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ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe


3 November 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 United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR and its partners were providing urgent aid and seeking shelter for Rohingya refugees who had arrived from Myanmar in the past 48 hours. According to the Bangladesh border guards, more than 3,000 refugees had arrived through the Anjuman Para border crossing between the evening of 1 November and the morning of 2 November. They had waited in the paddy fields near the border, where UNHCR partners had distributed water from a boat. Médecins Sans Frontières had identified and brought in people who needed urgent medical attention. UNHCR had distributed tokens for relief supplies to be collected further inland when they had found a place to settle.

As of the morning of 3 November, more than 2,000 of the new arrivals had moved towards the UNHCR transit centre near Kutupalong camp, including some vulnerable refugees who were taken by bus. UNHCR staff had also just recently relocated over 400 recent arrivals to a new extension to Kutupalong camp. At the transit centre, the new arrivals had been given health checks, food, water and basic supplies for a few days before they had been relocated to the Kutupalong extension site. Newly arrived refugees who had spent the night near the border were being directed towards the Kutupalong extension site today.

On 1 November, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk had concluded his visit to Myanmar, during which he had reiterated calls by the United Nations for unrestricted humanitarian access to all communities in need in Rakhine State. Mr. Türk had stressed the right of return of refugees who had fled from Rakhine State to Bangladesh in recent weeks and had appealed for their safe, voluntary, and sustainable return home necessitating the safety, protection and peaceful coexistence of all communities in Rakhine State.

UNHCR also emphasized the importance and the need for the robust and early involvement of development actors to engage and invest in community-based programmes in Rakhine State in order to create conditions that enabled the sustainable reintegration of returning refugees and benefitted all communities in need.

On the morning of 3 November, Mr. Türk had arrived in Bangladesh, where, over the following four days, he would visit refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar and meet with Bangladeshi authorities in Dhaka.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that preliminary data from a nutrition assessment conducted the previous week at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, showed a 7.5 per cent prevalence of life-threatening severe acute malnutrition – a rate double that seen among Rohingya child refugees in May 2017. The nutrition assessment had been undertaken in partnership with Action Contre la Faim, Save the Children, UNHCR and the World Food Programme. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, United States of America, had provided technical assistance.

Malnutrition rates among children in northern Rakhine were already above emergency thresholds. The condition of those children had further deteriorated owing to the long journey across the border and refugee camp conditions. Around 26,000 people now lived in the Kutupalong camp, which faced an acute shortage of food and water, unsanitary conditions and high rates of diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Cases of measles had been reported.

The Kutupalong nutrition assessment, conducted between October 22 and 28, had surveyed 405 households, including families who had arrived either before or after the violence had escalated in northern Rakhine State on 25 August 2017. Two additional assessments were planned during the month of November in other sites. The findings from the three assessments would be used to update the projected number of children expected to suffer severe acute malnutrition over the next few months, and to guide the emergency response.

UNICEF and partners were treating over 2,000 acutely malnourished children at 15 treatment centres, with 6 additional centres currently being set up. UNICEF was also working with health partners to identify and treat diarrhoea and pneumonia, and would be conducting mass vaccination and nutrition screening campaigns during the month of November.

Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 4 November 2017, the second phase of the oral cholera vaccination campaign would begin, during which a second dose of the vaccine would be administered to some 180,000 children between 1 and 5 years old. During the first phase of the vaccination campaign, launched on 10 October, roughly 700,000 people over 1 year old had received a first dose of the vaccine. Also beginning on 4 November, all children 5 years of age or younger would be administered a dose of oral polio vaccine. During an earlier campaign, conducted from 16 September to 4 October, over 70,000 children had been administered that vaccine.

WHO had put in place epidemiological surveillance involving the collection of data from all the medical teams operating in Cox’s Bazar; those data were used to produce weekly mortality and morbidity bulletins. Most prevalent among the vulnerable populations were acute respiratory infections, along with fever and diarrhoea. During the period from 1 September to 29 October, 139 suspected cases of measles had been reported through the epidemiological early warning system. Of the 58 samples collected, 37 had tested positive for measles. There were no confirmed cases of cholera thus far, but the risk remained, hence the carrying out of an oral vaccination campaign. WHO, together with the Government of Bangladesh, had set up a water quality testing laboratory; results indicated that only 17 per cent of the samples collected from various settlements met Bangladeshi and WHO standards.

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that between 3,000 and 4,000 Rohingya refugees had crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar. Their accounts mirrored those of previous arrivals: many of them had walked for days before reaching an area of no-man’s-land between the two countries and spending days there without food. They were being assisted by Bangladeshi border authorities and moving to settlements in the Cox’s Bazar area. Several Rohingya had explained that they would have left Mynamar earlier but that they had had to wait to harvest and sell their grain to raise funds for their journey. It was unclear whether that meant that more Rohingya would be on their way once they had harvested and sold their grain.

Since 31 August 2017, the IOM Missing Migrants Project had recorded 249 known deaths, mostly by drowning, of Rohingya. That figure did not include the likely death of a person considered missing from a tragedy that had occurred earlier in the week, nor did it include the deaths of people after their arrival in resettlement locations, including two children who had died during recent wild elephant rampages.

Responding to questions, Mr. Baloch, for UNHCR, said that Mr. Türk had visited only Nay Pyi Taw, where he had met the Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, the National Security Adviser, the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement and the Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population. He had reiterated the call for unrestricted humanitarian access so that humanitarian actors could provide life-saving aid and to build confidence among the communities in need. He had also reiterated the right of return, in safety and dignity, of the hundreds of thousands who had fled Myanmar. He had no more information on Minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Rakhine State than that reported in the media. On 31 October, UNHCR and the Government of Myanmar had held a joint workshop to familiarize the latter’s officials on the international standards on voluntary repatriation. UNHCR, which had already helped millions of refugees to return to their place of origin, was engaging with the Governments of both Myanmar and Bangladesh in what was a textbook example of a refugee crisis in order to help refugees return to their place of origin. Mr. Türk was currently in Bangladesh, where he would meet with officials and visit the refugees in Cox’s Bazar. He would make available more detailed information on Mr. Türk’s visit once it had concluded and if possible, organize a press briefing with him upon his return.

Responding to questions, Mr. Boulierac, for UNICEF, said that the condition of the children in Cox’s Bazar was very worrying, particularly for those arriving at the border, such as in Palong Khali recently. Preliminary nutritional data was being collected so that aid could better target those in need. The data was particularly important given the fact that the most recent SMART (Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transition) survey had been conducted several months prior to the escalation in violence on 25 August. With regard to access to water, it was important to distinguish between the situation of children at the border – such as in Palong Khali where UNICEF had distributed 3,000 bottles of 1.5-litre bottles just over the past 24 hours, sometimes using fishing boats – and the situation in the camps and in the makeshift settlements. The continuous influx of new arrivals, together with the difficult terrain and heavy rains, presented ongoing challenges. Access to safe water continued to be one of the refugee population’s most urgent needs. In addition, vaccines were administered and children were screened immediately to identify those in critical condition and to evacuate them. Despite significant improvements in the camps and settlements over the past month, the problem of access to safe water remained acute there, too. UNICEF and partners continued to install tube wells, having already built 250 such wells, benefitting 150,000 people since August 25. It had also constructed more than 4,000 latrines for more than 200,000 people.

Mr. Jasarevic, for WHO, added that 42 sites had reported cases of measles. According to data obtained through the disease surveillance mechanism, during the period from 25 August to 21 October 2017, over 174,000 medical consultations had been provided and 104 deaths had been reported, 43 of which had been children under the age of 5. A total of 33 per cent of the deaths had been due to respiratory diseases; other diseases responsible for the death toll included acute diarrhoea, malaria and meningitis. He would circulate the figures to the members of the press.

Australia/Papua New Guinea

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was concerned by events in the past week at the Australian offshore Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea where refugees and asylum seekers were holding out after the Australian Government’s decision to close the facility and pull out its support staff. OHCHR shared the concerns of other United Nations agencies, about what was an unfolding humanitarian emergency. It had serious concerns about the welfare, safety and well-being of the roughly 600 men who remained in the accommodation compound, too frightened to leave.

OHCHR called on the Australian Government, as the party who had interned the men in the first place, to immediately provide protection, food, water and other basic services which had been cut off since authorities had shuttered the facility on 31 October 2017. Australian contractors/service providers had left the island.

OHCHR reminded the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea of their responsibilities under international human rights law and the 1951 Refugee Convention to protect the men from harm; to ensure their right to seek and enjoy asylum; to guarantee access to fundamental economic, social and cultural rights, including adequate housing, water, food, sanitation, and health care; and to fulfil other humanitarian obligations. Moreover, the men had said they feared they would be subjected to violence at the hands of locals if they left the compound – given that there had been violent incidents in the past, those fears should be respected and satisfactorily addressed.

All migrants, including refugees and asylum-seekers, were human beings. Like every individual, they had a right to a safe and secure environment, a right to an adequate standard of living and a right to participate in the decision-making process that was affecting their future. Human dignity should be ensured throughout the entire processing of their asylum claims. OHCHR urged the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea to respect their human rights, including their specific rights under international refugee law, and to enter into a dialogue with the men to ensure those rights were duly respected, protected and fulfilled.

OHCHR repeated its overall concerns about Australian offshore processing centres, which were unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to that country’s human rights obligations. OHCHR urged the Australian Government to transfer the men to mainland Australia where their claims could be processed.

Responding to questions, Mr. Colville, for OHCHR, said that deportation did not appear to be an immediate concern. Around 500 of the men in question had still not had their cases processed and most of them were asylum-seekers. Some had already spent four years in what was a detention centre disguised as a processing centre. As for the proposed alternative sites for accommodating the men, some had been set up only for temporary accommodation and thus had limited services; others presented security concerns; and a third was unfinished, lacking even water and electricity connections.

Mr. Baloch, for UNHCR, added that UNHCR staff was on the ground and monitoring the situation. They had visited the proposed sites and confirmed that they were not yet ready to accommodate the men from the Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island. UNHCR had conveyed to the governments of both Australia and Papua New Guinea that until such time as the sites were ready, the men should not be moved from their current site. It had also urged both governments to de-escalate the situation and to resume basic services, including health care. The last food distribution had been made on Sunday, 29 October. There were tensions in the community surrounding the centre and locals had recently protested against moving the men. The refugees inside the centre also did not wish to move. Beyond the immediate concerns around the fact that Australia had withdrawn all services, security and staff from the centre, the Australian policy of deterrence by rescuing people at sea, mistreating them and abandoning them to their fate had become a notion of cruelty. UNHCR encouraged Australia to fulfil its obligations and deal with the humanitarian emergency at hand in a humane manner, with compassion and in line with international law.

Asked a question about the bilateral resettlement deal signed between the United States of America and Australia, Mr. Baloch, for UNHCR, said that UNHCR had not been involved in the conclusion of the agreement. It had only become engaged on a one-off basis in examining the difficult and traumatic situation of the refugees and asylum-seekers concerned. The idea of outsourcing a State’s international responsibilities had taken a heavy toll on desperate refugees and asylum-seekers. Some 1,200 cases had been referred to the bilateral mechanism; there were many other refugees whose applications for asylum were still pending.

Plague in Madagascar

Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that as of 30 October 2017, a total of 1,801 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of plague, including 127 deaths, had been reported. It was important to note that the sudden increase in the total number of cases was due to the backlog in reporting and case surveillance, so not all cases were new. Moreover, the huge majority of the 1,801 cases reported concerned people who had already recovered. As of 30 October, there were only 106 people receiving care in medical facilities.

Since the second week of October 2017, there had been a decline in the number of new cases and in the number of patients hospitalized owing to suspicion of plague. While the declining trend in new plague case reports and reduction in hospitalizations for plague was encouraging, WHO expected more cases of plague to be reported from Madagascar until the typical plague season ended in April 2018. Sustaining ongoing operations, including active case finding and treatment, comprehensive contact identification, follow-up and antibiotic treatment for cases and identified contacts, as well as rodent and flea control, was crucial throughout the plague season in order to minimize bubonic plague infections and human-to-human transmission of pneumonic plague.

WHO estimated that the risk of potential further spread of the plague outbreak remained high at national level, moderate at regional level and low at the global level. It was working with countries that had strong travel and trade links with Madagascar on preparedness. Advice to international travelers had not changed: upon arriving in Madagascar, they should be informed about the current plague outbreak and the necessary protection measures. Travellers should protect themselves against flea bites, avoid contact with dead animals, infected tissues or materials, and avoid close contact with patients with pneumonic plague. In case of sudden symptoms of fever, chills, painful and inflamed lymph nodes, travellers should immediately contact medical services and should avoid self-medication.

Responding to questions, Mr. Jasarevic said that WHO was working with the neighbouring Comoros, Mauritius, Mozambique, Reunion and Mayotte, Seychelles, South Africa, and the United Republic of Tanzania on increased plague preparedness and surveillance. WHO had also helped Ethiopia and Kenya to raise preparedness levels because of their direct airline connections with Madagascar. Preparedness involved increasing awareness about the plague, including by establishing a working case definition for health facilities and health authorities and preparing risk communication messages; providing equipment and supplies, including rapid diagnostic tests, personal protective equipment and antibiotics; contingency planning; and technical assistance through guidance and training as required.


Responding to questions about the event on the Syrian Arab Republic scheduled to be held in Sochi, Russian Federation, in mid-November 2017, Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was well aware of the event and was engaging in consultations. As Mr. de Mistura had stated during his briefing of the Security Council on 26 October 2017, every initiative on the conflict in Syria should be viewed by virtue of whether they contributed to the United-Nations-led political process in Geneva; that applied also to the Sochi initiative.


Responding to questions about the cholera situation in Yemen, Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that daily epidemiological updates were being issued. As of 30 October, the huge majority of cases reported since April had recovered. There had been 887,440 cases, including 2,184 associated deaths. The epidemiological curve showed that the number of cases were declining. However, there were many unrelated challenges in Yemen and people were still getting infected. It was important that everyone who needed help had access to services.

Asked a question about the G-7 Health Ministerial Meeting, Mr. Jasarevic said that the WHO Director-General would be attending the Meeting, which would take place in Milan, Italy, on 5 and 6 November 2017. He understood that the topics to be discussed would include climate change and antimicrobial resistance.

Migration statistics for the Mediterranean

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, 2017 marked the fourth straight year that migrant arrivals to Europe by sea, mainly via Italy and Greece, had reached the 150,000-person benchmark. However, it was starting to appear as though in the remaining weeks of 2017, the number of migrant arrivals would likely not reach 200,000 and, overall, numbers appeared to be coming down drastically. Hopefully, that meant that the peak of crossings was past, even if incidents continued to occur. In addition, there appeared to be a growing use of a new pathway into Europe, through Cyprus, although the numbers remained low. A total of 850 migrants had been detected crossing from the Middle East into Cyprus; interestingly, in at least 7 known incidents involving 105 migrants, authorities had apprehended migrants coming from Mersin, Turkey, reaching Cyprus and then crossing the United Nations buffer zone before seeking asylum in Cyprus.

Responding to questions, Mr. Millman said that the 34 migrants picked up in the most recent incident reported from Cyprus hailed from Arab-speaking countries, but their nationalities had not been specified. While there could be a number of factors that had to the drop in numbers overall, it was clear that the agreement between the European Union and Greece had helped to bring the numbers down considerably. On the Libya route, the conflict between smuggling groups had also brought about a drop in launches in the summer of 2017, although the fact that roughly 2,000 people had been rescued in the past 48 hours seemed to indicate that activity was picking up again. The Libyan coast guard had brought in over 19,000 people, intercepted or rescued at sea, in 2017, which had had an impact on the numbers of people crossing. Another possible reason for the drop was the fact that it was no longer as easy to cross the Sudan: as a result, there had been very few incidents involving migrants from the Horn of Africa, whereas they used to make up a considerable portion of those crossing out of Libya. It was difficult to know whether in some cases, the drop in numbers in fact meant that people felt trapped in their countries of origin, rather than that they stayed by their own choosing. However, the perception in Europe was certainly likely to change: back in 2015, there had been a perception that the influx of migrants and refugees would never cease – an easy presumption to make, when there were roughly 160,000 new arrivals every month. The fact that now such numbers were not even being seen over an entire year meant that such perceptions could change.

Geneva events and announcements

Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 7 November, a press conference by phone would be held in connection with the launch of the updated guidelines on the use of antibiotics in food animals.

3 November: As part of its current session, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was considering the report of Oman.

A workshop on trade data was going to be held for journalists by the International Trade Centre on Thursday, 9 November, from 9.30 to 11.30 a.m.

Press conferences

WMO provisional statement on the climate in 2017
Monday, 6 November at 2:30 p.m. in Room III

OHCHR / Human Rights Committee
Concluding Observations on Australia, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Jordan, Mauritius and Romania
Thursday, 9 November at 1:30 p.m. in Press Room 1

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The webcast for this briefing was available here: http://webtv.un.org/media/geneva-press-briefings/watch/geneva-press-briefing-iom-unhcr-unicef-who-ohchr-/5632767405001

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