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‘Swift action’ needed in Tigray to save thousands at risk

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Ethiopian refugees fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, rest and cook meals near UNHCR's Hamdayet reception centre after crossing into Sudan. © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

Two months after conflict forced humanitarian workers to withdraw from the Tigray region of Ethiopia, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), on Tuesday, stressed the need for “swift action” to restore safe access to “save thousands of lives at risk”. 

Granted one-time admittance by the Ethiopian authorities to conduct a needs assessment, UNHCR led the first humanitarian mission to Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps since the start of the conflict in November and found Eritrean refugees in “desperate need” of supplies and services, agency spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.  

“The assessment, which concluded last week, found help is urgently needed for the tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia”, he said. 

Refugee plight 

Cut off from supplies and services for more than two months, Mr. Baloch explained that the refugees had run out of fuel for their water pumps, leaving them to fetch water from a nearby creek for washing, cooking and drinking – “resulting in diarrhea like illnesses”. 

While the only assistance they had received since the start of the conflict was a one-time food distribution conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) almost a month ago, he said that “plans are underway for a second distribution”. 

Threat from ‘armed gangs’ 

The UN teams “thankfully” found that in both Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, buildings and structures remain intact, including refugee homes, schools and clinics, “with little damage observed”, according to the UNHCR spokesperson. 

However, refugees told UNHCR staff that while they were not impacted directly by the fighting, they were threatened and harassed by various armed groups.  

“The refugees told us they continue to have safety concerns, reporting that armed gangs roam the camps at night stealing and looting”, Mr. Baloch said. 

“UNHCR is working with the Government and partners to re-establish a regular presence at the camps and launch a response based on the information collected”, he said, adding that the UN agency has also called on the Government to strengthen security in both camps. 

Still inaccessible 

Further north in Tigray, the UN refugee agency has not, since November, been able to access the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps.  

As highlighted in High Commissioner Filippo Grandi’s statement last week, UNHCR continues to receive a number of reports of significant damage to those camps and indications that many refugees have fled in search of safety and food.  

“We remain deeply concerned about them”, said Mr. Baloch. 

‘Restore safe access’ 

Meanwhile, some 5,000 Eritrean refugees have made their way to the town of Shire where they are living in “dire conditions”, said Mr. Baloch, painting a picture of many sleeping in an open field on the outskirts of the town, ‘with no water and no food”.  

“UNHCR reiterates the UN wide call for full and unimpeded access to all refugees in the Tigray region and remains committed to work with the Ethiopian government to seek solutions together”, he stated. 

The conflict between the Ethiopian Government and regional forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began in early November, when the Prime Minister ordered a military offensive after rebels attacked a federal army base.  

Government forces reported that the region had been secured at the end of November, but TPLF resistance has continued amid accusations of extrajudicial killings and rights abuses.

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent

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More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Triggering change

The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.

These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.

The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

‘Barometer for success’

The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.

It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”

The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.

“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

Higher death rates

Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.

“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.

It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).

While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.

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