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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

31 January 2017

Alessandra Vellucci, Director, United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Mine Action Service, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Trade Centre, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

US Refugee Resettlement/ Migration to the US

Asked about IOM’s message to migrants from Latin America currently trying to make their way to the United States, Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM was in favor of human mobility, which added to the wealth of nations and societies.  From IOM’s and many societies’ as well as the private sector’s perspective, migration was extremely important, but managed migration was crucial.  It was an individual decision if someone tried to cross a border without appropriate papers.  In response to other questions, Mr. Doyle said that IOM respected the right of any country in the world to determine who came across its borders.  It was also normal anywhere that with a new administration, previous policies were reviewed.  What was of enormous concern to IOM is that vulnerable refugees who had already been through security checks, health checks, cultural orientation, and after perhaps four years of waiting to be resettled, they had sold their goods, given away their settlement in a refugee camp, lost their livelihood, only to be told at the last moment to go back to refugee camps.  Their security, safety and protection was IOM’s focus.

In response to further questions, Mr. Doyle said that the United States was still a beacon of hope and that in the coming 120 days during which the policy would be reviewed, many voices would come forth, recognizing the extraordinary role that the US had played for decades.  He also said that other countries should now step up their efforts to help vulnerable people escape the terrible situations they were now in. 

Mr. Doyle noted the request from the press for IOM’s Director-General William Lacy Swing to brief the press soon on the impact of the changes in US immigration policy.  He also clarified that Ambassador Swing was a neutral civil servant ever since he had joined IOM and that there were no implications of the fact that he had been a US diplomat on his current role.  Asked about whether Ambassador Swing’s US citizenship was an advantage or disadvantage in dealing with the US Government, Mr. Doyle said that hopefully Director-General Swing’s experience would count.

In response to questions about family reunion, Mr. Doyle said that there were personal tragedies occurring in the context of the new policy, but that the bottom line was that any country could make decisions regarding its national security.  He said that IOM was hoping that the policy would return to an even keel after it would be looked at 120 days, as it had indeed returned after the attacks of September 11, 2001.  It was important for other countries to step forward and commit to taking in the people who had already been approved and cleared.  Resettlement only concerned about 1 per cent of the total number of refugees, the most vulnerable, and about two-thirds of them were being taken in by the United States.  Asked about how many refugees from the seven countries had had their travel cancelled over the past few days, Mr. Doyle said that the number was around 850 people. 

Mr. Doyle also said that out of the total number of US refugee admissions in 2016, in terms of the most represented nationalities, the order was as follows: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Myanmar, Iraq, Somalia.  Some 72 per cent of those resettled were women and children.  Despite criticism, the United States had been extremely generous.  Mr. Doyle also said that resettlement was a voluntary process and there were no internationally-mandated quotas established for resettlement.  The US had resettled 19,000 Syrian refugees since 2014.  Resettlement was not tied up with non-refoulement.  Screening was done by the security authorities of the States who were proposing resettlement.  Mr. Doyle could not comment on the legality of the new measure in regard to international law.

In response to further questions, Vannina Maestracci, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that indeed some 800 people were to travel to make the US their new home this week. She referred to the statement issued the previous day by UNHCR and the number of 20,000 estimated refugees who might be affected in the four months of the suspension. She explained that this number was based on the people arriving through the resettlement programme in the United States over the last 15 years, and it was an average.

She noted that resettlement was a lengthy process, which can take up two years in the case of the United States, and which involved unfortunately delays. Hopefully, it would be only temporary, and UNHCR was doing everything it could to ensure that refugees were not left in a vulnerable situation. She said that UNHCR colleagues on the ground were reporting worry among refugees and the UN Refugee Agency was trying to answer questions and reassure them.

Ms. Maestracci also clarified that people up for resettlement had already been determined to be refugees and were being sent to a third country as they were particularly vulnerable. She said this represented only 1% of refugees while the estimates for 2017 were of 1.19 million people who needed to be resettled across the world, according to a report published by UNHCR last June. She reminded the press that resettlement was also a voluntary programme, not part of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and UNHCR encouraged every country to participate in it. She added that resettlement places were life-saving and that the places and quotas for resettlement from all countries were essential.

She also said that seeking asylum was a basic human right, and that there was a difference to be made between people who were seeking asylum and people who had already sought asylum and were part of the resettlement programme.

Asked about the difference between the case of the US and the fact that Hungary had been singled out in 2016 for closing its borders, Ms. Maestracci said that the decision in Hungary had been a firm closure and not temporary, and had also involved changes in legislation.

Ms. Maestracci also said that resettlement was a durable solution for refugees and a very important way for Governments and communities to show solidarity with people who had fled persecution, conflict and oppression. The needs for resettlement far surpassed the actual capacity. UNHCR had said for years that it hoped to obtain more resettlement places from all countries in the world. Asked about screening, Ms. Maestracci reiterated that UNHCR did an initial interview and screening, but then all 30 countries which proposed resettlement conducted their own screening process and made the final decisions has to who would be resettled in the country. A factsheet on the UNHCR US website showed the different layers of the resettlement process. Refugees being resettled to the US were among the most vetted people coming into that country.

Answering questions, Ms. Vellucci added that on 30 January, at the press conference that the UN Secretary-General had given at the African Union Summit, he had said that refugee protection was something that is absolutely essential to guarantee, and that access by refugees to where they can find adequate protection was of extreme importance.  He had said, “The US has a large tradition of refugee protection, and I strongly hope that measures that were taken will be only temporary.  I strongly hope that refugee protection will become again high in the agenda of the United States of America.”

Ms. Vellucci also noted the request from ACANU to have representatives from OHCHR on the podium, and would pass the message on to her OHCHR colleagues.

United States Funding of UN agencies

In response to questions about potential US funding cuts to UN agencies, and potential associated pressure on those agencies, Mr. Doyle said that IOM had had no indications of funding cuts and had had no pressure.  IOM was a member organization and did not criticize individual members.  IOM tried to obtain options and solutions by talking to all levels of the administration in all the countries in the world.

In response to further questions regarding the United States’ contribution to IOM’s budget, Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM did not have a fixed budget proportion from any donor in the world, and contributions came project by project.  In the last two years, the US had contributed 28 per cent and 27 per cent of the budget, to a number of programmes.  The US was the largest single donor. 

Asked about the proportion of US financing in the UNHCR budget, Ms. Maestracci said that the information was available on the UNHCR website.

UNMAS

Ms. Vellucci introduced Sarah Marshall, who had been appointed Chief of the Geneva Office of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).  Ms. Marshall said that been with UNMAS in the field for the best part of a decade, following her first career as a commissioned officer in the British Army.  She had been in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Sudan, and recently in Syria she had reinitiated and then led the mine action and UNMAS programme for the Syria crisis.  The UNMAS Office in Geneva was the focal point for all humanitarian mine action issues.  It led the Mine Action Area of Responsibility (AOR), which was part of the Global Protection Cluster.  It also led on all treaty and legal-related matters. 

2017 was the 20th anniversary of UNMAS and of the Ottawa Treaty, or Mine-Ban Convention, initiated by Princess Diana of the United Kingdom. 

Through those 20 years, mine action had developed around five pillars: the clearance of mines, but now more so explosive remnants of war (ERW), the controversial subject of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mine risk education, stockpile destruction, advocacy and victim assistance.  Ms. Marshall said that when thinking about mine action people often thought about military demining, which was not what the humanitarian mine action sector was about. 

Ms. Marshall announced that the 20th International Meeting of Mine Action National Programme Directors and United Nations Advisers (NDM) would take place on 7-10 February 2017.  It was a platform for dialogue of around 500 mine action practitioners from the mine action community around the world, talking about achievements, but also looking ahead on emergency relief, peacekeeping, sustainable development and IEDs.  The theme this year was “Needs-Driven, People-Centred”, and there would be insights from the current conflict zones, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria.  There would be ten plenary sessions with topics such as international humanitarian law and mine action, mine action in reconciliation/ peace processes, and mine action as an accelerator towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
UNMAS Global Director Agnès Marcaillou would be doing a dedicated press event during the week, but journalists who wished to attend any of the meetings or to meet any of the participants were encouraged to get in touch.

Syria

Asked about the resumption of the Deir ez-Zor airdrops, Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that they had had to be stopped because of the heavy fighting and because there had been danger to the volunteers on the ground.  Now, a new, safer location for the drop zone had been identified, safe for volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to work in.  The airdrops had restarted on 29 January and were ongoing.  A total of 179 airdrops had been done to date.

Asked about taskforce meetings, Ms. Vellucci said that Mr. de Mistura was in New York today and she was waiting for confirmation of the meetings shortly…. Ms. Vellucci would also check whether Mr. de Mistura’s spokesperson was traveling with him or not.

WFP Leadership

Ms. Luescher said that WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin had informed the Secretary-General and WFP staff on 30 January that she would not seek a second term at the head of the WFP.  She would serve until the end of her current term on 6 April.  Ms. Cousin would be discussing the transition modalities with the Secretary-General today.  The Executive Director of the WFP was appointed jointly by the UN Secretary-General and the FAO Director after consultation with the WFP Executive Board, for a term of five years.

In response to a question, Ms. Luescher said that recent Executive Directors had been from the United States, but throughout the longer history of WFP many other nationalities had been represented: Uruguay, Australia, Brazil, Canada, El Salvador, India and the Netherlands.  Candidates would step forward and the Secretary-General, together with the FAO Director-General and the WFP Executive Board would discuss their candidacies.  Ms. Cousin did not give a reason for her decision.  WFP teams around the world were very busy with many humanitarian crises, and that work of course would continue.

United States/ Mexico

Asked about whether there had been a statement from the Secretary-General on the executive order of President Donald Trump to build a border wall with Mexico, Ms. Vellucci referred the journalists to the answers of the UN Spokesperson to questions from the press about new US policies.  The new Permanent Representative of the US to the UN, Ambassador Haley, had recently arrived and the Secretary-General had had a first meeting with her.  There was a new administration in the US and in the UN, and that there was a need to build a relationship of trust.

In response to questions, Mr. Doyle said that IOM had not  sent out a statement about the planned construction of a border wall between the US and Mexico.  The US was not the only country in the world policing its border with alacrity.  In general, IOM believed in bridges rather than walls.

Mediterranean Update

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the Mediterranean arrivals so far in 2017 were a small fraction of what had been seen in 2016: 5,483 arrivals, almost all of them in Italy, compared to 67,000 at this time in 2016.  Fatalities continued, however.  The range of incidents was of great concern.  Four unaccompanied children from Côte d’Ivoire had been travelling, trying to reach their father who was living in France, and two of them had been found dead on a boat rescued in the Mediterranean.  Authorities were trying to determine whether they had died of asphyxiation or hypothermia.  Those were just two out of seven cases over the past five days.  Additionally, three individuals had been found dead in camps in Greece.  Those cases indicated what was at stake when migration could not be conducted in a legal, managed way.

In response to questions about the drop in arrivals, Mr. Millman said that it was the decrease in arrivals from Turkey to Greece, with some making the link with the EU-Turkey agreement.  That route had been driving arrivals a year ago.  Nonetheless, operations in North Africa were as busy and robust as ever, and there was an uptick in deaths on the western route connecting Morocco to Spain.  Demand from Africa and parts of Asia was as high as ever, resulting in a higher rate of fatalities that a year ago.

Asked whether less people from the Middle East still wanted to go to Europe, Mr. Millman said that he could not comment on their sentiment.  He said that the Libya route was growing and becoming more and more active with Sub-Saharan Africans, and that the Middle East and Horn of Africa cadre which had been very typical of who had been coming through two years ago, had largely been replaced by Sub-Saharan Africans.  Europe as a destination remained as popular as ever, but the means had been restricted, so people were choosing a more dangerous route, as evidenced by the number of deaths.  IOM was urging people to seek a managed, safe, and secure migration, legally, to whatever destination they were interested in going to.

Mr. Doyle also added that there had been reports of migrants being mistreated in Libya, based on second-hand accounts of migrants being killed if they couldn’t produce a ransom payment or funds to the smugglers to continue their journey, and that this was of concern to IOM.

South Sudan

Mr. Millman also referred the press to an IOM report on how the impact of fighting in South Sudan had blocked IOM from delivering some humanitarian assistance. 

IOM Leadership

Regarding questions about the succession of Ambassador Swing in 2018, Mr. Doyle said that it was an election by Member States and not an appointment by a single one.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Jarle Hetland, for the International Trade Centre (ITC), said that there would be a high-level ITC and European Union delegation going to The Gambia the following week.  They would be launching an 11 million euro project focused on boosting job creation and entrepreneurship opportunities for Gambian youth.  It was a joint initiative between the European Union and ITC as well as the Gambian Government, and it was also an effort to stem the number of young people leaving the country.

In 2016, of the 282,000 migrants recorded by IOM passing through Séguedine, one of the last stops in Niger for migrants before reaching the Libyan border, 15 per cent had been Gambians, the third-highest behind Nigerians and Nigeriens.  During this visit there would also be high-level meetings with the new Gambian administration to explore further areas for collaboration.  Mr. Hetland would be sharing a media alert and more information on this in the coming weeks.

Also, in Istanbul on 23-24 February, ITC would be hosting the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum, which had been originally planned for December 2016.  The event would bring together the representatives of several hundred women-owned businesses and larger companies, including multinationals.  They would gather to explore how policies could be improved to ensure that more public and private procurement was won by women-owned businesses and that more women were included in global value chains.
Currently only 1 per cent of global procurement was going to women-owned businesses.  The event would also be an opportunity for the participating companies to do real business.

Mr. Hetland also announced that ITC’s annual flagship event, the World Export Development Forum, would take place on 25-26 October in Budapest.  The event would focus on turbulence in global trade and there would be an opportunity for the press to participate.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Trade and Development Conference (UNCTAD), said that the latest update of the numbers on direct foreign investments in 2016, with the outlook for 2017, would be published on 1 February.  The Geneva-based correspondents would be sent the Global Investments Trends Monitor at 9 a.m. that day, ahead of the rest of the global press.  There would be a press briefing on 1 February at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1 with James Zhan, Director of Investment and Enterprise at UNCTAD.  The invitation would be sent to the press shortly.  The information would be under embargo until 5 p.m. GMT.  It would be a short report of only seven pages, an update of the report published last June and updated once last October. 

Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced a press conference on 1 February at 3.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 with Ian Clarke, WHO Incident Manager for Zika, Dr Nathalie Broutet, Coordination, WHO Zika Virus Research Agenda, and Dr Bernadette Murgue, Project Manager, WHO R&D Blueprint for Action to Prevent Epidemics, to brief on what we knew and what we didn’t know about Zika, one year after it had been declared a public health emergency of international concern.

He also announced a press conference on 3 February at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1, during which, to mark World Cancer Day (4 February), WHO would launch new guidance on early cancer diagnosis to improve the chances of survival for people living with cancer by ensuring health services could provide earlier cancer diagnosis and treatment. 
Also new figures related to number of cancer-related deaths would be presented at the press briefing.  In response to a question, Mr. Jasarevic said that the figures were WHO figures.

A press release under embargo with the numbers could be obtained by sending an email to Tarik.  All the information would be embargoed until the press conference.  The speakers would be Dr. Etienne Krug, Director, WHO’s Department for the Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, and Dr. Andre Ilbawi, WHO cancer focal point.

Ms. Vellucci said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child, would complete today the review (started on 30 January) of the reports presented by Malawi, focusing more specifically on the reports submitted under the two Optional Protocols to the Convention.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Conference on Disarmament, was holding a public plenary today, 31 January, starting at 10 a.m.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog310117


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