News in Brief 29 March 2017 (PM)

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Volker Türk. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Latest Mediterranean tragedy shows value of search-and-rescue: UNHCR

Saving lives at sea must remain a top priority, according to a senior official with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The comments by Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk follow reports of a shipwreck in the Mediterranean which may have left up to 146 people dead or missing.

A UNHCR team interviewed the only survivor, a 16-year-old boy, in Lampedusa, Italy, on Wednesday.

He told them the vessel had left Libya two days before and began taking on water after a few hours at sea.

The teenager survived by hanging onto a fuel tank until he was rescued by a Spanish ship with Operation Sophia, a European Union programme to combat migrant smuggling.

"This latest tragedy comes as a stark reminder of the vital importance of robust search and rescue capacities," Mr Turk stated.

UNHCR said the recent increase in sea arrivals to Italy and the lower quality of vessels used by traffickers, which often do not last the journey, make rescue operations more necessary than ever before.

Iraq: Displacement rising in west Mosul

The number of Iraqis displaced by military operations to free the western part of the city of Mosul from extremists continues to rise rapidly, the United Nations reported on Wednesday.

The global body cited figures provided by the Iraqi authorities that show an estimated 231,000 citizens have been displaced since the offensive began in late February.

Overall, the battle to liberate the northern city has uprooted nearly 300,000 people.

Farhan Haq is the UN Deputy Spokesperson:

"Humanitarian partners continue to assist displaced families, families on the move and vulnerable people who remain in newly retaken areas, wherever access allows. In newly accessible parts of western Mosul, humanitarian workers have so far been able to reach almost 20,000 people with emergency packages of basic food, water and hygiene items."

Russia urged to free detained protestors

Four international human rights experts are calling on Russia to immediately release people arrested during peaceful demonstrations across the country on Sunday.

The protests were in response to corruption allegations against the Prime Minister and as many as 1,000 people reportedly were arrested, a number of whom have been detained.

The experts, known as special rapporteurs, were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but operate independently.

They said freedom of assembly "is a right, not a privilege."

Together with freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of association, it plays a decisive role in emerging and existing democratic systems, they added.

Looking ahead to presidential elections next year, the experts warned that a genuine vote cannot take place in Russia if these freedoms are curtailed.

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 3'01"

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