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MSF provides relief items and adapts response for COVID-19 in Idlib

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Deir Hassan camp in Idlib province, northwestern Syria, is one of the many camps to which hundreds of thousands of displaced families fled, to escape the military offensive by Syrian government forces with their Russian allies between December 2019 and early March 2020. Deir Hassan camp hosts more than 164,000 people in settlements scattered over the hills and, as is the case across northwest Syria, it lacks basic services. It is now also threatened by the potential spread of COVID-19.

On 16 March, after assessing the needs in Deir Hassan camp, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) distributed essential items to 180 families in the Latamneh and Al-Habeet settlements, including family tents, mats, plastic sheeting, blankets, cooking sets and hygiene kits.

“We witnessed people living in the open; we also saw two or three families sharing a tent which did not protect them from the cold or the rain,” says Ahmed, MSF project team leader. “There were too few tents to accommodate the new arrivals.”

The next day, the MSF team distributed the same relief items to 115 families in Abo Obeidah, another settlement in Deir Hassan.

“Thanks to MSF, we got tents,” says Manaf Shamma, a displaced mother living in Latamneh. “This camp was set up eight months ago, but it needs latrines, sewage, proper roads.”

COVID-19 pandemic adds to health risks

In Deir Hassan camp, the water and sanitation facilities are inadequate for such large numbers of people, raising the risk of water-borne diseases. So far, upper respiratory infections have been the main condition seen by the MSF mobile clinics. But now the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has become a huge challenge worldwide and in Syria.

The Syrian government reported the first case of COVID-19 in Syria on 23 March. While no cases have been declared in Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold, the disease may spread very quickly through the region, especially in camps, where people live in large settlements, in overcrowded conditions with little sanitation.

MSF has suspended our mobile clinics in Deir Hassan camp to allow our staff to attend training on infection prevention and control (IPC), and to make sure they wont spread the virus. In the coming days, MSF community health workers will hold health education sessions on COVID-19 with displaced families in 10 settlements in Deir Hassan camp, and will distribute leaflets and specific hygiene kits.

As our teams are now focusing their work on infection prevention and control measures, they are providing assistance for the triage and screening of patients in the two MSF-supported health centres, in Deir Hassan and Tal Karama.

USA: Immediately revoke COVID-19 suspension of environmental protections

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Responding to the US Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) announcement it would indefinitely suspend enforcement of environmental laws due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Richard Pearshouse, Amnesty Internationals Head of Crisis and the Environment, said:

“The Trump administration is cynically abusing this crisis to achieve its pre-COVID-19 goal of gutting US environmental regulations.

The Trump administration is cynically abusing this crisis to achieve its pre-COVID-19 goal of gutting US environmental regulations. Its difficult to overstate the risk. The decision to indefinitely suspend the protections afforded by environmental laws will kill or compromise the health of large numbers of people.[contfnewc] Richard Pearshouse, Head of Crisis and the Environment at Amnesty International

“Its difficult to overstate the risk. The decision to indefinitely suspend the protections afforded by environmental laws will kill or compromise the health of large numbers of people. These impacts will be felt by everyone in the USA, but particularly by people already facing marginalization and discrimination, including those who live in areas surrounded by heavily polluting industrial facilities.

“EPA enforcement of environmental laws saves hundreds of thousands of people from premature death each year, and millions more from unnecessary illnesses and sicknesses. This decision should be immediately revoked.

“This could have a devastating knock-on effect on human rights globally if other state authorities follow suit and abdicate their responsibility to protect their populations from pollutants in the air, water and ground.”

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IOM Steps Up Humanitarian Response on Turkeys Land and Sea Borders

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Edirne- As the situation on the Turkey/EU border enters its second week IOM, with its partners, continues to provide humanitarian aid to the thousands of vulnerable migrants who have been sleeping in rough conditions, without proper access to food, shelter or sanitary facilities.

Since Friday 28th February migrants have been moving towards the Turkey EU/border in the province of Edirne. Many remain there, after walking long distances carrying their belongings, children, and babies on their backs.

IOM Turkey has committed over USD 100,000 on food, clothing and hygienic items and other items with funds donated by the US Government. Teams on the ground have been actively distributing food and relief items on the border for days and are now significantly picking up operations. Additional staff have been deployed to border areas. Aid was distributed today at Pazarkule crossing point with more distributions planned tonight at two other points along the border.

IOM response teams are also present along the Aegean coast providing assistance to vulnerable migrants, however activities in the Aegean have been very minimal as weather conditions have largely prevented migrants from trying to cross.

In less than a week, IOM distributed over 8,000 relief items – food kits, blankets, jackets, shoes, among other necessities to migrants in need in Edirne and along the coast. About 20,000 relief items are on the way from the IOM warehouse in Turkey and from vendors in Istanbul to be distributed over the course of this weekend.

In the midst of a fluid and changing situation on the ground, it is proving difficult to estimate the numbers of migrants on the move. People have managed to come and go from border areas with food items, but sanitation and health conditions of migrants remain a concern, posing health risks for migrants and their families, especially the many young children. Some may wish to return to provinces they travelled from and require transportation assistance.

“We are grateful to our donor the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration for their swift support, said “IOM Turkeys Chief of Mission Lado Gvilava.

“ Additional funding will allow us to reach a great number of those in need.”

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Shipwreck off coast of Libya pushes migrant deaths on the Mediterranean past 20,000 mark

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Berlin – A tragic shipwreck off the coast of Libya last month and more than a dozen other recent fatalities elsewhere have pushed the death toll in the Mediterranean Sea to 20,014 since 2014, according to IOMs Missing Migrants Project.

“The disappearance and presumed drowning of at least 91 people reported missing aboard a dingy north of Garabulli, Libya, on February 9 is the latest in a series of so-called ghost boats that have vanished en-route to Europe, claiming hundreds of lives,” said Frank Laczko, Director of IOMs Global Migration Data Analysis Centre.

“Two-thirds of the fatalities we have recorded are people lost at sea without a trace. The fact that we have reached this grim new milestone reinforces IOMs position that there is an urgent need for increased, comprehensive SAR capacity in the Mediterranean.”

Ghost boats, also called invisible shipwrecks, are usually reported by NGOs such as Alarm Phone and Caminando Fronteras, which receive calls from migrants in distress at sea, and family members searching for lost loved ones. In dozens of similar cases recorded by IOM, no search and rescue operations are ever carried out, and those onboard are presumed to be lost at sea.

“If you come from a high-income country, efforts will be made to find and identify your body should you go missing. The same simply does not apply if you are a migrant in the Mediterranean,” said Laczko.

“With each passing year, more families find themselves living in limbo, not knowing whether a relative is dead or alive.”

In addition to the tragedy off the coast of Libya, the bodies of three young men washed up on a beach in Tunisia last week. They are likely linked to a ship carrying 18 people that departed from Algeria on 14 February, the fate of which remains unclear.

Although the annual number of deaths has decreased every year since 2016 when more than 5,000 lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean, the proportion of deaths compared to attempted crossings rose in both the Central and Western Mediterranean in 2019 compared to previous years – a continuation of the increasing risk of death seen since 2017.

With no end in sight to the tragedy unfolding on the Mediterranean, IOM reiterates that improved and expanded safe, legal pathways for migrants and refugees are urgently needed, both to reduce the incentive to choose irregular channels, and to help prevent the unnecessary and avoidable loss of lives.

For the latest data on migrant deaths and disappearances, visit IOMs Missing Migrants Project website.

Brutal cold intensifies desperation for rising numbers of displaced in north-west Syria

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Geneva – Sub-zero temperatures and increased snowfall are further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria where more than a quarter of a million people have been displaced in the past four days. Over 830,000 people have been displaced in the region in the last two months and more than 1.2 million since April 2019, according to the United Nations.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is extremely concerned about this rapid and ongoing rise in displacement which continues to rise in the tens of thousands every day, particularly as conflict spreads northward to highly populated urban areas.

“Over 80,000 people forced to flee violence in the last few months are sleeping under trees or in open areas in the snow,” said Joseph Ashmore, IOMs Global Shelter Coordinator.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and many more may die as extreme winter conditions take hold, provoking one of the most severe shelter crises the humanitarian system has faced in the last decade,” he added.

The majority of the uprooted are staying with host families, in camps or unfinished buildings. As displacement rises, there are less places to house people seeking refuge.

IOM has been assisting partners on the ground to reach nearly 300,000 people with humanitarian aid since mid-December 2019. In the past weeks, IOMs partners have delivered emergency items – including blankets, hygiene kits and other goods – as well as shelter materials to 129,000 people in need.

However, insecurity has impeded access of some partners – compromising the ability for affected populations to receive the most basic services.

Health centres, schools, markets and camps have been targeted by violence with increased civilian casualties reported every day.

The Organization is seeking increased funding from the international community to adequately respond to rapidly rising needs. IOM also reiterates the UN Secretary Generals call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and attacks of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

The Syrian conflict, approaching its tenth year, has displaced more than six million people within the country and provoked more than 5.5 million people to flee to neighbouring countries in the region.

Italy contributes €500,000 (US$ 610,000) to help relieve drought-affected people from hunger

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LUSAKA – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has welcomed a €500,000 (US$ 610,000) contribution from the Italian Government to provide food to people affected by the drought in Zambia.

Drought and prolonged dry spells have left 2.3 million people severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian food assistance.

“In the context of the current crisis, the Italian emergency contribution confirmed in December 2019 is crucial to WFP. The funds will enable WFP to procure around 340 MT of pulses to cover the food needs of about 99,000 people for an entire month, helping WFP ensure that the people residing in the areas most affected by the drought can receive the immediate assistance they need,” said Jennifer Bitonde, WFP Country Representative in Zambia.

“At the same time, WFP will continue to work to strengthening communities resilience to future climatic shocks under its five-year Country Strategic Plan (2019-2024),” she added.

As part of the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, WFP is currently supporting the Governments response by providing logistics support by delivering Government-supplied maize meal, as well as by procuring and delivering pulses to ensure a nutrition-sensitive food basket. WFP is also working closely with partners to monitor food distributions and guarantee that resources reach those most in need.

About 1.1 million people are expected to receive WFPs support, while the remaining 1.2 million will be assisted by the Government and other partners, with whom WFP is working and closely coordinating.

Contact

For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):
Paola Di Tommaso, WFP/Lusaka Mob.+260971020341

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The United Nations World Food Programme – saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.

UNHCR to suspend operations at GDF in Tripoli amid safety concerns

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced today, Thursday, 30 January, that it is suspending its operational work at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), fearing for the safety and protection of people at the facility, its staff and partners amid worsening conflict in Tripoli, Libya.

“Unfortunately UNHCR was left with no choice but to suspend work at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli after learning that training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few meters away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees,” said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCRs Chief of Mission in Libya.

“We fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians,” he added.

UNHCR has started moving dozens of highly vulnerable refugees, who have already been identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries, from the facility to safer locations.

UNHCR will also facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of other people to urban areas. This includes around 400 asylum seekers who had left the Tajoura detention centre after it was hit by air strikes last July as well as some 300 asylum-seekers from the Abu Salim detention centre who entered the GDF last November after being spontaneously released from detention by the authorities. All will be provided with cash assistance, relief items and medical assistance at UNHCRs Community Day Centre in Tripoli.

“Other important aspects of our work in Libya continue at full pace and we hope to be able to resume our work at the GDF once safe to do so,” Cavalieri said.

On 2 January, UNHCR expressed serious concerns after three mortar shells fell close to the GDF and fragments landed near a warehouse inside the complex.

The GDF, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, was established as a transit site to host refugees who had been identified for a solution outside of Libya, pending their evacuation. Since December 2018, nearly 1,700 formerly detained refugees have been evacuated out of Libya to safety, through the GDF. With close to 900 individuals entering the GDF spontaneously since July, it became severely overcrowded and is no longer functioning as a transit centre.

UNHCR continues to urge all sides to the conflict in Libya to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

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DRC: inter-ethnic violence in Ituri may constitute “crimes against humanity” – UN report

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KINSHASA/GENEVA (10 January 2020) — Killings, rapes and other forms of violence targeting the Hema community in the Democratic Republic of Congo province of Ituri may amount to crimes against humanity, a UN report released on Friday said.

An investigation conducted by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO)* in the DRC established that at least 701 people have been killed and 168 injured during inter-ethnic tensions between the Hema and Lendu communities, in the territories of Djugu and Mahagi, from December 2017 to September 2019. In addition, at least 142 people have been subjected to acts of sexual violence, the report said. Most of the victims are members of the Hema community.

Since September 2018, Lendu armed groups have increasingly become more organized in carrying out attacks against the Hema and members of other ethnic groups such as the Alur, the investigators said. Among their objectives is to take control of the land of the Hema communities and their associated resources, they added.

The report documents numerous cases of women being raped, of children — some in school uniforms — being killed, and of looting and burning of villages. On 10 June 2019, in the district of Torges, a Hema man who was trying to prevent armed assailants from raping his wife witnessed his 8-year-old son being beheaded.

“The barbarity that characterizes these attacks — including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts of the victims as trophies of war — reflects the desire of the attackers to inflict lasting trauma to the Hema communities and to force them to flee and not return to their villages,” the report said.

“The violence documented… could contain some elements of crimes against humanity through murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillage and persecution.”

Schools and health clinics have been attacked and destroyed. The report said most attacks occurred in June around the harvest period, and in December during the sowing season. “This makes it more difficult for the Hema to cultivate their fields and exacerbates their lack of food,” the report said.

Since February 2018, almost 57,000 people have taken refuge in Uganda and more than 556,000 have fled to neighbouring regions, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Several camps and villages where the Hema have taken refuge have been stormed, burned and destroyed by Lendu armed groups, the report said.

UN investigators also documented, between December 2017 and May 2018, acts of reprisal by some members of the Hema communities, including the burning of villages and isolated attacks targeting the Lendu.

Army and police forces deployed since February 2018 have failed to stop the violence, the report stated, adding that the security forces themselves had committed abuses such as extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detention. Two police officers and two soldiers have been convicted by Congolese courts.

UNHCR welcomes new law in El Salvador to help people internally displaced by violence

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This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Liz Throssell – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomes El Salvadors passage of legislation to protect, aid and offer durable solutions to people internally displaced in the Central American nation due to violence from organized crime and criminal gangs, as well as those who may be at risk of displacement.

The legislation, passed by a resounding majority in El Salvadors National Assembly on January 9, opens the door for tens of thousands of victims of forced displacement in the country to gain access to life-saving humanitarian assistance, and to have their basic rights restored, including effective access to justice. The law further provides for the establishment, for the first time, of a comprehensive national system that brings together a wide variety of State institutions to collaborate in responding to and preventing forced displacement.

Once signed by President Nayib Bukele, the law can have a lasting positive impact on the lives of the 71,500 Salvadorans estimated to have been forcibly displaced between 2006 and 2016 within their countrys borders, as well as tens of thousands more who are at risk of being forced to flee their homes.

The text of the legislation on internal displacement, drafted with technical support from UNHCR, aligns with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and with other international standards that describe the rights of internally displaced persons, including the right to request and receive humanitarian assistance, protection of family unity, an adequate standard of living and durable solutions. It also establishes mechanisms to allow those affected by internal displacement to protect and reclaim property they may have been forced to abandon in their flight.

The law reflects the growing momentum In Central America and beyond to recognize and respond to the phenomenon of internal displacement. In Honduras, where an estimated 247,000 people have been displaced by violence within their own country, the National Congress is considering legislation similar to the law passed in El Salvador. Mexico also recognizes the serious impact of internal displacement and has expressed its commitment to pass legislation on the issue at the federal level.

UNHCR reiterates its readiness to continue offering technical and operational assistance to the governments of Central America and Mexico to help them mitigate the causes and consequences of forced displacement, in line with their commitments as part of a regional alliance to provide comprehensive protection and solutions to the issue called the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework, known by its Spanish-language acronym, MIRPS.

In October, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, established a High-level Panel on Internal Displacement to increase global attention and advance solutions for this issue which affects more than 40 million people worldwide due to conflict and violence.

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Nearly 1,000 migrants returned to Libya in the first two weeks of 2020: IOM

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Geneva – At least 953 migrants, among them 136 women and 85 children, have been returned to Libyan shores in the first two weeks of 2020. Most were disembarked in Tripoli and all were taken to detention centres. NGO search and rescue vessels reported having rescued 237 others. These returned migrants are among the more than 1,000 who have left Libya by sea since 1 January, driven in part by the heaviest clashes Tripoli has seen since hostilities began nine months ago.

Migrants who spoke to International Organization for Migration (IOM) staff at disembarkation points in Libya said that the escalation in hostilities in and around the capital, and the deteriorating humanitarian situation are the main reasons behind this increase in departures.

During the same period last year, 23 bodies were recovered by the coast guard and no migrants were returned to Libya. The current sudden increase in departures is especially alarming given the very limited search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.

IOM has consistently called for the dismantling of the detention system, and the orderly release of migrants. Alternative solutions that safeguard lives must be found to alleviate the suffering of thousands of men, women, and children who are held in inhumane conditions.

While IOM teams are present at disembarkation points to provide emergency assistance to migrants, including basic health assistance and screenings, the Organization reiterates that measures to protect lives and guarantee the safety of these people are not in place.

Over 1,000 other migrants who have registered for IOMs Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme are still trapped in Libya due to the security situation. The challenging and unsafe environment in the countrys capital has disrupted aviation activities thus hindering an important lifeline for stranded migrants.

“While our operations and programmes continue across the country, they have been largely affected, especially with regards to the safe movement of migrants to transit points and airports. A minimum degree of security is needed for us to be able to safely assist 500 people scheduled to return home in the coming days,” says IOM Libya Chief of Mission Federico Soda.

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