16 September 2009More than 50,000 Burundian refugees have now been repatriated from Tanzania, where some of them had been living since fleeing their country in 1972, according to the United Nations refugee agency. A further 5,000 refugees who remain in Tanzania are expected to return to Burundi in the coming months.“Assisted voluntary return, organized by UNHCR [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] in cooperation with the governments of Tanzania and Burundi, is part of an ambitious but realistic solutions strategy to end one of the world’s most protracted refugee situations,” said UNHCR’s representative in Tanzania, Yacoub El Hillo. The 50,000th refugee to be repatriated was an 11-month-old baby girl called Happiness, who crossed the border in a group of 496 people on Sunday. UNHCR and its local partners marked the occasion with a small ceremony in Katumba settlement. They gave Happiness’ parents – both farmers who were born and raised in the refugee settlement – a new bicycle to take with them for her.UNHCR provides support for the so-called 1972 refugees from Burundi after they return home. It provides them with temporary shelter and supports a peaceful mediation process to resolve disputes. The Government and its UN partners also help to settle landless returnees in special rural integrated villages, six of which have been opened in 2008 and 2009.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said she was particularly concerned by the “vicious indiscriminate nature of the violence that is taking place and the increasing levels of sexual violence, which is affecting many women.”Harsh winter conditions are also adversely affecting thousands of people who are living in tents without access to food, medical equipment or services, she told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.According to UN estimates, there are 4 million people in the country in need assistance, half of whom have been displaced internally. In addition, there are 650,000 displaced people displaced in neighbouring countries, in North Africa and in Europe.Ms. Amos, who briefed the Security Council in a closed-door session on the humanitarian situation in Syria, noted that one of the major challenges for UN agencies has been obtaining access to those who are most in need.“Our response efforts continue to improve but I have briefed the Council that there are still millions of people we are not able to reach,” she said, adding limited funding has also affected humanitarian operations.The World Food Programme (WFP) for example, managed to reach 1.2 million people in December but had to cut the rations because of a lack of funds. “We urgently need funds and we urgently need to increase our capacity which is why I’ve asked the Syrian authorities to think about a number of international organizations that can help us with that effort,” she said. During her briefing, Ms. Amos appealed to Council members with influence with the Syrian authorities as well as with the opposition to make it clear that UN humanitarian efforts are independent and impartial of any kind of political discussion.“The situation on the ground is difficult, it’s volatile. We will continue to engage with the opposition and the Government on access but I would like the Security Council members to also do the same,” she said. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who also briefed the Council, said she was deeply concerned by the number of deaths, which have now reached at least 60,000, and the number of human rights violations committed by both Government and opposition forces.“The figures speak for themselves. Sixty thousand is not a figure that should be treated lightly,” Ms. Pillay told reporters. “Like victims who are suffering, I’m deeply concerned that there has been no concrete action to address the situation.”Ms. Pillay said the monthly death rate had also increased since she last briefed the Council in August 2011, from 1,000 to 5,000 deaths, and that the conflict had dramatically changed in nature since it began.“At that time, it was State security forces acting against peaceful protestors,” said Ms. Pillay, who has repeatedly urged the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Hot topicAn issue that was a slow burner in previous seasons boiled over during Kearney’s first season as IRUPA chairman is concussion. There were numerous concussion stories over the past 10 months [including the IRB extending the pitchside concussion assessment period to 10 minutes] but incidents involving three centres kept the issue in the headlines.While Brian O’Driscoll was subbed off in the agonising defeat to the All Blacks, he took another heavy blow for Leinster, against Ulster, but the province were reluctant to call it concussion. He was declared fit to play the Pro12 final. Florian Fritz was somehow deemed fit to return to play, for Toulouse, in May after he was knocked out against Racing Métro. Then, in June, former England centre Shontayne Hape gave a stark interview about his struggles to recover from repeated concussions. “Players are just pieces of meat,” Hape remarked.Kearney has endured two ‘proper, bad concussions’ in his career and once played 78 minutes for Ireland [against France in 2009] after he was left reeling from a heavy blow after only seven minutes. “That situation,” he argued, “wouldn’t happen today. You would be straight off if the medical staff saw that.”“What surprised me most was how long it took for concussion to become such a hot topic… It has become more of an open one among the players and it has been addressed by the IRFU. At our last national camp we had a brain specialist come in to talk to the players about concussion — how to spot signs, long-lasting impact, the dangers.”He added, “I read the [New Zealand Herald] article about Shontayne Hape. It’s good for guys in the game to see and read that kind of personal account by a fellow pro. The more accounts that come out like that, the more frightened guys will be. That’s a good thing. The idea of ‘Oh no, it’s just a knock, I’ll be fine’, those days are gone.”Read: Ex-Munster out-half Hickey a Master of the professional gameRead: I went to every Ireland game at 2010 World Cup and thought ‘I should be out there’ ROB KEARNEY IS settling back into pre-season with Leinster and memories of his four weeks of freedom are fading fast.Las Vegas and England [for Geordan Murphy’s wedding] were two of Kearney’s off-season destinations but he gleaned equal enjoyment from having time to catch up with friends and family back home. The holidays are over for another year and Kearney may not get an extended break until November 2015.“Once you’re back, you’re back,” he told TheScore.ie. ”No messing about. I can tell you exactly where I’m going to be every day for the next 11 months. Everything is mapped out for us — diet plans, training, extra gym and weight sessions, matches, club commitments. It’s that regimented.”2013/14 brought Kearney a Pro12 winner’s medal and his second Six Nations title. His only scoring contribution for Leinster was a long-range drop goal against Castres. Try-scoring was the reserve of the national team as he crossed for scores against Scotland [good], New Zealand [better] and England [best].Last season was also significant for Kearney as he was named, and settled into his role as, Irish Rugby Union Players Association chairman. “It was something I was always interested in,” he explained. “I would have done a little work with Jonny [Sexton] the previous season and, when he left, there was a job opening. IRUPA asked me to get involved and I was happy to do so. It has been a very positive season and I’m happy with what we have achieved.” Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Hibernia College founder, Dr. Sean Rowland and IRUPA chief executive Omar Hassanein in attendance at the IRUPA rugby player awards in May. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILEKearney points out that IRUPA and the IRFU have now established a collaborative approach to the professional game. Both organisations are acutely aware that Ireland’s on-field success benefits the game as a whole, across the country. “Rugby is a business now,” he said, “and if you don’t run it accordingly everyone suffers.” Kearney notes that Joe Schmidt’s winning start to his tenure as Ireland coach has directly led to the IRFU announcing a “healthy” statement of accounts on 18 July. He added: Having strong provinces and motivated players feeds into that. We’ll never maximise and fulfil our potential as a rugby team if that consensus is not there. We’re all looking for better performances and to go out on that rugby pitch as strong as we possibly can be.”He feels the players’ union is taking small steps in what is a big work in progress. “Some of the issues we tackled last season revolved around sick pay, and leave, guys getting injured and the player development programme,” he said.“Because, when they retire, it is all about easing a player back into the big, bad world out there. As professional players, we live in a bubble. Landing back in that real world environment can prove a sticky situation for some guys. Our job, at IRUPA, is to ease that transition and provide career options and pathways.“One such step in the developmental programme is the mentor scheme — teaming a player up with an entrepreneur or businessperson for guidance; giving them someone to bounce ideas off.”