• UN agency warns of cold winter faced by millions of displaced, refugees, migrants in Europe

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    UNITED NATIONS: The first winter weather, including freezing temperatures, rain and storms, has arrived in many parts of Central and South Eastern Europe and is already affecting refugees and migrants arriving or transiting through those areas, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters here Friday.

    “The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has responded by distributing raincoats, blankets and basic relief items. Between now and February 2016, and subject to funding being available, winter relief packages will be distributed to the most vulnerable,” Dujarric said at a daily news briefing here. “Winter plans also include targeted provision of emergency shelters including family tents, refugee housing units and emergency reception facilities, and supporting efforts to improve reception and waiting areas and preparing or adapting them to winter conditions.”

    In the coming weeks, 15 million displaced Syrians and Iraqis in the Middle East will face another winter away from home. Winter will be especially tough for the many who are living in insulated garages, basements or unfinished buildings, animal stalls or other flimsy makeshift structures.

    UNHCR’s winter plan for the Syria situation requires USD171 million to reach 2.5 million people, and is 89 percent funded with USD147 million received by mid-October. The plan for the Iraq situation to reach 700,000 people requires USD66 million and is only 52 percent funded, with USD34 million received as of mid-October.

    Meanwhile, UNHCR is concerned by credible testimonies it has received of abuse of refugee and migrant women and children on the move in Europe.

    “Refugee and migrant children moving in Europe are at heightened risk of violence and abuse, including sexual violence, especially in overcrowded reception sites, or in many locations where refugees and migrants gather, such as parks, train stations, bus stations and roadsides,” the spokesman said.

    “UNHCR appeals to all concerned national authorities in Europe to take measures to ensure the protection of women and girls, including through providing adequate and safe reception facilities, ” he said. “UNHCR also asks authorities, as a matter of urgency, to find alternatives to the detention of children.” PNA/Xinhua

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