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Europe: 24,600 refugee children 'in limbo' at risk of mental distress, UNICEF warns

INTERNATIONAL, 4 May 2017 – Nearly 75,000 refugees and migrants, including an estimated 24,600 children, currently stranded in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Western Balkans are at risk of psychosocial distress caused by living in a protracted state of limbo, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned today.

“We are seeing single mothers and children stranded in Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria who have not seen their husbands and fathers for months or even years,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.

“The family reunification process is slow, and its outcome uncertain and it is this uncertainty which can cause significant emotional distress and anxiety for children and families, setting them back for years to come,” she added.

In many cases, adult males are the first family members to make the trip to Europe, with the rest of the family following later.

Most stranded asylum seekers do not know whether or when they will be permitted to move forward. The situation is particularly acute for single mothers and children stuck in Greece or the Balkans waiting for reunification with family members in other EU countries.

But with the 2016 border closures and implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, other family members are being held up in transit countries from where they must apply for family reunification with their loved ones – a process that typically takes between 10 months and two years.

UNICEF and its partners in Greece are monitoring mental health and general depression among single mothers and children waiting for family reunification and providing psychosocial support.

“Keeping families together is the best way to ensure that children are protected, which is why the family reunification process for refugee and migrant children is so important,” said Ms. Khan. “With the number of those stranded continuing to rise, it is incumbent on member states to alleviate procedural bottlenecks so that families can get back together as quickly as possible.”

Most of the family reunification requests originate from children and separated family members stranded in Greece, but because of the caseload and involvement of destination countries, the process can be painstakingly slow.

In 2016, nearly 5,000 family reunification requests, out of which 700 from unaccompanied and separated children, were made from Greece, with only 1,107 successful applicants having reached their destination country by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the number of refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, Hungary and the Western Balkans continues to grow – increasing by around 60 per cent over the past year from 47,000 in March 2016 to nearly 80,000 at the end of April.


Perpetrators, not victims, should be shamed for conflict-related sexual violence – UN report

INTERNATIONAL, 3 May 2017 – Survivors of sexual violence in war zones need to be recognized as legitimate victims of conflict and terrorism, and not blamed, stigmatized or shamed, the United Nations has said in an annual report to be presented to the Security Council.

Shame and stigma are integral to the logic of sexual violence being employed as a tactic of war or terrorism: aggressors understand that this type of crime can turn victims into outcasts, thus unravelling the family and kinship ties that hold communities together,” according to the latest report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence, which is prepared by the Office of the UN Special Representative on the issue.

The report calls on traditional, religious and community leaders to address harmful social norms and help to redirect the stigma of rape from the victims to the perpetrators. If not, the victims may face lethal retaliation, “honour” crimes, suicide, untreated diseases, unsafe abortion, economic exclusion and indigence.

Of particular concern in the report are children born of rape, which “may themselves face a lifetime of marginalization, owing to stigma and uncertain legal status.”

“Unless those who have suffered sexual violence and the children born of rape are reintegrated into their societies and economies, they will remain susceptible to exploitation and recruitment,” the report cautions.

The report calls for national legal and policy frameworks to ensure that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence can benefit from reparations and redress, and have access to urgent support and services, such as sexual and reproductive health care “including measures for the safe termination of unwanted pregnancies.”

Protection from sexual violence and access to sexual and reproductive health care was also pledged at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit last May.

The annual report reviews 13 conflict settings, four post-conflict countries and two additional situations of concern. It also lists government and non-government actors who are credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape or other forms of sexual violence.

This year, for the first time since the Security Council created the position of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, there has been a delisting. The Ivorian armed forces (FACI) have been removed after the Government adopted measures in accordance with resolution 1960 (2010) and 2106 (2013). These measures include issuing orders through chains of command and adopting codes of conduct prohibiting sexual violence, or investigating alleged incidents.

“The measures taken by the Government of Côte d’Ivoire have resulted in the first delisting pursuant to this mandate, namely that of the Forces armées de Côte d’Ivoire. Continued monitoring and technical assistance will be required to consolidate these gains,” the report noted.

The report is due to be presented to the Security Council on 15 May.


UN envoy urges Syrian parties to ‘press ahead’ after Astana talks suspended

INTERNATIONAL, 3 May 2017 – A senior United Nations mediator today urged the continuation of talks on a Syrian ceasefire being held in the Kazak capital of Astana.

The current round of what has become known as the ‘Astana talks’ ¬between the Syrian conflict parties and led by Russia, Turkey and Iran, kicked off today, but, according to media reports, the Syrian opposition side walked out of the meeting, citing a new barrage of airstrikes in the area they hold.

“The United Nations is very concerned at the reports of escalation in Syria, including, allegedly, reports of air strikes, particularly in this delicate moment in the Astana discussions where actually proposals to de-escalate the conflict are under very serious discussion,” the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters, following the suspension of the meeting.

“We are calling, therefore, for the immediate investigation and for immediate institution of measures to ensure that now no strikes are taking place and are halted,” Mr. de Mistura said, urging all participants in Astana to “press ahead tomorrow with de-escalation discussions and confidence-building measures.”

Asked if he is confident that the opposition will come back tomorrow, he said that there have been “some incidents produced by one side or the other,” but the important thing is “to make sure that those incidents stop but also do not kill the opportunity for good news related to that.”

Positive outcomes from the Astana talks – which aim to bolster the ceasefire regime brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran in late December 2016 – would help Mr. de Mistura with his role of facilitating the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, the latest round of which wrapped up in late March. The discussions are guided by UN Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), focusing on matters of governance, a schedule and process to draft a new constitution and the holding of elections as the basis for a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned process to end the conflict.


In Lebanon and Syria, UN emergency food chief appeals for humanitarian access

INTERNATIONAL, 3 May 2017 – The head of the United Nations emergency food relief agency today appealed for “regular, unimpeded and sustained” humanitarian access during meetings with senior government officials and partners in Lebanon and Syria – his first official visit since assuming office.

David Beasley, the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) today wrapped up a three-day trip to the two countries to assess the growing needs. According to a press release, he spoke first-hand with Syrian refugee families in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut, and met with displaced women and children at a WFP distribution centre in Damascus.

“I am touched by the stories of the struggle and resilience of the many Syrians I met who are living away from home and loved ones,” Mr. Beasley said.

The UN agency provides monthly life-saving food assistance to more than four million vulnerable people each month inside Syria through regular deliveries as well as cross-border, cross-line and air deliveries to areas not reachable through regular means.

“In his meetings, Beasley appealed for regular, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to deliver urgently needed food assistance to people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas across war-torn Syria,” WFP reported.

He also commended Lebanon for its generosity in hosting over one million Syrian refugees.

During the trip, Mr. Beasley also visited warehouses, food distribution centres and WPF-contracted supermarkets where some of the most vulnerable refugees redeem monthly electronic vouchers.

In Lebanon, almost 700,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees receive food assistance through an electronic voucher (e-card) system. The e-cards are replenished each month with $27 per person, which can be used to buy food at one of 480 WFP-contracted shops across Lebanon.


On World Tuna Day, UN cites importance of sustainably managed fish stocks in achieving 2030 Agenda

INTERNATIONAL, 2 May 2017 – As migratory tuna species account for 20 per cent of the value of all marine capture fisheries and over eight per cent of all globally traded seafood, the inaugural celebration by the United Nations of World Tuna Day is an important step in recognizing the critical role of tuna to sustainable development, food security, economic opportunity, and livelihoods of people around the world.

Marking the first World Tuna Day with a call protect precious tuna resources and their surrounding ecosystems, the UN Legal Counsel today strongly urges long-term conservation and sustainable use of those resources, important for global achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to the UN, more than 80 States currently have tuna fisheries while thousands of tuna fishing vessels operate in all the oceans. In the Indian and Pacific Oceans, tuna fishery capacity is still growing.

Designation of the World Day underlines the importance of conservation management to ensure that systems are in place to prevent tuna stocks from crashing, the UN Environment Programme (UNEPsays.

Many countries depend heavily on tuna resources for food security and nutrition, economic development, employment, government revenue, livelihoods, culture and recreation. Two main products drive tuna production; traditional canned tuna and sashimi/sushi.

In a statement, General Assembly President Peter Thomson notes that nearly two-thirds of the tuna found in restaurants and supermarkets around the world comes from the Pacific Ocean, hence the Pacific small island development States, as well as the least developed countries (LDCs) playing an active role on the designation of the World Day.

Today’s celebration comes one month ahead of The Ocean Conference, to be held from 5 to 9 June 2017 at UN Headquarters, “and is a good opportunity to highlight the importance of reversing the decline in the health of the Ocean to ensure sustainable management of marine life, such as tuna, that we are so dependent on.”

In the latest publication of the The State World Fisheries and Aquaculture, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes there is a need for effective management to restore the overfished stocks including tuna. In the 2016 report, FAO registered new record catches for tuna. Total catches of tuna and tuna like species were almost 7.7 million metric tonnes. FAO notices that market demand for tuna is still high, and that the significant overcapacity of tuna fishing fleets remains.

Addressing the decline in tuna stocks resulting from overfishing in the world’s oceans, the UN Legal Counsel emphasizes the critical importance of effectively implementing the international legal framework, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, widely known as UNCLOS, which has been strengthened by the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, recommendations of its Review Conference, annual General Assembly resolutions on sustainable fisheries, as well as other efforts by the international community at the global, regional and national levels.

Economic and social benefits of sustainably managed tuna stocks

About 25 per cent of the world’s supply of tuna is controlled by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), UNEP reports. The parties, eight States in Oceania, agreed to scheme to sell a limited number of fishing days. According to UNEP this has advanced the sustainable management of tuna and has also doubled their revenue.

Additionally, UNEP reports, 14 Pacific island countries have improved monitoring, reporting and enforcement by putting in place a regional fishing register, and a vessel monitoring system that tracks fishing vessels around the clock.

Fisheries sustainability and seafood guidelines

FAO Fisheries defines two approaches to define the sustainability of fisheries production. The first one measures the state of the system:

  • Are fish abundant?
  • Is nutrition good? and
  • Are incomes from fishing allowing families to prosper?

The second one looks at the management of the system:

  • Does the management system change management actions as the state of the system changes?
  • If stocks decline, can the management system reduce fishing pressure and allow recovery? and
  • If incomes are poor, can management actions increase incomes?

UN atomic agency chief says DPR Korea “making progress”; urges cooperation

INTERNATIONAL, 2 May 2017 – The head of the United Nations atomic agency today expressed serious concern about the nuclear program of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), saying all indications suggest that the country is moving ahead with its nuclear efforts.

Speaking the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), noted that DPRK continues to launch missiles and threaten other countries.

“This is extremely worrying,” the Director General told the participants at the session, where he also provided a broader overview of important developments in key areas of the IAEA’s work relevant to the implementation of the Treaty since 2015.

In 2009, DPRK asked IAEA inspectors to leave the country, but the UN agency has continued to collect and evaluate information from satellite imagery, open-source and trade-related information.

“Without direct access to relevant sites and locations, the Agency cannot confirm the operational status of North Korea’s nuclear facilities. But all the indications suggest that North Korea is making progress with its nuclear programme,” said Mr. Amano.

DPRK has also withdrawn from the Treaty, known as NPT for short. A landmark international treaty that went into force in 1970, the NPT aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

It represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States.

In today’s speech, Mr. Amano urged DPRK to cooperate with the IAEA in implementing NPT safeguards, to fully comply with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and resolve any outstanding issues.

He also noted that IAEA inspectors are ready to return to the country “at short notice” if political conditions allow it.

The Preparatory Committee, which started today, will last through next Friday. It is the first of three planned sessions to be held prior to the 2020 review conference.


Citing Uruguay’s ‘inspiring’ record on environment, UN expert says country must do more

INTERNATIONAL, 2 May 2017 – Uruguay has much to be proud of in its record on human rights and the environment, but the South American country still has some challenges ahead, including the setting up of an environment ombudsperson, a United Nations-appointed expert said today.

“Uruguay has supported its obligations to human rights and the environment by adopting a number of laws and policies on rights to information, public participation in environmental decision-making, and providing remedies following environmental harm,” UN Special Rapporteur John Knox said at the end of his five-day mission to the country, according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Mr. Knox is appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

“But the Government should adopt affirmative measures to structure environmental information in a way that is easily understandable by the general public, especially those, like people living in poverty, who are most vulnerable to environmental degradation,” he noted.

Like other countries, Uruguay seeks to pursue both economic growth and environmental protection. These goals can sometimes come into conflict with one another. For example, expanding agricultural production through the use of fertilizers, agro-chemicals, and irrigation can cause environmental harm, including to water quality.

“The best way to ensure that development is truly sustainable is to provide effective access to information, which in turn allows informed public participation in the decision-making processes,” said Mr. Knox. “Only in that way can the public be assured that economic growth is not coming at the expense of human rights.”

He pointed to complaints that the current system for reporting problems was “confusing and not always responsive” and called for a new mechanism, which would include an ombudsperson with the authority to receive all environmental complaints to ensure that each was addressed promptly by the appropriate office.

The expert’s final report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.

The positions of Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are honorary and they are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


Afghanistan: UN assesses border management to cope with spike in returns from Pakistan

INTERNATIONAL, 2 May 2017 – With an unprecedented 600,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan last year, the United Nations migration agency has completed an assessment of border management capacity at Afghanistan’s two main border crossings with Pakistan.

“With returns in 2017 on track to meet or even surpass the levels of last year, it is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the current procedures at the border, and to look at how they can be improved,” said Laurence Hart, Afghanistan Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in a press release.

In 2016, 600,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan through the Torkham border crossing in Nangarhar province and the Spin Boldak border crossing in Kandahar province.

Over several visits to Torkham and Spin Boldak in April, the assessment team met with officials from the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, Border Police, customs officials, humanitarian actors and migrants.

Based on interviews and observations at the borders, IOM will produce an assessment report addressing key areas of administrative and operational capacity including infrastructure and available equipment; human resources and competencies; the regulatory framework guiding relevant government agencies; procedures and workflow; capacity gaps and issues.

“The report resulting from the assessment will include short-term recommendations for streamlining registration, document security and other border procedures, as well as technical assistance needs that could be addressed by IOM over the longer term,” said IOM border management expert Erik Slavenas.

As a first step toward improving efficiency at the border, the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, with the support of IOM, rolled out the Afghan Returnee Information System (ARIS) in late 2016.

ARIS, a digital registration process for both undocumented and refugee returnees, replaced a paper-based registration system. It allows for better data collection and data sharing.


Somalia: 1.4M children to suffer acute malnutrition this year – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 2 May 2017 – Some 1.4 million children in Somalia are projected to be acutely malnourished this year, an increase of 50 per cent over last year, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today announced.

The figure includes more than 275,000 children who have or will suffer life-threatening severe acute malnutrition.

“The combination of drought, disease and displacement are deadly for children, and we need to do far more, and faster, to save lives,” Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF Somalia Representative.

Somalia is in the midst of a drought after rains failed in November 2016, for a third year in the row. About 615,000 people looking for food and water have been displaced since then.

The women and children who make the trek, generally on foot, to places where they hope to find assistance, are often robbed or worse, both on the way to, and in camps. While there have been some reports of sexual abuse, including rape, according to the UN agency. Some children have been conscripted into armed groups.

Since April, it has rained in parts of Somalia, but there are concerns that if they come in full, they could spread disease among children living in makeshift shelters made out of twigs and cloth, or tarps.

“If assistance doesn't reach families, more people will be forced off their land into displacement camps. Outbreaks of malaria are already imminent, as is an upsurge of cholera,” UNICEF said.

Speaking in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said that a severely malnourished and dehydrated child could die in a matter of hours if they did not get treatment for diarrhoea and cholera

Ms. Mercado just returned from Baidoa, in the Bay region, which has more than half of the 28,400 cholera cases so far this year. She visited an inoculation campaign targeting every displaced child under five years of age with an emergency measles vaccination.

“Every mother I had spoken to had said that her children were sick, either with diarrhoea or vomiting, or feverish. Most had never been vaccinated before because of the insecurity across the country,” she said.

Humanitarians in Somalia are seeking an overall $825 million to reach the most vulnerable with life-saving assistance until June 2017.

Donors have been responding, hoping to avoid the 2011 famine in the country. But whereas the 2011 drought was concentrated in South Central Somalia, this year, it is affecting more parts of the country, including the north-eastern and the Somaliland regions, with a higher total number of people at risk.


Abuses by non-State actors no justification for rights violations by Governments – UN rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 1 May 2017 – Raising alarm over use of rhetoric by States that they can “solve problems” and find ways around lawful safeguards, the United Nations rights chief today urged vigilance to protect and promote human rights of everyone.

“The use of, or the creation of, some form of political fog to create confusion at times, even amounting to the depth charging of truth or parts of it, so that a government can pursue a particular line [is,] I think something […] to watch very carefully,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at a press briefing in Geneva.

“Violations by non-State actors of human rights norms, of international law, do not, and should not serve as grounds for violations thereby by Government actors,” he underscored.

In his remarks, he expressed particular concern over the renewed state of emergency in Turkey and the human rights situation in the country.

According to reports, up to 150,000 civil servants have been suspended. Furthermore, there are reports that last week about 10,000 police officers were also suspended and some one thousand among them detained.

“With such a large number, it is highly unlikely that the suspensions and detentions will have met due process standards,” added Mr. Zeid.

“Yes, the terror attacks need to be tackled, but not at the expense of human rights, and I am very concerned about the renewed state of emergency which was undertaken in mid-April and the climate of fear in the country,” he underscored.

Yes, the terror attacks need to be tackled, but not at the expense of human rightsHigh Commissioner Zeid

In the same vein, he also drew attention to the dangers confronting human rights defenders, journalists and civil society members in their lines of work.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights also spoke out against the impact of human rights violations on the lives of people and the resulting increased suffering.

“Human rights violations have also resulted in famines in Yemen and South Sudan and human rights deficits have exacerbated the impact of droughts in other places like Kenya, Somalia and northern Nigeria,” he said.

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