The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, concluded a two-day visit to Serbia today. In a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Mr. Jenča reiterated the firm commitment of the United Nations to contribute to the promotion of peace and stability through preventive diplomacy in the Western Balkans. During his visit, Mr. Jenča also met with the Foreign Minister and other officials. You can read more about his trip on our website.
The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, is currently wrapping up a visit to Uganda and he will travel to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, tomorrow. Mr. Khare is expected to meet senior officials of the Government of the Republic of Sudan, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Defence. From 23 to 25 July, Mr. Khare will travel to Darfur, where he will meet with the Walis (or Governors) of North Darfur, Central Darfur and South Darfur States, as well as community leaders, internally displaced people and the leadership and personnel of the UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, UNAMID. Mr. Khare will conclude his travel with a visit to Kadugli, in South Kordofan State, and the area of Abyei on 26 and 27 July, where he will meet local leaders and the leadership and staff of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that increasing violence in eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to negatively affect the humanitarian situation, forcing people to flee their homes. Inter-ethnic violence between the Hema herders and Lendu farmers in Ituri Province has displaced some 420,000 people this year. As of 20 July, the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan received only a little more than $345 million, representing 20 per cent of funding requirements. Armed clashes in Ituri as well as in the neighbouring province of North Kivu have further prompted over 92,000 people to flee to Uganda since 1 January. Uganda hosts 37 per cent of all Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees and asylum seekers from neighbouring countries. The Refugee Response Plan for the Democratic Republic of the Congo refugees in Uganda seeks $220 million and is so far only 5 per cent funded.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urges all parties in Syria to protect and provide safe passage to civilians displaced by the recent fighting in the south of the country. An estimated 140,000 people remain displaced across the south-west and need safe passage out of the area, plus immediate humanitarian assistance, protection and shelter. UNHCR has also been witnessing the return of tens of thousands of internally displaced people following local agreements and in areas coming under the control of the Government of Syria. Amid continued fighting and new displacements during the first six months of 2018, nearly 13,000 refugees from neighbouring countries and another 750,000 internally displaced persons are estimated to have returned to their homes in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Rural Damascus, Damascus, south-west and north-eastern Syria. UNHCR continues to work on enhancing the response to the humanitarian and protection needs of internally displaced persons, returnees and other crisis-affected population. UNHCR has taken note of Wednesday’s announcement by the Syrian and Russian authorities concerning the setting up of a centre in Syria to help refugees who return home. UNHCR has not yet seen the details of this plan, but is ready to engage in discussions about these plans with the Governments of Syria and of the Russian Federation.
UNHCR said today that, despite record global forced displacement, health services to refugees are mostly on track. The Annual Public Health Overview found that stepped up surveillance of health indicators are leading to prompt and effective interventions. However, it warned that communicable diseases, anaemia and stunting are still areas of concern. The full report is available on UNHCR’s website. The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today that more than 51,000 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea between January and July of this year. This is a drop from more than 110,000 this time last year and more than 244,000 in 2016. You can read more about this on IOM’s website.
And as you are aware, the US Secretary of State, Michael Richard Pompeo, and US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, will brief at the VIP Entrance on the ground floor of the Secretariat Building, shortly after this briefing. And you are all welcome to attend that. Are there any questions for me? Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Just following up on a question I posed yesterday about the Israeli nation-state law. Does the SG have any comments or concerns regarding this law?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say is that we've taken note of the passing of the so-called nationality law by the Israeli Knesset. We reaffirm the United Nations' respect for the sovereignty of States to define their constitutional character while emphasizing the need for all States to adhere to universal human rights principles, including the protection of minority rights. We reiterate that a negotiated two-State outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in line with United Nations resolutions and previous agreements, is the only way to achieve enduring peace that resolves all permanent status issues and realises the national aspirations of both peoples. And we call once more on all parties to refrain from unilateral moves that undermine the two-State solution. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: I… I'm a little confused on Syria. Can UNHCR help accommodate all these people that are moving? Or is the Syrian Government doing it? Or is this just the last wrap-up of [Bashar al-]Assad wanting to grow… control the area?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, they're aware that 140,000 people remain displaced and they need safe passage for them, so they're calling for that. At the same time, they're working on enhancing their response to the humanitarian and protection needs of all of those who are displaced people and returnees. And they are willing to discuss with the Government of Syria and the Russian Federation the plan that Russia has been proposing concerning setting up a centre in Syria to help the refugees who are returning home. And if that's it for today, please feel free to go downstairs and come to the stakeout. Have a good weekend, everyone.