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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

10 April 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the .

Syria – UNHCR and UNICEF response to humanitarian needs

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that the Secretary-General had issued the following statement on Syria:

“I am outraged by the continued reports of use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic. I reiterate my strong condemnation of the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population. Any confirmed use of chemical weapons, by any party to the conflict and under any circumstances, is abhorrent and a clear violation of international law.

The seriousness of the recent allegations requires a thorough investigation using impartial, independent and professional expertise. In that regard, I reaffirm my full support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and its Fact-Finding Mission in undertaking the required investigation into these allegations. The Fact-Finding Mission should be granted full access, without any restrictions or impediments to perform its activities.

The norms against chemical weapons must be upheld. I appeal to the Security Council to fulfil its responsibility and find unity on this issue. I also encourage the Council to redouble its efforts to agree upon on a dedicated mechanism for accountability.

I stand ready to support such efforts.”

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), read the following statement:

“With violence in several areas of Syria UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency today expresses its alarm at the civilian deaths and deaths this is causing as well as spiralling new displacement. This is on top of a humanitarian situation that is already desperate; Syrian civilians have more than suffered enough.

Of particular concern is the situation in Douma in Eastern Ghouta where tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped. We estimate that more than 133,000 people have fled Eastern Ghouta over the past four weeks. This is almost three times the number we reported on 20 March and includes some 45,000 people who are currently being accommodated in eight collective shelters in Rural Damascus. An estimated 44,000, mainly women, children and elderly have so far been allowed to leave the collective shelters after completion of their security screening. Our teams are working with UN and NGO partners to help improve the conditions at these collective shelters, which remain heavily congested. We continue to appeal to all parties to the conflict for proper protection of civilians, including freedom of movement and free choice over where to stay. Family unity must also be respected.

Since the outset of this emergency, as part of the wider UN response, UNHCR has been working to address the needs of the displaced. Our staff are paying daily visits to all the collective shelters where displaced people from Eastern Ghouta are accommodated, to assess needs and help address them. Overcrowded shelters and insufficient sanitation facilities are posing serious health risks. Common concerns we are hearing are a lack of civil documentation, restrictions on freedom of movement, family separation and SGBV risks.

UNHCR’s response to the Eastern Ghouta emergency encompasses the delivery of core relief items, shelter support and protection services. Nearly a quarter or a million urgently need aid items, and more than 60,000 people have been reached so far. UNHCR is purchasing clothes locally as many people fled with nothing more than what they were wearing. Many women are telling us, “I have only what I’m wearing. I can’t even change into clean clothes and wash these ones I’m wearing.” In addition to a massive shelter effort, UNHCR protection partners have provided legal counseling to 22,000 people.

Meanwhile, we are facing similar challenges and concerns in responding to the humanitarian needs of more than 137,000 Syrians displaced from the Afrin region. Most are scattered across Tal Rifaat, Nubol, Zahraa and surrounding villages in northwest Aleppo, living in makeshift shelters, damaged or unfinished buildings, mosques, warehouses and open-spaces. Some 3,500 people are being accommodated in a small tented camp in Fafin, which is just north outside of Aleppo. In addition we have distributed more than 1,400 kits for shelter rehabilitation and redeployed 1,000 UNHCR family-sized tents, for use as needed.

Displacement from Afrin has subsided and some returns to the city are taking place. The challenging journey for some of these people back home may take up to four days in some cases. Movements of displaced people towards Aleppo and other government-controlled areas continues to be constrained.”

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that of the 89,683 people who had arrived in internally displaced persons (IDP) sites in rural Damascus, more than 44,000 people remained inside the sites, as of 9 April 2018. In order to assist the internally displaced persons, who were living in overcrowded conditions, UNICEF continued to provide a multi-sectoral response in all of the collective shelters hosting IDPs from East Ghouta. UNICEF also continued to support health and nutrition in six newly accessible areas within East Ghouta (Saqba, Harasta, Zamalka, Arbin, Ein Tarma and Hazzeh).

Water sanitation was especially crucial for children. Over the past week, around 12,000 cubic metres of safe water had been trucked to eight collective shelters, and dozens of additional latrines and showers had been installed. UNICEF continued to provide light rehabilitation and repair works in the shelters as needed.

Outpatient consultation, preventive and curative nutrition services were provided to children and women in need in the newly accessible areas inside East Ghouta through UNICEF-supported mobile medical teams. In the eight collective shelters, UNICEF-supported mobile medical teams made up of around 70 health workers provided health and nutrition services. Almost 9,000 consultations had been provided to children, women and men. Health workers had reported skin conditions and respiratory infections as particularly prevalent.

UNICEF, together with partners and the Syrian Department of Education, had started education activities in six of the eight collective shelters to bring children who had lost years of education back to school. In four collective shelters, around 2,600 items, including self-learning materials, school bags and supplies, had been delivered to initiate community learning sessions for school-aged children. In two collective shelters - Dweir and Herjelleh - where schools already existed, more structured education activities were being initiated. Child-friendly spaces were providing recreational activities for children in six collective shelters. In addition, child protection units provided comprehensive protection services to children and families.

Turning to Afrin, he said that military confrontations since 20 January had displaced an estimated 137,000 people to Tall Refaat, Nabul and Zahraa, with the majority located in Tal Refaat. Most of those in Tal Refaat were staying in abandoned houses, often with several families to a room. Other families stayed in mosques and schools, while others had no shelter to speak of. IDPs in Nabul and Zahraa were either staying in collective shelters, such as mosques and private halls, or renting houses.

UNICEF, through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, had provided 40 water tanks, each with a capacity of 5,000 litres, to Fafin IDPs camp and IDPs collective points in Fafin village. In addition, drinking water continued to be trucked in, benefiting around 15,000 IDPs.

Fixed and mobile health units were providing health and nutrition support to thousands of children and women. In Tal Rafaat, around 4,500 children received primary health-care services. Routine immunization and nutrition screenings also continued in all three locations.

UNICEF supported the provision of protection services for 1,000 people in Tal Refaat and surrounding villages, including child protection, psychosocial support, risk education and case management service.

Ms. Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, drew attention to the transcript of the briefing of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to the Security Council, on 9 April 2018.

Responding to additional questions from the press, Mr. Mahecic, for UNHCR, said that there was generally little shelter available, so the collective shelters served an important purpose. Nevertheless, the substandard conditions within those shelters remained cause for concern. UNHCR was aware of the screening of civilians leaving East Ghouta but was not involved in the evacuation negotiations. Some people had already left the collective shelters to stay with relatives elsewhere. Total access to the civilian population, including the people staying in the collective shelters, was imperative to meet essential needs. UNHCR continued to appeal to all parties to the conflict for proper protection of civilians, including freedom of movement and free choice over where to stay, as well as to apply international humanitarian law in their treatment of civilians.

Responding to a question about the response of the Russian Government to the investigation of an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Ms. Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that she could not comment on declarations made by a Member State; she recalled, however, that the Secretary-General had expressed his full support for the Fact-Finding Mission in undertaking the required investigation into the allegations and had stressed that the Fact-Finding Mission should be granted full access, without any restrictions or impediments to perform its activities. Therefore, any declaration that would facilitate the Fact-Finding Mission’s work in shedding light on the alleged events was welcome.

Responding to further questions from the press, Ms. Vellucci said that the United Nations was not in a position to verify any reports that chemical weapons had been used against civilian populations in Douma, as stated by the Secretary-General and repeated by Mr. de Mistura. It could not ignore such reports, however, and would do everything to facilitate the work of the Fact-Finding Mission. Ms. Vellucci also drew attention to the press release recently issued by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the topic.

Mr. Boulierac, for UNICEF, added that such horrifying loss of life showed, yet again, that the fundamental principle of protection of children had been completely disregarded, as had already happened countless times in the past seven years across Syria. Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO also was not in a position to verify recent reports of an alleged chemical event. While the precise details were still unclear, there had been some unverified reports of Syrian men, women and children suffering respiratory failure after an alleged chemical exposure. WHO was not present in Douma because of limited access. Since 2012 there had been sporadic reports of chemical events in Syria. While WHO did not investigate such events, it sought the epidemiological confirmation of the exposure and supported public health response to the events. It also published guidance and documentation for health-care workers on how to treat affected people, as well as technical factsheets on various toxic chemicals in several languages, including Arabic. WHO continued to urge all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure the protection of civilians and to allow sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian parties to provide life-saving assistance to all in need. Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that it should be made clear that the United Nations did not have a presence in Douma, but was sometimes able to access the area via convoys. The United Nations carried out its activities primarily in the eight collective centres outside of Douma. The potentially very serious ramifications of confirming a chemical attack in Syria required that a thorough, rigorous investigation should be carried out first. Therefore, the United Nations could neither confirm nor deny the current allegations; it could only accord very serious importance to the reports and support the investigation into them.

Regional Action Plan to Strengthen Response to Venezuelan Outflows (IOM)

Olivia Headon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), read the following statement:

“Today, IOM, is launching a Regional Action Plan, to support Venezuelan outflows in the Americas and the Caribbean. The Plan is in support of Governments hosting Venezuelan nationals and is aimed at strengthening the regional response to large-scale flows of Venezuelans, supporting governments that have initiated the response already in the region.

The Action Plan responds to the needs and priorities expressed by governments, as well as information gathered through IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, currently active in several countries in the region, and the Organization’s experience delivering aid to individuals and groups of Venezuelans.

According to a recent report that we released, population outflows from Venezuela have considerably increased over the last two years, with an estimated 1.6 million Venezuelans abroad in 2017, as compared with 700,000 in 2015, just two years ago. Of this total, approximately 1.3 million Venezuelan nationals are in South America, North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Our Action Plan requires USD 32.3 million in funding to be implemented and it focuses on activities such as data collection and dissemination, capacity-building and coordination, direct support to Venezuelans and socioeconomic integration.
The Plan focuses across 17 countries in South America, the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico.

IOM would also like to commend the ongoing efforts of the countries that are hosting Venezuelan nationals, in particular governments that have implemented measures to regularize their stay. We encourage host countries to adopt these measures whenever possible.

We would also like to use the launch of the Action Plan to call for the international community to contribute to and strengthen government efforts to receive and assist Venezuelans, so that those efforts may be sustained.

In addition to tracking and documenting migration flows at the regional and national levels through the Displacement Tracking Matrix, IOM has also been implementing trainings in Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) and supporting the establishment of transit centres for Venezuelans as well as temporary shelters. We have also been providing direct assistance to migrants, including transportation, such as the relocation of Venezuelans in Brazil in the past week, and food. We also have been providing information related to immigration requirements in the countries that they are migrating to, including potential regularization.

The Action Plan is complementary to existing regional and national coordination mechanisms, including those efforts undertaken by partner United Nations agencies, particularly those of the UNHCR, as well as civil society organizations.”

Responding to questions from the press, Alejandro Guidi, Senior Regional Advisor for the Americas, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that limited resources made it difficult to quantify irregular migration and the transit of the population. Efforts by various Governments had resulted in the regularization of some 400,000 Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil. IOM commended those ongoing efforts and encouraged countries to continue looking for channels to regularize Venezuelan migrants, enabling their protection and access to their rights as well as preventing traffickers from taking action.

Asked about the measles outbreak in the region, Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that PAHO Brazil was working with the national and local authorities to contain the measles outbreak in the states of Roraima and Amazonas, to protect the health of the Venezuelan migrants and the host populations. At the request of the Brazilian Ministry of Health, PAHO/WHO was helping to set up a vaccination post in Pacaraima, a Brazilian municipality in the state of Roraima located on the border with Venezuela. PAHO was also assisting the Brazilian federal Government in supplying the area with syringes, purchasing materials to maintain the appropriate temperature of vaccines, hiring professionals such as vaccinators and sending specialists to support national and local authorities, among other activities. She would make additional epidemiological information available to the press.

Libya – Detentions (OHCHR)

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), highlighting the most salient points of a recently published OHCHR report on Libya, read the following statement:

“Armed groups in Libya, including those affiliated with the State, hold thousands of people in prolonged arbitrary and unlawful detention, and submit them to torture and other human rights violations and abuses.

Men, women and children across Libya are arbitrarily detained or unlawfully deprived of their liberty based on their tribal or family links and perceived political affiliations. They have little or no recourse to judicial remedy or reparations, while members of armed groups enjoy total impunity.

This report lays bare not only the appalling abuses and violations experienced by Libyans deprived of their liberty, but the sheer horror and arbitrariness of such detentions, both for the victims and their families. These violations and abuses need to stop – and those responsible for such crimes should be held fully to account.

Since renewed hostilities broke out in 2014, armed groups on all sides have rounded up suspected opponents, critics, activists, medical professionals, journalists and politicians. Hostage-taking for prisoner exchanges or ransom is also common.

Rather than reining in armed groups and integrating their members under State command and control structures, successive Libyan governments have increasingly relied on them for law enforcement; paid them salaries; and provided them with equipment and uniforms. As a result, their power has grown unchecked and they have remained free of effective government oversight.

Armed groups routinely deny people any contact with the outside world when they are first detained, and that means that distraught families search for their detained family members, travel to known detention facilities, plead for the help of acquaintances with connections to armed groups, security or intelligence bodies to find out what happened.

This situation of widespread prolonged arbitrary and unlawful detention and endemic human rights abuses in custody in Libya require urgent action by the Libyan authorities, with support from the international community.

As a first step, those detained arbitrarily or otherwise unlawfully deprived of their liberty must be released. All those lawfully detained must be transferred to official prisons under effective and exclusive State control.

Failure to act will not only inflict additional suffering on thousands of detainees and their families and lead to further loss of life. It will also be detrimental to any stabilization, peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts.”

Responding to questions from the press, Ms. Throssell said there were three types of detention facilities in operation in Libya: those run by the State, those that were nominally under the oversight of the Ministry of Justice, Interior or Defence, and those run by armed groups. The report sought to make realistic recommendations that would pave the way to addressing human rights violations. The necessary resources were in fact available, according to the assessment conducted by OHCHR. Those who had been arbitrarily detained must be released, whereas those who had been charged lawfully should be transferred to prisons that were under the effective control of the State. Some 6,500 people were estimated as being held in official prisons by the judicial police. There were no statistics for the facilities nominally under Government control or for those run by armed groups, but likely thousands were held in such facilities. Those lawfully detained had often been accused of crimes and tried under criminal law. The report did not cover the issue of migrants in detention. It focused on the period from December 2015 to January 2018 but drew in some previous references. Olivia Headon, for IOM, added that, in the official detention centre, approximately 4,500 migrants were being held – down from 10,000 in 2017. The vast majority of those detainees were being provided with humanitarian assistance from IOM to go home should they wish to do so. It was very difficult to quantify the number of migrants being held in detention centres being run by armed groups.

Global consultation on refugee compact (UNICEF)

Twenty-year old, Muzoon Almellehan, the youngest Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said she was in Geneva for three days to attend the third global consultation on the refugee compact. She looked forward to spreading the message that child refugees were not just refugees, but the strength and the future of the world. She recounted how she had fled her homeland, Syria, in 2013 and lived in Jordanian refugee camps in the years following. She recalled that her life in Syria before the war had been fairly normal; however, the war had turned her life upside-down. Having been told by her father that she could pack only the most important items, she had decided to take only her school books, in case the place they were going next did not provide them. She already believed in education and knew it could help her in her new life, wherever it would be.

She hated life in the refugee camp, which was radically different to what she’d experienced in her hometown. There was no electricity, no easy access to water, and little space to move around in. She was thrilled to learn she could continue to go to school in the refugee camp but was shocked to hear her peers say that school was not very important. She decided that the future of Syria, her country, depended in part on Syrian children’s education, and she began to campaign around the camps for every child to go to school, to build a strong generation of Syrians. That was how she had become a children’s advocate, especially for school for girls, since girls were most affected by situations of conflict. She now lived in the United Kingdom with her family and had everything she needed, but she could not be completely happy until every child, the world over, had access to quality education. Children continued to be killed every day. They and the world needed peace; their voices needed to be heard.

Responding to questions from the press, Ms. Almellehan said that many of her relatives and friends still lived in Syria, in extremely difficult and dangerous situations. As a refugee child herself, she had been able to communicate effectively with families in the refugee camps and had made a positive impact in bringing more children back to school.

Marixie Mercado, for UNICEF, added that 43 per cent of Syrian refugee children in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt were out of school. Globally, the percentage of refugee children enrolled in primary and secondary school was 61 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively. In addition, girls were only half as likely to be enrolled in secondary school as boys were.

Mediterranean migrant update (IOM)

Olivia Headon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that as at 8 April 2018, some 16,000 migrants had entered Europe by sea, compared to over 33,000 arrivals in the region during the same period in 2017. A total of 521 migrants had lost their lives in the Mediterranean so far in 2018. Specifically in Italy, although the numbers of arrivals and deaths were lower than during the same period a year previously, the percentage of arrivals and deaths had increased by 75 per cent, meaning that the voyage was now potentially more dangerous.

Listeria outbreak in Australia

Responding to a question about the listeria outbreak in Australia, Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said it was now public knowledge which fruit company had been at the origin of the listeria outbreak. She would send additional information to the press shortly.

Humanitarian Conference on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Responding to requests for additional information about the upcoming pledging conference on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the conference would begin at 11 a.m. on Friday, 13 April, in conference room XIX, in the Palais des Nations, Geneva. The entire conference would be webcast on UN TV. Additional information was available on the OCHA website and a media stakeout would take place at 1 p.m. As for the announcement by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that it would not send a representative to the conference, it was hoped that the Government would change its mind; regardless of whether or not it did, the conference would take place, since the funds being raised were for humanitarian action, not for the Government. It was believed that the Government’s decision not to attend the conference had been taken subsequent to the designation of specific areas in the country as an “L-3 emergency”. Such a designation was not in itself an indication of the severity of a crisis, but rather a humanitarian-system-wide designation to ensure the response to the crisis was sufficient to meet the needs. It should not, therefore, be perceived as portraying a negative image of a country. In any case, the L-3 designation was set to expire on 20 April 2018 and was not expected to be renewed, as the benchmarks for the mobilization required had been met. The pledging conference was to ensure funding to deliver relief, once all the structures were in place.

WHO announcement

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 10 April 2018, in Abuja, Nigeria, WHO and partners were launching a strategy entitled Eliminate Yellow fever Epidemics (EYE) in Africa in the presence of WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. A press release would be circulated shortly.

UNCTAD announcement

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that next week was E-Commerce Week and would feature a number of globally prominent figures in the world of e-commerce.

Geneva events and announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, announced that the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Rwanda and the United Nations Office at Geneva would commemorate the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in a ceremony to be held today, at 5 p.m., in room XIX of the Palais des Nations, Geneva. The ceremony would feature statements by, inter alia, H.E. Dr. François Xavier Ngarambe, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office and other international organizations at Geneva, of Mr. Révérien Rurangwa, survivor of the 1994 Genocide and of the President of the Association of Genocide survivors.

Press Conferences

UNCTAD Press Conference
Wednesday 11 April at 11:00 a.m. in Press Room 1
https://goo.gl/xexonJ

WHO and UNICEF Press Conference
Wednesday 11 April at 3:30 p.m. in Press Room 1
https://goo.gl/36EHpv

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog100418