News in Brief 23 January 2018 – Geneva

23 January 2018

Unhindered humanitarian access denied in Myanmar, feasibility of voluntary returns unknown

The Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed terms two months ago for the voluntary return to Myanmar of more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees — but necessary safeguards are still not in place, and refugees cannot be sure of their safety if they do return, the UN said on Tuesday.

Refugees from Rakhine State continue to arrive in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh, but access for aid agencies and the media remains restricted.

Adrian Edwards, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson, called on Myanmar to allow “unhindered humanitarian access” in Rakhine State to ensure the right of refugees to return to a reasonable environment.

“Access would allow for assessment of the actual conditions and the long-term viability of the returns, as well as to help address the legitimate safety concerns for any refugees contemplating their return there.”

He added that “there has been considerable anxiety among the population”.

On an encouraging note, Myanmar has committed to following the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, which calls for peace and security for all communities, said Mr. Edwards.

He added that without this “the risk of dangerous and rushed returns into a situation where violence might reignite is too great to be ignored”.

New UNICEF chief holds out hope for release of child soldiers in South Sudan

Henrietta Fore, the new Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, briefed the press for the first time in Geneva on Tuesday.

She told journalists that she carried with her the “vision of what I have just seen in South Sudan on a trip just this week”.

The world’s youngest country is also where the largest proportion of children are out of school, and where the highest proportion of children are refugees.

Around 2.5 million refugees in the country are facing extreme food shortages.

According to Ms. Fore, acute malnutrition rates are rising, as three out of four households face moderate to severe food insecurity.

The ongoing conflict between government and opposition forces has seen the recruitment of approximately 19,000 children.

Seventy per cent of children are out of school, while the literacy rate has fallen to just 17 per cent — a figure that Ms. Fore said was alarming.

“It’s just too low for any of us to feel that you can have a well-governed country or citizens that will really be able to govern their country.”

But there is now hope that many child soldiers will be released from armed groups over a period of a few weeks. The challenges of reintegrating these children into school and society is enormous, but as Ms. Fore has said “any child’s life is a long-term investment”.

Live ammunition used in ongoing violence in the DRC; human rights monitor injured

Ravina Shamdasani, Human Rights Office spokesperson, expressed her concern on Tuesday over what she described as “a pattern of repression” in the context of rising political tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Last Sunday the UN Joint Human Rights office in the DRC recorded at least six deaths during demonstrations in Kinshasa with 63 others wounded, 115 people arrested, and the firing of tear gas into churches in various parts of the country.

Security forces also reportedly used live ammunition against demonstrators.

Ms. Shamdasani said that a UN human rights officer was also caught up in the violence.

“A colleague of ours was kicked and punched by security forces in Kinshasa while trying to conduct human rights monitoring of the demonstrations.”

The UN mission in the DRC is taking up this incident with the authorities.

Audio Credit:
Bronwen Cowley, United Nations, Geneva
Audio Duration:
3'39"

 

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