REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Situation in Mozambique
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stated that the UN and partners today launched an appeal for USD 254 million to provide urgently needed assistance and protection to 1.1 million people affected by violence, conflict and insecurity in Cabo Delgado and neighbouring provinces of Mozambique in 2021. The crisis in Cabo Delgado had rapidly escalated in 2020, with attacks and fighting forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes every month. Nearly 530,000 people were now internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa.
Conflict and displacement were severely affecting already overstretched essential services, said Mr. Laerke. More than 90 per cent of the displaced people were living with relatives or friends, whose already scarce resources were being further strained. Many areas hosting displaced people would flood in the upcoming rainy season. Local authorities and the humanitarian community were running against the clock to set up new settlement areas with adequate conditions to relocate displaced people. The humanitarian community counted on the support of the international community to provide timely funding to ensure that people fleeing violence can access much-needed relief.
The abridged 2021 Mozambique Humanitarian Response Plan can be read here.
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was deeply concerned over the rising number of civilians displaced in the northern parts of Mozambique, as attacks by non-state armed groups continued to rage in Cabo Delgado province. More than 530,000 people were now displaced in Cabo Delgado, Nampula, Zambezia and Niassa provinces, according to official estimates, as numbers continued to increase daily.
More than 2,000 people had been killed since the conflict started in 2017. Houses had been looted and burned, families separated and health centres and schools seriously damaged. Access to agricultural land had been blocked and other economic activities curtailed. There was serious indication that this crisis could spread beyond the country’s borders. Access to some areas in Cabo Delgado remained limited due to violence, insecurity and the rainy season, with certain communities being cut off from basic services for months. UNHCR’s assistance for displaced populations in support of the Government of Mozambique, included shelter materials, core relief items such as tarpaulins, sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets, buckets, jerry cans and solar lamps.
UNHCR’s press note is here.
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said the WFP was alarmed with the worsening humanitarian crisis in Mozambique. The food security situation was quite dire, with high levels of hunger and malnutrition rates. There had been disruption of markets, the supply was dwindling, and the prices were skyrocketing. WFP staff who had recently traveled to the affected areas had found severely malnourished children on the brink. Without an urgent and sustained access and assistance, this situation could turn into a major humanitarian disaster. WFP thus renewed its call for unhindered access to all areas; the plan was to reach 750,000 people with assistance, for which WFP required USD 9.75 million on a monthly basis to provide assistance. In other words, USD 117 million was required to provide support for the next 12 months. In the absence of enough funding, food supplies would be compromised, leading to a reduction in rations or potential suspension of food distributions.
Mr. Baloch, responding to questions, did not provide the name of the non-state armed groups attacking civilians. Since the beginning of this year, the number of attacks had significantly increased, he said. Responding to other questions, Mr. Laerke explained that international assistance was sought and provided when a national government was unable to meet the needs of its population.
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that UNHCR had rushed humanitarian assistance to thousands of people in Somalia’s Puntland region impacted by Cyclone Gati, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the east African country. Gati had made landfall on 22 November in Puntland’s Bari region, bringing around two-years of rainfall in a just a few days and affecting over 180,000 people, of which some 42,000 had been displaced from their homes.
In Somalia, Cyclone Gati was resulting in a humanitarian emergency on top of existing emergencies in a country grappling with conflict, the coronavirus pandemic and desert locusts, making this an exceptionally difficult year for those displaced in Somalia. Some 2.6 million people were currently displaced inside Somalia, mainly due to conflict, but increasingly due to climate-related shocks, such as severe droughts and flooding.
Full press briefing note can be read here.
Supplementary COVID-19 appeal to meet refugee needs in 2021
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that UNHCR had released today its supplementary appeal for 2021 COVID response seeking an additional USD 455 million. While most of the pandemic-related activities amounting to USD 477 million had been already mainstreamed and included in UNHCR’s 2021 Global Appeal totaling USD 8.616 billion, the supplementary COVID-19 response released today focused on exceptional socioeconomic and protection impacts related to COVID-19 as millions of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people fell into conditions of extreme hardship.
More information is available here.
In a response to a question, Mr. Baloch said that the funding was needed to help national systems assist refugees and displaced populations. Refugees’ livelihoods in many locations had been wiped out as the scope for daily work dramatically narrowed. Those refugees needed support.
Refugees in Trinidad and Tobago
Responding to a question, Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had already urged Trinidad and Tobago to respect its international obligations, including the rule of non-refoulement.
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), added that the pathways for admission and stay should be consistent with international human rights law and humanitarian considerations and include access to due process and procedural safeguards.
Lese-majesté charges against Thai activists
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the OHCHR was deeply troubled by the move by Thai authorities to charge at least 35 protesters in recent weeks, including a 16-year-old student protester, under Article 112 – the lèse-majesté provision of Thailand’s criminal code.
A number of UN human rights mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), had repeatedly called on Thailand to bring this law in line with the country’s international obligations. It was extremely disappointing that after a period of two years without any cases, there was now a large number of cases, and, shockingly, now also against a minor.
OHCHR called on the Government of Thailand to stop the repeated use of such serious criminal charges against individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. OHCHR was also urging the Government to amend the lèse-majesté law and bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR on the right to freedom of expression.
OHCHR briefing note is available here.
In a response to a question, Ms. Shamdasani specified that the last time someone had been convicted under this law had been in 2017. It was a subject over which the UN Human Rights Committee had already expressed concerns. By ratifying the ICCPR, Thailand was under obligation to respect and implement the Covenant’s provisions.
International Migrants Day
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), read parts of the UN Secretary-General’s message, which had been shared with the media. During the Covid-19 pandemic, millions upon millions of people had experienced the pain of separation from friends and family, the uncertainty of employment and the need to adapt to a new and unfamiliar reality. These were emotions felt by migrants around the world every day, recalled the Secretary-General, who added that migrants should remain central to our recovery.
Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), stated that on this day we should be marking the significant contributions migrants had made keeping us safe during this pandemic and noting the many challenges they themselves faced, including mounting xenophobia, the lack of access to services, increased poverty, arbitrary detention and the phenomenon of at least three million people stranded, unable to get home.
As of 17 December, the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project had recorded 3,174 deaths on migratory routes worldwide this year, compared to 5,327 in 2019. While the overall number of people known to have lost their lives in 2020 was lower than previous years, some routes had seen an increase in fatalities: most notably, at least 593 people had died en route to Spain’s Canary Islands thus far, compared to 210 recorded in 2019 and 45 in 2018.
The decrease in recorded migrant deaths was not necessarily an indication that the number of lives lost had truly dropped in 2020 as COVID-19 also challenged the ability both to collate data on deaths during migration and monitor specific routes. Nowhere was this more evident than in the phenomena of invisible shipwrecks.
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the UN Information Service (UNIS), informed that the UN Secretary-General had just delivered a speech to the German Bundestag, in which he praised Germany’s support of multilateralism and its contribution in key areas such as battling the Covid-19 pandemic, advancing global peace and security, and tackling the climate emergency. His speech had been shared with the journalists.
The statement by the Secretary-General on the death of the former Swiss President Flavio Cotti, a fervent supporter of multilateralism, had also been shared with the media.
Mr. LeBlanc also informed that the flags were flying at half-mast at the Palais des Nations in honor of the deceased Prime Minister of Eswatini, His Excellency Ambrose Dlamini.
Today, at 2 p.m., there would be a GAVI briefing on COVAX with the Director-General of the World Health Organization as one of the speakers.
Finally, on the occasion of today’s International Migrants Day, at 5:30 p.m. there would be a joint WHO briefing with the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Mr. LeBlanc finally informed that today was also Arabic Language Day.
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