This week, we focus on yet another migration disaster off Italy’s coast, resulting in approximately 180 deaths, including children, while attempting what UN and other officials call “irregular migration.”
You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues before the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources. This week, we look at the continuous humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the supposed “military arrangement” between the UN and Russia regarding aviation services for peacekeeping missions.
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• Updates on the Black Sea Grain deal: Fertilizer donated by the Russian company Uralchem to Malawi, shipped by the World Food Program (WFP) from a Dutch port was “off-loaded and bagged in Mozambique and is in the process of being trucked to Malawi,” a WFP spokesperson told PassBlue this week, and “the first of close to 700 truckloads arrived on 5 February.” Meanwhile, at the request of Kenya, the UN agency is chartering a vessel to transport more than 34,000 metric tons of fertilizer from Latvia to Kenya. Loading in Latvia is expected to begin between March 5 to 15, the WFP said. “A contract has been finalized between Uralchem-Uralkali, the Kenya National Trading Corporation — a State entity, and WFP, (with WFP being asked to arrange shipping).” This news occurs as Russia is again threatening not to renew the Black Sea deal, which is up for reauthorization on March 18; Russia made the same threat in the last renewal period, in November. UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said this week there may be more information on the status of the deal in the “coming days.” This week, Usaid announced it was increasing “transshipment investments” to enhance grain-export operations in Ukraine. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• PassBlue has been told by two sources closely familiar with the UN Women executive office that Anita Bhatia, a deputy executive director of the agency, is leaving, as is Asa Regner, also a deputy. The positions have been advertised. An email to the UN Women communications office to confirm the information went unanswered.
Monday, Feb. 27
• Spokesperson’s briefing: In a tweet, UN Secretary-General António Guterres bemoaned the “horrific shipwreck” over the weekend claiming the lives of dozens of people, including children, off the coast of Italy while seeking migration. He stressed that every person searching for a better life “deserves safety and dignity, and that we need safe, legal routes for migrants and refugees.” According to the International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency, an estimated 180 people were on board the boat, which left from Türkiye; they came mainly from Afghanistan and Pakistan. When asked if Italy and other European countries “respect international law” when they pass national laws on migration that “make rescue effort more difficult” and which “legal routes” Guterres is referring to, Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, said, “We believe that all countries should do whatever they possibly can to make it easier to rescue people and that all countries have the responsibility to uphold international law.” The Global Compact on Migration, he added, “lays out plans on how to manage migration.” (Guterres is a former high commissioner for refugees.) According to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, at least 280 people have died or gone missing in the central Mediterranean so far this year.
Tuesday, Feb. 28
• Gender Parity in Top Levels of UN Peace and Political Operations Is Still Out of Reach: Laura Kirkpatrick analyzes the status of gender parity among UN senior-level appointments in peacekeeping and political affairs/peacebuilding departments. This is a follow-up to a recent analysis by Kirkpatrick finding that almost half of overall UN senior appointments last year replaced a woman with a man, leading to a general unequal gender outlook.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: More than 4,000 civilians out of a pre-war population of 73,000 have stayed in the city of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, in desperate straits as central water, electricity and heating supplies have been reportedly interrupted from Russian damage of civilian infrastructure. In the entire Donetsk region, several civilians, including children, were killed or injured as education and health facilities were also destroyed on both sides of the front line, according to the Ukrainian government and officials in the nongovernment-controlled areas. Six UN interagency convoys are being sent to the region with food, water, winter and shelter materials to support some 77,000 people.
Wednesday, March 1
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric was asked about the “military” arrangement between the UN and Russia, which came up in testimony by United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield before the US House Appropriations Committee hearing on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs in the morning. The reporter told Dujarric that Thomas-Greenfield was asked by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) about the “use of Russian military equipment in peacekeeping operations and how much money is spent on that, because apparently, there’s some US bill saying US cannot fund Russian military equipment.” Dujarric: “The UN has through a bidding process used Russian commercial assets for aviation and transport purposes but would not call them military items.” He added that such use of aviation in peacekeeping “is only a commercial transaction and Russia is not the only country from which the UN procurement process gets aviation assets for our peacekeeping missions and political missions.”
In fact, PassBlue’s No. 1 story in 2022 and a follow-up, both by Dawn Clancy, reported exclusively on the UN having to ground Russian aviation fleets leased by its peacekeeping missions because of global civil aviation rules violated by the Russian government. The helicopters and planes leased to the UN missions remain unused, according to PassBlue sources, except for medical emergencies, yet the UN may still be paying for the leases — possibly at least $17 million in contracts.
• Guterres is traveling in Iraq, where he last visited six years ago, when “the war against Da’esh was still raging,” Dujarric said. His visit now is “one of solidarity in a moment of urgency” as a new government is in place. Guterres met with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani, Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and President Abdul Latif Rashid. In a joint press encounter with the prime minister, the secretary-general reiterated that his visit was “to underscore the commitment of the United Nations to advance peace, human rights and sustainable development for all Iraqis,” but he recognized that the “challenges Iraq is facing did not arise overnight.” On March 2, he visited the Jeddah Rehabilitation Center in Ninevah province, in the north, where he met with its residents, many of whom are women and children repatriated from Syria’s Al-Hol camp (below).
Thursday, March 2
• As It Leads the Security Council, Mozambique Battles Terrorism and Climate Dangers Back Home: As the southern Africa nation takes on the rotational leadership of the UN’s top legislative body, PassBlue’s Damilola Banjo spoke with Mozambique’s UN envoy, Pedro Comissário, to discuss the country’s agenda as it battles serious terrorism and climate problems at home. With an exclusive podcast episode featuring the ambassador; a regional expert, Ryan Cummings; Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu, in Lagos.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Cindy McCain of the US has been appointed executive director of the Rome-based World Food Program, succeeding David Beasley, also of the US (and an ex-governor of South Carolina), who has led the agency for six years. McCain is currently US ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, known as FAO.
• Additionally, María Isabel Salvador of Ecuador has been appointed special representative for Haiti and head of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (Binuh), succeeding Helen La Lime of the US. Salvador is the director of external relations at the University of the Americas in Ecuador.
Friday, March 3
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson, about the Least-Developed Countries’ conference in Doha, Qatar: “Can you confirm that Afghanistan and Myanmar are indeed not invited and why?” Haq: “That is a question I will leave for the Presidency of the LDC Conference.” Reporter: “They told us to ask you.” Haq: “From our perspective, what we can say is that, as far as we are aware, they are not attending this conference. I don’t have any further details to give on that. You’re aware of the issue concerning credentials and how that’s been handled and there’s no new information to give on that at this stage.”
• Michael Froman, a former executive for Mastercard, is the new president of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York City, succeeding Richard Haass, who is retiring.
• Democracy Without Borders, a civil society group, calls on “like-minded states committed to democracy” to establish a mandate for a special rapporteur on democracy by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on the appointment of Cindy McCain to the World Food Program?
Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.