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In Liberia, UNICEF Calls Quarantine in Schools "Not Ideal," But UN Involved?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 17 -- When UNICEF's Sarah Crowe upon her return from five weeks in Liberia held a UN press conference on October 17, she described people quarantined in a school surrounded by barbed wire.

  Inner City Press asked her about the UNMEER mission -- there was no answer -- and if international and national staff in Liberia have the same right to medical evacuation (she referred the questions to UN Medical; it hasn't been answered.)

  Anecdotally, Crowe said she wasn't checked for Ebola or fever at JFK Airport or in Europe. She said that when she got back to Manhattan and told a bus driver where she'd been, he loudly asked if she should be getting on the bus. (For the MTA's information, it was the M15 First Avenue line - but was it appropriate?)

   On quarantines, Inner City Press asked Crowe what UNICEF's and the UN system's position is, for example on that of the West Point neighborhood in Monrovia. Crowe called the situation in the school "not ideal," saying that the people quarantined inside wanted to leave.

UN Peacekeeping's Herve Ladsous on October 14 said his DPKO officials "are working closely with Liberia's security agencies to plan future security operations conducted in the context of the state of emergency."

  Inner City Press asked, what does that mean -- UN Peacekeeping participation in curfews? Cordon and quarantine? Martial law if it comes to that?

  Early on the morning of October 15, Inner City Press put these questions and others to three spokespeople of the UN Mission in Liberia, UNMIL. See below. By noon, no responses had been received, so Inner City Press posted the UNMIL mandate question, and one about MEDIVAC, to UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq at the day's noon briefing. Video here.

  Despite the fact that Liberian authorities have already engaged in a quarantine, of Monrovia's West Point neighborhood, Haq called the questions hypothetical, and had no direct response to UN staff's demand that the right to medical evacuation be assured.

  Inner City Press had put that question, as well, to UNMIL's spokespeople, along with these, based on whistleblowers' complaints to the Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access:

"This is a Press request for confirmation or denial that SRSG Landgren rents living quarters in Monrovia, (2) from the Swedish government / embassy (or if not, from whom), (3) at a cost of over $8000 a month. Also, please describe the medical evacuation procedures that have been in place for UNMIL staff for the past six months. One further question: it has been said that UNMIL officials 'are working closely with Liberia's security agencies to plan future security operations conducted in the context of the state of emergency.' Please explain, including stating whether UNMIL would take part or assist in quarantining, curfews or even martial law."

  This has been UNMIL response, hours later to these questions:

Dear Matthew, You can attribute these to me:

On the SRSG’s accommodation, the UN does not disclose its staff members’ personal information.

Decisions to medevac are made on a case-by-case basis and depend on factors such as the stage of the disease and the ability of receiving facilities to take patients.

Best regards,

Russell Geekie, Chief of Public Information
United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)

  How the UN spends money, including to house its high officials, is not private - the UN is ostensibly a public organization, and certainly spends the public's money, as FUNCA has pointed out.

  "Case by case" does not sound like the right to medivac that staff are demanding. We'll have more on this.

  As to planning for "security operations" in Liberai, Ladsous should answer - but he has refused Press questions (video compilation here), blocked the Press' camera (Vine here) and more recently his Office demanded that an on the record interview about DPKO bringing cholera to Haiti not be aired.

  But the questions should be answered, as should the impact on this mission in Mali of its chief, Bert Koenders, so quickly leaving to become Dutch foreign minister. Inner City Press wrote about this early on October 14; at the day's noon briefing UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq wouldn't even confirm that Koenders is leaving. This is the Ladsousification of the UN.

  Back on September 24 for the UNMEER Ebola response mission, UN official Tony Banbury said “we're moving 470 four by four vehicles” into the impacted zone of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

  Inner City Press asked Banbury if these vehicles are all coming from existing UN Peacekeeping missions. Banbury replied, “some peacekeeping missions are downsizing [so] all of them are coming from peacekeeping missions.”

  As Inner City Press exclusively reported a week ago, as the final point in an otherwise positive profile of this UN mission's lightening speed, the UN is seeking to withdraw vehicles from its mission in Darfur, where it is also accused by whistleblowers of covering up continued killing of civilians.

The UN seems to have no problem pulling its vehicles and forces out of Darfur - the only problem is getting the government in Khartoum to agree to big Western transport planes to fly into Darfur to move the vehicles.

  Banbury continued that “some are very close to the end of their serviceable life for the UN. The requirement in some cases is for burial parties, to transport corpses.”

  Banbury said the UN is told by doctors that “after use for that purpose for a length of time, it should be burned.”

  So the UN is bringing peacekeeping vehicles from Darfur, to transport corpses in and them burn them. Watch this site.

Footnote: Here is a copy of the recruitment message for UNMEER sent out within the UN, obtained by Inner City Press:

UNDSS Urgent Request for UN wide staff surge for UNMEER - First Wave to deploy by Monday 29 September 2014

To:   UNSMS (Travel Advisory Distribution List)
        UNDSS International Field Staff
        UNDSS Local Field Staff
        DHSSS Chiefs
        All Security Focal Points & Alternate Security Focal Points
        UN Departments, Agencies, Funds and Programmes

Dear Colleagues,

Please find attached an urgent request for staff interested in forming part of the Surge Team for the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) for your information and action as necessary.
The magnitude of this crisis and the unprecedented nature of this situation demands effective action on the ground quickly. The obstacles ahead, to contain the outbreak, prevent further spread of the virus and help affected communities and nations to recover, are formidable. It is for these reasons that the Secretary-General activated the UN system wide crisis framework and took unprecedented steps to ensure that the UN responds as one at this time of great need.
Please note the deadline for applications is 24 September 2014

Best regards,

24/7 Communications Centre
UN Department of Safety and Security
UN Operations and Crisis Centre
United Nations Secretariat


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