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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

24 October 2017

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief, Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing attended by the spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization.

Bangladesh

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that according to the latest figures, some 603,000 refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar since late August 2017, joining some 200,000 others already sheltering in the settlements. That was in addition to the large population of Rohingya already living in Bangladesh since the beginning of the emergency. IOM continued to provide essential supplies to the refugees. A pledging conference had been held in Geneva on 23 October in connection with the crisis. As stated by IOM Director General William Lacy Swing at the conference, without vital funding, humanitarians would not be able to continue providing protection and life-saving aid to one of the most vulnerable groups in the world. While the pledging of nearly USD 345 million was encouraging, additional funding commitments were needed. IOM, specifically, had received around 20 per cent of its requirements – USD 120 million – under the Joint Response Plan, which called for a total of USD 434 million.

Yemen

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that on 23 October 2017, IOM, in coordination with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), had organized the transportation of 134 Somali refugees, including 73 adults (40 men and 33 women) and 61 children back to Somalia from war-torn Yemen. After some delays related to lack of fuel and security issues, the boat carrying the refugees had left the port of Aden on 23 October; it would arrive on 24 October at the Somali port of Berbera. Similar efforts had been undertaken over the past two years but had then been suspended for some time. It was important that despite difficulties involving security and the authorities, IOM had been able to gain access to an area around Aden that had not been accessible to humanitarian agencies for a long time.

Responding to questions, Mr. Millman said that a number of similar evacuations had been made in the past, both by sea and by air. The difficulties encountered in the most recent evacuation that had held up the transport by several days had involved access to Aden, lack of fuel and logistical planning, given that most of the IOM team in Yemen was based out of Sana’a, not Aden.

In response to specific questions about the repatriation process, Mr. Millman said that it was hoped that the recent evacuation effort would have a multiplier effect as others heard about the option of voluntary return and reintegration to their country of origin. There appeared to be fewer Somalis arriving in Yemen at the moment, but Somalis did not tend to use the same route as Ethiopians and Eritreans to reach Yemen and perhaps that route had been impeded by current conditions. Assisted voluntary repatriation and reintegration was one of the main missions of IOM, which sought to make Member States aware of their services to facilitate, as a neutral party, the voluntary return of migrants. It therefore continued to provide such services in Yemen; in fact, it also did so in places along the routes that migrants took before reaching their final destination: in Djibouti, IOM successfully convinced about a dozen refugees every day to return to their country of origin. Once they made the request to go back, IOM placed them in a camp for orientation and reintegration. After their Government verified their identity, they were taken to a hotel in Djibouti and were given a farewell meal of their native cuisine and flown back to the capital of their country of origin. For Somalis, as it was not possible to fly them back, so they were returned by sea.

He added that reintegration was a significant component. It was often funded by such entities as the European Union, the United States Department, humanitarian groups and NGOs and could include grants of up to EUR 1,000, which could help returnees start a new business. The stigma of going abroad and experiencing failure was so great that it was crucial to make the return as smooth as possible for migrants. It was also important to note that the process was attractive for donors, too, as the voluntary return programme was far less expensive than channelling migrants through each country’s legal system. Since November 2016, IOM had organized a total of 16 voluntary returns, the first 12 supported by Saudi Arabia. So far, IOM had helped 1,845 Somalis return home from Yemen.

Migration statistics for the Mediterranean

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that as at 22 October 2017, some 148,882 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea in 2017, with over 75 per cent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided among Greece, Cyprus and Spain. That was against 324,267 arrivals across the region over the same period in 2016, which meant that 2017 would not be a record-breaking year, contrary to initial forecasts. In addition, although recent statistics on migrants arriving in Italy via the Central Mediterranean route linking Libya to Europe were for the most part predictable, 10,000 fewer Nigerians and Eritreans had arrived through the end of September as compared to 2016.

Tunisia had emerged as a robust new migration route, but it was not believed to be a diversion from Libya. In September 2017, a total of 1,286 Tunisians had arrived on Italian shores, or just a few dozen fewer than the 1,357 who had arrived over the period of the previous eight months; another 1,500 had arrived so far in October. A total of 4,000 Tunisians had arrived in Europe since the beginning of 2017, or more than three times the number recorded in 2016. Among the push-factors cited for such an increase in the number of migrants from Tunisia was so-called revolution fatigue, with a growing malaise setting in six years after the Arab Spring, especially among young people. As for the demographics of the Tunisians in question, most were in the 18-40 age group and came from the southern desert region. In addition to revolution fatigue, migrants complained of poor infrastructure and water shortages.

There had been a number of recent incidents with casualties. IOM continued, however, to carry out voluntary returns, most recently the successful return of 163 Malian migrants who had been stranded in Libya.

Responding to questions about efforts to stop rescues in the Mediterranean, Mr. Millman said that IOM was supportive in general of humanitarian groups, NGO and official flotillas that conducted rescue operations. There was an obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to render assistance and rescue persons in distress if at all possible.

Democratic Republic of the Congo – Displacement situation

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was increasingly concerned by the escalating displacement that it was seeing in several key regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the last couple of years, the number of people displaced internally had more than doubled and now stood at 3.9 million people – some 428,000 of those having been displaced in the past three months alone. Over the past year, some 100,000 Congolese had fled to neighbouring countries as refugees. With widespread militia activities, and unrest and violence fuelled by ethnic and political conflict affecting many areas, the risk of further displacement was high. The challenges of getting aid to people in need were growing fast.

In the eastern province of Tanganyika, where some 584,000 people were internally displaced, intercommunal conflict between the Twa and Luba groups had spilled into neighbouring Haut-Katanga province earlier in 2017. Clashes with the army continued and there was wide prevalence of armed militia. Scores of civilians had been forced to flee, and there had been reports of murders, looting and extortion, and torture or other inhumane treatment. With people finding it difficult to sustain their livelihoods, more were becoming dependent on aid.

Refugees crossing from DRC into neighbouring Zambia were hosted temporarily at the Kenani transit centre, close to the border. Over 5,400 people were currently staying at the centre, receiving assistance from the authorities, UNHCR and partners. As the rainy season had started, it was becoming urgently important to provide public health, sanitation and water supplies to prevent diseases. Psychosocial support and medical care for people with specific needs – roughly one fourth of the refugee population – was also urgently required.

Violence involving mostly local armed groups was also plaguing North and South Kivu provinces. In North Kivu alone, over one million people were displaced. In South Kivu, where 545,000 people were internally displaced, the security situation had further deteriorated in September. Fear was widespread, including among the 30,000 Burundian refugees hosted at Lusenda camp in Fizi. Congolese from North Kivu had mainly fled to Uganda, and those from South Kivu to Tanzania. Currently, Uganda hosted the largest number of DRC refugees, over 236,500 people, mostly in the south-west. In Tanzania, there were nearly 80,000 DRC refugees as of the end of September 2017.

Meanwhile, in the Kasai region in central-southern DRC, displaced people and refugees who had fled the violence that started over a year ago had begun to return. As of 23 October, over 710,000 people had gone back. Many were finding their property in ruins and family members killed. At present the situation in the Kasai region was far from stable and humanitarian access had only just become possible in many areas. In total, over 762,000 people were displaced in the Kasai region. In Angola’s Lunda Norte province an additional 27,555 Congolese who had fled the Kasai conflict were being assisted by UNHCR and partners. UNHCR was coordinating protection activities for the displaced from the Kasai conflict, returnees and other vulnerable civilians. UNHCR had also distributed basic relief items and were preparing additional support, particularly for the communities where returns take place.

In light of the situations in the three aforementioned regions, UNHCR and partners had recently upgraded the situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo to level 3 – the highest level of emergency. UNHCR, as part of that response, would focus on the protection and assistance the displaced populations, including through leadership of the Protection cluster.

There were currently some 621,711 refugees from the DRC in more than 11 African countries. Funding for assistance was urgently needed. Of the USD 236.2 million required for the needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and other people of concern in the DRC, only USD 49.7 million had been received so far - a fifth of the amount required.

At the same time, the number of refugees from neighbouring countries seeking refuge inside DRC had grown by a third since early 2016 and now stood at 526,000 people. UNHCR continued to see new arrivals from Burundi, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Responding to questions, Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR worked with its partners to assist internally displaced persons where possible. However, thus far, humanitarian access had been very limited and the arrival of the rainy season had only made matters worse.

Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP had declared the region a level-3 emergency and was scaling up capacities in the provinces of Kasai (proper) and Kasai Central – the hardest-hit of Greater Kasai’s five provinces, with a threefold increase in the number of severely hungry people over the past 18 months. Two thirds of the severely hungry were in Kasai province alone.

WFP had not had a presence in Kasai before the conflict and significant expansion was taking place in logistics, supply chain, emergency coordination and security. WFP and partners had begun distributions in priority areas, offering those most at risk rations of cereals, pulses, vegetable oil and salt. The food was currently being sourced within DRC, but that will increasingly give way to regional and international procurement, not least to reduce costs.

Treating and preventing the condition in young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers was at the centre of the agency’s response, as the conflict was exacerbating Greater Kasai’s malnutrition rates. At the same time, given the well-documented use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war in the region, WFP was laying great emphasis on protection.

Despite the scale of the crisis, needs in DRC had received little attention. WFP had borrowed internally in order to start up operations in DRC but would soon need funds to ensure provision of food past November; it would need USD 135 million to continue assistance through mid-2018. Challenges included the sheer size of Kasai province and difficulties in accessing the region. In the worst-off communities, 9 out of 10 people were hungry, and 1 in 2 severely so. Many people ate little more than a meal a day, which was poor in protein, vitamins and minerals.

Responding to questions, Ms. Luescher, for WFP, said that because people were very dispersed geographically and for reasons related to limited resources, WFP was currently focusing its efforts on the hardest-hit provinces.

Asked about the causes of the situation of massive displacement in DRC, Mr. Edwards, for UNHCR, the situation was very complicated and involved such factors as ethnic tensions and land-grabbing, so that it was not possible to identify one issue as the sole cause.

Raqqa, Syria

Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that on 17 October, the Syrian Democratic Forces and local Arab tribes had reportedly taken full control of Raqqa City from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) following months of fighting. Prior to the re-capturing of the entire city, an estimated 8,000 people had been trapped in a small pocket under ISIL control. About 1,500 people evacuated from Raqqa City had arrived in the Ein Issa camp for internally displaced persons in the northern parts of the governorate, where they had received emergency food assistance from WFP. Currently, WFP stood ready to provide emergency food assistance to people in the newly accessible city once the security situation permitted, as part of its comprehensive response for the Raqqa displacements where nearly 200,000 people were receiving WFP food assistance on a monthly basis.

Reading out a statement on behalf of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Ms. Luescher said that there were concerns for the safety and protection of civilians at risk of death and injury from unexploded ordnances reportedly planted throughout Ar-Raqqa city neighbourhoods. While the clearing of unexploded ordnance operation was ongoing, nine people had reportedly been killed during the weekend when trying to return to their homes. It was possible that the dire humanitarian conditions for internally displaced persons at camps across Ar-Raqqa governorate would continue to drive many to attempt to return to their homes despite the dangers. Humanitarian actors were unable to access the city until the clearing of mines and other unexploded ordnances was completed. The United Nations called on all parties to take all measures to protect civilians and to facilitate safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all people in need across the country.

Announcements by the World Health Organization

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that 24 October 2017 was World Polio Day. Since 1998, when WHO had become part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, steady progress had been observed: so far in 2017, a total of 12 cases of polio had been reported, in two countries, – fewer cases than ever before. Today, only three endemic countries remained: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Innovative methods had put eradication within reach. However, challenges remained, especially in those polio-endemic countries. Sustained commitment was needed to overcome those challenges and eradicate polio once and for all.

On 24 October, at 3 p.m., the Chair of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization would hold a virtual press conference from WHO headquarters in Geneva to discuss the findings and recommendations of SAGE, especially with regard to typhoid, polio, measles and BCG vaccines.

Responding to questions about the appointment of United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors, Mr. Lindmeier, for WHO, said that candidates could be nominated at the regional or country level, or by senior management or by the Director-General himself. Regarding the Director-General’s recent decision to rescind his appointment of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, he referred the press to the statement by the Director-General himself on the WHO website. In the press release made available on 19 October, no mention had been made of President Mugabe’s appointment because at that time, a decision had not yet been taken officially. He would pass on the proposals made by the press for further clarification and transparency regarding WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros’ actions, including the specific grounds for designating President Mugabe as a Goodwill Ambassador in the first place.

Announcement by the International Labour Organization

Hans Von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that ILO would hold the thirty-first session of its Governing Body session from 26 October to 9 November 2017. On Wednesday, 1 November, it would discuss ILO cooperation with the tobacco industry in the pursuit of the Organization’s social mandate; a paper on the topic had been prepared for the purposes of guiding the discussion and had been distributed to members of the press. The discussion would be public and a press conference or stakeout could be organized if there was sufficient interest.

Other highlights during the session included a meeting on the complaint concerning non-observance by Guatemala of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87); a meeting on a complaint concerning non-observance by Qatar of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), and of the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81); and a meeting on a complaint concerning non-observance by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela of Conventions Nos. 26, 87 and 144. The meeting dates and times indicated on the ILO website were subject to change. Documentation would be available just a few days prior for each meeting. Although a separate area was reserved for members of the press in the conference room, individuals wishing to attend part of the session should express their interest in writing to facilitate logistics; furthermore, permission for filming should be applied for separately.

Asked whether ILO had published any recent reports on social dumping and the ways in which it might contravene certain core ILO conventions, Mr. Von Rohland said that he would make enquiries and make available any such reports found.

Announcement by the United Nations Environment Programme

Ellen Daltrop, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said that on Tuesday, 31 October 2017, a high-level dialogue would be held around the launch of its flagship Environment Emissions Gap report, just days ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 23). The report, in its eighth edition, tracked the policy commitments made by countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and analysed how those policies would translate into emissions reductions through 2030, clearly outlining the emissions gap and what it would take to bridge it. It examined how Government policy and private sector initiatives were key to the process’ evolution. In recognition of the increasingly important role of non-State actors, Thomson Reuters would present the latest data that tracked actions to lower emissions by companies in the Global 250, along with their value chains, which accounted for approximately one third of global annual emissions.

Announcements by the World Meteorological Organization

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that on Monday, 30 October 2017, WMO would be releasing its Greenhouse Gas Bulletin for 2017. An embargoed version of the Bulletin would be made available on Friday, 27 October, and a press release would be available in all languages. While the project had been coordinated with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a joint launch had been decided against in part because of scheduling conflicts.

On 6 November 2017, WMO would issue a provisional statement on the state of climate in connection with United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 23) to be held in Bonn. The data it was based on had been collected through September 2017 only. The statement would differ from those issued in the past in that the Agency had made a concerted effort to discuss impacts and, to that end, had brought in inputs from many partner agencies. Based on her understanding that there was sufficient interest from the Geneva press corp, a parallel embargoed release would take place in Bonn and in Geneva.

Geneva events and announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief, Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, drew attention to the message of the Secretary-General on the occasion of United Nations Day, being celebrated that day, 24 October 2017, in which he called on everyone to help achieve human rights and human dignity for all people, which was critical in order to build a peaceful, sustainable and just world. The Secretary-General would be arriving in the Central African Republic on the same day and would remain there for several days, during which he would meet with the President. He would speak to the press on 25 October 2017 and his remarks would be shared when they became available.

The Human Rights Committee, whose 121st session had opened on 16 October 2017, would be concluding its consideration of the report of Mauritius that morning and would begin considering the report of Cameroon in the afternoon. It would consider the last report scheduled for its current session, by Romania, also during the current week.

On Monday, 23 October 2017, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had opened its sixty-eighth session, which would run until 17 November 2017 at the Palais des Nations. It had begun consideration of the report of Burkina Faso, the first of many reports to be examined during the current session. The programme of work was available on the Committee’s web page.

There would be no media stakeout after the meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force on Thursday, 26 October 2017. On that same day, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, would brief the Security Council on the situation in Syria from Geneva, not in New York as had been previously announced.

Asked about the upcoming visit to Geneva of the United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Mr. LeBlanc said that Mr. Tillerson was scheduled to meet with representatives of IOM, UNHCHR and the International Committee of the Red Cross; any other questions about his visit should be directed to the Permanent Mission of the United States.

Press Conferences

UNCTAD - Presentation of the Review of Maritime Transport 2017
(under embargo until 25 October 2017 at 5.00 p.m. GMT, 6:00 p.m. Geneva time)
Tuesday, 24 October 2017 at 2:30 p.m.
https://www.unog.ch/unog/website/calendar.nsf/(httpInternal~Media~Daily~en)/43A452B02F555EF1C12581BC00529D46?OpenDocument

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog241017


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