8 September 2017
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and the spokespersons for the World Meteorological Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Mr. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that peacekeeping operations saved lives and made a difference for hundreds of thousands of people. A number of countries had been stabilized as a result of United Nations peacekeeping operations on their territory, a recent example being Côte d’Ivoire. The military component of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) had begun to prepare to withdraw from the country, but that process had been suspended in order to help with the response to Hurricane Irma.
In many countries, political processes moved slowly and the Secretary-General and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations were active in trying to help those move forward. Many operations took place in difficult and dangerous security environments and needed to be better equipped and better trained in order to be able to pre-empt and prevent threats to civilian populations. Operation mandates ought to be reviewed regularly and the format of deployments adjusted to ensure that missions were as cost-effective as possible while responding to the evolving situation on the ground. There was also a need to include more women in peacekeeping operations. The cases of sexual exploitation and abuse that had occurred in connection with peacekeeping operations were shocking and had cast a shadow over peacekeeping achievements. The actions of a few individuals had tarnished the good name of their colleagues. Tackling sexual exploitation and abuse was a key priority for the Secretary-General and a high-level event was to be held on the issue in the coming days. The Department needed to ensure that it implemented its robust policy on the issue and to work with troop-contributing countries to make sure that they reacted to any allegations made and protected any alleged victims. The majority of missions now had victim protection advocates assigned to them.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Lacroix said that the recently adopted Security Council resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon contained a request for the force to be more visible and conduct more patrols. The Security Council had also requested regular reports on the implementation of the resolution and any potential violations of it.
Asked about reports that additional peacekeeping troops might be sent to the Central African Republic, Mr. Lacroix said that a proposal to that effect was being prepared for presentation to the Security Council. The situation had deteriorated in the east and south-east of the country and while the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) had proved flexible, it was under pressure. The withdrawal of one its contingents in connection with the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse had exacerbated the shortfall in personnel.
In response to further questions, he said that the goal in the Central African Republic was to bring about durable peace. A key dimension was to ensure that political processes moved forward and strenuous efforts were being made to that end. The authorities in the Central African Republic needed to engage in a determined manner so as to ensure progress. Although the Mission had a robust mandate in place, the current troop ceiling for MINUSCA was below what was required. Every effort was being made on the ground to redeploy forces to protect civilians. The antagonistic rhetoric that was being heard in the country regarding the elimination of foreigners was a worrying development and the authorities had a responsibility to counter those messages. MINUSCA was working to bring together political, religious and civil society leaders to achieve peace and reconciliation.
In response to questions about the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Mr. Lacroix said that upon its relocation to Tripoli, the Mission would be protected by a guard unit made up of approximately 150 United Nations military personnel from Nepal.
Asked about funding to combat the cholera epidemic in Haiti, he said that the Secretary-General was committed to assisting the victims of the epidemic. Hundreds of millions of dollars had been provided by a number of United Nations agencies to address the situation.
In response to further questions, he said that troop-contributing countries provided their own equipment and were later reimbursed by the United Nations. A peacekeeping readiness system was in place to help countries to increase their deployment capacity.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that there were currently three hurricanes, Irma, José and Katia, in the Atlantic basin. The situation was rare but not unprecedented: the last time it had happened had been in 2010. Irma was a category 5 hurricane and could cause potentially catastrophic damage. As of 8pm EDT on 7 September, Irma had spent 2.75 consecutive days as a category 5 hurricane – the longest since 1966. It had maintained lifetime maximum winds of 185mph (almost 300kph) for 37 hours, the longest intensity that had ever been recorded. The previous maximum had been during Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The hurricane was approximately 130 miles wide and the latest reported sustained winds had been measured at 160mph (260kph), with higher gusts. In the past week, the accumulated cyclone energy that had been recorded in the Atlantic basin was greater than that generated by the first eight named storms of the season combined, including Hurricane Harvey, and was equivalent to that which was usually seen in the month of September as a whole. Irma would continue to bring life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards to the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas through 9 September. Heavy rainfall was still possible over Hispaniola and northern Cuba. Severe hurricane conditions were expected over parts of Florida beginning late on 9 September. Irma was expected to be a powerful category 4 or a category 5 hurricane when it made landfall in Florida and it was vital that people in the area heeded preparation and evacuation warnings from the authorities. The National Hurricane Center in the United States of America was predicting storm surges of 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 metres) in the Turks and Caicos Islands and parts of the Bahamas, which were expected to cause severe damage to those low-lying islands.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Nullis said that the Hurricane Committee for the region met each year in April. It was too early to say whether a revision of the categorization of hurricanes would be on the agenda.
Asked whether the current situation was attributable to climate change, she said that the latest research showed that while climate change was unlikely to increase the number of hurricanes, those that did occur in warmer climates were likely to be more intense. The ongoing rise in sea levels and continued coastal development would likely increase the impact of storm surges.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that Hurricane Irma had killed at least three people and destroyed buildings in Barbuda. The islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy had also sustained extensive damage and loss of life. The Governments of the Netherlands and France had sent army support to their territories. Governments and humanitarian organizations had pre-positioned supplies and pre-deployed staff: OCHA had sent a 7-person team to Haiti at the request of the emergency relief coordinator there. A 4-person team had been sent to Barbados in preparation for onward deployment and another team was due to leave for Jamaica.
Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that staff from the WFP Regional Bureau in Panama had been deployed and emergency teams were on standby. WFP had contingency supplies in Haiti to feed up to 150,000 people for a month. In addition, an aircraft was en route to Haiti carrying 80 tons of high-energy biscuits, which would feed 47,000 people for three days, and other emergency supplies. That shipment had been funded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, of Dubai. In Cuba, WFP had pre-positioned enough food for 270,000 people for a month.
Pascale Meige, for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that it was fortunate that Hurricane Irma had not made landfall in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The biggest risk now facing those countries was flooding. Hurricane José was following closely behind Irma and posed a huge risk for Barbuda in particular, where it might be necessary to evacuate the entire population. The IFRC made preparations for hurricane season every year and had people on the ground from every national Red Cross Society and every territory. The Red Cross Societies of the United States, Great Britain, France and the Netherlands were providing support to their respective territories. The Red Cross Society in Cuba was also very active. The Federation was deploying staff to help national societies prepare temporary shelters and support evacuation processes, and had provided USD 120,000 of emergency funding for St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda and USD 600,000 for the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It would likely launch an emergency appeal for St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda, where long-term recovery operations would be required. The Dominican Republic and Haiti had recently faced a number of emergency situations and as such, the availability of non-food aid supplies in those countries was low.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Meige said that while there were no immediate plans to run cholera vaccinations programmes in Haiti as a result of Hurricane Irma, assessments were ongoing and the IFRC would provide support to the Ministry of Health if such programmes were deemed necessary.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that on 7 September the Secretary-General had issued a statement saying that he was saddened by the reports of immense destruction and loss of life in the Caribbean region. He had extended his condolences to the Governments and people of all the island countries and territories in the region impacted by Hurricane Irma. He had also expressed the United Nations’ solidarity and commended the leadership of the respective Governments for their preparedness and response to the needs of the affected communities.
Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that 270,000 people had fled violence in Myanmar to seek safety in Bangladesh since 25 August.
IOM, which yesterday had allocated USD 1 million from its emergency funds to boost the humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar, was working with the Government and partners to scale up its delivery of life-saving aid to those most in need. The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund had yesterday also announced a further USD 7 million to help the thousands of destitute people.
Following the needs assessment that had taken place over the last two days, the Inter Sector Coordination Group had discovered that there were far more refugees than had been previously thought, with an estimated 90,000 people sheltering in host communities. At least 300 boats had arrived in Cox’s Bazar in the previous days. Sea routes were particularly dangerous at this time of year and boats frequently capsized in rough seas. The established makeshift settlements were already full to capacity and large numbers of people were living in the open air. Humanitarian agencies were deploying mobile medical teams, installing emergency latrines, providing water and distributing tarpaulins for basic shelter and food rations to new arrivals, but much more was needed and stocks were fast running out.
Duniya Aslam Khan, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that amid a dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine state, UNHCR was calling for urgent action to address the root causes of the recent surge in violence, so that people were no longer compelled to flee and could eventually return home in safety and dignity.
In the last two weeks, an estimated 270,000 Rohingya refugees had sought safety in Bangladesh. The limited capacity of the existing shelters had already been exhausted. Refugees were now squatting in makeshift shelters that had mushroomed along the road and on available land in the Ukhiya and Teknaf areas.
The Rohingya were a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar who had faced discrimination and extreme poverty for decades. They had not been allowed to exercise their basic rights, including freedom of movement, the right to education and work and other social, civil and political rights. The Rohingya fleeing Myanmar were now stateless refugees, making them even more vulnerable and adding more challenges to the search for solutions.
While most of the Rohingya refugees arrived on foot, walking through the jungle and mountains for several days, thousands were braving long and risky voyages across the rough seas of the Bay of Bengal. They were waiting on the Myanmar border to take fishing boats to Teknaf in Bangladesh. The vast majority were women, including mothers with newborn babies, and families with children. They were arriving in poor condition, exhausted, hungry and desperate for shelter. UNHCR remained concerned by continuing reports of civilians dying as they tried to flee to safety.
The two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in south-east Bangladesh – home to nearly 34,000 Rohingya refugees before this influx – were now bursting at the seams. The population had more than doubled in two weeks, totalling more than 70,000. There was an urgent need for more land and shelters.
UNHCR and its partners were working to provide protection and life-saving support to the new arrivals in Kutupalong and Nayapara camps. The Agency continued to identify the most vulnerable refugees, such as unaccompanied children, women, the elderly and disabled, who were in need of shelter, food, water and healthcare. It called for the registration of all refugees upon arrival, in order to ensure their protection and access to essential services.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that this morning she had spoken to a colleague in Uchiprang, several kilometres from the border with Myanmar. Six days ago, there had been virtually nobody there, and today there were 16,000 people. The sheer number of people fleeing Myanmar was overwhelming; around 80 per cent were women and children. As of 4 September, 268 children had been identified as separated or unaccompanied and that number was expected to rise. The children were clearly traumatized and psychosocial support was critically needed. Shelter for the new arrivals was made of bamboo and sheeting, set up on mud. Many had no change of clothes and were sick. Conditions were grim. There were acute shortages of everything - shelter, food, water, medicine and nutrition supplies to treat malnourished children - and not enough relief workers. UNICEF was appealing for USD 7.3 million to provide emergency assistance over the next four months; almost USD 3 million of it was needed for water and sanitation.
Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the health of women and children was a particular concern. WFP had provided high-nutrient porridge, energy biscuits and hot meals to more than 52,000 people in partnership with Action Against Hunger. Funding of USD 14.8 million was needed.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Luescher said that she was aware of photographs that had been circulated of WFP biscuits found in training camps in Myanmar in August. The diversion of food supplies was very serious and considered to be theft. WFP had requested the batch number of the biscuits in order to trace their distribution route.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the number of people arriving in Bangladesh had greatly increased in just a few days and the situation was rapidly deteriorating. The Central Emergency Response Fund had yesterday released USD 7 million for additional shelter, food and critical health care. The Fund had previously allocated USD 3 million to Bangladesh earlier in the year in response to flooding.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that the Secretary-General had appealed to the authorities in Myanmar to take determined action to put an end to the cycle of violence and to ensure unhindered humanitarian access for live-saving relief operations. The Secretary-General was in regular contact with Aung San Suu Kyi and had said that while he understood the complexity of the situation in Myanmar, the United Nations wanted a Myanmar that was democratic but where the rights of the Rohingya population were fully respected.
Kenya drought appeal
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that humanitarian partners were appealing for USD 106 million to respond to the worsening drought in northern Kenya.
Niger and Nigeria
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the newly appointed Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, would embark on his first field mission on 9 September, visiting the Niger and north-eastern Nigeria.
Conditions on Greek islands
Cécile Pouilly, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was concerned by the deteriorating situation on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands. The number of new arrivals, which had accelerated in August, was putting pressure on overcrowded reception facilities and hampering efforts to improve conditions.
The situation was most worrying on Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Leros, which had received the largest number of arrivals, including many children. More than half had come from conflict-hit Syria and Iraq. In August, there had been 3,695 sea arrivals, compared to 2,249 in July.
While there had been progress to date, UNHCR was calling for robust action to improve conditions in reception facilities and for the urgent deployment of additional national services staff, especially in the areas of health, psychosocial support and protection of unaccompanied children.
This was a challenging period, with the full management of the response to the refugee situation on the islands being transferred from NGOs and international organizations to the Greek authorities.
Arrivals on Lesvos, Samos and Leros had now outpaced the rate at which people were being authorized by the authorities to transfer to the mainland. Many of the people had been staying on the islands for months and the conditions had affected their physical and mental health. The threat of violence, self-harm and sexual assault was extremely worrying and more security was needed.
The situation was most critical in Samos. Despite the recent transfer of some 640 people to the mainland from the island, more than 1,900 people remained crammed into an area meant for 700 at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Vathy. Among them were more than 600 children as well as pregnant women, medical cases and people with disabilities. UNHCR was concerned at the growing risks to their health and welfare due to water shortages and poor hygiene conditions and had been providing assistance such as blankets, mats and sleeping bags.
On Chios, there had been more than 500 arrivals in August. The Vial RIC had over 1,100 people, including over 100 people without proper accommodation. Most were staying in containers, while some new arrivals were in 12 tents recently installed by UNHCR. Some 180 people also remained at the municipality-run Souda site, which had long been earmarked for closure.
On Lesvos, tensions remained high at the Moria RIC, which had been twice rocked by riots in recent weeks.
UNHCR welcomed the technical and material assistance provided by the Greek army during this transition period. UNHCR was helping the Greek Government to identify gaps in the transition period and continued to provide targeted services in child protection, support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, relief items, transportation and interpretation using a recent grant from the European Union.
Asked whether there was a deadline for the redistribution of refugees among the countries of the European Union, Ms. Pouilly said that the relocation scheme was due to expire on 26 September. UNHCR had issued a press release earlier this week following the decision of the European Court of Justice, asking that people who were still eligible to benefit from relocation do so, even after 26 September. Greece and the other affected countries needed to see more solidarity from their fellow members of the European Union.
Cécile Pouilly, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that last week, UNHCR staff had returned from the territory of Kamonia at DRC’s border with Angola. It had been UNHCR’s first mission to the location, which had been at the centre of the fighting. Agency staff saw entire villages burnt down and civilians in a dire situation, as basic services had largely stopped and lawlessness prevailed.
The mission had been possible thanks to the gradual improvement of humanitarian access in the Kasaï region. UNHCR called on the authorities to give humanitarian organizations full access to those in need of protection and assistance. It also asked for improved safety and security in the area.
In the area near the border town of Kamako, 9 out of 10 villages had been burnt down in attacks by armed groups or fighting between them and government forces. Local armed groups had systematically destroyed or pillaged health posts, schools and other public buildings. Hundreds of children had been separated from their parents or had witnessed their murders. Elderly, disabled or sick persons were also at serious risk.
The Kasaï crisis had begun over a year ago, spreading from local tensions to a conflict affecting 9 out the 26 provinces of the DRC. Now, large parts of the heartland of the conflict region were under the control of government forces, but the return to peace remained fragile. In other regions, violence was still reported.
Despite the critical situation, some Congolese who had sought refuge in Angola were trying to return to their homes in Kasaï. Since April 2017, some 33,000 refugees fleeing the conflict had been registered in the country’s Lunda Norte Province. But recently, a local UNHCR partner had identified some Congolese who had spontaneously returned from Angola, most of them in August. Many of the returnees had found their homes destroyed and had been forced to live in internal displacement-like conditions.
UNHCR was deploying staff and opening three offices in the Kasaï region. However, it lacked resources for the much-needed large-scale response. Of the USD 102.5 million required, so far only 17 per cent had been received.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Pouilly said that access to the affected regions was difficult. UNHCR was establishing an office in the capital in each of the three most affected provinces, namely Kasaï, Kasaï-Central and Kasaï-Oriental. The Agency had sent missions to Lualaba province, where it had distributed tents to 20,000 people, and to Kwilu province, where it had provided food and assistance to internally displaced people. Between 12 and 25 August, 28,000 newly displaced people had arrived in the provinces of Kwilu and Kwango.
Asked why people were returning from Angola, she said that efforts were being made to ascertain why people had spontaneously returned to the Kasaï region. The border was closed to trade but Angola operated an open-door policy for people fleeing from conflict. There had been reports that that main roads to the border were blocked and that people were entering Angola at unofficial border crossings.
Geneva Events and Announcements
Ms. Vellucci said that the Conference on Disarmament, which would conclude its 2017 session on Friday, 15 September, would hold its next public plenary on Tuesday, 12 September at 10 a.m. under the presidency of Ambassador Julio Herraiz of Spain.
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which opened its twenty-seventh session at the Palais Wilson this week, would be meeting in private under Wednesday, 13 September at 5 p.m., when it would adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Ecuador, Indonesia and Mexico, which it reviewed this week, before closing the session.
The next public plenary of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which opened its thirteenth session this week at the Palais des Nations (room XVI), would be held on Wednesday, 13 September at 3 p.m. to meet with States parties, United Nations bodies, specialized agencies, inter-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and other civil society representatives. On Friday, 15 September, at 3 p.m., the Committee would adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Lithuania and Gabon, which it considered this week, before closing the session.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child would open its seventy-sixth session on Monday, 11 September at 10 a.m. at the Palais Wilson. During the session, which would conclude on 29 September, the Committee would consider the reports of Ecuador, Tajikistan, Denmark, Republic of Moldova, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vanuatu, Guinea and Cyprus under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols on children in armed conflict, and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
The Human Rights Council would open its thirty-sixth regular session on Monday, 1 September at 9 a.m. A background press release was issued yesterday summarizing the work of the session, which would conclude on Friday, 29 September.
Ms. Vellucci announced the following press conferences that would be held next week. At 9 a.m. on Monday, 11 September in Room III, the President of the Third Conference of States parties of the Arms Trade Treaty (CSP3 of the ATT), Ambassador Klaus Korhonen of Finland, and members of civil society would brief the press about CSP3 of the ATT and expectations related to it. CSP3 of the ATT would start on Monday, 11 September 2017 and run until Friday, 15 September 2017.
At noon on Monday, 11 September, there would be a stakeout in the stakeout area close to Room XX when Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Minister of Foreign Affairs, State of Qatar, would speak to journalists after addressing the Human Rights Council. At 2 p.m. on Monday in press room 1, UNCTAD would hold a press conference on the publication of its Trade and Development Report 2017, which would be embargoed until 5 p.m. GMT / 7p.m. CET. On Tuesday, 12 September at 2:30 p.m. in press room 1, UNCTAD would present its 2017 Report on UNCTAD assistance to the Palestinian people, which would be embargoed until 5 p.m. GMT.
Moreover, UNCTAD would see the opening of its Trade and Development Board on 11 September.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog080917