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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
12 July 2013

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, and the International Labour Organization.

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus

Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) recalled that a second meeting of the Emergency Committee on the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) would take place on Wednesday 17 July, at noon. The first meeting of independent experts had taken place on 9 July on request of the WHO’s Director-General, who wished to count with independent and technical advice concerning the response to MERS- coronavirus and actions to be taken by the WHO and the international community.

During the first meeting of the Emergency Committee, held on 9 July, from noon to 3 p.m., experts had reviewed information on the current situation gathered by the WHO Secretariat and briefings provided by countries facing cases of MERS- coronavirus. The Committee had decided that additional time and information were needed. At its second meeting, on Wednesday afternoon, experts would discuss their conclusions and agree on a report. According to the standard procedure, these conclusions would be communicated to Member States through the national International Health Regulation (IHR) focal points. A virtual press conference was scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon, depending on the deliberations of the committee.

Responding to questions, Ms. Chaib indicated that the report would include recommendations agreed by the Emergency Committee and would be made public after their dissemination through the national IHR focal points and conveyed to WHO’s senior management.

Noting the importance of this issue, journalists requested that a press briefing be organised in Geneva so that questions could be addressed directly to Dr. Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment.

The situation of Syrian refugees

Responding to a question about the situation of Syrian asylum-seekers in Egypt who had been reportedly returned to Syria, Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency, recalled that last week two flights carrying Syrians had reportedly been sent back from Egypt to Damascus and Lebanon. Overall the situation in the region remained troubling with regards to access to asylum, including on the Syria-Turkey border, and the United Nations Refugee Agency was certainly worried about the situation on the border with Iraq.

Some 200-300 people were crossing the border with Jordan every day, a smaller number than in the past, and the Lebanese Government had reportedly commented that they were open to providing asylum. The situation in Egypt was different, visa requirements for Syrians had been introduced as of Monday and the United Nations Refugee Agency was working with the Egyptian Government to ensure that Syrians in need of asylum continued to have access to it.

Concerning the situation at the Turkish and Iraqi borders, Mr. Edwards recalled that on the border with Iraq many crossing points had remained closed for a number of weeks, and access into Turkey had been limited for over six months for a number of reasons. No major changes in the prevailing situation had taken place.

Responding to questions about the number of Syrians in Egypt, the number of people sent back, and their situation upon return, Mr. Edwards emphasised that these reports had been disseminated by the media and that the Agency did not have access to people who had been sent back. In Egypt, there were in excess of 87,000 Syrians registered as refugees but the total number of Syrians in the country was believed to be significantly larger.

Egyptian media had reported the return of 95 Syrians on board a plane to Latakia, and 55 on board a plane to Beirut. It was not clear why some Syrians had been sent to Lebanon and others to Syria. The United Nations Refugee Agency was holding conversations with the Egyptian Government and Mr. Edwards reiterated the Agency’s position that anybody who needed asylum should have access to it.

Responding to a question about the status of pledges made in Kuwait to support Syrian refugees last January, Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), recalled that 1.5 billion USD had been pledged both to the response in Syria and the refugees abroad, and said that additional information would be provided. [Mr. Laerke later informed that as of 10 July 2013, $984 million (64 per cent) had been committed, and that 25 of the 43 donors who pledged in Kuwait had now paid their contributions in full.]

Previously, during the press briefing, Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also informed the press that IOM had published updates on its work in Syria and neighbouring countries such as Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

Central African Republic

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) briefed the press about the joint two-day mission to the Central African Republic conducted by Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos and the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva. Quoting Ms. Amos’ remarks, Mr. Laerke stressed that the entire population of 4.6 million people was affected by the crisis. Half of those were children. The humanitarian needs were huge and increasing. Security was a major concern and the UN was working hard to re-establish its presence and programmes in different parts of the country.

Today the joint mission would conduct a visit to Kaga Bandoro, some 400km from the capital, Bangui, with a view to stress United Nations’ efforts to reach other people and to establish a presence outside of the capital, which had not been possible due to security concerns. A press release regarding the conclusion of the joint two-day mission would be issued later today.

Also with regards to the Central African Republic, Patrick McCormick for United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that the humanitarian situation was critical. UNICEF was deeply concerned about the mounting humanitarian crisis and, despite the constant threat of insecurity and problems of access, continued to deliver assistance, especially to children who made up half of the population affected.

UNICEF was now operating out of Bangui and regional offices in Kaga Bandoro (centre north) and Bambari (centre south). Regarding basic health services, water, sanitation and hygiene, UNICEF was operating mobile teams out of its regional offices. Starting next week, between 17-21 July, UNICEF would support vaccination campaigns against measles and polio, deworming and vitamin A supplementation, to reach over 134,000 children in three south-central prefectures. In the coming months, UNICEF hoped to reach some 680,000 for emergency measles vaccination.

Asylum-seekers in Papua New Guinea

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency, announced the release of the Agency’s second report on the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre in Papua New Guinea. The facility currently housed some 250 asylum seekers sent by Australia for off-shore processing. The team had met with asylum-seekers, senior officials from the Governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia, as well as staff of key service providers. Since the last briefing on this issue, about six months ago, improvements had been seen but current arrangements still did not meet international protection standards for the reception and treatment of asylum-seekers.

Living conditions were still harsh, processing remained slow and asylum-seekers were growing despondent over the lack of certainty about their future. One of the improvements seen had been the transfer of all children and their families to Australia, progress towards establishing a legal framework for processing, and some improvement in the physical facilities at the processing centre. The team also acknowledged the best endeavours of staff on site, under challenging circumstances, to assist asylum-seekers.

Overall, however, the inspection had revealed continued and worrying shortcomings. Freedom of movement was still extremely limited in what continues to amount to an environment of open-ended, mandatory and, in the Agency’s view, arbitrary detention. The team had observed cramped living quarters, especially for single men housed in canvas tents. Many asylum-seekers had also expressed concern about hygiene issues related to bathroom facilities and food preparation, and poor access to medical services.

The Agency considered that the combination of a tough physical environment, restricted legal regime, and slow processing meant that existing arrangements still did not meet the required international protection standards, nor the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding agreed between Australia and Papua New Guinea. The position of the United Nations Refugee Agency had always been that all asylum seekers arriving to Australia by whatever means should be given full access to an efficient refugee status determination process in Australia.

In response to questions, Mr. Edwards clarified that many of the refugees came from Iran, Pakistan, Viet Nam. There was a mix of people living in the facility, including single men inhabiting a tented camp on one side of the detention facility, and the proximity of women and children was also of concern.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today would examine the report of the Dominican Republic. The reports of Cape Verde, United Kingdom, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina would be considered next week and the Committee had already reviewed the reports of Cuba, Afghanistan and Dominican Republic.

The Human Rights Committee today would examine the report of Finland. Next week, the Committee would review the reports of Albania and Czech Republic, after having considered the reports of Ukraine, Tajikistan and Indonesia.

The Economic and Social Council today would conclude its debate on operational activities and would commence its humanitarian segment next Monday. Ms. Momal-Vanian also noted that the Conference on Disarmament would resume its work on 13 August.

Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) brief the press about the launch of IOM’s second addition to its annual compendium on disaster risk reduction and resilience (DRRR) next Tuesday. Patrice Quesada, from IOM’s Transition and Recovery Unit, would explain the interaction between disaster and mobility. Disasters, both natural and man-made, had an immense impact on people’s mobility which was an important element in resilience and adaptation. In the past 10 years, 140 million people worldwide had been displaced by violent events and IOM had assisted 23 million of them.

Melissa Begag for the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that the World Trade Report 2013 would be launched next Thursday and indicated that a pdf version of the report would be available for the media, under embargo until 18 July. Ms. Begag also noted that the Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation would meet on Monday and Friday next week. On Tuesday and Thursday, the Trade Policy Review of the European Union would also take place and would be followed by a press briefing on Thursday at 1 p.m., in Room A. The Negotiating Group on Agriculture would also hold a special session on Thursday, also to be followed by an informal press briefing.

Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the WTO, would participate in a meeting with the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generation on Monday. In Geneva, on Tuesday, Mr. Lamy would meet with Michel de Rosen, President and CEO of Eutelsat Communications in Geneva and, on Thursday, would attend the launch of the World Trade Report 2013.

Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization drew attention to the forthcoming publication of updated G20 labour-market data on 17 July, ahead of the Meeting of G20 Labour and Employment Ministers to be held in Moscow on 18-19 July. This data would feed the discussions of G20 Ministers of Employment and Labour and the Joint Meeting of Finance and Labour Ministers convened under the Russian Presidency. The report would be published under embargo on 17 July at 9 a.m. Geneva time. Additional information was available online, including a second report published jointly with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tracing progress made in previous years in addressing the crisis in Europe.

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), recalled that a press conference would be held on Wednesday 17 July, at 2.45 p.m, with Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, concerning the mid-year review of the Humanitarian Appeal 2013. The Consolidated Appeals Process incorporated all 20 appeals launched by the Office, including those related to the situation in Syria and the Syria Refugee Response Plan (RRP). Mr. Laerke noted that questions for Under-Secretary-General Amos at the press conference could address any of the appeals reviewed.

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency, indicated that information concerning the return of refugees from countries surrounding Mali ahead of elections would be provided next Tuesday.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/178pmxQ


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