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

8 February 2019

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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

All right.  Let’s get started.  Good afternoon, everyone.  The Secretary-General should be arriving in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the coming hours.  Over the weekend, as you will recall, he will participate in the African Union Summit there.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will meet with Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and participate in a joint meeting between the AU commissioners and senior UN Secretariat officials.  And he will also attend an Africa Leadership Meeting on Investing in Health, hosted by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.  And on Sunday, he will hold more bilateral meetings before attending the opening ceremonies of the official session of the Assembly. 


Following substantive consultations earlier this week in Iran, the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, travelled to France yesterday for meetings with the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.  He continues his meetings today with senior Government officials from the Foreign Ministry.

And our humanitarian colleagues say that the flow of people fleeing from Hajin in Syria has slowed, but people continue to go to the Al Hol camp, in Al Hasakeh Governorate, where close to 27,000 people have arrived since December 2018.  This has more than tripled the camp’s population to over 36,000 people, surpassing its maximum capacity.

The provision of assistance, in particular medical assistance for the most urgent cases, as well as food, water and other support along the route to Al Hol and closer to the Hajin area is a critical priority, but we continue to encounter access limitations and insecurity.  The United Nations is working to urgently establish a transit centre closer to Hajin.

Pending the launch of the 2019 humanitarian response plan and funding requirements for the year, additional financial resources are urgently needed to expand the reception capacity and provide essential relief items and services, including family tents, non-food items, food and urgent health, nutrition, water and sanitation, hygiene and protection interventions at Al Hol.


Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today said they are concerned about the escalating violence in Myanmar’s Chin and Rakhine States which has reportedly led to internal displacement and to people fleeing to Bangladesh.

UNHCR stands ready to support the humanitarian response in the affected areas in Myanmar.  The agency has also offered its support to the Government of Bangladesh to assess and respond to the needs of people who have arrived and are seeking safety from violence in Myanmar.

UNHCR is grateful to Bangladesh for its generosity and the leadership it has shown in receiving more than 720,000 refugees from Myanmar since August 2017.  The agency calls on the Bangladesh authorities to continue to allow people fleeing violence in Myanmar to seek safety in Bangladesh.


The Assistant Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Bintou Keita; the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mourad Wahba; and the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, will travel to Sudan starting tomorrow, until 12 February.  Their visit will focus on the transition of the UN’s engagement in Darfur in the context of the drawdown of the United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID.

They will be in Darfur from 9 February and will meet with civil society, local government officials and UN personnel.  They will then travel to Khartoum on 11 February to meet with senior Government officials and partners to discuss issues pertaining to the transition and the continued UN support for nationally-led peacebuilding and development efforts in Darfur.  This joint mission reflects the United Nations commitment to ensure a smooth drawdown of UNAMID and re-orientation of the United Nations support for peacebuilding and peace sustaining.

**United Republic of Tanzania

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, ended a four-day visit to the United Republic of Tanzania today with a call for greater investment in the country’s north-west, which is host to some 330,000 refugees.  In a statement issued today, Mr. Grandi described Tanzania as “one of the most important refugee asylum countries in Africa”, and expressed his satisfaction with Government assurances that the country would continue to be hospitable to refugees.

Mr. Grandi met with President John Joseph Magufuli, with whom he discussed the idea of establishing a regional framework to find solutions for Burundian and Congolese refugees, who make up the majority of refugees and asylum seekers in Tanzania.  He said UNHCR is prepared to work with the Government to assist all those who wish to go home, noting that “it is important that nobody is forced back”.  The full statement is available online.

**Lassa Fever

Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) say they have scaled up their efforts to support five western African countries as they respond to outbreaks of Lassa fever.

The largest outbreak thus far has affected 16 states in Nigeria, with 213 confirmed cases to date.  WHO said 12 cases of Lassa fever have also been confirmed to date in Benin, Guinea, Liberia and Togo, including two deaths.  WHO is assisting health authorities in these countries with contact tracing and providing medical and non-medical supplies, as well as technical and financial resources as needed.  More information is available online.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And I am happy to announce that the Secretary-General has designated Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division in our very own Department of Global Communications, as Commissioner-General for the Organization’s participation in Expo 2020 in the United Arab Emirates.

The theme of the Dubai Expo 2020 - “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” - is in line with the United Nations strategic focus on youth and innovation.  The international exposition runs from 20 October 2020 to 10 April 2021.  The Department of Global Communications, in close collaboration with other UN system entities, will leverage the opportunity of Expo 2020 to showcase the central role of the Organization as a proponent of ideas, a catalyst for action and a driver of multilateral solutions to global problems.

Mr.  Nasser has over 30 years of experience working with the UN in multiple duty stations, and at the Department of Global Communications.  More in a press release in our office.  And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On Bangladesh, I'm wondering BNP [Bangladesh National Party] Chairperson and first woman Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia, has completed one year in prison and no sign of release, so… soon despite obtaining bail in all cases.  As you know, the justices affected by the ruling authority, the chief justice forced to leave the country.  So, is Secretary‑General aware of this?  Begum Zia was the first woman Prime Minister.  She was the first Prime Minister who allowed first time Rohingya… hundreds and thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh she did, women in parliament and girls’ education free in Bangladesh.

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, you're aware that, in this case, we've repeatedly made clear our call that all due process be followed, and we will continue to do so as this continues.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Is there any update on the meeting in Jordan on the possible prisoner exchange?  For Yemen, of course.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I checked with our colleagues who are in Amman.  That meeting is continuing.  As Stéphane [Dujarric] pointed out yesterday, we always take it as a good sign when talks are going on, and we're hopeful that this means that the parties are continuing to discuss this issue seriously.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  my colleague, journalist of my agency, Ukrinform, is turning 50 today, but he's in Russian prison in high‑security colony.  It's already his third birthday behind bars, and process was seen widely as politically motivated.  And UN has adopted three resolutions calling actually to release more than 70 Ukrainian political prisoners.  What is the call, and is Secretary‑General aware of this situation, and what is the reaction of the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Of course, we are aware of the situation, and, of course, we take note of the repeated resolutions of the General Assembly on this case.  As you know, we also have concerns about basic questions of freedom of the press, and we hope that no one is persecuted for their journalistic work.  And, of course, as you just pointed out, the General Assembly has already called repeatedly for the release of the prisoners.  Yes, please?

Question:  Yes.  Heba Meghrabi, International Daily Bulletin.  I have a question regarding Iran.  There was a launching of Iran satellite reported.  Is it considered a UN violation… I mean, is it a violation for the UN resolutions?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it is up to the members of the Security Council to determine whether any of the resolutions have been violated.  So, I will leave the matter in their hands.  And with that, have a great weekend, everyone.  Oh, one more?  Sure, fine.

Question:  I'm not done.  I just have another question.  Did the UN receive any objection — correspondences from any countries regarding this issue, the Iranian issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is not something on which we've received any first‑hand information, this latest activity.  Like I said, if there were any issues of concern for… regarding potential violations of Security Council resolutions, that would be a matter for the Security Council to consider and decide.

All right.  Happy Friday.

For information media. Not an official record.