UNICEF has condemned the Boris Johnson government’s decision to cut aid to the United Nations body warning it will have ‘serious consequences for children’.
It said in a statement last Friday: ‘The UK government has informed us today that it intends to reduce UNICEF’s core funding by approximately 60 per cent. We are deeply concerned by this decision.
‘Core funding enables UNICEF to be present on the ground before, during and after emergencies, allowing us to direct resources for children where they are most needed.
‘In 2020, thanks to core funding, UNICEF was able to swiftly respond to the most pressing education, protection and health needs of children affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Any cuts to these funds will have serious consequences for children.
‘It is too soon to know the full impact that this and future UK funding cuts will have on UNICEF programmes.
‘However, we worry that children living in some of the world’s worst crises and conflicts will suffer the consequences.
‘The UK government has long been a key partner for UNICEF’s work for children around the world, helping to save and improve the lives of millions of vulnerable children and providing them with access to critical water, sanitation, education and health services.
‘While we recognise the challenging financial situation currently facing governments, the needs of children have never been greater and it’s vital that this support is sustained in a context where Covid-19 threatens to reverse the gains we have made over the years.
‘We continue to engage with the UK government on our shared agenda for children worldwide and trust that the government will meet its commitment to reinstate the 0.7 per cent GNI aid spending target as soon as possible.’
A statement last Friday by UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Ted Chaiban, and UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refugee Migrant Response in Europe Afshan Khan said: ‘This week, 125 children, including 114 unaccompanied children, were rescued at sea, off the coast of Libya.
‘The Central Mediterranean continues to be one of the deadliest and most dangerous migration routes in the world.
‘At least 350 people, including children and women, have drowned or gone missing in the Central Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe since the beginning of the year, including 130 just last week.
‘The majority of those rescued are sent to overcrowded detention centres in Libya under extremely difficult conditions and with no or limited access to water and health services. Nearly 1,100 children are in these centres.
‘Libya has 51,828 migrant children and an estimated 14,572 refugee children; most are unable to access services and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse within the country.
‘Those in detention are cut off from clean water, electricity, education, health care and adequate sanitation facilities. Violence and exploitation are rampant.
‘Despite these dangers, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, refugee and migrant children continue to risk their lives in search of safety and a better life. Attempts to cross this sea route are likely to increase in the summer months ahead.
‘We call on the Libyan authorities to release all children and end immigration detention. The detention of children in migration contexts is never in the best interest of children.
‘We call on authorities in Europe on the Central Mediterranean to support and receive migrants and refugees coming to their shores and to strengthen search and rescue mechanisms.
‘With partners, UNICEF is committed to support all governments across the Central Mediterranean to find safer alternatives to sea crossing, develop and implement child sensitive arrival procedure, reception and care facilities and long-term solutions for children attempting to cross the sea.’
As of 31 March, a total of 4,005 migrants and refugees have been registered as rescued/intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libya to detention centres.
So far this year, more than 8,600 migrants have arrived in European ports via the Central Mediterranean, one in five are children.
- A Bradford-based refugee rights group has labelled the government’s plans to change immigration rules ‘the ugliest attack on the asylum system in a generation’.
Refugee Action, which runs a centre for asylum seekers in Bradford, called on the Home Office to scrap its ‘new plan for immigration’ which proposes sweeping changes to the asylum system.
The charity’s call was backed by 24 Yorkshire organisations including City of Sanctuary Sheffield and Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network.
Tory Home Secretary Priti Patel’s plans, announced in March, include keeping asylum seekers in ‘reception centres’ in the south of England, requiring refugees to be reassessed by the Home Office every 30 months, and limiting family reunion rights for refugees who arrive in the UK via ‘irregular routes’.
Refugee Action chief executive Tim Naor Hilton said the changes should be scrapped and called the government’s six-week online consultation a ‘sham’.
‘The government left people fewer than six working weeks to give their thoughts on the largest changes to the asylum system in two decades,’ the charity’s statement read.
‘Normally consultations like this last at least 12 weeks. These six weeks also include Easter holidays, a May bank holiday, Ramadan and an election period during which those involved in local, mayoral and devolved nation elections are restricted in what they can say publicly.
‘Most incredibly, this consultation does not prioritise the views and experiences of refugees and people seeking asylum. Not one question in the official consultation document asks people about their personal experiences of fleeing persecution or seeking safety in the UK.’
The statement also claimed the consultation was a ‘thinly-veiled public relations exercise with a pre-determined outcome’.
Hilton added: ‘This consultation is an attempt to gift wrap the ugliest attack on the asylum system in a generation.
‘If ministers genuinely wanted to create a better asylum system, they would not sideline refugees, charities, legal experts and members of the public as it did so.
‘The government must scrap its proposed changes to refugee policy and work properly with stakeholders to create a system that is fair, effective and compassionate.’
- Eleven people drowned on Sunday when a rubber dinghy carrying two dozen Europe-bound refugees capsized off Libya.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said the tragedy took place near the western town of Zawiya. The Libyan coastguard saved the lives of 12 others, it said.
‘The continuous loss of life calls for an urgent change in approach to the situation in Libya and the Central Med,’ the IOM said.
The refugees who were saved were taken to a detention centre.
Sunday’s deadly shipwreck was the latest along the Central Mediterranean migration route.
Last month, at least 130 people were presumed dead after their boat capsized off Libya, in one of the deadliest maritime tragedies in years along the busy route.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 invasion and occupation by US, UK and French forces.
They armed, financed and organised terrorist forces who killed Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi and have now run amock organising a new slave trade of refugees.
Since 2014, more than 20,000 refugees have died at sea while trying to reach Europe from Africa.
More than 17,000 of those have been on the Central Mediterranean which is described by the UN as the most dangerous migration route in the world.
There has been a spike in crossings and attempted crossings from Libya in recent weeks.
Approximately 7,000 Europe-bound refugees have been intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year, according to the IOM’s tally.
Meanwhile, a charity ship has sailed towards Italy’s Sicilian port with 236 people rescued in the Mediterranean from traffickers’ boats, while the Italian coastguard and border police brought 532 others to a tiny island.
The maritime rescue group SOS Mediterranee said on Saturday that a ship it operates, Ocean Viking, pulled the migrants to safety four days ago from two rubber dinghies.
Upon instructions from Italian authorities, the Ocean Viking was sailing to Augusta, Sicily, with its passengers, who it said included 119 unaccompanied children.
SOS Mediterranee said some passengers told rescuers they were beaten by smugglers based in Libya and forced to embark on the unseaworthy dinghies despite high waves.
On Italy’s southern island of Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than to the Italian mainland, Mayor Salvatore Martello said migrants from four boats that needed rescue stepped ashore overnight.
They were brought to safety by the Italian coastguard and customs police boats.