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15 October 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.

**Guest Today

Good afternoon.  As soon as we are done, we will have, will be joined by Omar Abdi, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund].  He will be here, join us in this room, to brief you on the situation in Afghanistan.  And then Monica [Grayley] will obviously brief on behalf of the PGA [President of the General Assembly].

**Afghanistan Attack

Starting off on Afghanistan, our Mission on the ground in Afghanistan today said that terrorism continues in the country with at least 30 people killed and scores injured in a suicide attack on Kandahar’s largest Shia mosque.  That took place during Friday prayers.  UNAMA [UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] stressed that the UN condemns the latest atrocity targeting a religious institution and worshippers.  Those responsible must be brought to justice.  We do expect a statement from the Secretary-General soon.

**Afghanistan Refugees

Also on Afghanistan, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today urged States to facilitate and expedite family reunification procedures for Afghans whose families are left behind in Afghanistan, or who have been displaced across the region.  UNHCR said that recent political developments in Afghanistan have not led to large‑scale cross‑border displacements.  However, many among pre‑existing Afghan refugee and asylum seeker populations remain separated from their families owing to the inaccessibility of family reunification procedures.

UNHCR stressed that the principle of family unity is protected under international law and in binding regional legal instruments.  Domestic legislation in many countries also has this principle.

**Ethiopia

A humanitarian update for you on Ethiopia:  our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are greatly concerned about the situation in the north of the country, where they are receiving reports of an intensification of the conflict in multiple locations.  Despite the extremely challenging circumstances, aid workers continue to deliver assistance to people across the three northern provinces. 

In Tigray, where more than 90 per cent of the people need aid and an estimated 400,000 people are living in famine‑like conditions, aid operations continue to face significant challenges.  Although more than 200 trucks of humanitarian supplies arrived in Tigray last week, far more is needed, and the convoys did not receive clearance to carry much‑needed fuel or medicine, as we have been telling you about – the issue with our fuel trucks that have been stuck.

The lack of cash, fuel and supplies is disrupting the response in multiple areas.  Last week, our humanitarian partners were only able to reach 17 per cent of the people who should have received food assistance.  Water trucking services in central and north‑western zones have been reduced, and that impacts more than 472,000 men, women and children.

Our colleagues say they are particularly concerned that much‑needed medical supplies continue to be blocked from entering Tigray.  Nine trucks carrying medicine have been awaiting approval to enter Tigray since the beginning of August.

In Amhara and Afar, we continue to scale up our operations so that people affected by the fighting receive the help they need.  Since the beginning of August, 640,000 people in Amhara and 72,000 people in Afar have received food assistance.

Again, we call on the parties to the conflict to halt the fighting and ensure that aid workers are able to reach all people in dire need of help. 

**Security Council - Kosovo

Back here, in the Chamber next door, the Security Council, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, briefed the Council on the situation there.  He warned Council members that escalating tensions had the potential to unravel the steady but fragile progress that had been made to rebuild trust between Kosovo’s communities.

Mr. Tanin added that as Kosovo is approaching another local election in two days’ time, the focus at central and municipal levels should now be trained upon delivering the high expectations of people for change.  He urged the Government to focus on rebuilding the bonds of trust between all the communities in Kosovo and in the political leadership.  And he stressed that rebuilding trust demands a sincere approach to the Belgrade‑Pristina dialogue process, as well as building an encouraging atmosphere among the different communities within Kosovo.

**Yemen

The UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly, warned that the escalation of fighting in Yemen in recent weeks, particularly in Ma’rib, Shabwah and Al Bayda Governorates, is having a devastating impact on civilians.  He is particularly concerned about the situation in Ma’rib Governorate’s Al Abdiyah district.  The ongoing security situation has severely restricted movements in and out of the district for an estimated 35,000 people, including 17,000 extremely vulnerable people who had found refuge there after fleeing conflict in another area.

He called on all parties involved in the fighting to agree now to a cessation of hostilities for Al Abdiyah district, to allow for the safe passage of civilians and aid workers, and for the evacuation of all of those who were wounded in the fighting.

**Venezuela

As you saw, we announced last night that, following the completion of a technical assessment, the Secretariat has responded positively to the request of the National Electoral Council of Venezuela to deploy a UN Panel of Experts for the November 2021 municipal and regional elections.  A team of three experts will deploy to the country in November to follow the electoral process.  The team will provide the Secretary‑General with an independent internal report of the overall conduct of the elections.

**Migrant Workers

A new report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that migrant workers face a higher risk of injury and death, more than other workers.  An estimated 164 million migrant workers make up almost 5 per cent of the global workforce.  They are more likely to have jobs in the informal economy, where risks are even greater.  And they are overrepresented in hazardous jobs.  IOM says that more data is needed, notably on circumstances of deaths, to design policies to ensure the safety of migrant workers.

**Latin America

From Latin America, UN agencies are jointly saying today that they are saddened by the sinking of a boat in Colombia carrying 30 people to Panama, in which three people were killed and six others – including children – are missing.  The agencies said this incident once against highlights the desperation of families and the risks people are exposed to as they search for safety and for a better life.

Increased numbers of people are crossing the Darien Gap.  Of the 91,300 people who crossed between January and September, 19,000 are believed to be children.  We stress the need for safe, regular and orderly migration routes and to strengthen investigations into networks involved in trafficking and smuggling.  The agencies also urge States to protect the rights, including to seek and receive asylum, of all people on the move.

**Nigeria

And we often talk to you about the impact of lack of funding for humanitarian operations, and here is another real‑world example.

In Nigeria, the World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that it might cut food aid as early as next month to more than half a million women, men and children in the north‑east unless it receives urgent funding.  These cuts would impact WFP’s operations in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States unless it receives at least $55 million soon.  The cuts could come as severe hunger reaches a five‑year high in Nigeria following years of conflict, a situation that has been worsened by COVID‑19, high food prices and limited food supply.

The number of displaced people in north‑east Nigeria reached an all‑time high of more than 2 million in September.  Some 4.4 million people in the area do not know where their next meal is coming from, and more than 1 million children are malnourished.

**International Day of Rural Women

We have a number of international days to mark.  And [one of them is] the International Day of Rural Women, which is today.  The theme is:  “Rural women cultivating good food for all.”  The Secretary‑General said that despite ensuring the world can be fed, many rural women suffer from discrimination, systematic racism and structural poverty.

**World Food Day

Tomorrow is World Food Day, and the theme this year is:  “Our actions are our future.” In a message, the Secretary-General says the Day is not only a reminder of the importance of food to every person on the planet — it is also a call to action to achieve food security around the world.  

**International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

And Sunday is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which, the Secretary‑General stresses that poverty is a moral indictment of our times.  For the first time in two decades, extreme poverty is on the rise.  All those messages are available to you.

**Briefing Monday

On Monday, after Monica and I brief, there will be a press briefing in this room by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and that is Irene Khan.  I’m done.  Edie.  Mr.  Bays is clearly shy today, yeah.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéph, in Cyprus, UN inspectors completed their inspection of a small plane alleged to be violating the arms embargo against Libya by carrying band…  arms or ammunition.  Is there any statement from the UN or any result on the outcome of that inspection?

Spokesman:  No, my understanding is that these are inspections linked to Security Council sanctions committee.  I think what is very important is that Member States support the work of these experts in allowing them to do their work, which is what is, seems to be happening, and they will report in due time to the Security Council.  Benno and then James and then…

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any reaction of the killing of a British Member of Parliament today?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, we, obviously, are extremely saddened by this murder, and I think…  and express, of course, our condolences to his family and, as well as to the people and the Government of the UK.  What is clear for us is that lawmakers need to be able to do their work, they need to go about doing their work free from fear of attacks or murder or anything else, and that is a centrepiece of democracy.  James.

Question:  The UN’s Mission in Haiti, its mandate expires tonight, and yet the Security Council is doing eleventh‑hour negotiations on that issue.  I know you don’t want to get involved in their negotiations, but you might want to tell us what’s at stake if it’s not renewed.

Spokesman:  Well, clearly, the situation in Haiti continues to show great instability, not only on the political front, but also on the humanitarian front.  Haiti is a country that continues to need help.  Haitian institutions also need help.  So, we do hope that the Security Council will find a way forward to renew the mandate in a way that they wish to renew it.  Madame.

Question:  Stéphane, what does the Secretary‑General think about some country in Europe building walls to push the migrants away?  That’s my first question.  The second question is, like, do we still have two working language at the UN, like French and English?

Spokesman:  Oui.

Question:  Because, and I’m going to say it in French.  [Speaking French].  [Laughter].  I don’t know how to speak French anymore.  [Laughter].

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.  We can try the frongle if you like.

Question: La personne qui annonce les documents à l’entrée du Delegates Lounge m’a dit hier qu’on lui avait interdit d’annoncer les rendez-vous, enfin les meetings et tout ça, en français.  Is that true?

Spokesman : It’s a very good question, très bonne question.  I will check and je retournerai vers vous.  All right.

Question:  [Speaking French].  Is that true?

Spokesman:  It’s a very good and important question.  Obviously, countries have a responsibility to defend their borders and to defend their citizens as they, and it is their primary responsibility.  What is also critical is that every country respect international law, including the Refugee Convention, allow people to seek asylum, that there be no refoulement of people, that migrants’ human rights be respected, that their dignity be respected.  The…  the Convention on the…  the Refugee Convention of 1951 was, in fact, created for Europeans who were on the move in the aftermath of the Second World War, and I think it’s also important to remember that.  Okay.  Yes, Edie.  Sorry.

Question:  Stéph, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the apparent pattern of attacks on Shiite mosques in Afghanistan?

Spokesman:  I mean, we, it’s, first of all, attacks, terrorist attacks are unacceptable.  Terrorist attacks on religious institutions are especially heinous and despicable.  This is not the first attack that we’ve seen.  It is important that every community in Afghanistan feel safe and that those in charge ensure the safety of every community and every ethnic group.  Okay, we will now go to our guest, and then we will go to Monica.  So, let me get our guest, and I’ll be right back.

For information media. Not an official record.