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UNHCR chief urges action over conditions for asylum-seekers on Greek island

Filippo Grandi bears witness to conditions at the Moria centre on Lesvos and calls on European state..

Filippo Grandi bears witness to conditions at the Moria centre on Lesvos and calls on European states to help Greece address situation

By Josie Le Blond in Lesvos, Greece

Ibrahim Mohamed and his family fled Syria earlier this year when shelling destroyed their house. They sought safety in Europe but now live outside an overcrowded reception and identification centre at Moria, on the Greek island of Lesvos.

From one intolerable situation, they have found another.

“Look at the conditions here, is this humane?” said Ibrahim, 49, on Wednesday. He gestured at the shelters he built from wood and plastic sheeting for himself and close relatives.”

Many of Ibrahims neighbours in the improvised overspill camp known locally as the Olive Grove said they felt the same way. The approach of winter has made things worse.

Flimsy tents, wooden pallets and plastic sheeting were no match for this weeks high winds and rain. Filthy water made paths slippery and seeped into dwellings, infusing blankets and clothes with mould.

To make matters worse, the thousands of men, women and children in the unhygienic camp lack privacy and security. Power and hot water are scarce and people have scant access to medical services. There have been repeated incidents of violence and unrest.

Conditions are unacceptable, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Wednesday during a visit to the site.

He called on European states to support Greece in addressing the situation and issued an urgent plea for thousands of asylum seekers to be moved into better accommodation.

“What we are seeing here on Lesvos is very worrying,” said Grandi, who was on the island as part of a three-day visit to Greece. “We are in Europe. We cannot accept that people in distress live in such horrifying conditions.”

The situation in Moria has deteriorated sharply since Grandis last visit in 2016, mainly due to overcrowding. Some 30,000 asylum-seekers now live in five reception centres on Aegean islands designed for just 5,400.

Against this backdrop, Grandi welcomed Greek government measures to alleviate the situation, including a pledge to transfer 20,000 people to better conditions on the mainland.

“We are encouraged that they will focus on important aspects of the situation: better accommodation, transfer to the mainland, faster processes to determine the legal status and the future of these people,” he said.

Grandi also praised the Greek population for receiving and hosting asylum-seekers. This year Greece received more asylum-seekers than Italy, Spain, Malta and Cyprus combined. Most were families from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

“There needs to be solidarity, there needs to be compassion, there needs to be an understanding that what Greece is doing with incredible generosity and openness needs to be shared more widely,” Grandi said. “We all need to stand together with Greece.”

Grandi also visited staff and partners at the nearby Kara Tepe reception centre. He spoke with women who raised concerns about domestic and sexual violence. Managed by the municipality of Mytilene and UNHCR, Kara Tepe currently houses 1,300 asylum-seekers, with a focus on vulnerable cases.

He also met Syrian widow Ibtisam and her children who have special medical needs. The family fled to Greece via Turkey following a bomb attack on their home that killed five family members, including Ibtisams husband and sister.

Grandi visited a class at an education centre in Mytilene and expressed concern for the plight of young asylum-seekers and refugees. He appealed to Europe to help the 5,000 unaccompanied minors across Greece, 1,000 of whom are on Lesvos.

“Unaccompanied minors need solutions in terms of safe shelter, education and future prospects,” he said.

In Athens, Grandi held talks with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and government representatives to discuss practical and principled actions in addressing the urgent challenges Greece is facing, as well as long-term solutions in supporting refugees to become self-reliant and integrate.

The High Commissioner stressed the key themes of integration and responsibility sharing with a group of mayors who have opened their cities to refugees in a meeting hosted by Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis.

Grandi continues his visit on 28 November where he will address two Committees of the Hellenic Parliament, meet with diplomatic missions and other UN agencies, representatives of the civil society and others involved in the humanitarian effort.

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Brutal cold intensifies desperation for rising numbers of displaced in north-west Syria

Geneva – Sub-zero temperatures and increased snowfall are further exacerbating the humanitarian cris..

Geneva – Sub-zero temperatures and increased snowfall are further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria where more than a quarter of a million people have been displaced in the past four days. Over 830,000 people have been displaced in the region in the last two months and more than 1.2 million since April 2019, according to the United Nations.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is extremely concerned about this rapid and ongoing rise in displacement which continues to rise in the tens of thousands every day, particularly as conflict spreads northward to highly populated urban areas.

“Over 80,000 people forced to flee violence in the last few months are sleeping under trees or in open areas in the snow,” said Joseph Ashmore, IOMs Global Shelter Coordinator.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and many more may die as extreme winter conditions take hold, provoking one of the most severe shelter crises the humanitarian system has faced in the last decade,” he added.

The majority of the uprooted are staying with host families, in camps or unfinished buildings. As displacement rises, there are less places to house people seeking refuge.

IOM has been assisting partners on the ground to reach nearly 300,000 people with humanitarian aid since mid-December 2019. In the past weeks, IOMs partners have delivered emergency items – including blankets, hygiene kits and other goods – as well as shelter materials to 129,000 people in need.

However, insecurity has impeded access of some partners – compromising the ability for affected populations to receive the most basic services.

Health centres, schools, markets and camps have been targeted by violence with increased civilian casualties reported every day.

The Organization is seeking increased funding from the international community to adequately respond to rapidly rising needs. IOM also reiterates the UN Secretary Generals call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and attacks of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

The Syrian conflict, approaching its tenth year, has displaced more than six million people within the country and provoked more than 5.5 million people to flee to neighbouring countries in the region.

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UNHCR to suspend operations at GDF in Tripoli amid safety concerns

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced today, Thursday, 30 January, that it is suspending its opera..

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced today, Thursday, 30 January, that it is suspending its operational work at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), fearing for the safety and protection of people at the facility, its staff and partners amid worsening conflict in Tripoli, Libya.

“Unfortunately UNHCR was left with no choice but to suspend work at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli after learning that training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few meters away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees,” said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCRs Chief of Mission in Libya.

“We fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians,” he added.

UNHCR has started moving dozens of highly vulnerable refugees, who have already been identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries, from the facility to safer locations.

UNHCR will also facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of other people to urban areas. This includes around 400 asylum seekers who had left the Tajoura detention centre after it was hit by air strikes last July as well as some 300 asylum-seekers from the Abu Salim detention centre who entered the GDF last November after being spontaneously released from detention by the authorities. All will be provided with cash assistance, relief items and medical assistance at UNHCRs Community Day Centre in Tripoli.

“Other important aspects of our work in Libya continue at full pace and we hope to be able to resume our work at the GDF once safe to do so,” Cavalieri said.

On 2 January, UNHCR expressed serious concerns after three mortar shells fell close to the GDF and fragments landed near a warehouse inside the complex.

The GDF, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, was established as a transit site to host refugees who had been identified for a solution outside of Libya, pending their evacuation. Since December 2018, nearly 1,700 formerly detained refugees have been evacuated out of Libya to safety, through the GDF. With close to 900 individuals entering the GDF spontaneously since July, it became severely overcrowded and is no longer functioning as a transit centre.

UNHCR continues to urge all sides to the conflict in Libya to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

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Guatemala’s children bear brunt of prolonged drought and rising heat

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 17:14 ..

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 17:14 GMT Image Caption and Rights Information

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Jan 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rising numbers of children in Guatemala are going hungry as drought linked to climate change reduces food harvests, fueling child malnutrition rates in the Central American nation, the United Nations and charities said.

Guatemala, which has one of the world’s high rates of child malnutrition, recorded more than 15,300 cases of acute malnutrition in children under 5 last year, up nearly 24% from 2018, according to government figures.

The number of children acutely malnourished was the highest since 2015, when a severe drought hit Central America.

Guatemala’s farmers are reeling from a series of prolonged droughts in recent years and from a lengthy heat wave last year as climate change brings drier conditions and erratic rainfall, U.N. officials said.

Children living in poor highland farming communities and along the “Dry Corridor” – running through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – are bearing the brunt, they said.

“There is an increase in cases of acute malnutrition that are related to climate change and the long periods of drought from June to October (last year),” said Maria Claudia Santizo, a nutrition specialist at the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

Drought is also adding to the area of Guatemala suffering problems, she said.

“With climate change, the dry corridor has expanded,” Santizo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Poor harvests of staple crops such as beans and maize mean rural families are forced to eat fewer meals a day, and have less food to sell, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Families also are unable to store food to see them through the lean period before the next harvest, the U.N. agency said.

“We are seeing a high rate of child malnutrition that’s rising for two reasons – high temperatures which affect the crops and resulting crop losses, and rains that are more erratic and unpredictable,” said Amy English, a technical advisor at international aid agency Mercy Corps, which works in Guatemala.

She said worsening hunger in the region was a contributor to the caravans of migrants moving north toward Mexico and the United States.

To combat crop losses, rural development programs must include efforts to help farmers adapt to climate change, including planting more drought-resistant crops and better conserving water, she said.

Jose Aquino, a rural development manager in Guatemala for Mercy Corps, said more rivers in the region are running dry at least part of the year.

“2019 was one of the driest years in Guatemala. Rivers that didn’t used to dry up are now doing so,” Aquino said.

“All this basically affects the availability of food,” he said.

STRUGGLING TO COPE

Marc-Andre Prost, a WFP regional nutrition advisor, said three in every five people in Guatemala already live in poverty and rural communities are struggling to cope with the additional burden of extreme weather.

According to WFP, about one million people in Guatemala – 15% of the population – “cannot meet their food needs on a daily basis”, and hundreds and thousands rely on food aid.

“Climate change is not responsible for this situation but climate change and what we’ve seen in the last two years, these climate events, are definitely exacerbating a situation where people don’t have the capacity to cope,” Prost said.

Guatemala’s small-scale farmers are heavily dependent on rainfall and most lack alternative sources of water for their crops.

“As soon as there is a problem with the rainfall, we see the immediate consequences on households” as they try to earn an income and feed themselves, Prost said.

Climate change means it is likely extreme weather – from hurricanes to torrential rains and prolonged droughts – will become more frequent in the future, he said.

Like previous leaders, the new president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, has pledged to make combating stubbornly high rates of child malnutrition a national priority.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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