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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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Security Council

Speaking at a Security Council meeting on preventive diplomacy, the Secretary‑General said today that he has consistently used his good offices — sometimes publicly, sometimes behind the scenes — to seek to defuse conflicts and advance peace.  He reiterated that his agenda of prevention calls for a surge in diplomacy for peace, as well as a better integration of prevention and risk-assessment across UN decision‑making.  This, the Secretary‑General added, includes connecting the dots among all drivers of conflict — including poverty, inequalities, and climate change.  For the women and men of the UN, Mr. [António] Guterres said, preventive diplomacy and development go hand-in-hand.  But we also know that we must do far more to join up our humanitarian, peace and development efforts.  This, he said, means working to end inequalities that deny entire groups of people access to civil and economic life and the levers of decision-making.  And it means transforming our commitment to human rights from words to practice in every context.  For preventive diplomacy to succeed, the Secretary‑General concluded, we need the full support of the Security Council, and of all Member States.


The Secretary‑General spoke by video message to the Conference supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which is taking place in Brussels.  The Secretary‑General described how UNRWA has been playing a pivotal role in promoting regional stability and yet it continues to face an existential crisis.  We need to protect UNRWA from being used as a political pawn, he said, and focus on its ability to carry out its General Assembly mandate and its unrelenting commitment to humanitarian principles and shared UN values.  Yet he added that overwhelming support for UNRWA is not adequately matched by sufficient funding for its operations.  The Secretary‑General said that we need urgent and decisive support to maintain UNRWA’s ability to operate this year.  He said that UNRWA’s essential health, education and services must not be interrupted.  And he urged Member States to step up longer-term commitments and solidarity and match the generosity of the countries that host Palestine refugees.  His full message is online.


The United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) said yesterday that the withdrawal of the Joint Forces from Hudaydah City, Al Durayhimi, Bayt al Fqih and parts of At Tuhayta districts and their subsequent takeover by Ansar Allah forces represents a major shift in the frontlines in the Hudaydah Agreement.  These events, the Mission said, warrant discussion between the parties of the Hudaydah Agreement.  The Mission stands ready to facilitate those discussions within the framework of the Agreement.  The Mission further urges all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations to protect civilians throughout the governorate, particularly in the south, where clashes have been reported.

**West Africa

The Heads of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), and the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), met in Dakar yesterday to exchange views and strengthen coordination between them.  Their discussions focused on the political, socioeconomic and security trends in West Africa and the Sahel and on their impact on neighbouring regions, including the Central African region.  As the security situation continues to deteriorate in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and in the Lake Chad Basin, our colleagues underlined the need for a multidimensional and regional approach to address the root causes of insecurity.  They also called for enhanced cooperation to address these challenges.  A press release with detailed recommendations for the region is available online.  The next high-level meeting of our heads of missions in this region is scheduled to take place in May 2022, in Bamako, Mali.


Moving to Afghanistan.  The World Food Programme (WFP) warns that 8.7 million people are at risk of facing famine-like conditions in the country.  According to WFP, an additional 14.1 million face crisis levels of acute food insecurity.  WFP notes that conflict has displaced more than 600,000 people and is highly affecting humanitarian access.  Afghanistan is also facing a major drought after an extremely poor precipitation season.  With a network of 75 partners across the country, WFP continues to deliver in all 34 provinces despite the challenging context, reaching 12.4 million people so far in 2021.  This is almost 3 million more than in all of 2020 and includes 5.5 million people in October alone.  WFP also says that cash-based transfers to tens of thousands of adolescent girl students were recently resumed after having been on hold for several months.  In 2022, WFP is planning to ramp up its humanitarian assistance to meet the food and nutrition needs of almost 23 million people in Afghanistan.  The total expected cost of operations for 2022 is $2.5 billion.


I have a COVID‑19 update for you, today from Thailand, where the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Gita Sabharwal, continues to support the national vaccine campaign, including by boosting confidence in and access to vaccines.  More than 44 million people have received their first vaccine doses.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) led an initiative to vaccinate nearly 1,300 displaced people and refugees, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women) helped create an information hub on COVID‑19 for migrant workers.  IOM is also leading a project to coordinate with Thailand’s neighbouring countries on COVID prevention, detection and response.  The UN team has delivered 550 oxygen concentrators to hospitals in severely affected areas, as well as 600 cold boxes and 1,000 vaccine carriers.  In addition, we have provided 3,600 migrants with protective equipment and other essential items.  The UN team is also providing mental health and psychosocial support services for children, as well as learning materials, hygiene supplies and relief items for nearly 450,000 children and families.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And I have a personnel announcement.  Today, the Secretary‑General is appointing Lieutenant General Cornelis Johannes Matthijssen of the Netherlands as Force Commander of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.  Lt. Gen. Matthijssen succeeds Lt. Gen. Dennis Gyllensporre of Sweden, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for his exemplary service and leadership of MINUSMA.  Lt. Gen. Matthijssen has a long and distinguished career since joining the Royal Netherlands Army in 1982.  He has most recently been serving at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Allied Joint Force Command.  Much more on our website.

**Global Tobacco Trends Report

The World Health Organization (WHO) today released its fourth WHO global tobacco trends report.  It shows that there are 1.3 billion tobacco users globally, compared to 1.32 billion in 2015.  According to the report, this number is expected to drop to 1.27 billion by 2025.  WHO notes that 60 countries are now on track to achieving the voluntary global target of a 30 per cent reduction in tobacco use between 2010 and 2025.  Two years ago, only 32 countries were on track.  In addition, a new WHO Global Investment Case for Tobacco Cessation highlights that investing $1.68 per capita each year in cessation interventions could help 152 million tobacco users successfully quit by 2030.  WHO stresses that this would save millions of lives and contribute to countries’ long-term economic growth.  The two reports are available online.

**International Day for Tolerance

And today is International Day for Tolerance.  The Secretary‑General, in a tweet, said that on this Day, and every day, let’s advance human dignity, fight racism and forge peace.  He stressed that only by embracing diversity and respecting each other will we solve the biggest challenges ahead of us.

**Hybrid Press Briefing

And today at 12:30 p.m., basically, right after my briefing, there will be a hybrid press briefing following the High-Level Event to launch the School Meals Coalition.  Speakers will be the Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations, Ambassador Jukka Salovaara, and the Head of the Sustainable Development Unit at the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, Olivier Richard, and we will have that right after I am done.  Before that, yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two questions.  First, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the recent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the first anniversary of last year's major intra… in… war, really, in Nagorno‑Karabakh?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yeah.  Well, we're just getting some of the information on this.  So, we may have more to say later, but clearly, we're following with concern the reports of this latest violence, and we'll need to verify those reports.  At this point, we urge all sides to… we urge the sides to exercise restraint, to act in accordance with the 9 November and 11 January trilateral statements and address any related concerns peacefully through dialogue.  We want to avoid any return to the sort of escalation we had earlier.

Question:  On Ethiopia, are… is there any update on the arrests… I mean the detentions of UN staff and the truck drivers?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's no shift since yesterday.  As you know, yesterday, I said that about 34 drivers had been let go, and that was a welcome step.  The number of those UN staff in detention remains at 10, as it was yesterday and, indeed, as it was last Friday.  We may have something more to say on this later in the afternoon because, of course, we've been pushing and pushing but to little avail in recent days, and we want to make sure that all of those detained can be let go.

Question:  And is there any update on the movement of aid into northern Ethiopia?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are in discussions with all of the various authorities.  We are trying to move aid in, but obviously, things like the detentions of the truck drivers, the halting of the convoys and, of course, the fighting on the ground have created obstacles.  But we will continue to try to move aid around.  Pam?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  With the increase in fighting in Belarus, can you give an update on what UN agencies are there?  IOM was there and UNHCR was there, but is anybody bringing food to them?  Are they still able to be there given the increase in violence?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  They are there.  We have our UNHCR and IOM colleagues, and they've been trying to deal as best as the situation will allow.  There are concerns about this… the conditions on the ground and the treatment of the refugees as we've… and migrants, as we've been saying.

Correspondent:  But I'm sorry, they haven't had to move out.  They haven't had to move back.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no.  Our people there, as far as I'm aware, they continue to be on the ground.

Question:  And do you have any numbers?

Deputy Spokesman:  Of UN personnel?  No.  I'll check for that.  Yes, Betul?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I have a follow‑up on Pam's question.  What does the UN think should happen to those migrants who are already on the border?  Should Poland let them into the country, or should Belarus keep the refugees?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, what we've been arguing for is the right of all of those who are there to be treated in dignity.  We want them to be able to have whatever their own concerns are to be heard.  And so, therefore, we would like UNHCR and IOM to be able to talk to them.  Beyond that, we're not saying where they need to end up.  That is something that will need to be resolved, but ultimately, as we've also made clear, we don't want these people to be instrumentalised and used as pawns in the disputes involving the countries.  Yes, Alan?

Question:  Can I just follow up, Farhan?  Sorry.  They have already been interviewed by some media outlets, and the migrants are saying that we are not going back to where we came from; we will either die here or go into Poland.  Do you have anything to say on that?  They, obviously, don't want to get back.

Deputy Spokesman:  And, indeed, they have the right to have their concerns heard.  Hold on one second.  Someone keeps trying to call.  But ultimately, this is why we want to make sure that their own voices are heard and they have a say in what happens to them next, and that is why we want them to be able to talk to UNHCR and to IOM.  Yes, Mr. Hanna?

Question:  I have a follow‑up on that.  The EU is saying that these migrants are being used as pawns, that that… that is their formal position.  Do you agree with that formal position by the EU?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s as good a time as any for me to take a sip of water.  I think it's very clear that if you see what's been happening to this group of people — that their own specific concerns, their particular dignity and their rights have not been treated with the respect that they should have.  And that is why we want them to be able to speak for themselves and to be heard.  For our part, it's clear that, in some ways, their uses… they have been instrumentalised, and we want to make sure that that does not continue to happen.  Yes, Alan?

Question:  A little follow‑up on this, talking about the treatment and the dignity.  The reports today say that Polish side used the water cannons against those migrants.  How can you comment on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't have a confirmation on that.  Obviously, if there was any such treatment, that would be wrong.  There should not be any use of force in dealing with this population.  Yes, Celia?

Question:  Any reaction from the Secretary‑General to the announcement of Pfizer to be able to give at least 95 countries the possibility to get low‑cost medicine, that antiviral pill?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General wants as much of an effort put as possible in terms of providing medications to the developing nations at low cost.  But for further comment, we'll wait to see what the evaluation is of the World Health Organization on this offer, and we'll be seized by whatever their recommendations are.  And with that, to turn to the screens, I believe Abdelhamid has a question?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Thank you.  General Khalifa Haftar announced his candidacy for the post of President.  Do you have any comment or a statement on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  My comment on this is basically the same as what I was telling you yesterday, that, as with that situation, we believe that the matters on this are in the hands of the High National Electoral Commission, and we'll leave it in their hands to evaluate candidacies.  So, that's their prerogative, and we're leaving it with them.  And James Reinl?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You mentioned…

Correspondent:  I have a second question.

Correspondent:  Go for it, Abdelhamid.  I'll go on mute again.

Correspondent:  Thank you so much.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  There was a seminar in the UN held on the question of Palestine organised by the Department of Global Communications (DGC).  So, it's a UN activity.  It wasn't announced, even yesterday; it wasn't mentioned in today's briefing.  Can you explain that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have a wide range of events, including those listed in the Journal, and of course, you're welcome to attend all of those that are public.  That's the long and the short of it.  James Reinl?

Question:  Yeah.  Thanks, Farhan.  You mentioned at the outset the UNRWA fundraising conference in Belgium that the Secretary‑General spoke at.  Do you have any numbers on this, how much money the agency needed, how much money was raised today?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have on how much was raised today, but UNRWA has on their website the data about the amounts that it needs.  And so, I'd just refer you to my colleagues at the Relief and Works Agency.  Martin Wang?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about Chinese President Xi Jinping's virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Just that the Secretary‑General welcomes the efforts by the two countries to deal with and resolve any of their issues bilaterally, and he wishes them the best in that effort.  Evelyn Leopold, and then Ray after that.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  CNN has a story that Belarus is moving some of the migrants back into a processing centre, caring for those who are in bad physical health and offering others a trip back to Iraq, where most of them came from.  Do we know anything about that?  And has any UN personnel been consulted?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, no, I can't confirm that… those reports for you.  We would need, again, to be able to talk directly to the affected population.  Regarding moving people back to Iraq, you're aware, of course, of the UN's regular concerns about the policy of non‑refoulement, which is to say that people can't be returned back to their countries unless they agree to that.  So, we would have to make sure that that policy of non‑refoulement is being upheld.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  You're muted.  Evelyn, I can't hear you.

Question:  Sorry.  Are UN staff still able to get into that border area, the way the water cannons are flying and everything else?

Deputy Spokesman:  We certainly want the access there, and we have people who are ready and available, but we want to make sure that we have access.  I'll check and see whether they have access to that precise zone.  Thank you.  Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  There has been some media reports that says that the World Food Programme [head] David Beasley efforts in Khartoum rankled US and UN diplomats.  Do you have any comment on that?  There's long article Foreign Policy say they think about it.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, I have no comment.  Of course, we appreciate the work of the Executive Director of the World Food Programme.  Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  So, it's not really clear from you from what you said.  Why aren't you able to access that area?  Is it that you need permission from Poland and Belarus, or is it because of security concerns?  What exactly…

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  The basic thing is to deal with the authorities on the ground to have the access to the population in need, and that is what we try to do wherever we are.

Correspondent:  But you applied and… I mean, this issue has been, like, for weeks.  So, it's not clear for me why… what's exactly…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  And if you talk to our colleagues in those two agencies, you'll see that they're working on this issue.  I believe that they're trying to get the access that they need.  And with that, I will now turn over to our colleagues on… to deal with the issue of the school meals initiative.  One second, please.

For information media. Not an official record.