REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
30 July 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP planned to reach three million people in July, but the upsurge in violence across many areas of Damascus and Homs, and the proliferation of checkpoints around major cities had affected the pace of food dispatches.
More areas were becoming inaccessible due to increased fighting. WFP also had difficulty reaching parts of Al Hasakeh in the northeast. As of 29 July, WFP had dispatched food for 2.4 million, short of the July goal.
WFP was extremely concerned about the developing situation in Homs, where it was believed that several thousand people were trapped in some parts of the old city. WFP was monitoring the developing situation and potential population displacement to be able to meet the immediate and basic needs.
The situation in the Homs district of Waa’er where almost 300,000 internally displaced people had taken refuge was still tense, but WFP had managed so far to dispatch and distribute the July monthly allocation of food rations through our NGO partners. In Idlib there were 400,000 people at risk of food shortages, and in Rural Damascus there were 1.2 million hard to reach persons. WFP needed $763 million to assist seven million Syrians until the end of the year.
It was also noted that this was the first anniversary of the creation of the Za’atari camp, since when WFP had distributed over one million food boxes and 400,000 welcome meals to newly arrived refugees. Every day WFP was distributing half a million portions of flat bread to residents of the camp, baked in five local bakeries.
Answering questions she said $29.3 million was needed each week to continue the work of WFP. Difficulties were being reported by NGO partners in both transport and speed of distribution in certain locations. Distributions in Homs continued, as security conditions allowed. Supplies were pre-positioned to assist persons trapped in this area. WFP wanted to feed three million people each month, though was currently reaching only 2.4 million. Financing was not currently a barrier to distributions, it was simply a case of access. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent had called for additional supplies to help this in Aleppo, including ready to eat rations, high energy biscuits and flour. This was to go to 28,000 people.
She later clarified that in July food was provided for 363,475 persons in Homs and 508, 810 in Aleppo.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said copies of the latest Syria Humanitarian Bulletin, produced by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs were available at the back of the room.
Answering another question, she said the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs had met with the Secretary-General yesterday to discuss the results of her recent visit to Damascus and more details would be expected shortly. The statement released after the mission said that the discussions were thorough and productive and led to an agreement on the way forward.
Answering a question, Fatoumata Lejeune Kaba for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said refugees were still facing challenges in crossing borders.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Fatoumata Lejeune Kaba for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said recurrent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province was uprooting more civilians and exposing an increasing number of women, girls and men to rape.
Statistics gathered by UNHCR in North Kivu pointed to an alarming rise this year in acts of violence against women and girls in the province, particularly rape. Protection monitoring teams had registered 705 cases of sexual violence in the region since January, including 619 cases of rape. During the same period in 2012, UNHCR staff had registered 108 cases. The survivors of sexual and gender-based violence included 288 minors and 43 men. UNHCR was worried that the fighting between the ADF, a Ugandan rebel group, and the army as well as renewed fighting between the army and the M23 rebels near the North Kivu capital, Goma, over the past two weeks will increase the danger for women in the region, including those living in camps.
Most cases of sexual violence were committed by armed men. Out of the 705 cases of sexual violence reported to our staff since the beginning of the year, 434 were perpetrated by armed elements. Meanwhile, the fighting around Goma had forced 6,000-7,000 people to flee their homes since July 14. The majority were women and children as well as young boys fleeing forced recruitment. The newly displaced were staying in schools and churches in the northern part of Goma. In the Kamango area, the fighting this month had displaced an estimated 14,000 civilians. UNHCR was also alarmed by reports of human rights violations in the Kamango area, including the murder of at least 15 civilians, abductions, forced labour, beatings and illegal taxation.
According to a recent evaluation by colleagues on the ground, displaced people were facing food shortages, and access to water and health services were also extremely difficult after 80 per cent of the health centers in the area were looted. Medical staff in the area reported many cases of diarrhoea and respiratory infections due to shortage of clean water and latrines.
Answering questions she said it was very difficult to have figures on the number of rapes committed against men. A brochure had been created to give to humanitarian workers information on how to approach and handle cases of rape. It was possible that there were further cases of violence that were not reported and it was still a taboo subject for men to discuss. There were no specific figures on forced recruitment, though anecdotes from the ground suggested that cases were increasing.
Answering questions, Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) had recently condemned all serious human rights violations attributed to the members of the M23 and the recent allegations of forcible recruitment. A meeting of the Security Council had been held to discuss the current situation in the Great Lakes area last week, which was followed by an informal Ministerial meeting attended also by Mr. Martin Kobler. The meeting had underlined that M23 had to cease its attacks against the Congolese Armed Forces, while the Government of the DRC must exercise restraint. It was also recognized that the rapid conclusion of the Kampala Dialogue between the Government of the DRC and the M23 would help to resolve the situation in eastern DRC and to end the suffering of those affected by violence. Those attending this meeting included foreign ministers of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and the DRC, as well as the Ministers of Defence from South African and Uganda.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM and its partners had completed an assessment of 1,202 newly-displaced households (3,057 individuals) that had fled their homes to Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, following heavy fighting between the government forces, FARDC, and the rebels of M23.
The fighting, which started on 14th July had spread to several villages north of Goma, forcing people to seek refuge in public buildings such as schools and churches in the town and at camps and spontaneous sites on the outskirts. Local sources had also reported displacement to Kibumba and Kabuhanga in neighbouring Rwanda. Using its Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), IOM had carried a survey of the sites in and around Goma including Nzulo Buhimba and the Masisi area. It also conducted a rapid needs assessment to collect data that will help aid agencies and the DRC authorities to coordinate aid deliveries to internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the new sites.
IOM and its partners have also conducted several other assessment missions to public sites in Goma where IDPs have sought refuge, and were organizing their registration and resettlement to existing camps and sites. IOM, UNHCR and other partner agencies had also engaged in a week-long awareness and sensitization campaign reaching 2,416 displaced families living in public buildings in Goma and the outskirts, prior to resettling them in the existing camps and other sites where they can access aid. This campaign was carried out with and the support of the Congolese Protection Civile and the resettlement operation was ongoing.
The security and humanitarian situation remained most volatile in Kamako, a village located 90km away from Beni. Basic food and medicines were reported to be scarce and approximately 80,000 individuals may be at risk of waterborne diseases, including cholera and dysentery.
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) said Breastfeeding Week ran from 1 to 7 August and an Executive Summary of a report launched today into efforts made by WHO Member States to encourage breastfeeding was available. There was also a set of infographics about how families and colleagues could support breastfeeding mothers and case studies of women that had breastfed their child.
Dr Carmen Casanovas, a breastfeeding expert with WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, added that the report looked specifically at the implementation of the International Code of Marketing on Breast-milk substitutes. The theme of Breastfeeding Week was offering support to mothers, at home, in the workplace, in health facilities and in the community generally to implement appropriate feeding practices. If women breastfed properly, meaning a feed in the first hour of life, skin to skin contact with the infants and exclusive breast feeding for six months, 220,000 children’s lives would be saved, she said. Data showed that less than four out of ten children in the world were currently exclusively breastfed.
The International Code was created to protect mothers in terms of the marketing of breastfeeding substitutes such as infant formulas, other formulas and devices related to this. Full implementation of this entailed the prohibition of advertising of breast milk substitutes, and the banning of free or low cost samples for health services or mothers. It also required appropriate messages on labeling.
Answering questions she said it was very important for countries to monitor implementation of the Code as it allowed Member States to sanction those that did not comply, either by fines or other punishments. It might be the case that countries held information as to which manufacturers did not adhere to the code, and might advertise this in some way. The WHO did not maintain such records. She explained that as a Regulation and not a Convention the implementation was not mandatory.
Fatoumata Lejeune Kaba for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said UNHCR welcomed the High Court of Kenya's ruling which upheld the asylum right of urban refugees. The decision, reached on 26 July, related to the "Petition number 19 of 2013" in which refugees challenged a directive issued by the Government of Kenya in December last year to transfer refugees from urban areas to the refugee camps at Dadaab and Kakuma.
The High Court ruled against the directive which had particularly dire consequences for the protection and well-being of refugee communities in Nairobi and other cities in the country. Indeed, as a result of the directive Somali refugees and asylum seekers began to report increased police harassment, detention and extortion mainly in Nairobi. Many of them could not move about freely and fear of such treatment led hundreds of Somali refugees to return to Somalia or move to neighboring countries. As of December, there were a total of 51,000 mainly Somalia urban refugees in Kenya.
Most of the refugees living in urban areas had developed coping mechanisms, and so do rely on humanitarian assistance. There were also large numbers of refugee children attending schools in urban areas whose education would have been compromised had the relocation order been carried out. UNHCR hoped that the government will implement this important constitutional decision and move fast to resume legal services that were suspended pending the court process. These included the registration and issuance of documents to refugees and asylum seekers, which were essential for their freedom of movement, access to social and community benefits, as well as their protection against arbitrary arrest.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said following intensive negotiations to gain access to conflict-affected areas in Jonglei State, aid organizations were now able to reach parts of Pibor County. Clashes between government forces and non-state armed actors, as well as renewed inter-communal violence, had emptied towns and displaced thousands of households who were now seeking refuge in unknown locations or areas that were difficult to access due to a combination of insecurity and roads made impassable by heavy rains.
IOM was currently leading the registration of people displaced by conflict (IDPs) in remote areas of Pibor County. Aid agencies need this registration to verify the full scale of displacement and identify vulnerable families scattered in remote areas, who were likely to be in urgent need of assistance. IOM’s Displacement Tracking and Monitoring (DTM) unit was working in close collaboration with local communities and aid organizations to gather baseline information on the displaced population. Information gathered included demographic data such as age and sex, place of origin.
The registration activities were being carried out in close partnership with protection partners, who need to identify separated and unaccompanied children, of whom there were many in this wave of displacement. The data gathered was being shared with the humanitarian community to contribute to more efficient delivery of aid, including emergency healthcare, food and non-food relief items. The registration exercise had now been completed in Dorien, where almost 3,000 households were identified. Registered families were to receive plastic sheets, blankets, and mosquito nets supplied by IOM, in addition to food, soap, buckets and jerry cans, all of which must be flown in by helicopter.
IOM was also working in coordination with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to provide displaced households with emergency livelihood kits, including fishing gear, hooks and twine, as most displaced households were temporarily located along the river. In the following weeks, partners were looking to expand the emergency response to other affected areas, including Gumuruk, where an estimated 15,000 people were reported to be in need of urgent assistance.
Answering a question Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Secretary-General had met with the Justice Minister of the State of Israel and Chief Negotiator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Ms. Tzipi Livni. The Secretary-General expressed his strong support for the resumption of credible negotiations. He welcomed the positive engagement of the Arab League Peace Initiative follow-up committee. He stressed the importance of creating an environment conducive to the resumption of talks, and encouraged both sides to take further positive steps in this regard.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Conference on Disarmament resumed its work this morning. The third and final part of the 2013 session was to last until September 13.
Attending but not briefing were the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/14fCcxx