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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

11 December 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 Refugee Agency, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Ms. Vellucci welcomed the journalism students from the University of Geneva who were attending the briefing as observers.

Yemen

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, made the following statement on behalf of the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen:

“The Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, held a press conference on the fifth day of the political consultations between the Yemeni parties. Griffiths reported progress on a number of issues, highlighting that the two parties have been discussing the details of re-opening Sanaa airport, the de-escalation measures in both Tae’z and Hudayda, and the implementation of the exchange of prisoners’ agreement, as well as the economic situation. The Special Envoy mentioned that tangible agreements will be announced by the end of this round.

Griffiths clarified that the exact date and venue of the next round of consultations are being discussed with the two parties, mentioning that early next year is the target date. The Special Envoy reiterated his encouragement by the positive and serious spirit that the two parties have demonstrated in this round, stressing that he remains ambitious about the outcome of this round. ‘Hope is the currency of the mediator; if you do not provide a sense of optimism and hope for the parties, you will not encourage people to walk the extra mile. I hope we can make some breakthroughs in the next couple of days.’”

2019-2020 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan in response to the Syria crisis

Amin Awad, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees remained in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey and that 6 million were internally displaced. While the war was easing, notwithstanding pockets of conflict in Idlib and other areas, host countries still required support in order to provide assistance to the refugees. Therefore, United Nations Agencies and NGO partners today were appealing for USD 5.5 billion in 2019 under the the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) to assist them with the provision of sanitation, health and education services as well as psychosocial support. It was worth noting that half of Syrian refugee children were not enrolled in formal education, that refugees were often in debt and many lived below the poverty line in their host country. Humanitarians called on donors to continue to supporting host communities and to extend international protection to those who qualified. As the situation in Syria improved, some refugees had begun to return home. However, there were many obstacles, so UNHCR was working with the Government of Syria to create the conditions conducive to return.

Samuel Rizk, Senior Regional Manager at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the Syria situation had resulted not only in a humanitarian and refugee crisis but also in a development crisis for the neighbouring countries, which had been very generous despite the considerable strain they were under. Therefore, it was critical to explore how to support host communities in a forward-looking way. In practice, resilience involved creating jobs, providing basic services, improving language skills and training doctors and teachers. Given that the 2018 appeal had been only 50% funded, UNDP looked forward to even greater generosity from donors in 2019 and to the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan remaining a platform for advocacy, resource mobilization and policy discussion.

Replying to questions from journalists, Mr. Awad said that 27,000 refugees had returned to Syria in 2018, primarily from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, in a highly organized manner with the assistance of host communities, UNHCR and their relatives who had remained in Syria. Most had returned to the governorates of Damascus, Daraa and Homs. Returnees received return packages that included winterization supplies and shelter kits and were referred to one of the Agency’s 100 community centres. Some 150,000 refugees were expected to return in 2019. Aside from the ongoing security situation, namely the need to demine and remove unexploded ordinance, the obstacles to return included legal issues such as the lack of documentation, especially property deeds, protection from conscription and amnesty for those who had deserted the army. The other major obstacles were the lack of jobs and the re-establishment of basic services, in particular taking into account the 1 million children who had been born abroad. UNHCR ran a successful birth registration programme, such that approximately 90% of those children had been issued with birth certificates, which the Government of Syria had committed to recognizing. The host governments were adhering to international standards and were not pressuring refugees to return home. At the moment, there was no more outflow of refugees. Turkey, as host to the largest number of Syrian refugees, was a model in terms of access to education and employment. The Government of Turkey was proud of being able to take on the expense and had not requested funding from the United Nations.

Also in response to journalists, Mr. Rizk said that the shortfall in funding did mean that some refugees and host communities had not received the support they needed, which was why the appeal for 2019 was so critical. Development aid was allocated to host countries, not to Syria, which was subject to a separate appeal. It was important to note that the pressures were very real in host communities, which were hosting very large numbers of refugees; some of them had seen the cost of commodities and rent go up, as well as increased competition for jobs. The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan attempted to address those situations, to ease tensions between refugees and host communities and to cater to the different contexts and challenges on the ground.

Also on Syria, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Special Envoy for Syria had been in Amman, Jordan, the day before, where he had met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Global Compact for Migration

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that, as the Secretary-General had stated, the Global Compact for Migration, which had been adopted the previous day, was not legally binding and did not establish a new right to migrate but reaffirmed that migrants should enjoy their human rights independently of their status. The world, migrants and States would benefit greatly from the enhanced international cooperation that the Compact made possible.

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

“On 10 December, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) hailed the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, calling it an historic achievement by the international community.

‘Migration is the great issue of our era,’ said IOM’s Director General António Vitorino, and ‘the adoption of the Compact by an overwhelming majority of UN Member States should lead to a more balanced discourse, better policies and more widespread cooperation on migration.’

‘Key components of the Compact are that states need well-managed migration and that no one state can achieve this on its own. Cooperation on migration at all levels is fundamental to addressing migration,’ he added.

The road to the Global Compact began two years ago when the United Nations General Assembly addressed the issue of the large movements of refugees and migrants. This resulted in the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants launching an intensive process of inclusive consultations and government-led negotiations leading to today’s adoption of the Global Compact.

There are nearly 260 million international migrants in the world and the Compact sets out a range of principles, commitments and understandings among Member States. These include considerations of human rights, humanitarian, economic, social, development, climate change and security issues affecting migrants, their countries of origin and transit as well as the communities that host them.

The voluntary agreement reinforces nation state sovereignty on migration, while underscoring the human rights of migrants as well as the importance of cooperation on migration at all levels, be it local, national, regional or global with all stakeholders. The Compact is now expected to become a useful roadmap for states to more effectively manage migration.

‘Today’s adoption is a first step, and a vitally important one, in ensuring that migration becomes less politically charged, more effectively managed and that vulnerable migrants are better protected from exploitation,’ DG Vitorino added.”

Replying to questions from journalists, Mr. Millman said that it was always regrettable when a State disengaged from a multilateral process and IOM respected the fact that States had to calibrate their policy choices in accordance with national considerations. That being said, 164 States had signed onto the Compact, which was a far greater number than those that had not. The Compact included a range of policy options and best practices from which to draw, as well as a framework for cooperation among States. The Organization’s role would remain the same, namely to be at the service of its Member States as a consultant, partner and co-funder. There was no particular strategy to deal with the misrepresentations of the Compact in the media aside from answering questions truthfully and clearly. As to whether the Compact was actually contributing to the politicization of migration, it should be noted that the Compact was intended as a first step in making migration less politically charged.

In response to the same questions, Ms. Vellucci said that the Secretary-General would continue to encourage States to join the Compact. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration was very active in dispelling fake news and mischaracterizations about the Compact, and the United Nations was making every effort to explain the nature and content of the Compact through various means. The role of the United Nations was to provide an objective regulatory framework to serve as a reference tool for States. The Secretary-General had established the United Nations Network on Migration, in which IOM would have a central role, but to which a number of stakeholders would contribute. She would send more information on this subject to the journalists who had requested it [later on, the UN Information Service sent out again the statement of the UN Secretary-General on this matter: https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2018-12-09/secretary-generals-remarks-un-network-migration-delivered].

Migrant arrivals via the Mediterranean

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the latest report indicated that total flows in 2018 had exceeded 110,000 and was forecast to reach just under 120,000 by the end of the month. Thus far in December, 200 people were arriving in Spain per day. The number of fatalities, 687 compared to 224 in 2017, was alarming and would likely rise as reports of new incidents trickled in. Tunisians remained the singled largest group of migrants arriving in Italy, though there had been fewer in 2018 than in the year before. The route through Libya was being far less used. Interestingly, the number of Nigerians had plummeted to 1,000, in other words less than 3% of the total number of Nigerian migrants in the past three years. It was not clear what had caused the decrease as migrants from that country had not appeared on different routes.

In response to a query, Mr. Millman said that he did not have the data to determine what impact the decommissioning of the Aquarius rescue vessel was having on fatalities. However, IOM linked fatalities almost entirely to the activities and practices of smugglers and, given the dangers of the Mediterranean, especially in the winter months, would welcome the assistance of any party with rescues at sea.

Report on sexual abuse at UNAIDS

Asked by journalists about the publication of a report on sexual abuse at UNAIDS, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that UNAIDS had issued a press release and journalists were free to contact Sophie Barton-Knott, spokesperson of the Organization, for additional information. Asked why the Secretary-General had not commented the report, Ms Vellucci recalled that at the noon briefing by the Secretary-General’s Spokesperson in New York, this question had been addressed. She would convey to UNAIDS colleagues the request that a representative should attend the next press briefing.

UNCTAD announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that Africa eCommerce Week, the first event of its kind, would run from 10 to 14 December in Nairobi. The main focus would be on the digital divide, in other words inequality in access between countries and among people within a country to the technology permitting electronic trade. A summary of the daily meetings would be sent to the media.

Ms. Huissoud also said that the World Economic and Social Prospects report, which was a joint project of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the regional commissions and UNCTAD, would be launched on 21 January 2019. More details would follow.

Lastly, Ms. Huissoud said that today, as part of the COP24 in Katowice, Poland, UNCTAD would be taking part in a meeting on the impact of tax policy, the financial markets and trade on the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that a “Mix&Mash” event on the topic of human rights would take place that evening at Brasserie des Halles de l’Ile, from 6 p.m.

Furthermore, a ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would take place on 13 December at 10 a.m., in room XX. The children who had won the drawing contest organized by the Service, together with the Fondation Gabarron, would be honoured there. The nine winning pictures would eventually be exhibited permanently at a museum in Spain.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the 46th round of the Geneva International Discussions would take place on 11 and 12 December. A press release was expected at the end of the works.

Ms Vellucci also said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would conclude its ninety-seventh session on Friday, 14 December, and would issue its concluding observations on the six States parties whose reports had been reviewed during the session, namely Albania, Honduras, Iraq, Norway, Qatar and the Republic of Korea.


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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog111218