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24 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.  I’ll start off with Afghanistan.

**Afghanistan/Secretary-General

I just want to flag a video message from the Secretary-General to the UN personnel in Afghanistan.  In the message, he thanked the staff for everything that they are doing to support the Afghan people in this time of crisis. 

He also noted that most of the UN personnel, especially humanitarians, want to stay and deliver to respond to the dramatic needs of the Afghan people.  But he added that he shares their concern, anxiety and pain, stressing that the safety of all United Nations personnel in Afghanistan is his top priority. 

The Secretary-General said that we are doing everything in our power, namely through the permanent engagement with all relevant actors, and will continue to do so to ensure staff safety and well-being and to find external solutions where they are needed. 

**Afghanistan/UN Agencies

Also today, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it has been distributing life-saving supplies to health facilities and its partners in Kabul, Kandahar and Kunduz.  However, WHO says that it now only has enough supplies in-country to last for one week and that yesterday, 70 per cent of the supplies were released to health facilities. 

According to WHO, more than 500 metric tons of medicines and supplies remain in their warehouses in Dubai.  They were ready and planned to be delivered to Afghanistan this week, but Kabul airport remains closed to commercial flights, and, based on operational and security constraints, countries sending in empty planes to pick up evacuees do not feel they are able to help at this point. 

For its part, the World Food Programme said that operations have been under way at all World Food Programme Afghan field offices, as well as Kabul.  However, WFP also warned that it is due to run out of some food stocks, such as wheat flour, as early as October, and it requires immediate upfront funds to support the millions of people depending on them to deliver food.

The UN Development Programme, for its part, also continues to deliver assistance to people in Afghanistan.  UNDP has distributed corn, tomato, cucumber, squash, okra and 40 kg of fertilizer to 600 farmers in rural Nangahar for the next cropping season so that they can continue selling in local markets.

**Afghanistan/Human Rights

And you will have noticed this morning, in a special session on Afghanistan, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that, in recent weeks, her Office has received harrowing and credible reports of the impact on civilians of violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law by parties to the conflict.  Ms. Bachelet said that, in particular, her Office has received credible reports of serious violations taking place in many areas under the effective control of the Taliban. 

She noted that many people now fear reprisals by the Taliban against those working with the Government or the international community, people who have worked to advance human rights and justice, or those whose lifestyles and opinions are simply perceived to be opposed by the Taliban ideology.  She underscored that international human rights law is immutable and that enjoyment of human rights is not subject to changes in control of territory or de facto authority. 

Her full remarks were shared with you.

**Haiti

Quick update from Haiti, where Ramesh Rajasingham, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, continues to visit the country today to see the impact of the earthquake and the international humanitarian response to the most impacted parts of the country. 

As we speak, he is meeting with local authorities and affected people in the community of Maniche, located north of Les Cayes in the Sud Department.  About 2,600 houses there were destroyed or severely damaged. 

As you can imagine, additional human and financial resources are needed to respond to the crisis and tomorrow, a flash appeal for Haiti will be launched in Port-au-Prince. 

On Thursday, Mr. Rajasingham and Bruno Lemarquis, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, will be our guests here.  They will be speaking to you remotely from Haiti as the flash appeal is launched. 

**Security Council

This morning, back here, the Security Council had an open meeting on Syria. 

Briefing Council members virtually, the Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, said that, regrettably, there has been an escalation in fighting in many parts of Syria, including in Deraa governorate. 

He stressed the need to work towards a nationwide ceasefire, pointing to the intensification in Russian mediation efforts in recent days. 

He also noted that the issues facing Syrians are far from solely being in the hands of the Syrians, stressing that a constructive international diplomacy is plainly needed. 

Mr. Pedersen also said last month’s adoption by the Security Council of resolution 2585 was important.  He urged Council members, who came together for that resolution, to keep working in that same direction: to help facilitate a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of the men and women of Syria and restores Syria’s sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity, as envisioned in Security Council resolution 2254. 

Also speaking was the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths. 

He said that ongoing hostilities, economic crisis, water shortages, and COVID-19 are driving humanitarian needs for millions of already vulnerable people to some of the highest levels since the start of the conflict. 

He also emphasized the need to improve the protection of civilians, alleviate the economic crisis, address the water crisis, and curb the spread of the virus to boost humanitarian access. 

He also announced that he would be travelling to Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey in the near future. 

**Yemen

On Yemen, you heard what our colleagues said at yesterday’s Security Council meeting about the dire humanitarian situation there. 

Today, the UN refugee agency warned of alarming levels of humanitarian needs among displaced people as fighting continues in Marib.

UNHCR says that, since the beginning of the year, nearly 24,000 people have been uprooted by armed clashes, shelling and air strikes in Marib, a region that is already hosting a quarter of Yemen’s 4 million internally displaced people. 

UNHCR says conditions at settlements for displaced people are deplorable, being overcrowded and having been damaged by floods and fires due to open-fire cooking. 

Only 21 per cent of the residents are reachable by aid organizations due to the fighting.  UNHCR is calling on all parties to the conflict to ensure unimpeded access to the settlements and to guarantee the safe delivery of lifesaving assistance.   

More on the website. 

**COVID-19 — Brazil

And a couple of COVID notes:

An update for you from Brazil, where our team there, led by the Resident Coordinator, Silvia Rucks, continues to help increase medical capacity, including through the purchase [of] medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and medicine. 

In the north of the country, we provided 1.3 million personal protective items in Amapá state and helped procure medicine in the state of Rondônia. 

UNICEF and UN-Women, together with local indigenous organizations, held workshops on gender-based violence, sanitation, hygiene, and COVID-19 treatment for more than 500 indigenous people in Roraima and Pará states. 

UN-Women also provided food and agricultural tools to indigenous women in Roraima, Amazonas, and Maranhão states, while the UN refugee agency helped refugees get documents, including indigenous people from Brazil and Venezuela. 

UNFPA, for its part, provided birth support kits to help 1,400 midwives in the state of Amazonas.

**Children

And lastly, we keep talking about the impact of COVID.  Just one more startling fact from our colleagues from across the street at UNICEF, where they warned today that the first day of school has been indefinitely postponed for some 140 million first-time students around the world due to the pandemic.

For some 8 million of these students, the wait for their first day of in-person learning has been over a year and counting, as they live in places where schools have been closed throughout the pandemic. 

UNICEF says the associated consequences of school closures — learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, heightened risk of dropping out, child labour, and child marriage — will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages.

The agency is urging Governments to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and to provide a comprehensive recovery response for students which includes support for teachers and remedial learning to help students catch up on lost time. 

**Questions and Answers

Yes, sir. 

Question:  There is breaking news coming from North Africa.  Algeria cut ties with Morocco, and the Algerian Foreign Minister says his country is cutting diplomatic relations with Morocco from today.  Any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Okay, that's the first I've heard of it.  Let me look into it, and I will send you all something in writing. 

Michelle Nichols of Reuters.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane Dujarric of the UN.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  A question on Afghanistan.  Just wanted to ask you a little bit more about the national staff… the 3,000 national staff working for the UN.  You just said that the Secretary‑General said in his video that the UN is working to find external solutions where they are needed.  Can you elaborate on that a little bit for us?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think we've always been very clear in our expression of concern for national staff, especially those who are at particular risk and… for a number of reasons.  And we're always looking for the best solution for them, and some of that may include external solutions.  But I, as I've said yesterday, we really want to… we're going to be a little circumspect in what we say from here given the extremely volatile security situation.

Question:  But is it safe to assume that external solutions means relocating them outside the country?

Spokesman:  Listen, I will leave at it at that for now.

Question:  And among those 3,000 national staff, does the UN have any idea how many of those would like to leave if they had the opportunity?

Spokesman:  I think we're… I'm not going to share a number with you, but we are, obviously, talking very directly to all our staff.

Mr. Hanna?

Question:  Is the UN dealing directly with regard to its Afghan nationals that it wants to move out, or is it mo… operating through a third party, particularly in the light of Taliban now announcing that no Afghans are going to be allowed to leave?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we're speaking to them directly, to our national staff.  But I think, as we've said here, unlike countries, the UN is not in a position to grant visas.  So, any relocation involves discussions with Member States.  And that is happening. 

Margaret Besheer.

Question:  Steph?

Spokesman:  Maggie?

Question:  Hi, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Okay.  First of all, have you sent out the SG's statement to the G7 meeting?  I don't think I've seen it.  Are we going to receive it?

Spokesman:  No, we have not sent out a statement to the G7 because the meeting was a closed meeting.  There is, however, a… my understanding is there's a G7 communiqué, or statement, on Afghanistan that is being distributed, will be distributed shortly.

Question:  Okay, thanks.  And secondly, on UNISFA [United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei] in Abyei, there's a report out of Sudan that the UN has agreed to remove about 3,500 Ethiopian troops from the Mission, which is basically the entire Mission, in the next three months.  So, can you confirm that?  And who will replace them?  Has there been any offer?

Spokesman:  Look, there is a… we've seen the media reports.  There is an ongoing strategic review of the Mission, which was requested to us by UNISFA.  That planning is ongoing, and we are currently very actively engaged with Member States on the issue that was raised in the media reports.  It will be shared in a letter with the Security Council.

Question:  So, is it correct then… sorry.  Can I just follow up?  Is it correct…

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  … that Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix and Atul Khare and… there was someone else in the meeting.  Are those details correct from the UN participation in this meeting?  Oh, and it was Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga was the third.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, I… in terms of participants, I do think that was correct.

Abdelhamid, and then we'll come back to the room.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I just want to ask if you are aware of killing Palestinian child of 16 year old in the refugee camp of Balata.  His name is Imad el Hashash, and he was shot in the head by Israeli occupation forces.  Are you aware of that?

Spokesman:  I mean, we're very much monitoring closely the events that have been taking place in the West Bank, and I think the violence and the casualties we've seen are very concerning and very alarming.

Question:  There is a UN report that talks about Palestinian children, 11 of them killed since the clashes in Gaza in the last eight… 67 in Gaza.  Is this report observed by the Special Coordinator, Tor Wennesland?

Spokesman:  I didn't hear the… what is this report?

Question:  A UN report about children killed in… since May, the number is 78, 67 in Gaza, 11 in the West Bank.  I could…

Spokesman:  Let me…

Question:  …send you a link…

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the report.  What I can tell you is that we have often and repeatedly expressed our position that children must never be targeted and never be put in harm's way. 

Michelle.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Another question on Afghanistan.  You just mentioned the difficulties the UN is having getting aid in.  We've talked about the airport and control of the airport and what's going to happen after the US leave.  The Secretary‑General told us last week that the UN didn't have the capability to run the airport at the moment.  How have those discussions with the Taliban progressed over the past few days?  Is there a role for the UN?  Is the UN… is the US and the Taliban pushing the UN to take more of a role?

Spokesman:  I have, I'm not aware of any change in that position.  What is essential is that we have a working and safe airport to bring aid in, to bring people in if we need to bring more people in, to relocate people if we need to relocate, and the airport needs to be at a certain level of standards for airlines, charters or whatever to come in, for insurance companies to feel safe to have their planes come in.

So, I… it is… we cannot underscore enough the critical need to have a functioning airport in Kabul for, to serve the humanitarian situation, among others.

Question:  So, when the Secretary‑General said that the UN didn't have the capability to do that, did… to run the airport, I… does he mean at the moment, like, can you send in people to do that?

Spokesman:  Look, at this point, the situation hasn't changed, especially given the security situation. 

Yes, sir.

Question:  Hi.  Given that the American Food and Drug Administration yesterday gave a full approval to the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, some US entities are making it mandatory for their employees to be vaccinated, for example, the City of New York with the teachers.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  I think you saw that.  Is that on the table for UN staff as well?

Spokesman:  Well, as you may recall, because I have no doubt, during your three weeks off you're watching the briefing every day, no matter what beach you were on, that we are… there will be… before the high‑level summit, there is a deadline for a certain category of UN staff to be vaccinated.

Yes, Grigory.

Question:  Thank you.  Mr.  Dujarric, there are reports from… in Panjshir from the supporters of Commander Massoud that there is an exacerbating of humanitarian situation.  There are refugees.  So, given that, do you have any updates on… of this humanitarian situation? Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, but I will… we've been asking, and I will ask again, see if we have any information in that area.

Okay.  Unless I hear anyone opening up their mics…

Correspondent:  Here, here.  Here, here. 

Spokesman:  Ah, yes, sir.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  It's James.  Yeah, thanks so much.  If you don't mind, can I just do a few more questions on Afghanistan?  I'll ask them all together, and you can answer… a bit so you can answer.  You mentioned at the outset that the SG did a video message to Afghan staff.  Is that something that we can watch on the UNTV, or can we get a copy of the text?  And…

Spokesman:  We will… yes, the short answer is yes, we're going to post it as I speak, and we will send you the video link, as well.

Question:  And on the issue of whether or not your staff in Afghanistan are in danger, of course, we can understand how an Afghan who was a translator working with US forces, they're in danger of reprisals by the Taliban, but an Afghan who, you know, moved paper in a UNICEF or UNFPA office, have there been any credible threats against individuals like that?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to talk about whatever specific threats there would be.  I would just ask you to stop and think about the depth and breadth of the UN's work over the last 20 years, to just choose a time frame, in Afghanistan in terms of looking at production of illicit drugs, human rights violations, sanctions, and all the regular and very public reporting the UN has done on a lot of very sensitive issues.

Question:  I mean, that's a great point, and I note it.  So, if it's important to protect these individuals who've done that important work, you keep on saying that the UN cannot issue visas, but am I right in thinking that the UN can issue laissez‑faire passports?

Spokesman:  The laissez‑pa… it's not laissez‑faire, it's laissez‑passerLaissez‑faire is something a little different. 

Not to go into diplomatic intricacies, but laissez‑passer does not bypass a need for a visa.  I have a laissez‑passer, and I still need a visa when I travel to most places around the world. 

Correspondent:  Understood and thank you.  And, yes, your French is better than mine, for sure. 

Spokesman:  Yeah, but you're the native English speaker, James. 

Okay.  Thank you, all, and have a good day.

For information media. Not an official record.