REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
7 February 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Refugee Agency and World Trade Organization.
Answering questions, Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, said that the next round of talks in the Geneva Conference on Syria would start on Monday 10 February at the Palais des Nations. The United Nations had received the composition of the delegation of the Syrian Government, which would be headed again by the Syrian Foreign Minister Mr. Walid Muallem, and was waiting to receive the final composition of the delegation of the Syrian Opposition. It was likely that Joint Special Representative for Syria Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi would again address the press every evening, Ms. Momal-Vanian said.
In response to a question from a journalist, Ms. Momal-Vanian said she had no details of the agenda at this stage. However, in practical terms, journalists were informed that two separate media stakeout positions, one for each delegation, would be set up inside the Palais des Nations. Ms. Momal-Vanian confirmed that the media would be allowed to film the arrival of the delegations from outside, and could contact UNTV Geneva for more information.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in response to a question about the humanitarian access into the Old City of Homs, clarified that the statement made yesterday by Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos welcomes a report from UN staff on the ground in Syria about the agreement between the Syrian Government and Syrian Opposition to allow civilians out and aid in to the Old City of Homs.
Answering a question about the delivery of humanitarian aid, Mr. Laerke said he was aware that large numbers of reporters were gathered in Homs but it was impossible for him to give a running commentary on media reports from the city. It was normal procedure for any convoy in a conflict situation, including in Syria, that comments were only made ex post facto, once the delivery had been made, in order not to jeopardize the safety of staff or the operation in general. All Mr. Laerke could say was that an inter-agency convoy was ready, loaded with stocks of food, medical assistance, non-food items and winterization items for up to 2,500 people.
A journalist asked whether the pause in hostilities was open-ended or a 72 hour window. Mr. Laerke said he had no information on the duration.
Regarding the reported evacuation of women and children from the Old City of Homs, a journalist asked what provisions were being made for the protection of the men left behind, as they could be extremely vulnerable to attack. Mr. Laerke reiterated the words of the Emergency Relief Coordinator Ms. Amos who had called for unhindered, continuous and safe access for humanitarian workers to access those trapped in besieged areas. Ms. Amos also called on parties in the conflict to allow all civilians wishing to leave besieged areas to do so.
Central African Republic
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said thousands of people were fleeing for safety to Cameroon to escape violence in the Central African Republic. In the past ten days, 8,762 people of various nationalities crossed into the town of Kentzou in eastern Cameroon, including mostly Central Africans but also foreign nationals from Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Mali. That brought the number of CAR refugees in Cameroon to more than 20,000 since fighting started, not counting the 20,000 of other nationals who were not refugees.
The new arrivals told UNHCR staff they fled because of confrontations between the former Seleka and anti-Balaka militiamen in the capital, Bangui, and other towns in the north-west such as Bour, Baboua, Beloko and Cantonnier. Some also fled from intense fighting in the areas of, Berberati, Carnot, Baoro and Gambala. Others fled because of fear that the anti-Balaka militiamen were advancing towards their areas.
The people whom UNHCR Central African office had registered as refugees were mainly women and children and included 43 pregnant women, 50 lactating mothers and 89 handicapped people in need of special attention. The majority of them were Muslims who said they feared for their safety because of their perceived sympathy for the largely Muslim Seleka group.
Living conditions were precarious for the new arrivals who were either hosted by impoverished local families, or living in mosques, a stadium or on the streets. UNHCR was working on converting a nearby campsite designated by authorities and planned to transfer refugees there by the end of next week. UNHCR had approached various embassies to take charge of citizens of other nationalities.
People fleeing recent communal violence in CAR were also heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since Saturday, Democratic Republic of the Congo had received more than 1,500 refugees and more were arriving daily. They came from areas still under the control of Seleka elements who, they said, were abusing civilians.
With the latest arrivals, there were now more than 60,000 Central African Republic refugees who had sought asylum in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, due to atrocities committed by the Seleka earlier in the conflict, and most recently due to recurrent fighting, as well as indiscriminate attacks perpetrated by armed Muslim and Christian mobs.
Since the beginning of the conflict in December 2012, close to 246,000 Central African Republic civilians had become refugees across the region.
More than 838,000 people also remained displaced inside Central African Republic. With the lack of immediate prospect for their return and the onset of the rainy season, UNHCR feared a worsening humanitarian crisis. Overcrowded and makeshift sites they were living in could not absorb the water and lack proper sanitation facilities. As a result, there was a high risk of cholera and other water-borne diseases, particularly in Bangui where 413,094 still lived in makeshift sites.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM Director General William Lacy Swing was in the Central African Republic to review IOM operations in the country and highlight spiralling humanitarian needs and lack of funds.
Widespread violence continued and over 800,000 people in the Central African Republic were displaced, who were dependent on international aid to survive. The displaced population in Bangui did not feel safe in surrounding areas and was heavily dependent on humanitarian assistance.
During his visit the Director-General visited some of the 70 displacement sites where IOM was leading efforts to provide assistance such as water, sanitary services and basic relief items. IOM had also, to date, evacuated 4,792 third-country nationals from Central African Republic, the vast majority to Chad.
However, IOM urgently needed contributions to continue and increase its humanitarian operations. It was appealing for US$17.5 million but so far had received only US$2.8 million, and had already spent US$4.4 million, digging deep into emergency reserves to support its Central African Republic assistance programme.
Answering questions, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said that there were still refugees in the Central African Republic of Congolese and other nationalities. The Chadians were the people most under threat and so on 19 January this year UNHCR collaborated with the IOM to evacuate 201 of them because the situation had become too difficult: there was no safety, no rule of law and they were staying in areas where they felt vulnerable.
Over 60 per cent of the arrivals in Cameroon were children, women and elderly people, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba replied to another journalist. The majority arrived within four days, and the UNHCR was working quickly with the Government to rehabilitate a camp site. As the refugees were spread across different areas, it was difficult to help.
In response to questions about the convoys that had been stuck at the border for some weeks, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said that she knew the convoy had been granted access, managed to cross the border, and had now returned because some of the latest arrivals to the camp in Cameroon had managed to get transport on those trucks to get out of the country. Journalists were advised to contact Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Program (WFP) for confirmation and more details, as those commercial trucks were contracted by WFP.
Replying to a question on Chad, Ms. Momal-Vanian referred a journalist to the press conference that took place in Geneva yesterday (6 February) by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic, Babacar Gaye, who spoke about many issues including the role of the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA).
Ms Lejeune-Kaba replied to a general question about movement of people saying that more people were moving out of the country, and also leaving displacement sites to move to certain districts of Bangui. The movements were very fluid but the numbers had reduced. However, the situation was still very serious, and currently many people went back to their homes in Bangui during the daytime but returning to displacement sites at night, to sleep.
Patrick McCormick, for the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF) spoke about the situation in the Philippines, saying that three months after a massive Typhoon devastated the central Philippines, the long trek back to normalcy for children hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan has begun.
On 8 November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan laid waste to vast areas in the central Philippines, affecting 14.1 million people, 5.9 million of whom were children, recalled Mr. McCormick. UNICEF’s emergency response charted the transition from relief to longer-term recovery.
The press release contained details on UNICEF’s interventions in the areas of water and sanitation, health, nutrition, education and early childhood development, and child protection.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that three months after Typhoon devastated much of the Central Philippines, IOM called for an urgent global refocussing of attention on the long-term recovery effort, as the needs were still significant. IOM warned that unless it put long-term measures in place for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes and livelihoods, people could be left worse off than before the tragedy. The failure to provide durable solutions and construct solid housing would result in people “building back worse” in materials and technical assistance did not arrive, especially as the region was very vulnerable to natural disasters.
The response of the international community had undoubtedly been extraordinary, Ms. Berthiaume said. Over four million people had been helped with food, water, cash, healthcare, shelter, education, rehabilitation, hygiene kits and other relief items. IOM alone had distributed almost 65,000 emergency shelter kits (plastic sheeting and tools), more than 5,000 recovery shelter kits to repair housing, and over 90,000 non-food items across the affected area. Furthermore, IOM medical teams had seen over 12,000 patients.
IOM was also making great effort to collect information from displaced people in order to understand their needs and plan long-term assistance. Furthermore, almost six million workers saw their livelihoods destroyed or disrupted. Some 30,000 fishing-boats were damaged or destroyed. IOM’s six-month programme appeal of US$ 57.6 million was only 30 per cent funded, Ms. Berthiaume noted.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that nearly four months after the earthquake that devastated parts of Bohol Island in the Philippines, most of the 368,000 people who had their homes damaged or destroyed were still living in their damaged homes or in tents nearby.
Aftershocks and landslides were common, pushing people out of their houses and into tents, while flooding and heavy rains drove them back into unsafe homes.
The UN was calling on donors to provide an additional US$19 million to help the victims with shelter solutions to urgently put an end to those unsafe conditions, said Mr. Laerke. Humanitarian partners also needed extra funding for health interventions, children’s education and early recovery efforts.
Donors had already provided US$15 million toward a joint action plan for Bohol covering the six months from the time of the earthquake to 15 April. The Humanitarian Country Team in Philippines yesterday announced a revised action plan which showed the US$19 million shortfall. The Central Emergency Response Fund, and the many donors who supported that pooled fund, had provided a third of the US$15 million already contributed, Mr. Laerke said. The revised plan which covered mainly recovery efforts had been revised downwards from US$47 million to US$34 million following detailed assessments and consultations with the Government.
New constitution in Tunisia
Ms. Momal-Vanian reminded journalists that today they had been sent a statement by the Secretary-General that was being delivered in Tunis today at a ceremony for the new constitution of Tunisia. The message would be delivered by the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mr. Michael Møller. It was under embargo until noon Geneva time, Ms. Momal-Vanian noted.
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that on Tuesday UNHCR began distributing basic relief supplies to an estimated 10,000 people displaced by the recent conflict in and around Malakal, the capital of South Sudan's Upper Nile State.
It was the first aid to reach the displaced people outside of the UN base in Malakal. The city was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting last month. Insecurity as well as wide-spread looting of humanitarian assets meant that UNHCR and other agencies were unable to deliver aid to those displaced outside of the UN base.
According to UN estimates, there were around 38,000 displaced people in Malakal, including some 28,000 sheltered in a UN base. The displaced fled from within the county of Malakal, the name of both a county and a city, which had rivers and from Jonglei. There were many women, children and elderly people among the displaced. To reach the city of Malakal, some said they had used boats to cross the river while some others swam. Women said they walked for four hours with their children before crossing.
UNHCR was taking advantage of the relative calm following the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement between the warring forces on 23 January to deliver aid to the most vulnerable. Since Tuesday UNHCR had given aid to more than 3,000 displaced and hoped to reach the rest of the target group – the estimated 10,000 – by the end of next week. There were more details, including of the aid items, in the press release, Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said.
In response to a question Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said that aid was being delivered throughout South Sudan where a total of 740,000 were estimated to be displaced. The response for the internally displaced persons was a joint one with other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations working in various different areas.
With more than 153,000 displaced people, Upper Nile had the second largest concentration of displaced people in South Sudan, after Unity State where more than 188,000 people had been uprooted since fighting broke out in mid-December. The crisis had also forced into exile over 131,000 South Sudanese to neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.
Melissa Begag, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), announced a book launch to take place at 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday 11 February, in Room W. The book was titled Connecting global markets, challenges and opportunities and featured case studies presented by academic institutions. Director-General Roberto Asevedo would attend the event and deliver the opening speech. The Director-General would be in Brussels on 12 February to meet with European Union officials and to address the International Trademark Association, as well as representatives of the parliamentary conference of the WTO. Tonga would undergo its first Trade Policy Review on Tuesday 11 and Thursday 13 February, Ms. Begag added.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review session would end today with the adoption of the report of Viet Nam taking place at 2.30 p.m. this afternoon, in Room XX of the Palais des Nations.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would today conclude its examination of the report of Belgium. In the afternoon it would meet in closed session to consider individual complaints under its communications procedure. In public meetings next week the Committee would hear from non-governmental organizations, and examine five country reports: Poland, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women opens its fifty-seventh session on Monday 10 February, in Room XVI of the Palais des Nations. During the session the Committee would consider seven country reports, from Bahrain, Cameroon, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Finland.
The Conference on Disarmament holds its next plenary on Tuesday 11 February, at 10 a.m., under the Presidency of Israel.
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The representatives of the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Health Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media