UN Agency Calls For ‘Urgent Access’ To Myanmar Refugees

In this file photo taken on September 23, 2019 the United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall. Ludovic MARIN / AFP


The UN’s refugee agency on Monday called for Thailand to allow them “urgent access” to more than 3,000 Myanmar refugees who fled to the kingdom to escape fighting in conflict-wracked Karen state.

Clashes between Myanmar’s military and the Karen National Union — a rebel group vocally opposed to a junta which deposed a civilian government in February — broke out last week in a town not far from the Thai border.

Some 700 refugees crossed the river into Thailand’s Tak province on Thursday, fleeing artillery shelling and small arms fire. By Monday, the number had ballooned to 3,900 due to continued fighting, the UNHCR said.

“UNHCR is concerned for the welfare of these civilians and has approached the Thai authorities with offers of assistance,” it said in a statement.

“UNHCR and NGOs have requested urgent access to the refugees to ascertain and deliver to them the necessary humanitarian and protection assistance.”

Provincial authorities said late Monday about 3,500 refugees remain in two locations on the Thai side, as dozens have gradually returned since fighting appeared to have ceased.

“Thai authorities are providing humanitarian assistance and transportation for those who volunteer to return to Myanmar by transporting them from the banks of Moei River,” said a statement released by Tak province.

But Naw K’Nyay Paw, general secretary of Karen Women’s Organisation, said the majority of people are still afraid.

“It’s very tense and the fighting is still continuing in some areas,” she told AFP. “I don’t think it is representing the true feelings of the refugees.”

The latest wave of some 1,500 people on Sunday came after renewed fighting broke out in Mae Htaw Thalay, a town bordering Thailand where displaced people were sheltering.

“There was artillery shooting in the area… The KNU tried to move them to a safer place,” a Karen state resident told AFP, adding that thousands of displaced people, including children, were sent running as the shelling continued for hours.

“We heard shooting close to us and we tried to flee… We could only leave the village after they suspended shooting for a while around 7pm,” he said.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun confirmed the fighting in Mae Htaw Thalay on Monday, adding that the military are now “trying to control the situation by negotiating with KNU.”

The clashes kicked off last week after state media reported junta troops entered KNU territory and arrested several dissidents, including a former lawmaker from Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.

The rebel group — one of more than 20 ethnic armed groups holding territories in Myanmar’s border regions — has been a staunch opponent of the junta, providing shelter to anti-coup dissidents.

World Food Prices Hit 10-Year High

Global food prices jumped to a 10-year high in October, a UN agency announced on Thursday as it said the world’s cereal stocks were set to contract.

The Food and Agricultural Organization said its food price index, which tracks changes in the international prices of a basket of food commodities, rose three percent over the month to 133.2 points.

The third consecutive monthly rise in the index brought it to its highest level since July 2011.

The sub-index for vegetable oils soared 9.6 percent to an all-time high.

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The cereals sub-index rose 3.2 percent, driven by a five percent gain in wheat prices as availability tightens due to reduced harvests in major exporting nations.

Meanwhile, the FAO said that despite an expected 0.8 percent gain in overall cereals production this year to a record level, global inventories are expected to contract as consumption rises by 1.7 percent on population growth and higher use for agriculture and industry.


85 Civilians Killed, 373 Wounded During Afghan Election Campaign – UN

Hundreds of people were killed or wounded in violence related to Afghanistan’s recent presidential election season as the Taliban sought to undermine the democratic process, a UN agency said Tuesday.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that 85 people were killed and another 373 wounded in election violence during the period from June 8 to September 30.

On polling day alone, 28 civilians were killed and 249 injured. Children accounted for more than one-third of the victims.

Despite the high toll, Afghan security forces said election day was a success because the Taliban failed to pull off any large-scale attacks that stole the headlines.

The majority of Taliban attacks involved the use of rockets, grenades and mortars, as well as homemade bombs planted near polling centres, including schools, the report found.

On July 28, the same day as the election campaign started, militants targeted the office of Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh in Kabul, killing 21 people and wounding another 50.

“These attacks, along with public statements made by the Taliban, revealed a deliberate campaign intended to undermine the electoral process and deprive Afghan citizens of their right to participate in this important political process, freely and without fear,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement.

The casualty figures are actually a substantial improvement on the run-up to parliamentary elections held a year ago, when UNAMA tallied 226 deaths and 781 injuries.

Final election turnout figures have yet to be released but it appears participation in this year’s first round presidential vote is at record low levels.

Voters stayed away, wary of repeated Taliban threats to attack polling stations and also despondent about the chances of their ballots being fairly counted in a country that has seen systemic and large-scale electoral fraud.

The Independent Election Commission however insists multiple safeguards including biometric verification will make this year’s vote the cleanest yet.

Preliminary results are due Saturday, though officials have suggested this date will be pushed back a few days.

The race is seen as a two-horse steeplechase between President Ashraf Ghani and his top rival Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

If no one wins a majority of more than 50 percent, the elections will go to a second round.


Workers At UN Agency For Palestinians Protest Over Job Cuts


Closed gate of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) during a strike of all UNRWA institutions in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on September 24, 2018. 


Staff at the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees went on strike in the Gaza Strip on Monday to protest against job losses and US funding cuts.

The one-day strike closed more than 250 UNRWA schools in Gaza, as well as medical centers and food aid distribution points.

The United States has traditionally been UNRWA’s largest funder, providing around $350 million (300 million euros) a year.

But President Donald Trump has cut all support, sparking a funding crisis.

More than 250 jobs have been cut in Gaza and the West Bank so far, while hundreds of full-time roles have become part-time.

The refugee agency’s labor union is demanding the job cuts be reversed and its leaders say the strike could be the first of a number of measures.

A small protest took place outside of the agency’s Gaza headquarters.

“The strike comes in light of the (UNRWA) administration’s lack of responsiveness to the demands of the employees’ union and their insistence on not solving their problems,” Amal al-Batsh, deputy head of the union, said in a statement.

UNRWA says the funding deficit caused by the Trump administration’s withdrawal of support is so severe cuts are unavoidable.

Around 13,000 people work for the agency in Gaza, where more than two-thirds of the roughly two million residents are eligible for aid.

UNRWA says more than 200,000 Palestinians attend its schools in the strip.


Palestinians Kick As US Ends Funding For UN Agency

Abbas Calls For Mideast Peace Conference In Rare UN Speech
President of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a United Nations Security Council concerning meeting concerning issues in the Middle East, at UN headquarters, February 20, 2018 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP


Palestinians reacted angrily Saturday to a US decision to end all funding for the UN agency that assists three million needy refugees, seeing it as a new policy shift aimed at undermining their cause.

Washington, which until last year was by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, announced on Friday that it would no longer make any contributions to the “irredeemably flawed operation.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has backed Israel in accusing the nearly 70-year-old agency of perpetuating the Middle East conflict by maintaining the idea that many Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to homes in what is now Israel, something they both oppose.

But to Palestinians, the right of return for the hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war that accompanied Israel’s creation is a central plank of their cause.

Its calling into question by Trump follows his December recognition of the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and axing of more than $200 million in bilateral aid for Gaza and the West Bank.

The new policy on Jerusalem overturned decades of precedent and prompted the Palestinian leadership to break off relations with the White House.

 ‘Cruel and irresponsible’ 

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashwrawi described the latest US move as “cruel and irresponsible”.

“The Palestinian refugees are already the victims who have lost their homes, livelihoods and security as a result of the creation of the state of Israel,” she said.

“Once again, they are being victimised by the US administration in support of Israel’s decades-long military occupation and impunity.”

UNRWA was already facing a financial crisis after Trump announced a $300 million funding freeze in January but now faces the threat of major closures to its network of schools and health centres.

In the impoverished Gaza Strip, where most children learn in UNRWA schools, the US decision has raised fears for their future education.

“If they stop the aid completely it would have a major effect on our children,” said Abu Mohammed Huweila, 40, from the Jabalia camp in northern Gaza.

Huweila, whose nine children have all attended UNRWA, called the move “an unjust decision” that went against their right to education.

‘Just cause’ 

Another Gaza resident, Hisham Saqallah, 55, said the US move was “political blackmail” that would merely increase unrest.

“If they stop aid to schools, this means destroying the futures of a large number of students and throwing them into the street,” he said.

“I do not think that it can eliminate our Palestinian cause. It is a just cause. If the aid is stopped, the Palestinian struggle will continue.”

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness called the US decision “highly regrettable,” saying the organisation would “try to make up the $217 million shortfalls”.

“If not some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people on the planet may well suffer,” he told AFP.

“People are going to become more desperate and marginalised,” he said, warning of “dramatic, widespread, profound and unpredictable” consequences.

‘New approaches’ 

Jordan, which is one of just two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, already announced plans to organise an emergency fund-raising conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the September 27 event aimed to secure alternative funding and “reaffirm that UNRWA is an organisation created by the UN General Assembly, with a clear and particular role, and this role must continue”.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US would “intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches” for assisting needy Palestinians.

But Hugh Lovatt, Israel Palestine analyst at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said Washington would find scant support for its push for an alternative aid conduit.

He said it was an attempt to “unilaterally take the Palestinian right of return off the table”.

“But US actions are misguided, dangerous, and won’t work,” he said, since “neither Lebanon or Jordan can be expected to play along.”

And even if the US succeeds in eliminating UNRWA and changing the definition of the world’s 5.3 million registered Palestinian refugees, “Palestinian refugees will remain, and will keep demanding their right of return.”


Corruption, Poor Leadership Responsible For Africa’s Poverty- IFAD

Corruption, Poor Leadership Responsible For Africa’s Poverty- IFADHead of the International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD), Dr Kanayo Nwanze, says Africa is a leader in world poverty and hunger, as a result of lack of committed leadership and rampant corruption.

Dr kanayo was speaking at the UK’s house of lords on Wednesday.

According to him, despite its rich natural resources including arable land, Africa still generates only 10% of its agricultural output while spending some 35 billion Dollars on food imports each year.

The head of the UN agency then challenged African leaders to stop talking about change but rather, deliver it, particularly investments in small-holder agriculture.

Mr Nwanze who believes the future of agriculture lies in the hands of the continent’s young generation, also called on the youths as well as the government, who he has asked to create an enabling environment.

We’re Making Up For Shortage Of Resources, Buhari says

Muhammadu-Buhari-and-Babatunde-OsotimehinNigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari says his administration is doing its best to manage the nation’s resources in a prudent manner.

He said that the government was committed to transparency and accountability, which is serving the government in good stead, despite severe shortage of resources.

The President spoke on Thursday at the State House in Abuja while receiving the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director and Under Secretary General of the United Nations, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin.

“It has been a very difficult year for Nigeria.

“Before we came to office, petroleum sold for about $100 per barrel. Then it crashed to $37, and now oscillates between $40 and $45 per barrel. Suddenly, we’re a poor country, but commitment to transparency and accountability is not making people know that there is severe shortage,” the President said.

Saving Lives In Nigeria

Asking UNFPA to bear with Nigeria in whichever area the country could not live up to its responsibilities for now, President Buhari said exploding population and different cultural practices in the country provide fertile ground for research to organizations like UNFPA.

The President thanked the UN agency for its commitment to saving lives in Nigeria, particularly of women and children.

On food security, President Buhari said reports from the northeast of the country were encouraging, as people were returning to their farmlands, with the guarantee of relative security.

A statement by a spokesman for the President, Mr Femi Adesina, said Professor Osotimehin, who was a former Minister of Health in Nigeria, told President Buhari that the UNFPA was determined to promote health care facilities across Nigeria.

He said that reduction of maternal mortality was doable, if the country paid more attention to access to health facilities, and human resources to run them.

He also encouraged Nigeria to commit to providing resources for health care, on a rollover basis, pledging that the UN would work with the country to provide humanitarian assistance not only in the North-East, “but even extended to the Lake Chad basin.”