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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

3 April 2018

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by spokespersons for the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Yemen

Mr. LeBlanc said the high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen had begun that morning at the Palais des Nations. The Secretary-General of the United Nations was present alongside the hosts of the event, the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland.
The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen required $2.96 billion to reach more than 13 million people across the country.

The Secretary-General had recalled the devastation facing Yemen and the need to bring much needed humanitarian assistance to the people there. He said there was a strong foundation on which to build and that the humanitarian operation had expanded dramatically. Much progress had been accomplished since 2017, for example in the provision of food assistance, and by August humanitarians were reaching more than 7 million people every month.

Thanks to humanitarian agencies and partners, the cholera epidemic had been contained and famine had thus far been averted.

However, the Secretary-General recalled that there was no room for complacency, and he appealed to the generosity of countries to finance the Response Plan, giving the examples of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which had donated $930 million. Other donors had contributed some $293 million, so 40% of requirements for 2018 had already been met.

The Secretary-General had recalled, however, the need for action to end the conflict. He stressed that there were no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian crises and urged all parties to engage with the new special envoy, Martin Griffiths. A negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue was the only solution.

The Secretary-General would hold a press stakeout on the pledging conference on Yemen at 1 p.m., where he would be joined by Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, and Manuel Bessler, Assistant Director General and Head of the Humanitarian Aid Department and Head of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the United Nations had verified the killing of several people in an attack the previous day in the coastal city of Hudaydah in western Yemen. No precise statistics on the number of victims were yet available as the injured and killed were still being pulled out from the rubble, but many children were reported missing. Verifications were still ongoing but the state of the bodies meant that in many cases identification was difficult or impossible.

None of the parties to the brutal war in Yemen had for one second respected the fundamental principle of protection of children, who continued to be the victims of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict and those who had influence on them immediately to take action and abide by their legal obligation to protect children and always keep them out of harm’s way. There could be absolutely no justification for such blatant disregard for children’s rights and international humanitarian law.

Since 26 March 2015, 2,195 children have been confirmed killed and 3,387 maimed in the conflict. Eighty per cent of children in Yemen were in need of humanitarian assistance; 1.8 million children were acutely malnourished, including nearly 400,000 who were suffering severe acute malnourishment and were fighting for their lives. Severely acutely malnourished children were nine times more likely to die than correctly nourished children. Hudaydah itself was one of the worst place in Yemen in terms of malnutrition. It had very high rates of poverty and unemployment. Many fishermen were jobless due to the security problems.

He also wished to emphasize the problem of education. Nearly 2 million children were not attending school, including almost half a million who had dropped out since the conflict had escalated in March 2015. Boys who did not go to school were at greater risk of being recruited into conflict operations, while girls were at greater risk of early marriage. In addition, they risked becoming illiterate and unskilled parents and would thereby transmit poverty to the next generation.

Gaza

In response to questions, Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, on 30 March, the spokesperson of the Secretary-General had made known the Secretary-General’s great concern about casualties following recent clashes at the Gaza fence. He had called for an independent and transparent investigation into those incidents and had appealed to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties, and in particular from any measures that could place civilians in harm's way.

In response to a further question, Mr. LeBlanc said the United Nations had requested that an investigation be carried out by the Israeli authorities, independently of the Israeli security forces. An official response on the measures and actions that would be taken, if any, was still being awaited.

Israel – resettlement of African migrants

In response to questions, William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said UNHCR had taken note of the previous evening’s announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister that he was suspending a plan for the resettlement of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. UNHCR had learned through the media that the agreement had been suspended on the evening of the same day it had been reached.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Spindler said the United Nations Refugee Agency was in close touch with the Prime Minister’s office and remained convinced that the agreement was a win-win solution for all sides: Israel, the international community and asylum seekers. It established mechanisms whereby responsibilities towards refugees and asylum seekers would be shared out among a number of States, it enabled Israel to meet its international obligations and, most importantly, it saved lives. UNHCR was confident that a solution would be found and remained hopeful that Prime Minister Netanyahu would find the political support necessary to continue with the implementation of the agreement.

UNHCR remained ready to work with Israel and other partner States to implement the plan, which involved resettlement outside Israel through family reunifications and sponsorship programmes. Those who stayed in Israel would receive a residence visa and, in some cases, the right to work. The United Nations Refugee Agency was also working with the local authorities to address the social and economic issues that were arising in the areas where the asylum seekers were congregated, notably in southern Tel Aviv, and was offering vocational training to the asylum seekers themselves in order to give them the skills they needed to enter into labour market, both in Israel and elsewhere.

Answering further questions from journalists, Mr. Spindler stressed that the agreement envisaged only voluntary resettlement. Therefore, both participants and host States had to be willing to take part. Candidates for resettlement would be interviewed by UNHCR, cases would be considered on the basis of need and vulnerability and the partner States would make the final decision as to how many persons they could accept. The whole process was expected to take five years A number of countries that accepted referrals for resettlement from UNHCR had been approached. They included various European States in addition to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The publicly proclaimed figure of 16,000 asylum seekers was an estimate that had been reached following extensive negotiations and a realistic assessment of capacity.

Geneva events and announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that this morning the Human Rights Committee would resume the review of its draft general comment on the right to life.

Mr. LeBlanc added that at the end of its 122nd session, on Friday, 6 April, the Committee would issue its concluding observations on the reports of the six countries reviewed during the session: Guatemala, El Salvador, Norway, Lebanon, Hungary, Liberia (at the Palais Wilson).

Mr. LeBlanc recalled that the first part of the 2018 session of the Conference on Disarmament ended last week, and the second part of the session would start on Tuesday,
15 May, until 29 June.

Mr. LeBlanc recalled that 4 April was the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, which had the theme of “Advancing Protection, Peace and Development”.

Press conferences

UNHCR
Wednesday, 4 April at 10 a.m. in Room III
http://bit.ly/2Egbnfe

OHCHR
Thursday, 5 April at 1:30 p.m. in Press Room 1
Human Rights Committee Concluding Observations
http://bit.ly/2uMGFv4

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog030418


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