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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Geneva announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council, said the Universal Periodic Review Working Group was continuing its 36th session today with the review of Croatia this morning and the adoption of its report for reviews held last week for Andorra, Honduras and Bulgaria.

On the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which started yesterday in Tunisian and will going on until 13 November, Mr. LeBlanc said the Secretary-General, in a video message, had urged participants to continue forging a new era of peace and stability for Libya. The signing of a ceasefire agreement by the Libyan parties in Geneva last month had been a fundamental step forward. Compromise was the only approach that would pave the road to national unity. The Secretary-General assured them they could count on the United Nations to support their efforts, and called on the international community to provide its strong backing as well, including by ensuring full adherence to the Security Council arms embargo.

Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Stephanie T. Williams, had said the Libyan people collectively had a vision for pulling Libya out of this crisis. This vision was the basis of a National Political Program. “It was not an agenda from a foreign party, but rather a gift that you can give to your fellow citizens,” she said.

Turning to the elections in the United States, Mr. LeBlanc said the Secretary-General had congratulated the American people for a vibrant exercise of democracy in their country’s elections last week. He had congratulated the President-elect and Vice President-elect, and reaffirmed that the partnership between the United States and the United Nations was an essential pillar of the international cooperation needed to address the dramatic challenges facing the world today.

Mr. LeBlanc added that UNCTAD would launch the Review of Maritime Transport 2020 on 12 November. A virtual press conference would take place on 11 November at 2:30 p.m., with an embargo until 12 November at 6 p.m. Speakers would be Shamika Sirimanne, Director of Division on Technology and Logistics, and Jan Hoffmann, Chief of the Trade Logistics Branch of Division on Technology and Logistics.

Philippines typhoon response

Gustavo Gonzalez, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines for the United Nations, said Goni had been the strongest typhoon of the year, and the most severe since typhoon Haiyan. It had caused severe flooding and landslides, and damaged 162,000 houses and over 226 schools. Those depending on farming and fishing, in particular, had lost their livelihoods. Local authorities were concerned this humanitarian situation was unfolding during the pandemic. It was not possible, for instance, to respect social distancing rules in emergency shelters. Funding was needed now, as it was important not to lose momentum.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said there were 845,000 people in need of assistance. The response plan was targeting some 260,000 people, and the funding request was US $45.5 million.

Responding to questions, Mr. Gonzalez said there had been 25 deaths, 329 injured and 7 people were missing. This relatively low number of casualties showed that the steps taken by the Government to mitigate the impact of the typhoon, including the preventive evacuations, had been successful. Regarding the situation of children, food assistance and nutrition was a key concern, which United Nations agencies were working to address.

Situation in Tigray

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said UNHCR was concerned by the impact of the ongoing conflict and the declaration of a six-month state of emergency on the humanitarian situation in the Tigray Region. This was adding to the already difficult situation precipitated by COVID-19, particularly on UNHCR’s protection and humanitarian response for Eritrean refugees and any potential for the heightened likelihood of internal displacement. UNHCR was aware of more than several hundred asylum seekers at two border entry points in Sudan’s Gedaref State. The arrivals were being screened by the authorities and would be relocated from the border points to the existing reception center in Shagrab camp in Kassala State. UNHCR was mobilizing resources to provide lifesaving assistance services to the new arrivals. Inter-agency contingency response planning was well underway.

Responding to questions on displacement in Mozambique, Angela Wells, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, between 16 October and last Saturday, 13,737 internally displaced people were confirmed to have arrived by boat in Pemba by IOM. On Friday alone, 335 people arrived aboard eight vessels—86 men, 89 women and 160 children.

Implications of COVID-19 for Hunger, Migration and Displacement

Angela Wells, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the COVID-19 pandemic had driven up food insecurity and increased vulnerability among migrants, families reliant on remittances and communities forced from their homes by conflict, violence and disasters. In a report released today, IOM and the World Food Programme warned the social and economic toll of the pandemic could be devastating on millions. The impact COVID-19 had had on the ways people move was unprecedented, and issues of food insecurity had been closely interlinked. Of concern was the reality facing the more than 2.75 million migrants stranded on their journeys home around the world. Many were now unable to return to their places of work, their communities or their countries of origin.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said the pandemic had hit at a time when hunger had been on the rise over four consecutive years, mainly due to conflict, climate-related shocks and economic crises. The World Food Programme projected that the number of acutely food-insecure people in 79 countries where it operated could increase by 80 per cent, from 149 million pre-COVID-19, to 270 million by the end of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent actions taken to curb the spread of the disease had had extensive implications for both migration and hunger dynamics. Unprecedented restrictions on mobility, trade and economic activity were triggering a global recession, and causing hunger levels to surge. Most of the 164 million international migrant workers earned their living in the informal sector, badly hit by the pandemic. They were often the first to be laid off and are typically excluded from social welfare systems.

Responding to a question, Mr. Phiri reiterated that while there had been relative improvements in some countries of concern, gains had been lost because of the pandemic. WFP did not see a solution in sight for the most vulnerable, some of which were surviving on a dollar a day, reducing food portions, or going for days without eating.

Ivorian refugee numbers rise

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said over 8,000 Ivorian refugees had now fled into neighbouring countries amid political tensions in Côte d’Ivoire, up from 3,200 in just one week. UNHCR was ramping up its support, fearing that continuing violence would force more people out of the country. As of 9 November, more than 7,500 Ivorians had fled to Liberia. Over 60 per cent of arrivals were children, some of whom had arrived unaccompanied or separated from their parents. Older people and pregnant women had also fled, most carrying just a few belongings and almost no food or money. Some Ivorian refugees reported they were initially prevented from leaving the country and forced to find alternative routes to enter neighbouring Liberia. The majority had told UNHCR teams in Liberia that they wished to remain close to the border and return as soon as the situation stabilized.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the Secretary-General continued to express concern over reports of tensions rising in the post-election period. He was particularly concerned by reports of arrests and restriction of movement of opposition figures. He had urged the Ivorian authorities and the opposition to take immediate steps towards de-escalation and to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve the post-electoral crisis. He reassured the parties of the United Nations’ full support in this regard. Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, had also called on all sides to refrain from incitement to violence and to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve the difficult situation following the elections.

A briefing note is available here.

Mr. Baloch said people arriving in Liberia had told UNHCR staff that the fear of violence had led them to flee.

Hurricane Eta

Matthew Cochrane, International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), said IFRC feared that a major humanitarian emergency was unfolding across Central America in the wake of Hurricane Eta. An estimated 2.5 million people from Panama to Belize had been affected, although the most severe impacts were being seen in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. In Honduras, IFRC estimated that 1.7 million people—nearly 20 per cent of the entire population—had been affected. Women, children and people from indigenous communities were among the worst affected. These were also areas hit hard by COVID and its economic repercussions. They were home to pre-existing vulnerabilities, including some of the largest economic inequalities in the world, along with high crime rates and violence. The IFRC had launched a major operation in response to Eta. Yesterday, it issued an emergency appeal seeking 20 million Swiss francs, aiming to help about 75,000 people across Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, with a focus on shelter, water and sanitation, and health care.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the Secretary-General had expressed his sadness by the loss of life and destruction of property caused by Hurricane Eta in Central America. He had commended the efforts of all those working hard to bring relief to people across the region.

Responding to a question, Mr. Cochrane said 261 people had died across Central America and Mexico. Accessing all the areas remained a challenge, but IFRC would carry out assessment visits today and tomorrow to better understand needs. Preventing the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, was a priority.

UNRWA may pay partial salaries to staff in November due to lack of sufficient funds

Tamara Alrifai, for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that, despite immense efforts to raise sufficient funds in 2020 to maintain UNRWA’s critical services and life-saving humanitarian programs for 5.7 million Palestine refugees across the Middle East, the Agency had run out of money as of 9 November. Should additional funding not be received by the end of the month, UNRWA would have to enact measures that would affect the salaries of the 28,000 UNRWA staff. In the middle of a global health emergency, UNRWA was deeply saddened to know that its fearless, resilient colleagues on the front lines and its teachers who educate over half a million children may not be able to receive their full salaries. UNRWA needed 30 million USD immediately to pay staff salaries in full in November and ensure that its staff, the vast majority of whom are refugees themselves, could continue to feed their families. Stability in this highly volatile region was partly a consequence of UNRWA’s presence, Ms. Alfirai recalled.

Responding to questions, Ms. Alrifai said there had been a significant increase in COVID-19 infections in the region. The total number of COVID-19 cases amongst the refugee community stood at 17,000 whereas there were fewer than 200 such cases in July.

World Health Assembly and other issues

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization, said the resumed 73rd World Health Assembly would focus on global health and management priorities that had not been discussed during the shorter May session. There would be two committees meeting concurrently during the Assembly. Committee A would discuss global health issues, such as meningitis. Committee B would focus on management issues, such as human resources and the budget. Journal number 2 was available online in six languages and could serve as a guide on the Assembly for journalists. This morning, the Assembly had discussed the progress report of the Co-Chairs of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness & Response, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Helen Clarke. Today, the Assembly would take up several issues such as influenza and polio. Later this week, it would discuss meningitis, epilepsy and neglected tropical disease, amongst other issues.

Responding to questions, Ms. Chaib said when an adverse event occurred in a trial participant, which may or may not be related to the vaccine being evaluated, it was rigorous, routine practice to investigate. Temporary suspensions of vaccine clinical trials are not unusual while an evaluation takes place. On Taiwan, the Assembly had considered a proposal for a supplementary agenda item entitled “Inviting Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer”. The proposal had been considered in accordance with an agreed process for a structured debate, known as a “two plus two” arrangement. Following this process, the Assembly decided not to include this item on its agenda.

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