This is the News in Brief, from the United Nations.
Thousands stranded in Andaman Sea blocked from port, agencies warn
Boats full of vulnerable women, men and children are adrift in the Andaman Sea and unable to come ashore, a situation made worse by fears of COVID-19 infection, the UN said on Wednesday.
In a call for compassion from regional governments in South-East Asia, UN agencies IOM, UNHCR and UNODC said that those on board include hundreds of ethnic Rohingya who had fled violence in Myanmar.
All are urgently in need of food, water and medical assistance, said the International Organization for Migration, the UN refugee agency and UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Five years ago, a similar crisis in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea saw thousands of refugees and migrants abandoned by people-traffickers at sea.
In a call for a solution to the latest emergency, the three UN agencies offered their support to States across the region to provide immediate assistance to asylum-seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants, and also to help strengthen their ability to respond to irregular movements of people.
Some States in the region had “already demonstrated that health screening and quarantine arrangements can be implemented so that people can disembark in a safe, orderly and dignified manner”, the UN agencies said in a joint statement. After the 2015 crisis, the UN refugee agency issued a report containing testimonies of survivors who detailed long and difficult journeys at the hands of smugglers.
They also claimed to have been towed or guided on many occasions by authorities “from one territorial water to another”.
At least 5,000 people were abandoned en masse by smugglers at sea five years ago; they eventually disembarked in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand.
At least 70 people were thought to have died at sea, with starvation, dehydration, disease and abuse by boat crews, the main causes, UNHCR said.
Coronavirus measures expose human trafficking victims to more abuse
Lockdowns linked to the COVID-19 pandemic are having an “often dangerous impact” on victims of human trafficking who have less chance of getting help than before.
That’s according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
It has published new data indicating that curfews, travel restrictions and cuts in income are affecting the lives of these already vulnerable people – “before, during and even after their ordeal”.
Some victims who have been rescued from captivity are unable to go home because borders are closed owing to the pandemic, it has found.
Others face delays in legal proceedings and a reduction in support and protection, while some are at risk of further abuse or neglect by their captors, UNODC said.
The agency’s Executive Director, Ghada Waly, said that victims “have even less chance of escape and finding help”.
She’s called for countries need to keep shelters and hotlines open, safeguard access to justice and prevent more vulnerable people from falling into the hands of organized crime.
To do this, UNODC continues to support anti-trafficking units around the world so that they can do their work in safety, and ensure that human trafficking victims get assistance.
Action needed to halt ‘drive-through’ child abuse spawned by COVID-19 restrictions
Rapid action is needed to protect children from abuse that has grown from COVID-19 restrictions, including a sex crime “drive-through”, a leading UN-appointed independent rights expert has said. Mama Fatima Singhateh warned on Wednesday that a surge in violence against youngsters and new forms of sexual exploitation during COVID-19 lockdowns will have lifelong implications for millions.
In addition to new forms of abuse which include attempts to establish a “delivery” or “drive-thru” child sexual exploitation service, there has also been a spike in efforts to access websites featuring illegal material. “Producing and accessing child sexual abuse material” and live-streaming it to online groups has also become the norm, Ms. Singhateh said, in her capacity as the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.
To tackle the problem, she has urged Governments to map where children are in danger and establish rapid response protection measures, in line with universally agreed objectives to tackle inequality known as the Sustainable Development Goals.
Those at risk include refugees, displaced people, the homeless, migrants, minorities, slum-dwellers, those living with disabilities and those in institutions, she said.
Today, some 42 to 66 million children worldwide are in a precarious socio-economic situation regardless of COVID-19, according to the Special Rapporteur.
Daniel Johnson, UN News.