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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

3 November 2015

Ahmad Fawzi, Director a.i. of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by spokespersons for the United Nations Children Fund, World Meteorological Organization, International Organization for Migration, and World Health Organization.

Geneva Activities

Mr. Fawzi said that Michael Møller, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, and the Swiss Ambassador to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Alexandre Fasel, participated in the inauguration of the Cité des Métiers, a job fair for young people in the Geneva area, which opened today 3 November at Palexpo.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was today considering a report by Lebanon, which would be followed by Uzbekistan on Wednesday, United Arab Emirates on Thursday and Malawi on Friday.  Next week, the Committee would consider reports by Madagascar, Timor-Leste, and Slovakia.  Already considered were the reports by Russia, Portugal, Liberia and Slovenia.

The Human Rights Committee was now mostly holding private meetings until the close of the session on Friday, 6 November.  The Committee was scheduled to give a press conference on Thursday, 5 November, at 1.30 p.m., to present its concluding observations on the seven countries considered during the session: Greece, San Marino, Austria, Suriname, Republic of Korea, Iraq, and Benin.

Coming up next week, 9 to 13 November, the Committee against Torture would be starting a four-week session to consider reports by Austria, Azerbaijan, China - including Hong Kong and Macau -, Denmark, Jordan and Liechtenstein. 

On 5 November at 4 p.m. in Room III, the officials of the United States Department of State and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would hold an on the record press briefing regarding the opening and progress of the World Radiocommunication Conference being held from 2 to 25 November in Geneva, Switzerland.  Speakers would include Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and US Coordinator for Communications and Information Policy, Ambassador Decker Anstrom, Head of the US delegation to the Conference, and Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC.

Mr. Fawzi drew the media’s attention to an op-ed by Hervé Ladsous, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, a copy of which was available upon request.

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group was currently reviewing Mauritania, and would start with the review of Nauru in the afternoon of
3 November.  On 4 November, the Working Group would review Rwanda and Nepal.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that UNICEF’s Special Coordinator for Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, Marie-Pierre Poirier, had just completed her one-week mission in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in Serbia and in Croatia.  Ms. Poirier would discuss the main challenges faced by children on the move in those countries at a press conference on Wednesday,
4 November, at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1. 

The number of children among people on the move in those three countries was on the increase: currently, women and children represented 40 per cent of those arriving to Gevgelia in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  UNICEF had noted an increase in the number of children with disabilities, and pregnant women, among the arrivals: 185 children with disabilities had visited the UNICEF child-friendly space in Gevgelia since it opened in August 2015.  Mr. Boulierac said that obtaining reliable data was a challenge, especially disaggregated data collected at different sites.

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), announced a press conference on Monday, 9 November, at 11 a.m., during which the WMO Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud, would launch the Annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Cyclone Chapala hits Yemen

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the cyclonic storm Chapala had made landfall this morning in the southwest of Riyan in Yemen with a surface wind speed of 120 to 130 kilometres per hour and had weakened very rapidly.  The impacts would continue as the greatest fear was about the rain potential of the cyclone: Yemen was expected to receive an equivalent of six to eight years of rainfall, which the country’s infrastructure would be unable to cope with.  The lack of a functioning meteorological service and an observation network would make it very difficult to assess the rainfall.

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), answering journalists’ questions about areas hit by the cyclone, said that WHO and the Yemeni Ministry of Public Health and Population were intensifying efforts to respond to the effects of cyclone Chapala, which were expected to be more severe in Shabwah and Hadhramaut.  These areas had a combined population of about 1,8 million people, including more than 100,000 internally displaced persons and 27,000 refugees and migrants.  WHO had delivered trauma kits for 1,000 patients in Mukalla district, Hadhramaut Governorate, and had supplied petrol to eight hospitals and 16 ambulances to ensure their continuous operations, while a Strategic Health Operation Centre was being established in the WHO Office in Sana’a. 

Asked about casualties, Ms. Chaib said that no information was available at the moment, and stressed the importance of preparedness to ensure that health facilities were functioning and that information was available to facilitate appropriate emergency response.  The situation in Yemen was challenging, and WHO relied on national non-governmental organizations and the Ministry of Public Health, which were familiar with the country, to ensure that aid was provided in places where needs were more acute.

Ms. Nullis repeated that the rainfall was weakening rapidly and was expected to weaken into a depression in the next 12 hours.  Mukalla district was very mountainous, which increased the risk of landslides, and there were very high seas which would have an impact on shipping and fishermen, she said. 

Asked about the possible links between cyclones and climate change, Ms. Nullis said that cyclones needed the right combination of moisture and winds and therefore were rare in the Gulf of Aden.  It was not possible to link it with climate change, she stressed, noting that the assessment reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not make a clear correlation between tropical cyclones and global warming, certainly in the numbers and location of them.

The financing dialogue at the World Health Organization

On 5 and 6 November, senior government officials from WHO Member States and other key donors would gather at WHO Headquarters to discuss financing.  A key part of the WHO reform process, the Dialogue aimed to create an open forum for discussion with contributors to WHO and was not a pledging conference; its aim was to increase the predictability, flexibility and transparency of the WHO funding mechanism and reduce funding vulnerabilities, stressed Ms. Chaib.  The meeting would be webcast.

200,000 arrive by sea to Greece in October 2015

Joel Millman, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), said that an estimated 28,000 migrants and refugees had crossed into Greece between Friday,
30 October, and Monday, 2 November, and 200,000 had arrived to Greece by sea during October 2015.  During the month, deaths at sea had risen sharply: the Hellenic Coast Guard claimed to have recovered 106 bodies, but many more had been reported missing.  The deadliest incident had been off the coast of Lesvos on 28 October, in which 42 people had lost their lives and 274 had been rescued.  Additional information in this briefing note.

Responding to questions concerning the number of new arrivals expected by the end of this year, Mr. Millman expressed hope that no one would attempt to cross, given that the seas were becoming increasingly dangerous.  IOM implemented awareness programmes and community outreach in some African countries to discourage people from this dangerous passage. 

As for the arrivals from Libya, Mr. Millman said that in October there was an increase of the number of bodies recovered off the Libyan coast, but reasons behind this, as well as the smuggling patterns, were unclear.  Mr. Millman stressed that those deadly passages were far from ending.  It was difficult to judge what proportion of crossings were diverted from Libya to Greece, as the Syrians who used to cross the Mediterranean from Libya were replaced with other Western African nationals.

Asked about the progress on the improvement of reception facilities in Greece, Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that Lesvos was the focus of arrivals, with more than 100,000 arriving there in October alone.  The work on the improvement and upgrading of existing registration sites and accommodation sites was ongoing, as was the establishment of several temporary accommodation and registration sites.  Assembly points were being established on the north of the island, together with accommodation sites and their preparation for the winter.

Mr. Edwards stressed that reception facilities in Greece were not adequate and that the number of arrivals in October had exposed weaknesses of European reception capacities.  There was an urgent need in Europe for sustainable solution to this crisis, including more robust reception capacities, effective implementation of relocation programmes that governments had already agreed to, and the establishment of safe and legal means of reaching Europe.  It was not known how many stateless children had arrived to Europe, said Mr. Edwards, and added that the number of people from Syria at risk were increasing.

A journalist asked how many of the 300,000 who had arrived to Lesvos this year were still on the island, and Mr. Edwards said that once the initial counting and registration was done by the police, people went on to Athens and Europe.

Asked about the recent threat by the Transitional Government in Tripoli to unleash a tide of migrants unless Europe recognized it, Mr. Millman said that Libya was a place where government had not exercised authority over the territory and it was hard to know whether the threat was an empty one or not.  Mr. Edwards stressed the need to support the countries which shouldered the brunt of hosting refugees and migrants.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog031115