REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
12 February 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons from the World Food Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would review the reports of Pakistan today, of Austria on Wednesday, of Hungary on Thursday, and Cyprus on Friday.
This week the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would review the reports of Algeria and Russia.
The Conference on Disarmament was now holding its weekly public meeting.
Elizabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) said that at the back of the room were copies of the media advisory on the two-day visit of WFP Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, to Tanzania (starting today) to the capital Dar es Salaam to visit operations as well as a very important and key logistical centre for WFP in Africa. She would also meet with President Jakaya Kiwete and Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda.
Syrian refugees in Egypt
Ms. Byrs said that WFP had begun assistance through food vouchers to about 7,000 of the poorest Syrian refugees in Egypt. Last week WFP had completed the first distribution of these vouchers to some 3,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. These refugees lived in satellite cities of Cairo, el Oubour and in the region of Damietta in the Delta. WFP hoped to provide assistance to 4,000 other Syrians in Alexandria at the end of the month. It would assist approximately 30,000 Syrians in Egypt between now and June 2013. More details were provided in the media advisory.
In response to a question on the number of Syrians in Egypt since the outbreak of the crisis, why so few had been registered and how they were surviving, Ms. Byrs said that since the start of the conflict more than 90,000 Syrians were reported to have fled to Egypt. Only 15,000 were currently registered with UNHCR but the numbers were increasing rapidly. WFP had launched its assistance to Syrians in Egypt at the request of the Government and was targeting the poorest among them, those who had exhausted their savings. Many of those that fled had had some savings, which most had now exhausted and so WFP was trying to reach them.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that it had been more than a year since the Libyan crisis but fallout was still there. A group of Chadian migrants had arrived from Libya just about a week ago. This group had not come back to Chad willingly but had been deported from Libya. The group, made up of 32 Chadian migrants, arrived at the IOM office in the town of Faya Largeau, a remote area of northern Chad. It was the third such group in a couple of months and the pattern was still the same. They were being seized by the authorities from various areas of Libya, put in detention for periods varying from a couple of months to one year and then bundled up on lorries headed towards Chad, but because Libya had officially closed its borders with neighbouring countries, these persons were left on the border to walk into Chad by themselves, where IOM received them and provided them with assistance. This group looked very exhausted and sick. Some members of the previous groups had died along the way and some had died on arrival. All members of the last group were male. They told IOM that they had been working in various locations in Libya mostly in semi-skilled and unskilled temporary jobs. They said that they had been detained, and some claimed to have been mistreated while in detention. In the past as Chadian nationals they had not needed documents to live in Libya but the Libyan authorities had now imposed documentation requirements and many said that this was the reason for their seizure and detention. IOM humanitarian assistance to similar people that arrived on Chad’s borders included registration, profiling, provision of temporary shelter at the IOM way-station, food and non-food relief items, at the request of the Chadian Government which had also provided some kind of assistance to its nationals. IOM appealed again for assistance to those returning migrants so that reintegration programmes could be formulated for them. This was the reason behind the need for reintegration programmes in Chad, Niger and elsewhere where most of the former Libyan migrants had been.
In response to a question about how many Chadian migrants still remained in Libya and whether they could actually apply for visas, Mr. Jumbe said that putting a number on migrants that had been in Libya was difficult. The Chadian Government at the beginning of the crisis said that were around 300,000 Chadians. IOM had counted until now those that had returned by assistance from IOM and other means, at around 150,000. Therefore, according to the Chadian Government there should still be some 150,000 Chadians in Libya but this was not an exact figure as most of those persons went to Libya without any documentation. Under the previous Government there was no need for any papers to go to Libya, and therefore there were no records. According to testimonials, persons could not legally apply for visas from within Libya. They probably had to come back to Chad and try from there, although according to those testimonials they would find it very difficult to get a visa even from Chad.
In response to a question as to why was the border was closed, Mr. Jumbe said that when the new Government assumed power, it had deliberately closed the border for security reasons first of all and in order to deter new (irregular) migrants from coming back to Libya.
In response to another question on the importance of integrating migrants into their communities, how successful this had been with the 150,000 Chadians and whether there were any other known migrants going home, Mr. Jumbe said that migrants had been trickling into Niger and other parts of Africa from Libya. There were some reintegration programmes in Chad but they did not really encompass all 150,000. They were very limited because of the funding. There was funding from the Swiss Government and from the Government of Germany but it was really only enough for probably no more than 2,000 people.
IOM – diasporas
Mr. Jumbe said that many developing countries were slowly but surely waking up to the huge development potential that the diasporas had and were willing to provide to their countries. According to the World Bank’s figures in 2010 the African diaspora alone sent home USD 60 billion in remittances sent. This was three times more than the aid that Africa received. Looking at Asia, it was even more promising. There was therefore a realization by African Governments that diasporas could play a big role in the development of their countries. Programmes were being put into place on how to contact and register diaspora and see what kind of skills they had and what they could do to develop their own country.
In response to a question on what the benefit would be for the diaspora, Mr. Jumbe said that the majority would like to contribute to the development of their countries. The only thing hampering this was their capacity, sometimes financial, to do so, and sometimes the political will of the Governments. That was why IOM was trying to tell Governments to create a space for these diasporas. The programme at the moment was not bringing them back forever. What was being done was the planning of programmes through which they could come back for a couple of months and impart their various skills to their brethren and sisters and then go back if they wished. For those that wished to stay permanently, there was also a programme for this. However, initially a programme was put in place where they could stay for a limited time, provided with a basic, comfortable, decent life (accommodation, wages, transport etc.).
In response to a question on remittances and the high tax cost of transferring money to Africa and whether IOM had made any progress in this regard, Mr. Jumbe said that it was a well-known fact that sending money to Africa was particularly expensive. In 2010, remittances to Africa were in the region of USD 60 billion. The World Bank said that Africans could have saved USD 4 billion of that money had the fees for sending money been equal to, for example, those in Asia and other places. At the moment, to solve that problem, countries themselves should work together with the sending agencies. Francophone countries had reached some kind of understanding with Western Union and now the fees were lower for those countries.
Sudan and South Sudan
In response to a question regarding the situation in Sudan and South Sudan, and what was going on with persons that were residents in North Sudan that had decided to stay in Sudan with regards to documentation and nationality, Mr. Jumbe said the situation was in a state of limbo. No decision had been made.
Central African Republic
Mr. Edwards of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that last week with partners with Mercy Corps, a joint assessment mission was conducted to Bambari, some 100 kilometres to the North-east of Bangui, in the Central African Republic. Significant displacement was found on the approach to Bambari along a length of about 100 kilometres between Grimari and Bambari. Villages had been almost completely deserted with many residents hiding in the bush. The mission was the first to the region since the mid-December 2012 takeover by the Seleka rebel coalition of the major cities of the North and Centre of the country. Villagers reported aggression by armed groups that sought fuel, money and food, sometimes accompanied by violence against men and women, including beatings with electric cables. A village chief said he had been flogged by two rebels that were trying to get him to reveal where villagers were hiding their possessions. Camp Pladama Ouaka, located ten kilometres from the town of Bambari and where some 2,000 Sudanese refugees lived had not been spared. According to colleagues, community facilities, the distribution centre and the warehouse of a partner NGO had been looted. The solar lamps that were used to light the camp had also been taken away. There had also been widespread looting in Bambari itself, including UNHCR’s warehouse. Tarpaulins, blankets, soap, mosquito nets, mats, jerry cans, buckets, clothes, solar panels for 3,000 refugees and internally displaced people had all been stolen. Offices of UN agencies including UNHCR and international non-governmental organisations continued to be looted and ransacked. A similar situation was reported in Kaga Bandoro. UNHCR estimated a combined loss of its aid supplies and damage to its office premises in Kaga Bandoro and Bambari at about USD 300,000.
Access for humanitarian work in Central African Republic did remain very limited as a result of the lack of security guarantees. In that context it was difficult to deliver assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons and carry out protection activities. UNHCR was appealing to the Government and the rebels to facilitate access to populations in need, as well as for the cantonment of rebel groups as stipulated in the Libreville accords signed in January. UNHCR currently estimated there to be 80,000 internally displaced people in Central African Republic, and a refugee population of 17,000, mostly of Sudanese origin.
In response to a question on whether it was the Seleka rebels that were doing the looting and if so what was this doing to the peace agreement that was signed in Libreville, Mr. Edwards said that over the course of the mission there had been no proper chance to identify perpetrators. The current security and political context was one where rebels had control of very large areas of the country. On the issue of humanitarian space, better access was needed and this was directly related to the security context of the country and the moment, and also to political will to support humanitarian work.
In response to a question on whether that had been the first mission undertaken in Seleka controlled areas since mid December 2012 and whether the situation in these areas were the same everywhere in the country, Mr. Edwards replied that no, there had been at least another mission to Kaga Bandoro a couple of weeks before, but this was the first to Bambari. At the moment it did not have the sort of access to allow a broad view of the country. To his knowledge, there had been no access to areas further to the North or to the East.
World Health Organization
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that there would be a presentation by a special guest, Mr. Hans Rosling, at the WHO building on Friday at 12.30 p.m. Mr. Rosling founded the Gapminder foundation that was developing innovative software, trying to bring global statistics to life in an animated version. Much of those statistics and data came from WHO and other United Nations agencies. Mr. Rosling would be with WHO for a couple of days for the meeting taking place tomorrow and the day after on the global health estimates, bringing together UN agencies, donors and expert groups on data sharing and transparency and collaboration on methods and country capacities strengthening when it comes to health data. He had been named one of the top leading global thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine, and one of the one hundred most influential people by Time Magazine. His online presentations had been viewed by millions of people and he claimed that he had more hits than Lady Gaga in 2010.
In response to a question on the condition of the latest Coronavirus patient, whether the person was male or female, and the alleged ten other cases and their condition, Mr. Jasarevic said that he had no details on the conditions of that particular patient. As far as he knew there had been no deaths.
The Representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
* * * * *
The webcast for this briefing is available at http://bit.ly/YnUhAf