News in Brief 30 June 2017 (AM) – Geneva

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Bajram Qerkinaj, whose son is still missing from the Kosovo conflict. Photo: UN Photo/Daniel Johnson

Families unite in appeal to find Kosovo’s missing persons

Relatives of those who went missing in the Kosovo conflict have called on their governments and the international community to take "full responsibility" to find their loved ones.

The joint message was delivered on Friday by Bajram Qerkinaj, on behalf of ethnic Albanian and ethnic Serb families, at the UN in Geneva.

Mr Qerkinaj was attending a meeting hosted by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

His son disappeared during the conflict from 1998 to '99, one of more than 1,600 people still unaccounted for.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Qerkinaj told journalists that efforts to find the missing had "stagnated" and that many families had given up hope of finding their relatives alive:

"Unfortunately so far, we have thought that they were still alive somewhere, but now we have started to believe that they are not alive, on the other hand, the process is going very slowly and I think it has even stagnated, and now we have reached the point when we would be happy to find even a single piece of our loved ones."

In a statement UNMIK said that "little progress" has been made in recent years in finding missing persons from the conflict, and that more needs to be done to rectify the mis-identification of human remains, and to boost cooperation between the authorities in Kosovo and Serbia.

Syria's displaced return home in their hundreds of thousands: UNHCR

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have gone back to the homes they abandoned because of the country's ongoing civil war, the UN said on Friday.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, made the announcement, saying that 440,000 internally displaced people had returned since the start of the year.

More than 30,000 also moved back into Syria from neighbouring countries.

The UN agency's Andrej Mahecic described the development as "a significant trend" and a "new element" in the more than six-year conflict.

But he said that concerns remain about being able to deliver emergency aid to besieged and hard-to-reach areas:

"Obviously for us the key thing is to be able to access virtually all of the governorates across Syria, now obviously as I said the key challenges do remain in place and many of our aid convoys…are unable to gain access regularly even to some of the recently accessible areas."

Since the start of the year, Syrians have returned mostly to Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus.

UNHCR said that their reasons for wanting to go back include a wish to see relatives and a "real or perceived" improvement in security conditions.

Some five million Syrians still shelter in countries outside the war-torn country.

1.7 million in South Sudan "still on brink of famine"

Nearly two million people in South Sudan are on the brink of famine despite the announcement that famine is no longer a threat in parts of the country.

The warning from UN-partner the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) comes as conflict continues in South Sudan six years after it declared independence.

It said that the lifting of the country's famine status was welcome but "must not obscure" the "humanitarian catastrophe" throughout the country.

Dr Michael Charles is head of operations for IFRC in South Sudan:

"I mean famine has been lifted in South Sudan but the situation still remains precarious…we have about 1.7 million people that are on the brink of famine, and really, you know, the lifting of the famine vis à vis the emergency phase of food insecurity is very blurry in the eyes of the people that are affected…you know, famine has been lifted technically but the people haven't noticed the difference…"

In addition to those most at risk, Dr Charles said that a further six million people are food insecure.

This is only one step below famine on an internationally recognised index.

Amid ongoing aid access problems linked to the fighting, the fear is that disease may take hold.

Hundreds of cases of measles have been recorded and some 11,000 cholera sufferers have been treated.

Malaria is also a growing threat with the arrival of the rainy season.

Duration: 4’15″


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