One third of UN workers say sexually harassed in past two years

The United Nations has tried to increase transparency and strengthen how it deals with such accusations over the past few years after a string of sexual exploitation and abuse accusations against UN peacekeepers in Africa. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 January 2019
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One third of UN workers say sexually harassed in past two years

  • The online survey was completed by 30,364 people from the United Nations and its agencies
  • More than half of those experienced sexual harassment said it happened in an office environment

UNITED NATIONS: One third of UN staff and contractors experienced sexual harassment in the past two years, according to a report released by the United Nations on Tuesday.
The online survey, carried out by Deloitte in November, was completed by 30,364 people from the United Nations and its agencies — just 17 percent of those eligible. In a letter to staff, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the response rate as “moderately low.”
“This tells me two things: first — that we still have a long way to go before we are able to fully and openly discuss sexual harassment; and second — that there may also be an ongoing sense of mistrust, perceptions of inaction and lack of accountability,” he wrote.
The survey comes amid the wider “Me Too” movement around the world against sexual harassment and assault.
According to the report, 21.7 percent of respondents said they were subjected to sexual stories or offensive jokes, 14.2 percent received offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities and 13 percent were targeted by unwelcome attempts to draw them into a discussion on sexual matters.
Some 10.9 percent said they were subjected to gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature, which embarrassed or offended them, and 10.1 percent were touched in way that made them feel uncomfortable.
More than half of those experienced sexual harassment said it happened in an office environment, while 17.1 percent said it happened at a work-related social event. Two out of three harassers were male, according to the survey.
Only one in three people said they took action after experiencing sexual harassment.
Guterres said the report contained “some sobering statistics and evidence of what needs to change to make a harassment-free workplace real for all of us.”
“As an organization founded on equality, dignity and human rights, we must lead by example and set the standard,” he said.
The United Nations has tried to increase transparency and strengthen how it deals with such accusations over the past few years after a string of sexual exploitation and abuse accusations against UN peacekeepers in Africa.
The head of the UN agency for HIV and AIDS is also stepping down in June, six months before his term ends, after an independent panel said that his “defective leadership” tolerated “a culture of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power.”


Refugees face eviction in Greece as thousands more wait for homes

A police officer kicks a protesting migrant during clashes outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 6 min 43 sec ago
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Refugees face eviction in Greece as thousands more wait for homes

  • Greece currently hosts over 70,000 refugees, including nearly 15,000 in overcrowded Aegean island camps

ATHENS: Abdullah Ahmadi, an Afghan living with his wife and five children in an apartment in the Athens suburbs allocated by the UN refugee agency, is about to lose his home for the past three years.
“In two months I have to leave. I have been looking for work in Greece and have only found random jobs that are not enough to support my family,” says Ahmadi, who spent a year on the island of Lesbos before being able to reach the Greek capital.
“I do not know how I’m going to get along, and I’m scared that I will end up on the street with my family,” he says, distraught.
Thousands of refugees like Ahmadi are facing possible eviction from EU-paid homes in Greece this year as more await to take their place to manage a slow but steady flow of new arrivals from Turkey, support groups have warned.
Nearly 6,800 people currently hosted in rooms and flats around the country under a program funded by the European Union and run by UNHCR in cooperation with local non-governmental groups could be affected.
Ahmadi took part in a demonstration last week by refugees in central Athens to protest against the evictions, supported by far-left activists, NGO workers, and students.
Following a controversial EU deal with Turkey in 2016 the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece has slowed to a few dozen daily.
But even these numbers are enough to overwhelm limited facilities on several Aegean islands opposite Turkey, which are already crammed many times over their nominal capacity.
With nearly 9,000 arrivals since the beginning of this year, the situation on the islands is explosive — especially on Lesbos and Samos — and the ministry of migration is desperate to remove as many people from the camps as possible.
As of March 31, the first 160 refugees who were granted asylum before August 2017 had to give up their homes on the mainland to other asylum seekers, with another round of evictions expected in the next two months.

“(This) will free up spaces for those in Lesbos and Samos who live in difficult conditions,” immigration minister Dimitris Vitzas told Radio News 247 last month.
According to UNHCR spokesperson in Greece Boris Cheshirkov, the Estia program designed to help asylum-seekers “will continue to operate with three components: financial assistance, accommodation and administrative support.”
But he adds that “after securing asylum, they would theoretically have to leave the dwellings in the next six months, but so far the Greek government had not applied this principle.”
The immigration ministry notes that recognized refugees can now draw on state benefits normally allocated to poverty-stricken Greeks, such as rent subsidies.
In addition, for three months after leaving Estia homes, “the refugees will retain the economic aid they receive, and will be helped to obtain a tax number, open a bank account, register at jobs centers,” a migration ministry official said.
They are also to receive vocational training.

Ahmadi, however, seems to be completely unaware of the procedure for obtaining benefits: “I have never heard of this!,” he sighs.
NGO worker Christina Svana, who was part of the Athens protest, says the decision to evict was “taken hastily.”
“The first expulsions took place a few days ago and the next will take place on June 30. The movement will accelerate and we are afraid that among the evicted people, a large majority cannot fend for themselves and find an apartment,” she warns.
“There are no realistic solutions for refugees who will leave their homes or lose their economic aid,” medical charity Doctors Without Borders said in a statement last month.
“Theoretically, it is good to say that refugees must integrate and no longer depend on aid provided by the associations and the UNHCR, but for that it was necessary to plan an integration program,” adds Svana.
Over 22,000 people were accommodated thanks to the Estia program last year.
Greece currently hosts over 70,000 refugees, including nearly 15,000 in overcrowded Aegean island camps.