Civilians Starving to Death in Syria; Refugees Beaten and Gassed in France, Macedonia
March 1, 2016 International Business Times & Al Jazeera
The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights fears thousands of Syrians may have died of starvation, as 480,000 people are "currently trapped in besieged towns and villages." Meanwhile, in France, police fired tear gas canisters at protesters as demolition workers pulled down shacks in makeshift refugee camp. And, in Macedonia, police used stun grenades after hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian refugees tried to force their way through a razor-wire barrier across the border.
Syria Crisis Update:
Thousands May Have Starved To Death
In Besieged Areas, UN Human Rights Chief Says Suman Varandani / International Business Times
(February 29, 2016) -- Thousands of people in Syria's besieged areas may have died of starvation, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Monday. The comments from the UN human rights chief came during the opening of the UN Human Rights Council's main annual session.
Zeid said while addressing those present at the session that an estimated 480,000 people are "currently trapped in besieged towns and villages in Syria—and have been, in some cases for years." This comes as sieges in the war-torn country have affected nearly half a million people.
Aid workers reportedly believe that several dozen people have died of starvation just in Madaya, where many have been reported dead due to lack of food and medical attention. After shocking images of starving residents circulated on social media last month, the mountainous town received humanitarian aid.
"The deliberate starvation of people is unequivocally forbidden as a weapon of warfare. By extension, so are sieges, which deprive civilians of essential goods such as food," Zeid said, adding that the situation could be worse. "Thousands of people may have starved to death."
Zeid's comments came as the UN was preparing to deliver aid to thousands of besieged civilians in Syria Monday to make use of the ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia.
The truce, which came into effect Saturday, would allow aid workers to bring supplies to an additional 154,000 people living in besieged areas over the next five days.
"Neighborhoods, schools and packed marketplaces have been hit by tens of thousands of air strikes, thousands of barrel bombs have been thrown out of helicopters onto streets and homes," Zeid reportedly said of the five-year long conflict in Syria.
He also said that some parties "are targeting medical units deliberately, or with reckless disregard," mentioning that at least 10 hospitals and other medical units have been damaged or destroyed in just the beginning of this year alone.
The UN hopes to help an estimated 1.7 million people by the end of March if efforts to deliver aid are not reportedly hampered by the fragile truce. About 4.6 million people have reportedly fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011. Another 13.5 million are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country as tensions escalate in the region.
Clashes as France Clears Part of Calais 'Jungle' Camp Al Jazeera
(March 1, 2016) -- French police fire tear gas canisters at protesters as demolition workers pull down shacks in makeshift refugee camp. Clashes have erupted between French riot police and refugees and migrants as authorities began destroying makeshift shelters in the makeshift camp on the edge of Calais known as the "Jungle".
On Monday night, police lobbed tear gas canisters at residents of the camp who protested against the raid as about 20 demolition workers moved in to start pulling down the shacks by hand.
As night fell about 150 of the camp's inhabitants threw rocks and struck vehicles heading for England on a port road which runs next to the sprawling camp, as some were wielding iron bars, an AFP news agency reporter said. Police also fired tear gas in clashes with activists who had formed a security cordon to protect the tear-down operation.
While there were no reports of injuries, authorities said at least three people were arrested.
Earlier, around 20 makeshift huts went up in flames in an angry backlash as workers, guarded by scores of French police, began pulling down tents and shelters, while clashes continued throughout the afternoon.
"You can see that the protesters didn't hesitate to set fire to tents and shelters or to throw stones at police," Etienne Desplanques, a regional government cabinet director, told Al Jazeera. "It's not acceptable, and it's normal that we're going to restore security," Desplanques said.
Several lorries and cars were blocked by the camp's residents on the stretch of road overlooking a piece of ground which had previously been part of the camp.
The demolition of the southern half of the camp began after a court petition by charities to stop it was rejected last week. "It's infinitely sad to see the waste of so much work that we've done in the past months," said Maya Konforti of the Auberge des Migrants (Migrants' Hostel) charity.
Volunteers and aid workers have spent months trying to improve conditions in the camp, built on a former toxic waste dump on the outskirts of Calais.
Local authorities, who have promised that no one will be evacuated by force, say 3,700 people live in the camp, and that between 800 and 1,000 will be affected by the eviction. But charities say a recent census they conducted counted at least 3,450 people in the southern part alone, including an estimated 300 unaccompanied children.
"There are hundreds of children living here who are unaccompanied," Ginny Howells of Save The Children told Al Jazeera, explaining that there is concern the children may end up in worse camps or "go missing" after the eviction.
The evicted refugees and migrants have been offered heated accommodation in refitted containers set up next door to the camp, but many are reluctant to move there because they lack communal spaces and movement is restricted.
They have also been offered places in some 100 reception centres dotted around France. But the refugees and migrants do not want to give up their hopes of Britain. Many of them try to reach Britain daily by sneaking aboard lorries and ferries crossing the Channel. "These people want to reach Britain and won't leave. They will end up in even more hardship, particularly in winter," Konforti said.
The demolition of the camp comes ahead of talks on Thursday between French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Britain has put substantial pressure on France to stem the flow of refugees and migrants getting across the Channel, and has funded a huge increase in security measures around the port and tunnel in Calais.
The Jungle has played into fraught discussions about Britain's possible exit from the European Union (EU). Some opponents of "Brexit" say that if Britain were to leave the EU, the British government would lose the ability to call on France to stop the refugees from trying to make their way across the Channel.
Macedonia Hits Refugees with Tear Gas, Stun Grenades Al Jazeera
(March 1, 2016) -- Police in Macedonia have fired tear gas and stun grenades after hundreds of frustrated Iraqi and Syrian refugees tried to force their way through a razor-wire barrier across the border into the southeastern European country from Greece.
Tensions flared on Monday, with thousands of desperate refugees stuck for days on the Greek side of the border, overflowing from a packed refugee camp at Idomeni.
"The situation is very hectic; people just want a safe passage," Vicky Markolefa, of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) aid organisation, told Al Jazeera from Idomeni. "We denounce violence against innocent refugees."
MSF treated many refugees for respiratory problems after they had tear gas fired on them, she said. Women and children were among those caught up in the crowds.
Markolefa said people were forming 400-metre long lines just for food. "We are overwhelmed. NGOs [non-governmental organisations] are doing their best to respond, but we are calling for European governments to act now." MSF said on Twitter that it had treated one patient suffering from tear-gas injuries who was just six weeks old.
Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Idomeni, said a rumour that the border crossing with Macedonia was opening brought hundreds to the razor-wire barrier.
"There was a state of panic and hope that finally those gates towards Western Europe would open. It's an emotional roller-coaster for these refugees and migrants who are here," she said. About 50 refugees were allowed into Macedonia on Monday.
"The refugees are saying, 'What we've seen here is going to divide opinion in Europe'," our correspondent said. "It's a completely different atmosphere at the moment from last year and they are aware of it. People are saying, 'This is not going to help us. They will see this and we will not be welcome'."
Refugees in Limbo
Nearly 8,000 refugees are in limbo at the Idomeni border camp, which has a capacity of 2,000, according to Greek officials. Many are spread out into the surrounding fields as they wait for Macedonian authorities to let them continue their trek through the Balkans. Only a tiny trickle of people from specific countries have been allowed to cross every day.
Later in the day, Macedonia sent special police reinforcements by helicopter to its border with Greece. More than one million refugees and migrants have passed through the camp in the previous 12 months, travelling from Turkey to Germany and other Western European countries, where they hoped to secure asylum.
Elsewhere on the continent, French authorities began dismantling on Monday part of a refugee camp known as the "jungle" near Calais, after an expulsion order issued by the local administration was upheld last week by a judge.
Workers in bright construction vests and helmets took down tarps and sheets of material that had been cobbled together to create shelters at the camp, which was home to those seeking a future in nearby Britain.
Scores of riot police stood guard, keeping journalists and volunteers out as helmeted workers tackled the shelters one by one.
Fabienne Buccio, a police prefect who had ordered the camp evacuated and dismantled earlier this month, showed up as the operation began. Her office decried "intimidation" tactics by some activists who she said were manipulating migrants into refusing to accept government offers of shelter.
"Really three houses out of four -- I mean three huts out of four, or three tents out of four -- were already totally abandoned with a lot of garbage inside," she said. Migrants, she said, "had the time necessary to gather their belongings. The rest was good enough to throw away."
After first sending welcoming messages, European authorities are now struggling to handle the situation. Hungary has fenced off its borders, refusing to accept any migrants, and other Eastern European countries say they will not take in anyone under an EU refugee-sharing deal.
In recent weeks Austria -- at the north end of the Balkan corridor -- has severely restricted the inflow of refugees, causing a domino effect through the Balkans.
Many of those countries are now refusing to let Afghan refugees in, although UN authorities say no one has explained to them who made this decision or why.
Diplomatic tensions are rising too, with criticism mounting against Austria. Greece has threatened to block decisions at an upcoming EU-Turkey summit unless the bloc forces members to shoulder more of the refugee burden.
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued on Sunday another robust defence of her quest for a European solution to the crisis. She is resisting calls at home and elsewhere in Europe for limits on refugees as such as those imposed by Austria.
"We can't do this in such a way that we simply abandon Greece," she said on ARD television. "This is exactly what I fear: When one country defines its limit, another must suffer. That is not my Europe."
At next Monday's summit, EU leaders "will discuss how we can restore the [passport-free] Schengen system step by step with Greece," Merkel said. However, Reinhold Mitterlehner, Austria's deputy chancellor, said on Monday the refugee restrictions "are necessary [and] we're going to maintain them".
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