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Death Toll among Refugees crossing Mediterranean is Highest Ever, says UN report

These dangers reinforce the urgent need to increase legal pathways for refugees to seek asylum in European countries, says Spindler

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A migrant prays on the Migrant Offshore Aid Station ship Topaz Responder after being rescued around 20 nautical miles off the coast of Libya, June 23, 2016. Image source: VOA

early 4,200 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea since Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach one year ago, said the U.N. refugee agency report. During the first eight months of this year, the agency reports, more than 280,000 people have made the treacherous sea crossing to Europe.

The number of arrivals in Greece has practically dried up, following the implementation of a European Union-Turkey accord under which migrants are prevented from leaving Turkish shores. But the numbers leaving Libya for Italy remain high.

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UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said Friday that the change in the migratory pattern had caused a spike in the number of casualties.

Representational Image of Refugees. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Representational Image of Refugees.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“So far this year, one person has died for every 42 crossings from North Africa to Italy, compared to one in every 52 last year,” he said. “This makes 2016 to date the deadliest year on record in the central Mediterranean. The chances of dying on the Libya-to-Italy route are 10 times higher than when crossing from Turkey to Greece.”

Legal pathways

Spindler said these dangers reinforce the urgent need to increase legal pathways for refugees to seek asylum in European countries. These, he said, could involve resettlement or private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarship schemes.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Children’s Fund estimated that 500,000 refugee and migrant children had fallen prey to smugglers. The agency said people smuggling and human trafficking were now estimated to be worth up to $6 billion annually.

Migrants stand in a line in front of Red Cross member after disembarking from the Italian navy ship Borsini in the Sicilian harbor of Palermo, southern Italy, July 20, 2016. Image source: VOA
Migrants stand in a line in front of Red Cross member after disembarking from the Italian navy ship Borsini in the Sicilian harbor of Palermo, southern Italy, July 20, 2016. Image source: VOA

UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe told VOA that children, especially unaccompanied youngsters, who use smugglers to reach European countries of destination were very vulnerable to exploitation.

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“It may mean that they have to pay off their debts in favours, in exploitative services, such as labour, sexual prostitution, sexual exploitation and so on,” she said. “But sometimes, just out of desperation, they will fall into the hands of other criminals, organised crime, et cetera.”

To help protect refugee and migrant children, UNICEF is calling for greater efforts in tracking and documenting smuggling and trafficking networks that target children on the move. (VOA)

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UN to Allocate More Funds for War Crimes Inquiries in Syria and Myanmar

UN Increases 2020 Budget, Adds Funds for War Crimes Inquiries

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Rohingya refugees attend a ceremony organised to remember the second anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia. VOA

The United Nations General Assembly Friday adopted a $3.07 billion operating budget that for the first time includes funding for the investigation of war crimes in Syria and Myanmar.

The budget represents a slight increase from 2019’s figure of $2.9 billion.

The increase was the result of additional missions assigned to the U.N. Secretariat, inflation and exchange rate adjustments, according to diplomats.

These include the observer mission in Yemen, a political mission established in Haiti, the investigation of crimes committed in Syria since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, and in Myanmar after the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Syria, Myanmar inquiries

Myanmar Refugees
Rohingya refugees gather near a fence during a government organized media tour to a no-man’s land between Myanmar and Bangladesh, near Taungpyolatyar village, Maung Daw, northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. VOA

For the first time, the budgets for the Syria and Myanmar investigations, which were previously financed by voluntary contributions, will in 2020 be transferred to the U.N. secretariat’s budget and will receive compulsory contributions from the 193 member states.

Russia proposed multiple amendments during negotiations in the Committee on Budgetary Questions meeting and in the General Assembly plenary session.

Dissenters

At each vote, Russia, Syria, Myanmar and their supporters, including North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua and Venezuela, were outvoted. They all stated that they dissociated themselves from references to investigative mechanisms in the adopted resolutions.

Russia said it would examine its future obligatory payments in light of the vote outcome and predicted an increase in the arrears that currently plague the U.N.’s treasury because of countries not paying enough.

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Moscow argued Friday the investigative mechanism was illegitimate, while Damascus stressed that it had no mandate from the Security Council.

The U.N.’s operating budget is separate from the annual budget for peacekeeping operations of some $6 billion that is adopted in June. (VOA)