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Bi-Weekly Briefing

Daniel Johnson, Officer-in-Charge of the Radio, Television and Webcast Section at the United Nations Information Service, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the International Telecommunications Union, the Global Fund, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Humanitarian situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region

Kavita Belani, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Representative in Armenia, speaking from Yerevan, provided an update on over 88,000 refugees who had arrived in Armenia as of this morning; some 63,000 had been registered thus far. The numbers were continuously increasing, along with the needs of the new arrivals. Registrations were well managed by the Government despite huge lines at the registration centers. The Government had established registration centers in various regions, and the UNHCR supported the authorities with technical equipment and other needed material, such as mattresses. Psychosocial support, medicine and shelter were among the top needs. Schools in the town of Goris had been turned into shelters, informed Ms. Belani. UNHCR was leading the inter-agency response plan, covering five sectors, which was being finalized and would be released soon. Support to the Government in the long-term integration of refugees was also needed. The preparedness of the Government was commendable, but challenges remained, given the very high number of arrivals.

Hicham Diab, Programmes and Operations Manager at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Armenia, speaking from Yerevan, said that the IFRC and the Armenian Red Cross with partners had activated contingency plans for the case of an escalation of hostilities. Hundreds of volunteers were helping; for many new arrivals, those volunteers were the first people they saw when entering Armenia. Mr. Diab stated that the journeys of displaced people were full of fear and anxiety; each faced told a story of hardship, but also of hope, as they knew they were now in a place where they would receive aid and felt safe. Some of the children arriving were so weak that they fainted in the arms of their parents. The host communities spared no time and resources to share what they had with the arrivals. There was a massive need for mental health support. More long-term solutions for housing were necessary, he said. IFRC called upon the governments, international organizations, and the media to help mobilize resources needed. An emergency appeal for USD 21 million had been launched, informed Mr. Diab.

Carlos Morazzani, Operations Manager at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said that the ICRC’s focus was on life-saving activities, including transferring the wounded to hospitals into Armenia for treatment, and bringing in medical supplies. Another important element of the ICRC’s work right now was working to ensure the dignified management of the dead. The local infrastructure had not had the capacity to handle the large influx of bodies as seen in recent days. Just the previous day, the ICRC had transferred nearly 200 bodies – people who had died from either the accident this week or recent fighting. Going forward, a big part of the ICRC’s work would be to ensure that people left behind were cared for. ICRC was working to ensure those people have the basics: food, hygiene items, ensuring those who want to travel can do so safely. When mass movements of people took place, people got separated, leading to real emotional distress; working to reunite separated families was another important aspect of the ICRC’s work. The ICRC was committed to remaining in this region to ensure humanitarian needs were being met. It was the only humanitarian organization that had been operating in the region, notably through the Lachin corridor.

Regina De Dominicis, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia art the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that approximately 30 percent of the arrivals were children; the main concern was for those who were separated from their families. UNICEF had set up a child-friendly space in Goris and was providing educational supplies and working with the Ministry of Education to see what solutions could be found for the arriving children.

Responding to questions from the media, Ms. Belani said that the UNHCR viewed this as a refugee situation and could not comment on whether it constituted ethnic cleansing. Ms. Belani, who had been on ground from day one, shared stories of families arriving from Nagorno-Karabakh. People were tired, after having suffered under blockade for nine months. They wanted answers on what would happen next. Many were worried about the education of their children and wanted to know whether they would be able to return home to collect their belongings. It was difficult to know how many people would come in total, she said, as the situation was constantly evolving. There were no recorded incidents or cases of mistreatment against people on the move, said Ms. Belani. On another question, Mr. Morazzani explained that the dead bodies were due to fighting and the recent explosion; ICRC’s focus was on identifying and returning them to the families so that they could be properly buried. The one day of fighting on 18 September had had a heavy impact given the already dire humanitarian situation in the region.

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), responding to a question, said that the OHCHR was not present on the ground but was monitoring the situation remotely. It was crucial that people on the move received the assistance needed. Their right to return and safety and dignity ought to be respected.

Humanitarian aid worker safety and appeals in Sudan and South Sudan

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stated that South Sudan and Sudan were the world’s most dangerous countries for aid workers today. Of 71 aid worker deaths recorded so far this year, 22 had been working in South Sudan and 19 in Sudan. The victims were overwhelming local humanitarians working on the front lines of the response. Attacks on aid workers and facilities were violations of the international humanitarian law, which had to be respected by all, without exceptions.

Regarding funding, Mr. Laerke informed that the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan required USD 2.6 billion in funding; as of 29 September, USD 813 million had been received. On the other hand, the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for South Sudan required USD 1.7 billion in funding; as of 29 September, USD 899 million had been received. The top donors were the United States, the European Commission, and the Central Emergency Response Fund.

Combined, all UN-coordinated annual response plans in the world were facing their largest-ever funding gap at USD 39 billion, with USD 17 billion received out of the USD 56 billion required. 2024 could be an even more difficult year for humanitarian funding, as several top donors expected budget cuts in the coming year. Mr. Laerke said that one of the problems was that the donor base was too narrow, with most humanitarian funding coming from just 20 donors and the top five - US, EU, Germany, Japan, and Sweden - covering 65 per cent of available funding. There was a need for fair sharing of the burden.

Answering questions from the media, Mr. Laerke specified that there had been an average of 20 aid worker fatalities per year in South Sudan in recent years.

Deteriorating health situation in South Sudan

Dr. Liesbeth Aelbrecht, World Health Organization (WHO) Incident Manager for the Greater Horn of Africa Emergency, speaking from Nairobi, said that two out of three South Sudanese were facing dangerous levels of hunger. Two million people were displaced, of whom 1.5 million within the country; in addition, the country hosted some 300,000 refugees from other countries/. Those numbers were only getting worse. She stressed that this year, some of the highest numbers of severely malnourished children in years had been observed. Later this year, El Niño was likely to bring both flooding and drought, in different parts of the country, and the likelihood of mosquito and waterborne diseases would consequently increase. Dr. Aelbrecht spoke of stabilization centers, to which parents would bring their sick or malnourished children. She gave an example of having witnessed a young child die of hunger, which was far from being an isolated anecdote.

Dr. Aelbrecht said that the international community ought not be a bystander. WHO was on the ground, providing both medical supplies and technical support to the local health authorities, but more had to be done. Since the beginning of the Sudan conflict and the influx of Sudanese refugees, there had been an increase in measles cases, leading to one of the largest outbreaks in South Sudan over the past decade. WHO had supported the authorities’ reaction and had also led measles vaccination efforts.

Almost 150,000 children had been admitted for treatment of severe acute malnutrition this year, with May being the highest month, said Dr. Aelbrecht in a response to a question.

Deaths and disappearances in Central Mediterranean

Regina De Dominicis, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe, said that the following week would mark a decade since a tragic shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa killed hundreds of people, including children. The tragedy should have been a watershed moment - an opportunity to put in place policies to prevent such a horrific event from happening again on European shores. Instead, she said, the Mediterranean had become a cemetery for children and their futures. Policies today prevented effective, coordinated search and rescue at sea; they left countries and communities managing migration and asylum, alone. No country could manage this alone.

Ms. De Dominicis said that it was in governments’ hands to prevent deaths of both children and adults. The European Union was currently rewriting the way migration and asylum would be managed in Europe. Member States’ ongoing debate on the European Union Pact on Migration and Asylum presented an immediate opportunity to affirm and uphold key child protection principles. UNICEF was calling for children's best interests to be the central consideration in asylum procedures and decisions about their care and protection. It was a matter of policy choice to protect them and honour them, and all children who would seek asylum and safety in Europe in the future.

Answering questions from the media, Ms. De Dominicis said that most children arriving now were from Western and Eastern Africa. There were currently over 21,700 unaccompanied children in reception centers in Italy, who had arrived mostly from Egypt and Tunisia; a year earlier that number had stood at around 17,000. An estimated 11 children had died per week over the past summer. The youngest unaccompanied child in Lampedusa had been recorded as being three years old, informed Ms. De Dominicis.

International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste

Dominique Burgeon, Director of the Liaison Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Geneva, said that food loss and waste was a global issue that had negative economic, social, and environmental impacts. The 2023 report of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, launched in July, highlighted that up to 783 million people across the globe faced hunger in 2022.

Millions across the globe had been malnourished while more than 3.1 billion people had been unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021. At the same time, 13.2 percent of food was lost in the supply chain after harvest and prior to reaching store shelves - an equivalent of 120 kg per capita. FAO’s recent estimates indicated that Sub-Saharan Africa recorded the highest levels of food loss at 20 percent, while North America and Europe recorded the lowest levels at 9.2 percent. Consumer households accounted for the highest levels of food wasted across the globe: on average, each consumer wasted around 74 kg of food every year. Food loss and waste accounted for 8-10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Burgeon stressed that reducing food loss and waste was enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal 12, target 3, that sought by 2030 to halve per capita food waste, and reduce food losses along supply chains, including post-harvest losses. The fourth International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste would be observed today, with a hybrid event convened by FAO and UNEP at 4 pm.

Sentencing of environmental human rights defenders in Vietnam

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the arrest, detention, and sentencing of human rights defenders in Vietnam who advocated for the environment and the country’s transition to clean-energy use raised serious concerns not only with respect to the charges levelled against them but also the conduct of their trials.

On 28 September, Hoang Thi Minh Hong had become the fifth of six environmental human rights defenders arrested from 2021 to 2023 to be sentenced. She had been prosecuted on tax evasion charges, which appeared to be “politically motivated”, according to UN independent experts. After a trial lasting just three hours, Hong had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and fined USD 4,100. Her access to a defence counsel and her family had been limited throughout her detention.

OHCHR called to the Government of Vietnam to refrain from using criminal charges to curtail the exercise of fundamental freedoms and to release unconditionally all those who had been detained in such cases.

Full statement is available here.

Global Fund Support for PrEP Ring Ushers in New Era for Women and HIV Prevention in South Africa

Ann Vaessen, for the Global Fund, stated that three key organizations involved in preventing and responding to HIV in South Africa – AIDS Foundation of South Africa, Beyond Zero, and Networking HIV & AIDS Community of Southern Africa had placed an initial order of 16,000 dapivirine vaginal rings for HIV prevention with the support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) ring was a silicone ring that was inserted in the vagina every month and it delivered long-acting, topical, and localized HIV prevention. To date, the dapivirine vaginal ring was the only PrEP ring approved by regulatory agencies for HIV prevention. The introduction of the PrEP ring in South Africa would expand options for women beyond oral PrEP, which was often unable to meet the unique needs of all individuals who wanted to use it. So far, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe had approved the dapivirine vaginal ring.

Responding to a question, Ms. Vaessen confirmed that South Africa still had the largest HIV epidemic in the world, with nearly 8 million people living with HIV. While new infections had been declining, the country still had the largest number of new HIV infections globally (over 160,000) in 2022. South Africa had made progress toward finding and diagnosing HIV.

Full statement is available here.

Human Rights Council

Pascal Sim, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that today the HRC was concluding its discussion on the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals. The Council would then be briefed by Paula Narváez, President of the UN Economic and Social Council, to be followed by a discussion on Item 5 (human rights bodies and mechanisms) and the adoption of several Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports, which would be continued at the beginning of the following week.


David Hirsch, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that media registrations had been opened for ITU’s Radiocommunication Assembly (13-17 November) and World Radiocommunication Conference (20 November-15 December), both in Dubai. Media advisory is available here.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that the World Trade and Development Report 2023 would be launched on 4 October at 10:30 am. The press conference would feature the UNCTAD Secretary-General, Rebeca Grynspan.

Daniel Johnson, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that the Committee on Enforced Disappearances would close at 5 pm today its 25th session and issue its concluding observations on the four countries reviewed during the session: Mauritania, Mexico, Netherlands, and Nigeria.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would conclude this afternoon its review of the report of Brazil.