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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

18 December 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, United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and World Meteorological Organization.

The United Nations

The Report of the External Independent Review of the United Nations Response to Allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Central African Republic had been released on 17 December, said Mr. Fawzi. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had accepted the broad findings of the Panel’s report, which included that the United Nations had failed to respond meaningfully when faced with information about reprehensible crimes against vulnerable children.

The Secretary-General said that he intended to urgently review the panel’s recommendations and act without delay to ensure that systemic issues, fragmentation and other problems were fully addressed.

The United Nations Secretary-General would attend the opening of the trilateral meeting on Syria of the United States, Russia and the United Nations in an off-campus location in New York today, 18 December, said Mr. Fawzi, who also confirmed that Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria, would be there.

The Secretary-General had issued a message on the occasion of International Migrants Day on 18 December.

Yemen peace talks

On 17 December, the third day of the UN sponsored negotiations for Yemen in Switzerland, the participants had reached an agreement to allow for a full and immediate resumption of humanitarian assistance to the city of Taizz. The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, congratulated the participants in the talks for this first important achievement and encouraged them to work towards further agreements on measures that would allow for rapid, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian actors to reach people in need across all Yemeni governorates.

Update for correspondents in full here.

Responding to questions concerning possible announcements during the weekend, Mr. Fawzi said it was totally unpredictable, with some good news on the humanitarian front coming out, yesterday, the third day of the talks. Today was the fourth day, it had been announced at the outset that the talks could go on for at least a week, but they could also end at any time. The Special Envoy and his team were working hard to bring parties closer together on other substantive issues in addition to the humanitarian one. Should any agreement be reached over the weekend, the press would be informed in the usual manner, and if a concluding press conference would be held by the Special Envoy, that would most likely take place at the Palais des Nations, said Mr. Fawzi.

On a comment that Al-Jazeera was reporting that Houthis were not attending the talks today, 18 December, Mr. Fawzi said that the talks were starting later today because of Friday prayers.

Libyan political agreement signed in Morocco, while 2.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance

Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, had welcomed the signing of the Libyan political agreement in Morocco on 17 December, and called it “a historic day for Libya”. The agreement put in place a single set of legitimate institutions that were essential building blocks towards a peaceful, secure and prosperous Libya, he said. “This was the beginning of a difficult journey”, stressed the Special Representative.

Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that Mr. Kobler stressed that Libya was in a dire humanitarian situation. OCHA had just released the Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya, estimating that 2.4 million people were in need of aid. The response targeted 1.3 million and aimed to save lives and improve access to basic services, particularly health as the health system was on the verge of collapse. The Humanitarian community also aimed to increase the protection of the hundreds of thousands highly vulnerable individuals, particularly children and those affected by violence, including sexual violence, and improve resilience.

Asked about the peace agreement, Mr. Fawzi said that the signatories to the agreement included representatives of a broad range of Libyan society: a wide representation of members of the House of Representatives and the General National Congress as well as important public figures from Libyan political parties, civil society, municipalities and women groups.

“The door remains widely opened to those who were not present in Morocco today”, stressed Mr. Kobler, who said that this was the beginning of a difficult journey and stressed the need for national reconciliation and an inclusive national security dialogue.

Asked how the humanitarian response was being coordinated with the European Union, Mr. Laerke said that the UN-coordinated response plan included 18 partners: nine UN partners and nine non-governmental organizations; there would be a coordination mechanism with the European Union.

Geneva activities

Mr. Fawzi said that the last press briefing by the United Nations in Geneva would be held on Tuesday 22 December. It would be an end-of-year press conference by the United Nations Office at Geneva’s Director-General, Michael Møller, who would present the highlights of 2015 for the United Nations in Geneva and future challenges. 2016 would be a very busy one, with many ongoing processes such as those on Syria, Libya and Yemen, and many events taking place around the world which impacted the United Nations agencies in Geneva.

Mr. Fawzi announced that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, would release the UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends report on displacement and the outcomes of the 8th annual High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges: Understanding and Addressing Root Causes of Displacement. The press conference was scheduled at 2.30 p.m. today, 18 December in Room III.

380,000 children in northern Mali out of school, says UNICEF

Christophe Boulierac for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) introduced Mr. Fran Equiza, UNICEF Representative in Mali, who briefed journalists on the situation of education of children in northern Mali.

More information in UNICEF is news note.

Mr. Equiza, talking by phone from Bamako, said that more than 380,000 children aged seven to 15 remained out of school in insecure regions in northern Mali. UNICEF called upon the international community and the signatory parties of the peace agreement to spare no effort to revert this situation. One in six schools in the regions were closed, and in Kidal, one of the worst affected areas, 79 per cent of schools remained closed. Because of the violence, nearly 600 teachers had fled the conflict areas or were no longer reporting to work because of insecurity. Violence affected children’s wellbeing and teachers’ performance, as well as resilience of families and communities, said Mr. Equiza. He stressed that children, teachers, families and communities needed a sense of normalcy, stability and security, a safe and protective learning environment, and quality education. Following up on its 2012-2014 campaign “Back to School”, which had reached 190,000 children in northern Mali, UNICEF was now launching a two-year campaign “Every Child Counts”, which focused on-hard-to reach populations. The campaign aimed to reach 2,000 teachers, 100,000 children and 938 schools. The focus would be on communities as a cornerstone, and supporting communities to open schools, provide teachers which UNICEF would train, provide accelerated learning programmes for children who had missed school for several years to catch up, etc.

Responding to questions, Mr. Equiza said that most of the children were inhabitants of the North, and because of a high number of displaced persons in Mali, there were also some displaced children among them. UNICEF had started the first campaign in 2012, and some progress had been made to date, notably in the opening of schools, but it was important to note that security situation, particularly in area of Kidal, was limiting access and hampering progress.

Asked how UNICEF was planning to achieve its campaign and ensure education for children currently out of school, in this situation of insecurity, Mr. Equiza said that the level of insecurity varied from one area to another, and that a peace agreement signed six months ago had changed the dynamic and had brought rebel groups into the dialogue on how to ensure education. On top of this, UNICEF used a community-based approach to implement the campaign, and already in Kidal more than 3,000 children were in school.

UNHCR releases guidelines to help states deal with security concerns while maintaining standards of refugee protection

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNCHR was releasing guidance aimed at helping States deal with security concerns while maintaining vital standards of refugee protection. The paper stressed that national security and international protection were not mutually exclusive. With growing polarization of political debate concerning refugees in some countries, the concern was that asylum seekers and refugees could be victimized, and refugee protection – which had saved the lives of millions of people since the World War Two – could be endangered, stressed Mr. Andrews.

In the light of today’s record number of forcibly displaced people globally – some 60 million – it was more crucial than ever that resettlement and other forms of admission remained viable and effective options for the international community in dealing with refugees. Arguably the biggest risk for any environment of insecurity was that of increasing xenophobia and vilification directed towards people fleeing violent conflicts, and the paper called on States to exert resolute leadership in de-dramatizing and de-politicizing the challenges associated with managing refugee flows.

More information in the briefing note.

Return of Ivorian refugees from Liberia resumes after a year-long hiatus due to deadly Ebola outbreak

Mr. Edwards also briefed the press on the resumption of voluntary repatriation of tens of thousands of Ivorian refugees from Liberia. The return had been interrupted for more than a year by the deadly Ebola outbreak. Some 11,000 of the 38,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberian camps had expressed a wish to return immediately. Some 300,000 people had fled the violence that had followed presidential elections in November 2010 in Côte d’Ivoire, including more than 200,000 who had fled to the neighbouring Liberia.

Further information here.

Asked about integration and return of refugees, Mr. Edwards said that the majority of the 200,000 refugees who had returned had done so voluntarily, and stressed the importance of voluntary return. This was an important breakthrough after being on hold for more than a year. The returnees were getting help with arrivals in transit centres, they were being provided with information on all aspects of their return including on Ebola, and were helped to reach their villages where they received assistance in resuming their livelihoods.

Asked about the deportation of Sudanese people from Jordan, Mr. Edwards confirmed that three planes had departed for Khartoum this morning, 18 December.

EU migrant, refugee arrivals by land and sea approach one million in 2015

Joel Millman, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), said that the flows remained robust and dangerous, and might have already surpassed the number of one million arrivals for both land and sea. Statistics revealed that the number of arrivals from outside into Europe has reached 990,671.

On 16 December nearly 4,300 people had arrived in the Greek Islands, the majority of them to Lesbos, suggesting that the flow was still quite strong. According to the IOM estimative, by Tuesday next week, the number of arrivals would pass the one million person mark; this was five times more than last year and raised concerns of the escalation and magnitude of the problem. The high flows for December had proven to be lethal, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean, with an average of seven people dying every day, bringing the total number of deaths to 706 so far this year, and 422 since October 16.

Further information here.

Nine of the first eleven months of 2015 reach record warm, says WMO

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the United States National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) had reported that nine of the first eleven months (January-November) of 2015 were the hottest on record. A second report from the Arctic Report Card mentioned that temperatures over the Arctic between October 2014 and September 2015 were the highest.

Asked about WMO's additional sources of information besides information coming from the States, the NOAA and the Met Office, Ms. Nullis explained that the WMO Annual Climate Statement relied on three data sources: NOAA, NASA, and the Met Office, and it also included an analysis by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

In response to a question about abnormally warm temperatures in the US Coast, and whether it was related to El Niño or climate change, Ms. Nullis said that this year it had been related to both: the overall long-term climate change trend – the growing temperatures, and the effect of El Niño, which was warming up the eastern coast of the United States.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here:
http://bit.ly/unog181215