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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Human Rights Council

Alessandra Vellucci, speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council, said the Council started its special session on Ethiopia this morning at 10 am, which was expected to last until the end of the day and take action on the draft resolution tabled by the European Union.

Viet Nam

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the harsh sentencing of human rights and land rights defenders convicted of spreading anti-State propaganda in Viet Nam was of concern. OHCHR urged the authorities in Viet Nam to immediately release all these individuals as well as the many others arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression. They also called on the Government to repeal all legal provisions that violated fundamental freedoms.

The full statement could be found here.

Republic of Korea

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that in recent months, in the Republic of Korea, there had been increased momentum in advocacy for a comprehensive equality bill that would address and help prevent all forms of discrimination, as well as provide effective remedies for victims. Such a law should provide legal protection and means of redress to all those suffering discriminations and hate crimes.

The full statement could be found here.

International Migrants Day – Migrants’ Access to Health Services

Jacqueline Weekers, Director of the Migrant Health Division, International Migration Organization (IOM), said that on International Migrants Day last year, 12 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, IOM and the World Health Organization (WHO) had issued an appeal to governments, health providers and communities to guarantee health access to people on the move. Today, they recognized that while many countries had responded to that call, equitable access to health services remained insufficient, and stigma and discrimination against migrants, widespread. According to IOM’s analysis of 180 countries, migrants in irregular situations could not get the Covid-19 jab in at least 45 countries. In another 46, access remained unclear. In more than 110 countries, IOM’s migration health teams were on the ground, backing the efforts of governments and communities to make “health-for-all" a reality.

Responding to questions, Ms. Weekers, for IOM, said that when it came to access to Covid testing and vaccination, the United States had been using a universal health approach, and it had been easy for all people, no matter their status, to access vaccinations and testing. Vaccines should reach all populations who were within the shores of a national government, including migrants, she said.

Santino Severoni, Director of the Health and Migration Programme of the World Health Organization (WHO), said migration places individuals in situations which might impact their physical and mental well-being. Conditions surrounding the migration process could increase the vulnerability to ill health. Migration also cut across economic and social policies, human rights and equity issues, development agendas, and social norms – all of which were relevant to health. Refugees and asylum seekers, stateless people and IDPs were often excluded from health systems due to a lack of inclusive policies, language barriers, documentation issues or costs. The previous day, WHO had launched Global Competency Standards for Refugee and Migrant Health Services, with the aim to strengthen countries’ capacity to provide health services to refugees and migrants worldwide.

Responding to questions, Dr. Severoni, for WHO, said in high-income economies, there was a difficulty in reaching out to those who were not very visible, and platforms that were rolled out to register people for vaccination were not always able to grant access to those who did not have identification documents, even if they had a wish to be immunized. The main challenge remained for low- and middle-income countries where access to the vaccine depended on the good will of governments.

Responding to a question on migrants in Mexico, Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the OHCHR was deeply concerned about the deaths and injury of migrants in southern Mexico; there should be a thorough investigation, with the victims and their families guaranteed access to justice. Mexico faced challenges due to the increase in the number of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees who were undertaking the journey to the United States. OHCHR was concerned about the re-implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocol and the pressure that it placed upon already over-stretched Mexico to receive migrants. Ms Shamdasani also noted that the Office had launched a new campaign entitled #StandUp4Migrants.

Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), also speaking about the situation of migrants, said the IOM Director-General was calling for greater response from States, particularly to address the pernicious effects of people smugglers on migration routes around the world. The total number of migrant deaths over 2020-2021 was 45’400 people along migration paths globally. These were preventable deaths in the absence of clear paths for migration. The rule of law should be observed, and action taken to combat those who would exploit vulnerable migrants.

Responding to other questions, Paul Dillon, for IOM, said when barriers were raised and when there was no investment in creating safe and predictable pathways for movement, people would find other means to continue their journeys. IOM was heavily involved in Afghanistan, including delivering humanitarian assistance, and continued to invest in Afghanistan on durable solutions and long-term projects addressing such issues as climate change and displacement.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said the UN Secretary-General had issued a statement on the occasion of World Migrant Day, in which he said migrants continued to face widespread stigmatization, inequalities, xenophobia, and racism. Yet throughout the pandemic, migrants had enriched societies everywhere and were often on the frontlines of the pandemic response as scientists, health care professionals and essential workers. We needed more effective international cooperation and a more compassionate approach to migration. On International Migrants Day, said the Secretary-General, let us reaffirm our commitment to safe and dignified migration. The full statement could be found here.

Ms. Vellucci also reminded attendees that yesterday the UN Secretary-General had launched the 2021 Update of the UN Comprehensive Response to Covid-19, which contained an extensive paragraph on the health of people on the move, including migrants and refugees.

Cameroon

Matthew Saltmarsh, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said intercommunal clashes that erupted in Cameroon’s Far North region in the past two weeks had driven at least 100,000 people from their homes, although the real number might be much higher. UNHCR estimated that more than 85,000 people had fled into neighbouring Chad in recent days, while at least 15,000 Cameroonians had been forced from home inside their country.

The agency had declared a Level-2 emergency and was rapidly scaling its operations to assist affected people in Cameroon and new refugees in Chad. Without urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis, the situation could escalate further. UNHCR was calling for the support of the international community to assist the forcibly displaced and reiterated its call for reconciliation to end the violence so that people can return home safely.  

The full statement could be found here.

Global Network against Food Crisis - Report on Financing Flows and Food Crises

Dominique Burgeon, Spokesperson, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said over the past five years, the Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) had become the reference tool to monitor acute food insecurity and provide information on the severity, magnitude and drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition in countries and territories with food crisis contexts. The “Financing Flows and Food Crisis” report launched today was intended to complement the information provided in the GRFC and provide decision makers with an analysis of financing flows on food sectors and one more source of information to guide investments by partners.

Lavinia Antonaci, Technical Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Global Network Against Food Crises, said the “Financing Flows and Food Crisis” report provided an analysis of financing flows to food sectors – food security comprising cash and in-kind food assistance, agriculture and nutrition. The analysis is focused on countries with food-crisis situations which according to the GRFC in 2020 were 55 countries and territories. Having a comprehensive picture of these contexts, both in terms of acute food security and financial allocations, is critical to enable decision making on investments, policy and programmes.

Louise Gentzel, Programme and Policy Officer with the World Food Program (WFP) and the Global Network Against Food Crises, said the report was an important first step, comprehensively analysing financial flows, aiding to build a more complete understanding of how to respond and where to respond. The analysis showed that there was a need to continue to improve how to use funding in order to contribute to ending food insecurity and its root causes. There was a need to continue to work with all partners in order to gather data to ensure that the programmes were developed appropriately and were fully funded.

Somalia

Jens Laerke, on behalf of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that OCHA had issue an embargoed press release on the launch of the annual humanitarian appeal for Somalia, which was facing its third failed rainy season – a situation which was absolutely catastrophic for the population. The situation was very bad. The press release had been distributed to the journalists under embargo.

Media arrangements for the following weeks

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service, said that the Service had launched the renewal of annual media accreditations on a new platform implemented on Indico. A note to correspondents had been sent out with the details. Renewals would be processed from 20 to 23 December, and resumed on 4 January 2022. Current media accreditation was valid until 31 January 2022.

UNIS press briefings would be fully virtual on 21 December, and 4 and 7 January; there would be no press briefings on 24, 28 and 31 December but a list of Geneva-based UN agencies’ spokespersons on duty in this period had been sent to all the journalists by UNIS.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service, said that this Saturday, 18 December, the Lamp of Peace would be conferred on the UN Secretary-General by the Franciscan Order in Assisi, Italy, for his untiring work in political activity lived as a vocation to the common good. The embargoed remarks of the Secretary-General had been distributed to the press.

Ms Vellucci, speaking on behalf of the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, also said that on 20 December, the UN Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen was scheduled to brief the Security Council at 10am New York/4pm Geneva time. His remarks would then be distributed to the press.

On Tuesday 2 December, the ICRC would be holding a press conference to look back at the major challenges of the Middle East in 2021 (Syria, Yemen, ILOT, Iraq, Lebanon, COVID 19). Speaking will be Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director of operations for the Near and Middle East.

Monday 20 of December was Arabic Language Day, and the UNOG would commemorate it at 1.30 p.m. as a hybrid celebration. Journalists were invited to the commemoration and needed to register to participate.

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