News in Brief 31 May 2016 (AM)

UNHCR: Mediterranean Sea crossings claimed "at least 880 lives" in one week

A series of accidents involving migrants and what the UN has described as increasingly "ruthless" actions by smugglers have been blamed for the deaths of nearly 900 people in the last week in the Mediterranean Sea.

The UN Refugee Agency, (UNHCR), made the announcement on Tuesday after speaking to survivors rescued from no less than three new incidents over the weekend.

While the Turkey to Greece route has dropped off dramatically, the Libya to Italy crossing is picking up pace, with bigger, more crowded boats.

Here's UNHCR's William Spindler:

"This is the first time we see this situation where one fishing boat is towing another one that often doesn't have an engine. This is a very dangerous thing to do, even without the overcrowding on the boats, so that shows smugglers are getting more ruthless and are forcing people to take greater risks."

So far in 2016, 204,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea.

More than 2,500 people have lost their lives crossing to Europe from either North Africa or Turkey, compared with nearly 1,900 in the same period last year.

HIV treatment progress "masks those left behind"

A sharp increase in the number of people receiving life-saving HIV drugs has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in recent years, but too many people are still missing out on treatment, the UN says.

In a new report, UNAIDS - the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, says that 17 million people had HIV treatment in 2015, an increase of two million since 2010.

Here's UNAIDS' Michael Hollingdale:

"The extraordinary scale-up of antiretroviral treatment since 2010 by many of the world's most affected countries has reduced AIDS-related deaths from 1.5 million in 2010 to 1.1 million in 2015."

Progress has been greatest in the world's worst affected region: eastern and southern Africa.

Despite these successes, UNAIDS says that many people are not getting the treatment they need.

Adolescent girls and young women are particularly vulnerable, with 15-24 year-olds accounting for 20 per cent of new HIV infections, even though they make up just 11 per cent of the adult population.

The report also shows that more than 90 per cent of new HIV infections in central Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and North Africa in 2014 were among key at-risk populations, which include gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who inject drugs.

Outrage at Iran floggings after graduation party

In Iran, a decision to flog 35 students after they held a graduation party has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Office, OHCHR.

Spokesperson for the UN agency Rupert Colville said the punishment is believed to have been given because there were men and women at the gathering in Qazvin, north of Tehran, and some of them were not wearing a headscarf.

"According to state media, the students were arrested on Thursday, interrogated and sentenced by the Prosecutor's Office to 99 lashes each and then were flogged, all within the space of 24 hours."

OHCHR says that elsewhere in Iran flogging has been reportedly used on a woman who had sexual relations outside marriage.

Last year more than 400 people were also reportedly flogged for not fasting during Ramadan, although the government disputes this number.

Guinea prepares to announce "end" of Ebola

Guinea is on course to declare the end of Ebola transmission, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

As of 1 June, the West African state will have gone 40 days since the last person confirmed to have the deadly virus tested negative for the second time.

The country now begins 90 days of heightened surveillance to identify and respond to any new outbreaks.

Here's WHO's Christian Lindmeier:

"We should expect flare-ups, that's what's been said before, and what we have seen in the past, pockets of flare-ups, but since the countries are prepared now and the response on the ground has been geared up, we're very confident that any flare-ups can be dealt with quickly and efficiently if all these 90 days pass by, then the transmission of Ebola virus could be declared over."

In neighbouring Liberia, the country's 90-day wait is set to begin on June the 9th.

To date, a total of 28 616 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola have been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with 11 310 deaths.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 4'30?

Source: United Nations Radio.

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