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23 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.

**Afghanistan

I will start off with Afghanistan and an update on the humanitarian front.  Our colleagues are telling us that they are continuing to deliver aid in line with humanitarian principles.  The response is ongoing across Afghanistan, including the provision of medicine and health services in fixed facilities and mobile clinics. 

In the past week, the World Health Organization has distributed trauma and medical kits from existing supplies to hospitals in Kabul, Kunduz and Helmand to support health services for tens of thousands of people in need, but supplies are dwindling and they need to be replenished. 

For its part, the World Food Programme says its operations have been continuing throughout Afghanistan, including food distributions and drought assessments.  This past week alone, WFP has reached 80,000 people with some 600 metric tons of food commodities that came in across land borders. 

Our humanitarian colleagues stressed that the United Nations is clear:  women must be able to work in order for Afghanistan to function, for their survival and so that they can provide for their families.  Women are vital in delivering essential humanitarian services — including health and education. 

And again, we remind all parties that the delivery of humanitarian assistance requires unimpeded access for both male and female aid workers to assess, deliver and monitor assistance.  The future of Afghanistan relies on creating an inclusive and enabling environment where all people, including women and girls, can thrive through their full, equal, and meaningful participation. 

Humanitarians are adapting operations to reach almost 16 million people in need in 2021 across Afghanistan.  The country’s Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021, which requires $1.3 billion to help more than 18 million people, is 39 per cent funded, leaving a deficit of about $786 million with [less] than half a year to go. 

In a statement released today, Henrietta Fore, the UN Children’s Fund’s Executive Director, warned that around 10 million children across Afghanistan need humanitarian assistance to survive.  She said that, right now, UNICEF is scaling up its lifesaving programmes for children and women — including through the delivery of health, nutrition and water services to displaced families.

I also want to flag that the Secretary-General has been invited to participate in the virtual G7 special summit on Afghanistan.  Of course, his message will be focused on the need for unity in the international community as we keep the interests of the Afghan people front and centre.

**Haiti

And let me turn to Haiti, where I can tell you that, building on the Deputy Secretary-General's visit to Haiti last week, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ramesh Rajasingham, is currently in Haiti for a four-day visit.  We’ll try to get him to brief you either from Haiti or when he comes back at the end of the week.

Today, the UN migration agency, IOM, launched a flash appeal for $15 million to help families impacted by the earthquake. 

The resources will help Haitian authorities with housing, temporary shelter, mental health support and COVID-19 prevention for some [137,000] families left critically vulnerable by the recent earthquake that struck southern Haiti.  IOM has already set up bases in the most affected areas and additional hubs in Jeremie, Les Cayes and Miragoane.  It is also using satellite imagery to analyse damage and distribute thousands of plastic sheets, hygiene kits, blankets, collapsible jerry cans, and kitchen [sets] to those impacted.

And, as we mentioned, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, wrapped up her visit on Friday afternoon.  She assured Haitians that the UN remains committed to working, under the leadership of national and local authorities, to assist, not only in providing lifesaving support for the immediate response to the earthquake, but also during the reconstruction phase.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council held an open meeting on Yemen. 

Briefing Council members was the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, who stressed that civilians are bearing the brunt of the conflict in Yemen. 

He noted that war had decimated the economy, with this collapse being the biggest driver of people’s humanitarian needs — including the risk of mass famine.  Mr. Griffiths said that, altogether, more than 20 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance and protection — or about two thirds of the population.  It is an astonishing figure, he said. 

He called for even greater funding, bolstering Yemen’s economy, reopening the Sana’a airport and a nationwide ceasefire. 

Also speaking was Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, who called on all parties to prioritize the needs of civilians and to abstain from weaponizing the economy. 

He also stressed the need to resume an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict. 

Also briefing was UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, and she underscored that being a child in Yemen today is the stuff of nightmares.  Those remarks were all shared with you or will be shortly.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, our colleagues there today said that they will continue to call on security forces to ensure the protection of civilians, as the number of people killed in political violence in the country tops 1,000.  Thousands more — many of them women and children — have been injured. 

Our colleagues strongly condemn the widespread use of lethal force, as well as other serious violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention, torture, ill treatment, and enforced disappearances.

More than six months since the military seized control over the democratically-elected Government of Myanmar on 1 February, more than 3,300 people remain in detention.  They include politicians, authors, human rights defenders, teachers, health-care workers, civil servants, journalists, monks, celebrities, and just ordinary citizens. 

**South Sudan

And from South Sudan, the Peacekeeping Mission there tells us that the situation in Tambura in Western Equatoria state is tense due to the increased presence of armed young people from the Azande and Balanda communities.  

The Mission has reinforced its protection of internally displaced people and has evacuated humanitarian workers in the area who had sought refuge at its temporary operating base there.  The Mission is sending additional troops to reinforce the base after new internally displaced people arrived, seeking shelter and protection. 

**Somalia — COVID-19

And a quick COVID update from Somalia:  The Resident Coordinator, Adam Abdelmoula, says the team is continuing to support the Government in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and on increasing vaccine use. 

The UN is supporting the health ministry on ensuring the safe and equitable distribution of vaccines through helping with cold chain systems, training of vaccinators, and monitoring the use of vaccines.  Somalia has received more than 100,000 doses earlier this month through COVAX.  Those doses were donated by France. 

Somalia is prioritizing frontline and essential health workers, the elderly, and the chronically ill.  To date, nearly 190,000 people have received their first dose of vaccine and more than 92,000 have received their second dose. 

On the socioeconomic front, the World Food Programme and UNICEF are supporting a Government programme to provide support for 200,000 households this year to mitigate the impacts of a locust invasion and the COVID-19 pandemic.  And the UN Development Programme is helping to assess the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic on health, education, gender, displacement and the budget, as well as ports in Somalia.

**International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition

And today is International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.  The Day is intended to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples. 

In a Tweet, the Secretary-General noted that the transatlantic slave trade ended more than 200 years ago.  Sadly, he said we continue to live in its shadows of racial injustice.

The Secretary-General underscored that we urgently need to fight racism, dismantle racist structures and reform racist institutions. 

**Financial Contribution  

And finally, we are happy to report that we are now up to 123 fully paid-up Member States.  Two Member States have paid their dues in full.  They are both from West Africa and both countries start with the letter “S.”

Can anybody take a guess?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I said from West Africa.  You're all pathetic.  It's Senegal and Sierra Leone, and we thank them, despite your lacklustre efforts.  But at least you tried, so if you have a question, I will take yours. 

**Questions and Answers

Yeah, go ahead. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, appreciate it.  How concerned are you about the situation with the tensions between so‑called resistant forces in Panjshir province in Afghanistan and Taliban?  According to some sources, Taliban fighters are just waiting for an order to attack Panjshir, so either a risk of another civil war in there.

Spokesman:  Look, I think the last thing the people in Afghanistan need is continued armed conflict.  We are very concerned at the humanitarian impact of the, of continued fighting in, anywhere in Afghanistan. 

Mr. Hanna.

Question:  Yesterday, you said that another 120 had been relocated.  Can you give a breakdown?  You'd basically said UN personnel and NGOs associated with the UN.  How many Afghan nationals are included?  Do you have an idea in the breakdown?

Spokesman:  Look, the majority of people on that flight were employees of, international employees of international NGOs. 

The situation with Afghan nationals is extremely delicate.  We are very much focused on keeping our staff safe, our Afghan national staff safe, and their dependents.  We are trying, as best as possible, to ensure that they are safe.  I mean, I think it's clear that a number of them have genuine fears for their well‑being.

This will require some Member State support, but given the very delicate nature of the situation I don't want to go into any granular details. 

Go ahead, yeah.

Question:  A follow‑up on that.  Security in Kabul is now being run by Khalil al Rahman Haqqani, who's on the UN terrorist list.  Are you having to deal with the Haqqanis in terms of continuing the relocations?  And is that an issue?

Spokesman:  Look, I don't know if we've had and I'm not aware that we've had any direct contact with him.  Whether in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world, we deal, we have to deal with the authorities who are in charge.  It doesn't imply recognition.  It doesn't imply anything, right?  What it implies is that we need to keep our staff safe.  We need to be able to continue our humanitarian operations. 

And it is also important to stress that those authorities also have responsibilities in order to respect the inviolability of UN premises.  They have a responsibility to keep UN staff safe, and they also have a responsibility to allow us to do our humanitarian work. 

But there are, as we've, as I think we've said before and we had the briefing…  last week with other humanitarian colleagues, we have working level contacts with the authorities on the ground. 

Dulcie.

Question:  Thanks.  Just a follow‑up.  So, you said the majority of the 120 people who were relocated to Almaty, I think you said over the weekend — I can't remember — were international employees of international NGOs… 

Spokesman:  Yeah, or…

Question:  …so approximately what is that number?

Spokesman:  What I…  I mean, what we said yesterday is that we flew about 120 people.  There were some international staff from the UN, but the majority of people on the plane were staff from our…  NGOs who are implementing partners.

Question:  So, approximately 100 were non‑UN people?… 

Spokesman:  I don't…  the…

Question:  You don't know.

Spokesman:  Excuse me.  They were approximate…  less…  the majority of them were non‑UN people.  I…

Question:  So, why are you evacuating non‑UN people, or relocating non‑UN people when you have…

Spokesman:  Well, these are…

Question:  …several hundred…

Spokesman:  These are international staff of our implementing partners.  These are NGOs that we work with and they are partner…  that are implementing UN programmes.

Question:  So, you're not…  you haven't relocated any UN international staff since last week when you put out that announcement?

Spokesman:  There were some on that plane that were UN international staff who were being relocated to Almaty.

Question:  And one media site today on this situation said that there are 3,400 national staff in Afghanistan, but you've all been saying about 3,000.  Can we get an accurate number?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think about 3,000 would correspond to 3,400.  I mean, I'm not going to go into exact numbers, but we said about 3,000.

Question:  So, no national staff have been… 

Spokesman:  I'm not going to… 

Question:  …relocated outside of Afghanistan yet?

Spokesman:  As I said, I'm not going to get, I'm not going to speak publicly into the details of the national staff given the very delicate security situation. 

Yes, Alan, and then we'll go to Maggie and then Iftikhar.

Question:  One more question on Afghanistan.  Some leaders already advocate for additional sanctions imposed on Taliban.  Do you find that Security, that the Security Council should consider such a matter in some foreseeable future?

Spokesman:  Look, I mean, the Council will do whatever they decide to do in their wisdom.  We've always said that whatever sanctions are imposed — and sanctions are a very important tool in the toolbox of the Security Council — whatever sanctions are imposed should not be sanctions that aggravate the humanitarian situation, and that…  but that's been the Secretary‑General's position for quite some time.

Maggie and then Iftikhar.

Question:  Hi.  Steph.  Three questions, if I could ask them one at a time.  First, you said on Afghanistan, delivery of aid requires unimpeded access for both male and female aid workers.  So, does that, are you trying to imply there's been a problem for the female aid workers with the Taliban?  Could you expand on that, first of all?

Spokesman:  I think we're just making it clear what our position and what our requirements are.

Question:  You've had no specific incidents?

Spokesman:  I mean, we're dealing with a situation on the ground that is extremely fluid.  I think, as we've said in the past, the command-and-control is not always clear, so we're just, I think it's worth stating both publicly and what we've said privately in our meetings. 

Your second question.

Question:  Oh, yeah, and then you also said about the evacuations that this would require, for the Afghan staff, for the national staff, that this would require some Member State support.  Do you mean to evacuate them or to resettle them or a combination… 

Spokesman:  No, I think…

Question:  …if you could clarify…

Spokesman:  I think I said this last week.  One of the critical differences between how the United Nations operates in Afghanistan and how Member States operate in Afghanistan — whether you're talking about France, Turkey, Qatar, the US — is that we are not a Member State.  We are not able to, we do not deliver, we do not have the authorities to deliver visas for people to be accepted into another country.  So, that's what I mean by the need for, one of the things I mean by the need for Member State support.

Question:  Okay, thanks.  And then my final question, just a simple one, when…  has Hans Grundberg officially started yet as the Yemen envoy?  Is he doing consultations or something?  Because he didn't brief today, so when is he starting?

Spokesman:  He officially starts… 5 September is his first day on the job, but I will double‑check for you, but that's what I remember off the top of my head. 

Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  You have been saying that UN in Kabul has been in regular contact with the Taliban leadership, but have they sent an official communication to the Secretary‑General informing him of the change in Government in Afghanistan and possible recognition?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of any official communication having been received here regarding that specific issue, but I will check again.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay, let's just stay on the screen, and then we'll go back to the room. 

Okay, Stephanie?

Correspondent:  My question has been answered.  Thank you. 

Spokesman:  Okay, Sarah?

Correspondent:  Hi, Stéphane.  Sorry, my question was covered.  Thank you. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  Any more questions…  yes?

Correspondent:  I have a question, please, Steph. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  One second and then…  go ahead, Dulcie.

Question:  Okay.  So, you're basically saying to relocate any Afghan national staff out of Afghanistan requires a visa.

Spokesman:  What I'm saying is that Member States require visas or authorization for people to enter their territory, and we do not have that…  we, obviously, do not have the authority to issue those permissions.

Question:  So, there are no exceptions made in an emergency situation such as this.

Spokesman:  Those are questions you have to ask Member States.

Question:  So, my understanding is that the UN has asked Member States, certain Member States to accept Afghan nationals working for the UN.  Can you give us any information on those… 

Spokesman:  We are continuing…

Question:  …requests?

Spokesman:  We are continuing to be in discussion with Member States on the very issue of Afghan nationals.

Question:  And if I can switch gears to the Food Summit, what actually will the format look like?  Is it going to be speeches basically on the, 23 September?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  That's a very good question.  Let me…  I mean, there will be…  it's a UN meeting, so, yes, there will be speeches.  Whether there is something else, I mean, let me get you a question, an answer about the format.

Somebody on the screen had a question?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  This is Carrie from Le Monde.  It's just a quick follow‑up.  I totally understand the visa problems and your constraint as the UN, but is there at least, can you tell us if there's a team right now thinking and really, like, working on that?  Because we hear a lot of feedback from your staff at UNAMA, who is not…  who is very, very worried.  And we would like to know if you are planning to, at least do you have an idea of what you would like to do, you know, ideally?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, first of all, we can only understand the stress and the anxiety of those colleagues in Afghanistan who need to leave and who would like to leave.

We are, of course, very much focused and very much working on this issue and have been for quite some time.  I mean, I was in a, in meetings over the weekend and again this morning where I can tell you this issue is being worked on by senior‑most staff in contact with Member States.  That is a huge focus for us. 

The other focus, which we're doing simultaneously, is figuring out how to continue to stay and deliver in Afghanistan.  And, I think, as I've pointed out, our colleagues at WHO, at WFP and many other agencies are doing just that. 

Stefano…

Correspondent:  Thanks, Steph.

Spokesman:  Yes.  Signor Vaccara, go ahead. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just to make a…  if somebody from Afghanistan, an Afghani that is not working for the UN, is actually just a citizen of Afghanistan — let's say it's a woman — try to leave Afghanistan because he, she thinks that her life is in danger, what the UN consider this person, a refugee or just somebody that tried to leave the country and need the…

Spokesman:  It is clear that we have seen Afghans who fear for their life, who have every reason to do so, who fear violence, seek refugee status, and it is very important that they be granted refugee status by host countries.

Question:  So, this…

Spokesman:  …and many countries in the region, notably Pakistan and Iran, to name just two, have, over the years, shown great generosity in that regard.

Question:  In this moment, does the UN have the staff, the appropriate staff to give status of refugee in…

Spokesman:  UNHCR is working with the bordering…  the countries that border Afghanistan in order to support the national authorities in processing people that may be coming across the border. 

Okay.  Thank you, all.  We shall see you mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.