The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is at this present moment flying back from Ethiopia where he attended the African Union Summit to enhance the cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations. He worked with the African Union and the subregional organization IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] to establish a common initiative to address the dramatic South Sudan situation on a common platform and to support the humanitarian programme against drought in Ethiopia. During his mission, on several occasions, he had the opportunity to express his disagreement with the US Executive Order on refugees, but, feeling the need to express a comprehensive position on this, he asked me last night to read out the following statement in his name:
On my way back from Ethiopia, the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa that for decades has been keeping its borders open to hundreds of thousands of refugees from its neighbours, many times in dramatic security situations, I want to state the following:
Countries have the right, even the obligation, to responsibly manage their borders to avoid infiltration by members of terrorist organizations. This cannot be based on any form of discrimination related to religion, ethnicity or nationality because: it is against the fundamental principles and values on which our societies are based; and because it triggers wide-spread anxiety and anger that may facilitate the propaganda of the very terrorist organizations we all want to fight against; and because blind measures, not based on solid intelligence, tend to be ineffective as they risk being bypassed by what are today sophisticated global terrorist movements.
I am particularly concerned by the decisions that around the world have been undermining the integrity of the international refugee protection regime. Refugees fleeing conflict and persecution are finding more and more borders closed and increasingly restricted access to the protection they need and are entitled to receive, according to international refugee law. That statement will be made available to you online.
As you know, the Security Council has just wrapped up a meeting in closed consultations on Syria. We expect Staffan de Mistura to brief you at the Council stakeout around 12:30 p.m. And I also want to flag that the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, was in Homs, in Syria, today where he met families at a welfare centre and a shelter for returnees — two projects funded and supported by UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].
Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said today he is extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of civilians in the Dhubab and Al Mokha districts of Taizz Governorate. Information from the field indicates that military operations in the coastal region have forced residents of Dhubab to flee the area, while in Mokha an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people, almost one third of the population, are trapped in the town and require immediate protection and relief assistance. Repeated airstrikes, shelling and sniper attacks in and around the town of Al Mokha have killed and injured scores of civilians and have ground most services to a halt, including the main market and the water supply system.
And yesterday, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed condemned in the strongest terms the attack on the De-escalation and Coordination Committee building in Dhahran in Al-Janoub. He said that it was tragic that this attack took place at a point in time where we are calling for the restoration of the cessation of hostilities. The building attacked was supposed to host the committee that will oversee the cessation of hostilities and report on violations. He said the UN maintains a regular presence in this building and the incident is not a sign of good faith. His statement was made available to you, and the press release from the Humanitarian Coordinator is also available online.
I wanted to give you a humanitarian update on Ukraine where our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that the 2017 humanitarian appeal for Ukraine, which was launched last month and calls for $214 million, is only 1 per cent funded.
Also on Ukraine, the Humanitarian Coordinator and the aid community there today said they are gravely concerned by the drastic deterioration of the security situation in the country’s east and its impact on humanitarian work. The Humanitarian Coordinator, Neal Walker, said that an immediate cessation of hostilities is needed to prevent further loss of lives and to allow for repair teams to restore critical basic services, including water and heat, to people living in temperatures of -10°C. More about this in an OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] press release.
**United Nations Children’s Fund
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today launched an appeal for $3.3 billion to help nearly 50 million children around the world who are under direct attack, with their hopes and futures hanging in the balance. Almost one in four of the world’s children lives in a country affected by conflict or disaster. The new appeal seeks to provide children with access to safe water, nutrition, education, health and protection in 48 countries, including Syria, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan and Nigeria. The largest component of the appeal is earmarked for Syria, with $1.4 billion to go towards supporting Syrian children inside the country and those living as refugees in neighboring countries. You can read more about it on UNICEF’s website.
A personnel appointment to announce today: our friend Toby Lanzer of the United Kingdom was named by the Secretary-General as his Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan. Mr. Lanzer succeeds Mark Bowden of the UK, who will complete his assignment at the end of February. The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Bowden’s dedicated service in Afghanistan. The full bio is available in my office.
**Sustainable Development Goals
You are all invited to attend an SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Media Zone reception at the Express Bar tonight at 6 p.m., which will feature a panel discussion focused on human trafficking and musical performances, including by Ozark Henry, a Belgian Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). An album called Music to Inspire will be launched, whose proceeds will go to the UN Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.
And just a reminder that at 4 p.m., our friends at the Swedish Mission will host their end-of-presidency press conference right here. And tomorrow, at 5 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine, which assumes the Presidency of the Security Council for the month of February. That's it. Yes, sir?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, given the strong statement you've just read out on the refugee ban, is the Secretary‑General now of the view that this ban should be lifted expeditiously? I mean, yesterday, you spoke about hoping that if… you hoped that it was temporary. It is a temporary ban. It's four months and 90 days and… depending on what you're talking about in terms of the ban, so… it is temporary, so what are you actually wanting to see?
Spokesman: We do hope that it is lifted as soon as possible. Yep. Edie?
Question: I noticed that the statement, while not singling out any particular country, certainly came after the US announcement and does mention other countries. Are there any other specific countries that the Secretary‑General would like…?
Spokesman: I think if you look back over the last year, we have seen countries in Central Europe and in Europe also close their borders. So, I think the Sec… when the Secretary‑General talks about decisions around the world that have been undermining the integrity of the international refugee regime, I think he looks at other countries in Europe and other parts of the world. Mr. Lee and then… sorry.
Question: Two questions on this. One… and I'm sorry to go back to yesterday. I just wanted to… I was try… I've been trying to figure out the… the… the… the statement or correction that you put out after the briefing. What was the exact… was there nothing behind the idea that UN staff hadn't been able to get onto planes or that was it… was it somehow there was a higher standard of proof that you said it couldn't be confirmed? What explains what you said and what you said afterwards?
Spokesman: I was trying to be as factual as possible. I think in my briefing yesterday, I'd said we'd heard of some cases and no case… no confirmed cases were reported to us. And, again, we were pleased to get those assurances from the US Mission.
Question: Sure. And I wanted to ask, the… the… if it's the… if it is the case that António Guterres is… is moving towards naming a new… either a new or an additional Special Adviser on migration, and if so, what the terms of reference of that position and sort of what are and if… if it's true that Louise Arbour is the one… is being considered for it?
Spokesman: We're not ready to confirm anything as of now. A lot of this comes out of the re… the summit that came… that was hosted last September on the… was it September… on the mass migration of people, and there've also been relevant General Assembly resolutions. But, I have no further details to share with you at this very point.
Question: But, would it be the same… the same Karen AbuZayd post, or is it a new post…? Is it in the budget? Do you have the funding?
Spokesman: I think you should wait for the announcement and it will be clear. Yes, Ronda?
Question: Okay. First, any new information about the Secretary‑General having a press conference for journalists?
Spokesman: No, I've… we… no. When I have something to announce, I shall share it with you.
Question: Okay. Second is, I had asked about the S/NC and it was changed in 1998 was the last time; it was issued often, and since 2000 it's only issued once a year, the list. I wonder if there's any way you can help find somebody who might understand that change.
Spokesman: Let me see what I can do.
Question: Have you seen some of the alarming reports that the Trump Administration's planning to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement? What's the UN's response?
Spokesman: I think there are a lot of reports, a lot of things floating about. Once something is announced, if and when it's announced, we would comment on it. But, it is clear that the US and the large developed countries, industrial countries, are a key partner in implementing the Paris climate change agreement. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, again, it has to do with the Rohingya, in this case, in Bangladesh. Maybe you've seen reports that the Government of Bangladesh is considering moving the people that were able to cross the border in camps near the border to an island that's described as being often underwater. It seems like a pretty… does… does, I guess, the UN or, in particular, António Guterres have any…?
Spokesman: I haven't seen those reports…
Correspondent: It's in the New York Times.
Spokesman: I'll see what I can find. You may also want to contact UNHCR. Yep, Ronda?
Question: I had one other question that I had asked before, and you'd said you'd look into it. And that is the women who crossed the DMZ [de-militarized zone] sent a letter to Ban Ki‑moon when he was Secretary‑General. You said you'd look into whether that letter that was never answered…
Spokesman: I haven't seen an answer to that letter. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to… maybe it was one of the times in the middle of the month, you were away. Farhan [Haq] had said… I'd asked about people that I've seen up on [the 38th Floor] and said, like, are they now part of the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General or not? He said, until the end of the month, it's still the transition. So, I guess I wanted… are we going to get kind of a chart of, like, who transitioned from the transition? I saw the French legal adviser — or at least the person I think of as the French legal adviser — going up and down. Is he now part of working for the UN? Is he seconded?
Spokesman: As I said, we're still in a period of transition. When we can have a little more clarity on the staffing, we'll share it with. Thank you.