Moria fires aftermath: More than 1,000 asylum seekers relocated from Greece this year
Moria fires aftermath: More than 1,000 asylum seekers relocated from Greece this year

The group included families with children with special health needs, and more than 50 unaccompanied children, most of whom had been transferred to the Greek mainland after multiple fires destroyed the Moria reception and identification center, located on the island of Lesvos, three weeks ago. 

“We feel grateful for the people that helped us in Greece and we’ll never forget them. We don’t speak German, but we’ll try hard to learn the language. My brothers live in Germany and I’m excited that I’ll see them again after such a long time”, said Lina Hussein from Syria, who travelled with her husband and two sons. 

Sharing the responsibility 

The Hussein family flew to Germany on the 16th flight organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in cooperation with the Greek government through the Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Children, and in close collaboration with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). 

Since the Moria fires, the UN agencies have worked together with the European Commission – the executive branch of the European Union (EU) – and the Greek authorities, to move 724 unaccompanied children from the islands to the mainland in anticipation of their relocation to other European states.  

 They said the relocation initiative, which started last April, has proven to be a workable act of responsibility sharing.  

“This milestone is a remarkable testament that cooperation among partners can change the lives of children and other vulnerable people for the better”, said Ola Henrikson, IOM Regional Director.  

“Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, relocation flights are happening almost every week. We hope this momentum is sustained and expanded, with more European States participating soon.” 

Help during hardship 

The UN partners were also encouraged that other EU Member States have welcomed additional asylum seekers and recognized refugees from Greece at a time of heightened hardship. 

A total of 1,066 asylum seekers have been relocated from Greece to Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal, so far this year. 

“Following many calls for enhanced responsibility-sharing in Europe and the particular need to relocate unaccompanied children and other vulnerable people from Greece, we are very pleased to see this taking concrete shape and gradually expanding”, said Pascale Moreau, UNHCR Director for Europe.  

“We are grateful to the countries concerned and hope that more countries follow this positive example and demonstrate their solidarity with Greece.” 

The right to be safe 

Currently, there are nearly 4,400 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece in urgent need of lasting solutions, such as expedited registration, family reunion and relocation.   

Over 1,000 are exposed to severe risks, including exploitation and violence, and precarious conditions in urban centres, the UN agencies warned. 

 “The relocations of unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable children continue to be an important part of protecting the rights of refugee and migrant children”, said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe.   

“These children, many of whom have fled abject poverty and conflict, have the right to be safe and develop to their full potential.”

European Council president makes call to Azerbaijani president
European Council president makes call to Azerbaijani president

By Trend

On September 30, President of the European Council Charles Michel made a phone call to President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev.

European Council President Charles Michel expressed his concern over the outbreak of military operations on the line of contact, underlining the need for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Highlighting the situation over the ongoing military provocation committed by Armenia against Azerbaijan on September 27, President Ilham Aliyev noted that 14 Azerbaijani civilians as well as servicemen were killed as a result of heavy artillery fire opened by the Armenian side on the positions of the Azerbaijani armed forces and residential settlements along the line of contact. President Ilham Aliyev said that the Azerbaijani Army was conducting a counter-offensive in response. “The Armenian leadership is deliberately violating the negotiation process,” the Azerbaijani President noted. “The Armenian prime minister’s statement “Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenia” deals a serious blow to the negotiation process, while his statement “Azerbaijan should negotiate with Nagorno-Karabakh” is an attempt to change the format of the negotiations, which is also unacceptable, as stated by the leadership of the Minsk Group as well.”

The head of state emphasized that Armenia was conducting a policy of illegal settlement of foreign citizens in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, which is a gross violation of international law, and a war crime under the Geneva Convention. President Ilham Aliyev mentioned that the Armenian Prime Minister had decided to set up military units consisting of tens of thousands of volunteers even before the military clashes broke out on September 27, which meant that Armenia was preparing for another aggression.

The head of state noted that the political and military leadership of Armenia bore responsibility for further development of events in the wake of the military provocation of Armenia.

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Listen to older people’s ‘suggestions and ideas’ for more inclusive societies, urges UN chief
Listen to older people’s ‘suggestions and ideas’ for more inclusive societies, urges UN chief

“Older people must be a priority in our efforts to overcome COVID 19”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the 30th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons, celebrated annually on 1 October.

He shone a light on the need to examine how the pandemic might change how we address age and ageing in our societies, stressing that more opportunities and increased access to health, pensions and social protection for older persons were “crucial”.

In releasing his policy guidance on making the lives of older persons better, back in May, the top UN official pointed out the overall coronavirus fatality rate is higher for them. Because of this greater impact, he maintained that policy interventions must be targeted towards raising more awareness of their special needs. 

Caring for others

This year’s observance falls as the world is also marking the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, which Mr. Guterres pointed out, “highlights the vital role of health and social workers, such as nurses and midwives”, responding to the pandemic.  

Against the backdrop that women constitute the majority of these professionals – many of whom are older persons – he upheld that “the people who devote their lives to our care, and to the care of older persons, mothers and children…deserve far greater support”.

Elderly potential 

He said it was important to make concerted efforts across the designated Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020 2030, to improve the lives of older persons, their families and communities. 

“The potential of older persons is a powerful basis for sustainable development”, he flagged.  “More than ever, we must listen to their voices, suggestions and ideas to build more inclusive and age friendly societies”.

‘Invisible’ people

Meanwhile, Claudia Mahler, the UN independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, flagged that the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified existing violations of elderly rights.

“Existing inequalities that older persons face in terms of access to health, employment and livelihood are exacerbated”, she said, and yet, “they are chronically invisible”.

Ms. Mahler said that information about older persons is “at best fragmented, at worst, non-existent” in most countries, which is why it’s imperative to shed light on structural and systematic ways in which they are being left behind. 

“Data is a prerequisite for informed and successful public policy making” to close  existing gaps, highlight older persons’ contributions to society, illustrate their diversity and change perceptions of later life – “especially for it to be more than an inevitable stage of deficit and decline”, she said.

Prioritize older people

The independent UN expert also called for older persons to be prioritized throughout the recovery phase of COVID-19 and beyond. 

“It is essential to ensure the income security of older persons, in particular older women”, she said, highlighting that “universal old age pensions and adequate entitlement levels” are necessary for “inclusive long-term recovery”.

Moreover, socioeconomic relief measures and safety nets must be adopted immediately. 

In the absence of a dedicated internationally-agreed legal framework, Ms. Mahler spelled out: “We must ensure that responses to this crisis specifically identify and prioritize older persons…during the pandemic response and recovery phases”.

© UNRWA/Khalil Adwan

An UNRWA staff member provides medication to an elderly Palestine man in the Gaza strip.

Europe revives carbon farming but without access to carbon markets
Europe revives carbon farming but without access to carbon markets

The concept of soil carbon sequestration, a cornerstone of regenerative farming, is regaining strength as a key measure in both climate mitigation and adaptation.

The potential of “carbon farming” to sequester CO2 emissions while regenerating degraded agricultural soil has been viewed positively by EU lawmakers in the attempt to scale up the EU’s ambition for obtaining climate neutrality by 2050.

In order to do so, the Commission proposed to increase the 2030 target for emission reduction from 40% to 55% and vowed that all legislation will be revised to make it fit for purpose.

Crops are natural carbon “sinks” for carbon dioxide, removing the equivalent of around 51 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year and storing them in the topsoil.

Agricultural soils in the EU contain around 14 billion tonnes of carbon in the topsoil, which is considerably more than the 4.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted annually by all the EU’s 27 countries.

At the same time, carbon sequestration has the effect of restoring organic matter in cropland soils, a regenerative ‘gift’ that can boost soil fertility biologically.

And as a regenerative practice, ‘carbon farming’ has been included among the main Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs) of the eco-scheme, the new green architecture in the EU’s post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In particular, GAEC 2 aims to protect carbon-rich soils such as wetland and peatland, considered among the most effective carbon sinks.

According to the CAP reform proposal, GAEC 2 will be applied to all eligible agricultural land but member states will have to precisely identify peatland and wetland areas by establishing specific cartography at land parcel level.

Furthermore, rewetting techniques to remedy past degradation of drained peatlands, paludiculture or other agricultural practices resulting in carbon sequestration in these areas could be financially supported with additional CAP payments via eco-schemes and rural development interventions.

However, this new push on carbon sinks is seen by some as a smokescreen for the overall ambition on climate targets.

Environmental campaign groups have denounced the Commission’s plan to include soil carbon sequestration in the climate target, saying this was “an accounting trick” to meet the 2030 goals.

“Relying on forests to reach climate targets sends the wrong signal that it’s OK to keep polluting because the land will absorb it,” said Sam van den Plas, policy director at Carbon Market Watch, an environmental NGO.

In Europe, forests are currently a net carbon sink because they take in more carbon dioxide than they emit. Globally, oceans and forests are the two biggest carbon sinks.

Carbon market taboo

The plan to store more carbon on European farmlands and forests should be pursued through a “robust carbon removal certification scheme,” the recent update of the European Commission’s Climate Law reads

However, the increase of the GHG reduction target to at least 55%, would keep the agricultural and land-use sector outside the bloc’s carbon market – the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – the Commission has informed.

The EU executive only plans to overhaul several pieces of legislation by June 2021, such as the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry regulation (LULUCF) and the Effort Sharing regulation.

European farmers have so far been prevented from participating in carbon markets, which would allow them to get paid for storing carbon in their farmlands by trading greenhouse gases.

In order to overcome the carbon markets taboo, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI), included proposals for a soil carbon sequestration scheme supported by establishing a separate trading scheme for negative emissions in its opinion on the Climate Law.

The importance of removals or negative emissions is paramount as currently removals and emission reductions are treated equally in carbon markets.

However, a ton of carbon removed from the atmosphere ought to be priced differently from a ton of carbon that is not emitted into the atmosphere, say EU lawmakers.

“From a political point of view, I believe the Commission should explore the possibility of establishing a separate trading scheme for negative emissions,” said Asger Christensen, the liberal MEP who drafted the opinion.

“That is an important message in our opinion, because it might generate substantial climate finance and benefit climate, environment, and biodiversity.”

EU mulls over plan to boost carbon-storage on farmlands

Farmers and foresters need to be “directly incentivised” to put in practice carbon-capture crops and other measures intended to reduce net greenhouse gases (GHG), according to an update of the European Commission’s Climate Law.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

WHO and European Union support COVID-19 training for medical personnel in Georgia to improve health system readiness
WHO and European Union support COVID-19 training for medical personnel in Georgia to improve health system readiness

One hundred and forty health workers from across Georgia – frontline responders to the pandemic – received specialized training to effectively respond to COVID-19 cases while ensuring their own safety and preventing further transmission.

Ambulance doctors, nurses and emergency vehicle drivers learned standard operating procedures for preventing and controlling infection during the transportation of patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. The Emergency Situations Coordination and Urgent Assistance Center conducted the trainings within the framework of the Solidarity for Health initiative implemented by WHO and funded by the European Union (EU).

Additionally, a special protocol was developed for mitigating the risk of infection among health workers exposed to COVID-19.

“Patients may not exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, increasing the risk of infection for medical personnel, especially frontline responders. This is why I keep reminding my staff to always use personal protective equipment, so that medical personnel do not further the spread of the virus,” says Ilya Besalashvili, Ambulance Manager from Kaspi. “We found this training extremely useful – it gave us good insight into how doctors, nurses and drivers should operate to guarantee our safety as well as that of our families, patients, and their family members.”

Cascaded training for a well prepared health system

The trained health workers will in turn share information with their colleagues – over 7000 medical specialists, village doctors, ambulance teams and resuscitators.

“When COVID-19 broke out and the information on the virus was poor, the infection spread through the ambulance teams so quickly that we had to close services in some regions. It was a real nightmare,” says Vasil Davitashvili, Instructor at the Training Center for Coordination of Action in Emergencies and Emergency Aid. “Today we have good knowledge and necessary personal protective equipment. These trainings ensure better prevention and increase our self-confidence.”

“During this post-crisis period, when the epidemiological situation is relatively stable in Georgia, all efforts should be directed to ensure that the health system is well prepared in case of additional needs in the near future,” says Silviu Domente, WHO Representative to Georgia.

EU funding: from COVID-19 response to building resilient health systems

The first phase of the joint WHO–EU Solidarity for Health initiative focused on the COVID-19 response. It included the delivery of more than 1.5 million items of personal protective equipment for frontline health and laboratory workers, a study to gain insights into COVID-19-related behaviours in the general population, and support to strengthen national capacities for enhanced surveillance and infection prevention and control.

This assistance is part of a wider package of EU support for Georgia of over 400 million euros (almost 1.5 billion Georgian lari), which includes support for vulnerable groups and economic recovery. In total, the EU has committed over 15 billion euros globally to support partner countries to combat COVID-19.

Global solidarity in the fight against COVID-19 takes centre stage during Regional Director’s visit to Russian Federation
Global solidarity in the fight against COVID-19 takes centre stage during Regional Director’s visit to Russian Federation

On a recent visit to the Russian Federation, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge stressed the importance of continued solidarity in the fight against COVID-19 during meetings with high-level representatives.

The visit was an opportunity to reflect on the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the use of digital health technologies and the deployment of personnel as part of WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN).

Speaking during the visit, Dr Kluge said: “As the world learns to live with the new reality brought by COVID-19, it is a unique time to be undertaking my first official mission to Moscow as Regional Director of WHO/Europe. The Russian Federation is a country I know well after living and working here, and it is always productive to return and exchange ideas.”

The visit had 3 main objectives that focused on expanding collaboration on the global, regional and national levels:

  • harnessing the leadership shown by the Russian Federation in addressing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including through the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs;
  • acknowledging the Russian Federation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its support to WHO’s response in countries and its role in the global effort to develop potential vaccines for COVID-19; and
  • supporting the implementation of the Russian President’s national strategy, which focuses on increasing life expectancy with commitments to investing in health and expanding country-level work on digital health, primary health care, and tuberculosis (TB) and HIV.

Solidarity in response to COVID-19 and NCDs

In discussions with Minister of Health Dr Mikhail Murashko and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, COVID-19 was on the agenda. Dr Kluge emphasized the importance of multilateralism and global cooperation, commending the Russian Federation for its COVID-19 vaccine research and development efforts, and for sharing information with WHO as part of the global effort to find safe and effective vaccines.

Dr Kluge highlighted that there is much to learn from the Russian Federation’s efforts, including its success in influenza vaccination campaigns across the country as we brace for the potential combined impact of influenza and COVID-19 cases.

Dr Kluge and Dr Murashko also spoke about the Russian Federation’s continued role in addressing NCDs both regionally and nationally. They discussed how artificial intelligence and big data can be harnessed to tackle NCDs, and touched upon the establishment of a regional technical advisory council for NCDs to address setbacks caused by the pandemic, to build back better and to accelerate innovations towards reducing premature mortality from NCDs. They noted the continued work of the NCD Office in the country, which acts as a centre of excellence, strengthening capacity in all countries of the WHO European Region to prevent and control NCDs.

The meeting with Prime Minister Mishustin offered another opportunity to discuss the ongoing work of WHO and the Russian Federation in areas including NCDs and TB.

The importance of global solidarity was again emphasized during a meeting with Foreign Minister Mr Sergey Lavrov. Mr Lavrov recognized the importance of cooperation between WHO/Europe and the Russian Federation, and the role WHO/Europe has played in coordinating the response to COVID-19.

During a meeting with Dr Anna Popova, Head of the Russian Federation’s Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), Dr Kluge recognized the personnel that the country has devoted to the COVID-19 response. Part of GOARN, Rospotrebnadzor took part in a mission to Tajikistan to support COVID-19 laboratory capacity.

Focusing on digital health

Dr Kluge’s visit also included a meeting with Mayor of Moscow Mr Sergey Sobyanin. Together they considered collaboration between WHO/Europe and Moscow on tackling air pollution, as well as innovative technologies for dementia and mental health services. Mr Sobyanin pointed out the use of digital health technologies in primary health care for the response to COVID-19.

Dr Kluge later met with health-care workers at the Telemedicine Centre of Moscow who help to manage patients with suspected COVID-19 at the primary care level, combining home visits and the use of Moscow’s integrated health information system. Since the pandemic began, 187 000 patients with COVID-19 have been monitored and had contact with their general practitioners via online consultations. This has helped to manage the pandemic and reduce the burden on hospitals.

Working with partners

The visit also offered opportunities for meetings with partners who work with WHO in the Russian Federation. During a meeting with the Eurasian Economic Commission, Dr Kluge and WHO colleagues spoke about future collaboration to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 – ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages – with a focus on antimicrobial resistance, pharmaceuticals, food safety and the health issues associated with trans fats.

Collaboration with United Nations agencies is an important part of WHO’s work in countries. During a briefing with several of these agencies and other non-state actors, Dr Kluge and representatives spoke about areas of cooperation. The Regional Director thanked the representatives for their organizations’ support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A discussion with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) covered the importance of ensuring universal health coverage for vulnerable populations, including migrants. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) highlighted joint work in the Russian Federation and the wider European Region through a tripartite agreement on addressing antimicrobial resistance and rabies.

The World Bank underlined the importance of strengthening universal health coverage and primary health care in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed their commitment to universal health coverage.

The visit ended with a briefing of European Union (EU) ambassadors, organized by the EU delegation, on key outcomes from the visit. This included an update on the visit’s 3 main objectives: joint work to fight NCDs; continued cooperation during the COVID-19 pandemic; and implementation of the Russian President’s national strategy.

WHO maintains 2 separate offices in the Russian Federation: the WHO Country Office, which works closely with the country’s health authorities on health matters, and the NCD Office, a geographically dispersed office which specializes in helping all countries across the WHO European Region tackle NCDs.