REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
16 October 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Food Programme, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said with a small but growing number of Syrian asylum seekers arriving in countries of the European Union, UNHCR was reminding EU member states of the importance of adhering to the principles of the Common European Asylum System.
These included ensuring access to territory, access to asylum procedures, harmonized approaches to the adjudication of asylum claims and mutual support between member states. There was an opportunity for the EU to put its commitment to solidarity into practice, he said.
According to Eurostat, between January 2011 and August 2012, the European Union together with Norway and Switzerland received 16,474 asylum applications from Syrians. The figures across European countries vary; Germany received 5,515, Sweden 2,506, followed by the Switzerland (1,405), Austria (972), UK (912), Denmark (908) and Belgium (796). The numbers in other member states were considerably lower.
While most Member States were processing claims and granting protection to Syrians, currently approaches to interpreting protection criteria and the type of status and entitlements granted vary considerably. In Greece for example, the asylum-system fails to meet the protection needs of many refugees. In some countries on the Eastern border of the EU rejection rates were more than 50 per cent.
In addition, some countries were more likely to give Syrians a tolerated stay rather than actual protection. There was therefore a risk that people in need of protection will be denied the rights to which they were entitled under EU or international law and will be compelled to move on (usually to other EU states).
Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey continued to host the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees - now numbering 343,871 Syrians who had either formally registered as refugees or were being assisted. Arrivals of asylum-seekers from Syria in the EU had been relatively small, with less than 20,000 Syrian asylum-claims filed by Syrians in the past 18 months.
With the crisis continuing, contingency planning at national level for new arrivals should take place. At EU level, there must also be readiness to consider applying the Temporary Protection Directive and other appropriate responses, if the conditions demand it. As always, it was important that the right to seek asylum was upheld at all times.
The European Union and the Member States were among the largest contributors to the Syria Regional Response Plan (RRP) - which represents the combined planning of 52 UN Agencies and NGOs who were supporting Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. This plan was recently updated with an appeal figure of $487.9 million. It was currently 29 per cent funded.
The EU had provided over eight million euro to the RRP to date, and was considering further contributions. Individual EU Member States had also offered welcome financial support. However, further funding was and would be required to meet the pressing humanitarian needs.
Answering questions he said that while UNHCR appreciated the legitimate security concerns of governments at their borders, people seeking protection had to have access to it. He also clarified the asylum process saying people were able to cross borders in a variety of ways and then claim asylum on arrival. Some such arrivals had already been seen in southern European nations. However, at the current time it was mostly surrounding nations that were receiving people and this was an opportunity for the European Union to show solidarity.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP food assistance had reached 1.4 million Syrians during the month of September and the WFP was prioritizing food distributions to internally displaced people. Many had been displaced twice, she explained, such as people from Homs who fled to Aleppo and then had to leave Aleppo when fighting intensified in the city.
There were some areas that no one could reach, not even the Red Crescent or the local charities and NGOs - mainly due to the security situation. These areas included some of the older areas of the city of Homs, urban Aleppo, Deir Ezzor and Dara’a governorates and some parts of rural Damascus – mainly areas of armed conflict.
The WFP had received $80 million for operations inside Syria and $56 million was still needed.
In Turkey, the WFP had this week launched a food Electronic Card programme to assist, initially, 25,000 Syrians who were under international protection in Turkey, in partnership with the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC). The programme had been started in five camps, one in Kilis and four in Hatay, and was to be expanded to include a higher number of families, as cooking facilities and access to shops become available in other camps. This allowed people to choose their own food and reinforce the local economy.
Each Syrian family would receive an electronic Food e-Card that was loaded with 80 Turkish Liras ($45) per family member per month. This value was sufficient to support a well-balanced diet.
Meanwhile in Jordan the WFP was distributing 60,000 hot meals in the Za’atari refugee camp and the King Abdullah Park. In Lebanon, 41,000 people had benefitted from food assistance and families arriving immediately received a food parcel.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) announced a forthcoming Universal Periodic Review session Working Group (14th session) from 22 October to 5 November 2012. A total of 14 countries would be considered in this period and the full reports of the countries were available on the website. These meetings would be webcast and briefing notes would be issued. A number of ministers would be heading delegations. The purpose of the review was for States to spell out the steps they had taken to implement recommendations posed to them since their first review over four years ago.
He also mentioned a press conference by two of the commissioners of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria in New York, who were then to travel to meet the other two members of the panel in Geneva next week. A press encounter was to be arranged following this, probably 25 October, though no details were yet available.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said United Nations Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, was to travel to France and Ireland for a two-day mission from 16 to 18 October.
Ms. Amos was scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris to discuss ways of strengthening the partnership between France and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In Ireland, Valerie Amos was due to meet Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade as well as the Director-General of Irish Aid. Ms. Amos was also scheduled to address the Trinity College Historical Society (CRS) when she accepts the Society's Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse.
Meanwhile UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Catherine Bragg was visiting Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe from 15 to 20 October 2012. The visit aims to take stock of the humanitarian challenges in the region, and support national and regional efforts to promote disaster risk reduction including resilience and preparedness. Across the region, more than 5.5 million face food insecurity due to the impact of recurrent natural disasters and rising food prices.
He also gave details of a joint mission between OCHA, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the African Union to Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso from 15 to 21 October. The objective of this visit was to raise awareness of the humanitarian crises in the Sahel region and highlight the role of the multilateral humanitarian system in supporting the national response in these three countries.
UNEP / World Food Day
Isabelle Valentiny for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said on the occasion of World Food Day UNEP was launching its report on food security entitled, “Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food System.” Launches would take place in Nairobi and Hyderabad at 13:00 Geneva time.
James Lomax, Agri-food Programme Officer, Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, UNEP, gave an insight into the contents of the report saying the preliminary material had been presented at Rio+20. Its unique approach was that it took a food systems approach to food security, embracing agriculture, fisheries, coastal habitats and the food system as a whole. It also addressed consumption trends globally. Natural processes to produce food were becoming obsolete by our substitution of artificial inputs, he said.
The key resources under pressure were land and water putting resulting pressure on other elements of the ecosystem. There was also a shift to more energy-intense foods which used more resources and an increase in obesity. To tackle these problems policy-making between agriculture, health and environment ministries needed to be more integrated, supply chains needed to be reconsidered and food loss and waste needed to be reduced.
Answering questions Ms. Valentiny said copies of the report were available online without embargo. On another point Mr. Lomax said competition for land was a key aspect for the report, and although country specific examples were not available, UNEP would be taking the issue further and updates could be offered.
Chris Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM Uganda yesterday had returned a total of 51 trafficked children who had been forced to beg on the streets to their extended families in Uganda.
IOM had also carried out an assessment of family needs, accommodation, schools, health and counselling services to ensure the smooth reintegration of the children and minimise the risk of re- trafficking.
The children were among hundreds of minors who were trafficked every year from rural Uganda to urban areas, particularly the capital, Kampala.
He then added that on Thursday (18 October) Switzerland would mark European Anti-Trafficking Day with a conference in Bern and IOM Director General William Lacy Swing was to address the conference on the subject of human trafficking in Europe.
Mr. Lom answered a question on migrants in Libya saying work was ongoing to provide evacuation flights for those who had asked to return to their country. There remained a number of Nigerians in this situation and flights were ongoing. Those in detention were more difficult to reach, he said, and as the situation evolved it was hoped that repatriation of these people would possible. He mentioned that in the past there had been detention on suspicion of acting as a mercenary.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee of Human Rights yesterday opened a three week session. It was to finish this morning reviewing the report of the Philippines, which it began yesterday afternoon. Tomorrow and Thursday morning were planned for the consideration of the initial report of Turkey and then the report of Germany on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Next week reports by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Portugal were to be examined.
In addition, the Committee of Human Rights held a public meeting with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon. The only other public session of CEDAW before the end of the session was planned for Thursday afternoon, a meeting devoted to the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
She added that to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty tomorrow (17 October) there would be an event organized by UNIS and the non-governmental organization “ATD Fourth World”. On this occasion, a ceremony was planned in Room XXIII, Palais des Nations at 15:00, followed by an exhibition and reception at the exhibition area, 3rd floor, E building. Journalists were invited to attend.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that on Thursday (18 October) at 10:00 in Press Room 1 the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict would hold a press conference on “Sexual Violence in Conflict: Fighting Impunity, Securing Justice.”
Later at 14.00 in Room III the High Commissioner for Human Rights was also to hold a press conference where she was to comment on what she saw as the state of play at the end of her first mandate and the start of her new one. She would also comment on various country situations and take questions.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a press conference tomorrow (17 October) at 11:00 in Room III on “New data, trends and challenges in tuberculosis,” the launch of the WHO Global Tuberculosis (TB) Report 2012. The report was embargoed until 16:00 Geneva time. Speakers included an expert from the TB Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, Stop TB Department, WHO.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development from 16 to 18 October in Room XXIV of the Palais des Nations. The forum was the only avenue for discussion of the topic and hoped to promote good governance and find a path to sustainable development in the resource industry, taking into account the needs of the local community.