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18 December 2018

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

Syria meeting

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, later that morning, in Geneva, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was expecting to hold a joint meeting with high-level delegations from the Russian Federation, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Republic of Turkey. Arrangements for media activities would be communicated to journalists once they had been finalized. It was possible that there would be one or more press events at the end of the meeting.

South Sudan

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

“UNHCR, the UN Refuge Agency, and NGO partners are today launching an appeal for US$2.7 billion to address the live-saving humanitarian needs of South Sudanese refugees in 2019 and 2020.

Five years on since the onset of a brutal civil war, over 2.2 million South Sudanese refugees have sought safety in six neighboring countries Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR). Another 1.9 million remain internally displaced inside South Sudan.

UNHCR welcomes that there has been a relative reduction in violence in parts of the country since the signing of the revitalized peace agreement in September 2018. And we appeal to all parties to continue to respect and implement the agreement. Given a history of past breaches to peace initiatives however, UNHCR does not yet view the current environment in South Sudan as being conducive for safe returns of refugees.

We also commend the continued generosity of host countries in maintaining open borders for South Sudanese refugees seeking safety, especially given the immense pressures on the limited resources of asylum countries. Due to the scale of displacement, levels of funding have been far outpaced by rising needs. More international support and solidarity is urgently needed for South Sudanese refugees.

Schools are lacking teachers, classrooms, and educational materials leaving half of South Sudan’s refugee children out of school. Health clinics have insufficient doctors, nurses and medications. Low funding has led to food rations being cut in Ethiopia. In Sudan, some refugees and their host communities are having to survive on just five liters of water per person per day, inevitably leading to tensions. Economic opportunities for refugees to develop their own income streams remain limited.

A key priority for UNHCR is the promotion of social cohesion progammes among refugees and their hosts, to ensure the ongoing viability of the two communities living together peacefully and harmoniously. In any refugee situation, it is vital that both communities are helped.

Sexual and gender-based violence and child protection activities remain primary concerns, as 83% of refugees are women and children. Many women have reported rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, along with the killings of their husbands, and the abduction of children during flight.

Children too have in many cases experienced extreme violence and trauma, including the death of one or both parents. Many have become primary caregivers to younger siblings. Thousands of children have been forcibly recruited as child soldiers by armed groups.

In 2018, UNHCR and partners received just 38% of the $1.4 billion requested to support South Sudanese refugees.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Yaxley, for UNHCR, said that, since the summer, there had been a significant decrease in refugee outflows from South Sudan. The number of people fleeing the country had fallen to around 3,000 to 4,000 a month. However, UNHCR considered that the situation in the country was not yet conducive to the return of refugees and thus urged political actors to make further progress. UNHCR continued to engage with refugees to ensure that they were included in negotiations and were thus able to make informed decisions regarding the possibility of returning. A large number of South Sudanese refugees had fled to neighboring countries, particularly the Sudan and Uganda. However, resources in those countries were limited in rural border areas. UNHCR was working with host communities to ensure that they played a role in the humanitarian response. In addition, UNHCR organized local boards with representatives from refugee and host communities with a view to resolving any problems that arose through dialogue. Fundamentally, however, the needs of the refugees and their impact on host communities remained enormous, and there was an urgent need for further support from the international community.

Responding to a question on sexual and gender-based violence, Mr. Yaxley, for UNHCR, said that, in recent years, many of the refugees reported having experienced such violence at the hands of armed militias. The rate of under-reporting was high. Despite the stigma associated with such violence, UNHCR encouraged refugees to come forward in order to obtain counselling, psychosocial support and access to legal mechanisms.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Yaxley, for UNHCR, said that previous attempts at securing peace had failed. It was crucial that the outcomes of any discussions were respected and implemented so that peace could ultimately prevail. UNHCR was working with the local authorities to improve the country’s infrastructure. However, UNHCR did not yet consider that the situation was conducive to returns or that it should facilitate such returns. The people fleeing belonged to all ethnic groups and tribal identities.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that Jean Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Ambassador Joanna Wronecka of Poland, Chair of the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee, were expected to brief the Security Council later that day.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Responding to a question on the forthcoming election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Charlie Yaxley, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that violence had continued to rage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the eastern part of the country. Armed militias were attacking villages, and civilians were being targeted as part of those attacks. However, the outflows of people remained largely stable, which made it difficult to point to the election as a specific cause.

International Migrants Day

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), read the following statement on behalf of António Vitorino, IOM Director General, on the occasion of International Migrants Day:

“Migration is the great issue of our era. Migration With Dignity (#WithDignity) is the theme of 2018’s International Migrants Day, which we observe on Tuesday (18 December).

Dignity is at the core of our mission. Treating all migrants with dignity is the fundamental requirement we face before anything else we attempt on migration—a troubling issue coming at a troubling time for the world community—because our future depends on it. So, too, does our present.

I am newly arrived at the International Organization for Migration, recently chosen to lead one of the international community’s oldest and most effective organizations. Yet migration is as old as humankind. Which means that IOM, at a mere 67 years of age, is a relative newcomer.

We are today a species on the move; hundreds of millions of us are, in the broadest sense, migrants. There remains much to do. And learn. But dignity comes first. Foremost, the dignity to choose.

Migration is a force for dignity because it allows people to choose to save themselves, protect themselves, educate themselves, or free themselves. It lets millions choose participation over isolation, action over idleness, hope over fear and prosperity over poverty.

We must dignify those choices by paying them respect. We respect them by treating those who make such choices with dignity.

We also have the choice. To answer migrants’ hopes with our acceptance; to answer their ambition with opportunities. To welcome rather than repudiate their arrival.

We must also respect and listen to those who have become frightened of the changes that migration brings to their lives. Whether their fears are warranted or not, they are authentic and deserve to be addressed with dignity.

Unless we give all citizens the assurance their choices, too, are respected, we risk losing a real opportunity for progress. Migration embodies choices we make together—either by responding to our new neighbours (or potential new neighbours) with a sense of community, or not.

The adoption earlier this month (10 December) in Marrakech of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) by an overwhelming majority of UN Member States takes us one step towards dignity for all, and towards a more balanced discourse and widespread cooperation on migration.

The GCM strikes a delicate balance between the sovereignty of nations and the security, and dignity, we demand for every individual.

As we turn now to celebrate the United Nations’ annual International Migrants Day we’ll do well to remind ourselves of that balance, and how the two sides do not compete with each other. They complement.

The Compact stresses all states need well-managed migration, and that no one state can achieve this on its own. Cooperation at all levels is fundamental to addressing migration.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 18 December as International Migrants Day in 2000. That same year, in its annual World Migration Report, IOM stated that more than 150 million international migrants celebrated the turn of the millennium outside their countries of birth.

Eighteen years on, the trend of men, women and children on the move has continued upward. Eighteen years on, we’ve seen the number of international migrants grow to an estimated 258 million people. Another 40 million people are currently internally displaced by conflict, and every year millions of others (18.8 million in 2017) are forced from their homes by climate-related disasters and natural hazards.

For many people, the mere act of migration exposes them to great dangers.

IOM’s data show that close to 3,400 migrants and refugees have already lost their lives worldwide in 2018. Most died trying to reach Europe by sea; many others perished attempting to cross deserts or pass through dense forests seeking safety far from official border crossings. These numbers, compiled daily by IOM staff, shame us.

IOM reaffirms that migration is a driving force for progress and development not just for those on the move, but also for transit countries and especially, receiving communities in destination countries.

We renew our call to save lives by ensuring migration is safe, regular and dignified for all.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Millman, for IOM, said that the management of migration was an operational question. It was for member States to determine how migration should be managed. IOM could help by sharing what it had learned, for example best practices and data. Migration from Africa to Europe, particularly across the Mediterranean, was the subject of great interest. However, it was dwarfed in magnitude by migration within Africa and, to an even greater extent, migration within Europe.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that journalists should also have received the text of the message of the Secretary-General on the occasion of International Migrants Day. She noted that 18 December was also Arabic Language Day.

Deaths during migration in Africa

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had published data on deaths during migration in Africa. The figures showed that over 6,600 migrants had died in the previous five years.

Migration in North America

Responding to a question on attitudes towards migrants in the United States of America, Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that North America was a continent shaped by immigrants. Polling data showed that support for that tradition remained strong. It was not for IOM to pass judgment on the actions taken by States to manage the sensitive issues that migration sometimes raised.

Global Compact on Refugees

Ariane Rummery, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that, the previous day, the General Assembly of the United Nations had endorsed the Global Compact on Refugees by an overwhelming majority. The Global Compact built on the existing international legal system, in particular the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It was a non-binding operational tool, the key aim of which was to bolster cooperation among States to better and more fairly manage refugee crises around the world.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, owing to the joint meeting on Syria taking place that day, it was possible that the WTO press conference would be rescheduled. For the moment it was foreseen at 3 p.m.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the press briefings at the Palais des Nations were discontinued between 24 December and 1 January and that the first briefing of 2019 would be held on Friday, 4 January.

Press Conferences

Tuesday, 18 December at 3.00 p.m., Press Room 1
Dispute Settlement Body meeting
· Dan Pruzin, Information Officer

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog181218