REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
3 June 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for and Representatives of the International Labour Office, World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, the International Trade Centre, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Migrants arriving in Italy
Christiane Berthiaume of the International Migration Organization (IOM) said that with the arrival of over 3,000 boat people in Italy over the weekend, the number of migrants who managed to reach Italy from North Africa since the beginning of the year was almost equal to the total number of arrivals in 2013.
42,000 migrants risked crossing the Mediterranean in 2013 on often unseaworthy boats and had reached Italy, compared with over 40,000 in the first five months of this year. In 2013, bodies of 700 migrants who had drowned had been recovered, but the exact number of deaths would never be known. Last month, 17 bodies had been recovered at sea, after a shipwreck on 13 May. So far the number of deaths had decreased, thanks to Italy’s Mare Nostrum rescue operation, which patrolled the Mediterranean with large, well equipped ships to rescue boat people and take them to Sicily. The Mare Nostrum operation had started on 16 October 2013 after the worst tragedy in the Mediterranean. On 5 October 2013, 368 men, women and children had drowned when their boat caught fire and nobody had been there to help. Mare Nostrum’s aim was to save as many boat people as possible by patrolling the Mediterranean 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The migrants rescued on Friday and Saturday were Syrians, Moroccans, Egyptians, Eritreans, Somalis, Nigerians and other sub-Saharan nationals who departed from Libya because of insecurity, which also made it difficult for the Libyan authorities to control flows of irregular migrants through its territory. IOM had called on countries of origin, transit and destination to work together to find solutions to irregular migration flows not only in the Mediterranean but everywhere in the world. It was clear the operations like Mare Nostrum were needed, but it was only one kind of action and more was needed. It was to be noted that more migrants reached Germany or France, but Italy faced a humanitarian crisis and a huge humanitarian issue, and Italy was alone in providing rescue operations, including in international waters.
Answering questions by journalists, Ms. Berthiaume said that 17 bodies of migrants who died at sea had been recovered by Mare Nostrum since the beginning of 2014, compared to 700 in 2013, and stressed that the number of deaths must be higher that that, but it was impossible to know. Mare Nostrum was patrolling the Mediterranean all the time, searching and rescuing migrants and bringing them to Sicily. But search and rescue must not be the only solution to migration problem.
In 2013, some 120,000 migrants had arrived to Germany and 65,000 to France; 42,000 had arrived to Italy of which 27,000 remained.
In response to a question, Ms. Berthiaume said that IOM had reception centres for migrants in Libya and tried to discourage them from making the dangerous sea crossing. The situation in Libya was fragile and the insecurity made it difficult to set up programmes to support the people with options, including the return.
Dan McNorton of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) clarified their position saying that UNHCR was not considering camps as an alternative to addressing the challenges of refugees and migrants risking their lives at sea. They were working on a comprehensive plan, focused on saving lives and helping refugees in finding alternatives to making dangerous journeys in the first place. All options should be explored under the right circumstances and with adequate safeguards, but this needs to be part of a comprehensive plan, including creating of legal alternatives.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) drew attention to the report on the food security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where food insecurity and malnutrition persisted regardless of economic growth in the country, and even increased. Currently 6.7 million persons lived in acute food insecurity, which represented a humanitarian crisis. The deteriorating situation was caused by the continuing conflict and insecurity which prevented people from growing food, a decrease in international food aid and low levels of government spending on socio-economic sectors such as education, health, sanitation, infrastructure and agriculture. 95 per cent of the population lived on less than two dollars per day, and nine per cent of children under the age of five were acutely malnourished and chronic malnutrition rate at 43 per cent was critical. Particularly vulnerable were displaced families living in camps, most of which were female-headed households, as well as refugees from the Central African Republic.
In the face of severe funding constraints, WFP had to prioritize on life-saving activities and reduce the geographical coverage; it aimed to assist 1,6 million persons this year. Finally, Ms. Byrs stressed that WFP needed 21 million US dollars to ensure its operation and assist hundreds of thousands of persons through October 2014.
Central African Republic
Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) confirmed that armed escorts had been provided in the last weeks and all requests for those escorts were carefully vetted by the civil-military coordination unit, while security situation was assessed with international military forces and United Nations security personnel before granting or declining such requests. Armed escorts in Bangui were not required due to a large military presence in the city which regularly patrolled the town.
Dan McNorton of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that the Executive Director of the World Food Programme and United Nations Refugee Agency would be attending a special side event at the WFP Executive Board meeting in a bid to draw attention to the plight of refugees and third-country nationals in the Central African Republic. They would call for an urgent increase in international support to accelerate humanitarian efforts in the region. The Regional Refugee Response Plan for the country was only nine per cent funded. This event would be taking place tomorrow in Rome.
Concerning Sudan, Mr. Laerke said that the United Nations welcomed the Sudanese authorities’ decision to relocate over 30,000 South Sudanese refugees from their current location in “Kilo 10” in White Nile State where they were at risk from floods with heavy rains starting in the coming weeks. The current location of this large group of people had grave humanitarian consequences in particular on health and sanitation conditions due to possible water borne diseases, while the movement of the refugees to a better location would enable the provision of assistance and avert a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations in Sudan urged the Government to allow free and rapid movement of international humanitarian workers to access the refugees and ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the White Nile and Blue Nile States. United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners currently faced serious bureaucratic challenges that constrained their ability to ensure that the legitimate humanitarian needs of the population were met. South Sudanese refugees were already extremely vulnerable and should not be exposed to more risks.
Mr. Laerke informed that the new flash floods that had occurred over the weekend in northern Afghanistan had destroyed about 6,000 houses, killed livestock and washed out road infrastructures. The number of flood-affected people in Afghanistan now was 140,000 and this number would probably increase after the ongoing assessments were completed.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament held its weekly public meeting this morning and that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was examining the reports of India on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols. After a closed meeting tomorrow, the Committee would examine the reports of Indonesia on Thursday and Saint Lucia on Friday, and then close the session.
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Office (ILO) provided a short update on the 103rd International Labour Conference currently taking place in Geneva and said that the World of Work Summit would take place on Monday 9 June. To mark the occasion, the ILO would host a round table on employment at the heart of development, with the participation of labour ministers of the Philippines, Mexico and Tunisia, and the representatives of workers and employers, while the Prime Minister of Mongolia and the Prime Minister of Jordan would visit the Conference. Further information on the World of Work Summit and the security arrangements would be sent tomorrow.
A meeting concerning the upcoming African Union Summit on Employment, Poverty Eradication and Inclusive Development Ouagadougou +10 would take place on Thursday 5 June from 6 to 8 pm in Room XVI. The Summit would examine the progress made in employment and poverty eradication in Africa since 2004.
Mr. von Rohland also drew attention to the annual report of the International Trade Union Confederation on the violation of trade union rights, which would be launched tomorrow, 4 June at 1.30 pm in Room XIX. The contact person for additional information on this report and its launch was Mr. Mamadou Sourae 079193 1949. The situation in Qatar and Turkey would be on the agenda of this event.
Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization said that at 1.30 p.m. today a press release would be issued on the need to invest in midwifery based on a new report identifying gaps in services. The report was being released in Prague today at the 30th International Confederation of Midwifery Congress.
Isabelle Valentiny of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said that this year’s World Environment Day on 5 June was dedicated to the impact of climate change on Small Island Developing States, and the slogan was “Raise your voice and not sea level”. The host country was Barbados, where Executive Director, Achim Steiner, would launch a report on the impact of climate change on small island states.
In Geneva, UNEP would host a round table on Thursday 5 June at the International Environment House at 2.30 pm and a public event on Wednesday 4 June at “les Bains des Pâquis”, where three stationary bikes would be connected to the interactive displays. As people started biking, mounted screens would show a corresponding decrease in sea levels.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) was celebrating its 50th anniversary next week and to mark the occasion, a panel discussion would be held on 10 June at 3 pm said Mr. Jarle Hetland of ITC. Michael Møller, Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Hanna Tetteh, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana, would open the discussion, in which ministers and officials from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Chad, Brazil and others would take part. A book entitled “50 years of unlocking SME competitiveness: lessons for the future” would be launched at 5 pm, and would be followed by the Anniversary Reception at the World Trade Organization Atrium at 6 pm.
On Thursday 12 June, the ITC would be co-hosting with the Group of Women Ambassadors to the United Nations Office at Geneva and the International Trade Centre, an event called “The Power of Empowered Women 2014”. A high-level panel discussion would take place at 1 p.m. at the Palais des Nations in Room XVIII, while an equitable fashion show displaying clothes by an Italian-Haitian designer, Stella Jean, would take place in the WTO Atrium at 6 pm.
A journalist asked whether there would be any sessions on cotton issues and the situation in the Doha talks and Mr. Hetland said that no specific in-depth discussions were planned and added that cotton experts and experts from the Economic Community of West African States would be present and that the politics of cotton did not need to be discussed during the fashion show.
The representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund also attended the briefing, but did not brief.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1nKH72M