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Eastern European countries battle vaccine hesitancy as COVID-19 strengthens its grip | World News

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Some European countries are seeing a resurgence in COVID-19, with the continent’s eastern nations hampered by widespread vaccine hesitancy.

Polls show that trust in state institutions and public healthcare is much lower in eastern Europe than it is across the rest of the continent, something that has been blamed for the low vaccination rates.

At least one person in every three does not trust the healthcare system in eastern Europe, compared to an EU average of 18%, according to the European Commission.

And when it comes to vaccine uptake, the European states with the lowest rates – Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Latvia – are all part of the former communist bloc.

People queue to receive FFP2 masks for free at a pharmacy as a measure of protection, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic during lockdown in Berlin, Germany, December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
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The German health minister said the pandemic state of emergency can end on 25 November

• Romania had the highest death rate per capita in the world this week and the number of new cases soared towards 19,000, but only 36% of adults are vaccinated, about half the EU rate. Distrust in public healthcare is put at 40%

• Russia’s government announced workplaces will close from 30 October to 7 November after Thursday saw 1,036 deaths and 36,339 new infections – both record daily highs. Despite being quick to produce its Sputnik vaccine earlier in the pandemic, many Russians have refused it – only 48 million of a population of 144 million were fully-vaccinated as of mid-October

• In Bulgaria only one adult in four is fully-vaccinated. The number of people being admitted to hospital due to the virus has risen 30% in the past month, and hospitals in Sofia have halted non-essential surgeries

• Latvia has gone back into lockdown for a month. A study by SKDS has found that among Latvia’s Russian-speaking population (who account for about a third of the overall population), only 46% are vaccinated, compared with 62% among ethnic Latvians

A man holds his daughter, as he receives a second dose of vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) administered by a medical personnel from a mobile unit in the village of Krushovitsa, Bulgaria, October 10, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo
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This young man is among around 25% of adults in Bulgaria who are fully vaccinated

• Poland (52% vaccinated) reported more than 5,000 new cases on Wednesday – the highest number since May – prompting the health minister to warn that drastic measures could be necessary. Vaccine uptake is particularly low in conservative areas, leaving the government with extra vaccine doses it has donated or sold abroad

• Slovakia (41% vaccinated) reported its highest daily case numbers on Tuesday since 9 March and in the Czech Republic (56% vaccinated) the number of new cases passed 3,000 for the first time since April

The situation differs in western Europe, where vaccination rates are generally higher and restrictions are being weakened alongside the introduction of vaccination passes in some parts.

• In France, new cases jumped to 6,127, up 18% compared to a week earlier, having already risen by 8% on Wednesday. The country also registered 37 new deaths on Thursday, taking the total to 117,389. About two-thirds of people are fully-vaccinated

• Italy (71% vaccinated) reported 36 deaths on Thursday (up from 33 the day before) with 3,794 new infections (up from 3,702)

An empty shop is seen as four weeks of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown begins in Riga, Latvia, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
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Latvia has gone back into lockdown due to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases

• Germany reported just over 17,000 new infections on Wednesday compared to 11,903 a week ago, with its 92 deaths similar to the same day last week. Roughly two-thirds of people are fully-vaccinated. Health Minister Jens Spahn has said the pandemic state of emergency can end on 25 November, although some measures should continue

• Portugal began the year with one of the highest rates of infection in the world but, with 85% fully vaccinated, it is turning things around. Masks are still widely worn and trust in state institutions is generally high. On Wednesday, 927 new cases were reported (up from 828 a week earlier). There were three deaths (down from nine a week earlier)

• Spain reported 2,528 new cases on Wednesday (down from 2,758 a week earlier). There were 31 deaths (down from 42) and 78% of the population is fully vaccinated

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‘115,000 health workers dead from COVID’

The World Health Organisation’s emergency director Mike Ryan said: “Most (COVID-19) restrictions are now not in place anymore in many countries, and we’re seeing that coincide with the winter period in which people are moving inside as the cold snaps appear.

“The question remains as to whether or not we will have the same experience as last year with health systems coming once again under pressure.”

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Channel deaths: People smugglers touting openly on Facebook | UK News

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Finding a route across the channel is as easy as typing “smuggler” into Facebook.

Far from being a hidden world, Sky News has found that a network of smugglers is operating openly on the social media platform.

Routes into Europe and the UK are regularly highlighted, with posts featuring images of the Union Jack and Big Ben.

One smuggler even claimed he would be able to make customers a British passport.

It comes as 27 people died while attempting to cross the Channel, one of the worst death tolls in recent years.

Discussions about the best ways to cross the channel are also taking place on Facebook
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Discussions about the best ways to cross the channel are also taking place on Facebook

Many who attempt the crossing come from counties including Iran, Syria and Iraq, with high numbers of Iraqi Kurds attempting to make the dangerous journey.

Sky News searched Facebook for terms written in Kurdish and Arabic such as “smuggler” and “UK visa”, as well as locations such as Calais, Dunkirk and England.

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These results brought up smugglers advertising the routes, listing their phone numbers and inviting people to message them privately for more information, such as costs.

There is no suggestion Facebook is taking any revenue for the content.

This post claims customers will be able to legally travel into the UK within three days and that the journey will be done in the “best, safest and easiest way”.

Smugglers are posting adverts on Facebook, such as this one which provides a phone number
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Smugglers are posting adverts on Facebook, such as this one which provides a phone number

One of the most prolific smugglers posting onto Facebook is a man who says he lives in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

He claims to be able to get migrants into a number of countries, including the UK. In this advert he promotes a route from Dunkirk to the United Kingdom at “a reasonable price”.

This advert, which also includes a phone number, offers a number of routes such as Dunkirk to the UK
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This advert, which also includes a phone number, offers a number of routes such as Dunkirk to the UK

On his Facebook profile, he describes himself as putting “trust before profit”. His cover photo – a photo at the top of the page – is of a passport and boarding card.

'Trust before profit' is written in the 'intro' section of this smuggler's profile
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‘Trust before profit’ is written in the ‘intro’ section of this smuggler’s profile

He often posts several adverts a week, many with the same wording. In his adverts he claims to offer guarantees as well as being able to deliver “the lowest price and the shortest time”.

Many of the adverts are copied and pasted across different pages
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Many of the adverts are copied and pasted across different pages

To encourage prospective customers, the smuggler has posted a number of passports and visas he claims to have secured.

One smuggler has uploaded a number of passports and visas he claims to have secured for other migrants
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One smuggler has uploaded a number of passports and visas he claims to have secured for other migrants

Like many other smugglers on the platform, he uses photos of landmarks to help catch people’s attention.

Smugglers often post pictures of famous European landmarks in their adverts
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Smugglers often post pictures of famous European landmarks in their adverts

Here, a different smuggler posts his advert alongside pictures of the Union Jack and Big Ben. In his post he claims he will be able to “make you a British passport”.

This smuggler claims he will be able to 'make you a British passport'
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This smuggler claims he will be able to ‘make you a British passport’

His offer is eye-catching, with 210 people liking the post and almost 30 comments posted beneath it.

“Hello brother, I want to talk to you,” one man writes. “My dear brother, inbox me”, the smuggler writes back, inviting him to send him a direct private message.

Images of European flag carrier planes are also used.

As well as landmarks, photos of flag carrier planes such as British Airways and Air France form part of the adverts
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As well as landmarks, photos of flag carrier planes such as British Airways and Air France form part of the adverts. There’s no indication any airlines are involved in aiding the smugglers

In this advert, a smuggler features both British Airways and Air France planes. The final image in his post includes a phone number to call. The photos of the airlines are used without permission and there is no indication that British Airways or Air France are aware the images are being used in this way.

Some adverts do not rely on promises, guarantees and glossy images of the UK. One smuggler simply posts that he can take people from France to Britain and provides a number.

Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs
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Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs

Many adverts are posted into pages used primarily for other reasons, ranging from general community pages to those for an electronic goods store.

However, some pages are set up specifically to discuss smuggling and attract those looking to get into the UK and elsewhere.

One example of this is a group page called “Smuggling to Europe with a guarantee”. Its profile and cover photos are images of migrants taken from news sites. It has almost 800 members.

The name of this page, which has almost 800 members, is 'Smuggling to Europe with a guarantee'
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The name of this page, which has almost 800 members, is ‘Smuggling to Europe with a guarantee’

One of the page’s most recent posts was published on 10 November and is of a video showing migrants in Dunkirk, France.

Another video shared on these pages includes one from social media app TikTok. It shows part of the journey between Calais and the UK.

A TikTok video about crossing from Calais to France was also shared on one of the pages
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A TikTok video about crossing from Calais to France was also shared on one of the pages

It’s not just smugglers posting adverts. People post questions about costs and routes. They also share news about other migrant crossings.

One man asks if a German visa would enable him to enter Britain. A profile which appears to belong to a smuggler replies that it wouldn’t work. The first man adds if a person can get to Germany, they could attempt to get to the UK “by foot”.

Routes through Europe are also discussed
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Routes through Europe are also discussed

Another man asks how much it costs to get into Britain.

Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs
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Those looking to be smuggled use the platform to ask questions, including on costs

Another shares the news of the high number of migrants who died on Wednesday.

News of the deaths on Wednesday were shared widely on a number of migrant pages
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News of the deaths on Wednesday were shared widely on a number of migrant pages

Five months ago, Priti Patel wrote to social media companies including Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. She said more needed to be done to remove posts that are “glamourising” dangerous migrant crossings.

A spokesperson for Meta, who own Facebook, told Sky News: “Our thoughts go out to all those affected by these tragic events.

“Co-ordinating people smuggling is not allowed on Facebook and we work with law enforcement to tackle it.

“We use a combination of AI technology, human review and reports from our users and trusted partners to detect and remove posts like this.”

Sky News understands the pages brought to the attention of Facebook are now under investigation and will be removed if they are found to have violated the platform’s policies.


The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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Channel deaths: What are the options for combatting the crisis? | Politics News

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More than 25,000 people have made the perilous journey to the UK in small boats this year with politicians on both sides of the Channel under fresh pressure to prevent people putting their lives at risk.

In the summer of 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel promised action to limit the number of Channel crossings to the UK by prospective migrants.

But, more than two years later, the number of people making successful journeys has soared to record levels, while some are losing their lives in other attempted crossings.

Those deaths are piling pressure not only on Mr Johnson and Ms Patel, but also French President Emmanuel Macron.

France’s authorities are accused of not doing enough to disrupt people smuggling gangs and to prevent people attempting Channel crossings.

Here, Sky News takes a look at some of the measures being called for to combat the crisis:

New UK asylum laws

A key plank of the government’s proposed new immigration legislation, the Nationality and Borders Bill, is aimed at deterring illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks, and saving lives.

The proposed legislation would, in effect, create a two-tier system of asylum claims in the UK.

Under the government’s plans, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.

Ms Patel has said she wants to “create safe and legal routes” for those fleeing persecution, but that those who enter the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally.

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Refugee: Why I fled to UK

Those who arrive illegally, but still manage to successfully claim asylum, will receive a new “temporary protection status” rather than an automatic right to settle.

People entering illegally will also have limited family reunion rights and reduced access to benefits.

The government hopes the differentiation between asylum seekers who use “legal” and “illegal” routes will help deter people from making journeys across the Channel in small boats in the first place.

Use ‘pushback’ tactics

Countries such as Australia, Greece and Italy have used “pushback” tactics in recent years to turn around migrant boats heading towards their shores.

The UK’s Border Force has been training to use the tactics after being authorised to do so by Ms Patel.

However, critics have said the tactics are cruel, unsafe and breach international law.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster has kept the door open to using such tactics in the Channel, stressing that “any maritime tactics would be deployed appropriately” and as determined by commanders.

Increase pressure on France

In July this year, the UK agreed to give France £54m to help expand the country’s efforts to stem the number of small boats crossing the Channel.

The Home Office said, as part of the deal, the number of police patrolling French beaches would more than double.

With Channel crossings having now reached record levels, it has been argued that the UK is seeing little value for its investment and that pressure should be increased on France to demonstrate how it is using the cash.

Some Conservative MPs have accused the government of “throwing good money after bad” after previous cash also failed to limit the number of crossings.

And some have also argued France should be responsible for the costs.

However, it is unclear how much of the £54m France has actually received, with suggestions it had received less than one-third of the sum so far.

Put British police in France

The prime minister has renewed a previous offer to send UK police and Border Force officers to France in order to mount joint patrols with their French counterparts.

France has rejected that offer on the grounds that it would impede on their sovereignty.

But the UK government is said to be hoping France could reconsider its stance if the situation in the Channel continues to worsen.

New returns agreements with EU countries

The UK government recently admitted that just five migrants who crossed the Channel by boat to the UK had been returned to European countries so far this year.

It has led to accusations that the ability of the UK to return migrants to the EU has got “substantially worse” following the end of an asylum agreement with the bloc after Brexit.

Home Office minister Tom Pursglove told MPs that there had been “some difficulties around securing returns” but he also blamed the impact of the COVID pandemic.

He added the government retains an “ambition” to secure returns agreements with European countries as well as, potentially, the EU itself.

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Migrants promised ‘El Dorado’ in England

Under the EU’s “Dublin arrangements”, the UK used to be able to ask other member states to take back people they could prove had passed through safe EU countries on their journey to Britain.

However, since Brexit, the UK no longer has such a returns arrangement.

It has been suggested that, with a viable returns arrangement, migrants would be less inclined to journey across the Channel if they believed they could soon be returned to France or other EU countries.

Yet, it is worth noting that even before the UK left the EU, the total number of Dublin transfers that took place was a small fraction of the total number of asylum seekers.

According to the Migration Observatory, in the five-year period between 2016 to 2020, around 194,000 people applied for asylum in the UK – while there were only around 1,250 Dublin transfers out of the country.

Create safe routes

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) is among a number of charities to have proposed the creation of safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to enter the UK from France.

This would help discourage many from choosing to take the perilous option of crossing the Channel in a small boat.

The JCWI has said that there is an opportunity to “end 30 years of tried, tested and failed policies that have left migrants dead, in limbo, and in the hands of smugglers and traffickers”.

Labour is also calling for safe and legal routes for refugees, including the reopening of the “Dubs scheme”.

Named after its proponent, the Labour peer Lord Dubs who was among Jewish children to escape the Nazis in the 1930s, the scheme brought unaccompanied child refugees to the UK from Europe following the Syrian refugee crisis.

The government has since closed the scheme, with a total of 478 children transferred to the UK.

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Patel: ‘No quick fix’ over channel crossings

Amid the calls for the creation of new safe and legal routes between the UK and France, Ms Patel has said that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and that “nobody needs to flee France in order to be safe”.

Instead, the home secretary has not ruled out sending asylum seekers abroad to third countries while their claims are processed in the UK.

Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and Albania have all been touted as the location of possible processing centres, although each of them have strongly rejected those suggestions.

The theory is that by moving to an “offshore” system of processing asylum applications, people making claims will be less likely to try and get to the UK.

It would follow the example of Australia.

However, as well as human rights concerns and the possibility of a legal challenge, the plans have been dismissed as hugely costly.

Afghanistan resettlement scheme

It has been reported that some of those who are attempting to cross the Channel are Afghans who have fled their country following the Taliban takeover.

According to The Times, among those recently rescued from a boat in the Channel was an Afghan soldier who had worked with British forces.

His family had decided to risk their lives crossing the Channel after they “waited so long for help” from Britain, the newspaper said.

Following the initial “Operation Pitting” evacuation effort from Kabul in the immediate wake of the Taliban takeover, the UK government also promised to take in up to 20,000 refugees under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.

However, more than three months after the Taliban entered Kabul, the scheme is still not open.

Restore the UK’s foreign aid commitment

Labour has linked government cuts to the UK’s foreign aid budget (from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income) to the Channel crisis.

The cuts are claimed to have reduced the amount of work being done to lessen the “push” factors that prompt people to travel the world in seek of asylum in the first place.

Shadow minister Jo Stevens told Sky News: “People are fleeing other countries, they haven’t originated in France in terms of their journey.

“This is an international problem for the international community.

“The government has shut down the Department for International Development, which is the very department that works with other countries to stop people fleeing, or help people that have to flee from other countries in the first place because they are in fear of their lives.”

Clear the asylum backlog

Recent figures have shown that the backlog of asylum cases in the UK is at a record high.

A total of 67,547 asylum applications were awaiting an initial decision at the end of September – up 41% year-on-year and the highest since current records began in June 2010.

A further 3,261 were awaiting a review, which includes some of those waiting to receive decisions about appeals.

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Arrests should be made before tragedies – Starmer

Some 62% of cases (44,018) have been waiting for an initial decision for more than six months.

There have been calls for more investment in the asylum system to clear the backlog and to shorten the amount of time that people’s cases take to be dealt with.

Ditch human rights law

The prime minister’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has argued that human rights law should be “set aside” in order to deal with the Channel crossings crisis – a view that has been echoed by some Tory MPs.

It has been claimed that removing human rights obligations would allow the UK to take a tougher stance on migration issues.

However, any reform to human rights law would be politically tricky and hugely controversial for the government.

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Channel deaths: Mayday call by French coastguard emerges after 27 killed in boat tragedy | UK News

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A mayday call by French coastguard requesting urgent help from “all ships” during yesterday’s Channel boat emergency has been obtained by Sky News.

Twenty-seven people – 17 men, seven women and two teenage boys and a girl – died near Calais while trying to cross in a flimsy boat.

Two people survived and were taken to hospital with hypothermia.

This is what remains of the boat that capsized in the Channel and resulted in the deaths of 27 people
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This is what remains of the boat the migrants were on

In the mayday call, the coastguard can be heard putting out an alert to all boats in the area.

:: Death in the Channel – watch a special programme on Sky News at 7pm

The radio operator gives coordinates and asks nearby vessels to attend, telling them that 15 people are in the water.

The operator says: “Mayday relay, mayday relay, mayday relay. This is Gris-Nez emergency, Gris-Nez emergency, Gris-Nez emergency.

Charles Devos was among the first people to arrive at the scene
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Charles Devos says he dragged six bodies from the sea, including a pregnant woman

“Information number one: Mayday. 15 man overboard, approximately. 15 man overboard.”

They add: “All ships in this area are requested to have a [unclear] lookout to proceed to this area to take contact and report any information to Gris-Nez emergency co-ordinating this operation.”

Charles Devos, regional manager of lifeboat association (SNSM) in Calais, was one among the first people at the scene.

He told Sky News that he dragged six bodies from the sea, including a pregnant woman, and seeing those drowned was “traumatic”.

“I can’t remember such a tragedy. It’s inexplicable,” he said.

“I saw the blow-up boat had really deflated. Was it a valve that came loose or did it hit an object? You never know but I don’t think it was a collision.”

And he said: “I think it happened due to overloading. Don’t forget, you think the sea is calm. The sea isn’t calm because it’s nearly always choppy.”

Mr Devos went on: “It’s very, very shocking. It was a bit like the film Titanic when you saw all these people plunged into the water, drowning, with no means of being able to be rescued.

“Unfortunately we were only able to recover the dead people.”

Describing the dinghy, he said: “It was an inflatable, very light boat that was around 10m long.”

He added: “It’s not the first time I’ve boarded this type of boat. It’s really light boats that are overwhelmed. The tragedy came about because the boat was overwhelmed. Boats that transport 20 people, we find them with around 50 people on them”.

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PM ‘deeply saddened’ by migrant deaths in Channel

The Kurdish government has confirmed to Sky News that Kurds were on the boat and it has appealed to the UK and EU for help stopping migrants leaving Iraq.

The two survivors were Somali and Iraqi.

Wednesday’s loss of life is the worst of the migrant crisis, which has seen numbers reaching the UK by sea surge from 8,417 in 2020 to more than 25,000 so far this year.

A government minister revealed last week that just five people had been returned to Europe after making it to Britain.

The UK insists France must do more to stop the crossings, while France says the UK should deter people from wanting to enter the country in the first place.

French interior minister Gerard Darmanin told RTL radio that migrants are “often attracted” to the UK jobs market and blamed human trafficking gangs who promise the “El Dorado of England”.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, told the Commons the deaths were a “dreadful shock” but “not a surprise”.

“It does need a Herculean effort and it will be impossible without close cooperation between all international partners and agencies,” she said.

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