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New Ebola case in Sierra Leone prompts expansion of experimental vaccine trial – UN health agency

INTERNATIONAL – The detection of a new case of Ebola in Sierra Leone over the weekend after the West African country had marked almost three weeks of zero cases has prompted the use of an experimental vaccine to fight the disease, according to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

“Although no-one wanted to see more cases of Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone, we kept all our teams on alert and ready to respond and close down any new transmission” said Dr. Anders Nordstrom, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone.

A team of experts conducting the so-called “ring vaccination” trial in Conakry, Guinea travelled to the Kambia district in Sierra Leone where the new case was reported on Saturday, WHO said in a press release.

The source of the Ebola virus transmission is being investigated and all the people who may have been in contact with the infected person are being traced, according to the health agency.

Interim results published last July show that the Guinea ring vaccination trial vaccine is highly effective against Ebola. The ‘ring vaccination’ strategy involves vaccinating all contacts – the people known to have come into contact with a person confirmed to have been infected with Ebola – and contacts of contacts.

Meanwhile, heightened surveillance for Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone includes swabbing all people who have died at home and testing those swabs for Ebola virus.

WHO said on Saturday, 29th August, a swab taken from a woman who died aged around 60, in the village of Sella, Tonko Limba, Kambia district, tested positive for Ebola virus.

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Civil society must be ‘equal partners’ in implementing UN sustainability agenda, Ban tells parliamentarians

INTERNATIONAL – With speakers of parliament meeting at United Nations Headquarters at a moment when the world is gripped by multiple crises – displacement has soared to all-time highs and the threat of climate change grows by the day – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the legislators to help drive forward the new UN sustainable development agenda and ensure that civil society are equal partners in “building the future we want.”

“We are being challenged to strengthen our collective resolve to promote peace and security, sustainable development and human rights around the world,” said Mr. Ban, telling the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament that, earlier this month, UN Member States took a bold step in this direction by concluding negotiations on the “ambitious and transformative” agenda for the next 15 years.

The global parliamentary summit is held every five years. The current meeting will run through 2 September in New York and today’s opening session features addresses from Mr. Ban, IPU President Saber Chowdhury, UN General Assembly President Sam Kutesa and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation Forest Whitaker.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that form the basis of the new UN agenda are people-centred and planet-sensitive. They provide a plan of action for ending poverty and hunger, and a roadmap for building a life of dignity for all and they promise to “leave no one behind.”

Commending the parliamentarians of the world, and the IPU, for the valuable role they played in shaping the new framework, Mr. Ban underscored that their contribution to its implementation will be equally critical in ensuring that the agenda is translated from the global to the national.

“People will look to you to hold your governments accountable for achieving the goals, and to write the laws and invest in the programmes that will make them a reality,” he said, noting that while democratic principles also run through the entire document “like a silver thread,” Sustainable Development Goal 16 addresses democracy by calling for inclusive and participatory societies and institutions.

At the same time, the UN chief said the task of implementing and monitoring these goals is huge. It requires States to work in strong and close partnership with civil society of all stripes. This has never been more important.

And yet, for civil society, freedom to operate is diminishing – or even disappearing. Dozens of Governments have adopted restrictions that limit the ability of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to work, or to receive funding, or both.

“As we embark on this new agenda, the State and civil society can and should be partners in building the future we want,” he said, emphasizing that the declaration the parliamentarians will adopt at the conference outlines their responsibilities in translating the voices of the people into meaningful action.

For his part, General Assembly President Kutesa said given their role as pillars of democratic governance, parliaments will have an important role in the implementation of the new development agenda.

“Parliamentarians should continue to ensure that the voices of the people are heard and included in the development process. This will enhance ownership of the new agenda and its implementation on the ground, which will be vital for its success,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kutesa said, it will be essential to carry forward the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have been incorporated in the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs. In particular, greater attention will be needed in the areas of education, health, water and sanitation, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and creation of employment, among others.

Parliamentarians will be essential to that effort, the Assembly President said, also spotlighting the critical role they must play in the protection and preservation of the environment, including through enacting appropriate legislation.

“As we work toward reaching a new, universally-binding climate change agreement at the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21) in Paris this December, bold commitments that will protect our planet for generations to come are needed,” said Mr. Kutesa, stressing that parliamentarians and other stakeholders should remain actively engaged in collective efforts towards this noble goal.

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More than 850,000 people face acute food insecurity in Somalia, UN food assessment shows

INTERNATIONAL – Somalia’s humanitarian situation remains “alarming” four years after a devastating famine with the number of people requiring emergency aid rising 17 per cent to more than 850,000 and those in “food-stressed” situations still at 2.3 million, according to the latest United Nations-managed food assessment study released today.

“The levels of food insecurity and malnutrition are critical,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq. “Humanitarian actors and donors have prevented the situation being a lot worse than it is, but we all need to do more.”

“The situation among internally displaced people is particularly worrying,” Mr. de Clercq said.

In 2011, Somalia experienced a devastating famine, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Things have since improved, but humanitarian needs remain vast and the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance continues to fluctuate around 3 million. The ability to absorb shocks – whether conflict or natural disasters – is very limited.

According to the Food Security and Nutrition Assessment for Somalia managed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “widespread acute malnutrition persists across Somalia and large numbers of people will be acutely food insecure through December 2015.”

The results of assessment presented today in the Somali capital of Mogadishu “indicate that the country’s humanitarian situation remains alarming,” OCHA said.

The latest findings from the joint countrywide seasonal assessment reveal that some 855,000 people across Somalia will be in ‘crisis and emergency’ through December 2015.

“This figure represents a 17 per cent increase over the estimate for February to June 2015,” according to the assessment, while the number of those in food-stressed situations remained at 2.3 million.

More than two thirds, or 68 per cent, of the people who are in crisis and emergency are internally displaced and nearly 215,000 children aged under five are acutely malnourished, of whom almost 40,000 are severely malnourished and face a high risk of disease and death.

“We must continue investing in saving lives. We cannot allow a reversal in the important steps forward made on the humanitarian and development fronts,” Mr. de Clercq said, “We must simultaneously address the underlying causes of the country’s predicament, and work on durable solutions that will mitigate suffering while also building a more resilient Somalia.”

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Fresh peace deal ‘first step’ in resolving South Sudan crisis – Security Council

INTERNATIONAL – Welcoming the recent signature by President Salva Kiir, SPLM/SPLA-IO Chairman Riek Machar and others of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, the Security Council called on all the parties, with the help of the United Nations, to implement the accord and adhere to the permanent ceasefire.

“The Security Council acknowledges that this Agreement is the first step in reversing the difficult political and economic situation, and humanitarian, and security catastrophe resulting from this crisis, calls upon the parties, with support from the United Nations and international community, to fully implement the Agreement,” the 15-member body declared in a press statement.

The deal towards ending the months-long crisis was signed by President Kiir two days ago and the Council expressed its concern with any statement by any party suggesting a lack of commitment to implement it.

Confirming its intention to move swiftly to update the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to support implementation of key tasks in the Agreement, the Council also expressed its readiness to consider “appropriate measures to ensure full implementation of the Agreement…and address any violations or failures of any party to implement its provisions, including through the imposition of an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions.”

Through its statement, the Council expressed deep appreciation for the work of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in leading the mediation since the onset of the crisis, and commended the recently expanded efforts of the "IGAD-Plus" configuration involving 19 countries and organizations including the United Nations “to develop and achieve a comprehensive solution that has now established a foundation to deliver a peace to South Sudan.

“The Security Council urges the continued close engagement of IGAD and IGAD-Plus partners in the critical period ahead,” continued the statement.

Underscoring the pressing need to ensure accountability for serious violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, the Security Council takes note in this regard of Chapter V of the Agreement. It also further recognizes the work of the African Union Commission of Inquiry in independent and public human rights monitoring, investigation and reporting, and anticipates with interest its findings and recommendations and encourages the public release of the final report as soon as possible on South Sudan.

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More than 300,000 make perilous Mediterranean crossing in 2015 – UN refugee agency

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations refugee agency said that the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe has surpassed 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 during the whole of 2014.

“Some 2,500 refugees and migrants are estimated to have died or gone missing this year while attempting the crossing to Europe – compared to 3,500 who died or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2014” said Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at a press briefing.

This number, which includes almost 200,000 people landing in Greece and 110,000 in Italy, represents a substantial increase from last year.

“In the last few days,” Ms. Fleming continued, “more people have lost their lives in three separate incidents.”

In a statement Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he has been horrified and heartbroken at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe.

He reminded the international community that a large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refugees to protection and asylum. When considering asylum requests, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack.

“This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings,” said the UN chief, and while he commended those leaders and communities that have “stepped,” he appealed to all governments involved to provide comprehensive responses, expand safe and legal channels of migration and act with humanity, compassion and in accordance with their international obligations.

“Let us also remember: the high number of refugees and migrants are a symptom of deeper problems – endless conflict, grave violations of human rights, tangible governance failures and harsh repression. The Syrian war, for example, has just been manifested on a roadside in the heart of Europe.”

Mr. Ban said that in addition to upholding responsibilities, the international community must also show greater determination in resolving conflicts and other problems that leave people little choice but to flee. Failing that, the numbers of those displaced – more than 40,000 per day – will only rise.

“This is a human tragedy that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers,” the Secretary-General declared.

According to UNHCR, the Libyan Coast Guard carried out two rescue operations on Thursday morning, seven miles off the port town of Zwara. Two boats carrying approximately 500 refugees and migrants were intercepted and survivors taken to shore. With an estimated 200 people still missing – and feared dead – a still undetermined number of bodies were recovered and taken to shore. The Libyan Red Crescent has been helping with the collection of the bodies.

On Wednesday, a rubber dinghy carrying some 145 refugees and migrants ran into trouble when the operator tilted the skiff dangerously to one side. Panic followed as some people fell into the sea and two men jumped into to rescue them. Amidst jostling and shoving, three women on the dinghy were crushed to death. Of those who fell into the water, 18 remain missing and believed to have drowned.

According to UNHCR, the survivors were rescued and taken to Lampedusa, including the two-month old baby of one of the dead women. Most of the survivors are in critical condition, suffering from shock, cuts and bruises.

That same day rescuers aiding a boat off the Libyan coast found 51 people suffocated to death in the cargo hold. According to survivors, smugglers were charging people money for allowing them to come out in order to breathe.

Last week, in a similar incident, the bodies of 49 persons were found in the hold of another boat. They are thought to have died after inhaling poisonous fumes.

Despite the concerted efforts of the joint European search and rescue operation under FRONTEX (Frontières extérieures), which has saved tens of thousands of lives this year, the Mediterranean Sea continues to be the deadliest route for refugees and migrants.

While these numbers are overwhelming for the already overstretched capacity of single countries, such as Greece, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Serbia or Germany, they are manageable through collaborative and coordinated responses at the European level.

All European countries and the European Union must act together in response to the growing emergency and demonstrate responsibility and solidarity.

“UNHCR appeals to all governments involved to provide comprehensive responses and act with humanity and in accordance with their international obligations,” Ms. Fleming concluded.

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Hurricane Katrina’s ‘true legacy’ was to spur disaster risk management – senior UN official

INTERNATIONAL – The top United Nations disaster resilience official said on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina that the ‘true legacy’ of the costliest United States hurricane disaster, which devastated New Orleans and claimed more than 1,800 lives, was to raise the bar for disaster risk management worldwide.

“Hurricane Katrina exposed weaknesses in disaster risk management which are common to many hazard prone locations around the world,” said the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Margareta Wahlström.

“We can learn a lot from New Orleans if we are to achieve substantial reductions in disaster losses as called for in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which was adopted by governments earlier this year,” she said.

The Sendai Framework, named after the Japanese city in which it was adopted by Governments earlier this year, is a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement – and the first major agreement of the new UN sustainable development agenda – with seven targets and four priorities for action.

Ms. Wahlström said: “New Orleans has transformed itself into a role model for disaster resilience.”

“It continues to invest heavily in improving flood defences and major efforts have been made to engage citizens in the renewal of the city,” she continued. “There is better mapping of the city’s hazards and there is greater awareness among the population about the importance of disaster risk management in ensuring the sustainable social and economic development of the city.”

She also said “many lessons learned from New Orleans have been incorporated into the Sendai Framework including the need to engage the elderly and other potentially vulnerable groups in disaster planning and to make adequate provision for their safety when a disaster strikes.”

“Hurricane Katrina has taught us that disaster risk reduction must be people-centred and engage all sectors of society,” she said.

Ms. Wahlström’s Office is dedicated to disaster risk reduction and supports implementation of the Sendai Framework which seeks “the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses, in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.”

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After bodies found in truck near Austrian border, Ban urges expansion of safe, legal channels of migration

INTERNATIONAL – In the wake of the grim discovery of the bodies of more than 70 people inside a truck abandoned near Austria’s border with Hungary, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the world to come together to provide comprehensive responses to migration issues, including tackling smugglers and resolving ongoing conflicts, among other root causes.

“I am horrified and heartbroken at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, declared the Secretary-General today following the discovery of the bodies in the abandoned vehicle, and upon hearing reports that many of the victims were Syrian asylum seekers – including children.

“Recent days have brought yet more news of hundreds of refugees and migrants drowning in perilous journeys on the sea,” he continued and noted that despite the concerted and commendable efforts of the joint European search and rescue operation – which has saved tens of thousands of lives – the Mediterranean Sea continues to be a death trap for refugees and migrants.

Further, such repeated tragedies underscore the ruthlessness of people smugglers and traffickers whose criminal activities extend from the Andaman Sea to the Mediterranean to the highways of Europe. It also highlights the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life.

The UN refugee agency expressed deep shock and sadness over yesterday’s grim discovery of some 70 dead asylum-seekers inside a truck abandoned near the Austrian border with Hungary – stressing the ruthlessness of people smugglers who have expanded their business from the Mediterranean Sea to the highways of Europe. “I appeal to all governments involved to provide comprehensive responses, expand safe and legal channels of migration and act with humanity, compassion and in accordance with their international obligations,” said Mr. Ban

Meanwhile in Geneva, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Melissa Fleming said, “this tragedy shows people smugglers have no regard for human life and are only after profit. It also underscores the desperation of people seeking protection or a new life in Europe.”

Austrian police say that they believe the truck came from Hungary and entered Austria on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, and that the victims might have been dead for one or two days. Their identity is still unknown but it is presumed that they were being transported by smugglers.

After establishing that there were no survivors, the police closed the truck and moved it to another location for further investigations.

UNHCR expressed its hope that this incident will result in strong cooperation among European police forces, intelligence agencies and international organisations to crack down on the smuggling trade while putting in place measures to protect and care for victims.

Ms. Fleming reiterated UNHCR’s call to European countries to approach the refugee crisis “in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation and to provide those seeking safety in Europe with safe legal alternatives – including resettlement or humanitarian admission programmes, flexible visa policies and family reunification – to dangerous irregular voyages.”

Every day this week, the Hungarian border police intercepted more than 2,000 people crossing the border from Serbia. On Wednesday, police reported 3,241 new arrivals, including 700 children – the highest number in a single day so far this year.

Syrian refugees constitute the majority of the asylum-seekers, many of whom are women and children. They travel in large groups of over 200 – walking along rail tracks or crawling under barbed wire – as work continues on a 175 kilometres long wall at the Hungarian-Serbian border.

“Fear of police detection makes many of them rush through the razor wires, sustaining cuts and injuries in the process. UNHCR staff at the border report that many people are arriving on wheelchairs pushed by relatives, while others are in need of urgent medical assistance,” Ms. Fleming elaborated.

New arrivals are taken by the authorities to a pre-registration centre in Röszke – near the Serbian border, some 184 kilometres away from the capital, Budapest – where the police search and record their details, before sending them further inland to registration centres. The exhausted, hungry and thirsty people who have spent many days on the road are kept in mandatory detention between 12 and 36 hours, and then handed over to the Office of Immigration and Nationality to process their asylum claims.

With a maximum capacity of 5,000 people, Hungary's four reception centres are overcrowded, causing long waits and further exacerbating asylum-seekers’ angst. The Hungarian police do not have social workers or enough interpreters in Arabic, Dari, Pashto and Urdu, which makes communication difficult.

According to the latest official statistics, so far this year more than 140,000 people have sought asylum in Hungary, compared to 42,000 people last year. Most of those lodging asylum applications are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and they include some 7,000 unaccompanied children.

“Many refugees and migrants choose to leave Hungary for other countries in Europe,” Ms. Fleming explained. “Every day up to 500 people sleep at the two main train stations in Budapest where volunteers look after their basic needs, including food, clothing and urgent medical attention, and where the city authorities give them access to sanitation facilities.

To provide more adequate accommodation, UNHCR is offering technical advice to city authorities who plan to open a transit facility.

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UN urges all States to sign, ratify Nuclear Test Ban as 'critical step on road to nuclear-free world'

INTERNATIONAL – For the fifth International Day against Nuclear Tests, United NationsSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed voluntary moratoria on testing imposed by nuclear-armed states but stressed that these cannot substitute for a legally-binding treaty.

“The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is essential for the elimination of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Ban said in a message. “It is a legally-binding, verifiable means by which to constrain the quantitative and qualitative development of nuclear weapons.”

The UN General Assembly declared 29 August the International Day against Nuclear Testsin December 2009, adopting a unanimous resolution that calls for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” 2010 marked the inaugural commemoration of the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

Reminding the world that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the dawn of the nuclear age, the UN chief said 70 years ago in 1945, “the Trinity Test unleashed the power of more than 20,000 tons of TNT and precipitated over 2,000 additional nuclear tests.”

“Pristine environments and populated communities in Central Asia, North Africa, North America and the South Pacific were hit,” he said. “Many have never recovered from the resulting environmental, health and economic damage. Poisoned groundwater, cancer, leukaemia, radioactive fallout – these are among the poisonous legacies of nuclear testing.”

“The best way to honour the victims of past tests is to prevent any in the future,” he said, noting that two decades after the CTBT was negotiated, “the time has long past for its entry-into-force.”

“I welcome the voluntary moratoria on testing imposed by nuclear-armed States,” Mr. Ban said “At the same time, I stress that these cannot substitute for a legally-binding Treaty.”

“On this International Day, I repeat my longstanding call on all remaining States to sign and ratify the Treaty – especially the eight necessary for its entry-into-force – as a critical step on the road to a nuclear-weapon-free world,” he said.

The General Assembly resolution that established the world day was initiated by Kazakhstan, together with a large number of sponsors and cosponsors with a view to commemorate the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991.

In his remarks, Assembly President Sam Kutesa said the recently held 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) had highlighted the stark reality of the increasing divisions between the States parties over the future of nuclear disarmament.

“It is now time to bridge the gap and work with more resolute political will to ensure that the NPT continues to remain the cornerstone of global security,” he declared.

Mr. Kutesa applauded the efforts of the Government of Kazakhstan, not only for initiating the International Day, but also for its continuing leadership in efforts to end nuclear weapons testing and to promote a world free of nuclear weapons.

He also commend the recent announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear programme, reached in Vienna between the international negotiators and Iran as an important step forward on this critical issue.

“I hope this agreement will benefit the non-proliferation regime and will lead to greater mutual understanding and cooperation on the many serious security challenges in the Middle East and beyond,” he said.

He also announced that on 10 September, he plans to convene an informal meeting of the General Assembly to mark the International Day under the overall theme 'Towards Zero: Resolving the Contradictions.'

 
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UN food relief now reaching more than 400,000 flood victims in Myanmar

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is now delivering rice, beans, cooking oil and salt to more than 400,000 people affected by flooding in Myanmar and “reachable only on foot, after floods and landslides destroyed roads across the country,” the agency said today.

More than 1.7 million people in Myanmar have been affected by widespread flooding and landslides as a result of heavy monsoon rains since early August.

In a press release issued in Yangon, Myanmar, WFP said it is appealing for $12.3 million urgently required to meet flood needs.

Emergency relief efforts began earlier this month within 48 hours of the President’s declaration of a state of natural disaster, WFP said, adding that with the provision of free transport by the Government and local airlines, more than 2,500 metric tons of food has been delivered to the flood-affected areas so far.

“WFP has supported the Government of Myanmar to save lives with emergency food, including supporting many who are reachable only on foot, after floods and landslides destroyed roads across the country,” according to WFP Country Director Dom Scalpelli. “It is quite an achievement, and I would like to thank our funding and cooperating partners for their support.”

WFP, working with the Government, other UN organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), aims to have reached more than 440,000 people with food assistance by the beginning of September.

People affected by the flooding receive a one-month ration of rice, pulses, cooking oil, and salt. In some cases, they also receive a week’s supply of high-energy biscuits, the agency said.

The emergency has forced WFP to temporarily suspend regular programmes such as school feeding nutrition assistance for pregnant women and nursing mothers, and the provision of food for people living with HIV and tuberculosis.

The flood relief efforts have so far been supported through contributions from Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, European Union, Germany, Japan, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States as well as the Japan Association for WFP, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and the private sector.

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UN refugee agency chief urges Europe to formulate collective response to migrant crisis

INTERNATIONAL – With the number of migrants fleeing to Europe the violence in their countries of origin continuing to increase, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, today urged the European Union to speed up the formulation of an adequate collective response to this unprecedented crisis.

“Since the beginning of the year, 293,000 migrants and refugees tried to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea and 2,440 of them died during the crossing,” said Mr. Guterres during a press conference in Geneva.

Joined by the French Minister of Internal Affairs, Bernard Cazeneuve, who was on a visit to the Swiss city, Mr. Guterres called on European countries not to deal individually with the migration crisis.

“Let’s be frank: 293,000 is a huge number for countries like the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or Serbia, or even Hungary or Greece; if we also think of the capacity of Germany, which today has most Syrian refugees,” he acknowledged, before adding that the same figure, with in mind the size of the whole European continent and its 508 million inhabitants, is in fact relatively low.

It is even lower, considering the efforts provided by neighbouring countries of Syria, like Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon in particular, a country whose a third of the population is now made up of Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

“It is clear that Europe has the capacities and the size needed to meet the challenges, assuming that it shows unity and jointly assume this responsibility,” concluded Mr. Guterres.

The High Commissioner's press conference followed incidents on August 21 and 22, during which thousands of migrants prevented to enter the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia following the decision of the authorities to close the country's border with Greece had attempted to force the passage.

The migrants, coming mostly from Syria, had initially reached Greece from Turkey at sea, prior to crossing the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Serbia and Western Europe.

“Taking into account all the human tragedies that these people have suffered, it only makes sense that we must act; we must act quickly; and must act effectively,” advocated the High Commissioner, citing the chaos of the past days at the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Envisioning a more inclusive and responsible migration policy at the European level, Mr. Guterres emphasized the need to increase resources allocated to development cooperation, as well as humanitarian assistance, in particular to address root causes.

“I remind you that the support program to Syrian refugees is only funded only up to 41 per cent overall and up to 21 per cent in Turkey, which is also the country where from the most dramatic displacements have been recorded in eastern Mediterranean,” he said to journalists.

The High Commissioner also called to accelerate implementation of the decisions taken by the European Council to improve reception and registration of refugees, but also relocation and resettlement.

The latter, he observed, “today would likely require much higher figures than those that have been proposed so far.”

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