REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
18 March 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Spokespersons for the World Health Organization, United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration, World Food Programme, World Meteorological Organization and Human Rights Council.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), expressed WFP’s deep concern regarding the lack of financial support to WFP operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She explained that because of such circumstances, WFP had had to limit its activities in the DRC, and that there were USD 48 million missing to cover WFP needs until August. The situation was becoming more and more critical for the WFP, with new refugees arriving.
Ms. Byrs announced that WFP would from now on focus on providing help and assistance to people who needed it the most, those suffering from acute malnutrition, and particularly to refugees from CAR, currently staying in the DRC, who were around 63,000 refugees, half of whom were placed in camps and provided with WFP assistance.
WFP had been helping 1,5 million people in the DRC per month and hoped to reach the threshold of 2,2 million by the end of the year. Because of lack in financial contributions, however, WFP would have to close six of the fourteen WFP's offices in the DRC (Beni, Kindu, Buji, Maji, Dungu, Jemena, Ango) in March 2014, which represented a loss of 100 staff, as well as two logistics bases in Uganda and North Kivu.
Ms. Byrs informed that so far WFP operation running until December 2015 had been financed only at 26 per cent and that WFP would lack food for its distributions in April in the whole country, including Kivu and Katanga. In the coming six months, more than 15,000 tons of food would be missing, and USD 8 million were needed immediately for WFP to continue its assistance in providing cash and vouchers. Ms. Byrs added that WFP had had to limit rations already, an example being school meals which had only been distributed to the most fragile children in families suffering of most acute alimentary insecurity, displaced, or returning home.
Ms. Byrs summed up by saying that WFP's operations in DRC had been focusing on emergency situations, on refugees who needed WFP assistance the most, but that WFP's long term programmes had been stopped.
Dan McNorton, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that a joint survey by the UNHCR and the International Relief and Development non-governmental organization had found increasingly difficult conditions among the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan living outside camps. Fifty per cent of refugee dwellings were inadequate and hundreds of thousands struggled to pay their rent, according to the findings.
The survey showed the day-to-day survival struggle of some 450,000 registered Syrian refugees as they faced rising rents, inadequate housing and educational challenges for their children.
The study had been based on 92,000 interviews with families conducted during home visits between June 2012 and October 2013. It showed the difficulties that refugees faced outside camps, despite the support that Jordan offered to them, including free access to the public health care and education systems.
Mr. McNorton stated that almost four in every five Syrian refugees in Jordan lived outside formal camps. As their resources were drying out, many were turning to negative coping mechanisms to make ends meet, sometimes placing themselves at risk of exploitation.
More than 90 per cent of the population surveyed lived in rented accommodation. Rents for Syrians had risen in 2012 and 2013 by as much as 25 per cent in some locations. Rent was 135 Jordan Dinars or about USD 190 on average and accounted for almost two thirds of refugees expenditure. Half of Syria’s refugees felt that they lived in inadequate dwellings, including badly ventilated apartments that suffered from damp or mold.
Mr. McNorton added that the study had noted that 61 per cent of Syrian children covered did not go to school during the 2012-2013 academic year. Among those at school, five per cent reported having dropped out. UNHCR with its partners was continuing to look into reasons, which certainly included challenges adjusting to the Jordanian curriculum, inability to catch up, having to work to earn money for their families, and, not least, the overstretched capacity of the Jordanian public education system.
The report also suggested that Syrian refugees were becoming increasingly self-reliant. Access to legal employment in Jordan was a challenge for refugees, but the proportion of those who had reported receiving an income from work had risen from 28 per cent to 36 per cent between 2012 and 2013. The proportion of refugees who had reported receiving an income from humanitarian assistance and charities had decreased from 63 per cent to 49 per cent.
Mr. McNorton said that UNHCR and the International Relief and Development continued to interview some 10,000 refugee households every month in an effort to maintain an understanding of new or worsening vulnerabilities among refugee families. UNHCR was also undertaking separate assessments of the refugee population living in camps.
Mr. McNorton specified that at the moment there were 584,600 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Asked to explains what negative coping mechanisms meant, Mr. McNorton said that they included, inter alia, refugees using and selling all of their assets to survive and children dropping out of school and having to work. There were also examples of forced child marriages.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization on Migration (IOM), informed that after days on the road, a second IOM convoy of some 661 distressed migrants – 604 Chadians and 57 Sudanese – had arrived in Moundou in southern Chad the previous day. An earlier IOM overland convoy from Cameroon to Chad had brought 862 migrants the previous week.
IOM continued to assist thousands of migrants fleeing the ongoing violence in CAR stranded in Cameroon. That included 10,000 Chadians and other Third Country Nationals who had fled CAR for Cameroon and were seeking IOM assistance in order to continue their journey back home.
The stranded migrants in Cameroon had reported fleeing violence in Bangui, Carnot and Berberatti in CAR, where Muslims were currently being targeted in acts of brutal violence. Some had reported losing family members amidst the chaos and with homes and businesses destroyed. People were arriving in Chad with almost nothing to support themselves having spent two months in Cameroon sleeping in the open with little to no assistance.
Ms. Berthiaume stated that among the stranded migrants, there were also many cases of malnourished children with over 20 children having been reported to have died as a result of hunger. The IOM medical staff stationed in Moundou had additionally reported that there were numerous cases of physical disability due to stroke and communicable diseases such as malaria and respiratory infections. Moreover, the very serious traumatic events endured by many of the new arrivals highlighted the dire need for psychological support.
In order to ensure travel in a safe and dignified manner, IOM was providing pre-departure medical and fit to travel checks as well as water and food for the journey. IOM had made all the necessary preparations from additional shelter to the procurement of generators in order to receive the increasing number of arrivals in Moundou and facilitate their efficient transportation to their final destination in Chad. So far, IOM had transported to their final destinations in Chad 3,675 out of the 5,276 migrants that had been registered in Moundou since December 2013.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the health needs were very significant in the Central African Republic, since it was one of the countries in the world with the worst health indicators. WHO estimated that some 50 per cent of the country’s health facilities had been looted, including equipment and medical supplies. Health workers were also displaced and could not go to their places of work. Displaced people were facing numerous health risks, such as malaria, water-borne illnesses and respiratory infections. The rainy season was coming, which would bring additional health risks. Malaria, which was a main health risk in Central African Republic, had decreased over the previous several weeks, but could be expected to increase again. WHO and partners were distributing bed nets and ensuring that rapidly diagnostic tests were available and patients treated in a timely and effective manner.
For the first time, WHO had also mapped all the facilities in the country, which would be essential for planning purposes and prioritizing interventions. Mr. Jasarevic informed that only 11 per cent of the health financial appeal had been covered, which was not enough, especially if interventions were to be scaled up outside of the capital. Efforts were underway to preposition medicines in key locations.
Asked whether there had been any signs of people wanting to leave Crimea, Mr. McNorton responded that UNHCR remained concerned with the current situation in Ukraine and was continuously monitoring developments there. The High Commissioner had stated that the Refugee Agency stood prepared for any movement of the population that might occur. So far, such movements had not happened in any significant way.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the Council was currently in session, engaged in an interactive dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Speaking on the behalf of Syria, as a concerned country, was Ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui.
Following the dialogue with the commissioners, the Council would look into country situations, which might take up the rest of the day. Time permitting, the Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsak, would present her annual report and report on her mission to Cameroon.
Discussions on minority issues and on human rights of persons with disabilities would take place the following day (19 March), followed by the consideration of the reports under the Universal Periodic Review. Saudi Arabia, Senegal and China would be considered from 3 p.m. on 19 March.
Mr. Gomez announced that the deadline for the submission of draft resolutions was 20 March, and more than 40 resolutions were expected this time.
The Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic would hold a press conference in Press Room III at 1:30 p.m. today, when it would present its latest report, made public on 5 March, which covered the period from mid-July 2013 to mid-January.
The Commission of Inquiry would also provide an oral update to the Human Rights Council covering the latest developments on the human rights situation in Syria. Speakers would include Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson, and Karen Abuzayd, Carla del Ponte and Vitit Muntarbhorn, Members of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Human Rights Committee was considering the report of Chad, after which it would examine the report of Nepal.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances which had started its session the previous day, would conclude its examination of the report of Germany this morning and would then consider the report of the Netherlands. Those were the only two countries to be examined in the current session.
The Conference on Disarmament was holding a public session at the moment. The list of speakers had been distributed to the media.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that Sunday, 23 March was the World Meteorological Day. The theme of this year was Weather and climate: engaging youth. That theme had been chosen partly because youth would obviously be champions of action on climate and today’s young generation would be alive in the second part of this century, which was why they were expected to see an increasing impact of the climate change.
Ms. Nullis stated that WMO had organized a number of activities leading up to the day and around the day. The actual celebration would took place the day after, on Monday, 24 March from 2:30 p.m. A press release would be sent out with a list of links to all WMO projects.
In Press Room III on 24 March at 11 a.m, WMO would hold a press conference with Secretary-General Michel Jarraud, as the annual report on the state of the climate would then be released. The report looked back in the considerable detail to the climate in 2013. An embargoed press release on the state of climate report would be sent out on 21 March.
WMO was also working on a detailed and extensive compilation of the extreme weather events so far this year, which would not be in official press release but would serve as the guidance for the media.
Mr. Jasarevic announced two upcoming press conferences. Marking the World Tuberculosis Day, known as TB Day, on 24 March, a press conference would take place at 11 a.m. in Press Room III. The main topic would be expansion of TB Projects and achievements made so far in identifying people living with MDR (Multi Drug Resistance). The 2014 theme for the project, financed by Unitate, is "Reach the 3 million" - the number of those living with MDR. Out of 9 million people a year who get sick with TB, a third of them were "missed" by health systems. The project was conducted by the WHO in cooperation with Stop TB Partnership, and Unitate. More information would be given the day on the press briefing at the same time with the press release.
A press conference to launch new global and regional data on air pollution and health would take place in Press Room III on 24 March at 2 p.m. Datasheets would be prepared in hard copies and available electronically.
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The representatives of the International Labour Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also attended the briefing, but did not brief.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1p7kOiL