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16 June 2020

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 Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and welcome to the noon briefing.  I’ll start off with a few announcements on our end, so I ask that you kindly turn off your mics.

**Security Council

Geir Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Syria, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said that currency and price volatility remain acute in that country, and the inflation rate has hit peak levels in the past six months.  Before this recent deterioration, he said, more than 80 per cent of Syrians were estimated to be living below the poverty line.  The situation is undoubtedly more severe today, and the intensity of that poverty is likely more acute.  He discussed recent violence in the country and once more appealed for calm to be sustained in Idlib and elsewhere, and for a nationwide ceasefire, in line with resolution 2254 (2015).  Mr. Pedersen said that he is ready to convene and facilitate a third session of the Syrian-led and Syrian-owned constitutional committee.  Conscious that global travel restrictions remain in place, he is hopeful that a session in Geneva may be possible towards the end of August.

**Syria

Also on Syria, our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today warned that the economic downturn prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in the Middle East into an ever more desperate situation and has increased their humanitarian needs.  UNHCR says that the number of vulnerable refugees who lack the basic resources to survive in exile has dramatically surged as a result of the public health emergency.  The refugee hosting communities in countries in Syria’s neighbourhood experience similar hardships.  Since the start of the pandemic, UNHCR has provided emergency cash support to nearly 200,000 additional refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who previously did not receive financial aid, along with other efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.  The five countries alone host more than 5.5 million Syrians, the biggest refugee group in the world.  The agency is attempting to support at least 100,000 more refugees with one-off payments.

**Yemen

On Yemen, we remain extremely concerned by shortfalls in funding for the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.  As you know, Yemen is now also being ravaged by COVID-19.  The situation in Yemen has never been so dangerous, and now is not the time to reduce international support.  On 2 June, donors pledged $1.35 billion for humanitarian assistance — that’s about half of what we received last year.  Most of that money remains unpaid several weeks after the conference.  This is having an immediate impact on the response, including efforts to contain COVID-19, which is spreading rapidly.  Already, incentive payments for 10,000 health workers on the front lines of the pandemic response have stopped.  The world is telling these workers, most of whom have little to no protective equipment, to risk their lives for free.  By the end of June, humanitarian organizations will be forced to cut services that provide clean water to nearly 6 million people — nearly half of them children.  Many other programmes also remain at risk, including health care, nutrition services and more.  We call on all donors to disburse their pledges immediately and to consider increasing their support.  The UN has put forward a clear plan to cover operations through the end of the year.

**Yemen — Women

Also on Yemen, the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen has concluded a virtual two-day meeting with Yemeni women peace actors.  The goal was to increase women’s meaningful participation and gender inclusion in the peace process.  On the first day, participants were briefed on the political process and explored global perspectives of gender-inclusive ceasefires.  On the second day, they had a discussion with the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, on the role of women in driving the peace process.  The Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen plans to convene additional consultations with an array of Yemeni women on topics of relevance to the peace process — ranging from power-sharing and State institutions to local governance and security arrangements.

**Libya

Meanwhile, UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) are joining forces in Libya in a project that will aim to reach up to 10,000 food insecure refugees and asylum seekers with emergency food aid this year.  The partnership was launched in recognition of the severe socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Libya, as well as the effects of the ongoing conflict.  Nutritious food supports a healthy immune system, which is even more critical in challenging times of a global pandemic.  A quick needs assessment conducted by WFP between 30 May and the 3 June found that, on average, 1 out of 2 respondents had poor or borderline poor food consumption.  In the past 30 days, 77 per cent of respondents could not access supermarkets, and 70 per cent had no money to buy food.  The first distribution of food assistance began yesterday at UNHCR’s registration centre in Serraj, Tripoli.  Some 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers will be reached in this pilot phase.

**Somalia

On Somalia, the UN and our partners today welcomed the dialogue between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and President Muse Bihi Abdi, hosted by President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, and attended by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.  In a joint statement, we and our partners commend the regional support and engagement that led to these talks.  We welcome the commitment of the two leaders to continue the dialogue.  And this full statement is available online.

**Nigeria

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the terrorist attacks in Monguno and Nganzai local government areas in Borno State, which took place on 13 June and killed dozens of civilians, injured several others, and damaged a major humanitarian facility — and this was in Nigeria.  The Secretary-General conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims, the people and the Government of Nigeria.  He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He reiterated the need to protect civilians and humanitarian personnel, assets and facilities at all times in accordance with international humanitarian law.  The Secretary-General further reaffirmed the United Nations continued solidarity with the Government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in their efforts to fight terrorism and violent extremism.

Staying with Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund announced a $22.4 million allocation for life-saving activities and the COVID-19 response in the country’s north-east States of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.  This is the largest allocation by the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund since its creation in 2017.  The Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said that the funding will support the rapid scale up of critical food and water supplies, as well as shelter and health services, among other urgent efforts, to address pre-existing needs and new vulnerabilities triggered by COVID-19.  Emergency measures associated to the country’s pandemic response, including restrictions on movements and gatherings, have affected livelihood activities such as trading and communal farming.  $246 million is required for COVID-19-specific humanitarian action in the north-east of the country, in addition to $834 million required to respond to the underlying humanitarian needs of 10.6 million people.

**South Sudan

And from South Sudan, the Humanitarian Coordinator there, Alain Noudéhou, today launched an urgent appeal for an additional $390 million to support the response to COVID-19 and for new humanitarian needs.  This brings the overall humanitarian appeal for South Sudan for this year to $1.9 billion.  Aid organizations are aiming to help 7.4 million people by the end of the year, up from the 5.6 million planned before the outbreak of the pandemic.  Mr. Noudehou said that the humanitarian community in South Sudan is committed to staying the course and to deliver much-needed essential services and assistance for the most vulnerable people.

The virus is spreading rapidly in South Sudan, with more than 1,700 confirmed cases.  It is already having a significant negative impact on the humanitarian situation and any socioeconomic and political progress the country has made over the past few years.  Some 4 million people have been reached with risk communications about the virus; 3.2 million people have received advanced food rations ahead of the lockdown and travel restrictions; more than 300,000 internally displaced people have received messaging on how to prevent COVID-19 in protection‑of‑civilians sites and camp-like settings; and 265 health facilities have received supplies.  Mr. Noudehou stressed that the collective response to the COVID-19 crisis will only be effective if organizations are able to operate in a safe environment.

**Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has donated hygiene kits, including soap, handwashing devices and more than 7,000 protective masks to communities in Bangassou, Mbomou Prefecture, as part of its support to communities to fight COVID-19.  Meanwhile, the UN, in partnership with the European Union and others, has provided electoral material for the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections scheduled for December.

Over the weekend, 4,400 tablets, solar panels, batteries and other supplies arrived in the capital, Bangui, and will enable voter registration to begin on 22 June.  This equipment is an additional contribution; last month, 69 tons of material, including forms and other electoral kits, were donated to the Government.  In accordance with its mandate, MINUSCA continues to work closely with national stakeholders to provide logistical support, security assistance as well as to facilitate political dialogue to ensure peaceful, free and inclusive elections that will ultimately contribute to sustaining peace and the consolidation of democracy in the country.

**Brazil — COVID-19

In Brazil, our UN team there is working with authorities to save lives and livelihoods in the midst of the pandemic, focusing on the most vulnerable groups, particularly indigenous peoples, migrants, people in prisons, and youth.  There have been nearly 900,000 confirmed cases and more than 43,000 deaths due to COVID‑19 in the country.  In the Amazon region, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has donated hundreds of hygiene kits to State authorities for distribution in eight shelters supporting Venezuelans and Brazilians affected by the pandemic.  At the border with Venezuela, the UN has distributed over 159hygiene kits, 90 bottles of hand sanitizer and mosquito nets to informal settlements, with hundreds of people receiving medical attention through mobile health units.  Also, 15,000 meals were offered to indigenous people coming from Venezuela and sheltered since April.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has delivered over 200 masks and health and water and sanitation services for indigenous peoples in shelters, with vaccines administered to 100 residents, including children, pregnant women and the elderly.  And UN-backed health workers monitored 2,000 people at high risk of infection, leading to over 300 migrants and refugees identified with COVID-19 symptoms, who are now receiving treatment.  And the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is investing more than $43 million to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in the north-eastern region, boosting skills and income for rural families.

Meanwhile, WFP received over 2,000 kilogrammes of food items to be donated in partnership with NGOs, in addition to face masks and hand sanitizers.  For its part, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organized an online session on judicial integrity during the crisis, bringing together lawyers and judges to share lessons following the rapid digitization of judicial services during the lockdown period.  And finally, we are also working with authorities to safeguard the rights of vulnerable women, including domestic workers, in a partnership with the Government.

**Foreign Direct Investment

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said today that global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows are forecast to decrease by up to 40 per cent in 2020, from their 2019 value of $1.54 trillion.  According to its World Investment Report 2020, this would bring foreign direct investment below $1 trillion for the first time since 2005.  The report also notes that foreign direct investment is projected to decrease by a further 5 per cent to 10 per cent in 2021 and to initiate a recovery in 2022.  UNCTAD said that the COVID-19 pandemic is a supply, demand and policy shock for FDI.  The lockdown measures are slowing down existing investment projects and the prospect of a deep recession will lead multinational enterprises to reassess new projects.

**COVID-19 — Domestic Workers

The International Labour Organization (ILO) warned today that more than 55 million domestic workers around the world are at significant risk of losing their jobs and income.  This is due to the COVID-19 lockdown and lack of effective social security coverage.  According to new estimates by the ILO, 37 million of these domestic workers are women.  The UN agency said that the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing issues.  Only 10 per cent of domestic workers have access to social security and many earn as little as 25 per cent of average wages, leaving them without savings in case of a financial emergency.  Domestic workers in both formal and informal employment have been affected.  However, those in informal employment accounted for 76 per cent of those at risk of losing their jobs or working hours.

**Remittances

Today is the International Day of Family Remittances, and in his message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General recognized the determination of 200 million migrants who regularly send money home, and the 800 million family members throughout the developing world who depend on those resources.  But, this year, as a result of COVID-19, the World Bank projects that remittances will fall by about 20 per cent, or $110 billion.  Millions of migrant workers are losing their jobs, and many remittance families are suddenly pushed below the poverty line.  At this time of crisis, the Secretary-General is appealing to people everywhere to support them.  He calls on all stakeholders to take steps to reduce remittance‑transfer costs, provide financial services for migrants and their families — particularly in rural areas — and promote financial inclusion for a more secure and stable future.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

Tomorrow, immediately after our briefing, Reem Abaza, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here to speak to you.  That's it for me, and I'm happy to take your questions.  This is my first time briefing over this WebEx platform, so I apologize in advance.  But, I'm looking at the chat box.  Please turn your video and your mics on if you have a question, and that's it for me.  So, I see that Majeed has a question.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Eri.  Sorry, my video doesn't work.  But, can you hear me?

Spokesperson:  I can hear you.  How are you?

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  I just have a question about Syria.  Today we had a Security Council meeting, and I know the meeting was about political track, but the Special Envoy didn't mention the dire humanitarian situation due to lack of humanitarian access in north‑east Syria.  First, do you have any new updates about the situation there, the last week I asked Stéphane for?  And the second thing is, why this Special Envoy didn't focus on the… especially that situation in north‑east Syria due to the lack of humanitarian access?  Thanks.

Spokesperson:  So, thank you for your question, Majeed.  Of course, Mr. Pedersen is extremely concerned about the dire humanitarian situation throughout the country.  But, as you said, his briefing to the Council today did focus on the political track.  We will check with our humanitarian colleagues and try to get you an update as soon as we can on the humanitarian situation there.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Anybody else have a question?

Correspondent:  I have a question.  I cannot raise my hand on the…

Spokesperson:  I see you.  I see you, Sylviane.  How are you?

Question:  Yeah, fine, and you?  Thank you for the briefing.  I have several questions, one of them is on Syria, the Caesar Act.  Did you… do you have anything to add about the Caesar Act that would affect Lebanon, Syria, Russia and Iran?  First question.

Spokesperson:  And what is your other question while I have you?

Question:  Why you don't highlight the denials… UN denials reports of withdrawal from Lebanon, a UN withdrawal from…?

[Technical disruption]

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Sylviane, I'm sorry to leave you waiting.  Can you hear me?  Okay.

Question:  Do you hear me?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I do.  Yes.  So, on your first question on the Caesar Act, what I can tell you is that the UN is closely following the issue of the sanctions programmes relating to Syria.  We echo the Secretary‑General’s global appeal for the waiver of sanctions that can undermine the capacity of the country to ensure access to food, essential supplies and medical support, and that’s in light of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  But, as to sanctions related to Syria, we note the public assurances made by relevant States that their sanctions programmes do not affect humanitarian supplies nor target medicines, we welcome their commitment to fully apply humanitarian exemptions.

Question:  That's not my question.  This is not my question.  My question is on the Caesar Act, which today President Trump is supposed to sign it.  It's an act.  It's a provision.  It is… that include a lot of Government accountability like Syria… on Syria economy, so penalize private company and Government to do business with Syria, including Russia, Iran and Lebanon.  That would be… that would… that would put Lebanon into very dire situation.  Again, what kind of… what is the reflection on… the UN reflection on this matter?  This is the first question.  The second question is specula… there are speculative stories referring to possible UN withdrawal from Lebanon in some media outlet.  Why… there has been denied, but why you don't send us from New York the… some waive… some information about it?  Thank you very much.

Spokesperson:  On your first question, thanks for the clarification.  We'll look more into anything that's signed by the US, and then we'll get back to you on that.  As you said, this is speculation on your second question.  We had not heard anything about any withdrawal from Lebanon, and we don't respond to every rumour that we hear, but as far as we know, we have no plans to withdraw from Lebanon at this time.

Correspondent:  But, just to let you know, if you don't… if you're not aware, there is denial, an official denial report from Lebanon, but you didn't waive it here.  It's UN denies report of withdrawal… it comes from the UNSCO, but you didn't… you didn't highlight it here in New York.  This is important, because we are going from speculation to speculations, fake news, and it's bad for… it's bad for the international institutions also.

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, and exactly as you said, it's fake news, and we stand by what our UNSCOL [Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon] colleagues say.  Thank you.  Do we have any other questions?

Correspondent:  Eri, I have a question.

Correspondent:  I have a quest…

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Sorry, was that Yoshita?

Correspondent:  Yes.  Hi, Eri.

Spokesperson:  Hi, Yoshita.  How are you?

Correspondent:  I'm good.  Good to see you.  Hope you're doing well.

Spokesperson:  Good to see you, too.

Question:  Eri, disturbing news is coming from India ,where 20… at least 20 Indian army personnel have been killed in a violent clash at the India‑China border.  I mean, the tensions there were escalating over the past few days, but in a violent clash on Monday night in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh.  And this is the first time in almost 45 years that the escalation has reached such a level with nearly 20 Indian army personnel being killed.  So, does the… has the SG been following it?  Does he have any comment on this… on these tensions and on the fact that the Indian army personnel have lost lives there?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we are concerned about reports of violence and deaths at the Line of Actual Control between India and China, and we urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint.  We take positive note of reports that the two countries have engaged to de‑escalate the situation.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Sorry, I heard another voice after Yoshita.

Correspondent:  Yes.  This is Abdelhamid.

Spokesperson:  Hi, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Hi, how are you?  Thank you.  There was a letter signed today by 50 independent experts, talking about the annexation on Israeli‑Palestinian land…

Spokesperson:  I'm sorry, Abdelhamid.  I can't hear you.  I just heard 50 people signed a letter?

Question:  Okay, I'll take that out.  Can you hear me now?

Spokesperson:  I can hear you now, yes.

Question:  Okay.  There is a letter signed by 50 independent experts opposing the annexation of Palestinian land by Israel on 1 July, and they're calling that a violation of international law.  Are you aware of this letter signed by the independent experts and [inaudible] see in this important development?

Spokesperson:  Thank you for your question.  We have seen reports of the letter, and I think, as we've been saying, we are still, of course, unfalteringly committed to achieving a negotiated two‑State solution.  The Secretary‑General has said on many occasions that he's warned of the danger of unilateral action.  That's what we'd have to say on the letter.  I don't see anybody else.  All right.  Going once, going twice.  Is there anybody else…?

Correspondent:  Hi.  Hi, Eri.  This is Samira.  This is Samira Sadeque with Inter Press Service.  And I have a question regarding the coronavirus going to [inaudible] Latin America and, at the briefing this morning by the World [inaudible] Programme, [inaudible] workers are [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  Yes, Samira, I'm sorry.  I'm not… I just… I can't hear your question.

Correspondent:  I'm sorry.  Can I type it in?

Spokesperson:  Please do.  Yes?  Yoshita, I think I can hear you.  Wait a second.  No, now I can't hear you.  I'm sorry.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesperson:  I can hear you.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesperson:  I can hear you.

Question:  I just wanted to request if you could send the India‑China response on email… I only got half of it so…?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely.  No problem, no problem.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  All right.  Samira, I don't see your question.  If you could send it to me by email, would that work?  Okay.  I believe I've lost Samira.  Does anybody else have a question?  Okay.  Thank you, guys, so much for your patience, and I'm sorry about the technical difficulties.  We really appreciate your patience in everything.  Have a good afternoon.  All right, thanks so much.

For information media. Not an official record.