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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
28 August 2012

Alessandra Vellucci, the Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the World Meteorological Organization, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the International Labour Organization, the UN Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration.

Syria – doubling of refugees fleeing to Jordan

Melissa Fleming of the UN Refugee Agency said that the pace of arrivals from the Syrian border to the Za’atri camp in the north of Jordan had doubled in the past week. Refugees said many thousands more are waiting to cross amid violence around Daraa and UNHCR believed this could be the start of a much larger influx. Some of those who had crossed in recent days – especially Friday – reported being bombed by aircraft. There were also reports of shelling, mortars and other weapons-fire.

Typically, refugees crossed the border at night but large numbers of refugees arrived on Monday and Tuesday morning. Many refugees reported being displaced up to five or six times inside Syria before they fled the country. UNHCR had received in the camp over the past week an increased number of unaccompanied children. Some children reported that their parents had died, or were staying behind in Syria to look after relatives. Some children, who did not have passports, said they were sent ahead of their parents who would follow later or that their parents had died. UNHCR was expanding the camp, preparing new ground with a base course of fine gravel to help control dust at the site.

In Lebanon, UNHCR’s operations were returning to normal, with some improvements in the security situation over recent days. The registration centre in Tripoli had reopened and refugees were now making use of this. In the Bekaa valley, UNHCR was urgently trying to relocate refugee families staying in schools who were coming under increasing pressure to leave ahead of the new school term.

In Syria, there is an urgent need to find alternative shelter for the increasing number of displaced people staying in schools due to resume classes on 16 September. Local authorities were finalizing a list of possible collective centres and UNHCR stood ready to rehabilitate buildings to shelter people who had been forced to leave their homes. The Government estimated that more than a million people were sheltering in various public buildings.

In Iraq, the Al-Qaem border crossing had been closed since 16 August and there had been no increase in the number of Syrian refugees, which remained at 15,898. While the two other border crossing points remained open, UNHCR was advocating with the Government that the Al-Qaem border be reopened. UNHCR was ready to increase capacity in the camp or provide shelter for refugees elsewhere.

In Turkey the number of Syrians arriving at the border had increased dramatically. Compared to previous weeks, which saw around 400-500 people arriving daily, up to 5,000 people had been arriving at the borders every day over the past two weeks. In the past 24 hours over 3,000 Syrians had crossed into Turkey, with a further 7,000 expected to cross in the coming days. The Turkish authorities planned an additional five to six camps for a total overall capacity of up to 150,000 people.

The total number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration was 214,120, said Ms. Fleming.

At the request of the French Presidency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, would address the Security Council on Thursday at 3 p.m. in New York on the specific situation of the displaced.

Yemen arrivals increase as Horn of Africa mixed migration hits all-time highs

Ms. Fleming said that the flow of refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea towards Yemen continued to exceed previous records. Noteworthy was a significant change in the composition of this population, with more Ethiopians making the crossing, using the services of smugglers operating along the shores of Somalia and Djibouti. UNHCR’s primary concern was for those fleeing conflict and persecution and who were forced to resort to any available means to reach safety in neighbouring countries – in this case, meaning taking boats operated by smugglers.

Some of the Ethiopians who reached Yemen decided to seek asylum. Most cited a lack of prospects and a difficult economic situation. To avoid detention and deportation, they attempted to evade contact with the Yemeni authorities. Reports of serious abuses of Ethiopians at the hands of smugglers had been increasing.

Sahel update

Patrick McCormick of the UN Children’s Fund said that the worst was yet to come for the Sahel region, which was now in the lean season. While over 18 million persons faced food insecurity this year, more than 4 million children under five years old were at risk of acute malnutrition. Of them, 1.1 million were at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

In Mali, the combination of drought, food insecurity and conflict had compelled more than 435,000 people to flee their homes, many of them children. There was also a threat of locust infestation, the most serious since 2005, which could affect 50 million people, and there had been sporadic outbreaks of cholera throughout the region, which UNICEF was attempting to contain.

Fundraising was progressing but a funding gap of 50 per cent persisted, underlined Mr. McCormick.

Guinea worm eradication

Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization said that the number of guinea worm cases continued to decrease. Surveillance and case containment activities were being stepped up as there had been a dramatic fall in the number of cases in the first six months of this year (396 cases) compared to the first half of last year (807 cases).

Gautam Biswas of WHO’s Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases said he was pleased by the decrease in guinea worm cases. To date the world had eradicated only one disease, small pox, but another two diseases were slated for eradication: polio and guinea worm disease. The 396 cases of the latter this year were down by 99 per cent from the 3.5 million cases reported in 1986. Today, only four countries in the world were reporting guinea worm cases – South Sudan (391 cases), Mali (2 cases), Ethiopia (2 cases) and Chad (1 case). Ninety-nine per cent of cases today were occurring in South Sudan.

In response to a question, Mr. Biswas said that after the detection of the last case surveillance must be continued for three years to prove that there are no more cases. During the last World Health Assembly, South Sudan, which was expected to be the last country to eradicate guinea worms, had committed to interrupting transmission by 2013.

Tropical Storms

Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization said that the US National Hurricane Center, which was one of WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres, said that Tropical Storm Isaac was getting stronger and was on the verge of becoming a hurricane. The forecast track had the center of the storm nearing the coast of southeast Louisiana or Mississippi on Tuesday afternoon and night US local time. A hurricane warning was in effect along the Gulf coast from the Alabama/Florida border westward, including New Orleans. The National Hurricane Center said this storm had a large area of tropical storm-force winds, warning there was a significant threat of storm surges.

Two tropical storms, Typhoon Tembin and severe tropical storm Bolaven, were currently impacting the western North Pacific. The meteorological administrations of China, Japan and Korea had all issued warnings.

Koji Kuroiwa, Chief of WMO’s tropical cyclone division, emphasized that Isaac was the ninth named storm this year in the Atlantic Ocean and affected almost the same place which was affected by Hurricane Katharina in 2005. The National Hurricane Center was warning people about the impact of Isaac, not only the strong wind but also the storm surge, which was also the case in 2005 with Katharina.

Haiti

Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said that IOM’s response to Tropical Storm Isaac, which hit Haiti this weekend, saw a rapid and coordinated reaction, in which the most vulnerable people in camps were evacuated well before the storm struck the country. Thousands of people had been taken to safety by Haitian Civil Protection and IOM before and during the storm. People were returned from evacuation shelters to camps as soon as the storm passed over and provided shelter materials, hygiene kits and other aid where necessary.

The storm highlighted the urgent need to close the 575 camps remaining since the 2010 earthquake and provide adequate shelter for 390,000 people still living under tarps and in tents. IOM and other humanitarian actors have already helped 18,807 families to leave the camps by providing rental subsidies for 12 months. The programme has closed some 50 camps so far.

International Day against Nuclear Tests

Ms. Vellucci said that that the third annual International Day against Nuclear Tests will be on Wednesday, 29 August. English and French press releases were at the back of the room and releases in the other official languages were available from the Information Service.

World Water Week

Mr. McCormick said that UNICEF and WHO had issued a report earlier this year, saying that more than 2 billion people had gained access to improved sources of drinking water such as pipe supplies or protected wells. The report said the world had reached the Millennium Development Goal on drinking water in 2010, five years ahead of schedule, while 783 million people were still without access. During World Water Week, UNICEF was pushing for the world to understand that basic water and sanitation facilities were critical for the well-being of populations all over the world, especially children.

The Philippines to sign convention on domestic work

Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization said that the Philippines would ratify Convention No. 189 on domestic work on Thursday 30 August, thus allowing the Convention to enter into force in 12 months' time.

IOM Forum Theatre Tours Rural Villages in Ethiopia

IOM, with local government authorities, is staging a forum theatre entitled “Mutach” (The Last One). The production was aimed at creating awareness of the negative consequences of irregular migration in rural Ethiopia. The play told the story of a father's predicament as he considered sending his youngest daughter to work in the Middle East. His dilemma is based on the fact that he had been without news from one of his daughters who had been smuggled out of Ethiopia a year earlier.

UN humanitarian chief to visit Mali

Ms. Vellucci said that the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, was scheduled to travel to Mali from 28 to 30 August. A press release was at the back of the room and more information could be received from Vanessa Huguenin, in the absence of Jens Laerke.

Conference on Disarmament

Ms. Vellucci said that the Conference on Disarmament was this morning being addressed by delegations which did not have the time to take the floor to speak about the revitalisation of the Conference last Tuesday. The rest of the meeting was essentially dedicated to the examination of the Conference’s annual report to the General Assembly.

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Ms. Vellucci said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was holding a thematic debate on racist hate speech today. As of tomorrow the Committee would convene in closed-door meetings before the public closing of the session on Friday.

UNCTAD Agenda

Catherine Sibut-Pinote of the UN Conference on Trade and Development said that UNCTAD’s annual report on its assistance to the Palestinian People would be issued at a press conference on 5 September. The report will be made available one week ahead of time, under embargo until 5 September. The economic situation in the Palestinian territories appeared to be good, with a growth rate of about 10 per cent, but there were several difficulties.

A week later, on 12 September, UNCTAD would launch its trade and development report at 12 locations around the world. A press conference would be held in Geneva the day before, on 11 September. As well as examining the state of the world economy and offering projections, the economists would comment on income inequalities and explain how growth was possible without enlarging the income gaps.