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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
13 July 2012

Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Trade Organization.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) expressed deep concern about the latest violence that broke out over the past week in North Kivu, which has pushed 220,000 people into displacement over the past weeks. Thousands have fled over the border to Uganda. At the request of the United Nations system in Uganda the Central Emergency Response Fun has released $6.9 million to respond to that need. OCHA was also concerned about reports of the recruitment of minors into armed groups in a number of towns in Rutshuru and called upon armed groups to refrain from enrolling children into their ranks.

The most urgent need was accessing those who were affected by the conflict/insecurity, those in need. Aid agencies needed total, unrestricted access to the people so that aid could be delivered. The fighting parties needed to know that even armed conflict had rules and laws and such rules include granting access to humanitarian organizations. OCHA’s greatest concern was that the insecurity did not spread and destabilize other towns in North Kivu. While aid organizations were mindful of the current access constraints, reports that any organization, including United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, had left North Kivu were incorrect. OCHA remained on the ground and were providing as much aid as security and access permitted. Given the increase in violence OCHA needed more funds in order to step up its efforts. The humanitarian action plan for Democratic Republic of the Congo had thus been increased by 10 per cent, from US$719 to $791 million, an increase that reflected the deteriorating situation.

In answer to a question about exactly how many people were displaced, Mr. Laerke said OCHA was working to determine that number, where the people had fled to, how many people had returned, and what kind of humanitarian assistance they needed. The figure of 220,000 was a best estimate based on data provided by the organizations on the ground, field reports and all other available sources. Often in those situations people were displaced for a short period of time: they may leave their villages but return just a few hours later, it was an extremely fluid and confusing situation.

Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) also briefed on the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and specifically the North Kivu province. Ms. Byrs said that while no agency had left or stopped working in Rutshuru and/or North Kivu areas, a number of key routes and areas remained off-limit, limiting aid movements. The challenge was not so much in obtaining the authorization from the fighting forces, but in obtaining a guarantee that aid organizations would not be targeted or caught in the cross-fire.

On 9 July WFP suspended delivery of food assistance to over 55,000 people in Walikale due to insecurity and restricted movement of United Nations staff. WFP would resume delivery early next week of two weeks of rations to some 180,000 internally displaced persons in Walikale and to the 31 UNHCR camps across Masisi and Rutshuru (86,650 beneficiaries in Walikale, 92,056 in the 31 camps). Not all persons were new internally displaced persons, some had been displaced before the current crisis. WFP partner NRC would this weekend assess the Goma-Rutshuru axis and Rutshuru-Bunangana axis to evaluate the humanitarian situation and the needs of the people there. Ten trucks would be deployed from the regional WFP fleet, which was based in Kampala, to increase the current WFP Goma fleet capacity (82mt) as commercial companies were not working on the Goma-Walikale axis due to the very poor condition of roads. On 17 July WFP would begin C&V (cash and voucher) operations in Beni for 20,000 beneficiaries.

WFP currently has enough food stock to meet the needs of 320,000 beneficiaries with two weeks of rations. However 600 metric tonnes of supplementary food per month were still needed for the coming weeks, hence the request for more funding, Ms. Byrs said.

Melissa Fleming of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees had noticed increased numbers of refugees, in particular into Uganda but also into Rwanda. What was very difficult was the situation inside the country where displacement and fluid movements of people immediately following the violence have been observed, with some people moving back as the violence moves on and spreads. There were 220,000 new IDPs in eastern DRC since April, more than 18,000 refugees in Rwanda since April and more than 30,000 in Uganda since January, including about 6,000 from the last week ago as a consequence of the latest fighting.

In response to a question about the United Nations peacekeepers in the region, Ms. Momal-Vanian said the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) had reinforced its peacekeepers in and around Goma and was providing support to the Congolese Armed Forces, including logistics and planning and the protection of civilians. The Secretary-General had called President Kagame and President Kabila on 11 July to convey his concern about the situation and reports that the M23 Group was receiving external support.

Afghanistan

Mr. Laerke (OCHA) drew attention to a new set of emergency relief coordinator key messages in which Valerie Amos pointed out that Afghans are facing an uncertain future with the departure of foreign troops, which would reduce economic activity, state revenues and foreign aid. Ms. Amos welcomed the commitment to support civilians made by the international community at the Tokyo conference on 8 July. She also highlighted that Afghanistan was highly prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and landslides. In 2012 alone more than 200,000 Afghans had been affected by some 300 natural disasters. Afghanistan was a country almost perpetually in need of humanitarian aid. That was why there was a Consolidated Appeal for Afghanistan which called for US$448 million to implement 165 projects across the country. Half way through the year, it was only 30 per cent funded so OCHA strongly called for additional support from donors.

Yemen

Mr. Laerke (OCHA) said a report released today looked at humanitarian needs in Abyan. Since May last year, conflict has displaced nearly 40,000 households. From early May this year, an additional 5,300 households – or 37,000 persons – had fled conflict areas in Abyan. An inter-agency assessment team visited some districts in Abyan on 8 and 9 July. The team found that the security situation was still fragile and that there was no visible police presence. Recruitment of children and presence of mines and unexploded ordnance in inhabited areas were reported. Removal of all landmines and unexploded ordnance was a priority for recovery in the south and a prerequisite for the return of internally displaced persons. Over 90 people were reported killed by mines and unexploded ordnance in the last three weeks alone.

The inter-agency assessment team found that water, sanitation and hygiene, health services and protection were the top priorities for almost all the localities visited. Therefore the Humanitarian Country Team had made an additional plan for immediate response, agreed by the Government, which required an additional $87 million to support some 320,000 people in need over the next six months. The plan focused on life-saving interventions and early recovery interventions. Shelter, food security and early recovery were the sectors with the greatest funding requirements. Mr. Laerke clarified that the Abyan Response Plan was in addition to the 2012 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan which called for $249 million and was currently 54 per cent funded.

World Food Programme Africa 2011 Facts and Figures

Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) presented a new publication titled Africa 2011 Facts and Figures’. Ms. Byrs highlighted that WFP spends more than 50 per cent of its global assistance in Africa. In 2011, out of a total $3.8 billion expenditure, more than $2 billion was allocated to Africa. WFP was the world’s biggest buyer of food for humanitarian operations and was the largest single purchaser of food assistance in Africa. The report is available in English and French via the following link: http://www.wfp.org/content/wfp-africa-2011-facts-and-figures

Malaysia

Ravina Shamdasani of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner welcomed the announcement by the Malaysian Government that it would repeal the Sedition Act of 1948, a colonial-era law that curbed free speech and freedom of expression in the country. OHCHR called on the Government to ensure the consistency of the proposed new law, the National Harmony Act, with international human rights standards and to use the opportunity to conduct a genuine and meaningful consultation with relevant national institutions, including the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, and civil society. OHCHR stood ready to assist in that process. Early ratification of the core human rights treaties would also reaffirm Malaysia's commitment towards improving the protection of human rights in the country.

High Commission for Refugeesvisit to Thailand and Myanmar

Melissa Fleming of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said the High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres was currently in Bangkok, and earlier today met Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to discuss the guarantees for the voluntariness of returns of Myanmarese refugees living in camps in Thailand, making sure that returns take place in safety and dignity, and that all parties worked together for security, economic and social conditions to be created on the ground to make returns successful and sustainable. The High Commissioner spent a day in Rakhine State, Myanmar, where UNHCR remained committed to delivering humanitarian assistance to both populations– Rakhine and Muslim – without any discrimination. The High Commissioner expressed to the President and the government of Myanmar his hope that, independently of possible improvements in the nationality law, nationality should be granted to the members of the Muslim community who were entitled to have it according to the present legislation. Others should receive a legal status that would grant them the rights required to develop a normal life in the country. In his meeting with the President of Myanmar the High Commissioner stressed UNHCR’s commitment to support all efforts for peace-building in the southeast, mainly through assistance to displaced people.

The High Commissioner would this weekend travel from Thailand to Ethiopia for the African Union summit and a field mission to see the very serious situation of South Sudanese refugees fleeing into Ethiopia.

In answer to a question about the situation in Rakhine People, Ms. Fleming said there was a tense calm in the region and the situation of people fleeing across the border was no longer acute. The situation of statelessness, however, was a festering problem. As the nationality law stood, it was based on ethnicity and excluded certain groups such as the Muslim Rohinga population. That was not inline with international standards, and the Rohinga population was one group UNHCR was absolutely concerned about.

Concerning a question about the detention of UNHCR personnel in Myanmar, Ms. Fleming confirmed that in his meeting with the President, the High Commissioner requested clarification on the accusations lodged against the three UNHCR staff and all United Nations staff detained and asked for access to the staff members. UNHCR hoped those requests would be taken seriously.

Haiti / Caribbean

Ms. Fleming said UNHCR was very concerned by a trend of maritime deaths in the Caribbean among people trying to escape difficult conditions in Haiti. On Tuesday July 10, a woman drowned when a boat carrying more than 100 Haitian migrants ran aground near the Bahamas. In an earlier tragedy, on June 12, more than a dozen Haitians lost their lives in waters off the shores of Florida. Those events were a reminder of the extremes that people in difficult situations sometimes resorted to. Difficulties in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake had led to thousands of Haitians fleeing their homeland each year, often in unseaworthy vessels. Although no firm statistics existed it was estimated that hundreds of deaths occurred yearly as a result. The internal displacement situation in Haiti remained high with 421,000 individuals still living in camps in and around Port-au -Prince and elsewhere in the country. The political situation remained tense, and a rise had been reported in criminality and insecurity. The cholera outbreak continued.

In the light of those reports UNHCR was very concerned about countries that were returning Haitians to Haiti, ignoring an earlier joint-appeal by UNHCR and OHCHR asking States not to return Haitians, for humanitarian reasons, without adequate individual protection screening. Many individuals could have a good case for asylum. The joint call was made in view of the daunting humanitarian challenges that Haiti faced, exacerbated by the January 2010 earthquake. UNHCR continued to advocate for the inclusion of adequate protection safeguards for individuals apprehended at sea, and hoped that such tragedies could be avoided in the future through enhanced international cooperation in the region. In answer to a question, Ms. Fleming said the countries returning Haitians could not be listed but included neighbouring countries and Europe, some more systematically than others.

Sri Lanka

Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported on the Japan and IOM joint Back Psycho-Social Project for Reconciliation in Northern Sri Lanka, which was part of IOM’s Government of Japan-funded project ‘Assistance for Reintegration and Reconciliation to Northern Conflict-Affected Communities’, which was launched in 2011. The northern Sri Lankan town of Kilinochchi was one of the hardest hit by the country’s protracted conflict between the Government and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). This week Japanese Ambassador Nobuhito Hobo inaugurated a centre in the town for psycho-social and mental health services to provide counselling to former LTTE cadres and affected communities. Ambassador Hobo said: “People living in Kilinochchi have faced terrifying times during the conflict. Until now there were very few facilities or trained medical personnel to meet the needs of people requiring psycho-social assistance”.

South Africa

IOM was today launching a project to build and upgrade two shelters for up to 120 unaccompanied minors and 50 women migrants at Musina on the South African border with Zimbabwe. The $200,000 project, funded by the European Commission and UNDP, would target vulnerable stranded migrants, particularly women and unaccompanied children. Many of the children left their families at home or lost contact with them on the journey to the border. Musina was the main point of entry into South Africa for Zimbabwean migrants.

Chad

Jumbe Omari Jumbe of IOM also briefed on the 1,000 Chadian migrants asked by Libyan authorities to leave Libya. So far 360 migrants have already been received in a Chadian border town, and last night four trucks arrived at a Chadian border town last night carrying about 400 migrants. Unfortunately one migrant died during the journey, reportedly as a consequence of beatings in detention in Libya. IOM was investigating the incident, as well as that of two migrants who died last week in a similar situation. Answering a question, Mr. Jumbe said the IOM had successfully sent most of those migrants on to their final destinations in Chad, and did not have any information at this time about any more migrants making their way back to Chad.

World Trade Organization

Ankai Xu of the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced the coming schedule for the next week, highlighting that WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy would attend a book launch of the World Trade Report 2012 at 11am on Monday 16 July, followed by a meeting of the Trade and Development Committee the same day. On Tuesday 17 July the Heads of Delegations of the Informal General Council would meet at 10 am, and also on that day Accession Working Party would meet at 3 pm to discuss Tajikistan membership negotiations. The Director-General would also meet Mr. Sharif Rahimzoda, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan on the same day.

Syria

Responding to a question about whether there was any comment by the United Nations or the Office of the Joint Special Envoy on reports that some 200 people have been killed in an attack on the Syrian village of Tremseh, Ms. Momal-Vanian said there was no comment yet.

Geneva Activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian noted that the Human Rights Committee was today reviewing the initial report of the Maldives. Next week the Committee would consider the reports of Armenia and Kenya and on the morning of Monday 16 July would also hold a public meeting with Expert Mechanisms on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Impact of organized crime

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime would launch its global awareness campaign and video on the impact of organized crime on 16 July, Ms. Momal-Vanian also announced. The campaign would emphasize the size and cost of transnational organized crime, a multi-billion dollar threat to peace, human security and prosperity. The campaign illustrates the key financial and social costs of the international problem through a new public service announcement video and dedicated fact sheets for journalists. The campaign launch is embargoed until 1am Central European Time on 16 July 2012. More information can be found via www.unodc.org/toc.