On 9 September, the United Nations announced that at least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean, seeking refuge in Europe this year and next. In its announcement, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, called for more cohesive asylum policies in order to deal with the growing numbers.
In a newly released document, the refugee agency reported that “in 2015, UNHCR anticipates that approximately 400,000 new arrivals will seek international protection in Europe via the Mediterranean. In 2016, this number could reach 450,000 or more.” It noted that many of the refugees are Syrians, who have been driven to make the dangerous voyage by intensified fighting there, coupled with worsening conditions for refugees in surrounding countries, which has been due to funding shortfalls in aid programmes. UNHCR spokesman William Spindler has noted that the prediction for this year is already close to being fulfilled as 366,000 have already made the voyage. He disclosed that the total will depend on whether migrants stop attempting the journey as the weather becomes colder and the seas more dangerous. Currently however the numbers do not appear to have slowed down, and are not likely to given Germany’s announcement that it will ease the rules for Syrians seeking refuge who first reach the European Union (EU) through other countries. The UNHCR has reported that a single-day record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on 7 September, while 30,000 are on Greek Islands, most of them on Lesbos.
Germany has told its European partners that they must take in more refugees as it handles record numbers of asylum seekers. Other countries, including the US and wealthy Gulf States must also take on their responsibilities. Last week, the White House announced that it was considering steps to ease the crisis.
On Thursday 4 September, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Liberia has once again been declared free of the deadly Ebola virus, a move which prompted celebrations in the capital Monrovia.
In a statement released Thursday, the UN health agency indicated “WHO declares Liberia free of Ebola virus transmission in the human population,” adding that it hailed the country’s “successful response” to the recent re-emergence of Ebola. The statement noted that “Liberia’s ability to effectively respond to the outbreak of Ebola virus disease is due to intensified vigilance and rapid response by the government and multiple partners.” While the West African country, where at the height of the epidemic last year thousands died, had already been declared Ebola-free in May, six weeks later the country saw a resurgence of the deadly virus. Six people were infected, including two who died. While many Liberian’s in the capital city welcomed the news, most are taking it with caution, noting that like the last declaration, there may be further smaller outbreaks that continue over the coming weeks and months.
Liberia was long the hardest hit in the West African Ebola outbreak, which began in December 2013 and which infected more than 28,000 people, claiming the lives of more than 11,000 in Liberia as well as in Guinea and Sierra Leone. More than 10,500 of those infections and 4,800 of the deaths occurred in Liberia.
A country is considered free of human-to-human transmission once two 21-day incubation periods have passed since the last known case tested negative for a second time. Experts however have warned that even after 42 days, the danger is not over, particularly with the fact that small numbers of cases continue to surface in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone. Liberia’s Ebola management department, Francis Karteh, has warned that while the Ebola-free announcement was a cause for celebration, complacency could not be allowed as the fight against the virus is “not yet over,” adding, “as long as there is one person with Ebola in our region, Ebola is still a threat.” Karteh further added that “the Ministry of Health and its partners will continue monitoring Liberia’s borders and rebuilding the healthcare system to assure that Liberians remain safe.”
UN officials have received new allegations that peacekeepers operating in the CAR raped three young women.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, UN spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci disclosed, “these new allegations concern a report that three young females were raped by three members of a MINUSCA military contingent,” adding that one of the alleged victims is a minor. The rapes allegedly took place in the town of Bambari, located northeast of the capital Bangui, in recent weeks, with sources disclosing that the families of the victims notified the UN mission on 12 August. While Maestracci declined to name the nationality of the accused troops, sources have indicated that they were from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The new allegations come a week after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dismissed the head of the UN’s mission in the country, declaring “enough is enough” after a string of accusations of child sex and other misconduct carried out by the troops. The MINUSCA force, which took over from an African Union (AU) mission nearly a year ago, has been plagued by a series of allegations involving its peacekeeping forces, with sources disclosing that there have been at least 61 claims of misconduct against them, twelve of which involve sexual abuse. UN officials have disclosed that Burundi and Morocco are also investigating allegations of sexual abuse against their soldiers in MINUSCA. Meanwhile UN Peacekeeping officials have requested an urgent meeting with officials from the DRC in order to discuss the allegations. They have given them ten days in order to decide whether to investigate.
These new allegations also come just weeks before United States President Barack Obama is due to host a summit in New York on UN peacekeeping, in a bid to try to shore up missions. This latest sexual abuse scandal however is likely to cast a shadow over the event, which will be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. On Tuesday, in its first statement on the matter, the UN Security Council expressed outrage and anger over the mounting allegations, adding that troop-contributing countries must investigate the scandals. Under UN rules, it is up to member states to investigate and prosecute their soldiers who face accusations of misconduct while serving under the UN flag. Sources have disclosed that last week, Secretary General Ban told a special Security Council meeting that too many countries are slow in responding to accusations against their soldiers and that in some cases they do not respond at all.
In June, Ban appointed a review panel, which is led by former Canadian Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, in order to examine how the UN handled separate allegations that French and African troops sexually abused children in the CAR beginning in late 2013. Those findings are expected in the coming months.
UN peacekeepers have indicated that they will establish a 20-kilometer “security zone” around the town of Kidal after fighting erupted over the weekend, breaking a ceasefire established in the northern region of the country.
The UN Peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) has indicated that they are declaring a security zone around Kidal “to avoid any possible extension of the fighting that could affect the population of the town.” The zone will take effect as of 0800 GMT Tuesday and will “remain until further notice.” According to the mission, any movement within the zone by pro-government Tuareg forces or their allies “will be deemed to constitute an imminent danger to the security of the population of the town of Kidal,” stressing that the peacekeeping force will “act in accordance with its mandate” in the event of any violation.
The move follows deadly clashes between a pro-government group and Tuareg rebels. According to a regional security source, the fighting erupted Monday at Agnefis, about 120 kilometres (74 miles) south of the strategic town of Kidal, “killing several people.” In a statement, MINUSMA officials disclosed that it was a “blatant violation” of the recently agreed Mali peace deal, known as the Algiers Accord, adding “the international community, as well as the population, is concerned by the increasing number of these violations, which could hinder the progress made towards a stable and lasting peace in Mali.” While a MINUSMA security source has indicated that the clashes left “at least 10 dead and many injured,” Fahad Ag Almahmoud, a top official from the pro-government Imghad Tuareg group disclosed that 15 people were killed, including those of some military leaders from the main Tuareg rebel group Coordination of Movements for Azawad (CMA). On Monday afternoon, Ag Almahmoud stated that “the situation has stabilized. The fighting has temporarily stopped.” Security sources however have indicated that they are concerned about the eruption of clashes, particularly as both sides have used heavy weaponry. One source indicated that during Mali’s rainy season, many of the roads become impassable in the north and groups end up fighting each other for control of roads used for trafficking. MINUSMA has indicated that it will carry out investigations to determine responsibility for the ceasefire violation, adding that any findings will be forwarded to the UN Security Council.
Militants stormed a hotel hosting United Nations staff in central Mali on Friday, seizing hostages and killing at least thirteen, including UN contractors and Malian soldiers in what is one of the most brazen attacks to occur in months.
The siege began Friday, when gunmen stormed a hotel in central Mali in an apparent attempt to kidnap Westerners. The attackers launched the assault on the Byblos hotel, in the town of Sevare, in the early hours of Friday in what military sources and local resident reported appeared to be a bid to abduct foreign guests. A military source has disclosed that Malian troops surrounded the hotel and shot dead one of the attackers who was wearing an explosive belt. The Malian army, along with foreign Special Forces, later stormed the building, brining the siege to an end nearly 24 hours later.
The UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has reported that two Ukrainians, a Nepalese and a South African were killed during the siege and subsequent military operation, as well as a Malian driver who was working for a company contracted by the mission. An army officer reported that “five terrorists” were killed in the operation as well as five soldiers.
Residents have reported that the army mounted patrols overnight following the siege. On the ground sources have disclosed that soldiers could be seen in Sevare as well as along the road to the nearby regional capital Mopti, which is a popular tourist destination and the gateway to Dogon County, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sevare is located about 600 kilometres (375 miles) north of the capital, Bamako.
On Sunday, Malian authorities sought to identify the perpetrators of the hotel siege. No one has claimed responsibility for the assault, which comes during a surge in jihadist attacks in the region. The Malian government has reported that three of the attackers were killed, and seven suspected militants were detained, adding that four UN employees were rescued. The first attack to be carried out by Islamic extremists in a central Malian town indicates that militants operating in the region are spreading their aggression, targeting the government, military and the UN peacekeeping force.
In a separate incident, gunmen killed ten civilians in an attack on the village of Gaberi in northern Mali. Residents reported that the village attack began Saturday evening when three men arrived on motorbikes and infiltrate Gaberi, which is located in the Timbuktu region. Sources have disclosed that the resident opened fire on the attackers, killing one of them. Residents reported the following day that “the attackers came back this morning firing everywhere. There are nine or ten dead. People have deserted the village and set up camp around 4 km away.” Some residents have reported that they doubt that the attackers were Islamist militants, with one resident disclosing that the initial attack appeared to have been an attempted robbery, with the attackers returning later on with reinforcements.
These latest attacks are indicative of worsening security in Mali. Especially around the Timbuktu regions, as officials have reported more attacks on villagers and people on the road to market. According to Guillaume N’Gefa, human rights director for the UN Mission, “these are serious crimes by armed groups we cannot identify. The modus operandi is always the same. They attack a village and steal and then disappear. They are well-organized. These are not mere bandits.