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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
31 July 2012

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for and Representatives of the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development, the International Labour Office, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration.

Geneva Activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Conference on Disarmament was meeting in plenary this morning at the start of the third and last part of its 2012 session, which would conclude on 14 September. The Conference was continuing with its thematic discussions and was today taking up its agenda item on preventing an arms race in outer space.

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would be meeting starting Monday, 6 August. Background press releases for the two committees would be issued on Thursday, 2 August.

Ms. Momal-Vanian reminded journalists that the Palais des Nations would be closed tomorrow, 1 August, because of the Swiss National Day.

World Humanitarian Day was commemorated on August 19. The General Assembly chose that date in memory of United Nations colleagues who lost their lives in the attack on United Nations offices in Baghdad. This year, a campaign would be launched to commemorate the date, and a briefing would be held today in New York to explain more about it. Jens Laerke of OCHA was available to talk to journalists on the campaign.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Office said the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples was commemorated on 9 August and on this occasion ILO was publishing two news items. The ILO expert on indigenous issues was also available to answer any questions, including on the situation of indigenous peoples in specific countries. ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples was the only legally binding international instrument on this issue, at least for the 22 States that had ratified it.

UNCTAD Report on the Iron Ore Market 2011-2013

Catherine Sibut-Pinot said that Mr. Alexei Mojarov had led the project to prepare the report on iron ore at UNCTAD since 1989. He would present to journalists the results of the Iron Ore Market report 2011-2013. The iron ore market was a good indicator of the global economic situation.

Alexei Mojarov, Economic Affairs Office at the Special Unit on Commodities, said the latest Iron Ore Market report showed that the world iron ore market achieved an all-time high for production in 2011 of 1.9 billion tons. In 2011, international iron ore trade reached a record 1.1 billion tons as exports increased for the tenth year in a row. The world recovery in crude steel production since the financial crisis had been almost entirely due to China, and China’s imports of iron ore had increased by 11 per cent in 2011. Nowadays, China accounted for over 60 per cent of the total world’s iron ore imports. Iron ore prices continued on an upward trend through most of 2011 as domestic Chinese iron ore producers were unable to keep up with Chinese demand. The report predicted that price volatility would increase. There were more details in the press release.

World Meteorological Organization

Claire Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization said WMO’s members and its regional specialized meteorological centres were issuing warnings about typhoon Saola and severe tropical storm Damrey. Saola strengthened into a typhoon late Monday European time as it moved past the Philippines, causing torrential rains and floods. Today, the China Meteorological Administration had issued an orange warning for typhoon Saola as it moved towards the eastern coast of Taiwan province. It said there would be strong winds for the next 24 hours in most parts of Taiwan and heavy rain and storms. A list of links was available at the back of the room for more detailed information.

Ebola in Uganda

Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization said WHO was notified about Ebola in Uganda on 28 July by the Ugandan Ministry of Health. So far, the latest figures showed that there were 36 suspected cases, with 14 deaths. They had all occurred in an area in the west of Uganda. Four cases had been confirmed by laboratories in Uganda, and other samples had proved to be negative. An isolation ward had been set up in the affected area where all the suspected cases were currently being treated. WHO was helping the Government in case management and intervention control. Uganda had seen cases of Ebola before, including a big outbreak in 2001, and also in 2007 and last year. Other outbreaks had happened in the past in Sudan, South Sudan, Congo and Gabon.

Syria

Melissa Fleming of the United Nations Refugee Agency said she had a comprehensive update on figures relating to Syria. UNHCR was particularly concerned about the continuous raging armed violence that was now taking place in Syria’s most populous city, Aleppo. UNHCR and its partners were witnessing that thousands of frightened residents were seeking shelter in schools, mosques and public buildings. These were people who had not had the means to flee the city, or who had felt it was too dangerous to make that journey because of armed gangs and road blocks. UNHCR was trying its best to help the people in the schools. For example, UNCHR had identified 32 schools in Aleppo, in which between 250 and 300 people were sheltering. There were a total of around 7,000 people in university dormitories. The UNHCR office in Aleppo was severely constrained because of the insecurity. UNHCR continued to work with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other organizations in order to identify the needs of the most affected. UNHCR was also delivering goods to people who had left their homes and had nothing, including mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets and other family items. Valerie Amos, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, issued a statement on Sunday estimating that as many as 200,000 people had fled the city, but UNHCR was unable to reach all of them.

Meanwhile, Ms. Fleming said in Damascus, the UNHCR office was still operating but only at 50 per cent capacity due to the restrictions. It was a really hazardous security environment. UNHCR was conducting limited visits to some of the affected areas in and around Damascus and it had set up hotlines dedicated to and for refugees. The hotlines continued to receive calls from people fearing for their safety because of the shelling and were concerned about access to food and water and sanitation. Non-Iraqi foreigners such as the Somalis and Afghans were expressing the most worry and were talking about being targeted.
Concerning cross border displacement, Ms. Fleming said in Turkey, 2,000 people had crossed from Aleppo in the last four days. Many were reporting difficulties on the route, including snipers and road blocks. UNHCR believed these difficulties may be hindering others from crossing into Turkey. Turkey was now planning to open two additional camps to host 10,000 people each and were looking at further new sites in case of further influx.

In Jordan, UNHCR and partners had opened a camp there. It was in a very difficult place and it was with reluctance that UNCHR had opened it. Up until then, the refugees had been housed with Jordanian families, but it just became too many in numbers to cope. Some of the refugees were registered, others awaiting registration. There were also thousands who had not approached UNHCR or the Government in Jordan and a number of other countries. The Jordanian Government estimated that there were tens of thousands more Syrians who had crossed into Jordan and had not asked for assistance. People also continued to cross into Lebanon. Some came into Lebanon, and then returned to Syria, but more people were coming into Lebanon than going. In Iraq, there were over 11,000 Syrian refugees and UNHCR was grateful for Iraq’s assurances that the borders would remain open to Syrians fleeing the violence. Iraqis among the 80,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria were continuing to flee the violence; it was estimated that 20,000 Iraqi refugees had returned to Iraq over the past 10 days.

Ms. Fleming said UNHCR was increasingly seeing Syrians seeking refuge in Algeria. According to different reports, there were between 10,000 and 25,000 Syrians in Algeria, but so far only 70 had come and asked for assistance from UNHCR. UNHCR had observed that there were many Syrians, probably needing help, residing in public spaces and schools and it was working with the Government to see how they could respond to this. With all of these refugees, UNHCR needed donor support, so did partners including other United Nations bodies and non-governmental organizations, and they were concerned that the continued lack of funding would have a profound impact on their ability to deliver.

Chris Lom of the International Organization for Migration said IOM had started to move refugees from the crowded transit facilities on the border to a new camp that UNHCR and the Jordanians had set up near the border. The movement started on Sunday night and they had so far moved 447 people from one transit facility. Yesterday, IOM had moved another 472 people from another transit facility. IOM was also working in a third facility where the most vulnerable arrivals were being sent, including elderly people and families with young children.

Mr. Lom said concerning the people fleeing from Aleppo into central Iraq, IOM had been asked by the authorities in Anbar province to help with newly arrived families who were being accommodated in empty primary schools. This included 100 newly arrived families and IOM had been distributing essential non-food relief items. The people who were arriving in central Iraq were a mixture of Syrians and returning Iraqis. Most of them were attributing their decision to leave Syria for Iraq to a fear of random killings and robberies going on in Aleppo, lack of food, water and medical assistance, difficulty moving around the city, and above all fear that the conflict was going to get worse. It was also costing a lot for them to get out. All these operations were short of money and the Iraqis were not in a situation to provide much and they needed help from the international community.

Press Conference by High Commissioner for Refugees

Ms. Fleming of UNHCR said there was going to be a press conference right after the press briefing on Friday, 3 August, by the High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and Anne Richard, the Under States’ Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Migrants and Refugees, after their return to a trip Burkina Faso. They would also be able to answer questions on other ongoing emergencies, including Syria, and on the situation in South Sudan.