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Thousands risk lives fleeing fighting in Syria’s last ISIL stronghold

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Girls sit in the tent of a makeshift camp in the north of Syria. 2018 UNICEF/ Aaref Watad

North-east Syria is seeing increasing numbers of civilian casualties and large-scale displacement amid intensifying efforts to defeat extremists from ISIL, otherwise known as Da’esh, in Deir-ez-Zor governorate, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, spokesperson Andrej Mahecic warned that, in recent months, clashes and airstrikes in the eastern governorate’s Hajin enclave – once part of an ISIL stronghold straddling the Syria and Iraq border – have forced tens of thousands of people to flee northwards in search of safety.

“Over the past six months more than 25,000 people have been displaced in that part of the country, said Mr. Mahecic. ‘We have seen an increase, especially with the escalation that has occurred in the course of December.”

Babies are among the dead, ‘too weak to survive’

Those at risk include “many” women, children and the elderly, the UN official said, adding that many families reaching the safety of Al Hol refugee camp in north-east Syria near the border with Iraq had risked their lives to do so. “The dangerous and difficult journey and the conditions inside the enclave are reported to have led to the deaths of six children – all under 12 months.  Most died after arriving at Al Hol, too weak to survive,” the UN spokesperson explained.

Emergency health teams in the camp are tending to “wounds, amputated limbs, injuries and frostbite”, Mr. Mahecic continued, before adding that some of those fleeing the fighting had spent “four nights or more” in the desert, in heavy rain and cold weather, with barely any belongings. “People coming out of the conflict zone do also have wounds that have been inflicted. We also know that many of them tell us that they have been targeted while they were fleeing.”

Urging all parties “and those with influence over them” to ensure freedom of movement and safe passage for displaced families, the UNHCR spokesperson explained that the crisis is far from over.

“This is still going on and people are arriving daily,” Mr. Mahecic said. “Through the desert, trying to move through the different checkpoints and reach safety in the camps and other areas outside the conflict zone.”

Together with its partners, UNHCR teams inside Syria prioritize protection for unaccompanied or separated children, while also identifying and helping those in need of medical assistance. Tents and other essential relief items are provided to new arrivals, while communal facilities are being scaled up to prepare for an expected increase of arrivals from Hajin.

“It’s estimated right now that 2,000 people remain in the conflict-affected area of Hajin,” Mr. Mahecic explained. “Those fleeing report increasingly desperate conditions, with diminishing services and extremely high prices for basic foods. We are worried for civilians who continue to be trapped in ISIL-held areas.”

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Uzbekistan’s Artel joins UN’s ‘Orange The World’ campaign against gender-based violence

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Artel Electronics LLC (Artel), Central Asia’s largest home appliance and electronics manufacturer, has teamed up with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on a public information campaign against gender-based violence.

The campaign is in line with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which utilizes the color orange to symbolize a brighter future. Artel’s green branding turned orange for several days in advertising material throughout Uzbek capital Tashkent, and public figures made statements to raise awareness.

Artel joins an international movement that kicked off on 25th November and lasts for 16 days. Since 1991, it has been used by individuals and organizations to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

This is the second year the company has ‘gone orange’. Artel Electronics HR Director, Lazizbek Mamatov, also took part in a panel discussion about Gender Equality in the Workplace hosted by the UNFPA at Westminster International University in Tashkent in line with the campaign.

Shohruh Ruzikulov, CEO of Artel, said “It is a privilege to once more work with the UN in raising awareness about the issue of Gender Based Violence. In Uzbekistan, this conversation is at a relatively young stage. We are proud to stand against domestic violence and continue Artel’s work in all areas to contribute to a better society.”

Mr. Yu Yu, Country Representative of the United Nations Population Fund, said “We are delighted to partner with a company like Artel on such an important issue. The public reach of the private sector is vital in ensuring our message to stand against domestic violence can be heard across all segments of society. We are grateful to Artel for taking leadership on this important issue in Uzbekistan. Together, we can make the change.”

The true rate of domestic violence in Uzbekistan is not known. However, the government alongside diplomatic partners and aid organizations are prioritizing the issue. In recent years the Presidential Administration has issued decrees targeted at domestic violence prevention, the government has adopted laws guaranteeing equal rights for women, and funding has been provided for information campaigns and rehabilitation centers.

Support for this campaign is just one of Artel’s initiatives to support women’s empowerment. Internally, the company has introduced whistle-blowing mechanisms, and is implementing an internal legal clinic to improve the legal literacy of employees. Over the last year, the proportion of women in the company’s 10,000 employees has risen by 5%, to 35%. The global average for the manufacturing industry is thought to be around 30%.

In 2021, Artel became a full participant of the UN Global Compact (UNGC), the world’s largest business community focused on sustainable development. In doing so, the company committed to promoting ten principles covering human rights, labor rights and environmental protection.

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US Anti-Inflation Law threatens Europe

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Europe and the US are heading towards a serious trade and economic conflict, writes “Berliner Morgenpost”.

In the European Union hopes are fading that the US government will significantly amend the controversial subsidies law by providing billions in bailouts to US manufacturers. This forces the EU to protect domestic companies from threatening competitive advantages over US competition and to prevent investment from moving to America.

Fear of the “de-industrialization” of Europe is spreading. For example, buyers of a “Made in USA” electric vehicle with a battery also made in the USA receive a $7,500 subsidy. Subsidies also go to companies that make wind turbines or solar panels from American steel. Europeans are worried that not only will they have to contend with heavily subsidized US competition in future strategic sectors, but industrial cooperation with US companies could also be threatened.

The head of the trade committee in the European Parliament, Bernd Lange, told: “I assume that a few small changes to implement the IRA can still be agreed upon in the negotiations. But I do not think that anything will change significantly, because the Law has already been passed.”

The US IRA law goes into effect on January 1. By that time, the EU countries should have found a common line. France is already openly threatening a trade war and agitating for a tough counterattack: the EU should take a protectionist course and respond with the Buy European initiative. But there are also concerns in Berlin.

An EU trade expert argues that lower energy prices for industry should be considered, as they are currently ten times higher than in the US. European Commission economic policy spokesman Markus Ferber is also calling for a hard line: If the US side doesn’t give in now, the EU commission should “put all instruments of torture on the table” and consider boosting trade. Disappointment with the protectionist course of US President Joe Biden is great, Ferber says: “The American anti-inflationary law threatens Europe, and can make its economic situation much worse.”

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OPEC+ agrees to stick to its existing policy of reducing oil production

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Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, OPEC+ agreed in early October to reduce production by 2 million barrels per day from November, – informs CNBC.

An influential alliance of oil producers on Sunday agreed to stay the course on output policy ahead of a pending ban from the European Union on Russian crude.

OPEC and non-OPEC producers, a group of  23 oil-producing nations known as OPEC+, decided to stick to its existing policy of reducing oil production by 2 million barrels per day, or about 2% of world demand, from November until the end of 2023.

The European Union is poised to ban all imports of Russian seaborne crude from Monday, while the U.S. and other members of the G-7 will impose a price cap on the oil Russia sells to countries around the world.

The Kremlin has previously warned that any attempt to impose a price cap on Russian oil will cause more harm than good.

Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, OPEC+ agreed in early October to reduce production by 2 million barrels per day from November. It came despite calls from the U.S. for the group to pump more to lower fuel prices and help the global economy…

The looming Russian oil price “cap” has all the hallmarks of a historic debacle in the making, – notes “The Hill”.

For months, the United States and the G-7 have haggled over a complex plan to constrain the money that the Kremlin makes from some of its oil exports.

Despite Russian war against Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions on his regime, Russia is swimming in petrol dollars. By the end of the year, the Russian Economy Ministry estimates that the country will have made a record $338 billion from its energy exports.

Together with America’s existing embargo on Russian crude, when the European Union’s oil embargo comes into full force on Dec. 5, policymakers fear that the move will constrain global petroleum supplies and push prices upward.

Assuming that EU and G-7 leaders can sort out their current price puzzle and fix Russian crude below what the international market would prefer to pay, who will pick winners and losers in the subsequent scramble for cheap Kremlin oil: Putin and his energy cronies?  

The Russian oil “cap” would not be necessary if the Biden White House had been making it easier to open the spigots of American oil from the start. The president’s pledge of “no more drilling” in America continues to undercut his economic and foreign policy against Russia.

If the Russian oil price cap fails to materialize or work as officials intend, the United States and its allies should drop the scheme, – stresses “The Hill”.

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