UN seeks to resettle one-tenth of 4.8 mln Syrian refugees amid fear
GENEVA – Reuters
AFP photoThe United Nations said on March 29 that it was seeking to re-settle more than 450,000 Syrian refugees, some one-tenth of those now in neighboring countries, by the end of 2018, but conceded that it was battling widespread fear and politicization of the issue.
A ministerial-level conference is being held in Geneva on March 30 with the participation of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
“The international context we are in - and nobody is naive about that - we know very well we’re dealing with a complex situation, increasing fear in many countries, increasing politicization of refugee, displacement and asylum issues. This is a difficult thing,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in response to a question.
Meanwhile, Syrian regime troops were locked in heavy fighting on March 29 with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in central Syria, where they dealt the jihadists a major blow by seizing the ancient city of Palmyra.
Just two days after seizing Palmyra from ISIL, pro-government fighters advanced southwest towards the jihadist-held town of Al-Qaryatain, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They captured a series of strategic hilltops overlooking the town, said the Britain-based monitor, backed by “intense” air strikes by both Syrian and Russian warplanes.
State news agency SANA said the army, backed by pro-government militia, had also seized rural farmland south of Al-Qaryatain as they closed in on the town.
On the same day, China said that it has appointed its first special envoy to Syria, as part of efforts to increase its diplomatic footprint in the Middle East.
China depends on the volatile region for oil supplies but has long taken a back seat in its disputes, only recently beginning to expand its role.
In recent months Beijing has hosted high-level delegations from both the Syrian government and the opposition.
It consistently says the crisis needs a “political solution” but has four times vetoed U.N. Security Council measures aimed at addressing the conflict - the latest seeking the investigation of war crimes in the country.
Xie Xiaoyan, who has been China’s ambassador to Iran, Ethiopia and the African Union, will be the new special envoy to Syria, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing.