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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
16 August 2013

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the International Trade Centre.

Syria

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said thousands of Syrians crossed into northern Iraq yesterday (15 August) in a sudden, massive movement. UNHCR field officers present described waves of people "streaming" over the recently constructed bridge at Peshkhabour.

The factors behind this sudden movement were not fully clear, and it had stopped last night. Some of the Syrians had reportedly been waiting near the Tigris River for two to three days encamped at a makeshift site. UNHCR monitors at the border saw scores of buses arriving on the Syrian side dropping off more people seeking to cross over. Both the Syrian and Iraqi sides of the frontier at the Peshkhabour crossing were normally tightly controlled.

The first group of Syrians, some 750 persons, crossed over the pontoon bridge at Peshkhabour at the Tigris River before noon. Later in the afternoon a much larger group of 5,000 to 7,000 people followed.

The vast majority of the new arrivals were families (women, children and elderly persons) mainly from Aleppo, Efrin, Hassake and Qamishly. Some families said they had relatives residing in northern Iraq, and some students traveling alone said that they had been studying in northern Iraq and had only returned to Syria over the recent Eid holidays.

UNHCR and partner agency teams, together with local authorities worked into the early hours of this morning to aid the new arrivals. UNHCR, its partners and the authorities provided water and food to the new arrivals. IOM and the Kurdistan Regional Government provided hundreds of buses to move the refugees onwards to Dohuk and Erbil.

At Erbil, about 2,000 of the new arrivals were now encamped at a site in Kawergost town where UNHCR had established an emergency transit/reception area. Some of the new arrivals were sheltered under tents already installed by UNHCR. Other new arrivals were reportedly staying in mosques or residing with family or friends in the area.

UNHCR was working with the Kurdistan Regional Government authorities, other UN agencies and NGO partners to establish a camp at Darashakran a short distance from the emergency transit site. This should open in two weeks, and it was hoped it would relieve pressure at the crowded Domiz camp and enable refugees currently living in costly rented accommodation to move to have an alternative.

As of today 1,916,387 Syrians had fled the war and registered as refugees or applied for registration. Two-thirds of these had arrived this year. There were now more than 684,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 516,000 in Jordan, 434,000 in Turkey, 154,000 in Iraq (not including yesterday’s arrivals) and 107,000 in Egypt.

Governments in the region were carefully managing their borders with Syria mainly due to their own national security concerns, but refugees continued to cross into neighbouring countries in a gradual manner. UNHCR continued to urge countries in the region and further afield to keep borders open and to receive all Syrians who seek protection.

Answering questions, Mr. Edwards said the vast majority of refugees trying to get into Kurdistan had found the border closed since May, with only one formal crossing they could use. Kurdistan remained relatively safe and stable though tensions were increasing ahead of the upcoming elections. The persons crossing came from a number of different areas in Syria. New arrivals had been accommodated both in camps and in the host community. Earlier in the year arrivals had peaked at 8,000 per day, though this figure had dropped since then. In recent times there were less than 100 people a day across border points.

He added that refugees in Egypt were having difficulties as a result of the recent unrest in the country and the situation was being monitored.

Somalia

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said during the first half of the year, from January to June, there were some 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence reported in Mogadishu in Somalia.

Rape continued to be perpetrated by unknown armed men and men wearing military uniform. Sexual and gender-based violence also includes domestic violence, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, and early and forced marriage. The majority of the survivors were women aged 18 and above.

Sexual and gender-based violence was pervasive in Somalia and the internally displaced continued to be the most affected. Survivors were provided with medical assistance, psycho-social support, and legal counseling by humanitarian partners. Last year, there were at least 1,700 people affected by sexual and gender-based violence in Somalia, according to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and protection of the survivors was of major concern.
This was exemplified earlier this year by a case in January involving the arrests of a woman who alleged she had been raped by security forces and a journalist who interviewed her about the allegations. An NGO in Mogadishu noted soon after that more women came in for assistance, but said that most were reluctant to take cases to court for fear of victimisation.

He also mentioned that the withdrawal of MSF from the territory was a reminder that Somalia was one of the toughest terrains to work in for aid workers, though the United Nations remained unwavering in its commitment to alleviate the suffering of Somalis. The resident coordinator had noted that while they will be missed, MSF was just one NGO providing assistance on the ground and plans were being made with partners to limit the impact of their withdrawal wherever possible.

Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said around one-third of victims of sexual violence were children and in 2012 UNICEF and partners had provided assistance to 2,200 victims of sexual violence in the country. This included the provision of thousands of fuel-efficient stoves as women were at risk of attack when collecting firewood.

Answering questions she said UNICEF provided a broad range of support for women that had been attacked, including livelihood and socioeconomic assistance, alongside psychosocial assistance.

Egypt

Answering questions, Elizabeth Throssell for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner had called for a thorough and independent investigation into events in Egypt, and had further reiterated this in recent days. Egypt had an obligation to investigate allegations of human rights abuses as party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Elizabeth Throssell for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had issued a media pack and a press release, saying it was to hold a number of public hearings in Seoul next week to gather information.

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the United Nations has updated its plans to address critical humanitarian needs in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPR Korea) for the remainder of 2013.

The humanitarian programmes being implemented by five UN agencies in DPR Korea remained underfunded. Of the overall funding requirement of US$150 million for 2013, $98 million was still urgently needed for food and agricultural support, health and nutrition, water and sanitation interventions.

The UN Resident Coordinator Ghulam Isaczai had said that external assistance continued to play a vital role in safeguarding the lives of millions whose food security, nutritional status and essential health needs would otherwise be seriously compromised.

Ms Momal-Vanian also drew attention to the statement issued by the Secretary-General yesterday saying the lifesaving operations of the United Nations in the country remained drastically underfunded. The lives of many people were at stake, including children. In that regard, the Secretary-General appreciated the recent decision of the Government of the Republic of Korea to provide humanitarian aid to the DPRK. He hoped this move was to inspire other traditional and potential donors to follow suit.

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP urgently needed $21.3 million dollars to keep the operation going till the end of the year. WFP's operations were targeted specifically to assist the most vulnerable, women and children who suffer chronic malnutrition. WFP had so far to cut rations terribly to stretch them as far as possible.

WFP was distributing only Super Cereal and fortified nutritious biscuits, and in significantly lower quantities than planned. None of the targeted 500,000 school children who normally receive food rations received any fortified biscuits. WFP was very concerned about the long-term intellectual and physical development of young children who were malnourished due to a diet lacking in key proteins, fats and micronutrients.

WFP’s new programme in DPRK (1 July 2013 – 30 June 2015) aimed to support up to 2.4 million people. This required a budget of $200 million over two years. The current capacity based on existing funding was that 473,000 children under five had received between 20 and 25 per cent of the full ration and 150,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers were receiving only about 15 per cent of the full ration. WFP had distributed 2,900 metric tons of food (compared to 8,100 Metric Tons if the programme had been implemented as planned) to 938,000 people.

Answering questions she said 27.9 per cent of children were stunted and four per cent suffered acute malnutrition, rising to six per cent in some regions. Around 29 per cent of children under five and 31 per cent of young mothers were anemic, according to the National Nutrition Survey held last year. Access was provided to areas when asked, she said, and there was an extensive monitoring network, where 215 visits were made per month to supervise distribution.

Sri Lanka

Elizabeth Throssell for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that if there were any questions about the High Commissioner’s visit to Sri Lanka from 25 to 31 August, they could be addressed to Rupert Colville from Monday.

Uganda

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said UNHCR had begun relocating Congolese refugees who fled into western Uganda on July 11, after the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group attacked Kamango town in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Together with the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), on Wednesday the first 864 refugees had been moved from Bubukwanga Transit Centre in Bundibugyo District to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, a 10-hour drive to the northeast. There they were to receive more comprehensive assistance such as building materials and household items to set up homes for themselves. So far, more than 5,600 refugees had been registered, and the vast majority (more than 80 per cent) had expressed their willingness to move to the refugee settlement.

The Bubukwanga Transit Centre was established on 14 July to accommodate those refugees wishing to move away from the border and access basic assistance and protection. Although a temporary safe haven for those who fled attacks, the transit centre had become congested with close to 20,000 refugees staying in a space of 10.5 hectares designed to accommodate no more than 12,500 people.

UNHCR and its partners on the ground were actively seeking funding for this emergency to assist refugees at the Bubukwanga Transit Centre as well as those moving to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. An emergency regional appeal launched by UNHCR in March for refugees from eastern DRC was critically underfunded - with only 45 per cent of the required $22.2 million received to date for the Uganda component. Meanwhile, the new influx of refugees means UNHCR had revised its requirements from the initial $22.2 million to $43.6 million.

Answering a question he said refugees were still reporting insecurity in the areas they had come from and were afraid to go back. Others did not want to settle as they were either staying with family or planned to return to their homes as soon as possible.

Mental health after humanitarian crisis

Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said a report called, ‘Building back better: Sustainable mental health care after emergencies’ was being released by WHO ahead of World Humanitarian Day (August 19).

Dr. Mark Van Ommeren, WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse explained that the report covered services that had been developed following conflict, covering both new and existing mental health problems. In such situations short-term support was readily available, though the issues stretched into the long-term, when agencies had left the field.

The opportunity to improve services in such situations was partly due to the attention drawn to people’s suffering through the media, as well as the resulting impact on local political priorities. This created a window of opportunity to push will and funding into creating long-term services. The report looked at ten cases where the opportunity to do this was not missed, including Iraq and Sri Lanka.

Answering questions he said, the persons trained as part of reinforcing the mental health system were both professionals and peer professionals. Examples in the report also included Somalia and Burundi.

World Humanitarian Day

Ms. Momal-Vanian said there were changes to the scenario for World Humanitarian Day on Monday. The commemoration now started at 3.15 p.m. The High Commissioner for Refugees had confirmed his participation and was to speak for the UN system, and place a wreath, as was the Permanent Representative of Iraq. This was to followed by a session in Room XX where the commemorations in New York could be watched live.

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) added that the Director of OCHA Geneva was to be the Master of Ceremonies and a press release was expected to be issued later in the day.

New Executive Director of ITC

Jarle Hetland for the International Trade Centre (ITC) said a new Executive Director, Ms. Arancha González, had been appointed. A Spanish national, Ms González was currently Chief of Staff at the WTO, one of ITC’s two parent organizations. Since she came to the WTO in 2005, she had been heavily involved in setting up the Aid-for-Trade initiative and had been Director-General Pascal Lamy’s Sherpa to the G20.

Before that she served in various capacities within international trade in the European Commission. In her various roles there she carried out negotiations on trade deals between the EU and Mercosur, Iran, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Balkans and Mediterranean countries. During this time, she also assisted in ensuring that developing countries would benefit from better trade opportunities in Europe.

Ms. González’s appointment was effective from 1 September. A press briefing was to be arranged with Ms. Gonzalez though the date was as yet unknown.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Conference on Disarmament met this afternoon at the request of the President. It could decide on the establishment of an informal working group to develop a work programme, as proposed by Mr. Tokayev, Secretary General of the Conference, on June 18.

The Advisory Committee of the Council of Human Rights concluded its work today. It had to today adopt the report of the session and any recommendations that address the Council of Human Rights. A round-up press release was to be published this afternoon.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning finished reviewing the report of Venezuela. The consideration of the report of Chad, originally scheduled from Wednesday afternoon, began this afternoon and was to continue Monday morning. Next week, the Committee must also consider the reports of Burkina Faso, Belarus, Jamaica and Sweden.

She also said that there would be a stakeout by the Permanent Mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela today at 15:30 on the Report of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The speaker was Vice-President in Social Affairs of the Council of Ministers and Minister of the People’s Power for the Youth of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. [The stakeout was later cancelled.]

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In the room but not briefing were representatives of the International Labour Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1cJiSfA


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