REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
26 April 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 Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Economic Commission for Europe, the World Food Programme, the World Trade Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that by adopting resolution 2100 (2013), the Security Council yesterday approved a 12,600-strong United Nations peacekeeping operation in Mali, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The resolution described the various aspects of the mandate of the operation as stabilization of key population centres and support for the re-establishment of State authority throughout the country; support for the implementation of the transitional road map, including the national political dialogue and the electoral process; protection of civilians and United Nations personnel; promotion and protection of human rights; support for humanitarian assistance; support for cultural preservation and support for national and international justice.
Answering questions, Ms. Momal-Vanian confirmed that the Council had acted under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and noted that the resolution authorized French troops to intervene in support of elements of MINUSMA when under imminent and serious threat upon request of the Secretary-General. She also explained that MINUSMA troops would be on the ground as of 1 July, when they would take over from the African-led force (AFISMA) and that while the composition of the force was not yet known, many of the AFISMA troops would be re-hatted and integrated into MINUSMA.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) added that food insecurity remained a major concern in the northern regions (Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal), where at least one household in five faced severe food shortages. Food aid continued to be delivered, but insecurity and lack of resources remained serious challenges. Internal population movements continued from north to south and vice versa in almost equal percentages..
UNHCR estimated that 173,779 Malian refugees were living in neighbouring countries. The Humanitarian Appeal (CAP) for Mali was 26 per cent funded. Around $107 million had been mobilized of the total $409.7 million required. Humanitarian partners were preparing the midyear review of the appeal.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the food security situation in Northern Mali had indeed deteriorated due to persistent market disruptions and the most remote areas of the Mopti region faced the greatest difficulties in terms of food security and livelihoods.
Scaling up of assistance in northern Mali was critical as the lean season was approaching, and the provision of assistance to refugees and internally displaced people remained urgently needed, she said.
In March, WFP reached 54 per cent of the planned beneficiaries versus 31 per cent of the plan reached in February. This represented 278,000 people, and it was hoped to reach 520,000 in April.
In Mali, WFP’s emergency operation planned to support 564,000 beneficiaries throughout the country in 2013, and to support up to 281,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger in 2013. Breaking down those figures, in April, WFP planned to assist 145,000 beneficiaries in Timbuktu, 86,700 in Gao, 34,500 in Kidal 130,000 in Mopti, 37,000 in Ségou and 4,100 in Kayes. On funding, she said WFP needed to find $79 million for projects inside Mali.
Answering questions, she said it was difficult to put a figure on the amount of people affected by disruption to the supply chains for markets, though in Mopti there were 130,000 people to receive assistance. This disruption was caused by problems in transport, as well as problems in providing enough provisions. She also noted how the price of grain in Niger had increased by 15 per cent, compared to the same period during the previous year.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) Director General Claus Sorensen this week met with internally displaced Malians identified by IOM’s ECHO-funded project to track displacement in the conflict-affected West African nation.
The Commission on Population Movements (CMP), a national IDP monitoring body led by IOM, estimated that the conflict had displaced over 282,000 people across Mali since March 2012. She added that according to humanitarian observers said that the conditions that will enable the safe return and reintegration of IDPs to northern areas were still not yet in place. IOM was currently providing basic health services, psychosocial support, shelter and essential non-food relief items to the most vulnerable IDPs.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a UNHCR report had found that the Syria refugee crisis was increasingly straining health services in surrounding countries, while refugees were themselves facing increasing difficulties in accessing the quality treatment they need – particularly those with chronic and other costly health conditions.
The report, which covered the first three months of 2013 in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, showed that refugees needed treatment for a wide range of both common and conflict-related conditions. These included injuries, psychological illnesses and communicable diseases, often found in other refugee settings worldwide plus other costlier and longer term chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular illnesses as well as expensive referral care that was more commonly diagnosed and treated in middle-income countries.
With more than a million Syrian refugees in these three countries, and more than 1.4 million around the region so far, the health system problems were mainly two-fold. First, and with low funding for the Syrian refugee crisis, the challenge of providing access to quality healthcare for Syrian refugees was growing – particularly for people living outside of camps. Second, the increasing numbers of people needing medical help was straining existing health services in each of the affected countries.
Both issues were a matter of serious concern to UNHCR, which continued with its partners, to provide medical care for refugees in the camps in Jordan and Iraq. But for those refugees who live outside of camps, often in urban settings, the situation was more difficult.
In Jordan and Iraq, healthcare costs for refugees were covered by governments, UNHCR and many other organisations; but providing expensive referral care, such as renal dialysis, orthopaedic surgery and cancer treatment was becoming much more difficult. In Lebanon, which had a largely privatized health care system and cost sharing was the norm, resource shortages mean UNHCR and partner agencies were faced with having to reduce support for both primary and more costly referral health care.
As of data received last night (25 April), 1,401,435 Syrians have now registered as refugees in the region, or were pending registration. This corresponded to 30 per cent more than the total envisaged under the current Regional Refugee Response Plan by end June 2013 – for which around 55 per cent of funding had so far been received. An updated plan was due to be presented to donors in late May. UNHCR continued to roll out additional capacity as funding came in.
Answering a question he said he could not give a specific figure on the number of Syrians returning from Jordan but several thousand had already made the trip and the flow in this direction remained consistent.
Paul Spiegel, Deputy Director, Division of Programme Support and Management answered questions saying UNHCR had been highlighting this issue from some time and had been providing weekly updates on the situation. This was, however, the first time that this information had been collated into one document. The speed at which refugees were arriving was very difficult, and although governments and communities were doing the best they could, with limited money, priorities had to be decided.
On another point he said that the situation was different from previous occasions both in terms of the refugee population and the conditions seen. The death rate for those arriving, for those that had not suffered conflict-related wounds, was not particularly high – and neither were those of malnutrition. The issue was the demographics, which were similar to those in Europe – meaning there were a lot of older people with chronic conditions. This was hard to deal with considering the funding available. A triage system had been put in place to manage this.
He also explained that systems across the region differed, and this had strained the response. He explained the conditions seen were a mix of those that were inexpensive but also needed access, and those that were an emergency paid for by partners or governments. On the other hand, there were chronic diseases which had been exacerbated, and the issue here for people was to find easily accessed medications. When there were conditions where treatment cost was over a certain amount then an elective care committee assessed prognosis and cost – and many of these were not funded.
He explained that of all consultations that had taken place in Za’atari only one per cent had concerned mental health. However, this was not addressed as openly in this case as in some previous settings, and this was not an actual survey of mental health. However, mental health was an issue in every conflict situation.
Asked about treatments for sexual violence he said there were people being treated, though only a small percentage would come forward. From a protection point of view, UNHCR was looking at it as a serious issue and those interested could be put in touch with staff on the ground for more details. Dealing with the problem required both security, and strong community outreach, he said.
On another point, he said the epidemics seen so far had been controlled but it was very important that refugee sites had sufficient water and sanitation.
Asked about whether evidence of the use of chemical weapons, he said this was not specifically being looked at and UNHCR did not have the expertise to complete that work.
Answering another question, Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General had said yesterday that the Secretary-General has taken note of the letter from the White House to Congress regarding chemical weapons in Syria. He took seriously the assessment presented in that letter. However, the United Nations was not in a position to comment on assessments based on national intelligence information.
Senior advisers at UN Headquarters had been in contact with the US authorities on the latest developments. The Secretary-General had already put together a technical expert team to conduct a fact-finding mission to look into all serious allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.
He had requested supporting information from the relevant Member States. Dr. Åke Sellström, the head of the UN Investigation Mission, had been in touch with relevant authorities. The fact-finding team was on stand-by and ready to deploy in 24-48 hours. The Secretary-General had consistently urged the Syrian authorities to provide full and unfettered access to the team. He renewed this urgent call.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM had this week distributed 370 shelter kits and 4,000 blankets to displaced persons in Damascus and Aleppo. She added that 11,211 people had been transported from the border by IOM in the last seven days. In total the IOM had assisted over 272,000 people to make this journey.
The IOM was also providing technical support to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Red Crescent Society and the Jordanian government in the management of a new refugee camp for vulnerable Syrian families fleeing to Jordan. The Emirates Jordanian Camp (EJC), which opened two weeks ago and was located in Zarqa prefecture, had already received a total of 1,688 refugees. It had a current capacity of 5,000, but was to eventually house up to 25,000 people.
Previously Syrian refugees crossing into Jordan were bussed by IOM to the Za’atari refugee camp, close to the Syrian border in Mafraq prefecture. But Za’atari was now filled to capacity with some 190,000 refugees. IOM’s main role in the EJC was to provide orientation and reception services to new arrivals; establish onsite governance and community participation mechanisms; and provide technical support to the UAE Red Crescent in camp coordination and camp management (CCCM).
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR had recorded the arrival of over 30,000 refugees and migrants in Yemen so far this year. Most were Ethiopian nationals, with the rest coming from Somalia and a very small number from other African countries. In total, and since 2006 when UNHCR began gathering data, close to half a million people had arrived in Yemen by taking the perilous boat journey from the Horn of Africa.
Recorded arrivals in Yemen of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had been rising in each of the past six years. Last year 107,500 people made the journey. The arrival rate so far this year compared to 33,634 arrivals in the same period of 2012.
Conflict and instability in Yemen had limited the ability of the authorities to address trafficking, particularly along the Red Sea coast where Yemeni smugglers and traffickers were often waiting to receive new arrivals from the Horn of Africa.
However, recently the government had been active in detecting smuggler hideouts and taking action. Last week in Hajjah Governorate near the Saudi border, the Yemeni authorities stormed a number of houses operated by human traffickers and freed more than 500 Ethiopian migrants including women and children. Many of the released Africans showed signs of torture and abuse. Although the authorities hadbeen conducting similar raids since 2012, incidents of extortion, exploitation, violence and sexual abuse perpetrated against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants were on the increase in the region.
Yemen is a historic transit hub for migrants and stands out in the region for its hospitality towards refugees. The country hosted more than 242,000 refugees, of which 231,064 were of Somali origin. Out of the total number of those arriving this year, some 7518 arrived in January, 10,145 in February, and 1806 in March. UNHCR was still recording arrivals for April.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the Central Fund of the United Nations Emergency Response Fund (CERF) had granted nearly $5 million under the rapid response window, to meet the emergency needs of Sudanese and Central African refugees and Chadian migrants returned from Sudan.
The allocation was to be used to meet the nutrition and protection needs of displaced persons and provide assistance to vulnerable households. He also relayed that Thomas Gurtner, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Chad said that, "this package came as aid agencies faced a significant lack of funding, and will meet, among others, the urgent needs of more than 30,000 Sudanese and Central refugees and more than 19,000 Chadians returned from Sudan.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that despite launching a call for assistance, the WFP operations in Madagascar were seriously underfunded.
From April to July 2013 over 9,000 metric tones of supplies were needed, at the cost of $8 million. Extra funding was urgently needed to continue operations, such as the school meals programme given to 215,000 primary children in the poorest, food insecure regions in the south of Madagascar. In 2014, WFP was to target almost one million people in 2013.
She added that there was currently a locust plague that was threatening to wipe out food crops and livestock grazing lands. Unless this was dealt with then the situation would not improve.
The heart of the locust plague was in the country’s southwestern region – an area prone to drought and cyclones, where more than 80 percent of the people live below the poverty line. In February 2013, Cyclone Haruna flooded rice fields in the region’s coastal areas – rice production was central to Madagascar’s economy – causing significant damage while also creating ideal breeding conditions for locusts. Currently, about half the country was infested by hoppers and flying swarms - each swarm made up of billions of plant-devouring insects.
Somalian diaspora in the UK
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was finalizing a diaspora mapping exercise of skilled Somali migrants in the UK. The project, the first of its kind, was designed to encourage migrants with technical skills to participate in the development of their home country.
Somalis have settled in the UK since the mid-19th century, when Somali sailors first arrived in UK port cities. The civil war and instability in Somalia between 1988 and 1991, which continues today, triggered an exodus and there were now between 100,000 and 200,000 people of Somali origin living in the UK.
The survey focused on qualified and trained practitioners in the fields of health, engineering, education, law and technology. The survey showed that a remarkable 87 per cent of those questioned “would contribute to the development of their country through short-term knowledge and skills transfer.” Together with security concerns, one of the main reasons cited for not getting involved was existing work commitments in the UK.
The Somali UK diaspora map was one of several mapping exercises currently being carried out by IOM London. Other governments that had commissioned similar projects included Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Lesotho. More details of a conference about diasporas was to be presented next week, she added.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers today (26 April) ended a two-week session, during which it had reviewed reports from Colombia, Bolivia and Azerbaijan. The concluding comments were to be made public after the end of the closing session, to be held this afternoon.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would begin Monday (29 April) a three-week session to consider the reports of seven countries. In chronological order: Japan, Iran, Jamaica, Azerbaijan, Togo, Rwanda and Denmark. A background press release was distributed yesterday.
On Saturday, (27 April) at 11 a.m. in Room Three of the Geneva International Conference Centre there was a press briefing by the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions about the opening of the 2013 ordinary and extraordinary conferences of the parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions (28 April – 10 May 2013, Geneva).
Speakers were Jim Willis, Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Franz Perrez, Swiss Ambassador for the Environment and President of the Bureau to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.
Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said the UNECE Executive Secretary was in Bangkok next week for the annual meeting of the five heads of the regional commissions, which was to discuss cooperation. He added that the following week was Global Road Safety Week, from 6 to 12 May. There were to be a series of events in Geneva and more details were available in the media advisory. He added that 7 May was International Level Crossing Awareness Day, and there was a session with a number of experts to raise awareness. He added that 230,000 bookmarks raising awareness of the week were being distributed in northern Italy.
Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) said this afternoon there was a formal general meeting which was to announce the results of the second round of selection consultations for the post of the Director-General. A press briefing was planned for 4 p.m. in Room S2 of the WTO building. Also next week (29 April) there was a workshop on the role of intergovernmental agreements in energy policy - a press briefing was planned for 1 p.m. On Friday (3 May) at 9:15 am there was a press conference by the OECD on trade facilitation.
Meanwhile, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy was on Tuesday (30 April)
in Geneva to meet with the Indonesian Minister of Trade Gita Irawan Wirjawan.
The representatives of the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Environment Programme also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here