12 May 2017
Alessandra Vellucci, Director, United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization.
Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had opened a new camp, Hasansham U2, in northern Iraq this week to shelter an increasing number of Iraqi families fleeing the fighting in western Mosul. The camp was located around 60 kilometres west of Mosul along the highway to Erbil. The first buses with newly displaced Iraqi families had arrived at the camp already on 9 May. As of today the new site sheltered nearly 500 children, women and men - 96 families in total.
This was the 12th camp and the latest one to be built by UNHCR and its partners in response to the ongoing Mosul emergency. Less than four weeks previous UNHCR had opened the Hammam al-Alil 2 camp, with a capacity for 30,000 people. That camp was now almost full.
Each displaced family arriving at Hasansham U2 received a tent and other basic aid items including blankets, mats, a cooker, jerry cans, plastic sheeting and a kitchen set. As of today, more than 1,000 tents were ready, enough to shelter over 6,000 people. Hasansham U2 had capacity to accommodate more than 9,000 people when fully occupied.
The risk to people fleeing Mosul was now very great, with people having to move being in grave danger. People spoke of desperate and worsening conditions. Families arriving from West Mosul reported heavy bombing and fighting. They also told UNHCR that there were no basic services in the city, no food, no water and no fuel. Some families had told UNHCR they had been living on one meal a day; often just bread, or flour and water, sometimes supplemented with tomato paste.
UNHCR reiterated its call to all parties in the fighting to ensure civilians were not prevented from leaving areas of active conflict and were provided access to safe areas, including those currently trapped in Mosul. Equally, civilians must not be forced to return to unsafe areas.
Six months into the Mosul offensive UNHCR remained concerned about the continuing massive displacement. Despite enormous risks, the number of people fleeing West Mosul showed no sign of slowing down.
UNHCR’s current humanitarian efforts to shelter and assist displaced Iraqi families and refugees who fled to Iraq were seriously challenged by waning funding support. UNHCR’s programmes in support of refugees and internally displaced in Iraq were currently only 18 per cent funded (USD 105.1 million received out of USD 578 million). This situation now threatened our ability to effectively respond to the immediate and mounting humanitarian needs in Iraq in 2017.
In response to questions, Mr. Mahecic said that it was very difficult to estimate how many people may still be trapped in western Mosul. According to Iraqi authorities more than 630,000 people had been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since October 2016, when the military operation had begun. That included more than 434,000 displaced from western Mosul since mid-February.
The initial estimate in terms of displacement had been in the vicinity of 700,000 for Mosul itself, and for the wider Mosul area it should have been about 1.2 million.
Mr. Mahecic also said that those who arrived were receiving medical assistance if needed. People were arriving heavily traumatized because of what they had gone through. People were fleeing now not just when there was a lull in fighting but throughout the fighting, hoping they would not be targeted.
Mr. Mahecic said some 20,563 refugees had now arrived in Angola, fleeing insecurity and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region since early April. A steady stream of refugees continued to cross into Dundo in Lunda Norte Province. More than 3,000 had arrived in the past few days.
The Angolan army was transporting the new arrivals from border points to the two receptions centres in Cacanda and Moussunge. The recent arrivals included people with severe wounds and burn injuries, who had been transferred to a local hospital to receive urgent medical attention. A local hospital was already assisting some 70 persons with serious wounds and burn injuries.
Refugee reception centres in Angola were already over-crowded and struggling to accommodate daily arrivals. UNHCR was currently assisting the Angolan authorities to identify a suitable site for the relocation of refugees from the temporary reception centres.
UNHCR continued to provide food and relief items to new arrivals. UNHCR partners were pitching tents and distributing plastic sheeting to provide adequate shelter, prioritizing the most vulnerable people.
UNHCR and partners, in support of the Angolan authorities, had pre-registered so far over 11,000 persons, 70 per cent of whom were women and children. UNHCR, in coordination with UNICEF, was responding to an increasing number of unaccompanied and separated children who required immediate attention.
Asked about the burn injuries of the people arriving, Mr. Mahecic said that the situation was unfolding in a very remote area, the north-eastern part of Angola, with people fleeing from the Kasai region which was also a very remote area, and UNHCR did not have details of the origin of those injuries.
UNHCR had been able to bring first aid with airlifts. Aid from a second UNHCR airlift had arrived in Dundo on 8 May with 1,200 family tents, 1,500 plastic sheeting, 500 plastic rolls, and 3,000 solar lanterns are currently being unloaded in preparation for distribution. UNHCR was working hard with other partners to improve the conditions at the reception sites.
Ms. Vellucci said that the UN Secretary-General had participated on 11 May in a meeting on humanitarian aid to Somalia in London. Speaking to reporters afterwards, he had called on the international community to come together and massively support Somalia, in particular in three ways: respond to the appeals to increase humanitarian aid, fully support the Government in the build-up of national institutions, and finally, support the new National Development Plan of Somalia through all the instruments of development cooperation. The Secretary-General had also reminded the international community that the UN was now seeking an additional USD 900 million in aid.
Mr. Mahecic said that UNHCR was revising its funding requirements for people displaced inside Somalia and for Somali refugees in the region. UNHCR was now seeking some USD 488 million to provide continued support to displaced Somalis in 2017. The update included an additional requirement of USD 91 million for Somali refugees in Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen and those displaced inside Somalia.
More than two million Somalis were currently displaced by conflict - now lasting for more than two decades. Some 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Somalia and nearly 900,000 were refugees in the region - including some 308,700 in Kenya, 255,600 in Yemen, 246,900 in Ethiopia, and 13,200 in Djibouti.
Apart from helping refugees in the region, the UNHCR appeal aimed to cover needs of some 250,000 most vulnerable among the newly displaced – including those forced to leave Somalia due to drought and continued insecurity.
UNHCR also needed resources to address return and reintegration of 50,000 returnees from Kenya and 10,000 from Yemen.
The updated funding appeal was combined with UNHCR’s call for continued and sustainable international engagement with the Government of Somalia and also refugee hosting countries in the region.
Insecurity, capacity of Government institutions, curtailed humanitarian access, limited livelihood opportunities, lack of basic services and poor infrastructure were some of the key challenges in Somalia. The current risk of famine with reports of deaths and illnesses caused by drought-related factors was further complicating daily lives of Somalis. Inside Somalia, some 6.2 million people were in need of humanitarian aid.
Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies, Mohammed Abdiker had called Yemen “the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world right now”. He wished to draw attention to an imminent attack on Al Hudaydah port and its city that would likely lead to further loss of life and displacement for the Yemeni people. The UN Humanitarian Country Team had called for financial support to help the 18.8 million people in need, both conflict-affected Yemenis and migrants. More than half of them required immediate humanitarian assistance to save their lives, with women and girls being especially vulnerable. Up to nine million people were facing extreme food insecurity. The country was on the brink of famine with more than eight million facing acute shortages of clean water and sanitation. With the collapse of the healthcare system and more than half of health facilities not functioning, 8.8 million people were in acute need of access to healthcare. During the recent High-Level Pledging Event on Yemen, Governments had pledged USD 1.1 billion to support the humanitarian response out of the over USD 2 billion requested for 2017.
“A minimum of 400,000 people will flee the city eastwards, once Al Hudaydah is under attack,” Mr. Abdiker had said. “This is in addition to the already desperate situation of more than two million displaced people and their conflict-affected host communities. Even without this attack on Al Hudaydah, all emergency response in Yemen is facing huge difficulties of access, financial support and immense needs,” he had said.
“Humanitarian action alone can never bring the peace all people in Yemen deserve. The UN Migration Agency advocates for dialogue and peace talks, rather than the use of military force, which puts the lives of Yemenis and humanitarians in extreme danger. More than ten first responders have been killed while helping the injured,” Mr. Abdiker had added.
In response to questions, Mr. Millman said that the attack would come from coalition forces according to his understanding. In terms of the build-up to the attack, Mr. Millman said that the report he quoted did not describe troop build-ups but mentioned families having very limited access to water and food, and a recent cholera outbreak in the city. Daily attacks including airstrikes were mentioned, but without a mention of a specific location.
Mr. Millman said IOM had new information on the trend towards relocating asylum seekers who were in Greece and had been scheduled to be relocated within the EU. Through April 2017, almost 12,500 asylum seekers had been relocated from Greece into various EU countries, which was about six times as many as in the first four months of 2016.
Mr. Millman said IOM had a report from its Mediterranean coordinator, Federico Soda, in Rome, on the swift rise in arrivals of Bangladeshi and Moroccan migrants arriving in Italy from Libya. Instances of labour exploitation concerning them both in Libya and in Italy seemed to be part of the same smuggling scheme. Despite the terrible violence in Libya and the mistreatment and dangers facing migrants, Libya seemed to be once again picking up as a transit stop for people wanting to reach Europe. Syrians had also been seen there in recent weeks.
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the vulnerability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in El Salvador was of deep concern. Since the beginning of 2017, at least seven transgender people had been murdered in El Salvador. Most recently, at the end of April, a prominent human rights defender working on the rights of LGBTI people, Karla Avelar had reportedly been visited at her home in San Salvador by three men, who had threatened her and had demanded money from her within three days. Following the visit, Ms. Avelar had been forced to flee her home – yet again. Over the past two years, she had been forced to move six times for security reasons. Ms. Avelar, who herself was transgender, had faced violence and intimidation numerous times over decades. She had survived two attempts on her life, in 1992 and 1997, when she had been shot multiple times and seriously wounded.
OHCHR urged the Government of El Salvador to take urgent measures to ensure the protection of Ms. Avelar and other LGBTI activists and individuals who were under threat, including by establishing an effective protection mechanism for human rights defenders working on sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI activists.
The 2016 annual report of the Ombudsman’s Office of El Salvador stated that 52 percent of trans women it had surveyed had said they had received death threats. The high rate of impunity and lack of prompt and effective investigations was endemic in the country, and clearly affected also crimes committed against the LGBTI community.
OHCHR called on the Government to conduct prompt, thorough and effective investigations into hate crimes against the LGBTI community. The UN Human Rights Office’s Regional Office for Central America was closely following the situation and remained ready to assist and advise the Government on those and other human rights challenges in the country. The Regional Office had also been providing support to the country's Attorney General, including training for prosecutors on transitional justice.
In response to a question regarding whether the High Commissioner was concerned about the removal of the top law enforcement officer in the United States, Ms. Shamdasani said that she would consult with the High Commissioner and would get back to the press. She added that the High Commissioner was headed to Washington D.C., where he would meet with a number of US officials.
Asked about the process for the High Commissioner to be seized of an issue, Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR had desks within the Office dealing with various regions. The regional desks would apprise the High Commissioner of any issues and brief him on the possible human rights implications. Sometimes he reached out for more information himself. Based on the information and the analysis, OHCHR decided whether to go public or to engage privately, and always assessed what the impact of its public statements would be.
Asked about the purpose of the High Commissioner’s visit to Washington, Ms. Shamdasani said that she would get back to the press with the details of his visit on Monday at the latest.
In response to a question about any new information from the field concerning attacks on health facilities in Syria in April and May 2017, Ms. Shamdasani said she would check with OHCHR’s Syria monitoring team and with the Syria Commission of Inquiry.
Ms. Vellucci said that the curtain-raiser press conference before the resumption of the intra-Syrian talks would take place on 15 May in the afternoon and the press would be informed soon of the exact time. [Later on, the press conference was announced at 12:00 p.m.]
Geneva Events and Announcements
Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), spoke about an embargoed press note (under embargo until 16 May) sent out to the press, on adolescent health.
Mr. Lindmeier also announced a virtual press briefing on 15 May at 2 p.m. launching the “Healthier, fairer and safer” report on global health, by Sir Liam Donaldson. He had been the Chief Medical Officer for England from 1998 to 2010. He was an international champion for patient safety and had bene named an envoy for patient safety in 2011. would run a discussion on an independent report commissioned to reflect on the trends and achievements in global health in the past decade. He would be speaking from Geneva. Mr. Lindmeier acknowledged the request from the press to meet Sir Liam Donaldson in person.
Asked about the accreditation of Taiwanese journalists for the WHA, Ms. Vellucci said that according to the UN policy on the accreditation of journalists, only journalists coming from countries recognized by the General Assembly could be accredited. In order to receive accreditation, it was necessary to present three documents: a letter of assignment, a press card and an identity card. If the ID came from a country not recognized by the General Assembly, accreditation could not be provided. The rules for accrediting journalists were always the same.
Asked about the presence of Taiwanese journalists at the WHA in the past, Ms. Vellucci clarified that it was WHO who accredited participants for the actual conference, while UNIS accredited journalists. Any participants from Taiwan could not be accredited as journalists; however, WHO should be asked about their possible accreditation as participants in the past.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation and coordination among Arctic States and communities, had met on 11 May in Fairbanks, Alaska, and had admitted WMO as an observer. This would allow WMO to follow more closely what was discussed in the Arctic Council. The Fairbanks meeting had been the last ministerial meeting under the chair of the United States of America. The chair now passed to Finland. WMO very much welcomed the fact that the four priorities of Finland’s chairmanship (which would last for two years) were environmental protection, connectivity, meteorological cooperation and education.
This recognition as an observer came very conveniently on the eve of the launch of a major new campaign by WMO, which would be launched in Geneva on 15 May. It was the Year of polar prediction, which was actually a two-year campaign (a full year covering the Arctic and a full year covering the Antarctic). There would be a press conference in Press Room 1 on 15 May at 11:15 a.m. The speakers would include Thomas Jung, Chair of the Polar Prediction Project steering committee, and professor at the Alfred Wegener Helmholtz-Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Celeste Saolo, Head of Argentina’s national meteorological service (Antarctic), and Paolo Ruti, Chief of WMO’s World Weather Research Programme.
Ms. Nullis also said that WMO and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) were hosting along with quite a few other UN organizations a Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference in Cancun, Mexico on 22 and 23 May. It would feed into the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction. The latter was an event held every two years under the leadership of UNISDR. WMO would be participating very actively in the Global Platform as well.
Ahead of the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference, WMO would issue a press release on world-record mortality rates of tropical cyclones, tornadoes, lightning strikes (both direct and indirect) and hailstorms. This press release would come under embargo on 17 May. WMO had an archive of weather and climate extremes: they recognized world records for extreme events such as heat or heavy rainfall. In 2016, WMO had recognized records for lightning strikes and the biggest wave. In 2017, for the first time, WMO would broach into the area of the impact of extreme events.
Fernando Puchol, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, would be visiting Beijing next week to meet with high-level Chinese officials and to participate in the Belt and Road Summit. From there, he would continue on to Tokyo where he would meet with high-level officials and private sector representatives. Also during his stay in Asia, he would participate in the APEC trade ministerial meeting in Hanoi on 20 and 21 May.
At the WTO, the Negotiating Group on Rules would be meeting from 15 to 18 May to discuss questions on fisheries subsidised, especially on differential treatment and flexibility, technical assistance and capacity-building. That was one of the main areas of negotiation at WTO right now.
On 16 May the new Committee on Trade Facilitation would meet for the first time. The Committee was a result of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which had entered into force in February 2017 following ratification by two-thirds of the WTO membership. Its work would be fundamental to review the agreement’s operation and implementation, which had the potential to reduce global trade costs by an average 14 per cent.
On 17 May, the Committee on Trade and Development would meet to elect a new Chairperson, and following the meeting, there would be a special session dedicated to small economies. Members would discuss the challenges and opportunities of small economies linking into global value chains in trade in goods and services. Also on 17 May, the Dispute Settlement Body would meet in the afternoon. On 18 May, the Sub-Committee on Least-Developed Countries would hold a session to discuss how to facilitate the participation of LDCs in the ministerial conference in Argentina.
Mr. Puchol also said that Switzerland and Lichtenstein would undergo their trade policy review on 16 and 18 May.
In response to questions, Mr. Puchol said that negotiations at the General Council were ongoing and WTO would keep the press updated if something new arose. Asked why the Director-General would not stay in Geneva to resolve this crisis but was instead traveling to Beijing and Tokyo, Mr. Puchol said that he would get back to the press with a response on that.
In response to requests, Mr. Puchol said he would also get back to the press regarding the possibility to obtain a copy of the Director-General’s speech in Beijing, as well as regarding his agenda and which officials he would be meeting with.
Ms. Vellucci announced a press conference on 17 May at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In the run-up to the G7 (Sicily, 26-27 June), UNICEF was launching a new report to call on world leaders to adopt a plan of action for children on the move.
The report – embargoed until 00.01 GMT on 18 May - ’A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation’, presented a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they faced along the way. There would be new data and multimedia content with testimonies from refugee and migrant children. The speaker would be Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.
Ms. Vellucci said the Committee against Torture (CAT), would conclude this morning at 10 a.m. its 60th session, following which it would publish its concluding observations on the reports of the four countries reviewed during the session, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Argentina and the Republic of Korea. The Committee would hold a press conference today at 12.30 p.m. to present its findings.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) would conclude this afternoon at 3 p.m. its 92nd session, following which it would publish its concluding observations on the reports of the six countries reviewed during the session: Finland, Republic of Moldova, Armenia, Kenya, Cyprus and Bulgaria.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) would open on 15 May at 10 a.m. its 75th session, which would run at the Palais Wilson until 2 June and during which it would review the reports presented under the Convention on the Rights of the Child by Bhutan, Lebanon, Qatar, Romania, Mongolia, Antigua and Barbuda, and Cameroon, as well as the reports presented by Bhutan and by the United States under the two Optional Protocols (the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict).
The Conference on Disarmament (CD) would open on 15 May the second part of its 2017 session, which would run until 30 June. The CD would hold a public plenary on 16 May at 10 a.m.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog120517