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8 October 2019

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the International Labour Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Development Programme, the Universal Postal Union, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the World Health Organization.


Asked by journalists to comment on the possible invasion of northern Syria by Turkey and any potential impact on the first meeting of the Constitutional Committee, Jenifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, said that the meeting of the Constitutional Committee was still planned for 30 October. She recalled that on 7 October the Secretary-General had said that he was following with great concern the situation in north‑eastern Syria, in particular the risks to civilians from any potential escalations. The Secretary-General had added that civilians and civilian infrastructure needed to be protected at all times.

Asked to respond to journalists’ concerns that a briefing on Syria organized by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on 7 October had been open only to selected media outlets, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that occasionally speakers who did not plan to discuss breaking news items might meet only with selected journalists. In the case being referred to, the event was intended to be a background briefing, but then newsworthy events had overtaken the original discussion topic and the focus had changed in real time. OCHA could not control this kind of shift in the course of a briefing.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, added that press briefings organized by the United Nations Information Service were open to all outlets. The matter could be discussed further during the Service’s monthly meeting with the Association of Accredited Correspondents at the United Nations, which was scheduled for the afternoon of 8 October.

Human Rights Council

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that on 8 October, the Human Rights Council would hold a full day of meetings to discuss how the United Nations could more effectively prevent human rights violations. Both the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the President of the Human Rights Council would address the meeting.

Refugees returning from Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Charlie Yaxley, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), read the following statement:

“Thousands of Congolese refugees are returning from Angola to the Kasai region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where fighting amongst armed groups has lessened and security conditions have improved.

The first group of a few hundred people will return as part of a voluntary repatriation, which will officially begin this week, following the signing on 23 August of a tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the Governments of Angola and DRC on voluntary returns.

In total, more than 4,000 refugees are expected to be assisted to return home in the coming weeks. UNHCR is providing returnees with transport, as well as cash assistance to help them reintegrate.

Meanwhile, since 18 August, some 12,000 Congolese refugees, including nearly 7,000 children, have spontaneously returned home from the Lovua settlement in Angola’s Lunda Norte province. UNHCR is grateful to the Angolan authorities for swiftly providing the returnees with trucks to assist them with their journey back to DRC.

Many of those returning spontaneously are facing extremely challenging living conditions. UNHCR is providing them with cash assistance, as well as humanitarian aid together with provincial authorities and NGO partners, at the border town of Kalamba Mbuji, where UNHCR has set up an emergency transit centre.

Similar assistance is also being provided to returnees who have reached Kananga, the capital of Kasai Central province.

Although fighting amongst armed groups has calmed, some refugees are still uncertain about the condition in which they will find their homes. Some are unwilling to return to their homes and are moving elsewhere, as they fear a return of inter-ethnic violence.

Public infrastructure, such as schools and health centres, have been badly damaged during multiple periods of fighting and are yet to be repaired. Existing facilities lack the capacity to meet all of the needs of returnees.

UNHCR continues to support the Government of DRC’s efforts to provide and restore basic services, and to promote social cohesion and reintegration efforts. UNHCR, through our partner War Child UK, is also conducting protection monitoring in Kananga and surrounding areas to identify and profile protection concerns and ensure adequate responses.

However, massive financial support is needed from the international community, to humanitarian organizations and to the Government of DRC, to create sustainable conditions for returnees.

Current levels of funding are far below the amount needed to allow for a major rebuilding programme. For 2019, UNHCR has received just 57 per cent of US$150 million needed to help people affected by the DRC crisis.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Yaxley said that while it was clear that the fighting had lessened, the Agency did not have sufficient resources on ground in the Kasai region to make a determination regarding the security situation. Nevertheless, it was assisting those refugees who wished to return voluntarily. The Congolese authorities had pledged to ensure that the situation continued to improve and to rebuild infrastructure; however, huge investment would be required in order to undertake the necessary reconstruction to enable a sustainable situation that was conducive to returns. The Agency was operating at border points and in the main town in the province, providing shelter, food and water and health care to returning refugees. Those travelling onward also received a financial assistance package.

Fatalities in the Mediterranean: Lampedusa shipwreck

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

“IOM Italy is continuing to monitor reports from North Africa and Italy in the wake of the latest Mediterranean shipwreck occurring off the coast of Lampedusa during the night between 6 and 7 October.

IOM’s Flavio Di Giacomo reported Monday a boat departing Tunisia and carrying between 50 and 55 people capsized seven miles from the coast of the Italian island. He said the craft was overloaded and weather conditions in the vicinity were bad. He said the migrants departed from Tunisia’s Kerkennah Island on board a wooden boat.

Authorities found 22 migrants who survived the disaster, while 13 bodies – all women – were recovered by the Italian Coast Guard and Guardia di Finanza. As of Tuesday morning, 17 migrants remained missing, including more women and at least two children. Among the missing are nationals of the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Guinea Conakry and four Tunisian nationals including three men and one 17-year-old boy.

Migrants reported losing their brothers, sisters, husbands and friends, Di Giacomo reported, adding that one woman in a critical condition has been transferred by helicopter to Palermo hospital.

IOM staffers have provided assistance. According to testimony from survivors gathered by IOM staff at their landing point, their craft was carrying 15 Tunisians as well as migrants coming from a variety of West African countries. The 13 female victims are said to have been from Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Guinea.

This latest tragedy brings to 1,071 the total number of deaths confirmed on the Mediterranean through 6 October, nearly two thirds of those deaths coming in the waters between North Africa and Italy.

IOM’s Missing Migrants Project reported Monday that these deaths bring to 15,750 the total number of dead on this route since 1 January 2014. That is approximately ten times the total lost on the Mediterranean’s eastern corridor linking the Middle East to Greece and almost the same multiple of all deaths on the Western route linking North Africa to Spain.

The Missing Migrants Project, also on Monday, released new data concerning deaths to Spain, adding 403 deaths since 1 January 2014 of seaborne migrants seeking to access Spain via Las Canarias islands in the Atlantic Ocean due west of Africa.

So far in 2019, the Missing Migrants Project has recorded 77 deaths on this route, nearly twice those recorded in 2017 and 2018, combined.”

Charlie Yaxley, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the Agency was once again mourning the tragic loss of life among people who had put their trust in smugglers and traffickers. The international community should not continue to allow criminals to act with impunity, preying on people’s desperation and making false promises. Efforts to identify those responsible and hold them to account should be redoubled. There was also a need for greater cooperation between the authorities along the migration routes in the Mediterranean.

Relocation of refugees and migrants from Aegean islands to the Greek mainland

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

“Another 700 vulnerable refugees and migrants were safely transported from the Greek islands to the mainland on Monday (07/10) morning as part of Greece’s ongoing effort to decongest the overcrowded North-Eastern Aegean islands.

The group arrived in Piraeus, the largest port in Greece, where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) then transported them to designated accommodation sites that have been set up on the Greek mainland. The majority were families with children from Afghanistan and came from the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos.

The latest arrivals bring to 3,887, the number of people that IOM has transferred from the ports to new and existing mainland accommodation facilities, where new places have been created.

Among other services, we are providing interpreters, psychologists, social workers, legal counsellors and facility coordinators with a special focus on psychosocial expertise, legal support and child protection.”

ILO announcements

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that on 10 October ILO would launch a report that examined the role of self-employment and small businesses in creating jobs. Using newly-collated data from 99 countries, the report had found that the impact was much greater than previously thought. The findings, which were grouped by region, could be used to shape relevant government policies.

On 15 October, ILO would hold its first-ever Open Day as part of its ongoing centenary celebrations. During the morning several school groups would visit the premises, which would then be open to the public from 3.30 p.m. At 6.30 p.m. a panel event would take place examining issues around the future of work and sustainable development.

ITU World Radiocommunication Conference

Sanjay Acharya, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference would take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 28 October to 22 November. The works of the conference could also be followed on-line.

The 2019 edition of the Conference, which was held every four years, would address the requirements for some of the leading-edge technological innovations that were set to play a pivotal role in tomorrow’s digital economy. Issues to be discussed included the identification of additional frequency bands for 5G networks. The advent of the 5G marked a milestone in mobile telephony and was set to open up new frontiers that would improve energy efficiency and facilitate applications in the Internet of Things and smart-city infrastructure. The Conference would focus on both terrestrial and space services, including new satellites, providing tools for effective climate action, better access to health care and safer air, land and sea travel and facilitating countries’ participation in the digital economy, particularly in communities that were underserved by current broadband connectivity models.

A briefing on the Conference would be held in Press Room I on 15 October at 9.15 a.m. Joanne Wilson, the Deputy Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, would attend.

Building Bridges Week - Summits

Denise Jeanmonod, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the SDG Finance Geneva Summit would take place on 9 October in the framework of the “Building Bridges Week” organized by the UN Geneva. New entrepreneurs from 17 countries would discuss environmental and social issues and responsible business practices with 250 representatives of local and global mainstream finance institutions, including Guillaume Bonnel of Credit Suisse. The aim was to create broader partnerships to finance the Sustainable Development Goals.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, added that the Director-General of UN Geneva, together with the Swiss President Ueli Maurer, will speak at the second summit of the week, the Building Bridges Summit”, on 10 October.

Release of UPU Postal Development Report

David Dadge, for the Universal Postal Union (UPU), said that the Postal Development Report 2019 had just been released. The third of its kind, the report ranked the postal operators of 172 countries. The three countries that headed the rankings for 2019 were Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany. The postal sector played an important role in promoting socioeconomic development. Affordable, efficient and universal postal services substantially reduced transaction costs between economic agents, granting them access to a vast communications and infrastructure networks.

Mauro Boffa, and expert with the Universal Postal Union (UPU), said that the postal network was one of largest physical infrastructures globally, with 670,000 post offices worldwide and around 4.26 million employees. The new report highlighted growing gaps in postal development which presented an obstacle to the development of e-commerce. In the last decade, e-commerce had been one of the fastest growing areas of postal operations, with demand for parcels growing at around 13 per cent each year. Reducing the gaps in terms of bilateral postage tonnage by 1 per cent would boost bilateral trade in postal parcels by 0.1 per cent in terms of tonnage. As a result, trade gains would be doubled.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Boffa said that the United States of America ranked in eighth position in 2019. The rankings had been determined based on four main criteria: reliability, reach, resilience and relevance.

IPU Assembly

Thomas Fitzsimons, for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said that the 141st IPU Assembly would take place between 13 and 17 October in Belgrade, Serbia. More than 1,700 delegates, including parliamentarians and representatives of the United Nations System and civil society organizations, were expected. Delegations from 140 countries would be in attendance, among them 70 speakers of parliament.

The theme of the Assembly for 2019 was the strengthening of international law and regional cooperation. There would be a lot of discussion on improving gender equality, including through the application of gender quotas or reserved seats for women, which already existed in 62 countries. Also on the agenda were measures intended to prevent sexism and harassment in politics.

During the Assembly, the Future Policy Award would be presented in recognition of laws and policies that encouraged young people to enter politics and helped them gain access to greener jobs. For 2019, the Award had been jointly organized by IPU, the World Future Council and the United Nations Development Programme.

IPU would also launch a new handbook on eliminating forced labour, in order to help parliamentarians address that issue. The launch would take place in advance of the European Union Anti-Trafficking Day on 18 October.

The IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians would meet to consider the cases of 300 members of parliament worldwide who faced persecution, including new cases from Brazil, Libya, Sierra Leone and Yemen.

WHO announcements

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that World Mental Health Day would be marked on 10 October. The theme of the Day for 2019 was suicide prevention. In that connection, WHO was releasing a range of resources for journalists, filmmakers and teachers on how to discuss suicide in a sensitive manner and without encouraging people to attempt it.

Ms. Chaib also said that a new study authored by WHO on the mistreatment of women during childbirth was due to be published in The Lancet on 9 October. The study, which focused on Ghana, Guinea, Myanmar and Nigeria, had found that younger women and those with lower incomes or less education were most at risk.

Ms. Chaib added that on 8 October at 2 p.m., a press conference would be held to launch the first World Report on Vision.

On 9 and 10 October, the Global Fund Replenishment Conference was due to take place at the Palais des Congrès in Lyon, France. The Conference would be hosted by the Government of France and the French President, Emmanuel Macron. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, would address the Conference on behalf of the Global Fund Board partners.

From 8 to 10 October, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization would hold its next regular meeting. The Chair of the Group would hold a virtual press conference on 11 October at 1 p.m. to discuss the outcomes with regard to critical topics including polio.

Ms. Chaib also recalled that the next meeting of the Emergency Committee on Ebola had been rescheduled for 18 October.

Asked to comment on potential cases of Ebola in Tanzania, Ms. Chaib said that WHO had received no further reports of any transmission of illness related to the event in Tanzania, but had not received sufficient information to make a comprehensive risk assessment on the situation. The position of WHO remained unchanged; it recommended sharing samples with a reference laboratory. WHO stood by to offer support no matter what health issues Tanzania was facing.

UN Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, announced that the opening ceremony of a new exhibition at the United Nations Museum Geneva would take place at 12.30 p.m. on 8 October.

Entitled “100 Years of Multilateralism in Geneva”, the exhibition included unique archival materials from international organizations in the United Nations System and explored the evolution of the multilateral system from the creation of the League of Nations to the work of the United Nations today, with a special focus on the role of Geneva. The exhibition was one of a series of three marking the centenary; the “War and Peace” exhibition at the Fondation Martin Bodmer had opened on 5 October, and an exhibition commemorating 150 years of the International Review of the Red Cross was due to open soon at the Humanitarium.

Press conferences

Monday, 14 October 2019 at 3:00 p.m. in Press Room 1

Launch of WIPO’s 2019 World Intellectual Property Indicators (WIPI) report
· Francis Gurry, WIPO Director General
· Carsten Fink, Chief Economist, WIPO

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog081019

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