UNHCR Briefing Notes

Geneva, 15.11.2013

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

1-    UNHCR relief focus on area near typhoon-hit Tacloban, more aid

coming in by air

UNHCR aid efforts for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines have geared up further over the last couple of days with the arrival of two airlifts into Cebu. Distribution of aid in Tacloban City has been under way since mid-week, and a further aid flight from Dubai will be on its way shortly.

UNHCR’s first aid came from our national stockpiles and reached Tacloban City on Wednesday, as part of the UN response. UNHCR staff have been working with the authorities to help some 7000 people so far. The aid was contained in two 40-foot container trucks. These carried 2000 jerry cans, 1400 hygiene kits 600 mosquito nets, 1176 kitchen items,

1400 plastic sheets 1400 blankets and 1900 sleeping mats. Targeted areas include a very badly-damaged municipality called Tanauan, 45 minutes outside Tacloban. Conditions in the Tacloban area remain very difficult. Severe fuel shortages mean that trucks can’t deliver to communities far from the city. Right now there are still urgent need for tents and solar lamps.

UNHCR staff have been working with our government counterpart to do quick assessments in the east and west of the city to identify specific needs, such as those faced by women, children, the elderly and the disabled. These individuals are being prioritized for aid distribution.

The first Boeing 747 aircraft carrying UNHCR aid landed at 6.30 pm local time yesterday at Mactan International Airport in Cebu carrying hundreds of family-sized tens.  This was followed by the arrival of a second airlift this morning local time. In all, UNHCR plans to fly in emergency supplies for 16,000 families.

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes. They need tents urgently especially as rains have continued this week in some areas. We are working to rush supplies to the neediest people but this is hampered by limited means to reach these areas.

Aid agencies on the ground in Cebu and typhoon struck areas are still struggling to meet the huge aid needs. In addition, some truck drivers are reportedly afraid to deliver aid as they fear being ambushed or robbed en route.

UNHCR’s emergency response is part of the wider United Nations relief effort in the Philippines. We are co-leading the Protection Cluster along with the national Department of Social Welfare and Development of the government of the Philippines.

2 – Denied entry and pushed back: Syrian refugees trying to reach the EU

UNHCR is greatly concerned over reports of some EU countries placing barriers to entry or forcibly returning asylum-seekers including people who have fled the conflict in Syria. UNHCR is calling, globally as well as in the European Union, for a shift away from border protection to protection of people. If practices to prevent asylum-seekers from accessing territory and procedures are taking place, UNHCR calls on states to cease them immediately. Push-backs and prevention of entry can put asylum-seekers at further risk and expose them to additional trauma.

In Bulgaria UNHCR is seeking more information from the authorities on their reported activities at the border to stem the flow of refugees into the country.  Media reports say Bulgaria turned back 100 migrants at the border over the weekend and deployed some 1,200 police officers to the border region. Introducing barriers, like fences or other deterrents, may lead people to undertake more dangerous crossings and further place refugees at the mercy of smugglers.

UNHCR is also concerned over similar reports of asylum seekers being pushed back from Greece to Turkey. UNHCR has asked the Greek authorities to investigate the fate of 150 Syrian refugees, including many families with children, who were reported to have been denied entry in Evros on the 12th of November. UNHCR received information from villagers of the group being detained and transported in police vehicles to an unknown location, although they have not been transferred to a reception center. Their current whereabouts is unknown to us.

In Cyprus, UNHCR has received reports of Syrians arriving irregularly by boat in the northern part of the country and being returned to Turkey following a brief detention. In the southern part of Cyprus, Syrians are increasingly facing difficulties with reception and assistance, and UNHCR is in discussion with the authorities over this issue. As of end September there had been less than 400 asylum applications in the Republic of Cyprus this year.

UNHCR is calling for a global moratorium on any return of Syrians to neighbouring countries. This would represent a concrete gesture of solidarity with these countries that currently host over 2.2 million Syrian refugees. Turkey is currently hosting the largest number of Syrians in Europe, with over 500,000 registered refugees. Returning Syrian refugees to Turkey or other neighbouring countries only adds to the challenges faced by these governments and local communities to support and provide assistance to refugees. Likewise, EU states with external borders cannot be left to shoulder this influx alone. EU responsibility-sharing needs to be demonstrated by greater intra-EU mobility and openness to genuine burden-sharing outside the existing mechanisms.

Persons who are found to be in need of international protection should have access to lasting solutions. This could include mechanisms for an equitable distribution of those recognized as refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection within the EU. It could also be evacuation to a designated Evacuation Transit Centre based on existing models from where resettlement efforts could be undertaken both to European countries and non-European countries. In addition, UNHCR welcomes the discretion exercised by some EU countries not to return all those requesting international protection to their first point of entry in the EU and appeals to others to follow suit, in an effort to demonstrate a measure of solidarity with these EU border countries. UNHCR also calls for the application of all the “Dublin” criteria, including those designed to unite families.

END

Gisèle Nyembwe

Public Information Associate

Collaboratrice adjointe chargée de l’information UNHCR Canada

Tel: (613) 232-0909 ext. 225

Mobile: (613) 986-4300

 

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