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UN: Refugees overcrowded to ‘boiling point’ on Greek island

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A woman hangs washing out to dry at the Vathy Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) on the island of Samos, Greece. Refugee families are struggling at the reception centres on the island of Samos due to overcrowding, leading to deteriorating conditions. Photo: UNHCR/Markel Redondo

The Government of Greece has been urged by the United Nations to do more to help thousands of asylum-seekers and migrants who have been “crammed” into island reception centres, amid reports that children have tried to take their own lives there.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which issued the appeal on Friday, described the centres as “squalid, inadequate and rapidly deteriorating”.

Levels of overcrowding on some islands are on a par with March 2016, when arrival rates were far higher than they are now.

The majority of those seeking shelter are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the UN agency.

It has warned that hundreds of unaccompanied boys and girls are particularly at risk, along with dozens of pregnant women, newborns and survivors of sexual violence.

More than 3,000 asylum-seekers on the islands have been given permission to move to the mainland, but transfers “have been slow”, UNHCR says, owing to a lack of accommodation and reception facilities.

“The situation is reaching boiling point at the Moria RIC on the island of Lesvos,” UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley said, referring to the Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) used to house new arrivals.

“More than 7,000 asylum-seekers and migrants are crammed into shelters built to accommodate just 2,000 people,” he added. “A quarter of those are children.”

There are similar overcrowding levels on another Greek island, Samos, where some 2,700 mainly Syrian and Iraqi families are staying in a facility that was originally designed to hold around 700 people.

On the islands of Chios and Kos, meanwhile, reception centres are at close to double their intended capacity.

“This is likely to become a serious concern if not addressed before winter sets in,” Mr. Yaxley told journalists, before warning of other urgent needs.

“We are particularly concerned about woefully inadequate sanitary facilities, fighting amongst frustrated communities, rising levels of sexual harassment and assaults and the increasing need for medical and psycho-social care,” he said, noting that increasing numbers of people – “including children” – have been displaying signs of mental health problems.

So far this month, around 800 asylum-seekers have been moved to the Greece’s mainland.

But this has failed to ease the pressure on the island reception facilities, as the number of arrivals has increased to an average of 114 per day, up from 83 in July.

To help reduce delays in transporting vulnerable people to the Greek mainland, UNHCR will continue to assist in the process next month.

“We do encourage the Greek authorities, who have received European funding for this situation, to address these challenges and to accelerate the procedure and measures to decongest the island as soon as possible,” Mr. Yaxley said.

Latest data from UNHCR indicates that so far this year, around 19,000 vulnerable people have reached the Greek islands from Turkey. In 2015, the number was more than 850,000.

“It’s a very manageable situation, it’s a question of political will,” Mr. Yaxley told journalists in Geneva, in an appeal for European Union countries to show solidarity with those in need of international protection.

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Globalisation: How the EU’s trade policy helps to promote human rights

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Globalisation and international trade can affect human rights, so the EU’s trade policy include tools to protect them. Find out how.

International trade and globalisation have great potential to create jobs in the EU and beyond. Yet, growing global competition can endanger human rights by for example leading to worker exploitation. As human rights are a priority of its foreign policy, the EU uses its trade policy to promote and protect human rights in non-EU countries through preferential trade deals, as well as unilateral trade restrictions.

Preferential trade access

One of the EU’s main tools to protect human rights and labour rights in non-EU countries is the  Generalised System of Preferences (GPS). This scheme grants 90 developing countries preferential trade access to the EU market. However, this depends on them respecting human rights. Access can be withdrawn when systematic violations occur.

The EU’s strategy is to encourage gradual progress through dialogue and monitoring. Sanctions are used only in extreme cases. Suspension of GSP preferences has occurred three times: with Myanmar in 1997, Belarus in 2007 and Sri Lanka in 2010.

While the scheme has led beneficiary countries to make legislative and institutional changes to promote human rights, implementation has been slower in a number of countries.

Trade restrictions

The EU can also impose unilateral trade restrictions or set due diligence obligations for importers to ensure that money from trade with the EU is not being used to fund conflict and human rights violations in these countries.

The EU also has strict rules to prevent the use of European goods and technologies for unethical intentions elsewhere, for example medical substances that could be used in executions..

Imports of items whose production is related to human rights violations are also restricted, including conflict minerals and objects that can be used for torture.

Import ban on conflict minerals

The EU has taken steps to ban the import of conflict related minerals.

In 2002, after recognising the impact international trade in diamonds has on human rights, the EU adopted rules that ban all imports of rough diamonds without a certificate of origin. Similarly, minerals, used in the production of, for example high-tech devices, often stem from countries afflicted by conflict. The revenue gained from minerals exported to the EU often sustained armed revolts.

To prevent the international trade in minerals from funding conflict and human rights violations, MEPs adopted in 2017 rules obliging EU importers of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold to carry out due diligence checks on their suppliers. The regulation will be fully in force from 2021.

Export ban on torture goods

EU rules ban any trade in goods and services that may contribute to torture or execution.

Since 2004, an export control system is in place, which checks and prohibits goods that may be used to treat people badly. Authorisation is necessary for items that have legitimate purposes but that can also be used for human rights violations, such as medicinal substances.

The rules also include a ban on the marketing and transit of equipment used for cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that have no other practical use than execution or torture, such as electric chairs or automatic drug injection systems.

Export control for trade in items that can be used to violate human rights

The EU has rules to ensure that products and technologies originally produced for civilian use in Europe cannot be used to violate human rights. Dual-use items are goods, software, or technology that, besides their original purpose, can be abused. Examples of other uses include developing weaponry, committing terrorist attacks, spying on people, or infiltrating computer systems, hacking computers, or intercepting mobile phones.

An update of the rules is being discussed featuring stricter export controls, brokering, transit and transfer of dual-use items and taking into account technological developments. Export controls are facilitated by a common EU list of dual-use items.

EU rules to prevent worker exploitation

In 2017, Parliament adopted a resolution calling for EU rules obliging textile and clothing suppliers to respect workers’ rights. It proposed a due diligence obligations system, meaning investigation into the standards of human rights before entering a trade agreement. Non-EU countries would have to comply with EU norms to produce sustainable and ethical textiles. Parliament also wants the EU and member states to promote International Labour Organisation standards on wages and working hours with partner countries in the garment sector.

Child and forced labour

A 2016 Parliament resolution calls for ways to trace evidence of forced and child labour. Measures include labelling child-labour-free products, giving trade preferences to countries that meet certain labour standards and prohibiting the import of products made by child labour.

The implementation of an effective traceability mechanism would steer towards a complete ban on such products. The resolution also calls for the combating of forced and child labour to be included in the trade and sustainable development chapters of EU agreements to promote human rights through international trade.

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Forum calls for stepped-up action to end child labour

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Participants at a forum held at the Centenary International Labour Conference  (ILC) called for stronger action to end child labour, and highlighted some of the challenges resulting from the major transformations occuring in the world of work.

In an emotional moment, youth advocate Molly Namirembe recalled how she and her sister worked on a tea plantation in Uganda when they were children, after their parents died. “We would work for 12 hours, sometimes on an empty stomach,” she recalled, tears running down her cheeks.

The thematic forum entitled Together for a brighter future without child labour  also focused on accelerating action towards SDG Target 8.7 that calls for “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”

“Ever since the creation of our Organization, the elimination of child labour has been a top priority,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, adding that he expected the ILO would achieve soon the universal ratification of Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour .

Kumaran Shanmugam Naidoo, Secretary-General, Amnesty International, called for a holistic approach “where we not only view the phenomenon of child labour but also the very systems that drive children to work at such a high cost.”

Juneia Martins Batista, Women’s Secretary, Single Confederation of Workers (CUT), Brazil, spoke of the need to improve the situation of women who make a living as domestic workers and rural workers. “The idea is that we can empower these adults, mostly women, to have a decent life. With decent work, we may be able to eliminate child labour.”

Assefa Bequele, Founder and former Executive Director, African Child Policy Forum, said: “The big question … is what needs to be done to initiate the kind of policy we need to narrow the gap between rhetoric and action and that would put children at the heart of public policy.”

Sue Longley, General-Secretary, International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association, said, “The key question, the key accelerator will be addressing the fundamental power imbalance in rural areas – we really still do have feudal landlords and slavery.”

Jacqueline Mugo, Executive Director, Federation of Kenya Employers, stressed the need “to address the root causes and systemic issues. These are poverty, informality and the lack of educational opportunities for young people.”

Tanzila Narbaeva, Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, said: “To ratify a child labour convention is only half of the job: what is needed is to change the mindset of people and their perception of the child labour phenomenon.”

Phyllis Kong Wai Yue, Human Rights and Responsible Sourcing Specialist at chocolate maker Ferrero, said, “It is in business’ interest to demand stronger policies for protecting children, as well as the enforcement of labour laws.”

The forum was followed by a music event providing testimony to children and young people’s role combating child labour.

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UN: Understanding of LGBT realities ‘non-existent’ in most countries

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Policymakers in most parts of the world are taking decisions in the dark when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, an independent UN human rights expert said on Wednesday. 

In a statement issued ahead of presenting his latest report to the Human Rights Council later this month, Victor Madrigal-Borloz urged States to collect more data in an effort to understand the root causes of violence which is often routinely directed towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in societies across the world. 

“States must adequately address this scourge through public policy, access to justice, law reform or administrative actions,” said Mr. Madrigal-Borloz. “In most contexts, policymakers are taking decisions in the dark, left only with personal preconceptions and prejudices.” 

Clear information about the realities as lived by most LGBT people are at best, little understood, “incomplete and fragmented”, said the UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, “but in most countries it is simply non-existent”. 

 “My findings show that barriers created by criminalization, pathologization, demonization and stigmatization, hinder accurate estimates regarding the world population” which is affected, he said. “Maintaining such a level of ignorance without seeking appropriate evidence is tantamount to criminal negligence.”  

 The expert said that data collection efforts are already underway in many parts of the world and have supported assessments of the situation of LGBT persons in various areas of life, including their relative safety, well-being, health, education and employment.  

“However, many other areas still lack data and remain unexplored, for example, the concerns of ageing LGBT people and intersections with disability, racism and xenophobia”, he noted, adding that where States criminalize certain forms of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, fully effective data collection is impossible: “I have received multiple accounts of data being used for surveillance, harassment, entrapment, arrest and persecution by government officials in such contexts”, he added. 

The rapporteur called on States to “design and implement comprehensive data collection procedures to assess the type, prevalence, trends and patters of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. When doing so, States should always respect the overriding ‘do no harm’ principle and follow a human rights-based approach to prevent the misuse of collected data,” concluded the expert. 

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