REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
22 January 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the High Commissioner for Refugees, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Organization for Migration.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR was expanding registration and assistance for Syrian refugees to keep pace with the numbers crossing into neighbouring countries each day.
Less than a month after the Syria Regional Response Plan for 2013 was launched, UNHCR and partners had begun the ambitious programmes of registration, outreach and financial assistance that were envisaged in the $1.1 billion plan. So far, however, UNHCR had only received 18 per cent of the funding it needed. Unless further funds came quickly, thousands of vulnerable Syrians were not to benefit from much needed assistance.
In Lebanon, UNHCR registered an average of 1,500 refugees daily through its four registration centres across the country, and was increasing capacity to respond to growing needs. The agency had established a new site in Bekaa, and was to open a registration site in Tyre in the coming months. Land had also been identified for expanded registration in Beirut.
In addition, and as part of contingency planning, UNHCR was working with the Lebanese authorities to identify two transit sites to accommodate refugees temporarily until appropriate accommodation can be found. Meanwhile, cash assistance to 18,000 beneficiaries was to be expanded by June. Families in need will receive an average grant of $240 a month to contribute to their monthly rent and living costs.
In Jordan an accelerated registration exercise began today (22 January) which aimed to process up to 1,400 Syrian refugees a day in the Amman registration centre. This number was to increase further once the registration centre in Irbid, in northern Jordan, became operational.
He also explained that Za'atri camp had experienced a massive increase in arrival numbers, with 8,821 Syrian refugees crossing the borders in the past five days. Refugees had arrived throughout the night and long into the day marking a significant change from earlier trends. UNHCR estimated that 21,000 people in need of protection had crossed into Jordan since 1 January, with new arrivals reporting increasing desperation for safety.
With 80 per cent of Syrian refugees living in urban communities, cash assistance had been instrumental in allowing the most vulnerable households to cover their basic needs such as rental costs. Depending on their size, families receive between 50 and 120 Jordanian dinars ($70 – 170) per month. In addition to this, and to help cope with the winter weather, families had received extra funds to help purchase winter supplies.
Of the 73,150 Syrian refugees now registered in Iraq, more than half were living in refugee camps, with 35 per cent living in urban areas. UNHCR, together with the Government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government, other UN agencies, and implementing partners, had responded to increased vulnerability during the winter by scaling up distribution of plastic sheeting, mattresses, kerosene, stoves, heaters, fleece blankets and quilts.
According to the Turkish Government, there were currently 156,801 refugees hosted in 15 camps in seven provinces. The Turkish government provided healthcare and education free of charge to Syrian refugees and since the crisis began in March 2011, the government had logged over 606,000 visits to health clinics by Syrian refugees.
UNHCR had provided 18,500 winter adapted tents to the Turkish Red Crescent. These tents, as well as electrical heaters, tarpaulins and plastic sheeting, warm clothing and thermal blankets
According to an analysis of registration data UNHCR had recently carried out for over 278,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt over half of the population were children, 39 per cent under the age of eleven. It also showed that one in five households was female headed, close to 90 per cent of Syrian refugees arrived in 2012 and one-third of the refugees came from Homs, with the remaining originating from Aleppo, As Suweida, Damascus City, Dara, Deir-ez-zor, Hama, Hassakeh, Idleb, Lattakia, Quneitra, Raqqa, Rural Damascus and Tartous.
Answering questions he said the Regional Response Plan for the next six months required $1.1 billion. He added that there was a need at this time to make sure there was a response at the level needed and the surge to get assistance to the places that required it most was fuelled by the conditions and the rising number of registrations.
Region-wide, 664,081 Syrians were now either registered as refugees or being assisted pending registration, and an estimate of the possible number of refugees seen in the first six months of 2013 was for the total number to hit one million. There were other figures used by governments in the region, he said, though these were estimates, not exact figures.
In response to questions on funding, Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the Secretary-General was to chair a high-level pledging conference for Syria on 30 January in Kuwait, which would represent an opportunity for donors to come forward and provide support.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said a team of Emergency Directors from seven United Nations humanitarian agencies, led by OCHA's Operations Director, John Ging, was wrapping up a four-day mission to Syria, where they visited Damascus, Rural Damascus, Homs, Talbiseh and Dera'a since 18 January.
They were scheduled to give a press conference in Beirut in Lebanon later this afternoon, and they gave a press conference in Damascus last night. The team yesterday crossed conflict lines inside Syria into the city of Talbiseh, which had been battered by more than twenty months of violence. The visit was coordinated with both the Government and the opposition. The delegation said it was shocked by what they saw in Talbiseh and Homs.
The delegation met with people in dire need of food, healthcare and access to clean water. They also met children who had been particularly affected by the fighting and urgently needed psychosocial support and access to school. Buildings had been reduced to rubble and many had lost their homes.
John Ging said he was "encouraged that the delegation was able to cross the conflict lines, which demonstrated that, where there was political will, there was a way to ensure that international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles were upheld, even during such intense conflict." However, he emphasized that "the humanitarian needs were enormous” and that the United Nations must find ways to immediately increase the scale of operations.
There were an estimated four million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, including at least two million who were internally displaced. With winter upon the country, people were facing heavy rains and sub-zero temperatures, often without adequate food, shelter, water or access to medical care.
Answering questions he said that a lull in fighting had allowed the group to cross the front line, and this was done in cooperation with both the Government and the opposition. On another point he said this was the latest of multiple missions to Syria since the conflict began, though this was the first made with the particular set up of mission members.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) added that Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes, who had taken part in the recent mission, was to attend the press briefing in Geneva on Friday (25 January) to launch the UNICEF Emergency Appeal for 2013.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, had allocated $100 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to boost operations in neglected emergencies in 12 countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen.
These countries were selected on the basis of the severity of humanitarian need and an analysis of funding levels. The aim with this type of ERF support was to even out funding disparities and highlight forgotten or neglected emergencies.
USG Amos said that millions of people continued to need help around the world after the media spotlight faded; these allocations were about saving lives and provided help to those caught in hidden emergencies.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said as air bombing and fighting continue in Mali, refugees were continuing to cross into neighbouring countries.
In Mauritania, 4208 Malian refugees had arrived since January 11. After being registered at the Fassala transit centre, they were being transported further inland to the Mbera refugee camp which was already hosting 55,221 people from earlier displacements. In Niger there were 1,300 new refugees, mainly from Menaka and Anderamboukane.
During the same period, Burkina Faso had received 1,829 new refugees. These were mainly Tuaregs and Songhai from the regions of Gossi, Timbuktu, Gao and Bambara Maoude. To help receive people UNHCR had erected two hangars in Inabao, at the border with Mali, which was currently the main entry point for new refugees. Our partner Plan Burkina had also rehabilitated a hand water pump and had constructed emergency latrines. In part, this was aimed possible tensions with the local population.
New arrivals continued to say they left their homes because of air strikes and fighting, as well as fears over the application of Sharia law. They also spoke of increasing shortages of food and fuel, with traditional markets unable to operate. A lack of cereal was pushing breeders to either kill some of their animals as they had nothing else to eat, or to try to sell them. Some refugees were travelling by private car or by truck, while others had arrived from Mali on foot or by donkey. Many newly arrived refugees were expecting additional members of their families to join them in the next days from Mali.
UNHCR and partners continued to assist those refugees who were in camps in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania by providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene structures, food, adequate shelter, healthcare and education.
In Burkina Faso, vehicles were going back and forth at the border to collect those who were unable to walk. UNHCR were also continuing to relocate refugees from the border to safer sites inland. On January 19th, a convoy with 568 refugees left the Ferrerio and Gandafabou refugee sites, in Burkina’s northern Sahel region to be relocated to Goudebou camp near Dori. Ferrerio will from now only be used as a transit center for the new arrivals before they were transported to Goudebou. As of today, and since October, UNHCR had relocated 4,737 refugees from the border. In total, Burkina Faso was hosting 38,776 Malian refugees.
Including those displaced this month, some 147,000 Malians had found refuge in neighbouring countries since the Mali crisis started in January 2012. Inside Mali, 229,000 people were displaced – mainly from Kidal, Timbuktu, and Gao.
For the internally displaced as well as for refugees, the immediate needs were for water, food, shelter and medical care. Living conditions were particularly precarious for the internally displaced who were in dire need of food, but also need help with education, health, lodging as well as schooling for young children. UNHCR and partners were working to address the situation through income-generating activities in Bamako. Currently, humanitarian access to other areas of Mali was severely restricted by the security situation.
Answering questions he said the security situation was still an issue for the humanitarian community and access to the north was difficult. It was easier to reach refugees in neighbouring countries, he said. There were currently 1,500 refugees from Mali in Algeria and the border between the two countries was not easy to cross.
On another point he said detailed demographic data on the makeup of the groups leaving the country was not yet available. Beyond the current intervention there were long-term issues across the Sahel region that would need to be addressed, he also said.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR was set to open a new refugee camp in South Sudan’s Unity State in the coming weeks. This was to help manage further inflows of Sudanese refugees and to decongest the existing settlement in Yida, where essential services were overstretched.
Together with the South Sudanese government UNHCR had agreed to locate the new camp at Ajuong, a forested area of red sandy soil with good terrain, water resources, and plenty of space. Ajuong was located in the border county of Pariang. UNHCR had received assurances from the national authorities that the location was safe.
Refugee leaders and UNHCR had been working jointly to assess the suitability of the new site. After a “go and see visit” organized for members of the refugee community, refugees determined that the site was suitable for them. The black cotton soil in the area could be used for agriculture by the refugee population. Local communities in the area had also reacted positively to the proposal.
In addition to Ajuong, which will eventually hold 20,000 refugees, UNHCR was planning to open other camps in Unity State in northern South Sudan. The new camps could eventually hold an estimated 110,000 refugees.
New arrivals from Southern Kordofan in Sudan were to be given priority in Ajuong, which was expected to begin receiving refugees in early March. As well as housing newly arrived refugees, UNHCR were hoping that many existing refugees in other camps will choose to relocate there. The new site was to allow refugees to live in a safe environment where better conditions exist for self-reliance and livelihoods assistance.
Currently, Yida, which held 61,000 people, was the largest refugee location in South Sudan. However the Yida site presented major problems – in large part because it was totally cut-off during the six months of the rainy season, posing serious hygiene and health risks. The close proximity of Yida from a contested border area with Sudan also posed security problems, raising concerns about the safety of refugees and the civilian character of the site.
Answering questions he said typically 300 refugees a day continued to arrive.
Cécile Pouilly for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the OHCHR was deeply dismayed to hear about the reported execution in Iran of a juvenile offender on Wednesday 16 January 2013.
According to reports, Mr Ali Naderi, a 21 year old man was executed for a crime he allegedly committed when he was 17 years old. He was sentenced to death for his role in the murder of a woman.
The death penalty cannot be imposed for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age. The International human rights instruments, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to both of which the Islamic Republic of Iran was a party, imposed an absolute ban on the death sentence against persons below the age of 18 at the time when the offence was committed.
She said this was the first juvenile execution since September 2011, and the authorities appeared to had made efforts to prevent such cases and urged the Government of Iran to end the execution of juvenile offenders once and for all.
There were also concerns about five other individuals, Mr Mohammad Ali Amouri, Mr Sayed Jaber Alboshoka, Mr Sayed Mokhtar Alboshoka, Mr Hashem Shabain Amouri and Mr Hadi Rashidi, whose death sentences were apparently recently upheld by the Supreme Court and appeared to be at risk of imminent execution. There were serious concerns about the fairness of their trials and allegations that they were subjected to torture.
Over 400 people were reportedly executed in Iran in 2012 alone, the majority of whom were charged with drug-related offences that did not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” to which the death penalty might lawfully be applied under international human rights law. OHCHR urged the Government to restrict the use of the death penalty, to reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed and to respect international standards guaranteeing due process and the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty.
OHCHR also condemned the recent spike in public executions. Over 55 executions were carried out in public in 2012, while several others had already been recorded this year. These included the hanging last Sunday of two individuals in a park in Tehran. Executions in public added to the already cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty and had a dehumanizing effect on both the victim and those who witnessed the execution, she said.
Answering questions she said the OHCHR had repeatedly called for a moratorium on the death penalty.
IOM Compendium Appeal 2013
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that in order to implement various humanitarian emergency projects, some of which were initiated in 2012, IOM was appealing to donors for $303 million for humanitarian projects in 2013.
The IOM Humanitarian Compendium 2013 was seeking the funds to complete new and existing projects in 16 countries including Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Among the major projects, some $60 million was needed to assist the safe and dignified return of 300,000 South Sudanese who were still in the Republic of Sudan. South Sudan had some of the worst health indicators in the world. Less than 20 per cent of the population had access to primary health care services. The money would also provide life-saving primary health care services to the returnees and the communities to which they return.
In Yemen, IOM was seeking $38 million to continue to help thousands of stranded vulnerable migrants from the Horn of Africa to voluntarily return home. Most arrived in the country after a hazardous journey across the Gulf of Aden. The funds would also go towards helping the most vulnerable and rebuilding livelihoods in Yemen’s war-torn Abyan and al-Jawf governorates.
In Kenya, the Organization was seeking $35 million to provide shelter, non-food relief items and health assistance to some 473,000 Somali refugees sheltering at the Daadab refugee camp, the largest in the world. It would also help another 300,000 Kenyans who were internally displaced because of natural disasters and inter-ethnic conflict.
Another major tranche of the funding would go towards the provision of emergency aid to civilians engulfed in the Syrian crisis. IOM was seeking $36 million to continue to provide non-food items (NFIs) to growing numbers of internally displaced Syrians.
In Haiti, USD 18.5 million was needed to continue to provide rental subsidies that allow internally displaced families to leave over-crowded camps and move into rented accommodation to restart their lives three years after the devastating earthquake of January 2010.
Green One UN House Vietnam
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM in Viet Nam had joined a strategic and environmentally friendly initiative in the national’s capital Ha Noi, where a groundbreaking ceremony was held yesterday for the construction of the Green One UN House.
The enterprise was one of the six pillars of the “Delivering as One” reform initiative of the UN in Viet Nam, and will bring together staff from 14 agencies, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the UN and IOM’s development work.
The global “Delivering as One” reform initiative was launched in 2006 when the governments of eight countries – Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay, and Viet Nam – volunteered to become “Delivering as One” pilot countries.
The eight countries agreed to capitalize on the strengths and comparative advantages of the different members of the UN family and look at ways to increase the UN system’s impact in the development field.
Answering a question Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a BBC report suggesting Thai officials had been selling people fleeing Myanmar to human traffickers was disturbing and unacceptable. UNHCR had not been able to verify these media reports due to a lack of their own presence in southern Thailand where the boats were said to arrive. He urged the Thai Government to investigate such claims.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament held this morning its first public meeting of the year. The Director General, Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev read a message to the Conference on behalf of the Secretary-General of the UN (copies of which were available at the back of the room). In this message, the Secretary-General said he remained, “committed to the Conference on Disarmament, but it must fulfil its role. The world today remains over-armed. Peace was under-funded. We cannot afford to lose yet another year.” He also quoted Dag Hammarskjöld, saying “In this field, as we well know, a standstill does not exist; if you do not go forward, you go backward.”
The Committee on the Rights of the Child examined this morning the report of Niue. This review was to take place by video conference at the Palais des Nations from 9:00 this morning. This afternoon the Committee was to consider the report of the Philippines on the exploitation of children. Slovakia was to tomorrow present its reports on the two Optional Protocols: the exploitation of children and children in armed conflict. The rest of the session will be held in private until the closing session next Friday (1 February). The Committee had already examined the reports submitted by Guyana, the United States, Malta, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
In the Human Rights Council this morning was the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session of Romania and this afternoon, Mali. Reports were available online.
She also announced that later today (22 January) there was a press conference organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at 13:00 in Room III on the launch of the “Think, Eat, Save” campaign to change the culture of food waste. Speakers were Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, Eugenia Serova, Director of the Rural Infrastructure & Agro-Industries Division, FAO, Dominique Kohli, ADG of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, Janez Potoènik, European Commissioner for the Environment (Video Message), Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP UK, Bernd Jablonowski, Interpack Project Director (responsible for SAVE FOOD at Messe Düsseldorf), Helenio Waddington, Representing the Brazilian Hospitality Industry Rep and Tristram Stuart, Feeding the 5,000.
Tomorrow (23 January) at 11:00 in Press Room 1 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would hold a press conference on their latest Global Investment Trends and Prospects report, under embargo until 23 January at 18:00 Geneva time. The speaker was James Zhan, UNCTAD’s Director of the Division on Investment and Enterprise.