REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
3 September 2013
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the United Nations Children’s Fund, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Human Rights Council, World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and International Organization for Migration.
Syria – Education
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF) said that UNICEF was supporting a major push to make sure that crisis-affected children in Syria could keep learning, whatever developments the coming days and weeks may bring.
Together with the Ministry of Education and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), UNICEF would this month launch a home-based self-learning programme that would enable over 400,000 children in conflict hot spots to continue following the national curriculum. That was extremely important because education had taken a severe beating in the past two and a half years of conflict, and many children were shouldering pressures and responsibilities no child should bear. Making sure that children could keep learning, even if only for a few hours a day, protected them and kept them on a path to as normal a life as possible.
Ms. Mercado said that some 1.9 million students in grades one to nine dropped out of school over the last academic year – 39 per cent of 4,860,000 registered students, according to the latest Ministry of Education data. Over 3,000 schools had been damaged or destroyed, and over 930 were now being used as shelters for the displaced. Idlib and Aleppo provinces were worst affected, with over 1,200 schools damaged or destroyed, and attendance down to 23 per cent in Aleppo, and 30 per cent in Idlib. Where schools were functioning, an influx of displaced children meant there weren’t enough classrooms, furniture, learning material and teachers.
Overall, UNICEF was working to assist hundreds of thousands of children in continuing to learn. Seventy out of a planned total of 300 prefabricated classrooms were already in governorates that had seen significant damage to education infrastructure. UNICEF had procured school bags with stationary supplies for up to a million children in all 14 governorates and distribution was underway. Thousands of teaching-learning kits, recreations supplies and early childhood education material were also being delivered.
An extra $20 million was urgently needed to print and distribute 8 million textbooks and rehabilitate school infrastructure. Funding remained a constraint, with just 27 per cent of the US$12 million sought for emergency education received so far this year.
Syria – Refugees
Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM had begun to provide medical screening and to conduct language and cultural orientation classes for a first group of 109 Syrian refugees who would travel to Germany from Lebanon in mid-September 2013 for temporary stay.
The 109 individuals were part of a group of 4,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees identified by UNHCR in Lebanon who would travel on IOM charter flights from Beirut to Hannover this and next year. For another 1,000 refugees, with family members already in Germany, the scheme would offer temporary resettlement.
The refugees would be admitted under the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees’ Humanitarian Admissions Programme. The programme was designed to facilitate the swift entry of vulnerable refugees from Lebanon to Germany to secure their immediate protection until such time as they were able to return home in safety and dignity or find other durable solutions.
IOM medical escorts would travel with the flight to help refugees with special needs. After arriving in Hannover, the refugees would travel to a reception centre in Friedland for six weeks, where they would participate in an extended cultural orientation programme before resettled in various parts of Germany. In Germany they would also receive comprehensive support including rental assistance and access to medical and social services.
IOM’s operation was in close cooperation with UNHCR and German and Lebanese Government counterparts.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR strongly condemned the attack on Camp Ashraf which took place on Sunday and reportedly led to the killing of at least 47 camp residents.
OHCHR called upon the Iraqi government to ensure that medical assistance was urgently provided for the wounded and to guarantee the protection of the residents who remained in Camp Ashraf as well as those who were currently in Camp Liberty.
While OHCHR was still seeking details of what occurred, it also called upon the Iraqi government to quickly launch a full investigation to establish the facts and disclose the circumstances surrounding the attack.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that aid agencies in South Sudan had now registered around 75,000 conflict-affected people - many of whom had also been displaced - from the flash-point Pibor County in South Sudan's Jonglei state. Aid agencies were providing them with food, water, sanitation and hygiene support.
Aid distributions had begun and agencies had reached about 55,000 people with a mix of food, water and household items such as jerry cans, soap, fishing equipment and blankets. However, aid distribution was challenged by extremely poor road conditions and insecurity.
The displacement of thousands of people and increased humanitarian need was triggered by a military offensive by government forces (SPLA) against a non-state armed group led by David Yau Yau earlier in the year. Insecurity was compounded in July by inter-communal violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities.
In order to scale up the humanitarian response, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated US$6 million in August to aid agencies to help them bring relief to affected communities in Pibor. That was in addition to the $5.5 million CERF allocated in June.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF) said that in Mali, UNICEF was scaling up efforts to assist half a million children whose lives were disrupted by conflict, flooding and the nutrition crisis, to get back to their books. Around 200 schools were closed, destroyed, looted and in some places contaminated with unexploded ordnance in the aftermath of a rebel takeover in the north in January 2012.
As schools in the north slowly reopened earlier this year, classrooms in Gao and Timbuktu were packed with students in many cases sitting on the floor because there was no furniture, while in Kidal, schools remain closed. In the south, already overcrowded classrooms saw an influx of about 75,000 displaced students.
UNICEF and partners had already delivered learning materials for over 90,000 students. During the coming school year, 9,000 teachers would receive training, and temporary learning spaces were being set up, while schools are refurbished or repaired. 15,000 new desks were on their way.
Funding remained a constraint, with just 27 per cent of the US$12 million sought for emergency education received so far this year.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that torrential rains in the Malian capital Bamako last Wednesday left a confirmed number of 34 deaths and about 1,539 families affected in two of the six communes of the city.
The Government of Mali through the General Directorate of Civil Protection requested IOM’s support to provide immediate assistance to the populations affected. IOM deployed five rapid assessment teams to register the families displaced due to the emergency and identify their immediate needs, and to identify the number of houses damaged or destroyed.
At least 60 per cent of the houses assessed by IOM were completely destroyed, 15 per cent partially damaged but habitable, and 25 per cent were inhabitable. According to the preliminary results of the assessments, 55 per cent of the affected families were still living on their land to take care of their remaining belongings, 10 per cent had moved to host families, and 35 per cent had relocated to provisional reception centres.
The percentage of internally displaced persons in host families may rise as these individuals had been more difficult to track in the aftermath of the emergency. Among the IDPs, the percentage of children was roughly 47 per cent.
The government, IOM and other humanitarian partners had started distributing essential non food relief items (NFIs).
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the food security situation in Zimbabwe was deteriorating and hunger was on the rise, with an estimated 2.2 million people - one in four of the rural population - expected to need food assistance during the pre-harvest period early next year. That figure was the highest since early 2009, when more than half the population required food support.
The current high levels of food insecurity were being attributed to various factors including adverse weather conditions, the unavailability and high cost of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers and projected high cereal prices due to the poor maize harvest. WFP monitoring in rural markets had found grain prices 15 per cent higher than this time last year.
To meet the increased needs, WFP and its partners were providing regionally-procured cereals as well as imported vegetable oil and pulses. Cash transfers would be used in selected areas to afford people flexibility and help support local markets. Distributions would be gradually scaled up from October until harvest time in March next year.
To help people withstand future droughts and other shocks, WFP had been implementing a Cash or Food for Assets programme in rural Zimbabwe since June. Under that programme, vulnerable communities received food or cash while taking part in projects such as the construction of community irrigation systems and deep wells.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) said the Human Rights Council would open its twenty-fourth regular session on Monday 9 September, in Room XX of the Palais des Nations. The three-week session would be opened at 10 a.m. by the President of the Council, Ambassador of Poland Remigiusz Henczel. The same day High Commissioner Navi Pillay would give a presentation on the activities of her office and key developments in the area of human rights since the last session in June. As usual, the High Commissioner’s statement would be shared with journalists in advance.
The session would feature presentations of reports from 19 human rights experts, special procedures, bodies and mechanisms, addressing a wide range of themes and country situations. Mr. Gomez highlighted an oral update by the Independent Commission of Inquiry into Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Monday 16 September on its activities, including recently completed public hearings in Seoul and Tokyo, and said a written statement would be shared with journalists ahead of the presentation.
The Independent Commission of Inquiry into Syria would also present its latest findings on Monday 16 September, its seventh presentation to the Human Rights Council since its mandate was established two years ago. Among the material to be presented was a written report that Mr. Gomez hoped to share online with journalists tomorrow. Mr. Gomez emphasized that the report covered the period from 15 May and 15 July 2013, therefore not the latest developments in Syria. However, an oral update on the latest developments from mid-July to the present day would be given alongside the presentation of the report. The Commissions of Inquiry into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and into Syria would both hold press conferences, with times to be confirmed.
Also on the agenda was a presentation by the High Commissioner on her recently concluded visit to Sri Lanka on Wednesday 25 September, as well as three panel discussions, adoption of Universal Periodic Review reports, and several thematic reports including one on the safety of journalists and another on reprisals against human rights defenders. Additionally, there would be over 100 side events.
Mr. Gomez presented a new online publication containing an annotated agenda for the Human Rights Council, which was very user-friendly and listed the themes and country reports to be addressed during the session. Mr. Gomez noted that Cedric Sapey, who had joined again the Human Rights Council, would also be working on media-related matters throughout the session. Both Mr. Gomez and Mr. Sapey would be available to give a background press conference at 12 p.m. on Friday 6 September in Press Room 1, straight after Friday’s briefing. A background press release in English and French had been circulated by email.
Migrants and Human Rights
Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced that IOM, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had published a new report titled International Migration, Health and Human Rights. The publication would feature at a high-profile meeting “Migration and Human Rights: Towards the 2013 High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development” that would take place on 4 September 2013 at the Palais des Nations.
The report examined the effects of the migration process on migrant health, as well as the protection offered to migrants through human rights instruments. It explored the multifaceted health and human rights challenges that migrants faced and reported on recent developments in that area. The aim of the publication was to provide inspiration to policymakers to devise migration policies and programmes that were guided by public health considerations and human rights imperatives, with a view to protecting the human rights and improving the health of both migrants and the communities in which they lived.
With that publication the three organizations, IOM, WHO and OHCHR, were promoting the principle that the realization of the rights of migrants was a sound public health practice that benefited all. Mr. Jumbe said that a press release was available at the back of the room, which included links to the publication.
Ms. Vellucci said the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities opened its tenth session on Monday 2 September at Palais Wilson. During the two-week session the Committee would examine the reports of Austria (this morning), Australia (Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning) and El Salvador (Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning).
The Conference on Disarmament held a plenary session this morning in which it continued to discuss its draft annual report to the General Assembly. The session would close on Friday 13 September 2013.
Ms. Vellucci also reminded journalists that the seventh edition of the Earth Dialogues were taking place today at the Palais des Nations in Room XX, in cooperation with Green Cross International (GCI), and a performance of the musical 2050: The Future We Want was to take place at 7 p.m. in the Assembly Hall. Members of the media were warmly invited to attend.
Furthermore, Ms. Vellucci announced that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would present its 2013 Report on UNCTAD's assistance to the Palestinian people at a press conference on today at 12 p.m. in Press Room 1. Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD Coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People, would be speaking. The report was embargoed until 5 p.m. GMT today.
The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor would hold a press conference for the Global Launch of the Cluster Munitions Monitor Report 2013 in Room III on Wednesday 4 September at 10 a.m. The report was embargoed until 4 September at 10 a.m. Geneva time. UNIDIR Director Theresa Hitchens, Mary Wareham, Advocacy Director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, and Mme Kathryn Millett, Mine Action Coordinator for Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, Norwegian People’s Aid would be speaking and answering questions at the event.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) would hold a joint press conference on Wednesday 4 September 2013 at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1 to launch two new UN publications on migration. The press conference would follow a high-level meeting on the promotion of the human rights of migrants (Room IX, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.). The OHCHR report explored the challenge of international cooperation in protecting the human rights of all migrants. The Global Migration Group report, which was led by the UNODC, looked at the risks faced by migrants, particularly those in an irregular situation. Craig Mokhiber, Chief, Development and Economic Social Issues Branch, OHCHR and John Sandage, Director, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC would speak at the event.
* * * *
In the room but not briefing was the spokesperson for the International Labour Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, World Health Organization and the United Nations and Arab League’s Joint Special Representative to Syria.
* * * *
For technical reasons, today’s press briefing was not webcast.