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8 May 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Yemen: situation of Ethiopian and Somali migrants and airstrikes against civilian areas

Joel Millman, for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said that Mohammed Abdiker, Director of Operations and Emergencies at IOM, was currently in Geneva and was available for interviews. He then read the following statement concerning a visit made by Mr. Abdiker to Yemen the previous week:

“Following a visit to Yemen this week (02-06/05) Mohammed Abdiker, Director of Operations and Emergencies at IOM, the UN Migration Agency, said that he is ‘extremely concerned about the appalling and inhumane situation migrants are facing in Yemen’ and called for ‘greater support and protection both from the international community and authorities in-country.’

‘Last August, it shocked the world when scores of Ethiopian and Somali teenagers dreaming of a better life were forced into the sea by smugglers off the coast of Yemen and drowned,’ Abdiker said as he left Yemen. ‘This shock never translated into greater protection for other youth, who also have nothing but the hope of opportunity far from their rural homes and can only afford and access a deadly migration route through a conflict-zone.’

IOM estimates that some 7,000 migrants enter Yemen each month with the total number of migrant arrivals in 2017 reaching near 100,000. The vast majority intends to reach the Gulf countries, in particular the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

Migrants often leave their homes on foot and walk through Djibouti. From there, they take boats across the Gulf of Aden to the Aden, Lahj, Shabwah, and Hadramout Governorates in Yemen and then attempt to head north to the KSA border. Some work irregularly, for example on qat farms in Yemen, to make money to fund the rest of their journey. At various stages on the route, they enlist the aid of smugglers, especially to make the sea journey or to cross the KSA border. The total number of migrants currently in Yemen is unknown.

Both en route and once in Yemen, many migrants suffer at the hands of cruel smugglers and other criminals, including physical and sexual abuse, torture for ransom, arbitrary detention for long periods of time, forced labour for no pay and even death.

‘I met teenagers in utter distress from what they had experienced already in their young lives,’ Abdiker explained. ‘They are just a commodity to smugglers – something to make quick and easy money from and, if they die, the smugglers do not care as there are thousands of other people willing to pay for their services and risk their lives to simply build their parents a house, put their brother through school, or for any opportunity at all.’

Some migrants also get caught up in the conflict, sustaining injuries or dying from shelling, and some are taken to detention centres. ‘Without prosecuting those preying on these vulnerable young people, any humanitarian assistance we provide will forever be a band-aid – of course, it will save lives, but we owe those who have suffered more than that,’ Abdiker said.

‘The recent Human Rights Watch and Vice News reports showed how horrendously many migrants being held in Yemen's detention centres are treated. We welcome the closure of the centre highlighted in that report and the prosecution of those who committed crimes against migrants. However, we know that this was not an isolated incident and so we call on all those with migrants in their custody in Yemen to treat them with dignity and compassion,’ Abdiker continued.

In 2017, IOM helped around 2,900 migrants and refugees return home from Yemen: 73 per cent of them were Somalis, 25 per cent Ethiopians, and 2 per cent other nationalities. As of 8 May 2018, IOM has also helped 197 Ethiopian and 939 Somali migrants and refugees return home voluntarily. Assisted spontaneous returns of Somali refugees are carried out in collaboration with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.”

Responding to a question from a journalist, Mr. Millman said that the information currently at his disposal concerned migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia crossing between Yemen and Saudi Arabia and not Yemenis returning to their own country from Saudi Arabia. He was aware that there had been a push on the part of the Saudi authorities to police undocumented and irregular migrants, and to repatriate as many of them as possible.

Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the Yemeni Ministry of Public Health and Population in Sana’a had reported that the number of casualties from the previous day’s air raids in the Tahrir district, a densely populated area in Sana’a City, had risen to 96. Six persons had been killed, including one child, and 90 wounded. Many of the latter were in critical condition and casualty figures could rise. There were students among the casualties, as the areas targeted were around the Presidential Office which was located in a civilian area near two State-run schools and a number of shops. Significant damage to civilian assets and property had also been sustained. The Al Jamhoury Hospital in Sana'a had issued a public appeal for volunteers to donate blood to save the lives of the injured.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, reminded that yesterday, through his spokesperson, the Secretary-General of the United Nations had called on all sides in the Yemen conflict to uphold international humanitarian law, also by taking steps to protect civilians.

Landslide preparations at Cox’s Bazar

Joel Millman, for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), read the following statement:

“Humanitarian agencies working in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps today marked the completion of the first new plot of land prepared to relocate families most at risk of landslides during the upcoming monsoon season.

The work is part of a major joint initiative involving IOM, UNHCR and WFP. It has involved dozens of earthmoving machines and a workforce of over 3,500 labourers, including both Rohingya refugees and members of the host community, to prepare the land so that families can move to safer ground.

The newly prepared 12-acre plot is now ready to receive shelters and other key services, including water, hygiene and education facilities. It will provide new homes for nearly 500 families currently living on steep, sandy hillsides in some of the most high-risk parts of the refugee site.

‘Seeing this first plot now ready for the next stage of relocation shows the practical and life-saving achievements that can be created from this kind of interagency collaboration to keep the refugees safe,’ said Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM’s Emergency Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.

‘With the monsoon season almost upon us, we will continue to work urgently to prepare more land, coordinate services, secure vital access and ensure we are ready to respond to emergency situations when they arise,’ he said.

Almost 700,000 refugees have fled violence in Myanmar since August 2017, bringing to around 900,000 the total number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district. The vast majority of the refugees are living under tarpaulins and bamboo shelters in desperately over-crowded conditions.

Across all the settlements, around 200,000 people have been identified as being at high risk of floods and landslides when Bangladesh’s notorious cyclone season and heavy monsoons hit in the coming weeks. The immediate priority is to try to relocate around 24,000 people at highest risk from landslides.

The Government of Bangladesh recently allocated around 500 acres for potential relocations. But due to the hilly topography, only a fraction of that area can be made safe and used before the monsoon, which will begin in earnest next month. The area was prone to landslides even before the refugees settled on the steep slopes, creating de-forestation and erosion.”

Migrant movements across the Mediterranean and returns to Nigeria

Joel Millman, for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said that 488 migrants had been rescued by the Libyan coastguard the previous day bringing the total number of would-be migrants intercepted at sea and returned to Libyan shores in 2018 to 5,947. It was apparently thanks to such activity that the numbers of migrants arriving in Italy had fallen by 75 per cent with respect to the previous year. Their numbers currently stood at 9,567 for 2108. At the same time, migrant transit from Turkey to Greece was increasing and numbers of arrivals into Greece were now almost identical to those into Italy. On a related front, IOM was able to announce that, within the last week, it had repatriated 8,140 Nigerian irregular migrants. The vast majority had been returned from Libya, others from Algeria and Niger. Since, historically, Nigeria had been one of the chief countries of origin for migrants crossing Libya to reach the Mediterranean, it was hoped that such robust repatriation efforts would help to reduce the number of migrant deaths at sea. Nonetheless the passage from Libya to Italy remained lethal and over the 600 deaths so far in 2018 was an alarming and troubling figure.

Update on the Special Envoy for Syria

In response to a question from a journalist, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, explained that, given the current situation, Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Syria, remained intensely focused on high-level discussions with key interlocutors. Mr. de Mistura had returned to Geneva recently following a long tour of diplomatic meetings. Before his return, he had travelled to Berlin where he had met with senior German officials. The Office of the Special Envoy had not yet received an invitation to attend the meeting in Astana, which was scheduled for the following week.

UNCTAD announcemnts

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the “Technology and Innovation Report 2018: Harnessing Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development” would be presented at a press conference at 2 p.m. on Friday 11 May in Press Room 1. The Report itself would remain under embargo until 15 May at 5 p.m. GMT. In addition, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development would be meeting in Geneva in the week 14-18 May. It would naturally be focusing on the contents of the 2018 Report as well as on the question of renewable energy, with input from experts in that field. The opening of the meeting would be attended by Jacques Dubochet, Emeritus Professor of Biophysics, Lausanne University, and Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry in 2017, and by Sir Roger Penrose, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford. The United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth would also be present on the first day and would participate in a debate on technological changes and how they could be put at the service of the Sustainable Development Goals.

ILO announcements

Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that ILO would be launching its flagship report, “World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO): Greening with Jobs” The report estimated how many jobs would be created globally, regionally and by sector, if sustainable policies were adopted. It also covered job losses and included policy recommendations aimed at further boosting job creation. The Report would be presented at a press conference at 10.30 a.m. on Monday 14 May in Press Room III, and was under embargo until 8 p.m. GMT on that day.

Human Rights issues announcements

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review would be examining the human rights record of Cabo Verde that morning and of Germany that afternoon. In addition, the Committee against Torture would be holding a short public meeting that afternoon during which it would hear the Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. Otherwise, the Committee would be meeting in private until the afternoon of Tuesday 15 May. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would be meeting in private until the end of its current ninety-fifth session on Friday 11 May.

Other issues

In answer to questions from journalists, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, explained that media spokespersons for the various United Nations agencies in Geneva regularly attended the bi-weekly press briefings in the Palais des Nations but they were under no obligation to do so. In general, they came when they had an announcement to make concerning a specific situation. In addition, even when they had no prepared statement to deliver, they might come in expectation of being asked questions about other topics currently in the news. However, even when they were present, the agency spokespersons could not be expected to be prepared for each and every issue that journalists might choose to raise. In many cases the spokespersons would need time to check their information before responding. She was happy to pass on any queries to absent colleagues and, in any case, the agency spokespersons could always be reached by telephone or email. Interaction with spokespersons and other issues relating to the press briefings could be further discussed at a meeting of the UN Communications Group with the Executive Office of the United Nations Correspondents Association (ACANU) at 9.30 a.m. on Monday 14 May.

Press Conferences

Wednesday, 9 May at 10.00 a.m. in Press Room 1
UNICEF report launch: Child alert in Kasai: A children’s crisis (Democratic Republic of Congo) (Embargo: Friday 11 May, 00.01 GMT)
Press conference by Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF Spokesperson in Geneva (recently in Kasai region)


The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog050818