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13 October 2017

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing attended by the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for International Migration and Secretary-General of the Intergovernmental Conference on International Migration, and the spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Programme, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the World Health Organization, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration

Louise Arbour, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for International Migration and Secretary-General of the Intergovernmental Conference on International Migration, said that the process towards a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration had been launched through the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016. Work on the Compact was being led by two Member States — Mexico and Switzerland. The first phase of the process, which was almost complete, comprised a series of consultations on themes related to human mobility. In December 2017, a stock-taking meeting involving civil society and the private sector would be held in Mexico with a view to producing the zero draft of the compact, which was due at end of January 2018. The draft would form the basis for negotiations among Member States in New York between January and July 2018. The process also involved a report by the Secretary-General on the issue, which was currently being prepared and would inform the zero draft of the compact. It was hoped that a consensus would be reached on the text in time for an international conference to be held in the fall of 2018.

A clear consensus had emerged among Member States that the compact should not be a binding document. It was hoped that the document would be people-centred and have human rights entitlements at its core. Migration had found a home in the Sustainable Development Goals under Goal 10, which sought to reduce inequalities within and between countries. The United Nations was for the first time in its history prepared to talk about migration in a spirit of cooperation and within the broad context of the development agenda. While States had the absolute prerogative to control who entered their territory, for what reason and for how long, migration was by definition an issue that required inter-State cooperation.

Although the catalyst for the process had been the influx of refugees and migrants entering Europe, the compact needed to be forward-looking. Changes in demographics and the consequences of climate change would have a tremendous impact on the cross-border movement of people.

It was hoped that the negotiations would help to address stereotypes and unwarranted negative perceptions about migrants and migration. While migrants were generally imagined to be young men intending to steal jobs or abuse welfare systems, in reality 48 per cent of international migrants were women. Migrants generally had low rates of unemployment and sent home in remittances an amount that was equal to more than three times the amount that developed countries spent on development aid.

While much of the debate about migrants concentrated on irregular migration, in reality many people entered another country legally and then found themselves in an irregular situation at a later date, sometimes through no fault of their own when regulations were changed. It was necessary to address the drivers of migration, including the push factors that led people to leave their countries and the pull factors that attracted people to migrate to other countries.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Arbour said that the numbers of female migrant workers, many of whom worked in the care sector, were often ignored. As demographic trends shifted towards fewer people of working age in Western countries and more young people in developing countries, the care sector would become increasingly important when addressing the issue of migration. As such, it was critical to record migration data that was disaggregated by age and sex. The aim of the compact was not to curtail migration but to open more pathways to legal migration as a way of reducing irregular migration. The best way to prevent irregular migration was to provide migrants with access to the labour market, thereby easing pressure on procedures for seeking asylum. Negative perceptions were prevalent in the press, social media and political discourse around the world.

Asked what the compact could achieve as a non-binding document, she said that all forms of law operated on the basis of voluntary compliance rather than coercion. A process which involved greater political buy-in would achieve more tangible results on the ground. Implementation was a matter of political will, given that international law lacked mechanisms to enforce compliance with it.

Asked about the situation of the Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar, she said that the issue raised questions around the definition of certain categories of migration status, including statelessness, which would open up different pathways in the longer term. In a crisis, the first response should always be a humanitarian one. In the case of the Rohingya, it was critical that Myanmar address the treatment of its minorities.

In response to further questions, she said that the regional consultations for Africa would be held in Addis Ababa at the end of October. Regional consultations had already taken place in Latin America and the Middle East.

Global compact on refugees

Ariane Rummery, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that on 17 and 18 October in Geneva, UNHCR would be continuing its thematic discussions for the other compact called for in the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, namely the Global Compact on Refugees. On both days, between 5 and 6 p.m., the co-chairs would meet the press and sum up the progress that had been made.

The compact was still in its consultative stage. The aim of the conference was to produce concrete suggestions to be included in the programme of action which would underpin the comprehensive refugee response framework that had been set out in the New York Declaration. The programme of action would provide a platform for cooperation through which countries hosting large numbers of refugees could rely on support from the international community.

Specific topics in the consultations would include how better to prepare for refugee influxes and mobilize more resources, ways of including refugees in national health, education and social support systems, how to boost livelihood opportunities for refugees and how to use innovations to improve humanitarian aid and connectivity for refugees. UNHCR had put forward some preliminary suggestions in a concept paper which was available on the Agency’s website. The final round of consultations would take place in November ahead of the High Commissioner's Dialogue in December.


Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the latest estimate was that 536,000 refugees had arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar in the past 47 days. Around 15,000 had crossed the border between 9 and 11 October. There were now 750,000 refugees requiring humanitarian assistance in the Cox’s Bazar region, including 200,000 displaced Rohingya who had already been in the area before the current crisis had begun. IOM Bangladesh Chief of Mission Sarat Dash had been quoted as saying that the seriousness of the situation could not be over-emphasized.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Millman said that the Director-General of IOM would be arriving in Cox’s Bazar within the next 48 hours and would be meeting with Bangladeshi officials. It was not clear why the number of people crossing the border surged on any particular day. There were reports that large numbers of people were still waiting to cross.

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had been working with the Bangladeshi Government in the first stage of a new ‘family counting’ exercise to collect data on the estimated 536,000 newly-arrived refugees and their needs.

The exercise would enable the Government, UNHCR, and other agencies to have a better understanding of the size and breakdown of the population and where they were located. It was key for getting the right aid to the right people. It would also help flag refugees with special protection needs, such as single mothers with small infants, people with disabilities, or children and elderly refugees who were on their own.

Led by Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, the exercise had so far counted 17,855 families — more than 70,000 individuals. At this initial stage, it was being carried out in the Balukhali Extension and Kutupalong Extension camps and was expected to cover an estimated 525,000 people over the coming weeks.

The data collected would be shared with other service providers. UNHCR was ready to increase its support to the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission as the exercise expanded to other locations. UNHCR had thus far provided support in recruiting and training 100 enumerators, designing and facilitating the process of family counting and providing equipment and resources. It was working closely with refugee community leaders on providing information to the new arrivals. The Agency was also providing the equipment and database for capturing the data.

Enumerators met families in their shelters and entered their family data into a mobile phone application. Families were asked a set of questions, including composition, sex, and ages, date of arrival, and area of origin in Myanmar. This data, including a photo of the family, was uploaded into a mobile application, together with a basic indicator of the family’s location based on zones, and GPS coordinates of the family’s residence. The data could be collected via a smartphone even without Internet connectivity.

Families were provided with a card containing a unique family identification number, which would be important for organizing and ensuring access to assistance and protection.

Some 173 new families — several hundred people — were reported to have arrived in Bangladesh overnight and so far today, 13 October, by boat, according to an NGO partner. UNHCR was hearing persistent reports of many people waiting to cross the border and of people being on the move inside Myanmar.

In parallel with ramping up delivery of assistance in Cox’s Bazar, UNHCR continued to bring additional aid into Bangladesh. Over the past four weeks, UNHCR had organised seven airlifts, flying in some 700 metric tonnes of life-saving aid. More UNHCR aid flights for Bangladesh were being scheduled in the coming days.

A donor pledging conference would be held in Geneva on 23 October in support of the Joint Response Plan.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Mahecic said that he was not aware of any reports of refugees crossing from Bangladesh back into Myanmar.

Asked about the situation of Rohingya refugees in India, he said that 16,000 such people were registered in India and he was not aware of them being threatened with deportation to Myanmar. For refugees to exercise their right to return, there needed to be an end to the violence, full access for humanitarian agencies, an effort to address the root causes of the displacement and the full implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission.

Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the World Food Programme was providing rice to 580,000 people, who would receive 25 kg of rice per family every two weeks for the next six months. WFP had airlifted to Chittagong 100 tonnes of special nutritious food, enough to feed 200,000 people. It was also working on providing shopping vouchers to 110,000 people, including some of the refugees who had been in the area prior to the current crisis. It was expanding its logistics hub on a football pitch that had been made available by the Government. It was also facilitating communication between staff and volunteers on the ground. Contingency plans were being made for new influxes and cyclones.

Julie Hall, for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that IFRC was working in collaboration with partners on the ground to meet the health needs of the population. Mobile clinics had supported 4,000 people and dealt with uncomplicated births. IFRC was deploying a 60-bed referral hospital between the two main camps to serve the migrant and host communities. The hospital would have an operating theatre and laboratory and outpatient facilities and be able to handle complex births. IFRC volunteers were supporting the oral cholera vaccination programme and water and sanitation needs. IFRC was also providing cash, shelter and psychosocial programmes. A large deployment of international staff was working alongside colleagues from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and volunteers from among the refugee community.

Asked about the oral cholera vaccination campaign, Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization, said that the campaign had begun on 10 October and 235,000 people had been vaccinated by the end of the third day. They included 62,500 children under the age of 5 years and 173,000 children over the age of five years. To date there had been no confirmed cases of cholera in the area.

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, would visit Myanmar from 13 to 17 October and would be undertaking consultations with a view to addressing the end of military operations and violence in Rakhine State, obtaining unfettered access for humanitarian assistance and ensuring the safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees.

UNHCR providing assistance in Sabratha, Libya

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that since 6 October, UNHCR teams in Libya had been responding to the urgent humanitarian needs in and around Sabratha, a city located some 80 kilometres west of the Libyan capital Tripoli. The city had been the theatre of three weeks of fierce fighting.

Clashes there had left 3,000 Libyan families displaced and more than 10,000 refugees and migrants stranded and in need of urgent assistance.

More than 500 houses had been damaged or destroyed by mortars and shelling. Of the displaced, 2,000 families had since returned to their homes. Local authorities had also reported that a number of schools were damaged during the fighting. UNHCR was working closely with the authorities to identify quick-impact projects in Sabratha, Sorman and Zuwara, focusing on education and including the rehabilitation of schools. It was working with local partners to provide support to internally displaced people and returnees. The most pressing needs for those displaced or returning included temporary shelter, basic aid items and medical support. On 13 October, UNHCR was delivering aid kits to the local authorities who were coordinating the response to the internal displacement.

Overall, UNHCR’s teams on the ground painted a very grim picture. Many people were traumatized and required urgent psychological first aid. Hundreds had been found without clothes or shoes and many had injuries and required urgent medical attention. UNHCR had responded by providing winter jackets to protect people from the cold and tents for use as medical clinics.

Plague in Madagascar

Julie Hall, for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that the number of cases of plague in Madagascar had doubled over the past week, partly due to the strengthening of reporting systems. There was concern over the expansion of the outbreak to more districts. More than three-quarters of the cases reported involved pneumonic plague.

In order to bring the situation under control as quickly as possible, IFRC was deploying a 50-bed treatment centre that would offer the rapid treatment that could make all the difference in cases of plague. More than 1,000 volunteers across the country were working to spread the message that plague was treatable and that people who had been in contact with affected persons should take antibiotics as soon as possible.

Asked whether the outbreak might get out of control, Ms. Hall said that lessons had been learned from the Ebola crisis. IFRC had released 1 million CHF from its emergency fund while it worked on an appeal. The response was being led by the Government of Madagascar.

In response to questions from journalists, Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO advised against travel bans or restrictions for Madagascar. People leaving the country were being examined and given treatment if necessary. The authorities in the Seychelles had notified WHO of one case of plague that had been identified in an individual who had traveled there from Madagascar. That person was being treated and anyone who might have been infected had been traced.

In response to further questions, he said that as of the morning of 13 October, 561 cases of plague had been recorded in Madagascar, including 57 deaths. A total of 33 districts of the country were now affected. WHO was involved in training an additional 1,800 individuals to support the IFRC volunteers in spreading awareness.

New displacement in Ar Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, Syria

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of the civilian population in Al Raqqa city, where an estimated 8,000 people remained trapped by ongoing fighting.

Those who managed to escape spoke of deteriorating conditions inside the city. Food, water, medicine and electricity were scarce. UNHCR reiterated its call for trapped civilians to be allowed safe passage to reach safety, shelter, and protection. These people faced the bleak choice of staying in the city engulfed by conflict or fleeing through the fighting — with either choice risking death.

Nearly 270,000 people had fled their homes in Al Raqqa Governorate since the beginning of April. Most of them, some 209,000, remained displaced within the governorate, while up to 40,000 had found shelter in Aleppo, 13,000 in Idleb, 6,600 in Deir ez-Zor and 1,400 in Hama.

In the neighbouring Deir ez-Zor governorate, UNHCR was equally alarmed by the ongoing fighting and the consequences for civilians. In the first week of October alone, an estimated 95,000 men, women and children had reportedly been displaced by fighting to 60 locations across the governorate, as well as the nearby governorates of Al-Hassakeh, Al Raqqa and Aleppo.

UNHCR had stepped up preparations in camps near Al Raqqa and was expanding Ain Issa camp, some 45km north of Al Raqqa city, to be ready to receive more displaced Syrians from both Al Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

UNHCR was currently sheltering over 34,000 internally displaced Syrians in Ain Issa, Mabrouka, Areesha and Al Hol camps, which had the capacity to take in more people when needed. These camps were being expanded, with ongoing construction and maintenance work, installing facilities, paving roads and erecting tents. The camps were a safe space where displaced people could receive aid, food, water, shelter, primary health care, education and psychosocial support. Meanwhile, in the west of the country, UNHCR had completed the delivery of vital humanitarian supplies to several towns in rural Hama for the first time in over a year.

Aid supplies — especially winterization kits — were crucial interventions in the cold and mountainous rural regions of Syria where electricity and other utilities were very limited. UNHCR was stepping up delivery to people in need across Syria as part of its winter programme.

Arrival of resettled Syrians in Chile

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that on 12 October IOM and UNHCR had resettled the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Chile. The group comprised 66 individuals from 14 families. They had been met on arrival in Santiago by President Michelle Bachelet, who herself had been an IOM beneficiary as a teenager. Chile had large Arabic-speaking diaspora in Latin America and the largest Palestinian population outside the Middle East.

LGBT rights in Egypt, Azerbaijan and Indonesia

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was deeply concerned by a wave of arrests in Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia of more than 180 people perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) — many of whom had reportedly been mistreated by law enforcement officials.

In Azerbaijan, as had been described by several independent UN experts, more than 80 people who were presumed to be gay or transgender had been arrested in Baku since mid-September. Some had allegedly been subjected to electric shocks, beatings, forced shaving and various other forms of humiliation apparently in an attempt to make them incriminate themselves and others.

While all those detained had reportedly been released, several had served terms of administrative detention based on charges of “hooliganism” and “resisting a police order”. Many had been forced to undergo medical examinations, and information about their health status had been divulged to the media by the authorities.

In Egypt, more than 50 people had been arrested in recent weeks based on their assumed sexual orientation or gender identity. Two had been arrested for waving rainbow flags during a concert and one for running a Facebook page. In some cases, individuals had reportedly been arrested after being entrapped by law enforcement officials on apps and in internet chat rooms. Charges included “habitual debauchery”, “inciting indecency and debauchery” and “joining a banned group”. At least 10 men had been sentenced to between one and six years’ imprisonment. Most of the other detainees were awaiting trial, while a few had been released. Several of those detained had been subjected to intrusive physical “examinations”. In many cases, due process rights appeared to have been violated.

In Indonesia, more than 50 people had been arrested at a sauna in Jakarta on 6 October based on their perceived sexual orientation. While many had since been released, four men and one woman had been charged under Indonesia’s vague “Law on Pornography”, which had been used to arrest people for consensual same-sex relations.

Arresting or detaining people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity was by definition arbitrary and violated international law, including the rights to privacy, non-discrimination, equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Arresting and detaining people for legitimately expressing themselves — including by displaying a rainbow flag — was also arbitrary and violated individuals’ right to freedom of expression. In all three countries, authorities had alleged that those arrested had been involved in sex work, although in almost all cases the accused had denied such allegations or indicated that they had been coerced into confessing involvement. Regardless, United Nations human rights experts had emphasized that States should repeal laws criminalizing sex workers.

Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia should take immediate action to release anyone detained on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, should drop charges based on vaguely worded and discriminatory laws and should repeal such laws in line with their legal obligations under international law and long-standing United Nations recommendations. They should also release immediately all those who had been detained for legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Egypt should urgently prohibit the practice of intrusive physical “examinations” and Azerbaijan should immediately cease subjecting people to forced or coerced medical tests and exams, which violated the international prohibition on torture and ill-treatment. Those who had been arbitrarily detained and subjected to these abuses should be afforded effective remedy, including reparations. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment should be promptly and thoroughly investigated and the alleged perpetrators should be punished.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Colville said that the three countries in question did not have specific legislation in place banning homosexuality. Instead, as was the case in many other States, other vague laws were being used to target LGBT people.

Asked about the appointment of the successor to Vitit Muntarbhorn, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Mr. Colville said that the Human Rights Council would make that appointment following consultation with States.

Boko Haram trials in Nigeria

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR welcomed the decision by the Nigerian authorities to start the trials of Boko Haram suspects, many of whom had been in prolonged pre-trial detention, including some since 2009.

However, given the number of people who were due to be tried over the coming weeks — some 2,300 — OHCHR had serious concerns that the conduct of the proceedings might deny the defendants the right to a fair trial and an effective defence. The accused, who had all been charged under Nigeria’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, were being tried individually or in groups depending on the nature of their alleged crimes.

The trials, which were being conducted by four judges, had begun on 9 October at a civilian court set up at a military base and detention centre at Kanji in Niger state. The trials were being held behind closed doors with the media and public excluded.

Under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria was a party, everyone was entitled to a fair and public hearing, unless proceedings needed exceptionally to be held in camera. Any restrictions on the public nature of a trial, including for the protection of national security, must be both necessary and proportionate, as assessed on a case-by-case basis.

It was essential that Boko Haram insurgents were prosecuted and, if found guilty, held to account for killings and abuses they may have perpetrated, and that victims were able to receive justice. However, the lack of transparency regarding these trials was worrying. OHCHR noted that Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission was not being allowed to attend and monitor proceedings.

OHCHR urged the authorities to allow the Commission to conduct such monitoring and, to that end, welcomed the fact that the Solicitor General had indicated that he would facilitate such monitoring. OHCHR called for that to take place without delay.

OHCHR also stressed that the Government must ensure the right of all defendants to legal representation and that the trials adhered to international human rights norms and standards.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Colville said that the lack of transparency was a significant concern. It was not clear how many of the defendants were male and how many were female. It was essential that the trials were subject to proper monitoring by the National Human Rights Commission to ensure that the principles of due process were being respected.

Protection of civilians affected by conflict in Ukraine

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that OCHA continued to be concerned about 4 million people in Ukraine who were still in need of humanitarian assistance, particularly as winter approached. Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller had just spent three days in Ukraine, where she had visited both sides of the “contact line” running through the east of the country.

Many of the 1.6 million internally displaced people in Ukraine had spent four years away from their homes. Some 600,000 people in primarily non-government-controlled areas in the east who were unable to access their pensions. Along the contact line there were five checkpoints where people waited for up to 10 hours to cross. As a result of the deteriorating situation, 1.2m people on both sides of the contact line were food insecure. A humanitarian appeal for 200 million USD for Ukraine was currently only 26 per cent funded.

United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative Regional Roundtable

Sally Wootton, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, a partnership between the United Nations and the global financial sector, was intended to promote sustainable finance and encourage resilient financial institutions. The initiative counted more than 200 global banks among its members, along with insurance companies and investors. To mark the Initiative’s 25th anniversary, it was establishing regional roundtables to bring together the sustainable finance community to discuss issues relevant to their region.

More than 350 professionals were due to gather in Geneva on 17 October for the Europe Roundtable, where they would share best practices in integrating environmental, social and governance issues in lending, insurance and investment and discuss innovation in financing the Sustainable Development Goals. Other topics on the programme for the event included energy efficiency financing and the implications of the European Commission’s High-level Expert Group on Sustainable Financing.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, announced that at 5.30 p.m. on 14 October the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and Fundación Onuart would host “The Silk Road Concert” in Room XX at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Interested journalists could interview the United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations and the President of Fundación Onuart.

Ms. Vellucci also announced that 13 October would see the publication by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development of the State of Commodity 2016 report. The report had found that two-thirds of developing countries were now dependent on commodity exports.

She also announced that on 16 October the Human Rights Committee would begin its 121st Session, which would run until 10 November at the Palais Wilson. The Committee would review seven countries: Australia, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Mauritius and Romania.

Press Conferences

UNICEF - Launch of UNICEF Child Alert report on the plight of Rohingya refugee children in southern Bangladesh
Monday, 16 October at 11:00 a.m. in Press Room 1

Permanent Mission of Burkina Faso - with the President of Burkina Faso
Monday, 16 October at 4:30 p.m. in Room III

UNFPA - State of World Population 2017: Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality
Tuesday, 17 October at 9:30 a.m. in Room III

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/UNOG131017

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