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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

UNHCR reaches destroyed camps in northern Tigray

Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that UNHCR had gained access to the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region for the first time since November 2020, amid ongoing security concerns.

During a joint mission to the area with OCHA, UNHCR had found both camps destroyed, and all the humanitarian facilities looted and vandalized. In Hitsats, most of the shelters in an area known as zone A, as well as UNHCR’s offices and staff guest house, had been found burnt to the ground. The joint mission had also visited Shiraro town; refugees were understood to be scattered in the area and in urgent need of safety and support. Of some 20,000 refugees who had lived in the two northern camps of Hitsats and Shimelba prior the crisis, more than 7,000 had either made their own way or were assisted by Ethiopian authorities to reach the other two Eritrean refugee camps, Mai Aini and Adi Harush.

Mr. Cheshirkov further explained that UNHCR’s individual reception, counselling and registration services had reopened in both camps. UNHCR and its partners were scaling up child protection and gender-based violence support services. Local authorities had reported the presence of some 95,000 Ethiopians who were internally displaced within Shiraro’s administrative area. About 47,000 people had been registered by authorities last month while the rest were estimated to have arrived since. To date, most internally displaced people were living within the host community, and some 30,000 are living in five settlements.

Mr. Cheshirkov, responding to a question, could not provide details on the destruction of the camp or who was behind it; UNHCR was currently focused on providing aid in the destruction’s aftermath. On another question, he specified that an estimated 10,000 Eritrean refugees were dispersed around the region. UNHCR had been asking for access inside Tigray from the start of November 2020, and it had only recently been allowed access to the north of the region, he explained. At the moment, the humanitarian appeal for refugees and IDPs in Ethiopia and Sudan was 44 percent funded.

Full press release is available here.

Hunger on the rise in Angola

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), warned that hunger was on the rise in Angola, as the country was experiencing worst draught in four decades in its southwestern provinces. The country had been experiencing episodes of draughts and very little to no rainfall since last December, said Mr. Phiri. The situation was not expected to improve in the coming months; the water supply was diminishing, severely affecting crops, posing risks for livestock sustenance. WFP was extremely concerned about malnutrition rates in the worst affected areas. WFP was currently coordinating food assistance and assessments in the southwest of the country. Even before the draught, the WFP had been rather active in Angola, informed Mr. Phiri.

Responding to questions, Mr. Phiri said that the WFP was also providing technical assistance and help with food fortification to the Government of Angola, which was moving to the rank of a middle-income country. WFP was helping with school-feeding activities in the south and the southwest, as well as with mapping activities and developing the early warning and response system. The number of people in need would be ascertained only after the ongoing assessment was completed. WFP’s assistance for now was being channeled as technical assistance to the Government of Angola.

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), added that child mortality rates in Angola remained among the highest on the planet. Angola was currently ongoing a population boom, which invested a serious investment by the Government.

Other announcements

Speaking on behalf of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Alessandra Vellucci informed that the fifth EU-UN Brussels conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” would take place virtually on 29-30 March. The objective of the event would be to renew and strengthen the international community’s political, financial and humanitarian commitments to support the Syrian people, the neighbouring countries and the communities most affected. The UN Secretary-General would deliver a video message at the opening segment of the ministerial-level conference, starting at 1 pm on 30 March. The United Nations would also be represented by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, and High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. The event would be live streamed at EU’s website and OCHA’s Facebook page.

Ms. Vellucci also informed that the Secretary-General’s brief on debt and liquidity would be published on Monday and we will be sending you embargoed copies of that on Friday. Also on Monday, the Secretary-General, along with the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, would convene the “Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond: Meeting of Heads of State and Government on the International Debt Architecture and Liquidity”. At 11 a.m. New York time, the three of them will hold a press briefing.

Ms. Vellucci also informed that journalists, communicators and fact-checkers from around the world would be able to take a specialized Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) entitled “Covering the COVID-19 Vaccine: what journalists need to know” from 29 March to 25 April. This interactive course, which initially would be offered free of charge in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, was a joint collaboration between the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, co-funded by the European Union. Upon completion, the course would also be made available in a self-directed format in additional languages. Registration was possible here.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), also informed that the World Trade Organization would hold a virtual press conference at 4 pm on 31 March about its trade growth forecast for 2021 and 2022 and trade performance for 2020. Advance copies of the press release would be made available under embargo shortly beforehand.

On 29 March at 2 pm, UN-Habitat would hold a press conference to launch its report “Cities and Pandemics:Towards a more just, green and healthy future”, which would be under embargo until 30 March at 6 am. Speakers would be Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director, Eduardo Moreno, Head of Knowledge and Innovation, UN-Habitat, and Claudia Nayibe Lopez Hernandez, Mayor of Bogota.

The Conference on Disarmament was holding this morning a public plenary meeting. The Conference would end today the first part of this year session. The second part of the session would take place from 10 May to 25 June and the third part from 26 July to 10 September.

The Human Rights Committee would close today at 4 pm its 131st session during which it had reviewed the reports of Finland and Kenya.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would close its 24th session on 1 April.

Ms. Vellucci finally informed that 242 UN Secretariat staff in Geneva had been tested positive to COVID-19 since March 2020.

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