PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by representatives and spokespersons of the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Human Rights Council.
Updated WHO list of countries experiencing shortage of health workers
Dr. Jim Campbell, Director, Health Workforce, at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the WHO today released an updated health workforce support and safeguards list, identifying 55 countries as vulnerable for availability of health workers required to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal target for universal health coverage by 2030. Of the 55 countries, 37 were in the WHO African region, eight in the Western Pacific region, six in the Eastern Mediterranean region, three in the South-East Asia region, and one was in the Americas.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there had already been a global shortage of health workers, with migration of such workers to wealthier countries. With the pandemic, this trend had accelerated further. More than 115,000 deaths of health workers had been recorded during the pandemic, and their vaccination rates remained insufficient. Many were battling depression and burnout, said Dr. Campbell, which forced health workers to change occupational fields and countries. Dr. Campbell said that the WHO Health workforce support and safeguard list did not prohibit international recruitment, but recommended that government-to-government health worker migration agreements be informed by health labour market analysis and the adoption of measures to ensure adequate supply of health workers in the source countries; engage Ministries of Health in the negotiation and implementation of agreements; and specify the health system benefits of the arrangement to both source and destination countries.
Responding to questions, Dr. Campbell acknowledged significant improvements in the health sector on the African continent over the previous 20 years. However, given the rapid population growth, Africa needed additional health workers to meet the increasing needs. Over the past three years, health workers had protested over their working conditions in more than 160 countries, which demonstrated a record level of dissatisfaction. Health workers had to be protected, he emphasized. Gulf States had historically relied on international health personnel; some OECD countries had also intensified their recruitment of foreign personnel. Migration also occurred within the African continent, explained Dr. Campbell. Cuba notified WHO of its “medical brigade” activities, which had huge impact on supporting low- and middle-income countries, explained Dr. Campbell and asked that questions related to possible human-rights abuses be sent to him in writing.
Syria – 12 years into the conflict
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), read parts of the statement by the UN Secretary-General issued on the 12th anniversary of the conflict in Syria, in which he stressed that the recent earthquakes hit as humanitarian needs had reached their highest levels since the beginning of the conflict and with economic conditions worsening, taking a terrible toll on communities already ravaged by war and displacement.
Kenn Crossley, World Food Programme (WFP) Representative and Country Director in Syria, speaking from Damascus, stated that many Syrians were still displaced and living in shelters, in the aftermath of the 6 February earthquakes. People were finding their own ways of coping and were sometimes moving in with local communities who had already been struggling, given more than a decade of conflict. The fundamental consequences and challenges of the ongoing conflict remained the same, stressed Mr. Crossley. Large scale humanitarian assistance was still required. Working families on average wages were now also in deep need of food assistance. Given an increasing stability in certain parts of the country, there were no opportunities for recovery and rehabilitation processes, but the earthquakes had set those processes back.
Full press release is available here.
Humanitarian situation in Vanuatu following devastating cyclones and an earthquake
Sanaka Samarasinha, UN Resident Coordinator to Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, speaking from Vanuatu, reminded that Vanuatu had recently been hit by an unprecedented twin disaster: category-4 cyclones and a 6.5 magnitude earthquake, which had affected over 250,000 people - 80 percent of the population.
Mr. Samarasinha acknowledged the people of Vanuatu for their sheer resilience, the determination of Vanuatu’s leaders, the incredible leadership of their Disaster Management Office, and the support of the global community. The United Nations, present in Vanuatu with eight agencies, was supporting the coordination of relief items swiftly and effectively to the people who needed it most across the country. France, Australia, and New Zealand Mechanism (FRANZ) was also engaged in an immediate response. UN had requested support from the Central Emergency Fund. At present, there were over 5,100 people registered in over 100 Evacuation Centers in Shefa and Tafea provinces. Over 58,000 children under the age of 15 years had been impacted by these disasters and there were over 9,000 pregnant and lactating mothers in the affected areas.
Mr. Samarasinha explained that distribution of non-food items was ongoing in the affected provinces, coordinated by the Vanuatu Disaster Management Office and was being supported directly by our staff on the ground. A joint UN-Vanuatu Government meeting on the collective response was planned for this week. The Government had declared a six-month emergency, but recovery efforts were likely to last longer.
UNHCR launches new appeal for Afghan refugees and hosts
Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR and humanitarian partners had launched a response plan to support 7.9 million people: 5.2 million Afghans – including refugees -- as well as 2.7 million of their local hosts across the region. The Regional Refugee Response Plan for the Afghanistan Situation 2023 sought USD 613 million to support Afghans sheltering in five neighbouring countries: Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, which hosted some 8.2 million Afghans, including over two million registered refugees. Many had been in the region for decades, and over 70 per cent of those in need of support were women and children.
Ms. Mantoo reminded that a separate UN-wide plan had also been launched to respond to humanitarian needs inside Afghanistan, which sought USD 4.62 billion for some 23.7 million Afghans in 2023. Afghanistan was one of the world’s largest and most severe humanitarian crises where some two-thirds of the population, including women and girls, required humanitarian and protection assistance. The UN and its partners were appealing to the international community not to forget or neglect the people of Afghanistan.
Full statement is available here.
UK legislation on asylum seekers
Responding to a question on the new legislation on asylum seekers introduced by the UK Government into the House of Commons, Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was profoundly concerned by this new initiative.
The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how compelling their claim may be. The effect of the Bill (in this form) would be to deny a fair hearing and to deny protection to many genuine refugees in need of safety and asylum.
Black Sea Grain Initiative
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), responding to questions, explained that the Black Sea Grain Initiative talks had been concluded on 13 March. Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reminded that the current agreement was valid until 18 March. The UN noted the announcement by the Russian Federation regarding an extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative for 60 days. The UN Secretary-General confirmed that the UN would do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and ensure its continuity. Mr. Laerke said that consultations continued, and that the United Nations would do everything possible to preserve the continuity and integrity of the agreement. Ms. Vellucci reminded of the positive impact of the Initiative.
Human Rights Council
Pascal Sim, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), said that the Council today was holding a dialogue with four thematic experts: on freedom of religion and belief; on protection and promotion on human rights while countering terrorism; on torture; and on the right to privacy. The following day, the Council would hear from experts on foreign debt; human rights defenders; and cultural rights. On 16 March, the Council would discuss violence against children, and children in armed conflict. After that, the Council would hear a presentation from the High Commissioner on access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, would hold a series of public hearings in Room XXVII of the Palais des Nations the following week, focused on the shrinking public space in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This would be a second series of such hearings, after the first round had been held in November 2022. The hearings would be webcast live at UNTV.
On 16 March at 2 pm, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine would present its comprehensive report, under embargo. The report would then be presented to the Human Rights Council on 20 March.
World Meteorological Day
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that the World Meteorological Day would be on 23 March, under the theme “The future of weather, climate and water across generations”. It was the 150th anniversary of the WMO’s forerunner. A media advisory with all details would be sent out shortly. The main ceremony would take place on 16 March as the WMO leadership would be in New York the following week for the UN Water Conference.
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), reminded that today at 2 pm, there would a press conference to present the Technology and Innovation Report 2023 – Opening Green Windows -Technological opportunities for a low-carbon world. The report, under embargo until 16 March 1 pm, would be presented by Pedro Manuel Moreno, UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General, and Shamika Sirimanne, Director, Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said on behalf of the UN Development Programme that on 20 March, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner would participate in the donors' conference organized by the European Commission and the Swedish Council Presidency to raise funds and coordinate the relief response in the areas affected by the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. Sarah Bel was available for more information.
On 15 March at 9 am CET, the International Labour Organization would host a virtual press conference to launch the World Employment and Social Trends report on key workers. Speakers would include Manuela Tomei, Assistant Director-General for Governance, Rights and Dialogue; Richard Samans, Director, Research Department; and Janine Berg, Senior Economist, Research Department.
On 15 March at 1 pm CET, there would be a press conference to present the report by Alice Jill Edwards, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, on the duty to investigate crimes of torture in national law and practice.
On 15 March at 3:30 pm, there would also be a press conference of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.
Ms. Vellucci informed that 15 March would mark the International Day against Islamophobia, and brought attention to the remarks delivered by the Secretary-General at a commemoration of this International Day last Friday.
The Human Rights Committee would have a public meeting 16 March, devoted to the follow-up of its concluding observations and views.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was concluding this morning its review of the report of Tunisia and would begin this afternoon review of the report of Peru.