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Athens urged to fast track asylum seekers amid island shelters crisis

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A Syrian family from Idlib who have recently arrived in Lesvos, Greece, take shelter in an olive grove adjacent to Moria reception centre. (23 September 2019) © UNHCR/Gordon Welters

A spike in the number of refugees reaching Greek island reception centres is likely to worsen the situation in already “dangerously overcrowded” facilities there, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

In a call for asylum seekers to be moved urgently to the mainland by the central Government in Athens, UNHCR reported that sea arrivals in September rose to more than 10,000 – the highest monthly level since 2016.

The development follows a fire on Sunday in a housing container at Moria reception centre in Lesvos in which a woman died, reportedly sparking a violent protest.

“This spike has added to, has worsened what were already extremely difficult conditions on the Greek islands in the reception centres, which is why we are underscoring it is so important that urgent measures are taken now to get people who can be transferred off the islands to the mainland,” UNHCR spokesperson Liz Throssell told journalists in Geneva.

According to the UN agency, there are more than 4,400 unaccompanied children on the islands, out of at least 30,000 people seeking shelter in total.

Of that number, 500 youngsters have also been housed with unrelated adults in a large warehouse-style tent, UNHCR says, describing the situation on Lesvos, Samos and Kos as “critical”.

Highlighting the need for “urgent steps” from the Greek authorities, Ms. Throssell appealed to them to “fast-track” the transfer of more than 5,000 asylum-seekers who already have permission to continue their asylum procedure on the mainland.

On Lesvos, the official reception centre in Moria is at five times capacity, with 12,600 people, the agency said, while at a nearby informal settlement, more than 100 people share a single toilet.

On Samos, the Vathy facility houses 5,500 people – eight times over capacity – and on Kos, some 3,000 people live in a space meant for just 700.

Most of those seeking shelter are from Afghanistan and Syria, along with Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNHCR said.

Previous comments by the Greek Government about wanting to alleviate pressure on the islands and protect unaccompanied children were welcome, the agency said in a statement.

According to UNHCR, Greece has received 45,600 of the 77,400 people crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year – more than Spain, Italy, Malta and Cyprus combined.

Mediterranean Sea crossing deaths top 1,000 for sixth year in a row

Meanwhile, for the sixth year in a row, 1,000 people are believed to have drowned in Mediterranean Sea crossings, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Tuesday.

Citing a recent spate of shipwrecks along the main migratory routes to Europe which have contributed to the toll, the agency highlighted an incident off the Moroccan coast at the weekend in which as many as 40 migrants are feared drowned. 

Over the past six years, at least 15,000 men, women and children have lost their lives trying to reach Europe by boat – a situation that the UN agency likened to “carnage at sea”.

According to IOM data, the deadliest sea crossing is the central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy, with 659 migrant or refugee lives lost so far this year.

Nearly 270 others perished trying to reach Spain from North Africa, while 66 victims were recorded in the waters between Turkey, Syria and Greece.

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Human Rights

Avoid starvation: ‘Immediate priority’ for 3.5 million Afghans

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Food and blankets are handed out to people in need in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, by © WFP/Arete

Amidst “truly unprecedented levels” of hunger in Afghanistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday that as winter arrives, avoiding widespread starvation “is an immediate priority”.  

Launching a global fundraising winter campaign to help forcibly displaced families in Afghanistan and elsewhere to cope with the most life-threatening months of the year, UNHCR Spokesperson Babar Baloch described it as “a crisis of hunger and starvation”.

People don’t have enough to eat, and it’s very visible”. 

Displaced lack proper shelter 

Following his recent return from Kabul, Mr. Baloch said in Geneva that a lack of insulated shelters, warm clothes, insufficient food, fuel for heating, and medical supplies are just some of the deprivations confronting people who have been forcibly displaced. 

With temperatures “expected to drop to -25C, many displaced families lack proper shelter – a primary requirement if they are to survive the bitter cold”, he warned. 

3.5 million in need 

UNHCR is appealing for increased support for 3.5 million people displaced by conflict inside Afghanistan, including 700,000 from 2021 alone. 

According to Mr. Baloch, nearly 23 million people, or 55 per cent of the population, are facing extreme levels of hunger – nearly nine million of whom are at risk of famine.  

This year, UNHCR has assisted some 700,000 displaced people across the country, the majority since mid-August.  

The UN agency is helping nearly 60,000 people every week.  

“But as we reach thousands of people, we find thousands more people who are in need of humanitarian assistance”, Mr. Baloch explained, before appealing for “further resources for the most vulnerable”.  

He identified “single mothers with no shelter or food for their children”, displaced older persons left to care for orphaned grandchildren, and people taking care of loved ones with special needs.  

Appeal for more support over winter 

The UNHCR spokesperson noted that the agency’s teams have delivered relief supplies via road through Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries and humanitarian flights.  

Five more flights carrying winter supplies are scheduled for next week, Mr. Baloch said, reiterating that support to cope with the extreme conditions will continue until February, including core relief items, such as thermal blankets and warm winter clothing.  

Shelters are also being repaired and reinforced, and vulnerable families are receiving cash assistance.  

Mr. Baloch thanked Government and private donors for their support to UNHCR efforts to aid and protect vulnerable families during the winter months.  

However, he added that a further $374.9 million was urgently needed to bolster UNHCR’s response to Afghanistan next year, particularly, over winter. 

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Human Rights

Women and girls at high risk of being pushed into modern slavery

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At an age when children should be in school, millions are engaged in work that is potentially harmful to their health. © UNICEF/Simon Lister

Women and children are at high risk of being pushed into contemporary forms of slavery, UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Wednesday.   

In an alert to coincide with the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December, they warned that global challenges such as COVID-19, climate change and armed conflict have amplified existing vulnerabilities.  

According to figures released by UNICEF and ILO in June, almost 80 million children aged 5 to 17, are subjected to hazardous work which is classified as a contemporary form of slavery. 

Now, according to the experts, these children may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions as a result of the economic recession and school closures caused by the pandemic.   

Many others may have been forced into the worst forms of child labour, owing to job and income losses among their families.  This includes the forced recruitment of youngsters into armed and criminal groups. 

Women and girls 

According to unofficial estimates cited by the experts, one in every 130 women and girls is subjected to contemporary forms of slavery such as child and forced marriage, domestic servitude, forced labour and debt bondage. 

High levels of exploitation also prevail in global supply chains, which often rely on and reinforce labour exploitation and deepen gender inequality”, the experts said.  

They argue that “gender inequalities lie at the heart of contemporary forms of slavery”, but note that these practices are also fuelled by intersecting forms of discrimination, such as race, social and economic status, age, disability, sexual orientation, and migration status, among others.  

The experts urge Member States to establish safe migration pathways, along with easier access to decent work and more cooperation with the business sector, civil society organisations and trade unions.   

For them, “accountability of perpetrators must be strengthened as a matter of priority, as currently impunity prevails in far too many instances.” 

“Slavery in all its forms needs to end for everyone, including women and children in contexts of armed conflict. Slavery is a disgrace to humanity which in the 21st century cannot be tolerated”, they conclude.  

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. This year alone, 18,000 victims received vital assistance from organizations supported by the Fund. 

To mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, the experts appeal to all Member States to increase their contribution to the Fund, or to make one for the first time. 

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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Human Rights

Workers with HIV-AIDS continue to face stigma, discrimination

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“Myths and misconceptions” about HIV and AIDS continue to fuel stigma and discrimination in the workplace, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Tuesday. 

Despite some improvement in people’s tolerance to the disease in the more than 40 years since the AIDS epidemic began, a survey of 55,000 people in 50 countries found that only one in two people knew that HIV cannot be transmitted by sharing a bathroom. 

“It is shocking that, 40 years into the HIV and AIDS epidemic, myths and misconceptions are still so widespread,” said Chidi King, head of ILO’s Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Branch.

Wake-up call 

A lack of basic facts about how HIV is transmitted is fuelling stigma and discrimination. This survey is a wake-up call to reinvigorate HIV prevention and education programmes; the world of work has a key role to play.” 

Stigma and discrimination in the workplace marginalize people, pushing those with HIV into poverty, Ms. King maintained. 

Working with opinion poll company Gallup, the ILO Global HIV Discrimination in the World of Work Survey reveals that discriminatory attitudes are fuelled by a lack of knowledge about HIV transmission. 

At the end of 2020, approximately 38 million people globally were living with HIV, with 1.5 million newly infected that year, and approximately 680,000 people dying from AIDS- related illnesses, according to the survey. Despite progress made on combating stigma, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation. 

Care burdens 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly pushed back some of the efforts, some of the progress that had been made towards eradicating HIV, and there is an even more urgent need now to double those efforts,” Ms. King said. 

“In terms of the impact on people affected by HIV, not only people living with HIV but people who may be looking after somebody with HIV…care burdens have increased during the pandemic due to the non-availability of certain services, therefore seeing a disproportionate impact in relation to women in particular, and in some instances, girls as well.” 

Asia and Pacific in spotlight 

The survey noted that the lowest tolerance for working directly with people with HIV was found in Asia and the Pacific, followed by the Middle East and North Africa. 

The regions with the most positive attitudes were Eastern and Southern Africa, where almost 90 per cent of respondents said they would be comfortable working directly with people with HIV. 

Higher educational levels were also associated with positive attitudes towards working with those living with HIV

The report also offered a number of recommendations, including implementation of HIV programmes to increase awareness of modes of transmission and to improving the legal and policy environment around HIV to protect rights of workers. 

“The workplace has a key role in this education,” Ms. King told journalists in Geneva. “Workers and employers certainly have a role to play. Social dialogue is a key mechanism through which they can craft policies and materials and products in order to raise awareness, ensuring that recruitment policies do not discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS. Governments also have a role to play in terms of broader engagement.” 

Confronting inequalities and ending discrimination is critical to ending AIDS, the report said, particularly during the ongoing COVID pandemic.  

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