Transcript: UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell on "Face the Nation," April 28, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell that aired on April 28, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to take a closer look at the growing humanitarian crisis when it comes to the world’s children. Catherine Russell is the Executive Director of UNICEF and she is just back from Israel and the West Bank. It’s good to have you here.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Thanks Margaret, good to be here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you met with some of the families of Israeli children who are still being held hostage. There’s a one-year-old, there’s a four-year-old. And you met with Israeli officials about access for aid going into Gaza. Did you get any good answers?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Well, we got some good answers, which is that I think a growing awareness of- of how critical it was for us to get more aid in and specifically what we needed more access points, better security. You know. I’m certainly not the only person who made those arguments and advocated with the Government of Israel. But we have seen a little bit of an improvement in Gaza. So that’s a positive that came from it. Obviously, the needs still far, far outweigh what we’re able to do, but at least we’ve seen some progress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You also went to the Palestinian West Bank and 2023 was the deadliest year for children in the West Bank since they began monitoring at the UN in 2005. With all of the attention on Gaza, tell me what’s happening to kids in the West Bank right now.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Well, it’s- you know, the first day I met with, as you said, the hostage families. Second day I- I was on the West Bank and heard they are about, excuse me, the challenges children face every day just trying to get to school, the barriers they face, the difficulty in sort of moving around the checkpoints, all the rest of it–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –Israeli checkpoints?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: And as you said, yes, and as you said, there is an increase in violence. And I think just in this year alone, there have been 40 children- Palestinian children killed, two Israeli children killed. There’s just an uptick in violence and it’s- as always children who are really impacted by that. You also mentioned, you know, I met with the- the hostage families. I mean, they’re devastated by what’s going on. Some children still being held, others who are traumatized, either by being held themselves, or by seeing family members killed and hurt. And I- I think I would just say that overall, I came back feeling like, there’s just so much pain and misery everywhere you look. And it’s really unfortunate to see it and just praying for a better- better day for everyone in the situation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The UN says every 10 minutes a child is killed or wounded in Gaza. I mean, that just hits you in the chest when you hear that.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: That’s a shocking number.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s horrific.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: It is what’s happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the US called this week for an investigation of this mass grave that was just found in Gaza, of hundreds of people. Were there children there? What do you know?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: You know we don’t- UNICEF doesn’t know much about that, honestly. I think that I would say a couple things. One, there needs to be a full investigation of what happened. And I think that, at some point, will certainly, I hope, take place. And second, to me, it argues, again, for the importance of having international press in Gaza. I- I- I say this over and over again because you have disputes about what has actually happened, what’s going on. And I think not- you know, look, there are incredibly brave Palestinian reporters and press people there who are doing an incredible job. Many of them have- have suffered so much, people have been killed. I think having the international press in there is also really important. And I hope that that gets that- that changes sometime soon and international press folks can get in, really make their own assessments of what’s going on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And if the Israeli government allows for it, I think, a lot of news organizations would absolutely go for it.


CATHERINE RUSSELL:  – absolutely should be there, they should be seeing what’s happening. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The US military, as you know, is setting up this port that’s supposed to be open sometime in May. We had Doctors Without Borders chief on recently. And she said to me, there’s “a slow motion massacre” of people suffering from deprivation of food and water for six months in time. “You can’t drop lentils from the sky” is what she said. You need a mass medical response. Is there any plan in place to do this to revive some of these children who are starving to death? And will it come before there is an invasion of Rafah?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Well, let me say a couple things. One, the humanitarian situation, especially for children, is incredibly worrying everywhere. We know in the north, where it’s been very difficult for humanitarians to get in with food. And as you’re pointing out, children in particular, need what we talked about as therapeutic feeding, right? So they need plumping up or sort of interventions by medical professionals. So it’s not, as you say, just dropping in food. That’s not enough. We need to do more for- for little children. It is definitely not anywhere near where it needs to be. I think that the you know, the idea of the port, the idea of air drops, you know, all-  look we support is getting much- getting as much aid in as we possibly can. But the truth is, the- the most important thing is getting more and more in through road access. That’s the best access. It’s the safest access. It’s the best for humanitarians, and it’s the easiest way for us to actually get around. Having said that, it’s very difficult to do that for so many reasons, not least of which the roads are all torn up. Right? We have security issues. So it’s a challenging – is a challenging sort of array of problems. And I think we need multiple ways to try to respond to it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Please tell me what is happening in Sudan, which is the biggest displacement crisis in the world for children right now.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Sudan is terrible for children. It is, as you say, the largest displacement, millions of children are on the move. Almost no children are in school. I think 90% of children are out of school. There’s incredible violence, including sexual violence that children are, are suffering and witnessing. Children are suffering from malnutrition. It’s absolutely a devastating situation, and we all need to pay more attention to it, for sure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And these are the next generations that we are talking about.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: You know what, Margaret, that’s the thing about working with children. Right? It’s like on the one hand, they’re so vulnerable to everything that happens to them and you know, you mentioned Rafah, I mean, if- if there’s an incursion into Rafah, that’s unimaginable to imagine what- what the violence will be like and what how they will suffer. But whether it’s in Gaza, or in Sudan, or Haiti or so many other places, children are suffering so much, and we all talk about children are the future. Well, okay, then we need to protect them. We need to make sure that they are educated and healthy, and have some decent future ahead. And that’s critical for them. And it’s critical for their countries, and it’s critical for all of humanity.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Catherine Russell, thank you for your insights today. We’ll be right back.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top