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One third of Gaza Strip population in need of psychological and social support

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Children in the Gaza Strip. 08 August 2022. Photo: Ziad Taleb

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported an increase in the levels of mental disorders amongst the population of the Gaza Strip, especially among children, many of whom were already in need of mental health services and psychosocial support.

Over three violent days in early August, until a ceasefire was reached on 7 August, Israeli Defence Forces launched some 147 air strikes against targets in Gaza while Palestinian militants unleashed around 1,100 rockets and mortars into Israel.

Briefing the Security Council on 8 August, Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reported that 46 Palestinians had been killed and 360 injured, and 70 Israelis injured.

A heavy toll on children

17 Palestinian children were among those killed in Gaza in August, and the conflict is taking a heavy toll on all young people living in the Strip, said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement welcoming the ceasefire.

“For many children, this was their fifth conflict in the past 15 years. Many are already living with the long-term psychological effects of constant exposure to violence” noted Ms. Khodr.

After visiting a family in Gaza whose house was severely damaged in the conflict, Lynne Hastings, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said that “the humanitarian situation in Gaza is already deteriorating, and this latest escalation will only make matters worse. We stand ready to work with all parties to ensure that humanitarian needs are met.”

Living ‘in a state of frustration and psychological deterioration’

Speaking at a workshop organized by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Dr. Yousef Shahin, head of UNRWA’s Disease Prevention and Control Program, said that the Agency’s mental health and psychological support program, to treat more than 87,000 cases, is one of the most important such programs in the Gaza Strip.

“We are now working on the process of surveying cases, and if it is found that psychological support is needed, a file is opened, followed up, and treatment is provided. Common symptoms include depression and epilepsy, and there are other cases related to chronic physical diseases, which are of psychological origin”.

65 per cent live below the poverty line

For his part, Dr. Sami Owaida of the Gaza Mental Health Program attributed the psychological challenges faced by the residents of the Gaza Strip to the Israeli occupation and blockade of the Strip, which has lasted for over 15 years. “More than 65 percent of the population of Gaza live below the poverty line, and more than 60 percent are unemployed.”

Dr. Owaida’s comments were echoed by Dr. Ghada Al Jadba, Head of the UNRWA Health Program, who said that people in Gaza live “in a state of frustration and psychological deterioration as a result of the deteriorating economic, social and political conditions”.

“The conflict in May 2021 [in which much of Gaza City was destroyed, and hundreds were killed or injured], led to a psychological shock, on top of dealing with electricity and water cuts, high rates of poverty, and unemployment – all factors that led to the deterioration of the already worsening health and psychological situation of the residents of Gaza”.

More than two million people live in the Gaza Strip: there is only one mental health hospital, with a capacity of fifty beds, to serve the five governorates in the Strip.

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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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