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Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Humanitarian situation in northwest Syria

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that heavy rainfall and floods in north-west Syria in recent weeks had had a devastating impact on displaced people living in self-made camps, and the situation was going from bad to worse.

Mark Cutts, Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, said in a statement that more than 120,000 people living in some 300 displacement sites had been badly affected, when torrential rain and strong winds had damaged or destroyed the tents in which they had been living. Humanitarian staff were now struggling to reopen access roads to reach the displaced in the north-west with emergency shelter, food, clean water and other supplies. It was a massive undertaking, and the work would continue for months. Unfortunately, less than half of the USD 49 million needed for winterisation had been received thus far.

The full statement by Mark Cutts is available here.

Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke said that the ceasefire was by and large holding, but there were sporadic breaches and hostilities going on.

Displacement in the Central African Republic

Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that, as insecurity in the Central African Republic had displaced more than 200,000 people within the country and in neighbouring states in less than two months, UNHCR was warning that tens of thousands were facing dire conditions. Refugee arrivals to the Democratic Republic of the Congo had reached 92,000 according to local authorities and some 13,240 people had crossed into Cameroon, Chad, and the Republic of Congo, since the eruption of violence in December 2020, ahead of CAR’s general elections. Refugees continued to arrive.

Some 100,000 people remained internally displaced inside CAR, informed Mr. Cheshirkov. The continuing volatility had hampered the humanitarian response and made access to the internally displaced more difficult. The main road used to bring supplies had also been forced shut. Armed groups were reportedly present in the Batangafo and Bria sites, where displaced communities were sheltering. Such presence posed a grave protection risk for those displaced, from risk of forced recruitment to restriction of movement to extortion or threats.

Most refugees were living in dire conditions in remote, hard-to-reach areas close to the rivers without basic shelter and facing acute food shortages. They were dependent on catching fish and on what the local villagers could spare. UNHCR was urgently appealing to the international community to mobilize funds, so humanitarian organizations could deliver life-saving assistance to the Central African refugees and their hosts.

Press briefing note is available here.

Responding to questions, Mr. Cheshirkov said that at the start of the new situation around the 27 December 2020 elections, some 185,000 people were estimated to have moved within the country; many of them had subsequently returned home. He explained there were currently some 105,000 refugees from CAR in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and other countries. UNHCR was reiterating its appeals for the violence to stop.

Displacement in Darfur, Sudan

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said the WFP was ramping up assistance to displaced people following a spate of inter-communal violence in West and South Darfur, forcing over 100,000 people to flee in search of safety. An estimated 70,000 of the displaced people were gathered in over 70 centres across Geneina city in West Darfur. Additional gathering points had been identified as people continue to arrive where the WFP and Sudan Humanitarian Aid Commission joint population assessments were being planned.

WFP had started distributions of emergency food assistance to people inside Geneina so far reaching 40,000 people in 30 of the 71 centres. Food distributions to reach the remainder of the affected population were currently ongoing within the city, while food distributions outside of Geneina would start upon completion of the verification exercise. WFP was extremely concerned with the continued violence, as even a momentary burst of violent disruption of livelihood activities could have a long-lasting impact. The biggest loser were the poor households whose food security situation was further compromised.

In response to questions, Mr. Phiri said some people were moderately and others severely affected by malnutrition. The UN renewed its calls to the parties to stop the violence, which was having severe adverse effects on the local population.

Essential diagnostics list

Adriana Velazquez Berumen, Senior Advisor at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the third edition of the WHO essential diagnostics list would be published today. The WHO put the list together based on evidence; a group of experts, through an established process, had reviewed all the inputs submitted to the list. The purpose and format of the test were looked at in the process, among other factors.

This year, the list included a total of 175 tests, including newly added tests, such as sickle cell test, made possible by new technologies. Every year technologies were evolving, and the list was accordingly updated. Donors, governments and insurance companies could refer to this authoritative list. Two COVID-19 tests – PCR and antigen test – had been added to the new list, for example. On the other hand, some older tests, such as for HIV and tuberculosis, were no longer included in the list.

Ms. Velazquez, in an answer to a question, said the essential diagnostics list contained types of tests, while individual manufacturers could then produce their own specific tests. Not all submitted requests were accepted, she explained. The essential diagnostics list was a policy document primarily targeted at national health ministries. The list would be published online as well. Safety and quality came before anything else when preparing the list, said Ms. Velasquez.


Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), responding to questions, said Dr. Tedros would be addressing the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda after 5:30 pm today. She elaborated on the quarantine regulations in China and said she expected that the WHO investigative team in Wuhan would continue to work over the weekend, looking for all the relevant evidence. On the COVAX meeting the previous day, Ms. Harris explained that countries had submitted their requests and were getting ready for the rollout. The selection and use of essential in vitro diagnostics - TRS 1031

Geneva announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that today at 4:45 p.m., there would be a hybrid press conference in Room XVI by the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, following the conclusion of the fifth round of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee. Geir O. Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, would address the media. Live webcast at, with Arabic interpretation, would be provided.

Rhéal LeBlanc, speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review continued to meet at the Palais des Nations and would today adopt reports for Myanmar, Rwanda, Georgia and São Tomé and Principe. The session would carry over to 2 February to review Nauru.

Mr. LeBlanc said the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) would convene in Switzerland next week from 1 to 5 February, with the facilitation of the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Stephanie Williams. During the meeting, the LPDF would vote on the positions of a three-member Presidency Council and the Prime Minister in accordance with the roadmap adopted by the Forum in Tunis in mid-November. This new interim, unified executive authority would be primarily tasked to lead Libya to national elections set for 24 December 2021 and to reunify state institutions. More details were provided in UNIS’s note to correspondents.

Mr. LeBlanc also informed that The Conference on Disarmament should have its next public plenary meeting on 4 February, at 10 a.m., still under the presidency of Ambassador Marc Pecsteen of Belgium, to discuss a revised version of the draft package proposed by the President.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, currently holding its virtual 85th session, was not reviewing any country reports. It would hold its next public meeting on 4 February, in the afternoon, around 5 pm, for the public closure of its session.

Responding to a question about UN Geneva’s operations during Covid-19, Mr. LeBlanc explained that the general directive to UN Geneva staff was to telework as much as possible, and that the presence at the Palais des Nations currently stood at around 20 per cent. UN Geneva would continue to follow current health measures and guidelines.


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