The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Just an update from Bangladesh: the current movement of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh is now the largest mass refugee movement in the region in decades. In total, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees are now believed to be in Bangladesh. The latest number of arrivals since August is still, as far as we know, at 429,000.
UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) said today that it is stepping up its delivery of life-saving aid to Rohingya refugees seeking shelter near two official camps in south-eastern Bangladesh.
The Agency is responding to a Government request to distribute plastic sheeting to as many people as possible to protect them from monsoon rains and winds.
UNHCR staff are working to organize a 2,000-acre camp for new arrivals, and it will be next to another camp, also run by UNHCR, which is home to Rohingya refugees who have arrived in previous decades.
UNHCR’s priority is to move as many of the newly arrived refugees into the new camp as soon as possible so that it can help the Government and other partners in protecting and helping them.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, will be in Bangladesh tomorrow to see first-hand the scale of the crisis and to meet with refugees.
For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) has now reached at least 385,000 people with food aid as of today. Together with its partners, the World Food Programme feeds more than 5,000 people daily in the area.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about the health situation on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, noting the difficulty of rolling out the emergency response due to the difficult terrain, heavy rains and the [dispersement] of the refugee population. WHO says the main risk is related to water and sanitation, with poor conditions increasing the risk of vector- and water-borne diseases.
Turning to hurricanes Irma and Maria, the United Nations continues to support both immediate needs and early recovery efforts.
We have now established an airbridge with Antigua, and are today expecting a shipment of tarpaulins and other essential items from our humanitarian warehouse in Panama City to the island of Dominica.
WFP, UNICEF, IOM (International Organization for Migration) and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) are sending teams to Dominica to both assess and kick start the response, with more agencies expected to follow.
In Barbuda, as you will remember, over 90 per cent of buildings were destroyed by Hurricane Irma, including all government premises, and that Barbudans are temporarily living in the neighbouring island of Antigua.
The Government kicked off debris removal efforts on Barbuda, with technical support from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to build back better, as part of a UN-wide humanitarian-development strategy.
UNDP’s support includes dealing with hazardous medical waste, as well as environmental aspects, such as recycling and landfill management. Cash-for-work initiatives are to begin shortly to immediately inject needed cash in affected communities.
And in Cuba, as part of the national recovery plan with the Government, UNDP is supporting the recovery of over 215,000 houses severely damaged by Hurricane Irma.
Turning to Darfur, our colleagues at the African Union–UN Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, said today they are deeply concerned about clashes between Government forces and internally displaced people residing at Kalma camp, in South Darfur, which have led to the death of at least three people and the wounding 26 others.
The Mission urges all parties to exercise utmost restraint. It is doing everything it can to deescalate the situation. A medical team from UNAMID is currently at Kalma camp to assist local authorities in treating the injured. The Mission is engaging with the state government and the leaders of internally displaced people to peacefully resolve the issue.
Today, UNHCR signed an agreement with the League of Arab States to address the challenges faced by refugees in the Arab region.
The agreement was signed here in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly to increase cooperation to respond to the needs of refugees in the Arab region by facilitating access to humanitarian support and emergency response services.
UNHCR estimates that more than half of the refugee population worldwide and some 40 per cent of internally displaced persons are being hosted in the Arab region.
The Americas have eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT), a disease that used to be responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 newborns every year in the region.
That’s according to our colleagues at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and UNICEF.
The elimination of the disease was declared this year in Haiti, which made it possible to reach the regional goal.
A number of press briefings today: as soon as we are done here, Brenden Varma will brief you on behalf of the PGA (President of the General Assembly).
And then at 1 p.m., the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.
At 3:15 p.m., the Commissioner General for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (more simply known as UNRWA), and that is Pierre Krähenbühl.
5:15 p.m., High-Level Side Event “Sustaining Peace through the Strengthening of Human Rights in International Law”. Speakers will be the Foreign Ministers of Sierra Leone and the Netherlands; along with the Vice-President of Costa Rica; and the High Commissioner for [Human Rights], Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
And today, we say thank you very much to our friends in Uruguay, who become the 132nd Member State to have paid their dues in full.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, can you tell us a bit how… what the Secretary-General is expecting out of his meeting tomorrow with the North Korean foreign minister? And does he have any thoughts about the insults that are being lobbed back and forth between North Korea and the US?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General looks forward to the meeting. I don’t want to set any expectations. It’s obviously important for him to have… to be able to have direct discussions with a senior representative of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). And the message he will deliver is [the one] that he’s been delivering this whole time, which is one of a wish to see denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a wish to see the Security… the DPRK abide by Security Council resolutions, and very much hoping that the unity we’ve seen on the Security Council will create an opportunity for political discussion. On the language, I think, obviously as a matter of course, we would like the focus to be on diplomatic efforts rather than rhetoric. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. With reference to the agreement you mentioned between the UNHCR and the Arab States, is there anything included in there, or any discussions, relating to the contributions made by the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE (United Arab Emirates), etc., in relation to the disproportionate amount of refugees admitted to Lebanon and Jordan?
Spokesman: You know, you can… I don’t have that many details of the agreement. I think this was more an agreement focusing on facilities and able to… the ease of access for transport and other things. We can check with UNHCR.
Question: I mean, is… is that agreement going to be available?
Spokesman: We… no reason why it shouldn’t be. I would reach out to our colleagues at UNHCR here.
Question: So as far as you know, there weren’t any pledges made with regards to the admissions of refugees?
Spokesman: What I’m trying to hide is my complete ignorance about this thing. So check with UNHCR. Yes, Majeed?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Following SG’s remarks or statement critical of the referendum in the Kurdistan region, siding with Baghdad’s position against Erbil, Vice-President Nouri al-Maliki announced that he rejects the UN’s envoy’s initiative to start dialogue between Erbil and… and Baghdad. The SG statement that sides with Baghdad is now encouraging basically the hardliners in Baghdad to reject the dialogue. Isn’t that a concern?
Spokesman: I wouldn’t… I don’t agree with your characterization of the Secretary-General’s…
Question: No, the consequence…
Spokesman: Yeah, I’m just saying I wouldn’t agree with your characterization of the Secretary-General’s statement. We’ve seen… I think we’ve seen the statement made by the Vice-President. Our position remains the same, is that this is best dealt through a comprehensive and in-depth dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad at this time of high tension in Iraq. [inaudible]
Question: I think that the statement of SG is against the referendum at this time… is not siding with Baghdad’s position? Because Erbil wants to… to conduct… to have the referendum happen and Baghdad…
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General wants the leaders in Iraq to approach this situation with patience and restraint and to be in direct dialogue. Abdelhamid?
Question: A follow-up to the question about the referendum on Monday. I have noticed that the statement by the Security Council is a little bit mild compared to the statement by the Secretary-General. Is there a division here between the Secretary-General…
Spokesman: The… sorry. I will let you finish your question.
Question: … and the Security Council and supposedly, the… Kurdistan went along and insisted on doing the referendum in one day. Would there be a further statement by the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. We try not to comment on things that have not happened. We’ll see what Monday brings, and obviously, either we’ll react after a question or we’ll put out a statement. But let… I don’t want to predict what will happen. As to the difference between the statement of the Security Council and the Secretary-General, I will leave the compare-and-contrast exercise to the journalists. Yes, and then we’ll go…
Question: Thank you, Mr. Stéphane. On Rohingya issues, I must say the Secretary-General is doing a lot to resolve these issues and I appreciate that. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh delivered her speech yesterday, and she mentioned five categoric proposals to resolve these issues, so do you… does the UN agree on these five issues, number one. I have another question.
Spokesman: Go ahead, go ahead.
Question: Second question is the Bangladesh Prime Minister had a meeting with the UN Secretary-General yesterday. Other than Rohingya issues, is there any discussion about the human rights situation of Bangladesh and voting rights as Bangladesh is facing these challenges?
Spokesman: I think we have spoken on that issue in the past. I would refer you to the readout as to what was discussed. And sorry. Can you repeat your first question?
Question: Bangladesh Prime Minister delivered her speech in the General Assembly yesterday, and she made five categoric points to resolve these issues, five proposals.
Spokesman: Look, I think… we’re not going to go on a point-by-point… First of all, it’s clear that we, and I think the international community, appreciates greatly what Bangladesh is doing, what the people and the Government of Bangladesh are doing, in welcoming these people. It’s hard… we talk about numbers here, but I think you have to visualize the numbers of human beings, of men, women and children, who often are in very dire conditions, crossing over in very dangerous situations, and then Bangladesh has opened its arms to them. The international community has a responsibility to assist Bangladesh. We’re trying to mobilize funds. As far as solving the situation, I think the Secretary-General has made his own position very clear with suggestions of what should happen in Myanmar and Rakhine State, the first being, obviously, a halt to military security operations — being the immediate point. And of course, we would like to see greater humanitarian access within Rakhine State. Mr. Lee? Oh, sorry. And then we’ll go to you. Go ahead.
Question: I wanted to ask about Somalia and also Cameroon. On Somalia, I wanted to know. You probably… they’ve lost their voting rights in the General Assembly. But beyond that, they seem to have sent documents showing, like, they’re behind on their rent of the Mission, just basically kind of total chaos and disarray. And given that the Secretary-General hasn’t had a meeting about Somalia, and there’s all this expressed support for Somalia, does the Secretary-General think that, number one, they should be given an extension and allowed to… to vote in the General Assembly? And… and… and isn’t that the simplest form of… of…
Spokesman: Obviously, Somalia is a country that is in need of international support… continuing need of international support as it rebuilds. The issue of voting rights and the waivers given to some countries who are not able to pay is obviously one for the General Assembly and the Member States to decide.
Question: Okay. And then I wanted… all right. I’ll ask Brenden about that. I wanted to ask you. In… there’s a protest right now of Southern Cameroonians on 47th Street, but more importantly, there’s one in Southern Cameroon where five people have been killed today, as Paul Biya gave his speech, so I’m wondering… I know the Deputy Secretary-General had some interest in the issue. There’s Mr. [Francois Lonseny] Fall. Are they aware of these protests?
Spokesman: We’ve seen the reports I think we would definitely… we would call on the authorities to show restraint and ensure that people have the right to demonstrate freely. Yes, in the back. Sorry, you’ve been patient.
Question: I just wanted to follow up on the North Korea question. I know the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Foreign Minister, but yesterday, they also threatened that they may test an H-bomb over the Pacific. And I think we know that when Kim Jong-Un says he does something, he will do something, they do it. Any concerns, or anything that you can comment further on that ahead of this meeting?
Spokesman: Again, I think… there’s nothing more I can say on the meeting. I think it’s important to let the meeting happen. We will issue a readout afterwards. Our general message is one right now of restraint, and a push to a return toward dialogue. Ben?
Question: Just on the violence last night at a protest against President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. Obviously, the UN is known for supporting the right of protest, peaceful protest. Is there a worry that the Turkish Government is meting out punishment against opponents in this country?
Spokesman: We stand for free speech. Honestly, I’ve seen the video. I don’t have enough details to who was responsible, what exactly happened to offer any sort of comment. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you. The… the Secretary-General announced his Gender Parity Plan, and then all the staff unions have all written him a letter, saying they didn’t… they weren’t consulted sufficiently and they’re extremely troubled by one portion of it, which is that, based on his estimates of the percentage of… of by-gender promotions that would take place and also the actual rate of retirement, they’re saying that, in some departments, this will basically preclude any promotion of male candidates for the next decade, and that the numbers don’t… I don’t know if you’ve seen their letter… but they…
Spokesman: No, I haven’t seen the letter. I think there was broad consultation with various entities, including the staff federations, as far as I’m aware. Gender parity isn’t about precluding promotion of men. It’s about looking at longer term, across the board, to have gender parity. And I think it’s in everyone’s interests and it’s in the organization’s interests.
Question: They just… all I’m saying is that they actually focus on the GA document that… that talks about the rate of retirement…
Spokesman: I just… I haven’t seen that number of… [inaudible] Everybody has… I’m sure we will interact with the staff union.
Question: And there’s like 12 staff unions that sent the letter.
Spokesman: My answer stays the same. I will now leave you in the good hands of Mr. Varma.