The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has highlighted the need for “adequate safeguards” and vetting measures to be put in place against the possible exploitation of Ukrainian women, under the United Kingdom’s “Homes for Ukraine” scheme.
The UK scheme set up to connect British hosts, with Ukrainian refugees, works by initially connecting the two parties together outside any regulatory framework, via social media groups or other means.
According to news reports, some incoming refugees, especially single women, have reported receiving inappropriate and sexually suggestive messages from men, sometimes within minutes of making contact online.
Those refugees seeking safe haven in the UK, must have a sponsor, before applying for a visa. Bureaucratic delays in issuing visas to refugees – in contrast to the swift action taken by some central and eastern European nations – led the UK’s Home Secretary to issue an apology last Friday, for the long waiting times and inconvenience facing often traumatized applicants, fleeing the Russian invasion.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, UNHCR said that it had been “made aware of increasing reports of Ukrainian women feeling at risk from their sponsors with regards to the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ sponsorship scheme.
“UNHCR highlights the need for adequate safeguards and vetting measures to be in place against exploitation, as well as adequate support for sponsors. UNHCR believes that a more appropriate matching process could be put in place by ensuring that women and women with children, are matched with families or couples, rather than with single men.”
The agency warned that matching done “without the appropriate oversight may lead to increasing the risks women may face, in addition to the trauma of displacement, family separation and violence already experienced.”
The agency also said it was concerned about the repercussions involved, if any original UK host, turned out to be a “potential threat to the safety of the refugee”, as well as the six-month minimum duration stay, laid out in the hastily drawn up scheme.
UNHCR stressed that “appropriate training and information” is needed to ensure that hosts themselves “make an informed decision when applying to become sponsors.”
“Housing a stranger in an extra bedroom for an extended period is not for some people sustainable”, the agency added.
Local authorities in the UK are already reporting that they are “overwhelmed” with requests to provide financial support to hosts and providing staff from social services teams to carry out checks, before Ukrainians actually arrive in their new temporary homes.
“There will need to be close support and communication between the relevant ministries, councils and vetting processes”, they concluded.
In response to the concerns expressed by UNHCR, calling for more safeguards, a UK Government spokesperson told the Guardian news outlet that any attempt to exploit vulnerable refugees are “truly despicable”, pointing out that there are existing safeguards in place, which include “robust” background checks on all sponsors, by both the Home Office, and local government agencies.
Substantial progress made in Vienna; sides focusing on Safeguards
The third day of talks between experts from Iran and the EU centered around technical and legal matters regarding the Safeguards agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Delegates from Iran, the EU and the U.S. resumed talks in Vienna on Thursday after nearly a five-month hiatus. This round of talks started on Thursday without the presence of nuclear negotiators from the European trio – Germany, France and Britain. Only experts from these three countries have attended the negotiations.
Iran believes that any agreement on restoring the nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is dependent on putting an end to unsubstantiated allegations about Iran’s past nuclear program. Iran insists that these questions had already been resolved within the PMD, when the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015.
According to reports, substantial progress has been made in bringing the views of Iran and the U.S. closer together during the last three days. However, in Tehran’s view nothing is resolved until everything is settled.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), also confirmed on Saturday that talks are mainly focused on Safeguards issues.
“We are now negotiating,” Kamalvandi said of the talks between Iran’s nuclear experts with Mora.
On the atmosphere of the talks, he said, “It is not bad.”
Mohammad Marandi, a senior expert on nuclear issues, also told Al-Mayadeen TV that “progresses” have been made in Vienna, but one should be “cautious”. He argued the success of talks is 50 percent. Marandi said the differences remain only between Iran and the United States.
He added, “We have heard from certain European sources that the Americans have revived their views on certain issues.”
The Russian chief negotiator in the Vienna talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, also tweeted that there is “no unresolvable issue” on the table in the Vienna talks.
Source: Tehran Times
Escalation of violence in Gaza
The ongoing and serious escalation of violence in and around Gaza between Palestinian militants and Israel has claimed the lives of 13 Palestinians by Israeli airstrikes, including a 5-year-old child and one woman, informed Lynn Hastings, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the territory.
In a statement published on Saturday, Ms. Hastings expressed her grave concern for the situation that has left more than 100 Palestinians injured, as well as 7 Israelis.
Residential areas in both Gaza and Israel have also been hit and 31 families in Gaza are now homeless.
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is already dire and can only worsen with this most recent escalation. The hostilities must stop to avoid more deaths and injuries of civilians in Gaza and Israel. The principles of international humanitarian law including those of distinction, precaution and proportionality must be respected by all parties”, she urged.
Basic services in danger
Ms. Hastings warned that fuel for the Gaza Power Plant is due to run out this Saturday and electricity has already been cut.
“The continued operation of basic service facilities such as hospitals, schools, warehouses, and designated shelters for internally displaced persons is essential and now at risk”, she cautioned.
The Humanitarian Coordinator added that movement and access of humanitarian personnel, for critical medical cases, and for essential goods, including food and fuel into Gaza, must not be impeded so that humanitarian needs can be met.
She also underscored that Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups must immediately allow the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to bring in fuel, food, and medical supplies and to deploy humanitarian personnel in accordance with international principles.
“I reiterate the United Nations Special Coordinator’s appeal on all sides for an immediate de-escalation and halt to the violence, to avoid destructive ramifications, particularly for civilians”, Ms. Hastings concluded.
Nuclear-free world is possible, test-ban treaty chief says
Nuclear weapons will continue to pose a risk to humanity unless countries fully adhere to the treaty that prohibits their testing, a senior UN official said at a press conference in New York on Friday.
Journalists were briefed by Robert Floyd, Executive Secretary of the body that oversees the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which opened for signature 25 years ago but has yet to enter into force because it requires ratification by a handful of key countries, which have nuclear capabilities.
“Once in force, the CTBT will serve as an essential element of a nuclear weapons-free world. In order to achieve this world, we all aspire to, a universal and effectively verifiable prohibition on nuclear testing is a fundamental necessity,” he said.
World at risk
Mr. Floyd was speaking against the backdrop of the latest nuclear non-proliferation conference, which began this week at UN Headquarters after two years of pandemic-related delays.
Countries are reviewing progress towards implementing the 50-year-old Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
At the opening on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world was “just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation, away from nuclear annihilation”.
“Until we have full adherence to the CTBT, nuclear testing and the proliferation of nuclear weapons will continue to pose unacceptable risk to humanity,” said Mr. Floyd.
Drop in testing
The CTBT complements the non-proliferation treaty, said Mr. Floyd, and it has already made a difference in the world.
“We’ve gone from over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1996, to fewer than 12 tests since the treaty opened for signature,” he said. “Only one country has tested this millennium.”
The treaty has also received near-universal support. So far, 186 countries have signed the CTBT, and 174 have ratified it, four in the last six months alone.
However, entry into force requires that the treaty must be signed and ratified by 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries, eight of which have yet to ratify it: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan and the United States.
Asked about these countries, Mr. Floyd replied “they have their own calculus and strategic objectives and geopolitical considerations as to whether they feel free to move forward”, adding that they all support the CTBT and its objectives.
Mr. Floyd also reported on the activities of the organization that promotes the treaty, which he heads.
The CTBTO, as it has known, has built a state-of-the-art verification system to detect nuclear explosions, capable of 24/7 monitoring.
Staff also train inspectors from Member States so that they are ready to conduct on-site verifications once the treaty enters into force. Furthermore, countries use CTBTO data for civilian and scientific applications, such as tsunami warning systems and other university research.
“Even without having entered into force, the CTBT is already helping to save lives in countries around the world,” said Mr. Floyd. “Even those that have not yet ratified the treaty are benefiting from this global collaboration and technological expertise.”
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