REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
11 March 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Spokespersons for World Health Organization, United Nations Refugee Agency, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Organization for Migration, Inter-Parliamentary Union, UN-Water and the Human Rights Council.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Chris Lom, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), informed that IOM had started to repatriate the first of thousands of Chadians who had fled to Cameroon in January to escape fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The previous day, IOM had completed the registration of the first 1,000 Chadians scheduled to return home with IOM road convoys. The group, who had been stranded in Garoua Boulai, east Cameroon, with no shelter and little or no assistance for over two and a half months, were among some 7,000 Chadian and other migrants who had fled the CAR and were currently stranded in Cameroon.
At the request of the Chadian authorities, each convoy arriving at the Moundou transit site would be limited to 300 people to allow time for processing and onward transport provided by IOM. The convoys would be organized at three-day intervals.
Mr. Lom stated that IOM, with the Chadian authorities, had constructed tarpaulin shelters and would help local authorities manage the site. When the returnees arrived, it would also register and profile them to identify their immediate and longer terms needs.
The fighting in the CAR had forced thousands of Chadians, CAR nationals and other migrants to flee the CAR to neighbouring countries. As of 8 March, IOM had registered an influx of over 82,000 Chadian returnees, CAR nationals and third country nationals into Chad.
Mr. Lom specified that, while some of the evacuees had continued their journey to final destinations in Chad, over 56,000 were still living in the transit sites, many in difficult conditions in the south of the country and in N’Djamena.
IOM had appealed for USD 19 million for helping those people, and had thus far received USD 350,000.
Mr. Lom highlighted the impact of the upcoming rainy season on the displaced persons in South Sudan.
The situation in South Sudan remained fluid and unstable, with continued fighting and displacement throughout the country. The UN estimated that some 706,000 people had been displaced by violence in South Sudan since the outbreak of the crisis in December. Of those, over 77,000 people had sought protection on UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) bases.
The approach of the rainy season was a major humanitarian concern. On 7 March, the first major rainfall of the season had caused flooding and the collapse of shelters at displacement sites in Juba. IOM and partners were working to develop contingency planning to mitigate the risks of flooding and associated health and safety concerns.
The shelter and non-food relief item humanitarian cluster, which was co-led by IOM, was currently testing a shelter prototype for the rainy season using sandbags, floor elevation and additional framing materials to fortify existing shelters.
Mr. Lom added that the IOM and its partners were also working to decongest displacement sites by identifying space for expansion, and were prepositioning relief supplies in anticipation of logistical constraints caused by flooded roads.
Insecurity also continued to be key challenge for humanitarian actors. Recent fighting in the flashpoint town of Malakal, capital of South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, had forced the halt of humanitarian operations for several days and created serious obstacles to delivering aid.
IOM had maintained a presence on the UNMISS Malakal base, delivering water, sanitation and hygiene assistance as well as primary health care. An average of 230,000 litres of potable water per day was being distributed to the approximately 21,000 people sheltering on the base. That was enough to meet basic survival needs, but was below the ideal humanitarian standard. The number of persons per latrine, which currently stood at roughly 100 to 1, was well below the emergency standard of 50 to 1, but decommissioning and constructing new latrines was a challenge, due to lack of space at the site.
Decongestion of the Malakal site was essential in the push towards meeting emergency standards. The space available to the displaced population currently stood at only 4 square meters per person, and a plan had been developed to expand the site onto adjacent land, which was available, but in need of significant construction work in order to be suitable for settlement. IOM was working to secure urgent funding to maintain its WASH capacity, including the provision of earth moving equipment to expand the Malakal site and create space for the safe and organized delivery of water, adequate sanitation facilities and health services.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the WHO would start issuing new templates of factsheets on crises areas. The factsheets on CAR and South Sudan were available today, whereas more could be expected in the coming days. The idea was to have such factsheets updated regularly; they also contained background information and major health indicators. WHO would be sending those updates electronically as well.
On South Sudan, Mr. Jasarevic provided an update on cholera vaccination. He said that the previous day, cholera vaccination had commenced in the third place - UN House in Juba, when more than 3,300 people had been vaccinated. The first round of cholera vaccination had been completed a week earlier, with more than 65,000 people vaccinated. Mr. Jasarevic explained that cholera vaccinations required two rounds, so all of those people would be revaccinated shortly.
Asked whether there had been an actual outbreak of cholera, Mr. Jasarevic responded that the operation in question was of preventive nature, and it was using an existing stockpile managed by WHO, UNICEF, Medecins sans Frontiers and partners. Internally displaced persons in UN camps were considered to be at high risk. Fortunately, they were easy to access and easy to re-vaccinate two weeks later.
Asked whether the situation on the ground in South Sudan allowed for UN humanitarian organizations to act, Ms. Momal-Vanian responded that the political and security situation in some parts certainly prevented or restricted access, but that talks, supported by the UN, were currently taking place to find a political solution. Answering a question on the present relations between South and North Sudan, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that although it was not up to the UN to qualify relations between the two countries. As for the situation in Sudan, the UN was deeply concerned its worsening and attacks against civilians in Darfur.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that UNHCR welcomed a decision by the Jordanian Government to open the country’s third refugee camp, Azraq, on 30 April. Azraq was located nearly 100 kilometres east of Amman in Zarqa governorate. The camp would initially house relatively small numbers of refugees but would eventually be able to accommodate up to 130,000 people.
The opening would be timely as the past weeks had seen the numbers of people crossing the border increasing by 50 per cent to an average of approximately 600 daily. That increase, combined with a lower number of spontaneous returns to Syria, was putting strains on Za’atari, the main camp hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan. Za’atari was currently hosting some 100,000 residents, close to its capacity.
Mr. Edwards said that the preparations were underway at the Azraq camp to accommodate newly arrived refugees and provide them with necessary assistance, services and protection support. The 22 partners, including governmental counterparts and humanitarian agencies, were mobilizing human resources and were activating their preparedness plans to be operational by the set date.
To date, over 2,500 shelters had been completed and could accommodate the first 13,000 refugees; 103 km of roads had been built and services areas covering more than 447,000 sq. meters had been constructed. Some 2,000 sanitation facilities, covering the needs of 30,000 refugees, had been completed as well as the water distribution system. Two schools, as well as playgrounds, child and adolescent friendly spaces were available. For the moment, one health post had been completed and a secondary-level 130-bed hospital was ready. The camp would have a reception capacity of up to 2,000 refugees per day.
Once opened, the camp, which was located in eastern part of Jordan and 90 kilometres away from the Syrian border, would receive new arrivals from Syria and refugees already in the country willing to be reunited with newly arrived families.
Hussein Al-Majali, Jordanian Minister of the Interior, had visited the camp the previous with the UNHCR’s Representative Andrew Harper.
Mr. Edwards specified that, to date, there were some 584,600 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in Jordan. 80 per cent of refugees lived in urban areas throughout the country and the remaining 20 per cent lived in one of the four existing refugee camps and settlements located in the northern part of Jordan.
On what UNHCR was doing to protect children in the camps, Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR was helping refugees on a continuous basis, including through initial registration. He noted that urban population was more dispersed, with the higher number of children being out of school. UNHCR was also providing cash assistance and encouraging families to send their children to school.
Asked if the number of Syrians fleeing to Jordan was increasing, Mr. Edwards said that some 600 people were crossing from Syria into Jordan on a daily basis. The conflict was entering its fourth year, and there could be up to four million refugees in the region by the end of 2014.
Migrants in the Gulf of Aden
Mr. Edwards stated that UNHCR was deeply saddened by a new boat accident in the Gulf of Aden the previous weekend involving refugees and migrants. The boat had been reportedly carrying 77 men, women and children from Somalia and Ethiopia. 33 people had been rescued, but the remaining 44 were still missing and feared drowned.
The boat was reported to have departed from Bossasso, in Puntland on the north coast of Somalia, in the early evening on 7 March. It had run into strong winds and high waves off the coast of the southern Yemeni governorate of Shabwa. According to one of the survivors, the boat had quickly filled with water and capsized.
On the morning of 9 March, a marine patrol by UNHCR partner organization Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) had found a number of survivors. 32 people had been picked up by early afternoon, and one more later in the day. Other passengers remained missing.
With one exception, all the survivors were male. They had been brought ashore at Majdaha by SHS staff and given first aid, food, water and clothing before being taken to a transit centre. The tragedy was the most significant involving refugees and migrants crossing the sea to Yemen in the past year. The number of people making the perilous journey had been declining. From 107,532 arrivals in 2012 the number had fallen to 65,319 in 2013, and only 2,717 were recorded in the first two months of 2014. Nonetheless, the crossings continued and lives were still being lost, which called for all stakeholders – governments, international and regional organizations, the donor community and civil society – to develop comprehensive responses to reduce and ultimately prevent these hazardous journeys.
Mr. Edwards stated that, over the previous five years, more than half a million people (mainly Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans) had crossed the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to reach Yemen. Reports abounded of mistreatment, abuse, rape and torture by unscrupulous smuggling and trafficking rings. Boats crossing to Yemen were overcrowded, and smugglers had reportedly thrown passengers overboard to prevent capsizing or avoid detection. Search-and-rescue officials said that the practice had resulted in hundreds of undocumented casualties in recent years.
UNHCR had urged countries in the region to implement measures to help identify refugees and other people with protection needs among those taking to the sea. UNHCR had also called on donor countries and civil society organizations to become more engaged in mixed-migration issues in the Horn of Africa, so as to improve humanitarian responses and help save lives.
UNHCR had worked to enhance services offered to new arrivals in close collaboration with the Mixed Migration Task Force and other partners – including the Government of Yemen, international and national non-governmental organisations and host communities at arrival points.
Asked whether more research could be done, especially in the Arab states, in order to establish the real nature and scope of the problem, Mr. Edwards said that it was a mixed migratory flow, with fewer refugees taking that route, and more for other reasons, such as Ethiopians heading to the Gulf region for economic reasons. UNHCR was extremely concerned, and the protection of people during their dangerous journeys had to be taken into consideration. The Sana’a Declaration on asylum and migration, signed in November, had provided a good starting ground.
Mr. Lom added that those were indeed mixed flows, with large numbers trying to reach the Gulf for economic reasons, to find jobs. What IOM had been doing, especially through an office at the Yemen-Saudi border, was to work with destitute migrants there, following the arrival of a a large number of returning Yemenis after a Saudi clampdown on illegal migration. Flights were organized to return people to Ethiopia, which was still a relatively small part of the solution to a much larger problem; it was a “band-aid” rather than a permanent solution. That was clearly a regional problem requiring regional solutions and funding, as people would continue to aspire for better lives in the Gulf.
Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR was increasingly alarmed at the humanitarian impact of the violence in north-eastern Nigeria. Newly-arriving refugees interviewed by UNHCR staff in Niger had spoken of atrocities on the islands and shores of Lake Chad in Nigeria’s northeast Borno State. One woman had described corpses strewn through houses and floating in the water, adding that people feared staying even to bury their dead or find missing relatives. Others had recounted fleeing a village shooting incident and said women and children were being kidnapped and taken away by unidentified assailants.
The latest attacks were reported to have begun in mid-February and had continued five days earlier. In all, some 2000 people had crossed into southeast Niger’s Diffa region over the past four weeks according to the International Rescue Committee. In addition to the attacks on Lake Chad, some of the newly arriving refugees had come from areas near Borno's state capital Maiduguri affected by fighting.
Mr. Edwards stressed that UNHCR reiterated to all parties to the conflict in north-eastern Nigeria the vital importance of protecting civilians from harm. The ongoing insurgency in the three north-eastern Nigerian states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno had already displaced more than 470,000 people inside Nigeria; refugees arriving in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger were in addition to that number.
Since Nigeria had declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states in May 2013, more than 57,000 people had fled into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Some 17,000 of those were registered Nigerian refugees. The rest were nationals of the surrounding countries who had been living in Nigeria for decades. Niger had received the majority – some 40,000 concentrated in the Diffa region, a desert in the country’s eastern edge.
UNHCR was grateful to the Government of Niger for its open door policies towards the forcibly displaced from Nigeria and to the local population sharing their meagre resources with an ever increasing number of refugees.
On what was meant by unidentified assailants, Mr. Edwards responded that UNHCR was not in a position to verify who exactly those people were. UNHCR was working with a number of partners, but financial needs were growing with the increasing number of displaced people. With the internally displaced people, the key problem was with getting access to north-east Nigeria, and the ability to reach them was limited at the moment.
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed that UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonoviæ was in Kharkiv today, meeting local authorities to discuss human rights-related measures that could be taken to help de-escalate tensions in the country. He was also raising with the authorities the allegations regarding human rights violations, and meeting with a range of pro-Russian as well as pro-Ukrainian civil society representatives.
Mr. Šimonoviæ was in Ukraine to stress the paramount importance of ensuring respect for international human rights laws and standards during difficult times. He was assessing the human rights situation in the region, calling for respect for human rights and discussing options for the UN and international partners to assist in strengthening capacity on the ground where necessary.
Ms. Shamdasani informed that Mr. Šimonoviæ had met the Acting Foreign Minister, the Ombudsperson, human rights defenders, the diplomatic community and the various UN agencies working in Kiev. He was due to hold further high-level meetings in Kiev on 14 March. The ASG was planning to travel to Crimea on 12 March and Lviv on 13 March, and would hold a press conference in Kiev at 12 noon on 14 March.
Asked on whether the OHCHR had offered to monitor the referendum in Crimea scheduled for 16 March, Ms. Shamdasani said that ASG was consulting with a number of local players on various proposals. On the legality and fairness of the scheduled referendum, Ms. Shamdasani said that many substantive questions would be answered at the press conference on 14 March.
Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR was deeply concerned about the situation in Darfur, and the High Commissioner had issued a press release warning that civilians in South Darfur had been bearing the brunt of recent attacks. According to witnesses, those groups had attacked some 45 villages in the Um Gunya area, approximately 50 km south of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state, since the end of February. While it was difficult to ascertain exact numbers and investigations were ongoing, the UNAMID Human Rights Section had so far counted 95 people who had been killed; the number might increase. An estimated 50,000 civilians had been displaced amid looting and arson and had sought refuge in two camps for internally displaced people near Nyala. The camps already had had close to 200,000 IDPs before the attacks.
The High Commissioner had urged the authorities to protect civilians and hold to account those who had committed grave breaches of human rights and humanitarian laws.
Jemini Pandya, for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), informed that the IPU was deeply concerned by the rushed process of the appeal hearing involving Malaysian opposition MP and leader Anwar Ibrahim that had ended with a five-year jail sentence on sodomy charged. The sentence would now prevent him from standing in a key by-election on 23 March, which could have led him to becoming Chief Minister of Malaysia’s richest state.
Anwar would remain free on bail while he was appealing against the guilty verdict. That was the second time he had been given a jail sentence on sodomy charges, and had already spent six years in prison until his release in 2004. A high court had cleared him of the charges in 2012 citing lack of evidence, but the Government had appealed the acquittal.
Ms. Pandya added that the IPU was observing the two-day appeal hearing in Kuala Lumpur.
IPU was equally concerned about Karpal Singh’s situation, who was also an MP and Mr. Anwar’s layer. He was due to be sentenced following a conviction earlier in the month for making seditious comments against a Malaysian sultan in 2009. Mr. Karpal faced losing his parliamentary mandate if he was to be fined more than USD 615 or sentenced to a jail term exceeding one year. The fine imposed on Karpal Singh would mean that if he lost the appeals, he would lose his parliamentary mandate. That, in turn, would mean that both of Malaysia’s opposition leaders would be barred from political participation.
Asked for more information on the upcoming Assembly, Ms. Pandya specified that between 16 and 20 March, the 130th IPU Assembly would take place, and the media were free to come to most meetings, except for a few in camera sessions. The Assembly would start with a session on women parliamentarians, which was the only venue where women MPs from all over the world could gather and discuss issues pertinent to them. The focus would be on setting priorities in the coming ten years. At the last count, there were 138 parliaments attending, including a high number of speakers.
On whether the situation in Ukraine would be prominent in discussions, and on Ukraine’s representation at the Assembly, Ms. Pandya said that no emergency item on Ukraine had been on the agenda for now, but that could be added at the last minute. The issue would also probably come up in the Executive Committee session. She added that a very small delegation was expected from Ukraine, while the Russian delegation was sizeable.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the morning saw the continuation of the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, and the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik. Later on, the Independent Expert on environment, John Knox, would present his annual report and the report on his mission to Costa Rica. The presentation of the annual report and the reports on missions to Argentina, Greece and Japan by the Independent Expert on foreign debt, Cephas Lumina, would also take place in the morning session.
Presentation of reports by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, Heinder Bielefeldt, including the annual report and reports on his missions to Jordan and Sierra Leone, would take place around 1:30 p.m. That would then be followed by the presentation of reports by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, including his thematic report on the use of drones and his missions to Burkina Faso and Chile.
From 3 p.m. onwards a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of civil society space would take place, which would analyse the factors reducing civil society space, and further promote a constructive inter-active partnership between States and civil society.
A side-event on children with albinism would also take place today, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Room XXV, hosted by OHCHR with the Canadian and Somali missions.
Mr. Gomez informed that two press conferences would take place today: one by the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, at 11:30 in Press Room III, and the other by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1 ([the latter was subsequently cancelled].
The following day, 12 March, the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion would hold a press conference at 11 a.m. in Press Room I, while the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism would address the media at 2:30 p.m, also in Press Room I.
Mr. Gomez clarified that the Council was running about two hours behind the schedule. Discussions on children rights, sale of children, violence against children and children in armed conflict were slightly delayed, but would nonetheless take place tomorrow.
World Water Day
Daniela Bostrom-Couffe, for UN-Water, stated that the World Water Day was celebrated annually on 22 March all over the world and it was coordinated by UN-Water through one or several of its members. In 2014, the coordinators were the United Nations University and United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
Ms. Bostrom-Couffe informed that UN-Water was the United Nations interagency coordination mechanism for all freshwater related issues, including sanitation. Water was at the core of United Nations work in supporting peace and security, economic and social development, human rights and well-being.
Today, 768 million people around the world lacked access to improved water sources and 2.5 billion people lacked access to improved sanitation. An estimated 1.3 billion people lacked access to electricity. The UN predicted that by 2030, the global population would need 35 per cent more food, 40 per cent more water and 50 per cent more energy. The theme of the World Water Day 2014 was thus water and energy.
UN-Water believed that such a situation was unacceptable, especially since it was often the same people who lacked access to improved water and sanitation who also lacked access to electricity. The numbers could be found in the World Water Development Report, which was a UN-Water flagship report and would be issued out on 21 March. A separate press briefing on the issue would take place in New York on 25 March.
The report showed that energy production put growing pressure on freshwater resources and that there was an interdependence between the management of water and energy that calls for cooperation - both between sectors and in terms of political governance. Furthermore, there was a need for an increased attention on water and energy both now and especially within the post-2015 development agenda.
Ms. Bostrom-Couffe informed that there was a press release available, which was embargoed for publication until 21 March. The press release would be available in French shortly.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Human Rights Committee had started its session on 10 March. Today, the Committee was considering reports of Kyrgyzstan and Sierra Leone, while later in the week it would examine reports of Latvia and the United States. The following week, the Committee would look into reports of Chad and Nepal.
The Conference on Disarmament was holding a public session at the moment. Algeria, Colombia, Austria and the Republic of Korea were on the list of speakers, along with a coalition of NGOs, which would make a statement on the occasion of the International Women’s Day.
Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), announced
that a high level panel will meet on the topic of "If you want peace, cultivate social justice", featuring the situation in fragile states from an ILO angle. The event would gather high profile leaders such as the Prime Minister for Somalia, the Minister of Finance from Timor Leste (which was also chairing G7+), employers and employees. The debate would take place on the 20 March, from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at Espace Gobelins at the ILO. Journalists were asked to inform of their participation.
Edward Harris, for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), informed that a press conference, featuring Francis Gurry, WIPO Director General, would take place in Press Room I on 13 March at 11 a.m, and the topics would be the international patent system and international trademark and design systems in 2013, as well as domain names/cybersquatting trends in 2013.
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The representatives of the World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 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/OhrGP9