Statement by H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin
Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations
At the Third Committee debate on Agenda Item 39: Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
At the outset, I would like to thank the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for his detailed report which contains useful information about the situation of the 1.4 million refugees and 52 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) remaining worldwide. My Delegation strongly supports UNHCR’s noble mandate and particularly commends its long engagement with Afghans for over a quarter of a century. In the current context, UNHCR is providing precious support to the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in protecting and supporting Afghan Refugees, Returnees and IDPs, and in creating conditions conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return and reintegration of Afghan Refugees after decades of war in the country.
The three decades of devastating conflict in Afghanistan forced millions of Afghans to go into exile; leaving behind their families, property, and motherland to escape from the brutality of war. Since the fall of the atrocious regime of the Taliban in 2001, which also marked the beginning of the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, more than 5.4 million Afghans have returned to their homeland, mainly from Pakistan and Iran. This year alone, almost a quarter million Afghan refugees from Pakistan and another 3, 000 from Iran have voluntarily returned to Afghanistan with the hopes of getting back to their places of origins: their villages, and rejoining their families to live peacefully again in their native land. Nevertheless some 3 million Afghans still remain in Pakistan (2.1 million) and Iran (915,000).
The Government of Afghanistan is grateful to those countries, especially our neighbors Pakistan and Iran, for having hosted our compatriots during the ravaging years of conflict in Afghanistan and for continuing their assistance to Afghans living in their lands. Afghanistan’s main objective in 2008 and 2009 will be to improve conditions for voluntary repatriation as well as reintegration of returnees, in conformity with the objectives contained in our National Development Strategy (ANDS) and in line with the spirit of the tripartite agreements on voluntary repatriation signed with the Governments of Iran, Pakistan, and UNHCR.
The voluntary return and reintegration of all Afghans refugees is a priority for our Government and we would like to underline the importance of the provision contained in the tripartite agreement which stresses the need to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Afghan Refugees from Iran and Pakistan if the conditions inside Afghanistan allow. We would like to seize this opportunity to call for sustained international assistance to create a feasible environment for the voluntary, gradual, safe and dignified return and reintegration of Afghan Refugees.
We welcome the temporary suspension of UNHCR’s assisted voluntary repatriation operation from Pakistan to Afghanistan during the annual winter break, in view of the difficulties that it could engender for the reintegration of Afghan Refugees.
Effective and sustainable reintegration requires economic and social development and the provision of employment opportunities, especially in the rural areas. Many returnees are facing reintegration difficulties including lack of land, shelter, water and basic services such as health care and education. The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation of Afghanistan (MRRA) is monitoring the voluntary, dignified and gradual nature of returns and focuses on the provision of key physical, legal and material necessities linked to the reintegration process. MRRA, in partnership with UNHCR, provides individual assistance including the allocation of the repatriation and initial reinstallation cash grant which is complemented by reintegration programmes particularly in the sectors of shelter, water and income generation. These public programmes include:
- Shelter assistance for the most vulnerable families
- Allocation of land to landless returnees
- Legal and employment individual assistance
- Particular assistance to women and girls with the support of the Ministry of Women of Affairs (MOWA)
Insecurity is the main obstacle to the return of Afghan Refugees and their effective as well as sustainable reintegration. The majority of this year’s returnees have resettled in the eastern, central, or northern part of Afghanistan. The deterioration of the security situation in the south of Afghanistan caused by the terrorists activities of the Taliban and Al-Qaida have created difficult conditions for returnees and restricted the scope of humanitarian assistance, as justly mentioned in the Report of the High Commissioner for Refugees. We commend the work done by UNHCR staff operating under those difficult conditions and are deeply concerned about the prevailing insecurity in certain areas impeding the access of humanitarian assistance to the population, including the vulnerable returnees.
Moreover, the global rise in food prices, the current drought and approaching winter have resulted in high dependence on humanitarian assistance. The Afghanistan -UN joint appeal launched in January 2008 to address this issue asked for additional financial mobilization in response to the impending crisis. Thus far only 32% of our identified need has been met.
It is estimated that a total of some 540,000 Afghan refugees will return home in the next two years. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan and UNHCR will co-host an International Conference on return and reintegration on November 19 in Kabul. This conference aims to address how best to ensure the sustainable return of refugees and IDP’s and seeks to reconcile the repatriation targets and timelines proposed by the neighboring countries with the increasingly challenging operational environment in Afghanistan.
It will also be a forum to mobilize additional resources for a comprehensive, integrated approach and multi-year funding delivered through the framework of ANDS.
We would like to take this opportunity to invite Members States to participate to this conference at the highest level possible. We are looking forward to the outcomes of the conference and we invite the participants to take into consideration the following important issues in their discussion:
- To incorporate Afghan refugees’ needs into ANDS through national development programmes particularly in key sectors such as health, education, sanitation and employment.
- To ensure that areas to which refugees return are properly provided with basic amenities as well as the means for making a livelihood
- To give priority to rural economies for future development programmes as a tool to achieve successful and sustainable return of refugees, bearing in mind that 80% of Afghanistan’s population lives in rural areas.
- To keep the spirit of partnership and openness to look for a comprehensive solution to the question of Afghan refugee in order to make further progress towards an integrated and coherent solution, that will ensure the interests of Afghanistan, its neighbors and the region.
At the closing Mr. Chairman,
We would like to express our gratitude to the international community and other relevant UN agencies for their support to the plight of Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons. No sign of confidence in a country’s future is more compelling than the return of its citizens to participate in the upcoming Presidential election. Afghan refugees will not hesitate to return home if Afghanistan achieves to cement peace, security, prosperity and justice. We count on your continued support and remain committed to work together to fulfill our commitments made during the Paris Donor Conference in June 2008, to ensure the conditions for voluntary and sustainable returns of Afghans to their homeland.
Thank you for your attention.