REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
28 September 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the UN Economic Commission for Europe, the UN Population Fund, the UN Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the UN Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Marixie Mercado of the UN Children’s Fund said that UNICEF had received findings from a mission to Tartous – west of the country, about an hour and a half from Homs – where UNICEF was working to set up a permanent presence. The mission had found that there were 12,000 families officially registered as internally displaced persons, but the local governor estimated the total number to be about 60,000 families, or 300,000 internally displaced persons, more than half of them children. Around 20,000 displaced children were already attending local schools. None of the schools in Tartous were hosting families of internally displaced persons, which was unique.
Earlier waves of displaced people had come primarily from Homs and Hama; internally displaced persons who had recently arrived from Aleppo were being hosted in collective public shelters in Tartous. Many of these internally displaced persons arrived with nothing. NGOs working in Aleppo reported that the needs were immense and that the capacity to meet these needs was limited.
These internally displaced persons had received strong support over the past months from local charities, but these same charities were now reporting that their resources were dwindling, and UNICEF was working to plug immediate gaps. These include family hygiene kits containing buckets, soap, water purification tablets, nappies, clothing, tanks, piping and supplies for water.
Providing an update on education, Ms. Mercado said that the official opening of the school year was on September 16. Some schools had opened, others not due to insecurity, access issues and unwillingness of parents to send their kids to school. UNICEF was working to bring in 50 pre-fabricated classrooms into Syria, an extra 150,000 school bags and other school supplies.
In Za’atari camp in Jordan, schools would open on 1 October. Within host communities, some 17,000 school children had been registered and 13,000 were attending school, with 4,000 on waiting lists. To deal with overcrowding, UNICEF had delivered 15 prefabricated classrooms to Ramtha, which were being installed now.
In Lebanon, 3,000 refugee children were attending school, and more were being registered.
In Domiz camp in Iraq, the original planning figure was for 600 children. According to UNHCR figures, there were now are 3,150 school-aged children in Domiz camp. UNICEF was working with Ministry of Education to set up additional schools, and providing prefabricated classrooms.
Turning to funding, Ms. Mercado said that UNICEF’s funding appeal for Syria was USD 44 million, of which it had received 8.4 million – less than 20 per cent – leaving it with a gap of USD 35 million. UNICEF needs USD 11 million urgently over the next few weeks for vaccines and therapeutic food, supplies for clean water, education material, clothes and heating goods.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration said that IOM was appealing for US$ 20.7 million to continue to provide lifesaving aid in Syria and neighboring countries to address the needs of vulnerable migrants and host communities caught up in the conflict.
Some USD 8.5 million of the new funding would go towards the emergency repatriation of vulnerable migrant workers. There were an estimated 120,000 migrant workers in Syria. Most were female domestic workers who lacked the financial resources to leave the country without IOM’s help. Some 6,000 migrants from 25 countries had already asked IOM through their embassies for help to return home. To date, IOM has helped 1,523 migrants to leave Syria.
Another USD 11.7 million would provide emergency non-food relief items to internally displaced Syrians and refugees in neighboring countries, while USD 1.98 would be used for emergency transport to continue moving refugees from the Syrian border to Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.
Another USD 1.55 million would go towards the provision of primary health care, psychosocial support and referral services both inside Syria and in the neighboring countries. At present IOM was proving health treatment on-site at King Abdullah Park in Jordan, at the Za’atari refugee camp and through a mobile team.
Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization said that the WHO had just issued a disease outbreak news update on the Coronavirus infection. There were no new confirmed cases. WHO was still working around two confirmed cases; a case which had happened earlier this year and a current case of a person who was being treated in a hospital in London.
From the information the WHO had so far, it would appear that the virus was not easily transmitted from person to person. No travel or trade restrictions were in place and WHO was continuing to work with Member States and providing them with information through the International Health Regulations.
World Rabies Day
Francois-Xavier Meslin, Scientist, WHO Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, spoke about an old and deadly disease: Rabies. It killed almost all people affected by it, with the exception of a very few, with only 6 known recoveries in the world as of today. Rabies killed an estimated 50,000 people a year, mostly in Asia and Africa.
There was no proven cure for this disease, warned Mr. Meslin. Once the symptoms became visible, the person would most likely die. There had been attempts at treating people by applying the “Milwaukee Protocol” but only 6 out of 35 people undergoing this treatment had survived and there was no way of predicting the outcome.
The burden of rabies was mostly carried by Asia and Africa, with countries such as China and India carrying almost a third of the global health burden. From an economical point of view, it was estimated that rabies caused worldwide losses of USD 12.5 billion, notably due to livestock losses and costs of post-exposure treatment and vaccines. Seventy million doses of vaccine were used every year in about 20 million people.
An important step was that a number of Asian and African countries had recently committed to eliminating dog rabies. Domestic dogs were the major animals involved in human rabies and those cases could be prevented by very simple strategies such as vaccinating dogs and managing the dog population in a humane manner.
International Day of Older Persons
Ms. Momal-Vanian said Monday, 1 October was the International Day of Older Persons. In his message for the Day, which was at the back of the room, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that society “must envision a new paradigm that aligns demographic ageing with economic and social growth and protects the human rights of older persons”, adding that “Longevity is a public health achievement, not a social or economic liability”.
Laura Gehrke of the UN Population Fund said that, together with UNECE and HelpAge International, UNFPA would launch the report "Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and a Challenge”. This landmark report was a combination of a three-year collaboration between UNFPA and HelpAge International. The report was quite unique as twenty UN agencies and civil society have worked together on this report on population ageing. The objective was to focus on the views of ageing persons themselves, and to enable them to identify problems and proposals to make the future better for older people. A press conference would be held on Monday, 1 October at 11 a.m. in Room III. The principal launch would be held at 10 a.m. in Tokyo the same day. A media advisory was at the back of the room.
Jean Rodriguez of the Economic Commission of Europe added that journalists were invited to the ensuing discussion to take place in Room XXII from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme warned that Lesotho, a small country where half of the population was living in poverty, should not be forgotten. As she spoke, a Member State briefing was being held at the Palais to launch a flash appeal for Lesotho.
The food component of the appeal was vitally important, underlined Ms. Byrs. USD 38 million were requested to provide urgent assistance to 118,000 people and to cover the longer-term needs of 725,000 persons. A total of USD 33 million were needed for the food security sector, including USD 18.7 million for the operations of the WFP.
UNHCR responds to public health threats in Dadaab refugee camps
Andrej Mahecic of the UN Refugee Agency said following indications of an outbreak of acute jaundice (largely caused by hepatitis E virus) among refugees in Dadaab camp complex in northern Kenya, UNHCR was running a comprehensive public health response focusing on improving sanitation facilities and promotion of good hygiene practices. With more than 473,000 refugees living there, the overcrowded Dadaab refugee complex – now comprising five camps – was the largest refugee settlement in the world.
As of last week, 223 cases of acute jaundice had been reported across all five camps in Dadaab. Four fatalities were confirmed, all of them women who had just given birth. The first case of jaundice was detected in Ifo 2 camp six weeks ago. Most of the hepatitis-E cases had been registered in camps with inadequate number of latrines and among new arrivals with poor hygiene habits. There was no vaccine for Hepatitis E virus although one was in an initial phase of development in China.
The incubation period for jaundice is one month and UNHCR feared that the number of cases may continue to grow. In addition to raising the health, water and sanitation standards and awareness about the importance of hand-washing, use of latrines, food and water hygiene, refugee health workers were also being trained in active search for new cases and surveillance.
Meanwhile, the Kenyan authorities had reported some 80 cases of cholera in Kenya’s North Eastern Province, mainly in a settlement close to the border with Somalia. It was reported that 12 deaths had occurred on the Somalia side. There were no deaths in Dadaab camps where 18 cases had been identified among refugees who had contacts with affected communities near the border.
UNHCR had established a response team involving health, water and sanitation partners and daily coordination was maintained at the camp level. A cholera isolation ward had been opened at Hagadera camp hospital and additional staff had been trained to handle cases. At present, there were adequate resources to manage 100 cholera patients. Cholera treatment centres had been set up at the camp hospitals.
UNHCR was concerned that water-borne diseases could spread with the arrival of the rainy season in October and November. Forecasts for the region were for heavier than average rainfall. This could adversely affect the sanitation situation in Dadaab as parts of the camp complex were prone to flooding. However, bad hygiene was the major cause of infection for both diseases, and UNHCR’s public health efforts in Dadaab camps were addressing this issue in particular. In addition, construction of a further 6,000 latrines had started this week.
Despite a difficult security situation and restrictions on movements of staff in Dadaab, all essential services and provision of aid to refugees continue uninterrupted.
Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony
Mr. Mahecic said that the Nansen Refugee Award ceremony would take place in the evening of Monday, 1 October. This year's award winner was Somalia's Hawa Aden Mohamed, founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GEPCD). She was being honoured for transforming the lives of thousands of displaced women and girls in Somalia, many of whom were victims of rape. Press are invited to attend this ceremony.
UNHCR's annual governing body meeting starts next week
Mr. Mahecic said that the sixty-third annual session of UNHCR's governing body, the Executive Committee, would begin on Monday, 1 October in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The Executive Committee, comprising 87 States this year, reviewed global and regional refugee protection issues and endorsed UNHCR's annual programmes and budgets.
The Chairman of the Executive Committee, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN, Ambassador Jan Knutsson, would open the five-day meeting at 10 a.m. on Monday. The Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin, would deliver a keynote speech, followed by the address of High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
A press release covering the High Commissioner's opening remarks would be issued on Monday morning. Speeches would be available on UNHCR’s website. All addresses on Monday morning were open to accredited Palais-based media.
UNHCR’s annual report on international refugee protection – a global review of refugee and asylum challenges and achievements – would be presented on Wednesday afternoon by Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller. A separate press release would be issued on her report.
UNHCR's revised annual budget for 2013 of US$ 3.92 billion would be presented on Thursday, 4 October.
WIPO General Assembly
Samar Shamoon of the World Intellectual Property Organization said that the Assembly of WIPO Member States would be held from 1 to 9 October at the CICG. Meetings were also being webcast. On 1 October there would be an opening reception in the form of classical and folkloric dance.
IOM Helps Voluntary Returnees from Europe to Iraq’s Kurdistan Region Find Jobs
Mr. Jumbe said that an IOM pilot employment project had placed its first five voluntary returnees from Europe in private sector jobs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
The 18-month MAGNET project, which was launched in January, was designed to help to reintegrate failed asylum seekers from Austria, Belgium, France and the Netherlands when they voluntarily returned home to Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dahuk governorates. The MAGNET database had now recorded 49 applications and 109 job vacancies.
IOM Trains Immigration Officers in Southern, East Africa
Mr. Jumbe said that IOM would next week organize a two-week Training of Trainers course on border management, counter trafficking, travel document examination and fraud detection for 30 African immigration officers at its African Capacity Building Centre in Moshi, Tanzania.
The frontline officials from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, who had previously taken part in a two-month course on Capacity Building for Border Management, were expected to subsequently train colleagues in their respective countries.
According to an IOM study entitled “In Pursuit of the Southern Dream”, published in 2009, some 20,000 migrants, mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, were exploited and abused by smugglers every year en route to South Africa in search of work.
ILO Director-General Juan Somavia hands over power to his successor Guy Rider
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia would leave his post today after more than 13 years in office. At a ceremony to be held at the Governing Body, Mr. Somavia would hand over power to his successor, Guy Ryder, who was to take office on Monday. A press release outlining Mr. Rider’s plans for his five-year mandate would be issued on Monday.
Human Rights Committees
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was concluding its two-week session today, holding a closing session towards the end of the day. The Committee was slated to adopt concluding observations on China, Argentina and Hungary, and the Information Service would inform journalists when these observations were made public.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child was holding a general debate on children’s rights in the context of international migration today (Room XIX of the Palais des Nations). The remainder of the session, which would close on Friday 5 October, consisted of private meetings and would primarily be dedicated to adopting concluding observations on the countries reviewed – Liberia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Namibia, Andorra, Austria, Albania and Canada.
Next week, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would start a three-week session to examine the reports of Chile, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Togo and Turkmenistan.
Jean Rodriguez of the Economic Commission of Europe said that UNECE was organizing a vernissage entitled “Building the future we want” on Monday at 5 p.m. in Room III under the sponsorship of UNOG Director-General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, UNECE’s Executive Secretary and six Ambassadors. The yurt placed outdoors, close to the Galerie des Pas Perdus, could also be visited on that occasion. More information was available at the back of the room.
The Working Party on General Safety Provisions, a subsidiary body of the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, would resume next week. During its 103rd session, running from 2 to 5 October in Room V, it would consider a range of items proposed to improve regulatory provisions concerning the safety of buses and coaches, particularly with regard to fire risks and access by persons of reduced mobility. Journalists were invited to participate.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, would address the press today at 12.30 p.m. outside Room XX on the outcomes of the twenty-first session of the Human Rights Council.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that a round-up with Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre, President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, on the conclusion of its twenty-first regular session, would take place today at 1.15 p.m. in Press Room 1. Snacks would be provided.