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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
24 August 2012

Alessandra Vellucci, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for and Representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration.

Haiti/Tropical Storm Isaac

Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that tropical storm Isaac was expected to make landfall in Haiti as they were speaking. Strong winds and heavy rains were forecast over most of the country. The Haitian Directorate of Civil Protection had taken a number of measures, including partially activating a national emergency operation centre and publication of regular weather reports. The Directorate had asked OCHA to ensure that all partners involved in humanitarian assistance were mobilized in their various areas of activities and provide updates on all available stocks to better assist the national emergency management system. Humanitarian agencies had started updating and pre-positioning their stocks in metropolitan areas and in departments across the country and additional stocks were available in Panama. There was no appeal for funds as of now related to the tropical storm.

Elizabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said WFP had activated its regional emergency protocol and teams were in full alert and ready to be deployed in case it was needed to respond to any potential contingencies related to tropical storm Isaac. In country food stocks were available and 9,400 metric tons were expected to arrive, which was enough for an initial response. Within less than 72 hours, in country capacities could provide an initial distribution of high energy biscuits, enough to assist 187,000 people with emergency rations. More details were available in the briefing note.

Responding to a question, Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said that after the Haiti earthquake, there had been around 1.5 million persons without shelter. Today there were around 390,000 persons who were still living in temporary shelter under plastic tarpaulin and they were very vulnerable and living in areas which could be affected by flooding.

Niger/Floods

Ms. Byrs of WFP said Niger had experienced torrential rains causing flooding in practically all regions of the country, including Niamey. After heavy rainfall caused flooding of the Niger River, 200,000 were now affected by floods. Surveys were ongoing in areas around Niamey where the Niger River overflowed this weekend and according to primary estimations, immediate food needs were up to 2,379 metric tons. 1,500 metric tons would be dispatched from emergency national stocks to the most affected persons. Roughly 2,000 people had been displaced as a result of the floods. Preliminary assessments indicated an urgent need in food, shelter, hygiene kits, medicine and basic emergency health kits. WFP was currently trying to assess the percentage of the flood-affected people who were not covered under the drought response.

Syria

Adrian Edwards of the United Nations Refugee Agency said the deteriorating security situation in Lebanon had been hampering their work this week to help refugees fleeing Syria, although operations were continuing. Clashes between rival neighbourhoods in Tripoli had been continuing, affecting the pace of registration from UNHCR’s new centre in the city. The registration centre remained open, but with reduced staff, for security reasons. Fewer Syrians were turning up to register and appointments for those staying in affected areas had been rescheduled. In the Bekaa valley, registration of refugees was also affected because of security concerns in the wake of kidnappings of Syrians in the area. As a protection measure for the refugees, UNHCR was avoiding large gatherings of Syrians at registration and distribution points.

In Turkey, which was continuing to see the largest refugee influx, more than 74,000 people had been officially registered by the Government as of 22 August. Newly arriving refugees were now being accommodated in boarding schools in seven cities until new camps which were currently begin constructed were able to receive them. This would bring capacity of Turkey’s camps to 130,000 people.

Mr. Edwards said in Iraq, Syrian refugees staying in schools were being relocated to Al Qaem camp. Seven schools had so far been vacated with a further nine schools still occupied by some 1,760 refugees. The school year resumed in Iraq in early October. The number of Syrians crossing into Iraq had slowed over the past week, although the refugee population increased slightly in the Kurdistan region. Across Iraq, the total number of refugees stood at 15,898.

In Jordan, a record 2,200 people crossed the border last night and were received at Zaatri camp in the north of Jordan. The refugees were from Daraa, Karak, Shebaa, Herak and other villages. This brought the total number of Syrians who had been received in Zaatri camp to more than 14,500. Across Jordan, some 61,000 people had registered with UNHCR or were awaiting registration. The Jordanian Government estimated that there were 150,000 Syrians in Jordan.

Mr. Edwards said UNHCR’s operations in Syria itself continued despite an escalation of military activity in the capital which was restricting staff movements and the ability of refugees to come to the UNHCR office. UNHCR hotlines continued to operate, giving counseling to refugees who enquired about relocation, food distribution, financial assistance, residency issues, registration and resettlement.

Mr. Chauzy of IOM said IOM’s latest report on its regional response to the Syria crisis was available at the back of the room. In Syria, IOM had started delivering non-food items to 1,195 displaced persons in four collective centres around Damascus. Some 806 third country nationals had been evacuated out of Syria and returned home and another 260 others had reserved flights. Another 350 persons were being registered to leave. IOM had received requests from Indonesia, Viet Nam, Yemen, Ukraine, Belarus, Chile and Egypt to help around 3,700 other migrant workers in Damascus.

IOM continued its resettlement assistance for refugees hosted in Syria, mainly Iraqi refugees in Damascus. Since January, IOM had provided transportation assistance to 2,800 refugees approved for resettlement to various countries, including the United States, and an additional 374 were booked for departure. In Jordan, IOM had provided transportation assistance to 10,470 Syrian refugees from border areas since 29 July. Around 7,325 other Syrians had been provided with health care.

Mr. Chauzy said as for funding, IOM had appealed for $ 22 million for its humanitarian operations in Syria and neighbouring countries and it had only received $ 2 million.

Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke of OCHA said that the Response Plan was being implemented. The $ 180 million plan was about 45 per cent financed and it was being reviewed. The next Syria Humanitarian Forum would probably be held at the beginning of September, but he did not have a fixed date confirmed yet.

In response to a question, Mr. Edwards said UNHCR still had a very active operation inside Syria with around 200 national staff as well as international staff. UNHCR was delivering aid, mattresses, hygiene kits and so on. The main partner that everyone was working with in Syria was the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. However, all were working under quite difficult security conditions.

Mr. Laerke agreed that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was really the operational agency inside Syria which was reaching people in need. All humanitarian actors were trying to mobilize funds and support to increase the capacity of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Ms. Byrs said since the start of July, WFP had distributed food assistance through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to 120,000 persons in Aleppo. By the end of August, WFP hoped to have reached 850,000 persons inside Syria, and it hoped to increase its operations in September to reach 1.5 million by the end of September. WFP had asked for $ 103 million but it was still missing $ 57 million and if they wanted to increase their operations in September, the funding needed would increase to $ 137 million.

In response to a question, Ms. Vellucci said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was going to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit from 29 to 31 August; the United Nations had made clear that while it was customary for the United Nations Secretary-General to attend Non-Aligned Movement Summits, the Secretary-General would also use this opportunity to convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community on the issues on which cooperation and progress were urgent.

South Sudan

Mr. Edwards said there were now 170,000 Sudanese refugees in camps and settlements across South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile states. The health situation among this population had become a matter for increasing alarm to UNHCR. With the current rain and cold, refugees were suffering from respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and malaria. UNHCR and its partners had this month launched an extensive health and hygiene outreach programme. They were putting particular emphasis on good basic hygiene. They were continuing to build latrines in all five camps. All agencies had struggled to maintain adequate hygiene and sanitation. The refugee population had increased dramatically from 99,000 in April to the current 170,000.

Paul Spiegel, Deputy Director of the Division of Programme Support and Management of UNCHR, said the situation was quite alarming in South Sudan. The under five mortality rates across all the camps were above the emergency threshold. In some places, they were four times the normal rate and double the emergency thresholds, with over four deaths per 10,000 per day. The acute malnutrition rates were also high among under-five children. There were also cases of measles and partners were undertaking mass immunization campaigns. There were numerous challenges for everyone. These camps were in extremely remote locations with no pre-existing services, both for the local population and the refugees that came. The roads were almost non-existent so everything had to come in by air or barge. The rainy season had been expected, but it had severely exacerbated the logistical challenges and increased water-borne diseases. The transport limitations had really hampered the response. There was also insufficient funding. The five concerned areas that humanitarian actors were working on now were food related issues; water and sanitation and hygiene promotion; trying to ensure sufficient non-food items; sufficient community outreach; and looking at epidemic preparedness and response.

Oscar Mundia, Operations Manager for East and Horn of Africa, Chad and Sudan, Bureau for Africa of UNHCR, responding to a question, said in South Sudan, like in many other places, they relied very much on local cooperation with local non-governmental organizations. In South Sudan, they had the South Sudan Red Cross, they had a new non-governmental organization (NGO) which was very active in community mobilization, and they had other NGOs and a very active engagement with them.

International Organization for Migration

Mr. Chauzy said IOM would be convening a technical meeting on the Southern Africa Dialogue on Migration Management in Mauritius starting 27 August to discuss enhancing intra-regional labour migration towards social and economic development in the Southern African Community region. The meeting was being convened in cooperation with the Mauritian Chair in Office of the Global Forum on Migration and Development. There were more details in the briefing notes.

Mr. Chauzy also announced a three-day forum to promote diaspora engagement in Socio-Economic Development of Ghana which opened today.

Geneva Activities

Ms. Vellucci said the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning was concluding its consideration of the periodic report of Finland. On Monday, 27 August, the Committee would review the periodic report of Liechtenstein and on 28 August, it would hold a thematic discussion on racist hate speech.

The Conference on Disarmament, which would be concluding the third and last part of its 2012 session on 14 September, would start to discuss on Tuesday, 28 August its draft annual report to the General Assembly. At the beginning of the meeting, the Conference would first conclude its thematic discussion on the revitalization of its work which was held on Tuesday, 22 August.