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John Key must press for Syria action while at UN

15 September 2016

As 75,000 suffer at the Syria-Jordan border, John Key must press for Syria action while at UN

As Prime Minister John Key travels to New York to deliver New Zealand’s statement at the UN General Assembly and chair a high-level meeting on the conflict in Syria, Amnesty International is calling on him to show human rights leadership and ensure wealthy countries pull their weight -- and quickly.

“The bloodshed in Syria and the global refugee crisis are two of the worst human rights tragedies of our lifetime. We need the Prime Minister to meaningfully address them and forge practical solutions”, said Carsten Bockemuehl, Research and Policy Manager at Amnesty International New Zealand.

Amnesty International welcomes New Zealand’s efforts to bring world leaders around the UN Security Council table and discuss ways to end the five-year old conflict in Syria.

“This diplomatic push comes at an important time for Syrians. The seven days-long ceasefire brokered last Friday by the US and Russia is a step in the right direction. But it’s not enough – the ceasefire must be extended to permanently reduce violence and allow for sustained humanitarian access to civilians in need.”

“This high-level meeting is also an opportunity to pressure all conflict parties in Syria to – once and for all – end their relentless attacks on civilians, markets and hospitals. Prime Minister John Key must push hard for real consequences if there is further deliberate violence against civilians. The blatant breaches of international law in Syria must not go unpunished.”

John Key’s visit also coincides with an historic summit to tackle the global refugee crisis. More than 150 heads of state and government will gather on 19 September in New York to lay the foundations for a better, more coordinated response to large movements of refugees and migrants. However, the summit is doomed to failure as states will not be obliged to resettle specific numbers of people; instead it is expected they will make token gestures with no concrete steps to share responsibility .

“Millions of refugees around the world are in desperate need – 86% live in low and middle-income countries often ill-equipped to host them, while many of the world’s wealthiest states host the fewest and do the least. This situation is inherently unfair, and New Zealand is far from doing its fair share to help alleviate this crisis”, said Carsten Bockemuehl.

As leaders meet in New York, 75,000 refugees are trapped in dire conditions in an area known as ‘the berm’, on the Syria-Jordan border.

Jordan is currently hosting around 650,000 Syrian refugees, resources are severely strained and humanitarian assistance to the berm stopped completely when the Rukban and Hadalat border crossings were sealed off following a deadly attack in June. Conditions at the berm have deteriorated rapidly since then.

It’s a desperate situation for people trapped there. After fleeing horrific violence, they are now suffering, and in some cases dying, from preventable illnesses simply because they are not allowed to cross into Jordan. And authorities have blocked access for aid and medical treatment.

Video footage obtained by Amnesty International shows two graveyards at Rukban with dozens of burial mounds next to refugee tents. Appalling conditions and lack of medical care are a deadly combination. Since June, there have been at least 10 deaths from hepatitis and nine during childbirth.

The situation at the berm offers a grim snapshot of the consequences of the world’s wealthy countries failing to share responsibility for the global refugee crisis.

“For the sake of the people of Syria, this is a time for action, not just words. Prime Minister John Key must address the horrific situation at the berm and mobilise world leaders to help,” said Bockemuehl.


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