News in brief (AM) 7 June 2016 – Geneva

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UN spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi said that the option of airlifting aid into besieged areas in Syria remained a “last resort”. Photo: UN Photo/Daniel Johnson

Syria aid air-lifts to besieged Daraya "not off the table"

In Syria, where the authorities have given only partial permission for desperately needed food aid to reach the besieged town of Daraya, the UN said Tuesday that deliveries by air are "not off the table".

Daraya, which is near the Syrian capital Damascus, received its first aid delivery last week for the first time in years, though it contained little food.

UN humanitarian coordinating agency OCHA said that it has once again requested permission to access the town – but it doesn't know when that will be.

Ahmad Fawzi is spokesperson for the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG):

"Air drops are not off the table; air drops will always be on the table as a last resort. And if we can deliver by land that is our preferred option, we said it once and time again. Land is cheaper, faster, economic, efficient, effective. So the blockage of aid as I said earlier, is a political issue. Daraya is 12 kilometres from Damascus so it can be done, but we need the political go-ahead from the government."

Mr Fawzi said that the World Food Programme (WFP) had drawn up a "comprehensive" plan to deliver aid to locations in Syria by helicopter or plane.

Nearly 600,000 people are believed to live in so-called besieged areas in war-torn Syria.

Burundi students "arrested for defacing school books"

In Burundi, the UN has voiced concern about reports that hundreds of young students have been forced to leave their schools for allegedly damaging textbooks, with some later detained and interrogated by authorities.

According to UN Children's Fund UNICEF, two children also received gunshot wounds when they demonstrated against the arrests.

Details are still emerging about how many students are still in custody after the events in schools near the capital Bujumbura at the end of May and earlier this month.

Here's UNICEF's Christophe Boulierac:

"We are reacting clearly to the fact that these incidents take place in schools and with students at a very critical time, the exams will start soon… Several high students, boys and girls aged between 14 and 17 years old were arrested on a similar grounds than the first incident, for defacing textbooks, allegedly."

According to UNICEF, more than 30 children have been killed since start of the crisis last April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was running for a controversial third term.

Doubling in minors travelling across Mediterranean Sea

The number of children travelling across the perilous Mediterranean Sea route to Europe has more than doubled in the space of a year, and around half of them were on their own, it's been announced.

Comparing this year's data with 2015, UN partner-organisation the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that more than 7,000 minors have made the crossing from so far in 2016.

Nearly half of the total were unaccompanied youngsters from Gambia, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Guinea, IOM says.

Last year fewer than 500 children came from these countries, according to IOM's Joel Millman:

"What we noticed is there's a sharp rise in all children but there's a particularly sharp rise in unaccompanied…I assume this is widespread, that wives are joining husbands, children are joining parents …there's a strong pull to reunify families and the visa process can take a long time or is impossible, and so the temptation is to bring your children and put them in the hands of the smugglers, you know we obviously wish that people wouldn't do that…"

Latest data shows more than 206,000 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2016, arriving in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain.

IOM says that more than 2,800 people have died making the crossing so far this year.

Niger attacks trigger new mass displacement

A series of attacks in south-east Niger by Boko Haram fighters has prompted a worrying new mass exodus of already vulnerable people, the UN warned Tuesday.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said that up to 50,000 people fled their homes after violence erupted last Friday in the town of Bosso, in Niger's troubled Diffa region.

The situation has been deteriorating in and around Bosso, UNCHR reports, with a deadly assault at the end of May on the nearby town of Yebi, which forced 15,000 people from their homes.

Many had already been evacuated from islands in the surrounding Lake Chad region for security reasons a year ago.

UNHCR's Adrian Edwards said that there are nearly a quarter of a million displaced people in the Diffa region where access is difficult for humanitarian workers:

"The problems with security in the area, the problems with lack of access, the problems that people are spread out along Route 1, the main highway in the area, making getting aid to them additionally difficult, plus now the new displacement, means this is an extremely worrying part of the world where there really is an urgent need for additional help and the security to do that."

The latest attacks come ahead of the start of high-level talks in Nigeria to discuss protection problems in the Lake Chad basin, a region with 2.7 million displaced people.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 5'05"

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