Sunday, November 29, 2015

Plenary Session on Global Awareness of the tragedies of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basin with specific emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers

Statement By H.E. Mahmoud Saikal

Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations

Plenary Session on Global Awareness of the tragedies of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basin with specific emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers

20 November 2015

New York

Mr. President, dear colleagues,

At the outset, let me thank you Mr. President for hosting this timely formal meeting on the very important issue of migrant crisis in the Mediterranean basin.

H.E. Mahmoud Saikal Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations

H.E. Mahmoud Saikal Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations

In Afghanistan we have four categories of our nationals who are associated with the refugee crisis today: (1) people who have recently arrived in Europe or trying to enter one of the European countries, both legally and illegally; (2) people who are currently intending to leave the country and are busy making arrangements for that; (3) people who have lived in the neighboring Pakistan and Iran for lengthy years and (4) Afghan diaspora in fear of retribution for terrorist attacks around the world.

Under category 1, Afghans make up the second largest group, after Syrians, in the current migrant crisis in Europe. They are at the highest risk of exploitation from traffickers, as well as from the dangerous journey to get to Europe. According to UNHCR estimates, 12 per cent of the nearly 137,000 refugees that crossed the Mediterranean in the first six months of 2015 were Afghans. While we thank the international community for all the good work they have done, greater role of relevant UN agencies to address the needs of this group of people is required.

Vilifying this group of refugees by equating them with terrorists is factually incorrect and highly counter-productive because most of them are the victims of terrorism, fleeing violent extremism. Currently some countries may be thinking of developing measures to deport Afghans whose asylum requests have been rejected. According to one estimate, in Germany alone 7,000 Afghans can be affected by this measure. Forceful return of this group, who have already exhausted their finances and have taken enormous risks to get to Europe in search of stability, is not only against the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, but will increase their hostility to Afghanistan itself, develop hatred towards the developed world, and ultimately fuel radicalization and violent extremism among disenfranchised youth.

Mr. President,

Three factors are essential to meet the needs of this group of people:

1.    Emergency assistance to those refugees who are at risk, especially women, children, elderly, and disabled and better coordination with humanitarian assistance agencies to provide essential services.

2.    There should be no discrimination for accepting asylum seekers. The current rhetoric among xenophobic political groups for screening refugees based on religion is despicable and against the core values of the UN.

3.    There is a need for a comprehensive review of the past bilateral agreements between our Government and the European countries.

Category 2: People who are currently trying to or thinking of leaving the country. Two factors are key to understand why these people are trying to leave so desperately and what can be done to prevent it.

1.    Security concerns: Post-transition slow down and ongoing conflict and the fight against region-based terrorism and violent extremism are key issues forcing Afghans to consider the option of leaving Afghanistan in search of safe havens. This year many of our people were victims of the unprecedented attacks of the Taliban and international terrorist groups.

2.    Economic Issues: Endemic poverty to the tune of 36%, widespread unemployment of roughly about 50%, and lack of a foreseeable future are core factors for migration.

So few points to consider are:

1: Addressing Afghanistan’s security and economic challenges, with a particular focus on the key drivers of violent extremism and terrorism imposed on us causing displacement and increased investment in and engagement with Afghanistan are pivotal to create hope and a future through developing economic options within Afghanistan. In this regard, please help us complete the MDGs and implement the SDGs.

2: A comprehensive awareness program, at national, regional, and international levels, can be used to discourage people from leaving their countries. The cost of convincing a person not to leave their country is a lot cheaper than dealing with a refugee.

Category 3: People who are already settled in Pakistan and Iran for a long time. Continued assistance from Iran and Pakistan for the process of voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration is essential, for which we are thankful. Recent reports point out rampant police harassment, threats, and violence against Afghan nationals in Pakistan leading to human rights abuses and politicization of refugee issues, which should be avoided.

Category 4: Afghan Diaspora: Security issues and human rights of the Afghan diaspora, people who have assimilated in the countries and cultures where they have settled for years, are slowly becoming an issue to seriously consider. Many Afghans and Muslims at large are feeling increasingly vulnerable in the face of extremist violence, right wing rhetoric slamming Muslims at large, and negative stereotyping and heightened surveillance from intelligence agencies while conducting counter-terrorism efforts. Almost all Afghan refugees and diaspora are the victims of foreign invasions and terrorism, not the perpetrators. By equating these two categories and creating an environment of suspicion, the world would play into the narrative of the extremists that Muslim refugees are not welcome in the West and there is a wider civilizational clash between the West and Islam.

Currently, discord and lack of unity among member states are utilized by these terrorist groups and unfortunately, certain circles within some states in our region use the terrorists to advance their agenda. Member states have to put forth a united front in dealing with countering violent extremism and international terrorism while keeping the door open for millions of refugees and displaced people because letting conflicts fester and thereby creating conditions that displace people will eventually become a problem for member states in the form of refugee influx.

Mr. President,

In conclusion, few other solutions can be useful:

1.    While dealing with socioeconomic and geopolitical factors and finding a political solution for conflicts in the Middle East, in particular Syria, is essential, greater engagement and support to Afghanistan to fight terrorism is also imperative.

2.    We need a complete review of migration and immigration policies of member states in the light of the current crisis.

3.    We need to tone down the Islamophobic rhetoric which feeds the extremist doctrine of radicalization.

4.    We need to create stable sociopolitical conditions to prevent the exodus of refugees and create better economic options. In this regard, Afghanistan has launched a National Employment Program that will create jobs and provide a viable future for ordinary Afghans.

So as you can see, we may have a very busy agenda for the first World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul, Turkey in May 2016. Thank you Mr. President.

Statement by H.E. Mahmoud Saikal Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations At the Fourth Committee Agenda item 51 (Assistance in Mine Action)

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

Let me join other delegations in congratulating you on your assumption of Chairmanship of the forth committee of the 70th session of the UNGA and your bureau members for their well-deserved elections. We look forward to working closely with you and assure you of our full support and cooperation throughout the deliberations of issues concerned to this committee.

Afghanistan has been struggling with the problem of landmines, explosive remnants of war (ERW), including improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and their devastating consequences for more than three decades. Abandoned landmines and explosive ordnances, vestiges of the prolonged conflict in the country, continue to pose a great threat by jeopardizing the security and development of Afghanistan and its people. Although significant progress has been achieved in demining activities, Afghanistan remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

Mr. Chairman,

Approximately, half a million Afghan civilians live within five hundred meters of landmine contaminated areas. An average of 33 civilians have been injured or killed each month so far in 2015. 1,612 communities remain affected in 258 districts across the country. Over 107 square kilometres of minefields impede upon national infrastructure projects, such as, highway and road networks, airports, transmission lines, new settlements etc., delaying implementation until clearance. The country remains littered with hazardous explosive devices in multiple areas, including those where conflict has long ceased. Innocent civilians, including a large proportion of women and children, bear the highest risk of being killed or injured by these mines. Not only it is detrimental to stability and post-conflict development, landmines and other explosive remnants of war impede significant socio-economic development, required for basic sustenance in a war torn economy. More than eighty percent of the landmine and ERW contaminated areas obstruct agricultural and grazing spaces, thereby posing a tremendous challenge in a country where livelihoods of majority of people are concentrated around agriculture and livestock.  Mines and ERWs obstruct access to basic services, facilities and infrastructure and create severe challenges to use land for schools, crops, and other productive activities.

The presence of Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs is another imperative threat to civilian life. Indiscriminate use of IEDs is a common tactic amongst the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Last year alone, approximately three thousand civilians were victims of injuries caused by IEDs in Afghanistan.

Mr. Chairman,

The Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan has cleared nearly 78.5 percent of known “legacy” contamination – the mines and ERWs which resulted from the pre-2001 conflict. The remaining 21.5 percent includes 4,363 identifiable mine and battlefield hazards covering a total area of 557.6 square kilometres.  In December of 2012, Afghanistan submitted a request to the States Parties of the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty to extend the deadline. All antipersonnel mines would be removed from Afghan territory in ten years.  As part of the extension request, Afghanistan submitted a ten-year work plan that will eliminate mines by 2023 if, and only if further mining stops.

I would like to turn now to the resolution on assistance in mine action which was facilitated by Poland. As a mine affected country, we highly appreciate the resolution on Assistance in Mine action and its role in reaffirming the normative framework for the humanitarian mine action activities carried out by the UN system. We are pleased the resolution continues to support the work of United Nations Mine Action Service and takes note of the elaboration and adoption of UN mine action strategy for the years 2013-2018.

Afghanistan fully supports the work and appreciates the enormous contribution of the UN and civil society in progressing mine action. We look forward to continuing to work with Member States, UN agencies, implementing partners, civil society and other donors to achieve our collective goal of a mine free world. I would also like to express my government’s sincere appreciation for the victim assistance project generously funded by USAID in Afghanistan.  This is a thirty million dollar project that will be implemented over the next three years with the aim to provide assistance to the victims of mines, ERWs and IEDs.

Continued support of the international community and sustained financial support are required to help Afghanistan meet the 2023 deadline and provide the Afghans a secure and stable, mine-free future.

Thank you.

Statement by H.E. Mahmuod Saikal  Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations At the General Debate of the First Committee 70th Session

Madame Chairperson,

Allow me to congratulate you on your election as Chairman of this session. My delegation is fully committed to the successful fulfillment of the work of the Committee, and assures you of our full support and cooperation.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan aligns itself fully with the statement delivered on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, I would like to draw attention to a few specific points in my national capacity.

As history has repeatedly shown, political decisions incur the worst ramifications when made unilaterally, without consultations or consideration of the needs of all actors involved. It is for this reason Afghanistan wishes to reiterate its commitment to multilateral diplomacy as a crucial principle for advancing the global disarmament agenda. Only with all sides demonstrating political will we can achieve the goal of arms control, reduction, disarmament and total elimination of all types of Weapons of Mass Destruction, including nuclear weapons. In this context, we welcome the successful conclusions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and P5+1, which will benefit security and stability in our wider region. Going forward, it will be imperative that the concerned parties fulfill commitments to implement the agreement. Only through strong collective political will we can reach our collective desired goal of a nuclear-free world.

Madame Chairperson,

Afghanistan strongly and consistently supports all initiatives in the sphere of nuclear disarmament. As such Afghanistan is party to Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, among many other treaties calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons as well as weapons of mass destruction.

We are of the firm belief that full utilization of these existing international mechanisms is the only guarantee to the security of our world, and doing so requires their universal adherence. Afghanistan is not alone in urging all states to fulfill their international responsibilities in signing, ratifying, and actively supporting all efforts to promote the goals of all multilateral treaties relating to disarmament and non-proliferation.

The failure to agree on an outcome document at the 2015 NPT Review Conference represents an increasingly grave need for more effective action and leadership on the part of NPT member states. The division exists on a number of urgent issues which have, in our opinion, otherwise clear-cut solutions, is a worrisome reality and should serve as a wake-up call for the international community to renew its commitments and turn words into action.

In the same manner, we would like to express our strong disappointment at the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of the Middle East as a zone free of Nuclear Weapons and all Weapons of Mass Destruction. As the political turmoil in the Middle East threatens to spill over into its neighbouring regions, Afghanistan wishes to highlight the need for immediate action to be taken by the international community to prevent looming humanitarian and political catastrophe and overcome diplomatic stalemates.

Afghanistan is extremely disturbed at the humanitarian threat posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, and the possibility of their use, intentionally or accidentally. It is for this reason that we welcome the outcome of the third and final Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, which recognizes that total elimination of all nuclear weapons is the only definite safeguard against a nuclear explosion. Despite this collective understanding, there has been inadequate progress by Nuclear Weapons States in fulfilling their commitments to eliminate their nuclear stockpiles, and we echo the calls for these states to abolish their dangerous nuclear doctrines, which include the practice of refurbishing or modernizing existing nuclear stockpiles and related facilities, and using the global existence of nuclear-weapons as an excuse for maintaining or proliferating one’s own stockpiles.

Madame Chairperson,

Enduring conflict has facilitated one of the most destructive developments in Afghanistan. The mass illicit trafficking of arms, mainly small and light weapons, facilitating their easy access and ample abundance in procurement along the Durand Line has enabled the terrorists and extremists to cause the Afghan people tremendous suffering for decades and must be put to an end. We embrace the Program of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons but believe that it must be accompanied with a deeper understanding of the complex realities on the ground, closer follow up of its implementation, and integration with the mandate of the Arms Trade Treaty.

We are also grateful for the recommendations made by the 2015 Open-ended Meeting of Governmental Experts, and their thoughtful insights on developments and emerging needs for the Programme of Action, including new considerations that need to be reviewed in light of evolving modern technologies and the importance of marking weapons for tracing purposes.

Subsequent brutal wars over the past few decades have left Afghanistan heavily mined, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of our civilians. We remain one of the most heavily mined countries in the world; despite the fact over 80 percent of minefields have been cleared thanks to international efforts. For the year of 2014, an average of 38 civilians were killed or injured each month, and nearly 1 million Afghans still live within 500 meters of landmines. The continued existence of minefields also poses a threat to the development process in Afghanistan, as they delay the construction of national infrastructure projects until clearance.

The use of anti-personnel landmines in Afghanistan is used freely to the benefit of brutal terrorists who have no regard for the children they maim, the lives they destroy, or the country they devastate. It is for this reason that the work of the United Nations Mine Action Service in Afghanistan, which transferred full responsibility for mine action entirely to the Afghan government in 2012, is critical. While Afghanistan’s Mine Action Programme has produced excellent results, funding cuts threaten the goal we set in line with the Ottawa Treaty for fully ridding Afghanistan of mines by 2023, if further conflict and furnishing mines are prevented. However, we thank the generous donations made from Member states to UNMAS, aid that is invaluable to achieving our goals, but still far from what is needed. We look forward to the successful completion of the Fourteenth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. We are committed to the full realization of the goals adopted at the Third Review Conference of the Convention in Maputo.

And finally Madame Chairperson, Afghanistan is gravely concerned about the continued existence of Improvised Explosive Devices – IEDs around the globe. IEDs are responsible for thousands of civilian casualties every year; they have become the primary weapon for non-state armed groups across many conflicts. Their impact on the security and stability of states are profound, as they do not only damage the political, social, and economic development of a country, but also prevent the ability of necessary humanitarian aid to reach afflicted areas. Due to the lack of a comprehensive, systematic approach to countering the use of IEDs, which is relatively simple in its manufacturing, acquirement, and transfer, we call for an international mechanism to be established which seeks to eradicate the creation and proliferation of IEDs. Therefore, my delegation is tabling a resolution at this committee during the current session. The resolution, inter alia, includes the consistent collection of data, awareness raising, regulation of components, and international technical assistance and cooperation, and victim assistance. In this regard we held our first informal consultations with the member states and my delegation seeks further your full cooperation and support, so the resolution could be adopted by consensus.

Madame Chairperson,

In conclusion, I would like to state that this year; we share a special responsibility to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the atomic attack on Nagasaki and Hiroshima that killed many lives and hopes across generations. Remembering this catastrophe brings an ample occasion to remind ourselves of the dire humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. In this context, my delegation has supported the initiative of Austria on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons during this year’s NPT Review Conference.

My delegation sadly notes that, despite the many positive developments in the work of international diplomacy for the disarmament of nuclear weapons, we still face threats to human security and sustainability of a scale similar to what the generation before us have faced. The global and regional climate of terrorism has made the call for nuclear disarmament as well as that of the weapons, including small and light arms the more urgent.

I thank you for your kind attention.