On the 22nd February 2016 between 10.30 am and 12 noon in the United Nations, Geneva, UN spokespersons of various organisations and institutions participated in a briefing discussing recent UN international updates and progress regarding various topics such as the US and Russia agreement on Syria, Refugees and Migration in Europe, discrimination against homosexuals in Syria, safety of South Asian Refugees etc.
U.S.A and Russia Agreement
There were many references to Syria and the most notable first discussion and update concerned the very recent US and Russia agreement on Syria cessation of hostilities.
In other words, both countries have declared an end to their fighting in Syria against the Syrian government and groups, but this will exclude terrorist groups ISIL and the al-Nusra front. At this present stage there is little information available on the actual agreement, however UN members have been told that things are moving very rapidly. We have been informed to expect stakeouts and Security Council meetings and hopefully there will be a speech or release of information from the Special- Envoy of the Security General. The UN Security-General Ban Ki-Moon himself, welcomes the agreement made between the two countries and it is scheduled to come into effect on the 26th February.
If respected, this agreement should contribute to a significant and immediate reduction in violence within Syria. This cessation should provide a long awaited signal of hope to the Syrian people that after five years of conflict there may at last be an end to their suffering in sight. It has been considered to be excellent progress but nevertheless much work rests in store to ensure its implementation.
Refugees and Migration in Europe
Another issue that was referred to and discussed for a long duration, was the current refugee crisis, within the Mediterranean countries which of course has not just involved Syrian civilians but those from other Middle Eastern countries, Africa, Afghanistan and various other South Asian countries. However in relation to Syrian refugees, a spokesperson for the UNHCR discussed a recent 2nd series survey on refugee arrivals in Greece that was conducted in January. Findings declare that 94 % of Syrians and Afghans who arrived in Greece cited conflict and violence as a reason for fleeing their countries. 85% of the Syrian refugees in fact were reported as having been internally displaced before arriving to Greece or other European countries.
With regards to the refugee situation in general, there have been reports of discrimination issued against refugees, particularly concerning Macedonia’s recent refusal of refugee of access. In addition, it was also highlighted that in some cases, refugees within Europe are being checked and granted access into a country on the basis of their nationality. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has made it clear they do not approve of this discriminatory treatment, and it was stressed by the spokesperson that people should not be selected on the basis of their nationality; the selection should be based on their needs. In response to both issues of concern, the UNHCR reiterated that Europe should be approaching this crisis with solidarity. An estimated 35,000 refugees have reached the Greek islands in February alone consisting of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq with many of them being identified as women and children and sadly 410 migrants and refugees have lost their lives this year/ gone missing/ been presumed dead.
Discrimination against homosexuals in Syria
In a final point raised in regards to Syria, attention was drawn to the killing of Syrian homosexuals. There were reports of 7 homosexuals killed in Syria in Rastan; they were taken on top of buildings and thrown off, and there have been many allegations of homosexuals being targeted within Syria.
Concern for safety of South Asian Refugees
Another important issue raised this morning was the concern for safety of Southeast Asian refugees. Many people from this region have been travelling on smugglers boats. It was highlighted by the UNHCR that the migrant and refugee movements in South- East Asia are three times more deadly than in the Mediterranean seas last year, with an extremely high fatality rate. It has been reported that people on boats have been starved to death, thrown over board alive, and been killing and fighting with one another, whilst on route to seeking security. Consequently, the UNHCR has stressed the urgency of greater life-saving cooperation among the affected states (such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India Thailand and Malaysia).
By Anouskha RAI, under the supervision of El Hadji Gorgui Wade NDOYE (ContinentPremier.Com)