REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
4 September 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Environmental Programme, and the International Labour Organization.
Ms. Momal-Vanian reminded journalists that Thursday, 6 September was a day off at the Palais des Nations and in Geneva, but the Palais des Nations would be open on Friday, 7 September and there would be a briefing as usual. The briefing might need to start 15 minutes earlier to ensure that journalists could get to the International Federation of the Red Cross press conference at 11:30 a.m. on time, but journalists would be informed accordingly.
Also on Friday, the Syria Humanitarian Forum would be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There would be a stakeout with John Ging, Operational Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, following the meeting, and possibly with some of the co-facilitators of the Forum, but the exact time and place would be announced later.
The Conference on Disarmament, which was concluding the third and last part of its 2012 session on 14 September, was this morning holding a short public plenary to discuss its draft annual report to the General Assembly. This would be followed by a private plenary. The first reading of the draft annual report was held by the Council last week under the Presidency of Ambassador Helmutt Hoffmann of Germany. The report was scheduled to be adopted next week.
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families would be meeting from 10 to 14 September at the Palais Wilson. The Committee would be considering reports from Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A background press release would be sent out this week.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Human Rights Council was holding its twenty-first regular session from 10 to 28 September. The background press release had been issued this morning. Rolando Gomez would be coming on Friday, 7 September to talk to the media more about the Council’s work.
The United Nations Office at Geneva would be opening its doors to the public for its 2012 Open Day on 15 September. A press release was available at the back of the room. The Open Day was being organized by UNOG and a number of other United Nations agencies and numerous activities were being planned for children and grown-ups, both in the Ariana Park and inside the Palais, mainly in the Salle des Pas Perdus and the Assembly Hall. The main aim of the Open Day was to bring as many members of the public to the Palais des Nations to inform them of the activities of the United Nations.
Responding to a question on whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would be giving a press conference in Geneva next week, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that as things stood right now, Secretary-General Ban’s press conference would be held in Bern on Tuesday, 11 September. His visit next week was related to the anniversary of Switzerland’s accession to the United Nations and he would be holding a number of activities in Bern, including speaking before the Swiss Parliament.
Melissa Fleming of the United Nations Refugee Agency said according to the statistics for the month of August, more than 100,000 had fled Syria seeking asylum in surrounding countries. This represented the highest monthly total of the Syria crisis to date. Meanwhile, the Iraqi refugees inside Syria were fleeing by the hundreds. Most of them told UNHCR they were leaving because of general insecurity, and some of them continued to report that they were receiving direct threats. Fear was increasing among the refugee population inside Syria. Meanwhile, the internal displacement of Syrians continued. It was probably one of the most tragic consequences of the crisis. Obviously, humanitarian access was severely hampered by the insecurity. Ms. Fleming reminded journalists of High Commissioner Guterres’ appeal to the Security Council last week for unrestricted humanitarian access inside Syria so that the delivery of protection and assistance could be ensured. UNHCR was expanding, together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, their operations to support displaced Syrians. They were identifying the most vulnerable of these families and distributing financial assistance, which in situations like these was the most helpful solution. UNHCR hoped to expand this programme to reach 200,000 in the coming months.
Meanwhile in Iraq, a country making its own transition from conflict to stability, there had been an increasing number of Syrian Kurds arriving in the past week, with an estimated 500 Syrians crossing daily, compared to 500 a week in the first three weeks of August. The Syrian Kurds were arriving in urban areas, but another camp would also be opened to accommodate them. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Government had pledged to step up its registration process and assistance for returning Iraqi refugees who had fled Syria for Iraq. UNHCR would help as well.
In Jordan, Ms. Fleming said they were still seeing large numbers of refugees crossing, 1,000 a day on average in the last seven days. They were also receiving indications that there were larger numbers of displaced people in southern Syria, which could indicate that these numbers crossing could continue at the same rate or could increase. UNHCR was responding as much as it could with all kinds of material.
In Lebanon, there were no camps and people were housed with the host population. UNHCR was doing its best with mobile registration to make sure that these people were registered and to find out what kind of assistance they needed. Of course, host families were becoming increasingly stretched in their capacity. UNHCR was appealing to authorities in Lebanon to approve alternative shelter options to help ease the strain. The same went for the families that were staying in schools. This was becoming an issue in all the countries hosting Syrian refugees, not only Lebanon, and it was also an issue inside Syria. All the countries wanted to start the school year again and obviously could not have refugee families living in schools, but alternative housing needed to be found.
Ms. Fleming said in Turkey, the number that the Turkish Government had announced, 80,000, had remained constant, but they expected new numbers soon. While Syrian refugees continued to arrive, other Syrians were going back to Syria. There were 8,000 Syrians waiting at the border with Turkey. The Turkish Government was opening new camps to accommodate them, and was registering them. The Turkish Government wanted to be sure that those entering the country had a place in the camps.
Elizabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said WFP was continuing its work inside Syria and hoped to reach its goal of distributing food to 1.5 million during September. During July, WFP had distributed food assistance to 821,000 persons. The goal had been 850,000 for July, so WFP had succeeded in fulfilling 96 per cent of its goal. WFP had hoped that during August, it would be able to reach the goal figure of 850,000 persons, but it had reached 74 per cent or 631,750 persons in all governorates inside Syria. In Aleppo, the situation remained very tense and persons had taken refuge in mosques, schools, universities and parks. There were 64,000 refugees living in these public buildings and 200,000 living in rural Aleppo. Yesterday, two trucks carrying food assistance had entered Aleppo and had started distribution of assistance, now reaching up to 1,500 displaced persons in Aleppo. WFP was also testing roads between Jordan and Lebanon for logistical reasons to ensure the food assistance reached its goal. Priority inside Syria was given to displaced families, some of whom had been displaced twice.
Concerning regional efforts, in Jordan, WFP was distributing 35,000 hot meals a day to Syrian refugees in the Za’fari camp. In Lebanon, 75 per cent of Syrian refugees were women and children and WFP was trying to distribute family packets and other aid to 33,000 Syrian refugees in north Lebanon.
In response to a question about the Palestinian refugees leaving Syria, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that according to the latest Syria Humanitarian Bulletin, about 500,000 Palestinian refugees were hosted in Syria. UNRWA was assisting them and additionally it currently provided shelter to more than 11,000 internally displaced persons in its facilities in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo. UNRWA estimated that 225,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria were now directly affected by the conflict. So far, more than 3,000 Palestinian refugees had fled to neighbouring Lebanon, while around 1,500 crossed the border into Jordan.
Asked where the new Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the African Union Lakhdar Brahimi would be based, Geneva or New York, Ms. Momal-Vanian said Mr. Brahimi and his team would be based in New York.
WHO/Ebola and Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome Outbreaks
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization said he had an update on two Ebola epidemics in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Uganda, there had been no new confirmed cases of Ebola reported in Kibaale district since 3 August. This was an indication that the outbreak was coming to an end. A total of 24 probable and confirmed cases, including 17 deaths, had been reported since the beginning of the outbreak. The last confirmed case was discharged on 24 August following recovery. All contacts of probable and confirmed cases had been followed up daily and had completed the recommended 21 days of monitoring for any possible signs or symptoms of Ebola. Right now, an ecological studies team in Kibaale was collecting samples from bats, primates and live stock to study the possible natural history of Ebola virus and initial human infection from wildlife.
There was also an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that was not epidemiologically related to the outbreak in Uganda. As of 1 September, there were a total of 25 cases, 17 probable and eight confirmed cases, including 18 deaths, in Haute Uele in Provence Oriental. A national task force convened with the Congolese Ministry of Health was working with several partners, including WHO, MSF, ICRC and CDC to control the outbreak. WHO had deployed epidemiologists and logisticians from its Regional Office for Africa and Headquarters to support the Ministry of Health. WHO did not recommend that any travel or trade restrictions be applied to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 2000, there had been a number of Ebola outbreaks in this part of Africa.
Concerning an outbreak of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome that had been confirmed and declared in the Yosemite National Park in California, the United States, Mr. Jasarevic said so far, six cases had been confirmed, and two of those six had died. Investigations carried out revealed that the six confirmed cases contracted the disease in June and July this year. Five of the six cases had stayed at the same camp cabins in the park and the authorities were working to detect additional cases and to heighten public health awareness of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome.
Patrick McCormick of the United Nations Children’s Fund said UNICEF, which carried out a lot of work with corporations, was celebrating 10 years of cooperation with IKEA. There was an embargoed press release at the back with more details.
John Winston, Senior Manager for Global Cooperative Alliances at UNICEF, said in 2011, UNICEF raised $ 155 million from the corporate sector. That represented between 15 per cent and 17 per cent of what it raised from non-governmental sources, and it was one of UNICEF’s core income sources. In UNICEF’s view, this was a clear sign that United Nations agencies could and must engage with the private sector, and that the private sector was playing a significant role in humanitarian and development issues, even through the United Nations. Throughout the month of September, UNICEF would be celebrating over 10 years of uninterrupted partnership with IKEA to help more than 74 million children in India create a better future for themselves and their families.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said the EURO 2012 Football Championship did not result in an increased level of human trafficking for sexual and other forms of exploitation, according to preliminary findings of a research exploring the link between trafficking and the sporting event released by the IOM Mission in Ukraine. The report would be available on line in the coming 24 hours. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Mr. Chauzy said IOM South Africa would be conducting a study to analyse the health vulnerability of men, women and children migrating from East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region to Southern Africa. The study, which is expected to be completed by July 2013, would provide basis for evidence-based policy making among countries affected by mixed migration flows along this route in order to comprehensively respond to challenges brought by these mixed and irregular migration flows. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Catherine Sibut Pinot of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development reminded journalists of the press conference on Wednesday, 5 September at 11:30 a.m. in press room 1 for the launch of the UNCTAD report on Palestine. Embargoed copies of the seven-page report were in the press room. There would also be a launch of the report in Ramallah tomorrow. The report was embargoed until 7 p.m. Geneva time.
Isabelle Valentiny of the United Nations Environment Programme reminded journalists that there would be a UNEP press conference at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 5 September in Salle III to launch the synopsis of a report aimed at political decision makers called Global Chemicals Outlook. The report was a result of a two-year process involving governments, academics, civil society and industry to come up with a comprehensive assessment of trend changes in the production and use of chemical products, and an analysis of their impact on health and the environment. The long version of the report would be launched at the International Conference on Chemicals Management in Nairobi in two weeks time. The main launch of the report would be in Geneva tomorrow, but there would also be launches in Nairobi, Mexico City and New York. In addition to the authors of the report, there would also be a phone link at the press conference tomorrow with the WHO Director of the Department Public Health and the Environment.
Hans Von Rohland of the International Labour Organization reminded journalists of the press conference this afternoon at 2 p.m. in press room 1 during which ILO would launch its Global Employment Outlook, which included updated figures. Copies of the embargoed short report as well as a press release were available at the back of the room.