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4 December 2018

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief, Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.

Roundtable Meeting on Western Sahara

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, read the following statement:

“The Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, former President Horst Köhler of Germany, has convened delegations from Morocco, the Frente POLISARIO, Algeria and Mauritania to an initial roundtable meeting on Western Sahara on 5 and 6 December 2018, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The meeting will be the first of its kind in six years and will take place in accordance with Security Council resolution 2440 as a first step towards a renewed negotiations process with the aim of reaching a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

The purpose of the meeting is for delegations to take stock of recent developments, to address regional issues, and to discuss the next steps in the political process on Western Sahara.

The meeting will also serve as an opportunity for delegations to revisit the topic of confidence building measures under the auspices of UNHCR.

The Personal Envoy is encouraged by the open discussions he has had during his travels to the region in June 2018 and the consultations carried out with delegations leading up to the roundtable. He hopes that the Geneva roundtable will mark the beginning of a process that will lead to the resumption of negotiations towards a political solution.”

Mr. LeBlanc explained that visual media would be able to witness the arrival of the delegations for meetings starting at around 2.30 p.m. on 5 December and at around 10 a.m. on 6 December. In addition, Mr. Köhler would be holding a press stakeout at around 5 p.m. on 6 December at which he would deliver a statement and answer questions from journalists.

The delegations attending the meeting would be headed by, for Morocco, Mr. Nasser Bourita, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; for the Frente POLISARIO, Mr. Kathri Addouh, Member of the National Secretariat of the Frente POLISARIO and President of the Sahrawi Parliament; for Algeria, Mr. Abdelkader Messahel, Minister of Foreign Affairs; and for Mauritania, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. LeBlanc said that it was a roundtable event. Therefore, the expectation was that all the delegations would be present at all the meetings. He was not aware of the contents of the preparatory consultations, but the roundtable meeting – which was explicitly mentioned in Security Council resolution 2440 – would mark the beginning not the end of a process that would hopefully lead to a lasting agreement.

Yemen migrant arrivals approach 150,000 for 2018

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) was forecasting a 50 per cent increase in migrant arrivals to Yemen in 2018 with respect to 2017. In fact, nearly 150,000 migrants were expected to enter the country in 2018, compared to 100,000 in 2017. It was extraordinary and alarming that so many people were seeking to cross a dangerous war zone. An estimated 92 per cent of the incoming migrants were Ethiopians and most of the rest Somalis.

The route was among the world’s most “youthful” in the sense that minors, many unaccompanied, accounted for an estimated 20 per cent of the migrants. Migration into Yemen was currently among the largest in the world and, in 2018, arrivals into the country had considerably exceeded arrivals into Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

IOM recognized the challenges regional States faced in responding to the dire humanitarian situation. For that reason, it was organizing a conference in Djibouti on 5 December, which would bring together seven countries: Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Somalia and Yemen. The theme of the event would be: “Drawing on peace dividends in the Horn of Africa to ensure urgent enhancements in the management of migratory flows to Yemen and the Gulf countries.”

Responding to questions posed by journalists, Mr. Millman said that the migrant route through Yemen was historically one of mankind’s oldest. Migrants were clearly well aware of the war in the country and of the dangers it entailed; however, the instability and insecurity were used by smugglers as an incentive rather than a deterrent. The smugglers, in fact, would tell the migrants that the State authorities were either ineffective or otherwise engaged and were therefore unable to monitor the borders for irregular migration. Unfortunately, though, once in the country, migrants found themselves having to cross minefields and combat areas, leading to many fatalities.

IOM had information that 156 migrants from the Horn of Africa had died during the course of 2018, but those statistics referred almost exclusively to deaths at sea. Unquestionably, the real number of deaths, both at sea and on land, was much higher.

Answering additional questions, Mr. Millman said that a combination of factors was driving the migrants to face the perilous journey across Yemen: the drought afflicting the Horn of Africa, the lack of economic opportunities there and the high demand for labour in the Gulf States. As long as those factors persisted, it was unlikely that the migration flow would diminish. The plight of migrants crossing Yemen was covered by regional media. However, despite the dimensions of the phenomenon, it did not reach the front pages of Western media, perhaps because the migrants were not travelling from, through or to Western States.

Responding to a question from a journalist, Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, was currently in Sanaa preparing the groundwork for a forthcoming dialogue between the parties to the conflict in that country. The meeting was due to take place in Stockholm and, although the exact dates had not yet been announced, journalists could already express an interest in seeking accreditation at the website: www.government.se/notification-of-interest.

Bangladesh’s ‘Longest Beach in the World’ Gets Winter Clean-up

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

“The ‘world’s longest beach’ got a winter clean this weekend, when hundreds of United Nations staff, local volunteers and district authority representatives took to the sands in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to pick up rubbish, in an event sponsored by IOM.

Cox’s Bazar district became the centre of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis last year when over half a million Rohingya refugees fled across the border with Myanmar in just a few weeks. Almost a million refugees now live in camps outside the main town – in what has become the world’s biggest refugee settlement.

But the area – long considered one of Bangladesh’s top tourist destinations – is also an important wildlife habitat. Sections of the 120km-long stretch of beach, often hailed as the longest unbroken sea beach in the world, are important breeding ground for turtles.

The weekend clean-up was organized by staff from IOM and other United Nations organizations who volunteered their time and encouraged others to come and remove plastic and other rubbish from the beach, and to raise the awareness of the environmental damage it causes.”

Migration across the Mediterranean

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, in view of the fact that the numbers of migrant arrivals to Europe had largely levelled off, as of 2019, IOM would be providing updated figures less frequently than was currently the case. Nonetheless, the migration phenomenon remained one of great importance and deserved continued media attention. In November, 114 migrants had drowned while attempting to cross the Western Mediterranean between North Africa and Spain, the largest number to die on that route in a single month since IOM had begun tracking the figures. However, in previous years, greater numbers had perished in single shipwrecks on the Central Mediterranean route.

Migration into Greece seemed to be rising once more. Arrivals by sea in 2018 had now exceeded the 2017 figure of around 30,000. In addition, 15,000 migrants had crossed into Greece by its land borders with Turkey and Bulgaria. Nevertheless, the figures were still far short of what they had been three years previously, when a million migrants had entered the country.

Announcements from UNCTAD

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the first Africa e-Commerce Week would be held in Nairobi from 10 to 14 December. The event, jointly organized with the African Union and the European Union, was being hosted by the Government of Kenya and its theme would be: “Empowering African economies in the digital era”. The Africa e-Commerce Week would be attended by international organizations, government representatives and CEOs from companies ranging from multinationals to small- and medium-scale enterprises and start-ups. More than 300 African companies would also be present.

The digital economy in Africa was thriving but there was a digital divide between those who were connected to the Internet and those who were not. The conference would focus on a number of relevant issues, such as ways to accelerate levels of preparedness for e-commerce particularly in terms of legislation, access to reliable technology without which e-commerce was impossible, the skills and financial structures (e-payments) necessary to develop e-commerce, consumer confidence in e-commerce, consumer protection, taxation issues, digital logistics and digital identity.

The new UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics would be available in electronic format from 10 a.m. on 5 December. It included “nowcasts” on three macroeconomic indicators for 2018: GDPs, trade in goods and trade in services.

Later in December, UNCTAD was due to release a new report on creative industries. A presentation was being organized for 14 December and further details would be available soon.

WHO report on the health benefits of tackling climate change

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that, for the occasion of the COP 24 Climate Change Conference currently being held in the Polish city of Katowice, WHO would be holding a press conference to launch a report on the health benefits of tackling climate change. The report highlighted health as a major issue to be prioritized at COP 24 and provided key recommendations to negotiators on how to maximize the health benefits of tackling climate change and how to avoid its worst health impacts. The conference would be streamed live from Katowice, beginning at midday that day.

Announcements from ILO

Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that at midday on 5 December, ILO would be issuing a statistical report on the numbers of migrant workers around the world.

ILO, which had come into being under the 1919 Peace Treaty of Versailles, was planning a number of events to mark its centenary in 2019. On 20 January, the Global Commission on the Future of Work, which had been established in 2017, would be launching its report. The report would be presented by the President of South Africa and the Prime Minister of Sweden, who had headed the Commission. Additionally, the International Labour Conference, due to take place from 10 to 21 June, would approve new norms on violence and harassment in the workplace. A convention and a recommendation on that subject were expected to be finalized and adopted. In all probability, the Conference would also issue a declaration reaffirming the values of ILO.


Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was concluding that morning its review of the report of the Republic of Korea, which it had begun the previous afternoon. During the remainder of the week, it would be reviewing the reports of Albania and of Norway, and holding an informal meeting with States parties.

Mr. LeBlanc said that the next public meeting of the Committee against Torture would be held on Thursday 6 December and would be devoted to the follow-up of articles 19 and 22 of the Convention. The Committee session would end on Friday 7 December, when it would issue its concluding observations on the six countries it had reviewed: Canada, Guatemala, Maldives, the Netherlands, Peru and Viet Nam.

Mr. LeBlanc said that the TEDx event, “PlaceDesNationsWomen”, would begin at 3 p.m. on Thursday 6 December in Room XX. It would be streamed live online for anyone unable to participate in person.

Lastly, Mr. LeBlanc reminded journalists that Monday 10 December marked Human Rights Day. Among other initiatives, the winners of the “Kids 4 Human Rights” international drawing completion, jointly organized by the UN Information Service in Geneva, OHCHR and the Gabarron Foundation would be announced, in addition, from 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. on Thursday 13 December, OHCHR would be holding a human rights event in Room XX. Children and their views of human rights would feature strongly and Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, would be participating in a roundtable with children.

Press Conferences

Tuesday, 4 December at 1.00 p.m., Room III
World Food Programme
Update on food security and WFP operations in Yemen
• David Beasley, Executive Director WFP
• Herve Verhoosel, Senior Spokesperson WFP
Tuesday, 4 December at 3.00 pm, Press Room 1
Dispute Settlement Body special meeting
• Dan Pruzin, Information Officer
Wednesday, 5 December 2018, at 10.00 a.m., Room III
The seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
• Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Wednesday, 5 December 2018, at 12.00 p.m., Press Room 1
Launch of the ILO report “Global estimates on international migrant workers” (under embargo until Wednesday 5 December at 1 p.m. Geneva time)
• Manuela Tomei, Department Director, WORKQUALITY
Wednesday, 5 December at 2.15 p.m., Press Room 1
Expert briefing: The global compact on refugees
• Mr Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, UNHCR
Thursday, 6 December at 3.00 p.m., Press Room 1
Launch of the WHO Global status report on road safety 2018, which will detail the progress and challenges in making roads safer to protect health and save lives.
• Dr. Etienne Krug, Director, Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, WHO
• Dr. Nhan Tran, Coordinator, Unintentional Injury Prevention, WHO
Friday, 7 December at 1.00 p.m., Press Room 1
Committee Against Torture Concluding Observations on Canada, Guatemala, Maldives, Netherlands, Peru, and Viet Nam.
• Mr. Jens Modvig (Chairperson)
• Ms. Felice Gaer (Vice-Chairperson)
• Mr. Claude Heller (Vice-Chairperson)
• Mr. Sébastien Touzé (Rapporteur)
• Mr. Abdelwahab Hani
• Mr. Diego Rodríguez-Pinzón


The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog041218