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20-11-2020 | Edited News , Press Conferences

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 20 November 2020

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Situation in the Horn of Africa

 

Axel Bisschop, Representative of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Sudan, informed that UNHCR with other agencies was responding to an influx of over 31,000 people from Ethiopia, and the number was expected to increase further. Of those, some 18,000 refugees had come through a border crossing between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, near the town of Hamdayat. People were crossing the river on foot. Priorities included registration, providing water, sanitation, shelter, and health protection. Mr. Bisschop expressed gratitude to the people and the Government of Sudan, who let refugees from Ethiopia in. Together with other agencies, a response plan had been built for 20,000 people, but there were currently already some 31,000; the next plan would envision as many as 200,000 people over six months. Fifty million USD was urgently needed now; some USD 200 million would eventually be needed in total. The priority now was to move the refugees away from the border and to ensure that there were camps capable to receive the refugees.

 

Abdullah Fadil, Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sudan, stated that about 45 percent of the refugees were children; those children were not out of school. While some refugees had managed to bring along their possessions, the majority of people had come with nothing. The newly arrived children would need to be included in the general vaccination campaigns in Sudan. The serious concern was that if there was no quick action, the situation could unravel not only Ethiopia, but also Sudan, which was already hosting millions of refugees and IDPs, and experiencing a very difficult economic situation. UN agencies were doing advocacy with the Government of Sudan in order to secure sufficient land for the camps. Mr. Fadil stressed that the United Nations System was closely coordinating and working as one UN.

 

Hameed Nuru, Representative and Country Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Sudan, said that the numbers of arrivals had been overwhelming. WFP was providing to arrivals cooked meals and high energy biscuits. Warm cooked meals were being prepared and served in communal kitchens; facilities were in place to cater for 60,000 refugees over one month, but given the expected influx, that would be insufficient. WFP was now looking into logistics challenges and using airplanes, light aircraft and helicopters to reach distant camps. Mr. Nuru reiterated that USD 50 million was really needed right now to cover the essential needs of the refugees. The Government of Sudan and two local governorates were being very cooperative, he said.

 

Responding to questions, Mr. Bisschop said that the first registration was being done close to the border, after which a more in-depth registration was done at a more distant location. UNHCR’s policy in general was to have refugee camps further from the borders; this was not being done in anticipation of any fighting.

 

Mr. Fadil said that the people were scared and traumatized, and told UN agencies that they had left in a hurry. No physical injuries and casualties had been observed, added Mr, Nuru, but psychological violence had been suffered. Already 12 women had given birth in a refugee camp. Some of the people UN agencies had spoken to had witnessed fighting. Accounts had been heard of airplanes flying and shelling, while no specifics were provided; it seemed that the fighting was sporadic.

 

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stressed that a temporary ceasefire was needed, as well as an establishment of a humanitarian corridor.

 

UNHCR’s statement is available here.

 

Conference on Afghanistan 2020

 

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), announced the Conference of Afghanistan would take place at UN Geneva on 23 and 24 November. The Conference would be webcast; a detailed programme with the names of all speakers would be shared shortly. The media should inform UNIS if they would want to be in the room to cover the Conference.

 

Naser Sidiqee, Director General of the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, Ministry of Finance of Afghanistan, said that the 2020 Afghanistan Conference was taking place at a critical and historic moment. At the Conference, the Government of Afghanistan would present its peace and development framework - its next four-year strategy. The Conference would focus on making Afghanistan self-reliant by the end of 2024. Improving aid delivery and aid effectiveness was another important topic on the Conference’s agenda. The Government would work together with partners to protect and preserve the achievements made over the previous 19 years, including civil liberties and women’s rights, stressed Mr. Sidiqee.

 

Janne Taalas, Finland’s Special Envoy to the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, explained that Finland had been cooperating with Afghanistan for years, and had made significant contributions to the country for a long time. Three goals for the Conference were: to support people and the Government of Afghanistan; to secure the gains of the past 19 years; and to bolster the peace process.

 

Ramiz Alakbarov, UN Resident Coordinator in Afghanistan a.i, stated that the Conference would be opened by the President of Afghanistan. This Conference was the last of a series in the “Decade of Self-reliance for Afghanistan”. It was expected that the Conference would provide strong support for the people of Afghanistan, despite the general pandemic context. The Conference was expected to reinforce the strong signal of international solidarity.

 

Responding to questions, Mr. Alakbarov said that it was expected that contributions would be significant, despite the difficult fiscal crisis. The actual figures would be announced at the Conference, said Mr. Sidiqee. On women’s rights and other civil liberties, he said that there was a strong commitment by the Government of Afghanistan that the gains of the past 19 years had to be protected and preserved; they were embodied in the Constitution. Mr. Taalas emphasized that it was critical that the Doha Peace Process continue and not fail. As the military presence in Afghanistan was going down, development assistance was even more important. The needs had been increasing, partly because of COVID-19, but money was also scarcer now for the same reason.

 

Rwanda humanitarian flight

 

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that UNHCR had evacuated on 19 November a group of 79 vulnerable asylum-seekers out of Libya to safety in Rwanda. Those critical, life-saving flights from Libya to Rwanda had been on hold for nearly a year because of COVID-19-related worldwide border closures and movement restrictions.

 

Such evacuation flights were a vital lifeline for refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libya. The Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) provided a safe and organized pathway to longer-term solutions. However, the number of places available through the ETM and other humanitarian evacuation flights was still insufficient, and UNHCR advocated for more countries to take part and offer more places for the most vulnerable refugees.

 

Full press release is available here.

 

Post-hurricane situation in Central America

 

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the Central American region was reeling from two recent hurricanes, Eta and Iota, both of which had most heavily impacted small farmers. In north-eastern Nicaragua, the WFP had prepositioned food, and then moved that food to offer people immediate assistance. As of 15 November, the WFP had dispatched 275 tons of rice and other commodities. The plan was to continue general food distributions to people in shelters and to establish a more sustainable support as the time went by. Both Eta and Iota’s impact had been severe, especially given the general situation in the region before they had hit.

 

Human rights violations in Idlib

 

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed of disturbing reports of continued detention of civilians, including humanitarian workers, in Idlib, north-western Syria, in areas under the control of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and other armed groups. Deeply troubling reports had also been received of executions following the detentions and so-called trials by the de facto authorities.

 

This week, HTS had confirmed that it was holding a 28-year-old woman, Noor al-Shallo, a humanitarian and media worker, allegedly on “moral” and “criminal” charges. The de facto authorities had to refrain from any harmful act, ensure her protection and immediately release her. OHCHR also had verified reports that several individuals were executed, for perceived affiliation with an opposing party, including Kurdish armed groups or the Syrian Government, or on allegations of blasphemy, adultery, theft or murder.

 

International humanitarian law explicitly prohibited the passing of sentences and carrying out of executions without previous judgment affording all necessary judicial guarantees, stressed Ms. Shamdasani. HTS were the de facto authorities in the region, and under international law, when they executed someone, that might amount to a war crime, she explained.

Full statement is available here.

 

Detention of human rights defenders in Egypt

 

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the arrest of three human rights defenders in Egypt this week was a very worrying development that underscored the extreme vulnerability of civil society activists in the country. Gasser Abdel Razek, the Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) had been arrested by security forces the previous day; Karim Ennarah, EIPR’s director of Criminal Justice, had been arrested on 18 November in Dahab, South Sinai, while on vacation; and Mohammad Basheer, administrative manager for the same organisation, had been arrested at his home in Cairo on 15 November.

 

UNHCR was worried that those recent arrests and detentions were part of a broader pattern of intimidating organizations defending human rights and of the use of counter-terrorism and national security legislation to silence dissent. The use of sweeping counter-terrorism laws and vague charges such as “joining a terrorist organization” and “spreading false information” to harass and criminalize the work of human rights defenders was inconsistent with the rule of law and Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law.

 

Full statement can be read here.

 

Geneva announcements

 

Alessandra Vellucci, speaking on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), informed that the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) was taking place from 18 to 24 November 2020. It was an annual campaign led by FAO, OIE and WHO with several events and activities being organized worldwide to raise awareness of the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Today, at 3 p.m., the three partners would the launch the One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance that would advocate for urgent action to combat the threat of antimicrobial drug resistance. More information is available here.

 

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that UNCTAD would publish on 25 November a new report entitled “Economic costs of the Israeli occupation for the Palestinian people: The Gaza Strip under closure and restrictions.” The report described the near-collapse of Gaza’s economy and its isolation from the Palestinian economy and rest of the world, and stressed the urgent need to end the closure of Gaza and the urgency of restoring Palestinians’ right to free movement. The report would be presented during a press conference on 25 November at 11:30 a.m. by Richard Kozul-Wright, Director at UNCTAD, and Mahmoud Elkhafif, Coordinator of the UNCTAD Assistance to the Palestinian People. The embargo on the report would be in place until 6 pm that day.

 

A hybrid press conference on the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines - addressing growing use of IEDs mine action and peace process in Sudan would take place today at 1 pm. The speakers would be Osman A. Adam Mohammed, Deputy Permanent Representative of Sudan to UN Geneva; Félix Baumann, Deputy Permanent Representative of Switzerland to UN Geneva; Laurent Gisel, Head of Arms Unit, ICRC; and Kasia Derlicka, Head of Policy, International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

 

On 23 November at 11 a.m., the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) would hold a press conference to present the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin - annual report by WMO on atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other major greenhouse gases. The speakers would be Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, and Oksana Tarasova, WMO Chief of Atmospheric and Environment Research Division.

 

On 25 November at 9:30 a.m., the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) would have press briefing to launch the Cluster Munition Monitor 2020 Report. The speakers would be Mary Wareham, Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch, Arms Division; Loren Persi, Impact research team leader, ICBL-CMC; and Ruth Bottomley, Research specialist, expert on contamination, clearance and risk education, ICBL-CMC.

 

Ms. Vellucci also informed that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was appealing for a total of USD 131.6 million to fund its regional response to the Syria crisis, which spanned 11.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, in addition to nearly 5.6 million refugees throughout Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. The appeal also included urgent funding required to address the substantial needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has added yet another layer of complexity to a protracted and multi-faceted situation.


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UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 20 November 2020 / 1:22:08

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