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20 October 2017

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief, Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization.


Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that on 19 October 2017, nearly 7,000 Rohingya refugees who had been stranded in dire conditions in no-man’s land at Anjuman Para on the Bangladeshi side of the border had been moved by the Bangladeshi military to several makeshift settlements in the Ukhiya and Teknaf subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar. Some 800,000 Rohingya were now living in the settlements, 589,000 of whom had arrived since 25 August 2017. However, the situation was fluid and numbers were updated regularly. Newly arrived refugees continued to recount harrowing stories of their flight from Myanmar. Recent efforts by IOM included the provision of 47,000 medical consultations and shelter for some 379,000 individuals.

On 19 October, IOM Director General William Lacy Swing had concluded a three-day visit to Bangladesh; he had thanked the Bangladeshi Government for its continued willingness to open the country’s borders to hundreds of thousands of desperate Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. During Mr. Swing’s meetings with high-level officials, the Bangladeshi Government had confirmed its commitment to allow Rohingya seeking protection from violence in Myanmar to continue entering the country. It had also confirmed its willingness to consider additional options for the settlement of the new arrivals, including the creation of smaller, more manageable camps to alleviate public health and security concerns.

Duniya Aslam Khan, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that thousands of refugees from Myanmar had been admitted to Bangladesh after spending up to four days stranded near the border. As of the evening of 19 October 2017, Bangladesh border guards reported that over 6,800 refugees had passed through Anjuman Para border village in Cox's Bazar district. Thousands more were said to be on their way from Myanmar. The most vulnerable among the new arrivals were bussed from the border to a transit centre near Kutupalong camp. At the centre, UNHCR and its partners provided food, water, medical checks and temporary shelter. Other new arrivals walked to Kutupalong refugee camp, where they spent the night in existing structures and buildings.

Meanwhile UNHCR and its partners continued to work with the Bangladeshi authorities on the new Kutupalong extension site. Site planning and development were under way to allow the new refugees to move in as different zones within the site were readied. Tube wells and latrines were being installed to give the new refugees access to clean water and sanitation facilities. To target assistance and protection interventions, UNHCR was continuing its joint family counting exercise with the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission. Some 247,606 refugees had been counted thus far and the exercise was now being continued in Kutupalong Extension.

UNHCR hoped for timely and generous donor support at the pledging conference to be held on 23 October in Geneva in connection with the Rohingya refugee crisis. The Joint Response Plan recently launched by the United Nations called for USD 434 million to meet the life-saving needs of all Rohingya refugees and their host communities –an estimated 1.2 million people overall – for the difficult months to come. The UNHCR portion of that plan amounted to USD 83.7 million of additional funds until the end of February 2018.

UNHCR emergency assistance focused on providing refugee protection, shelter, water and sanitation, establishing new sites, upgrading infrastructure and strengthening the capacity of the local communities across south-eastern Bangladesh. Since the onset of the current emergency, UNHCR, upon the request of Bangladeshi authorities, had expanded its response and operations, presence and staff throughout south-eastern Bangladesh.

For UNHCR, it was vital even at the early stage, that its response should reflect mid- to long-term needs, while at the same time ensuring that the voluntary return of refugees in safety and dignity remained a viable option. In that regard, restoring peace and stability in northern Rakhine State was critical.

Responding to questions, Ms. Khan, for UNHCR, said that the number of Rohingya refugees who had been biometrically registered thus far would be provided shortly.

Asked about funding requirements, Mr. Millman, for IOM, said that his organization’s funding requirements within the Joint Response Plan – which called for USD 434 million – were USD 120 million. It was difficult to ascertain how many refugees were being reached and how many were not. It was known that shelter had been provided to 379,000 refugees, or just half of the total 800,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh; however, the needs of new arrivals as compared to those of individuals who had been living in Bangladesh for years were often quite different. As part of its response efforts, IOM had also contributed to the oral cholera vaccine campaign led by the Ministry of Health, which had reached some 679,000 people.

Ms. Khan, for UNHCR, said that her organization’s total 2017 budget for Bangladesh was USD 71.5 million, of which USD 57.3 million were additional requirements. Against that budget, it had received 30.4 million. She recalled that the UNHCR portion of the Joint Response Plan amounted to USD 83.7 million of additional funds. However, the situation remained very fluid on the ground. The flow of new arrivals had not stopped, making it the biggest refugee crisis of recent years. UNHCR had made eight airlifts, comprising 800 metric tons of supplies; a ninth airlift was set to arrive in Dakha from Lahore on 23 October 2017. Additional supplies, including shelter materials, would also be arriving by ship. The problem lay not in the lack of response efforts, but in the unprecedented needs.

Asked about voluntary repatriation, Ms. Khan, for UNHCR, said that her organization stood ready to assist with the voluntary return of refugees in safety and dignity. It still had no access to Rakhine State.

Responding to questions about the expected attendance of high-level officials at the upcoming pledging conference, Mr. LeBlanc confirmed the UN participation of the heads of OCHA, the Refugee Agency and IOM. He said he would revert to the press with additional information if it were available.

Asked about the upcoming visit to Geneva of the United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief, Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said Mr. Tillerson was scheduled to meet with representatives of IOM, UNHCHR and the International Committee of the Red Cross; any other questions about his visit should be directed to the Permanent Mission of the United States. Mr. Millman, for IOM, added that Mr. Tillerson was expected to meet with representatives of his organization in connection with a number of migration-related issues, one of which would be the current situation on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The United States was the biggest single partner and donor of IOM, although the European Union was not far behind.

Asked how Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Geneva should be received, Rhéal LeBlanc said it was encouraging to see representatives of the United States coming to Geneva to meet with United Nations institutions and agencies. He recalled the Secretary-General’s own visit today to Washington and how the UN remained open to exchanging with all Member States on issues of mutual interest.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said a press briefing on the plague in Madagascar had been held earlier that morning. On 24 October, the Queen of Spain would visit WHO for a few hours to meet with the organization’s Director-General and with medical experts regarding several topics, including air pollution and health-related issues in large cities. There would be no media opportunities with the exception of photos, for which interested members of the press should contact Ms. Chaib.

Jessica Hermosa, for the World Trade Organization, said that on Monday, 23 October 2017, at 3 p.m., the Dispute Settlement Body would hold a meeting, during which it would discuss, inter alia, a request by Qatar for a panel on its dispute with the United Arab Emirates. A briefing would be given afterwards. On Tuesday, 24 October, an informal meeting of the heads of delegation would be held at 10 a.m., and a press briefing would take place at 5 p.m. On Thursday, 26 October, at 10 a.m., a General Council meeting would be held, with another press briefing at 5 p.m. On Friday 27 October at 11 a.m., a General Council meeting would be held. Also on Friday, 27 October, the WTO Director General would meet with Mr. Souleymane Diarrassouba, the Trade Minister of Côte d’Ivoire. During the week of 30 October, a one-day conference on trade, technology and jobs would be held by WTO, together with the Graduate Institute. The press was welcome to attend.

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief, Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, said the Human Rights Committee, whose 121st session had opened on 16 October 2017, would be concluding its consideration of the periodic report of Jordan on the morning of 20 October 2017. During the remainder of its current session, it would also consider the reports of Mauritius, Cameroon and Romania.

On Monday, 23 October 2017, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would open its sixty-eighth session, which would run until 17 November 2017 at the Palais des Nations. During this session it would consider the reports of Burkina Faso, Singapore, Paraguay, Nauru, Israel, Kuwait, Kenya, Oman, Norway, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Monaco and Guatemala. It would also hold a public meeting of an expert panel to launch its recently adopted general recommendation on gender-based violence against women. The programme of work was available on the Committee’s web page.

On 23 October 2017, beginning at 9.30 a.m., a pledging conference for the Rohingya refugee crisis would be held in Room XIX at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. There would be a press stakeout at 1 p.m. outside Room XX with the three United Nations principals. It was expected that by that time the organizers would have a sound idea of the pledges to be made by Member States.

In the evening of 19 October 2017, a statement by the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had been distributed in connection with his meeting in Moscow with the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov. Preparations were being made to launch the Geneva negotiations and he would be in New York during the week of 23 October 2017 to meet with the Secretary-General and to brief the Security Council, on Thursday, 26 October, on the situation in Syria. More detailed information would follow.

Mr. LeBlanc drew attention to the message of the Secretary-General on the occasion of United Nations Day, to be celebrated on 24 October 2017, in which he would call on everyone to help achieve human rights and human dignity for all people, which was critical in order to build a peaceful, sustainable and just world. The Secretary-General would be in the Central African Republic on that day to show support for peacekeeping operations and to meet with Government officials and to discuss the country’s situation. Today the Secretary-General would be in Washington, D.C. to meet President Trump; the press would be given additional information as it became available.

Sylvana Foa, who would be handling communications for the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar, introduced herself.

Press Conferences

OCHA / UNHCR / IOM - Pledging conference in response to the influx of refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh
Live webcast: http://webtv.un.org/live/
Monday, 23 October at 1:00 p.m. in press stakeout area behind Room XX

UNCTAD -Presentation of the Review of Maritime Transport 2017
(under embargo until 25 October 2017 at 5.00 p.m. GMT, 6:00 p.m. Geneva time)
Tuesday, 24 October at 2:30 p.m. in Press Room 1

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog201017

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