Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

20 October 2017

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Bangladesh‑Myanmar

Regarding the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh, our humanitarian colleagues say that the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since 25 August has reached approximately 589,000.

Just over half of these new arrivals are staying in a single large site called the Kutupalong Expansion, where aid partners are working with authorities to improve road access, infrastructure and basic services.

As we announced earlier, on Monday, 23 October, there will be a high‑level pledging conference in Geneva co‑chaired by the Emergency Relief Coordinator and heads of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and will be co‑hosted by the European Union and Kuwait.

The conference aims to mobilize resources for the Rohingya Refugee Crisis Response Plan, which calls for $434 million to help 1.2 million people through next February 2018.  It is currently only 26 per cent funded.

UNHCR said today that nearly 7,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have been admitted to Bangladesh after spending up to four days stranded near the border.  Thousands more are believed to be on their way from Myanmar.

The most vulnerable among the new arrivals are bussed from the border to a transit centre, where UNHCR and its partners provide food, water, medical checks and temporary shelter.

UNHCR is also taking part in efforts to count families, with nearly 250,000 refugees having so far been tallied.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that desperate living conditions and waterborne diseases are threatening more than 320,000 Rohingya refugee children.

A new report by UNICEF says that most of the refugees are living in overcrowded and unsanitary makeshift settlements.  Despite an expanding international aid effort led by the Government of Bangladesh, the report says that the essential needs of many children are not being met.

UNICEF is also calling for an end to the atrocities targeting civilians in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, as well as for humanitarians to be given immediate and unfettered access to all children affected by the violence there.  At present, UNICEF has no access to Rohingya children in northern Rakhine.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reportthat two peacekeepers were wounded in Pombolo yesterday in clashes with anti‑Balaka fighters who attacked the town.  The peacekeepers arrived in the town yesterday to protect civilians in response to widespread violence that has reportedly killed at least 26 civilians and injured dozens.  The wounded peacekeepers are in stable condition and are being evacuated for medical treatment to Bria.

Additional peacekeepers are in the process of being deployed to Pombolo to reinforce the UN’s presence in the area.

**Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us they’re concerned by the intensified fighting between the Taliban and Daesh‑affiliated Islamic State‑Khorasan (IS‑K) in Khogyani district, in eastern Nangarhar province, which have triggered new displacements.

According to local sources, there are more than 2,000 newly displaced people, adding to the 5,000 people that were displaced by the fighting that started five days ago.

Ambulances are currently on standby in Khogyani District Hospital and the World Health Organization (WHO) has dispatched additional supplies to cover a total of 2,000 patients.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, wherever access permits.

**Iraq

And from Iraq, UNHCR and its partners have been helping families who, fearing large‑scale military clashes, have fled Kirkuk and other disputed areas pre‑emptively in recent days.

UNHCR and its partners have been providing food, water and shelter to these families.

The agency believes that the majority of these families will return to their homes in the coming days, but also says that there will be groups who are likely to remain uprooted.

**Syria

The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow yesterday and he said before the meeting that this is now the time for the political process to move ahead once more.

He said that he will consult the Secretary‑General next Monday in New York before meeting with the Security Council on Thursday.  Mr. de Mistura added that he is determined to relaunch the Geneva negotiations in November.

Meanwhile, we will continue to follow closely the situation in Raqqa, where we have received reports that most of the city has been damaged or destroyed due to the fighting.  The main and immediate concern is for the protection and safety of civilians from Raqqa, and more broadly across north‑eastern Syria.

To ensure access for humanitarian partners, explosive remnants of war contamination must be mapped and cleared to create a safe environment that would allow for the voluntary return of civilians.

Already, the UN and its partners are reaching 330,000 men, women and children in need across north-eastern Syria each month.

**Human Rights

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, will visit Peru and Uruguay next week to discuss progress and challenges concerning human rights in these countries.  He will also launch a joint plan of action by the UN Human Rights Office and the Inter‑American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to address the protection of human rights defenders in the Americas.  There are more details online.

**Honour Roll

And today, we are delighted to announce Jordan’s entry to the Honour Roll.  With its full payment to the regular budget, there are now 137 Member States fully paid up.

**Press Briefings

As for press conferences, after I speak you will of course have Brenden Varma speaking on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.

Then at 12:30 p.m., right here in this room, there will be a press briefing by Suela Janina, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, and Bernard Duhaime, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

And then on Monday at 2:00 p.m., there will be a press briefing here by Hilal Elver, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

That’s it for me.  Are there any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Farhan.  It may be a little early, but any readout on the SG’s meeting with President [Donald] Trump?  And also, is the UN aware of or have any details on this proposal that President [Vladimir] Putin mentioned this morning on Syria, to have some kind of a Syrian People’s Congress?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, as you know, the special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has been in Moscow.  He did meet and discuss matters with the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Mr. Lavrov, just yesterday and from there, he will discuss matters with the Secretary‑General next Monday, so he’ll be taking forward any ideas.  I don’t have any immediate reaction to what was announced from Russia regarding President Putin’s new appeal.  And regarding your first question, the meeting was supposed to have begun just a few minutes before I came here, so we’re still waiting to get some details.  I put in a call and hopefully, we’ll get some details a little bit later.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question: On Myanmar, the military said it stopped… it stopped its onslaught on 5 September.  That doesn’t seem to be the case, according to human rights… no, Amnesty International, which says the latest refugees reported shooting and even hear shooting across the bay.  Do you have any information on the inside, on what is happening in northern Rakhine State?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, we haven’t had a substantial amount of first‑hand access.  Jeffrey Feltman was able to see some burned villages in Rakhine State when he visited just a few days ago, but we don’t have the kind of access we have been seeking, so we don’t have first‑hand information.  Of course, what we do have is information of the fact that there are people who have been fleeing across the border, and those numbers continue to rise.  Like I said, the number for today is around 589,000, so whatever is happening on the ground, people do continue to be fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh, and we’re registering them and oftentimes, we get to hear their testimonies.  Yes.  Yes, please?

Question: Thank you.  Is the UN aware, or what is the UN response to the situation in Malawi, where mobs of people are killing people accused of being vampires or blood‑draining vampires, and the situation is so serious that the US and UN has withdrawn its staff and issued travel warnings in parts of the country.  These mindless, stupid killings, is the UN aware of them?

Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we are indeed.  We have been taking precautions regarding the situation there.  What I can say is that, on the security front, we have tried to inform the staff on the ground in Malawi of any precautions they may need to take so we can go about our work, despite the problems that you have just been detailing.  And regarding the human rights front, I believe our colleagues in Geneva are aware of the matter and you’ll have seen the sort of efforts that they’ve made to try to make sure, in situations like this, that different groups are not targeted or harassed for… because of unwarranted reasons.  Yes?

Question: Yes.  Farhan, regarding Iraq.  In the last 24 hours in Kirkuk, the situation right now is a direct military confrontation.  As I’m speaking to you, there’s a fight in the town of Kurdeb, hundreds have been killed reportedly and more than 100,000 has been displaced.  This is… this is the war that the previous year, the UN expressed concern about ‑ that it has to be prevented.  It’s happening right now.  And I… I saw UNAMI’s (United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq) statement, the humanitarian coordinator’s report and also, Stéphane [Dujarric]’s comments, but the SG so far has been silent about this.  He hasn’t spoken a word about it in the press conference, no statement from him.  Can you explain to me why the Secretary‑General is silent about this issue?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General has been talking about this, and we’ve made comments, including in his name.  What I can say about the Secretary‑General is that he appeals to the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to take coordinated steps to prevent and avoid further clashes, escalation or breakdown of law and order.  He calls on the parties to jointly manage the situation and resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution of Iraq.

Question: Any… I know you gave an update in the beginning about the situation there, but can you also tell me about any humanitarian preparations for the increasing number of refugees, the IDPs (internally displaced persons)…

Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I said earlier, the UN Refugee Agency is trying to deal with the situation of displacement.  The Refugee Agency and its partner groups have been providing food, water and shelter to families who have been pre‑emptively leaving Kirkuk, and beyond that, of course, UNHCR will remain seized of the matter.  Yes?

Question: On the two peacekeepers wounded, do you know their nationality? RCA (Central African Republic)?

Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have the nationalities at this stage.  And if that’s it… Oh, yes?

Question: Are there any update about topics and information regarding to meeting of general… Secretary‑General and President Trump? Like, if will… will they speak about reforms at UN? And also, basically about USA going out from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)?

Deputy Spokesman: We’ll try to get a readout of the meeting once that’s happened.  Like I said, it had only just begun before we came in here.  Brenden?

Correspondent: Can I ask a question?

Deputy Spokesman: Sure, sure.  Why don’t you do that and then we’ll go to Brenden.

Question: I’ll try to do this as fast as possible.  I wanted to ask you.  I… yesterday, there was a statement on… on Cameroon that was read out by Stéphane and so, as you may see, if you… if you follow the issue, in fact, this… the… Prime Minister [Philémon] Yang’s visits to the southwest and northwest regions have gone quite badly.  There have been protests.  There were many people… most of the opposition didn’t meet with him, and they say it’s because people have been locked up; people have been killed.  There’s been no move to address that by the Government.  So I wanted to know, one, what is this… this… this “welcoming of a dialogue,” given that?  And number two, I just want to know more specifically who’s… who’s sort of… this UN response that happened, is it from DPA (Department of Public Information) or from the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General? And I ask because I’m… I’m… I’ve been told that, in fact, within the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General Mr. Khassim Diagne, who used to be in UNHCR in Cameroon, is basically a major advisor to the Secretary‑General on this issue, and people feel that he’s extremely… he’s been very close to the Government.  He’s praised the Government.  And they want to know how is it, because many people from that region have sent information, they’ve sent videos of people being killed, various things, and they think that it basically goes into the garbage can.  So I would like you to respond to that.

Deputy Spokesman: What I would say is that we get our information from a variety of sources, including from the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Central Africa, the Department of Political Affairs and the Executive Office itself.  And they all work together on these issues.  Regarding what you said, when we welcomed the visit by and the missions by Prime Minister Yang, we did it, as Stéphane pointed out, as a step towards creating the framework for an inclusive dialogue to find a durable solution to the crisis.  And regarding the human rights situation, he did point out that we remain concerned about allegations of human rights violations and arbitrary arrests, following the 1 October unrest, and we do hope for that to be investigated.  Yes, Masood?

Question: Yeah.  Thank you, Farhan.  About this Rohingya crisis, which continues to grow.  Has the Bangladeshis requested for any moneys? And is there… if at all, are there any funds being raised to help the Bangladeshis meet the Rohingya crisis? And if so…

Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, you missed the start of this briefing, but one of the things I pointed out is that there will be a high‑level pledging conference in Geneva this coming Monday, and it’s there to mobilise resources for the Refugee Crisis Response Plan, which calls for $434 million to help 1.2 million people through next February.

Question: So have they… has the Bangladeshi Government also supported, what do you call, requisition?

Deputy Spokesman: This takes into account the needs of the refugees who are in Bangladesh.

Question: Okay.  And in case of the crisis in Yemen, the Yemen… what is the United Nations doing, because once… they have basically toned down the UN report.  What is it that they’re doing to ensure that the Saudi Coalition eventually comes around to save the Yemenis from dying?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding efforts to deal with the Saudis, I can tell you that the Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has arrived in Riyadh, where he will be talking in the coming days with the authorities both of the Saudi Government and the Yemeni Government.

Question: Did the Secretary‑General meet with the Kenyan ambassador in recent days about Roselyn Akombe? I’m told that… that he did and that the UN ambassador was quite critical of the… the… what’s viewed as the politicisation or violation of the staff rules.  And I didn’t see it on his schedule, so I just wanted to… maybe you’ll deny it, but did the Secretary‑General meet with the Kenyan ambassador on that issue? And if so, why wasn’t it on the schedule? And… and what’s your response, if you will confirm it as I’ve heard that it took place, to basically a permanent representative saying that the very purpose of the staff rules, which is not to allow UN staff to engage in politics, were violated in this case?

Deputy Spokesman: Regarding your latter question, I am aware that Ms. Akombe, as she applied for her leave, did work through the Ethics Office to follow the guidelines of that Ethics Office, so that has been followed and pursued.  And I don’t have a meeting to confirm.  Yes?

Question: One more question on Myanmar.  Is there a new representative? Does the UN have one? And will somebody be replacing [Vijay] Nambiar, or is this all still in flux?

Deputy Spokesman: There’s nothing to announce at this stage.  When we have something, I’ll let you know.  Have a good weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.