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1 December 2017

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the International Trade Centre.


Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Syrian invitees participating in the intra-Syrian talks under the aegis of the United Nations in Geneva would come to the Palais des Nations for bilateral talks with the Special Envoy today, 1 December. The Special Envoy was meeting with the delegation of the Government of Syria this morning. No media events were expected to take place over the weekend.

Asked by journalists for an update on possible medical evacuations from Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that word had been received from the WHO country office that the Government of Syria had not yet approved the evacuations. The patients involved, the majority of whom were women and children, were mostly suffering from chronic diseases including cardiac failure, kidney failure and cancer. He was unaware whether any of the children involved were suffering from severe acute malnutrition.


Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that as of 30 November, 197 suspected cases of diphtheria, including 22 deaths, had been detected in 13 governorates in Yemen. The recent border closures were continuing to impact WHO’s operations and hinder its ability to restock. There was still not even a single dose of the tetanus vaccine in the country for children aged over five years and young adults. Around 8.5 million doses were needed for three rounds of the vaccination campaign. A shipment of 1,000 doses of antitoxins for the treatment of diphtheria had reached Sana’a on 27 November.

The distribution of fuel to 122 hospitals could be disrupted as the price of diesel had doubled in Sana’a following the closure of the ports. Hospitals were still functioning, albeit with delays, but it was uncertain whether distribution could be sustained throughout December. Some hospitals might be forced to close.

A shipment that had been waiting off Hudaydah for some time was due to enter the port on 1 December. It contained 33 tonnes of supplies, including surgical kits, incubators, vaccine cold boxes and other medical equipment.

As of 29 November, a total of 964,477 suspected cases of cholera and 2,220 related deaths had been recorded in Yemen.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Lindmeier said that the blockade of the ports had caused long delays and a significant backlog in the delivery of vaccinations and other medical supplies, many of which were held in Djibouti.

In response to further questions, he said that patients suffering from diphtheria needed to be treated with antitoxins and antibiotics at the same time. The disease had no animal host; one of the main causes of it was poor water and sanitation conditions. The cholera outbreak in Yemen was ongoing but was showing some signs of slowing.

Libya – voluntary return of migrants

Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that following the recent African Union-European Union Summit, IOM would begin a major airlift of 15,000 migrants from detention centres in Libya to enable them to return home safely. The move came in the wake of reports, including by CNN, of slave markets in Libya, which had galvanized international opinion. IOM support had been requested by the African Union, backed by the European Union, the Secretary General and the international community.

In 2016, there had been 2,775 voluntary returns from Libya. In 2017 to date, IOM had assisted 14,007 migrants from detention centres to return home voluntarily. The migrants that had joined the programme were from countries including Nigeria (4,316), Guinea (1,588), the Gambia (1,351), Mali (1,305) and Senegal (973). IOM was implementing a massive scaling-up of a high-capacity air bridge to take home migrants who wished to return to their country of origin. Migrants who could not or did not wish to go home were directed to UNHCR for refugee assessment.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Doyle said that it was estimated that approximately 15,000 migrants were being held in government-controlled detention centres in and around Tripoli. However, IOM had no access to a number of other centres that were under the control of other groups. The National Unity Government was working with IOM to ensure that anyone who wished to leave Libya could do so. The CNN reports on slave markets were entirely consistent with what IOM had been hearing from migrants over the past months.

In response to further questions, Mr. Doyle said that IOM had registered 400,000 migrants in Libya and estimated that the total figure stood between 700,000 and 1 million. While some were seeking refugee status, the majority were economic migrants. Many other people were travelling to Libya to work and returning home without encountering any problems. It was important to reiterate that no forcible returns were being conducted.

Asked about the number of asylum-seekers in Libya, Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had recorded 42,300 in the country. The majority had been there for a number of years, with between 5,000 and 6,000 arriving more recently. UNHCR could only register certain nationalities as refugees, namely Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Somalis, Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanese from Darfur.

Asked about the position of UNHCR regarding the transfer of refugees to Chad and the Niger, Mr. Baloch said that, as indicated in the statement issued on 29 November, UNHCR was seeking long-term solutions for refugees in Libya. A handful of refugees had already been transferred from Libya to the Niger.

Developments in the Mediterranean

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that although fatalities in the Mediterranean had now passed 3,000 for 2017, that number had been reached at a much slower pace than in the previous three years. The decrease in fatalities on the Central Mediterranean route was quite marked - between August and November 2017, approximately 22,000 people had arrived in Italy from Libya and Tunisia. That figure represented one-quarter of the number that had arrived during the same period in 2016 and half of that in 2015.

Meanwhile, the route to Spain appeared to be becoming more lethal. During the previous week, five deaths had been recorded there. On 30 November, the Moroccan Coastguard had rescued 6 people off the cost of Morocco while a further 28 were reported to be missing. If those figures were correct, the annual death toll for the Western Mediterranean route would have passed 200 for the first time since tracking began.

Asked why there had been a recent increase in the number of people using the Western Mediterranean route, Mr. Millman said that it was possibly a result of changing conditions in Libya. A number of the countries from which large numbers of migrants came, including Senegal and the Gambia, had easier access to the route through Morocco, where there had been no reports of the abuse and enslavement that had been occurring in Libya. The numbers on the Western route remained small in comparison to other areas but were growing to around 100 migrants per day.


Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM staff in Cox’s Bazar had selected 16 people to meet the Pope on 1 December.

The number of arrivals in Cox’s Bazar since 25 August now stood at 625,163. As of 1 December, 100,000 individuals were benefitting from primary healthcare, 526,000 had been provided with shelter by IOM and partners and 91,000 were receiving protection assistance. In addition, 24 deep tube wells had been constructed and 60,000 people now had access to new latrines.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that the measles and rubella vaccination campaign was ongoing and would be completed on 7 December. Between 18 and 30 November, more than 325,500 children under 15 years old had been immunized. The campaign was targeting 336,000 children aged between 6 months and 15 years in Ukhia and Teknaf settlements.

Attack against primary school in Nigeria

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that the attack on a primary school in the town of Kuaya Kusar, Borno State, Northeastern Nigeria, on 30 November, in which two children had been brutally killed and two others injured, was a despicable act.

Schools were civilian institutions that should be safe and free from danger and protected at all times by all parties. UNICEF called upon all parties to respect the civilian nature of schools and hospitals and to stop all grave violations against children.

Since 2014, an estimated 1,500 schools had been targeted by armed groups in northeast Nigeria, causing at least 1,280 deaths among school children and their teachers. The attack on 30 November was the first on a school in northeast Nigeria in more than two years. The last attack had taken place in 2015 when Euga primary school in Bauchi State had been attacked by Boko Haram.

However, several attacks had been carried out on the University of Maiduguri, in Borno State, during 2017. In May, the United Nations had verified four suicide attacks on the University by Boko Haram. On 25 July, 10 staff had been abducted from the University’s Department of Geology, while on 27 July, a 15-year-old girl recruited by Boko Haram had entered the University’s accommodation for female students, where she had detonated her suicide vest, killing only herself.

Since January 2017, 115 children - 38 boys and 77 girls - had been used as human bombs. That number was six times higher than in 2016, when 19 children had been used in that way. The cruel practice did not only destroy lives but also created further suspicion and fear of children who were released or rescued or who had escaped from Boko Haram areas. The children involved were, above all, victims, not perpetrators.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Boulierac recalled that UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria had said that the Government of Nigeria had endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and committed to implementing the guidelines to protect schools and universities from attacks and military use during armed conflict. However, a lot more needed to be done to ensure that schools were protective learning environments for children at all times.

Zambia - Arrivals of refugees from Democratic Republic of the Congo

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the number of refugees fleeing militia violence in south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and arriving in Zambia had crossed the 12,000 mark, with more than 8,400 arrivals in the past three months.

Some 80 per cent of the refugees were women and children, who had been driven out by the extreme brutality of rampaging militias. There had been reports of civilians being killed, women raped, private property looted and houses torched. Most of the refugees were coming from the Haut-Katanga and Tanganyika provinces of the DRC.

The majority of the refugees had crossed into the province of Luapula and were hosted at the Kenani Transit Centre in Nchelenge, about 90 kilometres from the border. People were also entering other northern and north-western provinces of Zambia.

According to refugees, more people could be forced to leave the DRC for Zambia because fighting was intensifying. Some 4.1 million people remained displaced inside the DRC.

Kenani Transit Centre, which currently hosted over 8,000 refugees, was filled to maximum capacity. Zambia had made more land available for a new site to ease pressure on the existing site and accommodate new arrivals. However, UNHCR and its partners were in urgent need of resources to develop the new site and to provide refugees with life-saving assistance including food, shelter, water and sanitation and access to health services.

Zambia currently hosted over 65,000 refugees including some 33,000 from the DRC.

Asked whether UNHCR anticipated a large influx of refugees, Mr. Baloch said the number of people internally displaced in the DRC had risen by 200,000 since 24 October - an average of 5,000 per day. It was feared that as violence intensified, more people could be forced into Zambia.

World AIDS Day

Peter Ghys, UNAIDS Chief Strategy Officer, said that on 1 December, UNAIDS was releasing a new report entitled “Blind Spot”, which focused on men and boys in the AIDS response.

Recent data showed that while more than 20 million people around the world were now accessing antiretroviral treatment, men and boys were 20 per cent less likely than women to know their HIV status. While 60 per cent of women living with HIV were receiving treatment, the figure for men stood at just 47 per cent. Men were also more likely than women to interrupt treatment. In 2016, 58 per cent of AIDS-related deaths had occurred in men despite the fact that more women were living with HIV/AIDS.

Men belonging to groups at high risk of acquiring HIV, including men who have sex with men and men who inject drugs, had low rates of service uptake. In prisons, the prevalence of HIV among male inmates was estimated to be between 3 and 8 per cent.

The report contained several proposed solutions, including ensuring that services were more men-friendly, using smartphone apps to indicate the nearest testing location and encouraging community testing and self-testing. Focusing on men had the triple benefit of helping them find out their status and access treatment, lowering their viral load and reducing the likelihood of transmission to sexual partners.

Asked why fewer men got tested and accessed treatment, Mr. Ghys said that it was likely to do with social perceptions of masculinity. Services were often available in spaces specifically tailored for women, for example maternity care, but equivalent spaces did not exist for men.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), read the following statement issued by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General:

“On this World AIDS Day we are here to remind you that “Everybody Counts”!

Everybody counts if we are to achieve universal health coverage and everybody must count if we are to eliminate AIDS and viral hepatitis as public health threats. Health services should be adapted to reach and meet the needs of those populations most at risk and affected, and this includes implementing a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to stigma and discrimination in all health services, and fully engaging communities as equal and essential partners in the response.

It also means that the acceptability and quality of the services must be high, ensuring that people are retained in care and achieve the best possible prevention and treatment outcomes.

Universal health coverage means that all people have access to the services they need, wherever they live, without facing financial hardship.

The message is simple: make everybody count.”

Mr. Lindmeier also said that on 1 December, a press release would be issued by the WHO Regional Office for the Americas regarding six Caribbean territories and State that had eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

UNCTAD announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced that the Commodities and Development Report, which was under embargo until 11 December, would be presented on at 11.30 a.m. on 4 December at the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires. The report contained new analyses in three areas, namely the evolution of prices and development over the past 60 years, the boom in prices between 2003 and 2011 and price projections for 2030.

At 2.30 p.m. on 6 December, the Chief of UNCTAD’s Statistics Unit would present a new Handbook of Statistics. The Handbook provided an illustration of a number of the issues being debated at the Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires.

Lastly, at 11 a.m. on 11 December, the Economic Commission for Europe and UNCTAD would present the World Economic and Social Prospects report for 2018 published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

ITC announcements

Jarle Hetland, for the International Trade Centre (ITC), said that at 8.30 a.m. on 4 December, Arancha Gonzalez, ITC’s Executive Director, would give a briefing on the challenges and opportunities facing global trade and the economy and discuss the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires.

The Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade would be presented to the chair of the Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires on 12 December, followed by a webcast press conference at 5.30 p.m. Buenos Aires time. The Declaration acknowledged the important role of women in trade and contained a series of actions that countries would commit themselves to implementing. While the Declaration was not a formal WTO document, signatories would still be held accountable. The Declaration had been developed by the Trade Impact Group, a sub-group of the International Gender Champions, and had been spearheaded by Iceland, Sierra Leone and ITC. UNCTAD has also contributed to it.

On 11 December, ITC was launching the Global Trade Helpdesk, a joint initiative with WTO and UNCTAD that was centred around a new online hub: HelpMeTrade.org. The initiative was a one-stop shop for businesses and policymakers to access trade data and practical information about target markets. It gathered together data from ITC, WTO, UNCTAD, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization in order to address the information gap in global trade and help companies enhance their participation in international value chains.

Also on 11 December, ITC and WTO would launch an online platform called the Cotton Portal, which would provide market intelligence on cotton products and enable producers to better harness market opportunities in the sector.

On 12 December, the Vice-President of Argentina would launch SheTrades Argentina. The aim of the initiative was to connect 1 million women entrepreneurs to markets by 2020, in support of Sustainable Development Goal No. 5 on the empowerment of girls and women.

Geneva Events and Announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that on 1 December, Rolando Gomez would circulate an update on the meetings of the Human Rights Council due to take place the following week, including the organizational session and the special session on "The human rights situation of the minority Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in the Rakhine State of Myanmar", which would be held on 5 December in Room XX of the Palais des Nations.

She announced that the week of 4 December would see the start of the Meeting of States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). At 2 p.m. on 4 December in Press Room I, Ambassador Gill, Permanent Representative of India to the Conference on Disarmament and Chair of the 2017 BWC Meeting of States Parties, would give an off-the-record briefing regarding the meeting, the challenges posed to international security by emerging biological technologies and the importance of the BWC in tackling those challenges.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog011217