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March 1, 2011: Libya

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As UN Refugee & Crime Agencies Sign Deal, No Safeguards, No Protection

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 31 -- After the UN's refugee agency UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Monday with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC chief Yuri Fedotov told the press, "where there are refugees, there are always crime." Video here, from Minute 2.

  Inner City Press asked Fedotov to explain: was this only about crimes committed against refugees, or would it include checking refugees, and even by implication sharing information with governments? Video here, from Minute 6:36.

  The question seemed obvious, for example considering the controversy in the United States when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says it will work with any criminal justice agency: protests ensue, and suspension or safeguards are demanded. Wouldn't the UN have some safeguards?

  Inner City Press requested, and ultimately obtained and is putting online here, the Memorandum of Understanding, which does not appear to have any such safeguards. Fedotov's answer was that "refugees appear not in peaceful countries." UNHCR's Antonio Guterres added that conflicts today are rarely between two states.

  Take for example the recent entry into Somalia by the Kenyen Army, reportedly with supportive bombardments by France (from the sea) and, it seems, from the US. This is not a conflict between two states but a self-described "hot pursuit" operation by a state on a non-state actor, Al Shabab.

  But over the weekend, an aerial bombardment of a camp inside Somalia killed five, according to Medicins Sans Frontieres. Guterres insisted it isn't clear what happened, and that UNHCR has no mandate inside Somalia.

(c) UN Photo
Fedotov & Guterres shake on MOU, safeguards not shown

  Likewise when Inner City Press asked Guterres about the plight of Kachin people displaced by Myanmar's Army offensive, he replied that UNHCR is only in other parts of Myanmar and wants to keep open the "asylum space" in Thailand. But Malaysia is moving to return people to Myanmar.

  Given all this, the lack of safeguards in UNHCR's agreement with the UN's crime agency is of concern. We hope to have more on this.

Footnote: both Fedotov and Guterres were in New York meeting with Ban Ki-moon and the Chief Executives Board. On Friday outside the CEB meeting, Inner City Press poses another protection question to World Food Program chief Josette Sheeran, so far without answer.

Christine Lagarde of the IMF was there too -- to what end, nobody knows. Now Ban, Lagarde, Barack Obama and others are headed to the G20 meeting in Cannes, the UN briefing regarding which was closed to the press and public. And so it goes at the UN.

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Click here for Sept 23, '11 about UN General Assembly

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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