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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

30 January 2018

Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the Radio and Television Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Syria

Responding to questions from the press regarding the Syria-related event currently being held in Sochi, Russian Federation, Michele Zaccheo, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had attended the opening of the Conference, and was continuing to speak with interlocutors. It was possible, if logistics allowed, that Mr. de Mistura would participate by videoconference in the Security Council briefing on Syria. The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, was expected to brief on the humanitarian situation in Syria, during the morning session of the Security Council meeting today 30 January 2018, Eastern Standard Time (EST). At that briefing, Ms. Mueller was expected to provide further information on the five areas outlined by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, as requiring progress following his first visit to Syria in early January. There was no confirmation of whether any statement would be available to the media by the Special Envoy for Syria, but based on previous experience, any public statement would be made following the Security Council briefing, and not prior to it.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Michele Zaccheo, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Security Council had yesterday joined the Secretary-General in strongly condemning the attack on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) on 27 January 2018, in Baraka, South Kivu Province, which had resulted in the death of one peacekeeper from Pakistan and the injury of another. The members of the Security Council had expressed their deepest condolences to the family of the victim, the Pakistani authorities and the United Nations. They had further wished the injured peacekeeper a speedy recovery.

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), made the following statement:

“UNHCR is alarmed by a recent surge in violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is driving large numbers of Congolese to flee eastwards to neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Thousands of children, women and men have abandoned their homes, in the midst of intensified military operations against Mai Mai armed groups in South Kivu province. Since last week almost 7,000 people have crossed to neighbouring Burundi and an additional 1,200 to Tanzania. It is believed that many more are displaced inside South Kivu in difficult conditions without shelter or food.

Refugees we have spoken to say they fled forced recruitment, direct violence and other abuses by armed groups. Others say they fled in anticipation of military operations and out of fear. It is imperative that people fleeing the violence are allowed safe passage, and that humanitarian access to the internally displaced is facilitated.

Those refugees seeking to reach Burundi are mainly doing so by crossing Lake Tanganyika on small fishing boats. Reception conditions at Nyanza Lac and Rumonge where they are arriving are sparse, with extremely limited shelter, sanitary facilities, drinking water and food. Together with the authorities and other partners, UNHCR is transferring the refugees to transit centres and camps – already overcrowded – in Burundi’s north and east.

Congolese citizens are not the only group affected. UNHCR is also worried about the situation for over 43,000 Burundian refugees just across the lake in South Kivu, mainly at Lusenda and Mulongwe. Although these locations have not been directly affected by the fighting, it is vital that all parties to the conflict respect the humanitarian character of the sites where refugees are and refrain from activities that could hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In Tanzania, the Congolese arriving there are also doing so via Lake Tanganyika. They cross directly from South Kivu to locations in and around the city of Kigoma. Many are exhausted and unwell. The influx is placing enormous pressure on existing shelter, water and sanitation facilities, and many people have no choice but to sleep in the open. UNHCR is mobilizing relief aid including food, water and medical support for the reception areas. We are also preparing to transfer the new arrivals to the Nyarugusu refugee camp in the country’s north-west.

In Uganda, Congolese arrivals have also been rising due to conflicts further north in the DRC: inter-communal violence in Ituri province, as well as armed group activities and military offensives in North Kivu. Since December, more than 15,000 people have entered Uganda either on foot or by crossing Lake Albert in fishing boats or canoes. January arrivals, were at around 330 people per day, which [is] four times what they were in December last year. UNHCR is supporting the efforts of the authorities to receive the new arrivals and transfer them to two settlements.

UNHCR is grateful to these neighbouring countries for hosting the DRC refugees, and in view of the life-saving needs we urge them to keep their borders open to all those who are fleeing conflict. The situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the world’s most complex crises, and it is deteriorating as local conflicts escalate. As 2018 began, some 5 million Congolese were displaced, about 674 of them in other African countries, and about 4.3 million internally. This places DRC among the world’s biggest displacement crises.”

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Baloch said that the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was a longstanding concern. It was understood that the Government, through the military, was intensifying operations against the local militias; however, the timing of those operations was not clear. UNHCR preferred to focus on the humanitarian aspects of what was a very complex situation in DRC. It continued to urge neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to all those who were seeking safety internationally.

International Labour Organization mission to Venezuela cancelled

In response to questions from journalists, Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the ILO mission to Venezuela that had been scheduled to take place during the week of 29 January 2018 had been cancelled during the previous week because the Government of Venezuela had not confirmed the full agenda. While the mission in general had been agreed, the agenda, including the individuals and groups with whom the ILO team would meet in order to get a full picture of the social dialogue in the country, had been finalized only close to the date of the mission. While it was difficult to prejudge the decisions of the ILO Governing Body at its upcoming session in March 2018, the Governing Body would, at that point, review the situation and consider the possibility of setting up a commission of inquiry. He would keep the press informed of the March meetings of the Governing Body in advance, including those relating to Venezuela and ILO cooperation with the tobacco industry.

Geneva events and announcements

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl, had been invited to an executive briefing by the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Michael Møller, on Tuesday, 30 January 2018. The executive briefing would focus on the indispensable role of UNRWA in providing human development and humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees in the Near East, and how, despite the severe hardship following the near complete reduction of aid from the United States of America, UNRWA was planning to continue its work and uphold human dignity. Mr. Krähenbühl would also focus on the humanitarian challenges faced in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, West Bank and Gaza, and present the UNRWA emergency response for 2018. Following the executive briefing, at 12 p.m., in room III, a press conference would be held by the UNRWA Commissioner-General on UNRWA emergency appeals for Syria and Palestine (http://bit.ly/2DFFIbO).

Mr. Zaccheo said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child had scheduled mainly private meetings during the week of 29 January 2018; however, in the afternoon of Thursday, 1 February, it would hold a public, informal meeting with States.

Mr. Zaccheo also said that the Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary meeting on the morning of 30 January 2018 under the presidency of Sri Lanka; later in the session that position would be held by Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. The three parts of the session would take place from 22 January to 30 March, from 14 May to 29 June and from 30 July to 14 September.

Press conferences

UNICEF
Update on the situation of children in Syria
Friday, 2 February at 9:30 a.m. in Room III
http://bit.ly/2rKxSbw

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog300118