17 October 2017
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme and the World Meteorological Organization.
Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the Director-General of IOM was currently in Bangladesh, where he had visited camps and held talks with high-level officials. The total Rohingya population in Bangladesh had now surpassed 800,000 — that number included 300,000 who had been displaced prior to the current crisis.
New arrivals were living in spontaneous settlements with increasing need for humanitarian assistance including shelter, food, clean water and sanitation. Poor road networks and insufficient drainage in the displacement sites made it difficult to reach new arrivals with urgent support and services.
The Government of Bangladesh was working closely with IOM and other agencies to establish a new 3,000-acre site. Site planners and engineers were working on access roads for the site to allow a scale-up of services and improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance. IOM was providing assistance and services to a very vulnerable population with significant protection needs. It continued to advocate for the scaling up of the current response to meet the needs of Rohingya refugees.
The latest information IOM had in connection with the shipwreck on 15 October was that 11 people had been confirmed dead, including 6 children (5 girls and 1 boy) aged between 1 and 8 years, 1 woman aged 60 years and 4 women between the ages of 20 and 30 years. While 24 people had been rescued, there had been a total of 65 people on the boat, meaning that 30 people remained missing.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Millman said that the more than 300,000 Rohingya refugees who had been in Bangladesh prior to the arrival of the current influx included 74,000 who had arrived during October 2016.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that the latest figures from the Inter Sector Coordination Group in Cox’s Bazar put the total number of arrivals of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh since 25 August at 582,000.
Without immediate additional funding, UNICEF would not be able to continue providing life-saving aid and protection to Rohingya children who had fled horrific violence in Myanmar for refuge in Bangladesh. Almost 60 per cent of the 582,000 refugees who had fled Myanmar since 25 August were children — and thousands more were crossing each week.
The growing needs were far outpacing resources. As of 17 October, UNICEF had received just 7 per cent of the USD 76 million required to provide emergency support to children over the coming six months. Donors included the Central Emergency Relief Fund managed by OCHA, the Governments of Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and the French, German, Japanese, Malaysian, Swiss, UK and US national committees for UNICEF as well as the King Abdulla Foundation and Education Cannot Wait.
Without more funding, UNICEF would have to stop treating and trucking water to over 40,000 people who otherwise would have no access to safe water by the end of November. It had built 180 water points, but would not be able to build the additional 1,400 that were required to meet the needs of 350,000 people. It had installed 3,700 toilets, but without more resources would not be able to install another 12,000 needed by 250,000 people. It would not be able to procure supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat 15,000 children suffering from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition. Some 80,000 children would have no access to basic health care and about 100,000 newly-arrived refugee children would not be immunized against measles, rubella or polio. UNICEF would not be able to adequately respond to a massive outbreak of water-borne disease because it would not have the trained staff and supplies. Unaccompanied and separated children would be deprived of the case management services they desperately needed.
Rohingya children had already endured atrocities. All of them needed the life-saving basics — shelter, food, water, vaccinations, protection — not tomorrow or next week or next month, but right now. UNICEF was appealing to donors to help fulfil these children’s most fundamental right: to survive.
Asked to describe the conditions for children in the refugee camps and settlements, Ms. Mercado said that children were living in flimsy hillside shelters and collecting dirty water from muddy ponds. In a single week in October, 10,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea had been detected. UNICEF had put forward USD 7 million of its own funds to frontload the response and build on the programmes that had already been in place prior to the most recent influx of refugees. UNICEF’s child-friendly spaces provided children with a place to play and to express their experiences through writing and drawing. The priority was to ensure children had access to a clean environment and safe water and were protected from diseases.
In response to other questions from journalists, Ms. Mercado said that it was her understanding that the infrastructure that would be required to harvest rainwater was not available in Cox’s Bazar. The camps and settlements needed 9 million litres of water per day.
Asked why the numbers of refugees had risen markedly in recent days, she said that the increase was partly due to improved assessment following the sixth round of needs and population monitoring, which had been finalized on 16 October.
Asked about levels of acute malnutrition, Ms. Mercado said that the rate had already been above the emergency threshold of 15 per cent both in Balukali camp and in northern Rakhine state prior to the crisis that had begun on 25 August.
Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was concerned about the humanitarian condition of thousands of new arrivals who were stranded near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Since the night of 15 October, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Rohingya refugees had entered Bangladesh through the Anjuman Para border crossing point in Ukhia district in the country’s south-east.
Many said they had initially chosen to remain in their homes in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state despite repeated threats to leave or be killed. They had finally fled when their villages were set on fire.
Refugees who had spoken to UNHCR staff on 16 October had described walking for around a week to reach the Bangladesh border. Some had crossed on the night of 15 October, others throughout 16 October in the heat and rain.
As of the morning of 17 October they were still squatting in the paddy fields of Anjuman Para village in Bangladesh. They were waiting for permission to move away from the border, where the sound of gunfire continued to be heard every night from the Myanmar side.
UNHCR and its partners, the Bangladesh Red Crescent and Action against Hunger, were delivering food and water to the stranded refugees, among them children, women and the elderly who were dehydrated and hungry from the long journey. UNHCR staff were working with Médecins Sans Frontières to identify the sick for treatment.
UNHCR was advocating with the Bangladesh authorities to urgently admit these refugees, who were fleeing violence and increasingly difficult conditions back home. Every minute counted given the fragile condition they were arriving in.
As part of its response to the new influx, UNHCR was working with the Government and other partners to complete a new transit centre in Kutupalong with a capacity of 1,250. Preparations were also under way to host new arrivals in the schools in Kutupalong camp. At the same time, the Agency was collaborating to accelerate the opening of the new Kutupalong extension site to avoid adding more pressure to already highly congested areas of the camp.
An estimated 582,000 refugees had arrived in Bangladesh since violence had erupted in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state on 25 August.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Mahecic said that the refugees who were currently close to the Bangladeshi side of the border were awaiting processing. Once that had been completed, they would be moved further inland. Aid was being brought to them while they were waiting.
In response to further questions, he said that it was unclear why gunfire could be heard from across the border every night. It was impossible to say how many Rohingya remained inside Myanmar due to the lack of access to Rakhine since 25 August.
Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 10 October, the Bangladeshi Ministry of Health and WHO had launched a campaign to protect newly arrived refugees and the host communities in Cox’s Bazar from cholera following a risk assessment that had been conducted with support from WHO. A total of 900,000 doses of the oral cholera vaccine had been mobilized. The first phase of the vaccination campaign had taken place between 10 and 16 October and had covered 680,000 people, including 176,000 children aged between 1 and 5 years. The second round would begin on 31 October and would provide an additional dose of the vaccine for 200,000 children aged between 1 and 5 years.
The situation was very challenging from a health perspective: the population was mobile and dispersed over a large area with difficult terrain. There was a lack of water and sanitation in health facilities and health-care services for gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, mental health and psychological support management and injury treatment and rehabilitation were insufficient. People who had been suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer prior to their displacement had no access to their usual treatment.
WHO was appealing for USD 10.2 million to support critical health interventions and scale up activities to strengthen disease detection, prevention and control. In order to save lives, it would conduct surveillance to detect early signs of infectious diseases, undertake routine and emergency vaccination activities and provide water and sanitation for health facilities. WHO had so far provided USD 2 million of its own funds and had received USD 1 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Chaib said that she was unaware of any agreement to reduce the cost of cholera vaccines.
Asked about the outcome of the visit of the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, to Myanmar, Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that a press stakeout would be held on 17 October, but the details had yet to be confirmed.
Asked about comments in the press that the United Nations had revised a report on food security in Rakhine State at the request of the Government of Myanmar, Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP’s purpose in Myanmar was and always had been to address the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable people. It regularly conducted food security assessments to determine how best to calibrate its operations and ensure that food assistance went to the most needy.
The largest part of WFP’s work in Myanmar was to provide food to internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups in Rakhine state, including food insecure communities in the north.
The “Food Security Assessment in the Northern Part of Rakhine State, March-April 2017” report had been withdrawn following a request by the Government to conduct a joint review of it with the full participation of a technical team from the Myanmar government.
WFP however stood by its original assessment, which had been conducted with local authorities in Rakhine State as part of its regular food security monitoring activities, and had been posted on the WFP website on 5 July.
Contrary to comments in an article published in the Guardian newspaper, the food assessment report had made no reference to the size of rations being distributed and WFP had not considered cutting rations to vulnerable groups in northern Rakhine. Discussions had taken place about reducing food rations to populations of internally displaced people in central Rakhine in June 2016; however, after the violence in northern Rakhine State in October 2016, WFP had not gone ahead with the reductions and had in fact increased the number of people receiving assistance to include the most vulnerable people in the host communities.
There was still no humanitarian access for the United Nations to northern Rakhine State. WFP had consistently stressed that humanitarian access was crucial not just for the delivery of aid to vulnerable people but also in order to conduct assessments to gain an understanding of the needs on the ground.
However, WFP recognised that in a dynamic and evolving situation, it was important to coordinate closely with all partners, including the Government. WFP had been working with the authorities on an updated assessment when the events of 25 August had put a halt to the process.
Currently, the biggest challenge facing WFP and other agencies remained the lack of access to northern Rakhine, where it was known that people had already been facing challenges getting the food they needed, even before the upsurge in violence.
Pledging Conference for the Rohingya Refugee Crisis
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that on 16 October, a joint statement had been issued by three United Nations Principals, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and William Lacy Swing, the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration. The statement had stressed that while humanitarian partners were working in overdrive to provide assistance, much more was needed and efforts must be scaled up.
A Pledging Conference would be held in Room XIX at the Palais des Nations in Geneva at 9.30 a.m. on 23 October 2017. The morning session would be webcast and there would be a press stakeout at 1 p.m. outside Room XX with the three United Nations Principals, a representative of the Government of Bangladesh and representatives of the co-hosts of the Conference, Kuwait and the European Union.
The appeal for USD 434 million — which had been launched in September and would run until February — was currently 24 per cent funded. Donors were encouraged to pledge support in any form they chose, including through the Red Cross or in bilateral arrangements.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Laerke said that he was aware of reports that China and India had pledged support.
Asked about reports that Rohingya refugees were now fleeing Myanmar as a result of forced starvation rather than violence, he said that OCHA staff in Myanmar shared that assessment.
Assistance for refugees and migrants in Sabratha, Libya
Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that for over a week, UNHCR teams had been working around the clock to meet the urgent needs of over 14,500 migrants and refugees who had been held captive by smugglers in different locations, including farms, houses and warehouses, in and around the coastal city of Sabratha in Libya. The refugees and migrants had been taken to a hangar in the Dahman area of Sabratha that had been serving as an assembly point since the onset of the crisis. From there, refugees and migrants were being transferred by authorities to official detention centres where humanitarian agencies were providing life-saving assistance.
Libyan authorities estimated that an additional 6,000 migrants and refugees were still being held by smugglers. If confirmed, this would bring the total number of refugees and migrants held in Sabratha to 20,500, including those in official detention centres.
Since the onset of this humanitarian crisis, UNHCR staff had been on the ground providing emergency assistance in all locations to which refugees and migrants had been transferred and were conducting assessments to determine needs and vulnerabilities. UNHCR had delivered more than 15 truckloads of relief items, including sleeping mats, mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits and winter jackets. As a priority, UNHCR teams had been working on identifying refugees and continued to advocate for their release. In some locations, UNHCR had provided tents that were being used as makeshift hospitals where UNHCR doctors were providing medical assistance.
UNHCR colleagues on the front lines described a picture of human suffering and abuse on a shocking scale. Amongst the refugees and migrants who had suffered abuse at the hands of smugglers, there were pregnant women and new-born babies. Hundreds of people had been discovered with no clothes or shoes. Scores of them were in need of urgent medical care, with some suffering from bullet wounds and other visible signs of abuse. Refugees and migrants who had been rescued from the smugglers were visibly traumatized. Most of them said that they had been subjected to numerous human rights abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence, forced labour and sexual exploitation.
Many said they had been beaten and forced to work for long hours without any food or water. They had been kept in cramped conditions, often without any toilet facilities or ventilation. When found, hundreds had said they had not eaten for days. UNHCR staff had identified a worrying number of unaccompanied and separated children, many under the age of six. A large number of them had reported losing parents on the journey to Libya or in the chaos that had resulted during the events of the last few weeks.
In response to a question about how the migrants had been found, Mr. Mahecic said that following fighting in Sabratha, militias close to the authorities had wrested control of the area from another militant group. The refugees and migrants had then been discovered at a number of locations.
Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM staff had provided food, kits and mattresses to 6,700 migrants in Zuwara and Sabratha. They had also performed 1,631 medical interventions, treated 23 injury cases and provided pregnancy care to 21 women.
On 7 October, an IOM field team had reported that 2,600 migrants (1,819 men, 704 women and 77 children) were being kept at the site by the Libyan Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration. By 16 October, IOM emergency teams estimated that in total more than 14,000 migrants had been affected, with fewer than 1,000 migrants currently remaining in Zuwara and around 500 migrants in Sabratha. However, as more migrants were transferred on a regular basis to the two sites, it was too early to confirm whether the wave of migrants was about to stop. While the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Italy had dropped over the summer, IOM had been concerned that there may be large numbers of people waiting in Libya.
IOM advocated strongly for alternatives to detention for refugees and migrants. Othman Belbeisi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission, had said that the Organization was concerned about the large number of migrants transferred to detention. “The centres are overcrowded and the conditions do not meet the minimum international human rights standards. We stand ready to provide any necessary support to the Libyan authorities in providing alternatives to detention, especially for the most vulnerable groups, including pregnant women and children,” he said.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Millman said that reports from the migrants indicated that the infrastructure connected to smuggling had been controlled by armed groups native to the region. It was anticipated that in addition to the large numbers of people found living in terrible conditions, bodies may also be recovered.
WHO sending trauma equipment to Somalia following bomb attack
Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that following the two bomb attacks in Mogadishu on 14 October, which had left around 300 people dead and 500 injured, the Federal Government of Somalia had activated an emergency response centre. Three hospitals in the capital were also providing emergency care to those injured. WHO had delivered blood supplies and trauma care medicines, including blood group testing kits, emergency response equipment, first aid medicines and health supplies to the hospitals, which had been overwhelmed by the number of casualties in critical condition.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the highly unusual North Atlantic hurricane season was continuing. The Republic of Ireland had become the latest country to be affected and along with parts of the UK was currently cleaning up after the impact of Hurricane Ophelia. This hurricane had been highly unusual and had strengthened to category 3 at the weekend. It was the furthest east and furthest north that a hurricane had ever been recorded. It had got caught up in south-westerly winds and been swept towards to Ireland. The whole of the country had been placed on red alert for first time ever. Met Éireann, the Irish meteorological authority, had recorded gusts of winds at a maximum of 191 kph at Fastnet Lighthouse, 126 kph at Cork Airport and 104 kph at Dublin Airport. At least three deaths had been recorded, and the toll would almost certainly have been higher had it not been for the blanket warnings that had been issued by the authorities.
In addition to the location of Hurricane Ophelia and the wind speeds recorded, another notable feature had been the exceptionally high temperatures that had been seen in many parts of Europe, including Spain, which on 15 October had recorded a temperature of 36 degrees Celsius — 13 degrees above the seasonal average — and the Netherlands, which had recorded 25 degrees. The high winds and heat associated with Hurricane Ophelia had contributed to the fires in northern Portugal and Spain. The combination of high winds, flames from the fires and Saharan dust had turned the skies orange in parts of the UK and northern France, and even as far afield as Finland.
The current hurricane season, which was not yet over, had been very unusual. So far, there had been 10 hurricanes, compared to average of 6.5, with 6 hurricanes at category 3 or above, compared to the average of 2. The accumulated cyclone energy stood at 222, as against the average of 92. The increased hurricane activity had been caused by a number of factors, including the temperature of the waters in the tropical Atlantic, which was about 1.5 degrees above the average.
Elsewhere in the world, Viet Nam was experiencing its worst floods for many years as a result of heavy seasonal rainfall and on 17 October, it was preparing for the impact of an ex-typhoon.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Nullis said that the European Union had been monitoring the quantities of dust in the atmosphere. The dust had caused health issues, particularly in Portugal, where many cases of respiratory problems had been reported as a result of the poor air quality.
Asked about the name of the hurricane, she said that the name “Ophelia” was on the rotating list of names for the North Atlantic designated by the Hurricane Committee.
Geneva Events and Announcements
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that at 1.30 p.m. on 17 October in Room I the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Central African Republic would hold a press conference.
Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the WHO “Global Conference on Non-communicable diseases: Enhancing policy coherence between different spheres of policy-making that have a bearing on attaining SDG target 3.4 on NCDs by 2030” was being held in Montevideo, Uruguay, between 18 and 20 October. Dr. Tedros, the Director-General of WHO, would be in attendance. The main objective of the conference was to provide guidance to Member States on how to reach SDG target 3.4 by 2030 by influencing public policies in sectors beyond health.
Between 17 and 19 October, WHO was hosting one of the regular meetings of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization. The meeting would address issues including vaccines for typhoid, meningitis and rabies. A virtual press briefing would be held at 3 p.m. on 20 October.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, announced that at 2.30 p.m. on 17 October, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty would be marked with a mime performance at the Palais des Nations in Geneva organized in partnership with the NGO ATD Fourth World.
Ms. Vellucci also announced that, in the framework of the Spanish Language Week, a Spanish Language celebration, with music and poetry performance, would take place on Tuesday, 17 October 2017, from 6.30 to 8 p.m. in Room XX of the Palais des Nations.
Ms. Vellucci also said the Human Rights Committee, whose 121st session opened yesterday at the Palais Wilson, will conclude this morning its review of the report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, begun yesterday afternoon. This afternoon, it will begin its review of Dominican Republic’s report.
OCHA - Humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic
Tuesday, 17 October at 1:30 p.m. in Press Room 1
UNICEF - Launch of UNICEF Child Alert report on the plight of Rohingya refugee children in southern Bangladesh
Thursday, 19 October at 11:00 a.m. in Press Room 1
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog171017