Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

UN voices alarm at ‘barbaric violence’ in DR Congo’s Ituri

July 13, 2018

The UN voiced alarm Friday at accounts of “barbaric violence” in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, warning conditions for the 150,000 people returning to the area after fleeing the intercommunal strife are “grim”.

The UN refugee agency said its staff had recently been able to access the Ituri region, following months of conflict between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups there.

Location of  Democratic Republic of the Congo  (dark green)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo

“Conditions are grim,” spokesman Charlie Yaxley told reporters in Geneva.

“Our team heard numerous, harrowing reports of barbaric violence, including armed groups attacking civilians with guns, arrows and machetes, entire villages razed, and farms and shops being looted and damaged beyond repair,” he said.

A UN report last month estimated that more than 260 people had been killed in the recent intercommunal violence.

The troubled province is caught in a cycle of violence between the Hema and Lendu communities, cattle herders and farmers who for decades have long fought over land.

– Homes ‘reduced to ash’ –

UNHCR said that in all, around 350,000 people are estimated to have fled the violence since the conflict intensified last December, but that since the violence died down, around 150,000 had returned to the area.

Many of those who have gone back so far have found their villages and homes “reduced to ash, making them displaced again,” Yaxley said.

He said the humanitarian challenges in the area were “enormous”, with hospitals, schools, and other key infrastructures destroyed.

© AFP/File | A UN report last month estimated that more than 260 people had been killed in recent intercommunal violence in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN refugee agency voiced particular concern over the high numbers of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in the area.

Those returning are not the only ones facing huge challenges, Yaxley said, pointing to “desperate” conditions at many of the sites hosting those who remain displaced.

He said many of the sites have no clean water or access to healthcare or proper sanitation facilities, warning that in particular at the displacement site near the general hospital in Bunia there was a high risk of diseases spreading.

UNHCR said its efforts to provide desperately needed aid in the area were being hampered by critical underfunding.

So far, only 17 percent of the $201 million UNHCR has requested for its DRC operations this year has materialised.

“With the humanitarian funding lacking these people are being forgotten and left to fend for themselves,” Yaxley said.

He said some returnees are trying to make do with what they find amid the rubble of their homes, while others are opting to return to displacement sites.

“Neither in the areas of origin nor in the displacements sites are conditions near anything that could be approaching sustainable,” he said.

AFP

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U.S. Calls Out China, Russia on North Korea Energy Caps, Urges U.N. Action

July 12, 2018

Declassified intelligence asserts North Korean oil-product imports violate U.N. sanctions

The U.S. praised China this year for stepping up its enforcement of international sanctions that stemmed the flow of trade and money across its borders to North Korea, but U.S. officials say China has relaxed it enforcement efforts of late.
The U.S. praised China this year for stepping up its enforcement of international sanctions that stemmed the flow of trade and money across its borders to North Korea, but U.S. officials say China has relaxed it enforcement efforts of late. PHOTO: YOUNG/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration asked a United Nations panel this week to ban oil-product sales to North Korea this year, calling out China and Russia for exports Washington alleges have often been in violation of the international body’s sanctions against Pyongyang, according to people familiar with the matter.

Chinese and Russian firms continue to help the pariah nation import oil products in excess of U.N.-mandated caps, including through previously sanctioned tankers, according to U.S. and U.N. officials and a declassified intelligence briefing prepared for the U.N.’s committee on North Korea sanctions and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Those alleged efforts undermine the U.S. and U.N. campaign to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program by relieving the sanctions pressure U.S. officials believe has helped bring the country to negotiate denuclearization with Washington.

Officials at the Chinese and Russian embassies in Washington didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. petition for the U.N. sanctions panel to issue a special order for all U.N. member states, notably China and Russia, to immediately halt all transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korea will likely face pushback from Beijing and Moscow, the people familiar with the matter said.

If the U.N. panel that oversees North Korea sanctions approves the U.S. petition and findings, the U.N. could ban any further imports of refined petroleum products into the country for the rest of the year. But as any of the committee’s representatives—membership that reflects the composition of the U.N. Security Council—can block the effort, Washington’s action could get mothballed.

President Donald Trump this week blamed China for undermining negotiations with North Korea a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang left talks uncertain.

Previously sanctioned ships have already been spotted by Western intelligence agencies flouting U.N. Security Council and U.S. sanctions, efforts that were resisted in part by Beijing. The U.S. had this year praised China for doing far more than it ever had to enforce international sanctions that stemmed the flow of trade and money across its borders to its ally North Korea. But U.S. officials say China has relaxed it sanctions enforcement efforts of late. These officials note that China may have been concerned about warming ties between Washington and Pyongyang, which risked sidelining Beijing in nuclear talks and possibly undermining China’s strategic advantage in the region.

Meanwhile, U.S. and U.N. officials have cited Russian firms and individuals for abetting North Korea, activities that those officials say are to some extent allowed by Moscow as part of continuing confrontation with the U.S. through proxies.

Specifically, the declassified intelligence briefing prepared for the U.N. panel overseeing North Korea sanctions documented scores of shipments into North Korea and detailed dates, cargoes, tankers and volumes of deliveries. The briefing, drafted for a panel meeting later Thursday, called out China and Russia in particular and included high-resolution photos of some of the tankers caught in the act.

Chinese and Russian sales of petroleum products, imports vital to the North Korean economy and the country’s military, “must immediately stop since the United States believes the DPRK has breached” its U.N. caps, the briefing said.

Late last month, Mr. Pompeo warned his Chinese counterpart that Beijing needed to step up its enforcement of  U.N. sanctions as a necessary part of strong-arming North Korea into getting rid of its weapons of mass destruction.

Write to Ian Talley at ian.talley@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-urges-u-n-to-reprimand-china-and-russia-for-selling-oil-products-to-north-korea-1531411312

N. Korea talks sidelining human rights: UN rapporteur

July 9, 2018

The North Korean talks process with the US and the South is sidelining the human rights of Pyongyang’s oppressed citizens, the UN’s top official on the issue said Monday.

In a whirlwind of diplomacy, the leader of the isolated, nuclear-armed North Kim Jong Un held an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore last month, after two earlier meetings with the South’s Moon Jae-in.

It is a marked contrast to the mutual threats and mounting fears of last year, instead raising hopes of reaching a deal over North Korea’s arsenal, which include nuclear bombs and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

But Pyongyang remains accused by many — including the UN — of a litany of rights abuses against its population.

© AFP | UN rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana says Seoul and Washingon are “losing sight” of the important issue of human rights in North Korea

Neither the joint statement issued by Trump and Kim in Singapore, nor the earlier Panmunjom Declaration signed by Kim and Moon, mentioned the issue of human rights.

“It seems that those who are negotiating are losing sight of this important thing, which is would this process benefit at the end the people living in North Korea,” said Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on human rights in the North.

Instead Washington and Seoul were prioritising their own concerns, he said.

“In principle the interests that the president of the United States has shown is that they want to denuclearise North Korea so their territory is not in danger, and that of course is something that has to do with their own interests,” Ojea Quintana told AFP in Seoul.

“I’m still trying to understand to what extent human rights was raised” by Trump in Singapore, the Argentinian lawyer added.

“It seems that it was not comprehensively addressed.”

In the Singapore statement, Kim signed up to a vague commitment to work towards “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, but Pyongyang has long seen that as a lengthy process of undefined multilateral disarmament, rather than a unilateral dismantling of its own weapons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Pyongyang at the weekend to try to flesh out the process, only for the North to warn that it was being jeopardised by overbearing “gangster-like” US demands.

Pompeo shrugged off the accusations, insisting the talks were being conducted in “good faith” and making progress, and adding sanctions would only be lifted with “final” denuclearisation.

AFP

Israel court gives brief reprieve to threatened Bedouin village: lawyer

July 6, 2018

Israel’s Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the demolition of a Palestinian Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank, a lawyer for residents said Friday, following growing international concerns over the move.

The temporary injunction issued on Thursday night stops the Israeli authorities razing Khan al-Ahmar until at least July 11 to give the state time to respond, attorney Shlomo Lecker told AFP.

It follows a new petition by residents who submitted a planning application to rebuild the village at its present location.

Israeli police grapple with Palestinians resisting the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar on Wednesday (Reuters)

There has been strong international pressure on Israel to reverse its plans to raze Khan al-Ahmar, which the Israeli authorities say was built illegally. In May the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition.

Activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits that are almost never issued to Palestinians in the parts of the West Bank where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

Israeli rights activist Angela Godfrey-Goldstein said she believed that diplomatic pressure played a role in the stay of execution.

Image result for Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, Israel, photos

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union tried Thursday to visit the school at Khan al-Ahmar, which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.

The Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists at the scene that demolishing the village of 173 residents would be a violation of the Geneva convention which lays out the obligations of an occupying power toward those under its control.

It would also significantly complicate the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Police said the area had been declared a closed military zone.

The army had said on Thursday that the process of enforcing eviction and demolition orders was under way, but did give a date when the buildings would be razed.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Jamie McGoldrick, has condemned the move.

“These demolitions are particularly outrageous because they target communities who already live in extremely difficult conditions, with high levels of humanitarian needs,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

Khan al-Ahmar is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

It is made up mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is generally the case with Bedouin villages in the region.

Activists are concerned that continued Israeli settlement construction in the area could effectively divide the West Bank in two.

AFP

See also:

Khan al-Ahmar: Protests and condemnation as Israel moves to demolish Bedouin village

http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/palestinians-fear-demolition-bedouin-village-khan-al-ahmar-imminent-1901355710

Expose the Palestinian ‘Refugee’ Scam

July 6, 2018

Obama concealed a myth-smashing report. Trump can reveal it to the world.

Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency Pierre Krahenbuhl speaks during a press conference in Gaza City, May 22.
Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency Pierre Krahenbuhl speaks during a press conference in Gaza City, May 22. PHOTO:MAHMOUD AJOUR/ZUMA PRESS

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If President Trump wants to promote peace in the Middle East, his first step should be to declassify a key State Department report that would end the myth of Palestinian “refugees.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is singularly devoted to the Palestinian refugee issue. Unrwa labels more than five million Palestinians “refugees”—an impossible figure. The first Arab-Israeli war, in 1948, yielded roughly 800,000 Palestinian Arab refugees. Perhaps 30,000 remain alive today, but Unrwa has kept the refugee issue alive by labeling their descendants—in some cases great-great-grandchildren—as “refugees,” who insist on the “right of return” to their ancestors’ homes. Israel categorically rejects this demand.

Unrwa’s operations run counter to the broader mission of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is to resettle those displaced by war. Unrwa’s mission, on the other hand, keeps the conflict’s embers glowing by refusing to resettle Palestinians in neighboring countries or even in the Palestinian territories.

If Mr. Trump wants his peace plan to have a chance, he has to challenge false Palestinian narratives. He did this by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy there. For decades, Palestinian leaders issued maximalist claims on Jerusalem. Mr. Trump’s move sent the message that making peace requires accepting reality.

Mr. Trump can send the same message by declassifying one document. In 2012 Congress ordered the State Department to disclose how many Palestinians currently served by Unrwa fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and how many are merely their descendants. The Obama administration classified the report, citing national security—as if revealing foreign census data were a threat to America.

A year and half into office, Mr. Trump hasn’t reversed this policy, but momentum is building against it. In April more than 50 House members urged State to declassify the report. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has done the same.

Removing the label of “refugee” from millions of Palestinians wouldn’t hurt them. Instead, it would unlock their economic potential and create an opportunity for lasting peace. Perhaps that’s why the Palestinian leadership is fighting it. Once the refugee issue is exposed as a scam, Palestinian leaders would have to learn how to govern, not merely stir up antagonism with Israel.

The inability of Palestinian leaders to detach from this 70-year-old story raises real concerns about whether peace is possible. But if Mr. Trump is committed, he can send a clear message to the millions living in Unrwa camps: Your leaders want to keep you in squalor, while America wants you to prosper. It’s the most pro-Palestinian step an American president could take.

Mr. Goldberg is a senior adviser and Mr. Schanzer senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Appeared in the July 6, 2018, print edition.

U.N. experts seek urgent release of widow of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo

July 4, 2018

U.N. human rights experts urged China on Wednesday to release Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and allow her to seek treatment for deteriorating health, including traveling abroad.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses

FILE PHOTO: A pro-democracy protester holds a portrait of Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, during a protest to call for the freeing of Chinese dissidents outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The appeal came nearly a year after Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer on July 13, 2017 while in custody, having been jailed in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power”.

Liu Xia, an artist and poet who suffers from depression, has been under effective house arrest since her husband was awarded the prize in 2010. She has never been charged with any crime and was last seen in public at his funeral accompanied by Chinese authorities.

“We are disturbed by reports of the deteriorating health of Liu Xia. She is reportedly physically restricted at an unknown location and suffers from severe psychological distress,” U.N. independent experts on enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and human rights defenders said in a joint statement.

“We reiterate our call to the Chinese government to disclose her whereabouts and release her,” they said.

China has repeatedly said Liu Xia is free and is accorded all rights guaranteed to her by Chinese law.

However, Beijing-based Western diplomats have said she has been closely monitored by Chinese authorities since her husband’s death and has only been able to meet and speak to friends and family in pre-arranged phone calls and visits.

A friend who recently spoke to her by telephone said in May that she was losing hope of leaving the country.

In the past, Chinese dissidents have been allowed to leave the country and take up residence in a willing Western nation.

But President Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2013, has presided over a sweeping campaign to quash dissent throughout Chinese society, detaining hundreds of rights activists and lawyers, with dozens jailed.

The U.N. experts voiced alarm at “the growing trend of deaths in custody in China” – who have included activist Cao Shunli in 2014 and Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in 2016.

Image may contain: Hoa Nguyen

Cao Shunli

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a speech last month, accused China of preventing independent activists from testifying before U.N. rights bodies. He voiced concern that conditions were “fast deteriorating” in the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.

“A number of Chinese human rights lawyers are in detention or simply disappeared,” Alim Seytoff, director of the Uighur service at Radio Free Asia, said at a panel last week.

“The situation of freedom of expression of Uighurs in the northwest of China is even worse,” he said.

Image result for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, photos
Tibetan monk Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

China, responding to “unfounded accusations” by Western states at the U.N. Human Rights Council, said last week that it encourages activists but “does not allow any organization or individual to engage in subversive or destabilizing activities using the pretext of protecting rights or freedom of speech”.

“Meanwhile, the government is cracking down on ethnic separatists and violent terrorists’ activities to safeguard national security and protect people’s lives and property,” Chinese diplomat Jiang Yingfeng told the forum.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Toby Chopra

Reuters

UN chief hears of ‘unimaginable’ atrocities as he visits Rohingya camps

July 2, 2018

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he heard “unimaginable” accounts of atrocities during a visit Monday to vast camps in Bangladesh that are home to a million Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar.

Image result for Antonio Guterres Bangladesh, photos

Guterres described the situation for the persecuted Muslim minority as “a humanitarian and human rights nightmare”, as he prepared to tour makeshift shelters crammed with people who escaped a huge Myanmar army operation last year that the UN has likened to ethnic cleansing.

“In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, I’ve just heard unimaginable accounts of killing and rape from Rohingya refugees who recently fled Myanmar. They want justice and a safe return home,” Guterres said on Twitter.

“The Rohingya are one of the most discriminated against and vulnerable communities on Earth,” he said in tweet before his visit to the camps in southern Bangladesh.

Accompanied by the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, he called it a “mission of solidarity with Rohingya refugees and the communities supporting them. The compassion & generosity of the Bangladeshi people shows the best of humanity and saved many thousands of lives”.

© AFP | United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres arrived for his visit accompanied by the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim

The bulk of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, or some 700,000 people, flooded across the border last August to escape the violence.

They are loathed by many in Myanmar, where they were stripped of citizenship and branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite calling Rakhine their homeland.

A UN Security Council delegation visited Myanmar and Rakhine state in early May, meeting refugees who gave detailed accounts of killings, rape and villages torched at the hands of Myanmar’s military.

Myanmar has vehemently denied allegations by the United States, the UN and others of ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to begin repatriating the Rohingya but the process has stalled, with both sides accusing the other of frustrating the effort.

Fewer than 200 have been resettled, and the vast majority refuse to contemplate returning until their rights, citizenship and safety are assured.

Around 100 Rohingya staged a protest just before Guterres’s visit, unhappy about a preliminary UN deal with Myanmar to assess conditions on the ground for their possible return home.

The United Nations has said however that conditions in the persecuted minority’s home state of Rakhine in western Myanmar are not conducive for the refugees’ safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation.

AFP

Syria, Islamic State (IS) using civilians as ‘pawns’: UN rights chief

June 29, 2018

Civilians fleeing attacks on rebel-held towns in southern Syria are being used as “pawns”, the UN rights chief said, lamenting reported demands for payment at government checkpoints and jihadist’s blocking movement.

With Russia’s help, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army has battered Daraa province for over a week with air strikes, rocket fire and crude barrel bombs.

In this Thursday, April 5, 2018 photo, rubble of buildings line a street that was damaged during fighting between US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria.(AP/Hussein Malla)

Syria: Rubble of buildings line a street that was damaged during fighting between US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria. (AP/Hussein Malla)

The bombardment has already forced more than 66,000 to flee their homes in search of safety, according to the UN, while others huddle in their basements to wait out the raids.

UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned in a statement of the “grave risk that the intensified fighting will see many civilians trapped”.

He said many risked being caught between pro-government forces on one side and armed opposition groups and the Islamic State jihadists on the other.

The rights chief condemned how “civilians in Syria continue to be used as pawns by the various parties”.

Zeid said his office had received reports that “in the last few days, civilians at some government checkpoints in the southern-eastern and western parts of Daraa have only been allowed through to government-held areas in Daraa City and As Suwayda governorate for a fee.”

“To add to the bleak situation facing civilians, there are also reports that ISIL fighters in control of the Yarmuk Basin area in the western part of Daraa governorate are not allowing civilians to leave the areas under their control”, he said.

© AFP | With Russia’s help, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army has battered Daraa province for over a week with air strikes, rocket fire and crude barrel bombs

Zeid stressed that international law requires all sides to “do their utmost to protect civilians” and urged the parties to the conflict “to provide safe passage to those wishing to flee.”

“Those wishing to stay must be protected at all times,” he added.

Zeid said his office had documented at least 46 civilian deaths in the region since the escalation began on June 19. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the toll at more than double that, at 96.

The UN has warned that more than 750,000 lives are at risk in the south, which is meant to be protected by a ceasefire put in place last year by Russia, Jordan, and the United States.

The onslaught has sparked fears of a re-run of the offensives last year against the rebel enclaves of Aleppo and eastern Ghouta, including deadly bombardments followed by a retaking of territory and an accord to evacuate rebels from the areas.

“I have spoken of the cruel irony of Eastern Ghouta being a de-escalation zone, and how the conduct of the war has been utterly shameful from the outset and a stain on us all,” Zeid said Friday.

“Now another supposed ‘de-escalation’ zone risks becoming the scene of large-scale civilian casualties,” he said.

“This madness must end.”

AFP

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Jordan says unable to host new wave of Syria refugees

June 24, 2018

Jordan said Sunday it would be unable to host a new wave of Syrian refugees, as troops loyal to Damascus prepare an offensive for the war-torn country’s rebel-held south.

“The large number of Syrians we’re hosting in terms of financial resources and infrastructure does not allow for the reception of a new wave of asylum seekers,” Jumana Ghanimat, minister of state for media affairs, told AFP.

© AFP | Syrian refugee boys pose near the Azraq camp in northern Jordan on May 17, 2017

Some 650,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the United Nations in Jordan since fleeing their country’s seven-year war which was sparked by peaceful anti-government protests in 2011.

Amman estimates the actual number is closer to 1.3 million people and says it has spent more than $10 billion (8.5 billion euros) hosting them.

“Jordan has not and will not abandon its humanitarian role and its commitment to international charters, but it has exceeded its ability to absorb (more refugees),” said Ghanimat, who also serves as a spokeswoman for the government.

“Everyone should cooperate to deal with any new wave of displacement within Syria’s borders,” she said, adding Jordan would work with “concerned organisations” to find an arrangement for the displaced inside Syria.

Her comments came as Syrian government forces ready an offensive to retake the southern provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and parts of Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.

Southern Syria is a strategically vital zone: it borders both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and also lies close to Damascus.

After neutralising rebel strongholds on the edge of the capital earlier this year, President Bashar al-Assad is now turning his attention to the south.

In recent weeks regime forces have dropped leaflets over Daraa and Quneitra, warning of impending military operations and calling on the rebels to surrender.

“Jordan is in close contact with Washington and Moscow to maintain an agreement to reduce the escalation in southern Syrian,” Ghoneim said.

She said the kingdom was “following the current developments in southern Syrian to reach a formula that protects Jordanian interests along the border and the waves of asylum seekers”.

The UN on Thursday warned escalation in Syria’s south could have dangerous repercussions for the estimated 750,000 civilians in the rebel-held area.

AFP

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Refugee returns to Syria must be coordinated with UN: Merkel

June 22, 2018

The return of Syrian refugees to their homeland can only happen in coordination with the United Nations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during her two-day visit to Lebanon.

Refugee returns have been a hot-button issue in Lebanon, a small country that has the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.

“We want to contribute to reaching a political solution in Syria, that will allow refugees to return to Syria,” Merkel told reporters on Friday, after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

“I confirmed with officials that returns can only happen in agreement and talks with UN organisations,” she added.

Around 500 refugees left southern Lebanon earlier this year for Syria in a return organised between Lebanese and Syrian authorities, and several thousand have gone back to their homeland from towns around the border in recent years.

© AFP | German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the return of Syrian refugees to their country from Lebanon must be coordinated with the UN at a news conference in Beirut with Prime Minister Saad Hariri on June 22, 2018 during her official visit to Lebanon

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is not involved in the return process and does not yet consider Syria safe enough for refugees to return.

Lebanese officials have been increasingly calling for refugee returns with or without a political solution to Syria’s seven-year-old crisis.

Merkel said it was “understandable” that the large refugee influx had caused tensions in Lebanon but expressed hope they could be resolved.

Her comments come at a rocky time for ties between Lebanon’s government and the UNHCR.

This month, Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil ordered a halt to new residency permits for UNHCR’s foreign staff, accusing them of “intimidating the displaced who wish to return voluntarily”.

The UN has said it hopes Bassil will rescind his decision. The rest of Lebanon’s government has not officially commented.

Hariri, who has been appointed for a third term as Lebanon’s premier, said his country was still seeking refugee returns “as quickly as possible”.

“The only permanent solution for Syrian refugees is their return to Syria in a safe and dignified manner,” he told reporters.

Merkel is also due to meet Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Friday, before flying back to Germany where she faces intense pressure to curb migrant arrivals.

Before Lebanon, Merkel was in Jordan where she met King Abdullah II.

Lebanon is home to nearly one million Syrian refugees while Jordan says it is hosting more than 1.4 million although of those only 650,000 are registered as refugees by the UN.

According to the UNHCR, more than 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and another 6.6 million are currently internally displaced.

The UN last week said it noted at least 920,000 displacements since the beginning of the year, the highest in that time frame in Syria’s war.

Aid groups have warned that heightened anti-refugee rhetoric and quieting battlefronts in Syria could lead government to force refugees out.

AFP

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