REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
15 January 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the humanitarian situation in Mali, and in the Mopti region in particular, had deteriorated as a consequence of recent fighting. Further displacements of people had been reported by several sources, adding to the first wave of displacements that started in April 2012 as a result of the coup in March 2012 and the subsequent occupation of the north by the armed groups. The number of IDPs was estimated at 228,918 as of 14 January, he said.
Before the French military intervention the IDPs figure was about 200,000 and this suggested a change of 30,300 due to recent events, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The degradation of the sanitation, shelter, health and food security conditions which had been observed over the last nine months in the North was likely to be aggravated as the number of IDPs increased.
The renewed fighting in Central and Northern Mali came at the time when it was estimated that 4.2 million Malians were to need humanitarian help in 2013. These included some two million food insecure people and hundreds of thousands of malnourished children.
Chris Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) clarified that the body compiling the displacement data was the Commission Mouvement De Population (CMP) in which IOM played an active role. However, compiling the data was extremely difficult at the moment and a situation report was to be issued tomorrow when it was hoped the facts would be clearer.
Answering questions he said CMP was a government agency supported by the international community and IOM was assisting with data processing. Funding had recently been received to implement better tracking in Mali and efforts were underway to track the numbers of displaced and their needs.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said there were large numbers of displaced people in Mali and there was a high risk of children being separated from their families, which can make them much more vulnerable to many forms of abuse, including recruitment and sexual violence. Housing and the availability of food for the IDPs was critical, with many families in central and southern Mali already hosting a great number of the hundreds of thousands of people who fled fighting in the north last year. About half of the IDPs were children.
A major concern was of children being used in the fighting. Children were often used in the first wave of fighting, which significantly raised the risk of injury and death. In the event that armed groups retreated or fled, another major concern was that children associated with these groups become subject to reprisal attacks by communities.
There was very limited access north of Mopti, which served as a base for forwarding supplies by boat on to the northern regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, and it was critical that humanitarian agencies had access to populations in need.
UNICEF had dispatched three trucks containing supplies and medicine for up to 33,000 people to Mopti, she said. One interagency emergency kit containing medical supplies for up to 30,000 patients had been dispatched to Sévaré hospital and another was scheduled to go up next week.
Answering questions she said recruitment of children was a real concern and UNICEF had already raised the issue in July.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the programme was troubled by the situation in Mali, and was well prepared to respond to the needs of the displaced, mentioning particularly 40,000 people currently in Mopti.
Altogether the total number of beneficiaries reached in Mali in 2012 totalled 1.2 million, and in 2013, WFP aimed to reach more than 400,000 crisis-affected people in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. This figure included more than 130,000 internally displaced people and host families in the southern regions of Mali.
This operation was to cost 137.22 million and there was currently a shortfall of $129 million (94 per cent).
In the North, where access remained difficult due to security conditions, WFP was working with nine international NGO partners who had a presence in areas occupied by armed groups: CARE, Africare, Handicap International, Islamic Relief, Solidarités International, Action Contre la Faim, OXFAM, Norwegian Church Aid and ACTED. The 9 NGOs were continuing to work in the North.
Answering questions she said some staff had been temporarily moved further away from fighting around Mobti to ensure their safety. It was hoped that they could be sent back as soon as the security situation allowed.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said clashes over the weekend between the Malian Army, supported by France, and Al-Qaida linked Islamist groups in the Konna, Lere, and Gao areas of northern central Mali, had resulted in new population displacement - both within Mali, and into neighbouring countries.
In Niger, UNHCR teams were reporting that 450 refugees arrived on January 11th and 12th in the west of the country at Mangaize camp (north of Ouallam), Banibangou and Tillabery towns as well as in the Tillia area. Refugees were saying they had fled the on-going military intervention, the absence of subsistence opportunities and basic services, and the imposition of Sharia Law.
In Burkina Faso, 309 persons had arrived in camps in the north and northeast (including in Damba and Mentao camps), as well as in Bobo Dioulasso.
In Mauritania, 471 Malian refugees were reported to have arrived at the Fassala reception centre near the Malian border. They were to be transported further away from the border to the Mbera camp which was already hosting some 54,000 Malian refugees who were displaced in 2012. Ninety percent of the new arrivals were women and children, from the Lere area in Mali. UNHCR had updated its contingency planning in case of new major potential influxes to neighbouring countries and new displacements in Mali, and was ready to respond with assistance as needed.
Inside Mali, details on the displacement situation were less clear. According to UNHCR’s partner, the Commission on Populations Movements in Mali - and based on mixed reliability information sources, 648 people arrived in Bamako from the north between January 10 and 13, 360 arrived in Segou, and 226 arrived in Mopti from the Timbuktu region. To the north of Mopti at Konna around 5000 people (equivalent to half the Konna population) were reported to have fled the town across the River Niger, and were staying among the local community. In Mopti itself the situation was said to have calmed. Currently, access to new areas of displacement in the north remained impossible because of the security situation. A number of residents of Mopti and the nearby town of Sevare fled last week to Bamako via Segou.
In Bamako, which was itself host to some 50,000 IDPs, many IDPs were struggling to make ends meet. UNHCR staff recently spoke to displaced families who were struggling to pay their monthly rents. Many families were living in small rooms in bad conditions with no electricity or direct access to water. They generally lacked space to accommodate family members. The needs for money, food and shelter were huge. UNHCR was in the process of working with partners on income-generating activities to help the situation.
Meanwhile work was continuing to assist those refugees who were in camps in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania by providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene structures, healthcare and education. In Burkina Faso, UNHCR had relocated close to refugees close to the Mali border, to a safer camp. In Niger, there was continuing "level 2" registration of individual refugees to improve reliability of data and information on needs.
He continued saying UNHCR remained short of funds for the Mali crisis with only 63 per cent ($77.4 million) received of the $123 million sought for helping refugees and internally displaced people in 2012. For 2013, UNHCR anticipated needs at a further $195.6 million.
Answering questions he said aid was being delivered from the Mopti area and there was currently no access further north. On another point he said the situation was fluid, and in its early stages, and a larger number was expected over the next few days.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also drew correspondents’ attention to the fact that the Secretary-General had published a statement on Mali last night which was available for their use. He had indicated, in particular, that preparations were continuing for the deployment of a UN multidisciplinary team to the capital, Bamako, to carry forward support requested for both the political and security process.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) answered a question saying that the UN needed permission from the Government of the territory in which it was operating to carry out its activities and was operating in Syria with the authorization of the Government.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow was to take part in a Twitter chat on her visit to Lebanon to meet with Syrian refugee children today at 18:00 GMT.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that it was possible for people to make donations of winter clothes for Syrian refugees and details could be found on the UNHCR Facebook page.
Universal Periodic Reviews
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said the 15th session of the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group started a two-week session next week and a background press release had been issued. The next States to be reviewed during the upcoming session in order of review were France, Tonga, Romania, Mali, Botswana, Bahamas, Burundi, Luxembourg, Barbados, Montenegro, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Lichtenstein and Serbia. The reports were available online and procedures would be webcast, he explained.
This was the second cycle of reviews and States would spell out the steps taken to take up the recommendations in the first cycle. Meetings would be presided over by the new President, elected in December, Remigiusz Achilles Henczel of Poland.
Answering questions he said the question of Israel’s participation had come up in an organizational meeting held yesterday ahead of the session to select the troikas. Having noted that the Ambassador of Israel was not in the room at the time of the selection process, the President proposed that if Israel chose not to attend their review scheduled for the 29th January at 14:30 then the Council would decide on a course of action.
He added that some States then took the floor and supported this course of action, drawing attention that it was of utmost importance to preserve the credibility and universality of the UPR and pointing out that all 193 States (100%) had undergone the process.
He also said that the President had announced yesterday that the Israeli Ambassador had contacted him, in a phone call on 10 January. This was the first contact made by Israel with the Human Rights Council since last May and the purpose of the call was for Israel to request that its review be postponed. No reason was given. The President then informed his bureau, who in term expressed the hope that this phone conversation would materialise in a more formal written note, though this had not happened yet.
He also explained that there was language in Resolution 5/1, also known as the institution building package, specifically in operative paragraph 38, which said, “After exhausting all efforts to encourage a State to cooperate with the universal periodic review mechanism, the Council will address, as appropriate, cases of consistent non-cooperation with the mechanism”. Many States had pointed out that, as yet, it could not be said that there was no consistent non-cooperation. If the Israeli Government chose not to be represented on 29 January, then appropriate action would be taken, though what this action was, was not yet agreed.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a record 107,500 African refugees and migrants made the dangerous journey from the Horn of Africa to Yemen in 2012. This was the largest influx into Yemen since 2006 when UNHCR began compiling these statistics. The previous record high was in 2011 when more than 103,000 people arrived in Yemen by sea.
Eight of every ten arrivals last year were Ethiopian nationals (over 84,000 arrivals), while Somali refugees constituted the rest. Many migrants used Yemen as a transit stop en route to other Gulf States.
Despite economic and security difficulties, Yemen had continued to receive and host a record number of people fleeing the Horn of Africa in search of safety, protection and better economic conditions.
All Somali arrivals were automatically recognized as refugees by Yemeni authorities while UNHCR conducted refugee status determination for Ethiopians and other nationalities seeking asylum in Yemen. A very low percentage of Ethiopian arrivals decided to seek asylum in Yemen.
In Yemen, UNHCR teams and Yemeni partners were completing daily patrols of the beaches to provide assistance to all new arrivals that passed through strategically positioned reception and transit centres. However, there are substantial difficulties in responding to the various protection risks that new arrivals faced upon arrival.
Boats crossing to Yemen were often packed beyond capacity and smugglers, in order to avoid the Yemeni coast guard, forced passengers into the water, often far from the shores and with tragic consequences. It was estimated that at least some 100 people drowned or went missing in various incidents and shipwrecks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in 2012.
He added that UNHCR welcomed the news from the Yemeni authorities that they were to host a regional conference in cooperation with UNHCR as part of a wider effort to manage the flow of migrants.
Chris Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said eight Cambodian fishermen, trafficked to work on fishing boats in Indonesia, were on their way home thanks to a joint operation involving IOM, the Indonesian authorities and Cambodia.
According to a 2011 IOM report Trafficking of Fishermen in Thailand, working conditions on Thai fishing boats were often extremely bad. Crews were often hired through irregular channels and then expected to work up to 20 hours a day and subject to extremely bad conditions involving physical violence and withholding of pay.
He also gave details of a reintegration project to help former migrant workers returning to Niger from Libya and the communities hosting them. Large numbers of Nigeriens had travelled to Libya under the old regime and had returned home with close to nothing, he explained, while their families already struggled without the remittances they had been sending.
The project, which had received funding from the European Union, was to help create income generating activities and offer training such as setting up and managing a small enterprise.
Finally he added that IOM’s relief efforts in typhoon-lashed Mindanao following the impact of Typhoon Bopha had gathered pace with the start of a large-scale distribution of 5,600 family emergency shelter kits and essential non-food items to remote and hard-to-access areas.
Nansen Refugee Award
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the nomination period for the Nansen Refugee Award was open until 25 January and journalists were eligible to put forward suitable candidates.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Rights of the Child had opened its session yesterday and today began the examination of country reports with the delegation of Guyana. It was to tomorrow (16 January) examine reports of the United States on two Optional Protocols concerning the sexual exploitation of children and children in armed conflict. Malta presented its report on Thursday and Guinea on Friday. The reports of Burkina Faso, Niue, the Philippines and Slovakia were to be presented next week.
The Conference on Disarmament began its work next Tuesday (22 January), with Hungary assuming the presidency for a period of 4 weeks. The Chair will then be filled this year, in turn, by India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq and Ireland. A background release will be distributed on Thursday.
She also announced a press conference by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) planned for tomorrow (Wednesday) at 14:30 in Press Room 1 for the presentation of the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2013 published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The report was embargoed until 17 January 2013 at 6:00 a.m. ECT Geneva Time. Speakers were Alfredo Calcagno, Head of the Macroeconomic and Development Policies Branch in the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies and Robert C. Shelburne, Senior Economic Officer.
Elizabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11.30 in Press Room 1 there was a briefing by their Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, on the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey upon her return from the Turkish border. An audio recording was to be made available for those that could not attend.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was a press conference this morning (Tuesday) at 11:30 in Room III on the upcoming WHO Executive Board meeting (21-29 January). Speakers included Dr Gaudenz Silberschmidt, Senior Advisor, Office of the WHO Director-General and Dr Andrew Cassels, Director, WHO Director-General's Office.
Later today, at 14:00 and also in Room III was a second WHO briefing on the launch of the Second Report on Neglected Tropical Diseases. This publication focused on sustaining the drive to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases and featured the latest information on a range of infectious diseases that together blight the lives of more than one billion people.
Speakers were Dr. Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director-General, WHO; Dr. Lorenzo Savioli, Director, Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, WHO; Mr. Kouadio Adjoumani, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Côte d’Ivoire to the United Nations in Geneva; Mr. Mario Ottiglio, Associate Director, Public Affairs & Global Health Policy, IFPMA and Ms. Kris Easter, Development Advisor/USAID Representative to the UN, United States Mission to the United Nations in Geneva.
Hans Von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced a press conference planned for Monday (21 January) in Room III at 10:00, covering the release of the annual Global Employment Trends Report. The report was under embargo until 00:00 Tuesday 22 January (midnight during the night from Monday to Tuesday). The ILO Director General, Mr. Guy Ryder would be a speaker and a press release was to be distributed.