REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
12 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 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Trade Organization and the International Organization for Migration
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said over the past ten days UNHCR had seen an increase in the number of Syrians opting to return home from Jordan. During this period, an average of three hundred people had been crossing each day, returning to villages close to the border in the governorate of Daraa.
New arrivals to Jordan continue to outpace this limited number of returns, with an average of 2,000 people crossing each day into Jordan. Some of these arrivals were wounded, and said that violence was still an everyday occurrence. UNHCR was very concerned that refugees were returning to areas blighted by shortages of food, lack of fuel and electricity and limited services. The security situation was volatile, with reports of artillery shells and mortars being fired into villages refugees were trying to reclaim their homes and lives in.
The reasons for returning were varied, including improved security in a number of border villages, safeguarding their property, reuniting with family members who remained in Syria, or travelling to collect and bring back vulnerable family members to Jordan.
UNHCR did not promote or facilitate these returns but was counselling refugees who wish to return of the conditions they will face. There were also regular missions to the border.
Meanwhile, there had been 3,900 returns from Iraq in the past year, mainly from Al Qaim camp in Anbar Governorate to Abu Kamal in Syria. The situation in Abu Kamal was volatile, with bombings and ongoing conflict in the province. The main reasons given by refugees for returning were lack of freedom of movement in Al Qaim, limited livelihood opportunities and encouraging reports from their home areas regarding security.
In addition, UNHCR provided regular technical support in the voluntary repatriations from Turkey through observation of the interviews conducted by designated Turkish authorities to safeguard the voluntary nature of return.
Answering questions, she said people had been returning from Jordan throughout the conflict, but recently it was families making the trip, and this was the difference in the trend. UNHCR was concerned for the safety of returnees and considered it important that any decision they made to return was well-informed.
On another point, she reflected on the call for funding issued earlier in the week saying that if no political solution was to be found, then at a minimum humanitarian organizations needed support to help victims of the crisis.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP needed $81 million to continue its Syria response to 2.5 million people until June. This was an average of $19 million a week.
The WFP was grateful for the generosity of many of our donors who had supported the Syria operation since the start, but the humanitarian situation deteriorated with the increasing intensity of the conflict, she said. However, as needs increased its ability to respond was threatened by its inability to keep up the resources at the level of the needs.
In Lebanon, and with the critical funding shortfalls, WFP was not able to provide food vouchers to 400,000 Syrian refugees. In Jordan, funds for the voucher programme were only sufficient until mid-May. Changes to this system would impact around 175,000 Syrian refugees living with the Jordanian community, she said. In June, WFP was committed to introducing a food voucher assistance scheme into Za’atari camp. Currently, 100,000 people were receiving food assistance, and it had been planned to introduce the vouchers to allow families to purchase items as they wished.
WFP was also worried on the impact of funding shortfalls on local economies. In March, through the voucher programme, WFP injected around $12.6 million into the local economies of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. She also mentioned that offering aid to those inside Syria was important as if it was not possible to increase operations then food became a push factor for more refugees to leave the country.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was in the process of identifying collective shelters and houses for rehabilitation. So far, 22 had been found in a number of locations. Once they were restored with water and electricity there were refugees keen to move in.
Outside of Syria, a new refugee camp, funded by the United Arab Emirates, had now opened in Jordan. Movements of people had already started, he said, and it was to house 5,500 people.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said an update on H7N9 was issued yesterday (11 April), saying the total number of cases confirmed was 38, with ten deaths in total. Currently, more than 760 persons in contact with those infected were being monitored, though no cases of transmission had been found. The exact source of the reservoir of infection and the mode of transmission were still being investigated.
There was no change of the situation in terms of the WHO assessment and announcements of further cases were expected in the next few days. Further details would be posted on the WHO website as more information was received.
Answering questions, he said the condition of one of the earlier cases, a young boy, had improved. He also said a review of the pandemic classifications was to be discussed at the World Health Assembly. On another point, he said WHO was in regular contact with persons working in the animal sector and UN organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization. There was good collaboration with the Chinese authorities and samples were being received as quickly as possible.
In terms of ways of working, information was to be issued once or twice a week with the latest information, with further updates if the situation changed. Details were issued in the early evening as data was received in the afternoon and then verified before distribution.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said over the past few weeks, the Central Emergency Response Fund, managed by OCHA, had allocated $16 million to kick-start life-saving humanitarian projects in Mali, where new assessment reports indicated a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis.
The CERF allocations were injections of funds into high-priority projects in areas of health, nutrition, protection, water/sanitation/hygiene, shelter, food and education. The projects will be implemented over the next six months.
Mali was at the beginning of the lean season and the food situation in the northern regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal was alarming. According to the food security cluster in Mali, the three northern regions have reached a level 3 emergency phase. People in the districts of Tessalit and Abeibera in Kidal were very severely affected and they have reached the technical level 4 of extreme food vulnerability, with at least one in five households facing severe food shortages in the north.
Access to the north was still a challenge because of ongoing military operations and the presence of mines and explosive remnants of war. There were also various movements of people with some returning from the south to areas in the north and at the same time new internal displacements in the north and from north to south.
The Consolidated humanitarian Appeal for Mali had only received about a quarter (25.6 per cent) of the $410 million requested for the response. The CERF allocations that had been approved were stop-gap measures pending more substantial funding of the Mali Consolidated Appeal.
On another point, Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said allegations about the conditions in a UNHCR camp made by Medecins Sans Frontières were noted, though it seemed some of the details included in the report, such as the ratio of refugees per latrines, were out of date. Malnutrition had been a concern for some time, with people arriving in poor health and a lack of infrastructure. Measures were being taken to improve conditions in the camp, and to tackle malnutrition.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP hoped to reach over one million people in Mali by the end of 2013, as well as refugees in Burkina Faso and Niger. So far, an average of 310,000 persons had been helped in the north of the country with food distributions very month. The security situation remained difficult and was assessed on a daily basis but access was improving.
Central African Republic
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said UNICEF had clear evidence of the continuing recruitment and use of children by armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) and was warning leaders that such practices represented a grave violation of international law.
According to UNICEF, over 2,000 boys and girls were estimated to be associated with armed groups, before the latest upsurge of fighting began in December last year. Recruitment of children for use by armed forces and groups had taken place on both sides of confrontations since December.
She called on the new leadership in CAR to ensure that all children associated with armed groups should be released immediately and protected from further violations. The new authorities in Bangui have begun to demonstrate their intention to identify and release children among the ranks of armed groups. UNICEF was committed to working with them to ensure that there was an immediate halt to new recruitments and support a process of identification, verification and reintegration of children.
Over the past four months, tension, insecurity and a lack of access by humanitarian workers to large parts of the country means that children were at greater risk than ever. Almost all schools were closed, and health facilities assessed had been severely looted. UNICEF had managed to get water treatment supplies to Bangui but a lack of access meant the situation in other parts of the country were unclear. The access was to get worse as the rainy season began in May, she said.
UNICEF was calling on the new authorities to fulfil their responsibilities to protect children and provide law and order so families can get help they so desperately need.
Answering questions she said there were no confirmed numbers of how many children were being recruited, though colleagues on the ground said they saw a spread in the geographical area in which this happened, and in its magnitude. Since 2007, UNICEF and partners had worked to release and rehabilitate over 1,000 children in the country. Girls were also recruited, she said, and used as spies, porters, messengers and cooks as well as fighters.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said High Commissioner Guterres was today (12 April) visiting refugees from the Central African Republic in a remote and difficult-to-access area of northern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Amid reports of continuing insecurity and fighting inside CAR and the capital, Bangui, people were seeking shelter over the border. Results of his visit were to be posted on the UNHCR website later today.
Answering questions, she said the fighting was pushing people across borders into countries that were already suffering their own pressures. The High Commissioner felt very concerned abut the stability of the country and the suffering of the people and so was visiting the DRC as it was the location of the largest influx of refugees (around 25,000).
Darfur / Chad
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said in the last two months, clashes have now displaced over 74,000 people from South western Darfur into Chad including Sudanese and Chadians - who lived as refugees in the conflict zone. The violence was tribal, she said, and seemed to be spreading.
According to some of the new arrivals, refugees witnessed their houses being destroyed and villages completely burnt down. Many reported their relatives being killed in the latest round of violence. The place at which they were arriving was very remote, and there was no supplies or infrastructure in place, meaning people were sleeping in the open under trees.
The location was some 231 kilometres away from UNHCR’s nearest field office, an eight hours drive with bad road conditions. Steps were being taken to set up a refugee camp in partnership with local organizations.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the World Meteorological Organization’s Hurricane Committee had retired the name Sandy from the official rotating list of Atlantic Basin tropical cyclone names. This was because of the destruction it caused from Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and the mid-Atlantic United States in October 2012. Sandy was to be replaced by Sara beginning in 2018.
Sandy was the 77th name to be retired from the Atlantic list since 1954. Other retired names include Irene (2011), Igor and Thomas 2010, Gustav, Ike and Paloma (2008) and Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma (all 2005).
This afternoon (12 April) the meeting was to adopt a report, which included a section on how to improve warnings about post-tropical cyclones such as Sandy, and improve public understanding about storm surges. Most of the deaths which occurred in the United States were from the huge storm surges rather than winds. The Committee had also discussed improving warnings for storms which were no longer strong enough to be classified a hurricane but still capable of huge damage.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum met next week in Kathmandu. The outlook statement for this year's South Asian monsoon rainfall was be released on Friday (19 April).
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the latest IOM Haiti Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) published this week reported a decrease of some 6,400 households or 27,230 people in Haiti’s camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) between January and March 2013. However, 81,350 households or 320,050 individuals remained in 385 sites countrywide.
The largest decrease was reported in the commune of Delmas, followed by Port-au-Prince and Pétionville, which together accounted for 94 per cent of the decrease in internally displaced households. About 60 per cent of the reduction in displaced households in the last three months can be directly linked to the government’s rental subsidy programmes, carried out by various partner agencies, including IOM.
As displaced families become more difficult to identify two years after the earthquake, the DTM had become an increasingly essential tool for the government and the humanitarian community. It generated lists of individual beneficiaries which were shared with government and partners who manage return and housing projects. The lists were crossed-checked with the database in order to keep track of all individuals who have already benefited from some form of assistance, to avoid duplication of support.
With this in mind, IOM was appealing for $900,000 to ensure the continuity of the Displacement Tracking Matrix until at least June 2014.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM, in partnership with a group of 37 NGOs that made up the Libyan Consortium for Humanitarian and Legal Work, had begun targeted distributions of essential non-food relief items to displaced families (IDPs) living in camps around the country, particularly in and around Tripoli.
The aid, which includes blankets, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, had now been distributed to over 1,000 families or 4,800 people living in IDP sites in the Janzour, Airport Road and Felallah areas of Tripoli.
The sites, together with 14 others, were home to families forced to flee the small town of Tawergha, located between the coastal cities of Mistrata and Sirte, during the revolution that led to the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.
Tawergha, which before the revolution had a population of 30,000, was now a ghost town. The townspeople, who were perceived to have backed the previous regime, were still unable to return home two years after the conflict.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres welcomed new legislation, the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, recently adopted by the Turkish Government, as a reflection of Turkey’s strong commitment to humanitarian values and principles.
Turkey had always been a strong support country, she said, hosting refugees originating from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia and now significantly, Syria. It was the first country to offer a temporary protection scheme for Syrians, she noted.
WFP Executive-Director in Ireland
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the WFP Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, was to travel to Dublin on Sunday (14 April) to attend the “Hunger – Nutrition – Climate Justice,” conference, to discuss the links between climate change and global food security.
The conference was to take place in Dublin Castle from 15-16 April during Ireland’s presidency of the European Union, and was hosted jointly by the Government of Ireland and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on Enforced Disappearances began its consideration of the report yesterday from France yesterday (11 April) and finished this morning.
There were two Committees due to start work next week and background press releases on these were sent yesterday. The Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers began on Friday afternoon. It was to review reports from Colombia, Bolivia and Azerbaijan, in that order.
The Committee on Rights of Disabled Persons reviewed the report of Paraguay on Monday (15 April) afternoon and Tuesday morning.
She added that on Monday (15 April) at 11 a.m. in Room III the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) would hold a briefing on the ordinary and extraordinary meetings of the conferences of the parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions to be held in Geneva from 28 April to 10 May 2013. The speaker was Mr. David Ogden, Chief, Conventions Operations Branch, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (UNEP).
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said there was a press conference on Wednesday (17 April) at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 on the release of the United Nations Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2013: Forward-looking Macroeconomic Policies for Inclusive and Sustainable Development. This was produced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific. The details of the press conference were under embargo until 18 April at noon, Geneva time.
Speakers were Alfredo Calcagno, Head, Macroeconomic and Development Policies Branch, Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, UNCTAD and Iyanatul Islam, Chief, Country Employment Policy Unit, International Labour Organization – ILO. A media advisory was available at the back of the room. Answering questions, she said the report covered the entire region.
Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) said at 3 p.m. today (12 April) there was an informal meeting of the General Council on the selection of the next Director-General of the WTO, where members were to be briefed on the first round. A briefing for the press was to follow, though the time had yet to be confirmed.
On Monday (15 April) at 10 am there was an informal meeting of the Trade Facilitation Negotiating Group. On Wednesday and Friday (17 and 19 April) there was the trade policy review of Mexico.
She added that the WTO Director-General, Mr. Pascal Lamy was on Wednesday (17 April) in Dublin, Ireland to attend the EU Trade Minister's retreat and on Friday (19 April) was in Washington, DC to attend joint World Bank-IMF Development Committee meeting.
Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission on Europe (UNECE) said the 65th Session of the UNECE had finished yesterday, having adopted a document giving the Commission’s strategic priorities for the coming years. This document was available on the website.
A press release was available at the back of the room about the themes that had developed during the debate of this session, including the institutional path for follow-up to the Rio+20 conference, and the sustainable development agenda post-2015. The participants had also discussed the pressures of moving away from fossil fuels upon some members and the need to develop alternative durable energy solutions.
It was also made clear that no additional institutional structures were needed moving forward, and work should instead be done inside those that already exist. Indicators were reiterated as important, such as those related to access to clean and safe water. Furthermore, innovation was underlined as the motor for economic growth. A new bureau was also appointed, with the ambassador of the Netherlands taking the presidency. The next session was planned for 2015.
Looking to the UNECE agenda for next week, he mentioned the seventh session of the conference for durable cities in Geneva, where the Executive-Secretary of UNECE was to hold a session with Mayors from around the region on the issue of financing public services.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, (17 April) at 10 a.m. in Press Room 1 there was a press conference on World Immunization Week, beginning on 20 April. The week aimed to promote one of the world’s most powerful tools for health – the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.
Under the global slogan "Protect your world – get vaccinated", WHO encouraged individuals and organizations working at international, regional, national, and community levels, in the public and private sectors, to coordinate and engage in activities during World Immunization Week.
The Week was observed simultaneously in WHO’s six regions for the first time in 2012, with the participation of more than 180 countries and territories. The speakers: was Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, WHO, Director, Immunization, Vaccination and Biologicals.
The representative of the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here