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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

8 December 2017

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization.


Rohingya Crisis

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that on 23 November, Myanmar and Bangladesh had signed an agreement on the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Initial discussions between UNHCR and the Bangladeshi authorities over anticipated arrangements had yet to take place, but UNHCR was currently working towards this. UNHCR reiterated that all refugees had the right to return, but that this should happen voluntarily and only when people felt that the time and circumstances were right.

UNHCR had not been a party to the agreement but was referenced in the text of the document. The arrangement referred to the establishment of a Joint Working Group within three weeks of the signing, i.e. by 14 December 2017. UNHCR was ready to be part of this group and to help the two Governments work towards arrangements that would properly enable refugees to exercise their right to return freely, safely and in dignity. This should, in the Agency’s view, include a tripartite voluntary repatriation agreement.

Based on the text of the agreement, UNHCR was encouraged that the two Governments had agreed to work for a “comprehensive and durable” solution and to refrain from conceiving and implementing any discriminatory policy that violated universally agreed principles of human rights. The Agency was further encouraged that Myanmar was confirming its commitments to implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, including social and economic development, citizenship, freedom of movement, communal participation and representation, inter-communal cohesion and security for all communities. Their implementation would be critical not only in creating an environment conducive to returns in safety and in dignity, but also to ensuring sustainability.

At present, refugees were still arriving in Bangladesh. Restoring peace and stability and ensuring full humanitarian access, as well as addressing of the root causes of displacement, were important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns were aligned with international standards.

Many Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh before and after 25 August had suffered severe violence and trauma. Some had lost family members, relatives and friends. Many of their homes and villages had been torched and destroyed. Deep divisions between communities remained unaddressed and humanitarian access was inadequate. It was critical that the returns were not rushed or premature.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Edwards said that while UNHCR had maintained a presence in Myanmar throughout the crisis, it did not have access to Northern Rakhine State. It was crucial to break the cycle of displacements and returns that had occurred there over the past decades and to ensure that a lasting solution was found. In November, more than 20,000 refugees had arrived in Bangladesh and at least 270 had arrived so far in December.

In response to further questions, he said that the Agency was in contact with the Governments of both Myanmar and Bangladesh, and that Kelly Clements, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, had been in Bangladesh in the past week. The discussions on the joint working group were still at a preliminary stage.

Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP had obtained permission to recommence food distribution in Northern Rakhine State and in November had reached 32,000 of the 36,000 people it had been targeting. It hoped to be able to continue that work in December. Throughout the crisis, food had been distributed in Central Rakhine State to 118,000 people, including children under 5 years and pregnant women.

Asked for more details of WFP’s operations in Rakhine State, Ms. Luescher said that it was important to keep in mind the scale of the refugee crisis. WFP was feeding 700,000 people in Bangladesh but much smaller numbers in the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung in Northern Rakhine, where the situation on the ground was dire. WFP distributed food to people in need in Rakhine State without making a distinction between the Rohingya community and other populations. All United Nations agencies required better access to people in need.

Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the total number of Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh stood at 858,590. That figure included 646,000 who had arrived since 25 August. Approximately 526,000 refugees were being provided with shelter, 91,000 with protection assistance and 109,000 with primary health-care services.

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that as of 6 December, 110 cases of diphtheria, including 6 deaths, had been clinically diagnosed in Cox’s Bazar by international health partners including Médecins sans frontières. WHO was working with the Bangladeshi Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to contain the spread of the disease through treatment and prevention. WHO had also assisted in providing basic training for vaccinators taking part in a two-week vaccination campaign targeting children under the age of 6 years, which was due to begin on 10 December. The Serum Institute of India had donated 300,000 vaccines to tackle the outbreak.


Voluntary humanitarian returns from Libya

Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that under the initiative of the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations Security Council, IOM was scaling up voluntary humanitarian returns from detention centres in Libya.

Across West Africa, 15,000 people were preparing to return home or were already in transit. Approximately 4,000 migrants were being evacuated to the Niger and 167 to Guinea, some of whom had suffered torture and abuse in Libya. Many people were returning home in great distress. Upon arrival, migrants were given “pocket money” of between USD 50 and 100. IOM was also organizing resettlement grants to pay for education and training.

Asked whether the message about the risk of slavery and abuse was getting through to people in West Africa who might be considering migrating to Europe, Mr. Doyle said that large numbers of people used Facebook and other social media platforms to make arrangements to migrate. Facebook, which was currently seeking to expand its market share in Africa, was not doing enough to prevent vulnerable people from being lured into travelling to Libya, where they might face torture and abuse at the hands of traffickers and smugglers. IOM appealed to social media companies to step up their efforts both in addressing the use of their platforms to target vulnerable people across West Africa and in conducting civic media outreach campaigns to alert people to the dangers of attempting to migrate to Europe through Libya. To date, IOM’s attempts to engage with social media companies had had little effect. As part of the Global Migration Film Festival, which would run until 18 December, radio discussions that allowed returnees to tell their own stories were being aired in a number of West African countries.

On this issue, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, called the journalists’ attention to the fact that, from 18 to 21 December, the Internet Governance Forum would take place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. A multi-stakeholder platform bringing together the United Nations, private enterprises, NGOs and other partners, the Forum would include a session on corporate digital responsibility, duties of care and the Internet of ^things.


End of the Marburg disease outbreak in Uganda

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that Uganda had successfully controlled an outbreak of Marburg virus disease and prevented its spread only weeks after it was first detected.

The Ugandan Ministry of Health had notified WHO of the outbreak on 17 October after laboratory tests confirmed that the death of a 50-year-old woman had been due to infection with the Marburg virus, which was closely related to the Ebola virus. Within 24 hours of being informed by Ugandan health authorities, WHO had deployed a rapid response team to the remote mountainous area and had provided financial assistance to support and scale up the response in Uganda and Kenya.

The most recent outbreak of the Marburg virus disease, which had caused three deaths, had affected two districts in eastern Uganda near the Kenyan border and was the fifth such outbreak to have occurred in Uganda in the past decade.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Chaib said that lessons had been learned from the previous outbreaks of the Marburg virus disease in Uganda and the Ebola virus epidemic that had affected several countries in West Africa.


New report and campaign on Being LGBTI in Eastern Europe

Nicolas Douillet, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), speaking by telephone, said that UNDP was launching a campaign and publishing four reports on the high levels of discrimination experienced in all areas of life by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia.

Despite the progress that had been made in the region, much remained to be done. In Serbia, 90 per cent of the population opposed pride parades. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, school textbooks described homosexuality as a disease. In Albania, transgender persons experienced difficulties in accessing employment and were often relegated to sex work.

UNDP was making a number of recommendations, namely improving data collection on LGBTI persons, adopting legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, instituting zero tolerance for hate speech, developing protocols to protect transgender persons in the health-care system and eliminating surgery at birth for intersex persons. The Sustainable Development Goals could not be achieved if minorities, including the LGBTI community, were left behind.

Further information was available at outspoken.undp.org .


Universal Health Coverage Forum, Tokyo

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the Universal Health Coverage Forum would take place in Tokyo, Japan, from 12 to 15 December.

At the Forum, which was jointly organized by the World Bank, WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WHO and the World Bank would release the Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report. The Forum would be attended by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the heads of WHO, UNICEF and WFP and 30 health ministers from around the world.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Chaib said that WHO’s position was that people required public health coverage over the course of their lives, including for reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases and injuries. The Global Monitoring Report contained details of the number of people who had access to universal health coverage and for which conditions and diseases.


UNHCR convenes dialogue on global compact on refugees

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the High Commissioner’s 10th Dialogue on Protection Challenges would take place on 12 and 13 December at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This year’s forum would take stock of the progress made to date towards a global compact on refugees, which UNHCR had been asked to develop by the United Nations General Assembly in the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants. Formal consultations would begin in 2018.

The goals of the global compact on refugees were critical given the current situation of refugees. Globally, there were 22 million refugees and 65 million forcibly displaced persons, many of whom lived in camps and were denied the right to work. Better trust needed to be built between host communities and refugees.

The global compact on refugees would build on the existing international framework and include a comprehensive non-binding response. It was hoped that the international community could develop a more systematic and predictable response mechanism.


Global compact on migration

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that an intergovernmental meeting on the global compact on migration had taken place in Mexico from 2 to 6 December.

Asked about the potential impact of the withdrawal of the United States of America from the global compact on migration, Leonard Doyle, for IOM, said that IOM shared in the general disappointment at the decision of the United States, given its historic role as the largest country of immigration and refugee resettlement. IOM trusted that the leadership of the global compact on migration would continue to engage the United States in ongoing dialogue. The progress towards the global compact on migration had already garnered widespread support and continued to move forwards on an intergovernmental conference in December 2018. The global compact on migration reflected the need for a comprehensive approach to human mobility and enhanced cooperation between Member States so that migration played a positive role in the development of individuals and societies. The discussion of the compact enshrined the notion that migration should be safe, orderly and regular. It was hoped that all Governments and stakeholders would contribute to a successful outcome. IOM would continue to engage with all Governments, including that of the United States, on migration.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that the spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the United Nations had said on 4 December that, while the United Nations regretted the decision of the United States, there was still plenty of time for US engagement on the issue. The decision should not disrupt what was seen as a clear, unanimous outcome of the New York Declaration for such a Global Compact, which would be nonlegally binding, grounded in international cooperation and respectful of national interests. The positive story of migration was clear and needed to be better told. Equally, the challenges it threw up needed to be tackled with more determination and greater international cooperation.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Answering questions, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that no meetings or media events were scheduled over the weekend under the auspices of the intra-Syrian talks. The delegation of the Government of Syria was expected to arrive on 10 December.

Ms. Vellucci said that 10 December was Human Rights Day.

To mark the Day, the annual Concert for Peace and Human Rights would take place at 6 p.m. on 9 December in Room XX at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Organized by ONUART, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the Human Rights Council, the concert would be attended by the President of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, the President of ONUART Foundation, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Spain. Ahead of the concert, a press conference would be held at 12.30 p.m. in Room XIX.

The year-long commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would be launched in Paris on 10 December.

Ms. Vellucci announced that the United Nations University, through its Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany, would launch a new report on e-waste, which was under embargo until 10 a.m. GMT on 13 December.

She said that efforts were being made to remedy the problems being experienced with the online accreditation system for journalists. Anyone experiencing specific issues was invited to contact accreditation-media@unog.ch .

Press Conferences

Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar
The Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award 2017
Friday, 8 December at 12:15 p.m. in Room III
https://www.unog.ch/unog/website/calendar.nsf/(httpInternal~Media~Daily~en)/CA678D890DC5C4B3C12581EC005AB0E3?OpenDocument

OHCHR / Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Concluding Observations on Serbia, Algeria, Jordan, Australia, Slovakia, Belarus
Friday, 8 December at 1:30 p.m. in Room III
https://www.unog.ch/unog/website/calendar.nsf/(httpInternal~Media~Daily~en)/4877771338298DE8C12581EE002F2B86?OpenDocument

UN Alliance of Civilizations / Concert for Human Rights
Concert for Human Rights on Saturday, 9 December 2017
The Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu from Barcelona, led by conductor Josep Pons, with soprano Erin Wall and mezzo-soprano Huiling Zhu
Saturday, 9 December at 12:30 p.m. in Room XIX
https://www.unog.ch/unog/website/calendar.nsf/(httpInternal~Media~Daily~en)/11A9E83FE7A0F6A7C12581E9003C6EA1?OpenDocument

UNCTAD - UNECE
Presentation of the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2018 published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the UN Regional Commissions and UNCTAD.
(under embargo until 11 a.m. EST, 5 p.m. CET)
Monday, 11 December at 11:00 a.m. in Press Room 1
http://unogwebsite.unog.un.org/unog/website/calendar.nsf/(httpInternal~Media~Daily~fr)/151872E48D6C2960C12581EE003A36F0?OpenDocument

OHCHR / UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order
The Independent Expert on the promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, Alfred de Zayas, will give details of his first official visit to Latin America from 27 November to 8 December during which he visited Venezuela and Ecuador. The Expert gathered information about regional cooperation on trade, good governance, social protection and human rights.
Tuesday, 12 December at 2:00 p.m. in Press Room 1
http://unogwebsite.unog.un.org/unog/website/calendar.nsf/(httpEvents)/A01EEB798E50F50BC12581EE00531779?OpenDocument&cntxt=FF9E4&cookielang=en


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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog081217