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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 and representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Health Organization.

Deadliest attack in Burkina Faso in years      

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the Secretary-General was outraged by the killing of over a hundred civilians, including seven children, in an attack by unidentified assailants on a village in the Sahel Region of Burkina Faso. He strongly condemned the heinous attack and underscored the urgent need for the international community to redouble support to Member States in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll. He expressed his deepest condolences to the victims’ families, as well as to the Government and the people of Burkina Faso.

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR strongly condemned the deadliest attack in Burkina Faso since 2015, committed by as yet unidentified assailants, who had killed at least 138 civilians and injured nearly 40 in the village of Solhan in the north-east. More than 3,300 people, predominantly children and women, had fled to nearby villages. The authorities had delivered almost 400 tons of food and thousands of relief items, while UNHCR partners were providing medical care and psychosocial support and building 200 shelters. More resources were needed to scale up the response. Growing insecurity and the presence of armed groups in several regions of Burkina Faso increasingly hampered the delivery of aid and protection for those in need. UNHCR called for concerted action to reinforce the protection of civilians and reminded all parties that humanitarian organizations were carrying out life-saving interventions in an independent and impartial manner. 

 

Since 2019, violence in the country had forced more than 1.2 million Burkinabe from their homes. Some 150,000 people, 84 per cent of whom were women and children at high risk of physical and gender-based violence, had been internally displaced so far in 2021. In addition to the IDPs, Burkina Faso continued to host more than 22,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Mali. More resources were urgently needed to address growing humanitarian needs amid rising violence in the region.

The full text of the briefing note is available here.

Relocation of refugees in Mexico tops 10,000 mark

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that, as of late May, an innovative integration programme led by UNHCR had helped more than 10,000 refugees relocate within Mexico and restart their lives in their new communities. More than 70 per cent of all asylum claims in Mexico were made in the south of the country, where integration opportunities and services were limited. Since its inception in 2016, the programme had helped refugees relocate to one of eight cities in the country’s centre and north, where the labour and housing markets, as well as the education and health systems, had the capacity to integrate them. After two years of permanent residency, refugees could apply for naturalization. A recent review had shown that, thanks to the programme, 92 per cent of relocated refugees were formally employed. UNHCR was seeking to relocate 20,000 refugees per year in Mexico, and, in the light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, would like to see the model replicated in more countries to support the self-reliance of refugees and benefit their hosts. 

 

The full text of the briefing note can be found here.

In response to a journalist, Mr. Baloch said that most of the people arriving in Mexico were fleeing violence, economic hardship and natural disasters driven by climate change in Central America and that it was the international community’s responsibility to help them rebuild their lives. Asked about the current State visit by the Vice-President of the United States, UNHCR recalled that all countries must guarantee asylum for people whose lives depended on it and that countries of origin and of destination should receive technical support.

Iran policy change gives refugees access to banking services

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR welcomed the recent decision of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to formalize access to banking services for Afghan refugees in the country. Now, all refugees would have a more secure means of managing their finances, as salary payments, online purchases, university registrations and reimbursements of health-care fees were mostly made via online bank transfers. Access to banking services would also facilitate the provision of UNHCR emergency cash assistance. Financial inclusion could contribute to refugee resilience, empowering them to meet their needs in a safe, sustainable and dignified manner and helping them avoid negative coping mechanisms. Recognizing Iran’s generous support to Afghan refugees for over 40 years, UNHCR continued to call for more equitable international responsibility and burden-sharing with Iran. The US$ 97.9 million needed to assist Afghan refugees in Iran in 2021 was currently only 8 per cent funded. 

The full text of the briefing note is available here.

 

Assistance for Rohingya arriving in Indonesia

Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM continued to provide food, drinking water and medical support to the 81 Rohingya, mostly women and children, who had been rescued by local fishermen in east Aceh, Indonesia, on Friday, 4 June, after spending months at sea. Upon disembarkation, local government officials had immediately conducted COVID-19 tests, and COVID-19 vaccinations had been subsequently provided to all of the arrivals. Roughly 1,400 Rohingya had found themselves stranded at sea during the 2020 sailing season, at least 130 of whom were reported to have died. Last year also, the local communities and authorities in Aceh had successfully disembarked dozens of people in need of humanitarian assistance, an action for which IOM had been advocating across the region as an important life-saving measure. Even as the world continued to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, collective efforts must be made to avoid a repeat of the 2015 crisis on the Andaman Sea, where thousands of men, women and children had been abandoned at sea at the cost of many lives.

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR commended the Government of Indonesia for authorizing the latest disembarkation, as well as the local community for providing initial assistance to the refugees. It was both a humanitarian imperative and an international obligation to provide life-saving assistance and allow disembarkation in a place of safety. Nevertheless, UNHCR reiterated the urgent need for States in the region to forge a collective regional response to search, rescue and disembarkation.

Replying to a journalist, Mr. Dillon said that Indonesia had not deported any Rohingya since the first arrivals in 2008. Indeed, it had provided a safe haven to thousands of Rohingya and other migrants. Mr. Baloch added that UNHCR engaged with the Governments in the region to ensure that Rohingya and others making the desperate journey continued to find safety on land and received food and medical assistance.

May climate figures

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that Europe had seen its coldest spring since 2013, with the average March–May temperature 0.45°C below the 1991–2020 average. However, the global average temperature for May was 0.26°C higher than the long-term average. The relatively cool start to 2021 did not mean that there was a pause in climate change. Indeed, the monthly average CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa observatory had reached a new record of 419.13 parts per million (ppm) in May – up from 417.31 ppm in 2020 – and was indicative of the fact that the world was headed in the wrong direction. Due to the extremely long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, such concentration levels meant that climate change would continue for many future generations.

That was particularly relevant on World Oceans Day, as the ocean absorbed around 23 per cent of annual CO2 emissions, acting as a buffer against climate change. However, CO2 reacted with seawater, leading to ocean acidification, which reduced its capacity to absorb CO2.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), recalled that the Secretary-General had stated in a video message on the occasion of World Oceans Day that

carbon emissions were driving ocean warming and acidification, destroying biodiversity and causing a sea level rise that threatened heavily inhabited coastlines. That year’s theme, “The ocean: life and livelihoods”, underscored the importance of oceans to the cultural life and economic survival of communities around the world. As the world strived to recover from COVID-19, he called for an end to the war on nature.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Nullis said that the only solution was to stop emitting such high levels of CO2. The dip in emissions in 2020 associated with the pandemic-related economic downturn would not have a lasting impact. Emissions were high on the list of priorities of the upcoming G7 meeting and of the climate negotiations in Glasgow later in the year. She could not say at that stage whether the colder spring was a harbinger of an extremely warm summer, and even if it was not particularly warm in Europe at the moment, other parts of the world, including the Middle East and the eastern United States, were experiencing hotter than normal weather. Moreover, there was a 90 per cent chance that one of the next five years would be the hottest on record.

UNCTAD announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the second edition of the United Nations Trade Forum, to be held on 14–15 June, would bring together experts, ministers, opinion leaders and international organizations to discuss the theme “Towards a green and inclusive recovery”. The aim of the Forum would be to define the role that trade policies could play in the development of sustainable and more equitable solutions. As the UNCTAD acting Secretary-General had stated: “The COVID-19 pandemic gave the climate a break, but it will only be an exception if we don’t take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation, even as we pursue economic recovery and prosperity.” Innovative policies were needed to increase synergies between trade policy and climate action. Speakers would include: World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Head of the Ibero-American General Secretariat Rebeca Grynspan; European Commission Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis; African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy Amani Abou-Zeid; and India's Minister for Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal. The Forum would close with the Prebisch Lecture, to be delivered by Nobel Laureate Esther Duflo on 15 June, from 4–6 p.m.

Ms. Huissoud also said that UNCTAD would that day be releasing a report entitled “Trade and Gender Linkages: An analysis of Least Developed Countries”, which highlighted the need to put gender at the heart of recovery policies, particularly in the 46 least developed countries. The report was currently the subject of a training course in which 184 civil servants, academics and civil society representatives were participating.

Replying to a journalist, Ms. Huissoud said that the list of least developed countries was updated every three years on the basis of a variety of economic and other indicators, including population size. An international conference was scheduled for January 2022 to consider those countries’ extreme vulnerability to various shocks.

Lastly, Ms. Huissoud said that the report “Development and Globalization: Facts and Figures on Small Island Developing States” (under embargo until 7 a.m. on 10 June) would be presented by Steve Mac Feely, Economist and Head of Development Statistics and Information at UNCTAD, at a virtual press conference on Wednesday, 9 June, at 11.30 a.m. All the reports and events were intended to feed into the discussions leading to UNCTAD’s quadrennial conference to be held virtually in October, under the auspices of Barbados.

Announcements

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the annual GLASS report on antimicrobial resistance for 2020 – under embargo until 9 a.m. on 9 June – showed increasing numbers.

Ms. Harris also said that WHO guidance on community-based mental health services using a rights-based approach (under embargo until 12.01 a.m. on 10 June) would be launched on Thursday, 10 June, at 3 p.m. While an increasing number of countries had sought to update their policies on mental health services in the last 10 years, few had established frameworks that met far-reaching international human rights standards. The guidance was intended primarily for providers and organizers of mental health services and gave real-world examples of good practices. Journalists were welcome to the launch, which was limited to 3,000 participants.

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said ILO would be holding a virtual press conference on Wednesday, 9 June at 5.30 p.m. to launch the joint ILO-UNICEF report, Child Labour: 2020 Global estimates, trends and the road forward, under embargo until Thursday, 10 June at 2.01 a.m. Speakers would be Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General and Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) would be holding an expert briefing on Friday, 11 June at 3 p.m., to provide an update on the exodus of refugees and migrants from Venezuela ahead of the urgent donor conference on 17 June. Speakers would be Michael Grant, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Americas at Global Affairs Canada, and Eduardo Stein, Joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants.

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