News in Brief 12 February 2016 (AM) – GenevaListen /
Europe faces same migrant "mess" as last year, UNHCR warns
The European Union needs to take concerted action on the migration crisis or else face what the UN has called the same "mess" as in 2015.
Dr Vincent Cochetel, who's the Europe director for the United Nations Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, said that only a handful of countries had been affected by issue of migration, and that if EU states did not act together, as they had agreed last year, the result would be chaos.
"The question is, does Europe want the same mess as last year with asylum seekers and refugees and migrants going to very few countries in Europe…the vast majority of countries in Europe are not affected by this crisis…do we want the same mess, or do we want some orderly distribution of the responsibility among states. And that we believe is the correct answer… There is no plan B, otherwise people will continue to move with the consequences you can imagine."
The first six weeks of this year have seen more than 80,000 migrants crossing by sea to Europe, often in unsafe boats and mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
UNHCR says that 58 per cent of this number are women and children – a new trend – and one in three of them are children – rather than one in 10 last year.
The UN agency is calling for the EU to do more to relocate the 160,000 people agreed on in 2015, before warning against governments who're announcing more and more harsh policies on migrants, in a bid to make their country appear less attractive than their neighbour.
Zika vaccine still 18 months away, says WHO
With the world still gripped by the Zika virus, UN medical experts said Friday that a vaccine is at least 18 months away.
Speaking in Geneva, the World Health Organization said that it has been working hard to identify possible manufacturers of a drug to protect people from the disease, that's suspected of being linked to birth defects.
So far, WHO has identified around 15 manufacturers or clinics working on a Zika vaccine.
Two of them – one from the United States and the other from India – appear to be more advanced in their work, WHO says.
But the health agency's Dr Marie-Paul Kieny insisted that it's likely to be a long time before any vaccine is available.
"But they are all starting at a very basic level for the time being, so work needs to be done working on scaling up of the production, on the toxicity testing and the effectiveness and the immunogenicity levels before testing before moving to phase one, so this is why our best estimate is that large-scale to test efficacy could be going on in something like 18 months."
The Zika-beating vaccine could take two forms: a so-called "live attenuated vaccine " or an "inactivated" version – which is the one that's most likely to be used, as it carries least risk for pregnant women.
Another key task the WHO is working on is how to diagnose Zika, and here there's better news, Dr Kieny said that it wouldn't take nearly as long before an effective test became available – a matter of weeks, not years.
Call for inquiry over suspected arbitrary killing of Palestine detainee
And finally, the UN Human Rights office, OHCHR, has expressed alarm at recent developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
The announcement comes after news that the Qassam Brigades executed one of their members in Gaza on 7 February.
The victim, Mahmoud Ishtewi, had reportedly been detained for months by the Qassam Brigades without trial for alleged misconduct.
There are credible reports that he was ill-treated, and OHCHR has called for an inquiry.
Here's OHCHR's Cécile Pouilly:
"Mahmoud Ishtewi's killing may amount to an extra-judicial killing and an arbitrary deprivation of life. We call upon the Palestinian authorities, including the authorities in Gaza, to quickly launch an independent and credible investigation."
At the same time, the UN human rights watchdog said it is still deeply concerned at the situation of Mohammad Al-Qiq.
The Palestinian has been on hunger strike for 80 days to protest against his administrative detention in Israel, and his condition is reported to be critical.
Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.