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Iraq: Education access still a challenge in former ISIL-controlled areas

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2020, Culture and Education - More than two years after the defeat of ISIL in Iraq, some children in areas formerly controlled by the terrorist group still cannot access school or get the necessary documentation required for enrollment, a UN report published on Monday finds. 

The joint study by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN human rights office, OHCHR, is based on interviews and group consultations with 237 children, young people and teachers at six camps for displaced persons (IDPs) in Ninewa governorate and in the cities of Mosul and Erbil. 

Some children in are still unable to receive education in the aftermath of the territorial defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, saying they can't access schools or obtain key documentation necessary for enrolment. New report: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25563&LangID=E  @UNIraq
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Several interviewees reported that restrictions on their movement  meant they could not move freely in and out of the camps, thus preventing them from attending school and other daily activities. 

“Many children who were in school when living under ISIL control are now young adults, making them too old to attend mainstream schools and are left with no alternative options.  

These challenges are creating a marginalized generation of children and young adults, many of whom are or will be entering adulthood without any post-primary schooling”, according to the report titled The Right to Education in Iraq: Part One - The legacy of ISIL territorial control on access to education

As one boy told the authors: “There is no future in the camp anyway, what am I going to do here? Why do I need an education for this life? It has been so long since we were at school, our minds feel closed to learning, some of us can no longer even read and write. We have no support to overcome these things. Even if I could take the exams, I would not pass them. I don’t see a future for myself.” 

Right to education essential 

The activities of ISIL, also known as Daesh, have been well-documented. 

Since 2014, fighters carried out a campaign of violence, oppression and systematic human rights violations, leaving behind death, destruction and displacement. 

Of the approximately 1.4 million people uprooted by the crisis, 658,000 are children, almost half of whom are not in school. 

Although ISIL sustained military defeat in Iraq in 2017, some counter-insurgency operations continue. Additionally, families perceived as having affiliations with the group have had wider restrictions imposed on them. 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the importance of the right to education for children and young people cannot be overstated.  

“Inclusive, quality education is not just a right in itself but it is essential for the full realization of a range of other human rights. Education literally has the power to transform lives and make dreams come true”, she said. 

IOM/Muse Mohammed
Mohammed, 10, sits on the staircase of the former house he used to hide with his family in Mosul.

Education can also protect young people when they are at a particularly vulnerable age, the authors added. 

“Children and young adults who are unable to attend school are especially at risk, leaving them on the margins of society and open to radicalization or other criminal activity,” they said. 

“The loss of childhood during the ISIL years, including the lack of educational opportunities and the limited access to mental health and psychosocial support, can result in cycles of violence, both in public and private sphere, that directly prevent youth from reaching their full potential.” 

Recommendations for the future 

The report concludes with recommendations for the Iraqi authorities. 

While acknowledging Government efforts to ensure access to education, measures should be implemented to allow people to obtain civil documentation. 

The Government should also provide accessible primary and secondary education to all Iraqis, including those in IDP camps. 

Measures can include increasing the number of schools and teaching hours, and expanding alternative education programmes.  Teachers can also be trained in how to teach students who have suffered trauma. 

The report was shared with the Government and integrates comments received from the Ministry of Education.  

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World must ‘act and deliver’, match Pakistan’s compassion for refugees, says UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2020, Migrants and Refugees - Pakistan’s solidarity and compassion for hosting Afghan refugees is a remarkable blueprint that the rest of the world should follow.  

That’s the message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who spoke at an international conference in Islamabad – where he also called for a renewed push for peace in Afghanistan. 

“Working towards solutions for the Afghan people is not just a sign of solidarity; it is in the world’s best interest,” added Mr. Guterres.   

The UN chief spoke alongside Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which jointly convened the conference with the Government of Pakistan.  

For his part, Mr. Grandi said Pakistan, and Iran, had been with Afghan refugees through “bitter times of hardship and loss, renewed conflict and uncertainty.”  

“And through years of efforts to rebuild a fractured nation and secure the peaceful future that the people of Afghanistan deserve,” he added.  

Both UN leaders remarked on the “story of solidarity and compassion”, the solidarity of the people of the host countries; and the courage and resilience of the Afghan people, with Mr. Guterres noting that has seen “compassion play out in real time here in Pakistan.” 

At a press conference alongside Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the UN chief said: “Pakistan has provided the world with a global public good supporting Afghan refugees and it’s time for the international community to assume its responsibilities, and to support Pakistan very meaningfully.” 

Mark Garten
Secretary-General António Guterres speaks to young people in Islamabad during a social media moment on the margins of the International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s ‘compassion grounded in vision’ 

Underlining the fact that Pakistan has hosted Afghan refugees for 40 years, the Secretary-General noted that since 1979, it has regularly been the world’s top refugee-hosting country.  

“Even though major conflicts have since unfortunately erupted in other parts of the globe and the refugee population has soared, Pakistan today is still the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country,” Mr. Guterres said. 

We must recognize that international support for Pakistan has been minimal compared to your own national efforts. As we look to the challenges ahead, the global community must step up — UN chief Guterres 

Mr. Grandi noted that today, Pakistan and Iran together continue to host 90 per cent of registered Afghan refugees globally – some 2.4 million people. In addition, temporary labour migration and other forms of cross-border movement in the sub-region mean that both countries also host large non-refugee Afghan populations. 

But despite Pakistan’s own challenges, the South Asian country’s use of innovative technology in refugee protection, insisting that many initiatives are now recognized as a global model of good practice, said the Secretary-General.  

These include biometric registration, access to the national education system, health care and inclusion in the economy.  

The UN has worked with the Pakistan authorities to support Afghan refugees, Mr. Guterres said, by implementing aid and development projects across the country – and also by helping Afghans return home. 

For them to be able to stay in Afghanistan, he appealed for peace, but also effective reconstruction that creates conditions for their successful return and reintegration.  

For Afghanistan, a challenging road ahead  

“We know the solution lies in Afghanistan,” said the Secretary-General, who noted that the as the Afghan conflict “drags on and on,” the deep impact of the protracted nature of conflict, poverty and forced displacement are clearly evident.  

Echoing that sentiment, Mr. Grandi explained that amid the fighting in Afghanistan, “more than 400,000 people were displaced within the country last year alone, by conflict, drought and other natural hazards; and just 8,000 refugees were able to return home through the voluntary repatriation programme.” 

Mr. Guterres went on to reaffirm that the preferred durable solution for refugees has always been voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity to their country of origin. This is also true for Afghan refugees. 

And Mr. Grandi added: “Working on solutions is all the more important as efforts to revitalize the peace process in Afghanistan continue and hopefully gain momentum. Afghan displacement can only be solved by peace, and peace will be strengthened by solving forced displacement.” 

“Returns to Afghanistan, as we both said, have hit a historical low. Afghanistan and its people cannot be abandoned. Now is the time for the international community to act and to deliver,” stated the UN chief. 

He added that the UN was working together on a region-specific Support Platform to assist voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration of refugees in Afghanistan, while providing help to refugees and their host communities in both Pakistan and Iran. 

“Peace efforts leading to intra-Afghan negotiations will pave the way, but sustainable peace and security hinges on better integrating our work on humanitarian, development and peace efforts,” said the UN chief, adding: “Done right, this work can be a model for the rest of the world.” 

Calling for a realistic approach and acknowledging the “big challenges lie ahead”, Mr. Guterres stressed that the message of the conference – and the presence of so many senior Government officials from all over the world – “is a testament of hope and commitment to a new partnership for solidarity and a better future for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and for the world.” 

UN Photo/Mark Garten
Secretary-General António Guterres speaks at the National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan on the topic of peacekeeping.

Strengthening  ‘Action for Peacekeeping’

Later on Monday, at the Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS) in Islamabad, the Secretary-General paid tribute to the heroic 157 Pakistani peacekeepers that sacrificed their lives “to protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable populations in the world.” 

The Centre, which is part of the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, is one of the most important institutions in the world that support peacekeeping activities in an extremely competent and professional way. 

According to UN data, Pakistan is the sixth largest contributor of troops and police, with more than 4,000 uniformed personnel serving in nine United Nations peace operations, including in some of the most dangerous UN missions, such as in the Central African Republic and Mali.    

“Pakistani officers are playing an important part as Force Commanders and Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistan contributes critical equipment, including a helicopter unit in Mali”, said Mr. Guterres, noting also that Pakistan was the first country to endorse the Declaration of Shared Commitments on Action for Peace, known by the shorthand  A4P

Looking ahead, he said that there are several areas for progress within the A4P framework, including:  

  • Supporting missions in the most challenging environments to deal with greater security risks than ever;  
  • Building greater capacity to improve the protection of civilians through training partnerships and provision of better equipment  
  • Enhancing analytical and intelligence capacities by strengthening direct engagement with the host governments, communities and local people.; and 
  • Strengthening implementation of the Human Rights Due Diligence policy, including through review mechanisms. 

Pakistan, a leader in championing women peacekeepers 

The implementation of the A4P by Pakistan was not limited to the enhancement of partnership, it also encompasses many other aspects of the Declaration, including on ‘women, peace and security’.  

In that regard, the country has deployed the first-ever Pakistani Female Engagement Team to South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  

UN Photo/Mark Garten
Pakistani women peacekeepers in the audience at the National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad, where Secretary-General António Guterres delivered an address on the topic of peacekeeping.

“Pakistan is a leader in championing women peacekeepers and an example for other troop contributors”, said the Secretary-General.    

He said that this inspiring all-women Pakistani team has implemented successful projects on vocational training, medical outreach and psychological support, and improved information-gathering that feeds into security assessments.  

In his experience, as High Commissioner for Refugees, and while being in some of the most dangerous areas in the world, Mr. Guterres saw firsthand how essential it was to have women peacekeepers – both military and police – in order to gain the confidence of populations, to gain the confidence of communities.  

“They can do things that us, men, are not able to do – gain the confidence and create conditions for more effective action of our peacekeeping units”, he maintained.  

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Protecting migratory species in a rapidly changing world

INTERNATINAL, 17 February 2020, Climate Change - Many animals – including birds, fish and mammals – migrate along set routes in search of food or breeding grounds. How best to protect them in a rapidly changing world is the focus of a major UN wildlife meeting which opened in Gandhinagar, India, on Monday. 

The Thirteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, or CMS COP13, is taking place as the world faces the threat of losing one million species to extinction unless protective efforts are increased.  

Countries are meeting in India to discuss ways to protect migratory species in a rapidly changing world.

This @UNinIndia video shows how people living on Loktak Lake have taken steps to protect wetlands in the face of climate change and other challenges.

Embedded video

“COP13 comes at a critical time for wildlife conservation, with continued downward trends of habitat loss and species decline,” said CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel. 

“The conference will set in motion actions needed to better protect migratory species that rely on multilateral cooperation for their survival.” 

Welcoming migratory species home 

COP13, which runs through 22 February, is being held under the theme “Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home”. 

These creatures bring multiple benefits to humans, such as seed dispersal and pollination, and provide economic benefits and jobs such as in the tourism sector, for example. 

“These species move between countries without any passports or visas, but are messengers of peace and prosperity, and it is our responsibility to protect that,” said Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi in his keynote address. 

However, with increased warming and other weather extremes becoming the norm, migratory animals, as well as ecosystems, are also being affected. 

CMS
Global map of animal migration.

Delegates at the meeting will consider the need for guidance and other measures to mitigate the impact of roads, railways and other infrastructure on migratory species, which can injure or kill birds and other animals, increase pollution and cut through natural habitats. 

As countries work to prevent global temperature rise from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, they will also discuss ways to ensure biodiversity and migratory species are considered in national policies to promote renewable energy that is “wildlife-friendly”. 

Other deliberations will cover strengthening initiatives to combat the illegal killing and trade of migratory birds, and targeted action against aquatic wild meat, including from shark and ray species, which is a fast-emerging threat. 

“Super year” for nature 

COP13 kicks off what the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) calls “the super year” for nature. 

Other events taking place in 2020 include the Ocean Summit in June, a UN ‘nature summit’ in September and the UN Biodiversity Conference at the end of the year. 

Said UNEP deputy chief Joyce Myusa: “As we face the unprecedented crisis of species loss, 2020 is an important year to step up action to conserve species, protect ecosystems and make meaningful progress towards achieving the sustainable development goals. We must seize every opportunity we have, and the CMS COP is critical milestone in enabling biodiversity to flourish on this planet.” 

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) – the UN’s environmental treaty – is the only global convention that protects these animals. 

It contains two appendices: one covering endangered migratory species, while the other lists animals with “an unfavourable conservation status”, requiring international action. 

A new report to be released at COP13 indicates that despite some success stories, the populations of most migratory species covered by the Convention are declining. 

Ten new species are expected to be added to the Convention, including the Asian Elephant, Jaguar and the Great Indian Bustard: the mascot of COP13. 

Meanwhile, 12 animals currently included in the appendices are showcased in the latest series of UN Endangered Species stamps, issued on Monday. 

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Amid ‘horrifying’ new level of violence in north-west Syria, UN relief chief says ceasefire is the only option

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2020, Peace and Security - The crisis in north-west Syria has reached a “horrifying new level”, the UN Humanitarian Affairs chief warned on Monday.

Mark Lowcock also said that since 1 December, some 900,000 people have been uprooted by violence, the vast majority of whom are women and children.

“They are traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full”, he stated.

“Mothers are burning plastic to keep children warm” and “babies and small children are dying because of the cold”, said Mr. Lowcock, who is also the UN Emegerncy Relief Coordinator.

A deadly vortex of proxy wars could lead to “the biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century” unless “Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first”, he underscored.

Nine-year downward spiral

Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has forced more than half of the population to leave their homes.

The Idlib region – along with parts of neighbouring Aleppo province and the Latakia governate – is the last stronghold of the rebel and jihadist groups that have been trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The region is home to some three million people, half of them already displaced from other parts of the country. 

The latest aggression

The offensive that began late last year has caused the biggest single displacement of people since the conflict erupted following the repression of demonstrations demanding regime change.

“The violence in north-west Syria is indiscriminate”, Mr. Lowcock said, painting a dire picture of aid workers’ equipment and facilities being damaged as the humanitarian workers themselves are being displaced and killed.

Apart from health facilities, schools, residential areas, mosques and markets being hit, he said, schools have been suspended and many health facilities closed.

Moreover, there is a serious risk of disease outbreaks as basic infrastructure falls apart.

“We are now receiving reports that settlements for displaced people are being hit, resulting in deaths, injuries and further displacement”, the Humanitarian Affairs chief explained.

Although a huge relief operation, across the border from Turkey, is underway, he lamented that “it is overwhelmed”.

“The only option is a ceasefire”, concluded Mr. Lowcock.

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Amid global ‘learning crisis’, Parliaments can ensure adequate resources for education, says UN Assembly President

INTERNATIONAL, 17 February 2020, Culture and Education - Education is the “great equalizer” and Parliaments have a major role to play in scaling up action to ensure that adequate financial resources are allocated to education, girls’ education and technical and vocational training throughout in national budgetary processes, the President of the UN General Assembly said on Monday.

In his address to the annual Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) hearing at UN Headquarters in New York, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said that education is a key priority of the Assembly’s 74th session, he was am encouraged that the IPU has taken this opportunity to highlight the importance of implementing Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education.

Opening the hearing, Mr. Muhammad-Bande underscored that to provide youth with “the best possible start in life” the fourth Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 4) must be implemented and adequately financed.

He pointed out that at least one-in-four countries do not allocate four per cent of their gross domestic products (GDP) and at least 15 per cent of their public expenditures to education – both SDG 4 benchmarks. 

“If we are to address the learning crisis and for students to meet the minimum levels of literacy and basic proficiency in mathematics globally, we must invest in our people, in particular our youth”, he stressed.

Equal education opportunities

Mr. Muhammad-Bande maintained that to learn, students require a safe, bully-free environment, sanitation facilities, clean running water, electricity and internet connectivity.

“It is, therefore, clear that we can only make gains on implementing SDG 4 if we approach it as a cross-cutting area which spans multiple government portfolios”, he affirmed.

“A strong curriculum taught by well-trained teachers is essential to ensuring a high level of learning which meets the needs of students, indeed the needs of society”.

He also stressed that every student must have equal opportunities to study all subjects, especially girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Noting that only 35 per cent of students in STEM are female, he highlighted the need to “encourage our best and brightest girls and boys to pursue careers” in these fields “if we are to succeed in building a resilient, climate-smart world”.

Vulnerable youth

For children trapped in conflict, school provides stability and hope for a brighter future with each year of education reducing the risk of a youth’s involvement in conflict by 20 per cent. And graduates of secondary education exhibit more tolerance towards people of a different race, religion and migration status than their primary-level education peers.

IPUparliament
Welcome MPs of the world to the 2020 IPU Parliamentary Hearing on ! This annual hearing is a forum between @UN and parliamentarians on the interface between global and local issues. Organized in partnership with the President of UN General Assembly @BandaTijjani
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“We must provide young people with the tools they need to become peacebuilders”, Mr. Mohammad-Bande said. “To fail to do so, would be to fail a generation”.                                

He called on the parliamentarians to implement SDG 4, saying “there is no justifiable reason for 265 million children to be out of school at this very moment.

“If we fail to invest in our people, especially our youth, we will fail in implementing the primary mandate of the United Nations, which is to uphold peace and security for all”, concluded the President of the General Assembly.

A global learning crisis

For her part, Gabriela Cuevas Barron, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, painted a picture of a global “learning crisis”.

She detailed an array of challenges, statistically outlining that 670 million adults are illiterate; 258 million children will be out of school in 2030; 69 million teachers are needed worldwide; and $39 billion are required globally to build schools and improve capacities

Acknowledging that inequality prevails today, the IPU President cited education as “a key element” to reach a more inclusive, equal planet.

She maintained that if children receive a quality education, near their homes with the proper infrastructure, they will be better placed for a more prosperous life.

“The real issue of inequality is not only a woman’s fight”, she flagged, “it is a fight for all”.

“We need to understand a real cultural change is only going to happen when we go through education for girls and boys, and we include men into making a more inclusive planet”, explained the IPU chief.

She went on to say that: “Governments negotiate and sign international agreements…but in order for real implementation, we need to translate them into national law, into budgets” and “our homework is to improve our capacity to deliver”, said the IPU chief.

In closing, she highlighted that the IPU can be “an important bridge between international commitments and local realities”.

‘An essential pillar’

Education is “an essential pillar” for achieving all the SDGs, according to UN Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Viotti.

Investment in quality education wil...support us in tackling the greatest challenges of our time – UN Chef de Cabinet

Moreover, it has long been recognized as a necessary precondition for sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Ms. Viotti told IPU that millions of young people leave school without “the advanced skills that match today’s labour market”, which she underscored “are vital for navigating the digital world in the fourth industrial revolution”.

She pointed out that this is approaching fast: “Automation will displace tens of millions of jobs by 2030”.

Urging everyone to “steer technology for positive change”, she stressed the importance of learning how to learn “across a lifetime”.

“We need to redesign education systems and rethink the concept of work”, she asserted.

“Innovation and investment in quality education will, in turn, support us in tackling the greatest challenges of our time, including climate change, rising hatred against minorities, migrations and others, fracturing societies in protracted conflict”.

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In Pakistan, Guterres urges world to step up climate action, praises support to Afghan refugees

INTERNATIONAL, 16 February 2020, Climate Change - UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday began a three-day visit to Pakistan, recognizing the country’s decades of “outstanding generosity and solidarity” as one of the world’s largest hosts of refugees, and highlighting its place in confronting climate change.  

“One of the main purposes of my visit is to spotlight the real Pakistan — with all its possibility and potential,” Mr. Guterres told reporters in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, alongside Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. 

While in Pakistan, the UN chief will speak at an international conference on Monday marking 40 years of hosting Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran, one of the world’s largest and longest-standing refugee populations.  

Organized by the Pakistan Government and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) the conference will also be addressed by the agency’s chief, Fillipo Grandi. The Secretary-General is also expected to meet with refugees and senior Pakistani officials. 

Speaking to reporters after delivering an earlier address on climate change and sustainable development, Mr. Guterres said it was time for the world to take a step back and “look at Pakistan through a wider frame.”  

Indeed, he said, the role Pakistan had played for 40 years in sheltering and protecting Afghan refugees with limited international support, as well as its support to UN peacekeeping, and its steps to take concrete climate action with the ‘ten billion tree tsunami’ campaign among other initiatives, were vital aspects of the South Asian country’s contribution to the region and the wider international community. 

“The United Nations will continue to support Pakistan, and I call on other countries to support Pakistan and indeed show similar leadership in sharing this responsibility in this region and around the world,” said Mr. Guterres. 

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‘This is a time for facts, not fear,’ says WHO chief as COVID-19 virus spreads

INTERNATIONAL, 15 February 2020, Health - The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday cautioned against panic over COVID-19 but also urged governments to step up their efforts to prepare for the virus, saying “it’s impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take.” 

As the number of coronavirus cases reportedly passed 60,000, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told foreign policy and security experts gathered for the Munich Security Conference that the UN agency was encouraged that there has not yet been widespread community transmission of the virus, now named COVID-19, outside of China. 

WHO was also encouraged that “the global research community has come together to identify and accelerate the most urgent research needs for diagnostics, treatments and vaccines”, and that a team of international experts is now on the ground in China, working closely with Chinese counterparts to understand the outbreak, and to inform the next steps in the global response. 

The virus emerged in central China in late December and the latest figures show it has infected more than 63,000 people and has killed some 1,300 patients, mostly in China. The WHO has classified COVID-19 a global health threat. 

“The steps China has taken to contain the outbreak at its source appear to have bought to the world time,” Mr. Tedros said

But ‘we don’t know how much time’ 

The WHO chief said the agency's encouragement was tempered by several key concerns, including, the rising number of cases in China, particularly the number of health workers that have been infected; the lack of urgency in funding the response from the international community; the levels of rumours and misinformation hampering the response; and the potential havoc the virus could wreak in countries with weaker health systems.  

“The outbreaks of Ebola and COVID-19 underscore once again the vital importance for all countries to invest in preparedness and not panic,” said Mr. Tedros, recalling that two years ago, WHO and the World Bank founded the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent body to assess the state of the world’s readiness for a pandemic.  

He said that last year, the board had published its first report, which concluded the world remains badly prepared.  

“For too long, the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect. We throw money at an outbreak, and when it’s over, we forget about it and do nothing to prevent the next one...This is frankly difficult to understand, and dangerously short-sighted,” warned Mr. Tedros. 

Next steps: scale up response, counter ‘infodemic’ 

Mr. Tedros outlined key requests of the international community on the way forward: 

  • Use the window of opportunity provided by China’s quick action to intensify preparedness, including for the arrival of new cases, treating patients with dignity, and protecting health workers; 
  • Push back against the ‘infodemic’, as fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is equally as dangerous. He called on governments, companies and news organizations to work with WHO to sound the appropriate level of alarm, without fanning the flames of hysteria; and  
  • A “whole-of-government approach” approach must be coherent and coordinated, guided by evidence and public health priorities, as tackling the spread of the virus “is not a job for health ministers alone.

“We have a choice. Can we come together to face a common and dangerous enemy? Or will we allow fear, suspicion and irrationality to distract and divide us?” the WHO chief asked.

He said that in our fractured and divided world, health was one of the few areas in which international cooperation offered the opportunity for countries to work together for a common cause.

“This is a time for facts, not fear. This is a time for rationality, not rumours. This is a time for solidarity, not stigma,” Mr. Tedros concluded.

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Amidst protection challenges, Eastern Route outpaces Mediterranean for people leaving Africa

INTERNATIONAL, 14 February 2020, Migrants and Refugees - A monthly average of 11,500 people traveling from the Horn of Africa to Yemen last year made the so-called Eastern Route the busiest maritime migration path on earth, the UN migration agency said on Friday. 

Most are unaware of the security situation in Yemen where they face serious protection concerns, including active fighting, or abuses such as kidnapping, torture for ransom, exploitation and trafficking.  

“While tragedies along the Mediterranean routes are well reported, our staff bear witness daily to the abuse suffered by young people from the Horn of Africa at the hands of smugglers and traffickers exploiting  their hopes for a better life,” said Mohammed Abdiker, International Organization for Migration  (IOM) Regional Director for the East and Horn of Africa. 

In Obock, Djibouti, close to 2,000 migrants arrive every day hoping to cross the Gulf of Aden to get to Saudi Arabia through Yemen. As per local authorities. Some of these Ethiopian migrants have succeeded then been deported several times. They're trying again.
View image on Twitter
 

Eastern route spike

After five years of conflict in Yemen, the Eastern Route has spiked as travelers appear undeterred by the Gulf’s strict immigration policies for undocumented migrants.  

Data collected by IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix revealed that over 138,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden to Yemen last year, as compared to the more than 110,000 migrants and refugees who crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe during that same period.  

And this is the second year in a row that the Eastern Route reported more crossings than the Mediterranean. In 2018, roughly 150,000 people made the journey. 

“To get to Yemen, they crammed about 280 of us into one boat,” a thirty-two-year-old Ethiopian man told IOM in Aden, Yemen. “There was no oxygen, and some people committed suicide by throwing themselves into the sea.”  

An eighteen-year-old Ethiopian migrant said: “We were beaten, tortured, abused and threatened for ransom. My family sent $900 to save my life so I was released.”  

Perilous journey

Those making the perilous journey – crossing deserts and territories controlled by armed groups, with little food or water – either travel in search of economic opportunities or are fleeing insecurity, human rights abuses and adverse living conditions. 

Approximately 92 per cent of those who disembarked in Yemen were Ethiopian nationals, the vast majority of whom aimed to continue to Saudi Arabia.  

Smugglers and traffickers also operate boats from Obock in Djibouti and Bosasso in Somalia. Last year, 38 per cent of migrants arrived from Djibouti and 62 per cent from Somalia. 

The journeys from their home to Saudi Arabia can take months or even longer, depending on whether they stop to work or are detained along the way. 

While IOM works across the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Gulf to provide life-saving emergency support to migrants in need and support development in home communities, the agency maintains that legal pathways for migration are “the most effective protection mechanism for migrants”.

“IOM is committed to supporting all authorities along the Eastern route to better manage migration, ensuring the safety and dignity of migrants”, underscored Mr. Abdiker.

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Holocaust survivors rebuild lives and traditions in Rio de Janeiro

INTERNATIONAL, 14 February 2020, Migrants and Refugees - With millions of people displaced from their homes worldwide, a UN ceremony celebrating Holocaust survivors in Brazil, has provided a stark reminder that throughout the 75 years of the Organization’s existence, the plight of refugees has been an ever-present theme.
Courtesy Freddy Glatt Family
Holocaust survivor Freddy Glatt's parents in front of their sewing shop in Berlin. Courtesy Freddy Glatt Family

On a Friday night, which marks the beginning of Shabbat, the holy day for Jews worldwide, Freddy Siegfried Glatt gathers with his family in his apartment in the city of Rio de Janeiro, where he performs the Shabbat prayers alongside his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

About to turn 92, he bows before the dinner table full of wine glasses and pieces of bread, and performs the Hadlakat Nerot — the Jewish ritual of lighting candles at dusk.

“I am very grateful to Brazil. I have Brazilian grandchildren and great-grandchildren. On Shabbat, this table is full of people. And small children run around the house making a mess”, he said.

Forced to flee, again and again

The son of a Polish couple, Glatt was born in Berlin in 1928. His family was forced to flee just months after Hitler's rise to power in 1933, after his parents' sewing shop was stoned by members of the Hitler Youth.

His life was marked by repeated forced displacements. At the age of five, he would become a refugee alongside his parents and his two older brothers, Bubbi and Heinz. The family would initially settle in Antwerp, Belgium, where their maternal grandparents already lived.

With the intensification of the Second World War in 1940, Antwerp was targeted by a German aerial bombing campaign.  The family had to move again, this time to France.

“From Belgium, I fled to France. From France, I went back to Belgium, but to another place (Brussels). I adopted a false name: Freddy Van Damme, a Flemish name. And so, I saved myself”, said Mr. Glatt.

In Brussels, a law required the Jewish people to sew a Star of David on their clothes with the inscription: "Jew". Glatt refused to wear it. "I pulled it off and threw it away. I wasn't an animal to be branded. I didn't want everyone on the street to see that I was a Jew. I was very scared", he recalled.

Brothers, grandparents, classmates; all killed

Freddy Glatt performs the Hadlakat Nerot, the Jewish ritual of lighting candles at dusk., by UNIC Rio

In 1942, young Jews who lived in occupied Belgium were asked to volunteer for construction work. One of the calls from the German authorities listed the names of Mr. Glatt's two older brothers, who at the time, were 19 and 21 years old.

The call to work was just a trap. Mr. Glatt later learned that his brothers were taken and murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest German Nazi concentration and extermination camp in occupied Poland. Shortly thereafter, Glatt's grandparents were also deported to their deaths at the infamous site.  

"They killed my brothers, my grandparents. They killed all of my high school classmates. I am here today because I was very lucky. I am lucky," said Mr. Glatt.

In weeks, the family had been reduced from six individuals - Glatt's parents had been separated - to just two, Glatt and his mother. The German occupation was expanding in Belgium and soon the family would receive a warning from a neighbour that the Gestapo would soon be in search of Jews.

Mr. Glatt and his mother had to move again to another apartment in Brussels and avoided going out into the streets. They sold belongings to get food and lived in a state of constant dread. "I went without food several times. Eight days without eating, just drinking cold water from the tap", he said.

In 1943, Mr. Glatt's mother contacted the chief rabbi of Belgium, who worked to rescue Jewish youth and children and shelter them in Catholic orphanages and seminaries. Mr. Glatt took shelter there until the end of the occupation in 1944. His mother continued to live in hiding in the old apartment.

Bound for Brazil

Freddy Glatt blesses bread at the beginning of Shabbat, the holy day of the Jewish religion., by UNIC Rio

The reunion between mother and son occurred after the arrival of the Allied forces, signalling an end to the war.

Even having survived, the family continued to struggle, as Belgium - like all of Western Europe - was experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis. It was time to pack again, this time, bound for Brazil, where Glatt's father had already settled.

“For me, Rio de Janeiro was a new adventure. Imagine, having a beach! I went there the first weekend,” said Mr. Glatt, who was 19 when he arrived in the country. After 12 years apart, his parents remarried. He soon got a job in a factory and in 1951 he met his wife, Betty Glatt, with whom he lives today.

In 2013, at 85, Mr. Glatt was finally able to make his Bar-Mitzvah, the rite of passage to adulthood. “I did it with a rabbi who was a friend of mine who left Brazil, went to Israel. It was very exciting”, he declared.

As the current president of the Rio de Janeiro Holocaust Survivors Association, Mr. Glatt has given hundreds of lectures to explain how he overcame the barbarities of the Nazis and their attempt to destroy Jewish life, culture and religious traditions. In 2018, he published his autobiographical book “They stole my childhood”.

“I think it is very important for people to know what happened. The injustices that were committed”, he said, recalling that the lectures alert young people about the dangers of anti-Semitism.

Mr. Glatt has three siblings, two girls and a boy, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. "Brazil welcomed me," he said. "I had opportunities. I soon became naturalized (Brazilian). I have been a Brazilian for many years. I feel good as a Brazilian, I am proud", he concluded.

Mr. Glatt is just one of many Holocaust survivors who have found shelter in Brazil. They were honoured on 28 January this year, in observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, during a ceremony organized by the United Nations Information Centre in Rio de Janeiro.

Some were neighbours

Freddy and Betty Glatt in their apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil., by UNIC Rio

The event in Rio was also the occasion for the launch of the exhibition “Some were neighbours: choice, human behaviour and the Holocaust”, which will run until February 20 at the Federal Justice Cultural Centre. The exhibition reflects on what people did - or didn´t do - during the Second World War, in ways that helped the victims - or did not, by contributing to the rise of antisemitism and Nazism.

“When we think of the Holocaust, the first person we think of is Hitler and the responsibility of the German government. But this exhibition inspires us to think about how the Nazis managed to gain so much support from ordinary people. It raises the question why some people supported the Nazis and their racist ideology during the Holocaust, while others decided to help the Jews,” explained UNIC Rio director, Kimberly Mann.

The exhibition was produced in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme.

Today, the UN Country Team in Brazil continues to defend human rights and religious freedom, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has helped millions of forcibly dislocated people. Most recently, representatives of several UN agencies, based in Brazil, have mobilized to support the more than 4.6 million Venezuelans, forced to leave political unrest, and economic meltdown in the country.

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Newly licensed vaccine, ‘milestone in the fight’ against Ebola in Africa, UN health agency

INTERNATIONAL, 14 February 2020, Health - Four countries in Africa have licensed an Ebola vaccine to “cement hard-fought progress” in keeping their people safe from the deadly disease, the UN health agency said on Friday.

For the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, Ghana and Zambia, the vaccine licensing means that the manufacturer can stockpile and widely distribute it to those nations at risk of Ebola virus outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

And once licensed doses are available, use of the vaccine will not require clinical trial or other research protocols.

Congratulations President Tshisekedi, @Presidence_RDC, for your commitment to advance universal health coverage and determination to prepare for a healthy beyond . @WHO stands ready to support you every step on the way towards https://bit.ly/2vzG6VW
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Moreover, the vaccine, which was licensed just 90 days after WHO prequalified it, is expected to be registered in additional countries over the coming weeks.

"The approval of the Ebola vaccine by these countries is another milestone in the fight against this unforgiving disease," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Prequalification

WHO accelerated the licensing and roll-out of the Ebola vaccine by certifying that it met the organization’s standards for quality, safety and efficacy – in its fastest vaccine prequalification process ever.

The speed with which this has been achieved used an approach whereby national licensing procedures were done in parallel, based on one single scientific review process.

Usually, these processes are done one by one and can take years.

“The rapid approval of the Ebola vaccine by countries in the Africa Region helps ensure this critical prevention tool will be available when and where it is needed most,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “This kind of collaboration and innovation is a model for other health priorities.”

Preliminary study results of the injectable Ebola vaccine, Ervebo, have shown a 97.5 per cent efficacy and data also suggests that vaccinating people who are already infected reduces their chances of dying.

Making plans

Meanwhile, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo capital of Kinshasa, Mr. Ghebreyesus spoke to reporters in Geneva via VTC.

He said that he had met with President Tshisekedi, ministers and others to review the “impressive progress” that has been made toward ending the Ebola outbreak.

They also spoke about “future plans to ensure that everyone in the DRC can access quality health services going forward”.

“I have been impressed with the commitment of President Tshisekedi and his government to ending the outbreak in eastern DRC and I would like to urge the whole world to recommit” to reaching zero Ebola cases, he said.

“But”, he continued, “it is also vitally important that resources and attention focus on strengthening the country’s health system and bolstering preparedness”.

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