IOM Investigates Reports of Deliberate Drowning of 500 Migrants in Mediterranean

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 16, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Investigators from the International Organization for Migration have obtained eyewitness testimony of a tragic incident in which as many as 500 migrants were drowned when their vessel was deliberately sunk in the Mediterranean.

These reports point to a growing death toll off Europe’s shores which this year already approaches 3,000. That’s nearly four times the figure from 2013, which IOM’s Missing Migrants Project estimated to be 700 deaths.

“The numbers dying off Europe’s coasts are shocking and unacceptable,” said IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing, “These are women, children and men who only hope for a more dignified life. The risks they take reflect their desperation and we cannot keep abandoning them to their fate.”

IOM staff and Italian police have interviewed two survivors brought ashore to the town of Pollazzo in Sicily. Both are Palestinian men from Gaza who were rescued separately after days in the water clinging to flotation devices. They told investigators that their overcrowded vessel was sent to the bottom by enraged smugglers when demands that they move to a less seaworthy vessel were rejected by the migrants. The survivors, aged 27 and 33, who have requested asylum, described harrowing scenes as exhausted victims succumbed all around them.

By Tuesday morning authorities in Italy, Malta and Greece had confirmed to IOM staffers the rescue of 10 migrants from the lost vessel. Additionally, three bodies from the shipwreck have been found.

The survivors in Sicily told IOM that they left the port of Damietta in Egypt on Saturday, September 6th, with some 500 men, women and children from the Middle East and Africa aboard. They said they were forced to switch vessels several times but resisted a switch to a replacement craft they deemed un-seaworthy. Enraged, the traffickers reportedly rammed the boat with their own, the witnesses said.

The two witnesses told IOM staff they fled Gaza through Egypt at the beginning of September.

According to their testimony there were Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese aboard.

“If survivors’ reports are confirmed, this will be the worst shipwreck of migrants in years, not an accidental tragedy, but the apparent deliberate drowning of migrants by criminal gangs who extort money for their desperate journeys. Their actions are as callous as they are evil,” said IOM spokesperson Leonard Doyle.

Other survivors of the tragedy who were brought ashore in Crete confirmed that there were some 500 migrants on the vessel when it sank.

Most of the 500 passengers drowned, but others managed to remain afloat by holding on to debris and flotation devices. After almost two days in the sea, a Panamanian-flagged merchant vessel “Pegasus”, carrying 386 migrants rescued from yet another boat, found the two Palestinian men floating in the water. They were taken to the Italian port of Pozzallo two days ago where they remain in a state of exhaustion and shock after their experience.

A UK-flagged vessel saved another five adults and a child from the sea and they are now in Crete. Two others were rescued off Malta.

Authorities are also investigating a report that a further 200 people are missing, presumed drowned in an incident off Libya and another 15 died off the coast of Egypt.

If these reports are verified, the death toll for the past week would be over 700 people lost at sea, making this one of the most deadly periods of recent years.

Categories: AFRICA

IOM Investigates Reports of Deliberate Drowning of 500 Migrants in Mediterranean

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 16, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Investigators from the International Organization for Migration have obtained eyewitness testimony of a tragic incident in which as many as 500 migrants were drowned when their vessel was deliberately sunk in the Mediterranean.

These reports point to a growing death toll off Europe’s shores which this year already approaches 3,000. That’s nearly four times the figure from 2013, which IOM’s Missing Migrants Project estimated to be 700 deaths.

“The numbers dying off Europe’s coasts are shocking and unacceptable,” said IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing, “These are women, children and men who only hope for a more dignified life. The risks they take reflect their desperation and we cannot keep abandoning them to their fate.”

IOM staff and Italian police have interviewed two survivors brought ashore to the town of Pollazzo in Sicily. Both are Palestinian men from Gaza who were rescued separately after days in the water clinging to flotation devices. They told investigators that their overcrowded vessel was sent to the bottom by enraged smugglers when demands that they move to a less seaworthy vessel were rejected by the migrants. The survivors, aged 27 and 33, who have requested asylum, described harrowing scenes as exhausted victims succumbed all around them.

By Tuesday morning authorities in Italy, Malta and Greece had confirmed to IOM staffers the rescue of 10 migrants from the lost vessel. Additionally, three bodies from the shipwreck have been found.

The survivors in Sicily told IOM that they left the port of Damietta in Egypt on Saturday, September 6th, with some 500 men, women and children from the Middle East and Africa aboard. They said they were forced to switch vessels several times but resisted a switch to a replacement craft they deemed un-seaworthy. Enraged, the traffickers reportedly rammed the boat with their own, the witnesses said.

The two witnesses told IOM staff they fled Gaza through Egypt at the beginning of September.

According to their testimony there were Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese aboard.

“If survivors’ reports are confirmed, this will be the worst shipwreck of migrants in years, not an accidental tragedy, but the apparent deliberate drowning of migrants by criminal gangs who extort money for their desperate journeys. Their actions are as callous as they are evil,” said IOM spokesperson Leonard Doyle.

Other survivors of the tragedy who were brought ashore in Crete confirmed that there were some 500 migrants on the vessel when it sank.

Most of the 500 passengers drowned, but others managed to remain afloat by holding on to debris and flotation devices. After almost two days in the sea, a Panamanian-flagged merchant vessel “Pegasus”, carrying 386 migrants rescued from yet another boat, found the two Palestinian men floating in the water. They were taken to the Italian port of Pozzallo two days ago where they remain in a state of exhaustion and shock after their experience.

A UK-flagged vessel saved another five adults and a child from the sea and they are now in Crete. Two others were rescued off Malta.

Authorities are also investigating a report that a further 200 people are missing, presumed drowned in an incident off Libya and another 15 died off the coast of Egypt.

If these reports are verified, the death toll for the past week would be over 700 people lost at sea, making this one of the most deadly periods of recent years.

Categories: AFRICA

Communiqué of the 456th Meeting of the Peace and Security Council

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, September 16, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU), at its 456th meeting held on 12 September 2014, adopted the following decision on the progress report of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan and South Sudan:

Council,

. Takes note of the progress report of the AUHIP [PSC/PR/2.(CDLVI)], as well as of the introductory remarks by the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security and the Chairperson of the AUHIP. Council also takes note of the statements made by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) for Sudan and South Sudan and the Joint Special Representative (JSR) for the AU – UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and Joint Chief Mediator (JCM). Council further takes note of the statements made by the representatives of the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan, the European Union (EU), the League of Arab States (LAS), Italy, in its capacity as co-Chair of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Partners Forum, Norway, in its capacity as a member of the Troika on Sudan and South Sudan, as well as France, United Kingdom and the United States of America, as permanent members of the UN Security Council;

. Recalls its earlier communiqués and press statements on the implementation of the various aspects of the mandate of the AUHIP and other related AU’s efforts, including communiqués PSC/AHG/COMM/2.(CCCXCVII) and PSC/AHG/COMM/1.(CCCLIII), adopted at its 353rd and 397th meetings held in Addis Ababa and in New York, on 25 January and 23 September 2013, respectively;

. Commends the AUHIP and its members, namely former Presidents Thabo Mbeki, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Pierre Buyoya, as well as the Support Team, for their persistent engagement with, and support to, the efforts of the Governments and peoples of Sudan and South Sudan. Council also commends the Chair of IGAD, Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, for his continued engagement and support to the efforts of the AUHIP and the promotion of peace, security and stability in the Horn of Africa region;

. Expresses appreciation for the important role of the JSR/JCM, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Haile Menkerios, and the Special Envoy of IGAD, Lissane Yohannes, in the overall efforts aimed at achieving peace, security and stability in the region, and notes with satisfaction the exemplary cooperation between them and the AUHIP. Council also expresses appreciation for the support and assistance being extended to the AUHIP by the AU bilateral and multilateral partners;

. Reiterates its appreciation to President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad for his continued contribution to the peace efforts in Darfur, including the convening, in Umdjaras, Chad, from 26 to 30 March 2014, of the Forum for Reconciliation in Darfur for the purpose of encouraging all concerned groups to join the peace process;

. Welcomes the continued engagement of the State of Qatar in the search for peace in Darfur, in particular its significant financial contribution for the implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) and the Darfur Development Strategy (DDS), thus assisting in alleviating the suffering of the population of Darfur, including the internally displaced persons (IDPs);

. Notes the numerous challenges that continue to face Sudan, including armed conflicts in the Two Areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile and in Darfur, which threaten the well-being of the Sudanese people and indeed the future of the country, and stresses the need for renewed African efforts, with appropriate international support, to assist the Sudanese parties in overcoming these challenges, promoting national reconciliation, enhancing unity within diversity and strengthening democracy and good governance;

. Recalls its earlier pronouncements on the need for a holistic approach to the challenges facing Sudan, as articulated in the report of the AU High-Level Panel on Darfur (AUPD), adopted by the 207th meeting of Council held in Abuja, Nigeria, on 29 October 2009 [communiqué PSC/AHG/COMM.1(CCVII)], and, in this regard, fully supports the coordinated effort to address national issues, as well as the situations in the “Two Areas” and in Darfur, within a common framework;

. Welcomes the speech made by President Omar Hassan Al Bashir of Sudan, on 27 January 2014, outlining the framework for a National Dialogue, based on the following agenda: peace and national unity, economy, basic rights and freedoms, national identity, constitutional review and governance;

. Further welcomes the determination of all the components of the people of Sudan to move forward to achieve a comprehensive, fair and lasting settlement to the armed conflicts and other political problems that afflict their nation. In this respect, Council notes with satisfaction the adoption of the Paris Declaration and the Roadmap of the “7+7” Committee, on 8 and 9 August 2014, respectively, as well as the readiness of the registered Political parties, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement-SLM (Minni Minawi) and the Sudan Liberation Movement-SLM (Abdel Wahid al-Nur) to participate in a common process, as expressed in the Addis Ababa Agreement of 5 September 2014 on the principles of the National Dialogue, its objectives and the key steps necessary for the creation of the enabling environment;

. Recognizes the importance of the National Dialogue, as an authentic, transparent, inclusive and fair process initiated and owned by the people of Sudan, in order to bring about lasting peace across the entire country;

. Emphasizes that the international community should do its part in supporting the people of Sudan at this historic juncture, noting that Sudan faces economic hardships and that the prospects for the success of the National Dialogue will be greatly enhanced by international measures to alleviate the economic distress facing the country. Council notes that, while Sudan has followed international economic prescriptions to stabilize its economy, the country still does not have access to international financial support, including debt relief, concessionary loans and other mechanisms normally available to countries undergoing such hardships;

. Recognizes the critical leadership role of the AUHIP in the coordination of the various mediation tracks underway in Sudan. In this regard, Council urges all international actors with a mediation mandate to pool their resources together, as well as harmonize their interventions, in a manner that optimizes the window of opportunity presented by the National Dialogue, with a view to finding a comprehensive and lasting solution to the conflicts in Sudan;

. Endorses, in light of the above, the following steps to ensure harmonized and focused action by the AUHIP in support of the efforts of the Sudanese stakeholders to address the issues confronting their country:

(i) the negotiations on cessation of hostilities, immediately leading to a comprehensive security arrangements agreement, should resume at the earliest opportunity, under the auspices of the AUHIP and in collaboration and coordination with the JSR/JCM;

(ii) the negotiations on the cessation of hostilities for the Two Areas and for Darfur should be conducted in a synchronized manner;

(iii) a meeting of the Sudanese parties to discuss relevant process issues, in order to pave the way for the National Dialogue should be held at the AU Headquarters under the facilitation of the AUHIP, as requested by the Sudanese stakeholders, , to ensure that the necessary confidence-building are taken, the key steps of the National Dialogue process are fully agreed upon, and that the process is fair and will result in the mutually-agreed objectives;

. Welcomes the commitment of the Sudanese stakeholders immediately to establish a conducive environment for the holding of the National Dialogue, and encourages the Government to expedite its efforts towards implementing the agreed confidence-building measures, including:

(i) the release of all political detainees and prisoners;

(ii) the adoption and implementation of all necessary steps to ensure political freedoms and full guarantee of the freedom of expression and publication, including by enacting the necessary legislation to give effect to these freedoms;

(iii) ensuring that the judiciary will be the only institution to adjudicate matters relating to the exercise of the freedom of expression and publication, with no resort to extraordinary measures; and

(iv) providing the necessary guarantees for the armed groups freely to participate in the National Dialogue, once the comprehensive ceasefire and security arrangements agreements have been concluded, and facilitating humanitarian assistance to all populations in war-affected areas;

. Urges all Sudanese stakeholders participating in the National Dialogue to refrain from hate speech and from conducting negative media campaigns against each other;

. Further urges the international community, especially the African Development Bank (AfDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and bilateral partners, to consider providing an economic support package to Sudan, including expediting debt relief and extending concessionary loans, in support of the people of Sudan as they move forward. Council appeals to all States that have imposed sanctions on the financial services sector to lift them, in order to contribute positively towards the creation of enabling conditions for the success of the National Dialogue;

. Recalls the 27 September 2012 Agreements between South Sudan and Sudan and welcomes the positive evolution of the relations between the two Governments. Council also recalls the Agreement on the Temporary Security and Administrative Arrangements for the Abyei Area of 20 June 2011 and subsequent meetings between the Parties on the implementation of that Agreement;

. Commends the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and its Force Commander, as well as the members of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission, for their efforts towards the implementation of their respective mandates;

. Further commends the Government of Sudan for receiving South Sudanese fleeing the conflict in their country and extending the Four Freedoms to them while in Sudan, as well as for allowing the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance to the affected populations in South Sudan;

. Notes with satisfaction the significant progress made in implementing the September 2012 Cooperation Agreements. At the same time, Council notes with concern that not all the elements of the Agreements have been fully implemented, particularly with respect to the Security Agreement, including the determination of the centreline of the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ) that will lead to the establishment of the SDBZ;

. Supports the envisaged convening, as soon as possible, by the two Governments, of a meeting of the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, to address all outstanding security issues pertaining to the September 2012 Agreement, particularly the determination of the centreline of the SDBZ;

. Notes the progress made towards the stabilization and normalization of the situation in the Abyei Area, including the return of the displaced persons. At the same time, Council notes with concern that key elements of the June 2011 Agreement have not yet been implemented, and that these delays are affecting the normalization of the life of the people of Abyei. Council emphasizes that without further progress, the achievements made to date will be jeopardized. Council recalls that the two Presidents have continuously affirmed the they will jointly handle the question of the final status of the Abyei Area;

. Urges the expedited implementation of the outstanding administrative and security elements of the June 2011 Agreement on the Abyei Area, in order to meet the everyday needs of the people of Abyei, emphasizing that the Parties may interpret those provisions creatively based on mutual understanding, and that the implementation of the temporary arrangements should, in no way, jeopardize the discussions on the final status of Abyei;

. Notes with appreciation the cooperation extended by the Parties to the AU Border Program (AUBP), leading to the completion of the AUBP Technical Assessment Report on the capacity of Sudan and South Sudan to demarcate their border;

. Appreciates the assistance given by the Parties to the AU Team of Experts (AUTE) on the Settlement of Boundary Issues, and urges that the process of exchanging the written submissions be expedited, to enable the AUTE complete its work in a timely manner;

. Recalls the support expressed by the Assembly of the Union, in decision Assembly/AU/Dec.536(XXIII) adopted at its 23rd Ordinary Session held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, from 26 to 27 June 2014, for the Joint Approach by Sudan, South Sudan and the AUHIP, including comprehensive debt relief and lifting of sanctions for Sudan and development support to South Sudan. Council urges the international donors and creditors to provide such financial assistance and comprehensive debt relief as may be required to enable the two States to implement policies and programs designed to promote their economic development and to improve the lives of their peoples. Council requests the AUHIP to continue supporting these efforts;

. Recalls its request to the AUHIP, in close consultation with the Chair and Secretariat of IGAD, to contribute to the promotion of a regional and holistic approach to the challenges of peace, security, stability and development in the Horn of Africa, in support of IGAD’s efforts, as contained in communiqué PSC/AHG/COMM/2.(CCCXCVII), bearing in mind the relevant decisions of the Assembly of the Union, including decision Assembly/AU/Dec.536(XXIII). Council looks forward to an update by the AUHIP on the follow-up steps taken;

. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.

Categories: AFRICA

Sierra Leone: Red Cross opens Ebola treatment centre to help meet escalating needs

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 16, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has opened its first Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, one of the districts worst affected by the deadly outbreak.

“This treatment centre is desperately needed,” says Tiina Saarikoski, IFRC treatment centre manager. “Kenema has been greatly affected by this outbreak. This centre will help relieve some of the pressure on the local government hospital where several doctors and nurses have fallen victim to the Ebola outbreak.”

Built at the request of the government on the outskirts of Kenema city, the treatment centre is currently staffed with 19 international workers and 80 national employees. It has already received its first patients, four men and an 11 year old girl from the capital city Freetown. To date, Sierra Leone has recorded more than 1,400 Ebola cases and 524 deaths.

“The treatment centre will accommodate 60 patients, but for now, we are going to stagger admissions,” adds Saarikoski. “Our team is ready, but for their safety, and the safety of patients, we want to ensure they are not overwhelmed. Making a mistake here can prove deadly and is obviously something we want to avoid.”

The treatment centre is expected to operate for up to twelve months, if funding is available to keep the doors open. “We are greatly appreciative of the support from our donors which enabled us to open the Ebola treatment centre,” says Stephen McAndrew, IFRC head of emergency Ebola operations in Sierra Leone. “However, at the moment, we do not have sufficient funding to keep the clinic open for the full twelve months. Also, with the situation evolving, we will have to extend and expand our efforts, to keep up with escalating needs.”

Funds are needed to support the deployment of additional healthcare workers as the operation scales up and more patients are admitted, as well as the tools, supplies and equipment needed to do the job. “When operating at full capacity, we can go through up to 200 sets of personal protective equipment every day,” says Saarikoski. “Most of the kit has to be destroyed after one use to avoid cross contamination.”

IFRC has revised its emergency appeal upwards from 1.4 million Swiss francs to 12.3 million Swiss francs, to expand its operations in response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. An extraordinary allocation of the IFRC disaster relief emergency fund of one million Swiss francs also allowed for the deployment of an emergency response unit to Kenema to facilitate the start-up of the treatment centre.

Since the first confirmed case was identified in Sierra Leone in May, teams of volunteers with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society have been trained and deployed to communities to collect and bury bodies, follow up with those who may have come into contact with an infected person, raise awareness about Ebola, and provide psychosocial support. These activities will be scaled up under the revised emergency appeal, with more than 1,600 volunteers trained to ensure larger geographical areas can be reached.

Categories: AFRICA

Counselor Thomas A. Shannon’s Travel to Mogadishu, Somalia, on September 14

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, DC

September 15, 2014

The Counselor of the Department, Thomas A. Shannon, visited Mogadishu on September 14. He was joined by Special Representative for Somalia James P. McAnulty and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Steven J. Feldstein. In meetings with senior government officials and representatives of the international community, he reiterated the commitment of the United States to Somalia’s security and development. With President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed he discussed the latest military and political developments, including the successful strike against al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and the military campaign by the Somali National Army (SNA) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) against al-Shabaab’s remaining strongholds. Additionally, the Counselor was briefed by representatives of the Somali cabinet and representatives of the international community on state-building initiatives, including judicial development, reconciliation in recently-liberated areas, and preparations for the 2015 review of the Constitution and the 2016 elections.

Categories: AFRICA

WHO welcomes Chinese contribution of mobile laboratory and health experts for Ebola response in West Africa

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 16, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — WHO welcomes the commitment from the Government of the People’s Republic of China to dispatch a mobile laboratory team to Sierra Leone to enhance the laboratory testing capacity for Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the country.

The contribution comes in response to WHO’s appeal for further assistance to Ebola response efforts in Africa and requests by the government of Sierra Leone. In addition to laboratory experts, the 59-person team from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control will include epidemiologists, clinicians and nurses. They will support Ebola response efforts at the China-Sierra Leone Friendship Hospital, which was built in 2012 with assistance from the Chinese Government.

“The most urgent immediate need in the Ebola response is for more medical staff,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “The newly announced team will join 115 Chinese medical staff on the ground in Sierra Leone virtually since the beginning. This is a huge boost, morally and operationally.”

The WHO Ebola response roadmap, released on 28 August, highlights the need for a massively scaled response to support affected countries. The commitment from the Chinese Government exemplifies the kind of international effort required to intensify response activities and strengthen national capacities.

Categories: AFRICA