REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
8 June 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the World Trade Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Food Programme, the UN Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Children’s Fund.
Jans Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that John Ging had mentioned at his press stakeout on Tuesday that seven NGOs were working with UN Agencies in Syria. The list of those NGOs was now available at the back of the room.
Asked for an update on the situation in Syria, Mr. Laerke said that, as was said on Tuesday, the U.N. had received permission to establish field presences in four of the main flashpoints in Syria. The work was progressing and reconnaissance teams were on the ground to identify spaces out of which to work.
The work was obviously to some extent conditioned by what was happening on the ground but, as Mr. Ging has said, there was now agreement on the scope, scale and modalities of the response. While it was a little too early to make an assessment, the situation was being monitored.
Hicham Hassan of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the ICRC had had a presence directly linked to the current crisis for almost 15 months, and had had a general presence in the country for almost forty years. But the current situation was very tense in many places in the country, said Mr. Hassan, referring to Idlib, rural Idlib, rural Damascus, Hama, rural Aleppo, and although to a lesser extent, Dera’a, Deir ez-Zor in the North East, and even Latakia in the coastal area.
This had led to the fact that people were still being displaced on a daily basis, said Mr. Hassan. There were many needs, and the ICRC had announced one month ago that it would like to support about 1.5 million people in Syria. More concretely, people needed access to basic services and immediate needs needed to be catered for, including providing them with food. Even bread was difficult to get for many persons who were fleeing or who were unable or refused to leave their homes. Most of those who had fled from Taldaou on 25 May, for instance, had been women and children and the elderly. There had been only few men, as men had not been able to leave.
The ICRC was regularly receiving reports from people facing more and more difficulties in accessing medical services, and this had increased. Many people who had fled their homes were staying with either families or friends, hence the problem of providing accurate figures on displacements, killings and injuries. Other people who had fled were staying in places such as schools, mosques and churches.
The fighting for control was ongoing between the Syrian army and armed opposition, mainly in rural areas or neighborhoods within cities and towns, and people had to flee, sometimes, from one neighborhood to another.
Asked about the 1.5 million people the ICRC wished to support, and how that compared to the 1 million figure provided by the UN, Mr. Hassan said that the 1.5 million included people who were affected by the current situation either directly or indirectly. That included people who were immediately in need of food and medical services, not just one-shot assistance, but continuing follow-up. But it also included people who were indirectly affected. North-eastern Syria was facing a drought, and the people living there had also been indirectly affected by the current fighting, be this economically or because they were receiving other people.
Responding to another question, Mr. Hassan said that his office had been unable to communicate with colleagues in Hama since yesterday. However, the colleagues on the ground had the capacity to assist people in need of food, medical assistance and other essential items. The ICRC was considering this as a matter of priority.
Asked about the ICRC mission to visit detainees, Mr. Hassan said that the organization had completed its visit to the Aleppo central prison. The visit had taken about nine days and had been carried out according to the ICRC modalities. The next step was for the ICRC to continue its discussion with the authorities and to visit other places. The ICRC wished to visit all persons detained in Syria.
WFP provides lifesaving food assistance to Congolese fleeing conflict in Eastern DRC
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo should not be forgotten. WFP was particularly concerned about the flare-up in fighting between armed militia groups, which also attacked villages at night, killing and raping many.
This uptick in violence came at a moment when there was a strong need for funding. WFP’s operations in the Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC currently had a combined funding shortfall of about US$46 million over the next six months. More resources still could be required to meet the needs of a growing number of refugees and internally displaced people.
WFP had this week provided a monthly food ration to close to 20,000 newly displaced people and host families in Beni, in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In the Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu alone, WFP was providing emergency food assistance to more than 244,000 displaced people. Taking earlier population movements into account, the WFP was currently providing assistance to a total of 532,000 Congolese refugees and internally displaced people in the Great Lakes region.
WFP had already been constrained to limit its regular programmes in Uganda, underscored Ms. Byrs, saying the organization was urgently appealing for funds to avoid budget constraints further impacting WFP programmes.
WFP launches Mali money transfer programme
Ms. Byrs said that WFP was today officially launching its first unconditional cash transfer programme in Mali. Access to such transfers was open to households identified as very poor, in a bid to help them buy their own food at local markets.
The pilot programme was targeting almost 45,000 drought-affected people in the Kayes and Koulikoro regions. Its cost, 1.3 million euro, was funded by ECHO, the European Union's Humanitarian and Civil Protection entity.
UNHCR increases returns for Angolan refugees ahead of end June deadline
Adrian Edwards of the U.N. Refugee Agency said that later this month the group refugee status would formally end for people who had fled Angola during the country’s 1965-75 war of Independence from Portugal and during the subsequent civil war which ended in 2002. UNHCR had launched a new assisted return programme in late 2011 to help Angolans return home from nearby countries, and it was now accelerating that programme. As of 2 June some 13,700 Angolans had gone back with its help, including over 11,000 from Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some 35,000 more had asked for help in getting back before refugee status ended.
The recommendation to end group refugee status for Angolans had been made in January this year on the basis of fundamental improvements in the country situation. Many of the roughly 600,000 people who had fled Angola to neighbouring countries had already returned home.
Since mid-May, UNHCR had doubled the size of repatriation convoys from DR Congo for refugees returning to northern Angola. Currently 1,200 people were being returned weekly. These refugees were travelling from the capital Kinshasa, as well as from nearby Kimpese in Bas-Congo province and Dilolo in Katanga province in southeast Congo. They were heading to Uige province in northern Angola, where most of the refugees were originally from.
UNHCR had also ramped up efforts to promote voluntary repatriation of Angolans from other African countries. Namibia had re-launched return convoys last month, with over 3,000 Angolan refugees having registered to repatriate. Meanwhile returns from Zambia were being done by chartered planes.
Currently some 120,000 Angolans remained in exile, with the largest refugee populations in DRC and in Zambia. UNHCR was working with host governments to consider local integration options for those refugees who did not choose to return, in particular those with strong ties to their country of asylum.
“Child Survival: Call to Action” Summit
Marixie Mercado of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) gave journalists a heads up about a summit to take place in Washington DC on 14 and 15 June. The meeting was entitled “Child Survival: Call to Action” and would be convened by the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, with UNICEF.
The summit would bring together hundreds of experts across many fields around the goal of speeding up progress in the push to end preventable child deaths. The U.N. Secretary-General, the U.S. Secretary of State, the Health Ministers of India and Ethiopia, the USAID Administrator and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake would start off the Call to Action and Promise Renewed campaign.
The Call to Action proposed an ambitious global goal of reducing child mortality to below 20 child deaths per 1,000 live births in every country by 2035. Through their programmes around the world, UNICEF and partners would be asking leaders to commit their governments to redouble efforts against preventable child deaths, with a clear focus on reaching the poorest. A Countdown Report, which provided the latest on health and survival statistics, coverage levels, and policy, financial, and equity indicators would be released the day before the summit.
IOM Welcomes First Conviction of Child Traffickers in Dominican Republic
Christopher Lom of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM welcomed this week’s first-ever conviction in the Dominican Republic of two child traffickers who had received 15-year prison sentences for the smuggling, trafficking and labour exploitation of Haitian children in Santo Domingo. The traffickers had been arrested in a raid by the Dominican authorities in the Los Alcarrizos neighbourhood of Santo Domingo in February 2011, during which 44 children had been discovered and rescued.
PLURAL+ 2012 Youth Video Festival on Migration and Social Inclusion: Calls for
Mr. Lom said that the UN Alliance of Civilizations and IOM were again inviting the world’s youth to submit original and creative videos focusing on PLURAL+ themes: migration, diversity and social inclusion. The deadline for submissions was 1 July 2012.
International Labour Organization Agenda
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that several guests of honour would participate in the International Labour Conference today. H.E. Mohamed Moncef Marzouki, President of the Republic of Tunisia, would address the conference at 11 a.m., His Royal Highness Felipe de Borbón y Grecia, Prince of Asturias, at 12.15 p.m., and H.E. Michael Chilufya Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia, at 3 p.m.
Next Monday, 11 June the President of Peru would address the International Labour Conference, and he might also give a press conference. On Thursday, 14 June Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar would deliver remarks to the International Labour Conference at 11 a.m. in the Assembly Hall and give a press conference at 11.30 a.m. in Room III and would also be available for a photo. A media advisory would follow shortly.
Mr. von Rohland said that ILO was today marking the first anniversary of the adoption of ILO’s Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The meeting would take place in Room XXIII, E Building, from 1 to 2 p.m. Uruguay would be the first State to ratify the Convention (probably on Thursday) and it would enter into force when it was ratified by a second country.
ILO’s Special Decent Work Forum, entitled “Be outraged”, was also taking place today, Mr. von Rohland added. Running from 1.30 to 2.30 p.m. in Room XI at the ILO, the forum involved personalities such as Stéphane Hessel, the author of Indignez-Vous!
World Trade Organization Agenda
Ankai Xu of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said that there would be a Trade Policy Review of China on Tuesday, 12 June and a press briefing on that subject on Thursday, 14 June at 1 p.m. (venue to be announced). On Tuesday, there would be a meeting of the Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance. On Wednesday, 13 June the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee would meet, and, at 4 p.m., the Dispute Settlement Body would convene.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy would be in Geneva from next Monday to Wednesday. On Monday, 11 June he would meet with Yu Jianhua, Assistant Minister of China, and Michel Sapin, the French Minister of Labour, Employment, Professional Development and Social Dialogue. On Wednesday, 13 June Mr. Lamy would meet with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Ms. Elsa Fornero, Minister of Social Affairs of Italy, as well as attending the swearing-in ceremony of the Appellate Body Members. On Thursday, 14 June Mr. Lamy would attend the Annual Global Commodities Finance Conference, before travelling to London to deliver a speech at the European Business Leaders’ Convention on "The New Geopolitics and the Future of World Trade".
Conference on Disarmament
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament was next meeting on Tuesday, 12 June at 10 a.m. to hold a thematic discussion on “Effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons”.
Committee on the Rights of the Child
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was today examining the report of Algeria on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. After reviewing this report, which was the last one scheduled for consideration during this 60th session, the Committee would meet in closed-door meetings next week to adopt its concluding observations, which would be made public on the last day of the session, Friday 15 June.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the 20th round of the Geneva International Discussions would be held today in Geneva. The meeting would be followed by a press conference by its Co-Chairs, Philippe Lefort, European Union Special Representative for the South Caucasus and for the crisis in Georgia, Antti Turunen, U.N. Representative to the Geneva International Discussions and the Joint Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism, and Pádraig Murphy, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the South Caucasus. The press conference would start at approximately 5 p.m. in Room III, to be followed by a press conference by Sergi Kapanadze, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, and Grigory Karasin, State Secretary, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that Maher Nasser, the Acting Head of the U.N. Department of Public Information, and Ambassador Jean-Daniel Ruch, the Special Representative for the Middle East of the Swiss Foreign Affairs Department, would give a briefing on a U.N. International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East on Monday, 11 June at 2.30 p.m. in Room III. This came ahead of the seminar itself, which would be held on 12-13 June at the CICG, organized by the Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs.
Catherine Sibut-Pinote of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that UNCTAD was today publishing a Policy Brief on “Breaking the cycle of exclusion and crisis”. Copies were at the back of the room and would be sent to journalists electronically.
The Secretary-General of UNCTAD would meet with the President of Tunisia at noon today.
On Tuesday, 12 June UNCTAD’s Secretary-General and the Director of the Division on Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes would present the Economic Development in Africa Report 2012 (under embargo until 13 June at 5 p.m. GMT) in Press Room I after the press briefing.
The World Investment Report 2012 would be launched at a press conference on 5 July.
Mr. Edwards said that ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June, UNHCR would be launching the Global Trends Report on 18 June. The report covered 2011, the succession of major humanitarian crises seen during the year, and the impact of these events in terms of displacement.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, would be
speaking on the report findings and implications at an embargoed press
conference in Room 1 at 5 p.m. on 12 June.
Ms. Momal-Vanian introduced Mr. Jans Laerke, the new Geneva-based Spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).