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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

5 October 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, and, later, Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Universal Postal Union, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Organization for Migration, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Syria

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, read the following update on behalf of the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria:

“Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura was in Stockholm and Istanbul this week for speaking engagements. In Stockholm, the Special Envoy participated in a commemoration of Count Folke Bernadotte, the United Nations’ first appointed mediator. In Istanbul, the Special Envoy participated in the TRT World Forum, in a discussion on the role of regional players and the shifting security equation in the Middle East. On the margins of the forum, the Special Envoy meet with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuþoðlu to discuss the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone, the implementation of the Turkish-Russian accord and efforts to establish the constitutional committee.”

Indonesia

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), read the following statement:

“One week after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) launched a Response Plan, seeking $50.5 million for immediate relief activities.

The Response Plan was developed in consultation with the Government of Indonesia counterparts, and articulates how the humanitarian community working in the country will provide targeted, technical assistance in support of the Government-led response.

The Plan outlines the support that the international humanitarian community is aiming to provide to 191,000 people over the next three months.

The Central Emergency Response Fund has already allocated $15 million to support the activities included in the Response Plan, and will fund projects in logistics, water and sanitation, camp management, health, shelter, protection, and food security and livelihoods.”

Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, said that the Response Plan had been launched in Jakarta some minutes previously. It would soon be made available online. The death toll had been climbing in recent days. More and more bodies were being found in the rubble. According to the Government, the death toll currently stood at 1,581, and some 2,500 people were injured. The main priority at the current time was to help survivors. The Response Plan was aimed at providing life-saving assistance, strengthening humanitarian logistics capacity and restoring conditions of safety and dignity for the most vulnerable.

Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that three IOM specialist staff, including one doctor, had arrived in Palu the previous day. They would take part in a multi-agency assessment mission in the area. IOM would dispatch an 11-truck convoy carrying approximately 83,000 liters of water to Donggala, which was one of the worst affected areas. IOM had also sourced a 10,000-litre water bladder, 4,000 emergency shelter kits and a similar number of household kits of help survivors of the disaster. IOM was working closely with national partners, including the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB), the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs. In the following few days, approximately 300 university students would be transported from Makassar to Palu to work with IOM staff on the displacement tracking matrix. The displacement tracking matrix was a tool for determining the areas to which people had been displaced and their needs. The university students would receive the appropriate training.

Mr. Dillon, for IOM, said that, to support its efforts in affected areas, IOM had allocated USD 200,000 from its internal funds and expected to receive further funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance of the United States Agency for International Development. Some areas of Palu had been affected much more severely than others. Indeed, in some areas, markets had begun to open, and power had been returned. The local population was highly resilient, as Indonesia often experienced natural disasters. Cellphone coverage had been restored to affected areas, which was improving coordination efforts and allowing some people to return to those areas to help family members.

Matthew Cochrane, for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that the Indonesian Red Cross operation in Sulawesi continued to grow. It was focused on assessments for relief distributions, evacuations, water distribution, medical aid and restoring family links. Red Cross teams had reached remote communities in Sigi, Palu and Donggala districts. Red Cross teams had reached Banawa, just to the south-east of the Donggala tip. They were calling it the worst-affected area they had ever seen. All houses built along the coastline had been swept away by the tsunami. Surviving communities had been evacuated to the surrounding hills. Their most urgent needs included emergency health care, shelter, blankets, and diapers.

Mr. Cochrane, for IFRC, added that water distribution efforts were centred on Palu and Boneoge. Boneoge was crucial, as it meant that IFRC could supply water to people who had been forced to evacuate from their homes and to those living in the neighbouring mountains. Three water trucks were being used, with a further 15 trucks on their way to the area and 4 more being mobilized. Mobile health posts had been set up in Red Cross branches in Palu, Sigi and Donggala. Many people were presenting with skin rashes, which could be attributed to contaminated water supplies, high blood pressure due to stress and lack of sleep. The ground was still shaking, and people had lost their livelihoods.

Mr. Cochrane, for IFRC, said that, on a positive note, the Red Cross relief pipeline was beginning to open. Fresh supplies of food had reached Palu and would be distributed to communities in Sigi either that or the following day, pending final assessments. In Sigi, the Red Cross had already distributed about 1,400 kilograms of rice, as well as mineral water, blankets, mats and tarpaulins. In Donggala, Red Cross teams had also distributed basic relief on a smaller scale. More Red Cross supply ships were on the way. Around 70 tons of relief goods had been dispatched earlier that week from Jakarta on three boats. The first had arrived in Makassar the previous day, and its consignment was currently making its way overland to Palu. The other two ships were expected to arrive in Makassar over the weekend. One of the biggest challenges during the relief phase was the lack of vehicles to distribute supplies. There were plans for a further 22 tonnes of relief on a flight from Malaysia. Search and rescue efforts were ongoing. Bodies continued to be pulled from the rubble. It was expected that the death toll would continue to rise. It was important to support the families of victims so that, with time, they could begin to come to terms with what had happened.

Responding to a question on the death toll, Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, said that many hospitals and clinics had been destroyed. The official number of missing persons was 113. The figures that he had cited were preliminary. More accurate and comprehensive data would be made available in due course.

Responding to a question on the number of displaced persons, Mr. Dillon, for IOM, said that the situation was complicated by the fact that the worst affected areas were submerged in mud. It would take time to reach people in those areas. IOM’s displacement tracking matrix would make it possible to obtain more reliable data on the distribution of persons affected by the disaster and their needs.

Responding to a question on the Government’s contribution, Mr. Cochrane, for IFRC, said that some of the relief consignments were being transported by government vehicles. Efforts were being made to bring in further vehicles, but the road network was in a dire state.

Return of Myanmar nationals from India to Myanmar

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), gave the following statement:

“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is greatly concerned for the safety and security of seven Myanmar nationals who were returned from India to Myanmar yesterday.

UNHCR understands that prior to their return the group of seven were moved from Silchar central jail in Assam, where they had been in detention since 2012, to Manipur State bordering Myanmar. On learning of their detention and the planned return, and based on credible reports that the seven men are Rohingya, UNHCR requested the Indian authorities to grant access to this group to assess their need for international refugee protection. UNHCR regrets that the agency did not receive a response to this request and was unable to secure access for a lawyer from a state legal service.

UNHCR continues to seek clarification from the authorities on the circumstances under which these individuals were returned to Myanmar. The UN Refugee Agency is concerned that they did not have access to legal counsel, were not given the chance to access asylum processing and have their claims assessed in India.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled from Myanmar over recent decades. In the latest refugee crisis, more than 720,000 Rohingya refugees found shelter in Bangladesh since 25 August 2017. Current conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not conducive for safe dignified and sustainable return of stateless Rohingya refugees.

There are some 18,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in India, living across different locations. UNHCR issues ID cards to registered refugees and documents to asylum-seekers. This helps to prevent arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation. UNHCR works with the state legal services authorities and a network of partners to provide legal support to persons of concern in detention in India.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Mahecic said that UNHCR was working with the local authorities in Myanmar. UNHCR was concerned about the context in which the seven Myanmar nationals had been returned. Only the Indian Government could provide information on the charges on which the seven Rohingya people mentioned in his statement had been detained. The return in question was the first deportation of Rohingya from India. It is possible that UNHCR was not aware of all the Rohingya people in Myanmar. He could not state the estimated number of Rohingya people in the area at the current time.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Mahecic said that, to his knowledge, the Bangladeshi Government had postponed its plans to move a number of Rohingya people to an island. The UN had conducted a joint mission to the island in order to evaluate the situation. The Bangladeshi Government should be consulted for further information on its plans in that regard. UNHCR was not involved in the planning or construction of any facilities in that connection. UNHCR had stressed that, although solutions to provide shelter for Rohingya people were to be welcomed, it was important that any movements of people were voluntary and that the areas to which they were moved were fit for human habitation. In Bangladesh, UNHCR was focusing its efforts on the Nayapara and Kutupalong sites in Cox’s Bazar. The Kutupalong site was the largest refugee settlement in the world, with more than 620,000 people living on an area of 13 km2. It was probably the most densely populated human settlement in the world, which gave some idea of the scope of the challenges facing the UN agencies involved in providing shelter.

Myanmar

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), gave the following statement:

“UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and UNDP, the UN development agency, carried out in September initial assessments in 23 villages and three village tracts in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. It had been more than a year since UNHCR had been able to engage with affected communities in the northern areas of Rakhine State, following the flight of more than 720,000 Rohingya refugees to neighbouring Bangladesh in 2017.

In the course of these initial assessments in Rakhine UNHCR and UNDP noted the efforts of authorities to facilitate these first steps, though they were limited in scope and in the locations visited. While they do not allow for broader conclusions, the field visits have given UNHCR and UNDP an initial understanding of the challenges facing those living there. Our teams assessed immediate community needs and priorities for our short-term actions. The rapid assessments also help to identify community initiatives that could support Government’s efforts to improve the lives of all affected populations, build trust and promote social cohesion among all communities.

Over the past weeks the teams observed the serious effects. These include those on the local economy and diminishing livelihoods, significantly increasing the vulnerabilities of all communities remaining in Rakhine.

Communities also spoke of the cumulative effect of restrictions on movements, further shrinking their access to livelihood and basic services. While some self-restrict their movement for real or perceived sense of insecurity or fear of neighboring communities, others – particularly the Muslim communities - are not allowed to move freely. Fear and mistrust, has an impact on access to education, health and other basic services. It also limits interactions between communities, hindering prospects for confidence-building and social cohesion. The communities we visited frequently spoke of challenges in getting to health services as well as restrictions on the Muslim population in accessing education.

Mistrust, fear of neighbouring communities and a sense of insecurity are prevalent in many areas. Communities often live in isolation, lowering the prospects for contacts, mutual understanding and inter-communal cohesion. This is notable for relations between the Muslim community and other communities.

Assessment teams also observed that some communities, particularly those living in close proximity to each other, have maintained or restarted interactions. Encouragingly, most of those we spoke to expressed hope for peace in Rakhine and a number of them indicated willingness to incrementally strengthen or restore relations. Building confidence and improving conditions among remaining communities will be essential to bring people together, to alleviate poverty, and to address health and education disparities alongside making tangible progress to address root causes.

All the communities visited welcomed the assessment teams and were eager to engage with them and to discuss their issues. There were no signs of animosity.

As of Friday morning UNHCR and UNDP teams are starting a second phase of assessments in the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung based on travel authorisations received in the past 24 hours. We also look to have more predictable and broader access and rapid expansion of assessments and discussions continue on the modalities of “effective access” to all areas in Rakhine covered by the Memorandum of Understanding. Crucial next steps will include follow-up visits to already assessed locations in order to continue engaging with communities and facilitate design and implementation of pre-identified community-based initiatives.

UNHCR and UNDP remain committed to the implementation of the MoU, and to supporting the Government of Myanmar’s efforts to find comprehensive and durable solutions to the crisis in Rakhine State. The Myanmar government’s leadership in the implementation of this agreement is critical to creating conditions conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.”

Mr. Mahecic said that, given the scope of the refugee crisis in 2017, it was understandable that the teams had observed significant population decreases in the areas that they had visited. They had also observed a serious effect on the local economy, which had affected livelihoods and increased the vulnerability of all communities remaining in Rakhine.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Mahecic said that the first phase of assessments had focused on 23 villages and three village tracts in Rakhine State. The second phase, for which the relevant travel authorizations had been granted in the previous 24 hours, would address townships in a different area in the north of Rakhine State. UNHCR continued to take the position that current conditions were not conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees. At the current stage, efforts were focused on trust and confidence-building.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Mahecic said that UNHCR was working to support the Government’s efforts within the framework of the memorandum of understanding. Rohingya people in the area faced a number of challenges, including freedom of movement. UNHCR teams had met many people on the ground, all of whom faced a very difficult situation, particularly in terms of their livelihoods. In the current, initial phase of work, UNHCR was focusing on confidence-building and dispelling any remaining mistrust among local communities. He was unable to say how many Rohingya people remained. UNHCR had only just regained access to that area for the first time since August 2017.

Venezuela

Responding to a question on the situation in Venezuela, Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that there were approximately 2.6 million Venezuelans living abroad, more than 1.9 million of whom had left the country since 2015. Many of those arriving in neighbouring countries were in dire need of humanitarian protection and international assistance. There was an acute need for access to documentation, shelter, health care and other basic services. To date, more than 346,000 Venezuelans had filed asylum claims, over 186,000 of them in 2018 alone. An estimated 845,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants had benefited from other forms of stay in Latin America. However, many Venezuelans remained in an irregular situation or held only a tourist visa, which limited their options.

School meals in Kenya and the Central African Republic

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP had long supported or organized the distribution of school lunches in a number of countries. Hot school lunches were an important source of nutrition for children and gave their parents an additional incentive to send them to school. In Kenya, WFP had been providing school lunches for 40 years. The Government of Kenya had gradually taken over responsibility for the programme. In the current financial year 2018/19, the Kenyan Government had set aside USD 24 million for that purpose.

Mr. Verhoosel, for WFP, said that WFP had conducted a similar initiative in the Central African Republic, a country of some 4.6 million that had seen violent conflict in recent years. Some days previously, WFP had been informed that it would receive a grant of USD 17 million from the United States Agency for International Development, which would enable WFP to scale up its operations in the Central African Republic. That funding would make it possible to provide lunches for 165,000 children and support 530,000 people in the most vulnerable areas of the country. The Central African Republic continued to experience enormous problems in terms of infrastructure, security and education. Of the 621,000 displaced persons in the country, 430,000 received assistance from WFP. In 2018, 876,000 people had been assisted by the end of August alone. The United States of America was the largest donor to WFP in the Central African Republic. WFP also had an important role to play in the context of the National Plan for Recovery and Peacebuilding in the Central African Republic. He also wished to note that hunger and conflict were closely connected problems. On a recent visit to the region, he had met a person who had been forced to join an armed group in order to feed his family.

Mr. Verhoosel, for WFP, said that he would be able to put interested journalists in contact with members of the teams involved in providing the school lunches.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Verhoosel said that the implementation of the school lunch programmes varied from country to country. In some countries, schools were given the money needed to provide the lunches. In the Central African Republic, it was common for families to eat only one meal a day, and school lunches would therefore provide a much-needed additional source of nutrition. The Government of Kenya was able to take over the management of the programme because WFP had already put in place the necessary logistical arrangements. WFP expressed the hope that other countries would follow the example set by Kenya in that regard.

Cholera in Yemen

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), read the following statement:

“More than 306,000 people in Yemen, including over 164,000 children under the age of 15, were vaccinated against cholera as part of a joint WHO-UNICEF campaign that concluded today. The numbers are expected to go up as reports of the final day of the campaign come in. The six-day vaccination effort, carried out by 3,000 health workers in three districts in Hudaydah and Ibb, was made possible by a pause in fighting – known as ‘Days of Tranquility’ – agreed by parties to the conflict.

“The success of this vaccination campaign shows what we can collectively achieve for children and families in Yemen when the fighting stops and humanitarian access opens up,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Yet the reality is that this is a quick fix. Only a comprehensive political resolution to the conflict can secure the wellbeing of children across the country over the long term.”

Before the end of the year, many more people will need to be vaccinated against cholera, and millions more children immunized against polio, measles, pneumonia and other preventable diseases.

Immunization is a matter of life or death for millions of people in Yemen, especially children. A child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes.”

Mr. Boulierac, for UNICEF, said that there was a link between cholera and access to clean and safe water. Yemen was one of the world’s most water-scarce countries. Some 16 million people including 8.6 million children, did not have sufficient access to water, sanitation and hygiene services in Yemen. The press release on the joint WHO-UNICEF campaign would soon be made available.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), read the following quotation, attributable to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:

“We are grateful for the pause in fighting which enabled us to complete the cholera vaccination campaign. Vaccination is one of many health services people need. Ultimately, peace is the only road to health.”

Mr. Lindmeier, for WHO, said that UNICEF and WHO renewed their call on the parties to the conflict to abide by their legal obligations to stop attacks against civilian infrastructure and guarantee safe, unconditional and sustained access to all children in need in Yemen. Days of tranquility were a positive step towards providing humanitarian actors with the space to reach vulnerable children and families. Since April 2017, there had been over 1.2 million suspected cholera cases and 2,515 associated deaths in the country. The crisis affected 96 per cent of all governorates. The contributing factors included war, lack of access to health care, lack of access to safe water and population movements. The most recent data from Hudaydah showed that only 50 per cent of health facilities were still operational in the governorate. The situation posed significant challenges to effective outbreak control interventions.

Responding to questions on the number of persons targeted in the vaccination campaign, Mr. Lindmeier, for WHO, said that, given the constraints of the current situation, the figure of 306,000 represented a considerable achievement. The current campaign was building on the success of an earlier vaccination campaign. Such campaigns required extensive planning and logistical efforts. Efforts would continue to be made to increase the number of vaccinations.

OCHA announcement

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that Achim Steiner, United Nations Development Programme Administrator, and Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, were currently on a three-day mission to Nigeria and Chad. They had arrived that morning and would be meeting various government officials and humanitarian partners. They would travel to Borno State on Saturday before arriving in Chad on Sunday. Journalists should contact OCHA for further information on the mission.

UPU announcement

David Dadge, for the Universal Postal Union (UPU), said that World Post Day had first taken place in 1969. In 2018, it would be held on Tuesday, 9 October, and the theme would be “Delivering Good to the World”. In that context, UPU was exploring the role of post in financial inclusion, as postal services had a role to play in ensuring the inclusion of the approximately 2 billion people around the world who were outside financial services; disaster risk management, as postal operators had some of the biggest logistical networks in the world; security, as postal services were a first line of defence; and climate change, as postal operators were seeking to reduce their carbon footprint and could provide detailed information on the environmental situation on the ground. UPU would also consider the role of post in a multilateral context, as treaties on postal services promoted a universal service obligation in the form of a duty to provide a postal service to everyone in the world.

UPU also organized an International Letter-Writing Competition, in which 58 countries and 1.2 million children took part. The current year’s winning entry reflected some of the most pressing current issues affecting the world. He could provide an embargoed copy of the winning letter. Postal services had an important role to play in sustainable development.

UNCTAD announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that, on Monday, 8 October 2018, an event entitled “Green Export Forum: Promoting sustainable production and export in developing countries and economies in transition” would be held at the Palais des Nations, Room XXIII. It would include an overview of projects carried out in Angola, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Madagascar, Morocco, Republic of Moldova, Oman, Senegal and Vanuatu. The programme for the event was available online. Participants would discuss such issues as value addition, national and voluntary green standards, market entry conditions, export promotion, marketing, financing green transition, packaging, quality and sustainability management. The participants would cover such sectors as ecotourism, fish products, timber products, coffee, cocoa, olives, dates, nuts, leather, grains and honey.

Ms. Huissoud also said that, as part of Non-tariff Measures Week, an event would take place from Tuesday, 9 October, to Thursday 11 October at the Palais des Nations, Room XXIV. It would focus on the increasing prominence of regulatory and non-regulatory measures in international trade. The event would provide a platform for policymakers, practitioners and researchers to discuss issues surrounding the impact of non-tariff measures. Sessions would address, inter alia, the role and impact of national and regional regulatory coherence and cooperation, international standard-setting bodies, data innovations, research advances and transparency in trade regulations.

Ms. Huissoud added that a regional e-Trade workshop would take place from 9 to 11 October 2018 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It would focus on the e-Trade preparations under way in Burkina Faso, Senegal and Togo. Various “eTrade for All” partners would participate, including the Universal Postal Union, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the African Development Bank.

Nobel Peace Prize

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Norwegian Nobel Committee had just announced that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 would be awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their work to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. She wished to congratulate the winners and recall that the United Nations attached great importance to eliminating the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict, as was shown by the work of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Geneva announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would close its 79th session that afternoon and would issue its concluding observations on the reports of the six countries reviewed during the session: Mauritania, El Salvador, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Niger, Benin and Saudi Arabia.

Mr. LeBlanc said that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had concluded its review of the report of Cabo Verde the previous day. That afternoon, the Committee would be holding a public meeting with States parties. On Tuesday, 9 October, the Committee would hold a day of general discussion on a draft general comment on article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Mr. LeBlanc that, on Monday, 8 October, the Human Rights Committee would open its 124th session, which would run until 2 November. During the session, the Committee would review the implementation of the Covenant in six States parties: Belarus, Sudan, Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (in the absence of report), Belize and Bulgaria.

Press Conferences

WMO
Monday, 8 October at 11:00 a.m., Room III
Intergovernmental panel report on Climate Change special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
IPCC will release its report on climate change after its session in the Republic of Korea on 8 October. WMO, as a co-sponsor of the IPCC, is participating in the session and will hold a press conference to give Geneva-based journalists insight into this important new report. Note that the WMO press conference will be several hours after the IPCC one in Incheon.
Speaker: WMO Secretary-General Petteri

UNCTAD
Tuesday, 9 October at 2:30 p.m., Press Room 1
Presentation of the World Investment Forum: Investing in Sustainable Development 22- 26 October - Palais des Nations
Speaker: James Zhan – UNCTAD – Director – Division on Investment and Enterprise

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog281005