MSF is a renowned charity that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999,
The reports came a day after a prosecutor told an Italian Senate committee that he was investigating workers with some NGOs for contributing to illegal migration, but that the crime may not be punishable.
The prosecutor, from Trapani, did not name the organisation involved.
According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, MSF personnel is being probed for conducting a migrant sea rescue without warning the Italian coastguard first, and for briefing survivors to not cooperate with Italian and Frontex authorities once ashore.
“MSF staff is also accused of compiling lists of rescued migrants in which adults are passed off as children,’’ Corriere said.
The distinction is important, because minors have greater asylum rights than adults.
Several other Italian dailies, including Il Messaggero and Il Fatto Quotidiano, carried similar allegations against MSF.
However, none of the articles were clearly sourced.
On Wednesday, MSF issued a statement saying it had “never” been contacted by Trapani prosecutors, but stood ready to explain its activities in the Mediterranean, which are “perfectly in line with international and national laws.”
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) say tens of thousands of South Sudanese have fled their homes and are now trapped under intense sun without food, water or medical care.
Marcus Bachmann, South Sudan head of mission for the MSF said that no fewer than 40,000 thirsty people are camped out in temperatures of about 40 degrees centigrade in Aburoc village, near the border with Sudan.
Bachmann said: “the quantity of water is not enough to survive in this environment,” he told a news briefing via Skype from Juba.
“With so many people squeezed in one place, the risk of an outbreak of cholera is extremely high. It puts the exhausted population at highest risk of death.”
He said water trucks could not reach Aburoc, and it suspended its hospital operations there on Thursday morning.
People are sleeping in the open without mosquito nets to protect against malaria and he said there have been reports of cholera in the area in recent months.
Government forces are in control of nearby Kodok town after fighting ended there on Wednesday, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) deputy spokesman Col. Santo Chol said.
“The SPLA is calling on their citizens to come back to their houses,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via phone, declining to give casualty figures.
“War is war and war is ugly in any capacity… there must be refugees and there must be those caught in the crossfire.”
South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013 after President Salva Kiir fired his deputy, unleashing a conflict that has spawned armed factions which often follow ethnic lines.
The UN has raised fears of a possible genocide as millions have fled their homes, the economy is in a tailspin, harvests are devastated by drought and millions of people face famine.
A government offensive in two parts of Upper Nile State, near the border with Sudan, forced 32 humanitarian staff to be relocated on Monday to the capital, Juba, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The displaced population in and around Aburoc is likely to hit 50,000 in the coming days, the UN said in a statement, and people are also reported to be crossing into Sudan for safety.
“People fleeing… to Aburoc are undertaking long and treacherous journeys — some travelling eight days by foot without access to water and food,” the UN said.
Intense fighting between South Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Agwelek forces around the town of Kodok had displaced more than 25,000 persons in the past three days, international medical charity said.
Marcus Bachmann, the Head of Mission for South Sudan, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), made this known in a statement on Thursday in Juba.
He said escaping the violence was difficult as positions were rapidly changing hands between the different forces, and displaced people find themselves surrounded on all sides.
He added that “we are calling on both parties to ensure that all civilians are protected from the fighting and provided with safe and secure access to essential humanitarian services,” Bachmann said.
“As we have been forced to suspend most of our operations, we have provided runaway bags which contain essential medicines and supplies so that our staff who are with the fleeing IDPs, can provide basic treatment in the field.
“The humanitarian organisations that have up until now been providing essential medical services, water, food, non-food items and shelter have had to temporarily suspend activities on the west bank of the Nile because of the increasing insecurity.
“This is a disaster in the making, just as the demand is greatest,” said Bachmann, adding that hospitals in the area are not operational and water deliveries are unreliable.
“Yesterday (Wednesday) no water deliveries were made to the IDPs because of the fighting.
“Given the scorching heat and the exposure of population to the elements, soon we will see people suffering from chronic dehydration and diarrhea as well as diseases like cholera.”
He emphasised that without protection, many people would have little other alternative than to leave for camps in Sudan where they could find refuge.
He, however, added that “those who decide to go, face an arduous journey on foot, lasting many days, with hardly any opportunities to receive food or water.
“With the rainy season approaching, it seems likely that the flow of people leaving for Sudan will increase as they avoid being trapped in the area.”
MSF had been providing emergency medical support in the area to the 13,000 displaced people who had fled the fighting in the area in January.
This included a field hospital and two mobile units, but this activity has been suspended.
“Water remains a big concern for these new IDPs. On Tuesday the people gathered in and around Aburoc only had access to 60,000 litres of water per day.
This is only an average of 1.7 litres per person, well below the 2.5-3 litres needed for survival,” said MSF.
Edited by: Fatima Sule/Hadiza Mohammed-Aliyu
Aid Agency Oxfam on Monday called on donor nations to step up life-saving assistance to millions of civilians in Yemen facing starvation and disease, rather than providing arms to fuel the deepening conflict.
The British charity said on the eve of a UN conference in Geneva to seek aid pledges for the Arab country.
“Many areas of Yemen are on the brink of famine, and the cause of such extreme starvation is political.
“The food crisis could worsen if the international community does not send a clear message.
“Because a coalition attack against Hodeidah, the strategic Red Sea entry point for some 70 per cent of Yemen’s food imports, would be totally unacceptable,’’ Oxfam added.
According to Alexander Ventura, emergency coordinator and head of mission in Yemen for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the health system is on the verge of collapse and medical services are under fire.
Yemen is reeling from two years of civil war that pits Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, against a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition that is carrying out air strikes almost daily.
It noted that no fewer than 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting, which has unleashed a humanitarian crisis.
The UN has so far only received 15 per cent of 2.1 billion dollars sought in aid for Yemen this year.
“Bilateral and institutional donors must prioritise assistance to the country’s health system to avoid total collapse,’’ Ventura said, adding that doctors and nurses had not been paid in six months.
“Civilians are deliberately targeted by all warring sides and severe acute malnutrition was on the rise.
“Children are more at risk of dying from preventable diseases, pregnant women are unable to deliver safely and people suffering chronic conditions like renal failure are in need of dialysis.
“Silent deaths must be prevented.
“MSF, which supports 12 hospitals across Yemen, uses Hodeidah and other ports to bring in medical supplies but has begun airlifting goods to Aden, Hodeidah and Sanaa.
“We are keeping an eye on Hodeidah, if an attack happens to provide assistance as well.
“We are getting ourselves prepared, we are already supporting some health facilities,’’ Ventura said.
Edited by: Abiodun Oluleye/Abdullahi Yusuf
EU patrol vessels in the Mediterranean are putting lives at risk by operating too far from the Libyan coast where migrants are embarking on the perilous voyage to Europe.The head of a rescue charity on Tuesday said that growing numbers of migrants are attempting the crossing in flimsy, overcrowded boats as the spring weather improves.
Nearly 9,000, mostly Africans, were rescued over the long Easter weekend, UN aid agencies said.
“Europe needs to rescue people because it cannot allow them to die at its own back door,” said Chris Catrambone, an American businessman, who co-founded the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), with his Italian wife Regina in 2014.
He was speaking by telephone from the MOAS rescue vessel Phoenix, which after a frantic weekend’s activity was heading slowly toward Sicily with 463 migrants on board, including 170 women and children, and seven dead bodies recovered from the sea.
The crossing from Libya to Italy is now the main migrant route into Europe.
More than 181,000 came to shore in Italy last year, and arrivals this year are up about a third on the same period of 2016.
Some 850 are estimated to have died so far in 2017.
That is fuelling a dispute over whether laying on more rescue vessels, and patrolling closer to Libya, is encouraging the flow of migrants and boosting the profits of people-smugglers.
Since Italy abandoned its search-and-rescue mission in 2014, the European Union’s border control agency Frontex has taken over patrolling the Mediterranean, but its ships remain well clear of the Libyan coast.
Both Frontex and a Sicilian prosecutor have said NGOs should not be working so close to Libya because they make it too easy for migrants to come to Europe, adding that some NGOs may be in contact with smugglers.
Frontex said on Monday it had rescued more than 1,400 people over the weekend.
“Smugglers are taking advantage of the proximity” of the NGOs by using more unsafe boats and packing them even tighter, the agency said in an email to Reuters on Tuesday.
While the NGO boats tend to hover just outside of Libyan territorial waters that end 12 nautical miles from the coast, Frontex vessels patrol much further north and can take a half-day or more to reach the boats in distress.
According to Catrambone, the only question at sea is life or death.
“The priority needs to be saving lives, not patrolling a make-believe border. The further they (Frontex) stay away, the more people will die. Saying there is a pull factor is just ignorance. It’s avoiding responsibility,” he said.
All of about a dozen NGOs operating in the Mediterranean have taken similar positions in recent weeks.
“How many lives could have been saved in the last two years if the EU had conducted a proactive search and rescue operation?
Edited by: Fatima Sule/Felix Ajide
Violence against civilians in Central African Republic (CAR), including summary executions and mutilations, is reaching levels not seen since the height of its years-long conflict, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said.
The country descended into chaos when a mainly Muslim Seleka rebel alliance ousted then-president Francois Bozize in 2013, sparking reprisals from Christian militias.
Religion has played a waning role as splinter groups now clash over control of territory and resources.
MSF said recent violence has been concentrated in four prefectures in the center and east, where the government and a 13,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping mission have struggled to contain the bloodshed.
Fighting has spread to parts of the country previously considered stable but where rival armed groups are now battling for control of towns and areas with gold and diamond mines.
The UN said some 100,000 people were displaced between September 2016 and February 2017 amid the renewed clashes.
MSF said it is now treating trauma victims at clinics intended to provide healthcare to rural communities.
“The Central African Republic is spiraling into levels of violence that have not been seen since the peak of the conflict in 2014,” said MSF representative Emmanuel Lampaert.
One in five Central Africans is currently displaced and around 2.2 million people, half the total population, need humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.
The U.S. has imposed financial sanctions against two militia leaders, one a Muslim rebel chief and the other a Christian militia leader, accused of collaborating on plans to destabilise CAR.
South Sudan on Tuesday released six aid workers who were arrested in January on suspicion of smuggling arms to the country’s opposition.
The Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) confirmed that its staff who were arrested in South Sudan’s Yei River State on Jan. 4, have all been released.
The charity said the two staff who were released on Jan. 27 and four others on March 31 are part of a group of six workers who were arrested early this year. Two of the aid workers are foreigners while four are South Sudanese.
However, the Director of Operations for MSF, Brice de le Vingne, said the medical charity is concerned about the incident but is relieved at the release of the four staff members.
“We are very concerned about this incident and we are relieved that our colleagues, who were working hard to bring healthcare to people in need, have now been released and can return to their families,” Vingne said in a statement.
The aid workers were arrested on suspicion of transferring weapons to the opposition, an allegation which MSF vehemently denied but the government maintained that the charges against the six aid workers were valid. The charity said it maintains its commitment to continue its life-saving work in South Sudan.
Humanitarian workers in South Sudan have often faced working difficulties in their operations in the famine-stricken world’s youngest nation.
According to the UN, at least 79 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan since the beginning of the December 2013 crisis, including at least 12 killed in 2017, and at least eight humanitarian convoys have been attacked already this year.
Six employees of medical charity — Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) — have been released after being detained for three months in South Sudan, the charity and the army said on Monday.
The organisation said in a statement that “the MSF staff were arrested by the army while on duty.
It stated that two were released on Jan. 27 and four others on March 31.
Army Spokesman Santo Domic said the MSF employees were detained in Yei River state in the south-west on charges of smuggling weapons to anti-government rebels.
However, MSF denied the accusation.
Government Spokesman Michael Makuei said the aid workers were released on humanitarian grounds and because the army could not try civilians.
Brice de le Vingne, the Director of Operations for MSF said “we are concerned about this incident and we are relieved that our colleagues, who were working hard to bring healthcare to people in need, have now been released.
“They can now return to their families.”
Aid workers often complain about difficulties of working in South Sudan.
The UN said 79 aid workers were killed in the country since civil conflict erupted between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar in December 2013.
Thousands were killed in the conflict, while 3.4 million people were displaced and about 100,000 facing famine.
Edited by: Abiodun Oluleye/Hadiza Mohammed-Aliyu
An agreement between Italy and Libya to fight people-smuggling in the north African nation is ‘dangerous fiction’ and will lead to migrants being returned to camps where they are held against their will, Doctors without Borders (MSF) said on Monday.
Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.N.-backed Libyan government in Tripoli, which was endorsed by the European Union in February that promised training, equipment and money to fight human traffickers.
However, Arjan Hehenkamp, general director of MSF and head of the group’s Libya mission, said the idea that migrants can be housed in a humane way on Libyan soil “is simply impossible”.
“It’s a dangerous fiction to think otherwise,” Hehenkamp told reporters in Rome after flying in from Libya.
He added that anyone who thinks Libya is a safe port for migrants “is purposely living between alternative facts and la la land.
“It’s simply impossible right now to think that Libya can be considered part of the solution.”
He described seven of the camps in and around Tripoli as detention centers controlled by militias that are rife with violence and abuse.
Interior Minister Marco Minniti has said that human rights must be respected and that new camps should be opened with the help of UN agencies, but so far this has not happened.
The EU has so far trained about 90 people to work in the Libyan Coast Guard and Italy has promised to give them 10 patrol boats, the first of which are to be delivered by mid-May.
After a deal between the EU and Turkey largely shut down the sea route to Greece last year, the main passage for migrants to Europe now is through Italy by boat from Libya, where people-smugglers operate with impunity.
Migrant arrivals in Italy are up some 30 per cent this year to 24,000, according to official figures, and an estimated 600 have perished trying to make the crossing.
Often they are rescued by humanitarian groups, which have come under scrutiny from an Italian court for allegedly favoring departures.
The Libyan coast guard is already turning back some migrant boats.
Often those turned back end up in the same detention centers they were trying to flee, Hehenkamp said, where “a system of abuse and extortion” means migrants either pay smugglers for a sea passage or risk being sold into a form of slave labor.
Libya is controlled by a patchwork of armed groups that have built local fiefdoms which have vied for power since Libya’s 2011 uprising, and two governments, one in the east and another in Tripoli, are competing for control.
“Returning people to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard is questionable because they end up in detention centers,” Othman Belbeisi, the International Organisation for Migration’s chief of mission for Libya, told Reuters on Friday.
“Smugglers are still known and seen. You can meet them in a cafe in the middle of Tripoli.”
The Israeli Military body that deals with Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on Monday denied a report that claims human rights workers were being barred entry to the Hamas-run enclave.
“We coordinate the crossing of many human rights organisations,’’ including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), in addition to more than 1,000 people daily, said Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories (COGAT) in a statement.
In a 47-page report released Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Israel of barring monitors from entering Gaza, limiting their ability to document human rights violations.
Since 2008, it said, HRW had received permission only once to let its foreign staff into Gaza.
If Israel wants the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor “to take seriously its argument that its criminal investigations are adequate, a good first step would be to allow human rights researchers to bring relevant information to light,’’ said Sari Bashi, the group’s director for the region
Bashi also referred to a preliminary probe into alleged war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza conflict.
The HRW report also criticised the Islamic Hamas movement for failing to protect human rights workers from retribution, as well as Egyptian officials for keeping that border with Gaza mostly closed since 2013.
Gaza has been under a tight Israeli blockade since Hamas’ violent takeover of the coastal enclave in June 2007.
For more than a week, Hamas has severely clamped down on Gaza residents crossing into Israel since the assassination of a senior figure late last month.
Edited by: Abigael Joshua/Abdullahi Yusuf