REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
13 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 United Nations Refugee Agency, World Food Programme, and the Human Rights Council.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the tripartite meeting between US Secretary of State Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and UN-AL Joint Special Representative Brahimi had started at 09:30 a.m. and it was not certain how long it would last and whether there would be a press conference. [The webcast of the press conference which was later held is available at webtv.un.org]
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), announced the latest paper from the Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Syria which had been issued earlier in the morning and would be presented to the Human Rights Council on Monday, 16 September. The report dealt with the assaults on medical care facilities in Syria, and produced strong evidence of Government policy to deny medical care to those from opposition-controlled and affiliated areas as a matter of policy through attacks on medical units, by endangering hospitals, targeting medical personnel and interfering with patients receiving treatment.
Mr. Gomez informed journalists that a letter by Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, the Human Rights Council President, had been sent the previous day to US Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister. The letter called on them to consider addressing the lack of access to Syria by the Commission of Inquiry, and had been made public on 13 September.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that as the number of refugees from Syria reached the two million mark, WFP needed humanitarian access inside Syria to avoid a situation in which hunger would become an additional factor that pushed even more people to flee the country. More areas of Syria were becoming inaccessible because of the security situation.
In August 2013, WFP had been unable to access 39 locations in Damascus and Rural Damascus, while over the previous year, WFP had had regular access to 27 locations in Damascus and 35 in Rural Damascus, which had permitted the delivery of monthly food assistance to more than 600,000 people. Access had also been challenging in Al-Hassakeh, Aleppo, and Idleb.
Ms. Byrs said that the humanitarian situation in the coastal governorate of Lattakia had continued to deteriorate due to the ongoing fighting that had forced thousands of people from their homes. In September, WFP had distributed 3,000 emergency ready-to-eat food rations (food which did not need to be cooked), which was sufficient for 15,000 people. Further dispatches were under preparation.
The previous week, WFP had managed to send 1,000 family food rations and six metric tons of high-energy biscuits, which was enough for 5,000 people, to the city of Dara’a as part of an interagency convoy carrying humanitarian supplies. That assistance was in addition to the food that WFP allocated to the city each month for 130,000 people.
WFP was counting on the renewed commitment of the international community to meet the growing food needs of the people of Syria. The Syria response was WFP’s largest and most complex emergency worldwide. If all forecasted contributions were to materialize, WFP would still need to raise US$176 million until the end of 2013 in order to meet the food needs of people affected by the conflict.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was seeing a sharp increase in Syrians arriving by boat in southern Italy. Over the previous 40 days, 3,300 Syrians, of whom more than 230 were unaccompanied children, had come ashore, mainly in Sicily. Some 670 of these arrivals had been during the previous week.
More than 30 boat arrivals had been involved. The majority had come from Egypt, although some had started their journeys from Turkey. Most of the arrivals had been families with children. Several people had needed hospital treatment for dehydration, and there had been instances of people having to be airlifted directly from the boat on which they had been traveling.
The previous week, a nurse from Damascus had died as she had crossed with her husband and children. Her husband had given permission for her liver and kidneys to be used for three patients in Italy seeking organ transplants.
UNHCR estimated that over 4,600 Syrians had arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of 2013, while two thirds of those arrivals had been in August. Syrians UNHCR staff had spoken to had said that they had come mainly from Damascus, with many being Palestinian refugees born in Syria. On arrival, people were taken to reception centres. In recent months, many Syrians had moved on from countries at the European Union’s external borders to other parts of Europe.
According to UNHCR figures as of 6 September 21,870 people had arrived in southern Italy until then. This was a significant increase on levels in 2012 when 7,981 people had arrived. The main nationalities had included Eritreans 5,778 (594 in 2012), Somalis 2,571 (1,280 in 2012) and Syrians 3,970 (369 in 2012).
Answering a question on the updated number of Kurds fleeing from northern Syria into Iraq, Mr. Edwards said that there was a continuously large outflow, averaging between 500 and 1,000 persons a day. The total number of ethnic Kurds who had fled from northeast Syria to Kurdistan since August was estimated at more than 50,000.
Answering questions on whether the refugees were paying smugglers to be transported in boats and whether the boats were sea-worthy, Mr. Edwards stated that he did not have specific information on smugglers. He added that it was common that in desperate situations people opt for desperate measures, and smugglers were always making money. The route from Egypt towards southern Europe was a classic mixed migration route. Mr. Edwards said that he could not specify from which exact coastal parts of Egypt these boats were departing.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the General Assembly session would start in New York the following Tuesday. No hard copy press kits would be available but press kits were available on line [www.un.org/en/ga/68].
The Conference on Disarmament had ended its session.
The Committee on the Rights of Disabled People and the Committee on Migrant Workers would end their sessions in the afternoon of 13 September.
The Committee on the Rights of Children would start its session the following week, for which background press releases had been distributed.
Mr. Gomez announced that the presentation of the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Syria would likely take place in the late morning on 16 September, probably at 11:30 a.m. or 12:00. A press briefing would follow at 1:30 p.m. in Press Room III.
Briefing to present an update on the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea would take place on Tuesday, 17 September at 1:30 p.m. in Press Room III.
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The spokespersons of the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Children’s Programme also attended the briefing but did not speak.