REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
25 February 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by the Spokespersons for Office for the World Health Organization, World Food Programme, United Nations Refugee Agency, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Children’s Fund.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that, based on monitoring by the UNHCR-led Protection Cluster, more than 15,000 people in 18 locations in the northwest and southwest of the country were at present surrounded and being threatened by armed groups. Those populations were at very high risk of attack and urgently needed better security. Although violence had hit all communities in the CAR, most of the people who were trapped were Muslims under threat from anti-Balaka militiamen. Areas UNHCR was particularly worried about included the PK12 neighbourhood in Bangui and the towns of Boda, Bouar and Bossangoa.
Targeting of populations based on their religions had been happening since September 2013, and affecting both Christian and Muslim communities. In places such as Paoua and some areas of Bangui, communities continued to live and work together, but atrocities had become frequent.
Mr. Edwards informed that on 22 February, three Muslim men had been reported killed in a neighbouhood of Bangui close to the airport. The previous week, a convoy carrying people escaping from a besieged site at PK12 had been attacked by anti-Balaka militiamen. All 21 men in the convoy had been killed, leaving 119 frightened children and 19 women who had fled to a nearby village. Recently in Boali, north of the capital Bangui, an attack by anti-Balaka militias had left 11 people dead. The 800 traumatized survivors had sought refuge at a church where they had since been hosted by the priest and protected by international forces.
UNHCR and its partners were responding to those situations through protection-by-presence, humanitarian assistance, advocacy for protection measures and in exceptional cases, through facilitating the movement of these communities to safe sites. Mr. Edwards said that humanitarian efforts alone could not be a sufficient solution to the crisis, which was why UNHCR was appealing again to all armed elements to stop indiscriminate attacks against civilians. UNHCR was also calling for the deployment of more international troops as their numbers were far too low considering the size of the country and the scope of the crisis.
CAR’s new Government needed urgent support to undertake effective law enforcement in particular through deployment of police forces and reestablishment of a judicial system to end impunity. Armed militias needed to be disarmed, de-mobilized and when possible, reintegrated into society. Quick development action was also needed to allow displaced persons to recover a more stable environment and for economic and social life to return to normal.
Mr. Edwards added that, since December 2012, violence and instability had forced close to a million people to flee within the CAR and to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo. More than 700,000 were internally displaced (with 273,500 IDPs in Bangui spread over 66 sites), while more than 288,000 refugees had fled to neighbouring countries.
Elysabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), expressed a concern over a possible regional crisis around the Central African Republic because of an exodus of thousands of people, who continued to flee violence across the CAR. WFP was warning that neighbouring countries were struggling with more than 150,000 new arrivals in urgent need of assistance.
More than 70,000 people had fled the CAR to Chad since the intensification of violence in December; there were 62,000 refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; 28,000 had arrived in recent weeks in Cameroon and 12,000 had sought refuge in the Republic of the Congo.
Ms. Byrs said that the number of refugees would increase and that the WFP would not be able to provide them with sufficient aid, unless it rapidly received adequate financial support. Many of the surrounding countries were already hosting large numbers of refugees from various countries and resources were stretched. WFP stocks of cereals earmarked for CAR refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were running dangerously low and new contributions were needed. Without those contributions, WFP would be in a critical situation regarding that massive exodus of CAR population to neighbouring countries.
Answering a question on how much money WFP had received so far, Ms. Byrs explained that in assisting the most vulnerable people in the regional crisis, WFP had no funding in advance. She specified that WFP continued to scale up its operations in the CAR. It was recalled that 58 trucks had been able to arrive in Bangui with 1,600 tonnes of food, and that WFP was continuing to provide assistance to Bossangoa, Bouar, Sawa and several villages around Bangui. In February in Bouar, WFP had fed 13,000 people, and currently at the airport, WFP was providing rations to 62,000 people. Now that the food had arrived to the centre of the country, WFP concern was about the funding for the regional crisis and for refugees in neighbouring countries.
Ms. Byrs specified that only 15 per cent of WFP financial resources had been met.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), provided updated figures and informed that only 14 per cent of the appeal for funding had been provided thus far, amounting to USD 79 million out of the USD 551 million requested.
Answering a question on consequences of disarming certain groups in the CAR, Ms. Momal-Vanian recalled that the Secretary-General had said that the international troops currently present on the ground were not in a position to fully stop the violence, which was why he had asked that an additional 3,000 troops be dispatched immediately. She reiterated that the United Nations still did not have an official force present on the ground; it was African and European troops.
On whether there were any specific United Nations efforts in place to promote Muslim-Christian tolerance, Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA), had a mandate of helping the Government stabilize the country, strengthen the institutions and promote dialogue and reconciliation. BINUCA also had a human rights component. The International Commission on Inquiry’s work should also serve to foster the reconciliation by shedding light on what exactly had happened.
Asked about facilitating the movement of communities, Mr. Edwards said that there were three ways to deal with the situation: cooperation with the civil and military components to see whether responses could be put in place; mediation to address the immediate protection needs; and relocation, as the measure of last resort, when everything else failed. Relocation had happened before, but the options at the moment were limited, with the lack of availability of safe places and moving people around the country was a highly sensitive process and could further exacerbate the situation.
Patrick McCormick, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), spoke about the Joint Nutrition Assessment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon which revealed that malnutrition was a silent and emerging threat, especially amongst children. UNICEF, and its partners from the UNHCR and WFP, had conducted the assessment in October and November 2013. There were serious concerns about the deterioration of the nutrition status of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. For example, in the Bekka and the North of Lebanon, the prevalence of Severe Acute Malnutrition had almost doubled the previous year.
Answering a question on detailed figures, Mr. McCormick stated that there were 2,000 registered cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition. There were no figures with regards to the number of child casualties of malnutrition as it was often difficult to pinpoint the condition to simply a lack of food because the children often succumbed to other diseases as well. The problem in Lebanon was related to the scattered communities across the region, making it difficult to locate the community and deliver food.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the General Assembly would hold today an informal briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, and would hear statements by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Guterres, Director-General of WHO, Dr. Chan, and The Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. Ms. Kyung-Wha Kang. The briefing would be available on the webcast from 4 p.m. Geneva time.
Ms. Byrs stated that the previous week, WFP had delivered 1,400 tons of food – enough to feed 7,000 people for one month – to families in Al Wa’er in Homs governorate, most of whom were evacuees from Old Homs. Due to the limited supply of cooking fuel in Al Wa’er, WFP had also delivered 1,200 non-electric heat-retention cookers that used very limited fuel resources to families in shelters in the city.
In February, WFP and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers had delivered 500 family rations and 6,200 kg of wheat flour - enough to feed 2,500 people for one month - inside the Old City of Homs.
Ms. Byrs stated that, while this had been a step toward easing the food needs in Old Homs, one-off convoys into besieged areas offered only a minimum of relief. WFP needed continuous and sustainable access to monitor and assess needs and consistently deliver food assistance.
It was stressed that the WFP was facing a serious funding problem and needed USD 205 million to cover the needs until the end of March. The WFP needed USD 40 million per week to assist the people inside Syria as well as refugees. Ms. Byrs underlined that in January, the WFP had provided food for 3,7 million people.
Ms. Byrs specified that there were still 250,000 people whom the WFP could not access in besieged areas or hard to reach areas inside Syria. Among them, there were many children, women and elderly people. WFP was providing specialized nutrition products such as nutty butter to 100,000 children under the age of two, each month. The North East of Syria was of particular concern because the rates of malnutrition among children had already been high even before the start of the conflict.
Mr. Edwards stated that the Government of Pakistan, with UNHCR assistance, had begun issuing new refugee cards to more than 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees. Those Proof of Registration cards were valid until the end of 2015.
Pakistan’s Cabinet had decided in July 2013 to further extend the temporary stay of Afghan refugees. The refugee card was important as it provided for Afghans to legally remain in Pakistan and thereby protected against risks such as extortion, arbitrary arrest and detention as well as deportation under Pakistan’s Foreigner’s Act.
Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority had launched the countrywide project earlier in February. The process would be carried out in two phases: during February-June 2014 all expired cards would be replaced. In the second phase, from July to the end of the year, Pakistan would register and issue individual cards to some 150,000 children born during the previous five years. An additional 330,000 Afghan children below the age of eighteen would receive birth certificates for the first time under that initiative. UNHCR welcomed the issuance of birth certificates as it offered important protection for refugee children by helping prevent statelessness, making it easy for children to access social services and basic rights – such as school enrolment, and allowing or the issuance of documentation.
Mr. Edwards said that the implementation of the card renewal exercise was a result of continuous cooperation between the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and was aimed to secure the protection of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, which remained the world’s largest refugee hosting nation. In all, there were 2.6 million Afghan refugees worldwide, the majority hosted in Pakistan and Iran.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Human Rights Council would commence its session on 3 March. Answering a question, she confirmed that the United Nations Secretary-General would be present for the opening of the session. A background release on the Council’s session would be issued shortly.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that Human Rights Council spokespeople would brief the journalists on 27 February at 2:30 p.m. in Press Room 1.
The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee was examining today the questions of the effect of corruption on human rights and the promotion of human rights through sports. The session of the Advisory Committee would come to a close on 28 February, with the adoption of recommendations to the Council.
The Conference on Disarmament was holding its public session this morning, which had started at 10 a.m.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was meeting in private this week, in order to adopt its concluding observations.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the World Trade Organization would hold a press conference on 26 February at 2:30 p.m in Press Room I, when Peter Ungphakorn and his team would brief on the Intellectual property (TRIPS) Council meeting.
Tarik Jasareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that, on the occasion of the International Ear Care Day on 3 March, WHO would release a report presenting an assessment of national capacities to treat and prevent hearing loss in different countries. 76 countries had been included on this survey, hard copies of which, in English, French and Spanish, would be provided by WHO. A press release would be issued on 28 February, when WHO would bring its expert to the regular press briefing.
Mr. Jasareviæ informed that the basic idea would be that countries were making progress in integrating programme for treating hearing loss in their national health systems, but many countries were still lacking the programme.
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The representatives of the International Labour Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the International Trade Centre also attended the briefing, but did not brief.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: … http://bit.ly/1gzeE7I