REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
19 June 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the International Organization for Migration, the Human Rights Council, the UN Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Adrian Edwards of the UN Refugee Agency said that over the weekend UNHCR had begun a new emergency aid airlift for refugees in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. The flights were bringing supplies for 50,000 refugees who had fled conflict and related food shortages in Sudan’s Blue Nile State.
Since Saturday, a UNHCR-chartered Ilyushin 18 aircraft had been doing two daily rotations to bring basic relief items from Juba to Paloich, an airstrip which UNHCR had recently negotiated access to. Paloich airport was 90 kilometres by road from the Jammam refugee settlement and 150 kilometres from Doro settlement, with Yusuf Batil settlement located between the two.
The aid included kitchen sets, blankets, soap, plastic sheets, sleeping mats, jerry cans and mosquito nets, said Mr. Edwards. UNHCR was also bringing in equipment for drilling new boreholes to increase the supply of clean water, which was in severe shortage in the area. With the new airlift, UNHCR was hoping to speed the delivery of these critical supplies. Difficult road conditions had been made worse by rains, causing considerable delays in long-haul ground transport operations.
On 20 December last year, UNHCR had launched an airlift from Nairobi to Juba, bringing within a month enough supplies to cover the needs of the refugees who had fled to South Sudan from South Kordofan and Blue Nile. This had been sufficient until the new surge of the past two months. As the influx grew, UNHCR had set up new supply routes through Ethiopia. It was also using barges on the River Nile, said Mr. Edwards.
With the security and humanitarian conditions deteriorating in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, a growing number of Sudanese had been seeking refuge in South Sudan, exceeding by some way UNHCR’s original planning assumptions. In Upper Nile state for example, the organization had planned for 75,000 refugees but some 105,000 people had already crossed from Blue Nile State.
Further west, in South Sudan’s Unity state, the Yida refugee settlement currently had more than 55,000 refugees. This was 15,000 more people than a month ago and UNHCR was are planning to ship additional supplies for them from Juba. The newcomers were settling on land which the authorities said was used for cattle grazing, causing concern to the local population. UNHCR was also worried about the proximity of this area to the border. The organization was deploying a site planner to Yida to assist the new arrivals.
Mireille Girard, UNHCR Representative for South Sudan, joining the press briefing by telephone, said that South Sudan was facing a new challenge. While trying to stabilize the operation and prepare for the rainy season, they were now facing a massive new influx which had started, in the case of Upper Nile, three weeks ago, with 35,000 people suddenly arriving on the border. In Unity State, UNHCR had been receiving 35,000 people in the past two months. The situation required an escalation of humanitarian efforts, and UNHCR was working around the clock to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
The reason people had cited for leaving both the State of South Kordofan and Blue Nile was continued fighting – bombing and ground fighting – and the depletion of food stocks. The rainy season also prompted people to position themselves on the other side of the border, knowing that some roads would be cut off soon.
People were arriving in a very advanced state of exhaustion, dehydration and, sometimes, malnutrition. People had arrived with little belongings after walking for days (some said they had been walking for as long as 45 days), and some had left family members behind.
In response to this influx UNHCR was prioritizing the relocation of people away from border areas into camps set up at a safer distance from the border. UNHCR had relocated more than 10,000 people in the past few days and would continue at a rhythm of about 2,000 per day, bringing people to Yusuf Batil settlement.
The logistics were a nightmare at the moment, said Ms. Girard. With the onset of the rain, roads were becoming more and more impassible. In some cases, convoys had been stranded in the mud for hours. This was a monumental challenge and perhaps the single biggest obstacle to delivering humanitarian assistance to the refugees in both a timely and cost effective manner.
In the coming weeks there would be new arrivals, warned Ms. Girard, saying people in Upper Nile had told UNHCR of about 15,000 persons who were still on the other side, on their way to the border.
Mr. Edwards said that following the sudden escalation of violence some days ago, the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state remained tense. The efforts of Myanmar authorities to restore law and order were continuing. There were, however, reports of sporadic violence.
According to initial government estimates, tens of thousands of people had been displaced. UNHCR expected this number to continue to grow as further information became available. The destruction of property appeared to be widespread. Myanmar authorities had indicated that as many as 1,600 houses may have been destroyed in the riots.
As part of the overall UN response to the request from the Myanmar authorities for assistance, UNHCR would provide shelter material and basic aid items such as blankets, mattresses and other essential household items to communities affected by the violence. At present the organization could meet the immediate humanitarian needs of some 2,000 families with kits containing plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, blankets and mosquito nets. The UN Refugee Agency planned to redeploy its field teams as soon as possible.
An inter-agency rapid needs assessment team, including UNHCR, was scheduled to be deployed to Sittwe on Tuesday, 19 June. The government was running more than 40 temporary relief camps in six townships in Rakhine state and had asked for help for the displaced people in these camps. There were also reports that a number of people in their homes in Maungdaw were in need of food and other humanitarian assistance.
Meanwhile in Bangladesh, UNHCR continued to monitor developments along the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. After a brief lull over the weekend, seven boats carrying 128 persons had arrived yesterday from Myanmar. UNHCR continued its dialogue with the Government of Bangladesh on the management of these arrivals. The Government had however maintained its position of keeping the borders closed. 139 persons had been pushed back from Bangladesh by border authorities yesterday.
Since events had begun to unfold 10 days ago, UNHCR reiterated its readiness to provide assistance and support to the governments and the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar in addressing this evolving humanitarian situation.
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said that WFP had reached more than 66,000 displaced people with emergency food supplies in the past week, delivering rations of rice, beans and cooking oil. WFP had completed food distributions in the townships of Sittwe, Maungdaw, Buthidang and Rathedaung. In Sittwe, WFP had provided a 2-day ration – in other locations, food rations had been for six days.
WFP had about 2,800 metric tons of food (rice, pulses, oil, salt and a nutritious cereal blend known as Super Cereal) in four warehouses in the region, ready to be distributed to the affected population. The organization planned to distribute Super Cereal to pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under three years of age as part of efforts to protect against malnutrition.
The most significant obstacle WFP was currently facing is access, with poor roads and bridges being a particular constraint, said Ms. Byrs. Some displaced populations could only be reached using small trucks. At this stage, WFP estimated that there were about 90,000 displaced people in need of assistance as a result of the recent clashes.
A team had arrived in Sittwe on Saturday to help scale up the operation there, and it had since traveled to Maungdaw and Buthidaung in order to expand deliveries. A second team was due to head to Maungdaw on Wednesday, said Ms. Byrs.
Sahel Crisis: launch of three new appeals today
Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, David Gressly, had arrived in Geneva this morning. Mr. Gressly was briefing Member States on three new appeals and the revision of two appeals for the Sahel region. The new appeals were for Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania. The two revised appeals were for Chad and Niger.
The combined request for the region, which also included Cameroon, Gambia, Nigeria and Senegal now amounted to a total of US$1.6 billion. The needs mainly related to food, nutrition, health services and sanitation for 18.7 million people.
A press release and additional material would be made available after the Member States briefing at 12.30 p.m., when there would be a press conference with Mr. Gressly in Room 1.
Asked whether she could confirm the holding of a Contact Group meeting on 30 June in Geneva, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that discussions on the place, date, modalities and participants in such a meeting were still ongoing, and the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria was holding intensive consultations with all concerned parties.
In response to a question about the expelling of South Sudanese refugees by Israel, Mr. Edwards said that his understanding was that the court decision related to people who were failed asylum-seekers. It did not relate to people under UNHCR’s care -- asylum-seekers, refugees and internally displaced people. If someone was not given asylum in a country, then countries did have the right to take the action that they deem appropriate. Nonetheless, UNHCR hoped that people were being returned in full respect of their human rights.
Catherine Sibut-Pinote of the UN Conference on Trade and Development said that UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi had announced on Monday a new commitment by stock exchanges to promote long-term, sustainable investment in their marketplaces. The agreement had been struck with Nasdaq (United States), and the Brazilian, Egyptian, Istanbul and Johannesburg stock exchanges were to become “founding signatories” to the Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative (SSE). Together the exchanges included over 4,600 listed companies.
Christopher Lom of the International Organization for Migration said that IOM and UNHCR were organizing a side-event at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development on Wednesday to discuss the vulnerabilities of migrants and refugees living in cities. IOM Director General William Lacy Swing, UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström, and Executive Coordinator for Rio+20, Elizabeth Thompson, will attend the event, which will also bring together high-level government officials. Discussions will focus on the drivers of migration towards urban areas and the particular vulnerability of urban migrants, including refugees and displaced persons.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez of the Human Rights Council said that the Council was now hearing report presentations from Special Procedures. This morning at 10 a.m. it started hearing from the Special Rapporteurs on the right to health and the right to education, who were presenting reports on their missions to Ghana, Viet Nam and Kazakhstan. This interactive discussion would last throughout the morning.
In the afternoon there would follow presentations by Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, who would present reports on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and the United States of America. All of these reports were available from the website.
Mr. Gomez said that important side-events were taking place in parallel to the main session, adding that the bulletin of informal meetings had been sent to the Geneva press corps this morning.
Conference on Disarmament
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament was currently holding a public meeting on the general theme of nuclear disarmament. The Conference, which was currently presided over by Finland, had been addressed by the Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister this morning.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the US Representative to the Human Rights Council, would give an overview of the Council’s twentieth session and introduce the Internet Freedom Fellows (internet activists from Syria, Azerbaijan, India, Cambodia, Burkina Faso and Venezuela) at a press conference taking place on Wednesday, 20 June at 11 a.m. Room III.
Mr. Gomez added that this would be followed by a press conference by the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who would give a joint press conference on Wednesday, 20 June at 11.30 in Room III.
The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism would give a press conference later tomorrow, at 4.30 p.m. in Press Room 1.
On Thursday, 21 June, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association would give an overview of his first reports, following his presentation to the Human Rights Council, at a press conference taking place at 11.00 a.m. in Press Room 1.
Mr. Gomez said that the Commission of Inquiry on Syria was still set to hold a press conference on 27 June at 1.30 p.m. in Room III.