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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

16 October 2015

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of Press and External Relations, the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by spokespersons for the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the International Telecommunication Union, and the World Trade Organization.

United Nations Secretary-General

Mr. LeBlanc recalled that today, 16 October, was World Food Day and that the theme for 2015 was “Social protection and agriculture: breaking the cycle of rural poverty”.

In his message, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that hunger was more than a lack of food; it was a terrible injustice, and urged renewed commitment to work together to end hunger in our lifetime. The Secretary-General this morning addressed the official ceremony of the World Food Day in Milan, and had delivered a keynote speech at the 3rd World Forum on Local Economic Development in Turin, Italy.

Geneva activities

The Human Rights Committee opens a three-week session on Monday, 19 October, said Mr. LeBlanc, in which it would consider the reports of Greece, San Marino, Austria, Suriname, Republic of Korea, Iraq and Benin. A background release with more details was issued on Thursday.

Mr. LeBlanc reminded the journalists that tomorrow, 17 October is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. In his message, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recognised the extraordinary progress the world had made in reducing extreme poverty. Over the past 25 years, more than one billion people had been lifted above the poverty threshold, he said, but we must be reminded that more than 900 million people continued to live in extreme poverty and many more were at risk.

The commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty will take place on Monday, 19 October, at 3 p.m. in room XXIV at the Palais des Nations, and would feature an address by Jane Hodges, member of the Advisory Group, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, and concluding remarks by Her Excellency Ms. Regina Maria Cordeiro Dunlop, Permanent representative of Brazil to the United Nations Office at Geneva. The event was organized in partnership with non-governmental organization ATD 4th World.

The Secretary-General’s message would be available here.

Refugee and migrant children in Europe: UNICEF concerned about the cold and unaccompanied children

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), briefed the journalists about the continued high number of children on the move in Europe, and raised concerns about weather conditions, especially with winter approaching. He also spoke about the results of rapid-response missions to Hungary, Greece and Germany.

Cold and rain were a major concern for refugees and migrants arriving in the Balkans, especially during the long wait at the borders, he said. Children were physically exhausted, psychologically traumatized and some were in need of medical assistance. A number of women were unable to breastfeed due to the stress linked to displacement. In Croatia, shelter and protection from adverse weather conditions were increasingly of concern as winter approaches. UNICEF was concerned about the lack of heating and limited access to separate washing facilities in the reception center at Opatovac, which has led to increased protection and health risks for children and their families. UNICEF has supported the provision of water and sanitation facilities at reception centers and the distribution of winterization goods such as blankets and winter clothes, and was informing refugee and migrant population about the available protection services and contacts for assistance.

Secondly, there was no let-up on the number of children on the move, said Mr. Boulierac. Despite the changing political situation in Western Europe and increasingly dangerous sea crossing, there were no indications that the number of people on the move would change in the near future. During September 2015, between 4,000 and 6,000 persons crossed the border with Greece each day, with a peak of 10,000 on 9 October 2015.

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, since June 2015, more than 130,000 persons had been registered by the police in Gevgelia; around 35 per cent were women and children. Those figures were likely to be grossly under-estimated, because as many as two-thirds of people transited through the country without being registered. Establishing stronger evidence-base data on children on the move in country of origin, passage and destination was urgently required, stressed Mr. Boulierac.

Turning to the rapid assessment missions to Hungary and Greece, Mr. Boulierac said that the results revealed overstretched national capacities, insufficient coordination and unmet child protection standards in reception and transit centres. UNICEF was seriously concerned about unaccompanied children in Greece and other countries, who appeared to be very vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Because of swift movement of refugees and migrants in Greece and Hungary, it had been difficult to detect violence and trafficking incidences, while the UNICEF Mission in Germany had received reports of multiple alleged incidences of gender-based violence and abuse in reception centres and temporary shelters.

Mr. Boulierac reminded the journalists that all children going through the registration process in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia had access to the seven children-friendly spaces established by UNICEF at key registration, entry and exit points, while support and counselling to lactating mothers was being provided in baby care and mother facilities.

Responding to questions about reports on incidents linked to gender-based violence in Germany, Mr. Boulierac said perpetrators were other persons on the move. He did not have further details. UNICEF had undertaken a preliminary visit to Austria and had conducted rapid assessment missions in Greece, Hungary and Germany, in order to assess the situation of refugee and migrant children and women and to make recommendations, he said.

UNICEF was seriously concerned about the situation of unaccompanied children. It was difficult to get accurate estimates of the number of children travelling alone: the children, particularly teenagers, often avoided registration as they did not want to be trapped in that country. Instead, they wanted to go to another European country to join family. Also, some countries had difficulties in properly registering the number of people on the move.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had registered 3,857 unaccompanied children between June and October this year, but it was estimated that the number could be twice as high, said Mr. Boulierac. He then described problems with the registration of unaccompanied children in other countries in the region, such as Serbia and Croatia.

Responding to questions about trafficking of children, Mr. Boulierac stressed that all children on the move were vulnerable, and that the level of vulnerabilities increased dramatically for unaccompanied children. They needed protection and support all along the way to their final destination to ensure that their rights were guaranteed and that they were not abused, because opportunities of abuse on such a journey were numerous.

Mr. Boulierac reminded that UNICEF was working on an operational level and strongly advocating that governments ensure that children and their families would be properly protected, especially in the coming weeks and months. The governments in Europe should pay specific attention to the coming cold weather, which were very dangerous for families with children.

IOM: the crossing to Italy 10 times as dangerous compared to Greece

Joel Millman, for the International Office of Migration (IOM), presented an update on the Mediterranean migration flows and briefed the press on the killing of an IOM staff in Burundi. He stressed that within the last 24 hours alone, there had been an additional ten deaths in Greek and Turkish waters, bringing the total number to well over 3,000. Greece had only one-tenth of the number of deaths via see crossings, compared to Italy and Turkey. While the number of arrivals in Italy had lessened, the number of deaths has still persisted, making the crossing to Italy ten times as dangerous compared to Greece, where 68,000 had crossed since the beginning of October.

Mr. Millman said that an IOM colleague, Evariste Mbonihankuya, and eight other civilians had been killed as the result of a close range shooting in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, on 13 October. IOM was concerned about conflicting statements and releases covering the incident and the lack of evidence to support the official story. The Chief of Mission was currently in Burundi meeting with the families and the Government. This is the 75th murder in the aid community this year, said Mr. Millman, bringing the number of aid workers killed since 2004 to 1,100.

In response to questions about the killings, Mr. Millman said that IOM was certain that Mr. Mbonihankuya had his United Nations ID badge on him and that he had spoken to the armed men on their arrival, before being asked to lay down on the ground and executed. On possible linkages with recent events in the Central African Republic, Mr. Millman agreed that IOM might be in the spotlight somewhat more in Burundi and the Central African Republic, than in other countries, and said that the event in Bujumbura was a part of a larger unravelling in Burundi. The building where the killings had occurred belonged to Mr. Mbonihankuya’s uncle, who had been shot as he answered the door. Mr. Mbonihankuya then spoke to the perpetrators, before being killed. IOM did not know if all were executed in this way. According to the press, the authorities said, “Gunmen somewhere kidnapped some policemen and some policemen were coming to rescue them”. It had been variously reported as a cross fire between two gangs or a rescue operation by police to recover their kidnapped victims. IOM staff did not believe the second to be true and IOM could not confirm if the shooters were the police; they were uniformed men, but it was unclear whether they were the police, security, or militia. IOM was confident that Mr. Mbonihankuya's employee status, his affiliation, and that he had been unarmed, were known, and he had still been shot.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, recalled that the United Nations Secretary-General, in a statement issued yesterday, had condemned the killing of nine civilians and two policemen, and urged the Burundi authorities to undertake a prompt investigation into the motives and circumstances behind these despicable crimes and to ensure that perpetrators were brought to justice.

A journalist asked a question about the shooting of Afghani men in Bulgaria, and Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), confirmed that an Afghani refugee was shot at the Bulgarian border near Serdets by a rebound bullet from a border guard. UNHCR urged for an investigation and reminded that border management should be done in such a way to protect and allow those seeking asylum to seek refuge.

Greece: sea arrivals to Lesvos surge, seven people, including four children, died in a boat collision

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), briefed the media on the turmoil and tragedy in Lesvos as sea arrivals surged and said that UNHCR had to briefly evacuate their facility in Lesvos when violence broke out, while thousands were arriving from Turkey. Seven people – four of them children - had been killed when a smuggling boat collided with a coast guard vessel. Both incidents underscored once again the urgent need to rapidly establish proper reception facilities in Greece for receiving, assisting, registering and screening all new arrivals. The incident was being investigated, he said, recalling that Mediterranean deaths to date stand well over 3,100 this year.

As many as 85 boats landed on the island Wednesday, 14 October, and probably the same number on Thursday, 15 October, on the northern shore. The surge in arrivals could be the result of a temporary improvement in the weather, a rush to beat the onset of winter and a fear that European borders might soon close, Mr. Edwards said. So far this year, more than 450,000 refugees and migrants had arrived by sea in Greece, placing an enormous strain on local communities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, had visited Greece last week and stressed the need for Greece to receive massive support by the Europeans to succeed with the refugee relocation plan and the return of those found not in need of international protection. Mr. Guterres has stressed the importance of making legal channels available so people did not need to resort to smugglers and other irregular routes. Such legal channels included increased resettlements from countries of first asylum, family reunification, private sponsorship, schemes, humanitarian visas and more flexible visa agreements for students, workers, and others.

When asked what prompted the current surge in arrivals and the major concern about winterization, Mr. Edwards said that the number of arrivals in October had been less than in September, but the recent increase pointed to the volatility of the situation. There was no clear reason for the surge; it could be because of better weather conditions or people trying to beat the winter. Winter was, of course, a concern for UNHCR. Camps have been winterized, but the challenge was to address the needs of people on the move, and Mr. Edwards stressed the need for proper receiving centers. The danger grew as the weather worsened.

In response to questions related to a significant increase in the capacity of reception centres in Italy and in Greece, Mr. Edwards said that the first relocations from Italy had already started. It had been a very small number, and clearly more than this was needed. There must be a proper establishment of reception facilities and having relocation programmes up and running quickly, otherwise migrant and refugees would take the matter into their own hands. Mr. Edwards acknowledged the European Union’s agreement to establish hotspots—which he clarified as being a place to properly receive, register, fingerprint, find out where refugees are trying to go, and screen individuals—and that proper management was required to make this happen. Mr. Edwards used Lesvos as an example where these proper facilities do not exist, and said this was an example of a crisis that was not properly managed. The problem was that many of the current facilities were not capable of handling the number of arrivals.



Answering questions about the relocation of people, Mr. Edwards said that the European Union had promised to relocate 120,000 people but so far only 19 had been relocated. He cautioned that, in 2016, there was going to be continued arrival of people via the Mediterranean because the underlying causes of displacement were still in place. UNHCR welcomed the relocation programme as a vital step towards managing the situation; it was vital to show that it worked and then to expand it.

A journalist inquired about UNHCR' position on the European Union – Turkey agreement signed yesterday, 15 October. Mr. Edwards welcomed any accord dealing with smuggling and trafficking and stressed the need to maintain the importance of asylum issues.

Additional information can be found in the UNHCR briefing note.

More support needed for returning Somali refugees

Mr. Edwards also briefed journalists on efforts to support Somali refugees returning home from Kenya’s Dabaab refugee camps. Since December 2014, UNHCR had assisted nearly 5,000 persons to return, and an additional 4,500 had signed up for return. At the same time, more than 26,000 Somali refugees had fled violence in Yemen and returned to Somalia, mostly to Mogadishu. Mr. Edwards stressed that, while security and socio-economic conditions in many parts of Somalia were not right for large-scale returns, there were those who were eager to leave life in exile behind and help rebuild the country. It was important to support the small number of returns to end one of the world’s most complex refugee situations. That was why UNHCR and the European Union were organizing a pledging conference on Wednesday, 21 October, in Brussels, with the participation of António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Additional information can be found in the UNHCR briefing note.

WHO

Margaret Harris, for World Health Organization (WHO), briefed the press on the global status report on road safety 2015 and on the Ebola Virus, saying that the virtual road safety press conference would be held on Monday, 19 October, at 9 a.m. in the Library Meeting Room at WHO. The road safety report, to be published today, 16 October, contained profiles of countries in an interactive map, which demonstrated what countries were doing and whether they had met the recommendations.

Following up on the Ebola study (Ebola Viral Persistence Study in Male Survivors), Ms. Harris said that two new cases had been registered in Guinea, but no cases were registered in Sierra Leone, which had registered its last case in September.

Responding to questions about why the Scottish nurse was sick again with Ebola, Ms. Harris said the study had indicated the persistence of the virus in different sites of the body, and that it was not clear why some individuals had no symptoms whatsoever, while for others the virus started to reproduce. It was not considered a new case of Ebola, and not like having it a second time; the virus remained in a site where it would start to multiply again and cause problems in that particular part of the body. It was estimated that there were 13,000 and 16,000 survivors, said Ms. Harris, who also noted that there were a number of people, especially in Liberia, who could not access health services and had survived the disease at home. The clinical network was trying to accumulate the evidence, but it is all anecdotal; there were no numbers – what was available were sporadic reports. The Scottish nurse had her infection and been confirmed as a case in December last year. There was always a concern that relapse could lead to the possibility of new transmission, so public health authorities in England had ensured the follow up of everyone who had been in contact with her and were taking measures to deal with the theoretical possibility of a further transmission.

On the difference with earlier outbreaks, Mr. Harris stressed the quality of the response to the Ebola epidemic. Now, there were a lot of people with expertise who provided a follow up with survivors, while previously the focus was on treating the acute phase. That was the big difference: what was being done for people rather than what the virus was doing to people.

A journalist noted that the fight with the disease was not over yet and asked about the care for survivors. Ms. Harris said that they should be provided with comprehensive, medical care and support, and with psycho-social and financial support because some were highly stigmatized, rejected from their families and villages, and could not even buy food, as people believed that taking money from Ebola survivors was dangerous.
Ms. Harris stressed that survivors were not infectious, but they did have a persistent virus and theoretically they could be a mode of transmission if appropriate hygienic measures were not taken, for instance in the handling of semen.

Ms. Harris said new cases in Guinea were expected. The country had not yet reached 42 days without new cases. Sierra Leone, however, was now looking at reaching that milestone.

Médecins Sans Frontières in the Central African Republic under attack

Jens Laerke, for the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefed on the attack on the Médecins Sans Frontières team in Mbomou province, the Central African Republic. The attack had occurred during the night of 14 to 15 October. One international staff had been seriously injured, but following emergency surgery his condition was stable. The humanitarian coordinator in the Central African Republic, Aurelien Agbénonci, had condemned this attack in the strongest terms, and had called on all armed groups to respect the life and freedom of movement of humanitarian workers who were providing assistance to people affected by the crisis.

Mr. Laerke said that the identity of the perpetrators was not known and as they did not seem to belong to any identifiable armed group in the Central African Republic, they were, for now, considered criminal elements.

UNECE highlights strategies to ensure equal treatment and dignity for people suffering from dementia

Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), drew the attention to dementia, the need to treat those with dementia with dignity, and to put in place non-discriminatory policies. The latest UNECE Policy Brief on Ageing also provided member States with recommendations and good practice examples. Dementia, which was still without a cure, affected some 44 million people globally, and persons with dementia could live 20 years or more after the diagnosis. Mr. Rodriguez stressed the importance of a holistic approach to dementia, in public policies, in health systems, in families, and said that social inclusion and dignity-focused approaches were crucial. The global cost of dementia was estimated at $600 billion per year.

Mr. Rodriguez said that dementia must be included in agendas of governments, and stressed the importance of putting in place national action plans, as had been done in Norway and Switzerland. The topic of ‘dying with dignity’ was important for those in the most advanced stages of the disease, as well as for their families and for health professionals.

World Radiocommunication Conference to discuss eliminating the “leap second”
Sanjay Acharya, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference, the international treaty-making Conference for the global management of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, would be held from 2 to 27 November, and the Radiocommunication Assembly from 26 to 30 October 2015.

Francois Rancy, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, will hold a press conference on Monday, 19 October, 11 a.m. in Press Room 1. He would address some of the key areas on the agenda, such as mobile broadband communications, environment and climate change monitoring, unmanned aircraft and wireless avionic systems, enhanced maritime communication systems as well as the operation of satellite systems. The Conference would consider the feasibility of achieving a continuous reference time-scale, by modifying Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and possibly eliminating the so-called leap second.

More information are available here.

World Trade Organization

Jessica Hermosa, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), briefed journalists on the WTO Director-General’s schedule for the coming week. Director-General Roberto Azevedo would be in Brussels to attend an informal meeting of the African Union Trade Ministers on Tuesday, 20 October, and the meeting of Trade Ministers of the
African, Caribbean and Pacific countries on 21 October.

Ms. Hermosa further announced sessions of several of the committees during the week, including the Trade Policy Review of Moldova, Import Licensing, Trade and Transfer of Technology, and an informal meeting on the negotiating group.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog161015