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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
17 September 2013

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, International Labour Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, Human Rights Council, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, World Intellectual Property Organization, and International Trade Centre.

Syria

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the Human Rights Council had continued with the interactive dialogue on the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Twelve NGOs had taken floor, followed by the concluding remarks by the Chairman of the COI, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who had asked the Government of Syria to stop indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, to provide access to independent detention monitors, and cease attacks on medical services. He had also asked that the armed groups stop the recruitment and prevent the use of children from participating in hostilities. One of the clear messages was a request that the COI be allowed unimpeded access to Syria. Mutual trust would need to be built for future dialogue.

Melissa Fleming, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that so far in 2013, Bulgaria had received about 3,000 asylum application, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, some 2,000 of which were from Syria (since the beginning of the conflict). The country was strained while trying to cope with increased demand on its asylum system. August 2013 saw a sharp increase of 50 new arrivals per day, mostly Syrian families. The three existing accommodation centres operated by the Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees were overflowing, and conditions could be described as unsafe and dire. Up to 100 people were sharing a single bathroom, with no separate facilities for men, women and children. Several hundred children were missing out entirely on school.

A sluggish asylum procedure exacerbated the situation. People were typically staying in accommodation centres for a year while their refugee claims were being assessed, even though the law stated that applications should be decided within six months.

Asked how these asylum seekers from Syria were arriving to Bulgaria, Ms. Fleming said that they were mostly coming through Turkey, often crossing large swaths of land on foot. They were often misinformed about conditions which they would have in Bulgaria. Many among them were hoping to be reunited with their families who were elsewhere in Europe. UNHCR had offered to increase technical assistance to Bulgaria in the form of training and support at every stage of the asylum process from registration to decision-making on refugee claims.

Ms. Fleming reiterated UNHCR’s appeal for a more consistent approach in providing asylum and more burden sharing across Europe. Two thirds of all Syrian refugees in Europe were being hosted in Germany and Sweden. At the moment, Turkey had taken in ten times more refugees than whole Europe put together.

Answering the question on different statuses of Syrians in Turkey and the EU, and the usage of the terms “refugees” and “asylum seekers”, Ms. Fleming said that Turkey recognized these people as “guests”, which was also the case in many Arab countries. Once they arrived to the EU, their cases were considered for asylum on a one-to-one basis. A temporary protection regime for all Syrians arriving to the EU could potentially be used instead.

Answering a question on reports that the UN would cut down aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon as of 1 October, Ms. Byrs said that the WFP was continuing its food assistance, but the shortfall in funding was USD 127 million. Some USD 30 million were needed per week in order for the WFP to meet the needs in Lebanon. In Lebanon, WFP was mainly assisting refugees through vouchers. Since the beginning of 2013, WFP had increased by four times its food assistance to those in need in Lebanon. By the end of August 2013, WFP had injected estimated USD 68 million into local Lebanese economy through the voucher program.

On the same question, Ms. Fleming stated that there were some 720,000 refugees in Lebanon, while the funding for Lebanon was only 27 per cent covered. If UN had the means, many more needs could be addressed, but if the current trend continued, there would need to be prioritization. Those most vulnerable, those in greatest needs and those unable to support themselves in any way would need to be put first. There were some refugees who had absolutely nothing, no recourse to work and no relatives or support system in Lebanon. Ms. Fleming appealed once again for more generous funding to help support Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Asked what the daily rate of registering new refugees in Lebanon was, Ms. Fleming responded that the waiting time had decreased significantly, and was now about one month. Many Syrians in Lebanon, however, were not registered; some were working, some had ties and family connections, others, from upper middle classes, had come to Lebanon with certain savings, which were often coming to an end. Ms. Fleming explained that registration stations in Lebanon were dispersed all over the country, wherever there was a need.

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), informed that WFP had completed its first distribution of food vouchers to all Syrian refugees living in Zaatari camp, which was now home to more than 100,000 people, which was allowing refugees to buy the food of their choice from designated shops inside the camp.

In August 2013, WFP had distributed food vouchers to over 302,000 Syrian reufgees living in local Jordanian communities. In September, this number was set to increase to almost 350,000 refugees. In August, through vouchers alone, WFP had injected almost USD 11 million directly into the Jordanian economy, and the same influx was foreseen for September.

Ms. Byrs stressed that, at the time being, WFP had enough funding to last through September 2013, and would need to raise USD 73 million till the end of the year. Food assistance in the Zaatari camp alone was costing around USD 3.5 million per month.

Answering on whether UNEP was looking into the impact of the conflict in Syria on the environment. Ms. Valentiny said that UNEP undertook such country analyses only if requested so by the Government, which was not yet the case in Syria.


Democratic Republic of Congo

Answering the question on Sister Angelique Namaika, UNHCR’s 2013 Nansen Refugee Award laureate, Ms. Fleming said that all the information, including her biography and photos for press, were available on UNHCR’s website. On 30 September, a ceremony would be held in Geneva to honour Ms. Namaika, to which all members of the press would be invited.

On the question on whether enough attention was being paid to the atrocities being committed in the Kivu region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the UN Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Ladsous, had addressed this issue during a recent briefing to the press in New York, and the contents of the briefing would be shared with the interested journalists.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Mr. Gomez said that, earlier in the morning, Michael Kirby, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, had updated the Human Rights Council about the Commission’s activites, which looked into reports of systematic and grave violations of human rights in DPRK, with the view of ensuring the Government’s full accountability. Based on the testimonies acquired thus far, the Commission had identified numerous violations of human rights. A general debate at the HRC on country situations (item 4) was to follow.

Champion of the Earth Awards

Isabelle Valentiny, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), announced the recipients of the UN 2013 Champions of the Earth award, the most prestigious UN system’s award to leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose activities had had a significant and positive impact on the environment. The European recipients of the award for 2013 were Janez Potoènik, European Commissioner for Environment, and Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement. Mr. Potoènik, had received the award in Brussels the same morning, for promoting Green Economy, promoting sustainable consumption and production, most notably in the agricultural sector. Mr. Petrini, who had founded the Slow Food movement almost 30 years earlier, was selected for his work on reviving traditional, resource-efficient food production techniques.

Fourth Arab Conference to strengthen humanitarian partnership

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed about the fourth Annual Conference on Effective Partnership & Information Sharing for Better Humanitarian Action, which had opened earlier in the day in Kuwait City. The conference would bring together prominent actors from the government, humanitarian, and corporate sectors to tackle the challenges facing humanitarian organizations today. It was organized by the International Islamic Charitable Organization (IICO), Direct Aid and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, had attended the opening and said: “This year we are showcasing the important role of the corporate sector in humanitarian aid and I am pleased that we can do this from Kuwait, a valuable partner for us in the region. Businesses in the Gulf countries have a vital contribution to make in helping the most vulnerable people affected by crises."

Asked about the objectives of the meeting in Kuwait and whether it would also deal with Syria, Mr. Laerke said that this was the fourth conference of such kind, and its focus was broader than just Syria. It would deal with humanitarian partnerships in the Arab region, but also beyond it. Answering the question on whether the issue of immigrants in Arab States would be addressed, Mr. Laerke responded that this topic was likely to be mentioned, but it would not be on the agenda as such.

General Assembly

Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the 68th Annual Session of the General Assembly was starting in New York on 17 September. This would be the first General Assembly which is “paper smart”, meaning that all the information and updates on its work, as well as the press kit could be found on its website, but not in hard copies.

Geneva activities

Mr. Gomez announced that the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Michael Kirby, would brief the press in Room III at 1:30 p.m.

Between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m, in Room XXIV, the Permanent Mission of Ecuador would host a side event on the protection of whistleblowers in public interest, which would include participation of Julian Assange via video-link. There was no information whether the Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of the Press would attend.

The deadline for draft resolutions to be submitted to the Human Rights Council was on 19 September. They would be discussed and presented for adoption on 26 and 27 September.

Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Committee on the Rights of the Child opened its session the previous day by examining the report of Sao Tome and Principe. The Committee was then dealing with the report of Kuwait, which would be followed by the report of Moldova on Wednesday and of Tuvalu on Friday, 19 September. The delegation of Tuvalu would join the discussions via video-conference in Room XVI.

On 20 September, on the occasion of the International Day of Peace, the UN Office at Geneva would organize, for the first time, “Geneva Peace Talks”. The event would feature as speakers many individuals outside of the UN. The event would take place in Room XVII, with the start at 4:00 p.m. All interested could register at the Geneva Peace Talks website.

In advance of the opening of the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development convened by the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September in New York, Fadéla Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced a press conference with Dr Etienne Krug, Director, and Ms Alana Officer, Coordinator for Disability and Rehabilitation, both of the Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability at the World Health Organization. They would discuss the aims of the High-Level Meeting, its intended outcomes, and the importance of involving people with disabilities in future development agendas. The press conference would take place at 2:00 p.m. on 19 September in Press Room I.

Edward Harris, for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), informed that the 51st Assembly of WIPO Member States would be taking place between 23 September and 2 October. Meetings would be held at CICG. Full schedules and meeting documents could be found on WIPO website. Side events would include: a performance by the Georgian National Ballet, at 6:00 p.m. on 23 September in WIPO new building; an exhibition of objects by the Association of Italian industrial designers; on 26 September, the Permanent Mission of Belgium would be showcasing Belgian contributions to innovations in the fields of science, technology and culture, as well as Belgian brewing traditions.

A key side event would be the WIPO Forum 2013, designed to bring policy makers into engagement with global innovators, which would take place at 3:00 p.m. on 24 September at CICG. The Forum would feature four innovators working to improve some of the most basic elements of the human experience – food, shelter and health: Anthony Atala of Wake Forest School of Medicine; Diebedo Francis Kere of Kere Architercture; Henry Markram of the Blue Brain Project; and Gopalan Sunderraman of the Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing.

Catherine Sibut, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that the Trade and Development Board was meeting from 16 until 27 September. Eminent speakers would partake in discussions on presented economic analyses, including Professor Michel Aglietta, advisor to the French Government on public finance, and Esther Dweck from the Ministry of Planning, Budget and Management of Brazil.

Ms. Sibut announced a publication of the Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake-up before it is too late, which would be presented at the press conference at 11:00 a.m. on 18 September in Press Room I. The speakers would be Ulrich Hoffmann, from the UNCTAD Division on International Trade, and Prof. Urs Niggli, Director of the Research Institute on Organic Agriculture, (FiBL) Switzerland, and co-author of the Review.

Jarle Hetland, for the International Trade Centre (ITC), announced that the new Executive Director of the ITC, Arancha Gonzales, was inviting members of the press for a breakfast briefing at 09:00 a.m. on Thursday, 26 September at ITC headquarters. During the briefing, Ms. Gonzales would discuss ITC’s impact in facilitating the exports of small and medium-sized enterprises from developing countries and outline opportunities for ITC under the emerging Post-2015 Development Agenda. Journalists would have the opportunity to discuss the wider challenges facing the global trade system. Members of the press were asked to kindly register by 24 September.

Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), informed about the publication of the fourth report on child labour since 2002, which would be presented at a press conference at 10:00 a.m on 23 September in Room III. The report, entitled "Marking progress against child labour: Global estimates and trends 2000-2012", would provide the most recent and wide-ranging assessment currently available on the extent of child labour and international efforts to stop it. The statistics presented in the four reports published thus far were comparable.

Mr. Larke announced a high-level debate on the importance of water in humanitarian affairs, which would take place at the University of Geneva, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, 19 September. The event would be organized by the Swiss government and supported by OCHA. The Director-General of UNOG Mr. Tokayev would attend, and the Panel would include Ambassador Manuel Bessler of the Swiss Government’s Humanitarian Aid Department among others. The event would be part of the ongoing World Humanitarian Day activities across the world.

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The representatives of the United Nations Children’s Programme, International Organization for Migration and Inter-Parliamentary Union also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1gsARDu