31 October 2017
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.
Refugees from Cameroon arriving in Nigeria
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR, together with the local authorities in south-eastern Nigeria, was assisting recently arrived Cameroonians seeking refuge and safety. Thousands had fled to Nigeria following renewed violence in Anglophone parts of Cameroon earlier in October. Together with the Nigerian authorities, UNHCR had registered some 2,000 people so far, with the help of local partners in various locations in Nigeria. An additional 3,000 were awaiting registration, while more people might be trapped in forests on the Cameroonian side as they attempted to cross the border.
UNHCR and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons were distributing relief items in Cross River State, Nigeria. UNHCR and Nigerian teams were making joint visits to various locations to better assess the situation and register new arrivals. UNHCR had delivered food and relief items such as mattresses, blankets and mosquito nets, and would continue to do so in several locations during the current week.
UNHCR was working with the Nigerian government and other United Nations agencies on a contingency plan, readying humanitarian assistance for up to 40,000 people crossing into Nigeria. The fear, however, was that 40,000 might actually be a conservative figure in a situation where the conflict might continue. Nigeria and Cameroon were already grappling with one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with 2.5 million people displaced by Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad region. The current influx of Cameroonians seeking refuge in Nigeria posed additional challenges to the international community and a further burden on assistance actors that were already stretched thin.
Responding to questions, Mr. Baloch said that while it was estimated that up to 5,000 refugees might flee from Cameroon into Nigeria, UNHCR and the Nigerian authorities were using 40,000 refugees as a planning figure. Most of the refugees were currently in Cross River State. More details would be available in the coming days once UNHCR staff had carried out visits to various locations.
Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that according to the latest estimates, which dated back to 29 October, over 607,000 Rohingya refugees had crossed the border into Bangladesh from Mynamar since 25 August 2017. Although the number of new arrivals was now slowing, people continued to arrive in the makeshift settlements of Cox’s Bazar every day, bringing the total Rohingya population of the district to over 820,000. The settlements were dangerously congested and overcrowded and the pressures on sources of clean drinking water and basic sanitation were enormous. Having walked for days without water or food, the newly arrived refuges were exhausted and thirsty; many were ill.
All the spontaneous and makeshift sites where the Rohingya had sought shelter were in urgent need of water, sanitation and hygiene support to prevent disease and to restore basic human dignity. Existing facilities were not sufficient to cope with the large numbers of people on site. The Intersectoral Coordination Group, which coordinated the work of aid agencies in Cox’s Bazar and was hosted by IOM, estimated that of the 750,000 people initially targeted, some 530,000 had received water, sanitation and hygiene assistance. The United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan estimated that over the following six months, nearly 1.2 million people in Cox’s Bazar settlements and host communities would need such assistance.
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was deeply saddened by reports of a new shipwreck in the Bay of Bengal on the morning of 31 October 2017, in which at least four Rohingya refugees had died when their boat had capsized close to the southern Bangladesh shore. Others who had been injured had been taken to local hospitals for immediate treatment.
UNHCR staff and partners had rushed to the scene to provide medical support, food, blankets and clothes to the survivors. According to survivors, six families - 42 people in total, many of them women and children – had left on a fishing boat from Gozon Dia, south of Maungdaw town, in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State around 2 a.m. They had run into rough seas and had approached shore in the Imamerdail area of Ukhia subdistrict in Bangladesh around 8.30 a.m. local time on 31 October.
The boat had been hit by large waves and had eventually capsized, trapping people underneath. Several had been injured when they had hit the engine. A 15-year-old boy had died on the spot. In all 22 injured people had been rushed to hospitals and NGO clinics, but three had reportedly died en route. The remaining 19 had been taken to the UNHCR transit centre near Kutupalong camp where they would receive further assistance. UNHCR would ensure that families were not separated in the course of medical treatment. UNHCR had been in touch with the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure safe passage in a systematic and timely way and to step up efforts to rescue people in distress at sea.
Migration statistics for the Mediterranean
Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, as at 29 October, a total of 149,785 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in 2017, equivalent to an average of 215 arrivals per day across all routes. In nearly a week, no landings had been recorded in Italy, which was unusual. Although 2017 had begun as the busiest of the past four years of the central Mediterranean migration emergency, that trend had reversed over the third quarter of 2017, which had seen 61,000 fewer arrivals than at the same time in 2016. The reversal was often explained in the press as being the result of aid from the European Union, especially Italy, to stem the traffic from Africa. In any case, the vast array of government, NGO and other volunteers who rescued people on the high seas had not changed over the past few months, indicating that their wide presence had not served as a “pull factor” in drawing ever-increasing numbers of migrants towards Europe from Africa.
Furthermore, fatalities in the Central Mediterranean had dropped sharply during the summer of 2017. From July through October 2015, some 1,622 migrants and refugees had died crossing the Mediterranean; in 2016 that total had fallen to 1,093; and in 2017, through 29 October 2017, the total was 567.
Geneva events and announcements
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that during the current week, WHO was holding its biennial meeting of Heads of WHO Offices in countries, territories and areas at WHO headquarters with the Director-General and Regional Directors. One-on-one interviews with WHO representatives could be organized for interested members of the press, schedules permitting.
Hans Von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that on Wednesday, 1 November, from 4.30 to 6 p.m., the ILO Governing Body, as part of its thirty-first session, would discuss ILO cooperation with the tobacco industry in the pursuit of the Organization’s social mandate; a paper on the topic had been prepared for the purposes of guiding the discussion and had been distributed to members of the press. The discussion would be public and an informal press briefing could be organized if there was sufficient interest. It was possible that the discussion would spill over into the next day or a later date. He would inform members of the press by email of any such scheduling changes and of any decisions taken on the topic.
Other highlights during the session included a meeting, scheduled to be held on Wednesday, 8 November, from 10.30 a.m. to 12 p.m., on a complaint concerning non-observance by Qatar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29); and a meeting, scheduled to be held from 4.30 to 6 p.m., on the same day, on a complaint concerning non-observance by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela of three ILO Conventions, including the Convention No. 87 on the freedom of association.
Asked for more detailed information on the complaint concerning Qatar, Mr. Von Rohland said that the Governing Body’s discussion would focus on whether recent legislative reforms were sufficient given States’ obligations under the Forced Labour Convention. A proposal, contained in the paper on the topic, had been prepared by the Bureau of the Governing Body and a decision would be taken by consensus or by vote if there was no consensus.
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that on 31 October, at 2 p.m., in Press Room 1, an embargoed press conference would be held on the new UNHCR report “This is my Home” - Stateless Minorities and their Search for Citizenship, under embargo until 3 November.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that on 1 and 2 November, as part of its ongoing session, the Human Rights Committee would hold public meetings during which it would continue its consideration of the draft general comment on the right to life.
On 31 October, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was considering the report of Israel; it would consider a number of other country reports during the remainder of its session, which would conclude on 17 November.
The launching of the 2017 Emissions Gap Report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) would take place in Room XIV of the Palais des Nations on 31 October at 11.45 a.m.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog311017