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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
27 September 2013

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

Syria

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), informed that IOM was active in Syria and all of the neighbouring countries with the presence of Syrian refugees, providing livelihood support.  The number of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) was estimated to be around 4.25 million, which was higher than the number of refugees.  These were the weakest, most vulnerable people, who did not have means and possibilities to leave the country. There was a chronic shortage of shelter and most collective centres lacked adequate water and sanitation facilities, which posed grave health risks.

IOM had completed the repair and rehabilitation of 41 communal shelters IDPs in Damascus, Hama, Homs and Latakia. IOM had also begun repair and rehabilitation work on the shelters, which could accommodate 2,985 families, including 94 individuals with special needs. 

Repair and rehabilitation work included general maintenance, installation of additional sanitation facilities for the elderly and the disabled, installation of windows, doors and privacy partitions, and ensuring the shelters were equipped with emergency fire extinguishers. 

In addition to the repair of existing shelters, IOM had installed prefab accommodation units equipped with sleeping areas, kitchens, showers, and toilets.

IOM had plans to repair and rehabilitate a total of 146 public shelters in nine governorates by the end of 2013.

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR welcomed the announcement by Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees (CONARE)  of special humanitarian visas for Syrians and other nationals affected by the Syrian conflict who wished to seek refuge in Brazil.  That decision would help expedite entry to Brazil and the resolution providing that special procedure was valid for two years.

According to the announcement, Brazil’s embassies in countries neighbouring Syria would be responsible for issuing travel visas for people wanting to go there.  Claims for asylum would need to be presented on arrival in Brazil.  Those special humanitarian visas would also be provided to family members living in countries neighbouring Syria.

Brazil  was the first country in the Americas region to adopt such an approach towards Syrian refugees.  Thus far, the number of refugees from the Syria crisis in Brazil had been small, with around 280 individuals having been recognized by CONARE.  There were no pending asylum claims and Brazil had approved 100 per cent of the claims which had been presented, but their number had been gradually increasing. 

The procedure announced by the Brazilian Government was consistent with the provisions made by the 1st article of Brazil’s refugee law.

Some 3,000 asylum-seekers and 4,300 refugees were living in Brazil, most of them coming from Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria.

Mr. Edwards stressed that UNHCR had called on States to provide for humanitarian admissions of up to 10,000 refugees from Syria in 2013.  Humanitarian admission was an expedited process which could provide an immediate solution for those in greatest need while a resettlement programme was in initial stages of implementation.

Until 27 September, Germany had offered 5,000 places for the humanitarian admission of Syrian refugees from Lebanon, and Austria had offered 500.  A number of other countries, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, News Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, had also come forward with offers of resettlement places.  As of 10 September, these countries had pledged more than 1,650 resettlement places, 960 of which were for 2013.  The US had indicated that it was willing to consider an additional unspecified number of cases.  

Asked about the details of Brazil’s humanitarian programme, Mr. Edwards said that it was a two-year programme, envisioned in a similar way as Germany’s humanitarian admission programme.

On the question whether it was a priority to keep the refugees closer to their home country rather than flying them across the world, Mr. Edwards responded that out of the total of 2,1 million Syrian refugees, some 97% were in the neighbouring countries, which was putting an immense pressure on them.  That was why UNHCR was seeking that countries also come forward.  While UNCHR was focused on the humanitarian admission and resettlement of the most vulnerable among the refugee population, there was no policy of active encouragement to families to move to third countries.  UNHCR was trying to match the most vulnerable people with the countries who had offered to accept them.

The Philippines

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that
in southern Philippines, fighting continued between Government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front in and around the town of Zamboanga.  An additional 2,200 people had been displaced in recent days.  Over 131,000 people were estimated to have been forced from their homes by the fighting, the vast majority of them sheltered in overcrowded and poorly serviced evacuation centres.

A total of 170,000 people had been affected by the ongoing standoff in Zamboanga.

Assessments carried out by UN and humanitarian partners in some of the camps had revealed very poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, and lack of clean water for drinking. Local authorities had reported an increase in cases of acute watery diarrhea, and the Humanitarian Coordinator had expressed her concern about the conditions in the evacuation centres.

UN agencies already in the country were supporting the Government response but more needed to be done for the displaced.

Democratic Republic of the Congo/Ituri

Mr. Laerke informed that the Humanitarian Coordinator in the DRC, Moustapha Soumaré, had expressed his concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ituri district in the north-eastern Orientale province of the DRC.  Mr. Soumaré had said in a statement that the killing of 10 civilians, including three health workers, was unacceptable and unjustifiable.  Those were the latest victims in a month-long escalation of violence.  All parties to the violence had an obligation in accordance with the international law to ensure that civilians and aid workers were spared the effects of hostilities.

Armed hostilities between the Government forces and the group Forces de Résistance Patriotiques en Ituri  had intensified earlier in September and 60,000 people had been forced to flee from their homes in South Irumu in Ituri.  More than 100,000 people were in urgent need of relief.

The UN and humanitarian partners had delivered 1.8 tons of medicine, 80 tons of food and essential household items to the affected area.  However, much more needed to be done as most of the 100,000 people in need had not yet been reached because of the security situation.  Their most urgent needs were protection, food, health care, clean water and essential household items.

Sudan

Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that OHCHR was deeply concerned about reports that a significant number of people had been killed during the demonstrations taking place across Sudan since 23 September.

The demonstrations, which had started in Sudan’s central state of Gezira to protest against the Government’s decision to suspend subsidies on fuel, were reported to have spread later to other parts of the country including Khartoum, Omdurman, Darfur and Eastern Sudan.  In Khartoum, violent clashes had erupted between demonstrators and police forces, resulting in an unknown number of casualties.

Security forces were reported to have used excessive force in suppressing the protests, with security agents allegedly firing live ammunition at some protesters and beating others.  Witnesses spoke of bodies of dead demonstrators with gunshot wounds in the upper torso and head.  There had also been reports of destruction of property by demonstrators.

OHCHR wanted to remind the authorities that under international law, intentional lethal use of firearms could only be justified when strictly unavoidable and only in order to protect life. OHCHR therefore called on law enforcement officials to show utmost restraint and make sure that they complied at all times with international human rights obligations and international standards on policing.

OHCHR called on all parties to refrain from resorting to violence and on protesters to maintain the peaceful nature of their demonstrations.  OHCHR urged the authorities to respect the civil liberties of those protesting and, in particular, their right to assemble peacefully and express their views.

Asked about the number of protesters, and whether their demonstrations had been peaceful or rather provocative, Ms. Pouilly said that OHCHR had no presence on the ground, which made it difficult to establish all the details of what had happened. OHCHR stressed that live ammunition was to be used only in extreme circumstances.  The situation remained extremely fluid, and there were no estimates on the current number of demonstrators.

Mali/Mauritania

Answering questions on the problems encountered at the UNCHR-run camp for Malian refugees in Mauritania, Mr. Edwards said that he was not aware of direct complaints against UNHCR staff at the Embara camp.  There had been an incident some weeks earlier when one of UNHCR offices had been damaged.  UNHCR operations had been restored there as of this week.

Haiti

Mr. Jumbe stated that IOM in Haiti had received funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in the amount of over USD 2 million to contribute to the protection of the most vulnerable residents in camps targeted for relocation and in sites not currently covered by return initiatives.

That funding would also help IOM to provide training and capacity building for national protection stakeholders, including the Ministry of Women’s Conditions and local NGOs, to improve coordination and quality of services among key social partners and ensure that humanitarian assistance reached the most vulnerable in a timely manner.  IOM project would prioritize camps under threat of eviction, with high incidence of crime and sexual and gender based violence. 

As part of the program, beneficiaries would have the opportunity to attend a six-month professional training in the fields of masonry, plumbing, sewing, IT, cosmetics and cooking. At the end of the training, they would receive materials to start small businesses for income generation.

The funding would also allow IOM camp management operations unit to continue providing basic services in camps and to respond to any emergencies that might occur.


Second High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development

Mr. Jumbe announced that the Second UN High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development would take place at UNHQ in New York on 3-4 October 2013.  Since the first such dialogue in 2006, consensus had been growing that migration could be beneficial for all concerned if managed in ways that facilitated safe and empowering mobility, while ensuring that the rights of migrants were respected and protected.

The collaboration among some 28 entities in formulating a common set of recommendations and outcomes on migration for the UN System marked a new stage in the evolution of a more coherent and broad-based framework for dialogue and cooperation on migration. The 2013 HLD would offer a timely opportunity to discuss how migration might be integrated into the post-2015 United Nations development agenda.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that on 27 September, the Committee on the Rights of the Child would examine the report of China.  The following week, which would be the last week of the session, the Committee would examine reports of Luxembourg and Monaco. 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) would start its three-week long session on 30 September, and would examine reports of Moldova, Colombia, Andorra, Cambodia, Tajikistan, the Seychelles, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  A background release had been issued the previous day.

Cedric Sapey, for the Human Rights Council, informed that the HRC was to adopt 25 texts in the course of the day.  The exact schedule was hard to advise in advance. 

Members of the core group of 12 countries bringing the resolution on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria before the Human Rights Council would give a short stakeout on Syria outside of Room XX at 1 p.m. 

Melissa Begag, for the World Trade Organization, informed that WTO Director General, Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, would preside the meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee on 30 September.  On 1 October, the WTO Plenary Forum would convene, in which Mr. Azevado would partake.  Later on 1 October, Mr. Azevêdo would meet with US Trade Representative, Mr. Michael Froman, and Finnish Minister for European Affairs and Trade, Mr. Alexander Stubb. On 2 October, Mr. Azevêdo would meet with Costa Rican Minister of Foreign Trade, Ms. Anabel Gonzalez. On 4 and 5 October, Mr. Azevêdo would attend the APEC CEO Summit 2013 “Towards Resilience and Growth: Reshaping Priorities for Global Economy”, which would take place in Bali, Indonesia.

Mr. Edwards announced that the 64th annual meeting of UNHCR’s Executive Committee was due to take place the following week, between 30 September and 4 October at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  The High Level Segment on Syria would start at 10 a.m, run all day on 30 September, and continue till 1 p.m. on 1 October in Room XIX, when a press conference would be organized.  The focus would be to increase a concerted international effort to Syrian refugees and to the neighboring countries.  Issues which would be raised would include humanitarian admissions, aid for the infrastructure of the neighboring countries, structural support,  and need for continuing humanitarian relief, given that no end to the crisis was in sight.  The meeting would be attended, among others, by Government ministers including from countries neighbouring Syria, and by the heads of UNHCR, UNDP, UNICEF, WFP, and OCHA.  Afghanistan and Somalia would be also be on the agenda of the meeting, the details of which would be sent out to the media shortly.

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), informed that WFP Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, would deliver a speech at the UNCHR’s Executive Committee on 30 September. She would be accompanied by Muhannad Hadi, the Regional Coordinator for Syria and the neighboring countries.

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The representatives of the International Labour Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the International Telecommunication Union also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/15YNGnV