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18 August 2021

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon to all of you.

Good afternoon, thank you for being patient.  We are very much delighted to be joined by three colleagues from Afghanistan.

We have the World Food Programme’s [WFP] Country Director; Mary Ellen McGroarty; Herve De Lys, who is the UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] Representative in Afghanistan; and Caroline Van Buren, who is the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] Representative in Afghanistan.

They are joining us virtually, obviously to update you on the situation on the ground.

**Afghanistan — Relocation of United Nations Personnel

Before I turn to our guests, I just want to read you the following update on an issue you’ve been asking me about.

As we speak, a group of UN personnel is travelling today from Kabul to Almaty in Kazakhstan, where they will continue their work remotely.  We thank the Government of Kazakhstan for the offer to host a temporary remote office of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan [UNAMA].

As the Secretary-General told the Security Council on August 16th, the United Nations presence in Afghanistan will adapt to the security situation.  In light of the security and other constraints in Kabul and other parts of the country at the moment, it was decided to move a part of the UN staff out of the country.  Personnel will return to Afghanistan as conditions permit.

As we have also been making clear, the UN is committed to staying and delivering in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need.  The majority of humanitarian personnel remain in Afghanistan, providing vital assistance to millions in need.

The remote presence will provide close support to the UN family’s continuing work on the ground in Afghanistan.

This is a temporary measure intended to enable the UN to keep delivering assistance to the people of Afghanistan with the minimum of disruption while, at the same time, reducing risk to UN personnel.

[…]

Can you ask your question on the microphone, Michelle, so we can hear you?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  How many staff have been, or are travelling to Kazakhstan today?  How many international staff and how many are local staff?  And how many more flights do you expect to happen in coming days?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to get into, into numbers, but what I can tell you that… I’m not going to get into exact numbers.  What I can tell you, that in light of the obviously volatile situation in the country, we’re not going to discuss exact numbers or locations of our colleagues.  But, as I mentioned earlier, in the past, where we’re going, we’re projecting to allow up to about 100 personnel to operate out of Almaty.  The office in Almaty will be staffed by a relatively small number of international personnel.  The safety and well-being of all our staff, national and international, is a matter of paramount importance to the UN.

Again, without disclosing any information that may endanger colleagues, I can assure you that a significant amount of work is being undertaken as we speak, specifically to safeguard national staff.  And we’re continuing to explore every avenue possible to further support national personnel.

Question: So, to clarify, up to 100 international staff are going to be moved from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan.

Spokesman: That’s it roughly… yes.

Let’s go to our guests who are, have actual work to do in, in Kabul, and then you’ll come back to, to grilling me.  So, why don’t we start, maybe with WFP, with Mary Ellen, and then we’ll move to UNICEF and UNHCR.  So, Mary Ellen, please, you have the floor.

[Press briefing by the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the UN Refugee Agency]

We’ll go on to the regular part of the briefing.

**Niger

I have a statement on the situation in Niger.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns yet another attack by unidentified gunmen on civilians in Niger that took place on 16 August in the department of Banibangou, in the Tillabéri region.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the bereaved families.  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the cumulative impact of these frequent attacks on the humanitarian situation in the region of Tillabéri, where already more than 100,000 people have been displaced and 520,000 are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Secretary-General calls on the Nigerien authorities to spare no effort in identifying and swiftly bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the UN to continue supporting Niger in its efforts to counter and prevent terrorism and violent extremism, promote social cohesion and achieve sustainable development.

**Peacekeeping

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council at a high-level debate on technology and UN peacekeeping.

He said that digital technology represents one of the greatest opportunities, but also one of the greatest challenges of our time.  He underscored that the international community must come together better to govern the digital space for good.

When it comes to UN peacekeeping, the Secretary-General said that it is essential that it fully embraces the digital world to improve its agility, anticipation and responsiveness to conflicts.

He noted that the strategy for Digital Transformation of UN peacekeeping operations will help advance data-driven and technology-enabled peacekeeping both at Headquarters and in the field.

The Secretary-General added that this initiative will require support from Member States to help in capacity-building, training, equipment provision and financial contributions.

His full remarks are online.

**Haiti

In Haiti, our UNICEF colleagues tell us that they estimate about 1.2 million people — that’s including 540,000 children — are affected by the earthquake.

UNICEF says about half a million Haitian children have limited or no access to shelter, safe water, health care and nutrition.  Search-and-rescue efforts are under way.  However, criminal violence and insecurity are complicating the humanitarian response, with the main road from Port-au-Prince to the south of the country being controlled by gangs.

Nevertheless, a UNICEF truck was able to deliver medical kits to three hospitals in Les Cayes, with enough supplies — including gloves, painkillers, antibiotics and syringes — to treat 30,000 earthquake victims over three months.

UNICEF and its partners are also distributing tarpaulins for emergency shelter, latrines and showers; water reservoirs for safe water distribution; and hygiene kits.  The agency estimates it will need $15 million to respond to the most urgent needs of at least 385,000 people for eight weeks.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that the situation in Tigray remains unpredictable and volatile, while movement of Tigray forces in Amhara and Afar provinces continues.

Humanitarian access into the region remains restricted via the only road through Afar region, where there is insecurity, with extended delays for clearances of humanitarian supplies and intense searches at the checkpoints.  Only 30 trucks with humanitarian supplies can be scanned each day under the current procedures, but, as we’ve been telling you, 100 trucks of food, non-food items and fuel are needed every day to move into Tigray.

Humanitarian operations are also severely affected by lack of supplies, cash, banking services, fuel and telecommunications.  Transport of ICT equipment remains prohibited by the authorities.

We, along with our humanitarian partners, continue to stay and deliver to help meet the existing and emerging needs.  As of yesterday, there are 457 UN staff from 10 UN agencies supporting the humanitarian response there.

Twenty-nine mobile health and nutrition teams also continue to provide essential services, reaching more than 50,000 individuals with medical consultations at 72 health facilities and 47 camps for internally displaced people across the region.

**Resident Coordinators

I have five new Resident Coordinators to announce today.

Our colleagues from the Development Coordination Office tell us that Stefan Priesner of Austria took up his new post as Resident Coordinator in Iran, he started earlier this week, on August 16th, while, next Friday, Barbara Manzi of Italy will start as Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burkina Faso and Karima El Korri of Morocco will start as the Resident Coordinator in Malaysia, which also covers Brunei Darussalam and Singapore.

On August 22nd, Yesim Oruc of Turkey will start her new role as the Resident Coordinator in Guyana, while Gianluca Rampolla del Tindaro of Italy assumes his duties as Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Venezuela, and that’s on August 23rd.

All these appointments follow the confirmations from the respective Governments.

Full biographies of our new Resident Coordinators are available [online].

**Covid-19 — Ecuador

And a quick COVID-19 update, today from Ecuador, which received a shipment of more than 100,000 AstraZeneca vaccines on Monday from COVAX which were donated by Spain.

To date, Ecuador has received more than 1 million doses through COVAX, with help from the Pan-American Health Organization and UNICEF.

Our UN team, led by our Resident Coordinator and good friend, Lena Savelli, has been supporting authorities to address the health and social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

**Secretary-General Kofi Annan

As some of you know, today marks three years since we lost Kofi Annan, our former Secretary-General.

As the current Secretary-General said, Kofi was both one-of-a-kind and one of us, a man who embodied UN values and made all of us proud to call ourselves his colleagues and friends.  We remember him today and every day.

Our Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said that, on this day three years ago, the world lost one of its moral voices.

On a personal note, I am sad.

Sorry, James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Your first announcement before the humanitarian briefing from Kabul, first, I tweeted what you said, but UNAMA have corrected me and said it’s not an evacuation.  Why is it not an evacuation?  And if you can perhaps explain to us also why, I will use your words, there is this relocation now because the situation is actually stabilized compared with any time over the last five days, why didn’t you bring these people out earlier?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, I think, as we have all seen, the scenes at the airport were rather chaotic.  We had to bring in a plane from the outside.  It took quite a bit of time and of work to coordinate with the parties on the ground, parties in the air, and others to ensure that this relocation could go smoothly.  Discussions with the Kazakh authorities, [to] whom we are extremely grateful, were ongoing.  They were finalized.  And I can’t underscore our thanks to our friends in Almaty for having allowed us to open up this satellite office.  A relocation is exactly that, it is a relocation.  The office in Almaty is designed for international…

Question:  Because they have to be evacuated, aren’t they?

Spokesman:  Let me finish my sentence.  It is… the office there is set up to host about 100 international staff, people who don’t need to be on location to do their work.  It is a way of lightening the footprint for obvious… obvious reasons, so it is a relocation.  They will go back when the, when we feel the situation allows it.

Question:  And, just to clarify, these people who are being relocated or evacuated, they are all international staff?  You are not repositioning any national staff at this stage.  And, if that is the case, after we just… what we just heard from Caroline from the UNHCR, quite a number of the women and the women dependents would like to be evacuated from the country, is the UN giving people the choice?  And, if not, why is the UN not doing what many other nations are doing?  Why should people be disadvantaged working for the UN, United Nations, rather than working for the US or the UK or other countries?

Spokesman:  First of all, I can tell you we are doing our utmost to safeguard our national staff and their dependents, whether that’s having those who will stay in country or those who may come out.  The big difference between working for the United Nations and a nation is that we are not a nation, right?  We are not a nation that issues visas.  So, there are all sorts of administrative hurdles that have to be negotiated and discussed.  But the national staff is very much on the forefront of what we are trying to do every day.

All right.  Don’t be shy, James, don’t be shy unless there are questions in the chat.  I should have left when I had the chance.

Question:  Okay, well, I do have more.

Spokesman:  [inaudible] somebody else, go ahead.

Question:  Sorry, oh, God… Can I ask you about things going on at a diplomatic and political level?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  What is… what is the highest-level contact that the UN has had the last few days with the Taliban?  Who has been speaking to the Taliban and at what level?

Spokesman:  Our colleague, Ramiz Alakbarov, the Humanitarian Coordinator, has been in touch with senior Taliban officials on the ground in Kabul.  I’m not… I don’t have any details about any other contacts that have been had.

Question:  So, what is the Special Representative, Deborah Lyons, doing?  I mean, there are Taliban in town, journalists are meeting them.  She is the… I would argue now the most important representative of the international community because there are only a handful of embassies operating in Kabul.  Most of the embassies of the US and their allies are out at the airport dealing with the evacuation.  There is a window right now with the Taliban saying it has… it will offer an inclusive Government.  Surely, the most senior UN representatives should be meeting the Taliban right now.  What is the SRSG doing and where is Jean Arnault?

Spokesman:  Jean Arnault is back here in New York, after he was in Doha.

Question:  Would he be better in Doha or in Pakistan right now?

Spokesman:  I’m telling you where he is.  I’m sharing with you the information that I have.  It does not mean, as usual, just because I don’t talk about it, it doesn’t mean other things aren’t going on.  Okay, Michelle.

Question:  Sorry, just a really quick clarification of the hundred staff that are being moved?

Spokesman:  Hundred or so, yeah.

Question:  They’re UN and [inaudible] and UN agencies?

Spokesman:  Yeah, it’s across… it’s the UN system.

Question:  Cool.

Spokesman:  Okay, thank you.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, sorry, I had one outstanding question.  Thank you so much.  Yeah, I had one outstanding question before you dashed off.  It has nothing to do with Afghanistan.  You gave a brief readout on Tigray and Ethiopia.  I’m wondering:  about a week ago you gave us information about the launch of an investigation into death in the Afar region in a place called Galikoma Kebele, it was a bad incident.  You said it may have been shelling and up to 100 civilians killed at a refugee centre.  I’m just wondering, is there any update, any new information about that?

Spokesman:  Let me check with our colleagues at UNICEF because I think they are the ones who had flagged it, but I will check.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.