REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
10 June 2014
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief, Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, International Labour Organization, International Organization for Migration, United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization.
Central African Republic
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that refugees and stateless persons continued to arrive in Cameroon from the Central African Republic (CAR) and the majority of persons were at entry points or transit sites awaiting relocation to more established sites with improved infrastructure. Ms. Byrs said that WFP was appealing for US$15 million in funding to cover urgent needs until December. As of today, WFP’s Emergency Operation had received only two contributions from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) of US$745,524 and the Strategic Resource Allocation Committee (SRAC) of US$700,000. The current project shortfall was 90 per cent.
Based on May statistics from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 94,433 refugees were registered. Of these, 33,431 CAR refugees were now settled in UNHCR sites. Others were with host families or waiting to be transferred to the sites, Ms. Byrs said, adding that 57 per cent of the refugees were children, of whom 20 per cent were less than five years old.
A WFP expert mission was on the ground in Cameroon, and had conducted screening at the Gbiti site where they found 31 per cent of new arrivals at the entry point were acutely malnourished, of whom 11 per cent were in a state of severe acute malnutrition. Screening at all other sites confirmed the dire situation, and acute malnutrition was also observed among school-age children. The immediate priority across host countries was to address the acute needs of these refugees, and to plan for the rain season which would create conditions for the outbreak of disease and challenge overland delivery, said Ms. Byrs.
Giving the most recent statistics, Ms. Byrs said in May WFP assisted 62,777 beneficiaries with 1,034 metric tons (MT) of commodities. General food distributions at entry points and sites were complete, and 832 third country nationals awaiting transfer to their country of origin by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had received 6.6 metric tons (15 day rations). A further 30,998 Central African Republic refugees located in transit sites had received 514 metric tons (30 day rations). Ms. Byrs also announced that 30,947 CAR refugees based in Gado Badzere, Lolo, Mbile, Borgop and Timangolo sites had received 513 metric tons.
A rapid assessment mission had also been conducted to Waza and Fotokol areas in the far north of Cameroon near to the border of Nigeria. Local government authorities had requested WFP assistance to support returnees and refugees from Nigeria in that area; Ms. Byrs added.
Chris Lom, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) gave an update on the latest IOM Internally Displaced Persons Return Intention Survey carried out in Bangui, Central African Republic. Interviews were carried out from 19 to 23 May at 34 displacement sites in Bangui with 575 displaced persons. The survey results, released yesterday, quantified the increasing hardship experienced by the displaced population, he said.
In comparison to the April survey, the percentage of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who reported that they did not have the financial means to return home had jumped from 68 per cent to 79 per cent. The percentage of IDPs who reported that they did not feel safe in their neighbourhood also increased from 64 per cent to 71 per cent. There were more than 136,000 displaced persons in Bangui at some 42 displacement sites around the city, which was a decrease from late April, when there were 177,891 displaced persons at 45 sites. It was also a dramatic decrease from the end of December when there were more than 500,000 displaced people in Bangui, said Mr. Lom.
Those decreasing displacement figures demonstrated that IDPs were acting on their expressed desire to return home, but those remaining at the sites did not have the financial means to return, or their homes had been destroyed. A total of 60 per cent of IDPs responded that they intended to return home within the next four weeks. That was a slight increase from the April survey (57 per cent), but a significant drop from January (74 per cent). The most frequently cited needs in the camp were housing (33 per cent), security (24 per cent) and non-food items (14 per cent).
Another problem was that 94 per cent of IDPs experienced interruption of professional activities due to displacement and no longer had a job or a means of making a living. During those many months of displacement, they had used up their savings, which resulted in a desperate financial situation: 98 per cent reported borrowing money and 88 per cent sold their work tools or consumed their stock of planting seeds.
The percentage of IDPs intending to relocate to another region within Central African Republic had also been steadily increasing, from 4.6 per cent in March 2014 to nine per cent in April 2014 to 11 per cent in the latest survey. Almost all displaced persons (97 per cent) reported that they had sent family members to live elsewhere.
The focus section of this month’s survey was on displacement caused by the 28 May attack on Notre Dame de Fatima Church. The attack, in which more than 20 people were killed, provoked the displacement of 22,000 people, 9,000 of whom had been taking refuge at Notre Dame de Fatima. That population moved to nine other displacement sites, quickly straining the limited resources at these sites in terms of shelter, water, sanitation and food.
Answering a question from a journalist about what sort of jobs and businesses had been lost, Mr. Lom replied that the impression was that people in the camps came from all economic and social sectors. One of the greatest problems in Bangui was that the economy had largely ground to a halt, partly because before the crisis most of the businesses had been run by Muslims, many of whom had closed their businesses and either fled the country or were living in camps. Therefore many of the jobs provided by those businesses had also been lost. It was extremely difficult to return to normality without some sort of economic recovery, he commented.
Bay of Bengal movements
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), spoke about UNHCR’s concerns about growing abuse as more people sailed from the Bay of Bengal. Two years after inter-communal violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, thousands of people were still leaving by boat from the Bay of Bengal. Reports of abuse and exploitation as people sought safety and stability elsewhere were meanwhile increasing, he said.
UNHCR estimated that more than 86,000 people had left on boats since June 2012. That included more than 16,000 people in the second half of 2012, 55,000 in 2013 and nearly 15,000 from January to April 2014. The majority were Rohingya, although anecdotally the proportion of Bangladeshis had grown this year, Mr. Edwards said.
While 730 people were reported to have died on the journey in the second half of 2012, that number fell to 615 for all of last year, possibly due to the use of larger, more stable cargo boats by smuggling networks. People who had made it to Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia had told UNHCR staff about overcrowded boats that sometimes lost their way or developed engine problems. Some ran out of food and water due to the long periods at sea. Some who died on the boats were said to have been thrown overboard.
Across the region, UNHCR continued to advocate for temporary stay arrangements for the Rohingya until the situation stabilized sufficiently in Rakhine state for them to return. Those arrangements involved acquiring the documented right to remain in the host country for the designated period, protection against arbitrary detention, respect for family unity, guarantees of shelter as well as access to services and lawful work opportunities.
Turning to the situation in Thailand, Mr. Edwards said that some of those who had reached Thailand spoke of being taken to smugglers’ camps in the jungles or hills near the Thailand-Malaysia border. There they were kept for months in overcrowded camps and sometimes even cages until their families could pay for their release. While in captivity they were given rice with dried fish once, sometimes twice a day. They recounted daily beatings and that some people died. No one was allowed to move except for limited toilet breaks. They spent their days sitting in confined spaces and nights sleeping upright or in foetal position due to the lack of space.
The Thai authorities had conducted several raids on these smugglers’ camps, rescuing hundreds of people, including some 500 Rohingya earlier this year. UNHCR was providing relief and advocating for a more clearly defined temporary protection regime during their stay in Thailand that would include, for example, access to education for the children and enhanced freedom of movement. Most immediately, to facilitate recovery and improve conditions of stay from the current immigration detention centres, UNHCR had offered to support rehabilitation centres where families could stay together and basic community activities could be organized.
In the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia, there had been increased reports of smuggling and trafficking from Thailand of people from Myanmar, including those who were of concern to UNHCR. Reliable reports indicated those groups frequently faced abuse, ill-treatment, exploitation and extortion by smuggling gangs. They raised very significant protection issues for refugees and others of concern to UNHCR.
An increasing number were in poor physical and emotional health – malnourished and unable to walk. Since November, UNHCR staff in Kuala Lumpur had received more than 120 Rohingya identified with Beriberi due to Vitamin B1 deficiency. UNHCR gave them vitamin supplements, and housed the most serious cases at a shelter where they received food, medical care and physiotherapy to help them recover.
UNHCR was advocating for the prompt release from detention of any detained Rohingya and others of concern. It also believed that improved access to health and other support services, including lawful employment opportunities, would allow refugees to be self-reliant and more resilient in the community. In total UNHCR had registered more than 35,000 Rohingya in Malaysia over the years.
In Indonesia, the Rohingya now numbered more than 1,200 people. Registration numbers peaked during the second half of 2013 with 474 new arrivals after several boats arrived from Thailand; others also crossed over from Malaysia. This year the trend of arrivals had dropped significantly to only 56 people up to May. In addition, from January to May 2014, 99 Rohingya, including a small number of secondary movers from Malaysia, were reported to have returned to Malaysia.
In Bangladesh, which had hosted Rohingya refugees for more than two decades, there had been several positive developments in the last year. Education had been extended to middle school level in the two official camps hosting more than 30,000 Rohingya refugees. UNHCR had also enhanced efforts to address gender-based violence in the camps. UNHCR welcomed the Bangladeshi government’s initiative to “list” an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 unregistered Rohingya in Bangladesh. It hoped the exercise would be carried out in accordance with international standards.
In Rakhine state, some 140,000 people remained displaced – the majority of them Rohingya, with smaller numbers of Rakhine, Kaman and other ethnicities. Aid workers had resumed humanitarian assistance following attacks on United Nations and non-governmental organization premises in Sittwe in late March. While UNHCR remained committed to providing temporary shelters, coordinating camp management and addressing a difficult protection situation, it was wary of activities that could entrench segregation and protracted displacement. The challenge was to move from an emergency phase towards durable solutions, Mr. Edwards concluded.
Answering a question from a journalist about the alleged role of the Thai navy in the smugglers supply chain, Mr. Edwards replied that UNHCR was aware of the reports and glad that Thailand was taking action against camps in the south, that a number of people had been released, and it hoped to see a continuance of that.
Responding to a question about any initiative by Bangladesh to repatriate Rohingyas to Myanmar, Mr. Edwards said although the border remained officially closed it appeared that some people were still managing to get across. The important listing exercise that Bangladesh was now carrying out did bode well for the larger Rohingy population, however.
Answering another question, Mr Edwards said that HCR is still active in the Rakhine state, where it is working mainly on shelters, together with the UN country team.
Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean
Chris Lom, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing had today called for urgent international action and intensified cooperation following the arrival of over 5,470 migrants by boat in Sicily over the weekend. Over 50,000 migrants and asylum seekers had now reached Italy from North Africa since the beginning of the year. The most recent rescues included 200 migrants picked up in international waters off Malta by a United States naval vessel and another 107 picked up by a Maltese merchant ship. During the rescue operations, two migrants reportedly died and three went missing.
While Operation Mare Nostrum – carried out since last October by the Italian Government – had saved thousands of lives, deaths at sea were continuing, Mr. Lom said. Last month, an unknown number of migrants died and 17 bodies were recovered after a shipwreck on 13 May.
The tragedy of migrants drowning at sea was unfortunately a global phenomenon, not just a Mediterranean emergency, Mr. Lom said, giving the example of over 60 migrants coming from Somalia and Eritrea who died a few days ago while trying to cross the Red Sea to Yemen. There was an urgent need to increase international cooperation to crack down on traffickers and smugglers, who exploited the desperation of vulnerable migrants, and who must be identified and prosecuted.
To that effect, the IOM Director General was calling for a high level debate on mixed migratory flows that could bring together countries of destination, of origin and transit and all concerned actors and partners along the Mediterranean routes to Europe. The solution included the enhancement of legal avenues for migrants seeking better prospects in Europe, the establishment of various mechanisms and measures in countries of transit, and more resource centres to provide assistance to migrants and asylum seekers in need of protection, with opportunities to receive legal counselling.
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief, Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service, mentioned a statement made yesterday by the Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General, in which he recalled the many times the Secretary-General had raised this issue at all levels, as had the High Commissioner for Human Rights, repeatedly saying it was not a national issue but an international issue, which required an international response.
A journalist asked what was being done about Eritrea, as it was the leading source of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. A report before this session of the Human Rights Council, as well as other reports, started that the reason for that was that forced labour and forced military conscription were widely used in Eritrea, leading to thousands of people fleeing. Was the United Nations taking this to the Eritrean Government? Was Eritrea a member of the International Labour Organization, and what did the latter say about forced labour there, another journalist asked.
Chris Lom, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), replied that although IOM did not have an office in Eritrea, he would find out from regional office in Addis Ababa what approaches had been made towards Eritrea.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), responded that people fleeing across the Mediterranean were not only Eritreans but also Syrians and Somalians, and the latest data indicated they were in roughly equal numbers. Mr. Edwards agreed that solutions to forced displacement had to include solutions to the conflict, but one had to distinguish what is possible from a humanitarian perspective and what is possible from a political perspective.
Ms. Vellucci also invited the journalists to address this question to the spokesperson for the International Labour Organization.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said the twenty-sixth session of the HRC was opened this morning with an update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on her Office’s activities and latest development in human rights. Mr. Gomez noted that it was Ms. Pillay’s last update to the HRC before her mandate ended later this year. A general debate had ensued, which was expected to continue into the early afternoon.
This afternoon the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank LaRue, would present his report which focused on women’s participation in society, and country reports on his missions to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Italy and Montenegro. The Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kai, would also present his annual report today, in which he would assess the threats to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association for groups most at risk, and a report on his mission to Rwanda. An interactive discussion with both Special Rapporteurs would follow.
Tomorrow, Wednesday 11 June, the first of five panel discussions scheduled for the session would take place. The subject would be ‘the safety of journalists’; it would be moderated by journalist Ghida Fakhry and Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, would make the opening statement. The panellists included the Deputy Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Gatechew Engida; Dunja Mijatovic, Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; Abeer Saady, Journalist and Vice-President of the Syndicate of Journalists of Egypt, and Frank Smyth, Journalist and Senior Advisor to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the Working Group on human rights and business, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty were scheduled to present reports, including on country missions, during the afternoon of Wednesday 11 June, Mr. Gomez said.
Mr. Gomez highlighted there were a record number of side events by non-governmental organizations this session, numbering 109. There were also many interesting State side events, including one at noon today on Syria, hosted by France, Turkey and Qatar in Room XXIII. Another side event on religious liberty and religious minorities would also take place at noon today in Room VIII. A full list was available on the HRC webpage.
Child and Forced Labour / International Labour Conference
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said activities were taking place in more than 45 countries to mark the World Day against Child Labour, including the launch of the ILO’s Red Card to Child Labour campaign on 12 June to coincide with the start of the 2014 World Cup. The International Labour Conference, currently in session at the Palais des Nations, was exceptionally commemorating the World Day Against Child Labour today, including by a meeting of the Steering Committee of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Room XVII at the Palais de Nations, which would focus in particular on the role of social protection in the fight against child labour. Mr. von Rohland said a press release would be issued on exploring the link between the need for social protection and how to tackle the global phenomenon of child labour, using concrete case studies such as actions taken in Brazil.
Mr. Rohland also said that the International Labour Conference was expected this week to adopt a protocol to the International Labour Organization Convention Number 29, on Forced Labour, which would deal with the prevention of trafficking in persons, and issues related to the protection and compensation of victims.
Juan Carlos Vasquez, for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) said that the annual meeting of the CITES Standing Committee was taking place in Geneva from 7 to 11 July 2014. A copy of the provisional agenda was available at the back of the room, which included a standing item on elephant poaching and ivory smuggling. A new report on the subject would be launched on Friday 13 June, with the latest figures and an assessment of source, transit and destination countries, as well as illegal markets, for illegal ivory. The Standing Committee agenda also included items on the increase in the illegal trade of tigers in Asia, as well as of cheetahs, rhinos, snakes and sharks. There would also be an important agenda item on the illegal trafficking of precious timber from Madagascar, such as rosewood. More details would follow at the next briefing.
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief, Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service, announced that the Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary since 10 a.m. today. The Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Michael Møller, would address the meeting.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child would hold a public meeting on Friday, 13 June to close its current session, when the Committee would publish concluding observations on the country reports reviewed during the session: India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Saint Lucia and the United Kingdom.
Ms. Vellucci announced that Ambassador Keith Harper, the new Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations Human Rights Council would hold a press stakeout today, Tuesday, 10 June at 12.15 p.m. in the stakeout area near Room XX.
A press conference would take place on Wednesday, 11 June at 12.15 p.m. at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on the ten year review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society with a view to developing proposals on a new vision beyond 2015, Ms. Vellucci announced.
Ms. Vellucci also announced details of a background press briefing on building works at the Palais des Nations and the Strategic Heritage Plan which was scheduled for Thursday, 12 June at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1. Clemens Adams, Director, Division of Administration at the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) and Francesco Savarese, Interim Leader of the Strategic Heritage Plan team would be speaking.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would convene a press conference on Thursday, 12 June at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 on UNCTAD's fiftieth anniversary, said Ms. Vellucci. UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi would brief on the question ‘what role the organization should take in a world of such inequality?’
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) said in the lead-up to World Blood Donor Day, on 14 June, the WHO was calling on countries to improve access to safe blood for mothers because every day more than 200 women died due to severe bleeding during and after childbirth. Ms. Chaib announced that a press conference would take place today, Tuesday 10 June 2014 at 11.30 a.m. in Press Room III during which WHO experts would discuss what countries were doing, and what was needed to do in order to ensure that safe blood supplies were available for transfusion in obstetric emergencies. Dr Neelam Dhingra, WHO Coordinator for Blood Transfusion Safety, and Dr Yetmgeta Abdella, Technical Officer, Blood Transfusion Safety, would be speaking.
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The representative of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1xD9TV9