack even the most basic protections.

“This is particularly true for women, who make up 44 per cent of migrant workers,” he said.

Mr. Guy stressed that migrant workers like all workers are entitled to fair treatment and fair treatment for migrant workers is also key to preserving the social fabric of societies and to sustainable development.

If labour migration is well-governed, fair and effective, it can deliver benefits and opportunities for migrant workers, their families and their host communities.  

Governance should be guided by international labour standards, in particular the fundamental principles and rights at work and the relevant ILO and UN conventions. The ILO’s Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration and the General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment offer further guidance.

The ILO is encouraging the adoption of fair labour migration governance frameworks at all levels – global, regional and national, including a comprehensive, integrated and “whole of government” approach that engages labour ministries together with business, and employers’ and workers’ organizations – those on the frontlines of labour markets. 

“We can choose to make labour migration a win-win situation for migrants and host communities,” he said, noting that how the international community develops and helps Member States implement a global compact on migration – to be adopted later this year – will be instrumental in determining the future course of labour migration. 

In 2007, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 20 February as World Day of Social Justice, inviting Member States to promote national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly.


United States: Planned execution of seriously ill man may amount to torture, warn UN experts

INTERNATIONAL, 19 February 2018 - Two United Nations human rights experts have urged the Government of the United States to halt the execution a seriously ill person stressing that given his health condition, the use of lethal injection could possibly amount to torture.

In a news release, Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, also expressed concern that Doyle Hamm, who is who is due be executed in the state of Alabama on 22 February, may not have received a fair trial.

The execution is set to go ahead even though Mr. Hamm has cancer and medical professionals have previously had difficulty accessing his veins, the release added.

“We are seriously concerned that attempts to insert needles into Mr. Hamm’s veins to carry out the lethal injection would inflict pain and suffering that may amount to torture,” said the UN rights experts.

The release also noted that judges have ordered a fresh medical report to be delivered by 20 February, two days before the scheduled execution.

“We urge the authorities to halt [Mr. Hamm’s] execution, annul his death sentence, and hold a re-trial that complies with international standards, as we have received information indicating that his original trial did not fully respect the most stringent due process and fair trial guarantees,” they added.

The Special Rapporteurs also said that the planned method of execution, using Alabama’s “three-drug protocol,” may also have torturous effects, because the sedative used is incapable of keeping a convict unconscious in the presence of the “excruciating pain” likely to be induced by the other drugs.

Further, Ms. Callamard and Mr. Melzer said that imposing the death penalty in a manner that constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment would render the execution arbitrary in nature and thus be in violation of the fundamental right to life.

The news release also noted that the human rights experts have written to the US Government to express their concerns about the case.

UN Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


UN chief extends condolences to people, Government of Iran in wake of tragic plane crash

INTERNATIONAL, 18 February 2018 - Deeply saddened to learn of the tragic airplane accident today near Yasuj, Iran, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has extended his heartfelt condolences to the country’s people and Government.

The Secretary-General’s statement, issued by a UN spokesperson, follows reports that a commercial plane crashed early Sunday in a mountainous region of Iran, likely killing all 66 people on board.

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