REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
28 January 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Programme, World Food Programme, World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Institutional Memory Section of the United Nations Office at Geneva Library and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum would sign a cooperation agreement for the digitization of the League of Nations Archives related to Jewish populations during the Interwar Era.
The materials were a unique historical testimony to the work of an international organization to protect refugees. Their preservation and publication online was an important step for world memory and the development of global knowledge about the history of international organizations. The signing ceremony was open to anybody who would like to attend and would take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday 29 January in the Reading Room of the Library, in the presence of the Acting Director-General.
Catherine Sibut for United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced that the Global Investment Trends and Prospects report would be launched at a press conference today, Tuesday, 28 January, at noon in Press Room 1. James Zhan, Director, Division on Investment and Enterprise for UNCTAD would be speaking. Ms. Sibut alerted journalists that the report was under embargo until 5 p.m. GMT today.
Ms. Momal-Vanian reminded journalists that the session of the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review working group began yesterday, and would today review Chile and Cambodia. A background press release had been distributed.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Conference on Disarmament, which started its 2014 session last week, was holding a public plenary this morning, from 10 a.m.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child would today review the report of Germany, Ms. Momal-Vanian said, adding that it would meet in private for the rest of the week at Palais Wilson in Geneva before closing its session at 3 p.m. on Friday 31 January.
Humanitarian aid access in Syria
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said the United Nations Hub in Homs was preparing for an interagency convoy to deliver urgently needed humanitarian assistance to besieged families who had been trapped in the Old City of Homs and not received humanitarian assistance for almost two years. WFP had trucks on standby to deliver food for trapped families and was also prepared to provide ready-to-eat food rations to women and children who chose to be evacuated from the Old City of Homs if access was granted. Humanitarian deliveries to the old city had been impossible since the siege of over one year.
Once all parties on the ground allowed the interagency convoy to proceed, WFP would deliver the Old City 500 family rations and 500 bags of wheat flour, enough for 2,500 people for one month. WFP also planned to send 100 boxes of Plumpy’doz, a specialized nutrition product which helped to treat stunting and acute malnutrition in children.
WFP and partners had had irregular access to other towns in Homs including Al Rastan, Al Houlah, Talbisah, Ter Ma’ala and Ghanto, meaning that food deliveries had only been possible every three to six months through interagency convoys, when conditions allowed.
Elsewhere, WFP was increasingly concerned for people living in hard-to-reach areas across the country with no access to food assistance. Over 775,000 people in Al-Raqqa, Al-Hassakeh and Deir Ezzor had not been reached by WFP assistance for consecutive months, while over 40 locations in Rural Damascus remained under siege, affecting an estimated 800,000 people.
WFP would seize the opportunity to deliver urgently needed food assistance to 2,500 people in the Old City of Homs through the interagency convoy, if access was granted.
WFP advocated for sustained access to all parts of Syria where regular access to communities is limited. It was not only one convoy into the Old City of Homs, WFP called for access to all communities that needed help, Ms. Byrs emphasized.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said UNICEF had provided a list of supplies to the Government for approval. The list of supplies included an emergency medical kit and a cholera kit; soap and hygiene materials; water treatment supplies and oral rehydration salts; winter clothing for infants and polio vaccines.
All of those supplies were available at the UNICEF Homs warehouse and could go in as soon as they had a green light. At this stage there was no clarity of when that might be. The warehouse was about 10 kilometres from the Old City, Ms. Mercado added.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Spokesperson Chris Gunness confirmed they had not been able to deliver aid to Yarmouk camp for the past ten days. More information was available on the UNWRA website.
New constitution in Tunisia
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR congratulated the people of Tunisia for their adoption on Sunday of a new constitution that translated their aspirations for dignity, social justice and individual liberties.
OHCHR also commended the exemplary commitment to dialogue and consensus that had marked the democratic transition in Tunisia. The constitutional process had benefited from the wide participation of civil society actors.
OHCHR encouraged political actors in Tunisia to ensure that the next steps of the transition were conducted in a peaceful, inclusive and transparent manner. They would need to ensure that the independent institutions established in the constitution, such as the National Human Rights Institution, were strong and that they helped promote accountability and the rule of law with full respect for human rights.
The United Nations Human Rights Office in Tunisia would continue to support national efforts towards the establishment of an open and democratic society in the country.
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said UNHCR had released updated guidelines on the international protection needs of people fleeing Southern and Central Somalia. Although security had improved in some parts of Southern and Central Somalia, armed conflict continued. Widespread insecurity and human rights abuses continued to compel Somalis to leave their country. More than 42,000 Somalis sought asylum in neighbouring countries and elsewhere in 2013.
UNHCR’s new guidelines underscored the need for governments to assess applications for international protection by Somalis from Southern and Central Somalia on the basis of reliable, up-to-date information about the situation in Mogadishu and other areas. Notice needed to be taken of the impact of the armed conflict on civilians.
UNHCR was appealing to all States to uphold their international obligations with regard to no forced returns, or non-refoulement. Somali nationals should not be forcibly returned to Somalia unless the returning State was convinced that the persons involved would not be at risk of persecution.
Southern and Central Somalia remained a very dangerous place. While there were no complete statistics on conflict-related casualties, data compiled by ACLED, a research group, showed there were more casualties in 2012 and early 2013 than in 2011. Monthly fatalities fluctuated between 100 and 600 people. In June 2013, fierce fighting resulted in 314 casualties in Kismayo alone. Civilians were at risk of being killed or wounded in crossfire between government forces and Al-Shabaab militants as well as by bomb attacks and as bystanders in targeted attacks. Even in Mogadishu, nominally under Government control with the backing of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Al-Shabaab has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to stage deadly attacks.
The link to the new guidelines, and statistics on casualties and displaced persons were available in the briefing note, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said.
Responding to a question about forced returns, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba clarified that countries may decide to forcibly return failed asylum seekers from Somalia. People were usually sent back to Mogadishu. UNHCR was asking countries to ensure that nobody was sent back who may be persecuted upon their return.
Ms. Lejeune-Kaba replied to a question about the current situation, saying that there was a perception that Somalia was much better as it was no longer in the headlines, and so some countries felt that Somalis no longer needed protection, and no longer needed to be granted asylum. Unfortunately that was not true, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said. There was a sense of optimism among the Somalis themselves, and a lot of people were returning to Somalia from the diaspora, especially people going back to set up businesses. Unfortunately, on the ground, the situation had gone from one of open warfare to Al Shabaab tactics of dropping bombs, which put people in danger. Last year 42,000 Somalis left the country, and while it’s true that 30,000 returned home, it gave a sense of how mixed the picture was.
Answering a question, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said there had been many forced returns from Saudi Arabia recently; and estimates varied.
A journalist asked how Al-Shabaab were operating at the moment. Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said UNHCR was still seeing a lot of abuses by Al Shabaab. Of course they no longer controlled vast territories, but they were still committing a lot of abuses. For example, Al-Shabaab wished to impose strict Sharia law and could harm anyone who violated those laws. The restriction of the rights of women was another issue, with the killings of women activists and their family members. People could also be abused for their perceived support to the Government.
Central African Republic
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that after a first convoy of desperately needed food supplies reached Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, on Monday, WFP welcomed the cooperation that made the tense road journey possible but warned that securing the country’s roads was crucial to provide a food lifeline to growing numbers of displaced people.
Ten trucks carrying WFP food – 250 metric tons of rice and maize meal – arrived in Bangui on Monday, after a 600-kilometre journey from the Cameroon border. The trucks were part of a 60-vehicle convoy escorted by troops from the African-led International Support Mission in CAR (MISCA). The convoy was slowed by frequent improvised checkpoints set up by armed groups, Ms. Byrs reported.
Another 41 commercial trucks carrying WFP cereals were still stranded at the Cameroonian border, along with hundreds of other vehicles. Drivers were reluctant to cross the border, despite the offer of military escorts along the road to Bangui. The impact on food supplies to the capital and the rest of the country had been disastrous.
WFP was prioritizing distributions at the Bangui airport and had started further distributions to 40,000 people in and around the north-western town of Bossangoa. Deliveries to other places could not be carried out until trucks could drive safely along routes and their movement to Bangui was secured.
WFP continued to urge all parties to the conflict to allow the safe and unhindered passage of humanitarian personnel and supplies to people in need. Food distributions had been suspended in the north-western towns of Bouar and Bozoum because of fighting. Before the interruption, nearly 10,000 people received food rations of cereals, pulses, vegetable oil and salt in Bouar.
Since the start of the year, WFP had assisted 193,000 people with food in Bangui, Bossangoa and Bouar, including close to 50,000 displaced in the makeshift camp at Bangui airport. Some 25,000 people in smaller camps across the capital also received WFP food this month.
WFP was appealing for nearly US$107 million to assist 1.25 million people in Central African Republic over the next six months. In order for displaced people to receive food in the immediate future, new funding was required urgently to buy food. They were currently only 12 per cent funded, Ms. Byrs said.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the United Nations Security Council was meeting today to discuss the situation in the Central African Republic and the mandate of the United Nations Peacebuilding Office there.
Aid Deliveries in Iraq
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM) said that as security deteriorated in Iraq, IOM faced aid delivery challenges. IOM was forced to suspend its distribution of emergency relief supplies in Anbar province last week due to heavy fighting and air strikes in almost all districts of Fallujah. Distributions resumed the following day.
Ms. Berthiaume quoted IOM Iraq Rapid Assessment and Response Team (RART) Officer Nicholas Hill as saying: “The situation in Anbar remained volatile and all indications pointed to a continuing decline in security. This continues to complicate the aid response, as roads are frequently blocked, and some bridges have collapsed as a result of clashes between Iraqi security forces and armed opposition groups, air strikes and acts of terrorism. The IOM RART in Anbar took advantage of a temporary lull in the fighting to restart the distributions on Friday 24 January.”
Since last December, when clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces, Islamist militants and sectarian factions, at least 140,000 people had been displaced in Anbar and more continue to flee. These new internally displaced people were in addition to 1.3 million individuals already displaced in Iraq, Ms. Berthiaume said.
The new internally displaced people had dispersed throughout Anbar and into neighbouring Salah Al-Din, Kerbala, Baghdad and Najaf provinces. Local authorities in Erbil province in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north of the country had also confirmed the registration of 3,700 displaced people. IOM was now rapidly assessing displacement locations in Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah to identify the numbers, location, movements and vulnerabilities of displaced families from Anbar to the Kurdish region.
IOM had supplied 288 tents to the Bahira transit camp in Erbil, which had been rehabilitated to accommodate new internally displaced people. A decision had not yet been made as to whether this camp will be formally opened, but as displacement become more protracted, it is becoming increasingly likely.
So far IOM had distributed 250 non-food relief kits in Anbar’s Al-Karma district and 280 in Fallujah, reaching a total of 8,130 people, although IOM staff in Fallujah said there was urgent need for tents and non-food relief items in the district. More details were available in the briefing note.
Migration: Mediterranean Sea Crossings
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM) said over 45,000 migrants risked their lives in the Mediterranean to reach Italy and Malta in 2013. The arrivals were the highest since 2008, with the exception of 2011 - the year of the Libyan crisis.
More than 42,900 landed in Italy and 2,800 landed in Malta. Of those who arrived in Italy, over 5,400 were women and 8,300 were minors – some 5,200 of them unaccompanied. Most of the landings took place in Lampedusa (14,700) and along the coast around Syracuse in Sicily (14,300), said Ms. Berthiaume.
This year migration towards Italy’s southern shores told that there had been an increase in the number of people escaping from war and oppressive regimes, said Ms. Berthiaume.
Most of the migrants came from Syria (11,300), Eritrea (9,800) and Somalia (3,200). All of them were effectively forced to leave their countries and they have the right to receive protection under the Italian law.
Landings were continuing in January 2014. On 24 January, 204 migrants were rescued by the Italian navy in the Straits of Sicily and landed in Augusta, close to Syracuse. Over 20,000 people had died in the past twenty years trying to reach the Italian coast. They included 2,300 in 2011 and around 700 in 2013.
“We have become too used to seeing these people who are escaping from war, persecution, poverty and hunger as mere statistics. We urgently need to find ways to stop these people from dying at sea when all they are trying to do is to achieve a better life. We need to find ways to make migration safe and to give these people real choices,” José Angel Oropeza, Director of IOM’s Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean in Rome, was quoted as saying.
WHO: Palliative Care
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that a press conference planned for this afternoon to launch the Global Atlas of Palliative Care at the End of Life had been cancelled following the breaking of an embargo. Instead Dr Maria Cecilia Sepulveda Bermedo, Senior Adviser, Chronic Diseases Prevention and Management, World Health Organization Palliative Care, would brief the press now.
Dr. Sepulveda said the Global Atlas was the first tool to map the need for, and availability of, palliative care globally as well as identifying the barriers to this important element of patient and family care. WHO calculated that 20 million people globally were in need of end-of-life care. The estimated overall global need was 40 million people each year. It was important to reach those patients, help relieve their suffering and help their families, Dr. Sepulveda said.
The Atlas provided those estimates but also mapped the services. It showed a huge unmet need – only one in ten people who needed palliative care got it – and the majority of those people lived in low and middle income countries, which faced the biggest burden.
Dr. Sepulveda said she was very pleased that WHO Member States were supporting Palliative care and would discuss the topic – which was very important and had been neglected for many years – at the next World Health Assembly.
In response to questions from journalists, Dr. Sepulveda specified the diseases which require palliative care and the details of the affected population. Only six per cent of children required palliative care. The majority of diseases were non-communicable and seen in adults in undeveloped communities. Cancer accounted for one third of care needs, but other diseases included cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, arthritis, liver problems, renal problems and dementia and other degenerative diseases.
Responding to questions about why palliative care was not reaching the majority of the patients, Dr. Sepulveda said there was a lack of policy supporting palliative care and a lack of knowledge that such care was available. Also, healthcare professionals needed to integrate palliative care into healthcare systems. Finally, the lack of resources, medicines – especially opiates which was the main drug used for pain relief.
Elaborating on pain relief strategies, Dr. Sepulveda detailed the use of opiates and fears about their use, key issues which were being addressed by the WHO. Dr. Sepulveda also spoke about challenges in Africa and other continents in accessing oral morphine.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO), responded to a question about the H7N9 virus in China. He said that the Chinese authorities were responding in good time, and that there were no plans for WHO expert Dr Keiji Fukuda to visit China, although the WHO were obviously in contact with their counterparts there. Regarding numbers, Mr. Thomas said there had been a total of 244 laboratory confirmed human cases, including 56 deaths.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM) said as the number of Ethiopian returnees from Saudi Arabia passed 156,000, Ethiopia had been hit with another influx of migrants – this time from the neighbouring South Sudan.
Ms. Berthiaume stated that to date, over 25,000 asylum seekers had arrived in Ethiopia through various entry points in the Gambella and Benishangul-Gimuz regions. She added that UNHCR and Ethiopia's Administration for Refugee and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) indicated that total number of asylum seekers coming into Ethiopia through Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz could reach up to 60,000.
Since the start of the operation, IOM had helped 801 UNHCR/ARRA registered asylum seekers to Leitchor by providing buses. IOM planned to use boats to move a larger group from Tiergol to Leitchor. Upon their arrival in Leitchor refugees were given plastic sheets, kitchen sets, blankets, sleeping mats and jerry cans. More information was in the press release, Ms. Berthiaume noted.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP and partners had so far provided food for more than 185,000 people displaced by the violence in South Sudan, and were reaching more people every day despite continued fighting. WFP was also assisting tens of thousands of people who had fled across South Sudan’s borders into neighbouring countries.
Food distributions began January 26 for some 35,000 internally displaced persons in Nimule, near the Ugandan border. In addition, so far WFP and its partners had distributed food to internally displaced persons in a growing number of places, including Juba, Bentiu, Bor, Malakal, Leer, Mingkaman, Yirol East and Yirol West, Mabior, Aweng, Adjuong Thok and Maban County. WFP had also continued providing regular food rations to the Sudanese refugees living in camps in Unity and Upper Nile states.
WFP launched an emergency operation to expand its assistance to people affected by the crisis in South Sudan. The three-month, US$57.8 million operation would provide emergency food assistance to up to 400,000 internally displaced persons, including specialized nutritional support for new mothers and young children.
More information was available in the note, Ms. Byrs said.
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service, announced
that in observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust and in the presence of the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mr. Michael Møller, a ceremony and concert would be held today, Tuesday 28 January at 5 p.m. in the Assembly Hall.
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The representative of the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media.