REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
6 June 2014
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 International Labour Office, the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development, the World Trade Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Food Programme, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the World Health Organization.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Rights of the Child was today examining the report of Saint Lucia. This was the last country report that the Committee would consider during its present session. The Committee would be meeting in private next week, until its public closing on Friday, 13 June.
The Conference on Disarmament would hold its next public plenary at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 June.
Human Rights Council’s Twenty-sixth Regular Session
Rolando Gomez of the Human Rights Council said the Council’s twenty-sixth regular session would open on Tuesday, 10 June. The session would last for three weeks, until June 27, and would deal with a wide range of issues. He had already sent journalists background information. Nearly 100 reports would be presented to the Council by 21 independent experts and by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on many themes and country situations, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Central African Republic, and an update from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, among others. There would also be five panel discussions to cover issues such as safety of journalists, female genital mutilation, women’s rights, child, early and enforced marriages, and disability rights. The panel discussions had concept papers that were available on line. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay would update the Council on the opening day; this was the last opportunity for Ms. Pillay to update the Council on the activities of her Office before she stepped down as High Commissioner at the end of the summer. A background press release with more details was available.
Mr. Gomez said he had sent journalists other practical information, including an A to Z chart which spelt out all the themes and country situations as per the prescribed reports, the programme of work, a proposed and tentative list of draft resolutions. There were lots of other initiatives that journalists would hear about during the course of the session – including side events – nearly 140 of them. Later today, he would send journalists State-organized side events, which they were still piecing together. On Tuesday, 10 June, in addition to the update at 9 a.m. by the High Commissioner – Rupert Colville would tell journalists more about how he would share the embargoed High Commissioner’s update with journalists – this would be followed by statements by States and non-governmental organizations in a general debate that was expected to last several hours. There would then be a statement by Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, presenting his annual report that touched on freedom of opinion and expression in approving women’s participation in society and country mission reports to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Italy and Montenegro. This would be followed by presentations by the Special Rapporteur on peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, who would present his annual report on his activities since March 2013, which also assessed his opinion on the threats to freedom of peaceful assembly and association for groups most at risk. He also had a country mission report to Rwanda that he would present.
Mr. Gomez flagged a side event for Tuesday, organized by France, Turkey and Qatar entitled “The dramatic situation of detainees in Syrian prisons and the alarming increase in enforced disappearances.” This would take place from noon to 2 p.m. in Room XXV. On Syria, the Syrian Commission of Inquiry would update the Council on 17 June; although it was marked as an oral update, there would be a written report that would be shared with journalists under embargo. The Commission’s four commissioners would be in Geneva and would also brief journalists. As there was so much more that would be going on during the Council’s upcoming session, he and Cedric Sapey would be staying until after the briefing in case journalists wanted to ask more questions.
In response to a question on what were the terms of reference and the ethics guidelines for special rapporteurs and could special rapporteurs run for office without having to step down temporarily from their positions, Mr. Gomez said he would get back to the journalist on this. The most important message was that the rapporteurs, when appointed by the President of the Council, had already undergone a thorough and transparent process through which the key factor was expertise in the area to which they were applying.
A journalist asked that a briefing be organized with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and with other special procedures who would be in town. Mr. Gomez said he would try to organize this. Some press conferences had already been scheduled. The journalist asked that the Commission of Inquiry on Syria’s commissioners brief journalists, maybe even before they presented their report. Mr. Gomez said they were not ruling out any scenarios of press encounters with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, even the possibility of an embargoed encounter. This largely depended on the timing and availability of the experts.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated that at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 June, High Commissioner Navi Pillay would update the Human Rights Council for the last time. Her draft speech had some reflections on the whole period she had been in office and would also address some current situations of concern. On Wednesday, 11 June, there would be a morning panel discussion on the safety of journalists, and the High Commissioner would be making an opening statement. This would be a particularly interesting discussion, moderated by Ghida Fakhry, formerly of Al Jezira. The panellists included the Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, an OSCE representative on freedom and media, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue, Abeer Saady, Vice President of the Syndicate of Journalists of Egypt, and Frank Smyth, Senior Adviser to the Committee to Protect Journalists. This promised to be a rich discussion on an important issue. Later that day, there would be an NGO side event on protecting journalists, including many organizations involved in the protection of journalists.
Ms. Momal-Vanian, in response to a question on who would replace Lakhdar Brahimi as Joint Special Envoy on Syria, said there was an officer-in charge of the office in Geneva, Mr. Martin Griffiths, who was a senior United Nations official who many journalists already knew. For the moment, Mr. Griffiths was running the office of the Joint Special Representative, without a Joint Special Representative.
Asked if a press briefing with Mr. Griffiths could be organized to see how he was dealing with the Syrian crisis, Ms. Momal-Vanian said she would convey the request to him.
International Labour Conference
Jean Luc Martinage of the International Labour Organization said the International Labour Conference was continuing until 12 June. Last Tuesday, his colleague had spoken about what would happen at the World of Work Summit on Monday, 9 June starting 10 a.m. in the Assembly Hall. A number of Ministers would be attending the event. Journalists should have received a comprehensive programme for the event several days ago. On Monday in the afternoon, the Prime Ministers of Jordan and of Mongolia would be addressing the Conference. As soon as the exact times that they would be speaking were available, he would send them to journalists. Provisionally, the Prime Minister of Jordan was scheduled to speak at 2:45 p.m. and the Prime Minister of Mongolia was scheduled to speak at 4:15 p.m.
Catherine Sibut of the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development said during the week of 16 to 20 June, UNCTAD would be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Events planned included both meetings of substance and cultural events. More details would be shared with journalists next week during a press conference with the Secretary-General on Thursday, 12 June at 2 p.m.
Ms. Sibut said UNCTAD had a new initiative, organized at the request of emerging States, on the potential of exporting sustainable economic sectors while respecting the environment. The first workshop, requested by Ecuador, would be held on 10 and 11 June in Quito and would identify how to develop sectors with a large potential to export to allow for a transition to a greener economy in Ecuador. A press release would be sent out.
World Trade Organization
Melissa Begag of the World Trade Organization said there would be a press briefing this afternoon on the Agricultural Committee meeting starting at 2:30 p.m. in Room B at WTO.
The Annual Report 2014 was now available as an application, as a pdf and in printed format. It provided a comprehensive overview of the WTO’s activities over the past year.
The Council for Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights was meeting on Wednesday, 11 June and would be followed by a briefing on Thursday, 12 June. The exact time and venue would be announced later.
WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo would be meeting on Tuesday, 10 June with the Russian Minister of Economic Development in Geneva. He would also meet with the Brazilian Secretary for Foreign Trade, the Foreign Trade Minister of Ghana, the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries and the Brazilian Pharmaceutical Association. The Director-General would also address the workshop on trade facilitation at the WTO. On 11 June, Mr. Azevedo would address the International Trade Centre Joint Advisory Group and would meet with representatives from the United States National Foreign Trade Council, the Netherlands Employers Federation and senior executives from Philips, FrieslandCampina, Unilever and Heineken.
The Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance would meet on Friday, 13 June at 10 a.m.
On Libya, Mr. Colville said OHCHR was deeply concerned by the violence in Libya that had led to a number of people being killed and injured in the east of the country, particularly in Benghazi, including people who were not involved in armed clashes – people who were either being assassinated or were innocent bystanders. OHCHR urged all sides to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further escalation in the violence and engage in peaceful dialogue and called on the authorities to renew their efforts to meet their obligations under international human rights laws, specifically with respect to protecting the right to life. OHCHR was also very concerned that the space to operate for human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, media professionals and all those engaged in efforts to support Libya was shrinking by the day. OHCHR condemned in the strongest possible terms the tragic murder on 4 June in Sirte of Michael Grueb, the Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sub-delegation in Misrata. OHCHR called upon the authorities to launch a prompt, impartial and independent investigation and ensure that those found responsible were brought to justice. This was fundamental to ensuring that the rule of law was upheld and that the culture of impunity in Libya was not allowed to grow even worse than it was already. OHCHR also deplored the detention of staff members of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in recent weeks. On 4 June, four staff members of UNSMIL were temporarily detained upon arriving in Tripoli airport. Previously, on 11 May, another UNSMIL staff member was detained briefly while observing the trial of a number of former officials in the Gaddafi government. OHCHR called on all parties in Libya to ensure that United Nations officials and aid workers could perform their impartial human rights and other work without harassment or intimidation.
A journalist asked who OHCHR blamed for the deterioration of the security situation in Libya. Mr. Colville said the situation was very complicated. The Government was unable to exercise control over a large number of armed brigades and that was a major concern. The Government did not have effective control over the whole country at all. Assassinations and other attacks systematically targeted State officials themselves, as well as facilities belonging to the State, particularly in the east of the country. For example, in March, the work of the law courts in Sirte, Dana and Benghazi were suspended because of the attacks and threats against judicial personnel. The authorities had faced challenges in preventing and properly investigating attacks against their own officials, judicial personnel and the diplomatic community. There were different groups and different armed groups involved. That said, they should all be answerable to the law. There were laws and systems in Libya that were not working as well as they could. As for human rights concerns in the country over and above the deteriorating security situation, for example, 7,000 persons continued to be deprived of their liberty without regard for due process; UNSMIL reported on torture and other mistreatment in detention facilities; issues relating to the detention of refugees and migrants transiting through Libya, again believed to be around 7,000. Some of them were believed to have been detained for three years. It was not a good situation. The targeting of ICRC in this way was very sad and deeply alarming.
A journalist asked, on the troops of General Khalifa Hifter in Libya, did OHCHR consider them as troops fighting terror or extremists, or rebel troops? Mr. Colville said he had noted that the Government did not have effective control of all that was going on in the country. There were many armed groups, those related to ideology and those related to a particular city, in many different shapes and forms. Some of these groups were committing crimes. Any fighter in any group was still bound by the law. In terms of an analysis of the behaviour of one particular group, he was not in a position to do that. However, UNSMIL produced periodic reports so the journalist could get details in some future report.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said on Monday, 9 June, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Tarek Mitri, was scheduled to brief the Security Council on the situation in Libya and more information might come out of that.
In response to a question on whether the Government of Libya was culpable for any violations or if it was totally impotent, and on the number of the people killed recently in Benghazi, Mr. Colville said he could not give the journalist an overview of the work of the Government of Libya, but just to pick on one aspect, for example, the situation of detainees in Government-controlled facilities: UNSMIL had produced a detailed report on this issue, elaborating that torture was being used and other ill-treatment in detention facilities throughout Libya. The Government did respond to the concerns raised in that report and had made some efforts to try and improve that situation. There was some dialogue and effort on some areas that they could control, but it was a very chaotic situation in many places. This made it complicated and difficult for UNSMIL because it was dealing with multiple entities that had control of different parts of what should be an overall State apparatus but was not controlled by the State. As for the situation in Benghazi, he did not have an overall figure, but hardly a week went by without an assassination, armed groups of men ambushing people and killing them, bombs and the rest of it. It was a very alarming situation that was continuing all the time and if anything seemed to be getting a bit worse.
On Tunisia, Mr. Colville said that on Monday 9 June, Tunisia would launch the work of its Truth and Dignity Commission at a seminar in Tunis co-organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Tunisia, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the Tunisian Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice. OHCHR had been closely involved in the establishment of the Truth and Dignity Commission in Tunisia. It was a very welcome step forward in addressing the human rights violations of the past, establishing the truth and providing accountability, recognition and reparations to the victims.
Monday’s seminar would be addressed by President Mohamed Moncef Marzouki and a number of other high-level officials. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay would address the seminar through a video message, as would Desmond Tutu, the President of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The heads of several other such commissions from Poland, Morocco, Peru, Guatemala and Kenya would also be there to share experiences from their countries. OHCHR saw this as a very positive step forward in Tunisia.
A journalist asked when the human rights team in Ukraine would produce a new monthly update. Mr. Colville said it was scheduled at this point to be made public on Tuesday, 17 June. Asked whether it would be released in both Geneva and Kyiv or only in Geneva, Mr. Colville said he was not sure. Last time, the Assistant Secretary-General for human rights was in Kiyv, and he was very much at the spearhead of this team, so it made sense to launch it in Kiyv as well as Geneva, but he did not know if he would be Kiyv this time.
A journalist asked for information on candidates for the post of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ms. Momal-Vanian said her colleague Stephane Dujarric was asked this question approximately every day, and she would give journalists the same response: when we have an announcement to make, we will make an announcement. Until then, the practise was not to comment on candidates.
A journalist wondered if the post of High Commissioner would always be held by a woman? This was the third High Commissioner who was a woman. Ms. Momal-Vanian said she did not believe they could presume anything. The Secretary-General continued to make strenuous efforts to increase the proportion of women in United Nations staff, in particular among senior officials. So it was always something that he kept in mind, but obviously it was not the only consideration.
Mr. Colville noted that there had been five High Commissioner’s so far, and two of the first three were men, so maybe it was rectifying the earlier male bias.
On the Central African Republic, a journalist said that he understood that the commission of inquiry set up by the Secretary-General in January had released its first findings on the human rights situation in that country, was this the same commission that they met in Geneva a few weeks ago, and the same commission that was scheduled to present its report on 24 June to the Human Rights Council? Mr. Colville said the commission of inquiry on the Central African Republic was created by the Security Council and was reporting to the Security Council, it had nothing to do with the Human Rights Council.
Mr. Gomez of the Human Rights Council said the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic, Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum, who was appointed by the Human Rights Council in January this year, would present a preliminary written report on 24 June, but this was separate from the commission of inquiry which was mandated earlier by the Council.
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said the situation in South Sudan was very worrying. WFP was very concerned by this alarming situation that was pushing the country towards a hunger catastrophe in areas isolated by the conflict. However, this food catastrophe could still be averted if they could stop the spiralling violence and were able to intensively provide food aid and humanitarian assistance in the weeks and months ahead. In South Sudan, 4 million people, one third of the population, needed urgent humanitarian aid, especially food in the next three months. The number of severely food insecure people had risen to nearly 1.3 million persons, an increase of 200,000 since January. The situation was most dire in the three conflict-affected states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile. In Unity, three quarters of the population were currently food insecure, and that was predicted to rise to 85 per cent in the next three months. The situation was worrying and concerning, but it could be avoided if they had access. WFP needed access. WFP appealed to all parties taking part in the conflict to facilitate unimpeded access before conditions deteriorated further. WFP could act and called for free access and for funds to be given to the humanitarian agencies and humanitarian operations, including to WFP. Ms. Byrs stressed that WFP needed $ 475 million until the end of the year. WFP currently assisted 1.1 million persons through 125 distribution points in South Sudan, but it faced enormous challenges including logistic aspects because of the rainy season. WFP could reach people and fill stocks thanks to airlifts and airdrops. WFP assisted already 210,000 people with airdrops despite the access problems; the roads were inaccessible because of the rainy season. A convoy of barges carrying 1,200 metric tons of food had been sent from Juba and it would sail to Malaka. It would leave on 9 June. Ms. Byrs said that all logistical aspects were implemented but WFP faced a serious situation. WFP also helped some 350,000 southern Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries who had crossed borders. Most of them passed the borders in a terrible state and alarming degree of malnutrition. Some 3.7 million persons were now in Phase 3 and 4 according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), meaning crisis and emergency. Before the fighting started in December, only 140,000 people had been in phase 3, which was crisis, and none had been in phase 4. Now, there were 2.4 million persons in phase 3, crisis, and 1.3 million in phase 4, emergency. In order to stop this downward spiral and avoid a food catastrophe, WFP needed access. WFP had mobile teams and airdrops but access remained the main element.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called both President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Former Vice-President Riek Machar on 4 June, to express deep concern that hostilities had continued in violation of not only the 23 January Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, but also the 9 May Agreement. He also deplored the grave humanitarian situation in the country and urged both men to meet on Monday, 9 June and reach agreement on substantive issues, in keeping with their commitment to meet on a monthly basis to review progress in the implementation of the 9 May agreement.
Answering a question about the air drops, Ms. Byrs said she would send journalists her notes, which included more information about the IPC phase classification that categorized the severity of acute food insecurity. They had started the air drops in the middle of March with a major operation in South Sudan to provide assistance to IDPs affected by the conflict and in order to restock the refugee camps which were quite isolated. The rainy season had started and two thirds of the country was no longer accessible by road. Currently WFP had launched a special operation that would cost $ 17 million in order to have 10 more aircraft, even if the air transport of food was five times more expensive that transporting it by land. This was a challenge for WFP, including finding the funds to cover this.
Answering another question about the WFP activities in South Sudan, Ms. Byrs said the airlift was ongoing. WFP had already reached 210,000 people. It was increasing its operations by air and also on the ground where possible, and some food assistance was being distributed by barges. WFP had mobile teams that were deployed in the most remote locations. Since January WFP had carried 80,000 tons of food in the country since January despite the challenges: insecurity, looting and attacks on carriers and truck drivers.
Ms. Byrs clarified that the $ 475 million that WFP needed were for the next six months from June to December.
Responding to a question about access problems, Ms. Byrs confirmed that there were access problems in particular points of the country, especially places affected by violence and insecurity and that was the reason why WFP requested free access before the situation deteriorated further. Ms. Byrs added that the number of people in a state of severe food insecurity had increased by 200,000 to 1.3 million persons since January. She would send journalists her notes momentarily.
In response to a question on the latest cases of cholera in South Sudan, Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization said that as of Wednesday, 4 June, there was a total of 1,306 cholera cases, including 29 deaths, since the outbreak began on 23 April.
Adrian Edwards of the High Commissioner for Refugees said in Iraq, the number of civilians displaced by violence in Anbar province continued to climb. With a deteriorating security situation it was also becoming harder for humanitarian actors to reach those in need. As of today, the Iraqi Government said 434,000 men, women and children had fled their homes since fighting escalated in January this year. However, the full scale of the displacement from this under-reported conflict was unknown, as the Iraqi authorities had suspended registration over the past month because of insecurity. UNHCR believed the current figure was now close to 480,000. Iraq's new displacement crisis began in January with fighting between government forces and rebels in eastern Anbar. It had continued in various waves as the fighting locales shifted within the governorate. There was further displacement last month when fighters deliberately breached a dam in Anbar's Abu Ghraib district, flooding the area and forcing some 72,000 Iraqis from their homes. While the floodwaters had subsided, and people were returning to their homes, there were now health and recovery worries. Access to clean water was a pressing concern, because the flooding damaged water treatment plants. Local officials said 28 tanker truckloads of potable water were being delivered to the area every day, but this was only meeting 50 per cent of needs. There were also fears about further civilian flight from the city of Fallujah. Recent shelling of the city had sparked new displacement and hit a city hospital and water plant there, making life in the city and future recovery more difficult.
UNHCR’s field teams had reported that many displaced people were struggling to cope in desperate conditions, spread out across Iraq. The highest concentrations of displaced people were in the Anbar and Salah al-Din governorates, followed by Erbil, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah and Baghdad. The more fortunate were living with friends and relatives, but others were in tents, schools, unfinished buildings and other types of communal shelters. In Anbar governorate alone, where there were almost 300,000 displaced people, more than two-thirds were currently living in schools.
Displaced people told UNHCR that housing stock was limited, and increasingly expensive. Most were without income and were going into debt to pay for essential needs. Families said access to housing and food was a top priority. While UNHCR had provided emergency relief kits and emergency cash assistance, this represented a fraction of what was needed. Shortly, UNHCR would begin restoration work on some of the shelters, adding doors and windows to abandoned buildings where people lived. UNHCR urgently needed to ramp up its response which was difficult for three reasons. UNHCR said deteriorating security in Anbar was hindering access to people in need; the displaced were spread out across much of the country; and donor support was lacking. A UNHCR Special Appeal for $ 26.4 million launched in March was currently only 12 per cent funded. Better funding was critical to help those who were displaced now, and when they returned home in the future.
Asked if the Government of Iraq was working to help the problems of the displaced persons, Mr. Edwards said UNHCR worked routinely with Governments and local partners to respond to the needs of the displaced persons. The problem here was that this had been a very rapid escalation, with close to half a million persons displaced. The insecurity and the absence of funding were the main holdups to providing further help to people in this context. In a region of many conflicts, the situation in Iraq was escalating and it demanded more attention and more help for the people.
Asked which rebels the Government of Iraq was fighting, and whether it was those who were returning from Syria, Mr. Edwards said he did not have details or an analysis of who the rebel forces were, at this point they were not looking at who the protagonists were but who the victims were.
A journalist asked what the role of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was in Falluja and Anbar in Iraq. He read that yesterday was the first time that medical supplies had been received in Falluja since January, and that the city needed food and other humanitarian assistance. In response, Jens Laerke of OCHA said that like in all crises, the role of OHCA was to try to coordinate international responders on the ground with government local non-governmental organizations and so on. As mentioned by Mr. Edwards, it was an extremely difficult and escalating situation. Mr. Edwards had mentioned three main aspects of their problems, with access, lack of funding and lack of international attention. OCHA could only coordinate as much assistance as donor support allowed them to do. OCHA did have an appeal for Iraq for $ 105 million, which was currently 14 per cent funded. OCHA’s role was to coordinate humanitarian efforts, and that included advocacy, trying to generate donor support for the response plan.
In response to another question, Mr. Edwards said UNHCR had a special appeal in the case of the Anbar region, it was an appeal of $ 26.4 million, and they had 12 per cent funding.
Mr. Edwards said UNHCR had learned this week of a new boat tragedy off the coast of Yemen that had claimed 62 lives. UNHCR was still seeking information, but it was now confirmed that a boat carrying 60 people from Somalia and Ethiopia and two Yemeni crew sank last Saturday in the Red Sea. The victims were reportedly buried by local residents after their bodies washed ashore near the Bab El Mandeb area off Yemen's coast. UNHCR's thoughts were with the families and friends of those involved. The tragedy was the largest single loss of life this year of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Yemen via the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It followed previous incidents in January, March and April, bringing the known total of deaths-at-sea of people trying to reach Yemen to at least 121 so far in 2014. UNHCR strongly believed that every life counted and was working to prevent the alarming loss of life at sea and indifference to people desperately needing protection. UNHCR was reiterating its call to governments in the region to strengthen their search-and-rescue capacities, their arrangements for securing safe disembarkation of those rescued and proper identification, and assistance and referral of vulnerable people in need of protection and assistance. UNHCR stood ready to support Yemen in these activities, alongside other measures to boost the protection system in the region. The protection environment was strengthened in November last year with the adoption of the Sana'a Declaration at the Regional Conference on Asylum and Migration. UNHCR hoped to see those measures move further.
UNHCR had documented the arrival of 16,500 refugees and migrants on the Yemeni coast during the first four months of 2014, significantly less than the 35,000 received in the same period last year. Over the past 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. Boats were overcrowded and smugglers had reportedly thrown passengers overboard to prevent capsizing or avoid detection. Search-and-rescue officials said the practice had resulted in hundreds of undocumented casualties in recent years. UNHCR provided first aid and food to the new arrivals identified by patrolling teams on the coast, at three coastal transit centres. Their partners, the Danish Refugee Council, then provided transport to the nearest reception centre for initial registration. With Somalis receiving prima facie refugee status, those non-Somalis who expressed interest in seeking asylum were provided with attestation letters, valid for 20 days, to approach the UNHCR offices in Sana'a or Aden and seek asylum.
Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said humanitarian organizations in Yemen were concerned about new displacement of as many as 20,000 in the northern Amran governorate. This was due to heavy fighting between Government forces and armed rebels in the last week of May and the beginning of June. Two days ago, a ceasefire in Amran city came into effect and was reportedly holding. However, the main road from the capital Sanaa to Amran, which was critical for humanitarian delivery, remained closed yesterday. This closure had also interrupted delivery of assistance to a previous group of 40,000 people, who had been displaced in the governorate since 2011. Some humanitarian partners continued to operate in Amran city, but all operations outside of the city itself had been suspended. The affected people reportedly needed food, water and healthcare as their priority needs. A needs assessment would be carried out as soon as security conditions allowed it. The recent fighting had overburdened the general hospital in Amran, which had received up to 200 people from the conflict. The hospital was severely short of anesthesia and surgical drugs as well as staff. Humanitarian partners had donated equipment and given assistance to three local referral hospitals and could open an additional field hospital if the situation deteriorated further.
The representative of the World Health Organization and the International Organization for Migration also attended the briefing, but did not brief.
* * * * *
The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1kCZsN1