REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
23 July 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the World Health Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that with the first round of Mali’s presidential elections scheduled for this Sunday (July 28th), UNHCR was continuing preparations with the Malian authorities and neighbouring states for out-of-country voting for refugees. Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger hosted some 173,000 Malian refugees who fled their country when conflict erupted in January 2012.
UNHCR's role in the elections was about caring for the rights of refugees by facilitating their participation and ensuring the voluntariness of the electoral process in a safe environment. Thus was humanitarian and non-political. In June, formal and informal surveys were conducted in major refugee areas through discussion groups. The surveys found that refugees were generally in favour of being included in the elections, that they had a good awareness of the situation in Mali, and that some believed the elections would help peace and stability – a fundamental condition for many refugees in deciding whether to return to their country.
Teams from UNHCR in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania had been meeting with refugee communities to clearly explain the role of UNHCR in facilitating participation and respecting neutrality. Help had also been given to transport some election-related materials. However, transportation of sensitive materials, such as voters’ cards or ballots papers, was to be the responsibility of the Malian electoral authorities and the countries of asylum.
Malian authorities visited refugee camps and other sites in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger in June to establish willingness to vote. In total 19,020 refugees had voluntarily registered to take part, out of 73,277 refugees of voting age (18 and above). Names were then verified against the bio-metric civil registry (RAVEC - Recensement Administratif a Vocation d’Etat Civil) which was last updated in 2011 and used to establish the electoral lists.
UNHCR was concerned that only a low number of names of refugees interested in voting were found in the registry. In Burkina Faso, and according to Malian registration teams, 876 out of the 3,504 registered refugees were found in the RAVEC; 8,409 out of 11,355 registered refugees in Mauritania, and 932 out 4,161 registered refugees in Niger. In other words, only around half the refugees who had volunteered to take part in the election had so far been found in the registry.
As concerning, were reports that only a few NINA (Numéro d’Identification nationale) voting cards had so far been provided by Malian authorities to refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. In Burkina Faso for instance, only 32 NINA cards had at this point reached the Malian representation. The delay in the issuance and distribution of NINA cards was not specific to refugees, but was also impacting many Malian citizens within Mali as well as abroad.
It was important that the Malian authorities quickly made public the voters’ lists and speed distribution of the electoral cards in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania. This was especially important as refugee camps and sites were located in remote areas, where access may become difficult with the rainy season now settling in. The Malian authorities had informed UNHCR that they were considering alternatives to allow refugees to vote in case of further delays.
He added that 173,593 Malians had found refuge in neighbouring countries since the beginning of the conflict in January 2012, including 49,975 in Burkina Faso, 48,710 in Niger, 74,907 in Mauritania and 1,500 in Algeria. 353,000 persons were also internally displaced according to the Commission de Mouvement de Population in Mali.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said UNHCR welcomed the adoption by Yemen of a national policy on internally displaced people (IDPs). The government approved the policy in late June, and it aimed to protect the more than half-a-million Yemenis who had been forced to flee their homes in recent years and to help solve the problem of displacement within the Gulf state. UNHCR saw this as a major step forward.
The national policy, which Cabinet approved on 25 June, sought to protect and assist people who were displaced by conflict, violence and natural disasters – events that can destroy communities and leave families and individuals struggling to survive.
The policy established a Supreme Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa and it featured three strategic goals. The first was to prevent arbitrary displacement while, at the same time, being ready to cope with displacement, if and when, it happens. The second goal was to support not only IDPs but also the communities that host them and other communities affected by displacement, including through the right to receive household supplies, employment training and access to other programs designed to help communities recover. The third policy goal was to create the conditions for durable solutions – such as employment, local integration and returning.
Although it was primarily the duty and responsibility of states to protect IDPs, the UN General Assembly had in a series of resolutions recognised UNHCR’s humanitarian expertise and encouraged its involvement in situations of internal displacement. In Yemen, UNHCR worked with the government and its partners to provide support to more than 200,000 refugees, tens of thousands of asylum seekers as well as hundreds of thousands of displaced people. The work of UNHCR in helping develop Yemen’s national IDP policy included hosting a series of planning meetings in 2012 bringing together government officials, IDPs, IDP returnees, host communities, international agencies, NGOs and donors.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that new violence in Sudan’s western region of Darfur had prompted more than 250,000 people to flee their villages and abandon their livelihoods since the start of the year.
The decade-long conflict had escalated recently and although this was the season when people should be planting and working on farms, they were instead fleeing their villages. Of these, a significant number of them have even fled to the refugee camps in neighbouring Chad. According to UNHCR about 30,000 Sudanese were reported to have crossed over into neighbouring Chad in the past few months. So far about 16,000 have settled and were assisted in the new refugee camp of Abgadam in the Tissi area, adding to the 300,000 Darfur refugees who have been in Chad for the past few years.
WFP had so far raised only $180 million out of its operational budget of $397 million to be able to feed 3.9 million conflict-affected people in Sudan. Despite a good harvest in 2012, food security remains fragile and was threatened by a combination of conflict, insecurity and high food prices. With the recent displacements, the total number of people receiving assistance in Darfur was expected to climb above 2.9 million people. Food stocks had been pre-positioned but were in need of restocking.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) an operation was being launched to bring urgently-needed food assistance to tens of thousands of people who have fled to hard-to-reach areas to escape violence in Pibor County, in the Republic of South Sudan’s Jonglei State. The agency was requesting close to $20 million in funding for emergency assistance for 60,000 people, through to December.
While WFP was already providing food assistance to some of the displaced in areas it can reach, the agency urgently needs additional funds to buy more food and to hire the three additional helicopters required to transport the much-needed supplies to the civilians trapped by the ongoing violence.
In areas of Pibor County where the humanitarian community had gained access WFP was providing food assistance through distributions this week in Dorein, Labdab and Pibor town. The agency had also provided assistance to more than 4,700 people, most of them women and children, who came from villages and the bush to receive assistance in Pibor Town in early July.
Clashes between government forces and insurgents as well as renewed violence between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities had forced thousands of families to seek refuge in locations that were currently inaccessible due to a combination of insecurity and roads made impassable by heavy rains. The exact figures of displaced persons could not be confirmed.
Answering a question Ms. Momal-Vanian confirmed that Ms. Angela Kane, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs was to visit Damascus this week to discuss the modalities of a mission to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons. This visit was at the invitation of the Government.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) added that there were currently 1,831,000 Syrian refugees registered, or pending registration in the immediate surrounding countries to Syria, and Egypt. A slower rise in numbers was being seen, compared to previous months. It was suggested that this was due to problems with crossing borders, particularly in Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. Keeping asylum open in the region remained a priority.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said after nearly two weeks of fighting in the North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UNHCR remained concerned about the situation of civilians in the area of conflict. On Sunday evening, July 21, bomb explosions and gunfire on the DRC side could be heard from border points in western Uganda's Bundibugyo district. Relatively few refugees had crossed over. Access to the area was not possible for humanitarian agencies, and conditions of those who do not make it across to Uganda were unclear. It took refugees from the Kamango area around 12 hours to walk to the Ugandan border.
By Monday evening, after two or three days of skirmishes, there was a momentary calm, as all forces seemed to be regrouping. Tens of thousands of refugees first began pouring into western Uganda after fighting erupted between Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group, and the DRC army in Kamango on July 11.
The Bubukwanga transit centre, some 25 kilometres inland from the border, was now home to 15,714 refugees, 60 per cent of whom were under the age of 18. The UNHCR site planner had assessed that this was its maximum capacity, even though the previous estimates had indicated that it could house 25,000.
The Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister had pledged to begin electronic registration by the end of this week so they can quickly begin moving refugees – if they wish – to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement for longer-term protection and assistance. Many refugees brought their animals with them from DRC and were sleeping in their tents with their ducks and goats, increasing the risk of disease in the transit centre. The emergency response was to shift its focus on decongesting the transit centre as of this week.
Staff at Bubukwanga had been checking for cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) among vulnerable people arriving in the camp. So far, they had found nothing but UNHCR and its partners were considering sending experts on SGBV and child protection to the camp. As of Monday evening, there were 104 unaccompanied children at the transit centre.
Meanwhile, staff in Goma said fighting between the DRC government forces and the M23 rebel group was continuing. There were clashes on Monday, but the situation was calm on Tuesday morning. A UNHCR staff member, however, said there was no sign that the fighting – some 10 kilometres north of Goma, had ended.
When the fighting started last week, some 660 civilians fled to neighbouring Rwanda and about 4,200 people sought shelter at schools and churches in Goma. There had been no sign of further mass displacement.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the response to a severe drought in the Marshall Islands was entering its second phase, as initial deliveries of emergency food supplies, principally funded by USAID, ended across the Pacific nation.
Since the beginning of the mission in February IOM’s rapidly established air and sea bridges had delivered an estimated 45 metric tons (100,000 pounds) of food. Phase two of the sea bridge was to run for at least another two months and would deliver a further 100 metric tons (220,000 pounds) of food to all the 13 affected atolls.
The shipments consisted of rice, flour, oil, tinned tuna, milk powder, canned fruit and vegetables, sugar, baking powder and high-protein biscuits. In addition to US-funded food, donations had come from local benefactors, the Marshall Islands Government, and the Government of Japan.
Joint IPU-World Bank Study
Jemini Pandya for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) gave details of a report into parliamentary oversight of international loan agreements, based on the practice of 99 developing countries.
Parliamentary oversight of country loans was important because loans often come with conditions requiring changes to policy or legislation which may adversely impact the lives of ordinary citizens. More than 40 per cent of parliaments lacked legal authority to ratify loans negotiated by government with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, and almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of parliaments report no involvement whatsoever at any stage of the loan approval process.
While the majority of parliaments do have legal authority to ratify World Bank or IMF loans, their involvement varies greatly in practice and was often hampered by limited capacities. For example, almost half (47 per cent) of those parliaments were restricted to accepting or rejecting loan agreements in their entirety and only 29 per cent were able to request actual amendments to the loan agreement.
The study found that when parliaments were required by law to ratify loans, 58 per cent of them were involved at some stage of the loan approval process, whilst 90 per cent of these parliaments use the committee system to oversee the loan process, suggesting a fairly high level of scrutiny.
The report showed that having a well-crafted legal framework for parliamentary ratification of loan agreements strengthens the overall oversight process. Parliaments with existing legal frameworks need to review their own oversight procedures to ensure they were effective and airtight. Those without one should develop one.
Answering questions she said the report had been produced in partnership with the World Bank.
Causes of death
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization said a press release issued last week on the ranking of causes of death was a repackaging of old information. It had been issued to advise journalists as such data was a common question received by the WHO. This information was last updated a decade ago.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Economic and Social Council, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Human Rights Committee completed their work this week. The Human Rights Committee was to today (23 July) hold a discussion on its working methods. The Economic and Social Council was to continue its general segment with consideration of assistance to Haiti.
Tomorrow (24 July) at 10:30 a.m. in Press Room 1 was a press conference by the World Health Organization to mark World Hepatitis Day. Speakers were Dr Sylvie Briand, Director, Pandemic and Epidemic Disease department, World Health Organization, Dr Stefan Wiktor, Team lead Global Hepatitis Programme, World Health Organization and Charles Gore, President, World Hepatitis Alliance.
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization later added that a lunchtime seminar (from 12.30 to 2 p.m.) was to include a discussion featuring three national ministers by video conference, explaining the actions their country had taken against hepatitis.
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The representatives of the International Labour Organization, World Health Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/18x65aE