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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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UN: India should ‘unlock’ freedom curbs in disputed Kashmir

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Children attend class in open at a government middle school, Rajouri district, Jammu and Kashmir, India. UNICEF/Syed Altaf Ahmad

The people of Indian-administered Kashmir continue to be deprived of numerous basic freedoms, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday, before urging the Indian authorities “to unlock the situation”.

The appeal over the territory – which both India and Pakistan claim as sovereign – follows months of escalating tensions linked to earlier suicide attacks and the Indian Government’s decision in August to revoke majority-Muslim Kashmir’s special status, which for decades had allowed it partial autonomy.

At the time of the Indian Government decision, five UN-appointed independent rights experts warned that it had led to tighter central Government control, restrictions on peaceful protests and a communications blackout.

Curfew ‘still in place in large parts’ of Kashmir valley

In Geneva on Tuesday, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville acknowledged that an “undeclared curfew” had been lifted from much of Jammu and Ladakh regions within a few days.

But he noted that it was reportedly still in place “in large parts of the Kashmir Valley, preventing the free movement of people, as well as hampering their ability to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and restricting their rights to health, education and freedom of religion and belief.”   

Highlighting several allegations of excessive use of force against protesters that involved the use of “pellet-firing shotguns, tear gas and rubber bullets”, Mr. Colville said that there had also been unconfirmed reports of “at least six civilian killings and scores of serious injuries”, in separate incidents since the Indian Government declaration on 5 August across Jammu and Kashmir.

The Office of the High Commissioner had also received reports that armed groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have threatened some residents trying to work or go to school, the OHCHR spokesperson said.

In addition, “at least another six people have been killed and over a dozen injured in alleged attacks by armed group members, since 5 August”.

Web access blocked, politicians detained

And although restrictions on landline telephones were eventually lifted, and a state-run telecom company allowed to resume partial mobile phone services, all internet services remain blocked in the Kashmir valley, Mr. Colville insisted.

In line with the Indian Government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s partial self-rule, two separate federally-administered Union Territories are to be created this Thursday, the OHCHR Spokesperson explained, adding that “hundreds of political and civil society leaders” had been detained “on a preventative basis”.

While some political workers have reportedly been released, most senior leaders – especially those from the Kashmir Valley – remain in detention, he said.

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Why we must urgently close the data gap to end violence against women

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Having the full picture is crucial for effective action to end violence against women. Yet today, efforts to address this critical sustainable development and human rights challenge remain severely hampered by lack of data.

Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality, reflecting and perpetuating deep-rooted patterns of discrimination. Violence and fear of violence permeate social, economic and political interactions between women and men, constraining opportunities, choices and access to resources and so limiting economic growth and hindering the achievement of sustainable development.

Ending violence against women and girls is a crucial part of both the Beijing Platform for Action – progress on which will be in focus at the Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting (29-30 October) – and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Beijing Platform calls for the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls—physical, sexual and psychological. The Sustainable Development Goals reiterate this, with two indicators designed to track changes in violence by intimate partners and by other perpetrators.

Yet tracking such changes is hard.

Reliable and comparable data on the incidence of violence against women are rare. The Beijing Platform for Action, back in 1995, recognized that the absence of adequate sex-disaggregated data makes it difficult to create and assess programmes designed to bring about change.

Administrative data such as crime records only cover incidents that are reported, and so are likely to underestimate massively the actual occurrence of violence, which often goes unreported due to fear of recurrence or reprisal, shame or perceptions of ‘honour’ within families. Trends in reported gender-based violence can also be influenced by changes in awareness and public perceptions, making victims more or less likely to perceive an act of violence as a crime or affecting their willingness to report it to authorities.

A clearer picture of the true scale of violence against women—and its impacts on their lives– must come from surveys designed specifically for this purpose. UNECE’s survey module, developed in 2011, provides a standardized tool for countries to produce indicators of physical, sexual and intimate partner violence. To date, few countries in the UNECE region have conducted targeted surveys to measure violence against women, and where they have been conducted they are one-off surveys offering no possibility to see trends over time.

An EU-wide survey conducted in 2014 by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency and an OSCE-led survey conducted in 2018 in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe take us a step closer towards the goals of international comparability.

However, until such surveys are conducted regularly the data gap will remain a major impediment to progress.

Violence against women – key trends in the UNECE region

Available data in the UNECE Statistical Database shows significant variations in patterns of violence against women across the UNECE region, as detailed in the Beijing+25 regional key trends paper. 

Female homicides

The most serious manifestation of violence, homicide, is less likely than other forms of violence to go unreported and is less subject to variations of definition and classification between countries. Trends in homicides among countries can therefore more reliably be compared than other forms of violence.

Although two-thirds of the UNECE countries analyzed show low and unchanging levels of homicide of women, there are exceptions where high levels and/or large increases are seen in the past five years.

Among the 32 countries with available data, Azerbaijan had by far the highest female homicide rate in 2017, at 6.8 per 100,000, slightly down from 7.3 in 2012. Latvia and Lithuania also had high rates in 2017 (3.7 and 3.2 respectively). Fourteen countries had rates of less than 1 per 100,000 with very little change since 2012.

Homicides of women by partners and relatives

A large proportion of homicides of women occur at the hands of current or former partners or relatives.

In 2017, over 70 per cent of homicides of women were perpetrated by a relative in Albania (79 per cent), Croatia (74 per cent), Italy (72 per cent) and Slovenia (71 per cent). In all these countries, this percentage increased since 2012. The increase was particularly significant in Albania, where the percentage doubled in five years. Between 2012 and 2017 the percentage of homicides of women in a family context also increased significantly in Belarus (from 30 to 44 per cent), the Republic of Moldova (from 39 to 50 per cent), Tajikistan (44 to 53 per cent) and Georgia (from 15 to 23 per cent).

Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting for the UNECE Region

Progress in combating violence against women will be one of the areas in focus at next week’s Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting for the UNECE region.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 (Beijing Platform for Action) is the most ambitious road map for the empowerment of women and girls everywhere. In 2020, it will be 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action outlined how to overcome the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life.

The Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting (29-30 October 2019) will take stock of where the UNECE region stands on keeping the promises of the Beijing Platform for Action. Bringing together government representatives and key stakeholders from the UNECE region, the meeting will tackle a number of obstacles that keep girls and women from realizing their full potential. UNECE is joining forces with the UN Women Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia to deliver a two-day multi-stakeholder meeting to exchange concrete policies to accelerate the realization of gender equality. The outcomes of the meeting will feed into the global review of the Beijing Platform for Action taking place at the sixty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York from 9 to 20 March 2020.

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Decisive international action needed to end Israeli occupation

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The international community has a responsibility and legal obligation to compel Israel to end its 52 year-long “occu-annexation” of Palestinian territory and remove barriers preventing Palestinian self-determination, a UN independent human rights expert told the General Assembly on Wednesday.

Michael Lynk made the call in his latest report on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory: the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

“The status quo of Israel’s ‘occu-annexation’ is endlessly sustainable without decisive international intervention because of the grossly asymmetrical balance of power on the ground,” said Mr. Lynk, a Special Rapporteur who advises the UN Human Rights Council on the issue.

“Accountability is the key to opening the titanium cage that is the permanent occupation. The international community has issued countless resolutions and declarations critical of the never-ending Israeli occupation. The time has long past to match these criticisms with effective consequences.”

To remedy this, Mr. Lynk recommended that the international community should devise a list of effective countermeasures which would be “appropriate and proportional” to the circumstances.

His report outlines some modern examples of applying pressure, such as diplomatic public statements, trade sanctions, flight bans, travel restrictions and reduction or suspension of aid.

“Should Israel remain unmoved, (the international community) should apply and escalate the range of its targeted countermeasures until compliance had been achieved,” he said.

Mr. Lynk said the occupation is the longest in the modern world. It has been characterized by what he described as “a strong sense of impunity” by Israel.

“This occupation will not die of old age,” he stated.

“Palestinians, along with Israelis of conscience, have been asking repeatedly for the international community to act decisively in support of international law to compel Israel to end the occupation and enable Palestinian self-determination. We can’t afford to ignore their call.”

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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