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5 September 2017

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Development Programme.


Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the IOM and its partners were appealing for USD 18 million to provide immediate relief for the more than 123,000 Rohingya who had entered Bangladesh over the previous 11 days, bringing the total number of refugees who had fled recently to more than 200,000. The numbers of people arriving were being counted informally and were estimates only. Many people were living in makeshift shelters or in the open. International aid was required in order to enable the provision of live-saving services for the most vulnerable people, many of whom were suffering acute mental trauma. The IOM Chief of Mission in Bangladesh reported that space was running out in existing settlements and that the provision of shelter required urgent attention. IOM in Bangladesh led the Inter Sector Coordination Group, which included all the United Nations agencies working on the ground there.

Duniya Aslam Khan, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that an estimated 123,000 refugees had arrived in Bangladesh since violence broke out in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state in August.

UNHCR was gravely concerned about the continuing conflict in Myanmar and by reports that civilians had died trying to seek safety. Those who had made it to Bangladesh were in poor condition. Most had walked for days from their villages – hiding in jungles, crossing mountains and rivers with what they could salvage from their homes. They were hungry, weak and sick.

The new arrivals were scattered in different locations in south-eastern Bangladesh. More than 30,000 Rohingya were estimated to have sought shelter in the existing refugee camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara. Many others were living in makeshift sites and local villages.

An unknown number could still be stranded at the border. On Monday 4 September, UNHCR had delivered clothes, plastic sheets and relief supplies through an NGO partner.

UNHCR appreciated the role Bangladesh had played so far and continued to advocate with the Bangladesh authorities to allow safe passage to people fleeing violence. Registering and documenting the new arrivals would also allow aid agencies to prioritize and provide much-needed support and assistance.

With hundreds of new refugees streaming in every day, Kutupalong and Nayapara camps were at breaking point. The new arrivals were hosted by refugee families and in refugee schools, community centres, madrassas and covered structures. Available space was running out.

UNHCR was working with the local authorities and its partners to deliver relief supplies such as clothes, plastic sheets for shelter and sleeping mats. NGO partners and refugee volunteers were strengthening referral systems so that the new arrivals knew where they could get critical services and aid. UNHCR was also identifying vulnerable arrivals, including unaccompanied children, who needed additional care and protection.

There was an urgent need for additional emergency shelters and land as more refugees arrived. Coordination with the authorities was crucial to ensure that life-saving assistance reached those who needed it the most.

Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the situation of the refugees was very worrying. WFP had been distributing high-energy biscuits to 20,000 people and providing families with rations to last them three days. Its partner Action Against Hunger had provided cooked rice for 28,500 people.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that many of the children fleeing to Bangladesh were experiencing severe psychosocial trauma. UNICEF had built eight child-friendly spaces and was operating a further 33 mobile child-friendly spaces to provide recreational and psychosocial support for Rohingya children. It was also running programmes to screen children for malnutrition and to provide vaccinations against measles and rubella for the under-5s. As of 4 September, 26 unaccompanied children were being cared for, but there were likely many more children who had been separated from their families.

In response to questions from journalists, Duniya Aslam Khan said that some refugees arriving in Bangladesh had reported that their homes and villages had been set on fire and that their family members had been killed. UNHCR did not have access to those areas and was therefore unable to verify such accounts. There had also been reports that some people were stranded at the border.

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that on 1 September the Secretary-General had asked the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that refugees could access the assistance being provided by the United Nations.

In response to further questions, Mr. Doyle said that he did not have the impression that the Bangladeshi authorities were impeding the delivery of aid to the border area. Discussions were under way to identify suitable locations for additional camps and shelters.

Asked about reports that the authorities in Myanmar had prevented United Nations agencies and NGOs from operating in Rakhine, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the lack of humanitarian access meant that it was not possible for the United Nations and its partners to operate at full capacity. Programmes had largely been suspended in the area. There had been difficulties in acquiring travel permits for aid workers, presenting an additional hindrance to work on the ground. The United Nations were engaging with the national and local authorities to ensure that those who needed aid received it.

Suicide Prevention

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that 10 September was World Suicide Prevention Day. WHO was launching an updated version of a brochure entitled “Preventing suicide: A resource for media professionals”.

Alexandra Fleischmann, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that close to 800,000 people died by suicide each year, one every 40 seconds. It was estimated that for every person who died by suicide, 20 other people made suicide attempts. Suicide prevention was an important public health priority and the reduction of suicide rates had been included as an indicator in the WHO Mental Health Action Plan and in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Suicide was a complex issue and therefore required a comprehensive response involving number of sectors and levels, including the health and education sectors and the media. WHO recommended responsible reporting about suicide as an effective preventive measure. Media reports could enhance or hinder suicide prevention efforts. A webinar organized by WHO would take place at 2pm Geneva time on 6 September on the topic of responsible reporting of suicides, presented by Dr. Dan Reidenberg from Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and the National Council for Suicide Prevention. WHO had released three video testimonials from people who had been affected by suicide.

In response to questions from journalists, Dr. Fleischmann said that suicide was a global phenomenon, affecting both sexes across all age groups. Nevertheless, it was most common in the 15-34 age bracket and was the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-29. Around 78 per cent of suicides occurred in low and middle income countries. Prevention methods included early identification, treatment and follow-up of mental disorders, including depression and alcohol use, and the assessment and management of suicidal behaviours. Other important strategies included restricting access to the means of suicide, such as firearms and pesticides, and undertaking school-based interventions to ensure that young people had the skills to talk about and cope with their problems. Journalists were encouraged not to sensationalize suicide and to report on ways to seek help and to talk about the issue.

In response to further questions, Dr. Fleischmann said that studies had noted an increase in suicides during economic recessions, in part because in such circumstances health services lacked the resources to help vulnerable people. Risk factors associated with suicide included depression, alcohol use, drug abuse, violence, trauma, loss and conflicts. She was not aware of any increase in suicide rates among children in Syria and Iraq.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, announced that at 3pm on 5 September the head of the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism on violations of human rights in Syria, Ms. Catherine Marchi-Uhel, would give a press conference in Room III. On 6 September at 12pm the 14th report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic would be presented by Mr. Paulo Pinheiro and Ms. Karen Abuzayd. The Task Force on Syria would meet on 6 September, with a stakeout likely to be held the same day. Mr. Rolando Gomez would give a briefing on the Human Rights Council later in the week. The regular press briefing on 8 September would be attended by Mr. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced that a press conference would be held on 11 September at 2pm in connection with the publication of the Trade and Development Report for 2017. On 12 September at 2.30pm there would be a press conference on the Report on UNCTAD Assistance to the Palestinian People, which would be published in mid-September.

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), announced that on 7 September UNDP would launch a new report on violent extremism in Africa, entitled “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment”. A briefing would be held on 6 September at 4pm. The report was based on more than 500 interviews with ex-combatants from a number of countries in Africa and focused on the factors that had led to their recruitment. Sub-Saharan Africa had become the region with the second-highest number of terrorism-related deaths after the Middle East and North Africa. According to the report, 53 per cent of those recruited were aged between 17 and 26 years old.

Olivia Headon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had launched an enhanced framework for addressing internal displacement. More than 40 million people were currently displaced by conflict within the borders of their own country, representing 62 per cent of the total number of people displaced globally. In addition, disasters displaced an average of 26 million people every year. The enhanced framework responded to changes in and the expansion of IOM’s policies and operations over the years. In 2016, IOM’s operations had reached more than 19 million internally displaced persons and provided over 6 million host community members with support across 31 countries, making IOM one of the largest actors on internal displacement issues globally. The Framework laid out IOM’s strategic role in the current global humanitarian and development landscape. Its goal was to support operational effectiveness across the Organization in the identification and implementation of responses to internal displacement and as part of its coordinated partnerships.

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW) was sitting this week and would examine the reports of Ecuador, Indonesia and Mexico. The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) was also currently sitting and would examine the reports of Gabon and Lithuania.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog050917