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‘I am alive, but I feel like I am dead’: a migrant grieves the drowning of 3 children

INTERNATIONAL, 9 May 2021, Migrants and Refugees - Misrah, an undocumented migrant worker, and her family, left their home in Ethiopia hoping for a better life. Instead, her three children are now dead, drowned during a perilous sea crossing across the Gulf of Aden, when the overloaded boat smuggling them into the country capsized.
Misrah lost three children who drowned when the boat they were travelling in capsized in the Gulf of Aden., by © IOM 2021/Hawa Diallo

“I have lost everything,” says Misrah, as she struggles to recount the most traumatic of events, witnessing the deaths of her three children. The 27-year-old Ethiopian woman, her husband and children – Aziza, five; Rachar, three; and Ikram, two – and at least 55 other migrants and refugees were aboard a boat controlled by smugglers crossing the Gulf of Aden from Yemen to the Horn of Africa via Djibouti, on 12 April.

‘They were too young; the sea was too rough’

Overcrowded and travelling in the dead of night, the vessel capsized under the weight of its passengers. Sixteen children, including Misrah’s, and at least 44 migrants and refugees drowned, trapped beneath the sunken vessel. She and her husband Abdul Basit were two of just 14 to survive.

Speaking through a translator, Misrah musters the strength and courage to describe the moments leading up to the tragedy. “As we approached the Djiboutian shore, the boat began to fall apart,” she recalls. “My children were sleeping when the boat turned over. I was holding Ikram in my arms. I knew I could swim. That is how I survived. Unfortunately, it was not the case for my children. They were too young; the sea was too rough.”

Alone, Misrah swam to shore, making her way on foot and with the help of a passing motorist to the town of Obock, Djibouti, where she met staff from the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Migrant Response Centre. “I was given a phone to call my mother and I feel better. Later they also helped locate my husband, who, thankfully, made it back to Ethiopia,” Misrah says.

“The staff members are taking care of me, trying to reassure me. I would like to see my mother; she is the only one who can comfort me right now.”

© IOM 2020/Alexander Bee
Ethiopian migrants cross the deserts of Djibouti.

The plight of undocumented migrants

In 2012, Misrah left her home in Derdawah, Ethiopia, to find work. “I wanted to take care of my family, my mother and my siblings,” she explains. “I managed to travel to Djibouti where I worked as a maid. Thanks to the money I earned I was able to afford to travel to Yemen by boat.”

Thousands of migrants from Ethiopia make the same journey through Djibouti to Yemen each year hoping to reach Saudi Arabia, where there are better work opportunities and higher incomes than back home. Others, like Misrah, intend to remain in Yemen where, prior to the conflict and the current pandemic, there were opportunities for migrant workers. Historically, there has always been movement back and forth between Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

Misrah slowly built a new life in the city of Aden, finding work as a cleaner. In 2014 she married Abdul Basit, and they started a family. “I liked my life in Yemen,” Misrah says. When Misrah’s mother fell ill back in Ethiopia, she felt compelled to return and care for her. Her husband was concerned for Misrah’s safety, reluctant for her to travel alone; ultimately, they decided to travel together as a family.

Like most undocumented migrants in the region, they had no formal or official stay documents in Yemen or papers needed to return to Ethiopia, and were forced to pay smugglers USD 400 to travel from Yemen to Djibouti by boat, the first leg on the journey to Ethiopia. Often, this trip can cost a lot more.

© IOM 2020/Alexander Bee
Staff at the IOM Migrant Response Centre in Obock, Djibouti, provide support to migrants who wish to return home.

IOM staff in Djibouti are providing Misrah with trauma counselling and support, and working with IOM in Ethiopia to help her return home to be reunited with her husband and mother.

“Before I leave Djibouti, I want to say goodbye to my children. I would like to have the opportunity to mourn them at the graveside before I return to Ethiopia,” she says.

She will continue to receive counselling from IOM Ethiopia and, together with Abdul Basit, support to reintegrate back into their community and start to rebuild their lives. But Misrah says the heartbreaking loss of her three children, Aziza, Rachar and Ikram, will never leave. “I want migrants in Yemen to understand that the journey is too risky,” she says. “I am alive, but I feel like I am dead.”

© IOM 2020/Alexander Bee
Ethiopian migrants on the shore of Obock, Djibouti.

Life-threatening journeys

  • In the past year, over 11,000 similar journeys were undertaken on unseaworthy vessels by migrants from the Horn of Africa desperate to return home from Yemen. Some, like Misrah, return for family emergencies, while others had tried and failed to reach Saudi Arabia. COVID-19 has led to movement restrictions across the Horn of Africa and in Yemen, including tightened security at Yemen’s border with KSA. IOM estimates that over 32,000 migrants are stranded across Yemen.
  • Despite stories like Misrah’s and the obvious life-threatening dangers of the sea journey, the number of migrants arriving in Djibouti by boat continues to increase. In March, over 2,343 arrived from Yemen by boat, compared to 1,900 in February.
  • Tragically, more than 100 migrants have now died in similar incidents off Djibouti’s coast over the last six months. Just last month, 80 migrants traveling from Djibouti to Yemen were thrown off a boat by smugglers, and several died. At the end of last year, at least 50 migrants died in similar tragedies.
  • IOM is working with governments and other partners to respond to the needs of these migrants, reduce irregular migration, and protect migrants from exploitation by smugglers and traffickers.
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Kabul school bombing condemned by senior UN officials

INTERNATIONAL, 8 May 2021, Peace and Security - Saturday’s deadly bombing outside a high school in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, has been condemned by leading UN officials. The attack led to the deaths of at least 30 people, including several schoolchildren.

Most of the casualties are reported to be girls, who were leaving the building at the end of the school day. According to media reports, the city was full of shoppers, ahead of the Eid-al-Fitr celebrations.

Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, reacted in a press statement. "UNICEF strongly condemns the horrific attack earlier today near the Sayed Ul-Shuhada high school, in Kabul, Afghanistan", said Ms. Fore. "The attack claimed the lives of dozens of schoolchildren, mostly girls, and severely injured many more. Violence in or around schools is never acceptable. Schools must be havens of peace where children can play, learn and socialize safely."

The UNICEF chief added that children must never be the target of violence, and that the UN agency continues to call on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to adhere to international human rights and humanitarian law, and ensure the safety and protection of all children.

The President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, reacted with a Tweet, in which he described the blast as "an abhorrent and cowardly attack". Mr. Bozkir expressed his sadness at the "lives lost and the dozens of injuries, especially those of young students", and condemned the targeting of innocent civilians.

For the UN Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, the bombing was "an atrocity". The Mission tweeted its "deep revulsion" and sent a message of condolence to the victim’s families, wishing a speedy recovery to those injured in the attack.

The Sayed Ul-Shuhada high school is located in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood in west Kabul, home to many members of the Hazari minority, who are mainly Shia Muslims. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, but the area has frequently been targeted by Sunni Islamist militants.

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The United Nations remembers the dead of WWII

INTERNATIONAL, 8 May 2021, Peace and Security - The Second World War had a profound impact on the international community, and established the conditions for the creation of the United Nations. This weekend marks the official remembrance of the tens of millions of civilians and soldiers who died during the conflict.

In total, about 40 million civilians, and some 20 million soldiers, almost half of them Russians, lost their lives in the war between 1939 and 1945. On 8 and 9 May, the UN invites its 193 member countries, non-governmental organizations, and individuals, to pay tribute to the victims of the conflict.

The date of 8 May was chosen because it is the day the Nazi forces in Germany surrendered in 1945 but, recognizing that UN member states may have their own memorable days associated with the victory over fascism, the General Assembly invited all countries, UN organizations, non-governmental organizations and individuals to celebrate either 8 May, 9 May, or both of these days annually as a tribute to all victims of the Second World War.

The General Assembly Resolution establishing this day, adopted in 2014, notes that this historic event laid down the conditions for the creation of the United Nations, which was founded to "save future generations from the scourge of war", according to its founding Charter.

The Resolution calls on member states to unite their efforts to face new challenges and threats, with the United Nations playing a central role in resolving disputes by peaceful means.

UN Photo
The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) organized the sending of food products to countries devastated by the Second World War.

Untold sorrow to humankind

In this text, the General Assembly recalls that the Second World War "brought untold sorrow to humankind, particularly in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Pacific and other parts of the world", and underlines the progress made since, and the UN’s important role in overcoming this painful legacy, and promoting reconciliation.

In a Tweet published on Saturday, the UN Chief António Guterres recalled that the UN was born following the victory over fascism and tyranny, and urged the world to "never forget the lessons of history, and continue working for a future of peace & dignity for all."

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What can the UN do to support India through its deadly COVID-19 surge?

INTERNATIONAL, 8 May 2021, Health - The UN is at the forefront of efforts to help India extricate itself from the almost unimaginable scale of suffering its citizens are undergoing, as a result of a devastating wave of COVID-19 infections. Earlier this week, UN News spoke to the country chiefs based in India, for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund, to get their take on the crisis. Here are some key excerpts from the interviews.

'We gave the virus a chance'

Dr. Roderico H. Ofrin, WHO representative to India: It is important to remember that, by early February of this year, the economy and social activities reopened. We also saw that people were not behaving in a way that was appropriate to slowing COVID-19, and I think that's why we are where we are. There are many reasons, but basically, we gave the virus a chance to keep transmitting.

Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF representative to India: In 2020 we were working closely with the Indian Government on spreading health messaging and preventing infections. Life began getting back to normal this year, and this is when the second wave hit.

© UNICEF/Amarjeet Singh
COVID-19 vaccine vials are stored in a government-run facility in New Delhi, India.

An overwhelming wave

Dr. Ofrin: The way the virus has spread is similar to what we’ve seen in Europe or the US, but the scale is very different. The density of the population is probably also a factor, and we’ve seen that the spikes are acute in metropolitan areas. In the weeks when the cases were rising, the system was able to absorb patients, and extra beds were also being made available last year. So, it’s a scale issue: the scale of the surge and the scale of the response.

This virus is adapting so fast, that no model has been able to predict how it will spread. We have to be ahead of the game: it’s a cycle of preparedness, readiness, response and recovery. You can’t stop. 

However, we do know how to deal with it: consistent testing, contact tracing, active case finding, early treatment, and proper treatment. People need to observe COVID-appropriate behaviours, like the 3W's – Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance – and vaccinate. This is the full arsenal of ammunition to fight the virus. it is now a matter of using these tools consistently, and at scale. 

 

All hands on deck

Dr. Ali Haque: Right now, we’re focusing on getting essential oxygen equipment. We’re also working on procuring testing machines, and getting COVID vaccines delivered to people. We have a lot of experience vaccinating children, and we’re adapting that experience to anticipate what kind of bottlenecks we’re likely to face, as well as issues of vaccine hesitancy or vaccine eagerness. We have administered close to 160 million doses in about 110 days which is probably the fastest in the world.

The challenge, of course is the numbers, the size of India, the distances and the terrain that sometimes needs to be covered. It's not an easy job, but I believe that, if it’s possible anywhere, it is going to be possible here.

© UNICEF/Amarjeet Singh
COVID-19 patients receive oxygen at a place of worship in Ghaziabad, India.

Dr. Ofrin: India is one of the countries that does mass immunisation very, very well. If you look at how things started in the US, they were not used to mass vaccination campaigns. India has a strong tradition and history of vaccinations, and that's why the launch on January 16 went well. However, to achieve herd immunity, we do need to get everyone vaccinated but people also need to behave in ways that are appropriate.

We have been tapping our network of 2600 public health specialists in India, and our experts in the field have been supporting our response: it's all hands on deck for us. Many of our priority areas will continue to surround the maintenance of essential health services. Of course, infection prevention and control is important, but the first priority is filling critical gaps.

 

Consequences will last years

Dr. Ali Haque: The consequences of this pandemic will be with us for years. We are already seeing the secondary effects, especially on children and the poorest and most marginalised groups. 

In the best-case scenario, we estimate that about 50 per cent of children have access to remote learning. That means that around 150 million children of school-going age do not have access. We are already hearing of stories of an increase in child labour, the early marriage of girls especially and even child trafficking.

We need to address the psychosocial trauma the children are facing now, and to be prepared for the longer term effects. With so many people dying, children are being left without parental care or without caregivers, so there needs to be an investment in fostering and alternative care arrangements for these children. 

But I think the way we have seen communities come together, and the extent to which the public has been donating, has been unprecedented. This is going to be crucial if we are to see the investment in critical services that allow children to remain healthy, to thrive, and to recover from the trauma created by this pandemic.

© UNICEF/Biju Boro
A woman is vaccinated against COVID-19 at a state dispensary in Guwahati, India.

Help from across the UN System

  • The UN India team, alongside specialized agencies including the WHOUNICEF, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Population Fund (UNFPA) are working closely together to deliver essential equipment in India.
    Shortages of oxygen has been linked to many COVID-related deaths during the crisis, with Delhi particularly hard hit. The UN system is providing 10,000 oxygen concentrators, 25 ventilators and over 70 oxygen-generating plants.
  • Record numbers of tests are being conducted in India, but the current test positivity rate, at 19%, continues to be too high. The UN agencies are supporting the rollout of vaccines, by providing cold chain equipment for the vaccines, with 63 containers of walk-in cold rooms and refrigerators and 200,000 vaccine carriers. WHO and UNICEF also delivered 400,000 machines and 300 kits for testing, with UNICEF further delivering over 60 airport thermal scanners.
  • WHO has deployed over 2,600 public health specialists working on other diseases to tackle the pandemic. Across the country, UNICEF and UNDP are also supporting authorities to monitor over 175,000 COVID-19 centres, with over 820 personnel deployed.
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India’s new COVID-19 wave is spreading like ‘wildfire’, warns UN Children’s Fund

INTERNATIONAL, 7 May 2021, Health - A new wave of COVID-19 infections is spreading like “wildfire” across India, leaving many youngsters destitute, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF said on Friday.

In the last 24 hours, India registered 3,915 coronavirus deaths and 414,188 cases “which is the highest daily case count recorded by any country in the history of COVID-19 pandemic”, said Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in India.

“UNICEF is of course very concerned about this deadly daily surge in new cases”, she added. “This wave is almost four times the size of the first wave and the virus is spreading much faster. On average, there were more than four new cases every second and more than two deaths every minute in the last 24 hours.”

Overwhelmed health centres

The UN official noted that health facilities have been overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, amid reports that pregnant women have struggled to find the support they need to give birth.

“With 27 million births and 30 million pregnancies every year, life-saving services to help women give birth are critical in India” Ms. Ali Haque said. “What is happening in India should raise alarm bells for all of us. The pandemic is far from over. COVID-19 cases are rising at an alarming rate across South Asia, especially in Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.”

Very low levels of vaccination in most South Asian countries - less than 10 per cent in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal – were also adding to concerns of the virus spiralling even further, the UNICEF representative noted. 

Second wave impact

UNICEF is also concerned that the COVID-19 surge has also led to “dire consequences” for a greater number of children than during the first wave of infections, with access to essential health, social, protection and education services constrained.

“Children are facing mental health issues and are at greater risk of violence, as lockdowns shut them off from their vital support networks”, Ms. Ali Haque said.

Although there is no indication that the proportion of children getting infected is any different to the first wave, “the numbers are far greater”, she insisted. “We’re seeing the virus entering a household; it just takes one member of the household to be affected and it seems to spread like wildfire throughout the family.”

Illegal adoptions

This has been accompanied by a likely spike in illegal adoption pleas on internet platforms by families desperate to find homes for orphaned relatives, prompting fears of child exploitation, the UN official said.

Authorities were “beginning to pick up on numbers” of vulnerable children, the UNICEF official continued, in a call to promote family tracing and speedier help for destitute families.

“When we see that children are being orphaned and we do see that there is a lot of trafficking of children which is reported, children go missing, those systems are beginning to pick up on numbers”, she said.

There is a greater alertness around any family seeing that children (that) have been affected get reported…While there isn’t enough data yet, we can see that illegal adoption pleas have surfaced on social media, making these orphans vulnerable to trafficking and abuse.”

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WHO approves Chinese COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

INTERNATIONAL, 7 May 2021, Health - A COVID-19 vaccine produced in China has been given the green light for global rollout, potentially paving the way for its use in underserved countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday. 

The UN agency has approved the Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use, which is a prerequisite for inclusion in the global vaccine solidarity initiative, COVAX.  

The vaccine is easy to store, making it suitable for locations with limited resources, and proved 79 per cent effective in clinical trials. 

“The addition of this vaccine has the potential to rapidly accelerate COVID-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk”, said Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Health Products.  

“We urge the manufacturer to participate in the COVAX Facility and contribute to the goal of more equitable vaccine distribution.” 

A vaccine first 

The Sinopharm vaccine is produced by Beijing Bio-Institute of Biological Products Co Ltd, a subsidiary of China National Biotec Group (CNBG).   

It is the first vaccine to carry a vaccine vial monitor. The vials have a small sticker that changes colour as the vaccine is exposed to heat, so health workers know whether it can be safely used. 

The vaccine is recommended for adults 18 and older, with a two-dose schedule spaced over a period of three to four weeks. 

Although few people over 60 participated in the clinical trials, WHO did not recommend an upper age limit for use as data suggests the vaccine is likely to have a protective effect in older persons.   

Safely expediting vaccines 

WHO emergency use listing (EUL) allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer COVID-19 vaccines. 

The EUL process assesses the suitability of new medicines, vaccines and diagnostics during public health emergencies.  

The goal is to make them available as rapidly as possible, while maintaining strict criteria of safety, efficacy and quality. 

The Sinopharm vaccine is the sixth to receive the EUL approval.  The others are by Pfizer/BioNTech, Astrazeneca-SK Bio, Serum Institute of India, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) and Moderna.

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Climate change threatens winged harbinger of spring

INTERNATIONAL, 7 May 2021, Climate and Environment - A sure sign of spring in northern Europe is the arrival of the Arctic tern bird, but ahead of the UN’s World Migratory Bird Day  experts fear the warming of the oceans in its nesting grounds in the northern Atlantic is threatening its very existence. 

A globe-trotting adventurer

The Arctic tern is a great traveller, and spends most of the year on the move, with long periods over the ocean. Its breeding grounds cover both the northern and southern polar regions. In Europe, during the summer months, it can be found from Brittany in the south, to Iceland, Greenland, and Svalbard in the north.

Come autumn, the terns head south in the direction of Antarctica where they stay during the northern winter. However, they don’t fly directly from north to south, and an individual bird has been known to have covered almost 100,000 kilometres, or twice the circumference of the planet. 

Andreas Weith
Arctic terns protect their offspring extremely aggressively.

A big adventure

“When terns reach Antarctica, they stay close to the ice-brim, and move gradually eastward”, says Guðmundur A. Guðmundsson, animal ecologist at the Institute of Natural History in Iceland. “Swedish and Dutch birds go all the way towards Australia, but the Icelandic and Greenland birds return earlier to the Weddell Sea in the Southern Arctic. From there they set off north in March and up to one and a half months later they reach their destination in our country”. 

In the case of Iceland, the terns announce spring in the latter part of April, when they arrive to nest. When the chicks are ready to fledge in August they fly to the south, but not in a straight line, rather in an S-shape trajectory. One of their well-known stop-overs is Cape Town in South Africa in November.

En route to their nesting grounds in Iceland and Greenland they are known to have stop-overs in Brazil and cross the Andes mountain range. “It is a big adventure,“ says Mr. Guðmundsson.

Jakub Fryš
Arctic terns spend the northern hemisphere summer between northern France, Iceland and Greenland.

A front row seat at planetary crises

However, he is concerned by the decline in Iceland’s tern population – which currently stands at some 250,000 nesting couples – over the last few decades, with climate change the probable culprit.

Because of the warming ocean, algae are blooming earlier in the year, too early for young sand eels to feed. This means that stocks of sand eel, an important food source for migratory sea birds, have collapsed in the seas around Iceland. 

Although the tern is not at risk of extinction in the short term, enough concern has been raised for the bird to be added to the be added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. 

Inger Andersen the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), says that migratory birds have “a front row seat to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.”

“Climate change is changing and disturbing the migratory patterns of birds,” adds Ms. Andersen. “The destruction of the natural world threatens these pollinators, critical for food security and well-being. And pollution, whether in waterbodies, land or air, is proving toxic for migratory birds”.

World Migratory Bird Day

  • World Migratory Bird Day is held twice annually in the spring and the autumn.
  • “Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a Bird!” is the theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, held on 8 May. The Day highlights a global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the need for international cooperation to conserve them. 
  • “On World Migratory Bird Day, I call on us to re-double our commitment to addressing the triple planetary crisis and securing the future of the bird song for all,” says UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
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‘No time to lose’, stop flow of deadly weapons to Myanmar military now, urges UN rights expert

INTERNATIONAL, 7 May 2021, Peace and Security - The United Nations independent human rights expert on Myanmar on Friday called on countries that have not yet done so, to impose arms embargo on the country urgently, to stop the “massacre” of citizens across the country.

Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the southeast Asian nation, underscored in a statement, the need to stop the flow of weapons and so called dual-use weapons technology into the hands of forces under the command of the military junta, describing it as “literally a matter of life and death.”

“There is no time to lose … I urge governments who support cutting the flow of weapons to a brutal military junta to consider immediately establishing their own arms embargo against Myanmar while simultaneously encouraging UN Security Council action.”

‘Dual-use’ technology

Mr. Andrews also said that bilateral arms embargoes should encompass both weapons and dual-use technology, including surveillance equipment.

“Together, they will represent an important step forward to literally taking guns out of the hands of those killing innocent men, women and children.”

The Special Rapporteur also applauded a call by over 200 civil society organizations to bring the arms embargo issue to the attention of the 15-member Security Council.

He is currently updating a list of States that have established arms embargoes against Myanmar, Mr. Andrews added, noting that he intended to publish an updated list next month. The independent expert’s report to the Human Rights Council in March identified that nations that had already established arms embargoes.

Month four

Into its fourth month, the political turmoil – marked by near daily pro-democracy protests and a brutal crackdown by security forces – has reportedly claimed at least 750 lives and wounded countless more.

There are also serious concerns over the continuing impact of the crisis, with the UN Development Programme (UNDPwarning of an economic collapse, and the UN human rights chief cautioning that Myanmar could spiral into a “full-blown conflict” similar to the implosion of Syria over the past decade, if the bloodshed does not stop.

UNICEF/Robert Few
As of 31 December 2020, there are about 92,000 Myanmar refugees in Thailand. Pictured here, a refugee camp in northern Thailand. (file photo)

Preparing supplies for refugees, in Thailand

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said that it is pre-positioning key relief items and personal protective equipment (PPE) in Thailand, which could potentially be provided to those fleeing violence in Myanmar.

According to a bulletin issued earlier this week, about 2,300 people crossed from Myanmar into Thailand on 27 April due to increased fighting and they are currently hosted in safe zones, managed by the Thai Army.

“UNHCR has advocated for access to the population and offered support to the Thai Government’s efforts to respond to further displacement from Myanmar and address refugees’ protection needs”, it said.

As of 31 December 2020, there are about 92,000 Myanmar refugees in Thailand, who fled previous waves of displacement, in nine temporary shelters, according to UNHCR.

Refugee arrivals in India

Similarly, the agency estimates that between 4,000 to 6,000 refugees from Myanmar have entered into the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur since March, where local charities and individuals have provided life-saving assistance those arriving.

“Some 190 have moved onward to New Delhi, where UNHCR is assessing their needs and has begun registering and providing them with basic assistance”, the agency added, noting that it has offered its support to the Indian Government in protection, and humanitarian coordination and response to new arrivals from Myanmar.

 

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Brazil: UN rights office urges independent probe into deadly police operation in Rio de Janeiro

INTERNATIONAL, 7 May 2021, Human Rights - The UN's human rights office (OHCHR) on Friday called for an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into a major police operation in a favela in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, in which at least 25 were reportedly killed, including a police officer.

The operation started in the early hours of Thursday when police officers on the ground and in helicopters overhead opened fire across the Jacarezinho neighbourhood – in a operation allegedly aimed at suspected drug traffickers. 

In addition to the deaths, an unknown number of people, including bystanders and those inside their homes, were also wounded.

‘Deadliest operation’ in over a decade

OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said that the incident appeared to have been the “deadliest such operation in more than a decade” in Rio de Janeiro.

“[It] furthers a long-standing trend of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Brazil’s poor, marginalized and predominantly Afro-Brazilian neighbourhoods, known as favelas.”

There are also reports that after the incident, the police did not take steps to preserve evidence at the crime scene, which could hinder investigations into this lethal operation, the spokesperson said.

Court restrictions

Mr. Colville said that it was “particularly disturbing” that operation took place despite a Federal Supreme Court ruling last year, which restricted police operations in Rio’s favelas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We remind the Brazilian authorities that the use of force should be applied only when strictly necessary, and that they should always respect the principles of legality, precaution, necessity and proportionality”, he said.

“Lethal force should be used as a last resort and only in cases where there is an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.”

Ensure protection of witnesses 

Mr. Colville called on the Office of the Prosecutor to conduct an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the incident in accordance with international standards, particularly in line with the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death

“This lays down that authorities must ensure the safety and security of witnesses and protect them from intimidation and retaliation”, he said.

The OHCHR spokesperson also urged for a broad and inclusive discussion in Brazil about the current model of policing in favelas – which are trapped in a vicious cycle of lethal violence, with a dramatically adverse impact on their already struggling and marginalized populations.

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Stop evictions in East Jerusalem neighbourhood immediately, UN rights office urges Israel

INTERNATIONAL, 7 May 2021, Human Rights - The UN’s human rights office (OHCHR), on Friday, called on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, as well as to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force while ensuring safety and security there.

Eight Palestinian refugee families residing in Sheikh Jarrah are facing forced eviction due to a legal challenge by the Nahalat Shimon settler organization, with the risk “imminent” for four of the families, according to the office.

OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said that the evictions, if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law.

“Given the disturbing scenes in Sheikh Jarrah over the past few days, we wish to emphasize that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which International Humanitarian Law applies. The occupying Power must respect and cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory, and must respect, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.”

He went on to note that Israel cannot impose its own set of laws in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, to evict Palestinians from their homes.

On Thursday, Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, also urged Israel to stop demolitions and evictions in the neighbourhood, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.

Prohibited under international law

“In addition, the Absentee Property Law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law are applied in an inherently discriminatory manner, based solely on the nationality or origin of the owner”, OHCHR spokesperson Colville said.

“In practice, the implementation of these laws facilitates the transfer by Israel of its population into occupied East Jerusalem. The transfer of parts of an occupying Power’s civilian population into the territory that it occupies is prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime”, he added.

Violation of right to adequate housing

The OHCHR spokesperson also said that forced evictions could violate the rights to adequate housing and to privacy and other human rights of those who are evicted.

“Forced evictions are a key factor in creating a coercive environment that may lead to forcible transfer, which is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and is a grave breach of the Convention.”

Mr. Colville also called on Israel to respect freedom of expression and assembly, including of those who are protesting against the evictions, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force while ensuring safety and security in East Jerusalem.

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