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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

26 January 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization.

Syria

Asked about the impact of the military campaign in Afrin, Syria, on humanitarian shipments across the border from Turkey, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that on 20 January, United Nations cross-border shipments from Turkey had temporarily been put on hold because of the security situation. The suspension remained in place as of 26 January.

[Later, Mr. Laerke added that the suspension of shipments had so far affected 123 trucks which had been put on hold during the past week.

Humanitarian supplies covering various sectors were delivered as cross-border shipments from Turkey to Syria by UNHCR, UNICEF, UNFPA, WFP, WHO, FAO and IOM following relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The Government of Syria was notified in advance of each shipment and a United Nations Monitoring Mechanism oversaw and confirmed the humanitarian nature of consignments.

Between 1 January and 31 December 2017, 4,656 trucks with humanitarian supplies had passed the two authorized crossing points Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam from Turkey to northern Syria with United Nations supplies, an average of 388 trucks per month.]

Increased child malnutrition in Venezuela

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

“In Venezuela, a growing number of children are suffering from malnutrition as a consequence of the protracted economic crisis affecting the country. While precise figures are unavailable because of very limited official health or nutrition data, there are clear signs that the crisis is limiting children’s access to quality health services, medicines and food. UNICEF is calling for the rapid implementation of a short-term response to counter malnutrition, based on disaggregated data and coordinated between the Government and partners. We urge coordinated national action to reach those children most in need.

The most recent official figures released by the National Institute of Nutrition in 2009 showed that the prevalence of wasting in children under five was, at the time, 3.2 per cent. More recent non-official studies, however, have shown significantly higher rates of wasting among children. The 2016 Global Nutrition Report estimated a wasting prevalence of 4.1 per cent and the Caritas quarterly report of August 2017 showed that 15.5 per cent of the children assessed had some level of wasting, compared to 11.1 per cent in the previous quarter. The results of these more recent localized assessments, while not representative of the wider population, are an indication of the continued deterioration in the nutritional status of children.

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has implemented measures to mitigate the impact of the crisis on children’s nutrition, such as the provision of monthly packages of food at affordable prices to the most vulnerable families, cash transfers, and strengthening of nutritional assessment and recuperation services for children, but more needs to be done to reverse the worrisome decline in children’s nutritional wellbeing.

UNICEF reiterates its readiness to strengthen support for Government and civil society partners to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable children.

UNICEF is collaborating with the Ministry of Health, the National Institute of Nutrition and civil society organizations to strengthen and expand nutritional surveillance at the community level, to provide nutritional recuperation services through partners and to support five prioritized maternities in the Capital district, among other actions.”

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Boulierac said that UNICEF continued to advocate for more data in order to facilitate the implementation of an efficient strategy to tackle child malnutrition. Increased coordination was required between the Government and other actors. In May 2017, the Ministry of Health had published long-delayed epidemiological reports that showed an increase in deaths among children.

Migrants deaths in Yemen

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), made the following statement:

“IOM, the UN Migration Agency, and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, are outraged and saddened at the drownings of at least 30 refugees and migrants off the coast of Aden, Yemen, earlier this week.

Survivors of the incident have reported to UN and partner staff that an over-crowded boat packed with at least 152 Somalis and Ethiopians departed 23 January from the Al Buraiqa coast in Aden in a boat headed across the Gulf of Aden towards Djibouti. The vessel is believed to have been operated by unscrupulous smugglers who were attempting to take refugees and migrants to Djibouti, while also trying to extort more money from these refugees and migrants. The boat capsized amid reports of gunfire being used against the passengers.

Of the passengers on board, 101 were Ethiopian and 51 were Somali. At least 30 people have died in this tragic incident.

IOM and partners are working with the Yemeni Coast Guard to further understand the incident. Patrolling teams of IOM, DRC and Intersos have been providing emergency assistance to survivors including medical assistance, food, water and psycho-social support services.

‘As we have been saying for almost five years now, the preservation of human life is our utmost priority everywhere,’ said IOM Director William Lacy Swing in Davos, Switzerland, today. ‘Yemen is no exception, we are deeply troubled by reports of this latest incident.’”

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), made the following statement:

“IOM and UNHCR have long been warning that prolonged conflict and insecurity in Yemen exposes vulnerable refugees and migrants to a heightened risk of human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, detention, trafficking and deportation.

With Yemen a traditional transitory and migratory hub in the region, more than 87,000 migrants and refugees risked their lives on the high seas in 2017, seeking to reach Yemen from the Horn of Africa by boat, despite prevailing conflict and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions. To raise awareness about the horrendous risks and dangers in Yemen, UNHCR launched a regional awareness campaign titled “Dangerous Crossings” last year aiming to inform those contemplating the journey in countries of origin and transit.

IOM and UNHCR—together with partners including Intersos and DRC—are members of the Mixed Migration Working Group in Yemen which has been responding to the needs of migrants and refugees in Yemen. The Group is appealing for more urgent support to respond to the needs of those most vulnerable in Yemen and to actively pursue solutions for refugees and migrants.”

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Millman said that IOM was aware of an incident in 2017 in which 42 people had been killed on a boat leaving Yemen. There had been unconfirmed reports that the boat had been shelled by a helicopter or warship. There appeared to be a flourishing trade in people smuggling in the waters off Yemen, with large numbers of people attempting to travel through the country in search of employment opportunities in the Gulf States.

Asked about efforts to warn refugees and migrants about the dangers they might face in Yemen, Mr. Spindler said that an information campaign had been running for about a year and used community outreach, radio, the Internet and other media to reach potential migrants and refugees. However, such efforts needed to be accompanied by action to address the root causes that forced people to leave their homes.

Humanitarian and development Chiefs’ Mission to Ethiopia

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that on the evening of 25 January, the Secretary-General had left New York for Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, where he was scheduled to attend the African Union summit.

On Saturday, he would meet with Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and hold a number of other bilateral meetings with Heads of State and Government. He would also participate in a high-level event entitled “Renewed Partnership to end hunger in Africa by 2025 — Five years later”, and would deliver remarks at the meeting of the Peace and Security Council.

The Secretary-General was also scheduled to hold a press conference at the African Union Headquarters on the afternoon of 28 January. He would be back in his office in New York on 30 January.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, and the United Nations Development Programme Administrator, Achim Steiner, would also be at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

Ahead of the summit, the two principals would undertake a mission to Ethiopia to highlight the immense challenge of persistent food insecurity and the new approach to addressing it. While Ethiopia had made remarkable strides in development and addressing food insecurity over the past three decades, repeated droughts had resulted in recurring food insecurity. Millions of people needed assistance to survive, for which USD 900 million would be required in 2018 alone.

Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Steiner would meet with senior Government officials and humanitarian and development partners, travel to field locations to meet people who had been affected by drought and highlight the need to continue life-saving humanitarian assistance as an urgent priority, while simultaneously laying the foundations for long-term resilience to future shocks and recovery.

Libya Humanitarian Plan launched

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that on 25 January, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, had launched in Tripoli the country’s 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan, which aimed to support the humanitarian needs of some 940,000 people in Libya. The plan sought USD 313 million for humanitarian response in 2018.

The response strategy prioritized protection of civilians in Libya in accordance with international law, as well as access to basic services for internally displaced people, returnees, the most vulnerable non-displaced Libyans, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. An additional goal was to strengthen the capacity of families to cope with the continued pressures of instability and economic crisis.

Mediterranean statistics

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had evacuated 7,723 people since the European Union-African Union agreement in Abidjan in November 2017. Of that number, 1,747 had been evacuated in 2018 to date.

Information from Greece showed that no crossings had been detected in the Greek islands over the past four days. In the previous four-day period, 52 individuals had arrived.

On 26 January, details had been released on the nationalities of all the people who had been detected crossing irregularly into Greece by sea in 2017. Of the total of 29,595, 21,000 had come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The fourth largest group were Congolese, the only other nationality that accounted for more than 1,000 arrivals. Individuals from a wide range of countries, including Benin, Brazil, Bolivia, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, had also been detected.

Sudanese migrants in Libya

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, following reports of video footage showing Sudanese nationals in Libya being tortured and burned in an attempt to obtain money from their family members, eight Sudanese had been freed on 26 January. IOM was monitoring their hospital treatment and assessing their other needs. Reports that another two individuals had died as a result of torture remained unconfirmed.

In 2018, World Leprosy Day was focusing on the target of zero cases of leprosy-related disabilities in children. Disabilities did not occur overnight, but happened after a prolonged period of undiagnosed disease. Early detection was key to achieving this target, alongside scaling up interventions to prevent leprosy transmission.

Addressing the socio-economic needs of affected persons and communities and taking concrete measures to end stigma — often the reason for late diagnosis — was vitally important.

Leprosy was a chronic disease caused by bacteria which multiplied slowly. The average incubation period of the disease was 5 years. In some cases, symptoms occurred within 1 year but could also take as long as 20 years to appear. The disease mainly affected the skin, the peripheral nerves, the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. Treatment in the early stages of the disease could prevent disability.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Jašareviæ said that since 1995, WHO had provided cost-free multidrug therapy to all leprosy patients in the world. The therapy had initially been funded by The Nippon Foundation, and since 2000 had been donated through an agreement with Novartis, which had recently committed to extending its donation through to 2020.

In 2016, WHO had launched its “Global Leprosy Strategy 2016–2020: Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world” to reinvigorate efforts for leprosy control. The strategy focused on avoiding disabilities resulting from leprosy, especially among children. The key issue was to ensure that people received free treatment as early as possible.

Yellow fever vaccinations in Nigeria and Brazil

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the yellow fever vaccination campaign in Nigeria had got off to a good start and would continue on 26 and 27 January. Preliminary data showed that so far, 700 teams had vaccinated almost 200,000 people in Zamfara state alone. The campaign would also cover Kogi, Kwana and Borno states.

The campaign was the largest to have been conducted in Nigeria and was part of an initiative to eliminate yellow fever epidemics. Although the yellow fever vaccine had been part of the routine immunization programme in the country since 2004, the current outbreak of the disease showed that a number of people had missed out on it. The campaign aimed to vaccinate more than 25 million people in Nigeria during 2018.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Jašareviæ said that since September 2017, 358 suspected cases and 45 related deaths had been recorded across 16 states in Nigeria. The previous outbreak of the disease in the country had occurred in 2002.

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that in Brazil, some 23.8 million people were expected to be vaccinated against yellow fever during a mass immunization campaign, including 10.3 million in the state of São Paulo and 10 million in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The state of Bahia was expected to begin vaccinating on 19 February 2018, with an estimated target population of 3.3 million people to be reached with the vaccine. The campaign, which had begun on 25 January, would target both urban and rural areas and would fractional doses of the vaccine would be administered. The form of the disease found in Brazil was transmitted by a jungle-dwelling type of mosquito that was not present in urban areas.

World Leprosy Day

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that World Leprosy Day was observed on the last Sunday of January each year.

In 2015, leprosy had affected an additional 212,000 people globally, 60 per cent of whom were in India. The other high-burden countries were Brazil and Indonesia. Among new cases, 8.9 per cent were children and 6.7 per cent presented with visible deformities.

Despite being eliminated globally as a public health problem in 2000, leprosy continued to mar the lives of individuals and impact families and communities. Though present numbers were a fraction of what had been reported a decade earlier, they were unacceptable, as an effective treatment for leprosy — multidrug therapy — had been available since the 1980s and could fully cure the disease.

UNICEF announcements

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that on 30 January, UNICEF would launch its Humanitarian Action for Children Report. The report would set out the agency’s 2018 appeal for funding for emergency work in the areas of safe water, nutrition, education, health and protection. The launch would be made by UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, Manuel Fontaine, and the UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, Mahimbo Ndoe.

Geneva events and announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, speaking on behalf of Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council, said that the Universal Periodic Review Working Group of the Human Rights Council was scheduled to conclude its twenty-ninth session on the afternoon of 26 January, after having adopted the final two reports on the human rights reviews it had conducted during the session, for Liechtenstein and Serbia.

Ms. Vellucci recalled that the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust would feature, in Geneva, the screening by Ciné-ONU of the documentary film “No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story” on 28 January; an official ceremony on 29 January; and an exhibition entitled “Let Me Be Myself: The Life Story of Anne Frank”, which would run from 29 January to 9 February.

Ms. Vellucci said the Committee on the Rights of the Child would review the report of the Marshall Islands before concluding its current session on 2 February.

Press conferences

Tuesday, 30 January at 12:00 p.m. in Room III
UNRWA
Dignity is Priceless: present and future of UNRWA’s work
http://bit.ly/2DFFIbO

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog260118