World comity urged to help repatriate Afghan DPs
By Our Staff Reporter
ISLAMABAD, June 20: The government has called upon the world community to help rebuild the grass-root infrastructure in Afghanistan for safe return of more than 2.3 million Afghan refugees.
In a message read out at a function organised to commemorate the First World Refugee Day, here on Wednesday, the additional secretary for Kashmir Affairs, Northern Areas, States and Frontier (Safron), Safdar Javed Syed, said that although Pakistan had been continuously fulfilling its international obligation by providing shelter to more than 2.3 million Afghan refugees on its soil for the last over two decades, it needed to be acknowledged that in doing so the country had suffered tremendously on the socio-economic front.
"Even the lack of warm response of the world community has not deterred us from extending humanitarian assistance and support to the victims of one of the greatest tragedies of the post-cold war era."
The celebrations of the day were marked by songs presented by refugee children from Iran and Afghanistan dressed in colourful attire. However, what distinguished the day's celebrations in the capital was the fact that none of the speakers had a message of their own for the refugees. For the director UNIC it was a routine celebration like any other day. He had to leave even before the conclusion of the event after reading the speech of the UN Secretary General. Others, including Philip Karani, Acting Representative of UNHCR Pakistan read out the message of the UNHCR's High Commissioner
The Safron secretary said that if the Afghan government was ready to assure safety and facilitate operations by the UN and other humanitarian agencies to provide relief to the displaced persons, then it was time for the world community to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghans within their own country.
"It is time to appreciate that besides rehabilitation projects at the village level, a process of sustainable development, rebuilding and upgradation of infrastructural facilities at the grass-roots level is essential for which international financing is required." Unless the issue of poverty and scarcity of resources was addressed in a meaningful manner, the prevailing indifference and intolerance within Afghanistan could not be expected to diminish, he added.
Stressing upon UNHCR to reduce the burden on the host countries, the secretary said that it was pointed out to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anan, during his visit to Pakistan that registration of Afghans and providing relief only to the camps in Pakistan without simultaneously establishing relief camps inside Afghanistan for the internally displaced persons would only lead to a greater exodus of displaced Afghans into Pakistan.
In order to ease out the refugee pressure on Pakistan, we would like to continuously stress for the setting up of camps inside Afghanistan, he added. Earlier, the director, United Nations Information Centre, Eric Falt read out a message of Kofi Anan, which among other things, noted that in an era of unprecedented prosperity for some, refugees are finding that the welcome mat has worn thin.
"Nations that once opened their arms to refugees now lock their doors while poor countries that can least afford it assume an ever greater burden." Refugees not only have the strongest moral claim to assistance, experience shows that economically and culturally they generate more wealth than they consume, he said.
The acting UNHCR representative in Pakistan, Philip Karani, in a message of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, urged the decision-makers to do more to preserve the institution of asylum and give financial backing for refugee programmes world-wide. Highlighting some of the problems faced by the UNHCR in ameliorating the miseries of the refugees, he said that the commissionerate was plagued by funding shortages which had forced the UN agency to reduce staff and cut programmes around the world. The austerity measures have affected refugee programmes from Africa, Central Asia to the Caucasus and South America, he said.
Pointing out the magnitude of the refugee problem, he said that one in every 120 people on earth was now a refugee with the world population of refugees touching the staggering figure of 50 million. He said the problem continued to grow escalating from around two million in the early 1970s to more than 27 million in 1995. In 2000, the number reached more than 22 million worldwide with an additional 20 to 25 million displaced within their own countries.
According to UNHCR Pakistan, the UN agency established its presence in the country in 1980 to protect and assist Afghan refugees fleeing their country in the wake of the 1979 Soviet invasion. During 2000, it provided legal support, shelter, sanitation water, healthcare and education to refugees with the support of 22 implementing partners, including the GoP through the commissionerates for Afghan Refugees (CAR), 10 international and 12 local. Last year the UNHCR facilitated voluntary repatriation of nearly 76,000 Afghans.
The unrelenting conflict and drought have precipitated large- scale displacement inside Afghanistan resulting in the biggest influx since the early 1990s when more than 170,000 Afghans fled and sought assistance in Pakistan. Some 154,000 crossed into North West Frontier Province and an estimated 18,000 into Balochistan prior to or immediately after the closure of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan on November 9, 2000. Thousand others went directly to the major urban centres or joined their relatives, it stated.
According to UNHCR, there was a sharp increase in the number of Afghan security and women-at-risk cases applying for resettlement in 2000. Some 9,224 cases were registered as compared to 2,046 in 1999; 3,159 persons, of whom 1, 229 were women-at-risk, 350 were security cases and 1,613 were family reunion cases, were resettled as compared to 830 persons in 1999. Some 1,708 other refugees were resettled during the year, mostly to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
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